Read Chapter 3 of UNCLAIMED!

 

One. More. Week.

Unclaimed Amoveo Legend 5

 

Dominic and Tatiana’s story will hit  shelves, kindles, and nooks in just 7 days! Although, truth be told, UNCLAIMED might be spotted in the wild already and please let me know if you see it 🙂 I love it when readers post pics on my Facebook author page and the thrill of seeing one of my books on a shelf will never get old!

I’ve been giving you a taste of the book for the past couple of weeks with the first two chapters and as promised, I’m posting Chapter Three today.

If you haven’t done so yet, you can read Chapter One here and Chapter Two here.

 

 

Chapter 3

The encounter with Dominic had Tatiana all twisted up and made her brain feel muddled and off kilter, not to mention her body. He was here. The very man she’d tried like hell to avoid was on this ranch in living color and possessed all the arrogance she would expect from an Amoveo man.

The image of Dominic holding the baby flashed into her mind, and she smiled in spite of herself. He dressed like a soldier and acted like a beast, but apparently, inside he was mush. It would be easier to deny her attraction if he was one hundred percent beast.

No such luck.

Cass whined and licked her face, offering comfort.

“Thanks, buddy.” Tatiana smiled and kissed the top of his head. “You always know when I need a little extra snuggle.”

“Hey, let me have him for a minute.” Layla took the puppy from her sister gently and eyed her warily. “Are you okay?”

“I’m fine,” Tatiana said. She avoided her sister’s gaze as they walked the length of the stable. She knew Layla wanted to address the situation with Dominic, but that was the last subject  she wanted to think about or discuss. “I want to get to work.”

It was an impressive setup, with ten stalls down each side, and high ceilings with exposed beams. The front sections of the walls were lined with high-quality grooming equipment, and there was a tack shed around the corner, which made it abundantly clear that the prince spared no expense on these animals. The horses were spectacularly beautiful Arabian purebreds worth a small fortune.

Her thoughts were interrupted by images of Dominic, and within seconds, his distinctly male scent filled her nostrils. Damn it. It was as though he’d crawled under her skin and mingled his essence with hers in that one brief encounter. Tatiana shook her head and sucked in a deep breath, praying she could clear her mind. She had to focus on work, and she couldn’t do that with a six-foot-three-inch man plastered all over her psyche.

“Are these all of them?” she asked Layla as scattered bits of hay crunched beneath her hiking boots. Sandals were more appropriate for summer, unless you were about to work with horses. One misplaced hoof could get you several broken toes. “I know you said one died.”

Tatiana felt more at ease as the familiar scent of the animals filled her head. Her sense of smell was heightened, thanks to her Wolf Clan heritage, and she could detect each unique scent within the massive space. Hay, manure, horse, water, and leftover apple and carrot rounded out the plethora of smells.

However, the usual odors of a barn weren’t the only details she sensed. The long, cavernous structure was filled with anxiety, fear, and pain—all coming from the horses as they shuffled their hooves nervously. The Arabians approached the doors of their stalls as she walked slowly down the center aisle. They lifted their heads and let out snuffling breaths.

It appeared they sensed her as easily as she did them.

She breathed deeply, closed her eyes, and focused on connecting with the animals and their energy signatures. Tatiana could read emotions of animals big or small, and she preferred it to reading humans. The air around her hummed, and her body tensed as she solidified the connections. Tentacles of energy touched hers like invisible tethers, linking them together.

“There are ten left,” Layla said quietly as she stood to the side and let Tatiana work. “Eight mares and two stallions.”

“Several of them are sick,” Tatiana whispered. “But there’s more to it than that. They’re scared.”

Eyes closed, she held her arms out wide, allowing the buzzing flickers of power to wash over her, flashing around her bare arms and rippling up her back swiftly and silently. She turned her palms toward the animals and sent them calming energy in return, hoping to put them at ease and reassure them that she meant no harm. Sweat broke out on her forehead as she concentrated and absorbed their energy, allowing it to mingle with her own.

“They’re definitely frightened,” she whispered. “But not by me or you.”

