HEAT

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Chapter 21: Soon, Love

Hycinth

The air teemed with excitement. Howls, shouts, and cries of happiness—a symphony of the Wolves’ hearts. Even the ground beneath our feet pulsed as hundreds of Wolves stomped their joy. I heard and felt it all, but none of it mattered. There was only one Wolf I could focus on, and he captured my complete attention—Leander.

His bite had overwhelmed and stunned me. I didn’t know what I expected, but not the utter bliss that wrapped around me like a cocoon. Being in his arms, surrounded by his warmth—words were pitifully inadequate to describe the sensation, only to say it felt like it was where I belonged—I was home.

Leander’s violet and cerulean irises glowed dark as he pulled back from my neck. I stared at his full lips, wanting him...wanting more. He guessed my thoughts and whispered, “Not yet, little mouse.”

I frowned. He’d told me that twice now, and I wasn’t feeling any more patient than when I’d heard it the first time. If anything, my desire for him had doubled. Unconsciously, I found myself seeking friction against his body, rubbing, trying to ignite the spark I knew burned just below the surface.

Leander’s arousal was even more prominent than mine—his stiff maleness pressed against my belly, and mating pheromones mixed with his heavenly scent of hickory and vanilla, sweet and musky, filled the air. My mate. Every pore in my body attested to the fact—he belonged to me.

While the chorus of celebration raged around us, his head came down, his breath hot and ragged on my neck, whispering, ”Soon...love.” I inhaled sharply at the promise of future pleasure, every nerve in my body quivering for his touch. He made me feel alive.

Leander pressed his forehead to mine and held there for a long moment, reluctant to release his tight hold on me. When our heart rates finally returned to normal, a steady beat rather than a sporadic rhythm, he gently pulled me into position next to him as we made our way to the mountains of food waiting to be devoured by hungry wolves. My mouth watered as Leander piled a plate high for us to share with spicy baby back ribs, corn salad, grilled vegetables with cilantro–yogurt dressing, and fruit salad drizzled with an amazing sweet syrup that smelled like oranges and vanilla. He waited while I collected two glasses of ice cold, fresh squeezed lemonade and we returned to sit on the wide bench.

The wolves watched and waited while Leander took the first bite. He was the Alpha. He would always eat first. It was the way nature had decreed. After he took a bite, he speared a lovely morsel of delicious meat and held it in the air for me to eat it off of the fork we shared. Even though wolves surrounded us, I’d never eaten from anyone’s hand before..., and it felt incredibly personal and intimate. I held his gaze as I leaned forward and wrapped my lips around the delicious meat, unable to contain the small moan that slipped from my throat at the amazing smoky and spice flavor.

Leander’s eyes darkened and a low growl emitted from his chest in response. My heart raced as I struggled to pull my fiery libido back under control, again. Note to self—keep my reactions in check. My utterances of pleasure weren’t helping either of us keep our mind on the task at hand.

Once I finished with my bite, the rest of the wolves joined in, transitioning into full party mode—feasting, chatting and loud bouts of laughter.

As our meal progressed, I got the distinct impression that Leander really enjoyed the whole feeding-me experience because he kept coaxing me to eat bite after bite, even though I’d already devoured way more than necessary. And of course, after dinner came dessert. He held a forkful of shortcake with plump strawberries and cream in the air, his eyes gleaming with anticipation.

I shook my head and muttered, “Nope...no more.” I caught Gwen’s expression from the corner of my eye. She gave me a sympathetic smile, and a small groan as Ever continued to try to get another bite down her throat as well. What was it with these wolves?

“Just one more,” Leander purred, his voice dropping an octave. “I promise you will enjoy it.”

I blinked. How the hell had he managed to make those words sound sexual? Like I might thoroughly enjoy if he were eating something else instead...namely me. My heart raced in my chest. I was unable to look away, lost in the swirling depths of his gaze and just mutely nodded and opened my mouth so he could navigate the fork inside.

“Good girl,” he cooed.

I chewed and then swallowed. I expected another bite to follow, however rather than load the fork with more shortcake. His expression changed. He positively radiated sexual intent as he slowly brought his mouth down.

Was he going to kiss me?! Here? Now?

My already racing heart took off like a rocket, thumping in my chest. I sat frozen, unable to move as he slowly eliminated the space between us. However, rather than finding his lips against mine, I felt his tongue sweep out and lick the corner of my mouth—apparently a bit of cream was left over there.

