Inside the circle, his body stretched over the blood symbol of the Impure Resistance, Gray allowed three sets of fangs to penetrate his skin and three Impure warriors to penetrate his mind.
It wasn't the first time and it wouldn't be the last. Riordon James, Piper Leigh, and Vincent Seal were his partners in freedom, had been for months now and would be until the Order destroyed the Paleo and ended blood castration. These three warriors who were poised above him now, feeding from his memories, were the most talented, most gifted Impures Gray had ever met. Each had a mental gift that complemented the other, each used the other to gain information-share information-anything that could get them inside the Order's mainframe, any avenue they could find to send out their tentacles and burrow deep into the Order and their dark secrets. Secrets they could use, perhaps a weak-minded Order member they could...control.
Then they could begin to infiltrate.
Vincent pulled out of Gray's vein with a growl, blood coating his teeth and lips, his dark brown dreads bracketing his fierce face. "Was that truly necessary?"
Piper retreated next, her lovely face ripe with frustration. "We could've used this human, Gray. Taken him from that hospital and brought him here. He could've been a conduit. Killing him was careless, reck-"
"No. It was justice," Gray said without passion as Riordon lifted his head and sniffed derisively.
"Let's not play games," Rio said, licking his lips. "That was for your girlfriend."
Inside Gray, a quick anger rushed over him, but as leader of this small band, thoughtful answers to bad-tempered accusations had to win out. He could not have them all fighting one another when the war that they had to win raged outside their tight circle.
He sat up, regarded the heavily muscled ex-military male. "I was quick to serve him justice. But the human male could never have been an instrument for our use. He was a beacon, a homing device that if we captured and brought here would only have attracted the Order. They are not fools-they would've had him bugged." The words, the clean explanation flowed from his lips with such ease. Problem was, while that was true, the reality was that he could not let the senator draw another breath after learning what he'd done, what he'd ordered to be done to Dillon. That had been the driving force behind his death sentence.
"Perhaps Gray's right," Piper said, her lavender eyes thoughtful. "Capturing him would've been foolish. We have his memories, his interactions with the Order. We must comb through them and see if we can find the thread, the frequency the senator used to communicate with them. We must see if there is a member whose lock on their mainframe is not as tightly fused."
Vincent nodded, but Rio looked less than convinced. Which was nothing new. The ex-military badass couldn't help being continually suspicious.
"If we're done here"-Gray got to his feet-"I'm going to see Samuel."
"Good," Vincent said. "While you're there, have Uma check the frequency of visits from the Order on her next Paleo run."
Turning toward him, Piper asked, "You think they're slowing down castrations or speeding up?"
"I am hearing that more Impures are being taken to the Paleo than ever before. And I want to know why. I want to know if they're feeling our presence within the community."
Gray nodded. "I'll let you know."
He left the room, headed to his own to change. He'd met Samuel Kendrick and his son and daughter during his short stint at the Paleo. As they'd awaited blood castration, Gray had learned that the old Impure had been his father's best friend. He had learned through Samuel that his father had been no human, but an Impure and the secret head of the Resistance before he was found out and taken, then blood castrated by the Order. The shock of more lies within his family had cut Gray deep, and yet the knowledge had filled him with a sense of purpose. The truth combined with the visual nightmare of watching Samuel be dragged off-blood castrated in front of him-had changed Gray forever.
Dillon had rescued his sorry, naked ass from the Paleo that night, but Gray was determined to return. After weeks of using his new status, and the power of hearing others' thoughts, he had found a Pureblood willing to be bought and used. Days later, he'd executed his first search and rescue at the Paleo, gotten the entire Kendrick family out, and had them housed in the vacant apartments below the Resistance headquarters for several months now.
And there they would remain, for as long as they liked, Gray thought while moving down the hallway. His father's best friend would always have his help-regardless of how it may inconvenience or irritate one of the Resistance warriors.
Gray was nearly to his door when a sudden pain ripped through his skull. Dropping against the wood, he cursed and gritted his teeth against the intensity, against the blinding heat that shot up the base of his neck and spread like fingers of lightning. Flashbulbs behind his eyes, then images, memories flickering on the screen of his mind. The senator's, Vincent's, Piper's, and then his own. But they weren't his short-term memories. No. Fuck. These were from way back, from the days of the fire when he was a child.
