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“Exactly,” said Rhett. “In the beginning, I’d expected it to be a simple case of finding the physical location of the IP address. But considering all the tricks the jackals are using, I’d say they have a hacker working for them. If that’s the case, it’s possible that they’ve used a computer virus to place the IP address on some totally oblivious random person’s computer.”

Trey released a frustrated growl. “In other words, it’s not likely they’ll be there, whatever the case.”

Rhett shrugged helplessly.

“Then do we really all need to go?” asked Ryan. “It might be better if me and Dante go and check it out.”

“No, we should all go,” began Trey, “because there’s a possibility that the jackals are there. The human family might not truly exist.”

Dante took a sip of his coffee before turning to Rhett. “Could someone have faked something like that?”

“A family with a history, complete with photos and everything? Yeah, depending on how good they are.” Rhett looked at Roni. “I still haven’t managed to trace the IP address of whoever uploaded your video evidence. I’m sorry.”

“It’s okay,” she said quietly.

“No, it’s not. But I will find them.”

“Do you have any suspicions at all about who it could be?” Taryn asked Roni. “It would help Rhett with the search.”

Roni shook her head. “Like I told Marcus, I’ve pissed off plenty of people.”

Dante spoke then. “But for them to do and say something so vindictive, it has to be substantial.”

Roni looked at him. “Only to them.” He tilted his head, conceding her point.

“Has anyone called my brother or Derren?”

Trey nodded. “Nick’s arranging for one of his contacts to lone us a private jet.” Nick was in touch with many of the shifters he’d met in juvie, and they all did each other favors from time to time. “As soon as he calls with directions for the jet, we’ll head out.”

“Does this mean we have time to make more food?” Marcus put his hand to his stomach. “I’m still hungry.” Everyone rolled their eyes. “What?”

A few hours later, they were all piling into what Roni thought was a pretty sleek private jet. With the cream leather furnishings, the gleaming marble tables, the mirrored ceiling, and the soft carpeting, the spacious cabin looked more like the reception area of a swanky hotel. Hell, it even had an aquarium.

She found herself stuck between Marcus and a window—which was starting to become a regular thing whenever they traveled. Nick and Derren were sitting opposite them, while the four other Phoenix wolves took the seating area adjacent to theirs.

Dante reclined his seat until he was lounging comfortably. “Now this is nice.” Nodding, Ryan grunted. “Nick, there are indeed perks to being so closely allied with your pack.”

Eyes closed and arms crossed behind his head, Nick said, “Wish I could say the same. But you all still annoy the shit out of me.”

Laughing, Derren took out his iPod and earphones and stuck the buds in his ears.

Dante rolled his eyes at Nick. “You’re just pissy because you couldn’t keep Marcus away from your sister.”

“I do not get pissy. Fuller and I have come to an understanding: if he hurts Roni, I get to play with the body parts that she slices off.”

Trey spoke to Nick. “Any other Alpha might have been ready to feed you your own kidneys for making their friend’s life as difficult as you set out to make Marcus’s, but I actually felt sorry for you the whole time.”

Nick opened his eyes. “Felt sorry for me?”

“You really believed you could scare him away. It was kind of fun to watch you try.”

Dante chuckled. “Marcus is a born hunter; when he truly wants something, he will run down his prey with a patience that not many dominant males possess—obstacles be damned. You were fighting a losing battle from the start.”

Damn right, thought Marcus.

Nick growled at Dante, “Fuck you, Garcea.” Ignoring the Beta’s chuckle, Nick closed his eyes again, dismissing him.

Turning back to his pack, Dante smiled. “Jaime’s going to be so jealous she didn’t come.”

Taryn snorted, cuddling into Trey. “You’re not smug that she’s missing this, you’re disappointed that she’s not with us. You hate leaving her.”

“Of course I hate leaving her. She’s my mate.”

“You have to admit to being a little more overprotective than most,” said Ryan.

“I have no choice—the female has no flight instinct.”

Taryn smiled. “What a pretty excuse for trying to control her.”

Dante returned her smile. “It is, isn’t it?”

Roni was just thinking how fortunate she was that Marcus didn’t attempt to control her, but then it occurred to her that, hey, why would he? He had no reason at all to feel inclined to do so. He’d staked a temporary claim on her, but that was nowhere near the same as being mated.

A mating bond was a metaphysical connection that amplified every emotion. Mates were often possessive and overprotective to the point of being controlling and domineering. It was part of the package, part of how fiercely mates felt for each other. Although it sometimes meant that the couples clashed a lot, it didn’t subtract from their feelings for each other.

Having watched the pain her mother went through when Roni’s father died, she’d often wondered if the mating link was such a good thing at all. Kathy might still be alive, but it wasn’t a full life without her mate. But Kathy had told Roni that she had no regrets, that if she had to do it all over again, she’d still complete the mating, even knowing her mate would die and that she would spend most of her life without him.

She’d told Roni that if she found her mate, she should grab on tight, that the bond was something sacred and special. But, honestly, Roni wasn’t sure she’d ever know the intensity of emotion that came with a mating link. Roni was so messed up, she probably wouldn’t sense the guy even if she tripped over him in the street.

The best chance she had at mating was through imprinting, though she would bet it would be hard to find a male who would happily take on her and her irritating family. Although Shaya seemed sure that Roni and Marcus would imprint, Roni wasn’t convinced. Despite that she had made the decision to explore this thing she had with Marcus, she found it hard to believe that anything would truly come of it.


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