You don’t need her anymore.
Wraith’s words cut through her like a chilled knife. She’d stood there, waiting for Shade to tell his brother to f**k off. He hadn’t. Then Wraith’s next words had stopped her heart cold.
You said you’d kill her.
She burst into the ER, and when a blue-skinned nurse brought her head around a hundred and eighty degrees to stare at her with blinding white eyes, Runa skidded to a halt. Calm down, she told herself. Calm. She couldn’t afford to attract attention.
Ahead, the Harrowgate shimmered, a curtain of undulating light. She walked toward it with purpose, as if she owned the hospital and knew exactly where she was going.
As she reached the gate, the lab technician who had taken her blood joined her. “You leaving?” Frank asked. “I’m off shift. I’ll share the gate with you.”
“Runa!” Shade’s voice, faint but strong, echoed from down the hall.
Her heart skipped a beat. She had to hurry, and maybe this guy could help her use the gate. “Yes. That would be nice. Thank you.”
They stepped into the arch and were instantly engulfed in eerie darkness. The only light came from the glowing maps on the smooth, black walls. Frank seemed to be waiting for her to make the first move. Her heart pounded as she searched for the crude map of the United States she’d seen Shade manipulate.
“Looking for this?” he asked, tapping an outline she didn’t recognize. Instantly, a map of the States popped up, and he tapped New York.
“No … I wanted—” She snapped her mouth shut. She couldn’t let a hospital staff member know where she was going, to Washington, D.C., and the secret military installation where she worked. “Yes, yes, that’s fine. Thank you.”
“New York City … which gate?”
She had no idea. She studied the map, looking for an exit point near her house. There were two. She fingered one, and instantly, the gate opened up into a dark, wooded park. It occurred to her that trotting through a park at night wouldn’t be the brightest thing she’d ever done, but it was probably far safer than being at the hospital where demons wanted to kill her. Besides, she could shift into a werewolf if she ran into trouble. She was definitely safer among even the worst humans than …
Humans. Frank was human.
Humans couldn’t use the Harrowgate.
Which meant that the person standing next to her was not Frank.
Oh, my God. Chills skittered up and down her spine, but she forced herself to remain calm, to take deep, even breaths. She mumbled a polite, “Thank you,” and stepped out of the gate and onto the grass, her knees trembling.
She took one step. And another. Another … so far, so good.
And then, a low, ominous growl sneaked up behind her, growing louder. Swallowing the lump of terror in her throat, she turned.
The demon in the archway was charred, twisted. Evil radiated from it like the devil’s furnace.
The scream built in her throat even as he reached for her with his ruined, clawlike hands. “You little bitch. I’m going to skin you alive for what you did to Sheryen.”
She ran. Ran faster than she ever had, stumbling once and nearly going down. A flapping sound reached her ears at the same time as a brush of air, and a winged demon landed with a hard thump in front of her. It grinned, revealing huge, serrated, sharklike teeth. Red eyes drilled hatred directly into her skull.
She didn’t stand a chance against Roag in her current form, but she couldn’t shift—she’d be vulnerable for the few seconds of her transformation. She needed time.
She plowed her fist into the creature’s scaled belly, followed by a brutal kick to its groin. Thanks for the training, Arik.
Roag roared, spitting yellow bile that stung her skin as it landed on her arm and neck. She darted to the right, toward an area of the park she knew well. The foliage was dense, difficult for a demon the size of the winged thing to navigate.
Her lungs burned with the need for oxygen, but she kept going, until the stitch in her side became crippling and her legs were ready to give out. At the edge of the park, she dived into the ditch running alongside, and the moment she hit it, she concentrated, bringing out the wolfy side of her.
The snap of bone and tear of skin brought with it the ecstasy of power, and in moments, she was crouched in the grass behind a shrub, her enhanced hearing picking up the crunch of tree leaves and twigs as Roag ran toward her.
He burst out of the trees, only this time, he’d taken the one form that frightened her more than Roag’s burned-out shell.
