Her legs jumped over a fallen log without her conscious command, her body moving with a rhythm that could come only from being changeling. She was fast, faster than any other female in DarkRiver. But she could feel him gaining on her. So she pushed and went impossibly faster.
If the wolf wanted her, he'd have to catch her.
Deep in her primal brain, she knew what she was doing. Dominant leopard women never came easily into a lover's arms. They tested their chosen male, made him prove he was capable of handling all the female had to give. More, that he was willing to fight to get it.
But Mercy wasn't ready to think about the implications of her challenge. All she knew was that this was the most exhilarating game of her life. She could scent Riley in the breeze as he ran behind her, feel the sheer weight of his intent. The wolf thought he had her. But she wasn't a leopard for nothing.
Not slowing down, she jumped onto a tree trunk, hooking herself with her claws. Climbing up with the feline grace built into her genes, she pulled herself up onto a branch, and quickly made her way to the end . . . to jump onto the next tree. And the next. There would be no trail below, nothing to tell him where she'd gone.
Well, except for her scent.
But he'd have to be fast to catch it . . . because her cat was cunning. She'd circled back on him, was going toward him as he ran her way. It would confuse the trail, make him head in one direction while she went in the other. And that was exactly what happened a few minutes later as he passed under her.
Disappointment cut through her, a hot, biting wound. She hadn't actually wanted him to fail. If she made it to the den before him, then she won, and though she might accept him back into her bed again, it would never be the same. Making a face, telling herself she wasn't that upset - liar, liar - she continued through the trees.
A hundred meters on, she realized she couldn't make a direct leap from tree to tree. Since Riley was way over in the wrong direction, she jumped off the branch and came to a crouching, catlike landing on the small clearing below.
A familiar hand closed around her throat from behind an instant later and she found herself hauled up against a firm, gorgeously male chest, his free arm clamping across her body to immobilize her own arms. Heat against her ear, the possessive brush of lips that she wanted to feel on every inch of her skin. "Gotcha."
She reacted on instinct, kicking backward with her legs as she attempted to wrench her body loose. All that got her was a grunt and some rough swearing before she was pressed front-first to a tree trunk, her hands manacled behind her back, her shoulders immobilized by his arm, and her legs held in place by heavy male thighs. He'd left her just enough leeway that she could turn her head.
Both of them were breathing hard, their animals at the forefront, but she was very aware of one thing. Through it all, Riley had taken every care not to hurt her. Even now, he was pressing into her with a fraction less strength than he should've done if he really wanted to keep her contained.
Test not only passed, but aced.
Because this was a game. Hurting your partner wasn't the aim. "Riley?"
"Yeah." He didn't break his hold, even as he pressed closer, his erection insistent against her lower back.
The tiny hairs on her body shivered in reaction. "I think you're sexy."
Riley narrowed his eyes at Mercy's teasing comment. "I'm not trusting a word that comes out of that pretty mouth until you acknowledge my dominance."
"If I do, will you use your pretty mouth to lick me between my legs?"
Christ Almighty! "Mercy, I'm this close to tearing off your pants and just mounting you."
The lush tang of feminine arousal had flirted with the air since the moment he put his hand on her, but now it blanketed everything around them. The wolf rose to the surface. Lifting his arm off her shoulders, but pressing his chest against her back, he ran his lips over the shell of her ear. "Or is that what you want?"
Her hands were close to his crotch and now one of those hands closed over his erection. "Bite me."
"Okay." He sank his teeth into the sensitive zone between neck and shoulder.
She jerked. "Fuck!" Her hand tightened on him and it felt so good, he almost came.
Reaching between them, he pried her fingers off with his free hand as he licked his tongue over the bite marks on her skin. "No playing down there. You might use claws."
"Why not?" He kissed the spot he'd bitten, luxuriating in the clean, sexy, dangerous scent of her. Instead of growling, the wolf in him rolled around in it, demanding more.
Demanding she carry his scent pounded into her skin.
She angled her head slightly, giving him better access. His c**k throbbed, his throat grew thick, but he held firm and avoided giving her what she wanted. Instead, he drew back. "Yes."
"Yes, if you acknowledge my dominance, I'll lick you between your thighs." And this time, he'd take his time. "I'll lick and suck and - "
Everything stilled. He couldn't believe he'd heard right. He'd expected a grudging acknowledgement of his dominance at most. But this . . . His wolf wanted to nip at her, pet her, make sure she knew he'd take every care of the gift she'd given him.
"Only for this, only now."
The time limit changed nothing about the value of the gift. And it was a gift. One dominant females very rarely gave. "Accepted." He released her hands and slammed them palms-down on the tree trunk. "Keep them there."
"If I don't?"
He slapped her lightly on the rump. "I don't think you know what yielding means."