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Axe walked up to her. “You ready?”

“Are you all right? To do this—”

“Let’s go.”

“Axe.”

“What.”

Novo’s arms shot out and she gave him a stiff, hard hug that ended almost as soon as it began. And as he cleared his throat from some kind of non-sexual feeling, he thought, Well, what do you know. Poor folks have something in common with rich ones: He had absolutely no interest in talking with Novo about the night before, and not because he didn’t like her.

“I’m glad you survived,” she said, as gruffly as if she were a male. “And I’m impressed as hell at what you did.”

“Thanks. Now let’s drop it. You’re clearly good to go tonight, not that I expected anything less.”

“Yeah, let’s do this.”

Novo put her own mask over her face, the featureless panels for her eyes and the black mesh for her mouth leaving her with an alien vibe.

Axe walked off, his black combat boots eating up the pavement, Novo moving beside him with the same deadly grace she always did. As they went along, an ambulance rushed by with its lights bubbling, its driver pumping a siren as the vehicle came up to an intersection with a light. Then there was a snowplow, one of the ginormous muni ones that were orange and had a dump truck’s worth of salt in the back. And then they saw two humans, a pair of males, hustling down the opposite side of the street like they’d just scored drugs and were in a hurry to get their fixes.

The Keys, from the outside, was nothing but an urban garage, its front building flat, uninteresting, and seemingly not that big. Bullshit. The club was actually a series of connected facilities, all engineered to flow one into another through a series of covered passways.

There was only one entrance, but there were multiple exits, always before the next section.

Shit got more hardcore the further you went in.

No wait line for him. As he approached the guards—who were dressed as if they were patrons, just with something red on somewhere—he flashed his superior key, and they nodded him and Novo right in.

Moody music. Smoke machines. Purple lasers shooting through the darkness.

A crowd of mostly humans with masks and latex and leather clothes milling around. Women in Lucite boxes, their poses contorted so their sexes were offered to whoever wanted them in whatever way they chose. Men strapped facedown, ass-up, to the floor. Glory holes. Pits of naked bodies twisting and turning, limbs upon limbs. Suspensions. Lashing and lickings.

And this was only the beginning.

Axe just kept walking forward slowly, the crowd parting for him, getting out of his way. Which suggested that humans had better senses than vampires gave them credit for: These rats without tails may not have known exactly why he was different and not to be fucked with, but they were careful around him.

As they entered the next building, the beat of the music changed, the bass line becoming all-pervasive, like hot steam being pumped into a cold room.

The men liked Novo. So did the women.

Novo, on the other hand, was hard to judge. She seemed to float above it all, that faceless mask of hers panning left and right.

“What are you looking for?” he asked over that heavy bass.

With any other female, and also most males, Axe would have cautioned them that what was coming was going to make these introductory rooms seem tame. But he didn’t worry about her.

“Anything that isn’t blond and male,” she replied in a voice that was synthesized.

Axe smiled. “Really, you don’t say.”

When she didn’t go any further with it, he just shrugged and continued onward. As he progressed, there were a couple of regulars he recognized, either from their masks or their bodies—and he was looking for one in particular.

“I want you to meet somebody,” he said as they transitioned into another dim room that had more moans than music.

Bodies were writhing in a pit in the center, a naked woman getting covered by men, her cries of ecstasy triumphant even though she was the one being consumed.

“I want to meet somebody, too,” Novo said in that electronic voice of hers.

“Not for sex. You’re going to apply for membership.”

“You’re prepared to vouch for me—” With lightning-quick reflexes, Novo spun around, caught a masked male by the throat, and pile-drove him back against the wall.

“I’m not the woman in the pit, asshole,” she bit out. “You touch my ass one more time and I’m going to rip your hand off and feed it to you. Are we clear?”

As the idiot nodded like a bobblehead, Axe hung around and waited to see if she was going to castrate the SOB on principle.

And when one of the staff closed in, Axe cut the intervention off. “Non-consensual, repeated. And she’s with me.”

Axe had watched that human male ride up on Novo a couple of times as they’d gone along, but it hadn’t been for him to have an opinion. The main rule of the club was, Everything Goes. Although the second rule was just as important: Consent Required.

Axe would have gotten involved if he’d known she hadn’t been into it.

The staff nodded. “Roger that.”

“And I want to put her up for membership. Her name’s Novo.”

All humans who worked for the owner were called Staff. No first or last names, ever. And the only reason you knew who they were was the way they approached you and the fact that they always had something red on. Well, and he recognized their scents after having been a member for the last couple of years.

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