Offer Your Throat to the Wolf

Angyl, Orithain and Rina

April 2003

*~*~*

"Ms. San Gabriel?" The fair-haired woman waited for the nod before extending her hand. "Hi, Iím Rachel Lorimer, the guide your publisher hired to take you around to get the pictures you want." Seeing that no one was nearby, she added quietly, "Itís a pleasure to meet you. Iíve heard so much about your family. Your father is an extraordinary... man." She smiled faintly.

"If you have no objection to the company of wolves, we thought it would make it easier if you stayed with my family while youíre here. We run a B&B, so youíll still have privacy, and this way we can easily make an early start."

A young man appeared behind her. "Hi, Mom. Dad said you were here meeting a client. Need a hand with any baggage?" He knew his mother would be able to tell that he was upset, but he smiled at the pretty blonde woman. Heíd had another argument with his girlfriend, Dr. Rayne Youngblood, and heíd decided to head out of town for a few days to get his head on straight. Fortunately, the school was understanding when he needed to get away, an advantage of his boss being a shifter as well. "If neither of you has any objection, I thought I might tag along when you go out?"

"Itís a pleasure to meet you, Mrs. Lorimer, and itís Eva," Eva smiled, shaking her hand and giving the handsome man who was obviously the guideís son a quick look. Mmmm, very nice. "My father sends his regards, and Iím fine with the present company," she chuckled, "unless one of you tries to run me up a tree."

Now she turned her full attention on the handsome blond and gave him a smile. "Itís no problem with me," she murmured appreciatively, extending her hand. "Eva San Gabriel, and I take it this is your son, Mrs. Lorimer?"

"Please, itís Rachel."

"And Iím Jesse Lorimer." He smiled, fingers holding hers a little longer than necessary. Just remember sheís a cat, Jess, he thought. "Can I give you a hand with your luggage?" he offered, looking around for it.

"I knew you had manners, even if you usually hide them," Rachel teased, chuckling at the look her son gave her.

"And here my family was saying I was going to miss them; I feel at home already," Eva laughed. "And if you want to get my things, Jesse, who am I to argue?" She flashed him a smile, her eyes lingering on his mouth for longer than was strictly necessary.

"My dad always told me that a lady shouldnít be carrying things when thereís a man around... unless she wants to, of course," he added with a chuckle. His fingers twitched, wanting to touch her blond hair and find out if it was as silky as it looked, and he tensed slightly, aghast at himself. What was wrong with him?

He met the blue, blue eyes and knew exactly what was wrong with him. He hadnít felt anything like this since the first time heíd seen Rayne; he just hadnít known that there could be this strong an attraction between different types of shifters.

Once heíd picked up the bags, Rachel led them out to her SUV. "Are you coming over for dinner tonight, Jesse?"

"Yeah, Trace said sheís making roast, nice and rare of course, so Iíll be there. Since I figure you ladies are going to want to make an early start tomorrow, I thought Iíd crash in my old room tonight. My packís already in my jeep, so I can just follow you home."

"Sounds good," Rachel agreed. "Except that youíll have to use one of the other rooms. You know paying guests get first choice, and Iíve put Eva in there."

Eva grinned mischievously. "I donít mind sharing if youíre short on room," she offered.

"Careful, pretty lady, or I just might take you up on that," Jesse retorted, allowing the heat he was feeling to show in his eyes.

"And thatís a problem?" she asked, meeting his gaze challengingly before hearing the older woman clear her throat. "Sorry, Rachel," Eva grinned, "Iíll behave, I promise; I just canít resist a challenge like that."

"Actually, I was just going to suggest a time out till we get to the house," Rachel laughed. "The way you two were going, a public location doesnít seem such a good idea."

Chuckling, Jesse hugged his mother and smiled at Eva. "Thatís why I love my mom. Weíll continue this at home, pussycat."

Eva arched her eyebrows at that comment. "Watch it or Iíll be calling you JoJo the dog-faced boy," she laughed, following Rachel out toward her vehicle, putting an extra sway in her walk because she knew Jesse would be watching.

"Thatís wolf, catlady, not dog!" Jesse called after her, ignoring both womenís laughter as he headed for his own ride. "God, what am I doing?" he muttered to himself, knowing that he wasnít going to stop.

Once sheíd stowed her camera and film in the back seat of the SUV, Eva climbed into the passenger door, fastening her seatbelt. "Hmmm, thatís some son you have there, Rachel."

"We like him," Rachel agreed with a smile. Sheíd have had to be blind not to have seen the attraction sparking between the two younger people, and she debated with herself whether to say anything about Rayne. Finally deciding it wasnít her place, she simply smiled. "Seems like you do too."

"Gee, and I thought I was being subtle," Eva laughed. "I hope the possibility of interspecies dating doesnít bother you."

Rachel shrugged. "Why should it? Oh, Iíd find it rather ludicrous if a ferret and bear paired upówho wouldnít?--but regardless of our other forms, weíre still people. I donít try to live my childrenís lives for them." Despite her words, she knew Evaís question was valid since until relatively recently mixed form marriages hadnít been accepted, much like interracial marriages among normals.

"Maybe you should talk to my father," Eva murmured as she nodded. "And I donít know; a ferret and a bear would be cute as long as they were similar sized in this form."

"I suppose Iím a bit spoiled that way, since Paul and I are both wolves. More than one of our children was conceived while we were in wolf form," she confided, smiling fondly at the memory. "I wonder if the child of two different shifters would have two forms or just take after one parent?" she mused.

"Whoa, whoa, whoa!" Eva said, holding up a hand, her eyes wide. "Isnít it a little early to be talking kids? I mean we just met!"

"Oh, sorry," Rachel laughed. "I didnít mean you specifically. It was just something Iíd never considered before, and it made me wonder. Not that Iíd object to grandchildren, of course," she added with a chuckle.

"Now you really sound like my parents; theyíve only got one grandbaby right now, and theyíre hinting around at all of us for more. As for what form a baby from something like that would take, I have no idea. Guess itís a questions for the mystics."

"Or for time. I have a feeling the only way weíre going to find that out is to experience it.

"And for the record, itís a parentís prerogative to want grandchildren. Jesseís my oldest, so heís my hope for the moment. Although really, the other three are all old enough. Jen may be only sixteen, but for a shifter, thatís adult."

Eva nodded. "Iím surprised no oneís snatched him up yet, though my brothers managed to be pretty adept at avoiding being tied down until lately."

"Well, heís dated, of course. And he usually prefers to see one woman at a time, but... Iíve never seen him react to anyone the way he did to you," Rachel replied carefully.

"Really," Eva smiled and settled back into the seat. "I think I like that."

*~*~*

Pulling up at the house, Rachel smiled when she saw Jesse pull in right behind her. "Looks like he hasnít changed his mind," she murmured, watching him make a beeline for Evaís door.

"Smart boy you have there," Eva answered before Jesse opened the door. Smiling brightly, she climbed out and into his personal space. "Thanks, JoJo. How was your ride?"

"Uneventful. Get a good earful about my sterling qualities, pussycat?" he retorted, not yielding an inch.

"I heard all about how your mother wants grandkids," she laughed. "So, you gonna carry my stuff inside, or do I need to get it?"

"Mom! You didnít?" he groaned while the women laughed at him. Muttering under his breath about conspiracies, he reached into the vehicle for Evaís bag, then led the way inside.

"Donít worry; if parents wishing to be grandparents could make babies appear, Iíd have about six by now."

"Is Mom trying to fix you up again, bro?" A blonde teenager popped out of the kitchen, drying her hands on a towel slung over her shoulder. "Better you than me. Hi, Iím Jen," she added, extending a hand to Eva.

"Iím Eva, and you better be careful; your mom was even talking about you being old enough for kids," Eva laughed, shaking the younger womanís hand and laughing at her disgusted look. "So, any good gossip you can tell me about your brother here before I start to work on him myself?"

"Never mind," Jesse said hastily, clamping a hand over his baby sisterís mouth. "Come on, Eva, Iím sure Dad and Traci must be around her someplace. Iíll introduce you to them. Then youíll have met most of the family."

"Hmmm, must be some really good gossip to get a reaction like that!" Eva chuckled. "But it can wait, for a bit anyway. Iíll be looking for you later, Jen! And as for you, JoJo," she pinched Jesseís ass, "lead on."

"Watch it, pussycat, or you will find yourself chased up a tree," Jesse pretended to growl, ignoring his sisterís snickers.

"Oh, I like her," a new voice put in, laughter clear. Another young woman appeared, this one with long red hair and blue eyes who must have taken after her father, unlike the other two siblings Evaíd met so far. "Hi, Iím Traci... and I do ever have some stories for you."

"Iím just going to go dig a hole and hide," Jesse muttered.

"This is going to be fun," Eva said brightly, moving her hand up Jesseís back and patting his shoulder sympathetically. "Just remember, JoJo, if you run away and hide, you know what theyíll tell me, and if you chase me up a tree, Iíll claw your nose, and itís too cute a nose to do that to."

"Cats!" Jesse glared at the women who were ganging up on him. "Dad!" he yelled. "Get in here; I need some support."

"Are you insane?" the redheaded man laughed from a doorway down the hall. "You think Iím going to take them all on? You got yourself into this, son."

"So much for male bonding."

"I think Iíll just skip dinner and go back home," another redhead, this one much younger, put in from behind his father. "Not even home cooking is worth this."

"The other traitor is my brother, Mike," Jesse introduced, mock-glaring at the two men.

"Iím much nicer than Jesse is," Mike put in, grinning at Eva.

"Really now? Well, if I wear him out, Iíll come looking for you, Mike," Eva promised, walking up to the two men and holding out her hand. "Itís a pleasure to meet you, Mr. Lorimer."

"Get your own pussycat, brat!" Jesse growled.

Ignoring his sons, Paul shook her hand. "Likewise, Ms. San Gabriel, but please, call me Paul. Sounds like the entire family has already adopted you," he chuckled. "Boys, no fighting. The lady can decide for herself."

Blue eyes flashing, she grinned up at the older man. "A man with brains! Rachel definitely chose well, Paul, and please, Eva. Now if your son inherited any of them..." She looked back over her shoulder at Jesse, smiling slyly.

"Iíll have you know Iím considered highly intelligent," Jesse replied indignantly, catching her hand in his. "Come on, let me show you your room before these nuts say anything else."

"So gym teachers are considered highly intelligent?" she asked sweetly as they were heading up the stairs to the second floor. "And here I thought they were all just cute, sexy guys myself."

"Aha, an intellectual snob," Jesse chortled as he opened the door and gestured her inside. "Just because I prefer to help kids who might not otherwise have a chance at a scholarship and a college education realize their potential, pussycat, doesnít make me a dumb jock."

"A snob?" After carefully setting her camera case on the bed, Eva whirled and stalked up to Jesse, poking him in the chest. "Donít you dare call me that, JoJo, got it?"

"Oooo, touchy pussycat," Jesse chuckled, placing his hands on her hips. "Tell you what, Iíll make you a deal. Donít call me a dumb jock, and I wonít call you a snob. I can think of better things for us to be doing anyhow."

Eva relented, relaxing against Jesse with a throaty purr. "Sounds like weíre thinking on the same wavelength here. I guess canines and felines can get along." Saying that, she pressed the length of her body against his and kissed him.

"Thatís lupines, pussycat. Iím no dog!" Jesse returned the kiss, hands gliding over her body and learning the shape of her and what made her sigh and press closer.

"Mmm, whatever," Eva murmured, sliding her hands down over the cotton of his shirt, her nails rasping lightly against his back as she teased his tongue with hers.

Even less inclined to talk just then, Jesse tugged her shirt free of her jeans and slid his hands up her back beneath it, feeling the softness of her skin. "Pretty pussycat, can I make you purr?" he murmured, biting gently at her throat.

Closing her eyes and shivering, Eva pushed up on her toes and rocked her groin against Jesseís, bringing her hands around to pull his shirt open and nip at his firm chest. "How long until they come looking for us?"

"Mom and Dadíll keep the brats away, so until we show up on our own," Jesse gasped out, fingers tangling in her bright blonde hair. "God, pussycat, you make me crazy." He could feel the passion spiraling upward in him... and the desire to shift along with it.

"Too bad we canít sneak out and run," Eva murmured, trailing her tongue down the side of his neck and following it with her teeth. "Iíd enjoy running with you in the moonlight."

"Tomorrow night. Once weíre out getting your pictures, it makes sense to stay out for a couple of days instead of wasting time coming back into town every night. We can run together. Iím sure Mom will be happy to leave us to it." He shivered under her attentions, unbuttoning her shirt and pushing it off her shoulders.

Tangling her hands in the hem of Jesseís gold shirt, Eva lifted it, pulling it over his head and tossing it aside then pressing close, feeling the light rasp of his chest hair against her breasts. "Mmm, you are smart," she breathed, nipping at his ear.

"God, youíre beautiful," he breathed, leaning back to look at her. Unable to resist, his hands went behind her back to unfasten her bra and toss it aside, then drew her back, knowing how the light sprinkling of hair on his chest would feel against her aroused nipples.

"And youíre okay, for a dog," she chuckled, pulling Jesse in for another kiss before he could answer the smart comment. "Want to feel you in me, Jess. Care to show me around this old bed of yours?"

Still growling, Jesse tumbled her backward onto the bed, sliding down as he landed so he could nip at her firm belly. "Need to get rid of some of these clothes, pussycat, before we can do that," he murmured against her skin, a hand rising to pinch a hard nipple.

"Well, if thatís the case..." Twisting sinuously, managing not to shift Jesseís hand from her nipple or his mouth from her stomach, Eva skinned out of her shoes, jeans and underwear to lie naked on the comforter. "Your turn, stud." She slid a hand down and flicked open the buttons on his jeans, caressing the growing erection beneath the denim as she did so.

Jesse let go of her just long enough to unfasten and shed his boots and socks, then moved back on top of her. He drew her hand back to his fly, letting her feel his hardness. "I think you were doing something about this?" he rasped, watching her out of passion-darkened eyes.

