“Are you my daddy?”
Ricky Lee Reed, originally of Smithtown, Tennessee, and only replanted to New York City a few years back, gawked at the child who’d asked him the question for a mere moment before he turned his attention to the adult female who held the child.
He’d admit it wasn’t a question he expected to get, you know, ever. For a bunch of reasons, too, but mostly because he didn’t know this woman. He wasn’t one of those guys who nailed so many females he forgot their faces or names. So then . . . why was this child asking him this question? And even stranger, why was the female raising her brows and suddenly asking, “Well . . . are you?”
Wait. Wouldn’t she know? Shouldn’t she? Good Lord, this city. Maybe he’d never get used to living here. Ever. It was surprisingly safer than life in Smithtown, Tennessee, but it was weirder. Maybe because there were way more full-humans in Manhattan—he’d found full-humans were much stranger than shifters—and Smithtown was filled with shifters. Wolves, mostly. A few bears on the outskirts too old and big for the Pack to bother trying to make move. But all those wolves in one place with enough ’shine to take down the Russian army meant there was a lot more danger around those hills of his hometown than there ever could be on the mean streets of this city. No matter what the movies said. And yet life in Manhattan could be so strange in comparison to what he’d left behind.
He’d only come over to this bench inside the giant Sports Center, home to all of New York’s shifter-run sports teams, so he could chat with the pretty female sitting there. Perhaps get her number. She was real cute, probably because of all that curly hair. Most of the females in his Pack had straight hair, but this one had blondish-brown hair with lots of black streaks that was just kind of a curly mess. Just these wild, soft curls that nearly covered her eyes and reached to her shoulders. Yeah. He liked her hair. And the fact that she was a jackal didn’t mean much to him. She was still canine, like him, and he wasn’t looking for his mate. Just a few dates, maybe a little fun . . .
Fun. Not fatherhood.
“No,” he finally told them both. “I’m not your daddy.”
The female hugged the boy on her lap and kissed his forehead. “Sorry, Denny. Maybe we’ll find your daddy someday.”
Now Southern politeness would dictate that Ricky Lee should just leave this whole thing alone. Not ask questions, not suggest that maybe she should keep better track of her past lovers. But he just couldn’t bring himself to walk away. He was too curious.
She glanced at him. “Oh . . . are you still here?”
Before he could ask why he couldn’t keep sitting on this bench, without being glared at, several more children walked up to the female. A teenager with her big brown eyes glued to her cell phone, a young boy, and a toddler female holding the boy’s hand. They surrounded the She-jackal, the toddler trying to push the boy Denny aside so she could take his place on their mother’s lap.
That sure was a lot of pups for such a young female.
“Who are you talking to?” the jackal demanded of the teenager. Wait. Was she old enough to have a teenager?
“That’s a lot of typing for no one.”
Sighing dramatically as only teenagers managed to do, the girl asked, “Do we have to hang around here much longer?”
“I’m not leaving until I get what I want,” the eldest boy said with a lot of confidence for what looked to be only a nine- or ten-year-old. “So suck it up already.”
“I’ve got shit to do, you little brat.”
“More toe shoes to buy? More positions to contort your body into until you hit thirty or so and have to resign yourself to the fact your career is over? If you want to call it a career.”
The teenager almost had her hands around her brother’s throat—and he knew they were all siblings, no one else could annoy a body like a sibling—when the She-jackal snapped, “Leave him alone!”
“You always protect him.”
“Perhaps that’s because I actually have talent bestowed upon me by the gods, which is better than mere genetics that allowed my legs to grow impossibly long.”
“I hate you,” the teenager hissed at her brother.
“I live for hatred,” the boy replied. “It rejuvenates my creative fire.” It was a really strange thing for a young boy to say. Really strange. But even stranger was when he glanced over at Ricky and abruptly asked, “Are you our daddy?”
And before Ricky could say in no uncertain terms, “Absolutely not,” the doors that led to the main training rink burst open and Ricky’s hockey-playing brother, Reece Lee, flew through them.
Ricky instinctively grabbed the child in the most danger—the toddler—and moved. The She-jackal still had the boy on her lap, so she quickly stood, her arms tight around him. But she also jumped to the side, using her body to shove the older boy and his teenage sister away.
As an impromptu team, they seemed to have perfect timing as Ricky’s younger brother rammed into the wooden bench they’d been sitting on, completely destroying it in the process. Ricky didn’t bother to rush to Reece Lee’s help, though. He knew better. A few seconds later, a seven-one, nearly four-hundred-pound hybrid barreled through those rink doors and stalked over to Reece.
The hybrid grabbed Reece by his training jersey and lifted him up, only to slam him back down again. Reece bared his fangs and started to fight back, claws out. It wasn’t a pretty fight, like one of those choreographed ones you’d see in an action movie. Instead it was more like watching a couple of pit bulls go at it in someone’s yard.
“Are you just going to stand there?” the She-jackal demanded, her glare on Ricky.
“That was my plan.”
“But I saw you with the smaller one earlier,” she said over the snarling, growling, and roaring. “You know him.”
Her eyes narrowed. “You’re brothers, aren’t you?”
“According to my momma, but I still want DNA tests to prove it.”
The older boy tried to shoot past the She-jackal toward the fight, but the teenager grabbed the back of his T-shirt and held on.