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Of course Marquist would leave the kit here. No more shoe polishing—

Boone frowned as something caught his eye. Lowering himself down, he got a closer look at the carpet. The tiny sole nails that had come out of their container were like nettles, and he picked one up, inspecting its sliver of a body and pin-headed top.

It was just like the one that had come out of Mai’s skin.

But . . . it wasn’t possible there was a connection.

Rising to his feet, he looked around the sitting room with fresh eyes. Except, come on, like he expected Marquist to have a meat hook hanging on the back of the door?

Proceeding into the bedroom area, Boone checked out the bedside table, ducked under the bed skirt—another meat-hook-free zone—and opened the blanket chest in the corner.

Which had blankets in it, natch.

He was turning around toward the open closet when the heating fan came on, a barely perceptible draft of cool air the preamble to the hot stuff—provided, of course, the electricity wasn’t cut again.

And that was when he caught the scent. It was so subtle, he barely noticed it.

But like sharks in ocean waters, vampires were evolutionarily adapted to find blood.

His head cranked around of its own volition, and then his body moved slowly.

Off in the distance, he heard the thump of the front door shutting, but he didn’t pay any attention to the sound. Every part of his consciousness was trained on that closet.

With a feeling of utter unreality, he reached out and pulled heavy, black folds forward.

When he’d looked in here the night before, he’d made a wrong assumption. What he’d thought was a black bathrobe was, in fact . . . a black cloak. And as he put his nose to the thick fabric?

He smelled blood. Dried blood, but blood nonetheless. And it was from a female.

What the fuck?

In the foyer of Boone’s family’s mansion, Helania stood aside as Rochelle put on a lemon yellow draping coat—which was probably worth more than the truck Helania had back at her place. And yet the female had no pretension about her.

“I really need you to know,” Rochelle was saying, “that I was wrong to make Isobel stay silent about us. I put her in such a terrible position, and all because of my own fear. But that’s over now. I’m not hiding any longer. If all this has taught me nothing else, it’s that life is short, no matter how many nights you’re given, and I’m not wasting any more time. I’m going to come out to my parents and move all the way into that white house—and just so you know, you and Boone are welcome anytime.”

Helania smiled a little sadly, and then murmured, “You never know what the future holds.”

Putting her hand on her lower belly, she thought about duty and obligation—and people sacrificing for a greater good that meant they didn’t live their full lives. She and Boone were going to have to resolve their relationship at some point, but she was afraid of the future for them. Pregnant or not . . . she wanted to believe they would be together, but she worried about that dutiful side of him.

The part that meant he sacrificed himself, no matter the cost.

Sure, the sex they had was good. But it was nothing worth compromising your future for.

As the lights went out again, she waited for them to come back on. When they did, Rochelle was looking over expectantly, as if she were hoping for a less obtuse statement of where things stood between Boone and Helania.

“It’s just,” Helania said, “you know, he and I—who knows what will happen.”

The beautiful blond aristocrat frowned. “He’s in love with you.” Helania recoiled, but at the same time, a secret place in her heart got excited. The former she didn’t try to hide. The latter, she forced herself to temper.

“He can’t be in love with me. I don’t know if he’s told you, but I went through my needing the other night. So . . . if he said we’re getting mated or something, it’s only because of that—”

“He didn’t tell me anything about your time having come. But he did say to me that he’d fallen in love with you at his father’s Fade Ceremony.”

Helania did the math on the days of the week. Wait . . . that had been before her needing. “What are you talking about?”

“Right in there.” The female pointed off across the foyer. “In the males’ formal bathroom. He was melting down in the middle of the crowd after the ceremony, and I took him in there for a break. He told me he was in love with you. Look, you guys do what you want, but bonded males? They fall within seconds, as the saying goes. And I have to tell you, Boone’s one of the very best males I—”

The blow to Helania’s head came from out of nowhere. One moment, she was grappling with a total game changer; the next, she was aware of the other female rearing back in terror. Before she could ask why, a ringing pain exploded in her skull, the impact of whatever it was causing her to lurch to the side, stumble . . . fall.

As she hit the ground, her vision went fuzzy and her hearing phased out completely. But as it turned out, she was just a secondary target. Rochelle was backing up against the foyer wall, someone coming toward her with menace and a long-bladed knife.

