Volume 2 of the Something in the Water series arrives Tuesday, January 30!

Chapter 26: Tough Talk [Slapshot!]

Chapter 26: Tough Talk [Slapshot!]

The lights were glaring, burning down into his eyes, but Luke stared up at them, refusing to look anywhere else.

He was pretty sure he’d puke if he looked at the infuriating faces of anybody standing in the room.

Mason—well, he was probably the most sympathetic figure right then and there, his head bowed, his expression glum, his eyes sorrowful, but it was too little too goddamned late. Luke hadn’t told him because he wanted Sean to know. He hadn’t even really wanted to tell the Knights player.

It would have been better if this had been his sick little secret, forever his and his alone. After all, nobody else needed to know what had happened to him. And it was up to him to deal with it—this time and the time before that and whenever it happened again.

It would happen again, that much he was sure of. It seemed inevitable.

Sean was sitting on the window sill, swinging his foot. His arms were folded across his chest, and he was holding his jaw tight, afraid of coming unhinged and bawling someone out. Luke wondered if he regretted calling 911 yet, if he regretted sending Luke to this hell hole.

“So you’re saying that he raped you,” the doctor drawled, dispassion evident in both her tone and her face. Her mouth was drawn down in disgust, her eyes darting between him and her notes.

“Yes,” Luke said, gritting his teeth. Sean had been quite adamant that Luke needed to tell them that. Luke had been all for pussy-footing around it, denying that it had been rape per se, maybe more like he regretted it or it had been a little too rough.

It would have been much easier than … this.

“Did you fight back?” She was clicking the end of her pen—in and out and in and out.

“Yes,” Luke replied, closing his eyes because they were twitching. If it was annoyance or the light, he wasn’t entirely sure.

“Hnnn,” she said, then inhaled. “How big was this guy? Your injuries don’t really suggest a struggle …”

Of course they didn’t. He’d had six broken ribs and a punctured lung last time, and that hadn’t been indicative of a struggle. He clearly hadn’t fought back.

“He’s a hockey player,” Luke said, “big guy. Probably about his size.” He pointed to Sean, because the older alpha was slightly more intimidating than mopey Mason.

“Uh-huhn.” He could hear her upper lip curling in disdain. “And you didn’t want this to happen? You wanted to get away?”

“Yes,” he sighed, rolling his eyes up to the ceiling.

“Hmmm.” He glanced at her, and she was looking at him, evaluating. She didn’t believe a goddamn thing coming out of his mouth. Her brows knitted. “A man of your … stature. You could have got away if you wanted to. If you were desperate.”

Luke clenched his jaw. Yeah, that sounded about right—it hadn’t been rape because he hadn’t tried hard enough. He could have gotten away from Jake. He could have fought him off. He could have kicked his ass—and he would have, if he’d really been desperate. If he really hadn’t wanted it to happen …

Never mind that he just kind of froze up, never mind it was horrifying and he’d been hurt before, beaten up before, and sure, that had been the whole effing hockey team, but alphas …
Scared him.

And maybe what scared him most was how scared he was, how much he wanted to do right. Just bow his head, nod, suck someone’s cock, get them to leave him alone. Just do it, let himself be violated, to save himself from …

This. From broken ribs and a punctured lung. If it was going to happen—and it was—then …
“Sure,” he said at last. “I guess.”

She considered him for a moment. Sean frowned at him. “Did you really want to get away then?” she asked.

Sean whirled on her, his gaze narrowed and angry. “Are you insane?” he spat.

She gave him a bored look. “Plenty of omegas do this,” she said, “they get all excited about being bossed around, then they do something they regret.”

Sean stared at her for a moment, then scoffed loudly. “Are you kidding me? Are you trying to say he just … he’s just making it up, lying through his teeth ‘cause he … made a mistake?”

“Sure,” she said, “happens all the time.”

She flipped a couple of pages in Luke’s chart. “Annnd, says here this one’s done it before. Took some inducers and incited …”

Her eyebrows went up. “Wow.”

Luke turned to Sean. “Do you get it now?” he snarled. “Why I didn’t want to come here?”

“Luke—”

The dark-haired omega held his hands askance. “They think I’m lying. They think I’m just a fucking slut who can’t keep his legs shut and then I have a pang of conscience and regret what I did. So I lie about being traumatized, raped.”

