“When my brother called and told me what he’d done I rushed in from the woods. Taking you was stupid. An impetuous decision.” There was an edge to his voice and she realized it wasn’t directed at her.

“Impetuous? That little psycho kidnapped me at gunpoint.” Gabriela subtly tried to wiggle out from his grasp, but it was useless. With the cool air of the unheated cabin rushing over her body and the sharp adrenaline surge she’d just experienced, she was horrified that her nipples were hard. Okay, she was horrified to be completely naked in front of Owen.

Her only saving grace was the fact that he didn’t seem to notice. He hadn’t looked down at her once. She wondered if she should feel insulted or relieved.

“His gun wasn’t loaded—not that I’m excusing his behavior. The attacks around here have been escalating and he thought our pack could use you.” His voice was grim.

“What attacks?” When she’d questioned Ethan he’d clammed up.

Owen’s eyes darkened and she saw his inner wolf staring back at her for an instant. He sniffed, not subtly, as he tried to see if she was lying. Apparently satisfied she was innocent, he continued. “Humans in the area have been killed—massacred—by a large feline. Law enforcement thinks it’s a cougar but there aren’t any around here. Not with two other apex predators in the area. Not enough hunting grounds and…the humans have been targeted too close to town. One in his backyard. There’s no way this is a normal animal. The last victim was definitely hunted down.”

Gabriela frowned as Owen’s words sank in. Her parents hadn’t said a word to her about this. Of course she hadn’t been home in four long years so she didn’t really blame them. “Wait a minute. You think my family has something to do with this?” He shrugged and it infuriated her. There had never been any bad blood between her family and his pack. They weren’t friends, but they respected each other as shifters. “You’re insane.” When he didn’t respond she continued, “So your psychotic little brother decided kidnapping me was a genius plan?”

Now Owen sighed. He looked tired and much older than his twenty-seven years. “Ethan thought we could hold you hostage and try to bargain with your family. Convince them to turn over the perpetrator for you. He figured if it’s one of your brothers they’d give themselves up if they thought you were in danger.”

Her body was rigid with outrage. “And your father was okay with this?” Disbelief laced her voice. Gabriela just couldn’t fathom Wesley Wright allowing that to happen on his land.

“Dad died four years ago,” Owen said abruptly, his voice devoid of emotion even while she could see the agony on his face.

It was as if someone sucker punched her in the stomach. No one in her family had told her. Of course no one talked much about the wolves to her, especially not about Owen. They didn’t know exactly what had happened to end their friendship, but her family was smart enough to figure out that Owen was off-limits in the conversation department. She’d been traveling so much the past few years she’d been pretty awful at keeping in contact, anyway. She let her arms relax, not bothering to struggle anymore. “I’m so sorry. I had no idea.” Another sudden thought slammed into her. “So that means you became Alpha at…twenty-three?”

Swallowing hard, he nodded again and let his hands drop, freeing her wrists. She didn’t move away but she did cross her arms over her bare breasts. Looking away he stripped off his T-shirt and handed it to her. Though he still didn’t step back and give her even the illusion of personal space.

Taking the shirt, she quickly tugged it on. His scent wrapped around her like a warm embrace and she hated that her inner jaguar was practically preening, wanting to strut around for him. It was a stupid biological reaction she’d had to him ever since she was sixteen. Her body just flared to life in his presence. “What happened?” she asked, her throat tight. She and Owen might not be friends anymore but she knew how close he and his father had been.

“Rogue vampire. The pack hunted them down but it didn’t bring him back.” Owen’s eyes locked on hers and when he let her see such raw pain there, it ripped at her insides.

For a moment he looked like that seventeen-year-old boy she’d been friends with. Heck, he looked even younger than that. He reminded her of the kid she’d first gone hunting with as a cub. The kid she’d gotten into a lot of trouble with over the years. She wasn’t supposed to feel sorry for him or care about him, but she did. Seeing him all vulnerable made something inside her break.

Without thinking she stepped forward and wrapped her arms around his waist, holding him tight against her. “I’m so sorry.” To her surprise he didn’t pull away. He hugged her with a startling fierceness, pulling her close as he buried his head against her neck.

And didn’t let go. “I…haven’t been able to mourn much.”

