To see pity in his gray eyes. She might want to feel his arms around her, but it wasn’t going to happen. Biting back another sob, she tried to block everything out.

Jayce stared at Aiden holding Kat tightly in his arms and thought his heart would shatter. She wore only a coat and with her long, elegant legs dangling and completely bare, he wanted to go over there and cover her. He wanted to rip her from the other male’s arms and cradle her up against his chest, just so he could feel her warmth and reassure himself she was truly going to be all right.

But he didn’t.

She kept her face turned away from everyone while Connor and Liam were trying to figure out what happened. If Kat knew he was there, she gave no indication. It nearly killed him.

Fighting to hold it together, he tuned everyone else out and kept his gaze on her.

While he might not know what happened, the smell of her blood was fresh. And there was a lot of it. She’d been hurt. If he had to guess, probably tortured.

The thought made his inner wolf howl with the need for vengeance. He preferred to fight in his human form because once he let his wolf out, people often died. He was in control, but his wolf was old and powerful and right now it wanted out.

It wanted blood. And it really wanted death.

As he listened to the conversations around him, he gathered that Ryan had gotten a lead on this place and they’d all rushed over.

A low growl started in his throat as the truth of what happened came out. It was Kat’s blood on the ground and wall. Aiden had bitten her to save her from sure death.

And she’d survived. Physically anyway. After a shifter bite, the transition from human to shifter was always quick. Either the human body survived or it didn’t. Which was why shifters rarely bit humans. And if they did, the possible repercussions and rules of pack life were fully explained to them. Becoming a shifter was a life-altering decision, one never taken lightly. Often humans turned feral and the changed human would have to be put down. But not Kat. She’d obviously been strong enough to withstand the change. He guessed her strong psychic mind had something to do with it, but they’d never know for sure. There wasn’t a science behind who survived a bite and who didn’t. The only ones who survived one hundred percent of the time were bondmates.

Jayce had never been so consumed with the desire to hunt and kill as he was now. He hated himself for wanting to kill the man who’d saved Kat, but he did nonetheless.

Aiden was now his enemy. Linked to Kat. To his woman.

As he listened to the conversations around him, he gathered that the men who’d hurt Kat were dead. One in the woods by Ryan’s hands. One killed by Aiden. And one had been killed by the unconscious blond female in Ryan’s arms.

Jayce should have been here sooner.

Then he could have avenged what had happened to Kat. No one had come out and said how they’d found her. Just that she’d been near death and Aiden had bitten her to save her.

For a moment his gaze strayed to the still unconscious petite blonde. She wasn’t tall like most Fianna warriors, but he knew that’s what she was. He could scent it on her. She must be the missing warrior the others had been looking for.

“Everyone needs to shut the hell up!” Connor finally roared.

Silence descended on the small group. Jayce couldn’t tear his gaze away from Kat. She clutched on to Aiden tighter and the other wolf did the same. When he leaned down and murmured something in her ear, pain screamed through Jayce’s lungs as if he’d been shot with pure silver. His muscles began to tremble. For a moment he couldn’t breathe.

The possessive rage flowing through him burned like acid. He should be the one holding her. Not some stranger. Clenching his fists tightly, he tore his gaze away from them and turned to Connor. If he stared longer, he’d do something he’d regret.

Like kill Aiden.

December stared at Liam’s brother in trepidation. His dark eyes had turned even darker and his canines had protracted slightly. She didn’t think he’d hurt any of them, but he looked seriously pissed. And all she cared about was getting Kat out of there. Her friend might be healed, but after seeing her so bruised, so bloody, she could only imagine what she’d been through.

Connor looked pointedly at the enforcer. “There’s a body just outside. Dispose of it.” Jayce took a step forward, as if to defy him, but Connor shook his head sharply. “You can’t help her now,” he murmured.

It was obvious Connor meant Kat. December’s heart cracked for the other wolf. He’d been staring at Kat since the moment he’d entered the barn, and the pain on his face was so raw, so real, it made her want to cry for him too.

Next, Connor looked at Erin as he pointed to one of the decapitated males. “You go with him and dispose of that one.”

Once they both moved into action, he looked at Liam. “You and I have some digging to do.”

December looked up at Liam in confusion. “What’s he talking about?”

