Fierce Obsessions

Page 52

Riley frowned. "I don't think it's mentally defective."
Avery glared at Riley, mouth tightening. "Really? Well, then, maybe the spirit can talk to me since all you seem to want to say is 'huh.'"
She scowled at Greta. "I suppose it's your influence that's made her so bitchy."
Riley's frown deepened. "You can't teach someone to be a bitch. They either have it or they don't."
Greta nodded. "Very true. Avery doesn't have it."
"Now that I've met you," said Riley, "I understand Tao better. Studies show that ninety-two percent of males born to highly strung mothers grow up to become-"
"Highly strung?"
"Okay, everyone just stop," ordered Tao. "Mom, trust me when I say this could go on all night. Let it go. Like I told you before, I'm an adult. I make my own decisions, not the ones you want me to make."
Avery sniffed. "I don't interfere in your business, but this is different. It's bad enough when I thought that it was just a fling. If it's more and you care for each other, that will make it even harder for both of you to see each other with whoever you mate. A lot of people will be hurt because of this." She looked at Riley. "Including you. I'll bet your mother would have the same concerns."
Tao growled and snapped out, "Not another fucking word."
Avery seemed surprised by the whip in his voice, but she challenged, "Am I wrong?"
"I guess we'll never know," said Riley. "She's dead."
All the bluster left Avery in a rush. "I'm sorry."
Tao shifted to stand in front of Riley, eyes hard as he spoke to his mother. "You have two choices. You can drop this and sit down. Or you can go. One or the other. If you do stay, the conversation will not include any of the bullshit you just spouted. You made your point. We heard it. We're ignoring it. So, what will it be?"
Lennon squeezed his mate's shoulder. "Let's just sit down, Avery. I understand why this is a sore spot for you. It's not bad that you want to save him and his mate from what you endured, but you don't have a prayer of coming between Tao and the raven here. I can see it. Surely you can."
"He's right on that," said Trick. He pulled out a chair and gestured for Avery to sit in it.
After a few moments, Avery said quietly, "Thank you, Trick." She and Lennon both settled at the table. Everyone other than Tao and Riley did the same.
"I'm taking the kids to the playroom," Riley told Tao.
He cupped her chin, hating that she was hurting at the mention of her mother. "Baby-"
"They're a little wound up right now and I can't guarantee that Savannah won't bite your mom-or that I'd try to stop her."
Tao didn't want her to go, but he knew she wouldn't want an audience for her pain. "All right. I'll come to you when they're gone." He squatted to speak to Savannah and Dexter. "Thank you for protecting Riley. I need you both to look after her for me. Can you do that?" They both nodded solemnly, and he smiled. "Good." Standing, he gave Riley a quick kiss.
The kids cast Avery a very unfriendly look before each taking one of Riley's hands and letting her guide them out of the room.
Once they were gone, Tao took the seat opposite Avery. "So, what brings you here?"
"I can't come visit my own son without needing a reason to justify it?" she clipped.
"Stop being defensive because you feel bad."
Avery's shoulders slumped. "I didn't know her mother was dead . How did it happen?"
"That's Riley's story to share."
"I could tell the comment hit her hard. I feel awful."
"You should." Tao had no sympathy for his mother whatsoever. "You couldn't have known her mom was dead, but you did know that you had no right to direct your anger at your own past on Riley."
Avery sniffed, but she didn't deny it. "She's a steady one, isn't she? I stood there ranting and she just looked at me like I was the most boring thing she'd ever come across in her life."
Lennon smiled. "Made you feel stupid, did she?"
Tao shrugged. "I tried to warn you."
"I thought you were protecting her," said Avery. "It wasn't funny, Lennon."
Chuckling, Lennon took her hand. "Maybe not from where you were standing, but I thought it was."
"The kids are very protective of her," Avery noted.
Tao nodded. "They'd have gone for your throat if you tried to harm her."
"The little viper bit me once," said Greta. "Hurt something awful. But she's a sweet kid."
Makenna sighed at the old woman. "Then maybe you could stop whining about it to her."
Greta waved a hand. "You lot spoil her. She needs someone to exercise that vicious streak on now and then. If she has an enemy to turn it on, she won't use it on anyone else here."
Taryn looked at Greta, stunned. "Either you really do mean well in a twisted way, or you're just somehow able to justify to yourself anything that you do."
Greta smirked. "I guess you'll never know which it is."
Avery snorted. "It's probably a bit of both." Turning to Tao, she smiled. "Well, tell me about your raven."
Liking the sound of "your raven," Tao returned the smile and told his parents all about Riley. By the end of the conversation, his mother had softened to the point that she'd apologized for "being a bitch." Like him, she found it hard to apologize, so he knew it was sincere.
Two hours later, once his parents left, he sought Riley out. She wasn't in the playroom. Grace had taken over with the kids so Riley could have a shower-apparently Kye had gotten milkshake in her hair. Tao went to their room and, sure enough, she was in the bathroom. But it seemed that she'd decided to take a bath instead of a shower.
He frowned. "Why is the water purple?"
"I used a blueberry bath bomb."
"Smells good." He crouched at the side of the bath. "I like your smell better. My parents left. My mom really does feel bad for jumping the gun and upsetting you."
"She's not the first person to have mentioned my mom, taking for granted that she's alive. I'm not going to break down." Honestly, it hadn't been the mention of her mother that hurt; it had been the simple reminder that Riley would never know how her mom would have felt about any of the choices she'd made. She'd never know if her mom would have been proud of her, if she'd have liked Tao, if she'd have doted on Savannah and Dexter as Riley suspected.
Feeling Tao's hand dip into the water to stroke her leg, she met his eyes and said, "I'm okay, really."
"Give me your mouth." As soon as she sat up, he slid his hand around her nape and took her mouth. Slowly. Lazily. Just enjoying her taste. "Thank you for not clawing my mom's face off her skull." She laughed. "I like making you laugh. Your eyes light up, your little dimples peek out, and that husky sound . . . I swear it makes my balls tingle every time."

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