Don had never taken guff gracefully, even when it was the way of the world. Maybe especially then.
The wolf woman, coming toward them on the sidewalk, had just snapped her fingers and pointed at the side of the road, expecting them to step into the gutter and out of her way. Most wolves were like that—and from her clothes, the way she carried herself, she was high class. As far as she was concerned, if you weren’t a wolf, you followed her orders without question. And she was right. You would. That’s just what you did.
“No,” Don said.
The woman stopped in mid-stride, staring down at the group of foxes, the tallest of whom didn’t quite make it to the bottom of her knee. She was, Rowan had to admit, dizzyingly attractive, even with the imperious look. Generous curves while still looking strong, long red hair, storm green eyes, and a well-tailored short skirt that, if Don hadn’t decided to make a stand against the species order right now, would have let them all ogle a set of amazing legs as she walked past. “What did you say?”
“It’s a big sidewalk. We can share it.” He kept walking.
The scowl that replaced the imperious look wasn’t nearly as pretty. The teeth that started to show past her lips made Rowan’s tail tuck down.
“C’mon, Don,” he muttered. “It’s no big deal.”
“Exactly. She can get over herself,” Don said loudly, continuing to walk straight ahead.
“Fool.” The wolf woman growled, leaning forward, and slapping him with her hand. He went flying into the street, rolling at least a half-dozen times and lying in a painful sprawl. “You foxes push around mice who only come up halfway to your knee. You eat them.” She began striding toward him, her scowl replaced by a dispassionate look that was, in its own way, even more frightening. “So do wolves. We both eat rabbits. But right now, only I could eat you. There is an order to all things.” The wolf stepped off the sidewalk, standing over Don with her hands on her hips. “What’s your name?”
Don wheezed, but said nothing.
She swung her foot to rest it on top of him. The paw covered a good two-thirds of him, heel pinning his leg, two toes framing his head. She seemed to admire the look. “What,” she repeated, “is your name?”
He finally sounded frightened. “Don! All right! I’m sorry! Let me up!”
She looked down at him, then over at the other three foxes. “I trust in the future you’ll be smarter than Don was.” She shifted her weight, bringing her foot to the ground forcefully. Don had only a fraction of a second to scream before the noise became something wet and brutal.
Rowan’s scream lasted much longer.
She lifted the foot, then wiped her paw pad clean with a tissue and tossed it in a nearby trash can. She left the crushed body where it was. “When I walk past, the rest of you will not only be off the sidewalk, but on your knees,” she said curtly.
All three hurried off the sidewalk and fell to their knees, not daring to look any higher than her toes as she walked past.
Rowan looked between the bottle and the coyote who’d set it down on the table between them. He’d always found coyotes…well, unsettling. Everything about them seemed stuck halfway between wolves and foxes, from the shape of their muzzles to their size, which meant he stood about hip high to this one. They were nearly always nicer than the wolves—he had a friend who had a coyote girlfriend once, even—but they always gave him the vague sense of constantly laughing at some grand inside joke only coyotes knew. “If this stuff works, why isn’t it used all the time? Why is it only in weird folk tales from your people?”
“The recipe’s hard to find. The ingredients are even harder to find. And it’s dangerous.”
“You said you want wolves to be as small to you as you are to them now.”
“Just one. I mean…it’s going to make me big, right?”
“What does it say on the label?”
He looked at the bottle. “‘Adamson’s Fruit Punch, not from concentrate.’”
The coyote sighed and turned it around. “My label, idiot.” On the other side of the bottle was writing scrawled in red marker: GROWTH POTION 25x.
He grinned. “That’s not dangerous to me, that’s dangerous to everyone else.”
The coyote just looked down at him without saying anything.
Rowan looked back up at her and cleared his throat. “How long does it last?”
He blinked. “What’s a cycle?”
“Could be a lunar cycle, could be the seasons, could be the seventeen-year cicadas for all I know.” She crossed her arms and shrugged. “You should know something, fox.”
“Most of our folk tales about this stuff have bad endings.”
His ears folded back. “What do you mean?”
