He smiled. “Of course. Give me a moment to say good-bye.” Before the Carcers could refuse, he turned to Runa, who was looking at him with a mix of confusion and residual anger. Anger he could feel in the taut stiffness of her body. “You’re going to run,” he whispered against her ear. “Head for the Harrowgate. I’ll be right behind you. If I don’t join you within two minutes, either find Eidolon or use the gate to get to the hospital. Understood?”
“No, I don’t understand.”
“Just do it—” A hand closed on his arm—the Nightlash. Shade struck, a closed fist to its ugly face. “Run, Runa!”
Naturally, Runa did the opposite. She attacked the Seminus, catching him by surprise as he tried to assist the Nightlash. Shade had forgotten how well she fought, but he didn’t have time to admire her moves. He’d trained with Wraith for decades, but the Nightlash was bigger and stronger, and it took precious moments to gain the upper hand.
Shade took a quick double-tap to the abdomen, and then he dropped, spun, and with a sweep of his legs, caught the Nightlash in the knees.
The demon hit the ground and rolled into a ditch. Leaping to his feet, Shade jammed the heel of his hand in the Seminus’s nose. As the demon wheeled backward, clutching his face, Shade grabbed Runa’s hand, and they hauled ass to the Harrowgate. Once there, they dived inside, and he tapped the map to take them to Costa Rica.
They stepped out, and hit the ground running. Once they reached his cave, he shoved Runa inside.
“Shit,” he growled, as the stone door slid into place. “I am so fucked.” And na**d. Which normally went well together, but he figured Runa wouldn’t appreciate the association. Besides, he needed to cover up the parts of his body that were fading out. He headed for the bedroom, Runa on his heels.
“What was that all about?” she asked.
He tossed her a robe. “Which part?”
“All of it,” she said, shrugging into the garment. “But right now I’m wondering if they can find us.”
“They have ways of tracking us through the Harrowgate.” He tugged on a pair of jeans. “Once they exit the gate, locating my lair won’t be easy. Even if they manage, getting inside will be difficult. But hiding out here is our best option, and Roag doesn’t know about this place, so he can’t tip them off.”
“Who were they? Some sort of demon cops?”
“Something like that.” He tore through his closet, searching for a sweatshirt and gloves.
“And the Judicia?”
Dammit. Where the hell were all his riding gloves?
“Shade? The Judicia?”
He swore and stalked to his dresser. No gloves. “They’re demons that mete out justice. Eidolon served as a Justice demon for a time, so I know what to expect. They’ll get it figured out, but I can’t afford to spend time in a cell while I wait.”
She frowned. “Without … um … me, wouldn’t you suffer in a cell?”
He shook his head. “They’re specially designed to negate species needs. While imprisoned, vampires don’t need to feed, incubi don’t need sex … things like that.” Yep, those logical, level-headed Justice demons thought of everything. “Do you think I did it?”
“What? Kill Luc?” She shook her head. “I know you didn’t. I was within hearing distance of you pretty much the entire time I was at the hospital.”
“It had to have been Roag.” He pinched the bridge of his nose, though nothing was going to stave off the headache that was starting to throb at his temples. “He must have killed him, impersonated him, and ratted me out to Wraith. He’s getting bolder.”
Shade grabbed the satellite phone, stepped outside the cave for decent reception, and rang E’s cell. His brother answered on the second ring.
“You okay? Safe?”
“For now. The Carceris is after me.”
“I know. You didn’t do yourself any favors by running.”
“I couldn’t leave Runa unprotected. Unless you and Wraith happened to nab Roag?”
“The bastard got away. And it looks like he broke into the hospital’s storeroom.”
Shade swore. Roag could have stolen some potentially dangerous materials. “Bro, we have to step up our search for him. And I think you need to get Tay somewhere safe.”
“Already handled. She’ll stay at Aegis HQ. When we need to be together, she’ll come to the hospital, with Kynan as an escort. What’s going on with Runa?”
