Arlin watched Ruth through the window of the café. She was studying the menu as carefully as if she’d be taking an exam on the contents at the end of the day. He suspected she did everything as intensely, important or not.
She wasn’t his type really.
Ruth was attractive in an ice queen way, looking remote and cool with her ash blonde hair braided back from her face. He didn’t go for ice queens. He liked women to be warmer. More emotional. Prettier. Younger.
More like Tala.
There was no reason for the memory of Ruth to linger in his mind. He’d been fascinated when she’d first smiled at the sight of him—as if she was stunned to remember what it was like to smile but had to do it. There had been something there when they started to talk.
But it died down before they’d finished the first cup of coffee. By then she’d tried to put distance between them, reminded him she was the doctor who was taking care of the patient he’d brought in. She hadn’t said he was too young, not out loud, but he could tell.
She was too much work. He was not
He watched the tip of her tongue peek out as she pushed her glasses up and focused on the menu. His fists tightened. So did his cock.
He should find some other way to deal with the situation if his little head insisted on taking an interest in her. But his feet were already headed inside and she looked up from the menu as the door opened. He shoved his sunglasses up and she smiled as she met his eyes. The smile was uncertain, a faint reflection of the warmth she’d shown once, when they’d first met.
“I know that’s on my business card but Kinkaid is my middle name.”
“Oh! Ah… Arlin.” He perversely enjoyed the slight hesitation as she forced herself to say his first name. He figured she’d love to keep things formal if she could. “How are you?”
Her mouth dropped open as he sat down. “What did you say?”
Not what he’d meant to. Why the hell did he do this around her? But Jesus, now that she was close she smelled just the way he’d tried to forget. Spicy. A little aroused already. Tempting. Her steely outside and that tantalizing inner warmth didn’t match up. He picked up the menu. “Well, aren’t you hungry? Going to have the tarragon chicken salad?”
. She must have misheard. Maybe she was putting her own thoughts into his mouth.
It just wasn’t fair, feeling that sudden jolt of interest the minute he walked into the room. He was just a pretty boy. Boy
being the operative word here. Even if she had been looking for someone that young, he was involved with someone else. It didn’t matter if Tala, the “someone else,” was married and related to him. She’d seen the looks on the male faces when Tala was near. And when Tala left, she’d taken all her men—including Arlin—with her. Arlin hadn’t contacted Ruth since.
. He’d called and said she had to meet him without saying why.
What did that mean?
For just a moment, back when they’d first met, she thought Arlin had been—that there had been something
. She didn’t even know what to call it, it had been so long since she’d felt anything at all. It was safer to not feel, not hope, not be hurt.
It was better not to feel this prickling awareness that a particular, too-special man was in the same room with you and that just having him near was making everything around you brighter, sharper, more intense.
She yanked her mind back to the conversation.
“Y-yes. How did you know that’s what I’ll get?”
“You asked for the tarragon chicken last time. I get the feeling you like to stick with what you know.” He smiled over at the waitress who immediately walked toward the table as if she’d just been waiting for Arlin to acknowledge her.
“Order?” The waitress stared at him.
“Hamburger. Rare as you’re allowed to cook it.”
The waitress scribbled down the order. “New here, aren’t you?” She winked at him.
“Tuna salad for me.” Ruth’s eyes narrowed first at the waitress and then at Arlin. There. She didn’t always stick to the same thing. “Thanks so much for asking.”
Of course she wasn’t the only one who noticed Arlin. Just she, and Tala, and the waitress, and probably every other woman with eyesight was interested.
Arlin handed the waitress the menu and then propped his chin up so he could look directly at her. “How are you
“Busy as usual.”
“Save any of my kind lately?” Not everyone knew about weres. As far as she knew she was the only one. The only non-were, anyhow.
“You sound so matter-of-fact about that.”
“It’s just my life, Ruth. I’m used to it. But I guess you still haven’t quite adjusted to what it meant to have saved Dunne.”
“I guess I haven’t. That was a once-in-a-lifetime experience, I think.”
He let his hand rest close to hers. She glanced at their hands and then away, willing the jumpy excitement to leave. “We’re all still grateful to you, you know. We haven’t forgotten.”
He could feel something hot and strong under the surface of her iced calm. Something, maybe the same something, boiled inside him. But whatever it was that Ruth felt or was, it was under a tight leash. So he reined himself back. Down, boy. No fresh meat today.
Arlin kept going with what he’d originally meant to say. “But apparently someone else has figured out you’re involved with us. We noticed some interesting activities on computer sites that hold information about you. Hunt was watching for that.”
You didn’t become Alpha of a pack by being stupid. Hunt watched for everything.
“What kind of information? I don’t have information on computer sites.” Ruth looked startled and indignant, her pale cheeks turning a little red with her upset.
