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He would have broken out in a run. Except that would have meant he was desperate.

Actually, he already knew he was desperate—but that was the kind of thing he was more than happy to keep to himself, thank you very much.

Well, and then there was his ankle. Turned out he’d done more than stub his toe when he’d jumped out of bed and landed wrong on that pillow. But he was not going to let a little pain slow him down.

As he closed in on the club’s front entrance, he eyed the length of the wait line and thought of how many people were no doubt already inside. In costumes and masks. Milling around in the dark. At least he could try to locate Helania by scent. Although the larger question was whether she was going to want to see him. Still, there was an official reason for him to be in res, so to speak—and he’d told Butch he was heading over to monitor things.

He couldn’t live with himself if that female was the next victim.

God, he couldn’t get Helania out of his mind. Over the course of the day, as he had lain in his bed not being able to sleep—and refusing to jerk himself off, because that just seemed frickin’ skeevy—he had run their conversation on the phone back and forth, over and over again. As he’d replayed the I-saids and she-saids, he realized that her loss of her sister and his loss of his father made them a kind of kin: He and this stranger were united by the fact that they were both chained by grief. Self-doubt. Regret.

Even though his fellow trainees and the Brothers and fighters had all reached out to him, he experienced their support as an echo from sources far away, something on the other side of the valley, the mountain range, the Grand Canyon. And it wasn’t that he didn’t appreciate the texts, the voicemails . . . the RSVPs to the Fade Ceremony later this evening.

Which, P.S., had come in via email.

Because goddamn Paperless Post had worked just fine for the invites, Marquist, you tool.

But yes, Boone was truly grateful for all the kind words and show of love from everyone involved with the training program. It was just . . . when he’d been on the phone with Helania, he hadn’t felt like he’d had to translate anything about where he was. She’d just seemed to be there with him. And he needed that kind of intuitive connection right now because there was so much he didn’t understand about where he was at.

When it came to Altamere, this sad, hollow feeling he got whenever he thought about his sire was nothing he could properly frame—and maybe Helania could shed some light on it. Even if she’d been close to her sister, perhaps she had a few discordant sectors in her own grief, too. They could talk about it. Over coffee. Over the phone. Over emails, letters . . . smoke signals or homing pigeons.

He didn’t care.

And if she didn’t want to have anything further to do with him? Well, in that case, he would just hang in the shadows and make sure she didn’t get killed.

Ah . . . the romance.

As he came up to the head of the wait line, he prepared to break into the bouncer’s brain so he didn’t have to break into the club, but messing with the human’s neurons turned out not to be necessary.

“Hey, you’re back.” The man opened things wide. “Go right in.” You’ve got to love mind control, Boone thought. Especially when it sticks.

Striding through the coat check area, he entered the club proper and scanned the crowd. As he was looking for Helania, he filtered out the men, skipped over the human women, and tried to zero in on anything vampire.

So many bodies. So many scents: The club’s vast open area, coupled with the darkness, the colognes, the costumes, and the masks, was going to make things harder than he’d thought . . .

It was difficult to say when exactly his instincts pricked with recognition, and given the overwhelming visual and olfactory stimuli, it was impossible to isolate exactly who had gotten his attention. Not Helania, no.

But someone here was sparking a reaction in him.

Boone gave his eyes free rein to go wherever they wanted. And as he was trying to pinpoint whoever it was who had hit his radar, his phone went off in his chest pocket. The first round of vibrating he ignored as he pressed forward through the tightly packed bodies. When the thing went still and then immediately started shimmying again, he cursed and took the Samsung out.

Butch was calling. Shit.

“Hello?” Boone said.

The Brother was short and to the point.

So was Boone: “Fuck.”

* * *

Helania materialized on the sidewalk in front of a lovely antique house. The neighborhood was fancy, the other sprawling homes likewise set far back from the narrow road, the rolling snow-covered lawns marked with big trees that were no doubt magnificent in the warmer months.

Jeez, the garages around here were bigger than anything she had ever lived in.

As she squared off at the walkway that led to a fancy, imposing entrance, she missed her cloak. One advantage to going to Pyre was that she could shelter herself under all those black folds. Now, in street clothes of jeans, a sweater, and a parka, she felt exposed.

The broad, glossy black door opened and she jumped back.