“I’ve got the bag, Tatiana.” Matt’s eager voice cut through the room, bringing a sudden end to her focused connection.

Tatiana dropped her hands abruptly and forced a smile as she took the bag from Matt, who gave her a quizzical look. The leather handles, cool and smooth in her hands, rooted her to reality and helped pull her back from the foggy place of reading the horses, but nothing, it seemed, could get Dominic out of her head. The image of his fierce gaze fluttered around her mind like a buzzing fly.

Placing the bag on a weathered wooden table by the doors of the stable, she made quick work of getting the items they needed. Over the next hour or so, they took basic bio readings on all ten horses with Matt recording the information on her tablet. Layla watched quietly as they tended to each of the massive creatures.

Even Cass got in on the action. When Layla put him down, Tatiana thought he would shy away from the much larger animals, but he did the opposite. In fact, after investigating the length of the stable, he parked himself outside the stall of the sickest of the horses—a beautiful white mare.

“Three of them have slightly elevated temperatures of one hundred and two.” Tatiana removed the latex gloves and nodded toward the first stall. “This white mare is in the worst shape.” She smiled down at Cass. “But you knew that already, didn’t you?”

“Oh man,” Layla said, approaching the mare’s stall. “That’s Salinda’s horse. Her name is Spirit.”

“Well, in addition to the fever, she’s got diarrhea. The other two are only exhibiting fevers at the moment, but I imagine it’s only a matter of time before they show other symptoms.”

“What do you think it is?” Layla picked Cass up, and the puppy instantly began to chew on her long, curly hair. “Is it poisoning, like Steven suspected?”

“Who’s Steven?” Matt asked as he packed the bag and cleaned up the medical waste. “Your usual vet?”

“Um, no.” Layla flicked her gaze to Tatiana. “He’s a people doctor and the Muldavi’s personal physician. He and his wife, Courtney, live here on the ranch. He had a look at the horses because our local vet is… out of town.”

Yeah, right. Tatiana thought. Not exactly a people doctor, more like a shapeshifting Amoveo healer. Tatiana squashed her gut instinct to scoff aloud and continued.

“Based on the symptoms of these three and what you told me about the one that died, I have a feeling it’s poisoning. Selenium maybe. I doubt it’s viral, since they aren’t exposed to other horses.” Tatiana pushed sweaty strands of hair off her forehead. “I’m going to run a couple of tests to be certain, and I’ll need to check the feed as well.”

Without even having to ask, Matt handed her a specimen cup.

“Matt, would you get a sample from each of the feed containers and water buckets and mark them accordingly. If it is poisoning, then food or water is likely contaminated. I’ll look around the areas they graze and see if there are any plants that could’ve contributed to the problem. Selenium is an important part of their diet, but too much or too little causes problems. If someone wanted to make the poisoning look like an accident, using too much selenium would be a good way to do it.”

“Sure,” Layla said as she placed Cass on the ground. He immediately sat in front of Spirit’s stall again. “Steven has a pretty extensive lab, and it’s at your disposal while you’re here. I’ll take you there after we’re done here.”

“Right.” She nodded and gave Layla a tight smile.

Tatiana fought the growing feeling of claustrophobia, the sense of being surrounded with no way out. Hunted. As soon as she’d arrived on the ranch, the overwhelming sensation of being stalked swamped her. At first she thought it was coming from Dominic. After all, he did tackle her to the floor, but after connecting with the horses, she suspected it had more to do with them.

Tatiana gently lifted the latch on Spirit’s stall door and cautiously stepped inside. Cass tried to follow, but stopped when Tatiana sent him a gentle push of energy. Her heart went out to the elegant mare, who stood watching her through large dark eyes. Although she sensed apprehension, the big horse didn’t move or attempt to avoid her.

“Hey, girl,” she said in hushed tones. “It’s okay, and I promise I won’t hurt you.”

Tatiana closed her eyes and stroked the slight bulge on Spirit’s forehead that was specific to the Arabian breed—a jibbah. Spirit’s energy waves fluttered over Tatiana like butterfly wings as she created a psychic connection

In seconds, it went from cool and nervous to warm and content as the horse relaxed, growing accustomed to the link. The animal let out a huffing breath and rested her head in Tatiana’s hand.

