Furious and turned-on so badly she just wanted to go to her room and find comfort in her own hand, Mal burst into the house. Poor Hiss. He deserved an amazing female. Not some dope with a relentless crush. The Hunter male was gorgeous and honorable, and more than a few female eyes had covetously followed him around the fete tonight. He could've stayed-should've stayed-when she'd told him she wanted to go home. But he'd insisted on escorting her.

While Xavier had left her alone, panting, confused and pissed off.


That goddamn male had ruined her. Truly. First when she had fallen in both lust and love for him on that birthday in the bayou, and now tonight, when he'd given her a moment of that fantasy, then ripped it away. No, not just ripped it away, but ripped it into shreds.

As she slammed the door and started down the hall, the memory of his hands on her, his mouth on her, mingled with his apologies and regrets. Fuck him, she didn't want it-neither one. Why couldn't he get that? She wasn't asking for a future or a promise or a mating. All she wanted was him.

For him to be her first.

The sound of running water curbed her emotional and frustrated thoughts momentarily, and instead of heading for her room, she turned down the hall toward the door that led to the outside shower. She knew who was out there, in there. With every step, every shaky breath, her hand curling around the door handle, she warned herself to stop and walk away. Go into your room, take care of yourself and go to sleep.

But like the cat she was, her hunger for prey-shit, for the prey of a lifetime-could not be quelled. For better or for worse, Xavier was her fantasy, her addiction, and he was in there, nude, wet, steam rising off his thickly muscled body. She had to see it. See him.

Without another thought, she pulled off her dress, panties and bra, and tossed them to the ground.

* * *

His hand wrapped around his cock, Xavier leaned against the rock wall, hot water pummeling his shoulders and back. He was such a fuck. Touching her, tasting her. He had no self-control and no honor. And he couldn't blame it on the fete or the moon or the purple lilies. That stunning need, that irrepressible want, it still ran through him like a vindictive snake in his blood.

Groaning, growling, he pumped himself from root to tip, trying like hell to see a blank screen on the lids of his eyes. But it was no use. She was there now. Imprinted. In that dress and out of it. Smiling at him, laughing, biting his lip as her nails dug into the skin of his back.

Come leaked from the tip of his dick and he ran his fingers over the head. But as he slid his palm back up his shaft, a warm hand suddenly closed around his and squeezed.

"Releasing some tension?" a female voice whispered seductively.

Xavier's head jacked up, his eyes slammed open and he released his hold on his cock. "What the hell, Amalie-"

She wrapped her hand around his shaft again and uttered, "Don't move." Then looked up at him with accusing eyes. "You kissed me tonight."

Her hand, hot and soft, held him with such possessive skill. He groaned, "Oh, fuck."

"That's not an answer, an explanation or an apology." Wearing nothing but a fierce, highly sexual smile, she tightened her grip on his cock.

Christ, he wanted to move, wanted to thrust into her hot, little palm. "It was a mistake, Amalie," he ground out, his heart slamming against his ribs.

"Maybe." She snarled softly. "Probably. But it happened, and I can't forget it. Can you?"

His cock turned to steel in her hand.

Feeling what she did to him-what just her words did to him-she grinned and started to stroke him. "I didn't think so."

Cursing inwardly, Xavier stared at her, his nostrils flaring with each breath he dragged into his lungs. Steam raged around them, but it did nothing to mask her nude body. Her insanely hot nude body. He'd imagined, fantasized about what she'd look like under her clothes, standing before him, stretched out on his bed, her arms above her head. But it was nothing to the reality. She was perfection. Her legs were long and tight with muscle, her small waist flared upward to strong, toned arms and luscious shoulders. But it was her chest, her large, heavy breasts that made his mouth water and his hands fist in anticipation.

"Why did you come home early, Amalie?" he said hoarsely, his gaze flipping up to meet hers.

Beautiful dark green eyes flared with emerald heat. "I got tired of playing games. Pretending. It wasn't fair to Hiss."

"Hiss." His eyes narrowed. "Did the Hunter male touch you?"

Her tongue darted out to swipe at her bottom lip. "The only one who touched me tonight was you, Xavier." She reached down with her other hand and cupped his heavy sack, rolled his balls between her fingers. "And it wasn't enough. In fact, it was a goddamn tease."

The muscles in his abdomen tensed and he groaned. "Fuck...You're going to make me come."

"Good." She drew closer to him, under the hot spray, her strokes to his shaft growing faster, tighter. "Tell me."

"What?" His body flexed in anticipation of climax, and he had to do everything in his power not to grab her hips and ram her up against the stone wall, fuck her blind-fuck her blissful.

