The son approached the father and inclined his head. It was as it had been decades ago when Cruen had gathered his young Beasts around himself and revealed to them how and why they were living inside the secret laboratory of an Order member. Cruen grinned as he recalled how each one had dropped his chin in submission and understanding-and most important, in allegiance. It had been a proud moment, nearly as glorious as the day he’d created the first Breeding Male. There had been no questions about the ones who had given birth to them, who had then thrown them away like so much rubbish. To each Beast, he was their family.
“Father.” Erion came to stand beside the metal table in Cruen’s laboratory, his size unnerving, his form that of a vampire. “It is done. They are together. Trapped. Ready to fulfill their destiny.”
“Very good,” Cruen remarked, returning to his work, his eyes pinned to the Titan 80-300 Cubed microscope and the blood samples beneath. “It won’t be long now.”
“How will you know when the event has occurred?” Erion asked.
“I will feel the shift. I have always felt it.”
“The shift into Breeding Male status.”
“Yes.” He glanced up into the cold diamond eyes of the child who was not of his body, but of his creation. “I will call for you when it does. The moment they are released from my reality, you and your brothers will seize them.”
“You want both the Roman brother and the veana brought here?”
Cruen nodded. “Where their purpose will be revealed to them.”
“And if they refuse?”
“If they refuse, put up a fight or play dead,” Cruen said, repressing his annoyance at these questions. “Just bring them to me.”
A slash of heat moved past Erion’s eyes, but he said nothing-merely nodded.
“You have work, do you not?”
Standing stiffly, Erion gave a sharp nod. “The caged one must be fed.”
“Let her know she will have her needs taken care of very soon.” Cruen grinned, then turned back to his blood sample. “Very soon.”
Bronwyn slept not. Her eyes refused to stay closed for longer than a few seconds. They either swept over the landscape in search of the one who had snatched her from her Veracou, or over the paven who sat immobile and vigilant beside her.
The darkness of the Beast’s reality was not the same darkness of the real world. It was as though a lavender haze coated the sky and made all who sat beneath it ever wary.
Even Lucian Roman.
Especially Lucian Roman.
Sitting back on his heels, he was as alert as a bat, his body poised and ready to fly at anything or anyone who threatened them. It was strange to feel safe and protected by the very paven she should fear.
“Aren’t you tired?” she asked him softly.
Lucian glanced down. “I don’t sleep.”
“Me either. Well, not lately anyway.”
“Too much on your mind, Princess?”
“Something like that.” The sad seriousness in his expression no doubt matched her own, and she expelled a heavy breath. “We need to talk. About why we’re here, what they want, what we need to-“
“No.” It was a solid and direct response. But it hardly deterred her.
“Lucian, come on.”
He shook his head. “Not yet. Not ever if I can get us out of here.”
“I’m beginning to believe that impossible. The thing that brought me here-“
“You may refer to him as ‘Dead Meat.'”
“Nicholas’s twin,” she said with a small smile. This was growing more difficult by the second. His attitude and unwillingness to discuss a course of action was making her more anxious. Did he think she wanted to talk about it? About what the monster had said to her?
She stared at his pale, beautifully startling face with all its sharp angles and fierce expressions. God, was it better to bite her tongue and wait like he so obviously wanted? Or would waiting only make it worse.
She swallowed thickly, knowing it needed to happen. Knowing she should just let it rip. They needed to work together, be honest with each other. Now more than ever.
Sitting up, she braced herself on her arm and faced him fully. “He told me that you will be the next Breeding Male.”
The words left her tongue and hovered in the air. She watched him for a response, for his eyes to change and his lips to curl back. But there was none of that. In fact, he chuckled. But the sound wasn’t exactly merry. It bordered on bitter.
“Oh, that.” His jaw twitched and she felt him shift an imperceptible amount away from her. “It’s not like you didn’t suspect it.”
“I know. But I thought it couldn’t happen for another hundred years or so.”
“And it won’t.” He returned his gaze to the sea.
“Then everything is fine?” she said, her muscles softening slightly with relief. “The Beast was lying, trying to scare me-“
Refusing to look at her, he said, “It’s not exactly fine, Princess.”
“But you just said…”
“There was one thing in my long life that never attracted me. One thing I never allowed myself to do, to give. Perhaps I had a built-in deterrent. Perhaps I was just the selfish bastard everyone thinks I am. Until…” His eyes shifted to her mouth. “You.”
