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A to Z: S is for Set Up

Last time, we left Cassie and Raven in some potential trouble. Today we’re back with Icarus about to face Henry.

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Icarus was glad for the speed, and to be taking point on this ride. If he’d had to be stuck behind any of the other bikes, he wasn’t sure he’d be able to stand it. He still couldn’t believe he’d let Cassie rip that promise out of him. He needed to be the one to handle Henry. And for good this time. He’d thought they’d dealt with him once, got him to back off.

He should have known it wouldn’t be good enough. That man was never going to leave them alone.

Once this was over, Icarus would take Cassie, and Trace and Birdie if they wanted to go, and find somewhere far away from this where they could just be together. But, he had to take care of Henry first.

He finally slowed as the house came into view. He took his bike around to the same place they’d stopped the last time they’d come here. When Henry had held Birdie as leverage to get Cassie and Trace back. He hadn’t won that time. And Icarus swore he wouldn’t this time either.

Once everyone else had pulled in beside him, he glanced around, his gaze finally landing on Bull. “I need you to take point,” he said. His oldest friend, and the biggest man there, he trusted him with his life. Or in this case, the woman he loved and their son’s lives. “I promised it wouldn’t be me.”

They worked out the details of how they would handle the rest of this mission, and Icarus followed behind Bull and the men he’d called to stand with him: Smoke, Jumper, and Devil among them. They were all good men. Hawk and Arrow were on lookout duty, like usual. “You okay for this?” he asked Hawk.

‘”Sure thing, Cap,” he said, but Icarus could see him moving stiffly still.

Trace fell into step beside Icarus. “It should be us,” his son said. “We’re the ones he keeps coming after.”

“That’s not the way your mom wants it. She wants us to come back to her.”

Henry was already waiting on the porch when they crossed the street. He was expecting them, which left an uneasy feeling in Icarus’ gut. “Hiding behind your bullies, Hartson?” he called out to Icarus.

“You’re the only bully I see here,” Icarus responded, trying to remain calm. This man kept trying to take everything from him and had succeeded once, nearly two decades before. He couldn’t go back to that time.

Before he could stop him, Trace lunged forward, through the rest of the Riders. “No,” Icarus said. Again and again as he tried to grab his son. But, the other men seemed to move aside for him. He couldn’t reach him in time.

Icarus started forward, but he still couldn’t move fast enough. Trace was already starting up the steps, his fists clenched at his sides. He couldn’t hear what the boy was saying, but he saw the sneer cross Henry’s face. Then, his hand came up and faster than any of them could move, though Icarus noticed several of the men lunging forward, Henry’s hand struck out, knocking Trace aside.

The boy fell back, missing each of the steps and hitting the ground. He didn’t stir at first, and Icarus’ chest felt hollow. If something happened to his son…but no, he was moving now, pushing himself back up. But, Henry was moving toward him, aiming his foot as if he meant to kick the boy.

Icarus couldn’t do it. He couldn’t let this man take away his son one more time. He drew the gun from the inside pocket of his vest and aimed it at the man who once again threatened everything dear to him. “I’m sorry, Cassie.” This was a promise he just wasn’t going to be able to keep.

“You shoot me again and you will never see Cassandra again,” Henry said, not looking all too scared about the gun in Icarus’ hand.

Icarus’ lip lifted in a snarl. “If you’re dead, you won’t be able to keep her from me. And if you put another hand on my son, that’s just what’s going to happen.”

“If you kill me, you’ll never know where my men took her.”

“You don’t know what you’re talking about.” But, from the smug look on Henry’s face and the ice gathering in his own belly, he was afraid he did. “She’s safe.”

“Yes, she is,” Henry said. “With my men.”

“No, you’re lying.”

“You really want to test that theory? If I turn up dead, my men know exactly who to go after. And you’ll end up in a cage again, exactly where you belong. So, either way, you won’t see her again. But, if you walk away now, everything else will be forgotten between us.”

“Don’t believe him, Dad,” Trace said, drawing himself up beside Icarus. “I don’t think he’s lying about Mom, but he wouldn’t just let us ride away and forget about this.”

