Chapter Seven

Kate quickly dried off from her shower, then made her way out the bathroom and straight into the closet. She barely looked at the racks of clothing, just tossed on anything that smelled clean and appeared comfortable. She didn't have the time or care for how she looked. The misery inside her was palpable. Worse than her time spent in Mondrar, the vampire prison. There she'd been held for a crime she hadn't committed but had taken responsibility for. It was time she'd served to protect her mother, her only family. And she would've done the same for Ladd if that bastard Cruen had allowed her to. But he didn't want her sacrifice, didn't care about the boy's well-being in any way. He'd snatched the poor innocent balas right out from under her care, and now she lived in a different kind of prison, one she'd never truly escape.

She slipped on a pair of black boots and went into the bedroom. She wasn't surprised to find Nicholas there. Her true mate, her family, the one paven on Earth who understood her and loved her unconditionally, was standing against the closed door of their room. He was darkly beautiful as always, but as he stood there, arms crossed over his broad chest, he carried the same sadness in his eyes as she did.

"You left the meeting," he said.


He shook his head. "Didn't tell me. Didn't say good-bye."

"I didn't want to interrupt anything," she said, heading over to the desk where she kept her cell phone. She stuffed it in the pocket of her jeans with her small pocket knife.

"We were strategizing," he told her, his voice gentle but firm. "I would think you'd want to be in on that. Unless you have other plans."

She paused, looked up at him. She sighed. "Baby, listen . . ."

"What are you doing, Kate?"

"I'm going out."

"Then I'll come with you."

"You can't. It's day."

"Then wait until the sun recedes."

She walked toward him, toward the door, waited expectantly. He didn't budge. In fact, his jaw went rigid, his expression too.

She shook her head, tried to swallow the hitch in her throat. "I can't just sit here and do nothing, Nicky. Would you really want me to?"

His eyes, his dark, soulful eyes, searched her own, and after a moment or two his body relaxed. "What's your plan?"

"Going to the Impure credenti." She would never lie to him. She was going to the credenti, but it wasn't the only place she was going. She had a few vampire acquaintances who were no longer in Mondrar and who might be willing to help her. Nicholas didn't need to know that; he'd only worry about her safety.

"Please, Nicky."

Still, he didn't step aside. His eyes were penetrating as he stared at her, tried to search inside her mind and her soul. "We will have him back, my love."

"I know."

"Then what is it? I know you fear for his safety. I do too. But there is more inside you than fear." He reached out and touched her chin, lifted it so he could see her eyes. "Before I can let you walk out this door, I need to know what's in your head."

Kate knew her mate was deadly serious, and knew as well that when he looked at her that way, that intensely, she could only tell him the truth. No matter how dark it was.

"Even if we get him back . . ." Her voice broke for a second. She shook it off. "Even if we get him back, I fear it will only be to lose him again."

Nicholas sighed. "You speak of Erion."

She shrugged. "I speak of his true parent, Nicky."

"Oh, baby." His hand dropped to her shoulder. He squeezed gently. "We always knew this could be a possibility. That Ladd didn't belong to-"

She didn't want to hear any more. She certainly didn't want to hear that. Not now. Not yet. She eased herself from his grasp. "I need to go. I'll be careful, and I'll be home soon."

This time when she tried to get past him, he let her.

It's unfortunate I don't sleep, Erion thought as he stood inside his bedroom-the one he'd claimed after purchasing the home. The room was mammoth, and at the very highest point of the castle. It was circular and sported floor-to-ceiling windows and a panoramic view of the forest, vineyards, and village. Thick rugs over dark hardwood blanketed the floor, and the cream inlaid fireplace, though unlit, reminded Erion of the fairy tales Dillon had told him and his brothers back when they were balas. An antique writing desk took up one wall of windows in the south corner, an unopened MacBook atop it, and a claw-foot bath sat in the north corner, overlooking the gardens below. But the true set piece on the stage that was his room was the four-poster bed in the very center. The incredible frame carved from one solid piece of wood, or so it seemed, was lifted several feet off the ground and sported four sumptuous black silk curtains that hung to the floor on every side but one, allowing the master of the house to take to his bed.

Or, at the moment, the mongrel.

The small brown-and-white dog had refused to leave after being fed. Anywhere Erion went, the dog trotted along behind. Just to keep himself from tripping over the tiny beast, Erion had placed him in his room, allowed him access to his bed. At least until he decided to whom to feed the beast. His mouth drifted up in a grin.

As if hearing his new master's thoughts, the dog lifted his head, cocked it to one side, and barked.

"Go back to sleep, lazy canine," Erion growled good-naturedly. "Someone should get use out of that massive thing."

