Sanctuary/C4 Winter Howl: Chapter Four
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Sanctuary/C4 Winter Howl: Chapter Four
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C4 Winter Howl: Chapter Four

The world hadn’t changed. Renee still had work, and she still did it without mooning. Too much. But it was part of the experience, part of the novelty. She could actually let someone touch her without going a little crazy—at least, not in a bad way. Britt continued to not push her, but they did sometimes take time out of the day to kiss. To keep in practice, Britt said with a grin on her face. Sometimes those kisses led to more, but it was still Britt who shed some of her clothes, more comfortable in skin, while Renee only let Britt touch her underneath her clothing, even though Britt had seen her naked without much fanfare before. For Renee, it was not a matter of modesty or fear. She just felt more comfortable with some kind of layer, although that layer seemed to be becoming more cumbersome by the day, even as she needed it. After all, the weather was getting colder.

Grant regularly brought in meat, but there were some days that he disappeared completely. He had made it through his week trial period, and although he was not exactly well-liked, he mostly kept out of the way. So everyone let him be, warily adjusting to his presence in the sanctuary. Renee was a bit concerned when the full moon came. She and the core pack stayed up just in case Grant tried to kill something under the moon’s influence, but as far as she knew, he never stepped foot on the compound.

He still watched her from a distance with an intensity that might as well have been right in front of her. He was somehow there whenever she and Britt were together outside of their room. Renee wasn’t innocent. She knew that some men liked watching two women, and she assumed that was the reason that Grant was around so much—that he was gathering fodder for whatever stroke fantasies were simmering in his brain. But as long as he did not invade their privacy and try to make them do something for him, as long as he did not touch her, he could be as uncouth as he wanted. There were assholes in every society. Grant just happened to be one of them. In the end, she and Britt decided to ignore him as best they could.

As more and more flurries swept over the sanctuary, more frequent donations began to come in from her regulars. Most of them knew that the winter was sometimes the hardest time for the sanctuary, because more energy was required to keep things running. Winter was also the time for more adoptions and sometimes more inhabitants due to poor Christmas gift-giving. Renee was happy, though, that three of her dogs had been adopted over the course of three weeks.

Things were normal, and maybe better.

Then someone buzzed her doorbell at the gate. This caused an alarm to go off over the facility. Just a short buzz—nothing loud or obnoxious. Enough to let everyone know that someone was there and to tell them to change if they needed to. Most of the shapeshifters reverted to their dog skins when company came. Renee thought it had something to do with keeping their whereabouts a secret and hiding their identities. Most people probably assumed she had someone working with her—there was no possible way that she could run an operation like this all on her own. But the shapeshifters did not want anyone to know that they were ones doing it.

The buzzing sound also told Renee to drive down to meet whoever came. The sanctuary could use a security camera at the gate, but they hadn’t come up with the extra money for it, mostly because it was not as needed as all that. Who would take the time to come all the way up to her sanctuary to make trouble? Besides, the dogs themselves were her built-in security. Even those who were not dominant knew an intruder when they saw one—and the shapeshifters had an even better sense of those who were not supposed to be there. A security camera was never high on the priority list of purchases.

Renee looked up when the buzz filled the compound, although the people at the gate probably could not hear it, so far was the facility from the gate. No one was supposed to come today, but maybe someone had not read the website rules about calling to make an appointment. Maybe they thought they could come on their own time. Either way, she would need to tell them to make an appointment, although she might let them in if they seemed okay. After all, it was a long drive back to civilisation.

Britt came into the computer room just as Leslie turned to Renee in confusion.

“What’s going on?” Britt said. “I didn’t know there was someone coming today.”

“Neither did I,” Renee replied.

“Do you want me to go down with you?” Britt asked. “I’m beginning to dream about shipping orders and gardenias.”

“Sure, if you want to. Human or dog skin?”

“Dog skin,” Britt answered. “In case it’s someone from town, they should see me in the state they’re used to. It could just be a squirrel having fun with the doorbell, though.”

“Best to check.” Renee minimised the window she was working on and ran to get her proper shoes on. She grabbed her scarf and coat as Britt shed her clothing layers and changed into the malamute. She then trotted behind Renee as she headed to the car.