“I mean what it sounds like I mean.” She leaned over the table, looming more now. “I don’t see the killer you want to be in your eyes.”
“I’ll be what I need to be. Not that it’s any of your business.”
She let another few moments pass in silence, then grinned humorlessly. “What you need to be indeed. Have friends when the scales tip, fox.”
He flicked his ears, first confused, then irritated. “Look, do you want to sell this to me or not?”
“If you want it, I’ll sell it.” She pushed the bottle toward him.
Getting to here, at this table, in front of this crazy-even-for-a-coyote woman, had taken him two years and cost him eight months’ salary, more than one friendship and his job. He’d cashed out his IRA to get the money for her fee. He had no guarantee she was telling the truth about anything. The bottle might be full of tap water. And if she was telling the truth, he’d be stuck as a giant.
He thought of Don again—his best friend since junior high—and what his last moments had been like, knowing he was utterly helpless. He thought of the sound of the wolf’s foot coming down.
“I want it.”
He checked the address again, looking around nervously. This was it. He knew it was it; he’d been furtively watching the house for two days, watching her come and go, assuring himself it was, with no doubt, her. She was, damnably, even prettier than he remembered.
Rowan’s kind simply didn’t go to this neighborhood; species tended to stick together in all but the most urban of areas, and wolves didn’t do urban. They liked uncrowded rural land or exurban communities. In this neighborhood, the homes were so far apart they were barely in view of another; one being destroyed wouldn’t attract immediate attention. The house across the street from him wouldn’t be that big were it on his scale, perhaps three bedrooms, not the ostentatious mansion he’d imagined she owned. And she lived alone; while he’d steeled himself to do in her no doubt equally vile family, he felt relief he wouldn’t have to.
He looked at the bottle he’d been clutching almost continuously for the last week and slowly unscrewed the plastic cap. He took a sniff. Whatever it was, it wasn’t tap water. Taking a deep breath, he began to drink.
At first it tasted—and felt—like harsh, cheap whisky. Then the burn spread to his limbs, not just his throat and stomach. As he kept drinking it hurt. It hurt badly. His hand shook, his tongue felt swollen. It felt as if wasps had crawled inside his arteries.
But the coyote woman said to drink all of it. He kept going.
When he got down the last drop, his vision blacked out and he felt tremendous vertigo. He dropped to all fours, biting back a whimper, shuddering and panting.
The pain subsided, and what lay under his palm pads, his legs, felt…wrong. Like his hands were in the street but his legs were across grass. He opened his eyes, blinking woozily, then sucked in his breath.
It had worked.
His clothes hadn’t grown with him; the shreds were scattered along the road. No matter. He got to his feet slowly, looking around at… at the view a wolf would have had in his old neighborhood, if it had been nicer, maybe. Almost that view, he amended. Trees and plants were the same size here and there, and now he stood taller than the trees.
It had worked.
He walked forward slowly, first to test his balance, then just to experience the feeling of moving as a giant. When he reached the house’s driveway, he stopped. The world was full of doll houses. Nothing looked truly real.
He’d thought about how he could draw her out. Lean over and knock on her door with a finger. Kick his foot through the door. Just rip off the roof. To his surprise, though, the wolf woman made the decision for him by opening the door herself and storming out, in all her arrogant superiority, to see what the commotion was.
She made it four steps before she jerked her head up and stared, muzzle open, ears folding back.
They looked at one another silently for several seconds. Then Rowan snapped his fingers and pointed at the ground by one of his feet.
The wolf growled, tail bristling, and ran back into her house.
“Tch tch.” He crouched and curled his fingers, digging them into the roof and beginning to tear off pieces. It didn’t feel like wood and plaster, but like balsa wood, paint chips. He could barely make out the woman’s yell over the cracking, but he focused on it, ripping off the roof over the living room almost in one piece and hurling it into the back yard.
She stared up, ears flattened, expression so frightened he had to choke back laughter. But as she started to dart toward an intact doorway, he slammed his hand down in front of it. She shrieked.
She scrambled back.
“I said stay.”
The wolf froze, staring up.
“Stand up. Do you recognize me?”
