Creepy, but at least it didn’t smell like human hospitals, with the overpowering odor of disinfectant layered on top of the more subtle, but much more disturbing, stench of disease and death. Just thinking of the smell made her shudder, brought back gut-wrenching memories of her mother, attached to machines as she lay dying. Of her father in the same hospital, years later.
“So, uh … how long have you been a paramedic?” she asked, partly to get her mind off the reasons she hated hospitals, and partly because she was genuinely curious.
“A little over forty years. I go through human paramedic programs every ten years or so to catch up on the latest technology and techniques.”
“That’s dedication.” She scooted behind him to let a monstrous, two-headed thing pass by. “So why did you become a paramedic?”
He sighed, letting her know he was humoring her. “My breed’s gifts are meant to aid in seduction and reproduction, but they can also be used for healing. When my brothers and I started the hospital, I decided I’d rather not spend a ton of time in school to become a doctor.” He shrugged. “Besides, paramedicine allows me to pick up patients and drop them off. I don’t have to hang around and get involved with them like E does.”
“You don’t have to get attached.”
“That’s one way to look at it.”
She figured that with Shade, that was the only way to look at it.
They turned a corner, and she nearly ran into an iron cage containing some sort of winged demon. Its cruel, sharp beak and wicked black talons told her more than she wanted to know about its diet. It hissed and flapped one of its wings—the other had been immobilized in a cast.
“What the heck is that thing?” she asked as she carefully skirted the cage.
“It’s sort of the demon equivalent of a vulture.”
“Shouldn’t it be at a demon veterinarian’s or something?”
She watched in awe as he stopped next to the cage and stuck one hand inside to pet its spiky feathers. The thing made a high-pitched chirping sound.
“Yes, but as you can probably guess, demon vets are rare, and most work topside, in human veterinary clinics. Someone brought this creature in, and E won’t turn down anything for care other than a few select species. He even treated a dog Skulk brought in.”
A sad smiled tugged at his mouth. She reached for him, taking his hand in hers. She hoped to comfort him, but he tensed, and with a sigh, she pulled away. “So,” she said, mainly to change the subject, “are most paramedics like you?”
He made some clicking noises at the winged thing, and it rubbed its scaly head on his hand. “What? Antisocial?”
“Yeah. I mean, I did notice that Luc is also a paramedic, and he didn’t strike me as Mr. Party Animal.”
Fury blasted from him, a heat wave that hit her at the same time as his curse. “I want to gut him for hurting you.”
“So that’s a yes?”
“No.” He took off down the hall again, and she had to jog to catch up. “A lot of EMTs and paramedics choose the work because they get off on the adrenaline rush. You never know what you’re getting into when you go on a call. Could be walking into a raging battle. Skulk liked—” He broke off, his fists clenched.
“I wish I could have met her,” she said softly.
He came to a halt and swung around to her. “Why?” There was no malice in his question. Just curiosity.
“Because you loved her, and from what I can tell, that’s not something you do often.”
His mouth tightened even as his eyes softened. Slowly, tentatively, he pushed her hair back from her face, his touch gentle, barely a whisper on her skin. Still, his touch made her nerve endings spark.
“Hell’s gates,” he murmured. “I wish …”
“What, Shade?” She leaned into his hand, nuzzling the warm skin. Playfully, she nipped the heel of his palm and watched as his eyes grew darker, his lids coming down to watch her with sensual intent. “What do you wish?”
Abruptly, he dropped his hand and spun away to continue down the hall, his gait faster and heavier than before. “Nothing.”
Impossible man. She knew enough about him by now to know to choose her battles, and this was not the time to fire a first shot, so she didn’t push it. Instead, she followed him to an area that opened into office spaces.
As they walked past office doors, she realized that the only windows were between the hall and the offices—the offices had no outside views. Come to think of it, neither did the hospital.
“We’re underground, aren’t we?” she asked, suddenly feeling stupid for not realizing that earlier.
