“He didn’t want me when I was human—”
“Are you sure about that? Has he ever come out and actually said it?” Before she could answer, he continued. “Even if it is true, sometimes people deserve a second chance, especially dumbass males. The night we found you—”
She sucked in a quick breath but didn’t make a move to stop him from continuing. Just motioned to a nearby bench and collapsed on it. Aiden followed suit, but Kat didn’t look at him. Instead she stared at the jungle gym in front of them. Its primary colors were vivid against the dark night, thanks to the bright glow of a nearby light.
“The night we found you, Jayce came close to killing me for a chance to hold you.”
She swiveled toward him. “What? I might have been crying and in pain but I remember that night clearly. He did no such thing.”
Aiden snorted softly. “The look on his face was full of so much raw emotion when he looked at you but when he looked at me . . .” He shook his head. “Pure death. He wanted to protect you, to hold you, and he thought about killing me to do it. I saw it in his eyes.”
She bit her bottom lip as she digested his words. That night she’d been too emotional to look at Jayce. Hadn’t even wanted to talk to him. She’d been so embarrassed that he’d seen her at her absolute worst. After suffering through the torture and near death at the hands of that APL member, she’d been bloody and naked for everyone to see. By the time Jayce had arrived she’d been covered, but she still hadn’t been able to face him. And she’d refused all his calls. The first time she’d seen him had been a couple nights ago and it had brought out a firestorm of emotions inside her.
Even knowing they had no future, she wanted nothing more than to welcome him into her bed. Sighing, she turned to Aiden but stopped at the sound of a distant shout for help.
It was from the direction they’d just come from. Before she could say anything Aiden jumped up. “Come on.”
They sprinted down the sidewalk, then ducked through a part of the park that was thicker with trees.
The couple they’d passed earlier were struggling with three teenage thugs who appeared to be mugging them. One had a knife pressed to the man’s throat, one was rifling through the woman’s purse, and the last one had his arms around her in a bear hug from behind.
“Just take our money and leave,” the guy said as he attempted to struggle, but when he did, the teenager dug the knife in deeper, drawing blood.
“Shut the hell up,” the guy holding the woman said.
The coppery scent hit Kat’s nose. She glanced at Aiden, who motioned toward his left. “I’m going to confront them. You loop around that way, then take out the guy with the knife. I can handle the others but I don’t want that guy slipping and accidentally killing the man.”
Without pause, she did as he said, falling back into the cluster of trees and using them as cover.
“Nice night for a stroll!” Aiden’s loud voice boomed through the air.
Kat shook her head as she sprinted through the park. He was going to have no problem distracting—and likely agitating—the three muggers. Breaching the opposite end of the opening where the others stood, she glanced around a giant oak tree.
Sure enough, they all watched Aiden as he rambled on about the weather and what a dangerous place this was for young people at night.
Creeping up on the guy with the knife, she didn’t make a sound or order him to drop it. With lightning-quick moves, she reached around his lean body, grabbed his arm, and yanked it back until it broke. His cry shattered through Aiden’s ramblings.
In the next instant the two others looked toward Kat, but in the short time it took them to move, Aiden had yanked the teenager off the woman, knocked him out with a swift punch to the jaw, and had the third guy on the ground with his hands behind his back.
“Make a move and I’ll make you regret it,” Aiden growled in his ear.
His words were low enough that the other humans couldn’t hear, but Kat had no problem hearing him, thanks to her extrasensory abilities.
The woman was crying as she ran to her male companion and wrapped her arms around him. Both of them were obviously shaken, but at least the man was holding it together as he pulled the woman away from the teenager crying on the ground over his broken arm.
Before Kat could say anything, Aiden strode over to the couple. “Do you want me to call the cops, or deal with these punks on my own?” He bared his teeth slightly to let them know what he was.
The couple looked from Aiden to Kat, then back again. A dark red aura surrounded both of them for an instant before it faded. It indicated they were both in survival mode. Despite the situation, Kat found it fascinating that they’d both shown the exact same reaction at the same time. They were very much in sync. The woman spoke first. “I just want to go home,” she said through sniffles to the man holding her.
The man’s arms tightened around her. “Take care of it yourself. . . . And thank you, we won’t forget this or tell anyone.”
