Jack shuddered, quickly peering away.

Ezra lifted a small stone from the sand, sending it flying into the surf. For a long time, he stared where it dropped. He blinked, his nostrils flaring. His mouth opened, only to snap shut.

“What?” Jack asked, cocking his head.

Ezra cleared his throat, then turned his face from us, saying quietly, “My mate’s dead.”

I stilled, barely keeping the wheeze at bay, shock radiating throughout my body.

“Her name was Felicia.” He ran a hand over his face, his words a mere murmur. “She was beautiful inside and out. She had the biggest brown eyes I’d ever seen and the sweetest voice I can still hear sometimes.” His deep voice turned to a gruff rasp. “She was perfect.”

We were silent as he dropped that bomb.

Never once had he ever mentioned anything like this. He had never even let on that he had been — no, wait, that wasn’t correct. He had always seemed more knowledgeable about mates than someone who had never had one.

I stared at the back of his spiked hair, realizing this was him opening up, trusting us.

Pearl placed a gentle hand on his stiff shoulder, asking quietly, “How did she pass on?”

“I met her right after my Awakening.” He shook his head. “We exchanged blood, and we both knew we’d found our mate. We got telepathy as our mate’s gift.” His whole body was strung tight, sitting like he was solid rock. “We were together for two years before she died. We were skiing in Colorado, goofing around and going way too fast. We were using our speed. She hit a patch of ice. Couldn’t stop. Her neck broke in the fall.” Mysticals healed quickly, but we weren’t impenetrable.

“I left for a while after that.” He rolled his shoulders. “Just went off the grid. A lot of people tried to find me.” Hooded spring green eyes met mine. “Including Elder Farrar. He was a regular pursuer, even though I only caught glimpses of him before I was gone.” I stared, realizing that was what their initial greeting had been about. Ezra turned his head away, his gaze haunted. “I lost it for a little while when she died. King Venclaire found me in the end, and dragged me back to reality. To King Hall.” He cleared his throat hard.

Jumping to his feet, his gaze found Jack’s. “When you find your mate, you won’t run. Gideon’s right. The magic won’t let you,” a shake of his head, “and you won’t want to.” He turned on his heel and walked away, down the beach, his jeans picking up sand as he went.

We stared at his retreating back, wondering which of us should comfort him. This was our usual. When one of us was upset, one or all of the others would bring them out of their funk.

Spotting the Vamp guards following him, but at a discreet distance so as to give the man space since his stalk told everyone to stay the hell away, as one, Pearl’s and Jack’s eyes met mine straight on. As if I hadn’t seen that coming. Send the one who had also lost her mate. But I got it. Got his pain.

Sighing, I nodded and jumped up, and ran after Ezra. I would have grabbed his hand, but that wasn’t what he needed right now. He needed actions that took his mind off his misery, not emotional pity, so I went the other route, as he had done for me when I was at my lowest when Dominic died.

I bumped him hard with my hip. That wouldn’t have been such a big deal if he hadn’t been wading in the ocean up to his ankles, jeans rolled up. My Shifter strength gave me the edge I had needed.

He hollered, falling to the side, right into the cold, unforgiving tide.

A deep chuckle rushed past my lips as his head poked up from under the water, the surf drawing back, showing his drenched body lying in the dark sand. With his mouth hanging open and eyes wide, I started jogging backward, grinning as I yelled, “Think you can catch me?”

Shaking his head like a dog, red and black hair spiked no longer, his eyes narrowed.

I took off, careful not to use my bit of Vampire speed. The chase was on. He would definitely catch me, but he no longer had god-awful sorrow etching his features. Job well done.

To hell with a job well done.

Grumbling curses, I dragged myself out of the ocean where I had been tossed only moments ago. He had caught me alright. Put me right where I had put him, too. Only, I had gone a whole lot farther through the air than he had.

Stupid, insufferable, powerful, egotistical Vampire.

He watched from dry sand, laughing his ass off while I waded through the water.

Wringing my hair out, I decided he was seriously going to eat sand.

My feet faltered as my brows furrowed, stopping dead in the water.

I sniffed the wind.

My wolf growled.

Coms.

Not just that, but I scented loads of gunpowder and silver.

Only one reason for that.

Instinct had my head thrown back, the surf knocking into me as I howled long and loud, the sound beautifully harsh. Ezra and I had come too far down the beach for Jack, Pearl, and Gideon to see us, but any of the Shifter guards not near us would hear my call, understand it.

We had company.

I bent, and then jumped high, using my Shifter strength.

Ezra had stopped laughing, curious in his regard, watching me land right next to him. His eyes flew wide as I started stripping. “Jack can dry us off. Our clothes, too.”

Tossing my shirt aside and unclipping my bra, I quickly stated, “Company’s coming. Not the good kind. From the North.” I could move faster as a wolf.

His attention flew to the side, and he stilled, cocking his head. I felt a pulse of his power as I stripped my jeans and underwear off. “Forty, maybe fifty, heartbeats.” God, his ability was astonishing if he could hear that. His eyes came back to me as I squatted, rolling up my clothes. I felt his gaze traveling over my exposed flesh as he lowered next to me. After a silent moment, he asked calmly, “You alerted the guards with your howl?”

I nodded, pushing my clothes into his hands. “Hold these for me. We need to get back to Jack and Pearl. Regroup. They’ve got guns,” my nostrils flared, scenting the air, “with silver bullets. Time to go.” He took his eyes off my lower extremities — men! — and glared toward the North, but I jerked his chin back around. “Look, Ezra. You’re scary. You can kill tons of them, but right now we’re seriously outnumbered. I know when to run, and that many Coms with silver bullets means get the hell out when we’re not prepared. We need Jack and Pearl.”

He didn’t like it, I could tell, but after a moment of thought, he nodded and stood. “Let’s go.” The crack of a gunshot erupted, and he ducked with Vampire speed.

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