Home > Wolf Rain (Psy-Changeling Trinity #3)(13)

Wolf Rain (Psy-Changeling Trinity #3)(13)
Author: Nalini Singh

—From the “Scary but Sexy” column in the January 2083 issue of Wild Woman magazine: “Skin Privileges, Style & Primal Sophistication”

MEMORY WOKE TO gritty eyes, a body that ached, and a visceral awareness of not being alone. Her pulse spiked, her skin chilling as her mouth went dry. She hated it when Renault found her asleep and vulnerable.

Slitting her eyes open just enough to see, she—

Her eyelids flew all the way up.

A big male body, all golden skin and muscle, was stretched out on the floor not far from her bed. Why, she thought, coming fully awake, was Alexei half-naked on the floor? Her eyes snagged on what appeared to be a small tattoo on the back of his left shoulder, but she couldn’t make out the pattern from this distance.

Then he pushed up on his arms, the line of his body a thing of precision and beauty, and his arm muscles rigid. He held the position for what felt like an excruciating eternity to her, then went back down.

Not making a sound, loath to interrupt him, she watched the fluid movements in breathless fascination. He was only wearing a pair of sweats that hung low on his hips, so she had an uninterrupted view of his upper body.

Her stomach felt funny, her toes curling.

An amber gaze met hers when he rose to his feet after ten more repetitions of the smooth, powerful movement. Wild energy hummed in the air, a prowling kind of patience. “Pack got in touch,” he said in a voice she couldn’t read. “According to allies we asked to do a surveillance check, Erasmus David Renault never came home last night, and there’s no sign of him at his place of business.”

Memory wasn’t surprised; Renault hadn’t escaped detection this long by being unprepared. “He’s rich, has a lot of property.”

“Techs managed to turn one of our satellites in the direction of the bunker,” Alexei added. “No movement around it, no sign of an incursion.”

Memory didn’t flinch. She sat up instead. “He’d have teleported in to confirm my escape.” Bile burned her throat as she spoke the next words. “He considers me his property and he wants me back.”

Alexei’s claws sliced out.

Leaning forward to grip the edge of the upper bunk, his big body far too close and the heat of him nearly a touch, he said, “Yeah? Well, I consider him prey.” His voice was hard and human, but the eyes that met Memory’s were a striking mix of amber and gray.

When he reached down one clawed hand to touch the side of her face, she didn’t jerk back. The deadly tips grazed her skin, but instead of a spike of fear, she felt that strange fluttering in her abdomen, her breath catching. He was so close she could smell the wild warmth of his scent, catch a hint of the perspiration that had dampened the hair at his temples.

Her fingers tingled, wanting to touch his skin, feel the power of all that muscle. Gripping the mattress of her bunk to still the strange urge, she held his stare until his gaze was all amber and his chest rumbled. Memory knew that, to a wolf, aggressive eye contact was a challenge, but she didn’t care.

Never again would she back down from anyone.

He snapped his teeth at her.

It made her jump in surprise. Eyes narrowed in sheer annoyance, she bared her own teeth at him. And, since he was looming over her, she lifted her hands and pushed forcefully at his hips. Her fingers brushed warm, hard abdominal muscles, her palms braced against the cloth of his sweatpants. The raw power of him hummed through her.

Alexei’s eyes gleamed.

Though she was fully conscious that she didn’t have the strength to make him move, he stepped back after grabbing the towel and fresh clothes he’d left on the upper bunk. Her heart thundered as he walked out, her skin prickling, but not in the way it usually did. The pain that was her constant companion had retreated for the moment.

The first thing she did was go to the front door and make sure her palm print still opened it. She didn’t breathe until the lock clicked open. Pulling the door inward a fraction, she looked out into the hazy gray of early morning, the rain a light mist today, and just basked in freedom.

It was a bone-deep pleasure to know she could walk out at will. Because she could, she closed the door after a couple of minutes. The cold was seeping in, and she didn’t want Alexei to walk out of his shower into an icy hallway.

Not that he appeared to feel the cold. He’d been bad-tempered yesterday when she’d hesitated at the doorway to this place, but he hadn’t shivered once.

Wolf.

Poking around the bedroom while imagining him shifting form, she managed to find a drawer full of simple grooming supplies, and took a couple of stretchy hair bands. The small mirror on the back of the door showed her a woman with a thin face surrounded by hair that was a huge, fluffy mess.

It took some work, but she managed to corral her frizzy curls back in two sections.

