“They’re not changeling.”
“Human,” she said. “Must be a hundred and twenty-five at least.” Fit and healthy, though they’d allowed their hair to turn snow white, their bodies to soften. Age sat on them with the warmest elegance.
“It’s their hundredth anniversary today,” Riaz said to her surprise. “So they decided to recreate their first date.”
Wonder bloomed within her. “How do you know?”
A small smile curved his lips, brought that light into his eyes she so adored. “I was eavesdropping when the park was a little quieter. The wind carried their words.”
“That’s so romantic,” she said, her face stretching from the depth of her smile. Maybe one day, it would be her and Riaz on this bench, a hundred years from now.
The dream was one she wanted with her every breath … and one, she understood in a moment of crystal clarity, that she had the power to make come true. As she had the power to destroy it, burying it under the cold darkness of fear until nothing remained.
The realization wiped everything else aside to leave her with a single blinding truth: their future had never been, and was never going to be, Riaz’s choice alone. He’d fought so hard for her, her lone wolf, and she would fight for him, too, to the last beat of her heart. Never again would she step gracefully aside. Forget about setting something free if you loved it—she would goddamn hold on to her man. Her wolf growled in agreement, its bruised spirit infused with steel, a door crashing open inside her that she hadn’t even been aware was locked shut.
“They’re not changeling, Adria.”
Her determination a hot pulse in her skin, she turned to look at him, his profile strong. “I know.” It was a frustrated statement, because all she wanted to do was touch her black wolf, hold him, make it up to him for having been such an idiot for so long.
“What does that mean?”
He slipped his hand to her nape, squeezed. “Look.”
Still scowling, she glanced up to see the man lean over to kiss his wife before he turned on the tiny music player he’d put on the bench. He held out his hand and she flowed into his arms. The song was an old one, from the time of their youth, and while their feet moved a little slower than they might have on that long-ago first date, the love between them was so luminous, it made every single person around them halt, stop breathing.
Adria, too, didn’t take her eyes off the couple until they finished dancing and packed up their things to walk away, hand in hand. “That’s…” She had no words for the sheer beauty of what she’d seen.
“They’re not changeling,” Riaz said again. “They don’t have the mating bond. Whatever they feel for one another can’t be what one mate-bonded changeling feels for another.”
“How can you say that?” She swiveled to face him, incensed that he’d try to lessen the wonder of what they’d just witnessed. “I dare anyone pry them apart.”
Riaz said nothing, his eyes a brilliant dark gold that glowed.
And she heard what she’d said, what he’d said. “We’re not human,” she whispered, hope an incandescent burst of sunshine in her blood.
This time, he did take her into his arms, into his lap, uncaring of who might be watching. “Does that mean we love any less?” Rough words from the heart of the wolf.
Shaking her head, she wrapped her arms around his neck and held him tight. “I love you to madness.” She pulled back, his face cupped in her hands, giving him the words, the courtship, he’d given her. “Until I wake up early some days just to watch you sleep, until it hurts to be separated from you for even a day, until I steal your sweatshirts so I can rub my face against your scent.”
His arms squeezed her till she knew she’d carry bruises, but she didn’t care. When he would’ve spoken, she stopped him with a kiss, fisting her hand in his hair. “No more chances, Golden Eyes. You’re mine and I’ll draw blood to enforce my claim.” She didn’t care if a hundred women claimed rights—Riaz belonged to Adria and she was keeping him. “I’m through with being reasonable and accommodating and stupid enough to ever let you go. So get ready to tangle with a very possessive dominant female who considers you hers.”
A slow smile, the eyes of the wolf looking out at her. “I thought you’d never say that.” He nipped at her jaw, his wolf rubbing up against her own with an affection that made her want to shift and play with him through the flower beds. “You’re my one and only, too, but you already know that.”
Yes, she thought with a joyful laugh, she did. It was in his every touch, every glance, every caress, the pulse of it arcing through her bloodstream. They might never have the mating bond, but they’d created their own bond, and she dared anyone to break the wild beauty of it.
Then he spoke again and the joy splintered into a near-unbearable tenderness. “Heart of my heart, that’s who you are, Adria Morgan. Chosen and forever.” Picking her hand off his cheek, he pressed a lingering kiss to the palm before placing it over the strong, steady rhythm of that very organ. “Wolf and man, you own every part of me.”
Turning her hand to curl her fingers around his own, this lone wolf who wore his love with such pride, unafraid to show his vulnerability, she whispered, “Heart of my heart … my Riaz. Chosen and forever.” Smile tremulous, she traced his lips with her fingertips and surrendered the final vestiges of her own defenses. “And we’re even … because you own every part of me, too.”