Alexander returned to the villa just as the light was changing. As expected and hoped for, his true mate stood anxiously outside the massive front door, her blue eyes sweeping over him, checking for blood or bruises-anything to explain his long absence.
Sara shook her head. “It’s nearly dawn.”
“I’m sorry, my love.” He gathered her in his arms and kissed her temple. “I couldn’t leave until I had some news.”
“News? What do you mean?” Her expression changed again as she noticed who wasn’t at his side. “Where’s Lucian? And the other one…Bronwyn’s mate?”
“I don’t know.” His jaw tightened. “Lucian never came back, and no member of the Order popped down to the caves to fill me in. I’ll return at first dark.”
“And Bronwyn’s mate?”
“When Lucian didn’t return, Synjon decided to go look for her on his own.”
“I don’t like this,” Sara said. “Luca being held. I don’t want you going back to the Hollow.”
“He is all right, my love. I would know. I would feel it if he weren’t.” Alexander shook his head. “But I have to find him. Just as you could not abandon your brother, I must help Lucian.”
Sara appeared tense, but she nodded her understanding.
Giving her a soft smile, Alexander asked, “Is Nicholas here?”
“He just returned as well,” she said, urging him forward, inside the house. “Come on, before the sun claims us both.”
Keeping her close to him, Alexander stepped into the entryway. “The sun will never hurt you, my dear.”
“Make no mistake, Paven,” she said, settling into the crook of his shoulder, “if it claimed your life, it claims mine as well.”
Alexander’s gut clenched with feeling. Time couldn’t be spared, but he was a paven in love, a paven who was trying to create a family, and this female was ever reminding him of how lucky he was. His arm curved around her waist and he pulled her close and kissed her.
“I love you,” he whispered against her lips, his forehead touching hers.
“I love you,” she whispered back, then tipped her chin up and ran her fangs across his top lip. “Always.”
He groaned at the erotic, possessive sensation. “Not fair.”
“I know.” She laughed softly. “Come now.”
Again his mouth claimed her, hard and demanding.
She laughed and tried to pull away. “Alex…”
“I’m only doing what I’m told.”
“I know, and I appreciate your obedience,” she said with a grin. “Your brother’s in the library.”
He nuzzled her cheek. “I don’t give a shit about my brother.”
“Yes, you do.”
“Yes, I do.” He dropped his head and sighed. “Fine. Let’s go, but later…”
“I am yours. Every inch.”
“But not too much later.”
She laughed again and took his hand. “I’m not going anywhere. You will always have me.”
In a low, gravelly voice, he demanded, “Swear it, my love. Swear you’re mine now and forever.”
“Cross my heart.”
“I hate that saying,” he grumbled as they walked down the hall.
Nicholas was behind his desk when they arrived in the library, his eyes running laps over the computer screen. He didn’t even look up. “I didn’t hear any fighting outside the door, so I assume Lucian and his new playmate aren’t with you.”
“The playmate went off on his own,” Alexander said, heading over to the desk. “Lucian is still with the Order.”
That made Nicholas look up. “What?”
“I’m going back at first dark.”
“With you, Nicky,” Sara said, sitting down on the couch. “God only knows what the Order is up to now. You’re stronger and more effective together.”
“I don’t need backup with the Order, my love,” Alexander stated flatly and with a touch of arrogance.
“Good,” Nicholas said. “Because I have a meet.”
Sara released a weighty breath. “Then you will contact Dillon, Alex. All right?”
“Dillon is freezing me out,” Alexander put in with irritation. He’d attempted to contact the bodyguard to a human senator several times in the past two weeks to assist them in finding Nicky’s gemino, but his old friend wouldn’t even call him back to tell him to fuck off. Wasn’t like her. Wasn’t like her at all.
Sara shook her head. “Just as Gray is avoiding me.”
“When they are done acting like balas, they know where their true family lies,” Alex said, tightening his hold on his true mate, then turning back to Nicky. “Who’s the meet with?”
“The Eyes,” he said. “They hooked me up.”
“A paven who used to run odd jobs for the Order when he was a balas. They paid him in blood.”
“Of course they did,” Alexander uttered darkly. “And were you able to extract information on the gemino from this paven?”
Nicholas’s fingers paused over the keyboard. “I found out that he was given away at birth.”
