By: Stacey Brutger

Aiden was painfully aware of his scruffy appearance. Hell, he could hardly stand his own stench. Shame, mixed with fear that she might run, helped him maintain his distance. He would not sully her by laying his filthy hands on her, no matter how much he craved it.

“What are you doing here?” Aiden winced at the harsh tone of his voice, clamping his mouth shut when she flinched. The only sounds he’d made in the last few weeks were a few choice swear words and the howls of pain he was too weak to contain any longer.

When she backed away, his heart thumped painfully against his ribs. He held up his hands and stepped back, even though he desperately wanted to charge forward and beg that she not leave him. Then he held out her phone. “Wait. Please.”

His hoarse plea made him wince.

Begging like some pathetic human.

“You’re not one of them, are you?” They could’ve sent her down here. And if they had, he wasn’t sure he’d be able to resist her for even an hour. There was something about her reaction to the rat that told him she didn’t have the stomach for torture.

At the thought of the lost rat, his stomach rumbled in protest, cramping so hard that he nearly doubled over.

“One of…them?” The low, hesitant sound of her voice sent a shiver of pure lust through his system. He swayed, wishing she’d speak again.

His condition mortified him, and he straightened, not wanting to appear weak. Not in front of her. He tucked his rough, callused hands behind his back, hiding their condition.

When the little goddess ventured closer, he stilled so as not to frighten her. Without warning, his beast broke his iron hold over him for the first time since being imprisoned. Any illusion of control vanished. Mercifully, his wolf didn’t manifest, didn’t take over. Maybe more frightening, the beast seemed content to simply be near the woman.

His wolf peered out of his eyes, and Aiden held his breath, unsure he’d be able to stop him if the beast decided to fight free.

The wolf whiffled, inhaling her scent.

Learning her.

But then he did it again, this time to savor the fragrance that rose from her skin.

Once satisfied, he laid his head down on his paws and whined, wanting her touch just as badly as Aiden did. His animal had never reacted to a woman so strongly. Aiden wanted to revel in the sensations, but he needed to get them out of there first.

Maybe the rain would keep his captors away, but he doubted it. A wave of rage crashed over him, and he knew what he had to do. He straightened to his full height, feeling like a monster as he towered over her.

“You’re not safe down here. You have to get out.”

She reared back at his comment. He wanted to recall his words, lure her closer, promise her anything if she just stayed a minute longer, but he would not risk her safety, even if it might mean his freedom.

“Do you think I’d be here if I knew the way out?”

She sounded so exasperated Aiden almost smiled, then he cocked his head in confusion. “How were you able to find me if you don’t even know how you got here?”

“I fell.” She muttered, casting a quick glance over her shoulder. “Exiting that way was not an option.”

“So you searched for a way out and found me.”

Shayla nodded once.

He didn’t want to admire her ingenuity. He didn’t want to be attracted to her. He failed miserably at both accounts. Before he could press for more information, a sound to his right made him whirl.

Familiar male voices.

Fear shredded the last of his composure, and he surged toward the bars. He gripped the metal, uncaring when his flesh sizzled, how the skin of his palms slowly tightened and then cracked. “Run!”

She gazed at him, not as afraid as she should be. “There is nowhere to run. I can’t go back the way I came.”

Footsteps scuffled toward them. The stench of their bodies swept through the tunnels, and his wolf pressed forward beneath his skin, desperate to defend the woman.

“There is another way out, but you must hide right now. If they discover you here, they’ll kill you.”

Her brows furrowed, and the look might have been cute if he weren’t so terrified for her safety. He wanted to keep her close. She was his last chance at freedom. At least that’s the only explanation he had for the primitive way he responded to the idea of her in danger.

He peered down the tunnel, conscious of time ticking away. When he turned back, she was gone.

Profound loss carved his chest out, the force of it enough to break the last hold he had on his sanity.

He shuddered at the thought that he’d imagined the whole thing.

Then he heard her voice.

“If you want to keep me a secret, I suggest you turn off my phone and hide it. I’ll need it to get out of here.”

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