Contents
Cover SCARRED Copyright More by Amber Lynn Natusch Dedication Prologue 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17 18 19 20 21 22 23 24 25 26 27 Epilogue Connect with ALN Next in the Series Tempted by Evil What I'm Reading... About the Author Acknowledgments

SCARRED

By Amber Lynn Natusch

com . ISBN-13: 978-0-9849464-3-3 This book is a work of fiction. living or dead. This book or any portion thereof may not be reproduced or used in any manner whatsoever without the express written permission of the publisher except for the use of brief quotations in a book review. organizations. Published by Amber Lynn Natusch Cover Design by Jamie Rosen Editing by Jennifer Ryan www.0 Copyright © 2012 Amber Lynn Natusch All rights reserved.Version 1.amberlynnnatusch. places. Names. Any resemblance to actual persons. or actual events is entirely coincidental. characters. businesses. events and incidents either are the product of the author's imagination or are used fictitiously.

com/amberlynnnatusch Follow @AmberLNatusch Tweet your thoughts through the book .More by Amber Lynn Natusch The Caged Series CAGED HAUNTED FRAMED SCARRED FRACTURED Novella 1 STRAYED Novella 2 BETRAYED Coming Soon: The UNBORN Series (Caged sister series) The Light and Shadow Trilogy (YA Fantasy) See more in the back of this book By Shannon Morton and Amber Lynn Natusch More Including Release Dates: amberlynnnatusch.com facebook.

It doesn't matter if they're large or small. What matters is how you choose to wear them. emotional or physical.To Shannon Morton and Amanda Zabski for teaching me that we all have scars. .

While my mind reeled from what I'd just seen. I exhaled a fuck-my-life sigh. It meant one thing and one thing only. if only to myself. I retched again. and mine alone. Another woman dead.” he'd told me. There was only a single reason why my body acted that way. in the darkness of my room. I will have you or no one will. My head throbbed. “You will be mine. carefully―meticulously―painting her cheeks and lips with a delicate touch before turning his cold.” . My normal life interrupted. heart pounded. My reprieve was gone.” His message had been painfully clear: join him or die. the contents of my stomach found themselves all over the floor. Alone. “You cannot escape me. “He's back.Prologue A familiar sweat covered my body. my love. acknowledging out loud. He'd decorated her face with her blood. dead stare on my mind's eye. A corpse in white―wedding white. limbs quaked. My crazed courtier returned. running his nose along the bride's jaw―fearsome eyes still pinned on me. what I'd long feared.

while he stooped down low to meet her. The six-foot plus. black haired officer seemed to dwarf everything around him.” Kristy interjected. I loved that about him. It always made me wonder if she'd had a hard time in school. not wanting to gawk. her child-like smile lighting up her face. Due to their rather staggering height difference.” “Not a problem. “I find that impossible to believe.1 “I’m back.” Detective Alan Beauchamp rounded the corner and stood in the vast entrance to the dining room of his Victorian home. hopped up out of her seat to greet him.” I blushed.” Kristy replied. That happened every time she looked at him. you rarely blend in.” I argued. and her personality only added to her charm. “Somehow. “Oh. I never got used to how commanding his presence could be. “It's not the looks.” “Well. it's rare to see this shade of white on a person. His wife. Kristy. Kristy.” “Sorry.” a male voice called loudly from the rear mudroom. then bring your married ass in here and say hello to your wife. he'd have been an alpha for sure. Her smile could change someone's day from abysmal to amazing.” I replied sarcastically. “It's the paleness. When you're built like a model and have the looks to match.” Alan said. It was always clear that Alan saw exactly what I did. Someone she didn't like. Even in New England. pulling away from his wife. but I always had a feeling that there was the slightest bit of edge to the comments she made regarding my looks. Modesty drove me to look down at my glass of wine. I never looked at her that way. “I didn't see you there. unsure of how to take what she said. Kristy had what some would say were average looks and an average build. afraid to even hazard a guess. Picking up on his . Ruby. Alan!” she gasped. She'd meant it as a compliment. he really didn't see anything or anyone else in the room. “Sorry. honey. “I forgot to text you.” We all laughed as Alan joined us at the table and Kristy poured him a glass of Merlot. I'm a married man. I always saw someone who shone with a light inside that was too bright to contain. like I reminded her of someone. If he'd been a werewolf. she pushed up onto the very tips of her toes. When he looked at her. “Please try to contain your excitement. I tend to fade into the background easily. “Come join us. I don't have time for groupies tonight. Guess what Louie said today?” Alan looked at her quizzically.” “Hey. we're in the dining room. miss.

and. swirling his glass. It was tough to make plans when you were slated for death.. I have quite a library to pull from. I tracked down Alan at the precinct and got his wife's number. But once things simmered down with the Petronus Ceteri. half-choking on the sip of wine he'd just taken. “Probably not. 'Booby'.” Alan said.” “Agreed.” Kristy said. Sort of. “I did manage to knock over an entire display of Coke at the grocery store last week. but I'm pretty sure the store manager never wants to see me again. “I don't know.” Alan said. taking a huge swig of wine. and I quote. “I thought you .” “And do I even want to know how you managed that?” he asked. “Ruby.” “Hmm. random outbursts—both vocal and bodily noises—or just generally mortifying?” “That's quite a selection to pick from. “He said 'Ruby'!” Louie was the Beauchamp’s eighteen-month-old son.” I quipped. I had been in need of a whopping dose of humanity after all that.” “He called you 'Booby'?” Alan asked. “You pick something. “Actually. searching the air around me for inspiration. “To Aunty Booby!” Laughter broke out again and we clinked our glasses to Alan's toast. raising his glass..which genre of mishap would you prefer: inappropriate public behavior.” “Wait. “I believe he said. Kristy had started referring to me as “Aunty Ruby” around him.” “Not if he wants to live he won't. but I avoided following up with her offer for a lunch date. “Sadly. putting her glass down firmly. They were stuck with me from that moment on.” Kristy interjected with a quizzical look on her face.” “Well. I'd gotten quite close to the family over that summer―the summer that followed a visit from the PC's head honchos and a raving lunatic rogue werewolf we referred to as the Rev. “Well.” he sighed. I'd met Alan in town one day after plowing into him on the street―literally―while I was busy ogling a crime scene.” I countered.” I groused. “A decade or so more and he'll be referring to me as ‘Tits McGee'. The merriment carried on for an hour or so more while Alan ate his late dinner. booby?” “Yep. the universe provided me with the Beauchamp family. she blurted out the answer. let's just hope he masters the letter 'r' soon then.hesitation. By chance. who had rapidly become one of the most enjoyable things in my life. Tell me one of your hilarious mishap stories to cheer me up. I had really enjoyed her company.” he joked. and Kristy and I polished off another bottle of wine. I met his wife at a flea market an hour or so out of town a few days after that. “As in boobies. and I guess the name was finally starting to sink in. doing the same annoying eyebrow thing that all the men in my life had mastered. I'm going to have to drive to Dover from now on to get my groceries.” I started. “I've had a downer of a day today. and I retained my “alive” status. as fate would have it.

leaning closer to him. “It seems as though there's been another murder of a young woman. it was abundantly clear at times that the wounds within were still raw―as raw as the day they were inflicted. “She is not tormenting him.” “No clue. avoiding the matter at hand. “We do. looking exhausted. He's her roommate. and for all of Cooper's exterior joviality. desperate to change the subject. He clasped his hands together tightly. but we think we may . and his gaze looked distant and troubled. Kris.” The reality was that I knew all too well about Cooper's family history and it wasn't especially pleasant.” “And I'm the pope. but also had created a second life complete with a second family. “How was your day. resting his elbows down. The memory of the vision I'd had only the night before flashed through my mind and I knew what he was going to say—they'd found another body.” I lied.” “I don't really. “Really. but Cooper does. all too aware of the answer. and rightly so. He doesn't have time to shop with his class schedule.didn't cook. available or otherwise.” Alan mocked.” “Cooper is hardly in misery. “We’ve never really talked much about his family. Alan. Ruby. Everything fits the profile of the other cases.” Kristy said. leaning back in his chair. or are you continuing to torment the poor bastard?” “Alan!” Kristy shouted. Now he's back.” I informed him. Not only did Cooper have mommy issues.” “PR can be a nightmare. He could have his pick of virtually any woman on the seacoast.” he explained. and he did what he needed to do to give peace of mind back to the people in the area. throwing her napkin at him. you need to put the guy out of his misery. The rejection had cut him deeply. “We must have something more exciting to discuss than my lack of love life. “did something happen today?” My stomach tightened.” Kristy protested. he had daddy ones too. “I bet ten-to-one odds he has mommy issues. “And yet he seems to want you—the one who may or may not want him.” “And how is Cooper these days?” Alan asked.” I lamented. so I like to keep him well-stocked. eyes devious.” Alan said. “Yes. The Beauchamps didn't need to know that. turning her attention back on her husband. “The reality is that the murderer must have been laying low for a few months. His mother had thrown him out after he tried to tell her that her husband was not only cheating on her. “I thought the Chief said it was over. They're just friends. dear?” Alan crumpled forward to the table in response. I agree. I can't stand to see how he looks at you with those puppy dog eyes when you're not looking.” “Do you know it's the same guy?” I asked. “Have you realized your undying love for him yet.” “But that stopped. hands locked behind his head. It offends my manhood. “Alan?” Kristy prompted. It's interesting.

I think I had too much to drink. those coffee cups all simultaneously fell as the Feds watched the suspect up and vanish from the camera. The Feds have been called in for assistance.” he added. “The murder took place near the marina. they weren't the worst part of all. They were all standing around a single computer monitor. we'll have a picture of him soon. He's sent in the footage and the boys are going over it now. a slight dew glistening on my forehead under the vanity lights. If the crime was caught on film. The images of the murder that could have been caught on that video evidence ran over and over through my mind. I needed to call Sean. A large black wolf stood in his place. My nervous system was in total panic mode. . My mind jumped ahead to a potential future—to a room full of slack-faced middle-aged men wearing FBI windbreakers and khaki pants. One of the owners down there has a private security cam on his boat. I'll be right back. it threatened to spill the contents it had collected throughout the evening. and I was sweating by that point. “I don't feel so good. holding extra-large coffee cups in their hands. The wine was not to blame. I walked quickly to the powder room down the hall.” Grabbing my purse. the Portsmouth Police Department was in for a lot more than just a picture of the Rev. making me nauseous. When the finale came. looking more hopeful than he just had.” Every ounce of blood in my face drained away―it pooled quickly in my stomach. you okay?” Alan asked. Disturbing as those were. which clearly displayed every intimate detail of the murder in a grainy black and white picture show. As my belly churned. With any luck. “Ruby? Ruby. I locked myself in and turned on the light.have a lead this time. looking concerned. “What's wrong?” “Sorry.” I said. pushing my chair back as I rose from it.

Sean. “This is bad.” I blurted out. we were trying to get back into a natural rhythm. The Rev's return was yet another attempt by the universe to throw us off course. The Feds are looking at it now from what I was told. After enough time had passed and he'd fully processed what life was like untethered from Sophie. but you don't get that luxury. and my guess was it would likely succeed. Remembering where I was. a brotherhood whose sole purpose was to maintain the balance between the human world and the supernatural one. considering that my existence called to the mercenary within him. Sophie. most recently. slapping him with reality. It was both complicated and made simpler by the death of his mate.. we have two. “At the precinct.” “Yep. I was just going to—” “No time.the Rev is back.” “Do I want to know?” he asked. I don't have anyone in place to easily deal with this.” he explained . “I know. Very. spanning over a year or more. “Hey.” I replied. very bad.” he said. “It's worse than you think. I quickly lowered my voice. He and I had a tenuous relationship. I finally unearthed my phone and dialed it frantically.” “Where is it?” he snarled.. “Actually. sounding mildly frustrated. Ruby. months earlier. and. I could tell by the tone in his voice that he was rubbing his forehead and temples. “No.” “Fuck!” he growled while something wooden in his vicinity splintered into kindling. Digging through my purse for longer than time allowed. cutting him off. We'd muddled our collective way through a kidnapping. and if the Feds are involved that's only going to make things worse. He Changes before he leaves the scene. It would be his responsibility to make sure that nothing caught on the marina video would ever come to light. I really liked it.2 I had to physically shake my head to bring my consciousness back to the matter at hand. his headache already brewing. but it was there nonetheless. Our love was unnatural.” Sean was the head of the Petronus Ceteri. “Did you know that the Portsmouth PD has a video tape potentially showing the crime?” I snapped sarcastically. murder attempt. my being framed for the murders of several of his PC brothers.” “And I'm assuming you know what it is they'll see on it if it does have footage of the crime. I hoped it wasn't the teak coffee table. We have a huge problem. “Because I think that's an even bigger problem.

I’d remembered to lock it. “This psycho has to be caught. looking hopeful. fishing for clarification. “Yeah.” he replied. “Right.” I replied. “Just give me a minute to clean up. Kris.” I agreed. My stomach is still off and I have to work early tomorrow.” he said. Please?” “I'll try. but I don't want it to come to that. At first. “But we may have something even better than that. They need me to see it ASAP.” I muttered to myself. I'll be right there. “I need to head out too. but it grew . but.” I didn't like his tone.” he said quickly. It'll be all over the news before the night is over. “Are you okay in there?” She tried the door. “Yes.. but he knows about it.” I listened as she retreated back to the dining room. This is no joke. I left the confines of the bathroom and made my way back to Alan and Kristy. “They retrieved a necklace from the shallows below the dock. “I did call you right away.” Alan said. nodding along with whoever was rambling on the other end. going over to kiss her husband goodbye. Slowly. “Ruby?” Kristy called from the hallway. “There are ways around this. his business tone taking over.” “I hope you come up with something good. “You call me if you hear anything else. sounding genuinely surprised. They are going to see a man morph into a huge. I'll be right out.” “I need to contact the boys..” Alan said with the ghost of a smile. They pulled two prints from it so far. waiting for her to be out of earshot before resuming my conversation. phone still in hand..” “I will.” I hissed at Sean. babe. “Never mind.” He popped up out of his chair. “Ways around it?” I asked. black hellhound.” Alan walked me out after Kristy had her way with me at the door—she was really into hugging. “Has your friend. She was staring at him intently while he silently held his cell phone to his ear. it had made me extremely uncomfortable.” “What is it?” I blurted out before thinking. thankfully. “Fingerprints. the cop. The family has identified it as the victim's. softening his voice. wishing I had Sean's hearing.” “You mean you're actually reporting something to me in a timely fashion?” he asked. I'm at their house now pretending to be sick so I could get away and call you..” “You have no idea.mhm.got it.” “What?” I asked so softly that the words were barely audible. They found something on the video. The video caught it on his way up the dock. “I have to go. He hung up immediately after. the other is being run through IAFIS. One is hers.” Kristy said.” Alan said. seen it?” “No. Sean. “but promise me you won't do anything unless you absolutely have to. “We have his face. trying to sound like someone who'd just puked her brains out. We should know in an hour or two if we have a hit. I stood in the entryway. “I'm fine. or anything that it implied.before going quiet.

I gave him a little wave and forced a smile to let him know I was all set. it is still technically using me. I can't even believe you just said that.” he said.” “He's gotten sloppy. That's all. cynicism dripping in his tone. “He's not my boyfriend.” I turned to see what expression he wore after delivering his low blow. “Oh. tossing his empty bottle into the recycling pile. I'll let you know if I hear anything. I was on the phone to Sean. Coop. It consumed me while I got ready for work. It won't come to that.” I quipped. indeed..” “Maybe that's because you're such a ham... You should know that by now.” “And the fingerprint?” “It could be anybody's. “You're seriously going to use that against me? Like I have any control over it. It’s already been a long night. letting him in on the grim news. Upon entering the apartment.” “And then you can relay that to your boyfriend..” “That it does.” *** I startled myself awake the next day by the thought of being outed to the public. right?” he asked. aren't you the punny one tonight?” “Calling ‘em like I see ‘em. As soon as I locked the door behind me.” “Shut up! He will not.. Kristy promised to call me the second she hears from Alan.he probably didn't even actually touch it.” I yelled. Alan drove me home and waited while I unlocked the door to my three-story brownstone downtown. They have no way of matching that up to anything.” “The only thing I know for sure is that I'm not your boyfriend. You agreed that it was better than me sleeping with randoms.. “I'm going to bed. grabbing a bottle of water out of the fridge before heading down the hall to my room. I didn’t appreciate the one I found. I found myself relaying that very same information to my roommate. The idea of eating made my stomach uneasy. Cooper. Rubes. It's a bad sign. “I feel like such a piece of meat. it's just a picture of him.” “Yeah—by whacking everyone that sees or knows about it. Cooper. But. and I know it makes you happier than thinking I'm screwing Sean.” “He will. “I just hope he isn't up to something.” I said. “What a shitstorm. “If Sean doesn't figure a way out of this one. until I actually looked forward to receiving them.” “We'll know soon enough. “Oh my God. Cooper. “You just use me for sex on occasion. exhaling between swigs of Sam Adams.on me slowly. Coop. so I settled for a liquid breakfast consisting of an entire thermos .” he argued.” he said. besides. Given my drunken state.something more than the usual anyway.” he replied with distaste.

“Lucky!” I yelled after her. “the life of the party. “It is. When I pushed the door open. For the past couple of months.” I threw my purse on the counter. bursting through the door. “I need a vacation. “Anything exciting I need to know about around here?” “Nope. and loved me even more for it.” I said. I saw my petite sidekick already preparing the store for business. It was a trait she came by fairly honestly.thanks.” “K. support the concepts of reusing and recycling. I didn't want that life for Peyta. you suck. but I knew it would be revisited sooner than later. I think they messed up one of the deposits. “That muffin was so crumbly. patting her on the head. knowing it would draw her out. It wasn’t necessary for me to actually read the article—I already knew how that story ended.. until I saw the headline of the newspaper lying on the front counter. smiling wickedly. I'm sure you'll have a few more boys over there . the topic had been shelved. “You do too! Have you forgotten the muffin incident?” I taunted.” She dodged into the back room just in time to avoid getting slapped by the magazine I chucked at her head.” she said. “You know me.” she said.” “Yeah. The numbers weren't reconciling. “I was going to stop by your house last night to let you know.” “Ugh.. “Rough night?” she called from behind the front counter. She couldn't walk away from a fight. though she hadn't been officially bonded to the group.” she started. “You throw like a girl. REWORKED had been my pet project ever since my parents died and I had to start afresh—all alone. but Sean said he'd take care of it. “that a pro baseball player couldn't have hit anything with it.” I groused. she was like a sister to me.” “Mmhmm. but also knew who and what I was.. You may want to have a look at last month's bank statement though. Peyta caught me staring it and broke the silence.” “I couldn't agree more.of black coffee. and do something that I really enjoyed. I got all the bills paid and finished all the orders for the week.” a muffled voice replied from the workshop. “You're a mess!” “How you flatter me. Maybe tomorrow. resting my coffee beside it. I made my way to the shop downstairs. laughing. It probably made that pill easier to swallow given that she herself was something slightly other than human. you know that?” I smiled in response. Peyta was a godsend. “They think it's him again. Once I secured my provision. The store also afforded me the opportunity to work on my own terms. young one. Peyta was a Healer to the PC. I studiously avoided that topic with Sean as he would be the one to choose the new Healer and tie her forever to the brothers―I was having none of that.. She not only knew how to run my business for me. sounding painfully haunted.” I sighed. you probably shouldn't be calculating anything in your current state.

he would have done anything for her. and she certainly didn't know that he was her father. She chirped when I hit the unlock key and I patted her hello in response as I walked around to the driver's side door. But Peyta did know evil―she just didn't know she was related to it. Her vocal chords were damaged . We were all working doggedly to keep it that way at Ronnie's request—or demand. “I’m not sure. I'll make sure he comes down to stay with you while I’m gone. Cooper agreed to come down and chaperone Peyta at the store while I went out to see Ronnie. I wasn't completely sold on it and was considering a custom job. parked in her usual city-issued parking spot. It didn't seem fair. I didn't bother to call and see if she was home. I'd gone shopping with both Cooper and Sean on separate occasions. but her eyes lit up whenever he entered the room.” She mirrored my strained expression before returning to the back without another word—no sarcastic retort or belligerent teenage rant. fired her up. If she was ever in a funk. My midnight blue Audi TT 2. It took longer than anyone thought for her wounds to fully heal. courtesy of the newest Portsmouth PD recruit that Alan had sent to his house to retrieve it for me. but I kept coming back to what I knew. Knowing that everything at the shop was squared away. She didn't know why the Rev had gone after her mom. Cooper didn't like to talk about his family. Ronnie lived just outside of Portsmouth proper.by day's end. I'd gotten her only a couple of months earlier after totaling her predecessor in Boston during one of my Rev-induced visions. inevitably leading to the answers that would taint yet another part of her already stained youth. Not surprisingly. so I did. Any objections?” I asked. he was the man to call. Peyta loved Cooper like an older brother.” “I know. trying out different vehicles. It always made me wonder how he was with his siblings. I was thinking of heading over there now. “I hope so. An older brother she could innocently flirt with. “Cooper is upstairs still.” “Do you think they'll ever catch him?” she asked me with the innocence of a child completely ignorant of the kinds of evil that walked the earth.” “My mom is going to lose it. I grabbed my purse and made my way out to the car. and I worried that eventually she'd fall upon the right questions. The TT deserved it. I snuggled into the black leather seat that still retained that new car smell.0 coupe awaited. I could never muster up the courage to ask. I think.” I replied with a tight smile. I'm worried about her. After seeing what the Rev was capable of. Peyta made me most nervous when she was quiet. P. depending on how you chose to take it. and made my way through downtown. only a short distance away. But she was incredibly smart. I still hadn't figured out the best way to describe them. Peyta would have needed therapy for years if she knew she shared DNA with that monster. I knew she would be. She hadn't been able to go back to work after the attack. and if he had any younger sisters that Peyta reminded him of. He loved her like family too. she didn't protest. She brought out a sweetness in him that I never saw with anyone else. They both insisted that I at least get a different color this time.

trying to keep Peyta sheltered and safe from her ex.” she said. I pulled up the driveway to find Ronnie outside. She was making him insane. In the light of day. whom the PC had been pursuing for almost two decades. but Ronnie had survived by being shrewd and paranoid. If it hadn't been for Peyta's healing . “Ruby. He'd been working for them when he was attacked.” “Not your fault. and wasn't going to stop until he got what he wanted: Ronnie dead and his daughter Changed—an event that she wouldn't be likely to survive. made for a formidable opponent. posted there to keep both her and Peyta safe until the Rev was caught. Ruby. which wasn't saying much―and had spent her life on the run. “He's back. I hoped she would make it that long without killing anyone. He was relentless to the core. was the most lethal breed of wolves that ever walked the earth certainly didn't help matters.a. She was clearly a perk to him. but that was before I saw the way he looked at Peyta. “Hey Ronnie. “Our reprieve appears to be over. was once a CIA operative with a high-level military background. It's why he was so good at his job. Keith always could outwait his target. Her husband had long ago been attacked by a rogue wolf and thus turned into the Rev. soon. You're the reason I'm still standing here breathing. emptying out her window boxes. “You getting any new help around here?” “No. He was the consummate professional. but did make a thorough recovery―Jay could attest to that. getting out of the car. At first. not that I know of. combined with those of the rogue wolf that infected him.” I sighed. I liked him a lot.considerably at first. you could see the tiny white scars along the side of her neck where the Rev had torn her throat out. but she was still distant. Those traits weren't that easy to shake. “I need to talk to you. Our relationship was still healing after Peyta had been endangered while in my and Cooper's care. His human traits. eyes narrowing. walking up beside the pile of debris she was amassing on the front lawn. Scarlet. barking orders at him while he lived in her home. a.” she replied cordially. never letting his feelings interfere with his job. I had recently learned from Cooper that there were few female werewolves due to difficulties making the Change and competition for mating. turning to me with a tight smile on her face.” “I knew it would only be a matter of time. preparing them for the fall mums that would be coming out soon. The fact that I saved Ronnie from being taken out by the Rev seemed to have done something to mend it further.” I said. the Rev. The females tended to get caught in the crossfire. I wish I had better news than this.” Keith James. I wasn't sure that she had noticed how he looked at her while she did some menial task or talked about some angst-ridden teen movie she'd watched with Cooper. She had seen it happen. I thought he resented his job. She was slowly learning that Scarlet didn't live up to the reputation she had. but she was almost well enough to go back to her store. Why?” she asked. I knew being at home was making her crazy. The fact that my wolf. Better With Age.” I called. “I'm sorry. and always had.k. She knew all about werewolves―more than I did.

” . “Their top priority should be keeping Peyta safe. “So Jay hasn't said anything about more of the boys coming over to help?” “Nope. no doubt. Ronnie busied herself when things were unpleasant. “Sorry. “He knows.” “The boys will do what they can.” she said.” I agreed. smirking. I don't love second hand information. Ronnie would be dead. Ronnie. Hasn't said a word about it.” “Yep. “you know where to find me. returning her attention to the window boxes. really. I'd say he'd intended for that to happen—a true sadist. I also couldn't risk her knowing for fear of what Sean would do if he found out.” she said matter-of-factly.” she replied. You make sure that Sean passes that on to the pack. The PC were extremely vague as to how they kept the line between the human and not-so-human worlds intact. “I appreciate you not trying to blow smoke up my ass. The brothers were helping out under the guise of being werewolves. We got lucky last time. thinking aloud. reinforcing the point.” “So I'll be good and healed just in time for Keith to take me down. “Maybe I wanted to check in on you. “No promises.” she said with a wave before walking towards the backyard with an armful of dead plants. Keeping the charade alive made it easier for me to sleep at night. I'll call him and make sure he sends over reinforcements. he'll find me and kill me. I get enough of that these days. smiling widely.abilities.” I said. If I didn't know better.” “Any time you want the awful truth.” I said. I find it tends to be edited creatively. I snapped my attention back to Ronnie.” “He's there now.” “I don't know what another couple of werewolves are gonna do. turning to face me.” I said. and I didn't want to serve Ronnie up to find out. It's as simple as that.” “That I do.” “Ah. “Go keep an eye on that daughter of mine. It was an effort to constantly remind myself that Ronnie knew nothing about the PC.” “Thanks. “Later.” “You could have just called. “but I'll bring it up anyway. “Nothing else. Ruby. I wish I could. I couldn't risk Ronnie knowing about the PC and exposing more of the supernatural world to the Underground. Tell Cooper to do the same.” she said. her tight network of humans who were all too aware of the existence of werewolves.” “Did you drive out here just to tell me that my days are numbered or did you need something else?” she asked. “And was it?” “Peyta said you were pretty well back to normal. Ronnie. chucking another dead plant into the pile. being his wildly entertaining self.” “Maybe Sean hasn't talked to him yet. Ruby. I'm starting to feel like a damn chimney.” “See you soon.” I nodded impassively. who stood staring at me. I'd say that sounds about right. But that wouldn't make any sense. If he wants me.” I said soberly.

I hoped it wouldn't have to come to that. She was right. . Peyta needed to be the priority. even Ronnie.I drove back to town with a sense of helplessness. It's what we all resigned ourselves to. We all talked around it. The likelihood of us being able to keep both her and Peyta safe twenty-four hours a day was slim to none. but we knew that if it came down to a choice between the two of them.

“Yep. “I enjoy the view immensely. By the time I bothered to see what hour it was. I rummaged through my drawers for something clean to wear. I put it on over the black sports bra I'd found under the armchair in the corner and continued on for something to wear on my bottom half. I was still sporting skinny jeans that were definitely not rehearsal worthy. “Sorry guys. After a few tries.if I had a dollar for every time I caught you like this. I hoped I'd be more graceful in class. I quickly threw it back down. scouting out what was on the floor that could be worn.. I dove into my closet for my bag of shoes. knowing that I was about to run back out in five minutes. trying to rub the growing bump in the confined space. I sighed and looked around the room. With that located. It startled me enough to make me whack my head on the bed frame. I ran down the hall to my room. See ya!” The adjacent door that led upstairs to the apartment was unlocked. tripping on the last one and barely recovering before crashing into the wall on the landing. “Don't get me wrong. I stormed up the stairs three at a time. and random other things that were sometimes necessary. I hung out with Peyta and Cooper at the store. My multitasking left a dubious trail of two shirts and a bra in my wake.” “You home later?” Cooper called after me as I hurried out the door. Time flew quickly when the three of us were together. they'd have thought I was in a hurry to do something else. such clothing did not exist. The first shirt I grabbed looked acceptable. gotta bail. If someone had entered the house and not known any better. but seriously. I found a tank top with a tiny mustard stain at the hem. I was supposed to be running out the door to go to dance rehearsal in Boston. I could buy another car. and we accomplished absolutely nothing that we should have. and I purposely left it that way as it shut behind me. Ruby.” he started. Wiggling my way under the bed. That smell wouldn't win me points with anyone. “I'm late!” I yelled. but after I gave it a sniff. grabbing my purse and keys from under the counter. wraps. Once inside the apartment. stripping along the way to save time. “Ouch!” I yelled. his voice moving closer.3 The rest of the day was uneventful. Judging by their lack of contents. My efforts were quickly derailed.. “Why do I seem to always get this view of you?” Sean purred from somewhere in my room.” . I hoped to score a pair of black spandex shorts.

” he replied.” “Maybe you should try cleaning your room so you wouldn't have this problem. “It keeps the riff raff out. “Fine..” “I could make you later.” I said. walking to the car.” “Thanks. “Gotta go. giving him the evil eye. suggestive but not specific.” I argued. ass still hanging out from under the bed.” “Deal.” he said. “I take it back. I held up the black fabric that—amazingly enough—turned out to be what I was looking for. slapping him playfully in the chest with the object in question.” he replied.” He tried to contain his laughter.about what the cops found. “Are those for a six-year-old?” “They stretch!” I said. Should I come right over after class?” “Yes. looking suddenly all business. “Do you think it will help?” “It won't hurt. “Did you get some more of the boys to watch Peyta and Ronnie?” “Yes. his smile widening. My production was all for show―I knew he had a key.” I said. “I'm sure it does.” I said.” “Okay then. smiling as I made a dramatic point about locking the door. “I don't have time for your games right now. moving towards me down the hall. I emerged seconds later wearing only the tiny shorts and tank top. do that. which sent me out of the room. eyes rolling.” I shimmied back out on my belly and came to stand in front of him. but failed miserably. grabbing the small black duffel off the bed.” “Will I see you? There are some things about the Rev that we need to discuss. Beyond that.. They fit you perfectly. “Obviously. who can say for sure?” He followed me down to the street. I evaded him with a stiff arm/ducking maneuver and ran back to my room to throw on some sweat pants. grabbing what I thought were shorts. I'll clean. “Four of them are there now. You know that.” he said.” “Yeah. Quickly. I'm already late.” I yelled from under the bed.” He had a point. brushing past him. Two more are going over later. right?” I smiled back at Sean and watched him try his best to keep a straight face. “But I'm only there for the food.” I remarked. to the bathroom so I could change. He almost pulled it off. Sean. If you need me. Sean eyed the tiny strip of fabric with a dash of amusement. All playfulness drained from his face.“You could buy another car regardless. “You'll be home later?” “Of course. letting his comment hang. I can't keep being late. “Maybe you should stop barging in on people when you're not invited and you wouldn't have this problem at all. I'll make food. sure. “Jerk. See you later. “You win.” .

she had to sacrifice location to get it. and built to fill it out. I was able to avoid both traffic and speed traps. that had always been Matty's job. I looked around the room at the other members of the company. Pam. and get myself to class just in the nick of time. At well over six feet tall. The guilt was hard to bear. With the interstate gods watching over me. I found my usual spot on the far side of the room to stretch and warm up before anything official started up. She was worried about him. everyone else was already in the studio. I sighed and stripped off my street clothes. over top of the music. With my leg caught in my sweatpants. trying not to notice the glaringly apparent absence of one: Matty. They weren't used to lifting and throwing me.“Till later. which was beneficial because the studio wasn't in the best part of town. mirrored room. I certainly couldn't blame him. I hotfooted it inside the building and up the stairs. silently suffering because of me. but it had almost ended in bloodshed. had said she hadn't seen much of him either. His mom. equally annoyed with my tardiness as I assumed everyone else would be. crossing the street before quickly disappearing into the alley. I'd only once had a problem in the neighborhood. I moved to the back of the group.” he replied. I didn't exactly take it well myself when I had found out. so I tried my best from that point on to play it as safe as possible. A well-lit parking spot awaited me directly in front of the old warehouse-turned-commercial building. Locking the car up. which was an easy rule to follow given that I didn't know where he'd gone and he wouldn't answer my texts. but when she did. he didn't seem to be himself. he couldn't handle it. She was right to worry. “I have a new piece I want to teach you. For the director of the company to afford the amount of square footage she needed. I was the only one in the lobby when I arrived. “Everybody ready to go?” shouted the director. most of the others including the men. if not taller than. Carmen. I hopped on one foot. but I was as tall as. even though Scarlet had been released in a successful effort to save him. *** I drove a sports car for a good reason—I was always five minutes behind schedule. After apologizing profusely. I hadn't seen or heard from him for months—not since the run-in with the Rev in the back alley by my house. He'd told me to stay away and never speak to him again. and. I was afraid he was having a mental breakdown. I knew I wouldn't be getting a shot at it. Music blared through the speakers—something with a driving bass line that shook the floor ever so slightly. Matty had seen what I really was. We'll hold auditions next week to cast the male and female spots. We had nearly as many men as women in the company. Eventually.” My heart sunk immediately. he'd never had a problem. trying to disengage it as I made my way into the vast. letting the others have a better vantage . I resorted to going to his parents' home to try and find out how he was doing.

but I couldn't make out exactly what was said. “Can't I get a hug?” “Are you.” ... telling him how glad they were to see him and how happy they were to have him back.” he said. warm and friendly. feigning a pout. Long time no see.” I whispered. There was mention of an audition in L. I didn't really need it anyway. burying my face in his chest.. but I picked it up without issue. thanks. “It's called 'Howl'. No recollection of what I was. I was far too stunned to emote anything other than that.I. The choreography moved quickly.A. “Hey. and I was forced to get a towel out of my bag to dry off. turning to see who it was.” I replied. We all worked up a sweat in a matter of minutes. I loved the driving beat and eerie feel.. my face red with embarrassment.” “Then shut up and hug me.. blue eyes. “It's good to see you too. “Are you two planning to join the rest of us. “We're good for now. a mild commotion started on the far side of the room. emotionless. Pam. and I dove into them.” he shouted back. It was intricate. It's been a while. “I like the sound of it already.” He eyed me deviously before the corner of his mouth curled slightly. cuing the music for another run. He broke away from the group as Pam was calling for another run-through of the material we'd just covered. waving us into our places.I don't know what to say. I pulled away from Matty... His smile was what it had always been. his chest bouncing with a giggle. with awkward and choppy jerks transitioned together with slow and controlled motions. “What are we working on?” “A new piece for the Boston Dance Association's showcase.point than me. dropping his bag to the floor.” Matty called out from the mob encircling him. He spread his arms wide in response. “I can do that. My disappointment only grew when the music cued up. Ruby. “You don't look happy to see me. as though he had no recollection of what had spooked him in the alley that night.are you sure?” I asked. or do you need a private room for a few minutes?” Pam yelled. The voices I heard over the music were welcoming someone.” “Matty. “Hi. While I crouched in the corner.” he said. cautiously closing the distance between us. They were hugging him. rifling through the duffel for one. I stood slowly. holding on.” she said.

If not. He stared at me as I gulped down twenty-four ounces before refilling it again. His hands were like glue when they needed to be.” he retorted . causing amnesia. With only a four beat countdown. wiping the sweat off his face and arms with the hem of his shirt. and a hospital sleepover at worst. For just that one night. “What?” I said.. “I sweat a lot.A. His stomach looked amazing.4 My hopes that he'd had a head trauma of some sort. sticking to all the right parts at all the right times. “You ready to try this thing or what?” he asked me with a grin. but I was so overcome with joy by his return and the feel of us dancing together that I stopped caring. it was simply stunning. “Sure. He'd always had a toned physique. scooping me around the waist in preparation for the lift. but I was hoping that maybe. It got far more complicated after that. but it was even tighter and more cut than before. “I'm getting dizzy.. picking me straight up over his head into a one-armed balance while I split the air with my legs. Whatever he'd been up to in L.” “Good thing I'm strong too then. An hour and a half into the class.” “I'm well aware of how sweaty you are—I'm wearing half of it. we had learned a large portion of the piece. It was a long shot at best.” I told him after the fourth or fifth run-through. but we had no problems. I need to replenish the fluids.” He followed me to the cooler in the lobby. he started the movement. noting the hand and leg positions and watching how our body weight and momentum could be counterbalanced. leaning on it as I filled my bottle. feigning annoyance. I wanted to pretend that everything was normal. were dashed in an instant. he had forgotten all about what had happened that night—what he'd seen. What had occurred in the past two or so months that made him forgive me? Or want to be near me? I needed to know the answers. Since it was apparent that wasn't the case. executing it seamlessly every time. my immediate reaction was one of confusion. We watched it several times. somehow. circling them back down around his waist before letting my arms go and falling backwards towards the floor. If executed properly. it was an ER trip at best. It's a long way down when your partner is so damn tall. “I'm going to get some water. had made him fitter than I'd ever seen him. It was time to break into partners and practice an intricate and somewhat dangerous lift section that Pam had devised. That I was normal. isn't it?” he laughed.just don't drop me.

“I'm going to have to wring my shirt out after class. We arranged ourselves so we could start at the eight count of choreography leading up to the lift. I overshot it. No concussion for me that night.” “Whatever. “Let's do it. “I think she should rest for a bit before driving home..” “Sure. I tucked into myself into a ball. When everything in my visual field stayed stationary. I needed to know exactly what he remembered. closing my eyes. Pam. but the position he was in didn't lend itself to the task. For Matty's safety as well as my own. I felt woozy and the room spun as I changed positions. “I thought you'd be a little more rugged.” he said. “Just drag me out of the way so you can keep working. “We'll pick up where we left off next time. you be careful.condition and all. I crashed on my back. I lay there on the floor until everyone cleared out. A heavy and uncomfortable conversation was headed my way. and I fell out of the handstand position over his back. “Are you okay?” he asked. Pam?” Matty asked.” It was uncanny how easily we had fallen back into our old routine. hurrying over with a bag of ice. in my mentally distracted state..” I said.” “I think we'll call it a night. hoping the landing wouldn’t break anything. are you all right?” Pam asked. Just give me a minute. I slowly sat up with Matty spotting me the whole way just in case I had another episode of vertigo. pulling him down on top of me.” “Okay. Ruby. I let out a sigh of relief. Matty turned to help slow my fall.given your.” I replied with a chuckle that I instantly regretted.” she said.” “Do you want me to lock up for you. “I'll be fine. To stop the sensation. rolling my eyes. “Did you hit your head?” “I must have. “Ruby. motioning for everyone to clear out. “Yeah. I scrambled to grab onto him. “Hey.” “Always. walking back into the studio. I pressed off his shoulders in preparation. lifting my body over his head with his aid. I put more strength into the mount that time.” A shot of cold ran down my spine. I really didn't want to have that . but. Seeing that a crash was inevitable. can we run that one more time? I want to see if I can eke out a little more extension of my back leg on the way up. trying to sit up. tearing his shirt in the process. hovering above me. No reason to fuss. Being stared at while I tried to sort out my equilibrium wasn’t something I enjoyed. That reality nagged at me as we returned to the studio.” I said. then.” I protested while she tried to hold the ice against my head. I think I'm fine. My momentum was too hard to control.” I replied. It's not a big deal. sitting beside me. clawing at his shirt in an attempt to not fall on my head.. “You know. indeed. Increasing head pressure was a bad idea. Do you still have your key?” “I do. please.” he said mockingly. almost hurling my body toward him to get the height that I needed to achieve the extension I wanted..with a smirk. I rolled back down to the floor. don't you?” “That's probably a good idea. but I wasn't naïve. Once the coast was clear.

I—” “Not tonight.conversation with him. giving his hands a squeeze before pulling mine away.” I said. I really have to go. it's important. that idea worked only in theory―in reality.” He looked at me with eyes that promised everything but conversation as he held onto my hands a little longer than necessary after helping me up. “It's good to see you too. I guess I'm more excited than I thought I'd be. He really wanted me to go. “Sure thing. it did not. A darkness that time. I'll walk you out if you're feeling up to it. unsure of what was going on. I'd played the right card by throwing Peyta's name out. He shook his head a bit then smiled. Hot date?” he asked casually. trying to look under his arm to see what had me so excited. Not having you in my life wasn't an option I was willing to live with. “I can't. “I have to be somewhere shortly. We need to talk. “Everything okay?” I asked him.” he said. “Yeah. but.” I whispered. “What is it?” he asked. something passed over him before he responded.” “I'm headed there now. “In that case. Tonight.” I held out my hand to him and he took it without hesitation. They were red and raw. Rain check?” Again. His shirt was bloodied where I'd torn it off. I'm sorry—” “No sorry either. “Matty! Your back. I came here because I wanted to see you.” I said as he helped me off the floor. They said they hadn't seen you much. for now. I'm fine. It looked wrong on him. his bag slung across his chest. a ferocity. can we drop the whole thing?” “I'm sorry. you probably should go. hoping to downplay the whole thing.” I cried. running over to see the damage.” “Thanks. I don't want to get into that tonight.” he said with a laugh. “We should plan to get together soon though. I knew he never liked Sean or Cooper. turning to open the door. It's about Peyta. so I didn't want him to know where I was headed. Your mom was acting strange. “More like a meeting. “Matty. Ruby. looking forlorn. we let it be. His safety depended on it. Not then.” I told him. Matty met me in the lobby where he waited by the door.” I replied. “So skip it. Matty and I were going to discuss a few things that night. Do you want to come? I'm sure they'd love to see you. Not ever.” he asked innocently enough. It's just good to see you.” I said. that's all.” “As much as I'd love to. but there was something in his eye―a tiny spark I hadn't seen there before. Unfortunately. “Ready to go?” he asked. . I gasped at what I saw. We'll work out the details later. but not actively bleeding.” “Oh. “It's complicated. “I missed you. I packed up my things and shut off the lights in the studio. knowing exactly how important Peyta was to me. Apparently. Matty. “Being here hasn't been the same since you left. I lifted the jagged hem to see four distinct scratches along his lower right side. I stopped by your parents' house to see how you were. Doesn't look like you want to go anyway.

I wasn't sure I was in the mood for any more surprises. He followed a few steps behind me. “I'll let my mom fix me up. opening the driver's side door.” “I'll see you around.” “Are you sure?” “Please.” I said. locking the outside door behind us.” He gave a nod before climbing into his car.” I said out loud to calm myself before putting my car in gear and heading out. It'll make her happy. Doesn't hurt at all.” “Lucky girl.” I argued. so whatever details Sean was about to throw my way would only add to the colorfulness. blue eyes. Don't want you to be late. He poked and pulled at them for a minute until he was satisfied with its condition.. eying me intently. I see.” “I hope so. “Yeah…I had a little incident.she'll feel useful. before ultimately surrendering and heading out to my car.“I must have scratched you when I fell. “Let's go.” he said. Don't worry about it.” “Looks like you survived that little incident unscathed. Matty's return had made it pretty eventful already.” “If you want to look at it that way. “Upgraded the car. and was gone before I fired mine up. Something ached in my chest as I watched his tail lights disappear. I totaled the old one.” “You sure? Scratches can be nasty and they get infected easily. walking to his car. “He's not leaving for good.” he said. I was in for what promised to be an interesting night at Sean's. We should clean you up before you go home.. “It's fine.” he insisted. walking over to the TT. She likes to play doctor. uncertain that it should wait to be cleaned. it gives her a chance to boss people around. I think.” he said. . “Say hi to your parents for me. Carmen lives for an injury.” He went to the full-length mirror not far from the door and turned to see the marks in question. I'm so sorry. “Sooner than later.” I looked at him for a moment. “seems I have my moments of indestructibility. “Yeah. squirming under his scrutiny.” I replied. driving off in the opposite direction.

The boys . eyes wild.” He needed to collect his possession. “So it's cool that I'm going to be a little late then?” I asked. He stood sheltered by the overgrowth of trees and shrubs surrounding the property. I need to update you on what the cops found out. closing the car door behind me. he sniffed the air. but you can't blow this off. We may need to exploit that relationship you have with the detective. Ruby. “Ruby!” Cooper yelled. I gave Sean a quick buzz to let him know our little meeting was going to have to be postponed for a few minutes.. The lights from inside the house illuminated the yard in a patchwork pattern of golden light and shadowy dark. “Yes. Scarlet was enthusiastic about coming out to play. asking me to pick him up at Peyta's. and was stranded at the house without a way back into town. “Yeah. Even more so what they didn't. referring to him by name intentionally. “So close now.” I ground out. it can wait a few more minutes.” “You mean Alan?” I asked. His tentative approach became more frenzied and less calculated after he saw her. reaching under the railing to touch her whiteblond curls. “Fuck. I didn't want to honk the horn to get Cooper's attention. weaving through the black patches until he reached the front of the home where his love lay silent and motionless. Given the evening hour. wincing as I collapsed to the wooden surface beneath me. Crouching alongside the raised entrance. As I pulled up the driveway. The Rev had made it to the tree line before Scarlet got to her feet. Before he could round the stairs and grab her. Sean seemed to have an aversion to addressing him correctly.5 Cooper texted me on my way home..” “Fine. we'll discuss it when I get there. He moved slowly. He had escorted her home after work since the Rev was on the loose. the door opened. leaping over me to put himself in harm’s way. A psychic lobotomy of sorts. I questioned how reliable Cooper actually was as a bodyguard.. Those two would be thoroughly involved in some sort of shenanigans and not paying enough attention to notice. daring to go into the light to reach her. It was necessary for only a brief moment.” I told him. He had issues with authority. “I'll see you in—” The crippling shot of pain through my head felt like it severed my cerebral hemispheres. and I wasn't sure it would be effective anyway. walking up onto the porch. Him.. I heard Sean's yelling fading in the background as the Rev took over.

