HEAT

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Chapter 8: The List

Leander

After driving me crazy the night before, running her tiny fingertips all over my body and visually inspecting me, my little mouse had chosen to go the leash route. I expected that was going to be her answer, but had patiently waited for her to decide, enjoying watching her squirm. She hadn’t been happy about it, but she hadn’t fought me this time. Progress.

When I’d emerged from the shower, I found her out like a light. I removed the leash and slid into the bed next to her. She didn’t move the entire night, sleeping soundly, which I was glad for because she had a busy day today.

It was 6:30AM. Dressed and ready to go, I waited on Hycinth who was in the bathroom...still working on her hair. When she’d asked earlier, I told her it looked fine. Apparently, fine was not the right answer because she’d disappeared again, leaving me to fidget.

I looked at my watch. She needed to finish by 7AM when Ever arrived to watch over her, and then I could get started on the task at hand. So far, my control of the situation had been tenuous at best and nonexistent at worst. Not exactly how I planned our little reunion to go.

I’d had three years to get over the anger and irritation that had initially overwhelmed me since learning she was my mate. Three years to cool down and reassess what was important. Having her as a mate was the hand I’d been dealt. I couldn’t escape it. It was shitty, given her parentage, but regardless of my personal feelings, I was the Alpha, and I needed to do what was right for my wolves. And what they needed right now was the Claiming Ceremony.

So with my reassessment, came a new plan. When I finally caught her, I would give her as much room and opportunity as I could to let it be her choice. I was willing to work toward that goal, spend time getting to know her better, making her feel welcome in the pack because her choosing to go through with the ceremony was the ideal outcome.

But if she couldn’t decide on her own, then I would do it for her. If that made me a bastard in her eyes, then so be it. I would mark her and let nature take its course. And nature would always be successful. She and I would be alone in that little cabin. I wouldn’t have to force her. Quite the opposite. In fact, she would likely try to force me if I denied her. And I had no intention of denying her.

It was a solid plan. It was logical. It was a hell of a lot more favorable for her than my first intentions three years ago. I could do this. I’d approach it the same way I approached all of my work, competent, but untainted and indifferent.

When the call came that she’d been located, I thought I was prepared—calm, cool and collected. Ready to get to work.

And that’s where I went so ridiculously fucking wrong. My egregious error came in ever thinking I could ever remain distant and unaffected.

If nothing else, the last eighteen hours proved I’d been naïve and foolish and to ever think I could remain calm, cool and collected.

My first clue had been the possessiveness and jealousy and rage I felt when any other male touched her. I’d been ready to dismember both Dagger and her brother on a whim—the veritable opposite definition of control.

My second clue was the force of my physical reaction. She was sexy as fuck, fiery and obstinate and willful—unknowingly tossing out brazen challenges that my Wolf and I were eager to accept, eager to display our dominance, eager to hear her moans and cries while she writhed in pleasure beneath us.

The bond was fucking with me, hard.

Impulses and the very laws of nature drove my behavior, kicking my ass. So now, impossible as it seemed, I needed to regain some semblance of control over my urges and get back to the task at hand.

The first step was integrating her into the pack. She needed it. Her Wolf needed it even more. Along with that, I had given Ever instructions to have her meet some of the mated pairs, to put a face and a truth behind my words. I wanted her to see what I saw, the reality and the heartache they faced. They were good Wolves.

Abruptly, Hycinth came out of the bathroom, interrupting my internal musings. Her hair was combed, looking identical to how it had before, and I scented mint toothpaste. She was still wearing my T-shirt and boxer shorts, although she had to hold those up to keep them in place.

She gave me a cursory glance and then moved to the bed. Sitting with her back against the headboard, she pulled her knees to her chest, covering them with the T-shirt. She studied me but didn’t say a word.

Curiosity got the best of me, and I finally asked, “What is it?”

She tilted her head to the side. “Not to poke the bear here...but why did you get so...angry?” Her voice wavered, “Why did you lose control...yesterday?”

My expression darkened. Brilliant, here we were again on the topic of control. And even after coaching myself on the necessities of staying in line, I felt a now familiar fire snake inside of my chest at just the reminder of her in another male’s arms, particularly an unmated, naked one who didn’t have a blood tie to her. I said flatly, “I didn’t like it. You’re mine.”

Her eyes narrowed. She leaned forward. “That’s not a good enough answer for what you did.”

“It’s the only answer you’re going to get,” I snarled.

Her eyes flashed. “Are you a virgin? Were you celibate during the last three years like you expected me to be?!”

I didn’t like the way the conversation was going and tried to shut it down. “We’re not discussing me.”

Of course, with her, I wasn’t very successful. She snapped, “We’re not discussing you because it’s a double standard and you damn well know it!”

“Maybe it is. But you have the same opportunity I do. If you don’t like it, you can challenge any shewolf from my past.” I smirked, confident that was the end of the conversation.

Nope. Couldn’t have been more wrong.

Her mouth twisted. I could see the gears of her mind churning. “Okay, do you have a pen and a piece of paper?”

What the hell was she up to now?

I sat forward in my chair. “Why?”

