He could still walk in sunlight, still breathe the unbound air, and if all went well, in about ten minutes he’d have the use of his cock for something far more satisfying than just pissing.
“What are you doing, Lucian?”
Lucian remained where he was, didn’t even blink as he registered the voice behind him. “What does it look like I’m doing, Pops?”
“It looks as though you’re marking your territory,” said the male, his tone concerned.
As night reigned overhead, a dome of black and diamond stars, Lucian finished his golden shower against the brick wall of the building that housed Bronwyn and her true mate, then zipped his fly. “What do you want, Titus?” he asked, turning to face his father.
Under the deep yellow glow of the moon, Lucian saw that the aged paven, the Breeding Male, the ancient Order member, had his head uncovered. A rarity for Titus, but it was clearly a sign that the paven was alarmed. “It looks as though you have an obsession that won’t be contained.”
Lucian grinned at the near mirror image of himself. “Well, I suppose that makes two of us, then.”
Titus said nothing, but his silence illustrated his confusion.
Lucian’s grin turned to acerbic laughter. “You’re on my albino ass 24-7. Methinks you’ve got quite an obsession of your own.”
Titus’s pale eyes locked with Lucian’s. “I am only trying to help you. Guide you.” He dropped his chin. “Warn you.”
“Well, don’t,” Lucian said flippantly. “I’m good. Soon as my veana walks out-“
“You have no veana,” Titus interrupted briskly. “You have no true mate. You will never have. Breeding Males are not destined for love.”
Lucian’s fangs descended, like a razor-sharp elevator to hell. “As soon as the veana walks out of this Veracou hall,” he spit out, “once she’s bound and mated for eternity, it’s done. This…” He spread his arms out, looked down at his far-too-lean frame. “This…fuck! Whatever it is that has consumed my brain and body will end. It has to end.”
“I hope so,” Titus said darkly, his eyes shifting from Lucian and moving over the Boston credenti landscape. It was quiet and devoid of all Pureblood community members, as most were inside observing the Veracou. “Because if it does not, you are in great danger.”
Lucian snorted. “Tell me something I don’t know.” He gestured to the door of the hall, where Bronwyn and her true mate were at that very moment pledging their undying and untamed love for each other. It was enough to make a paven puke. And yet Lucian prayed it would grant him some relief. He had to believe that, had to believe that once the commitment was sealed it would break the hold this veana had on him-on his blood, on his bones, on his mind…Because even now, he could still feel the need for her pounding through him, searing him.
Fighting a groan, he glared at his sire. “Shouldn’t you be inside, Daddy Dearest? Giving your blessing to the happy couple, and all that horse shit?”
“I will go inside when you leave the credenti.”
“And I will leave after I see her.”
Eyes narrowed, Titus said, “You do not need to see her!”
“Wrong,” Lucian growled, his index finger nearly in his father’s chest. “Her eyes will tell me she is mated. Her mouth will tell me it belongs against his. If they are truly one, her body will pull closer to his as she moves down the steps of the hall. Then my fucking renegade blood will know if this hold she has over me is done.”
“And if you don’t see these things?” Titus asked, the wind picking up around them. “Feel these things? Will you go after her again? Will you risk your freedom, your very existence for one moment of pleasure?”
“Get the fuck away from me, Pops.”
“Because that is all it will take. Her blood is inside you. The change has begun. Will you truly surrender to it? Will you risk turning into the Breeding Male-turning into me?”
“I will never turn into you,” Lucian returned sharply, a deviant grin playing about his lips.
“Don’t be so sure.”
“I will die first. Off myself. Drain all the pretty red stuff. Get it?” Lucian tore away from the side of the building and headed around to the front. Shaking his head, he cursed inwardly. Fuckity fuck, fuck, fuck. What was he doing here? Was it truly something rational and understandable and necessary, or was he just acting out Stupid Move #78?
He came to a halt at the bottom step of the Veracou Hall and looked up. It barely felt like winter tonight; the early scents of spring were light in the air and the snow was melting off of every surface it clung to. Maybe his piece of shit pops was right. Maybe he shouldn’t be anywhere near this building. Maybe he shouldn’t be anywhere near her and the paven who would take her sweet, willing body under his tonight. And yet he had to see for himself that she was done, over, taken. He needed to see the evidence, to force his traitorous body to accept that Bronwyn Kettler was forever out of his reach.
Titus was again behind him, silent in his breathing, yet heavy in his unease.
“I will know it is over between us.”
“It should never have begun.”
“Enough!” Lucian’s head came around so fast Titus gasped. His voice was low and deadly as he said, “You need to fuck off right now before we end up taking a father-son bloodbath together.”
There was a moment of flared nostrils and heavy breathing, a moment when the elder paven remained immobile, his eyes nearly unseeing as he stared at his balas. They were both so still, and then Titus reached back, grabbed the edges of his red hood, and placed it over his head.
