Jacque watched as Fane's grim face turned into a brilliant smile.

"A paw tied behind my flanks?"  he asked incredulously."I don't know whether to be flattered that you think I am so capable or laugh at the imagery your words evoke. In any case, I think they are done here. You ready to go to bed?"

Jacque watched her mate walk toward her. Her jaw dropped open at his playfulness.

When he got close she crossed her arms across her chest and glared.

"You were playing me, weren't you? You were never going to challenge Decebel," she accused.

Fane laughed. "I may be paw-tying awesome love, but he just became pack Alpha and is mated. I'm not stupid."

Jacque huffed.

Fane took her hand and began to lead her from the room. They stopped abruptly when they heard a low snarl and then a loud howl. Decebel had phased right there in the gathering room. Jacque looked over her shoulder at the massive grey wolf with his four white paws. She felt the pull in her as her wolf responded to the Alpha. As the howl died, Decebel's head snapped down and his gaze landed right where Fane and Jacque were standing. Decebel began to move toward them at a fast pace. Fane quickly pulled Jacque to the side just as Decebel passed them. They heard another snarl as Decebel pushed open the mansion doors and took off into the night.

"He must get exhausted being mated to Jen." Jacque chuckled.

"Decebel was a stone before Jen came along. No life was in his eyes. She has brought that back to him. Everything about her is exactly what he needs. Just as everything you are is exactly what I need."

Jacque stopped and pulled Fane's head down to kiss him passionately.

When she pulled back she looked deeply into his eyes. "I don't know how you do it, wolf-man, but you always manage to say what I need to hear."

Fane winked and tugged her to keep moving. "I have a book."

Jacque laughed. "Naturally," she said, and rolled her eyes.


Sally stepped aside and Costin walked into her room. Her nervousness was obvious, but he didn't sense any fear of him. Nerves he could deal with; he didn't think he could handle her being afraid of him. He moved slowly, not wanting to upset her more.

Costin looked around for a place to sit. The queen size bed had a simple wooden headboard and a silver bedspread on it. It was against the wall in the middle of the room. There was a tall chest of drawers opposite the bed and on the wall to the left was a roll top desk and chair. He made his way to that chair and took a seat facing Sally.

She stood there looking at him, not with accusation, but with simple curiosity.

"I feel like there's something you want to talk with me about," Costin prompted.

Sally let out a breath and her shoulders slumped. She walked over to her bed and climbed up, sitting Indian style facing him. Her elbows were propped on her knees and her chin rested in her hands.

She drummed her fingers lightly against her cheeks as she considered how to begin. Then everything just came pouring out.

"I'm just not ready. I mean, I understand that we are connected by this whole mate thing, with the mate signs and what not. But I'm not – I just can't..." She was flustered, but paused as she watched a enthralling grin spread across Costin's face, revealing the cute dimple. That smile was disarming.

"Why are grinning at me?" she asked as she let her hands drop from her face and fall helplessly onto her lap.

"Are you scared of me?" he asked her gently.

Sally shook her head.

"Do you think I would ever hurt you intentionally?"

Again she shook her head.

"Do you believe I want what's best for you and that I will protect you with my life? Do you trust that I will hold you above all others and live to see that you have joy in your life? That I will hold you when you cry, laugh with you when you laugh, and honor you as my mate? Do you believe these things?"

"Yes, Costin. I see the way Jacque and Fane are – and Decebel and Jen. I get it. But that's the problem. You're intense. The whole mating thing is freaking overwhelming." Sally stood up and began to pace back and forth. "I...I've never even had a boyfriend. I've only kissed one guy and it was nothing to swoon about. Can't you see how this would be pretty drastic for me?"

She stopped and looked at him when she heard a low growl.

"You've kissed someone?"

Sally tried to hold back the snort of laughter that bubbled out. "Of course. I'm eighteen, Costin. Only having kissed one guy by eighteen is pretty darn conservative."

"I don't want to know about this guy." Costin frowned. "He won't hold a candle to my kisses anyway."

And the hundred watt smile is back, she thought to herself.

"Sally mine, sit down. Relax."

Sally was doing what he told her before she even realized it. She narrowed her eyes at him as she sat down.

"Why are you wolves so bossy?"

Costin stood up and walked over to her. He crouched down so he was eye level. Sally started to scoot back to put some space between them, but Costin stopped her by putting his hands on her waist. She froze. She didn't really know how to react to his touch. It made her nervous, but it also made her feel something she never had- desired.

"To keep our mates safe. To keep the pack safe," Costin answered, and gentleness laced his voice.

"How is telling me to sit down keeping me safe?"

"You were working yourself up into an unnecessary frenzy which could have led to a panic attack, thereby causing you to pass out and fall and hit your head." Costin smiled; triumph danced in his eyes.

Sally rolled her eyes and giggled. "That's the dumbest thing I've ever heard, Costin. Stretching it a little, don't you think?"

"Maybe a little bit," he conceded with a laugh.

Costin regained his serious tone, but his expression was softer.

"I won't force you into anything, Sally. I know this is all different to you. I've known all my life that I had one perfect mate out there for me. And when I look at you I'm in awe of what I've been given." Sally blushed as he paused. "I won't leave you unprotected, and allowing other males around you is something that neither I nor my wolf will be able to handle. Besides," he said, his eyes twinkling with mischief, "how could you not want to be around all this?"

Sally let out a snort. "You've been around Jen way too much."

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