From “A Christmas Kiss” in the anthology Hot for the Holidays by Lora Leigh.
He breathed in slowly, deeply. “You’re my mate, Jessica. We both know what that means. I’ve tried to stay away from you. I’ve tried to wait until the time was right to court you, to give you a chance to accept what it means.”
“Time?” She gave a hard, bitter laugh. “I was jailed, Hawke. You didn’t even visit. I’ve rarely seen you since my release. Perhaps you need to figure out exactly what it means to court a woman before you decide to do it.”
His jaw tightened, the muscle bunching almost violently as she watched him clench his teeth.
“I would have given us more time.” He seemed to push the words past his throat. “Before I began to court you, I wanted to ensure your protection, your safety. And your freedom.” He bit the last work out almost angrily. “I wanted you to choose me. I didn’t want to force the heat.”
“And that’s changed. Why?” She almost softened at the words, at the need she could see in his eyes and the fact that, unlike the circumstances of other mates, hers had tried to give her a choice, a chance to turn her back on it if it wasn’t what she wanted.