Even as her eyes widened, the beast began to haze his brain with unforgiving sexual need. He wanted. And he was through with waiting. Faith was his mate. It was his right to take her. He'd angled his head to claim a savage kiss when out of nowhere, something else kicked in - the protective instincts that would never allow him to harm her. And if he took her now, he might even break her.
Shaken into civilized thought by that unforgiving truth, he forced himself to do the hardest thing he'd ever done. He took a step back. "I might hurt you if we do this." He was too much on edge, too hungry, too damn strong to chance a loss of control while in the grip of passion.
He watched her swallow and the cat wanted to lick at her neck, to hold her pulse in its mouth and feel the power of her heartbeat. It was about sex, not pain. The thought of abusing her was abhorrent to him, but he was afraid of caving in to the violent need of the beast and losing his capacity for rational thought. And when he rose from the animal hunger, he might find that his claws had permanently marred Faith's skin, that he'd bitten and cut. The possibility terrified him as nothing else had ever terrified him.
"Vaughn," she said, "it's okay. I know you won't hurt me. It's my conditioning and the impact it might have that we have to worry about."
"I could rip you to pieces if the cat takes over. I won't think I'm hurting you, but I will be." His voice held the thickness of a growl - his beast might have saved his life as a child, but the payment it demanded was being a greater part of his consciousness. "I want you too much, so much that I might damage you without meaning to."
Faith didn't move any closer. Instead, she stood watching him, studying him with those night-sky eyes that seemed to shimmer in the dim light of this cavern he called home, which seemed to soothe her. It had surprised him when he'd picked up the signs of relaxation, but now he was glad. At least she could feel safe in this place. His place. He'd never steal that feeling from her by using it as a trap to maul her.
"The longer we wait," she said, her voice that of the most practical Psy, but her eyes holding the first flicker of lightning, "the worse it's going to get. It's become clear to me that you need touch and I haven't been giving it to you."
He knew that. "If I'm not tied down, I can't trust myself." It was an offhand comment that hid his very real frustration. To be close enough to touch, but be barred from doing so, caused excruciating pain.
"Then let's tie you down."
Cat and man both went absolutely motionless. "What?"
Her cheeks held the faintest hints of pink. "Maybe it would help me, too, if I knew I could walk away at any time. The backlash from the conditioning might not be as bad."
"Tie me down?" he asked again.
"It was only a suggestion. I'm sorry if I offended you."
He scowled. "I'm not offended. But I don't want to be powerless to defend you if something happens."
"Your reflexes are much faster than those of any other creature I've ever seen. I'll put a knife or knives within reach. You could grab them and cut the bindings free if necessary."
"I tell you I'm dangerous and you want to put knives near me?"
"Vaughn, you're scared you'll hurt me because you want me so much." Psy logic combined with enticing hints of feminine temper. "Unless you've been hiding something, using knives on me is hardly likely to arouse you."
She was right. He wasn't afraid of harming her on purpose, but doing so in the midst of claiming her, tasting her, sliding into the tight sheath of her body.
"Stop that," she whispered, "if you're not going to... play--"
He caught the use of the changeling word, caught the rich musk of female desire. And remembered that he wouldn't be helpless to seduce her even if he was tied down. Moving to the side of the room, he pulled out an old shirt from a trunk and used his claws to slice the material into strips. "I'm in your hands, Red." Claws retracted, he passed her the strips.
She blushed, eyes tracking him as he placed several weapons in easily reachable positions around the bed. "Tie my legs down, too," he ordered, blindingly aware of the ways he could harm her with the strong muscles that made him one of the predators.
Eyes wide, she nodded. "Vaughn?"
"If I can't finish this, will it hurt you?"
"Hell, yeah. But my balls turning blue won't kill me. So don't worry about it. When you can't handle it, get up and get the hell out. If I look like I've gone cat, lock the door behind you and take the car. Hyperspeed." He showed her the keys. "Car's in the left cavern as you enter. Do you remember the way out? You have to follow it without deviation or you'll set off the defenses."
Oddly, there was no fear in her scent. "My memory's highly trained. Don't worry about me being caught in a trap."
He had a sudden thought. "Did you see this in a vision?"
"N-no!" Her Psy facade cracked. "I've never seen anything this pleasurable." Night-sky eyes went to his hands as he pulled off his jeans and threw them aside. Her intense focus made his already painful erection pound in echo with his heartbeat.
"How do you know it'll be pleasurable?" He got on the bed and lay down.
Breath a whisper, she came closer and tied one wrist to the headboard. The cat growled but didn't try to make him wrench free.
"Because just looking at you gives me the most extreme pleasure I've ever felt."
"Christ, baby, tie me up before you start talking like that." He wasn't joking. He knew his beast, knew its limits, knew its demands.