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“Lexi has a collection of highly powerful cadavers, who are actually trying to learn how to control their bodies. Usually a soul just gets in and flails around until they figure out how to move, but her people will be off the chain good.” She grabbed the platter of green beans and headed to the table. “I’m stoked. Not to mention that if Valens uses his Necromancer, our girl can rip the souls out of his corpses.” She clawed the air. “Rip that shit right out. Boy will they get a surprise.”

“That’s not the surprise I’m hoping she’ll give,” Kieran said softly, pulling the chair out for Alexis.

Bria took her seat as Donovan strolled in with a grim expression. He headed right for the sink to wash up.

“You good?” Kieran asked, taking his seat. The rest of the guys followed suit.

“It’s all rigged up.” Donovan leaned over his phone, which he’d set on the counter. “Three hours before dawn. They’ll lose some really great magical war weapons in the blast. Fuck ’em.”

“Agreed.” Bria put up her glass.

“Wait, wait, wait…” Donovan slapped off the faucet, dried his hands, and hurried over. He sat, poured himself some tea, and put up his glass to join the cheer. “Fuck ’em.”

“Fuck ’em,” everyone chorused.

Kieran dropped his hand to Alexis’s leg and gave her a light squeeze as food was passed around and plates were loaded. He wished Henry could’ve gotten away to join them, but Henry was running the surveillance team keeping tabs on Valens and his people.

“I came to San Francisco thinking I’d lost the heart of my family,” Kieran began. “My mother. I had my Six, and Bria joined us, but in some ways, we were lacking a center. A hub to gather around.” He rubbed Alexis’s leg and looked on her beautiful face. “We found it here. With you.” He looked at Daisy, then Mordecai. “With all of you. Now we’re a stronger unit than we’ve ever been, and it’s because of your willingness to include us. We won’t go into this fight with only vengeance on the mind. Not anymore. We’ll go into this fighting for a future. Fighting to secure happiness in this territory—for ourselves, and for everyone Valens has trampled and kept down. I’m honored to take this leap with you all.”

“Fuckin’ A!” Bria put her fist into the air. “I can’t wait to unleash the dead with you all!”

Everyone paused with their glasses heading upward.

“You just couldn’t give him the moment, could you?” Jack asked her. “You couldn’t just be normal for two seconds.”

“What?” She let her glass hover in the air. “Would it be better if I called them intensely powerful cadavers that will widen the eyes of our foe?”

Jack sighed and shook his head, clinking his glass off of Zorn’s. “Odd taste in women, bro. That’s the last word on it. Odd taste in women.”

Kieran smiled, bittersweet. His gaze glued to Alexis’s face. Tears shone in her eyes.

“It’s not too late to get to safety,” he said quietly, and almost believed it.

She glanced at Mordecai, and then Daisy. “I would’ve taken you up on that for them…if they would’ve let me.” Her eyes hit his again and a tear trailed down her cheek. “I love you. I didn’t say it last night because of all the stuff happening, but I love you. I wouldn’t be anywhere else but at your side. We will live to see the sun set tomorrow. We will. All of us will.”

“See that?” Bria said in the background. “See my restraint there? She said the L-word, and I said nothing.”

“You’re saying it right now. Not cool,” Donovan said.

Kieran leaned over and kissed Alexis’s sweet lips. He ran his thumb across the glistening trail on her cheek…and prayed she was right.

33

Valens

Pinks and oranges exploded across the early morning sky, illuminating the trash-strewn beach. All of the fisherman and surfers had cleared away in anticipation of Valens’s visit. Rocky sand crunched under his battle boots.

If Kieran’s people were any good, Valens knew his son would confront him here, this morning. He no longer had any doubt that Kieran had taken down his spirit hunters and collected a ramshackle army, pieced together from old friends, cheaply hired guns, and men and women stolen from Valens’s ranks. He’d be prepared.

So would Valens.

“Sir.” Amber stalked up to him with her phone in hand. Valens’s portly Necromancer followed her at a distance, his long beard swaying in the sea breeze.

