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Looking around again, he marched over to the hedges that anchored the front flower beds. Behind one of them, there was a garden hose that was wound about a heavy metal holder. The hose was not attached to the spigot because of the cold, and the whole setup probably should have been put away for the winter. But hey, it was his lucky night.

With a grunt, he picked the reel up and hefted it out of the bushes. Making sure he had a good grip on the thing, he went on a discus-thrower spin and let the fifty-pound holder with its green hose go flying—

Through the air with the greatest of ease.

Or . . . not really. It was as aerodynamic as an armchair, but it got the job done, crashing through the lead-lined glass windows of his father’s study, shattering things, creating a jagged hole about four feet in diameter.

Looked kind of like a shark’s mouth, with all the sharp parts in a bad circle. But at least he didn’t have to climb through the mansion’s new entry. Dematerializing into the house through the doorway he’d created, he re-formed just as Marquist came tooling in from some back room, obviously called by the sound of breaking glass.

The male was out of uniform. And dressed in one of Altamere’s handmade suits.

He was also wearing one of Boone’s father’s formal dress coats. “Nice outfit,” Boone remarked as he stalked off for the stairs.

As he passed the butler, he made sure he clipped Marquist with the same shoulder he’d tried on the door.

“I’ll see you in about ten minutes,” he said as the other male scrambled to keep his balance, all bowling pin and then some. “And I know you’ll get that hole fixed, given the liberties you’ve taken with the front door.”

Hitting the carpeted steps two at a time, Boone’s rage grew inside his chest and threw out tentacles, the toxic nastiness ushering away the peaceful glow he’d found with Helania. And courtesy of the anger, a part of him wanted to go down to the Audience House right now, just so he could beat the bastard butler there. But he was not going to walk in smelling like his female.

What he and Helania had done had been private—and that would have been true whether or not he was involved in that investigation of Butch’s.

When he got to his suite, he wondered whether he was going to have to bust open his own door, but things unlatched easy-peasy.

Inside, he didn’t waste time. Shower. Shave. Teeth brushing. He considered putting on a suit. But in the end, he yanked on the leathers and the weapons he wore out into the field.

Made sense. Given that he was going to war.

* * *

Helania took a long, leisurely shower, lingering over her shampoo-and-conditioner routine, taking her time with her soap, even sitting down in the tub and leaning back to let the warm rain fall on her body.

She was impossibly relaxed, her muscles and her bones limp, her skin glowing, her blood lazy in her veins. Which was not to say she didn’t have some aches and pains. The insides of her thighs twinged depending on her leg position; her core was a little raw; her lower back stiff.

All of it just made her smile.

So well earned, and what exercise. She looked forward to more of those kinds of workouts.

When the hot water finally ran out and things went from toasty to room temperature, she had no choice but to get out and towel off. Winding herself up in terry cloth, she glanced through the open door of the bathroom and eyed the cloak that she wore to Pyre.

On any other night, she would have gotten dressed in her black clothes, covered herself with those heavy folds, and headed downtown to watch the crowd. But she only had four hours until she was supposed to meet Boone and his friends at that all-night diner and she had work she had to do for her freelance editing job.

Trading the damp towel for a thick blue bathrobe, she went into her bedroom and stared down at the bare mattress. She’d thrown the quilt and the sheets in the washer, and as she’d stuffed the load in and hit things with some Tide, she had taken a subtle pride in the fact that she and her lover had messed things up.

She had a lover.

Not a boyfriend she’d talked herself into taking on, like a piece of luggage on a walking trip, but a full-fledged sexual relationship that was not a one-night stand.

Isobel would be so proud of her.

Frowning, Helania went back out to the little table by her galley kitchen. Sitting in the chair she’d tried to drape Boone’s jacket over, she pulled her laptop in front of her and opened the screen. Turning things on, she was aware of a pit forming in her stomach as she went on to Facebook.

Signing in as Isobel, she accessed her sister’s page with the password they had created together: Isolania101.

Her eyes watered as she stared at the banner’s image. It was a close-up of her sister, that smile so bright and happy, that telltale spiky red hair something that Helania felt as though she hadn’t seen in a decade.

She had taken the picture. Isobel had been sitting over there on the sofa, imminently on her way out, of course, her coat in her lap. The shirt she had on was one Helania remembered putting in those cardboard boxes: Blue-and-white-checked with a short little collar that stood up off the neck. Casual but classy—and that had been Isobel.

