Jayce’s head tilted slightly to the side, as if he was confused by her arrival. Guess he hadn’t expected her so soon. And she hadn’t expected him to be fooling around with someone else. She might not have any claim on him, but after he’d told her to come to him for sex, she’d just assumed he wasn’t seeing anyone else. How utterly stupid she’d been. Bile rose in her throat. She needed to get out of there.
Before she could take a step back, Erin twisted underneath him and slammed her elbow across his face. At that moment Kat realized that Jayce hadn’t been getting intimate with Erin—they were training. He’d had a wooden sparring baton pressed against Erin’s neck. Kat just hadn’t noticed it. All she’d seen was Jayce on top of another woman. She hated that she couldn’t un-see it either. Something raw and primitive festered inside her as that vision played over and over in her head. She had no right to care what he did with other women. So why did an annoying voice in the recesses of her subconscious scream mine?
Now he was flat on his back and Erin had a giant grin on her face as she pressed a similar-looking baton to his throat. “Way to lose your concentration, teacher.”
Seeing the two of them so relaxed together made the dagger already embedded in Kat’s heart twist. It also gave her the much-needed ability to step back. Turning away from them, she left the barn and headed for one of the fields to go for a run in wolf form. She thought she heard Jayce curse behind her, but she ignored the sound.
Being near him right now wasn’t good for her sanity. She couldn’t believe she’d let the sight of him with Erin affect her. Obviously nothing had been going on between them, but for all she knew Jayce had someone else waiting for him. Or had been with a dozen women since they’d broken up. He was a very sexual male, and even though he’d been absolutely faithful when they’d been together, she didn’t doubt that he’d found someone else to warm his bed since they broke up.
The thought of that made the dagger not only twist but shred her insides. The blood drained from her face as unwanted visions swamped her. Jayce wasn’t hers anymore and it was something she needed to remind herself of. He’d said she could come to him for sex.
Nothing more. Considering that she didn’t want anything else from him either, why did she care so much if he was screwing other women?
Picking up her pace, she sprinted until she reached the tree line. Then she stripped and left her clothes in a neat pile by a giant oak tree. If she didn’t expend this raging energy inside her, she was likely to snap and do something stupid. Like start a fight with Erin for no reason. Thanks to her higher body temperature now that she was a shifter, the cold didn’t affect her as much as it had when she’d still been human.
Aiden had told her that those who had been turned into shifters as opposed to being born shifters had to really concentrate to undergo the change from human to animal, but Kat had never had that problem. The moment she let go of her constant efforts at mental control, her inner beast took over. The change flowed over her with a violent intensity, forking through her like jagged lightning, hitting all her nerve endings.
Just like the other times she’d shifted, the pain was short-lived, soon replaced by a pleasurable, soothing sensation erupting inside her. She was suddenly sharply aware of her surroundings. Because it was winter there weren’t many forest animals in plain sight, but she thought she scented a deer nearby. Even though the instinctive part of her wanted to hunt the other animal down, her human side actually laughed. She couldn’t kill Bambi if she wanted to live with herself. The other rich, earthy smells of the forest soothed her most primal side. Patches of snow covered the ground, but she barely felt the cold beneath her paws as she began running over dried grass and foliage.
Jumping over fallen branches, she felt the wind roll over her with abandon. She’d never understood it before she’d been turned, but running provided one of the few times she felt utterly free. Nothing mattered as she ran. She could even pretend it hadn’t bothered her to see Jayce on top of another woman. Too bad that was a lie. Her stomach still ached in a way she hated and could barely understand. She shouldn’t want Jayce as much as she did.
Despite everything that had happened, she couldn’t get him out of her system. Not with the memories she held on to. They suffocated her to the point where she wanted to throw caution to the wind and go to bed with him again. Just to have a taste. Maybe it would help her exorcise him from her mind. He couldn’t be as good as she remembered. Yeah, that was a lie too. He might have been her first lover, but she wasn’t stupid. The way he’d played her body, the things he’d made her feel . . . it had been amazing. Since she’d also been dumb enough to fall in love with him, the sex had been that much better.
As she came upon a fallen oak tree she jerked to a halt. It looked as if it had been ripped from the ground. But by what? Deep striations—claw marks, she realized—encircled the giant trunk. Nothing human could have done this, and she didn’t think any normal animal could have either.
