Answers, that easily. It was as powerful and addictive as he’d suspected. As powerful and addictive as a vampire’s bite. That wasn’t going to stop him. “Bring them to me. Give them to me.”
Half an hour ticked by, and Aden began to worry that he’d lost her, that she’d shaken out of his mental hold and taken off out the back door, never to return. But then, as suddenly as she’d left, she was back in the doorway, holding a box out to him.
He claimed the thing with a relieved, “Thank you.”
Julian was dancing through his head. I can’t believe this! There could be a picture of me in there.
Aden balanced the box with one hand, used the other to grab Victoria and headed back to the motel to study what was inside. Hopefully, Riley and Mary Ann were just as lucky.
RILEY KICKED IN THE front door, wooden shards raining in every direction. No alarm sounded. That didn’t mean one hadn’t been tripped, but screw it. Last time he’d been in this neighborhood, playing it safe had almost killed him. Had killed his animal. So, no more playing it safe.
His hands balled into fists as he stomped into the house. He couldn’t think about the past right now. He’d rage and destroy everything in sight. “We’ve got five minutes.” After that, the authorities could arrive. “Let’s make the most of it.”
Mary Ann rushed in behind him. “So, just grab what I can?”
Joe and Paula Stone supposedly lived there. So, yeah, grabbing what they could was the plan. A plan they’d gone over several times already. He stalked down the hallway without bothering to reply. She knew the answer, she was just nervous. He wished he could comfort her, but just then, he was having trouble comforting himself.
There were only two doorways along this route. He entered the first. Master bedroom? Maybe. Small, sparse, with only a bed, a nightstand and a dresser. On the bed, the covers were in disarray, as if they’d been shoved away in a hurry. A cup on the nightstand was tipped to its side, the contents—water, from the looks of it—had dripped to the floor, where clothes were piled. The dresser’s drawers were partly open. The only window was covered by thick black paint.
Clearly no one had been here for a while. Probably since the morning he and Mary Ann had nearly had sex in the house across the street, and both their lives had changed forever.
If so, well, Joe and Paula Stone had run. For good. And if they’d run, that meant they’d known Riley and Mary Ann were coming. But how could they have known? And why run? What had they feared?
He followed the sound of her voice and was soon standing beside her in the second bedroom. Toys littered the floor, a fact that momentarily rendered him speechless. “They have a kid?”
“Either that, or they have a home day care.”
“A day care that caters strictly to girls? No.” There was nothing masculine in the room. No blue, no race cars, no action figures. Just pink, stuffed animals and dolls.
That Aden has a sister? “Maybe.” Probably. And what a way to find out. He thought back to the couple, to the truck, but didn’t recall seeing a car seat. That didn’t mean the girl hadn’t been with them. “Just…” What? He looked for a clock, couldn’t find one. How were they on time? “Go to the kitchen, go through all the drawers. Grab any kind of bill you find. Anything with a name.”
“Okay.” She didn’t run off, but stood there. “Riley, I—”
“I can’t talk about it. Just go,” he said and returned to the master bedroom before she could say anything else. Trying to force his mind to a Happy Place, he dug through the closet, every drawer in the nightstand, then searched under the mattress and bed. Nothing personal had been left behind.
His back was to her, but he could sense her fear. He jackknifed to a stand and turned toward her, only to freeze, his breath icing over in his lungs.
“You don’t issue orders, little boy. I do,” said the man standing behind her. The man pointing a gun at her head.
He was tall, blond and lean. He wore a flannel shirt, the sleeves rolled up halfway on his arms to reveal several tattoos. Wards. Against what, Riley couldn’t tell. Yet. He needed a closer look. What he did know? Anger pulsed from the guy in dark, agitated waves. He’d shoot, and he wouldn’t care about the dead bodies he left behind.
Riley cursed himself for not teaching Mary Ann how to react in this type of situation. “You hurt her,” he said just as calmly, “and I’ll kill you.” That was not an empty boast.
Throughout his life, he’d done that and more. He’d never been one to strike without cause, but he’d never been one to sit back and take whatever was being served, either.
