Kit wiped away another trickle of blood. "We don't want to separate from DarkRiver." He was beginning to look a little green around the gills.
"There is only one Pack. And none of you is alpha." Vaughn made sure he met the eyes of every juvenile in the clearing. Several heads dropped. "If and when you can challenge Lucas for the title, I'll respect you. Until then, you're a bunch of whiny brats who've f**ked up the defense grid by pulling two sentinels from their duties."
Wounded pride showed on the face of more than one boy, but predictably, it was Kit who spoke. "We didn't ask for interference."
Vaughn actually liked the kid for his spine, but not enough to cut him any slack. Not after what he'd glimpsed in his quick reconnaissance before entering the scene. He glanced at Dorian. The younger sentinel dragged an unconscious juvenile out from behind a tree and dropped him at Kit's feet. "You did this."
The injured male had had his chest sliced open. If he'd been human, he'd have been dead by now. And that was before you added in the head wound. "Were you going to be able to stop without Dorian's 'interference'?" Vaughn made his question a whip.
Kit swallowed. "Oh, shit. Oh, man - I didn't realize - is Jase going to be okay?" Suddenly he was a child again, no trace of the alpha he'd one day become.
Vaughn let go of the boy.
Dorian was the one who answered. "Tamsyn's on her way back from the wolf den. Can you get Jase to her without killing him in the process?"
Kit nodded. "Yeah."
"I'll help you." Cory stood, one hand on his jaw.
The two boys looked at each other and then at the sentinels. "We can deal with it from here."
"You no longer have the right to my trust," Dorian responded, tone flat.
Vaughn saw the effect it had on Kit - the kid worshipped the blond sentinel, looking up to him like an older brother. But to his credit, he only nodded. "We'll get him to Tammy's, I swear."
"I want every single one of you in the Pack Circle tomorrow. The women can decide your punishment," Vaughn ordered, and it was no kindness. Leopard females were merciless about breaches of Pack law, because they knew that without Law, their children would start to die one by one at each other's hands.
Pack was One.
That was the ultimate rule.
Cleaning up the mess the juveniles had made, including tracking down and notifying Jase's roaming parents as well as the maternal females in charge of discipline, swallowed up several hours. It was almost five by the time he reached Faith's compound and he was feeling so violently possessive that he probably shouldn't have gone to her. But no way in hell was he waiting any longer.
He was about to scale a tree from which he intended to jump the outer fence when he smelled his prey on the perimeter of the compound. Surprised, he flattened down into a cautious stance. Her scent came nearer, until he could hear the flutter of her heartbeat, the sound of her breath. She stopped inches from him and when he appeared out of the tree shadows, she nodded. "I'm ready."
Her unexpected surrender calmed the beast, but only a fraction. He led her farther into the woods and toward one of his caches before moving out of her sight to shift into human form and pull on a pair of jeans - this was not a time to push Faith any more than she'd already pushed herself. Yet when he returned to her, her face went immediately wary.
"Your eyes are more cat than man."
She walked to him. "I'm coming home with you."
"For how long?" He was keeping her. That was nonnegotiable. He just wanted to know how much persuasion it would take.
Her hand rose to lie over his heartbeat. A tentative touch that made the cat snarl for more. "For always."
It was the one answer he hadn't expected, but instinct told him what to do. Closing his fingers over her hand, he raised it to his mouth and kissed her fingertips. Her pulse shuddered, but she didn't pull away. The cat was pleased. Dropping that slender hand, he turned his back to her. "Jump on."
A beat of hesitation and then her hands were on his shoulders. He slid his palms up the back of her thighs and felt her fear, her confusion, her need. But when he pushed upward, she wrapped her legs around his waist and held on.
Exhilaration lacing his bloodstream, Vaughn ran through a forest slowly fading from day brightness - night fell quicker under the canopy. Faith's weight, even given her small pack and the long distance, was nothing. The jaguar gloried in having her in his territory, in his world, though he knew they still had to extract her safely from the Net. But that could be done anytime she was ready. First, he needed to claim her on a much more primal level.
He took her deep into DarkRiver territory and then even deeper into his own, not stopping until she was in the bedroom of his lair, the only woman he'd ever brought there. Lowering her to her feet, he let her stretch and explore, able to wait now that she was in his home.
Her face tried to maintain that cool Psy look, but wonder broke through in sporadic patches. "Your home is amazing. Like we're part of the forest."
He let out a jagged breath. "Do you want me to shower?"
She froze, eyes flicking to the waterfall behind him. "What?"
"The run made me sweaty." The falling night had been cold, the wind crisp, but a fine layer of perspiration covered his skin.
"Oh." The answer was soft, breathy. "No, that's okay."
He watched her mouth as she spoke, surprised to realize he'd closed the distance between them without being aware of it. Raising his hand, he rubbed a finger over her lips. "I want to eat you up."