“Our best chance to escape won’t happen until they come for us,” she said.
“You said they feed you.”
“Yes, but they push the food and water in with a stick. They won’t come close.”
“Who are they?”
“I think … I think they’re what you demons refer to as Ghouls.”
Shade’s blood pressure bottomed out. “What? How do you know?”
“That’s what someone in another cell called them.”
Ghouls. Not the kind humans feared, the flesh-eaters of lore. No, Ghouls were what demons feared—well, second to Aegis slayers, anyway. Ghoul was the name given to anyone—demon or human—who kidnapped vampires, shifters, and demons to harvest body parts for sale on the underworld black market. The Ghouls had always been vicious, but their operation had taken an even more sinister turn in the last couple of years. Now, instead of merely taking body parts, they did it while the victim was alive.
Last year, Shade and his brothers had crippled the operation. Eidolon’s mate, a half-breed named Tayla, had helped root out humans who had been secretly working with the demons heading the organ-harvesting ring.
The demon population had enjoyed a few months of breathing room, and then suddenly, a couple of months ago, the disappearances and mutilations had started up again, as bloody as ever.
A door at the end of the dark corridor burst open, and the sound of footsteps echoed through the dungeon. Shade braced for a fight, but the intruders stopped before they reached the cell where he and Runa sat quietly. Waiting.
It wasn’t until the screams started that Shade truly realized just how much trouble he was in.
Runa Wagner sat on her little pile of straw, listening to the screams of some female as the Keepers dragged her away to what would probably be a horrifying death.
Shade’s rugged, masculine features gave nothing away, such as how he felt about what was going on around them, and she carefully schooled her own expression to match. Except there was no way she could make her eyes go as flat and cold as his nearly black ones could, no way she could make her jaw do that grating, rigid thing that made him appear as if he was sharpening his teeth on bones.
Menace radiated from him, as palpable as the danger surrounding them. He tugged on his chains, but discovered, as she had, that they were designed to take more serious punishment than either of them could dish out.
He turned to her, and though his perusal of her body from toe to head was anything but sexual, she felt a stirring in places she’d long thought dead. Dead, because he’d been the one to kill them.
“Have they hurt you?”
“Not since they brought me in.” She figured she sported a shiner from the whack across the face she’d taken, but other than some scrapes and bruises, she was fine.
“You’re sure?” He shifted to his knees and grasped her calf with his free hand.
Runa recoiled, but he held her easily. “Don’t touch me.”
“Easy, sweetheart. I’m just doing a system check.” His voice was rough and resonant, sensual without even trying. “You used to like it when I touched you.”
“Yeah, well, that was before I caught you in bed with two vampires. Oh, and before I found out you were a demon.”
“Only one was a vamp.”
She sucked in an angry breath. “That’s all you have to say for yourself?”
“I’m not the talkative type.”
“Unbelievable,” she muttered. “You deceived me, cheated on me, and you can’t even bother with an I’m sorry?”
He removed his hand and sat back on his hip, one leg tucked beneath him, the other cocked at the knee. He stared at the wall, his shoulder-length black hair falling forward to conceal his expression. “I’m sorry you thought I was human. I never said I was.”
“Call me crazy, but is that really something I should have thought to ask?” she spat. “I guess I should have, because I might not have been so shocked to see a real-life vampire and a … whatever it was in your bed.”
“You weren’t supposed to come to my place that night. You said you were busy.”
“I wanted to surprise you.”
And she’d done that, all right. She’d walked into his apartment, arms full of makings for a romantic meal.
As soon as she’d stepped through the door, she’d heard the noises coming from his bedroom. Stomach roiling with foreboding, she’d crept down the hall to the open door.
Shade had been on his back, sideways on the bed, his legs dangling over the edge. A na**d woman straddled him, rode him slowly, her face buried in his throat. Runa must have made a sound, because he’d turned his head and looked at her with glowing golden eyes. Crazily, the first thing that came to mind was that she’d never seen his eyes when they’d made love. He always closed them, buried his face in her neck, or took her from behind.
