Her parents’ relationship might not make sense to Indigo, but there wasn’t a shred of doubt in her mind that they loved each other to the core of their beings. More, that they fit together like two pieces of a separated whole—as if without one, there would be no other.
She wanted that, she realized as she sat across from this incredible man who ticked all the right boxes, who’d make a good partner, but who would never be her heartbeat. She wanted the agony and the ecstasy, craved the ferocity of the bond that tied male to female in the most visceral way. Fear bloomed at the idea of the vulnerability that would accompany such a relationship, but it wasn’t enough to overwhelm the hunger in her soul.
Blinking, she found Riaz watching her with a disconcertingly intent look. “Sorry,” she said, her cheeks burning with cold heat. “My mind drifted away for a second.”
Riaz didn’t let her off the hook. “We’ve known each other too long to play games, Indigo.” Lifting his wineglass, he took a sip of the golden liquid. “We know this isn’t going to work—but we’re trying to pretend that it will because it’s easier, safer.”
Hearing the echo of pain in his words, she reached out to touch his free hand—no matter what, he was her friend. He was Pack. “Who?”
Indigo’s hand clenched on his. “You found her?”
“Too late.” It was torn out of him, eyes gleaming amber in the flickering candlelight. “She’s another man’s wife, a good man.” Raw hurt in those words. “Not touching her, not simply taking her, was the hardest thing I’ve ever done—but she would’ve despised herself for cheating.”
So he’d walked away, Indigo thought, though it was clear doing so had savaged him. “I’m sorry, Riaz.” She couldn’t imagine the nightmare he was living, knowing his mate belonged to someone else. Predatory male changelings were possessive beyond belief—it had to be torture to know that another man had the right to touch his mate, to build a life with her.
“I wasn’t playing games with you, Indigo,” he said, turning his hand over so their fingers intertwined, his tone raw. “I thought—”
“I know,” she interrupted with all the gentleness she had in her. Hurting and broken, he’d needed Pack, and she was someone he loved as a friend. It would’ve been instinct to turn to her, to try to find some kind of hope. “There’s no need for apologies between us.”
“It would’ve been so much easier if it was you.” He gave a small smile, the pain in his eyes filmed over by the fist of control. “Drew’s the one, isn’t he?”
She went to tug back her hand but he held it. “Yes,” she admitted. “It confuses me, confuses my wolf, what he makes me feel.” Exhilaration and joy . . . and utter, utter terror. Because what if she was right? What if being with Drew would eventually mean a corrosive pain that would destroy them both, drop by slow drop?
Riaz leaned forward and lifted her fingers to his mouth, brushing a tender caress across her knuckles. “You know what I’m going to say.” In his gaze, she saw a fierce want, a hunger that told her he’d give anything to have the right to court, to claim the woman who sang to his heart. The woman, Indigo thought with an insight born of her own turmoil, for whom he might just play.
“Take me home, Riaz.” There was no use in pretending she wasn’t aching to return to tangle with a wolf who shouldn’t have made her feel this way. But he did. And she’d been a coward long enough.
It was time to come face-to-face with what might very well be her destiny.
Indigo kicked off her heels, shimmied out of her dress, and washed the makeup off her face. Brushing her hair out of its fancy knot and into her more usual ponytail, she pulled on some jeans, topped them with a sleek black turtleneck, stuffed her feet into boots . . . then took a deep breath.
Butterflies flitted here and there in her stomach, while her blood pumped jagged and erratic through her veins. Lifting her hands to her face, she rubbed. Her skin flushed hot, then cold, before the cycle repeated. “Stop stalling,” she ordered herself and wrenched open the door.
The corridors were quiet, most of the den having bedded down for the night. Only those on night shift were up—they waved hello to her as she passed by. Waving back, she carried on. Drew’s quarters were near the end of the passage, and she was raising a hand to knock when the soldier next door poked out his head. “Hey, Indigo. Thought I scented you. You looking for Drew?”
“He left a couple of hours ago,” the other male told her.
“Do you know where he was going?”
“Had a backpack,” was the response. “I figured he was heading out on one of his trips.”
Her stomach dropped. Had he left? Had he finally given up and left? Her wolf went quiet, unsure, even as anger spiked. That wasn’t how the game was played—the male didn’t leave. He chased and he tangled and he fought. Except . . . she’d chosen someone else in front of him. She might as well have taken a buzz saw to his pride, the one vulnerable spot in a predatory changeling male’s armor. “Thanks.”
Nodding, the other soldier ducked back inside. Indigo forced herself to walk down the corridor and away from the quarters used by the single dominants in the pack. She didn’t even realize she was heading for Hawke’s office until she got there and found it empty. Frustration churned, but she turned back around and arrowed toward the training rooms. Their alpha slept very few hours a night, haunted by things that had marked him since childhood—and perhaps, right this moment, more than a little sexual frustration.