I’d known Asher long enough to know he was usually a man of few words, and he was as far from a player as you could get. If he dated at all, I didn’t know about it. I also never caught him in a lie. So when he told me his attraction to me was about who I was, not because of some primal wolf instinct, I believed him. I wanted to pinch myself.
But then he kissed me. Only this wasn’t a sweet, chaste kiss like the one we’d had in the snow. This was a hungry, possessive kiss. I surrendered to the passion, my desire for him consuming me. My fingers slid back into his long, silky hair, clutching fistfuls and enjoying the growl rumbling his chest. He got up from his stool without breaking the kiss and lifted me into his arms as though I weighed nothing.
My teeth grazed his lower lip as he carried me down the hall toward the master bedroom. Holding me with one arm, he closed the door and then lowered me until my feet touched the ground. I slid my hands under his shirt, lifting it over his head, and he did the same to mine before claiming my lips again. The heat from his body warmed me all over as he held me tight against him, and I suddenly needed to get rid of my bra, my pants— Hell, everything had to go. I didn’t want anything coming between us. Ever.
“Need you naked,” I gasped into the kiss, my voice so breathless I almost didn’t recognize it.
Dear god, I’d never seen such a sexy smile on Asher’s face before. Wolfish. Damn, if he ever discovered the power of that grin, I was in trouble.
“You first.” His voice was deep, raw, and even sexier than his smile, if that was possible. He had my bra unhooked and off in record time. His fingers worked on my jeans as he kissed me again. My hardened nipples brushed his chest and I moaned, heat curling low in my belly. I ran my hands down his chiseled abs and unbuttoned his pants. I slid his boxers and jeans down over his perfect ass. He caught the front before his erection got in the way, and his pants fell to the floor.
I wriggled out of my own, and suddenly, insecurity swamped me. I hadn’t been naked with a man of my own choosing since before I was bitten, and with no one at all since I gave birth to twins in that storage facility. The last time I’d had a boyfriend, I didn’t have stretch marks right below my belly button, my boobs were probably perkier, and although I was still fit, my bikini body was long gone.
Asher’s gaze wandered over me, and I fought the urge to cover myself. His head cocked slightly. “What’s wrong?”
I walked my fingers up his tan, rock-hard abs and finally met his eyes. “Truth?”
“Always.” His large hand slid up my back as he drew me closer to him. His touch was reassuring, and while his erection pulsed between us, his gaze remained patient. The desire was there, but he clearly wasn’t going to rush me.
And I loved him for that.
Wait, I what?
He frowned. “We can slow this down. I’m not going anywhere.”
I shook my head, pushing the shock of my revelation away. “No, I want this.” I chuckled, rolling my eyes. “It’s just…I wish I was as hot as you are.”
“You’re shitting me.” His smile made my heart skip. “You are so beautiful, Naomi.” For a moment, he seemed to be searching for words, then finally chuckled. “I have never in my life wanted a woman more than I want you right now. I…” He shook his head. “Sorry, it’s tough to get the blood back up to my brain.” His admission made me laugh, and his brow rose. “I’m not kidding. I wouldn’t change a single thing about you.”
Radio chatter filled the cockpit, and she glanced my way. “Who are you talking to? I don’t see an air traffic control tower down there.”
“All the pilots in the area are on the same frequency. When there’s no tower, we all watch out for each other. There are usually a few people listening on the ground, too.” I pressed the coms button on final approach to let everyone know we were coming in, then I gripped the yolk with both hands. “Here we go…”
Landings offered a delicious spike of adrenaline as I leveled the wings with the ground below and activated the hydraulic power. The landing gear dropped, and the indicator lights came to life. I lowered the flaps by ten degrees as I approached the threshold markings showing the beginning of the runway and then adjusted them again to keep the wings level. Flaring for landing, I kept the nose up slightly and pulled back on the yoke. The landing gear made contact with the pavement, jerking us out of weightless flight. I engaged the brakes until we slowed to a crawl.
Back to Earth, to reality.
She squeezed my thigh. “Nice work.”
I chuckled. “Not my first landing.”
My first with a copilot, though. And I liked it.
We rode in silence as I taxied down to my parking spot and turned off the engine. I leaned over to kiss her cheek, but she turned and pressed her soft lips to mine. I slid my hand back into her hair, tasting her as her lips parted. Damn, I couldn’t get enough of her.
