THE LONE WOLF'S LADY Part 4
Tamara sat back in shock. From the minute her car—in fact, her entire life—had exploded in a ball of fire and shards of metal and glass, she'd been running on pure adrenaline. That, and the driving need to find Rand Lyell and the safe harbor of his protection. Now a new kind of energy burned through her veins, one she didn't know quite how to handle.
After all, she had no right to expect Rand to welcome her with open arms. There was no one offering him or his brother a contract to keep her safe this time, and the last one had cost Rand a lot of blood and pain. Despite that, he still believed he'd failed her even though he was the one with that ugly scar on his shoulder. She was the last person who would have believed that small spark of awareness between them had survived everything that had happened.
Yet, there he was announcing to Ambrose that she—Tamara Fagan—wasn't a client, but his woman. It wasn't that she actually objected to the idea that he cared about her. After all, she had some pretty strong feelings for him, too. But if she let him get by with his outrageous claim without making him work for it, she'd never feel like they were operating on a level playing field when it came to their relationship.
Right now he sat staring at her through amber-colored eyes, a clear sign that his wolf was part of the conversation. Good, because both halves of his soul needed to hear what she was about to say.
She stood up and moved to put the coffee table between them. After crossing her arms over her chest, she gave Rand a hard look. "For future reference, a woman deserves to know how a man feels about her before he announces it to the world. That's especially true when he's all but ignored her for close to three months. And now, just because I walked in your door, do you seriously think you can stake a claim on me?"
He stayed right where he was and stared up at her with a hungry expression on his handsome face and a small smile tugging at the corner of his mouth. "Pretty much."
Tamara rolled her eyes. "Well, I'm not impressed."
Before she could respond, he surged up to his feet and jumped over the table to land right beside her. She didn't much like being crowded but neither would she retreat. Again, it was important to stand her ground to show she was strong enough to handle his alpha nature. She held his gaze for several long seconds without speaking even though it took more effort than she was willing to admit. "Like I said, not impressed."
He brushed a lock of her hair back from her face and then traced the line of her cheek with his fingertip. "You're right. I should have told you first. I also should have come after you long before this. You might not believe me, but there hasn't been a day, an hour, a night that I haven't thought about you."
Oddly enough, she believed him. After all, thoughts of Rand had occupied far too much of her own waking hours, not to mention her dreams at night. She wouldn't want to be alone in this singular fixation. "Were you ever going to do anything about it?"
He ran his hand over his shadowed jaw, drawing her attention to the stark lines that now framed his mouth and eyes. Etched there by the combination of guilt and pain, they hadn't been there three months ago when they'd first met. She hated that meeting her had had such a negative effect on him.
"Well, I was thinking about it."
She blinked, trying to make sense of his comment. Oh, yeah, she'd asked him what his intentions had been. "Just thinking? You've always seemed like a man of action. Guess I was wrong about that."
A deep rumble echoed through the room, startling her into backing up a step. She immediately stopped and held her ground. "What was that? Wait, did you just growl at me?"
His answering smile was predatory. "Yeah, guess my wolf doesn't like being insulted."
He stalked closer. "Neither do I, for that matter."
"I didn't insult you. I just stated the fact that although you had laid claim to me, you haven't bothered to ask if I'm even interested. That doesn't seem very wolf-like to me."
Oh, yeah, she was definitely pushing his buttons. Few people knew that the twin-souled like Rand and his pack even existed. She certainly hadn't until Ambrose had introduced her to Ian and Rand when he hired them to protect her. Even then, she'd had a hard time getting her head around the fact that the handsome man standing right there in front of her spent a good part of his time walking on all fours and howling in the woods.
Wow, how had Rand gotten so close to her? She had to quit getting lost in her own thoughts around him. After all, both the man and his wolf were born hunters. This time, instead of backing away, she edged closer to his strength, his heat. In a feat of pure daring, she pressed the palm of her hand against his still naked chest. Oh, yeah. She liked that. Judging by the soft rumble she felt as much as heard, he also liked her touching him.
He captured her hand and brought it up to his lips. His kiss on the center of her palm stole all the strength from her knees. Luckily, he caught her before she melted into a puddle of hunger right there on the floor.
"You're playing with fire, babe. Keep it up, and you won't be alone in my bed tonight."
He kissed her hand again. "But as much as I'd love to be right there with you, I'm thinking you're still dealing with everything that happened this evening. Before we cross that line, you need to know you're safe and no one is waiting out there with their finger on a detonator. We both need to have our heads in the game."
He was right even if she hated to admit it. The fact that she could forget even for a few minutes that some bastard had tried to kill her and had succeeded in killing her boss and his wife. She drew a long, slow breath and let it out.
Turning her back to him, she apologized, "You're right, Rand. I'm sorry for crossing boundaries."
His big hands came down on her shoulders. "No apologies wanted or needed. I was right with you every step of the way. But we let ourselves get distracted once before, and it got me shot and almost got you killed. This time, we deal with the threat first."
He gently spun her back around and drew her into his arms. "Just know, once all of this is over, I'm coming after you with everything I've got."
She let herself melt against him for a few seconds, savoring both the threat and the promise in his words. Then she pushed away, needing some bit of distance between them. "So, what's the plan?"
"First up, we get some sleep. Knowing my brother, come early tomorrow morning, he'll be pounding on the door ready to kick ass and take prisoners. We'll conference call with Ambrose to see what he's learned overnight. After that, we'll make battle plans."
There was one more thing she needed to make clear. Something he wouldn't like. "I won't be left on the sidelines, Rand. This is my fight, too."
That familiar flash of amber washed over his eyes. "I'd rather you stay here where I know you'll be safe, but I know better. Promise me you'll take orders, though. I need to know you'll listen to reason if you're going to be walking into a fight right beside me."
She'd expected more of an argument. He was a born protector, so that was a huge concession on his part. "We both know that when the bullets start flying, any plans we've made will go down the tubes. However, having said that, I promise to do my best to follow orders."
Then she put a little steel in her voice. "But know this, Rand Lyell, if you throw yourself in front of another bullet to protect me, I'm not going to be happy. If I'm yours, that makes you mine. I'm telling you right up front—no one gets by with hurting you. Not on my watch."
"It's a deal."
Then he tugged her in the direction of his bedroom. "I'll get something for you to sleep in. You'll find a new toothbrush and other stuff in the cabinet under the sink in the bathroom. Help yourself to whatever you need."
She followed him into the bedroom and waited while he dug out one of his T-shirts for her to wear. "This should do."
He was almost out the door when she called after him. "There is one more thing I'll need."
"A goodnight kiss when you come tuck me in."
He grinned. "It will be my pleasure, but like I said, playing with fire."
Then he waggled his eyebrows and gave her a playful leer. "Yours, too. I guarantee it."
She was still laughing as he closed the door.