Authors: Veronica Del Rosa
“Hello, I’m Dr. Zayler.
And you must be Sylvia.” A gentle smile accompanied his words, one meant to put her at ease. It didn’t work.
With a shaky smile of her own, she said, “Thank you for seeing me on such short notice. The Coterie felt it was important for me to see a…therapist as soon as possible.”
While Mara and Roan had no real jurisdiction over her, they’d made it quite clear she wouldn’t return to duty until the shrink cleared her. Aaron would listen to their recommendations, sidelining her like a lame wolf.
“Please, have a seat.” Dr. Zayler gestured to one of the chairs as he moved to sit in the opposite one.
Instead of the stereotypical couches seen in movies, he had two comfortable looking chairs facing each other. A small coffee table sat in the middle of them with a tray holding a pitcher of water and two glasses.
She stared at the chair for a moment. If she sat, it was an implied agreement to talk, wasn’t it? A beginning of a professional relationship, one she didn’t want. But one she needed.
Sylvia sat, her eyes averted from his. The scrutiny was too much to bare. He’d dig past her barriers and leave her vulnerable. Her mind, the one place the scientists hadn’t touched, exposed to this stranger.
Her finger trembled as she traced the pattern of stitches on the chair’s arm. The heavy thudding of her heart drowned out everything else.
No aggression. Don’t make eye contact. He won’t hurt you if you don’t anger him.
She blew out an unsteady breath. Her career depended on this, talking to Dr. Zayler.
“I agree with them. As this is the preliminary meeting, it’s shorter than usual. Gives me a chance to assess your needs, and we’ll go from there. You suffered a terrible experience, and it’s best to talk about it. Learn how to cope with the trauma. Would you like to talk about what happened?”
Eyes down, she hesitantly shook her head. Spilling the horror of those months, reliving the pain they inflicted…she couldn’t. The mental wounds still bled, raw and exposed. A hard lump formed in her throat, and a sheen of sweat slicked her palms.
Would he punish her for refusing to talk? The scientists never asked her questions, but they expected complete obedience. Arms wrapped around her stomach, she shrank into the chair.
“No,” she whispered.
“Sylvia, this is a safe place. You don’t have to do anything you don’t want to. Saying no is your right. You have control, not me,” he spoke softly, as if he was a thought inside her head instead of an intrusion.
“Can you…” she trailed off, worried her request would make her sound crazy.
“What would you like me to do?”
She glanced upwards, dredging up her faltering courage. Damn those bastards for what they’d done to her. “Can you please open the windows? I need fresh air.”
Without question, Dr. Zayler strode to the large picture window behind his desk. Gauzy curtains covered the sheets of glass, allowing in light but giving privacy. They billowed in the cold breeze when he opened the window a crack.
Sylvia’s gaze wandered around, memorizing the entire room. One exit, not including the window, and it led to the outer office where the receptionist sat. A sixty-gallon saltwater fish tank was to the left of the door, taking up most of the wall. The colourful fish – groupers, clownfish, angelfish, butterflies and several she couldn’t name – darted amongst the coral. Kelp and red algae waved in the water, and bubbles flowed from the air pump.
She tore her eyes from the hypnotic tank to wonder over the bookshelves. If she didn’t have access to Derek’s library at home, she would’ve had serious book envy. Two walls across from the door and to the right were covered with bookshelves. Different genres competed for space – murder mystery, fantasy, romance, non-fiction, textbooks and so many more. She could’ve spent hours just browsing through his collection. Too bad that wasn’t what she was here for.
A subtle throat clearing reminded her Dr. Zayler had asked her a question. She focused back on him. He was a gentle-looking man with stark white hair and kind blue eyes. While shorter than her, his quiet personality filled the room.
“I’m sorry, what did you say?”
“It’s been four days since your rescue. Have you spent time with your pack?”
“They’re hard to avoid,” she said, ducking her head again. Shame heated her cheeks. They were concerned about her welfare, and she wanted to avoid them. “Always coming over, asking me how I’m feeling. They’re treating me like I’m broken or dead. And the touching. Constant touching.”
“Isn’t that important for werewolves? The reassurance of touch?” His tone stayed even, but she heard recrimination in it.
Defensively, she said, “I don’t want to be touched.”
“And that’s fine. I wasn’t trying to imply anything else. I just want to understand. I’ve had several dealings with werewolves, and each have told me that physical contact helped to ground them. It aided their healing.”