Icarus knew the truth of that. But, he didn’t see what other option he had. He was still hoping Henry was bluffing. He motioned for the other men to fall back, but didn’t turn around until he was right on the edge of the yard. When they were at the bikes, he ignored the clamor of voices, everyone wondering what they would do now. Instead he took out his phone and dialed a number. “Chief,” he said, his voice trembling, “tell me he’s fucking with me.”

“I’m so sorry, Grady.”

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Well, this is really not looking good. What is Icarus going to do now? Will he get Cassie? Just what did happen?

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A to Z: R is for Raven

Last time, we left Icarus talking to Bull and admitting he’s thinking about quitting the club. Needless to say, that doesn’t go over well. Now, we’re back to Cassie, and she’s watching the men leave.

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Cassie stood on the porch and waited while the last of the bikes drove out of the yard. She hadn’t seen just about all of the Riders leaving the yard all at one time too often. Only Chief and two younger members, the ones who didn’t have the full back patch on their vests yet, had stayed behind. Even the last time they’d ridden off like this, they’d left more of the men behind, including Trace and that young man who went by the name Arrow.

But, even they had gone along this time. She’d heard Trace arguing with Bull about that very thing before she’d gone to talk to Grady. To her surprise, he’d insisted on going along. From everything she’d heard, he usually preferred to stay behind if violence was expected. And as much as she was sure they wanted to avoid that, it was pretty much a foregone conclusion when it came to Henry. Especially with what he was pulling now. He wouldn’t just let them ride away this time.

Cassie couldn’t help wringing her hands together. What if this was the last time she saw either of them? She wasn’t sure she could live with that.

Then, she felt a hand lightly touch her arm. “They’ll be back, Cassie,” Raven said from just behind her.

“You can’t know that. You might be able to see into people’s heads, but you can’t see the future.”

Raven chuckled a little at that. “I can’t actually do that, either. It would make things a lot easier, for me and the people I try to help.”

And Cassie knew Trace had been one of them. Because of things Henry had done to him. Things she should have protected him from and hadn’t. Some she hadn’t known about until they’d come here.

Raven squeezed her arm briefly. “You know he doesn’t blame you, right?”

Cassie shook his head. “Are you sure you can’t see into my head? And he probably should. I never stopped Henry. Not one time.”

“I can’t tell you the things he’s told me, but he has talked about what happened. And I don’t know how you’d be able to stop him when he’d practically knocked you unconscious.”

Cassie trembled just at the memory of what life had been like. And how she’d acted like it was normal to live like that. After a year of never having a hand raised to her in anger, it didn’t seem real. Raven gave her a quick hug, then almost as if they’d already discussed it, started walking into the house together. But, they both stopped at the sound of motors coming up the drive.

“That can’t be them,” Cassie said. “They just left. They can’t be back already.”

“It’s not,” Raven said. “That’s not motorcycle engines. It’s a cage. You should get inside.”

But, the car was already rolling into view. It was plain, non-descript really. But, Cassie recognized it. And the man behind the wheel. “No,” she gasped.

“What is it?”

“He works with Henry. He had to have sent him. He’s going to take me back there.”

“Not if we have anything to say about it,” Raven assured her.

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Well, now, that doesn’t look good, does it? Who is this person? What does he want? Will Cassie see Icarus and Trace again?

A to Z: Q is for Quitting

Last time, we left Icarus giving Cassie a promise he really didn’t want to. But, that put other thoughts in his head and a conclusion he hadn’t expected to come to.

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Icarus couldn’t believe he’d made that promise to Cassie. All he’d been able to think of the last several days as they put this plan together, and Arrow and Hawk came back from town with more evidence Henry wasn’t going to back down, was being the one to take the bastard out. But, she had asked it of him now. And he wasn’t sure there was anything she could ask that he wouldn’t do.

He wasn’t sure how he was going to keep this promise, though. He couldn’t put the other men in danger and not be there to back them up. This was his problem, one he really should be the one to deal with. But, Cassie had taken that choice right out of his hands. He didn’t even know what move to make. He could lose Cassie for good no matter what he did. There was only one thing he was sure of that would mean not losing her at all.

“What’s going on with you, Icarus? You’ve barely said a word since we came in here.”

