“It’s cold out here, Rosie.” Cadoc almost seems wary of me. He keeps his distance, tracking my every move as I creak back and forth in the rocking chair, shivering.
“I’m burning up,” I say through clattering teeth. The wind dries my sweat, leaving my exposed skin clammy.
“I, uh, I have a place we can go.” His face tightens like he’s embarrassed to offer. I bet it’s a sterile room in some vacant building with white walls and a hospital bed.
I curl my arms around my belly. My innards are being wrung out like a damp dishcloth. “I don’t want to go anywhere with you.”
My eyes sting. I know I have to do this. I can feel my will dissolving, an insistent drive taking over. I’m hanging on the edge of a cliff, my claws losing their grip, centimeter by centimeter, and the only person I can look to for help is the enemy.
Or is he?
His harsh lips are turned down. He’s unhappy, but not at me. I know it as if his feelings were a scent or a sound in the air. I don’t even need the bond to read him now.
He swallows, his Adam’s apple bobbing. He reaches into his pocket and takes something out.
Whatever it is, it’s small. He’s holding it loosely in his palm, but I can’t make it out. What does he have? I squint and tip the rocker forward.
He holds it up between two fingers so I can see. It’s a rock no bigger than a postage stamp. Common siltstone.
I reach out my hand. He closes the distance between us and sets it in my palm. I fold it in my fist.
“Is that the rock from yesterday?” I ask.
“Yeah. The one you found in the field.”
“You went back for it?”
Cadoc lifts a shoulder while I flip it in my fingers. The edges are smooth. It’s a good rock. I tuck it in my pocket.
“I know you don’t really want to do this, Rosie.” He addresses my rubber-toed sneakers. “But I’m not going to hurt you.” He raises his eyes to mine, and they’ve got a touch of silver to them. Is it a reflection from the moon? “And I’m not sorry it’s you. I want to do this with you. Just so you know.” He drops his gaze again.
A wave of heat rolls over me, and on its heels comes a strange calm.
I couldn’t hold on anymore, and now I’m floating in space, another Rosie who doesn’t have time anymore for words or worries.
Cadoc is the one—my mate, no matter what he says—and he’s here now. Nothing else is important. I inhale his scent and ride the rush.
He’s a good mate. He smells right.
“Come on,” I say, standing up, shaky-legged. I grab his hand and lead him across the dirt yard to the Airstream. He has to duck and turn sideways to get through the narrow door.
“Stand there.” I point to the front by the counter. He does what I ask, hunching because of the low ceiling, and I move to the back to examine the bed.
The mattress is old, but it’s full-sized. The linens are threadbare but clean. I wash them myself every so often. I shove the quilt and flat sheet into a pile. It’s a start, but it’s nowhere near enough.
I snap my fingers at Cadoc. “Give me your clothes.”
I’m already peeling my sweater off and shucking my pants. I leave my socks on. My feet are as hot as the rest of me, but I don’t want them to touch the bare floor. The thought makes me cringe. I sweep sometimes, but it’s been a while.
I kneel on the edge of the bed and hold out my hand. Cadoc passes me his hoodie and jeans. I hold them to my nose and inhale. Woodsmoke in the crisp air right before a snowfall. My wolf growls her appreciation. These are good, too, but it’s not enough. This is a sorry nest.
Tears spring to my eyes. “Cadoc, what can we do?”
“What do you need, Rosie?” His voice is a deep, reassuring rumble, smooth on my frayed nerves.
“More,” I say. “More.”