Benny sat up straight. He’d never heard Carlit speak a full sentence. His voice was deep, but he hesitated and mumbled, still staring at the floor. Peten turned to Carlit and lifted his head.
“Hey. Look at me.” He waited until Carlit slowly listened, then continued in a soft voice. “That’s not you. What they did to you… to me. That isn’t our fault. You aren’t what they said.” He didn’t say breeder again. “We’ll never be hurt like that again.”
Yuri slid away from Benny and moved quietly to kneel by Carlit and Peten. Carlit shied back, but Yuri kept moving his hand slowly toward Carlit’s hands, still clenched in his lap. He gently laid his fingers over Carlit’s white knuckles and squeezed.
“You don’t have to be afraid anymore. I know how scary it is to trust again, but Benny is a good man. He’s not like other Tiger Alphas.”
Carlit flicked at glance at Benny. He did his best to stay relaxed and look harmless, his claws and fangs hidden and his ears lazily erect. He didn’t like his mate touching another male, but Carlit and Peten weren’t a threat to him; Benny was sure of that.
“I don’t think you’re really broken, either. I got hurt by my father, but my friend Ellis got me help. He works with a doctor here, and he knows other doctors, too.” Carlit whined. “Not bad ones. I mean, sometimes they like to do too many tests, but I promise they only want to help us get better. They did stuff to me here,” Yuri waved to his head. “It was really broken inside, and I couldn’t think right. I didn’t even know Benny was my mate.”
Benny tried not to think about that time. The year he’d spent apart from Yuri was more like a bad dream than something they’d suffered through. Even with all the crazy crap they’d been through since then, he was so thankful he had his mate back.
“I promise, on my bond with my mate, that we won’t let anyone hurt you. When you’re ready, I’ll introduce you to Ellis. But not until you say you’re ready.”
Carlit pulled his hands back, but he nodded. Peten leaned across him and opened his arms. “Thank you, Yuri. I can’t believe you’d offer to help us. After what we did….”
Yuri lurched up and wrapped his arms around Peten in a tight hug. “It wasn’t your fault,” he said fiercely. “You would’ve just gotten hurt. You couldn’t stop Sheshtun. No one could.” Yuri sat back on his heels. “I don’t blame you.”
“Your mate stopped him.”
“He did.” Yuri came back the couch with Benny and sat down. Benny lifted his arm, and Yuri snuggled into his chest. That felt good—just like it should.
“I had help. I never could’ve tracked him down and stopped his sick experiments if I hadn’t worked with Velaku. He cares about all Carthera, not just his own kind.” Benny stared at Peten. Would he be strong enough? “You said there are other Clans involved in Sheshtun’s plots. Do you know which one Carlit came from? Would you be willing to speak before the council about what you know?”
“I don’t know if Carlit can.” Peten wouldn’t look Benny square in the eyes. He fidgeted, rubbing Carlit’s thigh.
“The more they know, the better. Maybe the doctors can help him.”
Peten stilled. “That’s the price? We testify or they won’t help him?” He seemed oddly relaxed.
“No!” Yuri sat up. “Benny’s not like that. Caring about others in your clan doesn’t have to be tit for tat. We’ll help Carlit because we can.”
The way Yuri believed in him sent a warm wave through Benny. He loved the fact his mate trusted him. He’d thought they’d never grow that close again.
Carlit leaned down toward Peten. “Tired,” he mumbled.
“Okay. Umm….” He looked at Benny.
“Go ahead.” The way no one in the Clan would do anything in his presence without his express permission was probably the biggest annoyance. “We’ll talk soon.”
Yuri shut the door behind them. “Is that the kind of stuff you’ve been dealing with?” He straddled Benny’s legs, facing him and putting his hands on Benny’s shoulders.
Benny sighed. “Pretty much.”
“It’s not your fault.” Benny groaned when Yuri dug his fingers in, kneading his sore muscles. He gradually relaxed, some of the ever present tension draining from his neck and shoulders. “Someone has to do it.”
Yuri slid his hands down, rubbing Benny’s pecs. “I get that. You are a great Alpha, even if you never thought you’d be one.”
It was true. He’d never had a real desire to lead, even if he carried the dominant genes. When Sheshtun merged their clans, Benny had expected to become a beta… but that was before he met Yuri, and they realized they were mates.
Yuri traced the ridges under Benny’s t-shirt, then pulled it up. Benny let him take it off and then groaned when Yuri tweaked both his nipples. His mate grinned. The more Yuri touched him, the more Benny felt like melting into the couch—except for one part of him.
“You know,” Yuri gasped when Benny pulled him closer with a strong grip on his ass, rubbing their groins together, “I could help you.”
Benny kneaded Yuri’s round ass, thrusting his hips up. “You are.” He was going to make a mess in his pants if they didn’t move to the bed soon.
“Let me help you with the clan.” Yuri hovered over him, their mouths a breath apart. “We’re better together.”
His mate was going to give him blue balls if he didn’t give in; Benny just knew it.
“Stop protecting me. We’re partners; I can do this.”
Maybe he could. Benny sure didn’t want to do it alone. Together they could heal the Clan—maybe even bring them into the 21st century.
“Okay.” And it was a simple as that.
So... what do you say? The end? To be continued? What do you think?