21.5 | Speaking Stones and Guilty Ghosts

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The midday sun gleamed like a diamond as Ren arrived at his apartment complex on the east side of headquarters. Even though the discussion had gone better than expected, he still found himself fretting about Nika and Misha being alone together. He prayed they wouldn't tear each other's heads off.

Ren needed time to think about everything, on top of a shower and decent day's rest. He was prowling through the halls toward his apartment when he turned a corner and spotted Rivers at the other end. A flash of vexation ran through him, but he willed his keeper's mask back into place and slowed down.

Rivers glanced up, then froze in place. "Romanovich. You're back early."

Rivers reeked of booze and blood-whoring, signs of a night spent out. When Nika had claimed the keepers abandoned their posts, Ren was reluctant to believe it. But now...

He closed the gap between, growling, "Explain why I found Dimitrovich Manor unprotected last night. You were supposed to be guarding Markos's daughter."

Rivers scoffed, though Ren could tell that he was trying to conceal his discomfort. "Keepers are meant to protect Serafi. Anyone else would be a waste of good training."

"It was an order, not a suggestion."

"An order... Why do you even care, Romanovich?" He leaned in dangerously close, smirking. "Do you have some kind of halfblood fetish?"

Ren went deathly still, and so did Rivers. One heartbeat, two heartbeats, silence and more silence. Heat seeped into Ren's face, melting his keeper's mask. Scorching through every wall of composure. And Rivers grew paler by the second.

Though he tried to cram it all deep, deep down, Ren Romanovich was a man of passion. It had been his life's endeavor to restrict violent urges, to keep them from taking control. He'd learned to master himself for the most part, but on rare occasions, someone could say just the right thing...

Before he knew it, he'd slammed Rivers into the wall.

A low laugh. "I'll take that as a yes. And I suppose I'd be lying if I said she wasn't attractive. Maybe you can pass her on when you're done."

It took everything—down to the very dregs of Ren's energy—to not throw a punch. Instead, he ground his teeth and snarled, "You're fired."

Ren had to admit, saying those words felt good. Not just because Rivers was an asshole, but because of the guilt. He had to make it right. Somehow, he had to rectify what had happened to Nika. And while it was his own hands that had done the damage, it was Rivers who had left Dimitrovich Manor unguarded, allowing Nika to slip away.

Ren released him and stalked down the hall. Rivers called out, "You have no authority to terminate me. Only the person who signs my paycheck, and seeing as the Minister is still in Romania..."

Ren halted. It was true, he had no authority to take away jobs, but he did have the authority to change them.

So he turned around and said, "Have you ever been to the coast, Rivers?"

"What?"

"Last week, I heard there was a position freeing up on the coast. A nice place for cowards, since it's usually too sunny for the sensitive skin of Inferni, and no wolves have been sighted in a hundred-mile radius."

Rivers stared back at him blankly.

"I may not have the jurisdiction to fire you," Ren warned, "but I can easily organize a transfer."

"But I'm still trying to make a name for myself."

"And?"

"And nothing happens on the coast. How will I become an apprentice to the High Keeper if I'm out there?"

"You'll find out soon enough."

Ren turned away, and Rivers chased him. "Okay, I'm sorry. I shouldn't have—"

"Don't feel obligated to show up for your shift tonight. Paulson will take over for you."

Rivers swung out in front of him, blocking the path. "Please. It won't happen again."

Black ice—Ren felt it slinking through his veins. "Get out of my way."

Rivers stared, his widened eyes rampant with what could only be identified as fear. Then he stepped aside, and Ren prowled the rest of the way to his apartment, slamming the door behind him.

As he tore off his clothes and rushed to the bathroom, he knew it would be a long while before he recollected himself. After a cool shower to soothe his heated blood and several hours of uninterrupted sleep, he would return to Nika and Misha at the manor. And what would happen after that? Would they rescue Luiza? Exonerate Emil? Find themselves in the middle of a war? Part of him didn't want to know. 

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