Tangle of Need

By: Nalini Singh

So when she walked into her room the day after their last painful encounter and found a powder pink box bearing his scent on the bedside table, she thought the rawness of her need had made her hallucinate. Touching the box with wondering fingers, she jerked when it didn’t disappear. Neither did the cupcakes within.

“Strawberry cream, red velvet, banana berry, and apple spice.” A knot in her throat, she picked up the apple spice one and licked up a fingerful of the frosting. The sweet delicacy melted on her tongue … the taste merging with the salt of the tear that kissed her mouth.

She didn’t remember telling him her favorites, but she must have.

Collapsing on the bed, she put the cupcake back in the box, her shoulders shaking with the force of her emotions. Good-bye, she thought, he was saying good-bye with the sweetest tenderness. It would’ve been easier if he’d been angry, or if he’d simply ignored her—God, that would’ve hurt—but he’d sent her cupcakes and made her fall in love with him all over again.

“I hate you,” she whispered, dashing away her tears, and it was the biggest lie she had ever told. The lie she told later that day, as she gave three of the cupcakes to Shawnie, Becca, and Ivy, was only a tiny one by comparison. “I tried, but I couldn’t eat them all.” The truth was, she still had the one she’d tasted, couldn’t bear to finish it. It would feel like she was accepting his good-bye, and she wasn’t ready.

Three hours later, she glared at the polished little wooden box sitting in the middle of her desk. “Look!”

Indigo stared dutifully. “It’s lovely. Plain, but I hear lone wolves are sometimes a bit odd with their idea of gifts.”

“Plain?” Incensed—with who, she didn’t know—Adria began to take the box apart.

Indigo leaned in close to watch the demolition, her eyes wide. “It’s a puzzle!” Delight had her reaching for a piece.

Adria slapped away her hand. “You have to do it in the exact order or … you won’t see this.” A miniature representation of the Colosseum hidden in the center, complete with carved archways and the suggestion of tiered internal architecture.

Indigo rubbed her finger carefully down the glossy wood. “This is … wow. I’ve never seen a wooden puzzle this complicated.”

He’d created it for her, Adria thought, because he knew she liked puzzles, had to have been working on it for a while.

“Why Rome?”

Empress. “Never mind that,” Adria said, reassembling the box under Indigo’s fascinated gaze. “He’s not listening to me.” The stubborn wolf wasn’t saying good-bye with dignity and grace, he was courting her. Outrageously.

“Adria, darling,” Indigo said slowly. “You do realize you’re talking about a dominant male? Since when do they listen to anyone once they’ve made up their minds?”

“You’re not helping.”

“You know”—a look of glee—“now I understand why everyone had so much fun watching Drew drive me insane.”

Grabbing the cupcake she’d brought to the office, Adria took a big bite. If Riaz thought she was going to soften and melt under his charm offensive and forget the painfully real chasm that divided them, he didn’t know her … but he did apparently know of her love of Italian opera, a vaguely guilty secret she’d shared with no one, and the very unsensible reason why she’d learned the language.

Two tickets to La Bohème greeted her that night, tucked into the corner of her vanity mirror. Her heart leapt, but determined to make him see reason, she took the tickets and pinned them to the board in the senior soldiers’ break room. No one made any effort to claim them, in spite of the fact they were for highly coveted seats.

“None of us are insane enough to piss off a lone wolf,” Simran said when she found Adria glaring at the tickets the next day. “Especially when said lone wolf made it a point to say he’d hunt down and bury the person who dared take any gifts meant for you.”

Ignoring the fact the other woman’s eyes were bright with humor, Adria ripped off the tickets and stalked to Riaz’s office. He wasn’t there—she wasn’t sure if she was relieved at not having to test her strength of will where he was concerned, or cheated at being robbed of the knock-down, drag-out fight she’d been anticipating.

Borrowing a hammer from Walker Lauren, she pounded the tickets into the office door with a nail. Hawke, passing by, helpfully held the tickets in place while she hammered the nail. He didn’t say a word, his expression so bland it was clear he was highly amused.

Riaz didn’t say anything either.

He just snuck back into her room and tucked the abused tickets back in place. On top of the vanity, he left a gaily wrapped box. Unable to resist unwrapping it, she found a shiny new tool kit, complete with a personalized purple hammer. Her wolf was so charmed, it took her a second to focus and see what he’d done.

The hammer was personalized all right—with the name “Adria Delgado.”

“Oh Riaz,” she whispered, “what’re you doing to me?”

Chapter 63

KALEB KNEW THE Arrows had a discreet watch on him, but he had long ago perfected the ability to move through the Net undetected, and he used that ability now. He was too close to locating his target to allow any obstruction or delay.