“So…who do we think the informant is?”

Everyone at the patio table looked at Dante, but no one answered him. No one wanted to actually face the fact that one of their own had betrayed them. Trey had secretly arranged for he, Taryn, Dante, and his enforcers to meet at the lake this morning to discuss the issue in private. As sad as it was, he felt that these were the only members of his pack he could truly trust. Well, them and Greta. However, he didn’t trust Greta to keep the issue of the informant to herself. She would most likely begin confronting and interrogating everyone, and he didn’t want the informant to know that they were aware of his betrayal yet. Taryn very much doubted that Darryl’s two thugs would own up to him that they’d told her about the informant, so if Trey played dumb they might just get to the bottom of the matter before anything else happened.

“Personally, I don’t think it’s a stretch to conclude that it’s the same person who vandalized Taryn’s car, killed the bird, and left her with that bump a few weeks back.” Tao shrugged.

“Then we need to look at people who aren’t particularly happy about her being here,” said Trick around a mouth of chewing gum.

“Most of us weren’t happy at the beginning, including me,” admitted Dominic before offering her an apologetic smile – a smile that quickly turned impish, warning her of what was to come. “Of course I love you now. If I had a star for every time you brightened my day, I’d have a galaxy in my hand.” As usual, some groaned, some chuckled, and Trey hit him.

Taryn shook her head. “You just can’t help yourself, can you?” Dominic winked.

“Getting back to the shitty subject at hand…The obvious suspects would be Selma and Hope,” said Trey, massaging Taryn’s nape. “Although I think Hope would have only been involved if Selma was.”

Tao cocked his head. “What about Kirk? He’s sure pissed about her being here.”

“I don’t get why he’s so hateful about it though,” said Taryn. “I mean, I know he doesn’t like me, but if he is responsible for all this then it seems a bit of an overreaction to disliking me.”

“Kirk’s always been hateful. He has issues. Mommy issues.”

“Care to elaborate?”

It was Marcus who explained. “His mom was human. She wasn’t Brock’s true mate. Apparently Brock found his true mate but she was already shacked up with another guy. He got involved with this human female – not telling her he was a shifter. When she realized what Brock was and that their son was half-shifter, she freaked and deserted them both. Kirk had only been a toddler at the time.”

Taryn couldn’t help feeling a pang of sympathy for both Kirk and Brock. “There’s always the senile old crone,” she said with a smile.

“Greta might call you every name under the blue moon, baby, but I know for sure she likes you in her own way,” Trey assured her.

She snorted. “If you say so. Maybe it’s not about someone liking or disliking me.”

“What do you mean?”

“Well, if we’re assuming that the informant has been in contact with Darryl from the beginning, we have to assume that they told him our mating was all about a deal so that you had plenty of alliances. Darryl wouldn’t have liked that, so he would have wanted me out of the equation. A good way to do that would be by trying make me feel unwelcome, damaging my car, killing my raven.”

Marcus nodded a few times. “If you think about it, it wasn’t until you both discovered that you were true mates that anyone tried to actually hurt you.”

“It would make sense for him to want you hurt, as is evident from last night,” said Ryan. “A shifter whose mate is hurting isn’t in the best frame of mind, and it would make you, Trey, more easily provoked into breaking the agreement of a twelve week gap between anyone making good on the challenge from Darryl.”

Trey wanted to punch something. The betrayal cut deeper than he would have thought possible. Apparently he wasn’t as guarded as he’d always thought himself to be, or maybe his mating with Taryn had changed that. “Why would someone help Darryl? What could they possibly gain from it? If they weren’t happy here and wanted to join his pack, they could have left. I wouldn’t have stopped them. What they’ve done is punishable by death.”

“Then the question is,” began Trick, “who would be prepared to take that risk?”

After a long silence, Trey sighed and got to his feet. “I need to go for a run. My wolf’s restless and pissed, and I can’t think straight when he’s fighting for supremacy so hard.”