She hummed as she broke the kiss and opened her eyes. “That was amazing. Thank you.”
I rested my forehead against hers. “The kiss or the flight?”
She laughed, a sexy playful spark in her eyes. “Both.”
“Hope you’ll come fly with me again sometime.”
“Deal.” She smiled and looked down at the ground outside. “So how do we get out?”
I unlatched the canopy and slid it open. “Give me a second.” I climbed out of the cockpit and dropped to the ground. If I were still human, I would’ve taken it in steps, climbing out and onto the wing before using the step. But I wasn’t human, and neither was my copilot, even though she was still learning to embrace it.
I walked over to her side and smiled up at her. “Are you coming?”
She grinned. “Did you seriously just jump down?”
“Yeah.” I gestured for her to follow. “Your turn.”
“I’ll break my leg.”
“It’s not that far.” I scanned the empty airstrip before meeting her eyes again. “You’re a badass werewolf, remember. This is nothing. You can make it.”
She didn’t look convinced, but she got out and hung onto the edge, laughing and kicking her feet. “It’s too far.”
“You’re practically on the ground.” I grinned. “You’ve got this.”
She let go and landed on both feet. I didn’t even need to steady her. She turned around with her eyes shining. “Made it.”
God, I loved seeing her smile.
I bottled it up and took out my phone. Asher, Vance, and Kaya wouldn’t be back from Phoenix for almost an hour so I sent a text to Cole to pick us up.
Finishing up at a ranch call. Should be to the airport in about an hour.
I thanked him and stuffed my phone in my pocket. “Want to hike to the vortex?”
Sedona was the mecca for energy vortexes, places where ley lines deep in the Earth crossed. Tourists from around the world came to town searching for spiritual meaning, and the vortices were a big draw. The vortex near the airport was only a short hike along rocky, uneven terrain.
Wendy peered down at her shiny black flats and sighed. “I wish I’d worn hiking shoes.”
“No problem.” I turned around and crouched down. “Hop on.”
“You’re going to carry me?” She laughed. “No. You’ll twist your ankle.”
I looked over my shoulder, trying not to laugh. “I’m a jaguar, remember? Cat’s always land on their feet.”
She rolled her eyes and hopped onto my back. I caught her knees, enjoying the feel of her breasts pressed against my back. Her lips brushed my ear as she wrapped her arms around my neck. “If you think I’m going to make out with you at the vortex…you’re right.”
I started to run, making her squeak in surprise. Her laughter echoed off the rocks, and just as it did when flying in my plane, the rest of the world faded away.
“You’re going to get heat stroke,” she cautioned.
“Nah. I’m just desperate for another kiss.” I slowed my pace to a walk, keeping my eye on the rocky trail ahead. The elevation in Sedona made the temperature more moderate than the unforgiving desert of Phoenix.
She rested her chin on my shoulder, her cheek against mine, and my fucking heart was in her hands. I never wanted to lose this closeness, this fun, this amazing, badass werewolf on my back. A selfish part of me hoped she’d never find her mate.
“How much do you know about werewolves?”
I shrugged. “Just the basics, I guess. You shift during the full moon, work and live in packs, and you have a keener sense of smell than I do, but I can find you in the dark. You’re also strong.” I looked over at his chiseled profile. “Am I missing anything?”
He nodded and his gaze locked on mine. “We have one true mate for life, just like wolves. They’re chosen by fate, and the wolf in our soul will recognize them when we touch skin to skin.”
I narrowed my eyes. “Are you trying to tell me you’re…married?”
“No.” He frowned shaking his head. “I’m trying to tell you when I grabbed your wrist in that jail, my wolf went berserk.”
“What?” I fought to focus. I must’ve misunderstood. “How can that be? I’m a jaguar shifter.”
He shrugged. “Vance is Kaya’s mate and he’s a jaguar.” He broke eye contact, his voice distant. “I just turned forty the other day and I lost hope I’d ever find my mate, but Deacon was sure she was out there. He said fate would bring us together once the time was right.” He pinched the bridge of his nose, sucking in a shaky breath as he shook his head. “I fucking hate this. I should be sweeping you off your feet, but I just held my brother’s hand and watched him fade away. My best friend in the whole damned world is gone. Snuffed out. How can fate be this heartless?”
“Oh, fate and I go way back.” I squeezed his hand. “She can be a bitch.”
