“Would you mind if I helped myself to some?”
He rose, as expected. Drunk or not, Saiman’s manners were flawless. “Allow me to escort you.”
We strolled to the appetizers. I positioned myself so I could have a better view of the floor. Saiman loitered next to me.
“Aren’t you hungry?” I asked him.
“What about replenishing your resources?”
“Ah yes! Thank you for reminding me.” He raised his empty glass and within seconds a waiter brought him a full one.
Bernard’s six, Kate zero.
I surveyed the food. Directly in front of me was a silver platter filled with tiny fried squares. Each square supported a cube of minced meat, flecked with tiny pieces of green onion, sesame seeds, and what might have been grated ginger.
“Tuna tartare,” Saiman told me. “It’s delectable.”
I picked up a square and popped it into my mouth. Saiman’s gaze snagged on my lips. A few more drinks and he might strip naked and offer to dance with me in the falling snow outside. How the hell did I get myself into these things?
“Do you like it?” he asked.
Jim walked through the door, wearing a black cloak and a scowl.
He paused in the door, surveying the crowd and radiating menace. In the gathering of Atlanta’s glittering elite, the alpha of Clan Cat stood out like a solid block of darkness. He saw me and reeled back, wide-eyed, looking like a cat who’d been unexpectedly popped on the nose—shocked and indignant at the same time.
I would never live this down.
Behind him, Daniel and Jennifer, the alpha wolf couple, strode through the door. Interesting.
Jim flashed his teeth. A young man quickly detached himself from the opposite end of the room and hurried over.
A bulky form blocked the doorway next. Mahon. The Bear of Atlanta, alpha of Clan Heavy, and the Pack’s executioner. What the hell was going on?
Jim drew the young man aside. Green rolled over his eyes. He said something. The man glanced at me. His eyes widened.
A tall, handsome man came through the door, side by side with a leaner, darker man a few years younger and pretty enough to be stunning. Robert and Thomas Lonesco, the alpha rats. More people followed, all with the liquid grace of shapeshifters.
Houston, we have a problem. “We need to leave.”
“Oh no.” Saiman’s eyes flared with a crazy light. “No, we must stay.”
Jim continued his fierce chewing-out. It was a very one-sided conversation.
A plump middle-aged woman stepped through the door next, registered me, and pursed her lips. Aunt B, the alpha of the boudas. Saiman had dragged me into a restaurant where the Pack Council apparently had dinner. Alphas from every clan were in attendance . . .
My ears caught a voice I knew very well. I couldn’t have possibly heard it all the way from across the room, but I sensed it all the same. My fingers turned ice-cold.
A familiar muscular figure walked through the door.
He turned his blond head. Gray eyes looked at me.
The floor dropped down from under my feet and I floated, disconnected, seeing only him. For a second he looked as if he’d been slapped.
He thought I’d rejected him.
Curran’s gaze shifted to Saiman. Molten gold flooded his irises, burning off all reason and turning it into rage. Shit.
Jim said something at Curran’s side, then said something else.
Curran gave no indication he heard him.
He wore khakis, a black turtleneck, and a leather jacket. For him, that was the equivalent of formal wear. He must’ve come here for some special occasion. Maybe he wouldn’t rip Saiman to pieces in public. Maybe pigs would fly.
Next to me, Saiman smiled. “We all want what we can’t have, Kate. I want you, you want love, and he wants to break my neck.”
Dear God. The fool had actually orchestrated the whole thing. I was on display for Curran’s benefit. I opened my mouth but words failed to come out.
“He can do nothing here.” Saiman sipped from his glass. “After the Red Stalker affair, the People and the Pack instituted a monthly rendezvous held here in neutral territory, to keep the lines of communication open and discuss business. Any deviation from the protocol would mean war. He can’t move a finger out of line.”
Jim was still talking, but Curran wasn’t listening. He was looking at us with that unblinking focused stare.
I finally forced my voice to work. “You brought me here to humiliate the Beast Lord? Are you out of your mind?”
An ugly grimace skewed Saiman’s features. The civilized mask slid off his face. His voice was a rough snarl.
“Would you like to know what humiliation is? Humiliation is being forced to sit quietly and mind your manners sandwiched between two brutish animals at your own venue. Humiliation is being told when to leave and when to arrive, to be confined to your quarters, and to have claws on your neck at the slightest deviation from your orders. That’s what he did to me at the Midnight Games.”
Saiman had spent the tournament sitting between Aunt B and Mahon. So that’s what this was all about. His towering arrogance couldn’t take it. He must’ve seethed for weeks, and I had played right into it. That’s why he’d drunk his weight in booze. Curran was pressurized violence and Saiman had expected a confrontation.
“Of course, you know that he wants you.” Saiman grinned, a savage bearing of teeth.
“He can hear you.” Shapeshifter hearing surpassed human, and Curran had to be straining every nerve to catch our voices.
“I want him to hear. I’m an expert at lust and he lusts after you. He’s possessive. He would’ve tried to claim you and you must’ve rejected him the way you had rejected me; otherwise you wouldn’t be available to join me here. I wanted him to see it. To drink it in. I have you and he doesn’t.”
Idiot. “Saiman, be quiet.”
Curran’s face was unreadable.
Saiman bent toward me. “Let me tell you about love. I once seduced a bride and a groom on their wedding night. I had him before the reception and her afterward. I did it solely for fun, to see if I could do it. Two people at the start of their new life together, having just promised to forsake all others. If that’s not proof of the impermanence of love, what is?”
Curran graduated to a full alpha stare. It was the primeval, merciless glare of a predator sighting his prey. It slammed my senses. I stared right back into the golden irises. Bring it. I have a lot of pent-up aggression I saved just for you.