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“Not if it has a GPS tracking program in it that your father had installed. Not if you don’t want to get peppered with questions the instant you get home. Not when you simply want to take a deep breath and not get in trouble for it.”

Peyton sat up off his pillows and then got to his feet. As he walked over to a table that ran along the back of the sofa, he weaved like there was a stiff breeze blowing around him.

“Take mine, then. The code is oh-four-one-one. It’s only so you have something on you—and I’m not naive. I won’t push you, but you’re obvi not going home at dawn. Just be safe, okay? I don’t want to find another body—and this time feel even worse because I enabled you.”

“I’m going to be fine.”

“That’s my lie—I mean line.” He came over and held out his iPhone. “And whereas you looked at me with pity as I said those words, I’m staring at you with something else. It’s called warning.”

“I’ll be careful. I swear to you.”

“Don’t make me regret this,” he muttered as he opened a window for her.

“I won’t.”

Elise gave him her own code and put his phone in the pocket of her coat. Then, with a quick hug and a final wave, she ghosted out of his suite, leaving him to his human football games and his bird vodka … and the shadows that haunted him.

Talk about not going far. She rematerialized out in the gardens of his estate, just so she could do what she had said and breathe a little. Snow was swirling around, not really getting organized into a proper fall, and the wind was bitter. As she looked over her shoulder at the Tudor mansion, she could see Peyton moving around in his bathroom, his blond hair catching the lights, his bare torso so powerful, she thought for a moment that he didn’t look like an aristocrat anymore. He looked like a soldier.

Burrowing into her coat, she knew it was too early to go to Axe’s. He’d told her the door was always open, but …

When the idea came to her, she didn’t immediately dematerialize. After thinking things through, however, she ghosted out …

… and re-formed downtown, at the foot of a fancy high-rise.

Stepping back so that she was in the middle of the empty street, she counted the floors. The address on those papers she’d found in Allishon’s closet had listed an apartment number of 1403.

“Did you forget your key?”

Elise glanced to the left. A human female with an open face and an easy manner was on the sidewalk in front of the entrance.

“I’m here to see my cousin,” Elise said. “She isn’t answering the buzzer. She’s on the fourteenth floor?”

Yeah, she was into honesty—but technically it was true: Allishon wasn’t going to be answering anything, ever again.

“Come on in.” The woman started for the door. “You can ride my coattails.”

“Thank you.”

Elise followed her into the lobby and made small talk by the elevator, and then on the ascent. The female got off on the fifth floor and Elise made the rest of the trip by herself. When the ding! announced she was on the right level, she got off and looked both ways. A little placard with apartment numbers on it pointed her to the left and she walked down the carpeted hall, passing countless doors.

When she got to the right one, she raised her hand to knock, but then dropped her arm—because, really? Reaching out, she tried the doorknob, and of course, it was locked.

Well, this was a great plan.

Placing her hand on the painted panels, she just stood there, replaying what Peyton had told her. In a sad way, she felt closer to her murdered cousin than ever before—even though it was too late for them to have a relationship.

God … she really wanted to get into this apartment, she thought.

And yes, Axe was correct. She was looking for a connection to her father, to her family, in the only avenues that were open to her. It was an imperfect quest, to be sure. But she wasn’t going to stop.

Not until she had gone down every path—

As Peyton’s phone went off in her pocket, she frowned and took it out. It was Peyton from her own cell.

“Hello?” she said as she accepted the call.

“Your boyfriend called.” Peyton exhaled like he was smoking up. “You could have just told me.”

Axe had called? “I’m sorry?”

“Troy. Your boyfriend? I told him you were out, that I was your cousin, and I asked if I could take a message. He wants you to call him. Guess he’s been trying to get ahold of you. Elise, what the hell are you doing … that is not a vampire name.”

She frowned. “He didn’t say we were dating, though, did he. Because we’re not. He’s my professor and I’m his teaching assistant. I have no intention of ever getting involved with him. He’s the reason I need Axe.”

Well, one of them. And the only one she could bring up in mixed company.

Hell, to anybody.

“Just be careful,” Peyton said after a moment.

“Always. Now, will you please stop smoking and drinking and start sobering up? At this point, you’re going to need a month to get back to normal.”

“Too right. Have a good night—but call me if you need me.”

“I will.”

As she hung up, her surroundings suddenly became clear to her. She was alone, in the human world, in a place where her cousin had been murdered.

The hall with all of the doors had seemed perfectly safe, but as the elevator dinged and a human male stepped free, Elise suddenly felt unsure of herself. If he decided to attack her with a weapon? Would anyone help her? And no one knew where she was other than Peyton—and going by the way he’d slurred his words, he was about two puffs away from passing out.

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