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    “Ashley?” Fear suddenly intruded, her gaze lifting to his at the thought of the fight her friend had gone through to simply live.

    They had already nearly lost her twice. The wolf and coyote Breed doctors had fought desperately to keep her with them. They had brought her back each time, then sat sobbing with the alpha females of the packs and prides as they crashed from the fear and desperation each battle had wrought.

    “She woke a few hours ago,” he told her. “She was asking for you.” He held her still as she started to rise. “Dr. Sobolov asked that we wait till afternoon to come in and see her. She’s still weak and tires easily. Her transfer back to the Citadel has been delayed again. Del-Rey doesn’t want to risk a setback or any complications. He’s waiting until she’s well enough to travel without the machines helping her to live.”

    “She’s going to be okay?” she whispered, desperate, the guilt of her friend’s injuries flaying her with a harsh lash.

    “She’s going to be okay.” The edge of relief in his voice reassured her now. “Her recovery won’t happen overnight, and as we learned with the feline alpha’s injuries when he took a bullet to the chest over a year ago, it can come with complications as they heal, but she is healing.”

    Tears filled her eyes and slipped down her face despite her battle to hold them back. Malachi wiped them away with the edge of his thumb before laying a kiss at the corner of her lips.

    “It wasn’t your fault, Isabelle,” he whispered, not for the first time. “None of it was your fault.”

    “I should have told someone,” she cried as a sob tore from her. “I should have killed him myself. Something. Anything to have kept this from happening.”

    Malachi shook his head. “Some things you can’t stop, baby. Ashley was running fast and hard toward an unlikely end. This way, it was contained and we were close enough to ensure she got the quickest medical care possible. She’s been so damned reckless over the past few months that her alpha has all but chained her to base whenever possible.”

    Isabelle’s lips trembled. “She just wants to live, Malachi. She wants to experience so much, and she feels there’s so little time.”

    “And she nearly cut that time incredibly short,” he sighed. “Maybe she’ll slow down now. Just a bit.”

    Tucking her head against his shoulder he thanked God again that his mate was safe in his arms. Holden Mayhew had nearly taken her. He had nearly lost her to the depraved research the Council still hungered for.

    “What now?” Isabelle asked. “Where do we go from here?”

    She didn’t want to leave her family, or the Nation, he knew that. And he had no desire to take her from it.

    “We already have a presence here, as well as a sub-base.” He shrugged. “I know Jonas has been looking for someone to head it. I’ve put in a request for the job.”

    She sat up. Sudden, heated happiness filled his senses at the hope that brightened her eyes.

    “We don’t have to leave?”

    “Only when necessary,” he promised. “Only if the danger rises. But I have a feeling your family will ensure I have the help I need to protect you.”

    He knew they would. She was a treasure to them, just as her sister was, and Malachi had found his own acceptance with them. Family, her father had told him. He was now a part of them.

    “I love you, Malachi,” she whispered, bending to him, her hair falling around his face as she brushed her lips over his. “With all my being, I love you.”

    “And I love you, Isabelle,” he swore. “You’re my breath of life. Always.”

    “Always,” she breathed against his lips. “I love the sound of always, Malachi.”

    Always.

    The whispered promise of their hunger, their love and the dreams that had filled their lives.

    It was always.

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