Whisper of Sin Page 7

Her parents yelled her name, but Jet’s incredulous voice drowned them out. “Seriously? Not even a little tongue? You’re right—dude is lame.”

“JET!” It was Alex. She flew into a rapid stream of Mandarin.

Miaoling looked up at Ria and winked. “Sit. Eat.”

And oddly enough, Ria did. The family fought through the entire meal, but now her parents were mad at Jet because he figured Tom had to be gay.

Alex glared at her son. “Maybe he’s just being respectful of your sister.”

“No effing way.” A skeptical snort. “Men aren’t that noble when it comes to women they want.” Jet turned to his wife, his voice dropping. “When I saw Amber, all I wanted to do was—”

“You finish that sentence,” Alex threatened, “and you’ll be breathing fire I’ll put so much chili in your food.”

Amber grinned and blew Jet a kiss. “You know, it sounds to me like Tom’s planning to marry Ria and get himself a nice, respectable wife, while having a bit on the side.”

Simon’s mouth fell open at this scandalous contribution from his flawlessly elegant daughter-in-law.

Miaoling ate another shrimp. “She’s right. Like father, like son.”

Silence. Deeper. More shocked.


Simon cleared his throat. “Mother,” he said, his tone that of a man who knows he’s done for,

“is that true?”

“You think I’m lying?”

“I think you’d do anything for your favorite granddaughter.”

Leaning back, Miaoling actually cackled. “This time, I don’t have to. Wait.” She got up and headed toward her room.

Ria shrugged when all eyes turned to her. “Don’t look at me.”

“Eat some tofu,” Alex said when they just sat there. “It’ll go bad if we don’t finish it tonight.”

Everyone ate. But the instant Miaoling walked back into the room, all implements were abandoned, food forgotten. Wearing the same smile she always displayed when she came out of Mr. Wong’s, Miaoling sat down and opened an envelope.

Ria’s eyes went wide when she saw the photograph in her

grandmother’s hand—Tom’s father with his tongue down the throat of the woman everyone knew as his secretary. “Oh, my, God.”

“Don’t show me,” Alex said, slapping her hands over her eyes. “I can’t bear it. Essie’s one of my best friends!”

Miaoling waved off the objection. “She knows. Doesn’t care—it keeps Tom Sr. from interrupting her hobbies. She’s making lanterns this year.”

“Popo,” Ria said, choking, “how did you—”

“What do you think Mr. Wong and I talk about?” She turned her gaze to Ria’s parents. “Want to know about the apartment Tom bought his mistress?”

Alex looked like she was about to keel over. “Mistress?” It was a thin sound.

A sense of fair play induced Ria to attempt to defend Tom. After all, she was now involved with Emmett. “Grandmother, no one has mistresses anymore.

Tom was probably just waiting for the right time to tell me he’d fallen for someone else.” Yes, he should’ve been man enough to stop the charade of their non-engagement soon as he met his girlfriend, but Ria wasn’t going to beat him up about that. Chances were, he’d needed time to work up the strength to stand firm against familial pressure.

“I talked to her.”

Jet whooped at Miaoling’s words, while Amber shushed him and said, “How, Nana?”

“I’m a weak old lady, always need so much help.” Miaoling’s eyes gleamed. “Nice girl, too nice for Tom. She’s so sad for him because he has to marry some plain, fat girl—”

“That snake!” Alex’s hand clenched on a sharp knife as Ria’s sympathy for Tom died a quick and permanent death.

“—but nothing’s going to change between them after the wedding. Tom’s set it all up so he can visit her on his way home every night. He’s even

promised to take her to Paris after he explains how things are to his wife.”

Simon looked at Ria, a tic in his jaw. “If you even think about marrying Tom, I’ll hogtie you and send you to live with my parents in Idaho.”

“Yes, Dad.” Grinning, Ria walked around to hug her parents. But she waited until she was alone with her grandmother to ask, “Was that in case I didn’t get up the guts to pull myself out?”

“No, it was just backup.” Miaoling’s wrinkled hand was a touch of love against her cheek. “I always knew you’d find your voice. Don’t ever let anyone

take it away from you.”

Pleased and frustrated in equal measures by his earlier encounter with Ria, Emmett forced himself to focus as he ran his early-evening class through some hand-to-hand combat moves. There were only four in this group—he preferred to spend more one-on-one time with the older, higher-level students.