With a groan, he barreled through the door and collapsed in a heap near the edge of his bed.
The Order had their blood extracted from their ancient veins every day. It was deposited in "banks" within the credentis for daily distribution among the Impures. It was how the nine remaining rulers of the Eternal Breed kept watch, kept control of their subspecies. They had been exercising this right for so long, they knew no other way.
Would accept no other way.
Within the bloodletting room in the Order's reality, a human body had been flashed and laid out on the pallet between two Order members. The pair hovered over the body, robes pooling around their feet, upper lips curled back to display their brick red fangs.
"Vile," said one.
"Must we have that thing in here?" said the other disgustedly.
Removing the needle from her wrists and neck, Feeyan sat up slowly on her pallet. She had just been drained, vials of her blood lined up in a neat row beside her. "That thing," she said pointedly, "may have the location of our missing mutore."
One of the Order paven looked confused. "I thought we had been monitoring this human. If my memory serves, he was able only to grant us images of her voice, her face, her animal."
Feeyan flashed from her pallet to the bedside of the dead senator. "Yes. But his killer may have more."
"You think the killer knows the mutore?" the second Order member asked.
"The guards at the hospital were in agreement that the perpetrator was not human. What reason would a vampire have for killing the senator?" She pressed his head to one side, revealing his temple. "I think one kills out of passion. That passion could be political, yes, but it could also be out of revenge." Feeyan inhaled deeply, lengthened her fangs. "I despise the cold blood of a dead human."
The Order members chuckled as she struck into the male's temple, but one-one who had only pretended to give his blood earlier that day and was now sitting in the very back of the room pretending to practice his meditation as he shook beneath his robes-did not.
Titus Evictus lowered his head and drank the newly pulled blood of the Order member, Feeyan. Too intent on what was happening with the human senator, no one noticed him, no one suspected. And why would they? They did not know that he was once a Breeding Male, a genetically altered Pureblood vampire who could breed on command and choose the sex of its offspring. They did not know that when rogue Order leader Cruen had disappeared, his dark, magic-filled blood along with him, Titus had begun to decline. The Order's blood was strong and took the edge off his need, but just barely.
He snatched another vial, drank it down in one thick gulp. He needed to find Cruen, the creator of the Breeding Male program, or he was going to return to the maniacal Beast who thought only of rutting anything, anywhere. But what bargain could he strike with Cruen now? He had given him all he had. He was worthless, and he would not betray his sons, not anymore. Not ever again.
Down at the other end of the room, Feeyan pulled out of the senator's mind with a disgusted growl. "Vile indeed. But productive."
"Did you see the face of the killer?" one Order member asked.
"I did. And we have a problem." She released a weighty breath.
"You know this vampire?"
"He is no vampire," Feeyan said, "but an Impure-and the son of our greatest Impure enemy."
Both Order members gasped. "Jeremy Donohue."
She nodded. "This male must be handled just as his father was. Gray Donohue must be brought in and blood castrated before he has a chance to succeed where his father failed."
"You think he may be at the head of this newly formed Resistance?" an Order member said. "Behind these abductions from the Paleo?"
"Only when we have him before us will we know for certain." Feeyan's bloodred fangs descended rapidly. "We will bleed his thoughts first, then his body. A true son of the father."
"And will this Impure's life end in a fire as well?" the Order member asked drily.
Feeyan grinned. "Accidents do happen. It is part of the human experience when you are part human."
Gray didn't know how long he'd been passed out, but when he woke it was still night outside the wall of windows to his left, and a scent he knew all too well permeated the air around him-a delectable tang that made his fists clench against the sheets at his back and the cock resting between his legs pulse.
Eau d'equal parts frustration and the need to fuck.
Yeah, he knew who'd brought that in on her coat.
"Here, kitty, kitty, kitty," he uttered, pulling himself up to a sitting position.
Dillon sat at the foot of the bed, her gold head and fierce cat eyes trained on him, the dark night her backdrop. "Your security is shit, Impure. I believe I could've gotten in here with a blindfold and a collar made of bells."
Gray dropped back against the pillows. "You think you strolled in here without being detected? Come on, D." He clucked his tongue. "You got in because I okayed it."
Her eyes narrowed. "You knew I'd come."
