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He was not happy.

“Well, I’ll see you then.” Elise drew on her coat and one-strapped her backpack. “And thank you again. I’m looking forward to it.”

“Can’t wait.”

Troy had a dimple on one side. Who knew, she thought as she pivoted and started walking off.

Axe was silent as they left the building. But he didn’t need to say anything for her to know what their next argument was going to be about.

Out on the lawn, she turned to him and put her hands on her hips. “You’re not coming with us.”

That brow of his went up. “To where? Ohhhhhh, on your date. Yes, I am.”

“No, you’re not.”

“Wait, let me get this straight. You want me to be professional, except when you don’t?”

“I would like some privacy. And we’re not going to school.”

“You don’t think your father would want you covered on a date with a human? I’m very sure he will.”

“It’s not necessary.” Okay, that sounded lame even to her own ears. “I’ll be fine.”

He was silent for a moment. “Okay. As you wish.”

Uh-huh, right, he was going to agree with her on this one.

And as she waited for more to come at her, for the electric sparks to keep flying between them, she prickled with heat, roared with awareness, watched that full lower lip of his in anticipation of it moving again.

“Come on,” he said. “Let’s get you back. I have to go to training now, and I need to change into combat clothes.”

Wait … what?

Axe motioned forth. “After you, m’lady.”

Elise blinked. And then told herself that it was insane to be disappointed they weren’t going to keep fighting.

“Do you have something else to say to me?” he prompted.

“No, I don’t,” she muttered as she closed her eyes … and willed herself back home.

SEVENTEEN

The following evening, Mary tried to make sure that Bitty was all set in the billiards room. But even after providing the girl with a bowl full of freshly popped and buttered popcorn, a bag of Chips Ahoy! chocolate chip cookies, a ginger ale, a bottle of water, the remote to the huge TV over the fireplace, copies of Cosmo for Girls, the National Enquirer, two weeks of People, and a partridge in a pear tree … she still felt as though she were leaving Bit in the wilderness alone in a snowstorm.

Which was nuts.

But that was a mom for you.

Sitting down on the sofa by the twin leg casts, she stroked Bitty’s soft-socked foot. “You sure you’ll be all right?”

The smile she got back was easy and happy. “Oh, yes, very much so. Bella and Nalla are coming down after Nalla’s bath. And Lassiter promised he would come watch Saved by the Bell with me.”

“He’s a good soul, that angel.”

“He also told me he was going to color my hair—”

“What—”

“Kidding.” Bitty smiled even further. “I couldn’t resist.”

Mary clutched the front of her silk blouse. “Jeez, you’ll give me a heart attack.”

“Father came by, too. He said he was going to get off work early and make me a special Last Meal.”

“He’s at the Audience House tonight.”

“Is he not in the field because of what happened at the clinic?”

“He needs a little more recovery time.”

“Good.” The girl got quiet. “I worry.…”

“About what?” Mary switched to the other foot, massaging the little toes in their cushion of fleece. “Tell me.”

“What if something happened to him? I mean, I know the beast protects him, but …”

“He’s specially trained, honey. His equipment is the best. He doesn’t take any undue risks.”

“That’s what he said.”

“He’ll never lie to you.” Mary frowned. “Are you sure you don’t want me to stay with you?”

“The other kids need you. I get to be with you during the day.”

You’re so beautiful, Mary thought as she stood up. “You can always call me.” She took her cell phone out of her purse and waved it back and forth. “This is always with me.”

“I know. Have a good night, Mom.”

Mary closed her eyes briefly. Boy, that was one word she just couldn’t believe was being applied to her. And right up with shellan, it was her absolute favorite.

“See you soon. Call me, okay?”

“I promise.”

Just as she was leaving, Lassiter came into the room, his blond-and-black hair nearly down to his ass, his white robing like something out of Animal House’s toga party.

Dropping her voice, she said, “Tell me you are not coloring that girl’s hair.”

The angel assumed an innocent look. “She likes pink, you know.”

“Lassiter, are you serious? You need to talk to us before you—”

“I don’t see anything wrong with her having pink hair.”

“I don’t either. The issue I have is what you’re going to have to do to get it that color. Bald is not going to work for me, okay? And if you melt that child’s hair off her scalp, I don’t care if you’re a deity, Rhage will find a way to kill you. She’s already got casts on her arms and legs, she doesn’t need to lose her hair on top of it.”

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