Moving closer, she realized she scented someone familiar. She’d recognize his spicy, earthy smell anywhere. There was a slight underlying whiff of cedar that made the scent unmistakable.
All over the area and all around the fallen tree. Had he done this? If she’d been in her human form, she would have frowned at the thought. As she circled the tree she felt another presence nearby. Then she heard what sounded like footsteps—of a horse.
It was Jayce. Despite the fading scent around the tree, the all-natural aroma of him teased her senses.
She waited by the stump until he rode through the thicket of trees. Looking like an incredibly sexy cowboy, he galloped right for her but abruptly stopped and looped the horse’s reins around a low-hanging branch of a sycamore tree. Wearing faded jeans, now dirty from his recent sparring session, and a beat-up leather jacket he’d had as long as she’d known him, he walked toward her. Heart in her throat, she stood silently while he crouched in front of her.
The look he gave her was indescribable. Some foreign emotion she’d never seen played across his face. She couldn’t define it even in her animal form when everything was so much clearer. It almost looked like yearning, but . . . that couldn’t be right.
He reached his hand out, slowly, waiting for her acquiescence before softly petting her head. His raw strength was undeniable, but the feel of him touching her so gently put her at ease. Which was crazy. She wanted to keep running, to expend all her anger and energy until her legs ached and she could barely breathe. But with him stroking her head, she felt oddly calm.
“When you were taken, I tried to find you.” His words were rough, uneven, and she wondered if he would be saying them if she had been in her human form. Moving from his crouch, he sat on the ground and continued to pet her.
She savored the feel of his strong fingers running through her fur. They sat there so long she wondered if he’d continue. She wanted him to. Oh God, did she. When she’d been held captive she’d called out for him to save her so many times her throat had turned raw. After she’d been found naked in that barn, she’d been too ashamed to see or speak to him. She’d been humiliated enough and she hadn’t wanted to see pity in his eyes, so she’d avoided him as long as she could. It wasn’t as if he was the only one she’d been keeping at arm’s length though. She hadn’t told a soul what she’d gone through at the hands of that monster. Greg something. Odd that she couldn’t remember his last name. He’d been working for that bastard Adler, who was also dead now. But Adler had a boss, and if it was the last thing she did, she was going to find out who’d given the orders to kidnap her.
Finally Jayce continued, his words slicing through her thoughts. “I looked anywhere and everywhere I thought you might be. A couple times I found your scent but . . . it was no use.” His face was drawn so tight, so controlled, she knew he was using all of his enforcer strength to keep his emotions in check. “I’ve never felt so helpless in my life. After I let my wolf out, I was afraid I’d kill someone innocent, so this tree bore the brunt of my aggression.” His voice was strained, as if getting those few sentences out was difficult.
Her gut twisted as she sat there, listening to the erratic beat of his heart and trying to digest his words. Jayce didn’t talk much and never that much at once and never before with such emotion. What he’d just admitted to her . . . she didn’t know what to think of it or how to take it. He’d searched for her. She’d known it because December had told her, but to hear him admit it, to put so much raw emotion into those few words . . . it made her ache inside. When she’d called out for him he hadn’t been there, but he’d been looking. If he’d been able, he would have saved her. She hadn’t realized how much she’d needed to hear that from him until now.
She wanted to stay in her wolf form so she wouldn’t have to respond. But doing so made her feel too much like a coward.
Pulling back from his touch, she underwent the change. A rush of adrenaline overtook her as her bones broke and shifted back to her human form. Even though she’d been shifting for a little over a month, she didn’t think she’d ever get used to the sensation. Every time she came back out of it, it was like she’d been on another planet or something. The disorientation was short-lived, but it always jarred her.
Blinking, she tried to shake off the instant chill that came upon her. After the change she was more aware of the elements, even with her higher body temperature. Especially since she was naked. Kneeling on the ground, she tried to adjust to her surroundings. Before she could move, Jayce was wrapping his leather jacket around her.
Without thinking, she slipped her arms into the long sleeves and pulled it tight around her body. Then he snagged one arm around her waist and pulled her into his lap. Maybe she should have felt exposed, considering she wore no underwear or bra under his jacket, but in his arms she’d always felt safe. Now was no different.