Wren was standing in the small bathroom outside of his bedroom, cursing as Marvin threw water at him.
"Stop it, Marvin," he snapped at the playful monkey, who was now making faces at him. "You know I hate it whenever water gets in my eyes."
He couldn't stand to be blinded. None of his species could, which was strange when one considered the fact that they did like to play in water.
They just hated any and all weaknesses. A weak tiger was a dead one.
His father was dead proof of that.
The door, which Wren had left slightly ajar, opened to show him Aimee in the hallway. "What are you two doing?"
Wren pulled the comb from his hair. He looked about for someplace to retreat to, but the only way out was through the bearswan. He hated that she had caught him. He didn't want anyone to know what he was doing.
Aimee entered the room and closed the door behind her. Cocking her head to one side, she studied him with a gimlet stare that made him extremely uneasy.
Marvin jumped up and down on the sink, chattering.
"You're trying to unmat your hair, aren't you?"
Wren didn't say anything as he set the comb down beside Marvin. It was none of her business.
"It's because of that human female, isn't it?"
He tried to move past Aimee, only to have her block his way.
"It's okay, Wren," Aimee said gently. "I won't tell anyone about her. Believe me, I understand all about impossible relationships."
Yeah, he'd caught her with the wolf Fang a week ago. The two of them had been about to kiss. If anyone other than Wren had discovered her with Fang, Fang would have been killed or at the very least seriously mangled. But luckily for them, Wren couldn't care less who Aimee took to her bed. It was none of his business anyway.
She picked up the comb from the counter. "You want me to help?"
Part of him wanted to growl at her and send her scurrying away, but the other realized that help would be kind of nice. "You can try," he muttered. "But I think it's hopeless."
He'd been trying for over an hour to comb through the mess of his hair, and so far he'd only met with failure and pain.
And all because he wanted...
He wanted the impossible. For one moment in time, he wanted to feel a woman's hands in his hair, and it wasn't Aimee he ached to feel there.
He wanted Maggie.
Aimee's face softened as she tried to get the comb through a small matted lock. After a few minutes of trying that only resulted in her breaking the comb in half, she let out a frustrated sigh.
"All right, Wren, what we need is a specialist. Let me call Margie in here to help. She's the best at getting matted hair untangled. If anyone can do this, she can."
As Aimee started out the door, Wren stopped her. "Why are you being so nice to me?" None of the other bears had ever been really nice to him. Most of them barely tolerated him.
But Aimee had always been kind.
She offered him a smile. "I like you, cub. I always have. I know you're not dangerous... I mean, I know that you could kill us, that you are dangerous, but that you don't pose an unfounded danger to anyone other than yourself."
"But you still fear me."
Her eyes softened as she looked at him. "No. I fear for you, Wren. There's a big difference."
He frowned in confusion at her words.
She let out a tired breath. "You don't like anyone around you, cub. I know you do inappropriate things just to make people leave you alone, and I fear what you will do one day that could cause the others here to turn on you permanently."
She glanced to Marvin, who was watching her as if he understood and agreed. "I know the ferocity of your people. I know Bill sent you here to keep your father's clan from killing you before you could defend yourself. Believe it or not, I don't want to see you hurt. Everyone deserves some happiness in their life. Even tigards."
Those words touched him deeply. No wonder the wolf was so attracted to her. For a bear, she had a good heart. "Thanks, Aimee."
She nodded, then left. Marvin started chattering at Wren as he tried to detangle his hair again. The monkey didn't understand why Wren was trying to change himself. It didn't make sense to Marvin.
"I know," Wren said to the monkey. "But I want her to be able to touch me without it grossing her out. One day you'll find a Marvina of your own and you'll understand."
"Oh my God, Margeaux! You have got to see what's outside in the hallway!"
Marguerite looked up from where she was packing her books into her backpack to frown at Whitney, whose next class was three doors down. "What?"
"He is the cutest guy on the planet. I swear, I've never seen anyone hotter. He must be gay. No straight man ever looks this yummy."
"Oh, doesn't that just piss you off?" Tammy asked from the next seat. "You should try being an art major. All I ever saw as an undergraduate was men looking for other men. It's why I'm in law school now. I need a profession where I might actually run across a dude wanting a female."
