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Bria put up her hands in defeat. “Alexis, honestly, just answer me one question: you’re cool with being a kept woman?”

“Kept woman?” Daisy reeled back. “Are you kidding me? Ain’t no one keeping my girl down.” She gestured around us. “A Demigod with too much money wants to buy us a house? Um yes, we’ll take it, thank you very much. He wants to buy us some new clothes, a bunch of shi…crap no one needs but is sure nice to have? Food? Yes, yes, and I’ll take another helping, please and thank you. That motherfucker—sorry Lexi, but you know that swear was warranted—doesn’t own us. If he thinks we can be bought, then he’s the chump. We can and will leave at any time. We’ll take the hand outs, but gifts with strings attached are for losers.” She gestured to Mordecai, and then me, and then back to herself. “We ain’t losers.”

I nodded with my lips pulled to the side, thinking. “Yeah, that’s about it. I don’t mind people buying me stuff. I encourage it, actually. Why do you think I took drinks from Miles for so long?”

“It helps us save our money,” Mordecai said, nodding.

“And it’s not like he’s in control,” Daisy continued. “We have all the paperwork on this house. If he tries to pull the rug out from under us?” She let the question hang in the air with her eyebrows lifted.

“We’ll burn it down,” Mordecai supplied helpfully.

Daisy’s expression fell and she reached over to punch Mordecai in the sweet spot on his arm. “Thanks a lot.”

“Ow! What?” he asked, rubbing the offending spot.

“You stole my thunder. I was going to say we’d burn it down.”

“Then run off to Australia,” he said expectantly. “I’m not stealing anything from you. Everyone knows that’s the best plan.”

A look of death crossed Daisy’s face.

“I just…” Bria leaned against the counter, worry in her eyes. “Look, I know you guys swear by Kieran”—she glanced up at Zorn—“and everyone who works with him wants to stay working for him. As a boss and usually as a man, he’s top notch. I’m a believer. I am. In almost all things, I am Team Kieran—”

“You worry that when it comes to a woman, he’ll turn into his dad,” Jack said quietly, all humor gone.

“Since day one, yeah,” Bria said. “Look, genetics is a tricky bitch. Kieran got a big heaping of genetics from Valens. He has skills that not many possess. He stole Valens’s prized possession out from under him, and after two months Valens still has no idea he was the one who did it. That takes a certain sort of a cunning. A Valens sort of cunning. And now here Kieran is, buying Alexis a new life, just like his dad did for his mom. He’s also marked her without asking. Maybe he didn’t do it on purpose, and maybe I’m in the minority here, but that’s got me worried.”

Silence fell through the kitchen, so thick I could barely breathe. She’d just dug up all the worries and concerns that had plagued me. Had this been a huge, irreversible mistake?

“I’ve known Kieran most of my life,” Zorn said, his low voice filling up the room. “He found me in a gutter outside of a pub, beaten senseless. I should’ve been in the hospital, but my father wanted to get back to his pints and his dice. My attempt to drag him home hadn’t been appreciated.” He paused to take a steadying breath. “I was nothing. An unwanted nobody. There are very few high-powered magical people in the world, let alone in the magical elite, who would go out of their way to help a half-dead street kid. But Kieran ended his night out to take me home with him, and the Demigod’s wife allowed her son to carry a bleeding pulp of a kid into her house and set him down on a spotless cream sofa in the living room. It wasn’t a servant who nursed me back to health, though they had many. It was the two of them, taking turns. He might have a good helping of his father, but he was raised and nurtured by his mother.”

Bria opened her mouth to speak, but Zorn wasn’t finished.

“From that day forward, I’ve been a kept man. Kieran took me in, then bought me my first house. He bought the car I drive. He offered me a credit card, too, but by that time, he’d paid me enough salary, and taught me what to do with it, that I could stand on my own. He didn’t do any of it to gain favor or loyalty. He wasn’t attempting to buy me. He was offering to help me in the only few ways he knew how. I would go to the grave for that man and be brought back time and again to help him.”