The dog barked once again, then dropped its head and placed its muzzle on its paws. In seconds its eyes were closed.

Lucky beast, Erion mused as he paced in front of the unlit fire. No doubt the mattress the dog slept atop was extremely comfortable. He wouldn't know. He hadn't slept in it once. In fact, he'd never slept in a bed in his life. But the room was his; it was the best and he'd claimed it. And if he did need to rest, he would simply pull back one of the rugs and take to the floor.

The thought brought forth a memory that involved Ladd. Not long ago, the balas had been in his room at the Romans' house in SoHo, asking about his weapons, telling Erion of his wish to stand with the brothers and fight. Erion grinned. The boy was of his blood, most certainly. He was a robust child, persistent and ready to learn the ways of battle. Perhaps Erion could teach him. There were many good weapons to start with in the dungeon . . .

The dungeon.

Erion cut his gaze to the door. The dungeon, where he now housed a different weapon entirely.

Without forethought, he moved across the room, curled his hand around the door handle. He hesitated. The female was dangerous to him. Her scent and her secrets, and the fact that she seemed thrilled to lie beneath that monster.

His beast growled, and he gripped the door handle until his knuckles went white. Perhaps he should reverse course and take to the window, flash to New York, let his brothers know of the trade the following day. Let them know what had happened in the beach reality with Cruen.

But did he want the Romans and the mutore involved in his business, his dealings with Cruen at this time? His brothers would want to set a trap and capture the Pureblood paven. And as much as Erion wanted that bastard in a cage under guard, he couldn't risk Ladd's life.

Tomorrow, if all went according to plan and his bait was well and unharmed, he would have Ladd back. He opened his door and stepped out into the hall. Instantly his thoughts of his brothers and Cruen died. No, were drowned out. A tortuous, agonizing sound-or was it screams? He couldn't be sure-filled the air around him.

He snarled, his beast springing forth, ready. But for what, he didn't know. It was her, the female-Hellen. She cried out. She wailed. He slammed the door, keeping the mongrel inside, and tore down the hallway. His teeth ground against one another as he moved toward the pain-laced wails like a weed toward sunlight. If he found anyone touching her, hurting her, he would rip them apart. She was his-his prisoner, his bait.

His only way to Ladd.

He nearly slid down the stairs, jumped to the bottom, and took off toward the dungeon door. Hallway after hallway, he counted guards. All were stationed in their proper places, eyes forward, bodies rigid. Why had no one reported her calls to him? Were they all so terrified of her that they didn't give a shit?

Cowards had no place in his home. He would have words with them after he found out what was wrong with Hellen. Perhaps he would have fists and fangs too.

When he arrived at the dungeon door, he nearly ripped the thing off its hinges, cringing at the intense wailing that met his ears. It was like a bird, a wounded, tortured bird, and his body readied for a fight. Whoever was touching her would soon find himself without hands.

Then the scent hit him.

He staggered on the steps, gripping the railing until it nearly crumbled under his palm. His entire body shuddered. Not because the scent repelled him. Not because he didn't want to run like a starving animal toward it, breathe it in, and find the spot it emanated from with his tongue. But because he was afraid he might do far more than that.

The scent of female arousal surrounded him, infused him like a hot bath, and his cock erupted to life inside his jeans. A feral need to take what writhed and whimpered against the wall before him was unbelievably overwhelming. He'd never felt anything like it in his life-this obdurate pull to take and feed and fuck-and he didn't know if he could stop with just a taste, much less force his ass back up the stairs.

He gripped the banister until his knuckles turned white, his dilated eyes pinned on the woman he called his prisoner. Under the pale light of the torches bracketing her, Erion saw that her head hung down, her masses of fire-red curls falling in a curtain against her chest. Her white mating dress was drenched in sweat, and her captive hands were clenched into fists.

She was crying. Softly. Pitifully.

Erion's jaw clenched so tight, he was in danger of breaking a fang. This has to be another ploy, he thought through his haze of black desire. A trick, a ruse by his precious bait to get him to set her free. This female wasn't the leaky type. She was hard, mean, delectable, and ahhhhh . . . his nostrils flared . . . shit . . . scented with his perfect brand of ambrosia.

A guard came running down the stairs, took one look at the female, and cursed. "Sir?"

Erion couldn't stop himself. He was jacked up on her scent, felt way too protective. Where a few minutes ago he was planning to terminate the guards for not coming to him with Hellen's cries, now he wanted them nowhere near her.

"Return to your room and don't come out," he growled softly, his throat dry. So dry . . . His fangs descended. His eyes narrowed on Hellen. His mind blank, his beast screaming to emerge. She had much for him to drink; her blood, her cream . . .

