Authors: Eve Langlais
They’re nuts. All of them. Or high on catnip.
Something was obviously whacky about their enthusiasm. Even her old pack never planned for mayhem with such glee.
It was to an excited hum—and talk of nail-filing methods—that Hayder once again dragged her, this time toward the glass doors at the front of the building.
She tried one last-ditch protest. “We shouldn’t go out. We’ll order in.”
He halted. “You mean go back up to your condo where we’ll be alone, just you, and me, and”—he purred—“chow down on takeout Chinese food while we watch Indiana Jones?”
She couldn’t help but gape at him.
“Were you expecting me to say something else?”
“No. Of course not.” She stammered the words and blushed hot because she had, indeed, imagined a different ending to his sentence.
“Never fear, baby. We will make good use of that king-sized bed I spotted in the bedroom, after we come back from dinner. First, though, I need to see your face when you eat that brownie and then compare that expression to the one you’ll wear when I make you come the first time.”
Only cats were always graceful. She stumbled, right into his arms.
The speed at which his need to seduce Arabella came proved almost as fast as her sneezes every time she got near him.
A less vain man might have wanted something to soothe his bruised ego. Hayder merely took her allergy as a challenge.
We’ll look into getting those shots. The kind the doctor gives for severe allergies. Or I’ll invest in a tissue company. Hey, I bet Aunt Berna would make me some hankies.
What about fighting her allure instead?
The oddball thought hit him out of nowhere as he walked on the sidewalk, Arabella tucked into his side. Exactly why was he looking for solutions? What happened to living his life as he was currently? Where did this insane urge to give in to fate come from?
Look at the facts. He barely knew Arabella, and yet he was ready to jump, with his whole body, into the whole mating ring. What the hell?
This lack of control had to stop. Hayder was his own man. He’d make his own choices when it came to whom he settled down with. Feeling attracted and sorry for the she-wolf at his side wasn’t a good enough excuse to give up his lifestyle.
Especially since he’d probably quickly tire of her once the novelty of seduction was gone.
Yet this is the first time I’ve ever wanted to seduce a woman so badly.
This was also the first time a woman made him want to protect. Who did that pack think they were, terrorizing the girl and trying to force her into an unwanted claiming?
No one claims what is ours.
Would you stop that?
Hayder snapped back. It was certainties like the one his lion kept pushing that had Hayder all messed up. Even worse, by his actions and words, he was leading the girl on.
He couldn’t in fairness seduce her knowing he had no intention of settling down any time soon.
That’s what you think.
Lions perhaps couldn’t chuckle, but his certainly tried. It made a guy want to go pet a mouse just to antagonize his feline side.
The walk to the restaurant didn’t take long, but Hayder kept a close watch the entire way, from the circular driveway that led from the condo to the sidewalk on the street, to the shadowy alleys between buildings that could house any source of menace.
Alas, they made it to the restaurant unmolested. A shame. He did so enjoy a bit of sport before dinner.
Holding open the door to the restaurant, he finally let go of her hand, only so he could sweep his arm, gesturing for Arabella to enter.
It might have proven a lot more romantic had a minivan not chosen that moment to jump the curb and bump him in the hip, knocking him off balance. Then, the van, while still rolling, had its side door slide open. Arms emerged and snatched Arabella!
She squeaked, the panic in her eyes clear, the pleading expression aimed his way utterly heart rending. He might have kept his human skin—barely—but he still roared.
“Get your hands off her!”
The dumbfucks didn’t listen. The minivan bumped down off the curb, and the door slid shut, enclosing Arabella inside. The van gathered speed, but so did Hayder.
The van might have nudged him, but the forming bruise didn’t bother him as he pounded the pavement in hot pursuit.
Lucky him, the traffic prevented the van from just speeding off. Dodging cars in a game of
—which in the online version involved water, cars, and dogs—he closed the gap. Before the van could shoot into the open and take off, Hayder bunched his legs and pushed.
He soared, arms extended Superman style, and caught the roof rail for the van. Fingers clamped the track, securing him. He held on tight as the van swerved, his whole body swinging, his legs a pendulum.
When his body swung back, he took a moment to pull himself inch by inch on the rails until he’d heaved his body onto the roof of the moving vehicle.
Dimly, he heard the surprised shouts of onlookers and the honks of cars as the van dipped and cut across lanes of traffic, a frantic zigzag meant to dislodge him.