“What the hell was that?” Grant came out from behind the log home and rubbed the side of his head as though the buzzing had pained him. Renee did not understand why it would—it was not at a frequency that harmed the dogs.

“Doorbell,” Renee said. “I have to go down and see what they want. Choose which skin you want to be seen in if someone comes up. Or just…go away.”

“I’m going to ride in the back of the truck,” Grant said. And before Renee could say anything, he opened the door and jumped into the covered bed, then pulled the door closed behind him.

Renee looked down at Britt, who looked back at her with an inscrutable expression on her face. Finally, Renee shrugged, thinking that saying anything would be more trouble than it was worth to make a fuss. As long as he didn’t make her crash. Britt did a little huffy thing with her nose as Renee sighed and opened the driver’s door. Britt got in first, and Renee climbed in after her.

Renee could see through the back window that Grant was lying down with his hands cradling his head. He was insane, and she shook her head before buckling herself in and turning the truck on.

The drive there was fairly uneventful. Grant didn’t do anything, just lay there in the bed, sitting up near the end in order to brace himself against the unbalanced shaking and sudden stops that came from driving on a dirt road.

When she reached the end of her driveway, Renee groaned. Josh and Marcus and one of their friends, Will, were there, and they leaned against Josh’s truck with their arms crossed and faces smug, obviously glad they could waste her time and harass her with their fucking passive-aggressive bullshit. She barely realised that she’d said that out loud before Grant opened the back window and said, “Kiss your mother with that mouth?”

“Shut up,” she muttered as she turned off her truck and got out.

“Hey, bitch, got a dog for sale?” Marcus asked. The man didn’t need to be drunk to be crass.

“Fuck off,” Renee said from the other side of the gate.

Josh raised his eyebrows. The other two did their ‘oooooohs’, which had been old way back in high school.

“Come on, this is a charity, right?” Will said. “We’re here to be charitable.”

She did not even try to be polite. “This is a sanctuary. We screen each potential adoption, and you can’t get in without an appointment. So. Fuck. Off. I don’t have time for you.”

“But what if we want a dog? We have money. We can pay,” Will said.

“I would never give one of my dogs to you. This isn’t a business, it’s a non-profit organisation. I decide whether to let the dogs go or not. I’m not doing it for the people that come in, I’m doing it for the dogs that go out. And I would never ruin one of my dogs’ lives by letting you bring him home,” Renee said.

“God, you’re chatty when you’re safe behind an iron fence,” Josh said. He curled his hands around the wrought iron and pressed his face between the bars. “I’d half a mind to think you were slow.”

“You do have half a mind,” Renee muttered.

“I heard that,” Josh said. “You know, I may not be able to get this truck through the gate, but I can find a way over the fence. Primitive system you’ve got here.”

“You do that, Josh,” Renee said, stepping closer to the fence and stopping short of his arm’s reach. Her voice could shatter ice as she continued, “You could fall and get barbed wire in your balls. Or, if you make it over, one of the dogs could take a bite out of your face. Or ass. Or worse. See, my sanctuary doesn’t need anything more than it has. You come in here and find that out.”

“If I get a bite out of my ass, I’ll sue the sanctuary for reckless endangerment,” Josh said. “I could shut you down and have all your doggies put to sleep.”

“You would have been trespassing. Anything the dogs did to you would be in protection of my property, and you would be liable for any damages. If you tried to go to court, you would lose,” Renee said. She did not think that it was in Josh to do anything like that, anything complex like legal issues. He had probably just watched too much Judge Judy and Law & Order and thought it was all easy and dramatic. But she knew several lawyers through the shapeshifter community and had their numbers in her personal phone book—they were prepared to represent her for any reason because of what she did for their own.

However, there was a kind of manic energy in Josh’s face, underlain with calculation, and Renee started to get nervous.

“Go back to Antoine and play mailbox baseball or throw eggs at houses or something like that,” Renee said. “There’s nothing for you here.”

She turned around to return to her car when she heard a loud clang behind her. She jumped, then spun around to see Marcus with a shovel in his hand. The sound was from hitting the gate with it.

“Don’t you walk away from us!” Marcus shouted. “What is it? So afraid of men you won’t just let us into your little sanctuary thing?”

