Morning came, and with it, soreness in muscles that Gemma had forgotten she had. The sex-fest with Rex had continued long into the night, until completely exhausted, they’d fallen asleep in each other’s arms.
She’d never had so many orgasms in one night, and before, with Spencer, even one orgasm had been an iffy thing. He hadn’t cared, really, although he’d professed to from time to time.
No regrets with Rex. She was here now. She wouldn’t regret her past except for the fact that she’d been apart from this man so long.
He woke up and smiled over at her.
She punched him in the shoulder.
“What was that for?” he asked, rubbing the spot.
“That was for all the nights we could have been enjoying that, but you were too stubborn for whatever reason to come back to me,” she said.
He laughed, loudly, so she punched him again.
“I’ve missed us,” she said, when his laughter died down.
He reached over and dragged her closer to him. “I missed us, too,” he said, “but we’re here together now.”
“For good?” she asked.
“I hope so.”
Gemma turned over, pulled away. “That’s not a yes,” she said to the wall.
“No. It’s an I hope so. Which will soon turn into a yes.”
“Soon’s not good enough for me,” she said. What was his problem? He was here, she was here. This should work, starting immediately. “I don’t understand why you’ve pulled away—you still haven’t explained anything, Rex.”
“There’s that stuff I can’t tell you about,” he said. “I don’t—”
“What are you scared of? Are you, like, beholden to secrecy or something like that?” she asked.
“No—it’s that…” He sighed. “I don’t think you’ll understand.”
“For fuck’s sake,” she said, standing. “I’m too simple for it, is that it? I’m not good enough? Not smart enough? What the hell kind of secret could you have, Rex, that is too difficult for my poor pretty brain to handle?”
“It’s not like that, it’s…” He trailed off.
She swallowed a scream and it came out as a garbled growl. She wanted to strangle him. Kiss him. Strangle him again. Her emotions were all over the place, but right now anger was winning over lust. “Forget it, Rex. I need some time to cool off because I’m getting pretty fucking pissed at you right now. I don’t have time for any more bets or bullshit.”
He stared at her, those green eyes shining with emotions that she couldn’t read. Maybe she wasn’t smart enough. Not cool enough. She’d never been cool in school. Rex could have been the most popular guy there, with a body and looks like his. He could have played all the sports and kicked ass, but he’d never done any of that. Instead of spending Friday nights at football games and school dances, he’d spent them holed up in Gemma’s old tree house in her back yard. Instead of joining teams for practice after school every day, he’d come over to her place and done his homework and tried to eat all her mother’s cookies.
But she couldn’t read him now. She couldn’t figure anything out.
“It’s…it’s more than real stuff,” he said. “It’s surreal. I don’t know how to explain it. It’s not that you won’t get it, but that I can’t explain it in a way that—”
“I said forget it, Rex. We’ll talk later. And if you fucking disappear on me again? Don’t come back.”
He stood up, put on his clothes. “I’m not going far. You need anything, Gems, you call out. I’ll hear you. I’ve still got your number in my phone, too. You have mine?”
She made herself nod, but couldn’t bring herself to speak. She was driving him away. Why was she doing this? What if he left like before, and all of her calls went to his voicemail?
As he stepped out the hotel door, she wanted to reach for him again. He gave her a crooked smile, just visible through his beard. “I’m not going anywhere ever again, Gemma Rose. You remember that.”
And then he was gone.
She pressed her knuckles to her mouth to hold in a sob. Not knowing what else to do, she took a shower and then came out, feeling if not better, then slightly less miserable. She curled up in sheets that smelled like Rex and pulled a romance novel out of her purse. Dyin’ to Be Your Lion. Total escapist story line, lots of sexy, paranormal hijinks. She’d have to recommend it on the Romance Spectacular blog later. In the meantime, she sit quietly and soothe herself with some fictional problems.
A full day and night had gone by. Rex had kept to his word, and stayed in the woods on the other side of Gemma’s hotel. He was never far from his phone in case she called. He shifted to human to go into town and get a change of clothes and some food, and then back to a wolf.
He couldn’t stay away from her.
But life was going on, and if he was going to quit the cage fighting, he needed to be responsible to Jim, who’d always helped him out and been straight with him.
Jim’s Gym, the building read in big letters. A play on words that had Jim chuckling one time over beers. Rex shook his head. Crazy old man.
When he walked in, Jim was standing by the ring and watching two fighters spar. His arms rested on the rope, and his salt and pepper hair glinted under the overhead lights. He turned when he heard Rex approach.
