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Authors: Eve Langlais

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Chapter Ten

How long will Hayder agree to wait while I make up my mind?

The question followed her into sleep and was with her when she woke. Alone.

She should have celebrated the fact he respected her.

What a jerk.

This was one time she might not have minded a seduction, and that was what it would have been, seduction. Mutual desire erupting into volcanic pleasure.

How lovely.

Except it didn’t happen because the jerk had listened to her wishes. Hayder went away—every naked and yummy inch of him.

We should have made him ours.

The stray thought didn’t get analyzed, as a noise drew her attention. Heart pounding, she rolled to her side, only to freeze.

Gape.

She probably drooled a little, but she definitely didn’t blink. She didn’t dare close her eyes because the mirage might disappear.

In the doorway to the bathroom stood a half-naked Hayder. A gleaming, skin moist, wearing only a small towel clutched around his loins Hayder. Lightly tanned flesh and muscles with their own muscles delineated every inch of his body.

He was every woman’s fantasy, a walking temptation. A man who could have anyone he wanted, and yet, he appeared to want her. The proof was right there in the impressive tent at the front of his towel.

“Good morning, baby.” He practically purred the words as he approached, loose hipped and captivating.

She couldn’t swallow, let alone speak.

He crouched down, bringing himself eye level. “Cat got your tongue?” His eyes crinkled with mirth. “I don’t have it yet, but I plan to later. Hungry?”

Yes. So hungry. She would love a nibble on that succulent lower lip of his. Would totally go for a suck of his tongue. Or maybe a suck of something more substantial.

“Baby, when you look at me like that…” Hayder blew out a breath. “Damn, but you’ve got me all worked up. I don’t suppose you’ve changed your mind? It’s still early. Scooch over a little, and I’ll climb in with you. Then I can really show you a good morning.”

She opened her mouth. Why was she stalling? What was she afraid of? She already knew she’d find great pleasure in his touch. How could a moment of decadence hurt?

“Y—”

Bang
.
Bang
.
Bang
. “Arabella, it’s me. Open up.”

Forget what she’d been about to say. The arrival of her brother tossed a bucket of cold water on her.

“Are you fucking kidding me? I was this close,” Hayder muttered as he got to his feet and left the bedroom, still only wearing a teeny, tiny towel to greet her brother.

Eep!

Arabella scrambled off the bed, but she wasn’t quick enough getting out of the bedroom. She was in time, however, to hear, “Why you dirty fucking tom cat. How dare you seduce my sister!”

Smack
.

Thump
.

Rawr
.

Grrr
.

She leaned against the doorjamb as she watched Hayder, who’d lost his towel, and her brother, who wore a mighty scowl, rolling about on the floor in a flurry of fists and thrashing legs.

A rustle of movement drew her attention to the open condo door. A tousled blonde head peered in. “Everything okay?”

“I think so.”

Amber eyes followed the destructive path of the combatants. “Men. Can’t train them to behave inside and can’t teach them to not piss on the furniture.”

Arabella’s mouth rounded in an O of surprise. Surely she’d misheard. “Pee?”

“Only my ex-boyfriend ever actually did that. He’s the reason why I moved. Fucker would get drunk, break in through the window by the fire escape, and pee on my stuff. I’d get mad. He’d apologize. We’d have wild jungle sex, and then I’d kick him out and tell him to never talk to me again.”

Still couldn’t fathom the logic. “You had sex with a guy who peed on your couch?”

“Less the couch, more like the kitchen chair, so nothing I couldn’t wipe up. And the worst part is the bastard would wait for me to wake up. I’d wander into the kitchen all oblivious like, totally in the buff, usually to find him munching one of my homemade cookies.” The crazy blonde’s brows shot up in an Aha moment. “Hey, wait a second. I wonder if that’s why he got wasted so often?”

She’d just clued in. “He was after no-strings sex.”

“I was actually talking about the cookies, but I think your explanation is more plausible.”

Unlike this conversation. Arabella wondered if she’d somehow gotten transported to an alternate dimension. Where else would she converse about peeing ex-boyfriends while dressed in nothing more than a T-shirt and underwear while Hayder and Jeoff exchanged blows? Although those were less punches now and more a grunting struggle as they tired.

“I’m Luna by the way,” the blonde in her doorway said with a wave and a bright smile.

“And I’m Arabella.”