With a jerky nod, she replied, “I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to snap at you. You’re right, it is important to us.”
“I have an exercise for you. With trusted members, allow them to initiate physical contact. Count to three before you pull away. Increase the count each time. It’ll help you become comfortable with it again. Your pack doesn’t want to hurt you. Let them help heal you.”
“Okay, I’ll try that.”
“For now, I want you to come see me every day. My receptionist will set up the appointments with you, as I’m hopeless with all that. Once we see some improvement, we can scale back the sessions.” He stood up and Sylvia followed suit.
After she spoke to the receptionist, Sylvia stepped out of Dr. Zayler’s office and squinted at the bright sun. She shivered as the bitter wind sliced through her thin jacket before her internal temperature rose to combat the cold. A hand grabbed her arm, and she flinched before freezing.
Don’t show weakness. Don’t fight back. It hurts more to fight back.
These thoughts slammed into her mind, forcing her back into the small cage of pain. Her narrow existence of torture and despair. Muscles tensed as she waited. Was her reprieve over?
“Hey, glad to see they found you.” A male with a pleasant smile circled around. “I’d heard about your rescue. Took Derek long enough, huh?”
Fear drained from her. Not scientists or guards. Another werewolf curious about her. She cocked her head to the side as she studied him. He wasn’t part of the Toronto pack and yet he was familiar. While pleasant looking, he had the air of someone used to obedience in others.
He reached out and trailed a finger down her cheek. She flinched away from his touch and he laughed, a cold sound without humour.
“Do I know you?” She took a step back, needing space between them.
“Oh sorry, I should have introduced myself. I’m Shawn, Alpha of the Belleville area. And you’re Sylvia, right?”
“Yes. Look, I’m sorry, but I need to go.”
His smile widened, exposing his canines. It should’ve been friendly. Instead, unease crawled through her.
. Did he want to harm her? She took another step back and bumped into a solid wall masquerading as a chest. She spun, keeping both men in eyesight. Neither one made a move towards her, simply smiled.
“I’ll see you later, Sylvia. My timid, little wolf. It’s been…interesting meeting you. Give Derek my regards. Time to go, Sawyer,” Shawn said as he walked away with the other man. They faded into the crowd, and she lost sight of them.
“Sylvia, sorry I’m late. I hope you weren’t waiting long.” Zmitro’s comforting voice broke through her distress.
With a shake of her head she replied, “No, not long at all. I’m ready to go home.”
The front door
opened, and Derek hastily dropped into the chair. He didn’t want Sylvia catching him pacing the floor as he waited for her return. Her first appointment with the therapist was bound to unnerve her. Should he comfort her, ask her how it went or just ignore it? No, he’d follow her lead.
Sylvia stepped into the room, peeling off her jacket. She tossed it on one of the couches and strode to the window. With a glance over her shoulder, she cracked opened the window. Guilt and shame coloured her features. Derek kept his own blank.
“Ah good, thanks. It was getting stuffy in here,” he said. He stood and stretched, working out the knots that had formed while he worried over her first appointment. “How was your appointment?”
Damn it. That’s not following her lead, you idiot.
Derek berated himself when she tensed at his words.
“Fine. It was fine. Just the usual chitchat.” Stiff limbed, she moved to the couch and sat on the arm. “I ran into one of the Alphas. Shawn.”
“What?” Derek growled. “He approached you?”
“Yes. Said to send you his regards. He had another guy with him. A few inches above six feet, dark-skinned, brown hair, named Sawyer. Possibly an Alpha as well.”
He strode away from Sylvia, not wanting to scare her with his anger.
“I’m going to fucking kill him. Tear that bastard apart. Zmitro!” His voice echoed through the room. Would’ve been better to send a mental message to his second-in-command, except the bellowing released some of his fury.
“Yeah, what’s up?” Zmitro asked as he jogged down the stairs. “What do you need?”
“Did you see him? After the appointment, did you see that fucking bastard?” His voice was harsher than he intended.
Zmitro reared back, and his eyebrows went up. “Who?”
“Shawn! He talked to Sylvia.”
“He said hi, that’s it,” she cut in. “He didn’t threaten me or anything. Although he did creep me out.”
The thought of the other Alpha near his lifemate… The thin leash on his self-control snapped, and he snarled in rage.
“I’m killing him, Zmitro. I’m gonna hunt him down and tear him apart. I’ll rip his throat open and watch him bleed.”
