Also available on audio. Listen to a sample here!
The bobcat sighed and picked up the phone to call the wolf they’d come to see.
Oriana re-focused on her cell phone but said to Toni, “That wolf was cute.”
Toni blinked, confused. “What wolf? Ulrich?”
Rolling her eyes, Oriana replied, “No. The one you were talking to outside the skating rink. With the baseball cap.”
“Oh. Him. Yeah. He was cute.” But just a wolf. It wasn’t like wolves were something special or unusual. Their mother was best friends with fellow former-prodigy Irene Conridge Van Holtz. A brilliant scientist and full-human, Aunt Irene was mated to Niles Van Holtz. Alpha Male of the Van Holtz Pack. And because the Jean-Louis Parkers were as close to family as Irene had, that meant that they spent a lot of time around the wolves. A lot of time. Not that Toni minded. Uncle Van and his Pack were fun and most of the direct bloodline Van Holtzes were amazing chefs, which meant the Jean-Louis Parkers always ate well. But bringing more wolves into her existence was not something Toni felt was necessary at this stage in her life.
“Tall,” Oriana continued. “Nice shoulders.”
He’d been unnaturally wide in Toni’s estimation. Shoulders that wide with hips that narrow just didn’t seem right.
All those teeth. Bright white teeth that he kept showing when he constantly smiled at her. Personally, she found his smile oddly threatening. As if every person he met was a potential meal.
Still, although Toni might not be susceptible to most males, she wasn’t blind, either. He was a handsome wolf, but not like the Van Holtz wolves, who always reminded her of European cover models. He was too big. Too wide. Too . . . American. All those muscles and dark brown hair that just reached his massive shoulders. Amber eyes and a flat, wide nose that only barely helped to make the constant smirk on his face a little less annoying.
“Plus,” Oriana went on, “he seemed to not mind your average looks and that uncontrollable mane of yours.”
Slowly Toni looked at her sister. “Thanks, Oriana.”
Her sister smiled without looking up from her phone. “You’re welcome.”
Toni seriously considered ripping that phone out of Oriana’s hand since she had yet to learn the meaning of sarcasm, but Ric Van Holtz walked into the lobby before she could bother.
“Hey, guys. Sorry I couldn’t really meet with you earlier. Last-minute meeting with investors.”
“No problem,” Toni assured him, handing Zia over to him as soon as he stretched out his arms. Ric was great with kids, no matter the breed or species, and he adored the Jean-Louis Parker pups.
“How did it go at the rink?” Ric asked, gently brushing his free hand over Zia’s hair as her head rested on his shoulder.
“Except for that fight,” Oriana muttered.
Ric’s nose flared. It was a rather narrow nose, but it could flare quite dramatically when he was angry enough. “Did Novikov hurt you? Should I have him killed?”
“That seems extreme.” Toni cut a warning glare at her sister, but with the brat’s attention focused on her phone, there was no guarantee that she’d seen anything. “Mr. Novikov was just fine.”
“He wasn’t fighting with us,” Kyle clarified.
“Oh.” Ric quickly calmed down. “That was probably Reece Reed he was fighting then, since it’s the middle of the day and Reece seems to be the only one who continues to fight that idiot.”
“Novikov signed my shirt, just like you said he would.” Kyle held up the shirt for Ric to see.
“Good. I’m glad he did as I told him to.”
“Yeah,” Oriana said, “it went great until Kyle here asked to see him naked.”
Ric briefly closed his eyes. “Again, Kyle? Again?”
Horrified, Toni demanded, “Oh, my God, Kyle! Did you ask Ric to—”
“I will not be held back by society’s mores!”
“It’s not society’s mores we’re concerned with, Kyle,” Ric kindly explained. “It’s society’s creeps.”
“So you’re saying that Bo Novikov is—”
“No,” Ric said quickly and firmly. “That’s not what I mean. And although you might be safe with Novikov or with me, that doesn’t mean the rest of the world is a safe bet. You have to be careful.”
Kyle motioned to Toni. “But that’s what I have her for. To protect me from society’s creeps.”
“Really? Is that what I’ve been reduced to?” Toni asked. “Your bodyguard? Is that my life? Is that going to be my life?”
“I wouldn’t worry about you having that job for long,” Oriana told her.
“How good could you be at protecting him with those stick legs of yours?”