“I know who you are. Everyone does. The whole tower is abuzz about you and why you’re here.”

“I’m here because of the danger I’m in from my old pack. A danger that has apparently followed me here. Sorry about that.” The people Arabella had met so far seemed rather nice, and she hated she’d brought her violent baggage and disturbed them.

Luna’s freckled nose wrinkled. “What are you apologizing for? We’re all excited about the chance to whoop some wolf butt. I was talking about the other thing we’re buzzing about.”

“What other thing?”

Luna rolled her eyes. “You know.
The thing
. You. Him.” Luna made a squeaky noise as she poked a finger through a ring she made with her other hand.

Arabella’s eyes widened. Was she implying…? “Oh no. We haven’t— That is we’re not— He’s just here to protect me.”

“Protect you from what, the clothing police?” Luna shot a pointed glance at Hayder, who currently sat on top of the struggle, bare ass exposed for anyone to see.

Grrrr
.

Arabella didn’t even notice she’d stepped in front of Luna, blocking her view, until the other girl chuckled. “Seriously. No one will say anything about the fact you’re doing the tango with the pride’s beta. If we weren’t related, I’d probably make a play myself.”

“We are not involved.” Only because they’d gotten interrupted.

“You mean you’re not knocking boots?”

Arabella shook her head.

“Why not?”

“Because I’m not ready.”

“Oh. I get it. He’s one of those selfish types. I’ve dated a few. It’s all about
them.
Their idea of foreplay is sticking it in you in the alley without a few licks first. Don’t they realize a girl needs a little tongue action?”

“Um, I wasn’t talking about foreplay.” Just saying the word had her blushing. “I meant I wasn’t ready emotionally.”

Luna seemed so disappointed.

Jeoff, on the other hand, was ecstatic. He paused in his slamming of Hayder’s head to say, “You mean this cat hasn’t debauched you?”

Arabella shook her head again.

And things might have been okay if Hayder just didn’t have to add, “Yet.”

The renewed fight might have gone on for another while if a giant of a man, without knocking, hadn’t strode in, taken one look at the situation, and stopped it.

The slamming of Jeoff and Hayder’s heads together might not have been the nicest way to halt the fight, but it sure proved effective.

“Enough,” the big man rumbled.

Both rubbing sore noggins, Hayder and her brother seemed agreed.

The giant tossed a bundle at Hayder, who caught it one-handed.

“You. Get some clothes on before antagonizing Jeoff again.”

“And then get out,” Jeoff added. “I don’t want you near my sister.”

“You can’t make me stay away,” taunted Hayder.

“But I can make it so you both can’t talk,” the big fellow threatened.

“Spoilsport.” Hayder muttered the word under his breath as he took his clothing and left.

Luna left, too, with a cheery, “Thanks for the morning entertainment. That provided a better jolt than a cup of espresso.”

Then it was just Arabella, her brother, and the really, really big man, who had just turned his gaze on her.

Given his threats and violent solution, Arabella should have been quaking. At the very least staring at her toes lest she incur his wrath. But the gentlest blue eyes caught hers, and his tone was soft and soothing when he addressed her.

“You must be Arabella. I’m Leo, the pride’s omega.”

“More like enforcer,” Jeoff muttered, still rubbing his head.

“If you behave, then I don’t have to resort to my methods.”

“He started it,” Jeoff accused, pointing at finger at Hayder, who emerged from the bedroom clad in low-hipped jeans that hugged his corded thighs and a soft T-shirt that clung to his chest.

“Hey, it’s not my fault you jumped to the wrong conclusion when I answered the door.”

“What else was I to think? You’re in my sister’s condo wearing only a rag.”

“Protecting her.”

“The same way you protected her last night when you took her out and flaunted her?”

“I took her to dinner.”

“What the hell do you mean you took her out to dinner? You put my baby sister in danger.”

“She wasn’t in danger.”

“They snatched her off the street!”

“And I got her back.”

The men glared at each, toe-to-toe, bodies bristling.

Leo, who’d seated himself on a stool by the kitchen island, cleared his throat. “Don’t make me get off this stool.” The tension remained, but the impending violence moved down a few notches. Seeming satisfied, Leo turned to her. “Coffee?” He addressed that to Arabella, holding out a cup he’d brewed from the machine on the counter.

With a wary look at both Hayder and her brother, she went toward him but then almost scalded herself when Hayder barked, “Baby, where are your pants?”

