The male was still staring at her, that massive body of his eased back in his seat, his knees spread wide, his drink in one long hand, the other up to his chin, his fingers on his mouth.

Like maybe he was kissing her in his mind.


Elise’s body flashed with heat, the blast emanating through her veins in reply to those eyes of his, that erotic way he was lounging, that all-consuming intent he was spotlighting her with. But it was funny. As direct as his stare was and as unmistakable as the erotic tension was? He didn’t make a move to come over and talk to her.

Even though she was very sure he was imagining them making love—

“This is all going to work out,” Peyton said as he hopped into Paradise’s vacant seat. “It’s all gonna be fine.”

Switching gears—badly—Elise met her cousin’s eyes. “Ah … I hope so. And thank you for helping. I didn’t know where else to go.”

“I told you. Anytime, anywhere, I’m here.”

Peyton puffed on his cigar, releasing clouds of gray smoke that drifted over his head. As he motioned with his hand to a waiter, and then circled the empty glasses on the low table, she had the distinct impression he came here often. Then again, maybe he was just sublimely comfortable and confident in the world.

Something to aspire to.

As he joked with the male Paradise had been holding hands with, and then laughed at something the guy said, Elise couldn’t help measuring her cousin’s face. Peyton was handsome as could be, the kind of guy everyone looked at and wanted to know … but he’d never been happy—at least not that she’d been able to see. And he certainly wasn’t now. Underneath the snark and the sexy affect, she sensed he wasn’t tracking, an essential detachment separating him from the world.

He was suffering in silence. Mourning alone. Rattled but pretending everything was normal.

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What had his ties to Allishon been? Of all the people who could have announced her death to the family, why had it been him?

Had he found her or something?

“How are you?” she asked quietly. “You know, after Allishon’s—”

“I’m awesome, are you kidding me?” He shifted forward and tapped the ash off the fat, glowing end of his cigar. “I’m spectacular.”

His eyes were empty as he smiled at her, and abruptly, she felt like crying all over again. But if he could be strong, so could she.

And then Paradise was back and sitting down in the lap of the trainee she’d been holding hands with. “My father’s going to talk to him right now.”

Elise closed her eyes in relief. “Oh, thank you, thank you so much … I really hope he can help.”

“My father has a way about him that really calms people down.” Paradise looked at her male with love in her eyes and smiled. “And as traditional as he can be, he knows that that isn’t everything.”

No, Axe told his libido. No, absolutely not. You are not going to have that female.

Forget it. Drop it. Walk away.

F.F.S., it was like he was talking at a recalcitrant dog.

But what the shits. She wasn’t just “not his type,” she represented everything he despised about the glymera. He couldn’t stand blondes, for one thing. And yeah, sure, she didn’t have a lot of makeup on, and it wasn’t like she was dressed in a bunch of highbrow, ugly shit that was supposedly “on trend”—whatever the fuck that meant. But that accent of hers? Come on, it was so patrician, she made that human Queen of England sound like a beer drinker from the Jersey Shore.

And her bone structure was even worse. That face of hers was so refined and perfect, he was very sure that she could trace her bloodline back to the beginning of time. And those eyes? Like sapphires. Those lips? Like rubies. That skin … like a pearl.

She was a goddamn jewelry store of beauty. But man, it was so frickin’ easy to fill in the particulars of her life: she was going to live in a mansion in the very best part of town; her bedroom would be Barbie-meets-the-National-Gallery; her father would be all up her ass to mate a suitable male from a Very Good Family; and her biggest worry tonight was what set of diamonds to wear to Last Meal.

Good thing she had about four hours of deliberation time.

Phew. What a fucking relief.

She was exactly what his mother had hoped to become. When she left him an orphan and his father a ruined male.

So no. He was not having anything to do with that stuck-up, butter-wouldn’t-melt-in-her-mouth, aristocratic breeding machine. Nope. Not going to—

What would she taste like? an inner voice whispered.

“Stop it,” he muttered. “Just shut the fuck up—”

What would she feel like, naked and under him, with her legs spread wide and her sex his for the taking? Would she moan his name? Or would she gasp it—

“You know,” Novo murmured, “you could make this easier on yourself.”

“What are you talking about? And please don’t answer that if you don’t feel like it.”

“Why don’t you go over there and speak to her?”

Axe considered playing stoopid, but what the hell. “Not a good idea. She’d be naked the next minute, and then I’d have to slaughter anyone with a cock who saw her like that.”

“You’re a fucking animal.” Novo laughed. “But I like that in a male. And I think so does that female.”

“What female.” Damn it, was he out of booze again? “I think you’re seeing things.”

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