Sterling got off the bike, and took off his helmet, leaving his short black hair sticking up on top.
Remi brushed the spiky strands down.
Sterling was getting tall, almost as tall as Remi now. The kid was growing up and becoming quite handsome too. He had the dark coloring from their Apache father. From their white mother, he’d inherited softer facial features and a straight, narrow nose that turned up slightly at the end. His face was less angular than most Apaches, even though he’d inherited their father’s high cheekbones. No doubt about it, he’d have women falling all over him in a couple of years, if he didn’t already.
“Thank you.” Sterling’s lip trembled faintly, and then he took a deep breath and handed Remi the helmet. Raking his fingers through his hair, he composed himself.
“You don’t have to thank me. That’s what I’m here for.” Taking the helmet, Remi fastened the strap before hanging it on the handlebar. He’d completely forgotten to grab both helmets in his rush to get to his brother. Thankfully, the helmet law was only for those under eighteen. Stupid in his opinion—everyone should wear a helmet—but he’d had no choice but to go helmetless.
Sliding his arm around his little brother’s shoulders, Remi ushered him toward the restaurant. He squeezed Sterling’s neck with the crook of his arm, bringing their heads together. His heart was still pounding, like it did every time he got a call from his brother.
Wrapping his arm around Remi’s waist, Sterling hugged him briefly, then shrugged and lengthened his stride. “Okay, dude, you’re cramping my style. I’m not six anymore.”
Remi chuckled and shoved the little shit’s shoulder. Some of the tension left him, seeing Sterling acting like a teenager again. “Brat. I offer to take you to breakfast and this is the thanks I get?”
Opening the door of the diner, Sterling nodded and held it for Remi. “Uh-huh.”
An array of scents assaulted Remi’s nose, making him wrinkle it. God. Was he ever going to get used to all the strong smells? Being a werewolf was hell on the senses.
Stepping out from behind the cash register, the hostess greeted them. She smiled and puffed out her chest a little as she went to the podium. Grabbing menus and napkin-covered utensils from the pockets on the side of the stand, she asked, “Two?”
“Yes,” Remi answered, studying his brother and trying to block out the suffocating aromas.
Sterling seemed okay, but Remi wasn’t fooled. He knew how scary the situation was. The kid was putting up a good front. He was more at ease now that he was away from the house, but shit like this didn’t just go away. Remi knew that firsthand. He’d been dealing with it all his life.
Sighing, he took a seat across from his brother at the booth the hostess indicated.
She placed their menus on the table, leaning over way more than necessary to put their silverware down.
Whoa, that’s where the overwhelming flowery smell was coming from. Did she bathe in perfume? What was she doing anyway? Remi glanced up and got an eyeful. Good God, the woman was about to pop out of her white dress shirt. Remi averted his attention from her boobs and met her gaze.
“Your waitress’s name is Sally.” She winked. “But you let me know if there is anything I can do for you.”
Had her voice sounded that sultry when she’d first greeted them? Remi nodded and gave her a polite smile. Normally, he’d have flirted back, but under the circumstances, he wasn’t in the mood. Besides, her scent didn’t appeal to him. And that was too bizarre to think about. The weirdness that came from becoming a werewolf never ceased to amaze him.
Sterling batted his lashes at her, grinning from ear to ear. “Oh, he will, I’m sure.”
Biting his lip to hold back a chuckle, Remi furrowed his brow at the brat.
The hostess smiled at Sterling before giving Remi one last look and leaving.
Remi waited until she was out of hearing range. “What was that for?”
Sterling shrugged, but his eyes were bright with mischief. “Only trying to help you out. She was totally into you. Besides, you always used to use me as a chick magnet. I thought I’d bump up the magnetism a little. You need a girlfriend.” Sterling unrolled his silverware out of the dark green cloth napkin.
“I did not use you as a chick magnet. You always seemed to attract them.” Which was the absolute truth. Remi had never taken Sterling with him to entice female attention. However, he found out real quick that a teen lugging around an infant did just that. Hell, even when Remi was in his twenties and Sterling was in elementary school, Remi ended up getting phone numbers and offers that generally had him covering Sterling’s ears. “And I do not need a girlfriend.” Especially not one who doused herself in perfume.
