Thank you so much to everyone who has taken the time to read the first chapter of this story! I’m so excited to hear what you all think! Unfortunately, I can only post the first three chapters on my blog. I’ll explain more a bit later. Don’t worry, though! I have something in mind for the blog.
Karina’s heart pounded as she stepped off the plane. She didn’t know who she was looking for – or what she was looking forward to.
The airport itself was small. Almost claustrophobically. She was too used to the oversized, sprawling campuses, filled with shuttles and trolleys. This was something else entirely. It was so tiny, she felt like she ran further than its distance every morning – or rather, she had.
The woman who had been sat next to her had lost interest shortly after she had taken her medication. However, there was someone across the row who seemed quite keen to start up a conversation. Undoubtedly in an attempt to get away from the open-mouthed snoring of their neighbor.
They had become something of a match made in heaven. And Karina was alone from then, through her layover, and all the way to the now.
She wished she wasn’t, though. She wished Adelyn was there beside her, fingers laced with hers as they hunted down this mystery man. This Avery.
It was just her. Alone. With a secret, meeting someone who knew her deepest and darkest truths. For the first time.
Her gray eyes swept over the crowd until her gaze fell on a sign.
Behind the tidily scrawled name was an impressively tall man. Her brows arched, her head quirking slightly to the side as she took in his full, impressive height. Six-foot-four if she had to guess.
He was built, too. Broad in the shoulder, narrow in hips. His biceps looked large enough that she might have confused them for tree trunks. Yet, despite his intimidating physique, he seemed quite personable. The smile he wore was bright, wide. His masculine features were partially shrouded by a twenty-four-o’clock shadow. It was speckled with gray, tracing a becoming line over the outer corners of his chin.
He wore a flannel shirt – likely the best he had in his closet. A pair of jeans. Broken in, but well cared for. Some steel-toed boots that appeared to be, unfortunately, far more broken in.
His smile broadened when he caught sight of her. “Karina,” he greeted, his massive palm held out for her to take. “It’s good to finally meet you.”
“And you too,” she said, her lip caught between her teeth. “I didn’t expect someone… So tall.”
Her head tilted in confusion, a half-disbelieving smile on her lips. “Excuse me?”
“I mean,” he frowned, gesturing at her. “You’re taller than I thought you’d be.”
“How do you mean?”
He laughed, smiling sheepishly. He scratched the back of his head, his mouth pressed together in its own embarrassed shrug. “Your voice. It’s… Cute.”
“My voice is cute?”
“That’s,” he flushed. “We’re off to a great start. You just sounded like you’d be short, and…” he made a motion with his hands, the sign crinkling. It looked he was trying to mime a small box.
“No,” he sighed. “I don’t know,” he laughed, his frustration at himself far too obvious.
She grinned wickedly. And he had yet to catch on.
“I just thought you’d be one of those five foot nothin’ people.”
“Seven inches taller than nothin’.”
“There you go.” Her smiled broadened.
“You’re pulling my leg, aren’t you?”
“Guilty,” she smiled, her hand finding his elbow as she gave it a reassuring squeeze. “I can’t help it sometimes.”
“At least now I know that you’re no less sassy in person.”
“Did you have any doubts?”
“I had hoped you might be less of a spit-fire.”
She grinned. “I thought you said Natalie was just as quick on her feet? I thought you’d be quicker on your toes!”
“Listen,” he chuckled, leading her toward the baggage claim. “My daughter makes sarcasm an art form. I am very quick, thank you very much.”
“I’m so very eager to meet her,” she smiled.
“And she is anxious to meet you, too. Impatient, really.”
Karina couldn’t help but grin, relieved to know he had talked about her to his daughter. While she liked Avery well enough, he was quite a few years her senior. They were at two different points in life — likely with precious little in common, beyond their shared nature. Their relationship was always intended to be mentor-mentee. Boss-employee.
What she needed to start over were new friends.
They continued to make small talk as they collected her bags. Avery was kind enough to shoulder her bags to bring them out to the car. In a strange turn of fate, she felt useless. She wasn’t used to people doing anything for her. In fact, it was a point of pride that she did as much as she could on her own. She had once soldiered through having a week without a working bathroom sink because she refused to hire someone to fix it. She wanted to learn how to repair it so she could do it alone.
Much like she did most everything else in her life.
Perhaps this was just another subtle reminder that she would have to learn to rely on other people. Or maybe, she was looking for some deeper, profound lesson in what might have been a chivalrous display.
They slipped into the car, both silent as they fiddled with their seatbelts.
“How was the flight?”
“I made a friend,” Karina smiled.
“Should we invite them over for dinner?”
She chuckled. “No. I was using the term loosely anyway.”
He groaned. “One of those chatty row-mates?”
“Yes. She seemed to be very interested in me. If only so she could then let me know where she was going. And why, of course.”
“An ask-hole, huh?”
Karina chuckled. “Yes, an ask-hole.” She wet her lip with her tongue, regretting the lack of foresight in not bringing chapstick.
“So, are you hungry? I cooked.”
She watched him from over her shoulder, a disbelieving smile on her lips. “You cooked me dinner?”
“Yeah,” he smiled sheepishly. “I figured you’d be hungry when you got here, and I’m a halfway decent cook.” His shoulders lifted to his ears in a half shrug.
“Huh. Yeah, that sounds… That actually sounds really nice.”
“If you want, you can stay with me until your furniture gets here? I don’t imagine it would be longer than a day or two.”
“You are getting a five-star rating, chauffeur,” she said, thumbing up her car service app on her phone.
