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Saturday, February 14, 2015

Valentine's Blog Hop

Welcome to the third stop on the Valentine's Blog Hop, where YA superstars are sharing exclusive content and readers get a chance to win some wicked cool prizes. You know, because it's Valentine's Day, a day when all YA readers should be able to...



I'm super-pumped to be able to share an edited excerpt from Undeniably Chosen by Shelly Crane. (Yes! THAT Shelly Crane! The NTY & USA Today bestselling author!) So, without further ado, here is your sneak peek at the newest installment of the Significance series...


Dad sighed once of those long sighs that you could tell he was angry and hurt and wanted to bust heads and hold me and do all sorts of things all at once. “Come here, baby girl,” he finally said.
His arms were so tight. When I was a little girl, I used to joke about him squeezing all my stuffing out because his hugs were so hard. He said he couldn’t help it, that he needed to hug me as hard and as long as he could because one day somebody would come and take me away from him to marry me. I’d say gross. Over the years it changed to eww, then maybe, then when, then why not now, then it happened…and it was a Watson.
“I’m okay, Daddy.”
“No, you’re not.” He leaned me back and took my face in his hands. It was the same move that Seth had done, but the meaning was completely different. Both were meant to soothe me, both were meant to show me love of some degree, both were meant to make to make me see them dead on and know that they meant what they were saying. In that moment, I appreciated them both for it. “You’re not okay, Ave, but you will be.”
“I hope you’re right.”
He put an arm around me and another out for mom to come into. “My girls,” he mused and kissed my hair. “I know I’m right, Ava, because I saw Seth last night. I was worried before, and I still am, but not about him. I’m worried about his family. He won’t hurt you—well, not on purpose.”
I shrugged. “I don’t know. He’s in pretty deep with his family. You guys haven’t seen him with them or heard him talk about them. His cousin, Harper, was at his apartment when we got there yesterday.” Dad tensed, but I smoothed his shirt. “It was fine; it was just her. She tried to get him to come…” I almost said home. But that wasn’t his home. I shook my head. “She wanted him to go with her to her family’s house. Something about family problems. But when he saw how upset I was, he stayed.”
“See?” Mom said and rubbed my arm. “That means something.”
“But as soon as he got a text from them later on—when we were about to talk about his family and how he was adopted by them, he told me he had to go. And then he didn’t come tonight when he said he would because of a “family emergency”.”
“That could be them, though,” Dad suspected. “I bet his family knew he was supposed to come here and threw something at him so he couldn’t come. We have to remember there are more dynamics here at play than just a boy meeting a girl. These families have been fighting since before even my father was born. That isn’t going to stop just because you two bonded. No matter how much we want it.”
My chest fell in deflation. He noticed. “I hoped that they might call a ceasefire of some sorts, at least for a little while—maybe even some pretense of it, but it doesn’t look as if that’s the case. They are and will always be our enemy. Seth, unfortunately, will have to choose a side.”
“Why can’t it just be easy…like when you guys bonded?”
They looked at each and laughed. Mom whispered, looking at Dad, “If that was easy, then I don’t want to know what hard looks like.”
“But you know what I mean,” I forged on. “At least you knew Dad loved you. At least you didn’t have to wonder if it was all a plot.”
“Neither do you,” Dad said low and looked away from Mom. “I knew that your mom was mine from the moment I took her hand and nothing and no one would have stood in my way. If Grandpa and Gran and the entire Jacobson clan decided they hated her, we would have run off together the second she agreed to it. That’s not because of who I am, that’s because I’m Virtuoso, and no one is going to keep my woman from me. Seth looked at you the way I look at your mom. That isn’t something you can fake, especially after only knowing you just one day. That’s something in you, something in your guts and soul, imprinted on you, something written on your heart from that first touch that doesn’t go away.”
My lips were parted in shock. I glanced at Mom and she was in a similar state. “Dad,” I squeaked.
He smiled. “I have my moments.”
I slipped a little bit back into the darkness. “But the Watsons aren’t like the rest of the Virtuoso. They don’t care about their women like everyone else.”
“Ava,” he said slowly, “Seth is not a Watson.”
It was then that it all crashed down on me. I felt the first little bit of happiness smack me and I smiled, giving Daddy what I knew he wanted and needed. “Thank you, Daddy.”
“What am I? Chopped suey?”
I smiled at Mom and gripped her tightly around her neck. “Thank you, Momma.”
“Ah, you haven’t called me ‘Mamma’ in years.” She rubbed my back and smoothed my hair as I continued to hold on.
“Today, you reminded me why you’re mom, not the Visionary. And you’re really good at it.” I tightened my grip. “I know you’re both, but sometimes, Mom needs to trump the other—even if it could cause a Virtuoso worldwide incident.”
Dad chuckled, as Mom squeezed me tighter. “You guys always come before my duties.” I nodded. “Just like I know you’ll come before any drama and obstacles with his family. He’ll get there, Ava. He’s just confused. His entire world just crumbled and came together all in the same day. Remember that.”
I hadn’t thought of it that way. Wow. A heavy helping of guilt swept over me. And I had spent the entire time just trying to get him to accept that they weren’t his family at all, instead of realizing that in essence…he had gained me, but lost his family all in one day. Wow, what a tradeoff.
“I can see your wheels turning.” She shook her head. “Don’t be too hard on yourself. Go to bed. We’ll talk more in the morning.”
“He’ll be here,” Dad said from behind me. I turned to tell him that he texted to say he’d be here in the morning, but who knew if he would show, but from the look on Dad’s face I understood. He wasn’t asking a question. He was telling me that Seth would be here, that he had no doubts.
“How do you know?”
He smiled. “Guarantee you, he’ll be here first thing, sitting in the driveway waiting for you. It’s what I would have done.”
We’ll see. “Night.”
They said their goodnights, too, and I turned the corner, but waited. When I peeked back around I knew what I’d find but their predictability was still endearing. Dad pushing Mom by her stomach to the wall, her tugging him down by his collar. Dad was right—the way he looked at Mom was so different than any other way a man looked at a woman. And Seth looked at me that way. With so much want and requirement in his eyes.
I turned away, scrunching my nose, when Dad when in for the kill shot. He never lasted long before he was completely consumed.
As I lay down, I hoped Daddy was right. I hoped Seth wanted me in all ways, and I hoped it was enough.

