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Axe ripped his mouth out of her hold and jacked forward on his hips. “Don’t put your hands on me again.”

“I didn’t want to touch you in the first place—”

“Liar.”

She recoiled as if he’d cursed at her. But she recovered quick. “You’re jealous.”

“What the hell are you talking about?”

“You didn’t like the way he was looking at me. Admit it. And if you try to deny that you want me, may I remind you of your ‘attraction working in our favor’ speech last night. You remember, you were sitting at the foot of my bed? You were quite articulate about it all.”

As she arched a superior, pure-as-the-driven-snow brow at him, Axe seriously wanted to shoot something. Maybe her. Maybe himself. Very definitely “Troy.” “You know, right now, I’m seriously reconsidering your cousin’s offer to pay me to stay away from you.”

Elise opened her mouth as if she were going to stay on her roll—but then clamped it closed as if the words he’d spoken had sunk in on a delay.

“Peyton did what?”

“He came to my house last night and told me I wasn’t allowed to take this job, and when I told him to fuck off, he said whatever your father is paying me he’ll double, triple, Powerball the salary.”

“Why would he do that?” she mumbled as if she couldn’t fathom any kind of “why.”

“Because people like me are only allowed to fix your house or your car or work in your garden.” Okay, now he was getting worked up again. “We don’t matter to people like you. We’re just another commodity to be bartered back and forth over—”

“That is absolutely not true!”

Before he could stop himself, Axe sneered, “Oh, really? Well, would you like to know how my father died in the raids? I’d be just goddamned thrilled to tell you, given that you’re all about the fucking talking. My father is dead because the aristocrats he was working for locked all of the staff and the carpenters out of the safe room. So when the slayers came, the riff-raff were all slaughtered, even though there was plenty of room for them. They pounded on the fucking door, begged to be allowed in, but your people let them die. That’s how my only family was killed. And that’s the exact same attitude that makes your fuck-twit of a cousin think he can buy me off and allows you to preach honesty while you’re blowing smoke up my ass about what you’re doing with your professor over there.”

There was a long, tense silence.

And then Elise cleared her throat. “I am sincerely sorry for your loss. That is an unbelievable tragedy.”

He laughed with a harsh curse. “Did your fancy psych degree give you those two sentences on a card to memorize during your Grief Seminar? Or was it your Placating the Lower Class survey course.”

Elise crossed her arms over her chest and just stared at him. And the longer she did, the more he felt like turning away from her and leaving.

He wasn’t really sure why he stayed.

“I don’t think this is going to work,” she muttered.

“Yeah, I think you’re right. And it’s probably the only thing we’re ever going to agree on.”

As she turned her head away from him, he had to ignore how perfect her profile was. But then she opened her mouth again … and laid him out flat on the floor.

Even though she didn’t make any physical contact with him.

“The makeup was for you. Not him. And congratulations, you’re fired. Hope you enjoy wallowing in your misogyny and self-righteous prejudice. Clearly, you get a lot out of both.”

On that note, she lifted her chin and waltzed off. Like she owned the place. Naturally—

Wait. What had she just said about the makeup?????

As Elise marched away from Asswell—Axwelle, she corrected in her head—she couldn’t figure out who she was more pissed off at.

Which, considering how badly he’d behaved, was really saying something.

The award for Biggest Douche Bag on the Planet was a toss-up between him and Peyton. Him, because he was so outrageously offensive she really wanted to call on what little self-defense she knew and knee him in the balls—on the theory that the ranting and raving he’d thrown around back there could only be improved upon with the addition of a helium voice. And Peyton, because it was so completely inappropriate for her cousin to try and buy off anyone, much less a fellow trainee doing a job for somebody else.

Although, really, it wasn’t like it was going to work—

Axe materialized right in front of her, so much out of thin air that she yelped and jumped back.

And then she realized what he’d done. In a human place.

“Are you insane?” She glanced around to see if anyone had caught the ghosting. “You can’t do that in here!”

“Like the books are going to have an opinion?” But he shook his head and cursed. “Look, I’m sorry, okay. I’m really … sorry.”

He met her eyes without flinching, and he had the grace to seem seriously sincere. “I’m not good at …”

She waited for him to finish. And when he honestly seemed to struggle, she debated just leaving him where he stood. ’Cuz he deserved it.

“Go on,” she muttered. “I’m listening.”

“The whole relating thing. I’m not a social creature.”

“Really. You don’t say.”

“It’s true.”

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