Authors: Ione, Larissa
For all the medical personnel out there. You’ve been the inspiration behind these books. I admire the work you do, and I thank you for the risks you take with your own health and safety. I’ve imposed on many of you for advice regarding some of my medical scenarios, and I can’t thank you enough.
Also, for my sisters-in-law, Stephanie Rice, Andrea Etheridge, and Anna Walker. Your support means so much to me… and it’s a bonus that you like the books!
And for Steve Gitre. I know you would have been proud. You are missed.Acknowledgments
As always, I have about a million people to thank for their help, support, and just plain awesomeness.
First of all, thank you to everyone at Hachette who has done such a fantastic job with these books! Huge thanks to Amy Pierpont, Alex Logan, Anna Balasi, and Melissa Bullock. I’m sure I make you crazy at times, but you never let on. And I can’t forget everyone in the art department, who has given me some seriously man-chesty goodness on my covers!
Special thanks to Renee, Karissa, and Arlene for Karlene, and Ashley Hopkins and Christy Gibson for their helpful medical advice.
Thank you to Lea Franczak, Melissa Bradley, Michelle Willingham, Ann Aguirre, and Stephanie Tyler for their help and reads. I owe you margaritas. With double shots.
And I owe so many people for just being cool and supportive, not just to me, but to the romance community, readers and authors alike. So a big shout-out to Valentina Paolillo, Larissa Benoliel, Jodie West, Joely Sue Burkhart, Heather Carleton, Diane Stirling, Ryan Rohloff, Tigris Eden, Mandi Schreiner, Hasna Saadani, Sarah Gabe, and Ericka Brooks.
Finally, thank you to all my wonderful readers. I’m truly blessed to have you.Glossary
The Aegis—Society of human warriors dedicated to protecting the world from evil. See: Guardians, Regent, Sigil
Carceris—The jailors of the underworld. All demon species send representatives to serve terms in the Carceris. Carceris members are responsible for apprehending demons accused of violating demon law, and for acting as guards in the Carceris prisons.
Council—All demon species and breeds are governed by a Council that makes laws and metes out punishment for individual members of their species or breed.
Dresdiin—The demon equivalent of angels. See: Memitim
Fakires—Derogatory term used by vampires to describe humans who either believe themselves to be real vampires or who pretend to be vampires.
Guardians—Warriors for The Aegis, trained in combat techniques, weapons, and magic. Upon induction into The Aegis, all Guardians are presented with an enchanted piece of jewelry bearing the Aegis shield, which, among other things, allows for night vision and the ability to see through demon invisibility enchantment.
Harrowgate—Vertical portals, invisible to humans, that demons use to travel between locations on Earth and Sheoul.
Infadre—A female of any demon species who has been impregnated by a Seminus demon.
Maleconcieo—Highest level of ruling demon boards, served by a representative from each species Council. The U.N. of the demon world.
Marked Sentinel—Humans charmed by angels and tasked with protecting a vital artifact. Sentinels are immortal and immune to harm. Only angels (fallen included) can injure or kill a Sentinel. Their existence is a closely guarded secret.
Memitim—Earthbound angels assigned to protect Primori. Memitim remain earthbound until they complete their duties, at which time they Ascend, earning their wings and entry into Heaven. Also known to demons as dresdiin. See: Dresdiin, Primori
Orgesu—A demon sex slave, often taken from breeds bred specifically for the purpose of providing sex.
Pricolici—Werewolves who are born as such. Pricolici can only conceive during the breeding heat, and offspring are almost always born werewolves, even if the father is varcolac. Pricolici are born with a mark that identifies them as pricolici. See: Varcolac
Primori—Humans and demons whose lives are fated to impact the world in some crucial way.
Regent—Head(s) of local Aegis cells.
Renfield—Fictional character in Bram Stoker’s Dracula. Also, derogatory term for any human who serves a vampire. A vampire groupie.
S’genesis—Final maturation cycle for Seminus demons. Occurs at one hundred years of age. A post-s’genesis male is capable of procreation and possesses the ability to shapeshift into the male of any demon species.
Sheoul—Demon realm. Located deep in the bowels of the earth, accessible only by Harrowgates.
Sheoul-gra—A holding tank for demon souls. The place where demon souls go until they can be reborn or kept in torturous limbo.
Sheoulic—Universal demon language spoken by all, though many species speak their own language.
Sigil—Board of twelve humans known as Elders, who serve as the supreme leaders of The Aegis. Based in Berlin, they oversee all Aegis cells worldwide.
Swans—Humans who act as blood or energy donors for vampires, either actual undead or fakires.
Ter’taceo—Demons who can pass as human, either because their species is naturally human in appearance or because they can shapeshift into human form.
Therionidryo—Term a were-beast uses for a person he or she bit and turned into another were-beast.
Therionidrysi—Any survivor of a were-beast attack. Term used to clarify the relationship between the sire and his therionidryo.
Ufelskala—A scoring system for demons, based on their degree of evil. All supernatural creatures and evil humans can be categorized into the five Tiers, with the Fifth Tier composed of the worst of the wicked.
Varcolac—Werewolves who were once human, turned into wargs by the bite of another. Both born and turned werewolves can infect a human with lycanthropy. Offspring conceived outside the breeding heat are always born human. Offspring conceived during the breeding heat are occasionally infected with lycanthropy in the womb and are born as werewolves. See: Pricolici
Classification of demons, as listed by Baradoc, Umber demon, using the demon breed Seminus as an example:
Family: Sexual demon
“The wargs must die.”
Sin paced back and forth in the master chamber of her assassin den, her mind working overtime to process Bantazar’s words. The Assassin Guild’s messenger stood near the cold fire pit, outstretched hand holding a parchment scroll. Sin snatched it from the Neethul male, who must stand seven feet tall even without the platform Goth boots he wore. With them, he was at least two-and-a-half feet taller than she was. Still, the Guild’s lackey didn’t intimidate her. She’d killed much larger demons than him.
“Eight of them?” Sin asked. “Eight werewolves at once?”
He nodded, his shoulder-length, snowy hair catching on his pointed ears. The Neethul were—externally, anyway—a beautiful race, elven in appearance. “An entire pack.”
Which included a two-year-old cub. She cast a covert glance at the male standing in the corner, saturated in shadow and silence. Lycus, her only warg assassin, might as well have been a stone statue. The news that the contract would end the lives of several of his own people didn’t faze him at all. Not that she’d expected it to. He was a professional. Cold, efficient, and ruthless.
Biting back a curse, Sin stopped pacing. She couldn’t afford to show nerves or reluctance. The Guild was watching her closely for signs of weakness, would seize any excuse to crush her and take her assassins for themselves. She had to be more ruthless than ever right now, especially since she’d already declined to bid on nearly a dozen contracts, and she’d only been an assassin master for three weeks.
She scanned the details scrawled on the parchment in Sheoulic. “Who else has this job been presented to?”
“You know I can’t tell you that.” Bantazar’s ruby lips peeled back in a lecherous smile. “But if you use some of your succubus talents on me, I might let some names slip in a moment of passion.”
Sad as it was, she was actually tempted to screw the bastard if it would get her the information she needed. She had to offer on this job, but she needed to ensure she overbid and wouldn’t win the contract. Knowing who else was bidding would give her an edge.
“I’d tell you to go to hell, Bantazar, but no doubt you own a large chunk of it.” The Neethul were wealthy slave traders whose holdings included massive sections of Sheoul, and as a minor assassin master, Bantazar was definitely on the same path.
“Deth would have taken me up on the offer,” he purred.
“I wouldn’t brag about that.” She studied the ring on her left index finger that used to belong to her dead boss. “Deth would have screwed a spiny hellrat if he could catch one.”
Bantazar laughed as he moved toward her, sinuous as a serpent. “Your assassin slaves grow restless, half-breed. Are your human morals interfering with your ability to manage them?”
She snorted. “I have no morals.” Maybe she’d started out with them, back before she found out she was a demon, but all the things she’d done in her life, both forced and of her own free will, had chipped away at her heart and soul, and there wasn’t a lot left.
At least, there hadn’t been until she’d started a plague that was killing werewolves all over the globe. Something about that action had scraped her emotions raw, exposing a nugget of regret that sat inside her like a pebble in a shoe.
And now there’d been a mysterious increase in the number of hits put out on werewolves—wargs, as they liked to be called—and she was having a hard time bidding on contracts that would set her assassins against them.
She was already killing them by the dozens, without ever having touched them.
Absently, she rubbed her right arm, her palm registering the difference in temperature between her bare skin and the sharp lines of the tattoo that had appeared when she was twenty. The dermoire, a paternal history of her demon heritage, had come with a raging libido and the ability to infect anyone she touched with a disease that killed within minutes. As sucky as that was, her twin brother, Lore, had gotten off much worse. She could at least control her “gift.” He couldn’t touch anyone but his siblings and mate without snuffing them.
“Well?” Bantazar cracked his knuckles, an annoying sound that echoed off the chamber’s smooth stone walls. “Will you bid, or will you let your slaves mutiny?”
Thanks to the bond that connected her to her assassin slaves through the assassin-master ring, they couldn’t raise a hand against her—not so long as she remained in the den or at assassin Guild headquarters, or in a place protected from violence, like Underworld General. But they could attack her anywhere else in Sheoul or aboveground, in the human realm—which was why assassin masters rarely left their dens.
For the millionth time since she had accepted the position of assassin master, she cursed her situation. She hadn’t wanted it, but she would never let her brother know that she’d taken it to prevent his angelic mate from being forced into the job Idess had won by killing Detharu. Idess would have lost her soul over this job, and since Sin figured she’d already lost hers…
Yeah. No big deal.
Snagging a double-ended penknife from the hip pocket of her leather pants, she scrawled an absurdly high monetary figure on the parchment. She signed, and then flipped the pen over and sliced her thumb with the sharp blade. A drop of blood splashed onto the page, and instantly, red, pulsing veins sprouted from the fluid and wove their way through the document. Within seconds, the parchment had gone from a crisp, stiff square of dried skin to a pliable, warm scrap of flesh that would become a binding contract if the individual behind it accepted her bid.
Disgusted, Sin handed the thing back to the Neethul, her stomach churning as he sauntered to the exit.
“That was hard for you,” Lycus said, after the huge door slammed shut. From behind her, his hands came down on her shoulders, his fingers kneading, but his touch made her tense up only more. “Take me up on my offer. Mate with me. We’ll rule the den together.”
“Are you deaf, or just really stupid?” Not once since taking this job had she committed violence against one of her underlings, but she really was tempted to turn around and introduce her knee to his balls. “How many times do I have to say no?”
His lips brushed the top of her right ear. “I can say no, as well.”
She stiffened. “Blackmail, Lycus?” He was one of her few, precious bedmates now; since becoming master of the den, most of her assassins, the ones who had shared her bed for years, had become wary or afraid of her. Although it was within her rights to force them to service her, she would never do so. Lycus allowed her full use of his body, but it wasn’t because he knew that she’d die without sex.
He wanted her job, wanted her as his mate so he could assume shared control over the den. But as nice as it would be to shove off the hard decisions on someone else, she couldn’t give Lycus what he wanted. She could never, ever be someone’s mate. Could never belong to anyone again.
Funny how she’d considered sleeping with Bantazar for information, but she had issues with bonding with a male in order to pass off distasteful but necessary duties that kept the den running and her assassins happy.
Something was going to have to give soon.
So, as she shoved Lycus away, she did something she hadn’t done since she found out she was a demon.
“There are nights when the wolves are silent and only the moon howls.”
“You damnedpire motherfucker!”
Con barked out a laugh at Luc’s shouted insult, even as he hit the snow hard enough to shatter a human man’s thigh bones. But Con was a dhampire, a rare cross between a werewolf and a vampire, and he was made of stronger stuff. As a werewolf, Luc was equally strong, but he wasn’t nearly as fast, as Con had proven by hot-loading out of the helicopter before Luc had even tugged his ski goggles down over his eyes.
Con hopped his skis twice to pull himself out of the snowpack that still glazed the peaks of the Swiss Alps, and then he was zigzagging down the mountain. The sky was clear and blue, and here above the timberline, the silence was broken only by the soft whoop-whoop of the helo blades and the swish of his Rossignols as they cut the fresh powder.
The lulling quiet lasted only until Luc hit the snow and hurled insults at Con again.
The helo sounds faded as the pilot, who had called them all kinds of insane but had agreed—for quadruple his usual fee for heli-skiing—to bring them up higher on the mountain, hauled ass out of there. The dude had nearly stroked out when Con told him to hover at thirty feet instead of the inches he normally held at when letting human skiers off the bird.
But no, Con didn’t do anything the easy way, or even the same way twice. The last time he and Luc had heli-skied, the drop had been shorter.
And the risk of avalanche had been far, far less.
The powder was thick on top of an unstable snowpack, the slope steep, and the effort it took for Con to navigate it all would have him trembling with exhaustion by the time they reached the Harrowgate in the valley miles below.
Ahead, the mountain face became a sheer cliff, and he leaped, catching air under his skis. The ground was impossibly far beneath him and scattered with boulders, but the wind was in his face, the scent of pine was in his lungs, and adrenaline was pumping hotly through his body.
This was the best way to live—or die, depending on how he landed.
Sometimes, he didn’t really care either way.
He came down hard in an explosion of snow and nearly took a header, but he caught himself just before he hit a patch of wind-loaded crust that would have sent him flying.
Behind him, he heard Luc’s skis scratching out turns… and then came the sounds of something more ominous.
Con turned in time to see Luc leap off a snowcapped boulder, but behind him, a giant sheet of snow had begun to crack and slide, an avalanche being born.
“Luc!” Heart pounding painfully against his ribs, Con tucked and pointed his skis down the hill, angled toward Luc and a massive boulder stabbing out of the side of the mountain. Luc couldn’t see the potential shelter, was too close to the leading edge of the slab of white death coming at him.
Luc, never one for delicate maneuvers anyway, left finesse behind as he shot straight down the slope, barreling through drifts like an oil tanker through thirty-foot seas, but shit, he wasn’t going to make it. The avalanche behind him was gaining, and though Con could veer to the left and avoid it, he headed straight into its path.
The wind seared his face as he gained speed, getting closer to Luc… closer to the rock… closer to the fucking wall of ice and snow. They had one shot at this, and his mind shut down, taking him to a place of calm as he hit Luc at the last second, knocking them both off their feet and into the boulder as the monster wave of snow rolled over them.
Con landed on top of Luc, gripped his shoulders hard as he turned his face away from the assault of frozen chunks that broke apart against the rock. The noise was deafening, the rumble so fierce that it vibrated Con’s body and seemed to shock his heart into a new, frenzied rhythm.
Sixty seconds later, he lifted his head. Excellent. They were still alive.
“Get the hell off me, you damned pervert,” Luc muttered.
Con eased himself off the werewolf and brushed snow out of the gap between his jacket and his neck. “Nice way to thank a guy who saved your miserable life.”
Luc sat up and patted himself down, as if checking to see whether he was missing any parts. “Fuck,” he breathed. “This means I owe you.”
“Damned straight.” Con lifted his leg and discovered that one boot had snapped out of its binding, but thankfully, he had a ski leash, so the ski hadn’t gone anywhere. “I can’t wait to cash in.”
“You’d better not make me do something stupid. Like run with the bulls.” Luc dug inside one of his jacket pockets and pulled out a flask. “Naked.”
Con grimaced. “Trust me, I have no desire to see your pale, bare ass.” He snatched the flask from Luc and took a swig, relishing the burn of the rum as it slid down his throat. “But I wouldn’t mind seeing you trampled by bulls. You’re an asshole.”
“Ditto.” Luc grabbed the liquor away and took a deep pull. “You ready to go?”
Con snapped his boot into the binding. “Yep.”
“What are we gonna do after this?”
A flare of regret jerked in Con’s gut. Eidolon had sent all warg hospital employees into isolation to keep them from contracting the virus that was attacking the werewolf population, and Luc was going stir-crazy. Though Con and Luc had never been friends, exactly—they’d gotten their introduction in a bar fight with each other—they were paramedic partners and they hung out together occasionally, mainly to see who could beat who at whatever they did.
But ever since Luc had gone into isolation, he’d been even more eager to do crazy shit. Con was always game, but he did have a job, and he was working more than ever to make up for Luc’s absence.
“I gotta work. But we’ll go skydiving next week.”
Luc nodded, and though his expression was as stony as ever, Con didn’t miss the flash of disappointment in the guy’s dark hazel eyes.
“When’s the last time you got laid? When you were in Egypt? That Guardian chick?” Con shoved to his feet. “You need a woman.”
Luc snorted. “Women are a pain in the ass,” he said, and wasn’t that the truth.
In fact, the biggest pain in the ass female he’d ever met was responsible for the very epidemic that was killing wargs. And Doc E had requested—well, ordered—a meeting with Con this afternoon, and he had a sickening feeling that the pain in the ass female, aka Sin, was going to be there.
Fuck. Once more, Con grabbed the flask from Luc, put it to his lips, and finished it off. Then he punched down the mountain.
Oh, yeah. Rum and adrenaline mixed well. Much, much better than he and Sin ever would.
Sin had been summoned.
Here she was, the freaking head of an assassin den, master of more than three dozen highly skilled killers, and she’d been summoned like some lowlife imp to an audience with her brother.
The great demon doctor.
She’d already given him her blood, her DNA, her pee, her spinal fluid… whatever samples the doctor wanted for his research, she’d handed over. Sin was, after all, responsible for the disease that was wiping out the werewolf race.
What a claim to fame.
A couple of days ago, she’d even come into Underworld General to channel her power into an infected male in an attempt to kill the virus, but if anything, she’d only accelerated its spread.
And she hadn’t thought it could get any worse.
Sin muttered to herself as she traversed UG’s dark hallways on the way to Eidolon’s office. Her boots clacked on black stone floors that were unusually in need of a good sweeping, and the echo bounced in eerie vibrations off the gray walls. She trailed a finger over the writing on said walls—protective antiviolence spells scrawled in blood. She had to give credit to her brothers for that; the hospital serviced nearly all species of demons, many of which were mortal enemies.
She rounded a corner to enter the administrative area, only to curse fiercely. Wraith, the only one of her four brothers with blond hair and blue eyes—neither of which were original parts—stood in the doorway as though he’d been waiting for her. His arms were folded over his broad chest, the dermoire on his right arm blending in with his T-shirt’s Celtic print—Celtic print that was cleverly designed to form the words “Fuck off.”
“Well, if it isn’t Typhoid Mary.”
“Read your shirt.” She pushed past him to enter the office, missing a step when she saw not only Eidolon, MD, but also Conall, SOB.
Great. When she’d last seen the vampire-werewolf a few weeks ago, they’d parted on shitty terms. He’d assumed the worst of her, threatened her, had been an utterly unlikable ass. Oh, sure, she’d led him to believe she’d intentionally started the epidemic that was killing his warg relatives, but if he hadn’t been such a jerk, she might have told him the truth.
Not that the truth was much better.
“Sin.” Eidolon remained at his desk, his espresso eyes bloodshot and framed by dark circles. His short, nearly black hair was mussed, probably from repeated rakes of his fingers. He pretty much looked like hell itself had beaten the crap out of him. “Sit.”
The command ruffled her feathers, but she hooked a chair with her foot, yanked it as far from Conall as possible, and planted her ass. “What now? I don’t have any blood left, and if you think you’re getting a stool sample, you can—”
“I don’t need a stool sample,” Eidolon interrupted. “I need your help.”
She felt Con’s silver eyes boring into her like drill bits, and to her annoyance, her body flushed with warmth as though remembering another drilling he’d given her. That was so not happening again. “Look, you should know that the Assassin Guild has been flooded with requests for hits on wargs. I don’t know if the sudden surge is related, but I figured I’d tell you.”
Wraith’s sharp gaze cut to Eidolon. “I’ve heard the same thing. Word on the street is that some of the other were-species are worried that the wolves will transmit the disease to them, so they’re being a little… proactive.”
Both Eidolon and Con uttered the same raw curse.
Sin settled back in her chair and forced herself to stay calm, when all she wanted to do was scream at this disaster she’d created. “You said you needed my help. What kind?”
Eidolon reached for the water bottle on his desk and took a swig before speaking. “Thanks to Harrowgates and the ability to travel instantaneously, the virus has now made its way to every continent except Antarctica. The death toll is climbing. The disease has a one hundred percent mortality rate, a practically nonexistent incubation period, and no victim has lived longer than seventy-two hours after infection. Basically, by the time a patient arrives, we don’t have a lot of time for treatment.”
Jesus. It was worse than she’d thought. “Haven’t you made any progress at all?”
“A little.” Leather squeaked as Eidolon leaned back in his chair. “We’ve discovered a half-dozen wargs who were exposed but didn’t contract the infection. The R-XR is trying to determine what makes them immune.”
The U.S. Army’s paranormal unit was involved now? And Eidolon was working with them? She’d known that their brother Shade’s mate, Runa, used to be a member, and that Runa’s brother Arik still was, but holy crap—it just didn’t feel right for the government to be involved in any way with Underworld General.
Especially not a military unit that killed, captured, and experimented on demons.
Then again, UG had several strong ties to The Aegis, a civilian demon-slaying organization—hell, Eidolon was even mated to an Aegis Guardian—and so far, the association had benefitted both UG and The Aegis.
“So I’m here, why? Are you in need of assassination services, or what?” She threw that out just to get a reaction from her uptight, always-in-control brother, but to her surprise, it was Con who made the noise.
“You’re here because wargs are dying, and it’s your fault,” he growled, a hint of an odd British-ish accent tweaking his words. It happened when he got all pissy, and it was strangely… hot.
But she still didn’t like him, and she wrenched her head around to peg him with a glare. Which might have been a good plan if he hadn’t looked so damned good in his black paramedic uniform, which set off his deeply tanned skin and sun-streaked blond hair so beautifully. Toss in those shimmering silver eyes, and there was no glaring at him. Only admiring.
“Why are you even here?” she snapped, more irritated by her reaction to him than anything. “I didn’t think the disease affected dhampires.”
“I’m on the Warg Council. I’m keeping them informed.”
“Well, good for you.”
Eidolon cleared his throat imperiously. “Actually, you’re both here for a reason. Sin, it’s time that we put some serious effort into working with your gift. We’ve got to determine a way to use it to treat the disease.”
“We tried that before. My ‘gift’ kills. It doesn’t cure.” Her “gift” was something she’d really like to give right back to her Seminus father. Too bad he was dead.
“Yeah, well, technically, you shouldn’t exist, so I’m not ready to write off the impossible.”
Oh, she loved the reminders about how she was a freak of nature, the only female Seminus demon to ever have been born. A Smurfette, as Wraith liked to call her.
“So what’s your plan?”
“Can you use your gift to determine what kind of disease resides inside a body? If you touch someone who is ill, can you tell what they are sick with?”
“Sort of. I can feel the arrangement of the virus or bacteria or whatever. And once I learn it, I can replicate that specific disease.” She shot Conall a smirk. “Khileshi cockfire is a favorite.”
Wraith laughed. Conall paled. Eidolon looked at her like she was responsible for every case of the excruciating, dick-shriveling venereal disease he’d ever treated. The guy was so freaking uptight he probably starched his freaking underwear.
“As disturbing as that is,” Eidolon said flatly, “it’s exactly what I wanted to hear.”
There was a tap at the door, and Lore strode past Wraith, who was still playing doorjamb sentinel. Lore held a folder in his leather-gloved hand, and Sin didn’t think she’d ever get used to seeing her twin brother in scrubs. “I read the R-XR’s initial report on the immune wargs, and something jumped out at me. The wargs who didn’t catch SF after being exposed were born wargs. So I examined the bodies in our morgue and ran some tests. I know not every warg that’s been infected has come through the hospital, but the ones who have? Turned wargs.”
Sin frowned. “SF?”
“Sin Fever,” Wraith chimed in a little too enthusiastically.
Sin Fever? They’d named the fucking disease after her? Bastards.
E flipped excitedly through the folder Lore gave him. “Just when I thought we’d never find a link between the victims. I’ll call the R-XR and let them know. Excellent work, Lore.”
Despite the grim subject matter, Sin couldn’t help but be thrilled that her brother, who had, as an assassin, known nothing but killing and loneliness until just weeks ago, was now mated, happy, and working in the hospital—the morgue, where his death-touch couldn’t accidentally kill anyone.
“Wait,” Sin said. “How can you tell the difference between turned and born werewolves?”
“Born wargs usually have a birthmark somewhere on their bodies, but we can’t always go by that.” Before Sin could ask why, Eidolon finished. “Outcasts are required to have them removed, and some turned wargs have them artificially applied, so we have to perform genetic testing to determine if they’re born or turned.”
Huh. Who would have thunk it? “So, what was it you wanted with me?”
Eidolon looked up from the paperwork, and the circles under his eyes seemed to have lightened a little. “About that… see, that’s why I called Con to this meeting.”
Bracing his muscular forearms on his knees, Con leaned forward in his chair. When he spoke, his fangs flashed as fiercely as his eyes. “What are you saying?”
“Your weekly blood tests for SF have been coming back negative,” Eidolon said. “Until yesterday.”
“What? I have the disease?” Con exploded out of his chair, but Eidolon held up his hands in a stay-calm motion.
“Not exactly. It’s in your blood. Your body isn’t attacking it, nor is it attacking you, and you aren’t producing antibodies. But when we introduced Sin’s blood to the mix in the lab, your white blood cells and hers joined forces to attack the virus.”
Sin’s skin prickled with foreboding. Eidolon was dancing around something. “Skip the buildup and backstory. Bottom line, what do you want from us?”
“I need Con to feed from you,” he said with uncharacteristic awkwardness. “And I need it to happen now.”
I need Con to feed from you.
Con cursed softly. “As much as I’d like to help you out, Doc, I can’t do what you’re asking.” Yeah, he’d tasted Sin’s blood before—and it had been damned good—but that was exactly why he couldn’t do it again. He’d been addicted to a female’s blood before, and he would never allow it to happen again.
“I get that she’s not your favorite person—”
“He said he can’t do it,” Lore interrupted. “Let it go.”
Eidolon tapped a pencil on his desk, the dull thud of the eraser on wood punctuating his words. “Unfortunately, there’s no ‘let it go’ option. This might be our only shot at an immediate solution.”
“I don’t understand,” Sin said. “What do you mean, a solution?”
Eidolon spun one of the papers around to show Sin and Con where he’d scrawled a lengthy column of numbers. “I can’t inject the amount of Sin’s blood required to destroy the virus into Conall without killing him. He needs to ingest it. As a dhampire, he has a double-chambered stomach, the second chamber working the way a vampire’s works—to deliver a victim’s blood almost directly into the vampire’s bloodstream. So if my calculations are correct, a normal feeding will allow him to take in enough blood to start attacking the virus. Once that’s done—”
“I can monitor his blood to learn how the virus is killed and then use my power to try to destroy it myself,” Sin finished.
“Exactly.” Eidolon grinned. “You really should be working here instead of as an assassin.”
At some point, Sin had produced a throwing knife and was now flipping it between her fingers, and Con had a feeling the speed directly related to her level of agitation. The sucker was whirling like a helicopter blade. “Bite me.”
Eidolon gestured to Conall. “That’ll be his job.”
“No,” Con said grimly. “It won’t. There has to be another way.”
“I agree.” Sin rose to her feet, her blue-black hair swishing angrily around her waist. “I don’t let anyone fang me.”
You let me, you little liar. Hot, little liar. Man, Con wanted to call her out on exactly how she’d let him, but at least two of her brothers in the room were a little on the overprotective side, and the other didn’t need an excuse to kill things. Come to think of it, none of them needed an excuse.
Neither did Con.
“If there was any other way,” Eidolon said, “I’d find it. But there’s not.” He wadded up a sheet of paper and tossed it at the overflowing garbage can in the corner. “You have the virus—it’s just not attacking you, and I don’t know why yet. It’s a slightly different strain from what’s attacking the wargs… it’s adapted to your species, but it might be trying to mutate into something that can attack you, which is why we need to eliminate it as soon as possible. As for the wargs… that’s what was so weird about the blood samples the R-XR took. It was as if the uninfected wargs were a different species and unable to catch the virus.”
“You mean like how horses don’t catch measles from humans,” Sin said, and Eidolon nodded.
“Exactly. I still don’t know what would make born wargs so different from turneds.” The frustration in Eidolon’s voice was echoed in his expression as he turned to Con. “And you, even with your vampire status, you’re somehow more closely related to turned wargs than born ones.”
A tremor of unease went through Con. That was just one of the dhampire race’s dirty little secrets, but it was one he was going to have to share with the doctor. Anything to help get this damned epidemic stopped. Well, not anything. He’d leave out the minor details. Though he supposed he didn’t owe his people the courtesy of keeping their secrets, since they’d all but exiled him. Oh, they kept track of him because, ultimately, he was too valuable to completely throw away, but he’d shamed them, and they were happy to punish him for it.
“Dhampires aren’t exactly born this way.”
Eidolon scowled. “What do you mean?”
Con leaned forward and braced his forearms on his thighs. “I mean that when we hit our late teens, our fangs come in, we start craving blood… and then we get sick. On the first night of the full moon after our fangs have fully developed, we have to be bitten by a warg or we’ll die.”
“Interesting,” Eidolon murmured. “So dhampires are basically turned werewolves who drink blood. Guess that explains why you ended up with a form of the virus, but there’s something else to consider.”
Con didn’t like his tone. Not at all. “What else?”
Eidolon paused as though searching his brain for the right words, and Con’s gut hollowed out. “The virus inside you isn’t likely to want to only attack you. It wants out.”
“So what you’re saying,” Con ground out, “is that I’m a carrier. I could have infected people.”
“Unfortunately, yes. The disease seems to be transmitted via both direct and indirect contact, as well as by air, but as an asymptomatic carrier, you might transmit it differently. I tested your saliva, and it’s definitely present. We need to run tests to be sure, but since Luc hasn’t come down with the virus, you probably aren’t breathing it out or passing it on by casual touch. But you need to avoid intimate contact with werewolves and other dhampires.”
Oh, bloody hell. How many females had Con fed from and slept with in the last month? His mind raced as he counted and eliminated those who weren’t werewolves. Only one had been a warg… a turned warg. And ironically, a female who he’d avoided sleeping with for years because he cared about her, and she deserved better than a one-off with him.
Shit. “Hold on, Doc.” Con dug his cell from his pocket, dialed, and Yasashiku, a member of the Warg Council, answered on the second ring.
“Con. You’re missing the meeting. Valko’s about to have a freaking puppy. Where are you?”
