Hycinth couldn’t hide her response to my provocative words.
All filtered through the bond.
I lifted her chin with my fingers, forcing her to look at me. Liquid blue irises revealed the truth. No matter what her mind claimed, her body and soul hungered for something else entirely—she craved me.
And I desperately wanted to give her everything she yearned for.
Hycinth worried her bottom lip between her teeth, tongue flickering out to wet her lips. So fucking sexy.
I suppressed a groan.
The moment lingered, singularly focused on each other, nothing else existed.
From behind Hycinth, Luca grumbled, “So, yeah, I’ma have to interrupt this heartwarming eye-fucking moment before I toss my lunch.”
I glanced at him. Mouth twisted in distaste, he did look kind of green. I chuckled and loosened my hold. Hycinth blushed and worked to disentangle herself from my embrace. I didn’t let her go far, twining my fingers into hers to keep her by my side.
“Thank you,” Luca exhaled loudly, his shoulders relaxing.
The outside world once again invaded my senses. The chatter of wolves. The percussion of fist against flesh, competitors, eagerly continuing to train.
A female cleared her throat. I turned to find Sydney walking across the small space, joining our little group of three.
She’d been docile earlier when it had just been Hycinth and me.
Now, head held high, chin up, spine straight, she assumed the posture of my 3rd-in-command. Fierce.
Her gaze swept over Lucky, and then actively disregarded him as if he wasn’t all that interesting. But I knew her better. She was keenly aware of his presence, even while ignoring him.
She held out the clipboard and continued where we left off before, “Yes, Alpha. If you could confirm these competition brackets, I’ll communicate the schedule to the competitors. They’re anxious to know their allotted times.”
Sydney was not yet aware I’d made a few other changes—this should be interesting. I smiled. “Sydney, you’ll be happy to know you’re going to have some help.”
Her eyes narrowed. She also knew me well enough to suspect she wasn’t going to like what I had to say next. Her lips pursed together.
I nodded toward Lucky. “Luca, here, is going to assist with the competition.”
A muscle in her jaw twitched. Nope. Not thrilled.
Slowly, reluctantly, she turned toward Luca.
Sydney ground her teeth together. ”Lucky me,” she spoke with heavy disdain as if his name left a bad taste in her mouth.
Luca’s smile widened, flashing brilliant white teeth, enjoying her less-than-subtle irritation. He gave a little nod, eyes pointedly focusing on the jewelry around her neck. “Pretty little collar you have there.”
Hycinth sucked in a soft breath next to me. I bit the inside of my cheek to keep from laughing. I’d wondered how Luca would approach Sydney—so, an aggressive play for dominance, it was.
Icy blue orbs darkened to Sydney’s Wolf. The Wolf glared at Lucky, cold hard calculation swirling in her irises. Sydney might not be able to shift, but that didn’t make her tame by any means.
Lucky’s stance remained casual, completely unaffected.
Sydney’s lips curled up, but her expression was nowhere near warm and inviting. “A wanna-be-comedian. Great. Remember when I asked for your opinion? Me, neither. Think you can focus on the task at hand, funny boy?”
The wolves around us snickered.
Once again, we’d drawn attention from the growing crowd.
More wolves had discreetly reentered the training center at the end of Hycinth’s and my argument.
Unruffled, Lucky grinned. He made a broad, sweeping gesture toward a nearby bench with his hand. “Why don’t we sit down and go over the details. Oh, I’m sorry, would you prefer to stand?”
“Lucky!” Hycinth hissed.
Sydney’s canines dropped into place. Her upper lip twitched with the effort it took to keep it from rolling back into a snarl. “You have your entire life to be an asshole. Why not take today off?”
He opened his mouth to speak—
“O—kay,” I interrupted before they accelerated to bloodshed “The schedule looks good. Sydney, Luca is at your disposal. Please include him in all aspects. Also, make sure he is aware of the sparring rules.”
Sydney’s icy blue eyes remained locked on Lucky’s equally intense green orbs. “Of course, Alpha. I will certainly make good use of him.”
I wasn’t sure it was safe to leave Lucky and Sydney alone, but they’d have to figure it out sooner or later, and Hycinth and I weren’t going far, at least for now. I tugged Hycinth’s hand, pulling her into motion. We headed toward Ever and Gwen across the gym.
“Do you really think it’s a good idea for them to work together?” Hycinth murmured.
