The moon's filtered light followed them as they traveled the varied terrain of the Wildlands. Night was in full bloom now, bringing with it cool air and rich, earthy scents. Her arms wrapped around the thick neck of Xavier's cat, Mal reveled in the smooth cadence of his movement. She'd only ridden on the back of a puma once before. When she'd lodged a thorn in her foot after a hard-won race between a few Hunters last year. But it was nothing like this. Xavier's puma was not only large and powerful, it was quick and sharp and keen. And riding on his back, under the moonlight, seduced by the scents and the wind, made her wonder how it would feel to not only ride him, but to be ridden-

Her sensual thought was ripped from her mind as Xavier came to a halt in front of her small, sage green house. For a second, she just remained on his back, wondering why she hadn't noticed them entering the boundaries of town. Hadn't, at the very least, scented it.

She scrambled off of him, and, from the shelter of a rose-trellised archway, watched as he shifted from sleek black cat into devastatingly hot male. Her heart squeezed. Wearing jeans that stretched over heavily muscled thighs and a killer ass, and a black T-shirt that could barely contain his vast chest and bulging arms, Xavier made every female who came within a mile of him sigh. Tall, dark and fierce, he was sex walking. And added to it-Mal's favorite attribute of all-those incredible, icy blue eyes. Well, she just wanted to get lost in him and not be found for days.

If only he wanted that too.

Damn. Why couldn't he notice her? See her as the one female on earth who was perfect for him, would make him happy?

"Who's staying with you while Aristide is quarantined?" Xavier asked, following her up the path to her front door.

"No one."

He made a sound deep in his throat. It was a cross between a growl and a groan, and it made her insides flare with heat.

"Not acceptable, Amalie."

She glanced over her shoulder. "You realize I'm a grown female, right?"

His gaze, those shockingly blue eyes, traveled down her body. Then he looked away and hissed.

No. He didn't see her as grown.

Or wouldn't.

Irritation moving over and through her, she turned back and opened her front door with a hiss of her own. She was growing into quite the little masochist. Maybe it was time for that to stop.

She called over her shoulder, "Thanks for the ride."

But before she took a step inside, she felt him at her back, his massive frame pressed against her, his warm breath near her ear. "We're not done talking about this."

Without her permission, her skin went tight, and everything below her waist clenched. "I think I am. I'm tired and still a little drunk and I should probably go to bed."

"You can't stay here alone."

"Why not?"

He moved to her side, leaned against the doorframe. "It's not safe."

She laughed. "Are you serious? I'm a Hunter. Even you would be hard-pressed to get me on my back." When his eyes narrowed at her words, her laughter downgraded to an embarrassed chuckle. "You know, unless I wanted to be there."

His jaw tightened. "I know you can handle yourself physically, Amalie. What concerns me is shit like tonight."

"I went out and had fun like a bunch of other people do every damn day. What's the problem?"

"You had too much to drink and it affected your judgment."

Her judgment? She snorted. Shit, that had been compromised ten years ago when she'd seen Xavier with his shirt off for the first time. Summer on the bayou. Warm water, warmer evenings. Swim party for her birthday, and Xavier-the most perfect birthday present ever-came to hang out with Aristide. Of course, he hadn't even looked her way. Mal didn't even think he'd known it was her birthday. But she'd noticed him. Back then and every day since.

"My judgment is fine," she told him. "I won't drink as much next time, that's all."

He shook his head. "There's not going to be a next time."

She glared at him. Crush of a lifetime or not, Xavier was being a pain in the ass, aka a wannabe substitute for her brother. And that she wasn't going to put up with.

"Okay, we're done here. I'm going to bed." She pushed past him into the house, and stalked into the foyer. "Just lock the door before you take off. You know, so I stay safe and all."

Ten years, she grumbled. Ten freaking years she'd spent internally-and probably externally as well-swooning for this male, and he either couldn't see her as anything but Aristide's sister, or just didn't find her attractive. Ugh, that last bit stung, and she wondered how much longer this feeling, this need, was going to lay claim to her heart. Maybe she should make another trip into town. Not to The Cougar's Den, this time, but to that Voodoun's shop. Maybe inquire about a potion to kill her crush.

Feeling a rush of alcohol-infused heat take over her skin, she pulled off her tank and dropped it on the floor of the hall as she headed toward her bedroom. Tomorrow. Tomorrow when she sobered up she was going to stop wanting the ridiculously beautiful Geek.

She got halfway to her bedroom before a shocking smack of dizziness hit her. Stars glittered in front of her eyes, and she cursed and reached out for the wall. When her hands met nothing but air, panic gripped her heart. Then the floor rushed up to meet her, and her vision went utterly black.

* * *

Xavier's heart dropped into his balls as he caught Amalie before she hit the floor.

Christ, this female made him crazy, he growled inwardly, settling her into his arms. Flirting with him one second, pissed off at him the next. He pulled her close as he moved down the hallway. Yes, he knew she liked him. Had this lighthearted crush on him. And he'd be lying his ass off if he didn't admit to having his own attraction and problematic curiosity about her...how she might taste, how her skin smelled...

