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“I’m sorry –what?!”

Despite the question, I knew my boss had heard every word I said. I blew out a sigh, peeking in the rear-view mirror to make sure I wasn’t being followed as the loud tow truck devoured the miles between me and my destination.

Maybe I couldn’t fix a vehicle, but I could damn sure steal one.

“I’m back on task – don’t worry,” I spoke, even though… shit, if I were the one in charge, I would. Encountering a rogue rose didn’t bode well for the task at hand.

“Don’t worry? Wilder…” Alicia – the boss – laughed, but I understood well that she didn’t think there was a damn thing funny. “Look – I’m not doubting your capabilities, okay? I wouldn’t have sent you on this job if I didn’t think you could handle it. But I’m going to caution younotto underestimate a rose. I really think you know better.”


If I hadn’t before, I certainly did now.

Shifting my damn wrist back into place hadn’t exactly been pleasant, and I was hoping like hell the lingering pain wasn’t the result of a spiral fracture. She’d given as good as she got – probably would’ve donemoredamage if her focus had been on offense instead of escape.

I had a physical advantage over her, sure, but she’d endured the same harsh indoctrination I had in theGarden. It would be a critical mistake to take her lightly – to show mercy.

I wouldn’t make it twice.

“Do you think she’s here for May and her daughter?” I asked, finally posing the question that had been on my mind since that split second between when she grinned at me and when she launched that damn screwdriver.

“No,” Alicia answered. “If Tommy hired a rose or a thorn to go after May, she’d already be dead. This whole façade of posing as a mechanic… how would that factor into it? What sense would it make?”

“Yeah, I thought about all that,” I assured. “It’s just a helluva coincidence, if she’s not here on a mission.”

Alicia sucked her teeth. “Come on, Wilder. Iknowyou don’t think you’re the only one of our kind who gravitated to Vegas when theGardenwithered out. Gravitated tome.”

I pushed out a sigh. “Yeah. You’re right.”

When everything imploded, there was this period of… confusion. Some of us were on missions, suddenly with no link to base, no resources. There was no way of knowing exactly who, with everything in limbo, but… the sudden dissolution had likely cost lives.

Interpersonal relationships were largely discouraged, but of course… they happened anyway. Platonic or otherwise, people made bonds with each other.

So when news of the reemergence of the long-presumed dead Pelletier sisters hit the streets, and I figured out that one of those women wasAce– the rose I’d crushed on since I first laid eyes on her – ofcourseI sought her out.

There wasn’t shit professional about my reasons though.

IthoughtI was finally about to make my case for the romantic pairing of my dreams, only to find her domesticated as fuck. Damn near married to a former cop, playing fairy-stepmother to a toddler, and working as a bodyguard.

Headbodyguard of her own security firm, but still.

That shit was crazy.

Somehow, she’d found some normalcy after the violent thriller movie that had been our lives in theGarden. Part of me had wanted to just walk away, to not even interrupt her little picture-perfect bubble by yanking her past back into her face.

Abiggerpart of me wanted a new normal too though, just like her.

As it turned out… she wanted that for me too.

When I finally got up the nerve to approach her, she revealed that reaching out to her peers in some capacity had been on her mind – she just wasn’t sure how to go about it. The fact that I’d foundherthough… she took it as a sign that it was the right path, something she wassupposedto do.

And now… here I was.

Sent out on a mission to save someone who didn’t even know she needed saving yet, and running into another rose along the way.

Probably just trying to find a new normal too.

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