"Sawyer was at our cabin, looking for Riley," said Max, slumping into an armchair. "They'd just broken up, but he wanted to walk her to the party. I told him she'd already left."
Ethan nodded. "Then we heard the shots. Normally we're not alarmed by the sound of gunfire, but"-he swallowed-"we heard the screams, we knew something was wrong."
Hugh let out a long sigh. "I don't want to believe that one of our own could do this."
"Wade was one of yours, and he did it," Tao pointed out. He didn't want to be insensitive, but he wouldn't allow them to bury their heads in the sand.
Sage inhaled deeply. "Tomorrow, Hugh and I will question every member of the flock. We need their whereabouts for tonight and the morning that Ethan was shot. The only people we can be sure had no part in the shootings are in this room."
Ruby once more shook her head in denial. "I don't see how it could be anyone in this flock." She held up her hand when her mate tried to speak. "I don't want to think about it anymore. I just want to put Lucy to bed."
Sage hugged his mate. "Then that's what we'll do." He whispered something into her ear; whatever it was made her visibly gather herself.
Tao took Riley's hand. "We'll go."
"I'll drive you all back home." Hugh pulled out his car keys. "I doubt anyone's still out there aiming a rifle-they hit their target, after all, and they'll be hiding from the enforcers. But it's best to be safe."
Ethan grabbed Max by the arm and pulled him to his feet. "Home."
Max nodded. "Home."
Hugh first dropped off Ethan and Max, who both warned Tao to "watch over" Riley. Tao picked up on the double meaning: "keep her safe" and "make sure she doesn't go off alone." She seemed to have also picked up on the double meaning, because she gave both her uncles a narrow-eyed look.
When Hugh pulled up outside the guest cabin, Tao thanked him for the ride before literally hustling Riley inside. Locking the door, he announced, "We should leave."
She whirled on Tao. "What?"
She took a step back, shaking her head. "I'm not going anywhere."
His wolf growled. "Yes, you are," said Tao, his tone nonnegotiable. He knew he needed to handle this delicately, but he wasn't a delicate guy. "This situation isn't what it seemed. You weren't shot at as a warning; the gunman didn't deliberately miss. You've got a crazy-ass son of a bitch out there shooting at the guests that didn't show up for Alec's party. Their bullet did nothing more than graze you, which may not be enough for them. They could try again. We need to leave."
"Run away, you mean? No way."
"It's not running, it's being smart."
"I want to find out who shot Ethan and Lucy, and I want their blood. I'm not leaving here until I have it."
Tao would have ranted and railed at her until he got his way, but the sight of her-pale, confused, hands shaking with suppressed anger-made his heart soften. And not a lot could do that, because he was a hard bastard. "Ethan and Lucy would agree that this isn't a place you should be right now."
"Has it occurred to you that you're wrong and it was the human? That he shot Lucy to scare us into leaving so we'll be easier to grab?"
Actually, he hadn't thought of that. It annoyed him that he couldn't deny it was a possible scenario.
"Either way, Tao, I'm not leaving."
"Why? What can you do here? You're not an enforcer. Let the people responsible for the safety of the flock handle this-that's their job."
"Oh, and they've done a great job of that so far, haven't they?" she mocked
"You can't find this bastard alone-"
"So help me." Her voice cracked. She never asked anyone for anything, which was why Tao seemed taken aback by the request. It wasn't that she was too proud to seek help, rather she liked relying on herself. But this . . . this was different. "I was a mess after the shootings, Tao. I don't do well with grief, I'm not strong when faced with it."
The self-condemnation in her voice pissed him off. "That's not weak, Riley. Of course you find death hard to cope with-it must trigger memories and dredge up all the pain you felt when you lost your parents."
"You think it was bad the other day when I disappeared in my 'zone'?" Riley shook her head. "That was nothing compared to how I was after that party."
"Do you think I'd judge you for that? Hell, you might not have watched all those people get shot at the party, but you were there and you heard it. That would leave anyone a mess."
"It wasn't just the victims I was grieving, though, Tao. I was grieving the friend I lost, and I couldn't even be seen doing it because he'd taken all those lives. It was so hard to watch people hate Wade, to watch them forget that he'd been a victim of their kids all his life. I'm not saying those kids deserved to die. They didn't, not by any means. But how was it fair that everyone so easily overlooked just how much pain Wade must have been in to get in that state?
"What made it worse was that I didn't even have the space to grieve because Shirley was harassing me, blaming me for what he did. But Ethan, Max, and Lucy were there for me. They talked with me about the old Wade, looked through his pictures with me, and helped me grieve the person I once knew. They didn't judge me or try to make me feel bad for grieving a killer. Without them I wouldn't have coped. I really wouldn't have. They were there for me when I needed help, so I'll be damned if I'll walk away from this and-"
Tao grabbed her nape and pulled her to him, wrapping an arm around her. "Shh," he soothed, rubbing her back. He wanted to argue with her, talk her into changing her mind, but the pain in her eyes and voice absolutely gutted him. He kissed her temple. "I'll make you a deal. We'll stay and we'll try to find out who did it, but if somebody tries to hurt you again in the meantime, Riley, we go. That's the deal."
"And if I don't agree to go until I've made the bastard pay?"
"I'll shoot you myself and haul your ass home where you're safe."
Um, no, he wouldn't, thought Riley. She wouldn't be going anywhere until this shit was over, but she decided to keep that to herself. She needed his help. Tao had a sharp mind and a keen eye; he was tireless when in pursuit of something. "Deal."
She just had to hope she didn't have to back out of that deal.
Tao woke to a very pretty view. Riley was sprawled over him in bed, her gorgeous hair fanned out all over his chest. Instantly he remembered last night. Remembered calming her as best he could, remembered taking her to bed and just holding her, remembered waking up at two in the morning to find her trying to edge out of the bed. Tao had coaxed her back to him, talked to her for hours about Lucy, about how close they'd been since childhood. Then he'd taken her soft and slow, drawing the whole thing out for as long as he could. Afterward he'd rolled onto his back, still inside her, and they'd both pretty much crashed.