31.3 | Aftermath

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During the silent, tense drive from the base, Nika gazed out the window and saw a headquarters she'd never seen before. It was dark under lockdown, dead as a meadow in winter. The only signs of life were the keepers crawling around on patrols, watching for Volkari or civilians who'd snuck out of their homes.

By the time they reached Lirovin Square, the devastation at Laguna's mansion had been cleared. When Ren stopped the vehicle before Dimitrovich Manor, Nika could no longer bear the chasm of bad choices between them.

Part of her desperately wanted to tell him about her encounter with Dante, but the more she thought about it, the more terrified she became.

She'd heard the wolves speak on that dreadful night when this all began. If it was telepathy, then perhaps he'd been telling the truth—she was a Volkari.

What would Ren think? He hated wolfbloods just as much as anyone. And if she told him that she hadn't known the truth, would he believe her?

Perhaps it didn't matter. Perhaps the damage was irreparable anyway.

Still, she hadn't apologized yet. And that much, at least, was necessary. So she turned to him and said, "I just want to—"

"Don't," Ren interrupted, shaking his head. He sounded almost as weary as he looked.

I'm done with being worried and exhausted all the time.

"You won't even hear me out?"

"I already gave you a chance to explain yourself. You wasted it. So please, get out."

When she didn't move, he reached across her lap, unlatched the door and threw it open.

"Out. Now."

A warning rumbled through the words, daring her to test his patience. Nika unbuckled the seat belt and stepped down. Standing with the door open, she studied his tense posture, twitching jaw, hard eyes. No more than a wounded animal raising its last defenses.

She shook her head. "If I'd known you would take it personally..."

"Personally?" he scoffed. "No, this is about you screwing up the plan and losing Asteroth."

She bristled. Wounded indeed, and taking bites at anything or anyone that came too close. But she knew the words were a lie, and the fact that he'd attempted them only rankled her.

"In that case," she snapped, "I suppose I'm also responsible for Laguna. So maybe they should arrest and execute me."

Nika held her breath, waiting for a response. Waiting for him to admit that he cared, maybe just a little too much.

Of course, she already knew he did. He'd tried to defend her against the Prime Minister. But why wouldn't he admit it?

The air in her lungs grew sour, and Nika exhaled in frustration. Meanwhile, Ren stared out the windshield, silent and seething.

"Your actions are your own, Ren," she said, because it was nicer than slapping some sense into him—which she might have done under different circumstances. "You could've stayed with Elliot, but instead, you chose to abandon him in that house, along with the pendant. So don't pin the blame all on me, or tell me it wasn't personal."

Ren didn't move. As if he was trying to ignore her existence. Heart thundering, Nika found the gall to climb back inside the car.

He flinched. "What are you—"

His words faded into the air when she leaned over the center console and braced a hand on his leg. Something like terror flashed through his features before he slammed his keeper's mask into place.

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