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Her salvation was close. Alexis would free her, he was sure of it.

“Give me the paper,” he said in a thick voice filled with gratitude and hope.

Daisy paused, her mouth open, before lowering her knife and looking down at her plate. Mordecai, too, the good cop of their duo, found somewhere else to focus.

They’d recognized his lack of composure, and were giving him a moment.

Alexis had raised good kids. Kind kids, despite their attitude flare-ups. He understood now why his Six nearly fought over cooking dinner for them. Like him, they craved a sense of community, a taste of a family dynamic.

“Yikes, these might be tough,” Alexis said, finding her seat.

He held out his hand again. “Let me see the list.”

Alexis put it in his palm as she sat down. “Your fatigue and disorientation is because you’re not used to this place. Kieran drew you here. You didn’t elect to come. Wait—” She held up her hand and her brow creased.

Daisy leaned across the table, looking at Mordecai. “She’s still talking to a ghost, isn’t she?”

Mordecai nodded.

Daisy’s lips thinned and she leaned back without a word, returning to her dinner.

Kieran scanned the list, recognizing a few rooms in his father’s house and a warehouse he’d visited. The other places weren’t familiar, and a few of the warehouses didn’t have exact locations listed. His mother clearly knew of their importance, but not why they were important.

He dropped the notepaper to the table, wondering if those places were still operational—and, if so, what they were being used for. Uncertainty pinched his gut. Every time Kieran thought he’d turned up all his father’s secrets and lies, something new popped up onto the radar. His confidence in taking on his father was dwindling. His preparations looked more and more like the hopeless dream of an upstart, exactly what the non-magical mayor had called them.

He blew out a breath. He might be able to free his mother, but taking down his father was starting to look like a suicide mission, and if he wasn’t careful, he’d pull Alexis in with him.

11

Alexis

A hard rap permeated the house.

I peeled an eye open, noticing the soft light lining the shades in the window. It was early morning, before the sun had completely risen.

Another seris of knocks, knuckles flush to the door.

“What is it?” Daisy asked, stirring on the floor.

I glanced at the clock on my nightstand. Five-oh-two in the morning, much too early to be awake let alone knocking on someone’s door.

The faint tinkle of metal on metal chased the sleep away. A key plunged into the lock.

I froze, listening. Mentally rolled through the list of everyone who had a key.

“Mordecai slept in his room, right?” I whispered.

Daisy bolted up to sitting, her eyes wide and staring at me in the dim light. My unease had triggered her warning mode.

“Yes. Remember? I berated him for forcing me to leave?” she said. “He wasn’t put out about it, so then I throttled him. He was already under the covers. He wouldn’t have left after that. He hates moving when he’s comfortable.”

I nodded, the foggy memories from last night coming back to me. I’d had the equivalent of a bottle of wine, and Kieran’s proximity had made me doubly drunk. Anything not related to desire and a near eight pack of muscles hadn’t sunk in too deeply.

The lock tumbler clicked over.

“Then who the fuck just opened our door?” I rolled out of bed and ducked for the bat, resting against the wall in the corner.

It wouldn’t be Kieran, not when he knew Daisy was sleeping on my floor. He’d lingered at the front door last night, his gaze resting on my lips, his body close. The kids had already gone to bed, disapproval in their sleepy eyes as they drifted down the hall. They’d clearly thought I’d buckle and give in to him.

I totally would’ve. I wouldn’t have been able to help it. Not after seeing the haunting sorrow that crossed his beautiful features whenever he spoke of his mother. Not after eating the fabulous dinner he’d labored over after a hard day. Not after an evening spent talking to him about everything and nothing as if we’d known each other all our lives. If he’d leaned in and settled those full lips on mine, I wouldn’t have had a prayer.

But he hadn’t. He’d taken my hand, kissed the inside of my wrist, and turned for the door. He had respected the kids’ wishes.

And thank God for those cock-blocking teenagers, or this morning I’d have another notch in my Belt O’ Mistakes, and he’d be gloating over his victory.