With fangs extended and eyes narrowed, Lucian watched him ascend the stairs and disappear inside the Veracou Hall. For a moment, he wished to crawl under the steps like a rat to wait-wait for her scent to grow stronger, for the feel of her footfall overhead as she descended the stairs with her true mate, feel the death of his eternal soul as he watched her leave with the one who would feed her body in all the ways he couldn’t.
Then he would get lost.
Maybe for a week, maybe forever.
Maybe between the thighs of the entire New York Jets cheerleading squad.
Inside the Veracou Hall, dressed in her scarlet mating costume, Bronwyn stood before Synjon Wise and tried to breathe. The room was still, no sound save for the monotonous drip, drip, drip of the thousand white candles hanging from the ceiling. It was a gift from the Order-who sat before them in a long row, their hoods hiding their faces-a hope for a thousand years of eternal happiness for these true mates.
Bronwyn fought the anxiety in her chest, shifting her weight from one foot to the other in hopes of sending the fear down and out. If they only knew who stood before them. If they only knew two friends, not true mates, stood before them in this sacred hall. If they only knew a lie had been constructed-a fabrication-all to avoid the one primal fear that Bronwyn had lived with, worked to stop, and prayed would never befall her.
The rape of the Breeding Male.
His seed forced inside her womb.
His balas growing within her.
And like her sister’s fate, more balas than her body could contain without giving out, giving up-her blood unable to cease flowing until she no longer breathed.
Just as the guests were doing, the Order sat as still as the stone walls. They were waiting for the final agreement to be given. They were waiting for Bronwyn to say her final word-the one word that would bind her to this paven who stood beside her at the podium, his hands clasping hers, his ocean blue eyes fierce but steady.
Bronwyn gazed up into the face of her dear friend. Movie-star handsome, with an athlete’s body and the loyalty of a gracious god, Synjon Wise had grown from an awkward balas into the six-foot-six, broad-shouldered paven of every veana’s fantasy. He had been her friend longer than any other, and she loved him-could want him if they took it slow. Not in the way her body craved another, like air to her lungs-not in the way he had cared for his deceased lover-but in the ancient way of long years and care and commitment.
Synjon said nothing as he stared down at her, but raised one black eyebrow. Not in censure, but in concern. He knew the truth of her heart just as she knew the truth and tragedy of his, and as the friend he was, deep and unbending, he would protect her, even in this-even if it meant his own ruin and embarrassment.
He was the eternal catch, this male, and with that one word uttered, he would belong to her forever. God, it was so simple, Bron thought, and yet all she wanted to do was break from his hold and run from the Veracou Hall, to the blood that called to hers.
She blinked, her breathing shallow in her lungs and throat. She knew he was out there, waiting. The pale one, the one that had given her his blood. Every instinct she possessed warned her that he would not leave her alone until he saw that she belonged to another-that she had given herself to another.
Squeezing her hands gently, Syn smiled down at her. Get a grip then, love, he was saying in that gravelly British accent of his, his eyes wicked with humor, but also filled with understanding.
Bronwyn opened her mouth, and in that second her gaze caught on her mother and her father. They were seated just behind Synjon. Pure love fairly burst from them both. They were so happy, so relieved she had found her true mate, and yet Bronwyn knew without a doubt that if she hadn’t found Synjon, even with all of that love in their eyes, her parents would have gone to the Order. It was said by the Order, and by many, that all the Breeding Males had died out over two decades ago, but Bronwyn knew better. Though they were a very rare entity, not every son was being tracked or watched for signs of Breeding Male status. And Bronwyn had current DNA samples from vampires in the western United States that proved a Breeding Male had sired within the past two years. It was only a matter of time before the Order found this information, if they truly didn’t have it already, and she couldn’t take the chance of her parents discovering it too. Because if they did, they would have her taken to him before the month was up, just as they had done with her sister many years ago. Her beloved sister, who had died with the Breeding Male’s twin balas in her tired body just six months into her swell.
Jerking her gaze back to Synjon, to the safety of her friend, she did what she had to. “Given.”
The word exited her mouth loud and clear and committed, and for one second, silence hovered in the air. Then the room seemed to expand, explode with cheers and laughter, and the hoods of the Order, save one, were tossed back and the brick-red fangs that demonstrated each member’s completion with the act of drinking blood were displayed in wide, delighted smiles.
Another Pureblood true mate pairing had come to pass.
The celebration had begun.
Sensing her mood, Synjon led her out of the hall and into a quiet passageway, keeping her close to his side. To Bronwyn, every step was heavy, like walking in sand; every image in her head was still of him.
It would go away…It would lessen in time.
“You all right, love?” Synjon asked once they were away from the crowd.
“I’m fine,” she managed, licking her dry lips and forcing her gaze up to his.
Though she wasn’t privy to the details, she knew what Syn was-that he worked undercover for the Order in all manner of dangerous and exotic. She knew what he was capable of, his talents with every kind of weaponry, how close to an assassin’s life he lived, but as he looked down at her, there was only softness in him. And perhaps a trace of sadness. He too had lost the promise and hope of love.
