"Lucas has her trail." His alpha had called ten minutes ago to confirm the sighting. "I asked him to let her reach us."
Her breath came out in a soft hush of sound. "Thank you."
"Luc and Dezi are hanging back. They don't want to chance being picked up by a telepathic scan."
"That's smart, but" - she shook her head - "I think she's so focused on me at this point, she's blind to anything else."
"Yeah, that's what Luc said." He took a sip of his coffee, letting his gaze linger on her. She was beautiful in the muted hues between dark and dawn, would be glorious when the sun's rays hit. "Apparently, she's not making even an amateurish attempt to hide her trail. From what he saw while tracking her, it looks like she lost her way a couple of times, but then that internal compass between the two of you seems to have put her back on the right path."
"I'm glad she's not lost." She took a hesitant step toward him. Exultation racing through his bloodstream, he shifted his coffee to his left hand and raised his right arm in welcome. It was another small surrender when she tucked her body against him.
But it wasn't enough. Neither was the physical surrender she'd given him in bed. His beast growled, wanting more, wanting everything.
I was born first. She's my responsibility.
The hell of it was that he understood. The leopard wasn't so civilized. "Can you feel this thing between us?"
A quiet nod. "What is it?"
"I can't belong to you," she whispered. "I can't cut Amara free. Without me... she will become the creature Faith foresaw."
"You already belong to me." He wasn't human, wasn't Psy. And he wasn't particularly worried about the niceties of acceptable behavior. "At some point, the leopard is going to take over and I'll start hunting you."
Her hand clenched on his chest. "I'm a psychic being. I can block you for as long as it takes."
That was the real problem. The mating bond wasn't an automatic thing. For it to come into full effect, both halves of the pair had to accept it. That acceptance could happen a thousand different ways, but he knew that with Sascha and Lucas, it had required a conscious choice on Sascha's part. She'd had to decide to cut the life-giving PsyNet link and drop into Lucas's arms.
Dorian knew in his gut that Ashaya needed to take that same leap of faith, of trust. "You can try, Shaya." He shrugged. "But the mating bond's already there, pulling at you. The more we touch, the more we share our secrets, the stronger it becomes. At some point, blocking it will become impossible."
She turned slightly. "I can feel it here" - a fist pressed over her heart - "but I can't see it on the psychic plane. I can sense it pulling at me harder and harder and yet there's no possible way it could exist. You're not in the Net. You're not even a psychic being."
He wondered which one of them she was trying to convince. "It exists the same way your bond with Keenan exists." But the mating bond was a far harsher thing, a thing of claws and teeth, created with the raw fury of changeling possession, and the endless devotion of changeling heart. "Leopards don't play nice when it comes to their mates. Wait too long and you'll become prey."
Ashaya felt the warning to the core of her being. Dorian was a sniper. He wouldn't run her to ground. No, he'd wait, he'd stalk, and then he'd take. "We'll see," she said. The leopard was attempting to bring her to heel. But even in the PsyNet, she'd never been very good at obeying.
Dorian's chuckle rolled like down her spine like a thousand tiny pinpricks. "You really like living dangerously, don't you, gorgeous?"
It made her remember what he'd said in bed, about messing with a leopard. Her heartbeat jumped. "It does make for an exciting life."
His hand moved to the back of her neck, tilting up her face. "And here I thought you were all about the science." The kiss was slow, intimate, rich with the taste of coffee and Dorian.
She had no will to resist, didn't know why she'd possibly want to. Such pleasure in her bones, in her blood, in the dip of her navel. Against her, he was all hard muscle and coiled power. If she had her way, she thought suddenly, she'd keep Dorian na**d so she could indulge her hunger to simply watch that magnificent body flex and move.
There was an odd look in his eye when he raised his head. "I just had the strangest thought pop into my head."
"Oh?" She found she was reaching for him, wanting another taste.
He continued to hold his coffee with one hand, but dipped his head to satisfy her, nipping at her lower lip as the kiss ended. "Yeah. I was thinking of walking around butt naked. Weird. I'm more interested in getting you - "
Ashaya knew she'd somehow given herself away when he stopped midsentence and whistled softly. "I wasn't thinking that, was I?" His lips curved, a look that couldn't be described as anything other than wicked coming into his eyes.
"I have no idea what you're talking about."
He smiled and it was so slow, so very male, that she thought her knees would buckle from the power of it. "Oh, but I do." Nips at her lower lip, a catlike lick along the top one. "The mating bond's starting to fight you."
She found that she was stroking the skin of his neck, having learned he liked being touched that way. "Why would you assume that?"
"I ain't no Psy, Ms. Aleine, but even us dumb animals know when two people start exchanging thoughts, something's going on."
She narrowed her eyes at his smug tone. "It was a coincidence."
"Baby, when I think about my body, I don't focus on my cock."