"Shit, catch her!"
Her? Kalen sat up quickly, just in time to see Zander scoop Mackenzie into his arms and lift her against his chest. Kalen shot to his feet and, before he thought about what he was doing, grabbed the doctor from Zan with a snarl, holding her close. He glared at the man, warning him back.
Zan raised his hands, palms out. "Chill, man. Would you rather I had let her hit the floor?"
With an effort, he calmed himself. Zan was only trying to help. But inside, his panther raged at seeing Mac-their woman-in the arms of another male. He'd never felt anything like it in his life. It was confusing as hell.
"No. Sorry," he managed. "I'll just-"
"You can put me down."
Anxiously, he looked down into Mac's beautiful face. Large blue eyes fringed with dark lashes stared up at him, blinking away tears. His gut tightened, knowing he'd been the cause, in more ways than one.
"It wasn't what it looked like, exactly."
"Put me down. Please," she entreated softly.
Reluctantly, he did as she asked, but that didn't stop him from checking her from head to toe. "Are you okay? Are you hurt anywhere?"
"No." She glanced around at the guys who'd assembled there, cheeks pale as milk. Swallowing hard, she said, "I'm fine. Now tell me what the hell was going on in there."
"Nick gave me a test. I passed. The end."
She scowled at Nick. "What sort of test involves firing a gun at one of your men?"
Nick addressed the group, keeping the explanation to the point. "Kalen was willing to be executed rather than risk bringing harm to his team. That means there's still hope that he can be saved from Malik's control, so we'll see this through to the end. Anybody disagree?"
No one did. One by one each man plus their lone female swore his loyalty to the team. And that loyalty included Kalen. As he looked to each of them, he couldn't breathe. Never had anyone stood up for him. Stood by him. Not even his own parents, the people who should have sheltered him and loved him the most. The idea that these people who'd come into his life so recently would have his back, even in the wake of him letting them down, overwhelmed him.
He could hardly speak. "I swear I'll do my best not to fail all of you again."
Or he'd die trying. Suddenly the chaos inside him seemed to settle and his purpose became clear-he'd fight Malik with everything in him. And when the time came, he'd make the right choice.
Whatever that proved to be.
"Excuse me," Mackenzie said tightly. "But I think I'm going to be sick."
Spinning around, she dashed to a woman's restroom down the hall from Nick's office and disappeared inside. He would've gone after her, but Nick blocked his way.
"You should probably let her be right now."
It wasn't a suggestion. Quelling his pissed-off panther again, he nodded curtly and strode in the opposite direction, putting as much distance between himself and everyone else as fast as possible.
Just as he'd done all his life.
* * *
"In here." Bent over the sink, Mac finished rinsing her mouth, then turned off the water. Glancing at Melina, she grabbed some paper towels from the dispenser, dried her face, and tossed them in the trash. "See? I'm fine."
"I don't think so." Melina's sharp scrutiny roamed over Mac's face, and she apparently didn't like what she saw. "To the infirmary with you. I'm going to give you a checkup."
"I don't need-"
"I didn't ask. I'm telling you. Doctors make the worst patients," she grumbled. "Let's go."
There was no arguing with her friend when she had a bug up her ass, so Mac relented. Though Melina was slight of frame and sort of resembled an elf with her short cap of dark hair, she was fully capable of making the toughest Pack member cringe in fear. She was a tough, militant bitch.
And that was when she was in a good mood.
Her friend hadn't always been that way, but that was before her mate, Terry, the Alpha Pack's former commander, had been killed in an ambush several months ago. Accepting Nick as the new leader in her mate's place had been hard on the woman, and she and Nick didn't always see eye to eye. But they'd found some peace between them, based on mutual respect.
Melina led Mac into an exam room and gestured to the table covered with the hated crinkly white paper. "Sit."
Dutifully, Mac did, and proceeded to subject herself to a complete physical. Melina checked her eyes, ears, nose, and throat. Checked her reflexes. All seemed clear, but the woman still wasn't satisfied.
"I don't like it one bit that you fainted," she said with a frown.
"For God's sake, I thought Nick had killed Kalen! Give me a break."
"How long have you been queasy? Don't think I haven't noticed."
She had? Mac blinked at her friend, hedging. "I don't know. A few days, maybe."
"How often have you been throwing up?"
Mac stared at her, silent. Shit, shit.
"O-kay," Melina drawled, brows raised. "Here's what's going to happen. Noah is coming in to take blood for a complete standard workup. Then you're going into the restroom to pee in a cup. Then you'll come back in here, sit down, and wait for me. Got it?"
She sighed. "Yes."
Melina patted her knee and left. Soon after, Noah came in, swabbed the crook of her elbow, and took three vials of blood. When he was finished, he pressed a cotton ball over the injection site and topped it with a Band-Aid.
Giving her a smile, he pointed in the direction of the restroom. "Go do your thing."
She absolutely hated peeing in a cup. It was a dicey proposition at best, aiming just right. But she managed and in short order was sitting back in the exam room.