Oh yeah. She peeked down at her bare legs. To his credit, Leo didn’t, but he did smile. “How about I add some sugar and milk to this while you find some pants? You look like you need something sweet.”

She couldn’t help but return his smile. “Yes, please.”

Still ignoring the other two men, she stepped past them to the bedroom, where she scrounged in a drawer for pants. As she dressed, she listened to the arguing.

“She’s leaving with me.” Her brother hadn’t relented.

Neither did Hayder. “Wrong. Arabella isn’t going anywhere.”

Ouch. She knew her brother wouldn’t like that. She was right.

“Excuse me? You don’t get a say. She’s my sister, my responsibility. I’m taking her.”

Arabella stepped back into the living room. “What of the danger though, Jeoff? The pack is in town, and they’re looking for me.”

“We’ll figure something out.”

“We already have. She’ll stay here with me where she’s safe.” Hayder crossed his arms over his impressive chest, looking much too determined—and sexy.

A certain brother wasn’t impressed. “As safe as she was last night?”

Hayder rolled his eyes. “Oh please. What part of ‘we had the situation under control’ can you not grasp? Leo, tell the wolf that Arabella was never in any danger.”

“I don’t lie to my friends,” Leo said as he re-handed Arabella her coffee. She took a sip of the hot brew and sighed as she listened to the arguing. When Leo patted the stool beside him, she hopped on.

For such a big man, he offered a strangely calming effect. On her at least.  Hayder and Jeoff, on the other hand, just couldn’t stem their tirade.

“I was wrong to stick her here. So you can forget I asked.”

“Too late. She’s part of the pride now.”

“She’s a wolf, or have you forgotten? She belongs with her own kind.” Jeoff crooked his finger at her and inclined his head to the door. Arabella didn’t move, more because Hayder’s next words froze her.

“She belongs with me. Arabella is my mate.”

Chapter Eleven

As conversation stoppers went, it was a good one. The words, ‘my mate’, hung in the air, and it took a moment for Jeoff and Arabella to explode.

“Hell no!” the wolf yelled.

“No I’m not,” Arabella added.

“I think I arrived just in time,” Leo announced a second before he grabbed a swinging Jeoff. Leo plopped Arabella’s brother onto the couch. “Stay or I’ll sit on you.”

A wise man—some of the time—Jeoff didn’t budge.

“You were told,” Hayder taunted.

“Don’t make me duct tape your mouth again.” Count on Leo to take the wind out of Hayder’s sail.

Few people argued with the massive man. Nor did anyone ever tell him to leave, even if Hayder really wished both Leo and Jeoff would go so he could resume the interesting moment he’d shared with Arabella just before all hell broke loose.

Alas, judging by Arabella’s guarded expression, that sensual moment was gone. He’d have to find another way to recapture it.

But first he needed to convince Jeoff to let her stay, as well as get Leo to depart—without enforcing an omega-calming moment—and have Arabella lose the rounded shoulders as they fought over her.

Poor baby. How overwhelming this must be for her. How upsetting. And partially his fault.

Shit.

Ignoring the others, Hayder dropped to his knees in front of her. “I’m sorry, baby. Don’t get upset. I promise to behave. After all, it’s normal your brother would want to protect you, and I shouldn’t have beaten the hell out of him for it.”

“I think it was the other way around, cat,” Jeoff muttered.

“Shhh!” Leo said in a loud whisper. “He’s apologizing. Don’t ruin it.”

Arabella’s gaze briefly met Hayder’s. “It’s okay.”

“No, it’s obviously not. I can see you’re disturbed. You know I didn’t mean for that to happen. I never meant to upset you.”

“I’m not upset about the fight.” Her lips twitched into a small smile. “Boys will be boys, my mom used to say. I’m just sorry to cause all this trouble. Jeoff’s right. I shouldn’t be here.”

“Ha. Told you so.” Jeoff crowed in triumph.

“And I shouldn’t be with his pack either. With this danger hanging over me, I should flee the country and keep my problems away from all of you.”

Leave? He meant to say no, but his lion spoke first. More like rawr-ed.

And in reply? She sneezed. A few times as a matter of fact.

“What’s wrong with you?” Jeoff asked his sister.

“Stupid allergies,” she grumbled.

Jeoff snickered. “You still suffering from those? That’s hilarious. And yet the cat thinks you’re true mates?”

“She’s mine, and a little sneeze and spit won’t change that.”