“Nothing illicit, sweetheart. But everyone has information tucked away on the Internet. Things like bank account numbers. Licenses. Voter registrations. Home addresses.” Arlin took the plates from the waitress and put Ruth’s lunch down in front of her. “And yes, of course, they’re supposed to be private.”
“Apparently people can waltz in and out of my so-called private information at will. You and Mr. Winters among them.”
“But you forget that Hunt Winters and I aren’t people, Ruth. Weres are special.” He watched the flush get hotter on her face. “I’m done teasing you. Truthfully, this is a concern for us. For you.”
“Why are you concerned?” She took a bite of her salad.
“Because we intend to protect you the way we promised. And because Hunt knows who is checking on you. He’s trouble.”
For a moment she looked faintly ill, but her response was as feisty as before. “Who is this he? Can’t the police deal with him?”
“He’s were. We deal with our own.”
Ruth put down her fork. “I’m not were. Yet you seem to think I have to play by your rules.”
“You got involved in pack business when you took care of Dunne. We owe you, but that doesn’t mean you call the shots. We’ll take care of you in our own way.” Arlin leaned forward. “It’s really for the best, Ruth. Can you believe that?”
“You want me to take you all on faith. I don’t do that much.” Ruth took another bite of the food and made a face.
“Or you can try to handle this by yourself. I know that’s probably what you prefer, but I don’t recommend it. There are others out there who are watching. Other weres who aren’t obliged to you. The one thing you can’t do is ignore what’s happening now.”
Ruth swallowed hard. He knew she wanted to question him. He tried to show her how very serious he was as he leaned even closer, continuing to speak in his harshest tone. What he didn’t want to show was the urgency bubbling in him. Not yet. But he suddenly realized he was desperate to make her understand. To accept. “Weres are not…nice. Whatever happens won’t be as tidy as you’d like.”
Ruth stared down at the plate. He wished she’d look at him. He wished he could figure out what was clicking away in that head.
He wished she’d give in and trust him to keep her safe.
He picked up his hamburger, still watching her. Most of all, he wished he knew he truly could keep her safe. When he’d agreed to this errand, he hadn’t realized how important it could become.
“All right. I agree as long as we’re clear on things.” She pushed the plate away. Her lips twitched. “For starters, I loathe the tuna salad.”
Arlin began to laugh.
She stopped looking amused. “It’s not that funny. I can’t even change what I eat for lunch, and I suspect you’re going to demand a lot of concessions from me. I’m not sure I’m going to be helpful for this, Arlin, especially since you keep pushing me to do things I don’t do.”
“Don’t fight me. We’ll only waste time if you do.”
They stared at each other. Her cool gray eyes seemed to measure everything about him. He hoped she couldn’t see deep inside him. The longer they sat near each other, the more he knew there were all kinds of things he wanted to make her do. If she knew what they all were, she’d probably run. Hell, she should
She shivered. Head bent down, she stared at the table. “I’ll try.”
Did she know wolves stared down when they submitted to an Alpha? Arlin gripped the table. What the hell was it about her that made him want to show her what submission to an Alpha would be like?
“Do you have someone who can take on your patients for emergencies?” Arlin kept any emotion from showing.
“What?” She looked back up, face flushed with anger again. “Of course I could but why should—”
“I doubt you’ve ever heard of them, but the Hollin pack seems to be looking at you. We figure they’re trying to use you to get at Hunt and his pack. You need to tell your associates it’s an emergency because you need to get away from the clinic and your home before they get to you. They know where you are by now.”
She stared at him. Arlin decided lunchtime small talk was over. He threw money on the table and stood. Wordless, she let him pull her to her feet and head them toward the door.
Somewhere on the way there she got her voice back. “I have to get back to the clinic today at least. It’s important. I shouldn’t even really have taken time for lunch with you.”
The muscles in his jaw loosened just a little. He’d been afraid she’d absolutely refuse.
“All right. But don’t drag things out.”
He let her grumble without bothering to listen or respond. He wasn’t going to react to her. He just had to get her away, fast, before she had too much time to think. She thought way too much.
When they got outside, she flinched, and he stopped dead.
“The sun is so bright. It was overcast before so I left my sunglasses and hat in my car.”
He looked down at her, really looking at her face…the lips set firmly against each other, the hand shielding her from the sun, and from him.
“You’re so pale. What are you doing in the Nevada desert, Ruth?” Without realizing what he was doing at first, he traced her lips with his thumb, willing them to relax and part.
Her startled flinch made him stop, reach for his own sunglasses and jam them on her face. Jesus God, she was trembling. Just a little, so little that he hadn’t noticed until he touched her.
Why was she shaking? And why the hell did that make him want to jump her and protect her all at the same time?
“I-I came here for the wolves.” She cleared her throat. “I mean my university program. Part of it was studying wolves in their natural habitat.”
“I guess you’re going to meet some more soon. Finish up work as soon as you can. I’ll contact you tonight.” Arlin looked up at the sky. “Damn. The clouds are back. Looks like rain this time.”