She slowly rose to her feet, swallowing, clearly trying not to cry. But she looked him up and down. “N…no. How could I? You’re impossible!”
“No,” she repeated. “Foxes are…” She held her hand down low.
“Small? Easily pushed around?”
She dropped her hand, straightening up, clearly afraid of where this was going.
He leaned down and bared his teeth. “Small enough for you to casually stomp to death in the street?”
She flinched at the sight of his teeth, stepping back, then furrowed her brow, searching his face more desperately, still without recognition.
“I was one of the ones you made kneel,” he snarled.
She shook her head frantically. Not a denial, he realized—that wasn’t enough to jog her memory.
He clenched his fists. “You killed my friend for not yielding to you on the sidewalk. You made him tell you his name, made him apologize, and killed him anyway. Two years ago. You don’t even remember?” His voice rose into an infuriated growl.
“I…I…” She swallowed, tail curling down between her legs. “Yes. I think. You…were one of the ones I made kneel afterward. He was…Ron? Don?”
He’d never literally seen red before. “It was…that…unimportant…to you.”
She stared up with an uncomprehending look.
Rowan breathed slowly until he felt under control, then rose to his full height. “You’re as small to me now as I was—as he was—to you then. Do you know what that makes the order of things?”
The wolf’s ears pinned back.
“That’s a yes or no question, little wolf.”
“You’re—you’re not in the order of things!”
He swung his foot down, casually smashing it through one of the standing walls. Truthfully, it hurt, but it had the right effect: another shriek. “I. Am. Now.” He snapped his fingers again and pointed outside.
She took a few ragged breaths, staring up at him, whimpering. Then she shuffled toward the rubble. “I…I can’t get out,” she said hoarsely.
“Climb over the rubble.”
“If you talk back to me once more, I’m going to do to you what you did to Don, but slowly.” He pointed at the driveway by his foot. “Now!”
Whining again, she scrambled up the rubble, stumbling several times and falling on her way down, sliding to land on her rump. She got up hurriedly and walked to the spot he’d pointed at.
Swallowing, she knelt.
“Tell me why I shouldn’t step on you.”
She looked up, beautiful face stricken. All the imperiousness had fled; the fur around her eyes was matted with tears. “Please. It’s just what I’ve learned. It’s what we’ve all learned.”
“That size and strength is all that matters?”
“That the small bow to the large.”
She nodded tearfully. “Yes!”
“Don wasn’t the only fox you’ve stepped on?”
She swallowed. “No, sir.”
“Tell me your name.” He knew it already; he’d found it out long ago, when he started to pursue the coyote folk tales, had started this crazy plan. But he wanted her will broken.
“I’m Rowan. Stand up, Sally, and tell me how tall you are compared to me.”
She stood, ears twitching. “I…I don’t quite come to your knee, sir.”
“We both eat mice and rabbits. But only one of us is big enough to eat the other.”
Her ears flattened. “No.”
Rowan narrowed his eyes. “What did you say to me?”
She stuffed a hand in her mouth, biting back a scream. “I—I…please don’t hurt me. I’ll never hurt another fox again. I promise!”
“Oh, I am going to hurt you, little Sally. Have you eaten a fox?”
She shook her head frantically, starting to hyperventilate. “I haven’t.”
“Sir!” he roared.
“I haven’t, sir, I swear I haven’t!”
He reached down and picked her up, fingers wrapping around her. She felt like a living action figure. He could feel the little curves of her breasts and rump against his fingers. “You know, you’re one of the prettiest women I’ve seen, Sally.”
She burst into tears.
He pushed down the momentary pang of sympathy, focusing on what she’d done to Don. Lifting her up in front of his face, using both hands now, he forced her to sit in his palms. “Strip. Throw your clothes to the ground.”
She trembled, but slowly undid her blouse, then her skirt, letting them fall, leaving on her underwear. “Is this far enough, sir?”
Whining, she undid her bra, then slid out of her panties, letting them fall, too.
