"It won't change the truth." Talin knew she'd surprised him. His muscles bunched. Then he let out a low growl that rolled down her spine like a thousand tiny pinpricks.
"Stop flinching or I'll bite you and really give you something to worry about."
She blinked. "You wouldn't bite me." Would he?
"Try it and see."
Surrounded by all that powerful male muscle, feeling warm and safe, she decided not to push him. Not today. "Will you help me?"
Her answer was a hot breath at her ear. "Keep asking silly questions and see where it gets you."
She took that as a yes and, though her heart threatened to rip out of her chest, she remained stuck to him. And she prayed. Prayed that she could do this without betraying the one secret that would make Clay truly hate her.
Twenty minutes later, she found herself sitting in the same bar the young males had smashed up. "It doesn't look too bad." She nodded at the relatively undamaged walls.
"Manager knows how to build tough. Joe's a packmate."
"Oh." She went silent as a curvy blonde with a bad-tempered expression placed Talin's meal in front of her before turning to Clay.
"I hope Cory, Kit, Jase, and the rest of those drunken monkeys get the same punishment I did. Joe thinks it's hysterical to make me wear this frickin' getup." Her voice was a snarl as she waved at her pink baby-tee and black miniskirt. Teamed with knee-high boots, it turned her into a sexy stunner. But Talin had a feeling that any man stupid enough to put a move on this woman would soon find his arm broken into tiny little pieces.
Clay lifted his beer and took a long pull. "Should've thought of that before you punched out his real waitress, Rina. You're Opal as long as it takes for her nose to heal."
Rina stamped her foot. "There's nothing wrong with Opal's nose! I only tapped her!"
"You're a DarkRiver soldier. You don't get to throw your temper around."
Rina's scowl turned into a sensual pout. "Clay, please."
"Don't even think about it, kitty cat," he said, a spark of amusement in his eyes that hit Talin with the nausea - inducing strength of a punch to the solar plexus. "Where's my burger?"
Rina actually hissed, all flirtatiousness leaving her face and body. "You know what your problem is? You need to get laid!"
Talin tensed, waiting for the explosion of Clay's sleeping volcano of a temper, but all he did was put down his beer and crook a finger at the blonde. When the scowling woman leaned down, he whispered something in her ear that made her blush bright red. Rising back up, she went straight to the kitchen.
"What did you say to her?" Talin was shocked by the sharp claws of jealousy dragging their way through her body.
"Rina's young. She just needed a little gentling." His eyes watched her play with her food with disconcerting intensity. "Eat."
She couldn't, stomach churning with thoughts of how he had "gentled" the sensual young woman. But she took a bite in an effort to keep her mouth shut.
Clay's meal arrived seconds later, delivered by a still-blushing Rina. The young woman hesitated, then leaned down to peck him on the cheek before walking away, all feminine heat and long blonde hair.
Talin had to force herself to swallow the bite she'd taken. That kiss - it had been familiar, affectionate. It didn't fit with the image she'd formed of Clay over the past hour. "She's very pretty." Damn it! She stuffed the burger into her mouth.
Clay raised an eyebrow. "I don't f**k little girls."
She almost choked, had to take a long drink of water to get the food down her throat. "That's not what I meant."
"You always were a possessive little thing." He took a bite of his own burger and washed it down with beer. "So, who have you talked to about these kills?"
The abrupt change in subject threw her, but only for a moment. "Enforcement when Mickey disappeared. They didn't take it seriously." She put down her half-eaten burger.
"After the bodies were found?"
"They launched an investigation," she said. "One of the detectives - Max Shannon - he actually seems to care. He's the one who told me about the other disappearances around the country."
"But I don't think it's anything as simple as a killer targeting runaways. This feels wrong, Clay."
"Still getting your feelings, huh?"
She shrugged, uncomfortable with the topic. "They're worth nothing. Just this feeling of 'wrongness.' Women's intuition. What good is that to anyone?"
She'd had the same feelings about Orrin, the man who had been supposed to be an exemplary foster father. She'd made the mistake of sharing those feelings with her old social worker and had gotten her face slapped.
You should count yourself lucky he and his wife are happy to take in a piece of trash like you. If it was me, I'd leave you to rot in the state orphanage.
As an adult, she knew that that social worker had been way out of line, a being who should have never been allowed near his charges. But as a child five weeks from her third birthday, she had believed him. She'd had nowhere else to go, no one to turn to. So she had learned to keep silent about her feelings...and everything that came after.
Having no desire to relive the terrors of the past, she focused her attention on the here and now, counting the beads of condensation rolling down the side of Clay's beer bottle. "You said you'd find him - the man who's doing this."
She looked up into the indescribable green of his eyes. Forests, she thought, she had always seen forests in Clay's eyes, a freedom that was his gift to her. "Why does everyone automatically assume only men can do bad things? Women can be as evil, as depraved."