_ _ _

My alarm clock woke me early. I had classes today, which I didn’t want to go to. I lay in bed, looking at the ceiling and tried not to groan at the ache in my body and my heart. He hadn’t come last night. He’d chosen his family over me and I know that he must have thought it was really important. I get that. They must have made it seem really important for him not to come. But still…he chose.
And he chose wrong.
I felt the first tear crawl across my cheek and reached up to wipe it away. I shook my head, feeling the tug and pull in my back and arms as my body protested. I refused to sit here and feel sorry for myself. This was my life now. I may as well get over it, right?
If the universe wanted me to be the Juliet to his Romeo, then fine. I’d take his touch when I could and live my life the rest of the time. We needed to figure out what his family was up to because they were definitely up to something. The summit was coming in a week and a half. I’d bet my right hand they were planning something.
I rolled out of bed and wasn’t able to stop the groan this time. It wasn’t better the second day. Not even close. It was worth, in fact. Way worse. Probably because I haven’t seen him since yesterday afternoon. I scoffed as I moved about the room, slamming drawers as I dressed as quickly as I could. If he wasn’t here like he promised me, I’d drive to his house and...
He was here. I just knew it.
That made me move even quicker, moving through my routine the most sloppy and uncoordinated I’d ever done it, but the job was done. But then I rethought some things when I looked in the mirror, seeing my handy work. Why would he even want to come back when this was the picture I was giving him?
But then I gritted my teeth and shook my head. That was such bull and I scolded myself for even thinking it. He doesn’t get to jerk me around and then dictate how I dress myself on top of that! No, no, no.
With my hair piled in my messy bun, the way I was definitely leaving it, but never wore it to school, my jeans, chucks, and a tight-fitting green long sleeve thin thermal shirt, a little make up, and a lot of anxiety sitting in my belly, I made my way as fast as I could out into the living room to grab my school bag.
“Woah,” I heard. I turned to find my family sitting at the breakfast table and Rodney on the verge of laughter. “Someone’s high strung.”
“Leave her alone, Rod,” Dad ordered and look at me, his eyes softening. “You okay?”
“I’m fine.” No one believed me, not even me. My voice shook.
“He’s in the driveway,” Mom said and smiled. “He’s been there since four in the morning, just sitting in his truck.” She lifted her eyebrows.
“I told you he’d come,” Dad told me and tilted his head.
“He’s a little late,” I muttered and scuffed my shoe.
“Hear him out,” Mom said. “In the meantime, I want you to be careful. Don’t go anywhere without your phone. If he’s not going to drive you to school, then I want Rodney to.”
“Mom—”
“Do you not remember what happened here the other night?” she said harder. “Good,” she spouted, not waiting for me to answer. “Then I don’t want to have to worry about you. He may not know it, but the Watsons are planning something. I know it. They aren’t going to just give up because he said so.” That’s what I had said, too. “We need to be extra careful. If you want to bring him in, I’ll explain that to him.”
“No. It’s fine,” I said quickly.
“I thought so.” She smiled. I rubbed my neck, my breath puffed from my lips painfully. “What are you doing, Ava?”
“Stalling,” I whispered and turned to look out the window at his truck. Just seeing him out there made my ache even worse, knowing he was in withdrawals, too.
“I know. But why?”
“Because I’m afraid he’ll disappoint me. I’m afraid that he’s not what I think he is. Most of all, I’m afraid he’s exactly what I think he is.”
I felt her hands on the tops of my arms. “You’ve waited for this your whole life, Ava. And now that it’s here, you can’t run from it just because it’s not exactly what you expected. Life never is. If you run from a challenge, then you’ll always be running. Look at Seth. From the first day, he has faced this. He came here, to this house full of strangers who he knew were going to probably hate him—and he did that for you. He’s out there now for you. Don’t give up on him, Ava.”
I gasped a little, the breath getting caught in my throat.
Don’t give up on me, Ava…
I waited a few beats to catch my breath.
“Thanks, Mom.”
I hoisted my bag up and left without another word or look back. I heard Rodney call out over his cereal. “Is that really what you’re wearing?”