I glanced at her profile. She had the cutest button nose. “Maybe. Maybe not. But, either way, it will be entertaining to watch.”
She rolled her eyes, not bothering to meet my gaze.
She bit her lip.
“I know that contemplative look of yours. What is it?”
She hesitated a moment, pulling her thoughts together. “I’m just surprised Sydney’s here.”
I pulled her to a stop. She hadn’t seemed bothered before, but maybe I’d read her acceptance of Sydney’s presence wrong. We were far enough from the competitors not to be heard. “Do you not want her here?”
She shook her head. “No. I don’t care that she’s here. Her presence was just unexpected. They hadn’t gone easy on her.”
“True,” I acknowledged, unsure where she was going with this. But she spoke the truth. Sydney’s punishment had been significant.
A little shudder ran down Hycinth’s spine as she admitted, “It was bad enough when you spanked me with your hand over my clothing. I can’t imagine how Sydney handled Cyril’s strikes with a paddle over and over on her naked butt, only to find three more wolves wanted retribution for her behavior as well. She heals faster as a werewolf, but not that fast. Her punishment was less than a day ago.”
Oh, I understood now. “Sydney has her faults, as you’ve seen, but she is 100% dedicated to her job. She’d have to be dead before she missed a day of work.”
Hycinth contemplated my words. “What exactly will she be doing for the competition?”
“In addition to coordinating the schedule, she’ll be giving specialized training and watch over the females since they’ll be fighting in mated pairs.”
“The females,” Hycinth repeated, her gaze falling on Sydney across the room.
I wasn’t sure what her look conveyed, but it made my stomach uneasy.
“Acting as your Luna,” she spoke so quietly I wasn’t sure she meant to say the words out loud.
The knot in my gut twisted, threads of nervousness weaving together and pulling tight. I slid my hand around the side of Hycinth’s neck. Using my hold, I forced her to look up at me. “You know I don’t want that. I’ll change her responsibilities right now. All you have to do is tell me you want the job. Tell me you’ll stay.”
Her face fell, lake blue eyes clouding over. After a lingering moment, she whispered, “I can’t.”
Her words were like a sucker punch to my chest. I gritted my teeth through the pain. I didn’t want to fight with her. Not right then. So, I schooled my expression into something I hoped appeared neutral.
I must not have been very successful because her expression twisted. She swallowed. “I’m sorry.”
“Don’t,” I muttered. I didn’t have it in me right that moment and turned around. I strode toward Ever without looking back.
I wondered if Hycinth would follow or walk away as she planned to do at the end of our four weeks.
Her footsteps were silent, but her scent remained close. She was right behind me. Part of my broken heart soared that she hadn’t chosen to walk away from me. But I worked to temper my joy because hope was a fickle thing, far more dangerous than no expectation at all.
When we reached Everard and Gwen, the couple broke apart from their sparring partners. Gwen smiled brightly at Hycinth as she gathered up a towel and wiped the sweat from her brow. “Hey, you!”
She sat down on a nearby bench. Hycinth settled next to her.
Ever pulled two cold bottles of water from a nearby cooler filled with ice, and tossed one to Gwen. She caught it with ease. He eyed me as he opened the bottle of water and turned it up, guzzling it down. When the bottle was empty, he wiped his mouth with the back of his hand and made his way over to me.
The girls were chattering, not paying attention to us.
He spoke under his breath, “Are you okay?”
He knew me well.
I didn’t bother answering. What was the point? What was I going to say to my best friend that he didn’t already know? Besides, my silence was all he needed to understand I wasn’t doing great. He didn’t talk again, instead, just stood by my side.
I studied Hycinth’s expression as she spoke animatedly with Gwen. The events of the last hour rolled through my mind. I hadn’t planned to look into her memories. I knew the intimate connection of information was possible between mates but forgot about it until we faced off over her brother. Her, wanting to hug him. And my Wolf, intent on killing him if she did.
In that tense moment, it occurred to me that I could use her memories to reassure my Wolf she didn’t want another male.
The brief flashes I saw—snapshots in time—confirmed her words. There’d been no sexual intimacy between, only familial affection.
Somewhat mollified, my Wolf understood and thankfully our standoff hadn’t progressed to bloodshed. But regardless of the insight into her mind, my Wolf still would have attacked Luca if she’d embraced him. We’d endured their open affection once. Once was enough. The longer the bond remained incomplete, the more territorial and possessive my Wolf became. There would be no touching any other male now.