But not here. Not now.

Not ever.

“After this meeting I’m heading to December’s store. I just talked to her and Kat’s gonna be there helping out later today.” Liam threw the last bit in quickly and didn’t make a big deal about it.

His heart jumped. Like a randy cub, he couldn’t wait to see her. Instead of commenting, Jayce changed the subject. “Where are we having the meeting?”

Liam nodded at the house they were headed toward. “Right here. Connor, Ana, Ryan, Noah, and Erin are already there. Most of the warriors are out patrolling right now, which is why it’s so small.”

Jayce nodded. The smaller the better. The only person he was really interested in talking to was Connor anyway. He was the Alpha and had the final say. As pack leader, Connor had the alpha temperament times ten. It was what made him the leader, the Alpha, not simply alpha in nature. This pack was unique in that all the males were warriors as opposed to simply alphas, and he didn’t need all that extra testosterone in the room right now. Warriors were alpha in nature but not all alphas were warriors. The warrior class were simply born fighters. They were bigger and badder than the rest of the shifter population and didn’t make apologies for embracing their animal side. Something Jayce could appreciate. His animal side was more prevalent than even that of warriors. It was a constant battle inside him. His beast saw the world in black and white and made no apologies for being a predator. It was why he fought in his human form. He was just as fast and dangerous as a human. As an animal, a shifter often overlooked human reasoning because it didn’t factor into the animal’s decision making. So even though he was a different breed altogether, he usually connected better with his warrior brethren. Didn’t mean he wanted to be in a room full of them right now, though.

Liam opened the door and entered first, out of respect. If he’d been human, it might have seemed odd, but in the shifter world, entering a room first meant taking on the possibility that an ambush was waiting. By going first he was showing Jayce there was no harm waiting in the house. Even though he was the enforcer and there on official business, he was still a guest of their pack. Liam hadn’t expected to like Jayce so much, but after seeing the issues he was having with Kat, he felt an odd connection. They both had female problems.

Liam had stomped the snow and dirt off his shoes before entering and Jayce did the same. A low hum of voices trailed from the dining room. As they entered the room, everyone quieted. Connor sat at the head of the long, rectangular table and Ana sat next to him.

Connor stood and nodded. “Jayce.”

“Connor.” Jayce stood stiffly as he glanced around the table at everyone. When his eyes landed on Erin, the petite redhead Liam and his brother had found naked, beaten, and bloody behind a Dumpster over a year ago, they lingered longer than on the others.

Connor had never reported they’d found Erin, because she’d begged them not to. She also wouldn’t tell them where she’d come from or who had hurt her. If she had, Liam and Connor and probably the rest of the pack would have lined up for a chance to kill the bastard or bastards who had dared hurt her. Violence against females in the shifter world was rare and by the abuse she’d suffered, it had been obvious shifters had hurt her. Humans wouldn’t have had the strength to. But when she hadn’t wanted to do anything about her attack, they hadn’t pushed her. They’d taken her in and made her part of their pack and protected her the only way they could.

It was clear to anyone in the room that Jayce’s assessment of her wasn’t sexual, but it was curious. “You’re Erin Flynn.” It was not a question but a statement.

Her back went ramrod straight and Noah, who sat next to her, moved a few inches closer in a proprietary manner. “Yes.”

“Did you used to belong to the Murphy pack?”

Her face paled and after flicking a nervous glance at Connor, she looked back at Jayce and nodded.

“They listed you as dead at the last Council meeting.”

At his words, Erin’s gray eyes flashed angrily. “Well, they were wrong,” she said through gritted teeth.

Jayce continued to stare at her, as if searching for something. The room was eerily silent as they met each other’s gazes. When Erin didn’t flinch away, Jayce finally nodded slightly. “After this meeting, we need to talk.”

Erin swallowed hard but nodded.

Liam watched as Noah’s canines started to extend, so he cleared his throat loudly and took the empty chair next to him. The other wolf looked at him and when he did, his breathing began to even out. Noah and Erin weren’t mated or bondmates or even intimate as far as Liam knew, but Noah didn’t care. He’d been protecting her since they’d found her.

Jayce focused his attention on Connor as he sat at the opposite end of the table. “Before we start this meeting, you should know that the Council cleared you in the death of Taggart.”

Connor’s nod was barely perceptible. “I wasn’t worried.”

