When he touched her, it was almost impossible to think straight. And when he stared at her as if she was the only thing that mattered, it created an ache deep inside her chest, making her wish things were different.

Weaving her way through high-top bar tables and other patrons, she only stopped once she was inside a restroom with five stalls. The room was plush, with marble countertops and a place to sit and lounge—as if she wanted to hang out in there—and she immediately made her way to one of the sinks and splashed cold water on her face.

It did nothing to cool the burning need thrumming through her veins. She’d tried to deny her growing feelings for Nikan from the moment they’d met. Had ignored comments her sisters made about their friendly relationship. But when he looked at her as if he’d like to devour her, to lick and kiss every inch of her body, she couldn’t deny the heat between them any longer. It was real and growing hotter every second she was around him.

Cursing her own cowardice, she dried her face and headed out. Running away was stupid and she owed it to him to sit and talk and get things back on an even footing. Making her way through the growing crowd, she nearly stumbled when she saw that same woman from the conference talking to Nikan at the bar. The blonde’s hand was on his chest again.

Instantly Esperanze’s claws unsheathed, making her almost drop her purse. Taking a deep breath, she forced herself to focus. She wasn’t a cub, she was an eighty-year-old lupine shifter who’d been in control of her inner wolf since she was ten. Whoever this female was, she was about to learn Nikan wasn’t available.

Not allowing herself to dwell on what her possessive thoughts meant for the future, she headed toward them. Before she’d taken two steps, Antoine appeared from the crowd and pulled her to a stop.

“Esperanze, I’m so glad you came.” He almost sounded out of breath.

Turning to her former mentor, she smiled despite her newly dark mood. She would have been surprised that she hadn’t scented him, but the place was packed and she was distracted. “Of course. Your directions were very easy.”

Antoine tugged at the collar of his shirt nervously. “I need to talk to you about something. In private,” he murmured.

Concerned by his gray pallor, she nodded and followed him up a short set of stairs to a semiprivate area. A heavy velvet curtain was pulled back by a thick cord to reveal a rounded booth and table. He slid onto one side so she sat on the other. The moment they’d taken seats, a woman wearing a skirt that just barely covered her crotch, a bikini style top and a studded collar approached the table. She greeted Antoine warmly as if she knew him. “It’s good to see you, Antoine. Do you need my services?”

Esperanze raised an eyebrow at the word “services” as he shook his head and told the woman they wanted to be alone. “How has the transition been?” she asked the moment the woman was out of earshot, worried it had something to do with his vampirism.

“The past couple decades have been good, but . . .” Trailing off, he scrubbed a hand over his face. The action was so out of character it made Esperanze falter. Antoine had been turned when he was forty-two by a former vampire lover who had adored him. Though he’d always looked young, he had a boyish charm about him, which was why he was still friends with the female who had changed him even though they were no longer involved. But tonight his blue eyes held too much pain, aging him.

“What’s going on?”

“I got into some trouble and—”

As Antoine suddenly stopped talking, she found herself being tugged into Nikan’s lap. She hadn’t even heard or seen him move into the booth. His dark eyes were slightly dilated. Something wild and hungry lurked in their depths. “What are you doing?” she asked.

He opened his mouth, flashing his canines, but didn’t look at her. Instead he focused on Antoine. “Leave us,” he growled.

Esperanze placed a hand on his chest, alarm churning inside her. “Nikan—”

“It’s okay, Esperanze. Call me later tonight. I need to talk, but it can wait.” She heard Antoine moving behind her then the thick curtain that had been pulled back fell into place, blocking them from everything.

“Why are you in one of these alcoves with him?” Nikan asked, his voice deep and almost angry. One of his hands clenched on her hipbone, holding her tight, while the other one encircled her waist.

She splayed both hands on his shoulders smoothing them down. His proprietary behavior shocked her. Something wasn’t right with Nikan and her inner wolf needed to soothe him. “He just wanted to talk,” she murmured, keeping her voice low.

“Maya told me what these places are used for.” He followed up with another growl.

Even though her wolf told her he needed calming, anger sparked inside her. She didn’t know what they were used for but had a pretty good idea at the mention of the other female shifter. “Maya? Did she invite you to join her in one?”

“Yes,” he snapped.

She narrowed her eyes. “Then why aren’t you with her?”