“Runa? It’s me. You’re safe now.”
Not only was she not that stupid, but if Roag thought that she’d run to Shade like a well-trained dog, he was not just insane, he was delusional. She remained where she was, waiting for him to come closer.
Roag’s gaze swept the area, and then his eyes zeroed in on her hiding place. “I know you’re there.”
She launched herself. Over the shrub and into his big chest. They went down in a tangle.
“Fuck,” he grunted, and wow, Roag definitely had Shade’s mannerisms down pat.
He swept his arm in an arc, throwing her against a tree trunk. She slammed into it but came immediately to her feet. In this body, she was bigger than Shade, her strong, furred legs holding her upright as she looked down on him.
“Runa, listen to me. ” His voice was soft and comforting, and, she realized, it was his paramedic voice. Roag really knew his stuff, because it damned near worked on her. “I don’t want to hurt you. Change back to yourself, and we’ll talk about this.”
She lunged. This time, her jaws closed around his throat as her claws sank into his shoulders. Warm blood coated her tongue, spurring her on. She clamped down … only to get a mouthful of fur.
Suddenly, the demon beneath her was a warg, the huge black beast Shade had turned into the nights of the full moon. His snarl vibrated both his body and hers. They rolled, a knot of claws and teeth, slashing at each other until fur flew in tufts through the air.
She held her own until Roag hooked a leg around her and flipped her, face-first, into the grass. His low growl hung in the night air as he held her down, his jaws clamped down on the back of her neck, his sharp claws digging into her ribs. He outweighed her by half, his weight keeping her pressed into the ground … and oh, God, his erection pressed into her hip.
Tears of rage and helplessness stung her eyes. Roag was going to kill her. She knew that. But not before he tortured and raped her. In her head, she screamed, hoped Shade could sense her terror. Then again, maybe he’d ignore it, hoping someone else would take care of her for him.
She should have stayed at the hospital. Shade wanted to kill her, but at least he’d have made it quick.
Runa’s body was stiff beneath Shade’s, her muscles tensing for another struggle. He wrapped himself tighter around her. They were both bleeding, though he’d definitely borne the worst of the damage. He hadn’t wanted to hurt her, and he’d paid the price for holding back.
None of this had gone as planned. Shade had reached the hospital’s Harrowgate as it closed, catching a glimpse of Runa inside. When he saw Frank, his blood had congealed. Frank couldn’t use the Harrowgate.
Shade had nearly gone insane while he waited for the gate to reopen. Only Eidolon’s calming presence had kept him level, and the moment the gate flashed with the ready signal, he and his brothers shot inside. He had no illusions that they’d come along to help him find Runa. They wanted Roag.
Shade’s link to Runa had vibrated with her terror, leading him right to her. Eidolon and Wraith had gone after Roag—Shade guessed that the creature he’d seen take flight from the trees had been their brother.
He hoped they caught him, but right now what mattered was the werewolf pinned beneath him.
She was panting from exertion, trembling with rage that veered sharply to fear, effectively shutting down his libido, which had spun up during their battle. Did she think he was Roag?
Then again, she’d have every reason to be more terrified of him.
The thought tore at him. He wasn’t a monster. He wasn’t.
So why did that feel like such a lie?
Her name came out as a harsh growl, and he realized he was still in the warg form he’d taken to defend himself against her attack. Slowly, carefully, he disengaged his teeth from the back of her neck but kept his weight on her. Beneath him, she tensed even more.
He concentrated, brought himself back to his Seminus form. God, she was huge, and he realized he was taking a risk.
“Runa. It’s me.”
Her answer was a nasty snarl. Not encouraging.
“I can prove it. Roag wouldn’t know how we met, right?” He rubbed his face in her silky fur as he spoke into her ear, which twitched, tickling his lips. “He wouldn’t know I took you outside your coffee shop and that you were so hot, so tight, I nearly came before I was fully inside you.”
He let his senses fire up to listen for approaching enemies, and he heard the quickening of her breath as he reminded her of why they were so damned good together.