Like hell. He wasn’t going anywhere unless he had Arabella with him. Pulling himself even further forward, his hair streamed back from his head as the van finally found a clear spot and accelerated.
Muscles in his arms and shoulders bunched as he fought against the pull of the wind streaming over the roof. He stuck his head over the front edge and sported a ferocious upside-down grin as he surprised the driver of the vehicle and his passenger.
“Hello,” he mouthed. “It’s a fine day for a drive, don’t you think?”
Apparently they didn’t agree. They braked.
Good thing he’d expected it. His body flew forward, but he kept his grip on the rails, even if it wrenched his wrists.
His heavy body hit the hood of the van and left an impressive Hayder-sized dent. Since the van was stopped, probably not for long, Hayder didn’t waste time. He let go with one hand and punched the windshield.
It hurt. He might have broken a knuckle or two, which would take a few days to heal, but it was so worth the look on the guy’s face when Hayder reached through the fist-sized hole, grabbed him by the shirt, and yanked him forward, rapping his face off the glass. A few more tugs and smacks further shattered the glass. The abused windshield collapsed.
By this time, the driver was unconscious and no more fun to play with. However, his passenger, who’d spent a moment watching in stunned silence, now wanted to join in the fun.
“Want a turn? Give me just a second.” Banging the driver one last time off the steering wheel, Hayder released him before reaching in for the passenger.
Hayder snagged him with two hands and hauled him out onto the hood, even as a third guy tried to wiggle through the front seats to help his buddy.
A grin split Hayder’s lips. “You stay right there, my pudgy canine friend. I’ll be right back for you.”
First, though, Hayder stood and hauled his newest opponent to his feet. He shook him. “Who are you, and what do you want with Arabella?”
When the wolf—distinguishable by his stink—didn’t reply, Hayder head-butted him. His mother always did say he had a hard head, and he liked to put it to use.
“I asked you a question. Answer.”
This time the dog didn’t hold back. “I’m Davis from the Northern Lakes Pack.”
“Arabella’s old pack?”
“Are you and your buds the only ones hunting her?”
Hayder held him off the hood of the van and shook him, violently, until the wolf’s head whiplashed. “Answer me, you dumbfuck.”
“I’ll talk.” The boy stunk of fear. Not so brave when confronted with a real predator. “We’re not alone. The whole pack is here, plus some. Word has gotten out about her fortune and the challenge for alpha. There’s a bounty for whoever brings her back before the full moon.”
They’d placed a price on her head? Just how much money were they talking that these morons would risk so much to nab her?
Hayder dragged the boy close and made sure he had his full attention as he growled. “You tell your pack, and anyone else looking for her, that she’s staying with the pride. She’s ours now. And if you want her, you’ll have to go through us. You can find us at the condo, company headquarters, and the restaurant most days. If no one is there to kick your ass, then stick around. I know a couple felines who are looking to line their closets with fur before winter.”
With that invitation to tango, Hayder tossed the young wolf to the side. He had better things to do than waste his time with an unworthy opponent.
Such as chase down the assholes who thought they could drag his Arabella away.
It wasn’t just his lion that liked to hunt down prey.
He didn’t run, how undignified, especially when a firm stride would do. It wasn’t hard to follow the trail. The scent of wolf proved thick, the untenable aroma of her fear an urge to move faster.
He couldn’t spot them, and the minor foot traffic on the sidewalk was not enough to hide. They must have entered a building or alley. Rather than searching all of them, he let his nose do its job. Big breath in.
Filter the smells.
There, up the sidewalk a few more storefronts then into an arcade. The wolves that dragged her probably hoped to hide their scent and sneak out the back. Except Hayder knew this place. He knew where the door to the alley was, thus, when the steel door swung open, he stood there, arms crossed waiting for them.
“Shit, he’s here. Get back inside,” the chubby one grunted.
“Oh, don’t leave on my account. I insist you stay.” And to make sure they did, he kicked the door shut.
The two thugs backed away from him, the one who needed to invest in a treadmill holding Arabella, who hung limp in his grasp, before him as a shield.
She was alive. However, her eyes bore a resigned expression Hayder didn’t like at all. “Baby, are you all right? Did they hurt you?”
