“I can’t discuss an ongoing investigation. Please stay behind this tape.” There was no way he could tell anyone what had happened until the victim’s family was notified, least of all a nosy neighbor.
“Listen, Sheriff, I just saw him last night. What’s the deal with the ambulance and all these uniforms? Is he all right?”
Parker’s eyebrows rose. “You saw him last night?”
“Yeah, he’s a bartender down at Kelly’s Bar and Grill. I was hanging out with some buddies and saw him chatting up some hot chick.”
“A hot chick?”
“Yeah, tall, sex on legs, man. I’ve seen her around before, but I can’t remember where. I do know he left the bar with her.”
That could describe too many women. “Around what time was this?”
“I dunno, midnight maybe. I was pretty messed up last night.”
Parker took a step back and motioned for the guy to walk with him so he could take an official statement. He hadn’t been to Kelly’s in a while, but he was pretty sure the bar had video surveillance. If he could find out whom Scott Ford had left with, they might have their first lead.
* * *
Jayce made his way toward the main house of the Armstrong-Cordona ranch. After last night he was edgy and still pissed off about his confrontation with Kat. Telling her to stop feeling sorry for herself made him feel guilty, but she had to snap out of what he knew was a downward spiral before she got hurt. Or someone else did.
And if she decided that sleeping with random males was a way to purge whatever issues she was having, then someone was definitely going to get hurt. If anyone touched Kat, that person would die. It was as simple as that. The territorial animal inside him wouldn’t allow it. But more than anything, his feelings for her had never died. Just because she’d left him didn’t mean he’d been able to cut those ties to her. He wished to hell he could. Every damn day he wished it, but it just wouldn’t happen.
His wolf and his human side were in agreement. Man’s laws could shove it. So could pack laws as far as Kat was concerned. His inner beast would draw blood before his human side even had time to think if he smelled a male on Kat.
But he shouldn’t have told her to stop feeling sorry for herself. Maybe he should have used kid gloves, but it hadn’t seemed like she needed that. She would probably have thought he pitied her. Which he didn’t. He hated what had happened to her—even though he didn’t know all the details, he could guess—and he just wanted to fix it. But he didn’t pity her. She was tough, and if she allowed herself time to heal, she could survive anything. But he wanted her to let him help.
Shoving those thoughts aside, he opened the door to Connor and Ana’s home. Once inside, he veered toward the living room and found he was the last one to arrive. Something that shouldn’t have happened, but he’d been distracted this morning. Cursing his lateness, he nodded at Connor, Liam, who was the Alpha’s brother, and Brianna, the fae warrior who’d infiltrated the APL and helped save Kat a month ago. Brianna had gone to Ireland for a few weeks to talk with her leaders and had just returned to Fontana.
Sitting on the edge of a love seat, the petite blonde nodded politely at him. Liam, who sat on the long leather couch across from her, grunted a hello. Connor pushed off from his position where he leaned against the fireplace mantel and gave him a look that told him he understood exactly what he was going through with Kat. That just pissed him off. He wasn’t used to anyone knowing his business, but it seemed that everyone in this pack knew he’d gone to see Kat last night.
Though all he wanted to do was pace, he kept his body loose and dropped onto the couch next to Liam. “So what did I miss?” He was in Fontana for a multitude of reasons and this meeting should cover the APL business. Afterward he needed to talk to Connor about the possible vampire-blood-trafficking bullshit.
Connor shot an annoyed look at Brianna, who shrugged. “I’m going to infiltrate the APL again and your wolf friends don’t like it.”
Wolf friends? Despite the tension humming through him, Jayce had to resist smiling. Brianna was part of the Fianna, legendary fae warriors from Ireland that most people thought were complete myth, and as far as he knew, they usually stayed with their own kind. Her presence here was abnormal, but they could use her, even if she didn’t understand pack laws. “So what’s the problem?” He directed his question to Connor.
“I’m not sending anyone in to work undercover with those assholes, especially a female.” Connor’s deep voice was resolute as he looked at Brianna.
The blonde simply gave Connor what Jayce considered a patronizing smile. “My brethren disagree. I appreciate you giving me shelter for the time being, but I don’t need it. In fact, if this is representative of your pack’s attitude toward teamwork, I am not interested.” She rose slowly, the action almost regal, as if she were addressing peasants.