"Damn right I was," she sighed, using skill gained from wrestling with her twin to flip Jesse over beneath her so that she could slide down his body, rubbing her face against his warm, firm skin and finally against the hot flesh beneath his jeans. "I have big plans for this."

"I think I have the same ones," Jesse gasped, hands stroking over every part of her he could reach. When she rubbed against his erection, he moaned and tangled his fingers in her air, hips arching upward.

Eva lifted her head, studying Jesseís half lidded eyes, and smiled. "That sounded almost catlike, Iím impressed." She worked her fingers under the waistband of his jeans and tugged, working them lower along with his briefs until his cock sprang free, tempting her to take a taste.

A harsh groan escaped him when he felt her tongue on him, and not wanting to tear her hair out, he dropped his hands to his sides and clawed at the sheets. "So good," he gasped, thrusting upward, wanting inside.

Purring, she licked up one side of his erection and down the other before taking him into her mouth and sighing at the musky taste of his flesh.

Jesse watched her through heavy-lidded eyes, gasping when she finally drew him into her mouth. "Oh yes," he panted, thrusting upward, then forcing himself back flat so he wouldnít choke her.

Raising her head just enough to let Jesseís erection fall free but continuing to stroke her hand over it, Eva smiled. "Címon, JoJo, donít hold back; letís see if the rumors Iíve heard about you wolves are true." That said, she swallowed him down again, her hips rocking reflexively against the bed as she did so.

"You asked for it, pussycat," he rasped, letting his hips rise sharply and his cock drive into her mouth, crying out when she swallowed him easily. "Fuck, Eva!" he gasped, hands tangling in her hair again as he held her while he fucked her mouth.

Trailing one hand down to caress and fondle Jesseís full balls, Eva relaxed her neck and throat, letting him fuck her face and loving every moment of it. Trailing the edge of her teeth over his cock as he pulled back, she heard his groan and chuckled, knowing the vibrations would drive him wild.

Having been half-aroused since the first moment heíd seen her, Jesse gasped and came, thrusting into her mouth in short, savage jabs, shaking as she swallowed him down, her throat muscles massaging his cock.

Swallowing the streams of come down and pulling back so that the last ones landed on her tongue, Eva waited until her new lover recovered and sat up, licking her lips and running a hand through her tousled hair. "Mmmm, different, but tasty," she murmured, leaning in to kiss Jesse, catching his hands in hers and bringing them up to her breasts.

"Iíll have to find out for myself." Jesse suddenly flipped them over and settled himself between her legs, trailing his tongue up from knee to inner thigh and biting down. "I want to taste you, pussycat," he practically purred, rubbing his lightly stubbled cheek against her mound.

Pushing up on her elbows so that she had a nice view of Jesse nestled between her thighs, Eva ran a hand through his hair. "I donít see anyone in here stopping you, gorgeous. In fact, Iím encouraging you."

Jesse chuckled, his breath puffing over her sensitive folds, then licked her, tasting her wetness. "Mmm, different but very good," he agreed, his hands curling around her thighs and drawing them over his shoulders. His tongue probed at her, delving inside, then licking in long strokes that ended at her clit.

"Oh, yes," she moaned, arching her back and collapsing back on to the mattress, one hand sliding from Jesseís blond hair to tease her nipples, raising them to tighter peaks as she rocked up against the sweet pressure on her clit.

He licked more feverishly, then sucked on her clit, drawing it into his mouth and letting his teeth scrape very gently. He chuckled at the sounds she made and pressed two fingers inside her, thrusting in and out.

On edge from their earlier teasing as well as her reaction to Jesseís orgasm, Eva cried out, the walls of her channel convulsing around his fingers as she came. She wanted to scream with pleasure but somehow managed not to, biting down on her lower lip until she tasted blood as the tremors continued to run through her.

Once the spasms eased, Jesse surged up her body, licking the blood from her lip and tasting both of them in their kiss. He settled atop her, feeling his body begin to stir already. "Want you," he growled, pressing closer.

Even as Eva wrapped her arms and legs around Jesseís torso, she was nodding, kissing her own taste from his lips and biting at the pulse point in his throat. "Hard and fast, JoJo. We can save other ways for later."

Jesse rolled of her. "On all fours, beautiful, just like a wolf... or pussycat," he growled, hot eyes never looking away from her.

Flipping over and rising up on her hands and knees in a single, supple motion, Eva looked back over her shoulder as she rocked back, grinding her ass against Jesseís crotch. "There are no pussycats in bed, Jess, not in my family anyway."

"Well, you havenít told me yet what kind of cat in heat you are," he whispered as he pressed his renewed erection inside her, biting down on the nape of her neck at the same time.

Gasping in pleasure as their positioning allowed Jesse to fill her completely, Eva tightened her body down around him and circled her hips against him. "Lynx," she purred, shuddering when he bit her, and reached back to rake her short nails down one of his thighs, wanting to mark him too.

"I shouldíve known youíd be pretty in both forms," he gasped, moving faster. "God, want to know you every way," he groaned, imagining how it would be.

"T-tomorrow," she promised, pushing back so that she was sitting astride his lap and drawing his hands up to her breasts. "Lots of space and freedom."

"Yeah, M-mom probably wouldnít like it if we shredded the sheets," he panted, teasing the rigid nipples as he thrust into her and bit at her shoulder, leaving a string of bite marks.

Eva groaned out her agreement and pushed up to fall back onto the length of Jesseís cock. "We... have a rule about cat form in the house," she panted, twisting half around to capture his mouth with hers, thrusting her tongue inside in a mimicry of the way he was fucking her.

"Us too but youíre worth breaking the rules for, pussycat," Jesse groaned, one hand falling between her legs to rub her clit as he continued to fuck her. He caught her mouth in another kiss, mouth opening to suck her tongue inside again.

Feeling the delicious pressure building up within her again, Eva moaned, one of her hands falling between her thighs to press against Jesseís while the other clutched at his thigh to pull him deeper into her. "Iíd say what the two of us are doing up here right now is enough rule breaking for now."

Jesse laughed raggedly. "Theyíre right; breaking the rules feels great," he gasped, suddenly biting the back of her neck again, teeth closing on either side of the fragile spinal column.

"Jesse!" Eva was beyond caring that some of her loverís younger siblings might be lurking outside the door, and she arched upward, the waves of her orgasm rolling over her mixed with the delicious pleasure of teeth pressing into her skin. "Just like that!"

The other shifter growled, not letting go, and thrust into her several more times as she rippled around him, finally coming with a howl muffled by her flesh. He remained rigid for seemingly endless moments as his climax exploded through him, then slowly collapsed forward, leaving them in a tangled, satiated sprawl amongst the tumbled bedding.

Getting enough control over herself to flip over and rest her head on Jesseís chest, Eva snuggled close, draping a leg over her new loverís thigh. "Okay," she murmured, "what they say about wolves is true."

"Do I even want to know?" Jesse asked, his tone filled with the smug satisfaction of a man who had no doubt heíd pleased a woman.

"Tell me what you heard about cats, and Iíll think about it."

"That theyíre real wildcats in bed." Jesse grinned at her.

Giving a shout of laughter, Eva reached for the pillow and pummeled Jesse with it until they were both once more out of breath. "Thatís horrible!"

"Why thank you, pussycat, I do try." He beamed at her, an arm comfortably propped behind his head as he admired the sight of her.

"Your students must love you," she laughed, stretching out full length on the bed, one hand idly trailing through Jesseís light chest hair.

"Of course. To know me is to love me." Jesse curled an arm around her, the hand petting her hip.

"So you have a harem following you around?" Eva gave a mock sigh. "It must be my lucky day to have been able to squeeze into your full schedule."

Jesse bit his lip, but he felt that avoiding the issue after that comment would be too close to a lie. "No, not a harem. Just one woman... but we hadnít made any promises, and after the last fight we had, probably not even that. So it was very easy to Ďsqueeze you iní, Eva." He met her eyes frankly, hoping she wouldnít throw him out.

She lifted her head at that and studied him closely. "A lot of guys wouldnít have said a word about that fact," she mused. "I do give you credit for that, JoJo." Resting her head on his shoulder again, she bit lightly at Jesseís neck. "Her loss, my gain."

Sighing with relief, Jesse arched his throat, wordlessly inviting more. "My gain too, pussycat."

Eva smiled. "Glad you think so," she murmured, biting at the offered skin, leaving a perfect double moon imprint of her teeth on Jesseís tanned neck.

"Eva? Dinnerís in half an hour if you want to eat. You too, Jesse," Jen called through the door, her voice quivering with laughter.

"Donít you just love siblings?" Eva asked, shaking her head.

He groaned, pulling a pillow over his face. "Maybe Iíll just hide in here till we leave in the morning. Theyíre gonna be so smug."

"So weíll be smug right back at Ďem."

He laughed, tossing the pillow aside. "Can tell youíre from a big family too." He sat up and swung his legs over the side. "If dinnerís in half an hour, weíd better hit the shower."

"Canít tell sometimes whether you want to hug Ďem or kill Ďem, right?" Eva dug in her bag until she found a short robe. "And Iíd suggest sharing, but somehow I think that would make us late and have another family member banging on the door."

"Too true. Iíll be back as soon as Iím done... since my clothes are in here." He opened the closet and pulled out one of the towels kept there for guests and wrapped it around his waist, knowing he was likely to encounter most if not all of his family. "Iíll see you in a few," he said, heading for the door.

Eva caught his arm and gave him a lingering kiss. "For luck in running the gauntlet," she chuckled before letting him go.

"Are you sure you wouldnít rather share?" He grinned crookedly before opening the door to brave his family, sighing when he found all his siblings lined up against the opposite wall, grinning at him.

"Go away," he grumbled, ignoring them as he walked to one of the bathrooms and locked the door behind him. "I should have been an only child," he sighed.

Finding her own towel, Eva headed out to another of the bathrooms, quirking an eyebrow when she saw the waiting Lorimer clan. "What? No score cards? You guys are sad."

They all burst into laughter, and Traci asked, "So how many brothers and sisters do you have?"

"Four," Eva laughed, "and oneís a twin. Sorry, canít do anything I havenít seen a dozen times before."

Chuckling, the Lorimers headed to their own rooms to get ready for dinner or downstairs to help with the meal itself. "Donít take too long," Jen called back. "Wolves eat a lot, you know."

*~*~*

Eyeing the mostly empty dishes on the dining room table, Eva sat back in her chair and rubbed her full stomach appreciatively. "That was great! I may have to come back and visit a lot if it gets me this kind of meals."

Seeing Jen get up to start clearing the table, she shook her head. "Let me do it. I feel like I need to do something to help around here to thank you all for the hospitality. She grinned at Jesse as she said this. "Iíll just need someone to tell me where everything goes."

"Iíll give you a hand," Jesse put in hastily before Mike could offer, and he glared at his brother, a possessive hand falling to Evaís waist. "Donít you have to get home?" he growled, pretending not to hear the snickers from the rest of the family.

Managing to keep from laughing until theyíd cleared the table, Eva waited Ďtil she and Jesse were alone in the kitchen to give in. "Down, boy," she chuckled, pulling him down for a kiss. "Your brotherís cute, but heís a little young for my tastes. You, on the other hand, are just right for them. Now then..." She surveyed the pile of dishes next to the sink. "Wash or dry?"

"Neither. Iíll put Ďem in the dishwasher though. We do have modern conveniences here, you know. And then Iím sure we can find something to do."

Chuckling, Eva started to rinse the dishes, handing them to Jesse to stack in the washer. "Do you mean heading back to the bedroom, or should we take a walk and actually get to know one another?"

"Both of course," Jesse replied with a grin. "Walk first, then... well, you did say youíd share your bedroom with me."

"Well, it was your bedroom first, so of course I will." She grinned and flicked him on the nose with the dish cloth. "Besides, youíre pretty comfortable."

"Gee, every manís goal in life, to be comfortable. Thanks a lot, pussycat." He grabbed hold of the cloth and used it to tug her into his arms so he could kiss the tip of her nose.

"I meant to lie on, and you know it, you fool," she laughed, smacking his rear. "Men and their egos! They like them stroked just about as much as they do their cocks."

"Well, not quite," he chuckled. "Thatís in a class by itself." Looking around, he decided they were done and drew her toward the door. "Come on, letís get out of here before Mike appears again."

"Wait! Turn on the dishwasher!" she exclaimed, watching in amusement as Jesse nearly broke the button hitting it before dragging her once again toward the door. "I donít know why youíre so scared about what your brotherís going to do. Heís still a boy."

"A boy who likes driving me crazy, and a blind man could see that youíre the best way to do that, pussycat. Iíd hate to have to rip my own brotherís arm off and beat him to death with it."

Slipping her arm around his waist as they walked outside and enjoying the chill of the winter evening, Eva looked up at Jesse, amused at his comment. "Well, I wouldnít want to be the cause of you going to jail for murder, so Iíll just stay far away from little Mikey.

"Okay, get to know each other time; letís hear it, JoJo; aside from teaching gym and collecting harems, what do you like?"

Jesse snorted. "Pretty much anything that lets me be outdoors. Hiking, swimming, fishing, you name it. And itís not just teaching gym. I coach tennis as well. One of the girls I had last year is on the circuit now and doing very well. It got her out of a bad home situation."

"Good for her," she said approvingly. "And good for you too for helping her to get to that point. So do a lot of your students get crushes on you?"

Jesse rolled his eyes. "Itís one of the trials of being a high school teacher. Pubertyís a bitch! And since so many of them are shifters, they can be fairly... determined about it."

Eva chuckled and slid her hand in the pocket of his jeans to keep it warm. "And that means that youíve become an expert on the art of turning them down without making them feel like theyíve been slighted. Iím very glad you didnít try to use that skill on me."

"Wouldnít dream of it, pussycat. I like you up close and personal." He wrapped an arm around her, grateful to the cold of the Wisconsin winter for giving him an excuse... not that he really needed one.

"Same here." She nuzzled the underside of his chin as they walked, their steps in perfect rhythm. "So, tell me about this girlfriend you had the fight with. Whatís she like?"

