The night air crackled with raw energy as each paven flashed to the exterior deck of Alexander's lighthouse in Montauk. Lucian and Helo, then Erion and Nicholas, then Phane. Below them, the sea was angry and crashed against the rocks with curls of white spray.
"Come inside, brothers," Alexander said, holding the door open.
Erion was the first to enter, his gaze taking in the sparsely furnished room and the dim lighting. There were seven chairs set around an oval black marble table. Each place was set with a glass of blood.
As each brother took a seat around the table, Erion noticed that one of their brood was missing.
He turned to Phane, who had dropped into the chair beside him. "Where's Lycos?"
The hawklike paven turned his gaze to Erion. "He said he'd be along in a few minutes. He was finishing up with an uncooperative source."
"In Norway?" Erion asked.
"No. That was a dead end." Phane grinned. "Literally."
Damn wolf and his kills. Did that paven have to act like a Beast as well as look like one? Erion narrowed his gaze. "I hope you didn't make a mess, and if you did, I hope you cleaned it up."
Phane's grin widened, his fangs dropping low. "Always."
Turning back to the assembled brothers around the table, Erion said, "Lycos will be here soon. Shall we begin?"
Across from him, Alexander nodded. "Helo, Lucian, and I met with the Eyes. With Whistler."
To his brother's left, Lucian snorted. "Who wasn't very cooperative, but your sea-loving boy over here was pretty damn impressive with him."
Beside Lucian, Helo shook his head. "Not so impressive. The male got away."
"No," Alexander amended. "Whistler was flashed away."
Something hummed inside of Erion, and he reached for his cup of blood. He didn't drink it, but just his hand around the thick glass steadied him for what was coming next.
"We think Cruen pulled him in," Lucian said, reaching for his own glass of blood and knocking it back in one quick swig. His nostrils flared and he made a face. "This is chicken piss compared to my Bronwyn's blood."
"Why would Cruen be using the Eyes?" Phane asked, ignoring Lucian's comment. "Especially when they can be bought so easily."
"Perhaps Cruen is paying," Helo said, glancing out the massive windows to the dark sea.
"Or Whistler is," Alexander remarked. "In his hide. Torture, fear...sometimes a stronger motivator than cash."
Lucian pointed at Helo's glass of blood. "You going to drink that?"
Helo turned and snorted at him. "Thought it tasted like chicken piss?"
"It could taste like your piss right now, Mutore. That's how thirsty I am." He grumbled softly, "Damn Breeding Male gene. Never-ending hunger for blood, for sex-"
"Ease up now, Luca," Nicholas said from the other side of Alexander. Then, while Helo pushed his glass toward Lucian with a grin, Nicholas turned and addressed the group. "We have news as well. Erion and I found Cruen's nephew."
Silence gripped the table, and every brother turned to Erion.
"He is a mutore," Erion told them, the words still strange on his lips. "Made from a shifter mother and a Breeding Male."
"A shifter mother?" Helo repeated, moving forward in his chair. "As in an actual race of pure shifters?"
Erion nodded. "Seems to be."
"Where are they? Do they have a compound?"
"No idea, Helo. Didn't ask." They were looking for only one mysterious creature at the moment. "And that's not even the big reveal, brothers."
Helo narrowed his eyes. "What does that mean?"
Erion glanced at Nicholas, then back to the three others. "The paven said that his uncle, that Cruen, is a mutore too."
"Bullshit," Lucian hissed, his face thick with shock.
"Like Luca said," Helo growled. "That can't be. We would've known. Right? We would've sensed it."
Erion shrugged. He'd asked himself that a hundred times since leaving France. "Would we? That bastard kept everything real and true from us. How would this be any different?"
Phane, whose chiseled jaw looked tense as steel, said in a deathly whisper, "Does this mutore know where his uncle is hiding?"
"He said he has heard that Cruen retains multiple hideouts," Erion answered. "He gave us the only location he knows."
"Have either of you gone to check it out?" Helo asked them.
As the sea crashed against the rocks below them, Erion looked at Nicholas. "There's a problem."
"Another one?" Phane said drily.
"Or perhaps it is more of a challenge."
"What?" Phane asked, his eyes narrowing.
"It's inside a credenti," Erion said.
Lucian placed Helo's empty glass back in front of him with a little too much force. "That's no challenge."
Helo agreed. "That should be an easy task."
Nicholas turned to Alexander, his face grave. "Your credenti."
Hunger assaulted him, made his thinking unclear and his draws on her vein greedy. He pulled out of her wrist, then growled his way up to her neck and entered the thin, succulent vein there too. Honey sweet and warm, the blood flowed down his throat. Fuck, there was nothing better in the world-nothing he wanted more on his tongue.
Except perhaps the ripe, pink cunt he'd played in earlier.
"Ah." She sucked in air. "No smiling when you're feeding, Gray Donohue."
After three or four massive gulps, he pulled out. His grin was wide as he looked at her.
"Yes, like that." She narrowed her eyes playfully. "Causes your fangs to open me wider."
The heat of desire shred his body. "We're talking about your vein, right?"
"For now," she murmured.
Gray's nostrils flared, and he watched her blow on her wrist-watched her mouth form a perfect O. "Hope I didn't drain you."
Her eyes flickered up. "Likewise."
"Not possible," he said, trying like hell not to stare at her naked frame, her shoulders, breasts, navel, legs, what was between her legs...
"Besides, you needed it," she said, her voice calling him back from the edge of damn near hellish need. "We'll be able to move much faster with pure blood in your veins."
