In the split second of her flash, Bronwyn had been forced to pick a location that would be safe and familiar to them both. Boston was out-couldn’t risk her family knowing the truth or tattling to the Order. Middle of the ocean-been there, done that. That left SoHo-the house where she and Lucian had met, where it had all begun just a few months ago.
They landed near the back door, Bronwyn’s body still covering his as they pushed their way inside. Darkness enclosed them in its comforting way, the electric shades already dropped on every window in the entryway.
“Why did you do that?” Lucian muttered, stumbling inside, moving through the kitchen.
Bronwyn followed him, completely unaware-or was it uncaring-about their nudity now. “Do what?”
“Flash me out?” he barked, his voice hoarse. “Why the hell did you do that?”
“Is this a trick question?”
“I don’t get you.”
“You should’ve left me there, goddamn it!” He kept moving, past the living quarters and into the massive entryway, stopping only when he hit the stairs going up to the second floor. He gripped the banister, his knuckles white as he breathed heavily-too heavily.
Bronwyn hesitated to go near him. He seemed so unstable, talking nonsense-so on the verge of a change she’d never heard about or witnessed. But why was this change so different from morpho or meta? she wondered. Why was it so drawn out and painful?
In the near darkness, the only light coming from a pale yellow motion detector above them, Bronwyn watched Lucian cling to the banister, his bloodshot eyes lifting to hers, his voice gravel-like and devoid of calm emotion. “That ‘brother’ of mine, the gemino-he would’ve taken me back to the mothership.”
Bronwyn felt the blood drain from her face. “You’re saying you wanted to get caught?”
“That’s exactly what I’m saying.”
She shook her head. “You’re insane.”
“Yes! Glad you’re finally getting that fact, Princess. Christ!” His hand slid from the wood banister and wrapped around his waist as he doubled over in pain. “I should just off myself right now.”
Bronwyn felt so helpless standing there in the middle of the entryway. She wanted to run to him, pity him, comfort him-but Lucian didn’t respond to that. Or wouldn’t. She forced down her own agony at seeing his suffering and fixed him with a glare. “If getting back at Cruen is your goal, then offing yourself-as you put it-defeats the purpose, I believe.”
His gaze flickered up.
She continued. “Cruen wants his mild-mannered undead prize, undead.”
The grim line of his mouth twitched. “Smart-ass.”
“Yes, well, it takes a smart-ass to recognize an asshole.”
In that moment, that brief moment in the darkened entryway, she saw him-just a hint of the bad boy, the smart-mouthed paven who had always teased her to the point of exhaustion. Her heart ached for that paven, her body too…
“My brothers,” he began through gritted teeth. “They’ll come here.”
“Good. We need all the help we can get.”
He pushed away from the railing and hobbled past her, over to a window. With great effort, he yanked down one beautiful tapestry window covering and tossed it at her. “Here. Cover yourself.”
“Embarrassed by me, Paven?” she said, wrapping the fabric around her shoulders, grateful for the warmth even as she chided him.
“I wish it were that.” Pale and exhausted, he dropped right where he stood, his backside hitting the hardwood by the front door with a smack, his body slumping against the wall.
Bronwyn started to go to him, but he growled at her and shook his head. “It’s hard enough just having you in the same room. Nude, smelling like me, like sex. The more aroused I get, the less sanity I can hold on to.”
She swallowed and closed the fabric even tighter around herself. The last thing in the world she wanted to do was torture him-not anymore, not in this way. “I’ll get some clothes for you too.”
He laughed bitterly. “What’s the point? Animals wear only their fur.”
“Well, since you have no fur as of yet,” she said, fighting for calm as she turned and headed up the stairs, “I’ll get you some clothing.”
“Fine,” he uttered, too tired to argue now.
She didn’t like that-the quick way he acquiesced. She needed to keep him mocking her, teasing her-she needed to keep him him. Again, she forced the light, playful sound into her tone and called over her shoulder, “And try not to feel too sorry for yourself while I’m gone.”
