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What bothered her were the compliments. She didn’t need them and didn’t see how they could possibly be true—particularly the ones about her supposedly intriguing personality. Hell, if she didn’t have chocolate in her diet, she doubted she’d have a personality at all. She cocked her head at Derren. “Do you think I’m intriguing?”

He blinked. “Intriguing?”

“Marcus said I intrigue him.”

“Why do you sound so insulted by that?”

She shrugged. “I just don’t understand what he could possibly find intriguing.” Unless, of course, he found people who had difficulties dealing with their own species rather interesting. “He’s super good-looking, he’s charming, he’s good in the sack . . .” Extremely good in the sack. And she was . . . well, her.

“I don’t know why you’re feeling insecure. You’re hot, Roni. The only reason guys don’t swarm around you is that you intimidate them. Surely Marcus has earned brownie points for not letting your level of dominance be a factor. From what I can see, he respects it. I have to say, though, I’m not sure if you’re more dominant than he is. Fuller’s not as harmless as he seems.”

That was one of the things she liked about Derren—he never missed anything. “No, he’s not. But he doesn’t hold it over me. He treats me like an equal.” And that was a lot more than her mother and Nick did.

“That’s a good thing.”

“I know, but I marked him, and it’s freaking me out.” She’d never before marked anyone. “Worse, my wolf is totally smug about it.” She narrowed her eyes at Derren’s speculative look. “What?”

“Do you think maybe he’s your . . . ?” He shook his head. “Never mind. Look, I think you should just let yourself enjoy this. As for marking him . . . it’s easy enough to get carried away when the sex is good.”

Considering that, she nodded. “Yeah, you’re right. I just got carried away, that’s all.”

“That’s all,” he echoed, his tone reassuring.

Unfortunately, she wasn’t reassured, because she was well aware that it had been possessiveness that caused her to make that mark—it had raced through her mind and body in a way she couldn’t explain. She’d wanted to warn off any other female that dared to come near him. That wasn’t “getting carried away.” It was more. And it scared her.

At that moment, the front door burst open, and Nick, Eli, Jesse, Bracken, and Zander piled in the room. How fabulous was that?

Nick plucked her from the sofa and hugged her tight—like Roni, he wasn’t the most affectionate person in the world, so it was always kind of odd when he did that. Pulling back to meet her eyes, he spoke. “Honey, are you okay?”

He’d said it softly and carefully, like she was on the verge of emotionally splintering. She stepped out of his hold. “I’m fine.”

“You’re not fine,” he insisted.

Jesse pointed hard at her. “And no one expects you to be.”

“Damn right.” Eli patted her shoulder. “It had to have been a shock to see the vid on that fucked-up website.”

“We’ll find out who uploaded it, and we’ll obliterate them—I promise you that.” Nick gently pushed her back onto the sofa, like she wouldn’t be able to stand on her own steam or something.

Zander came over then, his expression sympathetic—hell, she hadn’t been sure the hard enforcer was capable of empathizing with another person. “Can I get you anything? Coffee? Something to eat?”

“No,” she gritted out, “I’m fine.”

“Stop saying you’re fine,” ordered Nick, though his voice was gentle. “I saw you when you ran out of the tunnels—you were ready to explode. If I hadn’t been on the verge of exploding myself, I’d have gone after you.” His expression hardened slightly. “I’ve got to admit you were a lot calmer when I found you with Fuller.”

She shook her head. “Don’t.”

“Don’t what? Warn you that you made a huge mistake? Warn you that Fuller isn’t good for you?”

“I’ve heard it all before—it’s getting tedious.”

“He marked you, for God’s sake.” Of course that comment drew everyone’s attention to her neck. Then they were all talking at once.

“Whoa, he branded you?” Eli gawked.

Jesse whistled. “That’s not exactly a discreet one either.”

“You let a guy mark you?” Bracken seemed mystified.

“Is he still breathing?” asked a wide-eyed Zander.

“You’re making a bigger deal out of this than you need to, Nick.” Derren sighed.

Roni closed her eyes for a few seconds, seeking patience. “This is my personal business.”

Nick folded his arms. “I did some checking on Fuller.”

“You did what?” she growled.

“I had Donovan dig up some details for me.” And he sounded much too unrepentant for her liking. “I always do checks on any guys who show interest in you.”

“Will we ever get to meet this mysterious Donovan?” asked Eli, taking the seat beside her.

“No.” There was a short pause. “Don’t you want to know what he discovered about Fuller?” Nick asked Roni.

“No, I don’t. His business is his business.” She was curious, of course—particularly since Marcus had claimed to have a “twisted story” about his family. But unlike Nick, she didn’t believe it was fair to invade other people’s privacy.

“He ever talk about his father to you?”

“Do you really think I’d break his confidence if he had?”

“Roni, the guy was violent. Used to beat his mate until she was black and blue. People were too scared to confront him about it, and his mate always came up with pretty excuses for her injuries.” Every male in the room growled.

She could understand their disgust and outrage. Mates were something to treasure and protect, were considered a gift that was sacred. To abuse that gift, to harm that person in any way, was abhorrent and callous. “And while that’s a horrible story, I don’t see why this would mean Marcus ‘isn’t good’ for me.”


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