“ Fifteen? ” Bunny could feel his chest rumbling. He held back his roar of outrage with difficulty. Some Alpha bastard needed to die painfully. He controlled his Bear with difficulty. “How did you live?”

“I ran mostly in Wolf form, lived off the land, avoided everyone and everything, for fear they’d be able to tell what I was. I wound up in Mrs. Anderson’s backyard about six months ago, and I’ve been here ever since.”

“How old are you now?” Bunny knew he was about to lose it. That Alpha had thrown an innocent child out into the woods, no Pack or family to protect her.

He felt his eyes turn brown. Bunny stood and walked away, knowing he was inches away from shifting. Eight years. Eight years she’d been without protection, alone and hungry and afraid. He could feel his Bear shifting beneath his skin and knew that if he listened to her story for one more minute, he’d be asking her the name of her Alpha. If he knew the name of her Alpha, there would be a Pack looking for a new one. He’d be on his bike and heading for Georgia to maul the son of a bitch.

He walked out into the cool spring air and took some deep breaths, hoping with everything in him that he’d be able to calm himself before he did something stupid. Because Bunny wanted to kill for her, and until he got that side of himself under control, he couldn’t go back into the restaurant.

Tabby would have enough to deal with when she found out exactly what he was capable of.

Tabby watched Bunny stalk out of the restaurant, leaving her alone at the table.

Totally humiliated, she waited for the waiter to come and give her the check. She hoped she had enough credit to cover the cost.

How could she expect anyone to understand what it was like to be unjustly Outcast? She was lucky the Pumas had taken her in. At least she hadn’t made the mistake of going to the Poconos Alpha. If her own mate reacted like this, she could just imagine what the Pack Alpha would have been like.

She stared at Bunny, his image wavering before her, and only then realized that she was crying. “I’m sorry.” And she should be. She was an Outcast. Someone no one wanted to be near.

Who had she been kidding? Bunny could go his merry way now. Outcasts had no place in their society. She hadn’t even bothered trying to make her way back into a Pack. As far as he knew, she really was everything her old Alpha had accused her of being.

“Shit.” Bunny crouched next to her, his expression full of sincere regret. “Don’t cry. I’m sorry, Tabby. I didn’t think about how you’d take me walking away.” A soft kiss landed on the top of her head. “Do me one favor.”

“No matter how many times I ask, don’t ever tell me the name of your ex-Alpha.”

“Why not?” Her Wolf snapped to attention as his hazel eyes bled slowly to dark brown. A predator looked out at her through them. He looked lethal, ready to take out the world if she asked him to. It was strange to see that look in the eyes of a Bear. She’d thought Bears were more like her friend Julian, soft and sweet with a quirky humor, but Alex’s eyes were those of a hunter. Maybe they were only that predatory where a mate was concerned? “Oh. That’s why.” She knew her mouth was trembling. Hell, all of her was trembling. No one had stood up for her in years, other than Cyn, Glory, Julian and Gabe.

She darted a glance at Bunny and caught him smiling at her. He was still stroking her fingers, sending tingles down her spine. His heat and scent surrounded her, his eyes still a deep chocolate brown. God, she actually felt safe .

How the hell had that happened? She hadn’t felt truly safe since the day her parents and her Pack turned their backs on her.

She looked up to find the waiter standing by their table, a concerned look on his face. “Everything’s fine.” She pulled a tissue from her purse and wiped her eyes.

“Can we have a moment? I think we’re going to have dessert and coffee. The tiramisu looks really good.” Bunny took a seat next to her, scooting his chair closer, angling his body in between hers and the waiter’s.

Big goof. From the look on his face, he wasn’t about to let anyone near her he didn’t approve of personally. It was sweet, in a caveman sort of way, but could be a real pain in the ass if he chose to act that way at LA. She could feel her lips curving up in a smile at the protective gesture. She cleared the last of the tears from her throat. “I’m thinking of the French silk pie.”

“Two coffees?” The waiter left to fetch their desserts after they nodded, leaving them alone.

He stroked her fingers, refusing to let go of her hand. His eyes turned back to the warm hazel they’d been before she began discussing her Outcasting. “Did you really live in the woods all those years?”

“Yes. If it wasn’t for Gabe and his grandmother, I’d still be living out there.” Or dead. But she wouldn’t say that in front of the increasingly growly Bunny. His chest was actually rumbling.

“Where are you from originally?” The question was innocent, but Bunny’s expression was anything but. In the dim lighting, she couldn’t quite see the color of his eyes, but she thought they might have darkened just a hair.

She decided it couldn’t hurt to answer in a roundabout way. “Georgia.”

She shot him a look. No way was she confirming that he was right. Besides, she’d probably given it away when she mentioned her uncle worked for his father.

Bunny sighed. “Is there any way for you to join a local Pack?”

“The closest sanctioned Pack is in the Poconos, about two hours away.”

Bunny smiled sweetly as the waiter set the deserts on the table and left. “Ah. So, whereabouts in Marietta is your Pack, anyway?”

Tabby decided to try a little soothing of her own. She reached up and patted Bunny’s cheek. “Down, Baloo.” Bunny looked startled. “For a Bear, you’re awfully growly.” Tabby shook her head before taking a bite of her pie. Mmm, chocolate.

Screw that whole “chocolate isn’t good for canines” shit. After what she’d just gone through, she needed her fix.

“Nothing. I know a Bear or two, and I thought most of you were pretty laid back.”