“Sure. But he’s being an ass about it. He’s not exactly meeting your demands, is he?”

“Don’t you dare defend him,” Juanita ordered. “And don’t you back down, either. You’re just giving him a taste of his own medicine. This is what he’s been doing to you for over a year. Let him see how he likes it.”

It made sense, but Tamsyn wasn’t a soldier, to think of love like strategy. Her heart was that of a healer—gentle and easy to forgive. “He hates it.”

“Good.” The other woman grinned. “If you don’t allow him access to you anytime he wants to feed the animal’s need to be close to you, he’s going to get desperate sooner rather than later. Then he’ll jump you and, bang, we’ll all live happily ever after.”

Tamsyn nodded. She liked the idea of being jumped by a sexually hungry Nate. “If he doesn’t do it soon, I might attack him myself.” Her sensitivity to his proximity was getting worse, the mere sound of his voice enough to melt her to damp readiness.

TWO NIGHTS LATER,TAMSYN DECIDEDJUANITA WAS A GENIUS. Nate was scowling at her from across the Pack Circle, such violent need in those midnight blue eyes that she could feel her stomach twist itself into a thousand knots.

“Stop staring at him,” she muttered noiselessly to herself. She hadn’t said much more than hello to him for the past forty-eight hours, but if she didn’t keep her eyes to herself, he’d figure out just how hard it was for her to maintain her distant air. She ached for him and the ache was a pulsing beat in every inch of her skin…and worse in lower, hotter places.

Breaking the connection through sheer effort of will, she focused on the dancers in the middle of the Circle. They were part of an impromptu gathering sparked by the full yellow moon, a happy diversion from the general air of wary alertness that had gripped DarkRiver since the attack by the ShadowWalkers. That wasn’t to say that their defenses were compromised. Those on watch were being spelled by off-duty packmates so everyone could join in the fun.

And it was fun—warm, friendly, brilliantly alive. Several people had pulled out instruments and the music was energetic and strong. She clapped along with the players, and when Lucas came to offer her his hand, she took it with a smile. “Watch out, I’ve got two left feet.”

He grinned, the savage markings on one side of his face—markings he’d been born with—making him look more panther than boy. “Good thing I don’t scare easy.”

Laughing, she let him swirl her around in an energetic dance that required enough of her concentration that she almost stopped thinking about Nate. When the tall juvenile snapped her back into his arms, she was breathless. “You’re in a good mood,” she said, glad to see him happy for once.

There was darkness in Lucas, such darkness. She knew it would be there until the day he took vengeance on those who had stolen his family from him. He was four years younger than her, but looking into those eyes, she saw not a child but a man. Lucas would one day be an alpha of incredible strength, of that she had no doubt.

He held her closer, touching her with the easy friendliness of Pack. She rested her cheek against his shoulder and swayed to the gentler beat that had replaced the pounding dance music. “So?”

“So I thought you needed to be held.” The words were blunt, the tone affectionate.

“Thank you. I did.” There was no need to lie. Not with Pack.

“Dorian said you don’t want us to beat some sense into Nate.” He sighed as if in disappointment. “Are you sure?”

She laughed at his teasing. “I like him in once piece, but thanks for the offer.”

“Do you want to dance with him? ’Cause he’s heading this way.”

SHE SMELLED THE RICH EARTHINESS OF NATHAN’S DISTINCTIVE scent before she could answer. It hit her system like a drug. An instant later, the heavy weight of his hand dropped on to her hip. “Luc. Go find a girl your own age.”

Lucas released her. “I think I like sexy older women—why don’t I keep Tammy and you find someone else?”

Nate’s growl was met with unrepentant laughter as Lucas threw Tammy a wink and walked away. She paid little attention to the exchange, her entire body focused on Nate as he placed both his hands low on her hips and pulled her back against his chest. “What the hell are you wearing?” He spoke against her ear, breath hot.

It was an effort to think. “Jeans and a sweater. Is that a crime?”

“The sweater is orange and anyone can see down your cleavage.”

She forced herself to laugh. “Nate, the vee isn’t that deep and the color is soft peach, not orange.” It went beautifully with her hair and eyes, throwing up golden highlights she’d never have believed possible.

