Written with Diane Adams
Doug McKenna has little respect for any wolf that isn’t strong. That Sam was near broken is something he can’t at first reconcile. Still, Sam needs looking after and Doug thinks he is the one that should be doing the looking.
Night Owl Reviews – 4/5: I liked quite a bit about this story – the writing style, the characters, the pace, and the ending.
Literary Nymphs – 4/5: … Add these things together with sizzling hot sex, interesting secondary characters and good dialogue and you have everything needed for an entertaining paranormal read.
Sam looked away from the window when Jamie twisted around in his seat wearing his patented “I’m worried” look.
“I’m fine,” Sam answered, quickly offering the practiced reply with as much enthusiasm as he could muster. He returned his gaze to the side window as they left the city behind and drew closer to the forests at the foot of the mountains. In fact, because Jamie continued to stare at him, Sam looked at anything but Jamie. Actually making eye contact with the young wolf encouraged Jamie to spend more time being all concerned and supportive. Sam was uncomfortable enough here in the car without Jamie mothering him and Rob glaring at him.
“He said he’s fine,” Rob grumbled at his lover, dropping a gear and allowing the car its head on the winding country roads. Sam observed Jamie turning to face front in the mirrored glass of his window.
“I’m just checking,” he heard Jamie say sulkily. “He isn’t supposed to be standing a lot. We don’t know how long the service will be.”
“He’s a grown man, Jamie. He’ll move if he needs to. Just leave it.”
Sam wanted to shout “I’m sitting right here, guys”, but he couldn’t have hid the irritation in his voice if he had tried. An uncomfortable silence filled the car, and then, not able to stay quiet for long, Jamie began a conversation. As usual, he started with a question aimed right between Sam’s eyes.
“Did you remember anything today yet?” At least he hadn’t turned around in his seat. Sam was sure his reaction would be written on his face.
“No,” Sam said, allowing all of his irritation to color the word he spat out hard and fast.
“Jamie…” Rob’s voice held a note of warning.
Great. Jamie subsided in silence, and yet again, Rob had become the buffer between Jamie and Sam. Sam liked Jamie. After all, it had been Jamie who had looked after him in that room at the warehouse. Jamie who hadn’t done what he’d been told to do—completely break him. Jamie, who instead had petted him and given him meds and protected him when he was at his most vulnerable. Frustration skittered through him, and his wolf growled inside his head. It wanted out, and it wanted out now. Every time Sam remembered the room and the fractured images of Jamie he had collected and filed in his otherwise empty brain, all he could feel was utter desolation.
Jamie had taken him under his wing, taking full responsibility for him. Sam was even living with Rob and him in their small apartment, tucked away in a tiny room he shared with a gym machine and a desk. Guilt churned in his stomach. Jamie was only trying to help, so why wasn’t Sam letting him? It was what any responsible wolf did—looking out for their kind. So what fractured part of Sam was stopping the connection? What part of him didn’t want to connect as a wolf and allow Jamie and Rob to help him?
“Sorry,” he offered carefully, and this time Jamie turned back to face him. His eyes were wide with concern, and he smiled gently.
“It’s okay; I’m sorry too. Rob says I’m in your face too much.”
“Where’s Doug?” Sam changed the subject. “Are we picking him up?” He hoped they weren’t picking up Doug. He didn’t think he could handle any more of the other wolf’s disapproving looks or the constant sniping about Sam not making the effort to heal himself.
“He’s meeting us there. His car was in the shop, and he needed to pick it up.”
They left it at that. Sam didn’t want to discuss Doug anyway. He closed his eyes and listened to Jamie and Rob talking about the funeral and the implications of what had happened. Both men had a cloud of anxiety around them but for different reasons. Sam had observed the two of them together. Rob had real fear about losing Jamie in some horrible way. It wasn’t difficult to see that for all the difficulties and pitfalls of a human/wolf relationship, they were clearly in love. Rob was close to Joe, had known Mara, his wife, very well, and had been quietly thoughtful since he had heard about Mara dying. Jamie spent his time being supportive when he wasn’t nagging Sam to remember a past his brain clearly didn’t want to handle.
Sam didn’t really know this other wolf cop, Joe. Joe had been in the hospital with his wife when Rob had rescued him and Jamie from the warehouse. All he knew was the wife had died and her unborn baby had died with her, a terrible tragedy. He hadn’t meant to come today, not even when Jamie said he could borrow some dress pants and a shirt from him. Not even when Rob had told him it wasn’t a problem for him not to attend and he could safely skip going. As yet, he hadn’t analyzed why he was here. Apparently he was a very polite wolf who wanted to show his appreciation for their help, and he saw his attendance as a mark of his respect for Rob and Jamie. They had housed and fed him for a week now. His gratitude and guilt made for uneasy bed partners, and he wanted to support them in what they were doing.
They pulled into the cemetery, parked, and Rob was out of the car in an instant. Jamie watched and waited, and Sam looked past him through the windshield, trying not to make it look obvious. Rob was talking to another man, shorter with dark blond hair and clothed in the same police-issue dress as Rob.
