As he followed Jeremy toward security, he discreetly bit his left index finger. Then he smeared some of his potent werewolf blood on the suitcase handle. The drops disappeared at once, but the suitcase still grumbled in its silent way, thrumming its displeasure through Ethan’s nerve endings.
Ethan stopped walking and crouched as if he were studying the bit of troublesome luggage. What do you want?
The magic-haunted bag wasn’t telepathic. Neither am I.
Amused in spite of the situation, Ethan smirked. But communication was still possible if given the right mix of training and belief in the improbable.
The magic’s answer sang in Ethan’s blood. You humiliated me and abused my power.
By asking you to help a desperate man?
Ethan despised the lack of compassion expressed by most magical items.
Jeremy must have noticed he was walking alone, because he approached and squatted on the other side of the bag. “Ethan?”
Fine. I’ll pay you back with a little self-abasement.
Or at least with what could be interpreted as such. Ethan straightened, gestured for Jeremy to join him, and stalked into the nearest men’s room. Thankfully, it was largely empty. Hearing—or perhaps sensing—the crow of triumph from the suitcase, Ethan stepped into the handicapped stall at the end of the second row of urinals. He was relieved when Jeremy came after without a moment’s hesitation.
Once the door was closed, Ethan stepped close to Jeremy and whispered, “Can you feel the magic from this—”
Jeremy touched Ethan’s arm, and abruptly Ethan heard the other’s thoughts. “Yes, I feel it. How can I help?”
Ethan stiffened. “What sort of trick is this?”
Either he asked that question, or he would have ripped Jeremy’s throat out. Suppressing all his emotions until he scarcely felt them himself, Ethan concentrated on Jeremy’s words. Inside my head. He’s inside my head.
As the terrorist leader, Gary Gavin, had been. Without Ethan’s permission.
Jeremy answered, “I’m a token object reader.”
Agitation shot up Ethan’s spine, and he barely kept from leaping away from Jeremy’s hand. “You touch anything and know its secret heart?”
His skin felt like it was crawling off his bones. What must it be like to live in a world where everything—shoes, the ground, the very food you ate—had a story to tell? “That’s terrible.”
Paradoxically, he was less afraid. Jeremy must have an enormous amount of self-control to deal with his psychic talent and yet remain sane.
“I can control when I listen to things.”
Jeremy’s silent answer rang with faint surprise. “You’re one of the first people to pick up on the horror of token object reading without having to be told.”
Flattered, Ethan refused to dwell on the admiration he heard. There wasn’t much time until their flight. Although he would find time later to ask how Jeremy’s token object reading transcribed into temporary mind-to-mind contact. And after this mission, when he was safely back in Luis’s and Charlie’s presence, he would find time to panic. “This bag’s magic created a suit for the man who tried to steal from me. Because I subconsciously asked for its help when I sensed the man’s desperation.”
He paused to give Jeremy time to digest that. Then: “Now a sacrifice of humiliation has been asked of me.”
Jeremy laughed aloud, slapping a hand over his mouth half a second after the sound started. “Are you supposed to walk onto the airplane naked?”
Ethan grinned, liking the image of a hundred shocked humans gaping at him. Oh, Ethan, you were an exhibitionist in a former life.
Chuckling still, although quietly, he answered, “Yes, but in my furred form. As your guide dog.”
He watched Jeremy’s eyes widen. There was no attendant emotion in their forced mental connection. Which meant Jeremy, like Ethan, was able to keep things to himself. That was a relief. “It will satisfy the magic and not be uncomfortable for me.”
Jeremy cursed softly and glanced at his watch. “All right, but where are you going to get whatever-it-is that guide dogs use? And if you say that damn suitcase, won’t you owe it yet another favor?”
Ethan stepped back and pulled his shirt off over his head. He dropped it on top of the suitcase, smiled at the tiny slight this would convey, and flicked open the button on his trousers. Then he glanced up, curious to see if the requisite harness and leash would appear at once or if he’d have to reach into the bag for them. With that glance, he caught Jeremy’s expression.
Also the bulge of the arousal between the other werewolf’s muscular thighs. The gentle curve was apparent through a pair of jeans that weren’t loose enough to hide it.
Either that or he’s
Ethan dropped his eyes to save Jeremy embarrassment. But his penis gave its own twitch of interest. Go away, Ethan thought at his body’s reaction. I’m busy.
It wasn’t unusual for him to become…curious…about an attractive person, wolf or otherwise, at an inconvenient time. He tended to think of himself as always on duty, no matter his supposed forty-hour work week. He had experience telling his dick “not now.”
Stripping quickly out of his shoes, socks, pants, and briefs, Ethan shifted to his four-legged guise. Like most of his blood relatives, he resembled a large husky. Unlike many of them, however, his fur was all black.
“You are the scariest seeing-eye dog I’ve ever seen,” Jeremy murmured, his lips barely moving. He scooped up Ethan’s clothes, hesitating with his hand on the suitcase.