She’d followed him outside, and though she stood calmly at the cave entrance arms crossed over her chest, there was nothing calm about the flames that burned in her eyes. Still pissed about the whole thing about him killing her, he guessed.
“She’s fine for now.”
“Yeah?” E’s voice lowered to a near-whisper Shade had to strain to hear. “Well, something is going on with you. Wraith’s worried, and I’m having a hard time keeping him contained.”
“Are you saying he’s going to go self-destructive?”
“As improbable as this sounds, I think he’s trying to keep his act together. Mainly because he’s on the verge of hunting you down. He thinks you need help.”
That headache started knocking at his skull. “Shit. I don’t want him to know about this place.”
“Which means you’d better settle down. Unless …”
“Don’t go there.”
“The Maluncoeur, right? You’re falling for Runa.”
Shade sucked in a harsh breath. “I can’t talk about it.” Talking about it, voicing it, would make it real, and if it wasn’t bad enough already, the moment he truly made it real was the moment he’d disappear forever.
E’s curses blistered the airwaves. “I won’t let it claim you.”
“There’s nothing you can do. This is my mess.”
He’d f**ked up, over and over, starting with the day he’d been cursed. All these years he’d thought of Wraith as the screw-up in the family, but Shade left his little brother in the dust.
Runa returned to the bedroom and sank down on Shade’s bed while he finished talking with his brother, and wondered what she was going to do now. Shade said he no longer planned to kill her, but she wasn’t sure what to believe at this point. In any case, he had planned to murder her, and that fact left her cold.
God, she was such a fool for trusting him again.
Shade entered the room and stood there, phone in hand. A hand that seemed to be fading into transparency. His hand went entirely invisible, and he dropped the phone.
“Dammit,” he breathed, and stared at the phone, not bothering to pick it up.
“What’s going on, Shade?”
“I don’t want to talk about it.”
She shot to her feet. “You know what? I don’t give a crap what you want. You owe me.”
Maybe it was her imagination, but he seemed to be ashamed. “I can’t.”
“Can you tell me why you wanted me dead? Is that on the short list of topics you can talk about? Was getting out of the bond the only reason you were going to kill me, or was there something else?” When he didn’t answer, her control on her temper snapped. She struck him, a hard slap that left her hand numb and a crimson handprint on his face. “God, how you and your brothers must have laughed at me. You must have thought I was so pathetic, so desperate, to swear to stand by you even though I’m not bonded to you.”
The dark shadows were swimming in the black depths of his eyes again. “I never laughed at you,” he said fiercely. “I never thought you were pathetic.”
She laughed, the sound bubbling out of her like an evil sludge. “You should. Even I’m disgusted with myself.” Shaking her head, she looked around the room. “And you know what the worst part of it is? Even knowing what you were, I fell for you. Again.”
“I didn’t want that, Runa. I made it clear from the beginning.”
“Oh, you did that, and more.” Acid dripped from her voice. “Really, I shouldn’t blame you. You did try to get me to hate you. I was just too desperate for love to see it. So truly, this is my fault. There. Hope your guilt is eased.”
She was seriously messed up. As messed up as her mother had been to keep her abusive, drunken, cheating father around. Clearly, Runa had inherited those vile genes. Granted, her father eventually got sober and stopped cheating, but by then Runa had been too bitter to see it. Or to care.
If only she could channel some of that bitterness and rage to aim at Shade. She looked away from him, afraid her genetic weakness would have her falling into his arms. The tools of pain and pleasure on the walls glinted in the dim light, winking at her. Laughing at her.
How many females had they touched? How many females had Shade brought to tears and orgasms with the tools?
Oh, yes, there was the bitterness, welling up and nearly clogging her throat. She could barely speak, but managed to rasp, “I want it gone, Shade. Everything I feel for you. Everything that’s made me so like my mother.” She stripped off her robe and stalked to the whipping post, an eight-foot-high plank of wood with soft leather cuffs hanging from the top. “Do it. Do it like you’ve done to all the other females. And don’t chicken out this time.”
