Tempered Souls: Book Two
PURE used to be like a second home to her. Now it just felt like a lie.
If Fate were honest with herself, she’d have to admit this had been coming on for months. Ever since the day she’d forged her unlikely friendship with Reina Campbell, who staunchly believed all creatures were created equal, whether mortal, immortal, Were, or otherwise. Fate had called them all monsters back then, but no longer. It was hard to put her heart into it when her best friend was a vampire.
The group was dwindling now and she didn’t mind. She’d have disbanded it entirely if it hadn’t felt like a betrayal, to turn her back on something that had been such a large part of her life for so long. But the university’s summer break was just around the corner. People would be heading off to their homes and attendance would trickle to practically nothing. They usually didn’t bother meeting during the summer, and if the group died a natural death over those months, she wasn’t going to be the one to resuscitate it.
Even now there was only a small group gathered, clustered in the front of the auditorium. Fate couldn’t bring herself to lead them in any sort of discussion, so she sat on the edge of the stage, gnawing the lipstick off the edge of her lip, while the others clumped into small groups and talked amongst themselves.
She heard snippets of conversation but paid little attention to them. One group discussed reports of local pets being snatched and turning up days later completely exsanguinated. Fate knew those to be nothing more than rumor—she had a much closer ear to the ground for those sorts of things now, with the company she’d been keeping—but the people who had stuck around PURE this long were not the sort to listen to reason, or heed her pleas for caution.
Fate looked at her watch. If she left now, she’d get to Reina’s earlier than they’d planned, but Reina had never been the sort to mind. The company at Logan’s house promised to be infinitely better than she found here.
She slid off of the edge of the stage, down to the carpeted floor, and dug the key to the auditorium from her pocket. She tossed it to Kate on her way out. “Lock up when you’re done? I’m going home.”
Kate gave her a startled look but nodded and tucked the key into her purse. Fate left them all behind her and strode out into the night.
Outside, the sky was dark and cooling off quickly but the air still held a remnant of the day’s heat. Fate scrubbed damp tendrils of hair off the back of her neck as she strode to the parking lot. She’d never been more grateful that Reina lived so close to campus. Just a few miles, a five-minute drive at most, and Fate could leave this all behind her and be among friends again.
If anyone had told her a year ago that she’d be taking comfort in the company of vampires, she’d have laughed herself sick. She didn’t particularly feel like laughing now.
* * * *
The lights blazed from a house on the side of the road, shining out in a comforting glow. Six months earlier, Fate never would have used the word comforting to describe the home of a vampire brood. Six months earlier, she’d have called them monsters. Now, she called them friends—even Logan, the brood’s sire and Reina’s boyfriend, though there had been no love lost between them when they’d first met.
Fate smiled as she jogged up the walk with her book bag slung over her shoulder. The jasmine beneath the window was blooming, filling the air with its scent. She gave a perfunctory knock before trying the door. The knob turned beneath her hand and she stepped inside.
The living room was empty, which was unusual. In her experience, someone could almost always be found there, watching TV, or lounging on the couch, reading a book or having a conversation. Today, there was no one to greet her but the sounds of conversation lured her further within. She found the whole brood gathered in the kitchen, heads bent over a map spread out on the table.
“Look, Mac,” Alex said as he traced a line on the map Fate couldn’t see. “We’ve got Arlais to our southwest, Donovan to the east. We’re stuck. There’s nowhere to expand.” Logan was shaking his head and looking grim. They all were, actually. Unusually so.
“What’s going on?” Fate asked, stepping into the kitchen.
They glanced up at her. Not a one seemed surprised to see her there. Sure, she thought. I’ve got blood coursing through my veins. They probably smelled me from the doorstep. For a moment, no one responded to her.
Then Reina blew out her breath and said, “Hi. We weren’t expecting you until later, sorry. We’re just trying to figure out what to do for summer break.”
