While Ren ultimately decided not to put Nika under house arrest, he hadn't been as liberal with his duties as Markos had promised. But she tolerated it, so long as they continued having sparring sessions, which were all that allowed her to stay sane.

During the past several days, Elliot had been gathering information from the companion journal, and Nika was growing impatient. She needed to know what secrets it held. But meeting with Elliot was impossible when Ren tracked her like a falcon ready to nosedive.

She couldn't leave Dimitrovich Manor without him shadowing her every step, and he was all but renting one of the guest rooms while Markos was in Romania.

Nika suspected that her father had even told Ren to live here for the duration of his trip. The thought vexed her. Both men were the smothering type, and somehow, she'd become the sole victim of their combined oppression.

But all of that changed when Ren announced that he, too, would be leaving headquarters for a time. Misha Kovac, the primary investigator of Lu's abduction, had finally acquired a lead, and Ren had been persuaded to join the hunt.

Nika didn't know why his inclusion was necessary, but she didn't question her luck. And when Misha arrived at the manor one evening to whisk Ren away, she barely contained her eagerness.

"I'm looking for Ren Romanovich," Misha said as she answered his knock and ushered him inside.

"He's doing one last security check. Or as I like to call it—fussing."

Misha offered a flat-lipped smile. "He's just dedicated."

"Which is great when he's my dad's keeper. Otherwise, it's just annoying."

Nika invited him to take a seat during the wait, and they settled into opposite sofas in front of the parlor fireplace.

She noted his jeans and plaid shirt. From what she'd heard, he didn't prefer the black-on-black style of most keepers. Which was fine, she supposed. The casual look suited him.

"You aren't used to being thankful, are you?" Misha said.

"I've never had much to be thankful for."

"She says while sitting inside her own mansion." He glanced around and whistled. "Which is quite remarkable, I might add."

It was true, but Nika hadn't let herself enjoy the antique furniture and centuries of history painted and framed on the walls.

"You think the Ministry will let me inherit this place when Markos is gone? Think again."

Despite Misha's natural insouciance, the way he stared almost made her squirm. His eyes resembled murky water streaked with golden lightning. A marine storm.

"Sorry," Nika said, if only to distract herself. "I suppose you're already well aware of my misfortunes."

"Because you're famous or because I'm a halfblood, too?"

She blinked, unsure if the question was rhetorical. People weren't usually so...blunt. And his tone might have even suggested a playfulness to the words.

Before she'd decided what a proper response would be, it was already too late. So they sat in uncomfortable silence until Nika's restlessness got the best of her.

"I should see what's taking Ren so long."

She was halfway out of her seat when Misha held out a hand and said, "Wait. I need to ask you something."

She returned to the sofa. "Okay..."

"What were you doing at the Vigil's base last week?"

For a moment, Nika thought she'd misheard.

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