Kraig waited in my sitting room off the bedroom. He was on the couch, huddled under a blanket. It struck me how short a time we’d had together since I found him. His ruff was still a golden stubble, his cheekbones still stood out as his muzzle punched forward more than his human face had. Part of that might be that he was still underweight, but I had the feeling he wouldn’t look human even after he recovered.
“Mom.” Kraig’s voice broke as he stared at her. He glanced toward me.
I nodded. “It’s okay.”
Kraig shoved the blanket off and jumped up. He rushed to his mom, barely slowing before he slammed into her. He wrapped his arms around her and buried his head in her neck. “Mom,” he sobbed thickly.
“Shh.” She held him tight, tears streaming down her cheeks. “I know. It’s okay to hurt.”
As much as my heart ached to hold my mate, I knew Kraig needed his mom. Lydia wouldn’t welcome my touch, so I hovered near the doorway. They whispered to each other, and I tried not to pick up what they were saying, but I couldn’t help it.
“I’m sorry,” Lydia said.
“Why, Mom? Why would Dad do this?”
She stoked his back. “I don’t know. I wish I did. If I’d known... I would’ve stopped him.”
“Do you think it’s because I was a human werekin? Was he ashamed of me?” Kraig pulled back and stared into her eyes. “Did you wish I was never born?”
“Never,” she said fiercely. “You were a precious gift, and I never wished for you to be anything else. You’re my son, and I love you.” She cupped his face. “Never let anyone feel like you’re less than you are, you understand me?” Lydia waited until he nodded, and then she patted his cheek.
Kraig led her to the couch and they sat down. She looked over at me. “What now?”
“Do we have permission to search your house?”
“Whatever you need. Do you think there’s something there?”
“I don’t know. Henry never once gave me cause to doubt his loyalty. I can’t understand why he’d do this to Kraig, much less how. I have enforcers looking for him, but I don’t know if we’ll be able to pick up his trail.” I ran a hand over my head, which was aching. I’d faced mutters and resistance when I took over as Alpha, but that was nothing compared to all of this. “We’ll be careful, and I swear we won’t leave the house a mess.”
“He called me last night and asked about Kraig,” Lydia said. “I didn’t recognize the number.”
Kraig stiffened. “What did he want to know?”
“How you were feeling, if I’d seen you or Deke.”
“Is that so?” Was he trying to find out if we’d discovered his betrayal, or was he keeping tabs on Kraig and my whereabouts for another reason? “I’ll need your phone. While I’m gone, I’ll have guards on both doors. Please don’t go outside for any reason.”
“You trust me here with Kraig?” Lydia looked shocked.
That hurt, but I tried to keep it out of my voice. “I know what I did was painful; I hate that it was necessary, but you are a member of my streak. If Henry could do this to Kraig, could hurt his own son, you are in danger too. I want you safe, and there’s no safer place than the Alpha house with guards standing at every entry.”
Lydia stood, patting Kraig’s shoulder when he went to follow. He sank back down on the couch. I watched warily as Lydia came closer to me, standing completely still, barely breathing when she reached out. I was unable to stop my flinch when her hand touched my cheek and then dropped down to my shoulder.
“Oh, Deacon.” She shook her head. “I know you didn’t want to hurt me. I could feel your rage and your pain, and it fed mine. That’s why it hurt so bad. How can you handle that much emotion inside you and not break down?”
“I don’t have a choice.”
She searched my eyes, but I’d learned the lesson early at my father’s knee—an Alpha had to be stronger than anyone else because it was his job to take all the stresses and pain without breaking. I had to protect them, not just because it was my duty, but because it was part of my very nature to lead by example.
“I hope one day you don’t have to carry that much inside you,” she said.
Kraig stared at me, and I stared back over her shoulder. “When we stop the monsters who helped that doctor hurt Kraig. But not before that.” I had a feeling I was going to need that fire inside fueled by the rage and pain to stay strong enough to see this through.
Lydia smiled sadly. “I guess the little boy I knew really has grown up.” She brightened. “That reminds me! Kraig and I can spend the time planning your birthday party.”
I frowned. “Do you really think that’s appropriate right now?”
“Yes. We need something to break the tension. Don’t let the bad things take away all the good.”
“Do you want to help your mom?” I asked Kraig.
“Sure. I have a few birthdays to make up for.”
Maybe we could do a party to welcome Kraig back, introduce him as my mate, and celebrate my birthday. Still....
“How about a backyard barbecue?” I suggested.
“If the weather holds.”
Lydia went to rummage around for some paper and pens. I squatted next to Kraig. “You going to be okay? I won’t be gone long.”
Kraig snorted. “You know, you keep asking me that every time you leave. How about I’ll tell you if I’m not okay.”
“All right.” I held up both hands. “Jeez. Damned if I do and damned if I don’t.” I chuckled.
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