Ten. 1

EVIE KEPT SURPRISING HIM.

At the club, she’d handled the patrons and employees with equal skill. Hell, she’d even handled Blue.

He’d lost himself in the pleasure of grinding on her, forgetting their goal, their audience, until she reminded him.

She’d begged so prettily.

Begging. Completely unlike her. It had startled him back to his senses.

Mentally and physically, he couldn’t seem to control his reactions to her.

Can’t worry about that now.

They’d had to ditch her car. Whoever had ordered the earlier chase—hit?—was still out there, and Evie was now . . . no longer Evie. She was Miss Blond Boobies, and he freaking hated it. When he wasn’t grinding on her, of course. He much preferred her luscious dark hair and slender curves.

Concentrate. Going back to her place would have been stupid, giving away their identities, no matter what they looked like, so he’d offered no protest when she stole a truck and drove him to a safe house she swore no one knew about.

And why would he protest? Watching Evie steal a car was like watching sexy female auto-mechanic porn on set. He was still hard.

You’ve been hard for two days.

“You quit the agency. Why did you keep a safe house?” he asked as he cased the place. It was small but virtually undetectable, hidden underneath a middle-class neighborhood where all of the homes above it were the same shape and color. There was only one entrance, and that was concealed in a darkened alcove next to the district enzyme tower half a mile away.

Evie had reinforced the walls with alien metal that could withstand a nuclear attack, and hung countless monitors, all watching the surrounding area from different angles. The only furniture was a bed, a chair, and a desk cluttered with a computer, papers, and mechanical parts and equipment he didn’t recognize.

“I like to be prepared,” she said with a shrug.

He was the same. He collected safe houses the way other men collected sexual mementos, ensuring he had someplace to go in every corner of the world. Maybe one day he’d give Evie a tour and impress the hell out of her.

He stiffened. Give her a tour? Impress her?

Seriously? Michael, John, and Solo weren’t even aware of half of his holdings, and he wanted to share with her?

Scowling, Blue settled at the desk and booted up the computer. Opening the contents of the flash drive would take a while.

“I’m going to make a sandwich,” Evie said, pressing a few buttons on a small black remote. In front of her, one section of the wall opened, revealing a fully stocked fridge. “You want one?”

He masked his bafflement with a muffled “That’d be great, thanks.”

“Brilliant. I’ll leave out the bread and peanut butter so you can make yourself one.”

Now, that was more like the Evie he knew and . . . liked. He rubbed two fingers over his mouth to hide a smile. “Have you always been such a ballbuster, baby bear?”

She shook her fist in his direction. “Stop calling me by those ludicrous names. And, yeah, I guess I have been. But then, I’ve had to be.” She dug a knife from a drawer hidden in the island. “Otherwise Mum would have broken me.”

She had never willingly offered information about her past, and he found himself leaning toward her, as eager to hear more as he usually was to make a kill. “Tell me about her.”

As she put two sandwiches together, she said, “She could have been a general in the army. Everything had to be a certain way. Her way. And then it had to meet her exacting standards. Meaning nothing was ever good enough.”

Little Evie, under a military-like regime. He frowned, not liking the image. Had she ever gotten to act her age and play?

“I’m not sure what Michael ever saw in her, to be honest.”

Adorable, the way she added an -er to the word saw. “Does she look like you?”

“Yes. I’ve been called her carbon copy, actually.”

Well, there you go. Michael hadn’t been able to help himself. “No good times?”

“Not until Claire came along.”

Happiness coasted over him, followed by sorrow. Both emotions sprang from her. Clearly Claire’s death destroyed her, and she was still dealing with the pain.

Breaking my heart. “What’s your favorite memory of your sister?”

She thought for a moment, then smiled. “Claire made me watch romantic comedies, romantic tragedies, romantic . . . everything,” Evie said, and her smile faded. “I used to tease her about the horrors of heartfelt emotion, only I called it heartfelt crap, and she used to say I was fooling no one, that I already had that crap in my blood, and then we’d laugh about the word ‘crap.’?”

Blue suddenly wished he’d never allowed dislike of Evie to keep him away four years ago. It would have been fun to watch her and Claire together. The fire-breathing dragon and the shy princess somehow finding a way to happily coexist.

“I had siblings, too,” he admitted. “I was only four years old when they died, but they’ll always have a place in my heart.” He remembered how, before his brothers and sisters died, each placed a hand on his chest. Warmth had then spread throughout his entire body.