Tao shrugged. “Then let’s all go for a run together.”

Trey held out his hand to Taryn. “Come on, baby.”

Many days a week she and Trey would go play in the forest while he was in Cujo form and then lay near the lake while she read the newspaper, all the while running her fingers through his coarse fur. Occasionally some of the pack would join in on their play in their wolf forms and then collapse beside her and Cujo, enjoying the close contact with their Alpha pair.

Taryn wouldn’t have thought such a thing could be peaceful. She was drained, dirty, and currently had seven wolves all pressed against her. But always there was that sense of peace, belonging, and family. She could only assume that the wolves felt it too as they always seemed content to just laze there, all sprawled out with their eyes closed and their breathing even. So when each and every one of them suddenly jerked upright and went on the alert, Taryn knew something had to be wrong.

She thought of the male wolves who had attacked her the day before, wondering if they would be dumb enough to try to creep around their territory to finish the job they had barely begun. There was no question that they would be dumb enough, but the wolves didn’t dart off in various directions to hunt down any intruders as she would have thought. They remained there, crowding her, protecting her.

A howl in the distance received an immediate response from the wolves around her – it was a familiar howl. Kirk, she thought. The wolves all seemed to relax slightly, as if the possibility of ‘danger’ no longer worried them, but they didn’t seem happy, and Cujo was emitting a low growl.

Before Taryn could think on it any further, there was the sound of a car approaching. She went to stand, attempting to see who the car belonged to, but Cujo growled and licked her jaw and she got the distinct impression that he wanted her to remain where she was. Soon there were footsteps and the sound of Greta speaking ever so sweetly. Voices responded just as pleasantly – familiar voices that made everything make perfect sense.

A minute later, three male wolf shifters appeared with Greta. Instantly Cujo was on his feet, his attention solely on the male in front, but he didn’t move from Taryn’s side.

Taryn groaned and shot Greta, who was smirking mischievously, an accusatory look. “You knew he was in his wolf form. It didn’t bother you that he might have attacked my uncle?” Taryn had forgotten all about their visit.

Greta huffed. “After the things he said to my grandson, no. I hope Trey rips out his throat.” She snarled at Don, Nick, and another male wolf – all of whom were staring at the old woman in amazement as she made the transformation from gracious, welcoming host to an agent of the Axis of Evil. Oh she knew how to play the frail, saintly old woman.

Taryn sat up and wrapped her arms around the neck of a growling Cujo who clearly remembered Don and was in an overly crazy protective state after her being attacked. Her own wolf wasn’t too happy to see him either. “Trey,” she whispered into the wolf’s ear, knowing Trey would be aware of what was happening and would hear her. “I need you to come back to me now.” Unfortunately, Cujo wasn’t in any rush to retreat and let his human half have control. Had she recalled arranging her uncle’s visit, she would have postponed it for another time. Too late now.

Looking up at Don, she said, “If you could all just take a seat over there at the patio table we’ll be over in a sec.” Turning to the six wolves around her, she ordered, “Change.” Not looking all that happy about it, they shifted back to their human forms and – not moving their gazes from their visitors – each retrieved their own pair of jeans and t-shirt from the ones that were scattered around. Dante then brought over Trey’s clothes and handed them to her. Focusing back on Cujo, she whispered, “Come on, Trey. Come back.”

Seconds later the change began and Trey was sat in front of her, his gaze still drilling into her uncle. She handed him his clothes and, without a word, he stood and pulled them on. Obviously sensing the precariousness of the situation, each of the visitors had their heads lowered slightly, communicating that they had no intention of challenging him, that they were no threat.

Once Trey was dressed he held his hand out to Taryn and gently pulled her to her feet. He kissed her softly, letting her touch and closeness reassure his wolf. Never had his wolf liked strange wolves around his mate – hell, he’d never liked any males around her – but as their mating bond hadn’t fully clicked into place, his wolf was even worse. The fact that she had been attacked yesterday and that one of the males here had once wanted to take her from him worsened his mood.