“Join us?” he’d asked, and that’s when Runa had noticed the other woman kneeling on the floor, her face between his legs.
The woman on top of him raised her head. Blood ran down her chin, and when she smiled, her fangs flashed. A spiked leather collar ringed her neck, the chain connected to it ending in Shade’s fist.
As Runa stood there in shock and horror, the woman bent, tongued his nipple, and picked up her pace. Shade moaned, gripped the woman’s hips, and arched into her.
Runa had fled. Sobbing, she’d run—from one nightmare into another.
“You said you were busy,” Shade repeated, fixing her with a penetrating stare. “I wasn’t expecting you.”
“So that made what you did okay? When did you start screwing around on me?”
He propped an elbow on his knee, somehow managing to look casual, as if he got captured by Ghouls all the time and maybe enjoyed it a little. “Don’t ask questions you don’t want to know the answers to.”
“Oh, I want to know.”
“I don’t think you do.”
“You’re an ass.”
“Tell me something I don’t know.”
“I was in love with you.” Silence fell like an executioner’s ax. Oh, God. Had she just said that? Out loud? If the way the blood rushed from his face was any indication, then yep, she’d opened her big yap and made a fool of herself. “Don’t worry,” she said quickly, “I’m over it. Over you.”
He leaned forward. “Good. Do you know what I am? What I really am?”
“You’re a Seminus demon.” She glanced at the black markings that ran from the fingers of his right hand all the way up to his neck, tattoos she’d thought were just that; tattoos. But she’d since learned that they were something he’d been born with, a history of his paternity going back dozens of generations. The very top symbol, an unseeing eye just beneath his jaw, was his personal mark, which would have appeared following his first maturation phase at the age of twenty.
She smiled tightly. “I spent months researching your species after that night.” Not that much information had been available. Oh, incubi had been thoroughly documented, but his particular breed, Seminus, was so rare that she’d unearthed only sketchy details.
“Then you know my nature—”
“Your nature?” Anger flooded her, anger she thought she’d buried. “I get that you pretty much live in a state of perpetual arousal. I get that your need for sex is all but uncontrollable. But you know what? I don’t give a crap. You tricked me into ha**g s*x with you. Used your incubus tricks and pheromones. You lied to me, made me think you were human.” She could go on, about how betrayed and sickened she’d been when she’d learned the truth, but ultimately, what had happened after she’d fled his apartment was what mattered. “You ruined my life,” she snapped.
Well, she’d done that herself long before Shade had walked into her coffee shop, but he’d definitely made things worse.
“Shit,” he muttered. “See, this is why I make it a rule to not sleep with a human more than once. Your females are clingy.”
She stared. Sputtered. “Are you kidding me? You think my life was ruined because you seduced me and then broke my heart?”
“Well, yeah,” he said, shrugging one broad shoulder.
What. An. Ass.
Snarling, she leaped into an aggressive crouch so fast he reared backward. Her chains rattled as she trembled with the force of her rage. Her skin prickled, tightening, her gums ached, and she knew she was dangerously close to letting out the inner beast.
“You arrogant son of a bitch.” She slammed her palm into his chest, was thrilled to hear him grunt. “I was upset that night, but I’d have gotten over it. Too bad I never got the chance. See, after I left your apartment, I was attacked, torn up, and left to die. You might have known that if you hadn’t had some skanky vampire shouting your name. You might have heard me scream.”
Shade’s gaze sharpened on her, points of midnight flint. “Someone hurt you?”
“Am I supposed to believe you care?”
His hand came up to curl around hers. “Believe it or not, I’m not a monster.”
She laughed, a hard, bitter sound. “No, but I am.” She got right up in his face. “Because of you, I’m a monster, Shade. I’m a goddamned werewolf.”
A werewolf? Not good.
