His curses could have melted the circuitry in the satellites transmitting their conversation. “I told Davis not to send you on this mission. Goddammit. I should have been the one to search for Kynan.”
Arik had been against her work with R-XR from the beginning, but with her coffee shop closed, her heart broken by Shade, and her new werewolfyness, there had been nothing to keep her from doing something interesting for the first time in her life.
And the work was interesting. Sometimes it was even a little dangerous, like the time she’d followed a lion-shifter through the streets of Madrid and walked right into his entire pride as they prepared to head to the country to hunt. Only her ability to shift at will had saved her.
“It’s not the Colonel’s fault,” she sighed. “You were busy, and I jumped at the chance to come back to New York.”
“You jumped at the chance to see that demon again, you mean.”
She didn’t waste her breath on a denial, partly because it would only lead to another argument about how crazy she was to have feelings for Shade, and partly because she no longer knew if she’d come to hurt him or to see him one more time.
“So what happened with the Ghouls?” Arik asked, when she didn’t argue.
“It’s a long story, but the gist of it is that apparently I’m bonded to Shade.”
“What do you mean, bonded?” Runa knew her brother well enough to know he’d spoken through clenched teeth.
“I don’t know. I need you to research that, too. Find out if there’s a way out of it.”
“Yeah. But it isn’t all bad news. I found Kynan.” She leaned her head back against the tree. “He’s working at the demon hospital.”
“You’re f**king kidding me. He’s the one who told us about it in the first place!” He was also the one who gave Arik the demon caduceus that had made her put two and two together to equal Shade’s being involved with the hospital.
“I know. I saw him treating Shade’s brother, Wraith.”
“You were inside the hospital?”
She closed her eyes and listened to the screeches of some kind of creature in the canopy above. “Shade took me. He and his brothers work there. I haven’t been able to talk to Kynan, so I don’t know what his deal is.”
“Where is the hospital located?”
A bird exploded out of the brush. She watched it, wishing she could fly away with it instead of walking the dangerous line she was straddling. On one side was the Army, and on the other, Shade. No matter what she said or didn’t say, she was going to betray someone.
“Runa? Where is it?”
“I can’t say.”
“Can’t, or won’t?”
It was a fair question, and she didn’t know the answer. True, she couldn’t draw a map to UGH, but even if she could, would she? “I can’t. We accessed it through Harrowgates, which I can’t use by myself.”
“I don’t like this. You need to come home.”
“That’s not possible.”
“Is Shade holding you prisoner? We’ll send a team—”
“It’s not that.” Well, it was that, in a way. “It’s the bond, Arik. He needs me.”
Arik’s voice went low and deadly. “Why?”
Oh, because he needs sex a few times a day, and only I can give it to him. But what would happen if she wasn’t around? Sex was like air for his species, so if he didn’t get it … could he die?
“He just does.”
“I plan to. But I need to know more about this bond, like what will happen to me if I leave him. Just do the research for me. And hurry.” Because each day brought her closer to Shade, and she had a feeling she soon wouldn’t want out of the bond.
The forest around her went silent, and a chill ran up her spine. She scanned the area, saw nothing, but she didn’t like the sudden vibe. “I have to go. I’ll call again when I can.”
A branch snapped, stopping her heart and drawing her gaze to a shadowed recess in the trees behind her. Oh, God. She saw eyes. Burning, glowing, red eyes.
She stumbled backward, fumbled the phone. Her heel caught on a vine and she nearly went down. The darkness surrounding the red eyes began to shimmer and take form even as the eyes closed on her. A scream welled in her throat, clogged behind the lump of terror.
The shape solidified.
Her brother’s tinny, panicked voice blared from the phone, which trembled in her hand. “I’m okay,” she said into the mouthpiece. “I’ll call later.” She disconnected, wondering, sickly, how much Shade had heard.
His eyes were little more than red, laser-intense slits now. “Mate,” he rasped in a voice that sounded as if he’d forgotten how to talk.
“Shade? What’s wrong?” She caught his forearm, and he closed his eyes and swayed.
“S’genesis.” A moan rumbled from deep in his chest, which was bare, like the rest of him.
Her eyes dropped to his groin, where his sex strained upward so rigidly he had to be in pain. She slid her gaze up, over skin that glowed, radiated scorching heat. The dermoire on his arm writhed angrily, and around his neck, a shadow pulsed with the rhythm of his heartbeat just beneath the surface of his skin.
“This is your Change?” she asked, and he nodded. He hadn’t said how the actual transition would occur, or how long it would take, and she certainly hadn’t expected it to be this intense.
“Hurts.” As though his body agreed, it convulsed violently.
“What can I do?”
His lips drew back from his clenched teeth.“I … need … you.”
His words washed away the hurtful things he’d said last night. He needed her. “I’m here. Take what you need.”
His eyes peeled open. There was no warning. Just his body pinning hers to a tree. She cried out as the bark dug into her spine and his mouth crushed her. “Forgive me,” he mumbled against her lips. “Please. Forgive me for what I’m going to do to you.”
Shade woke up with a groan. Every muscle ached, his head throbbed, and his skin felt as if it had been bathed in acid. Next to him on the bare floor of the cave, Runa lay curled in a ball on her side. She opened one groggy eye.
“Do you need me again?” she croaked.
He inhaled, took in her scent, the savory aroma of the nonstop sex they’d had. He didn’t need her again, but he wanted her. Now more than ever. She was his mate, and he had completed The Change. All his focus, all of his desires, were now concentrated fully on her, and one of his new desires was to fill her with his seed, his young.