“Bye, Rod!” I yelled with a laugh.
I barely made it two steps out my front door when he was opening his door and stepping out of his big Dodge truck. He didn’t look so good either. I mean…he looked amazing. If men were edible, he would be breakfast. He was scruffy and I determined right then that I liked scruff. He hadn’t shaved last night, obviously if he slept in his truck…for me…and his jeans and fire station ‘22’ t-shirt looked a little unkempt, but he looked so good that way. But he also looked as if a regular person, like Rodney, would call him on it for looking a little rough.
His eyes went up and down me a couple times. “Wow, you look…” Okay, maybe Rodney was right… “Really good. Even in the mornings, when this withdrawal thing really sucks.”
Oh. He was just being nice.
“I’m not just being nice.”
“Will you stop?” I whispered. “It’s too early for you to…be in my head.”
“I’m not,” he promised and smiled. “It’s all over your face.” He smiled wider. “I brought breakfast. Somehow I knew you wouldn’t eat.”
I hadn’t noticed the coffee and bag in his hands. We may as well go ahead and get this over with. It was going to be awkward no matter what, right? He knew I was angry. I knew he was sorry, but there was nothing he could say to make it better. He chose when I asked him to choose me. So I may as well take the breakfast, take his touch, and then go to school. We could hash this out later.
I reached forward, feeling the painful tug in my back when I did it. I groaned a little and saw his face watch my every move as I let my palm slide against his neck. The second his skin hit mine, it was like a wave of calm settled over me, a shocking ease and fog that crawled through my veins. I felt his sigh in my hair as his arms reached around me. The bag crumpled in his grasp.
“I’m so sorry about last night. I know I hurt you and I wish that there was a way that it could have been different. It seems it’s destined to be hard for us.”
“Why does it have to be?” My arms were trapped between us and I gripped his neck in my hand, but I surprisingly didn’t mind as much. My anger was there, but it had tamed some. It was corralled now, understandably. My pain made my anger and frustration worse. Now that it was gone, I could focus on how I actually felt. Right this second? I just wanted to be near him. I just wanted to stay like this. “Why can’t we just keep our promises?”
         He leaned back and licked his lip. “My mom…the woman who raised me…had a heart attack last night.”
My heart jumped painfully for him. “But…why didn’t you just tell me that? I would have—”
“You would have tried to come,” he confirmed.
I realized he was right. There was no way I could have laid there all night, knowing he was hurting like that and not gone to comfort him. My significant body wouldn’t have let me. I let my eyes fall to his neck, but his used his finger under my chin of the hand holding the coffee to bring it back up.
“And I would have loved you for it.” I gasped a little. “But I was with her at the hospital and you would have been waiting for me sometimes. A lot probably. And…as much as it pains me to admit it, I…don’t think you should be around my family alone. Not like that. Not yet. I’m sorry. I know you thought I was just blowing you off, or picking them over you, but.” He left it at that.
“I did think that,” I admitted and felt guilty. Even Mom said I should have faith in him, have more faith in the process that finding my significant is what I was meant to do. Why would I wait an entire lifetime for him and then throw him away the second I find him? I wouldn’t. “I’m sorry. You told me not to give up on you and I won’t. Let’s just…” I pushed him back a little and laughed a little awkwardly, “take things as they come, okay?”
He let a powerful breath go and smiled that smile that knocked the breath from me. “That’s the best thing I think I’ve ever heard you say.”
I laughed and squinted. “Um, okay.”
He shook his head, getting that I didn’t understand. “That you’re not giving up on me.”


Squee! Exciting stuff, no? Rumor has it that Shelly (who doesn't seem keen on me calling her Shelly Belly) will be announcing the release date for Undeniably Chosen soon, but until then, you can enjoy this beautiful cover:



Next up on the blog hop is Heather Lyons. Head over her way at 1:30 CST to get your next bit of exclusive book awesomeness. And if this happens to be your first blog hop stop of the day, be sure to check out what GP Ching and Amber Garza have already posted. (If you're a Scout & Liam fan, you might really want to check out Amber's site. I'm just saying.)

