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Rhage absolutely fucking hated Havers’s clinic. Yeah, sure, the underground facility was secure, and even though he didn’t like the guy, no one could argue with the healer’s treatment of his patients. But as Rhage sat in the corridor outside the exam room that Bitty and Mary had been in for, like, a hundred and fifty years, pretty much everything was getting on his nerves.

First of all, he hated the synthetic “clean” smell, that fake lemon disinfecta-stench burrowing into his sinuses. Hell, it was so bad, he kept imagining all kinds of tiny yellow minions with pickaxes and spray bottles of the shit paying personal attention to his nostril regions.

Second, the productive hush of everything bugged the fuck out of him, even though it was arguably a good thing. All the soft-soled shoes shuffling along, the quiet voices, the carts of medical supplies and equipment whispering along the hall.

But the worst thing? He really couldn’t stand the attention he got.

It wasn’t that the nurses were popping their bodices and going grind-on-it all over his junk, but damn, he didn’t need all the lingering glances and the unnecessary multi-walk-bys and the twittering and giggling.

He’d dealt with versions of this all his life—at least since the split second he’d made it through his transition. And pre-Mary, he’d taken advantage of the sexual attention to the point where he didn’t leave a reputation so much as a religion of fucking in his wake. Post-Mary, though, he had no interest in other females. In fact, he’d begun to think of his face and body like a sweet-ass whip that his brain drove. His core, his soul, his heart, didn’t have anything to do with how he looked.

And there was the issue.

When your daughter was on the other side of a thin door, dressed in a frail little hospital gown, her eyes big and wide from current fear and past trauma as her personal space and her body were invaded by third parties, the last thing you wanted was a bunch of people falling all over you because they thought you were Channing Tatum and Chris Hemsworth’s frickin’ love child.

Maybe he should put a paper bag over his head—

As a hand came down on his shoulder, he jumped—and was equally shocked to find Zsadist sitting down next to him on the hard floor of the corridor.

Across the way, V and Lassiter were still on their feet and arguing, the pair of them face to hockey mask, the brother putting a hand-rolled between his lips—and then whipping it out as if he remembered he couldn’t light up—the angel more than holding his own, talking a mile a minute.

Rhage didn’t have the energy or the focus to spare on them.

All he could think about was …

“She’s just suffered enough,” he heard himself say. “God … how long have they been in there?”

Looking into the eyes of his brother, he saw that instead of that stare being yellow, Z’s peepers were jet black.

But yeah, Rhage was being pretty annoying. He’d been bitching about the same thing for how long now? No wonder his brother was getting frustrated with him.

“Sorry.” Rhage rubbed his face. “I’ve got to shut up over here. Don’t mean to piss you off.”

Z looked at him like he’d sprouted a horn in the middle of his forehead. “Not you. I just want to dig up that sire of hers and kill him all over again. If Nalla had been abused like that? And had bones full of past breaks?”

The brother stopped talking at that point. Just as well. Rhage felt like vomiting again.

“When it’s your kids, it’s just a whole different level.” Rhage started to bang his head against the wall, and then worried that it might disturb Bitty and the doctors. “You know, I wasn’t prepared for this. I mean, I thought the hard part about being a dad was going to be the arguments—like her bringing some knuckle-dragging mouth breather home and expecting me not to slice off his smooth criminals and plant them in the yard. But this? I want to be the one going through it for her. It’s just not fair.”

Z held his stare, solid as a rock, about as far from psychotic as the brother had once been knee-deep in the crazy. “You are a tremendous father, you know that. You’re the real deal.”

Rhage looked away fast. Cleared his throat. “I feel like I’m failing her.”

“You’re right with her when she needs you most.”

“No, to do that, I’d have to be on that exam table. I’d have to have my body there instead of hers.”

“Not possible and you know it.” Z cursed softly. “The hardest thing about being a father is not being able to make everything all right for them. Sometimes the best you can do is just show up.”

“There has to be more to it.”

“If there is and you figure it out, let me know.”

“Ha! You’re the best father I’ve ever seen.”

“Tell you what, I’ll call your ass the next time I lie awake wondering how I could have screwed things up worse.”

“But it’s different for you.”

“Why.” When Rhage didn’t fill in the blank, Z didn’t let the unspoken remain silent. “Why, because Nalla is biologically mine? G’head, say it. ’Cuz when you hear that shit come out of your mouth, you’ll realize how stupid it is.”

“I just … I wonder if I’d be doing something better if … you know, I were really her sire.”

“Oh, like her biological father, you mean? Like the motherfucker who put her on that table? You want to be like him? Yeah, that’s a real improvement over a guy who’s been here in this corridor, looking like he’s going through open-heart surgery without anesthesia ’cuz his little girl’s having a hard time.”

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