The sound of beeping disturbed my sleep. I was determined to ignore it, but Dav moved from under me. I protested when I landed on the cool sheets, reaching for him.
"That's the door alarm, Ellis. My cell phone won't work in here."
I blinked a few times, opening my eyes reluctantly as I rolled over onto my back. I realized I was still naked, so I pulled the sheet on the bed up to my waist. As much as I enjoyed watching the tight muscles in Dav's back flex, including his firm ass, I didn't want anyone else to see him that way. "Are you going to answer the door naked?"
He reached out and snagged a pair of pants on a chair. He reached up to a keypad below a screen by the door as he tugged them on. "Who is it?"
I tensed a little when I heard his voice over the speaker. I wasn't exactly afraid of Dav's second-in-command, but I didn't really want to be in the small room with him either.
Dav tapped a series of buttons and the screen flicked on showing Benny looking up. "It's just me, boss."
My mate pressed a button and then turned a set of levers on the door. I couldn't believe how thick the door was when he opened it, but it seemed to move easy enough.
"Stay here; I'll be right back," Dav said.
I frowned as the door shut behind him. I knew that he could feel my nervousness through our bond when I saw Benny, but it was strange that he shut the door behind him. Was he hiding something, and if so, what was it? I knew I shouldn't, but I was tempted to eavesdrop now that Dav had shown me how.
A surge of irritation through our bond decided me. I slid off the bed, wrapping the sheet around my waist and tucking it in. It still trailed on the floor but it kept me covered.
I walked over to the panel, studying it. I'd seen him press the buttons and it wasn't that difficult to remember the pattern. I pressed what I thought was the code, feeling a surge of triumph when the screen flicked on. I could see them talking, but not hear them. I looked at the panel and saw the button for the speaker, Benny's voice suddenly filling the room.
"-can't find them, but I was checking the security footage tonight after the club closed."
He handed two pictures to Dav, but I couldn't see the pictures, just the white backs. My mate hissed, his fangs dropping as he looked from one to the other.
"That's them." I could feel his anger through our bond. "They were here?"
Benny nodded. "I thought they were acting strange on the video and that caught my attention. This one," he pointed at the picture, "was walking all around the perimeter of the bar. It was subtle, but he was checking out every opening."
"Looking for us, do you think?"
"Word's out; your little mate pissed off the remaining members of Mishtar's little group, and some of them have escaped the Falcon’s search. I wouldn't doubt they're gunning for revenge and they want to take out the man that took out their leader. These guys are real fanatics, they think that they are superior beings. Word getting out that a human took out their golden boy? Not something they’re taking well. They’ll kill him if they get the chance."
Dav's fists clenched, and he hissed again. "Not going to happen!"
"Normally I wouldn't worry, boss, but I pulled some files on these guys and they're hardcore. Mishtar wasn't playing around when he recruited them; they're straight up lethal."
"No one touches my mate; no one."
"You could keep him here, until they're found. Sooner or later they'll be back or we could set a trap for them. I don't understand how they know so much though; someone has to be helping them. They're not from this area yet they know where to go. It’s not like we get a lot of Carthera coming here, so how did they know it was your club?"
"I don’t know, but I can't keep Ellis here much longer. I've got to take him to his doctors. He's been changing, Benny, and we need to find out what's going on inside him. They need to run some tests; I almost lost him once before. I can't lose my mate."
I hadn't really thought about it with everything going on, but my migraines were a real danger. I didn't even know if I had any of my medication here. Though doctors had said that venom would be helpful. I shivered at the thought of my mate’s venom pumping into my body.
Benny looked sad. "I understand, trust me."
Dav reached out and squeezed the tiger's shoulder. "Sorry, Benny, I know things have been rough for you lately."
He took a deep breath. "It's okay. I understand your concern. I'll talk with Velaku; I'm sure he'll loan you some Falcons. When do you want to set it up?"
"What time is it?"
"Just after two a.m."
I was surprised when I heard that, but without windows or anything to see outside, it was impossible to tell what time it was. I'd fallen asleep on Dav's chest earlier, but I hadn't realized we'd only been asleep for a few hours. I tried to keep my emotions calm; I didn't want Dav to find out that I was eavesdropping.
"Set it up for eleven."
"Dr. Pannar's clinic or the hospital?"
