Alix looked at Zarina for an explanation. “While Jayce and DJ went to take care of you guys, Devyn had me, Taryn and DJ’s sister take the freedom certificates to the Ritadarion high justice.”
No, that wasn’t possible. “What?”
Zarina smiled. “Well, you know it’s illegal to hold a freed slave as chattel. You can be fined up to ten times their value, and when one of them is a prime virgin female… let’s just say the warden let them go without a fight.”
“I don’t understand. They’re not freed slaves.”
“Oh, yes, they were, too. Your father freed them and you five years ago on Kirovar.” Zarina winked at her.
Alix finally understood what she was saying. “You forged the documents?”
She blinked innocently. “Forgery’s illegal. I would never do anything like that.”
Yeah, right. ‘Cause that would just be wrong.
“Thank you, Zarina.”
Paden paced the floor outside the interrogation room as he tried to think of some way to save Devyn’s life. For hours Merjack had been torturing him, and with his brother’s weakened heart, he knew Devyn couldn’t take much more of it.
Merjack no longer wanted a public trial for Devyn. He wanted to torture and kill him, and then send the tape of it to Devyn’s parents.
He’d sent Darion on to see if he could get a League transfer to get Devyn out of Merjack’s hands. But not a single word had come back from him.
And every second brought Devyn closer to death.
All he could do was wait and pray that his brother held on and didn’t have a heart attack before they could save him.
He heard someone approaching.
Hoping it was Darion with good news, he waited until a group of League soldiers appeared. Sure enough, Darion and Jayce were with them. Relief tore through him as they marched past him and into the room with Devyn.
Darion stopped in front of him and winked.
“What did you do?” Paden asked.
“Nothing. I couldn’t. No one would listen to me.” He indicated the soldiers with his thumb. “This is all from the Overseer’s office.”
Paden scowled at that. The Overseer was the highest authority in the Ichidian Universe. Her will was law, and she ruled everyone, including The League.
“Why is she involved?”
“Alix is a firecracker. I don’t ever want to be on her bad side.”
Shaking his head, Paden followed the soldiers into the room to see Devyn pinned and bleeding against the far wall. Merjack had done a number on him.
The soldiers surrounded Merjack and pushed him away from Devyn.
Jayce cornered him. “Uriah Jonas Merjack, you are being remanded into Overseer custody.”
Merjack’s face flushed with color. “For what?”
“False imprisonment, torture, trafficking in freed slaves and terrorism.”
Merjack was aghast at the charges. “What? Who would dare?”
And it was then that Merjack fully understood as he saw the procession behind the guards. Emperors Nykyrian Quiakides and Caillen de Orczy, along with Darling and Ren Cruel. They led Shahara and Syn into the room.
Yeah, that was the power-player brigade that no one in their right mind would cross.
And at the rear of their company was one lowly slave, who ran to comfort Devyn as soon as she saw him.
Paden shook his head in disbelief at how lucky his brother really was. Because in his heart, he knew that if he were the one chained to the wall, there wouldn’t be a single soul who’d step forward on his behalf.
Not a one.
Paden watched his father run to Devyn’s side while he faded into the crowd. He wasn’t a part of this family and yet, he was morbidly curious about them. So much so that he couldn’t bring himself to leave even though it hurt him to see Devyn with everything he craved.
Alix ran to Devyn’s side while his father released him. “Devyn?”
His eyes were so swollen from his beating that he could barely open them. “Alix?”
She choked on a sob as she hugged him close, grateful that he was still alive. “It’s me, baby. I’m sorry it took so long to get here.”
“Devyn baby?” His mother brushed the bloody strands of hair back from his face. “Can you hear me?”
“I hear you, Mom.”
But his voice was so weak that it made tears sting her eyes. She could kill Merjack for doing this to him.
Syn caught Devyn as Caillan released the hooks that held him to the wall and let him slump against Syn’s side. Nykyrian took Devyn’s other side, draping his arm around his shoulders, and together they headed for the door.
But they didn’t get far before Merjack let out a bloodcurdling scream of rage and indignation. Grabbing the blaster from the soldier nearest him, he leveled it at the three of them.
Alix moved to stand in front of Devyn to protect him at the same time Merjack fired.
But it wasn’t Devyn he was aiming for.
It was Syn.
The next few seconds happened in a blur as someone shoved her and Devyn away and tackled Syn. She and Devyn fell to the floor while Nykyrian pulled out his own weapon. The blast that had been intended for Syn landed solidly into the body that had tackled him.
Merjack was brought down hard by Darion and Jayce.
Shahara’s face went white as she saw her husband on the floor. “Syn?”
“I’m all right.”
As he disentangled himself from his rescuer, Alix gasped as she recognized him. “Paden?”
Syn froze. “What did you say?”
She pointed to the man who’d saved Syn’s life. “That’s Paden.”
Syn carefully rolled him over. His jaw ticced as he saw his son’s pain-contorted face.
Paden was bleeding badly. He’d caught the blast through his abdomen.
Syn cursed foully as he examined the ragged wound. “Why did you do that?”
“I couldn’t let him kill you.”
“Syn!” Shahara shouted. “Devyn’s going into cardiac arrest.”
Alix felt her stomach hit the floor as she cradled Devyn’s head in her lap. Tears blinded her. “Stay with me, Devyn. Don’t you dare die. You hear me? Don’t you dare leave me.”
Syn looked panicked and stricken as he quickly examined Devyn. “The stress has caused another tear in his heart. We’ve got to get him on life support. Immediately.”
Paden reached out and touched Syn’s arm. “He needs a donor.”