“Rex, what’s up?” he asked. “You don’t have your duffel.”
“I’m not training today,” Rex said. “I do, however, want to meet with those guys, Masters and Corbett. I need to talk to them. Can you arrange something?”
“Sure thing,” Jim said, scratching his stubbly chin. “I’ll let them know you want to talk. Come back after lunch, and they should be here. You accepting their offer?”
Rex shook his head. “I know you think I’m being stupid, Jim. But I want out. I don’t want to fight anymore.”
Jim nodded sagely. “People get tired of it eventually, or they keep fighting. It’s a personal thing, man, okay? Don’t worry about it. But we’ll miss you around here. If you ever want to take up coaching, you got a spot, okay?”
Rex shook Jim’s hand. “Thanks. I appreciate it. I’ll see you later.”
He left the gym and returned to the woods. Gemma was still in the hotel, if her car’s presence in the lot was any indication. He sat against a tree, waiting for lunch time.
Finally, he could stop fighting. With Gemma at his side, the wolf didn’t need it. Rex didn’t need it. He thought about her, and the night they’d spent together. Replayed it in his mind.
After a while, he figured it was around one o’clock. He got up and walked back into town.
The two thugs were at the gym, just as Jim had said they would be.
“Jim’s saying you want out entirely,” the taller, dark-haired Masters said.
“Yeah,” Rex said. “I’m ready to settle down and do some honest work.”
Corbett rubbed his crooked nose. “Nothing more honest than kicking the shit out of an opponent who deserves it.”
“Maybe,” Rex agreed, almost. “Maybe you’re right. But I just…I’m tired, you know? So again I thank you for offering me management. Offering to help me out. Seeking me out again after the other night’s fight. But I’m just not up for it, and I won’t be fighting anymore.”
Masters nodded and shrugged his massive shoulders. “Yeah. Okay. You want to go your own way? Eh, we don’t care. Sure, no problem.”
They were lying, Rex could hear it. They really did care, and there really was going to be a problem. Rex just didn’t know what that problem would look like. They’d wanted to get to him, find his weakness. Did that still stand?
Shaking each of their hands, he nodded once, then turned around and left. His shifter hearing picked up Corbett saying the words, “Lots of money lost here.”
Masters’s response was even quieter. “Only if we let it walk away.”
Once outside, Rex leaned against the window. He was really quitting. Under any other circumstances, he’d worry that his wolf would drive him crazy without the steady diet of violence and blood, but Gemma calmed him—she always had.
His phone buzzed in his pocket, so he pulled it out. Recognized the number—his parents.
“Hey,” he answered.
“Rex, Gemma called us.” His mother’s voice. She sounded unnerved. “She said she knows where you are, and she asked if we really had been hiding the information from her all along. What’s happening, honey?”
He huffed into the phone. “She found me—total accident.”
“Or not,” his mom said. “Maybe she was meant to?”
“Maybe,” he said. Actually, yes, he believed it.
“Neither of us knew what to tell her,” she continued. “She was crying—”
Rex’s gut clenched. He hated that he’d made her sad.
“We said we were sorry, but she said she felt betrayed. And we helped do that. Rex, honey, you’ve got to talk to her, okay? Let her know it was because we were protecting her, and we were honoring your wishes. I didn’t want to get into details because this sounds like something the two of you really need to talk out on your own.”
“Yeah, I will.”
“And Rex? I know we disapproved when you two were kids. We tried to split you up, so many times. But now that you two have come together again, you should do the right thing and allow her to become your mate. You know we’ll support you two, no matter what.”
He almost laughed. “Let her become my mate? Like I ever had any choice in the matter. I know that now.”
“I agree,” his mom said quietly.
“Okay, thanks, Mom. I’ll give Gems a call.”
They hung up, and he immediately dialed Gemma.
The street was quiet in the early afternoon, a few cars zooming past, a few random shoppers who’d strayed too far from the busier blocks of Nugget Road. He held his breath until she picked up.
Her voice was suspicious. “Hello?”
“I know it’s Rex,” she snapped. “What do you want?”
“I want to say I’m sorry. Again. I made my parents lie to you. They were doing it to protect you.”
“From what?” she asked. Her voice was sharp. “Seriously, Rex, I’m tired of the bullshit. Just tell me what’s going on.”
“I’m a shapeshifter,” he said, before he could think out the words and lose his nerve. “There.”
