Death was not as Synjon had imagined. There were no wild, untamed winds to ride or sunshine that didn't inflame his skin. Instead it was unbearable, teeth-clenching pain surrounded by utter blackness. How could this be? It was not what the Pureblood scholars had promised.
And where was Juliet?
It was in death that they could finally be together; no lies, no tricks, no need to be each other's true mates-as the laws of their kind had no rules in the afterworld.
"Pull the covering to his chin. He's in shock. The shaking will lesson if we keep his body warm."
Black nothingness coated the exterior of Synjon's mind, but this sound, this voice . . . it wasn't Juliet's. It had a lower resonance and held no claim on his memory.
"Are you going to wake him up?"
This time the voice that snaked inside his ears, his mind, was female, and oddly familiar, but he wasn't sure why.
"No," the male said softly. "He won't be able to handle the pain. It's best to keep him sedated until there is some semblance of healing."
"Why is the salve having no effect?" she asked.
"It is a miracle to our shifters. But this male's skin is different, thinner, yet far more durable. It's a strange combination." The male sighed with frustration. "I am hoping if we keep reapplying the salve there will be some change."
"I don't understand this, Brodan-how this happened to him."
It was the female again, sounding concerned, perhaps even fearful. Synjon tried to focus, tried to force connections in his mind. Where was he? Why was he blind? The pain of thought was acute, but two absolutes floated to the surface of his consciousness.
The female wasn't Juliet.
And he wasn't dead.
"Most likely it's an allergy to sunlight," the male said as Synjon felt something cool press against his neck. "I've seen something similar on our shifters who have little hair. But nothing this severe or as fast as you described it happening."
There was a moment of silence, then the female spoke again. So quietly, Synjon had to strain to hear. "Do you think he's human?"
"I don't know what he is." The male's tone held both curiosity and distrust. "He has no heartbeat yet he breathes. I've never encountered such a creature."
"No Shifter has had such an anomaly?"
The female was quiet, and Synjon wondered what made her so. What made her voice thin with sadness when she spoke of him?
"You're not going to tell anyone about him?" she asked.
"No. Not yet."
"With the lack of heartbeat they could deem him a possible threat."
"We haven't had a mystery in our community since-"
"Me," she finished for him.
The male laughed. "Yes, Pets, but it's not a worrisome or potentially problematic mystery like our male without a heartbeat here." His voice dropped to a husky whisper. "You and the animal you will someday become is a mystery I look forward to unraveling."
A low growl permeated the air, and it took Synjon a moment to realize the sound had come from his own throat. Shocked, he forced himself to swallow. Bloody hell. What was going on? Why was he angry? Why had he reacted to the male's words with such aggression?
"Did you hear that?" the female whispered. "Is he waking, Brodan? Can he hear us?"
Yes, Female. But unfortunately that is all I can do.
"Back up," the male said, all lightness and flirtation now stripped from his tone. "If he is waking, the pain will be too great for him to handle. I'm going to give him another dose, keep him under until we see how his healing progresses."
Syn's mind flared with panic. This prat was drugging him, holding his body hostage. He wasn't dead, this wasn't the afterlife, and Juliet . . .
The growl sounded once again, and this time Syn felt it deep within his chest. He had to stay awake.
He felt the male's hands on him. There was a quick, sharp prick in his arm. Goddamn, ruddy bastard. Syn wanted to grab him by the throat, throw him against the wall-
The light in Syn's mind dimmed and he felt a rush of warmth move through him before he dropped back into blackness once again.
* * *
When he woke, perhaps hours later, perhaps minutes, his eyes still refused to open. He tried like hell to get himself to move; just a finger, an eyelid, anything that would tell him that he still retained some semblance of control.
But every inch of skin, muscle, and bone refused him.
Where was the female? The one who worried for him? The one who might come to his aid if he could manage a word or two? Bloody hell, he wanted to hear her voice.
But when he listened for movement, all his ears picked up were the sounds of machinery, beeps and clicks, and the scent of antiseptic and something verdant. The scent? Had his sense of smell returned?
He concentrated on bringing in air, flaring his nostrils. With his scent intact he could predict danger, he could figure out where he was . . .
"I can't keep you a secret for much longer, Male," a voice said above him. A familiar voice. But not the female's . . . "It's been a week and you haven't healed."
A week? Christ. He couldn't have heard the male right. It wasn't possible. Wasn't possible that a week had gone by since he'd seen Juliet. Since he'd laid her in the sun.
A week since he'd nearly followed her there.