Lucian felt like a slab of steel that was being crushed, then flattened out, then crushed again. It took every effort to lift his head and watch her go. An effort he shouldn’t have bothered with. The curtain had shifted, and wasn’t covering her ass completely. He could just make out the twin curves of both smooth, soft cheeks. A surge of animal-like lust roared through him, but the weakness in his limbs forced him to remain where he was. Thank God for small and short-lived favors, he thought, his tongue lapping at the tips of his fangs as he watched her delectable heart-shaped ass move and sway in her hurried stride.
Fuck, he was in no position to stare at something he could never have again. But he would always remember. Remember it, remember her in his arms, that sweet, supple backside tucked in his hands as he pumped in and out of her body.
His teeth ground together. He’d give anything for another round-hell, for weeks and weeks of rounds. But it wouldn’t be him holding her, touching her, moving in and out of her body. It would be the Breeding Male-the thing she despised, the thing that raped and hurt and could make only one reasonable decision-create paven or veana.
The shock of that thought weakened him further and he dropped back against the plaster wall and wished for death to take him. But the sound of a door smashing open and heavy footsteps on the hardwood had him pushing himself to stand.
His brothers stormed into the room, their faces masks of concern even in the dim light, their eyes taking in his nude frame, the hard cock between his legs, the pathetic, pain-filled fighting stance he was in.
“What the hell happened?” Alexander said, getting to him just in time to catch him when his legs gave out.
Dropping down on his haunches, Nicholas touched his shoulder. “Are you all right?”
Flinching from the touch, Lucian uttered a terse, “Fuck no, I’m not all right.”
Nicholas dropped his arm, concerned frustration coating his words. “What happened, Duro?”
Lucian fixed his gaze on the far wall. “Doesn’t matter.”
“Like hell it doesn’t,” Nicholas said.
“It’s done!” Lucian returned with as much force as he could manage.
Alexander leveled him with a hard stare. “We need to know exactly what went down to help you, to fix this.”
He didn’t want to look at them, didn’t need to see the disgust-laden pity that would shadow their eyes when they realized the truth. “You don’t get it, Duros. There is no fixing, no help. I need to be chained up or destroyed now.” He turned his gaze on them. “That’s the only fix there is.”
“Good, you’re both here.” Bronwyn hurried down the steps, dressed in jeans and a black sweater, her dark hair swirling about her face. She went straight to Alexander. “We were taken, sent to Cruen’s reality, and forced to…”
“Stop!” Lucian barked, then waved their concerned looks away. “What’s done is done.”
Cursing, Nicholas turned to Alexander. “That’s why they offered up a safe haven.”
“Who?” Bronwyn asked him.
“The Order,” Nicholas said, his voice a mass of despair as he put it all together-island, blood exchange with Bronwyn, sex, Breeding Male. “When we found out you both had returned, and that someone was after you, we went to the Order.” His gaze shifted to Lucian, the old anger riding his words. “But we were never pulled in. A certain member came to us in the Hollow, told us to get to you immediately.”
Titus. Lucian sneered. The one who had started this whole fucking mess with his seed! He slammed his hand back against wall. Damn! Felt good-that kind of pain, the self-inflicted kind felt good. “Too bad our father didn’t contact you while I was on the beach in Cruen’s reality.”
Bronwyn had given Alexander a bundle of clothes and the older paven knelt in front of Lucian, his eyes trying to connect with his younger brother as he helped him tug them on weakly. “No one could get to you, Duro. We all tried.”
Titus could have gotten to him, Lucian thought bitterly, the clothes feeling like sandpaper against his tender skin. But why hadn’t he? Why was he always on the fringe of helping, but never fully committed? Hell, Lucian thought blackly-because he was just another seed spilled while he’d been in the grip of the breeding animal.
No matter what that paven had said in the past, Lucian was no son to him.
Bronwyn was speaking then, and her words brought his attention back to the moment. “What about Synjon?” she said, her eyes on Alexander. “Is he with you? Did he come with you?”
“He went off on his own,” Alexander told her. “To look for you.”
Nicholas shook his head. “He should know where you are, should feel where you are. I know exactly where Kate is at this moment. I don’t get it.”
Like a tidal wave, indescribable pain flowed over Lucian, blanketing him in its misery, and he screamed like a dying animal.
Beside him, Nicky stared at Alexander for answers. “What’s wrong with this? Why is the transition to Breeding Male so drawn out?”
