"Fuck no! This is not happening!"
"The veana needs our protection!"
"Christ! In an Impure safe house. She doesn't belong here!"
"She's coming home with us!"
As Lucian, Alexander, and Sara stood there in thoughtful silence, Gray listened inside his head to Dillon's four Beast brothers lose their shit, one after the other, over the news that their sister would be remaining with him at the Impure Resistance headquarters. He cared little for their response or their opinions on the matter, and yet he understood their confusion and frustration in the lack of details given. That being said, Gray wasn't about to reveal what he and Dillon now shared-this strange power he had over her jaguar. That was Dillon's choice to share-if she wanted to.
"What is your true concern, Lycos?" Dillon spoke then, fully returned to her jaguar state now. "Because I'm guessing it's not about my well-being."
"It was," the wolf said, his blue eyes pure ice as he looked at her. "Long ago, it was, my sister. But you severed that feeling when you abandoned us."
"Abandoned you," she repeated caustically. "What should I have done? I wasn't your caretaker. I wasn't your mother."
"No," Phane put in with deadly quiet. "But you were our sister. We deserved better."
Beside him, Gray felt Dillon's anxiety swell, her confusion riddled with anger. "What are you all looking for from me? A reason?" She glanced quickly at Helo, then looked away. "I've given you one. It wasn't the life I wanted, so I left."
"Without a word," Phane sneered, his mismatched eyes flaring with heat. "Without a good-bye."
Dillon's ears twitched. "It wasn't possible."
"Maybe you couldn't tell us then," Helo said, his expression calm, though Gray heard the deep rumble of hurt inside the paven's highly intelligent mind. "For whatever the reason, maybe you had to leave, but what about tonight, Dilly? Attacking your own blood."
Her growl was so fierce Gray almost put his hand on her back. Almost. "I did what I had to do, Helo," she spat at him. "I'm sorry, okay? Fuck! I needed to get out of there, out of that cage."
Helo nodded to Gray. "You think he will be your savior? An Impure?"
"Watch yourself," Gray warned the paven calmly. "Remember where you are. Whose home you're in."
"You think your weak, diluted blood frightens me?" Helo returned icily.
A slow, terrible smile crossed Gray's face. "No, but having all those thoughts about Nicholas Roman's mate shared with our group here might." He lifted his brow.
The paven's eyes bugged and his lips curled. Behind him, Lucian said, "What the fuck, Mutore? You having dreams about my brother's veana?"
A few of the pavens chuckled softly, but Gray kept his gaze locked on the one before him, the one who looked ready to kill, his eyes black holes of rage.
"Gray." Sara, who stood in the curve of her paven's arm, redirected the conversation. "I'm not making suggestions on where to put Dillon. But from what little you've told us, this arrangement sounds unhealthy for the both of you."
Leave it to his sister to go clinical on the situation. Gray lifted his brow. Where to put Dillon? As if she were a creature, a thing. "Living here in this home, with a proper bed and proper bathroom, sounds less healthy than a cage in the ground beneath the New York City streets?"
His jaw grim, Alexander acknowledged, "That was for her own protection. You know it was."
"Is that what your parents told you, Alex?" Gray asked simply.
The paven growled at him.
"Gray, please be thoughtful about this," Sara urged him, her hand on her mate's chest, trying to calm him.
They didn't seem to understand that there would be no negotiations. "Dillon will make her own choice about where she goes."
"No," Helo said, shouldering his way forward, his gaze now locked on Dillon. "She can't. Not when she's in this state. It risks her life and ours."
Dillon's golden coat bristled and she snarled at him. "He's just pissed because I bit him and escaped again."
"Dilly..." Helo began through gritted teeth.
"Listen, all of you." Gray spoke to the group with ease, and a confidence born out of a power no one could strip from him. "I allowed you inside my home to explain the situation, ease your fears about where she is and if she is all right. It was a courtesy, not a request for permission."
All four mutore hissed at him, then, growling among themselves, started arguing about what to do and how best to kick Gray's ass. But one cool head with one calm question broke into Gray's mind.
"And if we force the issue?"
Gray's eyes flipped up and caught Alexander's dark gaze. The paven who had once broken into Gray's mind, stripped it of the memories that had held him hostage for so long, and saved him from a lifetime of hearing nothing but dead air, had-in his blood memory drain-given Gray the ability to hear the thoughts of others. But in this, he answered the paven aloud. "If you force the issue, then we will have a battle on our hands."
"With whom? Your Impure army? You believe them a match for Purebloods and mutore?"
Alexander's words held no threat, only question.
"Not in brawn, surely," Gray told him. "But strength in mind has surprising power.
"As you know, Alex."
"Don't talk inside heads," snapped Erion, who had stopped arguing with his mutore brothers long enough to see the mental and verbal exchange between Gray and Alexander and put two and two together. He turned his menacing stare on Gray. "You, how will you control her Beast? How will you keep her here when she wants to run?" His gaze shifted to Dillon. "Because she will run."