Tatiana smiled and gently touched the horse’s mind with hers, expecting the usual wave of nausea as the link was made, but none came. They joined smoothly and easily, and while she recognized the pain Spirit suffered, something different happened.

For the first time, Tatiana heard the whisper of an animal’s inner voice with a single word.

Hunter.

Tatiana’s body jolted and buzzed with newfound energy. The specimen cup fell from her fingers, bouncing noiselessly on the carpet of hay and dirt as she struggled to get her bearings amid the unfamiliar sensation. Somewhere through the fog of the connection, she heard Matt and Layla calling her, but it was no use. She was consumed by the driving need to hear that voice again.

Eyes shut she tilted her body and moved in close, pressing her cheek against the elegant arch of Spirit’s neck as she ran her other hand along the coarse hair of her mane. Tatiana’s body shook with concentration, and her breathing quickened as she focused and stretched her mind further than ever before.

Then through the warm blanket of silence and a haze of red and orange, she heard it again, a whisper along the edges of her mind that rattled with the unmistakable waver of fear. Hunter killer.

Tatiana’s heart thundered in her chest as Spirit’s energy waves undulated violently in the air and tore through her body in teeth-chattering waves. One last word rasped through her mind… Traitor.

A lightning bolt of power passed through her as Spirit reared back and sent Tatiana flying into the door of the stall. Her back hit the wooden planks, knocking all the wind out of her, and as the world around her went dark, the growl of a big cat filled her mind.

***

Tatiana moaned as the darkness receded. Her head throbbed, and her back ached from where she hit the stall, but all of it eased as she found herself cradled in warmth. Instinctively, she snuggled deeper into the comforting embrace lulled by the strong, steady sound of a heartbeat thrumming beneath her cheek. She felt safe. Cherished. As her awareness came back, she realized she was sitting in someone’s lap. Matt?

Not likely. Dominic’s oddly familiar baritone flickered through her mind.

Tatiana’s heart beat like a rabbit’s, and her fingers curled against the muscles of his chest. Dominic?

Tatiana’s eyes fluttered open, and she found herself staring into a pair of familiar, pale brown eyes edged with worry. Dominic’s inky black brows furrowed, and his mouth set in a tight line as his arms held her tighter against his muscular frame.

“What the hell were you doing?” he said through clenched teeth. “You, better than anyone, should know how to act around horses. I thought you grew up on a farm? She almost took your damn head off.”

“I’m fine,” she seethed as she pushed at him, trying to release herself from his ironclad grip, but it was an effort in futility. “Let me go, you big ape. I got the wind knocked out of me, but unlike you, the horse didn’t do it on purpose.”

“You should sit still, Tatiana,” Layla said.

She was standing next to Matt who looked worried.

“Seriously.” Matt flicked a wary look to Dominic. “You’re lucky. Spirit probably would’ve trampled you if Dominic hadn’t shown up.” He moved his feet back and forth nervously. “That was some crazy Bruce Lee shit. I know you said you’re security and everything, but you move like some kind of ninja.”

“Let me up.” Nausea surged, and Tatiana grabbed the back of her head instinctively. She let out a slow breath and battled the feeling back. “Let. Go.”

“No.” The muscles of Dominic’s jaw clenched beneath the beard stubble, and he held her tighter. “You’re not going anywhere until Steven has a look at that lump on your head.” His voice dropped low. “You’re acting like the pigheaded woman I pegged you for. I’m not going to let you run off so you can pass out and hit your head again.”

Before Tatiana could protest, he rose from the hay-strewn floor with her firmly in his grasp. Carrying her as if she weighed nothing, he walked through the open stall door. She folded her arms over her chest and shot a furious look at Layla as they brushed past. Casanova whined and went to follow, but Layla picked him up.

“This is ridiculous,” Tatiana huffed. “Layla, tell him I can take care of myself. You’re my sister, and you should be taking my side.”

“Just give it a rest, Tatiana.” Layla’s freckled face twisted with concern. “You really took a tumble. Matt’s right. If Dominic hadn’t shown up when he did, Spirit might’ve trampled you when she ran out. Something spooked the hell out of her.”

