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“We can find this S.O.B. before then.” A determined look crossed Bria’s face. “We’re on to him now. A tiny bit of digging and—”

“No.” The word came with a crack of command, the effect snapping my back straight and sending a jolt of fear racing through me. Kieran was intense, there were no two ways about it. “You’ll leave him to me. This is the end of it. Bria, you will continue training Alexis, but Alexis, your task is at an end. After tonight, there will be no more investigation.”

My mouth dropped open, and a different sort of fear crawled in. Memories of job searches, crappy positions, and starving kids raced through my head. The kids were working their tails off, but they were happy now. They had full bellies and a purpose. I had a purpose.

If that was coming to an end…

“I will pay you a year’s wages, Alexis,” Kieran said softly, clearly reading my expression. “Never in my wildest dreams did I think you’d solve this so quickly. Additionally, you have a bonus coming for your quick work, written in by your business manager.”

“And after that, I can get you work, no problem,” Bria said, winking. “We can get out of this murky pit of despair, too. Maybe hit up Australia or something—”

“No.” There it was again, only this time, something in his tone sounded tortured, pulling my gaze to him. He gritted his teeth and clenched his fists, like he was stopping himself from commenting further. He gestured stiffly at the trunk. “Release her skin. Let her go.”

“Whoa, whoa.” Bria hurriedly gathered up her supplies. “That’s too personal for me. I need to get out of here.”

After she was gone, I stared at the trunk for a moment, uncertainty rolling back in. The termination of my job should’ve been a good thing, especially since I was still getting paid. I would totally take that check and nod in thanks. Who was I to say boo? I mean, Kieran was a nightmare of a boss: possessive, controlling, and he often stuck his nose in where it didn’t belong. And then there was the danger from Valens. It would be way safer to distance myself from the lot of them. I could move somewhere nice, with better weather and cleaner streets. We could start over, with the money to do it right.

So why did my chest ache like I was about to go into cardiac arrest?

“Is she here?” Kieran’s voice was quiet and thick, ringing with emotion.

I startled out of my daze, worried about what I was feeling. Worried about letting go of it.

“Yeah, sure. I mean…” I shook my head and glanced around at the empty room. “Uh…no.”

Confused, I met his eyes, recognizing the sadness there. Usually that was all it took to bring his mom floating in.

“Is there a way to call her?” he asked, his focus on me intense.

“Well…” I patted my nonexistent pockets for my tarot cards, as though I just carried them around constantly. “How do you usually call her?”

“Think of her, I guess.”

“Well…” I frowned, still confused. “Aren’t you doing that?”

He blew out a breath and shook his head before looking away. His brow furrowed, which probably mirrored my expression, and silence descended in patches as conversation rose and fell from beyond my closed door.

A few moments later, Lyra drifted through the wall, her expression sublime and her dress flowing without a breeze.

“No one usually looks that good as a ghost,” I muttered, turning toward the trunk. “It’s unnatural.”

“Is it time?” she asked, taking a seat beside her son.

“Yes,” I answered.

“I meant to ask…” She paused and I lifted my eyebrows at her. Kieran continued to stare at me, so I pointed at her. “She’s here. In case you thought I was talking to myself.”

He nodded, but his eyes didn’t leave mine. Not like there was any reason for them to, I supposed. He had to take my word for it, after all.

“As a spirit, do I have any power in this world?” she asked.

I froze for a moment, because I knew where this was going. She was asking if she could hang around and try to protect her son. Or maybe help her son in some way.

Not only was that mostly impossible, she’d probably just get captured again, and Kieran would be in the same position he just was, only Valens would hide her spirit better.

I took the super blunt approach. “Once you die, you stop being useful.”

Her stare was hard for a moment, as though trying to read me, before she nodded in understanding.

“Okay.” I closed my eyes. “Here we go.”

“Good-bye,” Kieran whispered, finality to his tone. “I’ll miss you.”