Fuck. He was going to hell. Or the Pantera equivalent: down beneath the Wildlands, imprisoned with Shakpi.

He was never going to act on that attraction. She was Aristide's blood, precious to the Pantera, completely off-limits.

Entering her bedroom, Xavier couldn't help but glance around as he made a beeline for the bed. Shit, the female acted so tough, but when it came down to it, she was all heart and fluffy white bedspreads and flowered pillows. Hard on the outside, soft and sweet on the inside. His insides curled with desire at the thought.

Why did he find that juxtaposition so damned sexy?

With gentle hands, he placed her on the cool, white blanket, then sat down next to her. His gaze raked over her face. What a fucking vision. Dappled moonlight streamed in through the window to his right, spotlighting her yards of rich, dark hair, beautiful face, pink mouth and long, supple neck. His traitorous gaze moved downward. The tank was gone, now a small, white puddle forgotten in the hallway. All she had on was a bra, and a skimpy one at that. And the creamy slip of lacy fabric barely covered her large breasts.

His mouth watered.

Rein it in, asshole.

The lids of her eyes moved, and she fisted one hand and moaned.

Xavier leaned in and brushed a strand of hair off her pale cheek. Trying not to focus on how soft her skin felt under the rough pads of his fingers, he whispered soothingly, "Everything's okay, Amalie. You're home. In your bed."

Her eyes fluttered open, and for a moment those smoky green orbs displayed extreme confusion. But in seconds, the haze dissipated, and she blinked, her teeth grazing her bottom lip. An action that once again had Xavier's skin tightening over his muscles.


He nodded. "How you feeling?"

She didn't answer him. Her eyes were pinned to his and her breathing grew labored.

"What?" he asked, concern moving through him. When she'd fallen, had he not caught her in time? Had she hurt herself? "What's wrong?"

"I'm not a cub."

Relief moved through him. This wasn't pain he was seeing in her eyes, but frustration. "I know you're not," he said.

"You all treat me like I am."

"No," he amended, his voice dark, quiet. "We treat you like you're special."

She flinched, then huffed out a breath and looked away, past him. "So I was the last cub born to the Pantera. Who cares? Why does that mean anything different than the second-to-last cub? Or the third? It doesn't make me special. It just makes me lucky."

Xavier didn't want to do this. Have this conversation. Especially not in her moonlit room, sitting on her bed. Granted, he understood the Pantera's affections and protective ways regarding Amalie, but his actions and reactions were less about her 'last born' status and more about his own barely controlled attraction. Truthfully, if she wasn't Aristide's sister, he wasn't all that sure he'd give a good goddamn about the Pantera's need to keep her sheltered.

"You should sleep now," he told her.

"I don't want to sleep." With a frustrated sigh, she came up on her elbows. "I want to be free. I want to live my own life. I want to be treated like something that can't be broken with just a simple touch."

"No touch is simple," Xavier said quietly. "Trust me."

"I don't want to trust you!" she suddenly exploded, sitting all the way up, tears welling in her eyes. "Goddamit!" She threw up her hands. "I want to know it myself! I want to feel it myself!"


"I'm a fucking grown female!" she cried, looking down.

"I know."

Her eyes snapped up to meet his. "Do you?"

His breath caught in his lungs. As much as she was beautiful when she was docile and flirtatious, she was nearly irresistible like this. So impassioned, so vicious, like she wanted to kiss the shit out of him, then knee him in the balls.

His gaze moved over her face, down the smooth column of her neck, then into her spectacular cleavage. Did he know she was a grown female?

Fuck yeah.

"Listen to me, Xavier," she fairly growled. "If I don't get broken soon, I'm going to lose my mind."

"Don't talk like that," he growled back, giving her a fierce look, his cock twitching.

"Why not? It's true. There's nothing wrong with wanting to be touched, wanting to go out and have a good time. Wanting sex."

Christ, she was killing him. "I'm warning you, Amalie-"

"Just because you don't see me as a grown female doesn't mean other males don't."

"No males will be getting within ten feet of you," he declared roughly.

"You can't say shit like that."

"I just did." He stood up. He had to rearrange. He had to get the hell out of this room, out of her airspace before he did something regrettable.

She looked up at him, her eyes deep and dark, her hair wild and falling over her shoulders and between her breasts. "Go home, Xavier."

He should. He really should.

In fact, he should walk out of this house and never come back. From now on, he and Aristide would meet somewhere else, anywhere else. And when Amalie's name was brought up, he'd pray for deafness.

Instead, he narrowed his eyes on the half-naked vixen sitting in a pool of white softness before him and said with deadly calm, "I'm not going anywhere."

One dark eyebrow raised. "Pardonnez-moi?"

"Clearly you can't be trusted on your own." He turned and headed for the door, calling over his shoulder, "While Aristide is gone, I'll be taking care of you."

P/S: Copyright -->www_novelfreereadonline_Com