“I’m at work. I’ll be there as soon as I can.” Moving toward a corner, he lowered his voice. “Have you heard from Nashiki lately?”
Yasashiku’s silence made Con suddenly, achingly, aware of the pounding sound of his heartbeat in his ears. “You didn’t hear?”
“Hear what?” Don’t say it. Don’t. Fucking. Say it.
“She caught the virus,” Yas said, his faint Japanese accent thickening with emotion. “She died last night.”
Con didn’t even reply. Numbly, he closed the phone. He’d done his share of killing in his thousand years of life, some of it justified, some not. But there was something truly obscene about killing someone with pleasure. Especially because, years ago, he’d saved Nashiki’s life after she’d been attacked by a pride of lion-shifters, and though he didn’t normally keep in contact with his patients, she’d been special, bubbly and bright, one of the few people he’d met in his life who never let anything get them down.
So he’d saved her… only to kill her.
Sure, there was no proof that he had given the virus to the gorgeous, honey-skinned warg, who hadn’t deserved how he’d screwed her while fantasizing about Sin, let alone how he’d given her a disease that had turned her organs to mush. No proof at all, but the timing was right, given the time frame from onset to death.
Crimson washed over his vision as both nausea that he’d killed an innocent female and anger that the person ultimately responsible was right there in the room with him collided. This had to end, and at this point, the risks of repeated feedings from Sin were the least of his concerns.
Especially since all of the risk would be Sin’s.
“Con?” Wraith’s deep voice was a mere buzz among the other noise in Con’s head. “Dude. You okay? You look like you’re about to take a header.”
“Then I’d better feed.” Conall’s voice was cold as he swung around to Sin. “And it looks like you’re lunch.”Two
This was such bullshit.
Sin got that this might be the answer to the epidemic, but Con didn’t have to look at her like she was a juicy steak. He could at least try to be as repulsed as she was.
“Sit.” Con’s voice had deepened to a compelling, husky rasp that nearly had her complying with his demand like a well-trained dog.
“We’re going to do it here?”
He cocked a sandy eyebrow. “You’d rather do it in a patient room? Or maybe a supply closet would be more to your liking?”
Oh, the bastard. They were not going to a patient room, where a bed would make it way too easy to do more than the blood thing, and the supply closet remark was a jab at the first—and last—place they’d been together.
She sank down into a chair. “Fine. Get it over with.”
“How sweet,” Wraith said. “You sound like an old married couple.”
She flipped him off as Con turned to her brothers. “Could we get some privacy?”
“No.” Sin jabbed a finger at Eidolon. “You. Stay.” Mainly, she was being a bitch, but also, the little flutter in her belly at the thought of being alone again with Con was a dangerous sign that she shouldn’t be alone with him.
Lore stepped forward. “I’ll stay.”
“It’s okay, bro,” she said. The last thing she needed was Lore’s hovering. He’d been doing it for thirty years, and he seemed to be having a hard time breaking the habit. “This will be strictly a clinical procedure. Eidolon can oversee it.” Clinical? That was a joke and a half, because she knew having Con’s fangs slide into her flesh would be pleasurable no matter how much she wanted to deny it.
For a long moment, Sin was sure Lore would argue. Fists clenched, he stood there glowering, his dermoire writhing angrily. Like hers, it was a faded imitation of their purebred brothers’ markings, but it still behaved the same way, appearing to move during periods of high emotion. He finally nodded and, after shooting Con a look of scathing brotherly warning, took off.
She made a shooing motion at Wraith. “You, too. Scram.”
“Smurfy.” Wraith took off, whistling the theme to The Smurfs as he went.
“We don’t need Eidolon,” Con said. “I’ve been doing this for a thousand years. I know when to stop.”
Sin wasn’t worried about being drained, but she wasn’t about to admit that her real fear was that without a chaperone, she’d end up doing a lot more than playing Happy Meal. Fortunately, she didn’t have to say anything, because Eidolon got that stern expression on his face, closed the door, and propped a shoulder against it, long legs crossed casually at the ankles. He wasn’t about to budge, and Con must have come to the same conclusion because he muttered something under his breath and sank to his knees beside her.
With him kneeling, they were at eye level, and she gulped dryly when he locked gazes with her.
“Give me your wrist,” he said, and when she hesitated, his cold smile was at odds with the heat roaring off his body. “You’d prefer the throat? Or groin? Sure, it’d go faster that way, but I didn’t think you’d want that much intimacy.” His eyes sparked with amusement, mocking her.
She thrust her left arm at him. “Damn skippy, I don’t.”
He took her wrist gingerly, as if the mere thought of touching her disgusted him. And maybe it did on some level. But she’d never met a vampire who didn’t admit to getting at least a little revved while feeding.
A whisper of pain came with the penetration of his fangs, followed by sparks of pleasure so intense she had to bite back a moan.
“Sin,” Eidolon said softly, “you’ll need to monitor the virus levels in his blood now and then. You should get a baseline now.”
Yes, a baseline. Anything to wrench her attention away from how good it felt to have Con’s lips on her, his teeth in her. Concentrating, she fired up her gift until the dermoire on her arm began to glow, and then she gripped Con’s shoulder. Beneath her fingers, his muscles bunched as though in protest, but her succubus senses picked up signs of increased arousal: the sound of his heart rate jacking up, the rapid rise and fall of his chest, the rise in the temperature of his skin.
Her own body answered with a rush of liquid heat, but she clenched her teeth and concentrated on reading his blood. Her power entered him in a focused beam and threaded through his veins and arteries. When she used her gift to create a disease, her victims didn’t feel a thing, but she’d never probed around like this before.
“You okay?” she asked, and when Con’s shimmering eyes flashed up at her, she regretted asking. Who cared if he was okay? She was the one getting sucked on. The one who was starting to see spots.
He gave a slow nod and went back to taking long pulls on her wrist. Closing her eyes, partly because the room had begun to spin, she focused on feeling around inside Con’s veins. Shadowy black-and-white pictures formed in her head. She could see individual blood cells rushing through the narrow vessels, and with them, the virus. New cells joined the rush; hers, she was sure. Almost as though the presence of the fresh cells prodded Con’s, his cells attacked the virus like a pack of wolves taking down an injured deer.
“It’s working,” she whispered, hoping the boys didn’t notice the way her speech was a little slurred.
Con’s draws began to ease off.
“Keep going. You need more of my blood to join the fight.”
He grunted, a sound of refusal, and his fangs began to slide from her flesh. She grabbed his head and forced him to stay, though it took a lot more effort than it should have. “Almost, Con. We can kill it off—”
“Sin!” Eidolon’s strong fingers pried hers from Con’s scalp. And maybe she shouldn’t have noticed how silky his blond hair was, but for some reason, she did. “He has to stop.”
“Just a little longer…”
Rearing back, Con tore away from her. His eyes were swirling pools of molten metal, the carnal hunger there giving away both his fear that he’d gone too far and his desire to go further. Eidolon clapped a palm over her bleeding wrist even as she lunged forward, desperate to get Con to take more blood. She needed more time to study how the virus survived, how it died…
“We can’t stop now!”
Con swore, grabbed her hand, and for a moment she thought he was going to continue, but instead, he peeled her brother’s hand away even as Eidolon fired up his own gift to heal her and swiped his tongue over the punctures. Before her eyes, they sealed up, and an irrational fury grabbed her.
“You idiots!” More spots gathered in her vision and her head spun as she lurched to her feet. “The virus is going to rally in him. It’s going to…”
“Shit!” Con’s voice and arms closed around her as the floor fell out from beneath her.
“So, you’ve been feeding for a thousand years, huh?” Eidolon’s sarcastic drawl grated on every one of Conall’s nerves as he carried Sin to the nearest exam room and laid her gently on the bed.
Thing was, Con had no excuse. Sure, Sin kept encouraging him, telling him they were almost there, but worse than that—terrifyingly worse—was that hunger for her had overridden common sense, and he’d fed for longer than he should have.
He was just glad he hadn’t wrestled her to the floor and tried to take a lot more than blood.
“Heal her,” he snapped, his anger at himself putting a caustic note in his voice that Eidolon didn’t deserve. Still, the doctor merely shrugged as he gathered IV supplies from the cabinet next to the bed.
“My power knits tissue and bone together. It doesn’t make blood.” He lined up the supplies on a tray and wheeled it toward Sin. “We’d need Shade for this. He can use his gift to force the marrow to produce blood faster.”
Con brushed her glossy hair away from her face, which was far too pale.
“Then get Shade,” he pressed. Sin wasn’t in danger, but he didn’t like how her vibrance had been literally sucked out of her. But this was the first time she’d ever been quiet. He should be grateful.
“He’s off for a few days.” E gestured to the cabinets behind Con. “Toss me a Ringer’s.”
Con fetched a bag of IV saline solution and lobbed it to the doctor. “So call him in.”
“Runa’s sick, and he can’t leave the triplets.”
Con’s breath lodged in his throat. Shade’s mate was a turned werewolf. “It isn’t SF, right?”
Eidolon inserted a needle into a vein in Sin’s left hand. “Thank gods, no. It’s a mild stomach virus.”
“Good.” Con would hate to see anything happen to the female who had made Shade a lot more agreeable to work for. And speaking of work… “You going to call Bastien back in, now that you know the virus isn’t affecting the pricolici?” Bastien, a born warg who had been run off by his pack decades ago because he’d been born with a club foot, had devoted his life to UG, and Con knew the forced “vacation” had to be killing him as much as it was Luc.
“Hell, yeah.” Eidolon gestured to gauze wrappers on the floor. “The janitorial department is falling apart without him.”
As Eidolon hooked the bag of saline onto a stand, Sin moaned, and her eyes opened. “What… what are you doing?”
“Hold still,” Eidolon said. “Our boy here got a little carried away with his meal.”
She smiled weakly. “That’s ’cuz I’m so sweet and irresistible.”
Con snorted. “Not the words I would use for you.” Well, irresistible, maybe, but there were a lot of less complimentary words that fit her, too.
“Ass,” she muttered. She lifted her hand and frowned at the line connected to it. “Hey, knock it off. I don’t need this—”
Con gripped her wrist and pushed it back down to the mattress. “Yeah, you do. I took too much blood.”
Eidolon shot her a stern look. “If you had banked more of your blood like I asked you to do, I could be putting it instead of saline back into your veins.”
“Yeah, yeah. Whatever. I heal fast.”
“One benefit of being a Seminus demon,” Eidolon said as he jacked up the head of the bed so she could sit.
“There are more?” Sarcasm dripped from Sin’s voice, but Eidolon ignored her to check his beeper.
“I have an incoming trauma. Con, stay with her until the bag is empty. When you’re done, hit the lab. I’d like a blood sample from you. I want to see if you have any antibodies in your system now. And you”—he pointed his finger at Sin—“be good.”
Sin rolled her eyes, but at least she didn’t snark back at him. Instead, she waited until the doctor left, and then she turned on Con, a little bundle of ebony-eyed fury. “You idiot!”
She was sexy when she got worked up. “I said I was sorry for taking too much blood.” Actually, he hadn’t, but he felt a little bad about it, so he figured that counted.
“You should have taken more. You could still be contagious.”
“It’s not worth killing you over.” Not that killing her wasn’t tempting.
“Well, duh. But chugging another pint of blood wouldn’t have killed me.”
“Yeah, it would have.” He dug through one of the drawers for a phlebotomy kit. “Why haven’t you banked your blood like E wanted?”
“Who are you? My dad? It’s none of your business.” She shifted on the bed, the seductive rasp of her tight leather pants against the sheets making his cock twitch. Con might not like her, but his dick wasn’t so judgmental.
“If you’d done it, I could be drinking it now instead of waiting for you to produce more blood.” He pulled up a chair with a frustrated yank, sat, and rolled up his shirt sleeve.
“I’ll see if I can speed things up just for you,” she said wryly. “And in the meantime, be careful that you don’t run around spreading disease.”
“Ironic thing to say, coming from you, don’t you think?” He snorted. “I think I can manage to not bite or fuck a warg for a few days. And do you really care?”
Crimson splotched her cheeks, and he caught the scent of irritation coming from her. “Yeah. You’re right. I’m thrilled that the virus is killing people. Yay, me.”
“Why did you start it, then?”
“I was bored. There hasn’t been a good pandemic since the Spanish flu in, what, 1918?”
“Son of a—” He wrapped a rubber tourniquet around his biceps. “Just once, can you give me a straight answer?” Working with angry, jerky movements, he clamped one end of the tube in his teeth and tugged it tight.
Sin squeezed her eyes shut, and for a heartbeat, a startling shadow of vulnerability darkened her expression. But so quickly Con doubted what he saw, she opened her eyes and locked on him with that death ray of hers. “Killing is what I do. Do you really think I need a reason to start an epidemic?”
Jesus effing Christ. He had never met a female—or male, for that matter—with such a thick wall around them. Swearing to himself, he inserted a needle into the median cubital vein in the crook of his elbow. “I actually do think you need a reason. You might be an assassin, but I haven’t met an assassin yet who didn’t plan every kill very carefully.”
Surprise flickered in her cool black eyes at his assessment. “Most people think we run around killing all willy-nilly.”
“Most people are morons.” He reached for a vacutainer, a tube for gathering blood. “Most hunters, whether animal, human, or demon, are selective and careful about their prey. You get caught or injured, and you’re dead. Hunting is a matter of life or death if you need to eat.”
“Like me.” He eyed her, wished she’d stop squirming and making obscene rubbing sounds on the sheets. “Even in warg form, I’m careful about what I catch.”
“I thought werewolves do kill all willy-nilly.” The way one corner of her mouth turned up in an impish smile told him she wasn’t completely serious.
“Pricolici wargs and dhampires maintain control. It’s the turned werewolves you have to watch out for, but usually only the newer ones. The older that wargs are, the more they can control themselves during the moon phase. Younger wargs do tend to kill without a lot of skill or forethought.”
Young wargs were the ones who tended to get nailed by The Aegis, and the ones who had given all werewolves a reputation for being monsters. On the other paw, the older any warg was, the less “human” he became. There was definitely a trade-off. Control while in beast form came with a loss of connection with humans while in the human body.
He pushed the vacutainer into the holder, and blood began to fill the tube. Sin frowned. “Uh… do you need help with that?”
“Nah. I’m good with one hand.”
“No doubt you are.”
He smirked, amused by her presumption. “I have no need to be. Females fall at my feet.” Sin hadn’t exactly fallen at his feet—no, she’d tried to kick his ass when they first met. But she’d eventually caved. Of course, as a succubus, she could very well cave to every male who crossed her path. And why that thought made him suddenly grumpy he had no idea.
“The day I fall at your feet,” she drawled, “is the day I give up pizza.”
“Mmm, love it. All kinds. Thin crust, pan crust, the works, just cheese… yum.” She rubbed her flat belly, and Con had to clench his fist to keep from reaching over and joining the action. “Stomach’s rumbling. Need pizza.”
“Tell you what. You explain to me why you started the epidemic, and I’ll bring you a pizza when I come back from the Council meeting.” He also made a mental note to call Luc with an update about SF. Con had promised the warg that he’d keep him up on the latest news.
She hesitated, then shrugged. “It was a hit gone wrong. I was supposed to waste this werewolf, so I channeled my gift into him. It usually kills quickly, but I was interrupted by Idess.”
“Lore’s mate? Why would she interrupt?” Con remembered the first time he’d seen the gorgeous angel who gave off a glow of pure goodness, even though rumor had it that she was human now. Idess had been brought in to the hospital by Lore after a battle in which they’d tried to kill each other.
Now they were mated, happy, and practically inseparable.
Sin waved her hand. “Long story. But basically, she was all angel-fied at the time, and she was protecting the guy.” She cast a sideways glance at him. “It was that first victim you brought into the hospital. Remember when I was waiting around the ER?”
Hell, yeah, he remembered. He’d brought Chase in, and Sin had been hovering. He’d left the dying werewolf in a trauma room and paused outside the door to write up the paperwork. Sin had been there.
She cleared her throat. “Hey, how is the warg?”
Con looked up, startled to see the incredibly hot female standing in front of him. “Dying. Why?”
“No reason.” She rubbed her arms, which were covered by her denim jacket sleeves. “What’s wrong with him? Was he in an accident? Is he sick with something?”
“You’re kind of nosy.”
She shrugged. “Just a concerned citizen.”
He watched her for a moment, letting his enhanced vampire and warg senses reach out to detect her species. Her high temperature and low heart rate indicated demon blood, but she smelled slightly human. So demon and human, but what kind of demon? Whatever she was, she bled like everyone else. The scent came to him on a raft of air, making his mouth water and his fangs drop. As a paramedic, he’d trained himself to ignore the tantalizing scent and sight—Doc E frowned on his medics attacking patients for food—but for some reason, he was reacting to this sexy creature. “You should get your leg looked at.”
Frowning, she looked down at the spot of blood that had seeped through her jeans. “It’s no big—”
He didn’t wait for her to finish. Hunger had hijacked his body, and if he didn’t get the hell away from the little temptress, he’d soon be feeling the effects of the Haven spell when he jumped on her. Quickly, he handed the clipboard to a nurse and headed toward the parking lot.
“So,” he said, “you tried to kill that warg with your gift, and he survived long enough to infect others.”
Sin tucked her knees up against her and wrapped her dermoire-marked arm around them, giving him a tantalizing view of her tight, round ass. Not that he was looking. “Yep.”
“Why not slit their throats or shoot them? Why go the disease route?”
Back to the nonanswers. Impossible female. “Do you want the pizza, or not?”
“What, pizzas are rationed now and only you can get one? I’m outta here.” She yanked the catheter out of her hand and leaped off the bed with sinuous grace and the lightest thump of boots on the floor. “I have stuff to do, people to kill, and I can get my own pizza.” Blood seeped from her hand, and though Con was sated, his mouth still watered.
“Come here.” His voice was low and rough, and Sin swung around, her furious glare burning a hole right through him.
“Been there, done that,” he growled. “Now, come here.”
She shot him the bird and started toward the door. “I don’t respond well to orders.”
He was up in a flash, the tube of blood dangling from his arm, and he had her backed against the wall. “Then what do you respond to, little demon? Because right now, I’ve got a mind to turn you over my knee and spank the spoiled hell out of you and see how you respond to that.” Her gasp of outrage was a bright spot in his otherwise shitty day. “Oh, yeah,” he purred, as he wedged his thigh between hers. “You do respond to me. You responded very well to what I spilled inside you.”
When she’d told him she couldn’t climax until her partner came first, he’d been surprised. And then he’d made her come. Hard. He could still hear the sound of her panting breaths, could still feel her tight inner muscles clamped around him—
She struck out, but before her fist could knock loose a few of his teeth, she hissed and grabbed her head with both hands as the pain from the antiviolence enchantment that protected the hospital kicked in. She and her siblings were immune, but only if they fought with each other.
“Forgot about the Haven spell, huh?”
“I hate you,” she rasped, and why that made him smile, he had no idea.
More gently than she deserved, he peeled her bleeding hand away from her head and swiped his tongue over the needle puncture. God, she tasted decadent, with a bite like fine brandy, and he couldn’t help but let his tongue linger on her skin. She went taut, slowly releasing her head with her other hand.
Beneath his fingers, the pulse in her wrist pounded, matching his beat for crazy beat. The air between them crackled with sudden heat, and his hips surged as he pressed his palm to her delicate throat, wanting to absorb the sensation of her lifeblood flowing under both his hands.
Ah… damn. Power swamped him as though he’d completed a circuit. She was life. She was death. She was the most dangerous female he’d ever met, and if he was smart, he’d run like hell.
Licking her lips, Sin took a deep, shuddering breath that ended with “Release me.”
Right now, that was the last thing he wanted to do, but he’d made his point. She might hate him, but she wanted him. Head a little fuzzy and still feeling the buzz of her blood inside his veins, he stepped back, but she surprised him when she caught his wrist.
Her dermoire lit up, and heat spread through his arm. “Just checking your virus levels,” she said, her voice thick with the same lust that coursed through him like syrup. “You really should have drank more.”
He fixed his gaze on her throat and was only half serious when he murmured, “Still can.”
Her eyes glinted with mischief as she eased closer and pressed the length of her body against him. All her soft parts fit perfectly with his hard ones, but then he’d known that. “Go for it,” she said, exposing her throat and calling his bluff.
She knew damned good and well that he couldn’t risk taking more blood from her, especially given how he’d lost control earlier. And he wasn’t about to take from her throat. Too intimate, too much contact, and way too much Sin for him.
Funny. Too much sin. That had never been a concern before. He’d spent the majority of his life committing all of the sins and inventing new ones.
But this little succubus was killing his people, had made him a carrier of the disease, and her brothers were hyperprotective sons of demons who would have his balls on a spit if he fanged and banged her right here, right now.
You did her in a fucking closet.
Yeah, and talk about a mistake. One he wouldn’t mind repeating. Sure, he despised her, but that would keep things interesting in the sack, wouldn’t it?
Images of her clawing his back, biting his neck, fighting him even as she spread her legs for him flooded his brain. A sixth sense told him she’d give as good as she got, would have no trouble keeping up with him even during the worst of the moon fever, when violent matings could kill.
Back off… back off… He took in a ragged breath, desperate to keep control, because although the full moon was two weeks away, Sin’s blood had forced a high tide in his veins, and every primal urge was starting to rage.
Besides, there wasn’t a breed of succubi out there that didn’t steal something. Whether it was your seed, your soul, your life force, or your heart, they sucked something out of you and rarely gave back.
Sin definitely did not strike him as the giving kind.
The door flew open with a bang. Still hopped up with feral instincts, Con pivoted, fangs bared, to face the threat.
Wraith strode inside, his loose gait deceptively relaxed. Deceptive, because his bright gaze was predatory; he was fully aware of what he’d walked in on, and Con knew the cagey bastard well enough to know he’d file away the information and use it when it was to his advantage.
“Smurfette,” Wraith drawled, his eyes focused on Con. “E needs you in the ER. Warg came in, circling the drain.”
Sin scowled. “Circling the drain?”
“Dying,” Con gritted out. “He’s dying.”
Wraith nodded. “Time to see if you can save lives instead of just taking them.”Three
Karlene Lucio wasn’t sure what would come first: freezing to death or bleeding to death. There was another possibility as well, but she refused to consider the idea that she was going to be decapitated by Aegis hunters.
Some of the very same Aegis hunters she’d been working with for years.
Pain streaked through her right shoulder where the bullet had entered, and snow stung her face as she stumbled through the dense forest, leaving a trail of blood a blind man could follow. Damned Canadian wilderness. Who lived here?
The person you need to find, that’s who.
Shivering despite the layers of clothing she wore, she stumbled over a fallen branch and did a face-plant in the crusted ice. A crack rang out, and wood exploded in shards an inch from her cheek. A muffled scream escaped from her as she rolled and came up behind a thick log. Her hand shook as she dug in her parka pocket for her pistol—not that she could hit the broad side of a Gargantua demon with her left hand.
Empty. Her gun was gone.
Frantically, she looked around her, dug through the snow, tearing her nails and fingertips, leaving bloody smears in the pristine snow. She didn’t even hear the second shot that put a slug through her upper arm and lodged in her side. She felt it, though, like a hot poker striking her with the force of a semi truck, and she flew backward, slamming into a tree trunk hard enough to knock the air from her lungs. As she lay on the ground, dazed, fire gathered in her veins, spreading through her body, and she almost welcomed it. Anything to not feel cold anymore.
The snow and the trees began to blur together. Something crunched next to her: footsteps. Weakly, she looked up at Wade, the male Guardian standing before her, the barrel of his pistol aimed at her forehead.
“I’m sorry it had to come to this,” he said gruffly. His eyes were sad but resolved. She’d expect nothing else from a Guardian who was forced to destroy someone who had deceived and betrayed The Aegis for years. Didn’t matter that they’d fought side by side, had worked toward a common goal—to rid the earth of evil.
She was now considered one of the evil… and a traitor, to boot. The Aegis’s new, more lenient stance on underworld creatures was even more of a joke than a don’t-ask-don’t-tell policy.
She could beg for her life, but it wouldn’t do any good. And in truth, she’d never begged for anything, and she wasn’t about to start now. Besides, maybe this was for the best.
“Close your eyes,” he said.
“Go to hell.” Her death might be for the best, but that didn’t mean she was going to make it easy on her killer. Wade was going to have to look into her eyes as he ended her life.
This time, she heard the shot. But she didn’t feel it. Blood sprayed everywhere, splattering the trees, the snow, her face. Wade crumpled to the ground, the top of his skull missing. And standing where Wade’s body had been was the very werewolf she’d come all the way into the middle of nowhere to see.
And though her vision was fading, she could tell that he didn’t look happy to see her.
Son of a bitch.
Luc looked down at the female Guardian whose pale blue eyes had gone glassy, and he knew she was about to lose consciousness. Sure enough, as he plugged the butt of his rifle into the snow, she twitched like a dying beetle, face pale from blood loss and cold, and she was bleeding a hot river into the snow.
Jesus. The last time he’d seen her had been in Egypt, where they’d met. And screwed. And then parted without a word, and Luc had never expected to see her again.
So what the hell was she doing here? And why were her fellow Aegi trying to kill her? Did they know her secret?
Right now, it didn’t matter. She was bleeding to death, the freak late-spring blizzard was getting worse, and there was, no doubt, another Aegi out here somewhere. The demon hunters rarely worked alone.
Cursing, he slung the rifle over his shoulder, gathered Karlene in his arms, and forged his way back to his cabin. She was bleeding badly, but he couldn’t risk being followed by a Guardian and he had to take the long way back—a path that took him along a stream bed that would hide his tracks if the blizzard didn’t.
Finally, wet, frozen, and exhausted, he reached his cabin. Inside, the fire blazed and the scent of rabbit stew permeated the air. In his arms, the female groaned. The sound was reedy, weak, and he had to hurry.
Carefully, he laid her down near the hearth, and then he peeled back the bearskin rug near the south corner of the living room. Knots and natural wood grain concealed the hatch he’d had installed and concealed by a sorceress, but with one well-placed strike with the side of his fist over one particular knot the door popped open. Instantly, a blast of icy air blew his chin-length black hair away from his face and dried out his eyes. He’d have to get a fire going down there or Kar would freeze to death before she had a chance to bleed out.
Gently, he picked her up and carried her down the steep steps. The room beneath was dark, stealing light only from the slats in the floor above. He lay her on the straw pallet, lit a fire in the hearth that had been cleverly vented through the fireplace above, and ran back up the stairs.
After grabbing his jump bag and a couple of blankets, he kneeled beside her and gloved up. Her lightly freckled face was pale, her short cap of strawberry blond hair matted to her skull, and she no longer looked like the tough-bitch Guardian who had gone toe-to-toe with him during battle-lust-induced werewolf sex. She looked vulnerable and fragile, and right now, he was her only hope of survival.
Working rapidly and with precision, he went through the standard ABCs—airway, breathing, circulation—ritual and was not thrilled with the results. Her pulse was rapid and thready, her breathing labored, and, damn, he wished he was a doctor instead of a paramedic.
He grabbed a pair of shears to cut away her parka, the sweater beneath it, and the thermal and silk shirts under that. The girl had definitely been prepared for the cold. Too bad she hadn’t been prepared for the two bullets that had torn apart her shoulder and arm.
The flesh was mangled, and bone thrust through the hamburger-like mess. Black streaks spread like evil vines from the wounds, through her shoulder and chest, lengthening and branching off as he watched.
Silver bullets. So the Aegis definitely knew what she was—a born warg. He’d seen her crescent moon birthmark on the sole of her foot when they’d been naked. If not for that, Luc would have left her to die in the snow. He wasn’t taking any chances, so lucky for her he’d just gotten a call on his sat-phone from Con, who’d given him the latest SF update. Only turned wargs were affected. Wasn’t that just fortuitous as all hell for the bastard borns.
The wounds were bad. Kar needed to go to UG, but the nearest Harrowgate was two miles away, and in the blizzard it would take him hours to get there—if he could get there. He had a snowmobile, but it wouldn’t do much good in this weather, and the noise would attract any nearby Aegi.
And they were still two weeks from the full moon, which meant there was no hope for Kar to shift and heal her wounds.
If he didn’t get her real medical attention, these wounds would kill her.
He could buy her time, though. The silver bullets had to come out. The poison was spreading through her body, had already reached her abdomen, and at this rate, she’d be dead within the hour.
“Kar?” He spoke in a low, soothing tone as he rummaged through the medical kit for his forceps. “This is going to hurt.” She didn’t reply, and he hoped she was too out of it to feel what he was about to do.
Drawing a bracing breath, he dug around in the deepest hole—the bullet had gone through her arm and entered between her fourth and fifth ribs. He eased the slug from her body and tossed it into the trash. Those Aegis bastards.
He’d despised them for more than ninety years, since the day one had nearly killed him as he shifted out of his werewolf form. But his hatred had hit a new level three years ago.
Dammit. He didn’t have time to dwell on the female he’d wanted to take as a mate. She was dead, and her death at the hands of the Aegis slayers took up too much time in his nightmares anyway.
The second bullet was harder to remove. He was forced to make an incision to widen the wound, and though Kar didn’t wake, she moaned. The silver slug was lodged in her humerus, and all around it, the bone had blackened with poison.
Cursing, he worked the bullet out with the forceps, and as it pulled free, Kar screamed in agony. Her body jackknifed, and he had to use his weight to hold her down.
“Almost done,” he grunted, as he pinned her and waited for her to settle. It took a minute, but she quieted and stilled, mercifully losing consciousness again.
Luc worked quickly to finish, but it took forever to get the wounds stitched and dressed. It wasn’t enough. Not nearly enough. She’d lost a lot of blood, was probably bleeding internally, and if he didn’t get her to UG fast, she was going to die.
Kynan Morgan couldn’t believe he was doing this. No human in his right mind would knowingly walk into the building that housed the Warg Council. Especially not if you were a member of The Aegis.
But then Kynan wasn’t completely human, probably wasn’t in his right mind, and he definitely wasn’t without defenses. Nope, the amulet around his neck, Heofon, might have put the weight of the world on his shoulders, but it had also come with a cool invincibility charm that meant nothing but a fallen angel could harm him.
Okay, Lore could kill Ky, but they’d worked out their differences a while back. Mostly. The demon still liked to needle him, but that went both ways.
Kynan stood at the threshold of the ancient ruin of a building that had likely, at one time, housed Russian nobility. Now it was in shambles, and when a dark-haired woman with wary eyes gestured for him to follow her inside, he noticed that the interior was in worse shape than the exterior.