“It’s fucking painted on your body, just like your jeans.”

“Watch your mouth, Nathan Ryder.” Firming up her tone, she put her hands over his and began to sway against him. It wasn’t a calculated act—her body simply craved the contact. “I’m nineteen years old. This is what women my age wear.”

His breath seemed to catch for an instant. “You don’t.”

No, she didn’t. It had always seemed to her that she shouldn’t aggravate the situation between them by being deliberately sexual. But tonight, she’d followed Juanita’s advice again and gone wild. The jeans—brought on a whim in New York—shaped her butt, and from the good-natured whistles she’d inspired in male packmates, it wasn’t a bad butt.

As for the long-forgotten sweater, baggy when she’d been a gangly thirteen, it was made of a soft, strokable material that did feel painted on over her now-womanly figure. That was the point. It was meant to make it hotly clear to Nate that she was a sexual young female, not a nun happy to wait for him to make up his mind.

“I decided it was time to change my personal style.” She moved against him again, exquisitely aware of the unforgiving ridge of his erection. “Have some fun before we settle down, exactly like you wanted.”

“Stop that.” But he didn’t do anything to halt her subtle erotic movements. “This kind of fun isn’t good for the blood pressure of the other men.” He pulled her even closer.

“They know I’m yours,” she murmured, feeling her skin flush. “Only yours.”

“Then why are you dressed like an invitation?”

For you, you idiot, she wanted to say. “I wanted to feel sexy.” She shrugged. “I haven’t had much of a chance to explore that side of me.” That, at least, was true. Between Nate’s pigheadedness and her responsibilities, she hadn’t had much play in her life. She did so want to play with Nate—silly, intimate, affectionate games.

His hands tightened. “And what are you going to do after getting yourself all heated up like this?” It was a half-growled question, but she knew him well enough to know that that roughness was an indication of need, not anger.

She tilted her head, looking up at him as he looked down. “I bought a friend.”

He seemed to choke for a second. “A friend?”

“Uh-huh. He vibrates.” It was a whisper meant to carry to his ears alone. “I think I’ll try him out tonight.”

His fingers were pressing down so hard, he was probably going to leave bruises. She didn’t care. Not when he was burning her up with the heat in his eyes. “Don’t.”

Raising her arms, she linked them behind his neck. “Why not?”

“Your first time shouldn’t be with that .”

She shrugged. “I’m getting older, Nathan. I have needs.” Dark, clawing needs. Needs only he could fulfill.

“Promise me you won’t use that stupid toy.”

“It’s not stupid.” She rubbed against the hardness of him and heard him suck in a breath. “It’s smaller than you, though.”

“Christ.” Pulling her arms off his neck, he spun her around so she faced him. “Don’t. Use. That. Thing. ” It was an order.

“Why not?” She pressed into him, the leopard in her inciting a desire to taunt, to torment. “Lots of women do it.”

Eyes going cat, he leaned down to speak against her ear, his lips teasing a suddenly sensitive portion of her anatomy. “If you promise not to use it on yourself tonight,” he whispered, “I’ll use it on you.”

She was weak, so weak where he was concerned. “I promise I won’t use it tonight.”

He nipped at the shell of her ear and it was then she realized he’d danced them to the farthest edge of the Pack Circle, well away from the reach of the temporary lights. She whimpered and held on. “Nate.”

“Shh. It won’t be that long, baby.” His hand stroked over her back, a rigid inflexibility to his body that hadn’t been there before. “You need a little more time.”

A nauseous feeling twisted through her. “Nate, you said you’d—”

“When the time is right.” There it was again, that tense restraint…as if with her surrender, he had found control.

Anger and pain mixed a caustic brew inside her. “Well,” she said, wrenching away from him, “I only promised not to use it tonight.”

“And,” she continued, “I’m not going to fall for that dirty trick again.” She began backing into the Circle. “I’m sick of being teased and left wanting. Tomorrow night, I’m taking care of business.”

Nate glared into his morning coffee and then at the duty roster he’d just received from Cian. Punching in the sentinel’s code on the comm console, he waited for Cian’s face to appear. “What the hell are you on? This roster is a joke!” He was so pissed, he consigned seniority and rank to Hades.