“Yeah.” Matt looked wide-eyed from Tatiana to Layla as he clutched specimen bottles in both hands and stepped back, giving Dominic plenty of room to pass. “Mm-maybe you should let the doc have a look at you, Tatiana.”

“Listen to that.” Dominic spared her a glance as he strode through the stable doors toward the house. “Even your boyfriend thinks I’m right.”

The man was infuriating. He knew that Matt wasn’t her boyfriend, and now he was gloating because he’d figured out her ruse.

“I’ll be fine, Matt,” Tatiana shouted while glaring at Dominic as he walked across the lawn. “Just get the samples, and help Layla get Spirit back in her stall. She’s sick and shouldn’t be wandering around.”

“See,” Dominic said in a teasing tone. “You should follow your own advice. Although the horse has more sense than you do.” He jerked his head to the right. “She’s dying to get inside and rest.”

Tatiana saw Spirit standing by the edge of the barn waiting to go back inside. A smile curved her lips, and she let out a short laugh. Pain shot through her head and down her back.

“Shit,” she said in a rush. “That hurts.”

“What?” Dominic asked as he carried her across the property. “The bump on your head or the fact that I’m right.”

“Both.”

Silence stretched for a beat or two and, with only the feel of his body occupying her every thought, Tatiana had to talk about something to distract herself.

“How did you know I grew up on a farm?” Tatiana asked.

“I did a little research before you showed up here, as I do with anyone coming to the ranch.” Dominic flicked his eyes to her briefly. “In addition to Layla, your adopted sister, you have a twin brother named Raife. Purists murdered your Amoveo father from the Timber Wolf Clan, and your human mother died when you were a toddler. You and Raife were raised by your Aunt Rosie in Maryland, and you’re stubborn as hell.”

“You got all of that from your research?”

“Well, everything but the stubborn part,” Dominic said through a chuckle as they approached the house. “I found that out the minute I met you.”

Tatiana rolled her eyes, which only made him laugh again.

“So you talk to animals, huh?” Dominic smirked as he climbed the steps of the porch. “Why didn’t she tell you to get out of the way?”

“Very funny.”

Dominic stopped at the front door and tightened his hold on Tatiana as he peered at her intently. He held her gaze as his thumb brushed along her bare thigh beneath the edge of her shorts. She tried not to notice the way the muscles of his chest moved temptingly against her arm or the warmth of his hands as they pressed against her flesh, but it was no use.

Dominic surrounded her in every way a person could be surrounded.

Tatiana’s breath caught in her throat, and even though she wanted to look away, she couldn’t. That penetrating stare held her captive and studied her, as if he could peer directly into her soul. Perhaps he could?

“I’m sorry,” he said quietly. “I don’t want to see you get hurt anymore than you already are. You’re too important.”

Tatiana’s eyes widened as panic welled. She knew what he meant. She was his mate, and he needed her so he could keep his abilities. Resentment flared as she remembered what Layla told her. If Amoveo didn’t find their mates, then they would lose their powers and age like humans. She was merely a means to an end.

“I am?” Her voice shook with fear and uncertainty.

“Yes.” His mouth set in a tight line as he abruptly looked away. “Richard and Salinda need you to figure out what’s wrong with their horses. They are Salinda’s most prized possessions. Well, more like family, really. Especially Spirit.”

Tatiana’s mouth snapped shut with surprise. She’d been ready to rail him with a scathing response about how she was not going to be part of this whole you-complete-me mate crap.

“Right.” She nodded and looked away, unsure of what was happening. Maybe she misjudged him. Perhaps he wasn’t going to try and convince her to her hook up with him? Maybe Dominic was as annoyed by the prospect of having a life-mate as she was.

The front door swung open, and a young blonde woman with a shy smile and large green eyes greeted them. Tatiana sensed she was from the Coyote Clan. She looked about seven months pregnant, but her expression switched to concern when she saw that Tatiana was hurt.

“Oh my goodness,” the young woman said quickly, stepping aside as she rubbed a hand over her round belly. “What on earth happened, Dominic? Hurry, take her downstairs to the medical suite.”

