Her imagination took what he hadn’t said and went to all kinds of horrific places as she cast a worried glance back at the Harrowgate. The shimmering arch hung between two rocks, identical to the one they’d entered in Ireland. Except this gate didn’t have a creepy demon guarding it.
“Why can’t I sense it?” she asked, more to get her mind off the reality of what Roag would do to her than to satisfy her curiosity.
“Newly turned werewolves are still too human. As your humanity fades with time, your nonhuman instincts will sharpen.”
“How long? I mean, it’s been almost a year.”
He shrugged, a tense roll of one shoulder. “We have a warg paramedic on staff at the hospital who can sense them, and he’s a hundred years old, was turned in his twenties. So he started sensing Harrowgates somewhere in that eighty-year time frame.”
She shot him an irritated glare. “How helpful.”
“Come on.” He grabbed her hand, the one that had been shredded by the Bathag’s teeth, and she winced. “You’re hurt.” He drew her knuckles closer to his face, bringing her body in as well.
Shade ignored her, running his fingers lightly over the raw, torn skin. A breeze rattled the trees, bringing with it Shade’s scent, a potent mix of earth and sweat, battle and sex. Dirt and blood streaked his chest, and a bruise darkened one cheek, but he was all the more gorgeous for it. She hated her primitive response to the way he’d fought for her, hated him, in fact. But she couldn’t stop staring any more than she could stop her heart from beating.
“Let go of me.” She bit the words out viciously, desperate to get away from him, but he held her with his hypnotic gaze and slow, soothing passes of his thumb across her knuckles. When a low-level buzz shot through her hand, she gasped. “What are you doing?”
“Speeding up the healing process. I can’t do what Eidolon does and heal you on the spot, but I can nudge your body’s natural curative abilities into high gear.” His voice was husky, reminding her of the way he sounded when he was inside her, murmuring sexy, naughty things in her ear.
He must have been reminded of the same thing, because he cursed and dropped her hand. “Follow me.” He moved off without another word.
Frustrated by both her mercurial feelings for him and his unpredictable behavior, she watched him go, tempted to try the Harrowgate on her own.
“You won’t be able to work it,” he called out, and dammit, how had he known what she was thinking?
He led her along an overgrown trail, his movements swift and sure. Leaves sliced at his skin and branches clawed at him, but he didn’t seem to notice.
She didn’t know how far they’d walked with her jumping at every noise, but she sensed at least an hour had passed when he began to slow. The sound of rushing water reached her ears about the same time as a swarm of mosquitoes attacked her.
“God, I need a shower.” She slapped her neck, squishing one of the bloodsuckers. “How can you stand living here?”
“The native wildlife doesn’t bother me, and only the most extreme temperatures affect me.”
She remembered how, in the cold dungeon, he hadn’t so much as shivered after he’d been stripped of his clothes. She, on the other hand, had thought she’d freeze to death at times.
The thick weave of mossy trees and lush plants thinned, opening into a clearing bordered on one side by a sheer rocky cliff and a massively tall waterfall, a sparkling paradise in the middle of hell.
“Let me guess, the entrance to your cave is behind the fall?” Too cliché.
He said nothing, merely kept walking. She followed, slapping mosquitoes and brushing aside branches that snagged her sweater and tugged at her hair. They passed between the cliff and a giant rectangular stone, the path angling sharply upward for about thirty feet, until they ran into a dead-end tangle of brush and vines. Shade reached into a section of vegetation, fumbled with something until she heard a click, and a large chunk of rock slid sideways, revealing a narrow opening.
“Who built this?”
There was something you didn’t hear every day.
They stepped through the opening into a cool cavern. Soft light flooded the cave from fixtures mounted in the polished white stone ceiling.
“The waterfall powers the place,” he said before she could ask.
Behind them, the stone slid back into place, but she barely noticed, was way too fascinated by this lair of his.
