“What day was that?”
“Friday. A week before you landed in the dungeon with me.”
He ran his gloved hand over his face. “Shit.”
“I’ll bet Roag was trying to nab Wraith. He was supposed to meet me at my apartment that night, but we canceled at the last minute because I needed to come here—”
“With a female,” she finished, the bitterness in her voice surprising even her.
He averted his gaze. His shoulders slumped a little, and she actually felt sorry for him. He might be putting up an I-don’t-give-a-shit front, but she wasn’t believing it anymore.
“Okay,” she began, her voice softer than before, “so how would Roag have known that Wraith would be at your place?”
“Solice knew. She was a nurse at the hospital. She’s the one who, ah, tortured me in the dungeon.”
“Oh. Well, obviously she didn’t know about the change in plans that night, and I got taken instead of you and Wraith.”
“Fu—ah, hell’s bells.” He shook his head. “I’m so sorry, Runa.” She didn’t have time to be stunned, or to soften up, because he immediately danced away from his apology. “Tell me how involved you are with the military.”
As much as she hated talking about this, in a way it felt good to get this huge secret out in the open. Maybe now Shade would understand her need to get back to the real world. “I’m a paid volunteer. They helped me out after the attack.”
“Helped you, how?”
“Arik took me to the base, and they tried to cure me of the lycanthropy.” She took a deep breath and told him the rest. “The treatments were experimental, and a couple of months after starting them, I gained the ability to shift at will.”
“So you think the experiments are responsible for that?” When she nodded, he shook his head. “You should have told me. Eidolon would know better what to look for.”
“I didn’t know what to expect from you. Or your brothers. I might be a werewolf, but I’m still human, and I can’t betray my own people by spilling secrets about the American military. Think about it. If the situation were reversed, what would you do?”
She knew damned good and well he didn’t want to admit she was right, and sure enough, he avoided answering by asking another question.
“What did you tell your brother about the hospital when you called him yesterday?”
“Nothing, I swear.”
Shade crossed his arms over his broad chest. “Do you know what Kynan told the Army?”
“What else can you tell me about this military unit that you work for?”
“Shade, please. I can’t talk about this.”
The look he gave her sent the chill she’d felt earlier straight to her bones. “Then Kynan will.”
Shade stalked away from the table, leaving Runa jaw-dropped and furious at his threat.
Which wasn’t really a threat. Dammit, if Ky had any nefarious motives regarding the hospital, if he was secretly working against them …
Well, Runa couldn’t yell at him for thinking the word.
“Oh, no! You don’t get to just walk away from me.”
Runa caught up to him in the living room as he headed for the exit. He needed to get out of this place, needed just a few minutes to compose himself before he did something stupid, like wrap her in his arms and promise her he’d make up for everything Roag had done to her. His stomach growled, reminding him of exactly why he couldn’t do that; already the curse was affecting him. He’d eaten two sandwiches before she came in from the waterfall, and he felt as though he hadn’t taken a bite.
One down, three to go.
“Get dressed, Runa,” he said, without turning around. “We need to head back to the hospital.” The hospital she’d been tasked to spy on. For some reason, the fact that she’d agreed to do it hurt more than it should.
“For more tests, or to torture Kynan?”
“Tests, mostly.” Shade could call E to tell him about Kynan, and to give him a heads-up about the Army experimentation on Runa, but he wanted to be there in person. Now, more than ever, UG was a haven. He might be a demon, but he was also a paramedic, and the desire to save lives was almost as strong as his drive to have sex.
With Runa. His mate.
“What? I didn’t cuss.” Way to sound guilty, idiot.
Did she sense that she was in as much danger from him as from Roag? He swiveled around, a knot of dread twisting his gut. She stood there, chin up and shoulders squared, hair all a mass of wild wetness around her shoulders. “Why?”
“Because I have no control over anything. Your crazy brother wants me dead, I’m bonded to you and can’t get out of it, and I couldn’t leave you if I wanted to because I don’t know how to use the Harrowgates.” She swallowed hard enough for him to hear. “You seem to think I should just accept this in stride, and honestly, I’ve tried … but you’re not making it easy. You act like this is all temporary, but at the same time, you say it’s permanent. If it was permanent, wouldn’t you want to get to know me? At least make an effort to make this work? I don’t get it. I really don’t.”
The tremor in her voice at the very end brought all his ideas about not hugging her to a grinding halt. He did want to know her. He wanted to know how she grew up. What her favorite movie was, her favorite food, her dream vacation spot. But how could he tell her that as much as he wanted to know these things, he couldn’t? Every little bit he learned would draw him closer to her, and closer to his doom.
So instead of explaining any of that to her, he reached for her, knowing he was making a huge mistake. She came to him willingly, folded herself against his chest. She felt good like that, her warmth surrounding him, filling him in places that had been empty and cold for so long.
He nuzzled the top of her head, inhaling the exotic, fresh scent of shampoo and jungle water. “I’m sorry I got you into this.”
She tightened her arms around him. “What’s done is done. The past doesn’t matter.”
“Yeah,” he said gruffly. “It does. So much of the past affects the future.”
Her palm slid up his spine in a comforting stroke. “Tell me about yours. Not about the scars Gem was talking about or anything,” she said quickly. “Something nice. Something about your family, maybe?”
He recognized the manipulation for what it was—that need of hers to understand him. But the grief over Skulk’s death was fresh, and talking about his family suddenly seemed like the balm he needed.
