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“It’s Magnus, isn’t it? The Demigod who kills his children. She’d want to keep me away from him at all costs. Including moving out of the magical zone and into the forgotten crack of the societies. That’s why she made sure I hid my power and, apparently, most of my magic in the assessments.”

She’d claimed to prefer the crack because she didn’t like the roughness, or iron-clad rules, of the magical society. Besides which, the people she wanted to help were the ones who didn’t belong anywhere.

But this news painted a different picture. Maybe my mother and Kieran’s mother had had something in common.

“Yikes.” I backed up until I could sit down hard on the bench. “One moment I’m a normal Joe with a useless kind of magic, and the next…”

Sorrow crossed Kieran’s face for a fraction of a second. “I don’t know who your father is,” he whispered, sitting next to me. “Regardless, it’s a safe bet whoever it is doesn’t know about you. We’ll keep it that way. I just need to know what I’m working with so I can get the right training for you. Not all of Hades’ gifts manifest in his heirs. I want to know which gifts are possibly lurking in you. Testing only gives us a general idea. Now we need to push you and lure it out.”

I blew out a breath and leaned without thinking, resting against him. “I need to take a second and hate you with my whole body for dragging me into all this. For exposing me.”

He lifted his arm and put it around me. “Hate sex can be fun,” he murmured, rubbing my back. “I’d be happy to let you experiment on me.”

“Hate sex is the stupidest thing I’ve ever heard in my life. Only men would think that was a thing, filthy bastards.” I shook my head, giving myself over to the moment. I needed to let it wash over me, before I could push it aside and get on with my life. Because I would get on with my life. I had to. I had two kids relying on me. I’d figure this out like I figured everything else out.

“Okay.” I straightened back up. I needed to get Mordecai his cure first. Then I’d confront this thing head-on. I didn’t know if my mom had purposefully hidden me, but if she had, she’d done so for good reason. She’d want me to take care of myself, even if that mean taking cover. No shame in the hideout game. “Okay.”

Kieran chuckled, standing with me. “Just like that, huh? Your world is flipped upside down, and you’re ready to go?”

“Sometimes that’s all we can do.” I flicked my hair out of my face. “I’ll look forward to getting the appointment information for Mordecai. And I won’t be paying for any training. You started this, so you have to foot the bill.”

His smile weakened my knees. “No sweat.”

“And get your people out of my yard. No one knows about me. No one bothered me until you came around. I don’t need them.”

“Nice try.”

I affixed him with a glare before I brushed it off and turned for the trees.

“Oh, and Alexis?”

I stopped at the tree line.

“I know that you know about those cameras,” he said, his good humor now in full force. He thought my annoyance with his “protection” was hilarious. “I also know that your neighborhood doesn’t have a homeowners’ association, nor do they have any rules about drones. Take down my cameras, and I’ll have two drones over your house twenty-four/seven. I don’t fight fair, as you may have already noticed.”

“Mark my words: you and your minions are going to rue the day you tangoed with me.” It was a good, strong bluff.

His laughter was not the response I’d been hoping for. “I can’t wait.”

Head held high, I marched off through the trees. One thing was for certain: this guy was never going to get in my pants. I’d work with him, I’d help his mom, and I’d satiate my curiosity for how Demigod Valens was trapping spirits, but lusting after Kieran was as far as I was ever going to go. He could bark up that tree till he was blue in the face, but he wasn’t getting anywhere.

A thought curled out of the back of my mind before I could help myself.

With a kiss like his, his prowess in bed would surely blow my mind. He’d be like rich, decadent chocolate. One taste, and he’d ruin me for anything lesser.

Gritting my teeth, I knifed those thoughts and buried them in the proverbial backyard.

But egotistical jackass or no, I did have to own that Kieran had granted me a miracle. He’d helped materialize one of my Big Dreams.

He was giving a future to a very sick kid.

Regardless of the torture he’d likely put me through in the months to come, he was trying to save Mordecai. I would allow a soft spot in my heart for this selfless action.