And wouldn’t that be a disaster. He was possessive enough as it was, could hardly bear the thought of doing what must be done in order to save his life, but if she were carrying his child …
“No.” His voice was as hoarse as hers, a result of hours of panting, shouting, and straining during the marathon sex that had taken place in their normal forms all day yesterday, and then all night long in their warg bodies. “Rest. I think it’s over.”
“Are you sure?”
“Pretty sure.” Eidolon’s s’genesis had been different, had taken place over the course of a few days, with minimal sexual side effects, a result of his months of holding it off with an experimental treatment using his own blood. Shade’s change had been faster and more intense, but thank the gods he’d had a mate to spend himself on.
Shame sat like a weight in the pit of his stomach. All this time he’d been bitching about having a mate, and yet, he’d been happy to use her to make his transition to a fully mature male easier. Hell’s bells, he was a bastard.
Images from the last eighteen hours came to him in bits and pieces, erotic images of everything they’d done as he’d felt the s’genesis breaking through the surface. Runa had never resisted him, had offered herself as a willing sacrifice to the constant need. Then again, he’d given her little choice.
He touched his throat, winced at the sensitivity. “Do I have a new mark?”
She stroked where his fingers had been. Instead of hurting, her touch soothed. “You have another ring around your neck. Knotted symbols that link to the other ring.”
He was fertile now. Closing his eyes, he let her stroke him, felt himself sway toward her. “Are you okay?”
“Fine. What about you?”
He swallowed, opened his eyes, took in the angry bite marks on her shoulder, the welts left by his nails on her back and buttocks. After what he’d done to her, he didn’t deserve her concern. He didn’t deserve her.
With a curse, he shoved to his feet, ignoring her calls as he fled to the waterfall.
“Dammit,” he growled, swinging around to her. “What?”
She was nude, gloriously na**d, but she hugged herself as if she regretted not getting dressed before she followed him outside. “What would have happened if I hadn’t been around for your s’genesis?”
“If we hadn’t been bonded, you mean?” The cool spray eased his burning skin as he stood there. “I’d have been forced to seek out human and demon females. As many as I needed. I wouldn’t have cared about consent or their desires.” The idea made him sick, because he doubted he’d cared much about Runa’s consent last night, when the worst of it hit him, when he’d felt only the insane, driving urge to spill inside her.
“You didn’t rape me, Shade.”
His mouth fell open, and he had to snap it shut. He knew she couldn’t feel his emotions because she didn’t share the link with him, but somehow, she knew what he was thinking. “I didn’t give you much choice.”
She moved forward, took his hand in one of her delicate ones. “If I’d wanted to defend myself, I could have.”
That much was true. During the daylight, she could have shifted into her warg form and kicked his ass. “You should have.”
Few Seminus demons survived to their hundred-year mark, but of those that did, fully half died during s’genesis, victims of too little sex or killed either by the females they tried to rape or the males trying to defend their females.
“We’re in this together now, like it or not,” she said, and he almost laughed. They weren’t in shit together. She wasn’t bonded to him, and he was going to have to kill her to get out of the bond he had with her. This wasn’t a pairing made in heaven. It had been thrust upon them in hell.
“So what now?” she asked.
He felt his gaze grow hot no matter how hard he willed it not to. “I can make you pregnant.” Her harsh intake of breath was audible even over the roar of the waterfall, and he relieved her worry quickly. “I didn’t. You aren’t fertile right now.”
Her hand was still in his, and he couldn’t resist using his Seminus gift to probe her body, to go deep inside her reproductive organs to determine how close to ovulation she was. He could force ovulation if he wanted to, and damn, the temptation made him itch.
She tucked a strand of hair behind her ear and studied him. “Shift into something.”
“I want to see what happens. Do you have any limitations?”
“We can only shift into similar-sized, live birth species. No egg-layers. We can go up to twice as large as ourselves but not smaller.” The females had to be capable of bearing a Seminus’s young, and smaller demons wouldn’t fare well if forced to give birth to a larger species.
He realized he was stroking her wrist with his thumb, drawing her closer, easing her into relaxation, an incubus trick of seduction. Only this time, it was he who was succumbing. How many human women could have adapted to his world so quickly and with so little fear and reservation? She should be terrified about the changes in him, but she’d rolled with the punches—his raging sexual need last night, the fact that he could impregnate her at will, and now, she wanted him to shapeshift into something potentially horrifying.
She was magnificent. If not for his curse, he’d be thanking his lucky stars that Roag had forced him to mate with her.
“I’m not sure how to shift,” he admitted.
“Well, when I shift outside the moon phase, I just picture myself shifting … and it happens.”
Eidolon had said something similar, that being in the presence of a demon helped one to turn into that species, but otherwise, the key was concentration. Shade cycled his mind through dozens of different species and in the end decided not to terrorize Runa too much. He settled on a Sora demon. He concentrated … and in moments, he felt the sting of stretching skin, the agony of popping joints, and the next thing he knew, he had bright red skin, long nails, and a whiplike tail.
Runa had backed up a step, but she watched him with curiosity, not fear. “You look like a cartoon devil. You just need a pitchfork.”
He laughed, because Tayla had said the same thing about Ciska, the Sora nurse at UG. The one who could do amazing things with her tail …
Which gave him a wicked idea.
He whipped his tail up, catching Runa at the waist. She didn’t resist as he pulled her toward him, though she swallowed audibly when she noticed his erection. He looked down, and yup, that sucker was worthy of a little trepidation. It pulsed a deep, dark crimson, and the head was broad, the tip glistening with a drop of liquid arousal.
Still, he didn’t sense fear from her.
“It’s so easy for you, isn’t it?” she murmured.