Home > Broken Loyalty (Jacky Leon #3)(8)

Broken Loyalty (Jacky Leon #3)(8)
Author: Kristen Banet, K.N. Banet

“That’s right. Carey, this is Dirk.”

“Hi, Dirk!”

“Hello. Nice to meet you.” He didn’t come downstairs, disappearing from view and calling for Oliver to come out. The next thing Carey and I saw was the young manager showing up at the top of the staircase.

“You must be Miss Everson!” Oliver grinned, bounding down the stairs and extending his hand to the twelve-year-old like she was somehow going to be his boss too. “It’s a pleasure to meet you.”

“Call me Carey!” She shook like a kid shook hands, with too many movements. Oliver didn’t seem to mind, though, and I remembered how he had shaken Heath’s hand.

These two are going to be friends, and I’m not sure whether that should make me happy or scared.

“Okay. Carey and I have a short walk to get to my house. If there’s anything you two need, send me a text.”

“Of course, Miss Jacky.” Oliver waved as I dragged Carey out, who was waving back with her signature grin.

“He’s cute,” she said as the door closed.

“Also too old for you,” I said sternly. At least he’s human. That should count for something. “What do you want to do today?”

“Can we play video games?”

“Yes, always.” Throwing my arm over her shoulder, she wrapped one around my waist as we walked into the woods together. This was the first time I’d shown her the path to my house, and as we drew closer, I grew nervous.

Will she like it? It’s not warm like her home or comfy like the apartment. It’s really clean and sharp. It probably won’t appeal to her at all, and she’ll want to go back to the bar.

When it came into view, I heard her small gasp.

“Those are big windows,” she pointed out as we entered the clearing around my home.

“I like being able to see my woods,” I said softly. “Makes me feel connected.”

“It’s really…clean. White.”

“I know.” I loved it, the juxtaposition of the woods and dirt to the clean house with strong lines and hard angles. The large windows I cleaned once a week to make sure there were no smudges, so I could always see my woods without anything in the way. My front patio only had one chair and a small table, for those mornings I wanted to sit outside and enjoy the quiet.

I led her inside, letting her touch everything, my heart racing. Since the house was built, only one person had ever visited it, and that was Jabari. He hadn’t stayed there for the entire visit after Washington while he healed, but he’d been over. I’d been just as nervous then as I was now. He’d inspected too, and I was left wondering what he’d thought when he was done.

Carey’s exploration seemed less judging and more curious, though. She looked at things I used to clutter the shelves, read the titles of books I kept, and even inspected the rugs under her feet.

“What do you think?”

“I like it,” she answered. “So, where do we play games?”

I chuckled and led her into the living room again, opening a cabinet and showing her the gaming consoles I owned, some of them older than her.

“Cool!” She jumped onto my couch, kicked her shoes off into the middle of the floor, then held her hand out, expecting me to hand her a controller.

It was perfect.

I should have brought her here sooner.

I gave her the desired controller, grabbed one for myself, and we got started. Time flew by, and I had to stop playing to make us dinner. I even made two hot cocoas with it, and she was delighted at how I put whipped cream on top instead of marshmallows.

“Can we put a movie on while we eat? Can we eat out here?”

“We can,” I said, giving in to her every demand. When I put her dinner on the coffee table, she dug in as I flipped through the DVDs to put on an animated movie I knew she liked and could watch a hundred times over.

“So, really, how’s school?” I asked now that we were out of the hearing of anyone who could report back to her father. I never told him what Carey told me, never violated that trust. They both knew if I felt Carey was in danger, that changed. But how she was feeling, her secrets, things she needed to get off her chest- I was the friend who could hear those things and keep them secret.

“It’s okay. I’m ahead because of my tutors. My teachers all love me, but other kids won’t play sports with me. They think it would be unfair because I’m from a werewolf family, so I must be special too.” Carey shrugged. “Same thing it’s always like in school.”

“And no boys.”

She made a gross face. “None of them are cool like Jabari. They don’t care about being strong. They think they’re cool, but they’re really boring and dumb. Jabari isn’t boring or dumb.”

“If you judge everyone against Jabari, you are doomed to end up with a supernatural, not a nice human—”

“So?” Carey frowned at me. “What’s wrong with that?”

