Saxton signed into a laptop, and after some typing, he sat back.


“They do have an appointment.”


“I can’t tell you.” As Peyton started to protest, Saxton held up a hand. “Ethically, I have to be careful not to violate any confidentiality. But that doesn’t mean I can’t help you.”

“Can we stop it?”

“I’m assuming the female has gone through her transition.” When Peyton nodded, Saxton said, “Good. So you both are legally of age. My initial thought is that you are not even third parties to such a contract. Two adults who have a meeting of the minds can bind each other to an agreement, but such an agreement cannot encumber anyone else who does not have an interest or consideration in its terms.”

Peyton rubbed his eyes. “I’m not following?”

“Your sires can agree to whatever they want between the two of them. But that agreement can’t be used to compel you or the female into actions you would not voluntarily assume on your own. Unless you or the female are accepting part of this payment?”

“No. I mean, not that we’re aware of. I haven’t seen the contract and neither has she—but our sires do not commonly look out for our interests, if you know what I mean.”

“The only thorny part of this is the Old Laws and how they relate to the financial consideration sometimes paid with regard to matings. I’ll need to go through that. But don’t worry. I’ll take care of this.”

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Peyton sagged. “Thank you, oh, God, thank you. And listen, on my side, it’s not that the other female is a bad person or anything. It’s just…”

“You love someone else.” The solicitor’s smile seemed old and very, very wise. “I understand completely. The heart wants what it wants.”

“Exactly. And again, thank you, you’re a real lifesaver.”

“I haven’t saved you, yet. But I will. You can trust me.”

“I already feel better about this. I’ve got to go to class now.”

“Be safe,” Saxton offered.


Out by the reception area, Peyton called for the bus, and cursed when he was told it was going to be another hour. But what could he do—

“Hey,” Blay said, “you looking to go to class? We have a van here and one of our doggen can take you?”

Twice in one night, he thought. Man, things were just going his way. Finally.

“That would be awesome,” he told the fighter. “Just really incredible.”

Because the truth was, as much as he wanted to fulfill his classroom obligations, what he really wanted was to see Novo again. As soon as possible.

And never, ever leave her side.

As Novo sat on her futon and stared straight ahead, there was nothing particularly on her mind, and that was a blessing, she supposed. What she was aware of, however, was that the great weight was back and heavier than ever, that familiar sinking in the center of her chest making it hard to breathe and difficult to move.

Overhead, she could hear people walking around, the humans settling in for the night. A glance at the clock told her it was just after ten p.m., and it was impossible not to think of the time in relationship to classes and what, under normal circumstances, she would be doing—if she hadn’t called in sick.

They were meant to be in the weight room at the beginning of the evening. And then they were going to be in class, and they were supposed to receive their new field assignments.

She was going to have to put in a request that she not be paired with…

She was going to need to go out with only Paradise, Craeg, Axe, or Boone.

Drawing her legs up, she linked her arms around her knees and rested her chin on her wrist. God, how could she have been so stupid—

Nope, she decided. She was done with the self-blame. She was absolutely not going to beat herself up over the fact that some male had turned out to be a shit. And besides, she’d already been through one kind of cardiac rehab. She just needed to look at this as another variation on the theme. Heart was broken. Stitch it up. Get strong again.

It was just that simple.

As she mulled on that imperative for a while, she was aware she was trying to convince herself of a truth she wasn’t sure she believed in, but whatever. It was her only way to realign all of it: Tomorrow evening, at nightfall, she was heading back into the program, and she was going to have her game face on.

There was no way she was quitting just because a romance she should never have started had blown up in her face.

That was a girl move. And she was a female, not a girl.

She was a fighter—

The knock on her door brought her head up. It wasn’t the first of the month, so it couldn’t be the landlord. And it wasn’t Peyton, she could sense that much.

“Yeah?” she called out.

“It’s Dr. Manello.”

With a frown, she got up and went across her everything room. Opening things up, she said, “Hey, what are you doing here?”

“House call.” The human barged in past her. “How we doing?”

For no good reason, she looked out in the hall to see if he’d brought reinforcements. Nope.

Closing them in, she put her braid over her shoulder. “I don’t understand?”

As her surgeon put his little black physician’s bag on the table for two she’d only ever sat one at, she noted that the bottom half of him was in scrubs. The top half was in a down jacket. He had a Mets baseball cap on, and yeah, wow, neon yellow and blue running shoes.

“You call in sick,” he said, “with a complaint that you’re nauseous. So I came to check on you.”

Swallowing her frustration, she shook her head. “Listen, as much as I appreciate the concern, it’s no big deal. I’m just not feeling—”

“You had a significant cardiac injury—”

“That was forever ago.”

“Try days.”

Jesus. It had seemed like another lifetime. “But I’m fine.”

“Well, then, let’s get this over with quickly, shall we?” He pulled out one of her mismatched chairs and spun it around. As he patted the hard seat, he said, “If you’re A-Okay, this won’t take but a moment.”

She crossed her arms over her chest. “I’m fine.”

“When did you go to medical school last?” He rolled his eyes. “And by the way, do you have any idea how often I find myself saying that to people around here.”

As the human just stared at her, like he was prepared to stay put until either one of them dropped dead from natural causes, she cursed and marched over.

“This is totally unnecessary,” she muttered as she sat down.

“I hope so. Any vomiting?”


“Fever, chills?”


“Abdominal pain or pain that radiates down either of your arms?”


“Feeling faint or passing out?”


Well, at least not since Peyton’s father had dropped the hammer on her in that hallway. Ever since then? Piece of cake.

Coming around to stand in front of her, the doctor took a stethoscope out of his bag and plugged it into his ears. “You’re going to have to lower those arms if I’m going to listen to your heart.”

Gracelessly, she uncrossed things and let her arms flop down—and then he was doing the little disk walk-around over her chest area. As he made a number of mmm-hmm noises, she took that to mean he was finding exactly what she thought.

Which was that absolutely nothing was wrong. Physically, at least.

“Blood pressure time,” he said cheerfully. “Your heart sounds perfect.”

“I know.”

His head popped up in front of her. “You have a terrible bedside manner, you know that?”

“Isn’t that your problem?”


As the doctor put her through an examination, she resumed staring straight ahead, her mind retreating once again to that place where there was, at least ostensibly, nothing on it. In reality, she suspected her subconscious was plotting against her, planning all kinds of wake-up-screaming shit, scheduling nightmares like they were patients into a dental chair.

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