Training all her will into her eyesight, Helania tried to carve a window of focus out of everything that was so blurry—and finally her vision cleared. It was then that she saw the attacker’s face, even if she couldn’t tell much about his body or his limbs.

It was a formally dressed male, with salt-and-pepper-streaked hair that was brushed back from his forehead. He had a murderous expression on what was otherwise an evenly featured face, and his lips were moving as he spoke. Helania fell back on old habits as she read them.

. . . should have killed you instead of those other two. More efficient that way, but I thought there would be talk. My master did not deserve his bloodline to be sullied by that broken arrangement. And I know what you were doing with that female. I saw you, I watched you.

Helania tried to lift her head, lift her arm, shift her body, cry out. Your friend asked for it. She dared to threaten me with exposure. Somehow she found out it was me and—Isobel. Mai.

This was the killer!

Adrenaline surged through Helania’s body as her instincts fired and aggression flooded into her veins. Forcing her head up, she looked for a weapon. For anything. The male was crazed and dangerous—

The knife that came up over his shoulder was viciously sharp, and the light from the chandelier overhead gleamed on its polished steel blade.

Shoving herself off the floor, Helania—

Boone’s leather jacket was lying on a chair right beside where she’d landed, and she remembered it back in her apartment, falling to the floor from the weight of the guns in it.

She moved faster than she had ever before in her life, some vast reserve of inner power mobilizing her body. Lunging for the jacket, she grabbed hold of the folds just as the lights went out again.

Dagger hand, she thought as she flipped the leather around, her hands shaking. He was right-handed—

Plunging into the deep pocket on the right side, she palmed Boone’s gun and freed the safety. She knew it was loaded by the heaviness of it, and what do you know, the weapon was the same make and model she used.

When the lights came back on, she had the barrel up in position and she pulled the trigger just as the attacker started the downward arc of his stabbing motion.

The bullet went right into the head at the temple. Exactly where she had aimed.

One kill shot was all it took.

In a horrible montage she knew she was never going to forget, a fine spray of blood and splatter of brain matter hit the heavy front door in a daisy pattern and the male crumpled down to the floor.

Her whole body shook. But the gun was steady as a stone in her palms as she kept it on him.

“Get behind me Rochelle,” she ordered.

The other female scrambled and tripped, coming around and taking cover as Helania kept Boone’s muzzle trained on the male.

“Go get Boone now—”

“I’m here!” his voice shouted. “I’m right here.”

Helania nodded as his thundering footfalls came down to the drama, his attention no doubt caught by the sound of shot. But she did not move. The attacker’s body was twitching in random places, and she wasn’t sure whether he was going to get back up.

Dimly, she heard Boone talking on his phone. And then, in her peripheral vision, she was aware of other people coming into the foyer, staff members, given their uniforms.

Abruptly, Boone was very close to her, standing just off to the side of her straight-out, stiff-as-a-board forearms. “Helania, you can lower the gun now—”

“I don’t know if he’s dead,” she choked out. “How do I know he’s dead.”

“You got him,” came his gentle voice. “You saved Rochelle’s life and you got him. But I need you to put the gun down. The Brothers are on their way and we don’t want anyone to get hurt.”

She focused on the red stain on that door . . . and the little hole she could see in the center of it where the bullet had ended its journey through living matter inside of the wood.

“I wanted to be there when Isobel’s killer died,” she said hoarsely. “I needed to be there.”

“Well, you did one better. You ahvenged your sister in the proper way. You took his life as he took hers.”

That was what unlocked her. All of a sudden her hands and her arms were shaking and weak, and just as she was about to drop the gun from her hold, Boone scooped the weapon out of her palms and put the safety on.

Falling into his strong body, Helania wept for everything. For Isobel.

For Mai.

For what would have happened if, God forbid . . . she had missed.

* * *

As Boone held Helania against his body, his brain tried to catch up with reality: Marquist was slumped on the floor, part of his brain and a splash of his blood on the front door. Rochelle was collapsed onto a chair, her hands to her face as if she were holding in a scream. Thomat and the doggen had rushed in from the kitchen, their bodies together in a clutch as they held on to each other.