As he sat at the long table of judgment listening to his fellow Order members discuss new provisions for the inmates at Mondrar, Titus felt the shift in his son-the shift into Breeding Male status. A wave of sadness moved through him, a sadness he could feel only because he was no longer the Breeding Male. The irony was not lost on him. Now that he could care about the children he’d created, they wanted nothing whatsoever to do with him.
It was not as if he could blame them really. And they didn’t know or understand how he had shed his Breeding Male chains-they didn’t know, could never know how he’d bargained with Cruen for his seat on the Order-and his step into sanity. The blood Cruen had given him had rid him of his animal-like desires and ways, and in return he’d allowed Cruen to take all the samples of his Breeding Male blood that he required.
And he’d never asked why.
Perhaps he should have. Perhaps his son was now paying for his father’s mistakes once again. Whatever Cruen was cooking up in that secret laboratory of his had everything to do with Lucian, and Titus would do everything in his power to stop him.
A slam of raw pain stuttered through Titus then. The connection he had with Lucian was unlike any he had ever had with one of his children. He could communicate with the paven, feel his deep feelings and fear, and shift his physical body-beyond what his Order powers allotted him.
It was no doubt the Breeding Male bond.
But Titus couldn’t go anywhere near Lucian-not now, not yet-not when the paven was just at the height of his change. Without Cruen’s blood to keep him even, keep him in the Order, there was a possibility that Lucian’s change could bring back the change in Titus.
He wouldn’t risk it.
“Do you not agree, Order Member Titus?”
The words of his neighbor thrust Titus back into the present, into the world he never wanted to leave, and he nodded sagely. “Wise course of action. Yes.”
The provisions he’d agreed to were lost on him, but his Order status, his mental and physical capabilities were not, and he would do anything to keep them secure-anything to keep his Breeding Male beast secure inside his unbeating heart. For he loved his son, cared deeply about his son, but he would never join him in the hunt, or in that devastating state of pain and pleasure, again.
“We’re wasting time.” Alexander dropped from the last step in the tunnels and walked with his brother and their mates down the hallway toward the weapons storeroom. “If she won’t answer my calls, then we’re going to have to pay her a visit.”
Sara tossed him a sideways glare that screamed, “Are you insane?”
He was holding her hand, and with a quick movement of the wrist, he flipped his arm so that it was wrapped around her waist. “I play games with only one female in this life,” he growled.
“And I am grateful for that, Paven,” she said, her brows lifted. “But Dillon has always been intent about keeping her private life, work and otherwise, separate from the personal one she shares with us.”
“She hasn’t shared anything with us in weeks, Sara.”
She cocked her head to the side and gave him a soft smile. “Awww, the big, bad vampire misses his verbal sparring partner.”
But Alex wasn’t playing. “This is more than concern over a friend’s whereabouts. This is Luca’s life, his future. D’s being a pain the ass. She’ll just have to deal with the upset. Don’t you agree, Nicky?”
Nicholas held tight to his veana as they turned down another lap of tunnel. “I do. But you stand in her line of fire when you tell her that, cool?”
Alex snorted. “Chickenshit.”
Nicky didn’t even growl. “Only when it comes to that veana. She’s scary.”
Kate laughed as they entered the storeroom. “Nicholas Roman, afraid of a girl. I never thought I’d see the day.”
Nicky snarled playfully, then turned to his true mate quickly and gently pressed her up against the wall. “Watch yourself, Veana,” he warned.
Her eyes sparkled. “Or what?”
He leaned in, so close their breaths mingled. “Or I may have to put you over my knee.”
“Promises, promises,” she whispered against his mouth, then pulled back slightly. “Hey, aren’t we here for weapons, Paven?”
Grinning, he kissed her, slow and hungry, then said, “If I say I have your gun right here, baby, will you think it crude or pleasing?”
She arched her back. “Mmmmm…Both. But I like it both ways.”
He kissed her again. “Then maybe you should undo my fly and check your weapon, make sure it’s-“
A knife whizzed past Nicholas and hit the wall five feet left of his ear.
“Hey,” Nicholas grumbled, glancing over his shoulder.
