The Paleo, the great oval space belowground that had for centuries been the Order's den of castration, where the sexual desires of Impure vampires were removed at a steady pace, hummed with the many sounds of blatant misery. Under the golden light of a thousand candles, Feeyan, the one who now led the Order, stilled over the wriggling Impure on the stone table, her fangs an inch deep within his vein. Information was bleeding into her mind at a frantic pace, and she suddenly ceased the bleeding of his body and lifted her snow-white head.
A few yards away, another member of the Order pulled his fangs from the groin of the Impure male he was castrating and glanced over his shoulder.
"The human politician has been found?" he queried, blood dripping from his bloodred fangs.
Feeyan nodded, a thread of anxiety moving through the already heavy feelings of irritation. It was what she had heard as well. "And our connection to him has been severed."
"How could that be?" the dark-haired Order member asked.
"I am not entirely certain," she told him. "He was well hidden, his location a secret within the Order."
"Perhaps someone inside the facility learned of his identity," the paven said tightly. "The Order would not betray itself."
Inside the Paleo, a hush had fallen. From those strapped on the stone tables to the many others locked inside the cages circumventing the arena, Feeyan noticed a keen interest in what was being said. This time she spoke to her colleague inside his mind. "Think of Cruen. All he has done and continues to do. We are not perfect beings with pure intentions, no matter how we wish we were. We are flawed."
The male Order member looked mildly insulted but didn't voice it. "Shall I speak to the other members?"
"Not yet. The senator's body is being brought to me. Along with the blood memories we've collected from his dead employees, we will piece together the truth."
"And the location of the mutore female who has killed those employees."
Feeyan nodded. The mutore female. The one called Dillon, who had somehow not only escaped death at birth, but had managed to live as a veana without detection. Still lived without detection. How had the Order not sensed her living among the vampire population? Perhaps they were truly flawed. It was a deeply humbling thought, but one that would serve as a reminder and as a fervent push to find this mutore and bring her in, comb her mind to see if there were more like her roaming free.
Feeyan glanced around at the faces of the Impures pressing through the bars of their cells. "Impures breeding is problem enough. But those mutants, those animals who made it past their first breath would sully our bloodlines like nothing else." Feeyan turned, her eyes narrowing on her fellow Order member. "If we allow even one mutore to live, to breed, to think, to decide, it may change the way the Impures view their role and their place in society. We cannot have that."
The paven nodded. "Let us see what the senator's brain has to offer. He gave us the mutore's name, her face, her Beast."
"Perhaps in death he can give us her location," Feeyan said aloud, returning to the Impure male before her-his puncture wounds calling to her razor-sharp fangs. "And the kind of bait we may need to draw her out."
Dillon the jaguar paced inside her cage. How could she have let this happen? How could she have allowed herself to get caught? Again?
Thirty minutes ago, she'd woken up in this same cage, Alexander's cage beneath his house in SoHo. A prisoner of the three Roman brothers, with a sore back leg and a knot the size of a penny on her neck from where the Pureblood Son of the Breeding Male had stabbed her with that needle.
Bastard. She hoped she'd granted him a few deep scratches with her claws before she'd passed the hell out. But the one she really wanted to see gutted was Gray Donohue. Without his meddling, Alexander wouldn't have even known she'd escaped her cage until the deal was done. He never had her checked on until morning hours.
Her growl came quick and feral from her throat. Oh...all the ways she was going to rip the skin from that Impure's tight and formidable body. Her teeth and claws would work wonders, but the image she was having of a chain saw and a guillotine really made her grin. Of course, she'd need to shift back into her veana form to accomplish such a task. Paws did not have the sufficient dexterity to wield a machine like that.
But she wasn't shifting anytime soon now, was she? She'd been stuck with this fur suit for days, and before that-since Senator Slimeball and his pals had messed her up-she'd been unable to control the shift at all. Vampire, jaguar, and back again-anywhere, anytime. She'd thought she was almost there. With every attacker she killed, she felt stronger, more in control, and she'd come to believe that once the last member of the assault team was dead, her control would return. She would be what she was before the attack. Able to shift from Beast to veana at will. After all, it was violence that had brought out her cat to begin with, violence that had sent it into chaos. It had to be violence to bring the control over her shift back again. Shit. It had to be, she'd thought-because if it wasn't, she might as well just follow those human bastards into death.
Right or wrong, she'd never know now.
In killing the senator, Gray had robbed her of not only revenge, but of the hope that she could retrieve the control over her life.
