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“Someone broke into our home when I was out with friends and shot my parents with silver bullets. Their bodies were completely riddled through. . . . Then they . . . took their hearts out.” She sniffed once but continued. “I might be young but I’m not stupid. Someone robbing us wouldn’t have done that—and nothing was taken anyway. It was a warning to others in the neighborhood. I just know it.”

“You’re too young to be on your own. Didn’t the Council offer to place you with a pack?” The lines around Connor’s mouth deepened.

“When they wouldn’t help me find out who killed my parents, I told them to fuck off.”

Kat gently squeezed her shoulders. “Don’t curse.” She didn’t mean to reprimand the girl—it just slipped out.

Leila’s cheeks tinged pink as she turned back to Connor. “I didn’t know what else to do, so I lived with human friends for a while, and then when I heard about Jayce Kazan I decided to come here.”

“Why do you think you’re an enforcer?” Jayce asked.

Leila tensed and Kat didn’t blame her. If she didn’t know Jayce, she’d be intimidated by the vicious scars running across his eye and his generally dark disposition. Not that he was doing anything overt; his entire demeanor just screamed danger.

“I . . . sort of hacked into that forum you and the other enforcers from around the world use to communicate.”

“You what?” His voice rose, just a notch, but it was enough to suck all the air out of the room.

“I was bored one day and stumbled across the forum. I didn’t realize what it was at first but after I’d hacked into it—you guys have some wicked firewalls by the way . . .” She cleared her throat when Jayce’s eyes narrowed. “Anyway, I, uh, did some poking around. Some of the things you guys had listed as enforcer traits—”

“That’s enough,” he snapped, straightening to his full height.

Kat glanced at Connor and saw the speculation in his gaze. If she’d had to guess, she no idea about the forum or what enforcer traits were. That didn’t surprise her, considering what little she knew about pack rules and shifter life in general. The enforcers seemed to operate with a completely different set of rules than everyone else. She knew there were a few enforcers placed around the globe, but she didn’t really know much about them. She did, however, notice that Leila had gray eyes just like Jayce and Erin. And that trait didn’t seem to be common at all among shifters.

Before anyone else could speak, Ana stood and motioned toward Leila. “Come on. I want to get you settled. You guys can talk about all this later. You’ll be staying here until we figure things out.”

Leila stood, then surprised Kat by turning back to her. “Will you be here . . . later?”

She nodded. “I don’t live at the ranch but I’ll be here in the morning. I’ll join you for breakfast. And don’t worry about Jayce. He’s more bark than bite,” she whispered even though Jayce could hear. Definitely not true, but it had the intended effect and Leila’s shoulders relaxed a fraction.

As soon as the girl had gone upstairs, Jayce let out a string of curses. Then he glanced upward before looking at Connor. “We need to have this conversation outside.”

Kat cleared her throat. “If you guys don’t need me for this, I have dinner plans.” She’d called Aiden earlier and asked him to dinner. Since he was her maker she would always have a special bond with him and tonight she needed advice from him that had nothing to do with pack life.

“With who?” Jayce growled.

Bristling at his proprietary tone, she glared at him. “Not that it’s any of your business, but Aiden. He’ll be taking me home afterward so don’t worry. I won’t need you to babysit me.”

“Jayce is training me anyway. At least you won’t be bored here,” Erin interjected smoothly, which earned her a dark look from Jayce.

Connor cut them both off with a sharp glance around the room, before settling his gaze on Jayce. “She’ll be fine. Outside. Now.”

Without waiting for the response that she knew would be forthcoming from Jayce, Kat strode out ahead of them. As she crossed the expanse of land she passed a few houses before she reached the cabin where the single males lived.

Aiden was waiting on the front porch, his dirty-blond hair tied back at his neck. Compared to most of the male shifters at the ranch, his hair was longer than almost everyone else’s except Nikan’s. His dark eyes lit up and he grinned as he took in her appearance, no doubt because of the skintight jeans. She might have dressed up to go to the last two bars, but around him she’d worn nothing but sweats or yoga pants. “Shut up,” she growled, even though he hadn’t said a word.

“Lookin’ good, Kat. But I should warn you that you’re not getting lucky tonight even if you do look smoking hot.” His boots thudded on the short set of steps off the porch. She rolled her eyes as he fell in step with her and dropped a casual arm around her shoulders. “Jayce is gonna be pissed when he scents me on you.”

