“Yes, but you were fifteen. Your sexuality was young, immature.”
She remembered the wave of heavy warmth that had uncurled in her stomach whenever she’d been around Nathan, the soft ache in low places. “I wanted him even then.”
“But as a girl wants, not as a woman.” Sadie pressed a kiss to her brow. “He, on the other hand, had to have had a brutal time of it. You were a baby and he’d never have allowed himself to touch you, but he was a man and his beast knew you were his mate.”
Tamsyn began to see what her mother was saying. “He had to learn to chain the mating urges of the leopard, wait until I was ready.” For the first time, she understood the pain it must’ve caused him. “And he couldn’t be with any other woman.”
“Mates don’t cheat.” Sadie sighed. “That’s a very good thing, but it’s also a hard thing to bear when things don’t work out perfectly. But you understand about Nate now, don’t you? He’s as hungry for you as you are for him—it’s just that he’s had years to build up his will against the need.”
“He’s going to be a sentinel, Mom,” she said, proud but afraid. “You know the kind of men who become sentinels. His will was already as strong as steel before he found out about the bond. Now I’m pretty certain it’s unbreakable.” She rubbed a hand over her heart, where the bond was a savagely twisted knot. Though it was meant to be an instinctive link, Nate had somehow learned to block it. Her animal heart kept reaching out to him…only to slam up against a solid wall of resistance.
“Oh, my baby.” Sadie squeezed her shoulder and Tamsyn sat up, wiping away the final evidence of her tears. “Now listen,” her mother said, pure love in her expression. “The man’s will might be unbreakable for some, but not for you. You’re his mate. You have a direct line to his soul.”
“But he won’t listen. He’s made up his mind that we’re going to wait and wait and wait and—” She shook her head, shoulders hunching in defeat. “I know he’s thinking in terms of years, not months.” A wait that long would drive her insane. She wasn’t being overly dramatic—the lack of tactile contact between her and Nate, the denial of what their beasts craved, it physically hurt . “And it’s not like I’m some sexy little thing that can seduce him.” It was out before she could feel embarrassed.
“You’re beautiful.” Sadie’s voice was full of maternal pride. “You have courage and strength and such spirit.”
Tamsyn didn’t have the heart to tell her mom that while those qualities might be nice, they didn’t exactly make her a knockout. Her hands were practical healer’s hands, her hair a plain brown, and her eyes…well, her eyes were okay. Sometimes she thought they looked like dark amber. But what man would care about her eyes when women like Juanita with their seductive, curvy bodies were sashaying around? Tamsyn was all legs and strong bones. More horse than leopard, she thought morosely.
“If you give up,” Sadie said, cupping Tamsyn’s cheeks with soft hands, “you’ll regret it for all the long, lonely years that follow. So will he. Nathan thinks he knows what he’s doing, but starving the bond will destroy both of you.”
“How do I reach him?”
“That’s for you to figure out.” Her mother smiled. “But I’ll give you a hint—he’s a man. Treat him like one.”
TWO HOURS LATER,TAMSYN STILL HADN’T A CLUE ABOUT what she was going to do. Frustrated in more ways than one, she stomped downstairs with the intention of finding something with which to take her mind off Nate. Maybe her mom was quilting and needed an assistant. But the house proved to be empty. Sadie had left a note tacked to the back of the front door.
Your father and I decided to go for a bit of a roam.
Translation: They were off feeding their animals’ need for the wild and who knew when they would be back. It could be days.
“Great,” she muttered, feeling sorry for herself. Trudging back into the living room, she had the beginnings of a good sulk going when she spied a box on the coffee table with her name on it.
Tammy, darling, I thought you might like to do these while things are quiet (and you’re sulking). We could do with some new ones. Love, Mom
Opening the box, she found it filled with homemade Christmas decorations. She smiled, unable to resist their magic. Every year until the horrible day when a bloody nightmare had forced her to step into the position of DarkRiver’s healer, she had made these with her family. There were silver cardboard angels and beads strung on fishing wire and beautifully detailed paper dolls. But what held her attention were the round glass ornaments.
Each was meticulously painted with scenes from fairy tale and legend. Most had been done by Tamsyn and her mother as they sat side by side for hours, her father content to “supervise.” She smiled. Every ornament held a memory of happiness, of love. Her hand found one decorated with the image of a running panther. She stilled.
Healing’s not just about bones and cuts, Tammy, sweetheart.
Tears pricked her eyes at the memory of Shayla’s patient voice. Lucas’s mother had been a black panther like her son. She had also been Tamsyn’s teacher, her friend—a friend whose advice and guidance Tamsyn missed desperately. But today, in this moment, it felt as if Shayla stood right beside her, telling her the truths she needed to hear.
This would be the second Christmas since the attack. No one had been in the mood to celebrate the first, but perhaps it was time to heal her family, her pack.