Once again, the following scenes depict no sex, just one gorgeous naked werewolf and an equally naked gorgeous constable....
When James returned to the kitchen with a fresh change of clothes for both of them, Alun was still there—not only was he there, but he was buck naked, washing himself off with a clean cloth.
“Now there’s a sight a man could get used to,” James couldn’t stop the words that sprang to his mind from coming out of his mouth. To his immense delight, Alun turned and grinned at him.
James stole up to him and pressed a kiss to his lips before he lost his nerve. Sex was one thing, but little tendernesses, stolen kisses, those meant so much more. Alun returned his kiss with warmth, filling him with hope. James cupped the older man’s face in both hands, deepening the kiss, taking in his sweet musky scent, and the taste of his mouth, enjoying the sensations washing over him, the flutter in his stomach and pounding of his heart. He knew he was falling in love.
“I’m not sure your Mrs. Dunberry would approve of ‘aving a strange man naked in ‘er kitchen,” Alun teased when their lips parted. “I think she’d approve even less of the way ‘e can’t keep ‘is ‘ands offa you.”
“Just for the record, the man who pays the good lady’s wages doesn’t object to having your hands all over him.”
Alun chuckled. He drew him into another kiss before going back to cleaning himself up.
Smiling, James grabbed another clean cloth from the drawer and started to wash up as well. He didn’t miss the way the other man’s gaze flickered over his body. What he wouldn’t give for another few hours… “I brought down a pair of trousers, too, in case you wanted them,” he said, nodding to the clothing he’d dropped onto the table when he came into the room.
“Are you sure ‘at’s all right with you, me wearin’ your brother’s clothes?”
“Thomas certainly doesn’t have any use for them, and they don’t fit me.”
Reluctantly, Alun nodded. James couldn’t tell if he was avoiding eye contact on purpose, or if it was just happening that he wasn’t looking at him. Tom’s old clothes were of considerably better quality than anything the East Ender could afford and James hoped that fact wouldn’t make him uncomfortable.
He knew what Mrs. Dunberry thought of the other man, that he was little more than a gold-digger taking advantage of a kind man’s generosity, but James knew different. Alun wasn’t looking for handouts. James wasn’t sure what he was looking for, he only hoped it was the same thing he wanted. Home. He couldn’t help the surge of elation that rose up in his chest, making him feel light. Warm.
“James…” Alun began, his tone full of trepidation. “I… there’s somethin’ we need t’… somethin’ I need t’ say.”
“Of course,” his easy tone belied the cold dread that coiled its way into his belly at the sound of the other man’s voice. James reminded himself that after the first time they’d made love, Alun fled without a word. Hardly the actions of a man enamored of his host, he decided. He wished he could be more like his brother; Tom had been the practical one, the sensible one. Even his courtship of Anna had been deliberate, precise. Practical. As he turned to face Alun, he let himself slump against the counter for much needed support. There seemed to be a thousand conflicting emotions going on behind the East Ender’s black eyes.
“I… you don’t know me, James.” His tone was ragged.
“You don’t know me, either,” the younger man countered quickly, seizing on what seemed like an opening. “We can rectify that easily enough. I’d welcome it, in fact.” He wondered if it was possible to sound any more idiotic.
Alun regarded him through dense ebony bangs.
James pressed on. “I know you have things you need to do tonight, but tomorrow, if you’re free… I… I’d like to get to know you, Alun. I’d like for you to get to know me.” He made no attempt to keep the hopefulness from his voice. He leaned forward and pressed his lips to the older man’s mouth. It was a soft, closed mouth kiss, but Alun returned it and James felt the surge of warmth again.
Home. Shelter. Comfort. Love.
But then he felt Alun’s hands on his shoulders, only instead of pulling him into the kiss, the older man pushed him away, holding him firmly by the shoulders to keep him at arms’ length. “James, isten t’ me,” he said sharply. “We’re different, you an’ me. I don’t live in a nice ‘ouse or ‘ave a proper job. I’m not like you. I’m a bloody card sharper!”
“Do you honestly think that matters?”
“It matters t’ some people.”
“Not to me. I enjoy your company. I… all I’m asking is the chance to get to know you, to let you get to know me. To just… just see what happens. Is that really too much to ask for, to want?”
Alun turned his gaze away for an impossibly long moment—but then he ran his hands down James’s arms, his fingers grazing the young man’s flesh lightly, tenderly, raising goose bumps—raising his hope. Alun twined his fingers with James’s fingers and brought the blond’s hands up to his lips. “I don’t know,” he answered honestly.
James’s heart raced. “I like being with you, Alun.”
“I like bein’ with you, too,” the East Ender answered, though it sounded like he was afraid to say the words aloud. “But I’m not what you think. Who you think. Getting’ t’ know me, you… you’re gonna end up findin’ out things about me that’ll break both our hearts.”
The anguish in his tone tore through James. He freed one hand and brushed the bangs away from the older man’s eyes. “I don’t believe that.”
The hall clock chimed seven. He would have to leave for work within the hour if he intended to be on time for his shift.
“Meet me in the morning, come back home with me,” James entreated. “We can talk more—or not at all,” he added to the fearful look that crossed Alun’s face. “You can tell me as much or as little as you like, I don’t care. I just want to see you again, to hold you. To touch you, to kiss you,” he feathered a soft kiss to his lips. “Please? At least give me tomorrow to prove to you that I don’t care who you are or where you’re from.”