The tiny detail of him actually being her father had been left out.” he replied as they made their way off the steps. Ruby! He'll kill you like he killed my dad!” Peyta screamed from just inside the house where Jay had managed to corral her. I want to make you an offer.. “Is that what you told her. you and I. and it evoked a rage in him that left her satisfied to the core.” Scarlet said menacingly. things started to make sense. She was as willful as her mother. don't we? Perhaps we could go somewhere a little more private.” . and was hell-bent on staring down her father's murderer. trying to talk sense to her—calm her down. I really was the same outer shell with a very different occupant. They'd already been answered. of course. The Rev was after her mother because she witnessed her father's murder. You still haven't chosen yet.. Those stopped her cold. “Stop her. “Right there with you. Imagine what we could do together.” the Rev yelled across the yard. inching ever closer towards the Rev. Peyta knew who Scarlet was. I was quickly reminded of how convenient it was that Ronnie's house was set relatively far away from her neighbors. The reason Peyta hadn't been asking questions about the Rev was clear. turning her blood-red eyes on Peyta. She didn't need to. but not for long. no limitations. “Don't do it!” The Rev looked towards the house with a raised eyebrow and growing smile.” She was snubbing him intentionally. “And my Love. “Cooper.” he called to the house. You're cold and vicious. No rules. “you will be getting us instead. “She'll figure it out eventually.” “And sadly. Veronica?” he yelled at the house. leaving the Rev with only the small wooded area behind him to escape into.” Scarlet purred. dear. “Peyta.” Scarlet growled to Jay.” Scarlet ordered. “I'm not interested in your offer. Join me. the truth notwithstanding.” Scarlet nodded for Cooper to fan out across the yard and flank him around the far side. but somehow Peyta broke away from Jay and bolted outside towards Cooper and Scarlet..” “And that's what I love about you. I'm wondering if I can sweeten the deal.. but never had the pleasure of meeting her. I heard Jay whispering something to her.” Scarlet prompted. reaching his hand towards her. “Nothing could stop us. “That I'm the monster that killed her daddy?” Ronnie's silence spoke volumes—and in that silence. Jay.” “No. Just us.had Ronnie restrained in the house. “We have unfinished business. It was hard to fully prepare someone for a transformation like that. “Let her see him..” he said.” “We do. “I only want the girl. even though the physical differences were few. “Only your death excites me. Look at me.

Cooper was on him in a flash.” “She took you from me. I'll never choose you. I was flying through the air. As much as she was her mother's daughter in personality and spirit. She gained on them both. Pick your poison. watching Cooper as he prepared to pounce on his prey. landing on all fours in hot pursuit. “Failure is never an option. and grown up without. flying high into the air above the . well guarded by three of the PC boys. His yellow eyes glowed bright in the darkness. The father she'd never known. her face masking her emotions that were plain in her voice.” she said.” Cooper stalked towards him growling. “You tried to kill my mother.” “And you would try to do the same now.” she cried. which made me extremely thankful. pushing forward against the arm that restrained her. There were no pictures of Keith anywhere in Ronnie's house.” Peyta countered.Peyta stepped out onto the porch. saliva dripping off his jowls. “She's fed you lies your whole life.what you've done. It was plain that some part of her desperately wanted him to be her father. Peyta. tonight you die. pointing to where Ronnie had come to stand in the doorway.” Scarlet added. there wasn't anyone actually living there. Scarlet had let her wolf out as well. “Yet when you found us.” “She's the liar!” he yelled. “I think we should get this over with. regaining her voice. “Dad?” she whispered.” With that. and for what? Practice? Practice for what you'd do to Mom when you finally got the chance?” “I searched for you. out of Peyta's line of sight. her looks were clearly influenced by her father. “You'll never have me. tortured them. I'd never seen his wolf before. she looked torn.. had Changed. looking over at Cooper. “This isn't over. “All those women. The Rev ran towards the vast new development that was being built a halfmile off the back of Ronnie's property. framed by glorious golden fur that faded to white ends. the first thing you did was try to kill her. He was breathtaking. but Peyta didn't need them to identify him. With none of the construction finished yet. But Peyta was not a child. The recognition was almost instant. though I do love a chase. turning as pale as the moon above. not her. composing himself. Come give your father a hug.” “Nor will I. “You killed them. “I know what you are. “You're a liar and a murderer. The Rev stepped forward just enough so that the light fell delicately onto his face. who.. Tears rolled down her face. he jetted into the shrubs in the blink of an eye. Rev. nostrils flaring.” he protested.” she said.” he snarled. and before I knew what hit me.” Disturbingly. It's been far too long. Any way you slice it. nor was she a fool. He pushed off his massive hindquarters. “Come to me. no? We could even be civilized about it.” the Rev proclaimed. Scarlet could take him down before he got the chance to hurt anyone else.

She took a small step in retreat and lowered herself down beside Cooper. Forget that it's Cooper. Sean slowly rounded the corner of the building that had sheltered them from sight. running her hand along the side of his face. “I know you can. “Peyta.. Still growling. cradling him against her chest.I. The crunching of rock under feet snapped her attention back to her surroundings. “Fix him. she landed in the living room full of PC brothers. “He needs Peyta. as always. Peyta. she alerted everyone to her arrival... A low rumble escaped from deep within her chest. Ronnie.” Sean said. In less than a minute. lurching forwards.” she hollered. who lay nearly motionless at her feet. She wanted to let it out. She straddled him elegantly. Jay put himself between the two women.” Sean ordered. grabbing Peyta by the arm and throwing her down beside Cooper. due to a loss of blood. The Rev had played his hand well. but his labored breathing seemed to be taking up all the energy he could spare. She bayed a mournful cry as she increased her attempts to rouse him.” she sniffled. head lowered.” she ordered. eyes darkening. Before she could remove him. Scarlet turned her attention back to Cooper. Before the Rev could finish him off.. rushing the front porch.” “But. Peyta stared down at the body. had morphed to his former self as well. laying Cooper down gently. “I need to take him. Busting through the front door without even attempting to open it. unable to stand. It's no different. With the house in sight. Blood poured out of his wound at an alarming rate. and sprang up gracefully in a sprint for the house. He smiled manically before disappearing quickly into the night. Sean followed at a slight distance behind her. Now. Anger coursed through her like a raging river crashing into a dam. who.. she snarled at him. standing toe to toe with a blood-covered Scarlet. She pulled a blanket off of the couch to delicately cover him. a glimmer of metal flashed out of the Rev's pocket before being buried deep into the soft underbelly of his attacker.. creating the leverage he needed to escape. teary eyed and unable to move. “Do it. Do what you did the last time. he was forced backward in retreat as Scarlet barreled toward him. and she poised herself for a fight. palms forward. hands held wide. She nudged him over and over with her muzzle. “FIX HIM!” Scarlet shouted.Rev.I.” She snapped at him again. It was an incredibly human action. ears back. trying to encourage him to stand. . taking slow deep breaths. and Peyta. she lay naked and very human in the dirt alongside Cooper.” he warned.. not wanting to spook her too much. welcoming the opportunity. Protecting Cooper. She was unsuccessful. Sean grabbed her from behind in a choke-hold and hauled her away. A painful howl broke through the air as Cooper crashed to the ground. As Cooper's wolf came down. accenting it with a gnash of her teeth. She took him in her arms. “Scarlet. coming to stand over Cooper's wounded body.

snatching her arm just as she entered the tiny space.” she informed him as she made her way to the bathroom.” he barked. reaching in to turn on the shower. When he removed his fist. “Because you can't seem to focus long enough to catch him.. I felt her fear as she disappeared from sight. Stop worrying about Ruby. I'll keep her safe.” He punched the wall next to him and dust flew through the air.” “You thought it was me. “Don't ever forget that. Peyta was faced with the morbid task of trying to heal someone she loved dearly. “Yes. They eyed each other carefully from opposite sides of the room―Sean's release was more of a throw to put distance between them. “I thought.” Sean said. Though my concern in that moment was all for Cooper. The water sprayed wildly off her body. I couldn't help but feel an unnerving sensation from Peyta. A dark and ominous energy warned of a loss of control―an instability. begrudgingly making her way to the door. Sean threw Scarlet a towel before .” Sean warned. “You're fine when I say you are. pointing out the door while keeping a keen eye on her. He was going to pay dearly. A knock on the door startled them both. “You need to clean up. Her calling was proving to be a burden of sorts with a heavy toll to pay. I prayed she would be able to do it―to save Cooper. It made me wonder if Sophie herself hadn't started off as a bright-eyed and happy girl. “No. She growled at the mere thought of the Rev. Sean's eyes bled to black.” “Did you catch him?” she asked. That understanding weighed on her heavily. He then grabbed a pair of oversized sweatpants and matching sweatshirt off of the floor and chucked them at her. Once again. “Move.” He said nothing in response. staring her down. but she left the curtain open. I shuddered at the thought. “You must.” She said nothing else in response.” “He can't hurt me. Sean dragged Scarlet into a bedroom and slammed the door before releasing her.” Sean said.” she finished for him. fully understanding the fatal consequences of failure. or he'll die. “Now move..” she snapped at him. making a show of herself. only watched as she lithely climbed into the shower. naked as a jaybird.” “I'm fine. the hole exposed the wall stud he'd just obliterated in his efforts. “I heard the howling.. unmoving. Peyta.” she said bitterly.” “Yes. There's a reason he's still alive after all these years. I couldn't bear the thought of losing him any more than she could. While Peyta was hopefully working her magic downstairs. “He's dangerous. heading upstairs with Scarlet in tow.. I had no idea if that meant he wanted to jump her or kill her―it was a 50/50 at best. flexing his hands..“You have to.” he replied.maybe it was. who slowly had that light drained from her with every pair of dying eyes she looked into..

“Please. it took only a few minutes for him to return to consciousness. but he caught my arm. He was willing to show his vulnerability to me. He was such a guy. Not even Sean. I didn't know if it was something specific between him and me. “Ruby―” he started. but he would make it. Tossing on the borrowed clothes in record time. he'd hide whatever pain he was in. “You scared me. blocking me off from the pain he felt.” “That?” he asked sarcastically. without asking permission.” I said. It was going to take him a while to fully heal that night.” He said nothing when he released me―he didn't have to. Theory or not. He wasn't finished yet.and Hell is just warm. “Did Scarlet get him?” “No.” I whispered. but his face was serious. The intensity of the evening required a little humor to break it up. Sean. My will was to have Cooper safe and healthy ASAP. His words were in jest. you. “I think you scared Scarlet too.. but I said it anyway. “Not now.” “Right. lightening his grip when he realized I was wincing under his grasp. Coop.he got away. brushing a stray hair off his face. knowing Sean would hear him wherever he was in the house. The boys had already brought him upstairs and placed him in the spare room that Jay had been using.” he said. I crawled into bed with him. I immediately pushed at Scarlet until she begrudgingly relented.opening the door just wide enough for Jay to pop his head in and say that Cooper was alive—in rough shape—but alive.” I pushed up onto my elbow to look down on him. There was still something about my presence that sped his healing. squeezing him lightly.. I couldn't bring myself to look back and see the lack of emotion on his face.. I moved quickly past Sean and toward the door. He knew how badly he had been injured. however inappropriate it may have been.” “That's because she's a good judge of character. “Are we going home or what?” he asked. but I knew that as soon as we were around the others. “You almost did too. or if it worked on all werewolves. . “That was just a flesh wound. Surprisingly. voice hoarse. I knew he was in his healing coma-like thing that all werewolves went into when they were injured.. wrapping myself around him tightly while trying my best to avoid the red-hot marking across his stomach. and I didn't care much about the why behind it.I need to see him.. it worked. She wouldn't let anyone near you. looking at the door. pushing up gingerly from the bed.. leaving him to rest comfortably.” he whispered. sprawled out across the bed.” “Something like that. burying my head in his chest. All I did know was that it had to have been connected to my empathic abilities and I assumed that it was allowing me to force my will onto others. “Hey. The emotional siege was intense but brief before he threw up a wall. “Maybe we'll have matching scars after this.” I whispered to him. I needed to see Cooper with my own eyes.” I replied.

“Maybe you should stay here, Coop...rest a bit more,” I suggested, fumbling my way off the bed to stand beside him. “The boys can handle things here. I took a piece out of him. He won't be coming back tonight in less than top form.” “I still have to go to Sean's,” I told him, walking him slowly towards the door. “I won't be around the house for a while. I really don't want to leave you alone.” “I'm a big boy, Rubes,” he argued. “I can handle myself.” “Your handling almost got you killed tonight,” I countered, turning to face him. “He got lucky,” he growled. “Lucky or not, he got you, Coop,” I yelled, my fear driving my frustration. “Do you have any idea what it's like watching someone you love nearly die right in front of you?” “Yes,” he said, glaring at me. “I have a really good idea. I've seen it. Twice.” He was right. He had. “Then I guess we're even now,” I said, storming out of the room. Emotions made me angry when I had too many of them at once. They also made me likely to react inappropriately. Cooper, never willing to back down from me, followed me out and grabbed my hand before gently tucking me under his arm. “I'm sorry I scared you,” he whispered, kissing the top of my head. “I thought I had him. I had to try. He can't...I couldn't take it if...” “I'm worried about Peyta too, Coop. We'll get him. But no more going it alone. Scarlet could―” “I don't need her help,” he rumbled, his voice low and menacing. He immediately winced from the pain. It was a feeling I knew all too well. “I know you don't need her, Cooper, but she has a hard-on for killing him and if she doesn't get a shot at him soon she's going to go mental. More mental than she already is. And that's not going to be good for anyone.” “Fine. I'll wait for her next time, but not at the risk of letting him get away. If it comes to that, I'd rather die trying than not try at all,” he said, pushing me away just enough to see my face. “Tell Scarlet to do the same. She should have left me to go after him.” “You'll have to take that up with her next time she shows up. I'm not playing the middle man today.” “Oh, I will, believe me,” he said, looking painfully serious. Those two seemed to have an all-or-nothing relationship. “At any rate, let's just make sure we take him out before he gets any of us, and then we won't have to worry about these annoying little details.” “Sounds great to me,” I said, pulling away from him. “So are you staying here, or am I taking you home?” “Home,” he said with a smile. “I feel better there—with or without you around.” “Then let's go,” I said, leading the way downstairs. He eased himself down the stairs carefully as I followed dutifully behind. I

knew he wanted to make a show of how strong he was, so I let him, but regardless of how much my presence sped his healing, that wound was no joke. He wasn't going to be up to snuff the rest of the night. When we arrived downstairs, we found that everyone had amassed in the kitchen. Jay and the PC boys were pilfering the pantry while Peyta and Ronnie fussed over something cooking on the stove. Sean stood just outside the room, as if he was on watch. Always watching. “Are we postponing our meeting?” he asked, arms crossed tightly over his chest. “I hadn't planned on it,” I replied. “I have to take Cooper home though. He really needs to rest.” “He's not staying here?” Peyta cried out from the kitchen. “I'm going home, P. I'll see you tomorrow. I promise,” he said, making his way in to gingerly hug her. “Fine,” she agreed, though she seemed unable to let go of him until he reached behind his back and physically unclasped her hands. I saw the tiny beads of sweat forming around the edge of his hairline as he peeled her away. “I'm okay, Peyta...thanks to you.” He kissed her on the forehead before heading to the door. “Ready to go, Rubes?” I looked at Sean for confirmation and received an absentminded nod in return. “I'll be home in ten minutes. See you there,” he said, turning his attention back to the kitchen. I felt slightly dismissed, but he was in business mode. He had plans to make and orders to give, so I decided it was best to let it go and take Cooper home. We’d already had a long night, and my meeting with Sean wasn't going to be any shorter if he was in a pissy mood. After making our way outside, Cooper and I filed into the car and sped off to town. I was feeling generous, so I let Cooper carefully shift the gears while I worked the clutch. It was the closest I would let him get to actually driving the new TT. I was a little overprotective of her and he wasn't a fan of my new “no sharing” policy. “You'd think that nearly dying would warrant a turn in the driver's seat,” he said, pouting next to me. “Nope,” I returned, “and do you know why? Because I'm not trying to die tonight too. I know how fast you used to take corners in the old one. I want to live; besides, Sean would be pissed if you killed me tonight. He needs me for some covert op of sorts.” I flashed him a toothy grin in the dimly lit car. The scoff I received in return let me know what he thought of my reasoning. “Covert op, eh? You'd be about the worst secret agent the world has ever seen, Ruby. You walk louder than an elephant with foot-drop, and your powers of observation are nearly nonexistent,” he cited. “Sounds like Sean might be trying to off you himself.” “Jealousy doesn't suit you, Coop,” I quipped. “You’re not used to being the last kid picked, I take it.” “If Sean is the one doing the picking, that's just fine with me,” he said, folding

his arms delicately over his chest. “Whatever,” I sighed, feeling more exhausted by the minute. “He just wants me to work Beauchamp for info regarding the Rev. They're doing damage control right now and don't have people in all the right places to do it. Alan knows things...Sean wants to know what.” “Exactly how hard are you going to 'work' Alan?” he asked, his tone implying everything he was thinking. “Jesus, Cooper, Sean's not my pimp! I'm not whoring around to get some pillow talk goodies to bring back to him,” I shouted, staring over at him. “What the hell has gotten into you?” “Sorry, Rubes,” he said, reaching over to touch my leg. “I'm tired and hungry. Healing is a bitch.” “Alright,” I replied, “but don't say things like that. You make me feel like shit when you do that, Coop.” “I know, I know. I'm an asshole. Let me get some food in me and I'll make it up to you,” he said with a playful grin. “How long are you going to be over there?” “Who knows? Not long, I hope. I'm exhausted too,” I said, pulling up in front of my building. “I'll text you when I'm leaving. There should be something in the freezer to eat, I think. Do you need money for takeout? I owe you for working today anyway.” “I'm straight,” he replied, slowly getting out of the car. Once he was out, he turned back to me, leaning in through the passenger side door. “Text me. And don't forget.” “I won't,” I replied, smiling up at him. “Cooper?” “Yeah?” “I love you,” I whispered. “Don't ever scare me like that again.” “Love you too, Rubes,” he said before closing the car door. I watched his long frame slowly walk away, into the three-story brick building we called home. I thought about never seeing him do that again. My hair bristled in response. Out of sheer laziness, I drove the couple of blocks over to Sean’s. When I pulled up outside his warehouse, I saw that the lights in his top floor flat were already on, his silhouette framed by the massive windows that looked out to the street. Parking wasn't too difficult, being that there wasn't any other residential building on the street, just old red-brick mill buildings that hadn't been used for that purpose in decades. Some were being turned into office space and professional buildings, but none had been finished yet, leaving the area somewhat deserted when night fell. What a difference a couple of blocks made. I hustled my way inside, running up the staircase with a sense of uneasiness. It was too quiet for my liking, and the pronounced echoing of my footsteps smacked of the terrible horror flick Cooper had made me watch with him one night. I didn't sleep for two days, and that was with him in bed with me. Some killing machine I was. Before I regressed into a flat-out run, I heard Sean's door open a floor above me.

realizing I hadn't eaten anything for hours. and that was one dance class and a dramatic foot chase ago. “we've got to get some things squared away. his voice floating down towards me. He looked mischievous —almost sinister—with a wild edge to his stare. staring at the innocuous kitchen utensil. I take it?” he said as I reached the landing. remained outstretched. “Could you?” “I don't throw out offers that I'm not willing to follow up on.” “I'm starving. He must have had really high quality cookware.. squirming under his gaze.” I said. mocking me. “When did you talk to the cop last?” he inquired.” I said.” he said. An outlet for what.. You might as well have a 'kiss the cook' apron on with some frog-faced oven mitts. I stopped and looked at him.can I come in?” I asked. Something had gotten into him that night.” I said.” I said.. trying to refocus his painfully distracted mind. flipping a pancake high into the air. “I thought you'd never ask. he was charged up and clearly needed an outlet. Really old times—and it made me smile. “I'm all set with those for today.. about to walk past him into his place. not a recipe in sight. with a curl of his mouth.” With his words hanging in the air and the wry smile on his face. I didn't need to see his face to know what expression it wore. I'd seen it countless times before and only moments earlier. sounding mildly winded. “Did you eat anything yet?” he asked. I wasn't sure. spatula in hand. his hand holding onto the door casing. It was like old times. “No—in general. “then fire up the griddle and make me some grub!” I watched intently as he effortlessly mixed ingredients without measuring. He worked efficiently and had a plateful of food in front of me before I thought it was possible.” I started cautiously. “Well.” His back was to me while he fished something out of one of the kitchen cabinets. “I could make you some pancakes… I know you love those. “I'm going to need you to put that down.“In a hurry?” he called. he left me to finish his sentence however I wanted.” “I know.” I replied. my mouth full of food. “As much as I wish this were just a late night/early morning social call. “So what are we dealing with?” I asked. “No. closing the door with a shove. I can't take you seriously while you're holding that thing. “What happens after that. leaning back against the counter. .” He moved just enough for me to squeak past him without making contact. “Didn't want to be late for our little get together. our bodies dangerously close together.” I replied. “Soooo. however. His arm. “No run-ins with dubious rogue wolves. I tried to ignore that he said anything at all.” “Only today?” he asked. Sean. but it took some effort on my part.

It buys us time..” “But as far as they know. “I can't easily get into the CIA database to see what comes up on his profile..” “Whatever you need..” “Oh. and one that I didn't like the sound of. There's something not right about it.” “Why?” “All I've been able to find out so far is that it's only a partial. not liking the direction he was going. I need to find out what's going on with his file. but you know everything that I know.” “Hey. “Meaning that it requires clearance. that's great and all Sean..” “That's what should come up. Trey.” His words made my skin prickle. taking a large swig of water and swallowing it nervously. right? He wouldn't be a suspect. he put the spatula down on the counter and turned back to face me. My IT boy. “I don’t remember. lowering my fork slowly. “I saw the video footage they have. None of us do.” “Well. that's a bonus. “and I don't have a good feeling about that. “Yeah.” he continued. somebody is going to be able to track him down. “Yes.” he pointed out. He's Portsmouth PD. says it will never give them a positive ID. “Not your concern. The fact that it doesn't is what's got my interest piqued. Keith will be in the system.” “And what a remarkable change of pace that is. but nothing else. turning abruptly to flip yet another pancake.” I said.” I said. “I was just thinking that your tone . staring me down. so they're going to have a bank of potential matches to weed through. we still have a fingerprint to contend with. he's dead. or Alan for that matter. Covert or not. That's what it is. “Thank you. “We're trying to handle this. taking another bite. Clearance I don't have.” he mocked. “Many of them go CIA when they get out. but I'm not really sure how I'm supposed to be helpful with this.” I replied..” “Well.and?” “And my guess is that he's got a buddy down there somewhere that might be able to help do this the easy way. It's grainy and only a partial view of his face..” I whispered. All I know is that it flashes a prompt requesting access codes when we try to get into it.” “But he was military too. “And if he doesn't? What's the hard way?” I asked. “The easy way” was a euphemism..Without making any obvious remarks about where the cook should be kissed.” I said. wasn't he? Special ops of some sort?” he asked.. “I'm going to need more food if this is how quickly we're going to get to the plan part of this meeting. well. eying me tightly. He’s ex-military and a government employee. laying the sarcasm on thick. with some sense of relief. uncertain of the implication.” he said matter-of-factly.not exactly a top clearance job. even if the Rev were in the system. “I think so.” he said with a grin.” “Meaning?” I asked.quietly.

getting up from my seat with dirty dishes in hand. “You're taking this personally.okay.” I grabbed a sponge-like thing off the counter and squeezed entirely too much soap onto it before scrubbing down my plate and utensils..” He turned on me with eyes so cold. “You don't. He was torn—so.” “I don't like it when you're evasive. I placed my hand gently on his. “No. so torn.. Silence had overtaken us. Do you honestly believe I can't handle ugly by now? Really? How bad do things have to get for you to stop treating me like a child?” He was in my face before I could flinch. “I am. breath hot on my face. “Please. hoping the calming effect I had on Cooper would influence him as well.was a little too pleasant this evening. anxious.poof. He stoically observed me while I stared at him.” I said in my defense..the man my father has made me into. it was working. and have always been. looking every bit as condescending as he sounded.. tentatively opening my eyes.. and then.. They were meant for the man Sean blamed for who he was. “Do you want me to go?” I whispered. “I know what you're capable of. and.” I said calmly. When the silence drew on. I closed my eyes to shut off her response. It was a wonder my apartment wasn't ... “I'll just wash these up and head out then.” He looked away from me. “You try to pretty the facts up for me so I don't have to hear how awful the things that you do really are.. making me look delayed when my nervous system finally caught up. This is business. to maintain balance and order. like I was speaking to a cornered animal. hands gripping the counter until his knuckles blanched. I cleaned when I was upset.” I said. and it's paramount to your safety and the survival of the wolves that you stay in the urban legend and folklore category.” Scarlet bristled within me.things I have to do. making me shiver. a blast of frost shot down my spine.” “Ruby. eyes closed... There are things I've done.” He cut himself off with a pained look on his face. Ruby. “And I can't stand the thought of you truly knowing what I'm capable of. or generally pissed off. and the heaviness he felt washed over me. what he thought he'd become: black and cold like Ares' heart.” he said flatly..” he said..tell me. as transparent with you as I could possibly be. gently taking his hand out from under mine. His pain rolled off of him in waves. but I was plagued by an overwhelming sensation that he was somehow sabotaging the situation—distancing himself from me—and in that moment.your inner asshole came shining through to set me straight. Sean?” I prompted.” “Sean. Those eyes weren't meant for me. Some things are best left unknown. “And what. assessing my body language as though he expected me to do something in particular. “I'm trying not to make your world any more ugly than it already is. willing her to stay put..not a worldwide news break...” he said. “Yeah. I'm so glad that just happened. feeling challenged by his gaze. He hadn’t meant to scare me.

There's a difference.” he said. and I glared at him with questioning eyes. Why did you make me come here to have it?” “What's your point?” he asked. His approach was noted long before he reached me. “That you didn't bring me over here to talk about the Rev at all.” “I accept it. giving me room to breathe—to make a move.” “I don't believe you. And there didn't seem to be much else to discuss regarding the Rev. emotionless. but stayed where I was. It was maddening that I was doing exactly what he expected. but I just couldn't deal anymore. I think it haunts you—it's the one thing you can't seem to escape. “It fascinates me. was there? We could have done that over the phone. He hovered just behind me. My temper was rising and I didn't want to say anything that couldn't be taken back or push too far. My hand lingered on the door before turning the knob.” In that moment. “I guess tonight you succeeded. The intensity was directly proportional to our proximity. and I wasn't going to let the sting of his words drive me out. heading to the door. our energies reacting as they always seemed to. You push me away. I had a minor epiphany. I don't get it. “but you only see the bad. It makes me sad when you're like this.. I feel like it's what you want to see. “You always see the good. leaning back against the kitchen island. eyes nearly glowing in the dim light of the . giving him one last opportunity to stop the ridiculous turn our conversation had taken. Something else is going on.” I moved past him without any resistance. I had finally learned that occasionally it was best to walk—not run—away. “I'm done with whatever it is we're doing right now. but a frustration was building in me that I couldn't control.” I said. “I don't think you accept it at all. running his thumb back and forth. Sean.surgically sterile and blissfully organized. Not even if he wanted them to.” I whispered. I'm not even sure you know you do it…” I tried to soften my face. “I know you didn't bring me over here just to see me.” I said.” “Really?” I quipped. causing them to fade slowly then die..” “Wrong. resting his hand on the nape of my neck. lighten my tone. “There never was much to discuss about him.” “Because there's a lot of it in you. so.” I said. spinning away from the counter to stand toe to toe with him.” he said. Ruby. turning into his chest. Things had been steadily improving for us. Something needed to be said—anything—to break the awkward silence that seemed destined to permeate our interactions. You already saw me earlier tonight. “Are we done here?” I asked. I don't fight it. “I'm going to go. “Are you done here?” he countered. standing directly in front of the sink. “You are not your father.” I felt the heat emanate from him immediately. “Yes. I did see you earlier. I set the wet dishes on the counter.” He brushed my hair gently aside. but not too close. “You never will be.

I pulled my cell out of my purse and punched in Peyta's number. my voice wavering slightly. “I don't know why you're doing this.” . A real cool cucumber. If I wanted to know what was up. he wasn't sharing. and true to form. Thanks for fucking that up for me.. “Hey. flipping my hand through the air for emphasis. I needed to outsource for information. I'm not up for it.” I said. “I feel like I just got you back. P. and I couldn't wrap my head around it. I turned back to see him.” he replied as I swung the door open. Whatever you're doing right now.room. Is Jay there? I need to talk to him.” “I'm out of here. He had done a near one-eighty in a single night.” I said.” “I'll expect a full report. “I'll call you once I talk to Alan.” I slammed the door before he could say something else—put any more nails in the coffin. Something was eating at him.. “A lot of you. unmoved and unfazed by my exit.

He was acting so oddly.” “But it's like he flips a switch.” I said sternly.” Jay said in a normal voice. “I need some answers. and I've totally missed what happened. That could have been a two second phone call. sounding somewhat exhausted but concerned nonetheless. voice rising. sighing outwardly. others it's all gray. You have to learn to read between the lines. tugging my hair just enough to let the sting of it soothe me slightly. I think he's up to something.” “Between the lines?” “Listen. that's going to depend entirely on what kind of answers you need. Ruby?” he asked. “It's frustrating. I want to know what he really wanted to see me for. Sean will never be that. annoyance starting to taint his words.” “I'm serious.” “Oh boy.. you'd be better off with a guy like Cooper.” he said in the voice used to address small children.” “Ruby. Are you going to help me or not?” “Well. Does he always clam up like this?” “Ruby. Sometimes things are black and white with him. “No.” “What were you talking about when he got all strange tonight?” “He was talking about doing something the 'easy way'. He wouldn't tell me. “Who do you think?” he said.” “Says who?” I asked.. “So you can't tell me why I had to go over to his house tonight?” “He told you why. and I wanted to know what the hard way was.” Jay replied. but not tonight.be around you?” “Normally.” Jay made that sharp inhaling sound that can only be done through a grimaced . “Jay. “do you think it is possible that he just wanted to see you. He told me he wanted to discuss the Rev..” “About what?” he replied.what caused the change. “Sean is complicated. I'm not at liberty to openly discuss PC business with you. and then he ruins it... Now. “Sean. All I can tell you is that if what you're looking for is somebody you can read like an open book.” I explained. Jay. “Then he got mad and said that I didn't know what he was capable of—what his father had turned him into. his tone turning quickly to confusion.6 “What's up. Ruby. Always has been.” I replied. I would say that was a possibility. Things were just getting better between us. Jay..

“I'd never seen it happen before you came around. People can't hurt you nearly as much when they're an arm's length away.” I explained.” he managed finally. “Not good. Was Ares so terrible that Sean had become incapable of being loved? Had he broken him? Sean had always been so certain. Ruby. He barged in seconds after and came to sit on the side of my bed. Harder than the rest of us by a long shot.” “For?” “The Rev. but he's gotta keep things under wraps. He's different when you're around. so fearless in my eyes. Push back!” He hung up before I could say anything else. “I gathered that. Peyta needs me. utterly frustrated.. It terrified me. Thanks.” “Then why do I feel like he’s pushing me away?” I whined. “Coping mechanisms. Sean's nervous that it could be possible for Keith to be linked to the crimes and what that could mean to our potential exposure. He's developed.. He wants me to talk to Alan and see if he knows anyone with clearance in the CIA. Before I could even throw the blanket off of me.” “So he'll do whatever needs doing to keep it that way. “So what did he tell you?” he asked. searching for the right words. “Nothing exciting. What would it have taken to break that spirit? Fracture that soul? My face flushed with anger thinking of how long he must have suffered under his father's thumb.” he finished. and I rolled over to see the clock telling me it was already eleven in the morning. . ‘Don't let him push you’ carried through my mind over and over again. I'd been so tired when I got home that I didn't bother changing. What I do know is that he's a tough nut to crack. you have on some level or another. Apparently the conversation had gone further south than he'd anticipated. *** I dreamt of Ares that night.” he whispered. “It seems like that's a long shot.. Something is up with his file. and was still wearing Peyta's oversized Michigan State sweats.expression. and. There's something about you. “Coping mechanism. so.” he said softly. I hoped one day Scarlet would get another face-to-face with Ares―so she could remove his. I wondered how long it had been since I'd slept peacefully through the night. “I gotta go. Ruby. whether you know it or not.” “Sean's had a hard life. “I don’t know.” “Which are?” I prompted. crawling out of bed. Cooper pounded on the door. Remember what I told you. and when I awoke. Light was pouring in through the grand window in my room. Don't let him push you.” Jay paused. I guess. munching on some breakfast sandwich concoction.. I’m not in the guy’s head. not waiting for a response.

“No. She's down there. “I've heard about families who saw too much. my mind wanting to reject what he'd just told me. The alternative is. to say the least. which was hard to do when my hair took twenty minutes to dry. “it's what I’ve heard.” he said. But it didn't.” “K. It filed that story far away in its depths.” I said. I leaned on the vanity and gazed up at the medicine cabinet. On top of that. I walked like a zombie past Cooper to the hall. “Listen. Sean's not my favorite. then go down and help Peyta. “but there are stories―rumors out there about Sean. with dark under-eye circles expanding well beyond their normal range. I couldn't help it.” he said. “No. “I hope Alan can help.. even covert.” “Yeah..” I didn't like his implication.” he said softly. That was so not on my radar. Rubes. “Do you know what the alternative is?” He looked pained for a moment before he spoke again.. I need to get cleaned up.” “Cooper. I don't know that it's true. “No.“Exactly.not on humans.” “Good. becoming yet another reminder that I couldn't afford to fail. “Are you saying that they're willing to kill humans too?” I didn’t believe it—I couldn’t. turning to face him. and how they handle messes. I hurried to get ready. right?” “Yep. in that instance. they were werewolves. It's only what I've heard.unsavory. “Yes.” I said.” I breathed. “You hungry?” he asked. I heard her and Jay around nine. “You're getting skinny. I had to spend another ten trying to delicately cover the bluish-black residents under my eyes without looking like I caked . and Sean said they had it coming without even taking into consideration what happened to me. charming. You need to take better care of yourself.. staring at me while I tried to process. but even I don't like thinking that he's capable of cold-blooded murder.” I shut the bathroom door behind me and started the shower up. grabbing my towel off of the closet door.” “Well. “I'm leaving you food. who weren't able to be silenced.” he explained.” I muttered. “They silenced them. I knew the PC could be persuasive. You saw what happened to my pack. “Not firsthand. While I waited. but it had never even crossed my mind that they would murder humans to keep up the charade..” My heart plummeted. looking past him. I'm just telling you..” he called after me. Stress did not look good on me. The face looking back at me in the mirror was gaunt. throwing up his hands. about the PC in general.. cringing slightly.” I said. but.” I nodded. pushing off the bed. but those were werewolves.

it read.” “I actually just scarfed something down now.” I said. “What are you in the mood for?” “Whatever. Everything is innuendo with you guys.” he said. I had to brace myself against the wall to breathe for a moment. we were on our way. “Want to go have that talk now?” ‘No’ was my initial thought.makeup over it. do as I say. “Come on in. “You wanna go grab something to eat first?” Matty asked as we spilled out onto the sidewalk.” he said.” he ordered. Cooper eyed him studiously as my dance partner sauntered towards me.” Cooper said. “Just eat it. “Sure. My mind immediately flashed a macabre déjà vu—Cooper standing in front of that same open door. I threw on a teal-colored scarf and slipped on some moccasins before heading for the front door.” “Great. and I didn't want to make a beyond-precarious situation worse. “She's right here. and mine somewhat uncertain. I agreed and thanked him for his trouble.” I said. “We are still talking about food right?” “Matty!” I yelled and hit him playfully in the arm. but I knew it needed to be done. When I looked down the hall. “You're such a typical boy.” Cooper said.” He stood just behind Matty so his expression could only be seen by me. with a growing grin. It was one I so rarely saw: careful. but I managed to grab skinny jeans and a man's v-neck undershirt and toss them on without greasing them up. looking around to decide which direction would be best to head in. “I just need to go down and see if it's okay with Peyta. Maybe he felt he owed me one for the time I'd done the same for him. as if someone was there. “I told you it would be sooner than later. And with that. snapping me back to the present. When I emerged from the bathroom. too tired to thank him for taking care of me. I was too exhausted to think clearly. “Can't wait!” “Actually. but I'll get some tea while you get lunch. “why don't you two just go. “I'm starving. our friendship never faltered. forcing a smile in return. and if he was ready to talk about it. I'll go down and let Peyta know you'll be coming in later. I hadn't thought about that night for a long time. Cooper thrust an Egg McSomething into my hand. “Don't make me watch you do it. facing out. So I get to meet Peyta then?” he asked with genuine enthusiasm.” . getting peppered with silver shot. then I could be too. I saw that Cooper was standing in front of the open apartment entrance. Even with his feelings intensifying for me. Getting dressed quickly proved difficult when simultaneous eating was thrown into the mix. smiling.” I looked up to see Matty enter the house. but not wanting to alarm Matty. Completely confused. It was what we did― we looked out for one another. stepping towards us.” I gave him a wan smile in return.

but..that was a lot to take in. There was barely an ounce of fat on him.. “Are you cold?” he asked. You wouldn't answer my calls or texts. I'd forgotten to grab a jacket on my way out the door.“So I'm a boy.” “Yeah. and—” “I had to get away for a bit. right?” “Yes. “So how have you been?” he asked. putting his hands up in surrender. “Where exactly have you been.” I said. watching my white fingers clutch the steaming mug in front of me. He settled on a place I hadn't been to before—a little mom and pop pizzeria with an outside seating area.” He laughed in response. Enough with the double talk. so we were the only ones who decided to brave it.” I said. “Sort some things out. You?” “Good. trying to look away and failing miserably. “Good. I fiddled with my mug.” he said.” I frowned at him.” he smirked. keep to yourself. it was clearly the only thing they had in common. I unhooked the scarf from around my neck and draped it over my shoulders.” I replied. making me wonder if all the men in my life relished the fact that they could so easily get under my skin. ya .” “I can handle private. twirling it round and round in my hands.promise. “I'll be fine. lifting an eyebrow for effect.” he said with an obliging nod. knowing damn well why he'd had to do that. Not anymore. alright. shuffling a pepper shaker across the table between his hands. please.” We were off to a blazing start. huh? That's not what the last one said. “Alright..” he laughed as he pulled up his shirt to expose his eight pack.. You can pick what you want. “Are you really going to eat two whole pizzas? You do remember me saying that I just ate. but the privacy was nice.” I agreed. concerned that he too was acting strangely. Maybe my boys had more in common than I thought. “So where are you taking me to eat?” he asked with particular emphasis on the last word. heading off towards the waterfront. Matty? I was worried. Ruby.” “Yes ma'am. “but we can't talk about certain things there. The wind had bite to it that day. “There are a lot of places on the water. “I’ll be a perfect gentleman from now on. “Do me a favor? Whatever you've been up to these past months that doesn't directly affect me. If so.” “Ew. “What can I say? I have a wicked metabolism. okay? We'll have to go somewhere private for that.” I said. not having planned on sipping my tea outside. Matty. I remember.” “I guess so. “Seriously. I don't care either way. suddenly very nervous. I so don't need to know that. voice low and distant. “I'm not mad at you. His dance schedule out west had to have been grueling at best to have chiseled him that much.” he said. so I suffered silently and endured it.

. Matty.. Carmen liked to stuff you so full of food that she had to roll you out of the dining room afterward.” he said with a mouth full of pie. but no mother is going to stand for that. but I went up there and took some classes. just for kicks.not that you seemed to need it. leaning forward with excitement.” he said. sheepishly. he smiled like his mother. She'd told me she didn't know what was going on with him at the time. You look thin―tired. so I went. Maybe I would have made it if you tried out with me. before giggling to myself. She was the reason elastic waistbands were invented—“buffet” pants. grabbing a second piece of pizza to curb the conversation.” “In L. It sounds like it would have been an amazing opportunity. but smelled amazing. I even did a couple of auditions. They've got short girls out there in L. I couldn't bring myself to face him.” “That's too bad. Carmen may really like you. taking a piece of pizza off the metal pan and rolling it up.” I said. dumbfounded.” “Did you get any gigs?” I asked. He smiled. She said she didn't tell you where I was. Matty didn't understand how breathtaking he was on stage. “They said I was too tall. my head low. “Although. “Moving right along then.A. Is it weird that part of what made me mad was my pride? That I wanted to be the one to protect you. “Almost. I couldn't resist having one piece.?” I asked. I didn't tell her why. Get some perspective. surrendering for the second time that day. “Ma said you stopped by a couple of times. she does make the boys wear some freaky shit. but I'm pretty sure she thinks you broke her little boy's heart.A.” “Yeah. recruiting a nearby table to house one of them.” he said. I hoped someone out west noticed him.” Matty said. “Once I left town.know? I had to get away to clear my head for a bit. trying to remember if that was on the ocean or not.” “I'm so sorry. ya . “Get right in there. It was a ridiculous amount of food. “No.. He said he needed somebody for the summer. “I noticed that after the fact. “I told her I didn't want to see you when I left. Are you eating enough?” “Why are you the second person to comment on that today? Do I look like a walking eating disorder or something?” I asked. In response. I have a buddy out there—does some commercial fishing. I just missed making the final cut for Lady Gaga's next tour. down the coast a little further.” I whispered. I had some time to process things a bit.” “She knew?” I asked.” he said softly. as Matty liked to call them.” The waiter came and placed two medium pies down in front of us. “I know that you were protecting me that night. I did breathe a little sigh of relief. sounding every bit the little league coach he'd likely be one day.” “So where exactly did you go?” “I went out to the west coast. “Atta girl. My dad wouldn't have done too well with that.

Though it was still awkward knowing we had issues to address. “Yeah.” “Liar. looking at me intently. Matty brought a sense of normalcy to my life that I lacked. squirming under the intensity of his gaze. “So. “More like people.” A subject change was in order. “You're freezing.” I retorted.” That was an understatement. Aesthetically. We bantered back and forth for a while.” he said with a frown. “So. and I shimmied closer to him for warmth. I must have gotten colder than I'd thought.” I replied. thanks. There wasn't a soul around. or you're too busy trying . “Yep. Just before we got ourselves situated.” he said. and the declining weather would only further ensure that. with a very occasional solo piece.” He shrugged ambivalently. The blast of heat I absorbed from it was intense. and. None of the guys worked well with you. I ducked into a local pharmacy and bought an umbrella big enough for two.” I gave him a playful wink before taking another bite. and. It was precisely what we needed. I just didn't match up well with the other guys. “I don't really feel it that much. and it started to give a preview of what was inevitably to come throughout the rest of the day. “Besides. it started to really rain. The sky was dark and foreboding.I missed some things while I was gone. We made our way down to the harbor. walking to the end of one of the docks. four cups of tea. draped it around my shoulders. I decided to come back. turning his attention back to his meal. He unzipped his hoodie. falling back into our old rhythm. unlike Alan and Kristy. but the streets were remarkably empty. Seeing the writing on the wall. It was Saturday afternoon. “She said she wasn't sure what to do with you anymore. “Better?” “It's great. let's just say it's been a bit boring for me since you left. “But you're going to get cold now. I couldn't lose him.know?” I tried to picture Dom watching his son dance in assless chaps with women in bondage gear draped around him..” he replied. without asking if I wanted it. and they weren't strong enough to lift the extra pounds that came with my taller frame. “You’re either trying to play hero. now that my buddy doesn't need me anymore. I called Pam last week. two pizzas. we headed on our way to stroll through town.” “Things?” I asked. and a much needed bathroom break later. it was comforting to regain something that I'd missed so deeply. but aborted that mission before anything solidified. Pam had relegated me to group numbers only. are you back to dance for good now?” I asked weakly.. almost uncomfortable against my frigid skin. She said I was good to go. I didn't want to lose him. Matty opened the umbrella above us to ward off the pelting precipitation. Three hours. hoping to deflect the conversation. Matty always could. the weather having taken a turn for the worse. he knew what I was yet still wanted to be part of the madness.

“It's a long story. my minding wandering to the size of the pack in Utah. It was formidable to say the least..” “But I don't understand how you came to be like this?” he asked. but I haven't worked out the logistics. right?” he asked with slight distaste..” “And that really is what you are?” he asked for clarification. lowering his face into my view. trying to intercept my gaze. but for about nine months of that I had no idea that's what I was. that is. “I mean he turned into a wolf in front of me.. knowing we were going to have the conversation whether I liked it or not. or awesome. scratched. “But please don't glorify it.. You're not the wealth of information I was hoping for.given your situation. It's a curse. taking my hand in his. even things that I'd admitted to already.” He ran his hand through his hair a few times before letting out the breath he was holding. but there are others out there.” he said cautiously. “Do you Change with the full moon?” “Nope. I'm a bit different in general—by werewolf standards. I imagined the events that occurred that night had led him to question a lot of things.you know. “You must burn through a lot of calories. though it's a bit different for me.. Ruby. “Another werewolf recognized what I was. “How long have you been this way?” “Almost two years now. Cooper for example. “Mine is genetic.” You have sex on it.” “You can really do that?” he asked. He told me. “I think that's just in movies. feeling it best to leave it at that. the sound cutting through the rhythm of the rain around us with one loud scoff.” I said.” I sighed. “Yes. I'm assuming some bodily fluid is involved..” Instead of laughing.I didn't know that I was Changing. “I suppose I do.I don't really know how it works. not really wanting to relive anything to do with Eric. “Yes. and when I didn't believe him. who were infected.” I sighed. being.” “What do you mean?” he asked. “Yes.” “Sean and Cooper too. sounding a bit like a child asking his favorite superhero about his powers. .to digest all that pizza you just ate to feel anything other than indigestion.” “So how did you figure it out?” he asked. he regarded me curiously.” I laughed. I was planning on asking Coop about it at some point. The warmth it held felt amazing.” “Infected?” “Bitten.” “Are there a lot of you?” “No clue. “I'm not going to lie.” he said with a grin.. so I placed my other in his palm too.” I replied. It's not cool. he Changed in front of me to drive the reality home. “Yes.. I kept having blackouts. but also no longer in existence.