“The next one will nick your neck, Duro,” Alexander warned, already balls deep in weapons. “Spawn on your own time. We have work to do.”
“I should’ve been an only child,” Nicholas grumbled, backing away from Kate and heading for the weapons stash.
Kate laughed. “What fun would that be? No one to give you shit-no one to pull you out of shit.”
“Well said.” Smiling, Sara leaned against the table that housed over one hundred guns. “Though I’m still waiting for my brother to pull me out of shit. Maybe someday…”
Alexander cupped his mate’s neck and dropped a kiss to her lips. After a devastating fire that Sara had accidentally set when she was just a child-a fire that claimed the life of her father and irrevocably damaged her brother Gray’s hands and his mental state-she spent years with her nose in the books, becoming a psychiatrist. All for one purpose: to bring her brother out of his mentally unreachable state. But now that he was out, recovered and cognizant of the hidden secret of their mother’s, that he and his sister were Impure vampires, the male had made it clear he had little or no time for his family. He was on some mission-Impure rights or some such bullshit-and refused to take the time to call or see his sister.
Pissed Alex off, but he wasn’t about to let Sara know it. She needed his support not his anger.
“What about trying to find Gray?” Nicholas asked, pulling a Beretta 96 from the shelf. “He and D did have something…a friendship, or maybe it was more of a mutual hatred of each other.”
“My brother has also been unreachable for weeks now,” Sara said, the worry evident in her blue eyes. “He’s involved in some kind of ritual with a couple of Impures.”
“Ritual,” Alexander muttered, forgetting his vow to keep silent on the Gray front. “Can’t wait till that bullshit begins. Another push for an Impure uprising. And what now? Gray Donohue instead of madvamp Ethan Dare at the head?”
“God, I hope not,” Sara said sedately. “But he does seem determined to support ‘his’ people.”
Alexander snorted. “As if we don’t have enough to fight without a new war being waged.” Suddenly he noticed Sara digging in the stockpile and asked, “What are you doing, my love?”
“What does it look like?” she said easily. “I’m coming with you, so I figure I should be packing.”
Nicholas glanced over at Kate and grinned.
Sara held up a small gun. “Packing light.”
“No.” Alexander said the word as though it was all he needed to say to have Sara reverse her action and her choice.
“Did you just say ‘no’ to me?” Sara turned and eyeballed Kate. “Did he just say that?”
Trying to suppress a laugh, Kate said, “I believe he did.” Then, eyeing a particularly shiny Glock, she added, “Hey, you know I’d be all over this if I didn’t have Mr. Ladd to take care of.”
Choosing another tack, Alexander put down his weapon and pulled his mate close. “My love, I don’t know what we’re going to encounter. Could be dangerous-“
“We’re going to encounter Dillon,” Sara said tightly. “And she’s a friend; she trusts me.”
“I get the danger. I really do. But I’m a part of this family and I can offer something here. She’ll listen to me, Alex. And if you’re trying to get information out of her that is buried, information she doesn’t want to share, you’re going to need me.” She lifted her brows. “So. Deal.”
She broke away from him and placed her gun in the back of her jeans. “I’m no warrior like the two of you,” she said, looking up at both Alex and Nicholas. “But I’ve gained some skills since I’ve been here, and I’m ready to try them out.”
As always, Celestine had come through for him-this time with the location of Cruen’s laboratory. For Syn, flashing into the small ski town and hiking up into the mountains hadn’t been an issue. The problem was, the compound itself was a right bitch and a half to get into. The grounds alone were hardwired with some serious Grade A magic, and as Synjon stalked the perimeter like a cat, he surmised that getting into the area where prisoners were held was going to be pretty sodding beastly.
But he would. If Bronwyn was in there, he would get to her and get her out. He wasn’t losing another female, love of his life or not.
Under the spotlight of the moon, his lips lifted, his fangs extending. And after he rescued the veana, he’d return to rip the skull off the bugger who’d nicked her in the first place, then drop his sorry carcass at the feet of the Order.
A sudden tingle of warning licked at his skin and…
He slammed back, fell on his arse. Damn it, too close to the magic. If he wanted in, he was going to have to find a break in the magic pulse somewhere around the perimeter, then endure the unbearably hellish pain of near electrocution for as long as it took to bypass the invisible fence.
