Again, she shifted from one foot to the other, and looked over at Hector.

He nodded and picked up where she’d left off. “Except he’s now obsessed with Ava.”

“Obsessed, how?” Dallas asked.

“He screams for her. Constantly. He wants to drink from her. He bangs at the window in his room to get to her, and has managed to crack the supposedly uncrackable shield armor.”

“What about starving him?” Devyn asked. “That’ll weaken him, right?”

He knew a thing or two about vampires, Dallas supposed.

Mia tugged at the short length of her ponytail. “When we noticed he was healing, and by that I mean looking human again, we threw bags of blood in his room, and at first he digested them just fine, but then he started vomiting the blood.”

What did that—

“Which means he’s encountered his mate,” Devyn said with a nod. “Ava. Which is why he calls for her. He won’t be able to keep anyone’s blood down but hers. He’ll weaken whether you feed him or not.”

Hello, complication. “That’s gonna piss McKell off.” Dallas had only been around the pair the once, but that had been enough. The connection between them was fierce and almost frightening. The vampire would allow no one to get between him and his woman.

“We knew Johnny had a crush on Ava,” Mia said, and there was guilt in her tone because she’d encouraged that crush for results, “but that wouldn’t explain his intense desire for her. We think it’s because McKell’s blood changed him. We think McKell’s desire for her transferred to him.”

“Well, someone has to warn McKell,” Dallas said.

“Not it,” Mia said, and Hector and Devyn quickly followed with refusals of their own.

What were they, five-year-olds? “Fine. The cripple will do it.” Dallas offered each of them his darkest frown.

That earned him an “Awesome,” from Devyn, and a huge smile of thanks from Mia and Hector.

“But in the meantime,” he went on, thinking they all needed a good slap on the head, “we have to find out if Johnny’s still infected or not.”

“I agree, but we’re afraid to test him,” Mia admitted. “He’s wild, strong.”

McKell could stop time. Stop Johnny. Kill him, just in case, so they wouldn’t have to worry about testing him, but that wouldn’t give them any answers.

Dallas fell back on his bed, moving away from thoughts of Johnny’s death and concentrating on Trinity’s. McKell could probably stop time for Trinity. And if McKell could stop her, just for a few seconds, Dallas could—what? He would have to kill her without cutting her. Maybe he could snap her neck. Would she heal?

Hector could atomize his right arm and reach inside her body. Maybe good ole Hec could reach inside Trinity’s chest and stop her heart. Would that put him in contact with her blood, though? Willingly? Probably. So maybe Dallas could—the scent of roses filled his nose.

Cursing, he forced his mind to blank. He’d suspected Trinity could read minds; she’d even told him she could. And he knew damn good and well she could enter a room without anyone the wiser. She might have just popped in, might be reading him even then. Invisible, planning. He’d have to be careful.

“Guys,” he said. “I need you all to leave now. Don’t talk about any of this with anyone. Don’t even think about it. The queen, Trinity, can pop in, listen, and even read minds.” Understand what I’m saying.

Grim silence followed his announcement.

“Anything we do from here on out needs to be spontaneous. Feel me?”

“Shit,” Mia said, fingering her ponytail again. A cute, nervous habit.

“My mind only ever goes to Bride, anyway,” Devyn said with a shrug, “so that won’t be a problem for me.”

Spontaneous was going to be a problem for everyone else, though. How could they work together, how could they help each other, if they didn’t know what the other agents were doing?

“Well, shit,” Mia repeated. “This is gonna be a whole lot of fun.” She patted him on the shoulder before dragging Hector out of the room. “Come on. We got stuff to do. Or not.”

“Want me to stay and read you a bedtime story?” Devyn asked. “Or I can share the painkillers I took from that nurse. You know, the one who has your flowers.” He reached in his pocket and withdrew a handful of white pills.

“I thought you gave her the flowers because she looked sad.”

“She did look sad. After she realized someone had stolen all her drugs.”

Despite the harsh reality they faced, Dallas found himself laughing. “Get out of here, you bastard. Dally needs to not think about what to do next.”

Devyn stood, then leaned down as if to kiss him. On the mouth. Dallas blinked, unsure how to handle the situation. Just before contact, Devyn grinned and straightened, saying, “You wish.”

“Jackass.”

“What would you have called me if I’d actually done it? Sweetheart? Well, you’ll just have to get better without having me kiss your boo-boos.” He was laughing as he exited the room.

Alone again. Dallas should have been able to relax. Only, he could suddenly feel the queen’s eyes on him. They bored into him, deep into his soul, and caused every muscle in his body, even the still-injured ones, to tense.

She really was here.

How long had she been there? What had she heard?

His gaze flew through the room, searching, before he said, “You can come out now.”

She appeared in the chair Devyn had just vacated, a vision of loveliness in a cobalt-colored robe that revealed one delicate shoulder. Her hair was red today, and piled high on her head, ringlets falling down to frame her temples.

There was something else different about her this visit. She was as beautiful as ever, and yet he could somehow see past that beauty, to sickeningly gray skin, oozing sores, and concave cheeks.

Was her own disease destroying her? Was infecting others no longer saving her?

“You’re not playing fair,” she said with an angry twinge.

Fair? He wasn’t playing fair? “How?” Mind blank.

“Planning to shield your thoughts, to act against me randomly.”

His hands clenched on the bars at the side of his bed. “We’re just trying to survive. Surely you can understand that.”

“Of course I can. That doesn’t mean I have to like it.” She leaned forward and traced a finger along his bandaged sternum. “Have you thought about my offer?”

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