Synjon woke with a bastard of a headache and an unclear need to reach his weapon. But when he groped for his back, he found nothing but the waistband of his jeans. Bugger and blast, he thought, his brain filled with static, his eyes refusing to open. He moved, felt something hard beneath his face. Concrete? Stone? Bloody hell, he was beat up and tossed…but where?
He forced his eyes open, and despite the gripping pain, was on his feet in seconds. Bloody right, he’d been flogged, many times, by many wanker Impures, and his vision was rubbish. Shaking his head a few times, he attempted to focus. A wall of stainless-steel cages-the cries of both male and female.
It took about three seconds for everything to come back, and when it did he pushed the pain back and went on high alert. Metal floor, bars all around. He was in a cage too and across from him, to the right…
“Fuck, Jules,” he hissed, his eyes going fierce. He would take that bastard Cruen apart piece by piece for this.
The love of his miserable life lay nude and writhing on the floor of her own cold, dank cage. She lifted her head when he called her name. Despite the world in which she was chained to, she looked beautiful, wild, inflamed, but her eyes-her exquisite lavender eyes were nearly dead.
Synjon gripped the bars of his cage and forced himself to remain calm. It wouldn’t do to amp up her fear and anxiety any more than it already was.
Panting, Juliet locked on to his gaze and shook her head. “Syn? Syn? Is it really you?”
“Yeah, sweetheart. It’s me.”
“Oh, God…” She started to cry. Not just heavy tears, but great sobs of misery. “No. No…”
His unbeating heart shredding as he watched her, Synjon pushed against the bars of the cage. “Don’t cry, Jules, please.”
“I’m so sorry for leaving you, Syn,” she wailed.
Fuck! This was not happening. “It’s all right, love,” he told her, trying to make his tone comforting instead of what he truly felt like doing-shouting, screaming, raging, threatening-killing. “Everything will be all right.”
As several others in cages around them began to shift and murmur, Juliet turned her body, so she was on her stomach, gripping the bars. “I thought I was dead, Syn,” she cried out. “I thought he’d killed me. Until I woke up here. In this cage.”
The anger raging inside Syn churned dangerous and hot, but he wouldn’t let her see that. “I’m here now, love. It’s all over. No one will hurt you again.”
“He doesn’t want to hurt me,” she cried. “He wants to mate me.”
Syn’s fingers tightened around the bars. “What?”
“I never told you. I never told anyone-didn’t want anyone to know. My father was a Breeding Male.” She shook her head, her eyes the saddest he’d ever seen them. “I didn’t know, but I have the gene, this rare gene that gives me all the same powers, same hellish needs as a Breeding Male.”
“A Breeding Female,” Synjon uttered.
Tears welled in her eyes. “Cruen took me, made it look like my death, only to grant me this…life. Lying beneath the Breeding Male-he wants to create a master race of vampires.”
Synjon could barely contain the fury that raged inside him. The one thing he knew was that Cruen would be creating nothing but his own funeral.
Juliet started to cry again.
“Please, Jules. No.” He didn’t give a shite, not for any of it. They could sort it out later, make sense of it later-when he took her from this miserable place. “I have you back. That’s all that matters.”
“I’ve thought about you,” she uttered, a shudder of pain rippling through her, and she gasped.
“I’ve thought about us,” she whispered, “every moment I’ve been here.”
His jaw was so bloody tight it might crack in two. “I’ll get you out of here, Jules.”
“Syn, please…” she begged as another wave of whatever it was moved through her.
He pounded the bars. “I swear it.”
“You swear it?”
Syn tensed at the words, at the voice, instinctively reaching for his weapon. Wasn’t there. Wasn’t goddamn there.
