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A muscle started to spasm in my jaw. “Did you even know where to go when you hit the road?

Well, let me tell you. If you take a right, it would have led you into town. But it’s about thirty miles and it’s not a straight shot, either.

There are mountain lions around here, even a few wolves. Not to mention the bears. And a few human males you probably wouldn’t want to meet in a dark alley.

You know where taking a left brings you.

This is a neighborhood of sorts, a very exclusive one, if you get what I’m saying.

Others of my kind are here and they like to play with humans—and there were three of them focused on you.”

“What?”

“You were out here alone. That’s fair game to my kind. If I hadn’t come along, you really don’t want to know what would’ve happened to you.” The images that came along with that statement pissed me off. They would’ve played with Serena and she wouldn’t have enjoyed their game.

Serena’s shoulders slumped, and when she spoke, her voice cracked.

“I can’t just stay here and wait for someone or something to kill me. I…I have to do something.”

“Do what?” Anger lashed through my voice, and she flinched.

“Were you planning to make your way home?

Is dying there somehow better than dying here, because you will die there, Serena, I can promise you that.”

“I’m…I’m sorry,”

she said, her face screwing up.

“I panicked.”

“I can tell,” I said dryly.

Her lashes lifted. Brown eyes with flecks of green met mine. “Mel’s never going to get any justice, is she?”

Caught off guard by the question, I leaned back.

“No. Probably not.”

A sigh leaked out of her.

“That’s not right. I can’t live with that.”

“Was that what you were doing? Planning to go back to Colorado to avenge your friend or something?”

Serena shrugged halfheartedly.

Now I really wanted to throttle some sense into her, but I could respect that, maybe even admire it.

If Arum could understand anything, we got the whole need for revenge. But Serena was only a human. She would have no such revenge.

And neither would her friend.

I looked away. “Are you okay?”

“I’m fine.”

But then Serena winced.

My fingers were digging into her shoulders.

I removed my hands, eyes narrowing. Watching her try to hold my gaze was amusing. Her little jaw was jutted out, brows knitted, but her lower lip was trembling. She opened her mouth.

I placed a finger against her lips. “Don’t.”

She leaned back and would’ve toppled right over if I hadn’t caught her. She glared at me like it was my fault. “Don’t what?”

“Don’t make up any more excuses for why you did this.” I pressed my finger against her warm lips again, mainly because I wanted to do it again. “I told you not to leave the cabin and you did. You look like you’re about to pass out.”

She swatted at my hand.

“Hey! That’s not my fault. I think you damaged me when you tried to eat me.”

I almost laughed. “You are so clueless.”

“Oh really? And I guess you’re just so smart.” She rubbed at her eyes, but the slightly unfocused look was there.

“Yes.” I slid my hands under her arms and, as I stood, I hauled her onto her feet. She swayed a little, so I didn’t let go.

Keeping a hand on her arm, I led her away from the gazebo and back toward the cabin.

“Look, I apologized. You don’t have to be so pissy about it.”

I snorted.

Serena didn’t respond, and there must be some sort of higher being because she was quiet as we walked past the pavilion and hit the main road.

During that blissful period of silence, as she stumbled along beside me, I realized that as furious as I was at her, I wasn’t angry with her now. I didn’t know how I felt. Annoyed? Yes. The rest I couldn’t decipher, which was new to me… and I didn’t like it.

I should’ve just let the others have her because that would’ve been one less thing for me to worry about.

“You don’t have to drag me all the way back to the cabin.”

I shot her a dry look.

“Really, I don’t?”

She returned the look, but her version was a lot more hateful, and I tightened my grip on her upper arm. For a moment, the sleepy look in her eyes gave way to anger, and I readied myself for a fight.

At least there was really nothing she could throw at me, but she was within kicking range.

Serena yawned…right in my face.

My brows shot up.

Then a disgruntled look crossed her features, reminding me of a small, pissed-off creature that really had no way of defending itself other than raising its hair and baring tiny teeth.

Something about the imagery poked at me. Serena was a feisty little thing, but she could’ve easily been a dead,little thing if I hadn’t gone looking for her.

“You’re hurting me,” she said finally, nodding at where my entire hand wrapped around her arm.

“No. I’m not.”

Her face scrunched up.

“Okay. You’re annoying me.”

“Want to know a secret?”

Serena looked wary.

“What?”

I leaned in and whispered, “I don’t care.”

She rolled her eyes.

“Real funny.”

I chuckled. I thought it was pretty damn funny, but what wasn’t funny was the fact we’d only passed the first bend in the road and Serena had slowed to the point that a one-legged baby would’ve outpaced her.

I was out of patience.

