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Stitched(Rylee Adamson #8.5)(3) by Shannon Mayer

Three monks—they couldn’t be anything else with their long flapping orange robes and completely bald heads—ran toward us. They were young for monks, I could see it on their faces, the smooth skin, and belief in their eyes that all was well with the world.

Boy, were they going to get a fucking shock as the world shit all over that.

Blaz tipped his head toward me. That was particularly bitter, my friend.

I shrugged, but didn’t lower my sword.

The monk in the middle stepped forward, placed his hands palms together, and bowed low. “Welcome to Tian Shan. Be at ease, Blood of the Lost, we have waited many years for you. Come, we will show you to your room.”

I frowned and lowered the tip of my sword, fully expecting I would have to use it at some point. “What’s your name?”

He smiled, his grin spreading across his face. “Bao.”

“I’m Rylee.”

The others introduced themselves one at a time, except for Catya who was suddenly clinging to my leg.

I stay with you, Rylee. You and the babies.

“The girl stays with me,” I said, and Bao nodded.

“Of course. Please, do not be afraid, it is safe here, truly safe.”

I had a hard time believing that.

But even I knew it was rude to point out how fucking ignorant he was when we were here to partake of his, and his monastery’s hospitality. With Catya clinging, hanging off my leg, I followed Bao. I didn’t care where Erik and Coyote went. Now that we were—supposedly—safe, I remembered clearly they had been part of the plot to end Liam’s life, and I wanted to put as much distance between myself and them as possible.

Zane let out a mewl and I paused. “Shit, I’m running out of formula.”

“Ah, we have several nursing mothers, perhaps one of them would be able to help.” Bao smiled as he spoke, a definite twinkle in his eye. “Come, I will introduce you, the baby will likely not wait on your time or mine to be hungry.”

We backtracked and took a turn to the left, followed a winding pathway through the monastery that seemed to go on forever. The hallway opened into a large room, the ceilings at least twenty feet high, the floors set in river rock that clicked under my boots. In the center of the room was a large table that had so much food on it, I thought I could see the heavy slab sag in the middle. A number of people sat around the table, laughing and talking softly, the murmur just audible, and not enough to decipher words.

Alex would be in heaven with all that food. My heart gave a lurch, reminding me how much I’d given up. Of the people I loved and deserted to come here. I had abandoned them, left them to fend for themselves.

No, they understand. Rylee, you do this so we can all be safe. Be kind to yourself, my friend. Be kind. Blaz’s words were a hollow comfort.

Throat tightening, I looked up at the ceiling, inspecting the rafters, as if the answer to all my problems would be written there.

“Daisy,” Bao called out, bowing over his hands. “I have someone I’d like you to meet.”

Zane let out another of his mewling cries and I rocked him gently, feeling awkward. Tiny babies were not something I’d spent a lot of time with and I felt like it showed.

A feminine figure stepped away from the table. She was taller than me, her hair braided back from her pale pink skin. Pink? As she drew closer I saw only the troll in her. Like Tara, the half breed who’d helped Liam. But this wasn’t Tara. Just some unknown supernatural. I crouched over Zane as I whipped out a blade with my other hand. “That’s close enough.”

Daisy stopped in her tracks. “I am a half breed, but I do not favor my father’s side.” She blinked several times, her wide brown eyes taking me in with a single sweep. Her shoulders straightened and her lips trembled. She could have been Tara’s sister; they were so similar in looks.

I slowly came out of my crouch, my arms aching from having held Zane nonstop for hours. “I know you’re a half breed. What the hell, what human would—”

Catya’s voice inside my head stopped me. Her mother was taken by her father without consent. I stared down at her. “You know, you are far too young to understand that.”

She shrugged. My soul is old, and I see people’s hearts, their past, and what makes them who they are.

I didn’t want to ask her what she saw when she looked inside me. I didn’t need to know. Or maybe I already knew. “So, she’s good?”

Catya nodded.

Zane let out a pitiful, mournful cry that tugged at my heart. “It’s all right, little man.”

Daisy stepped closer. “I can feed him if you like.”

How did one ask tactfully if troll-human breast milk was okay for a child born of a witch? “You sure it won’t poison him?” Yup, nice and subtle like.

Daisy laughed softly, her eyes sparkling with humor. “I’ve nursed several children of different supernaturals, and all of them have grown straight and true. My milk is rich.”

Lips pursed, I reluctantly handed Zane to her. She cradled him with an ease I envied. “Hush, my boy, hush.” With one hand she spread her shirt and slipped a bright pink, and I mean nearly neon in shade, nipple into his searching mouth. His mewling eased as she stood, nursing him quietly.

Bao cleared his throat, and touched me gently on the elbow. “Come, I will take you to your room.”

I hesitated. “I can’t leave him. I don’t know who the fuck she is other than her name.”

Daisy smiled at me, seemingly nonplussed by my reaction to her. “I will have to feed him every few hours. You’re welcome to stay with me if you like.”

I nodded before Bao could say anything else. “Good. Then I’ll stay with you.”

The monk bowed, a half smile on his lips. “Of course. Eat, rest, and know that you are safe here, Blood of the Lost, Tracker.”

He turned and left us standing. Daisy with Zane nursing in her arms, me with a blade still in my hand and a kid clinging to my thigh. “You hungry, Catya?”

She nodded and I pried her from my leg so I could take her hand. “Let’s eat.”

We sat, and Daisy lowered herself to the bench beside me. “The monk, he called you a Tracker. Is that true?”

I gave a slow nod as I scooped food onto a plate for Catya. “Yes, why, you have someone you want me to look for?” A part of me hoped she did, the distraction would be welcome. The other part of me hoped she didn’t.