Yeah, the fun little love curse came with an out clause that was as demented as the prick who dreamed up the spell in the first place.
Shade could transfer the curse to a loved one, someone he cared about in a nonromantic way. Which left only Eidolon and Wraith, and that was not going to happen. Even if he did decide to transfer the curse, he had no idea how to go about doing so.
An orderly pushing a cart with his tentacles passed by, and once he was out of earshot, Eidolon said, “Are you in danger of falling for Runa anytime soon?”
Shade closed his eyes, as if doing so would block out the truth. “No,” he lied. He didn’t want to freak out his brothers, and saying yes would put Runa in immediate danger.
“I know you don’t want to kill her, but there might be another way.”
Shade’s eyes snapped open. “What?”
“We can keep her here. Or somewhere. A special room where she’ll be comfortable. You can go to her when you need to—”
“You want to keep her caged like an animal? Like an Orgesu?”
“Shade, if she isn’t bonded to you, she can take off. Go anywhere she wants, screw anyone she wants, and where does that leave you? A strung-out beast trying to track her down before you die. Even if she were bonded, you can’t be together. You’ll fall for her. It’s inevitable. Then we lose you and you’re stuck in a fate worse than death.”
Way worse. He could picture himself as nothing more than a phantom, floating around with no way to communicate with anyone, no way to touch anyone. Stuck in a permanent state of starvation, thirst, and pain from unrelieved lust, he’d go insane. Hell, insanity was a family trait, and he was halfway there already.
“I can’t keep her as a sex slave, E. I can’t make her live out her life alone except when I come to her a few times a day for a quick fuck.”
“I’m giving you an alternative to killing her.”
Shade glanced through the lab door window, trying to imagine Runa locked away, alone in a room with nothing but maybe a television and some books to keep her company. Would she waste away, fade into a listless shell with nothing to live for as her bright spark fizzled? Would she just lie there as he took her, her empty eyes staring at the wall until he finished? Or would she grow angry and bitter, becoming a rabid beast he’d have to rape in order to get what he needed?
Gods, he wanted to throw up.
As though she felt his gaze, she turned, flashed him a little wave with one hand as she held a cotton ball over the needle puncture with the other. Frank said something that made her laugh, and she turned to him, her smile innocent and flirty all at once, and Shade wanted to barge in there and crack open the bastard’s skull.
“Fucking Roag,” he snarled. “Man, I want to make him bleed.”
“We all do.”
“Really?” Shade whipped his head around. “Do you really? Because you and Roag were always tight. You never saw the bad in him.”
Eidolon blinked a couple of times, as if he couldn’t believe Shade had said that, and yeah, that was a low blow.
“Hey,” Shade muttered, “I’m sorry. I’m frustrated. And pissed. I shouldn’t be a werewolf, I shouldn’t be bonded, and Skulk shouldn’t be dead. Oh, and my neck burns.”
Frowning, E brought his fingers to Shade’s throat. “S’genesis. It’s coming. Any minute now.”
Naturally. He rubbed his eyes, wondering how he’d backed right up to a cliff edge so quickly.
Rotating lights on the walls began to flash, and the faint warble of ambulance sirens sent a jolt of adrenaline surging through Shade’s veins. It never failed to amaze him how, when E first proposed building a hospital, Shade had resisted, having no desire to help anyone. But he’d quickly grown addicted to the excitement, the rush that came with every emergency.
He knew Eidolon was feeling the same thing, would be jonesing to sprint to the ER and take command of whatever was going to be exploding through the doors.
Shade scrubbed his palm over his face. “I need to get back to work.”
“It’ll take my mind off things. Besides, who knows how my poor ambulances were being treated while I was gone?” He couldn’t leave Runa alone, though, not when it would be so easy for her to run away. “Runa can ride along on the ambulance runs.”
“As long as you think you can handle it.”
“I’ll work on the new duty schedule tomorrow and start runs as soon as the full moon phase is over.”
