“Don’t stab anyone,” Riley said with a wave of his fingers.

His expression darkened. “Do you have anything to add to this conversation, Mary Ann?”

“That’s great,” she said distractedly, having already tuned them out.

He pushed out a sigh. “Find me when you’re done.”

“Sure, sure,” Riley assured him. Then flipped him off.

Tucker stomped out of the café, the bell chiming over the door.

“What a douche,” Riley muttered. “I’m going to kill him before this is over, you know that, right?”

“And you’ll be okay with that?”

“You’re not listening to a word I’m saying, either, are you?”

“That’s great.” Seventeen years ago, people had not Facebooked or tweeted their every thought, so finding Robert Smart was a little more than difficult. But she was finally getting somewhere.

She found a news story about him, and that led to another, and another and still another. Each one had to do with Robert Smart’s ability to locate dead bodies and communicate with the dead. But none of them mentioned raising the dead. More than that, there was no mention of his death. So, she might be getting somewhere, but it wasn’t doing her any good. Until—

Bingo! A story about his disappearance. Excitement rushed through her as she read the first few lines. He’d disappeared the same night his brother was killed. And…oh. Disappointment replaced her excitement. “His body was never found, and he never married,” she said. “He had no children, no relatives other than Daniel and Tonya.” Which meant talking to his family was out. Tonya was likely to call the police if she caught sight of Mary Ann again.

“That’s great,” Riley said, mimicking her. Then, without taking a breath, he added, “But he could be out there talking to the witches or the fairies, you know.”

And if he had no family, what kind of last wish would he have had? Not to say goodbye to them, of course, as Mary Ann’s mother had wanted to do with her. So, what had he wanted?

She needed to know. In order to leave Aden, Julian had to do what his human self regretted not doing. But the souls didn’t remember their human lives until someone reminded them. Right now, she was the only one who could remind Julian.

Maybe if she printed out his (previous) life story and read it to him? Maybe then he’d remember. Or, maybe it was time to switch gears and spy on Aden’s parents. Yeah, maybe. The deed to their house belonged to Joe Stone. Paula, the mom, hadn’t been mentioned. Were they still together? Separated?

“What?” Oh, yeah. Riley had said something. Robert, witches, fairies. “Of course he’s not talking to the witches or the fairies. He’s dead.”

A long, drawn-out sigh had warm, minty breath washing over her. “I meant Tucker.”

“Oh. Then go follow him. Kill him. Whatever. Please. I just need a few minutes of peace.”

A beat of stunned silence. “Are you trying to get rid of me?”

“Yes. But for some reason, it’s not working.”

Wonderfully calloused fingers settled on her chin and turned her face. “Mary Ann?” His eyes glittered with amusement.

“You’re sexy when you’re focused.” With that, he leaned over and kissed her. Right there in front of everyone, he slipped his tongue into her mouth. He was warm and wet and as delicious as she remembered. She’d never been one for public displays of affection, but she found herself leaning closer, wrapping her arms around him, sinking her hands in his hair.

He knew just how to move his tongue against hers. Just how to apply pressure, how to ease off, how to take her breath and give her his. And the warmth, she couldn’t get enough. She pressed closer to him, so close she could feel tendrils of energy flowing into her mouth, down her throat and swirling inside her stomach.

Panic infused her, and she wrenched away. They were both panting, but Riley was glazed with a sheen of perspiration. Her heart raced as she gasped out, “I was about to feed off you.”

“I know.” There was no upset in his tone, which surprised her.

“And you didn’t pull away from me? You idiot!”

His lips quirked up at the corners. “I liked what we were doing.”

He was amused? Idiot was too kind a word for him. But, see? This was exactly why she’d run away from him. He didn’t take his safety seriously.

Scowling at him, Mary Ann dragged her legs between them and pushed him. Right out of the booth. He landed on his butt with a shocked humph. “Get out of here before I…before I…knee you in the balls!”

More quirking. He took his time standing up. “I’ll find a witch. If you’re hungry, you can—”

Her anger deflated. He was trying to take care of her. How could she stay mad at him? “I’m not.” And she wasn’t. Not fully. Not yet.