Whitney gave Tammy a droll stare for the mere fact that she had spoken without invitation. Marguerite, on the other hand, adored the Goth student, who always had the most interesting stories on Monday morning.
Marguerite smiled at her. "Okay, Tammy, since you're the resident expert on men, go scope him out and tell me what you think. Whose team does he bat for?"
By the time Marguerite had the backpack on her shoulders, Tammy returned with a thoughtful scowl on her face. "I don't know. It's too close to call. Psycho Prep is right, he's stunning. Offhand, I'd say straight, 'cause he has this 'do me' factor all over him that makes you want to take a bite out of his succulent flesh. That being said, he's dressed in a black silk shirt that's open at the neck, sleeves rolled back on his arms, and it's left untucked. Of course he does have a really cool tat on his left arm. But..."
Tammy wrinkled her nose. "He has on black slacks and really, really expensive black Italian loafers. Ferragamos, I think. Gotta say that sets off my gaydar big-time. Straight men don't normally dress that good. Not to mention he has one of those expensive haircuts, but at the same time it's kind of shabby. He's not really watching anyone, male or female, who walks by. It's weird. So I'd say our team has a fifty-fifty shot he bats for us. Or maybe he's a switch-hitter."
"Oooh, a mystery," Marguerite said as she headed out of the classroom to see him for herself. "Let me see what I think..."
There was quite a stir in the hallway as women gawked or tried to be inconspicuous in their ogling of him. At first all she could see was the top of his blond hair over the crowd.
It was hard to navigate through the estrogen sea of women who wanted a closer look at him. And as she made her way closer, Marguerite had to admit he was completely stunning. She was far from immune to the " 'do me' factor" that Tammy had mentioned.
His face was perfect, with full, sensual lips that just begged for a hot kiss. He had high cheekbones and a patrician nose. His dark blond hair was shorter in back than in front, with pieces of it falling strategically into his eyes to add an air of mystery to him. He looked extremely uncomfortable as he held a bouquet of roses and a large box of Godiva chocolates. His skin was a deep, tawny gold.
It wasn't until he took a step toward her and she saw the exact color of his turquoise eyes that recognition hit her square in the chest.
It couldn't be...
He didn't pause until he stood before her and offered her that familiar hesitant smile before he literally nuzzled her cheek, then gave her a light, gentle kiss.
Tammy paused beside them and cleared her throat. "Switch-hitter?" she asked.
Marguerite laughed. "Oh no. This one is definitely on our team, trust me."
Tammy high-fived her. "You go, girl. Make sure you score a few home runs for our side."
Wren frowned as Tammy headed off. "Should I ask about that?"
Marguerite laughed nervously. "No. I would definitely prefer that you didn't."
His scowl only increased as he handed her the flowers and candy. "I got these for you."
It was so strangely corny and cliched, and yet it made her heart pound that he had done it. No man had ever given her flowers and candy before. "Thank you."
Biting her lip, she reached up and brushed at his new hair, which was incredibly silky between her fingers. The soft texture reminded her more of an animal pelt than human hair.
It looked really good on him, but part of her missed the old Wren. "What did you do?"
Uncertainty darkened his eyes. "Do you like it?"
"Yeah, I think I do." She'd known he was cute, but she'd had no idea he was so incredibly sexy. There was something about this new Wren look that made her even hotter than the old one. Who knew a haircut could make such a difference?
"You didn't do this for me, did you?"
He looked away sheepishly.
Warmth flooded her. "You didn't have to cut your hair, Wren. I liked it the other way, too."
He glanced around at the women who were slowly dispersing. "I didn't want to embarrass you anymore."
She reached up and pulled his face down so that she could press her cheek to his. The masculine scent of his skin and aftershave set fire to her hormones. But it was his sacrifice that set fire to her heart.
"You've never embarrassed me, Wren," she whispered in his ear. "I don't think you ever could."
Wren couldn't breathe as the scent of her washed over him. It was all he could do to control himself. The feeling of her skin on his... of her hand on his cheek... It was wonderful. Her touch scalded him and it touched the tiny part of him that was human. More than that, it touched his animal heart and tamed it. He never thought he'd feel anything like this.
He was at peace. Calm. Soothed. There was no pain. No past. No taunts echoing in his head.
All there was inside him was Maggie and a foreign, giddy joy the likes of which he'd never known.