Aiden nodded slightly and waited until the couple was out of sight before he turned back to the teenagers. The dark look on his face was so out of character it almost made Kat take a step back.
Before he could move, she placed a hand on his forearm. “I don’t think they meant to do anything other than rob them,” she murmured. She’d seen the darker aura surrounding the teenagers as they’d come up on them, but they weren’t evil. Just punks. Unlike the APL members whose crimes she’d seen practically tattooed on their foreheads, these young men were different. Currently a muddy brown color lingered around them. It was faint but wasn’t fading. Yeah, these kids were all scared shitless.
“You’re sure?” His question was a soft growl.
He paused for a moment, then nodded. “Okay.”
She wasn’t sure what “okay” meant, but she watched as he went to each male, pulled out his wallet, and searched for other weapons. He didn’t find anything besides the original knife.
As he pulled out their IDs, the guy he’d knocked out was waking up from his stupor. Aiden shook his head at them, disgust in every line of his face. “You’re all eighteen, and from what I can see, you live in middle-class neighborhoods so you don’t even have the excuse of stealing because you need the money—not that I would have given a shit if you did. What the hell is wrong with you three?”
The one lying facedown twisted his head so he was looking at Aiden. “Can I sit up?” he squeaked.
Aiden nodded and waited until the kid had rolled over. “I’m still waiting for an answer.”
“We were just fucking around,” the one with the broken arm rasped.
“Fucking around by terrorizing a young couple not bothering anyone? Fucking around by wielding a knife so close to that guy’s throat you actually drew blood? Fucking around with people in your own community?”
The three of them swallowed hard, the sound audible even above their rapid heartbeats and heavy breathing. Kat held no pity for them. Even if their intentions weren’t murderous, things could have escalated out of control in seconds. All it would have taken was for the one kid to slip up and nick an artery.
Aiden turned to her. “I think those two”—he motioned toward the two fairly unscathed teenagers—“deserve to get an arm broken too. What do you think?”
Kat eyed the three of them. Growing up with her father, she’d had some of his brutal lifestyle bleed into her own life. Enough that she understood if you didn’t punish transgressors, they’d take advantage. If they didn’t make these kids regret what they’d done, they would do it again. And they might kill someone next time. She also understood that the way Aiden wanted to handle this was part of pack life. Something she’d better get used to. Still . . . these were young kids and their fear was nauseatingly potent. “Maybe we give them a break. Once.”
Another, purer scent filled the air at her statement. It smelled a lot like hope. Like a soft spring rain. Almost as if the three boys were linked like that couple had been, a sharp burst of emerald green and canary yellow flowed off them for an instant. It was so bright it took Kat off guard for a moment.
Aiden turned and glared at the two boys. “What do you think? Think I should give you a break?”
“We won’t do anything like this ever again, we swear.” Sincerity was strong in his voice.
Kat also knew he might be sincere now but that could change in the future. Only time would tell.
Aiden nodded at the kid who’d wielded the knife. “Help your friend up. We’ll drop you off near the hospital.”
The wounded guy moaned in pain and another of the three was actually crying. Guilt flowed through her and she wanted to curse at herself. She shouldn’t feel guilty. These kids were lucky they weren’t being arrested.
Other than their cries of pain, the drive to Fontana’s hospital was quiet. After giving them a warning and a promise that sounded more like a threat to check up on them in the next couple of days—and after making a show of keeping their IDs—Aiden let them out about two blocks from the hospital.
“You don’t think we should have called the police?” Kat asked as soon as they were alone.
“No.” His answer was immediate. “At least not now. If any of them got thrown in prison they’d be eaten alive—which they might well deserve—but they might still have a chance at being decent human beings. I’m going to have Ryan run their names and see if they have records, check up on them, and make them do a hell of a lot of community service.”
“You’re going to continue their punishment?”
“Hell, yeah. And community service isn’t harsh punishment.”
“You think they’ll tell the cops I broke that guy’s arm?”
He shrugged, his broad shoulders lifting casually. “Maybe, but I doubt it. The fear rolling off them was real and they knew we could have done a lot worse to them. Instead, we showed mercy.”