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"—right now!" I'm seething, as I stand between the two of them, which is probably a dumb spot to be since they both have weapons.

"I know." Henry wears a placid expression on his face. We all stop yelling and stare at him. He stands there aloof to anything odd and shrugs. "As if I'm the only person here who's killed a man? Just because I stand with criminals and lie among them, doesn't mean I want a fifty thousand pound carpet stained or worse."

Mel's jaw is hanging open. "What the hell is worse than blood?"

"Knives, you circus freak of a woman. You probably have them hidden on your person. A cut carpet is a nightmare to repair, so keep your street fighting where it belongs, outside with the other monkeys."

Mel's spine straightens like someone inserted a rod. Her mouth snaps shut as her eyes do this super-wide blink in slow motion before narrowing into thin slits. "What did you call me?"

Henry opens his mouth, "Why is she offended? She knows she's black, right?"

Marty laughs and steps back. His hands are in a surrender stance. "You're a dead man. Even if I stop her now, she'll just come back and finish you later."

Mel launches at him, springing through the air like a tiger. Henry makes a shrill scream, but it's all show. The man can fight, which wasn't evident before. He falls to the floor, and she straddles him, underestimating him. She doesn't see it yet. He didn't have to go down. He fell on purpose. This is going to end badly.

"Mel, stop! We need him!" I yell at her, but I don't want to get too close. "He's playing you, you idiot! Stop it!"

A flash of light reflects from a short silver knife in Mel's hand before she winds up to sink it in his side. When her arm swings out, Henry moves. He knocks Mel off balance, and her blade goes flying. Henry's actions are swift and well executed. She never saw it coming. He flips over her, pressing her to the floor, and crushing the air out of her lungs, before reaching out and grabbing her knife. He yanks her head by her ponytail, lifting her chin off the floor, exposing her neck. He pins her to the floor, face down, and holds her knife to her throat. If she swallows, she'll bleed.

Marty stands there, arms folded, letting them kill each other.

I throw my foot at Henry's temple while screaming at him to stop. He doesn't listen, and my kick does nothing to him, but it nearly kills me. It feels like I broke my foot. I need a fucking ninja!

"Stop this, now." Sean's voice is deep, steady, and even.

We hear a gun cock and everyone but Mel turns. He's standing there in tux pants and nothing else. His arms are extended forward clasping the gun, aiming directly at Henry's head.


Henry rolls his eyes, but he doesn't drop the knife, which is biting into Mel's neck. She doesn't make a sound, but there's a crimson trail of blood running down her mocha skin. "No one will miss her."

"I will," Sean says, surprising everyone. "As much as I want to put a bullet in your head, today isn't our day."

Henry inhales deeply, still doesn't move. "You like to take my toys."

"Amanda wasn't a toy."

"She wasn't yours, she was mine, and you broke her. I saw her toward the end, you know. Lifeless eyes and that growing belly. By the time you killed her, she was already dead." Henry stands and drops the knife on the floor next to Mel's head.

Henry mutters something as he walks away, tugging on his jacket and checking his sleeves for blood. If I didn't know better, he did that with Mel on purpose, like he was testing her. Why he took it that far is beyond me. There's no way he didn't know that calling her that wouldn't evoke an instant rage response, especially from her. The one thing Mel desires above all else is to be valued. She wants someone to see her for who she is and not use her because they can. I'm not sure what Henry was trying to prove, but Sean wasn't originally part of it. Those last few words were meant to get inside his chest and work their way to his heart.

Sean tucks the gun in the back of his waistband, walks over to Marty and inspects the cut over his eye. "You left me for dead."


The corner of Sean's lips twitch slightly as if he wants to smile or say something, but he doesn't. He just turns to me and scans my body. "Are you hurt?"

"No." Yes, my foot is screaming like a crazy bitch in the mall on Christmas Eve.

Sean knows. His gaze drops to my foot. He doesn't ask, he just sweeps me up. "You need ice."

I smack him, protesting. "Put me down."

"Make me." His voice is flat, irritated.

He carries me down the stairs to the kitchen while Marty catches him up. Mel shrinks away in silence, no doubt embarrassed. Getting your ass kicked by a man wearing tweed had to be a shock.

We cross an enormous room, under the chandelier, beneath the dark stained, hand-carved coffers, and through a door that looks like part of the wood paneling surround the lower level of the room. I wonder how close Sean and Henry were at one point. They knew each other well, that much is clear. Henry knew how and where to hit Sean the hardest. Amanda is his weakest spot. He still blames himself. No matter what he says out loud, his feelings on the matter haven't changed.

After passing through a doorway, we enter a gigantic dining room. The table is a mile long. A plane could mistake it for a runway. The drapes are drawn, and we can see out the front of the house to the traditional English gardens. I can tell by the way things are planted and arranged. My mother always wanted a little English style garden but never got around to it.