"Tell me why you didn't want me with him," she said, her words a whispered demand.

He pinned her with a predatory stare and growled out, "I don't want you with anyone."

She leaned even closer, pumping him off as she brushed her pebbled nipples against his chest. "Why? Tell me why."

"No one's good enough for you, Amalie," he rasped, his cock growing harder, thicker.

"Not even you?"

He cursed and thrust himself into her fist. "Especially not me."

"That's bullshit," she said before dipping her head to his chest. "And you know it. Christ, you'd better know it."

She didn't say another word. Her mouth closed around his nipple, and as she stroked him, played with him, she sucked and scraped her teeth across his flesh.

Xavier was lost to what he knew to be right and wrong. What he believed she deserved. She had taken him over. She owned him. And there was no going back. He bucked, ground his hips, pistoning his cock into her soft, wicked hand as she stroked him fast. His balls tightened, filled with come, and he growled her name. His hips jerked, and hot seed burst from the head of his dick. As he came all over her hands and belly, she bit down lightly on his nipple, causing him to groan and curse, and utter her name. Over and over.

It took him only seconds to come awake, even with climax still shuddering through him. Hunger and need like he'd never known assaulted his mind and he had to have her or he was going to lose it. Snarling, his puma just millimeters below his skin, Xavier wrapped his hands around her waist and lifted her up, set her back against the shower wall, safe from the heavy spray.

"You just unlocked the puma's cage, Amalie," he said, his eyes pinned on her, his voice a dangerous, deep purr. "And he's hungry."

* * *

Mal felt a delicious unease move through her as Xavier lowered to one knee before her. She might be a virgin, but she was no innocent. She was Pantera, and the ways of mating were not hidden behind a curtain of immoral shame. They were offered as a way to connect, to love, to allow the puma a chance to feel human touch, and the human self a way to react with animal-like hunger. More than once, she'd come across couples in the forest, kissing, touching, even fucking, as she'd been on patrol. Normally, she'd left them to it, darted off in the opposite direction. But there had been a few times she'd stopped to watch. Hidden behind a tree, her heart pounding, her sex growing tight and wet as she observed what she'd wanted so badly.

What she'd saved for the male on his knees before her.

Xavier's ice-blue eyes drifted up her belly, to her ribs and breasts. He watched as her nipples beaded, as her chest rose and fell quickly with her excited breathing. She knew what he intended to do to her, where his mouth would go-his tongue-and as his hands wrapped around her ankles and raked upward, she moaned with anticipation.

Steam continued to rise and coil around them, protecting the moment. Xavier's eyes connected with hers then and she felt that hungry, fierce stare deep inside her sex. The greedy, eager muscles clenched, and her thighs trembled. She had to fist her hands to keep them from grabbing the back of his head and slamming his face into her pussy.

"So beautiful," he rumbled, looking at her. "Beautiful, beautiful Amalie."

Her heart squeezed with his words. He had no idea, no clue how long she'd waited to hear him talk to her that way. With both tenderness and sexual desire. It ripped her open, left her vulnerable, and she whimpered.

"Shh," he whispered, his hands lightly grazing her inner thighs as he trailed upward to her sex. When he reached her mound, he gently spread her lips wide and released a sensual groan. "Beautiful Amalie has a beautiful cunt."

It was as if Mal lost all brain function after that. As he dipped his head, ran his tongue from her opening up to her clit, she became one trembling, bundle of nerves. The feeling was too good, too overwhelmingly perfect to contain. Bracing her hands on either side of the shower walls, she watched him, his dark head between her thighs, his tongue lightly flicking over her clit. Groans escaped him, and he eased one finger inside her.

She gasped with instant pleasure. Her body had only ever known the thrust of her own fingers, and while that had felt good, this-Xavier's thick digit deep inside of her-was a thousand times better.

"Oh, Amalie," he growled against her swollen bud. "You are so tight. So hot. You wrap around me. Your sweet, honeyed walls tremble around me."

Mal's eyes closed and she let her head fall back against the stone, let the steam envelop her.

"That's right," Xavier said, easing a second finger inside her and pumping her gently. "Let me make you feel good, Amalie. Let me make you come so hard you scream. God, there's nothing I want more than to please you."

His mouth found her sex once again, and as he fingered her, deeper and deeper with each thrust, he suckled her clit, drawing on it, sending her to the purple moon and back. Her fingernails dug into the rock walls, and she whimpered and bucked against his hungry mouth as her arousal made his sexy jaw glisten.

