Before he heard her, he scented her descending the stairs. Something sweet, exotic and vanilla tickled his nose as she entered the brightly lit kitchen. She’d twisted her damp hair into some sort of knot above her neck and her flawless skin glowed from being freshly scrubbed. Those electric blue eyes of hers regarded him carefully. Against her tanned skin they were piercing. His gaze trailed down to where she clutched her towel tighter against her chest and all he could think about was pulling it off her and seeing what he’d missed earlier. The thought of what color her nipples would be had kept him awake at night. She loudly cleared her throat. “Can I have my clothes?” Jerking his head to meet her gaze, he nodded at the backpack lying open on the kitchen island. “In the bag.” He had to stop staring like a pervert if he didn’t want to freak her out. Though he was tempted to hand them to her, he didn’t trust himself to get so close to her when she was practically naked. The urge to touch her was overwhelming and his inner wolf was clawing at the surface. He turned toward the stainless steel refrigerator and pulled it open. “Are you hungry?” “No, I ate on the plane, but a drink would be nice, thank you.” He could hear her moving around behind him. A gentleman would let her get dressed with some sense of privacy. He was barely civilized, however. As he turned around she was tugging on a slim-fitting pair of pants. Before she pulled them fully up, he got an eyeful of more than he bargained for. She’d already put her sweater on so he missed seeing her breasts but he got the perfect view of her lower body. Her slim waist flared into surprisingly curvy hips. He barely bit back a growl as he watched the material slide up her legs. She’d been hiding a lot under those baggy cargo pants. And the soft thatch of perfectly trimmed dark hair covering her mound made him inwardly groan. Knowing she wouldn’t be wearing anything underneath her clothes had him breaking out into a sweat. When his gaze finally trailed back up to her face, her cheeks were tinged crimson. “Do you have no manners?” she snapped, but he didn’t miss the burst of desire that rolled off her. He fought a smile. “Not generally.” “Well…where’s my drink?” The haughty way she asked sent a jolt of awareness to his cock. He knew she was trying to cover her embarrassment. “We’ve got beer, wine, orange juice—” “Wine is perfect,” she muttered as she took a seat on one of the high-backed chairs at the center island. “What made you decide to finally come back to Alabama?” He tried to keep his question casual. She bit her bottom lip and he could tell she was weighing her answer. Finally she shrugged but he didn’t miss the flash of pain in her eyes. “My contract was over so I had to go somewhere. It’s the only home I’ve ever known and I still have a few human friends here from school. Mainly I…didn’t know where else to go.” Her soft-spoken declaration touched something deep inside him. A place he’d forgotten existed. For the past three hundred years he’d been part of Knox’s pack but even for the two hundred before that, he’d always had his brothers. After their parents had died, the four of them had stuck together until joining with Knox. They were all alpha in nature but none of them were true Alphas and they’d been lucky enough to find a good leader. Bottom line, they’d always belonged somewhere. He knew enough about Felicia’s history to understand that she didn’t have anyone. Not truly. Lamont’s pack had taken her in when she was a cub because she’d had nowhere to go. Didn’t even know who her parents were. Finally he decided to ask the question that had been weighing on him for years. “Why didn’t you call me two years ago instead of leaving the country?” His pack would have taken her in with no questions asked. She raised her eyebrows. “Why would I have called you?” There was no malice in her voice, only utter confusion. He placed her glass in front of her and sat. “Did Lamont never tell you…” Realization came in a swift punch to his stomach. Of course that sneaky bastard hadn’t told Felicia that Alaric planned to claim her. “Tell me what?” She eyed him warily as she took a small sip of her wine. “Nothing.” Now things made sense. If she had no idea of his intentions, she’d likely never given him a second thought after their first and only in-person meeting. His inner wolf had recognized her on a primal level and he’d wanted to claim her right then. He’d even contemplated asking her to join Knox’s pack until she was older. But the beast in him had known he wouldn’t have been able to wait to go after what he wanted. He hadn’t been willing to doom their relationship before it even started. So he’d let her go. Going against all his primitive, dominant instincts had been the hardest thing he’d ever done. “So who came after us tonight?” she asked. He wanted to focus the conversation on her and their future, but she had a right to know, since she’d been caught in the crossfire. “About a month ago Knox mated with a vampire. Since then, we’ve had a few incidents in our territory. Nothing we can’t handle. Usually young vampires or shifters who don’t like