This is set during Oath Sworn.
“She’s right inside with my daughter, Heath. I thought she was supposed to be protecting yours.” For the first time in Heath’s time as the Dallas Alpha, he heard a whine to Shamus’ voice.
Heath sighed heavily. “I know.”
“My Stacy could be in danger right now.”
“Looks like they’re eating lunch.” He didn’t know what his fourth wanted to hear. Were they supposed to rush in and drag out the most dangerous creature in the city? Heath had a hard time believing the rumors of werecat power but now wasn’t going to be the time he tested them.
“Well, looks like they’re coming out now,” his fourth pointed out, nodding towards the little sub place across the street. “No worse for wear…”
Heath smiled behind the dark glass. So they were.
“It’ll be fine Shamus.” It better be or I’m going to have blood on my hands.
He watched as the pair of woman drew nearer, his eyes locked on the werecat walking behind Stacy towards them. She was wary, her eyes flicking around nervously as she took in the environment around her. He knew if he opened the window he would catch the scent of her anxiety, and maybe even fear.
And he knew her tactic of walking behind Stacy was for protection. They couldn’t attack her with a human teenager standing between them.
Smart werecat. She knows we pose a danger if she says something we don’t like. Maybe her kind isn’t as powerful as everyone says.
As they drew closer, he took in the damage, some shock running through him. She wasn’t just wary of the situation. She looked worn out, beaten up, and kicked around. She had seen some fights already and she was on the other side of them. That made him more worried than he cared to admit. Quickly, he locked down his body, refusing to let a single bit of his emotions leak into his scent. He positioned himself into an obvious display of power and threw on a mantel of confidence he was used to wearing, even though it was never truly natural to him. He had to keep the upper hand if he wanted to speak to this werecat and learn what he needed to learn.
Like where his daughter was.
The two women crossed the SUV to load in and he watched the door across from him. They were putting Jacky in the back with him. As the door opened, he noticed her slow movements and downward turned eyes. For some reason, the display of respectful submission bothered him and he felt a surge of annoyance. This werecat was supposed to protect his daughter and yet here she was, without him human daughter and looking like she was too meek for the task. She sat down and he struck.
“You were prettier in the pictures, Jacky. Less…battered.”
Her eyes snapped up, going wide. Heath had seen her hazel eyes in pictures before, but never the gold she was displaying now. Brilliant gold, hard for a moment in her shock at his words.
“Where’s my daughter?” he demanded.
She didn’t say anything, looking him over, her chest rising and falling quickly. He’d spooked her and he realized he needed to turn down the confidence. Werecats were reportedly solitary, which meant she probably wasn’t used to the power of an Alpha werewolf in her space. As she tared at him, he took in more about her. Her brown waves, a color some could describe as mahogany, was a mess compared to what he normally saw in photos. While working at her bar, he knew she kept it up in a ponytail, something she had now, but it was normally well maintained, professional in a very casual way. Right now, she looked like she had been running for several hours. Her body wasn’t lean in the truest sense, but it was well muscled, showing him she had some strength even if she was only a meager five foot seven or eight.
He knew everything he could find about this woman and yet, none of that prepared him for meeting her for the first time or his reaction to her appearance.
She went through hell recently and that pissed him off.
“Start talking, Jacky.” He didn’t remove his eyes from her as the SUV got moving.
“Twenty-four hours or so ago, a hunting party showed up at the location I was hiding her at. We’d already been chased out of my territory by a small group that had silver on them. The next one was twice the size and put four silver bullets in me, leaving me for dead, and taking her with them.”
Heath resisted a snarl. Rage filled in his chest, making it tight.
“And you’re here,” he whispered. He didn’t mean for that to sound like a threat, but it came out that way. Now he hoped she wouldn’t jump back out of their ride and leave. He needed to know more. He needed to know how this woman survived silver just to come to Dallas to see him and tell him his daughter had been taken.
“I made a choice to come and save her. I wasn’t going to give up and fail my Duty, no matter what Laws told me I probably should.”
“What about the silver wounds?” he asked, looking her over. She was bruised and battered but he didn’t see any gunshots. If she was hit with silver, those would still be bleeding out unless she had them removed. Even then, micro amounts of silver could slow healing down to a human rate until it passed out of the body. “You don’t look very injured.”
Then she lifted her shirt. His eyes caught the one on her gut first. That should have killed her. As her shirt lifted, he saw more holes, more scabbing, barely healed holes.
Ah. Well. Those are gun shot wounds… Fuck me, this has done much too far if my traitors are shooting other supernaturals with silver.
“I have another hole in my thigh. There were some bystanders who kindly took the bullets out and did CPR on me.”