He hadn’t understood at the time, but Cade, Caell, Cameron, Caymile, and Candice had bequeathed their powers to him. They were the reason he survived the sickness they did not. They were the reason he was as strong as he was.

And he would never get the chance to thank them.

For a moment Evie was still and quiet. Then she walked over and, expression carefully blank, handed him a sandwich. “Here.” She sat at the edge of the desk, not caring when she pushed supplies to the floor.

They ate in silence, and for that he was grateful. The more she spoke, the more he liked her.

And he shouldn’t like her while she was nearby . . . affecting him. Bad things happened. Proof: already he was tense and aching. Ready for sex. Hard, pounding sex. Dirty sex. The kind neither one of them would ever be able to forget.

What did she prefer? To be touched gently? Or firmly?

Did she like to be licked? Or bit? Or both?

How did she feel about oral?

He wanted her mouth on his shaft, her dark hair spilling over his thighs.

The power began to writhe inside him, and both the chair and desk wobbled before lifting into the air. Her eyes—those dark, rich eyes—widened. She’d removed the contacts, and he wanted to howl with gratitude.

“Blue?”

He didn’t care that her hair was currently blond and not his preference for her. He could still wrap the strands around his hand and fist. He could guide her into the rhythm he wanted her to set. Afterward he could strip her and return the favor.

He flattened his hands on her thighs. Big hands. Delicate thighs. She sucked in a breath . . . but didn’t push him away.

“Push me away,” he said. The heat of her skin was so intense, he could feel the burn of her through her jeans.

“Blue, I—”

A muffled buzz stopped her.

Frowning, she pulled her cell from the purse still draped across her middle and read the screen. Shock curled from her, slithering around him and tightening like a noose.

“What’s wrong?” His desire instantly cooled. The desk and chair settled on the floor.

Her gaze met his. “I think . . . I think my father just texted me.”

U KNOW WHERE SUNBEAM

That was the extent of the coded text, and yet the shock lifted and Evie knew. Her father was responsible.

Sunbeam was his nickname for her. And she did indeed know where. About a mile out from Lake Michigan. Michael had planned for something like this—one of them being chased, needing a secluded place to stay—and had told her where to go if ever he contacted her.

She and Blue left the safe house and stole another car. They drove to the dock, doubling back a few times to make sure they weren’t being followed. Then, with the rerouting of a few wires, the “spare parts” her father kept in multiple slips drew together like magnets and metal to create a small boat.

After pulling on protective bodysuits, she and Blue climbed inside the craft. This was going to be fun. Not. The bacteria in the lake constantly mutated. With Blue’s Arcadian blood, he was probably resistant. But even though her immunizations were up to date, she could sicken.

Finally, they were speeding along.

“Don’t get your hopes up.” Blue had to yell to be heard over the roar of the engine. “This could be a trap.”

“It’s not,” she yelled back. Strands of hair slapped at her cheeks and filled her mouth as she valiantly tried to grab them and hold them at her nape.

He cast her a grim look. And it wasn’t fair. The sun was in the process of setting, providing a majestic pink and purple backdrop, making him more beautiful than ever. “I hope you’re right.”

She drew in a breath and promptly coughed. The air was thick with the scents of rot and mold.

Calming, she realized Blue watched her with concern. She had to look away.

When was her desire for him going to fade?

They’d almost kissed. Again. She’d known it was about to happen, and she hadn’t planned to stop it. Had actually planned to encourage it.

What was wrong with her?

Maybe . . . she should just give in, she thought now. After he broke things off with Pagan. The poor dear. No matter what Blue said, Evie played a part in the demise of his relationship with the girl, and she felt terrible about it. Terrible and guilty and ashamed.

I need to ask for her forgiveness. But that wasn’t going to make a difference, was it. If anyone ever kissed Evie’s man, “anyone” would die. No questions asked. No apology accepted.

You don’t have a man all your own. You’ve never had a man all your own.

One day she would. And when that day came, she wouldn’t share.

So . . . what should she do about Blue?

First up, she had to rid her body of its craving for him. Until she did, she wouldn’t be interested in anyone else—and now that her hormones were awake, she wanted to be with someone, she realized. Wanted to have a real relationship. With a doctor at the hospital, maybe.

Second, she had to—

Go back to step one.

Oi. The only way to rid her body of its craving was to give it what it wanted. Blue. After she had been sated, she could forge ahead with new plans for her future. No harm, no foul.

