The look on her face set his teeth—like a cub that had lost its pride and saw its own death in the winds. Which, in a way, he supposed was true. She’d unbuttoned three buttons on the silky shirt she wore before she looked up and met his eyes.
His eyes widened and he turned quickly back to the closet. “Apologies.”
She gave a little huff that was laced with humor and he grinned, though he prayed she couldn’t tell. The sound of her clothing combined with the smell of her soon worked on his body—already taut with the tensions of the night, and knowing what was to come. As he pulled his kilt out of the closet and began to wrap it around his waist, he spoke more to cover the sounds of her, than because he needed to say it.
“Being my mate will come with great responsibility, but it will also provide you a great deal,” he said quietly. “Humans in Anima live longer than those in their own world. And as my Queen you can live out your days here—you will not be required to share a home with a pride, or work for your living. You will be free to pursue whatever you were made to do.”
“What if I don’t know what I was made to do?” she said in a small voice. “Nevermind, don’t answer that. I need to stop looking ahead because right now it’s hard enough to figure out what I’m supposed to do right now. Tell me about this wedding ceremony or whatever it is. What will I have to do? Is it anything like our weddings on…where I’m from?”
He chuckled. “No. Nothing like those,” he said. “The mating ceremony is… a declaration of intention. In our world, nothing worth having is gained without fighting for it.”
“Why do you sound like you want to laugh?” she said darkly. “Are you messing with me?”
“Not at all,” he assured her. “I was actually thinking of Lucan’s face when he watches me kiss you.”
Reth clawed his hand through his hair and cursed himself for speaking without thinking. “Like a wedding kiss, Elia. A…. a statement of our union. Something to show the other males that you aren’t to be touched. That is all.”
Elia shoved out a breath and muttered something he chose not to hear. “Anything else? What do I have to do?”
“You simply have to choose me,” he said, his voice gruffer than he’d intended, the idea much more prickly than he’d realized. “When the time comes, if I have protected you, if I have shown myself worthy, you just have to choose me over the others.”
“Worthy? On what planet would you not be worthy of me? Surely you mean it the other way around?”
He started to turn at the pure shock in her voice, then caught himself, his hands clenched to fists. He needed to see her, to read her, to think through his words.
“You can turn around,” she said with sigh.
“Thank you,” he rumbled and turned. “The worthiness is only a matter of—” he’d kept his eyes down, just in case, planned to give her space if she was feeling self-conscious in the clothing that was much more revealing than what she’d apparently been used to. He’d expected her to be shrinking in on herself, covering herself with her hands, or at least looking uncomfortable.
Instead, when he lifted his gaze he found a proud woman standing with her feet shoulder width apart, fur hugging her breasts and an angled fur across her hips and thighs that was just snug enough to hint at the curves underneath. But instead of positioning herself with the loose, suggestive air that most women would have adopted if they’d stood in his bedroom dressed like that, she stood with her hands on her hips—which only emphasized her waist—and stared at him with a set jaw and a light in her eyes that made him wary when he saw it in any female. It was a look that said he’d pay if he said the wrong thing.