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Killer (The Hunt Book 4) by Liz Meldon (1)

Chapter One

“Severus, Severus, Severus… You’ve been a bad little beastie, haven’t you?”

Slowly, with great difficulty, Severus lifted his gaze to the creature standing on the other side of the wooden post he’d been hanging from for—well, fuck knows how long, honestly. While unable to feel his hands, most of his arms, Severus could most certainly feel the deep, desperate ache in his shoulders. It was relentless, the pain. Unending. Vicious. He shifted about, the inner demon snarling at the sight of Aeneas in the flesh.

He wasn’t surprised that the warrior angel had collected him. It had been Moira’s great fear during their last conversation—their last argument, he reminded himself, in which he’d acted like a scorned child mid-tantrum. She had feared this very scenario, so much so that she had been willing to walk away just to keep him safe. He hadn’t been able to see it at the time. All Severus had seen was the rejection, the fuck off in her eyes—which, when he thought back on it, and he had had plenty of time to think thus far, hadn’t really been there. But fuck off was what he had seen, experienced, endured from every other significant connection in his life, save Cordelia and Alaric. Instinct had forced him to run, to protect himself before the woman he loved could gut him and play with his ruined innards.

But what had running got him?

Captured.

Captured, fading in and out of consciousness for an eternity, with the knowledge and guilt that he had reacted too severely before. He should have just talked to her. He should have forced her to explain it, in agonizing detail, just to be sure of her intentions—even if it could have broken him.

Because—Moira wasn’t his parents.

She had never blindly hated him for being an incubus.

He should have realized…

“Wake up, dog.”

He grunted when the angel’s foot collided with his side, the steel-toed boot threatening to crack a rib.

“I am awake,” he rasped, his forehead resting against the prickly wood, knees bent. He could stand, relieve the pressure, but he was too weak. He had been weak when he’d returned from Hell—but he was far worse now, his strength draining, in need of a human’s touch.

The post stretched some twenty, maybe thirty feet in the air—ready to accommodate all sizes of demonkind. Cuffs snapped tightly around Severus’s wrists, offering little to no wiggle room, and chains strung him up. Below him, sand. It filled his circular cell, which had showered him in ceaseless fluorescent light since he’d arrived. While nothing like the bright burn of the angels’ light, it had been no more comfortable.

At least it hadn’t scorched his skin. The first time he had awoken, shirtless and alone, Severus had found his face, arms, hands scalded and blistered. The pain had been excruciating, so much so that even his inner demon cowered. Since then, his body had healed—barely.

Out of the corner of his eye, he spied Aeneas crouching by his side, head cocked, as though examining an unfamiliar creature at the zoo. Severus should have relished the sight of the angel; he had his daughter’s eyes, her pale pink lips, her severe angles.

Only Aeneas was nothing like Moira. He lacked all her warmth, her good-natured smile. He paled in comparison.

Moira was a vision.

Aeneas was a nightmare.

Severus swallowed hard, his throat lined with sandpaper—but he knew better than to ask for water. He knew better than to hope for any comforts in this prison, which, if he had to hazard a guess, he suspected was in the basement of Seraphim Securities.

That was the rumor, anyway, amongst the local demon community.

Still, for all he knew, they could be far from Farrow’s Hollow—far from the protection of Alaric and his father, and, worse, far from Moira.

Alone again, Severus.

He gritted his teeth when Aeneas dug a hand into his hair and wrenched his head back. Staring into the face of the enemy, Severus had expected to find it impassive. In his experience of sketching them for two weeks straight, angels seldom wore their emotions on their sleeves. Most of the time they appeared neutral, excluding the odd little smile here and there. Yet Aeneas radiated smugness. He oozed pride, cruelty. The latter shouldn’t have surprised Severus, but he couldn’t help it: angels were supposed to be do-gooders. Protectors. Watchers.

The smile Aeneas wore now was better suited to a demon—a prince of Hell, even, the kind they wore before they slit your throat. Severus swallowed hard, his neck straining under the angel’s grasp; was Aeneas about to slit his throat?

No. He glared up at the creature—this so-called protector of humanity, dressed in a tailored suit, a gold ring on the pinky of his free hand. Aeneas would draw this out, make it hurt. Severus was doomed to suffer under the angel’s hands—of that much he was certain.

