TAMSYN HAD COOKED THE MEAL, SET THE TABLE, AND shimmied into a pretty knee-length dress. She bit her lip and looked in the mirror. The dress was an autumn red-orange that brought out the copper strands in her unbound hair. Shaping her body to the waist, it then flared out in a playful swirl. She’d paired it with heels and a fine gold bracelet.

“I look okay,” she told herself, knowing Nate probably wouldn’t even notice. It wasn’t as if the dress changed who she was. But it made her feel good.

Taking a deep breath, she went into the front room, ready to fluff the cushions for the tenth time. She delighted in living with Nate and wanted to make a good home for him, but had to admit she might be going a bit overboard. The man loved her. He couldn’t care less if the pillows were skewed or dinner was late.

She smelled Nathan’s wild masculine scent before he knocked. Her heart tripped a beat. Thinking he must have his hands full, she pulled the door open. “Nathan, what—” Her eyes dropped to the flowers in his arms. They were a sumptuous cream color, with gold streaks that shimmered with an almost otherworldly iridescence.

“I thought you’d like these,” he said, the cat in his voice.

She touched a hesitant finger to one perfect petal. “For me?”

“Of course they’re for you.” It was more growl than anything close to human. “Do you think I go around giving other women flowers?”

Shaking her head, she looked up into the velvet blue of his eyes. “You think I’m an orchid kind of girl?”

“Hell yes.” He put them into her arms and wiped away the tear she hadn’t been aware of shedding. “Stop that.”

She sniffed, staring at those precious flowers. Orchids. Nathan had given her orchids. Rare and precious and beautiful…the kind of flowers a man gave to a girl who was all those things. “Thank you.”

“You can thank me later,” he murmured against her ear. “When I peel this sexy dress off you.” He was behind her now, his hands caressing her hips as he pulled her back against his body. “Or maybe I’ll leave the dress on and only take off the underwear.”

“You’re making me blush.” It was a playful rejoinder—she loved his earthy sensuality.

“A dress gives a man ideas.” He nibbled at her earlobe.

Her smile turned into a full-fledged grin as her heart filled with so much love she thought it would burst. “What if I took off everything but the heels?”

He groaned. “Put the damn orchids in water.”

“They need tender care,” she murmured, touching another petal.

“Yes.” He kissed the curve of her neck. “But I want to take care of you. Let me.”

She blinked. No one had ever offered to take care of her. She was the pack healer—she took care of everyone else. But Nate thought she was an orchid kind of girl. She had the wondrous realization that, to him, that was what she’d always been. He saw the woman behind the healer. Another tear streaked down her cheek. “Always.”

His arms came around her tight.

BY THE TIME CHRISTMAS ROLLED AROUND, SOLIAS KING was a dim memory. The Psy had removed all his equipment from their land, leaving behind only the ornament and Christmas lights. Tamsyn had been more than happy to use them on her tree, though the chosen fir had no lack of decorations—every one of her packmates had added a piece or ten, so that by Christmas Day, that tree was truly the pack’s Christmas tree.

Tamsyn thought Shayla would have been pleased. So many in DarkRiver remained damaged by what had happened, but at least this silly extravagant tree had brought some joy back into their lives. They held the Christmas party under its snow-dusted branches and it was there that Lachlan formally acknowledged her and Nate’s mating.

“For me, our anniversary will always be the day you gave me orchids,” she said to Nathan as they danced under sparkling tinsel.

He slid his hands down to her lower back. “I vote for the cabin in Tahoe.”

She laughed. “What are we going to tell our children when they ask about our mating if we pick Tahoe? Hmm?”

“That DarkRiver looks after its own.” Sadie’s, Cian’s, and even Nita’s interference had been born of the ties of Pack, and Nate accepted it. “And that their daddy was a stupid idiot, but one who came to his senses in time.” Nate wondered what their cubs would look like. Not that he was going to ask Tammy to have children anytime soon. She was only nineteen…and part of him still wasn’t sure she wouldn’t regret having mated so young. But on this magical Christmas night, he decided to believe in happy endings. “Want a replay?”

It was such an innocent question he almost missed the mischief in her eyes. “I’ll make you pay for that.” He stroked his hand over her bottom.

“Behave,” she whispered with a blush. “The others will see.”

