She was back when they got home from school on Friday. He could tell by the set of Albert’s mouth when he welcomed them, although the man said nothing about it. He didn’t have to. The whole feel of the place was…sour. It had lost that feel while Shyla was gone. It still hadn’t felt right. There were employees loyal to her, for whatever reason. Kane felt himself tensing in automatic response to the feeling and forced himself to relax. She wasn’t going to do a damned thing to Devin. He wouldn’t allow it.
They didn’t see her that night, or the next morning. Kane gave her a week, maybe two. Once she got comfortable again, she’d try something. That was the way she was. Steve was trying to get her removed again. After all, what Government would let a woman who had nearly killed a child back into the home of that child?
He didn’t have time to worry about her. They were on their way to the park to meet Randolph and the others. And Nate. He’d told Nate to show up later to give himself time to explain what was going on. He knew he could trust them to keep Devin safe for him if Nate tried something.
When they arrived at the park they found the group arriving themselves. They looked tired and scruffy, like they hadn’t gotten a lot of sleep. Or they’d been busy. He was willing to bet they’d been busy. He’d gotten the impression that they “worked” after school and weekends. He’d been surprised they hadn’t canceled their meetings more than twice.
The already quiet group became very sober when he told them about Shyla’s return. The news about Nate coming to the park was met with tired sighs but no complaints. For a second he considered apologizing for not getting permission to invite Nate, but these people were his friends, and you didn’t have to get permission from friends. Not usually, anyway. Not when it was something that was as casual as their weekly meeting in the park.
Nate showed up early. Kane wasn’t surprised. He had always done that, hoping to throw people off guard. Most of the time it even worked; Kane had never understood why, but he didn’t exactly hang around intelligent people before.
Nate, in typical Nate fashion, started flirting with Andrea. She let him, then fired back with a comment that had Devin’s eyes almost too big for his face. She said it in a cool, pleasant voice which was so at odds with her words that it took nearly a minute for Nate to understand what she’d said. He flushed and glowered at her, opening his mouth to growl a comeback.
Before he could get anything out, Maggie had thrown her arms around Andrea’s neck and, laughing and saying something at too high a speed to be caught, dragged her away. Nate watched both girls with a look Kane had seen many times before. Nate was thinking of revenge. Some people didn’t change no matter what happened to them.
Kane clapped a hand on Nate’s shoulder. “I wouldn’t recommend it,” he said in a soft voice. “You don’t want to mess with her.” With any of them, actually, but he wasn’t going to go into all of that.
“Just because you don’t mess with slits doesn’t mean I can’t.”
Kane let his hand drop. Slits. He’d forgotten Nate called females that. Forgotten that Nate thought he could do whatever the hell he wanted with people outside of his immediate family. The family that encouraged him to think and act that way. The reasons Kane’s dad had never let Nate into their “gang.”
He wasn’t as eager to renew the friendship as he had been. He’d forgotten a lot about Nate, stuff he wished he didn’t remember. Too late now, damn it. They were stuck with him for the day. And he’d have to think up something pretty damned good to keep Nate from coming back into his life on a regular basis. He didn’t want Nate around Devin; hell, he didn’t want Nate around at all.
He couldn’t deal with both Nate and Shyla at the same time. He couldn’t. Not if he was going to keep Devin safe and not lose his mind, or not hurt somebody enough to get sent away. He had let himself forget what a total ass Nate was. Idealizing, as his father would say. He’d been so desperate for a reminder of his life with his father that he’d ...damn.
“Remember, Nate, I warned you. She’s not somebody to underestimate is all I’m saying.”
The rest of the morning was spent playing a game of flag football. Devin, as was his habit, sat on the sidelines and watched. Maggie sat with him, chattering away. William kept an eye on them as the game played out; Kane had noticed that William was as over-protective of Maggie as he was Devin. It was one of the things he liked about the dour male. It didn’t hurt that William was the only person he knew that he didn’t have to be careful with. He didn’t have to remember that he was enhanced, that he was stronger now.
He knew he wasn’t stronger than William. During one of their practices, William joked that with the enhancements Kane might be kind of fun. His eyes, a freaky amber that matched his hair, had been serious despite the laugh in his voice.
After about an hour of playing, Nate feigned injury and headed to the sidelines. Kane was not surprised to see him heading straight for Maggie and Devin. Nor was he surprised to see the look on Devin’s face when he noticed Nate’s approach. Devin’s eyes flickered to Kane to make sure that Kane was aware. Kane started over, but was restrained by a hand on his shoulder. He saw that it was Randolph.
“Let William handle it,” Randolph ordered in his quiet, adult voice. “No injuries, William. Minimal fo...”
“No injuries,” William interrupted before stalking to where Nate staood over Maggie and Devin. And it was stalking. Not the walk of an angry person, but the silent, ground-eating glide of a predator following an animal it will be eating soon.
Maggie’s face lit up on seeing William; she called her usual ebullient greeting, but made no move to get up. She was, in Kane’s eyes, sitting in a position that would allow her to protect Devin if necessary.
“What are you guys?” Kane demanded, eyes riveted on the scene in front of him.
“Agents, as you have already guessed,” Randolph answered. Which didn’t tell him a damned thing, but somehow explained everything.
It was over in a minute. William heard Nate saying something he took umbrage at and told him that if he didn’t leave now he was not going to be leaving under his own power. Nate’s sneer faded as he took in the seriousness of the situation. He turned back to Kane.
“I made a mistake looking for you. You’re nothing more than a waste now. Don’t know why I even bothered.”
“Neither do I,” Kane answered. His voice was cool and even. The look Nate gave him should probably have hurt, but he was too happy to see him leave to care. Kane wished he could feel confident that that was the end of it. Somehow, he doubted it. Nate didn’t give up that easily. Ever.
Before his thoughts could go any further, he found himself knocked back a step by Devin running up to hug him. Kane returned the hug, taking a deep, cleansing breath. Well, it was over, at least for now. Devin was safe. Nothing else really mattered.
The following Saturday they went to the birthday party for Maggie. It really was at a tree house. A nice tree house -- a real house in a tree. Kane and Devin had never seen one. As promised, they were the only guests. Kane supposed that as far as parties went, what they experienced didn’t count, but they had more fun than Kane remembered having in years, and Devin admitted that he had never had so much fun.
Hearing Devin say that saddened Kane. He swore to himself that he would find other things for Devin to enjoy. It wasn’t enough to keep Devin safe, he wanted Devin to be happy. Wanted to show Devin all the things he’d been denied. He’d have to figure out how to do so in a way that Devin would enjoy without being afraid. Well, he’d think of something. Once he put his mind to something, there was no stopping him.
They still didn’t see Shyla around the house. He was, however, very wary. He didn’t trust that woman; she was going to try something. That was her way. He didn’t mind waiting. The longer she took to start a problem, the more time he had to figure out ways to counter any trouble she might start. Besides, it was the end of school, and exams were a bitch. If she tried anything right now, he’d probably overreact. That would be bad.