“Why do you care?” Luc asked Shade. “She’s not your mate.”

“Yeah, she is.”

“She’s not marked.” Shade’s throat bore the mate-mark, but the female’s arms were bare.

“I’m aware of that, warg.”

Luc shrugged. “Whatever. Just keep her away from me. I’d hate to have to claim First Rights.”

Shade’s eyes went red, and the female in his arms bared her teeth. “You wouldn’t,” she snarled.

“Try me.”

“You wouldn’t live long enough to claim them,” Shade spat.

“And you wouldn’t live long after you killed me,” Luc shot back. “Isn’t that right, Doc?”

Eidolon had served as a Justice Dealer for a time, upholding demon law. Warg law stated that any warg may, within the first year of siring another, claim his therionidrysi as a mate—willing or not—or kill him or her without consequence. Were Shade to kill Luc in order to prevent him from claiming First Rights, demon law would require Shade’s death as punishment.

“No one is killing anyone,” Eidolon said. “Shade, take Runa to a patient room. Luc, go home and cool off.” He turned to a nearby nurse. “You. Page Kynan. This hospital is falling apart, and it ends now.”

Roag followed Shade at a discreet distance as his brother carried his murderous whore of a mate down the hall.

I’ll avenge you, my darling Sheryen.

He shook with the desire to kill Runa now that she was within reach, but he had to play this smart, and time his revenge with care. If all went well, he could take out his brothers and the whore at the same time. Though maybe he’d let Shade live just so the curse would kick in. Watching Runa die slowly and painfully would definitely bring on the worst effects of the curse, and then he’d spend eternity with those memories running through his head.

The thought made him laugh. Shade didn’t break his stride, but he did look over his shoulder, and for a moment, Roag held his breath. He’d taken the form of a male Croucher, an ugly, man-sized demon. He was pretending to be a patient, which allowed him to witness the interesting confrontation between Luc and Runa in the ER, and though Roag knew Shade wouldn’t recognize him, the fear still paralyzed him. He was so close to finally getting his revenge, and he couldn’t blow it now.

Shade rounded a corner, and Roag breathed again. He needed to get to the lab and the special storeroom where Eidolon kept his rare potions and artifacts. His brother’s collection of magical and mythical objects was extensive, and Roag knew exactly what he was after.

But first, in order to gain access to that area, he needed to take the form of a trusted staff member. One whose death would be a major blow to his brothers.

He hurried back to the emergency department, where Luc was heading out the sliding doors to the ambulance bay. Luc walked as if he owned the place, his arrogance topped only by Wraith’s. Taking down the grumpy warg would be a pleasure.

Roag slipped into a curtained room and took a form he’d never taken; Shade’s. Quickly, he strode out of the ER and found Luc gathering his gear from one of the two ambulances.

“You going home?”

Luc looked up from where he stood on the driver’s side of the cab, his gaze wary. “You heard E tell me to take some time off. Why?”

Roag shrugged. “Just wanted to make sure you weren’t going anywhere near Runa.”

“I was messing with you, Sem. I’m outta here until the First Rights time is up.”

“Thrilled to hear it,” Roag muttered. “I’m gonna grab something from the rig.”

Roag hopped into the box section of the ambulance and snagged the drug box. He had no idea how much of any of the drugs he’d need to kill Luc, but he figured that if he combined them all into the largest of the syringes, he’d at least knock the guy out so he could break his neck. No way was he going up against the warg without insurance.

Just as he slid the box back into place, Luc climbed into the truck. Roag concealed the syringe at his side. He needed to get Luc out of the rig. The Haven spell safeguarded the inside of the ambulances, but the parking lot was unprotected.

“What are you doing?” Luc’s gaze shifted from the drug box to Roag’s face. “I’ve already done inventory.”

Roag rolled his eyes. They inventoried this shit? His brothers were so f**king uptight.

