“Were they true mates?”

“No. Daniel came to our flock to visit a friend. He saw my mom . . . and he never left. They were apparently inseparable from day one and it didn’t take long for imprinting to start. They were good to me, from what I remember, and I refer to them as my parents”—she bit her lip—“but I think of my uncles as my parents, really. Do you think that’s bad?”

“No, not at all.” He kissed her shoulder. “Jesus, baby, your uncles have raised you since you were four. They have been parents to you. There’s nothing bad about you feeling that way. I’ll bet if you asked them, they’d say they think of you as a daughter. I like them. I like how good they are to you.” Tao combed his fingers through her hair, loving the silky feel of it. “How did you spend your years away from the flock?”

“I did a lot of traveling, saw a lot of cool places. New York. Shanghai. London. I never stayed anywhere longer than a few months. Ethan and Max came out to see me a couple of times and we always had a blast. They even came to the shelter.”

“Really?”

“They didn’t like the idea of me staying in a shelter and wanted to be sure it was as nice and safe as I described it to be. They love Makenna and Madisyn.” Madisyn was a cat shifter who worked at the shelter with Makenna.

“I’m surprised they didn’t come to our territory to check it out when you moved there.”

“They were going to, but Makenna assured them it was a great place and that I was safe there.”

“And you were trying to keep your past a secret from the pack.” He nipped her shoulder punishingly.

She flinched and gave him a mock scowl. “It wasn’t so much about keeping it a secret. It was just that some of you were inclined not to trust me when I first got there—you yourself insisted I was trouble and cunning. If you’d known I was accused of manipulating someone into shooting nine people, you might have believed it, especially since you were convinced I was banished. Greta would have used it against me, not just to sway Trey and Taryn into making me leave, but to hurt me.”

He couldn’t deny that. “And later? Why not tell us later?”

“Because confiding in people about deep stuff like that—”

“Is bonding,” he finished. “And you were afraid to bond with us. You needed to keep a nice healthy distance between yourself and the pack . . . only it didn’t work so well,” he added with a smug smile. “You might not have come to the pack looking for a place, but you found one. Would you really leave Savannah and Dexter?”

Her chest panged at the idea. “Taryn and Trey would let me visit them.”

“Why visit them when you can stay with them? Tell me you aren’t missing them like crazy. Tell me it doesn’t hurt just a little to be away from them. You’re their mom, for all intents and purposes.”

“More like the fun aunt.”

“Ethan and Max are your uncles. Does it detract from how much you care for them? Why do you think none of the couples in the pack adopted Savannah and Dexter? They’re yours. You stood guard over them the way your uncles did over you. They’ll adore you for that forever. And no matter where in the world you are, they’ll think of you as their protector and they’ll wish you were with them. But why love them from afar when you don’t have to?” He trailed kisses from her shoulder up to her neck. “You wouldn’t be happy living among humans, Riley.”

Her brows snapped together at the confident remark. “And you’re so sure of this why?”

“Living a life where you had to hide half of what you are would leave you feeling like a fake. You’d hate that. Besides, you’d miss me.”

Laughter bubbled up out of nowhere. “Miss you?”

“Admit it, things wouldn’t be the same without me around.”

“No, they’d be a hell of a lot better.” She flinched as he bit her earlobe hard. “Ow. That hurt, asshole.”

“I’ve tried not to be an asshole, but I find it pretty exhausting to pretend to be anything other than who I am. I don’t want to be fake.”

“You’d rather people hate you for who you are—how admirable of you.”

He chuckled. “Isn’t it, though?” Combing his fingers through her hair again, he held it up toward the ceiling. “I used to prefer blonde hair, and I have no idea why. But your hair . . . the way the light hits it, making it look any color from blue to black to purple . . . perfect.” His wolf was in complete agreement, wanted to roll around in it. Tao spoke into her ear. “Know where I want to see it? Spread over my thighs while you suck me off.”

“I’m worried by how hard you find it to express yourself.”

He chuckled again. Flipping the covers back, he braced his weight on his elbow as he looked his fill at her deliciously naked body. His cock, already thick and heavy, throbbed almost painfully. “You are seriously fucking gorgeous. You know that, don’t you?”

“You said I’m not your type,” she reminded him.

He draped himself over her. “You’re every guy’s type, baby. Don’t listen to me, I talk shit.”

“Are you talking shit now?”

“Nope.” He sucked her bottom lip into his mouth and gave it a sharp nip. He wanted to bite and mark every inch of her. Wanted other males to know she was taken. He cupped her breast and flicked her nipple with his thumb, liking how she arched into him. “I’m going to fuck you. I’m going to sink deep inside you and fill you up.” He closed his mouth around her nipple and suckled hard. “In a little while.”

She frowned at him as he curled his tongue around her other nipple. “What do you mean, in a little while?” Her voice came out a little shaky. “Why not now? Now sounds better.”

“I want your taste in my mouth while I fuck you.”

Oh. Well then. “I supposed you’d better get to it—time’s a-ticking.”

Tao licked and bit his way down her body, leaving little marks of possession everywhere. Settling between her thighs, he parted her wet folds with his thumbs. The scent of her need shot right to his cock, and a growl rumbled out of him. “So wet.” He slid his tongue between her folds, lapping up all the cream there. Her taste was his very own aphrodisiac, as though her pussy had been made just for him. He shouldn’t like the idea, but he did. “You make me greedy.”

“For what?”

“Everything I can get from you.” He used one finger to scoop up some of her cream and, locking his gaze with hers, rubbed his wet finger over the rim of her ass. “I want this.”

“No.”

He’d been fully expecting that response. Females usually saved anal sex for their mates. He understood and respected that, and so did his wolf. Still . . . “I want it.”

“Well, thanks for sharing that. Now if you could get to work, that would be great.” She gasped as his tongue teasingly fluttered around the entrance of her pussy. She bucked her hips, needing more. His tongue sank inside her just as he pushed his finger into her ass. “Now wait a minute—”

“I’m not going to fuck your ass, baby. I won’t take what you’re not prepared to give, no matter how much I want it.” He flicked her clit with his tongue. “But I want to feel how tight and hot this ass is. Will you let me have that?”

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