Looking out over the lake and its undisturbed waters, I listened to her steady breaths beside me. She hadn’t spoken for a while. Together, we soaked in the calm stillness in the dark of night. Something familiar but foreign hung in the air between us.
“Now I see why you like it here,” she said with her eyes lifted to the stars.
“It is comforting,” I replied. I wouldn’t push her. She’d talk when she was ready.
“Do you think he’s up there?” she asked. I winced. This was a subject that we’d spent too much time on lately. I lowered my head, and of course, she noticed. “I’m sorry. I brought it up again.”
“It’s okay. I don’t know how their gifts work. I think if he was up there and able to look down, I’d ask him why the hell he hasn’t returned to Winnie,” I said.
“You never liked him,” she said.
“We did not get along. We saw her differently.” I’d let her push me into these conversations, but I never pushed her to answer my questions. She never spoke of her brother, who we still hadn’t found. She didn’t speak of her parents. Hell, she didn’t even talk about her sister that she hadn’t seen in weeks.
Yet every moment she spent here in Shady Grove; she shared her smile. She aided the pack and stood by me. When it came time for the pack to run the borders of the town, checking for breeches in the veil. Tinley would not shift. She refused, even though many of the pack begged her to join us. They knew she struggled and offered to support her as one of our own. She would tuck herself in my home or my parent’s home and wait for me to return.
Lyra called daily to check on her. The unspoken question on her lips. The empty answer I never gave. She was content with an underlying sorrow.
More than anything, I wanted to hear her laugh. She gave us smiles and hidden giggles, but never a deep, rumbling laughter. The kind that grips your lungs and squeezes tears from your eyes.
Fuck the shifting. I wanted her to laugh.
“You should go to her,” she said.
With that, I turned my gaze to her. I felt my face harden, and she lowered her eyes to the stone outcropping where we sat looking over the lake. Her lips moved in apology, but no sound escaped them.
“Wynonna is strong. She has the support of her friends there. I have more important things to do here,” I said.
“She’s your best friend. You loved her.”
“And I still love her. I will love her until the day I die, but Tinley, it’s not that kind of love. At one time, I thought it was, but the more time I spend away from her, the more I find myself. It’s like I didn’t know who I was without her. I’m becoming the man, the Alpha, that I need to be.”
She pondered my words for a long time before speaking again. “You are the best Alpha I have ever known.”
A hard lump formed in my chest. Her sister was her Alpha, yet she placed me above her. Sometimes she would let me put my arms around her, but not often. I slid closer to her, opening my legs to surround her. Her eyes widened, but she didn’t move. Her breath stopped as I reached for her hand.
“Tinley, that is the best thing anyone has ever said to me,” I said. “I don’t know how to repay you for that kindness.”
“I’ll shift for you,” she said.
I pulled her toward me and she allowed me to wrap my arms around her. I leaned into her ear. “I don’t want you to shift for me. I want you to shift for you.” She shrugged. “There is something you can do for me.”
“What is it?” she asked.
I picked her up off the stone in a quick movement and took two steps to the edge of the rock cliff.
“Go swimming with me,” I said as I tossed her into the water.
She shrieked like a banshee, flailing her arms the whole way down. The black water swallowed her up and rippled away, causing the reflections of the moon to wobble. She surfaced and looked up at me with fire in her eyes.
“Mark Maynard, I’m going to kill you!” she screamed.
I took off my shirt and dove into the water with her. When I surfaced right next to her, she grabbed me.
“I’m glad you can swim,” I said.
“I grew up on the river. And what if I couldn’t? Huh?” she protested.
“I would have saved you,” I said.
“Alpha complex,” she huffed.
“You just said…”
“I take it back!”
“No take backs,” I replied. The grin on my face hurt, but she still didn’t laugh.
“I hate you.”
“Awe,” I said, grabbing my heart and sinking below the surface. She yanked me back up.
“Stop it.” Her smile grew, and her eyes flickered in the moonlight. My heart flickered too, but I doused the flame. Now wasn’t the time for that.
“Stop what?” I said, pulling her to me. She draped her arms over my shoulders.
“Thinking you have to save me all the time. You do it once, and now you think it is your mission,” she said.
Our legs brushed against each other as we treaded in the dark waters. “Are you hurt?” I asked, deciding to play another card.
“You know I’m not,” she huffed.
I put my hand on the top of her head and pushed her under the water. When I released her, she came up fighting. Swinging and yelling at me.
“Now you are trying to drown me. You are not an alpha. You are a very mean wolf!”
I reached to push her down again, but she pushed away from me with a loud shriek. I laughed as I swam toward her. I let her reach the shallow water before I increased my speed just in time to grab her and throw her back into the deeper water. She found her feet and stomped toward me in the shallow water. She shoved me hard, and I laughed.
Then it started. Just a light huff. She shoved me again, and I tried to grab her hand. I chased her in circles, and her laughter bubbled up and echoed off the trees and rocks around my lake. I’d never heard such a wonderful sound. I laughed with her as I continued to lunge toward her, but allowing her to slip out of my grasp.
Finally, when she tired, I grabbed her, pulling her close to me. Her chest heaved with the exercise and the laughter.
“Why are you grinning like that? Are you satisfied with yourself?” she asked.
I touched her cheek and tilted her head up to look at me. “Your laugh makes my soul sing.”
Her mouth dropped open as I scolded myself for saying something so ridiculous. The light in her eyes told me that it meant a lot. Her wolf scent tickled my nose and set off hormones firing in all the wrong directions. I pressed back that desire. The wolf inside of me battled with the fairy blood in my veins. The honorable wolf didn’t want to spoil the moment. The fairy wanted to seize it.
Tinley seized it. Her lips met mine in the moonlight, and I drank in her scent, allowing it to sink into me. It marked my heart as her lips moved against mine.
“Mark,” she whispered.
“Yeah?” I said, looking into her eyes.
“If you ever throw me in the lake again, I’m telling Lyra,” she said.
“You might as well call her, because if I get kissed like that after throwing you in the lake, we are going for daily swims.”
She grinned. “You could have at least let me take my clothes of first.”
It was like a gut punch, and she pulled away from me. If I didn’t know she was a wolf, I would have thought she was a fox. A cunning, mischievous, devilish fox.
“I promise to never throw you in the lake again, if you promise to do that,” I said.
“Do what?” she asked, turning to walk away from me.
“Take off your clothes,” I choked out, scolding myself for allowing the words to slip out.
“I promise,” she said.