“Forget it,” Kat said as she shook her head. She put the wooden spoon down and turned to face her. Leaning against the counter, she crossed her arms over her chest defensively. “I don’t want to talk to anyone about what happened. I know I’ve been moping around here—”

“I don’t care about that. I just want you to get some help and maybe find some relief.” She heard her friend crying late at night and it broke her heart. She’d tried to help, but it was hard when Kat wouldn’t even talk. And normal conversation was out of the question. It was too forced and fake.

“I spoke to Aiden today and he’s going to…help me.”

She frowned, not understanding. “Help you?”

Her friend nodded as if the answer should be obvious. “Understand more about the changes I’m going through and teach me to fight.”

“That’s not the kind of help I was thinking about.”

“Well, I’m not talking to some freaking shrink about my feelings or problems that they’ll never understand. I just want to know how to defend myself…and control myself. I woke up this morning in wolf form and it freaked me out. He’s going to help me figure everything out and teach me how to fight anyone who wants to hurt me.”

“What about Jayce?” she asked softly. The enforcer had been by the house every day and he’d called too many times to count. While December might not have exactly liked the guy in the beginning, it was obvious he cared for Kat and would do anything for her.

Kat’s eyes immediately shuttered. She shrugged jerkily. “What about him? He didn’t want me before. Just because I’m like him now doesn’t mean he gets a second chance.” Her voice was distant yet somehow bitter.

December decided not to push the subject. Not now anyway. Kat had too much on her plate and she just wanted to be supportive of her friend. So she changed the subject. “You need help with anything?”

Kat shook her head. “Nah, chili’s almost done and I’ve got French bread in the oven. Should be done in twenty minutes.”

“Okay, I’m going to freshen up and…” She trailed off at the sound of the doorbell.

“I’m not available if it’s Jayce.” Kat turned back to the stove after that, effectively cutting off any argument.

Sighing, December headed for the front door. When she looked through the peephole and saw her brother, sweat blossomed across her forehead. Without wasting time, she slung open the door. She wanted to hug Parker but didn’t know why he was here or if he’d even return the embrace. They hadn’t talked since before he’d been shot, and she hadn’t realized until that moment how much she ached to see and talk to him. No matter what his issues with shifters, he’d always be the big brother who’d bandaged her scrapes and checked her closet for monsters when she’d been a little girl.

Wearing jeans and a dark cashmere sweater, Parker stood on her front porch looking as nervous as she’d ever seen him. Part of a white bandage was visible from the top of his sweater, wrapping back around over his shoulder. “Hey.”

“Hi.” She’d never felt weird around her brother, but after calling him a hundred times and trying to see him over and over, she didn’t know what to say and was a little afraid of his rejection. “Uh, do you want to come in? Kat made dinner.”

He swallowed hard and nodded. “That’d be great.”

Once inside they didn’t make it past the foyer. He jerked to a sudden stop and wiped his hands on his pants. “I’m sorry for being such an asshole. You can date whoever you want. I had a lot of time in the hospital to think about what a jerk I’ve been. And Ana stopped by to see me and politely told me how stupid I was being to my little sister. A relative stranger shouldn’t have been there reminding me that family sticks by one another. She didn’t admit it, but I think the only reason she was there was at Liam’s request?” It came out as a question.

When December gave a slight nod, he continued. “On an intellectual level I know Liam’s pack had nothing to do with Brandon’s death, but it doesn’t make it any less hard for me. Every time I see Liam or any of his pack, I’m reminded about Brandon, but mainly I’m reminded of how I failed him. I should have gotten there faster that day.” He swallowed hard, but all December could do was shake her head.

There was nothing either of them could have done differently. It had taken a long time for her to get to that realization, but eventually she’d had to bury the guilt. If not, she’d have drowned in it.

Parker scrubbed a hand over his face before continuing. “I know Liam’s not a bad guy. He’s saved your life multiple times and for that I’ll always be grateful. I should have said it before, but whatever you do with him—marry him, mate him, whatever—as long as you’re happy, you have my blessing. I still want you in my life…if you can forgive me.”

She stood there a moment in stunned silence. That was the most she’d ever heard her brother say at once. The stark emotion in his voice tugged at her heartstrings. Shaking her head, she pulled her brother into a tight hug. When he grunted as if in pain, she immediately stepped back. “Did I hurt you?”