“This is my hospital. I do what I want, shitshifter,” Roag said in his most taunting, arrogant Shade-voice. Luc was blocking the back exit, so Roag went through the side door, hoping Luc would follow. As he stepped down, he feigned a hard fall. “Ow, fuck. Luc! I think I broke my leg!”

Luc came around the side of the ambulance. “I should leave you there,” he said, but he dropped to his knees at Roag’s side. “Hold still, Sem.”

Roag took in the scene. No witnesses. And when Luc put his hand on Roag’s leg, Roag struck. He buried the syringe deep in Luc’s belly and jammed down the plunger.

Luc roared and slammed Roag into the side of the ambulance. The impact knocked Roag out of Shade’s form, but by then it didn’t matter. Luc was on his knees, wheezing. Surprise flashed in the warg’s eyes, followed, oddly enough, by a strange calm. If he didn’t know any better, Roag would think Luc wanted to die.

Happy to help out.

Slowly, Luc slid to the ground, his chest rattling with each struggling breath. Death rattles. A beautiful sound, and one Roag couldn’t wait to hear coming out of Runa.

Luc twitched, blew out a breath, and moved no more. Roag felt for a pulse … it was there, but weak. Luc wouldn’t last another five minutes.

As quickly as he could, Roag dragged Luc’s heavy ass into the back of the ambulance. Next, he’d anonymously notify the authorities, tell them Shade had killed Luc to prevent First Rights, and once they nabbed Shade, Runa would be left unprotected.

“Luc?” The female voice floated through the parking lot.

Roag shifted into Luc’s form and leaped out of the ambulance. “Yeah?”

Two paramedics, a male and a female, stalked toward him. He closed the rig door, concealing Luc inside.

“The Sup said you’re supposed to go home. We’re going to be on call today.”

Roag eyed the vehicle, cursing his luck. Then again, if he played his cards right, he wouldn’t need to keep Luc’s form for long. Just long enough to get into the lab and then plant a suggestion in Wraith’s head.

Smiling, he strode past the medics. “No problem. I’m outta here.”

Shade didn’t say a word to Runa as he carried her to a private patient room and placed her gently on the bed. The same eerie red lights that illuminated the rest of the hospital bathed the room in a garnet wash, creating stark shadows against Shade’s already sinister, intense features, but his gaze was warm.

“Thank you.” She was grateful for his assistance; her head throbbed so badly that she doubted she could have walked to the room on her own two feet. Besides, it had felt good to be cradled in Shade’s powerful arms. “But you might have mentioned that the hospital was under a spell that prevents violence.”

“I shouldn’t have had to,” he ground out, but the gentle stroke of his fingers over hers belied his harsh words.

“I’m sorry I humiliated you in your own hospital.” She averted her gaze, but looking at the skulls lining the walls didn’t exactly comfort her.

“Trust me,” he said, using a finger to tip her face back to him. “It would take a hell of a lot more than that to humiliate me in this place.”

She sighed, grateful for his understanding. “It’s just that I’ve been searching for the man who attacked me for so long, and I felt him and couldn’t stop myself.”

Shade’s jaw clenched so hard she heard the pop of bone. “Can you still feel him?”

“Yes.” The oily taint of evil still shimmered on her skin. She’d give anything to spend an hour under Shade’s waterfall right now.

Shade sank down in the chair next to her bed and muttered, “You can feel him, but not me.”

“I can only feel him when he’s very close. Like now.” She sat up, wincing at the stab of pain in her head. “He wouldn’t really claim—”

“No!” Shade shot to his feet. “I swear to you, he will not claim First Rights.”

She’d learned about First Rights when she’d researched werewolves, but hadn’t considered the custom to be a true threat since she’d fully intended to kill her sire when she found him. “I’m not sure what would be worse. Having him kill me, or …”

“Don’t think about it.” Shade crossed to her in two strides and tugged her to her feet and into his arms. “The year will be up soon, and Luc will have no claim on you.”

“And who will?” she whispered.