Jesse sighed. "Sheís a really great person, but we canít seem to make it work. Sheís a doctor, well, a resident right now, but sheíll make it, and she wants to work with shifters, to make sure that we can get good medical care when we need it. But... sheís afraid of that part of herself, tries to bury it and ignore it. Weíve been together off and on for about eight or nine months nowówe fight a lotóand she has never once been willing to shift and just go run with me. I like heróa lotóbut I canít be that way, and I canít be with someone who wants to ignore half of herself."

Eva looked up at him, shocked by what heíd said. To be a shifter and to dislike that part of yourself... she couldnít fathom it. "Iím sorry," she finally said. "For you and for her, but Iím not going to be sorry that your fight got me you for however long." She smiled. "Iím enjoying proving that cats and dogs can get along."

"Oh, trust me, pussycat, the pleasure is at least half mine... even if you canít seem to tell the difference between dogs and wolves."

"You mean thereís a difference?"

Jesse growled and darted behind her, pulling off his jacket and shirt and unfastening and pushing down his jeans so he could shift to his other form, then nipped at her ass before pulling his paws free of the tangle of jeans, socks and boots and dancing away. If a wolf could be said to laugh, then that was what he was doing as he stood in the snow just out of reach, moonlight silvering his fur.

"Ow!" Eva laughed, rubbing at her butt and turning to look at her lover in his other form. "Mmmm, pretty. Remind me to get some pictures of you this way before I go."

Jesse danced over the snow, and Evaís eyes lit up as she began stripping out of her clothes. "Guess this means weíre running tonight as well as tomorrow," she murmured, shaking her head and blurring into lynx form to bound up to him and swat his nose.

He yipped and ducked away, glad her claws had been sheathed, then swung around and whipped his tail across her face, amusement sparkling in his eyes. The invitation to play was clear.

Laughing to herself at the thought of what a naturalist would think if they came across the two of them like this, Eva pounced, swatting at Jesseís bushy tail before racing alongside him and dropping to knock his feet out from under him.

Jesse tripped over her but righted himself quickly and got another nip at her rump as he dashed away again, leading her deeper into the woods. He swerved suddenly, avoiding another swat at his tail, then suddenly spun and caught her tail in his teeth, tugging briefly before letting go, careful not to hurt her.

Rowling as her back legs went out from under her, Eva chuffed out a laugh and scrambled up again. Slinking low to the ground, she waited for Jesse to make his move, then leapt into the air to land on his back, closing her teeth on his ear before rolling off.

Howling, Jesse spun and snapped at her playfully, maneuvering her toward a tree, then jumping up to hit a branch and dump a load of snow on her.

Eva yowled and shook herself violently, her fur fluffing up in all directions. Smirking as much as her feline form would allow, she climbed the tree, slinking out onto a branch and lying down on it, watching Jesse below her with a very self-satisfied air about her.

Jesse stood under the tree and yipped at her, then shifted back to human form to say, "That is so unfair, pussycat." Shivering in the cold, he quickly shifted again.

Chuffing out a laugh, she reached a paw out and shoved a large clump of snow off the branch to hit the wolf below square between the eyes. While he was distracted by that, Eva leapt down and onto Jesse, sending them both tumbling through the snow.

The pair of them rolled around, playing together and enjoying the freedom, until a very human laugh made them stop and look back toward the house, shaking the snow out of their fur.

"That is a very strange sight," Rachel laughed. "I just wanted to remind you two that weíll be getting an early start in the morning, and itís getting late." With a last glance at the wolf and lynx, shaking her head and laughing softly, she went back toward the house.

Bumping into Jesseís side one last time, Eva padded back to her clothes and shifted, picking them up and quickly pulling them on, cursing the cold. "Why do parents always have to be so practical?"

Doing the same and grumbling about how cold the clothes themselves had gotten, lying in the snow, Jesse shook his head. "I think itís on page one of the parentsí manual. Right under how to drive your kids nuts." Seeing that she was dressed, he slid an arm around her waist and started back to the house.

Leaning into him, she sighed. "And why do they all have to memorize those pages and take them to heart?"

"Because their parents did it to them, so this is their way of taking revenge!"

"Oh, God! You mean if either of us ever has kids, weíll do the same?" Eva shuddered.

"Yup, and someday weíll be the ones sitting in the nice, warm house laughing while our kids complain about us," Jesse laughed. "Itís a vicious cycle."

She sighed and leaned her head against his shoulder. "Guess thatís why we have siblings too - to practice up on our torturing so that when we have kids, weíll have it down to an art."

"Yup, and I have it even better since Iím the oldest." Jesse opened the door and let her step into the warm kitchen, both of them dripping on the ceramic floor. "God, itís cold out there. Next time Iím changing before going out! Good thing I have you to keep me warm." He leered at her, eyes twinkling with amusement.

Running her hands through her damp hair, Eva flicked the water and snow that clung to them at Jesse. "Hey, Iím the guest here. You keep me warm, JoJo."

"I think itíll be mutual, pussycat. You want something warm to drink first or straight to a hot shower and bed?"

"Hmm. How about showering, then getting something warm with a kick to it and heading to bed?"

"Sounds like a plan. I think Trace made some hot buttered rum yesterday; there should still be some of the mixture in the fridge. Iíll make us some after that shower. I need to get this cold water off me," Jesse added, shivering, not entirely for show.

"Sounds good to me," Eva nodded, wrapping her arms around Jesse and giving him a hug. "You are cold! Címon, JoJo, letís get you warmed up so you donít have any shrinkage problems."

"Oh yeah, thatís really great for a manís ego," Jesse groused laughingly. "I guess Iíll just have to prove to you that itís not an issue!" Growling mock-threateningly, he chased her upstairs, ignoring his parentsí indulgent glances.

Retreating to the safety of the bathroom, Eva turned on the water and began to strip out of her clothes, looking over her shoulder to give Jesse a sultry smile as he came in as well. "Going to wash my back for me?"

"Of course. And I hope youíll return the favor." Jesse tossed his clothes into the hamper, knowing that he had others and his mom would return the cleaned clothes the next time he was over.

Turning the water on, he stepped into the shower. "Let me know if this is too hot for you. I tend to like to be able to cook lobsters in my shower."

"That sounds like the perfect temperature for me." She followed him in, sighing blissfully as the heated water chased the chill from the snow away. "And of course Iíll return the favor. Iím looking forward to getting to know every inch of you." As she spoke, she leaned closer to Jesse, smiling up at him before reaching over his shoulder for the soap.

"I like the way you think, pretty lady." Jesse shifted slightly to allow her to reach all of him without getting the spray in her face. "And since you like it hot too, Iíll just have to help you smooth lotion into all this silky skin afterward so the hot water doesnít dry it out."

"All over, hmm?" she murmured, working the soap to a lather between her hands and stroking them over Jesseís broad chest, teasing his nipples with her nails. "That could be fun."

Shivering from her touch rather than cold now, Jesse smiled down at her with slumberous eyes. "Iím sure it will be. Iíve been thinking about it for a while." He eyed the pretty blonde. "How is it that youíre still unattached? I mean gorgeous, intelligent women donít exactly grow on trees."

"Where Iím from, we climb them," she chuckled before shrugging, nudging Jesse to turn around so that she could get his back. "Iíve had lots of partners. I guess most folks out my way are worried about my father and my older brother. Heís the sheriff," she clarified, "and he took apart some poachers who decided it would be fun to see what they could find on our land."

Wanting to lighten the mood before it got serious, she chuckled. "Or maybe Iím just too picky."

"Or maybe you just knew that wolves are better and were waiting to meet one," he teased back, back arching contentedly as she washed him.

"Conceited," she laughed, smacking his butt. "But I am curious about something; everything Iíve heard about wolves talks about you all mating for life. How does that work? The first person you sleep withóbam!--youíre with them forever, or is it something else? Obviously you and your doctor slept together so..."

"Playing and mating are two different things. Yeah, some of us are lucky enough to find our mate in our first partner, but love is required in addition to sex. Once you have both, well, thatís when the mating for life part comes into it. Itís a rare lupine shifter who loses a mate and ever takes another. Though there have been a few instances, personally, it seemed to me more like ones where they could have been a trio had the timing been right."

Eva nodded thoughtfully, deciding not to pry more by asking if he thought that he and his doctor could have that if she overcame her fear of her animal self. "Well, playing is just fine by me," she laughed, finishing his back and handing the soap over. "My turn."

Jesse bit his lip but chose not to burden her by admitting that it was already a lot more than that for him. Heíd enjoy his time with his pussycat and paste a smile on his face when she left. "Damn, you mean I have to force myself to touch you now? Itís a tough job, all right, but somebodyís gotta do it." He was smiling again when he turned to face her.

"Be nice or Iíll bite you," she murmured, turning to let him do her back first but also to hide her troubled expression when she realized that she didnít want just be playing with him.

"Donít hold back on my account. In fact, as I recall, youíve already bitten me several times, and I enjoyed it." He ran lather-coated hands over her back, tracing the delicate ridges of her spine and pressing harder on the strong muscles, massaging as much as washing.

"Mmm, youíve got hands like Luke does," she sighed, leaning against the tiled wall and moaning as he found knots of tension within her she hadnít even noticed. "And feel free to bite back; you wonít find me complaining."

"Luke?" Jesse questioned, a distinct growl in his tone as possessive jealousy reared its head despite his best efforts to keep this light.

Glancing back over her shoulder at the change that had come over Jesseís voice, Eva felt a shiver run through her at the expression on his face. "Down, boy. Lukeís my baby brother. Heís got magic hands when it comes to this."

Instantly relaxing, Jesse had the grace to look somewhat shame-faced. "Sorry, pussycat. Those wolf instincts regarding a mólover, you know."

Turning back around, Eva wound her arms around Jesseís neck and kissed him. "Hey, does it look like I mind? A girl likes to feel appreciated, and that reaction definitely had me feeling that way."

"Oh, you are." Jesse pulled her close and kissed her again, then forced himself to let go. "But Iíd better finish bathing you, milady, before the hot water runs out. The water heater in this place is huge, but it does have its limits."

"Normally Iíd complain, but with the thought of hot buttered rum and hot tasty you in my bed, well, I can be persuaded."

Laughing, they finished the shower, and Jesse sent her back to the room "to warm up the bed" while he went down to make their drinks.

Once sheíd dried her hair and brushed it, Eva climbed into the bed, stretching out on top of the comforter, then giving in and sliding under it as it was growing chilly. Hearing the door, she sat up, letting the sheet and blanket fall to her waist. "Keep this up and youíre going to have me spoiled."

"And this would be bad how? Maybe Iíll spoil you so much, youíll never want to leave," Jesse said laughingly, but the expression in his eyes was intent.

"Or I could pack you up in my things and take you back to Montana with me," she shot back, surprised by how much she wished she could do just that.

"Your family would probably have a few things to say about that."

"Hmm, good point." She pulled the sheets back so that he could slide into bed alongside her. "I may have to stay here after all; this spoiling thing is great."

Jesse froze in mid-motion, blue eyes darting to hers. "Donít say things you donít mean, pussycat," he whispered.

Eva frowned, blinking in a very feline way as she studied him closely. "Are you saying youíd want me to stay?" she asked slowly. "I like you, Jesse, a lot, but what happens when your doctor and you make up?"

"Are you asking me if I could choose? I... care about Rayne, Eva, and maybe it could have been more, but tonight... tonight I didnít have to stifle any part of myself. I donít think I could ever have that with Rayne. And you... youíre more than a little special yourself."

Taking the mugs from his hands, she set them on the bedside table and gently pulled him into the bed beside her. "Iím not asking you to choose, Jess. I just - well, I guess Iím saying the same thing you said to me: Donít say things you donít mean. Iíve known you not even half a day, and here I am thinking about how easy it would be to pick up and move here, and honestly, it scares the shit out of me."

"Likewise. I think itís already too late for me, Eva. When you leave, youíll be taking my heart with you."

"It would be a trade," she said quietly, "since mine would be staying here with you."

Jesse sighed heavily. "Well, what do we do now? I never expected this."

"Youíre asking me?" Her eyes were wide and almost wild. "I came here to take pictures for Outdoor Life, not fall in love with a wolf." Realizing how that might sound, she continued, "Even if he is a very sexy wolf. I guess we deal with it."

Realizing how insane this all was, Jesse started to laugh, drawing her against him. "Oh, pussycat, youíve turned my life upside down in less than twelve hours. Life is certainly going to be interesting with you around."

Resting her head against his chest, Eva gave in to laughter too. "I think I need that drink now."

Grinning, Jesse drew them up to a sitting position, propped against the pillows piled at the head of the bed, and reached for the mugs, handing one to Eva. "You trying to tell me that Iím driving you to drink?"

"Possibly." She took a sip of the creamy drink and sighed in pleasure. "Oh, this is good!"

"Yeah, itís one of my favorites. Itís great after a day skiing or running." He kept an arm around her, enjoying just snuggling together as they sipped the hot beverages.

"I can imagine." She sighed at the image of the two of them curled up in front of a fire after skiing all day, drinking hot buttered run and wrapped around each other. "Boy, can I imagine."

"Whatever youíre picturing, one of these days weíll do it," Jesse promised recklessly, pushing all thoughts of Rayne, raised by their discussion, to the back of his mind.

"Does this mean that you might stick around for a while?"

Eva nodded at that, giving up on trying to deceive herself. "Well, I have to go home to settle things there, and my brotherís getting married soon, but yeah, Iíd like that." She smiled and looked up at him. "Feel like coming to Montana to watch my brother get hitched and to meet the family?"

Jesse swallowed hard. "Promise to protect me from all the irritated cats?" he asked, only half joking. "If Iíll survive it, Iíd love to go with you."

"And what do you think theyíre going to do to you?" she laughed, taking another drink. "Remember, Iím the one whoís going to be living in canine - excuse me, lupine central." She grinned as she said the last.

Jesse stuck his tongue out at her. "Exactly my point. Your family is not going to be pleased that a wolf stole you from the fold."