"Eventually. You always come when you need something."
"Not true." She moved around the side of the bed, the strength in every feline movement almost hypnotic. "Maybe I just wanted to visit with an old friend."
"Yeah, that sounds like you," he said drily. To anyone sane, visiting was about relaxed conversation and a desire to see what the other person had been up to since you last saw them. For Dillon it was strictly about purpose: saving someone's ass, trading information, finding a way to get whatever it was she wanted in that moment.
Gray wondered how long it would be before she decided to start asking. Or maybe he'd make it begging.
"What happened here?" she asked, her eyes pinned to his. "Why were you passed out when I arrived? Partying too hard?"
"That's right. I'm a nineteen-year-old frat boy." He swung his legs off the bed and got up. He needed out of these clothes, into something clean, something that didn't smell like dried blood from the Impure warrior snack at his temples earlier. "It was nothing, just a little pain in the head." He knocked his chin her way. "Which is now being replaced with a pain in the ass."
"You're speaking metaphorically, right?" she hissed. "Because I don't think it was your ass I bit back at the Romans." She followed him to the closet, watched him as he pulled off his shirt.
"Listen, I have somewhere to be, so why don't you tell me why you've escaped your brothers again and come running to me."
"I didn't run," she said indignantly. "Though this neighborhood isn't the greatest for a lady to be walking around in at night."
Lady. He snorted. "What do you want, D? Patience is growing thin here."
"All right, fine." She came to sit near his feet and curled her tail around her body. Her cat's gaze roamed over his stomach, his chest, his shoulders, then finally they dropped to his hands. "I tried to have Helo touch me."
Gray turned away from the closet. "Come again?" He hadn't heard her right. Shit, he hoped he hadn't heard her right. But with Dillon you never knew. The veana could be a freak-a label she no doubt wore with pride.
"I thought, what the fuck? You know?" The jaguar gave a little shrug. "Any hands should be able to do it for me."
Freak flag flying.
Wearing only jeans and a frown, Gray dropped onto his haunches and went face-to-face with her cat. "What are you talking about? The bull's-eye now, D, not this going-around-and-around-the-circle bullshit you're dishing."
Her muzzle twitched in irritation. "I'm talking about the effect of your hands on me earlier," she snarled, but the sound was soft and didn't contain much power behind it. "You felt it. When you held my muzzle in your hand, you felt that thing run between us like a live wire."
Gray didn't say a thing. Ever since he'd met Dillon, which was over a year ago, when she'd yanked his catatonic self from that hospital bed and brought him to the Romans, he'd wanted to explore the live wire that had been between them. But Dillon had always pushed him back-hell, pushed him on his ass. She'd made it damn clear she wasn't interested, and in turn he'd forced himself to listen and move the hell on. So right then, there was nothing in the world he wanted more than to deny he'd felt a thing back in her cage. In fact, he wanted to throw a big "no" back in her kitty-cat face. But how could he deny that sudden heat, that explosive sexual chemistry they'd tossed back and forth at each other-that deformed ball that had never landed anywhere? Frankly, he wasn't that good of a liar.
"What about it?" He got up, went back to digging in the closet, grabbed a T-shirt.
"This is so goddamn humiliating," she uttered to herself. Then, after a few deep breaths and two equally impressive exhales, she said, "Okay. Here it is. I've never felt like that before. Back in the cage. Your hand on me. What ran through my body...And it was you, all you. No one else can do that to me."
"Aww, well, that's really sweet, baby." He pulled the shirt over his head.
"No, you're not getting it," she continued with clear impatience. "That thing, that current, that whatever it was that ran between us made me feel-"
"Like a woman?" he finished drily.
"This isn't funny, Gray!"
"This is my life!" she snarled.
"No, this is my life." He didn't have time for this, for her-for another round of Dillon's game of Fucking-with-Your-Head. "And you can't seem to make up your mind if you want in it or not." He walked past her. "How 'bout I decide for the both of us?"
"Don't walk away from me, you Impure bastard," she growled. "We have business to discuss."
He ignored her. Sometimes it was the only way to deal with crazy. "The way out of here's even easier than the way in."
He was nearly out the door when the next words out of her mouth halted him.
"I think you can control my shift!"
Her words stuttered inside his mind, but he didn't turn around. Not yet. "Say that again."
