A pause. “Why?”
“I’ve never hurt a woman like that.” He knew damn well she had bruises, and that bite on the smooth curve of her shoulder wasn’t going to disappear anytime soon.
Adria sighed, stretching out under the twilight colors of the sky. “I wasn’t complaining, Riaz, and I’m strong enough to have gutted you if you’d been doing anything I didn’t want you to do.”
“Damn it, Adria.” He lifted himself up on one elbow to glare at her, his body still pumped with adrenaline. “You deserve more than a f**k in the grass.”
Her eyes widened.
He went to say something else, lost the thought when his eyes fell on half-parted lips. Kiss-bruised and lush, her mouth was the most erotic temptation, the need inside him nowhere near sated by their frantic coupling. Breath coming in harsh gasps, he managed to get out a single word, the only question that mattered, “Adria?”
Promising himself he would give her tenderness this time, even if it killed him, he sucked on her lower lip, played his tongue across the part, but didn’t push for entry. Instead, he licked and tasted and teased as he should have done earlier … until her hands landed on his shoulders, her claws releasing just enough to prick his skin in silent female demand.
Smiling, he thrust one jean-clad thigh between her own and pushed up. She hissed. Breaking the kiss at once, he reached down to stroke one hand over her calf, her leg raised and bent at the knee. “Sore?” Hardly surprising since he’d shoved into her with all the finesse of the average eighteen-year-old.
She nodded, lifting her fingers to his mouth. He held position and let her explore. When she tugged him back down, he claimed a kiss that was all tongue, deep and wet and an unashamed taste of the things he wanted to do to her, before removing his thigh and shifting so that he was on the bottom. “I think,” he said, holding her steady with his hands on her waist as she pushed herself up to straddle him, “it’s my turn to take the pounding.”
ADRIA was caught by the playful smile tugging at Riaz’s lips, the harsh angles of his face relaxed to reveal an intoxicatingly attractive male—one who was playing with her just a little … but coming from a lone wolf…
“No?” Riaz said when she didn’t move, his head angled in a way that told her his wolf remained very much near the surface.
Leaning forward, she brushed his hair off his forehead. She knew it was a tender move, one that went beyond sex, but she needed to do it. The truth was, no matter what she’d said to him that day at the training run, no matter what she’d tried to convince herself because it hurt too much to do otherwise, she wasn’t a woman who could ever have sex for sex’s sake. It wasn’t in her.
Home and hearth and family, that’s what you’re built for.
Words spoken by Tarah long ago, so long ago that her sister had probably forgotten. Adria hadn’t. That woman continued to exist inside of her, and in spite of the cracks in her heart, she still wanted a family of her own; a home filled with love; a man who adored her and who she could adore in return. This lieutenant who held her with warm, strong hands, his heart already given to another, wasn’t the one with whom she would ever fulfill that dream, but that didn’t mean their joining had to be a cold, hard thing.
Riaz didn’t pull away from the gentle touch, and one of the cracks deep within her healed a tiny fraction. “Let’s be friends,” she whispered to the golden-eyed man who watched her with such predatory focus, the wolf in his eyes.
His hands flexed on her hips. “I can’t be platonic friends with you, Adria.” Not a rejection, just a blunt truth from male to female, wolf to wolf.
“I know.” Now that they’d touched, the need in her had only grown stronger.
Thumbs stroking gently over the curve of her hip. “Friends who share intimate skin privileges then?” A quiet clarification. “Do you think we can be?”
“Yes.” But she understood why Riaz hesitated, though it was clear to her he needed a friend as well as a lover. “I’ll take you as you are,” she promised, wanting him to understand that she wouldn’t demand what he didn’t have to give, wouldn’t hurt him by reminding him of what he’d lost. “No expectations. No ties. No promises.” Just a friendship that might help them both heal.
Riaz caressed his hands down to her bare thighs, back up to slide under her T-shirt, the calluses on his palms scraping over her skin with a rough seduction that made her shiver. “You almost sound as if you prefer that.”
“I do.” No lies, she thought, not here, in this beautiful moment with the world so hushed and private around them. “I’ve been … lost for a long time. I’m wolf enough to want the contact with a man I’m not only physically attracted to, but who I’m beginning to like,” she said with deep honesty, thinking of the tenderness of his kiss, of the way he’d handled her trainees with both affection and discipline this afternoon, “but I need my freedom.”
Despite the dreams of family she nurtured in a secret part of her soul, she knew she was damaged. Until she fixed herself, if that was even possible, she couldn’t, wouldn’t, steal a commitment from anyone, least of all a man who belonged to another in a way that could never be erased.
He reached up to tug the tie loose from her braid, unravel her hair. “Friends.” It was a promise, the wolf gold of his eyes glowing. “Tell me about him.”
And because she understood how hard it was for a dominant male like Riaz to be vulnerable, to have her keep his secrets, she did. “To understand how it happened, you have to know the beginning.” She shared how she and Martin had been apart for long periods for the first five years after they met, while Martin did a postgrad degree in England, and she focused on intensive soldier training.