Icarus looked over at Bull. They were supposed to be going over final plans for this mission, but he couldn’t keep his focus on it. “I’m thinking about quitting,” he blurted. Even just saying the words had his skin prickling. This club had been his life for the last five years. But, Cassie was his heart and soul. If he lost her again…No, it didn’t even bear thinking of.

“Don’t give me any of that,” Bull demanded. “You aren’t leaving.”

“I have to, Bull. Don’t you see? It’s the only answer here. If I’m not here, Henry won’t come after the whole club. He can’t use it as a way to get to me. To get to Cassie and Trace through me. I have to go.”

“No, you don’t. That’s why we’re doing this. We’ll get him to leave us alone.”

Icarus smacked his hand against the wall. “It’s not just Henry. Me being here has brought trouble to everyone I care about. With Henry taking Birdie, and coming after Cassie and Trace. The Crows coming after Birdie and Trace. Even Devil and Hawk getting hurt.”

“That didn’t have anything to do with you, Icarus,” Bull argued.

“You go back far enough, and it does. I let Brad in here, I didn’t see through his lies. And that gave him the opening to get deep with the Crows and take them down. And with our connection to him, it led them back to us. If it wasn’t for me-”

“If it wasn’t for you, this club would have fallen apart long ago. I can’t believe you can’t see that. Dad might be the president, but you are this club, Icarus. You quit and you might as well disband the club.”

Icarus shook his head. “That’s ridiculous. The club isn’t just one person. We all make it work. I didn’t say I’m definitely going. But, if that’s what it takes to make sure my family is protected, it’s what I’m going to do.”

“Let’s take care of this business with Henry first,” Bull said, his voice subdued now. “Then, I’ll convince you you’re better off staying.”

Icarus let out a rough laugh. If only it would be that easy.

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Will Icarus really leave the club? Will Bull convince him he really is better off staying? Will he end up breaking his promise to Cassie?

A to Z: P is for Promises

Last time we left Icarus realizing he’d been an idiot. But, he still had to get everything ready for when they rolled out. But, Cassie had one promise she needs him to make.

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Cassie found Icarus over by his bike early in the morning. “Grady, I need to talk to you.”

His hair fell into his eyes, but he didn’t look up. “What is it? Is everything okay?”

No. Everything certainly wasn’t okay. It wouldn’t be until this whole thing with Henry was done and over. They hadn’t really spoken the night before, but she had to say this before he left. “Promise me,” she finally managed. “You’ve never broken one promise you’ve made to me.”

Icarus looked up from his bike and right into Cassie’s eyes. “What do you want me to promise? I’ve already told you I’ll come back. I’ll protect Trace. I don’t know what more you want.”

Everything. But, she still hadn’t found the way to tell him that. So, she couldn’t really blame him for not knowing, could she? But, she shook her head. “You didn’t promise. You said you’d do your best, but that’s not a real promise. I need to hear you say the words, Grady.”

She saw something in his face shift at her use of his real name. She rarely heard anyone around here use it. Except for her. He stepped around his motorcycle and came right up to her. “What words are you asking for? Because I’ve tried to give you several of them, and you won’t take them.”

Shame flushed through her at that, because he was right. She was asking him for something that she kept refusing to give him. She wasn’t sure she could do it, though. She’d never stopped loving him, not even during all those years of living with Henry. She’d let her own fear push that love deep into a corner, but it had never quite gone away. Now, she was afraid to bring it back out. Afraid he’d be the one to turn away from it this time. Even though he hadn’t given any indication he’d ever do that.

“Promise you won’t be the one to face Henry. Not you or Trace.”

His jaw tightened. She could see the muscles in his jaw flexing and knew she’d asked him for one thing he didn’t think he could give her. “Cassie, he’s threatened you. Threatened Trace. You’re both mine. I swore I wouldn’t let him do anything to hurt you. If I don’t go-”

“I know. But, you don’t have to be the one to face him. Any of the others can do it, and you can back them up.”

“But, it’s not any of their families being threatened.”

“You keep telling me you’re all family. So, if something happened to Barbie or to Raven, wouldn’t you be defending your family? Why is this different?”

