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“If you would have waited for me to catch up with you, you wouldn’t have had to waste your time with them,” Kim snapped. She looked to me, “The second he learned the location of the book, he took off. I was twenty minutes behind him.”

I glared at Jared. “That’s not like you to be so impulsive and reckless. What were you thinking?”

Jared sighed. “That I wanted this to end.”

Jared cringed, and then I heard a plink from behind him as Bex dropped bul et remnants into a bowl.

“I can’t watch,” I said, covering my eyes.

“You can’t go anywhere until we’re finished here. Then I’ll take you to work,” Bex said, pul ing out another bul et.

“Watch the blood. Don’t get any on her sheets,” Jared said, cringing again.

“I’ll get new sheets,” I moaned. I took Jared’s hand in both of mine.

“It’s okay,” he said. “We’l try again.”

“And hopeful y not be so stupid about it this time,” Kim said from the door way.

“Do you think I care about that? I don’t want you near that book ever again!” I said, my voice higher with each word.

“Okay…okay,” Jared said. “Don’t get upset.”

“Why would I be upset? My boyfriend comes home looking like he just escaped from a horror movie.” I took one of the wet cloths Bex had brought upstairs and used it to wipe a deep cut above his eye. “Tel me everything.”

“The details aren’t important,” Kim said.

“The bottom line is, I failed,” Jared said, his teeth clinched.

Kim shrugged. “We know who’s guarding it, what they’re capable of, and every angle of their defense, Jared. I wouldn’t call that failure.”

“So what’s Isaac like?” Bex said, dropping more fragments into the plate.

“He’s highly trained,” Jared answered.

“And psychotic,” Kim said. “You should have seen them. It was like a scene from Rambo. Neither of them would quit, and they’re both Hybrids, so it was like a never-ending fight scene. One punch here, knife wound there, elbow, face punch, and then one of them goes flying across the room.

Lather. Rinse. Repeat.”

“That’s enough,” Jared said.

My stomach wrenched at her words. “Please don’t go back. Not until Bex or Claire can go with you.”

Jared looked away. “It’s not that I couldn’t handle it on my own, Nina.”

“That’s not what I meant,” I whispered.

He frowned, apology in his eyes. “I know. I’m sorry,” he said with a sigh. “Kim’s right. We did learn a lot last night. The problem is, Claire’s not here, and Bex has to stay with you.”

“What about someone else? Another Hybrid?” I asked.

Bex laughed once. “If it comes down to it, we’l have to take Donovan down. No one is going to help us down another Hybrid without good reason.”

I looked down at Jared’s bloodied hands, and then back to his stormy blue-grey eyes. “And saving me isn’t good enough for them.”

Jared nodded. “We have to persuade them that something big is coming, and to do that we need the book.”

Kim knocked on the door jamb. “Now that’s irony. C’mon, Nigh. I’ll take you to work.”

“Is that okay?” I asked Jared.

“I’d rather you wait,” he said.

“Don’t be ridiculous,” Kim said. She pul ed up her shirt, revealing a handgun stuffed half-way into her jeans. “I’m packin’, demons run when they see me coming, and as Donovan learned last night…my right hook is wicked accurate.”

The glance Jared and I traded turned into involuntary smiles.

“Bex wil be right behind you,” Jared said.

I kissed his cheek. “Maybe I should stay home today.”

“This is nothing. You should see the other guys,” Jared said with a wink. “Go on.”

Kim lifted my briefcase off the floor, and held it out. I rushed to the bathroom, washed the blood from my hands, and then fol owed her down the stairs.

“Let’s take my car,” I said.

Kim shrugged. “Whatever.”

As promised, the ride to work was safe and uneventful, and Bex pul ed into the parking lot on his new, barely-street legal Ducati Streetfighter just as I stepped out of the car. Kim stayed behind as I rushed into Titan, thankful that being the CEO sort-of-in-training granted me a spot on the elevator.

“Good morning,” I said to my co-workers as the doors slid closed.

Riding in close proximity to so many proved not so lucky after al . The thought of everyone breathing in such a confined space made me a bit claustrophobic.

When the elevator doors opened, I pushed my way out, taking a deep breath when my heels hit the carpet. “Oh, thank God.”

Grant's door was open, and his ankles were crossed on top of his desk, and he was lazily leaned back in his chair. My momentary relief from the elevator was short-lived, and my face screwed in disgust.

I made a bee-line for my office, hoping Grant would be too comfortable to get out of his chair.

“Hey Peanut,” Grant said just as I sat down.

“Nina,” Beth said, walking in with her head down. She was biting on the end of her pencil, concentrating on her notebook planner. “The meeting with Yawa…Yaw…the Japanese is on Thursday, but the Wel ington’s wil be in town, and hoped to squeeze in some time.”

“Make time. I’d love to steal them away from Donaldson,” I said tapping a pen against my desk.

“Sounds like it’s a better day,” Grant said, nodding. He bowed out without another word.

“Now it is,” I said, noting Beth’s smile as she stifled a giggle.

“So,” she said, forcing her smile to fade. “Chad’s been asking. Have you heard from Ryan lately? Or at al ?”

I no longer had to fight a smile, my face immediately fel . “No. Nothing.”

Beth nodded. “I hope he’s okay.”

“If he wasn’t, we would find out, right?” I said to reassure her.

She took a deep breath, and nodded. “Right. I’ve gotta make some copies. You want coffee?”

“No, thanks.”