“Vacay?” Fate asked, brows raised, grinning, but it was just a joke to defuse the tension she could feel boiling off of them. They were all much too strained to be discussing vacation. “I hear Cancún is the destination hotspot of the summer. Bright, sunny beaches…”
Reina flashed her a grin that faded fast. “I wish. We’re trying to figure out how not to starve when everyone goes home for break.”
The smile fell off of Fate’s face. She stepped in and the others shuffled closer together, making room for her around the table. The map on the table showed Bryson and the surrounding areas, all the way out to Harmony and Fairmount. They’d been writing on it, shading in areas. Territories, Fate assumed. At a glance, she could see what Alex had been talking about. Logan’s territory, centered squarely over Bryson and the university, was penned in neatly to the west, east, and south. Fate pointed to an unshaded area directly to the north. “What’s wrong with that?”
The others shifted and said nothing. Reina rolled her eyes to the ceiling. “That’s what I said.”
“No,” Logan said, his voice hard. “There are no hunting grounds there.”
“Well, that’s not true.” Fate looked closer at the map. “I’ve been up there before. There are at least half a dozen bars and clubs you’d be able to find willing donors in, easy.”
“No.” Logan’s voice hardened even further, cooled several degrees. Fate glanced up at him, startled, but it was Reina he was looking at. “We’ll get no succor there. It’s off-limits.” His tone left no room for discussion.
Fate watched as Reina squared her shoulders. Her jaw lifted, her expression tightening with irritation and resolve. “You might at least tell me why. I may be the youngest but I’m not a child.” Her voice dropped. She leaned in toward him, murmuring, “Logan, you can’t just tell me to jump and expect me to ask how high, you know that. I just want to know why, because you’re not making any sense. I assume the sun still sets there the same as it does everywhere else, so why couldn’t we—”
“It’s Gabe’s territory,” Logan said quietly. Reina snapped her mouth shut. “It doesn’t matter how prime the feeding grounds are, we’re not welcome.”
Fate looked back and forth between them. “Gabe. You mean Adri’s Gabe?” Adri had been Reina’s roommate and friend until she’d been killed by a rogue vampire this past winter. She had also been a werewolf and Gabe had been her alpha.
Logan glanced at Fate briefly. “Yes. That one.”
“But Gabe’s my friend,” Reina protested. “I’ve known him for years. I can talk to him, I can tell him that our brood’s grown and when the quarter ends we’re going to starve—”
“No!” Even Fate jumped at the ferocity of Logan’s tone. “Reina, you will not set foot in his territory. I forbid it.”
“Now, hold on just a minute.” Fate planted herself in front of Logan. It hadn’t been that long, only a few months, since she’d had to pick up the pieces left behind when Logan had gotten too overbearing for Reina to cope with. She was damned if she was going to let him hurt her like that again.
Even before she began to speak, Reina was bristling and balling her hands at her side. “Forbid, hell,” she snarled. “Don’t you give me orders, Logan MacGregor, or I’ll kick your ass. You know better than that.”
He shook his head. “Gabriel Cardenas is not your friend. Not anymore.”
“You don’t get to tell me who my friends are.”
His mouth gaped open. He snapped it shut and raised his hands in submission or placation. “Mo mhuirnin,” he murmured. “I wouldn’t dream of it. The last thing I want is to deny you your friends.” He glanced, almost involuntarily, at Fate.
Fate nearly smirked. The last time Logan had tried to keep Reina from a friend for her own protection, that friend had been Fate. It hadn’t gone well.
“This… This is not an order. It’s not even a request. It’s just fact, and it pains me, but I can’t change it. You are a vampire and he is a Were and their kind has no love for ours.”
“I’m his friend,” she insisted, raising her chin. “I’m not some random vampire off the street. I can talk to him, tell him what’s happening. He’ll listen to me.”
“No.” Logan straightened. Resolve settled over his face. “Reina, this isn’t just about you. If you enter his territory, he’ll kill you for it, and then he’ll hunt down the brood for good measure.”
“Kill me?” She stared at him. “Don’t be absurd. You don’t know him, Logan.”
