H ad he felt it?
Jaw brutally tight, Gray moved down the dark tunnels, his gaze focused on the pinprick of light that indicated the stairwell leading up to the subway. This was it. He wasn't coming back into the Romans' domain anymore. No need. No want. Regardless of the family they wanted to believe they were to him, his life belonged to the Impure Resistance, to the Cause, to all those who were having their sexual need bled out of them at that very moment-not to that she-beast back there.
Had he felt it?
His head clenched along with his jaw, and he picked up speed, nostrils flaring as a rogue blast of cold, unpurified air from the city above hit his face.
Fuck yeah, he'd felt it.
Granted, he always felt something when Dillon was in his airspace. From curiosity to care, from desire to detonating something. But that, whatever it was back there...
Christ. It was as if pure, fluid energy had risen within him, then seen an escape route and shot directly into her. It was as if a tube linked them, allowing emotion, energy, and heat to pass back and forth like water. He'd touched her before-many times. But he'd never felt anything like that-nothing like that had ever happened. Sure, there had been heat between them, plenty of dangerously, irritatingly magnetic heat, but not like this.
Maybe it had something to do with all the blood-memory work he'd been doing lately. Taking memories from others, sharing it with his fellow Impure warriors, all in the name of infiltrating the Order's mainframe. Could the wires inside him have overheated and...? And what?
He cursed into the cold, dank air of the tunnels. Maybe he needed to stop trying to figure it out and just forget it happened, forget Dillon altogether and accept the fact that she was always going to be a weakness he couldn't afford, a distraction to his true purpose.
Gray hit the stairwell and was about to climb when he heard something behind him. He turned and saw a female running toward him down the tunnel-a female he was truly grateful to see, a female he wished he could become closer to. But he worried they were too far apart now in their present lives, belief systems, and passions to allow for it.
"How you doing, Sis?"
Sara Donohue's blue eyes were warm as she came to stand before him, but changed slightly as she noticed the wound on his hand. "You saw her."
"In the flesh." He raised a brow. "Or should I say, in the fur."
"Alexander told me she called for you. Told me she was very angry at you." His big sister's mouth formed a grim line. "What happened in there when you saw her? Did she tell you anything?"
"Just that I screwed her over, that she wants to take a chunk out of more than my hand."
Sara shook her head, laughed softly. But there was no humor in the sound. "She's just unreachable. She won't tell me anything about what happened that night she was hurt. She won't tell me about her shift, the process, the past with Cruen or her brothers. She won't even spar with me like she used to. I've never had a patient that hard to crack since-"
"Me?" he interrupted.
She smiled a little sadly.
He lifted his brow. "She's not your patient, Sara."
"I know. But she is my friend, and I want to help her."
Gray put a hand on the stairwell railing and sighed. "Have you ever considered that some people are beyond help?"
Sara lifted her chin and gave him a pointed look. "No."
His heart softened a fraction. Always trying to be the savior. That was why he equally loved and was frustrated by his sister. Whether it was her little brother who had lost his mind one day in the house fire that had killed their father or a mutore veana friend who had just lost her way, Sara Donohue Roman pushed, never gave up, annoyed the shit out of you-but it was all out of love, out of care. And, he thought, his gaze moving over her face, maybe he had that same impulse; maybe that was what had kept him coming back to Dillon. He pushed, never gave up because he cared. Because he wanted her. But where did that get you when the one you pushed, pushed you back, pushed you back so goddamn hard your ass hit the pavement and your head hit the wall and you forgot everything else in your life that mattered?
"Gray," Sara said, cutting in on his savage internal query. "What's going on? With you? I miss you, us, the family."
Gray's gaze faltered then. Family. It was what they were, and yet they both kept so much from each other. Gray had yet to tell her anything about his time in the Paleo, the Order's massive den of Impure blood castration. It was there that he'd met their father's best friend, Samuel. It was there that he'd learned that his father had not really been human at all, but an Impure. It was there that he'd learned about how Jeremy Donohue was no nine-to-five office dad, but a visionary and a soldier. It was he who had started the first Impure Resistance, he who had inspired many until he was captured by the Order and blood castrated.
Gray stared into those concerned, yearning blue eyes and questioned his silence once again. Shit. He'd truly wanted to tell his sister everything he'd learned-she deserved the truth just as much as he did-and yet he hadn't said a word. Still hadn't, and he wasn't sure why-wasn't sure what he was waiting for. More information to be revealed? Peace about it within himself? Or perhaps he wanted to fix that wrong first. Become what Jeremy Donohue never had a chance to.
