Branded by Fire (Psy-Changeling 6) - Page 16

A chain. No, an identity bracelet, the silver bar marked with the name Bowen. She couldn't pick it up with her teeth. She tried a claw very, very carefully. It came. Riley bent his dark gray head and took it in his teeth, holding it as they walked around the area where they'd found it. Nothing else jumped out.

Nodding at each other, they ran back and shifted in the patch of woods where they'd left their clothes. Mercy took the bracelet the instant she was human, and turned it over. Happy Birthday, Bo. From Lily.

Disappointment sat like lead in her stomach. "Could belong to anyone."

"We might as well do a door-to-door - that street's the closest logical place for a vehicle to have waited."

"Yeah, the woods would've provided coverage." Gut clenching with a furious mix of worry and anger, she put the bracelet to the side and grabbed her clothing. "Wonder if we can get satellite images."

Riley pulled on his jeans and she almost moaned. Focus, Mercy.

"I'll check," he said, zipping up those damn jeans as she slid on her own. "But we might get lucky with an insomniac." When he turned, she saw the marks on his back were almost healed.

Fast, even for a changeling. Which meant Riley was more powerful than she'd guessed, more than he let on. There was nothing flashy about him. Just - "What the - " His hands were on her waist and his mouth on hers before she could do more than gasp.

Lightning. Bright. Sizzling. Perfect.

This time she did moan, wrapping her arms around him and luxuriating in his strength, in the sheer speed with which he'd come at her. With both of them only wearing jeans, her br**sts were pressed against the exquisite roughness of the hairs on his chest. She rubbed against him, giving in to the leopard's innate sensuality.

He tore away his lips but they remained less than a millimeter apart. "This is your fault."

"Hell, no." She sucked on his neck, biting him a little too hard for emphasis. "You jumped my bones."

Tugging back her head with a hand fisted in her hair, he glared down at her. "You were all but licking me the way you were looking."

"Looking's not the same as touching." Her mouth watered at the idea of licking him. They'd been in too much of a rush last night. Even the second and third time. As if they'd both been hungry so long, they'd needed to gorge. But - "We don't have time for this."

He held her for another couple of seconds, pure male muscle and heated skin. "We need to make time."

It was an order.

The cat hissed. The woman narrowed her eyes. "What you need to do is let go of me before I give you some scars that won't heal over as quick."

One big hand skated down her back to tease the top edge of her jeans. "I bet if I touched you now, I'd find you silky and hot and damp."

Her stomach grew taut as his fingers slid in past the denim, a little rough, all determined. Pushing. He was pushing her. But she was no tabby cat. She was a leopard. Biting those sensuous wolf lips just hard enough to sting, she shoved away using a move that snaked her out of his hold. "I meant what I said, Riley. Once was enough." Liar, liar.

He didn't attempt to grab her again, watching her dress with eyes gone amber as he finished pulling on his own clothes. "That's not what your body says."

"Yeah, well, it's not the best judge of character." Ignoring the weight of his gaze, she scraped her hair into a tight ponytail, having finally remembered stuffing a thick rubber band into her jeans as she left work a couple of days earlier. "I've got no room in my life for a male who's going to tell me what to do."

"This is just sex."

He was trying to make her mad. As if she'd fall for that. "Oh, puhleeze." Snorting, she went to grab her boots. "Nothing's just sex with men like you - the instant you take a lover, you become all 'I man, you woman. You do as I say.' " And no matter how much she wanted a mate, Mercy couldn't submit. Not that way. Not to a man who wanted her to be something different. It would break her. "Then you beat your chests and howl at the moon."

Riley wasn't amused. "You don't think you can handle me?"

Okay, so maybe he was really good at pushing her buttons. "I said I don't have the time." Hopping on one foot, she put on her boot.

Fighting the urge to trap her against the tree and bring this conversation down to the basics, Riley fisted his hands. Mercy sucked in a breath at almost the same instant. He froze. "What?"

"Nothing."

But her teeth were gritted in obvious pain. Looking down at the bare foot she was now holding off the ground, he quickly made the connection. "What did you step on?" His wolf rose to the surface, protective and more than a little possessive.

"Nothing."

Stubborn cat.

He headed over and knelt down in front of her, lifting her foot higher so he could look at the sole. "This nothing sure looks like a big, fat thorn." It angered him to see her flesh marred by the spike that had already drawn blood.

Her hand landed on his shoulder as she balanced herself. "I can take care of it."

Instead of dropping her foot, he held on tighter. "Have you had your shots?" he asked, knowing she'd hate any kind of sympathy. Mercy was as proud as they came. And for some reason, it was important to him that that pride never be crushed. "I don't want to catch rabies."

"Ha-ha," she muttered, but her voice was strained. "Since you won't let go, can you get it out?"

He checked the ground to make sure there were no other dangers. Mercy's opinions on the matter notwithstanding, he was a protector. Taking care of the woman he was rapidly coming to consider his own was as natural to him as breathing. "It'll be easier if you sit." He didn't offer to help her down, just watched to make sure she didn't hurt herself any more.

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