Gabriel's soft cluck of disapproval filled the air around him as Rhyn sat in the corner, watching the most vexing woman in the world -his mate -sleep. He sensed another immortal in the house but couldn't place where exactly.

"You just don't listen," the death dealer said, materializing, a shadow darker than night.

"Why would I start?" Rhyn replied.

"Thought you'd learned something after all those years in Hell."


Gabriel was his only friend who didn't judge him. Rhyn patted the chair beside him. The death dealer sat, his trench coat rustling.

"You're lucky you don't have to defend Death against anything," Rhyn grunted. "Much more complicated than it looks."

"Free will's a bitch," Gabriel lamented.


They sat in comfortable silence, the quiet room filled only with the woman's soft snores. She was tired, frustrated, and, worst of all, scared. She'd been scared since Hell, if not before, for which he blamed Kris.

"Kris -"

"Don't start," Gabriel warned. "At some point, you two need to trust each other."

"Not gonna happen."

"Immortals are about as imperfect as humans. I don't know any more."'

Rhyn looked squarely at the death dealer, sensing unease for the first time in their long history.

"It never sat well, what I did to you," Gabriel said.

"I never held a grudge," Rhyn reminded death's top assassin.

"Maybe you should have."


Gabriel chuckled then said darkly, "How can you be so sure?"

"I know," Rhyn replied. "I know what I am, I know what you are, and I know what my brothers are. The rest I don't care about."

Gabriel lifted his chin toward the bed.

"Work in progress," Rhyn replied with a grimace. "She's mine. The rest will follow."

"Wish I had your faith."

"I think you mean narcissism," Rhyn said.

"Big word for you."

"It was Kris, wasn't it?"

Gabriel said nothing, and fury unfurled within Rhyn as his gaze went to the sleeping woman.

"I know my brothers," he repeated more softly.

"You are quick to assume the worst," the death dealer said at last. "She refused to tell you."


"Then leave it be. Listen to me this time."

Rhyn didn't want to leave it be, not when his own brother had attacked his woman. Maybe Kris thought turnabout was fair play. Or maybe he'd succumbed to the weird draw around the woman. Or maybe to his own desire for power. In the end, it didn't matter.

"She never feared me before tonight," Rhyn said in a growl.

"I'm sorry, Rhyn. I've wanted to protect her, but Immortal Code -"

"Not your fault."

"I didn't know he would hurt her. I would've broken Immortal Code and interfered had I known," Gabriel said.

"You broke Immortal Code what? Twice in your life? Both times for me. No, Gabriel, don't do me any more favors."

"I righted a wrong, which required another wrong of sorts."

"Don't grow a conscience now. One of us has to walk the straight and narrow. It won't be me," Rhyn assured him.

"You can't go after Kris. That's strictly forbidden."

Rhyn said nothing, aware the penalty for an Ancient killing another Ancient was death-death and eternal Hell. He was sick of Hell, yet Kris's crime deserved punishment.

"And you have to realize that he didn't know about Lilith's betrayal," Gabriel added. "You're lucky all he did to your mate was take her blood."

"He made her fear me. He was an idiot to fall for Lilith. She wasn't even his mate -she had no protection from Immortal Code. My mate does!"

"She's barely made it this long, Rhyn. Before you run off and kill your brother, you should probably see her safe. Because of her, you can control and channel your power. You aren't surviving day-to-day anymore as you have your whole life, and for the first time, you're fighting for something other than you."

Gabriel's words struck hard. Rhyn thought hard for a minute, then said with effort, "I don't know how to be a mate, let alone take care of a human, Gabriel."

"I gave you books to read," the death dealer said, bemused. "It's the best I can do. I'm not human."

"You were once."

"Too long ago to remember. You'll just have to figure it out on your own."

Rhyn grimaced. He didn't know a thing about being a mate. His gaze drifted again to the woman whose pale features made him feel both proud and worried. He was the only line of defense she had against the immortal world. Thus far, he'd barely managed to keep her alive.