That done, she padded her way down to the kitchen area and started the coffee. It wasn’t the first time she’d done the task; the roots of her knowledge of such things lay in the worst darkness of her past. She’d come close to going mad after Renault first abducted her. Hours and hours she’d sat rocking back and forth, back and forth, while the visual of her mother’s final moments played against the wall of her mind. She couldn’t forget how Diana Aven-Rose’s body had spasmed, her hand thumping on the carpet, and her face going a bruised purplish shade under the ebony of her skin.

Renault had hit Memory to snap her out of it.

Her fingers lifted to her cheek, the burn of the backhanded slap a remembrance she carried vengefully close. It was nothing in comparison to what he’d done to her kind and gentle mother, but that slap had changed her forever. The blow had been so strong it had crashed her to the floor, blood trickling into her mouth from her split lip.

When she’d opened her eyes, she’d seen the polished tips of his shoes in her line of sight, realized she was scrabbling at the monster’s feet. Rage, such rage, had overwhelmed her, what training she’d had under the Silence Protocol in splinters by that point. She hadn’t understood the emotion then, but it had made her strike out at him without warning.

It was the only time in her life she’d managed to take Renault down. He hadn’t been expecting the sudden assault from a small girl he considered broken. She’d slammed her body into his legs, brought him crashing down to the floor. If he hadn’t been a Tk with the attendant rapid-fire reflexes, his head might’ve hit the edge of a coffee table in the isolated cabin where he’d first stashed her, and his skull would’ve cracked open.

As it was, he’d twisted in time to avoid the injury.

When he rose, he’d brushed off his clothing and said, “It seems you need to learn your place. I’ll see you in four days.”

She’d been eight years old and alone in a cabin in the middle of nowhere. A cabin with bars on the windows and a door barred from the outside. Her nails had been bloody and broken and she’d had bruises all over her body from her attempts to break out when she’d realized he’d left no nutrients for her.

That particular cruelty had been accidental. Renault needed her alive and strong, not weak and malnourished—but he was also not a parent and didn’t realize that small children had far fewer dietary reserves than adults.

The only things to eat in the entire cabin had been two cans of beans that looked to have been forgotten in a corner of a cupboard long ago. Perhaps by a former owner. She’d found the tools to hack one can open, but had balked at eating the cold lumpy beans from the can. Her mother, a high school biology teacher, had permitted her to watch educational comm shows once in a while, and on one of the shows, she’d seen people cooking. So she’d poured the beans into a dish and managed to heat them up.

By the time Renault returned, she’d eaten all the beans and decided she’d never again touch nutrients. It was a line in her mind. Nutrients had been for when her mother was alive and used to work oil into her hair while Memory ate a bar. Even at eight years old, Memory had understood that to survive, she had to live in the now and with vengeance in her heart.

Renault had finally given up force-feeding her nutrients when she’d bitten him one too many times. It didn’t matter how brutally he beat her, she refused to eat and drink what had then been accepted food items for Psy. In the end, he’d brought her more beans, slowly adding more items once he realized that food preparation kept her calm.

All the while he’d been digging in the hooks he’d put inside her mind after breaching her shields during the most traumatic moment of her life. As she grieved for her mother, lost and scared, Renault had violated her.

Memory touched her temple, dropping her hand when she realized all over again that the hooks weren’t visible, had never been visible. But they were gone now, broken by a critical lack of physical contact. To enslave her again, Renault would have to put his hands on her.

Memory intended to hunt him down first.

Jaw tight, she rummaged around until she located bread sealed in packets that kept it fresh. She had the toast going and the coffee ready by the time Alexei walked into the kitchen. His hair was damp, his body evocative of soap and a scent that struck her as deeply masculine, intrinsically Alexei. Her eyes dipped to his abdomen, the golden muscle now covered by a faded gray T-shirt, and her fingers tingled.

She’d heard about attraction, had even witnessed displays of it, but had never understood how anyone could be attracted to a man. An understandable reaction when the only man in her vicinity was a psychopath. It turned out that she was, in fact, capable of appreciating a male body when it was packaged with a non-psychopathic mind.

Even if it was a body that kept on growling at her.

Now he prowled over to the coffee and poured himself a mug. His energy filled the space to bursting. It was a thing with teeth and claws, a thing that demanded her attention. Memory ignored the primal dominance of him with teeth-gritted control. She was near certain he was doing it on purpose, to see how she’d react.

The man would probably poke a bear just because.

A growl brushed against her nape when she continued to focus on putting peanut butter on her toast. Even though her spine itched at having her back to him, she didn’t turn. “Do you want peanut butter?”

   
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