“I told you my true sire is a Seminus demon. He’d shifted into an Umber and impregnated my mother. Immediately after, she took an Umber as her mate, and when I was born, they were shocked by not only the single birth, but the human-looking infant with tattoos on his arm. Fortunately, Umbers are good parents. They kept me and went on to have more children.” Runa’s hand kept stroking, coaxing more out of him. “Skulk was the runt of the last litter. Right after that, my Umber father was killed trying to defend our nest from a demon that eats infants.”
“That’s awful,” she said, her hand freezing over his lower back. He wiggled until she got the hint and started rubbing again.
“My mother slaughtered the bastard, but she was devastated over losing her mate. I helped out a lot after that.” He felt Runa smile against his chest. “What? What’s so amusing?”
“I just can’t picture you babysitting a bunch of little girls.”
He twirled a lock of her soft hair around his finger. “I love babies. I’d love to have a cave full—” He cut himself off, because he’d never have that. Not with Runa. Not with anyone.
“Kids,” she breathed. “That’s something I guess we’ll have to talk about eventually, huh?”
“Yeah.” His voice was hoarse and husky, a powerful combination of Seminus instinct that told him to impregnate her now, and common sense, which screamed at him to run far and run fast.
Common sense won. Barely. “Come on. We need to get to the hospital.”
Gem couldn’t wait to get off work. After last night’s disaster with Kynan, she couldn’t bear to see him when he came on shift in an hour.
God, she was so pathetic, lusting after a man who didn’t want her except when he was drunk. Worse, even after what had happened last night, she knew that if he walked into the ER right now and crooked his finger at her, she’d fall at his feet like a neglected dog, willing to take whatever scraps its master was willing to give.
The ER Harrowgate flashed, and Wraith strode through. In his arms he carried a bloody, red-skinned demon …
Ciska. Oh, God.
Adrenaline kicked her into gear, and she barked out orders to the nearby nurses and techs as she guided Wraith to an empty room. “What happened?”
As Wraith laid Ciska down, she gloved up.
“Dunno,” he said, sounding oddly unconcerned. “Found her like this.”
“Outside the hospital.”
Reaver and nurses joined them, but Gem had a sinking feeling it was too late. The demon had been torn to shreds. Her abdomen lay open, and Gem would be willing to bet that she was missing a few important organs.
“Someone page Eidolon. And if Shade is around, get him, too.” Eidolon could repair damaged tissue, but Shade could affect how the patient’s organs functioned, could keep a patient breathing and pumping blood far better than any machine could.
“No breath sounds, left side,” one of the male nurses, a vampire, said.
“Tube her,” Gem said, and gestured to Reaver. “BP and pulse?”
“One sec,” he replied.
Hot breath fanned against the back of Gem’s neck, and she jumped, startled.
“So, Gem,” Wraith murmured into her ear, “why is it that we’ve never fucked?”
“Because I don’t like you?” And with the way he was behaving while one of their own nurses lay dying, that was true enough at the moment.
His hands came down on her hips, and his teeth scraped her neck. “Leave the nurse. She’s as good as dead. Come with me, and I’ll make you like me.”
“What the hell is wrong with you?” She shoved him away. “Are you high again?”
He laughed, shot her a wink, and strode out of the room. Stunned, she stared after him. Wraith was obnoxious, but as vicious as he could be, she’d never known him to be outright cruel. If anything, she’d have expected outrage and a swift promise of retribution for their mutilated staff member.
“Doctor, look at this.”
One of the physician assistants had opened Ciska’s mouth. A cloth had been stuffed inside and—oh, Christ—it had been pinned to her tongue. As gently as she could, Gem pulled it free, experiencing a sudden twist in her gut at the writing on the cloth.
A gift for Wraith. I know what you did.
Wraith lit up a cigarette right in front of Eidolon in the staff break room. Demons didn’t get lung cancer, but E had some leftover human prejudices from his days in human med school, and he hated the smoke. Which was what made lighting up in the hospital so fun.
“Dammit, Wraith,” E growled, but he didn’t say anything else. Disappointing. Wraith seriously felt the need to work off some tension. Shade had called an hour ago to say he was on his way in and wanted to talk to them, and the wait was killing him, partly because he was worried about Shade, and partly because he had a ton of new information to share with his brothers.
Last night after he left Kynan, he’d gone hunting, but not for blood. He’d tracked down Ramses, a senior member of the Seminus Council, and after that, he sought the advice of an elusive, ancient spellcaster who hated him on sight. He’d had to work off her animosity—in bed—for hours. Lucky for him he didn’t wear out easily. And now he was in possession of information that would help both him and Shade.
After that, he’d explored the immediate area around every Harrowgate in Northern Ireland. He’d found nothing, but tonight he was going back to check out the southern part of the island. He would find Roag, and when he did, his brother’s suffering was going to become legend. Something that centuries later, the most evil demons would tell their spawn at bedtime.
The door swung open, crashed against the wall. Shade strode in, chomping on gum, completely encased in black leather, including his hands. He must have come in on his Harley.
And, Wraith noted with jealousy, he sported a new dermoire around his neck. He’d gone through The Change.
“Where’s Runa?” E asked.
“MRI.” Eidolon’s eyebrows shot up, and Shade shook his head. “No, I didn’t leave her with any males. Dr. Shakvhan is handling the tests you wanted done.”
Wraith blew out a stream of smoke. “Is this a bond thing?”
Eidolon nodded. “For some reason, right after bonding, you get a little overprotective.”
Yet another reason Wraith was never, ever going to bond with a female. Nope. He was looking forward to losing himself to the posts’genesis world. He wanted to spend his days with no concerns save one. Screwing his brains out. And if he went stark-raving mad, his brothers would kill him.
“So what’s up? Is it time to get rid of Runa?”
Shade’s gloved hands formed into fists. “Knock it off.”
“Shade?” Eidolon asked softly. “You okay?”