Shade closed his eyes, hoping that when he opened them, he’d wake up in his own bed and Runa would be gone.
So much for that. This nightmare wasn’t going away. He opened his eyes. Wished he hadn’t. Runa was glaring at him, her pale eyes sparking. Gods, he’d bet she was beautiful in beast form … shiny, toffee fur, glowing champagne eyes. She’d be big; would probably stand taller than him. And now the fact that she seemed taller and leaner made sense. Those bitten by werewolves, or wargs, as they usually called themselves, put on muscle and grew an extra inch or two in human form.
Now that his head had cleared, he could smell her as well. Her scent was no longer flowery and sweet. No, she smelled earthy, like a late summer rain in the forest. Oh, and she also smelled really, really pissed.
“Isn’t the full moon in two days?”
Her eyes narrowed. “Why? You think I have a raging case of PMS?”
“It occurred to me.” Weres might joke about Pre-Moon Syndrome, but those who weren’t were-creatures didn’t find anything funny about their hair-trigger tempers, mood swings, and out-of-control sex drives.
“Oh, right. My anger wouldn’t have anything to do with the fact that of the two people I hate the most in the world, I’m chained in a cell with one, and in two days when I morph, I’m probably going to be skinned alive for my pelt, which is apparently worth a mint on the underworld black market.” She jerked her hand out of his with a snarl. “So excuse me for being a little pissy.”
She yanked on her chain as though hoping it would break so she could launch at him. “I should bite you.”
“Demons are immune to lycanthropic infection.”
“It’ll still hurt.” She bared her teeth, and he had no doubt she’d rip into him if she could. “I’d planned to hunt you down and cause you some serious pain, you know. Unfortunately, the Ghouls caught me before I could do it.”
“How did they catch you?”
She drew her knees up to her chest and wrapped her arms around them. “I went back to the place where the werewolf attacked me. It was a long shot, but I was hoping to find some clues. Since it was close to your place, I went by your apartment afterward. You weren’t there, but a man approached me from the street as I was leaving. He asked if I knew you. Asked too many questions. I got suspicious and tried to leave, but he jabbed me with a needle. I woke up here.”
Shade frowned. “How’d they know you’re a warg?”
“They didn’t until another warg came to interrogate me,” she said, which made sense. Usually it took a were-creature or shapeshifter to recognize another.
“What did they question you about?”
“You, Shade. They kept asking what I was doing at your place and how I knew you.”
Oh, fuck. She wasn’t taken off the streets for her pelt. She was taken because she knew him. But why?
Runa still glared at him, her delicate brows angled in a severe line. He inhaled her again, took in the sharp aroma of her anger and the softer, feminine scent that tapped into his protective male instincts. She didn’t belong here, trapped with demons in a dungeon that smelled of mold, urine, and layers upon layers of despair.
Neither did his sister, and the knowledge that both Skulk and Runa were here because of him drop-kicked a sick feeling into the pit of his stomach.
His track record for protecting females was the stuff of nightmares.
A harsh grating noise accompanied a draft of cold air as the iron door to their cell swung open. Runa crowded close to Shade. A male Nightlash demon entered, his humanoid appearance broken by clawed feet and sharp teeth. Two imps—one male, one female—followed, eyes and mouths disproportionately large for their small, round heads. They carried chains, a cudgel, and a bamboo cane.
“Take him,” the Nightlash said.
Shade lunged at the imps. The Nightlash tripped one of two levers on the wall. Instantly, the grind of turning wheels rattled the cell, and Shade’s chains shortened, tugging him until he was hanging sideways, plastered to the wall.
He gritted his teeth against the pain wrenching through his shoulder and hip. One of the imps clamped a metal collar around his neck while the other installed leg irons. His curses echoed off the damp walls, but through them, he heard Runa pleading with the Nightlash to leave him alone. Surprised, Shade slid her a glance as the imps lowered him to the floor.