He studied her, biting his lip in spite of himself. God, she was beautiful, and she was…
Rowan considered a moment, then moved to sit down on her house, laying back carefully, letting his huge body smash it, watching her despairing reaction. Then he slowly lowered her doll form toward his sheath, the tip already extending out a foot, maybe more. “Sally, if you make me come, I may let you be my pet instead of my dinner.”
“P…pet?” she spluttered, wriggling indignantly between his sheath and his fingers, legs kicking against his thighs.
“Don’t you want to be my pet? Say no, and I’ll eat you now.”
“Yes.” She sounded miserable.
“Yes, you want me to eat you?”
“Yes I want to be your pet, sir!” she blurted. She wrapped her arms around his exposed flesh, giving it a kiss.
He gasped, throwing his head back. “Good girl.” Her ministrations were desperate, awkward, but like nothing he’d ever felt before. No vixen he’d been with had ever gotten him this exposed, that hard, that fast. “Lick.”
She did so, stroking her hands up and down the flesh, using her claws. He wondered if she was trying to hurt him; if so, he hoped she’d try harder. “In the slit,” he breathed. “Lick…in the slit…”
Sally didn’t even hesitate before complying this time. And that feeling, something that could never have happened with a partner on his scale, was indescribable. His whole body jerked, making the hapless wolf hang on that much more tightly to keep at her assigned duty.
He clenched his fists, feeling more bits of her house crumble between his fingers. That excited him even more, somehow. “Harder,” he groaned. “All your strength…little one.”
Rowan felt the wolf shift position, clenching herself against him, foot paws rubbing along the fur of his sheath, pressing against his sac, arms pumping against his slick skin. She growled as she licked, but not in the way of command—in the way of submission.
Starting to pant, he lay one of his hands on her and began to rub. He felt her stiffen with more fear at what he might do, and it made him (flinch) grin. He pressed down harder, sliding her body back and forth, and she began to flail, gasping for breath.
The massive fox tilted his head down to see her position, and pressed her head to his shaft with a finger, forcing her whole muzzle into the slit, into the glistening liquid. She began to struggle more wildly. “Lick!” he roared.
She did. Once was enough.
His whole body shuddered with the spasm, and her head jerked back, covered in the thick white spray. Pressing her body down again so her breasts were against his tip, he spurted again, then a third time, more weakly.
As his breath dissolved into ragged panting, he let her go, barely feeling her collapse against his spattered belly. They both lay that way for several minutes.
Then Rowan picked her up by her leg, lifting her into the air and dangling her upside down over his face.
She wailed hoarsely. Sally no longer looked lovely, not with her fur tangled and matted with his own seed. She just looked…beaten.
“Thank you, Sally,” he murmured. “I’m afraid that made me very…hungry.”
“You promised!” she gasped. “Please…please don’t, sir.”
He smiled mockingly. “I said ‘may.’”
As he parted his jaws widely, she found enough breath to shriek. When his jaws closed around her, her upper body filling his mouth, the shrieking became muffled.
She tasted—how could he describe it? Of wolf, yes. And of fox. Of the fear of a prey animal, but of something more—of an apex predator turned into a prey animal. It was everything he’d been dreaming of for the last two years and more.
He let go of her legs, watching them kick wildly outside his mouth, then sat up and tilted his head back. Her screams, muffled as they were, got even more desperate, more pleading.
Rowan tensed up, squeezing his eyes shut. This was it. He had brought her lower than she’d brought him, even than she’d brought Don. He’d humiliated her, brutalized her, and all that was left was to finish the job. Squeezing his hands into fists, he swallowed hard.
She went down about halfway, all at once, her head and torso in his throat, legs pulled into his mouth, and abruptly went limp.
The fox grimaced, feeling an abrupt sense of irrational panic. She was prey, dammit. He had eaten mice and had eaten rabbits and gotten down ones that weren’t much smaller than Sally the cruel imperious wolf. That’s what foxes did. Ate things smaller than themselves. It was—it was the order.
Abruptly he grabbed her legs and pulled her back out. His throat didn’t want to let go; he thought he could hear things popping inside her fragile little body. She dangled in front of him, fur glistening and matted to her now with spit. Unconscious, maybe already dead. Rowan couldn’t tell. Shaking, he held her to his ear. Breathing. Maybe.