” I said. For Scarlet.. I couldn't help but laugh.. We have differing tastes. That seemed like the type of information best kept to myself.“I'm kind of a flunky wolf. “I don't think I'd want her against me. choosing my words carefully. You get one or the other— never both. his face scrunched up with confusion.” “So no history?” he mocked.” I said. A rogue one..” “So you're a two-for-one combo?” “Basically. Things have gone a bit differently for me than they do for most. She's no joke. One starts where the other stops. “I have no idea.” I didn't say that I kept my mouth shut because I didn't want him dead.” he said.. Scarlet and I don't always see eye to eye on a lot of things. I missed out on Lycanthropy 101. But you can tell me about what happened that night in the alley. though it seems that. or what he'd done―nearly done―to those I loved... He's extremely dangerous and he's after Peyta. “Yes and no. trying to stifle my giddiness that was clearly beginning to irritate him.about what I am. looking far more satisfied. and the transition between us is abrupt.” I said with a shrug. we're slowly bleeding into one another. “So where do we go from here?” he asked. “He's a werewolf. “I'll say this much. furry or not. There's a little more gray area than there used to be..” I said. trying to figure out how best to explain.” “You don't.” I said. voice barely audible. That much I know. but that's not so much the case for me. trust me.” “Does she like me?” he asked.” I said slowly. turning to face him directly. “I didn’t tell anyone that you have any knowledge about me. “Fine. Matty finally spoke up. After an unbearable pause in the conversation.the man in the alley—the one who attacked us. “My wolf. “Take Cooper for example―he and his wolf are one being. not me. It was the moment I'd dreaded most of all.well. that's a stamp of approval.” “Good.” “Who's Scarlet?” he asked. They function as one. but that doesn't mean we're in sync with each other.” he said with a laugh. jabbing him with an innocent elbow to the ribs.she wasn't going to let you be killed in the alley that night. Scarlet too. I haven't checked in with her on that one. Scarlet and I. ..” “So she's not you?” he asked. sounding nervous. I didn't like thinking about the Rev. his wolf likes you. and I could do nothing about it.. “We're two sides to a coin..” I closed my eyes.” I whispered. “So we're cool?” I asked. as it were. trying to follow. It's complicated. “I didn't want to end up in the nut house. Matty. we struggle. If Coop likes you. “You can't have one without the other.” “Me either.. “That night. He'd let me know that night that he could get to anyone at any time. over time. “That's up to you. pushing a stray hair away from my cheek. She's who saved you.

See you next week? At class?” “If not before then.and you were doing so well.” he said with a shrug. “I'm just not used to this yet. My phone vibrating for the tenth time finally forced my hand. giving my eyes a second to adjust to the darkness again. forcing a smile. Matty.” he said. Ruby. Note to self: Ruby can handle things. “I really like your family. Mildly irritated that I needed to report to him. Repeatedly. “Old habits die hard. Having him back meant more to me than he could possibly know. not really wanting to leave.” he said with a wink. I watched him disappear into the downpour. We sat there in silence. “Ah. there were no major travesties to be reported. grabbing his arm. light faded.” I relaxed into his body. Don't want to miss that.” “Go ahead.“If that's how you want it. while the tapping of the rain became the soundtrack to our mended friendship.” I said. I won't make that mistake again. I really have to run. I pulled it out to see that Cooper had called. Ma's making my favorite tonight. Your hair will fare far better in this than mine. More than I could possibly put into words. “Me too. I noticed something that hadn't been there moments earlier. I cocked my head to the side in mock indignation. If I wasn't home in the time he'd allotted. then we're cool. he'd come looking for me.” “You’re okay to get home by yourself?” he asked.” “That's gonna cost you.” I said sarcastically.” He left me smiling in the rain. I know you didn't mean anything by it. . When I looked down the dock. “It's later than I thought.” “Thank you. and still we sat.” I said with a reserved bow. “I'm gonna call Cooper before he totally flips out. and to make sure that the universe wasn't just distracting me with Matty so it could slap me with some other calamity. I didn't mean—” “It's alright. “Ruby. “Shit!” he yelled. “I'm only human. “I should be getting back. I knew he'd be watching the clock and waiting. I dialed Cooper to let him know I was good.like now. his wicked grin making a comeback.. blue eyes.” I said. I told him I was on my way and hung up. and he pulled me in for one last hug before he looked at his watch.” “Will you smooth things over with her for me?” I asked.. wrapping my arms around his waist. I flinched. It was a nice change of pace. The light of the cell phone was hard on my eyes in the pitch black that surrounded me. It turned out that he was just worried. thinking that I was a lucky girl. I flipped the phone closed.. my hand recoiling. A figure stood at the far end in the shadows of the night. “Later. Time passed. making the fall from happiness all the more dramatic. For once—just once—the universe graced me with something good rather than taking a big dump on my head. “but the umbrella stays.” We stood to leave.. waving him on.” I said. neither one wanting to withdraw from the other. I don't want her to think I hurt you. the deflected rain outlining his faintly backlit body.

Dangerous times these are. totally oblivious to my surroundings along the way. I searched wildly around me for options. “Time you be headin' home now.” he said.” he said.. miss.” he said. I was just clear of him when I busted into a flat-out sprint. but the whole situation freaked me out and I wanted to run—fast.thank you. hurrying past him. “Do you hear me?” he asked. “Gavin. .. Letting Scarlet out was my last resort. introducing himself.” I returned without thinking. The hood of his coat shrouded his face. but that was a card I really couldn’t afford to play..” “I don't mean to scare you.“It's not safe for a girl like you to be out here alone at night.” I said quietly. I didn't stop for anything. “It's not safe. and I wanted to kick myself for not running back with Matty. dropping my umbrella to the ground. “These are dangerous times for the likes of you. I pulled out my phone to dial Cooper as the figure approached. his voice carrying over the pounding rain. “I'll go.” He extended his hand toward me while I searched his face.” “Ruby. Not for you. reaching out a weathered but sturdy hand. my fingers caressing the keys. “Okay. pulling the fabric away from his face. illuminated only faintly by the phone I held nervously in front of me. only feet away from me. He didn't seem to want to harm me.” I said. Ruby. but there was something about his voice that made me hang up the phone. “Get yourself home quick then.” he said. I did exactly what Gavin had told me to do—I got myself home quickly.. With guided feet. Panicking slightly. Best you be getting yourself home. “Name's Gavin. It wasn't like I couldn't have kept up with him.” A man of about seventy plus years looked at me through aged but sharpened eyes.” “Goodnight. I had nowhere to go. of which there were none.” “I will. not from what I could tell.

sounding as though he thought my point had validity.” I replied. unfazed by my Kramer-esque entrance. “How old is old?” “I don't know. then stepped out into the hall to find Cooper inconveniently blocking the way to my room.senior citizen age. Happy?” “Where was your Boy Scout when all of this transpired?” “He had to head home. “No. but his mannerisms were taking on a striking resemblance to a certain PC assassin that he wasn't overly fond of. I slammed the door closed behind me before collapsing against it. “I can see that. trying to catch my evasive breath.” I said.. stuck like glue from the moisture. “Maybe you should stop making me watch those horror films and I wouldn't have that problem.. glad we have that settled then. soaked to the bone.” I wrung my hair out over the sink before grabbing a towel. really.” I said. What I’m curious about is the why behind it. It wasn't the time to point it out. whatever that is. dripping all over the hardwood floor. heading to the bathroom.” he said.” he said. skulking around the dock..” I said. “I ran. “So some crazy old guy tells you it's not safe and you spaz out? Maybe we really should stop watching those movies.Gavin. I peeled off my shoes that seemed adhered to my feet. “Okay. panting heavily.” “Old guy?” he asked.” Stripping off Matty's hoodie. I stood there..” he said. trying to get around him with greater success. When I realized he wouldn't give way without an answer. You're a terrible liar. he eyed me carefully. He looked super creepy all decked out in a black raincoat. maybe because it's pouring outside?” I suggested unconvincingly. “There was this old guy. game face intact. “So the harbor scared you?” he asked. “Um. “You're early. trying to walk around him. He told me it wasn't safe for me to be there and it spooked the hell out of me so I ran home. and then I called you. I just freaked myself out at the harbor. clicking the TV off. “It's nothing. looking pensive.7 Cooper lazily looked up from the TV. Still unmoving. undoubtedly trying to assess what kind of shenanigans I'd gotten myself into—or narrowly avoided. It's nothing but chick flicks for the next . I provided him with one. The messenger of doom showed up right after I hung up with you. arms folded over his chest. I told him to go on without me. “I don't even know why you bother trying. Ruby.

“You really don't know what's going on with him?” “Listen.. “He's Marked. okay? I don't believe that he would ever mean to hurt you. “Well it is. he'll likely Change with the next full moon. “How can you know so little about weres?” he asked. coming to his feet. squeezing his forehead between his thumb and index finger— another of Sean's mannerisms that I wasn't going to point out.” he said. but we need to discuss something else. my arms crossed over my chest creatively to cover the girls. do they?” I said. Not only was I a werewolf freak show. “Yeah.” “But how do you know?” I asked.” he said..” “That can't be. staring a little too intently at my arms. Something a little more pressing. “Well they don't exactly have a Werewolves For Dummies guide book that they hand out when you become one. pushing the door aside.” he said.” he said. Matty may have a little crush on me. stepping into my closet to change.” “I'm not talking about some schoolboy crush. “It figures that one of the only humans in your life would come up werewolf. You're a magnet for irony. Cooper. but I would hardly say that makes him dangerous. “That's what is making him dangerous and why I want you to stay away from him. “Oh my God.” “What?” I hollered. “The Boy Scout.” he said.” “Marked? What are you talking about?” I said.” “Matty?” I yelled. and from what I could gather. poking my head out again. incapable of some of the most rudimentary skills needed for survival. following me. but he wouldn't know that he had until it was too late. No complaints!” I said. if you want to call it that.month.we just know our own kind. “I want you to stay away from him. It's just not safe.a chinchilla!” It was by no means my best argument ever made... “Or at least most of us do.” he said. sounding more desperate than I'd wanted to. As he moved towards me. practically willing them to throw themselves up over my head. Cooper. poking my head out to see him. standing right outside the closet door. can you?” he asked. “I can't explain it.. Ruby. “That matter may be settled. retreating to the closet for cover.. the bed creaking under his weight as he sat on it.. making my way to my room. stroking his hand slowly down the . but they did. “He's about as dangerous as a. A lot. “Rubes. “You can't tell. “He's Marked for the Change. “Fine. You need to stay away from him. it's not a big deal. totally frustrated. I became painfully aware of how little clothing I had on. what's that?” I asked.” he said with a shrug. but you can't be near him.” I said.. My anxiety was building.. staring me down. but it was true enough.a. but I was a degenerate one at that.” he said. He's turning into a werewolf.” He hadn't meant for his last words to sting from what I could tell.. What is your problem?” “He's dangerous. storming out of the closet wearing only my wet pants.

hoping it would help clear the matter up a bit. It just depends. right? Saliva. I was racking my brain for how this could have happened. he's twenty-two now. There was a faint line of red along the tender skin that lay just beneath the nail. “Sure.” “But that was months ago. giving a gentle squeeze to let him know everything was alright. .” “Days?” I whispered.something?” I rambled. Ruby.twenty-one? No! No. My head only had a small bump on it after the fall. Coop. I frantically tried to put the pieces together of what happened that night. I fidgeted horribly.” he said. “If he was born to be what he's becoming. I'd only scratched Matty―I didn't exactly lick it afterward. needing answers to make sense of everything.” I offered.” It was his turn to flinch. “So he was infected?” The words came out breathlessly. “Um.. they can do it in human form.. He didn't like to think about the time he spent haunted by his old pack. the strength of the wolf that infected you. “I can't have that. knowing Cooper awaited an answer... There are factors to take into consideration: how brutal the attack was. One or the other. It didn't. “If they're strong enough. strung out on Adderall. quickly dashing my glimmer of hope. a healing wound. eying me strangely. the picture it painted was grim beyond belief. looming above me. You'd be amazed at how little it takes. I didn't like the implications.. He had hurt me back then. breathing a sigh of relief.” “When? I mean…that has to take a while. not a laceration gushing blood everywhere. “Nope. if the wolf is an alpha or really old or—” “So it had to be the wolf that attacked him?” I asked. “Why are you shaking?” I didn't answer. “How old is he?” he asked. “but I would've noticed. I must have torn a part of my nail off when I ripped Matty's shirt during my fall. And that's when I saw it. this would be the age for his Change to happen. and you weren't exactly in your right mind at the time. I took his hand in mine. right? How long does it take?” “It's hard to say. “I know.” I paled instantly. “but I still would've felt it. He's been Turned.side of my face. I don't think he'd forgiven himself yet. panic taking over. “Had to have been..I'm sure of it. barely audible. but every time I solved the puzzle. “Yes.” he said quietly. picking at the hem of my shirt. It could take months or days. There were no signs when I saw him last.” he said.” “So how come you never noticed this before? What changed?” I asked.” he replied.” “But there has to blood exchanged.

He'd only just come to terms with me being a werewolf.” he said. Cooper?” “Non-violent and accidental infections seem to go overlooked these days. I didn't want him to know how worried I was. shoving him towards the door..” I dropped dramatically into the chair across from him.I infected Matty. “For fuck's sake. I'm freaking out a bit. I ran back into the living room where Cooper had resumed watching his TV show. but I stopped myself. “Mine got away with it at the time. so there must be—” . the words coming so fast they blended into one.” I said aloud.” I whispered. Why? Why would you think that?” “Because you look like you're going to pass out any second now. Especially the part about me being the cause of it all. I collapsed to the floor against it.. nor have they ever been. I put the phone down on the floor beside me. I'm—” “Just GO!” I yelled. unraveling it all in an instant. falling inelegantly backward when it turned and the latch released.” As I flung the phone up onto the bed. Anxiously.” he said. but not so much in the end. “It's become a gray area of sorts. without skipping a beat. “I'm not. and could prove the offender's guilt. “Do you have something you need to tell me. If the PC were to find out about it. though. okay? Can you back off for a minute and let me wrap my head around this? Please?” He didn't respond.” “Oh.” “Yeah. Cooper. though my frenzied entrance and questioning probably gave me away. I didn't think adding the fact that he was going to be one too was helpful. “Matty has been Turned. pressing towards me. “Depends. then fumbled with the door knob.” he explained. Slamming the door behind him. I was pretty certain that detail would yank out the thread we'd used to mend our friendship. “Don't get me wrong. looking at the back of his right hand while rubbing his fingers across it. He wasn't happy. but he didn't argue either. “No.” he said. “How often does it go unpunished?” “Well. only to pick it right back up as it vibrated repeatedly. something is up!” I yelled. Creating new wolves isn't part of their 'keeping the balance' plan. Just leave me alone for a second!” “Ruby. warn him. “Whathappenstothewolfthatmakesyou?” I blurted out. on occasion. I Changed Matty. Coop. “Deliberate and vicious attacks are not tolerated.” “How gray. Sean's text read: are you speaking to me yet? “No. I wanted to call him. Cooper easily saw the wheels turning in my head. Ruby?” he asked. pausing his show. a paralyzing fear hit me—I couldn't even breathe. “They'd kill him on the spot. managing not to exhale and wipe my forehead for added effect.” “Okay. and you only do that when something is up. still watching the TV. I managed my way up off the floor.

Your boy. flipping his show back on.” he said. Sean. will see to that. And those were by far the exception. “Whoever Turned him is going down. It's one of his favorite things to do.“I only know of a handful. Ruby.” .

Cooper said to stay away from him. fuming.8 The situation quickly escalated from bad to worse—guilt to horror.” I said. Yes.” I said.. “So do you have anything helpful to add. really. but I'd done so at the risk of my own death. trying to think on my feet. “So if he does Change?” We kill him. You know I'll be forced to kill him if push comes to shove.” I said.” You don't think that he will suspect you in the least. “Besides. and I was pretty sure that infecting a human would fall into that “necessary” category. Scarlet was less than pleased. but we should probably make sure before this whole thing gets blown out of proportion. and Sean will never have to know. No.” We're going to go so we can make sure he Changes. We're going to go to him on the full moon.. We'll be home before midnight. Quick and easy. It's simple. though. or do you just want to bring me down further with your Negative Nancy routine?” I spat while picking up mounds of clothing off of the floor. if we just randomly kill him. I doubt Cooper is wrong. not go and hold his hand while he morphs. But if it's self-defense. shutting down the idea. no matter how wrapped around your finger he may be. There's no way you can talk your way out of this one. Not unless you let me out. I not only inadvertently infected Matty. . can't you tell?” I asked. “That's your big solution? Kill Matty?” I said incredulously. when your friend shows up furry on the next full moon? Ruby. “And do what? Run interference? I'm pretty sure we can't intercept his Change. but I'm hoping it doesn't have to come to that. “I'm pretty sure that action comes with a death sentence too.” It does. she let me know exactly how unenthused she was.I'm not surprised you didn't think of it. “Maybe Sean won't find out. You've fucked us in the ass this time. “Well. it wouldn't be. thanks to your incompetence. thinking she was every bit the werewolf Cooper was. She had a point. After seeking refuge in my room.. thank you. that one has beauty and brains. I do.I'm well aware of your very strict policy on staying alive. “Yes. Sean had made it known on numerous occasions that he'd off me if necessary. “Not gonna happen around him again..

.. but I'm not putting my head on the chopping block for him. You don't want Sean figuring it out. Just hold it together.it'll never work. With every choice I made.” I whispered.” That’s exactly what I’m afraid of. Be better than that. “You're talking about Matty. I hoped the Rev was up to no good. Cooper already knows something is up. and I wondered how long my humanity could withstand the unending trial of values my life had become. How was I going to pull this off? He knew better than Cooper when I was lying and was ever-suspicious. You can't let on to Sean that anything is up. he was going to have to pick another victim.” I said. You like Matty. praying she'd see reason. I'll be as normal as can be.” It will. and he was my best bet to deliver. I'll take care of the rest. I loathed myself for wishing a death of that nature on anyone. and even more so because I still wanted it to happen. Don’t be normal. And further down the rabbit hole I fell. as have I.. if you can manage to get your shit together and pull it off. I lay on my side looking out the window at the surrounding building tops and façades. “Fuck. *** I went to bed early.You've killed before. consequences be damned. Ruby. that much I know. If the Rev wanted to play. still above ground.” I snarled. You saved him that night!” He seems fine and all. hoping that a good night's sleep would find me and help wipe away the telltale signs of stress that were accumulating on my face. “This is the shadiest plan ever. “Fine. Ruby. I found Sean's darkened windows in the distance. “So you'd make me lie to cover it up?” In a heartbeat. It's not going to end well either way. I called Peyta to make sure she and Ronnie were well guarded.don't worry about that. . and yet here we stand. My moral fiber was unraveling quickly. For the first time. “I got it.. I felt it slipping away. “This is crazy. “Really? How are you going to pull that off?” I'll be ready when the time comes. I needed a diversion of epic proportions.

I ordered a chocolate éclair for Peyta and an entire spinach quiche for Jay. It was Sunday. “Ruby. “Thanks. Peyta and Jay were becoming quite attached during the time they spent together. My game plan had been pissed on and I had no backup.9 Sleep came. I turned to thank him again. With a grand sigh. I walked down the street. I decided to head down to the bakery first. miss. “it's nice to see you again. Much to my surprise. She had a wicked sweet tooth. After throwing on some clothes. to pick up some treats to say thanks for her dedication to both me and the store. so I didn't have to open the store. I brushed my teeth. but I couldn't stand the silence in the apartment. Looking dubious with a paper bag dangling from my mouth and my coffee balanced atop the quiche.” I mumbled. pulling the bag from my teeth.” . the stillness was making me mental. my mouth still closed around the white bag it held. I had to get out. I froze when I saw him. but the words never came.” he said. “Let me get that for you. mentally exhausted even though I was well rested. and I couldn't have been more pleased. smiling to myself. I dragged myself off the bed. They'd make a great couple. I remembered what it felt like to laugh like that. Cooper was gone. smiling. After ordering an extra-tall latte for me and paying for all the goodies. and I had learned that Jay loved anything savory. I hadn't been at the shop much all week. I spotted Peyta and Jay inside. crunched forward over herself. hands full.” a man called out from behind me. I was disgusted by the sense of disappointment I felt for both. and grabbed something to eat on my way out the door. The PC boys ate nearly as much as Cooper did. I hadn't done it in a long time. I knew just what to get. Once I arrived at the patisserie. It turned out I didn't need to. I peeked through the window before attempting to unlock the door. The Rev did not. pulled my hair back in a messy bun. trying to figure out how to grab the door knob without dropping anything. laughing hysterically at the front counter. Tears streamed down her face as she clutched her stomach. someone came to my rescue. Not wanting to interrupt. probably off studying at the local library. and I wanted to see how Peyta was faring with all the added responsibility. knowing I should have been grateful. opening it easily. I hope I didn't frighten you yesterday. I eyed the door curiously. An elderly hand reached around me to the door. I made my way to the door.

” I replied.” Peyta's cheeks blushed slightly as if her admission of wanting privacy told me more than it should have. rifling the éclair out of the bag. so I let it go and planned to bring it up with Cooper when I saw him.” “For your sake. but why? What did he know that he wasn't saying? Had he seen the murder that night and not reported it? It would have made sense. being that neither seemed at all clued in to their surroundings and hadn't even bothered to lock the door. They looked sharp and fierce. too young for the rest of his healthy but aged body. He may have meant well. and it was bewitching to say the least. placing the grub down on the counter.” Peyta replied with a sigh. nodding slowly.” I hurried back to the store. You were probably right to shoo me away though. He was warning me.” “Thanks.” she said. P. It likely isn't safe for a girl to be out at night alone anywhere these days. like he meant it for me and me only. Something about him just didn't add up. moving away from each other enough to look more like acquaintances than friends. “No. “You won't have to worry about that. but he totally creeped me out.” “I didn't think she would look here.’ I really appreciate it.” His eyes were mesmerizing—I couldn’t help but stare. but there was something so personal about his message. I hope I don't. backing out of the door. I decided to leave it be. trying to make sense of what had just happened. trying to breathe normally. “We needed to go somewhere. The bells jingled when I pushed the door open. Nothing about his behavior came off as malicious in any way. T'isn't safe. but there was something to his energy—something familiar.Gavin. I started getting a headache from thinking on an empty stomach. dear. Not with what's been going on around town. “We couldn't deal with Mom anymore.” She shot me a smile with her eyes as she took a monstrous bite of her . “What are you two doing here today?” I asked. studied me as I did him. “I will. and I was itching to bail. the old man from the dock. “but I'd love a raise more. They smiled when they saw me.” I said. Gavin.” “Interesting choice of places to go.” “Not at all. “It had just been a really long night. “You need to stay away. There was a twinkle to them I hadn't seen the other night when light was sparse. “It's a ‘thank you for covering for me lately. hovering in the doorway of the bakery. It was a good thing I wasn't the Rev. I tried my best to duck out of his enigmatic ramblings as politely as possible.” I said. startling Jay and Peyta both. Not wanting to stick around and find out exactly what that was.” he said. though both looked somewhat bashful. Not that it would have done much to deter him. “I brought goodies. making my way into the showroom. Not for you.

It's quite endearing.” “Are you mocking me?” I asked. “Only a little.” I said. “Didn't see that coming. “You in a better mood today?” “Yes. Ruby. “It's so hard not to sometimes. collecting himself. “And how do you know that exactly?” “You said you'd let me know. “Oh.pastry. contempt in my voice. “I'll pick you up at six then?” “You're picking me up?” I asked. “Got it..” I said.” he said. “I'm not calling about that. he'd upgraded to actually calling.” he said.you're asking me out?” I said. before muttering to myself. “So now we're talking?” he asked. the phone tucked against my shoulder as I walked to the back work area with my coffee. hoping to move things along. “This all seems . so I knew I couldn't blow him off. Out of sheer stubbornness or indignation. I hadn't responded to his last text. “Yeah.. scratching my arm nervously. Sean.” He laughed. Two in one phone call was beyond uncharacteristic. no apology in his voice. “Did I have a choice?” I asked..” I said.” “And this isn't a friendly reminder call?” “No.” I grunted. I know you haven't..” he replied.” he said. beating him to what I assumed was the punch.” He broke into another laugh. “it's an asking you out for dinner call. Jay laughed. voice rising.. “But no bullshit.. I was going to go on an entire rant about it.you're. which had really been an answer in and of itself. I dug it out and flipped it over to see who it was.” I said. Sean. understand?” “No bullshit. I didn't want to talk in front of the other two. “You always have a choice.” “I haven't spoken to Alan yet.” he said. “So what do you say?” “Um. Ruby. “That's never changed. ripping a chunk off of his quiche before tossing it into his mouth. Really laughed. I stumbled over my words for a minute trying to collect them. hesitating slightly. “You're relatively easy to derail. but was cut short by the buzzing of my cell phone. he'd call until I answered. voice playful.” he repeated.” “Whatever. sounding incredibly certain of himself. I wasn't sure I was up for another interaction filled with a montage of emotions and mood swings. You pull any stunts like the other night and I'm bolting. feigning disgust with their lack of table manners. I haven't heard from you. therefore you haven't spoken to him. playfulness gone. “Have either of you heard of utensils? They're all the rage these days.yeah. Sounds good. and I almost launched into my prepared response that I'd been working up quickly in my mind.” I hadn't expected him to say that.

before I could move forward. “Because he needs you. Sean's one serious hardass. Happy now?” “Extremely. I loved Sean. “Why do you care so much?” I asked. I rummaged through the container of glass. I pulled out a necklace I had been working on. Too entrenched in figuring it out. He doesn't let you see that. It's. “Why do you need to know?” I countered defensively. things with Sean had been steadily improving.” he replied. If there was no stable foundation beneath us. not wanting to think any more deeply on the subject at hand. “That's what I want. The task seemed to become more futile as I stared at it. yes. “He's the very definition of selfsufficient. and we were just to a point where I could see some sort of future for us. I stared at it for the longest time trying to read the piece. I'd say you owe me. “After the conversation we had the other night. I shrugged him off and returned to the back. picking up pieces to see what looked right—what fit—but nothing did..” I snapped. Up until the other night. You don’t put up walls as thick as he has for any other reason. The harder I focused.” he said.” “Sean doesn't need anyone.S. I sighed and threw it down on the table before pushing my stool away and heading over to the wall of materials. piecing together sea glass and driftwood into an intricately woven pattern. “Say what you like. With our regression the last time I saw him. I wasn't sure we needed that. “What did he want?” Jay asked. but in others he's completely lost. government. Can't I just come over or something? Grab some takeout?” “If that's what you want. Jay.” Peyta added. “He wanted to go on a date.” he said. no longer allowing it to just happen. I lost all perspective and flow of the piece. Jay looked at me intently while Peyta yammered on about some new documentary that was going to blow the lid off of Big Pharma and their hold on the U. You save him from becoming what he fears most.” “I'm with Ruby on this one. but love alone wasn't enough. I'll see you at six. or on the future date that was looming. Sean. but I can see it. Ruby. we were destined to crumble. stepping closer to him. his tone cautionary. a smile growing broad across his face. the less I could see. He doesn't let anyone see it at all. “He's never said as much. An official date seemed too much like a milestone —a tipping point—however benign or mundane it may have actually been.. but I know it’s true.” I hung up before he responded and walked back out to the storefront. wanting to see where I should go with it next. but trying to force the steps.so official. I needed to do something . What I did need to know was that things could go back to what they'd been. actually. no matter how many times we rebuilt.” I scoffed. and I knew it.it's weird.” “In some ways.” “Fine.” I thought for a moment before responding. Determined to do something productive. unfazed by my approach. ladies. You'd both be wise to remember that. but there's more to him than meets the eye.

” I whispered to myself. but I needed to.” I said.” I heard his rhythmic chopping come to an abrupt end. You too. Cooper had returned while I was gone. I finally grabbed a few boxes of random scraps and gems. tucked away in the kitchen where I couldn't see him.” Jay said. I begrudgingly turned my attention back to it. and I walked into the delicious aroma of his lasagna cooking. “I'm heading over to Sean's. fingering the green piece of glass.” she said. “A date.” “You got plans tonight?” “Mmhmm. P. “I should go get ready.. I didn't want to face him. I took it out to show Peyta. that which would make him whole? I felt the tears stinging the back of my eyes and needed to escape before they had a chance to. unlocking the door to the second floor.” I snatched my purse and managed to get out of the building before my right eye betrayed me. “Coop.else. maybe you should slow down a bit.. We had things to figure out. who insisted on staying and working on the reorders for the month. I haven't been there much lately. When I plopped myself back down at the workbench. “That one bead is fantastic.” I replied. wincing as I watched his . quietly.” He picked up the knife and continued chopping feverishly. I never came up with one. Four hours later. Excited.” I said. Staring at the shelves of plastic containers. “I guess it just needed that final piece to make it whole. She applauded as I modeled the set for her before placing it on display.” “And what do you call it?” he asked. vibrant green piece of sea glass.. “Yes. I wiped it quickly away.I needed to do some work. a single tear rolling down my face. still not moving. poking his head into the hallway. change gears for a while. He usually made three at a time.. “So you have a date?” he asked. I saw a round. “Thanks for staying today. His words were heavy. I guess. I dug it out of the pile and strung it onto the silk cording. hoping inspiration would strike elsewhere. It was exactly what I'd needed. Jay. I finished the necklace and made a gorgeous pair of earrings to accompany it in the showroom.” I said. swallowing hard. “It's a date. “Yeah. He stood gripping the countertop as though he'd fall without it. voice eerily calm. Gonna grab some takeout on the way. “He was talking to Peyta. Through the side of a plastic container. I caught a glimpse of the necklace in my peripheral vision. He was silent. standing across the room from us.” I said. wishing for a clever way out of telling him where I was headed. “That's what he called it. and I couldn't help but wonder to whom that comment was directed. turning the corner to face him. Whatever was going on between us was growing too large to ignore any longer.” I said. Was he reiterating his earlier point about Sean. and that's when I saw it. or was he telling Peyta that she was his final piece. “Were you in the shop?” he asked.it makes the whole piece. and there were never any leftovers. ducking my head. “We all need that.

draping his arm over his eyes.” I begged.” “Okay. my voice giving way to the sadness that bubbled over. but I was hot on his heels. “If this is about the full moon—” “It's not about fucking. It's making me fucking crazy. collapsing onto the bed. You'll have to do the same. “I'm going to have to do the same.” he said. I've done more of that in my life than you could wrap your tiny little head around.. following him into his room. Ruby. reaching for his arm. Even more than Peyta.” I whispered. Ruby. I can't explain it..” “Well try!” I yelled. . “Then tell me what will. “Wouldn't want to make Captain Personality wait. You needed help—I wasn't going to leave you to drop your pants for some random just so Scarlet could satiate her need.” he said. But I know I can't go on like this.fingers narrowly escape a few of the slices. but—” “Don't you dare say it. Cooper. slamming his dresser against the wall. It makes me crazy to know you're in danger. pointing out what I thought was obvious. Rubes. stabbing the knife into the cutting board. “Maybe you should go and get ready.” he said. I feel more protective of you than any other person in this world. I'm connected to you in a way that's beyond comprehension. Ruby..” “Except Peyta.” “But there isn't.” “I'm sorry.” he snapped.I love you too. “I don't know. “There has to be a way to make things like they used to be.. “No. “What does that mean.” “It's not fine. I—” “It's fine. I feel something for you that I've never felt for anyone. Cooper?” “I mean that I need to figure out how best to make myself happy.” I managed to choke out before moping my way out of his room to my own. Cooper. I lose sleep when you're not around. biting off his words.. There was a finality to what he'd said that was most unsettling.” “What do you mean. not letting him run away from the battle. “I told you that something changed in me that night when I killed Gregory. but it's how I feel.” I said.” “Cooper. Any way I read between the lines. I looked at the clock to see that I had thirty-seven minutes to get cleaned up.” I whispered. Ruby. I hate feeling like you're slipping away.” He stormed out of the room.” I said. I haven't looked at you the same since then. “There's no 'but' to be had. Ever.” “But that doesn't make any sense—” “I know it doesn't make any sense.. I didn't enjoy the subtext.” he said.” “Sorry is not going to help this time. trying to mask my quivering voice. You have to decide what you can and can't live without. trying to escape me. no matter what that takes. “Cooper. Things aren't fine and I don't know how to make them fine again. How can we fix this? I hate it. “I know you love me.

“It's not great date-night conversation material.no matter what happens. I love you. and show up on Sean's doorstep with a smile on my face—or at least not crying. but he still didn't respond. that's all you've ever known?” I said disbelievingly. Sean?” “Because anything else is a fairytale. “Why don't you tell me anyway. “I've never wanted something I couldn't have before. “I'll see you later. give him something that could leave us on a good note. I took a deep breath before exiting my room.” he said gently.” I called out. getting me out of the whole thing. and Sean had been able to read me from day one. I was a terrible liar. We were on make or break ground as it was. and he wouldn't answer me when I knocked.” he said. It took five minutes to apply makeup. I wondered if my ribs would eventually collapse. dropping my head to my crossed arms. “So in how ever many hundreds of years that you've lived. He answered shortly after I knocked. “Unattainable is new. Please don't ever forget that.” he said softly. hoping that would make him drop it. and the rest of the time I'd allotted for getting dressed.” I heard him turn over on the bed. I tried to put on a happy face. I felt like shit after talking to Cooper. leaning my face against the door. it didn't exactly get me jazzed up for my dinner date. “Cooper. It's worse than any torture I've ever endured. and so much more. “Unbearable has been the gold standard.” I left not knowing if things were going to be okay when I got home. It wasn't fair to take my night's events out on him. Coop. His door was shut. Sean was trying to make amends. I wanted to look like I'd put a little effort into the occasion. I'm sure I can take it.” I dropped the bags onto the counter and scooted myself into a barstool by the island. The weight on my chest increased with every step I took up to his apartment. rubbing tiny circles up and down my spine in an attempt to soothe me. “What's wrong?” he asked.” he said. like Cooper had pointed out before. Ruby. Once I was ready. and tried to reassemble my hair so it was more presentable. and it did nothing to help the mounting pressure I felt as I walked over to Sean's. “So my options are either the unattainable or the unbearable?” I asked. I'm a big boy.” I said. He laid his broad hand on my back.. Ruby. Maybe a trip to the hospital was exactly what I needed―a mini vacation. It took only seconds for him to see that I wasn't excited to be there.pick up food. “I like inappropriate conversation. Chinese food in hand. I wanted to say goodbye to Cooper. stepping aside to let me in. Still. but. “Why is everything always a mess. “Isn't there a door number three?” “Not that I've ever known. with a tight smile. You're my family. coming to stand behind me. When the door swung wide.. You're my best friend. but the look in his eyes said it all. I rinsed off quickly in the shower.” he said. sitting down beside me. moving closer. “I'm hoping to . “Cooper.”I went to ask him to clarify what he'd meant.

He loves me.” “Really? Because the last thing he said to me was something about finding out what we both can and can't live without.” “Of course he does. “And that's surprising to you?” “Yes. pretending not to notice my obvious embarrassment.” I said. We dance around it..” “Tell me exactly what he said he felt for you. “Ruby. “Besides..” “Living without you won't be an option for him either. Ruby.. “I don't know what to do. loves me.. Cooper is confused. turning to face him. “and then something about being connected to him in a way that was beyond his comprehension.” I said with a laugh. perhaps.” “Complicated?” he asked. which makes no sense at all. but it doesn't seem to be. “It's Cooper. he's a bit confused. “Just remember you asked for this. “I can't live without him. He was more serious than I'd ever heard him.” he muttered under his breath.” “I can relate to that. locking his gaze on mine.” I took a deep breath to gather myself before starting to explain. “He loves me. the corner of his mouth turning up ever so slightly. having moments of things being like they used to be.” he sighed. I'd say he sounded pretty clear and concise. “He said he worried about me all the time when I wasn't around.complicated. I'd hoped it was a phase or something...” he said.” I explained.” “True. acting like that was obvious.” I said.” I said. “Cooper will never abandon you.” . and I didn't bother looking for confirmation.” I said. Didn't you say that he had a pretty sketchy past? Family life?” “Yes.” “That sounds oddly familiar. over-emphasizing the words.I can't lose him. Sean.know what door number three looks like soon.” “Oh.” I said. Sean. not like that.” Sean looked unfazed by what I'd said. It's not an option. “I really don't think you want—” “I'd rather know than not. even more so than Peyta. “I'm being serious!” I yelled. starting to sound mildly hysterical.that he felt protective of me. Ruby.” he said. my face flushing. “No. if you're just going to mope around all night anyway. looking away from him. “Our relationship has gotten. I shot him my death glare and he moved quickly to change the subject. “It shocked the shit out of me the first time he told me. I could practically hear his eyebrow raising.” Sean demanded. I think. He can't. but then something will happen and it gets all weird again...it made him crazy. “So what is this all about?” he asked.” “He didn't sound very confused. but I could feel the faintest level of dissonance coming from him. it won't exactly ruin anything for me. but I don't see what that has to do with it.

His words were abruptly cut off while I crashed to the floor gripping my head. The Rev was back in action. so it would make sense that while he grows into his power he'd feel this way. you're—” I never heard Sean’s explanation. . He has to love you like that.“Cooper has probably never known much love in his life.

“Coming. he scooped me up. She would be his favorite kill to date —they both would. he looked over his shoulder and smiled. accentuating her curves. “Pull it together. bending forward to the floor. “We won't make it. The toddler laughed and played with her hair. Sean was talking to me in the background. “The baby.” I said. parked in the darkness for cover. She disappeared from sight for a moment. tears streaming down my face. as he wove through traffic at a speed that would have frightened me had I been present enough for it to register.” she called.” “It's too late. Sick bastard.” I whispered. he wasn't in the city and he swept his eyes carefully through the neighborhood.. to the entrance. smiling down to something at her feet. “You're .” he said menacingly. I didn't need to imagine what he was doing to them―I'd seen it countless times before. so I guess it did the trick.” “Fuck!” he rumbled. I'd felt what he'd planned.I know it is. over and over again.. Before she reached the door.” “Kristy!” I screamed. burying her face into it repeatedly. staring blankly out of the car. while she tickled his neck. his pulse quickening. quickly returning with a child in her arms.. across the hardwood.” he growled. his hands flexed furiously. He growled low.. he mumbled it over and over again. “You will come to me. latching onto Sean's arms. “She was holding the baby.. black eyes glaring at me across the car. As he crept up the walkway. but it was white noise. He had us out of the apartment and into the car before I'd gotten my bearings. He heard her quickened steps down the stairs. “I will make you love me. He approached slowly.” The knot is my stomach twisted at the knowledge that I was right. His fingers dug in sharply and it hurt like a mother. Thoughts of baby Louie being torn to shreds played over and over in my mind. “We'll get there. but the pain snapped me back to the present.10 She stood in the second story window. I watched helplessly as he reached for the brass doorknocker. driving furiously out of town. It's what he's planning on. pounding visibly in his throat. I couldn't stop it. I hadn't realized that I'd broken into full-on hysterics until Sean snatched my jaw in his hand and wrenched my face around to look at him. They were alone. tapping it firmly three times. The rest of the house was shrouded in darkness. He watched from across the street. like the purring of the BMW's engine. Without another word. The light from inside framed her in a golden glow.

that lies were easiest to believe when smattered with truth.” he shouted. and I bailed out of the car before it even stopped. “Booby?” he asked. while Alan's narrowed. I saw where Louie sat. When I started up the stairs.. now the Rev. snickered behind me. “You're alright! Thank God. “Booby. not knowing how best to play this off..not going to help anyone like that. “How did you—” “What did he say to you?” I asked. “start explaining. trying to keep my rapidly beating heart out of my throat with one. I saw them. before I barged in the front door. searching the first floor for bodies. . “A man. trying to play his amusement off as coughing. You can freak the fuck out later. I'll call off the boys before they show up here and drag you away. but startled Alan as he emerged from the master bedroom.” I watched their faces carefully. Ronnie's husband. “Louie. She wanted to add rotting corpse to the list of things he was referred to as. He'd been working crazy hours and must have crashed early.” Sean. Scarlet stalked just below the surface. stumbling to the ground in a half roll before getting to my feet in a dead sprint.” said a very groggy. crashing through doors and screaming. God. though there was an edge to it that accurately illustrated how I felt and how Alan portrayed me. screaming like a banshee? The whole neighborhood has probably called the police by now. Then I remembered what my Dad had often said. ready to pounce on the man who was once Keith James.” I panicked for a moment. I had to laugh. Looking to the floor. but for now you will get your shit together.. “What is going on?” she said.” I nearly tackled her and Louie when I crested the stairs. Kristy's eyes widened. Do you hear me?” I nodded precariously while he still held my face. “Alan! Kristy!” I screamed. who had been utterly silent until that moment. sounding frightened and confused. I heard him telling the dispatcher to disregard the calls.” I started. “Booby. okay? He's little. that the crazy woman who stormed the door was a friend who hadn't taken her meds today. “Ruby? Care to explain why you've broken into my house. Louie!” I raged through the house. cutting her off.better think of something fast.” He disappeared back into his room.you 'elp. I looked to Sean for aid. “Someone came to your door tonight.. Oh.” Alan said as he rejoined us in the hall.” “Now that I’ve called off the hounds. but all he did was flash me a look that read I don't think you really want me to help you with this one. In fact. dry swallow.. I hoped that Dad knew best.. Sean stopped just behind me.” he replied. releasing me as gently as his state would allow. We pulled up seconds later.please. playing with his blocks. “What are you doing?” “That's what I want to know. freezing my progress immediately. I'm going to go check.. “He's trying to say Ruby.. “Kristy!” I shouted as I darted up the stairs towards her. “Good.

I'm psychic.” he asked.. Consider them a gift. I let him have it. searching the air around her for answers. His residual energy coursed through me and it was all I could do not to fling it out of my hand. Ruby.“Who was it?” he asked. “I still don't understand how you knew..” “Jesus. “Kris. “I see things as they're happening. I stood mute. Love.” “I'm not lying. Alan..” I said.and he said he knew Ruby. and how did you really know he was here. He was so sweet. it took nearly everything he had. rehearsing my delivery. looking in the windows at Kris.” I said. “There's a killer loose in town and you're opening doors for random strangers. We have some bizarre connection that I can't explain. his voice dropping low. shakily. talking on his phone.” Kristy said softly. Alan.I guess it never dawned on me. and ushering me downstairs.” He nodded once. . I saw his eyes darken as he returned it to me before excusing himself to go outside. face paling. “I. “Do you know what this means?” “I do. “Didn't you find it odd that he'd drop something off for Ruby here? Why didn't you call for me?” “I don't know..” Alan didn't react to what I told her at all. I saw him come here. Don't disappoint me again. with my family?” I didn't know how to lessen the blow I was about to deliver. I flashed Alan a look that told him that now was not the best time for that question to be answered. reaching for the paper. but continued down without skipping a beat. eyes fierce and probing. “I see things. He led me into the small office off of the kitchen and closed the door.” he cursed.. “He asked if I could give something to you. moving towards me. his eyes looking over the top of the page down at me. Alan's gaze shot to me. and though he managed to stifle the growl I saw building in him.. “Who is this freak leaving enigmatic messages for you at my house.” She took an envelope out of her pocket and handed it to me. before kissing Kristy and Louie. Kristy seemed too down on herself to notice. placing his blocks on them strategically then knocking them off and laughing. but angry all the same.“He said he was a friend of yours. Kris.” Alan said. I looked back up to her and lied. calling after us as Alan and I descended. “Start explaining. I nearly vomited when I took it.” Alan said. leaning against the car. running sentences through my mind and rejecting them. clearly frightened for her.. You can go out and ask Sean. The child played with my legs. He read it quickly. hesitating slightly. and I saw that man walking up to the door. hovering over me as I sat by Louie. It was my turn to pale. Kris.” he said. “We need to go somewhere else to discuss this. his cop face in full force.” “Who is he. “Let me see it.” she started.” she said. pointing out the window to where he stood. I handed the note to Sean.” In a moment of clarity. You have to believe me. “Who the fuck was that guy.