The guard at his left hadn't moved. Erion cocked his head at the male. Nostrils flaring, skin flushed, and a tent in his pants.

"Get the fuck out now!" he roared, rounding on him, ready to pounce if the male took one step farther into the room.

The guard jerked, seemed to wake. "I'm sorry, sir," he stammered, then turned and retreated up the steps.

Erion focused on the female again. His beast was just below the surface, but he was trying like hell to get his mind to work, to question.

"What is this?" he said, his voice sounding strangely otherworldly to his ears. "What is happening to you?"

Her head still down, she only whimpered.

Erion moved toward her, his hands curling, desperate to touch, grip, squeeze. "Answer me, woman. What is happening to you?"

What's happening to me?

Her body twitched and she groaned.

Christ. Through gritted teeth, he asked, "Are you hurt? Did someone hurt you? One of the guards-"

She lifted her head then and locked eyes with him. Erion stilled, his entire body flooding with desire. From her wild red curls to her beautiful, flushed, and sweaty face, the woman looked as though she'd been fucked good and hard and wanted more. Erion had to force himself to remain where he stood, but it was nearly impossible. Her green eyes were huge and heavy with tears-just as he imagined her cunt to be.

Suddenly, her eyes clamped shut and she tossed her head to the side, muttering something in the most pained of tones.

"What is it?" Erion said, barely able to think straight as she was casting off so much heat. "What's wrong?" Even as he spoke the words, his mind warned him to walk away, get out, in the fresh air, away from her scent.

"Help me!" she cried out. "Please help me!"

Christ. Why couldn't he make his feet move?

"Release," she hissed. "Please."

"No," he ground out. Just the word-that one word-was torture on his tongue.

Her eyes fluttered open and she found his gaze, searching, begging him through her sexual fog. Erion saw the desperation within those green orbs, knew whatever she was feeling was real and not a ruse to gain his sympathy as he'd believed. But how could he help her? He wasn't letting her go. No matter what pain she was in, she was his ticket to Ladd.

He growled.

Why was he standing here? Why did he care if she was in pain or not? All that mattered was keeping her alive.

"I need release," she whimpered.

But alive and well. Would Cruen hold on to Ladd, harm him, if Hellen was not returned in fair health?

"You will run from me," he uttered tersely. "I cannot take that chance."

"Just my hands," she cried, her gaze dropping to her belly. "Goddamn it. Feel me. Feel where I burn."

Confused, Erion followed her line of vision. Her stomach. Was it pained? No . . . no. Lower. Her hips . . .

He froze, finally understanding her meaning. Where she hurt, why she whimpered, and why the scent of her heat, her desire was making him insane. And it was worse than her wanting to escape him. She wasn't asking to be released from her chains, but from the climax that was building inside her. His lip curled up and his fangs dropped low. What was this? Why was it happening?

Fool, he called himself as he moved closer, as he reached out and palmed her stomach. Her breath hitched and she released the most delicious of moans. Christ. She was fire-hot and coated with sweat, and his fingers, which were pointed down toward her sex, felt the blaze that raged there as well. He knew he should back the hell up and get the fuck out before he pressed himself against her, let his hands search, let his nose nuzzle her neck, his tongue lick the sweat from every inch of her skin-then put her out of her misery.

"What are you?" he demanded, releasing her belly and leaning in, placing both hands on either side of her head, sniffing her, drinking her in. "A witch? A shifter?"

She whimpered again, moaned.

"This heat you are in . . . you must be animal."

"No . . . I am Hellen," she said through gritted teeth. "Only Hellen."

"Lie," he whispered, his lungs crying out for more of her scent, his cock a column of marble against his belly.

"Just let me go," she begged. "Just for a few minutes."

"You're going to have to tell me what you are first."

"Nothing to tell."

"We're going to keep playing this game, are we?" he whispered against her cheek. "Holding back?" Whatever she was keeping from him could affect his dealings with Cruen. He wouldn't allow himself to be blindsided when the time came. No matter how badly he wanted to ease her from her bindings, get her on her back, and feel her release around the cock that strained against his zipper. He moved his thigh between her legs until he felt heat surge through the fabric of his jeans. "You'll find that holding back from me will come at a cost." Ever so gently, he nuzzled her ear, licked the shell.

She whimpered and tried to get closer, get his tongue deeper.

But Erion eased back from her face, his resolute gaze locking with her desperate one. "Who are you?" he said again.

Her lip curled and she said, "Cruen's female."

Anger surged through him and warred with the sexual desire. Nostrils flaring, he leaned closer, his hip pressing against the apex of her thighs.