Evans, the Romans' servant and her new jailer, moved suddenly in his seat outside her cage, and without blinking, without breathing, Dillon whirled on him and let loose a ferocious growl.
Outside the door, Gray watched the golden cat snarl at poor Evans through a four-by-four square of two-way mirror. Even under all that fur and fangs, he could sense her ire, her fear, her desperation to get out, get free. But that wasn't going to happen. Not after she'd killed several of the senator's henchmen, not with the Order no doubt looking for the culprit-not with that jaguar costume she was continuously sporting now.
Gray had hoped that the news of the senator's death would bring her some modicum of peace-the final check on the to-kill list she was working from these days-but it seemed she was feeling anything but peaceful. Alexander's call an hour ago asking him to come to the SoHo house, that Dillon had demanded to see him, had Gray thinking she wasn't all that pleased with what he'd done.
That veana had never really been one for appreciation. Giving or getting, he thought darkly. Once upon a time, she'd pulled his nearly castrated ass out of the Paleo; then he'd scraped her nearly passed-out ass off the concrete. Neither event had elicited a thoughtful comment.
Gray heard the heavy footfall of his brother-in-law coming toward him down the tunnel hallway. He didn't turn around. Just waited until the paven came to stand beside him at the window.
"Thanks for coming," Alexander said, his tone smooth, but Gray could detect the thread of worry there. The paven and D went way back. To a war and a life debt Dillon had paid off a year ago by watching over Gray's sister, Sara.
"Of course. She calls, I come." Gray grunted. "Even when she's pissed."
"Yeah, well, just so we're clear, this isn't the normal pissed-off D we're dealing with anymore." Alexander sighed. "This is a balloon with way too much air in it."
"Explosive," Gray said, his gaze trained on the pacing cat. It was unfortunate that he liked her that way-was glad to see her that way. Because to Gray, anything was better than the desensitized Dillon she'd become after the senator's beating, the disconnected Dillon.
"Just watch yourself, all right?" Alexander said.
"Always do," Gray said, his hand reaching for the door handle.
"And don't think for a minute there's a heart there."
The words echoed in Gray's mind and he glanced over his shoulder at the paven. His eyes narrowed.
Alexander's brow lifted. "No matter what she says."
The scent of him hit her nostrils before he was even through the door. Feeling jaguar both inside and out in that moment, she stalked to the far side of the cage and pressed her muzzle through the bars. She took one long sniff, then growled low in her throat.
Yes. He had killed the senator.
She bared her teeth as he shut the door and came to stand directly in front of her. No fear in his scent, and his heartbeat pumped slow and calm. Bastard. Things would change pretty damn quick if she made Evans open the cage so they could stand face-to-face for real.
"Thinking up ways to kill me, D?" he asked, his eyes pinned to hers through the slats in the steel bars.
"Thought you couldn't read my mind," she returned with a dangerous purr.
"Can't. But I know you." His mouth twitched. His full mouth, which had a day or two's worth of stubble framing it. Dillon licked her chops.
"You don't know me, Gray," she said sharply. "Because if you did, you wouldn't have gone after something that belonged to me."
Gray turned, eyed Evans, who sat in a chair looking uncomfortable, ready to spring. "You can take a break, Evans."
The Impure looked unsure. "Sir?"
"Go," Gray told him with gentle force. "The cat will remain in her cage, I promise you."
With a quick, concerned glance in Dillon's direction, Evans got to his feet and swiftly made for the door.
"Good," Dillon said once the servant was gone. "Now let me out of this tuna can."
Gray turned back to face her. "I don't think that would be wise for either of us."
"Maybe you need to stop thinking, then," she snarled. "Or is that what had you screwing me over tonight?"
Gray shook his head. "I thought you'd be thanking me."
"For what? Fucking with my life?"
"Taking out the trash," he drawled. "That's a guy's job, isn't it?"
"Wasn't your trash to remove, Impure," she hissed, teeth bared. "That was my kill."
"You had your chance. In fact, over the past six months you've had several. You'd find him only to lose him again." He was tight in his response.
Anger slammed into her and she roared at him. "This time was different! I was on my way-"
"No. You couldn't get to him, D-you weren't going to get to him. Not in that getup. You would've failed. Again."
"Bullshit." This calm, cool act of his was really pissing her off. There he stood, outside her cage, free and easy and pretending he was her savior when really he'd just killed her future right along with the senator's. "Why do you seem to think this is your fight?"
He shrugged then, arrogance lighting his eyes. "Just keeps turning out that way."
