I’d kept Mahon waiting for about five minutes. When I finally walked out of our rooms, Mahon looked as if a storm had ridden in on his thick dark eyebrows. Derek was impassive and my two boudas obviously were wordlessly conspiring to murder Mahon if he took a step out of line.

“I want to see him,” Mahon said.

I stepped aside.

“You as well. I have some things I wish to say to both of you.”

I led him inside.

He stared at Curran. I looked, too. I kept thinking he’d wake up any minute, and I watched for the tiniest hint of movement, until I started seeing things that weren’t there.

“You aren’t fit,” Mahon said. “You aren’t a shapeshifter. You don’t understand us and you probably never will. This”—he spread his massive arms, indicating the bedroom, me, and Curran—“was against my better judgment. I told him so before. He has had many women. I thought it would pass.”

I watched him. If he attacked me here, I’d lose. I couldn’t take Mahon at my best, and right this minute it was a fight to remain standing.

“As I said, this is unwise. But he chose you. I respect the man he has become and I respect what he has done for us. And I respect you for standing by him.” Mahon met my gaze. “You may never be my alpha. You will have to live with that. But he will always be my liege.”

I felt like some pretender to the throne in a medieval drama.

Mahon leaned over Curran and touched his shoulder. “Sleep well. I won’t challenge her and neither will my people.

We will talk more when you wake.”

He walked out.

I WALKED INTO THE ROOM, CARRYING A CUP OF tea and leaning on my cane. Derek rose from the chair, nodded at me, and left without a word. I sat on the edge of the couch and sipped my tea.

Curran lay immobile, an IV dangling from his arm. He’d lost weight. Thirty pounds, at least. His skin was pale. It hurt to look at him.

I forced dread aside. “I didn’t have to kill anybody today. Remember, the first couple of days they were coming three a day, then two, then one. Today nobody challenged me. It’s late now, so if somebody does show up, your castle guard will tell them to come back in the morning. Maybe it’s slacking off.”

I pulled my boots off, wincing at the stab of pain. “Julie has appropriated your bimbo room. I made them throw away the sheets—who knows what sort of crazy crap is on there—and she has a new set. Black. She painted the walls black. The curtains are black lace. I tried to convince her to keep the furniture white, but I saw her carry a paint can in there, so I think it will be black by morning. It’s like a freaking dungeon in there.”

I pulled off my sweatshirt and slid next to him. My voice was soft. “That’s the good news. The bad news is that it’s been eleven days since you fell asleep and I’m beginning to get scared you won’t wake up.”

I held my breath, but he lay still.

“Let’s see . . . What else? I’m sick of killing. Doolittle says there might be permanent damage to my left leg. It will heal eventually, even if he doesn’t think so, but meanwhile it hurts like hell. He wants me to stop putting pressure on it, so he gave me this lovely cane. I can only use it up here so the rest of the Keep won’t see me as weak.”

I just wanted him to wake up. Of course, he didn’t, so I kept talking, trying to keep the panic at bay.

“Still no calls from Andrea. Jim is keeping his distance, which I can understand. Derek says he’s helping from behind the scenes, whatever that means. The wolves keep finding ways to screw with me. They’ve made me mediate a divorce. Well, they requested I do it, and according to Barabas, I can’t say no. It’s a Japanese couple. They were members of a small pack and married very young and had two boys. The husband was expelled from the pack under suspicion of stealing. The wife remained behind, because the grandparents had the kids.”

He lay next to me, warm and alive, and if I didn’t look at him, I could almost imagine that he was listening. I shut my eyes. My body ached. Doolittle wanted me on bed rest, but the boudas wanted me out and about, demonstrating that I was fit as a fiddle and ready to take on everyone and anyone.

“Apparently the husband had made his way over here and you took him in about eight years ago. I had Derek pull his record and it’s clean, so if he’s stealing, he’s brilliant at hiding it. I’ve met him. He seems like a decent guy. This September, the small local pack asked to join your Pack, and of course, you took them in again. Now they are stuck. The husband has someone else, the wife also has someone else, but by wolf law they’re mated for life and the grandparents on both sides are horrified. It doesn’t help that all of them are Japanese. I put them in the same room—nobody talks. Everybody is embarrassed and they keep apologizing to me nonstop. I don’t know what to do.”

“Have you tried the Second Chance Law?” Curran said.

I shut my eyes tighter. I was losing my mind. Now I imagined him talking in my head.

Even an imaginary conversation was better than nothing. “No, what’s that?”

“It’s the law that says any shapeshifter joining the Pack has a one-time right to a new identity. If the husband didn’t use it when he joined, declare him officially dead and let him rejoin under a new name. His former wife will officially be a widow.”

A warm arm hugged me. My eyes snapped open.

He was looking at me. He was pale, his eyes were sunken, but he was looking at me.

“You stayed with me,” Curran said.

“Always.”

He smiled and fell asleep.

Curran stirred again, an hour later. I raced into the kitchen, and by the time I returned with a steaming bowl, he was sitting up and pulling the IV out of his arm. “What is this shit?”

“It kept you alive for eleven days.”

“Well, I don’t like it.”

I handed him a bowl of soup. He put it aside, reached for me, and clenched me to him. I buried my face in his neck. My eyes grew hot and I cried.

His hand stroked my hair. “You stayed with me.”

“Of course I stayed with you. Did you think I would abandon you?”

“I heard you reading. And talking.”

I kissed him and tasted my tears. “Through your sleep?”

“Yes. I tried to wake up, but I couldn’t.”

I just held on to him. “Let’s not do this again. Ever.” “That sounds good.” He kissed me.

“You need to eat.”

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