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it.
A prickle of interest sparkled.  He told you that?
 Yes.
 Why would he tell you that?
 That s how he planned to kill them. He said he would take their shifts from them and get all their thorns. Then they d be defenseless. Killian rather admired the strategy.  Simple, but
effective. Debating was taking too much time.  Do you have some place safe you could hide? Where all the shifters you know would never think to look for you?
 If I did, what would you do?
 I would go to this underground fortress of yours and find Colton.
 He told you about that? Now she was horrified and disgusted.
 I have ways of making him talk.
Giving her a moment to think about it, he got off the ground and continued his pacing. Barely two minutes passed before she stood and called to him with her gaze alone.  If you go, I go.
 I was supposed to save you, not put you right into their hands.
 That s the deal. The only one I m offering.
Nicola was all stubbornness and defiance. This time he was going to lose. Why fight it?  What about them? He nodded to the car.
 They ll disappear.
Shifter women were good at that. Sometimes it was necessary, although they usually ran from werewolves, not their own kind.  Let s go. He smiled wickedly at Colton s mother.  Let s
hunt!
She didn t like his words, but seemed to take them to heart nonetheless. They made good time. It was the middle of the night, but he dropped the two human females and the other shifter
woman in the middle of nowhere literally. Nicola assured him it would be fine; things weren t always as they appeared. The fortress beckoned.
Chapter Twenty-Four
After twisting Nicola from unwilling and horrified into willing and able, Killian followed her lead and they entered the ultimate shifter fortress by following a series of dark passages and
alleys and two noisy pubs until they found what she was looking for: an unguarded entry. Once again, Killian discovered respect for a Dcarie. It was necessary to break in and, fortunately,
shifted claws were better than any set of lock picks.
 Yuck! What a smell, he complained as they stumbled down a narrow and mossy stairwell. The passage was filled with a revolting mixture of sewer gasses, gasoline, stale air and dead
things. Rats. Dead and alive. Disgusting to endure, even for a werewolf.  Jesus Christ, he continued griping.  Was that a dog?
 Best I could do, she replied from behind her shielding hand.  Eww!
The stone tunnel went pitch black. Summoning up his hunting eyes helped considerably, but even they did not work well in the absolute absence of light. The passage glowed with crimson
light. Water flooded the floor two inches deep, rank and polluted.  I m gonna carry you.
 No you re not!
 Okay, fine. Walk, then. But you know& there are rats in here. Some of them dead. Floaters. See?
That worked. No woman liked rats. He scooped her up into his arms and tried not to take her revulsion personally.
Killian let instinct guide him. Whichever passage smelled better he followed, thinking the worst smelling ones were likely dead-ends holding in the stench. Filthy water revolted him as it
lapped up his legs. If he was anything, it was fastidious. After about fifteen minutes of touring the depths of Hell, the water was gone, the air fresher and the tunnel wider.
 You can put me down now, Nicola complained.
 No, he answered back.  I like fondling your nice ass.
 You re disgusting!
 So I ve been told. And it s entirely true. To be annoying, he squeezed the flesh in his palm and let her go, but kept her hand.  Hold tight. I don t think you want to get lost down here.
Agreeing, she followed easily. Damn, but her hand was so soft and tiny in his it was shocking. He d already grown used to holding a larger hand.
Finally! A light glowed dimly ahead.
 Let s try there, she said.
 How soon before they sense me?
 Already have, she said wryly.  I imagine they ll think you re above them, not down here.
 Splendid. An iron gate barred their passage to the light. Stronger than the last one, it required ten minutes of clawing to free the gate s hinges from the stone and mortar it was encased in.
But he was patient. Goddamn bloody patient! Not. Now all he had to do was get through the very heavy steel door behind the light twenty minutes. Tops!
 Don t suppose you have a key?
 I have something better.
 Yeah?
 My name.
 Well, fuck, he griped.  You coulda told me. Then,  Nicola?
 Yes?
 You know I m gonna have to kill, don t you?
Indeed, she did. Her face was as readable as Colton s.  Yes.
 They might be& people you know.
 I may know them, but they re not my friends, are they?
 Fair enough. But if it bothers you, just remember they tried to hunt Colton to his death. Planned it and then watched him suffer, proud and basking in their corruption.
 Don t let them get you.
 Is that, like, a pep talk?
 All you re gonna get. I don t like you. I can t believe I have to rely on one of you to do what should have been done years ago.
 Thanks, Mom.
When she stopped shuddering, he kissed her cheek. Before he made her physically ill, he shoved her toward the door, finally letting go of her hand.  Back off, she advised before flipping
open a small keypad comprising only a single button.  Don t be seen.
Creeping into the shadows, he tamped down his red eyes and waited for Nicola to work her open sesame magic and get the door open. Truly, it took only her name and the door opened
electronically. Killian guessed they d have about ten seconds before something with big teeth greeted them. Once again he was busy peeling off his clothes, heaping them and their filth by the
door before they entered.
No one greeted them at the door. Except cameras and whatever electronic surveillance was employed. It would be soon.
 If we find your husband, or anyone else trustworthy, make sure you tell them not to attack the silver-backed werewolf.
She gave him a slight smile.  I ll do that.
 Uh-huh.
 I will.
 Ladies first.
 Aren t you chivalrous.
 I ll protect you.
 I m sure.
 To the death, he said, altogether serious.
Stopping in her tracks she turned and looked at him.  Really?
 Yes. I promised your son.
Evidently Nicola knew the way, or at least knew how to decipher the color-coded stripe he suddenly noticed discreetly painted on the walls. Keeping close, prepared to shove her behind
him at the first sign of trouble, he let her take him deeper into the shifter headquarters.
 Why is nobody coming? he asked.
 Something s wrong, she whispered back.
 Good.
They came to a four-way fork, three directions to choose from.  This way, she said, following the blue line.  Important hearings are usually held in the main chamber. It s open to an
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