"I miss you too," he said at long last.
Her smile brightened a touch. "You'll come around more? I know you're busy, but it's family..."
"I'll come around," he said. Then, hearing a thought within her head, he added, "Speaking of family, when are you due?"
Sara's eyes widened, and her hands slipped to her belly. "How did you know?"
Gray tapped his temple and smiled. "That mate of yours unblocked it all, remember? Made it so I can hear every damn thought." Except the ones in Dillon's head, his mind reminded him caustically. Her thoughts, feelings, all of it was blocked from him.
Why couldn't he be thankful for that, for small fucking favors like that?
"I haven't even told Alexander," Sara said, her cheeks stained with pink. "It's so early."
Gray put a hand in the air. "I won't say anything."
"Thanks." She smiled. "Uncle Gray."
He laughed, but it came out forced. He was in no mood to celebrate. "Congratulations, Sis." He leaned in and kissed her on the cheek. "I have to go."
"Back to the Impures." There was no malice in her tone, only a twinge of melancholy.
For a moment, he wondered if this was it-the time to tell her, when the discussion of family and new possibilities was fresh. But then again, would it only anger, confuse her, worry her...especially now with the balas? No. There would be time.
He touched her shoulder and said with deep conviction, "One day you will understand this fight. Maybe even join it."
Her other hand went to her belly as well. "My life is here."
Gray nodded. Yes, it was. And he wondered, as he progressed down this road of Impure equality, if he would be cutting one member of his family out to seek vengeance for another.
He granted her one last smile before heading up the stairs and into the subway.
Erion and his Beast brothers congregated in the tunnels just outside the room that held their sister hostage-the room they'd brought her back to just a few hours ago, after that chase-and-capture disaster in the frigid Vermont woods. Ever since, the four of them had been arguing about what to do with her, how to help her, who was going to have the iron balls to show his face to her first.
"You go in," Phane said to Helo.
"No," Helo snapped tersely in reply. "You go."
Phane's mismatched eyes and long, pale hair glowed in the candlelight of the tunnels. "She likes you better."
"That's when we were balas. I'm pretty sure she hates me now." Helo turned to Lycos, who was standing back from the rest, his ice-blue eyes wary. "What about you, Ly? A little cat and dog?"
Lycos sneered and said in a frosty voice, "Not a chance. I'm still pissed at her."
"For what?" Erion asked, stepping into the light, knowing his lion features and demon eyes looked especially distorted in the warm yellow flicker. "Running away? Choosing a different life? Get over it."
It was a truth, a fact they'd had to live with for decades. One of their own, a sibling, a balas of the Breeding Male, Titus, and one of the five who'd been plucked from death and raised by Cruen had, one day, turned tail and run away. Without a word. Leaving her young brothers to grieve, to search-and to think her dead until just a week ago, when she'd been carried into the Romans' house by Gray Donohue.
Erion still felt the shock of that moment within him, but he carried none of the anger or resentment his other Beast brothers did.
"Hey, she can run anytime she wants to," Lycos stated flatly. "But I refuse to sniff her out or chase her again, that's all."
Helo snorted, his grin anything but warm. "Who are you kidding? You love the chase."
"I love to chase females," Lycos corrected. "Not family."
"I'll try and remember that," Helo said with heavy sarcasm.
Erion released a breath. As the eldest, he had a natural sense of leadership within their tight family, and though he didn't choose to use that influence very often, he believed that tonight was as good a time as any. "Listen, brothers, no matter what happened in the past, no matter our personal feelings about it now"-he gave Lycos a tight glare-"our sister is in there, held in a cage because she cannot control her Beast. We have all feared such a fate, have we not?"
Helo, Phane, even Lycos fell silent, because, in truth, there was nothing a mutore feared more than the inability to shift at will. And remaining a Beast for all time? Well, that was a fate worse than death.
"It is not something any one of us should go through alone," Erion continued. "We are here. Living in the Romans' house until we decide our next move, decide the fate of our father-"
"Cruen," Lycos corrected, deep disgust in his tone. "His name is Cruen."
Erion nodded. Yes, he felt that same bitterness for the Pureblood Order vampire who had raised them. And yet he also felt conflicted. He would not be in existence, would not breathe, choose, or feel at this very moment if that paven hadn't paid for his life. On the other hand, he would not have gone after his twin brother Nicholas's female and fathered an innocent child if his adopted father had seen him as an equal, had told him the truth about his ability to breed.
