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Which, considering he’d forgotten a critical safety requirement? Well, he’d already captured the incompetent flag tonight, hadn’t he—thanks to wondering what the hell his father was up to at that party.

“We’ve got company, hold on.” Dr. Manello went to the rear door and waited. When a pound on the panels sounded out, he unlatched things and opened up. “Hello, boys. Welcome to my humble abode.”

Tilting forward, Boone looked out of the bay. Standing in the red glow of the RV’s rear lights, with hot exhaust billowing around them like fog on a Steven Seagal movie set, Tohrment, son of Hharm, and Vishous, son of the Bloodletter, were everything Boone wanted to be: Experts in fighting and straight-up killers when they had to be. The pair were also stand-up males who were loyal to their own and willing to sacrifice themselves for any who fought beside them.

Whether it was another Brother. Or a soldier. Or some idiot trainee who had made a mistake that could have cost him his life.

For a split second, Boone thought maybe they had been injured out in the field, too. But as they stared at him and him alone . . . he knew why they were here.

“Is he dead?” Boone heard himself say. “Is my father . . . dead.”

Tohrment stepped up into the mobile surgical unit, the vehicle’s suspension tilting to accommodate his formidable weight. That the Brother Vishous came inside with him made Boone want to throw up. Even the diamond-eyed warrior, best known for his ability to flay flesh from people using only words, was looking subdued.

The closing of that back panel was loud as a slam—or seemed that way. Boone was aware of his hearing sharpening to a painful degree, the rustling of sterile packages as the doctor got supplies out to clean the stab wound like gunshots in a canyon.

Tohr’s hand landed on Boone’s shoulder, heavy as an anvil. “I’m really sorry, son. Your father . . .”

Boone closed his eyes. He knew the Brother continued talking, but he couldn’t track the words.

“So I was right, wasn’t I?” he interrupted. When no one replied, he popped his lids and focused on Tohrment. “I was right, they were plotting against Wrath.”

The Brother applied a little pressure to his hold. “Why don’t you sit down here.”

“I thought I was?” Boone glanced at the floor and was surprised to find he was on his feet. “I guess not.”

Without warning, the world went on a twirl with him in the center—or maybe he was winging around the outside of the galaxy and looking in—and then everything went black and silent . . .

Things didn’t stay that way, however. The next he knew, he was lying on the exam table, with the other males standing around him and talking over his body.

Huh. So now he knew what a corpse felt like.

Staring up at them as they conversed among themselves, he noted the way their mouths moved and watched as their eyes shifted positions as the conversation ebbed and flowed. There was a nod or two. A shake of a head. Meanwhile, Boone was back to hearing nothing. Then again, when you found out you’d had your father killed? Even if it was indirectly? Well, you were allowed to retreat into your head.

Especially if, from time to time, and for good reason, you had prayed for this very moment right here.

Mission accomplished, he thought sadly.

But what else could he have done? He had told his father not to go to that gathering at that aristocrat’s house. And when his sire had refused to listen to reason—not that the male had ever much cared about Boone’s opinion of so much as a dessert course, much less matters political—he’d known he had to follow through on doing the right thing. He’d had to go to the Brotherhood: As a civilian, aristocratic or not, he had a duty to report treasonous behavior to the King. Still, it had taken him three sleepless days to make the appointment because he’d had to be sure that he was doing it for the right reason, not as some retaliation against Altamere—

“How did it happen?” he blurted.

All of the males looked down at him. Then Dr. Manello and Vishous looked at Tohr, passing the buck.

So it was bad, wasn’t it.

“He was attacked by a shadow.” As Boone sat up, the Brother put his hand on Boone’s shoulder again. “Nope, stay down, son. You’re still the color of flour—”

“What happened?”

The story had to be repeated twice—and then a third time—before he came to understand that not only was his father gone, but his stepmahmen, too.

The latter was apparently also a surprise to Dr. Manello. Not that his patient had died in surgery from a blood clot—of course, he remembered that—but that the female in question had been related by mating to Boone.

“I am so sorry, son,” the good doctor said. “Please know I did everything I could to save her.”

Boone shook his head. “I’m sure you did. And we had no relationship to speak of, really. I didn’t wish her ill, but . . . wait, tell me about my sire again?”

This time, the story’s totality finally sank in: His father had been standing among the other aristocrats at the gathering when shadow entities had come in and ambushed the crowd. The Brothers had counterattacked, but not before Altamere had sustained mortal injuries.

