Playful and gorgeous and intelligent, he was a lover who’d make her feel good, both physically and in the soul. There was only one problem—her body hummed with a near-painful awareness of another man, a man who aroused far more violent, dark emotions. And who was currently twirling a tiny, curvy woman whose eyes were a golden echo of his, shouting their relationship, his cheeks creased in a true smile.
It infuriated her that she couldn’t strangle that unwanted awareness, but she wouldn’t use beautiful, sexy Sam in an effort to do so. “I’m not ready.” One day, she thought, spine steely with determination, she would be ready to gather up her courage and take another chance, having conquered this unhealthy compulsion toward the wrong man. Sam, innocent and never broken, wasn’t the right one, her heart too scarred for him, but that didn’t mean she didn’t cherish him. “I wish I was, because you’re rather wonderful.”
Stroking his hands down her back, he took the rebuff with good grace. “In that case, be my friend. I like you.”
The direct opposite of the knife-edged words Riaz had flung at her, his statement made her miss a step before she cuddled a little closer into him. “I like you, too.” She turned her face deliberately away from the part of the Circle where Riaz stood with his arm around his recent dance partner and an older man Adria couldn’t see well. Deep inside her, her wolf snarled, but that wolf, too, remembered how brutally it had been rejected.
It didn’t fight Adria’s decision.
RIAZ’S eyes had locked on Adria the instant he’d spotted her, the strange, unique complexity of her scent in his every breath, though it should’ve been impossible to pick it up, given the number of people in the Circle. Especially when she was pasted up against Sam, the younger male’s lips by her ear as he said something that made her laugh, the sound soft and intimate.
His claws pricked at his palms.
Excusing himself from his parents after handing his mom back to his dad, he hauled Jem into a dance.
“Thanks for asking,” she said in an acerbic tone, but slid her arms around his neck. “Stop scowling. Your mother is going to think I’m torturing you.”
“Sorry.” Forcing himself to keep his attention away from Adria and Sam, he looked down at the blonde lieutenant … and had the sudden realization that she didn’t fit right in his arms. She was too small, her head reaching midway up his chest.
Jaw clenching at a thought that had its origins in his primal attraction toward a long-legged female whose voice was rough silk across his skin, he said, “Did you dance with Kenji yet?” The two had something going—no one was quite sure what.
“Temper, temper.” He tucked her closer when she narrowed her eyes. “I’ll behave, promise.”
“Do I look like I have ‘sucker’ written all over me?” She went rigid a minute later.
Riaz understood why as soon as he saw Kenji appear out of the dancers.
“Can I steal her away?” The challenge in the other man’s tone wasn’t directed at Riaz.
All but able to touch the electricity in the air, Riaz stepped back, saw Kenji’s arm slide around Jem’s waist, and thought, Yeah, they fit.
“You look beautiful, Garnet,” Kenji said in a low tone, using Jem’s real name, the purple and gold of his hair sliding forward to shadow his expression as he pulled her stiff body close.
“Just a dance.”
It was all Riaz heard before he found himself making his way to where Adria leaned against a tree on the other side of the clearing. The shadows of the forest concealed her from the crowd, until it was almost a private alcove … but for the vivid tug of her scent.
Crushed berries in ice tangled with a hotter, deeper musk.
He didn’t know why he halted only a foot from her, whatever he’d wanted to say wiped from his mind by the jolt that rocked him at the single cool glance she deigned to throw his way. Conscious his eyes had fixated on the pulse in her neck, so delicate and bitable beneath creamy skin kissed with sunshine, he forced his attention back to the dancers.
Hawke’s hair changed colors as he danced with Brenna under the multihued bulbs the juveniles had strung through the trees, until the entire area was a wonderland. Several of those juveniles sat in pairs or in small groups in the thick branches, watching the festivities and flirting. A kiss was sneaked here and there, but nobody made any move to leave. Perhaps because they were under notice from the maternals, but more likely because right now, it was about being with Pack.
His hand snapped out to grip Adria’s arm almost before he was conscious of her getting ready to move. “Dance with me.” It came out harsh, crushed rocks in his throat.
Adria wrenched away her arm, shuddering at the contact. “I don’t think that’d be a good idea.” Riaz was a drug her body craved—and like all addictive substances, he was not good for her.
“Scared?” Eyes gone night-glow.
“No,” she said, her own wolf rising to the fore. “I just happen to have some self-respect.”
Stepping out of the shadows, she saw Matthias walking toward her. Her mood shifted immediately. “It’s so good to see you.”
The big lieutenant lifted her up and kissed her on the lips as he’d done Sienna. “Come dance with me, pretty girl.”
Her wolf could feel the dark burn of another male’s eyes between her shoulder blades, but she didn’t hesitate to accept Matthias’s offer. “How is everyone back in your sector?” she asked once they’d begun to sway to the music.