He set her back down on the ground, face up, staring at her, then around at the ruins of her house. He could see lights on in other homes that he didn’t think were before; between the crashing and the howling he had to have attracted some attention.
Sally’s eyes fluttered open, and she abruptly screamed, the sound dissolving quickly into a ragged, gargling cough. She sat up, wheezing, clutching herself and whining like a cub. He felt a sudden sense of relief—then a sudden sense of self-hatred for feeling that.
Finally she spoke, voice cracking, eyes cast to the ground. “Why am I still alive?”
He looked away, huge ears flat. He had no good answer. Here he was, alpha to alphas, and what the hell was wrong with him?
I don’t see the killer you want to be in your eyes.
He took a deep breath. “Because I—I decided I’d rather keep you. I want you to live your life knowing I own you, little wolf, and you live only at my whim.”
She looked up at him for just a second, then back at the ground. She sat motionless for a very long time, then finally said, very quietly, “Thank you, sir.”
He could see other wolves approaching now, from both directions down the street, three from the left, four from the right. Surely, a mob come for him. Was this what the coyote had meant? That he’d die quickly?
“Stay,” Rowan growled at her. He rose to his feet, ready to meet them. He might not have been able to swallow his most hated enemy whole and alive, but if these toy predators were going to challenge him, he’d fight.
They didn’t, though, not yet. They formed a semicircle around him, just outside kicking range, staring at him, at Sally, at the ruins of the house. He could watch them putting together what had happened, see the anger and the fear in their eyes.
“Wolves follow the strongest,” he said, moving into a crouch.
“The strongest wolf,” one said, stepping forward bravely. Just like Don. “They follow me.”
“And you follow me now.” Rowan grinned, showing all his teeth. “Or do we fight to prove who’s the strongest one here?”
The alpha’s ears pinned back, and he circled one of Rowan’s legs, growling.
Rowan let him circle, then smacked the little wolf with his hand, straightened up, and set his foot down on the wolf, pinning him. The other wolves all stepped back.
“Well. This scene looks familiar, doesn’t it, Sally? Tell your former alpha what you did to my friend so he knows what to expect.”
“I crushed him under my foot.” Her tone was impassive.
“I yield!” the alpha cried.
Rowan pressed down until the alpha screamed, then lifted his foot off. “Kneel. All of you.”
Rowan sat in the back yard of Sally’s house, watching the wolf workers finish the reconstruction. It had only taken eight weeks, perhaps because the giant fox watched them sternly. If any of the wolves came across as remotely insubordinate to him he wouldn’t hesitate to humiliate them with how much bigger and more powerful he was, holding them under a foot, tying their arms together and using them as a necklace for a day, and—in his most violent act—crushing the ribs of two who tried to rescue Sally. He might have actually smashed them if she hadn’t interceded.
While he joked with them about using them as sex toys, just to make them quail, he never did. Only with her.
“Is it all right? The house?” he asked her, looking down to his left where she normally sat now. She wore a loose robe; he would prefer her to be unclothed, but he didn’t like the way the workers looked at her. “You seem like you’re not pleased with it.”
“They’ve barely started work on your room, sir.”
“It’s a large project. Literally.”
“The plans for it are modest.”
He snorted. “I can’t have them build me a palace.”
She looked up at him with a curious expression, then laughed, shaking her head.
Rowan frowned. “Remember your place, pet.”
Her ears folded back. “I do, Master Rowan. Isn’t my training coming well?”
“Yes,” he admitted. Truthfully he had no idea how to train her, other than making sure she took all his commands without question. She already was. Except…“But you still don’t wear your collar without me reprimanding you.”
She swallowed, looking down and squirming. His “reprimands” were spanking her with two fingers, which made her cry and moan and clutch at his leg fur, but didn’t seem to encourage her to keep the collar on. “It’s not very attractive, sir.”
“It’s not about being attractive, it’s about showing you’re owned.”
