It had been a hundred years since Alexander had laid eyes on his mother and her true mate, Theydon, and yet their scent still made him sick. It was the scent of hate, of abuse, of neglect, and its pungent stench sent a wave of fury through what remained of Alexander's soul. Had the Order set this up? Forced him to come here and prostrate himself at the foot of the very monsters who had driven him away?
Beside him Sara whispered, "They don't look happy to see you."
"This was a mistake," he uttered tightly, his nostrils flaring, releasing angry little puffs of air like a bull in the winter night. "I'm a selfish prick."
Sara looked up at him, her beautiful dark blue eyes confused. "What are you talking about?"
"I shouldn't have brought you here." The brands on his cheeks burned with an irritating pain. The need to keep Sara close and protected was nothing to this new need he had to keep her far away from the conversation he was about to engage in with his mother and her mate. "But it's too late for regrets."
"I thought you said I have nothing to worry about, nothing to fear," she said.
He looked down at her, feeling like a gigantic ass for scaring her. "And you don't," he said assertively. "They won't touch you."
"Alexander . . ."
"Come, Sara, let's finish this and get out." He walked, Sara beside him, toward the threesome. Just moments before he reached the porch, his mother leaned down and whispered something to Evaline, his little sister, and she turned and ran into the house.
Alexander pretended not to care. She was his half sister and he'd met her only once when he was a balas . No doubt she'd been poisoned against him by the paven who stood before him now.
Theydon was at least six inches shorter than him and possessed half the muscle mass, but the cruelty and evil he'd shown to Alexander as a balas still burned brightly in the older paven's blue eyes. The instinct to kill was strong within Alexander--to protect the young veana inside the house and the beautiful human who stood beside him outside of it. But this was not the time for vengeance. The future of his brothers was crucial and he needed information.
"Alexander." Theydon's raspy tone curled around Alexander's neck and squeezed.
"In the flesh," he said with true menace.
"We thought you were--"
"Dead," Alexander finished for him, casting a quick glance at his mother. "Sorry to disappoint you."
Theydon stepped in front of his veana. "You don't belong here, sacro. What do you want?"
Alexander flinched at the ancient word for "filth"--the word Theydon had called him whenever he'd begged for blood through the bars of his cage. His fingers itched to wrap around the old paven's neck.
"Why have you interrupted our nightly meditation--or are you just here to torment your mother?"
"I'll leave her torment to you."
His mother shook her head. "Really, Alexander, coming here after all this time, dressed that way, and bringing that 'thing.' "
"Impure sacro," muttered Theydon.
"You may address me in whatever way you choose," Alexander warned the old paven, "but say another word about my woman and I will rip your head from your shoulders, regardless of the sacred ground and consequences from the Order."
His mother gasped, put her head down, and started whispering an ancient plea to the Order.
Theydon put his hand on her shoulder. "Madeline--"
"He wishes to shame me. It has always been his greatest gift."
"His only gift. It is his father's blood that acts this way, not yours. Breeding Male witte."
Alexander smiled darkly. Yes, his father was an "animal." "And that animal is in me now, Theydon. So take care."
Madeline's brown eyes lifted to the brands on Alexander's cheeks. "You have gone through morpho."
Disgust saturated her gaze. "Yes. Your size, your eyes, the marks on your face and wrists--the look of the monster, the rapist . . . Though you will not become a Breeding Male, your father is within you."
Alexander heard Sara gasp beside him and he dropped his arm from her waist and went searching for her hand. It was the bond he needed, the strength he needed to stop himself from killing the pair before him. When he found her warm, willing palm, he squeezed it gently.
Theydon gestured to Madeline. "Go inside the house, Madeline. I will deal with your unwanted balas."
With one last look at Alexander, Madeline turned and hurried up the steps.
When the door clicked shut, Theydon whirled on Alexander and hissed, "Why are you here, sacro witte? "
Dirty animal. Yes, indeed. "I seek the Hollow of Shadows."
Disgust gave way to fear and awe within the old paven's pale eyes. "The Order?"
"I need their location."
"I don't know it."
"Don't play with me."
"Never. I do not wish to dirty my soul."
Alexander dropped Sara's hand and with the powers of morpho, shot forward, landing within a centimeter of the piece-of-shit paven who goaded him so easily. He spoke slowly and with deadly lucidity. "As you would have it, my hunger is never quelled, Stepfather, and when I look at you, the ache to rip you apart and feed on your unbeating heart is barely contained."
The old paven shuddered. "Do not threaten me, witte."
"There is no threat, only fact. An animal will kill to survive."
Theydon paused, seeming to consider his next move. "None of us can reveal the location of the Hollow of Shadows. We would be imprisoned for it. And I would never make such a sacrifice for you. You must find it on your own. Or not." His gaze fell on Sara and he sneered. "Now, your human is stinking up our air. Pray, take her back to where you came from and do not return."
Alexander's fangs dropped low enough for his stepfather to see, but the older paven didn't turn around and run. His steps were easy and calm as he made his way into the house, just as they had been centuries earlier as he'd left the outdoor cage and the starving, frozen balas huddled within it.
For Sara, the journey into the credenti had been a slow, vigilant one. The race out, however, was proving to be anything but.
Halfway through the woods, she stopped running, shrugged away from Alexander, and dropped at the waist, attempting to catch her breath. "I can't . . . You're going too fast."
His face implacable, Alexander said nothing, merely scooped her up in his arms like she weighed less than a pine needle and continued down the path at a hectic pace.
Sara dropped her head against his chest and watched the blur of snowy farmland whiz past. She wasn't about to fight him or ask the dozen questions that licked at her curiosity after all she'd just heard. She knew he had to get out, breathe free again. It was an impulse she understood all too well.
When they finally reached the gate, Alexander bit into his wrist and slashed the gaping wound against the frozen iron. In seconds, the massive plates pulled back and Alexander flew through them, jetting across the roadway and into the thick beach grass.
Clutching Sara tight against his chest, he faced the ocean and snapped his eyes shut.
Before Sara could even take a breath, much less speak, they were off again, moving, flying, so high above the water the air grew ice cold, until-- CRACK--they flashed downward and hit concrete.
Her heart beating with jackrabbitlike quickness, Sara lifted her head from Alexander's chest and glanced around. She gasped. They were on top of a lighthouse, sixty feet or more in the air, on a balcony overlooking a dark, wild sea.
"Not SoHo," Sara called over the wind and white curtains of crashing waves, her hair slapping against her cheeks.
"Not yet," Alexander called, then turned and carried her inside.
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