"I don't think the clinic is equipped to do the blood work and tests that they might need; we'll go to the hospital. Make sure the Falcons are discreet; I don't want Ellis worried. He doesn't need the stress."
I reached up and turned off the screen and speaker. I’d heard enough, and I didn't want Dav to know that I knew what he was keeping from me. My heart was pounding, but I made a conscious effort to calm down. I counted slowly as I took deep breaths. Dropping the sheet on the bed, I made my way into the small bathroom and the shower.
I was standing under the pounding stream, just letting it wash away all the soap when I heard Dav come into bathroom.
"Ellis, are you okay? I thought you'd be back asleep."
I turned when the plastic curtain opened and my mate stepped into the small shower stall. I wiped the water off my face. "Not without you. Everything okay with Benny?"
I knew he wouldn't tell me about the men looking for me in the bar, but I had to ask. Not asking would make him suspicious.
"Yeah. Just some bar business."
I could have been angry with him, but it wasn’t the right moment to confront him, Dav was trying to protect me, and I was going to let him, for now. I reached for him, lacing our fingers together and tugging him closer to me.
He stepped forward, wrapping one arm around my waist. "Missed me, did you?"
His scent seemed stronger in the humid steam of the shower, surrounding me. It did a better job of calming me than all the counting in the world. "Yeah." I didn't want to go completely sappy and tell him any second apart was too much, but I thought it.
I leaned forward, resting my face against his cool shoulder as the water flowed over both of us. The silky feeling of his skin against mine made me shiver. I could feel answering lust through our bond, all his anxiety and anger suppressed or gone.
I rocked my hips forward, showing Dav exactly what he did to me. His eyes gleamed as he stared down at me.
"You done in here?" His voice was raspy as his hands slid down and fondled my ass.
I licked at a trickle of water running down his neck up to the edge of his jaw, nipping at his skin. I moved to his ear, tugging on the lobe with my lips. "Uh huh."
"Good. I think I have a promise to keep."
"Oh gods." I couldn't help myself, a shudder running down my spine.
He bent me backwards as he reached for the handle. I held on to his shoulders, trusting him to hold my weight as he turned off the water. Stepping out, he grabbed a towel and began rubbing the water off my body. I stood there and let him stroke me with the soft terrycloth, moaning a little when he took extra time on my balls.
He wiped his own body off quickly, wiping off most of the water, but he was still damp when we reached for each other. We stumbled out of the bathroom and over to the small bed. Dav smirked and then pushed me backward; I gasped as I bounced a little on the firm mattress. My legs hung over the edge as I stared up at him.
As much as I had enjoyed flipping our roles somewhat the evening before, I craved my mate over me and in me. I knew Dav could feel my desire and my need for him. He dropped to his knees between my legs. I expected him to tease me, to use that amazing tongue to tickle and torment me until I begged. My back arched when he swallowed me down to the base instead, burying his nose against my pubic bone.
I shouted, reaching for the blanket and fisting it in my hands. It felt so good when he hummed, the vibrations on my sensitive head pushed me closer to the edge. My heart began racing as he held my hips firmly to keep me from moving and bobbed his head up and down.
I reached for him, holding his head and running my hands through his silky wet hair with one hand. I watched his cheeks hollow as he pulled up, sucking hard on the head of my erection. His tongue dipped into my slit, and I nearly lost it.
"I'm gonna cum if you don't stop!" My balls ached, but I wanted more. I needed his venom and his cock.
I didn’t have to tell my mate what I needed, it seemed like he already knew. He pulled off with a pop and rose up over me. His hands ran from my hips, up my stomach to my chest; I shuddered as his nimble fingers flicked my nipples, enjoying the slight burn. I yanked him down for a kiss, our tongues tangling as I tasted my precum in his mouth. I loved the way our tastes combined.
I knew what was coming as he kissed down the line of my jaw. I turned my head to the side, ready for his bite, wanting the sharp pinch and the sensation of his venom running through my veins. His forked tongue caressed my skin, dragging from neck down to my sensitive collarbone. I couldn't stop the shudder as he hit a hot spot right where my neck joined my shoulder, my skin tingled as he focused right there, nipping and sucking.
"Please!" I wasn't above begging. I barely finished speaking when I felt the scrape and then the sharp pain of his fangs piercing my flesh. My racing heart sent the venom shooting through my body. I reveled in the feelings, lost in the sensations. I had no idea how long Dav pressed his fangs into me, sending his venom into me, claiming me.