Crumbling walls and chipped stone floors greeted him, though throw rugs in vibrant shades of crimson and gold had been laid out. Potted plants and trees that grew right out of the floor gave the rooms an earthy, outdoorsy feel, which made sense, given that wargs, especially the born ones, were basically wild animals.
The female stopped outside a room that might once have been a grand library. It still housed books, but most of them were yellowed with age and dust. Two males stood in the center of the room, and as Kynan stepped inside, he sensed movement behind him.
He didn’t have to turn around to know that he’d just been surrounded and trapped. The wargs definitely wouldn’t be taking any chances.
The larger of the two, the one with the broad nose and shaggy, reddish hair, narrowed his eyes at Kynan. “You should know that no Guardian has ever set foot in Warg Council headquarters. How did you find us?”
“The Aegis has ways.” Actually, they’d been searching for this place for decades, and they still didn’t know where it was. Kynan and Wraith had tracked it down just yesterday—the demon could find anything, especially now that he was as charmed as Kynan. “Who are you?”
Red sneered. “Valko.” He nodded to the towhead. “This is Raynor. And your name so we can notify next of kin?”
Funny guy. “I’m Kynan.”
“And why are you here, Kynan?” Raynor asked. “Do you have information about the plague that’s killing our people?”
“If he did, do you think he’d tell us?” Valko scoffed. “The Aegis wants nothing more than to see us extinct.”
“That’s not true.” Kynan removed his sunglasses and tucked them into his pocket. “The Aegis has been killing fewer werewolves than ever before, and you know it.” Thanks to Tayla and Kynan, The Aegis had gone through several changes, which included a capture-instead-of-kill policy for most werewolves. As long as they didn’t harm humans, werewolves were pretty much left alone. At least, they were supposed to be. Not everyone in The Aegis agreed with the new policies that made attempts to avoid killing nonharmful underworld species, and it was hard to police individual Aegis cells.
“So why are you here?”
“Because I need information about a new breed of werewolf.”
Valko frowned. “New breed?”
“One that shifts during the new moon instead of the full moon.”
Both wargs’ eyes went utterly flat. Valko’s expression turned to stone. “There is no such thing.”
“There is.” Kynan cracked his knuckles, prepared to crack heads, too, if that’s what it took to get some answers. “One of them is on the run with Guardians after her, and I’m trying to save her life.”
And then some heads were going to roll for this. The Guardian’s father, an Aegi himself, had contacted the Sigil in a panic, worried that his daughter was in danger. Sure enough, after a little investigating, Kynan had learned that instead of bringing the matter to the Sigil, the Guardian’s cell had decided to ignore the new policies and mete out justice according to the old laws.
“We’ve already lost contact with a Guardian who was hunting her,” Kynan continued. “So I want to know what the hell is up with her and why she’d head to the Northwest Territories.”
“Whatever she is, you need to kill her,” Valko said, surprising the shit out of Ky. “Abominations are always dangerous.”
Raynor stiffened, and an undercurrent of tension spun up in the room. “You think anyone who was not born a warg is an abomination.”
“That isn’t what I said,” Valko said in a mockingly pleasant voice. “You varcolac are too sensitive. Not everything is about you.” He turned back to Kynan. “We know nothing about wargs who can shift during the Feast moon. I suggest you kill the female and let it go.”
Valko was lying, but clearly, he wasn’t going to give up anything. And since no one he’d spoken to, not even Eidolon or the R-XR, had heard of any kind of warg that turned on the new moon, Kynan was at a dead end.Four
“Our species faces extinction.”
The Warg Council’s Prime Enforcer made his grim pronouncement while leaning over the table around which nine other members sat, his fists planted firmly on the scarred oak top. Like many born wargs, Ludolf had black hair, brown eyes, and a penchant for drama.
“That’s an exaggeration,” Con said calmly, though inside he was anything but. Still in his paramedic uniform, he’d come straight to the Moscow hideaway after leaving Sin, and while he’d anticipated the usual flaring tempers between the born and turned wargs, he hadn’t expected them to pounce on him the way they had. Anxious for information from Underworld General from the only Councilmember with an inside track, they’d practically dragged him into the room, which was a large chamber in the basement of a building the Council had owned since moving from its Romanian stronghold more than a century ago.
The grilling, from all sides, had started the moment he’d taken his seat as the sole representative for the dhampire race.
“An exaggeration?” Valko, the Council leader, slammed his fist on the table. “Is that what your boss told you? I think he’d say anything to protect his precious sister.”
No doubt about that. But Eidolon was also working his ass off to find a cure. Conall stood to address the others. “Eidolon is making progress—”
“What kind of progress?” That from Raynor, one of the four turned-warg Council members. “And Sin should have been killed a long time ago for her part in this.”
For some reason, a growl took root in Con’s chest, but he managed to squash it. “Sin might be the answer to the cure,” he shot back. “Eidolon is experimenting with her abilities as we speak.”
“Eidolon,” Valko spat. “I don’t trust him. He’s a traitor to all underworld beings. Anyone who would mate with an Aegi is worthy of only contempt.” His brows slammed down to frame a murderous glare. “Speaking of Aegi, you work with one named Kynan at the hospital?”
“I used to,” Con said. “He quit a while ago.” Quit so he could become an Elder, one of the twelve members of the Sigil who ran The Aegis, but Con didn’t think Valko needed to know that. “Why?”
“Because he left just minutes before you arrived. Did you tell him how to find us?”
Con blinked. “Kynan was here?”
“Yes. Apparently The Aegis is hunting a Feast warg, and he wanted information.”
That caused a stir among the crowd. Originally created thousands of years ago by a freak mating between a demon and a warg, the resulting abominations had been enslaved and bred by demons to kill other wargs. Though they were no longer enslaved, Feasts still possessed an inbred instinct to kill werewolves. They were so despised and feared that they didn’t even have a representative on the Council. Probably because they were killed on sight.
Ludolf’s lips peeled back from his teeth. “You didn’t tell him anything?”
“Of course not,” Valko snapped, because it was truly a dumb question. No one wanted The Aegis to know about Feast wargs. The fear that the slayers would use Feasts to hunt varcolac and pricolici was too great. “I hinted that any such warg is one-of-a-kind, and told him to kill her. But I’ve dispatched a team to hunt her.”
“I did, too,” Raynor said, and yeah, now there’d be a competition between turneds and borns to see who could get the female’s head first. Too bad for her, but right now the Council had more serious problems.
Con locked gazes with each of the other Council members one by one, seven males and three females, starting with the lowest-ranking turned warg, to Valko. “We’ve learned that the virus only affects varcolac.”
Silence fell like an ax. For a moment, no one so much as breathed. Then, just as suddenly, the room exploded in curses from the turned wargs, and not-so-subtle utters of “Thank the gods” from the born wargs.
Raynor shot to his feet with such violence that his chair flew backward and cracked against the wall. “ ‘Thank the gods’? You racist bastards!”
Valko stood. “Calm down. No one is happy about this turn of events, but it does mean that wargs are not doomed to extinction.”
“No,” Raynor snarled. “Only we second-class citizens are, but who cares about that, right?”
“Enough!” Con barked. “Arguing isn’t going to solve anything. What’s important is that we now know who is at risk.”
“And that helps us how, damnedpire?”
Con hated that insult, only tolerated it from Luc because they had an antagonistic relationship anyway. His temper flared, and he bared his fangs at the turned female who’d flung the barb at him. Sonya returned the display of aggression, her teeth glaringly white against rich, dark skin he’d felt under his hands one night not so long ago.
“It means born wargs no longer need to isolate themselves,” Ludolf said loudly, drawing everyone’s attention back to him. “We can round up the varcolacs—”
“And give you ‘purebreds’ an excuse to treat us even worse? You going to put us in some kind of camp?” Raynor scoffed. “I wouldn’t put it past the pricolici to have started this plague in the first place as a way to get rid of us.”
Valko stepped around the table, the bitter stench of menace preceding him. “That’s ridiculous.”
“Is it?” Raynor moved to meet the larger male, a plan that could end with his throat ripped out.
“This was no plot to exterminate turned wargs.” Conall put himself between the two males. If they wanted to shed blood, he couldn’t care less, but a battle right now would require his participation, and if he bled, he might put the turneds in the room at risk from the virus he carried. “But one thing is certain; we can’t let this get out. If members of the Council, people who should have level heads, believe there’s a conspiracy, think about the general public. We could have a civil war on our hands.”
“So you’re suggesting that we continue to let pricolici citizens live in fear unnecessarily?” Ludolf’s disgusted tone made clear what he thought of the idea.
“Oh, yes, we wouldn’t want the precious purebloods to suffer along with the mutts, would we?” Yasashiku said.
Shit. This meeting was going to end up in a full-on dog-fight in a minute. Every person in the room was an alpha, and though there was a pecking order within each of the pricolici, varcolac, and dhampire societies, rank meant nothing outside an individual’s society. And with the way aggression was winging through the tension-thick air, this wasn’t going to be a minor scuffle. Fur was going to fly.
“What do you think, Conall?” Valko asked. “Since your breed isn’t affected by any of this, what’s your take?”
“I’ve already told you what I think. We need to keep it quiet for now. We can’t afford to let hysteria tear us apart more than we already are.” He would also keep quiet about the fact that his breed apparently was affected.
“We?” Raynor sneered. “No one persecutes you dhampires. You are born that way. Not made against your will.”
“For the love of Sirius, stop your whining!” Ludolf shouted.
Sonya rounded on Ludolf. “Do you blame us?”
It was true. The turned wargs were looked down on as inferior beings. Varcolac were underrepresented on the Council, their words and opinions weighed less than those of born wargs, and their issues were treated as trivial. They’d been given voting rights only two years ago, which still grated on most of the pricolici council members. Only Feast wargs were looked down on with more disdain.
“We’ll put this to a vote.” Con clenched his fists to keep from knocking some heads together if anyone disagreed. A diplomat, he was not. “Those in favor of keeping this under wraps for now?”
All but two members, both pricolici, raised their hands, sealing the decision.
“It’s settled, then.” Con yanked his leather jacket off the back of his chair. “We can meet again in a week, or earlier if Eidolon has a breakthrough.”
“Hold up, dhampire,” Valko said. “There’s still the matter of what to do with Sin.”
Con bristled. “What do you mean, ‘what to do with Sin’?”
“She must be held responsible. You will bring her to us.”
Con schooled his expression to hide his surprise. That Valko would demand justice for something that was a turned-warg issue was extremely unusual. “Sin didn’t start this epidemic intentionally.”
“A drunk driver doesn’t set out to cause an accident, but in a human court, he’s held responsible.”
“Since when do you care about human issues?” Con asked. “Human laws don’t apply to her, and because Sin is a Seminus demon, she’s not subject to warg law, either.”
Valko steepled his fingers, his expression unusually neutral. “We will present her to the Seminus Council for punishment.”
Whoa. Okay, it was strange enough that Valko wanted justice, but to have it come through official channels, rather than having Sin killed, was almost unbelievable. Something was up. “And if they decide she’s done nothing wrong?”
“Then we’ll involve the Justice Dealers and the Maleconcieo.”
Ah, okay. Lightbulb moment. Eidolon had been raised by the Judicia, demons whose entire purpose was to mete out demon justice, and for years he’d served as they had, as a Justice Dealer. If Dealers and the Maleconcieo, the highest demonic authority that presided over all demon Councils, were involved, Eidolon would be brought into the mix, and he might very well be forced to carry out Sin’s punishment—probably in the form of death.
Valko had despised Eidolon for years, since the day the doctor had failed to save Valko’s son after he’d been shot by an Aegi’s silver bullet. That Eidolon had later mated with an Aegi had only fueled Valko’s hatred. Valko would love to see Eidolon forced to kill his own sister.
Con scanned the room. Anticipation glittered in every warg’s eyes, as though they already smelled blood in the air. “Eidolon needs her to find a cure or to develop a vaccine.”
“Then perhaps we should involve the Justice Dealers now,” Raynor said. “If she’s held in prison, she will have no choice but to submit to Eidolon’s tests and treatments.”
“You’re suggesting she’ll run?” Con asked. “She won’t. She’s committed to ending this epidemic.”
Skepticism laced Valko’s voice. “You have one week.”
“One week is not enough—”
Valko shoved to his feet. “You will stick to her like glue for the week, and after that, you will bring her in. If Eidolon is still seeking a cure, we’ll let the Seminus Council decide what to do with her. But she will face justice for this.”
Cursing, Con headed for the door, refusing to stay in that room for one more minute. Those two societies were ticking time bombs. And with a disease spreading faster than the Black Death had, the last thing the world needed was a werewolf civil war.
Valko and Ludolf remained behind in the conference room after everyone else had left. Valko trusted all the pricolici members of the Council, but he’d been raised with Ludolf in the Botev pack, and there was no one he trusted more than the ruthless bastard who had killed their clan leader and then handed control as pack alpha over to Valko.
Ludolf sat back in his leather chair, his heavy-lidded gaze sweeping between the closed door and Valko. “You think they fell for it?”
“Fell for what, Dolf?” Valko asked innocently.
Ludolf snorted. “Don’t play that way with me. I know you too well, and you’re too cunning. Once you heard that only the varcolac were affected by the plague, your wheels started spinning.” He kicked his feet up on the tabletop. “So? Did they fall for it?”
There was a long silence while Valko considered the intelligence level of each member. Most turneds were half-wits with pathetic instincts, but one couldn’t underestimate them, especially not Raynor. And Con, as a dhampire, definitely wasn’t stupid. “The varcolac don’t want to believe that we possibly care about their plight, but yes, I think they believe my proposal was genuine. They’re aware that I do want Eidolon put down, after all.” Oh, yes, Valko’s hatred for Eidolon was well known, so no one would suspect that his suggestion to involve the Justice Dealers and Sem Council was about far more than punishing Eidolon and his sister.
Valko had nothing against Sin. Not now, anyway. In fact, he’d like to thank her for starting the epidemic that was killing the varcolac. But he had a plan for her.
“Are you still in contact with your brother?”
A slow smile stretched Dolf’s thin lips. His half brother had been in hiding for three decades for crimes against other wargs, but they wouldn’t have lost complete contact. “I can be.”
“Good. Tell him that if he sends Sin’s head to Eidolon without anyone discovering who was responsible for her death, the Warg Council will forgive his past transgressions and give him a place on the council. If Con is caught in the cross fire, even better.”
“You are devious. The turneds will be blamed for taking revenge.”
“And we will sit back and watch them be destroyed, if not by the virus, then by us, with the full cooperation of the Seminus Council.” Valko couldn’t contain the hum of anticipation in his voice.
“You truly believe the Sems would go to war over the death of one female half-breed?”
“Of course not. But they’ll be angry enough to side with us when the war starts.”
“And why will a war start?”
“Because,” Valko said, “we’re going to leak the fact that the disease affects only varcolac, and once the lowlife turneds start up with their conspiracy theories and assume that we are responsible for the disease—”
“They’ll attack us.”
Dolf grinned. “And we will finally have the excuse we’ve needed for centuries to destroy those abominations.”
“And,” Valko added, “depending on which side the dhampires fall on, we might be able to take them out, as well. The canine were-world will finally be cleansed.”
As he exited the rear of the Warg Council building, Con sensed the presence of another dhampire. The parklike grounds spread over half an acre, the copse of trees near the far wall of the property concealing the only Harrowgate in a two-mile radius. The scent of warg was strong around the gate; any species with a halfway decent sense of smell would hightail it back into the Harrowgate or away from the Council building immediately.
Unless they were there for a reason, and as Bran emerged from the forest shadows, Con knew this wasn’t going to be pleasant.
Bran was, as many dhampires liked to say, a scary motherfucker.
Standing seven feet tall and built like a bull, the guy didn’t have to do anything to get people to move out of his way. But it was his missing right eye and the scar that ran from his right temple to the left side of his chin that sealed the deal. Well, that and the full tank of crazy that gleamed in his good eye.
He kept his long, silver mane pulled back in a ponytail so none of it obscured the mess that was his face.
“Conall.” Bran’s rough voice vibrated deep into Con’s chest. “We need to talk.”
Con crossed his arms over his chest. “I didn’t think you came all the way to Moscow because the vodka is so good.” Probably not the smartest way to talk to a senior Dhampire Councilmember, but Con hadn’t bowed and scraped to anyone in a long time.
“Aisling has gone to the night.”
A chill shivered over Con’s skin. What happened to dhampires when they died was a strongly held secret among his people—the biggest secret, in fact. Speaking about it was forbidden, even within their own species. Outside their own kind, they were compelled to silence.
Compelled, in the mystical sense of the word. Every dhampire possessed an inborn inability to speak in specifics about “going to the night.” The words simply would not come, and no amount of torture could force a dhampire to discuss it.
“Aisling was so young,” Con murmured. He’d been fond of his three-century-old second cousin, a strong voice in the shrinking dhampire community who had borne two babes and was carrying a third. “The baby—”
“How did it happen?”
“Human road rage.” The vicious curl of Bran’s upper lip said that the driver had gotten a taste of dhampire justice. “We were fortunate to have retrieved her body—her car went over a cliff and into the ocean.”
“I’m sorry about Aisling, but why deliver the news in person?”
“Because I wanted to be the one to tell you that you’re taking her seat on the Council, and that you will participate in the upcoming breeding season.”
Con’s curse dragged out on a long breath, and damn, he wished he still smoked. But smoking had gotten boring, no matter what he’d put in the pipe or rolled in the papers.
How long had he wanted this very thing? To take on the duties of his father, to lead the clan to prosperity and good hunts? But not this way. Not because they had a seat to fill and he was the last adult in his father’s royal line. They were supposed to ask him to come back because they wanted his input, his experience. Not because they needed his genes.
His stomach did a few somersaults as he leveled his gaze at Bran. “No.”
Bran’s fist snapped out, catching Con in the jaw. It was a light blow, a punishing nip by wolf standards, but it stung. “Whelp! You do not tell your alpha no.”
Very slowly, so as not to provoke Bran, Con dropped his arms to his sides and widened his stance. “I have a seat on the Warg Council, a job at Underworld General—”
“You’ll give them up,” Bran barked. “Yordan will take your seat on the Warg Council, and I doubt the demon hospital will miss you.” The big male crowded close, so close that if Con breathed deeply, their chests would touch. “You will come home and take your place in dhampire society. We have been patient with you, letting slide your absences during the breeding seasons, letting you run loose outside our range, but it’s time for you to settle down and fulfill your duties as dhampire royalty.”
Letting him run loose? Settle down? “I think, old man, you mistake me for a youngling pup. You expelled me from the clan. It was only Aisling’s pleading that convinced the Council to allow me back during the full moon tides. Now you suddenly want me to return and never leave again, except to conduct business and feed?”
And since male dhampires were prone to blood addiction if they fed off the same individual too many times, they definitely had to leave the dhampire sanctuary to find their meals. Not that a male couldn’t get addicted outside the sanctuary, as well.
Con had more than enough experience with that to know.
Bran snarled, and Con braced himself. A verbal battle was something he could win. But if Bran lashed out—
Con found himself on the ground, laid flat by a meaty fist. Pain spiderwebbed across this face, bells rang, and honest-to-God stars swirled in his vision. Bran stomped Con in the ribs, and son of a bitch, that hurt.
Rolling to avoid another strike, he kicked out, catching Bran in the back of the knees and knocking him to the ground. As the other dhampire hit the grass, Con threw a punch that sent Bran skidding on his ass for several feet. Con dove, landing another punch, the crack ringing out in the crisp evening air.
Ultimately, Con would lose this fight. Oh, he could take the three-thousand-year-old dhampire, but winning would be interpreted as an overthrow of an alpha, and Con would find himself not only back in the clan but in charge of it.
Fury lit his fuse at the lose-lose of the situation, and after he got in a few more well-placed punches, he rolled onto his back and allowed Bran, whose mouth filled with his own blood, to pin him. Bran clamped his hand around Con’s throat and squeezed, cutting off his breath.
“You insolent cur,” he hissed. “You are a spoiled wretch who should have been brought to heel centuries ago. We took pity on you after your mother’s death, but you didn’t learn from that, did you?”
Fuck you, Con mouthed, even as his lungs began to burn from lack of oxygen.
“Does it bother you at all?” Bran’s voice was a gravelly purr, as though he both enjoyed and hated taunting Con. “Do you regret sinking into blood addiction? Do you ever think about the female who died because of your lack of control? Do you ever think on how Eleanor died?”
Go. To. Hell.
Slowly, Bran peeled his fingers away, and Con took a grateful gulp of air. “You will return, and you will take your place on the Council. You are coming with me now.”
“Can’t.” Con started to thrash, straining against Bran’s heavy body and the hand that clamped down on his neck again.
“I will take you by force, Conall.” His knee came up to nail Con in the groin, effectively putting an end to the struggle. And maybe to future kids, as well. “What will it be?”
“The disease that is killing wargs is a threat to us all,” Con bit out. “You can have me when the crisis is over.”
“Show me your throat.”
Damn him. It wasn’t enough that Con had willingly lost the fight; Bran was going to make him endure complete surrender. Grinding his molars so hard they hurt, Con cranked his head to the side, leaving his jugular exposed. For a long moment, Bran did nothing. Con’s pulse ticked off the seconds, and the longer Bran kept Con in the submissive, humiliating position, the more Con began to sweat.
“You’ve made your point,” Con growled.
“No,” Bran said, with a sadistic laugh. “I don’t think I have.” He dropped his mouth to Con’s throat, and Con’s heart leaped up there to join the party.
“Don’t. The virus is in my blood.”
Bran’s hot breath whispered across Con’s skin. “How convenient.”
Very. Being fed on in a show of dominance was never pleasant.
The scrape of teeth along Con’s jugular made him tense because, like Con, Bran had never been cautious with his own life, and Con wouldn’t put it past the crazy bastard to bite despite the viral infection swimming in Con’s veins.
Finally, Bran leaped fluidly to his feet. “You have until the epidemic is contained or the breeding season starts. Whichever comes first.” He stepped into the Harrowgate, and the shimmering curtain solidified, leaving Con alone in the courtyard.
Alone with the knowledge that his days of freedom were numbered, and with the words “Be careful what you wish for” running through his head.Five
“Let the bodies hit the floor.”
“Bodies,” by Drowning Pool, blared from Sin’s iPod Shuffle, and she sang at the top of her lungs as she walked with Wraith to the ER. After Con had taken off—without so much as a “Thanks for the meal”—Wraith had made her stop by the cafeteria for a quick snack to replenish her blood sugar or some crap. Apparently, Eidolon the Great had insisted. Something about passing out again.
Now, Wraith was stone silent, though a cocky smirk turned up one corner of his mouth. “So,” he said, tugging her earbuds from her ears, “you banging the paramedic?”
So much for the stone silence. She’d love to make his body hit the floor. “Not that it’s any of your business, but no.” Not recently, anyway.
“But you want to.” When she opened her mouth to deny it, he cut her off. “You can’t lie to an incubus about sex. You should know that.”
“Whatever,” she muttered, and stuck the earbuds back in place.
Wraith’s boots sounded like mini-bombs striking the obsidian floor even through the blaring sound of the music, and with each step, her nerves twitched. No doubt the effect was calculated, because she knew he could move like a damned phantom when he wanted to. Once again, he yanked on the headset’s cord. “He wants you, too.”
“Well, gee, aren’t you just smarter than you look.” Knowing the battle was lost, she turned off the tiny MP3 player. “Hello, he’s a guy. And a vampire. He was responding to the feeding.” And to her succubus pheromones, which had a tendency to attract the attention of all nonincubi males, even if only subliminally. “What’s your point, anyway?”
He shrugged. “Just making conversation.”
Bullshit. He was trying to get as much information about her as he could. Her new brothers all responded differently to her existence—Eidolon accepted it like she’d been around for years, Shade made extra efforts to build a relationship, and Wraith… he kept her at arm’s length, and she had a feeling he would until he learned to trust her. She got that; she was the same way. Just because someone was biologically related didn’t make them family. Definitely didn’t make them likable.
Worse, family had the potential to hurt a person much more than a stranger ever could.
“You don’t like me, do you?” she asked.
“I don’t know you.”
She stopped in the middle of the hall. “Cut the shit.”
He grinned. “You’re a straight shooter. I do like that.”
Wraith’s blue eyes glazed over as he stared down the hall, going someplace she couldn’t follow. “But we have a history of some real fuckwads in the family, starting with our father and ending with Roag. Lore has proven himself, but you… you’re a wild card.” His gaze shifted to her, and it was as cold as the arctic tundra. “I won’t let you screw with my brothers.”
“Screw with them? Maybe you could keep in mind that I saved the lives of two of Shade’s kids. And I never wanted to meet you guys at all. The only reason I’m spending as much time with you as I am is because Eidolon and Shade won’t leave me alone.”
Eidolon called her to come in for stuff related to the epidemic, and Shade was always inviting her to dinner with his family to thank her for what she’d done for his sons. And sure, the triplets, Rade, Stryke, and Blade, were cute and all, but dealing with drooly little rugrats was way out of her comfort zone.
“But you’re here now, and you’re in our lives. So what happens when the plague is over and you don’t need to come to the hospital anymore?” Wraith stepped closer, using his size in an attempt to intimidate her. “Will you disappear?”
She wrenched her neck to look up at him, but no way was she backing down. “That’s the plan.”
A low growl rumbled in his chest. “I couldn’t give a hellrat’s ass, but my brothers? Different story. Lore worries about you. E has accepted you into the family, and he’s not going to let you go. Shade… he lost a sister he loved, and now he needs you to help him heal. He probably doesn’t see that, but even as dense as I am sometimes, I see it. So guess what, little sister? Get used to having me around because I’m going to be your shadow until I’m sure you won’t hurt our family.”
Sin practically shook with rage. “You don’t get to tell me what to do,” she spat. “And I’m not your ‘little’ sister. I’m older than you are, dickhead.”
“Duh, the years you spent as a clueless human don’t count. Everyone knows that.” He narrowed his eyes at her. “Just remember what I said. Don’t try to run away, because there is no place on Earth or in Sheoul where I can’t find you.” His voice was a rumbling, deadly murmur. “And trust me, you don’t want me on your heels.” He did a crisp about-face on the ball of his foot and took off down the hall, leaving her spitting mad and tempted to go after him, though she had no idea what she’d do if she caught up to him.
“Sin!” Eidolon gestured to her from the double swinging doors to the ER. “I need you. Now.”
Sin mentally flipped off Wraith and hurried after Eidolon, who didn’t even wait to see if she was following. He crossed to a room near the parking lot doors and flung back the heavy curtain.
There, lying in a bed, was a tawny-haired male, a teenager, maybe, his skin ashen in the few places where it wasn’t mottled by black bruises, blood leaking from his nose, eyes, and ears. Machines breathed for him, pumped fluids into his veins, monitored his vital signs. A young, humanoid nurse—a shifter of some sort, according to the star-shaped mark behind her ear—checked his status, her face pinched with concern.
Sin wanted to throw up. “Was he in an accident?”
“That’s what this disease does.” Eidolon lifted the patient’s chart from a hook at the end of the bed. “It’s a VHF, a viral hemorrhagic fever. It causes multisystem failure, including the vascular system. Organs break down, and veins basically dissolve. The patient bleeds from all orifices—”
“Stop.” Horrified, Sin stumbled back a step, bumping into a cabinet behind her. God, what had she done?
Eidolon gestured to the nurse. “Vladlena, can we get a minute?”
“Of course, Doctor.”
Once she was gone, Eidolon gripped Sin’s shoulders. “Sin,” Eidolon said, his tone much kinder than she deserved. “I need your help. I need you to channel your gift into him and see if you can force the virus into compliance.”
“I’ve already tried with that other warg a few days ago. It didn’t work, and he wasn’t nearly as bad off as this guy.”
“I know. And this might not work either. But you’ve had a chance to see how the virus in Con’s blood was killed. If you can cause a similar reaction inside this warg, he might have a chance.”
“Dammit,” she breathed. “Okay. Yeah.” She curled her hands into fists in an effort to keep from trembling. It had been decades since anything had affected her so strongly, and she wasn’t sure how to deal with it other than by burying her emotions down deep, the way she’d always done.
Bucking up, she gently gripped the warg’s blackened, swollen hand. “Why so bruised?”
“He’s bleeding subdermally as his capillaries rupture.”
Dear God. She closed her eyes, digging for every ounce of stone-cold detachment she had. She’d been a killer for years, had been to hell and back—literally—and she’d seen much, much worse than this.
She just hadn’t caused it.
“Why can’t he drink my blood like Con did?” She opened her eyes and shifted her gaze to Eidolon, the walls, the floor, because anything was better than staring at the dying kid. “I mean, I know wargs normally don’t drink blood, but wouldn’t that provide some sort of defense?”
“It worked on Con because he’s part vampire, and the blood he took from you went nearly immediately into his bloodstream. For anyone else, the blood goes into their stomach and is digested or regurgitated.”
Ick. “Can you inject my blood into them?”
“Even if your human blood type were the same as the victim’s, you’re part demon. Injecting your blood directly into a werewolf would kill him.”
Numbly, she nodded. Forced herself to look down at the boy, because he deserved that, at least. Slowly, so slowly, her mental walls finally slammed into place, blocking off the horror, the sorrow, the guilt. Oh, it would all come out again, painfully so, but right now, she needed to put up the shields that would allow her to handle this.
Concentrating, she opened herself up to her ability, and heat ripped down her arm from her shoulder to her fingertips, following the curves and lines of her dermoire. It glowed as her gift channeled into the werewolf.
The disease rolled over her, a dirty sludge of information that made her arm and mind heavy. In her head, the visuals swirled—she could see the twisted, squiggly virus strings wrapped around blood cells, squeezing the life out of them. The shape of the virus strands were different than the ones in Con, but she visualized the way Con’s virus had been destroyed, and then she blasted the warg with power. Stinging gooseflesh prickled from her shoulder to her fingertips, as she imagined reversing the disease, taking it back to its beginning stages.
She concentrated harder. Sweat beaded on her brow.
Breathing deeply, she unleashed the full force of her power, until it felt as though her arm were wrapped in electric fencing. Inside her skull, a hive of angry bees buzzed. Distantly, she heard Eidolon calling her name. Her eyes stung as sweat dripped into them.
Feedback streamed up her dermoire and into her head… Something was happening. The werewolf’s blood cells vibrated, and all around them, the virus strands broke apart. First, it was just a few, but suddenly, they were exploding like popcorn. Tiny bits of the virus rushed through the vessels.