Leaping to his feet, he flipped down the shades of the high-powered night-vision specs he’d had made last year. They were the perfect spy wear for vampire vision, getting up close and personal over real long distances.
Slow and steady, he moved, testing the pulse while checking for guards-hidden and not. He tried not to think of Bron. It didn’t do any good to think, to worry about her. He’d get there, find her and bring her home. Failure was just not an option for him, ever. He was not losing another veana-not unless she was dead.
Then there was nothing he could do. He’d learned that lesson the hard way.
The snarl that played about his lips was short-lived as he spotted guards in the distance. He counted them up right quick. Six in all and every one of them decked out in weapons.
He squinted. What were the blokes doing? Walking with something. Something in white…white robes or a nightgown or some shite like that.
Syn hit the button on his specs, amping up the zoom so he could see what the guards were guarding. Shape was female. Could be Bronwyn. His unbeating heart stuttered, and he pushed through the high grass bordering the perimeter. If it was Bron, he was going straight through this barrier, permanent damage to his insides and hardwire or not.
His vision cleared then, and what he saw killed the breath in his chest.
He came to stop, his hands slowly closing into fists at his sides.
It wasn’t Bron.
It wasn’t bloody possible.
He ground his molars as a low growl escaped his throat. Surrounded by six massive males, a veana with hair the color of copper, so long it curled under her backside, walked through the yard. There was only one female he’d ever met in his life who had hair that color.
The love of his sorry cock-up life.
And she was dead.
Day broke in a vision of color, and as Bronwyn dug in the cold earth under the growing morning light, she was so thankful Meta didn’t take away a veana’s need to live in the sun, as it did for pavens who go through morpho.
She had been outside for more than an hour now, digging up a patch of dirt near the house, breathing in the stark Scottish air in that strange, ethereal light before dawn. Perhaps, under normal circumstances, she wouldn’t have been out and to work so early, but these weren’t ordinary conditions. These were strange times with unpredictable characters, and Bronwyn had never done well in the unpredictable. She appreciated concrete and foreseeable outcomes. Two things she wasn’t getting sitting across from Lucian, watching him sleep, watching his beautiful chest rise and fall as she waited for any sign of the Breeding Male to return. After a couple of hours, she had been quickly driven to the brink of madness.
She had wished for her equipment, her computer, something to keep her hands and brain busy, but there was nothing. Nothing but the earth outside. After wrapping herself in a blanket, she’d found a small trowel near the stacked firewood and had been creating the rectangular-shaped bed ever since. She didn’t know how long they would be here. Could be a few days, a week…But this was planting season in every credenti she knew of, and the work was hard and good for her insides. It would keep her out of the house, her hands busy. Unfortunately, it did nothing to quiet her thoughts of Lucian.
Her trowel met with a rock and she circled around it, dug it up and pitched it toward the shore of the loch. Much as she had pitched Synjon from her mind these past days. She crumpled inside then. As much as she wanted to, or wanted to want to-she could no longer pretend she had saved even a small part of herself or her virtue for the paven she had mated. He wasn’t her true mate, of course, but he was the one she had chosen, committed herself to in front of her family and the Order. He was the one who had given up so much to take her on, and God help her, where was her loyalty to him now? Would he be able to look at her when she returned and told him everything? Would he be able to forgive her?
Would she be able to forgive herself?
A heavy breath left her lungs, and she brushed her hand over her sweaty forehead. How was it that the very thing she had married him to avoid had come to pass? Her body had been taken by a Breeding Male-or as near to one as you could get-and it had been by her own choosing.
The trowel hit another rock, the impact vibrating up her arm, and she attacked it, digging it up and pitching it. This time it landed against the side of the cottage with a soft chink.
Her gaze followed it, even lifted to the window to see if the noise had disturbed anyone inside. Holy God…She gasped-not in shock, but in wonder, in appreciation, in approval. Lucian was standing, nude, perfectly framed by the window. Someone-probably Bel, as he was the least injured of the two guards-had brought the claw-foot tub over for him, and he was bathing near the fire, the red and orange flames licking at his powerful thighs. Her mouth began to water, her fangs began to drop, and her breath came quickly in and out of her nostrils.