“Okay?” she asked, combing her fingers through his hair.

He nodded and nipped at her mouth. “Just stay close.” If his wolf felt confident that Taryn was nearby, safe and protected, they might just get through this without him going for Don’s throat.

As Trey and Taryn approached the patio table, the visitors lifted their heads to reveal nervous expressions. Trey gave them a nod of greeting and took a seat opposite them, pulling Taryn onto his lap who snuggled into him the way he liked. Dante and Tao took a seat either side of him and Taryn. He knew without looking that both their gazes were on a gulping Don.

Nick broke the silence. “Thank you for granting us permission to visit. You already know Don. This” – he gestured to the stocky wolf on his right who was stroking his goatee – “is my bodyguard, Derren. I asked my Beta and my enforcers to remain in the car.” Well that had been wise of him. If Nick had arrived at the lake surrounded by a large number of strange wolves, Cujo would have pounced on them without a doubt.

Trey nodded curtly. “On my left is Tao, my Head Enforcer. On my right is Dante, my Beta. Behind us are Trick, Marcus, Dominic, and Ryan. And you’ve met my grandmother, Greta.”

Nick smiled. “Yes. She’s, um, charming. She has good reason to be unhappy to see us.”

Don cleared his throat. “Yes. I realize I was very rude at the mating ceremony. And, well, I made judgements about you based on what I’d heard from others. It’s simply that -”

“No,” interrupted Taryn. “There are no excuses. An apology we can work with. Excuses – hell, no.”

“Fair enough.”

Hearing her again defend him caused another pang in Trey’s chest. Massaging her nape, he said, “That’s not to say you weren’t right about me. I’m not a good person. If I thought someone deserved it, I’d kill them without blinking and I’d think nothing of it. I am, by my own admission, a hard, selfish, ruthless bastard. There’s only one person in this world who’s guaranteed to come to no harm from me, and that’s Taryn.”

After a moment of silence, Don nodded once.

“Dominic,” drawled Taryn in her sweetest voice. “Is there any chance you could go ask Grace to fix us all some coffees?”

With the offer of hospitality, the visitors seemed to visibly relax and Don exhaled a sigh of relief – probably relieved that he was still alive. “How’ve you been, Taryn?”

“Fine, thanks,” she practically purred. She loved it when Trey kneaded her nape, even though she knew he was mainly doing it just to take comfort in touching her. Her wolf was just as contented. “How’re the pups?”

“Still little beasts. They wanted to come and see you but well…”

But well he wasn’t sure if things would be amicable or if Nick would be scooping him from the floor with a spoon. “Next time, make sure you bring them.”

Don smiled a little as he asked, hopefully, “There’ll be a next time?”

“If you’re good.”

“She doesn’t give an inch, does she,” he said to Trey.

Trey smiled down at his mate. “I kind of like that about her.”

Greta hmphed, hands on hips. “Dante, shove over son.”

Grinning in amusement, Dante shuffled along to the next chair so that she could take his. Her posture was both regal and confrontational.

Nick folded his arms across his chest, but not in a manner that was confrontational. “Well, I hope – in spite of what happened – you enjoyed the mating ceremony.”

“It was real nice,” said Taryn. “It’s been a while since I went to one.”

“You and Trey haven’t had one?” asked Don, surprised.

Not liking this subject because she knew full well that Trey wouldn’t want one, she simply gave her uncle a bored look and a dismissive wave of the hand.

“You’re not one of those girls who dreamed about it all your life? Wow, my Ana already has hers planned and she hasn’t even found her mate yet. Not to mention she’s only seven.”

“What about you, Trey?” said Don. “Don’t you want a mating ceremony?”

Being the least romantic person alive, Trey hadn’t even thought about it before now. He’d never even wondered if Taryn would want something like that – which she did. And she didn’t. He couldn’t sense any more than that so he wasn’t sure what was behind her indecision, but it was something they would definitely be discussing in private. He just shrugged. “If Taryn wants one, we’ll have one. If she doesn’t, we won’t.”

