Home > Tarian Silver Lion (New Tarian Pride #2)(4)

Tarian Silver Lion (New Tarian Pride #2)(4)
Author: T.S. Joyce

He put the car in first gear and coasted up the road toward her cabin while she sat there in utter shock at the butterflies battering her insides.

Sometimes a person could be complimented a hundred times by strangers or acquaintances, and it never really reached them. But then there would be that one person who could say a compliment, and it really went in the ear and settled in the mind. Talon was that person. Her cheeks were so warm right now, but she didn’t cover them again. Instead, she slipped her hand into the crook of his arm and bit her bottom lip to hide the trembling smile there. “Thank you for all those kind words,” she whispered.

“Been a long time?” he asked. This man knew a lot about a lot.

Rose cleared her throat and lifted her chin primly. “Maybe.”

“So, is it a yes?”

“To dinner?”

“Mmm hmmm,” he murmured, easing to a stop in front of her cabin.

Admittedly, Rose thought Talon was very handsome with his sexy-man smirk, dark eyes, and silver beard and hair that he’d obviously had taken care of at one of those modern barber shops. She’d noticed the tattoos on his big strong arms when she’d been taking care of him. And he smelled divine. Whatever cologne he wore was her new favorite scent. She loved a man who took care of himself. His smile was one of those that would bring a grown-ass woman to her knees. He was a flight risk, but in a way, that made this all a little more exciting. Yeah, it had been a while. A while since she’d felt anything for a man like this, a while since anyone had actually touched her heart with compliments, a while since a man had made her feel attractive. It was all a little addicting. And dangerous. But fun? And terrifying.

What was the harm in one little dinner? It was just two people eating food near each other. And talking. Just like they had been in this car. And that was probably okay. “When? I have a very busy schedule.”

“Tomorrow. I’ll pick you up in my hotrod. A hotrod for a hot granny.”

“Oh, shut up,” she said, swatting his arm while he cackled like a buffoon. She was trying not to laugh, but utterly failed.

He was cracking up so much, arms thrown around his middle, he ended up groaning in pain.

“Serves you right. You shouldn’t laugh at a lady.”

“I can’t believe you had a hang-up about your age,” Talon said, wiping the corners of his eyes.

“I don’t see why my insecurities are something to laugh at.”

“Because look at you!” Talon flipped down the sun visor, and there she was, looking grumpily back at herself in a tiny mirror. “Really, look at yourself, Rose. You were a stunner when I knew you before, and you’re a stunner now. I know how old you are from before, but no one would ever guess your age. You know why?”

Rose swallowed hard and shook her head.

“Because you don’t live like your age, do you? Tattooed forearm, ripped-up jeans, wild hair, leather boots, riding all over these mountains on your snowmobile. That saying ‘you’re only as old as you feel?’ You’re a great example, and you know it. There is nothing sexier than a woman in her prime who has the confidence of experience and the strength that comes with having to figure life out on her own. You are a woman who can handle your shit, Rose. Aren’t you?”

Okay, now he could have a little smile. Clever man. She nodded. “That I can.”

“And there is that wicked glint to your eye and that sly-fox smile that’s probably had half the men in these mountains tumbling over themselves to get your attention. But you don’t give it easy, do you, Wildcat?”

“I’m picky and don’t have time or patience for men’s shenanigans,” she conceded.

“Oh, I know. You’re a fiercely independent woman who doesn’t need a man for anything. The only way you would ever let yourself be with a male is if you wanted him there. He ain’t needed. You would only throw attention at a man if he doesn’t get in your way. If he empowers you. I’m gonna guess that those boys around here don’t cut it, do they?”

“No. No, they do not.”

The smile dipped from his full lips and then reappeared smaller as he searched her eyes. “Maybe try a man then.”

Chills rippled up her forearms and, whooo, those butterflies got to flapping their wings in her stomach. How many years had it been since she’d gotten butterflies? She felt like she was in high school talking to her crush under the bleachers. This was ridiculous. She was being ridiculous. Everything was ridiculous.

“I’ll go to dinner with you, Talon Lawson, on one condition.”

“Name it.”

“I pay for my own food.”

He frowned. “Why?”

She offered him a Cheshire cat grin. “Because then it won’t be a date.” Rose pushed open the door, got out, and then shut it firmly before walking away. Don’t look back, be cool. Don’t look back.

“Hey, Rose?” Talon called.