“Nearing a dock,” Blue said, drawing her from her musings.

She raised the night-vision binoculars and scrutinized the area. There were no other boats stationed at the small, floating post. No bodies hiding behind the poisonous trees and plants thriving in the dry, acidic atmosphere. About fifty yards back was a seemingly dilapidated shack with no lights glowing from the inside to indicate someone lived there.

“We’re good,” she said.

Trusting her, Blue parked and tied the boat to the dock. When she tried to step up and out, he stopped her by clapping a hard hand on her upper arm. Then he applied pressure, urging her to lie down.

“Now is not the time to make out,” she said, hating how breathless she sounded. Especially since it wasn’t the first time.

He glared at her. “Sex is not always on my mind, you know.”

“You’re right, I’m—”

“At least, it didn’t used to be,” he muttered, his anger draining. “Now, stay down and you won’t be hurt.” Done with the conversation, he straightened and closed his eyes, forcibly breathing in . . . and out . . . until his usual hum of power became a screech.

She cringed against the violence of it, and her pain receptors actually vibrated. What was happening? How was he—

A glowing blue ring shot from around his waist, widening as it moved, soon sweeping across the entire expanse of land. But as suddenly as it started, it stopped. Everything stilled, quieted.

He’d once told her he had countless abilities. She hadn’t taken him literally, but she probably should have.

“What did you do?” she asked.

He smiled down at her. “If anyone was hiding nearby, they are now paralyzed, and will remain so for the next few hours.”

“What about Michael? If he’s in that house—”

“He could have been in the way of the blast, yes, and if so, he will be paralyzed. It’s a small price to pay for our protection,” he said, helping her to her feet. “He’ll understand and agree that I made the right call. Eventually.”

Okay. “I can live with that.”

His smile returned, widened . . . enchanted her. But when her gaze lowered to his mouth—that lush red mouth any woman would probably kill to have all over her—his amusement died a quick death. He angled his body toward hers until their chests were almost brushing with every breath they took . . . breath that was suddenly coming faster.

Tension sizzled between them, hot and hungry.

Not here. Not now.

But soon.

“You are a nifty little toy to carry around, you know that?” she said with only the slightest tremor.

He held on to her hand, refusing to let go. “Interesting choice of words. Toy? You thinking about playing with me, bunny boo?”

Gah! Stupid names. There was no way to answer his question—and save her pride—without lying. But she’d told him she would never lie to him, and she’d meant it. Not counting the few times she had, in fact, lied to him.

“Enough.” She jerked free and shouldered him out of the way. As she stepped onto the dock, his palms flattened on her arse and gave a little push. She fought a grin as she whirled on him. “You wanting to lose a hand, Mr. Hammer?”

“Please. Like you’re really going to do anything. We both know you like what I do with my hands.” He eased up beside her, tall and strong and everything she longed to devour.

Again she had to turn away, because again she had no response.

They stripped out of their bodysuits, then maintained the same pace as they stalked to the door of the shack. Blue kept a pyre-gun trained dead ahead. Something was odd—she didn’t feel the hum of his power, she realized.

“What happens after you expend so much energy?” she asked softly.

“I have to recharge.”

“So you are without Arcadian abilities?”

“For a few hours, yes.”

“I’ll just have to guard you, then.” She dug inside the purse draped across her middle and removed a tube of lipstick.

“And you’re going to do that by freshening up your makeup?” he asked. “Wow. I’ve never felt safer.”

She twisted the tube until it morphed into a pair of wire cutters. “How about I freshen your makeup with these, huh?”

“What else do you have in there?” he asked, trying to grab the bag.

She slapped his hand away, saying, “Pray you never find out.” An ID panel was hidden behind a piece of rotted wood. She removed the lid and scanner to fiddle with the complicated interior. “Only one person has entered in the past three days. No one for weeks before that.”

“And you know that how?”

“I read the data entries. And now I’m programming myself into the system.”

“If this is Michael’s place, shouldn’t you already be programmed in?”

“Like he’d really make it that easy.” The front door opened with a click and a whoosh.

“Easy enough,” Blue muttered.

“For me, yes. You? Not so much.”

“Are you trying to say you’re smarter than me?”

“Trying? Ha.”

“Well, I’m stronger, so suck it.” Suddenly he was all business, pushing his way inside.

Evie followed close on his heels, watching as he scanned and aimed, scanned and aimed.

