Nick grew silent as his thoughts went to a place he very seldom allowed them to go. It was so dark and so painful there, that he’d always told himself it couldn’t be. That surely, he was wrong to even suspect it.

But the words were there and they weren’t his. It was like they came from some kind of ancient prophecy or ordinance that had been handed down throughout the ages. “I was conceived in violence to do violence, wasn’t I?”

“The Malachai always is.”

Nick cursed under his breath. Well, at least now he knew what not to do to father his future heir and murderer.

But if that was true … “Then how can she stand to go near him?”

“He’s your father. To her, blood means more than anything else. Blood makes family. And I’m sure if you asked her, she’d tell you that he gave her the greatest gift of her life … you.”

Yeah, some friggin’ gift he was.

Sick to his stomach over the truth, he wanted to puke. His mom deserved so much better than to have been saddled with something like him. From beginning to end, he’d ruined her life.

“I shouldn’t have yelled at her.”

“You were hurt, Nick.”

And she wasn’t? His hurt feelings were insignificant when compared to what he’d put her through. What he had yet to put her through.

She’s going to die because of me.…

He blinked against the pain that was concentrated at the center of his chest. “That’s no excuse.” He cringed at the horrific reality of his conception. “How can she even stand to look at me?”

“You are her son, Nick. Her flesh and her blood. I told you, in her eyes, that means everything.” Kody raised her hands and formed a shadowy box between them.

Because of his scrying powers, he knew she was opening a window to show him events. But where he used his for the future, she was showing him the past.

He saw his mother screaming in the throes of labor. Just a baby herself, she was in the living room of Menyara’s run-down apartment, where they had lived until Nick was five and the landlord had tossed the guy next door out for nonpayment.

“Make it stop!” she screamed at Menyara.

“Push, Cherise. Push. You can do this, child. He’s almost here.”

She let out a cry so shrill, it echoed in the room, and made Nick cringe at the thought of the pain he’d given her.

Menyara laughed as his mother collapsed on the pullout couch. The baby made a weird gurgling sound, then screamed out at the indignity of being brought into a hostile world.

After wiping him down, Menyara wrapped him in a blanket and handed him to his mother. “He’s beautiful, child … just like his mother. And as perfect as he can be.”

Tears flowed down his mother’s cheeks as she stared at him. “Hello, baby. So you’re the one who’s been making me eat broccoli and cheese with chocolate syrup.” She clutched him to her chest and held him as if he were the most precious thing in the world.

Menyara brushed a lock of hair off his mother’s cheek. “You want me go and call that adoption lady, cher? She say all you had to do was sign them papers and they’d be happy to find him a good home. They be plenty of parents willing to take him.”

Nick sucked his breath in sharply between his teeth. His mother had never told him that she’d ever considered letting him go.

“It makes him sound like pet to be adopted, doesn’t it?” His mother looked up at Menyara. “But it would be the best thing for him, wouldn’t it?”

Her eyes filled with nothing but love and loyalty, Menyara shrugged. “Perhaps. Perhaps not. For you, it would definitely be best, ma petite. Your parents said you could come home if you gave the baby up after he was born.”

His mom glanced around the room that was decorated with Egyptian artifacts and artwork while tears glistened in her eyes that were identical in color and shape to Nick’s. “I’m too young to be a parent. I can’t even drive yet. Can’t legally work or do anything except be a burden to you, and you’ve already been so kind to me. Above and beyond. I don’t know what I would have done had you not taken me in, Mennie. Thank you so much for being so kind and decent.”

And his mother hated being a burden to anyone.

“It has been an absolute joy having you here, Cherise.” She smiled kindly as she cupped his mother’s cheek. “And I don’t mean because you do me laundry and clean me house, girl. Yours is a beautiful soul, and I will support whatever decision you make for you, and for your son.” She dropped her hand to Nick’s head that was covered with dark hair. “The adoption lady say that they were always in need of little boys. There be a long list of parents waiting to take him in and love him like he was their own.”

“But he would never know me,” his mother sobbed. “I could be in a restaurant one day and he could be sitting beside me and I’d never even know he was there. Every time I saw a little boy his age, I’d wonder … is he mine?”

Menyara sat down beside her. “Don’t cry, Cherise. Births are always happy times. You have brought life into this world. Look at him, child. He’s perfect. Beautiful.”

She nodded against Menyara’s shoulder. “He deserves only the best in life.”

“All of us do, child.”

Licking her chapped lips, his mother brushed her hand through his hair. “What do you think they’ll name him?”

“I have no idea, sweetie. But, I’m sure it’ll be a good name.” Menyara reached for him. “Let me—”

“No!” his mother snapped. She buried her face against his chest as he wiggled angrily in protest. “I can’t do it, Mennie. I can’t. He’s my baby. My flesh and my blood. He doesn’t belong to somebody else. I’m the one who’s been talking to him and I’m the one he’s been kicking. How can I let someone else have him now?”

Menyara drew her brows together into a fierce frown. “Are you sure about this, Cherise? Life is hard on everyone. But you keep that baby, and it will stomp on you in ways you can’t even imagine.”

She lifted her head bravely. “It’s going to stomp on me anyway. And I want to be there when it hurts him. I want to be the one who holds him and tells him it’s going to be okay. I won’t be able to give him much. But I can give him a mother who loves him with all of her heart. One who didn’t abandon him the moment he was born so that her own life would be better. He deserves more than that.”

