Riley winced. “Sorry, there’s just a lot going on.”

“Hmm, well, I’ll forgive you because I love you,” Lucy said, a smile in her voice. “I wanted to say congratulations. I have to say, it comes as a shock that Tao was your true mate. You’re just both very different, but I guess that’s often how it works with predestinated mates. I really am happy for you.”

“Thanks, Luce.” Riley leaned back against the sandstone wall. “Are you fully healed now?”

“Yes, thanks to Max. He truly is a gem.”

Riley smiled. “Yep, he is.”

“Both your uncles are awesome. They’ve been like watchdogs since you left.”

“Aside from your wound, how’ve you been?”

“Good. Just . . . nervous, you know?” Her voice shook a little. “It’s still hard to wrap my head around the fact that someone here actually shot me. I hate not knowing who it was, hate that I could be smiling at the person who did it. And I’m utterly pissed that some of the flock are trying to pin the blame on you.”

“Join the club.”

“I don’t think they really believe what they’re saying. I think they just want someone to point the finger at so they can convince themselves that the threat has gone. But that doesn’t make it okay.”

No, it damn well didn’t. “How’s Sawyer?”

“He’s fully healed too. He doesn’t believe it was you either, by the way.”

“I don’t suppose you have any theories on who it actually is?”

Lucy paused. “If I’m honest, I would have suspected Cynthia if I hadn’t been shot. I mean, she could have deliberately missed you because all she really wanted was to piss you off, right?”

Riley blinked. She hadn’t actually considered that. “Right,” she agreed.

“I don’t think Cynthia would ever try to kill me. Not even for what I did,” she added in a low voice.

Riley frowned, echoing, “What you did?”

Another pause. “Rhonda Lincoln . . . she started a petition.” Rhonda was one of the ravens who had been killed at Alec’s party.

“What sort of petition?”

“She wanted Cynthia gone from the flock,” Lucy explained. “Rhonda was tired of Cynthia taunting her about how she’d had her mate, Richie. You know Cynthia took particular joy in tormenting any females who’d mated one of the guys she’d slept with.”

Yeah, Cynthia had loved that she could hurt the others that way. She hadn’t cared that it left her with only a few friends or that it lost her the respect of many. A dominant female shifter had her pride, but Cynthia’s pride either wasn’t easy to chip at or was somehow completely nonexistent.

“She somehow got Rhonda’s number and repeatedly sent her cruel text messages with all kinds of explicit details about her time with Richie.”

“Yeah, I heard about that. Rhonda hit breaking point and told your parents.”

“Yes,” said Lucy. “They told her they’d make Cynthia stop, but they didn’t. Or maybe they tried and Cynthia just didn’t listen. Rhonda went to them two more times for help, but nothing changed. That was when she started the petition. The other females were happy enough to sign it. Most of the guys also signed it because they didn’t want their future mates to have to deal with Cynthia when they claimed and brought them to the flock. Even Sawyer signed it, though I think that was more because Richie was his friend than anything else, since Sawyer doesn’t intend to take a mate.”

“I didn’t even hear about the petition.” Given that Riley despised Cynthia, she figured that the other females would have considered her the best person to go to for support.

“Rhonda knew you were loyal to me; she was worried that you’d tell me because, as Cynthia’s sister, you felt I had a right to know what was happening. Of course, I’d have then been pissed as hell and told my parents. So Rhonda came to me first and tried to talk me into signing it . . . She made some really good points—things I wouldn’t have thought of myself.”

In other words, Rhonda had done her best to turn Lucy against her own sister. It sounded as if it had worked. “What points?”

“Imagine being me, Riley. Imagine that your sister has fucked every guy in the flock. It would feel a little bit weird being with any of them, wouldn’t it? Imagine that you push past that awkwardness and take a chance, but then those guys compare your performance to hers. Imagine how smug your sister would be, knowing you had her castoffs. That was my reality. You know how bad it was.”

Riley bit her bottom lip, hating the pain in Lucy’s voice. Several guys had teased Lucy that her sister was a better lay. It had been cruel, and Cynthia had been delighted about it.

“Rhonda was right: if I mated any of the guys in the flock, Cynthia would be sure to constantly remind me that she’d had him first. And he would compare us, wouldn’t he? And she’d flirt with him and try to seduce him, and just maybe he would cheat if she really was the amazing lay all the guys said she was. Even if my mate came from another flock and wasn’t someone Cynthia had slept with, she still would have been all over him.”

Riley truly couldn’t deny any of that. “You signed it, then.”

Lucy hesitated. “Yes. I was going to tell you about the petition and ask you to sign it too, even though I doubted that you would—you’re a very forward person; you don’t go behind people’s backs. But then the shootings happened and the petition just went right out of my head. It was a moot subject at that point anyway. Hell, I’d forgotten all about it until about six months after the shootings, when Cynthia came to me. She’d found out—I’m guessing it was Duncan who told her. Hypocritical bastard. He signed it too.”

“Duncan? I can’t imagine that he’d ever want her to leave.”

“Now you’re missing his reality. The female he wants makes a point of fucking every male in his flock. She tells him again and again that she’s done with that now, that she only wants him. But she never keeps to her word, and she’s too obsessed about getting the one male into bed who won’t touch her. Duncan cares for Cynthia, but I think he’d just had enough.”

“I guess I can understand that.” It would have gutted Riley to have Tao do that to her.

“Cynthia thought you were behind the petition, that you gave Rhonda the idea. I told her that you weren’t, but she wouldn’t believe me. When you were shot at, I did wonder if maybe she was just trying to get back at you or something. I even said as much to my dad, but he was reluctant to accuse her without proof.”

As much as Sage’s refusal to act on Lucy’s concerns pissed Riley off, she had to admit that he truly couldn’t have accused anyone without evidence. After all, several people had blamed Riley for what was happening, but he’d never once accused her of anything. “But you don’t think it’s Cynthia anymore?”

“No. She wouldn’t shoot me. Not even to divert the blame to someone else.” Lucy paused. “Right?”

“I would have said Wade would never walk into a house and shoot nine people. I think anyone’s capable of anything.”

After ending the call, Riley stood there for long moments, wondering what to make of what she now knew. Eventually Tao came looking for her. His face darkened at her expression.

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