Whisper of Sin Page 2

She felt the big body around hers tense. Forcing open her lids, she patted him on the chest, not quite sure where she found the courage. The leopard

changelings were lethal when roused. But, in spite of the fierce scowl on his face, she had a feeling this cat would never hurt her. “I’ll be okay.”

“Tammy,” Emmett argued, scowl darkening even further, “she’s half asleep.”

“I need to ask her some personal questions,” Tamsyn said in that calm, capable voice, “so I can see if she needs any other meds.”

Ria’s fuzzy brain cleared. “He didn’t get that far. Just knocked me around some.”

A growl filled the air. She jolted upright, heart thudding at a hundred miles an hour. “What was that?”


Blinking at Tammy’s tone, she glanced at the man who held her. “You?”

“I am a leopard,” he said, as if surprised by her surprise.

“Forget him,” Tamsyn said, catching Ria’s gaze as she disinfected the scratches on her knees. “You sure about what happened, kitten? No one’s going to judge you.”

It was impossible not to trust this woman. “I threw my handbag at him, kneed him in the balls.

After that, he was more interested in hurting me than . . .

you know.”

Tamsyn nodded. “Alright, then. But if you ever need to talk, you call me.” She slid a card into the giant handbag someone had retrieved and put in the

ambulance while Ria hadn’t been looking.

“That’s—” Ria began when there was a commotion outside.

“Where’s my daughter? You! Where is she? Tell me right now or I’ll—”

“Mom.” Ria felt tears rise for the first time as her mother entered the ambulance, pushing Tammy out of the way as if the other woman wasn’t stronger and taller.

“My baby.” Alex patted her all over, kissing her forehead with a mother’s tender warmth.

“That piece of shit.”

“Mom!” Her mother never swore. When Ria’s grandmother was feeling wicked, she called Alex a “tightass” simply to see her explode—her

grandmother was a firecracker.

“You!” Alex fixed a gimlet eye on Emmett. “Why do you have your hands on my daughter?”

Those hands cuddled her even closer. “I’m looking after her.”

Alex huffed. “Didn’t look after her very well, did you? She got attacked right here, almost on the main road.”

“Mom,” Ria said, intending to stop the diatribe, when Emmett calmly nodded and said, “It was my fault. I’ll fix it.”

“It was not your fault,” Ria said, but no one was listening to her.

“Good.” Alex turned back to Ria. “Your grandmother’s waiting for you.”

“How did you manage to make her wait at home?”

“I told her you’d want her special jasmine tea when you got back.”

Emmett had grown up in a strong and vibrant pack. He’d figured he could handle Ria’s family. That was before he met her grandmother. Five feet nothing of pure fury and a tightly held rage that was all the more impressive for its control. Ria came first, of course. Emmett would’ve allowed noth-Ria came first, of course. Emmett would’ve allowed nothing less, even if her grandmother hadn’t ordered him to carry Ria—who was protesting that she could “walk, for goodness sake”—into what looked like the grandmother’s bedroom, so she could wash up and change. Soon as he’d completed that task, he was

banished to the kitchen to wait.

Ria’s father was still at the site, being restrained from giving the near-dead attacker even more of a beating. So was Ria’s older brother. Which left him in the kitchen with Ria’s mom and sister-in-law. Alex and Amber looked more like sisters than anything else. Ria’s mom was a pretty woman, petite and

graceful. Amber was cut in the same mold—even heavily pregnant as she was now, her features were delicate, her arms slimly fragile.

Emmett stayed very carefully in the chair where he’d been ordered to sit. He was afraid he’d break one of them if he accidentally touched them. Now

Ria, Ria he wanted to handle.

“Drink!” Something slammed in front of him.

He looked down at the puddle of jasmine tea around his little cup and decided not to mention Alex’s temper. “Thanks.”

“You think I don’t see it?” She poked him in the shoulder. “You, the way you look at my baby?”

Nobody dared attack Emmett. He wasn’t one of the more volatile leopards in DarkRiver, but he was beyond dangerous when riled. And wouldn’t all his

trainees just love to see him now, not daring to lift a finger for fear of bruising Alex. “How do I look at her?”

Alex narrowed her eyes. “Like a big cat with its food.” She hooked her hands into claws and made as if she was shoving others aside. “Like that.”

