Kinked (Elder Races, #6)(2)

“You’re a menace just walking down the hall,” said Eva. “Do you know any speed other than one that might get someone hurt?”

“You and me,” Aryal told her on a surge of happiness. “We’re gonna go some day.”

“Let’s make that day today,” said Eva. “We can go right down the hall to the training room. With or without weapons. You pick.”

“Lower your voices,” Pia said irritably. “If you wake up the baby, I’ll take you both down.”

Eva’s expression softened as she looked at the occupant in the cart. Before she could stop herself, Aryal looked too.

And found herself snared irretrievably.

She was astonished at how tiny the baby was. His entire face, in fact most of his head, was smaller than the palm of her hand. He was wrapped tightly in a soft cloth. It looked restrictive and uncomfortable, but she knew absolutely nothing about babies, and he seemed content enough.

Aryal sidled a step closer, her head angled as she stared. Eva made a move as if she would block Aryal, but Pia put a hand on her bodyguard’s arm and stopped her.

The sleeping baby carried a roar of Power in his soft, delicate body. Aryal shook her head in wonder. She hadn’t sensed any of it before now. How had Pia managed to conceal that much Power when she had been pregnant?

The baby opened his eyes. He looked so alive and innocent, and as peaceful as a miniature Buddha. He had dark violet eyes like his mother’s. The color was so deep and pure it seemed to hold all the wildness and mystery of the night sky.

Some vital organ in Aryal’s chest constricted. Her hand crept out to him and hovered in midair as, out of the corner of her eye, she saw Pia twitch.

Comprehension clipped her with an uppercut to the chin.

Pia wouldn’t trust her anywhere near the baby as long as Aryal held on to any lingering resentment or hostility. She wouldn’t teach Aryal how to hold him, and she sure as hell wouldn’t ever leave him in Aryal’s care. Nobody would, which was hideously unfair because Aryal would cut off her own hands before she would do anything to harm a child, no matter who its parents were.

As she struggled with the realization, the baby worked an arm loose from his straightjacket and stuck his fist in one eye. Surprise and confusion wobbled over his miniscule face. With a Herculean effort he managed to jerk his fist to his mouth. He started to suck on it noisily.

That vital organ in Aryal’s chest—that was her heart, and she lost it to him forever.

“Okay,” she said, her voice hoarse.

“What exactly is okay, Aryal?” asked Pia.

Aryal looked at her. Some sort of suppressed emotion danced in Pia’s gaze. Triumph, maybe, or amusement. Whatever it was, she didn’t care.

She said without much hope, “I don’t suppose you would at least consider cutting off the cheerleader ponytail.”

Pia said gravely, “I will consider it. Not very seriously, but I will.”

Aryal met her gaze. She asked straight-out, without posturing or bullshit, “May I come visit him?”

Pia studied her for a moment. “Yes, you may.”

Aryal looked down at the baby again and a corner of her mouth lifted. “Thank you.”

“Don’t mention it.” The baby started to burble plaintively. Pia said, “I think he’s already hungry again. I’d better take him back upstairs.”

She pushed the contraption toward the bank of elevators that would take her up to the penthouse at the top of the Tower. Eva followed Pia, walking backward.

“Don’t you fret none, chickadee,” Eva said in a gentle voice to Aryal. “We still gonna go one day.”

Aryal balanced back on one heel and beckoned her with both hands. Bring it, baby.

She laughed when Eva made a face before spinning to follow Pia and the little prince onto the elevator. Then Aryal turned toward Dragos’s offices and came to a standstill. She couldn’t remember why she had been going to see him in the first place.

Behind her, she could hear the two other women’s whispers clearly just before the elevator doors closed. Pia said, “Behold the Power of the peanut. His body mass may be small, but his influence is mighty. The last holdout in the Tower has officially fallen to him.”

“If you say so.”

Eva sounded skeptical, but Pia had called it. Aryal had fallen in love with that mysterious new person.

Now during her flight, for his sake, Aryal released the last of her resentment into the night.

After all, Pia had only stolen once. While Aryal had been more stubbornly suspicious than anybody, even she had to finally admit that Pia had no real knowledge of Caeravorn’s activities, so it wasn’t as if Pia had actually ever been a career criminal.

Granted, Pia’s theft had been a bad one, but Dragos had not only forgiven her, he had mated with her. And Dragos was not known for his forgiving personality.

If a dragon could do it, so could a harpy, right?

Giving up her hate on Pia for the sake of the baby was one thing, and that was hard enough.

Quentin Caeravorn was an entirely different disaster.

Aryal turned her attention back to her first hate, the one she held close to her own breast and nurtured with all of her strength.

Caeravorn was a career criminal. He was also a “triple threat,” a rare and Powerful mixed-breed creature who was part Wyr, part Elven and part Dark Fae. Aryal didn’t have the details of his family history, but one of his parents had to be full Wyr while the other parent was a half-breed, because his Wyr side was strong enough that he could change into his animal form. That gave him all the status and legal rights of a full Wyr in the demesne.

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