“I won’t do this with you, Runa.” His voice cracked, and she almost felt sorry for him. “Not again.”
“Why not? Why could you do it to the others but not me?”
“They didn’t want it for the same reason.”
“They wanted it because they’ve got some sort of darkness in them. And maybe because they like pain. Because pain turns them on. Well, maybe it turns me on, too,” she said quietly. “In fact, I know it does, because loving you hurts. And yet, I still come back for more.”
“Stop saying that.” He stumbled backward, tripped over the phone. “Stop saying you love me.”
“Then make it stop. Hurt me. Make me feel on the outside the way I feel on the inside.”
“Runa,” he moaned. “Don’t do this. Please don’t do this.”
She braced her forehead against the post and closed her eyes, breathing deeply. “You will do this, Shade. You owe me, and damn you, you will do this.”
Shade’s stomach turned over. Turned inside out and upside down. He did owe Runa, but what she was asking for was beyond his ability to give her. And yet, unlike last time, when she believed he wouldn’t hurt her, now she believed he would. And she wanted it.
The last time, she’d been curious, but this time, she needed it on a level he couldn’t yet understand, and their bond compelled him to give it to her. It was dark, the compulsion, seductive in the way only sin was, and he gave in to it with a shudder.
“Grab the post with both hands.” He hated how his voice shook. “If I have to do this, I will not restrain you with the cuffs.”
For a moment he thought she’d argue, because he was rapidly learning that Runa’s new backbone wasn’t the only uncooperative bone in her body. But eventually, she did as she was told, grasping the post so tightly her knuckles flushed white.
For the first time ever, he wished he had Wraith’s gift. How he’d love to get in her head and make her think he’d given her what she wanted.
His gut churned even as his body hardened at the way she had exposed herself to him, her lithe form braced against the wood, her hair tumbling in wild waves to the middle of her back. Gently, he brushed her hair forward over her shoulders. She gasped, a quiet sound of hunger. Gods, she wanted this. He hissed in response, his own hunger rising no matter how hard he tried to tamp it down.
Maybe he could distract her, give her the illusion of pleasure and misery … heavy on the pleasure.
He allowed himself to relax, to hope his plan worked. She wasn’t stupid, his Runa, and he’d have to be convincing.
“Square your shoulders,” he barked, and she jerked in surprise. But she obeyed. Nice. As a reward, he skimmed his fingers over her high, round butt. Slowly, he circled her, letting his hand trail around her waist, his fingertips just brushing her mound. When she sucked in a breath, he smiled. “Humans are the most vulnerable when they are na**d.”
“What about demons?”
“Some are. But not me.” He peeled out of his restrictive clothing. “I’m most powerful when na**d.” He stopped in front of her on his second pass. “No more talking. You will not speak unless I give you permission.” From her enraged expression, he guessed she hadn’t expected that. “What’s the matter, little wolf? Did you think this would be entirely physical?” He brought his mouth close to her ear. “What I do to females takes place as much in the head as on the body.”
He inhaled, took in the heady, mixed scent of irritation and desire.
“That’s not what I want,” she snapped.
Good. Maybe she’d give up on this insanity. He hoped it would happen before he got sucked in too deeply. Right now he could still think, but the more she wanted something, the more clouded his mind would become, until he would be little more than an animal operating on instinct. Instinct and her wishes.
“What did I say about talking out of turn?” He slapped her bottom hard enough to leave a nice, pink handprint. He rubbed the spot he’d slapped, caressed the hot skin until she began to moan and push back into his palm.
Damn, but he loved to touch her, to stroke her. Loved hearing the little sounds she made when she was aroused. He inched his hand lower, between her legs. Silken honey coated his fingers as he slid them back and forth, finding an easy rhythm that made her breath come faster.