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“It’s not your house,” Zorn said in a low growl.

“I realize this isn’t my house, Zorn. Why else would this setup be such a clusterfuck? You might as well have designed the space. There isn’t even an ocean gazing chair situated near the windows.” Bria shook her head. “I have to leave this horrible room. It is messing with my chi.”

Zorn’s jaw clenched and Kieran held back a bark of laughter. Zorn had been in charge of the furniture placement, and it was obvious he’d been thwarting Bria’s attempts to mess with the furniture in his house, which, Kieran had to admit, was just as oddly positioned.

“Alexis noticed the odd look of the brick wall,” Thane said, returning to their discussion as the commotion died down, “and Daisy immediately clued in that it was one of Zorn’s illusions.”

“And through the trees?” Kieran watched Alexis, standing and staring at the view. It was like she was so lost in the ocean she didn’t hear the kids trying to hurry her up to see the next room. It was a headspace he practically lived in at his father’s house.

“That was kind of odd,” Thane said, missing the scene. In fact, everyone but Kieran seemed to have missed it, including her kids, who were giving up on her and moving on without her. “Alexis found the way. She seems to have figured out another facet of her magic. I interrupted a breakthrough of some kind when I knocked on her door earlier.” He paused for a moment and his voice dropped in irritation. “Which was probably why she took so long in opening it.”

“Don’t you want to see the rest of the house?” Kieran asked Alexis.

She turned slowly from the window, and when their gazes met, his will buckled. He stepped forward without another thought, knowing Thane would get the message and make himself scarce.

Emotion bled through their soul connection. When he neared her, she leaned in, almost imperceptibly, and he knew what she wanted. He put his arms around her shoulders and pulled her in close.

“I’ve always loved the ocean,” she said softly, folding into his embrace. “I grew up hearing the distant crash of the waves. Smelling the salt in the air. The kelp. I’ve always wanted a view, like your dad has. Or like the one from the magical government building. Always.” She took a deep breath. “I never, in my wildest dreams, thought I’d actually have one. Your magic makes this that much more special. It’s almost like I feel it. I feel the pull of the ocean and how it affects the tides. I feel the power, and delight in its majesty.” She sniffed. “I don’t have the right words.”

“You don’t need the right words,” he whispered, skimming his thumb along her jaw. “I can feel it through the soul link.”

She nodded and peaceful silence drifted between them.

Another squeal blasted through the house, and Kieran smiled.

“Regardless of how tickled she is, we still can’t accept this,” Alexis said. “It’s too much.”

“You freed my mother, thereby freeing me. You’re helping me take on my father. You and your kids will mean our victory.” He paused. “I will counter and say, it’s not nearly enough. Not even close.”

She sighed and shook her head, pushing back. “Let’s go see what the kids are doing. They’ve never had a good Christmas. That they remember, anyway. This will have to make up for it.”

“I’m Santa, and you’re the Grinch?”

“No, I’m Robin Hood. Say goodbye to anything valuable.”

He laughed and slipped his fingers between hers as they followed the sounds of delight echoing through the house. Confidence and warmth settled into him.

His phone started vibrating again as he led Alexis from the room. It wasn’t like Henry to be this persistent. He knew what Kieran was doing.

His gut churned. Something told him it was more bad news. News he likely wouldn’t be ready to counteract.

15

Alexis

“But Lexi, we’d have our own bathrooms!” Daisy followed me as we made our way through Kieran’s illusion-riddled backyard. In the likely event Kieran was being watched, he didn’t want anyone to see us crossing the street to his house. So, we’d hiked down an overgrown trail on the cliff before trekking to the back of his house through the trees. The place was so secluded we didn’t see one foot print or dog poop.

I glanced around the well-tended backyard, half expecting to see a lurker nestled within the trees. Kieran had been distracted through the second half of the house tour. He’d left for the office to make some calls and take care of a few things, so everyone had broken up to get some training in, the kids with Jack and me with Bria. I’d struggled with focus, though, worried about what I was feeling through the soul link. Bursts of emotion had been blasting me ever since Kieran left. It troubled me that Bria, who was always quick to the draw, hadn’t seemed to notice.

