“Here.” She reached out, picked up a muffin from a tin, and gave it to him. “I made them for the kids.”
He bit into it. “Good thing I got here first.”
TAMSYN LEFT THE ROOM TO THE SOUND OF NATE’S chuckle. The knives of pain inside her stabbed with brutal force, but she kept her composure until she heard him leave the house. Then she sat down on her bed and cried. The tears weren’t of frustration or simple hurt. They were the shattered cries of a broken heart.
Juanita had been wrong. The mating heat might have forced Nate into wanting her, but he didn’t actually see her as a sexual, desirable woman. He saw her as comfortable…practical. Warm, loyal Tamsyn. If the bond hadn’t thrown them together, he’d probably never have looked at her twice, not as a man looks at a woman.
She might have lain there for hours, but she couldn’t bear to disappoint the kids. So she got up and dressed. What she saw in the mirror simply reinforced her earlier conclusions. Dressed in a pair of old jeans and a thick white sweater, with her hair pulled back into a ponytail, she looked young and…ordinary.
She was no temptress. She was safe and sensible, the one that juveniles came to for help without judgment, and mature women for ideas about how to handle rambunctious infants. Even senior packmates didn’t blink at asking her advice on Pack issues. Because she was trusted, both for her steady temperament and for her loyal heart. None of which was bad. Only she didn’t want Nathan to see her as that—she wanted him to see her as she saw him. As a lover, a playmate in the most intimate of arenas.
But he didn’t. And that blow cut so deep, she could barely think.
Something registered in her consciousness. A second later, she picked up the high-pitched sounds of children’s voices. The healer in her took over—there was no time for self-pity. Wiping her eyes with the backs of her hands, she went to the bathroom and splashed cold water over her face. Then she used her healing abilities to get rid of the redness around her eyes.
The doorbell rang.
Pasting on a smile, she walked down and opened the door. The kids’ bright and excited faces turned her faux smile real, but nothing could heal the open wound that was the jagged beat of her animal heart.
NATE SAW TAMSYN AGAIN THAT DAY, BUT IT WAS HOURS later and with several others as they sat around her kitchen table eating dinner. She’d chosen not to sit next to him, but he could understand why. The awareness between them had only gotten stronger since this morning, until he could scent nothing but the sensual promise of her. She was everything he had ever wanted—that smile, that acerbic wit she seemed to show him alone, and lord help him, that body—and she was his. No other man had the right to her.
His beast wanted to roar its claim, but he fought the impulse. He’d wait. He’d wait…but maybe not as long as he’d initially planned. He’d give her another six months of freedom at least, let her live some of her dreams. She could go roaming if she liked, explore a bit of the wild. It might be dangerous, but Tamsyn was smarter and more mature than most of the other young leopards. She’d be fine.
The cat in him didn’t like the idea, knew how badly it would hurt to be parted from her, but it had to be done. He never wanted her to turn to him—as his mother had turned to his father—and accuse him of stealing her life. That would destroy him. Because she was his life. The thought of crushing her spirit was his personal nightmare.
“Are you going to eat or do you plan on staring at Tammy the whole night?” Juanita passed him the potatoes.
“I can stare if I like.” It was his right.
Rolling her eyes, she called out to Tammy. “Hey, where’s that dress you were going to wear tonight?”
Tammy colored. “I changed my mind.”
“You look fine to me.” Dressed in black slacks and a pale blue cardigan, she appeared soft and touchable. Strokable. Shit. His mind was going off track again. Before long, he’d start thinking about unbuttoning that cardigan and kissing his way—
“Great,” Juanita hissed, breaking into the taut eroticism of his newest daydream. “Tell your mate she looks fine.”
“What the hell’s wrong with that?” He took the peas she almost shoved into his chest. “She looks—” He cut himself off before he said what he wanted to say, which was “pretty enough to bite into.”
Juanita shot him a disgusted glance before turning her attention to the packmate on her other side. Ignoring her, Nate went back to the pleasurable task of watching Tamsyn. The beast bucked to taste her. Six months , he told it. Six more months and then you can have her. In every way. And over again.
BUT A BARE WEEK LATER, HIS HUNGER FOR HER HAD GOTTEN so bad that he had Cian reassign him to the perimeter. Tammy was no longer trying to flaunt herself at him—if anything, she seemed to be going to great lengths to give him space. Paradoxically, that only amplified the building pressure to mate, to touch and taste and claim. Without the control provided by the vivid scars of memory, he’d have given in a hundred times already.
Still, he couldn’t keep from going to her each morning, just to see her smile. “Hey, sweetheart, any muffins today?”
She gave him one, but there was no smile on her lips. “How’s the Solias King situation? Any decisions?”
“We’re planning to make a move in a few days.” He’d already told her what they intended to do—she was his mate, and more than that, she was damn sharp, an integral part of the steel backbone of the pack. “You want to come along? Be a nice run.” He wanted to feel her beside him, strong and hotly female.