And he understood. "I'll try, Mercy. I'll give it everything I have." It was a raw promise, from the heart of the wolf, from the soul of the man.
It would do, she thought, her own heart clenching. It would do. Because Riley would honor that promise with everything in him. And if it didn't work, if they were both too strong-willed, too stubborn, to meet in the middle, it wouldn't be because they hadn't tried. And it would hurt like hell. She knew that. Accepted that. And decided to give it a shot. "Tell me, Riley," she said, teasing, "what would you do to me if there were no boundaries?"
He dropped the loofah and replaced it with his fingers. "Tying you up sounds like a good idea."
"So, staid Riley Kincaid has a kinky secret." She moved on his fingers, relishing the building tightness in her body, the sheer pleasure on his face. "Do you have a whip?"
"With you, it might come in handy." His fingers slid inside her.
And she came.
Just like that.
A wild burst of ecstasy that swept over her in short, jagged waves and left her breathless. Chest rising and falling in a ragged rhythm, she looked up through lids gone half-mast. "You didn't even kiss me properly. What kind of a woman do you think I am?"
"The kind that means trouble." But he bent his head and gave her a kiss straight out of her hottest dreams, all tongue and demand and sex. When they parted, he put his hands on her hips, as if to lift her up.
"Wait." Pushing him back until his body blocked the water, she shook off his hands and sank down to her knees.
His hand fisted in her hair, and when she looked up, it was the wolf's eyes that she met. She knew hers had gone cat at orgasm, and she let them remain that way. Gaze locked with his, she put her hands on his thighs . . . and used her mouth on him.
His grip on her hair tightened almost enough to hurt before he let go, slamming both hands palms-down on the tile in front of him. "Mercy!"
Smiling, she flicked her tongue along the underside of his erection, and purred. Debauching Riley was the most exquisite task she'd ever had. Now she let the cat out to play, stroking him with quick, feline flicks of her tongue before sucking deep and hard.
His h*ps jerked. Once. Twice. And then he froze. "Mercy."
She didn't release him, didn't submit to the command in that tone. Instead, she ran her nails deliberately down the backs of his thighs. He swore a blue streak, but managed to hold on. She refused to let him - no way was Riley getting out of this without surrendering to her, at least this little bit. It mattered. Wasn't just sex. They were changeling - if he trusted her physically, he'd eventually trust her with his thoughts and secrets, too.
But first, she wanted his beautiful body to come apart for her. Taking her mouth off him, she looked up, met his gaze . . . and licked her lips. He shuddered. And this time, had no hope in hell of holding back.
It was well after midnight when they fell into bed. She was almost asleep when Riley said, "I dream only good dreams when I sleep with you."
Breath catching in her throat, she pressed her lips to his heart to tell him she was there, that she was listening. He didn't say anything for several minutes, but when he spoke, the undisguised emotion in him tore her to pieces.
"Brenna was so small when our parents died. She couldn't even walk properly, just do that grab-anything-and-hope-I-don't-fall wobble."
Mercy smiled at the image. "A baby."
"Yeah." His voice dropped, grew husky. "And she was my baby. You wouldn't believe how possessive I was over her and Drew."
She rubbed her nose against his chest. "That's the one thing I have no difficulty believing."
"Cat." A squeeze. "We were adopted into another family, but the whole pack looked after us. We were almost spoiled with all the attention we got. But even then, I always knew Drew and Bren were mine to take care of."
Conscious of what was coming, she stroked her hands over his chest, pressing another kiss to his heart. Skin privileges of the most tender kind. Her cat wanted desperately to protect this wolf, but knew this poison had to come out, had to be purged.
"But," he said at last, "when it mattered, I wasn't there. The things that bastard did to her - " A sound that held indescribable pain mixed with absolute rage. "It destroys me that the girl I cradled as a baby had to suffer that. She must've cried for me, but I wasn't there. I wasn't there."
"You were," Mercy said fiercely.
"The rescue was - "
"I'm not talking about that." She pulled herself up on the bed until they lay face to face, side by side. "Sascha said that Brenna's will was a steel flame, so strong, so beautiful."
Violent pride in Riley's eyes. "I know."
"But, Riley" - she cupped his face in her hands - "where do you think she learned that strength, that will? Who do you think taught her that she was that tough, that she could beat anything?"
Flickers of understanding in his gaze, but he shook his head. "I always protected her."
"But you didn't cage her," Mercy said, knowing he'd only tried to do that after the rescue. "You brought her up to be a proud, strong wolf. You gave her that foundation, Riley."
A long pause and the wolf glimmered in his eyes. "I need to think about this."
She smiled. "You do that, wolf." Part of him would always worry after Brenna. That was normal. But perhaps, in time, he'd stop being haunted by a monster's crime. "And remember, Brenna made it." A brush of fingertips against his lips. "She'd probably like her big brother back."