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“How long do you think this will take?” Rhage asked no one in particular.

“We just have to wait,” Mary whispered. “The answer is already written, we just have to find out what it is.”

Glancing over at her, he hated the pain that had sucked the color out of her face and dilated her pupils and was making her hands shake.

He would have taken a bullet for her.

In fact, he felt as though he had. Too bad they’d both ended up getting shot.

Rhage checked the watch he’d recently bought for himself, the one that was a match to the Rolex President he’d given her when they had first gotten together.

Shit, he didn’t know whether he wanted Vishous to come right away or hours from now.

“What did he look like?” Mary whispered. When he didn’t reply, she cleared her throat. “Be honest. What did he look like.”

It was a while before Rhage could reply, and when he did, it was just one word.

“Her. He looked … exactly like Bitty.”

TWENTY-ONE

Axe was in hell. And he ate up the pain.

As he sat in his far-off corner of the restaurant, he watched Elise smile at the human man. Tilt her head as if her professor were saying something that particularly interested her. Motion with her hands. Laugh.

She looked into the other man’s eyes. Clinked her wineglass with his. Took a piece of food from his plate to try.

And the whole time, she was so exquisitely beautiful, the flickering candle on the table playing over her face and throat, her shoulders and her hair.

He hated that she was with someone else. Detested that they were sharing a meal—which felt more intimate than the sex he had on a regular basis. Was downright violent about the thoughts that man was undoubtedly having in his head.

But he loved to hurt. The jealousy was an agony that left him deliciously crippled, and he opened himself up to the pain of being on the outside looking in.

Even though he barely knew her, he loved her in this moment. She was the conduit to the vein of torture, and as physically attractive as he found her, the power she had over him turned her into a goddess.

“Would you care for anything else?” the waiter asked him.

Axe shook his head. “Just the check.”

“Here.”

The leather folio was put at his elbow and the guy marched off. Not that Axe blamed the human. All Axe had had was water and dinner rolls—before rocking the house by ordering a coffee.

The total was five dollars. He left the only ten-dollar bill he had and thought, Hey, fifty percent tip. Check him out, a high-rolling motherfucker.

As he took another sip from his water glass, he enjoyed an uncharacteristic, unwelcomed moment of introspection: while Elise laughed again, he was vaguely aware that where he was at was really bad juju.

In her own, almost innocent, way, she was rocking his world. Bringing him to his knees. Demanding all his attention without even being aware that she was asking anything of him.

And in response, he was going to be making a demand of her. The second he got her alone.

She was not going to deny him, either.

Over at Elise’s table, the check arrived, and after it was paid, the pair of them got up—which was Axe’s cue to sneak out the fire escape behind him. As he pushed the bar, no alarm sounded, and the fresh air made him realize how much the place smelled like steak.

His body was humming, so the cold didn’t register at all, and he stayed in the shadows of the single-story building as he walked around to the front, his boots crunching over the frosted ground. The entrance to the restaurant had an awning with no side panels, a thick mat running down the pavement underneath it like the poor relation of a movie premiere’s red carpet.

The happy fucking couple came out a moment later, and Troy put his arm around Elise’s waist as they went down the three shallow steps to the runner.

And didn’t that make his fangs descend in a rush. But he stayed right where he was.

A gust of wind caught Elise’s hair, sweeping it in the professor’s direction, the ends of the tendrils feathering across his shoulder.

She laughed as she regathered the errant strands, put the length in a twist, and tucked it into the collar of her coat. And then they kept chatting. It was easy to get the gist. The human motioned to the parking lot as if to offer to take her home. She shook her head. He motioned to the cars once more. She put her hand on his forearm and shook her head again.

She was telling him an artful lie about why he couldn’t drive her home.

Axe smiled, flashing all his teeth in the dark. Nah, she wasn’t going anywhere with good ol’, man-bunned Troy. And she knew right where Axe was, his position upwind of her carrying the scent of his arousal right into her nose even as the human remained clueless of his presence.

Those rats without tails were so easy.

But they didn’t get a first-date kiss. Nope.

It was pretty clear when Troy was thinking about going in for one. But Elise stepped back and put her hands in the pockets of her coat. And the man respected the boundary, lifting his hand in goodbye.

Which saved his fucking life.

Elise stood under the awning in the wind as the guy got into a perfectly respectful Subaru and backed out of his spot. Then he pulled up to the awning, put the window down, and tossed something off with a grin. She laughed. Waved.

Buh-bye, human.

Elise waited until the taillights made a left out of the parking lot and headed down the main road beyond.

Then she turned to him.

She came to him.

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