A grunt and he deigned to get up. Kissing her as she rose to her feet, too, he zipped up his pants. His shirt continued to hang open - from the look in his eye, he was more interested in watching her button up her own. "Shooting practice with Dorian?" he asked after she'd finished.
"He says I'm getting really good." Though that didn't make up for what Enrique had done to her, what he'd stolen, it helped to know she could still defend herself, as well as protect those who mattered to her.
"Hey." Her mate stroked her hair off her face. "No being sad. I can't handle it."
She knew he was speaking literally. He continued to find it difficult to process certain emotions, but he was learning. "I just" - she gripped his waist with one hand - "I just wish I could go wolf again." But then she smiled and it was real. "I'm happy and strong now, but I'll always miss that part of me. As you miss the Net." He never complained about the loss but she was beginning to understand the depth of what he'd given up to save his family. It must have felt like cutting off a limb.
He kissed her. "You're the sexiest wolf I know." A pulse of love came down the mating bond. It was rich and unashamed and it exploded in her like a bomb.
She was about to reply when her claws sliced out, drawing Judd's blood. She jerked back. "Oh, God, I'm so s - !" Everything disappeared in a familiar burst of searing agony and endless ecstasy, her cells changing on a level that was emphatically changeling.
Judd froze as the world dissolved into a multicolored shimmer around Brenna. Shifting was something he'd witnessed with other wolves, but this was different in the most fundamental way. This was his mate. He could feel what was happening to her as if it were taking place in his own body. Sheer torment and excruciating bliss, an exquisite mix unlike anything he'd ever before experienced.
Seconds later, it was over. In front of him stood a sleek wolf with soft gray fur that beckoned touch. Without thinking, he went to his knees and stroked his hand over her neck, his eyes locked into those so intelligent and unique that they could only belong to Brenna - in spite of the fact that she'd shifted, her irises hadn't lost that flare of arctic blue.
She was the most beautiful thing he had ever seen.
Something came down the bond. Uncertainty. Fear. "What is it?" He thought rapidly. "You're perfect, beautiful," he reassured her. "No errors in the shift."
Laughter in his mind, joy. Pulling out of his hold, she loped across the clearing they had used for their play. He let her go, an odd sensation tightening his chest. He knew she needed her freedom, no matter that he ached to go with her.
She stopped at the edge of the clearing and looked over her shoulder. His mate might've changed form, but he could read her loud and clear. She was throwing down a challenge. Feeling a smile warm his whole body though only a hint reached his face, he rose. "You're on, Brenna Shane." The meeting could wait. The whole world could wait.
Brenna didn't cut him any slack, taking off through the trees like silver lightning. He ran after her, focusing his Tk into this simple exercise so he could fly alongside the gorgeous woman who was his mate.
The early evening turned to true night and still they ran, playing hide-and-seek with each other, trying to sneak up at times, kicking up fallen leaves just to watch them move. Simple play and the closest he had ever come to feeling like a child.
By the time she'd had enough, they had circled back to their original starting point. They were both breathing hard but energy flickered through the air. When she shifted this time, it was even more beautiful, because he could feel her joy from the start. She appeared from the sparkling motes, a lovely na**d woman with a huge smile cracking her face.
"Judd!" She threw open her arms and he bent down to lift her up. Her legs wrapped around his waist as he stood and she laughed. "I can shift!"
Spinning around with her in his arms, he kissed the side of her neck then planted his lips on her mouth. She kissed him back with wild abandon and under his hands, her skin was smooth and hot and welcoming. Skin privileges. Breaking the kiss, he drank in the sight of her happiness. "You are too damn gorgeous. In either form."
Her face filled with tenderness. "I was afraid you wouldn't...that you'd get freaked out at seeing me as a wolf. Then you told me I was perfect, that I had no 'errors.'" The last word was a tease.
He was incredibly glad his response had reassured her, even though he'd misunderstood the reason for her worry. "You are." He held her with one arm and ran the other over her thigh to curve around her bottom. "And you're naked."
Her eyes went huge. "My clothes!" She looked around as if expecting them to reappear by magic, though the shift process had disintegrated them. "What am I going to do?"
He felt his lips twitch.
She hit his shoulder with one small fist. "This is not funny!"
"I think you look delectable naked." He kissed her chin. "Of course, I'd have to kill anyone else who dared put their eyes on you."
"I can't walk through the den like this!" she wailed.
He'd noticed that - no matter how blase they were about nudity otherwise, the wolves followed strict rules in the den about being clothed. The pups were the single exception. "For such a smart wolf," he murmured against her lips, "you're betraying a distinct lack of logic."
"Logic?" She scowled but kissed him back.
"Mmm." He squeezed her bottom. "Shift. Wear your fur." That was acceptable behavior. Soldiers often lost access to clothing and had to return in animal form.