Now we just had to get through the procedure itself. Mordecai wasn’t out of the woods yet.

Kieran watched Alexis disappear through the trees as supreme confusion stole over him.

He’d just vowed to protect her. With his life, if need be. It was like a stranger had said those words. He hadn’t even made that promise to his Six. To anyone.

But even now, when the energy of her presence and her entrancing quality drifted away, allowing cold logic to resume, he didn’t want to take it back. Couldn’t.

The warm heaviness within him wasn’t lust. It wasn’t the result of their electricity or the delicious burn of her magic rising through him.

It was deeper than that. Not attraction, but affection. Somewhere along the way, she’d gotten under his skin. In trying to learn about her magic, he’d learned about her as a person. About her life.

He liked what he’d discovered.

He blew out a breath and turned, surveying the ocean. He had a long, dangerous road ahead of him. First, he’d free his mother, something he was confident he could do now that he had Alexis on board. Then he’d take on his father. And though Alexis, if trained, could help him with the latter, freeing his mother would be the end of it. She was too good of a person to be tangled up with him for the long haul. He would only bring her down, not to mention possibly get her killed.

No. No matter how much he needed her, or wanted her, he’d only employ her for the first leg of the journey.

41

Alexis

Two weeks later, I checked the clock on my nightstand and shoved down the rampant anxiety coursing through my body. Three-oh-one. An hour until checkout. Time to go.

True to his word, Kieran had gotten Mordecai an appointment for the procedure that would quell his body’s response to the shifter genes. Being the son of Demigod Valens, not to mention a Demigod himself and extremely influential in any circle, Kieran had ensured Mordecai got sent to the front of the line. Considering the waitlist was six months long, that was pretty incredible.

I wasn’t under any illusions that this was strictly a kindness on Kieran’s part—the quicker Mordecai improved, the quicker I could start working for him.

“Daisy, are you ready?” I called, grabbing a light coat and my keys off my dresser.

“Yeah,” she said tiredly as she passed my door toward the living room.

We’d been at the hospital all day yesterday while Mordecai was in surgery, then half the night while he was unconscious and hooked up to various machines that would finish the job. According to his last checkup, the procedure had great odds of working for him. But I’d been unlucky all my life. I didn’t trust percentages and ratings. Life had plenty of room for error.

So Daisy and I had hung around, wanting to be on hand if anything were to happen.

Thankfully, nothing had.

We’d tucked him into bed at one o’clock last night and wished him goodnight.

We’d woken up this morning to a message left on the machine. “I’m alive. I’m tired and sore, but they say that’s part of the recovery process. They said I’m already out of danger.” I could hear the smile in his voice. “My body took to the procedure really well, and once the issue was resolved, my body started healing at abnormal rates. Which is apparently good. So I’m just going to sleep. You guys should, too. I’ll see you for check out at four. Love ya, bye.”

“I looked online,” Daisy said as I joined her in the kitchen. She had a glass of water and puffy blue bags under her eyes. “They usually keep patients for a few days after the medical thing Mordecai had done.”

I nodded. “We can ask the doctor about it when we get there.”

“I mean, even really magical people.”

“I know, Daisy. We’ll ask the doctor.” I grabbed my sleek new phone, an anonymous gift that had been waiting on my porch after the meeting with Kieran two weeks before. The service had been prepaid for a year.

I wasn’t so stupid as to have no idea where the phone had come from. Nor was I too proud to keep it. As far as I was concerned, Kieran was responsible for breaking the other one. He could damn well make restitution, thank you very much.

“Same place as usual,” Frank said as we exited the house, standing in his favorite spot while surveying the lurkers hiding in my yard. “They even have a mat over there now to get comfortable while spying.”

“Good work, Frank. Stay vigilant,” I said distractedly. “And get off my lawn.”

“I don’t understand why you care that the…spirit”—Daisy shivered—“is on the lawn. It’s not like he’s real. And we barely mow it.”

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