He didn't know what else to do. She couldn't defend herself, and every immortal she drew to her ended up hurting her.

Even Kris, the protector of mankind.

His thoughts darkened as fury blinded him for a moment. Gabriel clapped him on the arm, and Rhyn shook his head to clear the anger.

"Kris sent a message for her," the death dealer said, withdrawing a folded sheet of paper from his pocket.

Rhyn reached for it, but Gabriel pulled it away.

"Only for her. If he's apologizing, let him do so in peace."

Rhyn wanted to destroy the letter. Instead, he watched Gabriel cross the room and leave it on the pillow beside Katie. Rhyn's gaze fell to her again.

What drew him and others to his mate? It was her curse. He had to protect her while keeping her from those who could help. He had to protect her from Sasha and the Dark One; he had to protect her from Kris and his people.

I think I love you.

The woman was crazy, and yet, a part of him liked that about her. She'd proven herself to him in a way no immortal ever had.

He couldn't not believe her to be his match!

Gabriel was right -he had to figure it out before he lost his mate.

The assassin left him in peace, and he stayed awake the rest of the night, watching over her. He braced himself for more syrupy love sentiments when she awoke but was relieved when she gave him a warning look and disappeared into the bathroom, the letter clutched in one hand.

He stripped off his clothing and changed into what Gabriel told him was normal for this place: jeans and a sweater. And steel-toed boots that would go right through any bad guys who got in his way.

She emerged still pale, her gaze troubled. Her skin was scrubbed clean, her dark hair wet. He saw no sign of the letter.

"Hannah won't approve of you being here," she told him.

"Who's Hannah?"

"My sister."

"You have a sister?"

"You know, we mortals have real lives, too, or do you immortals assume we're all just sitting around waiting to have our lives intruded upon by the likes of you?" she snapped. She whirled and marched to a closet, wrenching it open.

Despite her ordeals, she still had her spark. He wasn't sure if he liked that or not about her. She reached for a scarf, and he growled. Her hand dropped, though she didn't acknowledge him otherwise. He took in her shape. She wasn't beautiful, but she was pretty enough with a body she plainly took care of.

"Don't you have somewhere to be?" she demanded.

"Someone's gotta keep you outta trouble," he replied.

"Like you've bothered to do that yet!"

"It's a new day."

At his quiet response, she faced him, searching his gaze. She frowned and he breezed past her, pulling the door open before the woman on the other side could knock. The woman he assumed was Hannah stared at him, her mouth dropping open.

"Hannah, this is Rhyn, my…the guy I met in Ireland."

Hannah was beautiful in the model sense, with a slender form and large eyes that grew wider when they swept over him.

"Really?" Hannah almost gaped.

He felt Katie tense. She crossed her arms.

"Yes, really," the smaller woman said in a sharp enough tone to draw Hannah's attention.

Hannah wasn't the immortal he sensed, though she exuded a calming power that stabilized his powers, similar to Katie's, though weaker. He began to believe Kris was right about the bloodline of his mate's family. There was something unique about them.

Hannah shook herself visibly and said, "I didn't hear you come in last night. Are you staying for long?"

He felt Katie's gaze settle on him at the question.


Hannah waited for more. When nothing came, she mustered a smile and motioned down the hallway.

"I'll take you to meet Giovanni, my fiancé. He's interested in meeting our Katherine's husband. Katherine, I have a small breakfast waiting for us with the girls."

Katie grumbled beneath her breath. Hannah paused a few doors down along the wide, tall corridor with plush red rugs and gilded cornices. It was the kind of place his brothers would love: opulent and openly displaying signs of wealth. With her carefully crafted outfit and makeup, Hannah fit right in.

She tapped at a door and ducked inside.

"Really, how long are you staying, and what do you want?" Katie hissed as they waited in the hall.

"No rush. We're immortal."