“That’s Joe,” Jamie said. “Rob says he’s not doing so well.”
“I can imagine,” Sam replied, for want of something else to say.
Jamie opened his door and climbed out. He crossed immediately to Joe and tilted his head, exposing his throat, and Joe inclined his head at the respect Jamie showed. He then pulled the wolf close and held him briefly.
Sam froze in his seat. He wasn’t ready to show his vulnerable side to another wolf, let alone touch one. Luckily, fate intervened and there was enough distraction for him to leave the car unnoticed and hang at the back of the group. Two more cars arrived, people spilling out in a tumble of cop blue and dark suits, and Joe was swallowed by the group. Jamie returned to stand next to Sam, and he wasn’t surprised to see his roommate’s eyes filled with tears.
“We’re going to the graveside. You okay?” Jamie asked. Sam nodded and waited as Jamie seemed to want to say something else. Probably some stuff about how Sam should be careful standing for so long. Jamie said nothing, just glanced over to where Rob stood, somber and supportive next to Joe.
Sam hated funerals. He didn’t know how he knew this. Maybe it would be safer to say, given his lack of memories to guide him, it was this particular funeral he hated. The discomfort of being amongst so many wolves and humans was very real, and his chest tightened. Pulling every single reserve from inside himself, he followed as the group moved to the graveside in an area where others of his kind lay in their final resting places. Was Sam the only one here who could feel the hum of the earth under his feet through the sacred ground? This cemetery was old, and his wolf was restless under his skin, reacting to the vibrations of ancient energy. He glanced around, but no one else seemed to be overly concerned with what they might or might not be feeling through the earth. It was frustrating, and remembering nothing of his life made the human part of his nature unsettled. The wolf half of him was trying so damn hard to balance the man, but it didn’t help.
The mourners ranged around Joe, and with deference, Sam took a position right at the back of the group, slightly apart.
To see Joe was to see grief personified. He was in his full uniform, dark blue, with the wolf shadow insignia of the wolf/cop liaison unit emblazoned on the sleeve of his jacket. Absolutely still, he stared ahead at the coffin covered in complicated wreaths and single white flowers. The scent of the wood traveled in the air to Sam, and a flash of another casket appeared in his thoughts. Just as rapidly, the image dissipated until he couldn’t even picture what he may have seen. Flashes of the other him probably, the one with a full complement of memories that snapped into his head at the weirdest times. A scent or a word and his brain suddenly split open with pain and sensation. His wolf wanted him to feel the visceral pain, but self-preservation pushed at the ache until it left the other half of him growling and spitting inside.
Joe stood next to the coffin, shuffling three pieces of paper. Sam’s wolf, sensing Joe’s grief, wanted nothing more than to offer his support as a pack member. Sam ruthlessly pushed the thought down. Sam Harrison was a cubicle worker with no freaking memory and a half-broken mind added to injuries he’d rather not think about. Sam was not, and never would be, a member of some loosely bound cop pack that included humans. Angry with his thoughts, without really knowing why, he concentrated on bringing all his attention back to Joe.
“Mara once said to me…” Joe looked down at his hands and then back up at the people who stood around them. He blinked in the sunlight cast by the low-lying autumn sun that touched his face. “She said, ‘Joe, when you tell me it’s not dangerous, I take a long hot bath and have a glass of wine. When you say you’ll be home for dinner, I just put your plate in the microwave. And when you say Rob or Nick or Dan has called and they need you for ten minutes? Well, I have an early night where I dream good things and try not to worry.’”
Joe looked to the rest of his team on his right with a rueful smile on his face, his eyes dark with emotion. Sam followed the gaze to look at the men Joe called friends—Rob, Dan, and Nick. Rob, with Jamie’s hand in his, nodded and closed his eyes briefly.
Dan was in the middle. He looked devastated, and grief was carved into his expression. Apparently Dan and Joe were close outside the intense links that exist between cop partners. Dan and his girlfriend and Joe and his wife had been a foursome, now utterly broken by Mara’s death.
Sam closed his eyes briefly and concentrated hard on that one relationship. Friendship. He examined the dynamic in his head and attempted to remember some kind of similar connection in his own life. There was nothing, just a complete emptiness of anything that might have gone before. He opened his eyes again, frustration pushed to one side as Joe continued to talk.
“She always said the job was my mistress.” Joe interrupted his speech to give a half-hearted smile, memories probably causing him to pause as he remembered his wife. “She kept telling me she almost wished I had a girlfriend because she knew how to fight that but had no idea how to fight the job or the cop it held tight. I tried to explain my day—what I’d seen and done—at the start of our relationship. Then I didn’t. Being open with her didn’t stop overnight, but she became my safe place, and I didn’t want to let real life in. In a world so full of the bad things that the days run into each other, she was everything good.”