"Does it?" she sneered, springing up against the metal bar so she was face-to-face with him. "Or do you seek it out, seek me out because you're so fucking obsessed with me you can't help yourself."
His eyes flashed then, fire and ice, and his jaw clenched. "Easy, pussy cat."
Her head dropped and she hissed at him. "Get a new hobby, Impure."
Their faces were just inches from each other, their breaths mingling in the cold air that ruled the tunnels below the Romans' home.
Dillon's nostrils flared, hating the male before her, yet wanting to lap at him with her tongue. "You owe me."
He sniffed with disbelief. "For what?"
"Killing him was my only way out of this cat suit. Killing him was going to bring back my ability to control my shift."
His eyebrow lifted. "Says who?"
"I know it." Her gaze faltered, her resolve just a little bit, too. "Everything in me told me this was the way-that my cat wouldn't cede control back to the vampire inside me until it had its revenge. The beating brought it about, fucked up my control over my shift. It only makes sense that killing the males responsible would bring it back."
Gray grunted, said with easy sarcasm, "You're living in fantasy land with that one."
Fierce anger shot through Dillon and she lashed out, struck at his hand with her razor-sharp teeth.
Gray was quick to respond, flipping his hand down to get her fangs out of his flesh, then spinning it back and around until his palm was under her chin and his fingers closed around her muzzle.
Blood dripped from the wound in his fire-ravaged hands, but if he noticed, he sure as hell didn't seem to care. "You'll have to learn to control yourself some other way, Dillon," he said, his tone thick with impatience, "or this life behind bars is going to be a long one."
In any other scenario, Dillon would've tried again to bite him, used the claws pressing against the bars to slash open his neck or chest. But in that moment, all she was trying to do was breathe. Something was wrong. Heavy, thick waves of feeling were rushing through her, over her. Ocean waves, high and consuming-a goddamn emotional tsunami. Then firecrackers erupted within her, popping inside her muscles and organs until she had to consciously take several deep breaths. What the hell? What was happening to her? The second the thought left her head, soothing heat, blistering and delicious, began to snake through her. It was the most addictive sensation she'd ever experienced and she wanted to drown in it. Saliva pooled her in mouth, and for a moment she thought it was her veana's mouth again-not the jaguar's. Never in her life had she felt such internal intensity, such pressure in her mind, her lungs, every inch of muscle and skin-and she pushed away from the bars and from his touch.
The effect was instantaneous. Like stepping out of a sauna. Every feeling from a moment ago disappeared.
Her legs, both hind and fore, began to shake. She moved back into the corner of the cage where it was dark, pressed her long, muscled body into the rock wall, and tried to make sense of what had just happened. She wanted to blame it on desire, on needing a good fuck. But that would've been too easy. And wrong. Those waves, those firecrackers had gone bone deep and everywhere at once. And that wave of delicious heat-shit-that had curled around her cells, her DNA, and had hinted at a desire to change.
Not her cheery personality.
But jaguar to veana.
Her gaze flipped up, met Gray's. The tall, broad male gripped the bars of the cage, his chest splayed wide, his dark blond hair hitting his strained jaw, his gunmetal eyes narrowed as he watched her.
"What the hell was that?" she snarled at him, sheathing and unsheathing her claws.
For a long moment, Gray said nothing, but she could practically see him processing behind those soul-deep eyes of his. He couldn't read her mind, but fuck, in that moment she wished to God she could read his. Had he felt it? Had he felt that rush of volcanic lava leave his body and enter hers? Had he felt anything at all?
Then he pushed away from the cage, dropped the feral veneer, and said in a casual voice, "What was what?"
Her throat tightened. "You felt that," she sneered back at him. He had to have felt that. "Don't lie to me."
He shook his head. "No idea what you're talking about."
"Sorry, baby," he said, turning away and walking to the door. "I think we're done here. I think I'm done here." Before he crossed the threshold, he offered her one last glance. "I've got a new and far more satisfying obsession these days."
Dillon stared after him, her breath coming quick and heavy inside her cat's lungs. This was insane, amazing-and far from over. With a growl, she turned away and headed for the dark corner of the cage. She dropped down and put her head on her paws. The intense feelings of a moment ago may have subsided somewhat, but the memory of them remained fresh as the kill her cat's belly screamed for.
Her gaze slid to the door, narrowed into two fierce slits. Perhaps her salvation wasn't as lost as she'd believed an hour ago. Perhaps it lay in the strong, damaged hands of a male who, up until a moment ago, had never been able to refuse her anything.
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