“Thou art a sinner, Severus Saevitia,” Aeneas murmured. “We have been watching your filthy little operation for years, waiting for you to slip up. And now you’ve done it… Six clients dead in a mere twenty-four hours. Fresh from a hell-gate to a bloodbath. We cannot stand for this.”

Severus’s eyes widened as the angel tsked down at him, admonishing him as one might a child. Sluggishly, he digested the news, his head snapping back up the moment Aeneas released it. Six clients—dead?

Rage roiled within him. White-hot, piping fury that had him yanking at his restraints with all his might. The chains rattled but gave no sign of budging. The metal would have been forged in Heaven—what hope had he, in his weakened state, of breaking it?

The realization did nothing to soothe his temper. Even his inner demon responded, roaring within, and his eyes snapped to black as he glowered up at Aeneas.

“There’s no point in denying it,” Aeneas mused, nonplussed by the display, by Severus’s aggression. In fact, it only seemed to amuse him further. “We found their mutilated bodies, Severus. All of them. Whatever did sweet Pamela Prescott do to you?”

He shook now, his body trembling violently as his supposed charges washed over him. Pamela Prescott—the widow in her early fifties who saw him twice a month. He had scheduled her more frequently in the weeks that he hunted Diriel, before he and Moira had gone to Hell. She’d brought him a sample of the first vegetables from her garden. Little things—tiny tomatoes, baby carrots, the daintiest of zucchinis. Moira had thought the gesture sweet; she’d even used the produce in their supper one night.

Pamela Prescott adored him, and Severus had grown quite fond of her. She was prim and quiet, a little shy—a woman who wanted to talk more than fuck.

Her face flashed before his eyes, and Severus yanked at his chains again, shooting up and pressing a foot against the wooden pole, trying desperately to push off, to get some additional leverage.

“I never touched those women,” he snarled, practically foaming at the mouth as he lunged for Aeneas—lunged, and yet stayed right where he was, too, the chains offering no give. The angel merely arched a white eyebrow, then snorted.

Technically, you did. You touched all of them. Intimately. Repeatedly. Sinners, the lot of you.”

“You had no right to hurt them—”

“Me?” Aeneas pressed a hand to his chest, his expression shifting to mock hurt. “I never hurt them, beast. I never so much as rustled one hair on their little heads. You, on the other hand—”

“It isn’t a crime to seek companionship,” Severus growled. “To seek comfort and pleasure.”

“Ah, but did they know you sought something too?” Aeneas clasped his hands behind his back. He wore a small, patronizing smile now, but his eyes glittered with malice—with victory. “You stole from them, incubus. You used them for years, then butchered them for your own twisted delights.”

“Lies,” he hissed. “All of it… You slaughtered innocents to put me away. You. Not me.”

“None of your whores were innocent—”

“Something tells me you don’t quite understand how escorting works,” Severus said without thinking. “I’m the whore, not them.”

He tensed as a flicker of rage flashed across the angel’s face, vivid and raw, before finally letting out a soft breath when Aeneas smiled again.

“Semantics. I’ve done nothing but my duty, entrusted to me by Him to—”

“Probably not to fuck his children, right?” Severus lifted his eyebrows, knowing and not caring that he was pushing his luck. “I’ve heard that’s frowned upon by the heavenly father—”

Getting punched in the face by an angel was nothing like getting sucker punched by a demon. Severus went down hard, the chains biting into his skin as they propped him up. An angel’s fist—it was a sledgehammer. Ten sledgehammers. A hundred. As he hung there, mouth open, blood dribbling onto the sand below, he considered it a fucking miracle he hadn’t lost all his teeth too. Spots danced before his eyes, and he tried blinking them away, his shoulders screaming in agony once more, his full weight resting upon them.

The demon within snarled, a vicious, brutal sort of sound that rattled between his ears. No acid reflux this time. Severus knew his truest self wanted him to fight back.

And just how am I supposed to do that? Snark him to death?

He glanced around his prison cell, searching for mounted cameras within the sprawling space. Above, the roof domed, designed as one giant, unrelenting white light. Over his shoulder, he spied iron bars across an arched doorway, and darkness on the other side. No cameras. Nothing modern as far as the eye could see. Severus gulped. The punishment waiting for him—there was probably nothing modern about that, either.