Stunned silence on the other end of the line. Finally, Gemma whispered, “Shapeshifter?”
“I can turn into a wolf.”
She made a scoffing sound, so Rex pressed forward. “Think of all the weird things you know about me. Not things like my favorite candy bar or my favorite color or what I always wanted when I was a kid and teenager—which was you by the way, I always wanted you. But all the other stuff. You always made fun of my eyes when we hung out at night. You laughed when I growled if I got really mad at someone at school. You said you could feel all my muscles tense up and that my scent got stronger, wilder. Remember all that?”
She didn’t say anything.
“Gems, are you there?”
“Yeah,” she said, her voice still very quiet.
“All that stuff, that’s part of my genetic make-up. Shapeshifter. I turn into a wolf.” He knew the street in front of him was deserted, and the music coming through the gym’s wall behind him would keep anyone inside from overhearing. “So yeah. That’s me. That’s the reason why I tried to stay away from you—because I’m not entirely human, and I’m a violent person. I have a violent history and a violent future, and I wanted to save you from that.”
She still didn’t say anything.
Gemma held the phone to her ear. Her only link to Rex at the moment. They should be having this conversation in person. She wanted to believe he was delusional, that he needed mental help, but she heard the note of honesty in his voice, the note of conviction.
That didn’t necessarily make it true, but deep down, she knew it was true. Even without seeing any proof. She didn’t need to see the proof, because she’d grown up with the proof.
“I’ve been packing to leave this—and you—all behind,” she said.
“Two days ago, I would have told you to do exactly that.” His voice was gruff over the line. “But Gems, we belong together. No more secrets. Okay? We belong together, and I love you. I always have. No more bullshit, no more bets, right?”
She nodded, even though she couldn’t see him. The funky painting on the wall above the hotel bed swam in her vision as her eyes blurred with tears. “Right,” she said.
This was happening so fast. They belonged together. He was a shapeshifter. What did that mean, exactly? Violent history, violent future, he’d said. He could turn into a wolf, he’d said.
Could Gemma believe that? Gemma Rose Chase, a twenty-seven-year-old intern at a newspaper, who read sexy paranormal romance in her free time. Could Gemma believe in werewolves?
She wanted to laugh, she wanted to cry.
“So I do want you to head out of town,” Rex said.
“There’s some shit going down here, and it doesn’t feel safe.”
“Stuff to do with your…shapeshifterness?”
He laughed. “Actually, no. It has to do with the fighting. I don’t think you’re in immediate danger, but it would be safest if you skipped town while I say my goodbyes. I just need to pack my stuff and head out, but I would feel better if you were already gone.”
She shook her head so quickly that it dislodged tears from her eyes. “No. I’m not leaving without you.”
He hesitated, and she wondered if he was going to get all bossy on her like he used to do in high school sometimes.
Instead, he said, “You…you still would go somewhere with me? You’d still leave with me?”
“Of course.” She sighed. “Look, I don’t know what to believe in right now. But believing in you has never steered me wrong…except, of course, when you just took off. But I won’t go without you. I’ll be waiting right here until you pick me up.”
“Don’t go anywhere, then, promise?” he said. “I’ll be there in just a few minutes.”
They hung up.
Gemma finished packing—she’d been nearly finished anyway, then set her bags by the door. There was nothing left to do except wait for Rex, and she had to trust that he’d be here for her like he promised.
A shapeshifter? They had a buttload of things to talk about.
Shaking her head in wonder, she picked up her worn copy of Dyin’ to Be Your Lion. She tried to lose herself in a story that, less than an hour ago, had seemed safe because it was impossible. But now that she knew shapeshifters really existed….
A few minutes later, someone knocked on the door. Smiling, Gemma got up and opened it. “Wow, that was fast—”
But it wasn’t Rex in front of her. Two men she didn’t recognize took up the entire door frame. Not even wasting time to think, Gemma tried to snap the door shut again, but one of the guys blocked it with his boot. The taller guy reached for her.
She kicked his knee as hard as she could, but she wasn’t wearing her shoes yet. Her socked foot was ineffective.
Sucking in a huge breath of air, she readied herself to scream, but he was already behind her. His big arms came around her and covered her mouth. What good would a scream do, anyway? This hour of the day, the rooms around her were probably empty.
A dark cloth came over her eyes and she couldn’t see anything.
Rex! Rex, she screamed in her mind, but nothing happened. She was alone.