She cried out. "Damn you!"

Erion knew he'd crossed a line with her, knew he was acting like the beast who paced restlessly inside him, but he couldn't stop himself. He wanted everything from her in that moment-her origin, her species, and her sex.

He lifted his thigh, the muscle making contact with hot, yielding flesh. Shit, she was wet. His fangs dug into his bottom lip, drawing blood. "Is this what you need, Hellen?" he said, his face close to hers.

She moaned, tried to lower herself, grind her sex against his leg, but the bonds wouldn't allow it.

"Don't fret, female," he whispered near her mouth. "I'll give you what you need if you tell me who and what you are."

Her chin lifted, trying to get at his mouth, and yet she uttered a terse, "Fuck you."

He laughed softly. "My dear little witch, it is you who is crying out to be fucked. And I could be persuaded to assist you in your pain, if you tell me who you are and why the hell you're mating with that bastard."

"I've already told you," she cried out, fresh tears pricking her eyes, her hips swinging to find a lock on his thigh.

He nipped at her bottom lip, and she moaned. "You love Cruen. Do you, Hellen?"

"I am mating him."

"Not what I asked."

"If you're not going to release me or touch me, get out!"

"Shouldn't it be your mate who touches you? Shouldn't you wait for his hand to touch you . . ." He lifted his thigh another inch and growled when she moaned. "Here?" He leaned in and kissed her cheek. "What about here?" He couldn't help himself. He lapped at her neck. "And here?"

"You bastard," she whimpered. "You are the most vile creature I've ever encountered, and I've seen much that is evil."

"You haven't met Cruen, then." He eased back and found her gaze. "What. Are. You?"

For a moment, her eyes blazed emerald fire and she looked ready to bite him. Instead, she drew in a breath and spit in his face.

The thread of control Erion had been holding on to since he'd entered the dungeon snapped. He dove at her, crushed her mouth under his until she moaned, and ground her pelvis into his leg again. His tongue pushed past the barrier of her lips, and she responded instantly and sucked it into her mouth. He ripped his hands from the wall and gripped her head, raked his fingers into her curls, and kissed her hard. She was the sweetest thing he'd ever tasted, and he knew he'd never recover from what was happening between them right now, what he'd allowed. Shit, what he'd taken. He was an animal, a brute, and she was crying out for him to take her. It was all a lie, a fantasy of the worst and most delectable kind, but in that moment it didn't matter. Nothing mattered.

That one thought echoed through his mind. Nothing matters. Nothing matters?

Shit. What was wrong with him?

He pulled back and roared.

Her chest heaving, her eyes heavy with passion and need and ire narrowing into pinprick slits. Panting, she raged at him, a sound that held acute misery. "I fucking hate you!"

"Well, stop," he growled. "It makes your scent stronger, your body wetter, and your mouth impossible to resist."

Her body trembled and she whimpered again. "You will pay for this, you bloodsucking bastard!"

"I already am." He shook his head, rage and lust flaring, warring, inside him. "Do you think it pleases me to want to touch and taste the female who's going to mate with that worthless animal? I despise my desire for you."

"Get out!" she screamed. "Just get out and let me be!"

His jaw tight as steel, Erion turned to go. His body raged with the pain of arousal, and he prayed he could remain under the same roof as her scent without losing his mind or going after her again. He should get out, flash to New York. Or maybe he'd wait outside Raine's shop until daylight. But that would leave the female here alone, with just the guards, who could also scent her. He growled low at the thought of her allowing one of them to touch her.

He was at the bottom stair when she called him back.


His teeth grinding against one another, he turned slowly. "You have only to wait until tomorrow, female. Then Cruen will take care of this little problem himself."

"I can't wait. The pain is too much . . ." Her face glistened with sweat, and shame coated her wide-eyed gaze. "Release one of my hands?"

His brow lifted.

"Please," she begged.

Erion knew exactly what she was saying, what she was asking for, and it made the blood within him rush to his cock. His skin ached, burned, it wanted her so badly. His gaze narrowed on her. He wanted to let her suffer, at least until she told him who she was.

For several seconds, he watched her whimper, watched her eyes close, and watched her suck air through her teeth. It was only when she looked up at him with tears in her eyes and a strange expression of longing that he grabbed the ring of keys from the wall and stalked toward her.

He tried to breathe through his mouth as he snarled at her. "You touch anything or anyone but yourself with that hand, and I'll cut it off."

She watched him, panting as he shoved the key in the lock of her right hand and snapped it open.

She clenched her fist, shook her wrist, then lifted her chin to glare at him.

"Leave. Now," she uttered.

Erion took a step back, but that's as far as he went. "I don't think so."