“And you think assaulting my gate with a shovel presents a convincing argument? If I called the police, sure, you could get away in time. But I know all your names, and now there’s a mark where that shovel hit the gate. You want destruction of property on your rap sheet, Marcus?” Renee didn’t actually know whether the mark on the gate would be enough to convict them of anything other than being dicks, especially since the police would get there so late after the fact. But if they were avid Judge Judy and Law & Order audiences, they probably thought things really worked that way.

“Frigid bitch,” Josh said through the bars, a huge, shit-eating grin on his face.

“After all, why wouldn’t I want to spend time with a bunch of grown-up boys who sling back shots to get falling-down drunk and try to intimidate a woman who is much smaller than you and doesn’t give a shit? Believe me, Josh, it’s not me. It’s you.”

Renee opened her truck door, and when Marcus brought the shovel back to hit the gate again, Britt rushed out through the open door and started snarling and barking. She looked enough like an angry wolf, even for those few moments, that Marcus fell back in a comic pratfall, the shovel slipping from his fingers and hitting the back of Josh’s truck. The dent was not bad, especially since Josh’s truck was beat up without the help of the shovel. But Josh turned his attention to the damage that Marcus had done, and Renee called to Britt to get back into the car. She left them at the gate yelling at each other about stupidity and shovels and plans.

“So, my love, my darling,” Grant said, as she motored up the driveway. She jumped and almost ran the truck into a tree. She hadn’t even realised that he had crawled through the window into the small seating area behind the front seats. He must have been lying down until he’d popped up like that. “Care to explain that little interlude?”

“Goddamn it, don’t do that! You don’t scare people when they’re driving!” Renee yelled. “It’s dangerous.”

“Sorry,” Grant said, although he did not sound too sorry. More amused than anything. “So, the brainless no-necks. What do they have against you?”

“Petty high-school vendettas, I guess. And they’re clearly bored out of their minds,” Renee answered. She was surprised to find that she was actually angry. ‘Angry’ was not usually a word in Renee’s emotional vocabulary. It made her feel a little wired, and not in a good way—as if she had drunk three cups of coffee too many. “What on earth made them think this was a good idea? They had to drive hours to get here just to get in my face…”

“Look in a mirror lately, love?” Grant asked mildly.

Renee opened her mouth, but nothing came out. She closed it, only to open it again. “You can’t be serious.”

In a blink, Britt transformed into her human skin, expression indignant. “What are you saying?”

“I’m saying, Lady Godiva, that when a man likes a woman, he’ll do anything to get her. And I can guarantee that if you could get them all the way up here all by yourself, Red, seeing the two of you together would have them breaking down the fences. What a man will do for a piece of tail, right?”

Renee forced herself to loosen her fingers from the steering wheel. “Are you implying that they came here because they thought they would somehow have sex with me?”

“I’m saying that the one who was staring through the bars at you wants to have sex with you,” Grant said. “You’ll find that the more men throw the word ‘frigid’ around, the more they just want to take a ride. Of course, if they’re so pitiful as to insult you to try and get you in bed, they aren’t worthy.”

“Oh, really? Thank you for clearing that up for me,” Renee said. “I was actually considering turning this truck around and having it down with all three together. Glad I had you to talk me out of it.”

“God, Renee, you should get upset more often,” Britt said, crossing her legs. “You’ve got a brittle tongue.”

“Seems good enough for you most of the time,” Grant muttered, sitting back in his seat.

“Oh, for fuck’s sake, grow up,” Britt said.

“I’m only being honest when I say that the idea of the two of you together makes everyone in the sanctuary hot, not just me.”

“Most of them don’t say so to our faces,” Britt said.

“So you don’t mind that every single one of us jacks off to the image of you in our minds, just as long as no one says anything,” Grant said. “Or is it just me that you mind?”

“Mostly, it’s just you,” Britt retorted.

“I notice that Renee isn’t saying anything about it. So far, the only lady that doth protest is you. The protector. Who can’t always protect her, can you?” Grant leant forward again. “You can’t protect her from people like me. You probably can’t even protect her from those men back there if they decided to sneak in. It would take more than just you to take them down. And you know it.”

Britt turned around in her seat and glared at Grant. “Last time I checked,” she said slowly, “you weren’t doing anything to her but acting a little creepy. You care to up the ante and start doing a little more? You’d find yourself half-eaten in your sleep if you tried anything to hurt her…”

“Who said I wanted to hurt her?” Grant said, bringing his hands behind his head.

