We all nodded, Luc gave a little wave of his fingers I knew was meant for us, and I gave one back. Stellan closed the laptop again. “Another day as a Circle family down,” he said.

   After the Vatican, we’d brought the remaining Circle together and made a plan for the near future. We had to rebuild, within the Circle and in the world. We’d be meeting every day, but for the sake of both peace of mind—lots of the families still didn’t trust each other—and each family’s efforts in their own territories, we’d do it remotely for now.

   The world had quieted some in the weeks since that night. Once the pope had calmed the crowds, any world leaders left alive in the room assembled, showing not only the half million people in the square, but news cameras streaming around the world that we were a united front. The story, according to the press, was that the politically motivated terrorists responsible for the carnage all over the world had attempted to attack again that night, but had been killed. With all the chaos that had been captured by the news cameras, people believed it. There had been no more attacks since then.

   The Circle was trying to recover. Our first order of business had been to make sure the places hardest hit by the Saxons—Jerusalem, and Paris, and Rome, and Beijing—had help putting their cities back together and trying to heal.

   The heads of six families had died. Every family had at least one direct heir to take over—except for the Saxons.

   The closest Saxon heir still alive was me.

   For now, Alistair’s cousin—the father of Sunday Six drummer Noah Day—was second closest, and he was acting head of the family. I wasn’t worried about him trying to overthrow me. Like Noah, he had no love for the Saxons. Plus, he was an influential politician in his own right.

   We, the thirteenth family, the Korolev family, had no territory of our own. That would be put to a vote sometime soon, but for now, we were in an “undisclosed location.” Someplace far away from Paris or Rome or Russia, where we could be certain we were safe while everything settled.

   Stellan stood up and unbuttoned his crisp, collared shirt. It had looked a bit ridiculous with his orange swim trunks. I took a second to admire our tattoo in the center of his chest. I’d chosen the placement well. It made me want to touch his chest even more than I already did. The cuts across his back from Lydia’s attack in Russia had healed to nothing already. The salve Nisha had made was helping with the pain. She’d given us more, and now we were putting it on Anya every day, too. It didn’t offer much relief to the thicker burn scars on Stellan’s back—but it was something.

   And as they worked to learn more about the Great modification, Nisha and the science team were beginning to discover that it might have more uses. It was especially promising in cancer research. And they were still, secretly, working on a way to better distribute the vaccine for the virus, just in case.

   I pulled my dress over my head to expose my own neon-yellow bikini. Stellan raised his eyebrows appreciatively. “Have I mentioned that I have the most beautiful girlfriend in the world?”

   “About a hundred times a day.”

   He scooped me into his arms. “A hundred times is not enough.”

   “Cheesy,” I admonished, looping my arms around his neck. “I’m going to get tired of you if you turn into a big cheeseball all the time.” This was a lie. I’d seen him smile more in the past week than I had the whole time I’d known him. I would never get tired of that.

   “But cheese tastes good, yes?” He leaned down and kissed the bullet wound on my shoulder. “Healing nicely,” he said, carrying me outside.

   “Going to have some weird tan lines,” I mused, picking at the small bandage.

   It was an act, the smiles and the flirting and the fun. I didn’t know how long it would be until we felt whole again. But we were safe. The world was okay. We were trying.

   Stellan set me down on the porch of our bungalow, and we looked through the row of palm trees out to a wide white sand beach. This little island could only be reached by boat, and even on the mainland, we hadn’t seen a single person in all of Thailand who gave us a second glance. No Circle, no paparazzi.

   “Speaking of tan lines,” I said, “when was the last time we put more sunscreen on her?” Anya was crouched in the sand, playing with the nanny she’d grown up with, whom Stellan had tracked down in Russia and brought to live with us. “She’s going to be a lobster.”

   Stellan grimaced and shrugged. We might have more to learn about the being responsible for a kid thing than the being part of the Circle thing.

   I grabbed the bottle of sunscreen and started down the beach. Anya jumped up when she saw me coming. “Avie!” she screeched, and ran up the beach, kicking up sand and grabbing my hand to drag me back to the water’s edge. She’d started warming to me, finally.

   The sun and the sand and the steady diet of mango shakes and green curry had relaxed us all a little. I’d even been sleeping better, and Stellan had, too—though I’d realized now that we were together every night that he had more nightmares than I did. When one of us woke, the other would wrap them up and whisper nonsense until we both fell back to sleep, and if we were up with the sunrise, which we still often were, we had a beautiful beach just outside our door waiting for a morning swim.

   Anya dropped beside the pile of wet sand she was sculpting into some kind of creature, and chattered away to me. I still didn’t understand a word, but I smiled at the nanny over her head. Farther away, down the beach, a sheer cliff rose out of the water, craggy and dramatic against the turquoise water. At its base, Elodie was panting and sweaty, just back from a run.

   Jack stood on the hard-packed sand nearby, with a boy named Maxim. He was the son of Sofia, the nanny, and Stellan had known him for years—their family had been friends with the Korolevs when Stellan was a kid. Max was my age, and had been in Russian military training for the past year. When we asked Sofia to come on full-time with us, we’d brought Max, too, since the two of them were the only family either had. We hadn’t said it yet, but we were hoping he could take over as Keeper at some point. So Max had been training with Jack every day, and Jack was impressed so far. We were not at the point to trust anyone we didn’t know with our secrets, but for now he knew he was training to be bodyguard to a family who paid very well while treating him like an actual human being, and that was good enough.

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