"I told Gabriel I didn't want you around. You couldn't give me some peace?"

"I'm your mate," he grated. "I'm supposed to…take care of you."

At the effort he put in the difficult words, she looked up at him, her clear blue eyes vexed.

He hated how pale she looked, hated the scars on her body. He admired her strength but knew everyone had a breaking point. Hell had taught him this, if nothing else. He wasn't sure what he felt toward the woman, but he didn't want her to come to harm, and he didn't want her out of his sight.

"Come on in, Mr. Rhyn," Hannah said, pulling the door open.

The immortal he sensed sat inside a large library. The man's stunned look didn't change at Hannah's quick introduction or when she left. Even the sound of the door shutting did nothing to jar him.

Rhyn studied him, taking in the tattoos only other immortals could see. The immortal was relatively young, maybe a thousand years old, with Mediterranean features tinted olive and thick black eyebrows. At that age, he was relatively low on the immortal totem pole, though his obvious wealth indicated he had powerful connections somewhere.

"Forgive me," the man said, and stood, shaking his amazement away. "I'm Silvestre Giovanni. I never expected to meet one of the Council That Was Seven, let alone have the honor of hosting you."

"It's fine," Rhyn said.

"Is there anything I can procure for you? Please, my home is yours for as long as you like."

Rhyn almost wished he had even a fraction of Andre's manners. He hadn't dealt with lesser immortals since before he went to Hell.

"I'm fine," he said again. "My mate and I won't be here long."

"Hannah told me about Katherine. I didn't realize her Rhyn was…"

An awkward silence fell, and Rhyn knew what the immortal before him wasn't saying by the look of half-alarm, half-curiosity on his face.

"I get that a lot," Rhyn said. "You're house is…nice."

"Thank you. I purchased it because it reminds me of my beloved Venice. I left many years ago and haven't gone back. Hannah and I plan on taking our honeymoon there."

"Does she know what you are?"

Giovanni gave a half-laugh at the blunt question, and Rhyn sat. The lesser immortal relaxed some and joined him, pouring him a glass of ice water. Rhyn took in the small marble statues and portraits of wealthy Venetians on the walls.

"Not yet, no. I planned on telling her soon. Does Katherine?"


"You chose Katherine?"

Rhyn glanced at him. Giovanni appeared genuinely puzzled.

"She's a good girl," Giovanni said, "but she's a bit of a lost cause. We've been trying to help put her through a good school for her advanced degree, so she can start working some place and make decent money. She's never known what she wanted to do, unfortunately. Just seems to float from job to job. Hannah gives her all her old clothes, which aren't cheap, and she never even returns Hannah's phone calls."

Rhyn bit his tongue out of respect for Katie. Giovanni pitied Katie, and yet, Rhyn suspected he knew more about the woman than either the man before him or Hannah. Part of him was gratified to find she, too, was the black sheep.

Part of him was pissed.

He knew if he did anything, Katie would suffer. Again. So he clenched his teeth and nodded.

"Maybe that's all in the past. The immortals can polish her up a little. It'll make Hannah so happy," Giovanni said with genuine warmth.

Giovanni took Rhyn's silence as encouragement and began to discuss his pedigree and which immortals he knew. Rhyn found he didn't need to respond; Giovanni was capable of discussing himself -and his Hannah -without any sign of stopping.

Instead, Rhyn began to wonder where exactly his mate would fit in. It wasn't here, in a place best suited for privileged immortals accustomed to wealth. It wasn't in the barracks of Kris's fortress. Gabriel had told him just how small and cluttered her apartment was.

She was like him: someone who didn't fit in anywhere she should.

He had nothing, no castles or gold like his brothers. He had nowhere else to go. It'd never been a problem when it was just him. Now, he had a reason to care what tomorrow brought, and he wasn't certain he liked the newfound feeling.

Hannah returned a short time later, the only thing that interrupted Giovanni's ramblings. Rhyn pulled himself from his thoughts as he stood. He didn't like thinking -he preferred to act.

