This is set at the end of Family and Honor.
Carey was bouncing when she got out of school that day, running fast to get inside and leaving her big brother at the car. She flew past her dad and ran up the stairs before he said anything.
“CAREY!” he roared.
Grinding to a stop, she sighed, slumping as she turned to see what he wanted.
“Yes, Dad?” she called from the top of the stairs.
“Homework,” he snapped with a sternness that she knew not to toy with. As she stomped back down the stairs, she saw him standing at the bottom, his arms crossed and Landon to him, holding her bookbag.
“Sorry,” she mumbled, taking the bag when she was down stairs. “I wanted to get ready to go to Jacky’s early.”
By the look on her dad’s face, she knew what he was thinking.
“I’m going to Jacky’s! I do every Monday and that’s our deal. I get to go hang out with her when my homework is done.”
“She has company—”
“So? He seems really cool. He promised he wouldn’t hurt me and Jacky can keep me safe. Please Dad. I really like seeing her and I don’t get any chances except Sunday and Monday because she works and I have school.” Carey’s heart began to race as she hoped her argument was good enough.
“I’ll text her and see what she thinks,” he relented with a sigh.
Carey grinned and started for the dining room table. Landon, the overbearing monster, followed her and sat beside her while she pulled her homework out of her bag.
“You know, I don’t need your help,” she said, looking at him.
“It’s not about helping you,” he reminded her. “You’re sneaky and don’t always finish all of it because you want to go play. Father doesn’t have the time to do this with you every day, so I will. Without Richard, it has to be me.”
Carey tried not to think about why those words hurt. Like she was stopping anyone from having a life. Isn’t that why Richard hated her? Because she took his place or something. She was too much to deal with. She ruined their lives. Landon didn’t have a life because he was too busy helping Dad with her.
“I stopped sneaking about my homework like a year ago,” she said softly, opening her math book, not looking at him. He sighed and she felt a big hand wrap around her head.
“Maybe I just like sitting here with you and pretending I can help,” he said gently, kissing the side of her head. “Can’t a big brother hover?”
“I mean… you can.” She shrugged half heartedly. He didn’t let go of her and bumped his forehead to the place he had just kissed. She knew what that was. It was a wolf sign of affection. Sometimes Carey thought she knew wolves better than humans, but it was good. She liked when Landon did that to her because it always made her feel a little better.
“Carey…” he pulled her closer, yanking her off her chair into a hug on his lap. Her face heated.
“Landon, I’m too old for this.” Trying to push away, she realized her brother wasn’t going to budge.
“You don’t have to feel so sad about me sitting here with you. It’s my honor to be your big brother. You know that right?”
Richard didn’t think so. Why should I believe you?
She didn’t say that to him, though. She knew better. She didn’t even want to think about Richard. She should have known Landon would figure out she was feeling bad, because werewolves could smell everything. It was super nosy and annoying.
She was finally able to get away, sticking her tongue out at him and turning away, only to see her dad watching them with a smile.
“Well?” She wanted better news. She wanted to go see Jacky.
“She says you are more than welcome to visit her today or at any time while Jabari is in town. She trusts him with you and therefore, I should,” her dad explained, sighing at the end.
“When is she picking me up?”
“Well, we made a deal. Landon is going to drive you over and stay—”
“Dad!” Carey wanted to scream. “Why?”
“Because it would make me feel better. Jabari and I don’t get along, but I think Landon can keep an eye on you if it’s needed without too much of a problem.”
“No! He’s going to hover!” She waved a hand at her brother and accidentally hit something. Landon grabbed her hand and forced her to put it on the table. “And he’s like that!” Her point was proven.
“Maybe you shouldn’t have hit him in the face by not paying attention,” her dad remarked, giving her the dad look.
With a huff, she crossed her arms, glaring at him.
“I don’t want to go with Landon.”
“Too bad. Then you aren’t going.”
“If Jacky trusts him—”
“Carey, don’t,” Landon said quickly, reaching out and putting a hand over her mouth. “Father is an Alpha werewolf and his decisions are final. It won’t be so bad. I’ll stay out of the way.”
