He strode straight to the bedroom-slash-torture-chamber and hung the bag of what she assumed was meat from a hook on the ceiling.
She wasn’t about to ask what else he had hung from there. Still, she crossed her arms over her chest and nodded at the equipment hanging neatly, arranged by type and size, from the walls. “Tell me about all of this.”
Shade shook his head, the soft whisper of his hair brushing against his jacket collar joining the eerie squeak of the meat hook swinging back and forth. This was the strangest situation she’d ever been in, and when you worked for the U.S. Army’s paranormal unit, strange situations were a daily deal.
The thought made her flush with guilt. Shade had been distant, not entirely open with her about everything, including what happened in this room, but she’d been keeping secrets, too, like how much the Army knew about his hospital, and why she’d truly come to New York.
And what the heck was she going to do once the full moon was over and she had to go back to work? Shade wasn’t going to let her walk away, but she wasn’t about to give up the job she’d grown to love so he could keep her prisoner in his cave.
“You don’t need to know.”
“Yeah, I think I do.”
“Runa, you don’t want to know.”
“You keep saying that, and I’m sick of it,” she said, jamming her fists on her hips. “I’m not a docile little mouse anymore, buddy, and I want answers. Now.”
Shade cursed, ran his hands through his hair over and over as he paced. She tore her gaze away from him, mainly to give him time to compose himself, because he seemed to be on the verge of exploding out of his skin.
So she stared at the walls, where the rows of whips, canes, and bondage equipment hung. Bottles and jars lined a shelf, alongside gloves and masks, and even some less-threatening toys such as feathers. God, how many females had he brought here? And what did he do with them?
“Shade? Do you force them?” Her gut tore up at the question, mainly because she was afraid of the answer.
“No.” He swung around, his eyes so fierce she actually recoiled a little. “Never. I choose females who demand it. Who need it.”
“What do you mean, need it?”
He began to pace again, his long legs eating up the length of the bedroom in fewer than a dozen strides. “Remember that first time at your coffee shop? I told you I could sense your need.”
The memory of what they’d done in the alley made her flush hot. “That was sex. I can’t imagine anyone needing to be beaten.”
“They need to be liberated. I sense all sexual needs, including the need to be released.”
Okay, now things were getting weird. Well, weirder. “Released? From … life?”
This time when he stopped pacing, he stared at her as if she’d grown fur already. “I’m not a monster. I don’t kill them. Ever.”
“Then what are you talking about? And would you stop pacing? You’re wearing a hole in the floor.”
Naturally, he ignored her. “Some females are into BDSM. They crave the submission. The rough treatment. The restraint. They might even get off on pain. They want it. That’s one thing. Others need it.” He reached up and rubbed the back of his neck, but his stride didn’t falter, and neither did his concentration. “I told you my mother is an Umber demon.”
“Yes, but I’m not overly familiar with that species.”
“They can sense darkness in others—evil, regret, guilt, things like that. Makes them good judges of character.”
Guilt. She wondered just how much of that she wore on her sleeve for everyone to see. And how much more of it was obvious to Shade. “Can you do that?” Please say no …
“Not in males. See, Seminus offspring inherit a few traits from their mothers’ species, but not all of them, and what they do get is often mutated by the Seminus genes. Since I’m a sexual demon, I can only sense darkness in females, specifically, those who are tormented by it and want to be rid of it.” He paused. “And I can draw it out.”
“How?” When his gaze flickered to the equipment on the walls, she felt a sinking heaviness in her chest. “You torture it out of them.”
“I told you, Runa. You didn’t want to know.”
“Do you—” She swallowed. Hard. “—do you sense darkness in me?”
A long, tense silence stretched between them. His eyes held her, never wavering or fluctuating in intensity. “Yes. Probably tied to the scars Gem was talking about.”
The room shrank. Became a coffin, not a cave. “You wouldn’t—”
“Release from it isn’t something you need. Not now. Not yet.”
Well, wasn’t that a relief. But the way he’d said “not yet,” didn’t bode well. “I still don’t understand this.”
Shade made an impatient gesture. “I can’t explain it. I just know when a female is tortured inside. She subconsciously wants and needs to be freed from whatever haunts her. Believe me, Runa, I don’t force any female to come to my cave.” He shot her a look of regret. “Except you. But that’s different. When they’re here, they get a safe word or safe gesture. If they use it, I stop. But some can take … a lot.”
“Do you enjoy it?” she asked, despising the tremor in her voice, hating the way her gut cramped in dread. She raised her hand to her mouth, as if that would quell the nausea. The idea that he might get off on hurting others … God, her heartbeat pounded in her ears so hard she wasn’t sure she heard him correctly when he finally answered.
“I hate it.”
“I said—” He closed his eyes and took a deep breath. “I said I hate it.”
Thank God. She pictured the females spread and bound, imagined Shade standing there with his fingers curled around the handle of a whip, but she couldn’t reconcile the image with the man standing before her. “What do you get out of it, if you hate it so much?”
“I find my own release.”
“But if you hate it—”
“I’m an incubus, Runa. My body doesn’t care what my brain thinks. The females are here for sex, just as I am. I’m compelled to give it to them.”
She closed her eyes, unable to fathom how he could be so casual about being with so many females and what he did with them. Then again, he was a demon, and she’d only been in his world for a year. She didn’t understand it. But she wanted to.
“So if I want something, something other than sex, are you compelled to give it to me?”
He hadn’t been looking at her, but now his head swiveled around to her, his dark gaze narrowed in suspicion. Even the unseeing eye on his neck, which peeked out from a part in his hair, seemed to take her in.
“That depends on what it is,” he said, his voice husky and low. “What do you want?”