Dav licked at the punctures when he finally pulled back. I could feel it already affecting my body, lighting me up as my muscles went limp and pliant. "How . . . much did you . . . give me?" I knew it was way more than I'd given him.
My mate hovered over me. "Enough to keep you needing me for hours."
Pleasure filled me at the thought, even as my skin began to twitch. I thought I needed him before, but the intense craving I had for my mate began to overwhelm me. If he didn’t touch me I’d go insane.
Dav pushed me up on the bed and knelt between my thighs. His hands spread my thighs wide for him until I was splayed open and vulnerable. The teasing began now that I was helpless to stop it, fiery chills shaking me as his fingers went from my knees up the inside of my thighs, barely brushing against my balls before sliding back down as he stroked me to fever pitch. I don't know how long he tortured me before his fingers slipped into the crack of my ass.
My neglected erection twitched and wept.
I whimpered as he pushed the tip of a single finger inside me. I wanted to press down, to get more of him inside me but I couldn't move, and being forced to take it at his pace intensified my need.
"Gonna make you cum from my finger alone," Dav whispered in my ear. He braced himself over me, one hand braced on the bed at my shoulder. He was so close I could feel the heat of his body radiating against me. I wanted his weight on me, holding me down and pinning me to the bed, but he stayed frustratingly just far enough away that his finger inside me was the only skin touching mine.
Just knowing that, feeling him so close, needing him so much, focused all my attention on that one spot. I stared up at him, at the dark erotic promise in his eyes, and I let go. I wanted this and needed it, just as much as I had needed riding him the night before.
He kept his promise, thrusting and pegging my gland with that one finger over and over. I could feel my cock throbbing and my balls tightening, but I hovered on the precipice. I whimpered, feeling like I was going to explode. I wanted to beg Dav to touch my cock, just one stroke, but I couldn’t.
Then the rhythm of his thrusting changed. He buried his finger inside me hard. I could feel him rubbing small circles, the constant pressure against my gland drove me insane. That was all I needed to trip over the edge. A breath of a cry, all the sound I could make, escaped me as I shot over and over while his finger never stopped moving. I wanted to groan when I realized my cock didn't soften at all.
It was going to be a long night.
My mate spent over an hour playing with my body. I lost count of the number of times he took me to the edge with his mouth and his cock but after that first time he didn't let me orgasm again. Sweat was dripping off his forehead. His warm scent surrounded me as the venom began to wear off just enough for me to make small movements. He'd flipped me onto my stomach, my hips tilted up with a pillow, his chest hot and hard against my back.
"Dav." My voice was a hoarse whisper. Concentrating, I began to clench my muscles around him. I reveled in the moan that tore from him. His fingers tightened on my hips hard enough to bruise, and he slammed forward. I could barely keep up with him as he sped up. I knew we were barely holding on, needing that perfect moment but loving the pleasure of each thrust.
"Now!" Dav roared as he let loose and froze, buried deep inside me. My breath hitched and a thin cry filled the air as I shot all over the pillow under me. Our release was almost painful in its intensity as the rush of ecstasy met and joined with his through our bond. A minute, an hour could have passed and I wouldn’t have known.
I shuddered as my mate rested against my back, his breath tickling the sensitive skin at the back of my neck. Not pulling out, Dav pulled us over onto our sides, pushing the soiled pillow away. We were both panting, our bodies locked together.
"I love you," he said as he nuzzled my neck.
I squeezed the arm draped over my stomach. My voice was hoarse as I replied, “Love you too.” I didn’t want to lose a second of this, but my eyes were so heavy.
"Sleep,” Dav murmured.
"Fuck! What now?"
We'd been awake for a little while. Dav had coaxed me out of bed with the promise of a shower, which led to more fooling around as our soap slicked bodies rubbed against each other. This time Dav shot first, the sticky heat coating our fingers again when I came while he kissed me. Then we had to wash all over again. We were barely out of the shower when I heard the door beeping again.
Dav wrapped a towel around his waist. "I asked Benny to bring some breakfast and some clean clothes for us. Wait here, and I'll bring you something to put on."
