Rogue Page 14

I pushed past Marc to glower at my father. “Two against one? That’s hardly fair.”

Ethan snickered, but I ignored him, already wishing I’d kept my mouth shut.

“Only children speak of life in terms of fairness, Faythe.” My father’s face was expressionless, his mouth a firm, straight line. But his eyes reflected the ghosts of more painful memories than I could possibly guess at. “Life is neither fair nor unfair. It is what it is, and our responsibility is to deal with whatever comes our way. Including opponents who don’t fight honorably. You have to be completely aware of your surroundings. Be prepared to deal with the unexpected, such as Marc jumping you from behind.” He came a step closer to the mat, driving his point home by his very presence.

A lump formed in my throat as I realized he was right. If I’d been paying more attention to my surroundings three months earlier, I would never have been kidnapped.

I nodded, feeling like the kindergartner I’d once been, accepting a well-deserved scolding for coloring on the leather upholstery in his office.

“So, you’re saying two against one is fair?”

“No, I’m saying that fair doesn’t matter. You do whatever you have to do to survive. We all do. Now, give us your best.” With that, his gaze flicked pointedly over my shoulder.

I turned to face Marc, preparing to go again, whether I was ready or not. But Marc was gone. I spun to my right, and Ethan was gone, too.

Damn it, I thought, comprehension sinking in a moment too late.

I whirled toward the whisper of a soft sole on concrete. Marc was on me before I could react. He shoved me backward with one hand. His foot swept my legs out from under me. Air exploded from my lungs as I hit the mat on my back. Again. Marc straddled my hips, his hands pinning my shoulders to the mat. My hands encircled his wrists trying to push him away, but he didn’t budge.

Adrenaline scalded my veins, prompting me into action. I struck out.

My right fist slammed into the left side of his head, just above his ear.

His eyes widened in surprise, and his smile vanished in a grimace of pain. Before he could react, I shoved him in the chest with both hands.

He fell onto the mat on his left hip, one hand pressed to his head. I leapt to my feet, pleased with my performance.

Marc stood, rubbing his skull.

“Damn, Faythe.” Ethan whistled. “Dad, I don’t think we need to see her best during practice anymore. We all know what she’s capable of.”

From the corner of my eye, my father nodded, his expression caught between surprise and pride.

Hinges creaked overhead, and we all looked up. “Greg, you have a phone call.”

Blinking, I made out Victor Di Carlo standing on the top step, his bulky form dark against the background of afternoon sunlight shining from the kitchen behind him.

“Take a message,” the Alpha said, without a moment’s hesitation.

Vic frowned. “Um, you should probably take this one. It’s Parker. They found another body.”

Chapter Five

My father paced back and forth in front of the sturdy oak desk in one corner of his office, the telephone pressed to his right ear. His stride was characteristically long, smooth, and confident, in contrast to the tension clear in the lines of his face. From the telephone receiver came the steady cadence of Parker’s voice, calmly explaining what he’d found.

I sat on the leather love seat with Marc, listening in on my father’s phone call.

We weren’t just being nosy, though; it was expected. If my father hadn’t wanted us to hear, he would have kicked us out of his concrete-walled, and thus virtually soundproof, sanctuary. Most humans would have used the speaker phone, but we didn’t bother.

Ethan and Vic sat opposite us, on the matching leather love seat.

Covering the hardwood at the center of the seating arrangement was an Oriental rug in rich shades of silver, jade, and black, across which my father paced as he listened to Parker’s report.

What I’d gleaned from the conversation so far was that Parker and Holden, his youngest brother, had found the body of a stray in an alley behind a restaurant in New Orleans—in broad daylight. Parker had left the Lazy S the day before to drive Holden back to campus for his senior year at Loyola, after a month-long visit to the ranch. Holden had talked him into staying for a late lunch at his favorite Cajun restaurant in nearby Metairie. After their meal, and probably a couple of drinks, if I knew Parker, the Pierce brothers had gone outside to catch a cab back to campus. Instead they’d caught the scent of an unknown stray.

New Orleans and the surrounding communities were on the edge of the south-central territory. Our territory. As one of my father’s enforcers, Parker was honor bound to find the trespasser and escort him across the border into Mississippi, as Marc and I had done with Dan Painter two days earlier. But as the search for the stray in New Orleans led them to the al ey behind the restaurant, the scent grew stronger rather than weaker. The stray wasn’t running from them, which meant that he was either looking for a fight, or he’d already found one. And lost.

After a few minutes, Holden spotted a foot sticking out from beneath a pile of trash, and they knew why the stray hadn’t run. Shoving aside several garbage bags, most already torn open by neighborhood dogs, they uncovered the corpse of a Caucasian male in his midtwenties. He was definitely a stray, and he was definitely murdered. Unless your definition of natural causes includes a snapped neck. Mine doesn’t.

“Please tell me you didn’t leave the body exposed,” my father said, one thick hand massaging his temples as he paced. His glasses lay on his desk blotter, looking abandoned and useless.

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