His annoyance was building to a palpable level. “He won't be if I give him what he wants. “the way you looked down at the crime scene. There are things going on that you couldn't possibly understand—things that could endanger the lives of everyone you love even more than they are now.” “We?” he asked.. I—“ “NO!” I yelled. looking in the window at me. He was in full-blown interrogation mode.” “The day I met you. It was in your eyes. I glanced at Sean. “And how exactly does Sean factor into all of this? Is he a PI or something? Muscle for hire?” “Sean is a friend. and Alan wanted answers. turning furious eyes on me. sitting down delicately in a wingback chair. specifically?” “I don't know—” “You must know!” he said. I can't tell you. I don't know anything that could possibly help you find him.” “Ruby. “He's the one who killed all those women. really I do. His eyes were still black. slamming his fist on the wall beside me. If there were any way. part of me anyway. The murderer I'd known about the entire time.well.” “What does he want you for?” he asked. giving him away.” “And now he's after my family. Forever. but was completely debilitated so I couldn’t do anything to help? Would you have believed me? Would you have thought I was in on it? I couldn't risk it. “I call him the Rev. “Fine. He made me watch. “I saw him do it. I thought that maybe there was a way I could . rolling his eyes. pounding the desk for effect. and above that. It was his turn to look white as a ghost..” he said... okay.” “And why does he want you. I waved him off with a subtle shake of my head. Sean needed CIA access.” I said quietly.” I said. “He thinks he loves me.” “I'm sorry.” I said.I would. a plan forming in my mind. but his eyes were glued on me for the duration. we're working on a solution. “He wants me. I knew you had to know something. “You can't push this any further. I saw Sean push off of his car.” “Oh.” he said. “You have to trust me. He's a friend. still not knowing how exactly to tell him about the murderer who tormented the city once and returned for more.” “What?” he whispered.. momentarily. arms folding over his chest. “He's the Portsmouth murderer.” he started. Alan.” I whispered. Alan.” “And what's that?” “Me.” “I wish I could tell you more. Alan? That the sick bastard was telegraphing his murders into my mind? That I saw what did while he did it. sitting on the corner of the desk.“Tell me!” he yelled.” I paused. He wants me to be with him. picking at my jeans. staring at me in horror.. “but what could I tell you.

“Why?” “Long story.. It was basically a dead end. “What if they belonged to an ex-CIA agent whose file requires security clearance to access it?” “I'd say you need to tell me who it is..” I said. poking around where he didn't belong. scratching his chin. “The Feds said they only got a partial with far too many hits in the system to get anywhere.” “But can you trust him?” “He's an Army Ranger―one of the instructors who trained me when I went through the program.” “Fishy how?” he asked. I had to play my trump.” “No.” “Hmm.” he replied. He'll have that for sure. I want to know what it is. “Alan. I want to know why nobody is following up on that. “but you need to keep me in the loop.” “Excellent. If I was right about Keith's file being suspicious and he got caught by the wrong people. “A cover up.” I said.where did they get you?” “Nowhere. “Who is Keith James?” he asked.” I said. but the short of it is that we need somebody on the inside.” “Then I suggest you give McGurney a call and see what he can find out. but on its own it's useless. That's the deal. “He's like a second father to me. . regarding me severely.” “What if I knew which profile those partials belonged to?” I asked. choosing my words carefully. “McGurney is some big hot shot out there. with a questioning glance. I smell something fishy going on. brows furrowed.” he said.” I said. anger growing in his voice.” I hesitated momentarily. The sad fact remained that we still needed to know what was in that file. Someone we can trust.kill two birds with one stone. I'd trust him with my life. “I'd say that doesn't make any fucking sense at all―dead guys don't leave prints at crime scenes.” he said. following my lead.” he said. do they?” I replied.” “Dead guys don't commit murder. We can cross reference anything else we find with that list. I knew there would be consequences—bad ones.” “What if I told you that the reason he's ex-CIA is because he's dead?” He cocked his head to the side. “do you have any military buddies who went CIA after they got out of active duty?” “Yeah..someone with high level clearance and few people to answer to. looking curious. “The fingerprints found at the crime scene. heading out of the room.” he said. his game face returning. “Nor do they have files that require security clearance to access. I didn't want to endanger Alan by telling him more than he needed to know. and I don't like it. adding an eyebrow move that Sean would have been proud of. trying hard to work an angle to get what I needed.. Ruby. They're hiding something.” “No. heading for the door. unsure of how to make my next play. they don't. “they don't. “Keith James. grabbing my arm to stop me.

“I will personally see to that. even though I knew that was a promise he couldn't really make.at any cost. I stared out at the cold. But unlike the earth.. firing up the Beamer.” Sean said. but wasn't convinced it was. numb. I'll worry about the rest.. You know that. My attempts at covering up my waterworks display were futile. pulling my arm from his grasp. Alan.” He took my hand and gave a squeeze before pulling me into a crushing hug. coming up behind me slowly. I would be born anew. Any romantic sentiments either of us may or may not have had were flushed out by the adrenaline rush . wiping the tears from my face. “I've called in some of the boys.” I said. snapping my head away from his grasp.and pray he can help us out on this one. I was family too.” I yanked the door open and slammed it behind me. turning my face to his far more gently than he had only minutes before.” I said. “But I'll do whatever I have to do to keep everyone I love safe. reaching my hand out towards him.. having heard Kristy's footsteps above. I wasn't sure that. “Do you need a gun?” he whispered. eyes laser-focused on me. Call McGurney. “They'll be alright.” Sean replied.” I walked away from Alan as quickly as I could. “And he's Ronnie's late husband. as if the rays of my inner light were being snuffed out one by one until only a black. Sean tracked my every move. “He's going to pay for this. do your best to keep your family safe. “You can't give him what he wants. nodding towards the Beauchamp's residence. Do you understand me? You take him out. empty abyss remained. and slowly dying as a force of nature consumed me. right?” I turned to see his sad eyes looking down at me. For all of our sakes. but his face showed just how worried he was as well. dark night ahead of me. “And what are you going to do?” he said. I needed to get out before he could say anything else to make me come undone.” “If he goes near that child—” “He won't get the chance. His confidence was comforting.” I said.” I said. “I know. My changes felt permanent.” *** It was fair to say that our “date” had been ruined. knowing that he was still processing the information I’d bombarded him with. He followed suit. narrowly getting out of its path. I wanted to think that was impossible.“He's your ex-agent who's a little too dead and buried to be committing murder. I'd nearly made it out the front door when his final question stopped me. He may have been pissed at me for unknowingly endangering his wife and child.” he said. “Please. come spring time. thinking that it accurately reflected how I felt inside: bitter. I got in and shut the door. “He will. “I want you to kill that motherfucker if he comes near you. and I walked around him to the passenger side door letting the tiny drops slide down my face unstopped.. Sean.” “I'll be fine. As I fled the house. Ruby. They're going to keep an eye on the house until this gets resolved.

It was a problem for another day. I should never have befriended them and I knew it. and right after finishing. I had dance class with Matty. I sighed and pushed those thoughts out of my mind.the Rev had induced. and offered to drive me home. I thought about Alan and Kristy. What used to be my refuge from the chaos in my life was now firmly enveloped in it. I was really starting to hate that list. What was done was done. I wanted to go home and curl up in bed alone—I needed to decompress. try as I might. . nearly topping my new list of clusterfucks. but I declined. It was selfish—I was selfish—and I worried that once again my indulgence in a normal life would be at the cost of someone else's. We ate the cold Chinese food in silence. stinging my face as gusts sporadically blew down the streets. The cold wind felt therapeutic as I walked. He seemed understanding about it. bringing the sweet smell of the ocean with them. I left. I knew that tomorrow would bring a different crisis to the top of the pile. I couldn't undo it. and. I wondered how I'd ever be able to keep them safe.

” I said. but I opted not to hang around and find out. I was surprised Scarlet didn't laugh out loud at my naivete..” I shut the car door and locked it before joining him in the doorway. The problem at hand was not going to be made better by avoidance. but.” he said. leaning in slightly.” he called out to me from the top of the steps as I bent over to reach in the back seat for a stray shoe. evening came and I had to head to Boston. having already entered the studio to warm up with the others. “I've got quite a view from up here. and it only crushed my feeble hope that Cooper had been wrong.you're going to make me late!” “Nobody said you had to wait for me.” I yelled. I needed to act as normal as possible. “Hurry up. I felt his gaze on me the whole way.” “We all have skeletons in the closet. Boy Scout. He was gone when I emerged. getting undressed in front of him seemed like a bad idea at the time. All my fretting got me was fingernails gnawed to stumps by the time I arrived. I was far too distracted to deliver that. “It's always the sweet ones you have to watch out for. I doubt I have the corner on that market. Something was brewing under the surface. “I think you've done your fair share of attracting trouble throughout the years. We were auditioning that night. so I sucked it up and left. “I can't leave you out here alone. voice muffled by the interior of the car. Matty was just heading in as I pulled up. stone-faced. Pam let us run through the piece twice as a collective before she started .” he said with a laugh. My back practically burned from the intensity of it. the air between us was getting way too heavy for me. I needed some space. despite my best efforts to thwart it. “That only enhances it for me. not letting on that Matty was in for some seriously life-changing events in the very foreseeable future. “I bet you have.11 I dreaded it all day. “I bet you have some good ones. I flipped the bird at him through the open door. “My ma raised me right. Leading the way up to the studio. his eyes wild and intense. and everyone wanted to be at their best.” “I've done things you couldn't imagine.” I wasn't sure if that was an observation or an admission.” he said. God only knows what kind of trouble you'll attract. and dutifully waited for me at the door as I collected my paraphernalia from the car.. so I ducked into the bathroom for some breathing room.” he replied.

. I often found myself closing my eyes to feel the rhythm of their footfall. “You two. big time. He caught me. Nose to nose. and you had to have real emotion behind you or you couldn't sell it. “You know it's a lot easier to see what you're up against if you actually watch them.pulling couples to audition for her and the two guest instructors who often contributed choreography to the company.I just blanked for a second. and an unbridled ferocity. so I put on my big girl panties and did it again.” he said. freezing us in place. and entangled our bodies to the driving beat. I forgot there was anybody else in the room. The first couple was selling it. Matty seemed to weather it far better than I. When the drums slowly crescendoed. We sold the shit out of that dance with grace. Scarlet growled low—a warning—but to whom I wasn't sure. A flash of adrenaline hit me as the music blared through the speakers.. I was mortified by that one.. “I prefer the second option. athleticism. Can we just run it again. looking mildly annoyed. but either works for me. leapt. “I'm fine. When I was finally ready. I avoided looking at Matty when we lined up to start over. Finally Pam cut the music. staring at my feet as I walked to my opening position. The piece was fierce.” I shied away from her comment. So much of dance was acting. Eye to eye. Those first three notes seemed to draw out forever. “Ruby?” she asked. hurling my body at his as was choreographed.. I ran at him. please?” She nodded and went back to the stereo. The rest of us lined the back wall. If I'd been embarrassed by her statement a few days earlier. our faces only inches apart. All I cared about were the happenings . letting the vibrations tell the story rather than their movements. “Let's see if you still have that electric chemistry. crashed. I felt it. she was asking if we wanted to try it again. I opened my eyes to see Pam motioning for Matty and me to go next. me hanging from him like a koala bear. When I brought my attention to her. His beast called to mine. watching the first duo perform from behind and in the mirrors beyond. or more accurately.” she said. for at least an eight-count or two.let's go. each one eying the other. but that would have only made things worse. walking over to cue the music. Three more notes passed and the tension built. We ran. The music stopped and applause broke out around us. I looked up to see Matty staring at me like he was starving―and I was lunch. And that's when I saw it. or did we need ten minutes in the bathroom together first. and I loved how I could feel the dancers’ intensity reverberating through me as well as flowing over me. We stood there. completely forgetting that I was supposed to be dancing. I froze. Matty wasn't doing any better. saying something about chemistry being an understatement. begrudgingly putting me down. flew. primal. I wanted to run out of there and get a grip on myself. attacking each other like angry lovers going in for a make-up quickie.” Matty whispered in my ear.

“cause we sure as hell wouldn't be getting the part then. but we'll see. “I'll be back in a minute. “I need a minute. “I needed to see more hunger. Maybe you're not inspired unless you get to tear somebody's throat out. grabbing the passenger side door to try and steady myself.not animalistic enough. the music stopped.” he replied with a devilish grin. continuing down the concrete steps as I tried to regain my footing. I fought my way off of him. “And let's not go into the more than embarrassing ball-drop we had while we just stood there. biting her bottom lip.” . a confession of emotions told only through the movement of our bodies and the expressions on our faces. That'll be easy to live down. heading for the lobby. I hovered over Matty's body on all fours as he lay on his back. I felt his lust. That night was a purging.” “Awesome.” Space—I needed it in the worst way imaginable. my sorrow.. I stumbled outside. “It was for me. but those lyrics hit a little too close to home for me.. I'll be right back. teeth grazing his neck..” “I thought that was more of a highlight of sorts. Or maybe I did like it and that was the problem.” I said. breathing harder than I should have been. though you seemed to nail that at the end. though.” I said.I don't know if you were paying any attention to what just happened. slowly descending the stairs with dramatically loud footfalls. My mouth hung open. I just couldn’t get out fast enough. giving him room to move. In my urgency to escape. I plowed into my car. Ruby.” Matty called from the doorway behind me. Dancing with Matty had always felt right.” “Matty. “She just takes a while to get going. It was frightening to look up and see myself in the mirror―it hit too close to home. “But I'm not sure you had the emotion quite right. I shared my guilt. Inelegantly. “Why?” “Um. to say the least. I want to see everyone before we decide.” Pam called from the far corner of the room. I didn't offer a hand up. “You're bailing. “I like you two for it. Throwing the door open.. “I'm glad you didn't do that five minutes ago. his power. “Well. It went beyond the comfort and confidence we'd had in each other as both partners and dancers. sounding a touch unstable. eying me with a disturbing glare.” I said. his head turned towards the front of the room.” He ignored me.between us.” Sweat dripped down my back. I had no idea what had just occurred in that room. It wasn't from the dancing. eye-fucking each other.” Matty said. That night was different. pushing himself to his feet. we just fit. You looked sad and frightened throughout most of it..forgot something in my car. I nearly went ass-over-tea-kettle down the last flight of stairs.. Finally.” Pam said.” he said. but I didn't like it. anyway. “That was intense.” She smiled devilishly at me as she approached. coming to stand a few feet away. like two pieces of a puzzle—a true pairing.

.” “Matty. “Wouldn't have been the first time.” “If it was self-defense. I was pretty certain I needed to know exactly how dark those sides were. Remember last time?” I cringed at his words. The Boy Scout isn't all he appears to be. and Cooper nearly killed someone. I didn't need a repeat of that with Matty in the throes of Changing. Seems the judge agreed.” His smile made my blood run cold... Matty. I can't risk trouble finding you. I was attacked in the city. clapping my hand over my mouth after my words escaped. I remembered all too well the near-miss we’d had with some local thugs who thought they'd get a little too fresh with me. “He died a week later in the hospital from complications. “I'm staying down here with you. Matty!” I yelled.” he said. We all have demons and dark sides.. Matty had nearly gotten a beat-down. Ruby. Maybe a few someones. then why did you get sent away?” “The psychologist suggested there was evidence to support that I didn't need to actually kill him to get away. and. well. “But everything changed when my brother Sammy turned to drugs. I spent some time in juvie because of it. kicking a rock off the sidewalk.I feel like an idiot right now. He pulled a knife on me and I got it away from him. after his comment. Ma couldn't handle it. but I was let out early for good behavior.” “Suit yourself. he'd told me once. He looked at me and grinned. I'm not going back up there until I have to.” he said with a shrug.“Yeah.” “And what exactly was it that you spent time in juvie for?” I asked as my adrenaline surged. I was her last hope.” “They would have. “I was fourteen. but they were distant. like he thought I'd never ask. expression unchanged.. “I stabbed someone. “Kinda hard to forget it. and I got my shit together to try and help her. “What the fuck were you thinking?” “It was self-defense. I wanted to be the son she'd always wanted me to be. my disbelief plain. my mind reeling. that there was something more to my intent than that. I didn't need him in jail come full moon time. Scarlet stirred as though the conversation had taken an exciting enough turn to warrant her attention..” He kept his eyes leveled on me. then put on parole. “Like maybe I enjoyed it in the slightest. “Holy shit. giving away that his mind was in the past. and it made the hair on the back of my neck stand up. A devilish smile played across his face.” he started. moving a step away from him on feet unaware of their retreat.” Interesting.” “Something more like what?” I asked. I did two years and a bit..” I said.” . It all happened so quickly.” I whispered. “That fucker deserved what he got. “First time?” I asked delicately. When he died. “I thought bodies were going to drop for sure. boring holes in me with his eyes.

trying to sneak past him.” he said menacingly. I'm glad I kept this one alive. All I could think about was Matty's Change. okay? My 'boys' are fine. Much to my surprise (and delight). I pulled my phone from my purse. I'm betting you have a body count all your own. but I had bigger fish to fry at that moment. I all but ran out to my car afterward.“I don't even know what to say.. it wasn't us. He stopped me. pushing his face much too close to mine. what the fuck? Are you crazy? Jesus. I needed to be better apprised of what I was in for. I don't need your help. “I'm trying to figure out how you can be so closed off about them. huh?” I gulped hard. My skin flushed. I pretended not to hear Matty as I fired the TT up . a flight or two behind me. “I could fix your problem. Seems it's not just your boys who are rockin' the bad boy status. don’t you?” he snarled. “What can you say?” he said. still internally freaking out. I do. He followed me up. I studiously avoided the mocking glances and occasional comment implying that Matty and I did much more than get some air in our absence.” I grabbed the door handle and pulled myself. “Somehow I think you of all people can hardly cast judgment on me. making my way back to the entrance. “You always run from any conversation that casts a nasty light on those two... and whatever issues I have with them are mine and I plan on keeping them that way.listen to yourself. Are they holding something over you?” “Not now. grabbing me by my shoulder and spinning me to face him.” “Matty. I wiggled my shorts off. Scarlet seem far less fazed than I did. stopping just long enough to strip my shirt off and throw on a white tunic I had packed. Maybe the universe didn't have the twisted sense of humor I thought it did. “We have more in common than I could have imagined. His hellfire eyes did too.. We arrived just in time for the announcement of who nabbed the parts. I needed to get home and ask Cooper if the Change made you act bizarre and aggressive. but I didn't want him finding that out the hard way. During my brief wardrobe change. “Maybe we should head back up. Making my way into the street.” I said. They wouldn't be as forgiving as I. dialing Cooper while I unlocked the car. throwing his arms up. My heart raced as a direct result of what he'd said. don't you?” My lack of response spoke volumes. “Say the word and I'll take care of it for you.” I replied softly. I needed answers from Cooper and I wasn't sure I could wait the hour it was going to take me to drive home to get them. Would it bring this nasty side of him back to the surface? I was loathe to even entertain the idea. He was kidding himself if he thought he was a threat to either of the boys. leveraging out of his grip to make my way up to the studio. Embarrassment beat the shit out of what I was feeling in that moment. Matty” I said. leaving my semi-opaque black tights on for some level of public decency. and better equipped to deflect Matty's overly helpful and unwanted tendencies. both sexually and physically.

narrowly missing an oncoming dump truck. It was the best feature on my new car. the system far surpassed the previous model's. trying to get to I-95 ASAP. I was in a real fucking mess—the kind that required a hazmat team.and peeled out. so I tried texting while weaving my way through the city. I could finally think clearly. I needed rap in the worst way. Frustrated. State Farm wouldn't have been too fond of footing the bill for yet another car. and that didn't bode well for what he'd be capable of with superhuman strength and a whole mouthful of sharp teeth. Bose made a great system. Combined with the fact that you became what made you. Somebody had told me that the wolf amplified your human predilections. With Method Man barking about sawed-off shotguns. I was screwed. I flipped through the iPod until I landed on anything angry with a driving beat. My last second swerve saved me from a trip to the hospital and the new Audi from the scrapyard. Matty was straight-up fucked. I threw the phone into the passenger seat and cranked the stereo. If Cooper couldn't shed some light on how to better deal with what was happening to Matty. His phone went to voicemail. He'd killed as a human. And I was fucked too. With the bass on full. but the new one was primo for sure. .

allowing my feet to dangle just beneath the water's surface. “Ruby. As I yanked on the door. I was more cautious with the apartment door. I came to a screeching halt as I reached the very end of the wooden plank. The docks provided the perfect environment for that. He had finally put his foot down. I ran square into him as he emerged from his bedroom. I sat on the edge of the dock and removed my boots. “I thought—” “My fault.. there was little to no traffic there. “I'll go. My heart pounded. sounding mournful and placating. he wasn't going to allow things to go on as they had been. It can wait.” Turning on my heels. and hard―right on top of mine. the one who led men on. then I threw it open. “Fucking door lock!” I said to myself. Seeing Cooper with that girl had me riled up. During the weeknights. Thoroughly disgusted with myself. I looked around and saw him nowhere. I needed to get air quickly for the second time that evening.company. I ran back out the door as fast as I could. blurring the lines between friendship and more. just to fulfill my own needs. and think. shouting his name. teetering slightly.” I said. He'd been serious. I kept running. when he had turned to narcotics to cope with life. the deadbolt relented and I sprinted up to the second floor.. Taking off down the hall. “Ruby. “Cooper!” I shouted. I didn't know you had. and not solely from the run. It allowed me privacy so I could just stare blankly out into the sea and let the darkness settle in around me. I needed to sit. what the—” “It's Matty. fumbling through my stash of keys for the right one. Her black hair whipped around his side and her chocolate brown eyes followed. I jarred my arm and nearly fell on my ass. weaving my way through the streets down to the docks. Her eyes weren't especially friendly. My pale . Had he done it intentionally just to hurt me? To make his point? To force my hand? His bizarre behavior smacked of months earlier. I darted for the entrance. and it was late. her face peeking out from behind him. backing away from him. She stared at me. He's—” I cut off my own words when I saw a body move in behind Cooper. I prayed he wasn't using again.12 Practically launching myself out of the car after parking it in front of my house. and be alone. Finally. Once outside. tugging it gingerly until it gave way. I realized that I was becoming “that girl”. barging into the living room.” he said. When I slowed my brain down to process the whole mess.

skin shone with the light of the moon above, contrasted by the black abyss below. I leaned forward to see my skewed reflection looking back at me. It didn't show what I was feeling, but it didn't need to. My jealousy was plain. Cooper had been mine since I met him. It had been him and me against every obstacle ever thrown our way. He died for me once, and risked his life just being a party to me several other times. He never abandoned me, no matter the circumstances, the risks, or the certainty of death. He was the constant I'd never had in my life. Ever. Was I jealous because I actually wanted to be with him, or because I didn't want him to be without me? I knew the answer, but was loathe to admit it, fearing that I'd lose Cooper in the process. Unfortunately, that was out of my control, and I needed to wrap my head around the possibility that ‘just being friends’ may not be enough for him now, or ever. Having somewhat resolved that problem, the universe—abhorring a vacuum— decided to give me a new dilemma. I felt the brush of something light against my feet; I assumed they were making the fish curious. Leaning forward, I tried to see them, but it was still too dark. I bent forward further and further, until my chest was resting in my lap. Not wanting to take an unplanned dip, I gripped onto the lip of the dock for balance as I peered down into the water below. A flash of something long and pale emerged from the darkness. It played with me, showing itself remotely, only to then withdraw into the murkiness below just before I could determine what it was. A knot in my stomach formed, leaving me with an uneasiness that I couldn't escape. I tried to dismiss it, thinking it was all due to my fight with Cooper and the crazy warnings of Gavin, the elderly superhero, but it was too familiar to ignore. I looked down at the dark water around me, and, like a child with a monster under her bed, I ached to pull my feet up to safer ground. I chided myself as I started to remove my right foot first, thinking my imagination was getting the best of me. That foot never made it to safety. Before it withdrew completely, an arm lurched forward from the black depths below me—and I froze. He uncurled his fingers in slow motion, reaching up towards his love. He gripped her limp ankle fiercely, yanking her off her perch above. She collapsed into the water and sank like an ethereal ragdoll. Her seemingly lifeless arms and legs floated upward, a silent plea for help from above as her body plunged deeper. His ghostly figure cradled her in his arms as he drifted under the cover of the dock. In the shallows, he smiled as he approached the provisions he had placed there for the evening. He knew the time would eventually come; his devilish grin said so. The irons themselves were heavy; the concrete blocks only further assurance that his sea-floor-flower would not escape. He caressed her legs lightly as he shackled them, tethering her to the deadly weight. He secured them before allowing her languid body to float up for breath. He didn't want her dead. Not yet. “You made me do this, my love,” he whispered in her ear. “You chose poorly.” He stroked her hair that splayed wildly around her, weightless in the water. “But I don't want you to worry; you won't be here alone.” He collected the chains and concrete weights first, then grabbed her around

the waist, pulling her under yet again. He swam with ease out to far deeper waters, dragging her unconscious body with him, until he was satisfied with their position. Above water for one last breath, he pulled her face gently to his. A wicked smile crossed it before he kissed his love for the first and only time. Then he let her go. His heart raced furiously, his body aroused as he watched her deathly pale skin disappear, swallowed by the inkiness below. He had won. His smile was still in place when he too disappeared.

13 I sunk like a concrete slab. With two of them shackled to my ankles, it made perfect sense. The moonlight was swallowed up quickly by the depths of the sea engulfing me as I plummeted towards the bottom. I'd never learned how to swim as a child, not that it would have mattered much thanks to my ankle jewelry, but I would have felt more prepared—like I had a fighting chance. Apparently, all I was prepared for was drowning. As my panic grew, Scarlet surged to the helm, flailing and gasping for breath, only to inundate our lungs with salty water. She ripped off the cuffs around our ankles, freeing us from our watery grave. I waited for her to swim us up to safety. And waited. And waited. It appeared that even Scarlet had an Achilles heel. Do something! I blasted her consciousness with demands and pleas to get us out of there, but they were in vain. Scarlet couldn't swim either. Water was the great equalizer between us. A different darkness started to overcome us, a more familiar one that I'd encountered once before. I didn't want it again. I felt the last grips of panic take over just before the calm set in. Right as I was about to surrender to it, my arm, which seemed to be levitating to the right of me, brushed something. That something grabbed hold. Soon thereafter, I found myself on the dock coughing and hacking the water from my lungs in a desperate attempt to refill them with air. I rolled over to see the feet of that something that had grabbed me. Startled, I jerked backwards and fell back into the water. Two arms thrust into the bay after me, fishing me out once again. As I emerged from the murky sea, I saw the face of the one who saved me. I had never seen it before. His shortly cropped golden hair had the slightest cast of red to it. His skin was pale and freckled lightly over his naked chest and arms. The young man smiled at me curiously as I took him in. Though I didn't know him, there was something so oddly familiar about him that I stared shamelessly, trying to put my finger on it. When that got me nowhere, I tried to focus on his energy. As if he could sense me dialing into his frequency, he smiled so intensely that it went all the way to his eyes. Even in the moonlight, they had a certain sparkle to them, and that I recognized immediately.

” “Is that what you'd call that?” he asked casually.I don't. You didn’t heed my warning so well the first time and that nearly cost you your life. Maybe you’ll . As my panic rose for the eightieth time that night. “She's soaked to the bone and it's getting chilly.” a woman's thready voice called out over his shoulder. “I told ya that this was no place for a girl like you to go alone. The only light illuminating the vessel was a single halogen lamp standing next to the built-in couch. The slight strain in his voice broke weakly through his smiley façade. Ruby. “I know who you are.” he reminded me.. and one for Gavin. Ginger.” My heart stopped suddenly before begrudgingly starting up again at a pace far faster than my stationary position warranted. “Maybe next time you'll trust an old codger like me. suddenly curious about exactly what he meant. “That sounds good to me.” “Gavin?” I asked. jumping right into the thick of things.” I said. her light gray hair pulled back to expose an elderly but beautiful face. looking over at her adoringly..” he said with intense eyes pinned on me. I took a breath to ground myself—and an extra breath to do the same to Scarlet. With my eyes closed. “You’d be wise to follow my advice and stay away from Sean. have you?” I asked.” I concurred. Expecting to be met with a darkened aura. “Where do you think I should start.” “I believe you're right as always.” I scoffed. “I’ve been keeping an eye on the company you keep as well.The jig was up. frail body faced his.” he started. “I've been keeping an eye on you. reaching his hand out to help me up from dock that I was once again sprawled across.” he replied.” she said.. She returned with two brightly colored and extremely fluffy towels—one for me. he was concerned. please. dumbfounded by what I was witnessing. feeling for his energy. Best to take this conversation indoors. She didn’t seem as convinced about Gavin’s intent. “I think I'm all set with swimming today. “I.” “Oh. Ginger motioned for me to have a seat before scurrying as quickly as she could to the back of the boat. but to try to understand how he was doing what he was doing. “I’m sure you have. Her petite. Ruby. “The obvious is always a good place. giving him the once-over too.” I laughed nervously at his observation while I scooped up my boots. Ginger?” Gavin asked. dear. coughing up more water. It wasn't to soak him in sexually. then followed them into their modest houseboat.” “No problem.. “Come on inside. I was stunned when all I felt was calm and safety. And try not to fall in the water when you step onto the boat. I reached out.how is this possible?” “I think we ought to have her come inside. giving him the once-over with a tiny grin. “I feel like I've heard this one before. “Looked more like drowning to me. not entirely sure I liked where he was headed.

my voice laden with disbelief. young lady.” he said with a strange intensity. When he gets something in his head that he wants. “How could you sit back and let them die? Put this whole town at risk?” I yelled.do better the second time around and spare you a repeat performance. “And if you knew anything about him at all. Gavin said nothing.” I countered.. “That one is his father's son for certain.” I muttered without thinking.“You're an RB.you know him too?” I cried. my dear. Who was this mysterious man who knew so much about me? And better yet. I sat as I was told and stared at that stunning man who wasn’t at all what he appeared to be. For a moment. Not until that day. pinning me to my station with his eyes. . “If you’ve been stalking me all this time. “I haven't seen Ares in centuries.” I wanted to leave. did you know about Gregory? The psychotic Alpha who nearly gutted me alive?” I asked.. There's no way around that.” he said. “Did you leave me to my fate with him too?” His pale skin flared red. A pain through my stomach reminded me of something else he may have known. he's dangerous. and it snapped me upright in my chair. blood burning my cheeks as my anger quickly built. I didn't bother to pick it up. you'd know that I was right. which was a gift that had never abandoned me. snapping upright in my seat so fast that my towel fell to the floor.” He shifted his weight forward in his seat. “That he's been killing all those women?” Nothing. mirroring his gaze. I wasn't planning on staying long.” “And if you knew anything about him at all.” I snarled. “Hasn't been one of your kind breathing for a long. Ruby. “I wouldn't count on that one. but the damage was done. but his face told me all I needed to know. Gavin knew he had the upper hand. You'd be wise to remember that. you would know that.” he said. All I wanted to do was run. though you seem to conveniently ignore it. long time. eyes narrowing on him like a predator. how could he know what I was? “I think you’d best stay sitting in that seat and hear me out. a curl starting at the corner of his mouth. His temper was rising.” “I'd like to not see him for that long. Despite what he's led you to believe. he will have it come hell or high water. I tried to reinstate it quickly. but seemed utterly unable to do it. I think you know the reason why all too well. I couldn’t say a word―not even to argue.” “I'd be wise to do a lot of things. “Did you know what he was doing?” I asked. angling himself toward me in an intimidating way.” I know that whatever game face I'd put on dropped at the mention of Sean's name. “Might I suggest you add avoiding the Rev to that list?” “Wait a minute. “You seem to draw quite a crowd.” “He is not his father's son.

eying me . “I'm a werewolf.” he started. but I'll give you the gist of it.” “Gifts? Like morphing into an old man? I’d say that’s a little more than a gift. Ruby. so don't freak out about that. there are legends…tales of the one who can walk in many forms—many faces. lass.” he said. his face tight with anger.gifts. as it were. and I'm halfway there now. a slight lilt affecting his speech. remained very much the same. folding his frame into the chair smoothly. his eyes still furious.” “Are you talking or listening?” he asked. but there would be reasons for that that you wouldn't comprehend.” I made my way to the door.” I said with barely bridled anger.” he explained. It seemed she too wanted answers more than a fight―for once.. Standing by and doing nothing makes you complicit. No matter how much Gavin knew. or thought he knew. I also seem to have some different.. He is known as the Chameleon. same as you. He'll tell you what you need to know. he wasn't prepared to deal with her. His youthful appearance. “but as for the Rev. She was not enjoying our little conversation any more than I was. Ginger whispered softly in his ear.” I snapped. we’ll say I’m a special case. the desire to do so was only fueled by Scarlet's growls echoing resoundingly in my head. addressing both of them with that single word. My petulance was scoring me no points with the enigmatic man. as did his American accent.?” “Please. however. wanting to get out of there before tempers escalated any higher. “Ruby. Gavin's pallor returned quickly thereafter. I knew nothing of him. not mine. but I was infected—not born.” Ginger said with a sympathetic smile. “I don't blame you for what's happened to me. and Scarlet made an appearance. so don't be blaming me for whatever he's done to ya. “not tonight. I don't care about whatever reasons you had..” Ginger said softly from behind her husband..” “Meaning?” “Amongst our kind. you and I.“Aye. Nobody was.” “I fail to see how anything could keep him from helping those women. “please let him explain some things before you leave. He got what he had coming to him―in a big way.” I growled. It sometimes makes his actions or inactions hard to comprehend. “We’re anomalies of sorts. Gavin is complicated.. you'll have to live with yourself for the next millennia or so. That blood is on your hands.. “I'm not going to go into all the fine details. “And as for the other man. “And how do you know all this stuff anyway? About me? Sean? The Rev. but kept her commentary to a minimum. Scarlet was displeased. Might I suggest that he get to the point soon? He doesn't want me to get testy. I knew about the Rev and did nothing.” He sat down slowly across from me. calming him.” Conceding to her request. I'm. You're an RB. I don't care for this one.well. “Fine. “Sit. I returned to my seat.” I wanted to punch him in his face.

” “And that's why you can change your appearance?” “Yes. I was in too deep. seeing my obvious conclusion. The pain and suffering he would endure was beyond my comprehension. “Don't look so sad. Ruby. “You're human. he came to take me from my father's farm. “And how I’ve known him for decades.” I didn't know this man. it was years later—and too late. having easily read my emotions.tightly. “He said it was far too dangerous. We haven't been apart since that day. trying to figure something out.” she said.” he started. My hair bristled at the thought. and I’ve been doing that for longer than you could fathom to stay alive. “So why masquerade as an old guy?” He looked back over his shoulder at Ginger and I nearly smacked myself in the head. more statement than question as I looked over at a teary Ginger. even in those times. “I am he. we kept our love a secret for over a year.” Ginger said softly from a darkened corner of the room. I have the ability to blend in—go unnoticed. it was thick enough that it wouldn't have hurt. but I knew.” I said.” I looked at him curiously before asking my next question. or trust him entirely for that matter. “So this is the real you?” “Yes.” He reached over gently and took her hand.” she whispered. wrapping his young. “I was barely eighteen years old. The love I felt emanating from him nearly bowled me over. By the time he trusted me enough to tell me what he was. and the thought of it knotted my stomach.” Gavin got up and went to her.” I said.” “How do I know that?” “This is his true appearance. “whose abilities stem from his human training in the CIA getting amped up by his Change. He promised me the world. he clearly wasn't entirely selfish. but there was something comforting in knowing that he had the good sense not to try and infect her. One night. muscular arms around her weathered frame. “I was only sixteen when we met―a scandalous age.” she offered shyly. We escaped together and have been inseparable since. thinking of the one who had just tried to drown me. “Anyway. Though enigmatic and self-serving. “I am. mine were an aftereffect.” She extended her hand to me to cement the formal introduction. dear. and I believed him.” “Sounds a little like someone else I know. “I've . gazing into his eyes. kissing it delicately before wrapping it in his. That love was peppered with a pain that I could only imagine. accompanying the knowledge that she would one day be gone and he would mourn her for centuries. I knew I couldn't be without him. “And his wife.” I cocked my head to the side slightly. Ginger wasn't afraid to skirt the rules to get what she wanted in the name of love. “He wouldn't try to Change me. “Unlike the Rev.” she said with a twinkle in her eye. “I fell in love with him when I was young.” Ginger said.

I hoped he would be as on board with my plan as I was. was nearly enough to deter my mission. You can deny it.” “Thank you. I have to see someone. He's still out there. Knowing that the Rev was still out there. “I'll be fine.” I whispered. virtually empty by that point. “I didn't kill him. but friendly. but I really have to go. with the exception of a few other stragglers who got caught in the storm. seeking shelter.” “Be careful. but you can't escape it. but I wouldn't let fear drive my actions. but it seemed like miles.” he shouted after me. and it deserved my gratitude.. barely catching my arm before I was through the exit. Saving you was. If it's meant to be. Forgetting was.” I said. The sky that had been threatening to rain all day opened wide and poured down violently on Portsmouth. Ruby.” “Shit. “And you're welcome here anytime.. staring blankly at the door before running toward it. startling the couple in front of me.” Fire shot down my spine and I jumped up from my seat.” he replied with a nod. I prayed a silent prayer in my mind that I was right.” he started. grasp. I dodged through the streets. trying to elegantly free my arm from his firm. furrowing his brow slightly.” I said. smacks you upside the head. Not fear of the unknown. giving Gavin's hand a squeeze. looming over the city. “For any reason.” “It doesn't seem fair. Not fear of the Rev. “There's something I have to do. Not fear of Gavin’s warnings. “You're welcome. There were things I needed to say—things he needed to hear—and all were long overdue. “Ruby.” Ginger added. From that night forward. taking forever to get there. and takes you prisoner. It was only a few blocks. “I'm sorry. realizing that in all that had happened that night―all the mystery and unanswered questions―he had saved my life.” “Oh. “Where did he go?” “I don't know.” “Remember what I’ve told you. his voice echoing off the buildings I ran towards.. consequences be damned. turning to leave. and I am his. before breaking into a sprint toward town. Remembering wasn’t the issue. . following behind me down the dock. “Love rarely is.” Gavin warned. I wouldn't change a thing. “Thank you.” he said. I would choose my path and not look back. his expression rather pained. True love comes to you when you least expect it. “If you hadn't left your boots on the dock. it will be.” Gavin shouted after me. That said something about him and his interests.” she added. “He is mine. “I have to go.” I whispered. “He wasn't my top priority at the time.had an amazing life with him.” I called over my shoulder. Ruby.” I said.” I muttered.

thinking maybe distraction could prove helpful. Fate stepped in on my cowardly behalf. not really. That was the question I wanted so desperately to answer and run from all at the same time. I was totally busted. “Yeah. Maybe it was change I feared. about to round the corner to the next flight of stairs when Sean called out after me.” I started.” I fumbled. It may have bred tension and animosity. now would you shut up for a second and listen?” I yelled. “Did he hurt you?” “Yes. lay-it-all-out-on-the-line vulnerability. assessing my state. Maybe that wasn't the best presentation for professing your love to someone. The universe really did hate me. I looked up to face him. I could not. his voice filled with concern. If I had run. No…no. “Nowhere. I'm sure you weren't certain of that. then climbed my way back up to the landing I'd just fled. That realization brought pause to the execution of my plan. and I subconsciously took a step backwards away from the door. still averting his gaze. That was more than I could do. shivering. “He tried to drown me. true. Vulnerability. eyebrow raised. I know. But that's not why I'm here. I was halfway down the stairs when I heard the latch on the apartment door click and the knob squeak as it turned. and hopelessly disheveled. “I didn't want to bother you.” “Then why are you here?” he asked. naked. he’d have only chased me down. Near-death experiences brought about intense emotions. where are you going?” With my back toward him. which was a very attractive combination of soaking wet.” “That's not the point? Really?” “No. I picked up speed quietly. but those things were familiar. offering a shy smile. I was terribly anxious and already second-guessing myself.” I said. “Something happened tonight.” I said softly. I looked down at myself.” he said. “That's not the point. He didn't really need to know how I felt—the status quo wasn't such a horrible option.” . “Ruby. “He nearly succeeded. consisting of a quiet retreat down the stairs and me forgetting that any of it had ever happened. I could deal with them. rational actions. A new plan flashed through my mind.” “Considering you made no attempt to check and see.” “That didn't look like 'nowhere' to me. not all of which were attached to well-thought-out. I cringed to myself. but either way. “The Rev—” “What about him? What did he do?” he asked.” “I wasn't sure you were home. fumbling for a way out of the situation. Lack of selfconfidence crept in. before snapping my eyes down to the floor.Hovering outside his door. There was nothing to do but turn back. Not the real. sounding mildly confused. It looked a lot more like leaving.

My life may prove to be too short to spend my time being frightened of the fallout. then let's start being. A man who lives by the dock jumped in and saved me. “I nearly died tonight. and how you can't escape it. still avoiding eye contact.“Nearly succeeded?” “That's what I said. but I was hellbent on telling him anyway. “I came here tonight because at the most unlikely time. I sighed aloud in preparation for the emotional leap I was about to take. “I'm so glad that this is the one time the cat managed to get your tongue. Sean. His lack of response only fueled my uncertainty.” I sneaked a look at his face to see the tension in his eyebrow relax a bit. but I got pulled out. in the most unlikely place. He unfolded his arms from his chest.” I was two steps closer to leaving when I stopped myself. letting them hang beside him as he waited for me to continue. “Well. “She said 'he is mine.” Silence.” “Just how nearly successful was he?” he asked.. Still nothing. or would I stay and fight for it? Where would I draw my line in the sand? Would I box myself into a corner with it. so it's fine for now. and I'm sure as hell tired of being scared of it. “Very. Embarrassment set in and my blood pressure started to rise. My gaze faltered briefly under his scrutiny. “That you can deny it. “He and his wife invited me in after the whole ordeal. I believe in signs. his expression hopeful but controlled. and when that woman said 'he is mine'. “Oh. “Not this time. eyes searching my face for answers.” Absolutely nothing from him. it'll be. “What are you telling me?” he asked. That flash of submission told him everything he needed to know.” I rambled. I’m here because something she said struck a chord.” I whispered to myself. and there was a choice to be made. They were very sweet. but if it's to be.” I turned to see him looking rather shell-shocked on the landing. “She was going on and on about true love. . so for once you have nothing to say?” I asked. and the thought that plagued me most was that I'd never get to tell you how I really felt.” He stood motionless in the doorway.. as well as his posture. my nerves getting the best of me. I'm tired of denying it. rationalizing it. I realized that I don't want to live without you.” I added. If we are meant to be.” I explained. imprisoned by my own constraints? “No. I was on a precipice. and I am his'. Would I continue to avoid taking what I wanted in life out of fear.what I really wanted from you. fighting it. and that fueled my defense-driven anger. I looked up to see his damn eyebrow arching so intensely that I thought he might get a cramp in it.” I said. hostility in my tone. “It made me think of you. marching back up to go face to face with him. dammit.

I used them to leverage my weight against his. letting the tiniest of breaths escape. I scrambled for purchase anywhere on his body. and God help me. still fisted. He let me attack him for no reason so he could hear what he was longing to hear. still loose. and with that fucking nutcase. A sound escaped Sean and tore through the hallway. irritated—explosive. Good or bad. I probably always will. He. In an effort to contain myself. I jumped up and ran here in the cold. slowly exposing my neck. I pulled my arms into my chest. That I can't live with. My tunic was suddenly bunched up around my waist as I fumbled with his belt. One look was all it took. We crashed into each other so hard that my lips bled with that first kiss. I don't know why I was so angry. Unconsciously. He pressed me up against the metal rail. Instead. My boots remained on―they required too much effort to remove at the time. Once we crashed off of every vertical surface in the hallway.” I was shouting at him. my tights frayed quickly from the friction. My temperature spiked. before slowly lowering them to my sides. we managed to enter the flat relatively uninjured. As it peaked. Energy coursed between us. slowly coming to a crescendo of uncomfortable intensity. climbing him until my legs wrapped tightly around his waist.” At some point. letting my head loll back. I looked up to see forest green bleed through his emerald eyes. stood there stoic as always and took it. Using the door to push off of. I always have. My whole body was prickling with anger to prevent me from having to truly feel the vulnerability that my sentiments created. then immediately slammed me back against it. I realized that my poking had turned to punching during my profession of love. maybe it was the only way to get myself to man up and deal with the situation. I felt trapped in my body. They .something clicked inside me. My pulse raced. I was able to let go of him long enough to slide my hand down his naked chest into those pesky jeans that seemed crazy-glued to his ass. yanking it out before tossing it down the stairs. which actually came out more like an angry confession. My body welcomed the crash. I closed my eyes. Without a physical outlet. right or wrong—I need you. shaking the railing I leaned against so violently that my attention immediately snapped back to him. And I can't stand the thought of me dying and you never knowing that. his eyes flashed black and his mouth parted slightly. on the other hand. Sean. because you needed to hear this. pushing me with his hips and pulling me with his hands that were conveniently locked deep into my mop of curls. pushing back into him so hard. neither one willing to give an inch on their agenda in order to accomplish the task with any expedience. A fire was raging behind those eyes too. In our state of half-dressed foreplay. I was raw. in the rain. we struggled against each other while trying to get into the apartment. He shredded the rest of them with one violent rip. a fire raging. poking my finger in his chest. the Rev. He didn't say anything—didn't try to stop me. Scarlet growled in response as I fisted his collar in my hands and Hulk Hoganed his shirt apart. He let go of my ass just long enough to punch the door closed behind us. “I need you.

It was rough. eyes blacker than pitch. She fought against him. Not the only predator. I may not have gotten my wish. I crashed against the wall yet again. Once there. drawing one deep from Sean's chest in response. he nipped my chest. His hand reflexively cupped her throat. to his neck. Fear surged through me as panic tried to settle in. and filled with pure. He slid his hand up my leg slowly. pressing my body back into the wall with his. you die.” she said through a clenched jaw. The pressure of his body was fuel to the fire. His grip tightened. he murmured mine. reaching to get her lips to his ear. He leaned in close. Line in the sand. grinding against the door of his apartment. The pants that wouldn't let him out to play finally relented. As I leaned forward. The more sound I made. his grip on my throat lessened. staring as those crimson eyes met his. shaking my head for clarity. I scratched his back. Just as I managed to finally grab hold of him. suddenly gaining control. She howled loudly. “but if you hurt her.may have been undone. desperate. I screamed his name. rubbing his body against me while his hands were busy at work. the more he teased. but there was barely room for my hand in there. he was very happy to see me. but a close second instead. her cry echoing off the apartment walls. I gasped as his hand immediately returned. licking a line along his jaw until she reached her destination. “You can fuck her. I wrapped my mouth around it softly at first. He moaned in response. to stare her down. then I sucked on it—hard.” She simultaneously released his ear and relinquished control of my body. That single touch nearly sent me over the edge. Sean was breathing hard and bleeding heavily from his earlobe. He wasn't a werewolf. grinding her back into the wall.. but the look he gave me was pure predator. Sean froze momentarily. raw. Scarlet pressed forward hard. I broke out in a sweat—more than I was already—so I closed my eyes and tried to calm my breathing. he broke out the big guns. and he smiled wickedly with that knowledge. She let out a low warning growl as their faces met. . unadulterated need. Her hand was still very busy in his pants. He snatched it off in one brutal tug. and all the way up to his ear. I ducked my head as low as possible and licked the trail of blood running down his chest. allowing me some leeway. and in seconds we were one. then sunk her teeth deep into his earlobe. My eyes snapped open to see those inky black ones piercing me. grabbing the first piece of fabric he reached. my thin cotton barrier AWOL. I wanted those damn pants off. throwing what had once been my underwear in the direction of the couch. he wasn't the only one with a dark side.. Just when I thought I couldn't take anymore. I narrowed mine in response. my head snapped back and Scarlet broke through.

