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Holding the lantern out, he went over to the tall table with its scarred top and its countless tools and the drawings that had been tacked to the bare wall studs behind it. There were blocks of wood that would never see an artistic form and then figurines that were half-whittled, the rabbits, birds, squirrels, and flowers looking as if they were struggling to pull free of their squares.

There was also an extensive shelving system across the way, where his father had lined up his finished products. It was like a woodland scene, the winsome creatures frolicking together in a miniature forest, the fauna crouching, rolling over, running, climbing, sitting pretty, among tiny, intricate trees and perfectly carved rocks.

Axe hated to see what his father had been able to do.

The skill was that of a master, the end results the kind of thing that belonged in museums or under the protective, nurturing care of collectors.

And yet they were sitting here in the basement.

He wanted to light it all on fire. Just burn it all.

It was too fucking pathetic that the male had stayed down here all day, every day, making this shit because he was hoping a female who had left him for a better offer might be impressed when she came back.

But see, Axe had always wanted to say, she ain’t coming back.

And he’d been right.

His father had been such a gentle male—an uneducated one, but a gentle soul for sure. And commensurate with his nature, he hadn’t dealt with the betrayal by drinking and getting violent, by turning into a man-whore, by abusing the little boy who had been left behind with him. Instead, he had simply faded away, becoming a ghost that drifted in and out of the rooms and ended up haunting this space down here.

Axe had hated him for the weakness.

And yeah, a part of him still did.

But the tragedy that night of the raids had fucked all that righteous anger up—adding a watershed of self-hatred and guilt on top of the psychotic sundae he’d already been carrying around with him 24/7.

God, why the hell was he down here?

Well, that was a no-duh if he’d ever seen one.

Axe ignored the fact that he stumbled a little as he headed back for the stairs, and he took the lantern up with him, leaving it at the top by the door into the kitchen.

Needing something, anything, to focus on aside from his precious little fucking feelings, he went back to his leather jacket and got out his phone. Except he wasn’t sure exactly who he was going to call or text.

Not Elise, that much he knew.

He didn’t get to his nearly empty contact list, though.

Somebody had left him a voice mail, and it wasn’t a number he recognized.

As he played the message, he frowned—but two words in, and he knew who it was.

Good evening, Axwelle. This is Elise’s sire. There is an additional service you could provide me, and I would be most grateful if you would call upon me tomorrow eve, an hour after sundown. I shall look forward to your presence. Thank you.

What the hell was this about?

From out of nowhere, the hum of his addiction started to vibrate, that thing he had always thought of as part cancer, part dragon, standing up on its hindquarters and starting to roar.

The good news? At least he wasn’t thinking about Elise. The bad news?

Once that hum started talking to him? It would rise and rise until he had to deal with it … and there was only one way that had worked for him now that he’d quit heroin—

The phone went off in his hand, the electronic pattern of sound loud as the pop! of a gun in the quiet house.

He answered before the second ring was over. “Novo.”

“Hey.”

As background noise made her hard to hear, he frowned and turned up the volume with his thumb. “Where are you?”

“At a club. You know that Euro-trash one Peyton goes to all the time.”

“Yeah.”

He took the phone away from his ear and checked what time it was. Also noted that he was running out of battery life. Shit, he’d forgotten to charge the damn thing in the restaurant—when you lived without electricity, you learned to vampire volts when you could and recharge your stuff everywhere.

When his fellow trainee didn’t say anything further, he frowned. “You drunk and need a pickup? ’Cuz you know I don’t have wheels.”

“No, I need to ask you something.”

“What.”

“You want to fuck?”

Axe popped his brows. And for a split second, he entertained the idea of the female coming over and the pair of them hardcoring it all over the fucking house, breaking furniture, slamming into walls, letting the fire die because their body heat was more than enough to keep them warm.

“Is that a yes,” she drawled in a low, sexy voice that should have been better than an actual hand down his pants.

Keeping the phone to his ear, he walked over to the fireplace, bent down, and picked up the blanket Elise had wrapped around herself. As he put it to his nose, he breathed deep.

And missed her so much he dropped the damn thing like he’d been burned by it.

“I don’t shit where I eat, Novo,” he heard himself say.

The come-on went out of her voice immediately. “Thanks for suggesting sex with me would be excrementally awesome.”

“You know what I mean.”

“I won’t get emotionally attached,” she muttered dryly. “Trust me.”

“I know.” He thought of the asshole Peyton and the dumb-ass’s little Paradise obsession. “We got enough fucked-up dynamics in the group already, though, and someone would find out. That shit’s hard to hide even if you do it vanilla.”

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