He shook his head. “Same shit happened the last time too,” he muttered. He stared at the thin hospital sheets for a second, the hole in the blanket, then lifted his gaze to the doctor. “You fuckin’ change that note—I didn’t give myself any goddamn inducers.”

She shook her head. “My job isn’t to rewrite the past, okay? You did what you did.”

“And I didn’t do that! You think I wanted to end up bleeding out on a locker room floor? You think I wanted a bunch of fractured ribs, a punctured lung, lying there, can’t fucking breathe and—”

“Sir,” she said, “I’m not a psychologist. Some omegas like pain.”

Sean slid off the window sill. “Is there another doctor on duty?” he asked. “Someone who reasonably gives a shit about this kind of stuff?”

Laughter, bitter and painful, bubbled up from Luke’s throat, unbidden. He clapped a hand over his mouth.

The other three turned to look at him. “Sorry,” he said, “it’s just … that’s funny. Nobody gives a shit, Sean.”

“I do,” the older alpha spat back, “I’m very upset that another alpha accosted you in the hallway and had his way with you and—”

“Maybe you should keep better tabs on him then,” the doctor said.

Sean lifted a hand.

“Please don’t hit the doctor,” Mason said, effectively grinding everyone to a halt. He hadn’t said anything since he’d been there—he was uncharacteristically quiet. “Look, Sean, you know how difficult it is to get charges pressed—just. Can we focus on … I don’t know, like, is Luke still bleeding?”

“Profusely,” Luke replied.

“Can we focus on that?!” Mason pinched the bridge of his nose. “Like, I don’t give a fuck—what happened, happened. Can we please make sure he is going to be physically okay?”

“His mental health is just as important—”

“And you think this is helping?! You think sitting here, getting grilled, being accused of outright lying, of making this all up, of being a whore—is helping?!” The younger alpha laughed—a dark, incredulous noise. He shook his head at Sean. “Get a grip,” he spat. “Call me when we’re ready to talk about if he needs stitches or prescriptions filled or something.”

He turned on his heel and stalked out of the room, Sean hollering after him, “He needs justice, Mason, and you fuckin’ know it!”

Luke groaned and dragged his hands down his face. “Sean—can you listen to Mayday for once? Please? I don’t care right now—I’m tired and I just … wanna go to sleep.”

Sean considered the omega for a moment, then turned back to the doctor. He licked his lips. “Look,” he said slowly, “these two … they’re teammates.”

She bowed her head a bit. Luke wanted to tell him to shut up—that was only going to make her speculate more about how Luke had likely wanted it.

“This is gonna happen again,” Sean said. “So I need that guy off the team. Now.”

“Sir, I—”

“No,” he said, “you can do this. You can write down in your little notebook that the victim was raped, and you can take some swabs, and you can get me the evidence I need to get this guy up on charges and suspended from the league.”

She shook her head. “Sir, I can’t do that, that’s lying, that’s putting someone’s livelihood in danger—”

“How much do you want? Name your price. I’ve got the cops in on it too. Just tell me a number, anything—”

“Sean, seriously—”

“No, Luke, you shut up. It’s either this or you don’t get to play hockey any more. Do you want that? Do you want to stay home and be a good little house-omega?”

Luke shut his mouth with a click, pressed his lips together tight.

Sean nodded. “That’s what I thought. So those are your options.”

“Fine,” Luke muttered, “asshole.”

The alpha turned back to the doctor, who was shaking her head still. “Sir, I can’t accept any money from you—that’s illegal—”

“So is raping someone.”

She actually cracked a smile, her so-white teeth showing against her too-tan skin. Her dark locks tumbled over her shoulder as she kept shaking her head. “Sir—”

Sean fixed her with a look. “And Luke Mackinnon was raped,” he said.

Luke clenched his fists around the blanket, tugged on it. He hated that phrase. Hated it.
He hated that it was true.

He stared at the wall, Sean’s deal-cutting fading into the background as he struggled to keep himself grounded in the here and the now. He wanted to puked. He wanted to scream. He wanted to cry. He wanted to punch Jake’s teeth straight down his throat and—

He screwed his eyes shut and drew a shuddering breath. Breathe. Right, he had to remember how to breathe.

That phantom pain, curling around his ribcage again, stabbing him through the lungs, like he was drowning, until he was gasping for breath and he couldn’t, he couldn’t breathe—

“Luke? Luke, are you okay?”