The faintest glow of moonlight broke through the darkness when we finally laid down together in his room. Over one year's worth of sexual tension was broken by that first encounter against his apartment wall. and I was pretty certain that I didn't look much better. the shower. “You're a curious little creature. rubbing his face gently. noncommittal answers regarding every aspect of your centuries-old life. It took an extra moment to fully take in what he'd said to me before I sprang back up to look at him. he obliged me well. “You'll tell me later?” His smile widened. I put my head back down against the warmth of his body and fell asleep instantly. It was then that I realized Sean had far more depth than I had ever imagined. Where Cooper had always felt like home. pulling me down to kiss me. I curled up into him so tightly that sweat started to form from the heat our proximity created.” Satisfied with my win. bottles fell from the counter.” I replied. “Why do you want to know so badly?” “Probably because you've tortured me for months with your evasive. the counter. It was a carefree feeling that I would never in a million years have attached to him. a side I'd never seen. the couch. Sean felt like heaven. His apartment looked like a grenade hit it. I didn't care. stroking my hair gently. Dishes crashed to the ground. The reprieve didn't last long. nearly breaking his nose in the process. “You promise?” “What?” he asked. he yanked mine back. it felt amazing. “Later. burying my face and my embarrassment in his chest.” “Fine. “I've never met anyone or anything like you. then finally the bed. but not until you sleep. “You need sleep.” I was startled and confused. the counter.” “Oh. Ruby. a tiny smile curling the corner of his mouth.” he said. the floor shook from the intensity of it. It was time to take a dive. the counter.” he said. I begged for more.I grabbed his hair.” I said in surrender. “But don't you dare try to weasel your way outta this one. “It was cute.” he said. which means you'll be horribly grumpy all day if you don't. Had he read my mind? “How did you—” “You were mumbling as you drifted off. completely oblivious. You're deliriously tired. . Sean made me feel light and ethereal. kissing the nose I nearly broke. I'll tell you what you want to know. I'd only waded in the shallows up until then. Cooper made me feel solid and grounded. You will not pull a 'Sean' on me this time. and we collapsed to the floor amidst the debris. And I have plans for us. twisting the ends between his fingers as he reached them. There were multiple repeat performances that night: on the floor.” His chest rumbled beneath me with laughter. When we came together.

and I was concerned that we'd tipped the scales a wee bit too far in that direction. but sex didn't make a relationship. “I'm just. I looked around his sparse bedroom for what was left of the outfit I'd had on the previous night. He looked younger. I was still wearing my tunic and I found my boots relatively easily. but it took a while to track down my bra that was dangling off the corner of the upper kitchen cabinets.” he replied. Easing off the bed to start the scavenger hunt for my clothes. Apparently. Sean had managed to stay asleep. and I wasn't so certain that the evening’s events had accomplished what I'd hoped they would. Sean. wavy lock of his hair had gone astray and I played with it.” “I have to go. “No. I didn't make it far. As I started to walk away. but as soon as we touched we ignited. they had a date with the trash. With a smile on my face. A dark. my blood rushed with the contact. It brought out the slightest chuckle from him. sometimes for worse. trying to be conscious of how much noise I was making. I put what was left of my clothes on quietly and tiptoed back to his room to find him still sacked out in bed. I was sure that he knew how I felt about him. I’d worn him out. I've wanted this for so long that—” “Then why leave?” he interrupted. Perhaps I've underestimated you yet again. Until that moment. Ruby. I fumbled around his dimly lit room.” I whispered. Sean and I had just had a crash course in relationship upgrading. to say the least. the scant light playing up his chiseled features. Not necessarily because he hadn't wanted me to. but more likely because timing never allowed it. He looked vulnerable―peaceful. I looked at him lying peacefully in the bed. “You have to stay. I still didn't know why that happened. I never took you for that kind of girl. trying to delicately pull away from his hold.*** I shot out of bed not long after. he caught my wrist. pushing up off the bed. why he and I were like gasoline and a lit match.” I tried to look him in the eyes. I wasn't even positive sure that he slept at all. I needed to leave.. but his chest and abs were just too distracting. He looked human. Sometimes for better. I smoothed down his hair before standing and turned to leave the room.” I started in an attempt to explain my feelings. I liked it immensely. I walked over to the bed and bent down beside him. Leaning over to give him a whisper of a kiss in the center of his forehead. thinking about how I'd never seen this side of Sean—the soft side. “Love me and leave me?” Sean said. but seeing him like that made it so much more tolerable. like he had when we'd had our run-in at the club months ago—when life was simpler. My tights and underwear were a lost cause. smiling wide. .. Life may not have been simple anymore. Somehow during my spastic awakening.I'm just feeling a bit overwhelmed right now. “I feel so used. “It's a lot.

“Well. Easy or painful. I may have loved you.” “I thought that's what you did before you came here―sorted things out. I was going to have to work on watering that down when applying the new game plan. but I didn't get to have you. but..” “I thought you said you weren't afraid of that fallout last night?” “I'm pretty certain I was talking out of my ass at that point. but I didn't think much beyond the telling you part. “Exactly. I wanted to flee. And I did. Ruby? Why do you have to have the answers all the time?” “Isn't that the pot calling the kettle black?” I retorted. once again.not that thing. Sean. It was a lot.” he replied with a wicked grin. “What are you so afraid of?” he asked. I'm scared that if I truly get to have you on every level imaginable. “that's the whole problem. “I'm scared of more things than we have time to go over. Don't use humor to deflect the question. I needed to draw a line. looking down at his formidable bits. and I was going to try my hardest to stick to the new game plan. apparently. For the previous few months.” I joked. thinking that was more his problem than mine.” he said.” “So it would seem. There was no processing. Loving someone and actually getting to apply that love are two totally different things. standing up to join me—without anything on.” he countered. If something was bothering me. With my standard fight or flight response about to kick in under the stress.. And a lot of it was spent alone. Sean. Now I have to figure the rest out. with my typical edge of hostility. looking confused. What are you really afraid of?” I squirmed under his intensity.” “But you said yourself that you've loved me for a long time.“I just need some time alone to sort through things. that somehow the universe―which seems to delight in lifting me up only to throw me back down―will once again spank me down into a pile of shit. “But you're pulling a 'Ruby' on me right now. acknowledge. Sean. I'm scared of loving you. Like it or not. “Right now.” “Why don't you just let it figure itself out. a tiny frown developing. One thing I'd always had. only coping —denial being my favorite method. “That I think I'm good with. I had days to ruminate over it until I came to a logical and sensible conclusion. all I'd done was bounce back and forth through an emotional mine field. and accept them. I've been .” I replied. I wasn't used to having to process so many emotions so quickly. before I gained my sight. but then share them with the very person they mattered most to.” I started. I'd made a choice not to run anymore. Too much vulnerability in a short time period was not proving to be good for my blood pressure or my mental state. I was being asked to not only face my true feelings. was time. “I know.

” he whispered. He kept calling her 'his love'. “Jay? Jay. He'd said he wasn't going to leave me alone at the bottom of the sea.” He chucked the phone on the passenger floor.” I said trailing off. He asked no questions. It was still quite early. sensing that my outburst had little to do with our current conversation. Sean wound easily through town at speeds in excess of sixty miles per hour. I know it. “The Rev. but I knew that he was no match for the Rev alone.” “Fuck.” he protested. Besides. which was impressive for the narrow and wandering New Hampshire roads..” I said as we jumped into his BMW and took off in a flash. in his own twisted way. He was going back for someone. Peyta. “What?” he asked. Cooper.” I said..” “But he loves her. and I wasn't certain that the help of the other brothers there would tip the scales either. and. knowing that Sean still had no clue what had happened before I showed up at his place that evening. that way Jay would be with both of them. Ronnie. At least I hoped so. I'd forgotten all about the Rev's promise. The Rev was a force to be reckoned with. but it had edge and tone. and he sank her ass with concrete and iron anklets to the bottom of the ocean. my money was on Peyta. I hoped that energy would deliver on the promise. and it gave off a “fuck with me and you'll meet your end” energy that still gave me the shivers when I saw it. Not after the stand she took against him. staring up at him. so Peyta would still be at home. “But when he let me sink down to the bottom of the bay. but I could hear him throwing clothes on with lightning speed. that I wouldn't be alone. my heart . given that she had rejected him just as Scarlet had. He's after Peyta. It was as striking and beautiful as the one I'd just seen in his bed moments earlier.known to do that when angered. In my lustful epiphany. Sean. just followed me down the stairs as I mumbled hateful comments to myself. “What exactly did he say to you?” Sean asked. He was beside me by the time I got to the door. “Why would he kill her?” “He loves Scarlet too.. his business face taking over. now!” I was running for the door alone. I'd forgotten all about the psycho still loose—still after my friends. “It's complicated. I'd been so selfish. “I'll never forgive myself if something happens to them.” I snarled. “We have to go. Peyta. digging in his pocket for his phone. where are the girls?” Silence… Growling… “I'll be there in five. and he knows Peyta won't either. he told me not to worry. the fallout has more to do with those around us—the PC. “Fuck!” I screamed. He knew Scarlet wouldn't have him. “What's going on? Are they okay? What did Jay say?” I badgered. He'll kill Ronnie and he'll plant Peyta next to where I'm supposed to be.

This may change everything. judging by the vibes she was thrusting his way. He was caught up in a shitstorm of individuals ready and willing to go medieval on him. well…. Danger apparently did it for him too. She was his ticket out. “I’d like to spend my day doing something else.” she replied. our emotions on par. sweat dripped down my face and back. After the fourth ring and no answer. his teeth hovering over her neck. His silence continued until I couldn't take any more. his jaw clenched so tightly that the tendons and veins in his neck bulged violently. “Jay!” I yelled. “This is a surprise. but the absence of it was even more off-putting.” she purred. “I like my back against the wall.” “And?” “It's a lose/lose one. though putting on a good front. which was no small feat. Scarlet and I hated him equally. putting the phone back to my ear. the situation was of the hostage variety. He caught her double entendre with no trouble and his already dark eyes went black. We were only a block away. The exception was his daughter.” He roared while they flew up the driveway in seconds. was frightened too. crashing in the front door to a highly unexpected scene. “See you soon. “It's a hostage situation. “Let's take this fucker out quickly. I felt the transition this time—slow and deliberate.” she said as they jumped out of the car and ran to the house. my favorite kind. The Rev. Jay. centering around Peyta. I snatched his phone off of the floor and redialed the number. Ronnie. The Rev was virtually surrounded by PC boys on all sides. with whom he covered the front of his body. As my thumb grazed it. She growled so low and deep that the entire car’s interior shook.” The Rev howled and laughed creepier than all the villains I'd encountered combined. I'd mentally prepared myself to pull up to a bloody crime scene. well. I pulled the phone away slowly. When we pulled into the driveway. But as Sean had said. with no real means of escape. My panic had reached a fever pitch and my self-loathing kicked into high gear. a voice came through the receiver. The great room in the back of the house was filled with PC. hanging up the phone.sinking into my stomach with every second he said nothing. . everything appeared normal.” a horrifying voice replied. I wasn't sure if that was a good sign or a bad one. and a very pissed off and frightened Peyta.” She looked at him across the car with raw heat in her eyes. “SEAN! Tell me what's going on!” He looked over at me. Something was wrong and I knew it―felt it. “what's going on?” “Well.” “Mmmmm. My hair stood on end while my eyes bled to red. As I waited for Jay to answer. her voice tense and anger-filled. Danger made her extremely horny. “Are you going to tell me what's going on?” Scarlet asked. looking for the “end” key. the tears that were building spilled down my cheek.

A trade? You would trade yourself for Peyta?” “I would do what's necessary to get her away from you. “I'm a fighter.” she said. his teeth still grazing Peyta's neck. If you wish to honor me. As soon as he has you. we'll have to take her out.” he said. rattling the light fixture high above until it plummeted to the floor directly in front of the Rev. but he'll have gotten what he wanted. They had unfinished business. “If you're not going to let me finish this.” the Rev called to her. or I would be toast. “Ruby would like a word with you. “Now. . “Not a good time for what. you insult me. not a swimmer. “What's the lose/lose.” “My love. Sean and the PC seemed to be far more wary of the standoff than she.” Let me out! “It's not a good time for that. love?” he said.” Scarlet whispered. I showed you such reverence.Scarlet's surge of déjà vu tore a howl from deep within. still restrained by those around her. Did I not honor you just last night?” he said.” I have an idea.” Ronnie cried. If it didn't. lowering her head. his gaze affixed on the Rev as well. I had a scheme that was just crazy enough to potentially work. He won't keep his word. I see. “An honor which you have rejected.. and letting her Change is not an option.. then either the stalemate would stand. If it did. She lunged towards him only to be caught by multiple hands. and yet you still love me not. Scarlet sighed for dramatic effect or out of annoyance. Sean?” she growled. yes. Hence the lose/lose. his wicked eyes flaring. “We have to let him go with Ronnie or he'll bite Peyta. Scarlet looked over to Ronnie whose tear-stained face was barely visible amid the bodies of men that held her back.” “But how could I trust you. jerking her head towards the Rev. “If she's bitten. I didn't care either way. “Let me go!” “No. Only two people in the room wouldn't hear her. you sound so angry with me. and she wanted to end it once and for all.” Scarlet barked. “He has no honor. love. There's no one to heal her as she healed Ronnie.” she purred. let the girl go and we'll end this for good. Just you and me.” “Interesting. then I highly suggest one of you get to it. now. Ronnie. Peyta would be safe and the Rev would be dead. “No. we lose one of them?” “Yes. It took nearly as many as it did to hold Scarlet.” “I don't do water. staring the Rev down across the room. pulling ever so slightly away from Peyta. “I said he can take me. grinding the word out. He may die. My patience for this one is wearing painfully thin. The attempt at privacy was completely in vain given her current company. love?” the Rev asked curiously. It was a battle cry. I think the terms of the bargain will stand as they are. he'll bite her anyway.” “So either way.” Sean replied.

. she relinquished control. or I will never trust you or your judgment again.“Do I even want to know?” she drawled.” You need to trust me. All eyes of the PC were on me: some stunned. and was hell-bent on showing the Rev that turnabout was fair play.” The hands that restrained me slowly let go. “but I have to do this. “You for Peyta?” he asked. meeting his devious eyes. Ruby.” He said nothing in response—he didn’t have to. but I didn't know if I could influence the conscious mind. signaling him to let me go too. Ruby. dropping one at a time—except for Sean's.” she muttered under her breath. “I love you. “Do not. but the pain on his face was an image I'd never forget. I knew my empathic powers had allowed me to speed Cooper's healing back in Utah. but when my internal roommate didn't.” It was never comforting when I knew those around me didn't have faith. If not. face still hovering over her neck. “Let her speak. leaving me to make good on my word. It was a big limb I was going out on. I had no idea how it worked.. before letting out a growl to let me know exactly what she thought of me and my idea. . staring him down. others confused. “I'm not inclined to let her do so. and I had no idea how I'd done it. My ace in the hole was the connection that Scarlet and I already had with him. I just need to get some space between Peyta and the Rev. making me realize that I was an irritation to her in that moment. and I knew if my plan failed. but I had my own reservations with the plan.” “That's what I'm afraid of. I prayed I could. during a glitch in our escape plan. clearly feeling a little left out. Begrudgingly. There's no other way. “I think not.” barked the Rev. I'd only once influenced another werewolf. and I desperately hoped that it could hold me. his grief would be unbearable. “Let her go and you can have me.” she whispered low and warning. was looking at me with a deep curiosity. but I was betting my life that it had something to do with my gifts.” I whispered to him as I walked slowly towards the Rev.” I propositioned. the situation was going to get a whole lot more complicated in a hurry.” Scarlet replied. “Perhaps she has something helpful to add to this situation. it was especially disheartening. You just couldn't win with some people. a few still hateful. She was too focused on killing the Rev to enjoy my interjections. however. and I squeezed his hand gently. “let me down in this. His actions only hours ago said everything there was to say. then you can shoot to the forefront and kill him before he ever catches onto my plan. The Rev. I imagined he was trying to figure out what angle I was playing—how I was going to trick him. “What about a trade for me? Me for Peyta. I turned to see a flash of emerald in those raven eyes. He was a private man and would not have shared his sentiments in that venue. He was right to be concerned. If I can manage that.

“Perhaps it does. of course. a look of consternation taking over his face.” he said. he completely raised his head and stood upright. “I believe we do. Not if it went well. “What about them?” he asked. You're expendable.” “And what do you think that is?” “Scarlet. and I want Peyta and Ronnie safe at any cost.” Sean boomed over my shoulder.” I ordered. “Anyone harms her and they die.” “How?” he asked. “They won't let us leave. But she never got the chance. Scarlet paced wildly inside me.” “Not a chance. The safe side. Doesn't that seem fair?” I asked. . I closed my eyes just as Scarlet surged to take over. He was coming over to my side. The boys saw it too. Everything was coming together perfectly. Rev. sprinkling the obvious into my offer to make him suspect my motives less. I run the show. “You want a mate. “Isn't it?” I asked.” I offered. throwing every ounce of agreeable energy I could his way.” I watched as his grip on Peyta lessened ever so slightly. and I wanted Peyta on the other side of me. She would finally get to end it all. They'll kill you to get to me. don't you?” I asked.” “Then let her go. “Like I said. but I reminded myself that wasn't going to be the outcome of my stunt.” he said. She eventually gets on board with whatever it is I want. radiating sex and power until his face flushed with the rush of it. baiting him. licking his parted lips ever so slightly. sashaying towards him. eying the PC.” “Interesting. “Scarlet? Better think again. “It means I'm the only one that can give you what you want. It scared the shit out of me.” “I tend to get my way. That includes you. I was only a step or two away from him. His hands shook with the possibility of Scarlet's power being tied to him. It's a fair trade. thrusting my authority at him.” He was visibly torn.” he purred. But it's not you that I want. “Scarlet and I are trapped in the same body. anyway. For the first time since we'd arrived at the house. I was determined to sweet talk my way out of there come hell or high water. “You know what that means. while Peyta stumbled a few steps to get beyond me. but I needed to sweeten the pot further. I want them alive. “You seem to have quite a way of charming the men around you.“Yes.” I replied coyly. “Do we have a deal?” “Yes. pulling away from Peyta. loosening his grip on Peyta. but who do you think is in charge?” I asked.

There was a snarling in the background that finally got his attention. One man dared to approach. and I struggled to avoid being trampled in the melee. It punctured my back right through the spine before I rolled off of it onto the floor. threatening to rip it off if anyone came near him.” “NO!” I screamed as I scrambled to get out of his iron grip. Improvisation was his new game plan. The pallor of her skin and the shaking of her hands finally alerted me to the severity of the situation. but it came out garbled and wet sounding. “You are mine forever. and brought his mouth to her throat.” . I was apparently in bad shape.” I tried to say. yanking her towards him as she fell to the ground. Her complacency would now bind her to him forever. just as I faded from the vision that held me captive. He smiled with self-satisfaction. she'd never even known he'd taken it that first night he'd come to her. surrounding the tissue that housed her left carotid artery. The PC was in a frenzy. He cradled her head in his lap. He knew that without leverage he didn't stand a chance. a pain shot through my head. His hand emerged with something small from his pocket. He would enjoy tormenting that one. screaming his love's name. I'd seen Sean lunge for the Rev. she dies. “Ruby. That's what happens when you're choking on your own blood. If you follow us. He snatched her hand. “She is mine now.” he told the bold man. throwing me aside.14 Just as she was about to come out and play. he was on us. securing the ring. “You will let us leave or she dies. where I lay helpless until Ronnie pulled me out of harm's way. A familiar set of hands dragged me out from the mob and pulled me to safety. I promise.” He enveloped her hand in his. My efforts were to no avail. He rummaged for something in his coat. big problem—that and the look on Ronnie's face. That should have been the first sign that there was a big. but wary. out of harm's way—or so he thought.” Peyta sniffled as she knelt beside me. I felt no pain. keeping a tight watch on the men that surrounded him―he was smug. In a fraction of a second. Arrogance permeated the air as he lifted her hand and slid the tiny platinum band onto it. “I'll fix it. “Ronnie. the glass pyramid-shaped adornment sitting on it. landing me on the coffee table and more specifically. Sean had violently thrown me from the Rev. and he smiled down at his palm as he admired it. and scooped her up into his arms before leaning into her ear and whispering.

The brother on the other side of him must have been a sucker for symmetry. I choked as I tried to yell for Sean. she forced herself to stand unsteadily. “It's not terribly impressive. It didn't move either. With further assistance.” Ronnie called. placing her hands on Scarlet.I tried to grab her hand to comfort her. directly across from the Rev. “Would letting you put a round of silver slugs into him buy all of us your continued silence in Underground matters?” he asked. I tried to turn my head to see her better. Scarlet emerged. “Jesus. “Sean will get what he wants one way or another. letting the arm dangle uncomfortably for a moment before snatching it up into what should have been an anatomically impossible position. Whether it was through Peyta's healing or her own. who found his way to my side instinctively only moments after. He must have been getting uppity. A shrill cry from the Rev snapped our collective attention back to him. able to speak a little. though fully capable of healing. “You know where to aim?” Sean asked respectfully. “It's not working.” she replied.” he said.” Peyta cried. calmly. My arm didn't move. She wiggled her fingers weakly.” she said. but I couldn't move to see it. “Will there be anything left intact to shoot?” Ronnie asked. He recreated the likeness on the right. “Take it. I couldn't get my ring off myself. Ronnie. “You have a deal. Scarlet was able to partially sit up with Peyta's aid and turn enough to face the crowd.” he comforted as he worked the ring off of my limp hand. business face in full effect. regarding her with distaste. “This is going to take a while. She was loading it with her “special” clip. popping the safety off her firearm. Sophie could heal her. I have a proposition for you. Neither Ronnie nor Peyta knew anything about its Scarletbinding powers. we totally sympathized. so one of the boys dislocated his left shoulder.” “Can you move at all?” Sean asked. “Ronnie.” she shouted from the hall before reentering the room carrying an all too familiar Glock. “Not my first time.” she replied flatly. or tell them to take it off. His body. It was all bravado. “Won't be the last. but didn't move.” she told her. The battle raged on the far side of the room. and right about then I needed her to come out and do some serious self-healing.” Her eyes narrowed . “keep trying. leaving the room.” Able to turn her head minutely.” “I'll try. but respect. Scarlet and I both could feel her unease with Sean staring her down. “What?” Ronnie asked with hostility.” Sean called. It was clear that the PC had some unresolved feelings to take out on him. “I'll be right back. I suggest taking the easiest path. Scarlet slowly swiveled to see the PC holding an extremely beaten Rev. “I can't heal her!” “It's okay.” she gagged.” “Peyta. You can too. right hand flexing. was covered in cuts and bruises. “Come with me. I knew what she was headed for.” Ronnie eyed Scarlet. “but we're on our way.

she heard Sean address the Rev one last time.” The two hobbled out. again. I felt her mixed feelings about what was about to happen.on Sean as he escorted her closer to the Rev. “Not yours. there was no sense in wasting good ammo.” he growled. She'd never known her father. eyes pinned on the man who was once her husband.” “Come on. Before exiting herself. and.” Scarlet said.” Scarlet closed the door to a symphony of blasts. “You don't need to see this. the small child within her longed to have her chance. Peyta supporting Scarlet's weight while tears ran down her cheeks.” Peyta didn't budge. “Take her outside. Scarlet nudging Peyta out first. “She is mine. Three to the chest and one to the head never sounded so good. her back facing her daughter. “Scarlet. urging Peyta towards the exit. “Peyta. “I need you to go outside.” Ronnie sighed.” she called. They managed to fumble the front door open. That longing started to override the knowledge that her father was a crazed killer. . Please. Never yours.

” I whispered back. “I haven't heard back from Cooper yet. Those eyes used to fall on Cooper way back when. the messenger. I spent the whole day crashed out in Peyta's room. enjoying how her face lit up the instant he touched her. sounding a little too breathy. It was hardly going to go unnoticed with fifteen to twenty foot high flames smoking up the neighborhood. Ronnie was nowhere to be found. It was unclear to me as to whether or not he was dead when they did all of that. By the time I came outside to join the morbid festivities. Luckily for us. However. She had been hunted for almost two decades. whispered in my ear. “I think it's time you go home. but they'd waited a long time to get their hands on him—I couldn't really blame them for their enthusiasm. but judging by the screams I heard while Scarlet was upstairs getting healed further by Peyta. I never did get all the details. The Rev's ashes were cooling and the coals had died out in the fire. then had themselves a bonfire in the backyard. I was worried that the cops would show up because we needed a permit to have a fire within Portsmouth city limits. My skin flushed instantly as every hair on my body stood at attention. I practically jumped out of my skin. Putting the Rev to rest was both a victory and a loss to her. and I audibly sighed when I watched him reach back and take her hand to escort her back into the house. She looked at him with familiar eyes as she shadowed him around the yard. “Okay. When Sean.15 It took a while for him to die. trying desperately to sleep off the stress and trauma of the day. the Nosy Nellie. so we didn't have to worry about any complaints from her. but if he gets my message. I'd have voted no. and Ronnie wasn't one to publicly do anything. It was macabre. I told him the Rev was dead. his breath tickling my ear. I felt a bit like a voyeur. he'll freak out for sure. They'd spent an entire day disposing of the ghost that had haunted us all. Drake. it was late evening. holed up somewhere in the house. having crept up on me easily as I watched the budding romance play out before me. I knew Jay shared her sentiments. She would ruminate over things on her own until she was ready to go out with a brave face. was most distressed by his encounter. Peyta didn't leave Jay's side from the time I emerged from the house till the moment I left. there was a lot for her to process. Apparently he had never been felt up by a cougar before.” . I should be around to explain things to him.” he said. Ronnie's one neighbor was in Spain for the month. was quite taken by the brother who was sent to smooth things over. The brothers had taken turns dismembering what was left of him down in the basement. and the other one.

I've never seen a Healer as gifted as you. smile still in place. Ruby would've died without your help today. I watched the two of them disappear into the house. before doing something that shocked us all.” Sean started. Sean caught me staring and laughed.“Not your home. She didn't say anything. running the back of his hand lightly down my spine. Jay stood dutifully behind her. *** . willful girl I'd met a year earlier had found her match in Jay. “My home. Peyta. having still not been officially relieved of his post. true to form. Peyta trailing Jay slightly. “He's a great kid. He held her as tears rolled down her cheeks. I thought I heard him snicker. “Jay. letting him lead her. just held me.” he countered. I had stuffed my emotions down for the time being.” she whispered. “You're welcome. “You do know that he's hundreds of years older than you. “Don't doubt your abilities. crushing me with her embrace.comforting. waiting for a better time to let them out. She jumped up and grabbed Sean. thankfully for me. “I want you to stay here with Peyta.” Jay nodded again. and. “It's a good match. towards the car.” He nodded. I was quite adept at it. I liked seeing Sean like that though. allowing her to take her place next to Jay.” His laugh boomed through the Beamer as he pulled out of the driveway. “I've always thought that.” he said.” As if lifted by strings.” “Indeed. Peyta ran out to meet us.. I looked at him over top of Peyta and smiled before I mouthed silently.he looks younger than me. Peyta released me abruptly. I didn't realize that.” “Oh. Peyta. but I should really thank you. The strong... Once in the car. “Thank you. my emotions were plastered across my grinning face.” he said. Avoidance of traumatic events had become key to my survival.. if I did at all. I think she'll find it. he was water to her fire. even though she couldn't see him. Their hands found each other instantly. I kissed the top of her head gently before wrapping my arms around her.” She smiled shyly as he lowered her to the ground. and I'm a visual girl. starting the motor.” “Kid?” he asked incredulously. or else.” I said in agreement. I wouldn't have gotten to her in time. He was extremely jovial considering the turn of events that had just occurred. without thought. I don't care about the details. I wouldn’t have wanted to ruin it with an epic meltdown. “Take care of her. a smile slowly stretching across his face. no doubt aware of what was going on. my body plucked itself from where I sat and marched me. He smiled. pulling her back a bit so he could look at her as he spoke. her tiny arms wrapping snugly around his neck. right?” “Can't help it.

” Sean said. Ruby.” I walked to him slowly.. I wouldn't have come to you last night if I didn't. “You don't need anything. and I owe it to him to make things right. no.. “He's my best friend. too late.. it would close a door on us.” I stood motionless. before the door could shut behind him. You are both who and what I want.” I whispered. I took his hand and gently pressed it to my face. like he's an extension of me somehow. Please. My frustration drove my ramblings.um. I don't know how to explain it so you'll understand. to the core of the issue. I needed my harmony back. my feet glued to the concrete beneath me. Fighting with Cooper always felt wrong. Sean.” He came to rejoin me in the alley. “No.not like that. You can't change that.” he replied.. He caught it with an outstretched arm and peered around it. I wanted to see Cooper. Sean. “Deep down. “I wish you would just say what it is that you really want. I can't do it. pausing slightly on the way. anger leaking into my voice. I needed some basics. afraid it was all too little. “If you need to go to him. It annoyed the shit out of me that he could do that without even trying.” I countered. Was it always going to be a choice between those two.“Maybe I should swing by my place and get a few things? Peyta's running out of emergency clothes for me at her place.. but it's not what you think. and my eyes involuntarily closed.” The skin of his hand was slightly rough under my chin as he reached under it to raise my face to his. For good.” I could see by his reaction that I was not making things better. “Please don't insult me.” I wasn't trying to start a war. “I only feel this with you.” If I was going to stay the night.” I suggested.. Shit. “I'll come right back. We're bonded. Illuminated only by the motion lights on the side of his . Sean. I was starting to feel bad about how things were left. getting out of the car... “That I want my toothbrush?” I said. These pants are doing unpleasant things to me at the moment.. trying to gloss it over with humor. Don't shut me out. “I love Cooper. quickly. My cheek warmed with his touch. looking at me over the car. but if I could stop running from things. then go. no. so could he. but if that love means I need to exclude others that I care about from my life. walking towards the entrance.it's too much. “Maybe you should stay. I need him. Sean. Even more than that. and even worse given the events that had followed in the twenty-four hours after.” Sean said.” “Maybe you should go. I’m not standing out here all night to watch you vacillate on the issue. his expression unreadable. It was like every cell in my body was vibrating out of tune with the others—discordant. “Stay here and fight for what you want. “I love you. Something in me knew that if that door closed behind him. retreating to the door. I've known from the beginning that you were the only one for me. even after a choice had been made? “I can't explain it—” I blurted out. and really needed to get out of the too-small sweatpants that were giving me a massive wedgie. I couldn't let him go back in.. Fighting with him makes life miserable.” His eyes pierced through my feeble excuse.

Ruby. knees weakened.” he whispered. When he released me from his grasp.” He kissed me then. It was like having my consciousness slowly drawn out of me. pulse slowed. Don't disappoint me. leaning down to my ear. My surroundings faded. They were mesmerizing.” he said softly.building.” . softer and more gently than he'd ever done in the past. “Go. “Better run. “I'll give you one hour. checking his watch. eyes as green as spring grass looked down at me. I had no concept of how long we'd been standing there. “You have fifty-two minutes left.

With all the necessary packing squared away. naked was always an option. I wanted to know its whereabouts. I made my way out and locked the apartment door behind me. I didn’t bother mentioning where I'd gone. Sean would have no qualms about that. . The ring that had nearly ruined everything that night. but. “I think I'm all set with you for a while. From a distance. Grabbing my things. I made my way to the living room and grabbed the notepad off of the fridge. While packing my clothes into a small duffel bag. I couldn't help thinking that they were much better suited for the type of woman that Sean would normally go for. Feeling a bit dejected and unsettled. and I hadn't really had cause to wear them up until that point. They'd been an impulse purchase a while back. I needed to shower when I got back and figured I could have the great underwear debate concluded by the time I finished. I caught a glimpse of my ring. I came across a pair of extremely sexy black panties buried deep in my lingerie drawer. After slicing my finger on two separate letter openers. making part of me want to dash down the road in the other direction. Apparently I hadn't noticed its absence up until that point. They weren't really me. we eyed each other. I successfully located it and affixed a strip to the top of the message.” I muttered. but said I'd check in with him tomorrow. Once outside. and left the note for Cooper. the house was empty. taping it to one of the upper kitchen cabinets. Cooper rounded the corner. staring the sheer. I jotted down the highlights of what I’d just been through. I rummaged through the junk drawer trying to find the tape roll that was normally at large somewhere in the apartment. If not. I went to collect a few necessary items for my overnight stay. I stared at it with disgust. I wasn't sure of the reception I was going to get. pulling it from my hand. No more running. It was quickly stashed away in my jewelry box so I'd know where it was. As I pushed the drawer shut. rather than my cotton boyshorts or run of the mill thongs.16 I realized quickly after arriving at my apartment that I wasn't going to need the time Sean allotted. When I turned to head across the street to the alley. The ring that nearly made me prisoner to a madman. sparse material down as though picking them up and putting them in my bag meant more than just a choice in undergarments. My hands hovered above them as I stood there. in the rare event that I needed it. I pulled the exterior door shut behind me and gave it a jiggle to be sure it was secured. I sighed and threw them in the bag along with a pair of my more customary skivvies.

It was a promise I'd made to myself that, unlike my previous “no crying” policy, I was determined to stick to. “Rubes,” he said as he approached. I stood in place, waiting for him to come to me. “Where ya been? And what in the hell are you wearing?” His face was serious, but I knew he wasn't angry. He never called me Rubes when he was mad. “Long story,” I replied. “I left you a message on your phone and a note upstairs. I came home to see you.” “So come upstairs and see me,” he said, eying me strangely. “What's up with the bag?” “I'm on my way out for the night, Coop. I've gotta go,” I said, my gaze dropping. “I just wanted to make sure that we were still okay.” “Us?” he asked, sounding almost surprised by the remark. “We're always okay, Rubes. Even when we're not.” I looked back up to see his shit-eating grin bleed through his seriousness. Before my emotions could overtake me, I dove in for a hug. “Is that blood in your hair?” he asked, fingering a strand that had fallen out from under the hat I'd borrowed from Peyta. “Um...yes,” I said, not wanting to get into the details outside our house. “Please see the aforementioned note upstairs for explanation.” “How about you just give me the breakdown before you run off to your sleepover.” The edge to his comment was barely noticeable, and I wondered if he'd meant it to be there. “So...the Rev is dead,” I said, selling that fact like the bonus it was. “Casualties?” “Nearly, but no. There weren't any.” “Do I only need one guess as to who the 'nearly' was?” “That's a safe bet.” “Why didn't you call me?” he asked, pulling me away from the hug I just dove into. “I did!” I argued. “...Afterward, at least. There was no time, Coop. Once I knew what was happening, the shit just hit the fan. Loads of it. Heaps even,” I said, trying to defend my actions. “It's not that I didn't want to.” “It's fine, Ruby. Don't worry about it. It would have been tricky to get away anyway,” he said, looking pensive. “Oh. Something more important than Peyta, me, and a crazed killer?” I asked, feeling slighted. “It's a long story. Maybe I'll leave you a note on the door,” he said with a wink, before turning to the entrance. “Enjoy your night, Ruby, but do me a favor? Keep those details to yourself. I don't need to know about that.” “Cooper...” “It's cool, Ruby. Just go.” “I'm sorry I ran out,” I blurted out. “It's none of my business who you...you know...date, or whatever.”

“She wasn't a date,” he said, his smile returning. “She wasn't 'whatever' either, just so we're clear on that. But I appreciate the pass.” He looked at my bag again and gave a nod. “I guess I'll give you one too.” It took me a moment to catch exactly what he’d said. He’d thrown his last line out so casually that I’d nearly overlooked the message. My “pass” was him acknowledging that he and I were never going to be more than we’d always been —friends. Family. I followed him to the door and hugged him from behind, giving an extra squeeze before I let go. “I love you,” I whispered to him. “That's one thing I've never questioned, Rubes,” he replied. “I love you too.” I turned to leave quickly as my eyes started to burn with barely held in tears. “Oh, I almost forgot,” Cooper said, getting my attention. “This strange old man was taping a note to the shop's door today when I left. I stopped and asked if I could help him with something. He didn't say much, just asked if I knew you and if I could pass this note along.” Cooper fished a sealed envelope out of his back pocket and handed it to me tentatively. “Any idea who that might have been?” “Yep,” I sighed, observing the unmarked envelope. “And?” Cooper prompted. “My guess is that it was Gavin―from the docks. The one who scared the everloving shit out of me that night.” “Why would some strange old man who likes to say enigmatic things to young women during torrential downpours leave you a note on your shop door?” I paused before answering. Something in Cooper's words struck me as odd, and I wanted to review them quickly before answering him. He'd said “old man.” Cooper couldn't tell Gavin was a werewolf. I didn't know what to make of it, so I just shrugged at him in response, unable to find words. “So open it then,” he said, nodding toward the folded envelope. “It's been a long night, Coop. I really don't want to spend time trying to decipher meaning from some bizarre note left for me by some bizarre person. Can't it keep until tomorrow?” I pleaded, sounding as weary as I felt. He sighed heavily, looking uncertain about my proposal, but eventually he caved. “Alright,” he conceded, “for now.” I leaned toward him and reached up onto my toes to plant a gentle kiss on his cheek. “Thanks, Cooper.” He cupped the side of my face, giving it three soft passes with his thumb before releasing me. “Goodbye, Ruby.” Without looking back, he entered the building and locked the door behind him. ***

I made it about a block before I tore open the note from Gavin. He'd gone from creepy old prophet, to handsome young werewolf, to something that Cooper couldn't detect, and that did not sit well. He'd told me he had a “special gift,” but was his ability to alter his appearance also able to alter whatever sense werewolves had about one another? My mind started to crumble under the weight of possibilities. Ruby, I hope this note finds you well. You left very abruptly last night. There are things I still need to share with you. Important things. Things that can't go unaddressed any longer. Use discretion until we meet again. Do not forget what I have already told you. Gavin “What the...? Who are you?” I whispered to the note while I stood in the middle of the sidewalk. I just didn't know what to think. Gavin had done nothing to harm me in any way, in fact, quite the contrary―at every turn, he tried to keep me safe. But all his double talk and cryptic warnings were wearing thin on me, especially when most of them revolved around Sean. What could he possibly have still needed to tell me? What wasn't addressed that night? Discretion...was he kidding me? I didn't know the meaning of the word. Somebody pointed that out to me once. The man I was warned to avoid, but ironically was going to see that night. Gavin's instructions to use caution around Sean were totally unfounded. Whatever he thought he knew about the man I loved was wrong, and no amount of discussion or lecture was going to change that fact. At least that's what I told myself as I stuffed the letter deep into the side pocket of my bag―out of sight, out of mind. If only it were so simple. *** “You still have twelve minutes left,” a voice called from the kitchen as I closed the front door. “I guess Cooper wasn't Captain Questions this evening.” “He wasn't there,” I said, hoping that would quell the conversation before it took an ugly turn. “I left him a note.” “And you think that will suffice?” he asked, eyebrow in full force. “I guess it'll have to,” I said, throwing my bag down in the bedroom. “Whatcha makin'?” The smell in the apartment was amazing. I was incredibly fortunate to have two men in my life who could cook since my culinary skills were disastrous, to say the least. Disastrous was an improvement given that they were nonexistent before Cooper lived with me. “None of your business,” he said, shooting me yet another look. “Go clean up.

Ruby. He gently turned me to face him.O.” he whispered in my ear. I'd been attacked too many times to count. As my breathing started to get tighter and shallow. With it all coming back in an instant. I nodded in response. Okay. I hesitated for a moment.” “I left you a towel out on the vanity. With that brutality. He finished with a sweep of his hand across my back that released whatever was impeding my lungs. Though subconsciously I must have felt it. Not even being nearly gutted alive ranked higher. l let it run while I undressed.It'll be done when you get out. “You're safe. I stepped into the shower and let the massive wall of sprayers and nozzles wash away the film of turmoil I'd accumulated. I felt myself nearly convulsing to gulp in what little air I could. Involuntarily. . “Better?” he asked. but nothing scared me more than lying motionless. pulling me back against his body. I let my hand drop limp to my side. cold beyond the point of warming. it never registered to me that he was fully dressed and soaked clear through until that moment. there was a certain peace. I tried to reach for the soap. choking on my own blood. My arm wouldn't respond. With a sigh. Mom.” “Geez. He ran his hands along my arms.. making a strange squeaky sound the few times I succeeded. taking my hair down from Peyta's hat. dance again. I accepted my death.. convincing them to be still. ‘Shoot first. Knowing him.. Then he went down my legs. Everything had happened so fast at Ronnie’s that there was no time to think about the consequences of the choices I was making as I was making them. Pieces of the attack flashed through my mind as the water lulled my defenses away. he'd have had a way in if he felt the need anyway. my fingers tentatively holding the lock.” I replied before closing the bathroom door behind me.” “Thanks. my system was overwhelmed—shutting down. still pressing me tightly to his body as though releasing me even the slightest amount would allow the fear to seep back in and overtake me. However. Once I figured out how to use his space-age shower. ask questions later’ had become my M. and it was starting to take a toll on me mentally. It made me chuckle. my body quaked all over like I was standing naked in a winter storm. Sean and I had to be at a point where locking the door for a shower was no longer necessary. had shaken me so violently that I'd stuffed it all down just to make it through the day. Seeing the congealed blood brought my attention back to the one thing I was trying my best to avoid.” The rise and fall of his chest tried to persuade my breathing to synchronize with his. I couldn't move. to do something mundane and innocuous. the thought of never being able to move again. uncurling and pressing them gently to my sides. I felt him reach his arms around me. so I didn't. “Breathe. Calm. as if the paralysis from hours earlier had once again taken me over. and wounded during most.I'll go.

“I heard you panicking. He'd feared for me. “Oh.” he whispered in my ear. “I'm alright now. He must have encountered something questionable in it. he backed me under the water.” he said..” I said.” I replied. and. “Thank you.” he said dryly. he spun me around to face him.” I snorted—I couldn't help myself. he presented me with the familiar blue packaging. more baffled than before. “I'm hoping that you were going to get to this eventually. “And since we have a couple of minutes to kill.you sort of use it?” I asked. “Does that mean you have my Dry Remedy conditioner too?” Without a word.is that Aveda shampoo?” I asked.” He leaned in and kissed me long and hard. confused by his answer. “Give that back for a minute. shimmying up his soaked jeans. I don't use it.” “So.” He spun me around to face away from him before working the liquid into my hair slowly. I turned it over in my hands for a moment... Sean discussing the condition of my hair was beyond off-putting. I was thankful that he was dressed because. This is going to have to sit for a minute or two or your hair will be a mess when it dries. I would have likely landed on my ass if I’d attempted that move with both of us naked and soaped up. though still able to kiss him . stroking my hair that was still partially dry. breathing on it just a little heavier than necessary. feeling flushed. “Absolutely.” he said calmly. in hindsight. “Because you use it. “Hey. I wrapped my arms around his neck. still sounding a little unhinged. I hadn't gotten around to dunking my head fully under the spray before my meltdown occurred. His eyes had darkened. When he pulled away. “No. fingers tangling in his wavy locks. I gasped for breath exactly three times before I threw myself back at him.” “Well. The tiles he pressed me against were cold and I arched away from them reflexively. then why do you have it?” I asked. unable to contain the thought for some odd reason.” he said. Before I got a chance to make an objectionable comment. reaching around me for the bottle.” “Of course. I was practically panting. I'm open to suggestions on ways to fill our time. It was always my undoing. That was my first post-panic activity. “You let the blood dry in there too long.. “Yes. without a word. reaching beyond me to get a bottle of shampoo. trying to make sense of him having it. “I came running.” “I wondered when you were going to deal with everything that happened. it's Aveda. his fingers massaging in tiny circles along my scalp. pressing my cheek to his soggy shirt. “You use that too?” “Yes and no.“No time to get undressed?” I asked. No.” he replied. grinding my body into his.” His gaze was intense.

um... smiling wickedly.” “Ruby?” he asked.. placing his finger to my mouth. nearly slipping on the wood floor on my way to his room..yeah. cocking his damned eyebrow again. “Screw rinsing.. Just as I reached down to unbutton his pants. Those are for.I'm not really sure..with a newfound passion. his eyes flaring.” he said. In the cluttered mess that was my duffel bag..” he shouted from his bedroom.. “Damn your supersonic hearing!” I shouted back. “Nope.” “Fine.. pulling myself from his grip.” Totally flustered. wiggling my way back to him.” he said. especially if I had to eat dinner first.. He’d been holding out on me for a year. Totally embarrassed. “Shower. I exhaled loudly. and completely exhausted by the gamut . “I know it pains you to follow the rules. wrapping myself in the towel he'd left out. so I started throwing its contents across the room. I'm sure seeing me sprawled out on the hardwood in my towel would have only added to the festivities this evening. not mine. grabbing a towel along the way. “It's true!” I protested. um.. I quickly bent down to rifle through my bag. food. I plopped most inelegantly on my ass next to my bag and let my shoulders slump. “Sorta.” “I think it would have.” “But—” “No arguments. “If that's your story. then play. but I'm hoping you'll make an exception tonight. Being naked near Sean wasn't going to lead to anything productive. “Time to rinse.. letting my lips vibrate as the air escaped.” He walked out of the party shower and continued his way out of the bathroom.” “Nope. “Hey! Don't think I've forgotten that you promised me answers!” I shouted as the door shut behind him. “Perhaps you should show me exactly what that looks like. putting me down and marching me under the big-headed spout jutting out of the ceiling.” he growled behind me. pouting. “Your rules. I felt ridiculous. twirling the sheer black thong around on his index finger.” he said. “And it wasn't what you're thinking!” He laughed as he passed the closed bathroom door on his way back to the kitchen. “That's not a very ladylike sound. “I appreciate the floor sniper too. He wasn't going to get out of it so easily. “And what's with this towel? Is it meant for five?” I walked out into the main living area still wet. “Good. “These are unexpected.” Sean said.” he replied.” I replied.” I said. “Uh. well. I had trouble locating my tank top. food next!” I stated. It was so big that I thought it was meant for an entire family..” “A special occasion maybe?” he suggested. he pulled away from me.