Nick tutted. “You don’t want to be giving your mate her own way all the time.”

“Yes he does,” stated Taryn.

Greta huffed at Taryn. “In my day mates weren’t allowed to live together until after the mating ceremony.”

“In your day a guy named Noah was building an Ark.”

“And they had more self-control than to fornicate twenty three hours of every day.” She didn’t enunciate the word ‘fornicate’ properly as though she thought even talking about it was immoral and would get her sent straight to hell.

“There’s nothing depraved about sex. Of course with a little creativity, some toys and a whole lot of dirty talk, you can change that.”

Trey laughed into Taryn’s hair as he saw the horrified look on his grandmother’s face. God, he really did love his mate’s spunk. Greta looked at him expectantly, obviously wanting him to berate Taryn for talking to her about – heaven forbid – ‘intimate relations’.

Although shifters were easy about sex, Greta had always been, as his mate often called her, a prude. It was obvious, however, that the real reason she was berating Taryn was because she got a kick from it, and that was why Trey would never interfere on Greta’s behalf. Well, that and the fact that he liked sex with Taryn too much to risk angering her.

“You shouldn’t be using that word in front of your own uncle,” chastised Greta.

Taryn played dumb. “What? Oh you mean sex? Well I suppose there are other terms I could use. Trey likes to call it ‘Burying the Bishop’, but I prefer ‘Hiding Pedro’.”

“Enough, enough, enough,” insisted Greta, but she was barely heard over the laughter that spread around the table.

“So sorry, my halo slipped for a second there.”

Conversation seemed to flow a lot easier after that. However, even though the atmosphere became more relaxed, Trey still had to concentrate hard on keeping his wolf suppressed. Although Don had apologised, that didn’t matter to his wolf. Nor had he been satisfied by Don’s submissive behaviour. His wolf didn’t want his submission, he wanted Don to challenge him so he could attack and rip his throat out. Maybe he wouldn’t have been as overprotective and prickly if Taryn hadn’t been attacked only yesterday, or maybe he would always be that way where his mate was concerned.

Sensing that Trey’s wolf was far from at ease, Taryn snuggled deeper into Trey’s arms and began to softly pat his chest, scratching him lightly with her nails through his t-shirt. A growl of contentment rumbled up his chest and he curled his arm tight around her.

They sat that way for the next few hours, chatting and laughing with everyone. Don and Taryn even did a little reminiscing, talking about her mom and sharing some of the many stories that perfectly demonstrated just how dizzy the woman had actually been. Even Greta had laughed.

It was because the atmosphere was so cheery and relaxed that Taryn sensed the change the second it happened. “What is it?” she asked Trey who was speaking to Kirk – who was on guard duty – on his cell.

What?” he snapped into the cell. “I’ll be right there.” Flipping his cell closed, he stood upright and then placed her on the chair. “Stay here, Taryn.”

“What? Why?”

“Baby, just stay here for me.”

He didn’t say please, but Taryn heard it in his tone. If he was so wary about a situation that he was pleading with her as opposed to barking at her, it couldn’t be good. She nodded once and he kissed her quickly before disappearing into the forest. Dante and the enforcers followed him.

“What’s going on?” asked Greta.

“No idea.”

Nick’s Alpha instincts kicked in and he straightened in his seat. “Maybe Don, Derren and I should go see if -”

“No, when Trey’s wolf goes on high alert he sees anyone outside his pack as intruders – he’ll just think of your behavior as interference.”

Greta huffed. “So, what, we just sit here while there’s obviously trouble going on?”

“I didn’t say that.” Taryn stood and pointed hard at the others. “Stay here.”

