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Prey (Shifters #4)(69)

By:Rachel Vincent

One was revenge for Ethan’s death, which went hand in hand with my father’s plans.
The other was me, which went in direct opposition to Marc’s plans.
Marc saw the change, too, and though he couldn’t know what it meant for him, I could tell from his grim sympathy that he understood that he and Jace were in much the same position. They had no home to go back to, other than the Lazy S, and no real family to lean on, other than me and mine.
Having both Jace and Marc on the ranch made me feel like I was standing on a smoldering rope bridge over a lake of lava, and no matter which way I turned, I would eventually fall in and get fried.
And we’d just buried the brother I would normally turn to for comfort.
“You’re too late,” Ryan said, drawing me from my thoughts, and I looked up to find him standing in the office doorway, a frosty can of Coke in one hand. “I’m playing the winner.”
I nodded and gestured toward the board. “Be my guest.”
Ryan rounded the couch and leaned down to whisper into my ear. “You missed it. Milo Mitchell just called to express his sympathies. Can you believe it?”
Unfortunately, I could. That’s just the kind of prick he was.
As expected, Milo Mitchell denied any knowledge of his son’s activities in the free zone, and we expected him to file formal charges against Marc for Kevin’s death any day. In fact I looked forward to testifying on his behalf, armed with the invoice Michael had found. As did Jace. As a non-Pride member, Marc wouldn’t even be allowed to testify on his own behalf, and neither would Ben Feldman, though he volunteered to verify what we’d found in Kevin’s house.
“Where are Mom and Dad?” I asked as Ryan settled onto the love seat across from me.
“Having tea in the kitchen.”
My parents had taken Ethan’s death harder than anyone, except maybe Jace. My mother had all new lines around her eyes and the silver spots at my father’s temples had actually broadened. He’d always said Ethan would eventually make him go gray, and apparently my brother still wielded that power from beyond the grave.
Although now he was attributing a few of those new gray hairs to me, too. My father was furious with me for going after Kevin without permission—without even telling him where we were—and though he was grateful for the outcome, his relief did nothing to lessen his anger, indignation, and outright fear over what could have happened. 
I was in serious trouble. After all the years of training me, of grooming me to take over from him, when he’d found out what I’d done, he told me—in no uncertain terms—that if I ever disobeyed an order again, I would never sit on the council as Alpha of the south-central Pride. He would name Marc as his heir, whether or not I married him, consequences be damned.
I believed him. And so did Marc.
And for the first time in my life, I realized how badly I really did want to take over from him. I could lead this Pride. I could protect the cats under my supervision. And I could change things, for Kaci, and for Manx, and for myself.
I would not screw up again. Ever. I’d play it by the book from then on.
At least until I was in the position to rewrite the rules.
Kaci captured Jace’s queen and set it on her side of the board, while he shot her a distracted scowl. I leaned forward to tell him how best to take her remaining knight, but my words were cut off by a sudden high-pitched squalling from across the house.
“I’ll be right back,” I said, and Marc nodded. Kaci and I’d been helping as much as we could with the baby, considering her age and my broken arm, because both of Manx’s hands were still bandaged, and my mother was more than a little distracted.
I jogged down the hall, bracing myself for another diaper full of poo—I couldn’t believe how much excrement a child so small could produce!—but stopped short in Manx’s doorway, surprise stealing both my words and my breath.
“He does not like powder,” Manx was saying, gesturing with one heavily bandaged hand. “But he seems to like the cream.”
“This stuff?” Owen held up a half-empty tube of Desitin, his lip curling in distaste. “It smells like Crisco.”
I smiled, leaning with one shoulder against the doorjamb. “I don’t think you can cook with diaper cream, cowboy.”
Owen flushed, and dropped the tube into a blue-checked lined basket on the changing table. “I was just trying to help….”
“By all means.” I smiled, amused by his embarrassment. “But a word to the wise? Desitin stains, so don’t get any on your suit.”
“Thanks.” Owen nodded, and gingerly peeled back the tabs on Des’s diaper. He lifted the front flap and peeked inside hesitantly. “Holy shit!” he cried, and I was laughing for the first time in days when I heard the phone ring.
It was a cell phone, playing “She Hates Me” by Puddle of Mudd.
My smile faded, and chill bumps popped up on my arms. Well, shit. What were the chances someone else had Angela’s dedicated ringtone?
I wandered down the hall, following the song, hoping it would go silent with every passing moment, when the voice mail kicked in. Because I really didn’t want to take that call. But someone had to.
Puddle of Mudd played on, and I found myself standing in the doorway to Owen’s room, which he’d shared with Ethan until three days earlier. And sure enough, there was Ethan’s phone, bouncing around on his night table, its screen illuminated in an eerie blue light.
I glanced down the hall toward the living room, wondering if I should answer it, or take it to my father. After all, what would I say? Was there a socially acceptable way to tell your dead brother’s girlfriend about his demise?
Hesitantly, I crossed the room and glanced at the display screen. My heart seemed to swell within my chest, and I felt my pulse race at the information it verified.
Angela Hasting. The “long-term” girlfriend Ethan had been avoiding all week.
I snatched the phone before I could chicken out, and pushed the Accept Call button. She should know what had happened. Or at least one version of it. “Hello?”“Hi. I’m looking for Ethan Sanders.” She sounded nice. And I really didn’t want to ruin her day.
“Um…is this Angela?” I asked.
“Yes. Who is this?” Her voice dipped into the suspicion range, and I flinched, because it was about to get so much worse.
“This is Faythe. Ethan’s sister.”
“Oh, hi, Faythe.” Relief was thick in her tone, and that made everything so much harder. “Ethan talks about you all the time. Can I speak to him, please?”
Well, here goes… “Angela, I’m sorry to have to tell you this, but Ethan had an accident three days ago. A really bad one.” I hesitated, then made myself say the rest of it. “He…died.”
“What? No.” She sniffled, and fresh tears formed in my own eyes. “You’re serious?”
“Yes. I’m sorry.” I sank onto Ethan’s bed, wondering if I should offer to meet her for lunch or something, to explain the human-friendly version of his last moments.
“Me, too.” The sniffling grew more pronounced. “What happened? How did he…?”
“He fell and broke his neck,” I said, closing my eyes, but even as the words left my lips, his actual death replayed in my head, his last words—a plea for my help—haunting me. “Ethan was just being himself, and he fell out of a tree in our front yard.”
“How horrible…” Angela’s pause felt heavy, as if she had more to say, but I wasn’t sure I wanted to hear it, whatever it was. I wasn’t up to remembering Ethan with someone who couldn’t possibly have really known him. Not with the dirt still fresh on his grave.
But she continued before I could figure how to hang up gracefully. “I know my timing really sucks, but… well, I need to tell you something.”
What, had he left a toothbrush at her place? Snagged one of her T-shirts? Whatever it was, it could damn well wait until we’d at least said goodbye to the other mourners.
“I’m pregnant.”