Dillon stood under the tepid spray and scrubbed the shit out of her skin until it felt raw.
She'd lied. She'd told him that her Beast was not fully contained when in truth-for the first time in months-she actually felt as though she had a choice in her shift. That her veana was, at long last, anchored in.
She turned around, put one foot up on the side of the tub and started scrubbing her legs, her inner thighs. There were many purposes for water: hydration, growth, sustained life. But to Dillon, water was a way to get things clean-cleaned up, cleaned out. Dirty things. Like the body, the soul-if you had one-and those thoughts you kept to yourself for a reason, thoughts that served only to make you crazy, thoughts that should never escape their cage.
She'd asked him if she could stay. Christ, she was a stupid bitch. This is the part in the movie where the chick gets slashed, Dillon! The part where the guy sees his way in, sees the vulnerability and strikes.
And she wasn't running.
She moved the sponge between her legs.
Still hot, still sensitive, still slick on the backs of her fingers. She wondered if he was still out there in the bed-the bed she wanted so badly to crawl into. Not as the cat this time, but as a female, a veana who remembered that feeling-that split-second feeling of awakening when Gray's hand held her breast-when his hand had cupped her pussy. Yes, she'd been touched before, fingered, fucked upside down and backward, but not in the way Gray Donohue managed it-not by those hands of his that outwardly displayed the very damage that wreaked havoc within her.
She shook her head, her hair, hoping the water that was released would take her thoughts along with it down the drain. In that moment, she had a sudden pang of grief for her jaguar. An insane thought after being held prisoner by it for so long. But she hadn't realized how protected she truly was within the confines of her Beast's fur. Soft emotions, vulnerable thoughts...they rarely got in, rarely made it past the ferocious predator's thick skin. And if they happened to, if they somehow squeezed their way in, those feelings manifested as a gentle rain.
Now she was exposed again and, Christ, it was a great, unrelenting torrent.
So, what did she do? Run? Stay? Keep him out? Let him in? That last thought sent shock waves of terror running through her. This was Gray. The more she allowed him access, the deeper he would want to go. Sure, he couldn't read her thoughts the way he could with others. But, shit, that just made him dig with a different instrument. It was just his way. Like keeping her secrets buried under fifty sheets of icy glass was hers.
And yet that didn't stop her from wanting Gray Donohue. A male who had never given up on her, a male who needed her and had no qualms about admitting it. A male who had rescued her from the second worst night of her life and never asked for jack shit in return. A male she kept finding and saving over and over for reasons she'd refused to truly look at.
Her skin shivered beneath the spray. And now there was no denying, no pretending what he was physically capable of too. With just those few touches she'd allowed him, she knew how diabolically hot he was capable of making her. How crazy, how addicted. She wanted to know what it felt like to be taken by him. To be made love to by him.
But could she make it through such a thing? Her eyes on his as he hovered above her, ready to push inside? It was one thing to have sex-mindless, emotionless, faceless sex where her eyes remained as closed as her unbeating heart. She'd done that a hundred times. It was as caring and romantic and real as an hour on the treadmill. It was just taking what she wanted, accepting what was offered by a one-time lover she never had to see again-or hell, never even had to see while she was getting off.
But this wasn't mindless and detached. This was connecting on its truest level.
Suddenly it wasn't Gray's beautiful face in her mind, but the face of a monster-one who'd relished the screams of a young veana as he took what he'd never been given.
Flinching, Dillon moved deeper under the downpour. She shook her head again, forcing the images from her mind. Water sprayed everywhere, and she hoped that once again it would take her thoughts and her increasing and uncontrollable need for Gray down the drain, to be lost forever.
But in Dillon's mind, forever was never more than a few hours at best.
Erion stood over a blanket of weapons. They were laid out on the bed he'd never used in the room the Romans had given him when he and his brothers had arrived on their doorstep a few weeks ago, after the epic battle at Cruen's laboratory-the one that had started off with the brothers as enemies and ended with them being family. Erion had never slept in a bed in his life. If he took rest at all, he preferred to do it on the floor, as he had in his balashood. In fact, he preferred the floor next to an open window. And if it was cold like tonight, all the better.
But there would be no rest tonight. He was on the hunt, and for the first time it would be with his brother, his twin, Nicholas. They were flashing out of town, searching for the one Erion had been fool enough to call "father." The one his supposed real father, Titus, had said was a Beast.
Erion's lip curled up in a sneer, and he grabbed a couple of blades and slipped them into the holders on either side of his torso.
"Father." What was the true meaning of that word? He didn't know, maybe never would-maybe he needed to not give a shit.
He heard movement behind him. Two pavens entered the open door of his room. Erion glanced over his shoulder and gave the brothers a nod of acknowledgment.
"Phane and Lycos are off," said Alexander, coming to stand near the bed, his gaze taking in each weapon. "That just leaves Helo, Luca, and me. We'll be watching out for Dillon and working with the Eyes."
