“It’s fine. Liam…” She tried to extricate herself from his hold.
Even though he wanted to pull her tighter, he loosened his grip. He felt more than heard her sigh of relief. His inner wolf howled as he felt her put those walls back up, blocking him out. The signs she put off were physical and emotional. “Damn it,” he muttered. If she was pushing him out again, he was back to square one. An ache started in the middle of his chest at the thought.
When they reached the diner, he held open the door for her. He wanted to enter ahead of her, like his inner wolf demanded. Human males had a strange custom of letting females walk into buildings ahead of them. It was supposed to be civilized or something, but it was stupid. Letting a female walk into an unknown situation made no sense. He knew December wouldn’t understand that, and since the doors and windows were glass, he forced his protective instincts back down. He could see they weren’t walking into an ambush.
Regardless, he instinctively scanned the diner for any possible threats. They received a few curious stares, but he didn’t sense any overtly hostile vibes. He’d been seen in town enough times that he was sure most people knew exactly who and what he was. Being seen with December might hurt her reputation and while he cared about that, he wouldn’t stay away from her because of it. The most dominant side of him wouldn’t let him. Not being near December wasn’t an option.
He chose the booth closest to the back exit. When December slid into the seat, he immediately sat next to her and positioned himself so that he had a view of the entire room. He could tell she was annoyed that he’d sat next to her instead of across from her, but his position served two purposes. No way anyone could ambush him, and he got to press up against her. The latter was the only excuse he needed.
She shifted away and put a few inches between them, avoiding his gaze. “Why does that guy keep bothering Kat?” The heat in December’s words was unmistakable.
She shook her head. “No, it’s not. I’ve never seen her so upset.”
He shrugged, not wanting to talk about them. “They’re exes. And I don’t care about their issues. I care about you, December. What the hell changed between us from last night to now?”
Nervously she tucked a strand of red hair behind her ear as she glanced out the window. “I have no idea what you’re talking about.” Her voice held no conviction.
For a moment he stared at the tense line of her jaw and the long, smooth arch of her neck. “You mean you don’t remember how your body pressed against mine, how you wrapped your legs around my waist? I could feel your heat, December. Could smell your desire. Hell, I can smell it now.” He leaned in closer. “You. Want. Me.”
Her ivory skin flushed crimson, but at least she turned to face him. “I’ve never denied wanting you, but it’s just physical. Why can’t you let this go, Liam?”
“Only because you keep pushing me away.” He started to say more when a waitress came to take their drink order. The busty blonde eyed him curiously and the blatant interest in her gaze was hard to miss. When he smelled her lust, almost immediately he sensed December’s jealousy. The spike in the air was sharp and strong.
It soothed his inner wolf. She wasn’t as unaffected as she’d like him to believe. Once the woman left them, he shifted slightly in his seat so he faced December. Wordlessly, he placed a hand on her thigh.
She tensed under his touch. “What are you doing?” she asked.
His chest tightened as he gently squeezed her leg. What he wouldn’t give to tease and trace his fingers up her bare skin. He wanted to memorize every inch of her body with his tongue, hands, and mouth.
He ignored her question. “Why are you pushing me away?”
“We just got carried away last night, Liam. I don’t see why we have to make a big deal of it.”
“I’m not making a big deal. I want you to give us a chance.” He could practically hear the no on her lips so he hurried on. “Come out to the ranch with me tomorrow after work. I want you to meet my pack and I’ll take you horseback riding if there’s enough daylight left.”
At the suggestion, her eyes lit up, but her lips pulled into a thin line. “I…don’t know.”
“I don’t want to lead you on.”
He frowned at her words, but she continued. “Just because I agree to spend time with you, I don’t want you to assume this means anything about mating or bonding or a future for us.”
She could say whatever she wanted, but he knew that if they spent enough time together, he could prove to her they had a shot at a long-term relationship. If she had been a shifter, she wouldn’t fight her attraction to him. She’d simply accept that they were suited for each other. He wasn’t sure if the fact that she was human added to his attraction to her. Her constant struggle to pull away from him made him crazy, but it also turned him on in a way he didn’t understand. His inner wolf wanted her submission, but the predator in him also loved the hunt. Something told him that once he’d finally claimed her—and he planned to do that soon—things would never get old between them. The sexy redhead would always keep him on his toes.
