Numbers Page 85

Torrent lowered his voice further. ’’How are you handling having her back in your life now?’’

’’I\m grateful. I was shocked when I realized she had survived. I didn\ know how to process it.’’

’’I don\ blame you. You\ e lucky, Hero. You got her back.’’

He studied Torrent. ’’Did you lose someone at Mercile?’’

The male refused to meet his gaze, shifting his body instead. ’’I got attached to one of our females that they brought to me a few times for breeding experiments.’’

’’One who survived?’’

He shook his head. ’’No.’’

’’I\m sorry.’’

Torrent shrugged. ’’Not all of us got out. She probably would have rejected us bonding long-term. She was a primate and afraid of me. I was working to gain her trust, but then we were freed. I looked for her but...’’ He shook his head. ’’I even checked the other locations we were taken to while the humans were trying to figure out what to do with us, and giving us counseling. She didn\ survive. They allowed me to view some of the bodies they recovered, and she was among them.’’

Hero felt bad for the male. ’’I\m sorry for your loss.’’

’’We weren\ bonded like you are with your female. I just felt for her. I grieved her loss but that\s how it is. Appreciate your Candi.’’

’’I do.’’

Torrent looked at him and smiled. ’’I leave in a week to return to Reservation. I look forward to that. I enjoy working with the Wild Zone residents and the rescued animals.’’

’’I thought about taking Candi there, but Tammy said I should keep her here for a while.’’

’’She\ll be safer here at Homeland. We held a phone conference yesterday about the issues we\ e facing at Reservation as we expand our walls. Security isn\ as tight as it could be. We\ e leaving the original walls up until the new ones can be built, but we\ve had humans infiltrate some of the areas we\ve bought. A group of them have been harassing our human neighbors.’’

’’Why?’’

’’To try to force them to sell their properties to them instead of us. We leave the owners alone if they don\ wish to sell. The same can\ be said about that group. The local sheriff and deputies are helping, but we\ e spread thin.’’

’’Can you send some of our task force members there?’’

’’They are filling in here for gate and wall duty since so many of our males are needed at Reservation. I\ll be grateful when all the walls are up and we\ e secure again. I\m going to get more of the Wild Zone residents involved with protecting our borders. I\ll be in charge of them.’’

’’Were they tired of taking orders from Valiant? He\s not the friendliest male.’’

Torrent chuckled. ’’No, he\s not. One Wild Zone resident already moved to the hotel to avoid him. They were clashing.’’

’’Leo? He\s a mellow male.’’

’’No. The other lion male. Lash took an interest in Tammy and their cub.’’

It alarmed Hero. Tammy was his friend, and so was Valiant. He would protect their cub too. Noble was his godson. Tammy said that meant that if anything ever happened to her and her mate, she expected him to rear the boy as his own child. He took that responsibility with great honor. ’’Instinctual interest?’’

’’Not according to Lash. He doesn\ want to take out the cub and claim Valiant\s female as his own. This isn\ a lion-pride thing. He\s just curious about them, but Valiant was having none of it. They fought a few times and it made Valiant territorial. He isn\ allowing Tammy or his cub out of his sight. Moving Lash helped calm him a bit, but I was asked to take charge of the Wild Zone residents for a while.’’

’’Do you need help?’’

’’Your priority is right there.’’ Torrent glanced at Candi. ’’We\ll be fine.’’

’’Let me know if you need me. I spent quite a bit of time with the Wild Zone residents. Valiant doesn\ see me as a threat, regardless of how stirred up he must be.’’

’’I will, but I think I can handle it.’’

Hero focused on his mate. She laughed at something one of the females said. He smiled, enjoying watching her have fun. Torrent moved away and left the kitchen.

Candi glanced over at Hero. He stayed close, assuring that she was happy and safe. Midnight sliced up the steak and Sunshine fried taco shells. Bluebird sliced onions.

’’I hate these.’’ The female sniffed. ’’They bring tears to your eyes and make your nose twitch, but they taste good.’’

Candi leaned in and sniffed a few times. She jerked back when it burned her nose. ’’That\s awful.’’

Bluebird laughed. ’’Your eyes are watering now.’’

She reached up and wiped away the wetness. She sensed her mate behind her immediately. His hands curved around her hips. ’’Are you upset?’’

’’I\m fine.’’

’’It\s the onions, Hero.’’ Bluebird chuckled. ’’We\ e not making her cry. Grab a knife and dice avocados. You might as well help since you\ e hanging around.’’

’’I don\ want to interfere.’’ He released Candi and backed off.

Midnight snorted. ’’Just like a male. He probably can\ identify what an avocado is.’’

Candi peered up at him. ’’I don\ know either. Is it that red ball thing?’’

’’That\s a tomato.’’ He pointed to a green, oval thing. ’’I believe that\s it.’’

’’I\m impressed.’’ Sunshine turned off the fire under the oil. ’’You get to eat with us for that. Grab plates. You know where those are, don\ you?’’

’’Of course.’’ Hero spun, walked to a cupboard, and yanked it open. ’’They are right here.’’

’’That\s where we keep ours too.’’ Midnight brought a plate of sliced steak over to the island. ’’Both main kitchens at the dorms seem to be set up the same way.’’

’’What can I do?’’ Candi glanced at the females.

’’You\ e learning. You didn\ get burned frying steaks.’’ Midnight shot Sunshine a grin. ’’So you\ e way ahead of some of us.’’

’’I forgot,’’ Sunshine hissed. ’’Not all pans have hot handles. The blue ones in my apartment don\ burn my hand.’’

’’They aren\ cast iron skillets and our private pans have protective handles.’’ Midnight took the plates from Hero. ’’Sit. I\ll chop up the rest of this.’’


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