His voice sounded off. Confused maybe, so she turned and asked, “Yes?”

His eyes had lightened and were locked on her destroyed cabin. “What happened to your house?”

Oh, dear. She hadn’t thought about this part. She’d been so wrapped up in his charisma and conversation, she’d forgotten he hadn’t seen the destruction. No one had but Kannon, who’d figured out she was missing in the first place.

Heart aching, she looked at her home and tried to see it from Talon’s perspective. The front porch was gone completely, and there were two massive holes in the front wall. All the windows were busted out so she’d covered them in blue tarp while she was waiting on replacements to be shipped here. And her beautiful, precious rosebushes were all completely trampled or ripped from the ground entirely.

What could she say? How could she explain in as few words as possible that her house had been hurt, and it felt like her heart had been hurt right along with it? Simple honestly was always best. “You weren’t alone.”

“What do you mean?” Talon asked, opening his door.

As she watched him approach, Rose said, “You weren’t the only one the Old Tarians took.” She tried to smile because the ordeal was over and she could reassure him a little bit. That was kindness, not putting burdens on people who already carried so many of their own. “Cassius and four males from his Pride came for me in the night.”

Eyes wide, Talon looked at her house. And when he dragged his gaze back to her, his eyes were a fiery gold and full of fury. All around them, the air grew heavier and heavier.

“Everything’s okay. Ronin came for me. We didn’t know you were there in one of the prisoner cabins. We didn’t know, Talon. If we had, we would’ve gotten you out of there the night Ronin came to rescue me.”

“I saw the bruises,” he murmured. “When I woke up, I was delirious with pain, but I remember the bruises on your cheek and neck. But the next time I woke up, they weren’t there, so I thought I imagined them.”

“I might not be a real wildcat, but I’m a pretty fast healer.”

Talon inhaled deeply then released the breath, looking as troubled as a man could look. He pulled her close, hands on her waist, and then he shocked her completely with what he did next. He hugged her. Just…hugged. Just…wrapped his strong arms around her and stayed like that. Frozen, Rose didn’t know what to do. She hadn’t hugged a man like this in years. Didn’t have any urge to. She was Rose, Tarian Lioness, badass, respected…untouchable. Or so she’d thought.

“I fought,” she whispered.

“I know you did.”

“I fought hard.” Her guts felt like they were being torn in two.

Talon hugged her tighter. “I know.”

Rose’s lip quivered. Why did this embrace feel so good? She slid her arms around his waist and melted against him. As she squeezed her eyes closed, two tears streamed down her cheeks, and she pursed her lips hard to keep the sob trapped in her throat.

“Were you scared?” Talon asked.

Her voice would shake too bad if she spoke, and she couldn’t bear that. So she nodded instead, her cheek pressed to his chest.

“Good,” he said in a deep rumble. “You didn’t shut down, you didn’t go dormant, and now you’re dealing with what happened. You’re alive, Rose, because you’re tough. Doesn’t surprise me one bit that you were fighting them. That’s the kind of woman you are. Beautiful badass.”

His strong hand went to the back of her head, cupped it, and then stroked her scalp gently. It felt better than she could remember anything ever feeling before. Her lioness let off a soft purr, but she didn’t try to stop it. Her walls were breaking. He’d taken a layer of bricks off with those three words. Were you scared? It was the way he’d said them that had shattered her defenses. He wasn’t disgusted by the thought of fear. His voice had gone tender. He’d really wanted to know.

“Will you be able to sleep tonight?” he murmured.

She gripped his jacket in her clenched fists and nodded. “Eventually. I’m still in that strange phase where I think I hear something and check the house over and over until I’m exhausted and fall asleep on the couch with a shotgun on the coffee table near me.”

“Shit,” he whispered. “Rose, Rose, Rose. Why haven’t you been staying with the Pride?”

“Stubbornness,” she said with a half-laugh. “If I leave my home, it gives those men power. Most of them are dead now. I killed one of them in the war. They’re ashes now, and I refuse to give power to ghosts.”

Talon chuckled. “Atta girl.”

There was a snarl to his voice, and he smelled like fur now. Fur and cologne—an attractive combination to her senses. Ugh, what a disaster she was. Crying and having a breakdown one moment, then sniffing Talon the next.

“I’m fine, really,” she said. “My lioness will settle soon, and my defensive instincts won’t be so kicked up. I’ll get the house fixed up and get back to normal. You’re just seeing me raw, when everything is still fresh.”

   
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