. fingering the delicate silk of the cream-colored blouse. and a gorgeous tunic from the early seventies that I nearly humped on the rack when I saw it in the store. My jaw dropped the instant I saw the contents of that drawer.” I started with a sigh. Just in case.” he said.what is all this?” I asked.” he explained. “Good. Ruby.” “Okay. “Is the girl I want hungry? I'm used to cooking for the boys. tanks.. making my way over to find something of his to wear. remember?” “Fair enough. gently forcing me to hold his gaze. On the left side were a handful of hangers.” “I'm a bit in shock. though I'd desperately wanted them: vintage jeans. “I bought those Levi's the same day that I had Ronnie pick something out for you to wear in Boston. Inside was a barrage of tees.” “Check the bottom right-hand drawer of the dresser.” He dropped the panties in question onto the bed and made his way over to me. My attention was still fully on the objects in front of me. I wasn't expecting this at all.. Things I'd talked myself out of at one time. holding a white tank in my hand.” he said. Any of it.it's just that I thought that.” “You're rambling. but I can't find my shirt. I was sure I grabbed it.of emotions that had plagued me over the last day.. I sped to the wardrobe doors and threw them open.” I whispered.that's the kind of girl that you would be used to having. barely able to form the question. sounding concerned. all draped with things from Ronnie's store. Nothing more. with a tad more volume and clarity. blouses from the thirties and fifties.on our first date. “I don't know why I brought those. “How long have you had these?” I asked.” I said softly. “How did you. “I've picked up items along the way.” I said. Do you have . “You ramble when you're upset. I may have made too much.. “Uh. but it's not in here.. I caught him sizing me up. “Understand?” “Yes. and they eat a lot.” Without further encouragement. Sean. “It wasn't a date. “There are things in the closet too.” “It wasn't a date...” he said casually.” he replied. “I just..” I paused for a second.you know. Nothing less.. Get dressed and we'll eat.” I repeated.” “I am a werewolf. Thanks. bending down to hold my chin in his hand.sure. “The girl I want is you. and tops that were the exact kind that I liked to wear. “I thought it was best to have things here for you. “Don't you remember? You said so yourself.. When I looked towards the kitchen in disbelief. “What?” he asked as if he hadn’t quite caught my utterance.. Sexy girl―not cotton underwear girl. His energy was unsure and cautious.

“Ares is an unwelcome topic in this house. “I'm not gonna lie though. “So? What's your point?” “Parents aren’t supposed to pick favorites. I hadn't meant anything by my comment. Sean had weaknesses. my voice softening. He was just starting to lower his defenses. I just wanted to have what you needed. After getting dressed.” I pulled the jeans out and ran my fingers over them. stirring something simmering on the stove. “You're my favorite. he marched to the kitchen.” He looked at me expectantly. It took me a moment to realize where the conversation had taken such a bad turn. right?” “Louboutin. I sat down in front of them.” he said..” . a pair of Frye boots. One word: Jer. “It's not what you're thinking.. I sighed as I put my stiletto back in its place. leaving a trail of anger and resentment in his wake. I lightly rested my head on his back. Reaching my arms around his middle.” His eyes darkened before he turned to leave. Ares most definitely played favorites. “He is your favorite. It's like asking a parent to pick a favorite child. but I also hadn't thought much about my choice of words before saying them either. Sean. sounding uncertain as to whether that would be helpful or hurtful. hoping to do some damage control.. You seemed to always get yourself into trouble. It's not normal.this could play off as uber creepy. “you certainly paid attention to the details.” I started.” My eyes dropped down to the racks of shoes in front of me. which added nicely to my ever-expanding collection. and I didn't want to trigger any alarms that would throw them back up again. picking up one of the heels.” I told him. “just to let you know. His chest rumbled loudly in my ear. but his father despised him. taking a calming breath. I made a mental note to be more careful of what I said until I knew what all of them were.any other closets full of surprises that you’d like to share with me now?” “It's not as it seems. coming to stand beside me as I stared at the wardrobe. “But it is hard to say no to all this sweet swag. I stroked it gently like a small dog.” “I'm sorry.” he protested.” he said sternly. He was the favorite. Blahnik..” With that. “I believe there's a pair in there by your favorite designer. so I figured at some point you'd have to crash here. I didn't mean anything by it.. unfazed by my response..” “There are shoes too. Sean. There were three pairs for women: one practical pair of Pumas. or I'd have to bring you here to put you back together again. Sean was the most gifted warrior the brothers had to offer.. and a stunning pair of basic black patent stilettos by Louboutin. Choo. I crept into the kitchen where his back was to me. It had pained me at the time not to buy them. “I'm glad you like them.” “Well.” I whispered. though he was far better at hiding them than most.

” “Well. “And why is that?” he asked.” he advised. “He's an unwelcome topic in general.” “Left you with who? Ares?” I asked in shock. “She'd be a welcome topic. “Perhaps it's why I'm so attracted to your inherently good nature.” “And your mother?” I asked. “Maybe we should skip dinner and see just how much I like pasty blondes with crazy hair. and even cocked an eyebrow at him.” he said.” he whispered in my ear. “Because you're clearly not your father's son.” he said. Ruby. wiping a wet curl off of my face. Nobody in her right mind would leave a child in that psycho's care. Enough so that he could coax the angels down from heaven.” I said. “Then go sit down and start eating. Whatever drove her to leave him must have been dire. He visibly unraveled ever so slightly.“I know you didn't. Sean.” he said with a certain awe to his voice. grabbing a plate off the counter and piling food onto it. That was a concept that I was all too familiar with. She left after I was born. I bet she fought tooth and nail to keep him. She must have been truly something to create a child able to override his evil nature. It's the good in you that he hates.” “That's debatable. As a man who was used to being on the offensive. “Besides. “But he poisons everything he touches.” “Maybe. amazing. holding my breath. She didn't have a choice.” “You're not poisoned. sounding mournful. looking up at him. she is an angel. a playful grin playing across his face.” I informed him. turning to face me. “I never knew her. Ruby. his tone cautionary. but I kept my composure. “I'll fix you another plate. “From what I was told. “No. “but that just makes me wonder what in God's name made her want to be with someone like Ares. but keep that in mind for future reference.” *** .” “Maybe you just like pasty blondes with crazy hair.” Didn't have a choice. No woman seemed to be able to just walk away from Sean. I immediately felt a strange kinship with the woman that neither of us knew. her hand was forced. Certain that she had no other options. He once had a ruthless charm.” he said.” My skin flushed at the thought. pulling me closer. I'm sticking to your rules if for no other reason than to show you it's within my abilities to do so. apparently.” I gave him my most wicked grin. or is. I figured it was best to lay out all the ground rules at once. I need some energy that I can burn off later.” “True. even if it was futile.” I agreed. Some more so than others.” “Don't let him fool you. “I'm sure she was.” he sighed. “He is my father. including his children. he must not have realized that he liked having me press his buttons—in a good way. if there was anything to talk about.

My previous nudity had always been in the throes of turmoil.It was not an elegant meal. Then it dawned on me. ready to bare myself to him and him alone. Somehow my shirt had stayed on the whole time as though removing it would have interrupted things far too much to bother. When you're dying. The combination of the two always gave me a rush of adrenaline. he hadn't actually seen me naked. When I emerged. I wanted desperately to turn my back to him and slip out of my shirt then dive under the covers―even started to do so. no imminent demise. undoubtedly in an effort not to spook me. I felt exposed even though I was still partially clothed. including an hour earlier in the shower. the thought of which only added to my epinephrine surge. And that's where the difference lay. I'd learned to find comfort in hiding. I unhooked the bra from under my shirt and placed it atop the pants. Not for me. seemed different somehow. in the sexual tension game. and I struggled to make sense of what those differences were. What was ironic was there was nothing to hide from: no threat of danger. or a product of the violence my life had been consumed with. I called his name. He knew I'd been hurt. To show him I wasn't afraid. The shirt was not only a physical barrier for my flesh but also so much more. The silver-blue glow of the nearly full moon made my skin radiant in a ghostly fashion. dragging my hand along the wall for direction. I nearly ran to the sink with my dishes. but my manner of eating it was close to feral at times. In the darkness. There was little light offered by the windows in his room. Strange how the acts I'd anticipated all evening weren't really the most intimate. as though he himself had inflicted the pain. He continued to stand motionless on the far side of the bed. I tiptoed down to his bedroom. In all our debauchery. a fact which seemed to pain him greatly. He baited me the entire time. Strangely. silently laying them on the floor. I felt truly exposed. after everything we'd done the previous night. feeling like an idiot immediately thereafter. Very. given my track record. it was one of the most trivial yet terrifying things I'd ever faced. emotional or otherwise. you tend not to concern yourself with your state of dress. and it made me wonder how. and I quickly realized that. I was a freshman—he wrote the curriculum. rinsing them as quickly as I could before sprinting to the bathroom to brush my teeth and pee. very naked. standing before him. almost iridescent. I didn't want fennel in my teeth or a bathroom break to interfere with the evening's festivities. the entire apartment was pitch black and dead silent. The food was amazing. The times that Sean had seen me naked over the past year. knowing that he was likely naked and in bed already. . I stepped into the only crack of light that reached as far into the room as I stood―the spotlight for my performance. but just enough to cast an eerie glow around his figure as he stood on the far side of the bed—naked. I could still feel so nervous and uncertain. I slipped my pants off. I was comfortable with Sean―loved him―and yet in that moment.

silvery. holding my wrists. “Not yet. “I have plans. His hands splayed wide across the small of my back as he pulled me towards his face. My hands wandered to his scalp.” I blurted out. I turned back.” Before I could respond. and continued along to my inner thigh. almost invisible scar that marked my near-death experience. “Yes?” he asked. crossing my arms over my stomach to grab the hem of my shirt. remember? I don't like my plans being interfered with. he clenched me tightly for a brief moment before releasing his hold on me entirely. his body was ready to move in for the kill.” I replied with a smile before kneeling in front of him. You saved me. My eyes rolled back in my head. I was left with only the man I loved whose eyes were laser-focused on me―watching. I added it to the pile I’d amassed on the floor beside me. No more running.” I said.But in the quiet calm of Sean's bedroom.” he said. “Not yet. none of those parameters existed.” He eased down onto the edge of the bed and drew me to him. placing a soft kiss on the cotton barrier. When he opened his eyes. With eyes closed. jokingly. his finger stopping when it hit the black fabric of my underwear. He traced a line down along the thin. his hand drifting up below my sternum. “But you didn't. “Unless Scarlet goes bananas and you have to take her out. I felt my breasts bounce ever so slightly once finally released. Waiting for me to make yet another choice: overcome my past. . With eyes locked onto his target. Sean was suddenly there. back and forth across my stomach. “I almost lost you. parting my legs ever so softly with his hands. playing mindlessly with his hair as he worked back and forth.” he said sternly.” he said quietly. lowering his head to meet his hand. He kissed me so deviously that I couldn't do anything but lie there and take it. breathing deliciously warm air on my cooling skin. “You won't. or crumble under the weight of it. spreading his knees to allow me between them. running my fingers up and down the distinct lines of his abs. Be sure that she gets that memo. I closed my eyes and hooked my thumbs on the thin fabric sitting low on my hips. I laid my head against his chest. his body pressed tightly down on mine and I lost all cognitive function. over the black fabric that still divided us.” I answered. He stopped when he felt my knees give out ever so slightly. waiting.” he whispered softly. “Sean. he brushed his lips along the edge of my boyshorts. My tiny cotton panties were the only thing standing between me and overcoming my fear. to my stomach. reaching up from my knees to kiss him. “You brought me back. “Then I suggest you keep her on a tight leash. Ruby.” “I can't lose you. His destination was clear as he made his way down my chest. As I moved to pull them down. The night he told me he loved me. as he brushed his hand gently across the fabric. looking up to meet my eyes. scooping me up off the floor to lay me down across the comforter. Pulling it up slowly and over my head.

. breathing hard. “Then. I'd never really done any of this before. I would have done anything to get to you faster. rather than at some random point in the future.” I stammered. “There were so many. “Not by choice. “In Utah?” he ground out through a tightly clenched jaw.. I slept with Cooper to feed her mating needs. Unfortunately.” I started. finally able to . They damaged me. He looked like he was trying to get control of himself. suddenly feeling very trapped. “In Utah —” He threw his head back and made that ungodly roaring sound that I'd heard very few times before.” But I couldn't think. He wasn't happy.. “They are. leaving out the gory details that would only have enraged him further..” he said. Frightened. I gasped. I couldn't help myself. when the full moon came a few months ago. flicking his tongue over the fabric quickly.. “About me—about my past..” “So enlighten me then. it didn't come out how I wanted it to. “They must be terribly interesting if you want to discuss them now. hovering above me. Any point.. “What do you mean?” he growled. “It's just. unable to look at me.” He continued to breathe heavily above me. Anything. I added. In a flash. I wanted to tell him everything he needed to know about what happened to me when I was raped—about Cooper—anything that could make him change his mind about me. I felt myself start to shake beneath him.. It was easier to have him walk away right then and there. “I've never really been with anybody before you.” I explained. “They did things—unspeakable things— things I'd never done. I couldn’t handle the thought of being abandoned because of something coming to light too late and backfiring. pushing himself into a semi-plank position. then he needed to go into it totally informed. “I knew what they were planning to do to you. and it scared the shit out of me.“There are things you should know. She wouldn't stop until she got what she wanted.” he teased. would never have done with anyone. When that didn't seem to faze him. If we were going to be together. I couldn't inflict enough pain on those around me to quell my growing rage.. Every minute that I couldn't reach you made me insane. really be together.you should know that before last night. hoping that my stillness would lead his attention elsewhere.” He said nothing in response. so I lay there playing possum. I tried to answer him as quickly as possible. he dropped his head back down. repeating his kiss.” “Like?” he asked.” That worked.were likely doing to you while Gregory held you captive. I thought Scarlet was going to kill me. trying to make a point. At least not because I chose to.” I whispered. I was too afraid to move. breathing as frantically as I was.

over one year in the making.. I woke the next morning. We didn't. his face expressionless. Sophie was still—” I blurted. a sheet drawn loosely over us. you had a lot to deal with and we were trying to go back to the beginning. A low rumble escaped him and shook the bed as he teased me into a frenzy. just slid back down to his post between my legs where he'd been before I'd so rudely interrupted him. He lovingly pinned me down as I wriggled and writhed underneath his tongue. slowly.” He looked up out the window to see the almost circular moon glowing in the sky. I giggled to myself. I continued. “Perhaps we'll just play until then. he was still asleep. Heat built inside me knowing that he was as consumed with me as I was secretly with him. He'd met his agenda that night. you trust me. I would have taken every one of them and tortured them. remember? I don't remember having full moon sex with you in the beginning. but if we were going to do this. It'll make it even more worth the wait. voice catching with anticipation. No lies. forcing it delicately to the side.” he said. but Sean seemed willing to go at whatever pace I set.” He paused for a moment.you should have come to me. His face returned with the same Cheshire cat smile that used to undo me. . would start at breakfast. His eyes were blacker than the room. When he didn't react unfavorably. “An oversight that we'll have to make up for soon. “If I'd had the chance. He wasn't angry with me. still struggling with his emotions. No omissions. He was in for a long morning.. As if knowing I was at my breaking point. The interrogation.look at me. “No. trying to control his anger. I twisted the comforter up in my hands as I awaited his contact.” “I couldn't. he gently ran a finger underneath that horrible barrier my underwear provided. ensuring my well-being with every step. “After that. I knew dropping the Cooper bomb was not going to be helpful. lowering himself down onto me.” He said nothing else. Sean. Resting my head back down on the pillow. it was my turn to meet mine. “Now. but we flirted with it. We didn't have sex. our bodies entangled. Slipping right back into his pattern of kissing and stroking the light cotton. he kept it up until I couldn't stand it one second longer. we were going to do it honestly from here on out. It was going to be a long road to full recovery.” he rumbled.” My lips parted slightly as a tiny breath escaped me. “Now?” he said. cutting myself off with a hand over my mouth. “As for the full moon. doing things I'd never thought possible before. “And now?” I asked. affording me the opportunity to become familiar and comfortable with his touch—the touch of someone who loved me. inflicting every bit of pain and anguish back on them tenfold. He was mad at himself because he thought he'd failed me.

He has a family and a job. Ruby. okay. eyes darkening.” That was a rather large detail that I'd forgotten to let Alan know about. emerald eyes locking down on mine. kissing me lightly on the nose.” he said. “You did well.” “Just tell him the threat has been neutralized.” I said. “Alright. and tell him I'll be there in twenty minutes. I handed it over.. “Okay. “Then I guess you'll have to be very convincing.” he said. Beyond that.” Sean went from sleeping to standing in a blink. “How am I supposed to tell him that without. You have to go. “It's Alan.” The heat between us was rising quickly. “I think he'll be willing to bend a bit when you let him know that his family is safe from the Rev. I hadn't noticed that Sean was naked. it had been a bit of a shitstorm. I'll take care of the rest of it when I arrive. It's a go. I'm texting him now. It was a text from Alan: Talked to McGurney. “Let me see. much more.. walking over towards him.. When he scooped me in his arms and pressed my body to his.” Sean pulled up his boxers with a smile before closing the distance between us.” “Take care of it. He wheeled on me. walking around to his side of the bed.” “Uh.he's not one of your lackeys.” he said. watching his expression as he read the text. but in my defense. reaching for my phone.” “But. I slid out of bed quietly and tiptoed over to my purse to retrieve it. rummaging through a dresser.. and I wasn't exactly sure what I could tell him. He'll read between the lines. But I'm trusting you to not hurt him or his family. Sean. I became very aware of it and much. I needed to shut it down fast or he wasn't going to be going anywhere. “This is excellent.. Maybe he can't just drop what he's doing to accommodate you. or make Sean a suspect either. “He's ex-military. I didn't want to get Ronnie in trouble. I'm not going to hurt him. In that brief moment of excitement that Alan's text had provided.” he muttered under his breath. punching the keys .” I said. Now set up a meeting with him. “Sean.?” “Jesus. He's in.. His buddy agreed to help us. don't answer any questions he asks.” I started.” he said.17 The ever-annoying sound of my vibrating cell phone woke me. “Very happy. It'll be fine. “And it makes me happy to hear that. Never mind.” I pointed out indelicately.

He was walking so forcefully that I could hear the fall of his steps through the phone. and looking for mysterious seams in the floorboards. Ruby. I wanted to celebrate the snuffing out of the Rev.on my phone. Scarlet hadn't kicked up a stink about it because she knew she was going to get that itch scratched. tapping on walls for hollow spots. “Hello. When I found myself aimlessly pacing back and forth from the living room to my bedroom and back for over an hour. I'm headed to my jet now. so—” “Okay. barely answering before it went to voicemail. and the fewer people who know things the better. car door closing in the background. So much had happened over the past week and I needed time to digest it all.. waiting to hear what the plan was. “I don't like making you feel this way. My overactive imagination earned me nothing but a monstrous and well-deserved splinter in my knee. that put me in a pickle. It's PC business. “I'll be back tonight. my phone buzzed impatiently from my purse. I did my very best not to snoop for the first five minutes. but it's necessary.wait a minute. It was the night of the full moon.” I sighed dramatically. he donned a sympathetic smile and made his way over to me. “I'm headed to Langley. but if Sean was gone. When he turned to see the look of disappointment on my face. not after everything that had gone down. and.. pulling on an exquisitely worn-in white v-neck that emphasized his olive complexion. but that victory was overshadowed by Matty's impending Change. if Cooper's predictions were accurate. I welcomed the solitude. “Ruby. In my defense. but there was always paperwork to be done—the bane of a small business owner's existence. “Wait. My house was empty when I arrived. I decided to head down to the shop.” he said. but. then spent the rest of my time rifling through drawers like a stalker.” He smiled wickedly. I just got off the phone with Alan's contact. “I look forward to it. As I locked up the apartment door. I'm going to meet him now. Big time. You have a jet?” I shouted disbelievingly. I hoped he'd prove me right. I wasn't going to bother opening it to customers. “Fine. suddenly more nervous about the full moon. I decided to clean up and head home. and. .” Sean answered. not less.” “So you're going to be gone for a few days?” I asked. Bored and a little embarrassed. “No. my future was only going to get more colorful.” *** I hung around his apartment for an hour or so.” he said. He was all business for sure. He'd call when he had something to tell me. for once. how come you're going and I'm not?” “Because I don't want you getting mixed up in the details of this stuff. but you're going to owe me.” I said. at least that was what I kept telling myself to alleviate my brewing anxiety.

It really was gratifying that I never would again. Staring at the lamppost across the street. I watched through the window as the darkness slowly permeated. My cheeks rosied in response. propping my right foot up on it as if it was a ballet barre. but be careful. there was a pile the size of Texas awaiting me on my desk in the back. or even peel my ass off the chair it was stuck to. I turned off the lights in the back and collected my things.” I replied. I fished it out to see who was calling. “Sorry. I just didn't want them back again. It was even more gratifying that I wouldn't have anyone hacking into my mind at random intervals. not that I was a wizard at the latter myself.” “Right. “Something about me owing you―I think I like being in your debt. “Roger that. When I walked out front.” He hung up before I could dig my hole any deeper. My night took an instant turn for the worse. I recovered the phone and managed to climb down the stairs without incident to make it to the office safely. dusk was settling in outside. I remembered the first time I'd laid my eyes on the Rev in person. giving my head a shake. I leaned on the front counter to stretch my back and legs a bit. “Text me when you get back.” I replied.” he growled. insidiously overtaking the sunset. Trying to play it cool with Sean promising pleasure I could only imagine was impossible.” “So I'll be back late tonight. I sat myself down to face the beast. pee.” he said. sending me personalized horror shorts for my viewing displeasure. Once I located the source of the tremors. I'll see you later?” “I believe you will. . and in that moment I didn't care. thinking of all the wonderful ways he could repay that debt. sounding breathier than planned. and that was without taking any breaks to eat. “Goodbye. I fumbled my phone trying to put it away.” I said. Taking a few deep breaths to pull it together. Peyta had kept everything organized and filed.” I thought I liked it a lot too. though judging by his laugh. Matty. sounding playfully predatorial. I don't want any more of this being discussed over the phone than necessary. At least I hoped not. I don't like to waste time. he appreciated my efforts. “Feel free to be naked and ready for me. Focus.“Ruby. deep in the bottom of the bag. and. It took me hours to get through the massive stack.” “Alright. my phone shaking the worn-in leather. Ruby. but the reality was that she couldn't write the checks or balance the books. I was too flustered to function. Much to my chagrin. I'm just going down to make contact with him in person. My purse felt as though it sprang to life when I grabbed it. When my legs felt sufficiently limber. with a sigh. We hadn’t figured out the how's and why's of my visions.

“My room. It would take me just over an hour without traffic to get there in time. easily one hundred pounds shy of his normal weight. Nearly tearing the screen door from its hinges. he wasn't doing well. remember?” he grunted. Please. closing them all in a weak attempt to keep his painful noises contained within the home. forgetting to lock up the shop or leave a note for Cooper. “Upstairs.. though it was clear he wasn't able to pick himself up. . I sprinted to the back entrance.not safe.. When I pulled up in front of the quaint. the car was moving far too fast to attempt any multitasking maneuvers.” he rasped into the receiver..he's dangerous. I nervously pressed the door open.18 “Ruby... pushing my way through the heavy wooden interior door.. Just hold on. I need you. sprawled across the floor in front of me. I made a mental note to text him when I got there. uncertain of where he was. by the sound of Matty’s voice.” I looked out the window to see the sunset had faded. you don't listen. an emaciated arm outstretched toward me. “Where are your parents?” “They went down to Jersey to see family. there was no time to spare. “Jesus. I yanked it open. Once I arrived at his bedroom. It never crossed my mind that I would ever see anything like that in person —ever—and yet there was Matty.sorry. uncertain of what I would find. I'd seen pictures taken from the concentration camps in Auschwitz during World War II when Cooper made me watch a documentary on the Nazi party once. darting out the door..” “Right. so I quickly detoured..” I heard him grind out through gritted teeth. I'll be there as soon as I can. “I'm on my way. period home fifty-six minutes later. I wasn't ready for what I saw when I walked into his room. “Something's wrong. I tried to walk up the driveway with some level of decorum so as not to alarm the neighbors. I was a bit preoccupied when I last saw you. He lay face down on the floor. I didn’t remember a thing about the trip. His other hand weakly grabbed the bed skirt.” I said.” I hung up and jumped in the car.. and. His body was utterly wasted. Coop's words ran through my mind as I sped south on Interstate 95: “I want you to stay away from him. moonlight shining down. I swore he was dying..” I was carelessly running into the epicenter of God only knew what—the ground zero of physiological chaos that promised me bodily harm and oh so much more. but at the first muffled cry I heard coming from the house. “Matty!” I called from the mudroom.” The windows were open all throughout the house.you can't be near him.

crashing back down to the tattered rug below. trying. but I just couldn't let her. There wasn't going to be much left if something didn't improve―and quickly. Let me kill him. That was the reality I needed. “No. “It's Scarlet. The position was an ergonomic nightmare.” I said. to keep the look of shock and horror off my face.. Matty. I had no idea that this is what would happen. He was too weak to even curl in on himself to alleviate the pain. “I think you're Changing. Scarlet growled from deep in my mind. “I.” “She sounds like a good time. Cooper had said he'd be dangerous. I'd done wrong by Matty not once. Matty.. “I never wanted this for you.I don't know. his breathing becoming more labored. and utterly failing. choking back a sob.Frightened. which is really par for the course with us.. not that it would matter. He was the one who needed protecting. face blank. “Then what can I do?” I asked. but I would have sworn he was even thinner than when I first arrived. eyes cold. tears rolling off my cheeks to puddle on the hardwood below. Cooper said something about you the other day—that he knew you were Marked for it. a cold clammy dew glistening his flesh. I had to look twice.” Matty said. I hoped not.” he said. like you?” A wolf like me. I would see him through the . gently taking his arm and ducking my head under it. he abandoned the idea. wincing as he grabbed his abdomen. I looked at Matty lying on the floor in clothes that seemed to be growing around him. “and I don’t know how to fix it. I didn't think Matty would be afforded the same courtesy. we'd both be dead... I didn’t know this would happen. “Am I dying?” he asked.” “So I'm becoming a wolf. kneeling next to him. We're disagreeing.” he wheezed.” I said.” “Not your fault. It skewed your vantage point until you saw nothing as it truly was. “I'm not following. I approached slowly. not me. Matty would be fine. but there wasn't even so much as a whisper of threat coming from him.” he replied..” I whispered. When it became painfully clear that our skills on the dance floor weren't translating so gracefully to the situation. helplessly stroking his hair.” I said. however strange it was. “Let me help you. Once Sean knew what happened. Guilt was such a strange beast. It may have been the humane thing to do.” I blurted out without thinking. My life had been suffered only because of Sean's affection for me. engaging his hollow eyes.” “Then don’t. before wincing in pain.my wolf. just shades of the reality you painted to assuage it. I pressed down against the floor. and I wasn't going to do it again. Any of it. hedging. trying to push himself up. “But it is my fault. “I'm so sorry. End of story.. leaving me bent forward so awkwardly that I was worried I'd actually face-plant rather than leverage him up. but twice.

I instinctively fingered the “end” key. RUBY!” he screamed. I looked on as he lithely uncurled his body to his full height. I'd done a bang-up job of that all by myself. making sure I was okay and taken care of. I tried to make sense of what I was seeing. Ever the gentleman. My breath caught in my throat as he turned around slowly to pin flaming orange eyes on mine. . rendering me useless. guttural pleas. facing away from me. his invisible bonds cut. I pulled my phone out of my coat pocket and hit up Cooper as I ran back to the room. it was up to Scarlet. replacing the mass that had just hours before been there. to pull him down and hold him until the pain that was clearly coursing through his body was gone. his head pulled so far back that his chest faced the ceiling. and it was all I could do to keep her at bay. I slowly dropped the phone to my side. Scarlet slammed through my mind. His extremities were pulled so taut that I feared limbs were going to start popping off like crab legs in the dead of winter. Before I could move. Instead. “WHAT THE FUCK. My feet had grown roots. The pain that I had caused. The last time I'd been there it was Matty looking after me. Matty let out a blood-curdling howl—right when Cooper picked up. The display was gruesome.night. utterly transfixed. I wanted to run to him. even if it killed me. It was time to call in reinforcements. He looked like he'd been yanked up and quartered by invisible ropes. Just before I entered. Before she could respond. very near it— he was levitating. I ran into the hallway bathroom and grabbed a towel. cutting him off from the horror I was witnessing. It was the last thing I remembered. “Get out of there. but I steeled myself and watched as the fibers twitched and writhed beneath his skin—forcing myself to swallow my just desserts. I thought I could make it through his Change before having to deal with her. As Matty continued making the torturous. “Not your turn. but that wasn't the person I knew. It looked as though there was a change of plans. And it was very. and pain had always worked wonders for that. digging my nails into it for the support and the discomfort. She would do whatever needed doing to ensure her own survival. After that. and I'd have no way to stop her. I stood by. While Cooper screamed expletive-peppered commands at me. and I refused to let it tarnish our relationship. Ever the Boy Scout. knocking me down and out for the count. NOW!” But it was too late. The current of electricity that hummed throughout the house called to Scarlet. I needed to keep a clear head. sounding as threatening as I could against the force within that could destroy me without breaking a sweat. successfully Changed. He may have had a more than checkered past. seemingly penetrating the floor beneath me. I grabbed the door frame.” I grumbled. and watched as his withered body reforged itself. soaking it in cold water. Matty crashed to the ground. having quickly put two and two together.

The answer to her question was yes. They couldn't just listen to you and not try to fix it. I didn't want to be fixed or reprimanded or lectured.” “I promise. and admit to both Ronnie and myself that I had done something horrible―irreparable.” she said.” she gasped. I knew he would have been comforting to some degree. I clasped her wrists in my hands and squeezed them so tightly they started to turn purple. If I wanted to keep what had happened from Sean.. “No. but there were things that women just couldn't share with a man. “but if you're going to get me into trouble with him. eying me closely. but I couldn't find my voice. I was going to have to own up to it. it was strange that I found myself on Ronnie's front porch.. I was frozen. but her silence came at a premium. “Sean called here earlier looking for you. then I couldn't go home either. but slightly shaken. No matter how hard I tried to apply my “no running” policy. If I couldn’t go to Sean’s. She's out with Jay. “Should I call him?” “NO!” I screamed. covering her mouth with her hand. He sounded worried.” she said curtly.. The PC tolerated my existence because . she whisked her arm around me. shuttling me into the living room. “What's wrong?” My state must have been more appalling than I'd originally thought based on her response. Promise me you won't tell him. trying to maintain some level of control over my shaky voice. this time by fear. She looked like a mother bracing herself for terrible news: stoic. I was supposed to go to Sean's that night. She was willing to cover for me. even with the tension we were having. I tried several times to push the frenzy of thoughts that were tormenting me out into words. Under those criteria. lurching towards her. but I couldn't.19 It was a long drive back to Portsmouth. My hands gripped the wheel too tightly as I drove—a feeble attempt to stop them from shaking. looking to the adjacent rooms for confirmation. “Wanna tell me what this is about?” Her eyes were sharp. is she?” I asked with a start. “Peyta's not home. but not unkind.” I sniffled. I need to know why I'm sticking my neck out for you. but I was paralyzed yet again. Before I could say anything. I loved Cooper dearly. Not after what had just happened. sitting me down on the couch. “I didn't know where else to go. I had created another being that wasn't to be borne. Frozen with shame.” she replied. it failed because this time I wasn't trying to escape. “Ruby. and. “He can't know where I am.” And there it was—the price of doing business with Ronnie.

“Yes. louder and more sternly. right?” she asked inelegantly. As for what had happened that evening.. She listened quietly.we. Matty’s death warrant would be signed the moment they found out. trying to calm herself..” I whispered. the full moon took on a different meaning and importance than it usually held. I didn't know what to say. It's not really anybody's fault. whorish bitch! She only cares about herself. “I figured you probably did. like I'd been thrown into a dark box and stashed away.” She had no idea. which was somewhat unexpected. I knew I had no choice but to tell her.” she said.” I admitted sheepishly. “So I'm expected to sleep with everyone because I'm a werewolf?” “Ruby. but what else was special about it?” The look on her face was willing me to the right conclusion while she leaned closer to me. but it doesn't really matter now. “A clusterfuck. “It's not your fault. and waited until I appeared to have finished completely before saying anything. They would not suffer another. Sean knew everything. but she and I. and none of which I thought necessary to share with Ronnie. If I betrayed Sean.we have an arrangement.” she replied with somewhat playful eyes. “So Scarlet needed to.” “Maybe. I managed to leave out the tiny little part regarding my involvement in Matty's infection.get some. then I didn't need someone else making me feel badly about it. “It's not your fault. realizing her point.. I'd totally forgotten about Scarlet and mating. He may have forgiven my sexual encounters with Cooper―I wasn't hopeful that I'd be given another pass. but—” “Listen to me. “What was last night?” she asked. “Full moon. “What happened..” I groaned. thinking I'd picked the wrong person to confide in—a judgment error of epic proportion. My guilt clung tightly to every part of my body. “I need you to be quiet and listen. and I wondered how I could ever look him in the face again. her own needs. voice softer than I'd ever heard it before. the situation had me completely beside myself. they already knew. staring at me with prodding but patient eyes. I had no recollection of what took place after he locked his wolf eyes on me. trying to lead me to her point. none of which were favorable.. She sat across from me.” “So she jumps his bones? She's such a selfish.. After I'd found out that Matty was going to Change. The bits I did remember from when I awoke had too many implications.” “What?” I gasped. jumping away from her on the couch.” she started...Sean demanded it. That shame could be exposed another day.” she said. “I know. I told her everything—almost everything. choking me. “But Matty was right there and newly Changed. “I'm sure it was.” I glared at her. You can't blame someone for being what they are. With my luck.” . does it? It's done.. Facing her was far easier than the alternative.

eyes narrowing. but I know enough to know that he won’t take kindly to this. There was sorrow in her voice.probably. and I wasn't going to give her anything else to ruminate over. I've been waiting for that to blow up for a while now. smile intact. giving nothing away. “I owe Scarlet the other..” she said. I wasn't in the mood.” “Yeah. “I owed you one..” she said.. Sean's probably been around for a long. eyes hopeful. as if I hadn't been made painfully aware of that fact on multiple occasions. “I need to avoid any further drama this evening. “Sean will kill him. Ronnie.” I said. “No.” I said sarcastically. leaning back against the arm of the couch. “You seem to have quite a few ‘precarious arrangements’ in place. Only one. and a neowere wouldn't stand a chance against him either. long time.... I meant it too. but I'm not really in the mood to pay that one back yet.” she said. he can't just walk up and—” I cut myself off when I remembered the context of her comment. I'll just say the remote isn't working. “Of course you can.” I could feel that she cared—truly cared—about me.” She turned slowly to face me.” she said.” I lied. hoping to drop that subject. “Male werewolves are extremely protective of what they perceive as theirs.. Sean and I have only recently been together—sort of. and they should leave mine out in the driveway. I don't know Sean well. if she wanted to stay above terra firma.” “Fuck. Precarious was an understatement. wearing a smile to match hers.” she said.” I told her. I can't tell. biting my lip.” she replied. “That's a precarious arrangement. ya did. “Two actually. For now.” “Ronnie. That was the moment that I . whether you actually are or not. A wide and wicked smile lit her face. At all.” “Mine too. I'm going to go put your car in the garage. “I'm glad you came to me.” “I know.. She's still on my shit list. but love in her heart.” “Right. She thought Sean was a werewolf. If they ask. and. standing up. “To be honest. walking towards the basement door.” she said. but it's been worked out. “Yeah. “But I think the basement might be a better idea.“But how am I going to tell Sean?” “You’re not.” I said. I wasn't sure that I liked where she was going. Ronnie. “Shit! He can't find out. “Besides.” I said nothing. I'm amazed he’s let the whole Cooper thing go on as long as he has.” “Thank you. “Any chance I can clean up and crash in the guest room?” I asked.” I said. If she was trying to get some intel for her little organization. “You’re not going to breathe a word of it to him. It caught me off guard.” Her expression changed immediately. I needed to keep it that way. Jay and Peyta should be home shortly and I think it'd be better if they didn't know you were here.

I tried to focus on what was being said. As I pried my head off the pillow. what's going on?” Peyta yelled.knew things were going to be okay between Ronnie and me. I pushed myself off the bed and shuffled. his voice threatening. I appreciated what Ronnie was doing. voice laced with sarcasm. I swallowed hard before I crept as quietly as possible up the stairs. I imagined that she knew a little something about that. “Then what?” he asked. stalking toward us. freezing me in place halfway up the staircase. She was defending the way to the basement. “Where were you?” he growled. “Go. she had balls. I popped the door open a crack. bracing myself against the solid support of the door frame. won't you?” Ronnie quipped. Sean eyed me from a distance over the top of Ronnie's head. “Like a flat tire?” he asked. I admired her spunk. “Mom. her back to me.” Ronnie said. voice shaking. but I couldn't risk her being hurt. “And after?” “Something popped up. I cringed at her choice of words. Nervous. especially when that heat revolved around me.” “Where is she?” a male voice asked. but too many people were talking at once to make much sense of anything.” I whispered.” Sean said.. expression unchanging. “I won't ask again.” I heard no further protestations from her. My head was still foggy from the hot toddy Ronnie had made me chug before bed. backing towards me slowly. “Ruby?” he asked.” Ronnie said. “You don't need to worry about that. A few feet in front of it stood Ronnie. . take Peyta upstairs. She said it would keep the nightmares at bay. eyebrow raising. *** The shouting carried deep into the basement where I slept restlessly on the pullout couch.” he said softly.” Ronnie snarled. “Peyta. it definitely wasn't that. No. “No. “Let's go. “Your mom said she's fine. “I. her voice carrying over the others.” Ronnie commanded through gritted teeth. she followed as always. P. “She's fine. I was glad. cutting in before I had a chance to say anything. his black eyes menacing as ever. We can see her tomorrow. Sean was too unpredictable when his emotions ran hot.” Ronnie assured her. “Jay. “Then I guess you'll be standing here quiet and disappointed for a long time. go upstairs!” Ronnie shouted.I had to take care of some business in Boston. so I didn't argue and slammed the cocktail as fast as I could. please.. to the stairs. Eventually. fuzzy-headed. so I assumed that once Jay took her hand. It tasted like medicine.

.. I drew the blanket back to watch them approach. I heard Ronnie whispering harshly.” he said menacingly.” “I can't!” I screamed at the top of my lungs. “It'll only make things worse.” he said. “Do you hear what I'm saying?” “Yes. her body pressing back into mine.. She's scared. Ronnie looked like a yappy dog chasing him and cursing at him. mmm?” she asked. avoiding my eyes.” I whispered back. Instead.” she said. Limbs quaking. Please. “Don't get cute with me. “And I don't enjoy games either. I want the truth. rejecting his request immediately. I knew the look she was giving him.he'll be leaving in a minute. “Read between the fucking lines. you stupid shit.” “Of what?” he said. her voice getting louder.” Ronnie said.” I ran down the stairs and dove into bed under the blankets.“How about we keep it vague for the time being. It said. not knowing what to say. Now. “I can't tell you! Don’t you see that? Please. I'll be okay.something I need to know about. “Ronnie.. that she'd stuffed me into a back corner of my . “Bad idea. Sean was unfazed. Ronnie looked over her shoulder to make sure I was okay before blocking the doorway with her tiny frame. “I need to see her. now is the time to tell me. She'll tell you when she's able to. He'd eventually land on the question that would cinch the noose around my neck: how did Matty get infected? It wouldn't help for him to know that I couldn't override Scarlet either.” The door casing no longer gave me the stability I needed.. I didn't know what to say. if you did something.” “I disagree. I don't enjoy cute.. Sean.” he said plainly. I couldn't tell him what happened because he was Sean.” she said.” She looked at me with warning eyes then reluctantly started back up the stairs. “it's okay. I don't want you to get in trouble. “Someone is going to tell me what happened. and listen good.” he said softly. waiting for the inevitable sound of footsteps to follow. I stared at Sean.please just go. gripping the wood tightly in her hands. Do you understand me?” He said nothing. Sean. That was when the footsteps came—two sets—Sean's heavy and certain. Ronnie's light and frantic. She'd given it to both Peyta and me on several different occasions. “Just drop it.” I said softly.” he said firmly. My arms shook and my legs quaked. “Back off. speaking in a slightly calmer voice. “Listen to me. “Ruby. “She's in no state to tell you now.” He seemed to get the point. I stumbled down a step or two before regaining my footing. “Probably of how you'll react given that you've taken everything sooo well thus far.” “I'm tired of working this hard for answers.

“Let me know when I can. I don't want to talk about it. he got off the bed and headed for the stairs.mind somewhere only for me to wake up later in a questionable state of dress. especially after learning that I was no longer on his hit list. a montage of emotions playing across his face. still audibly fighting his emotions. It seemed his threat of old no longer applied. It was poetic justice of sorts—an eye for an eye—I ruined Matty's life. Always when I thought things were on an upswing. looking at me with a pained expression on his face.” he said over his shoulder. “It's not what you think. still avoiding his gaze. effectively creating the very situation that caused my suffering. “If there's a mess to clean up.can't talk about it. but he didn't. “I'm sorry. putting my hand up to deflect his brewing reaction. but it was comforting just having him there. and he ruined mine. Seeing him was too painful. my rope would snap. Killing me wasn't an option for him anymore. I couldn't bring myself to touch him or be touched by him. I flopped back down. And he wasn't going to let it be an option for anyone else either. It was what I deserved. “I don't think you do. I'm sure it took every ounce of resolve he had not to. Loud and clear. there were no acceptable solutions to my problems. He inhaled deeply. The bed shifted slightly as he lowered himself onto it. Maybe we were perfect for each other. I'd made Matty what he was. my neck stretched long in no time flat. I don't. I felt horrible about lying to him. plummeting me down farther into the crap I'd just escaped. trying to ignore my ever-racing mind.” he murmured.. Looking completely dejected. Sean. Ruby. he climbed the stairs and left me to my isolation. I wasn’t ready to be touched. Sean. My hope was that it would tire eventually after realizing that. pulling my extremities into me under the cover of the blanket. That fact would have knocked the chair out from under my feet. “What business were you taking care of in Boston on the full moon?” he asked. I'm so sorry. Honestly. “I don't know what happened. Unable to watch any longer.” I cried.” After a long pause.knowing I had betrayed his trust. The trust I'd only just recently gained. by omission or otherwise. My stomach turned at the sight of him leaving. trying to restrain the anger in his voice. no matter how I played it. “I can't. “Please. I turned away. and I reflexively curled up. roaring war cries of his. Sean. I need to know now…before it can come to light. Not yet. It felt right.. Do you understand me?” I did. He failed miserably. anything to make him go away. The problem was that I had to give him something.” I sniffled. . and I was afraid he was going to let loose one of those howling.” I whispered. I felt like a traitor.” he said. “I want to hold you. and I couldn't bear the guilt I felt.” He froze for a moment. as a few tears ran down my face.

He didn't follow. After untangling myself from the bed sheets. I think she just surrendered the idea that I would leave. Sean returned to his post on the couch without a word―without argument.” he countered. “Go to bed.” “I could say the same to you. It was a compromise of sorts. the two of us staring at each other. If he left me there to suffer alone.My life was cyclical if nothing else.” “I am. If what I'd had was an improvement. I heard your cry. “I need some water.” he replied. I promise.” “I know. thoroughly confused. looking pensive and torn. Once I crept up the stairs. The light leaked out into the living room.” I said. I needed water after all the sweating I'd just done. running his hand back and forth through his hair. even . the pillows all askew. I leaned against the counter.” I said softly. Ronnie was wrong. They'd need to be thrown in the wash when I came back down. running my foot across the illuminated patch of floor. “I needed to know you'd be alright.” “Oh.” he said. he hadn't slept. *** I hit the ground with a shriek. “Ronnie let you stay?” “I wouldn't say she let me stay. completely still. What are you doing?” He was standing a few feet away from the basement door. “I had a bad dream. “I thought you left. unmoving. “You scared me. cracking under the pressure and escaping to the kitchen as quickly as possible. Sean. When I brought my attention back to him. completely startled. “Jesus!” I cried. I saw the dark circles under his eyes. I looked past him to see a blanket draped across the couch.” I said. It made me smile.m. I glanced at the clock: 3 a. I noticed his clothes were creased and wrinkled.” I said.” he said soberly. grabbing my chest. sipping at the tumbler of water. his hair was completely disheveled in the way that takes two stylists and a lot of product to achieve. “Debating what?” I asked. returning his gaze. creating a fading. her cocktail did nothing to keep the bad dreams at bay. I sighed and dragged my weary body upstairs. hoping that nobody had been woken by my scream. It became wildly apparent to me that he was truly trying in his own way to give me what I had asked for without sacrificing his own needs. You look exhausted. When he pulled it out. I shuddered to think of how bad the alternative would have been. “Whether or not I should come down and check on you. In that path stood Sean. yellowy path on the tan carpet. If he'd demanded to stay with me—press me for answers—he was an abusive bully. “I was debating something. I opened the basement door quietly. He was in a no-win situation. the bed sheets were soaked.