“Simple. So I can write all of their names down. I doubt I’ll be able to recall such a long list off of the top of my head.” It was her turn to smirk and smirk she did.

I studied her, looking for any hint of humor she may be joking or bluffing. Her expression didn’t crack as she looked at me expectantly. Okay, she was serious. Fan-fucking-tastic.

I stood and walked to my desk, opening the top drawer, pulling out a pad of paper and pen. I turned around to find her holding out her hand eagerly.

This was going to be bad. I just knew it in my gut.

This conversation was going to get us nowhere, or more likely, it was going to push us back even farther than we already were, which was saying something. I closed the distance between us, depositing the items in her waiting palm and then resumed sitting in the chair. I gritted my teeth, irritated that I’d opened this particular can of worms. “Do you really want to do this? You’ve already said you don’t give a shit about me. What does it matter?”

She somehow managed to look down her nose at me. “I can’t challenge a female if I don’t know you’ve been with them. And you said it was my right to challenge any one of them that I wanted. Are you going back on your word now?”

I ground my teeth together even harder, hoping I didn’t crack a molar with the force I was using. “What is it you want to know?”

“Names,” she said simply. “Everyone you fucked. Go ahead, hit me with it.” She studiously looked down at the pad and held the pen ready, waiting for my answer.

I sighed heavily and began giving her name after name. After name. She wrote down the first five without comment. But as we continued, as expected, I wasn’t the only one now irritated. We were five more names in, and she growled under her breath furiously, “I should have fucked every damn male I came across.”

She looked back up at me, voice stiff with obviously fake pleasantry, “Okaaay. It’s clear I’m going about this all wrong. Why don’t you just tell me the names of the women you haven’t fucked? I suspect it will be a much shorter list.”

That wasn’t exactly true, but I preferred to focus on her earlier comment. I interrupted her fuming. “Why didn’t you?”

She looked at me in confusion. “Why didn’t I what?”

“Why didn’t you fuck every male you came across? It’s obvious you could have your pick of any one of them, and yet you chose none of them. Why?” I leaned forward even farther, very interested in hearing her answer.

A blush blossomed on her cheeks. She shifted her position, dropping her knees down and sitting cross-legged instead. She fiddled with the pencil, tapping the eraser against the pad of paper, and refused to look at me.

Now I was even more curious. I lifted from the chair and joined her on the bed. I cupped the side of her cheek, gently forcing her head up to look at me. Tingles ran through my hand, where it made contact with her skin. She jolted but didn’t pull away. I brushed my thumb gently along her cheek and whispered softly, “Tell me why.”

“I tried,” she muttered, again looking down.

I held back my growl. That was not quite the answer I expected. Forcing myself to remain calm, I asked, “What do you mean you tried?”

She abruptly broke from my hold and stood to her feet, pacing across the room, gesturing madly with her hands in the air. “I tried! I’d be kissing a male and thinking maybe this time I could go farther. And then you showed up! Every single damn time!” she cursed bitterly.

I showed up?

That was also not quite the answer I expected. I was going to need a bit more clarification. I waited because it looked like my little mouse was just getting started in her diatribe. And I was right. She spun around and stomped back across the room to me, poking me hard in the chest, hissing, ”YOU! I’d close my eyes and see your fucking face!” *poke, poke* ”Your fucking, freaky purple eyes!” *poke, poke, poke* “Who has purple eyes, anyway?” Her tantrum was gaining speed.

Shit, it was the same thing I’d gone through for the last three years.

I grabbed her hand and pulled her down to the bed next to me.

She squeaked in surprise, “Oh!”

When she stopped moving, I cupped her face in my hands, curling my fingers around the back of her neck. I stared into her dark, liquid lake blue orbs, swirling with flecks of iridescent particles of the Moon. Eyes wide, her breath came fast.

I whispered intently, “I’m sorry you were frustrated. But I can’t say I’m sorry you waited. I promise I will make this special for you. No one will ever treat your body the way I will—the way your mate will.”

Fuck. And there it was again—the bond gleefully fucking with me.

I wanted to kiss her so damn bad, but I held back. I knew she wasn’t ready just like I knew she wasn’t ready for anything further the night before. On top of all the other challenges, one remained more difficult than all the rest—I had killed her parents.

Her eyes clouded over and she pulled back, away from my touch, muttering, “Don’t...I can’t...”

I let her go once again, pushing away the stale taste of disappointment in my gut.

A knock on the door interrupted our tense moment. Irritably, I commanded, “Come in.”

The door opened, and Sydney stepped inside. She held items from the list of supplies and clothing I’d given her.

She didn’t acknowledge Hycinth. Instead, she spoke only to me, her voice a little higher than normal, “Good morning, Alpha, I brought everything you asked for. Shall I just put the clothing in the closet? I know there are a few drawers that are empty.”

“Yeah, that’s fine,” I replied flatly, still too focused on the disappointment of another rejection. I cursed for even allowing myself to feel discontent. And then my little mouse’s expression caught my attention.

Her eyes had narrowed into slits, mouth set in a thin white line, as she watched the other shewolf wander off into my closet.

Interesting.

Very interesting.

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