Drew’s hand slipped behind her neck to tug her to his chest. “Shh.” The warmth had returned to his voice, the tone husky. “I just wasn’t ready.”
“It’s okay.” She stroked his back with her free hand, the bear between them. “We’ll put it back until you are.” It hurt her to know that he was hurting. Really hurt her.
Drew nuzzled at her neck. “No, I think Platypus is probably tired of being in that drawer.”
She blinked. “You have a bear named Platypus?”
A grin as he took the bear from her and ran his hands affectionately over the chewed-off ears. “Hey, I was a kid. How was I supposed to know what a platypus was?” Walking to the bed, he sat down, tugging the sheet across just enough to cover the most distracting part of him. “Come, sit.”
Pulling on the T-shirt, she went to sit beside him, her legs curled under her. Still uncertain what she’d inadvertently done, she put one hand on his shoulder, pressing her body a little against his. “He was yours?”
“When I was small.”
She saw him swallow, remembered how young he’d been when he’d lost both parents. Her own throat grew choked. “You were a feral little thing, weren’t you?” she said past the knot of emotion, tugging at the bear’s abbreviated ears.
Drew gave a small laugh, and the tightness in her chest relaxed. Her wolf didn’t like seeing him in distress.
“My mom gave Platty to me.” He brought the bear up to his nose, drew in a long breath. “Sometimes, I think I can scent her perfume if I try hard enough.”
A tear threatened to streak its way down Indigo’s cheek, but she blinked it back, knowing Drew needed her to listen today. “You’ve taken good care of him.”
“You know we were fostered in the pack,” he said quietly. “Our foster parents were good, really good to all three of us. They’d brought up their own kids, understood exactly what we needed.”
“But they weren’t your parents.” Indigo understood, knew that his foster parents—who’d both gone roaming around the world a few years ago—would’ve understood as well.
Drew surprised her by laughing. “I don’t think Riley would’ve allowed them to take over.” A sharp grin, full of affection. “He was the one we instinctively looked toward, as the oldest, and he never let us down. We loved our foster parents for the home they gave us, but we bonded the strongest with each other.”
“That makes me better understand the way Riley treats the two of you.” Especially with Brenna, the other lieutenant was severely overprotective—more like a father than a brother. He was less so with Drew, but there was still a hint of it in his dealings with his brother.
“Yeah.” Holding Platypus in one hand, Drew put his other one on her thigh, his fingers stroking with an affection that she’d long understood was as natural to him as breathing. “You know, part of the way he is, is because of the fact that he all but brought us up, but—”
“—part of it is just Riley,” Indigo completed. “I remember him as a kid, you know. So intense, so focused. If you needed to get something done in the kid circles, you went to either Hawke or Riley. Hawke to lead the trouble, and Riley to make sure we didn’t get caught.”
Drew squeezed her thigh. “I kept Platypus with me all through my childhood,” he said, then gave a self-conscious shrug. “When I turned into a teenager, I hid him in the cupboard, but I used to take him out at night sometimes and talk to him.”
Shifting her hold, she hugged him around the shoulders, putting her face cheek-first against his back. “It was like being with your mom again.”
“Yeah.” Drew stroked the bear’s ragged ears once more. “Riley and Brenna don’t know I still have him.”
Her wolf understood what he was telling her, accepted the gift. “I think he’d look good on top of the dresser,” she murmured, pressing a kiss to his nape. “Don’t you?”
Drew thought about it for a long second before lifting her hand up to his lips and rising to place Platypus in pride of place on the polished wood of his dresser. There was a vulnerability to him she could almost touch—and she knew he was embarrassed by it. Yet still he’d shared so much of his heart. It humbled her, his courage.
And it pushed her to the precipice of accepting the mating bond.
Her remaining hesitation had nothing to do with his youth or dominance. It was far more visceral. Her wolf adored Drew now, but used to control, to protecting itself, it was uneasy at the idea of the total, absolute surrender signified by the mating bond. Yet in spite of that, it found itself compelled to the edge by Drew’s open commitment, by the fearless way he grabbed onto life . . . onto love.
Andrew could almost taste the mating bond the next morning as he worked beside Indigo to clear the northern edge of their territory of surveillance devices. It was serious work—but he was a wolf. “Hey, Indy,” he said around midmorning, feeling a little raw after the previous night. But because it had been his mate who’d seen him so very vulnerable, he was able to deal.
“No more kisses,” she warned with a scowl that he knew was all pretend. “People are placing bets now on how long till you ambush me again.”
“It’s good for morale.”
Indigo shot him a narrow-eyed look. “You’re right. Sneak.”
“Fringe benefit,” he said. “I just like kissing you.” In front of people. So everyone would know she was his. “But this time I wanted to tell you that you have something in your hair.”