My stomach tossed and rolled, and I fought to keep from throwing up. I wouldn’t let him see how nervous he made me. My pride wouldn’t let him see how badly being in his presence upset me.
I stood in my front drive, waiting. Devon, my husband of less than four months on my right, not too close, barely within arm’s reach. On my left was Gavin, he had been serving as my bodyguard since about a month before the wedding. He was closer, but slightly behind me, it was a sign not only of his position, but also my status in the pack.
The Anikitos, or pack leader, Bill, would be here any minute and for once I wasn’t looking forward to seeing him. The man had been like a second father to me for as long as I could remember. Usually I was thrilled to see him, but he wouldn’t be alone or even have the Alekto, Karen, with him. Instead, he’d have Gabriel, Terry, and the one I dreaded seeing, Brandon. Gabriel and Terry were Bill’s main security team, normally they worked opposing shifts, one in the morning and one in the evening, but since they were bringing Brandon they were both with him.
Once, not all that long ago, Brandon had been my best friend, but a lot of things had changed in a very short time. There was also a span of time when Brandon had been the person I feared the most, but not anymore.
When I’d first discovered the Kitsune and started learning what it means to be one, he got it into his head that I was his mate and he didn’t seem to care how I felt about the matter. He’d harassed Devon and me until Bill had banished him, then things had gotten even worse. Since I’d discovered the Kitsune last June, there had been two attempts to kidnap me, one of which almost succeeded, and an old friend had been brutally murdered by the supremacist group he’d started spending time with.
At the end of November, Brandon had turned himself in to our Anikitos, after learning that his supremacist friends were behind Annie’s death, and that they’d used her as an example to me. From what he’d told us, Brandon hadn’t been a part of the murder and wanted nothing to do with those who would kill someone they’d grown up with in cold blood.
I didn’t want to be seeing him at all. The only reason I was standing outside in the icy wind was because he promised to help us to locate the rest of his supremacist group, the ones who had betrayed our pack leader and beat to death one of our own. The information he’d given us so far had checked out, but now he was insisting on seeing me before he would give us any more.
I took a deep breath, closed my eyes, and concentrated on centering myself. I hoped it would calm my rebellious stomach.
You’ll be fine, Devon’s voice whispered through my mind. I’ll be right here with you, no matter what.
Opening my eyes, I glanced his direction and gave him a small smile, then a truck pulled in the driveway, one glance and I knew it was the people we were waiting for. I wiped any expression from my face. The SUV parked, all four doors opened and four men climbed out.
My breath hung in my throat. I hadn’t seen Brandon since he’d been banished more than six months earlier. He was thin, almost gaunt, and his face was covered in bruises in various stages of healing. Considering how quickly shifters heal and that he’d turned himself in more than two months before, it was a safe bet that this beating was more recent, no more than two or three days. Gabriel walked on one side of Brandon, close without actually touching him, while Terry stayed on his other side. The men on either side of him made Brandon look small. At six feet tall, that wasn’t an easy feat. Gabriel was an inch shorter than Brandon, and Terry was about two inches taller, but where Brandon once stood tall and proud, now he was slouched, looking demoralized. Terry’s bulky build was more like what Brandon normally looked like, but he’d lost so much weight. I didn’t know if he’d lost it while on the run or during the last couple of months since he’d turned himself in. Now, even Gabriel’s lean, runner-like muscle made Brandon look thin. Bill stood for a moment, watching our small group carefully for several seconds before leading the others across the driveway to stand in front of us.
“He’ll tell you everything he knows and be polite while he’s doing it,” Bill spoke to Devon, but gave Brandon a menacing look. I knew what that look meant, he had better do as he was told or there would be some kind punishment, likely another beating.
“All right,” Devon nodded.
Bill turned to me, “How are you doing?”
“I’m okay.” My voice was soft and without my usual energy, much the way it had been for the last two months.
He nodded, accepting the answer, at least for now.
Devon led us all into the detached shop that sat next to our rental house. We’d recently converted the building into a place for Devon to use as an office and since he was the Theron, the head enforcer, it had become the headquarters for the pack’s enforcer team. We had been using the spare bedroom in the house, but that room had also been reserved for a nursery, and for the last two months I couldn’t even open the door. Gavin had waited until I’d gone to my parents one afternoon before Christmas and he’d gone in and packed up all the information we had on the walls and scattered about. It was where we’d been hunting for Brandon, Troy, and West. Once it was out of the bedroom I was able to help him get it set up in the office area, it was better out here. We could lock the door and there was no chance of my sisters or my brother, Cameron, who didn’t know about the Kitsune, stumbling across it and asking questions.
I followed the rest of the group into the shop, Gavin trailing behind, staying with me. I stood in the doorway and listened to what was being said, grateful I hadn’t been a real focus of attention for the group, seeing me seemed to be enough for Brandon and he hadn’t tried to talk to me.
“I left them in East Texas,” Brandon was saying to Devon. “When they told me about Annie, how she died and who was behind it, something clicked and I just couldn’t do it anymore. I left them then and there.”
“How did you get away from them?” Devon wanted to know.
Brandon gave a dry, humorless laugh. “They weren’t my guards, they weren’t even watching me. I just gathered my stuff when they were off doing their own thing and left.”
“Have you been in touch with them since you left?” Devon wanted to know.
“Did they know you were coming here? Turning yourself in?”
Brandon shook his head. “No. I didn’t see a reason to tell them.”