I rolled my eyes, knowing Dav just wanted to keep Benny from seeing me. I shrugged, turning to the mirror. There was a mark on my shoulder from Dav's bite, a faint bruise surrounding the small punctures that were just small, red marks in the center. I ran my finger over them, enjoying the tingly pleasure from stroking the sensitive skin. I leaned forward to get a closer look at the partially healed mark.
I was starting to heal really fast. Way faster than a human. A trip to see Dr. Bakier and Dr. Pannar was probably a good idea. Vertebrobasilar migraines were nothing to mess around with; I’d already gone blind once. Plus there was the whole freaky healing thing with Bob's clan.
The sound of the door opening distracted me, and I turned to face Dav. Even though I'd had several orgasms in the last twenty four hours I could feel my body reacting to how hot he was, even dressed. His clothes showed off his body perfectly, a pair of dark jeans and a button up shirt that hugged his shoulders and his trim waist. His eyes flicked down and then back up to my face, his smile turning into a bit of a leer. I could feel my cheeks heat up as I reached for the clothes in his hands.
Dav chuckled. "Benny brought some food from Temptations, including some of those muffins you liked so much last time."
"Sounds good." I pulled on the track pants Dav handed me. "These can't be your pants, I don't have to roll them up about five times."
"No, I had him go by your apartment to get some of your clothes too."
I pulled the green t-shirt over my head. Looking down, I saw the logo for my favorite band. I'd bought it when I went to a concert with Matthew. My stomach clenched, and I leaned against the counter as tears filled my eyes.
I still couldn't believe my friend was gone. He'd been my best friend for so long, ever since Isiah moved away.
"Ellis?" Dav stood behind me, pulling me to his chest. "What's wrong?"
I shook my head. "I can't believe I forgot about my best friend; how horrible is that? He died because of something I asked him to do, and I haven't done a thing about it."
Dav's arms tightened around me. "You stopped the man responsible from hurting anyone else. You might not have been able to save Matthew, but you kept Mishtar from hurting more humans in his plan to create a war."
I sighed. "Still, I feel responsible. Have they found his body?"
"I don't know," Dav said, "but we can ask Velaku later. I want to take you to the hospital after we eat; the doctors know we'll be coming."
I turned in his arms and met his lips in a soft kiss. "Thank you for taking care of me."
"You're my mate; I'll always take care of you."
My stomach rumbled; I smiled wryly when Dav grinned down at me. "Good thing you ordered breakfast."
The Falcons Velaku sent really were good. Even though I knew they had to be there, I couldn't see them. I couldn't exactly search the skies, but I looked in the mirrors whenever I could as Dav drove us to the hospital.
The tests were invasive, time consuming, and annoying as I was examined, poked, injected with fluids, and scanned. At least I didn't have to talk about my sex life with my boss since Dr. Pannar couldn't make it. Dr. Bakier was certainly excited when he found out about my fangs. It took me a little while to figure out how to drop them down, but finally figured it out when Dav helped me.
Of course his help also gave me a hard on I could do nothing about. I grimaced at the taste of the plastic film over the vial I had to bite to give the venom sample.
When the doctor found out that I'd bitten Dav, my mate was subjected to a blood draw as well.
"Now tell me about this ceremony you mentioned," Dr. Bakier said as he settled behind his desk. I'd finally been allowed to put my shirt back on and we were sitting in his office. "Do you mind if I record this? Dr. Pannar might have some insights and this way you won't have to retell the story."
I shook my head. "That's fine, I don't mind."
I fidgeted in the chair, not sure of how to describe what had happened. It seemed so farfetched even to me, and I was there. How did I explain the connection I felt to the circle of men or the bolt of electricity that shot from me to Bob without mentioning how it happened and the whole battle between the two groups?
"Just start at the beginning of the ritual," Dav suggested. He reached over and linked our hands together.
Dr. Bakier's expression changed from polite interest to shock as I spoke about the feeling of power that had risen from the whale Carthera as they chanted and how it seemed to channel from the circle, through me, and into their Alpha to heal him. I could see him struggling to believe what I was saying, and I could tell when he didn't quite get there.
He leaned forward on the desk, tapping his fingers together. "You say you saw the flesh visibly knit?" I could hear the skepticism in his voice. I felt Dav's anger through our bond, clearly he could hear it too. He opened his mouth to snap at the doctor, but stopped when I squeezed his fingers.
