"Unless you have some clothing to give me, yeah." He sounded entirely too comfortable with that fact.
"You can't enter a woman's bedroom naked." That wasn't acceptable behavior in any race.
"I was clothed when I entered ... in my fur." He was all golden eyes and gleaming skin above her, a male so beautiful that she wondered at his existence in the same world as her. "I can shift back if you'd like."
It was a dare. "Fine." She wasn't going to let him think he could get away with anything he wanted.
"Are you sure you want a jaguar in your room?"
"I think I already have one." But something in her wanted to see the change, the same something that knew Vaughn was beautiful, though she shouldn't have had the capacity to recognize male beauty.
"Don't move, Red."
The world turned into a rainbow-bright shimmer around her. She froze at the utterly unexpected sight. She'd thought the change would be painful for him, hadn't really expected him to do it. But nothing about this spoke of pain, only of awe.
A heartbeat later, the shimmer was gone and she found herself lying next to a jaguar who had very sharp teeth and eyes exactly like those of the man who'd occupied the space moments ago. She swallowed. She was Psy - she felt no fear. But it was practical to be on guard with something this lethal.
The jaguar opened its mouth and growled almost below the range of her hearing.
"Was that a question?" she ventured. "Because I don't speak jaguar." Where had that come from? It was a completely illogical statement - of course she didn't speak jaguar.
The jaguar lowered its head and nuzzled at her throat. Her heart threatened to rip through her skin and to the outside. "I'm stronger than this," she whispered, and forced herself to lift one hand around and over the jaguar's head until her fingers closed on the ruff of his neck. She tugged. He refused to move. She tugged again, harder. A growl that vibrated in her bones.
"Stop it, Vaughn."
Without warning, the fur disappeared from under her hands, the incredible softness shimmering into rainbow-bright sparks that ended with a na**d male above her. Her hand was now clenched in amber-gold strands of hair. "So you'll touch the cat, but not the man?"
"I was trying to get you to move." She didn't release his hair, found she couldn't. His scent was everywhere in the air, his skin golden and close enough to touch, his smile pure cat.
"Where would you like me to move, little darling?"
She knew he'd added the "little" on purpose. "Away from me."
"Are you sure?" His smile turned wicked. "If I move, you might see more than you bargained for."
"I know this kind of behavior isn't acceptable among leopards." Technically speaking, she knew no such thing. It merely seemed the sort of thing that ought to be true. "How would you like it if an unknown male came into your sister's bedroom in this manner?"
All amusement was suddenly wiped off his face. He went still, so completely still that it was as if he were made of stone. The part of her that had been deriving considerable intellectual stimulation from pitching her wit against his went silent, aware she'd awakened something very dangerous.
"Let go of my hair, Faith. And close your eyes. By the time you open them, I'll be gone."
She'd spent the past minutes trying to convince him to leave and now that he'd agreed, she found she didn't want him to go. For the first time, she was with someone who'd come to see her. Just her. Not Faith NightStar the F-Psy, but Faith, the individual apart from her gift.
"I am sorry," she said, hesitant. She knew nothing about changeling interaction, but she understood she'd caused him hurt. It had been part of her training to learn to recognize emotion in order to banish it. That was why she knew. It had nothing to do with the odd sensation in the vicinity of her heart. "If I offended you, I am sorry. I meant to ... play."
Vaughn was caught completely off guard by that last word. His muscles relaxed without his conscious control. "Changed your mind, Red?"
"I'm not sure." She released her hold on his hair, but then began to stroke through it. "You're nothing I've ever experienced. The rules don't cover situations such as this."
"The rules of Silence." Her fingers brushed the skin of his shoulders. She withdrew as if she'd been scalded, her hand dropping to lie against the pillow. "Why did my question offend you?"
Vaughn didn't talk about his past with anyone, but he found himself answering Faith - it was almost a compulsion, one neither man nor beast could fight. "My sister died when I was ten years old."
Skye had been so fragile, so weak at seven years of age that she hadn't been able to survive even in jaguar form.
He'd brought her food, given her everything he had, but Skye had given up fighting the instant she'd realized that their parents weren't going to come back for them. It was as if her soul had flown away and nothing he'd done had tempted her to return. She'd stopped eating, stopped drinking, and soon, she'd stopped breathing.
Vaughn had almost died then, too, because Skye had lived in his heart like no one else. She'd followed him around since before she could walk, a constant buzz of activity and energy. He hated his parents with a vengeance, but it wasn't because they'd abandoned him. No, it was because they'd broken Skye's heart.
"I can't understand what she meant to you," Faith said, her voice holding a quiet gentleness he'd never have expected from one of the Psy, "but I can guess. You mourn for her."
"Do you mourn for Marine?"