“Technically, we’re in New York City, beneath an abandoned parking garage.”
She looked around in awe. “Your demon contractors are really something else.”
He grunted in agreement, and then grunted again when Kynan exited an office and bumped into Shade.
“Kynan,” Shade growled. “We need to talk.”
“Your brothers already dressed down my ass, so let’s forgo the fun, ’kay?”
“Kynan?” Runa eased around Shade to speak to the man she’d been sent to find, the reason she was in this crazy mess in the first place.
Kynan frowned. “So you’re Arik’s sister.”
She nodded, a bit awestruck at coming face to face with the man who had survived a battle his own team and enemy forces hadn’t survived, and had single-handedly brought down a Fangorg demon. But was he also a traitor to the human race?
“Does the Army know where I am and what I’ve been doing?”
“Yes.” Thanks to me.
She gave him credit for his poker face. If he was worried, it didn’t show. He merely nodded and looked pointedly at Shade. “I hope you know I wouldn’t do anything to compromise this hospital.” He turned back to Runa. “Good to meet you.”
He took off, and she waited until he’d disappeared to ask Shade, “Do you believe him?”
“Yeah,” he said. “The guy is like a human version of Eidolon. He’s got this pesky, annoying sense of honor.”
She gasped in mock horror. “How horrible. You should probably kill him. Immediately.”
His eyes locked onto hers, and for a moment she thought she’d irritated him. Again. But slowly, one corner of his mouth came up.
“Your inner wolf suits you.” Color flooded his face and he stalked away as though just realizing he’d proved her right when she called him a liar for saying he didn’t care.
Now she just had to get him to admit it.
Shade had itched to keep Runa at his side while he worked in his office, but she’d been right when she confronted him about his control issues. So although it killed him, he let Runa explore the admin area while he caught up on the paramedic schedule and handled other issues that had come across his desk while he’d been being tortured in Roag’s dungeon. And it was a serious pain in the butt to write with gloves on, but he didn’t dare take them off, and not just because he didn’t want his brothers or Runa to see. He didn’t want to see himself fading away, either. Easier to pretend everything was happy, happy, joy, joy.
“Can I get something to drink from the break room?” Runa called out.
“Go for it. Don’t leave admin.”
“I told you you don’t need to worry about me taking off.”
“Just be careful. Some of our staff members aren’t angels.” That was true enough, but mainly, now that they knew Roag had been ballsy enough to come into the hospital, he didn’t want to take any chances.
He heard her wander off, and when he heard footsteps again, he was too engrossed in his work to think they might belong to anyone but her.
Until Wraith filled the doorway, turmoil rolling off his body. “Take off your gloves.”
Shit. “Screw you.”
“Don’t make me take them off for you.”
Shade’s heart went double-time. Wraith knew. At the very least, he suspected. “Why don’t you tell me what’s gotten up your ass.”
Wraith looked up at the ceiling, and Shade knew this wasn’t going to be good. Then again, with Wraith, it never was. “I meant to tell you this earlier. I went to the Seminus Council. Know what they said when I asked if they knew of any matings to wargs?”
“No idea, but you’re going to tell me, aren’t you?”
Wraith nailed Shade with an uncharacteristically serious stare. “One, Shade. One mating that ended in disaster. The bond was one-sided. Sound familiar? Wargs can’t bond with our species, so when she went into heat, she took another warg as a lifemate, and together they killed the Seminus.”
“I’m not worried about it,” Shade said, though he felt like he was going to hyperventilate.
“Does that mean you’re ready to put her down?”
“Wraith …” Shade’s voice was a low, guttural growl.
“You said you’re going to kill her. It’s time.”
Shade launched out of his chair and took his brother to the ground. Wraith’s fist tunneled into Shade’s side, sending white-hot bursts of agony through his midsection. Anger gave him the willpower to get through it, and fists flew, the sound of leather on skin as satisfying as anything. One of Wraith’s blows caught him in the mouth hard enough to make him see stars and taste blood. Shade slashed downward with his elbow, catching Wraith in the throat, and that fast, Wraith was done playing.