"The fold!" Eva took the mug from Jesseís hand and set it back on the table alongside hers. That done, she smacked him on the arm. "Iím not a sheep!"

Laughing, Jesse tumbled her to her back, sprawling over her. "No, youíre a gorgeous pussycat and just what this wolf needed in his life."

Her smile turning sensual, Eva ran her fingernails down Jesseís back, scratching him lightly. "Well then, since weíve decided weíre going to give in and go along with whatever this is, donít you think we should celebrate?"

"I really do like the way you think. Did you have anything particular in mind?" he murmured, nipping at her throat.

"Well, if your mother hadnít shooed us inside, Iíd say we could find out just how well cats and wolves really fit together, but since we canít, weíll just have to take things this way."

Jesse bit back a shout of laughter. "We can explore that idea more thoroughly tomorrow after you get your pictures. Not that I mind practicing this," he purred, rubbing his pelvis against hers.

Eva arched up under Jesse, her eyes going half-lidded with pleasure. "They always say practice makes perfect," she murmured, sliding her legs up and around his hips and drawing him in for a kiss.

"And something this good is worth doing perfectly," he replied against her lips, tongue slipping inside at the same instant as he possessed her, groaning his pleasure into her mouth. His eyes fell shut for a moment from the intensity of the sensations, then opened again to watch her as he began to move.

Moaning, she dug her fingers into his back, pulling him closer, the shifting weight of his body over hers as arousing as the feeling of his cock buried in her. "God, JoJo, what you do to me," she whispered, tightening her body around him and arching up to meet his every thrust.

"The same thing you do to me, pussycat." Jesse nipped the underside of her jaw, his tongue then soothing the bite. "God, Eva," he groaned, "so good, so perfect, never want to stop."

"Well, weíve had hard and fast; long and slow sounds good for me tonight," she gasped as he rubbed against her clit, sending tremors of pleasure through her, "and we can explore other options later."

"And keep exploring them for the rest of our lives," he said, raising his head to meet her eyes as he made the vow, driving deep inside her at the same moment and stilling, buried as far within her as he could get.

Reaching up, Eva rested a hand on Jesseís cheek, her eyes still locked with his. "I love you, Jesse Lorimer," she whispered. "I donít know how or why, and I really donít care, but I do."

"I love you too," Jesse murmured. "Forever, pussycat. Iíll never let you go." He finally began moving, slowing drawing back till he almost slipped out of her, then pushing forward equally slowly.

"Feel so good," she sighed, rocking up to meet his inward thrust, her hands sliding back to stroke his back and her legs winding higher around his waist.

"Likewise, pussycat." Jesse arched his back, lowering his head until he could reach her breasts, dragging his tongue across each nipple in turn. "Taste so good too."

Evaís climax caught her almost unaware, and she whimpered, arching up under him, wanting more.

Jesse never stopped his slow, languid strokes, knowing her body would be sensitized after her climax and wanting to make her come again and again, to make this night last forever for both of them.

"Jesse," Eva begged, feeling tears slip from her eyes as she came a second, then a third time. On the verge of screaming, she bit down on his shoulder, trembling, feeling as if she was going to fly apart if he didnít keep her grounded.

"Yes," he growled, blue eyes staring down into hers as he drove deep a final time and came, unable to hold back any longer, the pleasure of her body clenching around him driving him over the edge.

Sighing, her eyes drooping mostly closed, Eva managed an exhausted smile as her legs slid down from around Jesseís hips to wrap around his calves. "Donít move, JoJo," she murmured, stroking his back. "Want to go to sleep with you in me."

"My pleasure, pussycat." Nuzzling her cheek, Jesse dozed off almost before he finished speaking, a possessive hand curled over her shoulder.

*~*~*

"That was fun. Weíre going to have to go camping together whenever we can, pussycat," Jesse said three days later as he pulled into his parentsí driveway, Eva and Rachel in the jeep with him, after their trip to get Evaís pictures.

"It was a good trip," Rachel agreed from the back seat, smiling at the two younger shifters. "Weíll have to get your father to come along and do it together sometime." The other two had convinced her to join them in playing one night, and the three had enjoyed themselves for hours in the snow, the two wolves chasing the lynx up a tree at one point and laughing at her till she turned the tables on them.

About to say more, she saw Jesseís expression change and followed his gaze, a frown immediately creasing her brow. "Thatís Rayneís car, isnít it, darling?"

"Yeah," Jesse sighed. Heíd known he was going to have to speak to her, to break things off more cleanly this time, but he hadnít expected her to be waiting for him at his folksí place the moment he got back. That could only mean that she wanted to talk to him, probably to make up. He didnít want to hurt heróhe still loved her tooóbut he wasnít going to give Eva up. Heíd actually hoped that this time sheíd have decided that they werenít good for each other to make it easier on both them.

He glanced over at Eva, suspiciously quiet beside him. "I need to talk to her, pussycat, but remember that I love you, okay? No wondering what Iím going to do. Youíre my mate," he said simply.

Giving a smile that hid her worry as much as possible, Eva nodded. "Gotcha, JoJo. Besides, I know the real reason youíre doing this; you want your mom and me to have to get all this stuff in the house on our own."

Giving Jesse a kiss before she climbed out of the jeep, she watched as he started up toward the house, looking back and smiling when Rachel rested a sympathetic hand on her arm. "Guess weíd better get to work," she said brightly, pushing to the back of her mind the small voice that kept reminding her that wolves mated for life with other wolves and other wolves only.

Rayne Youngblood let the curtain to the Lorimersí living room fall shut. Apparently coming out here to say that maybe Jesse was right and maybe she did need to work through her issues about shifting had come too late. The door opened, and a scent wafted through to her sensitive nose, the scent of sex, of wolf and of cat, and she knew her suspicions had been correct; she was far too late.

Dashing away her tears and composing herself as best she could, Rayne didnít even bother to look at the man sheíd finally admitted to loving more than life, the man sheíd finally realized was her mate. "It seems that my timing is impeccable. Do forgive me; I wonít make the same mistake again, I promise you that," Rayne managed to get out with barely a hint of a tremble in her voice.

Giving the gym teacher as wide a berth as she possibly could while still maintaining her dignity, Rayne headed for the door before she lost what shreds of her self-respect she had left. "Iím assuming youíll be wanting your things back; Iíll arrange for your sister to pick them up. Iíd say have a nice life, but despite what everyone seems to think of me, I can bleed just as easily as everyone else. Goodbye, Lorimer."

And with that Rayne managed to get out the door and began to walk to her car. Unfortunately Jesse seemed to have other plans that involved shredding her completely. The door opened behind her, and she heard his request to wait, that they needed to talk, a death knell to any relationship theyíd ever had if ever there was one. Walking faster, her high heels making the cobblestone path harder to traverse than normal, Rayne tried to ignore the man behind her.

When she felt the hand on her shoulder, it was too much though. "Donít you touch me, you mangy, good for nothing dog!" she snarled, spinning. "Donít you dare touch me while you... stink like you do. I thought you loved me. Liar! I wish to god Iíd never believed one single word out of that lying mouth!" And before she realized what sheíd done, the sound of shredding clothes could be heard, and a truly feral snarl of rage and pain sprang from the white wolfís throat as she backed farther and farther away from the man she had been so sure would never hurt her, would never betray her. What a fool sheíd been.

Her beast more in control than it had ever been since the first time sheíd shifted, Rayne only knew one thing. She had to get away. Run far and fast and never come back. Letting her wolf spirit take over, she did just that. Ran and ran and ran until the sky turned dark, and she had no idea where she was. Collapsing under a tree in the deep forests surrounding Superior, Rayne finally regained human form and curled into herself, naked in the darkness, and cried for the first time in longer than she could remember. "Wolves mate for life, you heartless bastard," she whispered in the dark. "I mated for life. Why did I ever believe you?"

"Rayne!" Jesse called after her, dismayed by the pain and anger sheíd displayed. After all the arguments, all the times sheíd drawn back from him, heíd had no idea that sheíd felt that deeply. He started after her, then realized that he was the last person she wanted to see just then, and forced himself to stay where he was, watching her disappear into the trees.

Helping his mother and Eva carry their gear inside, he kept darting glances toward where Rayne had disappeared, and when she hadnít returned after half an hour, he gave his lover an apologetic glance.

"I have to go after her. She so rarely goes in wolf form that Iím afraid she could get hurt." He knew that heíd have no trouble tracking her.

Eva nodded, still shocked by the other womanís outburst but supposing she understood it deep down; if someone sheíd cared about had turned up with another woman, it would have hurt, but then, she doubted she would have gotten him to the point where he would have taken off anyway. God, what a mess.

"Go ahead, just be careful, okay?" she said seriously. "I like this hide too much to think about it getting hurt."

Jesse drew her into his arms and kissed her, then smiled. "Donít worry, pussycat, Iím not letting you get away from me that easily. Iíll be back as soon as I can, so save some dinner for me." With another hug, he stepped back and shed his clothes, then shifted and bounded into the forest on Rayneís trail.

A little while later he found her and shifted back to human form, dismayed to see her naked in the winter cold. "God, Rayne, are you trying to get yourself killed?" He sank to his knees beside her, intent on chafing warmth back into her limbs.

"What the hell do you care?" Rayne snarled and pulled back sharply. "And donít you fucking touch me you... you... mangy mongrel!" Backing herself up against a tree, her eyes were still less than entirely human and red and raw from crying as much as she had. Sheíd never cried over a man before. Sheíd never felt this much for a man before and he... "I... oh god, I wish I could hate you like you deserve," she snarled. "You good for nothing, lying dog! My father was right; I should never have trusted my heart to a paleface like you!"

Using the tree as a brace, Rayne managed to get herself into a standing position, back to the tree, as she began to edge away from her ex lover. "I was going to tell you that you were right, that I was being a fool for not trusting you, not trusting what I could be, not trusting us. Iím the fucking fool for ever believing anything out of your mouth!" she hissed.

"Damnit, Rayne, how many times were we supposed to scream curses at each other and break up before I was allowed to believe you meant it?" Jesse demanded, losing his temper as well. "You told me that you were happy as you were, that I was a selfish bastard for trying to force you into something you didnít want, but Iím the bastard now for believing you?"

"No, youíre the bastard for assuming that I was going to break up the last time. I was trying to tell you then that I wanted to try, but you just assumed that I was brushing you off again. You assumed and never let me finish what I was trying to say before you stormed out. I was going to say that I was happy as I was but that I was willing to try for us; however, you never let me finish, you just took off and disappeared and came back smelling of another woman. Well, fuck you!" she retorted, turning away, her head held high. Sheíd be damned if she ever depended on him again or any man for that matter!

Jesse remembered that last screaming match very differently, but he wasnít going to argue. "Fine, Rayne, whatever. But if you say one more time that I smelled of sex after Iíd been sitting in a car with my mother for over two hours, I may hit a woman for the first time in my life!" he snarled. "Letting your imagination work overtime is one thing, but insulting Mom and Eva that way is way over the limit. And you might want to head back before you freeze to death, Dr. Youngblood." Furious, he shifted without giving her a chance to reply and headed back to his parentsí home at a full out run.

"Coward!" Rayne shouted after the rapidly retreating back. "Lying, good for nothing coward," she sniffled. "I hate you, Jesse Lorimer." The very fact that she was being painted as the evil witch as well as the guilty party in all this cut Rayne more deeply than any cruel thing Jesse could have said. It was suddenly clear to her that no matter how much heíd said he loved her, sheíd never mean nearly as much as she wanted to.

*~*~*

Wrapped in her heavy parka and watched over by the older Lorimers, who pretended they werenít checking out the windows for their eldest sonís return, Eva sat on the porch, not sure if she wanted Jesse to come back with Rayne or alone. When she finally spotted him, she stood, drawing in a deep breath when she saw he was alone.

"Come inside and warm up," she said gently. "Then we can talk if you want."

Jesse shifted and walked into her arms and held her tightly for a long moment in total silence. "God, Iím sorry to have involved you in this mess, Eva. But Iím not sorry I met you." He raised his head to meet her eyes. "I love you." He finally moved toward the door, an arm securely around her waist.

"Well, thatís fortunate, because I love you too," she said quietly. "Now come inside before you freeze." She led him inside and closed the door behind them, picking up a blanket from a chair by the door and draping it around his shoulders.

Rachel and Paul stuck their heads out long enough to be certain that their son was safely back, then discreetly vanished upstairs, leaving the younger couple alone.

"Iíd understand if you wanted nothing to do with this, pussycat, but I really hope youíll stay." He cupped her cheek with his palm.

She gave a bit of a smile and leaned her face against his hand. "Itís a little late for that, JoJo. Iím in it now, for better or worse. I guess... I was supposed to head back tomorrow, but Iíll change my ticket if you want - until everythingís worked out?"

"God, I donít want you to do anything that could have an effect on your job, but if you can, yeah, Iíd like it if you could stay." He smiled at her a little shakily. "Want to go up to our room for a while? I really want to hold you right now."

"Sure, Jess." She rubbed a hand over his back, feeling how tense he was. "Things will work out, I promise," she added, walking him to his old bedroom, stripping off her clothes once they were inside, then curling up next to him in the bed, holding him while shudders ran through his body.

"I didnít want to hurt her, you know. I never thought sheíd care that much... but I canít, I wonít give you up, Eva." He drew her closer, only loosening his grip when he realized she was having trouble breathing. "Sorry, pussycat." He sighed, pressing his face into her blond hair, inhaling the fresh, natural scent of the shampoo she used.

"Not a problem, JoJo," she murmured, stroking his head. "Iíve had worse." She heard something in his voice when he talked about Rayne that she knew needed to be addressed, but she wasnít sure this was the right time.

Jesse sighed, finally raising his head to meet her eyes. "This wasnít quite what I had in mind for tonight, pussycat." He caressed her lightly. "Want to stay here tonight or come over to my place?"

"Iíd say your place because I was looking forward to seeing it, but since weíre in bed and not really dressed for getting up, letís just stay here." She sighed and rested her head on his shoulder, continuing to stroke his hair. "You want to talk about this or wait until later?"

