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He meant “whip her into a frenzy.” She’d seen him do it.

“I can also have a gentling one.”

“Stop it. I didn’t ask for it.”

He pressed his wrist to the base of her spine, held it a long moment, no doubt melding blood with blood, then said, “That’s it for tonight.”

“Finish it,” she demanded. “I know you can.” There was a sudden coldness behind her as the heat of his body vanished.

Her shirt hit her in the shoulder, and after a moment she yanked it on over her bra, knowing it was pointless to argue. She stood, stretched, and turned around.

“Tell me what happened to you in the Silvers and I’ll finish it.”

They looked at each other across the space of the chair. “I grew up,” she said.

“The long version.”

“That was it. You said you’d give me the map.”

He tossed it to her and she caught it with one hand, slipped it into her pack. Of course he’d give it to her now. He knew she’d return for the tattoo. She’d wanted the map for two reasons: to test theories on the smallest of the holes, and alert people of their precise locations to avoid inadvertent deaths. Of far greater importance was finding a way to remove the cosmic leeches from the fabric of their reality.

“Tomorrow night, same time?” she said.

“I’m busy tomorrow night.”

Fucker. He was going to dick with her about finishing the tat?

He herded her to the door with his presence, subtly yet irrefutably.

“Got a date with Jo?” she said coolly.

“Jo’s fucking Lor.”

She looked at him. “How did that happen? Lor does blondes. And I thought you and Jo were exclusive.” She hadn’t believed that for a moment. Jo wasn’t Ryodan’s type.

His cool eyes lit with amusement. “It was a getting-over-the-ex fuck. And now they’re both tangled up in it.”

She arched a brow. “You dumped her, so she pulled a revenge fuck?”

“She dumped me. And her take on it was ‘scraping the taste of me off her tongue.’ ”

No woman dumped Ryodan. Or scraped the taste off. If Jo had, he’d not only let her, but set the plan in motion. “What are your plans for tomorrow night? Cancel them. This is more important. I could get lost,” she ordered.

“I suggest you avoid mirrors until we complete it. Day after. My office in the morning. I’ll finish it.”

“Tomorrow. During the day.”

“Busy then, too.”

Why was he delaying? What was his motive? “I’ll just let myself out.”

“You won’t. You have the sword. I have patrons. I plan to keep them.”

She was silent a moment then said, “I won’t kill any of them, Ryodan. I’ll respect your territory.”

“If I respect yours.”


He held out a cellphone. “Take it. IISS won’t work yet but the other numbers will.”

She slipped the cell into her pocket as she slipped out the door.

He closed it behind her, remaining inside, allowing her to leave unattended because she’d given her word. He’d taken her word as covenant.

She turned for no reason she could discern and placed her hand, palm flat, to the door.

Stared at it, head cocked, wondering what the hell she was doing.

After a moment she shook herself and strode briskly down the hall, swiped the panel and entered the elevator. The teen she’d been would have barged into every one of Ryodan’s private places on these forbidden lower levels she could invade before he managed to stop her. And, she understood now, she’d have done it mostly for the rush of their confrontation when he finally did.

The woman had her own business to attend.

Inside the room, Ryodan removed his hand from the door.

“Is it the day yet? Is it? Is it? IS IT?” Shazam exploded from beneath a tangle of blankets and not one pillow, later that night when she entered their chambers.

“Soon,” she promised. “And keep your voice down,” she reminded.

“You smell again,” Shazam fretted, turning circles in agitation. “I don’t like the smell of him. He’s dangerous.”

“He’s necessary. For now.”

When she stretched out on the bed, Shazam pounced, landing on her stomach with all four paws, hard. “Not one thing more? Just necessary?”

“Ow! Good thing I didn’t have to go to the bathroom!” She knew from too many enthusiastic early-morning greetings that forty-odd pounds of Shazam was hell on a full bladder. Not to mention the tenderness of a fresh tat pressing into the bed. “Not one thing more,” she assured him.

“Did he finish it?”

“Not yet. Soon.”

He deflated as abruptly as the melodramatic beast was wont. “It’s all going to go horribly wrong,” he wailed. “Everything always does.” He sniffed, violet eyes dewing.

“Don’t be such a pessimist.”

He ruched the fur along his spine and spat a sharp hiss at her, working himself into a snit. “Pessimists are only pessimists when they’re wrong. When we’re right, the world calls us prophets.”

“Ew, fish breath!”

“Your pitiful offerings, my bad breath. Bring me better things to eat.”

“We’ll be fine. You’ll see.”

He shifted his furry bulk around, parking his rump south of her chest (soft spots he wasn’t allowed to pounce ever), his belly so fat he had to spread his great front paws around it. Then he leaned forward and slowly touched his wet nose to hers. “I see you, Yi-yi.”

She smiled. Everything she knew about love she’d learned from this pudgy, cranky, manic-depressive, binge-eating beast that had been her companion through hell and back, too many times to count. He alone had protected her, loved her, fought for her, taught her to believe that life was worth living, even if there was no one there to see you living it.

“I see you, too, Shazam.”


“I would give everything I own just to have you back again…”

I’d left her. The woman that looked like my sister and had far too many of her memories and unique characteristics—I just left her there—in the basement where I’d been Pri-ya, sitting in the middle of crates of guns and ammo and various food supplies, looking unbearably lost and sad.