“Stay here,” he commanded, disappearing around the corner.

“You might want to come back,” she called. “There are—”

“Ow!”

“—traps,” she finished with a flinch.

He stomped back into the foyer, a frown tightening the scar running through his lip. A scar that was thinner than it had been a few hours ago. Was it not from makeup? Had he actually cut himself?

For some reason the thought of him bleeding and in pain bothered her. Need to kiss it and make it better.

He held up his leg, revealing the antique metal claw now biting into his ankle. “What are we? Barbarians? This is how we do things now?”

“Apparently. Let’s get downstairs and I’ll patch you up,” she said, doing her best to hide her amusement. Bother her, yes—but come on, this crap was funny.

She must have failed in her endeavor because he said, “Is this a joke to you, chuckles?”

“Well, yeah. Only a moron falls for the old ‘Step here’ trick.”

“Zip it. I don’t need any patching. I’m already healing.” He removed the claw and stalked toward her—or, rather, limped toward her.

Laughing, she crouched down and rewired a second ID box. A crack opened in the concrete, just wide enough to allow a body, and revealed a staircase.

When she looked up, she realized Blue had stopped his approach midway to stare at her with a bemused expression.

“What?” she asked.

“You laughed.”

“I know.”

“I mean, you really laughed.”

“Uh, yeah, I know.” His point? “So I ask again: What?”

“Nothing,” he muttered, finally looking away.

Not nothing, but she wasn’t going to press. She descended the stairs, following a trail of golden light. At the bottom she saw plush carpets and soft couches that led to a chef’s dream kitchen. Around the corner from the stainless steel fridge was an office with an entire wall of computer screens.

“Evangeline Black. About time you showed up,” a voice said.

Evie’s heart raced with joy as she plowed toward her father, who clearly hadn’t been in the path of Blue’s power. He stood in the doorway of the only bedroom. He sported multiple bruises and his shoulders were stooped with fatigue, but he was alive and well, and that was all that mattered.

Rather than hug him, as she wanted, and potentially bruise him further, she grabbed hold of his hand and held it close to her heart. Warm tears trickled down her cheeks. “I am so angry at you right now, I could shove a fishing rod down your throat and hook your organs one by one. Except for your intestines. That would just be gross.”

He gave her a wry smile. “I love you, too, sunbeam.”

He’d said those same words many times before, but she’d never really believed him. This time she wasn’t looking at him through a veil of hurt feelings. She was too relieved to see him. She actually saw the affection in his eyes.

I’m such a fool for ever doubting him.

“Where have you been?” she demanded. “Why did you stay in hiding so long? Do you know where John and Solo are?”

A muscle ticked in his jaw, a sign of irritation she knew wasn’t directed at her but at their circumstances. “One question at a time.” His gaze strayed to Blue. “Son.”

Though his lips thinned, Blue nodded in greeting. What was up with that?

“I’ll want a full report on how the two of you came to be together,” Michael said.

“Sure, sure,” she said before the agent could respond.

Michael led her to the couch and sat down, urging her to take the spot beside him. “I suspected there was a traitor in my midst, and I was right. I stayed away, letting the world think I was dead, because I didn’t want you used to hurt me. But, of course, an attempt was made.”

“The chase this afternoon,” Blue said, claiming the chair across from them.

Evie avoided looking at him. At the moment she wasn’t sure she could guard her expression. She was just too raw, too overcome. And she didn’t want her dad to know she’d . . . softened toward the agent. He’d flip.

Women fall for Corbin Blue every day, he’d once said, after she’d ranted and raved for an hour over Blue’s treatment of her. Tell me you’re too smart to be one of them.

Duh. I totally am. But I have to confess, I’m a little surprised by your warning. You adore the man.

I do. He’s like a son to me, and I love him, faults and all. I just don’t want those faults anywhere near my daughter.

“Yes,” Michael said now. “Speaking of, I’ve been monitoring AIR feed, and they have already spoken to witnesses and watched traffic cams, so they know you were involved, sunbeam. You’ll soon be contacted and questioned.”

Another round with Agent Gutierrez, she thought with a sigh.

“About Solo and John,” Michael said to Blue. “I have searched and searched, but found nothing. I’m sorry. I thought I had a solid lead on Solo, and flew to his home, but there was a woman claiming to be his wife—”

“Wife?” Blue burst out.

Michael dug a phone from his pocket and tossed it. “I have pictures.”