“She got a bump on the head and the wind knocked out of her when one of the horses got spooked. By the way, aren’t you supposed to be resting, Courtney?”

“I’m fine, Dominic. What is it with you Amoveo men?” She smiled and gave Tatiana a knowing look. “I’m Courtney, by the way,” she said as they crossed the spacious front hall to a door leading to a set of steps. “Steven’s mate.” She looked away and opened the door for them.

Tatiana noticed a subtle change in her energy signature when she identified herself as Steven’s mate, and it gave Tatiana pause. It was like a hiccup in a steady stream of energy, as if she momentarily let down her guard. Perhaps Tatiana wasn’t the only one who didn’t embrace the whole fated mate idea?

“Be careful with her, Dominic.” Courtney smiled at Tatiana and led the way down the steps.

“Believe me, I will be,” Dominic said. “She’s the careless one, not me.”

Tatiana made a sound of frustration and bit her lip to keep from telling Dominic off. Besides, with her luck, he’d probably enjoy it.

“Nice to meet you, Courtney.” Tatiana kept her arms folded over her chest and her eyes straight ahead as Dominic carried her down the steps into a long, well-lit hallway. “I’d shake your hand, but I’m afraid Dominic will think that’s too strenuous,” she muttered.

“Keep joking, but you are the veterinarian who got clobbered by her patient. Not me.” His brow knit together as Courtney scooted past and opened a door marked Exam Room on the right side of the hall. “What got Spirit so riled up, anyway? The horses are examined on a regular basis and are used to shifters, hybrid and pure-blood, so what happened?”

“Steven is finishing up in the lab,” Courtney said with a faint smile. “He said that he’d be here in a minute.”

Dominic carried Tatiana in and placed her gently on the cushioned exam table. She glanced at him briefly as he stepped back, and she tried not to notice how swiftly her skin cooled when she left the shelter of his embrace. There was no denying that her body responded to his, and it reminded her of the imprinting that some animals do when they find their mates.

Tatiana couldn’t help but wonder if that’s what this was—a genetic, imprinted response—but if that were true, it actually gave her hope. If this intense attraction between them was merely biological, then she could choose not to participate.

“Thanks,” she said as she gingerly adjusted her position. Tatiana arched her back, trying to work out the kinks, but stopped as another sharp pain shot into her head. “Damn, she got me good. I’m not usually careless.”

“I didn’t think so,” Dominic said darkly. “What happened?”

The truth was that she wasn’t quite sure. She had never connected with an animal so clearly before. Staring into Dominic’s eyes, she had a sinking suspicion of what caused the sudden boost in her abilities. Before she could answer, a tall, handsome man with shaggy blond hair, wearing a lab coat and a warm smile, came into the room.

“I’ve been looking forward to meeting you, Tatiana,” Steven said with a friendly grin as he shut the door behind him. “I have to admit I hoped it would be at dinner tonight and not in the exam room.”

“Hey, babe.” He placed a quick kiss on Courtney’s cheek. “Aren’t you supposed to be resting?”

“I’m fine, Steven.” Courtney lifted one shoulder, and a look of embarrassment passed over her face as she glanced at Tatiana. “I wanted to make sure Tatiana was alright, but I’ll go back to our cabin and lie down if that will make you happy.”

“It would,” he said with a wink. Steven squatted down so that his face was directly in front of her large belly. “Tell your mother she needs to rest.”

“Fine,” Courtney sighed. “You men are so bossy.”

“Thank you.” He kissed her tummy and stood up. “And we’re not bossy, just concerned.”

Courtney opened the door and looked back at Tatiana before she left. “I know what it’s like to be new around here and surrounded by a bunch of overprotective alpha males.”

“Hey.” Steven put his hand to his chest, feigning injury.

“When you’re feeling up to it,” she said through a short laugh, “I’d be happy to take a walk with you and show you around the property. The cabin you’re staying in is across the way from ours. I know you have your sister here, but a girl can never have too many female friends.”

“I’d like that,” Tatiana said through a smile. “Thank you.”

