Kim smiled up at him. “Pancakes are that good, are they?”

“Sean’s almost as good a cook as me. Come and sit.”


Connor got out of his chair as Kim approached, and Liam gave him a nod. Kim looked startled as Connor wrapped his lanky arms around her, ending his sloppy hug with a kiss on the cheek.

“Good morning, Kim,” he said as he released her.

“Good morning to you too. I—” Her speech cut off as Sean stepped up and gave her a more practiced hug, tight squeeze, a rub on the back, a kiss to her hair.

“You like blueberry, Kim?” Sean asked, as he released her and turned back to the stove.

“Sure. Blueberry. Great.”

Liam caressed the back of Kim’s neck and led her to her place at the table. “Sleep well, did you?”

“No.” Kim plopped down, reached for the pitcher of juice in the middle of the table. “But you know that. Sean, Connor, are you trying to comfort me for having to spend the night with Liam?”

Connor hooted with laughter. Even Sean broke out of his sour mood to grin. “Are you in need of comfort, Kim?” Sean asked. “Is he that bad?”

“Shut it,” Liam growled, but he was too full of afterglow to care about their teasing. “They’re acknowledging you as my mate, love. Welcoming you to the family.”

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“I forgot. Shifters like to hug. A lot.”

Liam ran his hand up Kim’s arm, her silken skin a joy beneath his fingertips. “Is there something wrong with that? Touching and hugging is a good thing.”

“It’s unusual,” Kim said. “For humans, I mean.”

“Touching is reassurance, keeping the bonds between family intact. It’s more than love; it’s necessary.”

“Humans do it too,” Sean said from the stove. “Except they get embarrassed. So they invent strange rituals, like giving flowers and candy to ladies. Human men punch each other when they like each other. I’ve seen them do it.”

“Sean has made a study of humans and their behavior,” Liam said. “It gives him something to do.”

Kim gave Sean a look of respect. “Well, if you can figure out human behavior, more power to you. Even humans can’t figure it out.”

“But I’m outside looking in,” Sean said. “It’s different.”

“So are Shifters to humans.” Kim accepted her plate of pancakes and dug in. “I know you all don’t want to talk about this, but I don’t want to hear any more discussion about you giving in to Fergus. He’s just trying to sow dissention. I’ve been thinking it over, and I think what y’all really need is a good lawyer, and one just happens to be eating pancakes with you. I’m going to dig into Shifter law and see if Fergus really can tell your dad to step down, or try to find some loophole to keep him from succeeding. So I’ll need to know what rules and customs or whatever aren’t written down. I need to know everything.”

With his mate so near, with her scent and his all over her, Liam didn’t much care about Fergus, Brian, and the screwed-up mess they’d gotten the rest of Shiftertown into. “That’s fine, Kim. I won’t stop you trying. Just don’t be getting your hopes up, love.”

Kim finished the last of her pancakes and got to her feet. “It beats letting Fergus win.”

“He won’t,” Liam said, watching her hips sway as she took her plate to the sink. “I won’t let him.”

Sean gave him a dark look. “I still think my way is best.” He didn’t mean it like he had yesterday, Liam could tell, because Sean’s tension had eased a long way. But Sean was still angry.

“We need you as the Guardian, Sean,” Liam said softly. “Connor’s not yet ready to take up the sword.”

“No-ho,” Connor said, from deep in his car magazine. “Don’t you dare die on me, Sean.”

Kim looked confused again. Liam gestured her out to the back porch and followed her down the steps to the fenceless backyard and the Austin summer sunshine. It would be another hot one, but later tonight, the cool moon would cover the yard in silver light.

“I have to go to work,” Kim said.

“I know.”

“You’ll try to come with me, won’t you?”

“I will be coming with you. I’m not letting you out of my sight, not with Fergus’s thugs wandering about and Fergus mad as hell at the Morrisseys. He’s not above making an example of disobedient clan members.”

“I’m going to fix this, Liam.”

Liam just gave her a nod. “Even so—not out of my sight, love.”

“What’s with Sean?” she asked, glancing back at the house.

It took Kim a while to voice questions, Liam noticed. Must be the lawyer in her, thinking carefully before she pried out the information she wanted.

Liam rubbed his hair, not liking to think about it. “Sean has always blamed himself for Kenny’s death. I blame myself, because I was stupidly obeying orders when I should have been protecting them both. But Sean was right there beside Kenny. Sean fought and survived, but he couldn’t save Kenny. It eats at him, it does.”

Kim gave him a skeptical look. “Oh, please. I know damn well Sean didn’t simply stand aside and watch Kenny get killed. He must have fought.”

“As the Guardian, his first duty is to the sword, and he couldn’t risk letting the feral get it. Kenny knew that. He was fighting to protect the Guardian and the sword.”

Kim gave him a wide-eyed stare. “You mean that piece of metal was more important than your brother?”

“No, that’s not what I’m saying. But the Guardian has a huge responsibility to the whole clan. He has to survive to keep the sword free in case he needs to use it on one of us. Kenny knew what he was doing.”

He could tell Kim didn’t really understand, but her look softened. “That doesn’t make it any easier, does it?”


Kim slid her arms around his waist. “Liam, I’m so sorry.”