Nervous energy made her fingers tremble as she peeled off her shirt and pushed down her jeans until she stood before Shade wearing only lacy pink panties. Heat licked her between the legs at the sudden hunger that burned in his gaze.
“I want what you gave the others.”
Shade had been raised among demons until he was twenty. He’d spent the next eighty years pinging between the demon world and the human one. He didn’t shock easily. He never went speechless.
But as Runa shoved down her panties and sauntered to the St. Andrews Cross, he found himself unable to talk. Or breathe.
“Don’t,” he croaked.
She ignored him, turned to back up against the hard wood that had supported countless female bodies before her. The idea made him ill. Runa didn’t belong there. Her delicate skin shouldn’t even come into contact with something so tainted by the presence—and blood—of others.
She kicked her feet into the ankle manacles, and they snapped shut with an ominous metallic clang. Reaching up, she did the same with her wrists. Each closure made his heart jerk in his chest. His mind screamed at the sight and at the same time, his body purred.
How could it not? Her toned arms stretched taut above her, making her br**sts ride high and firm. Her narrow waist flared at the h*ps as her legs spread wide, and between, that sweet, hot flesh taunted him, the female lips parted just enough to reveal a glistening hint of arousal.
Runa stared at him, a wicked challenge in her eyes. “Well, mate? I’m submitting to you. What will you do with me now?”
“Submit?” He shook his head. “You’ve barely begun to submit.” In a bid to end this idiocy, he crossed to her, used his height and build to intimidate her as he loomed just out of arm’s reach. “You’re throwing down the gauntlet in a game you know nothing about, Runa.”
“Then teach me,” she said huskily, and he suddenly saw himself covering her with his body, driving into her as she writhed against the bonds, helpless to do anything but succumb to the pleasure he’d give to her.
This was ludicrous. He should release her immediately, shackle her for the moon shift, and then go have a few beers until it was time to chain himself up. His fingers found the release mechanisms at one wrist.
“No.” Her whispered word contained a mix of both command and pleading desperation. She inhaled, the action putting her br**sts in contact with his ribs and sending a shock of lust straight to his balls. “I want what you give the others.”
His body jerked under the force of her desire as the compulsion to give her what she craved began to take hold. Damn her. Damn her to hell, because now he wanted the same thing. The one blessing in all of this was that although he sensed a deep, dark guilt trapped inside her, she wasn’t ready to confront or release it.
“Truly, Runa?” He skimmed his palm down her arm until he reached her breast. Dipping his head so his mouth brushed her ear, he closed his hand over the fleshy mound and squeezed until she gasped. “Do you truly want to know what it means to submit? To find that place inside you that wants to please another? Because I’ll be straight with you—subs generally have more power than the doms. But not in my case. Never in my case.”
Disgusted by his own words, but mind-fogged by the driving instinct to give his mate what she wanted, he broke away from her and snared a leather mask off the wall. It felt cold and wrong in his hand, but he forced himself to select a ball gag next. Her breath caught when he plucked a handful of clothespins from a basket on one shelf. She eyed the items in his hand, visibly swallowed, and then met his gaze with her defiant one.
“I trust you.”
He broke out in a cold sweat. Other females had trusted him—to hurt them.
Runa trusted him not to.
She had no reason to trust him. She shouldn’t. Trusting him had gotten her nothing but a broken heart, attacked by a werewolf, imprisoned by Roag, and into mortal danger—danger from Roag, from Eidolon and Wraith … and from Shade. She’d never survive in this world if she didn’t throw up some damned walls and toughen up.
She’s a hell of a lot stronger than you give her credit for. Stronger than you. The words were a vicious taunt in his head, as if some wicked part of him wanted to punish her for being stronger than he was.
“Shade? Did you hear me?”
Anger boiled up inside him, seared his blood and his thoughts. It didn’t matter that he was furious at himself, at Roag, at everyone but her. He needed to strike out, and she was the only available target.
“Shut up!” he yelled. “Just be quiet.”
He pushed the gag into her mouth, more gently than he’d intended, but hell’s fires, he couldn’t hurt her even when he wanted to. Which pretty much made all of this pointless unless he could scare her. Snarling in frustration, he threw down the mask and tugged on a leather glove studded on the palm with tiny, needlelike spikes, and on the back with larger, heavier ones. Next, he chose a nasty little whip with a barbed tip.
“What now, little wolf?” he asked, his voice going soft and dangerous. “What happens when I really start to work you over? I didn’t even give you a safe gesture.”
She made a noise deep in her throat as she eyed the equipment he’d chosen. Her gaze locked on his gloved hand as he reached for her, halting a scant millimeter from one breast. She quivered, her ni**les tightening in response.
“Do you still trust me not to hurt you?”
Her head snapped up, and the resolve in her expression made him stumble back. She wasn’t going to back down. She didn’t smell of fear. He was holding implements of torture that could make her scream in agony or pleasure or both, and she wasn’t afraid at all.
He could love her for that.
Terror of his own cut through him in an icy blast. He hurled the whip to the floor, tore off the glove, and released her with clumsy, trembling fingers. He talked himself through it like a crazy man, unsure what he was saying, but hearing himself speak.
When she was free, he backed away as if she were a contagious disease. He knew how idiotic he must appear, but he didn’t care. And if she knew what was good for her, she’d keep her trap shut and her hands off him.
For a moment it seemed as though she’d read his thoughts, because she just stood there, rubbing her arms vigorously to bring circulation back. Then, because she was, after all, Runa, she had to go and ruin everything by talking.
“What are you doing? We aren’t finished.”
He turned away, pretending he hadn’t heard her. Maybe if he ignored her, she’d go away. He felt something strike his back, saw the ball gag hit the floor. She’d thrown it at him.
“I said, we aren’t finished.”