Pulse racing, I stepped back. He moved closer. There I was, stalked by Death, and I had to fight the urge to run into his arms.

He maneuvered me till my back met the stable wall. He dipped down to kiss my neck, having quickly discovered how sensitive I was there.

I sighed, just about to give him the ring . . . when snow started to fall.

He felt me stiffen and pulled back to search my face. “What is it, love?”

I gazed up at him and lied: “Not a thing.”

Now I told Lark, “I’m crazy about Aric.”

“That’s not what I asked, Eves. Are you happy?”

“When I’m with him and I can forget everything that’s happened, then I . . .” I what? “Then it’s good.”

Her expression said she didn’t really believe me, but she was going to let it go. “When I get Finn back, I wanna sleep with him. A lot.”

“Paul’s got contraceptive shots.”

“Sweet! I’ll leave the breeding to my animals.”

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I made a sound of agreement. Sing it, sister. “Why are you breeding them so much?” She’d been committed to it before, but never like this.

“I’m nervous all the time, and it makes me feel safer. It’s like stress-eating. Consider it stress-breeding.”

“Why are you nervous?”

“Because we’ve got freaking Poseida out there, threatening to tsunami us! I’m not pointing a claw or anything, but I’m pretty sure the river ate one of my tigers.”

“Come on, no, it didn’t.” I scoffed, but did I really know? Probably not a good time to tell Lark that Circe was . . . moving among us.

“The Priestess might like you and the boss, but who am I to her? I don’t want to go the way of that tiger.”

“The fictional tiger victim that was fictionally eaten?”

She raised her chin. “If the water gets much higher, the menagerie will flood.”

Waves did lap at the compound gates. Each time Aric had planned to talk to Circe about working a spell for us, the water had frothed. I’d held him back.

“You saw her tidal wave,” Lark said. “How big was it?”

I admitted, “As tall as a skyscraper.”

“What’s to stop her from destroying us all? From destroying all my animals?”

“Nothing.” The Priestess could swat us like flies. “There’s nothing we could do to stop her. But we trust her not to hurt us. Just like I trusted you not to rip out my throat when Cyclops slept in my bed.” Sometimes he still scratched at the door at night and whimpered in vain. I spoiled him with treats to compensate.

“Trust, huh?” Lark said, adding in a strange tone, “That’s about all we have.”

“What does that mean?”

“You’re not exactly packing a big punch these days. Not like when you fought off Ogen. And you don’t have the Fool or Jack watching your back. Or Selena and Tess, or Joules and Gabriel. We don’t have Ogen.” She shook her head. “And Death . . .”

“What?”

“The boss isn’t thinking about killing; he’s thinking about you.”

I narrowed my eyes. “Which you always planned on, right? You strategized for us to get together.”

She shrugged. “On Day Zero, he and I had a talk about how he was going to kill me in a few years. I plotted from that moment forward to find his weakness.” Utilizing her single-minded determination.

“How did you know what he was truly like? He could’ve been some homicidal maniac.”

“He is a killer. But every killer has a weakness.”

If my grandmother was to be believed, we were all killers. All treacherous and disloyal.

Lark buffed her claws. “I went from the underdog to top dog—in months.”

“Do you really want to win the game?”

“Somebody’s got to repopulate the world’s animals. I could do a lot in a few centuries, especially with my animal regeneration.”

I’d explained her untapped ability to her. Once she’d located Finn and Richter, she was going to start practicing it.

Lark’s eyes suddenly flashed red. Every animal in her room froze and went silent, like statues. “Can’t talk anymore. My falcon might have picked up a lead.”

“Oh. Sure thing.” I rose and waded back through creatures. Over my shoulder, I said, “Let me know immediately if it’s Richter.” As I ducked out of her room, I considered heading down to talk to Circe, but when I looked out a window, the river churned. She seemed in no mood to chat.

Sooner or later, Aric and I would have to approach her about the spell.

I made my way to his study. He called it our study, but I would always consider it his alone—the sanctuary where my scholar/warrior husband curated his treasures.

He stood as I entered. Such a gentleman.

When I’d initially come to this castle, he’d always kept the desk between us. Now he wasn’t happy unless we touched in some way.

I took his offered hand, and he tugged me to sit on his lap, his fingers interlocking with mine. “I’ve missed you, little wife.” His voice was husky, sending shivers through me. “I had trouble concentrating on work, kept replaying this morning.”

I blushed.

“In theory, that position promised to be rewarding,” he said with a sinful grin. “In practice . . . earth-shattering.”

My body was already singing for his touch, my glyphs shivering. He noticed and cast me a look of pure masculine pride—so sexy my breath hitched. Desire banked between us, sparking.