Elise nodded and made herself walk forward. Peyton was looking great, as usual, his casual suit the kind of thing that had obviously been handmade for him, that open collar and perfect fit making him seem ready for a spectacular New Year’s Eve night. Novo, in all her black leather, looked more prepared to fight.

Or have some hardcore sex.


Elise shook her head at herself and closed them all in. “What … ah, what can I do for you?”

God, even though she told herself to keep calm, her heart was pounding.

Novo looked at Peyton. Peyton glanced at the female … and then stared at Elise.

“You need to know some things. It’s about Axe,” he said.

Elise put both hands out like she was warding off an attack. “No, I don’t need to know anything about him.”

“Yes, you do.”

“No, I really don’t. And unless you’ve come for some other reason—”

“I’ve never had sex with him.” Novo’s voice was clear, unforced, and calm. “He took me to the club, yes. So I could become a member there. I asked him to do it for me as a favor. I’ve never once been with that male—and as far as both he”—she pointed at Peyton—“and I are aware, Axe hasn’t slept with anybody since that night he first met you.”

Peyton spoke fast, as if he were worried that Elise was going to run out of the room and he was going to lose his chance to say what he needed to. “I know this is not my business, technically, but you kind of made it mine when you came to see me.”

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“And I know you found that key of his.” Novo nodded at Peyton. “He told me that Axe made like he didn’t know what it was. I don’t want to speak for the guy, but when you join the club, you’re not supposed to talk about it. You’re not supposed to reveal to anyone what the key is, where you use it, what it’s about. It’s a members-only thing, and if you blab, you’re out. I’m not saying that’s why he didn’t tell you about Allishon’s. But it’s just something you should think about. Before you shoot him in the foot for apparently lying to you.”

Elise’s mind started to grind on the information. Even as she didn’t want that whole door reopened.

It had been too hard to shut the damn thing in the first place.

Peyton came forward, stopping when he was right in front of her. “It’s New Year’s Eve. I want to start this next year on the right foot. That’s why I’m doing this. See, there are some people who feel like I’m an asshole—”

At that point, Novo muttered under her breath something that sounded like, “Go figure.”

“—and I guess … I’m kind of thinking I’m one of them.” Peyton shrugged. “So yeah, Axe is having a horrible time. He looks half dead. And look, I’m not telling you what to do about this. But you might as well know the truth. What you choose to do or not do … is up to you. He’s not perfect … but he’s not like me, okay? He’s not worthless.”


Axe never cashed the check that Elise’s father sent him.

Nope. He just put it on the mantelpiece above the fire, knowing that at some point, he was going to throw it into the flames. Just not tonight. And not last night, either. Or the one before that.

It kind of felt like his last tie to Elise, and yes, it was pathetic, but that was one bene of living alone—no one else knew the weaknesses of your thoughts, your heart, your little rituals. It was like singing in the shower off-key—nothing you had to share with anybody else.

Sitting in front of the hearth, he was naked and the back side of him was cold, but he didn’t care. He hadn’t cared about much since Elise had laid down the hammer—

The knock on his front door drew his attention from the flames. “Open,” he called out, not giving a shit who it was, and knowing that he could get to his gun if he—

Axe jumped to his feet. Then remembered he was naked, and grabbed a pillow off the old sofa. “Elise?” he said to the closed door. “What the hell are you doing here?”

Her voice was muffled. “Do you, ah … do you mind if I come in?”

He shrugged. Mostly because his brain had traffic-jammed and rendered him too stoopid to talk.

Then he remembered she couldn’t see him. “Yeah. I mean, sure.”

Next thing he knew, she was stepping inside, closing the door and walking forward slowly, like she was thinking he might change his mind at any moment.

God … she looked good. Then again, she always looked good. Even when she hated him.

“Look, I don’t know.…” She cleared her throat. “I don’t know how to say this, so …”

“G’head. Whatever it is, I’m fine with it.”

She’d already dropped a bomb in the center of his chest. So what if she took his arms and legs off as well? And, yeah, yeah, yeah, he should yell at her and get all righteous and shit over the fact that she’d gotten him wrong. But honestly, he didn’t have the energy for it.

“I’m sorry.”

Axe recoiled. “What?”

“I’m … listen, I’m really sorry. I might have misjudged you I think.…”

“Wait, what?”

She started talking and he didn’t really follow. Something about Peyton and Novo coming over to her father’s house. The key thing. Membership. Not talking. No sex.

“What?” he repeated.

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