Toni looked down at her legs, then quickly realized she was involved in a ridiculous conversation. Again.
“You know what,” Toni said, getting to her tiny stick legs. “As fascinating as this is, we have to go. We’ve got to make that flight.”
Ric blinked. “Make your flight?”
Yeah. Nothing worse than trying to get this group on the same flight once we’ve missed our original flight. We’re going standard air.” Toni’s term for flights that catered to full-humans.
Yet when Toni looked up at Ric, she saw that he was watching her with a mix of humor and pity. “You haven’t talked to your mother, have you?” he asked.
Toni immediately began rubbing her forehead. “No. Why?”
“I think there might have been a change of plan.”
“No,” Toni said, shaking her head. “No. No change of plan. No wacky, last-minute ideas. No.” She was adamant about it. No!
Toni pulled her cell phone out of the back pocket of her jeans and took a quick look. No calls. From anyone. Her parents would have texted her, right? Called her? Something?
Unless . . .
Slowly Toni looked over at Oriana.
The younger female lowered her cell phone, gave one of her annoying smirks. “Oh. That’s right,” the brat said carefully. “I forgot I have a message for you from Mom.”
“Really? You forgot?”
“Don’t make this into a big deal,” her sister warned, sounding bored. “You know how Mom is.”
“Mom’s not really the issue here at the moment.”
“Look, it’s not my job to get messages back and forth between you and our mother.”
“If that’s true, then I guess you won’t be needing this.”
Toni snatched Oriana’s cell phone from her hand and threw it down the hall and into the wall. She took great satisfaction at the sound of something on the device breaking from the impact.
“Now go fetch, bitch!” Toni screamed at her sister.
“You are such a ridiculous child!” Oriana screamed back.
“And you’re a spoiled twat!”
Ric quickly stepped between them, facing Toni. “My car can take you to your mother.”
Panting, her fangs burrowing into her bottom lip as they grew from her gums, Toni nodded. “Fine.”
“Great. Great.” He turned and took Oriana’s arm, Zia still asleep on his shoulder. Fights between her siblings never really bothered her or her twin. “Let’s go get what’s left of your phone and I’ll call my driver.”
He led Oriana down the hall, giving Toni a few seconds to calm down.
“Wow,” the bobcat muttered from his desk. “Your sister’s right. Your legs really are skinny.”
Toni briefly thought about swiping all the cat’s crap off his desk, but that wasn’t something she’d do to anyone who wasn’t one of her siblings. But that was the beauty of being one of the Jean-Louis Parker clan . . . sometimes you didn’t have to do anything at all, because there was a sibling there to take care of it for you.
“It must be hard,” Kyle mused to the bobcat. “One of the superior cats. Revered and adored throughout history as far back as the ancient Egyptians. And yet here you sit. At a desk. A common drone. Taking orders from lowly canines and bears. Do your ancestors call to you from the great beyond, hissing their disappointment to you? Do they cry out in despair at where you’ve ended up despite such a lofty bloodline? Or does your hatred spring from the feline misery of always being alone? Skulking along, wishing you had a mate or a pack or pride to call your own? But all you have is you . . . and your pathetic job as a drone? Does it break your feline heart to be so . . . average? So common? So . . . human?”
Toni cringed, which helped her not laugh.
And although she’d normally stop one of her brother’s ego destroying rants long before he got to the “so human” part, this time, with this particular bobcat . . . she just couldn’t. Yet what she could do was get her baby brother out of here before he had to witness a bobcat male sobbing softly into his Starbucks coffee and egg salad sandwich lunch.
Because that’s what was coming. Her brother might have the hands of a true artist, but his brain . . . his brain was like that of a sadistic psychiatrist who liked to see if he could force his patients to gouge out their own eyes during therapy appointments.
Lifting Denny into her arms, Toni grabbed Kyle’s hand and pulled him out of the office. She’d wait for her sister and Ric down the hall.
“You going to yell at me?” Kyle asked her once they were away from the office and the bobcat’s sniffling was the only thing that could be heard by their keen jackal ears. She smiled at her brother.
Sure. They were typical black-backed jackals, which meant they fought amongst themselves whenever the mood struck them, but they were also family. And one messed with a jackal family at one’s own risk.
“Nah, little bro.” She winked at him. “Not this time.”