He pushed those thoughts aside. Now was not the time to think of Cruen, or for that matter, the balas-his balas-the young paven who was being raised by the brother Erion's mother had seen worthy to live. "Until we have made a decision regarding our future plans," he said to the three staring at him with steely gazes, "we must help our sister-help her escape this-"
"Don't tell me you're going to suggest letting her out," Lycos interrupted, his brow lowering over narrowed eyes.
"Control your temper," Erion warned. "Your ire isn't going to help-"
"And when we just caught and caged her!" Lycos continued undeterred.
"Fucking hell, Ly." Phane slammed the wolf with a dark glare. "You interrupt far too much. Perhaps it's time for a muzzle."
A warning growl came from Lycos. "If I get a muzzle, you get your wings clipped."
"Clip my wings and I'll clip your balls," Phane shot back, his mismatched hawk eyes flashing. Then a sudden grin split his features. "I know. We could let Dillon neuter Lycos! That would lift her spirits, eh?"
Erion began laughing first, and once he started, Phane got in on the action. Grinning broadly, Helo elbowed his wolf brother in the ribs, inching him toward the door to the cage. "Go on. Head in there, Ly. I'll make sure she uses the really sharp pair of hedge clippers."
"You're all a bunch of bastards, you know that?" Lycos put in drily.
"Yes, we do know," Erion said, sobering a little, though his diamond eyes glittered. "Just like the one in there. We're a family of bastard balas. An ugly, strange, mutant family, but a family. And we must take care of our own or we are no better than the Beasts the Purebloods of the Eternal Breed Order think we are."
Lycos sighed. "She won't talk to us."
Erion turned to Helo and raised one black eyebrow. "She'll talk to him."
The look Helo shot Erion said everything, said he loved their sister but didn't think he stood a chance of getting through to her. Even so, he tossed up his hands in defeat. "Fine. I'll go. But don't expect much."
Lycos turned, calling over his shoulder, "How 'bout I don't expect anything?"
"We'll be upstairs," Erion said.
"With our other brothers?" Helo added with a dry smile.
"With the Romans," Phane corrected, reminding them all that even though they shared a recent and mutual history with Alexander, Nicholas, and Lucian; temporary living quarters; and paternal DNA, the pavens who played host to them were in essence strangers.
Not to underestimate.
Not to romanticize.
And certainly not to trust, he mused darkly, turning away from Helo and his sister and following his true kin down the tunnel hallway.
Gray Donohue had left only an hour ago, but Dillon's Beast was already craving his touch.
It was shameful.
It was suckass.
Dillon padded around her cell, her brain working overtime, her jaguar's heart beating hard and fast. Goddamn it, she missed her veana self. Missed the cold, quiet inside her, the one-track existence her mind could follow in peace. This Beast she lived within was hot-blooded and hungry, emotional and capable of being hurt.
It was going on too long. She needed out before she imploded.
Her tail swished back and forth against the metal. Was it truly possible? Could Gray Donohue hold the key to her salvation? Or something close? The picture of his hand holding her muzzle was fuzzy, out of focus in her brain. After all, she could only imagine what it had looked like. But one thing she hadn't imagined was the feeling that had overtaken her. The closest she'd gotten to being a veana female in a week. But was it really him or simply the touch of another that had caused such a reaction? After all, she'd been touched by many in her cat's form, hadn't she? And there had been nothing-no heat, no tsunami. No sensation of change.
Maybe she just hadn't been aware.
Maybe she needed to try it again.
The sound of a door opening jarred her senses and she froze and hissed. For a split second, she thought Evans had come back to watch the cat again. But when the scent of an altogether different being wafted into the room, snaking through the bars of her cell and into her nostrils, her limbs relaxed and she caught herself grinning, purring.
"Helo, you little shit," she uttered, her gaze tracking the water Beast as he neared her cage.
"Not so little anymore, Dilly," he said with a grin of his own.
No, she mused, her gaze moving over him. That was true. The paven who stood before her was a good six inches taller than her, was no longer the skinny little mutore balas with the pale eyes and smooth, unblemished skin. This paven was handsome to a fault, with a broad chest that tapered into a slim waist and golden skin that sported a heavy share of tattoos, endless lines of black waves. But deep within the pair of eyes that seemed to change color every few seconds was a thread of unabashed familiarity, of one who had truly known her.
But that bond had been severed long ago. And the soft memories of it were best forgotten now. "Come to check on the prisoner?" she asked.
He nodded, his grin deepening. "We all drew straws and I-"
"Got the short end?" Dillon finished for him.
He shrugged. "Hey. I look at it as winning."
"Well, you've always been lucky, Helo."