“Neither do you,” he said softly. “Not as well as you think. Reina, as your sire, for your own safety, for the safety of the brood, I must forbid it.”
She stiffened, her gaze snapping with anger. Fate put herself between the two of them before she could retort. “I’ll talk to him,” she said. Everyone turned to stare at her. “What? I’m not a vampire. He’s got no reason to kill me on sight.”
He had no reason to hear her out, either, especially if he had the faintest idea about her involvement in PURE, but she’d burn that bridge when she came to it. “Let me go see how he really feels.”
Reina chewed on her lip, looking uncertain. Logan just looked relieved Fate had offered an alternative that didn’t involve Reina risking her neck. “It’s an idea,” Reina said at length. “But if he knows who you are, he’s not exactly going to be rolling out the welcome wagon.”
Fate laughed. “No doubt. But I didn’t figure I’d open with, ‘Hi, I’m a reformed bigot, can you spare a few minutes to talk?’”
Reina smiled. It was still a tense expression, but it lasted longer than the first. “All right.” She came around the table and took a magnetic notepad from the side of the fridge. It had a pen attached by a string, and she used it to scrawl something on the top sheet. She ripped it off and handed it to Fate. “This is his address. Tell him you’re my friend when you go see him, and that you helped find Adri’s killer. That’ll buy you at least a little bit of leeway.”
Fate nodded and folded the note before slipping it in the pocket of her shoulder bag. When it was tucked safely away, she hefted the bag and gave Reina a pointed look. “Think I can drag you away from the thrilling world of vamp politics long enough to help me pass my calculus exam tomorrow?”
Reina smiled again. This time, the expression was warm and heartfelt, and lasted. “Of course.” She turned back to the others and gestured at the map. “Mind if we commandeer the table for a couple hours?” Kynan was already trying to work out how to fold it up and everyone was looking relieved to have, if not a solution, then at least a temporary reprieve before they had to tackle such thorny issues again.
* * * *
A few hours of studying formulas and equations was enough to turn Fate’s brain to mush, so she declared a break and got up to brew a fresh pot of coffee. Reina rose from the table, stretched her back out and then followed Fate into the kitchen.
“What are your plans for the summer?” she asked as Fate scooped grounds into the filter. “Going home, I suppose?” Her voice turned wistful. “It’ll be strange here without you.”
Fate fumbled the scoop a little as she dropped it back into the canister of grounds. “No.” She turned to the sink to fill the pot, putting her back to Reina. “I’m not leaving Bryson.”
Reina said nothing while the water ran into the pot. When Fate twisted the faucet off and turned to fill the coffeemaker’s reservoir, Reina asked, “What’s wrong?”
Fate shut her eyes. “Damned empath,” she said, but there wasn’t any heat behind her words, just weariness. Of course this conversation had been coming. It always came up, sooner or later, with anyone she spent any amount of time with. She probably should count her blessings it hadn’t come up earlier. Reina’s empathy made it impossible to hide anything from her. She always knew when Fate was upset, and lying just fueled Reina’s determination.
“I don’t have a home to go to.” She spoke quickly, forcing out the now too familiar words. “I don’t have parents waiting for me. They died when I was little and please don’t tell me you’re sorry.”
Reina drew back, her eyes going wide. She’d been about to speak, but she shut her mouth without a sound. After a moment, she said, “All right. I just thought… You said you were packing and I assumed—”
Fate took a deep breath to clear the bad air from her lungs. “My apartment lease only lasts the school year. Once finals are over, I’m kicked out.”
“Oh.” Reina’s expression clouded with uncertainty. “You’ve got a new place lined up?”
Fate gave a quick jerk of her head. “In September. I’m just moving my stuff into storage for now and couch surfing until I can find a place to sublet.”
“Fate!” Reina stared at her in sudden indignation. “You can stay here, of course.”
Fate let a small, rueful smile curl the corner of her mouth. “You’ve got a full house, sweetie. You don’t need me adding to it.”
“Don’t be absurd. If we can take in Brett and Faolan, we can certainly take in you, too.”