Her words halted him, reined in the lust and reminded him he needed to get his head out of this blood haze and into the trip home. The Impure warriors' call last night concerned him; it hadn't included any specifics on what was happening. Gray had tried to mentally connect with them, but there had been no answer. The sooner he could return to New York, the better. He wished they could flash, but with the Order so closely monitoring Dillon, he wasn't going to risk it. And it wasn't just the threat of her getting nabbed by those bastards anymore-but him as well.
Dillon stood, her head just touching the ceiling of the cave. Gray couldn't help but stare at that sweet perfection, those long limbs, that curved waist in the pale morning light filtering in through the small opening of the cave. But within seconds, Dillon had closed her eyes and shifted into her jaguar state.
"Moving faster with your blood in my veins and the jaguar's fur on your back?" Gray asked.
His gaze moved over her, missing her veana form, and yet his hands itched to touch her sleek, golden coat. "Risky as hell running through the woods like that. Hope we don't meet with a hunter. I'll have to pretend you're my pet."
"You do, and I'll be forced to bite the both of you," she returned with a halfhearted snarl.
"Well, at least one of us will get to enjoy being blown afterward," he said, then slipped out the hole in the rock.
She followed him, out of the cave and into the weak, early-morning sunshine. "Besides, what choice do I have? I'm not running through the woods naked."
Gray stretched, feeling strong, nearly predatory. "I told you I wouldn't have minded, that I'd carry you all the way home if you wanted me to."
Her jaguar's eyes glittered with heat. "'Carry me.' That's a new name for it."
Gray grunted, then turned toward the river. "I've got a hundred names for it, and we can discuss them all as we travel."
He felt ready to spring, knew he could be as fast as the Beast beside him, and his desire to get home to his warriors beat strong within him.
Without a word, he took off, sprinting toward the water and the forest beyond, Dillon keeping pace beside him.
"Do you wish for your son to remain alive after capture?"
"I wish for my son to never be captured." Celestine stood before the Order's long wooden table, her feet covered in sand, her body clad in a long, off-white jumpsuit. Moments ago, she'd been wearing black pants and a black jacket as she'd entered a shop called New Baby on Manhattan's Upper West Side. Her daughter hadn't revealed her pregnancy yet, but Celestine had scented the new life within her almost immediately-a scent only a mother could recognize. She'd wanted to pick out something special for when Sara announced her swell, but she'd never even touched the pale yellow chenille blanket.
The Order had pulled her out of one reality and into another, humbling her by stripping away her clothing mid-flash and replacing it with their own choice of dress. Celestine's gaze moved down the line, from one Order member to the next. They all looked the same, cranberry-colored robes and a single black circle around their left eyes. They all felt the same too, one mind, a solitary ruling. She couldn't believe how brazen they had been. Grabbing and transporting her in broad daylight, in front of a small crowd of humans.
Her gaze fell on the veana leader, Feeyan, with her snow-white hair and skin the color of clay. The female's eyes burned with impatience. Yes, Celestine thought, they were indeed desperate for information.
"Your son cannot avoid capture," Feeyan said. "But he will live if you give us the location of the Impures' safe house."
Celestine held her ground, her tone as calm as she could make it. "What makes you think I would know it? My son does not confide in me. He never has."
The veana's eyes narrowed and her lips parted, revealing those bloodred fangs the Order was famous for-their united symbol that demonstrated they were beyond an earthly vampire's needs, that they no longer needed to consume blood.
Celestine sniffed with irritation, felt a sudden understanding and kinship with her son and with his cause-the same one his father had fought for. No, the Order didn't need blood to survive, but they certainly used it to control, to maim.
"Your son may not want you, Veana," Feeyan said, her eyes intense. "But that hasn't stopped you from trying to get to him."
She knew, Celestine thought, her skin prickling with nerves now. Cellie didn't know how this veana knew she'd found Gray's safe house, but the knowledge was clear and threatening and hovered just behind the Order member's eyes. And if Celestine planned to get out of this with her veins intact, she had to think, devise a plan-utilize the skills that kept her protected in the field.
Adopting a melancholy facade, Cellie sighed. "Yes, I tried to get to him," she said thickly and with the deep anguish of a foolish mother who was close to losing her child. And maybe she didn't have to pretend that was true. "I just wanted to know if he was all right."
Feeyan's nostrils flared. "And was he?"
"I didn't see him," Cellie admitted. "I didn't go inside."
Her eyes narrowed venomously. "Tell us the location of this safe house and we will send you back to your shopping expedition."
Celestine hesitated. She could think like a spy, give the truth, then get the hell out of there and try to get to Gray in time. Or she could think like a mother and say anything in that moment to protect her child. Just the thought brought up images of both her children as balas, the fire, the loss of Jeremy, Gray's damaged hands-all those years Sara could see nothing more than healing Gray.
The ache inside her grew until it felt as though it would burst. She'd lost her son to the lies she'd told to protect him; perhaps now she'd be able to save him.
"It's 2622 Herkimer Street," she said quickly. "Remember your promise not to hurt him."
Feeyan turned her head to look at her neighbor. The paven had his eyes closed. After a moment, he opened them, looked at Feeyan, and shook his head.
A low growl sounded in the veana's throat as she turned back to face Celestine. "Foolish veana. We will get all the information we seek, and you will go to Mondrar for lying to me."
Celestine barely had time to blink before the veana flashed directly in front of her, grabbed her head, and plunged her brick-red fangs into Celestine's temple.
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