“That’ll be a little hard for you to do if you’re dead, now won’t it.” A statement when it should have been a question. “But don’t you worry. I’ll make it fast.”
The sad thing was, Riley had no argument. No real defense. Had he not lost his wolf, he would have heard the man enter the house. Failing that, he would have smelled him. Instead, he’d allowed his ex-girlfriend to be terrorized. He kinda deserved what he got.
Not Mary Ann, though, she didn’t deserve any of this. Not…his ex. Only then did he realize he’d just thought of her in past tense, rather than present. Something he’d never done before, not with her.
The man pushed the gun into her scalp, which pushed her forward. She stumbled into the room.
“I’m so sorry,” she whispered, tears pooling in her eyes. “He snuck up on me, and I—”
“Shut up, girl. I’ve heard enough from you.”
When she was finally within reach, Riley latched onto her arm and jerked her behind him. She was trembling, her fingers clutching at his. There was no time to comfort her. To act as her shield, he had to release her completely. Her palms flattened on his back, then fisted in his T-shirt. Then she released him as he had done to her—and stepped beside him.
He stepped in front of her and glared over at the gun-wielding human, who’d watched the entire scene with a hard, seen-it-all-before expression. They were about the same height, which put the guy at about six foot three.
There was a flash of surprise in the guy’s eyes, but he ignored the question to ask one of his own. “Are you the kids who busted my neighbor’s window and left blood everywhere?”
“So?” Such blatant honesty left the guy reeling but only for a moment. “Who are you, and what are you doing in my house?”
Should he give the truth or a lie this time? Who was this person? He and Aden had the same hair color and the same square chin, but then, thousands of people did. Nothing else looked similar.
The man’s face was rough, his nose slightly crooked, as if it had been broken a time or ten, and there were tiny scars crisscrossing on his cheeks. Aden had an angel’s face, no suggestion of roughness.
“And I didn’t answer it.” Don’t poke at the bear. Especially when his wolf couldn’t eat that bear.
A new concept for Riley. On paper, he was older than this man. Used to be stronger—on paper and in a ring. A lot stronger. And a lot meaner. Now what was he? Pathetic, that’s what.
“We know your son,” Mary Ann said with a calm, even tone. “Aden. Haden, I mean. Everyone calls him Aden.”
No expression change from Stonehenge over there. Worse, his grip on the gun was steady, proving his strength. Anyone else would have already grown tired of its weight. “I have no idea what you’re talking about.”
“Oh, I thought…you should have…maybe we were…this isn’t happening!” she cried. “What if we’re in the wrong house?”
She spoke over him. “Sir, I’m sorry. Very sorry. We shouldn’t have…”
A primitive part of Riley wanted to punish the man for crushing her fighting spirit. And maybe her recent brush with death was partly to blame, too, having dulled her brave streak and—hey. She’d just inched her way in front of him again. For the love of—she was trying to act as his shield.
So much for a crushed spirit.
He could have taken that as a sign she still maybe kinda sorta loved him. But all he could think was that she no longer viewed him as strong enough to take care of her. Why would she? He didn’t.
Joe Possible cocked the gun, getting serious. “You got five seconds to start talking, boy, or your brains will paint my walls.”
“Are you going to count out loud so I can spew all my secrets at the last possible moment?” There was no need to wait for Joe’s reply. And he planned to treat the man like he was Joe from then on. Otherwise, Riley would flounder. “You know exactly who Aden is. He’s your son.” As he spoke, he shoved Mary Ann behind him. One step, two, he backed her up, trying to get her to the window. She could jump through and run, and he could deal with the situation without fear of casualties.
“Don’t care. Why would you think I was this Joe?”
“News flash. Answering a question with another question doesn’t make you smart or mysterious.”
Those dark eyes narrowed farther, becoming tiny slits. “Watch the attitude, kid. I’m the one with the gun.”
“I know what you’re doing, so don’t you dare move another inch.” Joe advanced until the barrel of the gun was pressing into Riley’s chest. “You’re not leaving here. Not until I get some answers.”