Sally nodded, sighing, then put her hands to her shoulders, as if to slip out of the robe. “Then I should be reprimanded again, sir?”
His ears colored slightly. Having her lying nude on his leg, rump up, moaning at the spanking was…
Rowan touched his tongue to his lips. “Tonight, after the workers leave,” he murmured.
“If you must, Master.”
After three months had passed—three lunar cycles—Rowan remembered the coyote’s words to him, and made sure he was off “hunting” away from the wolf lands just in case he woke up the next morning at his normal size. He didn’t.
By that point the wolves were well under way on constructing the great room he would live in, and it was finished after another three months, complete with furnishings. Sally lived in her side of the house but slept in his bed most nights, as he desired. She frequently thought of…inventive things for a little woman to do to a giant man that hadn’t occurred to him, and sometimes she wanted to be in his mouth, receiving attention from that huge tongue of his.
She’d cooked for him on occasion before that, but began to do it more regularly, bringing in commercial equipment and occasionally an assistant who seemed to treat her much the same way she treated Rowan. She cleaned his side of the house, too. While she served at his command, many of the ideas on how to serve were hers.
One night, she said to him, “Master, may I find myself a new collar?”
“This isn’t a plan to get spanked again, pet, is it?”
She smiled, ears coloring but not going back. “No, sir. I just think…I think you would prefer me to be as pretty as possible for you, and I could make myself prettier with another one.”
“All right,” he said uncertainly.
The next morning she was gone, and he went into a panic. Had he really given her permission to leave yesterday evening? She’d never come back, would she? He paced around the property intermittently for an hour, then set off down the street, stopped, turned around, went the other way, stopped again, and put his hands to his head, sitting down on the front lawn.
“Master,” her voice called.
Startled, he turned to face her as she walked up to stand in front of him.
Sally let her robe slip to the grass, so she wore nothing but the collar. The previous one had been little more rough tan leather strip; the new was thinner, tighter, black patent leather, with a silver clasp and studs. “What do you think?”
He gently picked her up, examining it. Examining her. “You were right,” he breathed. “It’s beautiful on you. Don’t…don’t take it off.”
Her tail wagged.
Their life settled into routine. He’d become the alpha, and while Sally had had to guide him the first few months in what that actually meant for wolves, he’d become fairly adept. Sally spent more time out of the house acting as his lieutenant, but he no longer had any concern that she wouldn’t come back. And while he hadn’t forgotten the anger, the drive for revenge, that had brought him here, it seemed…distant. Sally and he didn’t talk about it very often; it made both of them uncomfortable.
It surprised him, then, when after a year and a half of their new lives, he began to catch hints of her old imperiousness—not displayed to him, but to other wolves. He wasn’t positive of it until, one evening, he gazed out his window and saw three betas kneeling to her.
“Sally, come here.” His voice carried through her house no matter where she was, and she’d learn to drop everything and go to him at that command.
In very short order she knelt at his feet, looking up. She showed no fear now; she only did when he was angry, and she rarely made him angry these days. “Yes, Master?”
“Were the other wolves kneeling to you?”
“They have been for some time,” she said, sounding surprised that he didn’t know.
She covered a laugh. “Because I’m yours, of course. You’re the most powerful in the village, which makes me the most powerful wolf in the village.”
“Oh.” He blinked several times.
Sally’s expression grew worried. “You don’t mind that, do you, Master?” She bit her lip. “Things have changed in the neighborhood, but it’s still the way of our people.”
“No, no. That’s all right.”
“Good.” She looked relieved. “Is there anything I can do for you now?”
“You’ve done all your chores?”
“Of course, sir.”
He looked around his room—spartan, since the wolves had had enough trouble making just what he had on the scale he needed—and marveled again at how much she managed to do for him, as small as he was. “You’ll sleep with me tonight.”
She smiled. “Thank you, sir.”
He smiled back. “I’d never dreamed how much I would grow to love, love, uh—” He stumbled over his words. “To love owning you.”
Sally tilted her head, eyes glinting in a way that usually promised him a sleepless—but very creative—night. “That makes me very happy to know, Master.”
