“Why did you send Jonathan and Alistair after me?” He wasn’t going to make small talk when they both knew what he wanted to know.

It was slight, but her green eyes flashed with anger until her cool mask fell back into place. “Am I supposed to pretend to know what you’re talking about?”

He ignored her question. “Jonathan is dead and Alistair is going to face punishment from his Alpha. He gave you up very easily. Do you really want to be judged for the attempted murder of your pack’s second in command? Knox is ready to convict you tonight.”

“I didn’t want you dead,” she snapped.

“No, just my mate.” He pulled his lips into a thin line and it took all the control he had to rein his anger in. Even thinking Felicia could have been injured or worse because of this woman’s pettiness made his inner wolf howl for blood.

“Felicia isn’t your mate yet.” Her voice dripped with loathing as she said Felicia’s name. She also didn’t deny her intent. When he didn’t respond, she shifted her weight from one foot to the other. Finally she spoke. “What do you want? I didn’t know those two idiots were going to go after you. If I had, I would have stopped them.”

He still wasn’t sure exactly how much guilt he could lay on her doorstep, but she’d put the idea in Jonathan and Alistair’s heads to hurt Felicia in exchange for sexual favors and money. This woman deserved his wrath, but he kept control. “Since your mate recently died, you’ll be given some leeway for your irrational actions. You admit your guilt to Knox and you have a week to gather what’s yours and leave. There’s a pack in New Mexico willing to take you in.” If he’d been able to send her farther he would have, but no one else had wanted her.

She arched one perfect blonde brow. “And if I refuse?”

“Knox will banish you and you’ll be on your own. I can’t speak for the world, but no one in the Southeast will give you shelter. You’ll be completely unprotected.” He let his words sink in. If Felicia were to strike out on her own she’d survive and no doubt flourish, but someone like Amanda would have problems. In all the years since she’d mated, she’d never worked. Not because she wasn’t capable, but out of sheer laziness and a sense of entitlement. She’d be easy prey.

Her eyes narrowed and he could practically hear her sarcastic comment so he cut her off. “You came after my intended mate. You’re lucky you’re still breathing. This is a onetime offer.” The words were a soft growl and they got his point across.

Her face turned a putrid shade of gray as, no doubt, the reality of her situation crashed over her. “I’ll be gone in a few days.”

The predator inside him roared when a burst of fear rolled off her. He might be an animal but he didn’t relish violence. Or he hadn’t until today. When he learned the attacks had been directed at Felicia and not him, something inside him snapped. One of the wolves might be dead, but Alaric’s inner wolf still wanted blood. Right now he was walking a razor-thin line of self-control. “What was the purpose of your attack anyway? Did you really think killing her would make me want you?” He couldn’t keep the loathing out of his voice.

She gritted her teeth but didn’t respond.

When he growled at her, she took a step back and held her palms up. “If she died I wouldn’t have shed any tears but…I just wanted to scare her off, not kill her. She ran away once before so I didn’t think it would be that hard to run her off again.”

Alaric knew the only reason she was telling the truth was because she was well aware that he would sense if she lied. And she probably also knew he didn’t need any excuse to take back the offer for banishment as opposed to her death. “Was anyone else working with the three of you?”

She shook her head. “There’s no one else.”

When she defensively crossed her arms over her chest, he knew he’d gotten everything he would from her. “Rainer will stay with you until you leave.”

“Is that really necessary?” she snapped.

Of course it was. She didn’t live at the compound, but in a house closer to town. He wasn’t letting her out of anyone’s sight until she was gone and someone else’s problem. Ignoring her, he turned to his brother. “Call me if you have any problems.”

Rainer nodded and as Alaric stepped out onto the front porch, a pressing weight lifted from his chest. Now that this mess was settled, he’d finally be able to ask Felicia to mate with him.

* * *

Felicia opened the French doors and stepped out onto Alaric’s balcony. At least the “compound” had turned out to be the exact opposite of what she’d expected. Knox owned a huge mansion on a big spread of land in northern Alabama, and Alaric’s room in the mansion was enormous. It was bigger than her old two-bedroom apartment. So far everything was much better than the apartment complex Lamont had kept his pack crammed into. Plenty of space to run free was a nice change of pace.