“That’s an ambitious statement from someone surrounded by iron bars.” Cruen stood in the laboratory doorway. He still wore his Order robes, still had the black circle around his left eye, still sported a pair of red fangs, but the rest of him-his skin, his eyes, his movement-had aged a hundred years at least. He walked to within a foot of Synjon’s cage and sneered. “Synjon Wise. I always thought you were overprized by the Order. A second-rate spy, at best.” He turned and glanced at Juliet, his smile brightening. “That is, until I realized what you truly possessed. Who you possessed.”
Feral rage suffused Syn’s tone. “My veana will be allowed to walk free.”
Cruen’s eyebrows lifted. “Which veana are we talking about? The one in the cage here who will never have a true mate, or the one who is hiding out with Lucian Roman?” He stepped closer to Juliet and grinned. “You know the one I mean, Synjon-the veana you pretended was your true mate, gave your vow to in a Veracou ceremony not long ago.”
A gasp escaped the confines of Juliet’s cell, and Syn’s gaze locked on to his love-his one and only love. His soul died at what he saw. Pure misery deadened her orbs, and she dropped her head and cried.
Gripping both sides of the metal bars, Synjon growled at Cruen, who merely clucked his tongue and said with deep, deceptive sympathy, “She didn’t know, then. She didn’t know that you betrayed her, betrayed your love-that you found another’s legs to lie between.”
“Fuck you,” Syn snarled, knowing this mad vampire before him was going to die so slow and painfully he’d beg for the blade across his throat.
Cruen turned to Juliet and spoke softly. “News like this is difficult at first, my dear, but you will feel better when the Breeding Male is here, when he holds you in his arms and takes you as only a Breeding Male can-deliciously rough. Or so I am told.”
Synjon growled, slammed against the bars of the cage. “I will remove every organ from your body with a toothpick. Everything but the voice box.” He ground his molars. “I want to hear your screams, Cruen. For hours, days.”
Cruen laughed. “The only one who will be screaming will be this lovely one, this beautiful rare creature-this Breeding Female. And it will be screams of pleasure.” He cocked his head and smiled at Syn. “But I’ll tell you what, Mr. Wise-how about I let you watch?”
Maybe he was the one who deserved the slow death, Synjon thought wildly, slamming his body against the bars over and over to no avail. He was the one who had lived in a riotous sea of his own making, a sea of anger and bitterness, while the love of his heart-this innocent one-had existed in a cage, her fear taken only by the sick, twisted, crushing shock waves of an unending arousal.
As day slipped away and gave in to the cool comfort of evening, Bronwyn cuddled deeper into the strong arms of her lover, pretending that life outside their cottage didn’t exist. But the sounds of the birds landing on branches and rocks near the slowly melting loch snaked their way through the open window, defying her daydreams. Life was happening all around them, and soon they would have to face it. Soon they would have to make decisions about where and when and if.
The command was quick and all male. Bronwyn raised her head. “What? Me?”
Lucian snorted and gave her backside a soft slap. “I can feel it.”
“Oh, come on.”
“‘Tis true, lassie,” he said, rolling to his side, his white-blond hair dropping against his high cheekbone. “I can feel your thoughts in my blood. I can feel you everywhere. Sense every feeling, every want-every need.”
“Mmm, how convenient.”
She aimed for innocent. “And what am I thinking now, Paven? What am I thinking to bring about…this?” She reached down and palmed his cock, stiff as the stone cottage that enclosed them.
His grin widened like the unabashed rogue he was. He leaned in, his lips inches from hers. “You are thinking about pulling your knees back to your tits so the rod you hold in your hand can find its way home right quick.”
Smiling, she shook her head as she cupped his. “No, my crude paven. Not what I was thinking.”
He groaned. “Disappointment’s such a bitch.” His nostrils flared as she stroked him. “Tell me, then.”
She licked her lips and his in the process. “I was thinking about you pulling my knees back to my tits so the rod you hold in your hand can find its way home right quick.”
His eyes widened and he broke out laughing. She followed, then squealed as he came at her growling playfully, his hands encircling her ankles, pushing her knees back.
