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I sighed. “Can't say that I have. Let's get this over with.”

Ryan stepped out, and then walked around, opening the door. We walked into the pub hand-in-hand, and Ryan scanned the dozen or so faces, picking a spot on the corner of the bar. He ordered a shot and two beers, and then rested his elbows on the dark wood in front of him. The music was blaring, and the loud, variable tones of conversation blurred into one another.

“So what's the plan?” I asked over the music.

The bartender set our drinks on the bar, and Ryan tossed him a twenty. “I don't know. I'm just fol owing orders. So far it's to drink, but not too much where I can't aim straight., or it affects Claire.”

“Aiming's not going to help,” I grumbled. “Why do you get a shot and I don't?” I asked, watching him throw his back.

“Jared said you get one beer.”

“Just one?” I picked at the label on the bottle. “I guess he drinks when I do.”

We didn't bother to toast to anything. I tried my best to forget that I was terrified, and sipped on the bitter, dark liquid until it was gone. Ryan ordered another round, but when the bartender placed a ful bottle in front of me, Ryan grabbed it with his other hand, drinking from them both. So much time had passed since I'd had any alcohol at al , just the one round helped to drown out the laughter in the background that became increasingly annoying as time dragged on.

When Ryan final y stood, I couldn't help but breath a sigh of relief.

“That's it? We're done?” I asked.

Ryan shook his head. “No, we're just starting. Zip up your coat, we're going for a walk. Once we hit that door, I need Oscar-worthy drunk, giggly col ege kid on the sidewalk, okay?”

“Wel , I've never felt so giggly in my life, so this should be a breeze,” I deadpanned.

Ryan pushed open the door, and I hooked my arm in his. We walked a block, and then made a turn. After two blocks, we turned in a different direction.

“This is obvious,” I said, noting the dark street.

“Sshh, we're being fol owed,” Ryan whispered.

“Goody,” I said, trying to keep my steps in line with his.

Before we reached the corner, two men stepped onto the sidewalk from the al ey. Ryan stopped, pushing me behind him.

“Hi there, boys,” Ryan said.

One of the men smiled. “That's a pretty little girl you got there.”

Ryan was clearly irritated. “Thanks. Tel your boss I'm insulted.”

“And why's that?” the other man said, amused.

Ryan smiled. “You're smal er than I expected,” he said, looking up at the ominous man looming over him.

Without warning, Ryan headbutted the first goon. The man stared into Ryan's eyes, stunned. Blood suddenly streamed from his nose, and then he stumbled back, final y fal ing to the ground.

The second man pul ed his weapon. His smal smirk quickly faded when Ryan and I traded glances, and then pul ed ours. Every nerve in my body was on edge. Instead of fear, I was fighting back a smile. Pointing a gun, and being on the offensive was so empowering that I had to work to keep from giggling with excitement.

“He set us up!” the man said, kicking at his partner, shaking as his kept his gun pointed in our direction.

“Get up, Lenny! We got set up!”

“Put your gun on the ground!” Ryan growled. His voice sounded different than what I was used to. No doubt residuary from his tour in Afghanistan.

The man did as Ryan commanded, and then scampered off, pul ing his friend with him. I clicked the safety on the pistol in my hand, habit from my lessons with Jared, and then stuffed it into the back of my jeans.

“That was the plan?” I asked.

Ryan put his hands low on his hips, spitting on the ground. “No. That was most definitely not the plan. They were supposed to take you.”

“Take me?”

“Wel ...not take you, take you...try to take you, I guess. I real y don't know.”

“That makes me feel a lot better!” I huffed.

Ryan froze when a clicking sound echoed in the al ey behind us. Donovan stood just feet away, pressing the barrel of his gun to Ryan's head.

“So they're trusting humans to watch their Taleh's now, are they? I don't care if you are some sort of hero, I ain't buyin' it,” Donovan said, looking around.

I reached for my gun, but a warm hand encircled my wrist. “She's a brave little pistol, isn't she?”

If it weren't for the voice, I would have expected to turn and see Jared standing behind me. The same warm skin, the smell , the blonde hair—but his eyes were a lighter blue than Claire's—almost white. He was so tal I had to take a step back just to get a good look at him.

“Isaac?” I whispered.

He smiled, and then smirked at Donovan. “I'm famous.”

“And dead if we don't get the hel outta here. They wouldn't leave her alone.”

“Of course not,” Isaac said calmly. “But we'l play.”

Isaac and Donovan led us down the al ey to a waiting car. Isaac wasn't nearly as gentle as the other celestial beings I'd met. It shouldn't have surprised me; a Hybrid that protected a man who worked for demons had to have been so far detached from his origins and core beliefs. I didn't dare attempt to let my mind linger on what he was capable of.

After tying both of our hands behind our backs, Donovan hit Ryan on the head with the butt of his gun, and after a short crack, Ryan fel limp. Isaac slipped a black cover over his head, and then tossed him into the back seat of the car. Ryan's head fel against the door on the other side.

“Don't!” I said, recoiling.

Isaac smiled, and then shoved the same black covering over my head, tenderly helping me to a spot next to Ryan.

“I don't tolerate violence against women,” Isaac said.

A part of me was relieved, but knowing they meant to kil me, I obsessed about the meaning behind Isaac's words for the entire trip to our destination.

Stil blinded by the fabric over my face, I was pul ed out of the car, and then escorted up a short flight of stairs. We paused for a moment, but quickly continued after the sound of a creaking door.

“More stairs,” Isaac said, patiently waiting for me to find my footing. Our footsteps echoed against a hardwood floor, and then I was seated.