The lab door opened, and Runa stood there, looking adorable and lost, and he wanted to drag her into his arms and hold her. He was in so. Much. Trouble.
“Frank said I’m done.”
Frank. Not the lab technician. Or Mr. Williams. Frank.
This raging jealousy was not good.
Eidolon knew, clapped a hand on Shade’s shoulder. “It’ll get easier.”
“Whatever,” he mumbled. “You heading home?” When E nodded, Shade added, “You’re sure Wraith’s okay.”
“For now. Kynan is keeping an eye on him.”
“Kynan Morgan, right?” Runa asked.
Eidolon cocked a brow. “You know him?”
Runa bit her lip in that way she did that made Shade want to kiss her. “My brother knows him. I thought I recognized him earlier. From pictures,” she added hastily.
“He was the doc working on Wraith.” Shade grabbed her hand, hating that she was asking about the man. “Back to the cave.” Because the way he was behaving, he belonged in a f**king cave. He might as well take her by the hair and drag her there. To top it off, his skin had begun to tingle and stretch, and he had a feeling he was about to go canine.
“I’d like to run some more tests,” Eidolon said, falling back into doctor mode. “An MRI, a bone marrow aspiration—”
“Bro, we stay much longer and you’ll need to send her to a vet clinic for all that.” Shade glanced at Runa. “We’re going to hit the cafeteria on the way out.”
“I’m not hungry.”
“Did you notice the demon species on staff? They all have unique diets. Which includes raw meat.”
She wrinkled her nose. “So you keep …”
“Not live animals. But we’ve got a walk-in fridge full of carcasses.” Her expression of disgust made him smile. “You eat raw meat three nights a month and you’re offended by our cafeteria?”
“It’s not like I want to eat raw meat. Trust me, if I could cure the lycanthropy, I would.” She glanced at Eidolon. “Do you think there’s a chance, at least, that Shade could be cured?”
She wasn’t supposed to care, and that she did made Shade’s heart bleed. “He’ll do his best,” he ground out, and tugged her toward the cafeteria. To Eidolon he said, “If you learn anything from the tests, ring me. And let me know if you get any leads on Roag.”
“Be careful, Shade. Be really careful,” Eidolon said, but he wasn’t talking about Roag.
He was talking about Runa.
The cafeteria was like nothing Runa had ever seen. Strange, foul odors mingled with familiar, spicy scents that made Runa’s stomach both turn and growl with hunger.
The tables and benches appeared to be made of massive slabs of granite, and a pit, maybe five feet deep and forty by forty feet in size, took up one corner of the cavernous room. Three demons of unidentifiable species were in the pit, tearing something apart with their teeth and claws. Around them, a half-dozen smaller creatures, grotesque, spiderlike things the size of Chihuahuas, were snapping up scraps.
Runa shuddered and clutched Shade’s hand a little harder. “I hope those things aren’t employees.”
“The big ones are patients. The others are cleaners.”
One of the demons, a green, winged, man-sized thing, turned to look at her, and she nearly froze at the intensity of the evil in its gaze. Except, it really didn’t have a gaze, since it had no eyes.
Shade barked something to the creature in a language she didn’t know, and it snarled, but it went back to crunching bones between its sharklike teeth.
“Don’t antagonize the patients,” he said to her, but she didn’t have time to protest, because they stopped at a table where a pretty black-and-blue-haired woman in scrubs sat alone, reading a mystery novel and sipping coffee from a mug stained with her black lipstick.
“Gem,” Shade said, and the woman looked up. “This is Runa. Keep an eye on her for a minute. No one is to lay a finger on her.”
He didn’t wait for a reply, simply strode off with the arrogance of someone who knew damned good and well he wouldn’t be disobeyed. Annoyance and appreciation warred as she watched him walk away, all silent menace in his black leather and boots.
The female he’d called Gem stuck her pierced tongue out at him and then gestured to the bench across from her. “Have a seat. You must be Shade’s—” she glanced at Runa’s bare arm and broke off. “Or not.”
