Nothing ever stays the same for very long, does it?
Things just have to change, have to move.
Shake off the cobwebs, crack those knuckles and stretch those shoulders.
Gotta stretch those wings, even when the last thing in the world you want is to curl up and stay right where you are.
Everything changes, sometimes in a heartbeat.
With the desert speeding by on either side of us, I gripped the seat of Damon’s bike with my thighs and wrapped my arms around his stomach as tight as I could. He didn’t want me with him on this trip, but I didn’t let him leave without me. Somehow, I got the feeling that he’d be happy I was along for the ride, even if it took two days to convince him.
Just a feeling I had.
“Look over there,” Damon’s voice was soft and almost placid in the helmet’s speaker. He cut into the last verse of Life is a Highway. He’d been playing that every four or five songs because if nothing else, Damon King, my werewolf Alpha boyfriend, is a big, giant, cheese-ball. “See that?”
He tilted his head as we blasted past bluffs standing sentinel off to the north. Huge, red spires sticking defiantly out of the desert, they seemed to be out of place, like someone put them there after the rest of the scene was finished.
“Yeah? They’re kinda weird.”
I stuck my finger in the side of my helmet and pushed the microphone down again. “What are they?”
“They’re weird,” he said.
“Well yes, thank you.” I shook my head, grinning. “Anything special about them?”
Taking a hand off the handlebars, Damon rubbed my leg. He squeezed gently just below my knee. Just his doing that was enough to send a surge through me.
“Ten and two,” I said with a little giggle. “Or whatever the motorcycle safety equivalent is.”
Damon let out a soft laugh. “Yeah, yeah. I got this thing under control. Anyway, they’re supposed to be some kind of mystical place. I remember my parents talking about them.”
I nodded, only half-aware that he couldn’t see me, and let my thoughts drift as we passed the spires.
My thoughts drifted back to the first time I saw Damon when he moved to Arizona. We were both sophomores, and I was a little… different, I guess is a nice way to put it. My parents died about eight years before that, and I lived with my Grandpa Joe. Our little hometown – Fort Branch – was more a place people ran away from instead of toward.
Damon and I hit it off right away. We did all the high-school-like things, and over the year or so we were together, I fell so hard for him that it almost broke my neck. Damon listened to me talk about everything.
Talk and talk and talk, it didn’t matter what I said, he always gave me We had our ups and downs, mostly because I expected him to be as open-lipped as I am, and he helped me through a lot of hard times. For some reason, my parents’ death didn’t really hit me until I was with Damon. I’ll never forget how long he sat with me, how patiently he coaxed me out of the shell I built up around myself.
Then it all fell apart.
I thought he was pushing me away, so I pushed back way too hard. I wanted him to be someone he wasn’t, I guess. It took a couple of years, and a whole lot of searching, but eventually we ended up right where we were supposed to be – with me behind him on a motorcycle heading west.
“My Skarachee,” he said, interrupting my thoughts. “They seem really nervous about this.”
Oh that’s the other thing – Damon is the fledgling Alpha of a pack of werewolves. I guess that’s an important point.
My whole life changed so much over the course of the previous few weeks, what with learning I was the fated mate of the Skarachee alpha, being pursued by the alpha of the rival Carak clan, who turns out to be Damon’s brother, and then somehow writing a prize-winning story for the New York Times… it’s one of those situations where living in complete unreality made my head spin just enough that the whole world being a little askew became my new normal.
“How are you doing with it?” I asked. “Seems like a pretty intense thing to have to deal with your first week on the job.”
He hadn’t been Alpha for two days when his elder, Poko, told him about the murders. Two middle-aged Skarachee, found in very… concerning… circumstances. He wanted Damon to investigate, to figure out who was behind it. Somehow, that seemed like a fitting initiation duty.
Damon shrugged. “This is my new life. Our new life I guess, since you don’t seem willing to let me do anything on my own.” There was a grin that tilted the tone in his voice.
“As much as you hate to admit it,” I said, “you’re glad I didn’t let you go alone. While we’re at it, uh, I don’t know how to ask this without being a little morbid, but I am a working journalist and all…”
“Let me guess, you want to know how two dead werewolves haven’t been found by the police?”
“Yeah,” I said, “or started acting like, you know, bodies.”
“When we die, we don’t do the same things that normal people do with all the stiffening and the—”
“Blech, right, so you don’t do things like normal people. Got it.”
“Anyway, our spirits just kind of leave, and our bodies dry up.”
Widening my eyes, I stared at him for a second. “You turn into mummies.”
“Yeah, more or less. Ancient elder alphas, like Poko, they sorta mummify while they’re alive. It’s creepy, but anyway, that’s why. The pack left them just like they were found. Apparently, the town shaman, a guy named Wilton, is the one who happened upon the bodies.”
“Wow, okay, well that’s good,” I said with a wincing smile. “Shaman, they’re used to handling mummies. I, uh, guess.”
Damon laughed softly into his microphone and tilted his head to the sky.
Overhead, the afternoon was getting a little long in the tooth. I reached for the wolf fang that hung around my throat. Damon gave it to me after I nursed him back to health following his first nasty clash with his brother Devin as kind of a promise.
That night was the first time we made love. That’s when he marked me. ‘Marked’ being werewolf-language for ‘claimed me as his forever.’
Ever since, we’d been inseparable, even with a few bumps in the road. When I was with him, I felt safe, secure. And I gave him the same feeling.
“Listen, Lily,” he said. “This could be bad.”
“Murders? Bad? What’s that you say?”
“Come on. Get serious for a minute,” he said.
Serious wasn’t something I was good at, but I’d fake it until I made it.
“Sorry,” I said. “I’m just deflecting.”
The moon had started its climb on the horizon, and with it, the warmth of the motorcycle’s saddle and my arms around Damon’s waist all worked together, weaving a spell over me. I lay my head on his back and felt the road pulse through the both of us.
“We don’t know who did this – or what did this – so I just know that my wanting you to stay behind doesn’t have anything to do with us. It’s just—”
With a sharp lean, Damon dipped down, and dodged a lump of shredded tire rubber in the road.
“Jesus,” I swore under my breath.
“You all right?” There was the hand on my knee again. This is a boy who knew how to make me want things I shouldn’t want, given the circumstances.
“Anyway, what were you saying?”
“Oh,” he said. “Just that it wasn’t me not wanting to be with you. I’m just… after Devin, I’m a little wary of anything happening to you. I know it’s not your favorite thing in the world, but you’re more important to me than…”
“Everything is fine,” I laughed, squeezing his shoulder. “I’m fine, I promise.”
Normally I hate people taking care of me. I want to make my own way, be my own woman, but with Damon, it was different.
It had barely been a month since Devin almost killed him, but in that time, we’d fallen into a really, really good routine. I wrote, Damon worked his part time bus-boy job at the tavern down the street from my house – the idea of my huge, muscle-bound, werewolf boyfriend busing tables never got old, by the way – and then he’d come home and we’d go out and do stuff I never imagined doing with anyone, ever.
We looked at the stars, we played around… it was just really pure, really good. And then two days prior to us being on the road to California, Damon learned about the murders.