Feral Heat

Page 21

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Deni watched Jace eat. And eat, and eat. She put away a plate of eggs, bacon, and Texas toast herself, but Jace kept shoveling it in. Ellison woke up and joined them, as hungry as Jace.
"I guess no more fight club for a while," Ellison said after they discussed what had happened with the cops. "Damn. Shifters need to work off steam somehow or else we combust."
"You can work off steam by cleaning out the gutters and fixing the roof," Deni said, piling more eggs, cheese, and salsa onto both males' plates. "That will cool you down."
Jace laughed out loud. He was sweet and sexy, filling up the place at the table as though he belonged there.
Ellison grimaced. "Don't be so literal, woman."
"Just giving you an alternative," Deni said, resuming her seat. Jace closed his hand over hers, squeezing it, before he returned to his food. "I wouldn't want you to burst into flames."
Ellison looked over Jace and Deni, his gray eyes shrewd. He didn't pretend not to notice the signals between them, how comfortable they were sitting close together.
A knock sounded on the back door, and Jace came instantly alert. His hand jerked on Deni's, his eyes losing their deep greenness for a lighter hue.
At the same time a police car went by the house, its black body and white doors sliding past in silence. Ellison went noiselessly for the door and opened it to find a small boy with white hair and black eyes standing on the doorstep.
"Olaf," Ellison said, his body relaxing. "Maria's not home yet." Maria, Ellison's mate, often babysat for eleven-year-old Olaf, who was a polar bear cub, as well as other Shifter kids. She looked after them while their parents-or in Olaf's case, foster parents-worked.
"Ronan sent me to tell you the police are here," Olaf said.
"We see that." Ellison turned to watch a second car go past the front windows.
"They're going door-to-door," Olaf said. "Checking ID." He looked past Ellison and into the kitchen at Jace. "Everyone's ID."
Deni's heartbeat sped in alarm. "Does Ronan know if they're looking for someone in particular?"
Olaf shook his head. "No. They're just asking for ID." He peered at Jace, his small face blank. "What's the matter with him?"
"Nothing," Deni said quickly. "Long night."
Olaf didn't nod. He kept staring at Jace, his brow puckering. "He's not right."
With that declaration, Olaf turned from the door and ran in a loping stride down the porch steps and across the backyard to the next house.
Ronan had been smart to send him as an early warning system, Deni thought as Ellison closed the door. If the police stopped him, all Olaf had to do was look cute and innocent, and charm them senseless. He did that so well.
Ellison came back to the kitchen, his shoulders tight. "Don't we have a new Shifter Bureau liaison to prevent this kind of harassment? I need to have a talk with Tiger."
"Maybe it's coming from a different department," Deni said. "Not our biggest concern at the moment."
Both she and her brother turned to look at Jace.
"Shit," Ellison said. Deni waited, tense. They could help Jace, but only if Ellison agreed.
Jace held up his hands. "I promise not to touch anything."
Ellison went past Deni and into the hall between kitchen, living room, and bedrooms. "Shit," he said again, his Texas accent thickening.
"No choice," Deni said to Ellison as she and Jace followed. "He doesn't have time to get away."
Ellison put his hand on the false wall panel in the middle of the hall. "You know this is a sacred trust," he said to Jace. "Right?"
"I'm familiar with the concept," Jace said impatiently.
"Damn it," Ellison said under his breath. "If I still had a pack, they'd kill me."
"I am your pack," Deni said. "And I'll speak for my sons. Jace goes to ground."
Were Jace anyone else, Deni would be as reluctant as Ellison to open the door behind the paneling and let Jace see what was in there. But this was Jace, and she'd let him soothe her in the darkness at the fight club last night. He'd kept her from going feral, had gotten her home safely, and proved she could start going back to her normal life without fear. She owed him.
The opening door revealed a set of cement stairs heading down into darkness. The three of them paused at the top a moment, letting the air from below cool them.
Secret spaces. Every Shifter house had them. Traditionally built below the main house, they held secrets of that Shifter pack or clan, things collected and cherished, the pack's wealth. Shifters had survived all these centuries because of the things contained in their vaults. Shifters now lived together aboveground in relative peace-different clans and species rubbing elbows, or paws-because they kept this part of themselves, places only close family went, safely underground.
To let an unrelated Shifter see the secret spaces was unthinkable. Jace wasn't family or clan-he wasn't even Lupine.
Another knock came, this one on the front door, and much firmer than Olaf's. "Mr. Rowe?" a man's voice sounded.
Ellison let out a growl and headed for the front. Jace, instead of going down the stairs, spun and started after him, stepping in front of Deni as though protecting her.

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