Kraig gradually went limp against me, his long, pale eyelashes resting on his cheeks as he dozed in the tub. Maybe it should’ve been strange—we hadn’t seen each other in two years, and we’d certainly never bathed together—but having him close felt right soul deep. I had one arm looped around his stomach, keeping him from leaning sideways, and he’d wrapped his fingers around two of mine. The blunt tips of his claws dug in.
Finally alone, I took the time to study him closely. He looked so different from before. When he’d left to go to college he’d been a human werekin. Without an animal soul to bridge the gap between the body and spirit, he’d looked completely human. Dad shouldn’t have let him leave the streak; most human werekin stayed close and handled matters in the public eye to protect our secrets when our appearance was more than humans could handle.
But Kraig wanted to go, and we didn’t treat our human werekin as slaves. He had a right to make a life for himself when the pain between us grew to be too much. I’d wanted him, but an alpha heir blooding a human werekin? It just didn’t happen.
“What happened to you?” I whispered, stroking his skin when he shifted until he settled under the gentle petting. He wasn’t a human werekin anymore. The doctor’s files had outlined the outcome of his experiment, but I didn’t take the time to understand how it happened. The thicker hair of a ruff that stood out in a way no human’s did, the claws, the fangs, and the patterns on his skin all marked Kraig as a bonded werekin... but a soul blended with the spirit in a bonded werekin in the womb, not when someone was fully grown.
His stomach was concave under my hand, his hipbones jutting against his skin. I wanted to feed and coddle him. He’d have the best cuts of meat; I’d already assured it, sending two bonded werekin out for fresh venison. I’d put flesh back on his bones until he was sleek and well-fed again. “I won’t let anyone hurt you again.”
The water cooled, and Kraig began to shiver. Getting out was tricky, but I tried his limp form and then tucked him back in bed. I cleaned up the bathroom and then left the door cracked and vanity lights to keep the bedroom from being fully engulfed in darkness. Slipping into bed, I put Kraig on the inside away from the door and wrapped my body around his.
Content in a way I hadn’t felt in years, I fell asleep.
“Where is he?” The door burst open. I crouched on the bed, snarling and hissing.
“Get out,” I roared.
Park stood in the doorway, his chest heaving. His claws were out, marring the wood frame. “I can’t,” he choked out. His nose twitched. “Where is he? Mom said Kraig was here, he’s alive.”
I throttled back my urge to attack and defend my blooded mate. I knew Park was no threat to his brother or to me. “He’s here.”
“Why can’t I smell him?”
Kraig sat up in the bed, bitterness twisting his voice into something unrecognizable. “I’m a freak.”
Just like that Park was forgotten. I turned to face Kraig, dropping to my knees beside him. “Don’t be absurd. You’re not a freak.”
“I don’t need a mirror to see.” Kraig held up one arm, the stripes breaking up into rosettes along his forearm and the dark claws that didn’t retract. His coloring was all tiger, but his bone structure was rounder and narrower than a tiger’s wider face, and the dark lines ringing his eyes and framing his cheekbones and mouth emphasized the jut of his face into a muzzle. Most bonded werekin didn’t have facial markings like that, but different wasn’t bad.
It was not a mix I’d ever seen. No one had. Half tiger and half cheetah, a genetic aberration that would never have been born... but he held an exotic appeal that called to me. I’d always wanted him, even when he looked human.
He huffed. “Unique, freak, same thing.”
I narrowed my eyes and growled. “Don’t say that again. You’re not a freak. You’re an alpha’s blooded mate, and I think you’re fucking gorgeous. That’s all that matters.”
“Bossy as always.” Kraig rolled his eyes then glanced toward the door. “If you don’t let my brother in, he’s going to permanently maim the door.”
The sanctity of my room was hardly something Park respected normally, but there wasn’t a revolving door policy either. Still, I didn’t usually threaten him if he burst in on me, and I was still agitated. He carefully avoided direct eye contact with me as he waited impatiently. It would be cruel to keep him away from Kraig any longer. “We’ll talk more about this later,” I warned Kraig. “Come in.”
Park rushed into the room and would’ve pounced on Kraig but I snarled again. “Careful!” We might have keep our claws in and avoided biting him, but Kraig had always tumbled around as we wrestled, refusing to give in even though we were bigger.
He was not up to rough treatment now, not even a tight hug.
Now that he could see him clearly, Park’s eyes widened. “What happened to you?”
Kraig leaned his head back against the headboard. “Too fucking much.”
“Are you... okay? You don’t look so great. Kraig, shouldn’t Mr. Brynter be here checking on him?”
Just saying the doctor’s name had an immediate effect on Kraig. He paled and whined, his claws tearing at the sheet. “No!”
“Shh,” I said. “It’s okay.” But Kraig wasn’t listening to me and his eyes rolled wildly. I cupped his face between my palms, turning him toward me. “He can’t hurt you. He’s dead.”
Park growled. “Hurt him? Why would the doctor hurt him?”
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