Clay pulled open the door and used the newly installed voice activation system to turn on the lights. "What the hell is it with you and Max? He's fine - I've been injured worse and survived," he muttered after she entered. "What, you have the hots for the guy?"
Her heart stuttered at hearing he'd been that badly hurt, but she hid it. "You're making me crazy!" Swiveling, she headed toward the ladder. "I just happen to think he's a nice, trustworthy, considerate guy. You know, I could do a lot worse!"
Clay snorted and followed her up the ladder. "Nice. Trustworthy. Considerate," he mimicked. "Makes him sound about as exciting as shoe leather."
"Maybe I don't want exciting," she said through gritted teeth, wondering how they had ended up in this conversation. Turning, she faced him. "Maybe I want normal."
"Normal?" His tone was edgy, dangerous.
For the first time in days, she felt a hint of wariness. Clay was tired and annoyed, too. She probably shouldn't push him. The woman who had flinched at his first touches wouldn't have. Somewhat to her surprise, Talin found she was no longer that woman. "Normal," she repeated. "I want a nice, human boyfriend who doesn't have any kinky hang-ups like licking."
Clay took a step toward her. "Kinky?"
She took a step back. "Uh-huh."
"Definitely human. No claws. No growling. No sharp teeth." She made her tone so firm, she almost believed herself. "Normal. Ordinary." Things she had never been. "White picket fence."
Clay's eyes darkened to near black and he stopped his stalking advance. "Really?"
"Really." She forced it out. "I'm tired of being on the outside."
Clay's instincts flared awake. "What aren't you telling me, baby?"
"Nothing." She looked up, then back. "I need to get to bed."
"Where you can dream about your ordinary human boyfriend?" He advanced toward her once more, his shock that she might actually prefer a human male disappearing under the na**d intensity of the emotions swirling in her eyes. "Maybe you'll imagine yourself into a safe little fantasy world where bad things never happen?"
She held up her hands as he reached her. They hit his chest, palms flat. "What's wrong with that? At least humans don't go mad - protective and tell me I'm not - " She snapped her mouth shut, but he'd heard enough.
He lifted one of those slender feminine hands and pressed his lips to each fingertip in turn, aware of her racing heartbeat, her breakable bones, her trust in him. It was the last that ripped him to pieces. "Human families can be as territorial."
She shook her head. "You predatory changelings take it to the next level. I feel as if I'm running a gauntlet."
It was an unexpected confession. The Tally he'd come to know didn't spend much time feeling sorry for herself. But, he realized with a deep wave of excruciating tenderness, she'd had a lot of shocks in a single day. "You're mine. Therefore you're perfect."
Her lips twitched. "Idiot."
"Maybe." He nibbled at her fingers. "Once accepted, you'll have the pack's strength at your back. We never leave one of ours to drown. Never."
"I won't be accepted, Clay," she whispered, shifting to lay her head against his chest, one hand still in his. "I feel like a dirty street urchin around the other women, my nose pressed to the window with you on the other side. I can't shift, I don't have Psy powers."
The image broke his heart. "Did the women say something to you?"
"Forget it." She drew back. "I was having a 'woe is me' moment. I'm over it."
He knew better. "Tally."
She pressed her lips together. He waited. She blew out a breath. "Fine! I got interrogated about my intentions toward you."
He pulled her closer, holding her with his arms around her waist. "And what are your intentions?" he murmured, leaning down to brush his lips over hers. "Are you planning to divest me of my virtue? I'll even ask nice."
Her br**sts rose against him as she drew in a deep breath. "Be serious. They'll never accept me." She put her hands back on his chest, spreading out her fingers as if testing the strength of him. He liked it.
"Some of us wanted to torture Sascha at the start."
Her fingers dug into him. He liked that even better. "What? Why?" she asked.
"A Psy serial killer had murdered Dorian's sister. We thought Sascha might have information. The pack was enraged and she became the target - Dorian almost ripped out her throat. As for Faith, the first time we met, I accused her of being part of a psychopathic race."
"I never would've guessed." Her fingers straightened, petted absently - he wanted to purr. "How did Sascha and Faith become so much part of DarkRiver?"
"They've proven their loyalty."
"I have to do the same before they'll accept me." Sighing, she braced her forehead against his chest. "Is it okay for a human to bite people, too?"
He grinned, wondering if she even realized how easily she was cuddling into him. "Go to bed, Tally. You're tired and grumpy." He kissed the tip of her ear. The beast's hunger was a razor-sharp blade, but it had been soothed by this contact. Not that it mattered. Clay would not take Tally until she was ready to come to him. He never again wanted to see fear of him in her eyes. It had damn near killed him the first time around.
She rubbed her face against him. "I might be, but you don't have to point it out." But she took his advice and broke away. "See you tomorrow morning?"