“Derek, calm down. You can’t attack him. He hasn’t challenged you, and he’s done nothing wrong. Don’t let him goad you like this.” Zmitro placed his hand on Derek’s arm, either to calm him or restrain him. Derek scoffed. As if that would contain him.
The gentle, hesitant touch from Sylvia, however, did. It soothed his anger and brought his focus on her.
“Please Derek, don’t let him get to you. He’s not worth the disgrace.” Her quiet statement reminded him of everything he’d lose, including her, if he attacked unprovoked. Shawn had been too clever with his taunting, hiding it under the guise of concern. While his pack would stick up for him, they would have to admit the truth if the Coterie became involved. Shawn hadn’t done anything outright against Derek. And Derek hadn’t taken any steps to put the other Alpha in his place. He’d let too much slide, wrapped up in his worry over Sylvia.
“I should’ve smacked him down when he first started this shit,” he grumbled. “Ah, shit, I’m sorry, Sylvia. I’m acting like a total ass. This was your first appointment, and I’m making it all about me.”
She laughed, and her eyes lit up. Her fingers tightened on his forearm before she released him. “It’s been all about me since I got back. I’m okay with the lack of attention.”
The laughter died, and the now-familiar haunted look took over. Not wanting to discomfort her,
Derek turned to Zmitro and said, “Find out everything about Shawn and the ones with him. I should’ve taken care of him months ago, before he started nipping at my personal pack. I’ll be outside. I need to think.”
He stalked away, images of maiming Shawn soothing his savage nature. A clear head would win this, not base instinct urging him into rash decisions. Once he had the bastard trapped, then he could attack without repercussions. Arrogant and sure of his cleverness, Shawn would overreach.
The door bell
rang, a quiet and insistent noise. Sylvia stepped toward the front door then froze. Who was on the other side? Another werewolf to jeer at her or maybe the scientists had tracked her down?
Unbidden, her feet slid backwards, creating space between her and the threat. Her fingers stroked across her throat, following the line only she could feel. The tissue had healed, no visible scar, but it served to remind her how close she’d come to death. A few more inches and they would have killed her.
“I’ll get it,” Zmitro said, his voice bringing her back to the present.
“Sure. Yeah. Okay.” Sylvia retreated to the sitting room. Heat blossomed in her cheeks. She had run from the unknown and let her packmate open the door because she feared whoever was on the other side. Hating herself, she moved to the other closed window and cracked it open, too. The cold wind forced its way inside, and she inhaled deeply.
Untainted. They can’t drug her with the air circulating to the outside. She was safe from one method of incapacitating her.
“A delivery for you.” Her head shot up at Zmitro’s words. Another one? She’d been inundated with flowers and cards. The house smelled like a funeral home, and soon they’d run out of room to place them all. Some of them sincerely wanted to wish her well, while others wanted to curry favour with Derek.
Zmitro held out a small, unassuming black box. Sylvia stared at it for a long moment before she accepted it. Such a tiny thing, and yet the dread settling in her stomach argued against that fact.
She brought the hard cardboard up to her nose, and a myriad of scents assaulted her. Separating them proved impossible. It had gone through too many hands before reaching Derek’s home. A faint tremble in her hand shook the box as she lifted the lid.
Nestled against soft cotton, a delicate white wolf hung from a gold chain. A card fluttered to the floor, knocked loose from the inner part of the lid. She ignored the card, pinched two links of the chain between her fingers and lifted it. Again she sniffed.
She shook her head, unable to get a fix on any one scent.
“Here’s the card.” Zmitro held it out to her, and she placed the necklace back into its box.
Sorry you didn’t like the flowers. This reminded me of you.
Unsigned. All the wolves had signed their cards. Only one other delivery came here without a name: the first bouquet of flowers.
Panic blossomed in her. She pushed passed Zmitro, ignoring his shout of concern. Heart thudding and mouth dry, she raced through the house, seeking the one who could calm her.
He said he wanted time to think, and that meant he’d taken up residence in his favourite spot. Sylvia’s feet slapped against the wooden floor of the hallway then tile as she blew through the kitchen. She grappled with the doorknob until finally it opened for her.
With a gasping breath, she stepped onto the porch, and her hand tightened on the box. So tiny and yet it caused so much terror within her. Sylvia wanted to burn it, exorcise the hold it had on her.
Her eyes darted around the backyard, searching for the only constant in her world. His huge body swung back and forth in a red hammock, one foot firmly planted on the ground. Hands folded on his chest, he looked so peaceful. The lines on his face smoothed away. His fierce aura dimmed in repose.
