Sasha flipped him off. "No, that's your bed, asshole."
"Enough," their mother warned.
But Val wasn't listening. "Oh, right. I'm the drooler and you're the snorer."
Petra put her hand on her mother's arm. "I can't. I never got to check in on Malen, plus the Avians want to discuss a dual transition they believe is coming at the end of the week. I need to prepare."
"Malen," Wen said thoughtfully. "That's the young wolf Shifter female."
"Out by the caves, right?" Sasha added, his verbal sparring match with Val all but forgotten now.
"Near there, yes." The secretive edge to her voice was obvious. She needed to watch that.
Glancing up from his thoroughly cleaned chop, Val said, "I heard there was some issue out there a few days ago."
"What?" Petra blanched, but forced herself to remain calm, cool. "What did you hear?"
He shrugged. "A small brush fire or something."
Relief moved through her and she forced her expression to calm. Everything was fine. Small brush fires happened from time to time, and if they thought that was what went down out there, she wasn't going to correct them.
Petra turned, noticed her mother staring at her.
"You're not eating?" Wen said, her eyes concerned. "Are you ill?"
"No. Just a little tired."
"Then stay home, rest your body. Work can wait."
To some, the henpecking and overly concerned ways of a parent might irritate at times, but Petra never felt like that. In fact, she felt quite the opposite. She adored her mother's care and concern because it meant she was loved. Never once had any of them acted as though she wasn't a part of their family, Shifter born or not.
She leaned in and kissed the female on the cheek. "All is well, Mom. I love you."
The female's eyes grew bright with adoration and warmth. "Love you, my pet."
Petra stood and grabbed her plate.
"What about us?" Valentin said, looking ridiculously morose.
"Yeah, Pets," Sasha said, sticking out his bottom lip. "You don't love us?
"Awww, boys," she began. "I always have love for the pathetic."
They grinned and Val turned to Sasha. "She was totally talking about you."
Laughing, Petra went into the kitchen and placed her plate in the tub sink-the same sink that had been in their home since before she could remember, and had been used by their mother to bathe each one of them. She was just turning off the water when she heard the sound of wings beating against the breeze outside.
"My ride's here," she called, heading for the hallway and her bag. "I'll see you all tomorrow!"
She turned to see her mother standing in the kitchen now. "Yes?"
The female glanced behind her, then turned back and asked, concerned, "Are you sure you're all right?"
Her voice dropped. "I know it's not your monthly time."
It was all her mother said-all she needed to say. The female knew Petra had lied to her brothers. Petra's gut clenched and for a moment she just stared at Wen.
She couldn't tell her, not now. Not yet.
"Tomorrow," Petra said.
The female nodded, but her eyes glittered with worry.
She granted her mother one final smile she didn't feel and walked out the door into the night air and toward the massive hawk Shifter, who was waiting on the front lawn to take Petra to her office.
After nicking the clothes left behind by the good doctor, Synjon had bolted from the clinic and traveled, searched and hunted for an hour in the pitch black of night. It hadn't welcomed him. In fact, its cool, gentle wind had led him astray more than once. With all the animal scents to contend with, finding hers hadn't been easy.
But he wasn't an amateur.
Tracking had always been his pleasure.
He moved swiftly across the large expanse of land toward the dwelling that held her scent, his fangs lowering with every footfall. Though his face and neck still pulsed with pain, it was the ache in his belly that disturbed him the most. He needed to nosh. And the veana's pure blood called to him, beckoned him forward, teased the shite out of him.
A low growl escaped his throat as he rounded the dwelling and searched the length for a clear way inside. Announcing himself was a certain ticket into the fighting ring, and though he loved a good going over, now wasn't the time to go looking for it. There were four heartbeats inside the home. All he had to do was get inside and find the body that didn't contain one.
After a few minutes of searching, he found a window on the far side of the house that was unlatched. The entry point was barely a foot and a half around, but he managed to get through. Once inside, he went low and silent. He followed his nose from room to room until he caught the thick scent of the one he sought. His skin vibrated with need and his fangs dropped heavy and hungry as he pulled back the door. His eyes cut instantly to the bed, the white sheet, the shape beneath, and he moved quickly, ready to strike. He was coiled over her, saliva pooling in his mouth, when he heard the thick pounding of a heartbeat in his ears.
Then a fist in his face and the bone-shattering slam of his body hitting the wall.
* * *
The irritating, rhythmic pounding woke Petra, and she jacked up in her chair with a soft curse. Her neck was stiff and the right side of her face felt numb. What the hell? She squinted in the semi-darkness, trying to pull her mind out of her ass. Dammit. She'd fallen asleep at her desk again. The pounding continued and she pushed herself up out of her chair. Rubbing her eyes, she padded across her office floor, which consisted of several dozen sanded branches from the tree her office resided in. During one of her work sessions in the Avian district the previous year, she'd come across the most amazing tree, a massive thing that she'd fallen deeply in love with. One of her transition families had built the office as a surprise, and as a thank you for helping their daughter through an incredibly difficult month-long transition process.