"I did; it was amazing. Look Dr. Bakier, I know how strange it sounds but you're talking to a human male who is mated to a Carthera. I've got scales on my back and somehow grew a Jacobson's organ and a set of fangs complete with venom glands. There is more possible in this world than I ever dreamed of."
He sighed. "You're right, I'm sorry. Not much is known about Carthera, not nearly as much as I wish we knew." He sat back in his chair, rubbing one hand on his chin.
"I don't know if there is much we could do to figure out what happened though. Any side effects might show up in the tests we ran today, but I frankly have no idea what they might be. Until we know more I'd avoid doing anything like that again if you can help it. You need rest, and as little stress as possible.
I barked out a bitter laugh. "I'm a nurse, not a miracle worker. I don't plan on going around offering instant healing services. I don't think I'll be working at the clinic anytime soon anyway."
“I know Dr. Pannar contacted your brother, but he hasn’t come in yet,” Dr. Bakier told me, “maybe you could talk to him. It would really help, though as I understand it, he is also mated to a Carthera?”
I nodded. “A tiger.”
“Hmm, not sure how helpful it would be to test him, his baseline wouldn’t really be human either, but it would be interesting to see if he is making as many drastic changes as well.”
I shrugged. I had seen his fangs and stripes, but I wasn’t sure. It wasn’t like we’d had a lot of time just to chat. “I’ll see what I can do when I talk to him. Things are . . . complicated, right now.”
It was a little frustrating to walk out of the doctor’s office not knowing anything, but I knew tests took time. It was my body changing and not knowing what else could happen was nerve wracking, to say the least.
I knew my doctor's final suggestion to stay away from any stress and relax until the test results were in was the excuse Dav would give me if I had pushed, but I didn't even try asking Dr. Bakier when he thought I could go back to work. I knew that my mate was going to keep me hidden until the last of Mishtar's men were found. Until then, I had savings enough to keep my bills paid, for a little while at least.
I wasn't sure I really minded anyway. I wouldn't turn down time alone with my mate and if he was with me he wasn't out hunting down the bad guys. Though I knew he was good at what he did, and I knew that it was selfish, I didn't want him to put himself at risk.
I considered saying something on the way over to Velaku's. I know Dav didn't want me worried, but how was he going to keep them from telling me about the men looking for me? I spent the drive over to the eyrie in silence, just trying to work out my own feelings about the situation. Things had been so crazy with Bob after the attack that I hadn’t really thought much about what had happened at the safe house during the attack itself and the things I had done.
“Isiah?” My mouth dropped open. “What are you doing here?” I had half-expected for Elalera to answer the door, even though she was gone now.
My twin pulled me into a hug. “Did you really think I would leave without saying goodbye to you?” He looked a little disturbed when I shrugged. “I know I’ve been gone a lot, but I’d think that you’d know I would be here if you needed me to be.”
I stepped out of the hug. “I know, I guess I just didn’t expect to see you here. Where’s Ahsran?”
“He’s in the office, with Velaku and Natham.”
I looked at my mate as he stepped into the house. He’d stopped to speak to the Falcon guards just outside Velaku’s house. I’d never seen guards there before, the eyrie the Falcon clan lived in was very defensible, but some of the attackers had been bird Carthera.
Dav dropped a kiss on my head, holding his hand out to my twin. “Isiah.”
Squeezing me tight for a minute, Dav let me go. “I’m going to go to the office. Would you mind getting me something to drink? I know Velaku always has good coffee.” He turned to walk away.
My muscles tensed, and my earlier acceptance of the situation disappeared. I couldn’t hold back an irritated hiss. The look on Dav’s face would have been funny if I hadn’t been so irritated with him. I knew he wanted to protect me, and I didn’t want to be involved in hunting down the bad guys or hurting anyone, Mishtar’s death weighed heavily on my conscience even if he was a murdering traitor, but I wasn’t a child.
“You need to stop trying to manage me, Dav. I’m not some easily panicked weakling that needs to be shielded from all the bad things. I know there are Carthera looking for me. Don’t you think that I deserve to know the whole situation? How am I supposed to stay safe if I don’t know what is going on?”
“I’ll keep you safe.”
“Damn it Dav!” I exploded. “You can’t be with me every second of every day for the rest of our lives! I may not like violence but unless you’re going to give up your work for Velaku, there is always going to be something or someone that might be coming at us. You need to stop bullshitting yourself and trying to bullshit me. I’ve come to terms with the fact that being in your life means that things won’t be easy, but I’m willing to stick it out.
