“So you didn’t want to be changed or mated?” Cyn pounced on the Beta’s words with childish glee.

Becky laughed. “Oh, hell yes, I wanted it. I just wanted to choose when .”

Tabby laughed. “See? I told you it’s not that bad.”

Becky’s slow smile was wicked. “Nope. Not bad at all . And having your mate change you makes it even more special. Emma and I were both human when Max and Simon marked us. They’d been changed by the old Alpha, Jonathon Friedelinde, and from what Simon said, he wishes it had been a little bit different.”

Cyn had a good question. Tabby hadn’t met a made shifter before. Her old Alpha wouldn’t allow it, except between mates.

“The mating bite masks the pain of the shifting bite. The only other human I know of who was changed by a non-mate is Sheri Giordano, and she had been beaten nearly to death. She still bears the scars of the fight she had with a rogue Wolf.” Becky’s hand drifted up to her neck. Tabby knew she had a set of scars there from her own run-in with a rogue. “It can be done, and has been done, but I for one would rather have pleasure than pain. I don’t like pain. It hurts me.”

“Becks? Who are you talking to?” Emma walked in from the back room, her brown eyes twinkling merrily until she caught sight of Cyn’s face. “Cyn! Tabby!

How are you? Oh, your poor face!”

Tabby bowed her head in respect to her Curana. “Emma.”

Emma’s eyes widened. “It’s true. Max accepted you into the Pride.” She laughed, the sound loud and merry. “Rick is going to shit a brick.”

“ Emma! ” Becky rolled her eyes. “Ugh. Ignore her. Listen, Cyn? I’m going to get you some ice for that cheek, okay? Have a seat, I’ll be right back.”

“Rick should be here in a day or two.” Emma smiled gently at Tabby. “Did you think I was going to leave you an Outcast?”

Tabby shuddered. She did not want to meet the Poconos Alpha or his Luna!

Becky returned with the ice pack and handed it to Cyn. “Put that on your face.

Do you need some ibuprofen?”

Cyn shook her head no, her eyes darting around the shop.

Tabby leaned closer to Becky and whispered, “How the heck do I get out of meeting Rick Lowell?”

Emma snorted and handed a glass and two pills to Cyn. “Take that, no arguments. You need to go to the hospital?” Cyn shook her head again and swallowed the pills, looking stunned. “And you!” She pointed to Tabby. “Rick isn’t that bad. And Belle is going to love you.”

Tabby was horrified. “That’s what I’m afraid of. Would she prefer my ass with A-1

“Wuss,” Emma coughed into her fist. She laughed when Tabby blew her a raspberry. “I mean it. Rick really isn’t as bad as he’s made out to be. He just looks scary.”

“I’m a Pride member though, right? He can’t make me go away?”

Emma’s expression softened. “No, Tabby. No one can make you go away now except you.”

“Okay. Wow.” Tabby blinked away the tears that sprung up out of nowhere. God, she was turning into such an idiot. “Thank you.”

“The worst Rick could do is decide he wants nothing to do with you, and knowing him, that won’t happen. Be honest with him, about everything. He’ll treat you fairly, I swear.”

Cyn’s belligerent tone wasn’t a surprise to Tabby, but from the shocked looks on Emma and Becky’s faces, it was to them.

His eyes flashed at the sight of her bruised face. “Do you want to talk about this?”

“What’s to discuss? You made a decision about my life without bothering to…

Tabby turned. Fully half of Julian’s hair was still white. Gray lights danced in his eyes. Whatever he’d done to help Chloe, he wasn’t fully back from it. He looked exhausted, otherworldly. “The healing was more difficult than I anticipated. She was farther into the dreamscape than I’d originally thought.”

Huh? “What the hell does that mean?”

Julian smiled at her. “Don’t worry about it.” He turned his attention back to Cyn.

Tabby grabbed hold of Cyn’s arm. “Please let him, Cyn.”

“All right.” She handed the ice pack to Becky and moved toward Julian.

The man was shaking, whether with exhaustion or rage, Tabby couldn’t quite tell.

His eyes were still deep, dark brown, but those silver flecks were throwing her off.

His fingers drifted across Cyn’s face. The white in his hair deepened, the bruise disappearing under his hand. The swelling went down, the black and blue turning a healthy pink.

When he was done, he was shaking like a leaf.

“Wow,” Emma breathed. Tabby was pretty sure it was the first time the woman had ever been shocked speechless.

“I know you don’t trust me. I was hoping to give us both some time, get to know one another before I changed you. Is that such a bad thing?”

Cyn shrugged, looking uncomfortable. “You also said it wasn’t time yet. Can you please explain that to me?”

His eyes closed wearily. “I…know things. It’s part of who and what I am, but what I see is incomplete. All I know is that if I change you before it’s the right time, there will be serious repercussions.”

He opened his eyes. Something in his expression sent a shiver down Tabby’s spine, and suddenly she knew why Julian had been holding off on marking Cyn.

“Neither of you will survive.”

Julian nodded. “It’s coming soon. I can’t see what’s going to happen, but I know that a decision must be made that will change everything.” He held out his hand to Cyn. “Please. Trust me.”

Cyn studied Julian. Tabby couldn’t read her expression. It was closed off, introspective. She figured Cyn must be weighing her own past against what she saw of her friends’ future. “Give me one thing. One piece of information I don’t know. Everything I’ve learned about you, about us , I’ve had to hear from other people. Give me something of yours.”