I smacked my head against the head rest once Ritch was inside. I shouldn’t have touched him, not even to pat his back. It only made the want and desire to touch him in other places that much worse. Ritch was such an odd mix of vulnerable and strong male that it was hard to remember why I needed to stay focused. The first time I’d met him was only a brief contact, with him as one of several werekin moving between clans.
I’d been out of my head with grief over the loss of my brother, and I’d been focused on removing threats. We were still under threat, but it was easier to let my human spirit guide me than my tiger soul. Ritch had the full attention of both the second he’d knocked on my door though.
He was tall, with a solid build. I was taller and stronger and had more advantages as a bonded werekin. I watched him around the humans who walked into the store, and he didn’t shy away from them, but he was still leery around other werekin. Maybe it would be better to help him set up a life outside of a streak or herd once this was all over.
My tiger soul was not happy with that thought. I caught my breath, rubbing my hand over my chest. I’d just have to get used to it; my job as protector of the streak extended to him when Deke accepted him. My focus needed to be on finding the people who’d hurt my brother, transforming him into a bonded werekin with two animal souls—something that no one had ever seen before—and preventing an attack that could destroy our way of life, or worse, alert the humans to our culture in the worst way possible.
I sighed. Deke and I had talked about this a few times. The world was so technologically advanced now, making things both easier and harder for werekin. A bonded werekin couldn’t just go into town. The bone structure of our faces was subtly different, creating a muzzle with sharp cheekbones and jutting jaws. Our animal souls marked our bodies with distinctive patterns that were impossible for many to hide. For a long time, human werekin had been the face of the clans, interacting with the human world while most of the streak lived simple lives.
But now there were online schools and businesses. More bonded werekin could receive an education and have a career without revealing our kind, if they were careful. Deke did it. But how long before someone out playing with a drone caught video of one of us? Or a traffic camera? Deke and I were convinced that we’d have to reveal our existence to the humans in our lifetime. We’d discussed preparations for that—but then all hell had broken loose when Kraig was taken and Deke’s dad died. He had to grow up fast to lead the streak, and I’d taken over protecting it.
A sharp rap on my window startled me. I rolled it down. “Why’d we stop here?” Cameron kept his hood up and his hands inside his pockets. His back was to the camera, and he blocked any view into my window.
“Ritch needed some things. Once we’re done here, we’ll meet the others at the edge of our territory.”
“They won’t be happy if we’re late.”
I shrugged. “They’ll get over it. We got an early start this morning because I knew we needed to stop. I don’t think he’ll be very long.”
“Okay.” Cameron headed back to his car. Not even fifteen minutes later, Ritch came outside with several bags. He opened the passenger door and slid inside, pulling a backpack off his shoulder.
“I thought I’d need something to put it all in.”
“Good thinking. I didn’t even consider that.” He had the ability to think ahead and focus on details I lacked.
“You sure it’s okay? You didn’t tell me to buy it.” I knew Ritch was unused to anyone being nice to him, other than the cousin he’d lost. Every time I tried to do something for him, he looked at me like horns were growing out of my head.
“Of course it’s okay. Otherwise you’d have to carry your things around in plastic bags. That wouldn’t work very well.” I pulled out of the parking lot, checking to make sure Christian was behind me. “We’re meeting everyone at the border, and then we’ll head to the hotel where Christian found—” I broke off, working my jaw. I didn’t really know what to call him.
“Where Christian stopped searching,” Ritch said quietly.
I took a deep breath. “Yes.”
As I drove, Ritch packed the backpack he’d purchased. “Did you get the phone?”
“Yes.” He pulled out a box.
“Good, you can plug that in. They don’t usually come fully charged.” I dug my phone out of my pocket. I pulled up my contacts, and hit the button to add a contact. “Here. Type in your name and phone number.” As soon as he handed it back, I set him up as the second contact.
“So how long until we reach the meeting place?” Ritch fiddled with the strap of his backpack.
“About twenty minutes.”
“Will some of them ride with us?” His nervous fidgeting betrayed his anxiety.
I wanted to reach out and touch his hand, still the compulsive rubbing of the seam in the strap, but I’d felt his muscles tense when I touched his leg the day before at the meeting. Touch still seemed to inspire more anxiety than it relieved.
“No. That’s why Christian is driving the SUV. He can take several with him, and then Durant’s man will take the others. We’ll make sure the clans are split equitably to avoid… conflict.”
Need more? Check out the other Briefers' updates: