The spectator seats were empty. Azazel looked worried, probably wondering where Grayson was.
What if he didn’t show?
As much as I hated the idea of being a member of his pack, however temporary, the idea of being rogue and a target for every Loup in Necro was even worse.
Azazel ushered me up the walkway and to the left behind a desk with two chairs. I took a seat, aware of Judge Flora’s intense perusal.
Azazel remained standing.
Ursula entered the room from a door to our far right and took the spot at the table to the right of us. She didn’t look at me or Azazel but kept her gaze straight ahead. Azazel had explained that I was being prosecuted by the Outlier Prosecution Service, or the OPS, as they liked to call it. Ursula was representing the human interest in this case. Lucas’s interests, and the fact that I’d broken outlier law by killing him. The outliers remained hidden to the general human public by keeping to the law. The do not kill humans law. Yes, there were creatures like mouths and Dread that lived outside the law, but that’s why we hunted them: to minimize the damage they did.
The rest of the outlier population adhered to the law that humans were not to be harmed, and anyone who broke it and was proven guilty was given the harshest sentence. Death.
I was technically guilty. I’d done the deed but not intentionally. I hadn’t been in control, and that was our defense. We just had to prove it. Otherwise…
The room was silent, empty except for us and a small man sitting at a computer screen to the left of the judge.
I looked up at Azazel, trying to gauge his mood, but like Ursula, his focus was straight ahead.
The judge opened her mouth to speak just as the doors behind us slammed open.
I looked over my shoulder and froze because the man striding into the room was not Grayson. He was someone else. No, he was something else. Eyes as black as midnight and hair to match, cut close to his scalp to emphasize his ruthless features. His body was encased in a dark-navy designer suit, which hugged his broad shoulders and emphasized his toned physique to perfection. The beast inside me sat up, alert, watchful, and then he turned his head to look right at me. My breath stalled in my lungs because I knew that face. I’d seen his face before. But then he smiled, a wicked curl of his lips, and the sense of déjà vu vanished. I noticed the man trailing behind him for the first time.
Larson. The Rising Pack beta. Wait, could this dark-eyed man be—
“Hunter.” Azazel cursed softly under his breath.
Fuck, what was the alpha of the Rising Pack doing here? Wait…was this what Ursula had been pissed off about when speaking to Boyd the other night? She’d said the wolves were going to come out to play. Is this what she’d meant?
The door swung open again, and more males entered. These were dressed in leather. Bikers. They stared at me with open hunger as they passed. One of the guys licked his lips.
“Don’t look at them,” Azazel warned.
No. We don’t look away. We do not submit.
I locked gazes with the biker who’d licked his lips and allowed the beast’s anger to rise and fill me. How dare he look at me like that? How dare he try and intimidate me?
He frowned and then averted his gaze.
Good. Now we can look away. She sounded smug.
I fixed my attention on the judge to find her watching the Loups with narrow eyes.
Azazel looked at his comm again.
Grayson…We were still waiting on Grayson. I leaned toward Azazel and lowered my voice. “What if he doesn’t come?”
Azazel’s jaw ticked, and a pit opened in my belly.
If Grayson didn’t come, I was so screwed.
The door behind us opened again. I glanced back to see another Loup enter the room. This one was older, with lines of distinction cut into his face. He glanced my way briefly before taking a seat at the back.
How I knew he was Loup was instinctual. The beast inside me knew, and therefore, so did I.
The judge began to speak, even as more people entered the room.
Azazel’s body was tight with tension. So many Loup Garou. Here for me. To claim me. Oh, God, I was half tempted to plead guilty just to be locked away from all this oppressive testosterone.
They won’t touch us. I won’t let them.
I believed her.
“Seraphina Dawn,” the judge said. “You have been accused of the murder of Lucas Tolier, a human of twenty-eight years of age. How do you plead?”
My heart was pounding too hard in my chest, and my mouth was suddenly dry.
“Miss Dawn, your plea, please?”
The words stuck in my throat as the memory of Lucas’s glassy stare filled my head, followed by the taste of his blood in my mouth.
“Fee.” Azazel gripped my elbow. “You need to say the words.”
“Not guilty.” The words came out in a rush.
Tension thrummed in the air around us.
“Your Honor, we would like my client to be released on bail,” Azazel said.
The judge looked to Ursula.