Her smile strengthened at the certainty in Reina’s voice. “That’s very sweet. But are you sure Logan would echo the sentiment?”
“Yes.” Reina crossed her arms over her chest. “He will.”
Fate hit the button to start the coffee brewing and turned to face Reina. “Well, I’d feel better if you actually asked him before you get my hopes up.”
“All right.” Reina smiled. The expression warmed her whole face. “I’ll ask him. You’ll see.”
* * * *
A long, narrow dirt road led to Gabriel Cardenas’s estate. Fate stopped her car just beyond the gate that marked the limit of his property and scrubbed a hand over her face. The house looked like any other one might find on a ranch or similar large estate. Dogs ran around in the grasses, leaping and growling and playing. It looked like a nice place, almost idyllic. Fate swallowed the stone in her throat and forced herself to get out and swing the gate open so she could pass through.
By the time she’d climbed into the car, driven through, and climbed out again to shut the gate behind her, the dogs had come racing to greet her. She jumped when the first thrust his nose into her hand and licked her palm.
Stupid, she thought violently as she tried not to flinch away from the pack. For the sake of her pride, she thrust her hand out and let him lick her again, and then scratched him briefly beneath his jaw. They’re werewolves, not weredogs. These are just the family pets.
She got back into her car and carefully continued down the narrow lane to the house. The dogs swarmed around her as soon as she stepped out onto the grass again. Fate petted another behind his ears and eyed the house, grim with resignation. It was too late to turn back now. The dogs’ clamor of excited yips and barks would have already announced her arrival. They knew she was here. She couldn’t turn back now.
You can’t turn back anyway, she reminded herself. Reina needs this.
She squared her shoulders, drew a long, slow breath to calm her fluttering pulse and strode toward the house as though she wasn’t afraid at all.
* * * *
Gabe was back in the laundry room preparing a load of dog bed covers when the pack’s normal ambient noise changed, suddenly alert and strung with energy. The reason became clear soon enough—he heard the quiet roar of a car engine starting down the lane toward the house.
Visitors were rare on their property, but not unheard of. He paid it little mind. The others were elsewhere in the house and less likely to have their hands full. He kept one ear turned toward the conversation as he measured detergent into the washing machine and began to dump the bed covers into the basin.
It was Lily who answered the door. He heard her greet the visitor and knew from the ice in her tone it must be a stranger to their household.
“Is Gabriel home?” This was their visitor. A woman’s voice, but not one he knew. She didn’t sound like a solicitor, Gabe thought. Since she’d asked for him by name, he dusted the dog hair and dust from his hands and started out to see her.
“He’s not available,” Lily told the woman. If her voice had been cool before, it was frigid now. Gabe’s steps faltered, his brow furrowing with confusion. Lily wasn’t the sort to be rude without just cause, but the woman hadn’t said anything that might have given her insult.
“I’ll wait,” she was saying, her voice hard and stubborn, but it should have taken more than that to get Lily riled up.
Gabe came out of the hall and rounded the corner. His steps faltered again, bringing him to a stop. Well, that certainly explained Lily’s hostility. The woman hadn’t said anything untoward, no, but even from where he stood Gabe could smell her fear.
“He doesn’t have time,” Lily snapped, her hackles rising.
Gabe pushed the screen door open and stepped out onto the porch with the two women. “I’ll speak with her,” he said quietly. All the tension drained out of Lily on a rush.
She turned back to the house. Her gaze caught Gabe’s as she brushed past him. Thanks, it said.
He inclined his head and held the door open for her. He was alpha, after all. It was his responsibility to deal with threats like these, not Lily’s.
As the door shut behind him, he turned to face this woman. To look on them, anyone would have laughed at the thought that she posed a threat to them. She was slight, and though he could make out the contours of muscles suggesting she might be stronger than she looked, she wouldn’t have been any match to even a mortal man, never mind one graced with a Were’s strength. Her makeup was dark and dramatic, her skin ivory. He thought she’d have been stunning under better circumstances but right now, she put him in mind of nothing so much as a terrier, staring up at him with fierce bravado despite the fact that he had a hundred pounds on her easy, as well as the advantage of strength. And they both knew it.
