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“Gimme ten,” the staff said. “Keep going and I’ll find you.”

By this time, Novo was letting the aggressor resume breathing, dropping her arm and falling back in.

“You done here?” Axe asked.

“Yup.”

They kept going, entering the next room, and the one after that … until they eventually got to the Cathedral. With its tall ceiling and mounted, altar-like formation high above the floor, this was where the public displays happened—and where he had fucked that human woman almost a week ago.

There was an event happening now, a male suspended up high, two other males taking turns with him—

“You were better six nights ago,” a Scottish accent said.

Axe turned to the male who had addressed him. The human was six-six, maybe six-eight, wearing leathers and not much else, his pierced nipples glinting in the low light, the tattoos running down his arms and across his chest representing classic album covers, everything from the Sex Pistols to G N’ R to the Ramones and MCR. His mask was classic Grim Reaper stuff and he was wearing a pair of New Rocks that were the biggest Axe had ever seen.

“And you lasted longer, too, mate.”

With that, the human moved on, which was kind of a bummer. Axe had liked the guy’s vibe.

“So you went up there?” Novo asked. “Tied up?”

“I wasn’t the one on the rack.”

She laughed softly. “Figures. I don’t see you as the submissive type.”

Neither did he. Which was why he found being powerless with Elise—and getting off on it like he did—such a surprise.

“Why don’t you want a blond,” he asked to change the subject.

“I hate rich blond assholes.”

Axe stopped and looked at her. “Peyton?”

“Yeah, not a fan.”

“Well, you’re not his type anyway.”

“Whatever, he’s not mine.”

Novo resumed her stride, her shoulders tense, her back ramrod straight, her affect one where she seemed to be grabbing someone by the balls—at least in her head.

Axe fell in step with her. “I didn’t know you wanted him—”

She spun around, and in spite of the covers over her eyes, he could feel the burn coming right at him. “I do not.”

“Yeah, you do. Come on, like I give a fuck?”

Novo got up in his face. “I’m glad you brought me here. But don’t try to be my shrink, k? It’s not going to work for you.”

“Why be so defensive? You think I’m going to go second grade on you and start skipping around the class, singing the kissing song or some shit?”

“I mean it, Axe. Back off.”

“So you know about him and Paradise, huh.”

“Who wouldn’t. If he were any more into that female, he’d be inside her.”

“And then Craeg would slaughter him.”

“At least Peyton counts as grass-fed organic meat with the way he smokes up.” She looked away. “And I’m not into him—so there’s that.”

“Whatever.” Axe put his palms out. “I’m not going to say anything.”

Novo looked up at the sex that was going on at the altar. “So you did that, huh? I was unaware you were into public displays.”

“That wasn’t the point.”

“What was, then.”

He knew exactly what she was doing, demanding inside his head because he had momentarily gotten into hers. “Just burning off energy. That’s all.”

“You made an impression on the crowd, obvi.”

A member of the staff came up to them, a different guy from the one he’d spoken to. “You Novo?”

Novo squared her jaw and met the human male straight in the eye through her mask. “Yeah.”

“If you want in, you and your sponsor come with me now.”

Novo glanced at Axe. “You’re seriously putting me up?” When he nodded, she shrugged. “Good, and thanks.”

The two of them fell in line behind Staff, and as they moved through the crowd, Novo said under her breath, “And you know the management. Impressive.”

Axe just shrugged again. “I aim to please.”

THIRTY-FIVE

As Rhage and Mary sat in front of the Christmas tree in the library, with all its twinkle and glimmer and unopened gifts, Rhage was mourning the loss of what he had hoped would become of his shellan’s favorite human holiday. He had had such a wonderful time planned for their little family, all those presents they’d been collecting ever since Bitty had come to stay with them finally being unwrapped by the girl and enjoyed.

There was so much that Bit needed, and more than that, so much Rhage had wanted to give her.

And he’d also put some surprises under there for his Mary. Not that she would approve.

His shellan was a minimalist—or maybe it was a necess-isist. She didn’t like fancy jewelry or cars or clothes. She liked her Kindle and the books she got on it … all of which had no pictures and little tiny writing and words he had never heard before in them. She didn’t collect anything, she preferred to wear her shoes until they fell apart, and her handbags were functional, not a fashion expression.

Guess that was what happened when you became fully actualized as a person: You didn’t have to worry about being defined by anything other than exactly who and what you were. No binge eating or drinking or gambling. No sexual dysfunction. No credit card debt for things you couldn’t afford but were determined to have.

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