“Why?” Alexander went over to stand behind him.
“He had a deformity,” Nicholas said so quietly and without emotion Alexander wondered what the paven was thinking.
Behind him, Sara inhaled harshly. “Your mother gave him away because of a birth defect?”
Nicholas nodded, his eyes lifting to meet hers. “Perhaps she was not in her right mind. It is the only excuse, isn’t it?”
“It’s pretty rare for a vampire to have a defect,” Alexander stepped in, trying to switch the focus in the room from pity to purpose. “What did he have? Blood disorder? Limb missing?”
“No.” It wasn’t Nicholas who spoke, but Kate. She walked into the room and went straight over to her mate. “Just got Ladd to sleep.” She sat on his lap and curled into him, gave him a kiss on the cheek. “Nicky, just tell them.”
Alexander glanced over at Sara, then back at his brother. “Tell us what?”
With a weighty breath, Nicholas said, “The paven said that our brother is a mutore.”
“Mutore?” Alexander repeated, then burst out laughing.
Nicholas nodded. “That’s right.”
“He’s lying to you. I hope you did not pay him.”
“Wait a second,” Sara said, confused and curious. “What is this? Mutore?”
With a snort Alexander replied, “It is only a fairy tale, my love.”
“More like a ghost story,” Kate added.
Sara shook her head. “I don’t understand.”
“A mutore is a vampire who is genetically wrong,” Nicholas explained. “Born with more than a birth defect. They are mutants.”
“I’ve never heard of such a thing,” Sara said, her gaze moving from Nicholas to Alexander. “Are they vampires? Pureblood? Impure?”
“They are nothing,” Alexander put in with tight assertion. “They do not exist.”
“They are Pureblooded vampires,” Kate said, then paused for a second before adding, “and shape-shifters.”
“Shape-shifters?” Sara cried. She looked around the room for confirmation, explanation. “What kind of shape do they shift into?”
Alexander chuckled, but it was a bitter sound. “I have never seen one. They don’t exist.”
“I have heard they are Beasts.”
It was Nicholas who spoke, who tightened his hold on his true mate with one hand, and returned to the computer keyboard with the other.
“I have heard they have claws instead of hands, scars instead of skin. But tonight”-he nodded at Alexander-“as you go after one brother, I will find out the whole truth about the other.”
Lucian had no idea what time it was, but he’d been walking up and down the beach for hours, his eyes as watchful over the veana as he could manage without causing excessive strain and need within himself. That kiss had been a mistake-as had the goading her into hitting him, inciting her anger, her passion. Both had been proof positive of how strong his desire for her continued to be. It didn’t take a genius to realize that if he was to remain sane, he must also remain calm.
As he passed by her pallet once again, he saw that she had taken to lying down. Her arms were wrapped around her torso and her legs were pressed together. He moved away from the water and trudged up the sand to the closest palm tree. He was a damn good climber and it took him only minutes to pry a soft, green frond away from its host and drop down to earth again.
Quietly, he walked over to where Bronwyn was lying, and with supreme gentleness he spread the wide leaf over her. It wasn’t much of a blanket, but it was the best he could do. All he could do. No way was he using his body as warmth, as a shield to her skin as he wanted to.
He was about to walk away when her voice caught him and held. “I’m growing in hunger, Lucian.”
It was the worst thing he could hear at that moment, and yet his reply, his own admittance could be far more damaging.
“And I grow in animal.”
She sighed. “What are we going to do?”
“Think of your true mate,” he uttered with disdain.
She sighed. “I’m scared.”
“I don’t want to be a coward.”
On a heavy breath, he turned to see her watching him, her eyes so exquisite and tortured in the false light of the new morning. “That is the last thing you are, Princess.”
“You don’t know…” she uttered so softly he could barely hear her.
She shook her head.
He stopped himself from pressing further, from forcing her secrets from her. They would do nothing but complicate things more. “Try to sleep,” he said. “It’ll help with…everything.”
“Lucian?” she said as he turned to walk away, get away-keep away.
“What is it, Princess?” he said, glancing over his shoulder.
She smiled softly. “Thank you for the blanket.”
The ache inside him squeezed and clawed. “It is all right?” He was a fool, a dangerous paven because in that moment he almost hoped she’d say, No, I need you.
But all she said was, “It is well and good,” saving him from himself once again.