"Is waiting going to make it any better?" Jesse asked wryly. "We can go over to my apartment tomorrow... if youíre staying a little longer, that is. If not, as soon as you get back.

"As for Rayne..." He sighed heavily. "I honestly thought sheíd be relieved. Well, okay, mad too since weíve had this on-and-off thing going for almost a year, but we were driving each other nuts. Neither of us could be what the other wanted, no matter how much we might have wanted to.

"She said today that I misunderstood her that last time, that she was going to try, wanted to ask for my help. I dunno. It didnít sound that way to me, but maybe I was just hearing the past arguments and not listening to her. But if sheíd really meant it, really been ready, she could have stopped me, followed me, made me listen.

"Not that I think sheís lying," he added hastily, not wanting it to sound like he was badmouthing his former lover, a woman he still had feelings for. "But itís easier to remember what we think about doing, what we wish we could do, than what we know we would do, especially when we know we wonít get called on it.

"Just like itís easier for me to remember the fights than all the good times. But... Iím sorry I hurt her, but I canít regret what happened," he said wearily. "Not when it brought me you."

"I wish I knew what to say or do to make it all right for everyone," she whispered. "But aside from me vanishing, I canít think of anything, and thatís something I really donít want to do."

"Good thing because Iíd come after you, pussycat, and considering how much time off Iíve taken lately, Iíd probably get fired, and then Iíd have to become your boy toy and let you support me," Jesse replied with a tired laugh. "Iíll never let you go now."

Eva gave a small smile at that. "Guess Iíd better find somewhere in town to develop my pictures so I can make sure I keep getting jobs then," she commented, suddenly hit by the full impact of what had happened and what sheíd agreed to.

"Iíd like that since long distance relationships are hell, but only if youíre ready for that, Eva." He gazed at her seriously. "I donít want to make you miserable. At least I can travel with you during school breaks... if you want me to, that is."

"Why would you make me miserable?" she asked, frowning slightly. "And yes, Iíd love for you to be able to travel with me; ever been to Nepal?"

"God, Iím starting to sound neurotic, arenít I?" Jesse half laughed. "I just meant that I really want you to stay here, if you want that too, but if not, well, Iím sure they need P.E. teachers in Montana too. And no, Iíve never been to Nepal. But it sounds wonderful." Shaking his head at himself, he smiled at her, pushing everything else out of his mind. "Going to broaden my horizons, pussycat?"

Eva shook her hair back off her forehead and laughed. "Depends on which way you mean, JoJo. I donít mind Superior, what Iíve seen of it anyway, and I think you wolves are more apt to stay close to family than us cats, so it would be easier for me to move. As for Nepal... well, if that assignment comes through, Iíll try to arrange it for when youíre out of school."

Jesse took a deep breath. "It could double as a honeymoon."

Evaís blue eyes widened, and she blinked. "JoJo, donít take this the wrong way because I do love you, but, youíve got some things you need to take care of first."

Sighing, Jesse nodded, admitting she was right. "But nothingís going to change the way I feel about you, so Iím just going to keep asking till you say yes."

Eva smiled and rested her head on Jesseís chest. "You keep doing that, JoJo and one of the times, Iíll say yes."

*~*~*

Rayne didnít show up at the hospital the next day for work. Or the day after that. The woman whoíd never missed a day of work in her life was nowhere to be found in Superior. Her car still sat in the Lorimer driveway, her purse and keys in the front seat of the car. And inside her house her answering machine blinked, messages waiting to be picked up.

Rayne was in the forest, running with a pack of real wolves and trying to forget she was human.

By the fifth day she realized it wasnít working. That she couldnít be anybody but who she was and if she couldnít be loved for that, then to hell with the rest of the world.

The sixth day, head held high, Rayne walked into Superior General Hospital and tendered her resignation. It was time she started living her own life and stopped playing by the rules and by the way people seemed so desperate to see her. She was Rayne Youngblood, descended from one of the most powerful Indian nations in America, and sheíd be damned if sheíd let anyone hurt her again.

The knock on her front door the seventh day came as a surprise, but she answered it anyways. Sheíd never run away again either. She was a Sioux, and Sioux never ran from battle.

"Rayne Youngblood?" Of course Eva knew exactly who the other woman was; that was the reason she was here to see her. The last week had been hell on Jesse, and because of that, on her, and because of his anguish she got a good look at just how much the lupine shifter meant to him. No matter what he said to the contrary, Rayne still held a large portion of his heart. "Iím Eva San Gabriel. Iíd say it was nice to meet you, but I doubt you feel that way."

"Youíd be right. Not that I hold anything against you really. Well, Iíd be lying if I said I didnít, but it takes two to do anything, and that mangy cur obviously didnít need his arm twisted too badly to forget about me entirely," Rayne replied bitterly. "Put me in my place quite nicely too. I guess Iím real easy to forget.

"Sorry, Iím still not quite myself these days. Can I offer you anything? I promise not to poison you; my Hippocratic oath wonít let me."

"Iím not worried about that; whatever you have is fine." Moving warily, Eva followed Rayne into her apartment. "I think..." She took a deep breath, trying to decide how best to continue. "I came here because we need to talk - about what happened, about Jesse, and about how he feels about you."

She held up a hand, cutting off the other woman before she could speak. "I can only imagine how much youíre hurting right now, but he is too. He..." She shook her head, looking around at the neat, spare decorations around the room. "You arenít easy to forget, thatís just it."

"Yeah, right," Rayne tried to laugh, but the tears choked her slightly. "Iím so unforgettable that he couldnít even keep it in his pants when you showed up," she managed to get out, shutting the door behind the other woman.

"Not that I can blame him. Youíre beautiful. Iím just the ice queen who was afraid of being a wolf, and all we ever did was fight, and I was probably lousy in bed too. Excuse me, I need... to get your drink," the other woman managed to get out before completely forgetting her vow never to run away again. Well, she could call it a strategic retreat into the kitchen to reinforce her defenses; then it wasnít technically running away.

Not sure if she should sit or what, Eva remained standing, waiting for Rayne to return with the drinks. "I donít think thatís the case at all," she called out. "We talked about you, and yes, he said that you were afraid of giving in to your other side, but as for the rest... I donít think so.

"If you want to feel better, or hate someone else, he told me about you, that the two of you had had a fight, but I didnít back off. You know cats in heat," she finished in a lame attempt at humor.

"Iím sorry but it doesnít make me feel any better, and Iím not going to blame you. You felt you had an advantage, and you pressed it. I may not agree with your style, and I might think it a little tacky going after someone elseís... well, he wasnít really my anything. Not if it was that easy to say yes. Or did you throw him down and rape him with him protesting his virtue all the way?" Rayne asked dryly, coming out of the kitchen with a pitcher of lemonade and two glasses.

"I probably shouldnít feel like I do. After all, I guess I never really had any claim on him. Besides, he made his opinion of me pretty clear the other night. He didnít even... He left me out there, and Iíve been in wolf form maybe a dozen times since I first shifted. He left me alone," Rayne finished simply, her green eyes shadowed and hurting.

"So forgive me if I donít believe you. Can we drop the subject please? I really donít want to talk about it anymore. Apparently I talked too much and acted too little. Enough said.

"So, how do you like Superior, Ms. San Gabriel? Itís a nice enough place to settle down and raise a family here. At least I thought so when I first came here. The shifter population is quite friendly too, although it is mostly wolves. But Iím sure youíll fit in just fine; you seem a friendly sort of person. People will love you."

Eva arched her eyebrows but didnít comment on the change of topic. "Iíve been taking pictures in the woods mostly, so I havenít seen much of the town, and Iím heading back to Montana tomorrow, so I donít know how much more Iíll get to see, but what I have seen seems nice. Were you born here?" Part of her mind was laughing hysterically at the insanity of the conversation, and the other part was horrified by it, but what else was she supposed to say?

"No, I was actually born in a shifter community called Wolf Rapids about three hours from here. My father is the townís mayor, I suppose. Heís basically the pack alpha and the head of the community. Itís rather an eclectic mix of shifters and normals, most of whom are Native American too. There are a few normals who donít know about the shifter part of town, but for the most part everyone does. My sister still lives there; she teaches school and is a practicing medicine woman," Rayne smiled fondly, thinking of her twin. "Sheís my twin, and I donít know how Iíd survive without her. Sheís my sanity and one of the only real friends I seem to have," the young woman smiled rather sadly.

Eva had to smile at that, though she felt an upwelling of sympathy for the other woman. "So youíre a twin too. I think you got lucky with a sister; I have a brother, and heíd rather drive me nuts than anything, though heíd probably kill for me if needed."

She took a sip of her lemonade and studied Rayne seriously. "I think you have more friends then you realize." It was true; sheíd lost track of the number of people whoíd called Jesseís apartment looking for Rayne.

"You think Iím overreacting and feeling sorry for myself, donít you?" Rayne asked quietly and without any animosity or defensiveness in her voice. It was a simply stated fact, nothing more. Rayneís keen eyes watched the minute reactions of the blonde woman seated across from her, trying to accurately gauge what Eva was thinking.

"That perhaps Iím acting the victim, so to speak? I suppose I am in a way. I just donít know how to handle this, not really. Iím sitting here having a perfectly calm and civilized conversation with a woman that Iíve been dumped for when I thought that... well, it doesnít matter what I thought anymore," Rayne sighed, standing up.

Chaffing her arms, the Scots-Irish Sioux paced the room, trying to pull her thoughts together. Sheíd always prided herself on her clinical detachment, her ability to think without getting mired in the often painful emotions of her patients. It was so different when it was her own life she was analyzing, so much harder.

"I obviously thought one thing while Je... Lorimer thought another. I was saying one thing, and he heard something entirely different. I guess we were in a rocky place to begin with, and then you show up, and youíre so different from me - everything he wanted. Someone fun, someone who wasnít afraid of who they were, someone confident and vibrant and beautiful.

"I keep thinking of this line in Romeo and Juliet, the warm sun and the cold moon. It describes us well, donít you think? But then, Iím probably making assumptions again. Maybe this is for the better; maybe Iím not cut out to be in a relationship. It wouldnít be the first time I heard that.

"I donít like acting like a shrew or a bitch, and I sure as hell donít like crying myself to sleep at night. Heís the first one who ever made me cry like this," Rayne confessed. "Raven would say itís a good thing, that Iím finally starting to live. My sister has a warped sense of reality sometimes," Rayne chuckled as she walked over to a bookcase and looked at the picture of her sister in full ceremonial garb sitting on a shelf. People always mistook it for her, and she never really corrected them.

"What would you do if you were in my shoes, Miss San Gabriel?" Rayne asked suddenly. "How would you react if it had been you waiting for your lover to come home, and you saw him kissing another woman that you didnít even know existed until that moment? Iím not trying to put you on the spot or anything... I just donít know how to react anymore. I feel... numb, and I keep second guessing myself, and... I just donít know," Rayne sighed, staring sightlessly at the pictures from her past, one hand coming out to brush a picture of Jesse that still rested amongst her most treasured pictures. A picture she hadnít the heart to destroy no matter how much it hurt to look at it.

"Itís Eva, and if I was in your shoes, Iíd be wanting to kill the son of a bitch," Eva said bluntly. "And I donít think youíre doing any of the things you said you were. But Iím... Iím in a unique situation here to say the least." She gave a small, mirthless laugh. "If I had any sense, Iíd just leave and let the two of you work this out, but thereís a small problem; I love him too.

"Cats arenít like wolves, Dr. Youngblood; yes, we fall in love, and yes, we are covetous of our mates, but itís not - itís not a one and only type thing. He still loves you, Iím fully aware of that, and I think the two of you need to sit down and talk - no running, no fighting, just talk. After that... well, Iím a big girl; I can take care of myself no matter what happens.

Standing, she reached for her coat. "I think Iíve said enough now, though, so Iíll leave before I dig myself in any deeper."

Rayne sighed. "Eva, I donít blame you for loving him. Heís very easy to love," she admitted quietly. "And my name is Rayne," she added, getting up to show Eva out.

"Youíre a very nice person, you know that? I can see why... why he loves you," she actually managed to get out without another crying jag. "I wish things were different. I wish Iíd met you without all this other stuff in the way. I think Iíd like you a lot. I think I do anyways. Not many women would be kind enough to come over here like you did and listen without judgment. You... thank you for being so kind to me, Eva. It means a lot," Rayne confessed quietly.

Raising her eyes to meet the other womanís sad green gaze, Eva sighed. "Iím sorry that this all happened. I came out here to take pictures, not mess up other peoplesí lives, but..."

She pulled on her coat and dug in the pocket for the keys to the car sheíd rented. "Youíre a nice person too, Rayne. I hope you and Jesse find a way to at least talk this out. I - I wish things were different too." Saying this, she walked to the door and slipped out, her stomach in knots.

*~*~*

Leaning against her twin sisterís car, Raven Youngblood waited patiently for Jesse to emerge from the house. Five days without hearing from her identical twin had worried her, and on the sixth night Raven had received a phone call that had sent her scrambling. Calling their parents and her school, the Wolf Rapids teacher had been on the road the very next morning, wanting to find out what the hell was going on.

As it was, Raven had barely stopped her father from going on the warpath and her mother from grabbing her favorite skinning knife to come and have a Ďtalkí with Mr. Lorimer. However, seeing as how none of them had ever met the man in question, Raven had proposed she go and see what was going on before her parents started counting coup in Superior.

Which led her to where she was now, leaning against Rayneís car and waiting to meet the man who had made her sister cry. Maybe it was a good thing he could, maybe it wasnít. She was going to try not to pass judgment until she got both sides of the story.

Twirling her long braid idly, Raven wondered how long it would take Lorimer to realize that she wasnít Rayne, that she was Rayneís identical twin. Luckily for her, they were alike to the point where even their scents were similar enough that it would take someone whoíd known them their whole lives to tell them apart. It used to drive both twins nuts that people couldnít tell them apart, but now Raven was counting on the fact.