Where the clock on the wall ticked by with unbearable sluggishness.
Ten long minutes passed. Mac was starting to fidget when Melina walked in carrying a sheaf of paper. Her friend closed the door and slowly turned to her. The serious expression on Melina's face sent a bolt of terror all the way to her toes.
"What is it?" she gasped, gripping the edge of the table. "What's wrong?"
"Mac, honey. We have to talk."
"What? Am I sick?" Mac asked, her heart thumping painfully.
"Nothing like that." Her friend blew out a breath and leaned her hip on the counter. "Mackenzie . . . you're pregnant."
The words blew through her like a hurricane. Left her gasping for breath. "What?"
"You heard me. Pregnant, knocked up-"
"Oh, God. But-but how?" Realizing how stupid that sounded, she flushed. "What I mean is, unmated shifters can't get their females pregnant! Right?"
Melina's voice was quiet, speculative. "A shifter, huh? Just who are we talking about here? I get that the father is none of my business, but I won't share anything you choose to tell me."
Mac paused, but just briefly. Even if their talk wasn't confidential, she completely trusted that her friend wouldn't say a word to anyone. "It's Kalen," she said hoarsely, searching Melina's face for the slightest sign of censure. She found nothing but concern.
Instead, the other woman laid the paperwork on the counter and reached out, taking Mac's hand. A surprising and welcome gesture. "That's who I suspected, considering how weird you two are acting around each other. Honey, Kalen's a Sorcerer first and foremost, and his black panther form is second. He's never been fully human and that makes him very different from the others. Besides, there's still so much we don't know about shifters and how their individual circumstances come into play. We can't take anything for granted."
Her friend's words struck a chord and she nodded. "Kalen said pretty much the same thing to me back when we were . . . together."
"How long ago was that?"
"About a month. Not long after Aric was taken captive, on the night Kalen and I were attacked by that Sluagh. I don't remember the exact date."
"I can get it from Nick. He documents all incidents involving the Pack."
"Oh, sure." And their boss would know her secret soon if he didn't already. Hard to keep much from a PreCog.
Melina fell silent for a few moments, consulting her notes, Mac's test results and personal information, as well as a paper calendar like the ones sitting on the counter in every exam room. "Going just by the dates of your last cycle, I'm guessing you're about four or five weeks along. We'll know more as you progress. And since we know next to nothing about pregnancies resulting from shifters and humans mating, I'm going to want reports from your ob-gyn, copies of your sonograms, stuff like that."
Mac's hand went over her tummy. "What if the doctor can tell this baby is special somehow? Where in the hell are we going to find a paranormal-friendly ob-gyn who knows how to keep her mouth shut?"
"Nick will find the answer to that, too. One step at a time, all right?"
Mac's head was spinning. Jesus, how her world had changed in the space of one morning. Kalen's too, though he didn't know it yet.
Who wanted nothing to do with Mac anymore.
Her eyes filled with scalding tears and she blinked rapidly, trying to stave them off. Her throat burned and she breathed through the grief that crushed her lungs. "I don't know if I can do this."
"Many women less prepared and much less capable than you have thought the same thing," her friend said crisply. "You're going to be just fine."
A tear slipped free anyway. "Kalen's going to flip. He's already given me the big brush-off."
"Tough shit," Melina said, anger creeping into her tone. "He helped make the kid, so he can deal."
Mac gave a watery laugh in spite of herself. "That simple, huh? Sure."
Her friend scowled. "You honestly think he won't take responsibility?"
"It's not that. There's something going on with him that has his head all twisted, and he won't let me in."
"Anything to do with the pendant he gave you?" Melina glanced questioningly at the silver disk and back to her friend's face.
"I think it has everything to do with it," she said, reaching to clasp the object. It was warm and comforting in her palm. "He gave this to me for protection."
"More like who." Mac paused, clearing her throat. "Earlier, before I went in to tell them Sariel would probably survive, I might have eavesdropped outside the conference room door just a teensy bit."
"So? They never tell us shit about their ops unless we're patching them up or they have medical questions." The other woman pulled a face. "We get answers however we can. Go on."
"The one after Kalen is Sariel's Unseelie father, Malik."
"Is this the same being that encouraged Kalen to free Beryl?"
"They believe so. The bastard is trying to seduce Kalen to his side so he can use his power for whatever terrible reasons."
"If Malik is so strong, why doesn't he just go after Sariel himself? Use his son's power to his advantage, or kill him outright?"
"I don't know, but there must be a reason or he would've done it by now," Mac speculated. "If Sariel knows, he hasn't confided in me."
"Same here." The other woman shook her head. "But you've got more pressing worries. When are you going to tell Kalen about the baby?"
"You're assuming I am."
Looking away, she felt crushed. "I'm not sure. The jerk couldn't get away from me fast enough after our one-night stand, so how do you think he'll react to the news that he's going to have a kid? He'll either hightail it out of Wyoming like the whole Pack is out for his blood, or worse-he'll feel obligated to be with me and take care of our child."