“I’m sitting right here,” Renee said. “Just stop it, the both of you. I don’t need this on top of those boys.”

“I’m trying to help,” Britt replied, sounding a little hurt.

“I know. I’m not mad or annoyed at you,” Renee said.

She was not accustomed to having to reassure Britt. She guessed that her inability to infuse the right kind of emotion into her voice could backfire when Britt felt more vulnerable, when she had something to lose.

“Just don’t bother engaging when he tries to get a rise out of you,” Renee said. “And that’s what he’s doing. He gets off on it. Don’t you?”

Grant grinned, and Renee saw a surprising array of sharp, white teeth that could not be human in the rearview mirror. But then they changed back to their human size. Renee did not think she had imagined it, but she could not figure out what it meant.

“Well, look at you, Red,” Grant said. “You barely speak two words to me, but you know me so well. I like that.”

Renee did not say anything to that.

“You know, I’m not harmless if you just ignore me.”

“I’m not angry anymore,” Renee said by way of explanation.

“Do you want me to make you angry again?” Grant asked.

She did not answer him, refusing to play into his game. The compound was just ahead.

“Look, the drive was a good distraction,” Britt said. “Well, it was until a few minutes ago. Could you let me off here? I’ll take a pack on a run and do some greenhouse work. See you this evening? Will you be okay?”

Renee slowed the truck. “I think I’ll make it the next twenty feet without getting mauled. Go on.”

Britt kissed her on the corner of her mouth before opening her door and jumping out. Before she even hit the ground, she was back in her dog skin and running ahead towards the compound.

“I can see why you didn’t say no to that,” Grant murmured.

“No,” Renee said, “you don’t.” She put the truck in drive and continued her way up.

He was almost right next to her ear now. “I’ve seen her kissing that pup, the one who thinks he’s alpha. The clean Marine kind of guy.” It was the closest he had been since that first day he’d been in the sanctuary. It made her skin prickle for him to be that close. Her hair fluttered a little with each word.

“I imagine you have,” Renee said.

“Hmm. I wouldn’t have thought you’d be the non-monogamous type,” Grant said.

“All these years when we were friends, she loved Jake,” Renee said. “I never felt like she was spending too much time with him or that he stole time away from me. And Jake actually wanted Britt to start something with me. Why be jealous of him if he’s not jealous of me? It’s not like she has a limited amount of love to give.”

“That just makes me curious, then.” His lips were brushing against her ear now, and it was making her hands shake. “Do you have a limited amount of love to give?”

“If I had love to give, I wouldn’t give it to you,” Renee said shortly.

“Somehow, I just don’t believe you,” Grant whispered.

Renee stopped the car abruptly, earlier than she usually would. She turned off the car, pulled the parking brake on, and got out of the truck without looking back.

It took Grant some real effort to get out of the car through the doors rather than out through the back window. When he did, he ran up behind her and grabbed her shoulder.

“What are you afraid of?” Grant asked.

“It doesn’t have to be about fear,” Renee said, whirling around and looking up at him straight in the face, which was not her forte. She would be proud about it later, when she lay in bed and shivered at the thought that she did it at all. “Sometimes, a girl just doesn’t like you.”

Grant lifted his head, and Renee could see his nostrils flare and eyes close as he breathed her in. “Somehow,” he repeated, “I just don’t believe you.”

Renee jerked herself away from him, flushed. “Leave it,” she said, softly and firmly, as if she were telling a dog not to chew on a shoe.

She was almost to the house when she heard, “I’m afraid I can’t do that.”

She slammed the door behind her.

* * * *

Renee lay under her covers, listening to the creaking of Britt’s bed across the room. It was not that she was lonely. It was actually kind of nice listening to them be together without trying too hard to be quiet—usually when they tried too hard, they ended up being louder anyway. She just pulled her three quilts around her, disregarding Claire, the arthritic Maine Coon, who wouldn’t have budged from her spot at Renee’s feet even if Renee was the one who had been doing the midnight dance.

Her evening had mostly gone well. Jake had walked in on Britt and Renee having a little time together, but after a brief check with Renee, Britt had told him to stay, not back out. He had grinned and sat down on Britt’s bed. It had been strangely thrilling and invasive at the same time. She did not feel threatened by Jake—she had been honest about that. But she was not sure whether she was ready for him in this new capacity.