“I’ll meet you at ten, same place as yesterday,” the words, barely a whisper, seemed to slip out of their own accord.
“Thank you.” He pressed another kiss to his lover’s mouth. “We should eat something,” he said when he drew back from him. His insides were too much of a jumble for him to want to eat anything himself, but he didn’t want to send Alun out onto the streets without a decent meal.
* * *
Uneasiness and misery tightened in Alun’s gut as he walked the cold, poorly lit streets. There was a part of him that regretted his promise to meet James again in the morning, but how could he deny him? How could he deny his own need to be near him every chance he got? He knew in his soul it wouldn’t last… it couldn’t. Could it?
He shook himself, cursed himself for even considering it as a possibility. If the only things separating them were what James thought, money, prestige, education, than maybe it would be possible, but the constable didn’t know what he was really dealing with. If he ever found out what he was, James would be like every other human: Instead of seeing his lover standing before him on four legs in his full primal strength and beauty, he would see a monster to be hunted down and destroyed. In his wolf form he was at his strongest, yet it was also when he at his most vulnerable, because he would let James kill him before he acted against him, even in self-defense.
What ‘ave You done t’ me? he beseeched the Dark Mother again, seeking her out in the night sky above the rotting eaves. The face of the moon was obscured from his view by clouds and chimney smoke. It didn’t matter. What was done was done, he couldn’t alter the way he felt. He just wished he knew what it meant, why it had happened. What he was going to do now.
The scent of blood hit his nose like a physical blow, jarring him from his thoughts. He considered shifting—he was faster on four legs than two—but he couldn’t risk be seen in wolf form running through the streets, even the streets of the Whitechapel district where people tended not to notice the monstrous. Besides, just because he smelled blood didn’t mean it was the killer, at least not the killer he’d been charged with stopping. People died at the hands of other people all the time.
Even on two legs, Alun stayed to the back alleys, clinging to the shadows, because even on two legs he was faster than a human and didn’t want to be seen. He pulled the darkness in around him. His heart pounded in his ears and the cold night air burned in his lungs—the smell of blood and death drew him forward, guiding his way until at last he rounded a corner and found himself in a small enclosed courtyard. He skittered to a halt near the entrance. He smelled human flesh, human blood, bile, urine, the excretions of death. There was stale sex lingering in the air, cheap ale and even cheaper perfume—the smells of a woman who sold her body for money. He edged further into the shadows, his breath still coming in ragged gulps, his heart hammering loudly in his ears.
Movement on the other side of the yard caught his attention. Every muscle tensed. A faint moan… female… as his own heartbeat slowed, he became aware of the beating of the other’s heart. It was faint. The wind shifted… he recognized the woman’s scent and rushed toward her. He stopped again when he got close enough to see past the shadows, past the bloodied rags of her dress. Emily Harris was still alive, but she wouldn’t live long. He knelt next to her and cradled her head gently in her lap.
Her lips moved, but no coherent sound came out. Her throat had been cut, but not as deeply as the other woman’s… still, there was nothing any doctor could have done for her, even if he’d had time to run for one.
He smoothed her hair, “Shhh, don’t try to speak, darlin’,” he soothed, tears stinging at the corners of his eyes. Emily had been one of the first people he met when he arrived in London, she’d been good to him, to everyone. She didn’t deserve to be butchered in the street like an animal, left to die on the cold cobblestones. “I’m ‘ere, I promise, I won’t leave ya t’ die in the dark…shhh,” he wiped some of the blood from her face, keeping his eyes locked on hers. He could see her fear… her pain. Anger boiled in his veins—he pushed it back. Later. He would be angry later. He would hunt down whoever had done this to her and… cold, bloody fingers reached for his. He curled his hand around hers and held on tight. “Listen t’ me, Em, it’s not scary. The other side, there’s nothin’ there t’ be scared of. I promise you. It looks just like here—no, no, it’s all right,” he said when she tried to speak again, more pain clouding her blue eyes. “It’s only just like ‘ere right on the other side o’ the veil. After that… after that it’s beautiful,” he lied. He’d never ventured any further than the world’s ‘spirit mirror’—the place that did look just like the physical world. But his grandfather had always told him that the spirit world was a strange and wonderful place. “It’s beautiful, Emmie—you’ll see. An’ you can go anywhere you like, just by wishin’ it. You could go back home…” his throat closed, tears fell, making it hard to see, but he refused to let go of her to wipe them away. “You’ll be safe and warm, Emmie. Safe and warm,” he promised.
A ghost of a smile tugged at the corners of her mouth… and then she was gone. He felt her spirit slip out of her body a second before it shuddered with its last breath. Alun howled his rage into the night.
“Oy! You there!”
A light shone directly in his eyes, blinding him so he couldn’t clearly see the man holding it, though he could hear him breathing and smell the stench of his fear and the sweat-damp wool of his uniform. The lycan’s blood still burned with fury, causing him to rise to his feet. A second light joined the first as another constable arrived on the scene. Alun’s lip curled back in a feral snarl. Two humans were no match for a full grown lycan—even as a cub, he could have taken a couple of bobbies.
A third man rounded the corner—his scent hit him hard, stopping him dead before he started, cooling the blood in his veins to frozen ice.