Duke slid through the low-hung swinging door at the back of Howling Wolf into the mudroom behind the bar.

Since this was a place he and Nic spent time on a regular basis, they kept a locker with spare clothes. Not much, just a pair of jeans and a t-shirt, enough to let them enter the bar in their human bodies without showing all their assets.

He and Nic didn’t say anything as they shifted back but Duke hurried his change as much as he could so he could watch Nic to make sure he was okay.

He knew Nic’s change back at the house had been agonizing. He also knew Nic would heal faster now that he’d shifted.

Still, Nic’s hand pressed against his ribs as soon as his change was finished and he tried to bite back his wince of pain.

Duke opened his mouth but Nic stared him straight in the eyes, his brows raised, daring him to say anything.

Duke shut his mouth and reached for his clothes. As he dressed, he heard music from the bar, piano and guitar. Some song he didn’t know.

No, that wasn’t right. The song sounded familiar. He just couldn’t…

Desolation Row by Bob Dylan.

But not the Dylan version he knew. This one was raw and vicious. You’d think the piano would soften the sound, especially since it was accompanied by an acoustic guitar.

Not at all.

The voices were rough and raw. And he recognized both of them. Caeles and Tira.

He heard pain and frustration in her voice and it cut him like daggers.


Duke felt as if his feet had been nailed to the floor. He was afraid to go out there, afraid if he did she’d run from them again. And he didn’t think he could stand it.

Nic obviously felt the same. His hand rested against the swinging door, ready to push through into the bar, but he wasn’t moving either.

Duke couldn’t see out into the bar from where he stood but he knew Nic could. Nic’s gaze was glued to the scene. The hand hanging at Nic’s side curled into a fist and his jaw tightened until Duke thought it’d crack.

The guy was wound so tight, Duke thought Nic might actually burst a blood vessel.

Duke finally got his feet to move and he walked over to Nic, putting his hand on his shoulder. “Nic. Chill. You’re gonna give yourself a stroke.”

Nic didn’t speak right away and Duke followed his gaze out into the bar.

He saw Tira right away, her blonde hair a bright beacon in the dusky bar. Light from the fire in the opposite corner bathed her in a golden glow and his breath caught at her beauty.

Gods damn, he’d never been affected by another woman the way she affected him. And he knew he never would.

“Do you remember the first time we saw her?”

Duke had to take a second to play back Nic’s question before he could answer. Then he had to think about his answer as he watched her long, slim fingers fly over the piano keys.

He’d been lucky enough to feel those hands on his skin. Nic had, too. Once. And it had nearly destroyed her.

“She was fifteen,” Duke said. “She had braids and dressed like a tomboy. She barely said a word to anyone. She looked terrified, remember? Like she was afraid she’d be eaten by the big bad wolves. I had this overwhelming need to protect her. Hell, I didn’t even think she was pretty, just this gangly kid with huge blue eyes. But I knew. I knew she was ours.”

“Yeah,” Nic said. “And she still is. I’m not fucking dead yet. There’s a way around this. You just gotta trust me.”

Duke had never trusted anyone more in his life.

But Nic didn’t have all the answers. And he might destroy them all in the process of trying to find the answers he wanted.

Neither of them made a move to enter the bar and Duke hoped the shadows kept them hidden. He never saw much of her smile and he wanted to watch without having her upset by their presence.

Apparently Nic felt the same because he remained by Duke’s side.

They watched her tear through three more songs with Caeles, all songs Duke never would have thought she’d know. The Dylan wasn’t surprising, really. Or the Sinatra. She’d always had a taste for the classics. But Bullet for My Valentine’s Hearts Burst into Fire and Disturbed’s Indestructible were a complete shock. He hadn’t known she liked his kind of music. Or that she knew it well enough to play it.

It was something they shared, another tie.

One he never wanted to undo.

One that would be ripped apart if anything happened to Nic.
Stephanie Julian