He rustled the papers in his hand. Sam couldn’t have been the only one who noticed he wasn’t actually reading from his notes. Joe was speaking from the heart. Compassion welled in Sam’s chest, restricting his breathing as it overwhelmed him. Losing a loved one must be the singularly most soul-destroying event in a person’s life. He hoped that, if he ever got his memories back, he discovered his parents were alive and his siblings, if he had any, were all well and safe and happy. To remember a forgotten grief would surely be like living through it again.
“She had to put up with so much from me.” Joe stopped again and looked up at the wide expanse of sky, fighting back tears. “Just like any cop’s wife, I guess. For most people, when their life partner says they’ll be at home at half past seven and isn’t home until nine, there are so many innocent reasons. Working late, getting take-out, shopping, or visiting with a friend, even a traffic jam at road construction. The problem was I’m not most people. Mara and I didn’t live in a world where we had the luxury of believing nothing bad would ever happen to someone we cared about.”
Sam glanced at Rob and Jamie who were holding hands and imagined the horrors that must live inside Rob’s head at the ways he could lose his lover; those same horrors must live inside any cop’s head.
Joe coughed, his emotions thick in his throat. “When she was ten minutes late, I worried something awful had happened. I saw death too often to think it could never happen, and the thought of my best friend never walking through the front door again didn’t bear thinking about. It would eat away inside me, and I could imagine car accidents, murders, death in any one of a hundred ways.” He inhaled, taking a breath of the crisp fall air and then bowed his head, grief in every line of his body.
Nick stood stoic at the end of the line, closest at right angles to Joe. Only an arm’s length away from his friend, he was tense and drawn, his gaze firmly fixed on Joe. Sam scented despair and love. There was more to Nick and Joe than just good friends and colleagues; they were more like brothers. Nick was Joe’s wolf partner at the precinct, and they shared so much. It was an intense relationship and the look of utter determination on Nick’s face displayed his complete focus on supporting Joe. Nick looked about to move—Sam saw the coiled tension in the other man—but he didn’t take one step. Nick had clearly decided Joe needed to do this alone and stayed in his position.
“As the minutes ticked by, I would become convinced something had happened. I would sit in the house and listen to the scanner to see if I could hear anything. The thought of losing her was too overwhelming because she was the one thing to keep me steady through the bad times. She guided me and settled me when it was all too much. And now…she’s gone.” Joe’s voice broke.
The insistent pain in Sam’s lower back chose that moment to become a spasm that took his breath and threatened to take him to his knees. He stumbled back and caught himself quickly. It wouldn’t be a good thing to freaking collapse at a funeral. He must have made a sound because Jamie turned and looked back. He needed to say he was okay and just go back to the car, but everyone had looked at him now, and Jamie was making to move. Then a hand gripped him, and a growl of a voice said simply, “I’ve got him.”
Through a pain-filled haze, he looked up at the owner of the voice and instantly wished he hadn’t as his wolf scratched at him to get out. With dark hair, dark eyes, and the body of an athlete, the man who had hold of him set his lips in a stern line because he held an intense hatred of what Sam was. No compassion sparked in his eyes, and he said nothing else.
Doug had finally arrived, and Sam hadn’t even scented his approach.
Sam wanted to pull his arm away, but he couldn’t make a scene in front of the other mourners who all seemed to be focused on Joe again. The pain radiating from his lower spine was crumbling his defenses, and the one man who typically didn’t want anything to do with him was the one helping him to the parking area.
He stumbled and heard a muttered curse from Doug. Far enough away from the group to let his tongue loosen, he pulled his arm away from Doug and made his feelings very clear.
“Leave me alone,” Sam managed to force out past gritted teeth.
“Leave you to fall on the ground? Jamie’d skin me.”
“I won’t f-fall on the-the ground,” he stuttered. He used his free hand to push into his pocket and pull out two round tablets—muscle relaxants, the only things that stopped the pain. He pushed them in his mouth and dry swallowed past the bile rising in his throat.
“You’re still on meds?” Doug sounded horrified.
“I said… Leave. M-me. Alone.” Doug let go of his arm with a frustrated huff and stood by as Sam stumbled but managed to support himself on a gravestone. Sam glanced down at the words engraved in the old stone and sent a silent thank you to Aster Matthews—wife, mother, wolf—whose marker was there to help him stand. He inhaled as deeply as he could, and then, exhaling, he attempted straightening his spine, not the best idea as the spasm increased. Instead of coming in waves, it now seemed constant. He gritted his teeth, watching distaste pass across Doug’s face and then exasperation in his expression as he took a step closer to help.
“You can’t even stand properly, let alone walk,” Doug snapped.
“Fuck off,” Sam growled.
“You need help—”
“Don’t n-need h-help from you,” Sam expanded. Doug was clearly ignoring him because he slid an arm under Sam’s and took his weight. Breathless with pain, Sam couldn’t argue, and step by step, with his wolf snapping and snarling and demanding release, they finally made it to the car.
Doug settled him in the back seat, but it wasn’t Rob’s car. The scents—spices and tea tree—were different. Doug’s car. The journey had been a blur, the pain too intense, and it was a blessing unconsciousness claimed him to give his body time to heal.