She straightened her spine and gave him a dismissive wave of the hand. “Why don’t you go play with Betty Boop?”

“Betty Boop?” he chuckled. “If you’re talking about Zara—”

Oh, yeah, she was talking about Zara. Curvaceous, elegant, graceful, she was everything that Roni wasn’t.

“—that’s very much over.” There was only one female he wanted.

“Well, then . . . go play with the treat you’re presently sampling and—”

“You have the cutest nose.” He lightly tapped it with his finger.

Unbalanced by his unexpected compliment, Roni shrugged past him and marched off. And her nose was not cute. Marcus easily caught up to her and stayed at her side as they advanced through the network of tunnels that made up Phoenix Pack territory. The ancient cave dwelling had been modernized beautifully, and the Alpha female had long ago branded it “Bedrock.” For that reason, Taryn often referred to her mate as “Flintstone.”

Roni had only taken a single step into the crowded living area when suddenly a dainty body wrapped itself around her. Roni puffed various streaks of blonde hair out of her mouth.

“You stopped them from taking my son,” sniffled Taryn. “Thank you.” It was the third time she’d thanked her.

Trey stood behind Taryn. His arctic-blue eyes were wild, manic, and his large form was fairly vibrating with anger. “If you ever need anything—anything—it’s yours.” The rest of the Phoenix Pack nodded their agreement.

“We’re in your debt,” said Greta, though she didn’t look happy about it. In fact, her gaze narrowed dangerously as it took in how closely Marcus stood to Roni.

Trey’s somewhat neurotic grandmother was very possessive of “her boys”—those being Trey, Tao, Dante, and the four enforcers, Marcus, Trick, Ryan, and Dominic. As she was convinced that every unmated female was determined to claim one of them, she made a distinct effort to frighten them away. Of course it hadn’t worked with Taryn or the Beta female, Jaime, but Greta persisted in trying to make their lives difficult.

Not sure what to do with all the attention or the body still curled around her, Roni threw Marcus a pleading look.

Smiling, Marcus took pity on Roni, satisfied that she had looked to him for help. “Taryn, why don’t you find Roni a place to sit? She could have a concussion.”

“Of course.” Taryn led Roni over to the armchair on which Dominic sat. “Move it.”

“I’m hurt too, remember,” he griped. “None of you even praised me for intervening between two fighting wolves.”

Taryn rolled her eyes. “It’s not exactly uncommon for Trick and Ryan to get carried away when sparring. You only had a few bruises. Most of them had healed by the time you walked through the door.”

“A few bruises?” Dominic rose from the chair. “My chest had so many black patches, I looked like a Holstein cow. And I don’t care what you say, I had internal bleeding.”

Trick shook his head at Dominic. “Could you be any more dramatic?” When he noticed that Marcus had perched himself on the arm of Roni’s chair, Trick arched a brow. Then a taunting smirk surfaced, deepening the claw marks on Trick’s cheek. For as long as Marcus could remember, Trick’s favorite pastime was tormenting people. He thoroughly enjoyed teasing Marcus about Roni’s apparent indifference to him. Asshole.

Roni stiffened as Shaya, Nick, and Derren entered the room. She suspected a lecture from her brother. Within seconds, Nick’s nostrils flared as he scented her. Then his eyes fixed on Roni and darkened. Yep, a lecture was coming.

Nick strode toward Roni, his face like thunder. “I can’t believe you put Shaya in danger like that!” Rage seeped from him—a rage so acute that it seemed to thicken the air. It made Roni jump to her feet and put her wolf on high alert. The Phoenix wolves immediately gathered behind her, and Marcus pressed up against her side. What was that all about?

Shaya, ever the peacemaker, smoothly slipped in front of her mate. “Now, Nick . . .”

He glared at Roni over Shaya’s shoulder. “Do you think I give out orders purely for fun, is that it?”

“No, I don’t,” replied Roni calmly. Her cool demeanor seemed to further anger him.

“Shaya’s your Alpha female, she’s pregnant with your niece or nephew, and you put them in danger!”

“That’s not fair, Nick,” reprimanded Shaya. “She had no way of knowing what would happen. I asked her to get me out of there; I needed to breathe. You’re so overprotective, it’s suffocating!”

Roni knew exactly how that felt, as she dealt with it daily from her mother and Nick. She loved and respected her brother, trusted him more than anyone. But his level of overprotectiveness made her feel hurt, offended, and stifled. There was nothing more insulting or disrespectful to a dominant female than treating her like she couldn’t take care of herself.

“I’m just trying to keep you and our baby safe. And you would have been safe if Roni hadn’t disobeyed me!”

“And what makes your word have more weight than Shaya’s?” Roni felt compelled to ask.

“Excuse me?” Nick’s voice was quiet, menacing. Derren winced.

“You can’t call her Alpha female and then undermine her by dishing out orders to everyone that effectively give her no say in her own life.”

“That isn’t what I’m doing!”

“It is.” Shaya’s voice was gentle but firm. “I was ready to explode; that’s not good for either me or the baby.”

“It’s better than you being in a car accident!”

Roni barely refrained from growling in irritation. “You’re not listening to a word either me or Shaya is saying.” Nick advanced on her, teeth bared.

Marcus blocked the Alpha’s path. “Don’t touch her.”

Nick drew back, glowering. “What does this have to do with you? With any of you?”

“Roni protected my son,” said Trey. “She now has the loyalty of everyone in this pack. They’ll protect her from anything, including you.”

“I’d never hurt her! She’s my sister!”

Roni sighed. Shifter male posturing was boring as shit. “I can speak for myself.”

Mouth curved into a small smile, Marcus very briefly glanced at Roni over his shoulder. “Yes you can, sweetheart, but your brother’s not interested in listening to you right now. Blaming Roni isn’t fair, Axton, and you know it.”

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