Hopefully it would give her enough time that sheíd get an honest reaction from Jesse Lorimer and see how he really felt about her twin. And if the reaction was a positive one, she might let him keep his skin, the young woman thought to herself as she grinned ferally, patting her knapsack and the skinning knife her mother had shoved in her hands that morning before Raven had left her home.

*~*~*

Aaron Matthews tipped back his can of beer, draining it and shaking his head, his dark eyes shining with humor. "Only you, Lori, only you. Hey, any time you want me to, Iíll take one of them off your hands."

Heíd spent the last hour listening to his friendís story, and the fact that such a thing had happened to Jesse Lorimer was a cause for endless mirth in the author. Himself, yeah, that he could see, but Jesse having troubles like this... it was rich.

"If you canít find a way to keep them both; thatís what Iíd do," he grinned, glancing out the window as he spoke and arching a dark eyebrow when he saw a feminine shape standing next to the car that had sat in the Lorimersí driveway for the past five days.

"Looks like youíve got company, and seeing as Iím not one to get in the middle of things, Iím out of here. Go deal with your lady; Iíll let myself out the back." He stood and stretched. "Feel like a run anyway. Call me if you end up in the hospital or anything. Iíll send a sympathy card."

Following his friendís gaze, Jesse stiffened when he saw Rayne outside. He hadnít thought sheíd ever want to talk to him again, but he supposed it was hard to miss his jeep in his parentsí driveway. Since she was obviously waiting, he was going to have to face the music. At least Eva wasnít here to see this, although she was supposed to join him here for dinner with his family a little later.

Pulling his coat and boots on, Jesse went out, wincing inwardly at the cool expression in the green eyes that used to be so warm. "Iím glad youíre all right, Rayne. I... Iím sorry things worked out this way. I never intended any of this, never wanted you to get hurt." He sighed. "But results are what count, arenít they? Do... do you want to come inside? Itís cold out here if you want to talk." There was something odd about her reactions so far, something he couldnít put his finger on, but then again, this whole situation was unusual.

"So youíre sorry for hurting me. How nice to hear it," Raven replied with a voice devoid of any emotion, her left hand itching to reach for her motherís knife. Lorimer just admitted to hurting her twin, but how and why? And why was he glad Rayne was all right? There were too many unanswered questions, and Raven had promised herself to be fair. Which meant no scalping before she had all the facts.

"And youíre glad Iím all right... how do you know Iím all right, Lorimer? Just because Iím standing here instead of bleeding in a hospital or dead in a ditch somewhere, does that mean Iím okay? Did you even bother to find out, or are you just saying that to make yourself feel better?" Ravenís voice was filled with casual indifference as she looked at him with a vaguely disgusted expression, the kind she used when cleaning up the dissected frogs after one of her science classes.

Raven knew her questions were probably making the man in front of her uncomfortable, angry, guilty or a combination of the three, but then it would also give her some very honest reactions. She needed to know what was going on before she went to see Rayne, and she needed to have the whole picture, not just her sisterís point of view.

Raven loved her twin as much as was humanly possible, but she wasnít blind to Rayneís little quirks. Her twin had a bad habit of running away when she was hurting instead of staying and fighting. Raven was the one whoíd give as good as she got, not her sister; Rayne was less likely to confront and more likely to hide away and lick her wounds in private. And Ravenís gut was telling her that right now Rayne was running as fast as she could.

Jesse sighed. "I still care about you, Rayne, even if... well. When you didnít follow me back, I sent Mike out to check on you. He and Jen and even Mom and Dad took it in turns to stay nearby till you came back. You were never in any danger. But youíd made it pretty clear you didnít want to see me."

He started pacing restlessly, it being clear that she had no intention of coming inside. "I am sorry, Rayne. I did love you, hell, I still do, but we were tearing each other apart, and you never gave me any indication that you wanted to change." He sighed again. "If you had, if I had thought there was any chance that we could make it work rather than just hurting each other more, Iíd never have given up." He raised unhappy blue eyes to stare at her. "But I really thought that it was better for both of us to just let that last fight really be the last."

He paced farther away. "I never planned to meet Eva, and if Iíd thought we were still together, nothing would have happened. You have to believe that, Rayne. I would never cheat on a woman! God, Rayne, I never dated a normal because I knew I needed what my folks have, to be able to share everything with my mate. How was I supposed to know you were a shifter who hated to shift when we met?" He turned to face her again. "Iím not accusing you, itís your life and your choice, but I canít live that way. And I wasnít going to make you miserable by trying to force you to change. I did the only thing I thought I could for both of us when I walked away."

Raven processed what the man in front of her was saying, trying to keep an open mind about the whole thing. He seemed genuinely upset about what had happened; she had to give him that. Raven had known that her sister fought sometimes with Lorimer, but the way he described it...

"Well, you just saved yourself a skinning," Raven finally sighed. "But it doesnít mean I like you very much right now, Lorimer. Youíre just such a... man!" the younger twin growled. "I really ought to smack you upside the head, but Iím not going to. However, if you ever leave my sister alone again when sheís upset and most especially when sheís wolf, I will kill you," Raven snarled, getting up into the blond manís face.

"I donít give a shit if your entire pack was protecting her; you were the one who left her out there. You were the one responsible. Even if you stayed out of sight, out of scent, you should have been the one to watch her, and Iím not going to forget that easily. Just be thankful itís me and not my parents who came to make sure Rayne was all right. Their reaction would have been... worse. Sheís the daughter of our pack alpha, and sheís important, at least to us."

Opening the car, Raven retrieved Rayneís purse and shoes and then locked the vehicle. "Iíll be by later to pick this up; right now I need to make sure my sister is okay.

"Oh and next time you decide to walk away from my sister, have the decency to tell her. She didnít even know youíd Ďbroken upí," Raven continued conversationally. "She thought you were blowing off steam; well, you did that too, didnít you? Not that Iím saying you shouldnít, I couldnít care less who you sleep with beyond how it affects Rayne. And another thing, whether you meant to or not, you did hurt her. Badly. Sheís never cried over any guy before in her life, and youíve made her cry rivers.

"Itís a good thing I know you by reputation through the school system, or Iíd say she was right when she called you a good for nothing cur. As it is, if you ever hope to have a chance with Rayne, youíd better be ready to apologize. She deserves that much. Iíd say she deserves a lot more than that, but Iím her twin, and Iím probably a bit biased.

"She was willing to get over her fears for you, Lorimer; she trusted you. You have to live with that now. And Rayne has to live with the fact that she hurt you too, Iím sure. Iím not blaming you solely; I know my twin, and Iím sure she had a big part in this little drama as well. However, facts are facts, and you both need to take ownership of the pain youíve caused one another. Saying itís her fault wonít make your actions any less hurtful, and her saying itís all your fault wonít take away her blame in it either. You be grown up enough to accept that youíve done damage to the other person. And you need to accept that thereís a third, completely innocent person, whoís been dragged into this mess as well.

"What you need to do now is decide what you want. If you truly donít want her anymore, have the decency to cut her loose in person, and donít leave her hanging like you did before. She still loves you. If you really donít want her, then let her go, and let her come home to her family and the people who will love and care for her. But if you do love her, if you do want her, well, you both have some bridges to mend, donít you? And whether you like it or not, you stepped out on her first; thatís just the way it is.

"Although maybe Iíll be the good little sister and take her out and get her laid. Maybe she needs to forget about you. Maybe she needs a real man instead of a little boy," Raven finished, hiding the wicked smile that spread across her face by turning and walking away. "Iím sure I can find more than a few handsome wolves in this town whoíd live up to what a red-blooded Sioux wolfwoman needs. Ah-ho!" she called out cheerfully, waggling her fingers over her shoulder as she sauntered away, her waist length braid swinging with each step.

Initially baffled by the conversation, Jesse quickly realized that this was Raven, Rayneís twin sister, and he actually missed some of what she said as he marveled at their similarity. Those last comments caught his full attention, however, and he felt a surge of jealousy at the thought of Rayne with someone else, then reminded himself that heíd given up the right to feel that. And he really did want her to be happy, as happy as he was with Eva. He knew heíd never want anyone else; between them those two very different women had taken his heart.

"Tell her... to be happy," he called after Raven before turning to go back inside. Heíd promised his mom that heíd give her a hand getting the gear ready for her next trip, and it was about time he stopped wallowing in his emotions and got on with his life. He was sure Eva would be relieved.

"Tell her to what?!?" Raven glanced over her shoulder in patent disbelief. What a wishy-washy answer! Men. Sheíd never, ever understand them. Was he a man or a mouse? "Tell her yourself, you wuss!" she yelled at him and strode away fuming.

"I did," Jesse murmured half under his breath, ignoring the woman whoíd pretended to be someone else and lied to him to find out things that were none of her business. Having siblings of his own, he understood her motives, but it was probably a good thing they wouldnít be having anything to do with one another since Ms. Raven Youngblood was far from his favorite person just then.

"Is something wrong, sweetheart?" Rachel asked, eyeing her eldest with concern as he joined her in the garage. She felt sorry for all three of the young people caught up in this situation, but Jesse was her son, so seeing his pain tore her up.

"No, Iím fine, Mom. Letís just get to this." He smiled reassuringly at her and turned his attention to the supplies.

*~*~*

"Look, this needs to be done." Eva felt like she wanted to pull her hair out by the roots. "Iím not a masochist, and I donít want to lose you, JoJo, but youíre miserable, and sheís miserable, and this just isnít working the way things are." She sighed and smiled up at Jesse sadly. "Itís a neutral place; I got her to agree to meet you there, so please just, just go talk to her, okay?"

She looked toward the lounge where Rayne was waiting and sighed. "Youíre both hurting, Jess. Donít let her run, and maybe you two can resolve this."

Jesse glanced in Rayneís direction, wanting to go to her, but first he had to make sure of one thing. "Just promise me you wonít run, pussycat. I... I want to work this out too, but not if itís going to cost me you." He waited for her nod before brushing a quick kiss over her lips and going into the lounge.

"Hello, Rayne," he said cautiously, keeping his distance.

Looking up at the man who had until recently been the center of her universe with haunted eyes, Rayne attempted a weak smile that failed miserably. "Jesse," she replied, softly, looking past him to where Eva had stood a few moments before. Why had she let the other woman talk her into this? Why had she let Raven bully her into coming?

Because you still love him, despite how much he hurt you, you fool, she told herself. "Iíd ask how youíve been, but I donít think I want to know the answer. Sheís a lovely woman, and I truly hope youíre happier with her than you were with me," Rayne managed to get out, her green eyes sparkling with unshed tears as she looked around the room, trying to avoid looking at the handsome teacher who had hurt her so badly.

"So..." Rayne said as the silence became thicker, twisting her hands nervously, not knowing what to say. It used to be so easy before, at least when they werenít fighting, but now... she had no idea how to act, what to say, or what to do around Jesse. It was like being in the room with a virtual stranger. "Howís the basketball team doing? Are they going to make the playoffs this year?"

Jesse winced at the inanity of their conversation, as uncomfortable as she was. "Yeah, I think so. Their coach certainly intends that they do." He finally took the last few steps and sat down across the table from her.

"I am sorry, Rayne," he said suddenly. "I know you donít want to hear this right now, but I really do love you. I just couldnít be what you needed, and you couldnít be what I wanted." He started to reach toward her, then reminded himself that he no longer had that right and let his hand fall back to the table.

"Youíre sorry," Rayneís hands clenched. "How nice for you. Well, then, I guess thereís nothing else to say, is there? You just think that being sorry makes everything magically all right. Guess again.

"Iíd love to know what everyone expected me to do. Say thatís okay, so what if you ripped my heart out? Or maybe I was supposed to go after Eva and fight for my man? How about if I were to get angry about it? Oh wait, I did that, and I got slapped down, and you left me alone because instead of ripping your throat out like I wanted to, I tried to not hurt anyone.

"Or better yet, maybe I was supposed to pretend that it didnít hurt, that you sleeping with another person wasnít supposed to affect me. Thatís it, isnít it?

"You didnít tell me it was over, Jesse. You just walked out. You accuse me of running, but it was okay for you to walk out on me." Rayne got to her feet abruptly, wanting to get out of there before she said or did something she regretted.

"And to think I came here because Eva said you... and I... I donít know why I even bother to waste my breath? You believe what you want to, that I could never be what you wanted, and you couldnít be what I needed even though you never even asked me what I needed. I needed you.

"Fine. I get the message, loud and clear. Thanks for at least telling me this time around. Oh and for the record, I could really tell how much you love me when you threatened to hit me the other night," she continued with quiet hurt. "Thank you so much for that little demonstration, even though I really could have lived without it."

Sitting down again because she was shaking so badly, Rayne reached for her glass of wine and then realized wine just wasnít going to cut it. Rayne supposed she was expected to smile and nod and say, ĎYes, dear, youíre right; weíre bad for each other; I want to be alone, and youíve done the right thing for everyone, and now youíre off the hook.í Well, fuck him. She couldnít say that. And she couldnít square off against Eva because she liked her too much. She was basically screwed not matter what way she looked at it. Great.

"Excuse me." Waving down the waiter, Rayne smiled up at the handsome man. "Iíd like a vodka, neat. A double. No, actually the entire bottle please. I feel like cutting loose tonight since Iím suddenly single and available again. It calls for a celebration, donít you think?"

Eyeing her appreciatively, the waiter agreed with her entirely and then moved off to get her order, leaving her alone with Jesse once more.

"And to think I still love you. God, Iíve got to be sick or something," Rayne muttered under her breath, disgusted with herself. "Eva doesnít deserve you. Sheís nice at least."

"You know what, Rayne, Iím sick of your fucking pity party," Jesse suddenly snarled, this from a man who rarely swore. "You told me to leave you alone, to get away from you when we were out in the woods, and I did, so donít try to blame me for doing what you wanted. If you had wanted more from me, all you had to do was say so once in all the time we were together, but suddenly when I find someone else, thatís when youíre ready to try to be yourself? Well, forgive me if I find the timing rather convenient.