“There isn’t one.”
Syn shook his head. “You’re not a match.”
Paden laughed bitterly. “Yes, I am. We’re even the same blood type. Mom lied to you about me. I am your son.”
Syn scoffed. “I did the DNA test myself.”
“No. Her lover doctored the results. He thought you’d leave her if you found out she was cheating on you and believed I was his. After he learned who you were, he refused to have me in his house. Mom hated me from that point on because I reminded her of you and I’d cost her her next meal ticket.”
“Why didn’t you ever tell me?”
“I was angry at you for my birth. Angry at you for making Mom hate me. By the time I realized what an idiot I’d been, I was too embarrassed to apologize.” He looked over at Devyn. “He’s a better man than me and he’s your real son, Dad. Save him.”
Alix watched as the medics came in and put Devyn and Paden on a lift to get them to surgery. She started to go with them.
“This isn’t over!” Merjack shouted, making her pause. “Do you hear me? I’ll get all of you if it’s the last thing I do!”
Something inside Alix snapped at those words as she looked at Devyn’s painful condition. How dare Merjack threaten any of them after all he’d done. There was no way she was going to allow that worthless bastard to hurt or intimidate another innocent person. And before she even realized what she was doing, she grabbed a blaster from the soldier closest to her and opened fire.
The only thing was, she wasn’t alone.
As the sound faded and Merjack lay on the floor in a bleeding heap, there were ten blasters aimed at him: Syn, Shahara, Jayce, Darion, Nykyrian, Darling, Caillen, Vik, Sway, and hers.
“Wow,” Jayce said, “how’s anyone going to prosecute a firing squad? Don’t even think they can tell which shot ended his life since I think we all basically hit something fatal.”
“Don’t worry about it,” Nykyrian said in an emotionless tone. “We have a contract for his life. His death is considered a public service by The League.”
Darion’s eyes widened. “In that case, can I claim it? I want my promotion.”
Syn inclined his head to him. “Take it.”
Because right now they had something a lot more important to fight over.
Alix wiped at the tears in her eyes as she waited for word from Syn about Devyn. They’d been in surgery for hours, and she couldn’t stop herself from crying like a baby.
Gah, what is wrong with me?
But then, she knew. The only man she’d ever loved, the only one who’d ever shown her kindness, was lying in surgery and could be taken from her at any moment. Over and over, she saw his smile and felt his touch.
She remembered every detail of him. How could he have come to mean so much to her so quickly?
And yet if he died… she wanted to die, too.
She choked on more tears.
She looked up as Shahara brought her a mug of hot cocoa and placed it in her cold hands. Devyn’s mother had been amazingly kind and attentive to her. Most of all, she was frighteningly composed. “Thank you.”
Shahara inclined her head. “I really hate hospitals.”
“Me, too.” She took a sip of her cocoa, still awed by Shahara’s composure. “How can you be so calm?”
Shahara’s gaze burned her. “I know my husband won’t let our baby die.”
“But what if—”
“Shh, Alix. There are no what-ifs. Syn will move the universe itself to keep Devyn alive. I have faith in him. Besides, he knows if he fails, I’ll kill him where he stands.”
Now she understood the source of Devyn’s morbid humor. “I’m surprised you’re even talking to me after everything that’s happened.”
“Me, too, to be honest. I’ve never been able to stand any woman my son has brought home.”
“Then why me of all people?”
Shahara smiled gently as she smoothed a piece of Alix’s hair behind her ear. “Because I see a lot of myself in you, and you’re one of us. You put your family first and when Merjack threatened Devyn and Syn, you answered the same way we did. You took the means necessary to stop him. Without hesitation. Most of all, my son and grandson love you. Even Vik and Sway love you, and that’s no easy feat. Vik still hates me most of the time.”
Those words meant a lot to her. “I would laugh if I wasn’t so scared.”
She rubbed Alix’s arm. “I know, baby. But have faith. It took me a long time to learn it. Now I don’t know how I ever lived before Syn catapulted into my life.”
As if in answer to her words, Syn came out of the OR door. Alix couldn’t take her eyes off the specks of blood on his right sleeve.
Devyn’s blood from surgery.
But by his relieved demeanor, she knew Devyn was alive. He went to Shahara and hugged her.
“You think I’d be out here facing you unarmed if he wasn’t?” Syn kissed her forehead. “He’s in recovery and will be back on his feet in a few weeks.”
For the first time, she saw the chink in Shahara’s armor as she wept in happiness.
“What about Paden?” Alix asked.
“I couldn’t kill one son to save another. It took a little bit, but we patched him up. He’s in recovery, too.”
Shahara cleared her throat and regained her composure. “How did you fix Devyn?”
Syn flashed her a grin that reminded Alix so much of Devyn that it sent a chill down her spine. “I am that good, baby. I took parts from Vik and reconstructed another chamber for him. His heart should be stronger now.”
Shahara leaned into her husband as she looked at Alix. “I think you’re definitely right, Syn. His heart is much stronger now.”
Devyn came awake to the worst pain imaginable. He felt as if someone had clawed him into pieces. But as he blinked his eyes open, he was surprised to find Alix beside him, holding his hand.
Her smile dazzled him. “Hey, sweetie.”
He grumbled as more pain throbbed. “What did you do to me?”
“That was your father, hon, not me. He had to do some repair work on your heart.”
He breathed slowly, trying to mitigate the pain. “I take it I lived, though I don’t feel like it right now.”
“Bitch, bitch, bitch. Most people would just be grateful they’re alive after all you went through.”