“Gorgeous, hot, and delicious.”
Lara’s lips twitched. “Thanks.”
Ava’s eyes turned solemn. “He came to you, Lara, so the man’s earned brownie points in my book, but it doesn’t alter who he is.”
“I’m not so sure,” Lara murmured. “I see beyond the shield now, Ava, and the man I see? He’s capable of giving me everything I need and more.” She had to hope, to believe that she could get Walker to see that, too.
“In that case,” her best friend said with a wide smile, “lock the door and kiss his brains out.”
Lara pressed her hands to her stomach at the idea of it. “I better go. He’ll be on time.”
She drank in the sight of him as she opened the door. “Hi.” Dressed in jeans and a crisp white shirt with the sleeves folded back to the elbows, he looked calm and contained and distant. She wanted to muss him up so badly she had to curl her fingers into her palms to restrain the urge.
Entering when she stepped back, he closed the door behind himself. His eyes lingered on her face, on her curls, before sweeping down the front of her dress, back up. “Why are we watching a movie, Lara?”
“I—it’s what people do on a date?”
“Do you want to do that?”
Unable to read anything on that calm face, in those steady eyes, she said, “We’re alone. We can do whatever we want.”
“In that case, I’d like to kiss you.” Reaching out, he curved his hand around the side of her neck.
“Oh, well . . .” Her lips parted of their own accord, and when he dipped his head, she could do nothing but stand on tiptoe, her hands tight on his shoulders.
He raised his head far too soon. “The sofa will work better,” he murmured and lifting her into his arms, carried her to the seat.
She found herself sitting on his lap moments later, one arm around his neck, the bottom part of her dress having split to reveal a dangerous length of thigh. It might’ve embarrassed her, except that Walker’s eyes were trained on that bared flesh, and all she could think was that she’d die if he didn’t put one of those big, capable hands on her.
“I,” he said, tugging the two parts of the dress farther apart, “don’t know much about intimacy.”
“No?” It came out husky. “You’re doing just fine.” So fine her heart was going to beat out of her chest at any minute.
“Do I have permission to touch you, Lara?”
Of course he’d ask. He was Walker. He took nothing for granted. “Any and all skin privileges you want,” she whispered, wanting no mistakes on that score.
Light green eyes met hers for a blazing instant before he closed the callused roughness of his hand over her calf, ran it up to cup the back of her knee. “So soft.”
Shivering, she reached down to tug at his hand. “It’s sensitive.”
He didn’t move. “Does it hurt?”
“No. The other kind of sensitive.” The kind that had her ni**les peaking against the soft fabric of her dress.
“Then I’ll touch you there again later.” Sliding that hand up over her thigh, he flattened his other over her spine.
When he didn’t make any other move, she looked up, met his gaze. “Walker?” He was a dominant, notwithstanding the fact that he didn’t wear a wolf’s skin. Men like that didn’t hesitate once they had permission.
“This”—a squeeze of her thigh that had her stomach tensing—“isn’t the only kind of intimacy, is it, Lara?”
Always, he surprised her, this man. “No,” she whispered, stroking her fingers up over his nape and into his hair.
“Will you tell me about your parents?”
Her heart twisted into a thousand knots at the quiet, powerful request. This wasn’t how she’d imagined the night would go. It was a thousand times better. “You know my father is Mack, the senior tech in charge of the hydro plant.”
“And your mother is Aisha,” he said at once, “one of the chief cooks.”
“Yes. They’re wonderful.” Smart and loving and devoted, both to each other and Lara. “Though my mother despairs of my cooking skills.”
“I know. Aisha’s the one who makes up the plates I bring you.” A spark of unexpected humor in that stunning green. “We get along very well—possibly because we’re in agreement on the fact that bullying you into taking care of yourself is not only acceptable, but necessary.”
It startled a laugh out of her to think of her vibrant, chatterbox of a mother and thoughtful, intense Walker as conspirators. “I wondered how you knew all my favorite dishes!” Wolf happy at the knowledge that the people she loved liked each other, she feathered her fingers through the hair that brushed his nape. “What about you?” she asked, so content in this moment that it hurt.
“Though the births were spread out over fourteen years, Judd, Kristine, and I were full siblings,” he said, running his fingers over her thigh. The caress made her suck in a breath, but she didn’t push for sexual skin privileges. Not now, when Walker was opening up to her in a way she’d never expected. “It made logical sense since the combination of maternal and paternal DNA kept creating high-Gradient offspring.”
“It sounds . . . but I guess that’s the way it is in the Net.”
“Yes. My daughter was conceived by the same method.”
But not brought up in the cold, Lara thought. Marlee had always been a child confident in her father’s protection and love, even when they’d first defected. “You’re a good father, Walker,” she said, placing her free hand on his cheek. “You understand children.”