Courtney waved as she left, but for all her pleasantries, Tatiana couldn’t shake the feeling she was hiding something. It was the way she interacted with Steven. She didn’t appear to share the seamless bond with him that the other women shared with their mates. They lacked the comfort level and innate intimacy she’d witnessed with the others.

“What happened?” Steven asked.

“Huh?” Tatiana’s face burned when she realized that Steven had been talking to her, and she didn’t even hear him. “I’m sorry, what did you ask me?”

Dominic grumbled something under his breath but didn’t move from his protective stance by the door. Tatiana shot him a look of disapproval before turning her attention back to Steven.

“How did you end up in a fight with the stall door and lose?” Steven stood in front of her and checked her vital signs as they spoke while Dominic kept tracking every move. “It’s my understanding that you have the ability to communicate with animals—read their energies. I have to admit, that’s a pretty radical power, and I would bet it makes you a kick-ass vet.”

Steven removed the blood pressure cuff and hung it on a hook behind her.

“What did you see? Was it the same thing that spooked the horse?”

“I’m not sure,” Tatiana said as she recalled the incident. “It was probably a fluke.”

“What was a fluke?” Dominic’s voice, low and dangerous, cut into the conversation. He stepped closer but didn’t take his focus off of her. “What the hell happened in that barn?”

“I heard her,” Tatiana whispered. “I actually heard her speak.”

Tatiana looked from Dominic to Steven, who stared with curiosity and concern. The words poured out of her mouth as the excitement about this new development registered.

“That’s never happened,” she said excitedly. “I mean, I’ve always been able to read an animal’s emotions. It’s hard to explain, but I usually see colors in their energy waves, and if I want, I can connect with their signatures, much like we can with other Amoveo, but this was much more. I heard her voice in my mind like I hear Layla, but it was further away, like a bad connection on a telephone.”

“Interesting.” Steven turned her upper body so he could inspect the back of her head. “So, before coming to the ranch, you didn’t have this particular layer to your abilities? Correct?”

“That’s right,” Tatiana said slowly. She locked eyes with Dominic as Steven finished examining her, and a knot gathered in her belly. “Why?”

Tatiana didn’t have to ask the question, because she already knew the answer. It was Dominic, or more to the point, her and Dominic. He didn’t flinch but continued to stare with those intense brown eyes. Dominic knew it as well as she did, but to his credit, he didn’t say a word.

“Could be a couple of explanations,” Steven said with a knowing look at Dominic. “We may just have to wait and see.” He went to the sink and washed his hands. “I suppose you could try it with another horse and see if you get a similar reaction, but give yourself more distance next time so you don’t end up with hooves in your face.”

“Got it. So, am I free to go, or will I be carried around all day?”

Tatiana winced at the way that came out. It sounded as if she was hoping for that, and she totally wasn’t. Yeah, right. She rubbed her hands over her face, wishing she could rub away how out of sorts she felt.

“You’ll be fine. You’re already beginning to heal, and the soreness should be gone in a few hours.” He smirked and glanced at Dominic while he dried his hands. “As for being carried around by Dom, here… I suppose that’s between the two of you.”

“I think I can walk just fine.” Tatiana’s face heated with embarrassment, and she let out a nervous laugh. “I have to get back up there. Matt is probably worried, and besides, he’s got the samples.”

“Matt can wait a good goddamn minute.” Dominic’s eyes narrowed, and he moved toward her. “I want to know what she said.” His voice, strong and steady, filled the room. “Spirit—what did she say?”

Dominic inched closer. Heat wafted off him and drifted over her in erotic waves, and it took a second for her to realize she was holding her breath.

“I only heard a few words.” Tatiana’s back stiffened, and she gripped the edge of the table, fighting against the insane urge to reach up and stroke that scar on his face. Her tongue flicked out and moistened her lower lip, and she brushed the hair off her forehead as she met his challenge. “The first two were: hunter killer.”

“Shit.” Dominic stuffed his hands in his pockets and turned to Steven, breaking the spell. “I knew it. Someone messed with the horses, and I’d bet anything it was those fuckin’ Caedo assassins we snagged here on the property. They probably put something in the food.”

