Actually, Lassiter called the uncle squad Baboons or Buffoons. And then the beatings occurred. But yeah …

Oh, and that fallen angel was the worst of the bunch when it came to presents. Just tonight, at First Meal, he’d given her yet another copy of the Deadpool DVD and a sweatshirt that had a red and black rendering of Dory with “Where’s Francis?” printed on the front.


“I really don’t want to go to Havers’s clinic,” Bitty said as she looked at herself in the mirror. “I’m scared.”

Mary closed her eyes, recalling Bitty getting treatment there for what her biological father did to her. “Rhage and I are going to be with you the whole time. We aren’t going to leave your side.”

“Can’t Doc Jane do whatever needs to be done at her clinic?”

“I’m sorry, but she can’t.”

“Can she come with us?”

“No, honey, she has her work to do here. But she’s going to talk to Havers herself after all the tests come back. And so will Dr. Manello and maybe even V.”

Bitty put the brush down and ran her palm over her hair. “Okay.”

God, she was so small sitting there, and Mary would have given anything to be the one about to be poked and prodded and X-rayed and imaged. Bitty had been through so much, her poor little body absorbing blows and stress that most adults would have had trouble living through. And the actual experiences had been bad enough. The idea that she was still having to deal with them seemed grossly unfair.

“I think afterward,” Mary said as she got to her feet, “Rhage is going to take the night off and hang out with us.”

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“He told me we can have ice cream and watch a movie, if I wanted.”

“You got it.”

When Bitty didn’t stand up, Mary went over. “I’m not going to leave you.”

“Promise?” came the whisper. “I’m scared.”

Mary put her hand on the girl’s shoulder. “I swear that I will never leave you.”

Thank you, Scribe Virgin. And thank you, Rhage. When they’d decided to move forward with the adoption process, she and Rhage had agreed that even if he died first, Mary would stay with Bitty. Of course, they hadn’t told the girl about all that. There just hadn’t been a right time yet.

Bitty took a deep breath. “Okay, let’s—”

The knock on the door cut her off, and then came Rhage’s deep voice, muffled: “How’re my females in there? We ready?”



Rhage opened things up and there he was, big and beautiful, his broad shoulders filling the doorway, his preternatural physical perfection the kind of thing Mary still did a double take on every once in a while. With blond hair that was thick and wavy, eyes that were the color of the ocean in the Bahamas, and teeth so white they looked like bathroom tile—even though they’d never been bleached—he was a legend in the race with the females for a good reason.

He was also totally and completely devoted to her and her alone.

It had taken Mary some time to get used to that, to trust it. After all, he could have had anyone or anything he wanted in a mate—someone blond and tall and gorgeous like him. Instead … he only had eyes for her, a brunette with a nice enough face, and a body that had been rendered infertile thanks to chemo.

Rhage thought she was a beauty queen, however, and funny, when she was around him and he was staring at her the way he did? She sure as hell felt like one.

As Bitty burst up and rushed over to him, he got down on one knee so he was closer to her height. And he took her hands, his larger palms engulfing her smaller ones.

“You ready to get this over with so we can watch Deadpool again?”

Mary shook her head. “You guys are in a serious rut.”

“ ‘So what’s it gonna be?’ ” Bitty quipped. “ ‘Long sullen silence or mean comment?’ ”

“ ‘You got me in a box here,’ ” Rhage shot back.

“Yes, yes, yes, yes …” Bitty curled up her fists and pumped the air as she turned in a little circle.

“Promise me again,” Mary cut in, “that you don’t look at the adult parts.”

Bitty and Rhage both covered their eyes as he replied, “Nope. We assume the position and wait till the ugliness passes.”

Pick your battles, Mary reminded herself. You gotta pick your battles.

As the three of them headed out of the suite in a clutch, Mary said, “You know, you could try watching some other things? There are some wonderful documentaries out there on social issues that …”

She let the pitch trail off as the two of them turned around and stared at her as if she’d suggested spray-painting obscenities all over the foyer. Or firing Fritz. Or off-loading Rhage’s GTO on eBay for scrap metal.

“How are you two not blood relations,” she muttered. “But at least you might grow out of this, Bitty.”

The girl came in close and gave one of her hugs, tight and quick. “Maybe.”

As they headed down to the second floor, Rhage said, “Bit, you know we’re not leaving you, right? It’s not appropriate for me to be with you the whole time, but Mary will be, and I’ll be in the waiting room or just outside in the corridor—”

When they emerged out of the stairwell, they stopped on a oner.

Right outside of the King’s study, there was a group of people waiting: Doc Jane, in her surgical scrubs; Manny, in his white coat; Vishous, dressed for war; and Zsadist, in Adidas, with weapons all over him.

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