Encouraged, Sin probed the male’s network of veins and arteries, and everywhere, the enemy was being destroyed. Yes! This had been so easy, such a great fix, and as her mind’s eye played the scene in high-def, she smiled.
The virus shreds ran thick through his bloodstream… so thick that they began to pile up, clinging the walls of the arteries… clogging at the narrows.
Oh, shit. Sin dialed back her power and shifted the visuals to the area around his heart. Suddenly, beeping alarms and a flurry of activity surrounded her. She caught a glimpse of the warg’s heart squeezing, then stopping, the veins and arteries around it flattening as they became clogged.
Someone tore her away, and she stood there, dazed and in disbelief, as Eidolon and half a dozen staff members worked to save the warg. Idess, Lore’s mate and an ex-angel who had been given the task of escorting human souls out of the hospital, entered the room, which was a very, very bad sign. Turned werewolves had human souls, so if Idess was there…
Sickened and shaking, Sin didn’t know how long she watched, but when Eidolon cursed violently and called the time of death, she walked out of the room like a zombie, unsure where she was going or what she was doing. All she knew was that her right arm itched, a warning sign that she was about to bleed.
“Sin! Stop!” Eidolon stepped in front of her, and when he raised his hand, she braced herself for a punishing blow. But instead of striking her, he gripped her shoulders, forcing her to stop. “It wasn’t your fault. He was going to die anyway.”
She didn’t point out that it was still her fault.
“Can you tell me what went wrong?”
“Yeah,” she said as she twisted out of his grip. “My psychotic mother fucked a demon, and here I am.” She laughed bitterly. “She always said she was a screwup. I guess I inherited that, huh? I mean, she couldn’t even abort us after eating a demon herb grown solely for killing off mistakes. Leave it to me to not get dying right.”
“Hey.” Eidolon reached for her again, but when she stepped back, he dropped his hand. Still, there was compassion in his eyes, compassion she didn’t want or need. “What happened to you as a child, what’s happening now… I’m sorry. I’ve been hard on you—”
“Whatever.” She cut him off, way too uncomfortable with the mushy-mushy, and impatient to find privacy so that when her guilt erupted no one would witness her pain or try to make it stop. “Let’s just figure out a way to end this.”
Her brother was intuitive enough to know she needed to change the subject, and he rolled with it as if he’d never tried to get all apologetic. “Tell me what happened in there with the warg.”
“There was too much of the virus in his system,” she said. “When it died, it clogged up his veins.”
Eidolon appeared to consider that. “Do you think that if you got to someone before so much of the virus was in the blood you could kill it without the same thing happening?”
“Maybe. But how will that help you? There’s no way I can cure every infected warg that way.”
“No, but we might be able to use the dead virus to create a vaccine or a cure by studying how the young virus was actually killed with your power.”
She frowned. “Can’t you use the virus from the werewolf who just…” Died.
Fortunately, Eidolon spared her from having to say it. “I’ll get samples, absolutely. The problem is that as the disease progresses in a patient, the virus degrades. By the time the patient dies, there isn’t a lot of structure left to study or use. None of the patients have developed antibodies, either. The R-XR has gotten some samples from newly infected wargs, but the problem is that the R-XR can’t kill the virus even in the lab. Nothing kills it. It has to age and die on its own. This is not a human virus, Sin. It’s a demon virus, which means human research and procedures are failing us. Hugely. It doesn’t behave like any human or animal virus I’ve ever seen. We might as well be working with a disease from outer space.”
The intercom squawked, and she nearly jumped out of her skin as Eidolon was called to the triage desk.
He gestured for Sin to follow him around the corner. “I’ll take care of this. Wait in the…” He trailed off, and she followed his gaze to where a nurse, a patchy-furred slogthu, was eyeing two males wearing the black jumpsuit uniform of the Carceris—underworld jailers who weren’t known for their gentle methods. One, a vampire with waist-length chestnut hair, moved to meet her brother. The other, humanoid and species unknown, looked around with curiosity.
And, as if the emergency department wasn’t crowded enough, Con stepped out of the Harrowgate.
“Eidolon.” The vamp held out his hand, and Eidolon clasped it with a firm shake.
“Seth. How can I help you?”
Seth’s ice-blue eyes shifted to Sin, sending a prickle of foreboding up her spine. “Is that your sister? Sin?”
Eidolon stiffened. “Why?”
The other demon stepped forward, overly large lips peeled back to reveal sharp teeth and a forked tongue. “Because,” he said, “we’re here for her. She’s under arrest.”
We’re here for her.
Someone on the Council had changed their mind. Son of a bitch. First, Con had been ambushed by Bran, and now this. He couldn’t catch a freaking break. Sin wouldn’t, either.
Con had been inside a Carceris prison, and it wasn’t Disneyland. The enchanted cells neutralized all species’ special powers and their unique requirements, so that vampires didn’t need blood, incubi didn’t need sex, Cruenti didn’t need to kill. But they also left the demons powerless, unable to defend themselves from whatever punishments the jailers dished out.
If Sin were taken, she could be kept like that for years. The demon justice system operated on the premise that all were guilty until proven innocent, so dragging heels meant years, even decades, of torture behind bars.
Con knew from experience.
He eased casually toward Sin, who stared at the Carceris officers, one a vamp, the other a wither drake, in disbelief. Eidolon put himself between the vampire and his sister, his expression glacial.
“What is she accused of?” Eidolon asked.
“Initiating an epidemic that is destroying wargs.” Seth’s voice carried through the emergency department as if he’d used a loudspeaker, and everyone within earshot stopped in their tracks to gawk. Even Bastien, who had obviously wasted no time in returning to work, froze solid, his push broom hovering over a pile of trash.
Sin squared her shoulders, taking on the Carceris guys without a trace of fear when any normal person would be shitting bricks. “And who is my accuser?”
“We weren’t given that information.” Seth whipped a set of Bracken cuffs out of his pocket. Developed by the Judicia to negate species’ abilities, these particular cuffs had tiny serrated spikes on the inside to prevent the wearer from struggling. “You will come.”
Con caught Sin’s arm. “Not yet,” he whispered in her ear. “But don’t fight. They aren’t affected by the Haven spell. They’ll beat the hell out of you, and there’s nothing you can do.”
“I’m not letting them take me,” she ground out.
“Neither am I,” Con said, and from the menace Eidolon was throwing off, neither was he. The wither drake moved to block the Harrowgate, leaving Con and Sin only one way out. The ambulance bay. “I’m going to the parking lot. Give me ten seconds, and then run to the first ambulance on the left. Try to avoid the wither drake’s gaze. He can reduce you to a wrinkled bag of skin in about ten seconds. Reconstitution isn’t fun.”
To Sin’s credit, she didn’t argue. She simply nodded and moved up behind E, putting her closer to the sliding-glass parking lot doors.
“Who will I have to answer to?” she asked Seth, who gave her a long, assessing look.
“The Warg Council.”
“This is a Seminus Council matter,” Eidolon said, but the vampire shook his head.
“You know the laws, demon. If the two Councils cannot decide on a punishment—”
“I haven’t been taken before either Council,” Sin interrupted.
“The wargs are not required to take their issue to your species Council,” Seth said. “It’s recommended, to avoid wasting Justice Dealer time with frivolous suits, but it’s their choice.”
“You’re lucky the wargs haven’t slaughtered you outright.” The wither drake’s voice was monotone, bored, and Con suspected he was hoping that Sin would resist arrest. The dude was going to get his wish. And then he was going to wish he hadn’t.
Frost formed on Eidolon’s words. “The Seminus Council would have taken issue with Sin’s death.”
“Only if they could prove that the Warg Council was involved.”
True. If some lone warg killed Sin, nothing would be done unless Sin’s family took revenge on a personal level or contacted Justice Dealers, who would probably rule in a single warg’s favor despite Eidolon’s history as a Dealer. Con didn’t think the Sem brothers were really the type to go the legal route anyway. They were much more the “hunt them down and kill them painfully” type.
Con got that.
“Well, Sin,” Con said loudly, “best of luck. E, I’m heading out on a run.” He caught Eidolon’s dark gaze for just a second, long enough to deliver his unspoken message. I’ll get Sin out.
He headed for the sliding-glass doors, where Wraith was waiting, big body propped casually against the frame, hands tucked in his jeans pockets as he watched. Anticipation glittered in his blue eyes. Con had no idea when the demon had arrived, but he was glad for the extra muscle. Wraith loved a good fight.
Con brushed past Wraith with a nod, climbed into the newest of three black ambulances, and started it up. As if turning the key was a signal, Sin burst out of the hospital. Wraith stepped out as well, his leather duster kicking up around his ankles, and then the Carceris officers were there, Eidolon on their heels. He wouldn’t have been able to do much to stop them inside the hospital, but the parking lot wasn’t protected by the Haven spell.
Sin dashed toward the ambulance while Wraith effortlessly laid the Carceris vamp out with a fist to the throat. Eidolon grabbed the wither drake by the arm, but not in time to prevent him from launching a lock-dart—a weapon that, once it pierced its target, paralyzed the victim until he arrived at a Carceris prison.
Lightning quick, Wraith knocked the dart askew with his hand, but it struck a glancing blow to Sin’s thigh as it corkscrewed downward. Blood sprayed, and though she yelped, she didn’t slow. As Eidolon decked the demon, Wraith pinned the vamp before he could rise, and Sin leaped into the rig’s passenger seat.
“Go!” she shouted, as she slammed the door shut.
Con hit a button on the dash, and the rear wall of the parking lot shimmered, revealing a human parking garage on the other side.
The rig’s tires squealed as they spun out of the stall. Once they were through the portal, it closed again, turning into a solid, concrete wall. No humans, if they were ever to trespass, would see the door for what it really was.
He turned to Sin, who was looking back to make sure the Carceris guys weren’t somehow breaking through the barrier. “You okay?”
She clapped a hand over the wound. “I’ve had worse.”
Heart still pounding, he peeled out into the early-morning Manhattan traffic, his aggressive move causing more than a few honking horns. “Keep pressure on it. We’ll pull over in a minute and patch it up.”
“I said I’m okay.”
“Don’t be a stubborn idiot.” He slammed on the brakes to avoid crushing a taxi that pulled out in front of him, though Con intentionally let the ambulance trade paint with the other vehicle, just to make the driver piss his pants. “You can’t afford an infection right now.” Besides, the scent was going to trip his crazy switch if they didn’t get her wound covered.
She rolled her eyes. “How much trouble are E and Wraith in?”
“Interfering with Carceris officers and their duty?” He wondered if he should lie, then decided she could handle it. “A lot.” He didn’t bother telling her he was in for a good time with whips, canes, and waterwheels at the hands of torturers, too, because he doubted she cared.
“Damn,” she breathed.
“They’ll be okay. E’s got experience with the system, and Wraith is… Wraith.”
“I don’t want to owe them. They’re into my shit enough as it is.”
“Ah, what?” She turned away from looking out the passenger window to glare at him. “What’s that supposed to mean?”
She must have let up on the pressure on her cut, because a particularly strong whiff of blood made his fangs pulse. He breathed through it the way he always did when he’d failed to feed and was treating a bleeding patient. But he’d fed—from Sin—only hours ago, and he shouldn’t be having this reaction.
A chill ripped into his marrow as an ugly thought came to him. What if addiction was already starting to set in? It shouldn’t start until around the sixth feeding, but he was rapidly learning that, with Sin, very little was predictable.
“Earth to Con.” Sin waved her hand in front of his face, breaking him out of both autopilot and the thoughts he didn’t want to be thinking. “What does ‘ah’ mean?”
“Just wondering what makes you tick.” He eased to a stop at a light and watched the first rays of the morning sun peek between two office buildings. “You didn’t ask out of concern if they would be in trouble. You asked because you don’t want to owe your brothers. Why is that?”
Surprisingly, she didn’t fire off a shot at him. Instead, she went still and silent, and the tantalizing aroma of her blood—and her—thickened in the cab. He glanced at her leg, where a crimson flow seeped between her fingers, and his grip on the steering wheel became white-knuckled as the medical side of him that wanted to fix her battled with the dhampire side that wanted to taste her. Maybe there was a bag of O-pos in the back.
She shifted, throwing her head back against the seat, which had the unfortunate effect of making her small breasts jut forward, testing the elasticity of the black tank top she wore beneath her leather jacket.
The steering wheel groaned under the force of his grip, as the male in him leaped into the fray with the medical and dhampire sides. Damned succubi. He yanked the wheel, and with a squeal of tires, the ambulance whipped into a parking lot.
“What are you doing?” she snapped. “Oh, my God, do you even know how to drive?”
He popped a ticket from the machine, found a parking spot, and shut down the engine, unconcerned that humans would notice them. The ensorcelled ambulance wasn’t invisible to human eyes, but it registered only in their subconscious. Humans would avoid the rig, react to it on the road, but they wouldn’t think of it or its passengers as anything odd or interesting.
No, his concern right now was demons.
And his own desire, which was another kind of demon entirely.
“Climb in the back,” he said tightly. “I’m going to treat your wound.”
“I told you—”
“I don’t care.” His voice was cold, his body hot, and the mix was wreaking havoc with his patience. “You’re on my turf, in my rig, so you follow my rules.”
She glared. “What if the Carceris finds us?”
“They won’t.” He reached between the two seats and shoved open the small door to the box section of the rig. “They’ll be looking for you in the obvious places first. Not city parking lots.”
“And after you’re done patching me up?”
Good question, and he hadn’t thought that far ahead. Probably because his brain was swamped with her scent. “I’m taking you home,” he said finally. “You’re coming home with me.”Six
“I’m not going home with you.”
“We’ll talk about it while I’m patching you up.” Con jerked his thumb toward the back. “Go.”
Grudgingly, Sin climbed between the front seats and ducked through the hatchlike door separating the cab from the box section of the ambulance. A dull red light illuminated the space, and the same Haven spell symbols from UG were scrawled on the walls, but other than that, it could have been a human ambulance.
Her leg throbbed as she worked her way down the narrow aisle between the bench seat and the stretcher, but that wound wasn’t nearly as bad as the pain spreading through her arm. She didn’t have to look to know a large gash had split her dermoire across her biceps. The pain had struck suddenly, but she’d borne it in silence, the way she always did. As an assassin, she never gave her victims the luxury of a scream, so she figured she didn’t deserve one any more than they did.
She didn’t deserve for the gash to be treated, either. She’d allow Con to mend her leg, but her arm was off limits.
Con jerked down black rubber shades from rollers over each window. Every sliver of outside light was snuffed, obviously a necessity when transporting vamps and other light-sensitive demons during the day. “Take off your pants.”
“Wow. Not one for foreplay, are you?”
He turned to her with lethal grace despite the limitations of the cramped compartment. “I spend hours on foreplay,” he said, his voice a slow, sexy drawl. “What about you?”
Heat flooded her face. Somehow, he knew the answer, knew she’d never engaged in foreplay in her life. For her, sex was fast food, not gourmet cuisine. Oh, she enjoyed it with the right partners, but the desire to linger in bed, taking pleasure in a male’s body, had been crushed out of her a long time ago. Now, sex was about staying alive. In the last thirty years especially, it had become routine, quick trysts with a couple of assassins from her den, with only the occasional roll in the hay with males like Con to shake things up.
And now that she was an assassin master, she rarely left the den except to go to Guild headquarters or the hospital, so her choices had been even more severely limited, mostly to Lycus. It would probably be that way for the rest of her life.
“Foreplay is overrated.” The gash in her arm screamed with pain as she shed her pants and hopped up on the stretcher. She left her thigh and ankle holsters in place, though, because her weapons weren’t going anywhere.
“Then you’re not doing it right.” Con snapped on some surgical gloves, somehow making the sound and the action erotic. “You’ve had shitty lovers.”
“You were one of my lovers,” she pointed out, but he didn’t take the bait.
“Once. And there is something to be said for a hard, fast fuck.” His voice became a mesmerizing purr. “But there’s nothing like taking the time to slowly peel off every article of clothing, to kiss every inch of your lover’s skin as you do it. To lick all the sensitive places until they quiver. To explore all the textures of your partner’s body with your fingers, your mouth.” His fangs flashed as he added, “Your teeth.”
Hunger gripped her so fiercely she had to struggle to breathe. Yet somehow, she managed to speak calmly, as if Con’s graphic words hadn’t affected her. “The end result is the same. An orgasm. So why waste all that time? In the hour it takes you to lick someone from head to toe”—God, seriously? Want.—“I could have had half a dozen orgasms.” Assuming she was with some fictional male who could come that many times, too—or a Seminus demon, whose ejaculate left females climaxing over and over, even if he left the room.
“Trust me,” he murmured, “the wait is worth it. You’ll get all those, but they’ll be better. Hotter. A-fucking-mazing.”
Sin went utterly wet and achy. Even if her succubus needs weren’t creeping up on her, Con would have jump-started things.
“Put pressure on your laceration.” The abrupt change of tone and subject made her blink, but he turned away to paw through the glass-faced cabinets and toss supplies next to her on the gurney.
Still dizzy with the images he’d put in her head, she grabbed a paper towel from the dispenser behind her and held it to the bleeding wound. A trickle of warmth ran down her arm and into her palm, and she covertly tucked another paper towel inside her coat sleeve. Then she entertained herself by watching Con’s fine ass hugged by black BDU pants. When he swiveled around back to her, she got a kick out of the way his gaze went to her bare thighs and black silk thong that was now damp with her arousal.
The longer he stared, the faster her heart beat, the more her belly fluttered.
The hotter it got inside the damned ambulance.
When his silver eyes finally snapped up, they’d darkened to a rich, smooth pewter, the hunger in them stark and undeniable, which was no surprise given what they’d just been talking about. For just a moment, she wondered if he’d act on his need, and she was both disappointed and relieved when he sank down on the padded bench across from her.
“This is pointless,” she said, even though the towel under her fingers had soaked through. “I heal quickly.”
“The dart the Carceris struck you with was coated with an anticoagulant. Keeps you bleeding so they can track you in the event that the dart doesn’t stick.”
Clever. “How do you know so much about them?”
“I’ve had my fair share of experience with them.” He gripped her calves with both hands, spread her legs, and tugged her forward so he was between her thighs, her knees resting against either side of his ribs.
Sin tried to ignore the intimate position, but her body couldn’t, and she tensed, feeling caged even though it was he who was pinned between her legs. “You’ve been arrested? What did you do?”
“Like I said, I have experience with them.”
“Ooh,” she teased, dragging her foot up his back. “A bad boy. Come on, spill.”
“Maybe I killed annoying succubi for fun.” His words were gruff, but his fingers were gentle as he lifted the towel to inspect her leg wound.
“I hope you gave them a bunch of those foreplay orgasms first.” He snorted, but didn’t offer up any details about his time with the Carceris. Clearly, he wasn’t going to talk, so she studied the inside of the ambulance, with its cabinets, benches, and a station near the front that looked like a miniature chem lab for mixing potions. “So, how do vampires do this job, anyway? Doesn’t the sight and smell of blood make you hungry?”
“If you’ve just gorged on Thanksgiving dinner, do you want to have a sandwich?”
That was a joke. She hadn’t had a Thanksgiving dinner since her grandparents had been alive. But suddenly, she craved turkey, mince pie, and homemade rolls. Nostalgia, something she’d banned long ago, filled her with the same warmth she’d felt when her family gathered around the rickety old holiday dinner table. As a child, she’d envisioned futures that involved a husband, children, Uncle Loren and his family, all gathered for holidays with their grandparents. Now she knew better than to let those childish dreams in, and ruthlessly, she flexed her arm and allowed the pain to bring her back to the present, where she’d never celebrate sappy, sentimental holidays again.
“I don’t want food after a large meal, no, but… Oh, so you feed before your shift?”
“And during. We keep snacks in the cooler. All medics do, depending on their species. Worked with one partner who gnawed on bones the entire shift.”
Gross. “What if it’s not just diet that’s an issue for you guys? What if it’s something else?”
“What? Like needing to kill or absorb pain?”
She shrugged. “Or screw.”
One tawny eyebrow shot up. “Species who kill uncontrollably can’t be medics, but we used to have one guy who fed on others’ pain. This was the perfect job for him, until he decided he’d rather not make patients feel better. The sex thing… I don’t know. Guess it depends on the breed of incubi or succubi. Shade manages fine for short shifts. Why? You thinking about signing up? Because I’ll bet you wouldn’t have any trouble getting a partner who could, ah, help you out between runs.”
Oh, and wouldn’t that conversation with Shade, who ran the paramedic program, be fun? “Thanks, but I already have a job.”
He shook his head, unscrewed a bottle of something, wetted a gauze pad, and swiped it over her cut. “This is a coagulant Eidolon developed from vampire saliva. It’s more effective on supernaturally inflicted wounds than anything humans have invented.”
“Would you rather I licked you?” The dark, sultry note in his voice wrapped around her like a silk ribbon.
How to answer that? Because either yes or no would be both truth and lie. In the end, she managed a breathy “No,” which she could only hope sounded more convincing to him than it did to her. She cleared her throat and changed the subject. “Look, can you step on it? I need to get to my assassin den.”
He leveled her an amused, no-deal look, as if she had absolutely no say in her future. “I told you, you’re coming to my place.” He finished mopping up the laceration, which, thanks to the vamp spit concoction, was now oozing instead of gushing. “The Carceris is looking for you. They’ll hit all of the obvious places first.”
“Well, Captain Bossy, the den has security goons.” When Con took a break from twisting the top off a small bottle of antiseptic to give her an are-you-fucking-serious look, she sighed. “I know they can’t stop the Carceris, but they’ll at least warn me.”
“Are you sure about that? Little sting…” He squirted the liquid into the cut on her thigh and she gritted her teeth against the pain. “Aiding and abetting is a serious offense. Do your guards love you that much?”
No, they didn’t. A slow roll of guilt rose up in her as she thought about how Eidolon and Wraith had come to her aid even knowing what they were risking.
And Con, too. She studied him as he worked on her wound, his gloved hands gentle, practiced. She hadn’t expected that. From the moment she’d met the gorgeous male, he’d been nothing but intense. Hard. He’d thrown her against the side of the very ambulance they were in. He’d bet his paramedic partner, Luc, that he could get into her pants.
And he had.
Now he was carefully tending to her wound and trying to get her to safety. “Why are you helping me?” she blurted.
“You still owe me ten bucks.”
She flashed him a fake smile. “Funny. But you’re not helping me because I busted you for making a bet with Luc and taking more than half the winnings.”
“Fine. How’s this? You’re responsible for the warg epidemic, and if you’re locked up in a cell, Eidolon won’t have the access to you he needs to help develop a cure,” he said. “Besides, I owe your brothers.”
Of course. He wasn’t helping because he liked her or anything. Which was fine, because she didn’t like him either. And that couldn’t sound more childish, could it? “Why do you owe them?”
One big shoulder rolled in a half-shrug. “I was on a bad path. Self-destructive. Got into a bar fight with Luc and we both ended up at UG.”
“So, Eidolon saved your life?”
“Nah. Another little sting.” He swabbed the laceration with something that, yeah, stung. “Have you met Vladlena? She’s a nurse. Hyena-shifter. Few years ago, her father, a doc named Yuri, had a bug up his ass about some crap that went down between me and his son years earlier, and he sicced the Carceris on me. Eidolon figured that if I was stuck in prison, I couldn’t make good on my hospital bill, so he got me out. Payment was me working for him for two years.”
“Guess you stuck around?”
“Guess so. Turned out to be a cool job. No two calls are the same. Keeps me on my toes.”
Sin got that. She wasn’t much for routine either. “So, you done yet?”
“Why so anxious?”
“Because I’m vulnerable anywhere outside the den, assassin headquarters, or the hospital. Which is why I need to go to the den instead of your place, even though the Carceris will look there.” She also needed to find one of her sex partners. Fast. Before she broke down and pounced on Conall.
“Vulnerable to what?”
He blinked. “Your own assassins are a danger to you?”
“Some of them covet my position. Whoever kills me gets to take over the den.”
“How do you stay safe when you’re with them?”
“Assassins and their masters are bonded, so they can’t harm the master inside any assassin den or headquarters, or any place protected by a Haven spell. But outside those areas… all bets are off. A few of the older assassins can actually sense their masters’ locations.”
Con breathed a curse. “You are a pain in the ass, aren’t you?”
“Your bedside manner sucks.”
“Oh, I have one hell of a bedside manner,” he drawled huskily, reminding her that her body ached, and not from pain. He smoothed a large bandage over the wound, his fingers roaming slowly over the fabric and her skin, turning a medical procedure into one of the most sensual experiences of her life.
Talk about pathetic.
He left his hands where they were, wrapped around her thighs, and he looked up, his sterling gaze meeting hers. The air in the ambulance seemed to thicken and heat, and would it kill Shade to install air-conditioning in these things?
“Take off your jacket,” he murmured.
Sin’s heart stuttered. “I’m not having sex with you.”
“You want to.” An easy, seductive smile turned up his sinful mouth. “But that’s not why I want you to strip.”
“Liar. You’d love to get into my pants.”
He looked at her like she was a complete idiot. “You’re bleeding still.”
Oh. Humiliating. She sniffed. “No, I’m not.”
“I can smell it.”
Damned vampires. “Give me my pants.”
“Take off your jacket. I won’t tell you again.”
“And I won’t let you treat the wound.” She jerked her legs out of his grip, but he was on his feet in a flash, yanking her jacket down to reveal the wide gash in her biceps.
She tried to wrench away, but he held her easily, his amusement gone. “How did this happen? Who did this? The Carceris?”
“I did it,” she snapped, and his head jerked back.
“You’re a cutter?” He reached for a gauze pad, but she gripped his wrist.
No, she wasn’t. But she wasn’t going to explain anything to Con. “Do not mess with this one,” she said levelly. “I will fight you, and on this, I will not back down.”
Con’s handsome, angular features hardened with anger, and she heard the grind of his teeth and the pop of jawbone. “You can’t let it bleed like that.”
“I can, and I will.”
“I’m on the edge right now, Sin.” His voice was guttural, with a slight tremor that extended to the hand she was holding.
Shit. Her blood was tempting him. She closed her eyes, cursing silently. She’d allowed Eidolon to stitch her arm once, instead of using his healing powers. Maybe this time—
Hot breath fanned over her arm, and her eyes shot open. Con’s mouth was close, so close… Yes, just this once… “Do it,” she whispered, and for all of that, he hesitated.
His trembling worsened, and he reached for the vamp spit. Without thinking, Sin cupped the back of his head and brought his lips to her arm. The wound was a deeply personal pain, and she wasn’t about to let some strange medical concoction near it. Then again, was letting Con be a part of that pain any better?
Her emotions wobbled, and she exhaled slowly, unsure she could handle such intimacy. No, she was sure. She couldn’t.
Just as she was about to push him away, he moaned, let out a shuddering breath, and sank his body against her, and in a heartbeat, her concern seemed distant. His arousal was a massive presence against her core, and his hands, still encased in surgical gloves, slipped under her tank top to grip her waist. How the hell the slide of latex on her skin could feel so erotic was beyond her, but she wished he’d either move his hands up to her breasts or lower to her sex so she could see just how much more erotic it could get. Unfortunately, he kept them tamely motionless, his grip tight, as if he were afraid that if he loosened it, he’d do exactly what she was hoping for.
Slowly, tentatively, he swept his tongue from the base of the cut to the crest. The soothing caress eased the pain, and with each slow lap, it eased more, until there was nothing left but a mildly pleasant sting.
And a throbbing lust that penetrated all the way to her core.
Beneath Con’s skin, his muscles were bunched, his body tense, and she sensed something dark inside, something he was trying to contain.
“Con?” She slid her hand over his back, and beneath her palm, his muscles rippled and jumped.
He uttered something in a language she didn’t know, but she was pretty sure it was a nasty curse. Abruptly, he leaped back, and at the same moment, someone pounded on the rear door.
A rumbling voice came from the other side. “Send the succubus out, or everyone inside dies.”
Con didn’t take time to think. Instinct roared to the surface, and he lunged, taking Sin down to the rig’s deck, covering her body with his. Ten seconds ago, when he was battling bloodlust, he’d have gotten off on the feeling of her hard form against his harder one, of her thighs cradling him between them, but right now, his only concern was keeping her safe.
If she died, so might the only hope for getting rid of the virus in his blood.
Plus, her brothers would kill him. A lot.
“Who is it?” he whispered.
“I don’t know,” she whispered back. “I don’t recognize the voice. Must be the Carceris.”
“They couldn’t have found us that quickly. Not without a hellhound or a blood tracker. It’s gotta be an assassin.”
She cursed. “Let me up.”
There wasn’t enough room in the aisle between the bench seat and the stretcher to let her up even if he wanted to. “I’m going to start the engine and get us out of here. Stay down.”
She didn’t argue, miracle of miracles, and he eased himself off of her, backing slowly on his hands and knees toward the opening between the box section of the rig and the cab. He paused at the tiny doorway and listened, allowing his superior hearing to search out anything out of the ordinary. All he picked up were the normal sounds of a city. Tires on asphalt, honking horns, humans chatting as they funneled in and out of subway stations. There was nothing that might indicate the number of assailants outside the ambulance.
He peered into the cab and saw a male demon just outside the driver’s window. Shit. He eased back. “Nightlash at the front.”
“Sparkly pink ring in his nose?”
Con did a double take. “Yeah. Real manly.”
“It’s Zeph.” She eased to her hands and knees. “The one out back will be a Ramreel named Trag. They’re partners. Never work alone.”
She snared her pants and jammed her legs into them. “Bastards.”
“So that’s a yes.” Con blew out a breath. “I thought you didn’t recognize the voice.”
“Trag is an expert at disguising it. But the good news is that I know how they work.” She’d produced a throwing knife, and she held it loosely in her fingers, ready to throw. “They probably don’t know about the Haven spell, but they don’t plan to come inside to kill me anyway. If you don’t shove me outside, they’ll bust open the doors and use ranged weapons to kill me.”
“Doubtful. More likely they’ll use poison darts or fireballs.”
“You have fifteen seconds,” the male near the rear doors called out, and Sin leaped nimbly to her feet.
“I’ll go out through the side door. I can slip around the front and take Zeph by surprise if you can throw open the back door—”
“I have a better idea.” Con stood. “Which one is the most dangerous? The strongest?”
“Trag,” she replied, and disappointment sliced through him. Con had fought Ramreels before, but a Nightlash assassin would be something new. “Why?”
“I’ll take him.” He glanced up at the roof hatch that Shade had installed precisely for situations like this. The demon thought of everything. Though Con was going to suggest an installation of external ambulance weapons when this was over. “You get the other one.”
