“Are you going to tell her?” Manda asked, rolling over to face Silver properly. She was sprawled on the mattress, long hair fanned out across his pillow, the top two buttons of her blue shirt undone. She looked utterly at home in his bed, which made the stiff way he was sitting all the more awkward.
He adjusted the pillow behind his back, took his time responding. He’d seen the glint in Manda’s eye as they’d left The Where’s Inn, had known the questions were coming. But he’d hoped the situation with Vera would prove a sufficient distraction. “Tell who?”
“Being evasive now, darling?” She laughed throatily. “It’s more serious than I thought.” Then she propped herself up on one arm, smiling. “Surely I deserve to know more.”
He scowled then, turned to glare at her. “I don’t owe anybody anything.”
“You could at least tell the poor girl we didn’t sleep together.” She arched an eyebrow. “Unless, of course, you’re willing to change your mind about that.”
Silver looked away. Any red-blooded wolf would have jumped at the offer, tempted by those lean legs and strong shoulders, and there were other memories tempting him too: the way she squirmed, the taste of her slightly sunburnt skin and the way the dimple near her lower spine deepened when she arched her back. But today he couldn’t be tempted. His mind trailed inevitably back to Lilith, always Lilith, with her pale skin and vulnerable neck.
Lilith had been playing with his mind from the moment they’d met, and then Sam had gone and cornered her in the shower, spouting nonsense about the bond and her needs, and she’d just stood there naked without even trying to cover herself up. He almost wished he hadn’t interrupted.
“It’s none of her business,” Silver finally said.
A pause. Then Manda took hold of his hand and tugged. “Lie down,” she instructed, her voice brooking no argument. She looked like Amber, all mother-like concern, although with none of Amber’s know-it-all attitude.
He grudgingly complied, sliding down the sheets until his head touched the pillow. She curled up next to him, cat-like, eyes wide and curious and unblinking. Waiting, Silver realised, for him to explain.
“She’s not a wolf,” he said.
“Neither am I.”
“She’s done something, created a bond between us.” He sketched over how they’d met. “When I look at her, I want her. But it’s not real. It only exists in my mind.” Concern flitted across Manda’s face, and it was that expression that set him on edge. Silver rolled onto his side, his back to her, braced for the pitying comments, ready to tell her he was not weak. He had no time for weakness.
But Manda didn’t speak, just stayed still next to him, breathing evenly, and then after a few minutes she placed her hand on his shoulder. It was a light touch, unassuming, and while Silver knew he didn’t need anyone to survive—couldn’t let himself need anyone—the fact that for now at least Manda was there brought him some measure of comfort.
“Do you ever have nightmares?” Manda asked. She didn’t wait for him to respond. “You feel so frightened, so helpless. People tell you afterwards that it wasn’t real, but when you wake up, your heart is pounding, you’re breathless. The fear carries over.” Her sigh tickled the back of his shoulder. “If that isn’t real,” she added, “I don’t know what is.”
He didn’t move, kept his back stiff and unyielding.
“This responsibility you feel for Lilith . . . .” Her hand tightened. “Maybe it’s a nightmare, maybe one day you’ll wake up and it’ll have vanished. But for now it’s a part of you, and you have to deal with it.”
“I am dealing with it,” he retorted. “I’m taking her to the Guild, where she belongs.” Where she would be far away from him. And then, hopefully, the distance would dissolve any emotion that remained.
“Oh, honey. I never took you for one who’d run away from his problems.” She pressed her lips against his shoulder blade, traced a line up to his neck.
Silver closed his eyes. “There are more important things to think about.”
“Your happiness,” she breathed into his ear, “is just as important.”
He rolled over to face her. “Drop it.” His tone brooked no argument.
Manda’s lips tightened. She sat up, adjusted her hair. “I can’t help you, Silver.”
He sat up too. “There must be a spell—”
“You’re not listening.” She swung her feet off the bed and onto the floor. “Sam told you the truth: if you refuse to finish the bond, you must break it.”
“By killing her,” he said flatly.
Silver raised a hand to cut her off. A familiar trod was coming down the corridor. The steps stopped right outside the door, but no knock came. Well, Silver thought, glancing at Manda, considering what they could have been doing, the hesitation wasn’t a surprise.
“Come in,” he called out dryly.
The door slid open to reveal Amber, her face flushed.
“It’s Lilith,” Amber said. “She’s gone.”