Menyara bit her lip before she spoke again. “You are condemning both of you to a life of poverty.”

“Maybe, but that could happen even if I give him up. My parents threw me out already over something I couldn’t help. What’s to keep them from doing it again? I can’t trust them. I know that now. When I needed them most, they turned their backs on me.” She curled her lip in anger. “You made your bed lie in it.” The way she spat out those words told Nick she was repeating what her parents had said to her. “But I didn’t choose this.” She cringed as if the memory was more than she could take.

“Are you sure about this, Cherise? That baby will always be a terrible reminder of the horrors you’ve been through. Will you not think of it, every time you lay eyes on him?”

She shook her head. “He’s a reminder to me of how strong I am. That I can survive anything the world throws at me. I won’t be a victim again and I won’t be defeated.” She sniffed back her tears. “Look at him, Mennie. That little baby head. Those baby eyes. How can you not love something so adorable?”

Menyara brushed the hair back from his mother’s face again. “He is precious. So what are you going to call him, then?”

His mother’s hand went to the saint medallion she wore around her neck. It was the same one she’d given to him at his confirmation. “Nicholas, after the patron saint of children. My Nicky will be my victory over sorrow. My little champion. And every time I look at him, I will see just how strong I am. Not for me, but for him.”

“And what other name will you give him?”

She smiled proudly. “Ambrosius.”

Menyara screwed up her beautiful face “Ambrosius? Child, why would you ever give him a name like that?” She shivered.

But his mother wasn’t swayed. “It was one of my grandfather’s favorite stories that he used to tell to me whenever I spent my summers with them. And those were some of the best days of my life. I want to share that with my baby. Ambrosius Aurelianus was an ancient Saxon warrior that my grandfather said they called the king of all kings. He was supposedly a sorcerer of great power who protected his people and united a war torn Britain. A real man that time has shrouded in mystery—that’s how my grandpa described him. Some say he was the older brother of King Arthur or Arthur himself or even Merlin. And the name means ‘immortal.’ Two strong, proud names for my perfect son. I can think of nothing better to call him. Nicholas Ambrosius Gautier.”

Menyara let out a low whistle. “Child, he’s going to hate you when he has to learn to spell that in school.”

“True, but at confirmation, he already has his saint’s name. So it serves more than one purpose. I think he’ll like it.” She smiled down at him. “You are going to like it, Mr. Baby. I insist.”

Nekoda closed the window and brought Nick back to the present. “It’s amazing the things we never know about the people we share our lives with, isn’t it?”

Yeah, it was. “I had no idea she’d planned to give me up.” He wouldn’t have blamed her if she had.

Kody swallowed. “Life is about making decisions, Nick. Large and small. Every day and with every breath we take.”

And it was about family. Those you were born to, those born to you, and those you let into your heart. That was how Simi defined it. Ironic really when you thought about it. The best definition of family he’d ever heard, and the only one he agreed with had come out of the mouth of an orphaned demon.

And while Kody’s powers had shown him things about his mother he’d never suspected and confirmed his worst fear about himself, he had a newfound respect for his mother. Through everything she’d gone through, she had never lost her courage or her fire. Neither her dignity nor her ability to find the one bright spot on the dirtiest mirror in the room.

Menyara was right, his mother was a beautiful soul. And if she, a mere human mortal, a child no less, could stand and fight for him, then he stood a chance to become something more than his father.

As Kody said, life was about choices. And his choice was not to be a tool for evil.

He would not become Ambrose.

I am Nicholas Ambrosius Gautier. And I was conceived in violence to fight violence.

Ambrose had fought against it, but he, Nick, would fight harder.

And he would save his mother, even if he had to kill himself to do it.

* * *

In raven form, Caleb landed on the sill of Adarian’s cell. Unfortunately, or maybe fortunately, Adarian wasn’t in there. Not that he was surprised. This time of day …

The beast could be anywhere.

Caleb launched himself up toward the sky and circled around the yard, searching for him. It wasn’t until his second pass that he finally spotted his target, sitting on a table all by his fierce lonesome.

It was actually frightening how much Nick looked like his father. Give the boy a couple of years, and they’d be indistinguishable from each other.

Except for their personalities. Nick was most often amusing and, as much as Caleb hated admitting it, endearing, even fun at times. No matter how bad a situation was, Nick could find something amusing about it. On the other hand, Caleb had never once seen Adarian crack a single smile unless it was a cruel one. And the only thing the senior Malachai found humorous was torturing others.

Yeah, they were nothing alike.

Caleb swooped toward Adarian’s white picnic table. Because of Adarian’s murderous nature and cruel tendencies, he was kept isolated from the other inmates. Four guards, shotguns cradled at the ready, stood around Adarian’s area that was separated from the general prison population by a fence topped with razor wire.

Luckily, he could fly right over it and not get cut.

Caleb landed on the table behind Adarian and cawed to let him know he’d arrived.

Adarian released a breath of supreme annoyance. “What are you doing here, Malphas?” he asked in a low tone after he’d covered his mouth with his hand so that the guards wouldn’t hear or see him talking to a bird.

You’ve been found.

“By?”

No idea. Whoever they are, they tried to access Nick’s room. They didn’t get in. But if they found him …



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