“Is he completely insane?” Jeoff muttered.

“Utterly, but the doctors say he’s not a danger to himself or the pride. But I wouldn’t push him. And given these two are talking about the future, a future that isn’t ours to decide, we should leave them to work things out,” Leo politely suggested.

“But—”

Jeoff never got a chance to finish that thought because Leo had spoken. And when Leo spoke, he acted.

“No buts. You. Come.” Leo grabbed a hold of Arabella’s brother, tossed him over a shoulder, and marched him out with a tossed, “Don’t you screw anything up with the girl. I’d hate to have to come back and teach you a lesson.”

Had to love Leo—and fear him when he decided to meddle or invite himself places. Although, if a person knew ahead of time he was coming, they doubled their grocery order.

No one wanted to see what would happen if the massive liger—a rare lion/tiger hybrid— ever got hungry. There were rumors about him from his time spent in the army. Rumors that Leo would neither deny nor confirm.

Bastard had the coolest, most mysterious reputation. And yeah, Hayder was totally jealous.

With privacy restored, Hayder turned back to Arabella to see her staring at her toes again.

It irritated him. “Stop it.”

“Stop what.”

“Stop with the beaten puppy look. You are strong. Hold your head up and show it.”

She held her head up all right and shot him a glare. “Would you stop telling me what to do and think?”

“No. Not until you tell me to shove it.”

“Shove it.”

“Louder.”

“Arrrrghhh!” She yelled as she dove on him and tumbled them both to the floor. It resulted in him flat on his back and her straddling him. Awesome.

“That’s more like it.”

She slapped his chest, not hard enough to hurt him, but enough to show her agitation. Better than her cowed expression. “You are utterly impossible to reason with.”

“Never feel like you have to placate me. Speak your mind. We might not always agree, but you should always state your opinion.”

“My opinion is you are too full of yourself.”

“I am, but if you’ll let me, I could make you full of myself.”

The innuendo struck gold or, in this case, red, as her cheeks changed color. Her scent changed as well, the musk of her arousal impossible to ignore.

Instead of giving in to her lust—sad meow—she clambered off him.

She then kept her distance from him as best she could as she made herself some breakfast—which he tried to steal from only once. She almost managed to stab him with her fork. After that he wisely left her bacon alone.

Just like he left her alone when she went for a shower.

Even bigger sad meow.

It was pure torture sitting in the living room, hearing the water running, knowing she stood under its slippery wetness, naked.

She’s naked. Without me.

It was enough to drive a lion rabid.

It also made a certain predator antsy. Filled with restless energy—and sexually frustrated—Hayder decided there was only one thing to do. Once she exited the bedroom, squeaky clean—
wanna dirty her
—dressed—
wanna strip her
—and ignoring him—
not for long
—he cornered her in the kitchen.

“Get ready.”

Bent over to put some plates in the dishwasher, doing it on purpose he was sure to torture him, she tossed him a look over her shoulder as she asked, “Get ready for what?”

Questioning was good. Not staring at her toes even better. “Does it matter?”

The newer, bolder Arabella narrowed her eyes with suspicion. “Of course it matters.”

“Too bad. It’s a surprise. You’ll have to trust me. Now get some shoes on and grab a jacket just in case. We’re going out for a while.”

Hair flew in silken strands as she shook her head. “Oh no we aren’t. Look what happened yesterday.”

“You had fun.”

The simple reply stumped her, but not for long. “Fun isn’t worth the possibility of yo—um, people getting hurt.”

She might have caught herself, but he could guess what she’d almost said. She worried about him. So cute. It made him want to—

Screw want. He acted.

He grabbed Arabella in a big hug, lifted her off her feet, and planted a big, noisy smooch on her lips.

She squeaked, much like a toy he’d owned as a child, but in her case, he didn’t tear her apart to find out where the sound came from. He gently set her back on her feet, even if his true impulse was to drag her into the bedroom and see how many different pitches of squeak he could get her to emit when he explored her body.

She opened her mouth, but he forestalled her with a quickly threatened, “Speak again and I’ll kiss you.”

“If you’re kissing me, then we’re not going out. So I guess I win.” She flung her taunt at him and crossed her arms, daring him to kiss her, tempting him to kiss, trying to get her way.

Utterly adorable.