“But you’re not a woman,” Jack cut in. “Bria has a reason to be wary. There’s a reason the Six is made up of all men, after all.”

“Kieran’s father did try to poison him to women, that’s true,” Zorn said. “He’s never fully trusted himself to have power over a woman. He doesn’t want to turn into Valens.”

“What about Bria?” Daisy asked.

“She came on as a highly recommended outsider,” Zorn said, “whom I personally interviewed—”

“He means banged.” Bria’s glimmer of mirth was short-lived. Her face soured again.

“You really shouldn’t date people you work with,” Mordecai said.

“No shit,” Jack muttered.

“I was confident she would keep the relationship with Demigod Kieran professional.”

“Kieran kept Bria at a distance, but Lexi reeled everyone in.” Jack smiled warmly at me. “Thanks for that, by the way. This setup is way more welcoming, not to mention entertaining, than the sausage fest we had going on. I mean, the amount of unabashed farting would have made your head spin. I missed having a pack with women and kids. It just…evens everything out.”

“Lexi doesn’t succumb to his power,” Mordecai said, understanding dawning in his eyes.

A wry grin twisted Zorn’s lips. “He found a woman he can’t control. Alexis is a strong leader in her own right, even if most of the time she’d rather not be bothered.”

“Yeah.” Jack nodded confidently. “My boy won’t step out of line. His days of fearing women are not over, but his days of avoiding them long-term are dead.”

Bria chewed her lip, her eyes on Zorn. “He did claim her, though.”

“Yeah, but…what’s a wedding ring, if not a claim on someone?” Jack put his hands out. “My boy is in it to win it, that’s all.”

Humor finally cracked Bria’s worried façade as butterflies swarmed my belly at Jack’s words. Her eyebrows lifted in defeat and she threw up her hands. “Okay. You win.” She momentarily slipped back into seriousness and put two fingers to her eyes. “I will maintain my vigilance, but I guess we’ll wait and see if the house needs to get burned down.”

“Let’s hope not.” Daisy glanced around wistfully. “It’s really nice. My room is massive.”

“If he doesn’t know about the mark, can we risk taking her into public?” Zorn’s gaze drifted down my body. “Only a Demigod can leave a mark like that. Even if people don’t know what they’re looking at, she’ll stand out.”

“Whoa, whoa, whoa.” I put out my hands, suddenly anxious for a distraction. “I’m going to a forgotten part of nowhere. People make it a point not to notice each other in the dual-society zone. Unless you find a unicorn Burberry bag, no one so much as glances at you. I can travel under the radar, no problem.”

“Except now you are a glowing angel,” Bria said with a smirk.

“With a bitch face,” Daisy said.

“Thank you, Daisy,” I replied dryly. “But that’s a good point. Anyone who notices me will get one look at my mug and then look the other way.”

Zorn and Jack looked at each other, some silent understanding passing between them.

Jack shrugged. “If she gets undue attention, we’ll extract her,” he said.

“If Valens sends someone worthy to tail her, I’ll feel their soul,” Bria said. “If they try to nab her, we’ll make them disappear. The battle is coming, anyway—what’s one misplaced stalker?”

Zorn’s lips pressed together before he gave a curt nod.

“It’ll be fine,” I said, wishing I was a lot more excited about my chance to go spend money in my favorite stores. “I’m sure they’d go to my house first, anyway. There’s no way they’d know I’d take today to go shopping.”

Zorn nodded again. “Valens won’t spare the resources to cover the area so early in the game. Still, with that mark…”

I shook my head helplessly. “I wish I could see what you guys did. I still have no idea what you’re talking about…” Though something Kieran said tumbled through my mind.

There is no going back after this.

He’d meant that. He’d claimed me, as he’d promised, in a way he probably hadn’t even realized yet—and I’d claimed him, too. Through the soul connection that was now permanent, I could feel his warm, steady pulse in my middle.

He’d claimed my body. I had claimed his spirit.

We were now connected, body and soul.


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