“Oh, Runa …” His heart thundered against her ear, lulling her to relax. She took a deep breath and closed her eyes, reveling in the quiet moment.

They stood like that for a long time, until eventually, the malevolent sludge that had been pumping through her veins melted away. She slumped against Shade in relief. “He’s gone. He must have left through one of those gates.”

“We should go, too.”

“Back to the cave?” When he nodded and backed away, she shook her head. “I told you I don’t want to spend the rest of my life as your prisoner.”

“What you want is irrelevant.”

Damn him. “How can you be so caring and protective one minute, and then a total as**ole the next?”

“Roag has been inside the hospital, Runa. He killed one of our nurses just to show us he could. I’ve got to keep you someplace safe.”

The news that Roag had been in this building made her wobble. Shade’s arm shot out to steady her. “It’s okay. I have you.”

His thumb rubbed absently on her arm—the one that should bear his mate-markings. She pulled out of his grip, and he didn’t try to catch her again. “This has something to do with the fact that I’m not marked, doesn’t it?” The guilt crossing his face confirmed her suspicion. “Oh, my God,” she breathed. “The bond isn’t working both ways. That’s why you’re keeping me close. Why you’re holding me captive at your cave. You’re afraid I’ll leave you.”

His gloved hands began to shake. He clenched them at his sides. “You have every reason to.”

“What would happen if I did?”

“You know I need sex several times a day, and now I can only get it from you. If you left me, I’d be compelled to hunt you down, and if I couldn’t get to you for some reason, within days I’d go insane and die.”

She sucked in a startled breath. “Oh.”

“Yeah. There’s a reason so few of my species take mates.” He explained in detail, and God, no wonder he was determined to keep her at his side.

This situation must be terrifying for him. If circumstances were reversed, she didn’t think she’d handle it half as well as he had. From the moment he’d awakened in Roag’s dungeon, he’d put aside his own fears to protect her, and then later, after they became bonded, he continued to protect her, making her feel safer than she’d ever felt before. He’d been hard on her, yes, but he’d also complimented her and encouraged her, giving her the courage to believe in herself and to take risks.

For the first time since becoming a werewolf, she didn’t feel like an outsider, a freak. As strange as Shade’s world was at times, it was where she belonged.

Reaching up, she palmed his cheek and forced him to look down at her. “I swear to you, I won’t leave you. And I won’t withhold anything you need.” It was a relief to know she wasn’t bonded to him and that nothing would happen to her if she left him, but she couldn’t let him die.

Why her promise should make him miserable, she didn’t know, but clearly, she’d said the wrong thing. His jaw tightened, his throat worked on a hard swallow, and his voice took on the harsh rattle of a steaming espresso machine. “For the love of all that’s unholy, stop it. Stop being so f**king nice. You should hate me.”

“Hate you?” she asked incredulously. “God, Shade. I love you.” Her heart pounded at the admission. Shade went ghost-white, and she only made it worse when she tacked on a weak, “I’ve loved you since the beginning.”

“You said … when we were in Roag’s dungeon … that you were over me.”

She had, and she’d even believed it at the time. But her mother’s mantra, uttered every time she learned of another of her father’s affairs, made sense now. You can’t truly hate someone you’ve loved. You can only hurt.

“I lied, you big lunk,” she said softly. “To myself. To you. But the truth is, I love you.” She took a deep, shaky breath. “God help me.”

Terror whispered to Shade like a phantom’s taunt. He wheeled away, put several feet of space between them, but right now it wasn’t enough. Several miles wouldn’t be enough. “Don’t say that. Don’t even think it.”

“It’s true.” Her hand came down on his shoulder, and he hissed, jerked out of her grip.

“Dammit, Runa.” He cursed the tremor in his voice, hating himself for it. “Why do you have to make everything so difficult?”

“Me? Difficult? I’ve done everything you’ve asked of me. You’re the one being difficult. You care about me, and don’t you dare deny it.”

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