"Because I have a little problem with being naked in front of all the guys. Even if they don't have the same issue." The Pack didn't worry much about walking around in the buff, before or after shifting. Made for nice eye candy.

"There is that." In short order he had her pants and undies off, and her blouse and bra soon followed, joining the rest on the floor. The only item on her person was his silver pendant around her neck, hanging between her breasts. "You, my lady, look good enough to eat."

"Me first. Let me?" Reaching out, she wrapped her fingers around his erection.

Sucking in a breath, he rocked his hips toward her. "Whatever you want, baby."

Eagerly, she stroked his straining member, loving the silky hardness of his skin sliding through her palm. She enjoyed the rush of making a grown man tremble, reducing him to a quivering mass of want. Men believed they were so powerful, but when it came to a lover's touch, being fondled, licked, and sucked? They weren't so mighty.

Bending, she tasted the head of his cock, capturing the pearly droplet that escaped through the slit. He groaned, urging her on, and she took him in her mouth as she cupped his balls. She'd never get tired of this.

She sucked him slowly, taking him deep, to the base and up again to the tip. Bobbed and laved like he was a lollipop, while massaging his heavy balls. She even traced the treasure trail leading from his belly button to the trim, neat nest of black hair at the base. So manly.

"Honey, I'm not gonna last if you keep that up." Carefully he disengaged and gave her a smirk. "My turn now."

She let him push her onto her back on the bed, admired him as he crawled between her thighs and spread them. Bared her for his appreciation. Let him look all he wanted-although she wasn't into streaking in front of the whole Pack, she wasn't shy about her body. Never had been. No, as an adult, she'd always been a sensual woman, very attuned to her needs and not afraid to see them met when the opportunity came about.

And this man more than satisfied.

"You're beautiful," he murmured.


Lying down, he nuzzled her sex. Stole a taste. Immediately she melted, gave herself to his care. His tongue parted her folds, licked with slow thoroughness. She moaned, let her legs fall open wider.

"God, yes. Eat me," she begged.

He made a sound of pleasure and his tongue snaked deeper, stroking along her walls. She gasped, realizing he'd let his panther out just enough to allow his claws to dig into her hips and his cat's tongue to pleasure her in the kinkiest way she'd ever imagined. She almost came from that alone.

"So fucking sweet." His voice was gravelly. "Why did I ever think you were innocent? What a bad girl you are."

"Yes, and you love it."

"I do. And you're mine!"

"Yours! Please . . ." She clutched at his hair.

"Want my cock, baby?"

"Do you have to ask?"

Crawling over her, he smiled and met her eyes, and she got another surprise. His eyes were elliptical-those of his panther. They were captivating. Feral.

After positioning his cock at her entrance, he eased inside. Bracing his elbows on either side of her head, he pushed, burying himself to his balls. "Save me, Mackenzie," he whispered. "Drive out the darkness. Be my light."

Oh, God, she would try. For him.

As he thrust into her faster and faster, she began to spiral toward the edge of release. As she did, she noticed that his features sharpened even more. A half shift, she realized. She'd seen the men take their half forms on occasion, but never from this perspective. Sex like this was more than kinky; it was mind-blowing. And it triggered an internal red flag as well.

She couldn't heed the warning, even if she could've voiced what it meant. By the time she figured it out, it was much too late to stop what came next.

"Mine," he snarled, pounding her into the mattress.

"Yes! Fuck me!"

Just as that wonderful, familiar quickening began, Kalen buried his fingers in her hair, yanked her head back and slightly to the side. For one split second, she took him in, poised above her, fucking her senseless, his brutally handsome face all planes and angles, huge canines bared.

"Kalen, wait-"

Then he struck, sinking his fangs into her throat. The blinding pain was like nothing she'd ever felt-but it was instantly replaced by ecstasy that detonated her body. Her orgasm exploded and she screamed, clinging to his shoulders as they slammed together again and again. Rode wave after wave of euphoria so intense she almost passed out.

A golden thread stretched between them, strengthened. Somehow she sensed that this was the link that would bind them forever.

The bond he'd made without asking.

She was hardly aware of him drinking her blood, then finally removing his fangs and licking the wounds. Of him withdrawing and gathering her close.

Then the room and her lover faded away.

* * *

Kalen watched his woman-wow, his mate-sink into slumber and smoothed a curl from her face. A wave of happiness made him so weak it was a good thing he was lying down.

"You're precious to me," he told her sleeping form.

Love? Maybe not yet. But he was falling fast. She already owned a piece of his heart, and his soul would soon follow.

On the heels of that thought, he almost panicked. What if Malik had heard that? But there was nothing except silence in his head, and the new, miraculous tie binding him to his mate. He who'd never had anyone or anything to call his own now had a reason to fight. And to win.

Curving his body protectively against hers, he wrapped an arm around her, pulling her back as snugly to his front as possible. Then he settled the covers over them and drifted off.

Sometime later, he wasn't sure what woke him. Groggy, he reached for Mackenzie, only to find her spot empty. Sitting up, he let his eyes adjust and barely made out her form by the bed.

