"I think that makes me feel better," she admitted. "You said before that I'm your mate or at least I think you said it. Maybe I heard it in my head, and in a way I feel it somewhere inside me. But the thing is, Zander, how do I know it's real? I think it's the panther inside me that wants you, but I don't know you well... I mean am I just attracted to you because of this animal that's now inside me, so to speak? That honestly bothers me because I don't want to be controlled by primal instinct."
He nodded. "You still feel as if the panther is a separate entity, and I could see how that would be disconcerting being you were changed into a shifter. I won't push you, Aisha, or do anything you don't want. In the end if you want to walk away, it's your right. The team, well all of us, will just be a phone call away."
Aisha shook her head. "You confuse me. First you say we're mated and you want me, but you're willing to let me go?"
"I never said that," Zander replied confused. "I thought it though."
"I heard you or at least I think I did, maybe it was in my mind," she said and shook her head. "Either way it still seems like a contradiction."
Hmmm interesting, did she read my mind, he thought. "I would be with you in a heartbeat, but not if you have doubts." Zander shrugged. "Besides I'm flawed, broken, and not the best match for anyone. Eventually, I would do something to push you away or hurt you, and I don't want that. Maybe it's best we keep that distance between us. Guys like me aren't meant to settle down."
"You seem to sell yourself short, Zander Wakefield," Aisha said.
"I don't. It's the truth." Zander got up from his seat. "We should get some sleep. Tomorrow might be hard for you. I'll walk you back to your cabin."
"Umm do you mind if I stay here tonight?" she asked hesitantly. "I-I can't sleep by myself in the dark. Suppose this is all a dream and I wake up in the same little metal cell alone and hallucinating you. I don't think I could stand it."
Zander felt a rush of anger wash over him, mingled in the pity. It took a lot to admit her fear. She had a lot to deal with on her plate, and he could only imagine what went though her mind when she thought she would die.
"It's not a dream, you know," Zander said softly. He walked over to the bed and pulled the covers back for her. "You lay under there, and I'll be a gentleman and stay on top."
She smiled. "Thanks."
Aisha crossed the room and settled under the covers while he lay on top. He felt her body tense up as he turned off the light and settled down beside her. Zander lay on his back, and there were a few inches between them on the bed. She was so close he could feel the heat of her skin, yet the small space felt like a wide chasm because Zander wanted to be closer. Minutes ticked away, and her body had yet to relax. Aisha was as rigid as a board on the bed. Was it him or the dark or a combination of both?
"Relax. You're safe here," Zander said. "I could sleep on the floor if it would make you more comfortable."
"No, don't," she whispered. "Could you... could you hold me?"
"That might not be the best idea," Zander replied.
She sighed. "You say it's the panther inside me that took away my fear, but it was you too. So please hold me."
Zander said nothing but rolled over to wrap his arms around her waist. She rested her own hand on his. It was a simple gesture but one that struck him to his core. Aisha rolled over and looked up at him. Even in the darkness he could see her eyes.
"Kiss me again," she asked simply, and his heart jumped.
"Again that might not be a best idea." His voice was a deep rumble.
"I want to find an answer to something."
"Just kiss me already."
Zander bent low and pressed his lips to hers. He intended it to be just a simple peck, but she reached behind his neck and tangled her fingers in his hair. She opened her mouth beneath his and teased his lips with her tongue. Unable to resist, Zander moaned and took over the kiss, dominating her mouth with his own and tasting her deep. He never knew it could be like this, to go from cool to simmer to boiling hot in only seconds. Her tongue twined with his, a sensual dance that made him want to strip her clothes off. Instead he fisted his hand in the pillow next to her head. She gave a sensual whimper that drove him mad. Zander willed himself to pull away but tasted her lips one more time.
"Did you find your answer?" His voice was husky.
"And it is?"
"It's not just the panther in me that wants you. I do too," she said simply. "But I need time to get the two on the same page."
Hearing those words from her made him want to roar, but what did he do to deserve this? In his mind he hadn't earned the right to take a mate even though he wanted it more than anything.