Sierra placed both hands on her hips with her chin thrust forward and her arched nose tilted up in defiance. “Put the damn clothes on,” she commanded.
“Don’t know, I’m feeling a bit overheated,” he said, fanning himself. “Delicate constitution and all.” Her hands balled into fists, the annoyance fueling his enjoyment. She brimmed with unspent tension begging to be released, and he’d be the first to admit he wouldn’t mind tangling with the exquisite woman. Distractions were his specialty, and with the troubles brewing in his sector, he needed one more than ever.
Sierra unleashed a sigh, even though those dark, glittering eyes darted his way more than a couple of times. “Fine. If you’re going to be a stubborn ass, then we can have this conversation now.”
Damn. He’d meant to tease her, but she was obstinate enough to play his power games right back. Looked like he’d be doing this meeting naked. Dax forced a grin and dropped his clothes into a messy pile on the floor. Sierra’s nose scrunched in irritation, but she wandered over to one of the three cherrywood chairs with starched mauve fabric over the cushions and sat.
“Care to join me?” she asked, gesturing to one of the other chairs. The scratchy fabric would be a joy for his bare ass. Her eyes twinkled with amusement, and he debated the merits of holding on to his previous statement. Pride won out in the end.
“I like to lean,” he responded, walking to the nearby wall and finding a perch against the plaster. “So what matter was so private we couldn’t discuss it back in the bar?” he asked, curious of her angle. He hadn’t ruled out premeditated murder—out here was a perfect place to dispose of his body after she sliced his throat open.
She lifted a brow. “Why don’t you tell me? I’ve been hearing rumblings about the Silver Springs pack. In the Red Rocks’ past dealings with the old alpha you lot were proud as hell of your space. You wouldn’t go slinking to try to claim ours unless you had a problem.”
Dax crossed his arms, the cool white wall pressed against his skin, still sticky from the run. He’d been right to come here—Sierra Kanoska lived up to her reputation for being whip smart and tough. Hell, he’d rehearsed this pitch a thousand times in his head on his way to Beaver Tavern, but after meeting her, he knew no used-car-salesman tactics would work. He also couldn’t charm her into acquiescence, evident due to her iron control while he participated in this meeting without a stitch on.
He fixed his gaze on her as the gravity of the situation gripped him by the throat. No more escaping, not now. The old anger snapped through him like a struck match as he let out a harsh breath.
“My pack and I are searching for new territory because of an internal conflict,” he said. Even admitting their position out loud sliced into his heart like a shard. “My father passed a couple of months back, which left the alpha spot vacant.”
Sierra’s brows scrunched together as she hunched forward, giving her full attention. “Sorry about your pops.”
Dax shrugged. The bitter thump in his chest served as a clear reminder of his convoluted relationship with his father. They’d never had the camaraderie his older brother and his father shared. If anything, his father had considered him a fuck-up his entire life. Too bad for them he refused to sit around and watch their pack continue his father’s bullying tactics, the ones that had cost Silver Springs their reputation years ago.
“Nothing to be sorry about,” he responded, wishing the scab didn’t reopen every time someone mentioned the man. Granted, his father had placed the pack in this predicament in the first place. “Turns out my father didn’t want me as alpha, and he’d even stated as such in his last will and testament. I’m assuming that’s why the alpha challenge went the way it did. My brother and I faced off, and I’d had a clear advantage. But before I could put an end to the fight, the older folks in the pack interfered, driving me from the land.”
“That’s underhanded,” Sierra spat. Her gaze flashed amber, her wolf surfacing. His teeth sharpened in response, the rage as fresh as it had burned mere months before. Her sympathy came as a surprise—based on the anger she’d greeted him with from the get-go, he hadn’t expected any compassion. Yet maybe more than anyone she’d understand the burden of an alpha, the pride that came along with the title, and the fierce protectiveness he felt for his packmates.
He forced a bitter smile. “I thought so. My brother took ruthless advantage, claiming leadership over a pack he never rightfully won, which split us in two. The older folks aligned with him, but the rest of the pack broke off and followed me. We’ve just been fighting over land and leadership ever since. Those who defected with me are barred from our pack cabin, from the campgrounds belonging to Silver Springs, but they don’t have enough force to oust us from our homes yet. I honestly couldn’t tell you if my father’s wishes stand up for a second in our kind’s law—it’s not like Drew won the alpha fight the way shifters are supposed to.”
Sierra tilted her head to the side. “My earlier question remains. What brings you to our neck of the woods?”
Dax rolled his shoulders back. His skin prickled at all this admission, the whole affair making him feel more vulnerable than a cub. He hated it. “We need help. You want to talk reputations? You’ve earned one in this region for being smarter than most, and right now brawn isn’t what’s going to win our land back. Smarts might.”
“You’ve got a strange way of asking for help.” Her voice came out dry.