“It’s possible. Based on the symptoms, I’m betting on poisoning, but I have to run some tests to be sure.” Tatiana took a deep breath and looked between the two men. “Where are the men you caught? I’m sure you questioned them already, but—”

“I killed one,” Dominic said evenly, as if killing people was commonplace. “But the other got away after he shot Eric.”

“You killed him?” Tatiana’s voice was barely audible. “You just go around killing people?”

“Only the ones who try to kill me,” Dominic said in a matter-of-fact tone. “Or the people I care about.”

Tatiana stared at him, trying to wrap her brain around what he said. A chill rippled up her back, and a knot of fear twisted in her belly. This was exactly why she didn’t want to get mixed up with the Amoveo or their topsy-turvy world. They operated under their own rules, and so far, she didn’t really care for them.

“Well,” she said in a far shakier voice than she’d intended. “I’ll be sure to keep that in mind, and if nothing else, you’ve given me one hell of a good reason to finish my job and go home.”

Tatiana hopped easily off the exam table, but when her feet hit the floor, pain shimmied up her back. Though she did her best to hide it, she could tell by the look of disapproval on Dominic’s face, he didn’t miss it.

You’re not being completely honest. Dominic’s voice shot into her mind with his now-familiar bossy tone. There’s more. I can feel it.

“Steven?” Tatiana did her best to ignore Dominic. “Layla mentioned you have some lab equipment here. Would it be alright if Matt and I use it to run a few tests?”

“You bet.” He shucked his lab coat, revealing a rock-n-roll T-shirt, and she couldn’t help but smile. Steven may be an Amoveo, but she could tell he was a down-to-earth guy. “It’s just down the hall. Mi casa es su casa. I’ll see you two kids later. I’m going back to the cabin to check on Courtney.”

Steven whispered the ancient language, static filled the room, and seconds later, he vanished.

“That shit still freaks me out.” Tatiana shook her head and blinked. “Count me out for that particular gift.”

Turning around, she walked face-first into Dominic’s broad chest. He linked his hands around her biceps and held her firmly against him. His dark eyebrows furrowed as he peered down at her through serious eyes. She licked her lips nervously, trying not to notice the firm muscles of his pecs beneath her fingers. Yup. No fat anywhere.

“What is it that you’re not telling me, Tatiana?” His voice dropped to low seductive tones as his fingers relaxed and brushed the skin of her arms. “You can trust me. I—I would never hurt you.”

Tatiana should have been put off by the fact that he invaded her space, but that would be operating under the assumption she could think clearly. All she could do was feel—feel his fingers as they melded against the flesh of her arms or his heartbeat as it thundered steadily in his chest beneath the soft cotton T-shirt.

Before she could stop herself, Tatiana reached up and ran her fingers down the scar on the side of his face. The strip of marred flesh felt surprisingly smooth beneath her fingertips, and something inside her ached to ease the pain he must have felt. A growl rumbled in Dominic’s chest, reverberating through her as he held her close, and his eyes shifted to glowing amber orbs.

Tatiana swallowed hard but held his gaze as her fingers trailed down to his stubble-covered jaw. His eyes reminded her of a wildfire, like the ones she’d seen out west that burned bright and out of control.

That’s what she was feeling—completely out of control. No say over her emotions or her body. Everything burned. Heat flashed over her skin, and her eyes shifted into the bright yellow-gold orbs of her wolf.

“Mate,” he growled.

In a blur, Dominic leaned down and covered her mouth with his as the rumbling in his chest grew louder. Tatiana moaned and opened to him. Her arms slipped around his neck, and everything else fell away. In that moment, she let go of whatever semblance of control she had and tumbled blindly into the abyss.

Tatiana had been kissed before, but never like this.

Dominic devoured her, like wildfire consuming everything in its path. He suckled and drank from her as though his existence depended on it. He held her head in his strong hands, angling and allowing him better access. His tongue tangled with hers as she threaded her fingers through his short hair and hung on for dear life.

Through the rage of desire, she heard his voice scrape along the edges of her mind… mate.

What the hell was she doing?