Beside him, Dillon flinched.
Gray didn't answer; he didn't have to. The bargain struck between him and Dillon was their own and it went beyond explanation. He went to the door, opened it. "Sun will be coming up soon, Pureblood paven. I think it's time to go. For now. We will remain in contact."
There was a moment when nobody moved, nobody breathed, and everybody stared at Gray. Then Erion released a weighty sigh and pushed past his brothers toward the door.
"We'd better," Erion said.
Phane shook his head but followed. "I don't like this."
"Shit, I don't like him."
The last dig was mental and came from Helo, and it made Gray smile. He didn't blame them, any of them, for equally loving, protecting, and being perpetually disappointed in Dillon. It was a disease they all seemed to suffer from.
As they all pushed toward the door, Gray saw Sara stop at Dillon's side, put her hand on the cat's shoulder, and whisper into her ear, "Is this what you want?"
"Wrong question," Dillon returned softly.
Sara continued. "Do you want to come home with us?"
Dillon's muscles rippled as she got up and padded over to Gray. She sat down near his feet and inclined her head. "I am home. For now."
Celestine Donohue lived in a modest house in the suburbs of Minneapolis, Minnesota. To everyone who knew her, her neighbors and friends, she was a simple, nonmaterialistic woman who liked to travel and had two children who had moved far away and rarely visited. This was exactly what Celestine wanted them to believe. It protected them and it protected her. Not merely from the fact that she was a Pureblood vampire, but that she had, for many years now, worked as an undercover agent for a European intelligence firm. She assisted not only human contacts, but vampire ones as well. It was very hush-hush, and she'd realized long ago when she'd accepted the position that if the Order ever found out about her exploits, she would be risking her present and her future.
But that had worried her little over the years, as the Order had seemed to spread their tentacles wide and deep into many other offenses far more worrisome than her perceived defection.
But now, as she stared at the message scrawled into the condensation-covered glass wall of her greenhouse, she wondered if that had been a simple, silly notion by a Pollyanna-like veana.
Gray Donohue harbors a mutore. The Order requests the assistance of not only his mother but a very talented spy to bring them both out of hiding and safely into the hands of justice.
Her insides quaked at the thought, at the demands before her. Was this possible? she wondered. Gray being involved with a mutore? A thing, a being so rare she hadn't come across one in all her years, both as a spy and a "human woman." And yet her son spoke to her so little, so rarely, and lately with such frigidity, that she really didn't know what was happening in his world. Ever since Alexander had healed his mind and Gray had found out the truth about his Impure side, he'd seemed to want nothing to do with her. His anger wasn't surprising, and she'd thought to give him time before she offered him the reasons that she and his father had for what they had done.
As the words, the threat of the Order, began to blur, drip down the glass, mere water droplets now, Celestine realized that time was up. There was no more waiting for his call anymore, or his forgiveness. She supposed the Order had seen to that.
Retreating from the warmth of the greenhouse and stepping out into the cold Minnesota night air of her backyard, Celestine headed up to the house. Her latest assignment would have to wait. She would flash to New York this evening and see if her son needed her protection and her counsel.
The cold cage with the bars and the stone had been replaced by a massive bedroom with a fireplace, bookshelves heavy with books, and exceptional views out the wall-to-wall windows. It was pretty damn lovely.
But it was still a cage.
Dillon stood at the entrance to Gray's room. No matter how much of a choice the Impure had felt he'd given her, there had really been no choice at all. She wasn't remaining a jaguar forever, and if she had to kiss ass and play the submissive, she would. For as long as it took to get the control back, get the power over her shift back. Hell, she was great at playing a part she despised-especially to get what she wanted in the end.
She just hoped she could do it with this one, this male. Things were never completely simple and easy with him. No matter how hard she'd tried, she'd never been able to drop his ass-forget about his eyes, pretend her blood wasn't inside his veins. From the moment she'd rescued him from Sara's stalker-hell, from the moment she'd seen him in that hospital, she'd found him compelling.
She walked past him into the bedroom-the same one she'd snuck into earlier when she'd found him passed out on the bed. She walked all the way to the fireplace-which was sporting an easy blaze-before she realized he wasn't following her. She glanced back over her shoulder and saw him still standing near the door watching her.
"You're not coming in?" she asked.
"I have something to do," he said. "But I'll be back in a few hours."
"You're kidding me, right? I want to start this thing. We didn't have time before with the entire Roman-mutore clan waiting on us, but now we do. Get your hands on me and let's see what happens." Her breath jumped in her lungs as her words fell rapidly from her lips. She knew she sounded manic as hell, but she didn't care. "Where are you going?"
"As I said, I'll be back soon. Make yourself comfortable. I'm having one of the staff bring you something to eat." He glanced down at his phone, his brow wrinkled. When he looked up again, he gave her a stern expression. "Don't scare them, snap at them, or berate them. I would suggest getting some rest." He gestured to the foot of the bed, where a thick, oval rug sat. "You can have that whole space to yourself."
