Authors: Eve Langlais
“It doesn’t bother you?”
He frowned. “Why would it bother me? They’re just being themselves. It might drive me nuts at times, and privacy is something they don’t respect, but that’s what makes them so precious to me. To each other. We respect our different personalities. We encourage strength, especially when it comes to family. We aren’t only a lion’s pride. We have pride. Rawr.”
His mock roar made her smile. “You make it sound so simple.”
“It is. We are. Which is why you belong with us. Or more specifically with me.”
Unrelenting was another trait the lions had in abundance. Hayder seemed bound and determined to have her agree to become his mate.
The question was, did she dare?
A long time ago, she’d thought she understood the choice. She’d messed up.
But admit it, you saw the signs. You just chose to ignore them.
Just like, for the moment, she had to ignore him in order to think.
As she closed the bedroom door, leaving Hayder—and the temptation he proved—behind, she leaned against the portal and couldn’t help flashing back.
Yes, she’d seen signs Harry had a darker side. His quick temper when things didn’t go his way. The rude and sexist remarks that she chose to ignore.
However, his true vicious streak didn’t emerge until he’d conned her into marrying him and then taken her back to the bosom of his pack.
The first slap because his bacon was overcooked proved a shocker. The first beating because she dared tell him she didn’t like his treatment even more so.
Please don’t hurt me.
A plea that shamed her and accomplished nothing.
But it was a reminder that she couldn’t trust her judgment. She shouldn’t rush.
And it was with those thoughts circling in her head that she fell asleep—and dropped into her nightmare.
Hayder paced Arabella’s living room. It killed him to know she was alone with her thoughts. He could see the turmoil in her, a turmoil he’d hoped to remove by asking her to be his mate.
Except she didn’t reply. She left him in limbo, wondering what she thought and felt.
Does she care for me?
He could swear she did. The recollection of how she’d melted in his arms by the waterfall quickly aroused him. For just a moment, he’d gotten a glimpse of the Arabella hidden within, the free spirit with a passion for life.
A passion for him.
She desired him. No doubt about it, but she was so damned scared he’d turn into a dick that she held back.
Give her time.
She was right when she said she barely knew him. Only days since they’d met. Enough time for him to jump into this mating with two damned feet and a hell yeah. She on the other hand, dragged her feet.
But she was coming around. Already the timid, trembling creature he’d first met showed signs of snapping out of her shell. He just needed to give her time.
Time alone, which meant him on the damned couch again—sad meow—with a freaking erection that wouldn’t go away.
Maybe he should try a cold shower? Or, even better, the cold reality of a ringing phone, which, when answered, released a barked, “Where the fuck are you?”
“On the couch. Where are you?”
“In my condo waiting for you to report.”
“Please, like you don’t know every single detail already. Besides, I needed to make sure Arabella was okay.”
“Yeah.” Physically maybe, but emotionally, they still had a ways to go.
“She’ll be fine here. Sic Luna on her while you pop up for a bit.”
“No. I’m going to take your advice and, instead of running to you all the time, start using the phone. Like right now. Hey, boss, this is your beta reporting in.” He resisted the urge to make a staticky sound and add, ‘Big Kitty out’. His code name when he used to work in the field before getting called to the pride to take over the duty of beta.
“Hayder, you are really tempting me to march down there and kick your ass.”
“But that would mean leaving Kira all alone, and so late at night. I know she goes to bed early. Do you really want to waste that much time when we could just hash it out on the phone?”
A sigh. “Fine. Lay it on me. I heard a few stories, but I want it from your perspective.”
“We were attacked.”
“I still can’t believe they dared!” The roared words practically vibrated the phone Hayder held against his ear.
“Yeah, you and me both. But the fact is the Lycan Council decided to paint a pretty big bull’s-eye on Arabella’s back.”
“A barbaric target that I can’t believe the Lycan Council even condoned,” Arik growled. “I’ve deposited a complaint with the High Council.”
But would that panel of sages reply in time to stop things from escalating further? At this point, it was war.
Lion against wolf. Things would get ugly unless…
“I’ve got a solution,” Hayder ventured.
“Kill them all and show them why you don’t mess with a Lion’s Pride.” The ladies downstairs would have cheered for sure, but Hayder saw the flaw in the plan.
