“F— Screw you.” Lying there, he tried to picture December’s face while Ana sanitized and bandaged him. Anything to distract him. Unfortunately it didn’t work. The adrenaline had worn off and after being stabbed this morning, he felt as if he could sleep for a couple days straight. He’d tried calling her at work, but she must have left already. And she hadn’t answered her cell. Though he wanted to jump up right then and call again, he’d try her once he was sitting up and dressed.

As Ana continued to bandage him, he could already feel himself getting stronger. Since the foreign object was gone, his body would naturally push out any remnants of silver, but it might take a day or two until he was completely back to normal. The silver slowed the healing process and even though most of it was gone, he knew he wouldn’t be at a hundred percent.

“So when are we going to meet your girlfriend? Ana says you’re just like Connor and don’t know how to—”

Ana cleared her throat loudly. “All right, little one. Let’s leave Uncle Liam and Connor alone.” She dropped the bloody towels into the trash bag she’d laid out and scooped Vivian up into her arms.

“But I don’t want to leave,” Vivian pouted.

“Too bad. You need a bath before dinner.”

Vivian grumbled under her breath, but she wrapped her arms around Ana’s neck and laid her head on her shoulder as she did.

Once they were out of sight, Liam sat up. More than pain, annoying discomfort pitched through his arm. He ignored it. “So how is it being newly mated and living here with the extra females?” One of Ana’s sisters had died, so they’d moved back into the main house with her other sister, Noel, along with Erin and had also adopted Vivian.

Connor grinned slightly as he started wiping up the blood on the tile. “Sometimes we have to get…creative, but it’s good for Ana being near Noel all the time.”

Liam bit back another groan as he pushed off the ground with his good arm and slid onto one of the chairs. “What about Vivian? How’s she adjusting to living with a bunch of wolves?”

“I don’t think she cares one way or another, but she has been having a lot of fun shifting in the middle of the barn and scaring the shit out of the horses.” His brother shook his head. “You going to see December after this?”

He nodded.

“How are you going to explain that?” He gestured to the bandage.

“I’m not.” Considering the walls she’d been erecting at lunch, he doubted they’d get to the part where clothes came off, so he wasn’t worried about having to explain anything. Not wanting to talk about it anymore, he switched subjects. “You think Ryan will be able to figure out what’s on that flash drive?”

Connor lifted his shoulders noncommittally as he tied shut the garbage bag full of rags and Liam’s bloody clothes. “Hell if I know. If anyone can get past that encryption, it’s him.”

Liam picked up the sweater Ana had left for him and slipped it on. As he lifted his arms, his muscles strained against the movement.

“So…how are things with December?” Connor looked at him with an expression that said he knew exactly how things were with her.

Liam’s shoulders automatically tensed as he thought about earlier. “Fine.”

His brother was silent for a long moment. Finally he spoke. “A couple weeks ago I had Ryan run a background check on December and the sheriff—”

Liam shot out of his chair. “What the fuck?”

Connor took a menacing step forward and slightly bared his already protruding teeth. “Sit and listen.” The words were spoken so low, but the underlying authority in them jolted Liam straight to his core.

The anger flowing through him didn’t subside, but the subtle reminder that Connor wasn’t only his brother but his Alpha wasn’t lost on him. So Liam did as he said. He might be an alpha in nature, but his brother was pack Alpha for a reason.

Connor’s canines retracted as he stepped back and leaned against the counter. “Have you talked to December about her past? Her family history?”

Liam shook his head. Talking was the last thing on his mind when he was around her.

“You should.”

“What’s that supposed to mean?”

His brother sighed in the way only a big brother could. “Damn it, Liam. I know you’re pulled to her like nothing you’ve ever felt. Believe me, I get it. But you need to get to know her before you mate and bond with her.”

Liam snorted. Mating and bonding? All he’d done was kiss December. As his brother’s words sank in, a sliver of concern wedged its way inside him. “What do you know about her that I should?”

Connor shrugged and shook his head. “Ask her yourself.”

