Riley shook her head.
“Then it’s got to grate on her that you’ve had her male.” Tao didn’t want Riley near Sawyer either. His wolf growled at the idea. “What’s your favorite day of the week?”
She did a double take. “What?”
“Your favorite day. What is it?”
Baffled, she asked, “Why does that matter?”
“It just does. I told you, I want—”
“You want me to let you in a little, yeah, I know. I just told you all that stuff about my flock.”
“Yes, about your flock,” he pointed out gently. “Not you. It’s you I want to hear about. I’m not asking you to bare your soul, Riley. It’s just an itty-bitty question.”
She thought about it for a moment. “Friday. It’s the start of the weekend. I like weekends.”
Satisfied, he nodded. “So, do you think Cynthia will cause a scene at any point this weekend?”
Blinking at how swiftly he’d returned to their previous subject, she said, “I don’t know.”
“I wouldn’t be surprised if she does.”
“She might feel reassured by my bringing you along.”
“Don’t be so sure.”
“Well, you’ve left a mark on my neck where it’s easy to see. That’ll convince her I have no designs on Sawyer, won’t it?”
His eyes drifted to the bite. His cock, hard and heavy, throbbed at just the sight of it. “If you were my ex, seeing another guy’s mark on you would piss me the fuck off . . . but it wouldn’t stop me wanting you. And if she’s worried he might still want you, she won’t be reassured by my mark.” Tao gently fingered the bite, asking, “Coffee or tea?”
“What do you prefer to drink, coffee or tea?”
She didn’t know whether she wanted to laugh or grab him by the throat. It seemed easier to just answer him. “Tea, but I like the smell of coffee better.”
He frowned. “Tea’s a girly drink.”
“I am a girl.”
“But you’re not a girly girl, so that surprises me.”
When the attendant announced it was time for them to board, Riley grabbed her duffel and got to her feet. Tao took the duffel from her, easily carrying both hers and his own, as they joined the line to board. Finally stepping onto the plane, she stayed behind Tao as they walked down the narrow aisle, passing rows of fabric seats and pausing while passengers shoved their bags into the white overhead compartments.
When they reached their designated row, she was grateful to see there were only two seats. She didn’t like sitting with strangers on airplanes, particularly since she always seemed to be seated by the chatty ones who liked to take off their shoes.
Having placed their bags in the overhead compartment, Tao turned to her. “You can have the window seat.”
“That’s okay. You have it.” She would prefer not to be stuck between him and a wall.
Shrugging, Tao took his seat. It was as he clicked on his seat belt that he noted her flushed cheeks and stiff muscles. “You don’t like airplanes?”
“I don’t like being cooped up, that’s all.”
Tao fussed with the controls overhead until the air conditioning was blasting down on them. “Better?”
Riley nodded. “Thanks.” She watched as he examined the fold-down tray, fingered the selection of in-flight magazines and safety manuals, tapped the TV screen on the seat back, and pushed the buttons on the armrests that controlled the channels and volume of the TV. He wasn’t fidgeting, she knew. He was studying. Getting a grip on his surroundings. Leaving his scent on everything—it was a dominant male thing.
Frowning at the sound of the seat creaking as he adjusted it, she glanced around and saw that the passengers finally seemed to be settling into their seats; most seemed to be reading, playing games on their iPads, or listening to music. Annoyingly, her sensitive hearing picked up their audio just as it easily picked up all the chatter, laughter, and rustling of bags. There was just too much sound in such a small, contained space.
“Since you lost your biological parents,” began Tao, “I need to know if there’s anything I should or shouldn’t say in front of your flock. I don’t want to hurt your family by bringing them up. But if there’s something it would be better for me to know so there’s no confusion, it would be best to tell me.”
She supposed that was true. “They died when I was four. My mom was killed by a bald eagle when in her raven form. My dad died a few days later.” Not many mated pairs survived the breaking of the mating bond, and her father simply hadn’t hung on.
Several questions leaped to the tip of Tao’s tongue. Did she remember them well? Had they been good parents to her? Did she think the trauma had triggered the insomnia or had that come first?
She was tense as a bow, as if braced for an interrogation. He snapped his mouth shut, holding his words inside. Piling sensitive questions on her all at once would only put her on the defensive. She was steadily opening up to him and he didn’t want to mess that up. So instead he asked, “What are your uncles like?” He knew he’d made the right decision when her shoulders relaxed.
“Ethan—he’s my mother’s brother—is reserved and taciturn, but he has a mushy center. His mate, Max, is more expressive and fun loving, but he also takes things as seriously as Ethan does. They’re both solid and reliable. They’ll like you. Sort of.”
“You’re a wolf—you’ll lose points for that. But you’re walking onto raven territory just for me; they’ll like that.”
Tao stretched his legs out as far as he could, which wasn’t much. “Are any of your other family part of the flock?”
She shook her head. “My grandparents died before I was born; both my parents were only children.”
“If you had to survive on just one type of food, what would it be?”
“Would you stop that!” she burst out.
“Asking me dumb questions.” The repeated shifts in subject were throwing her off balance.
“Come on, Riley. Humor me.”
She sighed. “Peanuts.” A long pause. “What about you?”
He was insanely pleased that she’d asked him the same question in return. It felt like a game. Tao liked to play. “Pizza.”
“Awesome,” she said drily. “Will you stop this now?”
“I’m just trying to learn stuff about you.”
“You can’t honestly say you know nothing about me.”
“True. I know that you’re smart, confident, tough, and independent.” A combination that would draw any dominant male shifter. “I know you don’t sweat the small things or take yourself too seriously. Even though you’re fairly laid back, you brook no bullshit—something I like and respect. You sometimes come across as aloof because you’re not bothered by what people think of you, but you’re a person who cares deeply.” A person who would go to a place where she’d be distrusted just to protect two children she wasn’t even distantly related to.
Riley swallowed, taken aback by the glossy assessment.
“But I want to know more.”
With a growl of exasperation, she spoke quickly. “I like puzzles, Halloween, peanuts, rock music, and dragonflies. I seriously dislike bats and complications, and I think toupees should be outlawed—they’re just plain weird.”
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