“The OPS is amenable to bail,” Ursula said. “However, as far as we are aware, Miss Dawn has no pack affiliation and has not, as of yet, declared herself rogue.”
“Yes, I’ve seen the statement filed by the defense,” Judge Flora said. “Miss Dawn’s Loup side has only just awoken.” She clasped her hands on the desk in front of her and fixed her eyes on me. “Miss Dawn, you understand that you are now a Loup, an outlier, and therefore, bound by outlier and Loup law. If you do not have a pack, then you will be rogue, but as I understand it, as a female, you will be fair game to any and all Loup who wish to…associate with you.” Her mouth tightened slightly. “You will have no protection from the males of your species.” She frowned. “As a rogue, you will be defenseless.”
The pulse in my throat pounded. Where was Grayson?
“Your Honor, may I?” Ursula asked.
The judge inclined her head.
“I believe that a female Loup can gain protected rogue status if she enters and passes the culling.”
Azazel sat up straighter as if this was news to him.
“However, in order to do that, she would have to best a champion Loup opposing her petition for protected rogue status. And she would have to do it in Loup form.”
I’d have to fight Loup as a Loup? I didn’t recall shifting. I didn’t even know if I could. I’d only just learned how to fight in bipedal form. Fighting as a wolf…That was something else. Oh, God, I’d have to give the beast the reins. I’d have to give up control.
Do it. Let me.
“Miss Dawn,” the judge said. “What is your status? Are you affiliated or not?”
“She has no affiliation,” a voice said from behind us. Larson’s voice. “But the Rising Pack will offer our claw, our protection, and our counsel.”
The wolf inside me growled menacingly.
“The Crimson Heart offer their claw,” another voice said.
I risked a glance over my shoulder to see one of the bikers on his feet. Yes, they were offering me their protection so they could have me, and if I said no, I was fair game anyway.
I was so fucked. “Azazel?”
Azazel exhaled through his nose. “Your Honor, we have had an offer from the Regency Pack, which my client wishes to accept.”
“But the Regency Pack isn’t here, is it?” Larson said. “You can’t set bail without an official status.”
“I know the law, Mr. Larson,” the judge snapped. “Please, sit down and be quiet.”
Her words were polite, but her tone wasn’t.
Larson didn’t look fazed. He shrugged and reclaimed his seat.
The judge looked at me, her gaze sympathetic. “Miss Dawn, the Regency Pack needs to send a representative to offer their claw. They know the law.”
In other words, I was fucked.
“I need an answer from you,” she continued. “Will you accept the Rising Pack or the Crimson Hearts, or will you go rogue?”
Beside me, Azazel’s body was thrumming with tension. A vein in his jaw ticked so hard I thought it would explode. There was nothing he could do. Nothing I could do. But there was no way I was willingly leaving with any Loup in this room. I lifted my chin.
Rogue it would have to be. “Your Honor. I—”
The door slammed open, and the scent of blood hit me hard.
Grayson stood swaying in the doorway, his head caked with blood, white T-shirt spattered with it, husky eyes bright with anger.
“I offer Seraphina Dawn my claw,” he said.
And then his eyes rolled back in his head, and he collapsed.
The beast inside me went nuts, clawing and growling, wanting to leap over the barricade and lope over to Grayson. This time, I gave her what she wanted, rushing past all the Loup to fall to my knees beside him.
Hold. Smell. Lick.
I shook my head to dispel her thoughts from it. Focus, Grayson was hurt. He was hurt, and it was because of me. It didn’t take a genius to work out what had happened to him or why. The fuckers in the room had tried to keep him away.
“He’s lost a lot of blood,” Azazel said, checking his pulse. “But he’ll be fine. The wound has healed. He just needs to rest.”
Hold him, dammit. Make sure he’s all right.
I cradled his head in my lap as his eyes fluttered open. He focused on me. “Fee…Was I too late?” His voice was a reassuring rumble.
I shook my head and spoke past the threat of tears. “No. You got here just in time.”
I wanted to press my cheek to his and inhale him. I wanted to lick the blood off his forehead to clean his wound.
Whoa, get out of my head.
The Loup inside me backed off a little, and Grayson sat up. He was pale, but he was all right. His gaze slipped over my head and narrowed. The hairs on my nape stood to attention. I didn’t need to turn around to know we were the focus of every Loup eye in the room.
Grayson bared his teeth and pulled himself to his feet, bringing me with him. His grip on my fingers was tight, almost desperate.