Erion had heard of the street rat informants called the Eyes, but he'd never used them. Hell, he barely trusted the males who shared his DNA.
Lucian moved to Erion's other side, picked up a machete, and grinned. "I have one like this. It can take the head off a sequoia."
"What about the head of an ex-Order member mutore?" Erion said drily.
Lucian eyed him, grinned. "Most definitely. And maybe every guard that stands in your way."
Erion took the machete from the pale paven and placed it behind his back in the waistband of his jeans. His gaze turned serious when he looked up at the brothers again. "I need to know before we continue on this journey, on this quest to find Cruen. Can we trust Titus?"
"No," Alexander said quickly, resolutely. "His own agenda is his first concern."
"Doesn't mean he isn't right," Lucian amended with sudden heat, and Erion knew that his earlier assessment of their relationship, their bond as Breeding Males was dead-on.
"Or that he isn't telling us the truth about all of this-about the mutore and Dillon," Lucian continued. "And what Cruen may be able to do for her, for all of you."
Alexander nodded with consideration. "Yes, but let's not pretend he doesn't want something out of this."
"Oh, he wants something," Lucian acquiesced with a sniff. "He didn't hide that fact. He told us about the bargain with Cruen-he didn't have to do that. And I want to wring his fucking neck for not revealing it to me-especially to me," he added with a dark curse. "But that matters not. Titus needs Cruen's blood like I need Bron's, if he wishes to remain on the Order. If he wishes to stay sane."
"And he wants us to do the work for him," Erion added with a low growl.
"He is a selfish paven," Lucian acknowledged. "But he's not overtly cruel, and there are times when his Order status has helped us." Alexander nodded, confirming this, then Lucian added, "And he's sure as hell not looking to get his nuts cut off and force-fed to him." He gave Erion a quick and deadly grin. "Which he knows would happen if he lied to you, to all of us about this."
"There you all are." Kate entered the room, her expression a little worn, anxious. Behind her came Ladd, looking very excited to be in Erion's room.
The balas had stopped being wary of him, of the Beasts, about a week ago and had become curious instead.
"What are you? Can you shift into your Beast form now? How about now?"
Erion grinned. He'd given the boy a few quick shifts from paven to demon and back again. Not in front of the Romans or the females or the Beasts-just a scary little show for one.
He'd liked the way the balas had screeched with equal parts terror and pleasure.
Ladd's eyes grew saucer wide as he stared at all the weapons on the bed. "Are you taking all of those with you, Uncle Erion?"
Everyone in the room stilled, not at the question-but at the name the balas had called him. Their gazes shifted to Erion, all curious, all a little concerned. They wanted to see what he'd do, he thought, how he'd act with this balas that was supposedly his. Would he be gruff with the boy, tell him not to call him that?
Or would he be irritated within his own black heart because he wasn't the boy's uncle at all but his father?
Christ, just the thought of it sent his body into tremors. Look at him. A mutore, an animal, he didn't have an ounce of true softness within him.
He shouldn't care; he knew that. But the title got under his thick demon skin and scratched. This balas carried his genes, had mutore blood. And after what Titus had revealed earlier, Erion couldn't help but be concerned about that. What would it mean for the boy? Would his transition to pavenhood be a difficult one too? Would Cruen know how to ease it?
Erion's gut twisted. He looked up at Nicholas.
"Do you have something to say to the balas, Brother?" Nicholas said, no malice in his tone. "Here? Now? In this room?"
Erion's lips thinned.
Nicholas put his hands on Ladd's shoulders. "Just understand what that means." He glanced down at the boy. "And what that will mean to him."
No, Erion told himself quickly, resolutely. It wasn't time. Maybe never would be. The balas was happy, had a family here, a mother figure in Nicholas's mate, Kate. And, though he was starting to find it oddly frustrating, the boy had a father figure in Nicholas as well. After all, Ladd had not only been rescued from some maniac called Ethan Dare by Nicholas, but had forged a deep bond with the paven. How could Erion strip the boy of that, especially without any promise of care from his true sire?
He turned to the balas and stated, "I take only the weapons I can carry on my person, young paven."
The boy's riveted gaze traveled up and down Erion, at each weapon tucked against his body. "Are you going to fight?"
"Perhaps." He lowered his chin, gave the balas a grave look. "But only if I must, if there are no other options. Do you understand?"
Ladd nodded solemnly. "I could go with you." His eyes widened even further. "I am becoming a good fighter."
Erion felt a hitch of something within his chest. It was a strange sensation. He wasn't sure what it meant. If it was his demon at work or something else. "You will stay here and continue your training. I want to see your progression when I get back."
"I wish you both didn't have to go," Ladd said, looking from Erion to Nicholas, his lower lip pressed out.
A soft smile on her comely face, Nicholas's mate came to stand beside the boy. She put her arms around him. "They won't be gone for long, Ladd." Kate's gaze lifted to Nicholas's. "Right, Paven?"