“Come on in,” the Brother Butch called out in his Boston accent. “It’s wicked cold tonight.”

The male was dressed in a deep blue sport coat and an open-collared pink shirt, his slacks sporting some kind of subtle pattern. He looked like the owner of the house instead of a warrior for the species, but she wasn’t fooled. She had stared into those eyes of his.

Beneath the wardrobe of a gentlemale, he had the soul of vengeance and not just a little street in him.

Burrowing into her puffy jacket, she came up the cleared path. Even though things had been shoveled and salted, she focused on precisely where she put her running shoes, sure as if she were on uneven ground.

It was easier than meeting the eyes of the male who waited for her.

The steps of the mansion creaked as she mounted them, and then she was inside and standing in a lovely foyer, the glow of the lights, the warmth of the interior, the scents of fresh baked goods a homey embrace.

Funny, the things that made you realize you lived alone.

“So thanks for coming.” The Brother indicated over his shoulder. “I thought we could talk in this sitting room back here. Or whatever they call it. Can I get you anything to eat or drink? Coffee? We’ve got fresh danish—the cherry ones will reaffirm your belief in God, I swear.”

Anxiety tickled the back of Helania’s neck and tightened the center of her chest. “I ate before I came. But thank you.”

It was a lie, and for a split second, she glanced at the Brother, thinking maybe he had second sight and was going to know she’d fibbed about the food. But there was no eating or drinking for her at the moment. Her stomach was churning like a cement mixer, all kinds of proverbial stones and gravel going round and round and round in her midsection.

On that note, she shrugged out of her puffy parka before no-thankyou on the danish turned into I’m-going-to-be-sick-all-over-thisnice-rug.

“Okay, let me know if you change your mind.”

The Brother led the way past what appeared to be a waiting room on one side and something bigger with closed panel doors on the other.

“So this is the Audience House,” she murmured.

“Sure is. I figured you’d feel safe here.”

On the far side of the closed doors, she could hear deep male voices, and she had to wonder if they were from other members of the Black Dagger Brotherhood. The idea that she was under the same roof as even one of the great males made her awestruck. Growing up, there had been tales in the species about the famous warriors who protected the vampire race and the King, but no one she knew had ever met any of them.

Butch was right. She did feel safe here and that did matter.

“Here we are.”

The Brother indicated the way into a room that was like a museum, a massive oil painting of some kind of aristocrat hanging on the opposite wall, the furniture old and beautiful, the fireplace made of spectacularly veined marble. She was not surprised at the wealth. Ever since Wrath, son of Wrath, sire of Wrath, had started seeing civilians and sorting out their problems, stories of this home’s grandeur had filtered through the civilian population.

Where else would the King spend his time?

“Would you like to sit here?” the Brother said as he pointed to a silk-covered chair.

Helania eyed the banked fire that was throwing off not just cheery crackles and shifting light but heat. So much heat. Which was not great for an uneasy stomach.

She brushed a hand across her damp forehead. “May I sit a little farther back from the hearth?”

“Of course.”

As she parked it in an armchair angled in at the far end of the sofa, a cool draft wafted over her and it was perfect. “Thank you.”

As Butch settled onto the sofa, she surreptitiously checked out how many ways she could get out of the room. There was a pair of closed panels over there . . . the door they’d come in across the way . . . and two French sets behind her, which were her best bet for dematerialization—or, in a pinch, some good old-fashioned Hollywood stuntwoman stuff.

After Isobel’s violent killing, she had gotten used to looking for escapes.

“So I’m just going to close this door so we’re not disturbed.” The Brother shut them in together. “And I want you to be aware that there are cameras here . . . here . . . and over there. So we’re recording everything—not because I think you’re guilty of any wrongdoing, but just because it’s part of the security system of this house.”

Where is Boone, she wondered.

Although, considering the reason she was here to speak with the Brother, it seemed ridiculous to worry about anyone else. Yet she had spent a lot of time thinking about that other male. What his voice sounded like in her ear. What he had looked like the night before.

Whether she would see him again.

She couldn’t believe she had all but hung up on the guy. It had been incredibly rude, but she’d gotten flustered. She hadn’t spoken of her sister’s death since it happened because she didn’t have anyone to speak of it to. Her emotions had gotten the best of her, the top popped off a maelstrom of feelings.