"What're you doing?"

"Getting dressed." Her words, like her movements, were sharp.

Fumbling for the lamp on the bedside table, he switched it on and blinked at her. "Why? Where are you going?"

"Back to my room." Her lips were pressed into a thin, angry line as she yanked on her pants.

Oh, crap. "But . . . I thought you'd stay here with me. What's wrong?"

"You just assumed, huh?" she snapped, pulling on her shirt. "Like you figured it was fine and dandy to bite me, to mate me without discussing it with me first?"

He shot from the bed, reaching for her hand. "Baby, listen to me-"

"Like you listened to me?" She jerked her arm from his grasp. "Don't touch me!"

This couldn't be happening. "My panther wanted to claim you so bad, he was tearing me apart! I couldn't hold him back," he said, voice rising with his fear. "And I thought you wanted it, too!"

"But you didn't ask!" she shouted, shoving him in the chest. "You took away my right to choose, and the tie between Bondmates can never be undone except if one of us dies."

That hit him hard, and he sat on the side of the bed. Crushing sadness nearly overwhelmed him. "I'm sorry. I'd undo it if I could, if that would make you happy."

That, of course, was another wrong thing to say.

"It's a little late to worry about how I feel, isn't it?"

"No. You always matter to me," he said quietly. "It's just . . . I thought you wanted me back. You didn't say no."

"I tried to ask you to wait," she hissed furiously.

"I'm sorry, but I didn't hear you. And how could I have stopped? Would you have refused to mate with me?"

"I don't know." She shook her head. "That's not the point."

"I disagree. I don't think it's fair to rip me a new one when you would've said yes anyway."

"Oh, I would have?" Her eyes flashed blue fire. "You arrogant ass. I'm done talking about this. I'm going back to my room, and I'd appreciate it if you left me alone for a while."

He swallowed the knot of pain in his throat. "How long?"

"Until I'm ready to talk. I'll let you know."

This time he didn't try to stop her. After she left the room, he hung his head and listened, catching the ominous click of the door shutting in the foyer.

The horrible burn started in his chest, spread to his throat, his eyes. Try as he might to stop it, he couldn't. He hadn't cried since the night so long ago when he'd finally gotten so hungry he'd given up his virginity in a dirty alley for a measly few bucks. He'd ended up torn and bleeding, left on the ground to rot with the rest of the garbage. And after he'd dried his face, he had sworn he would never shed another tear. Not for anyone, ever again.

But he'd never expected anything could possibly hurt worse than that horrible night. That he could ever again feel like something used and ugly to be discarded.

And he let the tears fall because he couldn't hold them back.

His cat yowled in distress, but there was no comfort to be found for either of them. He wasn't sure how long he sat there, naked and shivering in the dark, when he heard that voice. His voice, so low and reassuring.

Did I not tell you this would happen? Will you never listen? Care for these inferior creatures and they will hurt you time and again.

"You warned me," he admitted, heart aching.

I want you, my boy. I am here for you, so let your soul be at ease.

Someone out there cared about him. He so needed to believe that. He had to have something to hold on to, or he might as well check out.

I won't allow you to die. You are destined for greatness at my side.

He closed his eyes. "I can't stand this pain much longer. I can't take being alone, with no one of my own who gives a fuck about me. Make it stop. Please, I beg you."

You are the one with the power to end it, my boy. Don't you feel the power in your gut, flowing through your veins? Seize control. Focus your magic. Let all of that pain and anger be the fuel that guides it. Can you feel it?

The words throbbed in his skull, a soothing comfort in an ocean of chaos. Kalen found his center and honed in on the pulse of magic. Just there, residing in his core, ready to do his bidding. "Yes, I feel it."

Good. Now grab the thread of your anger and twine it carefully around the spool of light that is your magic.

Concentrating, he imagined his rage as a black ribbon, flowing freely through his body. Unfettered, without purpose. Then he took one end and began to twirl it through the sphere of light in his center, where the magic began. He twined the ribbon all around the magic, swirled it like peppermint candy-only with black instead of red.

"It's done."

Excellent, pet. You could destroy an entire city with the force that's inside you now. Do you see?

"Yes. It feels fantastic." No denying the truth.

You can do that anytime you wish. Use it well when you practice your skills against the posers who call themselves your friends. Do you remember what I told you to do?

"A small misfortune, a dark prank. Nothing too noticeable."

When will you begin?

"First thing in the morning. Breakfast."

Very good. Devise something especially unpleasant that you will enjoy watching.

"Oh, I will." He smiled at the prospect. "No one will hurt me again."

No, because you're going to get them. All of them, eventually.

His groin tightened at the prospect.

Now for your first real test. Lower the shields around the compound so that I may enter.

His resolve faltered. "What? Now?"

Yes. Lower them.

"I-I can't." His heart pounded in confusion.

You can. Don't you desire your blood reward?

"I do, but . . . you'll hurt them."

I will not. That is your task. To exact revenge on the ones who have wronged you.