He felt her sorrow. Liam melted into her, tears tracking down his face for the brother he’d lost. Being a Shifter was all about sacrifice, and the fact that Kim understood that untwisted something inside him that had been knotted for a decade.

Kim worked through the day in her office, catching up on phone calls and paperwork, preparing for the court case she was determined to have for Brian. The private investigator she’d hired told Kim he’d discovered evidence that Michelle’s ex-boyfriend had burned with plenty of resentment when Michelle had started seeing Brian. Threats had been made, and friends of the ex-boyfriend had been worried. Good. Kim told him to keep searching that angle.

Kim also pulled up every single piece of information she had on Shifter law and went over it again. She’d find something to stop Fergus trying to defeat the Morrisseys, no matter how long it took. The human government didn’t usually interfere with Shifter hierarchy, mostly because they didn’t understand it. But Kim would find some way to solve this, and Liam would figure out why Fergus wanted Brian executed.

Working with Liam stretched out on her office couch unnerved Kim, especially when he spent the whole time watching her. He didn’t demand her attention or interrupt; he just…watched.

He reminded Kim of lions on the African veldt, sitting under the shade of whatever those trees were, watching herds of gazelles. Maybe the lions wouldn’t be hungry right then, but they’d watch. Heads up, ears pricked, alert. Still. Waiting.

By five-thirty, the gazelle in her was ready to go home.

Kim didn’t bother trying to go to her own house. She drove with Liam straight back to Shiftertown, feeling a strange kind of relief to do so.

When Kim and Liam arrived at the Morrissey house, Sean had a big charcoal-burning barbeque going in the backyard, and beer and ice overflowed from several coolers. A dozen Shifters lounged on the porch and through the yard, talking to Sean and Dylan. Connor kicked a soccer ball around with a few other young men his age, while two teenaged females stood back and assessed them.

Kim’s journalist friend Silas pulled up shortly after. He was tall and very thin, with a prominent Adam’s apple.

“What is this party for?” Silas asked when Kim presented him to Liam. Kim had warned Silas that only Liam knew what he was really doing there, and he promised to be discreet.

“It’s a blessing under the moon, that it is,” Liam answered him. He flashed his teeth in a grin. “It’s after being a very interestin’ ritual.”

Kim rolled her eyes at the exaggerated Irish-isms, but at least he’d quit saying, “Top o’ the morning.”

“You sound like a cartoon leprechaun,” she said to him, after they’d introduced Silas around and left him talking animatedly to Annie from the bar.

“Whist, it’s my feelings you’ll be hurting.”

“Shut it, Liam.”

His brows shot up, and he laughed. “You’re learning, darling.” His laughter was warm, reminding her of him loving her all night, and even now he gave her a look of undisguised hunger. “I haven’t touched you in too long.”

Pleasant shivers ran through her. She agreed. It had been too long since any intimate touching. Hours.

“I’m already wishing the ritual over and everyone gone home,” Liam said in her ear.

“We should probably eat first. Be social.”

“Aye.” Liam slid his hands to her backside and scooped her against him for a kiss. “But I hope this doesn’t take all night.”

They strolled back to the barbeque as more Shifters joined the throng. Everyone Kim had met in Shiftertown was there—the wolf Ellison, Glory, Annie, Sandra, the women on the porches she’d passed the first day, little Michael who’d been proud of his plastic pool.

Kim stiffened when she saw Fergus’s two thugs—the shaved-headed, tattooed guy and military guy with sunglasses. But Sean handed them plates of charred burger with buns, unsurprised.

“They aren’t going to fight anyone, are they?” Kim asked as she took her burger from Sean. The two men had moved off to eat, and she noted the other Shifters gave them a wide berth. “Or bring out a cat-o’-nine-tails and start whaling on people?”

“They’re here to observe the ritual,” Sean told her. “Stand-ins for Fergus. And they’ll be on their best behavior.”

“I could have put Silas off if I’d known they’d be here.”

Liam shook his head. “They won’t disrupt the ritual. Fergus wants this mating done, and he wants to make sure Dad relinquishes power tomorrow.”

Kim nodded glumly. She hadn’t yet found a law that Fergus was bending by asking Dylan to vacate his post, but she would. She’d leave no stone unturned.

She chewed the burger Sean handed her, which was very good, especially with the gooey cheese melted on it. Her diet had gone to hell, but she couldn’t bring herself to care.

Ellison came out of the crowd in his big black Stetson and cowboy boots. He high-fived Liam, and then the two men shared a tight bear hug.

“Kim!” Ellison boomed, his arms opened wide, and before Kim could duck away, Ellison swept off his hat and spun her off her feet. Liam rescued Kim’s plate of half-eaten burger as Ellison swung Kim around. “Congratulations, woman.” Ellison set Kim down and gave her abdomen a gentle pat. “When’s it due?”

“What the hell are you talking about?”

Ellison looked shocked. “Liam, haven’t you touched her yet? What’s the matter with you? You’re already sun-blessed. Are you waiting for Christmas?”

“We’ve done it, trust me.” Liam handed Kim back her meal. “It will be soon.”

Kim’s face went hot. “Not that it’s any of your business.”

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