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It was emotions, not logic, speaking, of course. Because even if there were a magic remote that could rewind time, the private message would still have been sent … and the collision would still be occurring.

Even more to the point, if by some horrible fate the male actually was Bitty’s uncle? Mary had no right to rob the little girl of her blood relatives.

“I can’t do this.” She covered her mouth with her hand. “I can’t do this.…”

Marissa hugged her close and she clung to her friend. There were no words spoken, because what could be said? This might be a fraud.

Or this might be a rightful, totally legal parental figure coming to claim Bitty.

“Rhage is there,” she said suddenly as she jerked back. “Oh, God … Rhage … is at the Audience House.”

That’s why he wasn’t answering the phone. The uncle or whatever had shown up at the Audience House.

Mary broke into a run for the stairs, her formerly paralyzed legs putting a rush to the descent.

As she hit the front door with Marissa now racing behind her, her tears were flowing fast, streaking off her face. She didn’t pay them any mind. She tore across the lawn, feeling nothing of the cold, or the fact that her purse was slapping against her hip, or that she had her phone locked in a death grip in her other hand.

Z was right by Rhage’s GTO, his skull-trimmed hair and his scarred face glowing in the darkness like a destination.

He opened the passenger door for her, and when she jumped in and couldn’t work the seat belt, he reached inside, even though he hated being close to people, and clicked the tab into place. A split second later, he was behind the wheel and roaring the engine to life.

The tires skidded out on the pavement as he floored the accelerator, the powerful engine fishtailing the rear end before rubber tread found purchase and they exploded forward.

As they sped off, Mary was panting, panting so hard, panting—until she was dizzy and had to lean forward and brace her hands against the dashboard.

Even though they had had Bitty for such a short time, the girl was like a part of Mary’s body, and not an arm or a leg. More like an organ you couldn’t live without. The heart. The brain. The soul. Only in this case, no transplants.

God, she couldn’t do this—

Zsadist covered her hand with one of his, and stayed like that, relinquishing his hold only when he had to shift. And the sense of his strength was the only thing that kept her from screaming out loud until she shattered the windshield in front of her.

She was going to remember this car ride for the rest of her life.

Tragically.

TWENTY

“Z’s bringing her in,” someone said.

Rhage wasn’t tracking much. He was vaguely aware that he was in Darius’s kitchen, sitting at a table that was big enough to handle eight or maybe ten people, but had only one at it.

One rocked and shocked, braced-for-disaster, sorry son of a bitch.

“Mary,” he said in a cracked voice. “She was calling me.…”

Wrath’s face got right up in his as the King sat down next to him. Through those wraparounds, Rhage could feel the power and the support of his brother and his ruler. “Z has her in your car. They’re gonna be here very soon.”

“Where is …” What had he meant to say?

The back door to the kitchen opened, another blast of cold air rushing in—just as it had out front some twenty minutes ago.

The instant he caught his Mary’s scent, he burst up out of his chair and wrenched around. “Mary—”

“Rhage—”

They met somewhere by the stove, and he held her so hard, he didn’t think she could breathe.

“It’s all right,” he murmured as he scented her tears. “It’s okay.…”

Bullshit. He didn’t know that at all. But as she shivered against him, he doubted she was hearing much.

Damn it, life was in a hurricane again, the pillars of his pathetic existence bending so far from the winds and lashing rain, they were bound to snap, the structures on his beach slapping their doors as their roofs disintegrated shingle by shingle, the windows shattering—

Not that he was being dramatic or anything.

“Come on,” he said roughly. “Sit down.”

He drew Mary over to the table and eased her into the seat next to the King.

“Where is the … where is he?” Mary asked.

“V. V is talking to him.” Rhage rubbed his temples, aware that he had a thumper of a headache. “They, ah, they went into the library behind the—it doesn’t matter. You know where the room is.”

Why the fuck was he babbling about the floor plan?

Wrath spoke up. “Vishous is taking down the male’s information and will verify it with Saxton’s help. I think it’s better that the two of you sit tight and don’t meet or speak with him until we’ve got that shit sorted.”

As kindly as the words were spoken, it wasn’t a request. But Rhage wasn’t going to fight the edict. Separate was better in this case.

“That’s right,” Mary said in a hollow voice. “We have a conflict of …”

“Interest,” Rhage filled in.

Sitting down as well, he took Mary’s hand and felt her squeeze in return … and then no one said a thing.

From time to time, he looked around at the sparkling countertops, the Viking stove with its eight gas burners, the refrigerator. As it was night, the windows over the sink … by the table they were at … across the way … were nothing but black panes separated by bright white slats.

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