Wincing, he shook his head. “Not really. I’m just sore…. Are we going to be okay?”

Her throat thick, she nodded. She’d been a wreck the past few days and she didn’t want to start crying again. If she did, she’d never stop. “You’re my family.” It was as simple as that.

A relaxed smile broke out on his face. “The dinner offer still stand?”

Grinning, she nodded again. “Yeah, come on.”

In the kitchen they found the table already set and Kat scooping chili into their bowls. From what December knew, Parker couldn’t have been out of the hospital long, but she guessed he’d be up to date on the bodies the sheriff’s department “discovered” a couple days ago. He wouldn’t know about Kat, though. No one except the people who’d been there that night did.

“Hey, Parker, good to see you out of the hospital…. December, will you pour me a glass of wine?” Kat asked.

“Nice outfit, Kat. Little early to be in your pj’s, isn’t it?” he jokingly asked as he grabbed a beer from the fridge.

December tensed for a moment, but Kat just rolled her eyes, so she poured two glasses for them. Once they sat, he surprised her by talking about the ranch. “I don’t know if it was from the Armstrong pack, but thanks to an anonymous tip we found a bunch of bodies buried a few miles south of that Dogwood House.”

December immediately clutched her spoon tighter as she stilled. She didn’t look at Kat but out of the corner of her eye watched her stiffen too.

“So you two did know about it?” Parker asked with one eyebrow raised. When they didn’t respond, he shook his head and took another bite of chili. “Good chili, Kat.”

“What does this mean exactly?” December hedged.

He shrugged. “We’re not sure. Some of those bodies have been there for a while. They’ve all got ties to a couple right-wing hate groups and they were all killed with the same knife. Looks like whoever owns that property—or lived there—killed and disposed of them there. Until we figure out where the owner is, we don’t have much to go on.”

December pushed out a short sigh of relief. As long as those deaths didn’t get tied to Liam’s pack and no one found out what had happened to Kat, she didn’t care.

After her third bite, she put her spoon down again and pressed an unsteady hand to her stomach.

Kat reached out for her. “You okay? Is it the chili?”

Afraid to open her mouth, she shook her head and bolted from the seat. Knowing she wouldn’t make it to her bathroom upstairs, she hurried to the one off the closest hallway. She’d barely flipped the toilet seat up when she violently emptied the contents of her stomach.

The heaving and retching seemed to go on forever. Her stomach muscles clenched and tightened in pain as she puked until finally she was just dry heaving.

A knock on the door made her wince. “You okay in there?” Parker asked.

After shutting the lid, she grabbed some toilet paper and wiped her mouth. “Fine,” she gasped out even though she felt dizzy and unnaturally weak.

Reaching up, she tried to grasp on to the back of the toilet for support. Instead she knocked over the small vase on the back of it. It tumbled to the tile and shattered.

The door flew open. Parker stood in the doorway with Kat right behind him.

“I just got sick,” she mumbled, trying to regain her focus.

Her brother reached down and tried to help her up. When he did, she pressed down with one hand to push herself up and was met with sharp shards of broken glass.

“Ah,” she cried out, and immediately withdrew her hand. Her brother lifted her up until she was sitting on the closed lid.

“Hold out your hand,” he ordered softly.

Still feeling woozy, she didn’t fight him.

“I’ll grab a broom and dustpan,” Kat said before disappearing.

With each tiny shard he pulled out, she winced. Trickles of blood rolled across her open palm, but none of the cuts were particularly deep.

After he’d gotten them all out, he stretched her hand out toward the sink. “I’m just going to rinse this to get the blood and any tiny slivers off.”

“Okay.” As the water rushed over her, she stared in confusion as the blood washed away. Shaking her head, she blinked and looked at her hand. “Do you see that?” There was nothing there. No puncture marks or cuts. It was as if her hand had healed in seconds. And it didn’t hurt anymore.

Parker looked at her curiously. “Did Liam bite you or mark you in any way during…ah…”

Feeling her cheeks heat up, she shook her head. “No…and let’s not even go there.” She stared at her open palm. “This is really weird.” As she tried to think of what other options there might be, bile rose in her throat again. Sliding off the toilet, she flipped it open again and just dry heaved into it. Her throat and stomach ached, but she couldn’t stop.