“Because I only want you!” His breathing was harsh, uneven and it appeared as if he might actually lose control of his beast.

Her heart hammered against her chest. The raw need in his voice stunned her. She’d seen Nikan in shifted form before and he was huge. Beautiful, but still very large. From the way he was acting she was afraid what would happen if he shifted forms. Reaching up, she gently cupped his cheeks, caging his gorgeous face in with her hands. “I was only in here because Antoine wanted to talk about something. The curtain was left open, in case you didn’t notice.”

At the mention of the curtain his gaze flicked away for a moment before he turned back to her. “It’s closed now.”

The invitation was clear in his voice. One she knew she should ignore, but God help her, she couldn’t. Not when he looked almost lost as he stared at her. Moving her hand from his cheek, she reached around and pulled the black tie free from his hair, letting his dark, thick mane free. Most of the males of their pack had short, military style cuts, but not Nikan. She loved that he wore it just above his shoulders. Threading her fingers through it, she leaned a fraction closer.

“What exactly did you have in mind?” she whispered even though she doubted anyone could hear them. The curtain had to be thicker than it looked because she could barely hear the music outside it. Nerves fluttered through her. Making this kind of move was so out of character for her, but she knew Nikan would keep her safe. Even if she ended up regretting what happened tonight—though the most primal part of her told her she wouldn’t—she couldn’t stop herself.

The hand on her hip tightened then slid lower until he reached the hem of her dress. He held her captured with his dark eyes, waiting for her response.

She wasn’t sure exactly what he wanted, but she knew her answer would probably be yes to whatever it was. Swallowing hard, she nodded her assent, an answer to whatever unspoken question he was asking.

His callused fingers played against her leg as his hand moved under her dress. He was watching her, a hungry expression on the sharp planes of his face. The higher he went, the heavier her eyelids grew. She felt almost drugged. He stopped a few inches short of the juncture between her thighs and just lightly stroked her skin.

The teasing action had her entire body tightening with desire. Since he hadn’t moved she leaned forward, covering the distance between them, but he took over. On a growl, he took her mouth, teasing with his lips and tongue. Not so gently, he tugged her bottom lip between his teeth as his fingers tightened on one of her inner thighs.

“I want to take you right here, Essie,” he whispered against her mouth.

His voice was as unsteady as her shaking insides. This was a different side to Nikan. He had a wild, uncontrollable look to him and with his hair down, even more so. But she wasn’t afraid. He’d never physically hurt her. Of that she was absolutely sure. Still, this was moving too fast. “I’m not ready . . . for that.” She wasn’t sure that she’d ever be ready to completely surrender to this man. And she knew that’s what he would ultimately want.

“I know, but I still want to pleasure you,” he said softly.

Her insides melted a little at his words. “Nikan.” Her fingers tightened on his shoulders as she tried to pull him closer. As long as she knew they could stop at any moment, she didn’t want to stop kissing him.

The angle was awkward and as she tried to turn so that her body was more facing his, he took over. Withdrawing his hand from her thigh, he grabbed her hips and moved her so that she had no choice but to straddle him. But her dress was too tight. Before she could shimmy it up, the back seam ripped. The material bunched upward under the force, exposing more of her legs. A small voice in her head told her she should be shocked and should probably stop things, but she trusted Nikan. He wouldn’t push her more than she was ready for.

“I’ll buy you a new one.” His lips brushed against her neck before he nuzzled right below her ear.

Esperanze shuddered when he raked his teeth along her skin, following with his lips. He exerted enough pressure that she thought he might break the skin, but then he eased and licked her with his tongue and pressed his lips to his almost-bites. The sensation was wildly erotic.

She felt so exposed like this, but he cradled her close to his body. Even with their clothing between them, she savored the feel of her breasts against his chest. Everywhere he touched, kissed and licked left a blaze of scorching heat in its path. She wanted more. Being away from the ranch made her uninhibited. Even though she knew they were taking a big chance at ruining their friendship, everything about this moment seemed right. So right it scared her a little that he might see this as only a physical or onetime thing, not a prelude to more.

Reaching between their bodies, she began sliding her hand down his covered chest, intent on grasping the erection she felt pressing against her belly. Lightning fast, one of his hands encircled her wrist to stop her.

He pulled his head back so she could see his face. His dark eyes practically sparked with lust. “Don’t touch me. Not now.” His deep voice shook.