Another week, another update. Park and Ritch get some alone time...
Part Two: Chapter Four
“Here.” The panther held the back out toward Ritch. “Oh, wait. You can’t smell any better than a human.”
A snarl slipped out before I could stop it, but Ritch put his hand on my arm. “Damn! Poor me, I don’t have to sniff pissy stuffing.”
Landon snickered. “Stop being an asshole, Silas. Unless you’re looking to get your ass kicked.” He raised an eyebrow and pointedly looked at me. I flicked out my claws. I was bigger than the annoying panther, and I wasn’t above kicking some ass to make my point.
So maybe I was a bully….
Silas narrowed his eyes, but he shut his mouth and passed the bag without giving me a reason to tear him a new one, so I retracted my claws. Ritch squeezed my arm and then let go. I missed the warmth of his skin on mine.
“You all know why we’re here. Obviously, your alphas are concerned about the danger to your clans, or they wouldn’t have sent you. But let me be clear.” I leaned forward, my fists planted on the table. “Treating human werekin as if they’re chattel, just because they were born different, is what got us in this mess. Learn from the fucking mistake, or I’ll prove just how dangerous that attitude is for you personally.” I stared hard at Silas, but then swept everyone with the same look.
What fucking hope was there to stop the experiments if the people who were actually supposed to stop this shit in the first place didn’t believe in what they were doing? I wanted to protect our clan—we had four human werekin now, with Ritch staying—and I never wanted anyone else to face what Kraig had gone through.
My tiger wasn’t the best tracker, but I could hold my own. The scent of the fabric was bitter. Behind the strong tang of urine was fear. “I don’t think whoever did this was here voluntarily. Or they didn’t expect to be used in an experiment.”
“So we know they have at least one other victim,” the horse said calmly. “I’m Caleb, by the way. We don’t treat our human werekin bad, just so you know. I don’t need a Tiger on my ass because he thinks I’m going to challenge him about something that’s his.”
Ritch and I broke off at the same time. I refused to show my embarrassment. An awkward silence descended, and I wasn’t sure how to break it. Fortunately, the bear broke the ice. His stomach growled, the long, drawn-out rumble loud in the quiet.
Someone snickered, and then another, before we all started laughing. We were still guys, after all.
“All right. How about some food?” Half the reason we were at each other was probably hunger.
Ritch rifled through the binder on the desk. “Looks like there’s a few pizza places they recommend. This one place has some good salads too.”
“What do you guys want?” We’d been given a discretionary fund for the investigation to cover costs, and it wasn’t like the sleazy motel had kitchens. Microwave food wouldn’t cut it.
Order in hand, Ritch made the call. His eyes bugged out at the total, but I nodded. “Christian. Get everyone sorted. We’ll get drinks and the pizza. If you have to go outside, for any reason, pair up. We’re outside clan lands, so from this point on, no one goes anywhere alone.”
Christian nodded. I didn’t wait for the others to agree.
“You trust them by themselves?” Ritch asked as he buckled his seatbelt.
“If they can’t handle it now, they won’t when we’re on the hunt. It’s important to know who will pair up and who can’t. Christian isn’t there to really make them do anything, but he’s my eyes and ears. He’ll let me know what I need to know.”
“Huh. I guess I never really thought about it like that. The alphas I’ve known….”
“Weren’t worth the name. They’re bullies, and so are their betas if they allow the assholes to beat down on their own clan the way yours did,” I said firmly. “Deke leads. I protect. We work together to keep the clan safe and prosperous. That’s the way we were taught by his dad and his beta. It helps that we’re best friends too.” I pulled into a grocery store only a half mile from the motel.
“If I go into the store for the drinks and the restaurant for the pizza, you’ll be alone, you know. Maybe one of them should’ve come.” Ritch paused with his hand on the door. “We could go back.”
“I can see all the way into the store from here. No one is going to attack you in there with all the humans. The doors will be locked, and I’ll keep the engine running.” I turned the car back on. “Okay?”
“All right.” He was reluctant. “I should use that card you gave me, right?”
“Yeah. Just keep the receipts. Thank you, Ritch. I know this is a lot to expect of you after the life you’ve had for the last few years.”
“No.” Ritch shook his head. “I’m happy to do it. I’ll get used to being around people again, and I have the chance because of you and your alpha.” He flushed and hurried to get out of the car, fumbling with the lock before he could open the door. “I’ll be fast.”
I watched him grab a cart outside before heading into the store. I rubbed my thumbs on the steering wheel. Gratitude.
How in the hell was I going to get him to open up to me, to let me show him how great sex with a tiger could be when it wasn’t with some asshole who’d considered him bought goods? On top of that, he’d locked his door every night. Now we were going to be in beds, side-by-side, in the same room.
Okay, okay, so not that kind of alone time... but it's coming next week. I wonder what will happen?
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