“No,” he said with a heavy sigh, feeling the weight of Aeneas’s stare on his back. “No, you didn’t hurt anyone, I’m sure. You’re too careful for that, aren’t you? Just doing your duty… You probably had your lackey Diriel do it, didn’t you? Not sure how. He’s only just been released from Hell, and he’s marked, too, for his crimes. But I’m sure you managed.”

Aeneas hummed in agreement, and suddenly Severus felt him crouching at his right side again, the angel’s presence vibrating so soundly that it made him nauseous.

“Yes, that mark has made things difficult,” he breathed, the words burning across Severus’s skin. “I’d no idea the Corrupted Ones were doling out the same punishments down in the pit that we’re taught in Heaven, but I’m not surprised. They always were followers.”

“And you angels are, what, freethinkers?” Severus tried to make himself snort, but the sound choked him, getting stuck and gargled in his throat. Blood spurted over his lips instead, and he spat a mouthful toward Aeneas. It missed, painting the sand. With great difficulty, once more he raised his stare to Aeneas, narrowing it as he asked, “Did you pay Diriel too? Just as you paid Moira’s mother, Lara, to keep your secret? He’s a Lutum. He’s nothing, yet these days his network rivals some of the more established mob families. Did you buy his services? Is that why he wears all those fucking crosses? A s-subtle nod to his real master?”

“Such theatrical lies, beast,” Aeneas said, chuckling as he stood. “Though I am hardly surprised you have such a wild imagination. Your kind spouts lies just as naturally as they breathe. Great, grandiose lies in order to damn as many humans as you can. Pathetic, really.”

“Go fuck yourself—”

“Charming, as always.” Aeneas wrinkled his nose down at him for a moment, then cleared his throat. “Severus Saevitia, incubus, for the sin of murder, you are hereby sentenced to a century of imprisonment and punishment for every human life taken. By my count, that condemns you to six centuries with us. Welcome to Seraphim Securities. I am fairly certain you will not enjoy your stay.”

“You think I care about what happens to me?” Severus snarled, peering over his shoulder after Aeneas disappeared from his side, footsteps squishing across the sand. “I care about her. How could you do this to Moira? She’s your child—”

A hand slammed onto the back of his neck, shoving him down, stretching his shoulders to their limits.

“Moira Aurelia is an abomination,” Aeneas hissed, all that refinement, that air of arrogance, gone, and in its place a brute malevolence that Severus could feel in his marrow. “When the courts of Heaven decree it, and I receive permission from Michael at long last, I will slit her throat and bleed her dry, do you hear me? Perhaps I will do it here.” The malevolence eased, as if his spirits lifted at the thought. “Severus, you can watch her die.”

“She’s been searching for a father her whole life,” he bit back, “but you’re the one who missed out. She’s incredible. She’s smart and kind and beautiful—what you angels are supposed to be, and she’s only a hybrid. She will put you to shame, vermin. Just you wait and see.”

“Ah, yes, feel me quake in mine boots,” Aeneas spat, taking a step back. He then flicked something into the incubus’s line of sight: the tail end of a flogger, the tassels made of leather, their ends tipped with metal spikes. Severus’s breath hitched. That thing—it would peel the flesh from his back. Aeneas had mentioned a punishment alongside imprisonment. How often would he be flogged? Daily—for six long centuries?

Severus blinked hard, fighting back the sudden onslaught of emotion. His fear had finally gotten the better of him—fear that Moira would be long dead by the time he got out of here, whatever was left of him.

The spike-tipped straps disappeared from his side, only to rain down upon his back seconds later with all the force of a thundering train. He inhaled sharply as the spikes ripped across his back, breaking skin. Pain blurred his vision, and he clenched his eyes shut, choking out a groan.

“Now, I’ll knock ten strokes off today’s session if you tell me how to get into that little enchanted house of yours,” Aeneas told him, his voice calm again, his anger subdued. Severus heard the rustle of the tassels, the jingle of the spikes knocking together as the angel reeled his weapon back. “Severus? Think now. Twenty strokes will become ten. Tell me about the illusion. Give me the name of the witch who cast it. We know the building exists along this plane—we merely need a nod in the right direction so that we may access it. None of my men have been able to crack it, and they’ve been trying for years.”

Blood pooled in the small of his back. He could feel it, dripping languidly from his wounds, from the dozens of serrated slices across his flesh.

So, they hadn’t broken Cordelia’s spells, eh?

