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“Meet me out at the city park where we were before. Fifteen minutes. If you want the Book, you’ll be there. This is your one and only chance. After this, you’ll never hear from me again and you’ll never find me.”

As the line went dead, Sahvage nearly threw his fucking phone at Mae’s totaled Honda. But he held on to the thing because he was still hoping, by some completely impossible miracle, that she would call him.

He was cursing as he glanced around—

And realized all of the cops on the scene were frozen and staring at him like they were ready to get a list of jobs. Or maybe a clue as to what their first names were.

He went over to Mae’s car. The driver’s-side door was open and he leaned in. Both airbags had blown, but the keys were still in the ignition. Snatching them out of their slot, he didn’t see where her phone or purse were. They might well be in the hands of the cops already, but he wasn’t worried about the CPD showing up at her house—and God forbid, finding her brother in that tub. Like the registration, all her IDs would be in the name of someone else with an address other than where she actually stayed. It was standard procedure for vampires living in heavily populated human areas.

“Shit,” he muttered. “Shit, shit—”

“Can I help you?” the female cop said. “Anything you need?”

“What I need is . . .”

As he let his thought trail off, a word came to him from out nowhere, like it had been implanted in his head: Leverage.

That’s right, he thought. He needed some motherfucking leverage.

The kind of thing that when that brunette showed up again—and she was going to—he would have something she wanted. Something she needed. So he could get what he had to have in return.

Which was Mae. Safe.

“Leverage,” he said out loud as he looked at his phone.

As he dematerialized, he freed the cops out of their neutral, but only after he wiped any memory of his presence from their minds. For all they’d remember, he’d be nothing but ether.

Him as a ghost made so much sense.

But he was a ghost with a fucking mission. Having already let one female down in the course of his life, he was not doing that shit again. Even if it killed him.

And he was hoping it would.

Here’s the thing,” Balz said to Devina. “I’m not a gentlemale, not by a long shot. And sorry to break it to you, but you’re no lady. So I’m just going to leave you to do what you will with this Book you seem to want so badly.”

As fury turned that beautiful face into something that was rank ugly, he knew she wasn’t walking away with shit tonight. He wasn’t exactly sure what the rules were, except she wasn’t going to be able to touch that fucking thing.

He had no idea why, but that did not matter at the moment.

“Take care of yourself,” he said.

“I’m going to kill you.”

“Not tonight and not here. Your bluff ’s been called.”

With a little wave, he closed his eyes and dematerialized the fuck out of there—and he wasted absolutely no fucking time getting back to the mountain and the Brotherhood mansion. He was willing to bet that the brunette was going to have a second or two of dumb shock—because really, when was the last time a man didn’t do what she told him to? And then she was going to try to negotiate with the Book itself.

She was going to lose at that bargaining table.

But she would give it a try.

And that personality defect of arrogant narcissism was going to be the only reason he was able to get inside the mhis alive. What happened after that? Who the hell knew, but he had a feeling she could only work through him if he was asleep.

Otherwise, she would have appeared to him in person when he was awake.

As Balz re-formed on the front steps of the mansion, he went to run up to the enormous door—but then he thought about the scratches that had been on his back and stopped.

“Fuck,” he muttered as he looked down at himself.

And wondered just exactly what was inside of his skin.

Taking one step back . . . and another . . . and another . . . he kept going until the courtyard’s fountain bumped into his shoulder blades.

Staring up at the mansion’s great gray stone walls, and the gargoyles at the corners up high, and the slants of the slate roof, he thought about who was behind all those glowing leaded glass windows—but he kept the images in his mind vague. He had the sense that he needed to make sure his thoughts were as indistinct as possible.

With a feeling of dread, he took his phone out. The first number he called didn’t pick up. The second? No answer. The third? Voice mail.

As his heart started to pound, he had a sick fear that things had taken a very bad turn.

The fourth number was answered before the initial ring had even started to fade. “Sire! How fare thee? May I please be of your service—”

“Fritz,” he said grimly. “Drop the shutters. All around the house. Drop them right now—I don’t have time to explain.”

Any other butler, in any other royal household, might have taken a breath to ask why. Maybe gotten a little flustered or thought that he needed to talk to one of his true masters.

Not Fritz Perlmutter.

“Right away, Sire.”

And by “right away,” the doggen meant exactly this second: All over the mansion, on every floor, on each side, the shutters began to lower.

“What else, Sire.”

“Where is everyone,” Balz asked. “No one’s answering their phone.”

• • •

As Sahvage re-formed at the park, he was partially obscured by a mist that had started to come off the river, the result of a strange imbalance in the weather that had most certainly not been going on when he’d been down here earlier. In between the spooky banks of fog, the ring of trees at the edge of the clearing appeared and disappeared, and overhead, the moon and the stars were likewise masked and revealed by turns as clouds drifted by.

With no streetlights or lanterns around, it was very dark, the skyscrapers off in the distance offering only glowing spears rather than anything that could help you see.

“You are not afraid.”

At the sound of the Reverend’s voice, Sahvage turned around. “Where’s your guy.”

The other male stared at him silently, as if he were making some kind of assessment. “And still you’re not arming up.”

“If it’ll light a fire under your ass, I’m more than happy to point a gun at your head. Now show me your guy or I’m fucking leaving.”

The Reverend nodded with a little bow. “As you wish.”

And then the male disappeared.

“Fuck this,” Sahvage muttered as he looked around.

Nothing but that fog. With a curse, he took out his phone. You know, just in case he’d missed the call he’d been waiting for from Mae. In the 3.2 nanoseconds he’d been out of commission as he’d come over here—

Sahvage lowered his phone. Put it away. Palmed up a gun.

There was nothing coming to his nose, but his instincts told him he was no longer alone. In a major way.

“Well, get on with it,” he called out to the tree line. “I’m not going to wait all fucking night.”