He very much doubted Hope had slept with her abductor willingly.

“What now?” Crap, could this night get any worse?

Gabe shot him a worried glance that had Ryan’s claws extending, ready to protect and defend. “I’m not just smelling the rogue Wolf around here.”

“Fuck.” Ryan took a deep breath, sneezing as the strong odor of dust, mold and a very familiar, very frightening Puma filled his nostrils. “Is that…?”

“What the fuck is he doing around here?” Last Ryan had heard the good doctor was secluded with his family, refusing to speak to anyone.

“I have no idea, but I’m worried.”

“You think he’s gone crazy on us?” It was possible. Ryan didn’t know of anyone who survived the traumatic loss of a mate the way Jamie Howard had. If Julian hadn’t saved him, there would have been a double funeral in Halle.

Marie Howard had been the daughter of the previous Alpha, and much loved in the community. Her death had hit the Pumas of Halle hard, none more so than her mate. He was just glad that Jamie was the only one who seemed to place his mate’s death at the feet of the Cynful girls. Even if it wasn’t fair, he could almost understand why. It was Tabby’s ex-Alpha who had taken his mate from him, and Julian who had saved Jamie’s life, leaving him forever denied his mate.

“It’s possible. Hope has victim written all over her. And Ryan…” Gabe shot him an unreadable glance, “…Jamie used to take care of…certain things for the Alpha that were better left to the Hunters.”

“Shit.” The easygoing, affable man Ryan remembered wouldn’t hurt a fly, but if what Gabe was saying was true, it could spell big trouble for the Walsh family. “Tell me.”

He got that, he really did, but this secretive stuff was going to get old fast. This might be Puma business, but right now it was Ryan’s business as well. “Whatever helps you sleep at night.” He made an impatient gesture. “Spill, damn it.”

Gabe almost chuckled at that, but his expression remained grim. “When Emma Carter first mated Max, there was some opposition to her becoming our Curana, specifically from a woman named Livia Patterson. She’d been Max’s girlfriend in high school and always assumed she’d become his mate and co-ruler of the Pride. She lorded it over anyone and everyone, even the people who called her friend.”

Gabe shrugged. “They all went to the same high school, but Emma was younger. I think the mating instinct didn’t kick in until he met the adult Emma. Anyway, he met up again with Emma, he marked her, and declared her his Curana instead of Livia. Livia was furious, and in a fit of rage attacked Becky Holt at the annual masquerade ball.”

“Which is when Becky got those scars.” The Beta mate had deep, savage-looking scars on her shoulder, ones she hid in the long, curly fall of her hair, but Ryan had seen them.

Gabe nodded as he led the way out of the motel room. “Yup. She bit her, but didn’t try and change her. She just wanted to prove that Emma’s weakness for her friend would be her downfall, but she wasn’t aware that Becky was Simon Holt’s mate.” The glass artist and Beta of the Puma Pride was an easygoing man much in the same mold as Bunny. Ryan was willing to bet he had the same protective instincts Bunny had too. “Emma forced Livia to submit to her, cementing her place as Curana, and she and Max Outcast Livia.”

“Let me guess. Livia couldn’t let it go?”

“Of course not. Bitch always thought she was owed more than she was worth. She came back and went after Emma and Becky a second time, poisoning Becky and threatening her with a gun. Simon wound up killing Livia when she attacked Becky, and Jamie made the body…disappear. And it wasn’t the first time he’d done something like that for the Pride.”

“And you know that because you’re a Hunter?”

Gabe stared at him. “Because I’m Marshal’s Second. This wasn’t something that could be hidden from Adrian and me, not when we’re part of the ruling hierarchy. Max had to tell us, but the rest of the Pride has no idea that Livia is dead.”

Ryan would never understand the whole Pack/Pride thing. They took their whole “ruling hierarchy” thing far too seriously. In his family, they all would have known what happened and done their best to make sure no one ever found the body. It was what family did for each other. “No one questioned it?”

“Nope. Everyone assumed Livia was gone, that she took her Outcast ass and just disappeared. There wasn’t any need to tell anyone what really happened. I think the only people outside the Pride who know are Rick and Belle Lowell, and that’s only because Livia was Belle’s best friend before she went after Emma.”

“So why is Jamie Howard hanging around here?” Ryan sniffed the air, recognizing the lingering traces of Dr. Howard now that he was looking for them. “He’s not here now.”

“I have no idea. Maybe he decided to go after Glory’s attacker?”

“That doesn’t make sense. He still blames Cyn and Julian for losing Marie. The last person he’d help would be Glory.”

“Then he’s here for Hope.” Gabe shrugged. “If he’s been watching her, I have to wonder how he’ll react when he realizes she’s gone.”

“He’s not a rogue yet.” Ryan knew it the way he knew his mate’s scent, or that little gasp she gave just before she came.

“No, but he’s come close. Too close. And now this, watching a woman who was on the run from an abuser?” Gabe sighed roughly. Jamie’s actions were wearing the Second down. Everyone had loved Jamie Howard, but now several Pumas feared him. “I don’t know what to think.”

“Are we certain he’s watching Hope? He could be here for some other reason.” Ryan stared out into the darkness, trying to see if he could find the hidden Puma.

“I don’t know for sure.” Gabe sighed. “But for some reason I don’t think he’s out here hunting bunny rabbits.”

“That Spidey sense of yours is tingling?”

“More like fizzing.” Gabe shook his head. “I have no idea what’s up with him, but we need to figure out what the hell is going on.”