Prompt: "What are you, a fragile flower?"
Ritch kept me together because the pain, blood loss, and shock knocked the legs right out from under me—literally. I couldn’t put weight on my broken leg, even with a brace on it, and hopping to the car made me puke because trying to put as little weight on Ritch as possible led to jarring my toes on the ground when I tried to maneuver around the door as I opened it.
“What are you, a fragile flower?” Some asshole jaguar sneered at me when I stood shakily holding on to the door and trying not to smell my own vomit. “Maybe your brother wasn’t the one with the lack of a tiger soul.”
I thought my brother was going to tear his face off. He stalked forward and hissed, his eyes flashing red. “Want to see which one of us is a bigger pussy?” He flexed his hands and his claws caught the light from the mid-morning sun filtering through the trees. He flashed some fang to go along with the guttural snarl.
The jaguar backed off. Fast.
Deke stood next to the car with the driver’s door open. I glanced at him. “I’m surprised you didn’t step in there.”
He shrugged. “I didn’t have to. He’s been getting really good at suppressing his feral urges. And he’s strong enough that he rivals an alpha. He just has to trust himself like I trust him.”
“All right. Asshole’s handled, let’s get Park home.” Ritch stood close until I carefully got into the car, then he shut the door behind me. He went around the back of the car and got in on the other side.
“Thank you,” I said.
He nodded, his cheeks pink. “Do you need to put your leg up? You can turn sideways and rest it here. I grabbed a pillow from inside.” He plopped a pillow covered in a green pillowcase between us. I grunted and clenched my teeth but managed to keep what little remained in my stomach down as I got as comfortable as possible for the ride home.
“I’ll take it as easy as I can.” Deke reversed the car on the lawn and started down the mountain.
“Home sweet home,” I croaked. Deke dropped us off, helping me up on the porch. He’d hurried back to the car where Kraig was sleeping, and I totally understood. I wanted nothing more to go inside, lock the doors, and curl up in my bed with Ritch until my wounds healed and I knew he felt safe. He’d been taken from our territory, and the thought of what he’d gone through made me both incandescent with rage and deathly afraid.
Trein was gone, we’d captured the other conspirators who’d given up, and no more ferals had been found. What we knew pointed to human werekin as the ones who originally contacted doctors who were willing to experiment with werekin souls, but somehow Trein had learned about it and subverted the plans to create something different, something worse. The evidence pointed toward him, but that didn’t mean they wouldn’t be others involved that we didn’t know about or that there weren’t more doctors and more labs out there performing the same experiments.
But we’d done enough.
Deke would be involved in the decisions the alphas made, but others were more suited to dealing with the interrogations. Deke agreed to continue to go over the files that were found with Uncle Radford to learn as much as possible. A massive convocation of every alpha in North America was going to be called, with digital participation being organized for those who wouldn’t be able to make it.
If the human government was involved or other clans out there were considering the same plan, or coming up with a new one now that Trein’s lab was blown to bits and buried in a huge cave in, we’d find out and stop it. Or they would.
I’d lost my brother for years, he’d been tortured and changed, our parents were dead, and our streak was reeling from the news of my father’s traitorous actions and the attacks against us. As our beta, I felt the need to protect and soothe them. We needed to focus inward for a time.
But first, Ritch.
“We need to shower,” he said.
I agreed, and we hobbled to the bathroom one painful step at a time.
“Let me get a plastic bag out of the kitchen. I forgot.” Ritch closed the lid on the toilet and helped me sit down. “Just stay right there.”
Exhaustion dogged me—I snorted. Dogged. I pulled off my shirt and tossed it in the corner near the hamper. The pants were harder until I flexed my claws and tore the seams. It wasn’t like they could be saved anyway.
“Wow. I see you were busy.” The plastic bag rustled in Ritch’s hands as he opened it.
“You just said to stay here. I stayed here.”
“Good job,” Ritch said dryly. “Let’s get this covered.”
He dropped to his knees in front of me to slide the bag over my foot, and I stiffened. The last time he’d been on his knees before me, a sadistic fuck had his claws at Ritch’s throat. The small punctures were still visible. “I’m sorry.”
Ritch looked up. “What?”
I leaned forward and gently brushed a finger over one of the marks. He flinched, and I had to suppress my urge to snarl. “I didn’t protect you. I promised that you’d be safe here.”
“And I am. It’s not your fault. They took your mom and Kraig too. They were sneaky fuckers who had no honor.” Ritch put his hand over mine. “I know you did your best, so you shouldn’t feel guilty.”
“Now, let’s get this on.” He pulled the bag up and then wrapped some tape around the top above the brace. He leered. “It’s naked and wet time.”
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