Open and surprisingly airy, the natural features of the cave had been used to create living space. Stone benches lined with plush fabric were scattered around the cavern. A hearth had been set into a deep recess in the smooth, dark walls. There was even a large flat-screen TV hanging over the fireplace.
“It’s mainly to watch movies,” he explained, as he moved toward the rear of the room. “I don’t get cable here, so I’ve got a helluva DVD collection.”
Yeah, she had noticed that. One entire wall had been carved into shelves that held more DVDs than a video store. And for God’s sake, could he get dressed? The way the muscles in his back rippled, the globes of his ass flexed as he walked … she couldn’t help but stare, and he definitely didn’t need that kind of ego boost.
He disappeared through a doorway, and she followed him. Tiny pinpoint lights had been set into the walls of the short hallway, which opened up into a kitchen of sorts. Again, natural cave features had been used, brilliantly, to define the room. The table, which could seat eight on two long benches, had been carved from stone. So had the counters and double sink. Stainless steel appliances, while compact, were state-of-the-art, and had been set into the walls for minimal profile.
“This is so cool.” She’d been impressed by his New York apartment, with its modern, masculine decor, but this … wow. “Why would you live in the city when you could come home to this every day?”
“How do you know I don’t live here?” He gestured for her to enter a narrow opening that jagged to the right, concealing whatever lay beyond the kitchen.
“There’s not enough here to keep you busy,” she said, and stepped into … oh, God. She clapped a hand over her mouth to contain a startled yelp.
He snorted. “If I come here, I plan to be busy.” She came to a halt, her feet turning to lead. His hands came down on her shoulders, and his mouth dipped to her ear. Her heart skittered in an erratic rhythm. “As you can see.”
Oh, she saw.
They were in some kind of bedroom. Though she could use that term loosely. “This—this is a torture chamber.”
Shade brushed by her, the heat of him practically burning through her clothing. “I prefer to call it a pleasure chamber.” He swung around to her and she expected a smile, but strangely, he looked … sad. “This is where you’ll stay tonight.”
“What?” She backed away from him, bumped into the cave wall behind her. Something rattled. Chains. Holy crap. “You took me from that dungeon only to bring me to another one?”
She scooted away from him, sliding her back along the cold wall, but he tracked her with the predatory intent of the jaguars she’d been afraid of on the walk through the jungle. Fool. Shade was far more dangerous than any jungle cat.
He caught up to her, halting so close she had to crane her neck to look up at him. His voice was a deep, erotic growl as he murmured, “It’s a play room, Runa.”
“One man’s play room is another man’s torture chamber,” she said hoarsely.
Swallowing her terror, she dragged her gaze away from his dark one.
A massive bed took up the entire back of the room and, like everything else, it had been built into a recess so that it sat in its own little cave. Pulleys, chains, and leather cuffs hung from the ceiling above the bed.
Elsewhere, sturdy wooden structures had been placed randomly, though she had no doubt there was nothing random about the way they were meant to be used.
“Stocks,” he explained. “Spanking benches.” His hand drifted over the lid of a chest in one corner. “Whips, flogs, gags. There’s more, but I doubt you want to see.”
Runa’s mouth went dry. She had no idea how to respond, but she did know that for the first time since meeting Shade and learning he was a demon, she was afraid.
Shade left Runa alone in the bedroom, unable to stomach the scent of her confusion and fear. He hated that room, hated everything in it. Hated that he’d had to bring a woman as gentle and caring as she was into a place where he’d spilled both his s**en and the blood of countless females during sex. They’d wanted it, and he’d given it to them because his nature forced him to do it, but he’d hated every minute with those demon females. They always left his cave satisfied, but he would be scrambled on the inside, so rattled that only immersing himself in work would level him out again.
Knowing his brothers would be freaking out, he used the satellite phone to call Wraith’s cell. Wraith answered on the first ring.
“Shade?” Static warped Wraith’s voice so Shade could barely hear, but he didn’t want to step outside for better reception. He’d rather keep tabs on Runa.
