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Frankie tossed back a mouthful of beer. “If there was no mating urge, how were you so sure we were mates so fast?”

“Because nothing’s blocking the bond on my end. I have no doubts or fears about mating. I have plenty of personal issues, but none that would get in the way of mating.” He dabbed a kiss on first one corner of her mouth and then the other, needing the contact. “It’s commonly believed that our inner animals know their mate at first sight. I trust my wolf’s instincts and I listen to him, so I always believed that I’d recognize my true mate at the same time as he did. To be honest, though, a part of me started to doubt that he’d recognize her so easily.”

“Why?”

“Tao’s wolf didn’t like Riley at first, so I started to wonder if maybe our animals don’t always know instantly. I told myself that just because Tao’s wolf didn’t initially like her didn’t mean that he didn’t recognize her as his. Riley loved to drive Tao insane, so I supposed it was possible that his wolf just felt disrespected and dismissed by her.” Trick cupped the side of her neck and began lightly breezing his thumb up and down the column of her throat. “If my wolf recognized you as mine when we were kids, he didn’t communicate it to me.”

“Maybe you just weren’t as in tune with him back then.”

“I should have known.”

Frankie didn’t like the self-condemnation in his tone. “Why? Did you have the same mentality about mating that you do now?”

“No. I was a kid, so my priorities were much simpler. But I was protective of you, though I just figured it was because you were the youngest pup. I was even a little possessive, now that I think about it. When you left, I kept asking Iris when you were coming back. I was angry when you didn’t. Not at you, just at the situation. My wolf was just as angry.”

“How did your wolf react to me when we met outside the coffeehouse?”

“He went perfectly still. Searched for a weakness. Ready to pounce and claim. He sensed you were his instantly. He was pissed the hell off when I left you at the coffeehouse. Wanted to take you home and keep you safe.” He paused as something occurred to him, something that made his pulse quicken and gave him hope. “You haven’t said we might not be mates. Why?”

“I haven’t slept with a lot of guys, but I have enough experience to know that my body’s instant reaction to you wasn’t normal. At first I figured it was just because you were an unmated shifter—that it was like calling to like. But I didn’t react that way to Dominic, and he’s unmated.

“Plus I’m not a touchy-feely person and I like my personal space, but it doesn’t bother me or my wolf that you’re very tactile or that you eat up all that space. And you have this way of putting me at ease just by being there, even though I barely know you. I’m a lot of things, but I’m not willfully blind. None of that is normal, is it?”

“No, it’s not. And I’m glad that you’re so open-minded and you don’t turn a blind eye to things that you don’t understand.” He snaked his hand around to cup her nape. “You are mine, Frankie. And I’m yours. You were made for me. And I was made for you. Are you going to fight that?”

She swallowed. “I’m not going to deny that you’re right. I think you are. But I don’t know if I’m ready for the bond yet.”

“Baby,” he began softly, “didn’t you hear what I was telling you earlier? I know you’re not ready. You’re still adjusting to being part of a pack and facing the truth about your parents. The bond will demand everything from you, and you’ve got enough things demanding stuff of you right now. I can wait. I’m here, and I will continue to be here through all the shit that’s going on. I know you’re feeling like you’re being pulled in different directions, but I’m the one person you don’t have to try to please, because you please me by just existing. You’re my priority. You get me?”

Frankie licked her bottom lip. “I don’t think I’ve ever been anyone’s priority.”

That just about broke his heart. “You can trust that you come first to me. There isn’t one single damn thing that’s more important to me than you.” He took the bottle from her and placed it on the island. “Kiss me, Frankie.”

Tired of thinking, she shoved everything out of her head. Everything but him and how much she wanted him. Frankie pressed her mouth to his, but she didn’t kiss him. She traced his lips with her tongue, hands sliding up his chest to fist his shirt. Teasingly, she briefly slid her tongue into his mouth just enough to glide it against the tip of his own. And apparently that was all Trick could take.

With a growl he slammed his mouth on hers and plunged his tongue inside. It wasn’t a kiss. It was an explosion of need. An earth-shattering devastation of her senses.

He shoved his hands up the back of her shirt and yanked her forward so she was flush against him. Sensations bombarded her. His tongue licking into her mouth. His teeth biting her lip. Calloused fingertips digging into her waist. His dark scent swirling around her, flavored with need.

His growls poured down her throat and rumbled in his chest, vibrating against her nipples. Claws raked at her back just hard enough to feel good. And when he shoved his hand under her bra and splayed it possessively on her breast, she tugged on his hair, demanding more. Always more.

Trick cupped and squeezed her breast as he kissed his way down to her pulse. He sucked it into his mouth, felt it beating there, and decided right then that he’d one day leave his claiming mark on that very spot. He couldn’t claim her yet—not officially—but he would sure as hell make her feel thoroughly claimed. He wouldn’t take his mate for the first time on a kitchen island, though.

He slid his hands under her thighs and lifted her, and she locked her legs around him. As he carried her up the stairs, she licked, bit, and sucked at his neck—branding him as hers, and sending his need soaring. The demanding prick of her claws on his back made him growl.

Reaching the landing, he fisted her hair, snatched her head back, and took her mouth. Possessing and dominating, ensuring she knew exactly who was in control. When she went pliant, he spoke. “Bedroom?”

“On your left,” Frankie rasped.

Carrying her inside, he slid her down his body. There was no finesse in the way they stripped. Clothes were tugged, clawed, and yanked until they were both finally naked.

Frankie swallowed at the deliciously masculine view before her. He was all hard muscle and sleek skin and untamed power. She skimmed her hands over his solid shoulders and down his tanned, totally ripped chest, heading right for the long, thick, hard cock that—

He tossed her on the bed, and Frankie surprised herself by chuckling. When he didn’t move to join her, she said, “You going to stand there all night or are you going to fuck me?”

“I’ll fuck you when I’m ready to fuck you,” Trick said simply, raking his gaze over her. Fuck, she was gorgeous. Her breasts were round and full, topped with rosy nipples that tightened even further under his scrutiny. The diamond anchor belly button ring was hot as fuck, especially with the black, delicate vine tattoo that started on her left hip, diagonally swirled its way across her ribs, and then disappeared up her side.

“You look ready to me,” she said, flicking his hard cock a meaningful glance.

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