“Something come up?” Such an everyday question. Such a quiet intimacy she’d never again experience. The next time they met, it would be as senior soldier and lieutenant, not lovers who had become friends … more.
“No.” His chest rumbled against her. “Just a case of setting up a permanent communications line. We’re thinking Kenji for the liaison, since I have the Alliance.”
A sharp lance of pain, and she thought, perhaps it was better to do this here. If they went behind closed doors and he fought her, she might give in. But out there, with packmates at the far end of the corridor, and the exit not far behind her, she was, in a strange way, protected from her own weakness where he was concerned.
Drawing back until she could look into his face, she said, “I saw Lisette—she told me she’s getting a divorce from her husband.”
No surprise on his face, just the intense determination of a dominant who intended to get his own way. “It doesn’t change this, doesn’t change us.”
“It changes everything.” Her voice a harsh whisper, she stepped back, breaking the connection between them.
He didn’t like that—she saw it in the flash of temper in eyes gone pure wolf.
Breath a jagged blade in her chest, she shook her head. “Don’t tell me you don’t wonder, don’t th—”
“I f**king don’t!” He grabbed her upper arms, held her in place, the raw fury in his voice a wild thing. “I made my choice, and I chose you. Don’t you do this. Don’t you destroy us.”
It was so tempting to give in, but she knew that in spite of what she’d tried to convince herself, the idea of his mate would always be a painful silence between them. Still … she wasn’t that self-sacrificing. She wanted to keep him, and if he wanted to stay, surely it was all right?
Agony seared her blood, her wolf howling in bone-deep sorrow.
And she knew she loved him too much to steal this joy from him. “Go,” she whispered, and it was torn out of her. “Be happy.”
The sound that came out of Riaz’s throat was that of a mortally wounded animal. Gripping her nape, he hauled her against him. “No.” A single brutal word spoken against her ear.
Tears burned in her eyes, choked up her throat. She wanted so desperately to hold on, just hold on, but in her head played the nightmare of waking up one day to find that he hated her, as Martin had hated her. Her former lover had resented her strength, but Riaz would have a far deeper reason to hate her.
No, she wouldn’t do that—to him, or to herself.
She was worth more. She was worth being the first, the only. Not second best, not the one who’d caught this incredible man when he was hurting from a loss a changeling alone could understand … not just a trusted friend he couldn’t bear to hurt. “Go,” she whispered again, brushing her lips over his jaw in a final caress that held her heart. “She’s yours. You need her, and she needs you.” Ripping herself out of his arms, she shoved through the nearby exit and began to run.
Her feet pounded the earth, her blood thudded in her veins, and her heart … it splintered into a million fragments.
RIAZ stared at the exit. He could catch her—the crushed berries and ice and hidden warmth of her scent was embedded in his every cell. He could track her through wind and hail and snow. But he couldn’t go after her.
Not when he didn’t know the words to say to convince her of a love that had come to define him, a love that bore the name of his prickly, generous, beautiful Adria.
“Fuck.” He slammed his fist into the stone wall of the den, scraping the skin and leaving a streak of blood behind. It barely registered. Instead of howling with possessive fury, he grit his teeth, reined in his wolf—who clawed at him in a confusion of rage and pain—and strode out the same door Adria had used.
He needed to think, to plan. Because no way in hell was he letting her go. She was his, had given herself to him. He wasn’t a generous man when it came to his empress, wouldn’t return her heart. It goddamned belonged to him and he was keeping it.
Fighting his most primal instincts, he ran in the opposite direction from the one she’d taken, pushing himself so hard that his powerful changeling chest hurt with the force of his breaths. Still he ran. Until he was in the thinner air of the higher elevations, the sky riotous with the fiery dance of sunset, and his body forced him to stop. Bracing himself with his palms on his thighs, he gasped in the crisp, clean air, his heart pumping hot and rapid.
It wasn’t as much of a surprise as it should’ve been to see a huge silver-gold wolf materialize out of the trees. Hawke wasn’t alpha simply because he was stronger and faster than the other wolves in the den—he was alpha because he knew his people. Shoving a hand through his sweat-damp hair, Riaz jogged over to the edge of a stream fed by the mountain snows, and threw water onto his face. The chill of it shocked.
When Hawke shifted beside him, he didn’t look at his alpha. It wasn’t the fact the other man was nude—such nakedness after a shift was an accepted part of a changeling’s life, nothing to be remarked upon—but because he had no desire to talk to anyone. “I need to be alone.” It was only Adria he’d allow close to him whenever she wanted. Everyone else could get out and stay there.
Hawke’s response was resolute. “Nell saw you smash your hand into the wall—she thought you probably broke a bone and never noticed. What the hell happened?”
His rage simmered, needing an outlet. “I said, leave me alone.” Deciding to make his point explicit, he shifted into wolf form, lips peeled back to flash his canines.