“Prepare to be mounted then, lass,” he called, and was nearly inside her when the sound of horses’ hooves stayed him.
Bronwyn had never seen anyone move so fast. Lucian was up and off the bed, pulling on his jeans in under five seconds. “If I ask you to remain here, you won’t listen to me, right?”
“Something like that,” she said, grabbing the quilt from the bed.
“Stubborn veana,” he muttered, leaving the room and heading down the hall.
Bronwyn followed, wrapping the quilt tight around herself, wondering who could be visiting them, who had access. She wondered if it was the guards, finally the guards-then hated herself for praying it wasn’t.
When she reached the living area, the front door lay open. She ran out into the cool, moonlit evening, and saw a horse and rider at the gate, unable to pass with the enchantments. Lucian was heading straight for him, no shirt, no shoes.
“Master McCrary?” the rider called out.
Bronwyn continued down the path. McCrary? The rider obviously had the wrong place, wrong inhabitants. But when Lucian didn’t correct him, just stood there and sneered, she began to wonder.
“What do you want?” he asked brusquely.
“I’ve brought an invitation from yer ma,” the male said, holding out a pale yellow envelope.
“Well, you can take it back again,” Lucian said with menace. “Now get off this property.”
Bronwyn wasn’t sure what was happening, but she hurried forward and spoke directly to the worried-looking messenger. “Here, you can give it to me.”
Lucian tried to intercept, but Bronwyn threw him a dangerous look, and the Breeding Male cursed and backed off.
The Impure nodded, smiled. “Thank ye, lass.”
“You gave your letter,” Lucian said, his arm going around Bron as he turned back to the cottage. “Now, off with you.”
The male nodded. “We hope to see ye both there, Master McCrary.”
“I hope you all fuck off and die,” Lucian stated flatly. “But I doubt I’ll get my wish either.”
As the horse’s hooves pounded the earth behind them, Bronwyn gripped the letter and said to Lucian, “That was lovely, really smooth-very mature.”
“I thought so.”
She shook her head. “So, McCrary? Who is that?”
“‘Tis my true surname.”
Bron stopped, stared at him. “Really? What about Roman?”
As the wind picked up, Lucian’s pale hair whipped around his handsome face. “My brothers and I took that name together, when we became a family-our only family.”
“It is the Breeding Male’s name,” she said, confused, though highly interested in the explanation. “Your father’s name. I’m surprised you chose to use it, considering…”
“Considering what?” His brow lifted. “Considering that we all despise him?”
He took a deep breath, and as he released it, he pulled the blanket closer around her shoulders. “We have all been treated as Sons of the Breeding Male for as long as each of us can remember. We decided to be what we are on our own terms. Simple.”
Hardly, she thought, but didn’t press it.
Lucian nodded at the letter. “Toss that into the loch, if you please.”
She looked down at the paper, the pretty writing, the request for their presence. “It’s an invitation.”
“Fine, you can toss it in the fire when we return to the cottage, then. I am not keen on littering.”
Her gaze moved over the words. “Tomorrow eve there’s a festival at the credenti.”
“Or better yet, let’s burn it in the stove.”
“A spring festival, looks like.” As the wind jostled their hair, entwined the black and the white tresses, Bronwyn slipped her arm through his and tugged him toward the cottage. “It sounds fun and I’m going. I’d love it if you were my date.”
He laughed, bitter and harsh, like the Lucian she used to know. “What are you suggesting, Princess? Put the Breeding Male on a leash and escort him through town like prize livestock?”
He snorted. “Fucking right.”
“I don’t need a leash,” she said, grabbing the remainder of his chain as they reached the door. “I’ve got this.”
His eyes darkened, and he moved her in front of him, pressed her back against the wood. “Perhaps we should tie you up, Princess. See how you like it.”
“I think I may like it very much.” Grinning with sensual heat, she let the blanket drop, let his eyes feast on her for a moment. Then she fisted the chain once again.
“What do you say, lass?” he asked, letting her reel him in like a fish.