“Do you want to be one of us?” I asked softly. “Have you given it any thought?” I didn’t know if Heath ever asked, and I knew his feelings on the matter. If there was one person he was totally okay staying human through her entire life, it was Carey. He didn’t want their dangerous world for her.

“Not really, but I have a lot of time to make that decision,” she answered, not giving me a real answer, which was for the best. If she said yes right now, I would have to tell Heath. He had the right to know if his daughter was strongly considering it, and she would need a certain education before she tried to jump in with both feet, asking for the Change. If she had said no, I was certain my heart would have broken.

I was more conflicted than Heath.

“Well, if you fall in love with a supernatural, they might not…want you to remain human, Carey.” I couldn’t believe I was having this talk with her. She was only a few months away from thirteen. Only one more grade, then she was going to be a high schooler.

She gave me a big shrug.

I’d opened my mouth to say something when cold flooded my veins, and a beacon of energy popped up in my mind. Without thinking, I was on my feet, a snarl contorting my face and making my chest rumble. My territory was mine, and within it, I defended things I was willing to kill for.

And the werecat who just stepped into my boundaries was going to feel every ounce of my rage at their presence. Like Gaia’s land had felt angry and violent, I pushed similar feelings into the land, sending my warning.

Leave or die, cat.

I was just about to start stripping down to meet the challenge in werecat form when it was gone. I stared through the windows, pinpointed on the direction I had felt the werecat.

Coward.

“Jacky?” Carey’s voice was small and scared.

It nearly knocked me on my ass. I looked down at her, eyes going wide. She was pale and curled up on the couch, staring at me.

“I’m sorry,” I whispered, realizing what she must have just seen.

“Are we okay?” she asked in that same tiny voice.

“I’m so sorry. Oh, Carey, I’m sorry.” I went down to my knees in front of her.

“What happened?”

“A werecat entered my territory. Gone now. I…”

“So, we’re safe?”

“Yes. We’re safe,” I promised. “Whoever it was left when they got my warning.” I remembered that all of the Everson family now knew about my territory magic, the deep connection I had to the land. Carey had even seen it before when we first met, and the werewolves came for us. “Did I scare you?” I asked softly.

“No. I was scared someone was coming to get us,” she said weakly.

Relief flooded me. Not me—she wasn’t scared of the monster on its knees in front of her. She was scared of whatever monster I would defend us from.

“How did you know?” I asked, leaning to put my head down, my focus divided between her and monitoring my territory. I tracked Heath and Landon’s steps. I waited for the intruder to come back.

“You were looking…away. Like you could see something I couldn’t. It made me think of when the wolves came for us at Kick Shot. How you stood before you told me who was coming.”

I’m lucky she’s so smart. Or screwed.

“I’m going to take you home,” I said gently but firmly. “I need to go check out the scent of the werecat who just entered and figure out if he or she might come back or was just looking around.”

“So, it might not be a bad thing?”

“It’s most likely not,” I said, trying to lower my heart rate, which was still pounding, racing as if I had just run for miles. “I’m sorry you were scared.”

“Not your fault,” she said. “What about dinner?”

“We’ll pack it up, and you can take it home.”

I didn’t feel safe leaving her in my home, the center of my territory, when a werecat could be waiting just outside the edge of my territory.

A fight was still very possible.

Chapter Five

“You’re back early,” Heath said as he opened the door and met us outside. Carey walked past him and held out the food for Landon to reheat. I stared at the Alpha wolf, wondering what he needed to hear and what I should withhold or fudge, so he didn’t panic. A panicked father could turn a simple meeting between two werecats into a bloodbath.

“A werecat stepped in, then back out of my territory. I brought her back here because I need to check out where he or she was. Most likely, it was a rogue sticking their head in, testing the waters, and will have probably continued on their way by now. Another possibility is a werecat traveled down here and wanted to get my attention to talk since Hasan has asked me to represent him. That’s bound to happen.”

“There’s more, isn’t there?” he asked.

“There’s a chance I get to the edge of my territory and find myself in a territory fight,” I said softly, nodding. “Not the most likely since a werecat willing to fight me would have come straight for me, no need for tricks. If someone took over my territory, they would find this area overrun with my family.”

   
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