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Long strands of blond hair lay on the carpet, over the wrapping paper. Their ends were bloody.

I pointed at the brush. "What is this?"

"Her father sent her a present," George said through clenched teeth. "The card says, So you'll have something to defend yourself next time."

That bloody bastard.

I nodded at the hair. "And that?"

"After we received the gift, we got a little emotional and pulled some hair out," Aunt B said. "But then we decided that our hair was pretty, and we shouldn't disfigure ourselves, especially because it won't hurt our dear father. Not even a little bit."

"It will grow back," Desandra said.

"No worries," George told her. "I've hidden all of the bald spots."

"Why didn't you just leave a long time ago?" Andrea said. "Just walk out and keep walking until you ended up somewhere where nobody has heard of Jarek Kral."

Desandra shrugged her shoulders. "And do what? Be what? I am someone here. This is all I know. Besides, where could I go that he or one of those morons he married me to wouldn't find me?"

George finished the hair and got off the bed.

"She's all yours, ladies," Aunt B said. "We're off to freshen up."

Andrea parked herself in the doorway. She carried two SIG-Sauers in hip holsters, a military-issue assault shotgun on her back, and probably a few more guns in places I couldn't see.

"How are you feeling today?" I asked. Kate Daniels, master of girl talk.

"Like shit. Have you ever been pregnant?"


"Let me summarize for you: your feet hurt, your back hurts, your hips hurt. None of your clothes fit, because your maternica is stretched out from the size of an apple to a basketball. The small creatures inside you keep kicking you and turning. You can't eat things you normally eat-they make you sick. Instead you eat strange things like marinated cucumbers and you can't stop until they also make you sick. Worst of all, you're not a person anymore. You're a container. Everybody is looking at you waiting for you to pop your baby out."

I bit my tongue before I said something that would make her shut down. "Forget I asked."

Desandra shrugged.

"How about the guys?" Andrea called out. "Do any of them come to see you?"

"Radomil came twice. Gerardo did too, but he's . . ." Desandra moved her hands about as if she were dog-paddling.

"Awkward?" I guessed.

"Yeah. Radomil doesn't care. He just likes babies. But I offered to let Gerardo feel them kick, and he told me he wouldn't know if it was his or Radomil's son kicking." Desandra sighed. "He thinks I'm a whore because I slept with Radomil."

Andrea made big eyes at me and nodded. Keep going.

Okay, keep going. I could do that. "Why did you sleep with Radomil?"

Andrea put her hand over her face. I scowled at her. You know what, hotshot, you do it and I'll stand by the door.

Desandra sat up straighter. "I'm not a whore, if that's what you're asking."

"I didn't say you were. I'm just trying to make sense of things. I think it's clear that someone is trying to kill you. The more I know, the better I can anticipate new threats."

Desandra sighed again. "Fine. When I was seventeen, that hajzel, my father, married me off to Radomil. Radomil was in his twenties. I thought my life was over, but then I figured out it couldn't be worse than what I had at home."

"How was it?" Andrea asked.

"It wasn't bad, actually. They live in this place on the hill in Ukraine. There were orchards and woods everywhere. Villages. We'd go to town every Saturday and go through the market. Radomil would always buy me something. He is a nice guy." Desandra leaned forward. "Really good in bed. I mean really, really good. I didn't go out much. We were busy. You know."

Yes, yes, we got it. You had lots of nookie. "And his family?"

"They are okay. His sister, Ivanna, is nice, and she and his brother are pretty much the brains. Radomil . . . He isn't stupid. He's just . . . He thinks in simple ways. He doesn't worry himself about politics. I pretty much knew after a month that he would never be in charge."

"What's his beast?" I asked.

"He's a lynx. Their whole family is."

"What happened to their parents?" Andrea asked.

"Dead." Desandra shrugged. "Killed a few years ago when they were fighting for their territory. It's Radomil, his two brothers, and two sisters. Oh and their grandfather. He's really old. He walks with a cane and half of the time doesn't know where he is. I liked living there. They didn't really involve me much, but I was so young, I didn't care."

"So why did you break up?" I prompted.

"My father canceled my marriage. I only lived with Radomil for five months. Kral came and got me."

"Didn't Radomil fight for you?" Andrea asked. I could see it in her face. If someone tried to take Raphael away from her, she would kill anything that stood in her way to keep him.

Desandra shook her head. "He didn't want me to leave, but his brother talked him out of it. Three years later I married Gerardo. I was with him for two years."

"Did you like him?"

Desandra was looking at her hands, her face tired. "Yes. I liked him. But it doesn't matter now."

"I know it sucks, but if you tell me, it might help me understand what's going on better."

Another sigh. "Isabella and her husband rule the Belve Ravennati. Gerardo and Ignazio have some power but not really enough to do anything major without their parents signing off on a dotted line. Isabella never liked me. With Radomil's family it was laid-back, but with the Belve Ravennati it's always very serious. Everything is important and it's all about duty and looking after the family's interests."

Desandra stuck a finger in her mouth and imitated retching. Charming.

"I was a beta's mate. I was supposed to have responsibilities. They wouldn't let me do anything. I was trying to learn some Italian and I walked in on their meeting once, and his mother told Gerardo that I was just a temporary arrangement. So Isabella, Gerardo, and I were at the trade summit in Budapest. They had their big meeting. I could've gone in but I sat outside with the betas."

"Why?" Andrea asked.

"Because they don't know how to keep their mouths shut," Desandra said. "They get bored and blab. If you listen carefully, you can find things out."

Okay. She wasn't nearly as dumb as she pretended to be.

"After the meeting, my father found me and told me to pack. I told him I wouldn't do it. I went to find Gerardo. He was mad out of his mind. Those four guys that follow my father around? They are killers. Two wolves, a rat, and a bear. They do whatever he tells them to. They have no . . . consciousness."