His pointed words and expression hummed with an intimacy, an unmasked grief that tore at her insides. She shook her head. "I'm not going there. Back there. Ever. So if you came to chitchat about the past-"
"I don't chitchat; you know that. I just want to help you. We all want to help you."
For Dillon, the natural reaction to charity offered in any form was to question it with biting indifference. "Why?"
Helo's brow lifted. He looked incredulous. "Really? You have to ask that?"
"We were mutts together, Helo. For a short time. An experiment by a madman. We weren't a family."
His nostrils flared and he shook his head. "You're such a bitch."
She snorted. "Tell me something I don't know. I should've been the wolf mutore, not Lycos."
"He's pretty much a bitch, too." With that, Helo allowed a quick grin.
Dillon grinned back. She couldn't help herself. That fucker knew her. They may have been mutts, may have been together a short time, but in that time he'd really known her.
Growling with irritation, she turned away from him, walked in a circle, trying to clear her mind. Or maybe it was her unbeating heart. Helo had this way about him. He was one of those males who never had issues with showing his feelings, showing he had love for another. It never stole his masculinity and it never felt fake. Maybe that was why she'd gravitated toward him back then-that openness, that willingness to give had been fragrant as hell.
Still was, apparently.
Maybe that was one of the reasons why she hadn't gone to him after the rape. Besides dealing with her very first shift into feline form, she would've had to face what happened to her, feel the shame, talk about the act with this paven who cared about her. It had been better to shove it down and away and forget, go on. And damn, that had worked for a really long time. Until the night the senator and his assholes-for-hire had decided to teach her a lesson.
"Dilly," Helo said, his tone far too gentle. "Look at me."
Her gaze remained where it was. On the ground. Christ, this fucking cat was turning her into a full-fledged pussy.
Behind her, she heard the shift of the lock, quick fingers on the keypad. She whirled with a hiss to find Helo opening her cage, moving inside.
"How the hell," she uttered, her lithe body on alert, her mind humming with thoughts.
Helo shrugged. "Been watching Evans."
"Stealing from him, too, I guess," Dillon returned.
"Don't make me regret my thievery," he said, grinning.
Regret. Her eyes narrowed on him. No, she didn't regret him breaking into her cage, standing in front of her. Her gaze dropped to his hands.
"I don't like the way you're looking at me, D. Way too fucking hungry. Cool down or I'll have to head back-"
"Helo," she said abruptly, eyes up, her voice serious as a heart attack now. "I need you to do me a favor. I need you to touch me."
The paven's eyebrows shot together as though this were the very last thing he'd expected her to say. "What?"
"Just put your hand on my head, on my fur. Just for a second." She knew she sounded insane, panicked, but unexplained phenomena did that to a veana. "Please."
There were questions behind Helo's eyes, which were now glowing a pale green. "I suppose you're not going to tell me what this is about."
"Little experiment, that's all."
"If you bite me, I'll be so pissed, Dilly."
"I hate seafood."
Helo raised one dark eyebrow.
She sniffed. "No biting. I swear." She dropped her head, giving him better access.
She stood there, eyes down, and waited. Nervous energy tingled within her, and she wished she could shake it off. She was truly growing weaker by the minute.
Come on, Helo, she wanted to scream. She had to know, had to see if she felt anything. She had to know if the change had been in her, inside her, and not from the Impure with the striking mouth and hazardous touch.
For a good minute she held herself still. She was just about to lift her head, give up, when she felt Helo's palm press down into the fur on the top of her head. A feeling did move through her in that moment, but it wasn't the one she'd hoped for. It was a soft breeze, that sweet rush of safety she remembered so well.
She released the breath she'd been holding and let the feeling of his skin, his fingers moving through her fur, sink into her senses. Helo. Her Helo. Goddamn it, why couldn't this have worked? Why couldn't it have been his touch, or anyone's touch, that made her veana flare to life within this cat suit? It would've been so fucking simple, so easy. She would've been back to walking on two legs within an hour, been in control of her shift once again.
She looked up then and regarded him with pleading eyes. "I need to get out of here, Helo. Will you help me?"
There was nothing in the world she despised more than begging. It was weak, humiliating, and vile. But remaining a jaguar for the rest of her long life, with no choice, with zero control over who and what she was every moment of every day was far more loathsome.
She asked him one last time. "Will you help me escape?"
Helo's eyes changed from pale green to muddied onyx-the color of a bruise to match his bruised expression. "No."
"Then I'm sorry," she whispered.
"For what?" he asked, confused.
She was on him before he had a chance to shift.
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