“You have a problem with that?”

“I have a problem with every man who wants to date my daughter.” With that, Alex turned and walked back to the counter. “And her father, he has twice the problem.”

Emmett wondered if Alex expected that to scare him off. “I grew up in a pack.” He was used to nosy packmates, snarling fathers, ferally protective


Amber smiled when Alex sniffed and turned away. “They have problems with women, too,”

she said in a mock-whisper. “When I started dating Jet, Alex told me if I broke his heart, she’d beat me with a rolling pin.”

Alex waved the very same implement in Amber’s direction. “Don’t you forget it.”

Laughing, Amber hugged Alex. “She’s okay, Mom. Ria will bounce back—better than you or I ever would.”

That was when Ria’s male relatives returned. Her father’s first question was, “Who the hell is he?”


Ria sat back in the bubble bath her grandmother had drawn and sighed.

A light knock came moments later.

“It’s okay, Popo.”

Her grandmother came in. Though tiny, with a face that bore the million marks of a life well-lived, her stride was steady and her eyes clear. Miaoling Olivier had a whole heap of decades left in her yet, as she liked to say. Now, she walked in and took a seat on the closed lid of the toilet as Ria’s father began yelling in the kitchen.

“Here we go,” Miaoling said, rolling her eyes. “Sometimes, I think we accidentally opened our home to the inmates of an insane asylum.”

Ria felt her lips twitch, her eyes water. “They’re just angry and scared for me.”

“Smart girl.” Reaching over, her grandmother took one of Ria’s ravaged palms and brought it to her mouth.

The kiss was soft, loving. It healed Ria from the inside out. “I love you, Popo.”

“Do you know,” Miaoling said, “you’re the only one who calls me that. Ken and Jet both say nana.”

“That’s why they’re not your favorites and I am.”

“Shh.” Miaoling’s eyes twinkled as she put Ria’s hand back down on the edge of the bath.

“Did you thank the young man who found you? Maybe you

should bake him a cake.”

That made Ria smile. “Not interested,” she told her ever-hopeful grandmother. “He’s a little too beautiful for me.” The blond DarkRiver male was clearly a highly trained member of the pack, but slender, looked more like a teenage surfer than a grown man. Emmett on the other hand . . .

Her grandmother sighed. “You go on like this, your female parts will dry up.”

Ria snorted with laughter. “Popo!”

“What? I say only the truth.” Miaoling’s speech shifted, going from Harvard-perfect English to a rhythm she only ever used with those she was

comfortable with. “Your age, I had your mother on the way.”

“Times have changed—and I’m twenty-two, hardly shriveled up.” She rested her head against the wall. “Tell me how you met Grandfather.”

“Why? You know that already.”

“Please.” The story comforted her, and right now, she needed comforting.

“Alright, for my Ri-ri.” A deep breath. “I was living on a farm in Henan Province and my family was trying to arrange my marriage. But, ai, I was a terrible one. I wouldn’t marry any of the boys they brought around—too skinny, too fat, too stupid, too tied to his mama’s apron strings.”

“They let you get away with that?”

“I was only girl after three boys. I was spoiled.” Said with a fond smile. “Then one day, my father comes home and says, Miaoling, today you dress nice, American doctor is coming to the village to check old people’s eyes.”


“Yes. My father says, maybe crazy American will want crazy Chinese wife who doesn’t listen to anyone. Of course, that makes me want to not like

American at all.”

Ria giggled, as drawn into the story as she’d been as a child. “Then Grandfather came to the house for dinner.”

“And I wore brown dress, ugly brown dress, with ugly brown shoes.” Her grandmother’s hand stroked over Ria’s hair, hair that Miaoling had once said held the silk of China but the lush chocolate shade of an entirely different culture. “But he’s so handsome. Pretty green eyes, yellow hair. And he’s nice. He laughs at me silently all night across the dinner table. He knows what I’m up to.”

“But he asked you to marry him anyway.”

“After one week. And crazy Miaoling said yes, and we came to America.”

“So quick,” Ria said, shaking her head. “Weren’t you scared?”

“Pah, why scared? When in love, no scared. Only impatient.”

“Don’t say it, Popo!”

But it was too late. “Impatient to use woman parts!”

Prev Next