Now, are you ready to win some prizes? Collect my hashtag-less hashtag candy heart and use the Rafflecopter for your chance to snag some seriously sweet book-loving goodness!




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Saturday, December 20, 2014

A Christmas Proposal

Every year at Christmas I send my newsletter subscribers an exclusive short story from the world of Shifters and Seers. This one is from 2013 and tells the engagement story you didn't get to hear in Infinite Harmony

Not subscribed to the newsletter? Do so in the sidebar so you won't miss this year's short story! (Note: I'm a lazy newsletter sender, so don't worry about your inbox getting spammed.)



“You’re not dragging me out here to murder me and hide my body in a shallow but frozen grave are you?”

Liam threw a look over his shoulder. “Like I would ever dig a shallow grave.”

Everything about him, from his voice to the narrowing of his eyes, said he was serious, but I could feel his quiet laughter through the bond we share as mates. No one else in the Alpha Pack would believe a teasing man lay just beneath the Alpha Male’s serious exterior, and that was okay with me. I liked being the only one who knew that part of him. It made me feel special. Loved.

“You know, I’m not opposed to hiking,” I said, making my way over a particularly ugly patch of terrain. “Exercise. Getting back to nature. All of it good stuff. Do it often. But normally not in the middle of the night. On Christmas Eve.”

There was a time when my Christmas Eve nights were reserved for family fun time at the Matthews house, but all that changed when Mrs. Matthews called me the devil and suggested I get my head removed from my shoulders. Since then, things between the two of us have been a tinsy bit strained. Unfortunately, she’s still Talley’s mother, which means the rest of my family still feels the need to gather under her roof as Santa starts making his rounds every year.

As an Alpha, I suppose I could put a stop to the whole situation, but I haven’t. They can do whatever they want as long as they don’t expect me to go along and be nice. I’ve always sucked at playing the Pollyanna, but it’s gotten even harder over the past year. The fun new responsibilities of being an Alpha and my course work as an independent study student with an emphasis in genetics takes most of my energy. There simply isn’t enough left to paste on a false smile and pretend like I don’t want to murder people with my bare hands.

Last year on Christmas Eve I stayed home and wrapped all the gifts I left in their Amazon boxes until the absolute last moment, and was in the middle of doing the same thing this year when Liam came in and told me there was something he wanted me to see. Thirty minutes later I was tromping along behind him, my nose so cold I thought it might actually break off my face.

“Okay, close your eyes,” Liam said, stopping directly in front of me.

“Close my eyes?”

Dammit. He really was going to kill me and leave my body in the woods.

“Shut them tight. And no peeking.”

I gave my mate one final glare before snapping my eyelids together.

“Are you peeking?”

“No.”

“Are you going to peek?”

“No.”

A hand, warm and familiar, covered the top part of my face.

“Hey, I said I wouldn’t peek.”

Liam chuckled quietly in my ear, his breath warming the side of my neck. “You also said you wouldn’t eat the last of Gramma Hagan’s chess pie. I’ve learned the hard way not to trust you, Scout Donovan.”

His other hand found its way to my hip, and with it he guided me further into the woods. It felt like we went on that way forever. I really didn’t mind. Any excuse to be close to Liam was a good excuse in my opinion. We’d been growing closer over the past few months, but it still wasn’t enough for me. I wanted more. I wanted the fairytale. Instead, I got stuck with the emotionally realistic supernatural story.

Sometimes life is really unfair.

Eventually, Liam stopped dragging me over knobby tree roots and through thorn-filled bushes. My insides quivered with a cocktail of anticipation and nerves as we stood there. I thought at least one of the emotions was coming from Liam instead of myself, but I couldn’t be sure.

Slowly, the hand covering my face lifted away, and I found myself staring at a small building. It was one of those storage sheds made to look like a small house, with a porch and all that jazz.

“That’s… new,” I said, completely confused as to what was going on. “Why did my dad put a storage building in the middle of nowhere? Please don’t tell me he’s decided to take up hunting again. He shot the tire off of his truck the last time he tried.”

Liam moved up beside me, grabbing my hand and leading me towards the shed.

“Your dad didn’t put it here. I did.”

“For Talley on full moon nights?” I guessed.

“She can use it if she wants, but it’s not hers. It’s yours.”

“Mine.” Of course it was. It was exactly what I always wanted.

A storage shed. Right. It was just below “world peace” and “Teen Wolf DVDs” in my letter to Santa.

“Thank you?” I hadn’t meant for it to sound like a question, but it was storage shed in the middle of the woods and my acting skills are decidedly subpar.

Liam smiled one of his real smiles where his cheeks fold up like an accordion. “Come on,” he said, tugging my hand. “It’s a gift. It’s what is on the inside that matters.”

