"She said that even if you were, you wouldn't want to be with her."

So Carrow hadn't denied it. And last night, she'd acted as if she'd wanted him to claim her. When he'd told her to leave him alone, he'd seen her disappointment.

It would be easy to believe she wanted to start a life with him. Easier still to believe that she'd been ready to feign affection for his protection.

Sounds familiar.

"But I think you do want to be with her," Ruby said. "You were sad on the beach last night when she was hurt."

Sad? He was nigh out of his mind with worry, anguished.

Yet there were two issues with the witch. Malkom couldn't bear to lose her; he was definitely going to lose her. Once she found out about his past or returned to her home...

And he didn't know if he could ever believe in another again. It only brought misery.

I will get through this hour by hour, denying myself what I want most.

"We talked about you last night."

"Did you?"


"Yeah, if you're married to Crow and she's adopting me, then you do, too. You're my stepdemon."


"Yeah, like a stepdad who's a demon."

Stepdad was some kind of father? Why had Carrow told the child these things? To put pressure on him? She had a lot of nerve, assuming he'd provide for her and her adopted one. Without even asking him.

Malkom ran his hand over his face. Why would Carrow want him for this role?

Why do you think, fool?  She and the child were both defenseless here.

When Ruby's stomach growled, he immediately looked up. "You are hungry."

She grinned sheepishly. "Uh-huh."

He gazed from his half-finished pit back to the child, then exhaled. "What do you usually eat, then?" He would return and complete this later.

"I like dinosaur chicken nuggets, pizza sticks, tangelos, and organic juice boxes."

Puzzled, he asked, "Are those things here?" She shook her head. "We could catch something to eat."

She shot to her feet, eyes wide. "I love catching things! I catch frogs and spiders and green snakes!"

"Very well." He took his shovel, climbing from the pit. As he passed her, she stuck her hand up to him.

He frowned at it. "What? Did you hurt yourself?" Carrow would have his head -

Ruby slipped her tiny hand into his.

He gazed down in consternation, about to draw away. Why would the child do such a thing? I do not understand this.

She peered up at him. "Aren't we going?"

Though he felt a hint of that uncomfortable tightness in his chest, he said, "We are going, deela." And he kept her hand in his grasp.

Carrow was pensive in the wooden tub, and not just because she was afraid of getting splinters in all the wrong places.

Earlier she'd tried yet again to get her tor"ue off, this time using rope and a tourni"uet system. She'd almost asphyxiated, yet the collar hadn't budged. With a bitter curse, she'd accepted that she would be magicless until she returned home.

Now she sat with her knees to her chest, lathering her hair, contemplating how she might get back in the demon's good graces. She was used to being well liked. She didn't go around putting mittens on destitute kittens or saving nuns from a nuclear winter, but she tried to do right. Surely the demon would thaw to her, would recognize that she'd acted out of necessity.

Though he was angry with her, she knew he still cared. She recalled his reaction on the beach, faintly hearing him pleading for her to wake up. Just thinking about that made her toes curl.

But she didn't have time to let things sort themselves out naturally. She'd realized two things today. First, this being powerless and dependent on a male sucked worse than being in the "great outdoors." And second, she needed the demon to be firmly on their side - now - so they could escape this place as soon as possible.

Among all the other threats, La Dorada could still be out there, with her trained Wendigos.

When Carrow was little, she used to have nightmares about those creatures. They were ravenous, eating any living thing they came across, mortal or immortal, falling upon it in a frenzy. And worse than being eaten alive was joining their number. Sustain a single bite or scratch, and within days...

Carrow trusted Malkom to keep her and Ruby safe in the short term, but how long would it be until the contagious members of the Lore overran the entire island?

She scooped water up over her head, beginning to rinse her hair, imagining what would happen once the three of them returned to New Orleans. What would Malkom's life be like? She knew he'd have a job at least. With his strength, speed, and healing ability, he'd be so in demand as a mercenary it wouldn't even be funny.

Would the other demons who lived there accept him as one of their own? The witches would, eventually. Mari and Elianna would adore him once they heard he'd saved Carrow's and Ruby's lives repeatedly -

Ruby's shriek rang out.

Carrow bolted out of the tub, suds dripping down her face as she blindly sprinted out of the cabin and down the stairs. Outside in the sprinkling rain, she heard another shriek.

"Ruby!" She followed the sound through the woods to the calm side of the cape, screaming, "Where are you?" Brush scraped her bare legs. "Ruby! Answer me. ..." Carrow trailed off when she spotted them, her tension fading as she took in the scene.

On the beach, Ruby s"uealed and laughed as she dodged fish flapping all around her feet.

Malkom was shirtless, knee-deep in the water, easily hand-catching them to toss up on the shore. And Carrow could have sworn he'd been sporting a grin until she ran out.

Carrow ran her forearm over her eyes, stepping back behind a waist-high bush. She wrapped her other arm over her chest. "You scared me."

"We're fishing, Crow!"

And I nearly had a heart attack, Ruby. "That's good, honey." Her irritation vanished when she realized this had to be Ruby's first real laugh since her mother had died.

Carrow gazed at Malkom, wanting to thank him again, but his heated look robbed her of breath. Ruby hadn't seemed to notice - or care - that Carrow was naked.

But Malkom...

As he hastily backed into deeper water, his eyes flickered black, his lips parting. And gods, she responded. His tanned skin was damp, the sculpted muscles in his torso flexing with his movements, that tattoo twining up his body. I used to follow it with my mouth.

Once she could pry her eyes upward, even his face made her want to sigh. His blond stubble, those chiseled features, that wicked mouth. But when she bit her bottom lip, he jerked his gaze away, scowling.

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