"What about me?" Andrew stroked a hand over her hair.
Brenna raised her head. "I'm undecided where you're concerned."
"You're getting mean in your old age." But he hugged her when she turned to him.
Watching them, Judd felt a heavy, dull pain in the region of his chest. The wounds, he concluded, that was all. Then Brenna pulled away from Drew to return to Judd's side and the pain intensified. "What don't you get?" he asked Riley.
"How Bren mistook our scent."
Judd nodded. "I agree. It has to be someone you trust enough to allow access to your belongings."
"Where he could've picked up things that carry enough of our scent to use as a mask." Andrew's claws sliced out. "The bastard has to be a soldier. We sweat buckets during training."
Lucas came to stand beside Riley. "Say the attacker had succeeded in killing you," he said to Judd, "what would that have done?"
"Caused a small amount of confusion." Judd had no illusions about his importance to the pack. "No large impact overall. We're the enemy - allowed there on sufferance."
Lucas looked thoughtful, his savagely marked face set in lines of concentration. "What if he'd targeted one of the Lauren children?"
Judd felt the black edge of his power gathering and had to force it back. "He'd be dead by now." It wasn't a threat, just fact.
"Damn straight." Andrew's voice was pure wolf. "Pups are pups, period. You go after one, you pin a big fat target on yourself. It would've set all the hunters on his trail."
"So," Riley picked up, "it looks like this probably wasn't about causing trouble in the pack or attacking the Laurens as a family. It was about Judd."
"That leaves a wide pool," Judd pointed out.
"Hell yeah, since you seem to go out of your way to piss off everyone you meet." Andrew was scowling. "But the hotheads would've gone for you up front. Sneak attack's not what's going to get them points in the den."
Judd agreed. "And there would be no reason for the planted scent if - " Something clicked in his Psy brain, the jigsaw pieces falling together in the lines of a perfect trap. "He wanted to isolate Brenna. Remove me, cut her off from you, and she becomes vulnerable."
Andrew's color faded. "Easier to take out."
Judd wrapped his arm around Brenna's shoulders again. She acquiesced without hesitation. It was an indication of deep-rooted trust. But the darkness in him no longer found that surprising, accepting it as his right. An irrevocable line had been crossed between yesterday and today. Brenna was his.
She blew out a breath, making her bangs dance. "Seriously, can you guys think past the overprotectiveness?" A very unfeminine snort. "Why would anyone have it in for me?"
Judd knew the answer, but it wasn't for public consumption.
"With the rain," Riley said when nobody else spoke, "there's no way to track him."
Brenna made a small movement. "I can think of one."
All five males looked at her.
"Okay, let's pretend I buy into your 'Brenna is the center of the universe' conspiracy theory" - she rolled her eyes - "there's one way to find out for sure." She shifted in Judd's embrace until his arm was around the front of her neck, while her back faced him, though she was very careful not to press against his injuries. "Act as though it worked - at least enough to separate me from you two."
Distracted by the soft curves of her body, he almost missed the import of her words. His blood heated, his heartbeat raced...and a wave of excruciating pain crawled over his mind in a malignant flood. He could handle the physical effects but couldn't control his Psy brain's need to shut down sections to save itself. The countdown had begun.
"Leave me," Brenna continued, "and go back to the den furious. Judd and I can camp out at the cabin - it's still livable."
"No." Andrew folded his arms.
"No more cages, Drew," she said quietly. "I love you, but no more. Until Enrique took me, you'd never have dreamed of trying to lock me up."
Shoving back the tide of dissonance, Judd looked up. "I'm more than capable of keeping her out of harm's way." None of the critical components of his mind had yet been compromised.
Brenna glanced over her shoulder and her expression wasn't happy. "I can keep myself safe. Just because a bastard got his hands on me once doesn't mean I'm helpless."
"The point is moot," Riley said. "Everyone knows we'd never leave Bren alone in the cabin with you, even if that meant we had to drag her back screaming bloody murder."
Judd nodded. "We can run the same op from the den. It'll mean you three will have to act as if you've fallen out."
"I'm already alone in the family quarters," Brenna murmured, evidently seeing the truth in Riley's assertion "Fine. But I swear" - she scowled at Andrew - "you try to poke your nose into my life one more time and I won't be responsible for my actions."
Her brother grinned. "I knew you loved me."
Tamsyn wasn't happy about Judd taking off, but he wanted to return to his territory, land he knew with Arrow thoroughness after months of isolated exploring. Brenna wasn't convinced either, but she muttered something about stubborn, pigheaded males and pushed him into the passenger seat when he made a move to drive. Andrew and Riley had left several minutes earlier to lend weight to the idea that they had had a disagreement with their sister.
"I'll see you tomorrow at your HQ?" Brenna called out to Tamsyn from beside the car.