"And I didnít threaten to hit you; I said I wanted to because of the incredibly disrespectful thing you said about me, my mother, and Eva; there is a difference, and if you donít know that, you never knew me at all. And yes, Iím sure youíre about to say you obviously didnít. You know what else, Rayne? I may love you, God help me, but right now I donít like you very much." Not about to be accused of running away again, he sat back, arms crossed, glaring at her. "Iím not about to take all the blame for this fiasco. It took both of us to screw this up."

"Fine. I was wrong, I was selfish, Iím a horrible, disrespectful person, and Iím having a pity party," Rayne replied, not looking at him. "Is there anything else I am while weíre at it?" she continued.

This was going nowhere. All they seemed to do was hurt each other, and she was so tired of hurting. "And I screwed up. I admit it. I screwed up royally, happy now? Or is there anything else youíd like me to admit to? Iíll be more than happy to, what the hell, Iíll apologize for moving here, for ever getting involved with you, for ruining your life, for being born," she continued, her voice going dead.

"Iíll even admit to loving you and being sorry that I messed up, but I wonít admit to the timing being convenient because it wasnít. I didnít even know Eva was going to be there until you pulled up and she was there, and Iím sorry and..." The tears flowed freely, but she didnít care. It was a no win situation and sheíd lost. Game over.

"Have a happy life, Jesse. Believe it or not, thatís all I ever wanted for you. Donít worry, Iíll be out of your hair by monthís end, and youíll never have to see me again. I hope she makes you happy. I obviously never could." Gathering her dignity as best she could, Rayne stood up and left some money on the table for the bottle she never touched.

"Damnit, Rayne, would you stop running away!" Jesse cursed in frustration, pushing his fingers through his hair so it stood on end. "I didnít come here to lay blame or for... that. I came here to see if we could salvage anything of this, but as usual, rather than trying you just want to give up. Hell, even Eva sees that we have something, and for whatever reason, she seems willing to share, but..." Stopping with an inarticulate sound of frustration, he stared at her rigid back. "Be sure, Rayne. Because youíre the one walking away, and if you do, that really is it."

"Iím not sure, okay? I just donít know what to do anymore. I hurt you; you hurt me, and it goes on and on and on. Where does it stop, Jesse? I canít just forget, and youíre not making it easy either, you know. I donít know how to stop it from hurting, and Iím so tired of crying and feeling like Iím this horrible, bitter person who canít seem to do anything right no matter what I do. Iím tired of being blamed for everything thatís gone wrong and bad, but thatís how it feels like right now.

"Iím not running away, and I donít want to give up as you put it. I just donít know how to make it stop. I just want it all to stop, and I canít do it alone, dammit!" Rayne replied, wrapping her arms around herself protectively, not moving but not sitting either.

Jesse stood up and moved toward her, tentatively wrapping his arms around her. "I never wanted to, never meant to make you feel that way. God, Rayne, I never wanted to hurt you." He inhaled the scent of her, nearly shuddering. "I donít know what to say, what to do, how to fix any of this. I just know that I donít want to lose either of you, and I donít have any idea how to make that happen," he admitted painfully. Heíd thought heíd made his choice, but he was being forced to acknowledge that wolves really did mate for life... and both women were his mates.

"I donít know either," Rayne whispered painfully, trying so hard to stay strong and not fall apart at Jesseís touch, but sheís missed it so much, missed him so much. "Iíve hated myself these past few days, so angry, so bitter and so much in pain that all I wanted to do was lash out and make people bleed like I was bleeding.

"She came to see me, you know, Eva. She was really very nice when she didnít have to be. I can see why you like her so much. Sheís really nothing like me, is she?"

"Youíve had very different lives, of course youíre different people. Evaís comfortable with being a shifter and takes joy in it. But you help people as a doctor, and thatís something neither she nor I can do. You have your own strengths, Rayne."

"And far too many flaws, apparently," the shifter sighed, looking down at her hands. "So what now? Iím at a loss about what happens next."

"Me too." Jesse urged her back to her seat and sank back into his own, staring down into his drink as if it held the secrets of the universe. "I just know that I miss you, that I still love you, and that I donít want you to hate me." He laughed bitterly. "And winning the lottery would be nice too while Iím making impossible wishes."

"I," Rayne swallowed hard, "I never hated you, Jesse. I wished I could; I wanted to, but I never stopped loving you no matter how hard I tried. I just didnít understand why you... well, itís old news, youíve moved on and found someone who seems to fit what you want out of life better than I did. I just donít understand why Eva wanted us to... It would have been easier for the both of you if I left, wouldnít it?" Rayne asked, quietly, trying to figure out why she was here.

"Because sheís an extraordinary woman," Jesse replied softly, not wanting to hurt Rayne but speaking the truth as he saw it. "She knows I love her, but she also knows that I love you, and she wants me to be happy. And she seems to have decided that that means working things out with you too, stubborn cat that she is."

"Iím very confused," Rayne replied, rubbing her temples as she felt one of the infrequent migraines she was prone to beginning to build. "You want her, she wants you, and then thereís me. How is this supposed to work, Jesse? I mean," Rayne sighed. "I donít know what I mean. Sorry, but Iím obviously very ordinary because I just donít get it."

"I..." Jesse sighed. "I want you too, Rayne. Both of you," he muttered, looking away. "And Eva seems to be open to the idea, but I have no idea how you feel about this." While sexuality was much more free among shifters than normals, Jesse wasnít making any assumptions about Rayne. He didnít know if she would be open to the possibility of a permanent trio or not.

"Ummm," Rayne wasnít quite sure how to answer that. Yes, she thought Eva was beautiful; yes, she still wanted Jesse, but after seeing the two of them together, she felt rather like a fifth wheel, unneeded and superfluous. "Wouldnít I just get in the way? I mean youíre happier with her than you were with me. And no, Iím not trying to push you away or cause problems; Iím just trying to understand."

Jesse sighed. "Yes, she can share things with me that you never wanted to, and I love her very much. But nothing can change the fact that I love you too." He smiled wryly. "Blame that whole mating for life thing. No matter what happens between us, for the rest of my life, youíll own part of me, Rayne."

"Jesse," Rayne was stunned and unsure of what to say or do. And god help her, curious. Less than three hours ago Rayne had been sure that Jesse never wanted to see her again, and she had been unsure of whether or not she wanted to see him again but now... "So how would it work; would you spend a week with her and a week with me? What happens if both of us want to get married? I mean itís not like you can marry both of us, thatís against the law, so one would always just be the Ďgirlfriendí even if they wanted to be a wife."

Jesse shrugged. "Commitment ceremonies seem to work quite well for gay normals. Heck, your own culture was one of polygamy... or was it polyandry? Either way, we could work it out... if you wanted to. Which I think is rather the key point here. Do you want to?"

"I... Iíd like to," Rayne replied shyly, looking at Jesse through her bangs. "I just... need to figure out what to do with my life now that Iíve resigned from the hospital and told my landlord Iíd be moving out at the end of the month," she admitted with a sigh. "I was really hurt, Jesse."

"Saying Iím sorry is totally inadequate, but thatís all I can say," Jesse replied sadly. "It was a lot of misunderstandings on both our parts, but Iíd really like to try to work this out. And if you do decide to stay, Iím sure the hospital would take you back, and Mom and Dad would let you stay there if your place has already been rented."

"You mean after the way Iíve acted, your parents still want to speak to me?" Rayne asked, shocked. "Iíd have thought they would have cheered to see the back of me."

"I suppose I could see if the hospital would take me back; if not, Dr. Roberts has been after me to set up shop with him. Itís not my own clinic, but it would be a step in the right direction, and I could finish my residency there," Rayne mused quietly. "And I have enough money to make a down payment on a place of my own. I was going to do that anyway, but then... things happened, and I didnít know if I wanted to stay here, after all. Are you sure you want me to stay, Jesse?"

Ignoring the comment about his parents since he was sure the older couple thought all three of them were insane, Jesse chose to reply to her last question. "Yes, I want you to stay. For me and for the community. Youíre a good doctor, Rayne, and youíll be able to make a difference. And I... I still love you and always will. I want all three of us to be happy."

Rayne glanced up with a shy smile, looking at her former/future lover with the first truly happy expression sheíd had since this whole debacle had started. "Thatís all I want too, Jesse. Itís all I ever really wanted, for everyone to be happy."

Jesse reached over and took her hand. "Then weíll find a way to make this work for all of us. Have dinner with Eva and me at my apartment tonight?"

Rayne blanched. So soon? "Unh, could you give me a day or two to wrap my head around this and let it sink in?" she asked hesitantly. "Itís not that I donít want to; itís just that this is an awful lot to swallow, Jesse. And I came here today thinking that this wasnít going to work and that I was gonna need a place to go and lick my wounds but now... Iíve got a lot to think about," she admitted quietly.

"Sorry, of course. Then... would you have dinner with me, or it is too soon for that too?" he asked carefully.

"I... Iíd like that," Rayne replied, finally looking at Jesse. "Are you sure itís okay with Eva? I wouldnít want to disrupt any plans you two might have."

"Yeah, I think she expected this to take a while. Sheís staying over at my folksí place tonight."

"Okay, I just wanted to be sure. I guess... Iím just not sure how to act anymore. Itís awkward, isnít it?" Rayne commented, almost to herself. "I never thought we would ever be this awkward but... a new start, right?"

Jesse nodded, as uncomfortable as she. "Yeah, and maybe this time weíll get it right," he said quietly, smiling gently. "I really want that with you, Rayne." He took a deep breath. "Restaurant or my place for dinner?"

"You mean that Evaís actually managed to teach you how to cook? I think I could fall for her quite easily after hearing that; after all sheís got to be a wonder if she could accomplish that little miracle," Rayne teased, trying to get over the stilted feeling she had around the male shifter. "Are you sure this isnít just a plot to poison me and bury the body so you donít have to deal with me anymore?"

"I am perfectly capable of cooking steak," Jesse retorted, pretending insult as he raised his chin and looked down his nose at her, then chuckled. "Side dishes though might need some help from you."

"Considering that Iíve seen you manage to burn water, Iím not surprised," Rayne snorted. "You really were a pathetic cook when I met you; you had nowhere to go but up."

"Such exaggeration," Jesse chuckled. "Iíve been managing to feed myself for several years now, you know. Iíll admit that I had a couple disasters with you, but that just goes to prove that trying fancy new dishes to impress a lady is not such a good idea. Everyday cooking I have no problem with."

"I know, I was just teasing," Rayne grinned. "I have yet to die from ptomaine poisoning when you cook, so Iíll admit to it being passable," she continued, laughing at the look that crossed over his face. "Okay, so Iím exaggerating again. I actually liked it when you cooked for me. It was sweet."

"Huh. After that, missy, you should be wondering if Iíll be using arsenic to flavor yours... or switching the salt and sugar! Brat," Jesse laughed, standing up and offering her his hand. "Do you have your car here, or can I give you a ride to my place?"

"My sister drove me, so Iíll probably need a ride, if you donít mind. What am I saying, of course you donít mind, sorry," Rayne groaned, shaking her head. "Sorry, Iím just still a little nervous," she admitted as she let Jesse lead her outside and to his truck.

"Me too," he sighed, reaching for her hand again. "But if we want this, I think we can make it work out. Weíve had a lot of fun together, Rayne, and so long as you quit insulting my cooking, weíll have a lot more!"

*~*~*

Pushing his plate away with a satisfied sigh, Jesse stood up. "Come on, letís go enjoy the rest of our wine in the living room. The dishes can wait. Iíll start a fire, and we can just relax for a while. Sound good?"

"It sounds lovely. And the food was delicious despite all my teasing. You really are a good cook, Jesse," Rayne chuckled as she got up from the table, glass of wine in hand. "Shall I bring the bottle?"

"Please. We wouldnít want to waste it, after all. And wine in front of a roaring fire is always nice." Jesse slid an arm around her waist as he led the way toward the living room.

"Youíre an incurable romantic, you know that?" Rayne laughed as she snagged the bottle on the way out of the kitchen. "Itís one of the things that I always loved about you. Why donít you turn on some music and light the fire while I top up our glasses?"

"Division of labor, I like it. Sounds good," Jesse said over his shoulder as he headed for the fireplace and lit the kindling in the already laid fire. Once he was sure it wasnít going to go out, he moved over to the stereo and put in one of Rayneís favorite CDs, then joined her on the sofa in front of the growing fire, accepting the glass she handed him. "Thanks."

His arm automatically stretched along the back of the couch and curved around her shoulders, drawing her closer. "Iíve missed you," he murmured, gazing down at her.

"Iíve missed you too," Rayne admitted with a contented sigh. "Itís much nicer when weíre not fighting, but the fights werenít so bad, at least the ones that werenít about shifting," she admitted. "It still scares me when I think about it but not as much as it used to."

Jesse sighed, leaning his head down against hers. "Thatís something weíll have to work out together. Iím sorry if I was pushing you too hard, Ray. I just... No, weíre not going to start that again. I promise not to bring it up again till you do." He tightened his arm around her, then tilted her face up, searching her eyes before slowly lowering his head to kiss her, giving her time to stop him.

Moaning softly as Jesse claimed her lips, Rayne sank back into the couch, letting gravity and Jesseís body push her down further. Letting herself become pliant, she wrapped her arms around his shoulders and pulled him into her. "Jesse," she moaned.

"God, yes. Rayne," Jesse whispered her name over and over, biting at her jaw and throat, tasting and reclaiming her as he let his weight sink onto her, pressing her into the couch. "My beautiful Rayne," he gasped, hands gliding along her sides.

"Please," she moaned quietly, arching up into the touches. "Iíve missed you so much, Jesse; please, I need more."

"Whatever you want, Ray, anything," Jesse promised, hands pulling her top free of her jeans and sliding beneath the soft fabric to touch even softer skin. He nuzzled her throat, inhaling her scent, and he groaned with increasing arousal.

"Oh god Iíve missed this!" she moaned, her hands tearing at his shirt, wanting to feel skin on skin. Running her hands up the muscled chest to Jesseís shoulders, Rayne moved her head slightly, exposing her neck to her mate, begging him to take her.