Someone coughed in the front. Heath ignored Stacy, knowing she was spying. The young woman was about to become a werewolf. He would let her watch and listen as long as she didn’t interrupt. This was the danger of being a member of their kind. The fighting, the silver, and the possibility that even the most dangerous predators can go down and never stand again.
Not that any of that mattered. Heath was too busy trying to put together what she said into a coherent chain of events. It always led to one outcome that he wasn’t sure he believed.
“Stacy, stop staring.”
“Dad, they shot her!” she cried out. “Heath, you have to put a stop to this! Why is this about Carey? What happened?”
“Stacy, stay out of it,” her father snapped. “Now.”
“CPR? You died?” Heath lifted his chin and looked down his nose now, trying to remain above his feelings. He couldn’t react yet. He just needed to learn what he could. All he could do was watch and listen, hoping any of it would help fix the mess that blown up in his pack. I have to fix this or I won’t get to be the father I promised my little I would be. And now they probably have.
“For two minutes, they said. There had to have been thirteen wolves in that hunting party. I’m not an old or experienced werecat. I did what I could.”
“I know,” he said softly. He was stunned, honestly. This… werecat had died for his daughter. For two entire minutes, a werecat had died. Were the traitors to his pack trying to start a war? Am I? Was I foolish to think Carey would be safe with anyone but me? “So, you think my daughter is now somewhere in Dallas.”
“The first group…They said they wanted her to flush you out. I expect you’ll be getting some hint or message soon to meet or something. Trade her safety for your defeat. Not very honorable, but from my understanding, nothing about this has been.” She shrugged and Heath could smell the waves of anxiety pouring off her. “I’m sorry, Alpha Everson.”
“It’s not your fault,” he whispered. “I knew you would fight hard if it was needed. I didn’t think they would attack you so blatantly.”
“How…” She stopped, considering him. He waited until she made her judgment and knew the moment she had. “May I ask you a few questions?”
“I’m here, aren’t I?” He raised an eyebrow.
“How did you even know about me?”
“Oh.” He snorted, finally allowing a small smile to form. It would help relax the werecat beside him, and he was okay with that. Obviously, his issue wasn’t with her. If anything, she went above and beyond what he expected. “I thought you had something difficult to ask. It’s simple, really. Someone came to me, wondering why a werewolf opened a bar in Jacksonville. It must have been right after you showed up. I got curious and drove out, but stopped when I realized that I was about to cross the border of your territory. Started digging into you after that, but I didn’t want to out you to your humans, so I told them that you were private and that if anything happened, they could let me know and I would deal with it.”
“Fucking hell. Do you know a guy named Joey?”
“I do,” he murmured, the small smile turning into a predatory grin. He knew Joey well, actually. He once worked in a branch office of his company, but had to be fired for alcohol use on the job. He’d told Joey he would come back into the fold if he worked on his problems. Joey hadn’t but he had brought Heath an amazing piece of information about a little new supernatural that had moved into Jacksonville.
“What all do you know about me?” There was a definite demand to her words as she crossed her arms. He almost thought she would stomp her foot. “I think I deserve to know, because I was living a very quiet and happy life before you decided I should be a part of your daughter’s protection detail.” For someone so battered and bruised, he hadn’t expected the brazen change. This wasn’t the were who got into the vehicle with her eyes down.
“Everything I could find. It’s decent Iintel. I know your full name is Jacqueline Leon, not Jacky. I know you have a lawyer in New York and an accountant up there. Through the accountant, I found a few of your aliases. I like to know who and what is living in my state, and since you were fairly close, I figured you could come in handy. You have, even if it wasn’t exactly the outcome I wanted.” He knew a little more than that, like her original human name and human family, but he didn’t mention them.
“Really? Your daughter was taken from me—”
“You died for her, which means a lot to me,” he snapped. Damn it, he was starting to let it get to him. He couldn’t get angry yet. He needed everything to be settled, then he would rage. Then he would hurt someone or something. But not yet. “I’m angry she was taken, but I’m not foolish enough to think it was your fault. It’s the wolves who took her and they’re going to pay for that.”
“Even though you failed, you bought us some damn valuable time,” Shamus said casually. Heath was almost glad for the intrusion. He needed the valuable time to control his anger.
“Exactly. You were able to keep my daughter out of the line of fire, which meant I could focus on finding out who is and isn’t loyal to me here in Dallas without worrying about her as much. Harrison told me she made it to you, since you had called him. Did you tell him that the wolves grabbed her back?”
She nodded. “Last night.”
“He hasn’t contacted me yet…” Heath shook his head, growling. Fucking Harrison. He was trying to control the situation from outside the fucking city which was completely out of bounds. Heath deserved to know every detail about his daughter, no matter what was going on. Typical fucking Harrison. “Damn. He probably doesn’t want me to make this a bigger bloodbath than it already is. Still, stupid of him to keep that kind of a secret from me.”