Nicholas grinned wickedly, intimately at her. "You know I cannot be away from you for more than a few days, sweetest one. My unbeating heart wouldn't allow it."
Kate returned his grin. "Nor mine, Paven. Nor any other part of me."
He chuckled, his expression tight, his nostrils flared. "'Tis wicked to send me off like this, Veana."
"My poor Nicky," she said gently, sweetly. "I promise I will pay the price when you return."
"You will pay now," he said with a growl, taking her in his arms and giving her a tender kiss.
Ladd made a face at Erion, stuck out his tongue in disgust.
Erion chuckled, but within him there was a thread of envy for what his twin possessed with this veana. He imagined it wasn't in his future, romantic love, but he wondered at it all the same.
"Are we ready, Brother?" Erion said, moving away from the group and jumping up on the ledge, the cold air rushing his face.
"Let's go hunting." Nicholas gave Kate one last kiss and followed Erion out the window, their flashes two quick shots of lightning against the night sky.
After they were gone, after closing the window, Alexander turned and looked first at Kate, then at Ladd. "Never fear. They will be back soon."
"We know," Kate and Ladd said at the same time, then smiled at each other.
Behind them, something darted by in the hallway, then fell back, looking in the room. Evans. His face flushed, the servant entered with a breathless, "Excuse me, sir."
"Something wrong?" Alexander asked, coming to stand beside Kate and the boy.
"I was looking for Dr. Donohue," said the aged male. "There is a visitor just arrived."
"Who?" Alexander demanded, his tone suddenly fierce and protective. "Who is it?"
The male's eyes brightened. "Her mother."
"Cellie?" Alexander said, stunned. "Cellie's here?"
Evans nodded. "She says she must speak to Dr. Donohue immediately."
Under the brilliant light of a thousand candles, Feeyan inhaled deeply and opened her eyes, a sensation of triumph moving through her. One pawn down in this chess match. "She is there, at the Romans' compound."
The Order member seated across from her looked concerned. "We cannot track her there."
Several feet away, seated before an unmoving Impure male strapped to cold stone, another Order member lifted his head. "The Roman home is too secure, has too many enchantments protecting it." The paven sniffed with derision. "We are able to send messages within their walls, but we can't get inside. 'Tis very tiresome, indeed." He lifted one pale eyebrow. "Perhaps we should see to removing that obstacle."
Feeyan hesitated in answering the Order member's final statement. Though she would like total access to the Romans as well, the Order's relationship with them was a vital one, a tenuous one, and she did not want that unspoken truce compromised, not with something like this. Not yet.
"Access to the Romans' home matters not at this time," she said coolly. "The older veana will lead us to her Impure son-and to the mutore."
"Both must be exterminated," the paven across from her said. "The mutore for what she is and the male for what he has done here."
They all ceased speaking for a moment as they gazed at the Impures within the cells surrounding the center of the Paleo. Feeyan could see the spirit in their eyes, the burgeoning hope. Gray Donohue's rescue operation had given them all a belief that they too would escape their destiny and be liberated.
Feeyan had seen it in their blood-and she'd seen him in their blood.
First with the senator and now with the Impures. This male was growing dangerous.
"We must speed up castrations," she said to the Order members surrounding her. "And when we have this rebel Impure in our grasp, we will bring him here, let them all watch their aspiring savior bleed out before them."
Titus heard his leader's words and knew it was only a matter of time before Gray Donohue lay on one of the stones before him. Not only was the male harboring a mutore, but he was attempting to bring about a revolt within the Impure population.
The Order would be swift with their justice.
Titus stood beside his fellow Order member, who was fang-deep within a male's upper thigh. He despised performing castrations, and Impure blood made him even weaker than he already was, so he had, once again, offered himself up as seeker. The one who chose which Impures would lie on the stone table next.
As the Impure male below him cried out in pain, in misery over a future he could no longer see, Titus couldn't help but recall his own history of torment and torture at the hands of the Order-long before they were even aware of it-back when he was taken from the Coliseum in Rome and sent to an experimental facility run by a new Order member named Cruen. There Titus was poked and prodded and changed into a Breeding Male monster who for decades lived in a cage and was released only to fuck and impregnate the cold, dry bodies of Pureblood veanas who hadn't found their true mates.
It had been a true hell on earth. If Cruen hadn't one day decided to offer him a vial of his magic-laced blood, he might have taken his own life. But the blood had turned out to be an elixir, and Titus had lived another several decades as a normal paven, with no urges, a member of the Order himself.
But everything was different now. Cruen had gone rogue and hadn't shown himself to Titus in weeks. He prayed that the Romans and the mutore found him. The paven's blood was Titus's only hope for survival-his only hope to see a clear future. Because if they didn't, he wasn't altogether certain he could stop himself from offering up information on the whereabouts of a certain mutore female.
He didn't want to hurt his children, but the further he slipped back into Breeding Male status, back into that depraved, uncontrollable rutting animal, the more ruthless he would become. For no one and nothing mattered to a Breeding Male animal but sex and survival.
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