Liam knew his brother hadn’t been worried about the ruling of the actual killing. That had definitely been justified. Considering Taggart had kidnapped a defenseless cub and tried to rape Ana twice, that bastard deserved everything he’d gotten.

“That’s not the reason you’re here, though, is it?” Connor spoke again.

Jayce shook his head. “The APL problem is growing. Right now it’s a small group of angry humans, but if we don’t do something to ferret out their leaders, we’ll have a problem.”

“We have the names of six known members. Three are dead, one we haven’t managed to dig up anything on, one is in jail, and the other has gone missing,” Liam said. The man missing was the asshole who had attacked December. Mike Taylor. They’d been trying to track his movements, but it was as if he’d fallen off the face of the earth.

“How do you know about the dead men? Did you kill them?” Jayce asked.

Liam looked at his brother. Connor nodded and took the lead. “We tracked down two APL members after they tried to kill my mate.” His voice heated up as he continued. “When we found them, they’d kidnapped another woman. They planned to rape her, but we got there before they could.” He paused a moment. “It was Katarina Saburova.”

Jayce’s eyes widened and the muscles in his neck corded tightly as they tensed. A thick, overpowering haze of potent rage flooded the air.

Liam and his brother hadn’t told the Council about Kat’s kidnapping and her subsequent involvement in killing one of the men or even their own involvement in the killings. At the time, involving the human had seemed like more trouble than it was worth. But with Jayce in town and with his connection to her, it seemed smarter to tell him about it now instead of letting him find out later.

“That’s how you know Kat?” Jayce looked at Liam almost accusingly.

Liam nodded. “It happened a few weeks ago.”

“I didn’t know…. Was she hurt?” His voice was raspy.

Liam knew that asking about this in a room full of strangers was a blow to Jayce’s tough-guy image, but it was obvious he didn’t care. “She was roughed up but she wasn’t raped.”

“I didn’t see any reports about this.” Now Jayce was back in control of himself. His voice was even, monotone.

“She killed one of the men and we killed the other. We left before the police showed up, because she insisted on it. Said that she didn’t want shifters involved because she worried we’d somehow get blamed even though they were rapist bastards. We’ve kept in contact with her since,” Connor said.

“Was she targeted because of her involvement with…shifters?” Or one shifter in particular. Jayce didn’t say it, but everyone in the room knew what he meant.

Connor nodded. “We think so. They called her a shifter whore more than once and from what we’ve gathered, they’re loosely connected to the man who tried to hurt December a few days ago.”

Jayce’s gaze narrowed slightly. “That’s only two men. You said you knew of three dead APL members.”

“A couple weeks ago I found a guy trying to kidnap December outside her store—he’s the one in jail and the police only think he wanted to rob her—and he mentioned that a guy named Chuck was killed by an Edward Adler, who sounds like their boss, for failing to complete a couple APL missions.”

“Chuck?” Jayce asked.

“I don’t have a last name, but apparently Chuck was responsible for the first attack on December weeks ago—in her house—and for the attack on another woman we’re friends with. Apparently his boss wasn’t happy with his failures.” Liam sure as hell wouldn’t lose any sleep over his death.

Jayce frowned. “They ever find a body?”

“Nothing’s been reported. At least not here or in any of the surrounding areas.” This time Ryan spoke up. He’d been monitoring every agency and news report online.

“What about this Adler guy, then? What’s his deal?” Jayce asked.

“So far we haven’t been able to dig up anything concrete on him, but whoever he is, he sounds like the leader of the APL in this area. The man I questioned was scared of him. Almost more terrified of him than he was of me.” Liam had been able to smell the terror rolling off that asshole who’d wanted to take December. Even though he wasn’t in jail for attempting to kidnap her, he’d copped to a few other crimes just to get himself locked up. The guy had been smarter than he looked. In jail he was protected from Liam and his boss.

Jayce was silent for a while and no one else said anything. He was the one who’d been sent by the Council, and while Connor was Alpha of this pack, Jayce had a broader scope of how powerful the APL was. The past few weeks the only thing Connor had been concerned with was keeping his pack safe and Liam didn’t blame him. But if they could drive the APL from the Fontana region, they would.

Finally Jayce spoke. “What I’m about to say stays in this room.” When everyone nodded, he continued. “The Council has been in contact with the Tuatha. They’ve sent someone in to infiltrate the APL branch in this region. I don’t know who their spy is or how much progress they’ve made, but I’ll see if I can get in contact with them and work out a plan to bring down their leaders. It might be possible to work together.”