Too late. He slid the hatch open and quietly lifted himself through it. Slowly, he eased onto his stomach and inched toward the rear of the rig. Behind him, silent as a whisper, Sin came up, all grace and flexible muscle. Below, Trag banged on the door.
Con went over the edge, landing on the Ramreel and taking him down hard. The demon’s horns made a satisfying crack on the pavement. Nice. Distantly, he heard Zeph’s pained grunt, but then Con took a fist to the face, and pain brought his attention fully back to his opponent.
“You can’t defeat me, paramedic,” Trag spat. “I’m a trained assassin.”
“Wrong.” Con jammed his knee into Trag’s gut. “As a paramedic, I know exactly how to kill you.” A lifetime of fighting had taught him a lot, but learning how the body worked had made him that much more lethal.
On that energizing thought, Con thrust his fist into the Ramreel’s thick neck, crushing his larynx. Trag made an agonized bleating sound, which Con cut off with a double-tap to his broad snout. The demon rocked backward, but he recovered in a flash, doubling over and using his massive, curled horns to ram Con into the rig’s back door.
Fuck, that hurt.
Con ducked, barely avoiding being impaled by Trag’s dagger. With a deft spin, he wrenched the demon’s arm behind his back and flipped him. Trag went down, and Con delivered another devastating blow to his throat, one that blew right through the male’s carotid artery, killing him instantly. The body would disintegrate, as did most demons when they died outside of Sheoul or a demon-built structure in the human realm, and Con didn’t wait around to watch.
He sprinted to the front of the rig, where Sin was mashed against the driver’s-side door by the Nightlash. He held a knife to her throat, but she had her hand on the demon’s shoulder, her dermoire glowing fiercely, and before Con could dispatch the bastard, he fell to the ground, his skin ashen and rashed, eyes sunken in.
Whatever disease Sin had pumped into the demon had brought him down hard. And grotesquely.
The reminder of what she was and what she had done slapped him in the face, bringing his brain back to the place it needed to be while dealing with her: professional distance.
“You okay?” he asked.
“Yeah.” She kicked the dead demon in the ribs and winced, clutching her thigh.
Con swore. “Let me check your leg—”
“It’s fine.” She wheeled away and stalked to the rear of the rig, where the Ramreel’s body was already nothing but a greasy stain on the asphalt. “Son of a bitch,” she breathed, and Con swore he heard a trace of regret. “He was a damned good assassin.”
“Not so good with the hand-to-hand.”
“It was his main weakness.” The morning breeze blew her hair into her face, and Con barely resisted the urge to brush it back. “He relied on his aim and didn’t focus enough on physical combat.”
“And what’s your weakness?”
She shoved her dagger into her boot. “I don’t have one.”
“If you believe that, then delusion is your weakness.”
“Aren’t you a smarty-pants,” she said crisply. “Fine. My weakness is that I’m a succubus. But it is very rarely an issue when I’m working.”
He doubted that, and now he wanted to kick himself for not considering that he might want her blood so badly because she was a succubus. It might not be her blood at all—it could be her pheromones that were driving his hunger, not an impending addiction.
“What is your succubi requirement?” he snapped.
Her raven eyebrows popped up. “Uh… sex?”
“No, I mean, what is it you steal or cause?”
She jammed her hands on her hips. “Well, I don’t steal souls, if that’s what you’re asking. I don’t do anything.”
Oh, she did something, whether or not she knew it.
A hiss, like the sound from a flattening tire, rose up behind him as the Nightlash’s body dissolved. He waited until the noise died away before asking, “How long before you’ll need sex?”
“Not long. And all my regular partners are at the den.”
A stirring of… something… made him twitch. It couldn’t be jealousy. He’d never experienced that before. Not over a female. But something definitely torqued his temper, and he herded her into the passenger seat with his jaw set so tight he practically had to pry it open to talk after he settled behind the wheel.
“We’ll figure something out, but we won’t have much time at my house.” He cranked the engine. “The Carceris will be looking for you in all your haunts, but you can bet your ass that they’re investigating me. It won’t be long before they find out where I live.” He had two residences—hopefully they’d check out his apartment first. “We should have time to clean up and map out our next move.” Like maybe handing her off to one of her brothers. Sin didn’t seem to have heard him. She was staring off into space and absently rubbing her breastbone. “Hey, you okay?”
She blinked. “Of course I am.”
Right. No weaknesses. But he wasn’t buying it. Her own assassins were trying to kill her, take her job, and unless she had ice water in her veins instead of blood, it had to bother her.
And he knew damned good and well her blood ran hot, not cold.
“Does your chest hurt?”
“A little. It’s a dull ache from losing two assassins I was bonded to.”
He grimaced, unable to imagine being able to sense someone’s death like that. He got the rig moving as Sin fished a cell phone from her pocket and dialed. “Who are you calling?”
“One of my guys.” She paused, said into the phone, “Lycus. What’s going on?”
Con’s dhampire hearing sharpened, enhanced, and homed in on the conversation.
“You’re out in the open. You’re a target, Sin.” The male’s voice was as clear to Con as if he were sitting in the passenger seat with Sin.
Fuck that. The guy would have to sit in the box section of the rig. Strapped to the gurney.
“No shit.” Her voice lowered, and she turned away, as if she didn’t want Con to hear. “Where are you?”
“The den. Waiting for you.”
Okay, strapped to the gurney and dead. Con gnashed his teeth, annoyed at his own reaction. There was no reason to be jealous, no matter how sleazy this Lycus idiot sounded.
“Who all is after me?”
There was a pause, and then a low purr rumbled over the airwaves. “Come back to the den, Sin. Swear to mate me, and I’ll make sure they’re called off.”
Son of a—Con bit back a curse as his entire body jerked, and the ambulance with it. Horns honked as he whipped the rig back into the right lane, ignoring Sin’s glare. He didn’t give a shit what Sin did, who she “mated” with, or what she did with her assassin business. But this Lycus fucker was blackmailing her, and that just pissed him off. The sudden image of her naked, beneath a well-muscled body didn’t bother him at all. At. All.
Sin flushed with anger, and Con waited for her to tell the bastard off with her usual sharp tongue. So he nearly fell over when she said tiredly, “I said no.”
Con could practically hear the smile in the male’s voice. “You’re weakening, succubus. Don’t take too long to roll over.”
Very slowly, Sin mashed the End button, still looking at the BlackBerry’s screen. “Asshole,” she muttered.
Con realized he was gripping the steering wheel hard enough to put a bend in it, and forced himself to ease up. “How many more of your assassins might be after you?”
Her fingers formed fists in her lap, and she turned to fix him with a penetrating stare. “All of them,” she said. “They have all turned on me.”
Luc had been alternately peering through his two tiny windows, keeping an eye out for potential trouble, when he heard Kar’s fragile voice rise up from the basement.
He took the steps to the room below and found her lying on the pallet where he’d left her, though she’d rolled to her uninjured side and was staring at the chains secured to his log and stone wall.
“Where… where am I?” she rasped, her Texan accent barely discernible through her pain.
He crouched next to her. “You’re in my moon room.” Not that he used the thing anymore. He no longer cared what he did on nights of the full moon. He refused to chain himself up, preferring to run free. Eventually The Aegis would kill him, or maybe a hunter, or, most likely, Wraith. The demon had sworn to take Luc out when the last of his humanity left him, and really, that had happened when Ula died. “What do you remember?”
Kar shifted, wincing when she tried to move her arm. “Being chased by The Aegis.”
“They obviously learned the truth about you.”
Firelight flickered on her face, the light and shadow making her expression hard to read, but there was a note of amusement in her voice. “Guess you can’t blackmail me anymore.”
He nearly smiled at that. They’d been holed up in an Aegis stronghold in Alexandria, Egypt, while they waited for the apocalyptic battle between good and evil to start, and in this particular conflict, Luc, the Sem brothers, and a lot of other demons had been there to fight for Team Good and Annoyingly Righteous. They’d actually been working with The Aegis in a fragile truce that had been laden with tension and distrust.
Kar had been there as a Guardian, all holier-than-thou, and then she’d sensed the werewolf in him.
And he’d sensed it in her.
Already revved up for the pending war, his sex drive had roared to life. And he wasn’t the nicest guy in the world, so he’d made her a deal. Ten minutes naked, and he’d keep her secret.
She’d bitched and growled, but after Team Good had claimed victory in Jerusalem, she’d given him half an hour. His body hardened even now, just thinking about how he’d taken her three times in that thirty minutes. Up against the side of the building. On the ground, missionary style. On their knees, him giving it to her from behind. All couplings had been rough and raw, the way wargs did it, especially after a hardcore battle. He’d come away sore and scratched, and more sated than he’d been in a long time.
“I’m sure I can find something to blackmail you about,” he said, as he settled his palm over her forehead to gauge her temperature. “You have a fever.” He slid his fingers down to her throat. “And your pulse is too fast. I’m going to get some ice and meds.”
Her good hand shot out to capture his wrist in a surprisingly strong grip. “No drugs.”
“We’ve got to get your fever down.”
She licked her lips, closed her eyes, but she didn’t release him. “Okay, but nothing that will hurt the baby.”
He stared at her. “You’re pregnant?”
She must have gone into a breeding heat just days after he’d been with her. Thank God he hadn’t sensed it coming on. He’d have been compelled to stay and fight any other males who showed up to claim her. The winner would have mated with her over the three days and nights of the full moon, both in human and beast form, and if she became pregnant during that time, their bond would be permanent.
“Where’s your mate?”
“Dead.” Her eyes were still closed, and he wished she’d open them so he could get a read on her.
“Did The Aegis kill him?”
“Was he born or turned?”
“Turned,” she said softly.
A chill bit all the way to his marrow. “The cub could be born human.”
She finally opened her eyes. “I’m aware of that.”
“Will you kill it?” Born warg laws were harsh in regard to human infants; they were to be destroyed at birth. Though Luc had heard of a few mothers who had left the babies at human hospitals or fire stations so the children could be adopted.
She hesitated, and for a moment, he thought she’d say yes. But then her eyes flashed, the steely glint in them hinting at what kind of mother she’d be. Fierce. Loving. “I will protect my baby with my life. That’s why I’m here. The virus…”
“What about it?”
“I’m scared. You know what’s going on—you have an inside track—”
He snorted. “In case you hadn’t noticed, I’m holed up in the middle of nowhere. But I do know that it affects only turned wargs, so you’re safe.” For some reason, she didn’t appear to be relieved, but then, she was as ill with her injuries and silver poisoning as she would be with SF. He palmed her forehead again, knowing damned good and well that the fever wouldn’t have eased. “So that’s why you’re here? The only reason?”
She shifted her gaze to the fireplace, stared into it blankly. “I didn’t have any place else to go once The Aegis found out about my secret.”
“You shouldn’t have come here.” It was an asshole thing to say, but then, he was an asshole. Since the day he was attacked by a werewolf, he’d been all about taking care of himself and not giving a crap about anyone else.
“Clearly, it was a mistake.” Her voice was so soft it was nearly drowned out by the crackle of the fire.
“Yeah, it was.” He stood, tossed another log on the fire with a little more force than was needed, and sparks flew up, snapping angrily. “The last thing I need is to take care of a breeding female who has slayers on her tail. How’d they find out what you are anyway?” When she didn’t answer, he turned around. Her eyes were closed, her breathing even. She was out again.
And he was in one hell of a mess.Seven
They rode in silence for a good thirty minutes. Sin was grateful for the quiet at first, until her thoughts started swirling around and she realized how much trouble she was truly in. Lycus, that slimy, double-crossing dickwad. She’d known she couldn’t trust him, but she’d hoped he’d use some of his considerable influence to keep most of her assassins off her back—without her swearing to become his mate.
And he was wrong; she wasn’t weakening. As nice as it would be to share the burdens of being an assassin master, she couldn’t bond herself to anyone, especially not a pisshead like Lycus.
Dammit. Between her own assassins wanting her head on a platter and the Carceris wanting her strung up in a cell, she was starting to feel like a deer during hunting season. So when her cell phone began to ring incessantly—calls and texts from Lore, Eidolon, Shade, and even one from Wraith—her last nerve frayed like the end of a snapped rope and she turned the phone off.
“They’re worried about you.” Con slid a glance at the BlackBerry. “You should answer.”
“I don’t need their concern.”
His reply was sharp. “Selfish much?”
Okay, yeah, she was selfish. Since the day she and Lore had gone through the transition that had given them tattoos, uncontrollable sexual needs, and killing abilities, she’d been forced to leave the human world behind. Which meant leaving softness, compassion, and love in a place where it wouldn’t hurt her. The world she’d been whisked into by a demon slave trader just days after Lore abandoned her had toughened her up, real fast.
She’d spent a century with demons who breathed cruelty like air, and the buildup of scar tissue, both physical and emotional, had been the only reason she’d survived. Then, thirty years ago, she’d found Lore, and his devotion had chipped away, just a little, at her shield. And now, her reason for not responding to her brothers wasn’t because she didn’t need their concern—though she didn’t. It was because no matter how much she hated it, she found herself worrying about Wraith and Eidolon’s punishment for helping her.
But she wasn’t going to tell Con that. Voicing it made it real and invited pity and useless phrases like “I’m sorry.” And “It’ll be okay.”
Goose bumps prickled her skin. Her grandma, who had raised Sin and Lore from the day they were born, used to say that a lot. “It’ll be okay, Sinead. Your mama loves you. She’s troubled, that’s all.” And “It’ll be okay. People can be cruel, but you’ll always have me.”
Grandma had lied. Mama hadn’t loved her, Sin hadn’t always had Grandma, and it had definitely not been okay.
The ambulance’s radio squawked, and Eidolon’s strained voice pierced the silence. “Con. Pick up.”
Con punched a button on the dash. “E. We’re safe.”
“Thank gods.” Eidolon’s relief transmitted over the airwaves. “Don’t tell me where you’re going. This frequency might be monitored. Sin, stay away from every place you’ve ever been.”
“Yeah. Will do.” An unfamiliar flare of guilt sparked in her belly, and she cleared her throat. “Hey, uh… are you and Wraith… I mean… did you—”
“Don’t worry about us,” Eidolon said. “Just get where you’re going and we’ll talk later.” He disconnected, leaving Sin and Con in tense silence again.
For another long-ass hour. She spent the time gazing out the window at the passing cars, wishing she could be in one of them, behind the wheel and driving to a destiny of her choosing instead of being chauffeured to one she didn’t want by an arrogant dhampire.
An arrogant dhampire whose long, muscular legs flexed as he worked the gas and brake pedals. Whose thick biceps rolled and bunched as he steered. Broad shoulders filled the driver’s space, and images of her hands clinging to them as he pumped between her thighs filled her head. She was so acutely aware of him, so hypersensitive to his heat, his scent, even the sound of his breathing, that no matter how many times she averted her gaze back to the outside world, she found her eyes drifting back to him. Felt her body leaning toward him.
He was such a pain in the ass.
Finally, as the suburbs turned into pastures and farmland, Con pulled the ambulance off the main road and onto a gravel one lined by rows of trees.
“I’m guessing you don’t drive to work very often,” she mused.
“There’s a Harrowgate less than a quarter mile away in the woods, so no, I don’t drive often. A two-hour commute would be a killer.”
The ambulance crunched over gravel for maybe half a mile before Con pulled into the driveway of an old but well-kept ranch-style house set against a hill and cut deeply into a forest that appeared to have been cultivated for privacy. She got out and did a sweep of the perimeter while he moved his black GTO out of the garage to make room for the ambulance. He also had a motorcycle, a snowmobile, and an ATV. The guy liked his toys with engines.
Con eased the ambulance inside—the big rig barely fit, and she thought she heard the scrape of metal at some point. Shade was going to pop his cork at the scratches the vehicle had gotten today.
“Nice ride,” she said, as she trailed a finger along the GTO’s sleek fender. The thing still had dealer plates on it.
Con shrugged. “It’ll do until next year.”
“I get a new one every spring.”
She peeked through the tinted glass at the leather interior. “Like the new-car smell, huh?”
“Nah,” he said, as he punched the garage door button. “I get tired of driving the same thing over and over.”
“Maybe you should get a plane,” she muttered, and he nodded as if she’d been serious.
“I’m working on it. I already have my pilot’s license.”
Of course he did.
Once the garage door had rolled down, he disarmed the security system and led her into the house, which was a true bachelor pad. The furniture was old but well-kept. There were clothes draped over the chairs and couch, and she wondered if the windows had ever been cleaned. It looked like Lore’s place, only newer. And bigger. Definitely more personal.
His shelves and walls were loaded with stuff that appeared to be ancient—pottery, framed sketches of stone cathedrals, weapons. She drifted toward one magnificent piece, a longbow hanging between a halberd and a Japanese katana.
“Impressive.” She trailed a finger over the smooth yew surface. “I wouldn’t have taken you for a house kind of person, though.”
“Where did you think I’d live?” he asked, amusement in his voice. “A tent?”
Shrugging, she turned back to him. “Most single guys are apartment dwellers. And most single wargs live a little more rustically.”
It was his turn to shrug. “Born wargs prefer the outdoors and wilderness, but a lot of turned wargs are human enough to like living with other humans.”
“Until they realize that humans are food and that chaining yourself up in an apartment gets noisy.”
“True.” He tossed the ambulance keys onto the dining room table.
“What about dhampires? You’re sort of born that way… and then turned.”
His hands went to his shirt buttons as he pinned her with a cool, remote gaze. Man, she wished she could read him better. “What’s your point?”
There was a strange avoidance vibe in his answer, but she couldn’t determine what, exactly, he was skirting. “Where do you fall on the warg scale? What do you do? About the full moon, I mean.”
He peeled out of his paramedic shirt, and her tongue nearly rolled out of her mouth at the sight of his sharply defined muscles and honed, hard flesh. She was used to males who kept themselves in top form—no assassin let himself go flabby—but Con had a lean, powerful runner’s body, the kind that was used well and often. He was made for marathons.
I spend hours on foreplay.
Oh, yeah. Marathons.
“I sure as hell don’t chain myself.” He tossed the shirt over the back of a chair. “I go home. To where I was born.”
She had to force her eyes away from his chest to meet his. “Where’s that?”
“Scotland. It’s where dhampires originated. The Dearghuls—the only clan that’s left—have a sanctuary there. Acres of property where we can hunt during the moon fever.”
Eyes level… eyes level… “How many of you are there?”
“Our numbers are pathetically few. So few that during the mating season, all unmated males and females must participate.”
Sin bit her cheek to keep from moaning at the “mating” word. “So you don’t mate like other wargs? I mean, getting a female pregnant during her heat doesn’t bind you to her forever?”
“No,” he said huskily, and she wondered if the subject had affected him the way it had her. “In fact, the males very rarely take permanent mates.”
His skin was so tan. “Why not?”
“Because we tend to kill the females.”
Ah, well, okay. That wasn’t cool.
She wandered around the living room and down the hall to check out the bedrooms. Yep, she was a Nosy Nellie, but Con didn’t seem to mind. “What do you do with all this space? You have parties and stuff?”
He looked up from checking the answering machine. “Nope. A lot of my friends are human. They’d ask too many questions.”
“Human? You’re tight with humans?”
“Not recently.” He moved to the window and yanked the curtains closed. “Just had to let go of my last group of buds. When they start mentioning how you never get older, it’s time to take a “permanent job” in some remote place with no communications. Right now, I’m studying nematodes in Antarctica.”
“Well, aren’t you a dork.” But seriously… how odd that he hung with humans. He seemed like an underworld-purist kind of guy.
His cell phone rang, and he dug it out of the lower side leg pocket of his BDU pants. “E. Yeah. You’re where?”
Con hung up, strode to the front door, and standing there, still in his scrubs, was Eidolon. Shade was next to him, clad from boot to neck in black leather, from his biker boots to his jacket, sunglasses hiding his dark eyes. He looked like the freaking Terminator.
“How’d you know where we were?” Sin asked.
“I’m a good guesser,” Eidolon said as he and Shade stepped inside. He tossed a duffel bag at Sin. “Clothes. Figured you might need them after getting nailed by the dart.”
Con closed the door, but not before scanning the area outside. “Is Runa doing better?”
“Not good enough.” Shade tucked his sunglasses into his pocket. “She made me leave. Said I was driving her crazy. Besides, I needed to do some grocery shopping.”
Sin nearly laughed at the image of the big, bad leather-clad demon pushing a grocery cart through the vegetable and diaper aisles at a supermarket. “I have a hard time believing you left her alone, not feeling well, with three babies.”
“I didn’t. Gem and Tay are with her.” Tayla, Eidolon’s mate, and her twin sister, Gem, were both half-Soulshredder demon—the worst of the worst—but they were gooey marshmallows when it came to caring for their nephews. Gem was pregnant, and Sin figured it wouldn’t be long before Tayla hopped that crazy train, too.
Shade moved to Sin. “You okay? E said you were hit with a lock-dart.”
“I’ll live.” She dropped the bag and marched back to the kitchen, talking as she went. “Con patched me up before the assassins attacked.”
Both Shade and E focused on her, dark lasers of pissed-off-ness, and she knew she’d made a huge mistake by saying anything. “Assassins?” they both growled.
“Yeah.” Con took a six-pack of beer out of the fridge and tossed a bottle at each of them. Sin fumbled hers. She’d been too busy admiring his six-pack. “Your sister can’t take a freaking step without causing some sort of disaster.”
Shade popped the cap off his bottle and flung the top into the sink. “Who were they?”
“They were mine. I’m walking around with a bull’s-eye on my ass.” She held up her left hand and wiggled her fingers, where Detharu’s silver ring glinted in the light. “Any assassin who kills me and takes my ring inherits my job. I’m pretty much the underworld’s most wanted right now.”
“Hell’s bells,” Shade muttered. “What kind of defense do you have against them?”
She waggled her brows. “Besides my uber-incredible fighting and self-defense skills?”
“Yeah,” Shade said flatly, and sheesh, the guy had no sense of humor. “Besides those.”
I could bind myself to Lycus for the rest of my life. She shrugged. “All I can do is stay ahead of them. Most won’t be able to find me, but a few can sense me. It’s even possible that they’ve put out the word to every hired blade in the underworld. I need to keep moving.”
“You’ll have to do that to keep ahead of the Carceris, too,” Eidolon added.
“You’ll stay at the cave with Runa,” Shade announced, as if he’d made the decision and Sin would have to accept it. “The entrance is hidden, and even if they track you to it, they’ll never get in.”
“You don’t know my assassins. Trust me, they’ll find a way. I’m not putting your mate and children at risk.”
Eidolon raked his hand through his hair. “Then we’ll take turns with you.”
“There are four of us,” Eidolon pointed out, as if she couldn’t count. “One of us will always be with you.”
“No way.” She twisted the cap off her beer bottle. “I can take care of myself. I don’t need you guys being all big brother. Besides,” she said jauntily, as she linked arms with Con, “I have this studly dhampire to keep me safe.”
Con went taut, his arm and chest muscles turning to iron against her. For a second she thought he’d argue, but he shocked her by saying, “I don’t have a choice. I need her blood to eliminate the virus inside me.”
“Well, gee, don’t sound so excited.”
“Trust me,” he said in a hard tone. “I’m not. I do have other obligations.”
Shade knocked back half his beer. “Con can stay. That’ll give you two bodyguards.”
Sin jerked away from Con, partly to round on Shade, but mostly because Con’s lack of a shirt was a distraction she didn’t need. “Do you not understand the word no? I don’t want to be responsible for you.”
“Responsible?” Shade choked on his beer. “Responsible for us?”
“Yeah. What if my assassins use you to get to me? Or what if they kill you?”
“I think,” Shade said quietly, “that you underestimate us.”
No, actually, she knew her brothers were more than capable of defending themselves. But no one was invincible. “There’s also the trouble with the Carceris,” she reminded them.
“We’re not worried about that,” Eidolon said, but Sin shook her head.
“I am. I said no.”
Shade was in her face so fast she didn’t have time to blink. Next to her, Con tensed again, and she wondered if, possibly, he was gearing up to defend her. “This isn’t up for debate,” he growled. “We have each others’ backs in this family, and we won’t let yours be exposed.”
She went up on her tiptoes, but she still only reached his shoulders. “I. Said. No. If I were a brother instead of a sister, you wouldn’t be this crazy about protecting me, and you know it. I will not be treated differently just because I don’t have a dick.”
She cut off Eidolon by slamming her beer down on the counter, spraying foam everywhere. “I will not put you at risk.” She’d done that by accepting Lore’s help with her ex-master, Detharu, and it had cost her brother years of suffering. She wouldn’t do that to a sibling again, and neither would she allow herself to grow close to them. If she was stuck with them twenty-four-seven…
She shuddered. They were overbearing and protective enough as it was. If they got to know her, she’d be screwed.
“You don’t have to do this alone.” Shade’s fingers circled her wrist, his hold gentle but as unyielding as shackles. “You are ours—”
You are mine. The voice of her first master, the one who had taken her off the streets where she’d been starving, craving things she didn’t understand, pounded in her head. He’d run an underworld crime ring that mostly operated in the human world—gambling, prostitution, murder for hire, drug and slave trafficking. He’d been the first to own her, but he hadn’t been the last.
You are mine. You belong to me. You are ours. The words of past masters kept clanging around in her skull until her throat tightened and her heart kicked madly against her ribs.
“Yours?” Sin broke Shade’s hold and stumbled back so fast she bumped into Con. “I belong to no one.” God, she was trembling all over, and her breath had backed up in her lungs as anxiety swamped her.
“Whoa.” Shade’s hands came up. “Hey, it’s okay.”
Con rested his palms on her shoulders, his grip strangely comforting when it should have made her feel even more trapped. “I think you boys should back off.”
Eidolon and Shade glared at Con, glints of gold breaking the surfaces of their dark eyes as anger sparked. “I appreciate what you’ve done for her,” Eidolon said, his voice scraping gravel, “but she is our sister, and we can handle this.”
Tension pinged off Sin’s skin like buckshot. She opened her mouth to tell them all off, but Con spoke first.
“She needs you,” he said, in that soothing paramedic voice he’d used on her in the ambulance. “You know that. She knows that.” He squeezed her shoulder, a silent message to roll with what he was saying. “But it might be best if you let me stay by her side while you handle things from UG.”
Everyone stared, motionless, until Eidolon finally took a long swig of his beer and nodded. “You’ll check in every couple of hours.”
Sin clenched her fists at the command, but she resisted the urge to mouth off. Antagonizing E and Shade now would be stupid, and she wouldn’t put it past Eidolon to change his mind.
“I might only have a couple of days, maybe hours, before I have to take care of some clan business, but we’ll do what we can until then,” Con promised.
“Good.” Eidolon propped his hip against the kitchen’s island countertop and cursed with annoyance when the beer that had spilled out of her bottle soaked his pants. “Since you’ll be moving around a lot, can you take her to warg areas that might be infected? I can give you the locations of the packs where my patients came from.”
Con frowned. “Why?”
“Because before the Carceris interrupted us, we were working on reversing the disease in an infected warg. Sin failed, in part because too much of the virus was in the warg’s blood, and what was there had degraded too badly to be useful in the lab. If she can try the same thing with someone who has been infected for only a few hours, she might have a shot at success. I need a sample of freshly killed, intact virus.”
“Interesting.” Con slid her a glance, one that was almost approving, and for some reason, she felt like a happy puppy that had been praised for piddling outside instead of on the carpet. Annoying. “Yeah, we can do that.”
“Lore plugged all the cases into a computer program the R-XR developed to track outbreaks and cross-check them with known populations of canine-based underworld beings—”
“I thought only turned wargs were affected,” Sin interrupted. “Why track anyone else?”
“Just a precaution, in case the disease mutates. Like it did with Con.” Eidolon handed Con a slip of paper, Lore’s handwriting scrawled on it. “That’s the log-in and password.”
Sin’s heart lurched in her chest. “How is Lore?”
Shade cocked a dark eyebrow. “Flipping out.”
She scrubbed a hand over her face. God, what she wouldn’t give for all of this to be over already. “I figured. Look, why don’t you guys go do whatever it is you do. Con and I will be fine.”
Both brothers shot her looks edged with doubt, and then nailed Con with eyes that said, If anything happens to her, you’re dead.
Con acknowledged their unspoken threat with a lazy nod that also conveyed that he wasn’t worried. But whether that was because he was confident in his abilities to keep her safe or if it was because he wasn’t afraid of her brothers, she didn’t know.
“Give me your hand.” Shade held out his to Sin. “Since Con is going to need to feed from you, I’m going to tweak your system to increase your blood production. After that, you’ll need to stay hydrated. Drink lots of water.”
Sin put her hand in his. Instantly, a warm, tingling sensation flowed from her fingertips to her bones. She sagged, and both Eidolon and Con moved to catch her. Con was faster, and as he pulled her into his big body, tension sparked in the room again.
God, these guys were impossible. Lore had never been this bad, but then, he’d walked on eggshells around her because he felt so guilty about what had happened that one night so long ago.
He also realized she had succubus needs, something the Long Lost Trio seemed to not understand. Well, it was time to make them understand.
She backed away from Shade, and in a deliberate, sensual motion, she reached up and gripped the back of Con’s neck. “Look, boys. You seem to think I’m some sheltered, sweet little virginal doll.” She scraped her nails across Con’s skin, and he hissed. Those fangs were so damned sexy. “But I’m not. I’m a Seminus demon. Think about what that means.”
Shade turned an interesting gray color. Eidolon winced.
“Yeah. I need sex or I die. So stop with the obnoxious chaperone shit, because I really don’t want you anywhere nearby while I’m doing it, and I don’t think you want that either.” She gave them her sweetest smile. “And know that the second you’re gone, I’m going to ride Con until he begs for mercy.”
Eidolon sighed. Shade swore. And Con muttered something that sounded strangely like “Mercy.”
One type of tension left the house with Shade and Eidolon. But another remained, a less violent tang in the air, but one that was no less dangerous. Sin was a fucking menace, and no one was safe around her. Especially not Con.
I’m going to ride Con until he begs for mercy. Jesus. He was lucky Shade and E hadn’t gutted him right then and there. Hell, her words alone had done that. Now his blood was pumping steam through his veins, his skin hot and itchy, and his cock was hard as a steel pipe.
She stood in the kitchen, fist wrapped tightly around her beer bottle. “That was fun,” she chirped.
“What is your problem?” His bark should have made her jump, but no, Miss I’ll Take on the World squared for battle.
He stalked toward her, and the closer he got, the more her chin came up in that defiant way of hers. “You heard me.” He tore the bottle from her hand and slammed it down on the counter. She made a sound of outrage as he caged her against said counter, his fists planted on either side of her. “What is your deal with your brothers? Why are you so hostile?”