Still confused, I followed along behind him, although my steps were a bit quicker and more surefooted than they had been moments before. Curiosity has always been one of my biggest downfalls.

“Go on,” Liam said, nudging me with his shoulder once we were at the door. He looked like a little kid, practically bouncing with excitement, and in that moment I couldn’t have cared less what was inside the building. No one would ever describe Liam as “carefree” or “joyful”, and the last few months had been especially hard on him as we followed one bad lead after another looking for the person who left the disfigured body of a murdered Shifter in our backyard. Finding the responsible parties hadn’t brought the closure either of us was expecting, and we both waited for the next inevitable strike. We lived in a constant state of stress and unease, and Liam carried the majority of the emotional strain. But standing there, waiting for me to “unwrap” his gift, he looked truly happy for the first time in a long time. If I could have, I would have stopped time and stayed there with this carefree Liam forever.

Or maybe I would have shoved open the door as fast as I could then, too.

Curiosity. It gets me every time.

“Well…?” Liam prompted, but I couldn’t answer. I was too busy blinking back tears.

Two years ago Liam and I spent the winter hiding out in a cabin in the frozen wilds of Canada. We survived for months without electricity or contact from the outside world. Starvation and freezing to death were real fears. But the former Alphas were out for our blood, and we weren’t mentally or physically ready to take them on yet. So, we hid in our tiny cabin. Most of my memories of that time involve being so cold it hurt and working myself to exhaustion just so we would survive another day. Really, the only good memory I have from Canada is of Christmas. Homemade gifts. Carols sung out of tune. And a Christmas tree decorated with up-cycled ornaments made from soup labels and Pop-Tart wrappers. It was both the ugliest and most beautiful Christmas tree I’d ever seen.

And its twin was sitting on the other side of my storage shed.

“It’s our cabin,” I finally said. A card table and fold-up chairs stood in for the furniture Liam had made with his own two hands and a kerosene heater was sitting where our fireplace had been, but the spirit of our Canadian hideaway was there. “You remade our cabin?”

The “why” didn’t escape my lips, but Liam heard it all the same.

“I know it was small and cold and crappy, but sometimes I wish we could go back there again. Just the two of us, hidden away from the world.”

My heart fluttered hopelessly in my chest as I turned to look up at him. Something big and profound was happening here, I knew it in my gut, and I wanted to be looking him in the eyes when it did.

“You know my bed in Romania? The giant one with the space-age foam some lady down in the village has to make special sheets for because it’s so big? When you’re not there, and I’m trying to go to sleep in that monstrous thing alone, all I can think about is how much I would rather be on a cold, lumpy futon mattress with you.”

I felt certain I had stopped breathing, but since I wasn’t laid out on the floor, I must have been getting oxygen from somewhere. Or maybe I was dreaming. That would explain the not breathing and still standing thing, as well as why my taciturn mate who avoided emotions like a communicable disease was saying the most beautiful, wonderful things I had ever heard in my life.

Of course, if I were dreaming, my feet probably wouldn’t feel like two ice cubes from stomping through the woods in a pair of Tom’s.

“Liam—“

A finger pressed against my lips.

“Let me get this out before I lose my nerve.”

Eager to find out what else he might say, I nodded.

“That cabin was quite possibly the most miserable, uncomfortable place ever, but it’s my favorite place on earth because it’s where I fell in love with you.”

Whoa. Stop. Rewind.

Love?

We had been mates for over a year, and never once during all that time had Liam said the l-word.

The muscles in my jaw quit working, sending my chin plummeting down to my chest. Liam misinterpreted my newfound neuromuscular disorder and placed his finger back over my lips.

“Still talking,” he said.

“Still listening.”

“I tried to deny what was happening for a long time. I told myself the only reason I waited up every night until you fell into a deep enough asleep that you would let me hold you was we needed the warmth, but I really just wanted to feel you in my arms. I wanted to wrap myself in your scent. I wanted to…” His eyes trailed over my body, sending a wave of goosebumps over my skin. He took a deep breath and rubbed a hand over his head. “Nevermind.”

No. Not nevermind. I wanted to hear this part. And maybe get a demonstration.

“When I realized what was happening, I almost lost it. I thought about just leaving. Turning wolf and never Changing back. Anything to get away from you and what was happening.”

Okay, not exactly how I hoped this monologue was going to go.

“But I was too weak. I wanted you too much. And so I stayed, and I let myself fall in love with you.”

“I’m sorry?” I said, but as soon as it was out of my mouth, I wanted to take it back. I wasn’t sorry. I loved Liam. I loved the way he thought everything through about fifty different ways before doing something. I loved the way he wanted to protect and save the entire world. I loved the way he was good to his very core but tried to hide it behind glares and scowls. And I loved how he’s the sexist human being to have ever walked on the earth. And I wasn’t ashamed of loving him at all. If you gave me a rooftop, and I would shout it out.

