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Jeth sighed. Leave it to Milton to say what he already feared. “Not really. Mom and Dad didn’t raise me to be stupid.”

Milton flinched like he always did whenever Jeth mentioned his parents. “No, they didn’t. But if you know that Hammer has other intentions, what are you going to do about it?”

“Don’t know yet. But Hammer did say he’d give me a copy of the title and transfer papers. That’s something, at least, isn’t it?” Jeth couldn’t help the sudden flare of resentment that heated his body. It was hard talking about this to the man who’d lost Avalon in the first place. He loved his uncle, but that didn’t mean he didn’t hate him sometimes, too.

“Maybe.” Milton took a long drag on his pipe. “Let’s assume for a second that you succeed in getting Avalon. Where will you go?”

Jeth ran a hand through his hair, struggling with his temper. “Not sure. Figure I’ll find out when I get there.”

Milton sighed as he turned his gaze toward the single window in the galley that looked out into open space. “Were you tempted by Renford’s offer?”

Jeth swallowed, his throat tight. “No. The ITA are even more dangerous than Hammer.”

“Yes, they are.” Milton sucked on his pipe and then blew out a long puff of smoke. “And no matter how much we might want to know what happened to your parents, the truth is too dangerous. Whatever they found out there, the ITA killed them for it, make no mistake. They will kill you, too. And me. And Lizzie. And anyone else who gets too close to the truth.”

Jeth turned away from his uncle, focusing his attention on the dishes. He didn’t need the situation put into perspective. He could do that well enough on his own.

A scrape of chair legs echoed behind him. Then Milton stepped beside Jeth, close enough that their arms touched. In a low, tremulous voice, Milton said, “Don’t do this job, Jethro. Let’s just take the ship and go and never look back. It won’t be easy, but we can escape, somehow, disappear.”

It wasn’t what Jeth had expected to hear from his uncle. He looked over at Milton, keenly aware that he was taller than him now by at least half a head. He wondered how long it had been so. Strange how life just happened sometimes, sneaking up on you like a thief in the dark. “Why do you say this, now?”

Milton took a long drag on his pipe and an even longer exhale. “There’s something . . . off about all of it. The ITA’s interest, that agent singling you out. And it’s the Belgrave, an unlucky place for this ship and this family.”

Jeth blinked rapidly as an unexpected swell of emotion made his eyes prickle with tears. He couldn’t think about that. Couldn’t let his parents’ death get in the way now. It had been getting in the way all his life. But not anymore.

With an effort, Jeth forced the pain and fear back into that deep, secret place inside him. “What happened to them won’t happen to me. I’ve been paying for their mistakes my whole life. I’m not going to make the same ones.”

Milton made a sound between a grunt and a moan of despair. “Spoken like a boy instead of the man you ought to be by now.”

The words hit Jeth like a slap. What do you know about it? he wanted to say. I’ve never been a boy, thanks to you. Thanks to your gambling and drinking.

“You’re not going to make me change my mind,” Jeth said.

“Yes, I know.” Milton made to leave, but stopped in the doorway. “I just hope you’re right.”

“Does this mean you’re coming?” Jeth held his breath, waiting for the answer.

“Yes,” Milton said after a long pause. Then he left without another word.

Jeth let out his breath, relief flooding him. Despite the friction between them, Milton’s presence made him feel safer, almost like having a real parent around.

Not that a parent would be able to save him. Jeth swallowed. He hoped he was right, too.

Chapter 07

WHEN JETH LEFT THE GALLEY SOMETIME LATER, HE RAN headlong into Celeste, coming through the door at the same time.

“Ouch,” she said. “You stepped on my foot.”

“Well, you shouldn’t ambush me.”

“You ambushed me.” She punched him in the shoulder.

Jeth grunted. It didn’t hurt—much—but it hadn’t exactly been a love tap. “What do you want?”

“I . . . I . . . can’t go into the Belgrave,” she said in a rush.

Jeth blinked, not surprised she felt this way, only that she’d admitted it. For Celeste, admitting to fear would be like Flynn going on a hunger strike.

“I’ve been trying really hard to deal with the idea of going in there, but I’m not sure I can.”

“Well, you’ve got to, so get it together.”

She scowled at him. “You don’t have to be such an ass, you know.”

Were those tears in her eyes? Being a little afraid was one thing, but this seemed like a lot more than that. “What’s wrong with you?” he asked.

Celeste choked on an angry breath, and some of the tears pooling behind her eyes leaked out, leaving glistening streaks over her pale skin. She punched him in the arm again. “It’s where my mom died. It’s why I ended up here.”

Oh. Now, he really did feel like an ass. This was a complication he hadn’t been expecting. Not that it was his fault. There’d been an unspoken rule among all the members of the Malleus Shades from the very beginning—no talking about dead parents.