And when he and Rosalie parted, whether it was after a day or after a month, it would be with smiles and laughter. She’d seen the same with other members of the pack, knew that several of her friends were involved in affectionate, sensual relationships that wouldn’t be permanent—but would be respected and cherished.
“I’m sorry,” she forced herself to say, nausea curdling her stomach. “That was uncalled for.” Chest so tight it ached, she said, “Is this the way to the den?” glad that her voice came out calm, betraying none of the hurt that had her curling into a fetal ball inside her mind. Because it didn’t matter how much time alone she had with him if she had to spend her nights knowing those strong hands were stroking over another woman’s skin, another woman’s br**sts.
“No”—his voice a slow caress, an unintended taunt—“it’s a small detour.”
“I’d like to go back.” At that moment, the last thing she wanted was to be here, with him, not when she could almost hate him for what he was able to do to her.
“Throwing a tantrum, Sienna?” Ruthless words, that caressing tone suddenly a blade. “I thought you’d retired the spoiled brat act.”
How would you feel if the woman you wanted beyond all others planned to take another man into her bed? She didn’t yell the words, holding on to her tattered pride. Enough. Just . . . enough. Some things, a woman could not accept and live with herself. “Why are we here?” she asked in a voice touched with ice. “Why are we walking under the stars, late at night?”
Wolf-pale eyes gleaming at her in the dark, the gaze of a man used to getting exactly what he wanted. “We’re packmates. It’s a beautiful night. Simple as that.”
“Bullshit.” A harsh renunciation that scraped her throat raw. “You’re giving me just enough to make sure I can’t forget you and not enough to go against your all-important principles. Well, f**k you.” Quiet, quiet words, because she would not scream and yell, would not allow him to see her break. “I don’t want the crumbs from your table.” Turning on her heel, she started heading through the trees in the direction she thought would lead home.
She could not, would not, stop. If she did, he’d see the tears burning at the backs of her eyes, see what he did to her, and her humiliation would be complete.
“Stop right now.”
The words were right against her ear, the wolf having moved with preternatural speed. It was too much. She snapped.
HAWKE was about to close his hand around Sienna’s nape when she twisted to face him, her eyes devoid of stars. Knowing what she could do, he expected an attack, but she took a deep breath, dropped her head . . . and went up in flames.
A violent red licked with streamers of amber, the inferno gave off no heat, and yet he knew without a doubt that it was lethal beyond anything known to man. Fighting the wolf’s frenzied attempts to reach out, to protect, he forced himself to stand in place and look, really look. She was fine inside the blaze. No, not fine. Every muscle in her body was rigid, her hair blowing off her face in a savage psychic breeze, but whatever the fire demanded from her, her skin remained untouched.
Even being able to see her safe, the ten seconds she spent in the heart of flame were the longest of his life. “Do that again,” he growled the instant the fire blinked out, “and I swear I’ll throw you into the lake.”
She raised her head, embers continuing to flicker in her eyes. “I’d like to see you try.”
The wolf wasn’t used to being so flatly challenged. “What the f**k was that?” He’d seen her exercising her ability before, but never like this, until she was consumed by it.
“A simple energy release.” She began to walk away from him again.
His wolf saw red. “Baby, if—”
“Don’t. Call. Me. Baby.” Turning on her heel, she stared at him, her gaze potent with such destructive power, lesser men might’ve trembled.
But he was an alpha wolf, and if Sienna thought she was going to make him back off, she had another thing coming. “I’ll call you anything I damn well please.” He stepped into her personal space, until she had to either step back or have her br**sts brush against his chest with every breath.
She held her ground, paradoxically pleasing the wolf. “The only man,” she said, her words wrapped in that cold darkness he hadn’t seen in her since the first few days after her defection, “I’ll allow to use that particular endearment will be my lover. You are no longer in the running for the position.”
The rage that tore through him was a ravaging beast full of claws and teeth. But he bit back the primal demands that wanted to escape. And said the words that would keep her with him a while longer. Yeah, he was a selfish prick, but he’d never argued otherwise. Not when it came to Sienna Lauren. “I’ve never shown anyone else this spot.”
The cold dark retreated to reveal the stars in her eyes. “You’re playing me.” A stark vulnerability in her face, her soul stripped bare.
It didn’t rock him how much he wanted what he saw in her—the need had become an unrelenting ache by now. “Doesn’t make it any less true.” His wolf waited, tense.
When she fell into step beside him again, he clenched his hand to keep from reaching out to fist it in the jewel-dark silk of her hair, to tug her close, close enough that he could rub his face against it . . . close enough that he could pet and cajole her into melting into him. “Do all Xs have hair like yours?” he asked, needing to hear the sound of her voice if he couldn’t have the touch of her skin.