Was it too much to ask that he feel the same about me? Was wanting my mate to not regret loving me so unreasonable?

“Is it really so bad?” I asked. “Is loving me such a bad thing? I mean, I get that I’m not perfect. I’m weird looking—“

“Harper Lee Donovan.” The words came out from between clenched teeth. “You stupid, ignorant, beautiful girl. Would you shut up for one minute and let me finish.”

I snapped my teeth together, but only because of the “beautiful” he causally dropped. I wanted to hear where that was going.

“You think I’m ashamed to love you? That I think the problem in this relationship is you? Are you insane?”

“I believe I can Change into an arctic wolf on command, so there is strong chance I might be.”

“Do you know what has happened to every person I’ve ever let myself love, Scout? Do you?”

“I…” I was going to tell him I didn’t know what he was talking about, but then I did.

Nicole.

His parents.

Alex.

“Everyone I love dies, Scout. Everyone. And then came you. The first dominant female Shifter in hundreds of years. The biggest threat the Alpha Pack had ever seen. You were marked for death, and I was falling in love with you.”

The danger had passed. I’d met death on that field and walked away, but looking in Liam’s eyes you would never know it. The fear was still very real for him.

Unable to stop myself, I reached up and cradled his face in my hand.

“I survived,” I said. “We made it out. The Alpha Pack is ours.”

“And someone just spent the past four months trying to kill you.”

Well, there was that.

“But they didn’t. I’m still here, Liam. And I plan on sticking around for a long time.”

“You better,” he said, moving my hand from his face and onto the back of his neck with one hand and using the other to pull my body flush with his. A warmth built low in my stomach and spread until my entire body practically radiated heat. “Because it’s too late now. I’m so in love with you I can’t see straight.”

I flattened my other hand against his chest so I could feel his heart pounding.

“Say it again,” I whispered.

“I love you, Scout Donovan.”

“Again.”

“I love you.”

I was smiling so big my face felt like it was splitting in two.

“Again.”

“Everything that is good in my life is because of you. When I have to leave you all I can think about it how long it’s going to be before I can see you again. I need you so much it scares me – hell, it should scare you - but I love you too much to walk away.”

“Liam—“

“Still not done.”

His hand trailed from my hip, up my side, and down my arm until his hand was intertwined with the one I had against his chest.

“I’ve tried to keep my distance, tried to hold back my instinct, but I can’t do it anymore. I won’t.”

Between the intense look in the grey eyes staring into mine and the thrum of some emotion I couldn’t name coming through the mating bond, I was getting a little nervous. This Liam, the one with all the burning emotions and passionate declarations, wasn’t the person I had known for the past three years, and I had no idea what to expect from him.

“Things are going to have to be different between us from now on,” he said. “No more of this dancing around each other, neither one of us knowing what the other wants crap. I can’t do it anymore. I need you. All of you. And I want to give you all of me.”

My heart was beating so hard in my chest I thought I might have to Change just to repair a broken rib.

“I love you.” I didn’t know exactly what was happening here, but I did know how I felt about him and how I would always feel about him. “You and me are my OTP.”

“Then tell me what you want from me, Scout.”

“Right now?” My brain was so overloaded I couldn’t think of my name and he wanted me to start listing what I needed out of our relationship? I frantically looked around the room for inspiration. “Sex,” I said, my eyes snagging on the futon in the corner. “I want sex from you.”

Oh dear sweet Jesus, I actually said that out loud.

Instead of the deer-in-the-headlights look of mortification I was expecting, Liam choked out a laugh while the back of his neck took on a decidedly red tone.

“I have to admit, I wasn’t expecting that,” he said.

“Yeah, I surprised myself with that one a little, too.” I almost left it at that, but since we were trying this new being completely open and honest about our wants and needs with one another thing, I added, “But I meant it. When you said you wanted all of me… well, I want all of you, too. And I think it’s time naked Liam is part of that package.”

Yep. I definitely broke a rib. Or pulled a muscle. Or maybe I was in cardiac arrest. Something horrible had to be going on because my chest was way too tight, my heart was beating way too fast, and my mouth was operating without getting preapproval from my brain.

I think it’s time naked Liam is a part of that package.

And the award for the worst seduction in the history of all time and space goes to—

My train of thought was completely derailed by Liam’s mouth pressing against mine. I gasped in surprise and he took the opportunity to take the kiss deeper. My brain was still standing out in the cold trying to figure out why in Hades there was a storage shed in the middle of the woods, but my body had no trouble going with the flow and getting into the moment. I was thankful for both the kerosene heater and my Shifter tolerance of the cold when my shirt hit the floor.

“Wait,” Liam gasped as my shaking hands wrestled with the button on his jeans. “Scout, we need to wait.”

I couldn’t stop the growl of frustration from escaping my throat. “I’ve been waiting for a year,” I snapped.