Of course they didn’t, and she wasn’t exactly in a position to preach at them. Taking the same route Trey had, she traipsed through the forest toward the front gate. As she stepped out of the trees near the security shack, two things made her halt. One, there was a group of approximately ten people – all wolf shifters, her nose told her – standing near the front gate. Two, although the gate had been opened to allow them through, Trey and the guys had formed a protective wall in front of the shack – a warning that they weren’t to move any further. Despite there only being eight of them, it was a pretty impressive and intimidating display, and it was working.

The eyes of every stranger moved to Taryn, scrutinising her intently. There was nothing confrontational in their posture or manner, but that didn’t ease her tension. “Who are these people?”

Trey replied without turning his head, not wanting to move his gaze from the wolves in front of him. He wasn’t one little bit surprised that Taryn had disobeyed his order. It wasn’t in her nature to sit around twiddling her thumbs when there was trouble, just as it wasn’t in his nature either. “These are some of the wolves from my old pack.” He felt her confusion, knew she was wondering why he wouldn’t be at least a little glad to see them. Simple: he didn’t trust anyone from his old pack around her right now.

For all Trey knew, in spite of what they said, they were in league with Darryl. Even his wolf who recognised their scents wasn’t comfortable with their presence at all. When Taryn came to stand beside him he lifted his arm to create a barrier, wanting her to remain slightly behind him. “Apparently they’re here to see you.”

Taryn frowned, both at his words and how he seemed to be shielding her. Only the fact that she could sense his distrust and apprehension kept her from stepping around his arm. It wouldn’t be a good idea to distract him if he truly had good reason to be suspicious. “Why is that?”

“This is your mate?” asked a tall male – who Taryn thought had a slight resemblance to Ryan – in an extremely deep voice. She had to roll her eyes at the surprise in his tone. Okay, so she was small and Trey was big – it wasn’t that odd a match.

Trey responded with a curt nod.

“But…I thought healers couldn’t heal themselves.”

Disliking that he wasn’t addressing her directly as though she didn’t count, Taryn answered, “They can’t.”

“I don’t understand. You look…fine.”

“Why wouldn’t I?”

Trey explained. “It would seem that Martin overheard Darryl talking to the wolves who attempted to attack you last night. Everyone you see here knows Darryl ordered it done. What they don’t know is that the wolves were lying their asses off when they assured Darryl that you were in a bad physical state.”

“So the guys who interfered in the attack stopped it before it even started,” presumed Martin.

Taryn frowned. “What guys?”

A smile curved Trey’s mouth. “The ones who supposedly stumbled upon you being attacked and kicked the wolves’ asses.”

She laughed. “I can’t say I blame them for that sweet little lie.”

Martin’s brows pulled together. “Then who was responsible for their injuries?”

“Oh that would be Taryn,” replied Dante, his pride in his Alpha female clear in his voice and his grin. The other males wore similar smiles of pride.

A curvaceous peroxide blonde female who Taryn noticed was eyeing up Trey like he was a snack snickered. “She did it? Her?” Her voice rang with scepticism.

Taryn felt a spike of anger. “Her is standing right here and is Alpha female of this pack. I’m also very, very close to wiping the floor with your face for ogling my mate. Would you like that?”

Trey doubted that he would ever find it any less amusing to watch the shock on people’s faces when his little mate let her bitchy attitude come out to play. Quickly the blonde averted her gaze and edged closer to Martin. Each of the wolves of Trey’s old pack once again appraised his mate, seeing not the delicate tiny female she appeared at first glance to be, but the tough, strong, powerful alpha that she truly was.

“Well, well, well…This is quite a turn out.” Greta came to stand beside Taryn, her arms folded and her expression judgemental and suspicious. Don, Nick, and Derren were now behind them. “Shame none of you bothered to visit us sooner. Like fifteen years ago when a teenage boy was banished instead of being given his place as Alpha.”

Some of the wolves did look a little shamefaced, but not enough to satisfy Taryn.

