"How's her heartbeat?"
He pressed his fingers to the pulse in her neck, his control growing ragged with each erratic beat. "Too damn slow."
"Turn the phone toward her so I can see her face."
Clay did as ordered, then brought the phone back to his ear. "Tammy?"
"Do you have the kit?" Her tone was calm, assured.
"Yes." He opened it.
"There's a small preloaded pressure injector on the top left-hand side of the lid."
He saw it at once. Sliding it out of the built - in slot, he flicked off the cap. "Where?" He didn't ask what it was, what it might do. There wasn't time.
"Wait. Make sure it's the right one. Has it got 'epinephrine' on the side?"
He saw Talin's eyelids flutter down. Her hand dropped off his wrist. The leopard scrabbled inside his mind, trying to get out, get to her. "Yes!"
"Do it. On her thigh. Clay - I have to warn you, this is a wild guess. It could be the absolute wrong thing, could hurt her."
"There's no choice. We don't do anything, she'll die." Using his claws to tear a hole in her sweatpants, he pressed the injector to her skin and pressed the button. The transparent tube cleared of the medicine in a flash. For three of the longest seconds of his life, nothing happened. Then Talin jerked and her eyes flashed open. Another second and her hand reached blindly in his direction.
He gripped it, held on tight. "Breathe, baby. Please, Tally, breathe. Breathe."
Fingers clenching around his, she sucked in a deep breath. Then another.
"Is it working?" Tamsyn asked.
"Yeah," he whispered, a f**king fist around his heart. "Yeah."
"I'm coming over to check on her. Keep her warm, give her fluids."
Clay was barely conscious of closing the phone and putting it on the floor, his gaze locked with Talin's. It ripped him apart to see the single tear that leaked out of her eye. When he broke his hold on her, she made a small vulnerable sound. "Shh. I need to hold you." Settling himself with his back against the wall beside her, he pulled her into his lap.
She didn't complain when he crushed her to him, her head tucked under his chin, his embrace this side of bruising. Neither of them spoke. She breathed, slow and deep, and he just held her, making wordless sounds of comfort. Finally, one of her fists spread on his chest. It burned, as if she'd branded him. "I can breathe."
"Good." It was hard to talk with the leopard fighting to get out.
"What did you give me?"
He wrenched back control as his claws threatened to erupt. "A shot of epi."
"I've become that badly allergic to something?"
He wanted to kiss her, take her, convince himself he hadn't lost her. "This the first time you've had this kind of a reaction?"
She nodded. "It doesn't make sense. It has to be connected to - "
"Tammy's coming to check you out," he interrupted, not ready to talk about that f**king disease after the terror of the past minutes. "We'll see after that."
Talin shifted until she could look up at him. "I'm okay."
"You almost died."
Her fingers trailed over his unshaven jaw. "I knew you'd pull me out."
"You can't die." It was an order.
She blinked those big gray eyes, the ring of fire sparking. "I'll try my best."
He knew he was being unreasonable, but the leopard had taken charge and it didn't care about logic or reason. All the animal wanted was to know that she was alive, on a level that nothing could erase. "I'm going to break my promise."
Her eyes widened, but she didn't ask which one. Instead, she tilted her face for him and when he flicked his tongue across the seam of her lips, she opened, warm and giving and his. Undeniably, irrevocably his. No matter what she thought or how she'd run from him, Talin had always been, and always would be, his. He let her feel his certainty in the sweep of his tongue against hers, in the way he held her anchored to him, in the confidence with which he took everything she had and demanded more.
Talin felt a new kind of breathlessness crash into her as Clay claimed her mouth in what she recognized as a blatant stamp of ownership. It was a kiss she would have never allowed any other man. This kiss wasn't about the body. It was about the soul. He was stripping her bare, shattering her defenses, breaking her heart. "Clay." A plea, a reminder that she couldn't keep the promises he was asking her to make. The insidious disease eating away at her brain was beyond her ability to control.
He bit at her lower lip in response, and when she made a complaining sound, he did it again. Hungry feminine arrogance shot through her, wiping away all thoughts of the uncertain future. She bit back. He seemed startled, his reaction - a watchful stillness - very feline. Smiling into the kiss, she nibbled on him before opening her mouth and tangling her tongue with his in a duel she intended to win.
That was before Clay moved those big, warm hands up over her body, spreading one on her lower back while the other curved around her nape. The hold was so proprietary, so aggressive, it should've scared her into running in the other direction. Instead it sparked a darkly sexual heat in her, stoking her need past blazing. She melted into him, pressing her aching br**sts against the solid wall of his chest.
He purred into her mouth.
Nipples shocked into sudden pleasure by the vibration, she pulled back. "You purr?"
His smile was pure cat. "Only for you."
Any resistance she might've harbored to this dangerous, inevitable escalation in their relationship dissolved into a big fat pool at her feet. He was being charming. Clay did not do charm, not for anyone. Except, it seemed, her. She pressed a kiss to his jaw. "Stop being so sexy."