“Do Jack and the guys have a key?” I asked Daisy, shrugging into a sweatshirt in case we’d have to run for it. I slid up to my partially open bedroom door.

She scrambled up beside me. “Not that I know of.”

Metal jingled—the sound the front doorknob made when it was turned.

“What about your soul-ripping magic?” she asked. “Can you do that yet?”

“Who told—Kieran, that big-mouthed…” I gritted my teeth as the front door whined, opening slowly.

“He said the name,” she whispered. “I looked it up while you two were ignoring us. Can you do that yet?”

“No. I don’t have the first clue.”

“Dang it…” She shifted from side to side with fisted hands. “It has to be someone we know, though, right? Kieran has people on guard. They would’ve stopped an intruder.”

“Unless they’re dead. If a pack of shifters rolled through, what good would one sleepy guy be?”

“A pack of shifters would make more noise.”

I shook my head. Not the good ones. Not the ones who would come for Mordecai.

But only a week had passed since the procedure. The shifters would want to assess the situation before sending people to break in, and with Kieran’s name involved, it seemed unlikely they’d move this fast.

“What if dirty cops know you called about that mobster?” Daisy whispered.

“I called anonymously. Besides, where would they get a key?”

A footstep hit one of the many loose floorboards, squeaking. Sound ceased, the intruder listening. It was too dark to see anything.

I put my finger to my lips to make sure Daisy kept quiet.

Another squeak, closer this time, right at the mouth of the hallway. The person had taken a few steps too quietly to be heard.

Without warning, Mordecai’s door flew open. He barreled out, fast and surprisingly graceful.

“Wait—” I swung my door open, bumping into Daisy as I did so. She stepped around me, lithe and agile, beating me into the hallway. “Wait! The adult is supposed to go first.”

Too late. Both kids were in the hallway, running at the intruder.

Mordecai threw the first punch, his fist swinging through the air. I could barely see the small-statured person on the other end of the punch. As though dancing, the person bent just enough that Mordecai’s fist sailed right by.

Daisy reached them, but she didn’t lunge in with her own punch. Instead, she took a running step to the side and hurtled herself at Mordecai’s back. The impact shoved him forward at an angle, and he fell into the intruder, who wasn’t prepared for the sudden onslaught. The three of them staggered in the direction of the door, limbs flying.

A bang sounded from behind me, like a foot kicking wood. A moment later, the hardly used back door burst open, slamming against the wall. A large man ran in.

Without hesitation, I darted forward, bat held up and ready. A dark mask covered the man’s face and black clothes adorned his body. He rushed me.

I stepped and swung. His arm came up to block. As hard aluminum slapped bone, I struck out with a foot. It connected with his inner thigh, next to his balls. Bad shot.

I prepared for his surprised stagger, ready with another kick, but he didn’t falter. A long arm came from the side, fisted, ready to clock me in the side of the face.

I jerked away, a narrow miss, my reactions rusty from all these years of not practicing martial arts, boxing, or self-defense. In contrast, he had another punch coming, faster than thought. It hit me in the stomach.

My breath exploded out of my mouth, spit flying. I blocked another punch, but his hands moved too fast. His fingers wrapped around the back of my neck and he shoved me face-first into the wall. I met it with my cheek. My hair was yanked back a moment later, and fingers dug into my arm as he flung me.

I ricocheted off the doorframe of Mordecai’s room, landing on my side on the carpet. I scrambled to my feet, but I wasn’t fast enough. He was on me in a moment, shoving me to the ground and slamming his body on top of mine.

I gasped for breath, struggling with his weight. With his strength. I was badly outgunned, and on the ground I was the weakest.

I struck out as best I could, fingers widened so I could rake across an eye. I hit hard bone, jamming my fingertips. I tried again, poking a mouth. I curled my hand into a fist and punched, that mouth still there, and this strike more effective.

He grunted before capturing my hands and pinning them above my head.

Fear flared. Panic throbbed in the periphery. He had more than the upper hand—he might even have the fight.

I knew one second of contrasting desires: to freeze in terror, and to fight in rage.

I chose rage.

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