Regardless of the benign reason for the touch, seeing his I’m-going-to-taste-you-everywhere-soon expression and feeling his tongue lick the edge of my lips caused arousal to positively burst out of me. It was like a ripcord had been pulled and stunning heat shot through my belly making my pelvis clench and my toes curl. I had to wrap my hands into fists...to keep myself from jumping on him and riding him hard like my own personal pony.

A deep, throaty chuckle came from his chest, and the twinkling, mischievous look in his eyes told me that bastard knew exactly what he’d done.

Damn him!

I focused on not panting, still struggling against my base impulses. Several rather creative ideas for how I might use his body for my pleasure flashed through my mind.

Rather than let me calm down and get myself under control, the asshat leaned in and whispered hungrily in my ear, “The things I’m going to do to you...”

My pussy contracted so hard that my ass clenched along with it.

It took every ounce of my self-control not to slap the shit out of him. Or demand he whip out his cock and service me right then and there. My chest heaved, and my body tingled as I was lost in the moment, unable to look away from his devastatingly beautiful gaze. Thankfully, Ever and Gwen had mercy on me and interrupted my fixation. Ever coughed loudly and Gwen chastised, “Leander, stop messing with her like that.”

Leander just smirked, completely unapologetic, but he did refocus on the shortcake, gathering another forkful and holding it out to me. I held my hand up and rasped, “Absolutely not.” Damn, I meant for those words to come out firm and commanding, not like a throaty plea to sex-me-up.

He chuckled again but actually ate the bite himself rather than try to force feed me again. I breathed a huge sigh of relief, however, now I worried there might be an obvious wet spot on the back of my dress. Not that any of the wolves would care or think twice about it if they saw it. They’d already experienced the scent of my arousal. Repeatedly now. And wolves were very visual creatures. Our fur sides had no compunction against copulating around other wolves. It was the same in the wild.

When we finally finished, and I had calmed down, we stood to our feet and received Wolf after Wolf, some bearing gifts and others communicating their appreciation and excitement for the upcoming Claiming Ceremony, the females rubbing their cheeks against mine and the males doing some sort of hand-clasp man-hug thing with Leander.

Abruptly, there was a break in the crowd, and I was thrilled to see Luca walk toward us! His wrists were shackled together, and he had a wolf on either side of him, but he was out of the dungeon!

“Lucky!” I couldn’t contain my excitement. When he reached us, I immediately took a step to hug him, but Lucky stepped back out of my reach and gave Leander a slanted look, asking, “If I hug my baby sister, are you going to grab my cock?”

Funnily enough, Leander didn’t answer right away. He actually had to consider the question. Oh, this was ridiculous. I placed a hand on his chest to get his attention. A muscle ticked in his jaw. He held my gaze, not wanting to relent, and stated flatly, “Isn’t it enough that he’s here? Do you have to touch him?”

I understood this was hard for him. I’d seen how possessive both he and his Wolf were...he was fighting his very nature to allow physical contact between me and an unmated male that had no blood tie to me. But I had to make him understand and whispered, “He’s my brother...he’s the only family I have left.”

There was a flicker of pain in Leander’s eyes, and his hands clenched into fists, but he took a deliberate step back, giving Lucky a hard nod. The eyes of Leander’s Wolf glared as I stepped forward and reached around Lucky’s shoulders for a hug. I didn’t stay connected for long, just enough to whisper, “I’m so glad you’re here,” before stepping away.

He raised his shackled hands. “I’d hug you back, but...”

I rolled my eyes and then found Leander’s again. He stepped forward and practically curled himself around me, his lip twitching to keep it from rolling back and revealing the canines that had descended beneath. I let Leander hold me in almost a death grip and stroked his chest with my fingers to reassure his Wolf, as I whispered, “Thank you...for having him here.”

I wasn’t under any disillusions that Leander intended to set Lucky free anytime before we left. However, I appreciated his thoughtfulness in having Lucky attend the ceremony. He’d actually done the same thing for our failed ceremony the day before as well. I just hadn’t stayed around long enough to see him. So, Lucky hadn’t been too surprised when I wanted to talk to him about what happened. Other than my reasoning for challenging a ridiculously dominant and feral Alpha, Lucky had had a first-hand account of my public spanking. I cringed again at the memory.

Leander nodded, relaxing a little. Lucky was acting nonchalant, but he kept a wary eye on Leander as we chatted.

“Did you get something to eat?” I asked Lucky.

He grinned, “Hell yes. Gotta say, even in the dungeon, the food here is way better than any of those concoctions you call meals at home.”

I stuck out my tongue at him. “So what if I’m not a connoisseur in the kitchen? I’m brilliant in every other way.”

He rolled his eyes. “Of course you are, little sis. Of course you are.”