I felt every ounce of it. He was sitting on the edge of the large brown sofa. walking out of the kitchen towards him. and I stopped only a couple of feet in front of it. I wasn't sure that what I was about to do was smart. he then pulled the coffee table closer.” he whispered sweetly. his face terribly uncertain. so he picked me up and laid me gingerly on the couch alone. promising dreams so sweet that I would never want to wake. “You can. I reached for his hair.” he said. Maybe I needed to meet him halfway too. slowly. sitting on the corner of it so he could trace the lines of my face and let his hands get lost in the tousled curls atop my head. the motion of running my fingers through it was impossibly soothing. nor asked a single question about the events that had frightened me so.” I mumbled. He seemed to find the new position objectionable. Before I could lose my resolve. We stayed like that for ages. neither of us saying a word until my legs finally tired and I shifted my weight against him for support. my eyes closed.” I said softly. “You'd better. locking me in his love. His lips brushed my ear as he spoke. His solution was to create a happy medium—to meet me halfway.” I explained. his hands coming back around to my sides. “Sean. He never pressed for anything more than that. He crushed me to him. “You are mine.” . “You can. or if it would set the ball rolling so quickly down Clusterfuck Lane that I wouldn't be able to stop it.” I called. his breath tickling ever so slightly.” He hesitated at first. opening my eyes so I could read his expression. he was an insensitive.though it was exactly what I had asked for. pressing myself between his knees. He pressed his cheek to my belly while his arms wound tightly behind my back. taking a deep breath before I said anything else. Satisfied with my comfort. Instead. matching my gentle tone. I closed the distance between us in two tentative steps. “You told me to let you know when you could hold me again. caught in the narrow window between consciousness and sleep. wrapping the blanket tightly around me. “I love you. “I don't understand. pouting asshole. he lulled me to sleep with the touch of his hand. No more running.

Something I needed badly. “Dammit!” I said.” He white-knuckled the steering wheel for a second.” he said. I wanted to tell him something to alleviate his stress. “It's called The Friendly Toast. and managed to locate my keys in the back mudroom.” “I'm okay. It's worth it every time. lying across his body.” “Peyta and Jay are already there. I remembered waking up in Matty's room. I need to go to work. but there was no truth from the night before that I could afford to share—nothing that would do anything but cause him further duress. putting his hand on my knee. “Okay my ass. I promise.” I said. I was flooded with memories. frowning. I got in my car and drove. grinding the words out through gritted teeth. it dawned on me that I'd completely forgotten something at Matty's. collecting my clothes—my purse—and running out. I didn't stop till I wound up at Ronnie's. Sean.” “Jerk. I collected my purse from the floor and opened the car door to join him. “but I'm good enough. “I hope it's the truth.” he said. barely clothed. I'm not going. Sean. She didn't want you to rush. I'd taken one look around and full-on panicked before tearing around his room.” “I didn't say I'm great.” he said. pulling up in front of the restaurant. As I did.” He laughed rather heartily before answering. I had dressed on the fly as I ran down the hallway. “That makes at least two of us. She's worried about you. and it took a second or two to realize it was me. catching his gaze. staring wildly at me as though he detected a danger present that I was unaware of. do you want to grab a coffee at that Toast place downtown?” he asked as we drove around the turn leading into the old part of town. “The Friendly Toast. When my mind brought me back to the present. folding my arms over my chest in mock protest. Something had him spooked.” I told him. groaning overtly. That's the best I can do for now. before he got out of the car. but I love your reaction.20 “So. Sean stood next to the passenger door. I was totally screwed.” I said. trying to think of anything to say.” “You keep saying that. “I know what it's called. Besides. the leather objecting to his grip. . While I stalled. “If you're going to pick on me. having thrown them on the floor the night before.

” he said.” he said.. but he put his phone up to his ear as my words started to come out. I watched as our relationship took a giant leap backwards. but I couldn't risk it. praying he was bluffing. thinking that the last thing he'd heard was Matty Changing.” “Worried. leaning his body in closer to me. I hope you're good for all of them. especially given that last night was the full moon.. and I felt helpless to stop it. Sean would never even have to know about it.” “Are you sure? It wouldn't take more than a phone call and we'd know exactly where it is.. simple as that...okay.” “Oh.” I blurted out. “No. Promise.” “There’s that word again. “Yeah? Sounds good.it's totally fine.. “Nope.” . Scarlet and I were going to have a serious heart-to-heart about Matty.” I said. his eyes calculating. Just lay low―I'll be down ASAP. Seeing him put up that hard exterior we'd worked so long to break down hurt even more. I'll just bang down there later and pick it up.. I knew that he'd all but told me that the rules no longer applied to me just the night before. Totally not that—I promise. No problem at all. “Well. Maybe if we could take care of the situation discreetly.” I didn't like what he was clearly implying.. My stomach knotted at the thought. knowing I was right where he'd explicitly told me not to be. “I looked for it while you were sleeping.” “I could have one of the boys locate it for you. no.” “It wasn't at Ronnie's. Cannon fodder. Telling him was endangering him. flailing my hands around in an effort to drive my point home... It's not that. Ares was looking for even the slightest fuck-up to take us both out. “Fuck. “No.” And boy did I want to be.. I'll go there today and see if they have it.” I said.” I yelled. looking mildly embarrassed. trying to hide his anger.” he said.“What?” he asked.. no. “I'm sure he is. “I really don't like those two words used in a sentence together.follow the GPS locator on it... “I hung up on him last night by accident and I'm sure he's worried. “My phone.you did? Oh. Knowing that I was lying to him hurt me more than I could have imagined. thrusting his face in mine.” he quietly scoffed to himself. I wasn't going to hand it to him on a silver platter. “I'm pretty sure I know where it is. Don't think I'm going to forget that little detail.” he said with the slightest edge to his tone. thinking that it was a blessing of epic proportion that he hadn't. So where is your phone?” he asked. I went to say something comforting to Sean. “You're making a lot of promises lately.Cooper. That realization brought awareness to another loose end dangling around me.

” he said flatly.” He was angry. I couldn't patch things up with Sean at that moment. Had one of his boys already found my phone? Did he know Matty Changed? Did he have someone following me. now.” “I'd tell you the same. it wasn't good. I'd have been a fool to not know what happened between them. Cooper was a close second. hugging me tightly. appeared to be in a post-coital coma.” I didn't bother to ask for clarification. that was abundantly clear. Deal with that situation. and given her clearly satiated full moon sex status. not into it?” Cooper yelled. He's freaking out. He thinks someone is tailing him now. “Be careful. it dawned on me that. He knew I was lying about something. She loved being the peanut gallery. his expression going from pleased to concerned lightning fast. like Matty. The thought made my skin crawl the whole way home. desperate kiss on my mouth before pulling quickly away and heading down the street.Sean said. but my concern was just how much truth did he know behind my lies. “Go find Cooper. “Do you want me to drive you home?” I called after him. “You need to play this off right. He was gonna be pissed for sure. Scarlet seemed to be alarmingly missing in action. As much as I loathed the idea. If somebody catches on. “I need to be able to get a hold of you. Please. Talk to Cooper. then find your phone. What the fuck were you thinking?” . “I'm headed back down to Langley. I was going to have to ask Cooper. filling him in? Just how much info did he have at his disposal when he interrogated me? I let out a deep breath as I walked around to the driver's side of the TT.in all that had happened. Given that I'd been basically naked when I woke up at Matty's. Sean. but I doubt you'd listen. throwing me the car keys.” There was a sting to his words. so I decided to go for fixing things with Cooper. so I was amazed that the tension with one and the promise of a fight with the other had done nothing to rouse her.” “Okay. sounding more like my boss than my boyfriend. What I didn't understand was why she. but he crushed me to him. “Go home. “I swear you have no survival instincts whatsoever. I've got to go neutralize this shit.” he said. Whenever Sean started swearing.” I whispered. especially when Sean threw a little 'tude around. still squeezing me to death in his arms. it won't be good. “No. She always had something to say when it involved him. if he would even talk to me. McGurney got into the file. *** “Don't you understand that when somebody yells fire you should run out of the building.” He hung up and turned his forest green stare to me. He released me enough to plant a hard. On the drive home.

“You haven't heard anything.” I said. “I was selected.” I said softly.. Cooper had Changed not so very long ago. as you well know. and I wanted to hit myself for being so insensitive. though. I try not to dwell on it much.” he scoffed. throwing his arms up in exasperation. having been infected as well. falling back onto the sofa. I'd like to make them based on the facts. He himself had gone through what I'd just witnessed. He cringed in response to my jest. so his answer had me totally discombobulated. Got to see that one up close and personal.” he said..” “Fair enough. You really should know. Coop?” He pressed his lips together tightly then sighed.” “Is that normal? For someone to be 'selected'?” “No.” I argued. “You say I'm the worst werewolf ever because I know nothing about my kind. yet you are the one who's most guilty of not telling me anything about it.” I spat. trying to smooth down the hairs that were standing up at the mention of his name. or otherwise. “The Change is dangerous.“Well.” he replied. How is that fair. I walked over to him and took his hand.” “It was.” I said jokingly. It's obvious that you weren't thinking. Cooper? How did you end up like this?” “I guess it's time I told you. bad. He wanted someone who was a little more All-American to send out into the general public. “You're right.” “I told you it was dangerous!” “Right.” he said curtly. so from now on I'm going to tell you. Ruby. “Gregory handpicked me to be in his pack.” “Thanks. The pain was obviously still fresh in his mind. “I can't have it both ways. I don't need to know about Changing anymore.” he said. “His pack was powerful. It must have been awful for you. “Oh. You want to know stuff. “What happened to you.it isn't?” I asked. searching his face. leading me over to the couch. “I'm sorry.” he said. It's over now. frustrated with the situation.” he said solemnly.” “Well. but they weren't an inconspicuous group.” “Thank you. but you never told me the why behind it. don't thank me yet. not just on your two-bit summary. Lots of people die in the process. he called and—” “That was a rhetorical question.” I said sarcastically. and it was not pretty. “Wait. Coop.” . I was prepared to fight with him. “It's not.” he said. but there was nothing normal about Gregory. his hands on my shoulders pushing me away to arm’s length. his eyes softening slightly. “Then you get mad at me for not making better decisions. Those who make it tend to cause a whole lotta damage in the process. “But I guess you know that too. You may be sorry you ever asked. “It would have been awesome to know that before now. good.

“But why did he need that? The compound was virtually self-sufficient.” “I've told you before that he used me for bait.” “Right, but for what?” I asked, thinking that he may have been right about me not really wanting to know. “Women,” he said, expressionless. “He wanted females for the pack. They tend to not survive the Change well, even if they're genetic werewolves, so he wanted to increase the odds by having me bring back the prettiest and strongest I could find.” “But if those women went missing, didn't anyone take notice?” “No, because I was smart enough to target runaways and transient professionals...anyone whose disappearance wouldn't really be noticed, or could have other plausible explanations, like a missing hiker being attacked by some wild animal.” I could see how much he detested himself for what he'd done. His self-loathing coated my aura. “Anyway,” he said, continuing on, “I'd find them and bring them back to the compound. Some I would infect; others Gregory would take himself. He exploited my looks and my easy way with the ladies. My whoring tendencies. If he liked what I brought him, he'd keep them around until they Changed, if not...” “What?” I asked, pulse quickening. “What happened to them?” “Midnight snack ring any bells?” It did. And not pleasant ones. The sounds I'd heard coming from the kitchen that night in the compound while we were escaping were beyond traumatizing. I tried to block it out. “I can see that it does,” he said, eying me. “So that's how I spent my werewolf days before you showed up. You changed everything for me.” “You changed everything for me too,” I said taking his hand again and giving it a squeeze. “So Gregory was the one who made you?” “No,” he said quickly. “He never Changed the males. He made one of his lackeys do it instead. Usually, it was the one with the long black hair, Bryan, who did it. Gregory didn't want to run the risk of making a male as strong as he was.” “Well, I guess that would make sense. He was a tad bit paranoid,” I said sarcastically, trying once again not to think too much about him. “No, he was smart and ruthless. He wasn't taking any unnecessary risks,” he said, holding up the back of his right hand for me to see. There was a tiny scar on the knuckle of his index finger. “Gregory didn't want me to be marred, so he told Bryan to make the bite small and inconspicuous. This is what he gave me.” I ran my finger over the marking, gently. It was so small—so benign. It was hard to fathom that tiny little scar was the source of Cooper's demons. “How long did it take?” I asked, still fingering the thickened tissue. “Four months.” “What?” I gasped. “How do you know that? How could you know that? It would have been healed so long before that; there would have been no way to figure out that the two incidents were related.”

“Yes. I could,” he said calmly. “But how?” “Because the wound doesn't heal until you Change, Ruby,” he said, pinching the bridge of his nose. “It remains red and raw until it’s complete. I'm pretty sure I'd notice a wound that wasn't healing over the course of four months, especially when it's on the back of my hand.” “And you didn't think that was strange?” “Of course I did, but I was on my own, without health insurance, so I let it be. It's not like I would have thought it had to do with something supernatural.” “No, I guess you wouldn't,” I said, feeling foolish. “So, on the night of your Change?” I asked, coaxing him to continue the story. “Bryan came for me. They'd been watching me for all those months on the full moon to see if I was Marked. When it was clear that I was, he brought me to the compound to complete my transformation there,” he said, looking away from me. “It was excruciating. I begged them to kill me.” I thought of Scarlet's offer to kill Matty again and realized that maybe it was far more merciful than I had imagined at the time. “When it was over,” he continued, looking at me this time, “I killed everyone in the room with me.” “What...?” I whispered, my hand covering my mouth. “I have no recollection of it, but afterward I saw the room—the bodies. I was filled in on the details later. Gregory was so pleased; he actually smiled the entire time. Sick fucker.” “That's why you were so worried.” “Yes. I've witnessed many other Changes, Ruby, from a safe vantage point, of course. The ones that made it through all have similar stories to tell,” he said quietly. “You should be dead right now.”

21 Once the wave of nausea passed, I found myself at a loss for words, however briefly. A deluge of them soon followed. “Holy hell, Cooper! You didn't think that might have been pressing information to share with me?” “I thought you'd gotten the message to stay away!” “And you were willing to bet my life on it?” I screamed. “You call me thick all the time, Coop. You know I follow instructions like a two-year-old on a bad day. What. The. Fuck?” “I'm sorry—” “I'm sorry? You do realize that you could be standing over my coffin saying that, right?” “I fucked up!” he yelled, springing up from the couch. “Yeah, you did,” I spat, getting in his face. “To say the least.” “Listen, you're alive. That's what matters right now. When you hung up on me, I went postal. I had to protect you...keep you safe—” “Information like ‘he's likely to kill you’ would have kept me safe, Cooper.” “Don't you think I know that now? You have no idea the lengths I went to to try and get to you,” he growled, breathing down my face. “I stole a fucking car, Ruby. Smashed the window out right in the middle of the goddamn street! I drove like a maniac down to Boston, like I had any idea where I was going. Hell, I called Alan to try and see if he could find Matty's address for me.” He stalked away from me, pulling at his hair viciously. “I couldn't get to you...” “I'm okay, Coop,” I whispered, realizing that he'd had a scary night too. I lowered my gaze and leaned in closer to him. “I spent all morning cleaning up...” His words trailed off when his voice started to fail him. “Just in case I came back?” I said softly, knowing he was doing a far better job torturing himself than I ever could. “Oh, I knew you were coming back,” he snarled, snapping out of his downward spiral. I looked at him, thoroughly confused. “You just freaked out on me because I could have been killed. How is it that you 'knew' I'd be coming back?” “Because Sean told me when I called him, that's how.” “You called Sean?” I asked, sweat forming rapidly on the back of my neck. “I was desperate,” he rumbled. “I made a judgment call.”

on second glance. his expression very serious.” “Ugh.” he said. as you saw. nervously scratching my arm. which was that you were alive.” “Huh..” he scoffed..” “I was plenty angry. “Can he really?” “Yes. You have to heal for a while afterward. and he's eager to try it out since he still has no idea what happened last night.” I groaned. “Ah man. “It takes a lot out of you to Change for the first time. did you?” “No!” he snapped. “I felt helpless. ruminating over his words.” “Wait a minute.” he said.. from that library in Maine. fingering a hole in the wall the size of his fist. I was just wondering earlier why Scarlet seemed to be AWOL. walking to his room. “But he just told me to go and talk to you so I could let you know what happened last night. Ruby.. “He's probably still sleeping. Beside it was a larger one—about the size of his head.” he said.” “I went totally psycho. and. I told him I hung up on you and didn't call back. I couldn't find you. since he can track me down at the drop of a hat with his fancy GPS-hacking brothers. apparently he can. That you'd be worried.” “That's why you weren't angry at me.. and I left my phone at Matty's. turning away from Cooper. Your boy was hardly forthcoming with the information. “But I'm coming with you.. “you know that's my favorite piece.” “I don't know—” “It wasn't a request.” “Oh my God. “What exactly .” “He lied to me. I'm sorry. “though I'm sure he would say he just edited the truth.” “So you knew all along where I was?” “Please.. “I have to replace a few things.” “Fine. flashing dangerous eyes.” I did a quick sweep of the living room. “I need to get that phone ASAP. grabbing my hand to keep me from taking a layer off my skin. wheeling around to look at me.” “I tried to save it.” he said. looking surprised.” “Apparently you should have called Sean earlier. You didn't tell him about Matty.” he said.” “Still sleeping?” “Yes.. “What?” he asked. He told me what I needed to know. Cooper. but I'm not taking any chances..you knew. looking around the room.“But he. I noticed items missing from their customary spots.” I whispered.” he said.. Rubes. “Not the vintage card catalog. trying to put things together.. “But I would have. “Huh. “Like that would be a first..” I grumbled.” I started.” “He knows exactly how worried I was last night. but wouldn't tell me where you were. But she wouldn't be in a healing coma.” “Seriously?” he said. what?” “Well.” I said..” I said.

more a question than an answer. I'd heard him loud and clear.after he Changed?” I said. repeating himself needlessly. technically..” “Most Boy Scouts haven't been to juvie. wincing away from him as if thwarting off a blow..” “Where did you stay last night?” “Ronnie's..... how could I be—oooooh.me. “You're mated. She..” “And when did you go there?” “After I left Matty's. “Fuck.um. his eyes probing.” “What's wrong?” I asked in a panic. I'm mated? But I wasn't even there.she—” “Chose Matty. “Didn't take her for the Boy Scout type.. well. pushing me towards the door. and.” “And two?” I asked nervously. “Right after?” he asked. “So Scarlet. “Well. “Yeah.running.. Ruby. “Wait!” I yelled. apparently is since she picked him....” I stammered. but what it illuminates is not what they'd hoped to see..happened last night?” “I. rubbing the back of his neck. “Think about it. Holy shit!” “We need to get down there now.from you!” “You may be right..” I said. feeling the sweat start to bead on the back of my neck.” he said. you see. “Not good. I got what you said. The look on his face was not promising.” “Missing how?” “Like I don't remember anything from when Matty turned around with his wolf eyes on me to me waking up pretty much naked draped across his body. trying to think of what to say. which clearly didn't happen if he's still breathing. He's probably the exact type for her.. I don't really know what happened. So not good. “I don't want to . He's not going to hurt me. “See that's the weird thing about all of this. Won't he flip out if you're with me? If I'm his woman or whatever?” He looked at me thoughtfully for a moment as if that was the first time I'd said something potentially insightful.” he said with a sigh. stunned expression people wear when the mental light bulb finally flicks on.” Cooper said with a slight hint of distaste. but I'm not getting what you're saying. he'll want to protect me. “What's not good that I don’t already know?” “There are only two reasons that I can think of as to why he wouldn't have killed you.” “And when was that?” “Umm..” he said. One is that Scarlet is a bad ass motherfucker and she stomped his ass. “That's a bad idea.. “I'm WHAT?” I yelled.” he said. Cooper. that's when it gets a bit fuzzy. I think there's a bit of time missing in that scenario.” I said with the wide-eyed.. blood withdrawing from his face. digging in my heels. “You're mated.” he said.

” Cooper said. Rubes. then it's clearly a bad idea for you to come with me.. “Nobody is going to harm Matty. Sean was out of town. Really bad.” he said. “If Sean finds—” “Sean isn't going to find out.” I slammed the door behind me and paused before going down the stairs. . “Be careful.have to kill him. which made my life exponentially easier in the short term. “Ruby. Ever. fishing it out of his back pocket. It seems to happen when you're in agreement about what you want. pointing my finger at him.” “I'm going to go then. but doesn't fully take over. I'll call you once I retrieve my phone.” I shouted. This shit is bad.” “Alright.. I'll figure something out. indeed.” “Oh shit. his voice overly calm. “I have the landline programmed into it.” “Oh shit. Okay?” Silence. but the long term looked bleak.” he ordered.” The growl rumbled out of my throat with a threat level of ten. panic in my voice. “Did I do that?” I asked. very bleak. “Yes. Your eyes went that weird purple color they turn when Scarlet bleeds into you.” “Looks that way. “because you're not going to tell him and neither am I. but she would take out anyone else who tried. God knows you have no clue what your own phone number is.” “Take my cell. I knew then that Scarlet not only wouldn't kill Matty.” I gave him a little hug before heading for the front door. Very. Call me when you get there. I always do. The implications were staggering.

it's me. due to my heavy footedness when I walked. “Matty. moving closer to his room. I wasn’t sure that I was ready to see the state he was in. but. Cooper had told me that as long as I didn't sneak up on Matty everything would be fine. I proceeded with a little less caution until I was in the upstairs hall. Ruby. I can go get you something.” I said. barely intelligible.” “Matty.. His pet nickname for me had become “the elephant. Getting shoved aside by Scarlet was a frightening and helpless experience the first time around. given that he was going to be less problematic when starving and weak. the same as I had the previous night. I was to find my phone and get out as quietly as possible. as per his mandate. “Uh. “Matty. like I was his mother calling him to get ready for school. I had my ring placed snugly on my hand before even leaving my apartment. He made a guttural sound of protestation. I received no response. If he was still asleep. even taking that into consideration.. but the images of him wasting away plagued my mind. Creeks and groans escaped from every tread. The house was silent. Everything appeared as it had when I left.” I whispered as loudly as I dared.sure. When I heard the squeaking of a mattress upstairs. I slapped together the most ridiculous combination of foods I could find along with a gallon jug of orange juice before returning upstairs. I tiptoed through the house looking for any sign of Matty on the first floor. With that in mind. I wasn't excited about seeing what state he would put me in either. “I just need to get my phone. he was turning into quite the little dictator.” or “petit elephant” when he was feeling especially cultured. “Food?” he grumbled. I crept up the stairs trying to make as little noise as possible. sure. “Ughhhh. and I wasn't looking forward to the possibility of it happening again. Planning for that very event. Sean would have been proud.22 I called Cooper as soon as I pulled up outside the house.” I called out again. Softly calling his name. I froze. He actually rolled his eyes when he said it. and I made my way in through the back. even though he had recovered from that. Neither Cooper nor I was sure it would work. but I . His concern was palpable when I left. Hovering just outside his room. It might not have been the best idea. Some things couldn't be unseen. backtracking to the first floor kitchen. but in a century-old home.” I said. it was virtually impossible.

” I said. The downside was that he didn't seem to realize that bond didn't apply to me as well. And that was so not an improvement. I had to prepare.” “She seems to think she does. squirming under his stare. pulling me close to him. “She doesn't speak for me.” I cringed at the thought of what those two had done and was once again grateful for complete lack of knowledge regarding their bedroom shenanigans.” “He's wrong.” “I think your girl. Food scattered throughout the room. “Weird. “Well.” “You're wrong.” “She thinks a lot of things that are delusional. It literally looked like a category three hurricane had hit it. “No. “I'm not hungry anymore. “She seemed to think I owned her pretty good last night. “No. facing me square on.” he growled. staring at me with tired but hungry eyes. “He thinks he owns you.” I said. trying to push him off of me. scanning the ransacked room. ducking away from him gracefully. Suddenly. it appeared that we were further apart than ever.” he said. I had the strangest urge to clean it before his parents got home. so—” “Cooper. knocking me to the bed. moving to the far side of the offset mattress to put the armload of food down.” I said. I felt like my life was coming around full circle.thought it certainly couldn't hurt my chances. His hunger ran far deeper than that. I’ll just put this on the bed and go look for it then. after what occurred as a result of Matty's Change. If my blackouts were going to return. I felt Scarlet bouncing off the walls of my skull like a caged animal desperate to escape. but. low and threatening.” I said as I stuck my head in around the door. positioning himself above me. he wasn't.” I said. He definitely wasn't interested in the food I was precariously carrying either. would disagree.” I explained.” he said. Scarlet.” he said. hoping to defuse the situation.” he said with a wicked grin. “Cooper said you'd need to eat soon. “He's just trying to help. Matty and she were mated for sure. He intercepted me on the way.” . “Okay. amplifying its post-storm appearance. “I've got food. Scarlet and I had functioned in a more integrated way after our healing incident with Sophie. and all I could think was how glad I was that I didn't remember what had been done to cause that level of destruction. He doesn't. “He wants you for himself.” “Nobody owns me. “Are you decent —” No. No. my phone? Any ideas where that might be?” I asked. I might as well have been trying to push my car. Her reaction settled it. “So. He stood beside the bed as naked as the day he was born.

he's the number one assassin for our particular breed of werewolf. pushing his body against my back.. I ignored his comment. “Nothing. unhooked the battery. You need to let me go. walking to the far side of the room. applying an uncomfortable amount of force to my stomach. this has been fun and all.” I said.” “I want to see her.” “Look. The headache I was amassing from the screaming and pounding she was doing inside my mind was proof of his point. For both of us. “What's interesting?” I asked. Matty.” “True.” “Liar. “She wants to see me.” “Not so fast.” I said. rolling out from under him. Our asses are both hanging out in the breeze here right now. more specifically. but the boys were always available to his every command. “Your Changing. working hard to breathe. “You must have . And if anyone has a claim to me.” he said with a hint of mocking.” he said. we're both dead.” he said. The thing with Scarlet is a freaky little bonus.” I said. feeling the lust roll off of him in waves. When I flipped the mattress up and across the room. Still. Sean may have been out of town. he's not to be fucked with—ever. “If I don't make this call.. Now. or at least more than I already had. heading out the door. pointing to his rather perky nether regions. tossing things around the room in search of the one little thing that could cause me a world of drama. some sort of werewolf assassin?” “That's precisely what he is. and I hoped it wasn't too late. I grabbed it. scratching his face.” he said. He's been hunting us for centuries. I screeched at the sight of the tiny silver device. but I need to get my phone and get out of here before you and I both find ourselves in a world of hurt with Sean. he'll have to kill us both.” “Interesting. “I need to go make a call.” “You want to fuck her. cocking his head to the right. “It could cause some problems. it's him.” I said.” “Prove it. I need you to lay low—behave. “Where is she now?” “Sleeping. grabbing me around my waist.” he said.” “And yet he lets you live.” “Not going to happen. “You want to fuck me too. “Awesome. “I want to see her. it wasn't an option I was willing to concede.far away from here. I can feel her.” “You need to let me see her.” He wasn't bluffing.” “I'd prefer your ass be hanging out here.” I said. And trust me when I tell you something.He eyed me tightly. But I've wanted that for a long time now. “If Sean finds out that I infected you. and pulled out the SIM card. So what is he. and. The GPS function would be disabled. Trust me. Matty.

determined I would fail. and please keep those details to yourself. If I fucked it up. I'm pretty sure he'd kill you the second he laid eyes on you. “After that.” I said. but hoping I would pass. Matty. The whole encounter had been far more anticlimactic than I feared it would be. but I was unable to shake the sneaking suspicion that I was walking into a trap. Maybe that would have been the easiest way out. “You wouldn't stand a chance.” “What can I say? He has a soft spot for me. suddenly becoming all business-like. and as soon as they see what you are. I had a call to make and it needed to count. “No. I tried to push the possibilities out of my mind as I got in the car and sped off for downtown.” “Oh my God.” he laughed. Matty!” “That's what she said.” I said. Let me handle them. There was a feeling in my gut that gnawed away at me.” “They call it doggy-style for a reason. He knew—he had to.” he said. do you hear me?” “You didn't seem to mind last night. and I knew for that yin I was in for a bitch of a yang.” “Maybe he'll have one for me too. gasping for breath. I knew I had to call him. I'll keep you posted about Sean.. I stopped at the gas station a few blocks from the studio and put my phone back together.” “I wasn't there last night. I searched for the words to say to him. and I left before he had a chance to say anything else.” “So what do you propose then?” “I propose you let me call him and make nicey-nice over the phone so he thinks everything is fine. the jig is up.” he scoffed. I don't have a clue how to fix this. I couldn't believe that he hadn't already found out where my phone was if it was so simple to find out in the first place. “So you want me to pretend that everything is business as usual?” “Exactly. “You know where to find me if you need anything not sexually related. It would explain why he was so angry with me outside the cafe. Always has. “And under NO circumstances are you to Change. the outcome was the same—I had to place the call. throwing his head back in self-amusement. like lying about where I'd been was a test Sean had manufactured...” He growled in response. If you bring any attention to yourself whatsoever.” “My offer still stands about those two.eat something.. but I know one thing is for sure. walking away.made that very worth his while.” He released me and I staggered to the doorway. it was as good as putting the revolver to my own head and pulling the trigger. Regardless of my intuition. they'll be coming for me next. fix up this shithole of a room. Since I hadn't told him what had happened. I don't need to know what you two furries were doing. he . trying to wriggle free. Sean and his brothers will hunt you down. and try to keep your nose clean. I'll see you at dance tomorrow night. Twirling the phone round and round in my hand. He probably called to have it traced after being unable to find it at Ronnie's. Until then.

Instead of stumbling upon another of my ridiculous blunders. It was wishful thinking though. “You're going to tell him the truth. the notion that maybe. “Hey. I wiped the tears from my cheeks that I initially hadn't felt escape. It was possible. and I still just wasn't able to saddle myself with that responsibility. I reminded myself of the plan. With a lump in my stomach. blasting me in the face. sweating profusely. Instead. Making it all go away meant making Matty go away. it's me. A nap was in order when I got home. I needed to sleep away some of the drama from my life. I did the only thing I could. As I drove.I love you.. I don't know what I hoped the outcome of my confession would be. It's about last night. even though the air-conditioning was on full. I still don't remember what happened. I wondered if maybe it wouldn't have been easier to just blurt out what I'd done in the message. Call me when you can. but there's something you should know. Sean never forgot anything. before hesitating. He didn't even bother to answer.” I told myself as I waited for beep.” I clicked the end button and ran my thumb over the screen several times before putting it away... Last night was the full moon.. I put the phone back together and dialed him up.I really need to talk to you. Cooper didn't know everything. not all was lost. . As I fired the car up and sped off toward the interstate. I drove through the city clinging to that feeble hope. Even if Sean had let me live. knowing that Cooper would want a play-by-play of the whole thing down to the very last detail.” I said. I. he'd have found out that I was a cheating whore. Don't think I'm going to forget that little detail. The upside was that he would at least know that I hadn't betrayed him.. Not having to hear the varied emotions in Sean’s voice would have been music to my ears. Sleep wouldn't be allowed until he was satisfied. A tiny smile spread on my face at the thought. A fuck-up I may have been. Maybe there was an extenuating circumstances clause somewhere in the rules. I wouldn't have wanted to.wanted to make sure it hadn't been something stupid.you're going to tell him the—” Voicemail. whoring myself out on the full moon. “He's busy. But I knew why I didn't.. but I was becoming readily convinced that it would be better than living a lie slathered with guilt. Sean.you're going to tell him the truth. he could have made it all go away. Ring after ring. but a slut without morals I was not. It's really important.. “I. Maybe if I'd just told him what was wrong when he gave me my get-out-of-jail-free pass. Ever.. just maybe. I had set myself up for a frenzied call that would only further agitate him with the news that I'd once again fucked something up royally.

In person or otherwise. When it vibrated in response. but I thought I'd answer what was asked only. so in truth I hadn't seen his demise.” “True. “I think your boy Sean knows what happened to him. It's not easy to shake an Army Ranger to the core.23 I texted Cooper to let him know my ETA. Alan.” “I know you haven't. I really haven't seen it. They're all dead ends. “Sounds like he's opened a can of worms down at Langley from what McGurney told me.” “I wouldn't know. I was also conveniently present for the bonfire they had with his body afterward. sounding terribly official. “I haven't seen the file. Really rattled. isn't there? Something you're not telling me.” “If I could tell you something I would. trying to be evasive. I hadn't seen the Rev get shot. but you're covering something up and I don't like it.” he said.” . You endangered my family.” What I told him was technically true. Ruby.” he said curtly. I picked it up to see Alan calling me. I didn't see anything.” “I think I will once he gets back. the answer is no. I need you to trust me for right now. My family! You don't fuck with someone like that and expect them to take it lightly.” “Then I guess you'd better bring him down to the precinct and interrogate him. Ruby. Ruby. Sean told me he was no longer a threat. not Cooper.” “Bullshit.” “No. Sean will take care of it.” I said. but I can't. “Alan? What's up?” “I had an interesting chat with Sean the other day. this shit is personal. I guess you should interpret that any way you like. I don't think they're known for full disclosure or being on the up and up. There's something more to this. the Rev. “but McGurney seemed rattled. then tossed the phone in the center console. without embellishing. but I sure as hell knew it happened.” he said. Any idea as to why that would be?” “Well.” “Well. “I've been looking into some leads he gave me about your boy. would you?” “If you're asking me if I witnessed a crime. it is the CIA. This is more than business between us.” “And you wouldn't have any idea how he got demoted to that status.

I feel like you've taken me in. “More like I don't trust him.” he said plainly. if nothing else.you can't really blame Sean for that one. Unfortunately.” he said with a sigh.” he started. “No.” I protested.. “Sean does. That's all I'm going to say about that. He dabbles in security. sounding flustered.” “And Cooper?” “Cooper's my roommate. Any evidence of our involvement would likely be swept under the rug to serve the greater purpose. surveillance.well. “He's my boyfriend. Alan.” “I'm guessing legalities usually fall secondary to his goal. and. He's always trying to get me out of it.” “Muscle for hire?” he added.” “I know. and I would never do anything to . sounding protective. I'm sure he doesn't.. who is he to you?” he asked.” “Why is that too bad?” “Cause I actually like him. We're friends and nothing more.” I said softly.” “Too bad. Sort of. Something in your eyes always says he's more than that. I want to know what's being covered up. I'll give you that. we've been over that like a million times..” “Well. and I don't like what he's got you mixed up in. yes. It means the world to me.” he said sarcastically. “Your family has been wonderful to me. whatever they're telling you isn't true.” “But who is he to you?” he asked again. “Alan. He was willing to overlook a few potential crimes involving the taking out of a serious madman if it meant finding out why he was unleashed on the public in the first place..” “So if he's so sketchy and morally repugnant to you. I'm pretty sure he doesn't have a criminal record though.” “You'd have to ask him about that. why are you helping him? Why did you put him in touch with McGurney?” “Because at first I wanted to keep my family and you safe. that wouldn't come without a hefty price tag.” Alan was principled. “Meaning you don't like Sean. but he was also extremely practical.” “Oh.. Alan. “Guys like him usually don't. but that's not what your eyes say either. I seem to be pretty proficient at getting myself into trouble..“What's his deal anyway? Who is he. “but now.” “Yeah.” “My best friend?” “Nice try.” “You could take it that way. he's sort of a freelance kind of guy. but I always thought you were lying to me. “I think he tries to keep his hands clean for the most part. There's nothing I hate more than dirty cops and conspiracies.” “At any cost?” Yes. better yet. “but he'll go to great lengths.

“It's so good to see you again. that fire was extinguished for the moment. *** When I was ten minutes from home. whose face lit up when she saw me. and they're darling. With a tinkling of the bells.” “Oh. After a minute.” Peyta groused. fine. “Peyta. I trust you—I do—but there are things that are beyond comprehension. I pulled up in front of the shop and sprang out of the car. Either way is fine. Sean is old.” Minutes later..jeopardize that. Maybe one day I can.” She put the phone down on the desk with a clunk. I'm almost to the NH border. She brought you cookies and said something about the other night. Be right back.” she replied.” I said gesturing towards the adorable. but. I’ll be right there. “I have. things that you wouldn't believe even if I told you. but an answer of sorts nonetheless. and I was so thankful for that.” “Did she give you a name?” “No. I have to draw the line somewhere. or I can swing by her place on my way home. Either way. throwing a smile their way.” I chuckled.. I entered REWORKED to see Jay and Peyta behind the counter talking with Ginger. but I knew eventually I was going to have to come clean. Does she have gray hair?” “Yep.” “I'll ask her. . but she's old. or develop a whopper of a story that would explain my need for secrecy. “Okay.” she said. You can let her know I'll be there in a few minutes.like old. if she'd like to wait. Ginger. “Let me know if you hear anything from the boys. she came back and picked up the receiver. I'm not bailing your ass out of that.” “Sounds good. my phone rang yet again. You're going to have to be more specific than that from now on.” I laughed out loud. “Funny. and I heard her open the door to the front showroom. why?” “Then you need to get off of the phone before you get a ticket. It wasn't a direct answer. “Ruby!” she said. I take it you've met these two crazy kids. Thoughtful. “She'll wait.” I answered starting to feel like my hand was permanently attached to the thing.” “Roger that.” I said.” He was silent for a moment. yet unofficial couple.” he said before hanging up. making her way over to me. I'm really trying. “Where are you?” he asked randomly. “Grand Central Station. I bet it's Ginger. She wanted to make sure you were doing better. overemphasizing the word. I really need you to put the faith in me that I have placed in you. young lady. I told you about my visions—told you everything I could about the Rev. until then. “Jay is old. “Outside Boston. “There's a woman here to see you. He'd allow me some leeway for now. in a tone of reprimand.” “It's nice to see you too.

walking towards me.” She didn't say it outright. “Well.” I said.” she said. and it lessened her worry. shooting a wary eye towards Peyta and Jay.” Ginger said.” I said. “He'll be thrilled to hear it. dear. a never-ending source of calm and love. The sting of losing the father she'd never known still clearly hurt her on some level. “I'll stop by soon to show Gavin I'm still intact. Ruby. she was the best thing that ever happened to me.” I said succinctly. giving a little squeeze back. “Don't be a stranger. “It was so nice to meet you both.” She took my hand in hers and gave a little squeeze. Something about Ginger's mothering nature reminded me of someone. Ginger seemed pleased that she was partaking in the plate of goodies. and frowned slightly at it.” I saw Peyta wince at my words. She was my mentor. but the “good or bad” was implied heavily by the look she gave me. turning to Peyta and Jay. “I'm so glad to hear that everything turned out all right in the end.” I replied.” she said. figuring it wouldn't hurt for her to know.” she gasped. a referee. my mouth quickly stuffed half-full with one while I grabbed for another. Someone I hadn't allowed myself to think about for a long time―Arianna.” Peyta forced a smile and grabbed a cookie.” I said. though I was pretty confident the fact that he was a raving loony helped assuage that pain. “Are those chocolate chip?” “They most certainly are. “Don't worry about them. eying the mile high plate of cookies she'd brought over. at times. “Oh. You can speak freely in front of them if you want. “Should we expect to see him down there anymore?” “No. I'm so terribly sorry for your loss. “He's no longer a threat to anyone. “my dear child.” she said. “Gavin and I were a bit concerned about you after you left the other night. Thinking . and. Growing up. Ginger seemed to notice Peyta's reaction too.” I said with a smile. still hesitating slightly.” “You're welcome.” “Oh. I wanted to put her at ease. It seemed to bother her deeply that he and I had been at such odds the other night.“To what do I owe the pleasure of you stopping in?” I asked. “Well. my mediator. wringing her hands in front of her. “He was Peyta's father.” “They're my favorite. “Help yourself.” she said. For any reason. we just wanted to be sure that you were all right.” She made her way quickly out as we said goodbye.” “I'm fine. “They know the gist of my swimming mishap. “Do you know whatever may have happened to the man who accosted you that night on the dock?” “I do. you shouldn't. “Thank you for your concern.” I said softly.” she said with a laugh as I drooled over the sweets. given all that had happened. even if I had no intention of following through on what I'd told her. You're welcome in our home any time. She eased the relationship between me and my parents.

” I paused before continuing.” Jay laughed. at the dock. “Oh.” I said. letting a relieved exhale escape me. finishing my thought. I knew she was dead. “Oh. I jetted out of there without explanation and ran to his place to profess my undying love for him. smartass. “Right. rolling my eyes. Sean and I.about her disappearance was too painful to bear. that. “Jay.” he said. Gavin and Ginger have a houseboat down there. blood rushing to my cheeks with the memory of what we’d done right after I’d told Sean what I wanted. We both do. Peyta.” I said. And the other night?” “The Rev tried to drown me. moving in on the plate of cookies. and after he saw the Rev leave. it all happened so fast. I wasn't sure that I was grateful for that.” “Well. “Just some new friends I made. though I'm not sure . I would see her again. surprised that they hadn't been filled in. “Ginger? Her concern for you?” Peyta asked in a leading manner. The Rev pulled me off the dock and tethered me to the bottom of the bay.” he mocked. so we hauled ass to the house. not wanting to have to mention Arianna. In true Ruby fashion. Ginger said something that made me realize that I needed Sean. Ginger managed to spring her loose in my mind. but truly admitting that to myself would have taken away the hope that maybe one day.” I replied. And you. appearing not to buy my story. but here’s the general synopsis. you follow him around like a love-sick puppy.” “People?” he asked. “Well. and while we were discussing the events. “No. “Yes. “It took the Rev nearly killing Peyta for you two to realize you needed each other. “Exactly. “We think it's a good match. shoving another cookie in my mouth. “That information was never shared. “You hanging out at the Senior Center now?” “No.” Peyta cut in. so I tucked her away into my mind’s vault where I put all the questions whose answers were too awful to face. “What? What was what all about?” I asked nervously. He brought me back to their boat to clean me up. Once I snapped myself out of my potential meltdown. “Sorta.” I said.” I said. two pairs of eyes were pinned on me. “What was that all about?” they chimed in unison. didn't it?” They both turned red and shied away from one another ever so slightly. and—” “The rest is history.” “You both do?” they said in synchrony. I've seen it written all over your face since the night Ronnie almost died. that was a short and tidy summary. don't even try it. They were really starting to freak me out with that. he pulled me out. looking irritated. “So it only took the Rev nearly killing you for you and Sean to get it together?” Jay asked coolly. They're very sweet people.” “Right. Gavin saw what happened. Didn't you know that?” I asked. I think it's fantastic. “Then it dawned on me that the Rev was going to go after Peyta.

