“How’d you know?” Sure, the fact that Shade had locked her away on the night of a full moon was a dead giveaway, but the way E was hedging, not meeting his gaze … it wasn’t like his brother. Something was seriously wrong.
“Last night, you stumbled into the ER. Do you remember that?”
“Vaguely, now that you mention it.” He struggled to put together the fragments of memories floating around in his head, like the one of him stepping out of the gate and into the reddish light that allowed for day-dwellers to see inside the hospital as well as those who lived in the dark … but after that, the image broke apart like smoke in the wind. “It’s pretty much all a blank.”
“That’s because the moment you exited the Harrowgate, you turned into a warg.”
Shade froze as he tied the drawstrings on his pants. “That’s a joke, right?” When E didn’t crack a smile, Shade inhaled sharply. “E, come on. We’re immune to the lycanthropic infection.”
“I’ll be sure to remind you of that tonight when you’re doing tricks for Milk Bones.”
Shade couldn’t swallow. Could barely breathe. Seminus demons were not prone to “turning.” The only way his species could become part of another species was to be born to it. Like Wraith, who was a full-blooded Seminus but also a vampire. Under the right circumstances, had Shade been born to a werewolf, he’d be a pure-blooded Seminus who would crave Kibbles and Bits three nights out of the month. But you couldn’t turn into a vamp or a warg.
“Tell me what happened, Shade. Where have you been for the last couple of days?”
Shade sank down onto his bed before his knees gave out. “Hell, E. I was in hell.”
A long silence dragged out. The familiar, muted blips of hospital equipment had nearly calmed him when E finally spoke. “You said your mate is chained. Where?”
E nodded, knowing exactly which place. “That’s why you changed so suddenly. The time difference between Central America and New York. All it took was stepping out of the Harrowgate. You completely missed the transition period.”
Yeah, Shade had seen a were or two shift from human to beast and vice versa, so he knew they didn’t just poof into shape. Apparently, he had. He must have been one pissed-off puppy once his shift was complete.
“Did I hurt anyone?”
“There were a few scrapes and bruises, but nothing serious.”
“Bro!” Wraith strode into the room and yanked Shade into a bear hug.
“Someone was a little worried about you,” Eidolon drawled as Wraith released Shade.
“Like you weren’t.” Wraith punched E in the shoulder and turned back to Shade. “Now, big bro, you have some explaining to do. Starting with what the f**k you were thinking getting yourself bonded.”
Shade shook his head. Which felt like it had been whacked with a baseball bat. “Trust me, that’s not where I need to start.”
“Where have you been?” Wraith crossed his thick arms over his chest, obscuring the raunchy phrase on his T-shirt. “We know you were in pain, and we know you were shielded.”
“Shielded? Yeah, I guess that makes sense. I couldn’t feel you. Wondered why you guys didn’t come rescue me.” Roag would have been smart enough to install a damping spell around his castle to keep demons inside from sending out telepathic pleas for help, as well as to weaken the waves of misery that would be felt by those sensitive to it.
“Wraith nearly came out of his skin, he was so stressed.” E made it sound like he hadn’t worried, but the puffy shadows beneath his brother’s bloodshot eyes said otherwise. “Everyone here was worried about you and Skulk.” His voice lowered. “She is okay, right?”
“No.” Shade’s chest tightened around the empty hole Skulk’s death had left. “The ambulance run we went on was a trap. Skulk and I were taken by Ghouls.”
The temperature in the room plummeted as his brothers went dead still.
“Skulk?” E’s voice was barely a whisper.
Shade couldn’t say it. Not with the way his throat had closed up.
“Ah, fuck,” Wraith rasped.
Eidolon said nothing, merely closed his eyes and hung his head. He’d be offering up a prayer in the tradition of his Justice demon upbringing, a prayer asking for fair judgment of her soul and a satisfactory return to a new physical body.