On the other side of the room, we pass through another doorway, walk along a dark hallway, and into an industrial kitchen. It's the size of my parent's house. There are multiple stoves with griddles and burners. One wall of the kitchen has oversized double ovens in case you need to cook a dozen turkeys at once. Every cabinet is custom and resembles something from an old movie—or a Tudor palace. Even the racks hanging above the metal island are indicative of Henry's fetish. There are dead birds hanging there, dangling under the lights next to herbs and other things.

"Is that a duck?" No one answers me. It's too fat to be a wild turkey unless he went hunting at Heckscher and grabbed it off someone's barbecue. That wouldn't surprise me.

Marty hasn't stopped talking as he followed Sean and me across the large house. Marty's voice sounds annoyed. "He's not a civilian."

"I know," Sean sets me down on the counter.

"When were you planning on telling me?" Marty's voice drops and I wonder if this is the real him or if he's mimicking Sean.

Sean doesn't perceive Marty as a threat. He turns his back to the other man, going to the freezer hidden in a cream-colored panel and grabbing me some ice. He comes back with it wrapped in a towel and pulls my leg up so I can rest my foot on the counter before placing the ice on top.

Sean smiles at me and shakes his head. "Why do you think you're a ninja? You know you can't break a cinderblock with your head. Just thinking you can isn't what makes it break."

"Har, har. They were going to kill each other. What was I supposed to do?"

"No, they weren't." Marty's voice is firm. His arms fold over his chest as he stares at me. "He wanted to know what he was dealing with, and she underestimated him."

"Well, she won't do that again. She'll just kill him next time, no warning shot." I glance at my foot. Those little bones don't like getting hit hard. Kicking Henry in the face was like kicking a board. I wonder if he has a steel jaw.

"Which is what he was testing for," Sean explains, leaning against the counter next to me. He folds his arms over his bare chest, giving me a good view of the toned muscles flowing down his back. I want to lick the spot right below his shoulder blade, the place that's so tender on me—I wonder what he'd do.

"There's some misplaced loyalty there, enough to make her hesitate." Marty asks, "You think they know each other?"

"As far as I can tell, no. Neither one of them talks freely about their pasts, but I didn't find any connections between them."

"Maybe if you dig back through his records you'll find her?


"Already did that. She's not there."

I roll my eyes. "Seriously? You don't know why she hesitated?" They gawk at me like I have a dog growing out of my neck, and it might bark. They both watch me, waiting. "She likes him."

Sean's eyes cut to the side, and he drops his arms. Marty steps toward me as they simultaneously accost me with questions. "How could she—"

"She hates him!"

"She beat the shit out him once already!" Marty adds.

I interrupt. "Right, and as you said, he's been playing it close to his chest, and she didn't know he could fight. No one catches Mel off guard, but plunging that dagger into his side bothered her, and we all know that nothing bothers Mel. Which means..." I place a hand in the air and unroll all my fingers at once for showmanship. "She's got a crush on the nutbag."

"That complicates things." Sean touches his jaw and walks over to the dead animal hanging over the island. "It's real. I know you were wondering. It's waterfowl. He probably shot it himself."

"The drones, I heard you say you saw one last night. Where?" Marty watches me, not realizing the type of information he's asking.

My face gives that away. Before I can respond, I feel it flame up, ear to ear. Super suck. I glance down and hear Sean laugh under his breath. "Back by Henry's freaky shed with no brooms."

"Sheds don't have to contain brooms," Marty interrupts. "Where's that rule written?"

"Don't even try," Sean says.

Marty nods, warned off, and redirects. "What did it do?"

"Nothing major," I say, thinking back. "It blinked, hovered, came back once more before zipping off."

"What were you doing?" Marty asks, prompting the memory of me being naked and kneeling in the doorway.

My face drops. It has a camera on it. Damn it. "It was taking pictures. Of me. In Henry's sick shed, and it never saw you." I glance at Sean before addressing Marty. "You thought something when I first mentioned it. What were you thinking?"

Sean produces a new cell phone from his pocket and starts web surfing. Marty glances at him and walks over to us. He's standing opposite Sean, who is next to me, hip leaning against the island. Marty mirrors the stance and folds his arms over his chest.

My stomach lurches up before falling into my shoes. I know what Sean's looking for, what he's going to find. "It wasn't Vic Jr's, was it?"

"No." His tone is clipped. He hands me the phone, and Marty leans in to see what pissed him off.

The page is a news rag that publishes celebrity gossip, and right there on the home page is a picture of me, blindfolded, kneeling on the floor stark naked worry etched on my face. I sneer and scroll down, finding several more pictures of me, but there's no sign of my name.