She shoved against his bare chest, but he didn’t budge. “Get away from me.”
“Answer.” He put more weight on her, which put more skin on skin. It also put his hips in contact with her stomach, and it wasn’t going to be long before it would be obvious that he wasn’t completely hating being this close to her.
“I’m not hostile.” She squirmed, but as soon as she realized that all she was doing was wedging them together tighter and doing some interesting grinding, she stopped and said with a huff, “I just don’t know them.”
She craned her neck to look up at him. “You don’t know?”
“I wasn’t even aware that Shade, Eidolon, and Wraith existed until a few weeks ago. They didn’t know about me until last month.” She shoved again, for all the good it did her. Now that they were plastered against each other, she had no leverage. “Get. Off.”
Now why in the hell did his imagination have to take those two little words and make an X-rated flick out of them? “Is that an offer? You going to follow up on that charming little announcement you made to your brothers? Because you’re the one who will be begging for mercy.”
Sure, he was mostly trying to antagonize her, but he knew what being inside her felt like. He knew what she tasted like. And, as with all sins, this one was addictive.
The reality put a much needed damper on his lust, cooling him down a few degrees.
“It was not an offer,” she ground out. “I was messing with those two meatheads because they needed a damned wake-up call.”
“Agreed, but next time, put someone else’s balls in a vise.”
“But squeezing yours is so much more fun,” she said, with a cheery bat of her eyelashes. Then she frowned. Her dermoire lit up, and a tingle ran through his chest. “You need to feed.”
“Maybe not for hunger. But the virus is building again.”
“It can wait. You still haven’t recovered from the last feeding, not to mention the blood loss from your wounds.” Shade had power-punched her blood production into high gear, but Con didn’t want to push it. And the less time spent with his mouth on her, the better.
She shrugged, making her long, silky curtain of black hair swish against his chest. “Whatever. We’re only going to be traveling to warg packs. But no skin off my back. Just don’t blame me for any infections you cause.”
Sudden anger replaced the residual lust zipping through his veins, and with a snarl, he pushed away, putting several feet of distance between them. “I blame you for all of them.”
Her eyes narrowed into furious ebony slits. “Yes, I’m to blame. Are you ever going to stop reminding me?”
“Maybe when my friends stop dying.” Clenching his fists so hard his knuckles ached, he pivoted around so he wouldn’t have to look at her, wouldn’t have to be reminded how much he both wanted her and hated her. His temple throbbed as he fought the urge to grab her, shake her until her teeth rattled, and then strip her naked and claim her right there on the kitchen floor.
Suddenly, her fists were pummeling his back. “You stupid son of a bitch! I fucked up and infected a shitload of people, but you don’t have to.”
She shoved him hard enough to knock him into the fridge, severing the last thread of control on his temper, blurring the line between lust and anger. Hot, potent adrenaline surged in his veins as he wheeled around, seized her upper arms, and lifted her. He knew his eyes had gone fully mirrored, so she’d see her own terror in them. His fangs punched down and his cock got hard, and shit, he was on the edge.
But instead of terror, he saw only defiance as she ground out, “Do it, asshole. Bite me. What are you fucking waiting for?”
Con slammed her against the wall and bit into her neck. She gasped, but the sound was followed by a low moan. As her honeyed blood poured down his throat, his libido went berserk, the way it had in Eidolon’s office, except multiplied by a hundred. Maybe it was because they were alone. Maybe it was because they had full body contact and his anger had shot all his common sense through the roof.
Maybe it was because with each feeding, the addiction was building.
“Con…” His name came out on a whisper of breath against his ear, and it was his turn to moan. Especially when her legs came up and hooked around his waist, putting his aching shaft in contact with her core.
Her nails dug into his shoulders. “Fuck me,” she murmured.
For most dhampires—and vampires—feeding went hand in hand with sex, which was why he preferred to take his blood from females. Few of his kind were picky about the sex of their bed and blood mates, but Con had long ago determined that a soft, sweet female was the best fit for him.
Except there was nothing soft or sweet about Sin, and for some reason, that fact had a far more powerful effect on him. The fight, the intensity… it rocked him like nothing—and no one—else.
Yes. No. Ah, damn, his body was screaming for her, but his mind swirled with doubts. Deeper involvement with her would be a bad thing on so many levels. He’d keep her safe because he owed her brothers and because she could be key in finding an answer to the epidemic, but that was as far as the relationship between Sin and Con could go.
“Con.” Her satiny lips brushed his cheek, and the raw desire in her voice pummeled his resolve. “I need it.”
Right. Duh. Succubi. He had to keep her safe and healthy. Justifying sex had never been so easy.
He couldn’t tear open his fly fast enough.
Sin wrapped one arm around his neck and dropped her other between them so she could rip open her own pants. Not gently, he shoved her up on the counter, disengaged his fangs, and jerked off her pants and thong. They caught on her boots, and he growled with impatience, tearing her pants as he yanked them off.
“Hurry,” she breathed.
Now was definitely not the time for finesse, and he didn’t spare her as he gripped her thighs, spread them, and plunged deep into her satin core. Her cry of passion joined his. He felt her everywhere—on his skin, in his blood. It was like drowning in ecstasy, and he could no longer remember why he’d resisted her.
“Harder,” she moaned, and holy hell, she was a fucking dream come true.
He planted his palms on the wall above her head, and she leaned back, bracing herself on her arms behind her, her legs wrapped tightly around his waist in that way all males loved. A trickle of blood ran down her throat from the punctures in her neck, and he dipped his head to swipe his tongue over it. The flavor nearly had him coming.
“I love how you taste,” he growled against her throat. “I want to taste you everywhere.” He wanted to get her naked and then spend hours kissing her all over. Licking and nibbling and sucking every inch of skin, with a heavy emphasis on that succulent place between her legs.
“Yes.” The word came out on a harsh whisper. “Come, Con. Now.”
Since semen was the trigger for her, the idea of torturing her by withholding for a little while was appealing as hell, but he was too far gone to scrounge up that kind of control, not when her sex was like a glove, squeezing and massaging until he was on the verge.
He pumped into her, hard and fast, so much more wild than they’d been in the supply closet, when they’d been virtual strangers sneaking a quickie before her brothers caught them and castrated his ass.
His hip rubbed on her thigh holster, a strangely erotic sensation, and when she flexed her muscles, the sheath dug into his flesh, catapulting him to climax. It hit him like a searing wave of lava, spreading up his spine and into every limb. He spilled into Sin, and her core clenched around him as she joined him in a blatantly silent release. She was holding back, just as she had the first time.
When it was over, he collapsed onto his elbows against the wall and braced his forehead on hers in a desperate attempt to catch his breath. She was breathing hard, too, her sex still contracting and taking every last drop.
She shifted, sitting up, and he slid out of her. She gripped his biceps, and for a second he thought she was preventing him from leaving, but her dermoire lit up, and he realized she was checking for the virus. When she swore, he knew the news was not good.
“You didn’t take enough blood. It’s almost gone. Just another sip, maybe…”
“No.” He stepped back and tucked himself into his pants. “We’ll give you a day to recover.”
“A day could get the virus back up to unmanageable levels.”
“We’ll see.” He glanced down at her creamy, spread thighs, at the glistening juncture between them, and unbelievably, his cock swelled again. Quickly, he jerked his gaze away. “I’m going to shower and change. You can use the guest bathroom if you want. If not, why don’t you log in to the hospital’s records and get a map of the viral outbreaks. Computer’s in my office. We’ll head out after that.” He walked away without waiting for an answer.
After showering, he dressed in jeans and a plain white T-shirt. He found her in his office, hair wet and dressed in the leather pants and short-sleeved black button-down Eidolon had brought.
“I’ve printed out the locations of all known infected wargs,” she said, not bothering to turn away from the computer screen. The printer spit out a couple of pages.
“Excellent.” He jammed his feet into his boots, grabbed the papers, and considered whipping up a quick meal. He made a killer southwestern omelet.
Sin came up behind him while he was shuffling through the fridge. “Do you feel that?”
“Feel what…” The hairs on the back of his neck prickled.
“Get down!” Sin dove at him, took him to the floor in a tangle of limbs as the entire world exploded. A massive boom shattered his ears, and a whoosh of searing flame blasted his skin. Rolling, he covered her body with his, clenching his teeth against the torrent of wood and plaster that rained down on his back. Another explosion sent a shock wave of heat and pressure into them both, and almost as if they’d been picked up by a giant, invisible hand, they were lifted and hurled against the stove. Pain wrenched through his shoulder, but he ignored it as he grasped Sin’s hand and dragged her, on his hands and knees, toward the garage.
“I have an escape tunnel,” he shouted, and then hacked up a freaking lung as black smoke filled his chest.
Somewhere in the house, glass shattered, and the rapid pop of automatic gunfire pierced the roar of flames. Someone was very serious about making sure they were dead.
The garage was already burning, but Con shielded his face from the flames as he made his way to the rig. Coughing, he climbed inside and grabbed a jump bag. He leaped out and caught a glimpse of the blackened vehicle through the billowing smoke. Shade was going to be fucking pissed about the brand-new ambulance. It hadn’t even gone on a dozen runs yet.
Sin was crouching where he’d left her, at the fridge-sized gun safe near the back wall. Quickly, he punched in the security code and spun the wheel to open the door. There were no weapons inside, but the bottom was a concealed hatch, which he tugged open.
“Cool,” Sin said between coughs.
“Hurry.” He nudged her to the opening. “There’s a ladder down.”
He cast one last, longing look at his house burning down around him. He’d liked this place, but he supposed there was no sense in mourning, since he would have had to give it all up to join the clan in Scotland anyway. He just hoped he had time to help with the warg disease situation first.
Flames in the shape of a giant hand shot out of the wall, and Con reared back as a piercing, chilling shriek froze the marrow in his bones. “What the fuck is that?”
“Not good, whatever it is!” Sin yelled. “Come on!”
He started down the tunnel, but as he did, something outside the shattered window caught his eye. He blinked, and it was gone.
“Con? What are you doing?”
He shook his head. “I could have sworn I saw a big dude on a horse. And he was wearing a fucking suit of armor.”Eight
Sin scaled the ladder, her skin feeling singed and sunburned. At the bottom, darkness closed in on her, becoming complete blackness when Con closed the door to the gun safe and the hatch over the hole. She heard his big feet hit the rungs, and then he bumped into her at the base, smelling of a weird combination of smoke, piney soap, and his own natural, dark scent. It was messed up that she noticed, and even more messed up that it stirred her even though they’d just taken the edge off her need.
But then, she’d always been turned on by danger, and they were in it up to their chins.
She heard some scritching noises, and a flashlight lit the darkness.
“Aren’t you the prepared little dhampire. Handy escape route you have here.”
He gestured down the tunnel with the Maglite. “You never know when you’ll need a quick getaway.”
“You make a lot of quick getaways?” She started moving, her feet barely making a whisper on the soft dirt floor.
“Probably no more than you do,” he said dryly.
“Probably.” She was always finagling her way out of tight scrapes. She took an S-curve well ahead of the circle of light behind her, and her handy-dandy demon night vision finally kicked in to help. “Where does it go?”
“Ends near the Harrowgate.” His voice, magnified by the narrow passage, sounded like it was next to her ear, even though he was a few feet behind.
“The gate will be guarded to prevent our escape.”
He said nothing more as they scurried like rats to the end of the tunnel, which was cleverly disguised by a large boulder in a tangle of bushes and trees. The sound of rushing water helped mask the noise of their exit as they belly-crawled to the edge of the thicket. They lay in silence for a few moments, feeling out their surroundings, listening for enemies. Sin sensed the Harrowgate to the south, very close.
Once Con was satisfied that they weren’t being watched, he crept out of the foliage and gestured to the stream that snaked through the forest. “The Harrowgate is just around the bend.”
Sin drew a throwing knife from her boot. “Want one?” she whispered.
“Nah. I’m good with my hands,” he said, and her body heated in enthusiastic agreement. “You can do the long-range shit.”
Using the trees and thorny brush as cover, they moved downriver. Near the narrows, where the rapids crashed with increasing violence, the Harrowgate entrance shimmered between two massive oaks. Nearby, partially concealed by shadows and a leafy hedge, was a blond lion-shifter—one of Sin’s own damned assassins.
“Mother. Fuck.” She started toward him, but Con grabbed her arm.
“Go to hell. He’s mine.”
Con’s lips peeled back in a silent snarl. “Is he the one who wants you to be his mate?”
He’d heard that? “Nah, Marasco already has six females in his pride. He definitely doesn’t need another. Watch my back.” She shrugged out of Con’s grip and sent the throwing knife into the air. Her aim was deadly and perfect… but her assassins were well trained, and Marasco leaped out of the way as the blade zinged past his ear.
Smiling, the squat male wheeled around, drawing his signature weapon, a paralyzing dart, in his right hand and a pistol in his left. He carried the firearm because he hung out with human gangbangers, but few supernatural creatures actually used them. They couldn’t be fired in Sheoul, but more than that, guns were considered human weapons, and most demons despised them.
Also, most demons were no more affected by a bullet than most humans were by bee stings.
Sin was not one of those demons.
“Marasco,” she cooed, with a bat of lashes. “After all we’ve been through, you still want to kill me?”
His broad nose flared, probably seeking the scent of anyone accompanying her. Hopefully Con had gotten downwind. “Nothing personal, love. Though it’s always a pity when succubi die. They’re too rare as it is.”
Laughing, she eased to the right as he eased to the left so they were circling in the thinned-out area between the stream and the Harrowgate. “I’m the rarest of all. One of a kind. Would be a shame to kill me.”
He glanced at the ring on her finger. “I’m sure the trade-off will be worth it.”
“Not for me. I like breathing.” She maintained eye contact, but kept her peripheral vision on his hands. Wisely, he kept them wide apart and always moving, making it difficult to keep track of both at all times. “Who are you working with? I know you aren’t alone, and you haven’t been an assassin long enough to sense my presence.”
“Does it really matter? The entire den wants you dead.”
He lunged, and the silver tip of a dart glinted in the dappled sunlight. She hit the ground and rolled, slid her Gargantua-bone dagger from its sheath at her waist, and popped to her feet. The crack of gunfire deafened her as the whisper of a bullet brushed her shoulder. She slashed out with the dagger, knocking the pistol to the ground. Marasco snarled, and suddenly, a four-hundred-pound lion was coming at her. She blocked with one arm and buried the dagger in his side with the other, but she went down beneath the beast. Her spine cracked hard on a rock and his giant-ass paws pinned her shoulders.
Then, suddenly, he went airborne. Conall stood next to her, fists clenched, fangs elongated. He had a faint, satisfied smile on his face, and if she hadn’t been in so much pain, she’d have thought it was hot.
Marasco hit a tree with enough force to splinter the trunk, but he landed on all fours and charged again. Sin launched the dagger, which had tasted his blood and would now seek him out, and never miss. It struck his chest dead center. Shock flashed in Marasco’s eyes as he stumbled. He stayed on his feet, still pushing forward, but he’d lost his momentum and, staggering, he lost his hold on his lion form.
Now human, he collapsed, rolling to his side, blood gushing from his chest and his mouth. Dropping his medic bag, Con kneeled next to him. Sin cursed. Con was seriously going to pull some paramedic shit—
He twisted the knife. Marasco moaned through clenched teeth, too well trained and conditioned to react much to any kind of torture.
“Tell me who you’re working with,” Con said coldly, but Sin knew the lion wasn’t giving anything up, for the same reason he wasn’t screaming in agony.
“Go… to… hell.” Marasco’s golden eyes glazed over, and his chest stopped moving, and instantly, something popped painfully in her chest as the assassin bond with him broke.
Con yanked the blade out of the lion-shifter’s body. “We gotta go.”
“We need to double back to the house.” She took the dagger from him and wiped it on the dead shifter’s jeans. “I want to see who he was working with—”
She leaped to her feet as the sound of… hoofbeats?… thundered in her ears.
Con cursed. “Now.”
He dragged her by the arm to the Harrowgate. She barely had time to steady herself before he threw her inside the capsule-like room and dove in after her. As the hazy curtain formed to seal them in, an arrow punched through the hardening veil, whispered across Sin’s cheek, and pierced the wall between Australia and New Zealand on the Earth map.
“Who the hell was that?” she yelled, as Con slapped his palm on the glowing map. It burst into a dozen neon-colored lines that were etched into all four of the obsidian walls.
“It’s not one of your guys?” He tapped Europe, and the continent grew larger as the others vanished. He kept tapping it out until he pinpointed somewhere in Romania. The door shimmered open, and she turned to grab the arrow—often weapons gave away clues as to their owners’ identities—but it was gone. Son of a bitch. Who the hell used dissolving arrows? She’d never even heard of them.
“None of my assassins shoot disappearing arrows from horseback.” Which could mean that good old King Arthur was from another assassin den. Dammit! She’d known there was a possibility that her guys would get others involved, but the reality… well, she hated to admit it, but their fierce desire to see her dead stung. And now she was truly fucked.
She stepped out of the Harrowgate and into a dismal, cold, gray day. She thought it might be afternoon, but it was hard to tell, since the sun was hidden behind the thick clouds and fog. “Where are we going?”
“A warg stronghold.” Con swung around. “Test my virus levels.”
She bristled. “A please would be nice.” At his glare, she huffed. “Fine.” She gripped his wrist, charged up her gift, and probed his blood. “You just fed, so levels are really low.”
“I’m still going to be careful.” His tone turned wry. “So no unnecessary biting, screwing, or bleeding on anyone.”
“Do you regularly bleed on people?”
He dropped his medic bag next to the Harrowgate. “You’re a ball of laughs, you know that?” He took off along a grassy, worn trail, leaving her to follow.
“Hey,” she called to him. “I’m known throughout the assassin community as a funny person.” Con missed a step. “See? That was funny.” Better if he’d fallen on his face, but she’d take what she could get.
He ignored her, kept walking, though they didn’t go far. They were, apparently, near the base of a mountain range and down in a fog-shrouded valley. Sin could make out a walled town where the mists thinned. From what she could see, only one poorly maintained road ran to and from the village. Clearly, no one came here who wasn’t either lost or actively seeking the town.
“What is this place?”
“We’re near Moldavia. The ancestral birthplace of born wargs.” Con’s long strides ate up the ground, one step for her two. “This village is the home of the largest pricolici pack in the world.”
Like many supernatural beings who lived in the human realm, the wargs had enchanted their city with the same type of magic that encased UG’s ambulances. Most humans would either pass by the town without noticing it, or they’d be repelled by a feeling of deep sadness. The few who made it inside probably wouldn’t be there for long.
“So, do only pricolici live here?”
“Mostly. Varcolac can come and go, but they can’t live in a pricolici town unless they’re mated to a pack member.”
Sin and Con approached the main gate, an arched entrance in the wall, and Sin was not surprised to see a tall, broad-shouldered male standing just outside it, his stance casual, almost lethargic, but his shrewd eyes missed nothing. This would be a scout, a pack member assigned to alert others to an intruder. Though he wouldn’t stop Sin and Con, she knew he’d broadcast their arrival the moment they were out of sight—if he hadn’t already.
Before they reached the gate, Con halted. “Have you ever been inside a pricolici village?”
He glanced down what appeared to be the main street, which was mostly deserted. But Sin sensed activity all around, and she didn’t believe for a moment that the streets weren’t being watched. “Do you have any of the same limitations as male Sems? If you sense arousal in someone, are you compelled to relieve it?”
“No, thank God.” That had been an interesting revelation about her purebred brothers. Before they’d taken mates, they’d been slaves to sexual desire on a scale that made her issues seem minuscule. Like her, they needed sex to survive, but they’d also been forced to satisfy a female’s lust whenever they felt it, which meant that in public places like pubs, they could be trapped for days.
“Good. Then stay close and don’t make eye contact with anyone unless I’ve introduced you to them. No one, got it?”
“I can take care of myself.”
“No doubt about that. But I don’t think even you can fight off a pack of horny males, or females who would see you as a threat. And since they’ll be able to sense the demon in you, you’ll be fair game.”
“Yeah, you said. But I’ve seen wargs rip others apart with their bare hands. You upset the pack, we’re both dead.”
So, Con turned out to be right.
The scent of sex entered Sin’s lungs like an aphrodisiac, warming her from the inside, while the feel of it in the air shimmered over her skin. She felt drugged, loose, completely dreamy. The tendrils of mist swirling around their feet as they walked up the center of the medieval-like town only added to the surreal texture of the world they’d entered.
“Con?” She brushed up against him, intentionally, and groaned at the feel of his hard body against hers. “Maybe I should wait outside the wall.” She’d been inside brothels, harems, and orgies and never had she encountered anything so raw, so intense. It was as if the village itself seethed with primal instincts and hungers that were never sated.
Con must have felt it, too—the evidence made an impressive bulge in the front of his jeans. “You’ll be vulnerable out there,” he muttered. “We’ll hurry.”
He took her hand and led her along the main thoroughfares, where a few people kept to the sidewalks and glass shop fronts revealed people inside the pubs, stores, and eateries. Oddly, Sin realized they’d been passed by only a couple of vehicles. Even odder, every now and then she caught sight of couples screwing in alleys and side streets. Some were clothed, some naked, some in various states of undress. And…
“Is this a gay village?”
“Then why is most of the action male on male?”
“Pricolici are horny,” he said roughly, as he dragged her past a couple who seemed to be doing their best to prove Con’s point. “Especially during their teen-human-equivalent years, which extend into around their fiftieth year. You know how male dogs will hump anything?”
Right now she’d hump anything… She gulped. “Yeah.”
“It’s pretty much the same with young, unmated male wargs. The females are less insane with lust at that age, so the males burn off their excess testosterone with fights and sex. Usually both at the same time.”
“Which explains why a lot of them are bloody.”
“Winner does the loser.”
Speaking of which, she watched in morbid fascination as two young males beat the crap out of each other, until one knocked the other to the ground and mounted him. The loser immediately stopped fighting, and the sudden expression of pleasure on his face, as well as his stiff cock, said this wasn’t a rape situation at all.
“Are there any rules here?”
He tugged her to get her moving again. “Can’t fuck, fight, or walk naked on main roads or in places like restaurants, where humans might accidentally go if they find their way into the town.”
The human in her appreciated the need for rules, but the sex demon in her wanted to get down and dirty, right in the middle of the town square, just to cause a little trouble and shake things up. She shuddered at the thought, felt a wet rush between her legs, and started toward the fountain. As if Con knew what she was up to, he let out a low, erotic growl, squeezed her hand, and dragged her from the square.
They ducked down a side street—and ran into three fighting males. Fascinated and wondering how that was going to end, Sin stopped, digging in her heels when Con tried to force her away. She didn’t get a chance to see how the males were going to settle the battle and sex, because Con grabbed her by the waist and hauled her out of there. She’d have fought him, but… yeah, it just felt too good to have his arms around her.
She shivered with nearly uncontrollable desire as he put her down half a block away from the fighting trio, though for just a second he hesitated, his fingers digging into her hips, his panting breaths matching hers.
“Why are you affected so strongly by all of this?” She gripped his wrists, holding him there, wishing he’d come closer. “You’re… old.”
He laughed, a deep, clear note that rang through her in a pleasant wave. “I’m young by dhampire standards.” He sobered as he gazed at her, then took a deep breath and pulled away. “I’m not normally affected like this. It’s you. You’re putting off some hellacious fuck-me vibes.”
“Not enough, apparently,” she muttered.
He either ignored her or didn’t hear her, but he took her hand again and led her down a couple more cobblestone streets until they reached the outskirts of town and the narrowest road yet, which ran alongside the town wall.
Once again, she slowed as a distant, odd sound caught her attention. “What’s that? Sounds like a dogfight. Big one.”
Con nodded, but kept walking. “When aggression sparks in a large group of wargs, they shift, no matter what time of day or month, so they can battle in beast form.”
She whistled, low and long. “You wolfy people have turned fighting into an art form. Living with you must be loads of fun.”
For some reason, he tensed. “We ‘wolfy people’ can be very gentle with our families.”
True enough. From what Sin had seen, Runa was a perfect example.
At the end of the street was a cul-de-sac with four small, thatch-roofed houses, each separated by several yards of land and thick copses of trees. As they approached, a muscular male wearing nothing but jeans exited one of the houses, his gaze fixed on Con. Beside her, the scent of aggression wafted off Con.
“What’s going on?” she asked under her breath.
Con didn’t answer right away, and as they got closer, the dark-haired male bowed his head, though with obvious reluctance.
“He’s an alpha,” Con finally replied. “But I’m older, stronger, and more alpha. We determined that a few years ago.”
So… Con had beaten the crap out of the guy. That must have been interesting. “Did you make wild, passionate love to him after you proved victorious?” She was only partly teasing, was imagining the fight, the sex, and again, a primal response rose up, and God, her bones were going to melt if she didn’t get Con between her legs. Soon.
One corner of Con’s lush, gorgeous mouth turned up. “I passed on that.” The male didn’t lift his head until Con stopped in front of him. “Dante. Good to see you.”
Dante gave a curt nod. “Sable is inside.” He shifted his gaze to Sin, his expression dark. Dangerous. “Who is the female? She is not warg.”
“She’s a colleague.”
Dante’s lip lifted in a silent snarl. Clearly, he didn’t want her anywhere near his family, but Con didn’t give him a chance to protest. Still holding her hand, he entered the house, where the scent of roast venison made Sin’s mouth water, and once the door closed, her lust eased so abruptly she sagged against Con. He caught her, held her steady until she could stand on her own again.
She nodded, grateful for the temporary reprieve.
Children’s laughter came from somewhere in the house, and a tall, red-haired female wearing green sweats and a sweatshirt came around the corner, grinning when she saw Con.
“Father!” She hurried to him, but dropped to her knees at his feet. He lifted her into a huge hug.
“Father?” Sin asked, and he shrugged.
“Technically, I’m Sable’s great-great-great-great-grandfather, but we’ll pretend there aren’t so many greats in there.”
“What brings you here?” Sable gave Sin a warm smile before hugging Con again, giving his neck a little nuzzle and kiss, much the way pups greeted older canines. For some reason, the display of affection put an odd lump in Sin’s throat. “Would you like to stay for supper?”
“I’m here for only a minute,” he said. “No time to even sit.”
Frowning, Sable stepped back. “What is it?”
“You’ve heard of SF.”
“Of course.” She waved her hand dismissively. “We have guards at the gate to prevent foreign wargs who might be infected from entering.”
“You need to take your family somewhere else. Somewhere isolated.”
“But why, if—”
Con gripped Sable’s shoulders and forced her to look into his deadly serious eyes. “Because soon it’s going to become known that only turned wargs are susceptible, and security at your gate will no longer be needed.”
For a moment, confusion swirled in Sable’s eyes, surely matching Sin’s own, and then the blood in Sable’s already pale face drained, making her freckles stand out like a dalmation’s spots. “Oh, gods.”
“It’ll only be a matter of time before a warg civil war breaks out,” he said grimly. “Get your family to safety.”
She gave him a shaky nod. “Just a minute.” She darted out the door, leaving Sin and Con alone in the entryway.
“I don’t understand what just happened,” Sin said, still staring after the shaken female. “Why would the news about turned wargs be bad? Isn’t your… daughter… a dhampire?”
“Not even close.” A child squealed somewhere in the house, and Con smiled fondly. “Back when our numbers were far greater, female dhampires often mated with wargs. Eight hundred years ago, my only daughter did so. Her offspring followed suit, mostly breeding out the dhampire blood. Sable is pricolici, and her mate is as well.”
“Now I’m even more confused—”
“One of her cubs is varcolac.”
Oh, shit. “How did that happen?” She waited for a response. And waited. “Con?”
“It’s not important,” he said flatly, the dismissal just blatant enough to piss Sin off.
“If it’s not important, then it shouldn’t be a problem for you to tell me, right?” She crossed her arms over her chest. “And it’s not like we have anything better to do.”
“It’s a very dangerous secret, Sin. Something that could destroy my family.”
Her anger veered sharply to hurt, which made her ping right back to anger, because dammit, he shouldn’t be able to affect her like that. “Ah. So you think I would use the information to harm them. Nice. Must have been hell to stick your dick into someone so repugnant.”
Angry, guttural words fell from his lips. Good. He deserved to be as irked as she was. As the curses died down, he trained his laserlike gaze on her, his expression tight, shadowed with unmistakable warning. “When a born warg gives birth to a human baby, they are usually put down before they can utter a cry. But Sable couldn’t do that. She bit the infant and had the mark of a born warg tattooed onto him.”
“So I’m guessing she could get into a lot of trouble if the child is discovered?”
“Under warg law both she and the child could be executed.”
Sin grimaced, though she wasn’t surprised. After a hundred years in the demon world, very little surprised her anymore. But now she understood his reluctance to spill the secret. “If both parents are born wargs, how did the kid pop out human?”
Con hesitated, his eyes hooded and unreadable. Finally, he blew out a breath and answered gruffly. “Sable came into season while she was on a private sabbatical. She mated with a turned warg, but they were interrupted by The Aegis. He was killed. Just hours after that, Dante found her, took her during what remained of the heat, and when it was over, they were bonded. She came to me when it was time for the birth and confessed that she thought the cubs might be the dead male’s. She gave birth to fraternal twins—one warg and one human. She nipped the human, had him tattooed, and returned to the pack. Not even Dante knows the truth.”
Jesus. That was one hell of a secret. “So they need to get the kid to a place where he can’t catch the disease once the town opens up and turned wargs are free to come and go.”
Sin pondered what he said, and then blurted, “Where is your daughter? You know, your daughter daughter.”
A sad smile touched his sensual lips. “She died in childbirth. I didn’t know her well—I’d left the clan by the time she was born—but I felt her die.”
She didn’t have time to utter an awkward condolence because the door burst open and Dante stalked through, his big hand wrapped around the back of Sable’s neck. Her green eyes were red-rimmed, her face streaked with tears. “Is what my mate said true? Was Roman born a… human?” He said “human” like he might say “filthy maggot.”
Con glanced at Sable, who nodded. “Yes,” he said, his eyes as cold as his voice. “And if you hurt the child or Sable, I’ll hang you by your entrails and make you suffer for a month before you die.”
Trembling with emotion so powerful that Sin could smell it like bitter smoke, the male warg released Sable and closed his eyes. When he opened them, crystal tears glistened on his lashes. “I would have killed the infant if I’d known back then,” he said, and Sable’s pained cry brought a cringe from him and a hiss from Con. “But I’m not that male anymore. The cub is mine, and I will defend him with my life.”