Bron didn’t understand at first. Her mind shuffled through memories and thoughts, confused and searching. Until one stopped her cold. One night in Lucian’s bed, sick and starving. “Oh, God.” She licked her lips involuntarily. “Your blood.”
His gaze remained fixed on the water.
She shook her head. “You’ve never given your blood to anyone else before?”
It all made a terrible kind of sense to her now. You give, you get…It was the law of nature, be it a good outcome or a bad one. “Your cells changed when you fed me, didn’t they?”
He nodded. “But only halfway.”
Her eyes narrowed. “What do you mean only halfway? What does that mean?” Her mind reeled and wavered, tried to focus in on what she knew as a genealogist. “Are you saying that the change into a Breeding Male has two parts?”
She never knew, never suspected this. “One part blood and one part-?”
He turned then and his gaze raked down her body. “Sex.”
He said the word so quickly it stuck in the air, but after a moment it began to swirl, circle around Bronwyn with heavy intent.
“The Beast,” she whispered as the false sunlight broke through a false cloud and warmed her skin. “He said you would come here for that, for sex. He said you would plant your seed inside-“
“Cease!” He cursed under his breath, slammed his eyes back to the water. “I have the gene, okay! The change is inevitable, but as long as we don’t have sex, you will remain virgini and I will remain myself for another one hundred and seventy-five years.”
“But you clearly have the urge-“
“I have the urge with every female, Princess,” he said flippantly. “You’re nothing special.”
Bronwyn would never have expected to feel such a profound pain slice through her with his words, but she did. It was her sad truth. She belonged to Synjon in word and promise, but her body, her unbeating heart…Well, unfortunately, they both seemed to want to belong to Lucian Roman.
She lifted her chin and pretended a meat cleaver hadn’t sliced her in two. “Maybe I’m not special to you, but your blood is inside me and that makes me special in a whole other way.”
His jaw tight enough to crack a couple of teeth, Lucian stood up. His strong, muscular body was momentarily bathed in sunlight, making him look like a god carved in marble.
“Nicholas’s twin said you would go after me,” she continued. “That we would…have sex here. That we would breed and you would begin your destiny.”
“It won’t happen,” he uttered with ruthless defiance.
“I’m glad you’re so sure of yourself.”
“Go to sleep.” He started walking away, toward the shoreline.
“Because I’m not all that sure of me,” she called after him. “Hey! Hey-I’ll admit it. Right here, right now, in front of you and whoever is listening or watching.” When he didn’t stop or turn around, she jumped up and ran down to the shoreline, grabbed his arm, and yanked him to face her. “My body and my blood want it-they want you.”
“Try telling them both to fuck off-that works for me.”
She wasn’t listening to him. “But my heart…”
“Doesn’t beat, Princess. Just like mine.”
“Must you always be so cruel?”
“You enjoy my cruelty.”
“No, I don’t.”
“It’s what makes your mouth water and your pussy cream.”
She gasped, dropped his arm, and slapped him hard across the face.
He didn’t even flinch. “Oh, please do that again,” he whispered, his nostrils flaring.
Shaking now, her eyes filling with tears, Bronwyn slapped him again.
“More,” he hissed, his eyes blazing down at her as his body closed in. “One more time, Princess. Just to make sure I understand.”
Bronwyn didn’t move. She just stood there, her mouth trembling, her hand tingling from the double contact with his cheekbone and jaw. She couldn’t do it again…didn’t want to…
“Fine, I’ll shut us both up.” He pulled her to him and covered her mouth, kissed her hard and hungry until her lips were bruised and she whimpered.
Tears spilled from Bronwyn’s eyes as he eased back just a fraction of an inch. She should’ve had the urge to ram her knee right up between his legs, push him away, tear at his lower lip with her fangs. But her body betrayed such thoughtful, protective instincts. Instead, her skin pleaded for more, her breasts ached for his hands, his fingers, his mouth. “You disgust me,” she whispered, her tone fraught with passion and fear and desperation.
“Good,” he returned harshly, but his mouth trembled too. “Then you won’t be tempted to run after me again.”
As he backed away, turned, and headed down the beach, his dark and dangerous scent following after him, Bronwyn stared, unblinking. She’d gone after him and tempted him, tempted the beast within him. Why? Why would she do such a foolish, harmful thing unless she was asking him to take her-asking the Breeding Male buried within him to take her…
That thought broke her soul in two.
“You disgust me,” she’d said to him, nearly against his mouth.
As she watched him advance farther down the shore, she wondered just who those words had truly been meant for.
Were they really aimed at Lucian Roman?