“I am,” Runa sighed. “I just don’t have the marks yet. Shade’s brother is trying to figure out why that is.” She watched Gem take a sip from her cup. “Smells like a Kona-Colombian blend.”
Gem’s pierced brow shot up. “Wow. You’re good.”
“I used to own a coffee shop.”
Pushing aside the mug, Gem gazed longingly at the lunch line. “I’d love you forever if you taught these morons how to brew a decent pot of coffee.”
“Brewing bad coffee should be a crime,” Runa said, smiling. She liked this woman. “So, are you a doctor here? Are you human?” She bit her lip. “Was that a rude question?”
“Not at all.” Gem slipped a bookmark between the pages of her paperback and put it aside. “I’m a doctor. And I’m half human. Eidolon’s mate, Tayla, is my sister. I’m sure you’ll meet her soon. She can help you figure out what to expect from the bond—and from Shade.”
Runa stared across the table at the Goth doctor, wishing she wasn’t such a stranger to this world. A stranger to Shade. “How well do you know him?”
“I’ve known him for years, but honestly, I don’t know him that well. He’s a great paramedic, can run the hospital as well as Eidolon, but when it comes to his personal life, he’s pretty tight-lipped.” Gem lowered her voice. “You love him, don’t you?”
“We hardly know each other,” Runa said, which wasn’t an answer. “I mean, we dated before … sort of. But I caught him with these—” She closed her eyes and blew out a breath. “I’m babbling.”
“Yeah, you are.” Gem grinned. “But you’re allowed. You’re in love.” Gem’s smile turned sad. “But he barely knows you exist, right?”
“Something like that,” Runa said softly. She watched a red-skinned nurse walk by on her way to the food counter, where two human-looking servers dished up unidentifiable hot meals. “But I don’t love him.”
“Whatever.” Gem rolled her eyes, making the silver and ruby-jeweled piercing in her eyebrow climb up her forehead. “But girl, you’ve got scars that run deep, and they have nothing to do with Shade.”
“I’m not sure what you mean,” Runa said, even though she did. Shade’s betrayal a year ago had cut her deeply, but truthfully, she’d come to understand the situation, even if it still hurt.
But that wasn’t what the other woman was talking about, and Runa knew it.
Gem’s green eyes glowed with an eerie luminosity. “Shade can heal them, but only if you let him. Only if you trust him.”
Utterly absorbed in Gem’s words, Runa jumped when Shade’s hand came down on her shoulder. In his other hand, he held a burlap sack.
“Let’s go.” He jabbed a finger at Gem. “Mind your own business and keep your Shredder-shit to yourself.”
Gem stood. “I’m going to let that go because I know a lot has happened to you.” She swept up her book. “But don’t forget that I can see your scars, too, and the path you’re on will give you a lot more.”
“You’re out of line.” Shade’s voice cut through the low-level buzz in the cafeteria, drawing a tense silence. Even the demons in the pit grew still.
The Goth doctor locked gazes with him, as if she wanted to press the issue, but the flat black of Shade’s eyes promised zero tolerance. “I know what I see, Shade.” She swept out of the room, a blur of black and blue and silver piercings.
With the way Shade had tensed up, Runa expected to hear a string of blistering curses from him, but he surprised her by saying mildly, “Come on.”
She didn’t move. “What’s ‘Shredder-shit’?”
“Gem is half Soulshredder. They can see weakness, scars, and exploit them. Let’s go.”
“Wait. What path was she talking about?”
“Nothing, dammit. Now, were you wanting to grow fur here in the hospital or back at the cave?”
“Runa, let it go. You don’t want to know. Trust me.”
God help her, she wanted to trust him, wanted to know that at least one person besides her brother cared about her.
She looked at him, at the demon she was bonded to. His eyes were narrowed into dark, dangerous slits, and his expression was as hard and unyielding as his body.
Yes, God help her.
Shade was not in a good mood when they arrived back at his cave. Runa tried talking to him, but his responses amounted to grunts and the occasional snappish yes or no.