“But”—she held his gaze, let him see the truth in her eyes—“it’s done with, nothing you need to carry like a millstone around your neck.” Her life right now might be a turbulent storm, but the chapter with Martin, she’d closed long ago. It was part of a past that had shaped her but no longer caged her. “I hope you find happiness.” The wish was a genuine one, for a man who had once made her laugh.
Closing the distance between them, he touched a hesitant finger to her cheek. “I never knew what I had until you were gone.” An unspoken question, his eyes shadowed with loss and a tormented guilt both.
“We’re a piece of each other’s history now, Martin,” she said gently, the strength to be kind coming not from her aggressive soldier instincts but from the part of her that understood compassion did not have to mean weakness. “In the past.”
His gaze betrayed a regret that silvered the most poignant emotion through her, but found no twin. As Riaz had seen what seemed like a lifetime ago, she had never loved Martin the way a predatory changeling female should love her man—until it was a wild howl in her blood, a near-painful craving and a tenderness that burned. Still, they had not always been adversaries, so she didn’t hurt him by rejecting his embrace before he left.
“Good-bye,” Adria whispered as his back disappeared into the trees, knowing she had laid the final ghost to rest, even if Martin continued to wrestle with them. There was calm in making peace with her past, but that peace was overwhelmed by an anguish that went to the soul, as if a chunk of her self had been ripped out and the wound wasn’t healing.
Because this time, she’d loved true.
Until, in spite of the silent promise she’d made not to ask him for what he couldn’t give her, she couldn’t bear to be with Riaz knowing she wasn’t his one, his only. Yet … the way he loved her, the way he branded her with his kiss, the primal possession in the rough, beautiful words he spoke to her—it made her want to believe his heart bore her name, not Lisette’s.
The tumult of her opposing thoughts had her wolf clawing and snarling, no longer sure which choice was the right one.
WHEN Riaz returned to den territory late that afternoon after handling something in the city, he was determined to continue on where he’d left off with Adria—to discover she’d requested a change in her duties that saw her stationed up in the mountains for three days, on one of the high perimeter watches no one but the lone wolves much liked, they were so isolated. The soldier she’d replaced was ecstatic, and more than happy to take Adria’s shifts on anchor detail.
He knew the only reason she hadn’t volunteered for an even longer stretch was that she was too loyal to her trainees to leave them scrambling. As it was, she’d organized two special sessions for them with the lone dominant who had the gift of not intimidating even the gentlest submissive—Drew—and taken a sat phone with her, in case the kids needed to get in touch. A sat phone she’d apparently pick up for everyone but Riaz.
His wolf snarled, but he bided his time, because when he went after her, he wasn’t coming back alone. First, he had to take care of another matter he’d been working on in the background—and, given the shifts he was doing with the anchor protection squad, as well as his duties as the lieutenant in charge of SnowDancer’s international business interests, it took him until the end of the following day to put all the pieces in place.
It was on the morning of the day after that he drove down to San Francisco.
Lisette smiled at seeing him at the door to her hotel room. “This is a nice surprise.”
“We have to talk.” It was past time. “About us.”
Her smile dimmed. “Riaz, I sensed something the first time we met, but—”
He pressed a finger to her lips, feeling an affectionate tenderness toward her, such as he might feel for a cherished friend. “I know. I don’t love you either.” It was as simple as that, regardless of the promise of the mating bond that existed with Lisette. His heart, the heart of a lone wolf, belonged absolutely and indelibly to a stubborn violet-eyed woman who was going to make him chase her up into the mountains. No potential chimera of a future could hold a candle to the incandescent happiness man and wolf both felt simply being in Adria’s presence.
“Oh good.” Lisette’s laugh was a bit teary. “Because I’m stupid in love with a man who doesn’t want me.”
Stepping inside the room, he closed the door and tugged her to the window that looked out over the parking lot below and the quiet street beyond. “You’re angry.”
Lisette’s hand tightened on his. “Furious would be the better word. I know I left Emil, but he was supposed to fight for me! How could he just let me go?”
“Look down.” He pushed aside the lace curtain.
Lisette’s breath released in a soft whisper when she saw the slender blond man standing beside a silver rental sedan in the parking lot. “You called him?”
“He’s been in the city since the day after you arrived.” Emil was a good man, one who loved his wife so much, he’d thought to set her free when he’d been diagnosed with a rare genetic disorder that would mean years of arduous hospital visits to cure, therapy that might leave him in agony—something he knew would cause Lisette brutal pain. Except he couldn’t bear to be without her, had followed her across the ocean and kept a watch on her. “He loves you.”
“He sent me divorce papers!” Clearly outraged, Lisette fisted both hands … though her eyes continued to drink in the sight of her husband.