Grinning, she dropped the invitation and yanked him to her. “I say let’s tear this chain in two and make me a lovely pair of handcuffs.”
Dillon lay on a bed she didn’t recognize, in a room she didn’t recognize, and listened to a voice she did.
In the short time she’d been here, wherever it was she’d landed-another compound with another group of Impures readying themselves for war-this Impure male, the brother of Sara, the one she had saved from the Order’s blood castration ritual, hadn’t left her side.
She wished he would.
He sighed above her. “You need to blow on your wounds, D.”
She shook her head slowly.
“You don’t care if you bleed out? Get an infection.”
No. She didn’t care.
She didn’t care about anything.
“Fine,” he said tightly, resolutely. “I’ll have to keep cleaning them the old-fashioned way, then.”
Something rubbed against her arm, and maybe in the back of her mind she felt something, a quick sting, a flash of pain, but it barely registered. She just wanted to stare at the wall, let her mind shut off, shut down.
“Wish we had a goddamn Pureblood female here,” Gray said, his hand on her shoulder as he cleaned her neck. “And I wish I could hear your thoughts.”
I wish they had just killed me.
A growl sounded, harsh and fearful, and echoed through the room, and for a moment Dillon wondered if he had heard her thoughts. “Why the hell is it that I can hear everyone around me, but not you?”
Her head turned; her eyes lifted to him.
Gray sat beside her on the bed, his gaze fierce, intense as he stared down at her. “That’s right. Every single human, every vamp. But not you. I don’t get it.”
Dillon stared at him for a moment, wondering if it was really him, really Gray-the Impure, the once-catatonic brother of Alexander’s mate. It wasn’t that he looked different exactly. He was handsome, wide in the shoulders like the Romans, a mouth that liked to tease sensitive body parts, and those hands, those scarred, fire-ravaged hands that only a short time ago had pulled her into the shower at her house, gripped her waist as he’d kissed her-gripped her shoulders as he’d bit into her neck. It was all there, but there was something else too…a supreme confidence or control…a quiet power.
His brow lifted. “Any idea why that would be?”
She turned back to the wall. “Fuck off.”
“Yeah, that’s the D I know and find irritating,” he said, a forced lightness in his voice.
Where she once would’ve verbally sparred back at him, now there was little motivation and zero tenacity. She closed her eyes. She was tired.
“The Romans are acting pretty desperate to get at you,” he said to her back. “They’re all looking for you. Sara too.”
Blank. White noise. Happy white noise.
“They’re looking for the location of an ex-Order member.”
The white noise waned and Dillon’s fingers curled around the sheets.
“He used to be their leader,” Gray continued, “but has gone rogue. Cruen.”
Dillon’s entire body flooded with anxiety as she fought to keep her head clear of thoughts.
No. No. No. No.
“Hey,” Gray said, his hands on her back, his tone worried now as she began to shake. “What’s wrong? What the hell is it? Do you know where this guy is?”
“Get out,” she uttered.
Gray cursed. “Don’t lose it, D. Don’t lose your mind over this. It’s not worth it. I’ll swear to that.”
“Get the fuck out of here. Now!” Slowly, she turned to him, her eyes wide, her entire body trembling. “You heard that, right?”
Gray didn’t say anything for a good five seconds; then he nodded and stood up. “That I heard, Veana.”
She returned to her wall.
“You need anything,” he said, “just pick up that phone on the table behind you. I’ll be here before your next breath.”
She said nothing, thought nothing.
Then she was alone.
Her mind free.
But her body, not so much.
Bronwyn’s hands moved over the smooth skin of her belly, still flat, yet beneath a life was growing. A life she had sworn to love: to him, to herself-and to the balas. And she would. She would with everything that was in her no matter what came her way. And there would be much coming her way after she left the wild beauty of the Scotland credenti, the calm protection of the cottage and the not-so-calm protection of the Breeding Male.