A male who was basically an ancient version of Cam stepped forward, staring at Greta adoringly – Taryn smiled, brows raised, as the old woman blushed. “You look well, Greta. We just wanted you all to know that it wasn’t the pack as a unit acting against you or your mate, Trey. Not all of us agree with Darryl’s challenge. Of course we’d love for the pack to again be whole, but not for it to happen like this.”

A roundish, greying woman spoke in a placatory tone. “We may not have been much help to you all those years ago, but we wouldn’t wish you harm.” Her gaze settled on Dominic. “I certainly wouldn’t want anything for my nephew other than happiness.”

The other wolves here, including Trick’s parents who were staring at their son with glittering eyes, nodded in agreement. Trey was surprised to see them given that they had been loud supporters of his banishment – an attitude that had backfired when their son left along with him. Even with their seemingly harmless behavior, however, neither he nor his wolf was happy about them being around Taryn. “Well, you’ve seen that she’s alive and well. Now you can go.”

Dante’s older brother, Josh, who was ironically much smaller than Dante spoke up then. “I was sort of hoping I could talk to my bro, you know. It’s been a while.”

“Whose fault is that?” said Dante, sounding deceptively aloof.

Trey looked at Josh incredulously. “You don’t honestly think I’d allow anyone from the Bjorn Pack near Taryn after what happened yesterday, do you?”

“Trey, come on man, you can’t think we’d hurt your mate.”

“I take it that red-headed female you’re holding is your mate?”

Josh nodded. “Yeah. We mated a few months ago.”

“Then you should have a pretty good idea of how I’m feeling right about now.”

“None of the wolves you see here would hurt her, Trey,” vowed Martin.

“I won’t take chances where my mate’s concerned. Her safety is my first priority, and right now my intention is to be more vigilant than ever. Fortunately Darryl had greatly underestimated Taryn and she was unharmed despite his efforts. If there’s a next time, he won’t underestimate her, and I don’t intend for there to be a next time.”

“Trey?” It was spoken in a low, gentle, appealing tone by a very thin, dark, middle-aged woman who was gazing at him in a motherly way, surprising Taryn. “I can understand you being a little surprised by us showing up like this, but you know that I’d never do anything that would hurt you or yours. You trust that, don’t you?”

It was clear to Taryn that the woman was very much expecting the answer to be ‘yes’ and she wondered why.

Trey narrowed his eyes at the woman. The affectionate way Viv was looking at him was making him uncomfortable. “No. The only people in this world I trust to never betray me are those you see standing with me here. If any of you take offence to my not welcoming you all into my home with open arms, I don’t much care. I’m extremely protective of what’s mine, but I won’t let Darryl trick me into losing control and attacking him for going after Taryn – you might want to pass that on.”

Martin seemed to think on that for a moment and then nodded. “Going by the fact that you didn’t lose control…Does this mean you’re not as, um…impulsive…as you once were?”

Trey had to smile. Impulsive wasn’t the right word, but he knew what Martin was getting at. He went with the truth. “No, it doesn’t mean that at all. It just means that Taryn keeps me calm.”

“Why did you do it, Trey?” Trick’s dad’s tone was soft, not condemning. “Why did you almost kill your father, your Alpha?”

Trey simply shrugged, not willing to explain himself to any of them. “Because he deserved it. Deserved it so much that I’d do it again if he was alive.” Oddly, that seemed to be a good enough answer for Michael.

Uma, Trick’s mom, on the other hand, wasn’t so satisfied. “You owe us more than that. You owe us an explanation as to why we missed our son growing up.”

Oh she did not just say that! Without conscious thought Taryn sprung forward, growling. If Trey hadn’t looped on arm around her and pulled her back against him she would have been on that bitch – who had wisely backed up – in a blink. “Trey doesn’t owe you anything. In fact, you owe him an explanation – an explanation as to why you didn’t give a fourteen year old boy a chance to tell you what his asshole of a dad did. And don’t tell me that you all weren’t aware he’d been an asshole. Didn’t it ever occur to you that Trey could’ve easily finished off the job? He didn’t though, did he? No. But your tiny little brain didn’t even consider that. If you missed that time with Trick, it was your own goddamn fault. So if I were you, I’d exercise that right you have to remain silent or you’ll find yourself strung up like a pi?ata while I beat the shit out of you!”

