“Nothing went wrong while I was away?” She’d hated leaving DarkRiver in someone else’s care, though she fully trusted the healer who’d stepped in to hold the fort during her absence. “Maria?”
“She left this morning. Itching to get back home exactly like you.” Lysa smiled. “It was nice of Maria’s pack to lend her to us and she was great, but damn, I’m glad to have you back.”
Tamsyn returned her friend’s fierce hug. “I’m glad to be back.”
Lysa set her free. “Go on. I know you’re wanting to catch up with Nate.”
“No.” She glanced over her shoulder. “He’s busy with Lachlan.”
“The man’s your mate, girl. You can drag him away.”
Mate. The word made her heart skip as it had since the day she’d turned fifteen. That was when the mating instinct had awakened, when she’d realized she was one of the lucky ones—she’d been born into the same pack as her mate, had known him since childhood. “It’s not official yet.”
Lysa rolled her eyes. “As if that matters. Everyone knows you two are meant for each other.”
Maybe, but they were nowhere near to consummating the relationship. Nate was determined she get the chance to explore her freedom before settling down. What she had never been able to make him see was that he was her freedom. She didn’t want to be apart from him. But Nate was stronger than her. And at ten years her senior, he was used to giving orders and having them followed.
“I should freshen up,” she said, dragging her eyes away from him a second time. “I just dropped off my bags before coming here.” Searching for him.
“All right. I’ll see you after you’ve settled in.” Lysa smiled. “I have to go talk to Lachlan about something.”
Nodding good-bye, Tamsyn began to move away from the large clearing ringed by trees that was the pack’s outdoor meeting place.
NATE HAD SEEN TAMMY ARRIVE, WAITED FOR HER TO COME to him. And now she was walking away. “Excuse me,” he said to Lachlan, no longer caring about the discussion at hand. Some Psy named Solias King was apparently making what he thought were discreet inquiries about DarkRiver’s territorial reach and ability to defend itself. Lachlan was fairly certain the man wanted to steal their land.
“This is important—oh.” The DarkRiver alpha looked up and followed the path of Nate’s gaze. His frown turned into a grin. “No wonder you’re distracted. Guess we won’t be seeing you for a while. We’ll have to track this idiot down ourselves.”
Good-natured laughter followed Nate out of the Pack Circle as he tracked his mate’s scent through the trees. He caught her in under a minute. The second his palm clasped the back of her neck, she froze. “Nathan.”
Her skin was delicate under his hand and he was very aware of how easily he could damage her. With her hair swept up into a long tail, her neck appeared even more vulnerable. He rubbed his thumb over the softness of her. “When did you get back?”
It was now five-thirty and winter-dark. “Where have you been?” The leopard who was his other half didn’t like that she hadn’t come to him first.
She turned her head, eyes narrowed. “It’s not like you left a note as to your whereabouts.”
His beast calmed. She’d gone looking for him. Gentling his hold, he slid his hand to the side of her neck and pulled her to him. She came but her body was stiff against his. “What’s the matter?”
“Juanita was very happy to tell me where you were.”
He heard the jealousy. “She’s a friend and a fellow soldier.”
“She was also your lover.”
The beast wanted to growl. “Who told you that?”
“I’m a decade younger than you,” she retorted. “Of course you’ve had women. I don’t need anyone to paint me a sign.”
The jagged edge of anger turned his next words razor-sharp. “I haven’t taken a lover since your fifteenth birthday.” He was a healthy leopard male in his prime. Sexual hunger did not sit well with him. But neither did cheating on his mate. “And if someone’s telling you different, I’ll tear out their throat.”
She blinked. “No one’s telling me different.” Her voice was husky. “But I don’t like knowing you’ve had other women in your bed, that they’ve touched you, pleasured you.”
Her bluntness shocked him. Tamsyn did not talk to him like that. “What exactly did you do in New York?” The possessive fury that hit him was close to feral, a harsh thing with claws and teeth.
Her mouth dropped open. “I don’t believe this!” Breaking his hold with a quick move of her head—a move he’d taught her—she faced him, hands on her hips. “You think I would—” She gave a little scream. “You know what, if I had, whose fault would that be?”
He folded his arms to keep them from hauling her back against his chest and proving to his beast that she still belonged to him. “Tamsyn.”
“No. I’ve had it up to here!” She jerked the edge of her hand to below her chin. “All the other females my age are taking lovers left, right, and center, and the only thing I get is frustration!”
Her raw need was simple truth. Newly mature females were very sexual, their scent intoxicating to the young males. Then there was the fact that the mating heat had shifted Tammy’s natural hunger into higher gear. He could taste the woman musk of her, the lush ripeness just waiting to be bitten into—it was an exhilarating blend, and one he alone had the right to crave. Even the idea of any other male lusting after her pushed his temperature into explosive range. “If I take you,” he said quietly, “it’ll be for life.”