“I don’t want this territory, but I won’t leave my pack without a home.” Fierceness pulsed under the surface, the protectiveness he felt for each individual in his pack—for the misguided, wonderful lot who placed their faith in a fuck-up like him. “This land is the closest to the region my brother now holds hostage. If I can’t find a way to undo the damage my father caused and unite our packs, we’ll have no choice but to carve out our section of this region.”
A growl came from Sierra’s throat, as feral as her wolf.
CONTROL. DON’T LUNGE at the cocky bastard to rip his throat out.
Sierra sucked in a deep breath to compose herself even though her wolf bucked forward, ready to tear into Dax, a man so stubborn he had done this entire exchange nude. Her pack thought she took top of the list on pride and stubbornness, but she had apparently met her match.
“Let me get this straight,” she said, her voice coming out low and menacing. “You’re telling me I either help you, or you attack me? That’s not much of a sales pitch, sweetheart.”
Dax shifted from where he stood, over six feet of tanned, delicious muscle that would make most women moan. Her irritation warred with a pulse of attraction she’d never admit aloud, and one that baffled her. She had her pick of the pack and plenty of strong, capable men to choose from, but despite scrapping with the boys and the occasional hookup, this magnetism hadn’t descended in a long, long time. And she avoided that territory at all costs. Despite her best intentions, she couldn’t help sneaking a glance his way.
An obnoxious smile reached his lips again as he fixed those cerulean eyes on her. “Who said I was finished?” He ran a hand through his dark ash strands, long enough to tug. “You don’t think I’d be stupid enough to tramp down here and simply declare war, do you?”
Sierra lifted a brow.
A low laugh rumbled from him. “Fair enough.”
“Then what’s your proposal?” she asked.
“I’m coming to you and asking for an alliance,” Dax responded, the shift of his hips drawing her eyes to traceable abs and a faint trail of dark hair directing her gaze down. “If you help me reunite my pack, we’ll be a formidable force, one that will be indebted to you for life. Any threat coming into the region, any challenge to your authority, and I’ll have your back.”
Sierra pursed her lips, mulling over the offer. She preferred alliances with other wolves over cats, but she also couldn’t handpick neighbors. Dax might be irritating as get all, but he’d been truthful with her so far and had tried to claim his leadership by honest means. Based on what she knew of Dax’s father’s history and his brother’s reputation of being an aggressive asshole, taking a risk on Dax might be worth it, if he wanted to run the pack differently.
“How do I know your word is good?” she asked, curious as to what his answer might be. So far Dax Williams had been an enigma, a meld of confidence mixed with vulnerability, and a fighting spirit tempered by humility. After governing over a pack for as long as she had, she could navigate charged situations in her sleep. Still, she hadn’t expected a straight answer from him, not after the way he’d goaded her earlier.
“I’ll send one of my pack to live with you,” he responded. “Even if it’s in rotation, you’ll have a Silver Springs pack member at your camp to utilize however you see fit.” Those shrewd eyes met hers. “I trust you to be honorable in your usage.” He leaned down to snag the clothes from the floor before slinking into the sweats and shirt she’d provided.
Too bad. The man painted a pretty picture, one she didn’t mind viewing. She’d gotten an eyeful of how endowed he was, and the sight didn’t help the adrenaline pulsing through her veins or the growing ache inside her. Maybe she would run some drills with Finn; she needed to blow some of this charged energy before it muddled her head.
“Do you happen to have a copy of your father’s will? We’ll need that and to take a trip to scope out the area.” She rested her elbows on her knees, hunching forward. His pack’s attack on him didn’t stack up, but if they got the local shifter enforcers involve—or worse, the major power on this side of the country, the East Coast Tribe—all sorts of complications would arise. His brows furrowed in confusion, and a slow smile rose to her lips as their eyes met. Clarity descended in those too-pretty blues of his as he nodded, extending his palm to shake.
“Pleasure doing business with you, Kanoska,” he said as she clapped her hand to his. Heat from his palm pressed against hers, and the husky tone of his voice didn’t help as electricity rolled through her in one quick sweep. Hell on earth, she needed a swig of Jack, to sling a couple of punches, or a tumble in the sheets with a packmate—and fast—if she reacted this way after a mere touch from the kitty-cat alpha.
“Glad you saw fit to join me in civility,” she said with a smirk, giving him a once-over. His gaze glittered as he leaned over the coffee table and grabbed one of the notepads and pens splayed across the surface to scribble on the lined paper. He made his way to the exit, several strides of his powerful legs taking him across the linoleum, past the kitchen and the closed doors. Pausing by the doorframe, Dax tapped the side with his fingertips before turning to her.
“Give me a call. We can meet up tomorrow morning,” he said, tilting his head in the direction of the number he’d left. “Or sooner if you feel like getting uncivilized.” He winked as he slipped out of the cabin, disappearing before the notepad smacked against the wall.