5 years earlier…
“Why do you watch me?” Her soft voice fills my ears, warming my chest. It reaches places inside me I didn’t even know existed. The sound makes my wolf lie down lazily inside me, like we could drift off just to the sound of her voice. Does she mean when I watch her now, or when she sleeps? It doesn’t matter because either way I don’t know the answer.
“I don’t know.” I tell her the truth because making up some lie to tell her just seems wrong. I can’t deny that I do it, and telling her that I don’t would be deceiving her.
She smiles at my response and goes back to doodling in the notebook in her lap. Her blonde hair falls over her face, hiding her crystal-blue eyes. I never knew eyes could be that blue. I like to watch over her when she sleeps, but during the day I like seeing her eyes more. A wolf could get lost in eyes like hers.
“If my brother catches you, he’ll have your hide.” This time when she looks back up at me, her dimples dip in her full cheeks, and it makes her youth show. I know she’s only sixteen, five years younger than me, but I’ve been watching her since the first time I saw her over ten years ago, and I can’t figure out why. I just do it, and I can’t seem to stop myself.
She’s right, though. If the alpha catches me, he’ll try to have my hide. ‘Try’ being the operative word.
“Does it bother you? I could—” I pause. I was going to say I could stop, but that would be a lie. I’m not sure I could stop myself. Something pulls me to her, and being near her is calming. It’s as if everything is right in the world. I spend my days building houses and making sure I’m keeping food on the table for my mother and sister. Since my dad passed over seven years ago, that’s all I do. I make sure they’re cared for and I work. I’m utterly content with that as long as I get a glimpse of Gwen each day. What more could I ask for?
“No. You’re kinda hot. I like looking at you, too.” Her words are bold, and I find myself blushing. She’s too young to be thinking people are hot. The idea that she thinks about boys or men that way irritates me for some reason. When I’m around her I don’t understand my feelings. I’m calmed and happy, and then I’m confused.
“I watch you when you sleep, too.” I’m not sure why I confess my secret. The words just tumble out of my mouth like she should know.
“I know.” She puts her pad down next to her and stands from the porch before making her way towards me. Her fragrance fills my lungs, and I close my eyes just to savor it. When I open them again, she’s right in front of me.
Even with her wolf shifter genes, she’s still short compared to me. She’ll still probably grow a few inches, not that that would help her when it comes to me. I’m six feet nine, and I’m sure she’ll always be at least a foot shorter than me.
She reaches up, placing her hand on my bare chest, making my wolf stir as he tries to feel her touch.
“Would you kiss me?” She takes another half-step towards me, but I take a step back, surprised by her question. Immediately, I miss her smell, and my wolf whines.
Her hand falls away and I miss the warmth of her touch. My wolf growls in my head when her smile drops away, too. He’s upset she isn’t happy anymore.
“Why?” Her voice is softer now, not as bold as before.
“You’re too young to kiss, and I will only ever kiss my mate.”
She narrows her eyes at me, the blue darkening with irritation “Wouldn’t it bother your mate that you watch me?” She raises her chin like she’s challenging me.
“I’m here to protect you.” If my protecting her would upset my mate I’d—
My brain pauses at the idea. I’d still watch her. Maybe I should steal her away, then my mate could never find me. We could live in the wild, and I could watch her all the time. I’d never have to stop.
“That’s not what I asked.” She places one hand on her hip and cocks her head to the side, waiting.
“I’ll always watch you.” This makes her smile again, and it warms me on the inside. If only I’d known this would turn out to be a lie.
“God, I would kill to have a place like this.” Winnie flops down on my bed and stretches out.
“Not much longer and you can,” I remind her as I search through my closet for something to wear to the Fall Street Fair tonight. “You’re saving all your money, right? You’ll be eighteen soon enough and free to do what you want.”