The Hale house was full of secrets.
There'd been a fire, Cora knew. It had been years ago. She was too young to remember, but she knew from pictures their family had been bigger then. They'd lost grandparents, a few cousins and Cora's mother's younger brother.
When she had a bit too much wine with dinner Laura sometimes talked about before. She'd wistfully describe how the forest had been filled with laughter and children's voices. She'd talk of full moons like they were special for more than something pretty to look up and notice.
"Do you remember, Pete?" Laura would say as she'd scritch their dog's neck. Pete would whine a little and lick her palm. "Yeah, I know you do," she'd whisper and give Pete a sad sort of look.
Cora always found that odd. Her mother had always said that Pete -- who looked more like a wolf than dog, if you asked Cora and no one ever did -- came to live with them just after the fire. Even if Pete wasn't a dog and was able to understand Laura's ramblings, he wasn't able to remember the 'glory days' of their house filled with relatives any more than Cora was.
She knew Pete wasn't a typical pet.
No one really mentioned it. It was just something Cora grew up knowing. Pete wandered in and out of house, never wearing a collar, never a leash. No one ever worried about him getting lost or into trouble. He'd come back with a bloody muzzle and Cora's mom would say Pete didn't need dinner that night.
More than once, conversations would stop when Cora walked into the room -- one sided conversations, between her mother and their dog. She wondered if all families had secrets like these.
Cora wasn't stupid. She figured Pete was a guard dog that her family got after the fire, hoping to stop a tragedy from happening again.
It explained why he followed Cora everywhere. On hot summer days when she'd sneak away to skinny dip in the stream, she'd find him sitting on the bank with his eyes on her like a dragon protecting his treasure. She never worried about anything when he was by her side.
But he also stood watch at the oddest times: when she was in the shower or when she slept. She stopped being surprised to see his bright blue eyes staring at her, night and day.
As she got older her mom started to drop hints that maybe she was getting too old for Pete to follow her around quite so much.
She started having to lock the bathroom door when she was in the shower.
She missed Pete always there at her side, the way his soft fur would rub against her wet bare legs as she tried to towel off. She hated how he whined just outside the door like he was missing her too.
"Pete can't sleep in your room anymore, Cora," her mother said one day. Cora nodded, but her mother's eyes were focused on Pete instead.
At first, she wasn't sure how she'd ever get to sleep. But luckily, shutting him out of her bedroom didn't seem to matter. As long as she left her window open, Pete somehow found his way in after her mother wished her goodnight.
She wasn't sure how he did it -- and she couldn't ask her mother because her gut said her window would get bolted -- but Pete was there every night on the other side of the locked door, even though her room was on the second floor. Then he'd disappear before sunrise. It was their little secret. Just like her mother and Laura had their own secrets about Pete.
Maybe it made her sound like silly little girl, but it made her feel special that Pete loved her so much that nothing would keep them apart.
He started to sleep in her bed, now that the locked door meant her mother wouldn't check in on her in the middle of the night. It gave Cora a thrill to be so rebellious.
She loved curling around Pete in the night; she couldn't understand why her mother didn't want her to have that. He was a warm, soft pillow for her to wrap her legs around. It felt good, in ways she couldn't explain. Sometimes she would wake up from a feverish dream, rubbing herself against him. Peter would lick her chin and let her continue even though she made his fur sticky.
It felt right.
One night she woke, tingly and hot all over, to find Pete's muzzle between her legs.
She knew she smelled different there sometimes. Pete liked that. Sometimes, she was wet. Pete liked that too. He'd press his nose right up to her panties until she laughed and pushed him away. It always made her feel a little funny low in her belly.
Tonight she didn't feel like pushing him away. She wasn't sure why she wasn't wearing panties, but she was bare beneath her nightie and Pete's tongue was licking her where no one was supposed to touch.
It made her heart thunder in her chest and she her eyes open wide; rubbing against Pete felt nice down there, but his tongue made her feel so warm and in a way that was different from anything she'd felt before.
She spread her legs wider on instinct, letting him taste her, letting him make her feel good. His tongue was rough and wide, licking her thighs and up further, into her. She panted, breathless and squirming. Trying to stay still for him, she dug her heels into the mattress and lifted her hips to help.
A rumbled came from Pete's throat like he was pleased and Cora flushed that she was being good for him.
Pete didn't get tired or bored. He didn't stop, not when her thighs began to tremble, or when she clutched the sheets, confused and crying as her whole body shook. She felt she might be drowning as it all became too much.
Afterward Pete was there to comfort her, licking the tears from her cheeks with a tongue that smelled sweet and weird. She hugged him close and didn't stop him as his legs humped against her thigh.
Bone tired, she didn't even complain when he left her leg all sticky.
In the morning, as she showered and scrubbed the flaky white stuff off her, she vowed never to tell a soul what Pete did for her.
Pete was the family protector. Every day he watched over the house for them.
And every night he kept Cora warm and safe in ways her mother would never understand.