Connor growled low in his throat. “Sit.”
The fae female might not have agreed with Connor, but there was a lot of power behind that one word. She did as he told her.
Before anyone else could speak, Jayce stood. Even if Connor had issues with her involvement, it was going to happen. Most supernatural beings minded their own business and didn’t interact much with other supernaturals. Hell, a hundred years ago it wasn’t uncommon for vicious battles to occur between shifters and the fae. Or the fae and vampires. Or any number of combinations. When supernatural beings wanted something like land, they usually took it or died trying. Strength mattered to all of them and civility was a fairly new concept. Over the past forty years there had been a substantial decrease in supernatural warfare, though, partially because shifters formed official councils all over the world and were better at communicating now. Then, as of twenty years ago, they’d had to start worrying about humans watching them too. And right now they had a common goal: destroy the APL. So while Connor was hesitant, it wasn’t his decision. “The Council wants us working with the Fianna. We both want the same thing, and if she’s comfortable going undercover again, we have no reason to stop her. If it’s because she’s female—”
“That is not the reason.” Connor’s voice had a deadly edge to it as he straightened, moving into an offensive stance.
Jayce’s eyes narrowed. “We all saw what she did to Adler.” Using her supernatural gift of harnessing pure energy, Brianna had taken off the head of the human scum who’d ordered the kidnappings of both Liam’s mate, December, and Kat. As far as Jayce knew, Adler hadn’t been the one to torture Kat, but he’d been complicit. And he’d been working on someone’s orders. Right now Jayce needed to find out who’d given those orders. Because whoever it was was a dead man walking. “She can hold her own against any of them.”
Something they all knew. Jayce just felt Connor needed a little reminder. Brianna had been working undercover with the APL for months, controlling Adler’s sick mind with a lot of psychic energy, even though it had kept her in a constant weak state. She’d been willing to sacrifice herself to save Kat. Killing Adler had expended so much of Brianna’s energy that she’d passed out and could have been killed by other APL members if not for the intervention of Connor’s pack. For that, Jayce would stand by the woman for pretty much anything.
“We don’t know that she hasn’t been compromised and we need to keep a low profile. For the good of the pack,” Connor said.
“Everyone who knew of her involvement with us is dead,” Liam interjected, earning him an annoyed glance from his older brother.
“All I want is the chance to utilize the list of names and addresses your pack found. If I can befriend a few APL members it will help both our causes.” Brianna crossed her legs and settled in the love seat as she watched Connor.
A month ago they’d hacked into a flash drive that Jayce and Liam had found at the house of a dead APL member. And Connor was sitting on the contents at the moment, refusing to let anyone use it again. The information on it gave names and addresses of all known APL members in the area. He’d agreed with the Council and the fae to work with Brianna so they could help each other bring down the APL before it grew too big. Jayce didn’t understand why Connor was stonewalling the fae warrior.
Rubbing a hand over his face, Connor sighed. “We can’t afford to stand out among the humans. Not now. And I don’t give a shit what the Council says,” he said to Jayce, his voice heated. “I have to protect my pack. After everything that’s happened to us in the past few months, I won’t let them be targeted again.”
Liam stood now, his body as tense as Connor’s. “I understand wanting to protect the pack and my pregnant mate, but we can’t bury our heads in the sand. We have to go after them and strike hard.”
Jayce was silent as he watched the interaction between the two brothers. No matter what any of them said, Connor was Alpha. In the end he would make the decision he thought was best for his pack. He had to protect not only his mate but his own warriors and all the Cordona females he’d taken on when he mated with Ana. Their lives and welfare were his responsibility. And Jayce sure as hell didn’t envy Connor’s position.
The room was silent as they all waited. Finally, Connor gave Brianna a hard look. “We work together in targeting the APL and I know where you are at all times. No lone ranger bullshit.” He cut Jayce a sharp look too, but Jayce ignored it and focused on the female.
Her expression was unreadable. As far as he knew, the fae hadn’t been targeted by the APL yet. But the APL was growing and the possibility that it might expand overseas was real. The fae wanted to figuratively—or maybe literally—cut off APL heads before they reached fae shores. Which Jayce respected.
Brianna’s lips pulled into a thin line. “For once, both of our species want the same thing. I will share any information I come across and I expect backup if I require it.”
Connor gave a short nod. “Agreed.”