“And you want to piss him off?” She didn’t exactly worry about Aiden being able to take care of himself, but since Jayce had threatened to kill anyone she slept with, a little bit of angst niggled its way inside her even though she and Aiden never had and never would venture into that territory.

As if he read her mind, Aiden just chuckled. “I can take care of myself. It’s fun to mess with males fighting their mating instinct.”

She nearly jerked to a halt but caught herself. “What?”

Aiden shrugged. “I could be wrong—though I doubt it—but Jayce thinks you’re his intended mate.”

She snorted. Jayce might want her physically and act all dominating and proprietary, but she knew the score. He hadn’t wanted her as his mate when she was human, so even if he did now—which she doubted—he wasn’t getting a second chance. But that didn’t mean she couldn’t have sex with him.

As stupid as it was, that’s all she’d been able to think about all day. It was why she’d asked Aiden to dinner. She wanted to talk to him without anyone else around. And she trusted his opinion.

“I know you’re apparently the pack gossip, but I want to talk to you about some stuff and I want it to stay private.” She threw in that last part even though she knew he wouldn’t betray her trust.

He pressed his free hand to his chest mockingly. “I’m hurt.”

“Yeah, right. I don’t want to talk about it until we’re off the ranch, though, so why don’t you fill me in on more of your gossip.” Even if she liked to pretend she didn’t care about pack business, the more Aiden told her about everyone, the more she wanted to get to know them. Part of her was afraid they wouldn’t accept her. They didn’t really have a choice though, since she’d been turned without any introduction into pack life.

Aiden cut off her train of thought with his next statement. “First off, Ryan and Teresa are barely talking to each other even though I know he wants her and she wants him.”

Kat had seen the way the computer genius looked at Teresa and she believed Aiden. “What’s his deal anyway?”

He shrugged. “No one knows, but when Jacob mentioned he was thinking about asking her to dinner, Ryan threatened to cut off his balls.”

She laughed as they passed the main house, where Connor and Jayce were outside talking. Somehow Kat kept her face straight ahead and only watched them out of the corner of her eye. Once she and Aiden were at the parking structure and out of sight, she let out a sigh of relief.

“You hold more power over him than you realize. You must know that,” Aiden said, suddenly serious.

Kat swallowed hard but didn’t say anything. Aiden was wrong on that front. She had no power over Jayce other than his apparent sexual hunger for her. But she wanted to wait until they were away from the ranch before she opened that can of worms.

Two hours later she still hadn’t found the courage to open up to Aiden. They’d talked all through dinner about the pack and everything else under the sun except the one thing Kat wanted to discuss. Jayce.

As they strolled through downtown she felt as if her stomach was twisted into a jumble of confusing knots. The scenery was so pretty, but it was hard to concentrate on anything other than thoughts of Jayce. His scent, the way he made her laugh, the way he made her feel, the occasional smile he gave her but no one else.

Sighing, she glanced in one of the closed shops. Even though Christmas and New Year’s Eve had passed, downtown Fontana had sparkly lights and a few holiday decorations still up.

“For the love of God, Kat. I think I’ve been patient. What do you want to talk about?” Aiden didn’t break stride as they reached the final store on the edge of downtown. They’d left his truck by a park earlier since she’d wanted to walk off all her pent-up energy. Unfortunately walking wasn’t helping.

But she was glad for the longer distance from the restaurant to his vehicle. “Jayce and I sort of, uh, fooled around yesterday.”

Aiden let out a low whistle but didn’t respond.


“Well, what? You’re a big girl and you two obviously want each other.”

“You’re not going to give me a lecture about how it was stupid?”

Grinning, he shook his head. “Nope. Sometimes doing what’s bad for you has positive consequences.”

“That doesn’t even make sense.”

He paused so long she wasn’t sure he’d continue, but thankfully he did. “I was involved with a vampire once. A long time ago. We were best friends, but thanks to . . . circumstances, it didn’t work out.” There was a strangely painful note in Aiden’s voice, one she’d never heard before. It was completely at odds with his normally relaxed demeanor.

She crossed her arms across her chest. “What are you trying to say?”

Aiden nodded a polite hello at a young couple passing them in the park before answering. “I fucked up and it’s too late to go back and change things, but you and Jayce . . . hell, he’s right in front of you and what he feels for you isn’t casual, and I know you have feelings for him.”