Smiling at the almost feral protectiveness in her manner, Trey kissed his mark and rubbed his cheek against hers. He wasn’t the only one smiling. Yes she had been offensive, and threatening, but wolves respected that kind of strength. And no one much liked Uma anyway.

“I’m prepared to go to the council and tell them what I overheard Darryl saying,” offered Martin.

Trey shook his head. “I’d much rather you didn’t.”


Smirks that were identical to Trey’s surfaced on the face of each of his pack. It was Tao who explained. “We deal with things our own way.” Nothing more needed to be said for anybody to understand.

“If what you say about being concerned for Taryn’s welfare is true, then I thank you for coming.”

Understanding they had been effectively dismissed, the wolves all as one turned and made their way back to their vehicles – with the exception of one female who began to slowly and cautiously approach Trey.

“Who’s that?” asked Taryn in a whisper.

He sighed. “Viv. Summer’s mom.”

Oh.” Well that would certainly explain the motherly behavior. “I’ll give you two a few minutes alone.”

Surprised, he turned her to face him. “Baby, you don’t have to do that. There’s nothing for me to say to her now that I know Summer was never my mate.”

“But she doesn’t know that, does she? If you don’t want to tell her, then don’t.”

“You would be okay with me letting her believe you’re not who you are to me?”

She sighed. “No, I wouldn’t like it, but that woman has already been through a lot. She probably sees you as her last link to her daughter. Someone else who saw her in the special way that she did.”

“But I didn’t. Not even when I thought we were mates.” He released a long breath. “I’m going to tell her the truth. It’s the right thing to do, for everyone.”

Dante called, “Trey, Viv’s asking to talk to you.”

Trey turned his head to see that Tao and Dante stood in front of her, blocking her access to their Alpha pair.

Taryn nipped his chin. “Go on. I’ll wait back at Bedrock. I’ll have you a coffee waiting on the table. Of course you understand that Grace will have made it, but the thought is all mine.”

He smiled and bit her lip. “I’ll just be a few minutes.”

It wasn’t until she was heading back through the forest – having rounded up the others like sheep and shoved them ahead of her, including her uncle, Nick and Derren – that he went to where Viv was waiting. He signalled with an incline of his head for Dante and Tao to give them a moment alone.

“Thank you for speaking with me,” said Viv, swallowing hard. “Trey, I – I just…I’m glad you’re…happy. I always worried about you, wondered if you would survive the banishment. Your mate is very protective of you. You obviously care for each other. I didn’t expect to ever see you imprint.”

If he wasn’t mistaken, she wasn’t happy about it at all despite what she claimed. It occurred to him that she might feel as though he had betrayed her daughter’s memory in some way. Damn, she wasn’t going to like what he had to say. He took a deep breath. “We didn’t imprint.”

“Oh, you’re not mates?”

“Oh we’re mates. True mates.”

Frowning, Viv shook her head. “No, that…that can’t be. Summer was your true mate.”

“Viv -”

“I saw the way she looked up at you that day – so adoringly, so focused on you. She used to cry all the time with those colic pains but she calmed down as soon as you held her.”

“And you mistook that for a true mate bond. I’m sorry if that’s not what you want to hear, but I’m not going to lie to you.”

She shook her head again. “You reacted so badly to her death. What you did…That was grief -”

“That was me attacking my father for teasing me about her having died.”

“He did that?”

“Don’t kid yourself that I was someone who deserved your daughter and lost control in a moment of despair, that I’m just terribly misunderstood. When I heard she was dead, I felt guilty and angry with myself, but it could never have touched me the way it touched you. We weren’t mates, Viv.”