“Jazz,” he said, when the sole girl in the group smiled slowly at one of the boys before blowing him a flirtatious kiss—the poor kid lost his rhythm completely.

Emmett’s cat found her little tricks amusing, but he put on a stern face, knowing if he didn’t, she’d keep on doing exactly as she wanted. Female

leopards were a handful—throw teenage hormones into the mix, and no wonder half the pack had sent him sympathy cards when Lucas put him in charge of this lot. The other half had offered to take him drinking.

“Yes, sir?” An innocent look.

“Unless you plan to beat your opponents with nothing but a smile and a hip wiggle,” he said,

“I suggest you work on your hand to eye coordination. It’s off.”

“It is not.” Her back went ramrod straight. “I can move smoother than anyone else in this class.”

He met her militant gaze. “Ten laps. Now.”

Swallowing at his unusually harsh tone, the ebony-skinned girl took off to do the required laps. Emmett turned back to the three boys who remained.

“Gentlemen, you have something to say?”

One of them, a slender kid named Aaron, stepped forward. “She’s right—she is better than all of us at the hand to eye stuff.”

“Not today—she’s too busy playing head games.” Sending them back to their training, he waited for Jazz to return.

“Grab a drink and a seat,” he said when she did, red-faced from having done the laps at full changeling speed as required. After making sure the boys

had enough to carry on with, he walked over to hunker down in front of her. “Why do you think I made you do that?”

A shrug. “I was mouthing off.”

“Yeah.” And because he knew something of young female pride, he reached out to tug on one of her braids. “You are top of the class.”

A small smile peeked out.

“But, kitten,” he said, meeting her gaze, “that won’t get you far if you can’t hold your temper.

You can still be Jazz, still be a smart-ass, too, if you want”

—that got him another small smile—“but you need to learn to work within a hierarchy.”

Because that was how changeling packs stayed strong, though they were often far fewer in number than either of the two other races. And if his mother was correct in her predictions, that internal strength would become even more important in the years to come. These kids were all highly independent predatory changelings—his job was to start teaching them to work as a unit.

“I think I understand,” Jazz said after a thoughtful pause. “It’s how the sentinels and soldiers work to protect the alpha—they know they can always rely on each other.”

“Exactly.” Rising, he tugged her to her feet, “Go on, finish your training routine, and then we’ll do some one-on-one combat.”

A sharp grin. “I’m going to kick the boys’ butts tonight.”

Chuckling as he watched her slide easily into the graceful rhythm of combat, he wondered what Ria would think of the measures DarkRiver was taking to protect its future. Would she understand, or would she be repelled by the threat of violence, by the aggressiveness that was an inherent part of a predatory changeling’s nature? Not that he had any intention of discussing those things with her—not as long as he could avoid it. She’d clearly been

brought up in a sheltered environment—why ask her to worry about things she didn’t have to? Protection was his job. His plans for Ria Wembley were all about pleasure . . . of the most decadent, delicious kind.

His entire body thrummed in anticipation.

Ria stayed home for two days after the explosive events in the gym, seeing Emmett only to say hi.

He scowled at her when she looked out the window on the second day. She had a good feeling she knew what he was thinking—that she was running scared after coming apart in his arms—but tempting as it was to head out and put him straight, she stayed in.

Of course, that temptation wasn’t the sole one where Emmett was concerned—her body wasn’t letting her get much sleep. Now that it had had a taste of real pleasure, it wanted more. The sleepless nights left her frustrated in more ways than one, and she intended to punish the damn cat for it.

But first, she had to do something.

On the third day after he’d crushed her up against the basement door and kissed her senseless, she walked out dressed in a deep peach skirt suit teamed with a white silk shell. Emmett looked her up and down, then did it again . . . slow.

Her cheeks felt like they matched her suit by the time he finished.

“I like it.” A slow, feline purr.

She thrust a list at him. “Interview locations.”

He raised an eyebrow as he scanned the list, but all he said was, “Hold on. I’ll get cover for your home then we can go.”

“Still no luck with tracking Vincent down?”

Sliding the phone into his pocket after rearranging his people, he shook his head. “Creep’s laying low. He thinks we’ll give up.”

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