But dangerous. If he stayed, he would seduce her, and he knew, while she acted brave now, it wasn’t what she wanted. She wanted time, and by the tuft on his tail, she’d get it, even if it almost killed him in the process.

“Baby, you have a wicked side. I like it.” He also liked the fact she couldn’t protest when he kissed her again as he toted her from the condo to the elevator. He liked that she wound her arms around his neck and growled menacingly enough that, when someone tried to board with them, they changed their mind, leaving them alone.

He kept kissing her, even as he stalked through the lobby, a victim of catcalls, and cat whistles.

Alas, the kissing had to stop once he plopped her into the passenger seat of his car. Driving was best accomplished with his eyes on the road and at least one hand on the wheel.

The other, though, laid claim to her thigh. To his pleasure, she didn’t remove it.

She did, however, start to talk again. “Where are we going?”

“You’ll soon see.”

“Jeoff won’t be happy you’re taking me out again.”

Like he cared what Jeoff thought. “Hiding you won’t make the problem go away. Best we draw your pursuers out in the open and take care of them before we let down our guard.”

“You mean you know they might try to follow us?”

He shrugged. “I would assume so. I’m sure they’ve got people watching the building now that they know where you are. While I don’t see anyone tailing us, that doesn’t mean they’re not there somewhere. But don’t worry. Any followers probably have a tail of their own. The pride is on the prowl.”

“Aren’t you worried someone might get hurt?”

“Don’t you dare imply the lionesses can’t take care of themselves. They’re liable to skin you alive. Literally. They’re partial to the furs of their enemies and, given their scarcity in recent decades, eager for any chance to get their hands on some.”

“You talk as if the women are equal and as strong as men.”

“They are. Sex doesn’t determine your ability to defend yourself.”

“It can make a difference, especially when it comes to size and strength.”

“Physically, yes. And if you are up against someone with no honor, you might be at a disadvantage. But in most cases, simply having the courage to assert your rights is enough to get the respect you deserve. Act like a doormat, and people will step on you. Act as if you have a right to strut, and people will get out of your way.”

“Easier said than done.”

“No one said it would be easy, but with practice, you’ll see it comes naturally. But enough deep discussion. It’s time for a little fun. We’re here.” Turning onto a narrowly paved driveway, lined with conifers that towered at least fifty feet or more, he brought them to a stop in front of a farmhouse, a mansion-sized one, but still a farmhouse.

The structure boasted numerous additions, giving it a unique appearance that had nothing to do with its sparkling white clapboard. The house with its red shutters and front door had belonged to the lions for generations. At one time, they’d lived in it, adding to it as the pride expanded.

Eventually, most of the gang moved to the city, jobs and amenities calling them to a different life, leaving behind only a few permanent keepers. The farm also provided refuge to visitors who enjoyed coming out to the country for a spot of fresh air, a chance to stretch their legs, and a safe spot to unleash their animal side, something they couldn’t do in the city.

“What is this place?” she asked as she exited his car and glanced around.

“A place where we can run wild without fear of prying eyes.”

“You mean shift.” For some reason the saddest expression darkened her features.

He didn’t understand. Most shifters were elated at the chance to have a place they could safely run without fear of discovery or hunters. “Yes, shift. We all know how our animal sides love a four-legged run, so Arik’s ancestors created this space for us. It’s the Lion’s Pride Ranch. Hundreds of acres of woods, fields, and even hills with a river running through it all. To the public eye, it’s the place we raise our beef for the restaurants. But in truth, it’s a safe zone for our kind.”

“Safe how? What makes it different from the national parks?”

“A couple of things. It’s enclosed by a fence, ten feet high, electrified and with barbed wire along the top to keep away outsiders. There are cameras monitoring the perimeter along with some pride members, who, I warn you, will take you down if you call them park rangers.” Especially if offered a picnic basket. Once again, Hayder spoke from experience.

“Why bring me here though? Even with all those security measures, surely we’re safer at the condo?”

“You’re with me, which makes you safe. But safety isn’t worth squat if you’re losing your mind. I thought, with all the stress you’ve been under, you could use an escape. A chance to run wild and free.”

Except the more he talked, the more she withdrew, the more she hunched in on herself. He reached out a hand, but she shied away.

“What is it, baby? What’s wrong?”

“We have to leave. Now.”

“Are you worried about your old pack attacking?”

“No. Please. We just need to go.”

“We’re not budging until you tell me why.”

BOOK: When a Beta Roars
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