The front door opened behind me. I’d been so focused on Ritch, assessing the danger he posed to the streak and my mate, that I didn’t even hear Kraig moving around in the house. He was pale, his expression stricken. He had to have heard Ritch. I half-turned, refusing to turn my back on Ritch even with Deke at his back.
Kraig clutched the door like it was holding him up. “I know. I know what happened to Danny.”
Pain and fear spread through the air, the acrid odors coming from Kraig. I rushed up the stairs to him, needing to banish those scents. I was careful as I wrapped my arms around Kraig and pulled him close. He shook as he wrapped his arms around my waist and fisted his hands in my shirt.
A single footstep on the wooden steps sent my protective stance into overdrive again. I snarled, glaring over my shoulder as I gently pushed Kraig down into a chair. “Stay back.”
Deke had his hand on Ritch’s shoulder, pulling him back. “They’re newly blooded,” he whispered. “Don’t stare.”
“But...” Ritch stretched out one trembling hand. “He looks like....”
“A tiger and a cheetah,” Kraig said bitterly. “A freak.”
Ritch shook his head. “You were... but you look like him. That pattern on your neck. And the lines on your muzzle. I saw a picture of his mate once.” He dropped his hand. “How is this possible?” he whispered.
“Danny was in another cage when I woke up in mine. They did things to him and me. Then, one day, they... they....” Kraig broke off, choking on the words.
“Shh.” I dropped to my knees beside him and ran my hand over the short bristles of his mane. “It’s okay.” The submissive posture grated on my instincts, but I wasn’t going to move away from my mate, and I wasn’t going to make him say it. “Once Kraig was a human werekin like you. What we do know is that your cousin and his mate were both experimented on by the doctor you mentioned. He also experimented on others, but somehow—we don’t know how yet—he transferred their bonded werekin souls into Kraig.”
Tears overflowed and ran down Ritch’s cheeks. He shook his head, working his jaw. “They’re dead, aren’t they?” He curled his hands into fists. “I failed.”
“If you failed, then so did I. Kraig was gone for two years. We thought he died. I let that doctor into my territory and allowed him access to my streak.”
Kraig grabbed my hand and squeezed it. “You didn’t know.”
“But I should have. My gut told me something was wrong about him. Look at what he did to you.”
“This was done before he brought us here. You couldn’t have stopped it.”
Ritch turned away. “Maybe if I’d said something when he first disappeared. Maybe gone to the Alpha.”
Park broke his silence. “You can’t live your life constantly thinking maybe. Come on.” He pulled Ritch back. “We’re going back to my place,” he told me.
I nodded my permission. “We’ll talk later.”
When they were gone, I focused all of my attention on Kraig. He was wiping away tears, and he looked exhausted. “This was too much. Let’s go back to bed.” He wouldn’t let me carry him, but I supported Kraig up the stairs.
“What do you need?” I asked.
“Just hold me. Please.”
We’d skipped dinner, and Lydia called me on it. “How is he supposed to heal if you don’t feed him?”
“Mom, I’m okay. I needed sleep more than I needed to eat. Besides, I’m healing fine.” The bone-deep slice in his wrist was a red line, still raw, but completely closed. Two days wasn’t going to be enough to take away the dark circles under his eyes or hide the way his clothes hung off his downright skinny frame.
She shoveled a few more sausages onto his plate.
“Besides, you’re going to make my stomach explode.” She sniffed, but finally put the pan in the sink. I nabbed two of the three sausages off Kraig’s plate and stuffed them in my mouth, and he mouthed, “Thank you.”
I smirked. “I’d hate to see you explode. Ow!”
Lydia had smacked me on the back of the head. She sat down in a chair next to Kraig’s dad and picked up her fork. “No innuendo at the table.”
“Don’t even try it.” She raised that eyebrow, and I clamped my lips shut around what I wanted to say. It’d been so long since she was like this, back to the woman who’d kept in line before I became the leader of our streak. “Sorry.”
Clinking of forks and sounds of enjoyment dominated the morning quiet. “What do you have planned for today, Deke?” Henry asked.
“I have a few issues to adjudicate, so I was going to drive over to a few streak member’s houses.”
“They aren’t coming here?” Kraig cocked his head to the side. “They always did before.”
“Right now’s not the best time to have additional scents in my home.” My rooms were inundated with my scent and his mom’s dominated the kitchen. There weren’t a lot of scents that suck around since the streak members visited briefly, no more than a few hours at a time, if that. I needed his scent mingled with mine or my instincts would ensure I drove everyone else out, if Kraig didn’t do it first.
Henry cleared his throat. “Would you like Kraig to come home with us while you’re out?”
“If he wants to.” I wasn’t going to make his decisions for him again.
“Of course I do. Park still lives there, right?”
“No, he has his own place now. But your room is just how you left it.” Lydia cleared her throat.
“I couldn’t bear to change it.” Lydia blinked. “It was the last piece we had of you.”TBC
Want more? Well, it's coming next week as Kraig and Deke separate for the first time. Now there's more flash to enjoy, so follow the links below!