Wraith burst out of the Harrowgate into a sweltering jungle. Tracking Shade hadn’t been easy, not until his brother’s agony reached him, savaging Wraith’s mind until finding Shade became as critical as breathing. He’d followed Shade’s trail mostly by instinct and with a sense of urgency.
He wasn’t the only one tracking Shade.
Eidolon had used his Judicia contacts to learn that the Carceris had set their hellhound loose, and no doubt Roag had joined in the hunt as well. Wraith studied the ground, and satisfied that they hadn’t been this way yet, he took off down the lightly worn path leading away from the gate.
The jungle heat embraced Wraith as he shot through the vegetation, his senses tuned to Shade. Ahead. His brother was ahead and he was hurting.
Wraith broke out of the trees and into a small clearing where a waterfall gushed from the cliff above. He might have taken a moment to admire the sight, but he felt as if someone was squeezing his lungs and heart into a pulp, and it was growing increasingly hard to breathe.
Wraith moved carefully around the waterfall, to a section of rocks that seemed to fit together a little too well. He searched the area, looking for openings, because although nothing indicated that this was anything but a tranquil oasis in the middle of a jungle, he could feel Shade, and his brother was close.
This had to be a cave of some sort, but he couldn’t find the entrance. There had to be another way.
He looked up at the river of water streaming over shiny, black boulders. Behind the veil of spray, shadowy recesses hinted at some sort of cavern.
He started climbing. The rocks were slick and rough, but he didn’t give a shit that he was tearing up his hands, his jeans, his really cool Hard Rock Café Bucharest T-shirt. Well, he mostly didn’t give a shit. The T-shirt, given to him by a Romanian half-breed waitress he’d f**ked to get it, held some hot memories.
Fifty feet up and soaked to the bone from spray, he nearly lost his grip and plummeted to the ground, but he caught himself on some sort of thorny vine that hurt like hell. Wincing, he peeled his palm off it and moved in behind the waterfall.
About ten feet above him, he saw a flat, broad shelf that seemed to extend deep into the rock. Carefully, he climbed to it, and pulled himself up. The challenge was powering past the incredible force of the water without being slammed into the pool or rocks below, but finally, he made it. For a second he lay on his back on the smooth stone, gathering his breath, but Shade’s agony, like icepicks in his chest, urged him to his feet.
He moved deeper into the arched tunnel, which was smooth and clean, definitely not natural. And there was a towel lying over a chunk of stone, as if someone had used the waterfall as a shower. As his vision sharpened to accommodate the darkness, he heard sobs.
Wraith careened off the cave walls in a frantic bid to find a way inside, and when he found the opening, he nearly tripped over his own feet in his rush. When he entered a strangely modern kitchen, the weirdness registered, but only for a heartbeat.
The sounds of suffering hijacked all his senses, and the only thing he could think about was getting to his brother.
He scrambled through the kitchen, knocking a salt shaker off the table as he passed. “Shade!” He took a corner a little too fast and slammed his shoulder into a door opening …
And then he froze. Every muscle vapor-locked. His heart skidded to a smoking stop. His lungs turned to cement.
Shade was standing in some sort of torture chamber, holding a flail as Runa struggled to free herself from the cuffs around her wrists. She was sobbing, begging Shade to drop the weapon.
A biting chill of shock went through Wraith, and he swayed. Then, as quickly as it had come, the shock fled, its void filling with hot, searing rage.
Wraith launched at his brother and took him to the ground, pummeling him until he realized Shade wasn’t fighting back.
“What the f**k were you doing?” he screamed, but Shade just stared, his eyes glazed and unfocused. Nausea swirled in Wraith’s stomach. By the looks of the dungeon, Shade had been doing who knew what to who knew how many females. And hurting himself as well? Why?
“Do you kill them?” he whispered. “Shade, do you torture them and kill them?” His breath came in spurts, burning his lungs. The memories of his own torture at the hands of vampires flashed through his brain in sickening, fast-motion frames.
“No,” Shade said, eyes wide. “No, never. Gods, Wraith! How could you think that?” He looked over at Runa. “I have to release her—”
“You aren’t going near her.” Wraith coldcocked Shade hard enough to knock him out.