"The floor?" Anger made her fur bristle. She padded toward him, almost stalking him. "I get a kitty pad to sleep on?"
He smiled, but it didn't reach his eyes. "Until the shift from Beast to veana is complete. Then we'll decide where to put you."
"You're going to drag this out, aren't you?" she accused. "Keep me here on a leash, waiting with bated breath for that next stroke?"
"Keep talking; you're making me hard." He sounded bored.
Her nostrils flared as she came to stand before him. "Who are you? And what have you done with Gray Donohue?"
"You mean that Impure who took you in a few months ago, tried to heal your wounds? That weak male who did nothing but lick your boots before you kicked him in the balls and told him to fuck off?"
"Yes," she purred, though she recalled no ball kicking, just a necessary reminder that she would never be the veana he wanted her to be. "Where is he?"
His gaze gentled. "That's not who you need, what you need."
"You're going to tell me what I need?"
"That is part of our agreement."
"You say jump and I say how high?"
"No." He reached down and placed a hand on her shoulder. The action screamed possession. "You say yes to everything I ask, and I say good little pussy cat."
She wanted to turn and bite a chunk out of the hand that held her steady, but heat was rushing over and through her like an ocean in a thunderstorm. She couldn't get her bearings, couldn't collect her thoughts-shit, she could barely breathe-and the shift that happened externally, from cat to female, was met with a nearly debilitating one on the inside. Total virgin territory: real lust, real need, real emotion-true bullshit.
He released her then, left her breathing hard, mewling hungrily, and staring after him as he headed for the door. "Rest now," he called back. "You're going to need all your strength for the days and nights ahead."
The moment he left the room, Dillon charged at the door. Leaping up, she used her mouth to crank open the handle. The wood dropped back easily. No lock, no key, no chains on this cage. She was free. She could leave at any time.
That fucker. Why did it have to be him...?
Defeat swam in her blood as she padded over to the oval rug, circled it twice, and lay down. The thing was soft, she'd give him that-sort of unbearably, wonderfully soft, and she cursed him again. Before her, the fire began to warm her angry thoughts and cold soul, and she put her head down on her paws and exhaled the strain of the night. She was truly caught and held by a ready and enthusiastic master.
The thought made her suddenly bone weary, and she closed her eyes. Within moments, she was asleep.
"Purebloods in our headquarters. Mutore in our headquarters." In the warehouse's main room near the Resistance symbol, Riordon James got in Gray's path before he made it to the front door. He shook his head. "What makes you think that any of this is okay?"
"Easy, Rio," Gray warned.
"Are you trying to get us found out?"
"Yes. That's exactly what I'm doing."
"Don't be snide. I'm not busting your balls on this one. I'm trying to get you to see the potential problems in your choices."
Gray exhaled. The Impure warriors had every right to be pissed at him for bringing Dillon here-and her entire family for that matter-but it was what it was. There was no going back now. The decision had been made. His decision. The moment he'd chosen to become leader of the Impures, his word was law. No matter how much his frenemy here hated it. "Return to whatever it is you were doing, Rio. I need to go see Uma about the run tonight."
But the Impure didn't move, his night-black eyes resolute. "When is the mutore leaving?" he demanded.
Gray shrugged. "When she's ready.
"And when I'm ready to give her up."
Nostrils flaring with impatience, Rio crossed his arms over his chest. "I heard that."
"I know," Gray said pointedly.
"That's not a satisfactory answer."
"It's the only one you're getting, Rio." He pushed past the solid wall of male and headed for the door, but in seconds a slam of words-nasty and demanding-boomed inside his mind.
This wasn't like when he and Rio had first met, when he was green and cocky and knew nothing of his own power, much less Rio's. With a quick mental shake, he blocked the rest of the Impure's rant, then turned around and shot forward. He got in Rio's face so quickly the Impure barely had time to take a breath.
"I don't need to ask your permission," Gray warned with cool, black rage. "I'm the leader here, and I will keep whatever I want beside me: Impure, human, Pureblood or Beast." He raised a brow. "And if anyone dares to speak their displeasure to her, in front of her or inside her mind, you will be finding yourself a threesome looking for that missing piece again."
Unfazed by Gray's pluck, and at the memory of the three Impure warriors' insistence that Gray was the one, the only one, who would complete and exceed their power, make them a driving force with the Order, Rio lifted his chin and sniffed his disgust. "You're playing a dangerous game."
Hearing Gray's thought, Rio snorted and took a step back. "I just hope when the time comes to choose between the Impure Resistance and a mutore who has rejected you at every turn, treated you like shit on a wet boot, you'll choose wisely."
"Fuck you," Gray said with a snarl, but as he turned and walked out the door, he couldn't help but think, So do I.
He erased the thought before the male inside had a chance to hear it.
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