Rowan awoke just after sunrise one morning to find his surroundings entirely unfamiliar. They smelled familiar, but they looked all—wrong.
He sat up and looked around, then went ashen. He’d returned to normal size.
Three years, he realized. Three years to the day.
He scrambled to the edge of his huge bed and started climbing down the sheets, hitting the floor and gawking at the size of it. He had his own door, but now he couldn’t hope to move it. He’d have to get out through—
—Sally’s end of the house. And if she saw him like this, if any of the wolves saw him like this, he’d be done for.
He stepped into her space, through an opening wide enough for his former self to stick his head through when he lay down. Sally had had very little privacy from him, but she hadn’t minded.
He made his way to the front door and had stopped, staring up at the doorknob and trying to figure out how he could reach it, when he heard footsteps behind him.
He turned around to find what he dreaded, what he knew he would see: Sally staring at him open-mouthed from across the living room. “Master Rowan?” she finally said.
His ears folding back, he leapt for the doorknob. He’d almost gotten it, but she closed the space between them in several quick strides, pulling him back. He yelled.
“Master!” she snapped, spinning him around to face her. “If you go outside they’ll kill you.”
“If I stay inside you’ll kill me!” He struggled, pushing at her hands.
Sally crouched lower, catching his gaze with hers and holding it. “No, I won’t.”
He stopped struggling. “You won’t?” he breathed. “But you must hate me!”
The now-giantess sighed, letting go of him, continuing to look into his eyes. “Three years ago you came here to kill me for something terrible I’d done that I barely remembered, because I’d never learned it was terrible. I expected to die that night. I expected to die every night for months after that, because I expected you were like…like I was.
“But every time you had the opportunity to be that way with me, or with any of the other wolves, you weren’t. You scare the living daylights out of us all—well, you did—but you’ve also been the best alpha any of us can remember.”
Rowan stared. “I have?”
She stroked her hand under his chin. “I’ve never hated you, Master. I understand holding power over others. What you’ve taught me is that it’s possible to use power in a way that makes people want to be under it.”
He swallowed, throat dry. “I’m not sure I understand that.”
She smiled, showing her beautiful and once more very intimidating teeth. “Maybe you will one day, Master.”
The fox smiled nervously. “You don’t need to call me that now.”
Her eyes sparkled. “But I’m still wearing your collar, and you told me to never take it off.” She leaned down until her head was lower than his. “So if you don’t want me to call you that, you’ll have to take it off.”
Rowan reached to the collar, now as wide as each of his hands, letting his fingers run along its black leather surface to the clasp. “I…I don’t want to take it off you, you know.” He tried to keep his voice light, but it shook.
Sally lifted her muzzle until her nose touched his. His head could easily fit in her mouth, just like hers could have fit in his yesterday, and somehow the thought got him as squirmy as…well, as the previous arrangement had gotten her squirmy. “Then I’ll just have to keep wearing it, Master,” she whispered.
He took a long, shaking breath, and kissed Sally on the muzzle, his hands holding her cheeks. She parted her lips; he finished the kiss by licking at her teeth, then at her chin as she drew away. “So you’ll…keep me? Safe, I mean.”
She slowly moved into a sitting position, then rose gracefully to her full height, leaving him at her feet. “I will. You appeared mysteriously, and you’ve just disappeared mysteriously, as far as the other wolves will know. I’ll be the alpha now, and as long as I lead well—which means as long as you lead well, behind the scenes—I don’t expect to be challenged. You may never be able to leave this house, though.”
He rubbed the back of his head. “I probably could if the wolves outside thought I was your pet.”
Sally’s eyes flashed with that hint of playful mischief he’d grown to know well over the last three years. “Maybe so.” She laughed, heading toward the kitchen. “I didn’t make coffee yet. I know you like that first thing in the morning, hmm?” As if nothing had changed, except now he was watching her tantalizing walk from a very different angle. “Then if you’d like I’ll brush out your tail.”
The wolf paused, looking back down at him over her shoulder.
He swallowed. “I’d rather brush out yours, if that’s all right.”
She smiled. “I’d like that very much, sir.”