“So?” He turned her until her back was to the tree. “I’m just playing with my mate.”

This time, she cuddled into him, her hands sliding up under his sweater. “I want the replay with cream on top.”

He grinned. “Why do you think I bought those cans of whipped cream?”

“WHERE’S THE WHIPPED CREAM?” NATE KISSED HIS WAY down the naked line of his mate’s back.

She glanced over her shoulder, beautiful enough to steal his breath. “Have you forgotten we have guests?”

“They can entertain themselves,” he said, referring to the houseful of packmates who’d dropped by for a family dinner.

“They’ve already been doing that for an hour.” She moaned. “Oooh, again.”

He complied, kissing the dip at the base of her spine. “I suppose I have to go play host.”

He bit the curve of her buttock. “Don’t get smart with me, Tamsyn Ryder. I know all your secrets.” And after eighteen years together, he knew she was his, body and soul. It had taken him almost two years to really believe that truth—but when she’d only gotten happier and happier as time passed, it had become impossible not to.

She nuzzled at his neck. “Stop seducing me. I need to go finish making dinner.”

Rising halfway, he found his gaze caught by a golden envelope on the bureau. “What’s that?”

“Card from Nita,” she said, referring to the former packmate who’d mated with an outside-Pack male not long after his and Tamsyn’s mating. “Her cubs are growing up so fast.”

“So are ours.” He stroked his hand over the curve where her waist flared into her hip. “God, I’ll have to teach them about women soon.”

She laughed. “And what do you know about women?”

His reply was a kiss that stole her breath.

THE HOUSE WAS STRANGELY QUIET WHEN THEY WENT DOWN. Tamsyn soon found out why. Lucas and Vaughn were outside playing ball. They’d roped in their own mates and a couple of other sentinels, as well as the kids and several older juveniles.

“See, I told you they’d take care of themselves.” Nate kissed the pulse in her neck as they stood on the back doorstep.

She smiled. “More like the women decided we needed privacy.” They had been in the kitchen with her when Nate had walked in with the orchids. He did that every year, and every year, she turned to putty in his arms. It was hard not to melt for a man who still saw her as an orchid kind of girl after all these years together.

Her mate’s teasing reply was lost in the gleeful cries of their cubs as they spotted their parents. Nate walked out and intercepted the pair, scooping them up and hanging them over his shoulders. In spite of Nate’s worries, Roman and Julian were still babies, not even three years old. “Mommy! Help!” they cried now, between giggles.

Nate threw her a grin and something went hot and tight in her stomach. God, she loved him. Walking over, she tilted her head to peer at her babies. That knot in her stomach grew tighter. “I think you look good in that position.”

Laughing, she freed a wriggling Roman. He peppered her face with kisses before asking to be put down so he could rejoin the game. Julian was playing with his daddy, but waited to give his mom a kiss before chasing off after his twin. “They’re so tiny,” she whispered, standing in the curve of Nate’s arm. “I can’t believe they’re ours.”

“My little pistons,” Nate said proudly, watching as Vaughn threw Roman a soft pass. Instead of running, Roman threw a sneaky pass to his twin, who shot off down the field. “See that—a few more years and they’ll be pummeling everyone else on the field. So, what about the Christmas tree?”

“I drove out there yesterday.” A living Christmas tree had become a tradition, a happy memory that had survived the turmoil of the bleak years after the ShadowWalkers’ attack. “Our tree is still going strong.”

“Just like the pack,” Nate said, echoing her thoughts.

She wrapped her arm around his waist. “Just like us.”

He glanced down, a tenderness in his gaze that would have surprised those who saw him only as the most experienced of DarkRiver’s dangerous sentinels. “As if I’d ever let you go.”

“Sweet talker.” She leaned up and kissed him, thinking that her mate was simply getting sexier with age. He now had the darkly sensual beauty of a leopard in the prime of his life, pure hard muscle and a finely honed sexuality that demanded everything she had. She found him irresistible. “I love you.”

He nibbled at her lower lip and there was smug male pride in his eyes as he said, “I know.”

She laughed. It had taken her years to get him to that point, where he believed she truly was happy with their life. Never once had she regretted mating at nineteen. She’d been one of the lucky ones—she’d found her mate early.