He took her tiny hand into his and smiled. Of course, she’d need a knife to hurt him. Her delicate hands could never rip open his back, or his throat.
And before he could stop himself, he placed her hand on his cheek and nuzzled it. He didn’t understand how she’d come to mean so much to him so quickly. He wasn’t a trusting soul. Nor did he make friends easily. He expected the worst from others, and seldom was he disappointed.
Yet this tiny assassin had found a place in his heart where very few dwelled. And instead of cutting her out of it, he was allowing her to burrow in even deeper.
What the hell is wrong with me?
Dariana was right. He was defective. He had to be to even think the thoughts that were in his head.
No good could ever come of a relationship with her. Andarions and humans didn’t mix. They never had.
And sadly, no matter how much he might want otherwise, they never would. Humans weren’t welcome in his world and Andarions were voraciously hated everywhere they went outside of their own territories.
When this was over, he’d have to leave Sumi and do his due diligence. Tie his blood to a bitch who hated him. If he was half the Andarion Fain was, he’d say f**k it and be done with all of them.
But he was the last of his mother’s sons. If he walked away from his lineage, it would destroy her. She would be honor bound to kill herself. It was acceptable for one son to leave their lineage.
While his mother no longer cared much for him, she cared about her lineage and honor. He couldn’t buy his happiness for such a cost. The one thing he’d learned in his life was that no one could build a better future over the corpses of others. Better he should suffer for eternity than save himself at the expense of his family.
It was the Andarion way.
And he was an Andarion War Hauk.
It was his duty to serve his family and people. To honor them no matter the personal sacrifice.
But in the back of his mind was an image of Sumi in his family paint. And a burning in his gut to have a female, just once, accept him as mate-worthy and not look at him as if he was a total piece of shit.
Sumi came awake slowly to a deep warmth. When she reached to rub her eyes, her hand brushed against rock-hard skin. Startled, she jumped and slammed her head straight into Dancer’s face.
He muffled a curse as he moved his jaw to make sure it still worked. He frowned at her. “Morning, mia.”
Horrified at what she’d done, she cupped his jaw in her hand. “Oh, Dancer, I’m so sorry. I forgot where I was.”
“It’s fine. You’re not the first one to slap me awake. Doubt you’ll be the last.”
That didn’t make her feel a bit better. Before she could stop herself, she pushed up in his arms to place a chaste kiss on his lips then one on his cheek where she’d inadvertently struck him. “Better?”
He brushed the back of his finger over her face. “For that, mu tara, you can hold my head in a grinder.”
His offer amused her. “By Andarion standards, is that better or worse than a toilet?”
He arched a surprised brow. “You heard that yesterday?”
She nodded. “So how many times did your brother dunk your head, anyway?”
“Enough that Fain swears the oxygen dep gave me permanent brain damage.”
Laughing, she rolled her eyes at him. “You’re terrible.”
“Fain’s words, not mine.” He took a deep breath as his eyes teased her playfully. “I wish I could keep you here against me, but the kids are waking.”
Which meant Darice would stroke if he caught them like this. She would say screw it, but didn’t want Dancer in trouble with Dariana.
Reluctantly, she withdrew from him and stood up just a few heartbeats before Darice came bounding out of the cave as if the little booger knew she was standing too close to his uncle.
I swear that little bastard has radar.
He gave them a suspicious look, but for once kept his mouth shut. “Is there any of that stew left from last night? It was good.”
Sumi tsked at him. “The surprise in your voice as you say that almost offends me.”
Darice grinned at her. “Yeah, but —”
“I’ll have it heated in a few minutes.”
Yelping in happy delight, he ran off toward the stream to wash and dress.
“Wow,” Sumi breathed at his uncharacteristic enthusiasm. “I had no idea it was that easy to reprogram his attitude. I should have made stew my first night.”
Dancer laughed. “They say the quickest way to a man’s heart is through his stomach. For Andarions, it’s even more true.”
“And here The League taught me that the quickest way to a man’s heart was through the chest cavity. Shows what they know, huh?”
With the sexiest smile she’d ever seen, Dancer scraped his fangs against his bottom lip. “I love it when you talk assassin to me.”
Laughing, she wrinkled her nose at him. “You’re so sick. Why am I so attracted to you?”
They both sobered as those words left her lips. For several heartbeats neither of them moved as the words hung heavy between them. And lit a fire in his eyes that made her heart quicken.
Finally, Sumi cleared her throat. “I know you’re pledged, Dancer. I didn’t mean to trespass.”
He looked away, but not before she saw the regret in his eyes. The sad torment. “I should check on Darice. He has all the hygiene of a wild torna.”
Sumi wanted to kick herself as she watched him walk away. Why did I say that? What is wrong with me?
She knew better. But something about Dancer sucked all her common sense out and made her forget everything, except the beauty that was a fierce Andarion male and her desire to make him laugh and smile.
Leaning her head back, she glared up at the sky. I swear I’m going to keep my hands away from him.
Her thoughts, too.
She had no choice. Even if she wasn’t here to gather evidence against him, she knew that there was no chance in hell for a future with him.
His love for Fain would never allow it. It would kill his brother to see them together, knowing they had divorced because Omira refused to have Fain’s children. That would be the cruelest blow of all.
No, come hell or high water, she would stop this before it went any further.
Sumi had almost convinced herself of that when Darice returned to eat the stew she’d warmed for breakfast. Thia had just awakened and was still yawning as she sat next to the fire.
