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I liked this less and less. They could only give us a flimsy reason, but they wanted Curran specifically and dangled panacea in front of our noses. They knew he wouldn't turn it down. "It's a trap."

"Oh, I know it's a trap." Curran bared his teeth. "They've baited it with something they know I can't refuse and let the Pack know about it. I met the envoys yesterday, just me and Jim alone. When I came back from the meeting, the rats and the jackals had already left messages asking if they could assist me in any way."

"Clever." The shapeshifters gossiped worse than old ladies at a church picnic. Right now rumors about the ten drums of panacea were spreading through the Pack like wildfire. If Curran balked at going, every parent with a child under twenty would storm the Keep and riot.

The Pack had very little contact with European shapeshifters. There were some tentative trade agreements, but the only thing Curran was really interested in was the panacea, and the European packs weren't willing to sell or share.

We looked at each other.

"Have you done something to attract their attention?" I asked. "Why us? Why now?"

He shook his head, his voice tinted with a growl. "I've done nothing and I don't know."

"What could they possibly want from us?"

"I don't know. I'll find out one way or another."

"What did Jim say?"

"He doesn't know either. He's looking into it."

Jim Shrapshire was as devious as you could get. As the Pack's chief of security, he hoarded information like gold. If he didn't know what was going on, either it didn't matter or it was really bad. My money was on really bad.

"When do we need to be there?"

"As soon as we can. She's staying in a small town on the coast of the Black Sea. If we take a ship from Savannah across the Atlantic, we're looking at about three weeks or more of travel, provided nothing happens."

We'd need to leave fast. The biggest hurdle would be finding a ship. Passages across the Atlantic didn't always work out. The Black Sea wasn't easy to cross either. The ancient Greeks called it Pontos Axenos, the Hostile Sea. In our day and age, Greek myths were lifesaving required reading, and I'd read enough of them to know that the Black Sea wasn't a fun place.

"Where on the Black Sea?"


Colchis. Bodyguard detail in the land of the Golden Fleece, dragons, and witches, where the Argonauts had sailed and nearly died. "We should get the terms in writing."

"Kate, do you think I'd walk out of that meeting without a contract?" He picked up a stack of papers pinned to the roof by the box and passed it to me. I scanned it. The three clans collectively hired us to protect Desandra from all threats and act in her best interests until the birth of her children and for three days after.

"That 'acting in her best interest' is a really broad clause," I thought out loud.

"Mm-hm. I've wondered about that. Somebody must've insisted on putting that in."

"It almost sounds like she isn't in her right mind and they're worried she'll harm herself." I realized Curran was looking at me. "Yes?"

"The invitation is for the Beast Lord and the Consort. I understand if you choose not to go."

I just looked at him. Really? He meant everything to me. If I had to die so he could live, I would put my life on the line in an instant, and he would do the same for me. "I'm sorry, run that by me again?"

"We'll have to cross the ocean in the middle of hurricane season, go to a foreign country filled with hostile shapeshifters, and babysit a pregnant woman, while everyone plots and waits for an opportunity to stab us in the back."

I shrugged. "Well, it sounds bad if you put it that way . . ."

"Kate," he growled.


"I'm trying to tell you that you don't have to go. I have to, but you can stay if you want."

Ha-ha. "I thought we were a team."

"We are."

"You're sending some confusing signals."

Curran growled deep in his throat.

"That's impressive but not really informative, Your Furriness."

"This is going to suck," Curran said. "It will suck much less if you come with me. You want me to level, here it is: I need you. I need you because I love you. Three months without you will be hell. But even if we weren't together, I would still need you. You're a good fighter, you've worked as a bodyguard, and you know magic. We may not have many magic users, but we don't know if those packs do, and if they hit us with magic, we have no way to counter." He spread his arms. "But I love you and I don't want you to be hurt. I'm not going to ask you to come with me. That would be like stepping in front of a moving train and saying, 'Hey, honey, come stand next to me.'"

I hopped off the wall and stood next to him. "Anytime."

He just looked at me.

"I've never killed a train before. It might be fun to try."

"Are you sure?"

"One time I was dying in a cage inside a palace that was flying over a magic jungle. And some idiot went in there, chased the palace down, fought his way through hundreds of rakshasas, and rescued me."

"I remember," he said.

"That's when I realized you loved me," I said. "I was in the cage and I heard you roar."

He chuckled. The tension in his shoulders eased. He hugged me and I kissed him. He tasted like Curran-male, healthy, and mine-and I would know that taste anywhere.

"I'm coming with you, Your Foolishness. You can't get rid of me."

"Thank you."

Besides, it would be good to get out of Atlanta. And away from Hugh d'Ambray-my father's warlord.

My family background is complicated. If my real father discovered I was still breathing, he would move heaven and earth to choke the life out of my body. For twenty-six years I had managed to hide in plain sight. But then my path had crossed with Hugh d'Ambray's, and a couple of months ago he'd figured out who I probably was. I didn't think he was one hundred percent sure, but he had to have strong suspicions. Sooner or later, Hugh d'Ambray would come knocking at my door, and I wasn't ready. My body had healed and I was learning how to mold my blood into weapons and armor, which was one of my father's greatest powers, but I needed more practice.

The trip would buy me some time, and every day I'd grow stronger. Good luck looking for me across the ocean, Hugh.

Curran stepped closer. I leaned against him. Below us the forest stretched into the distance, and beyond it to the right, the twisted ruins of Atlanta darkened the horizon.