First thing was first—Valens needed to make sure part of Lyra’s ungrateful spirit, that of her selkie skin, still resided in that box, as it would for all of eternity. Then he would deal with his son.

His heart beat faster than it had in…years. Decades.

Her skin’s spirit better be in that box.

And the box better still be there.

“The Tunnel Street warehouse has been destroyed,” Amber said as she reached him. “Exploded.”

Rage bubbled up from deep within him. He didn’t let it show on his face. He turned and faced the ocean, his eyes focused on the horizon. “That’s unfortunate.”

“The other warehouses have been secured.”

“Those aren’t of value in this situation. Clearly he knows that.” Valens barely kept from grinding his teeth. “Find out who leaked the existence of that warehouse. When this is over, bring them to me.”

“Yes, sir.”

She waited just behind and to the side of him. Valens could hear the Necromancer breathing hard as he labored across the sand. The slob needed a better diet and exercise regime.

“Is everyone ready?” Valens asked, impatience clawing at him.

“Yes, sir. The beach and parking lot were cleared, as you see, and your teams are in position. Everyone is on hold. They’re waiting for the go-ahead.”

“Have you seen any of my son’s embarrassing group of magical toddlers?”

“No, sir. If they are near, we haven’t spotted them.”

“They’re near. He is the son I’ve always wanted. I see now what a mistake that was. Hindsight, as they say.”

“Yes, sir. Should I leave you?”

“No.” Valens waited for the Necromancer to reach him before moving forward. “Let me know when my son arrives.”

Kieran

Kieran stepped out of his car with a stomach of ice and mood of fire. Only two other vehicles dotted the large parking lot, both incredibly expensive—a rarity for this beach. When he neared the steps leading down to the shore, he took in the desolation. No fishermen dotted the water’s edge, and no surfers rode the rolling waves.

His father had cleared the battlefield. He’d known Kieran would come.

“Is everyone ready?” he asked into the phone.

“We’re good, sir,” Zorn said. “Our teams are in position. Bria has spotted a team led by one of Valens’s Elite. Valens’s people are waiting, as we are.”

Kieran blew out a breath.

“Wait for the signal,” he said.

“Yes, sir.”

Magic sang through the air. The ocean waves died down to nothing, and water pulled away from the base of the cliffs as two figures walked out toward the rocks. A woman dressed in battle leathers waited near the old waterline, facing him. Closer, he realized it was Amber.

“Kieran, good to see you again,” she said without a smile.

“Amber. Hello. I hear it took you some time to trace all my dead ends. Are you losing your touch?”

“Not at all. You’re just that good.” A tiny smile graced her lips. “Not quite good enough, though.”

He smirked at her and continued on. “I bet you wish you believed that.”

His father was standing at the box Kieran had planted, covered in pictures of Kieran’s mother when she was in the hospital. One of Kieran’s mermaid friends had waterproofed it.

Kieran stopped twenty feet away. His father could move fast, and he’d be hopped up on adrenaline. Kieran didn’t want the meeting ending before it had begun.

“Not what you were expecting to find?” Kieran asked, changing the air currents so his voice carried.

His father straightened much too slowly, clearly fighting the rage that no doubt filled every ounce of his being. “Where is it?”

“Buried.”

Valens turned to him slowly. “And the spirit?”

“Released. The magic had to be constantly reapplied. The spell would have completely dissipated after three weeks.” Kieran widened his stance, something he knew would translate to his father as a show of power. “But I didn’t need to wait. The Necromancer’s magic was applied with air. Take away the air…”

Valens didn’t so much as twitch. “Your Necromancer is a clever girl.”

“Yes, she is. But she wasn’t the one who figured it out. It was the woman who holds my mark.”

There it was: tightened shoulders. Emotion had finally slipped into his father’s bearing.

“Alexis freed my mother,” Kieran pushed, anger rising. “Do you feel any remorse for what you did?”

“What I did?” Valens took a purposeful step forward. “And what did I do?”

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