Rogue Page 36

His verbal jab jarred loose an old memory and I realized I’d actually met Kevin not once, but twice, the first time nearly eleven years earlier.

I’d been just a kid when Kevin applied for a job as one of the south-central territory’s enforcers. My father accepted him into our Pride from his birth Pride, but turned him down as an enforcer, along with four other tomcats, including my brother Ryan.

Though Marc hadn’t quite been eighteen, he’d gotten the job. And apparently he wasn’t above lording that over Kevin, though I could hardly blame him after the stray comment.

“Actually, I just want to help.” Kevin swallowed thickly and made an awkward attempt at a smile.

Marc nodded, wearing his business face, nearly expressionless and impossible to read. “Good. Keep that in mind, and we’ll be fine. But if you forget your altruistic intentions, we’re going to have a serious problem.

Got it?”

For a moment, Kevin said nothing, and I could almost see the possible answers cycling through his brain as expressions flitted across his face.

“Look, I’m just doing Greg a favor,” he finally said, settling on an arrogant I-don’t-know-what-you’re-talking-about look as he tried to imply that he and my father had a much closer relationship than they actually did.

No one was fooled.

Marc threw his backpack over one shoulder, snatched his overnight bag from the floor, and took off toward the parking lot, without even a glance back to make sure we would fol ow him.

I scowled at Kevin, then raced to catch up with Marc.

In the parking lot, as the muggy Louisiana heat settled in around us, Kevin stormed past Marc, and we followed him to a green four-door sedan with a dent in the rear bumper and a four-inch scratch on the driver’s-side door. Kevin came around the car to unlock the front passenger-side door first, holding it open for me with an inviting smile. I almost admired his tenacity. Marc did not. He took my bag from me and tossed it onto the front seat along with both of his own, then reached through to the back door and unlocked it himself.

He held the back door open for me as I climbed in, then slid over to sit directly behind the driver’s seat. Marc settled onto the seat next to me and slammed the door on Kevin’s irritated pout. By the time our driver had stomped around the car and unlocked his own door, his resolute smile was firmly in place once again. He was resilient; I had to give him that.

“Where to?” Kevin adjusted the rearview mirror so he could see my face. I read him the name of the restaurant and the Metairie address my father had written down, and Kevin pul ed out of the parking lot without another word. And without readjusting his rearview mirror.

I rolled down my window to relieve the locked-car heat, then unbuckled my seat belt and snuggled up next to Marc in spite of the temperature, content to know that now Kevin couldn’t stare at me without seeing Marc, too. In the mirror, our reluctant chauffeur’s eyes crinkled in a frown, then shifted to look at the road.

Including Holden Pierce, there were two other Pride cats living near New Orleans, both of whom were more courteous, more polite, and infinitely more pleasant to be around than the one behind the wheel. Yet my father had insisted that Kevin Mitchell be our guide for the day, probably just to test my self-discipline. I was pretty sure that if I made it home without Kevin’s detached head in tow, I’d get a gold star on my permanent record. Or maybe one of those little smiley faces.

Kevin’s father was Alpha of one of the northern Prides, and beating the shit out of an Alpha’s son, even if he was a real prick, wouldn’t be very good for inter-Pride relations. In fact, it would be real y bad. Anyone looking for a reason to oust my father from his position as head of the Territorial Council—and there were several people on that list —would have plenty of ammunition if either of us lost our col ective temper with Kevin without ample justification. For that reason, on the plane, Marc had rattled off some crap about this assignment being an assessment of my diplomatic skills. But it was real y a test of my patience.

And I was willing to bet Marc would lose his before I lost mine.

After baking for forty-five minutes in the back of Kevin’s clunker, we pulled up in front of a long strip of connected storefronts, each housing a different business. Kevin parallel-parked at the curb and we got out, staring around like the tourists we practically were as brass-heavy jazz music poured from an open doorway nearby and strangers bumped and jostled us on the egg-fryable sidewalk. This part of town had obviously recovered nicely from the infamous hurricane.

The first thing I noticed was the Closed sign in the door of the Cajun Bar and Grill. According to a plaque propped in the front window, the restaurant didn’t open for lunch until eleven o’clock, which gave us nearly half an hour to stand around like idiots before we could speak to the employees inside.

“Let’s check out the al ey while we wait,” Marc suggested. We went with his idea rather than mine, for obvious reasons.

The restaurant was in the middle of the block, so we had to walk past a florist and a hardware store, then around a dry cleaner to get to the mouth of the alley. Once there, we discovered that though the restaurant didn’t open for thirty more minutes, the staff inside was already hard at work crafting a jumble of spicy aromas that made my stomach growl in anticipation of dishes I’d never even tried.

How did we know this? The back door of the Cajun Bar and Grill was propped open, spilling laughter, the sharp clang of pots and pans, and piquant, lyrical accents into the alley.

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