It was a feeling he didn't want to end.
To his instant dismay, she pulled back to look up at him. "So how did you know to find me here? Are you like some freaky stalker?"
Wren grinned at that. Honestly, the animal in him could track her with ease anywhere on this planet. She had a unique scent of woman and tea rose laced with the Finesse shampoo that she used. But it would probably scare her to know that she could never hide from him.
"Your schedule was in your backpack. I looked at it before I returned it to you yesterday."
She offered him a shy smile that made him harden before she bent her head down to smell the roses he'd brought for her. He reached out to touch her.
"Who's your friend, Margeaux?"
Wren withdrew his hand instantly as he recognized one of the women who had gone to the bar with Maggie on the night they'd met.
Marguerite turned to see Whitney behind her, eyeing Wren speculatively. "Whitney, meet Wren."
Whitney looked confused by that. "Wren? The grubby busboy who had Blaine arrested?"
Marguerite was quick to defend Wren. "Blaine started the fight."
She doubted Whitney heard her, since she was eyeing Wren like a hungry tigress who had spotted a pork chop on a plate. The only problem was that the pork chop belonged to Marguerite, who had no intention of sharing him with anyone.
She tucked her hand into the crook of his arm and pulled him away. "Wren and I have a date. We'll see you later."
Wren leaned down and did that warm, wonderful action of gently nuzzling her cheek before he covered her hand with his and led her toward the exit.
Wren still didn't really understand why he'd sought out Maggie. Humans had never held any real interest for him in the past As a Katagari male, he shouldn't be so attracted to her. At least not anything more than physically.
And yet she fascinated him as she drove him to her small cottage by the zoo. All he wanted was to curl up in her lap and purr. Something that didn't make sense, since what he normally wanted was to rip the arm off anyone dumb enough to come near him.
She kept glancing over at him and gifting him with the sweetest little shy smile that he'd ever seen on a woman's face. But even worse on his self-restraint was the desire he felt from her. She was as hungry for him as he was for her, and it was making him feral.
The cat in him wanted to snarl and to stalk.
More than that, it wanted to mate.
By the time she pulled into her driveway, his entire body was throbbing. Alert.
And it wanted her with a ferocity that scared the shit out of him. There was no way he could leave her until he had tasted her.
Marguerite opened her car door and got out. Wren was there on her side of the car before she'd even had a chance to pull her book bag out.
"I'll carry it," he said quietly.
He'd moved so fast that it was practically inhuman...
Nodding, she reached in to get her flowers and chocolate to carry them into her house. Wren followed her to the stoop, then stood back while she unlocked her door and let them in.
She went to set the flowers down on her end table. Before she could even straighten up, he was behind her. He buried his face into her hair and inhaled deeply as if he were savoring her. She'd never felt anything like it. She could feel his entire length against her back. Marguerite actually shivered at the sensualness of that action.
She found herself leaning back against him as his arms came around her to hold her close. In this position, she could feel his erection plainly against her hip. Wren was a large man, powerful.
"You smell good enough to eat," he whispered against her ear.
Marguerite couldn't answer, as her entire body burned from his presence. She laid her hands against his forearms and traced the jungle scene tattoo of a white tiger lurking in tall grass that ran the length of Wren's left one. There was so much strength and power in his arms that it made her feel weak. Trembling. She'd never known any man to make her feel like this.
He turned her in his arms so that she was facing him. His pale turquoise eyes were hot and electrifying. He cupped her face in his hands and kissed her fiercely.
Marguerite held him to her as every hormone in her body sizzled. Never in her life had she been more aroused. More aware of any man. His tongue spiked against hers as he pressed her even closer to his lean, hard body. Her hardened nipples brushed against his chest, making her moan from the contact and from the insatiable desire to touch him without their clothes separating them.
She'd never been the kind of woman to hop into bed with a guy she'd just met. In fact, she'd only known two other lovers in her life. One had been a friend her first year of college and the other had been a guy she'd dated for a little over a year. Those times had been pleasant enough but never stellar.
The men hadn't made her feel like this... made her feel like she would die if she didn't touch them. Made her burn in pleasure of the thought of having them inside her.
But Wren did.
Her breasts were heavy and aching. Her breath ragged as it mingled with his while they kissed.