“You had me wondering there for a moment, Bron,” he said with a gentle huskiness.
She shook her head, fighting the heavy sense that she had made a mistake in all this. But she knew she hadn’t! She knew she had done the only thing she could. And, God, she’d be good to Syn; she’d help him forget as he would help her. “My nerves got the better of me for a moment. That’s all,” she said.
His eyes homed in on her face, his hands warm with concern around her fingers. “That all it is?”
She thought about lying, but this paven was trained to see all forms of deception-and truly, what was the point? They knew each other’s pasts, every painful bit. She released a weighty breath. “I feel him outside. I feel his blood. Still.”
Synjon’s eyes turned from liquid to ice, and his tone was deadly as he spoke. “I’ll take care of it.”
“No,” Bron said quickly, almost desperately. Foolish veana…
“He has no right to be here, Bron-to be anywhere near you.”
“Please, Syn. I don’t want a fight. Not today.” She lowered her chin, let her gaze speak to her intense feelings on the subject.
After a moment, Synjon’s eyes softened and he grumbled, “All right. I’ll keep my fists to myself today. But only today.”
Bronwyn nodded, gave him a smile. “Noted.”
He chuckled softly, brought her hand to his mouth, and kissed it. There was no passion in the act, but Bronwyn was thankful for that. Thankful there was no pretense between them, no charade. It would’ve been impossible if he felt true love for her.
“I’m not sure if I’ve told you this tonight, my dear,” he said, granting an easy smile. “But you look smashing.”
She smiled, thankful once again for his control and patience. “Thank you, Paven.”
His gaze tracked over her. “It’s a damn fine getup, that.”
She dropped his hands and turned slowly in a circle. The dress was a deep merlot silk, as were the bands on her neck and wrists-all were tied securely, but ready for her paven to unwrap his gift.
She stopped twirling at the thought, saw the night to come in her mind, and her belly grew tense. Her blood, her virtue was now Synjon’s, even if her unbeating heart belonged to another. Her breath hitched in her chest as she caught that last thought-that traitorous last thought.
“I think I’d like one in my size if you can manage it,” Synjon was saying, pulling her back to him, to the present-what was real and true.
She forced a smile. “You’d like a Veracou gown?”
He nodded. “In blue, of course. To match my very fine eyes.”
Bronwyn laughed at that, at him, so grateful for his lightness, for his teasing, for the fact that they were friends and she would always be safe with him.
“I’ll get started first thing tomorrow, Paven,” she said, moving closer to him, ready to follow him into this land of light and easy.
“Good,” he growled. “See that it’s done in time for tea.”
Again she laughed and let him twirl her around, let him continue to brighten her mood, let him take the memory of the one whose blood scent remained imprinted on her senses.
It was on the third twirl, the third manic, crazy spin when she spotted something down the corridor. Not something, she realized when she came to a stop, but someone. Someone who made her insides jump and pulsate.
Calm and immobile as a stone, the paven stood there watching them. Waiting.
How long had he been here? she wondered. And-God help her-had he brought anyone else with him?
Synjon had noticed the paven too and his mouth drew close to her ear. “Friend of yours, love?”
She couldn’t help herself. It just came out quick and worried. “Nicholas Roman.”
A growl unlike anything she’d ever heard before erupted from the paven beside her. The sound was otherworldly and terrible and she’d never want to be on the other side of it. “The Romans have no place here,” he said. “I will let him know this.”
Syn paused at her fixed reply. “I brought no weapons, Bron. I promise I will only explain his unwelcome state with my fists.”
“No, Syn.” Her eyes implored him. “He is a good paven, kind. The one Roman brother with tact and sense. Please. Let me talk to him.” With a quick breath, she moved past him.
“I’ll come with you.”
“No.” She touched his chest, hard as stone-just like his expression. “It’ll just take a minute-I swear it.”
“Ever stubborn, Bronwyn.”
The words were said to her back as she walked down the corridor toward Nicholas. She hated disregarding Synjon’s feelings just as she hated the deep curiosity that pulsed inside of her. What was Nicholas doing here? Was this about Lucian? Was the albino paven outside waiting…or had he finally given up, gone away?
Bronwyn approached Nicholas with a soft smile and a shrug. “If he asked you to stop the Veracou, you’re too late.”
The paven moved deeper into the shadows. “I was asked nothing in regards to the Veracou,” he uttered, then glanced back at the open door he’d no doubt entered through moments ago and the dark landscape beyond.
“Then why are you here, Nicholas?” she asked, noticing the snow melting off the eaves behind him.
“Do not scream, Veana,” he said, reaching for her, pulling her out into the moonlit night. “It will only hurt more.”
Bronwyn noticed the diamond eyes, the claws, and the lack of two circle brands on the paven’s cheeks too late. This wasn’t Nicholas at all. She screamed silently as she was flashed away.
It was her captor.