mixing of the species or just don’t want the treaty to move forward.” He’d kept her informed on the details of the treaty in their emails, so when she finally returned she’d have an idea of how things were changing in North America. She relaxed slightly at his answer. Just as quickly she frowned again, her pretty lips pulling into a thin line. “We’ve been emailing for months, but you failed to mention that your Alpha has taken over my old pack’s territory. I want to know how you knew I’d be at the airport.” “I have friends in high places.” Most humans might not know about their existence but a powerful few did. Alaric had been alive long enough that he’d made plenty of friends who owed him favors. And he’d been keeping tabs on Felicia from the moment she’d set foot on foreign soil. Something he wasn’t sure she’d want to hear right now so he held back that bit of information. Taking him by surprise, she slid off her seat and shoved it back. “Fine, don’t give me a straight answer. I’m tired and cranky and unless you plan to hold me hostage, in the morning I’m leaving so—” Before she could take another step, he was off his seat and had her pinned against the counter. His palms flattened against the flat surface on either side of her. The animal inside him demanded to take over. To claim her, mark her. He could feel his canines extending at the thought. Only the feel of her soft hand on his chest calmed him. “Alaric?” Her voice was breathless and the pulse in her neck jumped with abandon. Lust, wariness and confusion twined off her in equal measures. The mixture of the sweet and sharp scents were an odd contrast. “Why do you want to leave?” he asked quietly. He wanted to understand why she seemed to be afraid of him. After months of correspondence and getting to know each other—and his obvious physical reaction to her—how could she not know how much he wanted and cared for her? He thought he’d made himself pretty damn clear until he realized she was returning to Alabama without telling him. “I…shouldn’t have come back here. I have no reason to stay.” Her blue eyes seemed to glow with intensity as she stared at him. “Maybe I should give you a reason then.” She sucked in a deep breath but didn’t look away. When her tongue darted out to moisten her pink lips, his entire body tensed as he imagined that tongue flicking over a certain part of his anatomy. Instinctively he rolled his hips against her. Letting her feel what she did to him. She flushed a deep crimson when she felt the hard press of his erection but she didn’t attempt to move away. A good sign. “I want to kiss you.” He wasn’t asking but he also didn’t make a move toward her. He wanted her willing and knew he had to play this right. The hand she’d pressed against his chest suddenly flexed, her fingers digging into his skin. She wasn’t pushing him away. It was almost as if she was trying to ground herself. Her other hand slid up his body and tentatively rested on his shoulder. When her eyes flared with unmasked hunger he took that as all the invitation he needed. Covering her mouth with his, he barely restrained himself from growling. The slightly sweet taste of her wine mingled with the pureness of something that was all her. Something that made the most primitive part of him wake up and take notice. As her tongue tentatively danced with his, he had to rein in his animal side. His inner wolf wanted out, to claim and mark her and take her right on the kitchen counter. But now wasn’t the time. Now he needed to show her that not all wolves were like what she’d experienced in the past. This was all about her and her pleasure. Keeping his kisses light, he playfully tugged her bottom lip between his teeth. She let out a soft sigh and he could feel the residual tension in her slowly begin to leave her body. Unhurriedly, he ran his hands down her covered arms until he strayed to her waist. For a moment he had to force himself to keep still when all he wanted to do was pull her sweater up and off and feast on what he’d been fantasizing about. Instead, he only pushed her top up a fraction and lightly stroked her bare stomach with the pads of his thumbs. Just the feel of her soft skin sent an electric shock through him. He slowly stroked higher until he was almost cupping her breasts, but stopped just short. Instead he splayed his hands around her rib cage, savoring the feel of simply holding her. Her small build drove his protective instincts higher. Her heart pounded a staccato thump under his hold, completely matching his own reaction. She was still slightly tense but her grip on him hadn’t loosened. If anything it had tightened. The hand that had been on his shoulder now gripped the back of his neck and she was holding firm. Giving in to his primitive side, he took a chance and started tugging her sweater up. Felicia pulled back slightly and though his lips ached to be on hers again, the payoff of seeing more of her skin was worth it. She lifted her arms and let him strip the top off her. Blindly he tossed it to the counter next to her. Her blue eyes practically sparked with electricity as she stared at him but he sensed the nervousness in her.