As Mary watched the show and then looked at the angel, she had a passing thought that she was kind of done with surprises for the night. “What … what did you do to her?”

Bitty spoke up for her buddy again. On account of the coughing and the gasping. “He just sent sunshine to my arms and legs. He put his hand over the casts, without even touching them, and there was this heat … and then, I don’t know, nothing hurt at all. We sawed off the fiberglass in the garage. That was the coolest part.”


Okay, now Mary was light-headed—and she had to take a load off on the floor. “You did what with a saw?”

When Lassiter finally lifted his head, he was red-faced, but no longer doing an impression of a rescued swimmer. “I didn’t like her suffering.”

“See?” Bitty said. “So don’t be mad at him.”

Mary shook her head. “I don’t understand—”

“Why the fuck did you let them break her bones,” Rhage snapped. “If you could do something like this, why the hell did you stand by while she was tortured in that exam room.”

Lassiter sat all the way up, his oddly colored, pupil-less eyes not shying from Rhage’s hard stare in the slightest. “It is not my job to affect destiny. That I cannot change without exacting proper balance, and sometimes the cost for the gift is worse than not giving it in the first place.”

Mary thought of the bargain that Rhage had made for her to live, before the Scribe Virgin had learned she couldn’t have children; the one where, for her cancer to have been cured, he would have had to never, ever see her or talk to her again, in spite of the fact that they were in love.

Balance was the way of the universe. “But”—the fallen angel held up his forefinger—“that doesn’t mean I can’t cushion the fall of fate’s dominoes. If you get what I mean. Easing the pain without changing the course? That I can do.”

Bitty smiled. “And I’d much rather be running around now as opposed to six weeks from now. Besides, those casts were itchy already. And bathing? Ugh.”

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Mary found herself blinking back tears as she squeezed Lassiter’s forearm. “Thank you.”

“Shit,” Rhage breathed. “I’m sorry. And shit, I shouldn’t have said ‘shit.’ Fuck. I mean … damn it.”

As her hellren skidded to a halt with the cursing, Mary felt like breaking down—and Bitty clearly sensed it, bending low with a hug.

“I’m okay. I know you guys worry.” Bitty smiled as she tugged Rhage to his feet. “Come on, let’s go have Last Meal—and before you tell me to clean up the mess, Fritz doesn’t let us.”

Right on cue, a whirring started to fill the foyer.

“He loves his wet vac,” Lassiter said. “Don’t that sound dirty?”

“Not in front of my kid it doesn’t,” Rhage muttered.

Everybody turned to the butler, who, sure enough, had fired up the canister-and-vacuum combination and was cheerfully sucking up the splashes on the mosaic floor in his formal black and white uniform. He paused and looked concerned.

Turning the wand off, he inquired, “Does anyone require aught? Last Meal is going to be served in ten minutes. Perhaps a libation?”

“We’re good, Fritz,” Rhage said, sounding exhausted. “But thanks, man.”

The doggen bowed deeply and then resumed his sucking. Which, Lassiter was right, did sound dirty.

“Come on, Father, you’ve got to be hungry.” Bitty pulled at Rhage’s arm. “Right, Mom?”

God, that hurt. Those names … were like broken glass in her heart.

“Yes,” she said slowly. “I imagine he should be eating something right now.”

That didn’t mean he wanted to, however. And yet Rhage could not deny the little girl, and the two of them went off for the dining room, a tiny sprite who had her mobility back skipping next to a mountain of a male who was walking like he was half dead.

Mary jumped when a hand to help her off the floor appeared in front of her face. Lassiter was back up on his Nikes and staring down at her from his great height with a somber expression.

Abruptly, the fact that the butler was wet-vac’ing up the remnants of a water balloon fight became crystal clear, largely because the grand and colorful foyer—with its malachite and red marble columns and its three-story-high painted ceiling and its grand fireplace and great stairway—was exactly where you didn’t ever want to have one.

Meeting the eyes of the angel, she said, “You knew, didn’t you.”

“That Fritz was going to love the wet vac?”

“That her uncle was going to show up and that Rhage and I were coming home a mess. You knew the distraction was going to help.”

“Oh,” he made a pshaw motion with the hand she had yet to take. “I’m not that smart.”

“And you couldn’t stand to see her in pain any more than the rest of us could.”

After a moment, Lassiter sank down onto his haunches next to her. Reaching out to her face, he brushed one side of it with his right hand and the other with his left.

Then he made a pair of fists and squeezed hard enough to make all the veins pop up in his heavy forearms. A second later, he unfurled his hands. In the center of both his palms, there was a faceted diamond, the two gemstones reflecting the light around them with rainbow flashes.

“A mother’s tears,” he whispered. “So hard … so beautiful.”

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