The answer was moot. At this point, he was going to punish them no matter what, violently. They’d done the unforgivable when they’d taken Arabella and scared her. However, if they’d actually hurt her, or if she cried…
We’ll make them wish their mother had a headache the night they were conceived.
Her reply emerged so soft he almost missed it. “I told you this would happen. They’ll never let me be free.”
How utterly convinced she seemed and miserable. Totally unacceptable.
“Don’t you dare take this without a fight,” he growled.
The chubby one should have spent more time on expanding his mind instead of his waistline because he showed no sense at all when he said, “Bella here knows her place, and after the next full moon, it will be on her knees, serving the new alpha of the pack.”
Hayder didn’t even think twice about it. His fist shot out, and it connected to the idiot’s nose with a satisfying crunch, and that left one wolf. An even dumber wolf that seemed to think the switchblade he’d pulled out of a pocket and waved around would really make a difference.
“Are you stupid enough to think you can take me with that puny knife?” Hayder couldn’t stem the incredulity in his query.
“Stay back, cat, or else. It’s silver.”
Silver, which meant painful if he got sliced with it. Harder to heal, too. But a three-inch blade wasn’t going to keep Hayder away from his woman.
As beta, though, he did try to give the idiot a chance. Show patience before acting, or so he’d been taught as part of those anger management courses Leo made him take. Hayder employed one of the tricks to control impulsive acts. He counted. “Three.”
“I’ll cut you.” Slash. Slash. The knifeman sketched lines in the air.
“I mean it.”
“One. You’re dead.” Hayder took a step forward even as the last dumb wolf took a step back, one hand clamped around Arabella’s arm.
Lightning fast, Hayder shot a hand out to grab the wrist of the guy wielding the knife. This fellow had slightly faster reflexes than his pack brothers and actually managed to score a line of red across his palm.
The blood didn’t bother Hayder. ’Twas but a scratch.
However, the coppery scent did something to Arabella.
Up snapped her head. Her nostrils flared. Her brown eyes took on a wildness. Her lips pulled back in a snarl.
“Don’t. Touch. Him!” With a screech, she turned on her captor and then proceeded to go rabid on his ass.
So not cool.
How dare Hayder ignore her wishes, not that she protested much aloud. True to habit, Arabella kept quiet as she sat tucked in the restaurant booth. Her only concession to her displeasure? A lower lip jutting in a pout.
The small moue of defiance had an audience since she didn’t sit alone. Hayder lounged across from her on the bench. The maître d’ had seated them in a booth that was much too large for the pair of them. It was private too.
Intimate as well with the flickering candle on the table that cocooned them in a pocket of warm light. Thinking of warm… The U-shaped leather seat proved chilly against her bottom and did nothing to temper her mood that wavered between bemused and sulking.
Bemused because, while she couldn’t remember much of what happened, she did recall Hayder having to drag her off Jim, the pig who had once elucidated, in great detail, the disgusting things he’d do to her when she was his mate. But knowing Jim’s intentions wasn’t what turned her into an out-of-control wild woman. No, her temporary snap was all because of the smug lion across from her.
Jim had made Hayder bleed, nothing life threatening as wounds went, and yet something in her snapped.
How dare Jim hurt him!
Odd how the injury to another precipitated her to action, and yet, when people offered her violence, she tucked her head and took it.
Why can’t I stand up for myself?
Perhaps her act today would prompt her to fight more.
I fought and won.
Won, even if she had no idea how.
Hayder didn’t seem to question the how. Once he’d dragged her away, screaming and threatening vile injury to Jim’s manparts, Hayder swung her around with an exuberant whoop.
“You kicked ass, baby. I knew there was a wild woman hiding in there. And I’ll bet you worked up an appetite.”
She did hunger—Arabella wasn’t a girl to skip meals—but the attempted kidnapping had made something very clear. It wasn’t safe out in public, and she pointed that out. “I told you it was dangerous out here,” she accused, still riding high on the exhilaration from the fight.
“I was there to protect you, and given I had to drag you off that guy, who I’m pretty sure will require a few stitches, you know how to defend yourself.”
A first. She didn’t know what had come over her. She smelled blood, Hayder’s to be exact, and lost her freaking mind. Literally.
And I liked it.
But that one act was an aberration. She couldn’t count on surprise and adrenaline to protect her again, and her old pack would try again, of that she was certain. “You should have just let them take me. They’re never going to stop.”