It took some time to recover from the kind of feeding I had done on her, and she shouldn’t have been up, running around.

Fuck it.

Letting go of her arm, I picked her up and tossed her over my shoulder.

Serena squealed hoarsely. “What are you doing?”

“Snails with broken shells move faster than you.”

Her small fists bounced off my back. “What is it with you?”

Smiling to myself, I put a little bounce in my step and was rewarded with an oomph, and then a much harder stab to the back.

Ah, it truly was the little things in life….

“Put me down,” she said.

“Or so help me, I’ll kick your ass!”

With one arm secure around her waist, I gave her ass a friendly pat with my free hand. “You should really watch your language. It’s not very ladylike.”

“Don’t you dare smack my—” A yawn cut her off, totally ruining the level of threat. “You high-handed, arrogant son of a—”

Whamp! This smack was a little harder. “Language, Serena.”

What came out of her mouth next almost made me drop her. She got her ass smacked again for that and after the third time, she quieted down. The rest of the trip was pretty uneventful, if I didn’t count what was going on between my legs. Maybe it was the whole carrying her thing. Maybe it was the spanking her ass.

Or perhaps it was the fact I was in a permanent state of hardness since she threw a cast-iron pioneer at me. If that was the case, then my attraction was pretty dark.

It was probably the ass-spanking part.

Serena tried to wiggle free when I reached the deck, but I didn’t let go of her until I deposited her troublemaking ass on the couch.

Glaring up at me, Serena grabbed for a pillow.

I intercepted, yanking it away from her. “I really hope you weren’t thinking about hitting me with that.”

“No. I like holding pillows when I’m sitting down.”

“Really?” I placed the pillow on the other side of the couch. Standing over her, I knew I was looming, and I also knew it made her uncomfortable by the amount of squirming she was doing. I stayed right where I was. “What am I going to do with you?”

She stopped moving. “I don’t know. How about do whatever job you’re supposed to be doing?”

My cock twitched. Damn, I did like her snappy mouth. “I thought I was doing my job up until the moment you ran off.”

Irritation flushed her cheeks.

“And I’ve apologized for that.”

I watched her as I mentally tallied up everything that was fucked up about this situation.

There was a chance that the Luxen would find her— a small one, but there.

They were the damn glowworm mafia of the universe. Couldn’t forget about Raz and his merry band of assholes, and thanks to her little field trip today and my refusal to let them play with their food source, they were going to be as problematic as reoccurring jock itch. There was also the fact that I knew I would have to tie Serena up to keep her inside, and while that made certain parts of me very interested, it wasn’t feasible.

What to do…what to do… “What are you glowering about?” Serena asked as she reached for a pillow.

Her eyes narrowed on me as she hugged it to her chest.

“You.”

She made a face, then squeezed the pillow tighter.

Close to the end of my patience, I prowled around, caged like a wild animal.

When I stopped in front of her again, I saw that her lashes had fluttered shut.

They’d been doing that since she sat down, each time taking a little bit longer to sweep back up.

This time she let go of her pillow and let her arms go to her sides.

“Serena?” I placed a hand on her shoulder before I really thought about it, gently rousing her. “Are you asleep?”

Prying one eye open, she frowned at me.

“Obviously not.”

“How tired are you?”

“Tired enough not to argue with you.”

That would be a nice change of pace, but… “Do you feel dizzy?”

“Earlier, but I’m just tired now.

Why?

Did you permanently damage me?”

A long moment passed.

“Maybe.”

Serena watched me for a moment and then settled back into the cushion. I remained there and then backed off, heading into the kitchen. Finding what I needed, I returned. She’d already dozed off again.

“Serena, open your eyes.”

It took a couple of seconds for her response.

I held out a chocolate bar. “Eat this.”

“I’m not hungry.”

Here we go again . “You have two options: feed yourself or I will feed you.”

“Jesus,” she snapped, swiping for the bar. She missed by a mile the first time, but managed to snag it the second time around.

“You aren’t going to open it for me?”

My lips twitched as I sat beside her. “Do I need to?”

“No.” She tore open one end and took a huge bite.

“Yum.”

I arched a brow. She was apparently very grumpy when tired. “Are you pouting?”

“No.” She took another messy bite and when she pulled the bar away, tiny pieces of chocolate clung to her full bottom lip. My gaze zeroed right in on them like they were some kind of fucking mecca.

I didn’t stop to think.

Cupping her chin, I turned her head toward mine. Her sleepy eyes widened a split second before I struck, catching the pieces of chocolate with my tongue. One quick flick and her lip was clear and the chocolate was melting on my tongue, but the soft gasp that teased my lips undid me.

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