“You haven’t been dating much.”
“And since when did you become my keeper?”
“I thought—” Sterling shrugged again. “Sorry. I was only trying to help. You seem lonely. You rarely hang out with Chay anymore, and you keep to yourself lately, except when you’re with me. She was pretty, wasn’t she?”
Remi reached across the table and grabbed Sterling’s hand. He had to nip this in the bud right now. The last thing he needed while trying to learn to be a werewolf was a girlfriend. “She was okay. But I’m serious. If I want a date, I’ll get one myself.”
“You should go out with Chay’s assistant. Tina’s nice.” Sterling grinned.
For some odd reason, Tina’s brother, Jake, sprang to mind. Jake was tall, dark, and handsome in a rugged way. He was appealing to Remi’s nose too. Remi’s stomach clenched and arousal niggled at him, and he swore he could smell Jake, but it was only his imagination. Even if Jake was in the restaurant, who could smell anything with all these people around? And why the heck did his libido always stir thinking about Jake? Jake was a guy. Remi groaned. He should be dissuading his sibling from playing matchmaker, not trying to figure out his strange reaction to another man. “Sterling….”
“Hmmm, what do I want to eat?” Sterling looked away, still smiling, and picked up his menu, then flipped it open.
A purplish spot peeked out of the cuff of his long-sleeve T-shirt. It looked like—
The sick feeling Remi had banished returned with a vengeance. It felt like someone twisted a knife into his heart. He seized Sterling’s hand, and Sterling dropped the menu.
Pushing the cuff out of the way, Remi studied the bruises. They were shaped like a hand. Someone had held Sterling around the wrist, hard. Farther up his arm were bigger spots. Nausea swam in Remi’s throat, making him swallow hard. He gritted his teeth, and his vision clouded over. If that son of a bitch hurt Sterling…. “When? When did this happen? Did Dirk hit you? Where else are you hurt?” He growled, trying—but failing miserably—to keep the anger out of his voice. Some of his own past beatings filtered through his mind. The fear, the hurt, and the anger had never faded with age. It was bad enough Sterling had to witness their father’s cruelty toward their mother, and even to Remi on occasion, but there was no way Remi was going to allow the bastard to beat his baby brother. “Answer me.”
Sterling’s eyes widened, looking startled. Slowly he shook his head. “He hasn’t hit me.”
Yet. Their father hadn’t hit Sterling yet, but he would. Remi was going to throw up. Even now, after all this time, he was terrified to face the old man, and he hated himself for the weakness. Somehow he’d convinced himself that by being the model son, he could make things right. He’d promised to behave as long as Sterling was not harmed, but now because of his own fear, he’d failed his brother. He should have taken the kid years ago and run away. Why had he thought the asshole would stick to his end of the bargain?
Closing his eyes, Remi took a deep breath. A warm, fresh scent assailed his nose, and a sense of peace came over him. No, not peace exactly. He was anything but calm. It was strange, like a feeling of safety, a lessening of his physical tension, if not his mind.
A hand touched his shoulder. “Remi. I’m glad I ran into you. I’ve got something for you. Can you follow me outside?”
Remi gazed up into a chiseled face and nearly black eyes. “Jake, hey, uh….” It was Jake he’d smelled earlier.
Glancing at Sterling, Jake dropped a hand around Remi’s biceps and tugged. “Will you excuse us for a moment?”
Sterling mumbled something, but Remi was too busy trying to figure out why Jake was dragging him out of his seat to catch it. His head whirled, barely registering which end was up. That was very rare for a trained firefighter, but given the circumstance and Jake’s nearness, Remi doubted anyone could blame him. Not that he was going to let anyone know how Jake affected him, of course.
Staggering to his feet, Remi was given no choice but to go as Jake continued to pull him along. What the hell? Why was Jake leading him out of the diner? Halfway to the door, Remi mustered the strength to draw his arm back. “What—”
“Your eyes. Come on.”
Huh? His eyes? Dang it! Everything was black-and-white. Which was probably Jake’s fault. Every time Jake was within three feet of—
Oh no. What if Sterling saw?