Crimson Wind
reminded him of eagles playing on the wind. She took risks that curdled his blood, for no better reason than to experience the thrills that came with them. She played her cards all in, never holding anything back. But she was a witch, and her powers were substantial. He did not worry about her as he did Max.
    Max never held back, either, but she only had Shadowblade magic to protect her. She was also more inclined to go running into battle with powerful creatures than Valery was.
    He turned off the faucet just as a knock sounded at the outer door. It was Thor.
    He leaned in the doorway, wearing the same flannel shirt and threadbare Levi’s as earlier, but he’d put on a pair of scuffed cowboy boots, and his .454 Super Red-hawk hung on his hip, tied down like he’d stepped off the streets of the Old West. On the other hip was a combat knife.
    “What the hell happened to you?” Thor demanded, straightening as he took in Alexander’s injuries. His eyes went flat and cold, and the air around him seemed to drop twenty degrees.
    Alexander smiled thinly. “I had words with Niko and Tyler.”
    “Who won?”
    “You have to ask?”
    Thor’s shoulder rose in a half-shrug, his temper mellowing. “Not really. But they are not easy opponents. So what did they want to talk about?”
    “They wanted me to swear an oath that I would protect Max.”
    “You didn’t, did you?”
    “No.” Alexander grimaced, feeling hollow inside. “I would do it, do you know that? If I was bound to Horngate, I would swear it and never think twice. But if I have to walk away from this place, I cannot carry that burden with me.”
    “You’d walk away?” Thor’s brows rose. “Old man, I thought you were in this for the long haul.”
    “I am not sure I have a choice. If Giselle will not bind me, what can I do? Sooner or later, they will chase me off or kill me.”
    He thrust to his feet and paced, violence filling him. Thor eyed him warily from beneath his brows, his head lowered in a stance of submission.
    “Max wants to see you,” Thor said.
    “Good for her,” Alexander said, although his blood pounded. “She knows where to find me.”
    “You want me to tell her that?”
    Alexander hesitated only an instant. “Yeah. Tell her exactly that.”
    “You know that’s just going to piss her off?”
    “I am counting on it.” Because she would want to tear him a new one in person, and at least he would get the chance to talk to her face-to-face.
    “Going to make for a fun trip to California.”
    “Just like wresting porcupines.”
    Thor grinned and shook his head, then started to turn away and stopped. He looked at Alexander. “Her family is still living. How long has she been a Blade?”
    “Thirty years.”
    Thor’s mouth fell open. “I’m older than she is. How can she be so ….. Prime ….. after just thirty years? That’s—” He shook his head. “I figured her to be as old as you, at least.” He whistled. “I’m surprised Giselle is letting her go. Family ties? Selange wouldn’t have tolerated anything or anybody that might have divided our loyalties.”
    Alexander knew that very well. It was why he had obtained and hidden a secret phone. “Giselle is not exactly an ordinary witch, any more than Max is an ordinary Prime. Besides, I am not certain Max would stomach that sort of coercion.”
    “Most of us don’t have a choice.”
    “Most of us would not die to make a point. Giselle wants her alive more than she wants to win this particular argument.” Giselle had seen Max die. No. He would prevent it.
    “And yet you’re blowing off Max when she’s asking to see you. Seems like maybe she isn’t the only one willing to be suicidal to make a point.”
    Alexander shrugged. “It is a point worth making.”
    “Your funeral. I’ll go tell her. Do me favor, though, save me a front-row seat for when she breaks your legs and yanks your lungs out your ass.”
    “I have no intention of being her punching bag. I am done

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