A huff of breath tickled the top of my head, and I looked up to see him laughing at me in that silent way of his. I carefully considered scratching my nails down his stupidly perfect chest.

“Patience.”

I put all my frustration into the glare I leveled at him, which only made him laugh more.

“I promise, we’ll be completely naked soon.” His gaze seemed to get stuck on my bra, which made me blush in places I didn’t know could blush. “Really soon,” he amended. “But I need to give you your other present first.”

“You can’t give me another present.”

Now it was Liam’s turn to look confused. “I can’t? Why not?”

“Because,” I explained, “all I’ve got for you is a sweater and toolbox.”

Liam cocked his head to one side, deep in thought. “A toolbox?”

“You look at it every single time you drag me into Home Depot.”

“The giant Kobalt with the refrigerator in it?”

“Don’t forget the speakers.”

I felt a deep sense of satisfaction at the gleeful look of anticipation on his face.

“I’ve wanted that thing forever. You’re amazing.”

“Well, it’s no reconstructed cabin in the woods, which is why you can’t give me another gift. The scales are unbalanced.”

“Then how about this?” he said, reaching into his pocket and extracting a small box. “Instead of calling it a gift, it’ll be an exchange.” He flipped up the lid of the little black velvet box and my previously racing heart stopped beating all together. “You get the ring, and I get a fiancĂ©e.”

Words. Words would have been good. Unfortunately, I couldn’t make any.

While I was trying to remember how the whole speaking thing worked, Liam got down on one knee, which made me also forget how to breathe.

“Harper Lee Donovan, will you marry me?”

Since air and speech had abandoned me in my hour of need, I nodded my head, slowly at first, but by the time Liam stood up and gathered me in his arms I was like a bobble head gone wild. Liam stopped the manic neck-hinge action by capturing my mouth with his as he slid the ring onto my finger. The kiss started sweet and tame, but it didn’t stay that way long. This time, when I reached for the clasp of Liam’s jeans, my hands were steady.

It was a long while later when I finally took the time to examine the ring on my finger. I never paid a lot of attention to things like diamonds and rings and jewelry in general, so I wasn’t sure exactly what I was wearing, but I knew it was beautiful. Even in the low light of the darkened cabin it sparkled.

“Do you like it?” Liam asked, peppering my bare shoulder with little kisses.

I moved my fingers, watching as the light danced from the larger stone in the middle to the smaller ones guarding it from the big, bad world. “It’s perfect,” I said, rolling over onto my back and adjusting the sheet as I went. “I love it.”

“I love you.” My heart reminded me it still wasn’t back to normal, and I decided it might always react to hearing those words from his lips. “I think my life would be perfect if I could wake up in your arms like this for the rest of my life.”

Liam traced the curve of my mouth lazily with his thumb. “Which is why I have another gift for you.”

My eyes narrowed. “Liam Cole, the scales are so unevenly balanced they’ve fallen off the table and onto the floor already. I refuse to accept any more gifts.”

“One,” he said, kissing the side of my neck, “all I’ve given you as a gift so far has been a crappily furnished storage shed. The ring was part of a bargain. And two,” his lips moved to the other side, “this isn’t really so much a gift as an announcement.”

“An… an announcement?” His lips trailed lower and I lost all coherent thought for a few minutes. It was okay though since he was too busy doing things my father would have shot him for to talk.

A long time later, which was entirely too soon from my point of view, he said, “At the next hustings in February I’m announcing that we’re officially moving the Den to the United States. We’ll still have to travel to Romania a couple of times a year, but not for more than a week at a time. And we’ll do it together.”

“Can you do that?”

A slow smile spread across his face. “In the words of this really sexy girl I know, ‘I’m the Alpha. I can do whatever I want.’”

It dawned on me then that there, in that moment, I was happy. Not just life-is-pretty-good happy either. We’re talking life-is-a-Disney-movie, let’s-burst-into-song-and-dance happy. And the moment I realized it, I started worrying about losing it.

What happened when Liam realized that full-time living with Scout wasn’t as much fun as it sounded? When the day-to-day stuff became tedious? What happened when he woke up one day and realized he’d made me his wife?

“We don’t actually have to do this,” I found myself saying. “We’re already mates. That’s like being married squared. We could skip that whole wedding thing. I don’t really like those anyway with all the people staring at you and the pressure for everything to be perfect, and… and… and…”

I watched as Liam rolled over and waited for him to get out of the bed and walk away from me forever. It was inevitable. Life doesn’t actually come with happily-ever-afters.

“Ninety-eight minutes,” he said, looking at his phone. “Good job. I said it would be under an hour. Of course, Jase didn’t think you would actually let me put it on your finger, so he owes me like hundred bucks now.”

“Is it my imagination, or did this whole conversation just become as confusing as that movie where Leonardo DiCaprio went into people’s dreams or whatever?”