The thought had Severus smiling. His resolve stiffened—it had never faltered in the first place, but now a deep-seated satisfaction pumped through him. For all the fear the demon community had of these creatures, Cordelia had outwitted them, outmaneuvered them. His cousin, a fucking prodigy of a witch, had kept Moira, Alaric, hell, even Ella and Malachi, out of Aeneas’s grasp.

“You’ll never break it,” he sneered. “Never.”

Another crack of the flogger across his back silenced his chuckles, the laughter morphing into a low growl of pain.

“Fine. I prefer it this way, dog. You’ll break. They all do in time, and I have an eternity to wait you out.”

The blood seeped into his trousers now, grey sweatpants he had haphazardly thrown on the morning he and Moira fought. The third strike of the flogger had Severus snarling in agony, teeth gritted, eyes shut, the inner demon’s roars drowned out by the pounding of his own heart.

The fourth strike had him cursing.

The tenth strike had him screaming.

* * *

Seraphim Securities. She wasn’t supposed to be here. Moira lifted her chin as she glowered at the black and grey box across the street, its golden letters catching the light of the setting sun. She shouldn’t be here—because she couldn’t control herself in front of this building. Not anymore. Not when she knew, she just knew, Severus was somewhere inside, trapped, captured, in pain.

Maybe even dead.

No. She closed her eyes and dragged in a steadying breath.

He had been gone for three days now—three agonizing days, the same number she had been held by Diriel. Tortured by Diriel. Abused by Diriel. By midnight on the third night, Severus had come kicking down the door with a motley crew at his heels. She had been out of there. Rescued. Ready to start healing from the ordeal.

And where would Moira be at midnight tonight? Back at the house. Stewing. Worrying. Waiting for Cordelia to arrive from Hell so she could perform a location spell, one that would confirm Severus’s whereabouts. Alaric had gone to his high-and-mighty dad, begging for help, but had been told that if angels had taken Severus, they might as well start mourning him now: you don’t come back when the angels take you. Not anytime soon.

But Moira couldn’t accept that.

Neither could Malachi. Unfortunately, Severus’s chaos demon big brother didn’t know the local demons well enough to start making deals—or, as he would have preferred, cracking skulls. It had been three days of thumb-twiddling while Malachi and Alaric put a plan in motion.

And Moira had sat around, useless. Wanting to help, but not knowing how. Waiting for someone to call her about the incident at the stadium—for the police to show up at her old student house with questions nobody could answer. So far, nothing.

Unable to sit still that afternoon, she had snuck out without anyone knowing—Ella and Gibson included. Alaric’s daytime handler had been paying extra-close attention to the front of the house since they’d taken all the cars without permission the other day, that awful day, and Ella had been glued to Moira’s side since they returned home from the hospital, Moira battered but not broken. Determined. She was more determined than ever, but her priorities had changed.

Moira wanted Severus back. She’d stopped giving a single fuck about her so-called dad the second he blasted her through a concrete barrier at the stadium. Once she had the man she loved back, safe and sound, she would come up with a way to make Aeneas suffer. There had to be one. Angels weren’t the almighty end-all of supernatural creatures. She would find a weak spot. She had already told Malachi to ask Cordelia to bring up all the texts she had in Hell about all known supernatural beings.

“They’re in Latin,” Malachi had noted flatly, unimpressed with the request. “Or Aramaic. Do you speak either?”

“I took a beginner’s Latin course at school,” she’d snapped back, but that course had been years ago. “Maybe Cordelia can, I don’t know, spell them into English. Something.”

At least she was trying.

Today’s outing hadn’t been about trying. After she’d realized that the cool 1.2 million sitting in her account was the money Aeneas had used to buy her mom’s silence, Moira didn’t want it anymore. Not a penny. So, in an effort to keep busy when the hunt for Severus stalled, she started researching charities. Today, she had gone out and made a sizeable donation to the hospital her mom had worked at, and another to a children’s charity downtown—the very kind she had been interested in working with as an art therapist, before all this supernatural madness had started. A hundred grand. She’d written a check and dropped it off in the money donation bin, along with her contact information should the administration need to verify that it was, in fact, a valid check.

Walking around downtown, her hair out in the open for all to see, Moira had meant to go back to the house—apologize to Ella, who had been calling her for the last hour. She didn’t mean to worry her best friend; there were just a thousand things on her mind, and her fears for Severus had made her antsy, fidgety—emotional. Lately she had needed the space to clear her head, and her best friend just refused to give it to her. Ella meant well. Moira loved her to death. But she just needed time. The occasional bit of space. No more than two hours.

