However Lara, too, wasn’t a woman who made decisions lightly, and she’d made one to move on. And as her friend Ava had pointed out in her frank, no-nonsense way earlier today, Kieran might not have been a good fit for her, but he was the first man she’d gone out with in the past six months.
“You haven’t,” Ava had continued, “given any other man a chance to impact your feelings toward Walker.”
With that truth in mind, she called up a senior tech who’d asked her out three months ago, and set up a lunch date for the following day. Feeling good about his instant agreement, she was just hanging up when she saw Walker in the doorway. Once, she’d have assumed he’d come to see her. Tonight, her immediate thought was that someone was hurt. “Who?” she asked, rising to her feet. “What do—”
He halted her with a hand on her wrist, his skin rough against her own, his grip unbreakable. Startled, she froze. Her shock was the only thing that muted her instinctive response to his touch. Because she loved Walker’s hands, loved the calluses that came from what he did in his spare time, the beautiful things he created—including tiny pieces of furniture for his daughter’s cherished dollhouse.
Now, that strong, warm hand held her in place as he leaned forward to put a tray of food on her desk, the dark water and snow-dusted fir of his scent enclosing her in a sensual prison that allowed no escape. “You missed dinner. Again.”
Her wolf’s entire body quivered at what from a male wolf would signal the start of a serious courtship, but Lara squelched that reaction. She wasn’t about to set herself up for more hurt. “I was busy.” In spite of her calm words, when he nudged her back into her chair, she went without argument.
However, when he leaned that tall, strong body back against her desk—so close that she could’ve stroked her hand over his jean-clad thigh, the worn denim stretched taut over firm muscle—picked up the plate, and went to feed her a forkful, she jerked herself free of the lingering tendrils of shock. “Here,” she said, taking the plate. “You don’t want to do that.”
Sliding her chair a little farther from him, she forced herself to answer. “It’s an intimacy . . . like skin privileges.”
Walker didn’t ask any further questions, but neither did he leave—as Lara’s body language indicated he should. He knew he was pushing uninvited into her space, but he also knew he didn’t like it when she didn’t take care of herself and he’d had enough of watching that happen. And though it might’ve been smarter to keep his distance, given her disconcerting effect on him . . . he’d missed her.
“Did you hear,” he asked, because Lara was the one person with whom he’d always found words, “that Marlee joined the children’s choir?” It was the first time he’d made a deliberate effort to initiate—rebuild—any kind of a bond with a woman.
A genuine smile broke through the shadows on Lara’s face. “I heard Ben and her practicing. She’s got a beautiful voice.”
So, Walker thought, did Lara.
SIENNA jerked upright in bed, her plain black tank top stuck to her skin. The nightmare hadn’t raised its ugly head for months, but it had made up for lost time tonight. Shoving off the blankets, she swung her legs over the side of the bed and pushed back strands of hair that had escaped her braid to stick to sweat-damp skin.
“Perfect.” Ming, looking at her as a human might a high-performance vehicle. “You really are the most perfect genetic specimen.”
Perfect—if you wanted a cold-blooded mass murderer. Except of course, her blood no longer ran cold. “Still a potential murderer,” she whispered, trembling so hard her vision wavered.
“We are who we make ourselves.” Judd’s voice, compelling in its very quietness. “Don’t ever give up your will to some idea of genetic predestination.”
She clung to his words. Judd had made it. He’d changed the nature of his gift from death to life, become a healer. That wasn’t a path Sienna could follow, her ability was too much of violence, but she’d forge her own path—and not as the butcher Ming had intended her to be, the butcher he’d spent so many years grooming in the expectation of owning her body and soul. Until she’d proven too dangerous even for him. “You didn’t break me, you bastard.” Not then, and not now.
Rising to her feet, she stripped and walked into the shower, setting the temperature close to boiling point. Only when her skin was pulsing with heat almost painful in its intensity did she step out and rub herself down. A glance at the clock showed her it was five a.m. Dressing and plaiting her damp hair, she logged in to the roster to double-check her schedule and saw a reminder that she was meant to attend a training session from noon until late in the afternoon.
Checking the rest of the roster, she coded in a call to Riordan. It went through with visuals. A rumpled sounding wolf said, “I’m getting up, Mom. I promise,” from under a blanket. “Gimme just a minute.”
Her lips twitched. “You mind if I take your shift this morning?” He was rostered on from six to eleven.
Riordan raised his head to meet her gaze, his hair sticking up in a mess that was mysteriously attractive. “Dear God, you’re showered. Crazy woman.”
“Since I am . . .”
“Wouldn’t ask if I wasn’t.” If she kept moving, then maybe she’d forget the bleak insight she’d had in the SUV last night, forget that the past stood as an opaque barrier between her and the only man who’d ever broken through her own shields. “You can pay me back later in the week.”