I raised an eyebrow. “I don’t like your tone.”

He snorted.

“Fine. You just wait until you want me to finish that tattoo on your back. I might just accidentally write, “Tommy’s bitch,” somewhere in pretty cursive letters.”

“You wouldn’t dare,” Lucky hissed.

I innocently batted my eyelashes. “Wouldn’t I?”

“Tommy?” Leander asked quizzically, looking from me back to Lucky and reevaluating him to see if he missed a sign regarding his sexual preference.

Luca smirked, and I knew in the victorious glint in his eyes, that I had made a grave mistake. He turned to Leander and purred, “Tommy is a motorcycle aficionado, otherwise known as a biker with a local Motorcycle Club...who has a distinct affinity for little Hycinth here.”

Instantly, I felt tension rolled through Leander’s chest. A fierce growl hummed out his throat, enough that Ever turned his head in our direction, his eyes immediately alert and searching for what had caused Leander’s reaction. I tried to keep the panic out of my tone as I said quickly, “No. Don’t even think about it! There’s no romantic history of any kind there. He’s harmless!”

Luca snorted again, looking far too unconcerned for my tastes. “If you call staring at her tits all the time harmless, then yeah, sure.”

Leander’s entire body shuddered, another growl coming out, low and dangerous. I sucked in a deep breath and snapped at Luca, “Are you trying to get the man killed?!”

Lucky snorted again. If he kept snorting, I was going to shove something straight up his nose. He drawled, “Tommy can hold his own. Once he started shooting, the wolves were happy to leave him alone.” I remembered he’d told me that both Tommy and Leroy survived the Wolf encounter, but I certainly didn’t want to encourage another.

I refocused on Leander. “Stop it. Whatever you are thinking, stop it right now! My brother’s just being an ass. It comes naturally to him. He can’t help it.”

Leander looked at Lucky, not quite ready to let it go and said, “Maybe we should keep your brother with us during the rest of the celebration. Just in case he has any other pearls of wisdom he would like to share.”

“Maybe, he should go back to the dungeon until he learns to behave,” I retorted.

Lucky’s face fell, genuine hurt crossing his expression, and instantly, I regretted my words. I said hurriedly, “I didn’t mean that! Of course, I want you to stay with us for as long as possible.”

“Why don’t you find him a seat nearby,” Leander said to one of the wolves guarding him. The Wolf did as ordered and all three sat down close by.

Leander and I went back to the still waiting line of wolves and continued where we’d left off. I enjoyed hearing their stories and was fascinated as I watched Leander interact with them. He made eye contact with each and every one and listened to every word that came out of their mouth. When they were speaking, he wasn’t even distracted by me at his side. In those moments, it was so easy to see he was born to be an Alpha. He was born to care and nurture and protect his people.

Which was why it didn’t make any sense. I’d gotten to know Leander and even enjoyed spending time with him, but I didn’t understand him, not really. I’d never met a more violent male, so wholly opposite to the compassionate and playful man standing next to me. His words during the ceremony had touched me, burned my insides with their sincerity. I hadn’t expected him to declare his affection in front of his Pack, considering I would be leaving in four weeks.

The thought of walking away from him caused a pit in my stomach, but I had no choice. My feelings were not relevant. No matter how kind and considerate he was to his people. He’d destroyed my family and my people. I couldn’t dishonor their memory by staying with him. I would fulfill my commitment to our agreement, but then I would have to go, regardless of whether or not it caused an emptiness in my chest I feared would never heal.

I understood he’d done it due to our packs longtime rivalry and war. I got that part. I was no stranger to war. And it was that knowledge that allowed me to even speak peaceably to him, to let him touch me. I understood his actions had been on behalf of his people—noble and just in his eyes.

But fate had dealt us a hard blow. In the middle of chaos and war and death, fate had chosen two people who could never be together. Because no matter what his catalyst was, no matter how just his cause was to him, the outcome would always be the same—he’d killed my parents. And no reasoning, war or otherwise, could ever change that fact. My chest tightened as the painful thoughts swirled in my head.

Abruptly, Leander said to the few remaining wolves, “Can you give us just moment?” They easily agreed and stepped away. Leander’s arms came around me, holding me close. His head dropped low by my ear, and he placed a whispered kiss on his healed mark, and murmured, “What is it?”

I was startled by his intuitiveness. I hadn’t realized he’d even been paying attention to me while engaging the wolves. And then I remembered—his mark—he could now feel my emotions. My natural instinct was to melt into him and share my pain with my mate, but I could do neither...it wasn’t fair to him. It would only hurt him more. I was going to walk away from him in four weeks, but it was not my intention to add pain to our upcoming separation.