Something had definitely gone wrong. Or maybe, something was continuing to go wrong. Kieran didn’t have everything sorted out, I could tell.

It struck me that Daisy could be right. Maybe Kieran did need some serious help, and we should take it upon ourselves to make that call to Sydney. What other options did we have? If Dara really was the only person standing in the way of Valens steamrolling the Peace Accord Treaties, wouldn’t it be better for us to unite our efforts?

“You don’t need your own bathrooms,” I said absently as I chewed my lip.

Then again, living in virtual ignorance as we were, would we do more damage than good? I’d gathered that the plans were intricate and Kieran was a master at disguising his trail from his father’s people. One wrong move might unravel the whole thing…

“Mordecai stinks,” Daisy blurted. “Air freshener and candles can only do so much.”

“That adds to the spice of life,” I said, letting us in through Kieran’s back door.

The sun was sinking over the not-so-distant water, painting the sky in beautiful layers of pink and orange.

“Umm, it smells good,” Daisy said as we walked through a back room, similar to the one in the house across the street, and made our way toward the food smell. “I’m starving!”

“You’re always starving,” I said as we entered a kitchen almost exactly like the one across the street, only a little bigger, if that were possible.

Jack and Donovan stood at the grill beside the stove, both wearing clean sweats and tight T-shirts. They were probably the most robust cooks I’d ever seen. The fan whirred and smoke rose into the stainless-steel hood as flame licked the steaks. Unlike usual, they weren’t chatting or bantering. Their shoulders were tight and their movements a little stiff.

A wave of nervousness rolled through me. This time I couldn’t tell if it was mine or Kieran’s.

Thane looked up from the large round table, similar to the one across the street, and gave me a tight smile before glancing back down at his laptop. Working, I’d bet. Bria paused from her salad station at the island, her face grim.

“Everything okay?” I asked the oddly quiet room. The kids stood behind me, making no move to file in and claim their space, clearly sensing the weird vibe.

Bria grimaced and started tearing lettuce. She clearly only believed in knives when they were being stuck in human flesh. “There’s a severe weather system bearing down,” she said. “It’s looking like a category five shitshow.”

“We’re keeping an eye on things,” Thane said, flicking his gaze up from the laptop. “There are a lot of moving pieces right now. It’s easier when we’re all in one place.”

Nervous flutters of a different kind ran through me. I tried not to think of how much the kids loved the rooms and bathrooms they’d get, or the privacy and convenience of the master suite. I tried not to think of that deep look in Kieran’s eyes when he’d offered me the house, open all the way down to the soul I had linked to my own. I desperately tried not to think of how close he was at that moment, probably just pulling up to the house, and how desperately I wanted to see him and never let him go.

I tried, and failed.

Before I could figure out what to say, the front door opened and a moment later Boman entered the kitchen with a grim face to match the others.

“Incoming,” he said, making his way to the counter.

Zorn’s form appeared in the entryway next, vicious and sleek, gliding forward like a phantom. He was clean and fresh, dressed down like the others, but his aura of ruthless energy would have given a horror movie villain pause.

Bria glanced up, and instead of making a quip or raising her brows in hello, like she would’ve done with anyone else, her gaze caught his and held it for a long moment. Much to my incredible dismay, her cheeks flushed red and heat lit her eyes. She looked down again, the first to do so, and her body tightened in a way I completely understood.

And then felt.

Kieran filled the entryway. Fire burned in his eyes as he beheld me, and suddenly the room seemed too hot, my chest too tight.

“We have a problem,” Zorn said to the room at large.

“How bad?” Jack asked without turning around.

I heard the front door click shut, and this time Jack did glance back, waiting until Henry strode through the door with a blank face and a laptop under his arm. Jack’s eyes widened.

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