Liam understood him well enough that he knew his brother was through answering questions. And he really hated that Connor was right. What did he know about her? He knew that she smelled like jasmine and that her breasts were soft and fit perfectly against him. He also knew that when he finally stripped her naked and had his way with her, it still wouldn’t be enough. But the truth was, he didn’t know much about her. Her likes and dislikes. No wonder she kept pushing him away. Ignoring the fresh pain in his upper arm and the fading discomfort in his side, he grabbed his keys. It was time to take her on a real date and treat her the way she deserved.

Joseph tossed his cigarette onto the icy sidewalk and stubbed it out under his boot. Even wearing a thick down jacket, he was still chilled. The sun was setting and taking the limited warmth with it. Pausing by a light pole across the street, he bent down and retied the laces as he watched December’s Book Nook. It was a few minutes until five. She should be leaving soon.

When his phone buzzed in his pocket, he glanced at it, then silenced it. Edward thought he could tell him what to do, but that bastard had turned into such a pussy lately. Whatever that blond slut Brianna said, he did. Joseph wasn’t even sure where she’d come from, but he didn’t trust her. She hadn’t been part of the APL long enough, yet Edward still deferred to her. Not overtly, but it was so obvious he cared what she thought.

It was disgusting.

Concentrating on the task at hand was the most important thing. The two women inside the bookstore talked and laughed as they started shutting off the lights and blowing out the candles.

Edward wanted him to tail Katarina back to the ski lodge, but that was some stupid shit. He didn’t care what his boss or even what Edward’s boss ordered. Going after her was like asking to bring all the heat of her father down on their organization.

Edward talked to him like he was some stupid thug, but he didn’t have a death wish. Katarina Saburova’s father was far more terrifying than any shifter or vampire ever would be. No, he’d take the sheriff’s sister. Edward might be pissed at first that he’d disobeyed orders, but he’d get over it. And if he didn’t, fuck him.

The sheriff’s sister was a good bargaining chip. The local pack leader’s brother was all into her, so they could use that against the Armstrongs. Edward had told him that getting that pack out of Fontana and the region was their number one priority right now. Doing it this way made more sense. If they tried it Edward’s way, it would just bring more violence into the area and more heat on the APL.

That was the last thing he wanted. When he’d joined the APL, it wasn’t to bring violence to humans. It wasn’t like he was a terrorist. He just wanted the shifters gone.

His brother had been killed by one of those animals in a bar fight. Over a stupid table. And the judge had let the shifter off on some sort of technicality. His brother might have run his mouth from time to time, but no one deserved to die like that. It wasn’t fair.

Joseph’s breath quickened as the women exited the store. The redhead looked around as if searching for someone. Not wanting to get caught staring, he slowly headed down the street away from them and toward his parked truck.

But she didn’t pay any attention to him anyway. He slid into his vehicle and turned around to watch them through his tinted back window. A few people carrying colorful shopping bags walked past him on the sidewalk, but no one noticed him.

Katarina stood there waiting with December. Finally the redhead shook her head and shooed the other woman to her car. Looked like she didn’t plan to wait around for her man.

Joseph smiled and kicked his truck into gear. He already knew where she lived, so he didn’t plan to follow her. He’d simply wait for her to come to him.

Taking side streets, he reached her block quickly. The neighborhood had quaint, historic-looking homes and was exceptionally quiet. A far cry from where he’d grown up in a crowded city in a loud, run-down apartment building where his family had been the only whites.

He parked a few houses down from December’s place and scanned the neighborhood as he got out. No blinds open and no kids playing in the front yard. He slipped on his gloves and zipped up his coat as he hurried across the street.

His opportunity to strike would be limited, but getting her out of the house should be easy. He needed to subdue her, tie her up, then pull his truck into her drive and deposit her into the backseat. He could risk trying to drag her to his parked truck, but then he wouldn’t be able to bind her without taking a huge risk. And that left more opportunity for her to fight back or make a scene, or for someone to notice them.

Glancing around once more as he strode up the stone walk toward her front door, he breathed a sigh of relief that no one was watching. Unless she’d stopped somewhere, she should be home soon.

Instead of going all the way up to her front door, he ducked behind one of the bushes by the entrance and withdrew his gun. Not perfect cover, but with dusk falling it was good enough. Just as he got into position, he watched her steer past the house. Without standing, he couldn’t see, but he could hear when her car door slammed.

When he heard her boots clacking against the walk, he tensed, ready to spring. With his gun ready, he knew he’d have only one shot at this.