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Leander’s eyes blazed as he walked to stand right in front of me.

I didn’t care. I wasn’t going to be intimidated. Hands on my hips, I hissed, “How many times are we going to have to go through this? I’ve already told you nothing happened between us. I thought you believed me!”

Leander ignored my question. Suddenly, his eyes unfocused, his stare utterly blank.

My mouth went slack, confused by his abrupt change. It was like he was staring at me but through me at the same time. What the hell was he doing?

I studied him, trying to interpret his unusual body language.

And then I understood. Oh shit.

He was inside my head!

I gasped, “Are you looking at my memories?”

He didn’t deny it, his expression unapologetic.

I couldn’t believe his audacity. “Thank you for having no fucking trust in me! I do not speak lies. And you are a hypocrite!”

His darkened gaze turned hard. A muscle in his jaw ticked.

My hands ached to strangle him, but I settled with pointing my finger at him, my anger gaining momentum. “What would I find in your head if the roles were reversed? How many women would I have the pleasure of watching you with? Where did we leave off on the list before we were interrupted? Ten, right?” I spat out the words, but searing pain gripped my heart. The sad irony was I would never have to endure the torture of watching him with another woman because I would face an even worse agony—I would never mark him. He wasn’t mine to keep.

His hand came up and snatched mine from the air. My heart raced at his touch.

Fire flashed through his eyes and for a moment I froze, quivering, remembering what happened when he decided to spank me publicly. But thankfully, he didn’t seem to take my words as an Alpha challenge. Instead, we were just like any other couple arguing.

Still, his response was given with a low growl, demanding I pay attention to every word. “Listen to me! We are partially bonded. Not easy for my Wolf. Not easy for me. The entire damn universe is driving us to complete the bond. I can’t help this is how I’m hardwired!”

Oh, that wasn’t what I expected him to say. The truth of his words crashed over me. A small pit began to form in my belly. Somehow, I knew this conversation wasn’t going to go in the direction I'd anticipated.

Using his grip on my outstretched hand, Leander jerked me forward until I was flush with his chest. He wrapped his other arm around my waist, holding me tight. He glared down at me.I looked into your head as a solution to the problem, not because I thought you were lying. I felt seeing your history with his own eyes would calm my Wolf enough to give you what you are asking for. It was the very fact that I did trust you that I looked into your memories. I felt it was an exceptional way to help my Wolf understand the dynamic between the two of you.”

I blanched when I understood, my heart sinking even further. He was trying to find a solution, someplace we could meet in the middle, but I had jumped to the worst conclusion.

Leander continued relentlessly, “Additionally, at the beginning of any relationship, trust is earned, not handed out for free even if the other person is labeled your mate. And there is no better way to build confidence than to have an opportunity for substantial proof to back up your words. Had I intended to verify the truth of your words, rather than be irritated with me, why not be pleased to take the opportunity to proudly display that positive aspect of you, rather than be insulted? I would understand your irritation once trust was built over time, but that comes later, and…” his words trailed off, he and I both knowing there was no later for us, only right now, just what we had in the next four weeks.

Abruptly, he released his hold on me and stepped away. He ran a hand through his dark, mica hair, eyes tight and mouth set in a hard line.

That one action—pushing me away physically—punctured a hole in my heart worse than his harshest word. I mourned the loss of his touch.

And I couldn’t dispute the wisdom of his words. If I were honest, I knew I didn’t entirely trust him either. I felt confident in certain aspects, but we’d only known each other a matter of weeks.

I stood frozen, my mouth unable to form a response.

Luca broke the silence from behind me, his words soft, “Cinn…he’s right.”

Leander’s eyebrows shot up. His glance cut to Lucky.

I turned to face my brother.

Lucky continued gently, “This part, I get. I have a male Wolf in my body and head. They’re unbelievably primal and possessive, and I haven’t even met my mate yet. Asking his Wolf to act against his very nature when the animal can scent we’re not blood-related, and I’m not mated, is too much for him.”

Luca looked at Leander over my shoulder. Leander spoke from behind me, all of the tension gone from his voice. “The solution is easy. We just need to get you mated.”

Lucky snorted, “Yeah. Easy.”

My brother returned his attention to me. “Leander has put me up in a very nice room in the pack house with all the amenities. And he’s even given me a job. I’ll be helping with the competition. We’ll see much more of each other now.”

I still didn’t know what to say, chaotic emotion swirling through my belly.

Luca’s eyes were soft. He knew me well. He read the struggle on my face. After another long moment, he silently motioned his head toward Leander, encouraging me to do what I needed to.

Of course, he was right. I had to turn around and face Leander. It wouldn’t help to draw it out. I took a deep breath and let it out. Then I turned around.

Leander’s Wolf had come into his eyes. They swirled deep cerulean. His Wolf stared at me with raw emotion. It was like looking into his soul.

And what I saw broke me.

I’d hurt him. He didn’t understand why I wanted to embrace a male other than him. I’d disregarded not just his physical struggle to overcome his natural urges, but also his feelings.

I felt like shit.

Leander watched me intently.

Unable to hold his gaze, my eyes fell to the floor and stayed there. “I’m…sorry.”

Instantly, strong arms banded around me. Leander’s head came down, a soft murmur in my ear, “Thank you…for understanding.”

The tension bled out of me. I didn’t like fighting with him. It felt wrong. Like my entire world was out of sync. Pressed tight against his broad chest, I lifted my nose toward his neck and inhaled his calming scent. Hickory. Vanilla. Male.

Leander smoothed a hand down my hair, his touch gentle. The bond bloomed around us, fragrant and intense, renewing, healing. I let it soak into my pores.

Words were not needed. We just breathed each other in.

After several minutes, the outside world started to register, and I realized it was too quiet. Our confrontation had taken place in the middle of the busy training building full of wolves, but now, no one could be heard. I peeked around Leander’s bicep.

Most wolves had disappeared. Those that remained stared silently.

Brilliant. Just what I needed.

I pressed my forehead into his chest and groaned.

“What is it, little mouse?” Leander murmured.

I didn’t look up, preferring to keep my head buried. “Oh, nothing. Just another fight in front of an audience.”

His arms tightened. “Everything will be okay.”

I grunted noncommittally and then muttered under my breath, “At least my ass came out of it untouched.”

A rumble of laughter went through Leander’s chest. His voice dropped, low and seductive, “I'd be happy to touch your ass if you like. I promise you will enjoy it much more than last time.”
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