“Good plan, except for all the blood and bodies.” In this modern age, making people disappear wasn’t as easy, not when government entities like the IRS came looking for them and cops had access to science to solve crimes. “Actually, I was thinking if Arabella wasn’t available then they’d have to stop their attacks.”
“You want to kill the girl? I thought you liked her.”
He snorted and rolled his eyes. “I do like her. And I was not implying I’d kill her. What is it with you and Arabella thinking that’s the only viable solution? I’m talking about claiming her.”
“You mean you want to marry the girl?” A sigh of relief. “Well, that makes more sense, if a tad drastic. Must you really resort to the ball and chain? Ouch.” A hand muffled the receiver, but Hayder still heard. “Calm down, mouse. I only meant it as a joke. I love being mated.” Arik laughed as Kira threatened him with wax strips. The hand over the mouthpiece shifted as Arik came back on the line. “Okay, so you marry the girl. Are we sure that will stop them? They could decide to kill you and take her.”
“Kill me?” Hayder snorted. “No need to be insulting.”
Arik chuckled. “Sorry. Couldn’t help myself. But more seriously, just claiming her might not be enough. Look at the depths they’ve gone to already. This is more than just one or two guys coming after Arabella. This is a group effort, and as such, we need to take more precautions, especially as they’ve infiltrated our territory.”
“Time to flush them out?”
“Yes. We need to make an example of those daring to think they can strike with impunity. We must show no mercy if we’re to prove our strength to the other packs and prides watching.”
For a few minutes, they discussed strategy. Basically, it boiled down to let the lionesses loose to have them track the wolves that didn’t belong to Jeoff. Then, so long as they didn’t get caught or leave any evidence behind, free rein to do as they pleased.
That was as far at they got. The finer details would have to wait. A whimper came from the bedroom.
This time Hayder was ready for it. “Gotta go.”
He hung up on Arik and tossed his phone on the couch before making a beeline for the bedroom. The door had been repaired while they were out, but it took only a firm kick to splinter the jamb and give him entry.
He didn’t waste time stripping, although he did shed his shoes before climbing into bed with Arabella. She thrashed under the sheets, her face drawn into a rictus of pain and terror, her breath panting and rife with mewls of panic.
Into his arms he drew her trembling body, holding her tight against him until the tremors in her eased. He brushed his lips across her brow and continued even once her breathing evened out.
He knew the moment she woke because she stiffened in his arms then relaxed.
“Expecting someone else?”
“Just making sure since I’m not sneezing.”
He couldn’t help but laugh at her unexpected teasing words. “I told you the more time we spent together, the more you’d get adjusted.”
“Did you break the door again?”
“You shouldn’t have locked it.”
“Oh.” He’d never thought to check. “Oops?”
He loved her small laugh. “I better not get a bill.”
“Don’t worry. We have a maintenance crew as part of the amenities that come with the building. Some of the pride can get a little rambunctious, so repairs are pretty much a daily thing around here.”
She didn’t reply and several minutes passed. She remained in his arms, her warm body clad, once again, in only a thin T-shirt and panties. So little to separate. His own layer of clothes added a barrier. However, that didn’t stop the heat building between them.
How he needed her.
Time to work his wiles. “We should talk about the mating thing again. Essentially the pros.” Pro number one, she got him. Funny how he’d wager that same pro headed the top of the list for cons.
She sighed. “Can’t we just stay like this for a while?”
“You can have this forever if you just say the word.” Tenacious, that was him.
“How’s the word maybe?”
He blinked. His lion blinked. He mulled her reply and finally blurted out, “Maybe? That’s all I get?” A tad insulted? Try a truckload.
“I like you. A lot. But I’m scared. Scared of making the wrong choice again. Everything is moving so fast. I feel like I barely know you. And yet, at the same time, I feel like I’ve known you forever. A part of me wants to say yes. But…” She trailed off.
His turn to sigh. “But you need time.”
“I do, but I don’t know if I’ll get it. Not with the way the packs are after me.”
“They won’t get you. If you need time, then I’ll get you some damned time. I don’t want you to say yes because you feel like you have to. I want you to say yes because you want me.”
