“And then,” Peyton continued, “see, one of those photographs fell out of Anslam’s pack on the bus to the training center and Paradise found it. She was the one who put the whole thing together—and Anslam tweaked to the fact that she knew too much. He went to her house and attacked her—nearly killed her, too. But she and Craeg took care of business. He died in her foyer. When they found even more photographs on him, it all … came together.”
Elise rubbed her eyes. “My father … when you came over that night, what did you tell him and my aunt and uncle?”
“It was fucking painful. Her parents were … frozen. I’ll never forget it—they didn’t show any … they were just emotionless. It was the shock. Clearly. Your father was the one who cried. Later, the Brotherhood visited them, after the rest of what happened came out. ’Cuz when I told them she had died, we didn’t know who had done it yet.”
Elise’s eyes teared up, as she pictured her father emotional.
“I think her parents blamed Allishon,” Peyton muttered. “Like it was her fault for getting herself killed. And you know … I felt like she was murdered all over again, with that attitude of theirs. I mean, someone offed her because they didn’t recognize her rights and humanity, but then putting it all on her? You do that all over again. And Christ, it’s her own parents.”
As they both fell silent, it was as if a pall settled in the suite.
“I told you it was better not to speak of this,” Peyton muttered.
“And I disagree completely.” She got to her feet and stalked around until she was right in front of the huge screen. Different teams were playing football now, the uniforms red and black and blue and white. “I think we need to talk about it. Not just as a family, but as a community.”
“When is the Fade ceremony?”
“I don’t think there is going to be one.”
“She has to be buried.”
“She was cremated. But I think that’s as far as it’s going to go.”
“Well, I still pray for her,” Peyton murmured, holding his glass up. “Blessings upon her soul, may she rest unto the Fade, that kind of shit. Usually when I’m drunk, which has been most of the time lately.”
“Have you thought about speaking to a therapist?” Elise said as she turned back to him. “This is a lot to hold in.”
“NFW—I’m going into the business of war. If I can’t handle blood and death, I might as well get out now—and I’m not going to do that.”
“But we’re talking about a family member’s death here. It wasn’t the enemy.”
Peyton just shrugged. “I’ll be fine.”
“Well, if you need someone, I’m always here.”
He smiled in an absent way. “You know … I’m proud of you, Dr. Elise.”
“You are?” She blushed. “And by the way, I don’t have my doctorate yet.”
“You don’t need one. Actually a friend of mine recently taught me that females are just as good as males.”
As that smile of his faded, she got the impression he was sad. “Who was that?”
“No one special.”
That’s a lie, Elise thought. But she respected the boundary.
“I’m worried about you,” she said softly.
“Like I told you … I’ll be fine.”
For the first time since he joined The Keys, Axe sat back and watched the action from the sidelines.
Novo was still in with Staff: Axe had left her alone in the interview room after giving the boys in red a synopsis of the human story she had concocted as a cover. Which made him think … he didn’t even know how old she was, who her people were, what her background actually was. He had his suspicions that a lot of it hadn’t been great.
And that wasn’t because she liked the same kind of sex he did.
Or the sex he’d used to be into.
The truth was, though, you could be perfectly well-adjusted and still like the fucking that happened here. That was what people outside of this lifestyle or whatever you wanted to call it didn’t understand. Yeah, there were folks running from shit. And folks who were fucked in the head. And maybe a couple of sociopaths. But the vast majority of members were good to go.
Hell, Tinder wasn’t any different. eHarmony. Blind dates, office set-ups, bar-crawl meetings. You name it, you were going to find a mix of good and bad—
A woman with bared breasts and a long leather skirt swanned by, her white hair piled up high on her head, her steampunk headgear making her look like the twenty-first century had gotten into a cage match with Victorian England—and the remnants of the conflict had fallen all over her face.
She paused in front of him. Her nipples were covered thanks to two metal disks that were held in place by piercings, a delicate chain running between the tips.
Axe had been with her a number of times, once at the altar, then in other situations. He didn’t know her name or her number. But he was well familiar with her sex.
On any other night, he would have gone somewhere with her.
But now, he was just counting down the minutes until he was meeting Elise—and no one here, or anywhere else on the planet, was going to come close to what was waiting for him at the end of the evening.
He shook his head and she nodded and moved on.
“Not your type?” Novo drawled.
Axe looked over. The female had emerged from the back, and he hadn’t even known she’d returned. “You want to go hang for a while? Or call it a night and come back?”