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"Congratulations," I squeezed out. "I survived the fight, but your hug did me in."

He grinned and let me go. We'd both made it.

"We have a live one," Raphael called out.

We crossed the deck to where he crouched. A young man, maybe early twenties, with a mass of dark curls, laid on his back, his right leg twisted under at an odd angle, his face contorted by pain. Raphael held the point of his knife over the man's liver.

The man's gaze fastened on Saiman. He held up his hand and said something, his words tumbling out in a rush.

Saiman asked something. The man answered.

Saiman turned to Curran. "He has some information that would be of particular interest to you. He will tell you if you set him free, et cetera, et cetera."

"Fine," Curran said.

Saiman nodded at the man. The pirate said something halting and looked at me. Saiman looked at me as well.


Saiman turned to Curran. "It appears that this is for your ears only. I believe it's in your best interest to have this conversation in private."

"Give us some space," Curran said.

People moved back.

"Do you want me to stay?" I asked.

He reached out and squeezed my hand. "No."

I moved back with the others. Saiman leaned over and whispered something to Curran. They spoke quietly. Saiman asked the man something. The man answered. Saiman relayed it back.

Curran turned, his face dark. All humor fled from his expression. He met my gaze and didn't say anything. Not good.

"How can you stand it?" Andrea murmured next to me. "I'd be right in there."

"I didn't tell him about rescuing Saiman," I murmured back. "If he needs to keep something private, I'm fine with it. When he's ready, he'll tell me."

"Lock this man up," Saiman called.

Two sailors came, picked up the pirate, and carried him off.

"Let's get this place cleaned up," Curran called.

People spread out. He came toward me.

"Bad news?" I asked.

"Nothing we can't handle."

I nodded to him and we went to help scrub the gore off the deck.

Chapter 6

We arrived in the port of Gagra at dusk. First we saw the mountains, triangular low peaks sheathed in vibrant emerald green, as if blanketed with dense moss. The sunset behind us shifted to the right as the ship turned in to a sheltered harbor. The deep, almost purple waters of the Black Sea lightened to blue.

All twelve of us were there, on the deck. The shapeshifters looked uneasy. Even George, who usually met everything with a smile, seemed grim. She stood next to her father, hugging herself, as the wind stirred the dark spirals of her hair.

"Are you alright, cookie?" Mahon said.

"I have a bad feeling about this," she murmured. "That's all."

"Shall I hoist the flag?" Saiman asked.

"Yes," Curran said.

The gray-and-black striped flag of the Pack with a black lion paw on it rose up the mast.

The shore grew closer. The mountains wove in and out of the sea in gentle curves, soaking their roots in the water. The beach was a narrow strip of pebbled ground. Stone piers stretched into the waves, as if beckoning to us, and behind them, buildings of white stone sat perched on the side of the mountains, their colonnades facing the sea. They looked Greek to me, but most of what I knew about Greece came from books.

The water turned turquoise. The Rush slowed, then came to a stop.

"What are we waiting for?" I asked.

"A signal from the port," Saiman said. "I would suggest you gather your belongings."

We had already packed. Everything I intended to take with me was in a backpack, which Barabas promptly confiscated. Apparently as an alpha, I wasn't permitted to carry my own luggage.

Twenty minutes later a blue flare shot from the pier.

"We're clear to land," Saiman said. "Once you disembark, I will depart. I have business in Tuapse, Odessa, and Istanbul. I'll return within a week or so."

That suited me just fine. Saiman loved to amuse himself, and we'd have our hands full without trying to contain him.

Fifteen minutes later the crew was tying the Rush to the pier. I stood on the crowded deck, Curran next to me. George's anxiety infected me. I wanted off the ship. I wanted to see Desandra and get to work. Unfortunately if I started pacing back and forth like a caged tiger, I'd be immediately told by nine people that it wasn't proper.

"A welcoming committee," Raphael announced.

I turned. Fourteen people hurried toward us along the pier. Six pairs of men in dark coats, cinched at the waist. Most were dark-haired, tan, and lean. A few had short beards. Each carried a rifle over his shoulder and a dagger on his belt. They looked like a flock of dark ravens flying in two lines.

Two women walked in front of them. The first wore a dark blue blouse and jeans. She was about my age, dark-haired, her skin a light bronze, her hair put away into a braid. Her face was interesting, with large, bold features: big eyes, wide mouth, a sharply drawn nose. The girl next to her looked to be on the cusp of her twenties. Shorter, paler, with a slender waist, she wore a white dress. The wind tugged at the cascade of her chocolate-brown hair and her clothes, and the diaphanous fabric flared, making her appear ethereal and light. She all but floated above the rough concrete.

The girl waved. "Curran!"

She knew him.

Curran swore under his breath. "I'll be damned. They dragged her into this."

Apparently he knew her, too.

"Curran!" She waved again, standing on her toes, and hurried toward us.

"Lorelei?" Curran called out.

The girl smiled. Wow. The night just got a bit brighter.

The sailors lowered the gangplank and Curran started down the moment it clanged against the pier. Apparently he couldn't wait to meet her.

"Who is Lorelei?" I asked quietly.

"Lorelei Wilson," Mahon said. "Daughter of the Ice Fury's alpha."

Lorelei's father led the Alaskan pack, the biggest shapeshifter group in the United States. The one who had left with her mother when Wilson and his European wife divorced. Well, wasn't that just peachy.

"How do you tempt the Beast Lord?" Barabas murmured. "Simple. Offer him a shapeshifter princess."

Aunt B reached over and gently popped him on the back of his head.

"I hate her already," Andrea told me. "George hates her too, right, George?"

"I think she is adorable." George volunteered next to me. "We should give her milk and cookies, and if she promises to be quiet, she can sit at the big people's table."