Shade, whose religious upbringing had been less fundamentalist than Eidolon’s, wasn’t sure what to believe about the state of Skulk’s soul, but like many demons, humans, and vamps, Wraith didn’t pray to anyone or anything, and curses began to fall from his mouth, nasty invective in several different human and demon languages.
“I’ll kill the bastard who did it, Shade. I swear to you, I will mount his head in the specimen room.”
More curses spilled from him as his rage gathered. Wraith had two switches—I-don’t-give-a-fuck and I’m-going-to-kill-something—and any intense emotion threw one of them.
A voice screamed inside Shade’s head—Roag’s crackling, hoarse words saying that Wraith had been his target, not Skulk. “We’ve got to find him first.” He patted his shirt out of habit, seeking a pack of gum.
“Tell us everything,” Eidolon said, and Shade braced himself for their reactions.
“I woke up in a dungeon. Runa was with me.”
Wraith scowled. “Runa? That human you were boning last year?”
“Yeah. She’s not so human anymore. And now I’m bonded to her.”
This was so humiliating. “We were forced into it. By someone who knew about my curse. Someone who wants us all to suffer.” He patted his shirt again. First chance he got, he was putting in an order for a damned vending machine in this place.
“It was a vampire, wasn’t it?” Wraith asked.
It was a logical conclusion, given what had gone down between vamps and Seminus demons thanks to their father’s insane indiscretion. The vampires considered what he’d done to be the worst kind of offense, and Shade had to agree. What kind of sick bastard raped a woman during the transition between human and vampire, impregnated her, and then used his gift—the same gift Shade had—to keep her body alive so the fetus would grow, until she gave birth? He’d violated her repeatedly during her pregnancy and kept her in what had to have been a hellish stasis, not quite human, not yet vampire.
Not surprisingly, the female had gone mad, and Wraith had paid the price. Eventually, so had their father, once the vamps caught up to him.
“I wish the fiend responsible was a vampire.” He realized his hand was still at his chest, but he was rubbing it instead of patting for gum. The hole Skulk had left hurt, and talking about it only made it ache more. “It was Roag.”
Wraith’s eyes narrowed, and he waved a hand in front of Shade’s face. “E? Did you order a CT scan? Did he hit his head?”
Shade swatted his brother’s hand away. “Roag lives. And he’s more twisted than ever. He’s been behind the black market operation for the last couple of years.”
Eidolon went taut, his expression haunted. Wraith took a second longer to absorb the announcement, but when he did … shit. Shade had never seen his brother go so deathly white.
“Not funny, Shade.” Wraith’s voice was a harsh growl. “Not. Fucking. Funny.”
“Do you see me laughing?” Shade exhaled slowly, needing a moment to make sure he could keep his shit together, mainly because as unstable as Wraith was on a good day, this could get real ugly, real fast. “Roag survived the fire. I don’t know how. He’s damaged—skin like beef jerky, no nose, missing half his fingers.”
Eidolon, ever the logical one, shook his head. “We felt him die. We’d feel him if he was alive.”
“His death severed the connection,” Shade said, “but when he was resuscitated, the connection wasn’t.”
“How was he resuscitated? By whom?” Wraith dug one hand into his jeans’ pocket, and Shade knew he was comforting himself by feeling up one of his weapons. His brother was never unarmed, not when he was sleeping, f**king, not even in the safety of the hospital. No doubt there were a half-dozen more blades concealed on his body.
“Solice. She was there, with Roag. No doubt she’s been spying for him.” Shade clenched his fists at the memory of how she’d gone down on her knees and tortured the hell out of him in the dungeon.
“Solice?” Wraith’s lip curled into a nasty snarl. “She’s so fired. Like, with real fire.”
Eidolon was totally revved, grinding his teeth, tugging on his stethoscope. “This doesn’t add up. He was massively touched in the head, but why would he want to hurt you? And Skulk?”
“He killed Skulk to torture me. The rest … he thinks we’re responsible for the fire at Brimstone. He wants revenge.”