“You know what happens when you let yourself go without…eating. Just let me—”

“No.” Yes, she knew what happened. She hurt. Worse than she’d ever hurt in her life. “I’m fine.” She didn’t want him messing with the witches, possibly getting bespelled—although the impotency thing he’d mentioned to Tucker might do them both some good—and she certainly didn’t want to be responsible for another death.

“The witches were going to hurt you. Now you can hurt them first.”

Technically that was true. She could hurt them. When her hunger reached the point of pain, she fed without thought or intent. Witches first, fairies second, but one day neither race would be enough. She’d crave the others. The vampires, the shifters. Even humans. But as she was now, only partially hungry, she would have to touch the witch to feed, and she just didn’t want to get that up close and personal if she didn’t have to. For all the reasons she’d previously mentioned, but also because, well, she liked a few of them.

Two—Marie and Jennifer—could have killed her a dozen times. They hadn’t. They’d talked to her, instead, and walked away. She kinda felt like she owed them.

“Go find Tucker before I decide you’ll make a tasty snack,” she said. “Wait. First tell me what you meant about Tonya’s aura being black.”

He frowned as he slid back into the booth. “Usually that means the person is going to die. But hers was an old black, kind of faded to a gray. I’ve seen that kind of aura a few times before, but usually on people who had somehow cheated death through magic or been cursed for a long, long time.”

Was that what would happen to Aden’s aura, then? Slowly fade, maybe rot? “So her life was saved through magic? Or she was cursed? Which one?”

“I don’t know. I didn’t get a magical vibe off her.” He shrugged. “But that could just mean the curse is so much a part of her, like her lungs or her heart, that no one can sense it. Or it could mean that magic wasn’t used.”

“So what you’re telling me is that you have no freaking clue?”

“Correct. So what you’re telling me is that you don’t want me to stay with you? Because after that tasty snack comment, I want you to—”

Laughing, he stood and blew her a kiss, then stalked from the shop. Mary Ann forced her attention to return to her laptop. Her hands were shaking as she typed. And what do you know? She typed without thinking and ended up with a search on Aden’s parents. Again. Maybe her subconscious was trying to tell her something.

Fine. She’d go with it. And another thing. Her next ward, she decided, was going to prevent boys from muddying up her thoughts and ruining her concentration. But somehow, she doubted even that could protect her from Riley’s appeal.

ADEN SURPRISED VICTORIA. Rather than walking into the throne room, where his “guests” awaited him, and demanding answers, rather than feeding himself, he first prepared himself for the possibility of battle. A task that caused several tension-filled hours to tick by, morning giving way to afternoon.

She listened to a one-sided conversation he had with Elijah and knew Aden was upset because the soul hadn’t predicted this, and he hadn’t prepared. She listened as he spoke with the councilmen, then Maddie, learning what he could about the nine warriors awaiting him. She breathed a sigh of relief when he placed guards and lookouts in every room in the house as well as outside. She watched as he armed himself, looked away as he changed into a new T-shirt and jeans, and waited with him for the wolves, already tired from patrolling, to come in from the forest.

There was no time to think about their kiss and his anger over her lack of virginity, which was out of character for both past and present Aden. Did he suspect the boy’s identity? Would he hate her when the suspicion was confirmed?

Okay, there was time to think about all of that, but she couldn’t allow herself the luxury. She needed to focus, to be at her best. Just in case Aden wasn’t. He still hadn’t eaten, and she didn’t know why.

Something else she didn’t know—why he had stopped what he was doing, twice, to announce that he wasn’t going to dance.

Now he marched along the scarlet rug, Victoria just behind him, wolves flanking him, and a handful of his strongest vampire warriors behind them. Vampire citizens lined the walls, watching him, forming a hallway that led straight to the throne room.

Victoria caught whispers like “just appeared,” “trouble” and “war,” and each caused dread to work through her.

Whoever the warriors were, they could obviously teleport, since they had not stormed through the house but had “just appeared” in the throne room. And to appear somewhere, a teleporter had to have been there before. Which meant Vlad had once entertained the warriors.

As Aden approached the throne room, two of his sentries threw open the tall, arched doorways. Without a pause in his stride, the new and as-yet-uncrowned vampire king entered the room. Victoria expected more whispers, something, but the only thing to be heard was the thump of multiple pairs of boots and the scrape of wolf claws. Then Aden stopped, as did everyone behind him, and there wasn’t even that. Just silence.