He gritted his teeth and tried to look Sean in the eye, but he wanted nothing more than to curl up in a miserable ball and hide. He never wanted anyone to look at him again.

He clutched at his side. “I’m fine,” he said, forcing himself to inhale, then exhale. Then inhale. Then exhale again.

He nodded a couple of times, as though to emphasize that he was okay. Very slowly, Sean released him. “All right,” he said, “you’re okay. You’re good.”

“Yeah,” Luke panted, “fine. I’m fine.”

He heaved a couple more breaths, then glanced at the doctor, then back to Sean. “I’d … really, really like to … rest now. Okay?”

“Yeah,” Sean said, “yeah, that’s fine. We’ll … step out.”

“Thanks.” It hurt to grin like that, and he knew it looked like more of a grimace.

The doctor glanced at him a couple of times, but they stepped away, drawing the curtain after them. Luke sank down deeper under the bedding, dragging the threadbare blankets over his head.

He knew he wasn’t going to sleep, not tonight.

*
“So,” Mason said, glancing up at Sean as the older alpha stepped into the waiting room. He didn’t move from the stained chair he was slumped in, just glared at Sean.

“So?”

Mason glanced toward the window, then back again. “Are you happy now?” he asked. “You sent Luke here against his will and got him all but interrogated by an unsympathetic medical staff.”

“I got my charges pressed,” Sean said. “Watson won’t know what the fuck hit him.”

Mason shook his head. “I don’t think that really matters to Luke, Sean—”

“It matters to me, and it should matter to you. Luke’s not safe with that creep around—nobody is. Maybe the charges’ll stick, and he’ll go to jail. It’ll be safer.”

Mason let his gaze rake up and down his former captain’s form, hoping his incredulity was clear on his face. “That was safe?” he asked. “You think being dragged in here, in front of a bunch of people who think he made this up, is safe for him?”

“Safer than letting Jake fucking Watson run around having his way with my omega.”

“Your omega?” Mason scoffed. “Your omega.”

Sean considered him for a moment, then said, “Well, you’re sure as fuck not keeping him safe, Jarhead.”

“Like you are?” Mason snapped. “Like I ran all the way up to Boston to tell you to look out for him and you didn’t fuckin’ believe me, Sean? Like I broke down and asked you to help because I was scared about what might happen to him, and I knew I wouldn’t make it in time, like I told you what happened to him—what he told me in complete confidence—because I needed you to believe me so you’d help me keep him safe?!”

He kicked at the older alpha’s shin. He threw his hands in the air, then slumped lower in his seat. “And yet here we are. I was too far away, too late, and he got hurt anyway—and it’s all my fault.”

He chewed at his lip. He hadn’t been so pissed in a long time. He felt sick and dizzy, weak at the same time he felt like he could crush something, someone. He felt like he was on fire, burning up, guilt dousing him like oil.

If only he’d stayed in DC. If only he hadn’t bothered asking Sean to help. If only he hadn’t been concerned about Dima, if only he’d worried about Jake, if only he hadn’t said anything about what had happened, if …

He shut his eyes.

Sean slung himself into the chair beside him, the flimsy thing rocking as he did so.

“I wanted to keep him safe,” Mason said, hating how his voice was choked, his throat tight and raw. He gritted his teeth.

“Mason,” Sean sighed.

“And I tried, Sean, I fuckin’ tried and—”

“I know, Mayday.”

“He’s pissed at me, isn’t he?”

Sean was silent for a moment. “I think,” he said after some thought, “he’s mad … about a lot of things right now. Mad at you. Mad at me. Mad at that fuckin’ doctor—”

“Sean—”

“But … I dunno. I think he’s a lot of other things right now too. Hurt. Upset. Confused. And … not just angry. And dealing with a lot of other shit, focusing on other things.”

Mason bowed his head. “So he’ll get over it?”

“Oh, no,” Sean said, a note of glee in his voice, even as he shook his head. “Not even close—you betrayed his trust big-time. I’m just saying right now, that’s not what he’s concerned with. Give him a couple of days, maybe a few weeks, and yeah, he’ll be pissed.”

“Thanks,” Mason spat. “Real reassuring. Is this how you talk to your kids when they come to you for advice?”

