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She took another drag on the electronic cigarette, that memory causing her pain. It had been the last anniversary they\d shared, right before the new tumor had been found. His blond hair had just grown in again after rounds of chemo, and they\d been sure he\d stay in remission. Two months later it had come back with a vengeance and he\d died within five months. She pushed away the image of him in his hospital bed, struggling to take his last breaths. It hurt too much.

The wind stirred and she glanced up at the tree branches next to the short wall that enclosed the small backyard. The moon hung high in the dark sky. She tucked her robe a little tighter over her lap, against the chilly air. Her bare feet rested on another chair. She lifted the e-cigarette to take another drag, but it never reached her lips. A large hand wrapped around hers, freezing it inches from her lips.

Dana glanced up, expecting to see her brother. It came as a shock when she stared into a pair of catlike blue eyes. Mourn still sported the bandage on his forehead, but he\d changed clothes. He wore a black, long-sleeved shirt and matching black cargo pants. Her heart rate slowed as she realized he\d come to talk to her after all.

’’That\s bad for you.’’ His voice was as deep as she remembered.

’’I know. I only picked up the habit after my husband died. He would have hated me smoking since he never did it, but I was kind of grief stricken. It\s an addictive habit. I stopped, but sometimes if I have a bad day, I\ll use one of these vapor things instead.’’

He frowned.

She decided to change the subject. ’’Were you released, or did you break free?’’

He pried the e-cigarette from her fingers and placed it on the table. ’’They\d have had to use chains if they expected me to spend the night at Medical.’’

’’Would you like to sit down?’’

He glanced around. ’’No.’’

’’Is security going to come looking for you? We could go inside.’’ She stood. ’’My brother and his wife already went to bed. They won\ hear us as long as we talk quietly.’’

’’Not here.’’ His gaze searched the darkness beyond the yard. ’’Will you come with me?’’

He was a stranger. That wasn\ why she hesitated though. He had lost the woman he loved, and he\d sought her out. He needed a friend, someone to talk to, and she wanted to be there for him. ’’I need to change my clothes first. I\m in my pajamas under this robe.’’

He studied her then. ’’We aren\ going far, and no one will see us. They might look here since they knew you spent time with me.’’

Dana made a quick decision. ’’Let me at least grab shoes. I\m barefoot.’’

’’There\s no need.’’

She gasped when he moved suddenly, scooping her into his arms and right off her feet. It was the last thing she\d expected. He strode to the low wall and just jumped, clearing the three-foot-high brick yard enclosure. She automatically wrapped her arms around his neck when he landed, jarring her. The last thing she wanted was to be dumped onto the grass.

It was a little frightening to be carried off by someone she didn\ know, but she managed to push down the panic. Paul always said good things about New Species. He had told her dozens of times that they were way better than regular people, that there was no crime amongst New Species, and that they were honorable. Her brother\s words rang through her mind as she took slow, steady breaths. Mourn probably didn\ realize it wasn\ appropriate to carry her off into the night.

’’Where are we going?’’ She turned her head and stared as the dim lights from Paul\s back patio grew more distant. He lived right next to a park. She hadn\ explored it so wasn\ sure how large it was.

’’You\ e safe with me,’’ Mourn whispered. ’’I\m just taking you far enough away for privacy without the officers finding us.’’

Dana lowered her voice. ’’Okay. Are they searching for you?’’

He uttered a low growl. She took the frustrated sound as a yes.

The wind blew harder in the open area without the house to block some of it. Her robe was silky and paper thin. It was also short, reaching just to mid-thigh. A lot of her bare legs were exposed, but she wasn\ worried that Mourn would leer at them. He\d lost the woman he loved and grieved her loss. He wasn\ some creep. He was in mourning.

He stopped and turned, carrying her toward the dark shape of a low-hanging tree. When they reached it, he bent and gently placed her on the lowest branch, just a few feet from the grass. She released his neck and adjusted her robe. He crouched in front of her so they were face level.

’’Does it get better? I feel so much pain.’’

The anguished tone of his voice killed the last of her fears. ’’Yes. When did you lose her?’’

’’She was ill for a long time and lingered. She died months ago.’’ He paused, keeping his face in the shadows so she couldn\ see his expression. ’’The pain doesn\ ease, and I\m angry.’’

’’At her,’’ she guessed. ’’She left you. It\s normal.’’

’’No.’’ He snarled. ’’The humans made her sick. They tested drugs on her that destroyed her internal organs. She couldn\ recover, even on the healing drugs. They just kept her alive longer. She fought hard to live, or she would have died sooner. She was brave.’’

Dana guessed it had something to do with Mercile Industries. She\d read enough about the pharmaceutical company to know they\d done horrible things to New Species, and had used them as test subjects for their experimental drugs. That\s why they\d created them. ’’Were the ones who did that to her arrested?’’

’’They were caught.’’ He lowered his tone. ’’It didn\ help. I\m still enraged.’’

’’I don\ blame you. That\s normal too.’’ She wrapped her arms around her waist and hugged her middle. The chilly breeze seemed to blow right through her robe. ’’So is the guilt that I\m guessing you feel because she suffered. My husband clung to life, regardless of the pain he was in. He didn\ want to leave me. I think he fought so hard to keep breathing every day just because he knew I\d be devastated when he died. He had cancer and it spread to his liver, kidneys and lungs.’’

Mourn kept silent.

’’I feel guilty,’’ she offered. ’’It would have been so much easier if he\d just accepted the pain medication near the end and stopped submitting to every treatment they wanted to try. We both knew it wouldn\ work, but neither of us wanted to face that. It was too heartbreaking. How can you give up when you know you\ e about to lose the person you love most in the world? That\s what we were both thinking.’’

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