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“Ha. You are. And it’s good for you.”
Laughing, Michelle looked across the living room to where he stood with Damon in the kitchen. He held up the tray of food and she smiled.
They joined the women, and he settled in next to her on the couch. “Dinner is in the oven.”
“I was just inviting Michelle to our weekly get-togethers. The Owen witches who live down here, that is. They’re usually at our house, so you know they’ll be well guarded by a big, badass grumpy werewolf.”
If Michelle was there, Josh would be there too.
“I don’t know how long I’ll be around. I mean, once I find Allie she’ll need me in Roseburg. I have a job there.”
Gina’s gaze cut to Josh quickly and then back. Did everyone on the planet know Michelle was his mate or what? “I get that. I hope you’ll reconsider maybe settling up here. Once you get Allie back and safe. And in the mean time, you can drive up, right?”
Michelle nodded but her happiness had ebbed a little.
His life was in Portland. But she was to be part of that life. The center of it, of course. He couldn’t protect her if she lived in Roseburg. They needed to talk in-depth about all of this stuff. There was a lot to discuss. She was under a great deal of pressure, and he didn’t want to add to that stress.
So he’d take it baby step by baby step.
Gina and Damon stayed for dinner and cake and left shortly after that. It had been a really good several hours, and Michelle seemed lighter once he’d closed his door.
“I know today’s been a long one. Yesterday and the day before too. Did you know I have a giant soaking tub? It’s a good place to relax a while.”
One corner of her mouth quirked up. “Is that an invitation?”
He moved closer, his body brushing hers. “Do you want it to be?”
She took a deep breath, her eyes closing for long moments before she opened and snagged his gaze again. “I…” She licked her lips and he bent to do the same. She exhaled, and he pulled it into his lungs, heady with desire.
“We’ve known each other a long time, Michelle. That means something to me. More than what we were back in high school. You’re my friend. You can tell me anything. I am here for you, not just for this situation, but afterward too.”
She nodded, her eyes still on his, intent. “I want you,” she murmured, and he drew even closer, their bodies touching, heat spilling between them.
“Thank God. I want you so much my hands would be shaking if I wasn’t keeping them on your hips. But I know you’re going through a lot of stuff right now. I can wait.”
“Help me forget. Just for a little while at least.”
He swallowed and had a stern inner dialogue with his wolf. The wolf wanted to rut and claim and comfort. The man knew she needed the rutting and the comforting but the claiming had to wait.
He kissed each eyelid as he did this. Across her brow, delighting in the way the furrows smoothed.
Her hands slid up his chest, leaving heat in their wake. Funny thing, given that he was the shifter and his body temperature was higher than hers. But chemistry made it that way. Clicked with his and made it uniquely theirs.
Argument settled—for the time being, his wolf waited for the chance to do things his way—Josh eased her down the hallway toward his bathroom.
She pulled her hair from the ponytail and shook it free. She’d taken her shoes off earlier, and he looked up as her hands went to her pants button.
“Don’t undress yet.” He turned on the taps after plugging the drain.
She smiled at him. “Should I go in fully dressed?”
He laughed, straightening. “No, I want to undress you myself.”
He pulled her shirt and the tank under it over her head. He kissed her shoulder as he slid the bra strap down. That’s when he saw the bloom of color on her side and paused. “What is that?”
The way she started and then was very still for long moments made him realize he’d probably growled it instead of asking. The price of dallying with a wolf, he supposed. He caressed her hip, and she relaxed a little as she turned to look down.
“Those of us who aren’t shifters have to deal with bruises on the job from time to time.” Her lips curved, amusement on her features. “I hit that ass**le pretty hard yesterday when I took him down.”
If Charlie hadn’t been in jail, Josh would have hunted him down and killed him for leaving a mark on his woman.
“I get bruises too. But they heal fast.”
He dropped to his knees before her, pressing a kiss softly over the bruised skin at her side, then on her belly, moving lower as he undid her pants, sliding them down her hips and legs, taking her socks with her.
Her toenails were painted bright pink. Her legs were toned and strong. Not long, she was pretty petite, but she was in shape. Powerful. He liked that.
He pressed his face to the front of the panties she wore. Pink, like the nails. Damn. Her fingers slid into his hair, pulling just a little. He took a breath scented with her. With her desire. It clawed at him, holding him tighter than her fingers ever could.
Deftly, he yanked the panties down, and she put a hand on his shoulder to step free. He looked up the line of her body to find her staring down at him, her lips parted, her pupils huge.
If he’d had any questions about how much she wanted him, the way she smelled, the way she looked, the heat coming off her skin all combined like a fist, guiding him to his feet to remove her bra and leave her there totally naked.