“Mmhm, no. My kids generally talk to their mother about this kind of stuff.”

“I can’t imagine why.”

“Then again, neither of my boys have ever been involved with an omega. And both of them are married now, so I kinda hope it’ll stay that way.”

Mason snorted. “Well, you know how that ended up for you.”

“You know how hard it is to resist the siren call of an omega.”

Mason rolled his eyes toward the ceiling. “Mmhmm, but if it hadn’t been Luke that night, it would’ve been me.”

Sean huffed. “I never said I was proud of that.”

Mason eyed him. “Y’know. They talked about you. After you left.”

“Unsurprising.”

“Painted a pretty unflattering picture of you. An older dude in an unhappy marriage, all this money and fame, but so deeply unsatisfied, looking for something … anything, fucking around with kids half your age, taking advantage of how star-struck they were …”

Sean sighed heavily. “I’m not proud of that, Mason, I said that—”

Mason watched him. “You did that to me. Y’know. You were always my favorite player when I was growing up—I had your jersey, your hockey stick, your trading card. You probably don’t remember meeting me—you were at the Hall of Fame, doing some charity thing.”

He dipped his head, trying to hide the smile that rose to his lips. “I got you to sign a book. I still have it—only book I own.”

He sobered again. “Luke and me, we’d get into fights about who got to wear your number. He was older, so he won a lot.”

His brows knitted. “Now that I’ve played with you though—worked with you … I dunno. I don’t think I’d ever wear your number.”

“Good thing the Knights retired it then, hm?”

Mason closed his eyes as the grin lifted to his lips. “You are such a cocky bastard.”

He was silent again for a moment. “I mean …”

“They always say not to meet your idols, Mayday.”

Mason shook his head. “I kinda wish I’d never met you,” he murmured. “Like … yeah, I dunno. It was a honor to play with you but …”

He chewed at his lip. “When I think about that night … I have to wonder, Sean. Would you have … ?”

“Yeah,” the older alpha admitted, almost easily, “I would’ve.”

Mason got to his feet. “Well,” he said, “glad to know what they said about you wasn’t all just gossip. I’m gonna go grab the keys from Luke.”

“You’re not going back to his place.”

Sean lifted his brows, as if to emphasize his point

.
Mason snorted. “Kinda have to—all my shit is there. Clothes, credit card, ID—where am I going?”

“Mayday, the police are still swabbing that place for evidence.”

Mason glanced around. “So? Where am I going then, Sean? I’m not staying here all night.”

“I’ll call room service, they can bring up a cot.”

The younger alpha rolled his eyes. “Oh, what? You’re not gonna invite me into your bed after this little heart to heart about how you once wanted me? Or are you just gonna wait ’til I pass out?”

Sean flipped him the bird. Mason shook his head. “Tell ya what—I’m calling Linnea, I’m pretty sure she’s still in DC. If I have to choose, I’d rather sleep with her.”

“Some alpha,” Sean sneered.

“Like you’re any fuckin’ better.”

He yanked out his phone and headed down the hallway. It was almost deserted at this hour. All Mason could hear was his own footfalls echoing along the corridor. He scrolled through his contacts, looking for Linnea’s number.

One click and he lifted the phone to his ear. “Yo, Linny.”

*
Katya looked distressed, if Linnea wanted to summarize things in a neat and tidy way. The Russian model was drawn through the face, her lips pursed and bloodless. Her eyes were bloodshot, her hair, disheveled.

She looked wild when she landed her clammy hands on Linnea’s shoulders and shook her, hissing, “We cannot do this, we must stop it, Linnea.”

The blonde shook her off. “Do what?” she asked, but she knew.

Katya’s eyes seemed to widen, emphasizing her ghastly appearance. “We cannot send Dima after this … omega of yours, we must not.”

“I do not understand. This is your idea, Katya, so why …”

The dark-haired woman shook her again, harder this time. Her hands dug into her shoulders. Linnea batted her away; she had a shoot tomorrow. Bruises would not do.

“Your omega, he is with someone already—it is not right for us to break them up! Not for Dima, and not for you.”

Linnea felt her upper lip curling. “Really?” she snarled. “You think of this only now? Katya, two days before, you say this is fine, this is okay, you will help me get him. Now you say we cannot. Which is it?”

Katya shook her head. “Linnea—you must stop,” she said, her tone full of sorrow and pain, “please. You must not chase man who cannot be yours.”