The sharp tang of blood hung heavy in the air. As a vampire, he found the smell compelling, seductive, even as his nonvamp side was disgusted by how it had been spilled. Trembling in a way he hadn’t done since, well, he couldn’t remember when he’d ever been this f**ked in the head, he went to Runa.
She was still on her feet, her hands clutching the post to hold herself up. How she found the strength to not slide to the ground was a mystery, and he found himself admiring her strength as he undid the manacles and peeled her fingers away from the wood.
“Hey,” he said gently. “It’s okay. You’re okay.”
“Sh … Shade?”
“He can’t hurt you now.”
“He d-didn’t …”
Maybe not yet. Wraith didn’t have the medical training or expertise his brothers had, but he knew shock when he saw it. Runa collapsed in his arms, and he carried her to the bed set into the wall. How nice that Shade was able to sleep in his chamber of horrors.
Christ, had he not known his brother at all? He shook his head, because he did know Shade. Knew how he’d grown up in a loving household with sisters he adored. Knew Shade’s favorite food and drink—fish tacos and Fresca, though not, thank gods, the same meal. Knew that Shade loved movies but generally liked to see them alone because he especially liked sappy romantic comedies.
That Shade didn’t jibe with the one who kept a torture chamber. And why the hell hadn’t Wraith been able to see Shade’s sick secret when he tripped through Shade’s mind?
Lying on her stomach, Runa moaned into the pillow. With a shaking hand, Wraith covered her with a blanket, careful not to touch her wrists, which had become abraded as she struggled in her bonds. He looked down at Shade, still knocked out on the floor. What now?
Eidolon. He had to call E. He’d know what to do. He always did.
Wraith fumbled around in his jeans’ pocket until he found his cell. No signal. Shock, that, here in the middle of BF Central America.
But even in BF Central America Shade would have a way to contact the outside world. Shade didn’t like to be isolated for long. As much as he tried to act all I-don’t-need-anyone, Shade was, at heart, a social creature. A sadistic social creature.
Wraith did a quick sweep of the cave, finally found a satellite phone, and dialed E. The moment his brother answered, Wraith’s calm exterior collapsed like an apprentice sorcerer’s first spell.
“E, we got trouble. Oh, man, oh, man—”
“Calm down.” Eidolon’s voice was barely audible over the static. “What’s wrong?”
“Shade. It’s Shade. I’m at his … torture chamber.”
Silence filled the airwaves. “Shit.”
“You knew?” Wraith realized he was practically screaming, and lowered his voice. “You knew about this?”
“We’ll talk about it later. Tell me what’s going on. Where is Shade?”
Wraith swallowed dryly. “He’s here. He’s hurt. And his female … just hurry.”
“I’ll be right there.”
Wraith sank onto the bed next to Runa and put his hand on the back of her neck. Closing his eyes, he concentrated on feeding her comforting images. Hopefully, she liked the beach. Piña coladas. Warm sand. Anything that would give her a few minutes of peace to help heal the hell she’d just gone through.
It was only later that he realized that instead of killing her, as he should have done to keep Shade from the Maluncoeur’s clutches, he’d helped her.
Maybe because deep down, he believed his brother was already too far gone to help.
Eidolon left Reaver in charge of the emergency department and went straight to Shade’s cave. That Wraith knew about it was not good, but when he saw Runa lying on the bed and Shade unconscious on the floor, he knew it was a whole lot worse than not good.
“I got it,” he said to Wraith, who stood and let Eidolon take his place.
“Hurry.” Wraith’s voice was a tangle of worry and pain and fear. Wraith, who generally didn’t give a shit about anyone. Eidolon would never figure his brother out.
Eidolon reached for Runa, but hesitated, his palm hovering over her spine. The smart thing to do would be to kill her. Now, while Shade was unaware of what was happening and while she was too out of it to know. He could do it quickly, humanely.