In an instant, Shade was flying backward. The desk broke his launch, and nearly his spine as well. Wraith struck with his foot, connecting with Shade’s thigh. Pain and fury shot through him in a haze of red, though somewhere inside he knew Wraith was pulling his punches, because he could have easily broken Shade’s leg.
Shade rolled, closed his fist around Wraith’s ankle and dragged him toward him. Wraith’s knuckles filled Shade’s vision, and he turned just in time to avoid a solid blow to the nose. Still, his brother’s punch crunched into his cheek, and a whole lot of ache sheared through his face. Roaring with rage, Shade dove on top of Wraith and jammed a knee into his gut. Wraith grunted, a major victory, since his brother usually suffered pain in silence.
Hands gripped his shoulders and wrenched him off his brother. Wraith rolled away, his eyes as gold as Shade’s own must be, his fangs extended.
“Knock it off!” Eidolon roared, stepping between them. Shade ignored E and lunged for Wraith, but E caught him around the waist and slammed him back into the wall. “You need to check up, brother.” Eidolon snarled, a vicious, nasty sound. “What were you thinking?”
“I was thinking I’d rip Wraith’s head off!”
Eidolon shoved him again. “Beating on Wraith isn’t helping anything.” Shade wasn’t listening. He wanted a piece of Wraith.
Wraith moved in close. “Ask him why he won’t take his gloves off, E.”
The taste of blood filled Shade’s mouth. “Shut the f**k up!” he snapped, still glaring at Wraith, who glared right back.
Eidolon released Shade. “What’s this about?”
“I was just heading to Ireland to hunt for Roag when Luc stopped me.” Wraith didn’t take his eyes off Shade as he spoke to E. “Said he’d seen Shade fading out. That’s why I came here. To talk some f**king sense into Shade.”
“Yeah, that was working real well.” Eidolon stepped back, mouth thinned in irritation.
“Go ahead, Shade. Take off the gloves. Prove you aren’t falling for your little wolf.” Wraith shook his head. “She helped you through The Change, but you don’t need her anymore. You said you’d kill her. Stop stalling.”
Eidolon frowned. “Shade? You okay?”
No. No, he wasn’t. Splinters of pain ripped through him. But it wasn’t his pain. It was Runa’s. He craned his head around to the door, where she stood, her face pale, her chin trembling.
She’d heard. Her sorrow slammed into him. Tears. Betrayal. Oh, hell’s f**king rings, she knew.
“Runa,” he rasped, but she dropped the soda in her hand and bolted down the hall. Cursing, he tore free from E’s grip, but before he made it to the door, Wraith tackled him, slamming him back against the wall again.
“We’ll get her. You need to let her go. Now. Forever.”
“No!” Shade didn’t possess half of Wraith’s fighting skill, but somehow he exploded out of Wraith’s grip and out of the office. He had to get to Runa before his brothers did. Before E or Wraith killed her out of love for Shade, or before Roag did the same … out of hate.
Runa careened through the hospital, her eyes stinging. The burn of betrayal swept through her veins like wildfire, searing everything in its path. That son of a bitch! She’d thought he cared, even if he didn’t admit it. For the second time, he’d betrayed her, and she’d let it happen. This time, though, he would take more than her heart.
He’d take her life.
Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice, shame on me. Fool me thrice … I end up dead. She had to get out of this hospital.
Panic made it hard to breathe as she searched for an exit. They were underground, but she knew ambulances somehow drove from the hospital through New York City streets, so there must be a way out. She knew about the Harrowgate in the ER, since that was what they’d been using to come and go, but could she use it? She’d watched Shade operate it … surely she could at least get herself to safety. Somewhere close to the Army base. If Arik could get to her before Shade did, the Army could protect her.