I pulled my emotions back under control and mumbled, “It’s nothing. I’m just overwhelmed.” Those words were true.

His intelligent eyes told me he knew there was more, but he didn’t pressure me. Instead, he gave me another squeeze and another kiss on his mark. Firm this time, his full, soft lips lingering against my skin.

I was shocked when butterflies erupted in my belly, and arousal flared out of me bright and strong. I found myself trying not to pant. What the hell?!

I was not nearly prepared for the new sensitivity in that one spot of flesh now. His lips had connected to his mark at the base of my neck, but I felt a stunning pull deep inside my core. So deep, it caused my femininity to quiver, and I clenched my thighs together. Whether or not Leander knew his mark had become an erogenous zone, I had no idea, but he fanned the flames...by outlining the mark with his tongue and nipping at it with his teeth.

“Ohh...” I let out a low, unintelligible moan, and had to clench my thighs together tighter. My claws released and found purchase on his back.

“There you go, little mouse,” his deep voice rumbled with satisfaction at having drawn me out of my sadness.

I was thankful for his attentiveness and success; however, his tongue was now stroking and sucking and kissing my throat, and I was pretty sure I was going to catch fire in another minute.

“You have to stop that,” I croaked out. The words were meant to be a command, but once again, they came out more like a plea for more.

“Yes...please stop that,” Lucky gagged and let out a little groan. I looked over to find him looking quite green and disgusted with the display in front of him. It was my turn to snort. Payback was a bitch. I’d had to smell him come home with the scent of female arousal all over him many times...it was nasty.

“For now...” Leander chuckled and pulled away. Somehow his laughter didn’t sound humorous at all. It sounded deep and sensual and seductive. Maybe it was just me and my current state of out-of-control horniness. But regardless, I was thankful for the increased space between us, allowing me to clear my head and refocus. Leander gave me a moment and murmured, “Are you ready to continue?”

I pulled in a deep breath, let it out and nodded. He motioned the remaining few wolves back to us, and we spent another fifteen minutes chatting. When our conversation was over, Leander leaned down and whispered, “It’s tradition for the Pack to run, and my Wolf very much wants you by his side.”

My Wolf’s ears perked up, her tail swishing back and forth in anticipation. I hadn’t shifted since I arrived a little over four weeks ago. She was more than eager to meet his Wolf. He kissed my cheek and said, “Finish talking to your brother. I’ll be right back.”

I watched him walk away somewhat surprised that he was leaving Lucky and I to talk without him. But he must have felt comfortable leaving because of the wolves surrounding us. Only the two guarding Lucky were staring directly at him. However, I felt every Wolf in my peripheral vision paying attention, including Ever’s ears tilted our way, his body ready to spring if necessary.

I refocused on Lucky and said carefully, “When you were eating, did you get a chance to look around?”

He knew what I meant, and his face fell. “Yes...I think I saw most of the unmated shewolves.”

I sighed. My heart went out to him.

Before I could say anything further, my complete attention was violently captured when a massive black Wolf came out of the crowd and walked toward me! His head and tail were high, regal and authoritative, befitting his position. No one needed to tell me who he was. I would know him anywhere—Leander!

But what I couldn’t understand...what I couldn’t wrap my brain around...were his markings. His coat was as black as midnight, but he had two white front paws and a white tipped tail! I swayed unsteadily on my feet, my heart thundering in my chest.

Lucky had snapped to his feet, the two guards standing with him. He let out an audible gasp as he stared at Leander’s Wolf. “Cinn...his markings...” he whispered.

As if my attention wasn’t already riveted to the obvious. “I see them...,” my voice cracked. Now I understood why everyone had reacted so strangely to the tattoo on my back—it was the spitting image of his Wolf!

With every step he took closer, I shook more until he was right in front of me. His dark liquid eyes held me captive. I couldn’t stop my hands from trembling as I reached to touch his head. His fur was silky soft. My hand dropped to his neck, my fingers tangling tightly in his fur. I brought my other hand up and grasped the other side of his neck, trying to use him for support to hold myself steady, but I was too overwhelmed. It was just too much. He was just too much.

I sank down to my knees in the dirt in front of him. He sat back on his haunches, lowering his head so I could still reach him; and I wrapped my arms around his neck and clung to him as if I was drowning and he was my life preserver. Too overcome with emotion, silent tears released from my eyes.

He rubbed his head against my cheek, a solid thrumming coming from his chest, as he waited patiently for me to pull myself back together.

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