Humanely. What a joke. Humans liked to pretend they were superior, above all others, but how superior were people who stoned women to death for cheating on their husbands? Or who made animals fight for amusement? Sure, demons weren’t any better, but at least they didn’t hide behind religious tenets and cultural tradition to excuse their brutality. Demons pretty much just had the excuse that they were demons.
Wraith’s voice jerked him out of his thoughts. Eidolon had never been fond of humans and their arrogance, which constantly cracked Tayla up, because she liked to remind him that she’d never met anyone as arrogant as he was.
“I don’t think you should do it,” Wraith said quietly. “She’s been through enough at Shade’s hands.” He looked down at the floor, but whether he was looking away to hide his embarrassment at being caught showing mercy or he was looking at Shade, Eidolon didn’t know.
“We’re going to lose him, if I don’t.”
“We’re going to lose him anyway. Look at him. The curse is already active.”
An instant, searing pain sliced through him. Wraith was right. It was clear that Shade was in love with Runa. Killing her now might only accelerate the curse. All he had to do was look at Kynan to figure that out. Immediately after Lori’s death, his love for her had probably been stronger than ever, tied to his misery over both her murder and her betrayal.
Shifting into doctor mode, he performed a rapid exam, was relieved to see that Runa was suffering more from exhaustion than anything. Shade had held back. He flashed a look at Shade, whose multiple wounds covered his chest, stomach, and shoulders, and then revised his thought. Shade had definitely not held back.
E concentrated until the warm tingle of his healing gift ran down his right arm, and then he put his hand on Runa’s shoulder. Instantly, the light pink streaks on her back and the abrasions on her wrists healed. Behind him, he heard Shade struggling to get to Runa, but Wraith sat on their brother, holding him down.
“Let me up,” Shade snarled. He grunted in pain, and Eidolon figured Wraith had applied some sort of pressure.
“E, shit,” Wraith muttered. “You done with her?”
Eidolon frowned. Shade’s lips were drawn back in a pained snarl, and he was reaching for the flail on the floor. Dammit. Eidolon grasped Runa’s hand.
“Runa.” She rolled onto her side, her glassy eyes blinking as she became aware of her surroundings. “Shade gave you a safe word. You need to say it.”
“What?” She tugged the blanket up over her breasts.
“Safe word! What is it? He needs to be released.”
She paled. “Shadow,” she whispered. “Shadow.”
Shade sagged to the floor, stark relief in his expression. “I’m sorry, Runa,” he rasped. “So sorry.”
“What happened, Shade?” Eidolon asked. “Why are you injured?”
“What the hell is going on?” Wraith demanded.
There was no point in lying or beating around the bush anymore. Eidolon moved off the bed to kneel next to Shade and channel healing waves into him. “It’s not as bad as you think, Wraith.”
Wraith leaped to his feet and made a sweeping gesture with his hand. “You wanna change your story, bro? Because I’m thinking that these—” he grabbed a pair of handcuffs off the wall “—are exactly what I think. Our brother is one sick puppy.” He laughed bitterly. “And I thought Roag was the sick one.”
Runa bounded off the bed so fast she nearly knocked Eidolon over. She got right up into Wraith’s face. Buck na**d. “Don’t you dare compare Shade to Roag. You have no idea what you’re talking about. Say one more word and I’ll drop you.”
In all the years Eidolon had known Wraith, he’d never seen his brother speechless.
Runa had just done the impossible.
Runa spun away from Wraith and knelt on the floor next to Shade, who was ashen and shaky, and much of him was fading in and out. What he’d done for her, how he’d somehow fought her desire for punishment and turned it on himself, well, it was a sacrifice beyond comprehension.
“I’m sorry,” he murmured. “So sorry.”
She palmed his cheek, feeling the rough scrape of new whisker growth. “No. Don’t be. I’m the one who’s sorry. What you did for me—”
“I’d do it again.”
Her eyes stung. “I know you would.” She tugged the comforter off the bed and wrapped them both in it. “Can you feel it? I’m free.”
The guilt over her mother’s death was gone, as was her anger at Shade. Suddenly, nothing mattered but the bond they shared. She might not be physically marked, but that didn’t make the connection any less powerful.