In a move that was clearly a Shifter making sure you noticed his crazy good reflexes, Liam was back by my side and propped up on an elbow before you could say “show off.”

“We took bets on how long it would take you to freak out. Talley won. She gave you a full two hours. I thought it was very generous of her.”

“Talley is a generous girl,” I said. Part of me considered being pissed that the people I love most in this world placed bets on how long it would take me to lose it, but Liam was still in the bed and seemed to be handling my whole not wanting to get married thing pretty well, so I decided to just go with it. I could kick Jase’s ass over the whole thing later.

“We’re getting married,” Liam said. “We’re doing the whole thing. Pretty white dress. Boring preacher. Crying parents. All of it.”

“Why? Why go through all the trouble?” Although the part about the pretty white dress was tempting, which was something I wasn’t expecting. Who would have thought I had a secret, hidden desire to wear a wedding gown?

“We’re going to get married because we fell into this mate thing. Neither of us knew what we were doing when we made the choices we did. We just woke up one day eternally linked to one another. And while I wouldn’t change that for anything, I want you to know – I want the world to know – that I’ve made the conscious decision to be with you.” His lashes dropped, and when they rose again he couldn’t quite manage to meet my eyes. “And I need to know this is where you want to be, too. Please, marry me, Scout.”

I blinked back the tears threatening to fall. “Liam Cole, you are my forever and always. Of course I will marry you.”

And as Christmas Eve turned into Christmas Day, I lay in my mate’s arms and began planning my wedding.



Sunday, December 14, 2014

Liam's Canadian Cabin Christmas

Every year at Christmas I send my newsletter subscribers an exclusive short story from the world of Shifters and Seers. This one is from 2012 and joins Liam on the Christmas morning he shared with Scout in Fate Succumbs

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That winter I had a love-hate affair with mornings. I hated the cold that was so pronounced it sank into my bones, freezing the marrow. I hated knowing a long, hard day of simply trying to survive lay ahead. And mostly I hated knowing that soon she would be slinking away from me, leaving me physically aching for her touch the rest of the day. But those few moments when we were still in bed, her body tucked into mine like it belonged there, were among the best in my life.
Christmas morning was the exception.There was no dread for the day to come, only a spark of the same hope every person who celebrates the holiday feels upon waking on December 25. I had busted my ass the day before to make sure I would only have to do the bare minimum to get us by for the day. Maybe it was stupid and foolish to even consider celebrating the holiday when there wasn’t anything the two of us had to celebrate, but I needed this. We had filled the last few weeks with off-key songs and makeshift Christmas festivities. Like any kid over the age of three, I knew it would all be over tomorrow, and I wasn’t able to let it just fizzle out. Even if we did nothing but huddle by the fire all day, I would enjoy the hell of out it. Actually, that sounded really fantastic. It had to be ten below in the cabin, which meant it was considerably colder outside. The only thing saving me from turning into a Liam-shaped snowman was Scout’s warmth as she burrowed a little further into my chest. I breathed in through my nose, letting her scent warm my two-sizes-too-small heart the same way her slight body was warming my arms and legs.
Santa, if you’re listening, this is what I want for Christmas. I want this, forever. Let me live the rest of my life in this bed with her and I will be happy and content.
Of course, there was no Santa to listen in and grant my every desire. And if there was, he obviously knew me well enough to put me on the naughty list, because as soon as I made my wish, I felt Scout wake up. For a moment I thought I might get my ultimate wish, one I was too chicken to admit to even Jolly Old Saint Nick. Instead of immediately getting as far away from me as humanly possible in a one-room cabin, Scout lingered. In my head, I saw her opening her eyes, realizing where she was and who she was with, and not regretting it. I imagined her saying my name, coaxing my eyes open. My lips itched with longing, and it was becoming almost impossible to just lie there and pretend to be unaware of her. Just when I though I might break from the effort, she slipped out from under my arms and bound out of the bed.
I stayed where I was, waiting for her go through her normal morning routine before dragging myself out of the heaven that was this bed. But instead of going to add some wood to the fire and gathering up her day clothes, she went to the cabinet and started moving stuff around. When I heard something crinkle I lost the battle with my curiosity. I moved my head to where I could see her through tiny gap I allowed in my eyelids. At my movement, she ran towards our sad excuse for a Christmas tree and underneath tossed two objects I couldn’t discern with my limited vision.
Presents. Scout had put presents under the tree. Presents for me. From Scout.
My heart kicked in my chest. Maybe there was a Santa Claus.
“It’s Christmas!” Scout bellowed from the top of her lungs, and I had to throw a cover over my face to hide the ridiculous grin stretching across my face. “It’s Christmas! Santa came! It’s Christmas!”

It was Christmas, and for once, I was happy to be alive to experience the miracle of it.