“He wouldn’t know that my favorite part of making love to you is afterward, when you come apart in my arms while I watch.”
Her breath caught, just enough to let him know that she didn’t doubt his identity, and his words hadn’t left her unaffected.
“Yeah, you know it’s me. I need you to change back. I can explain what you heard.” Tension radiated from her, as well as confusion, and a spike of hurt at his words. “Please, lir—” He cut himself off. Lirsha? Was he going to say it? Lover. Beloved.
“Talk to me. Please.”
Her entire body trembled, but she remained as she was.
In the distance, he heard voices. Human. Too far away to worry about, but they needed to move this elsewhere. Most demons were invisible to humans unless the demon wanted to be seen. But werewolves and humanoid demons like his species were clear as day.
“I’m going to back away. No sudden moves.” He eased off her and to the side, where he sat on his heels and planted his hands on his thighs, trying to appear as nonthreatening as possible. Since he was now na**d, his clothes shredded and on the ground, he figured he looked about as nonthreatening as he could. He risked a glance at his extremities, and felt lead in his gut even though he knew what to expect. Shimmering transparency that had spread from his hands to his wrists, from his feet to his ankles.
Immediately, Runa shoved to all fours and swung around to him, baring her massive teeth. Damn, she was big. And beautiful. Her toffee fur glinted in the light of the moon, and her eyes glowed like amber coals.
“Come back to me.” His voice was pleading and gravelly, because everything was on the line now. She could kill him or leave him, but either way, he’d die.
For a moment, the air went still. Runa made a soft noise, and then the transformation began, sparking hope. Knowing she was self-conscious about it, he looked away until the gruesome sounds of muscle and tendon snapping back into place came to an end. When he looked again, she was standing there in the night air, as na**d as he was.
“We have to go someplace safe,” he said softly, knowing how lame that sounded.
“Safe?” She laughed bitterly. “With you? That’s a joke, isn’t it? Why did you bother saving me from Roag when you could have just let him do the job for you?”
“I know what you heard, but I swear to you, I’m not going to kill you.”
“You’ll leave that to one of your brothers?”
“They won’t touch you. I won’t let anyone hurt you, Runa.”
She wrapped her arms around herself and shivered. “But you were going to.”
“Yes,” he said bluntly, because there was no way to sugarcoat the truth.
Hurt flashed in her eyes, and right now he’d do anything to make it better, but they were long past that. “You must truly be desperate to get out of the bond. I didn’t realize you hated me so much.”
Gods, he wished that were true, and it pissed him the hell off that he couldn’t rein in enough discipline to make it happen. “That’s the problem,” he muttered. “I don’t hate you enough.”
“Are you serious?” She gaped at him, making him feel about two inches tall. “You are, aren’t you? You want to hate me? What kind of jerk wants to hate someone?”
She shook her head as though trying to make his words come together in a way that made sense.
“Look—” He broke off at the sound of approaching footsteps. Instantly, he leaped to his feet and shielded Runa from the intruders he hoped would be at least one of his brothers. A sane one would be good.
“Who is it?” Runa whispered.
“Just stay behind me.”
Two demons emerged from the foliage, and Shade’s heart froze. They were different species—one a Nightlash, and the other a pres’genesis Seminus, whose dermoire revealed that they shared a great-great-grandsire. Both wore the uniform of the Carceris, demons who captured and held other demons accused of violating demon law.
The Nightlash stepped forward. “Shade, son of Khane, you are accused of slaughtering a warg in order to interfere with First Rights. What say you?”
Runa gasped. “You killed Luc?”
“As much as I’d like to take credit,” Shade said, “I didn’t do it.”
The Seminus inclined his head. “That will be an issue for the Judicia to determine. Your response is noted. You will now submit to our custody.”
Like hell he would. The Judicia would get to the bottom of the matter, but he couldn’t afford to be locked away until he was found innocent. Not with Roag gunning for Runa. He would not leave his mate unprotected.