She didn’t bother trying to get out of Landon’s hold, keeping her glare on her dad.
“Landon, let her go,” her dad ordered. The hand left, but Carey didn’t speak up, still glaring, still hoping he would relent and let her go to Jacky’s like every other Monday. “It’s just while Jabari is visiting. I don’t know him and I don’t like what I’ve ever seen of him. I don’t care whether Jacky trusts him or not. He’s not a werecat I know and he can be dangerous. I trust Jacky to protect you, but I want Landon there as well. It’s not the end of the world.” He pointed to her books on the table. “Finish your homework. I’ll see you when you get home tonight.”
“Fine…” She slumped in her chair. She hated when he did the explaining thing. It made her feel like she couldn’t argue. Landon was right. Dad’s decisions were final. Normally, that was okay. He was a good dad and she had heard a lot of stories from her friends about not good dads.
But this sucked.
She breezed through her homework as fast as she could and pushed Landon away before he could do his silent check. Shoving it into her bag, she stormed out of the dining room and upstairs, hoping to change.
When she was ready, Landon was already waiting at the front door. She ignored him, stomping to his car, hoping he realized this was stupid and would tell Dad that it was stupid.
“Stop,” he ordered, as she tried to yank her door open. “I’m not unlocking the car until the attitude is dropped, Carey.”
“This is stupid,” she snapped. “Jacky would never let me get hurt.”
He was glaring now.
“Jacky. It’s always Jacky with you,” he muttered, shaking his head. “We’re only trying to do what’s best for you. This is not something that requires all of your military might to stop. Father’s not taking away your Mondays with the werecat—”
“Why don’t you like her?” She realized it before. He never liked her. He was always really quiet with her, always watching. Carey only saw him like that when there were werewolves he didn’t like around. He’d told her a long time ago that it was because he wanted to be ready to fight or hadn’t decided whether he trusted someone or not.
“Don’t make me answer that,” he said softly. The door unlocked and she got in, frowning at her brother’s avoidance.
“She’s my friend—”
“She killed Richard,” he growled softly. “And I know… I know what he did was terrible. It’s not her fault, but…”
“Yeah…” She crossed her arms and sank into her seat. Again with Richard. She should have known. Richard had been a mean bully. Well, not always. He always made her feel loved and was cool like Landon, but then it all changed and now she didn’t know what to think anymore. Was Landon going to be the same was as him?
She tried to blink back tears. She didn’t trust Landon anymore and that always made her feel bad to think about. She would get over it one day. She had Jacky and Dad. They both loved her, even if Richard never had and Landon was probably lying to her. One brother didn’t want her, so why should the other?
Just like my mom.
Carey tried to cover her face, hoping Landon didn’t say anything.
“What’s wrong?” he asked softly, ignoring her sign to ignore her.
“Nothing,” she mumbled.
“You can tell me anything. I’ll always listen, Carey. You used to tell me everything.”
“It’s nothing,” she snapped. She also told Richard everything and apparently she was too bratty, too stupid, for him to care about. “I’m fine.”
“Please don’t lie to me,” he said, the car finally turning on.
“You can’t force me to tell you anything,” she reminded him. Their dad made a deal about it. She wasn’t required to tell them how she felt, even if they could smell her lying. Her feelings were private, even if they could smell them. “Dad made you promise.”
“He did,” Landon said with a sigh.
Carey was silent for the rest of the drive and jumped out the moment Landon parked, running for the bar. Jacky opened the door with a smile.
They met in a big hug, Carey melting into her only real friend. Jacky was special. She protected and loved Carey and that meant everything. She answered questions and never tried to pry. If Carey didn’t want to talk, Jacky never forced her to.
Before Carey could say anything, Jacky pulled away and brushed Carey’s hair away.
“I don’t want to talk about it,” Carey said confidently.
“Okay. We’ll come back to it another time, then,” Jacky promised. “Whenever you’re ready.”
“Landon, welcome!” Jacky called over her head. “Jabari has been cooking all day, so there’s food ready for everyone already.”
“What did he make?” Carey asked as Jacky led them inside.
“Stuff he and Zuri eat. I don’t know the names. He just knew it was Monday and that you could be coming over, so he decided to cook up a feast just in case.”
