"Yeah." Her voice cracked, so she coughed to clear it. "Yeah, I'm good."
Thank fuck. Curling an arm around her, he crushed her to him and buried his face in her hair. "Don't go away like that again. You scared the shit out of me." Her arms slid around him and she tucked her face into the crook of his neck and shoulder. Tao just held her until the tension seeped out of her.
After a minute she pulled back and flipped her hair away from her face. "I just need a minute."
Sensing that what she really wanted was time alone to regroup, Tao nodded and released her. "Don't go far." He expected her to go downstairs. Instead she headed to the room across the hall that he guessed was her old bedroom.
Max, who'd been observing from the top of the stairs, crossed to Tao. "She'll be okay."
"Does that happen a lot?"
"It used to when she was a kid. She watched her dad deteriorate right in front of her. Neither me nor Ethan thought she should have been allowed in the room as much as she was, but Sage believed that her presence might pierce through her dad's pain and make him fight to live."
"Did he fight?"
Max's mouth turned down. "No. He didn't even try. I was so pissed at him for that. Hey, I'd be broken if something happened to Ethan, and I'd feel like I had nothing to live for. But Daniel did have something to live for-he had someone who needed him right then, but he barely looked at her. He was too deep in grief, too swallowed up by his pain, to even bother to find the will to hold on for Riley. I'll never forgive him for that. And I'm not sure if she will either."
In her position, Tao doubted he'd be any more forgiving.
"I called Sage. Not gonna lie, he's pissed that a drug lord's assassin came calling. He wants you to call him." Max dialed a number, passed Tao his BlackBerry, and moved to Ethan's side.
Sage answered. "Put the wolf on the phone."
Tao ground his teeth. "This is the wolf."
"Mind telling me what the hell's happening?"
It was on the tip of Tao's tongue to tell him it was pack business, but he'd unknowingly brought that business to the flock's territory-it had every right to know exactly what was happening. Tao filled him in on the situation, adding, "The last thing we ever would have expected is for the human to have us followed here, let alone shoot at Riley."
Sage was silent for a moment. "Hugh and the enforcers are circling the perimeter in search of the gunman. They should find him."
Tao was counting on it.
"But even if they do, the threat to you and Riley remains. The gunman is only an employee of your enemy and he may not have come here alone. The moment you and Riley step off our territory, you'll be in easy reach for the humans. It might be best for you both to stay a little longer."
Tao was sincerely surprised by the offer. He, personally, would have wanted the people who'd brought trouble to his pack to be gone yesterday. But then, Tao was an asshole. "We appreciate that offer and we'll take you up on it."
"Good. You might consider Riley pack, but I'll always consider her one of ours."
As the line went dead, Tao handed the phone back to Max. "He's recommending that me and Riley stay a little longer . . . which is a good thing because I don't think she'll leave until Ethan's okay." Tao studied the raven lying so still on the bed. "I didn't expect him to fall straight to sleep like that."
"It's a healing sleep," said Max.
"It's a what?"
"When our kind is injured, we fall into a deep sleep. It's like our body shuts down a little so we can use all our energy to heal. It's annoying, really, because it's impossible to stay awake and fight the pull
Hearing a creaking sound behind him, Tao glanced over his shoulder to see the door to what he assumed was Riley's old bedroom swing open. She came strolling out, the image of composure. The shock and anguish was gone from her expression. In its place was sheer unadulterated rage. Ah, his little raven had found her anger. Good. That was a lot better than despair. "Feel better?"
She gave a stiff nod. "I'm fine."
The landline phone began to ring, and Max sighed. "I'm guessing the news has spread around the flock. The damn phone will be like a hotline."
"I'll answer it," offered Riley, heading down the stairs.
Max spoke quietly to Tao. "You need to watch her. Riley is very protective of those she cares for. She'll avenge them to her last breath. If she can get to the person who-however inadvertently-shot Ethan, she will . . . even if it means going off on her own little hunt."
Later on, Riley shoved open the front door of the cabin, seething with a rage that didn't seem to be going anywhere. She felt hot and edgy all over. Her jaw ached from how hard she'd clenched it. She wanted to punch something. Punch, claw, mangle, maul, tear apart with teeth and talons. If she didn't release the rage soon, she'd explode.
She still couldn't quite believe it had happened. Her raven was still in shock, though not in any way numb-no, she was pissed as all hell. Riley was going to get her hands on that bastard, Ramón. She was going to see him writhe in agony. He'd beg for death by the time she-
"Baby, you need to calm down," said Tao.
Yes, she did, but it was hard to think past the pounding in her ears and the red clouding her vision. "In case you've forgotten, someone shot my uncle."
"Yeah, they did. And I want to rip out their fucking lungs because you were the real target, Riley. You."
"I know that," she clipped, voice fairly shaking with anger. "Ethan's more important."
"Not to me, baby. And you came too fucking close to being vulnerable in a place where there are two people who resent you. All things considered, you've got the right to rage, but you need to keep your shit together. I don't want you going off on your own. Promise me that you won't."
"I could just do a flyby and-"
"Potentially get shot out of the sky," Tao finished. "That's not going to help Ethan or get you vengeance. Now come here." He grabbed her nape and pulled her to him, wrapping an arm around her stiff body. He could all but feel her fury vibrating through her.
"I don't lose it often, but I find it hard to calm down when I do."
He kissed her forehead, wishing he knew how to soothe and comfort her, but he wasn't much good at this kind of thing. He tried petting the anger out of her, rubbing his jaw against her temple and pressing more kisses to her forehead. The whole time his wolf pushed against him, offering her that same comfort.
"Sage said he'd have Hugh and the enforcers circle the area," said Tao when her body lost its stiffness. "It's highly likely that they'll find him."
"They'd better not kill him," she said, pulling back to look at him. "That's my job."
Hugh and the enforcers didn't kill the shooter. Probably for the sole reason that they didn't find him. The news that the bastard had gotten away didn't sit well with Riley, and Tao quickly came to learn that Riley Porter had a tendency to disappear into her own head when she was worrying over something. No doubt she was plotting what she'd do with the gunman once she had her hands on him. Knowing how merciless ravens were, Tao might have pitied the bastard if he hadn't tried to shoot Riley.