Panicking that she might have been stabbed, Tao reached out to the raven, who stood on the grass. "Come here." She backed up instead. He gritted his teeth. "I need to check you out." She snapped her beak at him. "Riley, shift back for me."
"I'm not sure her raven will pull back anytime soon," said Trey. "Let's just get in the SUV and get out of here. Taryn can fix her when we get back."
Kye touched Tao's shoulder. "I want to go home."
"We're going home," Tao told him, gently scooping up Dexter, knowing the raven would follow. They all made a quick dash to the SUV. Trey slid open the side door and ushered Savannah and Kye inside. The raven followed and perched herself on a headrest.
Instead of hopping inside, Taryn spoke to Tao. "They're both okay, Tao. Please don't lose it on me."
"I won't," Tao ground out, hanging on to his control by the thinnest, most fragile thread.
"The raven's leg is bleeding and there's a little blood on her stomach, but I don't think he stabbed her or there would be a lot more blood. Dexter's drugged and unconscious, but he's otherwise fine. Don't get yourself wound up. The kids need you to be calm while Riley can't be."
After Tao gave a curt nod, Taryn slid into the third row of passenger seats, where Kye was already waiting. Tao then sat in the second row, placing himself beside Savannah.
It was mere moments before Trey was in the driver's seat and they were on the road, heading home. "The scent on Dexter is human," said the Alpha.
"The guy who tried to take him was one of the people who were with Ramón that day outside the diner," Tao told him. Silently he cursed himself. He should have considered that Ramón might still present a threat. He hadn't even thought that Ramón could simply have been biding his time. He'd been so sure that they were fine, and now both Riley and Dexter were hurt.
Savannah clicked off her seat belt and moved to Tao, chewing her thumb and looking from the raven to Dexter. "Will they be all right?"
The tremor in her voice made Tao's chest ache. "They'll be fine. Dexter's just sleeping; he'll wake up soon. The raven's a little hurt, but Taryn can heal her as soon as she shifts back."
"Why won't she shift back now?" asked Savannah.
"She's angry and worried, so she wants to stay close and watch over you."
"But if she does that, Taryn won't be able to heal her because she needs their mouths to touch." Savannah crawled on his lap and stroked Dexter's hair. "You have to shift back," she told the raven, but the avian didn't.
Taryn leaned over the seat and handed Tao a T-shirt. They kept plenty of spare clothes in the pack vehicles. "Use this for her leg," she told him.
Tao shook his head. "There's no way she'll let me wrap that around her." The raven was strung too tight, so all he could do was hope she didn't lose too much blood and pass out.
The drive to Phoenix territory felt like the longest journey of his life. Dread. Rage. Anxiety. All of it clawed at him. The smell of Riley's blood kept his wolf pacing and snarling, but the raven refused to shift back for him.
After whipping the car into a free space in the concealed lot, Trey opened the side door. "Let me take Dexter," he said to Tao. "You try and get the raven inside-" The Alpha jumped back as the raven snapped her beak at him.
Unsurprised, Tao explained. "She's too on edge because she doesn't understand what's wrong with Dexter. I'll keep hold of him; she obviously trusts me with him."
The moment Trey stepped aside, the raven soared out of the SUV
. Blood had soaked the headrest, making Tao grind his teeth. If that fucking bird didn't shift back soon so that Taryn could heal her, he'd go nuclear.
Once inside the mountain, they made a mad dash for the living area. Dante jumped to his feet, almost sending his mate crashing from his lap to the floor. "What. The. Fuck?"
"Ramón," Tao bit out.
"Long story short," began Trey, "one of his minions tried to take Dexter-it seems that they sedated him first to get him out of the park without him making a fuss. Riley stopped the human in her raven form, but the bastard pulled out a knife and slashed her leg and maybe even her belly. The wounds don't seem to be bad, but we can't get close enough to tell."
"Take them both to the infirmary," said Grace, all business.
Tao tightened his hold on Dexter. "No need. He's just unconscious, that's all." And, truth be told, he didn't want to release the cub. He was just so small and still . . .
Grace lifted her chin. "I'll be the judge of that, Tao Lukas."
Trey shook his head and gestured at the raven, who was perched on the arm of the sofa. "You're not going to be able to take him until the raven shifts back, Grace. She only trusts Tao with him right now."
Makenna approached the raven cautiously. "Riley, you need to pull her back. I know it must be hard, sweetie. She's no doubt an absolute wreck. But make her understand that Dexter needs to be checked out. That means Tao needs to be able to release him."
The raven puffed up her feathers, not looking pleased with Makenna.
At that moment Trick and Dominic entered the room and came to a stunned halt.
"Well, fuck," said Dominic. "What happened?"
While Trey relayed the story, Tao squatted near the sofa and whispered to the raven, "Come on, shift for me. You're bleeding all over the place, you need help." The avian just blinked at him. "Riley, fight her if you have to, but shift. If you're not healed soon, I'm going to lose my mind. Have pity on me."
The raven released a toc-toc that sounded like a harsh reprimand, but then feathers shrank and bones popped. He handed Dexter to Grace, distantly noting that the other kids followed her out of the room. Tao grabbed the throw blanket from the back of the sofa and wrapped it around a shivering Riley. "That's my girl."
"I really fucking hate knives," she ground out.
"So do fucking I," Tao growled. "You're shivering." Shock, he thought. "Don't fall into a healing sleep."
"Not going to, the wounds aren't that bad. The knife sliced my leg and nicked my stomach, but that's all. I was moving around too much for the bastard to do any damage. Where's Dexter?"
"Grace took him to the infirmary. It's the best place for him to rest."
Riley stood, meaning to follow him, but Tao caught her around the waist.
"Oh no," said Taryn, "you need healing first." The Alpha tugged Riley behind the sofa and made her lie on the floor.
Tao, knowing the drill, opened the window and then watched as Taryn laid her palm over Riley's forehead. Luminous patches of light glimmered through Riley's skin, showing where the damage had been done. Not that Tao needed to see the lights. "The wounds aren't that bad," she'd said. There was a deep slice on her leg and a puncture wound on her stomach.
Taryn bent over, put her mouth to Riley's, and inhaled deeply. Then she lifted her head, turned it toward the window, and exhaled heavily. Black particles whooshed out of her mouth and flew out the window.