“My family tends to lump all those years together, but they only saw me sporadically,” she told him, thinking back to that demanding, exciting time. “My parents were posted to the other end of the territory, Tarah was busy with Evie,”—it made her heart clench painfully tight even now to remember how weak Evie had been as a child—“and Indigo was still in school in den territory, while I was in the Cascades.”
Riaz nodded. “They would’ve had no idea of your day-to-day life.”
“Or how insane it was. As well as the soldier training, Hawke had me taking certain college courses online.” Things that had given her a grounding in basic business principles, so she could act as a sounding board for a lieutenant should it ever become necessary. “I barely had time to breathe, much less start a committed relationship.”
“It was like that for me when I first became a lieutenant,” Riaz said, his fingers moving on her skin, the slight roughness of his fingertips an exquisite caress. “Steep learning curve.”
“I guess that was part of why I was drawn to Martin when he came home for visits, why I said yes when he asked me out on dates. He was warm, intelligent, funny—he made me relax.” Tainted by the darkness that had come later, everyone else seemed to remember only the bad times, but it wasn’t the angry man he’d become that she’d fallen for.
“He’d talk me into watching silly movies; tell jokes in this deadpan voice that would have me in stitches.” But he’d only shared that part of himself with those he knew well. “One thing most people don’t realize is that Martin is shy, always has been. It sometimes comes across as arrogance or conceit and means he doesn’t make the best first impression—he didn’t on my parents.”
However, she’d seen and liked the man behind the mask, sincerely believed her family would too, once they got to know him. “We didn’t have explosive chemistry,” she admitted, “but I never expected that kind of passion.” Had thought her wolf too sensible for the wildfire she’d seen burn so many others in the pack. “I didn’t go around accosting brooding lone wolves then.”
Riaz’s eyes warmed with quiet amusement, but he didn’t interrupt.
“We were compatible in so many other ways, from our outlook on life, to our belief that loyalty was the core of a relationship, to the things that made us laugh that when he suggested we take our relationship to the next level, I said yes.” Her wolf had liked Martin well enough not to interfere with the human’s decision, but it had never demanded more, never hungered to tangle with Martin’s own wolf … never chosen him.
“You didn’t worry about the dominance issue?”
“Initially, yes.” It had been too important a question to blow off. “But you have to realize—by the time we moved in together, we’d known and casually dated each other for years.” Regardless of the impression others, including Tarah and Indigo, might’ve formed as a result of his remoteness around strangers, not once had Martin done or said anything to make her believe he couldn’t handle the fact of her dominance.
“When I made senior soldier while we were dating, he gave me a beautiful ceremonial knife,” she said, wanting Riaz to understand how she could’ve made such a terrible mistake and how it might not have been a mistake at all—not then. “He’d bought it months ago, because he was so certain I’d get the promotion. He was proud of me.”
Stroking hands on her thighs, the calm watchfulness of the predator that prowled behind the captivating shade of his eyes. “When did it start to go wrong?”
“I can never quite pinpoint it.” The only thing she knew was that the change had bewildered her. “Maybe it was the reality of living day to day with a woman whose wolf was dominant to his own, the realization that if it came down to it, I didn’t need him to protect me.” All she had were guesses, because the death of their relationship had been a slow, insidious thing, hard to see until it was too late.
“From what you’ve said, it sounds like he was the one who pursued you—could be he felt more for you than you did for him,” Riaz said quietly. “We both know you didn’t love him, not as a strong female wolf should love her man.”
Stricken, Adria said, “While I was in that relationship, I gave him everything I had to give.” Hadn’t realized she had the capacity for wild passion, that the dark intensity she’d witnessed in packmates was a part of her nature, too. “If he was unhappy, why didn’t he say anything?”
“Because he was a weak prick,” was the cold summation. “I can see why he might’ve reacted badly, but that doesn’t mean I have any sympathy for him.”
Yes … Martin had made his own choices, held the responsibility for them. “I should’ve walked away when I first began to realize he’d started to resent me for my strength, but I couldn’t bear to give up and prove to those who’d warned me off a less dominant man that they’d been right.” God, she’d been so stubborn, so proud.
“You’re a dominant female—being bloody-minded is part of the package.”
She laughed, leaned down to play her fingers through his hair once more. “Yes, I’ve forgiven myself for that.” Because underneath the pride had been the honest desire to salvage a relationship that had started out with such promise. “And I think I would’ve accepted defeat sooner and walked away, but then … Martin saved my life.”