Slowly, he moved his hand up her leg a couple inches. “You like horseback riding?”
Her blue eyes glazed over for a moment as he trailed his fingertips higher. Even though she wore jeans, he could feel the heat and energy flowing through her muscles. Her body temperature had risen in the short time since he’d been touching her. While he might not be able to see them, he would bet her nipples were hard and aroused against her bra cups. The thought of what color they’d be made his cock strain against his pants and he had to bite back a groan.
Leaning closer, he started to tell her what he’d like to do to her, but the waitress returned. Sighing, he waited while she ran through the specials. Even after they’d given their order, she lingered for a moment to stare at him. He wanted to growl at her to leave them alone but knew it wouldn’t do him any good to alienate citizens of the town. So he pushed down his impatience and gritted his teeth while she stood there staring at him hungrily.
“We don’t need anything else, Betsy.” December’s annoyed voice sliced through the air and jerked the woman out of her trance.
The blonde mumbled something under her breath and hurried away.
“Seems like you have an admirer.” December inched away from him, closer to the window by their booth.
Instead of giving her space, he moved with her and kept his leg lined up with hers. He just wanted to touch her, maintain that simple connection. “Do you care?”
She shrugged instead of answering. But at least she didn’t deny it.
“So, horseback riding this week?”
“Tomorrow when you get off work.”
“Is that a question?” There was a slight trace of amusement in her voice. That was a good sign.
December shook her head slightly and sighed. “I can’t tomorrow, but how about Tuesday? And I’m only agreeing because it’s been months since I’ve been riding, so don’t get any ideas.”
“Why can’t you go tomorrow?” It came out harsher than he intended.
Her eyebrows rose at his abrupt question. “I have plans.”
“With who?” he demanded.
“Not that it’s any of your business but I volunteer at the local high school on Monday nights as a literacy tutor.”
He instantly relaxed at her words. “Oh.”
Her pretty mouth pulled into a thin line. “See? This is another reason we’d never work out. You can’t grill me about where I go and what I do.” When he started to respond, she cut him off. “And don’t give me some bullshit line about how you’re worried about my safety. You’re ridiculously territorial, Liam. The only reason I’ve let it slide so far is because of everything that’s been happening.”
His first instinct was to deny her accusation, but he was territorial. He was an alpha and a warrior, so it was ingrained into the very fiber of his being. Unlike the betas of his pack, who depended on alphas and warriors alike to protect them, he protected what was his, including her. It was the pack way. The animal way. Unfortunately for his inner wolf, she might be beta in the physical sense but she sure as hell wasn’t submissive. If she had been a shifter, she’d be alpha to the bone. Always butting heads with him. She didn’t care about his protective instincts or understand them and he had no response for her. Anything he said was guaranteed to annoy her, but he couldn’t change who he was. As she stared at him, waiting for a response, her brother walked through the front door of the diner.
Potent relief surged through him at the interruption. Something Liam had never thought would happen at the sheriff’s presence.
Without waiting for an invitation, Parker took off his hat and slid into the seat across from them. “I’m glad you’re together.”
That’s a first. Liam lifted an eyebrow.
“What’s wrong?” December asked.
The sheriff glanced behind him, presumably to make sure they weren’t being overheard, then looked back at them. “This is all off the record, Liam. I want you to pass this information on to your brother.”
He nodded, all his muscles tensing. “Okay.”
“Found a body early this morning. Male, Caucasian, early thirties. He’d been ripped to shreds by a couple dogs, but that’s not what killed him. A blow to the head did.”
Liam glanced at December, who looked as confused as he felt. “And?”
“The body was moved and dumped at Abel’s Gas Station. There aren’t a lot of reasons to dump a body in plain sight. It’s only a theory, but it’s possible whoever did it wanted this death blamed on shifters.”
“That seems like a stretch.” But it didn’t. Liam just didn’t want December to worry about anything else right now.