Sienna knew that tone. “You think I need to cut myself some slack.”
“I knew constant sex with Hawke hadn’t rotted your brains.”
Sienna almost choked on the bite of apple in her mouth. Gulping the juice to wash it down, she pointed a finger at Evie. “I should be used to the things that come out of your mouth by now.”
Evie smiled, beatific.
Shaking her head, Sienna said, “Thanks for the advice.” Evie had a way of cutting right to the heart of a matter, and doing so with a kindness that was innate.
“You’re welcome, Ms. Type A Personality.” A gentle nudge followed by a glimpse of open vulnerability. “To be honest, I was a little worried our relationship would change with you being mated. It’s nice to know you still want to talk like we used to.”
“I’ll always need to talk to you, Evie.” Friendship was a cherished gift to Sienna, the one she shared with Evie her first and deepest. “I was scared, too,” she confessed, “that maybe you wouldn’t feel comfortable with me anymore, would censor yourself.”
Evie rolled her eyes. “Idiot.”
A knot Sienna hadn’t even been aware of unraveled in her chest. “Talking of mating—you and Tai?”
“There’s no bond,” Evie said, following Sienna to the galley as she hunted out the ingredients for a salad. “That’s not unusual at our age. But he’s mine.” She began to wash the lettuce. “I’m going to make him get an ‘I belong to Evie’ tattoo.”
Sienna laughed. “Possessive much?”
“Tai’s oblivious”—a satisfied smile—“but some of the older women have been giving him the eye since he filled out.” Evie’s own eyes shifted from gray to a vivid yellow-gold. “Just because I’m submissive doesn’t mean I won’t find creative and nasty ways to make them sorry if they dare come on to my man.”
“I’ll help you.”
“Of course you will. It’s in the best friend code.”
Such an ordinary byplay, but one she couldn’t have imagined having five years ago. Her life had shifted on its axis more than once during that time, but she’d found her footing before and she’d do it again in this, most exciting new chapter in her life.
A pulse along the mating bond, a “kiss” from her wolf, a reminder that no matter where the journey took her, she would never again be alone in the dark.
RIAZ hadn’t warned his mother of his intention to visit, so when he walked into the house midmorning the next day, she not only dropped the plate of cookies she was holding … but burst into tears.
Riaz would’ve been alarmed except that she was cupping his face in her soft hands and kissing his cheeks, speaking two thousand miles an hour in a rapid-fire mix of English and Spanish as she berated him for staying away so long.
Dropping his overnight bag on the otherwise spotlessly clean floor, he enfolded her diminutive form in his arms, the softness she insisted on calling her “padding” and his father called “sexy as hell,” familiar and comforting.
Her arms wrapped around him in return, strong as steel. Chin resting on her hair, he breathed in fragrant spring flowers, sugar, and warmth. It was the scent of kisses on skinned knees, hugs after school, proud touches when he made soldier, a million fragments of memory.
“You’re staying,” she said, drawing back and lifting the edge of her apron to wipe away the remnants of her tears.
He knew an order when he heard it. “Yes, ma’am.”
That got him a pat on the cheek and a “Sit, I’ll bring you cookies.”
He picked up the broom instead to sweep up the detritus from the broken plate and its contents, got a look of approval. Riaz hid a grin. He was well trained. “Where’s Dad?” His father, Jorge, had retired from his job as a teacher but still spent most days handling issues to do with the pups and juveniles in the San Diego area—it kept him content, and out of his wife’s hair.
“We’re bringing a group of the young ones to the mating ceremony. Jorge is organizing the final details today.”
Riaz knew Hawke would be delighted. “It’ll be good to see you there.”
Taking off her apron after putting out a fresh plate of cookies for him, his mother said, “I have to go to the grocery store in a bit—do you want to track down your brother? I’m sure you can talk Gage into taking an early day.”
Shaking his head, Riaz said, “I’ll drive you.”
His mother laughed and dragged him down so she could ruffle his hair. “My precious boy. You’re going to make some woman very happy one day.”
It took effort to keep the smile on his face, to not let his mother see what her words did to him. Wrapping an arm around her, he tucked her against his side and tempted her into a cookie, determined to enjoy his time in San Diego … but he couldn’t escape the jaw-clenching realization that all thoughts of Lisette were now linked to Adria and the desire that had scorched them both.
ADRIA ran into Hawke on her way to a meeting that afternoon. When he mentioned that Riaz was in San Diego, shock turned her breathless. Not because Riaz had left the den for what appeared to be a short visit to his family, but because of her own response to the knowledge.
A tremor of relief rippled over her skin, her spine no longer tight with a fine ever-present tension. She wasn’t so naive as to believe the attraction had run its course—nothing that gut-wrenchingly deep could be so easily conquered. Even now, embers of darkest need flickered in her blood. No, the only reason for her relief was because with him gone, there was no longer any chance she’d forget her vow to keep her distance from a man who had made it crystal clear he’d rather sleep on a bed of nails than with her.