Violent rage turned to lethal calm. “What the hell are you talking about? She’s my mate . That is not negotiable.”
“Not if you won’t let it be. If you set her free, maybe she’ll fall for someone who’ll adore her like she’s meant to be adored.”
“I adore her!” he yelled in disbelief. “No one else has that right!”
“Do you?” Sadie’s features settled into a resolute expression. “Then show her, for goodness’ sake. Otherwise, free her in reality instead of just giving lip service to the idea.” She vacated the doorway.
Nate walked out without replying, but her words wouldn’t leave his mind, no matter how far he went. Tammy thought he didn’t want to be her mate? How could such an idiotic idea have ever entered her head? The second he saw her, he was going to growl the truth to her until she damn well listened.
Well…maybe he’d hold her first. He’d made her cry and he hadn’t held her. Lucas was right. That was unforgivable. But Tammy was his mate. She had to forgive him. And she had to come home. He couldn’t exist without her close to him. Those months she had spent in New York had almost killed him, but at least then he’d been able to tell himself that she was still a girl, not a woman.
But now that he’d felt the lush heat of her, he could no longer kid himself. Tammy had grown up. And she’d left him. “We’ll see about that.” The leopard snarled, mad as hell.
Not much later, he reached the point where he’d first picked up her trail—close to Tahoe. From there, he could try to track her by scent or…or he could do the one thing certain to lead him to her. No choice at all, really.
Taking a deep breath, he released the stranglehold of control he’d held over the mating bond since the day she’d turned fifteen and he’d realized what she was to him. It felt like the whiplash unfurling of a coiled spring—a burst of pure power that actually hurt as it boomeranged off his chest, driving him to his knees.
When his head finally stopped spinning, he felt for the bond and found it stretched out taut and clear, a vibrating cord of need, desire, and belonging. He could feel Tammy deep within his core, as if he had a homing beacon tuned only to her signal. It was perfection. And he wasn’t sure he could ever block it again. But he’d think about that later.
Right now, he had to survive the intensity of the emotions shooting down the bond. It felt like he could reach out and touch her. She was sweetness and hope, woman and fire, erotic heat and gentle affection. And she was his. Not f**king negotiable.
IT FELT LIKE GETTING BROADSIDED WITH A BASEBALL BAT.
Tamsyn staggered under the point-blank surge of pure emotion, sliding down the wall to sit with her back braced against it.
Nate had opened the bond.
She rubbed a hand over her chest, then realized the usual persistent ache, the hard knot of dull hurt was simply…gone. In its place was the blazing glory of a fully functioning mating bond. She trembled. Why had he taken that step now—after she’d done what he wanted and put distance between them? Surely he wasn’t trying to track her?
No, she thought, she wasn’t going to believe in fairy tales anymore. Nate had probably done it by accident. Okay, no. That was stupid. No one who’d been as determined as Nate to block their mating would lose that much control by accident. Her eye fell on the small silver phone sitting on the table by the sofa.
Her mother had called soon after Tamsyn arrived at the cabin. Sadie had been distraught to return from her run in the wild and find her daughter gone. Tamsyn had assured her over and over that she was fine, but knowing Sadie, she’d probably ordered Nate to locate her daughter and provide a firsthand report. Tamsyn shuddered, trying to breathe past the impact of the fully flowing bond. She had to think, had to stabilize herself before Nathan arrived, so he’d go back and tell Sadie there was no reason to worry.
That done, he would think the bond shut again.
Her blood flushed hot as the vibrant male energy of him raced through her veins. Mates were joined on an incredibly deep level. To other changelings, the scent of one half of a mated pair became difficult to distinguish from the other the longer they were together. Nate’s refusal to accept the bond had denied them that closeness, starving her. Now, her senses wanted to gorge.
“No,” she said out loud, forcing calm on herself. All healers had to learn such discipline. It allowed them to work in the chaos of a fight or when attempting to heal those they loved—a pack healer didn’t have the luxury of passing on the hard cases to another medic. Every one of their cases was hard, because Pack was family.
Finally, after ten long minutes, she could think despite the masculine strength of the emotional connection surging through her. Then, for the first time, she tried to close her end of the exquisite pleasure/pain that was her link to this man she adored beyond life…and discovered she couldn’t. She fisted her hands. Forget the known wisdom that said the bond couldn’t be blocked—if Nate could do it, why couldn’t she?
It took her an hour to come up with some sort of answer. She remembered what her mother had said—that Nate had had to learn to suppress his needs in order to allow her the time she needed to come of age. That control seemed to have carried over into everything he did in relation to her. But now he’d thrown off the reins and let the cat out to play.
It might be impossible to put the lid back on that bottle.
Her eyes widened. Nate was not going to be pleased if that proved true. More importantly, she wasn’t pleased. She didn’t want him to want her because he’d been forced into it by the primal cravings of his beast—cravings her own beast understood far too well. She wanted him to love her.