He didn’t answer, but his face remained tight. Then, Bull called out to him. He glanced over his shoulder, and she looked that way, too. It was almost time for them to go. Damn it. “Grady, please. Promise me.”

He looked back at her. “Fine,” he said, but she could tell he wasn’t happy about it. “I promise. It won’t be me or Trace who faces your lousy husband.”

“Ex,” she murmured even as he walked over toward Bull. It wasn’t true. She’d never felt safe sending him the papers to end their marriage. But, once this was over she’d make sure it happened. That was one promise she could make to herself and to Grady. It was one she would do everything to keep.

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Will Icarus be able to keep his promise? Will Cassie?

A to Z: O is for Options

Last time we left Icarus feeling like whatever he did it would be wrong. And thinking it would be better if he stayed away from Cassie. Now, we get some of Cassie’s feelings on that.

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Cassie didn’t know what she was going to do. “You have options.” That was what Molly had said to her just this morning. But, it was so hard to think of those. Especially when all she wanted was to go to Grady and be held by him. But, he apparently had no desire to do that. She’d hardly seen him since that story had come out in the paper.

At first he’d seemed fine. They were seeing each other at least when he walked her up to her room. But, after her talk with Molly, she’d tried to approach him. and he’d gotten distant. More and more with each day. And that was what she didn’t know how to deal with. She’d developed armor against yelling, against threats, against all those little digs Henry had been so good at. Even the slaps and punches.

The cold distance was something she couldn’t take. And it was so unlike Grady. Both the boy she’d known as a teenager for those wonderful months. And the man she’d gotten to know again over the last year. Cold and distant were two words she’d never have used to describe him before.

And really, what options did she have? Go with Henry? Maybe he would leave Grady and the rest of his Riders alone if she did that. But, she couldn’t see herself surviving the year under his control again. Didn’t think she could go back to living like that. And she would definitely lose Grady and his love then.

But, if she stayed, Henry wasn’t going to stop until he’d ruined their lives. And that was just the best case scenario. Even more likely, he wouldn’t stop until Grady was behind bars or dead. And that was something she couldn’t bear thinking about. Even more than having to live with Henry and the fear he wielded every day.

She hadn’t realized how bad she was trembling until her legs gave out, and she had to grab onto a tree for support. A moment later, she felt a hand at her back and turned her head to see Barbie standing right next to her. Raven came to her other side. “Why don’t you come sit down?” Barbie suggested. “The men are in a meeting right now, but as soon as they’re out I’ll have Bull send Icarus right to you.”

Cassie shook her head. “Don’t bother. He won’t come. He’s made that perfectly clear.”

Barbie’s mouth pursed, but she didn’t say anything as they walked with her back to the porch. Once Cassie was sitting down, Barbie said, “I think you’ve misunderstood what’s going on.”

“I can’t misunderstand when I don’t understand anything to begin with.”

Barbie’s lips twitched up at that. “He thinks he’s protecting you. He’s struggling, Cassie. He wants to be with you, but he’s so angry with what Henry’s doing, and he doesn’t want it to touch you. Doesn’t want to frighten you with what’s inside him right now.” She glanced over her shoulder toward the house then back to Cassie. “It’s killing him, staying away from you. But, he thinks it’s what he needs to do. I think you know what you need to do, though, don’t you?”

So much for options. There was really only one thing she could do. “Let him know he’s being a stupid idiot. But, there’s still no way I’m leaving his stupid ass.”

Barbie grinned at her. “See? I always knew you were one of us.”

Cassie turned and started into the house just as she saw the men filing out. She moved in front of Grady. “We need to talk,” she told him.

“I don’t have time,” he said. “We’re leaving first thing in the morning to put a stop to this. And I have to make sure everything’s ready.”

Her heart skipped at that. The last time they’d ridden out to face Henry, she could have lost her son. Could have lost Grady, too, if they’d been caught. If Henry had pointed a finger at him. She didn’t let that fear hold her back, though. “Then, you need to make time. At least for this.”

She put her hands on his face and turned it toward him, going up on her toes so she could reach his mouth. He froze for a moment, then he was kissing her back. “I’m not going anywhere,” she murmured against his mouth. “So when you get back, I’ll be right here waiting.”

