Whisper of Sin Page 1


Her hose was shredded, Ria thought, staring uncomprehendingly at the bottoms of her feet.

Where were her shoes? Lost somewhere in the alley where

that bastard had tried to rape her as “down payment” on the protection money her family refused to pay.

Something fluttered over her shoulders and was tucked around her, warm and thick. A blanket. She gripped it tight, then winced as her bloodied palms made contact with the wool. Her hands spasmed open. Released, the blanket began to slide to the floor of the large paramedic van.

“I’ve got you.” Following the deep voice, she blinked into a face she didn’t know. The changeling who’d thrown her attacker against the wall had been blond and blue-eyed, reminding her of the cocky youth of her younger brother, Ken. This man . . . he was hewn out of rougher material, his jaw shadowed, his eyes the rich amber shade of aged whiskey, his hair thick and dark, a hundred shades of brown and gold intertwined. “Come on, sweetheart, speak to me.”

She swallowed, tried to find words but they lost their way in the chaos of her brain, leaving her dumb. Instead, her mind filled with the terror of the lifetime she’d spent in that alley only minutes from her family home, in one of the streets surrounding the bustle of Chinatown. It had taken mere seconds for

everything to change. One moment she was smiling, and the next, her excitement at finishing her final night class had given way to pain and shock as he hit and pawed—

A smooth burst of Mandarin, so unexpected, so welcome that it broke through the haze of pain and fear. She looked up again, astonished. This man, this stranger was speaking to her in the language of her grandmother, asking her if she was okay. She nodded, found the words to say, “I speak English.”

She rarely had to say that. Unlike her half-Caucasian mother, Ria had inherited little from her grandmother but her bones. Her hair was stick-straight, but a dark brown instead of jet black. Her eyes were faintly almond-shaped, but only if someone was really looking. She’d gotten the majority of her features from her brown-haired, brown-eyed All-American father.

“What’s your name, darling?” A hand cupping her cheek.

She flinched, but this hand, though big, was gentle. And patient. She relaxed into the warmth after long minutes, reassured by the calluses that spoke of a man accustomed to working with his hands. “Ria. Who are you?”

“Emmett,” he said, his voice holding nothing of laughter. “And I’m in charge of you.”

Her brow furrowed, the real Ria fighting her way through the fog of shock. “Who’re you to be in charge of me?”

“I’m big, I’m strong, and I’m pissed as hell that someone dared touch a woman on my watch.”

She blinked. “Your watch?”

“Dorian’s part of my team,” he said, nodding to the blond man who’d turned her attacker into a sack of broken bones. “Wish he hadn’t done such a

good job—I would’ve liked to bloody the piece of shit myself.”

Ria wasn’t used to violence, but she knew without a doubt that this man was a changeling, that he could turn into a leopard with a single thought—and that the leopard had no problem with the most brutal kind of justice. When she looked into his eyes, she saw rage . . . and the flickers of something that wasn’t quite human. “He can’t hurt me.” Somehow, she found herself trying to comfort him.

“But he did.” An implacable statement. “And I’m going to sniff out the nest this little viper came from no matter what.”

She glanced at her assailant’s unconscious body. He was alive, barely. But he wouldn’t be talking for a while yet. “He wasn’t working alone?”

“Indications are he’s with a new gang.” Emmett tucked her blanket gently around her feet when it came loose. “Dark-River’s done a hell of a lot of work to clear the city of this kind of scum, but sometimes, they pop back up.”

Ria knew of DarkRiver. Who didn’t? The leopard pack, based in the Yosemite forest, had claimed San Francisco as part of their territory when Ria had been a child—no other predatory changelings could enter the city without their permission.

But in the past few years, they’d gone further and begun to wipe out human predators, too.

“I can tell you a little about him,” she said, her voice gaining strength on a cresting wave of anger. “He came to my mother’s shop, left an account

number where she was supposed to wire ‘protection’ money. We thought he was just another thug.”

“I’ll get the number from you tomorrow. Right now, you need to be seen to.” Sliding one muscular arm under her legs, he curved the other around her back, just below her shoulders, and scooped her up before she knew what was happening.

She gave a startled cry.

“I won’t drop you.” A soothing murmur as he shifted her deeper into the van. “Just getting you out of the wind.”