Wraith’s eyes shot wide open, and E shook his head. “The Aegis did it.”
“I know, but he’s convinced we wanted him dead.”
“I sure as hell want him dead,” Wraith ground out.
“You won’t get an argument from me.” Shade pegged E with a look, daring him to disagree, but his brother only nodded.
Wraith paced in a circle, his boots striking the obsidian floor so hard Shade expected to see sparks. “You say Roag forced you and Runa to bond?”
“He made us think we were dreaming.”
E cursed. “He really is sick. He knows that if you have a female tethered to you, you’ll fall for her.”
“And activate the curse.” Wraith wheeled around. “It’s an easy fix. We just kill Runa—”
A low growl erupted in the room. The writing on the walls began to pulse, and Shade realized the noise and aggression was coming from him.
“Easy, Shade,” E said. “You know Wraith is right.”
Yeah, he knew that. But the fierce, possessive instinct to protect his mate was burning inside him.
“I’ll do it.” Wraith’s voice was hard, decisive. “Where is she?”
Shade was in his brother’s face so fast he didn’t remember getting there. “Touch her, and I’ll lay you out like roadkill.”
Wraith held up his hands, smiled with a flash of fangs. “See? This is why I’m never, ever bonding with a female. Makes you stupid.” He shot a meaningful glance at Eidolon. “Or pussywhipped.”
Pissed as Shade was, he had to give Wraith that one. Not that Eidolon being whipped was a bad thing. His mate, Tayla, had kept him from going insane, but she also had him wrapped around her slender little slayer finger. When she crooked it, he came.
“Shade,” Eidolon said softly, “would it be easier if Tayla did it? Tonight, after Runa changes?”
“No!” Shade backed away from Wraith, ran his hands through his hair, and left them clutching his skull as if doing so would help him keep his head on straight. “Nothing will make it easier. You think I want to know that Wraith is getting off on killing my mate or that your slayer is beating the hell out of her?”
E nodded as if he got that. “I can do it. I’ll sedate her first. She won’t feel a thing.”
Anguish twisted Shade’s gut, and he dropped his hands. His body and emotions were so tweaked out. “That’s not like you, offering to kill someone.” Then again, it was the logical thing to do, and E was all about logic.
“Better her than you.” Eidolon’s dark gaze sharpened. “I won’t risk losing you, Shade. Not to that curse. We’ve already got the werewolf thing to deal with, on top of your impending s’genesis.”
The s’genesis that was clawing at him even now. He could feel the throbbing in his throat, right above where his mated mark had set into his skin. His groin throbbed in time with his neck, and he knew he’d need to be with Runa, and soon.
“No one touches her until I’ve gone through it,” he growled. “Having a mate will make it easier, and with the lycanthropy complications …” What a nightmare. If s’genesis struck during a full moon, he could only imagine the horrors he’d inflict on the females he’d attack for sex.
Eidolon blew out a breath. “I agree that it makes sense to wait, but you’re taking a chance.”
“I’m not going to fall in love with her anytime soon, bro. She’s annoying as hell. I have time.”
“I don’t like it,” Wraith said.
Shade snorted. “You just want an excuse to kill her.”
Wraith didn’t deny it. “How did she infect you, anyway?”
His body cramped, as though it remembered the agony he’d been in when he’d begged Runa to hurt him.
“She shifted to bite me.” He frowned. “She can shift at will. She doesn’t need the full moon.”
Eidolon started. “How is that possible?”
“She doesn’t know.”
“This isn’t good, Shade. Were-beast infections are human diseases. We’re not meant to catch them. Who knows what the lycanthropy is doing to your body. And what happens during a full moon when you need sex? You could rip your partner apart.”
“I’ll have Runa.”
Shade clenched his fists and changed the subject. “Maybe you should run some tests on her.” The tests might reveal why she didn’t sport the mating markings, too. Though that was something he’d keep to himself for now.