Britt had consciously become more demonstrative. Not more forceful, but as though her moves were choreographed. Renee felt that their sort of organic dance became something she was only marginally a part of. Britt had sensed the way she’d withdrawn and asked whether she was okay.

“Not to push you too far, but this kind of thing can be fun with other people. If you would like to try it. And only if you would like to try,” Britt had said, peppering kisses along her cheek to her ear, where Renee had discovered she was quite sensitive— and not just with Britt , that voice in the back of her head had told her. “I know how you…”

“Brittany,” Renee had said, pulling Britt up and looking at her straight in the eye. “I may be a little broken in the head, and I appreciate the time you’re taking with me. Appreciate it more than you’ll ever hear from me most of the time. But I just want you to know that if I want something to stop, I’ll say something. If you want to try something new, you don’t have to preface it with all that reassurance. Okay?”

Britt had laughed and squeezed Renee’s bare arm. They had not quite got to the point that Renee liked having all her clothes off, but nonetheless she’d grown to like the feeling of skin on skin. She had taken to wearing a cami under her shirts, just so that Britt could take off the shirt and there would be something there underneath, but not enough that she could not feel that closeness. It was practical, too, with the cold weather.

When Renee had swivelled to face Jake, he’d been looking at her with something like misgiving, but not quite. More like he wasn’t sure where he stood with her. She was the human alpha without even trying, without even being dominant. And there she’d been right before him, waiting.

“Didn’t you hear the girl?” Britt had said, looking amused. “She’s not going to break.”

“What do I…?” He’d laughed at himself. “Where do I start?”

So Renee had started for him, reaching up to pull him down to her height, which was an even greater distance than she had to pull Britt. She’d discovered how much control she would have to give up in order to kiss him properly. She’d had to crane her neck and curve her back so that he’d had to hold her to keep her balanced, and she’d clung to his shoulders. He’d just been so big… And his long blond hair in a tail had been begging for her to hold it, to feel its texture, which had been a little rougher than the texture of hair she was used to.

He’d been so gentle as he’d kissed her, as if he was kissing a china doll, and Renee had found herself impatient. She’d bitten his lip. Not hard, but enough for him to know that he did not have to wear kid gloves with her. With all the ‘practice’ she’d had with Britt, she was a little more confident in her kissing technique by now, even if she did not know much else in terms of style. She only knew what she wanted to feel, and he’d still been too careful, even as his tongue had met hers when she’d drawn him into her mouth. But to kiss her, he’d had to hold her, and as the kiss had warmed between them, he’d held her closer. All she’d been able to do was hold on and feel the growing hardness of him against her stomach.

Then Britt had been behind her, laving her ear and running her hands up and down Renee’s arms until she’d brought goosebumps to the flesh. Britt’s breasts had pressed against her back, and she’d been surrounded by two people who Renee thought could love her, who knew what she needed and what she didn’t need. It had been warm, together, close, and she’d felt herself rubbing back against Jake where he stood, then pulling away to feel Britt closer. There had been so much more sensation with another in the mix. She hadn’t known whether she could deal with this much—the feelings, the neediness, then the subtle, growing sense of claustrophobia. Gentle fingers over her back and over her arms, soft tongues, soft kisses, little moans. She’d felt as if she was a part of something larger, but she had been about to fall at any moment. She’d needed her feet flat on the ground.

She’d pulled away, stumbled for a minute as she had found her footing.

One side of Britt’s mouth had lifted as she’d watched Renee adjust her cami and the bra straps underneath, pulling the bottom down over the lifted hem.

“A little too much for now?” Britt asked.

Renee nodded.

“But not bad?”

Renee shook her head. “Just…I need to go. You two should stay. I’ll be back out in a few minutes.”

The lights had been off when she’d come out from the bathroom—just a quick soak to think about things. But she could hear them anyway. She felt so unsatisfied, yet knew she simply couldn’t go the rest of the way. Like her social skills in and out of the sanctuary, she felt she could only go so far without feeling completely out of control. She wondered if there was any loss of control that was actually pleasant. Even when she brought herself to a climax, or when she and Britt reached that place together at their right pace… That did not feel out of control. Her teeth would clench, her fingers tighten, her breath stop. She rarely cried out, never sighed or moaned. Nothing that Britt did. And she wondered whether it was her. Whether she could ever let herself really lose control.