He rested his forehead against hers. “I’m sorry,” he said. “Sorry for being so stupid. We’ll talk more when this is over. I promise.”

“I’ll be here,” she said again, stroking his cheek then watching as he walked away.

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Are they going to be able to talk about this? Will it ever actually be over? Is he done being stupid?

A to Z: N is for Never Again

When we last left these characters, Cassie had just had a fairly meaningful and civil conversation with Molly(or Medusa as everyone else calls her). This scene skips ahead a couple days and we see how Icarus is handling things.

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Icarus pounded his fists against the heavy punching bag. It had been a long time since he’d taken his frustrations out on one, but nothing else seemed to be helping lately. Except being with Cassie. If only he could make that a permanent condition.

But, he couldn’t hold back the waves of anger that kept sweeping over him. And he didn’t want those waves to even touch her, not come even close to frightening her. Which meant he’d had to keep his distance as much as he possibly could.

And that wasn’t helping his own state of mind. And so went the vicious cycle he’d been going around the last several days. It needed to end, but he couldn’t find the best point to put the brakes on. If he let Cassie see this violence in him, he’d lose her anyway. But, staying away only made him feel more violent.

He let his arms drop and staggered away from the bag, dropping back against the wall, his chest heaving. “A bit out of shape?”

He spun toward the voice, saw Bull step away from the stairwell, and dropped his hands back to his sides. “Apparently,” he said, a slight wheeze in his voice.

Bull smiled and put one hand against the bag, standing there watching Icarus as he attempted to catch his breath. He undid the gloves and let both of them fall to the floor. He’d pick them up later. Right now he couldn’t even think about it.

“I’m losing her,” he finally said. “He doesn’t even have to do anything, and I’m losing her.” He brushed damp hair away from his face. “I think I’ve lost count of the times I’ve told myself never again. I’d never again let myself love. I’d never again let someone get the drop on me. Never again let Henry Kearns take what I love from me. And it seems I’ve failed every single time.”

“You haven’t failed, Grady,” Bull said. “Not at anything.”

Icarus snorted and pressed his fingers over his closed eyes. He was obviously in bad shape if Bull was using his real name. “Try everything, Bull. I lost Cassie once before. Got pushed out of a job I loved. Never even knew I had a son for eighteen years. The girl I raised was used as a pawn and nearly…” He shook his head instead of finishing that. “Seems everything I’ve done turns into a failure.”

“That’s bullshit, and you know it. You loved Cassie, and at no fault of yours, she was taken from you. And how would you know you had a son when no one damn well told you. You did the right thing even if it did cost your job, and you know that as well. And what Brad did to Birdie, you know that wasn’t your fault either. His agenda had nothing to do with you.”

Maybe not, but he was the one who had brought the boy into their midst, had vouched for him, and he’d turned that on them. “Maybe it was better for them they spent all those years away from me.”

“Now, you’re just being stupid, and that’s not something you’re known for. Seriously, Grady, beating yourself up like this isn’t doing you or them any good. Cassie is worried for you. She wants to be sure that you are okay, that you’re not drowning here by yourself. Does that really sound like someone who is ready to leave you?”

Maybe she should, though. He couldn’t help the thought, even though he knew it was wrong. He pushed away from the wall, stooping to pick up the gloves on his way by.

“I’m not going to let anything happen to them,” he said. “No matter what else comes of it, I’ll never let him hurt them again.”

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Will Icarus be able to keep that promise? Will he figure things out and get off this vicious cycle already?

A to Z: M is for Medusa

Last time we left Cassie and Icarus promising they wouldn’t lose the other. Today we get an even closer look into Cassie’s head and she confesses her fears to an unlikely source.

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Cassie wasn’t sure what to do. It had been a couple days since that story had been printed in the newspaper. Every morning when she came out of her room, Grady was waiting for her. They walked down to have breakfast together, and if he didn’t have to have a meeting with the guys or take a ride somewhere, they spent most of the day together. He did have other responsibilities, though, and she understood that.

Sometimes she preferred it. Sometimes she just wanted a chance to breathe. And that was hard to do when it felt like you were constantly under watch.