“I may have to learn to carry and shoot a gun. I’m going to have to be wary of Carthera that might be angry with you, or want to control you by taking a shot at me. I fucking killed a man once already! If you haven’t faced that reality yet, you damn well better start. Your life isn’t peaceful and mine isn’t anymore either! If I’m willing to accept that to be with you, then you need to accept that I’m your equal partner in this, and stop trying to hide things from me.”
“Ellis . . ..” Dav paused. I could feel his shock through the bond, but his face was closed off. I couldn’t tell what he was thinking.
“Think very carefully about what you’re about to say to me, Davis,” I warned. I couldn’t help the tremble in my hands from the emotions surging through me so I clenched them into fists. Isiah glanced between me and Dav, his face carefully blank.
“I, ah, I’m gonna go make sure that coffee is fresh in the kitchen.” He melted away, moving swiftly out of the hall and out of sight. I felt a moment of grim amusement, just because we were twins didn’t mean we didn’t fight over the years. I was harder to anger than Isiah, but once I was upset I stayed that way for a while.
I took a deep breath and faced my mate, meeting him stare for stare. “What’s it going to be, Dav? Are you still going to try to hide things from me?”
“I was just trying to make sure you don’t get stressed. You don’t need to know about all this; you need to stay calm and relax as much as possible.” His calm argument repeating my doctor’s instructions did nothing to cool my temper.
“You think knowing my mate is hiding things from me will make me less stressed? You think knowing people are after me but not knowing who they are or what they are capable of is calming?”
Dav shook his head. “You wouldn’t know those things if you hadn’t eavesdropped. That’s what you did, wasn’t it?”
I refused to feel guilty for that. “You’re damn right I did! I’m an adult; I’ve been on my own for years now and taken care of myself. I am not going to let you wrap me up and hide me away to keep me safe. I’m going to live my life normally.”
“You’re not normal, damn it!” Dav’s voice rose. I could feel his anger stirring through our bond but mine was still stronger.
“No, and we both know why don’t we?” I turned away, seething. I didn’t know why I had gotten angry so fast but the look on my mate’s face betrayed his shock when I said that. I shook my head, unwilling to say anything else. I didn’t want to fight with Dav and I knew I would say more that I would end up regretting if I didn’t stop. “I’m leaving.”
I started to walk to the door and Dav grabbed my shoulder, pulling me back. “You can’t go back to your apartment, Ellis, it’s not safe.”
I refused to turn around. “Fine, I’ll go back to the bar and my little safe room where I can hide away like a good little weakling.”
“I never said you were weak.”
I shook my head. “No, you just treated me like I was.” Somewhere in the last few days, it had settled in.
I’d killed someone. Not an accident but on purpose. I’d wanted him to die.
He would have killed more of my family and friends if I hadn’t. It didn’t make the sick feeling go away, but I realized that I could be strong; I could protect those I loved, I could protect my mate. The way Dav was treating me made it obvious that he didn’t think I could.
I wouldn’t put up with it; I couldn’t go back to the way I was before.
“No, Davis. I want to be alone. Just let me go.” I could feel his pain, his anger, and his confusion through the bond, but I was too lost in my own to deal with anything else right then. We both needed some space.
I pulled away from him, opening the front door. There were two guards there. “Can one of you call someone to drive me back to the city?”
The one on the right looked behind me at my mate. I almost lost it again when they didn’t call someone right away. Dav must have given them some signal that it was okay because the guard straightened and pulled out his phone.
The bar was open when I got back. Benny wasn’t working the front door yet since the bar wasn’t crowded, so I hoped I’d be able to avoid him and the other staff on my way down to the safe room. I headed toward the stairs up to Dav’s apartment. I’d just go up and get a few things, then head down to the safe room. I knew Dav kept his fridge stocked, and as my anger waned, I realized that I was hungry. It had been a while since the muffins that morning.
I opened the door to Dav’s apartment after keying in the code to the lock. I was halfway through the living room when a voice stopped me in my tracks.
“How convenient. Here I thought we were going to have a hard time finding you, but you just came waltzing right into our hands.”
This chapter, due to my being not quite all well yet, was pretty rough. Major thanks to Renee for helping me clean it up and get it ready for posting!