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“I haven’t had much success narrowing down their location,” Chuck told her with a wince. “I’m sorry.”
Summer gave a half shrug. “Me neither and I think I have the more keen nose.”
“True, but I have years of tracking experience,” Chuck told her. “I’m sorry,” he held up a hand. “I didn’t mean that to sound condescending.”
Summer lifted one eyebrow and stared at him.
“You know what, you’ve turned my entire world on its head! I’m smooth. Debonair, even. Men and women fall at my feet. But around you, I shove my foot so far in my mouth I’ve got shoelaces in my colon. Everything I try ends up a disaster. Woman, you are unmaking me!”
Summer took a half step back in surprise. It was the most forceful Chuck had been since kidnapping her. “You really aren’t messing with me? This isn’t some elaborate incubus game to fuck me?”
Chuck shook his head. “No. Your Auntie was right,” he swallowed painfully and Summer winced, “I have no effects on werewolves.” He shook his head. “If I did, I’d seduce my way into a pack to end them. Instead, I used guns. I–” he gave a slow shake of his head, “I have regrets now. Now that I know.”
“Know that there is a difference between a feral beast and,” he looked up, finally meeting Summer’s eyes, “those who are in control of their lives.”
A line formed between Summer’s eyebrows. “Chuck?”
“I’ve killed a lot of werewolves, Summer. And now? Now I’m not sure I should have killed them.”
“Oh.” Summer let out a huffing breath. “Well,” she shook her head. “Well, there’s nothing either of us can do right now. We just have to–”
“Atone,” Chuck cut her off. “I can atone. I can help you. And your pack,” he said almost as an afterthought. “It doesn’t make it right, but I can try to atone for it.”
“I need boundaries, Chuck. You don’t know them, you don’t really know me, and despite the fact that your guilt means you can feel remorse, I don’t know if I trust you.” She gestured to her couch, a battered monstrosity in the middle of her living room, but carefully placed to face the large windows that looked out onto the bay.
“Ok,” Chuck said as he settled onto the couch. He perched on the edge of the cushion, facing away from the view and focused on Summer. A look of wariness crossed his face as if he was hopeful Summer would allow him to stay but worried what she would ask to remain in her presence.
“You don’t shoot any wolves,” Summer told him bluntly.
“None? Even ferals?”
“Hmph,” she grunted, “we’ll have to work on that. I need you to help take them out, but we need a way to identify my pack from the feral pack.”
“We have to find the feral pack first.”
“That too.” Summer settled back against the arm of the couch. “And no more twenty-questions. I’m not comfortable giving you any more information, even if it’s in the context of hunting ferals.”
“I’m not sure I can do that anymore,” he whispered. Chuck’s head dropped and his shoulders sagged. “This has been my whole life for almost thirty years and I don’t know if I can do it anymore.”
Summer surprised herself by reaching across the couch for his hand. His hand was larger than hers and rough with calluses. “You’ve remade yourself before, right?”
Chuck nodded, not looking at her, his eyes on their hands.
“Can you do it again?”
His hand squeezed hers quickly and relaxed, but he didn’t release hers. “Yes.”
Chuck’s other hand covered Summer’s and his thumb ran along the back of hers. Even that light pressure dragged his calluses over her soft skin. Summer’s eyes shot up to his, taking in the intensity of his gaze.
Had she ever thought his blue eyes icy or some other trite description? No, the blue of his eyes was the low gas flame of the Bunsen burner in her college chemistry class. The blue flame, she had been taught, was the hottest part of the flame, capable of searing flesh and incinerating impurities from ceramic instruments. She could certainly feel a searing heat across her skin and “impure” was definitely the word she would use to describe her thoughts.
Chuck altered his grip, sliding his index and middle finger along the webbing between her thumb and index finger, curling to lightly stroke the palm of her hand. Summer gasped, closing her eyes as her mind saw those two fingers sliding elsewhere and the delicious havoc they would cause her body. Chuck seemed to read her thoughts and he swirled the pad of his thumb along the back of her hand. She opened them again to see his wicked smile. Summer had never attended a church service in her life, but the smile on Chuck’s face could only be described as sinful and she understood why the Church would hunt down Incubi as agents of Hell.
“No,” she told him and jerked her hand back. “No, I’m not doing this.”
“Doing what, Summer?” Chuck’s voice was pitched low.
“I’m not letting you derail me. Pulling whatever incubus tricks you’ve got. And don’t,” she went on quickly as he opened his mouth, “tell me you can’t. I don’t care if you don’t have magical sway over werewolves, you’re damn sexy and I don’t trust you enough for this.” She waved her hand vaguely in his direction.
“Sex. Flirting. Romance. Whatever it is you’re aiming for,” she said, carefully keeping her eyes on his face and nothing else. She definitely ignored the way the muscles of his chest and arms pulled his shirt taut. Summer shook her head. “No trust, no lust, Chuck.”
He leaned back into her couch. “Fine. I’ll stop for now. But I will keep trying.”
“Why?” Summer snapped.
His mouth curved into a devilish grin and he stared at her in a way that caused the breath to catch in her throat. “First, because I desire you. I want you in a way I haven’t felt in a long time.”
“What makes this so different?”
“It’s genuine,” he told her. “It’s a pure kind of hunger, not the hunger of a predator.”
“I want you the way a man wants any attractive woman. It’s pure, not tainted by the hunger of my kind.”
Summer nodded once, slowly.
“And second? Because the day you do give in, the day you find yourself writhing atop me, lost in pleasure, I will know it’s because you finally trust me. And that,” he told her, his smile deepening, “is more precious than anything you can give me physically.”
Summer swallowed hard, her mouth suddenly dry. His words had put thoughts and images in her mind that robbed her of coherent thought. “I,” she swallowed again. “I supposed that’s possibly true.”
“Then how do I earn your trust?” he asked quietly.
“Help me,” she said on a shaky breath. “Help me fight this feral pack without calling in a cabal of Hunters. Surely you know someone who can help that can be trusted not to kill everything furry in sight?”
Chuck let his head drop back as he lounged on her sofa. Soft creases in his forehead and he rubbed his slightly crooked now. “I might. He may not help, but he might.”
“Who? A Hunter?”
“No. A,” he hesitated a beat, “friend.”
“Can you possibly be any more vague!”
“We were in the Army together. He was a medic, a brand new, very young medic. He got out, went to college, bulked up even more, rejoined as an officer, and now he’s a commander.”
“The Army Ranger’s Florida course.”
“No, he’s just up the road at Camp Rudder,” Chuck said with a little shrug.
Summer considered his words. “I think I drove past that a few times this week. North of the Air Force bases? And he’ll help us? What can he do?”
“I’m not sure if he will. We, uh, have a history.” Chuck rubbed his nose again as he thought. “But if he will help us, then he’s probably got thirty Rangers at his disposal. They could be trusted not to shoot a wolf on sight and are certainly smart enough that we can teach them what to look for.”
“What’s the catch?”
Chuck scratched his chin thoughtfully. “Well, we had a falling out. So, he would be well within his rights to throw me out on my ass as soon as we walk in the door.”
“Lover’s quarrel. A loud one. In the middle of the Iraqi desert. Embarrassed the hell out of both of us and we were lucky no one saw it for what it was and threw us out of the Army.”
“Oh, shit,” Summer whispered.
“This may not go well for me, but know I’m willing to do it if it will build your trust in me.”
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