“Yeah, man, it’s me.”
“Where are you? Are you okay? E and I have been climbing the f**king walls.”
“I’m good. I’ll head into UG in a few.”
“I’ll come to you. Tell me where you are.”
The concern in Wraith’s voice cut Shade like a scalpel. He and Wraith had always shared a deep connection, almost too deep. Wraith could sometimes read Shade’s thoughts, which would be bad enough even if Shade didn’t have any secrets he was keeping from his younger brother. But he did have secrets, and one of them was this cave. Tortured and caged for years, almost from birth, Wraith had a serious issue with anything resembling bondage or torture. He definitely wouldn’t understand Shade’s extreme sexual needs.
“Bro, I’m okay.” He heard the shower turn on, imagined Runa stripping, pictured water running down her na**d body, and his own hardened. “I need some down time, if you catch my meaning.”
“If you aren’t here by midnight,” Wraith growled, “I’m coming after you. If you catch my meaning.”
Shade grinned. When Wraith made a threat about coming after you, he meant that when he caught you, he was going to kick your ass.
“Chill, ’kay? I’ll fill you and Eidolon in on everything when I get there.” He hung up before Wraith could argue and slipped out the hidden side entrance between the living room and kitchen. Immediately, a warm breeze wrapped around him like a lover’s embrace—the only kind he’d ever truly allowed.
The exit took him to a flat, well-concealed stone platform behind the waterfall. He’d never brought any of his sex partners out here, but he wanted Runa to see his favorite spot in the world. Runa, who was na**d in his shower. Shade’s skin grew hot, so hot that the fine, cooling mist from the pounding water did nothing to ease the burn.
Sucking in a breath and a curse, he stepped fully into the waterfall. Water crashed over him, washing away the grime from the dungeon, but it couldn’t scour away the darkness in his soul or the pain of losing Skulk.
His little sister had been the one beacon of light in his life, the soft to his hard. She’d been gifted with the Umber ability to see darkness inside anyone, had possessed the power to lessen or even remove it with a touch. That she couldn’t heal Shade, couldn’t come close to removing the darkness inside him had been a constant source of worry for her, but she’d been convinced that both his curse and the regret surrounding it could eventually be banished.
She’d been wrong about Shade, but right about Roag.
“There’s so much evil in him, Paleshadow,” she’d told Shade once, using the nickname he’d never hear again. With his tan skin, he’d stood out among his twenty sisters, all of whom were purebred Umbers, with cement-gray coloring, charcoal hair, and gunmetal eyes. He’d been the firstborn—a product of his father’s rape of his mother when she was barely out of puberty—and ten years older than the oldest sister. Umbers were extremely gentle and maternal, so he’d been treated as well as his sisters. As the eldest, it had been Shade’s responsibility to care for them. To keep them safe.
He’d failed miserably.
His mother had left him in charge while she went hunting, something that often took days. While she was gone, he’d been struck by his first maturation cycle, had left his sisters alone to satisfy his sexual urges, and when he’d returned to the cave, he’d come upon a slaughter. Khilesh devils in search of a meal had targeted the unprotected den, and it had been clear that even after they’d filled their bellies, they’d continued to kill. Skulk had been the only survivor, had escaped death by hiding inside a narrow cave shaft that was her favorite spot during their games of hide-and-seek.
Shade closed his eyes and turned his face up, hoped the water would pound him until he was numb, but he knew it wouldn’t help. Nothing helped. He’d hunted down the Khileshis, but even their deaths hadn’t helped. His remorse over what had happened was something that ate at him like acid, and it didn’t matter that he’d left his siblings during a period of madness. Hell, he barely remembered leaving the cave. Barely remembered the days of nonstop sex that followed.
And yet, neither Skulk nor his mother had blamed him. It had been their love and comfort that made him want a family of his own, sons he could raise with a mate he loved.
Thanks to his curse, that wouldn’t happen. It couldn’t happen.