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Axe and Butch were the farthest out of the pairings, the two of them setting off at a jog because Butch, as a half-breed, was not able to dematerialize—not that that really mattered. As the Brother was of the King’s own bloodline, he was bulldog strong, his shitkickers covering the pavement at a fast run that Axe had to keep up with.

When they came to Fifth Street, Butch palmed both his guns. Axe did the same.

“We go down this side, son,” the Brother said in his Boston accent. “Be wicked fuckin’ careful.”

Together, they strode forward in a flanking position, sticking to the fronts of the brick buildings—which was to say they were pretty much sitting ducks. But Axe kept his eyes on the windows across the street, covering Butch as the Brother provided the same service for him: Both of them were looking for any flashes or figures moving around in the windows of the law offices, social service agencies, philanthropic organizations.…

This was the nicest of the real estate they were going to see.

And yup, the denigration and depression of monetary values started up pretty damn quick. Soon, the five-and six-story walk-ups were displaying signs of age and decomposition, front stoops exhibiting cracked steps like teeth that were on the verge of falling out, paint jobs flaking off, and, even farther on, missing windows beginning to make appearances.

Now, he was tromping across a slushy debris field of trash, hubcaps, random beer cans and booze bottles, parts of engines, fuck only knew what else. But he didn’t give a shit. He had good treads on his combat boots, sure footing, and razor-sharp instincts that were firing like cannons. In fact, his whole body was humming, his blood crackling through his veins, his trigger fingers ready to party.

And all the time, his eyes scanned the buildings across the way and then flicked to what was ahead of him and then returned to those fucking rooflines and dirty glass panes.

To say he fell into a rhythm was not accurate. There was no rhythm to be had when you were aware that you might have to start either shooting or bleeding at any fucking moment. But he was definitely in a zone—

He caught the scent first.

Just as he was crossing a thin alley opening, a gust brought something that smelled like three-day-old roadkill topped with fake vanilla icing and baby powder.

He knew better than to stop, even though his feet faltered. Instead, he jumped across the opening and back-flatted it against the far corner of the next abandoned building. With a short whistle, he got Butch’s attention—and he didn’t need to explain what it was.

The Brother was already on it, reversing so that he was on the far side of the urban aperture.

Axe was aware of his heart pounding, but he kept his breathing slow and steady. If he started panting, it was going to decrease the accuracy of his hearing and that was not going to help.

Finally, he was going to engage with the enemy—

Shit, he thought as he caught another scent on the breeze.

Blood.

There was vampire blood down there.

At that very moment, his phone went off in his sleeve and he popped his elbow up, reading the screen that showed through the clear pocket retrofitted onto his combat jacket.

Fuck, Qhuinn and Peyton had engaged.

Almost immediately, another text came through. So had Tohr and Paradise. And John Matthew and Craeg.

It was a cluster-fuck.

And as he realized that Rhage wasn’t among them, he thought … fucking hell, what if the Brother was down there fighting alone?

Deep in Allishon’s closet, Elise had worked herself all the way around the space, and what she left in her wake was Macy’s display-worthy, the garments tidy and orderly on the rods, even if some were wrinkled or so deliberately tattered that they barely had enough to hold themselves together on the hangers. She’d also sorted the things on the carpet, putting the bags and shoes in a lineup according to type and color.

As she stepped back to measure her success, she frowned. There seemed to be a wad of something in the far corner, so she got on her knees and pulled the … it was a bundle of cloth, like a large, loose bag, or a—no, it was a black cloak. That smelled like—

Oh, yeah, no. Cigarettes, alcohol, other things.

Elise folded the thing on the floor and was about to put it back when she leaned down and looked into the corner again.

There was something else there.

Reaching forward, she really had to stretch her arm back—

“What the hell?” she muttered.

A box. Metal, by the cool feel of it.

She tried to pull the thing out, but it weighed a great deal. Two hands. She needed two hands, and she grunted.

It turned out to be one of those lockbox, mini-safe things, the kind with the heavy reinforced sides and top. There was a keyed entry to it, and when she tried the latch on a whim, she didn’t expect—

Except it did open: With enough pressure, the top half cracked and then started to come fully up. She stopped her hands from following through, however.

Falling back on her butt, she moved the lockbox between her legs and thought about what she was doing. This was maybe private … something that Allishon’s parents should see first. Yet as she tried to picture bringing anything of their daughter’s to them, she knew that was never going to go well—and though she had mixed feelings, she did peek inside.

Just a bunch of folded-up papers, legal-size. That was it.

Taking them out, she flattened the bundle. It was a real estate contract. For the lease of … what looked like a condo. That was downtown, going by the address of a numbered street?

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