No, she didn’t look like she ought to have been a threat to any of them. But she wasn’t just afraid. The fear he’d smelled in the hall rolled off her in waves. She was terrified. And whether they were man or beast, creatures always did stupid, tragic things when they were terrified.
“Welcome to our home,” he told her, careful to keep his tone more cordial than Lily’s. He stayed alert as he watched her, though. Just in case. “What did you wish to speak with me about?”
She was quiet for a moment, staring up at him as though he was somehow the last thing she’d expected. “I’m Fate,” she said at last. Her words tumbled out in a rush. “I’m Reina’s friend. She said I should tell you that. And that I helped her find Adri’s killer.”
Gabe released a long, slow breath and with it, much of his tension. He gave her a more genuine smile. “A friend of Reina’s is always welcome here.” Thinking of Adri still sent a pang of grief through him, sharp as glass, but it was a comfort to know she had been avenged. “And for your part in seeing justice done, you have my gratitude.”
Surprise flashed over Fate’s face. Gabe wondered what reaction she had expected of him, but whatever it was, she covered it up quickly. “I was happy to help. But that’s not why I’m here.” She still spoke too fast, her words running together. “Reina needs your help.”
“Of course. Anything in my power. She knows that.” He glanced past Fate to her car, but it was empty. She’d come alone. “I’m surprised she didn’t come herself. Is something wrong?”
Something sharp and unpleasant spiked through the fear coming off of her. She stared at him and suddenly seemed stricken. “Oh crap,” she breathed. “You don’t know.”
Dread curled through his gut. God. Wasn’t Adri enough? What now? He was careful to keep his tone even when he said, “Don’t know what? Perhaps you’d best come inside.”
Fate’s hands curled at her sides and she leaned back from him, as though he’d just suggested she’d make a lovely appetizer before supper. He expected her to refuse but she surprised him, straightening her spine and giving him a sharp nod. When he opened the door for her, she barely hesitated before stepping across the threshold.
He led her into the kitchen and motioned for her to sit at the table. She remained standing, though, her hands resting on the chair’s back, watching him as he pulled glasses from the cupboard and poured iced tea for both of them. He set hers on the table before her and took a seat, waiting until she’d settled down uneasily across the table. She dragged her fingers through the condensation on the side of the cup and wouldn’t look at him.
“Best tell me,” he said after a moment. “What’s happened? Please, if it’s to do with Reina, I want to know.”
Her lips flattened into a thin line, her expression grim. She drew a deep breath and blurted, “Reina … she’s been turned.” Her throat worked for a moment. “I’m sorry.”
Her words hit him like blows. He wasn’t strong enough to endure them. It felt as though she’d taken all the air from the room. When he managed to work his lungs and inhale, all it brought him was pain, searing, slicing. “She’s—Oh, God.” He pressed a hand to his face, shuddering. Adri, and now Reina, too? Surely this was too much grief for one person to bear. “That’s… You were her friend? I’m so sorry. That’s just awful.” An understatement if ever there was one, but he didn’t have the luxury of falling to pieces. “When did this happen? I haven’t heard from her in a few months, but I assumed school was keeping her busy.” The guilt of it was almost as sharp as the grief. “Oh, God, her parents. Has anyone told them?”
“I … I don’t know,” Fate said, eyeing him from under furrowed brows. She looked uncertain. He wondered if she was concerned that he wasn’t hysterical in his grief, or afraid that he would be. “I don’t think she’s had that conversation with them yet, no.”
“No, she wouldn’t, would she?” It wasn’t in a vampire’s nature to be merciful to the loved ones they left behind. He reached across the table and gripped Fate’s hand. She jumped and almost tried to pull free, but then seemed to stop herself and sat frozen, staring at him. “Someone has to tell them,” he insisted. “Those poor people. They deserve to know their daughter’s fate.” She sat as tense as a cornered rabbit, so he released her hand and sat back. “Please tell them that if they plan on holding a service to honor her memory, I’d like to say a few words. She meant the world to Adri, and I thought she was a lovely woman.”