"You, your touch. I think it might be able to turn me back into a veana."
There was a part of him that wanted to just keep walking, another part that was curious, and still another part of him that was pretty damn sure she was playing him. Again.
Curiosity won out, and he turned and faced her. "Why do you think that?"
She looked anxious, the fur on her back bristling. "I felt it, okay?"
"Where?" he repeated roughly. "Your tail? Your claws? Your wet, black nose?"
"Don't be an asshole, Gray."
"And don't fuck with me, Dillon, or I'm walking out that door and you can stay in the Romans' goddamn cage forever, as far as I'm concerned!"
Dillon felt shock in that moment, but it quickly morphed into anger. Anger soaked in desperation. And it clouded her mind so thickly that she was no longer in control of her actions. The jaguar was. In under a second, she sprang, like a bullet from a gun, across the room and onto Gray's chest, pinning him to the door.
He didn't flinch, didn't move, didn't try to get away. He just stared into her dark eyes with a potent cocktail of irritation, contempt, and barely masked desire.
"I fucking felt it," Dillon snarled at him. "Inside of me. Outside of me."
His gaze narrowed then. "Maybe you just thought you did."
"Could've been round four of that nasty attraction we have for each other."
Dillon fought for control, but this bastard was working her last nerve. She opened her mouth and ran her cat's tongue across his cheek. "That is the nasty attraction." She watched his eyes flash with undeniable heat. "What I felt last night was the change from Beast to veana. I know that feeling-I've had it a thousand times."
"Under your own control."
She nodded, her suspicious nature working to figure out what each comment, each observation meant to him. "I've been shifting under my own control since I was a young veana. From veana to jaguar whenever and wherever I felt like it. Up until that bastard senator beat the ability out of me. I'd hoped that taking his life might bring mine back. But it's too late to test that theory, isn't it?" Her voice dropped. "Listen, Impure, the sensation I felt when you were touching me is the very same one I used to be able to create within myself with just a goddamn thought."
She watched him process, watched his eyes turn from heat to wonder to skepticism. And just when she thought he was going to push her paws off him, tell her to fuck off and hit the road, he reached up and put his hand on her face.
Dillon felt the heat immediately, the rush of sensation in her cells. She leaned into the feeling like a junkie needing her next fix. In the back of her mind, she thought she heard him curse as he let his fingers sink into her fur, then spread out, but language seemed utterly unimportant in that moment. His gaze was locked on hers, probing deeply into her mind. But she knew she was the one being he couldn't hear. And then he trailed his thumb up the length of her jag's cheekbone and her mind went blank. Within seconds, the change from Beast to veana began.
"Holy shit," Gray uttered, his brow dropping low as he saw it too. He brought up his other hand and placed it on her other cheek.
Heat slammed into Dillon's face and she inhaled sharply. It was as if the sensations she'd felt in her cage earlier had been somehow magnified. From one to ten in under a moment. Shifting had never felt like this-almost orgasmic, deliciously toxic. And she hated it as much as she loved it. Under the skin he touched, and only under the skin he touched, waves of heat and intensity tingled within her, suffusing her cells, altering her DNA. Then she felt Gray's warm breath on the skin of her face. Her veana's face. It was a feeling so goddamn amazing, so rare, so prized to her, she would've given up anything she had to have the power within herself to create this change on her own once again.
"You owe me, Impure," she said, feeling her lips move for the first time in a week, knowing that as she stood there she was some vile-looking mutant with a cat's body and a veana's head. "You stole my kill-the one thing that was going to give me back my control." Or so she'd believed-had to believe to stay sane.
"Apparently not," Gray uttered darkly. He dragged his thumb across her mouth. A sudden flash of heat registered in her eyes. "How the hell do I have the power to do this?"
"I don't know and I don't care."
"Sounds about right." His eyes lifted to hers. They'd lost some of their shock and awe and were hovering around suspicion.
"You'll help me," she said without even a thread of a query.
Gray didn't answer her, didn't confirm or deny. Just stared into her eyes.
"Why are you pretending to think about this?" she hissed with annoyance, her cat's heart jumping with anxiety.
"I'm not pretending."