Maybe she shouldn’t disturb him. He had so much to deal with, could she add another one to the mix? Was she overreacting, panicking over nothing?
Her conviction wavered. It was just a necklace, not a threat. But just in case, she needed to tell Derek. Hiding an important secret from him before had cost her three months of her life.
Squaring her shoulders, she crossed the backyard. Grass tickled her bare feet and absorbed any sound she might have made. Her stealth had suffered as well, no longer as quiet as she’d once been.
As soon as she neared him, Derek’s eyes snapped open and he was on alert.
“You’re upset. Why?” Derek demanded.
“This was just delivered.” She held up the necklace, and the wolf spun. “I don’t know who sent it.”
Disentangling from the hammock, he planted himself in front of her. His nostrils flared as he, too, tried to isolate the different scent markers. His eyes narrowed and lips tightened. Damn, he was also suspicious of this innocent looking piece of metal.
“Too many people have handled this. A smart werewolf would know how to muddy the smells and make it hard to track him. Shawn’s clever enough for this trick.” Derek’s eyes shone amber as his wolf surfaced. “He’s been playing psychological games with me for over six months. It wasn’t until your disappearance that he provoked me in person. He’d be better suited as a snake than a wolf.”
The guttural tone and amber eyes meant her next smart move was to subjugate herself and sooth her Alpha by showing her submissiveness to him. The miniscule core of her past self refused to bow. She’d spent months cowering with no control over her life.
Back straight and head up high, she met Derek’s eyes as an equal. The amber faded, changing his irises back to its usual dark brown, and he chuffed at her, an odd sound coming from a human throat. A rare smile lit up his rugged face. Most found him intimidating and downright scary. Sylvia had never feared him.
Since the day he’d started training her, he’d treated her with respect and showed her his gentle side. Most would believe this side didn’t exist. His reputation made other werewolves involuntarily recoil at the mention of his name.
The frantic beating of her heart finally slowed, calmed by his presence. Sylvia smiled back, the first sense of peace since her abduction.
“I’ve always been weak where you’re concerned.” His voice was a rough whisper as he reached out to stroke her hair. He rubbed several strands between his fingers, as if memorizing the texture. He bent his head to inhale the scent from her hair. “I love the way you smell.”
His breath caressed her neck, and she shivered. Desire slammed into her, hard and fast. Unable to help it, she inhaled deep, needing to flood her system with his pheromones. Sylvia turned her head, and her hair slipped from his fingers. Every nerve tingled at his close proximity, his face mere inches away from hers. Lips dry, she wetted them with her tongue, and a low groan from Derek fanned across her cheek.
He swooped in and captured her mouth with his. His hands burrowed into her hair, tilting her head as he licked the seam of her lips. Any possible thought of resistance vanished as his heat pressed into her, his body molding to hers. She parted her lips and he slipped in, teasing and stroking her with his tongue.
The world disappeared. Nothing mattered but this man, this moment. Countless nights she’d fantasized and hoped for this. His taste consumed her until it was all she knew. Her entire existence became Derek.
Her man. Her Alpha
Reality slapped her in the face. Hard. He wasn’t hers.
We can’t do this. It’s a mistake,
Derek stiffened in her arms, his stillness more fitting for a predator scenting blood than a lover enjoying a kiss. He released her, hands dropping to his side. Disappointment and pain shadowed his eyes before he veiled them with his lashes.
“I’m sorry. That shouldn’t have happened.” His lips compressed into a thin line, all trace of a passionate lover gone.
What just happened? Why did he pull away?
He regretted what happened?
The truth crowded her mind, cooling her desire. She locked down her emotions and controlled her body’s reactions to him. Decades of practice steadied her. She easily slipped into the role of uninterested Beta.
A moment of weakness on both their parts and nothing more. They would never work out. No lifemate bond existed between them, and one day he’d meet his true mate. The other woman might not want to keep a Beta around who’d also been his lover.
With a jerky nod she averted her eyes. No sense adding awkwardness to their working relationship. One fuckup wouldn’t destroy what they already had. She wouldn’t let it. Her world had changed enough. Losing Derek’s respect might be the final blow to finish her off.
“I’ve messaged Zmitro and the Deltas. We need to discuss Shawn as a pack.”
“Okay,” she murmured.
His hand twitched, as if he wanted to touch her again. Instead he shoved his hands into his pocket and stalked towards the house.
She watched him go and quickly wiped away the tear that threatened to fall.