Yes, she thought, why not? "Did they ever identify all the bodies?" Pa Larkspur had banned her from following the case after she began to get obsessive about it. He'd been right - much longer and she would have fallen back into the abyss.
"Yes." Clay's hands tightened on the wheel. "They were all DNA-banked at birth."
"I'm glad. I visited two of their graves," she confessed.
"So did I." His tone hardened. "After I was told you were dead."
The tension between them went from bearable to cutting. "I thought we'd gone past that." Had last night meant nothing to him? "How many times do you want me to apologize?" Her guilt was crushing.
"I don't want apologies. I never did." He swung out onto a relatively clear track. That wasn't saying much - trees stood tall and thick on either side, blocking them in a tunnel of dark green. "I want an explanation."
"I told you," she said between gritted teeth. "I wasn't in a good place. I needed some space. You're so bossy, you take over everything and I needed to be my own person."
He threw her another look. "There might be some truth in that, but it's not everything. Why, Tally? Why tell me you were dead?"
"Clay - "
"I don't want to - "
"Because you left me!" she screamed, driven to the brink. "You left me!"
Clay brought the Tank to a rocking halt, his brain stunned into silence.
"You promised you'd be there for me always," she whispered, hugging herself. "Then you left." She shook her head and swallowed. "I know you had no choice. You were arrested. But it didn't matter. You were the only person I ever trusted, do you know that, Clay? The only one. Then you were gone and I was alone with strangers again. I was so mad at you!"
All this time, he had believed she hated him for killing Orrin the way he had, hated the violence of what he was. "I let you down," he said, accepting her charge.
"Don't," she whispered. "Don't be so nice. It makes me feel even worse."
"'Nice' is not a word that applies to me." He let the leopard color his voice. "So you were angry as hell with me - why not just tell me to get lost? Why go so far?"
"Don't ask me that." She looked out the window.
He reached across and clasped his hand on the back of her neck. "Look at me."
"Tally, now is not the time to piss me off."
"You can take your orders and shov - "
Biting back a growl, he shifted across the bench seat to block her in the corner, his free arm braced palm down beside her head. "Would you like to repeat what you just said?"
Big Tally-colored eyes looked up at him. No one else had eyes like hers. Out in the sunlight, the rings of amber almost seemed to disappear but here in the dark of the forest, they glowed hot.
"I was insulting you," she said, echoes of the girl he'd known sparking in those fire and dawn eyes. "And doing it rather well if I made you lose control."
He could smell her fear, but she hadn't budged. "Why fear me? You know I would never put a bruise on your body." He paused, decided to trust the strength of will in that small body, and pushed. "Well, I might in one situation."
"What?" She blinked. "You'd never hurt me."
"I didn't say I would. I said I might bruise you." He leaned in and nipped at that soft, luscious mouth of hers, drawing back before she could do more than suck in a shocked breath. "I might bite during sex." No rejection in her scent. His gut unclenched. It had been a risk, founded on their fragile new bond of trust and his leopard's clawing need.
"I am not ha**ng s*x with you." Her voice was breathy. "Nuh-uh. Not ever."
"Why not?" He wanted to bite her again. "What's wrong with me?"
"I don't like dark men."
That halted him for a second. Until he picked up the deceit in the air. "Lying is a sin, Tally darling." His leopard relaxed, soothed by the realization of her susceptibility to him.
"You're conceited, pushy, and you scowl too much."
He tightened his hand on her nape, just a little. Then he bent his head and licked the full curve of her lower lip. She shivered and pushed at his chest. "No licking. Definitely no licking."
"Why not?" He was almost sure he saw flames racing in the ring of amber around her irises. "I'm a cat. I like licking - all sorts of places."
Her cheeks blazed. "You don't want me that way."
"Sexually." It seemed as if she had to force the words out. "You hate me for what I did with those other men, remember?"
Both man and cat continued to wrestle with the sharp edge of jealous rage, but..."How can I hate you after what you told me last night? I'm learning to deal."
Her mouth dropped open, then snapped shut. "Yeah, right."
"Hey." He leaned closer, until all he could scent was her. "I'm trying. You could be a bit more encouraging."
"Why?" Her lips pressed down into a harsh line. "So you can play at being the all-forgiving leopard and I can abase myself at your feet? Don't tell me you're a virgin!"
"I've about had it with you," he threatened, such a feeling of life shooting through him that he was drunk on it. Fighting with Tally was more fun than doing anything else with any other woman. "It has nothing to do with the sex."