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The tips of Peyton’s fangs started to tingle. “Well, I bet you two had a great time. Before he went home to my cousin.” He lifted his hand to rub his face, but the IV in his arm prevented him from moving as freely as he’d like. “I told him not to go near her—and before you start lecturing me, no, it’s not because he’s just a civilian and she’s an aristocrat. Elise isn’t like us. She’s … clean. She’s better than we are. She deserves respect—like Paradise does.”

“Oh, riiiiiiight. Your progressive paradigm of females. And I keep forgetting which of the two buckets you’ve put me in.”

“Spare me, Novo, okay? You know what I mean. Paradise and Elise wouldn’t be caught dead in a place like that, much less banging randoms and fellow trainees for shits and giggles.”

“I’d like to remind you, Paradise is, currently, banging a fellow trainee.”

“Yeah, but that’s a relationship. Paradise was a virgin. Elise was, too. Goddamn it—how’s she ever going to get mated now?”

Novo stared at him for a long time. “You know what I find fascinating?”

“What? And if it’s the color of my eyes, I feel the same about yours—”

“How you can be such a sexist, judgmental pig. You have fucked twenty or thirty females since I’ve known you—and don’t deny it, I’ve been out in the clubs and watched you go off with them. And yet you’re saying a female shouldn’t, or even can’t, do it, too. Tell me, does that double standard you’re sporting not bother you at all? Like, not even a little?”

“Females are different.” He shrugged. “That’s just the way it is.”

Novo stared off somewhere over his head—and he had the distinct impression that in her mind, she was finishing off the job that slayer had started on him.

“No,” she muttered, “actually, assholes are just assholes, no matter what’s going on between their legs.”

Across town, in a totally different zip code of Caldwell, Elise invited Axe into her bedroom and closed the door quietly behind them both.

“We made it,” she said as she went directly to her bathroom. “Without anyone …”

The moment she saw her reflection in the mirror, she stopped and put her hands up to her cheeks. God … the blood.

Axe stepped in beside her and shook his head. “I didn’t want you ever to see anything like that. Much less get stuck in the middle of it.”

“Is that what your life is like? Going out there … every night … getting almost killed until some lesser finishes the job?”

“Don’t think like that. You can’t.”

“How can I not?” She turned to him and found herself wanting to touch him all over, as if there were bullet holes and other injuries that had somehow been missed on him. “How can I forget?”

As if Axe knew what she needed from him, he put his mouth to hers and kissed her deeply. And all at once, she was consumed by the need to have him, her hands rough as she stripped his clothes and her own, the stained pile on the floor left where it landed as they went to her shower.

Whereas his was a simple stall with a tub bottom, hers was an entire enclosure you walked into, six shower heads raining down water that could be programmed to specific temperature preferences. And there was also almost no waiting at all for the warmth.

But she didn’t need the luxury. Not to be with him, now or ever.

After they soaped each other up and down, and rinsed away the gruesome souvenirs of the night, they left the bathroom and she turned off all the lights except one in the far corner. Lying down in her big bed, under her soft sheets, they made love quietly with him on top of her, their eyes meeting as their bodies were joined together. She found her release first, scoring his back with her nails—and he soon followed, his hips jerking and bucking against her, his powerful orgasm filling her up and teeing off another for her.

There was no lingering closeness afterward, though.

“I need to go,” he whispered. “I can’t stay here.”

“Sure you can. My father never comes in my room.”

“I don’t want to take even a small risk of getting you in trouble. I already nearly got you killed tonight.”

As he got out of the warm nest their bodies’ exertions had created, she stood up and pulled on her pink bathrobe—and thought it was a shame to have the stained things he’d worn during the fight put on over his now-clean skin. But he didn’t seem to care.

All too soon, he was standing in front of her, rubbing her shoulders. “I can’t believe how brave you were tonight.”

“Brave? Are you kidding me? To use a vernacular expression, I was crapping in my pants.”

“You walked right up to a lesser, shooting the whole time. If I hadn’t been fucking terrified for you, I would have been totally aroused.”

She smiled a little, but it was hard to hold on to. “When can I see you again?”

“Tomorrow night. And before you ask, yeah, definitely. I’ll let you know the second I hear anything about Peyton.”

“Please.” She frowned, thinking back to the cigar bar. “I’m sorry he was so disrespectful to you. He can be … old-fashioned and difficult sometimes, but he’s not a bad person.”

“I don’t want him to die. And I don’t want trouble from him. He just needs to stay out of my way and I’ll stay out of his.”

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