Tatiana dropped her hands to his chest as he trailed hot, wet kisses along her jaw and down the sensitive skin along her neck. This wasn’t just some guy she was plastered all over. This was the guy. The one she’d been desperately trying to avoid, and here she was making out with him like some horny kid. Fear, panic, and an overwhelming sense of danger swamped her as reality came crashing back into focus.

Tatiana abruptly shoved herself out of his grasp and swiped the back of her hand over her mouth. They stood there for a moment, breathing heavily, glowing eyes locked on one another. Dominic’s fingers curled at his side as Tatiana held up both hands in a peace offering.

“I’m sorry,” she said through heavy breaths, her lips still tingling from his touch. “We can’t do this, or more to the point, I can’t do this.”

Tatiana expected him to argue or protest, but neither happened. His eyes shifted to their human state, and he gave a curt nod of agreement. “Agreed.”

“Good,” she said hesitantly. “Why aren’t you fighting with me about this?”

“I like to pick my battles.” Dominic’s mouth tilted into a lopsided grin. “For example, why don’t you tell me what else you heard in the barn?”

Tatiana blinked with surprise. She’d forgotten that’s what they’d been talking about before he kissed her senseless.

“What’s the matter, doc?” His grin broadened. “Did I kiss it right out of you?”

“You would think that.” Her eyes narrowed, and she felt her face color again. Good God, she’d blushed more in the past twelve hours than she had in her entire life. “Fine. I’ll tell you,” she huffed and moved toward him with her hands placed firmly on her hips. “Just before I blacked out, I did hear something else.”

Tatiana got right in his face, daring him to retreat, but he held his ground.

“Traitor,” she whispered.

Dominic’s face darkened, and she didn’t need to read his energy signature to know how upset he was. “Purists?”

Tatiana nodded slowly and turned on her heels to the door, but paused as she opened it. “That’s not what scared Spirit though.” She tilted her chin and delivered a challenging glare in his direction.

“Oh really, Dr. Dolittle? Then what did?”

“Very funny.” She rolled her eyes. “It seems Spirit isn’t fond of big cats.”

“That doesn’t make sense.” Dominic gave her a confused look. “They’re used to us and our clan forms.”

“Be that as it may. I heard the growl of a big cat as I passed out.” She blew the hair off her forehead and looked away, embarrassed to bring up the fact that she’d gotten knocked on her ass. “When she reared up, that was the last thing I heard.”

Dominic moved toward her slowly, with the easy, fluid motions of a cat and that feral, predatory look in his eye. Tatiana gripped the doorknob for dear life as he approached. Her feet felt like they were nailed to the floor, and even though her gut instinct was to run, she held fast as he stopped inches from her.

“That growl you heard?” he asked as he leaned closer, his lips a breath away from hers. “That was me, Doc. Your energy signature has been tangling with mine from the second my body touched yours, and you know what? I’m not a fan.”

“What?” Tatiana’s eyes widened. She didn’t know whether to be insulted or relieved. Maybe she was a bit of both.

“I can’t get you out of my head.” Dominic stepped back, giving them distance. “I’m Guardian of this property. It’s up to me to keep a clear head and a sharp mind. People depend on me to protect them.”

“Dominic, I—”

“No.” He held up one hand to stop her. “Let me finish.”

“Fine.” Tatiana folded her arms over her breasts and waited.

“I’ll admit, before I met you I was worried as hell about not finding a mate and losing my powers, but now, I’m not so sure.” His voice was barely above a whisper. “How the hell am I supposed to do my job if all I can do is think about you and keeping you safe? So, if you don’t want to mate with me, well, that’s just fine. You do your job, and I’ll do mine. When we’re done, we go our separate ways.”

Dominic stuck his hand out to her.

“Deal?”

Tatiana looked at his outstretched hand and then to his serious, masculine face. “Deal,” she said quietly.

They shook hands briefly, neither wanting to linger. As she followed him out of the room, one issue nagged at her.

Tatiana got what she wanted. Her Amoveo mate agreed to let her off the hook and not follow through with the whole life-mate deal. She should be on top of the world and completely relieved… but just the opposite was true. Damn it.

***

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