And then they heard a rustle at the door.

Peyton went over and cracked the panel. “Nice work, Doc,” he murmured as he shut them in again.


And then his hand hovered right above the lock’s mechanism.

He could have turned the thing mentally. But he was obviously giving her a choice—and the control.

For some reason, she thought back to the very moment when that slayer had plunged her own dagger into her chest. “Surreal” did not begin to define what it had been like to know that she was going to die.

Funny…she hadn’t thought of it until now.

She focused on Peyton. “I’m sorry.”

As his eyes closed, he seemed resigned. “That’s okay. I’ll just let myself out—”

“For the way I acted in the PT suite. I was in…a really bad headspace and honestly, I was trying to get into the sex with you. My brain was all fucked up, though, and then I took that out on you. It was not fair. I apologize.”

He blinked. “You are…always a surprise.”

“Am I?”

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She fiddled with her blanket again, re-smoothing it. “Things have not improved much. In my head. I mean, with everything that…you know, landed me here.”

“I don’t want to force myself on you.”

“I wouldn’t let you do that.”

“I know. But I wanted to say that.” There was a pause. “Novo?”


“Look at me.” He waited until she did. “I’ll be slow, okay? I’ll be…gentle. And if it’s not right, I’ll stop, no matter how far things have gone.”

She shook her head. “Come on, Peyton. I’m as far away from being a virgin as you are. I don’t need to be handled like some fainting flower—”

“You can trust me, Novo. I’m not going to hurt you. I promise.”

For no good goddamn reason, her eyes teared up. No—that was wrong. She knew the why of it. She had been strong for herself for so long…that she had forgotten what it was like to have someone else shoulder any of her burden.

She never would have called herself lonely or identified herself as alone.

But Peyton’s unbidden, unexpected, and totally unwarranted support of her—particularly around sex—made her feel the distance between her and everyone around her with an acute sensitivity.

“I’m not big into trust, Peyton,” she said roughly. “It has never proven to be a value add in my life.”

“That doesn’t change what I said. Not one word.”

“Why?” she whispered. “Why are you being like this?”

“The truth?”

“It fucking better be.”

“I don’t really know. That’s the truth. All I am certain about…is that I don’t want to ever see you hurt by anyone or anything ever again.”

Don’t believe him, she told herself. Don’t fall for one second of this bullshit. He wants to fuck you, and that’s why he’s saying it. You have been through the sweet-talking thing before, and remember where that got you?

Pregnant and alone.

Miscarrying alone.

Alone for evermore.

And yet even as she forced herself to remember what had happened in that cold house a lifetime ago? Even as she told herself it was safer to think she was getting played?

She looked into Peyton’s steady, grave eyes and found it hard not to take him at face value.

“I’ll stop at any time. You say the word,” he repeated softly.

A nervous panic vibrated through her, making her very bones feel unreliable. She had had a lot of sex since Oskar, since losing the young. Lots of her body parts meeting the body parts of others. But she had never really shared herself with anyone.

That was a bonus of not telling her story to a single soul. As long as the other person didn’t know, she could pretend it hadn’t happened for however long the hookup lasted.

Tonight, though—probably because it was a mere twenty-four hours after she had died a couple of times—the veil of time between the tragedy and who and where she was now seemed to have dwindled from over two years…down to a matter of minutes.

Everything that she kept separate was in danger of merging.

Peyton, however, seemed similarly vulnerable. And though she didn’t know his details, that made it fair, did it not.

“Lock the door,” she said.

Peyton kept his eyes on Novo’s as he followed her instructions and flipped the lock into place. He was quite confident that the medical staff had a key to things. But with that sign on the door, and the fact that the training center was empty because Wrath had ordered everyone off rotation, privacy was a good bet.

Before he went over to her, he cut the lights so there was nothing but a glow coming from the little bathroom. In a way, he hated the dimness because the lower the illumination, the brighter the readouts on the monitors around the head of the hospital bed.

She still had two IVs in.

But she had been well enough for a shower, her damp hair once again braided, the end curling up tight. And she had eaten a little of that meal.

As he approached, she lowered the top half of the bed until it was all flat, and his heart beat faster as he realized he was actually going to lie down beside her.

“Let me just move…” She tried to rearrange the tubing that fed into her arm. “Damn it, this is ridiculous. Let’s just take it out—”

“Yeah, not going to happen. Here, let me help you.”

He ran the clear plastic lines up by the pillow so that they didn’t get pinched. And then he put down the rail, and sat on the very edge of the mattress.

As he took her hand, her skin was softer than he’d imagined. A warrior like her? Her palm should have been spiked. Still, he could recognize the tensile strength in her and feel the calluses from weight bars and rowing and fighting.

When she pulled him down, he went more than willingly, stretching out on top of the blankets that covered her.

“So are you going to kiss me or what?” she demanded.

“Yes, I am.”

He found her mouth and oh, fucking hell—his brain shorted out, all higher reasoning and rational thinking just packing their bags and leaving for someone else’s skull. Her lips were delicious and her tongue was a thrust of aggression in his mouth and her scent made him feel higher than the weed. And holy shit did things move fast, especially south of his waistband. He wanted in her so badly, he was panting and out of control already.

The one thing he was careful of? He made sure not to put too much of his weight on her healing chest. Other than that, it was sensation only, his hips rolling into her thigh, her torso arching under him, her hands clawing into his back—

“Take off your shirt,” she moaned.

“Yes, ma’am.”

He eased off of her slowly and sat back on his heels. The buttons were stubborn, his fingers were sloppy, his breathing was too hard—but she didn’t seem to care. Novo just stared up at him with ravenous eyes, her tongue tracing her upper lip, the tips of her descending fangs flashing white.

“I’m hungry,” she growled.

“Take it all.”

“Be careful. I might kill you.”

“So let me die in your arms.”

Peyton tossed his white shirt down on the floor, the loose bow tie going with it, and then he lay back down. As they tilted their bodies together, though, he got on some of her wires, and an awkward realignment had to happen—which was something he tried not to focus on. Should they even be hooking up like this?

Fuck yes, his cock announced. Shut the hell up with that.

Stop it—

“What?” she said.

“Nothing. Let me keep kissing you before I come in my pants.”

“That’s not a very threatening threat.” Her lids lowered over her burning eyes. “Because that’s what I want you to do.”

As he hissed, she stroked over his pecs and went down onto his hard stomach. When she stopped at his waistband, he gritted his teeth. “Fuck—”

“That’s the plan. Help me get these off.”

At first, he wasn’t sure he’d heard that right. But then she was tugging at his belt with her free hand—and hello, he was more than willing to be a Good Samaritan for this cause. With a rough series of tugs, he got the strip of smooth black leather through the white-gold buckle and then he was fumbling with the button and the zipper.

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