I lay back against the arm. I'll see you guys later. Scarlet was freaking out.” “He's alive and horny. “I infected Matty. and my finger was bleeding. My bed was calling me to come and lay down. and I was hoping my conversation with Cooper could be kept brief. I can't stay there forever. putting his arm around her shoulders. I scratched him in dance class. I made my way upstairs. flipping through the channels on the TV. “Not on purpose. shoving my feet off of him while he sprang to his own. eyes closed. safely trapping them again. propping her chin in her hands.” “Yeah. They're mated or bonded or whatever it is.” “We'll figure it out. Matty is going to have to be taken out.” Peyta said before I made it outside. and I can't conduct PC business when she doesn't know about us in the first place. stalking through the living room. “I'm guessing you two could use some alone time to talk anyway. Ruby. “Your assumption was correct. but barely. You have to tell Sean.” he said. It made me smile.” “Guess it was a good thing you put that ring on. letting my head fall back. It was an honest mistake!” “And you know it was you?” he asked.” “Mom wants to see you soon.” I said. “But Boston is far away when you don't have your own car. I heard you downstairs talking to Peyta and Jay. turning the TV off.” “You what?” he cried. I'd torn a nail off in .” Peyta said.” Shutting the door behind me quickly. I had neither the time nor the inclination to grieve her. the blood.how your mom will take it. yes. He oozed protection when she was around. I told him he needed to lay low and act normal until we can figure things out. “And how was your little boyfriend? Everything went smoothly I presume. She seemed so small against his body.” “Jay's moving out. “I gotta jet upstairs and fill Cooper in on some things. and I was so not there yet. To grieve meant to accept. My mind was still trying to retrieve the escaping memories of Arianna and shut them away. “I think I do. making my way to the door. P.” “Yeah. Coop. P.” I said. “I have to.” “Cooper. She thinks he's a werewolf.” I sighed. “You're a little late.” “There's nothing to figure out. Your mom will start to figure things out if she hasn't already.” she sighed. and we all know how much she likes those. so I let out the breath I was holding and put my stuff down.” “Even better that it worked!” “That too.” he said. and kicked my feet up into Cooper's lap. I seriously thought she was going to come out of my eye sockets.” I said. “I saw the marks. Thanks. He would keep her safe—always.” he said. head angled away from him.” “I know. “Did you make it out with your virtue intact?” “What's left of it.” His smile was playful. so I'll let it slide this time. “She said you'd know why. “Luckily for you. I know but—” “There's no but. flopping down onto the couch.

walking away from me towards his room.” Suspicious of his intentions. “The other night. but I can't let her do it.” “You're not. But we can hope.” I whined. “Let me talk to him. It wasn't well received. He was up to something. and I continued to press my ear to the door to hear what exactly that was. “I don't know.” “I know it does.” I whispered. “Not given what you are.his shirt trying to catch myself.” “It couldn't have been you. if the wolf is powerful enough. because my game plan was a total Hail Mary. “I don't know for sure. “Do you think there's a chance that I won't get into trouble?” “No.” “But isn't it the same thing?” I asked. trying to remain calm. Ruby! Why are you always putting your head in a noose?” “Because I like braided accessories?” I joked.when the Rev attacked us at Ronnie's house. “Right. If there's any hope of fixing this. Cooper. I begrudgingly handed the phone to him and looked on.” he started. “She wanted to talk to you. “Yeah. I'm like a werewolf on steroids.” I got up and went over to him. sounding more like he was trying to convince himself than me. There's been an infection. “We have a situation down here. head buried in his hands.” he said. it lies with him. hovering beside his face for just a moment or two longer than expected.” “When?” he asked. Cooper.” he said. Hopefully his was better.” “It makes sense.” he said aloud.” he said. It's too soon. she's fine. but Scarlet is.” he said.. “But you said yourself. “I don't know.” he continued.” He opened the door slowly. I punched in Sean's number and held my breath. “I don't know. dropping down in the chair across from me. “Fuck. I can't be certain. “Hey Sean. sharply. hopping over the back of the chair effortlessly. but it was plain he wasn't going to. being careful to point out the small distinction. my head starting to pain. it's not about that. before getting up to retrieve my phone. eyes pinning me to the couch..” I pushed up onto my knees and kissed his cheek. voice muffled by the door that barred me from his room.” I pounded on the door for him to let me in. “I know I have to tell Sean. I didn't know what he was up to. it can happen quickly. Nope. it's Cooper. Everything is different when it comes to you. then slammed it closed in my face and locked it before I had a chance to stop him. She's right here. “Wait!” Cooper said. kneeling down before him on the floor. It's something else. but . I was going to let him deal with the situation. no. “but I know why. Mentally putting on my big girl panties.” he said. pulling down hard on his hair.” “But she didn't scratch or bite him. but if he'd had some sort of epiphany.

because she was there.. he dies. sounding annoyed. He called Ruby there because he was alone and he was sick. “I know. Drop it. She called to tell you what happened. calm down.” Cooper said. not her!” “NO!” I screamed through the door. I sure as hell can't. and if it weren't for Scarlet. He thought something was wrong.” “But he's RB. “I know that. “What are you doing?” I yelled. “I've fixed it for the time being. “Are you finished yet?” Cooper asked. Hopefully he'll have the same control level that you do. “Sean.” I couldn't breathe. long silence on Cooper's end. Sean won't kill me for an accidental infection because I'm important to you. Can you blame her? If this is how you would have reacted.” My heart pounded in my chest with every second that ticked past.” I said. “Well. but it isn't good.. If not. “No. That's all under control.” . that's the thing.. she'd probably be dead right now. he's fine. tight-lipped. that's why she couldn't tell you. but it's a non-issue... silencing him for a moment. that's where she was the other night. It was a huge sense of relief. so you should chill the fuck out about what happened. and was unlocking the door.. then shut the fuck up and let me finish.” I hated myself for being happy that I was off the hook. As soon as he emerged. not ready to face him. I don't know what it is. he's the one infected.” Another long.. “No.” More silence. I'm well aware of how it all works. voice fading.Sean must have cut him off quickly. “Is Sean coming back now?” I asked. Cooper had already hung up.” he replied. He made it through okay. I pounded my fists into his chest repeatedly.Sean. Apparently none of the information was better received having come from Cooper. She's alive. She had no idea what was going on.” he shouted. Sean! I infected him. It's Matty. I can't make any promises about Matty. we should be alright. and yes. but as long as he weathers the Change well. Sean was furious—at me—because of what I'd done. but it was too late.just listen for a minute. “Good. You don't have to kill him if that's your only concern. but it was true. Sean. “We'll have to keep a close watch over him for now. There's something going on down there. He sounded off. It didn't last long. Listen. will you! Yes.. “I'm telling you not to be concerned about it because he's not a fucking RB. She didn't want to put you in that situation or herself in harm's way. “You've made it all worse now!” “No.. sounding far more calm.

but when he came back. He was always watching out for me. Not only did he throw himself on a grenade for me. the TV came to life and I totally vegged out to it while I ate. he came out in scrub pants and a ratty old tee.m. He pilfered the throw blanket from the armchair and wrapped it around himself before elegantly stepping over me onto the sofa. With a click of the remote.you look like hell. It was way too late for takeout. “Thanks. . I passed out for hours. until my bladder finally sent out a distress call around ten p.24 I couldn't believe what had happened. Once that necessity was met. With Sean away. I was elated to see a plastic wrapped plate filled with grilled salmon and salad waiting for me on the top shelf of the refrigerator with a note that read: Eat this. I took care of business. He lay down. It was like asking Sean to be creative with how he was going to torture and kill you. taking care of me. demanding that I get up and empty it before it relieved itself all over my bed.” I said aloud to nobody but myself.” he said. but he also pulled the pin. Coop. I collapsed onto my bed and buried myself in the covers. and even though I could practically quote the entire movie. Dragging my weary ass down the hall to the bathroom. that was going to be easier to do. and silently made his way to his room. the shit was really going to hit the fan. As he snuggled in close. taking the blame for Matty's infection.. I hoped Cooper's confidence in the theory that Sean wouldn't kill him was well placed. but it was my turn to close the door on him and lock it. I decided food was next on the list and prayed that Cooper had left me something to warm up. he arranged the blanket strategically over us both before kissing the top of my head. Cooper came home around one a. I couldn't bring myself to turn it off. I watched with eyes barely open as he came up beside me on the couch. Mindless entertainment was at a premium in my house.. By then Pretty Woman was on.m. in a complete stupor.. “I love this movie. even as my eyelids started to get heavy. Cooper followed me to my room. I walked away from Cooper without another word. A few minutes later. resting his head down on the couch just above mine. It was beyond suicidal. telling Sean off on the phone. wedging himself behind me. I stayed on the couch. wanting to shut out the world around me. I wasn't certain it was. so I indulged in some ridiculous program on the Bravo network and laughed at the asinine people on it until my stomach hurt.

No more lying. regardless of the fact that she expected information in return. but the bottom line was it worked. and the truth was I owed it to her. “Fascinating.” “Ruby. *** I walked downtown feeling refreshed after my early-morning-to-well-pastnoon sleepathon. No more running. “Oh. extending a firm handshake. I called Ronnie. At least I hoped it would. but the subtle squeeze he gave right when it locked onto me told me to never do it again. Neither had served me well in the past. I noticed Ronnie standing behind the counter. coming around to the customer side of the front counter.“It really is the best. “Hey Ronnie. “Ruby knows about werewolves too. She had earned it. She'd stuck her neck out pretty far for me. even if I’d only just come to realize that point. if only for that moment. And I wouldn't. “No scratches. My cuddling back into him told him thank you and I'm sorry. Come on over. it's fine. “He's also a member of the Underground. she did. this is an old friend of mine. thinking she'd just outed me to a complete stranger.” Ronnie said.” I said.” he said. so we didn't bother to question it. She hadn't been herself since the attack.” “You got away?” he asked. slightly obscured from view by the formidable gentleman.” Ronnie said. “I'll just be over here. our conversation didn't involve words—it didn't need them. We watched it in silence before falling asleep together with the TV still on. Entering Better With Age felt good—familiar. She managed to get away. When I woke up. “Ruby. I picked up some—” A man in his early fifties turned around slowly to face me. and I couldn't wait to see her in action. Somebody seemed to scare them off . “Ruby's parents were killed by werewolves a couple of years ago. We had a connection that neither of us could explain. “It's a pleasure to meet you. As was often the case with Cooper. I want you to meet someone. rejoining us. His arm around me said he forgave me. thinking it was time to have that talk she'd wanted. answering for me. It was our way of telling each other that things were okay. “So you weren't bitten?” “No. He consulted with my husband when he first started at the CIA.” Ronnie went over to the front door and flipped the sign to closed. no bites. and has been living here ever since. Ruby. I was happy to give it to her.” he said with a true sense of awe. Malcolm Reed. and. his eyes raking over me.” I said.” “No.” I concurred sleepily. embarrassed for interrupting. She was finally back to work. and I hoped that returning to her normal routine would be helpful to the cause. sorry. Their absence in the future should prove quite the opposite. “Unscathed?” “Amazingly. locking the door as well.” she offered.” I shot her a look of utter surprise.

moving towards her. ladies.. totally unsure of what to say. It's been way too long. but I'm sure you understand. “Nice to meet you. You're exactly the kind of recruit we need. giving him a hug.. She liked him. and I wanted to see how she was faring. “I'm headed back down to Boston for business. I gave it a solid minute before I turned on her with crazy eyes and started my rant.no problem. but I need him. “I hope you reconsider joining us. Ruby. Ruby. I just wanted to check in on Ronnie. “No. sure.” There was something in her eye when she spoke to him that I'd never seen before. She's hinted around at it a bit.” “Well.” “Well.” “He doesn't need to know anything about me!” I said. “Has Ronnie talked to you about joining the movement?” he asked. and I could speak about you more freely to him.” “About what?” “About Keith!” she exclaimed.” “Yeah.” I replied with a fake smile. I don't want to go looking for it. Thanks for the drop in.” “No reason for that. Malcolm.. “I thought by doing it this way I wouldn't have to explain anything to you later. I'd heard she'd had a health scare. “But I'm one who likes to keep my head down and stay out of trouble as much as possible..before they got to me. grabbing her arm.how he got to be what he was. “I can't really go into detail if you're not committed.” he said with a frown. “But next time. of course. I was instantly curious as to what kind of history they had. “I want to know what happened to him. that was apparent.” he said with a pat on my shoulder. if I did join you?” I asked. “Until next time. excluding the furry parts. but there was something else. I thought by dangling a new recruit in front of him he might be a little more forthcoming with his information. Keeps the secrecy to a minimum. walking around to the counter. “Kinda. trying to put a game face on. Something like admiration.” Malcolm said. I'm sorry to hear about your parents.” I said. I'm sorry. “We could use all the help we can get.” she said. Ronnie.” “I'll think about it. his face scrunched with concern.” “And this guy knows that?” .” “So what exactly would I be helping with. Ronnie has such wonderful things to say about you.” he said. eying me with curiosity.” he said with a brisk nod. you call ahead so we can actually spend some time together. we watched him leave. “What the shit was that?” I asked.” After Ronnie walked him to the door and let him out.” “That's too bad. “I thought you were going to blow the whistle on me!” “Why would I do that?” she said.” “I'm doing well. something I couldn't place. “If this is a bad time. I can come back.

” she said.” Instead of her hand cannon. It was exquisite. but judging by the long stretches that Cooper couldn’t get a word in edgewise.” “You think he was targeted?” I asked. “Thank you. but he's the only one that I know of who could possibly find out.” I said..” “Thanks.understanding. After all these years. There's a reason why there are so few female wolves out there. Ruby.” I paused for a minute..” “I thought he was randomly attacked?” “He was attacked. “I didn't tell him. “I never heard his reaction. “They tend to . You have no idea how good that feels. Ruby.” she said. thinking of her handy Glock that lay dormant back there.” I replied. I was going to.. “Everything. unable to look at her.” she said with a chuckle. if you think he has answers. unable to look at her.” “I don't know if he is or not. “I've retired that for a while. biting her lip. not wanting to ruin the moment between us.” “I knew you would.” I didn't—I looked over mine constantly. I don't have to look over my shoulder anymore.” “But why now? Why after all this time—after the whole thing has been laid to rest—do you care?” “He was my husband. I can play the eager beaver.. taking it from her. I doubt it was good.. and he's affiliated with the CIA somehow. fingering it delicately. eyes serious.” “Well. I owe him that much. “I don't need to know any more than I do. thinking of how Gregory had handpicked Cooper for his menagerie.” she said. I can't say that's unexpected. He's got connections. “Leave it be. It was a large fan of feathers.” she said. I opened the package to find an ornate rhinestone hair clip from the forties.” “Well.” I began. looking down. dodging behind the counter. much like a peacock in its full glory. but then Cooper hijacked the phone and told him that he infected Matty and that I was there on the full moon.” she said. looking mournful. Ruby. “I loved him once. then by all means use me as leverage. You can ease up. “But mainly my peace of mind.“I don't know. “Yes. “About the other night. but I got out alive and that's what he should focus on. “Ronnie!” I gasped. yes. “I love it. “It's a little thank you of sorts. He's one of the founders of the Underground.” “For what?” I asked. and Sean not answering any of the texts I've sent him since. “but I'm not sure how random it was. putting the clip gently back into its box. She saw me flinch and laughed. she pulled out a tiny box with a ribbon around it. I just wanted to make sure you were doing alright with it and that Sean was.” I rambled. the whole thing still doesn't sit well with me.” she said softly.” “I thought maybe it would help tame down that fro of yours. “It's amazing. if you think it'll get you somewhere. Just be careful. Part of me tensed.

” When she emerged through the beaded gateway to the stockroom. and the suede was so soft you could have rolled it up and used it for a pillow.” “Just take it. she held a vintage leather jacket so worn-in that it was hard to tell what the original color had been. “So am I.” “I'll keep that in mind. unfortunately for me. I still hadn't heard back from Sean. eying me thoughtfully.business has been slow with me gone. but inevitably evening came. I played with my platinum ring as I drove down to Boston. “You're truly evil. right?” I said. when it came to him. unsure of where to go from there.” “No problem.” I said.” I replied with a smile. you know that. thinking it was so strange that such a small thing could control something so powerful. and he now had that fact confirmed. “Agreed. I'm glad to know that the Royal Bank of Ruby is here to help. knowing I'd pay whatever she asked for it. Thanks. We both paused.. writing something down on a card for me.” I said sarcastically. At minimum.” she said. “I don't have my card with me. I couldn't not have it.” “Good advice. Now get out of here before I find a few more things to strong-arm you into buying. I had betrayed him. It was beyond perfect. “Hey. while Scarlet and her soul mate did their thing.” “What's it going to set me back?” “More than you want to know.” she said. “I've got something else you're going to love. But this one isn't on the house. I'm just a matchmaker of sorts.” she said with a grin. I was off to see the person I'd betrayed him with. “The best. “Hey!” she shouted. I have to make that back somewhere. . “Nope. That slender band was all that kept me from being forced into a broom closet in my mind and locked away indefinitely.” *** I had dreaded it all day.” “Well. no news was not good news. She turned up the wattage on her smile and laughed. “Have Peyta bring me a check for this amount. looking at the figure she'd jotted down. feeling the awkwardness in the room as much as I did. She slipped it on me from behind and smoothed the back out as I arranged the front. “I'll have to come get it later today. and. To make matters worse.” “Jesus. “Ugh.” “From me? Always.” she said. turning to enter the back room.” I told her. Ronnie!” I said.. What was left of the hue was a purplish-brown. Not that I wasn't thankful for it. I was hoping to find out when he was coming back so I could mentally prepare myself for the hatred I was going to see in his eyes. walking over to the mirror.be collateral damage.

His voice gave me instant chills. no!” I yelled. Take it off! I looked down to see my hand jerking towards my ring. “Get back.” the one called. “Matty. . In truth. turning his flaming orange eyes on me. “In the alley. I sighed as I got out of my car and started to text Cooper to alert him to the problem. knowing that I had to do something. and he was always on time.My stomach tightened instantly when I didn't see Matty's car as I pulled up. flashing the knife he’d just pulled from the back of his pants. I waited for another five minutes to see if he would show up before texting him repeatedly. I stood no chance against them by myself. The fighting began instantaneously. I want to go there. rubia. it wasn't going to take long to accomplish that. He needed to know that I'd be late if I had to drive around Boston in search of a neowere. I was actually surprised that Matty hadn't come. Without a parking spot in sight. “Oh. Me going with him was totally not an option. putting his body between me and them.” he said to me.” Matty growled from behind me. stepping out and distinguishing himself from the rest of his group. He had to be stopped. four of whom were already sprawled out along the damp and dirty ground. Nothing. The ones Cooper threatened to come back and eliminate. The men moved like a wave.” he called to the big guy.” he snarled. You really want to go there. but no such good luck there. there were about eight of them. “You again?” the leader said. but at the rate he was going.” Matty said. Instinctively.” “I couldn't agree more. running after him. I went for the ring on my finger. I’d half expected to see him waiting for her out front. “She prefers 'Blue Eyes'. “Hey. I was too busy playing with my phone to notice the small group of men who were lurking in the shadows of the adjacent alleyway. since he'd been so jazzed about seeing Scarlet. “I don't see your blond friend around to save you this time. “No!” I yelled. I was ten minutes late as it was. crashing into the alley with one big lurch. or do you want to give me what I want and live?” He raked his eyes over me heavily and my body shook in response. I had to leave the TT half a block north of the studio. “It's less visible. I knew that voice.” he agreed. “Stay here. Matty seemed to be saving the best for last. As best as I could tell. I hadn't even heard him coming. causing pain like I hadn't felt since the last vision I'd gotten from the Rev. voice terribly low and threatening. I wasn't sure that he'd killed anyone yet. Scarlet slammed into my forehead. It wasn't a welcome return. I looked up to see the same group of guys who'd tried to attack me once before by the studio walking into the light of the street.

no.” I told myself. *** I don't know how long I was gone that time.” he said... “You have to stop. She was too much. . LET ME OUT! My control wavered―I couldn't fight her any longer. his eyes glowing in the darkness of the alley.Take it off. I didn't need to see him. no. his desperation wove through the air like a call for help. NOW! My fingers wrapped around the gleaming silver and started to pull. I tore the ring off my own finger. I was met with instant darkness.. Please. trying desperately to keep it on. “Let him go.” “I can't. I glanced up at the alley to see Matty pinning the last man standing against the red brick of the building. “You can't come out. I knew that thug feared for his life. turning his attention back to his soon-to-be victim. Even in the darkness.” he said. but when I came to I was in my bed at home. And I was not alone. struggling to force the words out. naked. He needs me! Sweat rolled down my face. cooled by the crisp night air as I fought with myself for control.” “He wanted to hurt you.” You can't keep me in here. “No.” I said. “Stop!” I yelled in desperation. “Matty. Just let him go. launching it into the air.

“Yes. sticking my finger in his face. “Stop that. “You dropped it.” he said. “Fancy meeting you here.” “I live here.you didn't hurt him. Blue Eyes. “You used to always have it on.. with a low and sexy morning voice. I am. with one look down the hall at Matty and me. I will fuck you up myself. My screaming and crashing onto the floor seemed to have woken him. “Morning. “My parents got home last night. and. face intrigued.” I said.” I whispered.” he said.” “So she told you to come here?” I asked. puffing myself up as much as my false bravado would allow me.. did you?” I tore out of the room. do you understand me?” “Are you threatening me?” he asked. The turning of the door knob snapped my attention back to reality. tripping on the blanket wrapped around me. If only I'd known how to cage his. I looked down at my hand to see that my ring had been replaced. so I grabbed it. “He wasn't here. What are you doing here?” I asked.” he said. still looking puzzled. moving in for a kiss. “How did we get home last night?” He eyed me strangely for a moment. unslept in.” Matty growled. Matty. But I was happy to have woken up as me because of what he had unknowingly done. dumbfounded.25 Matty smiled at me as he roused. I thought it was important to you. “You know that?” He locked his lips on mine and I felt Scarlet flare. I have no clue!” I said.” “Thanks. hating him for being thoughtful—for being the Matty I recognized. If you so much as breathe wrong on Cooper. We couldn't go there. “Was Cooper here? Oh my God. I put it on you while you were sleeping last night. . Cooper entered the living room. scurrying backwards on the rug. do you?” “No. but not take over. “I drove your car here. He'd caged the beast. sounding every bit as panicked as I felt. his eyes glowed yellow. When I managed to pull myself free. twirling it around on my finger. “You really don't know.” he said. I flung Cooper's door open to see the bed still made. “You stop that shit right now. “You're hot when you're mad. Do you want to see if I'm good for it?” I said. taking the comforter with me.

moving towards the hallway. Now.” I told Cooper. Escorting him to the door. but you can do it on your own time and your own turf. eyes glued to Cooper.” Cooper said.” Matty grumbled.“Ruby. I realized that forcing him to do anything wasn't going to work. It's making me nauseous. This is my house! Matty. “It was the same group of guys that tried to attack me last time. “Don't start. putting my hands up defensively. “Cooper.” Cooper came within inches of Matty.” Cooper said as I emerged from the bathroom fully dressed and a towel wrapped around my hair. It was such a confined space and their bodies cramped it more than they should have. advancing towards Cooper “For now.He beamed at the display. trying to force them apart.” “She is my business. you need to take my car and go home.” “Try Jay. feeling flushed and flustered.” I said. “Enough. You reek of sex and your new boyfriend.” I said. I saw it all happen. Take my car.” he said. Now I need you to go home and make sure everything is copacetic there. Not all of that was an act. like any strong but insecure male did. Any thoughts as to how that happened?” “You need to mind your own fucking business. holding up a copy of the Boston Globe. “Can we just skip to the part about how to cover this thing up?” “I called Sean. He needed reassurance.” I couldn't even make a retort. If you want to have a pissing contest. hard kiss on him for emphasis then broke free of him.” he said. “This is neither the time nor place. I dropped another kiss on him before he left.” Matty snapped. Ruby.” “You don't need to explain anything.” “I’m on it. pushing me behind him. that's fine with me. you two. *** “Jay is handling it. plopping down on the armchair. “Cooper and I have business to discuss. “I say you are.” he said soberly. Somebody needs to get on this ASAP.” I hissed. “You also need to recognize that she is my business. I can explain.” he said. “Eight bodies were found near your dance studio last night. I'll talk to you later. In fairness. knowing that he'd just put Cooper on notice: I was his.” he said. I'll call you later to make plans.” “I'm not leaving.” I planted a long. It was making me nauseous too. locking my hand in his hair. “Oh. and I fought hard to get between them. voice lower than I was hoping to hear it. he was .” I said. “So what exactly do you know about what happened last night?” “He did it. I shut the door quietly and listened for his disappearing footsteps. “Go get cleaned up. “Matty. pulling out his phone. I tried a different approach. before softening my tone.” Matty said. “And you need to mind yours. Once he was clear of the landing. “I didn't get an answer. I think she does.

“I swear to you on all that is holy that she literally hijacked my nervous system and forced me to do it. I fought her the whole time.” he said flatly.” he said. It was still my best defense mechanism—it never failed me. “I'm sorry.” he said. voice dropping. fiddling with my ring. “Ruby…. The truth needed to come from me.trying to defend me. “Why would you do—” “She made me!” I screamed. He saw that I was resigned to doing it and didn't put up a fight. his phone interrupting him. reaching my hand towards him. And the hits just kept on coming.” His eyes widened beyond what I thought was physically possible. “Why?” “There's a problem. before heading to my room. but I just couldn't stop her. It involves a lot of bodies.” “So now I'm fucked for a whole new reason? Guess you can't throw yourself under the bus for that one. “It's Sean.” he said.” “You took it off!” he yelled.” “I don't know how it ended. Cooper. out of nowhere. I tried so hard. I tried. “Sean?” “What's happened now?” he asked. I could tell by his tone that he was rubbing his forehead.” “And how did it end?” “With a body count. and I don’t remember a damn thing after that. like it wasn’t really mine. “What?” I shouted. before quickly adding that he'd done it in defense of me. can you?” Anger swept in to keep my fragile mind from breaking. turning pale. “This isn’t the time for a meltdown. “I don't know what to tell him.” he probed.” He lifted the receiver to his face. I smashed a lamp against the wall that still contained the hole from Cooper's previous rampage.He was silent for a moment and I nearly chewed off my fingertip awaiting his response. apparently. “You haven't spoken to Jay?” “No. “Thank you.” I sighed. Cooper.” I told him. At least it started that way.” “And who dropped the bodies?” “Matty.” he started. “You can't control her. about to speak. when I realized something. “I said McGurney's dead!” he snarled.” I whispered. Something happens to her when he's like that.” I said.” I muttered. In Boston. jumping to my feet to meet his advance. “Ruby.” “That's the mate bond.” he whispered. “Its power is tremendous. “Sean? You still there?” “McGurney's dead.” “Just tell him the truth. It supercharges her or something. . “Give it to me. I watched my hand as I did it. lunging towards me. Coop.” I said. burying my head in my hands. looking nervous. “There's no good way to spin this one. “I took this off.

I need to talk to Jay. he would know. “He also said that if you want to stay above terra firma that you'll butt out of it. but it's not my job to question him. looking one hundred percent business. “So where does that leave things there?” “I have no clue. “You have to come with me. There was no such thing as a private conversation with him around. He hung up on me without saying anything helpful other than he needed to talk to Jay. Now. Just stay here.” he said. “Executed was the word Sean used.” I said. unless you know how to Obi-Wan the Boston PD into thinking there were no dead bodies in that alley. “Why?” “I have orders. lacking his usual joviality.” he scoffed.” I said quietly. “Who is it?” I called out.” he said. opening the door to full capacity.” Then he hung up. “which is not an easy thing to do to an ex-military man. Please.26 “How?” I gasped. Ruby.” . “She's not going anywhere. “it'll be okay. forgetting my own problems for a second. opening my bedroom door.” I walked over and popped the door enough to see him standing tall.” A knock on the door startled us both. turning to him.” Cooper said bitterly. His words were that he had grounds enough to take you down if you force his hand. getting more angry with every word. “I'd have busted that out on more than one occasion before now. “Shit. Ruby. “It's Jay. carefully.” “Who do you think—” “I don't have time for this.” “He said you'd say that. Don't make this any more difficult than it needs to be.” “Well.” Jay sighed. “I'll deal with you when I get back.” “Cooper. “You need to let me in. “Executed at his home.” he said. “What's happening now?” Cooper called from down the hall. looking at Cooper as his body coiled in response.” “So we wait?” “I guess. “Our contact at the CIA was murdered.” he said.” “If only.” Cooper came up behind me. expressionless.” I said. I don't know if that's true or not.

“Where are we going?” I asked him nervously. like it could just be another apartment.” The tears welled in my eyes as I leaned in to give him a kiss on the cheek. I made my way to the only chair in the place. I was pretty sure I wasn't going to be happy either. If they weren't happy with it. I couldn't force the word “goodbye” out of my mouth. I was temporarily relieved to see that there weren't any holding cells. but I doubted I was going to be that lucky. Inside was a veritable Home Depot of weapons. unable to look at me. “Please don’t make this any harder for me.” “Second floor?” “You'll see when you get there.” he said. “And I'm not letting you pay for my mistakes.” he growled.” he said with a tight expression. He won't hurt me. “You really fucked up this time. and in that moment. explosives. and anything else you could think of to cause bodily harm to another being. Second floor.“I'm not letting you leave. The walls around it had some strange patinaed effect from afar. The truth was that Cooper was right―I wasn’t certain that Sean wouldn’t hurt me. I hadn't noticed the gun in his hand until he moved to conceal it as we walked out onto the sidewalk. grabbing my arm. We pulled up in front of Sean's building and it all started to feel surreal. It was like stepping into Ronnie's wet dream. The entrance looked benign enough. until I saw a single chair on the far side of the room. I gulped hard as I took in my surroundings.” . “Sean's building.” “You don’t believe that. He wasn't happy about the task he'd been assigned. Turns out I wasn't. “I'll be over by the door.” Jay said. Lots of blood. He sounded disappointed in me. Jay moved me quickly through the stairwell and down to the street. but. Nodding once. “I need you to go sit down. Cooper.” I whispered. I could plainly see that they were stained with blood. like I'd forced Sean's hand and neither of them was happy with the outcome. upon closer inspection. so I turned and ran out the door before the moment got any heavier. “I know you don’t. I know he won't. complete with restraints. I would have given anything to have just come clean in the first place. I wished for a do-over. didn't you?” His words made my heart sink into my shoes. Ruby. human or otherwise. This had become a place of such deep and passionate emotion for me that to think of it being associated with anything else made my chest tighten. finally letting some emotion slip through.” “I have to. His recent unwillingness to let harm fall upon me was likely nullified by my treachery. when there hadn’t been a body count associated with my actions. Aisles upon aisles of shelves were chock-full of weapons. “I'm not going to restrain you.” he said. Jay walked me inside and took me to the second floor. Goodbye had a finality to it that I wasn't willing to acknowledge.

” he said.” *** It seemed like eons before I heard the distinct sound of footsteps coming up the hallway stairs. He was worried about you.. Sean will be back soon.” He moved closer until his face was right in mine.” “What?” he asked. but—” “But you didn't!” he screamed. “I told you. but—” “Did Scarlet find it amusing? Or was she just too lazy to stop him?” “I couldn't let her out! You. his voice barely audible. shoving a finger in my face. I tried to. tears running down my face. I crumbled under his scrutiny. because the pieces of this puzzle just aren't adding up for me right now. Ruby.” I said softly.“How long do I have to stay here?” “It won't be long now.. his jet black eyes piercing mine as he stalked towards me.” “And why not?” “Because I infected Matty. trying desperately to gain some ground in my . I watched from afar as the door handle turned and an arm pressed into the room. sniveling like the weakling I was. “I know you did. Ruby.you said—” “Couldn't or wouldn't?” “Couldn't!” I yelled. “I told you that if there was a problem you needed to come to me. “How is it that you stood by and watched Matty kill eight people?” “I.” he said.. “It can't be like this. “I see Jay didn't quite follow my instructions.. I never meant for this to happen. “He's in his own little pile of shit with me right now. then the body it belonged to. Jay. “Do you think I wanted to see that? To see those people murdered?” “You have to help me out here.” “I'm sorry.” I didn't know what to say.” “Stay put. facing me.” “But that's just it. his voice taking over the vast room.” he said. and I've got a lot of heat coming down on me. “Sean. “He was already on his way when you called him.” he spat.. “It was an accident!” I cried.that I would fix it. “I think I'd rather wait outside. Guess he had a right to be.I didn't mean to. walking away.” he whispered.. but Cooper—” “Don't bring him into this.” “I wanted to tell you the truth.” Sean said. My heart raced with every echoing one. “It's all my fault. We can't be like this. letting my head fall loose on my neck. Ruby. opening the door.” I cried. “He shouldn't be. I—” “Please explain something to me.

I couldn't tell you what happened because I didn't know!” I spat my words at him as my sobs peppered my outbursts. You won't have to look into my eyes when you take my last breath. Sean.” “No!” I shrieked. She made me take off my ring while Matty killed those men. “They're mated. “I didn't choose to do anything I did that night. “Something certainly did.” “Fine.” I yelled.” he said softly. I woke up hours later with no recollection of what happened. but I let the truth fly out without pause. “I'm losing control over everything. MATED!” I screamed. Scarlet blocked me out.” . and. “I scratched him in class and—” “Shut up!” he roared. she killed the last one!” I was borderlining on hysterical at that point. “Maybe that'll make it easier for you. pounding my fists against the chair until the pressure in my head grew too great. God help me. turning his black eyes on me.” I said. You said you'd take me out if you had to. His face tightened further. he hung up and tried another number to no success. My body. rendering my left ear useless. “I know you fucked him. “Something else! Scarlet broke through when she saw him.defense.” “We'll see. You fucked another man. I can't do this anymore. You betrayed me. I launched myself at him hoping to provoke a response. I have no idea what she did once she was out. dialing his phone. Sean.” he said coldly. The abrupt switch from one to the other was unnerving. desperate to explain. After several seconds. clamping down on me like a vice until all the fight in me left. My eardrum ruptured. Instead. “It wasn't me. all I got was a vicious bear hug lifting me up off the floor. She did it again last night.” “Yes. “I want to talk to her. For all I know. He stared at me blankly until I couldn't stand it any longer.” “Ruby—” “Do it! FUCKING DO IT!” I shouted. “Now. suddenly devoid of emotion entirely. reaching around behind him to slowly pry my ring off of my hand. My relationships. “Something happened the night he Changed.” he said.

” she said. Matty landed on top of it with a crunching sound that made Scarlet shudder. He went after Ruby twice.” She stalked to the door as Sean flew at Matty. She seemed dismayed at how slowly he seemed to be recovering from the blow.” she threatened.” she purred. I'll make your death excruciatingly slow.” she said. “You already know the answer to that one. Scarlet delighted in the match.” “If you harm him.” “You lie. He won't have the chance to do it again. a breath of hesitation before the words left her mouth. Coming to his aid. starting to press against his arms. Ruby.” A cry from the stairwell shot Sean's attention to the door.” she laughed.27 His grip tightened. his arms digging in deeper underneath my ribs. knocking it down to the ground. “Do I? He gave me no choice. “Matty was creative. but Matty seemed an equal match at first. She was interested in talking her way out of things. but first you're going to tell me about last night. You won't be able to erase the pictures I'd paint for you anyway. Matty was covered in blood from head to toe. It was all the extra time Matty needed to get his bearings. . struggling harder. sacking him to the ground and pinning him down momentarily. They crashed into a freestanding shelf of guns. “There'll be time for talk like that later. That bastard deserved what he got. The two locked down on each other in an epic battle for control. she lunged at Sean. “but I enjoyed it. howling every time Matty appeared to have the upper hand. Just as she ripped herself from his grip. “I think you should see how this all plays out. Who killed the eighth man?” “Matty did. Scarlet didn't bother to fight him. I'd felt firsthand the power in Sean's hands. Don't you dare fucking shut me out! “Relax. He grabbed a knife out of a nearby case and brought it over to the two. not a battle. The slightest flash of panic shot through her at the thought of his demise. easily able to go toe-to-toe with him.” “And now he's very dead. Very creative indeed. I should be getting word back any minute. the door flew open. “What did you do the night he Changed?” he asked. Maybe you should move onto something you actually want to hear about. The latter was always a backup plan that she was willing to resort to if necessary.” he whispered. Right now there are two brothers at his house to collect and dispose of him. his lips on her ear. “Very dead indeed. and it was the tiny lapse that Scarlet needed to break free.

to let me out. Matty had been helping himself to the stash of knives in Scarlet's hands. She remembered that night just as vividly as I did.” Chills shot through our body. “Cooper is next. It wasn't us. screaming at her to stop.” “Why don't we just leave now? Run away?” “Because I need you for my own. dragging the knife dramatically back and forth. My requests fell on deaf ears. up and down. déjà vu running rampant in our mind. I was in full protest mode. “Grab me another one. We'd both overlooked it at the time. Instead. Those words had been spoken just days before. Flashbacks of the pain I endured the night that Gregory gutted me shot through my mind so violently that Scarlet even jumped from it. . she withdrew a long serrated blade and brought it quickly over to Matty. “I said he doesn't seem so all-powerful. she too amped up for a fight and I was too concerned for Matty's well-being. babe. “Matty.” he informed her. He'd gotten to someone I loved. looking at her longingly. There was no blood that we could see.” he said. my love?” Scarlet flinched for a second. does he. flipping it over and over in his hand before driving it straight through Sean's right shoulder. “He doesn't seem so all-powerful now. who instantly lodged it into Sean's left shoulder. “I can't have them around trying to take you from me. “What's your plan?” “We're going to kill him so we can be together. “What did you say?” she whispered. He ripped Sean's shirt open exposing the flesh of his abdomen. I thought back to that night months earlier in the alley outside my building. shaking her head slightly. reaching his hand out for a knife. grabbing an armful of them. She faltered for a second before heading back to the case with the blades. How could either of us have known? Sean's grunting brought our attention back to the present. driving his fist into Sean's face a few more times. “I'm going to need a few more. impaling them into various joints in Sean’s body.“This should help. burying the tip deep into the hardwood floor beneath him. The slash marks on Matty’s jacket was the next memory that flashed and I forced Scarlet to see it too. does he. my love?” he repeated. I just hadn't realized it.” he explained as though the answer was obvious. There was something about his voice. his tone— his words. You are mine forever. I like things symmetrical.” she said timidly.” he said. the night the Rev let me know just how easily he could get to me and the ones I loved. slowly rendering him incapacitated. As Scarlet rushed over to the case. Scarlet sprang off of her position to let Matty regain control. Matty wasn't even kneeling on him anymore. Those last four words: you are mine forever. I screamed that over and over in her head trying to force her to see the truth.” Matty pummeled Sean while he fought against his restraint to get up.

“I hoped to be one of you. Her hair bristled. . knowing something deep within her. the blade swept down in a flash. Matty?” “Oh. Cage her. Blindness gave you a sense of spatial awareness that never left you. But with one look at Matty.” Scarlet shot a look down to Sean who was pale and weak. “You have to kill him. unfazed by his impending death. “She'll never forgive you. STOP THIS! He'll never stop.” she said quietly. blade drawn back for a killing blow.” he said. “Kill him. “I will allow you the honors. long time now. “I know. He held out the knife to her. Ronnie. In a single fluid motion. crossing her body as she pulled up at the last possible second. and once I got over the shock of what she was—what you were—I knew I could have her if I was one of you. Sophie had said he could be killed.” Sean said.” he said. a wicked grin taking over his face. I came home to you. She followed the momentum around as the blade drew perfectly through flesh even though her eyes remained shut. “You knew this whole time what you'd become. fought beside her. He'll see to that as the Rev tried to. “I know. cupping her face.. in total disbelief. I wasn't sure Sean believed that because he showed none of the fear that I felt. Keep her.” she agreed. Be mine and mine alone. She thought of how he'd saved her. distracting Matty's attention. gesturing to Sean.Cooper.” he said. held her.” Again she flinched at his words. We will never be free.” “You knew. “How long did you have those scratches on your back. It was my only chance to strike. She growled and took the knife. “I'm sorry. and I felt the discourse within her. averting her gaze.” she whispered. his blood running everywhere. The Rev had sought to own her—keep her as a prize. “When I noticed the scratches weren't healing. his eyes locked on Scarlet's.” Sean repeated. I won't be caged again. rising up to come closer to her.“It wasn't me. She hovered over him. Our bond was strong and powerful too. He was my mate. a trophy for his collection. She. closing her eyes. none of that mattered—only him. I knew something was happening and I needed to know more. Peyta! “She'll never forgive you. overlooking what he'd done. and with every second I felt her forgiving him.” “Hoped. “What are you talking about. If Matty was destined to become that which had made him. Own her. He'll kill everyone around us. so I came home. what he was doing. a truth that couldn't be shaken. She envisioned the perfect line she'd just carved across Matty's throat.” she whispered. following through as she shot to her feet.” She crouched down low over Sean's body while I wrestled to take her over as she had me. “A long.. Never again. then he would seek to do the same. I've loved Ruby for so long. and I had a hunch that one of those ways was by an RB.” He kissed her long and slow.” Matty growled. ever.” he said. Scarlet.

She howled a high and brutal cry that shook the room and my soul to the core.” With that. Of that I had no doubt. knew exactly where he stood—where to strike. a hostile takeover brewing. I tried one last time to fight her. lying on the floor. Ruby. “It'll be your last. coaxing me to it. she afforded me one last look at Sean. As the darkness drew me in. The fall of his heavy body marked the death of both him and their bond. I watched her lean forward for him. “Say goodbye. The agony was unbearable. I felt her strength building.” she said menacingly.. but as my resolve weakened. Her grief was stifling. “You will pay for this. bleeding on the floor. beheaded. my vision slowly going dark. Her eyes shot open to see her love.” she said with a bitter laugh. my last push to save him. teeth bared.” No! It was my final effort. “You both will. and I struggled to breathe under the weight of it. felt her lips pull back. Through the haze that enveloped me as she stuffed me down into the black corner of my mind. her hatred palpable. Pausing in the doorway. and.. Scarlet felt pain. I saw her come to stand over Sean. her warrior cry. swallowed me whole as she blocked me out for good. The blade she held in her hand was silver-plated. It'll be your last.through me. the deep part of my mind that had been calling to me. She screeched an ungodly sound. . for once. before she abruptly stood up and ran from him. There would be no healing for Matty.

But this truth will always remain: I will track you.. Till the end of time.. Are. Find you. Or where you hide. To the edge of the earth. Hunt you. Seasons will change. Centuries will pass. .Epilogue Sean No matter how far you run. You cannot escape me. Mine.? Never. It'll be your last. You. You are mine.

etc. Tweet @AmberLNatusch facebook. favorite scenes.com facebook. B&N. I couldn't do it without you! For more on the Caged Series check out my sites: amberlynnnatusch. hates. crushes.I want to hear from you! Here’s your chance to connect with Amber Lynn Natusch and other readers! Tweet or Facebook your loves. Goodreads.) and leave a review to encourage others to take a chance on Ruby just like you did! Your support is greatly appreciated.com/amberlynnnatusch Please take a moment to go online (Amazon.com/amberlynnnatusch Amazon. etc.com Author Page . Kobo.

FRACTURED Book 5 in The Caged Series Available Feb/March 2013 I thought about watching from afar. He was always so strong both physically and emotionally – I selfishly wished for his strength in that moment. then I would at least be honorable and bear my pain publicly. but I was certain that when faced with the totality of my own grief. I would crumble under the weight of any extra. . and I owed it to him to be there. It was by my actions that he was about to be put six feet under. for all who loved him to see. If I couldn’t be strong. hidden by the nearby trees or headstones. It was cowardly. so I could avoid the onslaught of grief I was sure to be bombarded with.

Alone to damn the world. With every curious encounter. See more about Author Shannon Morton: Redheadsread. isolated from those she thought she could trust. until a single act turns her world upside down. Before long. Random messages delivering a sobering prophecy plague Aspen's existence. Aspen finds herself balancing the fate of humanity on her shoulders. her sanity further wavers. She finds herself alone.Tempted by Evil Book 1 The Light and Shadow Trilogy Release Date: November 2012 A brand new YA Fantasy/Paranormal Romance trilogy by Shannon Morton and Amber Lynn Natusch! A sheltered girl. A mysterious stranger. The perfect boy.com Author Spotlight here .

Lucas tells her that Empaths were a Vampire’s biggest weakness before going extinct hundreds of years ago.com/ Valerie Dearborn wants a cotton candy life. Fey and Werewolves) still exist or he'll stop protecting those she loves. In London for graduate school. The one detail he leaves out? Valerie is an Empath. and—if not prepared exactly right—deadly. He’s also wicked hot. As golden as Lucifer.******* What I’m Reading ******* Caroline Hanson Love is Darkness (A Valerie Dearborn Novel) Link to book on Amazon carolinehanson. While the Fey or a Werewolf might kill a Vampire. seducing or harming with emotions at will. he makes Valerie an offer she can't refuse— help him find out if the Others (Empaths. Her father and exalmost-boyfriend are back in California and she's out of the Vampire hunting biz for good. unusual. Val knows she's finally free. stop Lucas from munching on her. a 1600 year old Vampire. but it’s more like a puffer fish: pointy. Or is she? She draws the attention of Lucas. Can she keep those she loves alive. And after 1600 years of an emotionless existence. but boy is she gonna try! . Lucas wants Valerie like a recovering alcoholic wants a wine cooler. survive a fanged revolution and still find a way to have that boring.blogspot. and King to his kind. and just as tempting. an Empath could enslave them. normal life she’s always wanted? Probably not.

To her horror. she discovers she has now become a blood-drinking Vârcolac herself and she is the only female of her kind. Carrie. And while Alex gets to know Nathan and his shape-shifting family as they offer her the protection she so desperately needs.Samantha Towle First Bitten (The Alexandra Jones Series #1) Link to book on Amazon samanthatowle. but not to the life she left. Eddie. she and Carrie come face-to-face with a monster they never even knew existed. with the potential for breeding a whole new army of Vârcolacs if they can only track her down and press her into service. The next thing Alex knows. she is staring at the impossibly handsome but mysterious Nathan who has helped bring her back to life. unbeknown to all of them. But when Alex goes to retrieve her phone from the undergrowth.blogspot. Alexandra Jones stupidly takes a phone call from her cheating exboyfriend. a Vârcolac (a nightmarish vampire-werewolf hybrid) and he's in search of fresh blood. and in her anger hurls her phone into the forest before her. the Vârcolacs are getting closer… .com/ A love story with bite… Walking home after a night out drowning her sorrows with her best friend.

com/ .Denise Grover Swank The CHOSEN Series Link to book 1 on Amazon http://www.denisegroverswank.

.. I can't be harmed by anything that goes bump in the night. do some serious digging into those around you. forest areas at night. (*shudders). Did you see Children of the Corn? Malichi. I don't do woodsy. I guarantee you'll find my statement to be correct. I would rather run in the city at night than a rural area. If you think I'm wrong. I still hate walking alongside my bed in the dark for fear that my ankles will be snatched by something unspeakable. I am firmly convinced that if I squeeze my eyes tight enough and burrow under the covers deep enough. That goes for getting in my car at night too. Every time we renovate something in my 100 year old house.. .. or corn fields at ANY time. Most importantly of all. I firmly believe that we all know someone who has killed someone else. I like to know exactly what types of things could possibly attack me and my imagination seems to go less crazy. I'm convinced that we're going to find a dead body in the wall.About the Author This one is dedicated to my bizarre fears and irrational convictions.

was amazing as always. delivered yet again. and I never want to overlook them. Jena Gregoire. so bear with me. They help make this series all it can be. Jennifer Ryan. Firstly.Acknowledgments I have some new people to add this time around. . I need to thank the team. and my cover designer. My editor. I am grateful as always. Jamie Rosen. and Kristy Bronner. Eryn Bagley. which has grown to include Shannon Morton. It really takes a lot of people to get a novel prepared for the eyes of readers. and Jen Krom. They've helped to finely tune Scarred to near perfection along with Virginia Nicholas. Jess Thibodeau.

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