Moonlight's Gift – Excerpt

"It's been a long time since you held my hand," Joy whispered.

Nik's face went from neutral to uncomfortable in the blink of an eye. "Yeah, it has."

Joy worried her lip between her teeth. I need to change the subject. She said the first thing that popped into her head. "Are you still smoking?" His brow furrowed. "Those things aren't good for you."

Nik let go of her hand. "Werewolves don't get cancer."

He's so damn stubborn. "Cigarettes can do more than give you cancer. We can get emphysema." She sat up a little taller in bed and crossed her arms over her chest.

"Why is it we've never been able to have a conversation that didn't include an argument?" Nik's eyebrow rose.

"Because we've always cared too much about each other." Joy pushed the yellow lace strap of her camisole pajama top back up on her shoulder.

Nik clenched his fists. He's furious. She looked away, shivering. This isn't Tobias's pack, and Nik isn't Clint. Angry men hit hard. She wore the scars to prove it.

Nik chuckled. "Or we enjoyed pissing each other off too much."

Joy let out the breath she'd unconsciously held. Tension left her shoulders. "That too. I need to get out of bed, shower, and face everyone. I can't hide up here forever." But she wished she could.

Nik nodded. He took her hand and began stroking the skin by her knuckles with his thumb. "Eventually, but if you're not ready, what's the rush?"

Joy stared into Nik's beautiful eyes. He means it. Her heart gave a little flip that had nothing to do with fear. I never wanted to leave forever. I just wanted you to see that I wasn't a kid anymore. I was never one of them. Never.

"A lot of our pack will think I'm a murderer," Joy said, "but I swear to you I never killed. I never let go of my mother, father, brother—you. I never forgot our pack." Please see who I am.

Nik scowled. "Why did you go to him? What made him better than me?"

Joy looked away, but Nik held her face, gently, pulling her chin forward.

"Tell me," he demanded. "I've been waiting a decade for the truth." His eyes glowed, and his mouth compressed into a grim line.

Joy opened her mouth but said nothing before pressing her lips together. I didn't want to leave. I just wanted you to wake up and see me as a woman instead of a girl. "It was never my choice. Why didn't the pack come for me? Kort saw them take me."

Nik's eyes glowed so green and bright Joy had to squint. His wolf was at the surface, but he stopped his transformation. He still held her chin. "He never told us. I—I let you go because I thought that's what you wanted."

"I didn't go willingly. I said some stuff to you that night, things I've regretted for ten years. Those words forced me to live through each beating as my penance instead of just letting my body shut down and die."

Nik remained silent, and an awkward silence stretched for an eternity of seconds.

Joy's throat tightened with emotion, but she swallowed past the pain. "I'm not looking for sympathy. I just need you to understand I've paid for what I've done."

Nik paled. His glowing eyes changed from green to yellow. Hair sprouted on his face as it elongated and his body caught and held in a state between wolf and man. Joy gasped and cringed. He's losing control.

"You haven't done anything wrong." He paused, and his eyes darkened. Nik's eyes were pure intensity. The way he looked at her made her soul feel naked. "You're terrified. I won't let Kort anywhere near you. I'm going to kill him!"

"Right now we have the present to worry about, so let the past go—it's gone."

Nik's nostrils flared. "That doesn't mean it's forgotten."

Joy gazed up at him, unblinking. You have no idea. "We need to think about Law and Bianca. I should get up so I can take care of Chessa."

Nik scowled. "You need to take care of yourself. If you aren't up to going downstairs, I want you to rest."

I wish I could just sleep the rest of my life away. "I'm all right." I'm not. "I wonder how Bianca is—humans don't heal like wolves." It was easier to worry about Bianca than facing the pack.

"She'll be okay. She just needs to give her body time, and so do you. I think you should wait to go downstairs until you're ready, but when you do go down, I have your back. I'm not going to let anyone hurt you, not ever again."

She didn't doubt he believed those words. But will you hurt me? She'd been forced to live with a man who beat her body, but Nik scared her a lot more. He could hurt her heart.