“You were the best son a mother could have,” she said, and I relayed the message as I fiddled with the spirit trap. I could crack it open like an egg, but I wondered if I could just fade out one of the little patches cobbling it together and let her spirit slip out the side. If I did it that way, maybe the originator would think he’d messed up. It was possible.

Then again, maybe the guy’s periodic visits to the government building had nothing to do with strengthening the spell. Maybe he just came there to pick up his paychecks. I couldn’t know for sure unless I checked it out...and now, according to Kieran, there would be no need.

“I love you dearly,” she said. “Please live your life to its fullest. Break Valens’s hold over you, and find happiness. Please.”

“I intend to,” Kieran said after I relayed the message.

I glanced at his face, and before his stone mask slipped over his features, I saw the lie. The uncertainty.

He planned to go up against his father, and he wasn’t sure he would win.

Which was crazy, because he always sounded so confident. So in control.

That’s how he was trained.

The ache in my middle grew, responding to my worry of what he faced, as I peeled away part of the slippery spirit trap. There really wasn’t anything to it when I embraced the power of the Line.

A gasp made me jerk my head around. Lyra laughed like a girl and jumped on the bed, putting her hands into the air in an expression of joy and bliss. A strange wetsuit looking thing drifted through the air to her, and she grabbed it and held it close. The Line pulsed above us, all around us, beckoning to her.

I described everything I saw in as much detail as I could muster—describing the Line didn’t make much sense if you couldn’t actually see and feel it.

A boyish smile crossed Kieran’s face. Relief.

Lyra hugged her skin and headed for the wall of the house.

“Wait, wait—whoa. Where are you going?” I asked.

Her smile was serene. “For a proper swim, and then to eternity. I am finally whole again.”

She disappeared through the wall, leaving silence in her wake.

“She’s gone?” Kieran asked.

I stood slowly and pushed back my hair. “Yes. She’ll probably cross over in the ocean. That seems fitting.” I turned my attention to Kieran, sitting on the bed with his hands clasped, that extreme focus on me again. Sadness creased his features and lingered in his eyes. “She was blissful. She’s finally at rest, Kieran. You gave her peace.”

“No,” he whispered, rising and stepping closer. His breath dusted my face. “You gave her peace. I gave her you.”

He grabbed my cheeks with both hands. Passion flared within me and fire licked at my core. I expected a hard kiss, like earlier, rushed and frantic. Instead, electricity jumped between us as his lips slowly grazed mine, savoring the contact.

I closed my eyes and opened my mouth, inviting him in. His tongue probed before he backed off to nibble on my bottom lip. His hands slid down my sides and hooked around my middle.

Warmth spread through me from deep down as I sunk into the feeling of his arms wrapped around me. Of his strength and power. Of his gentle touch. He was what I’d always longed for in my quietest moments—the rush of desire wrapped up in a blanket of safety.

In that moment I knew…I had to ride the train of terrible ideas one more time. Just once more to thoroughly get him out of my system. Right after that, I’d go back to being a logical adult who didn’t get mixed up with dangerous men filled with all the strength and power of a god.

Just one more time.

Toot, toot.

I slid my hands down his front and stopped at the base of his T-shirt before slipping inside and putting my palms flush with his hot skin. His thumbs stroked my chin as he deepened our kiss. I pushed my hands up and the shirt with it, grabbing the ends in fistfuls when I reached his shoulders.

He leaned back, his eyes liquid and opened up all the way down to his soul. Without thinking, I reached into his chest, only needing a trickle of the Line power to do so this time, and stroked the edge of that hard plate protecting his essence. He sucked in a breath and tensed, but didn’t fight it. Instead, he lifted his arms so I could pull off the shirt, and then looked down at me again.

“It’s terrifying when you do that,” he said softly, the corners of his lips tweaking upward into a sheepish grin. “It’s one of the rare times I feel completely vulnerable. I know one heart-stopping moment of thinking I can’t protect myself before I feel my magic build. It’s so primal, the response. I can see why people with your magic have been feared through the centuries.”

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