“Cut him a little slack. He was thinking crazy.” Riaz had tracked Emil down with the intention of getting to the bottom of things, of making the other man see how badly he was hurting Lisette. However, it turned out Emil had already made up his mind to reclaim his wife and trust in the strength of their love to get them through the test to come.
“When I spoke to him today,” Riaz continued, “he was planning to storm the defenses, but he agreed to give me a few minutes with you first.” Only because Riaz had promised to try to soften Lisette’s mood—though until right this second, he’d had no idea she even had a temper.
“Hah!” Lisette kicked the wall with a foot clad in a flimsy peach-colored heel, trying to push up the locked-shut window at the same time. “He thinks he can get me back just by turning up?!” A rapid storm of indignant French as she gave up on the window and stalked to the door.
Opening it so hard it slammed into the wall, she headed out.
Emil wasn’t looking at the hotel when she stomped out, but he turned a split second later. Expression lighting up, he went to take Lisette into his arms. At which point, his sweet, loving, cultured wife punched him on the jaw, hard enough that his head spun. After which she cradled his face in her hands and kissed the life out of him, before stepping back and gesticulating in unrestrained fury.
Then she reached down, took off her shoe, and threw it at his head, oblivious to the small crowd of fascinated bystanders. Ducking the missile, a laughing Emil grabbed her around the waist, pinning her arms to her sides. But Lisette had enough freedom of movement to tug up the skirt of her knee-length shift and attempt to unman her husband.
Riaz winced, then grinned, knowing the other couple would be okay. The sophisticated and elegant Lisette the rest of the world knew would never cause a scene of such fiery proportions—clearly it was only with the man she loved that she let her shields fall. Just like his Adria would never allow any man but Riaz to reduce her to giggling fits as she wiggled across the bed in an attempt to escape his tickling fingers … or to hold her when she was at her most vulnerable. “I’m coming, amada. And I’m not leaving without you.”
ADRIA knew it was beneath her wolf to have run, but she’d needed space to think. Something Riaz made it impossible to do when he continued to court her with such unyielding focus. After her talk with Martin, she’d walked into her office to find a potted plant waiting for her, big red bow around the pot.
Queen of the Night. For my empress. Let’s plant it and see if she blooms for us.
Adria still had the note in her pocket, wrinkled and soft from constant handling.
Now, as the night closed in on the mountains, a purple-hued twilight, she ran to base camp and shifted into human form, the first watch complete. Dragging on jeans, a long-sleeved T-shirt in plain black, and a gray sweatshirt, she settled down in front of the laz-fire.
The other wolf on watch up here had his base camp at the opposite end of the route, would run the second watch, but Adria had to be rested for the third in a few hours. Even knowing that, she felt no desire to sleep, her mind a chaos of need and want and impossible choices. She had only tonight before she had to return to the den, and she had no answers to the questions that tormented her.
When she caught the dark woodsmoke and citrus bite of Riaz’s scent as she moved, she moaned, realizing it was coming from the sweatshirt. She’d thrown it into her pack from where it had been lying on top of the dresser, forgetting she hadn’t worn it since the morning after the midnight meadow … the night she had given herself to him.
Now the mule-headed wolf was holding her to her word, contrary to every rule in the book when it came to mating. Emotions fluctuating between frustrated fury, black despair, and a passion that burned, she pulled the sleeves of the sweatshirt over her fingers and hugged her arms around herself, even knowing it was no way to clear her head.
Another whisper of that dark, hotly masculine scent … too strong, too fresh to come from the sweatshirt. Rising to her feet, her heart in her throat, she turned toward the trees. Either she was going mad, or the stubborn lone wolf of a male had come after her. God, but she loved him. “You have a mate.” It was a desperate reminder to both of them, because her willpower … it was crumbling to so much dust.
“I have you.” Rough, determined words. “An aggravating woman who asked the man I all but stole the Queen of the Night from to babysit it! I’ll probably have to tie Felix up to get her back.”
Adria shook her head, taking a physical step backward. “Don’t be charming.” Every wall she tried to put up was melting, every shield cracking. “I won’t steal your chance at mating.” It would poison their relationship one corrosive drop at a time.
Riaz continued to walk toward her, slow and relentless. “I gave it away of my own free will,” he said, his eyes flickering dark gold in the light from the laz-fire. “I love you to distraction, Empress.”
Her lower lip quivered, her traitorous heart slamming against her ribs. A lone wolf didn’t say those words to just anyone, his devotion a gift he’d give only to the woman he called his own. “Riaz…”
He gripped her arms when she would’ve taken another step back, dragging her to his chest to hold her tight. “Don’t.” A husky whisper that was more wolf than man. “Don’t walk away from me again. I couldn’t bear it.”
Her entire body shuddered as she fought the need inside of her and lost. “You’ll hate me,” she said, her arms locked around him because she couldn’t not hold him when he was close. “One day, you’ll hate me.” It was the thing she most feared.