Ashaya felt her cheeks heat up in a feminine response she hadn't known she had the capacity to experience. Dorian, she realized, was a very dangerous male when he decided to play nice. "You were yelling at me not so long ago. Why the charm?"
"I want you." A blunt statement. "I decided I could continue to stave off the need by remaining angry with you, or - " He paused, his eyes turning to blue fire in front of her.
"Or?" she prompted, knowing she shouldn't, but unable to resist.
"Or I could feed the hunger."
"Guess which option I chose?" A silken whisper that made her nerve endings skitter in warning.
"Number one?" Her voice came out oddly husky.
He pressed into her, his thighs hard and powerful against her own. "Wrong." His gaze drifted to her lips. "No bonus points for you. But that's okay - I'll go easy... the first time."
Somewhere in the murky depths of the Tenderloin, a place some still called the dark heart of San Francisco, an exchange took place.
"Careful," came the hissed command as a box nearly hit the alleyway floor. "We've only got two boxes of this stuff."
"More than enough," another person scoffed. "All it takes is one hit, right?"
"Not with your shooting," the first voice said. "Now concentrate."
Silence reigned for the next ten minutes, until everything was stored in its proper place. "Word from Venice is that this operation is a go, if we can do it without attracting the wrong kind of attention - our top priority is to remain under the radar." The speaker waited to make sure that was understood before moving on to more practical matters. "Some of us will be shooting with modified tranquilizer guns, so I want everyone to start practicing. If we get a chance to take Aleine, we need to be ready. Because we'll only get one shot."
"Then let's make sure we hit the bull's-eye first time out."
Dorian wasn't wearing a shirt when he gave me his DNA. It made it difficult to concentrate. Even if I didn't know his changeling affiliation, I'd guess him for a hunting cat. The way he moves, it's an erotic dance... or perhaps that's only the effect he has on me. If I dared throw caution to the winds and stroked the cat within, would he bite off my hand, or would he purr?
- From the encrypted personal files of Ashaya Aleine
Dorian took Ashaya back to the apartment later that afternoon, after she'd read Keenan a story and assured him she would return in time for dinner. Satisfied, the boy promised to behave for the couple of hours they'd be gone.
"It's important that I be with him tonight," Ashaya said as they grabbed a quick bite before leaving. "He needs to know I'll be there when he needs me."
Dorian didn't argue with her decision - kids were the most precious aspect of Pack. But that didn't mean he was going to forget the teasing threat he'd made outside. The guilt, the anger, none of it was enough to stop him - Ashaya Aleine was going to be his. "I can pack up your stuff, bring it to you." He could play very nice when he was in the mood.
She gave him a suspicious look. "No. It's better if Keenan doesn't come to expect me here all the time. Just in case - "
He kissed her without warning, taking his time with those full, bitable lips that drove him crazy. "You'd better start trusting me to keep you safe," he said against her kiss-wet mouth, "or I don't know what my bruised ego will make me do." It came out not as a warning, but as a promise.
He intended to further her education in the care and feeding of the male ego at the apartment, but when they arrived, it was to find Faith waiting at the top of the stairs, fingers plucking at the ends of the green silk scarf she'd used to pull back her hair. Vaughn lounged by the doorway, back against the wall.
Dorian moved smoothly in front of Ashaya. "What are you two doing here?" While Vaughn was a good friend, Dorian's relationship with Faith was a little more problematic.
"I wanted to talk to you," the cardinal Psy said, biting her lower lip. "And Ashaya."
Protectiveness gripped his throat. "This is meant to be a safe location. You could've led someone here."
"Don't insult me," Vaughn said, not changing his relaxed stance despite the aggression Dorian knew he was giving off. "We weren't followed. Even if I had gone senile and lost the ability to spot a tail, I have a mate who's real good at seeing threats in our future."
Dorian's eyes flicked to Faith and he caught the gentle plea in her distinctive night-sky gaze. He and Faith had a silent understanding. F-Psy had stopped forecasting anything but money and economics over a hundred years ago. Perhaps if they hadn't, Kylie would still be alive. But Faith was doing what her brethren wouldn't, opening her mind to a future as filled with nightmares as happiness. For that, she'd earned his respect.
He moved up the steps, but continued to keep Ashaya behind him, very aware of her unusual quietness. Vaughn tended to have that effect on those who didn't know him. The jaguar couldn't pull off harmless, not like Dorian. Vaughn looked lethal even when he was playing with strands of Faith's dark red hair, his lips curved in possessive satisfaction.
"I thought the flirting happened before the mating," Dorian said as he unlocked the door and pushed it open. He nudged Ashaya through.
"Then I pity your mate," Vaughn let Faith's hair slide out of his hands, but tangled his fingers with hers. "I can give you lessons in romance if you'd like."
Dorian snorted at the same time that Faith gave a disbelieving laugh. "And where have you been learning these lessons?" she asked in an arch tone at odds with her smile.