Costin opened the door to their room and Sally’s breath rushed out of her as she walked inside. She turned in a circle as she looked all around at the candlelit room. Her mouth dropped open when she saw a long black gown lying on the bed. She saw a stack of towels and a large basin of water that had steam rising from it. She finally made it all the way around until she was facing Costin again. He was smiling and his eyes were glowing.

“Did you plan this?” she asked him.

Costin shook his head.

“I only knew something was up when I got to our door. I could smell Jen and Cynthia and the candles. That’s why I said we should go see Jen and Decebel first.”

Sally stood, silently watching him. She was trying to process exactly what Jen was trying to accomplish by orchestrating this. Her breath caught.

“Am I supposed to sleep with you?” she spit out.

Costin started laughing and when he saw that she wasn’t laughing he stopped and stepped closer to her.

“No, Sally mine. We aren’t going to make love tonight. What we are going to do is perform the blood rites.”

Sally’s mouth dropped open and then snapped shut. She opened it again to say something, but closed it once more.

“Are you all right?” Costin asked.

She nodded but still didn’t speak.

“Sally, look at me.” Costin placed his fingers under her chin and raised her head to look up at him.

“Do you understand why this needs to be done?”

She nodded again.

“If I could wait -” he started and seemed to get flustered. “I know you would probably have the ceremony first and maybe even a wedding like your friends had and I’m so sorry it’s not special. I want it to be special for you because I understand this is a big deal and -”

“It’s not a big deal to you?” Sally interrupted, seeming to find her voice.

Costin’s eyes widened. “Of course it’s a big deal. It’s huge,” he told her. “Sally, I want this more than anything. I need this. I need to know that you bear my mark and my scent. I want to feel your bite. And even though your mark won’t stay on me, I want to know that you’ve claimed me.”

When she didn’t respond he ran an exasperated hand through his hair. “I totally blew this, didn’t I?” He walked away from her and stood looking at the bed where the black gown lay.

Sally came up behind him and wrapped her arms around his waist, pressing her face into his back. Seeing him so vulnerable tugged at something deep inside her.

“I’m sorry, I know this is important to you. That wasn’t fair of me. I’m just a little surprised is all. I know you need this, Costin, and I want to give it to you.”

Costin turned in her arms and placed both hands on her face. He leaned down and gently touched her lips with his.

“I love you,” he whispered. She smiled gently.

“I know you do,” she whispered back, “and I love you.”

Costin let out a deep breath.

“Why don’t you get changed?” He motioned to the black gown.

“Okay, um, if we aren’t going to make love, why exactly do I have to wear lingerie?”

Costin chuckled. “Sally mine, when it is time for us to make love, it won’t matter if you have on a burlap sack. It’s all going to come off.”

Sally blushed.

“I think their reason for the gown is easy access.”

Sally gasped. Costin realized how that sounded and actually had the good grace to look embarrassed.

Sally picked up the black gown and quickly headed to the bathroom.

“I’ll, um, I’ll be out in a sec,” she muttered as she closed the door behind her.

Costin let out a breath. “Way to make her feel comfortable,” he muttered under his breath.

He waited what seemed like forever and finally he knocked softly on the door.

“Sally?” He waited for her to answer. When she didn’t he spoke a little louder. “Sally, love, are you okay?” He heard a sniffle and felt his wolf stir inside him. His wolf did not like the idea of Sally upset.

He thought he was going to have to break the door down if she wouldn’t open it, but when he tried the knob he relaxed slightly when it turned freely.

After pushing the door open, his heart broke when he saw his mate curled up on the floor. She had put the gown on and he was male enough to notice, despite the tears streaming quietly down her face, that she looked stunning.

He knelt down and gathered her in his arms. She wrapped her arms around his neck and held on as he lifted her and carried her into the bedroom. He took a seat on the bed and cradled her close.

“Please tell me what I’ve done. Please tell me how to fix this,” Costin pleaded with her.

Sally continued to cry as she clung to Costin. She knew she shouldn’t be so emotional but she was just overwhelmed. She wanted this, wanted him, but she was scared – scared that she wouldn’t be what he needed or wanted.

“I’m not a wolf,” she said against his shirt where she hid her face.

“Well, I’m glad you told me now before it was too late for me to back out,” Costin teased gently.

Sally pulled back and looked up at him. Costin’s heart ached as he looked at her tear-stained face.

“I’m serious, Costin,” she told him. “You probably expected to be mated to a wolf, and instead you got this.” She motioned to herself.

Costin let his eyes trail down her body, which was was encased in the soft black material.

“Yes, yes I did,” he said, sensuality lacing his voice.

Sally blushed and nudged him. “You know what I mean.”

“No, really I don’t, Sally, because you are so much more than I could have ever asked for. I don’t care that you don’t turn furry. You are amazing and sweet and precious to me. You’re a healer and I have been entrusted with your care. I’m honored. But most of all I have been given You, Sally Morgan, an amazing woman who loves with her whole heart and is smart and gentle and loving. There is no one who is more perfect for me than you.”

Sally looked into his eyes and saw the truth that lay behind them.

“We don’t have to do this if you aren’t ready. I told you I wouldn’t push you into anything and I mean that.” He brushed leftover tears from her cheeks.

Sally shook her head. “No. We aren’t going to wait any longer. I know you need this – you need me, and I need you too. I’m not going to say I’m not scared, but I’m not a coward and I trust you.”