He lifted the hem of her skirt up slowly, so slowly that the expectation was almost painful. She groaned at the feel of his callused hands on her bare skin. At the sensation of the heat of his skin mixed with the cool air as he caressed her with firm, confident hands. It was the most erotic moment of her life. She was already wet and throbbing, needing to feel even more of him. It was all she could do not to beg him to have mercy on her.
Wren explored her mouth, wanting to taste more of her. He'd never felt hunger like this. Needful. Throbbing. Demanding. He closed his eyes and inhaled the scent of her as he lifted her skirt even more so that he could feel the softness of her thighs. She was a warm, perfect heaven.
He'd never touched a woman before, at least not like this, and he was beginning to understand why as the animal inside him roared with ferocity. It was a dangerous beast that wanted to devour her. It roared and clawed, wanting freedom.
Raw possessiveness swelled up inside him with a stunning ferocity. He finally understood why animals killed those who came near their territory. If anyone else ever touched her...
Wren would rip them to shreds.
He left her lips and buried his mouth against her throat where he felt her heartbeat pounding. Licking and teasing her soft skin, he slowly slid his hand down underneath the waistband of her dark blue panties. He half-expected her to stop him, but she didn't. Instead, she parted her legs more, giving him access to the part of her that he craved as she held on to his shoulders.
Oh yeah, this was what he needed. He felt her shiver as he stroked her with a tenderness he'd never known he possessed. If anyone had ever told him that he could hold a woman and not hurt her, he would have laughed at them, and yet he was gently holding Maggie.
No, he was making love to her. It was a human term that he'd never understood until this moment. But even more surprising was the fact that he was enjoying it so much.
Her short, crisp hairs brushed his fingers as he sank his hand down farther, seeking her. He separated the tender folds of her body until he could touch the part of her that he needed most. He closed his eyes and trembled as he sank one long finger deep inside her.
She jumped and moaned against his lips.
Wren growled in triumph as he stroked her. She was so wet. So soft. Her murmurs filled his ears, making him even harder for her.
Marguerite couldn't think as he tormented her with his touch. And when he sank another long, tanned finger deep inside her, she feared her knees would buckle.
"I have to have you, Maggie," he whispered gruffly in her ear.
She answered him by unbuttoning his shirt so that she could feel all that lush, beautiful skin. She hesitated as she saw the bandage still on his shoulder from where he'd protected her. A foreign tenderness went through her an instant before she claimed his lips again.
Marguerite stripped his clothes from him feverishly, wanting to see all of him. Wanting to feel him deep inside her. She'd never wanted anything more desperately.
She had to have him. It was like a madness that she'd never felt before.
They didn't even make it to her bedroom. Instead, they sank to the floor where they were.
Marguerite hissed as Wren unbuttoned her shirt, then nuzzled her small breast with his entire face. Always self-conscious in the past about her cup size, she felt none of that now. How could she when he seemed to savor her body so much? He rubbed himself against her breast from chin to brow several times before he gave her one long, wicked lick to her swollen nipple.
She shivered. "What are you doing?"
He hovered just over her other breast as he blew one teasing, hot breath over the taut peak. His blue eyes bored into hers. "I want your scent all over me. I want to smell your skin until I'm drunk with it."
She moaned as he repeated those actions on her right breast while her body throbbed with needful hunger. How strange to be so at ease with her body... with his touch. She wasn't nervous or hesitant in the least. All she wanted was Wren.
His tongue was rough against her skin, and every lick made her stomach flutter in response. He removed her blouse and skirt entirely. And when he pulled her panties off with his teeth, she almost came from the sheer pleasure of it.
He took his time with her. Slowly, methodically, he nibbled every inch of her skin from her foot to her thigh. It was as if he'd never tasted a woman before. As if he wanted to claim every little molecule of her body.
And he was doing a damned good job of it. That man could lick like nobody's business.
Wren paused to look at her. He nudged her thighs farther apart so that he could brush his fingers over her wet cleft and stare in wonderment of her body. It was so very different from his own. Soft and inviting.
So this was what it was like to touch a woman...
He ground his teeth as he brushed his hand over her mons. Not even his dreams could compare to the reality. His hunger overwhelming him, he sank two fingers inside her and watched as she shuddered in response.
She was more than ready for him.
