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All of that was incidental to what had driven a stake right through Rhage’s sternum.

The face … was Bitty’s.

The male’s face had the same nose and cheeks, the same jaw and mouth, the features simply passed through a filter of masculinity and age. And then there was the hair—his hair was the exact shade of brown and the precise thickness even though it was shorter.

The eyes were a carbon copy, too.

The male didn’t look Rhage’s way, but instead, went to the reception desk, one hand lifting up to his temples as if he usually wore a hat and was reflexively trying to take it off.

Fast footsteps approached from behind Rhage, but he didn’t pay them any mind, at least not until V appeared with a gun out.

“What the fuck’s wrong?” the brother demanded.

Rhage tried to answer. Well, he guessed he did. Something was coming out of his mouth.

“What?” V demanded, looking all around and seeing nothing wrong. “Are you okay?”

It was at that moment that the male, who was clearly a relative of Bitty’s, glanced up from the reception desk, as if he had heard Vishous’s voice. And the second V saw what he was doing, the brother cursed long and low.

Rhage’s phone began to ring, but he didn’t even think of answering it.

In slow motion, he took step after step toward the male.

Whoever the guy was, he had refocused on the receptionist and was speaking in a quiet voice with a commoner’s accent—but then he stopped and turned as Rhage halted in front of him.

Rhage said nothing as he stared into those eyes.

“I’m sorry,” the male said. “I don’t have an appointment. I wasn’t sure where to go. I can leave. I’ll just leave—I gave her my number. I’m not looking for any trouble.”

The male lifted his fists up as if he were ready to defend himself, even against a brother—but it was clear he would prefer not to have to: His stare was level without being aggressive, his affect calm and watchful as his stance widened, and he settled his weight.

It was the classic preparation of someone used to fighting, who was also not an instigator.

“What is your name?” Rhage asked, grimly aware that people were coming around them. V, Saxton … even Wrath himself.

Don’t say it, Rhage prayed. Don’t say it, dontsayit—

“Ruhn. My name is Ruhn. My sister died about two months ago. I’m here for my niece, Lizabitte.”

Mary put her phone down again and lifted her hands to her face. As she stared at the computer screen, reading and rereading the short PM, she was screaming in her head even as she remained silent.

“Rhage …,” she moaned. “Oh, God …”

Back with the phone. Calling him again. Voice mail for the fourth time.

He had to be in with the King, but God! why now—

“Calm down,” she said aloud. “Breathe and relax.”

This could be anything. Someone who was playing a practical joke—who just happened to have the name that Bitty had used. Somebody who had heard Mary was mated to a Brother and wanted to take advantage of that by posing as Bitty’s uncle—even though … well, she hadn’t identified herself as a foster parent.

Or maybe it was a total mistake, a message for somebody else entirely.

Yeah, ’cuz that was likely.

“Damn it, Rhage.”

Her hands were shaking so badly that she fumbled the cell phone, and had to bend over and fish around the dark foot-well of the desk to find the thing.

The downward repositioning was kind of handy, really, considering she was seriously thinking about throwing up.

Righting herself, she looked—

Marissa was in the open doorway of her office and her boss seemed like she had seen a ghost. Great. Did the universe have a BOGO on potentially life-shattering events tonight?

“Mary.”

The instant she heard the grim tone of voice, Mary clamped her molars together and thought, Nope, not a two-for-one. This was about her. This was about the private message.

Or that Rhage had been hurt or killed.

Mary got to her feet. “Tell me.”

“You have to get to the Audience House right now. A young male has shown up and—”

“He says he’s Bitty’s uncle.”

Marissa came in. “Did Rhage call you?”

“No. I … it doesn’t matter.”

Mary reached for her coat. Dropped it as she had the phone. Took two tries to pick the thing up. Then couldn’t get her arm through the sleeve.

“Zsadist is outside.” Marissa helped her with the sleeves and then pulled the lapels to order as if Mary were a child. “He’s going to drive you.”

“I’ll be fine.”

“No.” Marissa handed Mary her purse. Her phone. Put her red scarf around her neck and tied it in a loose knot. “He’s going to take you.”

Marissa stepped back so Mary could go out first.

But Mary didn’t move. Somehow, the messages from her brain to her feet were getting lost in the pathways of her gray matter, the command to left-and-right it out of her office, to the stairs, and down to the front door scattering like autumn leaves in a cold north wind.

Her family. Her precious little family.

Her and Rhage, now with Bitty.

Or maybe … not with Bitty.

“I just want to go back,” she heard herself whisper through sudden tears. “I want to run the night back, I want a reverse lever, a way to back up. I want to be at home during the day, watching movies and sleeping with them both.”

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