Several minutes passed while Blue studied the images. When he finished, he handed the phone to Evie. She gave him a grateful half smile before flipping through the photos. In them, a sweet-looking blonde was pulling weeds in a garden . . . feeding horses . . . pigs . . . goats. She appeared harmless, but then, appearances never meant jack.

The woman who’d sliced and diced Claire had—

Shut that crap down.

“Her name is Vika,” Michael said, “and she told me Solo survived the explosion, that he was sold to her father’s circus and later returned to his home planet, with no way back.”

True? Or a great cover story for his murder?

Blue massaged the back of his neck. “So, Solo was the one sold?”

Michael’s brow furrowed with confusion. “What do you mean?”

“I overheard a conversation between two men at the bomb site. They planned to sell one of us, and I assumed it was John. They planned to keep one of us, and I assumed it was Solo. They also planned to burn one of us. And since a guy doused me with accelerant, I’m clearly Mr. Battered and Deep Fried. So, if Solo was sold to the circus, that means . . .”

“John was kept, not sold,” Evie said. As a sex slave? The same fate he probably would have endured anyway. Oh, John. Don’t give up hope. We’re coming for you. “But where?”

Blue gripped the arms of the chair in an obvious bid to control his rising anger. “I will find him. Find them both.”

“We’ll go to Solo’s farm,” she suggested, “and chat up the girl. Maybe she knows more than she told Michael, maybe she doesn’t. I was always good at interrogation.” If good was the new word for mediocre. For some reason, people did not respond well to her. No matter how much force she used. “I’ll take a crack at her.”

He rested his elbows on his knees and dipped his head. She knew he was hurting deep, deep inside and knew he’d hoped to learn John and Solo were okay. She wanted to go to him and put her arms around him, to assure him everything would be all right.

The desire confused her. Yearning for his kisses she understood. Offering comfort? Not so much.

“I would stake my life on the fact that Vika was not involved,” Michael said.

“Would you stake John’s?” Evie asked.

A confident nod. “Trust me, this is all Gregory Star’s doing.”

Blue stiffened. “There’s no room for error in this. Doesn’t it strike you as odd that there’s so much evidence pointing to him, yet he’s been so careful to hide his tracks in the past?” He paused to ponder, as if the thoughts were only now coming to him. “This could be a setup, or a misdirection. We—”

“No setup, no misdirection. I saw him there, at the house,” Michael said. “I woke up, and saw all three of you on the ground, motionless. I fought my way free of the debris and stumbled toward you. Then I heard voices and wasn’t sure if they belonged to friend or foe. I hid under the rubble, intending to find out and strike if necessary—I still had a gun on me—and got a look at Star and another male, but passed out before I could do anything about it.”

A gleam of determination and hate darkened Blue’s eyes. “Okay, then.”

Definite target in sight now.

“He’s gotten cocky, I guess,” Michael said. “He messed up. It happens.”

Yes, it did.

“What was his motive?” Blue asked.

“That,” Michael replied, “I’m not sure about.”

“Why don’t we snatch Mr. Star, torture him for answers, and then kill him?” Evie suggested.

“Snatching him will be a problem,” Michael said. “He’s too well guarded. And if we failed and he retaliated . . . No, we’ll have better luck with stealth.”

She could do stealth. “He has two kids. Tyson and Tiffany. We can abduct one or both and offer a trade.” That was stealth, right?

Michael shook his head. “I’ve done business with him. He isn’t the type to cave to demands, even to save the lives of his children. He’s the kind to hurt John to prove a point.”

Blue lifted his head, his determination undaunted. “Do you have eyes and ears on him?”

“Unfortunately, no,” Michael said with a sigh. “That’s why I need you to go public, Blue. I have a plan.”

“Wait,” Evie said.

Michael held up one hand for silence. “I don’t think Star knows you work for me, Blue,” he continued. “I’ve taken down several of his guards in the past few days, and your name has never been mentioned. If I’m wrong, and he does, you’ll find out pretty quick.”

Meaning, he would be bait. “Are you sure that’s the wisest course of action?”

“Yes,” Blue said. “And I’m fine with that.”

“Well, I don’t agree,” she replied.

He shrugged his wide shoulders. “I’m still going to do it.”

“Michael,” she said.

“Danger is part of the business,” her father said. Supporting his boy. As always. Gaze on Blue, he added, “As soon as the world knows you’re in town, arrange an accidental meeting with the daughter. Star no longer goes out in public. He stays in his country estate, always surrounded by armed men, both human and otherworlder. Tiffany might be your ticket to a face-to-face with Daddy dearest.”