One wrist remained shackled to the wall, and Lucian used his free hand to pour a wood bucket of soapy water over his head. The water rushed down his frame, wide shoulders, and chest to tapered waist. The garden all but forgotten, Bronwyn’s gaze clung to his skin, moving with each droplet of water as it followed the gravitational pull downward, over his belly, hips, between his legs, where his cock hung relaxed against his thigh.
On that island, under duress, she had offered her body to him. If given the opportunity, would she do it again? she wondered. Would she do it again without any threat or coercion upon her?
At that very moment, Lucian looked up and caught her watching him. His eyes darkened and his mouth thinned, and as they stared at each other his cock stirred. Bronwyn dropped her gaze, watched as his heavy prick slowly left the haven of his thigh and began to rise hard and thick toward his belly.
Oh, God…Her breasts tightened, her cunt too…
Hadn’t she broken enough vows, she thought bitterly, without adding covet to the list? Blood pounding in her veins and her face, Bronwyn ripped her gaze away and returned to her earth and her trowel.
His cock was stone, nearly leaking at the tip, and he did nothing to cover the sight.
Her eyes had returned to her work, but what she saw, what she had created, had to be imprinted in her brain. Her gaze-just her gaze had sent his prick to his belly. Did she even fully grasp the power she had over him?
Shit, did he?
He knew it wasn’t merely the sweet orgasmic power of her blood-there was more, too fucking much more. Maybe something about her brains and the way she seemed to give a shit about him. He didn’t know. He didn’t want to know. What he wanted was to despise himself for tasting her to begin with. On the island. Starting that circle of madness, not holding out for Cruen the Dickhead to give up and make an appearance at his little display of theatrics. If Lucian had done that, he wouldn’t be in this mess-and she wouldn’t be either.
Fuck, he didn’t even want to say the words in his head anymore.
I’ll say it, asshole.
You put a balas in her womb.
It was the Breeding Male talking now-he was the one with the gifts-impregnating, deciding the sex of the balas, and right where Lucian was now-not just able to hear the new life in Bronwyn’s blood, but scent the balas within her. Bile rose in his throat, but as usual his mind kept up the onslaught of torment and abuse.
And now her blood, the blood of your kid, could be the key to keeping you sane-keeping me at bay. How’s that for a nice kick in the cracker jacks?
Despite the heat of the fire, cold air moved over his wet skin and he ground his teeth together against the coming shivers. He’d been thinking about it for hours. What other explanation was there? One moment, he was the Breeding Male, the monster, his mind and reasoning gone, and seconds later when her blood entered his system he was purring like a goddamn pussycat.
The weight of all he knew and the impact of revealing it to Bronwyn was crushing. What would the outcome be to such an admission? And with her history- Jesus, her twin fears of being taken by a Breeding Male and being impregnated by one. Would she hate him? Shit…Or worse-would she hate the balas?
His wrist strained against the shackles that Bel had refused to let him remove-even for cleaning himself. At least the Impure had removed himself from the living quarters and allowed Lucian to bathe without an audience. The guard had gone off to tend to his partner, the sorry Impure who still remained in a coma in one of the bedrooms. That unfortunate situation was sure to be a problem for them all.
His gaze narrowed on Bronwyn working the land outside the window. Her lovely shoulders were hunched, her gaze focused downward as if she wanted him to see her determination not to look at him again.
He wasn’t the paven who wanted offspring, never thought about balas in any way other than how to keep his seed from spreading so he wouldn’t have any. And yet the life inside the veana outside his window not only interested him, but made the protective instincts he never knew he had flower.
Lucian sank into the water, keeping his shackled arm out. If Bronwyn found out about the babe would she run from him? Would she take his salvation with her and leave him to rot in the dark madness alone and unfriended?
He had to have time-time to figure out the truth of her blood. And she needed time for the visions of him as the untamed and treacherous monster of a Breeding Male to ebb in her mind. Maybe then, she would, at the very least, not spurn the child before its arrival.