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“Your tone of voice, for one thing.”

“Ah. Interesting. So you’re coming to his rescue.” Peyton lifted his Scotch. “See, I thought it was supposed to be the other way around.”

“We’re leaving.” Elise shook her head. “This is ridiculous. And you’re being totally inappropriate.”

“Am I? Funny, does your judge of character only kick in when you’re not fucking someone?”

Annnnnnnnnnnnnnd it was go time.

Axe exploded up out of his chair and was on the son of a bitch a blink later, picking the male up by the throat, knocking his leather armchair over, and forcing him backward until they hit the emergency exit and burst outside.

Axe spun Peyton around and hung him up on the outside of the building. “Time for you to back off.”

“You asshole,” Peyton hissed. “You fucking got her, didn’t you.”

Elise came rushing out of the cigar bar—but Axe stopped her with an order and a palm in her face. “Go back inside.”

“Axe, don’t hurt him—”

“Let me handle this—”

“Let him go—”

Peyton’s fancy loafers were dangling above the ground, and he was turning blue, but he was so furious, he didn’t seem to care.

“Why do you”—Peyton gasped—“want her to leave?”

Axe snarled, baring his fangs. “Because there’s no reason for her to see what I’m going to do to you.”

“Axe, please—”

That was when Novo materialized on the scene, sauntering over from across the street, the female more amused than surprised as the emergency exit clicked shut.

“Peyton,” she drawled, “you always find the fun, don’t you.”

“Al—” He choked and coughed. “—ways.”

It was hard to say when exactly Axe tweaked to the fact that they were in trouble. But one minute, he was focused on getting Elise to go back inside so he could kill Peyton, and the next …

Novo caught the scent at the same time he did, the female’s head turning to the direction the wind was coming from.

“Oh, shit,” she said under her breath.

Axe dropped Peyton and let the guy find his feet and his oxygen. If he did. “Elise, back inside. Now.”

“No, I’m not leaving until—”

Axe took her arm and airlifted her to the door. “That’s a lesser. That smell—it’s not old garbage, that’s a fucking lesser.”

Elise’s look of alarm was the good news and the bad news: bad because he never wanted to see her scared; good because she didn’t argue with him anymore.

He grabbed for the handle on the door they’d come out of and—locked. The emergency exit was locked. Duh.

“Goddamn it,” he hissed.

Axe only had one gun on him, but as he glanced at Novo, she was already taking her forty out. Peyton was the same, palming up—except he was coming toward Elise.

“I’ll take care of her,” the male announced.

“No, she’s my responsibility—”

“She’s my cousin—”

“Will you two cut it out—”

The three of them escalated to yelling, which was exactly the wrong fucking thing to do, because down at the end of the alley, the lesser, who had previously had no concrete direction, glanced their way.

And then started coming at them.

“I’m going to do this—”

Axe’s bonded male ended Peyton’s op-ed right goddamn there with a roar to rival Godzilla’s—proof positive that whatever civilized veneer vampires sported as they went about their nightly biz, at their heart, they were animals, unconstrained by logic when pushed.

Especially the males.

Peyton’s shock was obvious, but there was no time to go into the how-did-bonding-happen thing. The slayer, previously on the approach to tease out whether they were human or vampire, now had its answer—and it whistled, calling others in for backup.

Axe put Elise behind him. “Stay with me. Use me as a shield.”

And then he raised his gun. There were three slayers now, and—

“One at six,” Novo barked.

Snapping his head around, Axe cursed. “Peyton—”

“Yeah, I’m covering her, too.”

Elise’s cousin fell in tight, closing ranks around her, as Axe got his phone out and tried to text—

“Go into Contacts,” he said as he thrust his phone back at his female. “Text the Brothers.”

A trio of lessers. Humans everywhere. Elise in the middle.

This was the definition of a cluster-fuck.

FORTY-THREE

Rhage was losing his mind.

His ever-loving mind.

As he and Mary sat in the billiards room, the mansion was empty except for doggen: Wrath and Beth were taking a breather with L.W. down in Manhattan; Phury was up at Rehv’s Great Camp in the Adirondacks with the Chosen; V, Z, Tohr, and Butch were at the Audience House with Bitty and that uncle of hers along with Marissa—and Lassiter was riding sunshine shotgun on the little girl’s shoulder. Meanwhile, iAm, Trez, and Rehv were in town at shAdoWs and Sal’s, with Rehv helping the Shadows optimize their revenue. The other females were out on a girls’ night. And he hadn’t seen any of the young bucks since First Meal.

It was as if the community knew they needed some space to self-destruct.

Rhage checked his Rolie again. “How much longer can it take?”

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