"One...one day soon, weíll have to try this in wolf form."

Jesse stilled momentarily, staring at her. "Whenever you want, Ray." He took her mouth again, hands pulling at her jeans, wanting them off and nothing more between them. "Oh God, I need you."

"Then have me," Rayne replied, purring as she arched up into him, wanting to feel Jesse sliding into her as much as Jesse seemed to want to be in her.

Jesse somehow managed to strip them both of their remaining clothes and settled atop her again, gasping as her legs wound around his waist and he felt her heat against him. "God, Ray, so good," he gasped, his back arching to rub himself against her, teasing them both with the promise of what was to come.

"Jesse, please, no more teasing," the female shifter moaned, arching up into the caresses, grinding against her lover in hunger. "I need you in me, not just teasing me with it!" Yanking his head down, Rayne ground her lips against his as she writhed underneath him, silently demanding to be taken.

Wanting it as much as she did, Jesse pressed forward, sinking into her. He tore his mouth free and threw back his head, groaning harshly as he was engulfed in the tight, wet heat of her. Bracing himself on his hands, he lowered his head again, staring down at her as he slowly drew back then thrust into her again.

"Jesse, oh god you feel so good," Rayne moaned as she wrapped her arms more tightly around his shoulders, moving in time with his thrusts. "More, please, harder."

Kissing her hungrily, Jesse moved more rapidly, driving harder and deeper inside her with every stroke, groaning his pleasure as he reclaimed his mate. "Yes, come for me, Ray, want you, need to feel you..."

"Jesse, oh god, Jesse," Rayne gasped, her whole body shuddering and clenching around his cock as it plunged in and out of her wet heat. With a mewling cry, she shivered and came, pulsating around him as she did so.

Watching her out of passion-darkened eyes, Jesse gasped and thrust deep inside her, again and again until he came as well, crying out her name and burying his face in her dark hair. He slumped, barely able to keep his full weight off her with his arms. "I love you, Ray."

"Likewise, wolfboy," Rayne replied with a sleepy smile, brushing some tangled locks of hair out of Jesseís eyes.

Jesse shifted so they were lying spooned together, his arms still tight around her, and he rested his head against hers. "Get some sleep, Ray; Iíll wake you in the morning before I go to the airport... unless youíd like to come too?"

"Do you think Eva would mind if I did? I mean, I donít want to get in the way of you two or anything," Rayne murmured.

"I think we all three need to get comfortable with this. Eva knows that weíre together tonight, or at least she has a pretty good idea. Iím not going to repeat my mistakes, so we all need to be open with each other. And Iím certainly not going to let her go back to Montana without being there to see her off and remind her to come back. I love you both so much, and I canít believe Iím lucky enough to have you." He kissed her lightly, a hand lightly petting her.

"So Iím going with you to the airport I take it?" Rayne replied. "Guess it means we should take this into the bedroom so we can get a proper nightís sleep and you can set the alarm early enough to swing by my place so I can change clothes."

"Good plan," Jesse replied, standing up and swinging Rayne up into his arms. "And sometime soon, when Eva gets back, weíll all be here together. I think we both needed her, Ray. Talking to her made me realize how much I was pushing you, trying to make you what I wanted regardless of your wishes. And Iím sorry for that, love."

"You were only trying to help me, I guess. I mean you were being a little high handed, but your heart was in the right place," she grinned, curling into him. "And Eva is a special person, thatís for sure. Pretty too, I can see why you fell for her. I just hope she can like me too."

"Well, Iím pretty certain that if she didnít, she wouldnít have suggested this, love. Sheís a great lady, but I donít think sheís up for sainthood," Jess laughed, hugging her close. "Get some sleep now; she has a relatively early flight, so weíre going to have to be up at the crack of dawn to have time to get to your place and then get over to my folksí to drive her before she leaves on her own."

*~*~*

Having given the couple one last look over her shoulder before leaving the lounge, Eva walked outside, telling herself that this was the right thing to do even though her heart wasnít in it. Climbing into Jenís car, she turned to her loverís younger sister and managed a smile. "So, time for shopping?"

Jen leaned over and hugged her. "Itíll be okay, youíll see." She thought Eva was a saint to be doing what she was, but she supposed that wanting Jesse to be happy just proved how much the older woman loved him.

Straightening up, she pulled out of the parking lot. "Lots of shopping. The best thing for depression is new clothes, donít you think?"

Glad of the teenís company, Eva nodded. "Since I really canít drag you to a bar, lots of new clothes it is." She settled back into the seat and made herself not look back at the lounge one final time. "And maybe a luggage store because I donít know how Iíll fit anything else in my bags."

"Well, sure if you want. But..." she hesitated, then plunged on, "but if youíre coming back, you donít have to take everything with you when you leave, right?"

Eva smiled. "True, but itís going to be a while before I can move out here, and I might need the comfort of these new things."

Jen smiled, relieved that Eva was still planning to return. Sheíd never seen her brother so happy as when he was with the feline shifter, and she didnít want him to lose that. She didnít know where Rayne fit into all of this, but she was confident that they would work it out. "Clothes first or lunch?"

"Clothes," Eva said decisively. "With the knots my stomachís in right now, I donít think I could eat. Tell me, Jen, did I just do the stupidest thing in my life back there?"

"No, he loves you." Jen had absolutely no doubts about that. "But youíre right, he does need to work things out with Rayne too, or itíll always be hanging over your heads. The question is, can you share him if thatís the way it works out?"

"If I have to," the older woman answered after a momentís silence. "Itís not quite what I had planned for when I fell in love, but then I never expected any of this either." She shook her head, laughing quietly. "God, my fatherís going to have a fit. Not only one wolf but possibly two..."

Jen laughed as well. "Well, if thatís his attitude, bring him back for a visit. Iíll wager my family against him any day!" She pulled into the underground parking of a large mall, managing to get a spot near the entrance as someone pulled out. "Ready to shop till we drop?"

Eva smiled and nodded. "You got it, and while we do, Iím going to pry into your business about your love life too, so youíd better spill, kiddo."

"What, you want to hear all about the guy Iíve wanted for the last year who seems completely oblivious and never makes a move even when I dump my boyfriends and stay unattached for weeks on end, hoping heíll notice Iím alive?" Jen sighed.

"Is he dating anyone?" When Jen shook her head no, Eva continued. "Then maybe you should make the first move. Ask him out or to study or something."

"This is going to sound silly, but... Iím afraid heíll say no. As long as I donít know, I can keep hoping that thingsíll work out for us when he notices me." Jen sighed. "Iím such a sap."

"No, you arenít." Eva reached out and caught Jenís hand, squeezing her fingers lightly. "Heís a guy, and guys are just stupid sometimes when it comes to things like this, so how about we agree not to talk or think about them any more this afternoon. Weíll shop and eat and then go rent sappy love movies and buy a bunch of ice cream and talk your mother into sitting up with us to watch Ďem and pig out."

"Sounds like a plan." Jen smiled, releasing Evaís hand after a squeeze in return so they could get out of the car and go get started on it.

*~*~*

Curled up in a chair, wrapped in a handmade quilt, her knees tucked up under her chin, Eva watched the snow fall out on the moonlit woods behind the Lorimer home. She had known from the moment she stepped into the bedroom that she wasnít going to get any sleep that night, a fact she hid from her hosts.

Rachel and Jen had done their best to keep her entertained and occupied that evening and she was thankful to them both for that, but now that the movies were over, the ice cream eaten, and the house silent, she felt alone and vulnerable and hated it. Part of her wanted to shift and go running in the woods until she didnít care what was going on between Jesse and Rayne, and part of her just wanted to pack her things and head back to Cougar Falls to put this whole messy incident behind her, but she would do neither. She had told Jesse sheíd be there, so she would.

She loved him, and knew he loved her, but he also loved Rayne, and having met the other woman, Eva couldnít fault him for that, just as she couldnít help liking her. Two women and one man, none of it boded well for any of them, and there was no easy answer as to how to fix things, not without someone getting hurt.

Sighing, she rested her cheek against the chairís padded back, watching the snow drifting down and the sky slowly lighten with dawn, willing herself not to think of anything at all. Her flight left for Montana at noon; maybe things would seem clearer with a little distance to give them perspective.

*~*~*

Jesse pulled up outside his parentsí home early the next morning and hopped out, then came around the jeep to catch Rayneís hand and draw her after him. "Come on, Ray, no backing out now." He pulled her toward the door and inside, nearly running into Eva in the hallway where she was stacking her bags next to the door.

"Pussycat!" He caught her in his arms, swinging her around with a huge smile on his face. "Thank you, Eva. I love you." He kissed her hard, then set her on her feet facing him, with Rayne slightly to one side and behind him.

Plastering a smile on her face though in fact she felt a little queasy, Eva looked from Jesse to Rayne. "So I guess everythingís okay?" she asked, catching her carryon before it fell off the pile of suitcases.

"Eva, I... thank you. And, well, I really canít handle him alone. Heís much too opinionated and bossy for me. Heíll just walk all over me without you around. Please stay... with us?" Rayne asked, shyly, trying not to give in to the urge to turn and run.

"And you know I like that idea," Jesse put in, making a face at Rayne for the comment. "At least the part about all of us together, not that Iím bossy Ďcause Iím not. But Ray and I, weíre too much alike to work out alone; we need you, pussycat, and I happen to love you a whole lot too."

"I have to go back." Eva looked from one to the other, seeing that they were telling the truth but also knowing how Rayne must have felt that first day. "But I said Iíd come back after things get settled."

Jesse slid his hands onto her hips, looking into her blue eyes. "I know you have to get back, but I just want to make sure youíre coming back because you know I, we want you, pussycat. I love you, Eva, neither more nor less than Ray. I love both of you for who you are, and I donít want to ever lose either of you."

Rayne, deciding to take a radical chance, scooted around Jesse to stand in front of Eva. "Heís right, you know; I want you too, honestly. I thought you were beautiful from the moment I saw you and..." Leaning forward, she brushed her lips across Evaís lightly, not wanting to pressure but wanting to give physical proof of her words.

Eva blinked in surprise and started to answer Rayne only to shock herself by starting to cry. "Sorry," she gasped, not wanting to alarm the two lupine shifters. "Long night... no sleep, guess Iím a little stressed out."

"Eva!" Jesse pulled her into his arms, holding her close and stroking her back. "Pussycat, I told you this wouldnít make a difference to us. God, Eva, please stop crying," he begged desperately, totally unhinged by her tears, like most men not having a clue what to do.

"Oh for cryiní out loud," Rayne muttered under her breath as she dug into her purse and pulled out some Kleenex. Elbowing Jesse out of the way, Rayne handed the other woman the wad of tissues with a lopsided grin. "Feels good to cry sometimes, doesnít it?" she asked quietly. "Even if men donít seem to get it when we do and either fall apart or run away," she finished, shooting Jesse a pointed glare.

"If you donít think you can like me too, I understand. How about I just go, and you and Jesse can make plans and stuff? Iíd like to think that maybe someday weíd be friends and maybe more, but... itís up to you, Eva. No pressure. Iíll... go and wait in the car or maybe just go home. But I really did mean what I said. Youíre a wonderful person, and I... could really like you a lot."

The older woman shook her head while wiping under her eyes. "No, no, this is something we all need to work out, and I like you too." She blew her nose and gave a watery smile that included both of them. "I can see why JoJo loves you."

She turned her gaze to Jesse fully at that. "Sorry, Jess, I wasnít planning on doing that."

"Uh, itís okay. You just scared me, pussycat. I deal a lot better with smiles than tears," he admitted with a shrug. "I just want to make you happy so youíll come back. And yes, I know you promised, but I want you to want to be here."

Smiling uncertainly, Rayne decided that Jesse and Eva needed a few minutes alone, and she had to admit to being a little uncomfortable. "Iíll just... just take this to the car, okay?" she murmured, picking up the carryon and one of the suitcases and heading towards the parked car without waiting for an answer.

Eva sighed and leaned against the wall. "I didnít mean to drive her away again. I really had no idea I was going to do that," she said quietly.

"Sheís not gone, love, just channeling her inner Sherpa and carting the luggage out to the car," Jesse chuckled. "Sheíll be back in. I really doubt sheís going to stay out there for the hour or so before we need to leave to take you to the airport."

"That might get a little cold out there, no matter what form she was in."

A few minutes later Rayne peeked around the corner of the door to see if it was safe to come back in. "Am I welcome?" she asked quietly.

"Of course," Jesse replied, catching her hand and drawing her inside. "Why donít we go sit down and have some coffee?"

"I think Rachel made a fresh pot after breakfast," Eva put in. "It still should be warm."

"Coffee is good," Rayne half smiled as she sat on one of the armchairs and then jumped up again, feeling fidgety, "or maybe I should go get the coffee."

"I think we all need a tranquilizer, not caffeine," Jesse sighed. "You know what, Iím going to go sit down and let you two ladies serve me." He smiled sweetly at them, knowing that if that didnít unite them, nothing would.

Eva snorted out a laugh at that comment. "Try it, JoJo and I think youíll end up with bite marks as well as claw marks on your butt, right, Rayne?"

Startled out of the death glare she was sending the soon to be pile of raw meat, Rayne looked at Eva. "JoJo? Why did you call him JoJo?"

Groaning, Jesse headed for the kitchen. "I think Iím going to go get the coffee... from Columbia."

"As in JoJo the dog-faced boy," Eva explained, chuckling quietly. "The old sideshow act. Itís fitting, donít you think?"

"And to think Iíve only been calling him wolfboy since I met him. Oh and Iíll take cream and a teaspoon of sugar, JoJo," Rayne called out loudly enough for her voice to carry into the kitchen, even as she grinned at Eva. "And may I say, Ms. San Gabriel, I like your style."

"Doomed," Jesse muttered into the cups of coffee he was pouring, "Iím doomed. No man should be expected to stand up to two women!" Sighing, he put the cups on a tray and picked it up. "But who could resist two like them?" he chuckled to himself as he carried it back to the beautiful women who loved him.

END

  since 02-08-07

 

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