The party was about to start. The mating ceremonies were always a depressing event to Kira, a reminder of what she’d never have. She ducked her head to avoid eye contact with the guests as she passed through the main area of the community lodge, her grip firm on her shotgun. She’d have slipped out the basement door but too many people had gathered at the back of the building, so she’d taken the stairs to the main floor, hoping to avoid most of the guests. The side-door exit loomed.
“Not so fast,” her father ordered.
Her spine stiffened and she turned, watching him come out of the kitchen area. He walked directly over to her.
“I want you back before nightfall and inside.” His voice lowered. “Some of them might get a little frisky once this ends. They’ll be drinking heavily tonight.”
Anger burned slow and steady as she carefully chose her words. “I know my place.” She lifted her chin to stare into blue eyes very similar to her own. Remorse was easy to read as she studied his expression but it didn’t change the harsh facts of her life. “So do they.” She glanced at some of the men gathered to wait for the happy couple to arrive before looking at her father again. “Decker always made his wishes very clear. I’m not worthy of their precious time.”
A muscle in her father’s jaw twitched and his own anger shone through as his voice deepened. “It’s not fair that you should pay for my mistakes.”
Her childhood flashed through her mind. The pain must have shown because he suddenly reached out and cupped her chin, forcing her to keep eye contact.
“You are the best thing that ever happened to me…but I know it’s been difficult for you here. I just meant that you shouldn’t have to pay for the choice I made to return to Alaska. I loved your mother. Not a day passes when I don’t miss her and wish she were still at my side.”
Hot tears burned behind her eyes. “You never should have brought me here after she died.”
“I was alone, and I had no idea if you’d be safe anywhere else. You were just an infant. I wasn’t sure what traits you’d inherit.”
It was an argument they’d had a hundred times, one she wished to avoid repeating. “I know, and I understand that.” She tried to withdraw from his hold.
“It was to protect you. Kira…your mother and I couldn’t foresee that a teenager would decide to rob that store, or that he’d panic when the police arrived and shoot people. Her life was gone before I could reach her.” Pain laced his voice and showed in his eyes. “I was in mourning and didn’t know what else to do. You were all I had and I wanted you protected, regardless of the costs of coming back to this clan. You were safest being raised here—”
“Stop.” She jerked hard and freed her face. “I don’t blame you for no one accepting me. That’s on them. I have to go, Dad. I have to patrol and protect while everyone else has a life.”
“Damn it, Kira.” He invaded her personal space and wrapped his big hands around both of her arms. “You were away from here when you went to college. I wish you’d have stayed there.”
“You know I didn’t have a choice in the matter.” She studied his chest to avoid eye contact. “Decker sent that enforcer to order me home. We both know Boon would have killed me if I’d refused to do Decker’s bidding. Your clan leader is ruthless.”
“Ours,” he corrected.
She glared up at her father. “No. I’ve never been a part of this community. I’m a weakling, an unfortunate mistake, or a dozen other derogatory titles your people have stuck me with over my lifetime.” She took a deep breath. “I’m mostly a liability unless I make myself useful enough to keep earning the right to live. I need to go. I have a job to do.”
His voice lowered and he glanced around to make certain no one in the room was close enough to overhear what he had to say. “Decker pissed off the wrong clans and lost loyalty with some of our own after he kidnapped that child. Our future is up in the air. Maybe you should leave, baby.” His blue gaze narrowed when he looked at her. “I want you to pack your bags tomorrow morning and I’ll drive you to the airport when I go for supplies. You’ll be long gone before anyone realizes what’s happened.”
A lump formed in her throat but she swallowed it down. “I could never come back, and who’s to say Decker won’t order me killed for running? He’s not going to just disappear forever. We’re not that lucky.”
“Who is he going to send? His most trusted enforcers are protecting his ass, and the loyal ones he left behind are too busy intimidating everyone to try to keep things exactly the way they were. This is the best time for you to go. We’ll talk about it tonight.” He released her. “Be home and locked inside the basement before dark. Promise me.”
She stepped around him, her thoughts in turmoil. It was a good time to flee Alaska. She’d have to change her name to get lost somewhere in the lower states. It meant she’d never see anyone from her clan again, including her father. Pain gripped her as she rushed out the side door, down the porch steps, and rounded the large lodge she’d been raised in. Their two-bedroom basement apartment wasn’t much but it afforded her and her father some privacy from the clan.
The wall of solid mass she slammed into came as a surprise and two big hands caged her hips. The shotgun nearly slipped from her grasp and she jerked her head up to discover who she’d walked into.