“Damn fucking right. And I also haven’t been with Novo.”

The long silence was a surprise, but Axe didn’t really care one way or another. “We done here? FYI, I’m not going to cut you or anything. I don’t want anything to fucking do with you, but that hasn’t changed since orientation.”


“Her father called me. She’s moving out of the house. He’s requested that I keep an eye out for her and I’ve agreed to do that.”

Elise was leaving home? Holy shit.

Except then Axe reminded himself that it wasn’t really his business anymore, was it.

“So you got what you want.” Axe got to his feet. “Congratulations. Then again, shit always works out for people like you, doesn’t it—”

Novo came up the short steps and leaned into the bus. “Are you two killing each other or something?”

Axe shook his head. “Nope. We’re good—oh, but he thinks I fucked you three nights ago—or whenever it was we went to the club.”


“You heard me.”

Novo stared at Peyton. “Axe put me up for membership. That’s why he took me there. And it was because I asked him to—oh, and Axe shut me down when I asked him if he wanted to be with me. Turned me down flat. Jesus, Peyton, could you be any more of an asshole?”

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Axe walked forward, shaking his head. “It doesn’t matter. S’all good. Moving on.”

Pushing past Novo, he stepped off the bus, went over to the door that had been propped open, and entered the training center.

As he headed for the gym, where they were going to be sparring, he was aware of a whole lot of things: He was exhausted, for one thing, but he had a feeling he needed to get used to that. He was in pain, but yeah, file that along with the former.

And he was terrified.

In his head, he was monitoring each and every thought he had, checking for signs that he was going to crash and burn as his father had. It was like he was searching for cracks in his foundation, waiting for his superstructure to collapse, anticipating the paralysis that he had watched for years.

He was already crippled on the inside. Surely the outside was going to go, too.

Because the truly pathetic thing? He had bonded with Elise.

Yes, as she had pointed out, it had been only a matter of nights, but—as he had so often heard, and never truly believed—when it came to males and their soul mates? It didn’t take time; it took the right female.

And Elise was right for him even if he was wrong for her.

So yeah, he was crippled and going to remain that way for the rest of his life.

But what the hell.

He’d already been crippled before. He was used to this.

Just as some people were destined to be happy?

Others simply didn’t win that lottery.


At the end of the evening, as everyone at the Brotherhood mansion came together and took their seats in the dining room, Rhage waited for Mary to give him the cue.

And when she did, just as the feast of Last Meal was being served, he turned to Bitty, who was next to him. “Hey, will you come with me and your mom for a second? Nothing is wrong, we just need to talk to you about something.”

“Sure!” The little girl was up and at ’em, ready to go. “Uncle Ruhn, I’m going to be right back. You stay with the BABUs!”

The male blinked in confusion. “I’m sorry?”

Lassiter leaned in. “Buffoons. She has a speech impediment. It’s really sad—”

Bitty nailed the angel in the arm. “Bad-Ass Big Uncles. And will you stop.”

“Nevaaaaaaaaaaah!” the angel cackled. Before giving Bitty a playful tug on her hair.

As Bitty skipped out ahead and Rhage drew Mary in against him, he called out, “The library, okay? Bit, we’re going in the library.”

“Roger that,” she said.

“You ready?” he whispered to his shellan. As she nodded, he murmured, “It’s going to be fine.”

When they were all in there together, he shut the doors. Man, it felt like he was back in his own skin, his own life, his own ocean, swimming freely with the current instead of against it. And Mary was the same way—Dearest Virgin Scribe, it was good to see the light back in his shellan’s eyes and the smile on her face.

And as for Ruhn? The guy was a gem. Quiet, dignified in himself, not a pansy, either. He had insisted on carrying his things up to the guest room he’d been given down the hall of statues. And was already looking for projects to fix, clean, or improve.

Fritz was going to learn to hate the motherfucker.

“What is it?” Bitty said—before she got distracted by the Christmas tree. “Oh, my—we need to celebrate your holiday, Mom. But not yet. Ruhn needs presents. We need to … we need to figure out what he likes and I have an allowance. I can get him some myself—but you guys need to, too.”

Mary laughed and drew the girl over to the sofa. “Absolutely, we will.”

“Yay! So what’s going on—Father, we need to watch Deadpool with him. He hasn’t seen any movies. Like, ever. Not even Jaws. I have a draft list, and I want you to go through it with me. We’ll set up a viewing schedule just like we did for me.”

Rhage nodded. “Absolutely. That kind of deficit is more important than literacy.”

Mary put her head in her hands. “You two are insane.”

Rhage put his palm out for a high five and Bit slapped it with her own. “Nailed it,” Rhage said. “Now, we need to get serious. Your mom has something she needs to tell you.”

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