Family and Honor by K.N. Banet

1





Chapter One





March 9, 2019





It was another Saturday, another night at the bar, and I found myself staring at Joey, an eyebrow raised in question. My phone was going off, but it could wait. I had to address the foolish human in front of me.

“Are we going to do this every week?” I asked, making it clear what I was talking about. He knew. He knew very well what I meant, and still, he gave me a cheeky smile, daring me to make him stop.

“Jacky. Heath is driving here right now, just like he does every Saturday. Now, I’m pretty sure you’re a werewolf because he hangs around like you’re one of his wolves, but you just refuse to admit it.”

It was a game. Over the months since whatever Dallas was, this conversation had become a game.

“Not a werewolf. Never will be a werewolf. Can’t be a werewolf.” I grabbed a rag and a dirty glass and started wiping it down. I would still need to throw it in the dishwasher, but it gave me busy work to wipe them all down beforehand. Busy work was useful when uncomfortable questions and implications were being thrown my way.

I had given up months ago with Joey. Every werewolf in Jacksonville and Tyler had told him I wasn’t a werewolf. Some humans were more perceptive than others, and Joey was one of them, having a small sixth sense for the supernatural. Since he’d gotten some form of confirmation of his not-so-secret belief, thanks to the mess last August, he was going to hang onto it like a dog with a bone.

But still, I played the game.

“You can’t be a werewolf?” Joey snorted. “Why don’t I buy that?”

“I’ve never lied to you. I’m not a werewolf.” I grinned. That was true. I wasn’t a werewolf. Werecats weren’t werewolves. Couldn’t be werewolves. Had a long-standing bad history with werewolves, even. The fact that two lived in my territory was unheard of, never done. Sometimes, territories would accidentally overlap, but those incidences were quickly corrected. Werecats gave everything a wide berth, preferring their own company normally. I was no exception.

But I had let two werewolves move right in with no intention of ever making them leave. It was selfish, honestly. With them came a little human girl named Carey, and she deserved the world. Even after months, I still felt the ache in my chest, demanding me to pick up my phone and call to see how she was doing, to see if she was safe. I was never truly released from my Duty, instead offering my protection for the remainder of her life as long as she lived in my territory. A stupid thing to do, but I had done it.

“Do you deny that Heath is on his way here right now?” Joey countered. “Werewolves only stick around for their pack. They’re very adamant about that. They check in and make sure businesses being run by their people are doing well. He makes an obvious show of supporting your business.”

I gave him a weak glare. I had a natural connection to the earth I claimed as mine, a piece of magic every werecat had. Werecats watched and felt their territory all the time, making sure no supernatural intruders were on the way or had to be dealt with. Since I let the wolves move in, my magic was constantly in overdrive, always accounting for the location of the two wolves, instinctual warning bells playing in the back of my head that they were there, and I hadn’t yet forced them to leave.

So, there was no way I could deny Heath was in his car heading toward my bar for his standard Saturday night drink, forcing Landon to stay at home with Carey. Sometimes they got a babysitter, and both would show up but not tonight. Tonight, it was only Heath.

“He’s on his way,” I said softly, admitting some piece of defeat to Joey. “Heath coming to my bar doesn’t make me a werewolf, though. I helped him out last year. What if we’re just friends?”

“Sure.” Joey was grinning like a fool now. “Friends.”

I schooled my face. The way he was saying it made it sound like Heath and I were secret lovers, a thought I didn’t toy with for long. If it weren’t for the question of my humanity, that would be exactly the sort of thing people would assume by Joey’s choice of words and tone.

“Joey, leave her alone!” someone called out. “It’s your turn. Come get your damn stick, and let’s play!”

“Yeah, Joey. Go play with your friends. I have a business to run.” Waving him away with my rag, he relented. I dropped the rag, knowing it was finally time to deal with whatever was going on with my phone. Everyone knew not to call me during business hours, so it must have been important, something I needed to know immediately or the moment I had a break. I never got calls like that.