“How is he?” I asked softly. Kraig was nestled in my bed, the covers pulled up to his chest and one hand covering his newly shorn hair.
“Sick, in both his body and his mind. We bathed him clean but we had to shave his head.”
I tilted my head. “Kraig always kept his hair short.”
“But a bonded werekin doesn’t,” his mother said softly. She leaned over the bed and tugged the covers up to his shoulders, smoothing down the fabric. Even in his sleep Kraig flinched away with a whimper, burying his face in my pillows.
She straightened and walked into the bathroom to clean up, surreptitiously wiping her cheeks. I ran a hand through my thick hair that stood out in a proud ruff, the multicolored strands falling to my shoulders. Combined with my prominent bone structure that wasn’t quite... human, it set me apart. Yet instead of shaving it, I wore it long just like my father had.
Wary of waking Kraig, I followed her into the bathroom and shut the door quietly. “Shave it off.”
“What?” Lydia turned to face me, a frown marring her forehead in deep lines. “We did already.”
“No.” I lifted a heavy hank of hair. “Mine.”
Her eyes flared wide. “Alpha?”
I refused to look away as I picked up the heavy shears sitting on the counter and held them out to her. “It’s okay. I mean it.”
Lydia’s hand shook as she reached for the scissors. “But you’re the alpha, Deke. People will....”
“Look at me in shock and then realize my hair has nothing to do with how well I lead this streak. Listen to me closely, I’ll only say this once... don’t chop off my ear.” I squeezed her hand and winked and then let go. I actually was afraid she might do it, but she was careful as she snipped away all my long hair while I watched in the mirror. There was more to it than just the hair disappearing as each clump fell to the floor, and I hoped Kraig would understand when he woke up.
When she was done buzzing my hair off to an even length, it wasn’t quite as tight to my skull as Kraig’s but the soft brush of it under my hand was strange.
“Thank you, Lydia.”
She shook her head. “Do you want me to clean this up?”
“Maybe later. It’s been a very long day, emotional for everyone. Park will be here in the morning, and I know nothing is going to keep him away from Kraig when he hears. I would like it if you and your husband would join us for a family breakfast in my sitting room.”
Since I took over the streak Lydia had gotten more formal, no longer treating me as the boy who’d gotten into trouble alongside her sons, but that barrier was gone in that moment when I said family.
Tears sprang to her eyes again, and she clapped a hand over her muzzle, suppressing her sob. She nodded, but the tears still seeped out. I knew what she needed. I wrapped both my arms around her and ran my chin over her head. “Everything will be okay. We’ve got them both back.”
Park had been out of cell range for nearly a month—not great for a beta—but I understood his need to run in the backwoods when it all got to be too much. Losing Kraig had hurt all of us. “This time we’ll keep him safe in the streak.”
Lydia squeezed me and then she let go. “We’ll be back first thing,” she promised. “Tell Kraig that if he wakes up.”
She stopped by the bed. I watched her, unable to look away when she was so close to Kraig, but she didn’t try to touch him again. When she closed the door behind her, it was just us left alone in my bedroom suite. I bundled up the towel full of my hair and pushed it in the corner by the hamper. The little hairs on the back of my neck were more sensitive now that they’d been cut short, and they prickled as I bent over to turn on the shower.
Senses alert, I spun, my teeth bared as I snarled. Kraig stumbled back.
“What are you doing awake?” I strode over to him, intent on putting him back in bed.
“I feel dirty.” He grimaced.
“Your mom said they cleaned you up.”
He shrugged. “Washcloths. She didn’t want me on my feet too long.”
“She has good reason.” Kraig was emaciated, very unusual for a bonded werekin in my streak. We were large and prosperous, well-fed, which made our animal souls peaceful. While Kraig had never been as big as me or Park, he’d had sleek muscles packed on his frame from running with us every day.
Kraig leaned his head back. “Please?”
Instincts warred with common sense, but those blue eyes pleading always melted me. “A quick shower, then a bath.”
“I’d love a bath.”
Holding Kraig’s slick body against mine tested my control, but he was so obviously exhausted and ill that our abnormal blooding was still enough to keep my wilder need to pounce on him at bay.
We were in the tub before Kraig said anything about my hair. My head was just visible in the mirror we faced. “I can’t believe you cut your hair.”
“I like it. Makes me look more normal.”
Kraig snorted and then coughed. “It is not normal for a tiger streak alpha to have no ruff.”
Ruffs were a source of pride to most cat bonded werekin, but I could care less. “It’s only hair. It’ll grow back, if I let it. I might not. It really does feel lighter and summer’s coming.”
“Tell that to your dad when he sees.”
Kraig gasped. He grabbed my hand resting on the edge of the tub and squeezed. “I’m sorry.”TBC
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