“Do not be ridiculous—he is not mated, he is—”

“He is gay, he says this, yes?”

Linnea paused. “Well,” she said.

Katya sighed heavily. “Syoma, he has said this as well.”

Linnea felt all of the muscles in her face slacken. She stared at Katya for a good, long moment, then said, “This is not about me, this is about you!”

Katya jerked her head up. “No!” she cried. “Linnea—I have just thought how bad a thing we are doing. Listen, I have talked to Syoma lots, said let us go on a date, and he always says he is gay. He does not like women. And tonight, he says he is bonded.”

Linnea turned her back on the other girl, stalking away. “You are stupid,” she muttered, “this is not about me at all.”

“It is the same thing!”

“It is not!” She whipped back around. “My omega has not said he is gay! He is not bonded! It is not the same, Katya, so do not pretend it is!”

She stood there, pointing her finger at the slack-jawed Russian like she was going to shoot her. Katya took a breath, then pressed her lips together again. Linnea glared at the clock on the wall. “You do this always,” she muttered, “make things about you when they are not.”

Katya’s eyes narrowed dangerously. “What do you …”

“You do not like Mason, because he reminds you of Aleks. Now you say I cannot have the omega because you cannot have Syoma. My life is not yours, Katya.”

“You …”

She cut herself short. Silence reigned between them, long and loud, before the chiming of midi file bells rang out. They stared at each other for a moment. Then Linnea picked up the phone.
She frowned, then lifted her brows. “Mason?” she asked.

“No,” Katya snarled, “you put that down. Hang up.” She grabbed for the device.

The Swede batted her away, pressing the phone harder to her ear. “What? You need somewhere to stay?”

“No,” Katya snarled again, then shook her head furiously at the other model. Linnea eyed her, then whirled about.

“Yes, of course. I will meet you downtown soon.”

Katya grabbed her wrist, yanking her back as she started for the door. “You must not,” she hissed.

Linnea shook her off. “I am going,” she said, “and I will have that omega, one way or another.”

She slipped on her shoes, grabbed her purse, and stomped outside, slamming the door behind her. She had about fifteen minutes until she had agreed to meet Mason at one of the downtown hotels.

*
“So,” Aleks said, glancing about, “where did Katyushka go?”

Dima drained his glass, then set it back on the table. “I think a better question is where you went,” he asked, quirking a brow at the older Russian’s rumpled hair and untucked shirt.

Aleks just winked and laughed. “For me to know,” he chortled.

“Hm,” Dima said, glancing away.

“But,” Aleks said, leaning in, “let us talk business. You want to seduce this teammate of yours.”

“Yes,” Dima replied evenly. It wasn’t necessarily the truth, but it would be better than letting Katya reveal his secrets to all and sundry.

“So,” Alek said, “you are bad at flirting. So, I tell you what you will need to do. You will have practice tomorrow?”

“Morning skate, yes.”

“So, when he is there, you tell him something nice—a compliment. Like … nice shot.”

“Nice shot,” Dima echoed, lifting his brows.

“Yes, and then you say something like, ‘I think you like to score.’”

Dima frowned. “Really?” he asked. “You want me to throw stupid pick-up lines at him?”

“Yes—but no. It is not pick-up line, Dima. It is funny—yes? You are joking, of course. He will laugh, you will laugh. Is nice.”

“Hmm …”

“So, then you make a few jokes like this. And then, this omega, he begins to think, this Dima, he is a cool guy. We should hang out more.”

“Okay …”

“But because he is omega, he will not ask you. So you do this for three, four days. Every time you see him, you make these jokes. Talk a little. Tell him nice things. He will want more and more to hang out—and then, you will say like, hey, do you want to grab a drink, or a coffee, and he will say yes, because he has been waiting for this.”

Dima drummed his fingers on the table. This was sounding like a lot of work. “So,” Aleks said, “then, you go to get drinks. And when you are alone, you look very serious, like this.”

Aleks sat up a little straighter, clasped his hands in front of him and glanced about. “And then,” he said, leaning forward, “you lean across the table, like this, and you let your voice get very, very quiet.”

Dima was shocked to discover that he had leaned in toward Aleks, as though they were magnetic. “Yes,” he said, sitting back again.

