e was inside her, and he'd never felt the distance between them so keenly.
Tomas lay on his side, twined around his wife. He pulled her leg tighter over his hip, driving his cock deeper within her. She gasped, her nails digging in where they gripped his shoulder.
The slickness of her sheath squeezed his dick, and he couldn't keep the snarl from ripping past his throat. He felt the Panther within him grapple for control of the carnal encounter. His fangs slid down to scrape his lower lip, and his heart pounded so loudly it drowned out every other sound in their bedroom.
Every inch of them was pressed together. There was a hairbreadth of space between their faces; he could see the individual lashes surrounding her exotically tilted eyes. But those eyes were closed, the dark wings of her brows drawn together in concentration.
“Ciri, look at me.” When she didn't obey him, he sank his cock deep and stopped moving.
She hissed a protest, her lashes fluttering open. Her irises shimmered between Panther gold and their natural dark shade. Her nails turned to talons on his shoulder, scoring his flesh. “Keep going!”
Their gazes met, locked, and there was a single moment of the connection he used to feel every time they touched. Leaning forward, he kissed her. He wanted it to be sweet, to show how much she meant to him, to let her know she owned his soul and always would.
The slice of her claws intensified, the pain ratcheting up his pleasure. She bit his lip hard, then thrust her tongue into his mouth. The wildness in her, the Panther, called to his own feral nature. She pushed her heel against the back of his thigh, urging him to move. He couldn't refuse her.
Grinding his pelvis against her clit made her moan into his mouth. Her wetness increased, the tight slickness of her pussy gripping his cock. He withdrew until he almost slid out of her, then shoved back in, arching his back to power deep into her sex.
She ripped her mouth away from his, throwing back her head to scream. The sound was both woman and Panther at the same time. He worked himself inside her, loving the feel of her, the noises she made, the way they fit together.
He wanted to kiss her again, but she bit her lip, and he couldn't give her as much as he wanted. As usual. His heart clenched at the reminder of how out of sync they were everywhere except the bedroom. He stuffed the thought away and focused on what was good. This. Right here, right now.
Arching her over his arm, he bent forward to suck her nipple into his mouth. When he let it pop free, it glistened with moisture, the color a dark rose. He flicked it with his tongue, nipped it with his fangs. She twisted in his embrace, crying out. He held her close, held her in place as he transferred his attention to her other nipple.
She whimpered, bending her back farther to offer herself up to him. “More, Tomas.
The Japanese word for
rolled off her tongue in a breathless rush. It underscored the differences between them. They both spoke Spanish and English, as all Panthers did, but he was from the South American Panther Pride in Brazil, so he also spoke the local Portuguese, whereas she was born in the Asian Pride in Tokyo. There was only one Pride to rule the shifters on each continent, which left both of them a world away from home, here in North America. Neither of them was handling it well.
If only that was the worst of their problems.
Her inner muscles clenched on his cock, milking him, and his thoughts dissolved into lustful cravings. Sweat gathered on his forehead and slid in rivulets down his face. His lungs heaved as his strokes picked up speed and force.
Running his hand down her back, he gripped her ass tight. Burying his face in her neck, he drank in the scent of her. This was the only time he could, the only real closeness they shared anymore. His instincts roared as they always did with her. Mate. The perfect match for him, the only woman who would ever be able to breed with him. He groaned, his fangs extending. God, he wanted her, he always wanted her.
His heart hammered in his chest, base animalistic need warring with the man's control. It took everything in him to hold back, to keep from coming. He wanted her with him. Even if nothing else between them worked, he wanted this to be perfect. He eased his hand inward to part her buttocks. She shivered, her breath catching when he teased her anus. “Do you like this, Ciri?”
“Yes,” she gasped. Pushing her hips back, she opened herself to his penetration.
Pressing the tip of one finger to the pucker of her ass, he worked the digit in. At the same time, he kept up a steady rhythm inside her, fucking her deep. When he slid his finger in and out of her anus, he could feel the movement through the thin wall of flesh that separated the two channels.
She closed her eyes, turning her face to bury it in the pillow as she sobbed for breath. Her hips surged frantically between his hand and his cock, her tight nipples rubbing against his chest. He could feel how close he was to orgasm, how it sank its claws in and dragged him toward that inevitable edge. He couldn't fight it any longer. He thrust hard, harder, his hands and hips working her body as fast as they could. The slickness, the friction, it was intense enough to drive him to his knees.
She snarled, her fangs baring as she came. He felt the hot clench of her pussy around his dick. Her eyes flared wide and her irises burned to Panther gold. For a moment, he could see into her soul the way he used to. The passion, the love, was there. But her body gripped his, her voice rising to an urgent scream. “Yes, yes, oh,
That was all he needed, the last slender tether he had on his restraint tearing away. He sank to the hilt, felt the deep contractions of her sheath pulse around him, and he exploded. His body shook with the force of his orgasm, shudders ripping through him as his come jetted inside her.
Every bit of tension leeched from his body, and for the first time in a long time, he felt . . . relaxed. At peace. He sighed as his cock slid from her, their combined moisture still drying on their skin. He loved his scent all over her, loved her scent on him.
Unhooking her leg from over his hip, she pulled back. When she rolled away from him, the gesture gutted him. He had to wonder if that flash of love he'd seen was a figment of his imagination. They'd once lain together after sex, touching and kissing. Her arms around him, her fingers caressing him, a soft smile on her face that was just for him. Where had that tenderness gone? He stared at her slim back and had no idea how to reach her. Everything had once been so easy, and now he could feel her withdrawing by the day.