But he didn't want to take her like a human male. He wanted to claim her like the animal that he was. Tigers played with their mates...
Marguerite whimpered as Wren withdrew from her. "What are you doing?" she asked as he picked her up.
"I'm making love to you, Maggie," he breathed in her ear as he pulled her back to his front.
Marguerite wasn't sure what he was doing as he lay back on the floor with her on top of him. It was so strange to be lying fully against his naked body like this. She could feel his chest against her shoulders. His thighs behind her buttocks as he hooked his ankles with hers and spread her legs wide.
"Wren..." Her words ended in a small cry as he entered her from behind. She hissed at the width and depth of him finally inside her. He was a large man who filled her completely.
She leaned her head back against his shoulder as he began to slowly thrust himself deeper into her body. She'd never felt more exposed in her life. And yet it was wildly erotic.
He cupped her breasts as he continued to thrust himself into her over and over again with a feverish rhythm that tore her apart with pleasure.
He took her hand into his, then led it down to her spread thighs so that she could feel them joined.
"Touch me, Maggie," he growled. "I want you to feel me take you."
How could she not? He was so hard and thick inside her. So powerful.
He left her hand on him and moved his up so that he could stroke her in time to his thrusts.
Marguerite's head spun as pleasure pounded through her. This was the most incredible moment of her life. It didn't feel like just a physical act, she felt connected somehow with Wren. Like she was giving him something he couldn't get from anyone else. It didn't make sense, but that was what she felt with him.
Wren couldn't breathe as he felt her sleek, hot wetness surrounding him. All he wanted was to be inside his Maggie. To hear her scream out in ultimate pleasure and know that he was the one who gave it to her. He moved faster, grinding himself against her as he carefully buried his teeth against the back of her neck.
She threw her head back and cried out as she shuddered in his arms.
He laughed in triumph as she came for him. But then his own laughter died as he, too, climaxed.
He tightened his arms around her as he felt his body shuddering inside hers. He'd never known anything like this.
His head swimming, he lay back against the floor and reveled in her slight weight above him. He wanted to stay inside her forever. But all too soon his body withdrew from hers.
Marguerite slid off him, then turned to face him. "That was incredible."
He smiled up at her, then lifted her hand to his lips so that he could gently suckle her fingers. "I love the way you taste, Maggie."
Her heart pounded.
She watched as he laved her palm.
"I've never touched a woman before you," he said, his eyes burning into hers.
He sat up to nuzzle her neck. "You heard me, my sweet Maggie. You're the only woman I've ever taken."
Could he be serious? "How could you be a virgin and make love to me like that?"
He smiled at her. "Animal instinct."
She arched a brow, especially as her gaze dropped and she realized he was already hard again. "Wren?"
But he wasn't listening. He laid her back against the floor and placed his body between her thighs. "Show me how a human male loves his woman, Maggie. I want to know what it's like to have you under me."
She frowned at his words until he entered her again with a hard thrust that set her on fire. Marguerite sighed in satisfaction as she cupped his buttocks in her hands. "How can you be hard again?"
He nibbled her jaw. "I have a lot to make up for."
And in the next few hours, he certainly did.
Wren lay snuggled with Maggie, his heart pounding. The scent of her filled his head, making him want to stay here like this forever. He was spooned up behind her while she napped in his arms. He was tired, too, but to sleep would cause him to shift to his natural beastly form.
The last thing he needed was for her to learn what he was. No doubt she would be terrified to find out she was sleeping with a tigard.
Closing his eyes, he savored the feel of her soft buttocks against his loins. Her hair tickled his lips.
For the first time in his adulthood, he almost wished he could mate. But he knew better. He was the last of his line. At least on his mother's side.
On his father's...
No self-respecting tiger would ever touch him. He was an abomination to them. It was bad enough to be a hybrid, but to be a white tiger was considered the worst kind of deformity among his people.
He could never belong in the Katagaria world any more than he belonged in the human.
He was alone. There was nothing he could do about it. It was the curse of his breed, and it was one he'd resigned himself to a long time ago.
Sighing, he reluctantly withdrew from the only woman he'd most likely ever know. He paused long enough to kiss her cheek.
It was best to leave her and to never look back. He now knew what he was missing. He'd tasted her once... well, okay, it'd been a lot more than once. But that would be enough. It was time to leave her to her world while he went back to his own.