He chuckled softly. I caught myself wishing I could hear him really laugh. He glanced my way. “Thanks for not sprinting back to the house when I mentioned mates.”
“Just to be clear, I’m not sure where to go from here.” I focused on our joined hands. I didn’t know anything about this man who seemed to think fate had chosen me to be his mate. It wasn’t that I didn’t want a relationship. More that my way of life meant I couldn’t have one. “I don’t have that wolf instinct.”
“I’m well aware.” He met my eyes. “That’s why I should be working my ass off to sweep you off your feet.”
I chuckled with a slow nod. “I get it now. I could walk away but you…”
“Will never love another.”
“That might be romantic if we even knew each other.” I laughed. I couldn’t help it. “You don’t know me other than the fact I fought with Naomi when she was escaping from the Nero satellite facility.”
“True.” He nodded. “And you don’t even know my last name.”
“Stewart.” Before he could ask, I added, “I read it on your truck.”
He almost smiled. “So, now I know you’re beautiful, deadly, and literate.”
I shouldn’t like that he thought I was beautiful. Shouldn’t. But I did. I bumped him with my shoulder. “You’re funny even when your heart is broken.”
“That could be the only time I’m funny.” He shrugged, and behind all the pain in his eyes, I noticed a longing that I recognized. I’d seen it before when I looked in the mirror. That wish that someday I might matter to someone.
He raised a brow. “You don’t know anything about me either.”
“I guess not.” A gust of wind came up from the valley tugging hair free from my messy braid. Before I could comment on how bad I must look, he reached over to tuck my hair behind my ear and my breath caught in throat.
He released my hand and brought the other up to the other side of my face. My pulse raced. I knew he could hear it, because I had no trouble hearing his keeping time with mine. My lips parted as I lost myself in his eyes.
“I’m so broken right now,” he whispered. “I’ve dreamed of finding my mate for most of my life. Never thought when I found her that I’d have no heart left to give.”
I placed my hand on his chest, my voice wobbled. “You must hate me.”
Confusion lined his features. “Why would you think that?”
My mouth went dry. “If I hadn’t gotten arrested, your brother would still be alive.”
Tears shone in his eyes as he shook his head. “If you hadn’t gone to jail, we never would have touched. You’d be out of my life by now. Long gone.”
“You’d be better off if I was.” I choked out the bitter truth I wished I could bury. Lying came so easily to me…but not with him. “You’d have your brother.”
“Don’t,” he whispered, his thumb stroking my cheek. “My brother didn’t blame you. Not even for a second.”
His eyes dipped to my lips and back up. I should pull away and protect myself. I couldn’t stay here. I’d have to say goodbye.
But I didn’t move. He crushed his lips to mine, and I wrapped my arms around him, clinging to him like a lifeline in a storm as our tongues wrestled in an urgent, desperate passion. His hand slid into my hair, his fingers threading through my braid, tightening until I shivered against him. The fever in my veins surprised me. I’d been with many men for a variety of reasons through my life, but the emotion in this kiss was new.
I wanted to put his heart back together. I ached to take away his hurt. And I yearned to know all there was to know about him.
And that could get him killed.
I broke the kiss and stumbled back a couple steps.
There was a new fire in his eyes and his aura throbbed with the red and pink of desire. His nostrils flared as he sucked in a breath. “I’m not sorry.”
“I’d like to keep it that way.” My voice was breathless.
He tipped his head slightly. “What’s that supposed to mean?”
I wet my well-kissed lips. “The police are looking for me. I’m going to have to disappear. I can’t stay here without putting you and your pack in jeopardy.” I gestured to the red rocks. “We can’t hide here forever. I’m going to finish Judge Jones and then I have to start over somewhere else. Being with me will put a target on your back.”
“Being without you isn’t an option,” he growled.
“You’re being blinded by wolf instincts.” I hated saying those words out loud. This was the first person who had ever risked themselves for me. It would’ve been nice to believe it was because he cared about me, but it was instinctual. Nothing more. “You don’t know me, Dex. You’ve already lost too much. I won’t stay and destroy your whole pack. I won’t.”
The intensity in his gaze threatened to break my will. Would it be so bad to rush back into his arms and escape in the warmth of his kiss? Yes. Eventually he’d hate me. He’d lose everything he loved.
I steeled myself, turned around, and walked back to the house.