The statement seemed to rip from his throat. Even more surprising than his hug was the honesty in the admission. They hadn’t seen each other in a very long time. Once they’d been closer than anything, even family, but…she shut that thought down and just held him.

It felt strangely right to be in Owen’s embrace. Even if she was wearing only his shirt and his crazy brother had tried to kidnap her a few hours ago. Being with him now reminded Gabriela of when she’d been sixteen. She’d entered her first mating cycle and her body had become aware of Owen almost overnight. It didn’t matter that they’d been friends since they were young cubs. She’d been so stunned by the realization that Owen was attractive and strong and exactly what her inner jaguar wanted in a mate. Then to discover he wanted her, too had been another surprise. Of course their relationship had been short-lived after that.

When she started to pull away he held her tight. “Don’t,” he murmured against her hair. The uncharacteristic note of need in his voice made her heart turn over.

That’s when she felt his erection against her lower abdomen. She’d be lying to herself if she said it didn’t turn her on. Gabriela was glad she had the power to get him hot, but she knew it wasn’t because of his attraction to her. It was just biology and the mating heat she was putting off. It wasn’t real. “Owen, I’ve literally just started my mating cycle. What you’re feeling is because of my pheromones. I need to leave—”

“What I’m feeling has nothing to do with that and you know it,” he growled softly, his hold on her completely possessive.

Uh, what? Maybe his brain was more rattled over the subtle scent of her heat that seemed to be growing stronger each second that ticked by. The cycle only happened once a year for jaguar shifters and usually she just took a week off work and holed up in her condo in a desperate attempt to ease her sexual frustration. It had hit her a couple weeks early this year, on one of the plane rides home. She’d been able to contain her discomfort and sexual frustration but being around Owen was going to disrupt everything. Hugging him had definitely been a mistake. Any sort of touch with this big, very sexy male was stupid. Her body was tingling in raw awareness and she needed to get away from him now. “Owen—”

His mouth was on hers before she could blink. She couldn’t breathe, could barely think as his tongue delved into her mouth.

There were no teasing little strokes. This was hot and needy and very grown-up. None of the innocent kisses from when they were teenagers.

Gabriela wanted to push him away. She really meant to. When her hands slid away from his waist, they somehow wound around his neck instead of shoving at his chest like common sense told her to do.

His hands were holding her in a very possessive manner. One was cupped against her behind, tugging her so that her hips were flush against his—like she needed the encouragement—and the other threaded through her hair as he cupped the back of her head.

She was too physically on edge to fight what he was offering. Lifting one leg, she wrapped it around his hip and began slowly grinding against him. Without any panties, she didn’t have much of a barrier against him and the rubbing sensation was deliciously erotic. She couldn’t believe what she was doing but she also didn’t have the strength to stop herself. It had been so long since she’d been with a man and to be held in Owen’s arms like this was too good to walk away from.

She thought about blaming it on her mating heat but she wasn’t stupid. Right now, not just any man would do for her. She knew she was stupid for letting him kiss her and hold her like this but just once she wanted to feel what Owen had to offer. Then she could get him out of her system. And a tiny, very dark part of her hoped that when she walked away from him, it hurt him, too.

Of course that would imply she meant something to him other than a warm female body. And she didn’t. To him, she was a feline and would never be good enough. He’d made that clear years ago.

That thought was like someone throwing ice-cold water in her face. Jerking back, she tore her mouth away from his. His eyes reflected a raw primal desire that rendered her speechless and canceled out that coolness, injecting another shot of heat into her veins.

Owen had never looked at her like that when they’d been teenagers. He’d wanted her physically but this was different. The look in his eyes was all-consuming and a little terrifying. Before she could tell him they needed to stop, he was kneeling in front of her.

He hit the hardwood floor so fast she didn’t realize what he was doing. Until he’d shoved her shirt up and his mouth was on her most sensitive area.

The abrupt and intimate action of his tongue teasing that sensitive bundle of nerves made all thoughts of stopping whatever this was, fade into oblivion. She let out a sharp cry at that unexpected first contact. His mouth was hot, searching and so very teasing.

There was no way she’d stop now. It was as if there was a dam inside her, holding back that sweet release and only Owen could set it free. Threading her hands through his dark hair she gripped his head while he pleasured her.