"Are you coming back?" Her words were tentative.

Costin nodded once, then turned and trotted off toward his room.

Sally closed the door and stood with her back pressed against it. She closed her eyes and took slow, deep breaths, trying really hard to get the picture of Costin lunging across the room – lips curled back, eyes glowing, ears down and hackles raised – out of her mind. She wasn't afraid of him, not exactly. She was afraid of the intensity he felt for her, and she for him. It was one thing to see your two best friends meet their soul mates and watch the passion they felt for each other flow out them like water, and another to experience it yourself.

She took one last deep breath and headed to her closet to change out of her dress. She put on a red, fitted long sleeve tee shirt and a pair of black, low waist yoga pants. She was going for comfort, at least physically because she knew as soon as Costin returned, emotional comfort would fly out the door as he closed it behind him.

Sally was walking out of her closet when the knock came.

"How long do you think it's going to take Decebel to deal with the wayward wolf who touched Sally?" Jen asked Jacque casually as they sat in the now nearly empty gathering room.

After Sally and Costin had left, both Vasile and Decebel had agreed it was time to call it a night. Jen and Jacque had been helping clean upm\, but just as Jen was carrying empty cups toward the trash, Decebel told her to park her cute butt and not move. So she had dragged Jacque with her to a table and parked it.

"I don't know, probably not long. Why?"

Jen shrugged her shoulders. "Oh, no reason."

Jacque's head slowly turned to look at Jen. "What do you have up your sleeve?"

"I'm just trying to calculate how much time it would take me to undress, phase, and go hide in the woods." Jen leaned in close to Jacque, whispering her words.

"Are you blocking your thoughts from him?" Jacque whispered back.

Jen nodded. "I'm giving him the impression that I'm pouting and that's why I'm blocking them."

"Do you honestly believe he doesn't think you are plotting some escape plan?" Jacque looked back to where Decebel, Vasile, Fane, Gavril, and Sorin had gathered around the young wolf, who was adamantly shaking his head. Jacque called on her newly-found wolf skills and used the hyper-sensitive hearing.

"I don't know why I touched her. I honestly wasn't challenging Costin. I didn't even know she was mated!" Jacque heard the guy tell them.

"She isn't mated yet," Decebel explained. "That is why Costin reacted so strongly. You could challenge him for her. Let me strongly advise against that." Decebel's voice was gruff but not harsh.

"Alpha," the young wolf looked up at Decebel, "I honestly don't know why I touched her. I was walking by and glanced at her and then I was touching her."

Jacque watched Decebel turn to Vasile and then Gavril, "Do you think this has anything to with her being a healer? Are wolves drawn to healers? And, if so, could the fact that she and her mate have the mate signs but aren't bonded essentially paint a target on her back?"

"How would this make her a target?" Jacque heard Sorin ask. She smiled to herself and mentally thanked him for taking the words out of her mouth.

Decebel answered, "As long as Sally isn't bonded to Costin he can be challenged for her. If there is any dissension in my pack that I haven't weeded out, they could use Sally as a way to attempt to kill one of our dominants, not to mention take one of our healers. Unbonded mates are a disaster. The males are unpredictable and violent."

"They have the mate signs, why not have them do the bond as quickly as possible?" Gavril offered.

"Have you discussed with Costin his place in your pack?" Vasile asked Decebel.

"Yes." Decebel nodded.

Jacque perked up at this information. This was news to her.

"Wolf-man, you holding out on me?" she sent Fane the thought through their bond.

Fane had become so accustomed to having Jacque in his thoughts that he never indicated in any outward way that she was talking to him.

"I just found out today and was commanded by our Alpha to keep it between the ones you see standing here."

"That sucks," Jacque whined and turned back to fill Jen in. She tried to slap her hand over her mouth before the "hell fire," slipped out but her arm was not quick enough. She whipped her head around in time to see Decebel's eyes snap over at the sound of her voice. He looked at her and then at the empty seat next to her and chills ran across her skin as Decebel's eyes began to glow and a very wicked grin spread across his face.

Jacque shuddered. She knew that look. That was the look of a wolf getting ready to hunt.

"Do you think you should stall Decebel and let Jen get a little more of a head start on him?" Jacque asked Fane.

This time she saw him visibly shaking his head as he answered, "When are you females going to get it through your heads that you don't get in the way of a male and his mate? Especially an Alpha."

"Scared?" Jacque taunted.

Fane slowly turned and looked at her from across the room. Jacque could see the blue glow in his eyes.

"What is with all the glowing eyes tonight?"

"You know why our eyes glow," Fane responded. "You've challenged me, love. That is why my eyes are glowing."

"Challenged you? When?"  Jacque's voice squeaked out.

"I must now prove to you that I am not scared of the Serbian Alpha."

Jacque's chair crashed to the floor as she stood up abruptly.

"I was just teasing, Fane. I know you aren't scared of him. Don't do anything stupid."

She watched as Fane cocked his head to the side, a motion Jacque had seen him make in his wolf form.

"Now you think that it would be stupid of me to attempt to prove I am not scared of him because why? Because you don't think I could hold my own against him?"  Fane's voice was thick with accusation.

Jacque stomped her foot, something that she hated doing, but somehow Fane managed to elicit the reaction on a regular basis. "Fane, stop. I know you are brave and can take on any wolf who challenges you. I know that you can go all 'I can kick your butt with one paw tied behind my flanks' on your enemy. You've already proved it many times over." She was pleading with him, and through their bond she let him feel the truth in her words.

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