Jesus. "You were racing a deadline from day one."
"Yes, at first. Then two and a half years ago, when Ming began to pay her too much attention and she went underground, I thought he was safe."
"But she didn't forget him," he guessed.
A jerky shake of the head. "She considers him the first step in her most important piece of work."
Her fingers were clenching around his hard enough to bruise. She was, he realized, barely keeping it together. "You want to talk about something else for a while?" He wasn't up to subtlety at the moment, but he needed to take care of her.
She grabbed on to the offered escape with desperate quickness. "Yes."
"How about my abnormal DNA?" he teased, though the cat was still snarling in protective fury. "Have you fixed me?"
"I'm working on it." Her fingers relaxed as she found her footing in science.
His leopard growled in pleased approval. Ashaya's internal strength was a thing of beauty. Yet she'd let him soothe her. It was as much a caress to his predator's soul as if she'd curled those long, talented fingers around him.
That was all it took.
Sexual heat was suddenly a talon inside him, his beast one step closer to animal savagery. "Tell me." Letting her go, he squeezed both hands around the steering wheel in a vain effort to stop the primitive fury of his reaction. He'd waited too long, and now his cat was no longer giving him a choice. Either he coaxed Ashaya into melting for him in every way... or he got the hell away from her. And right now, there was no damn way he was going to leave her unprotected.
"It's a puzzle," she said, unknowingly stoking his hunger with the primness of her voice. Especially now that he knew how uninhibited she was in bed. He could still hear her gasping little cries from this afternoon, all hot and demanding.
If he didn't have her na**d and under him soon, he'd go f**king insane.
"Your DNA is identical to normal changeling DNA in every respect that I can see, but - "
"Where did you get the control sample?" A flash of dark heat raced through him and he knew himself well enough to identify it as a dose of pure jealousy.
"From Tamsyn." A pause, as if she was debating whether to continue. "I knew you'd react negatively if I approached a male. You're... possessive."
"Sugar, I'm way past possessive." His voice was no longer fully human.
The sound of her voice, thick velvet and honey, wrapped around him like a silken fist. "Be quiet." He focused his attention on getting them where they needed to go.
"I won't take being talked to in that tone."
She was worried about his tone? If she didn't stop inciting the beast, she'd be hot and tight around his c**k before they even got off this bloody highway. He growled low in his throat, releasing the leopard the only way he could. "Be. Quiet."
Ashaya seemed shocked into silence. It lasted about six minutes. "Predatory changeling men are meant to be protective toward women."
He kept his eyes on the road.
"Their women, in any case," she said after another pause.
Fifteen more minutes and he'd show her exactly how protective he was.
"I suppose technically I'm one of the enemy, so the protective element of your nature wouldn't apply."
Where the hell was the turnoff? There! He swept the vehicle into a narrow dirt track, taking Ashaya deep into an isolated section of the sprawling Yosemite forest. While most of it was a national park, habitation was allowed under certain restricted rules.
Ten more minutes, he told himself.
"I'm right, aren't I? You consider me an ene - "
"Shaya," he gritted out, "you're babbling."
That made her snap her mouth shut for several more minutes. "A nervous reaction. I should be able to handle it using the same tools I used when sitting face-to-face with Councilor Ming LeBon."
The dirt track became nothing more than the most primitive of paths a hundred meters ahead. Switching to the hover-drive, he took them into the shadow of the majestic guardians of the forest - the giant sequoias.
"However, none of my tools seem to be working."
He slammed the car into low gear, maneuvering them over a small outcropping of rock. Even using the hover-drive, he could cause damage, but he knew the forest well enough to avoid going near anything that wouldn't regenerate quickly. Right now, he was more worried about his c**k regenerating. It was going to end up cut in half if he didn't lower the zipper soon.
"I can't stop talking," she said, her shock open. "Why? My stomach is full of butterflies, my heart is thundering, and my palms are damp." A small pause, followed by a relieved sigh. "Must be fear. You've got a very threatening look on your face."
That did it. He brought the car to a halt in front of a cabin so well hidden by greenery, not even cats would find it if they weren't actively looking. He wondered what Ashaya would think of it. But first things first. "You," he said, turning to glare at her, "are never to be threatened by me. Understood?"
She blinked. "Actually, right now you're - "
"Tell me you understand." He leaned closer, eyes narrowed.
"But - "
"No buts, no nothing. You have the ability to piss me off without even trying, but I'll f**king take a gun to my head before I lay a hand on you. You clear on that?"
She was crushed against the door now, his hand palm down beside her head. But her face was one of rebellion. "No. Not while you're being so aggressive."
"Go on, baby, push me a little more." He smiled.