"You knew I was coming here. You knew there was something that had happened between us in that cage." She hated how desperate she sounded-hated that only her face was veana and the rest of her, where Gray's hands hadn't yet tread, remained jaguar. "Why allow me access to your Resistance Headquarter Barracks Safe House bullshit here if you were going to refuse me?"
His eyes lit with sudden and wicked amusement. "Maybe I just enjoy hearing you beg."
She growled at him.
"If you're going to do that properly, you'd better return to your previous form." Without a warning, Gray released his hold on her and moved away.
The sudden impact caused Dillon to drop to the ground on all fours. Her head shot up, her eyes narrowed on his-and her veana's face slowly morphed back into the jaguar.
"You won't deny me, Impure," she snarled.
"You seem to think you have the upper hand here, D." He crossed his arms over his broad chest. "You seem to think I'll not only lie down and let you walk all over me with claws and fangs bared, but I'll be getting off while you're doing it."
Her snarl turned to a feline rumble in her chest. "Is that a metaphor or a suggestion for later?"
Gray pushed away from the wall and went at her, eyes blazing. Within seconds, his hands found her back. His fingers dug into her fur. Without saying a word, he stroked her-hard and delicious from nape to tail, back and forth until her nude veana body began to appear. Then he stopped-released her. For a moment he just stared, as if he needed to be fully convinced of this insane situation. As her back returned to that of a cat, as she gave a small whimper of frustration, he sniffed and said in the coldest of voices, "I will give you what you want, D. What you need. But it will not come for free."
Her gaze flipped up to meet his. "Nothing ever does."
"Nothing good ever does," he corrected sharply.
"What do you want?"
Her head cocked to one side.
He grinned. "I know you heard me. You will stay here, in my room, and I will give you what you need, anytime you need it. But I will expect obedience and respect in return."
"Never!" she spat at him.
"Then you can leave."
Panic flooded her insides and her cat's jaw worked. Leave? As if. Christ...Right here in this room was the antidote to her disease. He might be acting like a power-hungry dickhead at the moment, but what if this was her only shot? He was her only shot? What if she could get him to change her completely? What if she could remain a veana? Oh God. What if she could teach herself to shift once again?
If she was a veana, she'd be able to truly walk away. From the Romans and their cage, from her brothers-and from this Impure male who thought he had a chance of owning her unbeating heart.
"You want the control back?" Gray said, hijacking her thoughts, his gunmetal eyes the fiercest she'd ever seen them. "The only way you're going to get it is to give it up."
She had to know. "Why are you doing this?"
His eyes flared with sudden hunger. "Maybe because I can. Maybe because you need to be tamed."
"You might not like me that way."
"We'll see." His eyes closed for a second, and when he opened them again, they were far calmer. "I need the decision right now, baby."
"Call me 'baby' again and I'll bite your balls off," she uttered through gritted teeth.
"Maybe I'll let you try that," he said with an amused tone. "Later. One of my associates is on her way here to tell me that your brothers-all seven of them-are waiting in our gathering room."
Dillon's insides turned over. Fucking hell. This she did not need. The Romans and the four Beasts had found her. Well, of course they'd found her. Gray was right about that, about one thing-she did seem to run to him when she needed something.
"Answer now, Dillon."
She bared her teeth at him. "My obedience for a pair of magic hands."
He shrugged. "If that's how you want to see it."
She glanced down at his hands. "They're not very pretty."
"No. But they get the job done." His eyes glittered with wicked intent.
There was nothing she wanted more in that moment than to walk out, run away, but she couldn't, could she? Where would she go like this? Where could she go without having the control over her shift? Shit, maybe she could run around town looking for another body, another pair of hands who held such power over her cat. But was that even possible? Could she trust someone else with this secret-to not turn her in to the Order? Or Christ, the zoo? It had been months-she had no idea how long it would take to master her control again...
Her gaze drifted up, back to his. He was the lesser of all evils, wasn't he? And she could handle it-handle him. She could handle anything. Fuck-she already had.
"All right, Impure," she said. "Until I have control over my shift again, I will give it to you."
"Good," he said, his voice dark, his jaw tight. "And we'll begin with you calling me Gray."
She sniffed. "And if I don't?"
He stepped closer. "There is always a reaction to any action. Disrespect, disobedience, will always end with punishment."
Dillon's muzzle dropped open and she just stared at him.
"Now, follow me," he said. "Your family waits."
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