Marguerite felt the dip in the bed as Wren left her. Opening her eyes, she watched as he bent over to pick up the towel she had dropped this morning in her rush to get to class.
Goodness, he had the best backside she'd ever seen on a man.
"Are you leaving?" she asked.
He straightened up to look at her. "I need to get to work."
She laughed at the thought of a man with his kind of money worried about getting to a minimum-wage job on time. "Why don't you call in sick?"
"If I'm not there on time, Tony won't make his class. It wouldn't be fair to him."
She felt a strange fluttering in her stomach that Wren cared about a co-worker. None of the men she'd ever known would have considered someone else above their own interests.
Wren returned to the bed to kiss her. Marguerite melted the instant his lips touched hers. She wanted to beg him to stay but refused to be like that. There would be other moments like this when she could spend more time with him.
He slid his hand beneath the sheet to gently stroke her hip. She sighed at the heat of his skin against hers as she deepened their kiss.
Wren pulled back with a growl. "If we keep this up, I won't leave at all."
"Would that be so bad?"
A veil descended over his face. "Yes, Maggie. It would." He left her so quickly that it brought a chill to her. There was a strange air about him now. One she didn't understand. It was like he'd closed something off.
"What's wrong, Wren?"
"Nothing," he said curtly as he left her to go to the bathroom.
Marguerite got up and pulled her bathrobe on before she followed after him.
"Wren?" she asked as she caught him in the shower. "Tell me what's going on."
His eyes seared hers. "I can't. Even if I did, you would never believe it."
He shook his head. "Look, Maggie. This afternoon was fun... you were and are incredible. But we can't keep seeing each other."
He let out a long, tired breath. "You're the daughter of a senator."
"You're the son of a corporate tycoon. People like us date every day."
He laughed bitterly. "No, Maggie. They don't. I've got a lot of shit in my life that you would never understand."
His eyes turned dark, tormented. He reached one wet hand out to lay it against her cheek. "I wish I were what you deserve. But I can never be that man. In more ways than one."
His gaze filled with regret, he released her and drew the shower curtain closed.
Marguerite stood there, listening to him bathe. Her mind went over everything that had happened to them since the night they met. There for a time this afternoon, especially after he'd cut his hair, she'd thought that they shared something special.
But wishing for something didn't make it real, and if he wasn't willing to trust her, there was nothing she could do. She wasn't the kind of woman to beg for affection.
Still there was something inside her that shriveled at the thought of not seeing him anymore. She barely knew him and yet she...
You know nothing about him. Nothing.
That was true. He really hadn't shared anything with her. So why was she so attracted to him?
Please don't tell me I'm becoming one of those women who are attracted to the bad boys. She'd always prided herself on being levelheaded. And yet she'd spent the whole afternoon in bed with a man she barely knew.
Oh, this sucked!
The water shut off an instant before the shower curtain opened. Marguerite couldn't take her eyes off the sight that he made standing there completely naked with the water glistening on his tawny skin.
His gaze burning her, he reached behind her to pull a towel off the bar. She suddenly felt an inexplicable need to rub herself against him.
"I'll... um, I'll take a quick shower and drive you back to Sanctuary."
Marguerite frowned as she noted his bandage had come loose. But what stunned her about it was the fact that the wound was virtually healed.
He jerked away before she could get a closer look at it.
"Wren?" she asked, walking after him as he left the bathroom. "Let me see your shoulder."
"There's nothing to see."
"Your wound... it looks healed."
Before he could respond, she grabbed the bandage and pulled at it. He hissed, then growled, but she paid no attention as she stared at the scar that looked like several months had gone by, not just a few days.
She gaped at what couldn't be real. "How is that possible?"
"I'm a quick healer."
She shook her head. "What are you, Wren?"
He gave her a flippant look. "What do you think I am? A vampire with extraordinary healing powers? A werewolf?"
She rolled her eyes at his sarcasm. "Don't be ridiculous."
"Exactly. The wound wasn't so severe and I heal fast, okay? That's all there is to it."
"You don't have to be so defensive."
He took a step toward her in a manner so feral that for a second it actually scared her. "It is in my nature to attack when questioned or cornered. That along with many other reasons is why I can't have a relationship with you or anyone else. I can't trust myself around you, Maggie. I was born into an extremely violent family, and I honestly don't know how to deal with the emotions you stir inside me." His eyes pierced her with pain. "I don't want to hurt you, but if I stay with you, I will. I know it."