With a sob, Sable flew into Dante’s arms, and he held her tight, his tears joining hers.
Guarded respect softened the hard line of Con’s jaw. “You’ll take Roman somewhere safe?”
“We’ll leave within the hour.”
Sin stood aside while arrangements were made and good-byes were said, and even though they had to leave the peace of the home, Sin was more than happy to get out. She could deal with lust much more easily than she could deal with strong emotion.
“Come on.” Con closed the door behind them. “I want to get out of here before—”
“Too late,” she breathed. High-octane lust, even more intense than before, flooded her body, making her mind fuzzy and her sex ache.
“Shit.” He took her hand and forced her to jog through the streets, using the main thoroughfares as much as possible.
Crazily, the faster they moved, the hotter she got. It was as if each step ramped her up even more, and by the time they reached the town square, she’d unbuttoned her top and was so ready for Con’s hands to be on her. Unable to wait another second, she jerked him to a stop. The potent scents of desire and danger rolled off him, swirled inside her, and she swayed, reaching out to brace herself against him.
“Sin… no. Don’t touch me.” His eyes were wild, glinting with shards of lust. “I’m going to… lose control. I’ll take you right here.”
Panting, her body tingling with awareness, she ran her palms up his stomach, skimming his pecs until she reached his broad shoulders. “I wouldn’t mind—”
A rough sound erupted from his throat, and lightning fast, he snared her wrists and held them away from him and against her own chest. “I will not cheapen you.”
She laughed, but the sound was hoarse. “Cheapen? Seriously? With the things I’ve done, I can’t get any cheaper.” Surprise flickered in his eyes, and she realized she’d revealed a hell of a lot more about herself than she had intended. More than she ever had, to anyone. She ran her foot up his calf, as much as a distraction as because she was on the verge of jumping him. “And for Hell’s sake, you did me in a freaking supply closet on a bet. How is this different?”
A shadow crossed his face, almost as though the reminder brought him shame, and no doubt it did; at the time, he’d implied that he’d lowered his standards to service her needs. He shifted away from her foot. “You’re bitter, little demon. Your past must have a hell of a choke hold on you.”
“Fuck you,” she said, but even to her own ears it sounded more like an offer than a kiss-off. “You don’t know anything.”
Clenching his teeth, he set her away from him. “I know that I’ll never take you in public, even in a place where public sex is normal and accepted.”
She raised her chin. “Maybe it’s normal for me.”
“I don’t doubt that it is.” The tone of his voice was naked, utterly lacking in the kind of judgment that should have accompanied what he’d said. “But I do doubt that you want it to be.”
Damn him. Damn him for somehow looking into her soul and reading her like a damned book. Her eyes stung as she spun around and headed for the town gate.
“Sin.” She ignored him. “Sin!”
This time, his sharp tone penetrated, along with a raising of her hackles, and she stopped. All around her, young males were watching, their eyes gleaming with hunger. Where had they come from? And why were they looking at her like that when they could be fucking each other?
“Con?” she asked quietly. “What’s going on?”
“They’ve sensed your arousal,” he murmured. “And your anger. They intend to have you.”Nine
This was not good. Sin might as well be a female warg in heat, and few males would back down from that.
Baring his fangs in warning, Con wrapped his palm around the back of Sin’s neck. Unlike Dante’s hold on Sable, this wasn’t a domination thing; it was a sign to the advancing males that she was his, and they’d have to go through him to get her.
His. No, she definitely wasn’t his and would never be. Even if he weren’t destined for an isolated life with his clan, he couldn’t see himself tied to her—at least, not in a nonerotic way. And yet, he was vibrating with a startling, possessive fury, and he was still drowning in hunger so intense he could hardly see straight.
A couple of the younger males hesitated, but the more aggressive, dominant males continued to stalk them, the gleam of lust—and bloodlust—glowing in their eyes. The air was thick, drenched with violent anticipation, and Con’s skin tightened, preparing for an unwelcome shift into his beast form.
“Back slowly toward the gate,” Con said, his voice slurred by both need and the fact that his fangs had filled his mouth. “Don’t draw a weapon. And for all that’s unholy, button your shirt.”
Damn, he’d been afraid of this. Sin was a magnet for trouble. How had she managed to survive this long?
One of the youngsters lunged. Con knocked him back with a powerful blow to the jaw. Yelping, the kid wheeled back into the crowd. The display instilled a little respect into the others, and the distance between Con and Sin and the mob increased.
They had almost arrived at the wall when Sin’s harsh whisper cut through the fog. “The gate is closed.”
Son of a—Con risked a glance over his shoulder at the sentry, whose hungry gaze was fixed on Sin. “I freaking hate pack mentality,” he muttered.
“I have an idea.” Sin broke away from him before he could stop her. A couple of males started to give chase, their instinctive prey drives activating at the sight of their target darting away. Con leaped in front of them with a bloodcurdling snarl that brought them up short. He’d kill them, and they knew it.
He angled his body so he could keep an eye on the horny males while checking out what Sin was doing, and he damned near swallowed his tongue.
The way the sentry was swallowing Sin’s.
The guy had her pinned against the wall, his hips grinding into her as his hands clawed at her top. A wild, primitive rage spewed like molten lava through Con’s veins. Seeing any female being savaged angered him, but he could still feel Sin’s blood rushing through him, could still feel her as part of him, and the word “mine” was a faint buzz in his head.
But did he want her, or did he want her blood? Both were dangerous desires, and he needed to get over himself real damned fast.
Suddenly, the sentry jerked away. Sin kept a grip on his wrist, her expression calm, cool… but her eyes flashed black fire. She said something, and he doubled over, losing his breakfast on the cobblestones. Though his movements were jerky, he withdrew an iron key from his pocket, jammed it into a panel on the wall, and the thick wood-and-iron gate clattered open, its hinges creaking in protest.
The pack of males rushed the gate, blocking the exit, but out of nowhere, a furious roar cut through the fog.
“Let them go!”
Con let out a curse, looked up to see Valko standing on the wall walk. The Warg Council leader pointed at the group of males, and they tucked tail and slunk away like scolded curs. Con might be grateful to Valko for the save, but he didn’t need the guy asking questions about why he was there. Fortunately, Valko merely gave Con a slow, meaningful nod, one that made it clear that Con owed him, and then he took off, heading toward the north wall tower.
Quickly, Con grabbed Sin’s hand and got them the hell out of town, and they kept going until they reached the Harrowgate.
“Who was the dude on the wall?” she asked when they’d stopped.
“Head of the Warg Council. That was his town. His pack.” Con still didn’t like the timing of Valko’s appearance on the wall, even though it wasn’t anything out of the ordinary. Valko would have been alerted to the arrival of visitors. “So what did you do to the guard?”
“I gave him Khileshi cockfire.” An impish grin lit her expression. Gods, she was gorgeous when she smiled like that. “Told him his dick would shrivel up and burn off if he didn’t open the gate.”
“I thought you can’t cure a disease once you give it.”
“I can’t.” Her eyes glinted with mischief that matched her smile as she made a show of studying her fingernails. “He’ll be making an emergency trip to UG.”
It was his turn to grin. “Nice.”
He drank in the sight of her standing proudly on the hill, her gaze feral, fierce, her raven hair catching the wind and swirling around her face and shoulders. As a sex demon, she hadn’t been bred to fight, but there was something inside her that was a warrior. Maybe her human ancestry gave her that edge, or maybe it was her hard life, but something called to his own warrior blood and consumed him from the inside out.
He wanted to take her to the ground, drive into her in a mating that would be as wild as the mountains in the background. He’d mark her with his scent, his come, his teeth…
Holy hell, he needed to stop thinking about his fangs in her throat. He searched his memory, trying to remember if this was the way it had been with Eleanor, the only female he’d ever drunk to addiction. He recalled obsession with her blood, hunger that hurt, but for the life of him, he couldn’t remember the insane need for sex.
Slowly, Sin’s smile faded, and she spat in the dirt. “I don’t think that guard has brushed his teeth in a year.”
He had the strangest impulse to put his mouth on hers, to kiss her until she burned and tasted only Con.
Clearly, they were too close to the warg village, and he was still feeling the effects of the inhabitants’ animal natures.
“Why are they like that anyway?” she asked. “I thought wargs were a little more… civilized.”
He glanced back at the village, where the gate had opened again, and the sentry was standing just outside, watching them through the thinning mist. “Born wargs really are wolves in human clothing. It’s why they live apart from humans. You’ll never find a pricolici living in a city with them. They also are fully aware of what they do while in animal form, and they generally won’t kill humans because they’re smart enough not to want to expose themselves to the human race. It’s one of the reasons they want to exterminate turned wargs. The varcolac are a risk.”
“Well, they didn’t seem to have any trouble with killing me.”
“You aren’t human.”
“Thanks for the reminder,” she muttered.
He couldn’t help it—he reached out and tucked a tendril of her unruly hair behind her ear. “You don’t accept what you are, do you?”
“I don’t know what I am,” she said, stepping out of his reach.
He let his hand fall back to his side. “How can you be as old as you are and not know?” Con knew very well what he was, and he’d long ago accepted it, even if he wasn’t always thrilled about it.
She shrugged. “I thought I did know. Before, we were just half-breed mongrels with no idea what kind of demon we really were. We had no expectations. Then Lore and I found our brothers. Now we know our demon, but not what it means. We know what Seminus demons are, but it doesn’t do any good because the rules don’t apply to us.”
He hadn’t thought of it that way. But then, he’d grown up keenly aware of what he was: a dhampire from a shrinking line of royalty, who had arrogantly expected to take over the clan one day—until the wake-up call that said, no, the world didn’t revolve around him. He might not like the role he was born to play, but at least he’d known about it his entire life.
“You can make your own rules.”
“Oh,” she said silkily, “I do make my own rules. And I never break them.”
“Like what? What is one of your rules?” He was starting to think one had something to do with driving dhampires crazy.
“No one will ever own me again.” She raised her chin in that stubborn set he was beginning to admire. Especially because it bared the slender column of her throat and forced her to arch her back the way it did when he was driving between her legs. “I will never belong to anyone—I will die before I allow that to happen.”
He remembered how she’d freaked out when Shade said that she belonged to them, and he wondered how encompassing her self-imposed rule was. “What are we talking about, Sin? You don’t want anyone to own you… or your heart?”
She laughed bitterly, and entered the Harrowgate. “I don’t have a heart for anyone to take.”
Con slung his jump bag over his shoulder and followed Sin into the cavelike enclosure of the Harrowgate.
I don’t have a heart for anyone to take.
Bullshit. Granted, she didn’t seem to give a crap about anyone but herself, and maybe Lore, but Con had once witnessed the way she’d wrapped her body around Shade and Runa’s child to protect the boy from an evil fallen angel. She’d used herself as a shield, and concern for the baby had darkened her expression when she’d seen the blood on his skin—blood that turned out to be hers.
Sin the Hardass definitely had a heart. And something inside him was itching to goad her into seeing how wrong she was. But why was proving he was right so damned important?
Because she tests you. Because she’s untamed, unpredictable, and you’ll accept any challenge if it seems impossible.
Yeah, okay, that was why. He was easily bored, always on the lookout for ways to keep from going out of his ever-loving mind.
It didn’t always pan out. His quest for excitement had nearly gotten him killed a few times, had taken him down some dark paths, and in a roundabout way, it had gotten him in the situation he was currently in.
He’d become a paramedic in part because Eidolon had forced his hand, but there was also an allure to doing something he’d never done. He’d been partnered with Luc, who was as eager to risk his neck as Con was, and who had instigated the bet that had gotten Con into Sin’s pants. Gods, life took some strange, bumpy turns.
Con palmed the map of North America, and Sin crowded close. He could smell the damned male warg on her, and his muscles twitched with the need to hightail it back to town to kill him.
“Where to now?” she asked, as he tapped out the map.
“Montana. The northern Rockies,” he said, more sharply than he’d intended. “It was one of the places Lore indicated on his outbreak chart.”
“Well.” She gave him a fierce poke in the shoulder. “Aren’t you a grumpalufagus?”
The door shimmered open, and cool air that smelled of pine trees flooded the small space. He practically leaped out into the twilight-drenched forest, needing to get away from her. “You nearly got us killed,” he said, knowing it wasn’t fair to blame her, but the image of her kissing that bastard wouldn’t go away.
“I also got the gate opened,” she pointed out, and he clenched his fists. “We could have gotten out of the town even without your Council leader buddy.”
“It was reckless and stupid, and you won’t do it again.”
“Won’t?” She jammed her fists on her hips. “Won’t? You have no say in anything I do.”
His jaw tightened. “When it comes to wargs, you will listen to me. I know them. I know how they react, I know how they fight, and I know how they lust—”
“Oh, for the love of God, put a butt plug in the male tough-guy crap. I know what I’m doing. I’m damned good at killing and fucking, and I’ll use either of those weapons—”
Blinded by fury, he gripped her by the arms, hauled her up against him, and took her mouth. There was nothing gentle about the kiss at all. It was about wiping the other male out of the picture. It was about dominance and all that male tough-guy crap. It was about making sure that all his intimacies with her were about anger or pure lust, because he couldn’t afford to soften.
Not that she’d allow that to happen. She squealed in outrage and stomped on his foot. Pounded against his chest.
Then she bit his lip hard enough to draw blood. When the blood hit her tongue, she jerked, but the sharp pleasure-pain drove him harder, and he thrust his tongue against hers, stroking, licking, forcing her to taste him.
And then she wasn’t fighting anymore. She didn’t need to. The razor edge of a blade was biting into his groin, and he froze as solidly as an ice sculpture.
“Kiss me again without my permission,” she whispered against his lips, “and I’ll geld you and sell your balls to a Ruthanian specialty meats shop. Understood?”
“You won’t do that,” he whispered back. “You’d miss them too much.”
Sin snorted and made the blade disappear into her pocket as she stepped back. “Men are always overestimating the worth of their genitals.”
That fast, his anger was gone, and he threw back his head and laughed. “Come on,” he said. “We have work to do.”Ten
They hadn’t gone more than a dozen yards along a worn game trail when a shot rang out, silencing the crickets and sending the squirrels that had come out for their last foray before nightfall skittering into their holes in the trees. Sin and Con ran toward the sound, and in just a few yards they were following more violent battle noises and the stench of blood.
A lot of blood.
The scent grew stronger as they rounded an outcrop of rock and found two dead people, probably werewolves, beneath a bush.
“Wargs,” Con whispered, confirming her suspicions.
“Born or turned?” She didn’t see any telltale marks to indicate that they were pricolici, but the marks could be covered by their clothing. Or blood.
A scream tore through the air, and they crashed through the brush, not bothering with stealth, not even as they broke onto a trail and into the middle of a slaughter.
“Oh, God.” Sin skidded to a halt. There were two small cabins tucked away in the forest, but they must have housed several families. They were battling, some in warg form, and some still in human, using axes and knives. One male was firing a shotgun at a leaping werewolf.
The ground was soaked with blood, and a child lay dead on a porch. A child.
A big male swung his arm, severing a female’s head with his claws as she pleaded for mercy. “Diseased varcolac scum.” The words were warped by his animal muzzle, but the hatred was as clear as the sky above.
Rabid fury exploded in Sin, and she launched at the born wargs, whose battle gear set them apart from the others. Her throwing knives took out one, and her Gargantua dagger ended another. She lost track of time, of control, and though she knew Con was tearing through the pricolici like a tornado through a trailer park, her concentration was fully centered on causing pain.
Finally, nothing moved. Sin stood in the middle of the small camp, numb. Con was still hopped up from the battle, his fangs as large as a mountain lion’s, his muscles twitching. Sin sensed the darkness in him, the battle and bloodlusts that should have triggered her own, but for once, she was just numb.
The born wargs had managed to take out everyone before they’d fallen victim to Sin’s blades and Con’s hands.
“Son of a bitch,” Con said roughly. His chest still heaved with exertion from the fight. “They did it. Someone leaked the fact that only the varcolac are affected.”
“You think it was a Councilmember? There are probably staff members at UG who know.” She didn’t mention that his granddaughter and her mate knew as well.
He swept the area with his silver gaze, his entire body tense, his expression grim. “It’s possible it was someone from UG, but I’d bet my left nut it was someone on the Council. The varcolac were furious at the meeting. I’m not sure their leader, Raynor, was convinced that SF isn’t a conspiracy to kill them. And Valko… he’ll take any excuse to let the pricolici kill off the varcolac.”
“This whole thing just keeps getting worse.” A sudden, shooting pain streaked down her right arm. She clapped a hand over her shoulder where one of her glyphs, a round sundial-shaped mark, had split in two. Odd. The gashes that usually appeared in her dermoire were straight lines, but this was a zigzag, a perfect Z that didn’t extend beyond the faded black lines of the circle.
Con’s brow furrowed. “Are you hurt?”
“No,” she lied, because the truth was, she didn’t care. Her little sting was nothing compared to the suffering she’d caused.
Con’s hand lifted to cup her cheek, and the tender caress of his fingers on her skin might as well have been a wrecking ball, the way it cracked her shield of numbness. Her chest tightened and her throat closed up as all the deaths piled high on her conscience. All of it was her fault, and she suddenly felt like she was drowning in blood.
“I’ve got to fix this,” she whispered. “I’ve got to end it, Con. My life can’t have been about death.”
“This will end, Sin—” He paused, his tawny brows drawing together. “Did you hear that?”
She started to shake her head, but then a small cry breached the silence. She didn’t wait for Con. She sprinted toward the sound, and her heart nearly stopped when she saw a woman lying in the open doorway of a shed behind the cabins. She knew immediately what it was: a sick hut.
For dying wargs.
The female shrank back at Sin’s approach, her watery gaze full of terror.
“Hey,” Sin said softly, as she sank to her knees. “It’s okay. I’m not going to hurt you.”
Con sank down on his heels beside Sin, dropping his medic bag to the ground. “Are you injured?”
“Sick.” She coughed, and blood sprayed onto the ground. “My family… are they…”
“I’m sorry.” Con pulled two pairs of surgical gloves out of the bag and offered one to Sin, but she shook her head. “They didn’t make it.” At her ragged sob, Con gripped the woman’s wrist gently with one gloved hand, probably to check her pulse. “When did the first symptoms appear?”
Con met Sin’s gaze, and she nodded. “Might be early enough for me to try.” Sin smoothed the female’s limp brown hair away from her face as tenderly as she could. Her skin was hot, probably sensitive, and she didn’t want to cause any more pain. “What’s your name?”
“Pamela, I’m going to try to heal you. Be still, okay?”
A shudder went through her slender body, but she nodded. Leaving her hand on Pamela’s cheek, Sin powered up her gift. The familiar tingle wound its way down her arm and to her fingertips, and the moment it entered the werewolf, Pamela gasped.
Con’s soothing, deep voice assured Pamela that everything was okay, and though Sin wasn’t so sure about that, she appreciated the way he was so calm, so sure, so… sympathetic. He might have taken the job because Eidolon forced his hand, but Con belonged in the medical field, and she wondered if he realized that.
Sin punched her power through Pamela’s body, seeking out the virus. Compared to the other wargs Sin had tried to cure, this one had very low levels, and taking out the individual virus strands wasn’t nearly as difficult as she’d thought it would be.
Eventually, the virus was dead. Gone. A thrill of excitement rode her as hard as exhaustion did, and she smiled as she released Pamela and collapsed against the side of the shack. “It’s gone,” she rasped. “I think you’re okay.”
Con looked up from digging through his medic gear. “What about you?”
“I could use a month of sleep, but I’m fine.” Sin reached over and helped the other female sit up. “How are you feeling?”
Pamela swayed, but remained upright. “I’m hungry.”
“That’s a good sign.” Con smiled, and though this wasn’t the time or place for Sin to appreciate the raw masculinity he threw off when he did that, well, she definitely appreciated it. “I’m going to take some blood, but I want you to head to Underworld General.”
“The demon hospital?”
“Yes.” He took some rubber tubing from his bag. “You’ll find the medical symbol inside the Harrowgate.”
As Sin watched Con draw blood, she hoped this was the beginning of the end for this disease. The nightmare had gone on too long, and way too many people had died.
When Con finished, Sin helped Pamela to her feet, angling herself to shield the warg from the sight of her slaughtered friends and family. Gripping Pamela’s shoulder, she guided her toward the path to the Harrowgate, but froze when her scalp began to tingle with awareness. They were being watched.
At Con’s shout, she spun, felt the whisper of a blade as it sailed past her ear, heard a thud and a cry, and Pamela dropped, a throwing ax meant for Sin embedded between Pamela’s eyes. Oh… shit!
All around, the forest came alive as assassins launched both themselves and their weapons. Sin dove behind the shed, Con on her heels. A female Croucher demon leaped from the branches of a tree, her three eyes focused on Sin with deadly intent. Con moved in a blur of motion, slipping behind the demon to wrap his arm around her throat as Sin shoved a dagger into the assassin’s third eye. The Croucher’s shriek was cut off by a twist of Con’s hands and the snapping of her neck. He released her, and she crumpled to the ground.
It was too easy—this female was an amateur, but the others wouldn’t be.
Con must have come to the same conclusion because he gripped Sin’s hand and yanked her into the forest. “We have to run!”
The sounds of pursuit were hot behind them, and then, out of nowhere, a horse screamed. Sin and Con wheeled around, and Christ on a cracker, this couldn’t get any worse…
“That’s the dude I saw at my place,” Con breathed. “Only… different. His armor is tarnished.”
“Tarnished” wasn’t the word Sin would use. It was dirty, scuffed, and black sludge oozed from the cracks. His horse, a massive white beast with crimson eyes, was smashing assassins under its hooves. The rider’s deadly aim sent arrows punching into throats, heads, and hearts.
“Now we need to run faster,” Con barked, and, yes, she agreed. Wholeheartedly.
“There’s a cabin a few miles up the mountain,” he said, as they sprinted through the woods. “Belongs to an ancient spellcaster friend of mine. It’s not protected by a Haven spell, but it is warded against demons.”
Sin ducked under a branch, but caught another in the chin. “In case you haven’t noticed, I’m a demon.”
“I can get you through her mystical minefield.”
She hoped so, but based on the way the day was going, she wasn’t going to count on it.
Eidolon’s father, Resniak, was not an easy male to talk to. And though Eidolon allowed very few people to rattle him, Resniak, a hulking Judicia demon whose expression was stuck on stern, made Eidolon’s intestines twist into knots, and always had. Didn’t matter that Resniak wasn’t his biological father—the male had raised Eidolon as his own, and the Judicia were strict parents.
“Favors are not something Justice Dealers grant,” he was saying as he stood in Eidolon’s office, filling it with more than his big green body and giant rack of antlers. His forceful presence sucked up all the air and left Eidolon’s chest tight, as though oxygen were at a premium.
“I’m aware of that, Father. And I admit that my request is based on the fact that Sin is my sister. But the request is reasonable. She’s entitled to an investigation.”
Resniak idly stroked the ends of his black beard. “An investigation can be performed while she’s imprisoned.”
“Agreed,” Eidolon ground out. No more arguing. Either his father would find his request to be logical, or he wouldn’t.
Logic. It was something Eidolon had grown up with, but as a purebred Seminus demon, instinct and emotion had trumped logic at the worst possible times. And at the best times. Logically, he should have killed Tayla the first time he’d seen her, when she’d come into his hospital, injured after killing demons. Instead, he’d been fascinated, and his desire for her had obliterated logic and common sense.
Thank the gods.
Time stretched, and the oxygen level in the office kept plummeting. Finally, his father nodded curtly. “I can guarantee nothing. But I’ll see what I can do. As for the punishment that you, Wraith, and Conall face for interfering with Sin’s arrest, I can make a plea for suspension until after the epidemic is over.” He exited without so much as a good-bye, but that he was going to try to pull some strings to get Sin out of trouble was the same as someone else throwing a big I-love-you party, and Eidolon collapsed into his chair with relief.
He heard footsteps in the hall, prayed it wasn’t his father coming back, and switched on his computer.
“E. I waited until the Vulcan ambassador was gone. We have a problem.”
“I don’t want to know. And stop calling the Judicia Vulcans.” Eidolon didn’t look up from his computer. Maybe if he pretended Wraith wasn’t there—
“Then I have two problems for you.”
Eidolon finally looked up to see Wraith and Kynan standing in his office doorway, both looking like Armageddon was at hand. And since Armageddon had been at hand not long ago, this was serious.
“What is it?”
Kynan entered, his mouth set in a grim line, his denim-blue eyes flashing. “Word’s out that only turned wargs are affected by the plague.” Though Ky’s voice was always gravelly from damage sustained during his Army days, it was even rougher than normal now. “They’re blaming born wargs for the outbreak, and born wargs are using this opportunity to destroy turned wargs.”
“Shit,” Eidolon breathed. “We need to prepare the emergency department for an influx of patients and get the word out to our turned staff.” Though the turned staff members were still in isolation to avoid infection, isolation wouldn’t necessarily protect them from extermination.
Kynan sank down in a chair and kicked his booted feet up on Eidolon’s desk. Funny how comfy the human had gotten since he’d been charmed by angels and was now impervious to harm. Then again, the guy had always been fairly comfortable in his own skin. “I’ve already given Shade a heads-up. Runa should be safe in the cave, but he’s still going into total lockdown mode.”
No doubt he was. Eidolon wouldn’t hesitate to do the same with Tayla.
“There’s more,” Wraith said, because yeah, of course there was. “Con wasn’t answering his cell, so I went to his place to check up on Sin.”
Eidolon frowned. Odd. Wraith didn’t check up on anyone out of the goodness of his heart. “And?”
The way Wraith shifted his weight and didn’t meet Eidolon’s gaze sent a tremor of dread through Eidolon. “The house has been bunker-bustered. Nothing but ashes and smoke.”
Eidolon froze. “What?”
Wraith jammed his hand in his leather duster’s pocket, doing the weapon-molesting thing he did. “It was really fucked up, E. Looked like the house had been firebombed. The ground had been all torn up by the fire department, but I did a sweep of the area. Found traces of footprints—could be the assassins after Sin. Also found horse tracks leading to and from the Harrowgate.”
“Hell stallion?” Kynan asked.
Wraith shook his blond head. He’d tied back his hair with a leather thong, and the ends slapped violently against his coat. “Their hooves char the ground. These were regular tracks. Big, like Clydesdale hooves.”
“Wraith.” Eidolon cleared his throat, but that didn’t rid it of the raw rasp in his voice. “Do you think Sin and Con are dead?”
Wraith let out a long, drawn-out breath, and Eidolon’s heart plummeted to his feet. When Wraith finally spoke, his voice was strong and sure. “I found evidence of a skirmish near the Harrowgate. Con hasn’t survived for centuries by being stupid, and Sin’s got instinct. My gut says they got out.”
Since Wraith’s gut was usually right, and it was all they had to go on, Eidolon let himself relax. “Does Lore know?”
“Nope. I called him a few minutes ago to see if he’d heard from Sin. He hadn’t, but I didn’t tell him about the house. Didn’t see any reason to freak him out until we know something.”
“Agreed.” Eidolon checked his watch. Still several hours until morning, when Wraith would return home and not leave his son and vampire mate until nightfall again. Not unless there was an emergency. “Can you do what you can to track Sin and find out who is behind the attack on Con’s house?”
Wraith nodded. “There’s something else. Whoever blasted the house used infernal fire. I could smell it in the ashes.”
Eidolon’s stomach wrenched. “Someone was serious about killing Sin and Con.”
“What’s infernal fire?” Kynan asked.
“It’s like underworld napalm,” Wraith said. “The shit is massively powerful, but what’s special about it is that it calls fire spirits in the flames.”
“Which hunt down anyone within the range of the heat,” Eidolon finished. “Its use is forbidden in the human realm. So whoever is responsible was willing to risk getting caught and burned alive by Justice Dealers.” Eidolon cursed. “We have to find Sin.”
“I’m on it.” Wraith started out the door, but Eidolon stopped him.
“On your way out, tell Bastien I need to see him.”
“You got it.” Wraith took off, leaving E with Kynan.
Kynan’s eyes were calm, assessing. As Tayla liked to put it, when you looked at him, you knew he was reading the situation about ten seconds into the future. “You calling the R-XR?” While functioning as a local Regent in The Aegis, Kynan had worked with the Army’s paranormal unit, the Ranger-X Regiment, for years after being attacked by a demon while serving in a regular Army unit as a medic.
“They’re going to be in damage-control mode.”
“Yeah,” Kynan sighed. “This is bound to spill over into the human world. The Aegis will need to engage in damage control as well. I’ll head to HQ for a conference.”
“What do you think they’ll do?”
“I don’t know.” Kynan ran his hands through his spiky, dark hair, ruffling it even more. “We’ve kept a lot of turned wargs under surveillance to make sure they chain up during the full moon, but we may end up guarding instead of monitoring.” He laughed. “How weird is that? Not long ago we were killing them, and now we might be saving them.”
“You think Guardians will protect werewolves? It’s one thing to not kill them, but another to actively protect them.”
Kynan looked troubled. “Yeah. There’s been an incident that is going to make my argument a little harder.” He shifted his feet off the desk, spread his legs, and braced his forearms on his thighs as he leaned forward, his gaze even sharper now, his military conditioning coming to bear. “A Guardian was recently outted as a werewolf. Remember when I asked you if you knew of any wargs that shifted during the new moon? Well, whatever she is, her cell put out the word and chased her into Canada. They lost her, but one Guardian is dead. On top of everything else that’s been going on in The Aegis…”
Eidolon swore. Kynan didn’t need to finish the sentence. A lot of what was going on was Tayla’s fault. Undercurrents of dissent had been filtering through The Aegis’s ranks over the fact that Tayla, a half-demon, was not only a Guardian, but also a Regent in charge of a large cell. Kynan’s marriage to Gem, Tay’s sister, had stirred the pot even more. And then, a couple of months ago, Tay had put a vampire on the payroll—a Guardian named Kaden, who had been turned into a vampire after being captured during an Aegis raid on a nest.
Now Guardians were quitting, while others were calling for change. This werewolf news could cause the already simmering pot to boil over.
“Tayla sure has a way of stirring things up,” Kynan said, as if reading Eidolon’s mind.
“Tayla wouldn’t be Tayla if she wasn’t always in the middle of a shitstorm.” And Eidolon wouldn’t have it any other way.
“You saved her life, E.” Kynan’s gravelly voice was quiet. “She was headed down a bad road, and you took her off it.”
A sobering, pleasant warmth filled Eidolon’s chest cavity. “She saved me, too.”