“Was?” Fate slowly drew her hand back and set it on her lap. The intensity of her stare hardened. “She’s not dead, you know.”
Pain and rage swept through him like a storm. “No,” he said roughly. “She is undead, when she ought to at least be allowed to rest in peace. For that alone, I’ll gladly kill the one responsible for her fate, should we ever cross paths.”
Fate licked her lips and shifted in her chair. “Sorry. Reina beat you to that one. The vamp who turned her is long dead.”
Gabriel released a breath. That, at least, was a relief. “I’m glad to hear that. But I meant the one who’s keeping her from the rest she’s earned.”
Fate’s expression slowly transformed. She stared at him in what almost seemed to be horror. “Well.” She shot to her feet and headed straight for the door, her arms held close against her sides, her whole body stiff. “I guess that answers my question. Thank you very much for your time, but I’ll just be going now—”
Gabe followed after her, alarmed. “Wait, please.” He caught her by the arm. He was sure to keep his touch careful, but she jumped all the same and then froze again. Fear came off of her, so strong it was overpowering. He released her and backed off a step, at a loss. “I’ve upset you.”
Fate gave a choked laugh which held no humor at all. “Yeah. That you have.” Her skin was even paler than it had been, making her eyes stand out large and dark, emphasizing the tense set to her lips. She stared at him with a strange mix of resignation and fury.
He lifted his hands, fingers spread, trying to calm her. “Please, tell me why. I thought you came here to tell me of her fate. Did I misunderstand?”
“Why?” Fate echoed. Her brows furrowed, and her lip curled. “Reina didn’t choose what happened to her. It was forced upon her, and the only reason it happened in the first place is because she was doing your job, looking into the death of your pack member.”
Guilt stabbed through Gabe, completely deserved. She was right about Adri. He had to take at least a little of the blame for what happened to Reina onto his own shoulders. He started to speak, to admit that it was so. But the timid, terrified Fate was gone now, and the woman who stood in her place was an Amazon, full of fury and righteousness. He rocked back on his heels, stunned by the transformation. She still smelled of fear, but she smelled of other emotions now, too. Strength, and power, and rage. She spoke over him, refusing to allow him even a word.
“You’ve got a lot of gall turning your back on her now. And she’s got a hell of a lot more faith in you than you deserve.”
Gabe scrubbed the heel of his hand against his brow. “Whatever she’s said,” he murmured, “she’s not who she was. You can’t take any of it to heart.”
Fate stared at him as though he were an insect on her windshield. “Well, that’s just sad,” she spat. “I’ve only known her a few months and I know her better than you do.” She spun on her heel and made for the door again.
Gabe stared after her, floored by her sudden strength and at a loss for how to counter her accusations. Clearly, she was one of those who viewed vampirism as a simple malady, no different than a cold or flu, and what could he say to that? How to explain that the vampire she called Reina, who walked in Reina’s body, had nothing at all to do with the woman she had once been? He couldn’t. She wouldn’t want to hear it. Instead, he called out after her, “You said something about a question. What was it?”
“Nothing,” she snapped back over her shoulder. “Trust me, I already know your answer.”
His spine straightened. Amazon she might be, but she had come to him. She was in his home. “Ask it,” he said, just shy of a command.
She stopped and stood with her back to him for a moment. When she did turn, it was to glare at him in a fury.
After a moment she gave a heavy sigh and dragged a hand through her neon-striped hair. “Logan’s taken in too many strays. His brood is too big for their territory, especially now that everyone’s heading home for summer. But the only direction he can expand his hunting grounds is north.”
She didn’t need to point out that Logan’s territory was south of Gabe’s. “No,” he said, his voice like a whip. She flinched. He would frighten her again, but the thought of it, the mere thought of it, made his vision swim with the red haze of rage. “Absolutely not. She sent you to ask for permission?” His voice broke off with a furious snarl.
