The narrow road rises steeply towards a line of trees. Brennan guns the engine, a little harder than perhaps he needs to, and my stomach floats as we crest the hill. For barely a moment, I glimpse the wide valley laid out before us, a broad expanse of old woodland; one of the few real forests left anywhere near the city. And then we’re over, and my stomach drops again as we shoot down the other side. Trees close in around us in a dense tunnel of grey branches and low, green brush.
So many times, she said we should come out here, but I had no idea. It’s as if we’ve driven out of our world and into a much older one. It’s nothing like the woods near home, nor even those at Rian’s estate. Those places feel young, man-made. Civilized. This place is not.
Massive trunks grow every which way, branches intertwined, stretching far above. Some have fallen where they stand, so little space between that they are still mostly upright. They lean against their neighbours and slowly crumble in place. The undergrowth is dense with smaller trees and bushes, rotten trunks—every last square inch of terrain is covered with something grey or green or brown. And even now, as winter approaches, this place feels alive, a dark, brooding presence, as if it has stood here, both changing and unchanged, forever. A place that keeps its own secrets.
And those of others, too.
Do all old forests feel like this?
A rabbit breaks on the left as we round a sharp bend, and I crane around to watch it dart for cover. It scampers around a tree and dives into a bush. I smile, in spite of my mood.
“So when do you step in?” I ask, returning to the conversation we haven’t been having, and look over to him.
Not that I expect him to answer it truthfully.
“Huh?” he replies, and glances over at me.
“This whole me in charge thing. I’m just curious—how much do I get to fuck up before you take over?”
He watches me for a second longer—steering instinctively around another curve—before returning his eyes to the road, and laughs. “Tiergan, that’s your bit. I do what I’m told. I’m here to get your back, nothing more. Whatever shit you get us into, it’s your problem.”
“Damn’ straight. Good or bad, I’m not answering to Faolan for you.”
Ah. So that’s how it is.
His left hand rests casually on the steering wheel, not even really gripping it. The other rests on the door frame, against the window. He barely tenses as we bounce across a series of potholes, and fly around a tight curve.
I look out the window again, into the ancient forest.
Another thing to regret.
“She wanted me to come out here with her, you know? To hunt together.”
“You said no, of course,” he replies, and fixes me with a worried look.
I laugh, without feeling. “Of course. I’d have felt like a thief.”
“Yeah. No way Aiden would’ve given his consent.”
“Yeah, well, he made that pretty clear this morning. But it’s not like I didn’t already know.”
He opens his mouth to answer, then closes it again, and taps the gas a little as we glide through an s-curve.
“What?” I ask, as the road straightens out again.
He doesn’t answer, but I wait. It feels like a fight’s coming. But what else are we going to do?
“I don’t know why the fuck you got involved with that bitch. You had to know what would come of it.”
“Her name’s Keaira.”
“Her name might as well be Bean Sídhe, for someone your size.”
“I’m serious, Tiergan. If her father doesn’t kill you for sniffing around her, there’s got to be a dozen other guys—big guys—who would consider her a worthy conquest, and you a nice snack. Even Faolan’s going to find it a job.”
“I don’t understand you at all,” he continues. “You’re young, you’re attractive—what do you need a mate for? You can walk into any bar in town and walk out with something to fuck, any night of the week. Hell, even half your pack-mates would be willing to play with you. You could probably even talk me into it, if you tried.
“Why even go after her?”
“I think you should shut up now.”
He laughs. “Yeah, well, you’re the boss.”
Fucker! “You don’t know a damned thing about it! It’s not about the sex, and I didn’t go looking for a mate! We became friends, and then . . . we became more.”
I pause for a deep breath.
“It’s like we’ve known each other forever. Do you have any idea what it’s like, for someone to know you so well that half the time, you don’t even have to speak. You just know what the other’s thinking? To be so comfortable with each other that you don’t hide anything? Wouldn’t you want that?”
He laughs again. “Oh, get off it, Tiergan. You and Tara have been that close since birth. You don’t need a mate for that.”
“It’s not even remotely the same thing.”
“Of course it is. You just want to pretend that it’s love or some other human bullshit. A mate is for making puppies, Tiergan, and for running a family. Nothing more. You have no use for a mate. You couldn’t take care of one if you had one, and you certainly couldn’t take care of a whole family.
“You know, you really are an asshole, Brennan.”
“Maybe,” he replies, and nods his head. “You showed you had some balls yesterday. But it changes nothing. You’re forty pounds light and a whole lot of speed and viciousness short on being a First.
“And that’s not going to change, because you don’t want it to.”