He chuckled. “Would if I could. But, unfortunately, we’re too far out there for there to be a car service.”
“No,” she gasped.
“Yep,” he grimaced in response. “Welcome to where civilization goes to die.”
She groaned, her head rolling back to rest on the seat. “It’s alright,” she said, suddenly smiling brightly. “The area is beautiful.”
“That it is. And the rent is cheaper.”
“To make up for my pay cut.”
“Karina,” Avery half-drawled. “I couldn’t afford you.”
“No, you could not,” she laughed. “It’s alright. I’ll make do.”
He laughed, shaking his head from side to side. “I now understand how you’re a lawyer.”
“What is that supposed to mean?”
“You’re a regular ball buster.”
“Don’t kink-shame me.”
He sputtered, his cheeks turning a bright shade of red. “That’s not….”
“Don’t worry, that’s not what I’m into anyway.”
Color flooded his cheeks. And the heat coming off him caused something inside her to stir. The beast, barely held just beneath the surface. Her curiosity piqued. Karina cleared her throat and shook her head from side to side. “Jokes aside, what… makes you qualified to be the uh… ‘Werewolf tamer’?”
“Well, it’s my position within my Pack.”
She nodded slowly, her tongue tracing over her lip again, finding the harsh, chapped lines quite distracting. “Does that make you like… An Alpha or whatever?”
He chuckled, shaking his head from side to side. “Definitely not an Alpha. Not a Beta, either. I’m just Avery. Den Papa.”
Karina laughed. A rich belly laugh. “Is that your real title?”
“No, I was just trying it on. I think I like it.”
She rolled her eyes, a wry smile affixed to her lips. “But you just… What happened that led to this point? To give you this official position?”
He frowned, his knuckles whitening against the steering wheel in thought. “I don’t know that there was ever a situation that arose that… made this my job. I think it just happened naturally. Whenever someone was struggling to get in tune with their beast, I would offer to help them.”
“You must be good at it. There are people in Miami, Florida, singing your praises.”
He smiled. Almost sadly. “You met my wife’s cousin.”
Realization struck her – her mouth opening as she let out a soft ‘oh.’
“You could have just let yourself have that one.”
“I could have,” he agreed with a chuckle. “But that would have been dishonest.”
“Is that a big thing for you? Honesty?”
“The most important,” he offered her a sidelong glance as he slowed down for a red light. “Is it not for you?”
“It’s one of the most important things. I’m just not used to people feeling the same. Or believing me when I say that.”
“People often mistake professions for personalities.”
She smiled, fidgeting awkwardly with the hem of her shirt. “I don’t know if I’ve said it yet, but it means a lot to me that you’re… helping me out like this.”
“You don’t need to thank me,” he said, waving a hand dismissively. “It’s something I want to do.”
“Why shouldn’t I thank you? Can’t it be something you want to do and something I’m grateful for at the same time?”
He smirked and shrugged his shoulders. “It feels like a thing I should say.”
She laughed. “Is that what you do? You just say what feels right?”
“Yes,” he laughed along with her. “And sometimes it doesn’t go very well.”
“Like now,” he agreed.
They settled into a comfortable silence. An easiness that shouldn’t have been found with people who had really only just met. Though, she supposed that wasn’t entirely fair. They had spoken on the phone a few times over the past week. They had also sent text messages. Enough so that Darren had playfully accused her of leaving the state for a man.
Something deep within her resonated with him.
She reasoned that it was likely their shared nature. They were both not human — both straddling the primal and civilized worlds. From what she had gathered of her Beast, she was hellbent on spending as much time as she could at the forefront. She was desperate to get out. To taste freedom – and that was what she felt when she was with Avery. That same longing. The same hunger.
“I don’t want to push the subject,” he began, his mouth shifting to one side in an uncertain frown. “I just want you to know that I am willing to make whatever accommodations you need with your TBI. I’m not overly familiar with it… I’ve done some research,” he clarified, holding a hand up. It was as if he was anticipating her offense at having to be the one who educated him. “We have a room that you can use if you have a headache. It’s dark. It’s now soundproofed.”
She watched him for a long moment, a soft smile pulling at her lips.
It was sweet of him to even think about it. Karina had fully anticipated dealing with those sorts of issues as they arose. The fact that he was proactive about it was telling.
“Thank you,” she reached for him, her hand finding his forearm. “It’s really kind of you to think about all of that stuff.”
“I just want you to be comfortable. I want to make this transition as easy as possible.”
“I do appreciate it. And I appreciate you.”
Avery’s cheeks flushed his smile brightening. “I’m glad. Let’s see if you still feel like that when you start working for me.”
Karina grinned, shaking her head from side to side. “If I don’t like it, I’ll just hide away in the headache cave.”
“Ah, so you’d take advantage of my kindness?”
“Duh,” she smirked. “Who wouldn’t? A room all to myself?”
They shared a grin. If he thought there was even a modicum of sincerity to her words, he didn’t show it. And she was relieved. Karina couldn’t recall a time when she had immediately meshed with someone. When she felt she could be herself immediately.
Her life had been one long, unending saga of dumbing herself down for the company she kept. With some, she had to soften her language. With others, she had to deaden her moods. More frequently, she had to guard her opinions. Yet, everything was so easy with him.
She smiled at him for a long moment.
He glanced at her – and then glanced again in a surprised double-take. “What?”
“Nothing,” she smiled.
“Is there something on my face?”
“No,” she laughed. “Seriously, it’s nothing.”
“There’s something on my face, isn’t there? I knew I shouldn’t have had the falafel….”
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