"Delia's still in prison." His hand clenched around the bottle. "Not long after I got taken in, they found the bodies she and Orrin had buried in the junkyard. There was so much forensic evidence she'll be rotting in jail till the undertakers haul her away."
"I know." After being relocated to Larkspur's Nest, she had had constant nightmares in which Delia would come to drag her back to Orrin. He'd be sitting on the bed waiting for her, a rotting corpse with maggots crawling out of every possible orifice. Those dreams had lasted until Ma Larkspur had walked into the bathroom one night and found Talin cowering in the bath. The older woman had gone on the Internet right then and there and downloaded footage of Delia being bundled up into a prison van. Talin had watched that footage obsessively for a month. "They found home recordings of the murders, did you know?"
"My lawyer told me." He held her gaze, a cool, calm predator with a heart of turbulent fire. "Did they use those recordings to terrorize you?"
She shook her head. "That was their secret pleasure - I used to hear them watching the vids late at night." While she'd been locked up in her room. They had much preferred to put her in the special punishment closet, but had quickly worked out that her terror was all the greater if they let her run free and unpunished for a few weeks - never knowing when she'd be shoved back into that airless, lightless hole had been a whole different level of torture.
"No one's sure how many kids they murdered," she said, closing the lid on that bleak memory. "They were smart. They only took a couple of their foster kids. Rest were all runaways." The dam broke without warning. "You should have never gone to prison! You did the whole world a favor by getting rid of Orrin!"
Clay shrugged. "Judge White offered me a choice of juvie, with an attached anger management course and regular school hours, or a residential psych facility."
"He saw I had an anger problem and he was a good enough man to try and sort me out before I went completely off the rails." He finished off his beer. "I knew if they locked me up in a little white room, I'd go crazy. At least the juvenile facility where I did my time was out of the city and set up for boys. We had space to run, to get physical."
"But there were fences," she whispered.
His eyes sharpened. "You say that like you visited me."
She began to methodically destroy a piece of lettuce that had fallen from her burger. "Zeke got desperate when I still wouldn't talk long after Orrin's death. He thought if I saw you it might help."
"We sat in the parking lot overlooking one of the exercise yards." She'd been close to nine by then. Mute, broken, lost. "He bribed an administrator to get you to come out somehow. You were dressed in gray sweatpants and a gray tee with the sleeves cut off. I watched you run circuits around the track."
Clay knew the exact date and time of her visit. His beast had gone crazy that day, desperate for the scent of her - so desperate he'd imagined he could smell it on the breeze. "I ran for hours."
"I know. I stayed there until you went back inside." She gave him a shaky smile. "I knew you had to hate the fences but there you were, surviving. I thought if you could do that for me, I could do the same...for you."
Clay's hands clenched into fists. Damn her. His anger was a whole lot easier to hang on to when she didn't remind him of the girl she'd been. "How did you do?" he asked, giving in to the compulsion to know everything about her.
She took a breath to answer but someone chose to boot up the jukebox at that second. Loud music crashed into the room. It was modulated so as not to damage keen changeling hearing, but it wasn't exactly conducive to talk.
He ran his debit card over the reader built into the table and rose. "Let's go."
Nodding, she took a quick sip of water, then followed, staying close to him. They met Dorian just outside. The blond sentinel was in the process of getting off his sleek black motorcycle. "That your rabbit?" Hanging up his helmet, he smiled at Talin and it was a charming smile with a hint of the feral. Clay had seen women throw themselves at Dorian after being on the receiving end of that smile. "She's kind of bitesized for you. Why don't you give her to me?"
Clay waited to see what Talin would do, well aware the other sentinel was simply messing with her. According to Pack law, Talin was Clay's because she had come to him. Until and unless she wanted out - Clay's hands fisted again - no packmate would touch her.
"What do you say, little rabbit?"
"I'm sorry," Talin replied, sweet as honey. "I don't do pretty boys. In fact, I don't do boys at all."
Dorian choked on a laugh, then glanced at Clay's shocked face. "Well, shit. She's all yours, buddy."
Clay hustled Talin to her Jeep and pinned her to the passenger door with his hands on either side of her body. Her fear was a live thing between them, a slimy intruder that had no place being there. He fought to contain the leopard's corresponding rage and knew from the look in her eyes that he'd only been partially successful.
"You like girls?" he asked very, very quietly.
She shook her head, eyes big.
"I can still tell when you're lying and you weren't lying to Dorian."
"No, I wasn't." She bit her lower lip. "I was jerking his chain 'cause he was jerking mine. I said I don't like pretty boys."
The leopard was too wound up to see the logic. "What do you like?"
Time stopped as he digested the knowledge in her eyes. "You've been with men." He felt as if she'd cut him off at the knees and he shouldn't have. Leopard changelings were sensual creatures - regular sexual contact was considered healthy and natural. He had never before judged a woman for who or how many others she'd been with.