Hellen felt insanity lick the very edges of her mind. Back when her mother had first given her the cooling draft, she never would've believed her body capable of such an extreme sense of need. Intense arousal, yes. But painful, debilitating, reason-threatening, would-beg-plead-and-kill-for release kind of arousal? Never. If she had known what could happen to her, she would never have jumped from the carriage. Leaving behind not only her sisters, but the dozens of vials of draft.

She wasn't sure if she would ever recover from this. If touching herself, bringing herself to release, would slow the pain, or, gods help her, intensify it.

Perhaps the male standing before her was wondering the same thing.

Erion the brute. Erion the beast. He would remain near, watching her get herself off, while he . . . What? Would he do the same? Would he touch himself too? Or would he attack her, try to get inside her? Ruin her for her mate?

Desire flooded through her, pooled between her legs at the thought. She was truly lost to reason. And he . . .

She glared at him. "You're one sick bastard."

"Perhaps," he said, his eyes glowing with silver fire. "But that is not why I remain."

"Then why do you?"

"I will not leave you alone. Not with your scent that heady. I won't have the other males in this house watching you or feel tempted to touch you."

She sneered. "How honorable."

"Hardly," he said. "Cruen will want his female back unharmed and chaste."

A shock of heat plunged into her sex and her clit hummed. She couldn't wait any longer, not when she had access to herself, a way to ease the pain inside her. Her fingers flexed and she lowered her hand down her body until she cupped herself through the material. Confusion, panic gripped her. She couldn't do it, not this way. How was she to touch herself?

She started grabbing the fabric, yanking it up, collecting it in her fist. Her breasts tingled and her nipples tightened in anticipation. Saliva pooled in her mouth, and she didn't care about Erion anymore, didn't care that his eyes raked her or that a soft growl emanated from his throat. She was in pain and she could actually do something about it. Her hand shifted from the material to slip past the white silk band of her underwear. Her fingers shook as she met hot skin and soaking-wet heat, and her eyes drifted closed.

Her fingers slipped easily through the seam of her pussy and she wasted no time in circling the swollen ridge. She released a moan, her teeth gritted. Yes. This was good. This would help. Sweat broke out on her forehead, and she moved down the ridge for a moment, then plunged one finger inside herself. She gasped at the heat there, at the juices that flooded over her knuckle. It was too good a feeling to stop or even slow, and she kept at it, finger fucking herself until her clit screamed for attention.

In the back of her mind, she heard him, Erion, heard his breathing, his low, frightening growl, but she was too far gone now. She sensed the relief of release and she rushed toward it.

She flicked her clit, feather light, as her breasts swelled painfully and her nipples ached. She would've given anything to be naked in that moment, her hands free and able to grope and spread and squeeze. But this was enough. For now, here, it had to be enough. She clenched her muscles and thrust her fingers in and out of herself while her thumb played her clit like a violin's bow.

It was coming, her climax, reaching up from the floor to grab her and swallow her whole. And she welcomed it.

"Hellen . . ."

Shaking uncontrollably, she cried out at his call. She didn't want to see him, knew that once her eyes met his she would be weak to the desire in his own gaze. He was already in her head. In her mind, it was his hand that worked her, his mouth that sucked at her clit. Her legs threatened to lose their purchase. She didn't want him in her head. But the more she thought of him, the more her mind kept up the fantasy, the more her cunt wept.

"Look at me, Hellen."

No. No. She worked her clit harder, fucked herself deeper. Waves were crashing against her, inside her.

"Look at me, damn you!"

Her eyes slammed open, and the moment they did, the moment she connected with his face, she came. Hard, shattering blows of pleasure seized her cunt, and she doubled over. Her lips parted, and she may have uttered his name as she screamed.

"Yes, Hellen," he whispered, his voice racked with desire and pain and deep frustration. "Oh, gods, yes. You are . . . shit, the most beautiful thing I've ever seen."

She gasped, air caught inside her lungs and she convulsed with the final torrents of climax. She sagged against the wall, reveled in the relief of a satiated body. For moments, minutes, she hung there limp and weak, her breathing slowly returning to normal, her body temperature regulating.

And then she saw him. Really saw him. For the first time.


A few feet away and pulling in air through his flared nostrils stood a beast. Erion had always been a good-looking male, but in that moment, as his diamond eyes glowed and his face contorted into a lionlike creature, she realized why she felt so drawn to him-why he made every inch of her spark with desire. He was like her, like her kind.

"You . . ." she uttered, wetting her dry lips.

His gaze reached into her own and pulled out her very soul.

"You are a demon, Erion."

His eyes raked over her. "As are you."

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