Nate wondered if he looked as sucker-punched as he felt. She’d pulled that stunt out of nowhere. All these months of fighting him, of demanding he accept their bond, and she was suddenly going to fall in line? Right. He’d believe that when he saw it. Tamsyn had called him every day from New York—she couldn’t shut him out if she tried.
Twelve hours of near-silence later, long after everyone else had left, he grit his teeth and handed her an ornament. “This is the last finished one.” Many had taken theirs home to complete.
“Thanks.” She hung it on her damn tree before jumping down from the branch on which she’d crouched. “I think it’ll look fabulous when it’s done, don’t you?” Without waiting for an answer, she turned to walk up the path to her door.
“Where are you going?” He barely kept the growl out of his voice.
She threw him a confused look. “It’s dark. I’m going to have a bath and dinner.”
He waited for the invitation to join her. It didn’t come. “Your parents aren’t back.”
“Oh, don’t worry.” A tight smile accompanied her words. “A few of my girlfriends are dropping by tonight.”
“Friends. Actually, do you mind not coming by at all?” she asked. “We can hardly talk girl-talk if we know you’re out here skulking.”
His temper wasn’t easily stoked. But it was smoking now. “Skulking?”
She gave him an airy wave. “You know what I mean. We’ll be fine. I even asked some of the other soldiers to swing past during their night watches. You should go do your own thing.” A few seconds later, her door shut behind her.
He didn’t move, rooted to the spot by pure disbelief. She’d told him to get lost. Nobody told him to get lost. Especially not his mate. He’d taken the first step up the path to her home when he felt someone walk out of the woods behind him. He turned to find Juanita. “What?” It was the leopard speaking.
“This is part of my night route.” She gave him a curious look. “What are you doing here?”
What kind of idiotic question was that? “Looking after my mate.”
Juanita scowled. “You’re on the eastern perimeter, Nate. If you wanted a change, you should’ve told Cian. We’ll have a gap there otherwise and you know we can’t afford to. Especially not with Solias King’s men sniffing around.”
He knew she was right. “Cian factors mates into the watch assignments.”
“Yeah, but you haven’t claimed Tammy. He probably thought you wanted some space from her—you’re getting more and more irritable.” Her tone was blunt. “Look, I’d take the eastern for you, but I’m pulling a double anyway and I’d prefer to stay close to home.”
There was nothing he could say to that. He was one of the most experienced soldiers in the pack, and as such, he had a job to do. “Don’t let anything happen to her.” It was half warning, half threat.
Juanita’s response was a raised eyebrow. “Tammy’s no cub. She can handle herself.”
TAMSYN PUT OUT THE SNACKS WITH TREMBLING HANDS. SHE couldn’t believe she’d “ignored” Nate all day. The act had stretched her nerves to screaming point, the compulsion to speak to him as powerful and as intrinsic as her heartbeat. She was obsessing over their parting words when the soft buzz of the doorbell sliced her thoughts in half.
Taking a deep breath, she opened the door. “Oh, it’s you.”
Juanita grinned. “I told you it would work.”
“He’s furious.” She looked over the other woman’s shoulder, hoping to see Nate. “I thought he was going to march up here and demand I—”
“Precisely.” Juanita put her hands on her hips and shook her head. “He’s used to demanding something from you and getting it.”
“Isn’t that what mates do?”
“Sure. But he’s being an ass about it. He’s not exactly meeting your demands, is he?”
Tamsyn scowled on Nate’s behalf. “You don’t—”
“Don’t you dare defend him,” Juanita ordered. “And don’t you back down, either. You’re just giving him a taste of his own medicine. This is what he’s been doing to you for over a year. Let him see how he likes it.”
It made sense, but Tamsyn wasn’t a soldier, to think of love like strategy. Her heart was that of a healer—gentle and easy to forgive. “He hates it.”
“Good.” The other woman grinned. “If you don’t allow him access to you anytime he wants to feed the animal’s need to be close to you, he’s going to get desperate sooner rather than later. Then he’ll jump you and, bang, we’ll all live happily ever after.”
Tamsyn nodded. She liked the idea of being jumped by a sexually hungry Nate. “If he doesn’t do it soon, I might attack him myself.” Her sensitivity to his proximity was getting worse, the mere sound of his voice enough to melt her to damp readiness.
Juanita grinned. “I give him a week.”
TWO NIGHTS LATER,TAMSYN DECIDEDJUANITA WAS A GENIUS. Nate was scowling at her from across the Pack Circle, such violent need in those midnight blue eyes that she could feel her stomach twist itself into a thousand knots.
“Stop staring at him,” she muttered noiselessly to herself. She hadn’t said much more than hello to him for the past forty-eight hours, but if she didn’t keep her eyes to herself, he’d figure out just how hard it was for her to maintain her distant air. She ached for him and the ache was a pulsing beat in every inch of her skin…and worse in lower, hotter places.