“And then,” Aleks said, “you tell him something very nice—that you love his eyes, the way he becomes so serious when he focuses on the puck. The power in his wrists when he takes shot. Something like this—and then you say, you think about this, you cannot get him out of your head.”

Dima blinked a couple of times. “And then what?” he asked.

“Then you tell him him what you think he must look like in bed—his hands tied above his head, muscles straining as he tries to escape. Or maybe you think about what it is like to stare into his eyes as you make him come.”

Dima pulled a face. Aleks started to laugh. “What?” he chuckled. “You want your teammate, but you do not want man?”

Dima huffed and looked away. “I just … had not thought of this before,” he murmured.

He glanced sidelong at Aleks. “Have you done this before?” he asked.

The older man grinned wickedly. “It is tested, trust me.”

Dima nodded, licked at his lips. “All right,” he said slowly, “I will do as you say.”

“You will not regret it.”

Dima had a funny feeling he would.

*
Ty fell out of bed with the shrilling of the alarm, landing in a heap on the floor. He winced a little, then laid there for a moment, staring up at the ceiling.

That wasn’t his alarm. It was his ringtone.

With a sigh, he picked up. “Hello?”

“Heyyyyy,” Gabe drawled.

Ty rubbed at his eyes. “Seriously?” he asked. “You’re calling me?”

“I am a little drunk right now, yes, but you did not answer me. So I decided to call.”

“Oh,” Ty said, his heart tripping into his throat and choking him. “I, uh … figured you’d be asleep, thought I’d get back to you in the morning.”

“You did get them! What do you think? I would like to see the good things in DC.”

“Uh, sure, I guess. I mean, yeah. I know a few places.”

“And when you come to Boston, I will return the favor.”

Ty wandered into the hall, checked the thermostat. It was suddenly way too warm in his house. “Um, sure. That sounds … nice.” His voice was warbling a little.

“Ja? You … do not sound so sure.”

“Um,” Ty said, rubbing at the back of his head, “well, it’s just … like. Um. We’re in the playoffs, and our teams are playing each other right now, so …”

“That is on the ice,” Gabe said airily.

“I just don’t wanna get you in trouble,” Ty blurted.

“Trouble? Who would get me in trouble? Off the ice is no concern.”

Ty bit his lip. He looked at the clock, rubbed at his eyes. It was late, but … he hadn’t slept that well, and Gabe was still awake …

“Do you wanna come over?” he asked.

“Huh?”

He was gonna need to turn the thermostat down again. “Like. Now. Do you want to come over to my place?”

“I … yes. But are you not sleeping?”

“Ehhh,” Ty sighed, “some stuff went down. I think it’s gonna be a long night.”

“But are the trains running?”

“Huh? Hm, oh, good point. I guess not. Sorry.”

“It is okay,” Gabe replied. “But … we can talk. You said something has happened?”

Ty sighed heavily and leaned back against the wall. “Yeah,” he murmured, “a couple of my teammates … got into a bit of a fight.”

“A physical fight? With fists?”

“Ehhhh, you could … say that.”

There was a long pause. “Or something else has happened,” Gabe surmised, and the edge in his voice implied that he knew exactly what had happened.

Then his voice got lower, so much lower that it was almost as though he were whispering. “We had something happen too. Last year.”

“Oh fuck, yeah?”

“Hmm. It is not pleasant. I did not see … only heard about it.”

Ty dragged a hand down his face. “Yeah, yeah … Jake followed Macks home and …”

“Macks? Mackinnon?”

“Yeah.”

Gabe’s laughter crackled through the phone line. “Are you sure he did not invite Watson?”

Ty straightened up. “Seriously,” he spat, “that’s not even funny.”

“Sorry. It … there is lots of talk about that guy. So I would not be surprised …”

“There is no way in hell he asked for that,” Ty spat angrily. He was envisioning it now, Luke pinned against the wall, like a broken doll, and Jake—

He felt sick.

“Don’t ever say anything like that again,” he snarled.

Gabe paused, then said, “Are you omega?”

Ty drew a quick breath; he felt like someone had slapped him. “No,” he spat.

“Okay,” Gabe said, that easiness back in his voice, “okay. Forget I asked. Let’s talk about what we will see tomorrow.”

Ty slumped down to the floor, hugging his knees with his free arm. “Yeah,” he murmured, “yeah.”


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