She released the grip on her belly and reached for the shirt she’d laid out on the bed. In a wave of sweet- smelling cotton, she dropped it over her head and pulled. Evening was coming on now, and as it had always been for her, contemplation bloomed in the night, like jasmine. Loving her balas was not the question or the concern that plagued her heart now. What worried her were the things surrounding her announcement of her child. And she would announce it, to her parents, to Syn, to anyone who asked-for she was not ashamed, would never be ashamed of her child. And to that end, she would make certain her daughter knew the pride she felt for her.
Bron reached for her skirt and stepped into it, then put on her shoes. Synjon, her dear friend, would no doubt offer to remain by her side if she wished, stay with her out of duty and loyalty, maybe even offer to claim the child as his own. But Bron would never do that to him. She would never do that to him or to her child.
Her balas had a father, and though he would be an unreachable, impossible force someday, it didn’t change the truth.
Just as it didn’t change the way she felt about him, the depth of her love for him.
It wasn’t unreasonable to think that her parents would reject her for lying to them, shaming them, but that would be their shame alone. She was no longer the fearful balas of the credenti, the child who had only cared for a planned and safe future. She was a veana now, grown, passed through into her Meta and come out the other side someone who understood true love. That would sustain her-that and the vow she’d made to her unborn balas to be a strong and capable mother.
Dressed and ready, she left the room she now shared with her lover and ventured down the hall and into the living room. There she paused and let her gaze rake over the very fine specimen standing near the fireplace.
“Well, well, Lucian Roman,” she said with appreciation, yet undisguised confusion. Black jeans encased his long muscular legs, and the thick black sweater that stretched across his wide chest made his white hair glow and his pale, savage eyes smolder. She had to swallow before she continued. “Don’t you look nice this eve.”
“Thank ye, lass,” he replied in the Scottish brogue that was becoming standard in his speech now. “But it’s nothing to how fine you look.”
As his gaze moved over her covetously, she smiled. “So, did you dress up for our farewell, or are you headed out like me?”
He looked suddenly annoyed, then grumbled, “I’ve decided to accompany you to town.”
“Really?” she said, surprised-knowing she’d heard him correctly, but not believing it.
“I suppose the dog must follow its mistress.” His eyes narrowed.
As did hers, but not on his face-on his wrist. “Yet the dog seems to be without his chain tonight.”
“I smashed it against one of the rocks down at the loch. Finally broke the piece of shit off, but I may have broken my wrist right along with it.”
She went over to him, took his wrist in her hands-so thick and strong, like another part of him, she thought wickedly. Her eyes lifted. “Does it hurt?”
He caught her wicked glare and the corners of his mouth lifted. “Unbearably so, Veana.”
She blinked once, twice. “Shall I blow on it for you?”
His gaze went hot and heavy-lidded, and he inhaled deeply. “How ’bout you blow me, I blow you, and we blow off this bullshit in town.”
Though her skin tingled, and her core clenched in the memory of just such an action earlier that day, she shook her head.
He growled. “Fine.”
“Come on, now. We’ll have fun.”
He snorted. “What we’ll have is weapons. I have two blades hidden on my person right now.”
“I’m sure that will go over well in town.”
“We must be vigilant, Bron. Always.”
“We are protected here. The Order’s magic is very strong.”
He looked utterly unconvinced. “And then there is the small issue of how unkindly we may be treated. You understand what might go down there, right?”
She sobered somewhat. “I do.”
His chin dropped, his eyes darkened. “Do you also understand how I will react if they do? Or God help them, if they say anything to hurt you?”
“I understand,” she said, holding out her hand for his. “Ready?”
He looked down at it and barked.
Her laughter echoed through the cottage, and when he swept up her hand in his own and she gently blew his pain away, they left the safety and comfort and seclusion of the cottage and walked out into the cold evening air, completely unaware of the three words being carved into the exterior stone wall of the cottage behind them.
Beware the Beasts.