“Ohhhh, riiiiight, I didn’t perform enough for you.” She put a hand over her heart and feigned like she was dying of regret. “I wasn’t enough for Peyton, son of Peythone.” Abruptly, she dropped the act and focused on him hard. “I thought you were going to take what you could get.”

“Guess I don’t want it anymore.”


“Liar.” Novo hopped off the table and he turned away as she pulled her shorts up. “You’re such a fucking liar.”

“Nope. Not on this one.”

“You’re not going to cry on me, are you?” she taunted. “Look at you, all lowered head over there.”

“I was trying to give you privacy.”

“After you were inside of me?”

Peyton headed for the door, taking his Grey Goose with him.

“Coward,” Novo muttered.

He didn’t reply as he came up to the exit. And as he stepped out, he hated to admit the truth about how he felt.

Weak. So fucking weak.

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But for some reason, his feelings were hurt. Which was insane. The plan had been for the two of them to use each other. Fair trade. No emotions, just fucking.

It was his standard currency. So what the hell was his problem?

Left to her own devices in the PT suite, Novo felt like picking up the padded massage tables and workbenches and throwing them around the room until there wasn’t one piece of equipment or medical supply that hadn’t been destroyed at the molecular level. There were problems with that strategy, however. For one, anything with four legs was bolted to the floor. For another, as fucked in the head as she was, she didn’t want to deliberately destroy someone else’s property.

“Shit,” she said as she stared across at the closed door.

Between her legs, a warm hum persisted, and goddamn it, her body still wanted to be where it had been—under Peyton, his sex buried in her own, that powerful penetration of his eclipsing the screaming in her skull. Except he’d been a revelation. In a bad way.

The purpose had been to wipe Oskar out of her head. Replace him with a different model. Make a male who didn’t want her—and wouldn’t even know the sex was happening—jealous because she was with someone else.

God, that sounded insane. And in any event, it hadn’t worked, because she had found herself wanting what she was getting too much: Underneath that composure she’d locked herself down with, she’d been on the verge of an orgasm.

Their bodies had been made to fit together like that.


Prowling around, she gave herself time to lose the scent of her arousal, and then finally reemerged into the gym proper with what she hoped was a suitable amount of nothing-special-going-on-here. Turned out, she didn’t need to worry about a peanut gallery. The place was empty.

As she surveyed the vacant bleachers, the still nets, the empty court, her cell phone started to vibrate in her ass pocket—and when she took the thing out, she already knew who it was. Yup. Her mother. Ready to complain that she had been mean to Sophy, ruining what was supposed to be a joyous time for everyone.

Off in the distance, an eerie scream vibrated through the silence like a premonition of death.

It was that patient, Assail. The one who was locked in that room. She didn’t know the details, but could guess by the sound he always made that he had gone insane.

Maybe she was next on that list.

Left to contrast that very real possibility with everything her sister was looking forward to, she considered going to the weight room for a second workout—when the calendar date popped into her mind for no good reason.

Closing her eyes, she felt herself sag.

She had gotten pregnant three years ago on this very night.

When Oskar, the male her sister was going to mate, had serviced her in her needing.

After which, he had promptly left her for different shores, as it were. Naturally, she had never told him that she was with young, and so he had no idea what had happened eleven months later.

As her stomach clenched and she considered throwing up, she thought, God, all of those events, from the pregnancy to the…nightmare…that became of it seemed to have happened to someone else—and a stranger, at that. She was different now than she had been. Stronger. Tougher. More resilient. Getting into the Brotherhood’s training program had been proof of how far she had come, and fighting on the streets of Caldwell was a nightly reminder that she wasn’t backsliding.

She was going to go to that mating ceremony. And she was going to be the maid of whatever the hell.

This was her final test. If she could manage to survive the ritual that united the pair of them for the rest of their lives? Then the fool she had once been was truly well and buried—and the loss that had nearly killed her was finally and forever locked away.

No weakness. No quarter given or taken. Nothing left of what she was…and no more fear that she could be hurt like that again.

Novo looked at the scoreboard that still had the last game’s results on it. Home and Away. Home team had won by ten.

She was going to be fine, she resolved as she headed for the exit.

Oh, and she was absolutely going to forget she knew what Peyton felt like. Abso-fucking-lutely.

The following evening, Saxton materialized over to the Audience House early, taking his form in the back by the Federal mansion’s detached two-story garage. Doggen had come during the afternoon and plowed the blizzard’s snowfall away, but he was careful as he walked over to the kitchen’s entrance. Hot Gucci loafer soles were slicker than greased lightning on anything smooth and icy—and given how perfectly Fritz insisted things had to be done? The driveway and the parking area were like a sheet cake iced by Ina Garten.

As he entered a code and opened the door, he knew he was the first to come into work, but that didn’t mean there hadn’t been plenty of people in and out during daylight hours. Indeed, as he shut himself in, there were fresh pastries on silver trays, all carefully plastic-wrapped for freshness, a restaurant-sized coffeepot ready to be plugged in for brewing, and baskets of apples and bananas set to be arranged in the waiting room.

The first audiences wouldn’t convene until eight p.m., but Saxton liked to make sure all the paperwork for each private meeting with the King was in order and that everything would run seamlessly, both for Wrath’s sake and for the subjects’. With as many as twenty different issues a night, there was a lot to keep track of. Certain audiences, like those seeking a blessing for a mating or the birth of a young, were straightforward and went relatively fast. Others, like those concerning the disposition of assets following a death, bloodline disputes, or incidences involving bodily harm, could be quite involved and require much follow-up and monitoring.

Proceeding into the staff corridor, he opened the first door on the right and flipped on the lights. His office was utterly devoid of accoutrement, no paintings or drawings on the walls, no objets d’art on the built-in partner’s desk, nothing but law books on the plain shelves. There wasn’t even a rug. Just two rolling office chairs on either side of the work space, a monitor he could plug his laptop into so he didn’t get eye strain, and a series of locked cabinets containing files that were live.

All of his in-session notation was done by hand as the sound of tapping keys, no matter how soft, drove Wrath absolutely insane. So Saxton took notes with a Montblanc and then transposed them afterward, and there was a measurable benefit to the double-work. For one, he had a hard copy of everything in the event of a computer failure—not that V would allow that with his precious anti-Apple network and equipment—but more importantly, as Saxton typed up his cursive handwriting, he reinforced everything in his own head.

Sitting down, he took his laptop out of his briefcase and hooked it up to the keyboard that had been mounted on a slide under the desk as well as that screen that didn’t give him a headache.

And then he stalled out.

“Come now,” he muttered to himself.

Turning on the Lenovo, he got into his Outlook and was greeted by twenty or so work emails, a flyer from the Met, an ad for 1stdibs, and notices from Sotheby’s paintings department and Christie’s online watches sale.

He ignored all of that.

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