“There are bodies buried underneath here.” He stomped once with his foot. “Not killed by us and we don’t know who they belong to. We’re going to uncover them, then anonymously call the cops once we’ve disposed of the men we’ve killed.”

“What about…” She glanced at her friend.

“We don’t want anyone to know she was here. We’ve come up with a cover story, which we’ll go over with her later. We need to destroy any of her blood evidence too. Go back to the ranch with them.” He looked at Kat, then at the dried blood on the wall and ground. “She’s going to need you right now,” he murmured.

Liam reached out for a moment as if to cup her cheek, then jerked his hand back as if he thought she’d burn him.

She looked at Aiden and Ryan. “I’ll be right behind you.”

When the two men started to leave the barn, she grabbed Liam’s arm as he started pulling a shovel down from one of the racks. “We need to talk first.”

“Now isn’t the time.” He didn’t look at her as he slammed the end of the shovel into the hard earth.

“What the hell is wrong with you? You’re acting like we’re strangers. Like you can barely stand to touch me. Or even look at me.” She hated that her voice cracked on the last word.

After everything she’d been through the past couple days, she needed him now more than ever and she wasn’t afraid to admit it. The fact that he kept pulling back burned a giant hole in her chest. He’d been concerned when he’d entered the barn, but he hadn’t made a move to hold her, console her. It ripped her heart out.

He held the shovel still and looked at her with those dark, penetrating eyes, but he wouldn’t respond. When he turned away from her again, she gritted her teeth and hurried after the others. Now wasn’t the time to push him, but she sure as hell wasn’t going to let things go on like this.

Chapter 19

“Are you sure you’re up for this?” December held Kat’s hand as they sat on the couch in the living room of the ranch’s main house.

Kat’s normally bright blue eyes were dull as she nodded. “I just want to get this over with. Whatever cover story they’ve come up with, it’s better than what really happened to me.”

It was the most Kat had said since they’d returned to the ranch. They’d been back a few hours, but she hadn’t slept or wanted to take a shower or anything. She’d just changed into some of December’s clothes even though they didn’t fit well, then curled up in a ball on the bed December had been sleeping on. And December hadn’t left her side.

Having long since returned from the hospital, Ana had been their communication link with the others still not back yet. Once she received word from Connor that the males and Erin were on their way back from disposing of those bodies, she’d come to get December and Kat to let them know that if Kat was up to it, Connor and Liam wanted to talk to her.

“Kat, I’m so sorry—”

“Please don’t say anything. It’ll just make it worse.” Kat’s voice was so low December almost didn’t hear her.

Tears pricked her eyes but she fought them back. She hated this feeling of helplessness and could only imagine what Kat had gone through. And she wouldn’t make it worse by crying when her friend was being so strong. If Kat wanted to talk about it, she’d listen, but December would never push. Instead of trying to say anything else, she squeezed Kat’s hand tighter. Even though her friend was taller and leaner—and now a lot physically stronger—her hand felt delicate and almost fragile. As if she might break at any moment.

Kat scooted closer to December as Connor and Liam entered the room. For a moment, December felt her stiffen—probably because she was waiting for Jayce to enter—but when it was just the two of them, some of the tension ebbed from Kat’s shoulders.

Connor and Liam sat on the longer couch across from them. Connor spoke first. “Kat, I can’t tell you how sorry we all are—”

Kat shook her head sharply. “Just get to the point, please.”

Liam and Connor exchanged a quick look; then Connor nodded sharply. “Okay. Normally humans aren’t turned into shifters without fully understanding the ramifications of their decision. In this case, however, I understand there was no other decision. I’m sure you have a lot of questions and I’ll answer anything you want, but right now we have to act quickly. We’ve disposed of the six men from the property where we found you and destroyed all your blood evidence there. As far as we know, Adler was the local leader of this group and he was among the bodies.”

Kat’s face paled as she nodded. She squeezed December’s hand tighter. “I know. I saw him die.”

Connor’s jaw flexed. “We combed the house for records or anything we can use against the APL, but at this point we don’t know who Adler answered to or how much they know about your kidnapping. If you want to tell the police you were taken by the APL, then—”

“No!” Kat’s answer was sharp and clear.