Fierce Obsessions

Page 3

"I can't say I fully trust you-I don't know you well enough for that." Tao wasn't sure if anyone knew Riley that well. She was as elusive as quicksilver and kept most people at an emotional distance. "But be honest, baby, whose fault is that? You're locked up tighter than Fort Knox." It galled his wolf that he knew so little about this female he craved.
"I'm not that bad. I told you that I'd been lying when I said I needed sanctuary," she pointed out.
"Actually, you didn't 'tell' me," he clipped. "You admitted it when I said you're not the kind of person who'd hide from anything. I guessed that you claimed to need sanctuary just so you could accompany the kids here to be sure they were safe." It had seemed obvious, given how protective she was of Savannah and Dexter, that she'd have wanted them far away from her if there was a chance she could bring danger to their lives.
"Stop scowling at me, it's mean." She sniffed haughtily. "I'm thinking I shouldn't have bothered getting you a gift for your birthday."
"Maybe you shouldn't have. What the hell am I gonna do with a hot sauce home brewing kit anyway?"
"Duh, brew hot sauce."
Tao sucked in a calming breath. "Too early for this shit, Porter. Too early." He scrubbed a hand down his face. "You were put on this earth to test me, I'll swear to it."
"Aw, poor you. Maybe you should go find Grandma Gretchen," she said, using her nickname for the Alpha male's bitchy grandmother, Greta. "I'm sure she has your bottle all heated up for you."
"Careful, Riley." It was a lethal whisper. "You don't want to keep pushing me. And don't think I haven't noticed that you're trying to change the subject. We're not going to 'forget' what happened last night, and we're not going to leave this at a one-night stand." To punctuate that, he pivoted on his heel and strode into the bedroom.
Riley stalked after him, snatching her robe from the back of the bathroom door as she went. Slipping it on, she glared at him. "Do I get a say in any of this?"
"Not if you're going to spout more bullshit, no." He buttoned his fly and then sat on the bed, where he began to tug on his socks and shoes. "I won't let you lie to me or yourself about this. I won't let you lie and say you regret it either-that insults us both."
"I didn't say I regretted it."
"If you don't regret it, why backtrack? Why?"
Exasperated, she asked, "Why do you care? You don't even like me."
"No, I let you think I didn't like you. When people get close, you retreat into a shell." Tao had needed to make her believe he presented no danger to her defenses. "I wasn't going to let you shut me out."
Riley's mouth dropped open. Her raven too was stunned. "You've been playing me. That's brilliantly devious." Riley actually admired and respected the cunningness of it. Her raven did a metaphorical bow.
"I wouldn't have to play you if you'd just let me past that wall you have up between you and most of the population."
On one level Riley was an uncomplicated creature, he thought. She didn't wear a social mask, seemed at ease with her flaws, and could be quite laid back-even in the face of conflict. But she was uncomfortable talking about herself and stuck to surface-level topics of conversation. At first he'd assumed she was hiding something, possibly something that would lead danger to his pack. But he'd soon come to realize it was much simpler than that. "Only 'the chosen' get close to you-right now that's Makenna, Savannah, and Dexter."
"Then why bother bugging me?"
"Because I don't like that wall you have up, Riley . It's in the way of what I want."
Her heart slammed against her ribs. "I don't understand why you're pushing this. As you persistently point out, I drive you insane."
"You deliberately rile me to hold me at a distance," he corrected. She challenged him. Argued with him. Snorted at him. Poked at him. And yet Tao wanted her more than breath. She got his blood running in a way that no one else ever had. "No more, Riley."
Tao knew he was going about this all wrong. A guy needed to approach Riley the same way he would a full-blooded raven. Carefully. Slowly. Not making any sudden movements. Trying to appear as nonthreatening as possible, as if he had no real intention of trying to catch it. Otherwise the bird would take flight and he'd miss his chance. But he just didn't possess the patience or subtlety for such a careful approach.
Besides, giving Riley the time and space to make her way to him wouldn't work. She'd spend that time reinforcing the wall between them by pissing him off at every given opportunity. That wasn't something he'd allow.
They both stiffened at the sound of a cell phone chiming. Tracking the sound, he squatted and pulled her phone out from under the bed. He saw the name flashing on the screen. "Lucy," he drawled. Riley held out her hand, jaw set, and he handed her the cell. "Wanna tell me why someone from your old flock is calling?"
"I wouldn't need a phone if I knew stuff like-hey, wait a minute, how the hell do you know that Lucy's from the flock?"
He pulled on his shirt and gave her a sympathetic smile. "Baby, do you really think I'd let a perfect stranger into my pack without knowing about their background?" Finding out where she came from and the details of her flock hadn't been easy. He'd had to dig deep and use a lot of his contacts. It had taken months and he still didn't have all the facts.
Riley tensed, wary. "Just how much did you find out about my past?"
He gave her an enigmatic smile. "Enough."
What did "enough" mean? Riley didn't exactly have deep, dark secrets, but she had as much dirty laundry as the next person. Knowing Tao could be fully aware just how dirty that laundry was . . . it made her feel vulnerable. Exposed.
"I wasn't prying, Riley, and I didn't do it to hurt you. I was making sure my pack mates were safe-that includes you. Of course, I would never have had to go to such measures if you hadn't kept your past one great big secret." He settled his hands on her shoulders. "I didn't uncover anything you'd consider personal, just basic facts about the flock. I don't want to find out about your life from other people. I want to hear it from you. Okay?"
No, it wasn't okay, because she wasn't sure she completely understood what he was asking for-a bed-buddy? A fling? A relationship? Riley swallowed. "What exactly do you want from me?"
Tao traced the delicate line of her jaw. "I'm not asking for anything serious, baby. Relationships don't work for me, they never have." His past relationships had been stressful and complicated-mostly because he was an asshole with no idea how to make another person happy. "But we both know we'd be kidding ourselves if we thought this could end here, so I say we just let it play out. And I want you to let me in a little, because I'm not interested in anything cold and impersonal." He watched her carefully as she stared back at him, eyeing him warily and deliberating on what he'd said. No doubt she'd fight him on it, but-

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