“Why isn’t it like morpho?” Alex added. “Quick pain, over and done. It’s like fucking torture!”
“I believe it was designed to torment,” Bronwyn said, her tone a grand attempt at sounding professional. “Throw the new Breeding Male into a maelstrom-into a pain so unyielding that his mind would shut down. A way of destroying any resistance to the gene taking full control of his actions.”
“Good,” Lucian growled. “Shut me down before I turn into a fucking raping monster. I don’t want to know-don’t want to be aware of my actions or their outcome.” He gripped his skull as racks of pain went through him.
Nicholas put his wrist in front of his brother’s mouth. “Drink, Brother.”
Lucian swiped at the arm. “Get off.”
Again, the wrist was before him. “Titus said it would ease the pain while you go through the process. Like morphine to a human.”
Alexander stepped in and threatened, “Do it before I hold your lily-white head down. Do it before that Beast of a brother of ours-that mutore I never believed existed-shows up here and tries to get past the enchantments on our property.”
“He could drink from me.”
Lucian looked up at Bronwyn, at her sincere and worried expression, then quickly jerked away from the searing temptation. He wouldn’t stop if it was her.
“Do it, damn it,” Nicholas urged.
With a curse, Lucian bent his head and promptly bit down on his brother’s vein. Blood flowed into his mouth, onto his tongue river-quick. It wasn’t sweet and satisfying like Bronwyn’s blood, but it was strong and rich and he took deep pulls into his throat.
After a few minutes, he disconnected and lifted his head. He waited for the pain in his head, belly, cock, bones to recede-even a fraction. But as the moments ticked by, pain continued to slam him from all sides.
Help the pain, my ass, he thought. It was like taking baby aspirin for the migraine from hell.
Barely took the edge off.
“We need to talk,” Nicky said, his expression dead calm, dead serious.
Lucian wiped his mouth. “So talk.”
“The Order has offered you safe haven until Cruen is caught.”
“What does that mean?” Bronwyn asked. “He’s under their protection?”
Nicholas nodded. “At a credenti. He will be”-he shook his head, the words coming slow and painful-“contained. He’ll have the blood he needs, everything, until we can-“
“I don’t want their help,” Lucian interrupted blackly, trying to stand. “I’ll get to Cruen myself.”
“Look at you,” Alexander said, gesturing to his balas-like attempt to get on his feet. “You can barely stand, and you’re shaking like a junkie.”
“Is that right, Nicky?” Lucian rasped, gripping the wall for support.
Shrugging his shoulders against the bitter dig regarding his past addiction to the vampire blood drug, gravo, Nicholas said, “Hey-you have my permission to be the biggest asshole on the planet right now, little brother.”
Baring his fangs, still bloody from their meal, Lucian uttered, “Oooh, yum-pity. My favorite snack next to dog shit.”
“The gemino will find a way to get to you if you’re not protected,” Alexander said, then shook his head. “I still can’t believe a Roman brother would work for the enemy, betray his own.”
Nicholas grunted. “He is no Roman brother, Duro.” Then he turned his gaze on Lucian. “You can’t stay here.”
“Who says I am?”
“What is your plan, then?”
Standing now, Lucian attempted to move away from the wall. “Get myself lost.”
Alexander turned away, cursing. “I don’t believe you. You’ll be caught within a day.”
“That’s exactly what he wants,” Bronwyn added quickly. “He wants the gemino, the Beast, to find him and take him to Cruen. It’s like a double death wish-Cruen’s and his own.”
Lucian glared at her. “You’re a real peach, Princess. You know that?”
She shrugged dispassionately, but her large, expressive eyes told a different story. “They deserve to know the truth.”
“You’re fucking nuts!” Alexander raged. “You know that?”
“Yes, I’ve heard,” he snarled.
“Luca, clearly the Order knows what’s happened,” Nicholas said in typical Nicholas fashion. Trying to reason with the unreasonable. “They are deeply grieved-and I’m quoting them on that. I don’t use that kind of bullshit language.”
“Are they?” Lucian said with venom. “I must’ve missed the condolence bouquet and card. They sent it here? ‘Sorry for the loss of all reasoning and control.'”
“Lucian, you’re being a stupid ass, but more disconcerting is that you don’t seem to give a shit about anyone else’s feelings but your own.”
