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Bitty focused on their Mary. “G’head, Mom.”

Jeez, it felt good to have that word back in their vocabulary.

In the short silence that followed, Rhage frowned and looked around.

For some reason, he was aware that they were not alone … and yet no one else seemed to be in the library with them.

Mary took Bit’s hand and smoothed the back of it. “Do you remember when I told you I was sick?”

“The cancer isn’t back?” the girl asked with fear. “You aren’t—”

“No, no. Absolutely not. And that’s kind of what I need to tell you.”

“What? … I don’t understand.”

In a steady stream of perfectly chosen words, Mary told the story from start to finish. The cancer. Rhage coming into her life. The Scribe Virgin’s intervention … and what it meant.

“You mean … you’re immortal?” Bit breathed. “You’re like a god or something?”

“Oh, no. No, no, not a god. Never. That is one job I wouldn’t want. But it does mean … well, think of it like this. I get to choose when I go into the Fade. Like, you know how everyone ages along a line? They get older every year? And sometimes bad things happen to them and they get sick or hurt or something?”

“Yes. As with Father when he was shot. Before his vests. Or … what happened to my mahmen.”

As Mary reached up and stroked the little girl’s face, Rhage thought, Oh, my two females. My two perfect females in the firelight …

“Well, it’s not like that for me,” Mary said.

“So you can live as long as I do?”

“Yes, I can.”

Bitty’s eyes got watery. And then she threw her arms around Mary. “So you’ll never leave me. I’ll never lose my mother.”

Okaaaaay, time for some throat clearing.

“Never. Ever.” Mary held the girl and smiled through beautiful tears. “Not ever. And I didn’t want to hide this from you—but I also didn’t want it influencing your decision to stay with us?”

“I just feel lucky. I just feel so lucky.” Bitty pulled back and looked at Rhage. “But what about you?”

“Bulletproof vests, my girl.” He sniffed like he had allergies. ’Cuz it wasn’t like he was crying or some shit. Nah. “Training and equipment. It’s what I told you before, I go out to do my job and intend to come home to my females every night.”

Bitty got quiet for a moment. But then she nodded. “Okay, but you’ll be careful—”

Rhage frowned as something caught his eye.

A sun spot. On the carpet. By the tree.

“Lassiter,” he called out. “Really?”

The angel appeared all at once, his blond-and-black hair and his gold hoops and necklaces and earrings creating that aura he always had. Or hell, that glow was probably just him.

“What I say?” the angel demanded as he Vanna-White’d the three of them. In zebra-striped leggings that were clearly out of Steven Tyler’s wardrobe. “Have faith. Believe. And all will be well. What. Did. I. Say.”

Rhage had to laugh. “Fantastic. Another reason for you to be full of it.”

“Greatness is as greatness does.” The angel pivoted in a circle and then pulled a Michael Jackson, moonwalking backward until he popped up onto the toes of his shoes. “And I am awwwwwwesommmme.”

Mary and Bitty started laughing, too, and Rhage just sat back and smiled.

Then he started to think. Okay, so if Ruhn hadn’t even seen Jaws, where did they start?

Probably not there. Or with Jason. Michael. Freddy. The guy wasn’t a pussy by any stretch, but for godsakes, you didn’t want to make him crap in his pants, either.

“What’s the matter?” Mary asked.

Rhage rubbed his face and looked at Bitty. “You know, your uncle? We might need to start him off slow with the movies. I don’t want to scare the sh—er, crap out of him.”

“Die Hard?” his daughter suggested.

“Too much.”

“Really, that bad?”

“Really.”

There was a pause. And then they both said, at the same time, in the same tone of voice: “The Goonies.”

You want to talk about fatherly pride? Rhage mused as he held his hand out for another high five and Bit slapped him a good one.

There you had it.

FIFTY-TWO

There was something about New Year’s Eve that made you want to start fresh.

Nights later, as Peyton sat on the foot of his bed, in his going-to-get-laid club clothes, he found himself scrolling through his texts. So many invitations, from his boys in the glymera, humans who thought they knew him from the Caldie club scene, females, females … more females.

And the pings just kept coming through.

Paradise and Craeg were going to be chilling at her house, and she’d invited him to join them—but also tacked on that she knew he’d be busy painting the town red. Boone was going over there. No one knew where Novo was at.

Axe certainly hadn’t checked in with any updates.

Peyton put his phone aside and stared across his room. He was uncomfortably sober at the moment, and had every intention of fixing that shit.

Yup.

Any moment, he was going to hit the bottle or one of his bongs, and float away in the inside of his skull—just … leave behind the mess that had been stewing in his head for the last while.

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