She rolled over so that she was on her stomach, sighing into the pillow and feeling her heart beat against the mattress.

They had finally climaxed—Jake first this time, then Britt. And Jake at least seemed to be the kind of man who fell asleep pretty fast after sex. Orgasm didn’t make Britt or Renee tired, but it was also midnight now, so Britt was probably going to sleep, too. Technically, Renee should not even have been in bed. It was not late enough for her. So she just lay there, trying to feel relaxed and listening to all the night sounds of breathing, the house creaking, Claire humming her little snores.

Then she heard it—a wolf’s howl. It was like that night again, except the dogs didn’t go crazy when they heard it. Since the werewolf had come to the sanctuary, the dogs became agitated when he was around, but they did not respond to its howl anymore, other than to cower in their beds. Malcolm had slept in the dog barn for a few nights after Grant had arrived, to teach them that they did not have to be afraid. Even if some of the staff, including Renee, were concerned that they should be afraid.

Renee got out of bed, listening as the howl rose again, higher and almost ringing in her ears. She slipped her house shoes on and went downstairs. Grabbing her dressing gown from the hall coat rack, she opened the front door and stepped out. She didn’t turn on the porch light. Even without it on, she could see Grant running around the corner of the dog barn. The moment he saw her, he howled again, sounding as if he had found prey, as though he were calling to a pack.

With a hitch of effort, he walked straight into his human skin, bones and sinew creaking before leaving him a light piece of flesh in the moonlight.

“You know it’s not safe to be out here,” he said.

She didn’t feel any of the chill when she shed her dressing gown on the porch steps, single-minded as she grabbed the sides of his face and pulled him down to her. He was not quite as tall for her as Jake—it felt as though he fit better, a little shorter than Britt. And God, he was all around her, not even stopping to ask as he plundered her mouth, drinking her in and holding her tightly against his rapidly reacting body, as hard as a rock to the touch, hard and warm and smooth. She touched him everywhere, feeling every inch of him as he ripped the camisole off and pushed her bra down to release her breasts to his mouth—hot, passionate, not caring how she was shaking or panting or digging her fingernails into his shoulders. Half pushing him away and half bringing him closer.

He wrenched himself away from her flesh that glistened from his saliva, grinning silver, sharp teeth as he shoved her down on the porch so that he could pull off her pants. He did not even bother taking off her panties, just pushed them aside.

Then he was filling her, filling a place that had been so empty and grasping until he stretched her around him. She whimpered. It should have hurt, but it didn’t. She just wanted him to fuck her, fuck her hard, make her feel something.

He bent over her as he did what she wanted without her saying a word. His vulpine teeth sank into her shoulder, and her hips rose to meet his as the coil of ecstasy released. She thrashed against it, with it.

And then there was nothing, and the rise of physical sensation was lost when she opened her eyes to the wooden beams of the roof. She was in her own room. Britt was above her, shaking her. Her orgasm was awful, an unbearable clenching into nothingness without even the benefit of arousal. A bodily response to blood flow, with no feeling of warmth at all.

Renee gripped tightly to Britt’s wrist as she rode it out without any pleasure.

“Hey, are you okay?” Britt asked, sounding really concerned. Renee wondered whether she had been making any noise. She remembered bits of the dream—it was already fading away. All she knew was that Grant had been inside her, doing whatever he liked, that she had somehow been turned on, but that the climax had been empty. Stolen.

“Sorry,” Renee said as her heart rate began to return to a normal pace. “Nightmare.”

“I’ll say,” Britt murmured. “You were thrashing in your sleep.”

“Not to interrupt or imply anything, but it honestly doesn’t smell like a nightmare,” Jake said. He did look concerned, though.

“Blood flow to the genitalia is biologically normal during sleep. Even for women,” Renee said. “It was a bad dream.”

“Do you need your medication?” Britt asked.

“I’m calm now,” Renee said. “But…” She curled her knees under her to kneel and press her lips against Britt’s neck. She stroked a wet line up the curve of Britt’s throat with her tongue. Britt gasped at the unexpected sensation.

“Please,” Renee whispered. “I don’t want to… I’ve already, you know… But I want to feel you.”