Blue nodded. “Consider it done.”

“Before we go that route,” Evie said, unsure why her body was now so tense, “we should break into that country estate and have a look around, plant a few bugs. We can get in and out without anyone realizing. B and E isn’t the same as trying to haul a body out, yeah.”

Her father met her stare, nodded. “All right. Break in. Snatch Star if you’ve got a green light. But don’t you dare get caught. Afterward, if Star isn’t in custody, you’ll move forward with my plan.”

A concession. She took it gratefully. “What about you?”

“I can’t go public yet. I’m not strong enough to defend myself from a full-on attack.”

“We can protect—”

“No,” he said, cutting her off. “I have something else in mind. I want you to take over Black Industries, sunbeam. That way you can set up a preseason exhibition game between the Invaders and Strikers to honor my precious memory. And that way you have a legitimate reason to contact Tyson Star to rent out the roof of the Star Light Hotel for a victory celebration.”

“I don’t know about that,” Blue spoke up. “I’ll have the Star kids covered with Tiffany.”

The competitive spirit she’d once hated peeked from the shadows, and Evie smirked at him. “Two is better than one.”

“No,” Blue said again, with more force this time.

“Yee-ess,” she replied in a singsong.

Michael looked from one to the other and frowned. “It’s your turn now. How did you two hook up?”

Hook up. A poor choice of words. Her cheeks flamed.

Blue gave nothing away. “After the explosion, Evie was the only person I could trust,” he said, his tone just as bland. “I snuck into her house and she patched me up. It was as simple as that.”

Smiling, Michael reached out to ruffle her hair, just as she’d always wanted him to do to her when she was a child. “Thank you for taking care of my boy.”

His boy.

And there was the jealousy she used to feel, a companion to the competitiveness; she tamped down both. Michael loved his “boys,” yes, but that didn’t preclude his loving Evie, too.

One day she would gather the courage to ask him why he’d left her in England.

Although . . . if he’d taken her away from Claire, she would have hated him. So maybe he’d actually done her a service.

“Now, what are we going to do about taking care of my girl?” Michael said. “The car chase has me spooked.”

“I’ve already had to move in,” Blue said. “We planned to keep it secret anyway, so my coming back to life and going after Tiffany won’t change anything. No one will know I’m there, and yet I’ll still be able to protect her. It’s a win-win.”

Evie shook her head. “I was okay with a move-in when you were dead to the world, but not now. People will be watching you. Sneaking over will be difficult. You will be caught. So, no. You won’t be staying. You’ll be moving out. I won’t be the girl responsible for your newest breakup.”

Too late.

Oh, yeah.

I’m a horrible person.

She couldn’t even fall back on an I’m-going-to-leave-him-alone-from-now-on cushion. She had decided to sleep with him.

And that right there was another reason playing house with him was no longer an option.

“We won’t try to keep my presence a secret, then.”

“I won’t be the girl you cheat on with Tiffany,” she retorted.

“She’s right,” Michael said, his tone just as sharp.

Blue raised his chin. “I don’t care what the world thinks. I’m ending things with Pagan the moment I go public.” His gaze bore into Evie. “But if you want everyone to think Tiffany is the reason for the breakup, rather than my move-in with you, and that I’m seeing you behind her back, that can be arranged.”

“No. I don’t want that.” How big of a douche would she be, letting another woman take the heat for her actions? Besides, she didn’t want him with Tiffany at all. Not even in the mind of others.

Gah. She was already acting like a live-in girlfriend.

His gaze never strayed from her. “I’m spending the evenings in your home one way or the other, princess. Pick the other and I’ll make sure you regret it.” He turned his attention to Michael. “I’ll be sleeping in a guest room. Right now I’m the only person you can trust with her safety.”

Michael scrubbed a hand over his weary features. “Now he’s the one who’s right, sunbeam.”

What!

“Before you protest,” her father added, then sighed, and it was clear he was fading fast, his eyelids drooping, his shoulders pulling in, “don’t protest. If anything happened to you . . .”

She squeezed his hand, his concern washing away her next objection. “Fine. Blue can stay at my house, but first I need you to tell me you know I’m well able to take care of myself.”

His smile was sad. “I do. I’ve always known. But one thing you have failed to learn is that it never hurts to have backup.”

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