“Letting them take you isn’t an option.”
“Because of your promise to Jeoff.”
“No, because I wouldn’t let those pricks take anyone, especially given their intention to force a mating.”
Why did his generic reply depress? “By protecting me, though, you’re putting yourself in danger.”
“Bah.” He scoffed. “What danger?”
She blinked. “Did you bang your head? Or don’t you recall what just happened? They ran into you with their van, kidnapped me off the street, then tried to kill you by flinging you off. Oh, and then they tried to knife you.” She couldn’t help but almost yell her reply, still in shock over his actions.
Again, a derisive noise escaped him. “Ha. You call that danger? I see it more as sport. And just so you know, even if they had managed to fling me off, they wouldn’t have gotten far. The pride owns this town. You didn’t seriously think I was the only one watching, did you? The hunters from the pride were shadowing us every step of the way.”
“What hunters? I didn’t see anyone.”
“You weren’t supposed to.”
Leaving the unconscious wolves in the alley, he’d tucked her hand into the crook of his arm, ignored her hat trick of a sneeze, and dragged her out onto the sidewalk. Once there, he pointed and cheerfully announced, “There’s Luna and Zena pretending to window shop. In that car over there, the bright red one with the blonde behind the wheel, that’s Stacy. I’m pretty sure Melly is on the rooftop cursing me out for ruining her fun. She does so love to swoop in and kick some tail. Personally, I think she watched one too many Batman movies as a child. At least she stopped wearing the damned leather suit the last time her lioness got tangled in it.”
To the inane rendition of his pride’s characteristics and embarrassing stunts, Hayder walked them a few blocks to the restaurant, A Lion’s Pride, a steakhouse chain owned by none other than Hayder’s alpha.
Despite her feeble protest they should go back to the condo—even more feeble once she smelled the heavenly aroma of charred meat wafting—he soon had her ushered into a booth and told the waiter to, “Get us some of your finest champagne. Arabella, here, just kicked some serious ass, and that is cause for celebration.”
She just about groaned. Great, he wanted to celebrate an act that would probably come back to beat her when Jim and others from the pack caught up to her again.
What was I thinking?
She knew better than to retaliate. Defiance hurt more in the end than the brief pleasure of fighting back.
Add to that Hayder’s open taunt to attack and she harbored no doubt her old pack would come hunting for her again. They’d keep coming and coming until they got her back to the bosom of the pack. Then, they’d make her pay before she died.
“You’ve got that look again,” Hayder announced as he snapped his fingers in front of her eyes.
“What look?” she mumbled as she stared at the polished wood grain of the table. No tablecloths adorned the surface, just pure wood that really couldn’t hold her attention away from the man across from her.
“That look that says woe is me I’ve given up. It’s not a good look.”
“Why do you care?”
“Because isn’t an answer.” The words left her mouth, and she didn’t have time to be horrified by her rebuttal as his laughter washed over her.
“Well, that’s a little better. You should let that spirit of yours out more often.”
Arabella would love to let her out, but she was buried so deep she doubted she’d ever manage to coax her into daylight again.
Idly she traced her name on the surface of the table, something to stare at instead of him. “I don’t understand you.” She didn’t. How dissimilar he was to the men she’d grown accustomed to. In some ways, he reminded her of her brother, Jeoff.
Except I never wanted to kiss my brother.
“But isn’t the not understanding what makes me all the more intriguing? Just think, I’m like a mystery gift, baby, one you can unwrap anytime. Preferably with your lips and teeth.”
Outrageous words, but her body was the one displaying the even more shocking reaction. The blatant flirtation caused a chain reaction. She could no more help the tightening of her nipples into hard points than she could hide the heat surely coloring her cheeks.
“I don’t know how you can be so flippant.” Or say such dirty things.
Say them again.
“If I say ‘because’ again, will you get rough with me? I have a four-poster bed and plenty of neckties.” He winked.
Rendered speechless, and all because she couldn’t help a mental image of him spread-eagle on a bed, wearing much less clothing. Then again, why would he wear clothes when he could wear a naked Arabella?
Focus. Focus on something other than him. Ignore the hormones that, repressed for so long, burst in a tidal wave of awareness.
She had to snap out of it. Control herself. She couldn’t go lusting after every hot guy she met now that Harry was gone. Her lonely body—with its cobwebbed memory of sensual pleasures—would have to wait until she was able to live out in the open, a mistress of her own choices. Mistress of her own body.