She didn't want to believe that. How could someone so protective ever hurt her? It didn't make sense.
"Have you ever hit a woman before?"
His hand tightened around the towel he had clutched around his waist as he started to move past her.
"Have you?" she demanded.
A muscle worked in his jaw. "No."
"Then why do you think you'll hurt me?"
His turquoise eyes were haunted as he looked away from her. "You have no idea what I'm capable of, Maggie. I don't even know, and honestly, I don't want to find out. My family has a really bad history with relationships."
She shivered at his words. "How did your parents die?"
"You don't want me to answer that. Just believe me when I say that I wish things were different. I wish I were different, but I'm not." He leaned down and brushed a light kiss to her cheek. "I just hope I have the strength to stay away from you. For both our sakes."
"And if I don't want you to?"
The anguished look in his eyes burned her. "Please, Maggie, please don't ask me for things that I can't give you."
"Tell me what happened to your parents, Wren."
His eyes burned her with heat. There was so much tormented pain there that when he finally spoke, it surprised her. "They killed each other in a fit of anger. Now do you understand?"
Marguerite was stunned by those words. There for an entire moment, she couldn't even breathe.
"I have both their tempers and now you know why I can't be near other people. I don't want to hurt you, Maggie. I don't, but if I were to stay with you, I know that I would eventually do something wrong."
Still, she didn't believe it. "I don't think you could ever hurt me."
"I don't think it, either, Maggie. I know it. Trust me on this. I have to stay away from you."
Her heart was breaking and yet somewhere inside was a kernel of hope. Maybe he just needed some time to clear his thoughts. They had both said that they weren't going to see each other again and yet here they stood. Naked. Toe-to-toe.
The impossible could happen and he might very well change his mind.
But if it didn't, she wouldn't hold him here. She refused to be one of those clinging women who chased after a man. She was stronger than that.
Suddenly the stupid old adage about "if you love something, set it free. If it comes back, it was, and always will be, yours. If it never returns, it was never yours to begin with" went through her mind. It was true.
Of course the thought was quickly followed by Tammy's favorite addition: "If it just sits in your living room, eating your food, messing up your stuff, and using your phone while taking all of your money, and never behaves as if you actually set it free in the first place... you either married it or gave birth to it."
Tammy had an interesting take on life sometimes.
No good would ever come of trying to leash him to her side.
"Okay, Wren, but if you ever need a friend, you know where I live."
He smiled before he nuzzled her cheek. His breath heated her skin, making her hot and weak. It was all she could do not to pull him back to her bed.
"If you ever need someone to protect you, you know where I live."
She laughed at that even though her heart was shriveling at the thought of not seeing him again.
"Go," he said, urging her back. "Get your bath. I'll be waiting in the other room."
Marguerite nodded and watched as he left her there. Missing him already, she bathed and dressed, then took Wren back to Sanctuary.
He opened the car door, then turned toward her. "Thank you, Maggie."
"For being with me."
She scowled at his odd words. Why would he thank her for that? "It was far from a hardship."
"I'll never forget you," he breathed. He took her hand in his, then kissed her palm.
Then he left the car.
Marguerite rolled the passenger side window down. "Wren?"
He turned back toward her. "It's over, Maggie. It has to be."
Before she could say another word, he disappeared into the building without so much as a backward glance. She listened to the radio while the song "I'll Be" by Edwin McCain played quietly to fill the vacancy left by Wren's absence.
But in her heart she knew that nothing would fill the emptiness inside her. Nothing but Wren, and he was determined to stay away.
Maybe that was for the best, though. There was something very dark and very sinister about Wren. Maybe he was right. Maybe there was something wrong with him.
The papers were filled every day with women who'd made the wrong choices in boyfriends or spouses. Many of the women didn't live to regret it.
But Wren wouldn't hurt her. She knew that instinctively.
"Yeah, but unless you're willing to trust me, there's no hope for this."
Wren wanted his freedom and she refused to run after him.
She was Marguerite Goudeau. And if she had nothing else in her life, she had her pride.
"Bye, Wren," she whispered. "I hope we meet again one day after you learn to trust someone."