Ethan nudged the bag closer and nodded. He watched Jeremy put the clothes in and extract several things. The magic-inhabited case had indeed given a harness and a leash, but it also provided a collar and a small plastic card.
Jeremy snickered. “This says you graduated from Guiding Woofs.” He slipped the collar over Ethan’s neck, attached the leash, and then put the harness on with little more than a brief fumble.
Ethan blinked at his efficiency. Jeremy knew these steps, was comfortable with them. There is much I don’t know about my packmate.
Basically at the level of Jeremy’s crotch, Ethan snuck a peek. The bulge of arousal was almost gone. I guess he’s never had sex…doggy style.
Ethan dropped his mouth open in a lupine grin.
Then he sneezed.
Jeremy had just opened the stall door, but he glanced at Ethan questioningly.
You smell like you want sex.
Ethan ducked his head a little to hide any amusement that might show in his eyes and wagged his tail in an attempt to distract Jeremy. But his mind held on to the other wolf’s scent and ran with it, bringing up all sorts of bedroom fantasies. He was grateful for his long fur that would partially conceal any physical reaction.
Jeremy frowned, perhaps unconvinced by Ethan’s deception, but picked up the handle of the leather harness with his left hand, slipped the leash under the fingers of the same hand, and said, “Ethan, forward.”
Ethan went to work. It wasn’t as difficult as he’d half expected. Walking at a sedate pace and pulling against the harness’s chest strap so he could feel the pressure of Jeremy’s touch on the handle was little more than instinct. But when the two of them left the bathroom, Jeremy tugging the troublesome suitcase, and Ethan turned left toward the departure gate, he darted a glance back to make sure Jeremy looked blind.
He stumbled over nothing when he realized Jeremy’s eyes were closed.
“Steady, Ethan.” Jeremy smiled a little.
In the tilt of those dark lips, Ethan saw assurance. And he felt truly protected outside of his alpha’s sphere of influence for the first time. Usually I’m doing the guarding, the not-so-casual observing.
Somehow it was easy to believe Jeremy wouldn’t let anything happen to him.
* * * *
Twenty minutes later, Ethan sighed and rested his head on Jeremy’s feet. He didn’t shut his eyes or give any other overt sign of calm, but he knew Jeremy could feel his composure through their close contact. Right now Jeremy needed his assurance as much as Ethan had needed it before they went through security. Safe on the airplane now, it was time to soothe Jeremy’s temper.
He has a dominant wolf’s tendency to overprotect what he thinks is his.
Probably that shouldn’t have been a surprise, considering Jeremy was the Tilthos eros pack’s beta, the second in command. But Jeremy always carried himself with such understated power. I’ve allowed his easygoing attitude to make me forget what he is: dominant and comfortable in that place.
The muscles of Jeremy’s shin against Ethan’s temple were tense.
Ethan sighed again and let out a little soothing rumble.
“Huh. Easy for you to say. You weren’t the one who almost got us kicked out,” Jeremy murmured. But despite his words, he sounded less on edge. And his leg muscles eased.
The trouble had started when they’d reached the front of the security line just before the body scanners. Jeremy had reached unerringly for a plastic tub in which he could dump his shoes and anything else that might set off the alarms. A moment later, a TSA employee was in the werewolf’s face. Ethan had barely restrained a growl.
“What’re you playing at?” the employee had demanded. “You’re not blind.”
Ethan cursed silently and leaned against Jeremy, lending his silent support. He wasn’t expecting anything to come of the contact outside of, maybe, Jeremy’s tension going down a little. Instead, he got Jeremy’s voice in his head again.
“Fuck. I hadn’t thought of that. What—”
Ethan had jerked away, breaking the connection.
The TSA man was glaring at Jeremy. “Let me see that dog’s ID.”
It’s all right, Ethan had told himself. He’s looking for help. He wasn’t trying to spy or attack.
But Ethan had suffered through what his ex-therapist called, oh so delicately, mental invasion, and giving anyone unlooked-for access to his mind made him queasy.
Yes, that’s true, he’d thought. Still, Jeremy needed him. So he ducked his head, gathering his strength, and then leaned against the other wolf’s leg once more. “Show him the card and tell him you’re legally blind.”
Jeremy had done just that, and when he walked flawlessly toward the body scanners with his eyes closed, he and Ethan were allowed through.
Then the scanner had shrilled.
Ethan quickly reestablished contact between himself and Jeremy. “It’s probably my harness. Stand still. It will be over in a minute.”
Jeremy had growled so quietly, Ethan doubted any human heard him.
And we survived it.
Ethan relaxed even more, letting his tightly curled tail flop against the bulkhead before him. He and Jeremy were safe.
Better still, the suitcase’s magic seemed satisfied with the near disaster. It had gone smoothly into the overhead bin without any protest. If that wasn’t a happy ending, Ethan didn’t know what was.