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"Very well." I rose.

I made it ten steps to the door before she said, "Fine. Clean it."

"Thank you." I turned to Hibla. "Please bring trash bins, cleaning supplies, and hampers."

Desandra growled. "Are you always such a doormat?"


"So you always ask permission for everything?"

"She's the alpha of the Atlanta Pack," Derek said without turning. "She killed twenty-two shapeshifters in eleven days to be one, and she has the same power as the Beast Lord. She doesn't have to ask anyone's permission to do anything."

That wasn't exactly helpful. "I'm here for one purpose only: to keep you safe. I act in your best interests. I don't care who is born first and I won't be taking any bribes. I will do my best to accommodate you, but when your safety is on the line, I'll do whatever I need to do to keep you safe. If it means I have to hog-tie you and stuff you into a bathtub, I'll do it and not worry about your feelings."

Desandra sighed.

Hibla reappeared with bags and a cart filled with cleaning supplies, including gardening gloves. I put them on and began picking up the trash. Andrea joined me. Desandra watched us for about five minutes, trying to ignore the fact that we were there, then got off the bed and started stomping around and picking up her clothes.

That was how Doolittle found us, on our hands and knees, scooping up trash.

"What's going on?"

I straightened. "This is Dr. Doolittle. He is the Pack's medmage."

"Doolittle?" Desandra peered at him. "For real?"

"It's what I choose to call myself." Doolittle peered at her, then looked around the room. "Oh my. Now then, young lady, why are you dirty?"

Desandra sat on the floor and looked at him with a helpless expression on her face. "Because I like it."

"I do realize that this is a castle," Doolittle said in that patient soothing voice that made it impossible to say no. "However, I have used the restroom and it appears that modern plumbing was successfully installed."

"You can't make me clean myself," Desandra declared.

"My lady, you are not two years old. In fact, you appear to have reached maturity, and I'm reasonably certain that nobody can make you do anything you don't want to do. Come on up to the bed, please."

I held my breath. Desandra sighed again, got up off the floor, and sat on the bed. I exhaled quietly. Doolittle put his fingers on her wrist, counting her pulse.

"Incoming," Derek said.

"Who is it?"

"Jarek Kral."

I joined him at the doorway. Andrea moved to the middle of the room, between us and Desandra, and checked her crossbow.

The man I had seen in the photograph during Barabas's briefing strode down the hallway toward us. He seemed bigger in person, taller, wider, with the type of raw strength that usually meant a nasty fight.

I turned to Desandra. "Do you want to see your father?"

"Does it matter?" she asked, defeat plain on her face.

"It does to me."

"Then no. I don't want to see him."

Jarek Kral reached the door. This close the photograph really did him justice: same wavy brown hair, same large, roughly hewn face. His features could've been more refined, if they weren't tinted with cruelty. I knew the type. He was the type of man who could explode over the smallest thing and the explosion would be violent.

The sneer was bigger in person as well.

He reached the door. "Move," he said in an accented voice.

"Your daughter doesn't want to visit now," I said.

He stared at me with dark eyes under heavy lids, as if he just now realized I was blocking his way. "Who are you?

"You may call me Kate. I'm the Consort of the Beast Lord."

"Step aside." His eyes flashed green.


Behind me someone gasped.

His voice boomed. "Who told you you can do this?"

And here we go, straight into the lake of drama without taking our clothes off first. "You did." I pulled the contract from my pocket. "This document says I must serve your daughter's best interests. She determined it's in her best interests not to speak with you right now. This is your signature. It gives me all the authority I need."

He snatched the paper from my hand and ripped it.

"I have another copy," I said.

"I'll rip out your throat!" he snarled.

Like father, like daughter. "If you try, you won't live to see your grandchildren and my job will be done. I'll get to go home early. So please do try. I miss my house already."

His eyebrows came together. His upper lip trembled.

"An assault on the Consort will be treated as an act of war," Derek said.

A guttural snarl ripped from Jarek. Clearly, he hadn't bothered to look up "personal restraint" in the dictionary.

I reached behind me and put my hand on Slayer's hilt. "This is your last warning. Do not attempt to enter."

"What's going on?" A man ran up the stairs. He was blond, tall, and muscular, with features that would make an angel proud-Desandra's first husband, Radomil, from the Volkodavi pack. A woman followed him, slightly older than me, slender, with a wealth of golden hair braided back from her face.

"Stay out of this!" Jarek snarled. "You've done enough."

Radomil shot back something in a language I didn't understand. A torrent of words spilled from Jarek.

"You're a pig!" Radomil snarled back in English. "A filthy pig. Leave Desandra alone!"

"Get out of my way!" Jarek roared.

"If Kral doesn't abide by the agreement, why should we?" the blond woman said.

I let them scream at each other. It didn't affect me unless one of them tried to enter the room.

A tall, dark-haired man closed in on us. Where Radomil's face had a healthy, sun-tanned glow, this man radiated intelligence and weary awareness. He saw Jarek and Radomil. His dark eyebrows came together. His lips narrowed into a hard line. Yellow light rolled over his irises. Uh-oh.

The man accelerated. It had to be one of the Belve Ravennati brothers, but which one I couldn't tell.

Without slowing down, the Italian raised his fist and swung at Jarek. The big man moved aside and the Italian hammered a punch into Radomil instead. Radomil snarled like an animal and lunged at the Italian.

More people flooded the hallway from the left, an older dark-haired woman in the lead.

Jarek spat something. Radomil and the Italian grappled, snarling.

"If they change shape, we bar the door," I murmured.