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“Nico, what part of ‘wait’ did you not understand?” She grabbed his arm. “That ‘whatever’ thing he’s become is dangerous.”

“I’m quaking in my boots,” he said flatly and then shoved the door open and exited before her, leaving her to follow on his heels. “Damn it, Nico.”

“Always a potty mouth,” he said. “Too much time in The Royal Guard.”

Cassie cursed again as Troy and his brothers appeared at the far end of the parking lot illuminated by moonlight, despite the streetlights they’d purposely blown out. “You know, we should talk before you talk to them,” she said, stepping to Nico’s side.

Nico ignored her, striding forward. “Why repeat myself more than once?” he asked. “They need to hear exactly what you need to hear.”

Cassie double stepped and kept pace, giving up on fighting what was to come, but still holding her breath as she and Nico stopped in front of Troy and his brothers. Her eyes sought out Troy’s, but his were locked on Nico, and beginning to glow silver. She moved to Troy’s side, curling her arm around his, needing him to feel her close, to remember how important Nico was to her. And equally so, she wanted Nico to see how openly she cared for Troy.

Nico didn’t seem to notice that anything might be wrong, and if he did, he didn’t care. “You going for the Fabio look with that blond hair or what, Troy?” he asked, not bothering with ‘hello’.

“His alter ego,” Troy said flatly. “The one that eats werewolves for breakfast, lunch, and dinner.”

Nico snorted. “Well, if you want to eat a wolf, how about chomping down on Andres, and sooner rather than later?? He’s a stick up my ass I can’t get rid of.” He glanced at Evan and Aiden. “I’d say it’s good to see you two, but I’ll hold that greeting until after you decide you don’t want to shove some silver in my heart. I assume you left your women home for the slaughter.”

“No one needs to get slaughtered but Andres,” Evan said with a chuckle and scrubbed his jaw.

“You’ve always had an exaggerated way with words, Nico,” Aiden said.

“Amen to that,” Evan agreed.

“A way of attracting assholes too, it seems,” Nico added grimly. “Andres specifically. He’s been after this.” He pulled the necklace from under his t-shirt and relief washed through Cassie. Troy was saved. And Nico was Nico, her brother, who she loved, and who she knew would prove the honorable, if not bossy and arrogant wolf, that he had always been.

“I yanked the chain from Sarah’s body,” Nico continued to the group. “I knew she’d stolen it from Aylia and I knew about the experiment, but talking about it only put the Coven at more risk. I spread the word that a rebel had the necklace and then that it had been destroyed. Andres chased the story for a year and I thought it was handled. I don’t have a flipping clue how he found out it wasn’t true. ” He gave Troy a pointed look. “I damn sure didn’t know that the necklace had been used on you, man. I haven’t heard from you since Reno and the vampires and the wolves haven’t exactly been meeting up for Sunday football and beer since your attack.”

Marcus and Aylia appeared to their left. “You have my necklace?” Aylia demanded, charging forward. “Damn you, Nico. Why would you keep it from me? You know what it means to me.”

“Because I was protecting your sweet little witchy ass, that’s why,” he said, when she stopped toe to toe with him, not the least bit cowered by the alpha w

olf. “Andres will slaughter you for your magic.”

“You can’t shift with it on without destroying it,” she said. “What if you had destroyed it?” She lifted her hand and the necklace glowed, then snapped from his neck and into her hand. She closed her hand around it. “It knows where it belongs.” She stared at him for several seconds, and Cassie could smell the sense of betrayal in the air waving off of Aylia, the hurt she felt that Nico had held something from her she considered so precious. Cassie had been right. These two had a history, all right. “And so do you.”

Aylia started to move away from Nico, and he gently shackled her arm, pulling her to stand beside him, lowering his voice. “We need to talk.”

“I don’t have anything to say to you, wolf.”

“Andres has someone else on the inside of the Society,” Troy said, clearly not feeling any need to let these two resolve their issues.

“That insider has to have seen you wearing the necklace.”

Nico shook his head, rejecting the idea. “I didn’t start wearing the damn thing until Andres called me to a meeting with a threat that he would kill off The Guard, one by one, if I didn’t hand it over.” He glanced at Aylia. “Because I didn’t want to risk shifting and destroying it.” He eyed the entire group. “But Andres was too confident I had it for me to leave it where it had been. Up to that point, it was in my private quarters, in my safe. I really have no idea how he discovered I had it.” He glanced at Cassie. “He captured Ryan and was holding him for ransom.”

“Was,” Cassie repeated. Ryan was the king’s oldest son and the heir to his throne. She swallowed hard. “He’s dead.”

He nodded. “Yeah. He’s dead.”

“Magic,” Aylia said softly. “That’s the only way that Andres could have discovered the necklace was in your possession. The necklace imprints on anyone who touches it. When Andres invited you to a meeting, he used magic to find that imprint on you. He had to discover how to use that magic to make it work, which must be why it has taken him this long to make a move. No. He couldn’t have done it on his own. Someone is helping him.”

What happened next was so fast, so unexpected, Cassie could barely process it. The necklace began to glow and Aylia’s eyes went wide. “Run.”

But it was too little, too late. A bright light flashed like an explosion, crackling with something electric.

Troy grabbed Cassie and took her down to the ground, covering her body with his. “Hang on, baby, and be ready to fight when it ends.”

“Magic,” she whispered.

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