But, he did walk her up to her room every night, and he kissed her before telling her good night. Then, she tossed and turned until dawn, thinking about how much she wished they’d take those kisses farther. And what was stopping her? She was no teenager any longer. But, the prospect of taking that step forward was almost as scary as thinking of what Henry was going to do next.

Not that she was going to admit that to anyone. Least of all Grady. He had enough on his mind.

She stepped into the library, grateful she seemed to have slipped away from Damon–Devil according to the tag on his vest and what everyone else seemed to call him–apparently taking his shift as her shadow. And she let out the breath she’d finally had the chance to take. She knew they were trying to protect her, that it was what Grady wanted. But, right now it felt smothering. She just needed some space for a moment.

“You come in here to hide out, too?”

Cassie’s head jerked up, and she stared at the woman who stood at the other side of the room. It took her a moment to place her, as she wasn’t wearing her vest. “Molly.” Everyone else called her Medusa.

Her face twisted up. And Cassie thought that was a flash of pain in the woman’s eyes. But, that couldn’t be right. She didn’t think the other woman ever felt any pain. She was too tough for that.

“Please don’t call me that,” she said. “No one does.”

“I-I’m sorry,” Cassie said. “I’m not…I feel weird using your other names.”

Molly laughed at that. But it didn’t sound as mean as it usually did. “I barely even think of myself as Molly anymore. The last time someone called me that…”

She sighed and ran her thumb over her left ring finger. Which Cassie noted was bare. Had it always been, though? She didn’t have a clue. They’d never really had a conversation before. In fact, she’d been under the impression the other woman hated her for some reason.

“Why did you come in here?” Molly asked her.

“I…I just had to get away,” she admitted. “Everyone’s watching me, and I get it. But, I had to get away to breathe. And forget for a moment that there’s something to be afraid of.” She sucked in a breath. “But, I don’t know how to do that when every minute I feel terrified. Of everything.”

“Except of Icarus.” When Cassie didn’t answer, she asked, “Right?”

“Of everything,” Cassie repeated.

And to her surprise, Molly put an arm around her shoulders and led her over to a set of armchairs. “Usually I’d say you’re better off talking to Raven. She used to do this for a living. But, her and Smoke are off somewhere I think. And I actually know what you’re going through.”

Cassie snorted at that. “Yeah. Sure you do.”

“I know the other guys say I can turn them to stone with a look. But, that’s an attitude I had to cultivate over the years. I wasn’t born with it, and people took advantage of that. People I should have been able to trust. So, yes, I lived in fear for a time. And I found the armor I needed to protect against it. Then, Flint came along.”

Cassie tilted her head at the way Molly’s voice softened on the name. “Who is Flint?”

Her thumb ran over her left ring finger. “He was my husband,” she said. “He was the only one who could get under my armor. And that scared me. For a long time. But, he was always just there.” She sent a sharp look at Cassie. “Kind of like Icarus has been doing with you.” Her lips tipped up then. “I tried to use him to fight the loneliness after I lost Flint, but it never happened. Either he didn’t see me, or he knew what I was trying to do and what it would have done to both of us. But, either way, he never looked at me the way he does you.”

“How long ago did you lose him?” Cassie asked. “Your…Flint?”

“Nearly five years. It was one of the first missions he did with the Riders. They kept me on. Would have for any family left behind, but I have skills as a medic that come in handy, too. But, I’d give anything to have him back even if it meant losing the rest. My advice to you, Cassandra–” Cassie flinched, and the woman’s face softened again– “Sorry, Cassie. Don’t waste a minute. You never know exactly how many more you’re going to have left. Don’t let fear take any more of them from you.”

She pushed up out of the chair and headed out of the library. Cassie just sat there, letting the woman’s words play through her head. When she finally left the library, nearly an hour later, Damon leaned against the opposite wall. Obviously Molly had told him she was in there. He still looked relieved.

“Do you know where Grady is?” she asked.

“He was out talking to Hawk,” he said, his face coloring slightly.

She’d seen him with the other man, the way they were together, and she smiled. “Then, let’s go see our men.”

He smiled back at her then led the way.

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What will Cassie do now? Will she take Medusa’s advice? Or let her fear keep ruling her?

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