As Sumi went to get some food for herself, she heard the dreaded symphony of a war zone. Both of the kids bolted to their feet beside her. Her heart hammering, she motioned for Thia to cover her, and return to the cave for protection while she headed for the battle.
And a battle it was. Near the stream where he’d gone to bathe, Dancer was pinned down near a short outcropping of rocks by three men. She could tell by the dimness of the blasts that Dancer was almost out of ammunition. It was what the assassins were waiting for.
As soon as he was empty, they’d end him.
What they didn’t know was that Dancer had a secret weapon. And she was about to unleash hell on them for daring this. Moving silently and with every bit of League training she’d mastered, Sumi closed the distance between her and Dancer’s attackers.
She caught the first one completely unaware. Shooting him in the back, she rolled and dropped a bead on the second one. He dodged her blast and returned fire. Anger pounded through her that she’d missed what should have been an easy mark.
Grinding her teeth, she threw a fully charged blaster to Dancer and then laid down cover fire for him so that he could reach it. As soon as he had the weapon, he took the one on her left and she finished off the third.
Crouching low, he closed the distance between them. “Thank you.”
“Any time, big guy.” She clapped him on the arm as she skimmed the bodies around them. “Is this all of our party crashers?”
“Think so.” Still wary, he went to search the body closest to him. “They’re a little more high-tech than our last batch of friends. These came with short-distance radios.”
Given the magnetic field here that played havoc with electronics, they’d have to have some serious credit invested in those radios for them to work. “How many?”
“Dozen. I was trying to get them farther away from your position when they cornered me. Told you this place sucks for defense.”
“Sorry.” Sumi holstered her weapon. “You’re a little hard to move when you’re unconscious.”
Instead of being offended, he actually grinned. “So I’ve been told. Least you didn’t wrench my arm out of its socket trying.”
Her gut clenched at the thought of how much that would have to hurt. “Happen to you often?”
“More times than Nyk wants to admit.”
It was the first time he’d used Nykyrian’s name with her, and he was way too cautious, even wounded, to let it slip out. Dancer was learning to trust her.
Sumi didn’t know why, but that sent a rush of warmth through her. When he turned, she saw the blood on the back of his shirt. Worried about him, she went over and lifted the hem to investigate the blood’s source.
He tugged it down, out of her hands. “What are you doing?” he asked in an agitated tone.
She gave him a droll stare. “Oh, I don’t know… I was considering molesting you on top of these grotesque dead bodies. Ripping your clothes off and running my hands all over that long, hard body until you beg for mercy. What do you say, babe? Want to add something exotic to your diet?”
He gaped so widely, it exposed his fangs.
Laughing, Sumi tsked at him. “Oh my God. So that’s what stark terror looks like on that gorgeous face. Who knew?” She winked at him. “Relax, sweetie. I was joking. Just wanted to check your wounds. See if you pulled the stitches out.”
“Oh.” He finally relaxed as he flipped her rifle up to hold it over his shoulder. “Only a few.”
“What?” he asked in an equally irritated tone. “If you’d cauterized it, I wouldn’t have done it.”
Oh yeah, this was so her fault. “I was trying to save you the pain of a burn wound.”
“Pain is pain. Does it really matter if it’s from a burn or a stitch?”
He had a point, but she didn’t want to admit it. “How are you feeling?”
She arched a brow at the unexpected answer. “Killing humans makes you hungry?”
“Killing, breathing, bathing, basically everything makes me hungry. Syn swears I’m still in my growing phase.”
Sumi snorted. One day, she really wanted to meet this Syn. “It’s good to have Your Snarky Highness back. I’ve missed you.”
When she started away, he gently caught her arm and held her by his side. Unsure of what he needed, she stared up into those haunting, eerie eyes. He looked as if he wanted to say something to her. Instead, he bit his lip then placed his cheek against hers in the tenderest of gestures.
Hauk closed his eyes and savored the warmth of her skin on his and the scent of her hair as he fought the craving inside to kiss her. It was absolutely searing.
More than that, he wanted to bury himself deep inside her body. To have her do exactly what she’d teased. To ride him until he begged her for mercy.
Stand down, soldier. You belong to another.
Yeah, but Dariana didn’t want him. Not for anything other than target practice.
Grinding his teeth, he forced himself to step back. But as he did so, he made the mistake of looking at Sumi. The hunger in her eyes matched his own. More than that, it stoked the heat in his body to a frightening level.
He could already taste it.
Don’t! Dariana waits for you.
But it wasn’t Dariana he wanted. She had been Keris’s love, never his. And in this moment, he totally understood why Keris had been willing to slit the throat of any male who glanced at her. Why Fain had denied them all to be with Omira.
He felt the same way for Sumi. A fierce protectiveness to keep her safe from all others.
The memory of the concern on her face when she’d found him pinned down and the way she’d handled herself in the fight…
He would kill to have the honor of lying inside her.
But he knew better than to let such thoughts tempt him. That path led him straight to death.
Sumi held her breath as she waited for Dancer to deliver the heated kiss his eyes promised her. Never once in her life had she felt this kind of craving for any male. All she wanted was to bury her hands in his braids and straddle him until neither of them could walk without limping.
Instead, he blinked twice then went to review their attackers. That aggravated her enough that she actually kicked the assassin’s body at her feet.
Damn, stupid Andarion customs! It was so unfair that she didn’t dare encroach on a male it was obvious Dariana had no intention of accepting. Ever. She didn’t believe for one second that the bitch would make good her promise to take him.