Liam shrugged again, but his shoulders remained hunched. There it was—the key. Instead of Liam the strong and protective, he’d withdrawn into himself. He’d talked with her and smiled at her, but his thoughts were far away.
“I have,” he said. “I only override it when necessary.”
“Like tonight.” Kim touched his chest, feeling his heart beating too rapidly beneath her fingers. “And that hurt you?”
“It did, love. That’s why I’m sitting quietly on this bed and leaving your beautiful self alone. My entire body is brutal raw with pain.”
Liam hadn’t lied; he hurt like hell.
Kim’s eyes went wide with shock. “But we were dancing half an hour ago.”
“I can hold it off for a long time, especially if the excitement of the kill is high.” He let his gaze drift over her delicious little body. “And dancing with you—let’s just say I wasn’t letting anything stop me from enjoying that.”
She looked worried. “And you’re in pain now?”
“Excruciating.” Agony bloomed behind Liam’s eyes and in every nerve ending, every muscle. His spine felt as if someone had twisted it with a giant pair of pliers. The punishment didn’t even spare his smallest toes.
“Liam, I’m sorry. I didn’t know.”
“A man doesn’t like to admit when he’s hurting. It shames us.”
“Can’t you do anything for it? Would ibuprofen help? I have some in my purse.”
He wanted to laugh. Ibuprofen wouldn’t make a dent. “Nothing to be done but wait it out. Having you sit here with me is nice.”
Kim watched him in concern for a few more moments, then snuggled down against him. Liam smiled as he gathered her close, reflecting on the ironies of life. On the one hand, the pain was driving him crazy. On the other, Kim would likely never have draped herself over him if he hadn’t admitted his suffering.
“What about Sean?” she asked. “Is he in pain too?”
“Probably a little, but he didn’t make the kill. He only cleaned up after.”
Kim smoothed his T-shirt over his abdomen. “Why would you do this to yourself? I mean all Shifters. Live with the possibility of this hurting?”
“We had to.” Liam stopped, talking becoming too much of an effort. The pain would recede, probably by tomorrow morning, but he’d have horror to go through first. It wasn’t so bad this time, maybe because he’d been fighting to protect Kim. He’d acted on instinct when he realized she was in danger, not even worrying about the price he’d pay.
“You make me want to kiss you,” Kim said.
His heart beat faster. “What a sweetheart you are. But I don’t kiss.”
She lifted her head. “What are you talking about? You’ve kissed me plenty today.”
On her hair, her neck. Liam moved as his c**k started to harden with memory, even through his pain. “I don’t kiss like humans do, on the lips. I don’t see the point.”
“You mean Shifters don’t kiss at all?” Kim’s eyes narrowed. “Wait a minute, I saw a Shifter kiss his wife in the bar. That was his wife, wasn’t it?”
“You mean Jordie? Yes, she was his mate. I didn’t say all Shifters don’t kiss. I said I don’t. When I’m with a Shifter woman we have other things on our minds.”
“You mean you hump her without intimacies? Figures. Tragic that someone who looks as good as you isn’t interested in the woman’s pleasure.”
The pain receded the slightest bit. “What shite are you talking? There’s plenty of pleasure when I’m with a woman. On both sides.”
“Huh. You don’t even take the time to kiss her.”
“Since you’re not a Shifter woman, you wouldn’t understand. It’s fast and furious, no time for much else.”
Kim shook her head, her curls tickling through his shirt. “You have no idea what you’re missing, Liam.”
“I’ve never been with a human.” Liam liked her face close to his, her scent filling his whole body. “You’re right, I don’t know.”
“All right, then. Hold still.”
Kim knelt beside him. Her jeans tightened against her thighs, and her blouse gaped open, giving him a glimpse of soft breast swelling above lace.
Her scent was driving him crazy. Liam had used protective marking before, but he’d never smelled such a heady mixture as he did now—his scent and Kim’s blended in almost equal parts. As though they belonged together.
Kim’s hesitant fingertips brushed his cheek, her caress so different from her forthright manner and sassy speech. “Am I hurting you?”
She was worried about him, the sweetheart. “The pain’s backing off.”
She came close, closer. The warmth of her skin, the scent of it, made Liam’s hard-on throb, his lust start to break through the excruciating pain. Kim’s lashes swept down as she touched her mouth to his upper lip.
Something shook in Liam’s core, and the hurting began to lose the battle. Liam moved his lips in response, clumsily catching her mouth with his.
The satin-smooth slide of Kim’s lips took his breath away. He had kissed in human form before, but they’d been quick, affectionate pecks with friends or female members of the family. He’d never experienced the full sensations of a slow, hot kiss, lips moving and exploring. He cupped Kim’s neck, encouraging her to continue, and nearly jumped off the bed when she thrust her tongue into his mouth.
Kim jerked away. “What? Did I hurt you?”
“No.” Liam laced his fingers behind her neck, under her warm hair. “You surprised me, is all. Is that your way of kissing? I like it.”
“My way? I think it’s everybody’s way. Don’t tell me Shifters don’t French kiss.”
