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“Single-handedly.” Peyton’s eyes drifted to the TV screen across the way and the football game that was on it. “Real live hero stuff. The Brother Rhage, literally, would not be alive tonight if it weren’t for the fact that Axe, even after having been shot himself, managed to put his own body in the way of a knife—while a lesser was on his back, beating him with a steel whip.”

The world spun around and Elise threw out a hand to steady herself. When there was nothing to catch her fall, she stumbled over to the foot of that palace bed of his and sat down.

“It was amazing,” Peyton said softly, his eyes getting a faraway look to them. “I saw it happen. We were stationed on different streets, but there were suddenly slayers everywhere. I followed mine right to the alley Axe was fighting in—just as he got himself stabbed. I thought … I really thought Axe was dead, you know?”

“He didn’t say a thing,” she whispered.

Peyton reached over to the bedside table and picked up a tumbler that was full of ice and something fizzy. He took a long drink, emptying a good quarter of the thing.

“I’ve never done anything close to that.” Peyton took another drink. “Maybe he is the right male for your job, you know?”

“He has been …” She cleared her throat. “Perfectly professional. Were you hurt last night?”

“No. No one else was seriously, either. It was like Axe took all of our injuries at once.”

Peyton fell silent and so did she … while across the way, that football game played on, humans in the stands dressed in blue-and-orange and red-and-white.

“What is this?” she asked numbly. “On the screen?”

“It’s the Iron Bowl from ’thirteen. Auburn–’Bama. Auburn wins with a one-hundred-and-nine-yard kick back run. War Damn Eagle.”

“What does that mean?”

“Not a clue. It’s the Auburn fight song. Our vet, who is human, went to school there? So that’s how I started rooting for them about twenty years ago. Habits, you know.”

Peyton finished his drink, then added, “I can’t believe Axe didn’t tell you.”

“I don’t think he cares about showing off.”

Peyton laughed. “Yeah, he doesn’t give a shit about much.” Abruptly, the male grew serious. “So you want to know about Allishon, huh.”

“Yes, I do.”

“Okay,” he said after a long moment. “I’ll tell you.”

It really wasn’t rocket science.

As Axe leaned into the mirror over the sink in his bathroom, he wiped the condensation from the shower off the glass with his forearm and then picked up the pair of fingernail scissors he’d found in the cabinet. Twisting around, he got his torso at the right angle and went to work.

Pushing the small, sharp-tipped blades under each one of the shit ton of sutures, he went snip, snip, snip … then he used a pair of tweezers to get the knots of thread out. Repeated on his thigh. Checked to make sure he didn’t have any others anywhere. Nope. Clean. And everything had healed so well, the scars were nearly invisible. By dawn, no one would ever know he’d been hurt.

His body wasn’t stiff, either. Eyesight and hearing were perfect. No headaches, muscle pulls, joint discomfort.

That Chosen blood was a thing.

Well, that and the fact that after Elise had left, he’d passed out—and shit, had he dreamed of her, vivid, erotic fantasies playing in his mind to the point where, when he finally woke up, he reached out as if she were beside him.

And what do you know, for the first time in recorded history, he had no interest in going to The Keys. What he was actually into was getting back home in time to see Elise at four a.m. But he’d promised to take Novo out—and while they were at the sex club, he was going to put her up for membership so that she didn’t have to ask him anymore.

She was a female who could really use a place like that.

And who knows. Maybe he was transitioning out of that phase in his life—

Axe stopped himself, a low-level anxiety threatening to break through and ruin his fantasy of what the night was going to be like.

God, for some reason, he saw those figurines of his father’s, those impotent little exercises in mourning.

With how much he was becoming attached to Elise already, was he just going to end up like his pops? In ruins when the relationship ended … likely because Elise recognized where she properly belonged.

In the glymera, with her kind.

Shit, he’d known her for how long? Fuck … five nights? And he’d seen her for the first time six nights ago?

Refusing to meet his own eyes in the mirror, he double-checked that the now-sutureless wound on his thigh wasn’t bleeding. Inspected the stabbing area. And got in the shower.

Ten minutes later, he was dressed in black with his cloak and his skull mask on. Dematerializing to the west, he re-formed in a vacant parking lot that was about a three-minute walk from the club. Novo was already where they’d agreed to meet.

And holy fuck.

That just about covered it: The female was in a black latex bodysuit that fit every curve and straightaway she had, a fringe belt hanging off her tight hips, her breasts looking like a million bucks, her legs long as highways. Her black hair was braided and her thigh-high boots were spiked, and she looked like exactly the kind of badass she was.

Her mask was not on, however, and her eyes went on a travel up and down his body. Not sexually, though. “I can’t believe you’re alive.”

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