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Although Paradise and Novo got a lot of attention.

And yup, that made the males training with them want to get their weapons back out.

The maître d’ rushed forward to Peyton and started in with the welcoming act. Their regular seating area had been reserved, and Axe took a pass on the ass-kissing session, walking away from the group to the back, where the emergency exit was.

Novo sat down with him and he ordered two Scotches, one for each of them, as the others filed in and deep-seated in the stuffed chairs. There was a low table in middle with a humidor and a series of ashtrays, and soon enough, there were various cocktails and then plates of tapas filling the surface up.

“… gun range tomorrow.”

Axe rubbed his face. “What?”

“I said,” Novo repeated, “you might want to chill on that club before sessions. You’re out of it right now, and you don’t want to look bad on the gun range tomorrow.”

“What’s fucking my head is my shit shab performance tonight.” He swirled the liquor in his glass, coating the ice cubes with a wash of Scotch. “Hell, maybe I’d have done better if I had stayed at The Keys awhile longer.”

“You going to bring me sometime?” She took a pull off her glass and eased back. “I want to see what it’s all about.”

His eyes traveled up and down her body. “Yeah, I think you can handle it. Wouldn’t say that about most females.”

“Sexist much?”

“Females have better standards than males. But you’re one of us.”

Novo threw her head back and laughed. “I can’t decide whether to be offended or not.”

“If I order you another Scotch, will that help you—”

It was like a car accident in his head. One second, he was cruising along the deserted highway of his normal state as an oversexed, self-shaming guilt-whore … and the next, all his thoughts, every ounce of cognition, even on his subconscious level, slammed into a five-foot-ten-inch blond female with eyes like an angel, a body right out of heaven, and the unusual combination of a spooked look and a jaw that was forged in iron.

Axe straightened in his seat like someone had jumper-cabled his ass to a Chevy, and everything went tunnel with her the light at the end, the glow around her created by his reaction to her presence—

Peyton got in the way.

That miserable motherfucker had the colossal nerve to stand up and greet whoever it was with a hug. And then he talked to her, his muscular body blocking Axe’s view, the back of his head making an excellent target for a bullet or the claw of a hammer or maybe even a falling piano as far as Axe was concerned.

“FYI,” Novo said softly, “shooting him is not going to get my second Scotch faster. Because the waiter’s going to call the police on you before he gets me my drink.”

“What the hell are you talking about?” Axe growled.

Except then he looked down, and—well, hello there, Mr. Shiny—his gun was in his hand and ready to go.

Unlike in the alley.

Great, now his brain decides to catch up with protocol.

Muttering under his breath, Axe put the damn thing away, and finished off the liquor in his glass. And then he made a show of trying to get the waiter’s attention—when what he was actually doing was attempting to lean around Peyton’s make-a-better-door-than-a-window routine.

The problem finally got solved when the SOB stepped aside and started making introductions.

But then shit got so much worse.

“This is my cousin,” Peyton said to everybody, “Elise.”

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The way Elise saw it, having already been caught sneaking behind her father’s back, it wasn’t as if she could get in any worse trouble by going out one last time before the sehclusion hammer fell and she was locked in. Besides, Peyton was going to be with his fellow trainees. What could be safer than joining him?

The bottom line was that he was the only person she could think of to go to. Maybe there was a way out, a way to … she didn’t know.

“Let me introduce you,” her cousin was saying as he indicated the people sitting in a circle of heavy chairs.

Elise would have preferred to catch him alone, but she wasn’t going to miss her chance. Besides, they could always step off into a corner together.

“This is Craeg—and you know Paradise.”

Elise lifted her hand to the female. “Hi, wow, hello.”

Paradise was the daughter of the King’s First Advisor, a high-bred descendant of a Founding Family—and yet she had somehow managed to talk her way out of traditional roles and into the Brotherhood’s training program. As a soldier. A fighter.

Maybe she could give some advice?

“That’s Boone, Novo … and Axe.”

Elise nodded at each of the trainees—until she got to the last one. Then she wasn’t sure what she did.

Maybe she had a seizure? Or a spontaneous concussion? Because sure enough, she forgot about everything and everybody the instant she met his eyes, with the cigar bar, the humans around them, and even her reason for coming out disappearing as if someone had hit the world with a dry eraser.

He was extraordinary.

Or maybe … extraordinarily dangerous was more like it.

However she defined the effect of him, she had a sixth sense he was going to change her life.

The male was sitting outside the dim pool of light that fell from the ceiling, shadows blanketing him as if protecting one of their own. He had dark hair, black hair, that was thick and spiky, and a huge body that was arranged like he could spring forward on an attack in the blink of an eye. The tattoos that ran up half of his neck and piercings that marked his left ear and brow made him seem even more sinister. And then there were his clothes, black and draped over him, suggesting there could be weapons underneath.

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