Her br**sts ached at the memory of how he’d touched her, his eyes an obsidian storm. Every time he came near her, she wanted to dance in the storm. Even now, so far from him, the pine in the air reminded her of him with every breath she took. “Did your mate come with you?” she asked Faith, making the conscious decision to turn her concentration away from the cardinal who’d kissed her under a wolf moon.
Faith’s face glowed. “Vaughn.”
A tall man with amber hair caught neatly in a queue at the nape of his neck and eyes of near gold appeared out of the shadows. “It’s good to meet you at last, Sahara.” Quiet and deep, his voice was honey over her skin.
“I’m so happy to meet you, too,” she said, fascinated by the way he moved as he pulled down the scarves that had acted as markers for the teleport; she’d never mistake him for either Psy or human.
“He’s magnificent, isn’t he?” Faith whispered, lips to her ear.
“Yes.” But no matter his golden beauty, he didn’t make her skin burn, her heart beat out of rhythm, and her soul hurt.
“Let’s get you home,” her cousin’s mate said, throwing one of the scarves around Faith’s neck, the other around Sahara’s.
The knit was soft against her skin and the pine needles thick underneath her feet as they began to walk. Sahara tried to take in everything at once, until Vaughn teased her gently about spinning her head off her neck. Liking this jaguar who was her cousin’s, Sahara made a face at him that caused his cheeks to crease in feline amusement, and continued to drink in the wildness around her.
When she turned her gaze upward, it was to see a stunning sky still dotted with countless stars . . .
but her eyes kept being drawn to a star situated away from the others, lonely and hard and bright.
The canopy closed overhead a minute later, hiding the star from sight. It wasn’t long afterward that she stood in front of a tree so immense, she couldn’t see all of it. “Oh.” Running to the bottom of the forest giant, she stared up at the neat little house perched among the branches. It was connected to a second house by a pathway along a wide branch.
Light, yellow and rich, spilled from the windows of both.
“Who lives there?” she asked, pointing to the second one.
“No one,” Faith said, hand linked to Vaughn’s. “It’s for when you want us to stay over.”
“A guest treehouse!” Delighted, she sent the image of her aerie to the man who was that lonely star, ice hard and cold, the act coming from the same part of her that had turned to him when the world skewed sideways, finding aching pleasure in his touch, unrivaled safety in his arms. And she knew he was too deep inside her, meant too much for her to keep a rational distance, that it would be futile to try. Look!
A hesitation before the dark music of his voice flowed into her mind, wrapping around her senses to curl her toes. You like it?
Yes, Sahara said and, though she knew it was foolish with a man as powerful as Kaleb, felt as if she’d wounded him. The house you built, she whispered in a gentle confession, it sings to me in ways I don’t understand, but I’m not ready for it yet, not whole enough.
Vaughn lunged up the tree with dangerous feline grace as she added that last, claws slicing out of his hands and feet to anchor him to the trunk. Eyes wide, she watched him climb to a rolled-up rope ladder at the top without causing anything more than surface scratches on the trunk.
“I can’t do that,” she said when he jumped back down after freeing the ladder, cat-quiet in spite of the muscled strength of his body.
A sharp grin, the jaguar who was his other half in his eyes. “You don’t have to.” Reaching into his pocket after retracting his claws, he pulled out a small gadget. “It’s a remote to bring the ladder down and roll it back up.”
Faith slapped her mate playfully on the shoulder. “Why didn’t you just use the remote in the first place?”
The changeling male gave his mate a long look, eyes wild gold. “Red, if you expect me to use a remote to get up a tree, we need to have a serious talk.”
Sahara bit back a laugh at the affront in his expression. “Thank you for the remote. I’m very much not insulted.”
“You can thank Dorian—he’s another one of the sentinels,” Vaughn said, tucking a grinning Faith to his side. “He came up with this a while ago, but couldn’t get anyone to use it. I think a few packmates even threatened to excommunicate him.”
“Predatory changeling pride,” Faith said in a stage whisper, “is a sensitive thing.”
The laughing tease had Vaughn fisting his hand in Faith’s hair to pull her into a kiss as playful as it was sensual, the fingers of his free hand gripping her jaw. The sight made Sahara hunger for a man as dark as Vaughn was golden; a man as remote and contained as her cousin’s mate was wild and affectionate.
Putting her hands on the rope ladder, she reached for Kaleb, this Tk who had a claim on her deeper than memory. I’m about to enter the aerie. It took a few steps to get used to the motion of the flexible ladder, but her body soon learned the rhythm and she was pulling herself up onto the landing half a minute later.
The aerie proved to be a single large room, with a tidy kitchen area to the right as she entered, and the shower and other facilities tucked away in the back behind sliding doors of gleaming pine. A bed made up with a pretty comforter in soft pink and white sat to the back left and on the window ledge beside it was a small basket filled with chocolates. Every feature she checked was ecologically sound, the aerie a living part of the forest.