Chapter Eleven

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"Ife!" Nate called upon spotting her.  She was hunched over and on her knees in the mud.  "Are you injured?"

When he'd left the foundry, Owen defeated, Nate had been met by a wide-eyed Dick and a contrite Stevens.  Ife was nowhere in sight.  With a wordless point in the direction up the hill, Mills let Nate know where she'd gone.  Why she'd fled, he didn't know. 

As he took off after her, Nate couldn't help but wonder if Ife might have preferred Doc over him.  That would've been a reason for her to flee him.  With a sickening feeling, he thought that perhaps she viewed the shaman as her mate.

Savagely, Nate pushed the thought away.  He wouldn't accept that.  Not until he heard it from her lips. 

Upon reaching Ife, Nate dropped down, his knees bracketing hers.  When his arms came around her from behind, she tried to shrug them off and move away.  But Nate only pulled her back, closer to his chest. 

Shivers wracked Ife's body.  Her skin was cool and wet, yet she seemed uninjured beneath his roaming hands.  She shivered again.  Switching their inquisitive course, Nate ran his palms briskly up and down her arms.

"Let me go." Ife's command wasn't nearly as assertive as she needed it to be.  Nate ignored her, continuing in his efforts to try and heat her chilled flesh.  It was a wasted effort; she didn't think she'd ever feel warm again.  The heart in her chest seemed naught but a shriveled, frozen shard of ice.

"Why did you run off?" Nate tried again.

"Why do you care?" Ife shot back.

Behind her, Nate tensed.  All movement ceased as his arms locked like stone around her.  "Do you feel that Owen Walker is your mate?" he asked with soft violence.

"My God, you are so stupid!"  Freeing a hand from Nate's tight embrace, Ife wiped angrily at her tears.

"Something that could be easily remedied if you'd talk to me."  Nate's tone was gentle, but there was a thick thread of annoyance at its center.

A sound of pure frustration erupted from Ife's throat.  After a calming moment of silence, she stated, "You used me."  It was easier to admit without Nate looking at her.

Grunting out a curse, Nate remained like stone behind Ife.  A couple of heartbeats passed before he blew out a long breath.  It tickled the wet curls at her neck.  Ife reached up and rubbed the spot with her free hand.

Nate bent his head slightly and turned it, so his lips weren't far from her ear.  "I'd like to be honest with you, Ife."   His velvety low voice rumbled through her back.  Sucking in a breath, he all but whispered on the exhale, "I can't say I didn't use you to get on my target's radar.  But-"

"No," Ife erupted, cutting Nate off and struggling to get some distance between them once more.  "There is no 'but'.  Even the repulsive Andrew knew."  It was irrational, but that the shaman knew felt like the more significant betrayal.

Arms tightening further, Nate pulled Ife onto his lap.  "Even though I was ordered to get close to you, that's not why I did it, mapenzi."

Ife stilled at Nate's use of the endearment.  Carefully, she asked, "Then why did you do it?"

"Because," Nate began softly, "I was the lion who ruined your kill during the last full moon."  His head bent forward, and he nuzzled Ife's neck.  "You clawed my nose, but I knew I deserved it."

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