Her smile was gorgeous. “Well, well, something I know that the all-powerful Shifter-man doesn’t.”
“Let’s try it again. I’m a quick learner.”
Kim cupped his face. “I shouldn’t be doing this.”
“You should. It’s helping me.” Stay with me.
“I can’t get involved with you, and besides, you’re trying to keep me prisoner in your house. Not that you’ll succeed, by the way.”
“It’s for your own safety, love. I’m responsible for what happens to you.”
“I do feel safer here.” It cost her to admit that, Liam could see. “If I were alone in my house right now, I’d be scared. Being attacked by that feral—it was so fast. I always thought I could defend myself, and I suddenly realized I couldn’t.”
Liam kneaded her neck. “Here you don’t have to worry.” He tugged her closer. “Let’s try the French way again.”
Kim wanted to resist—Liam saw hesitation in her eyes. She wanted to say no, to pull away, to walk out. He also sensed her wanting. She craved to be touched, and she thought he was harmless, sitting here in so much pain it made his teeth ache. Never mind that she was mostly right.
Kim closed her eyes before their lips met again. Was this required for a kiss? Liam kept his eyes open, liking to watch the way her lashes curled against her skin, how one lock of her hair slid over her cheek.
She put her tongue inside his mouth again. Liam caught it, licking, lapping, playing. He tilted his head so he could better fit their mouths together.
Damn, this was good. Humans had something going with this kissing, even if they gave it a French name, like the fries he insisted on calling chips. Liam’s erection was getting massive now. He wasn’t sure whether he’d be embarrassed if the tip peeped above the waistband, or whether he’d be pleased to show her how much he wanted her.
Playing catch-me with Kim’s tongue, Liam slid his hands to her thighs, wishing she still wore the skirt from this morning. If so, he could inch his way under the hem, latch his fingers over the tops of her stockings, unhook the garters, peel the stockings down…
Kim eased back, her eyes half closed. “Liam, you’re going to kiss my lips raw.”
Liam smiled. “You say that like it’s a bad thing.”
“I thought you were hurt.”
“I’m feeling so much better.” Liam dug his fingers into the denim covering her thighs, his strength returning. He could roll her over onto the bed, press her down into the mattress, have her teach him some more about human kissing.
He touched her lips again. “You’re a sweet, beautiful thing, do you know that?”
“For a human?”
“For an anything, love.”
He kissed her one more time, then made himself push away and sit up. This was getting dangerous. His strength was growing and with it, rampaging lust.
Kim looked at him in confusion, her lips swollen and red, her eyes dark, pupils wide. “What’s the matter? I thought you wanted more lessons.”
“Afraid not, sweetheart. I have to get out of here before you regret it.”
She smiled a little. “I don’t regret a little kissing.”
It would be so much more if he didn’t leave. Goddess, she was delectable. “You’ll be safe here tonight, I promise you. No one, not even Fergus himself, will get through Dad, me, and Sean. Even Connor’s a good fighter, young as he is. They like you, and we’ve taken you in. You’ll be protected like you were one of the pride.”
She looked surprised, then thoughtful, as though she hadn’t considered it that way. “I admit I’m afraid to go back home right now. But I can stay only until morning. All right?”
Liam didn’t answer as he stood. He knew damn well she could see his erection—how could she miss a thing of that size pushing at her? If she asked him to, he’d unbutton and unzip to let her see him, or touch him, or take him in her mouth.
Bloody hell, he had to get out of here.
Kim wet her lips. Liam put his hands on his hips, his pulse thumping so hard his fingers hurt. Her mouth was lush and red, lips plump, making him want to bite them.
“I should sleep now,” she said, sounding as though she had to make herself acknowledge it. “I have a lot to do tomorrow.”
Sleep. In his bed, her head on his pillow, her body damp and warm. Maybe wearing that little wisp of a silk thing she’d been in when he’d rescued her tonight.
“See you at breakfast then,” he made himself say.
“What do Shifters eat for breakfast?”
“Wheaties. Or I can fix you my pancakes, like I promised.”
Didn’t she look mouthwatering, sitting cross-legged on the bed, her blouse half unbuttoned, her ni**les hard enough to press through her bra and the white fabric? He could push her back onto the pillows, close his mouth on one taut point through the shirt.
Kim picked up a pillow and hugged it to her chest, cutting off the beautiful view. “Good night, Liam.”
“I won’t be sleeping much, that’s for certain. Not thinking about you down here in my bed.”
“Down here? Where will you be?”
He pointed at the ceiling. “Connor’s got the whole attic floor. Plenty of room for me to bunk down with him. Want me to knock on the floor, let you know when I’m there?”
Kim got off the bed, still hugging the pillow. “What I want is to sleep and forget about this awful night. Then get up and go home. I don’t mind staying here tonight because I’m scared, but tomorrow, when I’m done being afraid, I’m going home.”
She wouldn’t be going home. Liam wouldn’t argue with her right now, though. No point in it.
He smiled at her, forced himself to turn his back on her compact body and pretty eyes and leave the room.