“I want you.” The admission made him utter a silent mental roar. “I just don’t know if I can handle forever yet.”
“Then let me give you a for-now.”
“What’s a for-now?”
He showed her, dipping his head until he could brush his lips across hers. Her breath caught. He kissed her again, this time keeping contact with her the entire embrace. With a soft sigh, her lips parted, and he tasted her, teased her, their tongues twining in a sinuous dance.
Her body arched against him, and he reveled in it. He slid his hand from where he’d stroked her back in slow circles down to her full bottom. Her breathing hitched as he slid his hand under the fabric and cupped the soft flesh within.
“We should stop now,” she murmured between kisses.
“Or you can trust me. Let me please you.”
His lips traveled from her sweet lips to the shell of her ear where he whispered, “No claiming. Just pleasure. Trust me, baby.”
“I want to trust you.”
“Then let me show you how it can be.” He tugged at her lobe with his teeth.
She gasped when Hayder kneaded the flesh of her ass, the flesh soft and silky. How he wanted to sink his teeth into it and nibble.
Mmm, thinking of nibbling, he couldn’t help but recall a perfect set of berries he’d tasted that afternoon.
Wanna taste again.
He rolled her onto her back and let his hands skim her shirt upward until they exposed her luscious breasts. With one hand, he cupped the perfect globe, his thumb brushing over the peak. It puckered in response, a hard nub begging for a suck. He dipped in for a taste.
He took her whole nipple and part of her breast in his mouth, tugging and sucking at it while soft cries panted past her lips.
No need to touch her between the thighs. He knew her cleft moistened. He could smell her musky arousal and feel the tremble of her legs as she reacted to his touch.
He nipped the tip of her nipple, and a shiver went through her. Another gentle nibble and she was clasping his head, moaning.
She wasn’t the only one who wanted to moan. His cock throbbed, begging to be let loose. But he’d made a promise. A promise he wasn’t sure he could keep if his cock went anywhere near her flesh.
This is about her. This is about showing her she can trust me and my word, no matter how hard it is.
And damn was it hard.
He let his hands roam her body as his mouth returned to capture her lips and soft cries. He tickled her delicate skin with the rough texture of his fingers. He rasped his digits along her taut nipples, she inhaled a sharp breath, and he smiled, even as he continued the embrace.
How responsive she was. So perfect.
Across the gentle rounding of her belly he stroked, moving ever downward, noting how her heart raced and the moment she held her breath when his fingers encountered the edge of her panties.
She froze as he dipped under the elastic and touched the curls on her mound.
“Do you want me to stop?” He would if she asked. He might die, though, if she did.
“Yes. No. I—I—”
Confusion reigned as her mind told her one thing while her body screamed another.
“Keep trusting me, baby. This is all about you. And only you.”
In reply, she dug her fingers into his shoulders and plastered her mouth against his. She kissed him. She inserted her tongue into his mouth and drew a groan.
For a moment, he let himself get distracted. He rolled his body atop hers, fully clothed. Her thighs spread wide to accommodate him, and he groaned again as he pressed his hidden arousal against her sex. Braced on his forearms, their lips melded, he rubbed against her, teasing strokes that even with them both clothed still titillated.
The friction was delicious. The aroma of her arousal decadent. The moisture that soaked her panties and then seeped through his jeans tempting.
Arabella mewled against his lips, her panting breath hot and erratic. She clung to him, her fingers digging into the muscles of his shoulders as her pleasure mounted.
Hers wasn’t the only pleasure cresting. He had to stop now, or he might not be able to keep his promise.
Tearing his mouth from hers, he reared up and spent a moment staring down at her. Lips swollen, cheeks flushed, eyes heavy with passion.
“You are so beautiful, baby,” he growled. The most beautiful woman he’d ever seen.
And she’s mine.
His to kiss. Touch. Taste.
Sliding back on the bed, he positioned himself so he knelt still between her legs but farther down. He felt her watching him as he tugged at her panties, dragging them down until they got caught around her knees, his body in the way. Fuck it.
It took but a simple wrench to rend the fabric and toss the scraps aside.
She gasped, but he was pleased to know it wasn’t in fear. Oh no. Anticipation and arousal were what made her chew at her bottom lip and made the flesh between her legs glisten with honey.