Even if his mastery of it would rock my world.
Sigh. There was no helping it.
Or ignoring him.
“I can see you’re seriously thinking about it. Why not make it a reality? We could be at the condo in less than five minutes.”
The determined glint in his eyes said it might even take only four minutes. Three if he really pushed it.
She was almost tempted to tell him she’d time him to see. Thankfully, common sense—also known as the chastity belt to her sex life—made her say, “I won’t get involved with you.”
“Is your answer because of your allergies? Because I’m willing to ignore them.”
“My allergies are a good reason, but not the biggest one. Getting involved with me is too dangerous and—” Forget finishing that sentence.
Hayder moved too fast for her to stop him, especially considering he did the unexpected. He shut her up with a kiss!
A fist or a slap, even a kick, with those she’d come to recognize the warning signs and knew how to brace against them. But Hayder showed no sign of his intentions, unless the intensity in his amber eyes meant something. Around the leather bench he slid, as if it were buttered, until he invaded her space and claimed her next word with his lips.
He silenced her with a kiss. A beautiful, soft, sexy, and sensual kiss. Even more astonishing than the heated pleasure of his touch, she did nothing to stop him.
From the moment he plastered his lips to hers, she stopped thinking. There was only one thing that mattered. More. More of him. More of this.
In that moment, right and wrong ceased to exist. Danger and unsuitability, even allergies, took a back seat to the electric slide of his mouth, coaxing her lips apart, sucking on them until they throbbed.
With expert skill, he brought her senses alive, holding her in his arms while tugging at her bottom lip with his teeth.
It wasn’t enough.
I want more.
So did he. He dragged her onto his lap, or did she crawl onto it? Did it matter? It brought them closer. The heat of his body merging with her own. The irritating chafe and titillation of having body parts, still clothed, rubbing against each other.
How much nicer if those layers would disappear. Then they could press against one another, skin to skin.
Alas, for now, only their mouths joined and their breaths mingled. Soft sounds blended, and his essence surrounded her.
A presence intruded.
The interruption was met with a menacing growl, a low rumble that shook the ribs.
Arabella whipped around and bared her teeth so fast it took her a moment to even realize it had happened. A menacing tightness to her eyes and her lip pulled back in a snarl, she eyed the interrupter.
The waiter, a tiger by the smell, didn’t bat an eyelid. “Your champagne, ma’am.”
“You can take your champagne and—” She almost said shove it into a place where the sun never shone.
She shouldn’t have thought it, let alone begun saying it.
A good thing she was already seated or she might have fallen over in astonishment. What was happening to her?
Why was she so mad at the waiter? So very, very mad.
She tried to stifle it as she stared blankly at the offered bottle and glasses.
Throw them at his head.
She knew that insidious whisper. But she didn’t reply. She was too busy clenching her hands so as to not act.
Hayder planted a kiss on her neck. Through her whole body shiver, she heard him say, “Just put the stuff on the table, bud. And next time, don’t sneak up on my baby here when she’s busy. She might look sweet on the outside, but she’s got a vicious core, and she will hurt you.”
He said it teasingly, and she might have thought he mocked her, except a part of her agreed with his words. She wasn’t pleased at all at the interruption, and she still wanted to snap at the waiter.
Even if I should be thanking him.
He’d interrupted a moment of madness. Now, with clarity returning, she could analyze what had happened and allow herself to be properly horrified.
She shouldn’t be kissing Hayder in a public restaurant. Hell, she shouldn’t be kissing him at all. She barely knew him. She was only a job for him. He didn’t care for her. His only reason for being with her was for protection. And what about her allergies? What about them? She’d not sneezed once during their kiss. Maybe—
Nope. Not gone. While they might have remained quiescent for a moment while they kissed, they still lurked, ready to go off without notice. Further proof of why she should keep her distance.
However, Hayder apparently didn’t know how to take a hint. The idiot cat didn’t move. She aimed her next exhalation his way.
Take that, personal space invader.
“Done?” he asked with an arched brow.
“No, so you’d better move.”
“You know, baby, there are other ways of marking me with your scent.”
With another growl, this time an intentional one, she slid off his lap and wiggled around on the slippery seat, giving herself as much space as possible.