Even though they’d never had a lot of money, she had always looked put together because she was an expert shopper. During the darker months of the fall and the winter, she had always gone to the human mall and scoured sales before closing time. They had joked that with twenty dollars and the right stack of rebates and coupons, she could put together something worthy of Fifth Avenue down in NYC.

Taking a deep breath, Helania scrolled down the page. Everything hurt to look at, especially the part in the bio where Isobel had chosen “in a relationship.”

It made sense that Boone was suspicious of the male that had been in Isobel’s life, but Helania knew her sister. The kind of happiness Isobel had shown was legitimate.

Wasn’t it?

Going further down, Helania read through the things that people had put on the wall after Isobel had been killed. Seeing the dates end so abruptly eight months ago was hard, the car-crash nature of the death—one night there, the next gone—represented baldly. And there were a lot of people who missed her.

So many tribute posts, although it was hard to determine who the folks really were. As usual, members of the species fudged their actual identities on social media, the extra precaution taken as a security measure both from a Lessening Society point of view, but also from a human one—

Helania stopped. Leaned closer to the screen.

One of the posts had only five words: I love you, Issie. Forever. No images were included, but Helania wasn’t focused on that. She was looking at the avatar, the little circle with part of a face in it.

She double-clicked on the name and was taken to another page. “It’s you,” she whispered.

Sitting back in her chair, she stared at the partially obscured photograph of a female’s jawline and cheekbone and lips. It wasn’t the complete profile, but a telltale mole beneath the ear was what secured the identification: This was the female who had knocked on Helania’s door that horrible night. The one who had helped prepare Isobel’s body for the Fade Ceremony. The one who had had the other shovel out in those woods.

Some people you just did not forget.

Rubbing her face, she felt her body break out in a cold sweat. But then she forced herself to gather her racing thoughts.

The name was an odd one: Rocky B. Winkle.

Helania thought about things for a while. And then she went into direct messaging and constructed what she hoped did not sound like a crazy, desperate request to the female.

As she typed, she couldn’t avoid the shift that was occurring in her mind.

That boyfriend. Who was he?

And where was he?

As Boone was shown into the dining room of Wrath’s Audience House by Rhage and Tohr, it was impossible not to remember coming to see the King just nights before to talk about that gathering his sire had been invited to.

Stopping on the Oriental rug under the great chandelier, Boone realized he had been terrified his father would be killed because of the intel he himself was sharing with the King. And his fear had come true, just not for the reason he’d assumed . . . not because his father had been a traitor. Although perhaps, if the evening had continued on uninterrupted, treason would have come to pass. Altamere had certainly had no love for the King.

“How you doing, Boone?”

Shaking himself to attention, he focused on Wrath. The great male was sitting in one of the armchairs by the fireplace, that huge body eased back to accommodate all the blond dog in his lap. George offered Boone a wag, but there would be no in-person greeting. Not tonight.

This was business and somehow the golden knew it.

“I’m all right, my Lord.” Boone bowed even though the King wouldn’t know it. “Thank you for seeing us.”

In a lower voice, Wrath said, “Where’s the other half of this?”

Rhage spoke up from by the door. “Out in the waiting room. I think he was talking to Saxton.”

Boone hadn’t paid any attention to Marquist when he’d arrived, and he’d been very aware of being shuffled in here quick, as if the Brothers on duty were worried shit might go down.

Then again, Boone was packing three auto-loaders, several extra clips of ammunition—and he’d even wrapped his length of steel chain around his shoulder. You know, just in case he felt like strangling something.

“You really okay, son?” Wrath pressed. “And answer me honestly.”

Boone dropped his stare. Even though those wraparounds weren’t covering a set of working eyes, he couldn’t look the King in the face as he fibbed.

“Oh, yeah. I’m good. It’s all good.”

“You sure about that.”

There was a knock on the doorjamb, and Boone glanced over. Saxton, the King’s solicitor, was hovering in the open archway.

“My Lord, may we enter?” the solicitor asked.

“Yeah. Let’s get this over with.”

Saxton came in with a thick document in his arms, and after nodding hello to Boone, he settled behind his desk. With his tweed suit, contrasting shirt and tie, and jaunty pocket square, he looked like the aristocrat he had been born and bred to be. But his gray eyes were sharp—and grew sharper as Marquist entered and the doors were shut.