Britt wrapped her arms around Renee’s waist. “Who am I to resist such a wish?” she asked with a grin.

“Can we…in your bed? Can we fit?” Renee asked. “I don’t think I’m ready for Jake to be with me like that…but I don’t mind him there. I want him there.”

“I wouldn’t complain,” Jake said. “Come here.” He held out his arms. “I’m sorry you had a bad dream.” He took her into an embrace, just to comfort her, not with any other thought behind it. Jake was one of the few people she could allow to get so close, especially when she was feeling so vulnerable. Britt was another, of course. Renee brushed her lips against his chest lightly, then pulled away.

He scooted over in the queen-size bed to lie against the other pillow, content with watching for the time being.

Renee lay down on the bed, removing her pyjama pants much more patiently than Grant had in her dreams, then buried her hands in Britt’s beautiful hair as Britt climbed over her. She loved Britt’s hair, the way it curled around her fingers, how soft it was, how it closed in around them so it was just the two of them in the world. Renee breathed her in as she kissed the woman, smelling skin, smelling Britt’s shampoo, smelling a little of Jake. If asked, she would not be able to articulate what those smells were, only that they were . She kissed Britt as if drinking her in, and Britt, seeming a little surprised, matched her fervour, responding with the intensity that Renee demanded.

She wrapped her legs around Britt’s waist, curling them around the length of Britt’s thighs and stroking skin on skin. It was a new sensation, and she had never known just how sensitive her legs could be, particularly her thighs. They clenched against Britt’s hip bones as Renee tried to bring her closer, almost like pulling her in. It was as though Renee were trying to merge the two of them, but it was just impossible. Renee broke the kiss in frustration.

“What is this?” Britt whispered. “What’s wrong?”

“I’m just… I feel lost. Disconnected. I want to… It’s like you can’t get close enough.” She explored lower with her mouth, running over the line of Britt’s collarbone.

“That must have been some dream,” Britt breathed.

Renee slid down farther under Britt until her mouth pressed against the flesh of her breasts, tasting the skin there, licking under them where the breast was heavy against her tongue before taking the nipple into her mouth. She was gentle, but Britt almost whined as she flicked her tongue back and forth, enjoying the sensation of the rough, hard nub in her mouth. She ran her nails up Britt’s thighs before sliding them over the firm, round flesh of her ass.

“Whoa, girl,” Britt said, lifting herself up so that she was on her hands and knees. “Don’t start something you can’t finish. What’s up?”

“I’m sorry,” Renee murmured. “I didn’t mean to get that carried away.”

“No,” Britt said, lying down next to her after Renee shifted so that she was between Jake and Britt. “Don’t be sorry. It was good. I promise.”

“I’ll say,” Jake muttered. Renee elbowed him in the stomach, but there was not any force to it.

“It’s just it wasn’t like you. That’s all. Was it the dream?”

Renee closed her eyes, her head against the pillow, and both Britt and Jake brought the blankets over them.

“I wanted to get close. And I couldn’t do that just staying where I’ve always been. Why did you let me stop?” Renee asked. She curled her fingers around Britt’s until she was holding Britt’s hand tightly.

“It was hard to say no, if I’m being honest,” Britt said. “But partly because I didn’t think you were really ready. Or completely awake. When you and I go further, I would rather do it in the light. Does that make sense?”

“It’s harder to teach me when I can’t see the chalkboard?” Renee answered.

Jake snorted into laughter behind her, and Britt joined him on the other side of her. “Basically,” she said. “I want to know we’re both ready and that we’re completely conscious. It’s important to me. It’s important that things go well for you, and I’m not sure whether this was the best time for that.”

“But soon?” Renee asked.

“If you’re that eager,” Britt said, kissing her softly and lingering a little, “I can guarantee it.”

“I hope you don’t mind if I put some of the quilt between us,” Jake said. “Gender hazard.”

The sides of Renee’s mouth curled up. “It’s fine.”

Then Claire jumped up on their bed, because it was sure to be warmer where three humans slept than where her last human had vacated, and they had to be still. Renee relaxed into the warmth of the two friends with her. It was only a matter of time before she fell asleep again. Just in that place between sleeping and waking, she thought she heard the howl again. But she fell beyond it before she could tell.

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