The Leopard Who Claimed A Wolf
The driveway leading up to the Scottish Pack’s massive headquarters stretched almost half a mile. I rested my chin on my arms and stared out of the Alpha’s window on the second story, overlooking the circular section of the drive. The Pack’s castle came complete with its very own dungeon, but at least they weren’t keeping me in there anymore. The memory of Alistair’s craggy face haunted my dreams each time I closed my eyes. His brutal fists hammered away against my face, ribs, and stomach, until I could no longer sleep.
Tension radiated through my shoulders, and I balled my hands into fists. No, Alistair—Colin’s father—was dead. Dougal had protected me, and my brother, from that monster when I didn’t have the strength to fight back.
Not that it mattered.
Two days had passed since my brother’s sudden departure. Now Colin was on his own with no one to watch his back. How could he leave without saying anything to me? I flexed my fists again, welcoming the anger as it bubbled up in my chest and replaced my sadness.
The heavy weight of a man’s hand descended on my back. I twisted around, my knuckles connecting with a solid jaw lined with dark, coarse stubble. A familiar jaw. Shite.
Dougal stumbled back half a step, but then he planted his feet like a tree with strong roots, not budging any further. Sharp power flared outward from him before he squelched it, stretching the muscles in his jaw. A frown tugged at his lips, and the corners of his eyes creased, either in pain or displeasure.
“Dougal! I’m so sorry.” The sudden movement of punching him had shot a searing ache through my battered ribs again. The pain stole my breath away, but I tried to force it down. How could I have been so careless? If he’d been anyone else in the Pack, I would’ve caused World War III.
“Dinnae fash. The punch bloody well hurt, though. I didn’t realize you were so strong.” Dougal’s frown melted away as he pulled me closer and pressed a kiss to my forehead. “Seems like you’re recovering your strength.” His gaze drifted past me to the long gravel driveway of the estate. “How are you doing, love?”
The emotions I’d been stomping down now bubbled to the surface again. “I cannae believe Colin left me. He left before I even regained consciousness. How could he?” With anyone else, I wouldn’t show weakness, but I rested my forehead against Dougal’s chest, needing his touch and savoring his warmth. “I barely had time to talk with him, and when I did, it wasn’t a good time to ask how he was doing after the months he’d spent in that bloody research facility—or even to ask where he would go to heal…”
Tears welled in my eyes, but I held them back, refusing to cry. “I gave up so much—my job, my flat, my life—while trying to track him and bring him home. What if my sacrifices were all for naught?”
“Nae, they weren’t for naught, love.” Dougal kissed the top of my head. “I know you’re hurting. You have plenty of reasons to be, but the man who came back wasn’t the same one who left for the United States.” He lifted my chin, forcing me to see the sincerity in his clear blue eyes. “Whatever those scientists did affected him in ways neither of us will probably ever know. Waiting at the window won’t make him return any sooner.” He wrapped his arms around me and gently pulled me against his chest again. “Let me draw you a bath. Remember, I’m here if you need to talk.”
He was right, even if I didn’t want to admit it. Waiting for Colin’s return wouldn’t help, but what else could I do? “I know, but that doesn’t make this any easier for me. He’s my younger brother. I feel helpless that I cannae be there for him…again.” A heavy ache settled on my heart, and I pulled away hating the awkward emotions crushing me. “Sorry.”
Dougal turned away from me and stared out of the window again. His jaw clenched and unclenched, as if he were trying hard to hold in his words. A lot was going on in his life too, and yet he was making a strong effort to support me through my problems. Things had become increasingly strained between him and his Pack since my arrival and Duncan and Alistair’s subsequent deaths. He didn’t talk about what he faced, and I didn’t want to pressure him.
After a few moments of silence, he released a sigh and turned back toward me. “You’ve done what you could for him, lass.” The ghost of a grin spread across his lips. “Do you still want the bath?”