“You’re a big sap,” Kynan said, as he shoved to his feet, and Eidolon nearly laughed. Tayla had accused him more than once of the same thing. “If you need any help with Sin, let me know.”
“I might take you up on that. Good luck with the Sigil and your rogue werewolf.” Kynan left, brushing by Bastien on his way out.
Eidolon’s doorway was getting a hell of a workout today. “Bastien. Thanks for stopping by.”
The warg nodded, making his mop of curly brown hair bounce into his eyes. “What do you need, sir?”
“I just learned that civil war is breaking out between the pricolici and varcolac. Do you know anything about it?”
Bastien’s fingers tightened on the handle of the toolbox he seemed to always have in his hand, but other than that, he showed no reaction. “No, sir. I have no contact with my pack anymore.”
“I just want to make sure you’re safe. And that this won’t affect your job.”
“You mean, will I try to harm the turned wargs who come to the hospital?”
For a long moment, the werewolf looked down at the floor, and when he finally raised his gaze, his normally soft brown eyes had turned fierce. “My loyalty is to this hospital, Doctor. I won’t let you down.”
Man, Eidolon loved this place. Managing a hospital staffed by dozens of different species, many of whom were natural enemies, could get hairy, but ultimately, they were here because they wanted to help others, and Eidolon took a lot of pride in that. And people like Bastien, who some liked to say was “only” a janitor, were the heart of the facility, and every bit as important as the most talented surgeon.
“Thanks, Bastien. Glad you’re back.”
After the warg limped away, his club foot knocking harder on the floor than his other, Eidolon dialed the phone. Arik, Runa’s brother and a top member of the R-XR, answered on the second ring.
“What do you want, demon?”
Arik wasn’t the friendliest guy ever. “I want to know if you’re aware that born wargs are out to commit genocide on the turneds.”
Arik swore. “I was just going to call you about that. We’ve had scattered reports of wargs attacking wargs, but no confirmation yet on whether or not it’s born-on-turned violence.”
“Wraith confirmed it, and he doesn’t get shit like this wrong.”
“We’ll look into it,” Arik said. “Got anything new on SF?”
“Maybe, but I don’t want to share anything until I hear from my sister.”
There was a brittle silence. These guys didn’t like being kept in the dark, especially if the one keeping them there was a demon. And even though Arik’s sister, Runa, was mated to Shade, the guy still hadn’t come around all that much.
Finally, Arik blew out a breath. “I think I should bring Runa to D.C.”
“You want to take her to R-XR headquarters?” Eidolon laughed. “Good luck with that. You’ll need an entire armored division to get her away from Shade.”
“I’ll get one if I have to.”
Eidolon dumped the cup of paper clips onto his desk and started tossing them back in, one by one. “You know they can’t be separated.”
“Shade and the kids can come, too. I can’t leave her unprotected.”
“Trust me. The only place safer than the cave is the hospital, and if it weren’t for the fact that I’m getting diseased wargs in by the dozen, they’d be here. You’ve got the same problem there. You might be able to protect her from born wargs, but you’re working with the virus. Can you guarantee that it won’t somehow find its way to her?” Silence was E’s answer. “Exactly.”
“Eidolon… I’m not sure I really have a choice in this.”
A chill went up Eidolon’s spine. “You’ve been ordered to bring her in.”
“It wasn’t an order. More of a strongly worded suggestion.”
“For her own protection,” Arik said, and just as Eidolon was about to call him on that bullshit, Arik added, “and because her ability to shift at will might provide her some resistance to SF or help us find a cure.”
She could shift at will because of the R-XR. They’d used her as a test subject for an experimental cure for lycanthropy, which hadn’t worked but had given her the ability to change into a werewolf any time she wanted to. Eidolon had already considered her altered DNA into the SF equation, had performed tests using her blood and the virus, but hadn’t seen any encouraging results.
“I’ll have Shade send you blood samples. Maybe you’ll have better luck than I have. But don’t you dare try to take her in,” he warned.
Arik cursed. “I’ll stall as long as I can. Update me on the rest as soon as possible.”
“You do the same.” Eidolon paused, remembering Ky’s question about the new breed of warg. Could be a lead on a new direction of testing. “Arik… do you know anything about werewolves that shift during the new moon instead of the full?”
“That’s what I thought. Keep me in the loop about the other shit.”
Arik hung up just as Eidolon’s beeper went off. Three more diseased wargs were incoming. Five more were being brought in… dead. But not because of the disease. Trauma.
Looked like the civil war was in full swing.Eleven
Everything hurt. Kar groaned. Heat surrounded her, though an icy draft cut through the warmth every once in a while. She opened her eyes. Blinked. Blinked again, hoping that she was seeing things.
Nope. She appeared to be in some sort of… basement? Dungeon? The fire set into one wall allowed her to see the hard-packed dirt floor, covered in places by straw. The walls were log and stone, and attached to one rough slab of rock were huge rings from which thick chains hung. A meat hook dangled from the ceiling.
This was a werewolf containment lair. She knew because she had one.
Her memory came back in a series of slaps against her brain. She’d been running from The Aegis. Looking for Luc. She’d been caught. Shot. And then Luc was there. They’d actually held a conversation, though the details were a little hazy.
She sniffed the air, got a lungful of burning hardwood mingled with the musky scent of warg, and the very male scent of Luc.
Something thumped above her, followed by the creak of a door opening. Groaning, she rolled onto her back, clenching her teeth at the wash of pain through her right side. Luc, wearing jeans and a blue flannel shirt, clomped down the stairs with a steaming bowl of what smelled like rich, meaty soup in his hands.
“You’re awake.” His words came out as a grunt.
“Yeah,” she said hoarsely.
Oh, God, she’d told him. Her memories churned, and so did her stomach. He’d asked if she was going to kill the baby if it was born human, and his voice had been as cold as the draft blowing across her face. Thing was, the baby probably would be born human—not because the father was turned, but because she was. He believed she was varcolac because he’d seen the mark she’d had tattooed on by a warlock who specialized in mystical markings. Thankfully, during their sex-fest in Egypt, Luc hadn’t questioned how a warg could infiltrate The Aegis, but then, he hadn’t asked anything about her. Not even her name.
Luc shoved his shaggy black hair back from his face and kneeled next to her. “I brought you some stew.”
The savory aroma of rabbit filled her nostrils, and though her mouth watered, she didn’t feel like eating. She wanted to go back to sleep, even though pain wracked her and her skin was so sensitive it hurt to lay on the lumpy pallet where she could feel every individual piece of straw. “I’m not very hungry.”
He doubled up the pillow behind her to elevate her head and he put a spoon of stew to her lips. “You need to eat so I can give you some medicine. Don’t worry,” he said, when she opened her mouth to protest, “it won’t hurt the baby.” He took advantage of her open mouth to shove the food inside.
Even though she wasn’t hungry, she moaned at the taste. “That’s good.”
“Isn’t hard to put some meat, water, and potatoes in a pot.” He dipped the spoon in the bowl and caught a large chunk of rabbit. “You’ll eat this entire thing.”
His command rankled, and though she scarcely had the energy, she squirmed into a sit. “I appreciate your saving my life, but you didn’t have to kill the Guardian, and—”
“I haven’t saved it yet.”
A chill washed through her, countering the fever and making her sweat ice. “What are you not telling me?”
“You could still die. Probably will.”
“Don’t sugarcoat it or anything.”
His expression was devoid of emotion, reminding her of how coldly efficient he’d been while blackmailing her into sex with him. But that icy demeanor had turned into something hot and passionate once the demon war ended and lust had taken him. “I never do.”
She took the bite he offered, more to give herself a chance to think than anything. “What are my options?” Though she tried to keep her voice level, there was a humiliating tremor hanging on to the end of her question.
“We need to get you to Underworld General.”
The demon hospital? The very idea frightened her more than death did. “I don’t know…”
“There’s no choice. I’ve already rigged a sled to the back of my snowmobile. We’ll leave after midnight when it’s fully dark, and hope there are no Guardians waiting to ambush us.” The spoon clanked in the bowl as he fished for another bite. “If we were closer to the full moon, you could shift. Heal your wounds.”
A curious warmth settled on her skin, and she knew that if she could actually shift during a full moon, they’d either tear each other apart or they’d tear up the night with passion. She’d bet on the latter.
The warmth turned into a tingle, and she gasped. Oh, God, how could she have forgotten? “Luc? What day is it?”
He frowned. “Why?”
“Because—” She broke off with another gasp. The pain, the tenderness she’d felt… it wasn’t from the wound. Her skin stretched, and her muscles cramped up hard. “Oh, damn.”
Luc’s eyes shot wide. “Kar…” His voice was a low, deadly growl, tainted with just a touch of anxiety. “Tell me you’re not doing what I think you’re doing.”
“I wish I could,” she whispered.
Snarling, he leaped to his feet and reeled backward. “No.” He shook his head, teeth bared. “You’re not—”
“I am.” Joints began to pop, and muscles ripped off the bone, and she clenched her teeth against the searing agony. “I’m a… Feast warg.”
A Feast warg.
Cursing violently, Luc grabbed one of the wall chains and hooked the manacle around Kar’s ankle as she bucked and writhed. The sounds of her bones snapping, her skin splitting, and her fur erupting filled the small space, and he cursed even louder so she could hear every fucking syllable.
A Feast fucking warg!
Jesus. He took the stairs three at a time and jogged to his bedroom, where he jerked open his bureau drawer and palmed his Beretta. At the back of the sock drawer was a small, hand-carved wooden box, and inside were six silver bullets.
He’d need only one.
Nasty snarls echoed up from below, as well as the sound of claws on the stone. The chains were made to hold him, but she was a different creature. She was stronger, meaner, rabid. Worst of all, a Feast warg’s bite was venomous to other wargs. Just a scrape of their teeth would kill a normal werewolf in seconds.
Feast wargs were the monsters in garden-variety werewolves’ closets.
Because of that, both varcolac and pricolici trained special teams of operators to search out Feast wargs during the nights of the new moon, after they’d turned, because they were impossible to detect while in human form. As a result of the merciless execution teams, they’d been hunted nearly to extinction, their bodies just as vulnerable to a silver bullet as any other werewolf. They were so rare, in fact, that Luc had never come across one—that he knew of.
Oh, he’d sensed the werewolf in her, but she’d hidden her “special” secret well.
Dammit! Luc’s steps were heavy as he exited his bedroom. Outside, snow roared out of the darkness to slap the window, and the wind howled as though trying to get his attention. Beneath the floorboards, Kar’s howls got what the wind didn’t, and he tightened his grip on the pistol.
Fuck. Didn’t matter. She was a killer.
So are you.
Ignoring his internal voice—what some might call a conscience, but his had taken leave a long time ago—he lifted the hatch. Kar’s snarls grew louder and more violent. He moved carefully down the stairs, weapon at his thigh, finger poised over the trigger guard.
She was in the corner, her red fur gleaming in the light from the fire. She was huge, the largest female he’d ever seen, and as she went up on two sturdy legs, she towered over him. Rarely did he get to see a fully transitioned warg through human eyes, and even when he did, he had little time to admire it since he was always caught up in his own transition.
But now… now he could appreciate Kar’s powerful form, her muscular build and sleek fur. Her massive head hung low, her sharp, intelligent gaze tracking him as he eased to the side, seeking the best angle to get a clean shot. He might be a brutal asshole, but he didn’t want her to suffer.
Without warning, she lunged.
In a single, smooth motion, he swung the pistol up and targeted her broad chest. She drew short in a clank of chains and went down on all fours with a snort. He swore confusion swirled in her blue eyes, turning them murky. Why? She should be furious, trying to rip him limb from limb.
A low, keening whimper came from deep in her chest. As a paramedic, he was used to pained noises from his patients. For the most part, he’d hardened himself, had erected a force field that bounced suffering right off it and kept him suitably neutral. Or maybe he just didn’t care. Hard to tell anymore.
But the sadness in Kar’s mewling cry somehow penetrated his numbness, and as she backed up, he frowned. Then let out a curse on a long exhale.
She’s pregnant. Shit. He had no idea if pregnancy made females more docile, and somehow he doubted it, but one thing was clear: she wasn’t trying to antagonize him. What was her game? Had she come to Canada to kill him but missed her chance when he chained her before she could?
Not wanting to put her down until he got the truth, he lowered the weapon. “You,” he muttered, “are really fucking lucky that I’m in a good mood.”Twelve
By the time Con and Sin made it to the safe house, it was fully dark, and nothing was chasing them too closely, though they’d seen a pair of raptor horrors flying overhead, their twelve-foot, leathery wings skimming the treetops as they searched for Sin. Con hated the fucked-up creatures that had given rise to the Mothman legend; they were hard to kill and always reeked of rotting flesh. Probably because they liked to wear the skins of their victims.
Sin was still engaged in iceman assassin mode, but every once in a while, her gaze would grow haunted, and her “don’t fuck with me” mask would slip. The slaughter of a dozen innocent wargs had shaken her, and Con wondered how often that happened.
He tried not to think about it as he studied the two-story log cabin that nestled into the banks of a mountain lake. “Doesn’t look like Rivesta is home.” Then again, the half-breed Nightlash sorceress rarely was. She had a dozen homes, spread out all over the world and Sheoul, and she preferred the warmer climates. For June, it was strangely cold.
“How do you know her?”
“Family friend,” he replied.
Sin raised a black eyebrow. “Intimate family friend?”
“Once.” Rivesta wasn’t your average Nightlash. She’d inherited their streak of cruelty, but her human side tempered it and made her fragile enough to know who she should and shouldn’t fuck with.
Which meant that sleeping with her wasn’t nearly as dangerous as bedding a purebred Nightlash.
He found one of Rivesta’s charms hanging from the bough of a fir tree. He gestured to Sin. “Give me your hand.”
Sin did so, without argument, which told him more about her mental state than anything, and his gut knotted. Not long ago, he’d have been glad for her silence and her cooperation. Now he wanted the feisty little demon back.
Cursing to himself, he gripped her wrist. His pulse raced as he lifted her hand to his mouth and took her finger between his lips. Her dark eyes flared as he pierced the pad with his fang. Her blood hit his tongue, and he nearly groaned. Quickly, before he lost himself to lust, he opened up his own finger and touched them both to the muslin bag above their heads. Their blood seeped into the charm, and there was a pop, a flash, and they had five seconds to cross the invisible threshold.
They darted onto the front porch, and a pop behind them let him know that the barrier was once again closed.
Cautiously, he pushed open the door. Rivesta’s spell worked against supernatural creatures, but not humans, which meant hunters or burglars or squatters could have broken in. “I’ll clear the upstairs if you do the down,” he said, and Sin slipped away like a phantom.
Damn, she was amazing, and he found himself staring after her, his heart racing more than it should.
Calling himself all kinds of stupid, and a couple extra types of moron, he willed his pulse to throttle down and mounted the spiral staircase. He cleared the bedroom and bathroom and met Sin downstairs, where she was standing in the center of the great room, gazing into the cold fireplace and hugging herself as though chilled.
On the floor were the smashed remains of her cell phone. “Battery’s dead. Case was cracked.”
“So you punished it,” he said wryly, but the dead battery was not good news. They now had no way to get help.
“Hey.” He reached for her, and, as usual, she stepped away, and he let his arm drop. “We’ll be fine. Nothing is getting past Rivesta’s barrier.” At least, not until the assassins after her realized they could send in humans. “Why don’t you get some rest, and I’ll come up with a plan to get us out of here.”
“Sleep is for the weak, and you can stop treating me like I’m a child.” She wheeled away and produced a dagger from out of nowhere, as far as he could tell. “I’m going outside to patrol the area.”
“Sin,” he said wearily. “Stop. You said you’re drained. You need to rest.”
She stopped, but she was facing the door. At some point, she’d tied her hair up in a messy knot so the ends were dangling over a spiky, tribal tattoo on the back of her neck, and he suddenly wanted to free those wild tresses and bury his face in them. In her. “I need to do something.”
“Going outside and getting yourself killed isn’t that something.”
She rounded on him, all spitfire and hell on legs, and yeah, be careful what you wish for. “Did you see those people, Con?” She gestured to the window and the wilderness outside. “Are you forgetting that butchered child? Who cares about me? Who gives a crap if I live or die? It’s those people who matter!”
“Dammit, Sin. Yes, they matter. But so do you. People care.” She snorted, and he grabbed her, used every ounce of restraint he had not to shake her. “Your brothers care—”
“They want to care, but they don’t. How can they?” She batted his hands away and stepped back. “All I’ve done is cause them trouble. Okay, there’s Lore. He might give a shit, but he’s mated now and he doesn’t need me.”
“Trust me,” Con said. “They do care, and they do need you.”
Doubt burned in her eyes, but abruptly, the light flickered out, and he knew she was thinking about the warg child again. “Doesn’t matter.” She dug the map out of her pocket. “Let’s go to Germany. There was an outbreak near Berlin.”
“We can’t just waltz out the front door. We need a plan. Rivesta has hidden exits. We’ll find them and come up with a way to get us out of here. Just take a breather first. It’s best if we can wait for first light.” Too many demons could see better at night than in the day, and the time when they were most blinded was as the sun was just breaking over the horizon.
She glared at him, one finger caressing the hilt of her blade, and he wondered if she was considering stabbing him with it. Then, as if a switch had been thrown, she made the blade and map disappear, and the anger drained from her expression. She was the most mercurial female he’d ever known.
“I need a minute,” she said crisply. “Alone.”
He let out a frustrated sigh. “I’ll raid the kitchen and see what we’ve got. Stay in the house.” When she stiffened at his command, he added, “I mean it, Sin. If you try to leave, I will give you that spanking I talked about at the hospital.”
The light of battle sparked in her eyes, triggering a primitive response inside him, one that demanded her capitulation… beneath him. He should never have threatened a spanking, because now his hand tingled with anticipation and his cock hardened and his entire body primed for sex.
“I’d like to see you try.” Sin’s husky voice shot straight to his groin, and so had all his blood, because his brain was flipping through a lot of spanking scenarios now.
“I don’t try, Sin. I do. Remember that.”
“Whatever,” she muttered, as she did a crisp about-face and strode out of the kitchen. He watched her swaying retreat, which did nothing to cool the heat in his veins.
Though it was the last thing he wanted to do, he turned away and started pawing through the cupboards, which were crammed with canned and boxed goods. The freezer was nearly as packed, but mostly with unidentifiable raw meat. Grimacing, he closed the door. He’d eaten some questionable things in his life, but you never knew what demons considered to be food.
The fridge contained mostly bottles of water, soda, and beer. Con grabbed two Cokes and went back into the living room, where Sin was sitting on the couch.
The scent of blood was thick in the air.
Her dermoire was writhing, and a thin laceration in the perfect shape of a Z split a circular symbol at her shoulder in half. Blood beaded along the seam, but it was the six-inch gash just below in her biceps that had his attention.
He dropped the sodas on the massive dining room table and crossed to her. “What did you do?”
“Leave me alone.”
Ignoring her, he grabbed her arm and applied pressure. “You’ve got to stop this, Sin. Where’s the knife?” When she didn’t say anything, he barked, “Where’s the fucking knife?”
“There isn’t one!” she shouted, jerking away from him. The laceration grew another inch and widened more, as though it were being cut from the inside. Holy shit.
Before she could stop him, he swiped his tongue along the wound, and instantly, it sealed.
“You asshole!” Sin shoved to her feet, looked at her arm, and just beneath where the cut had been, another started, growing quickly from a tiny quarter-inch line to a good two inches in length in a matter of seconds.
“What are you doing?” Con grabbed for her, but she sidestepped like a dancer.
“I said, leave me alone.”
Idle down. Just back off. The taste of her was still on his tongue, heightening every one of his senses and emotions, which included anger, and she didn’t need him lashing out. Her stubborn ass would clam up tighter than, well, a clam. “Not until you tell me what’s going on.”
She looked up at the thick log rafters for a long time before saying softly, “It’s my guilt.”
“It’s how most of my guilt comes out.” She dropped her gaze back to him. “I’ve trained myself not to feel it. Guilt, sorrow, regret. But they need to be released, so they present as pain.”
Con drew a sharp breath. He’d heard of that before—manifestation of certain emotions as physical symptoms instead of as true emotion. And if that was what was going on, she was feeling a lot of guilt. Blood streamed down her arm and dripped to the floor, yet she didn’t seem to notice. When he reached for her, she skirted away from him.
Fed up and frustrated, he dove for her, took her down to the couch cushions, yanked her arm up, and once again licked the wound closed.
“Stop it!” She wriggled, jerking her leg up to cause some damage in his fun parts, but he was ready, and he pinned her legs down with his weight.
“Dammit, Sin, you need to feel.”
“No, I don’t.” She rocked her head up, trying to bite his arm, but he shifted, and her teeth snapped on empty air. “Do you think I could do my job if I broke down in tears every time I killed someone?”
Fury ripped through him. He couldn’t—wouldn’t—judge her for the job she did. He hadn’t been an angel himself. But she was cheating herself, and cheating all the victims of the epidemic she’d started.
“So everyone who’s died because of the disease you caused gets nothing?”
“Nothing?” she asked, incredulous. “I bleed for them.”
“Really?” He looked at her arm, which had cut open again. “Do you think there’s enough blood to cover the deaths of all the wargs who have come through the hospital? How about the child we just saw slaughtered?”
“Shut up,” she rasped.
He swiped his tongue over the blood again, and she bucked, but he didn’t budge. “You’re going to feel it, Sin. I promise you that.”
“Feel it,” he said, his voice low and harsher than he intended. “Remember everyone who has died.”
Her arm split. He licked. “I won’t let you bleed. Feel it.”
“You’re one to talk,” she snapped. “How bad do you feel when you kick your human friends to the curb with lies?”
“We aren’t talking about me, Sin.”
“You want me to be miserable?” she yelled. “Do you hate me that much?”
“No!” he shouted back. “I care that much.” He froze, unable to believe he’d just said that.
Sin blinked, her lush eyelashes framing the surprise in her eyes. Then she slapped him with her free hand hard enough to jar his teeth. “You bastard. You lying bastard. I get that you owe Eidolon some big debt, but I’m not stupid enough to fall for crap like that.”
“Jesus. I didn’t say I was in love with you or anything.” Oh, hell no. Never. “But I don’t hate you anymore.” And when that had happened, he wasn’t sure.
“You might have started the epidemic, but you didn’t mean to.”
Beneath him, her body relaxed, just a little. “Then why do you want me to feel all that guilt?”
“Because it’s not just guilt you’re locking up inside you. It’s everything. You need to let it out and learn to trust your feelings.”
Her skin split. “No.” Some of the resolution had seeped out of her voice, but clearly not enough.
Lowering more of his weight onto her to keep her held down, he dragged his tongue up her arm. “Give it up, Sin. Feel.”
“I… If I think about that kid, the things I’ve done…” Her entire body started to tremble, and her eyes grew liquid.
The sight of her, so conflicted, clawed at him, and he eased away—and she dumped him on his ass on the floor. With near-vamp speed she was up and tearing toward the stairs.
He leaped to his feet, grabbed her, and spun her to face him. “No more bullshit, Sin. Feel what you’ve done.” He took her hand and pressed it to her chest, where her heart was pounding painfully fast. So was his. “Let yourself feel something for someone else.”
“I hate you.” Her voice was so shaky he could hardly understand her.
“Then that’s something,” he said softly.
Abruptly, her eyes filled with tears. “Con…” She swallowed, over and over.
“Let it happen.”
On impulse, he folded her into his arms. “Let it go.”
For an unbearably long time, she shook. And then she cried out an agonizing, terrified, animal-like wail that made his heart clench.
“It hurts,” she moaned. “Oh, God.”
Her sobs came hard and fast, and he supposed he should be taking some measure of pleasure from her pain, but all he wanted to do was make it stop. Maybe he’d made a huge mistake. He almost released her, almost apologized, but when she started to push away, he tightened his arms around her. She was strong, and as her struggles grew more frantic, he had to crush her to him.
“Let go!” She tried to throw herself backward, tried to kick him, claw at him, bite him. He took it all, let her do as much damage as she wanted to. “Let… go…” The order came out as a moan and a plea, and as her struggles weakened, she began to sob again.
“Sin,” he whispered into her hair. “Shh…” Relaxing his grip just a little, he hooked a finger under her trembling chin and lifted her face to his. Black eyes swam in tears that left a trail down her cheeks.
Without thinking, he kissed her wet face, first one side, then the other.
“No,” she groaned, but her body sagged against his. And when he pressed his lips to hers, she clung to him as if he were a life raft and she was drowning.
He licked at her lips, easing his way in, not wanting to rush this. In his arms she felt tiny, fragile, in a way she never had and in a way he hadn’t believed possible, and some crazy instinct surfaced, making him want to take care of her, pamper her, and make her strong again.
Though she wasn’t actively participating in the kiss, she wasn’t fighting, either, and he took his time, nibbling at her mouth, stroking her lips, her teeth, and, finally, her tongue. He began an easy rhythm in and out of her mouth, and slowly, so slowly, heat built and she began to respond.
Sin’s hands eased up his back, tentatively at first, but as the kiss deepened, intensified, her touch became firmer, until she was rubbing not only her palms against him, but her breasts against his chest.
“That’s it,” he whispered against her lips. “Touch me.”
Sin dropped her hand to his fly, but he gripped her wrist to stop her.
“Not there. Not yet.”
He shut her up with another kiss, this one more urgent, as he carried her to the floor. With one hand, he cupped her buttocks and tucked her beneath him, and with the other, he cradled her head, holding her for his kiss.
Her thighs cradled him in a tight fit, her soft sex rubbing, driving his hips forward even though he wanted to keep this whole thing at a leisurely pace. But his loins were already full, his animal blood ran thick and hot in his veins, and the mountains, the wilderness around them, called to his primitive nature.
It demanded that he take her with surety, a rough joining that would make them both howl. And as she came, he’d take her blood, too…
The idea made him run both cold and hot. He wanted nothing more than to fill up on her as he filled her up. But, as always, in the back of his mind was the fear of addiction, something he knew he was precariously close to.
He couldn’t be responsible for another death caused by his careless hunger for a female’s blood.
Sin’s slick tongue flicked over one of his fangs and then ran up and down it, stroking, and he moaned, forgetting everything but her. Right now, he needed to concentrate on making her feel good. On making her forget the horrors of the day and the horrors yet to come.
The hardest thing he’d ever done was keep from tearing off her clothes and plunging inside her, especially when she began to rock against him, her lean form undulating in sinuous waves. A softly uttered “No” accompanied every roll of her hips. Her body was willing, but her mind still hadn’t accepted this. If he did what his body was demanding, a hard, fast fuck, she’d be on board. But the tenderness was scaring her.
“Easy,” he murmured, as he kissed a trail down her jaw, to her throat, where her pulse beat madly beneath his lips. “If you truly don’t want this, I’ll stop. But it’s time for you, isn’t it?”
He knew it wasn’t. Oh, she was giving off the usual succubus fuck-me vibes, but not in desperate, take-me-now quantities. But she was nervous, afraid, and she needed an excuse to go with this because she wanted to, not because she required it.
“Yes,” she rasped, the lie seeming to catch in her throat.
“Then I’ll take care of you,” he murmured. The problem, he realized, as his hunger surfaced, would be taking care of himself.
Sin was scared to death.
It took a lot to terrify her. But somehow this sexy dhampire who was kissing her senseless was making her squirm with anxiety and need that went deeper than the physical. He’d forced her to confront emotions she’d never wanted to experience, and she was still reeling from that, trying to stuff those feelings back in the box they’d been locked in for so long.
Cold, hard-core sex would help make that happen.
Con reared back, just a little, so he could peel off her top and bra, her ultrathin leather dagger harness, and then her boots, pants, and thigh and ankle sheaths. He made a messy pile of her weapons, something that made her twitchy, but then he was touching her again, and her weapons were forgotten. Her heart pinged around in her rib cage as he slid his long, talented fingers up and over her breasts. She inhaled, taking in the musky scents of aroused male and battle that still clung to Con’s bronzed skin. Lust tackled her, turned her muscles to Jell-O, and made her core run wet.
Writhing, she dropped her head onto the hardwood floor with a frustrated curse. “Stop teasing.” She went for his pants again, but he stopped her, his grip on her wrist ruthless almost to the point of pain.
“I’m going to make love to you, Sin. We’re not going to fuck. We’re taking it slow, with lots of that foreplay I talked about.”
Her chest constricted with alarm. “Why?”
He made a sound that was something between a chuckle and a purr. “Only you would question extended erotic play.” His fingers delved between her legs, feathering over the fleshy lips of her sex. “And I intend to turn you into my personal playground.”
Oh, Jesus. “I… can’t.” She didn’t know how. But more than that, making love would leave her open, vulnerable. Fucking was easy, two bodies slapping together to reach a brief moment of pleasure. Making love involved emotions tangling and minds meeting until the orgasm was more than physical… and she wasn’t good at that at all.
“You can, and you will.” He peeled off his jeans, leaving his lean, toned body completely naked, his silver eyes glittering in the moonlight streaming through the windows, his fangs glinting wetly. Deep-cut muscles flexed from his neck, to his arms, to his abs, where a thin line of blond hair beckoned her gaze lower. His cock was so rigid that it curved into his stomach, the veins throbbing with the intensity of his arousal. He looked like a god, a devil, a wild animal intent on taking what it wanted.
And yet, there was an underlying tenderness in his expression and in his touch as he prowled up the length of her body. Something lurched in her chest. Her heart, something she’d believed to be completely insulated, was reacting to this man in a way it never had before.
Panic wrapped around her, and with a cry, she shoved him away and scrambled to her hands and knees. Terror made her awkward, and she slipped while trying to get to her feet. A low, dangerous growl sounded behind her, and she screamed just before Con’s heavy body covered her so she was belly down on the floor. One hand yanked her arms above her head, pinning her, while the other delved between her legs.
“Please, Con,” she begged, but she wasn’t sure what she was pleading for. She tried to break his grip on her wrists, but her hips rose to meet his fingers as they penetrated her core.
His breath was hot and desperate against her ear, and she realized he’d bitten her lobe, was using his mouth as yet another way to hold her. She made a sound of equal desperation, a high-pitched plea for more. For less. She didn’t know which.
The fact that she’d made that much noise at all was a sign that she was in trouble.
She’d always been silent in her passions, but Con had a way of coaxing things out of her, whether she liked it or not… and oh, yes, she liked that…
He controlled her with the weight of his body, his strong legs that caged hers together, and those fingers that began an erotic glide in and out of her sex. She wouldn’t come from what he was doing, but he could get her so close that she could explode the moment he entered her if even a drop of pre-cum eased from the tip of his cock.