Rolling onto his back, he threw his arm across his eyes. He was so fucking tired, he couldn't see straight. Working his ass off didn't seem to be getting him any further ahead, but he didn't know what else to do. Letting his family down wasn't an option. His grandfather had instilled too deep a respect for family honor and too solid a work ethic in him for that.
If anything, his father was even more of a workhorse. It had been six months since his
had died and elevated his father to Pride leader. Which made Tomas the heir to the South American Panther Pride.
His stomach roiled at the thought. Everything had changed so damn fast, his head was still spinning half a year later. He'd been sent to tour the Prides after he'd turned thirty, which was the custom of Panthers. Since he hadn't found his mate in his own Pride, he went to see if there was a match for him in one of the other Prides. It had been fun to socialize and flirt with all the single women, but he'd also been there to represent his Pride to the other leading families. His grandfather had been counting on him to make a good impression, and Tomas would have bent over backward if it would have pleased that old man. He'd meant the world to him, a steady guiding force that juxtaposed so sharply with the strictness of his father.
As Tomas lowered his arm to look at Ciri, the lovely slope of her back, her golden skin, he remembered how everything else had ceased to matter the moment he'd met her. She had been
, every instinct inside him demanding that he claim his mate. It had been right, perfect, and they'd married as soon as humanly possible. The quiet tranquility of her personality had drawn him like a magnet, such a contrast to his high-energy, high-stress lifestyle. Being with her had centered him, grounded him in a way he'd never really felt before. He'd been excited with the prospect of introducing her to his family and Pride.
But his plans had gone awry before they'd even left Japan. Instead of a leisurely honeymoon to cement their bond, they'd been called back because of his grandfather's unexpected passing. Within days of that, his cousin Miguel had mated into the leading family of North America, and that had come with an offer to have Tomas serve as Second in command here in San Francisco. The show of support from another Pride was the best way to solidify his father's position as the new leader in Brazil.
Tomas and Ciri had been bounced from one continent to the next, with no regard for what they might need. The Pride came first. It always had, it always would. It was the one thing his conservative father and progressive grandfather had unequivocally agreed on. But his father was so concerned with Tomas doing a good job as Second, they had a daily phone call for a progress report. It was difficult to handle. He was thirty and still felt like an untried youth. He chafed under his father's constraint, but he also recognized that he had no experience in this area and his father did. In the end, it was his father who would have to deal with the possibly bloody consequences if Tomas failed. He had to earn his place as heir and prove that he was good enough to succeed his father.
He could do that. He
And none of those affirmations told him how to keep a grip on his marriage. He was trained as a politician, not as a husband. There, he was failing, and he didn't know how to prove himself. The violent, turbulent arena of Panther politics was often less daunting than dealing with his wife. Tomas felt himself pulled in too many different directions and he didn't know how to give everyone what they needed. Hell, there were days when he didn't even know
he was anymore. The heir, the husband . . . both were things he had no idea how to be, both had expectations he didn't know how to live up to.
Both were roles he didn't want to fail in, but he was barely keeping his head above water. He tried to do his best, tried to hide how fucking lost he was, but in the end, some part of him knew he was drowning.
There was no way he was sleeping now. His mind churned with disquiet, his belly coated with cold dread. Shoving to his feet, he grabbed a pair of pants out of the dresser and pulled them on.
“You're leaving?” Ciri's soft voice reached him in the dark, but she didn't turn to look at him. There was no inflection to her words, nothing to tell him if she even wanted him to stay.
“I was going to do some paperwork in the sitting room.” Once, he would have asked her to join him. When they'd first arrived, there'd been many late nights where they'd sat together on the couch, shoulders brushing and thighs touching as they worked on their laptops. More often than not, those sessions had ended in lovemaking.
God, those had been the best moments of his life. Just
How had something so perfect crumbled so fast?
God, she hated these things. It was a daily ritual of awkwardness that bordered on painful.
Pulling in a slow, calming breath, Ciri straightened her shoulders and smoothed her simple sheath dress before she strode down the grand staircase. Her fingers trailed along the polished banister, and she admired the lovely curve of wood and the exquisitely appointed foyer. The gritty elegance of the antique furnishings was nothing like what would be found in Japan, but the artist in her couldn't help but appreciate the aesthetics of the Pride's den.
Unfortunately, that was where her enjoyment of this place ended.
As she worked her way through the mansion, she passed Panthers in human and cat form, stretched out on the furniture, each watching her as she went by, staring in the way only cats could. Looking for weak points to exploit. She was the outsider here, and she had to restrain the predator inside her from baring her fangs in challenge. Controlling the Panther was something she'd been trained to do since she'd gained the ability to shift during the rush of hormones at puberty.
She sighed and tried not to let her shoulders droop. Showing weakness in front of any Pride was a dangerous gamble, especially the leading family. Her mate would feel the need to overcompensate for her, and he worked too much and too hard as it was. So much so that she spent more time alone now than she had when she was single.
Swallowing hard, she masked the hurt of that, the loneliness that ate at her soul. Some days she felt hollowed out from it. In the beginning, he'd made time for her, talking to her, asking for her opinions. They'd had quiet moments that were just for them. But in order to finish everything he needed to do in a day, more and more of his time had been eaten away by his duties. Which left her with no one to rely on.