Fate edged away from him, her eyes growing wide. She groped blindly for the door. But despite her fear, her voice remained strong. “Actually, she wanted to come ask you herself. I’m here because Logan told her you’d kill her on sight and she couldn’t believe you’d ever do that. Not to someone you’d called a friend.”
Her words sent a fresh wave of grief surging up within Gabe, quenching the fires of his anger. “She was my friend.” His voice was rough with emotion. “I loved her as well as I love any of my pack. But she’s dead now.”
“If that’s what you think, it’s your loss.”
She turned again for the door. Gabe took a single step after her. As her fingers wrapped around the handle, he said quietly, “Don’t you think that’s just a little hypocritical of you, Fate?”
She froze and then turned back to him, her face wan beneath her makeup. But she jerked her chin up all the same. “How do you figure that?”
He closed the distance she’d put between them, and reached out. She stared at his hand with thinly-veiled horror but he didn’t touch her. He pressed his palm to the door, leaned in close as he spoke. “You’re going to tell me she’s not a monster, right? That she’s a victim, and the only thing that’s changed about her is her diet, and I’m a right bastard for turning my back on her for something she had no control over. Right?” He’d heard all the arguments before. He knew them by rote.
She stared at him and said nothing, but the way her lips tightened at the corners was confirmation enough.
“That’s a very nice speech,” he said. “But I’ve done nothing at all to you, and yet you’ve been terrified since the minute I opened the door.”
She stiffened. Her glare bore into him. “I am not afraid of you.”
“You can’t lie to me.” He leaned in a fraction closer, to drive his point home. “You reek of fear.”
He watched her face from very close as she processed this. “I came anyway, didn’t I?” she said at last. “Some of us are capable of overcoming our prejudices.”
He rocked onto his heels, giving back the space he’d stolen. Her chest rose and fell with a deep breath, as though she’d been holding it while he was near. He regarded her for a moment, arms crossed over his chest. Temper had put a flush of color back in her cheeks. After a pause, she lifted her gaze to his and held it while she waited for him.
“Is that so?” he said at last. “Well. Come back into the kitchen, then, and let’s discuss your proposal.”
He turned and strode away, expecting her to follow. He felt her stare on him with every step. He sat at the table and took up his iced tea, swirling the straw through it, waiting.
She came around the corner glaring at him. But it was enough that she’d come. “It’s not my proposal.” She crossed her arms tight beneath her breasts.
“Isn’t it?” He gestured to her chair and the glass of iced tea she, too, had abandoned. Condensation had dripped down its sides and made a ring on the wooden tabletop. “You’re the one sitting here, asking it of me.”
She ran her tongue over her lip, leaving a sheen of moisture in its wake. “It wasn’t safe for them to come ask for themselves.”
“Probably so,” he agreed. Undoubtedly so. No member of his pack would have tolerated a vampire setting foot on their territory, much less their own land. “But my point stands. You are the one requesting this of me, the one speaking to me. You’re the only one here to negotiate with.”
“Negotiate?” She straightened, her hands spreading wide on the table. She stared at him. “That’s an awfully quick change of heart.”
“Oh, it’s not that, Fate. Don’t imagine it is.” But he’d thought of something that might be worth the trade-off. He sat back and laced his fingers over his stomach, watching her. There was fire in her despite her fear, he’d seen it for himself. Even now it smoldered, waiting for an excuse to flare up. There was steel in her. He wondered how deep it ran. “Let’s make sure we’re on the same page. You want me to open my territory to Reina and her kin to hunt upon. For the summer, yes? Until classes start again.”
She watched him like she suspected he might be setting her up for a cruel joke. “Yes, that’s pretty much it.”
He nodded and let a moment pass, then said, “I’ll do it.”
Her mouth fell open, her whole expression washed with surprise. But suspicion followed almost immediately after. Her eyes narrowed, and she waited.
Smart woman, he thought, pleased. “It’s not a gift,” he told her. “I expect something from you in return.”
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