On the way in she’d hadn’t seen any wolves she recognized so she figured most of her old pack really had dispersed. That was fine by her. Right now she just wished Alaric would hurry up and get back. Rainer had dropped her off, but he hadn’t told her when anyone would be back to get her so she was making herself at home. So many hours had passed it was now sunny outside.

She still wore the same clothes she’d had on yesterday, but soon enough she’d go shopping and pick up the stuff she’d sent to her human friend. What she really cared about was seeing Alaric again. After this morning all she could think about was him. She’d kept herself closed off to other people for so long it was a unique feeling to finally drop her guard. When Alaric had held her after she’d killed the wolf, it had been so warm and real. She couldn’t remember the last time she’d let a man—or really anyone—hold her like that.

Despite the cooler weather, she’d come out on to the balcony barefoot and the natural stone patio was warm under her feet. She sat on one of the lounge chairs and laid her head back, soaking up the warmth of the bright sun hanging overhead. As soon as she closed her eyes she was aware of another presence.

“Felicia? I heard you were back.” She opened her eyes at the voice to find a familiar wolf perched on the edge of the balcony.

He must have jumped up from the first floor. Half-smiling, she stood as Chris Fleming stepped down from the stone balustrade. The wolf was a few years younger than her, but he’d been one of the few in Lamont’s pack who’d been kind to her. “I didn’t realize you’d joined Knox’s pack.”

Instead of responding, he pulled her into a tight hug. The blond, surfer-boy-looking wolf held her to the point that she started to feel uncomfortable. When she stiffened he let her go and chuckled. “Sorry, it’s been so long since I’ve seen you. I thought about joining another pack but I like the weather here. Besides, Knox is a good Alpha and Alaric is a good second in command. This is a strong pack.”

Holding her hand up to block the glaring sun, she tried to gauge his expression. “You really think so?”

“Yeah. He’s a lot better than Lamont.”

A demon would be better than the dead wolf. She didn’t voice her thoughts and Chris continued. “Most of us work in one of Knox’s hotels or other establishments and he’s helping a lot of the younger she-wolves with college.”

Felicia struggled to hide her surprise. She’d depended on scholarships and grants to get through school despite Lamont’s objections. He hadn’t thought she needed an education. He’d preferred his females to spend their time on their backs with their legs spread. “So Knox is…fair?” Despite her attempt to sound casual, the question came out strained. She knew what Alaric had told her but it wouldn’t hurt to get another opinion.

“From what I can tell.”

“What about Alaric?”

“He handles a lot of the day-to-day skirmishes and he’s fair too. Everyone respects him. That’s why I don’t understand why he’s taking Amanda as his mate.”

She could feel the blood drain from her face and a low buzz started in her ears. “He’s what?”

He glanced around then lowered his voice. “That’s what I heard. Someone told me he was on his way to see her right now. That woman has been after him from practically the moment we assimilated into Knox’s pack. She barely mourned her mate’s death. It’s shameful.”

Felicia pressed an unsteady hand to her stomach as Chris’s words sank in. She could think only about everything she’d shared with Alaric. And what she’d planned to happen between them once he got back. There was no way she’d imagined how much he wanted her. I’m such an idiot. Hating her stupidity, she bit back a curse. Alaric had never made any promises to her. Sure he’d told her how much he wanted her but that didn’t mean anything. “Listen, it’s great to see you but I’m not feeling well. Probably jet lag. Would you mind if we caught up later?”

He nodded enthusiastically. “Sure. I’m really glad you’re back, Felicia. There were a few of us who hated the way Lamont treated you and…I’m sorry I never did anything.”

Her throat tightened at his unexpected apology. “Thank you.”

Once Chris was gone, she hurried back inside and fought to breathe steadily. Chris had to be wrong. She picked up the portable on Alaric’s nightstand. She tried calling Rainer first but he didn’t answer so she tried the next number on the list. Conrad. Another of Alaric’s brothers.

“Hello?” a deep male voice answered.

Thankful he couldn’t see her flushed face, she cleared her throat. “Um, you don’t know me but—”

“I’m assuming this is Felicia, since you’re calling from my brother’s direct line.”

“Oh, right.” She’d forgotten about caller ID.

“Is everything okay?”