She had meant to walk home. Sit on Severus’s bed. Breathe in his scent, one of his shirts pressed to her nose. Eyes closed, she could have pretended he was there. Her mind could slow, the frantic thoughts vanishing just for a moment.

But here she was. Standing in front of the café they had frequented for two weeks when it all began, where they had sketched angels and eaten breakfast together.

Here she was. Glaring at Seraphim Securities. Hands burning. Eyes tearing. Lips trembling.

She probably looked crazy. Moira didn’t care. She just wanted Severus.

Give him back to me, you psychotic bastards.

He hadn’t deserved to be taken. He hadn’t deserved to scream in agony that day, surrounded by six angels, their light searing his skin. She remembered it later, the faint sound of flesh sizzling. He didn’t deserve any of it.

“I knew the risks when I fucking volunteered for this.”

Just because he’d known the risks didn’t mean Moira was okay with what had happened—with him taking the brunt of the danger, carrying the entire burden on his shoulders.

The building before her was closed now, the hours on the website listing Seraphim Securities as an 8–5 business like many of the other downtown corporations. The lights were dimmed in the lobby. Evening traffic rushed by her, workers eager to get home, get drunk, get out. At just after 6 PM, she hadn’t expected any of the angels to come strolling out—they usually left with the work crowd. However, when the huge double doors opened, she stiffened, half expecting to find Aeneas there.

Aeneas, not her dad. She refused to call him that anymore, not even in her own mind.

He hadn’t earned that privilege.

And she figured he never would.

Much to her surprise, out walked a familiar face—as familiar as one could be after a single meeting. He looked up sharply and stopped, their eyes meeting across the whiz of traffic. Zachariah, the angel who had interrupted Moira and Severus the morning they—well, Severus—had tried to seduce building plans out of Mary, the lobby receptionist. Back then, the angel had filled the doorway, his frame enormous, his voice booming. Bald. Black skin, blue eyes, and white eyebrows. He wore a tan trench coat over his suit today, his red tie slightly askew, and a briefcase hung off his fingers.

They stared at one another for ages, Moira shaking ever so slightly. Her eyes watered, but she refused to blink, refused to break first—to falter in front of a creature who could have just finished torturing Severus somewhere in that awful building. She didn’t recall him being there at the stadium, but he was one of them. She lifted her chin and took a step toward the curb. Head cocked, eyes slightly narrowed, Zachariah did the same.

Another step. He followed.

Moira still hadn’t blinked, still hadn’t backed down—until a wall of black came to a screeching halt in front of her. Spell broken, Moira stumbled away, catching her reflection in the SUV’s tinted windows. Her bruises had faded, though the ones on her body clung on longer than those across her face. The hospital had removed her wrist cast after she’d forced them to take another X-ray, proving it wasn’t broken. At the time it had been slightly fractured, and she’d worn a dressing home. The following morning, it was back to normal. Sore. Achy. Crackly. But functional.

Her energy hadn’t exactly bounced back yet. Apparently healing oneself tired even a hybrid’s body, but Moira had pushed through the exhaustion, nothing but Severus on her mind.

“Moira!” Ella barked as soon as the window rolled down. Malachi glared at her from the passenger seat, and her curly-haired bestie seemed even smaller than she actually was in the driver’s, hands clutching the steering wheel. “Are you insane? Get in the car!”

“I…” Moira stalked around to the front of the car, eyes wide and searching, but Zachariah was gone. She jumped when Ella laid on the horn, cheeks flushing as heads turned her way in passing.

“Your mother and I have been worried sick about you, young lady,” Malachi drawled as she marched back to the open passenger-side window. A smirk tugged at the corner of the chao demon’s mouth while Ella stewed beside him. “Get in this vehicle now.”

“Okay, tone it down,” Moira muttered, then met Ella’s slightly red honey-brown eyes. Guilt bloomed inside her. “I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to worry you. I just had to get out.”

“We’ll discuss it at home.” Malachi popped his aviators—Severus’s aviators, actually, now that she’d taken a second look—up on his head, then tsked. “We are very disappointed in you—”

Ella slapped a hand over his mouth and leaned over him, the seatbelt stretched across her chest. “Don’t scare me like that, Moira. Seriously. Get in. Let’s get out of here.”