Just when she thought she was going to explode, Xavier drew back and gentled his touch. His tongue swirled around her swollen, sensitive bud, flicking it back and forth until she gulped in air. But it was his purr that did her in, made her still, made her moan into the hot, steamy air. The vibration curled up from the back of his throat and hit his tongue.

The tongue that was pressed lightly against her clit.

With a pained, delicious cry, she fell apart under his mouth, her knees buckling, her thighs shaking. Pulling his fingers from her drenched sex, Xavier grabbed her ass, held her up as he kissed her shaking mound and licked her cream.

It seemed like hours before she came down, before her legs stopped trembling, before he stopped pleasuring her and rested his head on her abdomen.

"Xavier," she mumbled incoherently. "Take me to bed."

For several seconds, he remained silent. Then he released her and stood up. The pained and guilty expression on his gorgeous face combined with the wetness around his mouth, made her growl.

She wanted to lick him. Taste herself on him.

And then he cursed and shook his head, and ruined it for the both of them.

"Goddamn you." Her heart lurched. "You want me. I know you do."

"That's not the point," he ground out.

Her gaze searched his. "Do you think this was a mistake?"

"Oh, Amalie."

"Do you?" she demanded, feeling suddenly naked and cold and vulnerable.

"It shouldn't have happened." He looked away, his jaw as tight as the rest of him. "Fuck me."

"Yes. Fuck you."

Enough. This had to be it. This had to kill her goddamn crush once and for all, right?

Wrong, her heart whispered as it clenched miserably.

She pushed past him, stumbled out of the shower and into the fragrant night air. Tears blurred her vision as she rushed into the house and headed down the hall. What an idiot. What a stupid, foolish female. Maybe he was right. Maybe she was still a cub. Because only a cub would harbor a crush for so damned long. Only a cub would react this way: hurt and miserable, yet desperate for more. A grown female would take her orgasm and walk away satisfied.

She slammed the door to her bedroom, and headed for her bed. She was cold and wet beneath her covers, due to the fact that she hadn't dried off. But she didn't care. She just wanted to cry in peace.

She didn't hear the door open, didn't hear Xavier pad across the floor. She only sensed him, scented him, when the mattress dipped with his weight, and he curled up behind her.

"Don't ever say fuck you to me," he whispered into the curve of her ear.

She swallowed a sob. "Why not? You deserve it."

"Maybe, but it hurts me. Cuts me deep, Beautiful."

Swiping the tears from her eyes, she growled and rolled around to face him, connect with those killer blue eyes. "How can you say that? When it's you who's hurting me. Every time you reject me. Every time you say this is a mistake-that we're a mistake."

"I have to say that," he ground out, his eyes flaring with sudden and passionate heat. "Shit, Amalie." He reached out and brushed her hair off her cheek, then kept his palm there. "If I take you to bed, if I mate you, I'll claim you. Do you understand me?"

Her insides tensed. Claimed. She stared at him.

His eyes bore into hers, and he growled. "You'll be mine, goddamit."

"I want to be yours," she said, shaking her head. "Tonight, tomorrow, for the next three days-"

"No, Amalie," he cut her off, his tone deadly serious. "You'll be mine for a lifetime."

His words silenced her, made her chest ache and her mind race with thoughts, memories and wishes. She wasn't sure how to feel. She didn't want him to fuck her and stick around out of obligation. And wasn't that what he was saying? That if he slept with her, he'd feel obligated to claim her?

"Xavier, I'm not asking for anything more than this," she began. "Three days of this. I'm not asking for a commitment, a mating-"

He cut her off again, but this time with a deep, hungry kiss. It was so intense and toe-curling, Mal couldn't stop herself from moaning and snuggling in closer and wrapping her arms around his neck.

When he broke the kiss, his breathing labored and his eyes dilated, her body and her puma purred.

"This isn't about you asking, Amalie," he said with animal-like ferocity. "This isn't even about what you want-though fuck, I want to give you everything. It's about me. My regret in all of this is that because I've given in to what I want, what I'm hungry for, I don't think I can ever let you go. And if I fuck you, if our bodies connect, you will not be able to walk away from me. I won't allow it. You'll be mine. Forever. Always. No one will look at you without me growling at them. No one will touch you without getting their paws ripped off." He reached around her, grabbed her ass and hauled her tight against him. "Even now, with your cream on my tongue, down my throat, inside of me, I don't know if I can let you go."

Staring at him, her mouth open, Mal felt as though both her head and her heart might explode. "Xavier..."

"No, no," he uttered hoarsely, his hands raking up her ass to stroke her lower back. "Not tonight, Beautiful. No more tonight. Just let me hold you while you sleep. Let me feel your warmth, your skin against mine."

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