Boone rubbed his face. There was a question he needed to ask, except the syllables refused to come out. All he could do was stare helplessly into Tohr’s navy blue eyes.

It was a long moment before the Brother answered. “We made sure that before there was any reanimation that your father’s body was properly contained.”

“Thank God,” Boone breathed.

When it came to his father, “close” had been a measure of physical proximity between them rather than emotional connection. “Close” was a function of the pair of them sharing a house, passing each other in the luxurious halls, occasionally sitting in the same gracious room at a meal. And yet no matter how estranged you were from your parent . . . when it came to their death, it shook the ground under your feet—even if you were lying down.

“We’re going to take you back home,” Tohr said. “After Manny’s finished here and you feed.”

Boone glanced at his shoulder and was surprised to find that the stab wound was half stitched up.

“I don’t need a vein,” he muttered. “I just took one last week.”

“Not an option,” Manny said. “And the Chosen is on her way.”

As something started to ring, Vishous frowned and took out his phone to answer a call. “Yeah.” The Brother frowned, the tattoos at his temple distorting. “Where?”

Vishous turned away and lowered his voice, his words coming out so softly, Boone couldn’t track them.

Tohr spoke up. “Listen, son, with all this stress, and that injury, you do need to feed. And as soon as it’s done, I’ll take you home.”

Boone stared at the Brother’s somber face. “You’ve done this a lot, haven’t you.”

“Done what?”

“Broken bad news to people.”

“Yeah, son, I have.” The Brother exhaled long and slow. “And I’ve been on the receiving end of it, too.”

A ll things considered, getting summoned away was probably for the best.

As V resumed his form a good ten blocks from where Boone was getting treated, he took a minute to catch his breath in the cold. Granted, he wasn’t breathing hard at all. And he needed to hustle to his destination. But . . . shit. Seeing that kid find out the why and how of his father and stepmahmen being dead? After he’d been the one who turned the gathering into the Brotherhood?

The kid felt responsible. You could see it in his face.

It was heartbreaking. Even for someone like V who prided himself on having a meat locker for a pericardium.

Taking out a hand-rolled, he lit up and strode down the snow-packed sidewalk. On the exhale, smoke wafted forward on the wind that was hitting his back, a bright white cloud in the cold. After another two draws, he was better calibrated. Good timing, too. The place he was looking for was only three hundred yards away. And given the number of humans in that wait line? Getting himself properly nicotine’d was a goddamn public service.

Still, being sent on this “errand” was so much better than taking Boone back to the kid’s house. V sucked at sympathy. What was that saying? It was just a word between “shit” and “syphilis” in the dictionary.

Okay, fine, he wasn’t that bad.

But yeah, that young male? V totally felt for him. Plus, come on, demonstration of that trainee’s loyalty to Wrath aside, V knew from crap fathers. The Bloodletter, hello.

Whatever, time to truck with the humans, V thought as he licked the lit end of the hand-rolled and put the stump into the ass pocket of his leathers.

As he approached the line of shivering, stamping, huffing humans, the men and women milled in their places, their eyes latching on to him through their masks, the women’s bodies warming with arousal, the men’s retracting like they didn’t want his attention. Underneath all those coats and jackets, he could see enough of their costumes. Neo-Victorian. Black, like they were allergic to color. Lots of high heels, even on the dudes.

The bouncer at the door puffed up his sizable chest like he was looking forward to telling Vishous that he wasn’t allowed in the place. That he had to wait like everyone else. That he wasn’t nothing special—

V reached into that pea head and tripped a bunch of wires.

Like magic, the bouncer dropped the I’m-in-charge-here-not-you act and leaned to the side to open the way in. “Right through here.”

Thank you, motherfucker.

Striding past the guy, V entered the club’s anteroom. Oh, look, they had a coat check. And what do you know, the big-breasted, puff-lip’d attendant was staring over at V like she wanted to take his pants and check them in with her hands and her tongue.

He kept right on going.

The facility was an old shirt-making factory converted into absolutely nothing at all. The space’s retrofitting for the event was happy hands at home, from the sound system’s cobbled-together collection of woofers and tweeters to the strung-up lights that hung from the ceiling by bungee cords and strings to the random lasers that shot through the dim space with all the coordination of free radical electrons.