A laugh bubbled out of her. “Alright.”
Stealing her laugh with a kiss that was pure hot, wet demand, he squeezed her thigh before reaching to get something from the bag he’d brought over. “Here.”
It was a sandwich. “Chicken and avocado,” she murmured, another piece of the hard shell around her heart falling away. “My favorite.”
“And your sugar and cream with a dash of coffee.” Placing the thermal cup and his bottle of water on the boulder, he took out his own sandwich.
The sun warmed her shoulders as he turned to brace his back against the stone, her thighs on either side of his bigger, more muscular frame. When she pressed an impulsive kiss to his nape, he made a low, rumbling sound in his chest, a wolf pleased. All of her—body and soul—trembled in visceral response.
Dangerous, she thought, this was so dangerous. Too many pieces of her in his hands. She had to hold something back, some part of her that would protect her against the nights she woke to find him lying awake, a faraway expression on his face. Because it would happen—no matter the passionate tenderness growing ever deeper between them, she was second best, would always be second best.
The harsh truth of it bruised her heart. Putting down her mostly uneaten sandwich, she rubbed her hand surreptitiously over the organ. She didn’t know if she was trying to quell the ache or contain the wild fury of what she felt for Riaz. But she had the sinking feeling it was too late. Perhaps it had been too late the instant her wolf first responded to him, the attraction visceral.
Having finished his sandwich, he turned to grab his water, saw hers. “Eat the rest.”
Already on edge, she bristled. “Since when do you get to give me orders?”
Eyes of pale gold met hers, lashed by black silk. “Since I realized you have a tendency to not eat properly.” Picking up the sandwich, he held it out.
She took it, placed it back down. “Don’t try to control me.”
Riaz’s voice was a deep rumble. “I will not let my woman mistreat herself. Eat the sandwich or we’ll be here all day.”
Her throat choked up, until she couldn’t speak, every part of her hotly conscious of the hand he’d placed once more on her thigh. A couple of inches higher and he could slide that big hand to cup her with the same intimacy he’d done last night, in the hushed dark of her bed. The rough heat of his body so close, the dusky bronze of his skin an invitation to her lips, it stole her mind, made it impossible to think.
Pushing aside his hand, she brought her legs up to crouch on the boulder—then jumped off the other side. “Maybe I’ll eat the sandwich later”—her heartbeat punching into her throat—“if I feel like it.” This had nothing to do with the sandwich, they both knew that.
Narrowed eyes. “You really want to challenge me over this?”
His tone raised her wolf’s hackles … and shot adrenaline through her body. “You know, why don’t you eat it, since you seem to like it so much.” With that, she turned and sauntered into the forest, ensuring her h*ps swayed in a way designed to further arouse his most dominant instincts.
RIAZ stared into the trees where Adria had disappeared, his wolf at snarling attention. If she thought he’d just let her go after that kind of provocation, she had no idea who she was dealing with. Taking the sandwich, he wrapped it up in the paper bag and slid it into the pocket of his jeans. It was going to be squashed all to hell by the time he ran her down, but his empress would damn well eat it.
A grim smile on his lips, he was on his way into the forest when a small body barreled into his legs. “Whoa!” Grabbing the pup, Riaz set him upright.
But the boy wobbled, his face screwed up in a childish effort not to cry.
“Hey.” Crouching down, Riaz checked the pup over, discovered a sprained ankle. “Come on, little buddy.” He took the boy into his arms. “We’d better go see Lara.”
The distraught pup attached himself to Riaz like a limpet and wouldn’t let go until his mother arrived at the infirmary, by which time Adria had a fifteen-minute head start. However, Riaz was a lieutenant and one of the best trackers in the pack. It took him only two minutes to pick up the crushed berries and ice and wild musk of her scent, another thirty seconds to realize two very important things.
One, Adria had run full-tilt the instant she was out of his sight; and two, she’d made an attempt to cover her tracks, so she clearly understood the consequences of the gauntlet she’d thrown in his face. His blood turned hot, the chase suddenly a very adult game … until her tracks, no longer concealed in any way, showed that she’d slowed down to a walk.
He bared his teeth.
Adria thought he’d given up. That was her second mistake. Her first had been to taunt him in the first place. Stalking her in silence, he tracked his quarry to a natural pool fed by two streams, taking care to remain upwind. A pile of discarded clothes lay on the bank, but that wasn’t what drew his eye.
Sleek and wet, she rose up out of the clear water, reaching back to squeeze the excess moisture out of her hair. Her ni**les were hard, bitable points from the chill of the wind, her skin cream licked with gold. Flexing and unflexing hands that wanted to stroke and pet and possess, he dipped his gaze to the dark triangle between her thighs, his body rigid with the need to drive his c**k into the molten tightness of her.
No more running, my stubborn, beautiful soldier.
ADRIA FINISHED WRINGING out her hair and considered whether or not to use her T-shirt to blot her body dry. She could always shift and return home in wolf form. It might be best if she did, because she wasn’t sure she could hide the painful depth of her disappointment otherwise.