Devon nodded, considering. “We already know you were behind Nickie’s kidnapping in Seattle, did you also ask Troy to take her in Texas?”
Brandon looked at the floor and for a moment, he looked defeated. “Yes.” He met Devon’s eyes again.
Devin’s eyes narrowed as he watched Brandon for small, telling reactions. “Did you, at that time, know she was pregnant?”
I flinched at the word pregnant, I couldn’t help it.
Devon’s eyes flicked to me and in them I saw a reflection of my pain. You don’t have to be here for this. Go inside for a little while, I’ll let you know if we need you, he sent over our mental channel. He’s seen you, that’s the only boon he’s getting from me. He doesn’t need to talk to you or hurt you more.
I took a deep breath and nodded once. All right, I’ll go start dinner. I’ll be back after a while, maybe. I pushed away from the door frame where I’d been leaning and headed for the house. I knew where this was going. Devon was going to find out if Brandon had even considered what might happen to me or the baby when he’d given that order. That particular kidnapping attempt hadn’t harmed either of us, but it could have. With all he had done he hadn’t been the one to kill my baby, in the end that had been something I couldn’t have stopped. A case of food poisoning had killed my baby, I’d miscarried a couple days later. It had been a little over two months since, and I still had a hard time talking about it. Hell, thinking about it still hurt. I didn’t know if I could stand there and listen to them discuss it, not yet. Maybe never.
Seeing Brandon again, just seeing him, I hadn’t even spoken to him, had been hard. I stood at the kitchen counter when the back door opened and Devon came inside. “They’re gone,” he said, moving close behind me and wrapping his arms around me. He pulled me close, until my back was flat against his chest “Are you okay?” He nuzzled my ear.
“I’m good.” It wasn’t a lie, not exactly. I had a few bad moments when I first came in the house but I was fine now. A month after our loss, the bad moments were becoming fewer and farther between, but they were still hitting several times a day. I just tried to get through them as they came.
“Are you sure?” he asked.
I knew he was worried about me. I hadn’t been myself since over hearing our pack healer, who was also my friend, Alexis, tell him that our baby had died. I’d become withdrawn and sullen and I knew it. I didn’t like it but I couldn’t seem to pull myself out of the funk I’d been in.
Alexis assured me that nothing I’d done could have killed our baby that the food poisoning I’d suffered had only triggered what would have happened eventually anyway. I knew she wouldn’t lie to me but at the same time, I had a hard time convincing my heart. It was one thing to know something in your head, another to have your heart believe it. I knew the raw wound would eventually heal, but it would take time. Right now, I felt like it would take years.
I took a deep breath and pushed back the painful thoughts and focused on the now, the man with his arms around me, worrying about me. I turned in his arms and wrapped my own around his neck before stretching up and placing a soft kiss on his lips. “I’m sure.”
He kissed my forehead and held me for a few moments before releasing me and moving to sit at the kitchen table, where he could watch Gavin and me as we moved around the kitchen, working together to make dinner.
“What did you learn?” I asked.
Devon hesitated before taking a deep breath. “He didn’t know, but he admitted that he didn’t know if it would have mattered at the time.”
I took a deep breath and let it out slowly, so Brandon hadn’t known I was pregnant when he had Troy attempt to kidnap me. “Anything else?” I asked.
“He said when he met up with Troy, Troy said he suspected, but didn’t know for sure.”
“I get that, I mean before that part. What did he have to say about the rest of the time he was gone.”
“Oh, that. He said he never planned to stay with his family in California. When he left here he was already planning to go rogue, he had friends here, on the enforcer team, to keep him informed of what was going on here. It was Weston who told him we were in Seattle.”
“He admitted to hiring those thugs?”
“Yeah, he admitted it. Said he didn’t mean for anyone to get hurt, but at the time he hadn’t really cared either, as long as he could have you.”
I didn’t understand it. That wasn’t something the Brandon I had known would do. “What about now, why doesn’t he feel that way now?”
“I don’t know why. He said he didn’t really know when the obsession had died, but somewhere in that last month he’d lost the driving need to possess you and started seeing things more clearly again.”
“That’s when he decided to turn himself in?”
“That’s when he decided to ditch the others. He came back here and started looking into Annie’s murder.”
“He broke in here to get a look at what we had on the investigation.” I said. “But what about the damage to our bedroom?”
“He broke in to see what we had on Annie’s murder,” he confirmed. “He apologized about the bedroom, he said he was in the other bedroom and could smell the two of us and he lost his temper.”
“Anything else?” I asked.
Devon took a deep breath. “He wants to earn his way back in the pack. He says he knows it’ll take time and a lot of work, but he wants to try.”
“What do you think about that?” I turned to watch Devon as he answered.
“I’m glad it’s not my decision. That will be up to the Anikitos.”
“But how do you feel about it?”
“I don’t know. I have mixed feelings about it. How do you feel about it? It was you he was harassing, you that he injured.”
“I don’t know. I don’t want to keep him from his family, but at the same time I don’t know if I can ever trust him again, much less have the same kind of relationship we used to have.”
“I wouldn’t want you to have the same kind of relationship,” Devon said.
“We were never more than friends,” I assured him. “But I’m not sure we can even be that again.”
“I can’t say I’m unhappy about that. He hurt you and I don’t mean your feelings. He tried to have you kidnapped. Twice. The first time you broke both arms and had to kill someone to get away.”
I flinched, I still hated to think about what I had done while fighting my way free of the humans who had kidnapped me.