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Clearly, that was not very persuasive, as his brother-bodysuit stuck with him.

“And I’m glad you feel that way,” Ruhn said, “because it means you’ve treated her well while you’ve had her. Which is more than her sire ever did.”

Damn it, why did the SOB always say the right thing?

Mary cleared her throat. “I think I would like Rhage and I to be the ones to tell Bitty. I want to make sure this is framed correctly. I don’t want her to feel as though she is being wrong or bad if she wants to see him, be with him … go with him.” She focused on Ruhn. “You, I mean.”

Ruhn’s eyes didn’t shift from Rhage. “That’s kind of you.”

“It’s really what’s good for her.” Mary pushed her hair back behind her ears. “And that’s all that matters. On that note, we should probably get going. Rhage and I should go tell her in person and then … first thing tomorrow night? And this is neutral but safe territory—if we can put off the King’s appointments for another evening?”

“Consider it done,” V declared.

“Okay,” Ruhn said as he reached into his pocket. “But, um, can you give her this for me? You can read it first, of course. It’s just … I wanted to introduce myself. I can’t read or write, so I dictated it.”

Something must have changed in Rhage’s body, because suddenly he was on his own again, the holds on him released—not that his brothers went very far.

Mary’s hand shook as she took what turned out to be a couple of pages of lined paper that had been ripped out of a spiral notebook, the frayed edges fluffing up one side of the otherwise neat square.

“I’d be happy to give this to her,” his shellan murmured.

“Like I said, you can read it. There’s nothing much to it. It’s not, like, well written or anything. I just wanted her to know who I am.”

“All right.”

“And the last page is, just, you know, nothing special.”

“Okay.”

Things kind of petered out at that point, Ruhn sitting back down and staring into the fire. Mary coming to stand next to Rhage, her arm linking through his.

“There’s one other thing,” V announced as he addressed the uncle. “The King wants to meet you. Before you can see Bitty, you will be required to sit in his presence.”

Ruhn nodded slowly. “All right. Whatever it takes.”

But the guy was obviously not looking forward to it. Because he had something to hide? Rhage wondered.

“I’m going to be in on that,” Rhage said. “I will be in on that audience.”

“Wrath wants it private.” V shook his head. “And by that, he meant without you or Mary.”

“It really should be just between the two of them.” Mary stroked his arm. “When will that meeting occur? We should wait to speak to her until it happens—”

“He can sit in if he wants.” Ruhn shrugged as all eyes swung back his way. “I have nothing to hide. I mean, I’m just a nobody, and I’m used to my lack of status. No reason to have airs if you’ve got nothing to back them up with, and if all you’ve done is live a simple, honest life? That’s the kind of thing you can explain even to a King, with a straight back and a level eye—no matter who else is in the room with you.”

Rhage blinked. And then had a horrible thought.

Fuck, under other circumstances, he might have liked the guy.

“We appreciate that, Ruhn.” Again, Marissa with her gentle way was easing things. “But it is better if it’s just you and Wrath. And a guard.”

“Wrath said he could come here now,” somebody interjected.

“Then we should go.” Mary looked at Rhage. “Let’s just go, all right? And we’ll hang out somewhere and wait for word about the meeting with Wrath before we head home.”

Someone said something—Marissa. And then Mary was talking. After that, people started nodding like there was some kind of consensus happening.

Then it was time to leave—and Rhage put his arm around Mary’s waist as they walked to the double doors. They paused as Z did the duty of letting them out.

Just as Rhage was stepping from the room, he glanced over his shoulder. Ruhn was still sitting on that sofa in front of the fire, the mostly untouched tea service in front of him, his hands lying on his thighs, his eyes unfocused.

He was nervous. But he wasn’t backing away.

“Come on,” Mary said.

Next thing Rhage knew, he was behind the wheel of the GTO, the engine was on, and the heater was going.

“You want to get something to eat?” he asked, even though he wasn’t hungry.

“Sure. Let’s go to that twenty-four-hour diner you like. The one with all the different kinds of pie.”

“Sounds good.”

Annnnnd so, some ten minutes later, he was parking between a heavy-duty pickup truck and a BMW. Snow was swirling in the air again, but not heavily—as if maybe the clouds above had separation anxiety and were reluctant to let their flakes fly.

The All-Nighter, as the place was called, was your standard diner, with a blinking sign outside and a row of bar stools at the counter inside. There was an annex that had tables, and waitresses who were bored and hostile, and a loyal clientele of which he was a member. On the menu? Free coffee, pie that was to die for, and breakfast around the clock—as well as a Reuben that could make you see God every time you bit down.

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