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“This is inappropriate on so many levels,” he said.

“Kind of like you sitting next to the reason your father lost his life on the night he died?” I said, slipping on my heels. Jared helped me with my coat, and then I poked a pearl earring into each of my ears. I turned, cupping his jaw with my hands. “Your point is justifiable, but it is her choice, Jared, just like it was yours. Trust Claire to make her own decision. She’s never let you down before.”

“She’s never wanted to tel before.”

“Then that’s your answer,” I said, kissing his soft, warm lips. His mouth lingered on mine, and then I pul ed away, knowing Claire was anxiously waiting.

I returned to the Lotus alone, slipping into the passenger seat. Claire pul ed on her large, dark sunglasses, and then shoved the gear into first, soaring down the drive, and fish-tailing when she hit the street.

Saints Peter and Paul cathedral was surrounded by dozens of police cruisers, and even more civilian vehicles. The line at the entrance was already backed up to the next block by sniffling mourners.

“We should have come earlier,” I said.

“We shouldn’t be here at al ,” Claire said quietly. “Shit.”

A knock on her window prompted Claire to rol it down, revealing Ryan in his dress blues. “You made it,” he said with a reserved grin. He opened the door for Claire, and then jogged around the front of her car, opening the door for me. “Thanks for coming. It means a lot.”

I simply nodded, walking behind Ryan as he escorted Claire to the front steps, bypassing the endless line of weeping friends and family. As we passed them, some recognized Ryan and shook his hand. Seeing him seemed to upset some of the women, and even some of the men fought back tears as Ryan traded quiet words during a short hug. Once they acknowledged Ryan, their expressions changed to curiosity, evaluating the smal young lady in the black, leather dress with pointed-toe stilettos.

Each person we passed offered a pained expression for Ryan, and then regarded Claire with bewilderment. Claire’s dress was long-sleeved, with a respectable crew-neck line. Her skirt was short, but an inch longer than mid-thigh. Maybe it was her beauty that struck them, or the black stilettos that shot up from the ground, turning into a slithering snake with a shiny, turquoise eye on the stainless steel heel of her shoe.

The ensemble was something only Claire would dare wear to a funeral, but the look fit her. Ryan didn’t seem to mind. Before we reached the doorway, Ryan took Claire’s hand in his, and led her down the aisle. She glanced back at me, unsure of how to react.

We walked to the front of the sanctuary, seated behind the family, but on the first row of police officers that served with Kit Anderson. Ryan sat between Claire and me, making the situation even more uncomfortable. The pianist worked the keys, and a solemn song echoed throughout the church. Two rows ahead, in the center of the pew, two smal children sat on each side of a woman. A man sitting in front of Claire reached forward to touch her shoulder. She patted his hand, and then squeezed her young son closer.

My fingers touched my lips. “Oh my God,” I whispered.

“Yeah,” Ryan said, leaning into my ear. “That’s his wife, and his two kids. His little girl is three. His son is seven.”

I couldn’t hide the horror in my eyes as I looked to Claire. She was impervious, lowering her chin as a gesture for me to remain calm. Each second after that moment was an eternity. The eulogy, the service, the songs. Once the prayer began, I scrambled from my seat, ignoring those I forced to stand or slide their legs over while I side-stepped to escape.

The doors pushed open, and the brisk air in my lungs felt like the first time I’d breathed in over an hour. The railing was the only thing keeping me erect while I struggled to catch my breath.

“Nina, Jesus!” Claire said. She grabbed my arm, steadying my weak knees. “You just ran—not walked— ran out of the funeral of a murdered Providence police officer! Why don’t you just tape a target to your back?”

“He had babies! A family!” I cried.

“You have a family, too,” Claire said. “We just happen to have better aim.”

“We should have talked to him. Given him a chance to do the right thing.”

Claire grabbed my shoulders. “Kit Anderson was a father and a husband, but if I hadn’t taken him out, he would have handed Ryan over to Donovan’s men, and Ryan would be dead right now.”

“It doesn’t make sense. Why would they need Ryan? Donovan knows everything there is to know about Hybrids from Isaac.”

“Leverage,” Claire said.

“Are you alright?” Ryan call ed, running down the steps to the sidewalk. He lifted my chin. “What happened back there, Nigh?” He looked to the church, and then back to me.

“I’m sorry,” I said. “I haven’t been to a funeral since Jack….”

“Oh. Of course, I didn’t realize,” Ryan said, hugging me for a brief moment. “Maybe some food might make you feel better? Have you eaten?”

“No, actual y,” I said, just realizing that fact for myself.

“The wives are cooking for the guys at the station…taking some over to the family, too. Let’s stop by there before you two head home.”

“Nina has some things to do,” Claire said, slipping on her sunglasses.

Ryan’s eyes met mine. His expression told me this was the moment of reparation.

“I should eat,” I said.

Even through her dark glasses, I could see Claire’s big eyes zero in on mine, an indication of the retribution I would receive once we were alone.

Ryan’s smile spanned from one side of his face to the other. “Okay, then. You wanna ride with me?”

“Yes,” I said without pause. If I was lucky, I could postpone my punishment until Jared was around. As much as I loved Claire, she was stil intimidating.

The ride to the North Providence police station was ful of tension, although Ryan babbled like a nervous teenager on his first date. Few people had left the church by the time we’d arrived, but within the half-hour, the smal space quickly overflowed.

Ryan, Claire, and I retreated to a smal er room where the officers on duty were watching television and playing cards, and two in the corner were arm wrestling.

“Scotty Dog!” one of the officers said. “Which one's the ex, and which one's your date?”