“Well, get used to it!” he raged, glaring at them all. “I am the Breeding Male!”
Alexander and Nicholas stilled, their eyes glued to their little brother as the truth in his words slowly sank in. It was a sobering moment for all of them.
“Take the safe haven, Lucian.”
They all turned to Bronwyn, who blushed, but didn’t look away from their gazes. “Please.”
“I want no safe haven,” he uttered, then sucked in a breath as pain hit him square in the chest. “If I have to live in chains, then I’ll be the one who decides when and where and who gets to have the honor of engaging the lock.”
Bronwyn sighed, her frustration evident.
He gritted his teeth. “Cruen is mine to destroy. I will be the one to take him down.”
Alexander shook his head. “Not possible.”
“Your skin, your eyes, every twitch in your body. You’re unstable as hell, and the moment you get in his presence, he’ll have you captured.”
Nicholas took over. “And then whatever plan he has for you will be on.”
“Fuck that,” he rasped. “I’ll die first.” Shivers, cold and pain-laced stuttered down his back, gripping each vertebrate, tugging, ripping…
Watching him, Nicholas sobered, asked in a soft voice, “How bad is the pain, Duro?”
Through gritted teeth, Lucian managed to say, “Living inside a volcano.”
Nicholas put a hand on his shoulder, begged him to listen with his eyes. “We will track him down. Alexander and I, and Dillon, if we can get to her. The Order said that Cruen may have a cure to stop the Breeding Male gene altogether-kill it dead. If he does, we’ll find it.”
Lucian despised the flare of hope in his chest. “They told me that too. I call bullshit.”
“You call nothing,” Nicholas said, as behind him Bronwyn leaned back against the opposite wall and shook her head in frustration. “If there’s even the slightest chance we can save you, we’re taking it.”
Alexander nodded. “Give us a few days. Stay in the credenti the Order is supplying; stay hidden until we come for you.”
Lucian was about to deny them again when he looked over at Bronwyn. Big. Fucking. Mistake. The heat of need slammed his balls. It was bad enough he could smell her, but he could also register the scent of every female in their neighborhood. If he went on the run, it was only a matter of time before he truly became his father’s son.
Forcing his gaze back to his brothers, he said, “I have to be chained. Have to be monitored and fed and controlled. There’s no telling when I’ll lose my mind and my judgment.”
“That can all be done,” Alexander assured him, looking relieved as hell. “If you don’t want to use the Order’s guards, we’ll use our own.”
Lucian groaned as another wave of shattering pain gripped his bones. “The eunuchs will not step foot in a credenti ever again.”
“They will if I say they will,” Alexander retorted. “And you will have Bronwyn’s help as well.”
“What?” Lucian barked, his gaze shifting to Bronwyn, who looked momentarily shocked.
Alexander nodded toward her. “She must go too. Out here in the world, unprotected, she is just another way for Cruen to get to you, draw you out.” He shrugged at Bronwyn. “We cannot watch over you if we are tracking Cruen and his Beasts. And your mate is nowhere to be found.”
She nodded. “I understand.”
“Unless you wish to return to your credenti, under the protection of your family.”
She shook her head. “I wouldn’t bring danger upon them.”
“No!” It was the only word Lucian could utter, but it echoed throughout the house.
“I’ll go.” Bronwyn walked over to him, and they all turned to stare at her.
“I won’t…allow it,” he rasped.
She eyed him. “You don’t get to make that choice, Paven.”
“You bet your sweet ass I do, Princess,” he said. The pain in his throat mirrored the pain in his entire body. “I won’t go after her if Cruen takes her…” He couldn’t finish that statement, that promise-and every part of him knew it. Maybe he wouldn’t go in search of her as himself, the rational paven, but for some reason he knew deep in his gut that the Breeding Male would.
She refused to look at him, her jaw tight. She addressed Alexander and Nicholas. “If he is chained and we have guards, I’ll be safe.”
It wasn’t a question, but Alexander nodded anyway. “I believe so.”
“Then, I will do it.”
“You have a mate,” Lucian hissed at her. She wasn’t doing this-wasn’t throwing her life away for him. “Go back to Boston. Keep the home fires burning.”