“Yeah. So, where are you taking me?”
“Your hotel. I looked it up when I realized you were here,” he answered. “You’re going to get your things and come with us. Don’t make it hard, please.” He wasn’t in the mood for anything else to be more difficult than it needed to be and the longer he looked at her, the more he wanted her with his loyal pack members. Where she would be out of the line of fire for a moment. The woman needed time to heal, and he was going to make sure that happened since it was his fault she looked like death walking.
“No, of course not,” she said. “And where are we going?” There was a nervous note to her words, a quiver that he picked up on. She was scared. He couldn’t quite smell it, even in the small space, but then, he didn’t need to.
“You’re terrified,” he said, shaking his head. “There’s no reason for you to be.”
“What do you know about werecats? I’m out of my territory. I’m in the same city as a werewolf war that should have nothing to do with me. I was attacked twice and a little human girl, your daughter, was taken from my protection, which was never a place I ever thought to have a girl. In my protection, that is.” She leaned over for a moment closing the space between them in an uncomfortable fashion. It was ballsy to lean in on an Alpha wolf like that, but he wasn’t’ sure if she knew what she was doing or not. “Of course I’m terrified. If I really believed you weren’t going to kill me for losing her, then that’s just one problem off the list of them. I’m breaking the Law by even fucking being here, and that’s a big fucking problem, too. A bigger one than what you’re dealing with.”
Heath watched her lean back, knowing her words made sense. What was interesting was her admission to it all. The fear, breaking the Law, all of it. She had courage he respected. She was killed and yet here she was, willing to die again. Her chest was rising and falling quickly, but it slowly as she took deeper breathes, calming herself visibly. He wondered what type person of was needed to raise someone to be so damn courageous. A little voice in the back of his mine hoped his daughter was half as brave as this werecat was when she was older.
“You’re right. You do have a lot of reasons to be worried.” He inclined his head. “So…what side do you choose?”
“While I was protecting Carey, I was trying to remain impartial,” she explained. He’d expected that. “While I tried not to be totally fatalistic to her, I was ready for an outcome in which she would go to a legal guardian and not a parent or other family. Now, even though they’ve taken her and tried to kill me, I am still trying to remain impartial. I’m not going to help you win this. I’m going to get your daughter back and keep her safe from all harm. That means once I have her again, I’m leaving with her until this settles.”
There it is. The first lie. She wants me to win, probably for Carey who wouldn’t be safe if I lost. She’s going to help me win, but can’t admit to going that far.
He didn’t call her out, knowing better than to pressure her into saying more. “And you recognize that working with me is probably the fastest way to finding her.”
“Sort of. I caught one of the other wolves last night. I didn’t hold him, but I had him deliver a message to the wolf he reported to. They failed to kill me and I was here to pick a fight for her again.”
“Why are you doing this?” Purely out of curiosity, he asked the important question. He didn’t have to know, but he wanted to.
“You’re the third person I’ve explained this to, but the others were werecats…” She huffed and it reminded him of every woman he’s ever met, exasperated by men asking them too many stupid questions. “It could be considered a failure of my Duty that I let Carey get taken from me, but I like to think that’s only the case if I give up. I’m not giving up. There’s been a lot of Law-breaking around here. They started it. I’m going to continue to do what I swore I would do, even though the Laws will hang me for it.”
“That’s…honorable of you,” he said softly, nodding. “Very honorable, to put your Duty over your self-preservation.”
“If I was worried about self-preservation, I would have given her up to the first hunting party. Not get shot five times in less than a week,” He caught a flash of canines and realized she was riding the edge of her Change. Her self-control was failing. “Older and wiser werecats have told me this is foolish. I made it clear to them…that I didn’t think so and there’s no other option in my mind.”
“I’m glad I sent her to you, then.” He extended a hand. “I haven’t properly introduced myself. I’m Heath Everson.”
“Jacky Leon. I prefer Jacky, by the way. Don’t call me Jacqueline.”
“Why not? It’s a pretty name,” he countered. He really liked it, but he thought Jacky fit her better. He had the dying need to tease her for a moment though, something he did with most women he met and wanted to know better. An odd time and place for the urge to strike, but he rolled with it.
“Fine. Call me whatever you want.” She yanked her hand back, shaking her head. He resisted chuckling at her.
“I will. I tend to do whatever I want without needing someone’s permission.” He smirked. He was going to like this feline, he could already tell. Now he just hoped they all survived this because he didn’t want the guilt of her death on his shoulders, not when he dragged her into his own incompetence as an Alpha.