Moira shook her head before she could stop herself. “I can’t leave. I know he’s in there. I know he’s… He’s right there.”

Malachi grabbed Ella’s wrist, which looked positively breakable in his huge hand, and held it away from his face.

“And what do you intend to do?” he demanded. “Storm the keep all by yourself? Don’t be absurd. My brother doesn’t need a dead hero.”

“Let go,” Ella muttered as she tried to tug her hand back, only to smack Malachi’s arm when he wouldn’t immediately release her. The demon’s icy blues snapped toward her, his sinful grin making her cheeks red. With a sigh, Moira reached through the window and pinched the underside of his bicep, twisting the sensitive skin. He hissed, instantly letting go, his eyes black when he glared back at her.

“Move,” she ordered, hating to agree with Malachi—but he was right. She wasn’t doing anything to help Severus by glaring at Seraphim Securities all night. “If Ella’s driving, I have shotgun for life.”

“Am I supposed to understand what that means?”

“You ride in the back,” Ella insisted, stabbing the button on her armrest to unlock all the doors. Malachi glanced between them, as if trying to decide how serious they were, and when Moira opened the door for him, he rolled his eyes, human once more, and eased his long legs out.

Dressed in head-to-toe black, from the snug jeans to the also rather snug tee, Malachi looked like he belonged in the reception area of some high-end modeling agency, waiting to be told he had just landed a massive global campaign. Recently-sheared golden locks swept back, he had a smile nearly as breathtaking as Severus’s; Moira tried not to roll her eyes as a clump of teenage girls downright ogled him while he strolled languidly toward the back door, strutting like a prized peacock, every tail feather on display.

Good grief.

The guy might have been gorgeous, but his ego could rival the sun.

Shaking her head, Moira climbed into his abandoned seat and slammed the door shut firmly enough to scatter the teens, red-faced and full of giggles. After buckling herself in, she turned to the person she ought to be giving all her attention to, her guilt like a lead weight at the sight of Ella’s flustered face.

“Hey.” She touched her best friend’s arm gently. “I’m sorry. I went to donate some of the money like we talked about, and then my feet kind of just took me here after. I didn’t come here on purpose. Promise.”

“Well, answer your damn phone the next time you go out,” Ella muttered, and it was only then that Moira realized her best friend was shaking. Clearly this had upset her more than she let on, which wasn’t surprising—given what had happened the last time Moira snuck out. Fuck. Hating herself just a little bit more, Moira unbuckled her seatbelt and leaned over to wrap her arms around Ella as the SUV idled at the curb.

“I’m sorry,” she told her, squeezing tight as Ella continued to grip the steering wheel. “Really. I fucked up, and I’m sorry.”

Her best friend nodded, her mass of lustrous curls wrangled into a half-up, half-down style that probably had her neck roasting; no wonder the air-conditioning was on high. Moira lifted the mane up as best she could, blowing softly on Ella’s neck, not giving up until the woman laughed and finally hugged her back.

“Don’t scare me like that.”

“Never again. I promise.” She meant it, too. While she was determined as all hell to find and retrieve Severus, she didn’t need to give her best friend a heart attack in the process. Although Moira’s initial plan had been to have Alaric stash her away somewhere safe until Aeneas was dealt with, it seemed best for everyone’s mental and emotional health to stick together—for now.

“Then you’re forgiven,” Ella told her. Moira laughed, easing away just enough so that their eyes could meet.

“Good.”

“For Lucifer’s sake,” Malachi groaned from the back, “can we not loiter in front of angel headquarters please? Let’s goooooooooooo.”

He punctuated his impatience by pounding both their headrests, and Moira lunged back to smack him. The demon twisted just out of reach, grinning mischievously.

“He’s such a child,” Ella muttered as she switched on the blinker and checked over her shoulder before merging. Nodding, Moira plopped down in her seat and buckled in again.

“Like the brother we never wanted.”

“Mhmm.”

“Oh, you ladies love me,” Malachi purred, popping up between their seats. “Admit it.”

“No thanks.”

Hard pass.”

“Honestly,” he muttered as the SUV slowed to a stop at a red light, “it was so much easier navigating topside gender politics when you lot weren’t allowed to voice your opinions—”

This time both Moira and Ella managed to smack him.

And a chuckling Malachi seemed all too happy to let them.