“Synjon will find me when he’s ready,” she said, ignoring the snort of disbelief around her. “You need help. And I owe you my help.”
“I don’t fucking want it!” Goddamn it! He’d made the deal, agreed to be chained, fed blood like a balas, watched like a prisoner; he wasn’t having this veana beside him the whole goddamn way! He couldn’t bear it-Christ, couldn’t bear for her to see him as he disintegrated into an animal. He just wanted her to remember him as the paven who had played with her, teased her-pleasured her.
Bronwyn got that stubborn look-the one that was impossible to reason with. “It won’t be forever, Luca. Just until they’ve found Cruen and discovered if there is an antidote or not. And maybe I can help with that. Maybe I can do some testing on your blood in the credenti, see what changes have occurred-“
“You both need to leave. Now,” said Nicholas, going to the window. “Sun is almost down and our mutore brother will be coming for you.”
Lucian gripped the railing.
“Come, Luca,” Bronwyn said, holding out her hand.
He faced her, leveled her with his pale gaze. “It will be the ugliest nightmare you’ve ever seen. It will be what your sister faced-what you never wanted to face.” He lowered his chin. “Are you truly ready to face that animal, Princess?”
She paused, her eyes moving over his face as her nostrils flared. Then a look of sudden and absolute determination rolled over her. “I will face anything to keep breathing, keep us both breathing.”
“Foolish veana,” he whispered, his strength waning.
Alexander and Nicholas took Lucian under his shoulders and they walked across the entryway and down the hall, heading for the back door. The very moment the sun went down, they would all flash to the caves to await the Order’s transport.
Alexander gripped Lucian tightly, lovingly.
Nicholas did too as he whispered into his little brother’s ear, “Please hold on to your mind, Duro.”
Erion stood outside the villa in the small French town, a town similar to the one where he had been born-and where he had been tossed away like the unwanted refuse his dam had believed him to be. As he watched the very last rays of the sun disappear into the horizon, his brother Lycos moved to stand beside him. The wolflike paven didn’t get too close, didn’t drop a hand to Erion’s shoulder as brothers of blood were known to do. After all, they had not been raised to care for each other in such a manner.
“You let them go, didn’t you?” Lycos said, his voice a near growl.
Erion said nothing, his gaze still and uneasy as he watched the windows. Would the automatic blinds lift as they normally did around this time, or would the fortress remain sealed up and quiet now that they knew he was after them?
“Father’s orders must be met without question, Erion.”
Erion turned, eyed the Beast, his brother. Lycos’s wolfish features were particularly sharp tonight, his dark eyes watchful, always watchful. “I know all about our father’s orders.”
“And yet…” He raised his dark eyebrows.
Erion inhaled deeply, his lungs filling with air and the scent of the many in the town below. “Things are different with them.”
“Different.” Lycos sniffed like the dog his own mother had called him when he exited her body and, like all mutore, instantly shifted into his Beast-like state. “Nothing is different. We serve our father. The one who rescued us from the flesh seller when we were only cubs, the one who resurrected us-who gave us a home, freedom, purpose.”
“Yes.” Erion nodded, returned his gaze to the villa. It was the way his mind worked too, what he believed to be his truth, his motivation for everything.
And then again, he had started to see a different kind of life, a different kind of freedom in the Roman brothers. There was a small part of him that felt envious. It was why he had stolen his twin’s identity that night in Vermont, laid with the veana Mirabelle Letts-Nicholas Roman’s trick. She had touched him, reveled in his touch. She had looked at him like a Pureblood paven-not as a freak of nature.
It had felt good.
Yes, he was devoted to his master, the only father he would ever know, and yet there were questions inside him. Questions that persisted no matter how hard he tried to suppress them. The first being, if he wasn’t as truly free as they were, what was he?
“An indentured servant.” He said the words aloud, causing Lycos to coil around him like a snake.
“What did you say, Brother?” he asked.
“Do you ever feel as though we have no choices, no excuses, no impulses or emotion?” He knew he should cease this line of questioning, yet he could not. “Do you ever feel we are weapons and nothing more?”
The look in Lycos’s eyes said it all.
Before him, the window shades of the villa lifted, but no light flickered on life inside. Erion gestured to his brother. “Let’s go.” And the two flashed out of the French countryside.