The food was simple but the flavor satisfied, as did the darkly romantic music lilting up from an evening busker. Wineglass in hand after they’d eaten, the wine midnight rubies in the muted light, Riaz watched Adria. She’d twisted in her chair to cross her arms on the curlicued metal of the railing, her face tilted into the soft wind and her ear cocked to the music. All her cares seemed to have vanished, the hardness created by life gone, until her beauty was exquisite, the lines of her face elegant and graceful.
This, he thought, this was who she was beneath the wariness and the hurt and the shields. A woman who, he suddenly knew, would tell him truths the other Adria never would. Dangerous though it was, this tightrope he was walking, he put down his wine and held out a hand. “Dance?”
A startled look, the gold streaks in her eyes vivid in the dark … her wolf coming to the surface. But she stood, flowed into his arms, one of her hands at his nape, the other locked with his own as he wrapped his free arm around her waist. She was tall enough that he didn’t have to bend, didn’t have to do anything but step closer. Their bodies aligned in sweet perfection, her head coming to just below his chin.
A faultless fit.
Drawing in the hidden notes of earthy warmth in her scent, he moved to the sway of the music, his blood hot, his body ready. But neither part of him was in any rush. He’d rushed too much with Adria, always been in too much need. Tonight, that need was tempered by the sexual pride of a dominant male, the desire to show her the lover he could be when his head wasn’t messed up.
The fact it wasn’t, even though he stood in Venice, where it had all begun, was because of her, this strong, guarded, complicated woman turned into a lazy-limbed goddess in his arms. He couldn’t quite understand how it had happened, how he had come to trust that she would never betray his secrets, but he did. So when she lifted her face to his, long fingertips stroking his nape, he bent his head and met her kiss halfway.
Hot and lush and open, it was a languid tangling of mouths. The softness of her, the curves, the lean strength, it all intoxicated. Her scent was in his every breath, and he wondered if she was becoming embedded in his skin, becoming part of him. It happened with lovers—he’d fought the change, not wanting another woman’s scent on his skin … but his wolf didn’t claw away the idea this time.
Painful as it was, the wild heart of him had accepted what could never be, though he couldn’t yet forget. But it wasn’t simply that, would never have been enough. Man and wolf both, they were fascinated by the enigma of Adria. The courage he’d witnessed under fire was only a single facet of a complex gemstone. Already, he knew her harsh, prickly surface to be a facade, the woman underneath one who understood SnowDancer’s most vulnerable … and who knew how to offer comfort to a broken male without unmanning him.
Spreading his hand on her lower back, he urged her closer. “Do you know what the words to the song mean?” he asked as the busker began to sing a song in Venesiàn, a language Riaz had made an effort to pick up during his time in Europe.
She shook her head, strands of ebony silk catching against his unshaven jaw. “It sounds beautiful, though.”
Nuzzling at her, he began to translate, their clasped hands held against his chest. Her sigh at the poignant emotion of the romantic ballad was eloquent, the lips she pressed to the dip at the base of his throat lush and inviting. It stroked a low, deep sound of pleasure from him, his body primed. “Stop that if you want me to keep translating.”
A teasing feminine chuckle. “I’ll behave.”
Riaz murmured the words to her until the song ended, the busker’s voice replaced by the sweet sounds of his fingers caressing the strings of his guitar.
“We should tip him.” She moved the hand at his nape down to curve over his shoulder, her breath blowing a delicate kiss across his skin when she spoke.
“Do you want to go down?”
She looked up, violet eyes lit by amber. “Yes.”
Fingers tangled, they left the room and made their way to the busker. The tip they dropped into his open guitar case made him grin. “Come,” he invited with a flourish of chords, “dance!”
Adria’s smile was shy. “Would you like to?”
Riaz had his arms back around her before he realized he was moving, the familiar cobbled streets of Venice made new by her laughter as she navigated the uneven surface high enough to have escaped the flooding, her fingers tightening on his hand.
“I’ve got you,” he murmured.
His wolf, so long trapped in pain and confusion, pressed against her, happy. Sliding his hand down her back, he danced with her under the half moon, barely aware of passersby until an older Italian couple, the woman’s hair a luxurious mink streaked with gray, her mate’s face lined with age and life, swirled in to join them.
The dark truth he carried inside him struggled to awaken in the face of their unspoken bond, but the night was too beautiful to mar with regrets. Man and wolf, he focused every part of himself on dancing with the captivating woman in his arms. He didn’t know how long they swayed in the sultry warmth, but when they drew apart, it was in silent agreement. Leaving the other dancers, they walked back to their room, the music following them upstairs.
He’d left the balcony doors partly open, and the gauzy curtains floated in the gentle breeze. Keeping the lights off to assure their privacy, he ran his fingers over Adria’s cheek, luxuriating in the warm smoothness of her skin. “No,” he said when she went to take off her T-shirt. “Let me.” Running his hand down the curves of her body, he drew up the soft fabric with slow anticipation.