The hopeful gleam didn’t leave her eyes. “I can’t accept that. Maybe once all this is over with Darryl you could come with me to visit her grave and -”

He held up his hand. “Viv, I get that you might wish you could have someone to sit there and grieve with you for your daughter, who saw her as special and who you can share stories with, but…I can’t be that someone.”

“Maybe if I showed you some of her pictures and -”

“Viv, you’re not listening to me.”

“Because you’re wrong.”

“No, I’m not. Taryn is my true mate.” He didn’t like the way she snarled at Taryn’s name and nor did his wolf. “Don’t you do that. I get that you’re upset, but Taryn’s my mate and I won’t have you disrespect her in any way, just as you wouldn’t with your mate.”

The stiffness left her spine and she sighed. “I’m sorry, that was disrespectful. She seems like quite a character.”

“She is.”

“And you’re happy with her? She cares for you?”

He nodded. “Even though I’m about as emotional as a broomstick, even though I’m not giving her what she needs. She doesn’t judge me for being the way I am. She’s so different from me it’s not even funny. Taryn’s it for me.”

Viv’s expression softened. “Then I’m happy for you. I won’t lie and say I’m glad Summer wasn’t your true mate, but that’s because I selfishly wish I had some sort of connection left to her. What you have is what’s best for you, and that’s what I should be thinking about, not me.”

“Then you’re okay?”

She nodded, a half-smile now on her face. “I’m okay.” She bowed her head respectfully. “Take care, Trey. I really am glad you’re happy.” With that, she strolled over to the waiting vehicles and hopped into the backseat of one. Then the cars were beeping in goodbye and driving off.

“I wouldn’t be surprised if at least one of them can’t resist taunting Darryl over his failed attack on Taryn,” said Dante as he and Tao came to stand beside Trey.

“Hearing Taryn wasn’t hurt and you’re onto his little tricks will make him unbelievably pissed,” said Tao.

Trey nodded, sighing. “It’s a satisfying thought.” But he couldn’t smile about it like Dante and Tao were. Although he was pleased to know that not all of his old pack was against him, the overriding issue for him was that there was still a threat to his mate walking the earth. That was unacceptable to him and his wolf.

He wondered if Taryn had any real idea of just how difficult it was for him to simply sit back and then go after Darryl in his own time. The need to avenge pecked at him constantly, demanding he go dish out his own personal brand of justice. The whole thing was making him restless, giving him that nagging feeling like the kind he got when there was something he’d forgotten to do. Only this time he knew exactly what he needed to do, and it went totally against his very nature to ignore it.

Now that their cars were no longer in sight, Trey headed back to the caves.

Dante sighed. “I’ve got a feeling that Don will want to know everything that’s going on – he’ll be pissed to hear his niece was attacked.”

“Do you think Nick will be willing to join us for the battle?” Tao asked Trey.

“There’s only one way to find out.” As Trey was making his way to the kitchen, he heard the words ‘hussy’, ‘disrespectful’ and ‘common’ – clearly Greta was taking a pop at Taryn again. Then he heard his mate’s voice.

“No need to take it out on me that you’re so wrinkled you have to screw your hat on.”

And just like that, he was smiling.

“Do you see what I have to put up with? She’s always talking to me like this,” said Greta, outraged – presumably talking to Don, Nick and Derren.

“You know, I hear that bathing nightly in the blood of virgins is scientifically proven to reduce the effects of old age. Maybe you should try it.”

Entering the kitchen, Trey went straight to where Taryn was perched on the counter and insinuated himself between her swinging legs. He took her mouth in a searing kiss that he hoped told her everything he didn’t know how to say. Near her, surrounded by her scent, he could breathe better. It was odd how this tiny little female could anchor him the way she did. She really was the only thing keeping him rational right now and he wondered if she knew it, felt the weight of that responsibility. Maybe she did, and maybe she felt how close he was to the edge, because she gave him what he hadn’t even known he needed until then. She wrapped all her limbs around him and just held him to her.