"…my greatest honor to meet you," Giovanni said with a warm smile. "You're welcome here with Katherine anytime."

Katie, Rhyn corrected him mentally.

Hannah appeared puzzled by the invitation but smiled when Rhyn turned to her.

"Hannah, dear, please instruct the servants that Rhyn and Katherine are given whatever they ask for."

"Of course, sweetie," Hannah replied. "Katherine's waiting for you. She said you were interested in taking a walk around the estate."

Rhyn said nothing and followed her out of the study. They strode through the opulent mansion down a stairwell spilling into sunlight and swaths of green grass at the side of the main house. He was unaware how tense he was until Hannah left him, and he breathed in deeply. His muscles were so bunched, they ached when he shook them free.

"They can be pains in the ass," Katie said from her seat on a stone bench beneath a massive oak tree. "They mean well, I think."

He gazed at her, at once hungry and pensive. He didn't know much about the woman staring at him except that she was the strongest person he'd ever met. She was genuine, straightforward, and sweet. He wanted her in his life, permanently, only he'd need his brothers' help. To keep her, he'd go to them.

"I have to go somewhere," he said abruptly.

She frowned, and he couldn't tell if she were more disappointed or relieved at his news.

"You'll be safe here. Giovanni is an immortal."

"Giovanni?" she echoed, surprised. "Hannah must not know. She can't keep secrets like that."

"She doesn't. I'll be back soon enough."

She looked as if she wanted to say something, then crossed her arms with a glare. He didn't want to try to interpret the look or await her scathing return, not when he needed to find a place for them go to. Instead, he started walking away and summoned his powers, wondering which of his brothers could be coerced into giving him what he wanted.

"Rhyn, wait!" she called.

He faced her. She approached him, gaze troubled once again.

"Kris sent me an apology," she started.

"And?" he asked impatiently.

"He said he knows someone older than him who can put my life back the way it was."

Her words surprised him. She didn't meet his gaze.

"He said he only needed two months of my time, and even if he didn't do what he needed to at the end of it, he'd let me have my life back."

"You trust him after what he did to you?" he demanded.

"He's not a bad person, Rhyn. If he's making the offer, he'll keep his word," she said. "I can't live like this, Rhyn. I won't make it."

Stunned, he waited. She fell silent.

"You said you loved me last night," he said at last. "I'm leaving now so I can find a safe place for you."

"I was tired and probably half-drunk," she whispered.

"I read your mind."

"And you wonder why I want out of this world?" she snapped, fire lighting up her features. "It doesn't matter what I feel, Rhyn, when I know I don't belong in this world or here with you, and I know without a doubt I won't survive, even if you find some place on another planet to stash me! I don't want that, Rhyn!"

"Gio and Hannah say your life sucks as it is," he pointed out.

"But it's my life, even if it does suck. You try but you can't protect me, Rhyn, which you've proven a dozen times over. Two months is all Kris asks, and I'm free. What do you have to offer?"

He said nothing. He had nothing. They both knew it. She turned away, but he saw the tears gathering in her eyes. He'd never felt inadequate in his long existence until he stood before a mere mortal with the knowledge he had nothing to offer her.

"Don't come back, Rhyn," she said softly. "Please."

"You said you're giving Kris two months. How about me?"

"How about you what?"

"If, at the end of those two months, I haven't fixed things, you'll go back to your world. If I make things right, you'll stay. With me," he said in a hushed tone. "As my mate."

She was quiet briefly, considering, before she said, "Fine. Sixty days."

Emotions spiraled through him. He wasn't sure what he felt, but it wasn't gratitude. If anything, he was stunned she agreed so quickly. It meant she didn't believe him.

She walked away. He watched, sorrow and then fury filling him.

He'd never had anything worth fighting for until now. He'd spend the rest of his existence in Hell before he'd let her go without a fight.