She should’ve protested, but she was tired and achy and he was so warm. Resting her head against his heart when he sat down with her in his arms,

she breathed deep. Her body sighed. He smelled good. All hot and male and real, his after-shave something clean and fresh. Though he clearly needed to shave more than once a day. His jaw rasped against her hair as he settled her more firmly on his lap. Not that she minded, she thought, her eyes

fluttering shut.

Emmett stroked his hand over the hair of the mink in his arms. She was a little thing, and right now, she was at the end of her resources. Enraged at the thought that someone had dared harm her, he held her with conscious gentleness until he felt her begin to relax. When she sighed and snuggled closer, the leopard in him gave a pleased growl—right as Dorian looked into the van.

The blond soldier nodded at Ria. “She okay?”

“Where the hell are the paramedics?” Emmett snarled.

“With the piece of shit.” Dorian shrugged. “I should’ve killed him.”

The feral part of Emmett wanted to tell the man to go out there and finish the job, but he forced himself to think past the leopard’s need to maul and tear.

“We need any information he can give us on the Crew, so let’s hope he can talk later.”

“This is when a Psy would come in handy,” Dorian muttered, referring to the psychic race that was the third part of the triumvirate that was their world.

“One of the telepaths could rip the information right from the bastard’s head.”

“You guys are gruesome,” said a drowsy feminine voice.

Emmett looked down to find Ria’s eyes closed. “Yeah, we are.” But he had a feeling she was already asleep, her lashes dark-moon crescents against

skin so creamy, he wanted to taste it. Returning his attention to Dorian through sheer force of will, he said, “Did you find any emergency contact details in her wallet?” He’d left the young soldier to handle that while he took care of Ria.

“Yeah—parents are on their way.” Dorian’s smile was sharp. “Her daddy sounds like he’s itching for a fight, so maybe you shouldn’t look at her that way.

“Mind your own fucking business.” He tightened his hold.

Raising his hands, Dorian backed off, laughing. “Hey, your funeral.”

“Go get a paramedic here.”

“I think Tammy just arrived—she can stitch up your girl.”

The DarkRiver healer popped into the van on the heels of Dorian’s statement. “Let me have a look at her,” she said in a soft voice, putting her kit on the floor.

Ria’s eyes snapped open at the other woman’s first touch. Emmett ran a hand down her back in reassurance. “Ria, this is Tamsyn, our healer. You can trust her.” To his leopard’s delight, he felt her body relax almost at once.

“Call me Tammy.” Tamsyn smiled. “Everyone does.”

“I know you,” Ria said an instant later. “You bought a chunk of jade from my mom’s store.”

“Alex is your mom?” Tammy smiled at Ria’s nod. “I told her I needed something to threaten my mate with when he got blockheaded, and she said, why

not a block for a block?”

“That sounds more like my grandmother.”

Tammy grinned. “All women sound like their mothers after a certain age.” A wink.

Ria found herself smiling despite herself. “Then I’m doomed.” She held out her hands for Tammy to clean. “It doesn’t actually really hurt anymore.”

“Hmm, let me see. You got this falling on your hands?” Tammy was cleaning the dirt and debris from the wounds as she spoke.

Ria nodded, wincing at the sting of the antiseptic. “Yes.”

The healer looked at her now clean palms. “No cuts that need stitching,” the gorgeous brunette murmured. “Let me look at your face, sweetheart.” Her hands were incredibly competent and careful, for all that she looked like a fashion model, with her height and her elegant bones.

Ria had always wanted to be tall. That was the one thing she hadn’t inherited from her father.

Instead, she was stuck with her mother’s diminutive height

—but not Alex’s naturally slender body. No, Ria had gotten stuck with short and “curvy.”

Hah, more like generously padded. Her mother ate six dumplings in a row and had room for more. Ria ate three and put on five pounds.

“You asleep?” It was a rumble against her ear.

She shook her head. “Awake.” Sort of.

“Your face is going to bruise some,” Tamsyn told her, “but there’s no permanent damage.”

She soothed something over the skin. “This’ll help keep the bruising down.”

“Xie xie.” It came out automatically, a response to this healer’s touch. Tamsyn had hands like her grandmother. Caring hands. Trustworthy hands.

“You’re welcome.” A smile she could hear though her eyes were closed. “Emmett, you need to leave us alone for a few minutes.”