“Cool.” Carey grinned, her worries momentarily forgotten. They went up to Jacky’s apartment and found Jabari inside, hovering over several big dishes. Food was every where in the kitchen and on the dining table. Sniffing, Carey decided she was going to eat all of it.
“Thank you, but I’ll feed myself later,” Landon said softly.
“Eat,” Jacky said in something that wasn’t an order, but was. Carey liked how Jacky could do that to even her werewolf family. “There’s too much food and I’m going to hurt Jabari’s feelings by sending some of it home with you for Heath.”
“Ah…” Landon was shutting down again. Carey hated it but she wasn’t going to let it bother her. There was a lot of good smelling food and a really cool, really old werecat she only met once.
Jabari. He even had a cool name. He was Jacky’s older brother and she was so interested in him. She had wanted to meet more werecats when she met Jacky. They were so much cooler than werewolves. She knew a lot of werewolves.
But werecats? She now knew two of those.
He caught her looking and smiled. Carey’s face heated. He had a really nice smile.
He’s already cooler than all of the boys at school.
“How are you today, Carey?” he asked.
“I’m good,” she said, trying to smile back.
“Jacky says you go to school? Care to tell me about it? I don’t know much about American education. I would think you go to similar schooling as my sister. I would like to hear more about it.”
“Jabari…” Jacky groaned.
“I would love to!”
“Amazing,” he said, nodding. “Come, we’ll make you a plate and you can tell me about it. And about Jacky. You probably know her better than I do. I’ll need your help if I’m going to survive this short stay.”
“Short? You’re leaving soon?” No, he couldn’t do that. Carey wanted to know everything.
“Ah, well, to you, maybe not too soon. A few weeks.”
“Well, okay, I’ll tell you about school, but then you have to tell me about being a werecat, and where you come from, and everything else, okay?”
Jabari laughed, looking over her to see the others. When he looked back down, the smile wasn’t gone.
“I can do that. What else would you like to know?”
“Everything.” She wanted all of it.
“I’ll do my best, then.” He finished dishing up a plate and held it out to her. Jacky put a fork on her plate and directed her to the couch.
Landon didn’t sit down, frowning at her as she started to eat. She stuck her tongue out at him. Just because he didn’t like the werecats, didn’t mean she had to be the same way.
And Jabari was super cool.
“Hey, Mister Jabari? Is there anything cool you can teach me?” she asked, looking over the back of the couch.
“I’m adept at the bow and several weapons, but Zuri, my twin, would be much better at things you may find more—”“I own a bow! You can teach me to use it!”
“Do you?” He seemed surprised. “Why is that?”
She didn’t answer immediately. Richard had wanted to teach her to hunt with it, like he did Landon. That way, she could have gone on their trips with them. She got it for her tenth birthday and never got the chance to use it.
“Our family bow hunts,” Landon finally answered.
“Will you teach me?” she asked quickly.
“I will,” Jabari promised.
Later, after they all ate, Jacky and Carey took a chance to run outside, away from the boys.
“Is he a good big brother?” Carey asked.
“Jabari? Not always but he’s good to my siblings. He and I are still learning each other, which is a lot of the problems we have. Why?”
“Okay.” Jacky didn’t believe her, of course, but Carey was thankful that Jacky never ever called her out. “Siblings aren’t perfect. They never will be. My human sister, my twin, was always making me feel like the lesser child. My werecat siblings do the same thing more often than not. But they also helped Hasan get me out of trouble when I protected you and helped your dad.”
“Is this about—”
“No.” Carey didn’t let Jacky say his name. She didn’t want to hear his name.
They kept walking in silence. Finally, Carey sighed.
“Thank you,” she said in a small voice.
“Being my friend.”
“Always,” Jacky whispered.
“Do you think Jabari will be my friend?”
“I think you’ve already gotten him wrapped around your little finger,” Jacky said with a laugh.
Grinning, Carey was okay with that. Maybe another new friend would make how Richard treated her hurt less. She would make Jabari her newest best friend, but he couldn’t replace Jacky. No one could replace Jacky.
But he would help replace Richard.