He blinked. “What?”
“Talking down to someone isn’t you, Kynan.” Her voice was soft but strong, and surprisingly free of anger. After what he’d said, she should be furious. “I know you’re hurting and you’re lost, but underneath it all, you’re still a decent person.”
“Stop saying that! Would a decent person abandon the people he worked with for years? Would he hang out with demons? Would he want to take a demon to b—” He broke off before he could say more, but she knew.
“I would never have taken you for a coward,” she said, which got the steam blasting through his veins. “But you are, aren’t you? You’re so afraid of your own weaknesses that you can’t allow yourself to feel anything. To do anything that might go against the mountain of moral superiority you stand on to look down at everyone else.”
Coward? He was still stuck on that word, one that took him back to his military days, where even the scent of cowardice in someone was a brand he couldn’t shake for his entire career. Ky could admit fear—who the hell wouldn’t while facing a thirty-foot-tall Gerunti demon with T-Rex jaws and claws as long as a man. But he wasn’t a coward.
Except he’d pretty much just proven her point when he’d failed to admit, even to himself, that he wanted her. He wanted to be all over her. Inside her. Making her scream. God help him, he wanted to sink into a demon’s body and scour away the rest of his troubles. Just take that last step to cross the line that separated good and bad. Naughty and nice. Pleasure and pain.
The line blurred as he let himself drown in her eyes, but when she licked her lips, the pink tip of her tongue parting them in a slow, sensual sweep, he didn’t just step over the line; he sprinted across it.
With no warning, he fisted the hair at the nape of her neck and brought his mouth down to hers. She stiffened. Sealed her lips and denied him entrance. All of his instincts came to bear, the male impulses that demanded he get the female under him, the soldier impulses that demanded victory.
He brought his hard body against her lush one. Heart pounding, he stroked the seam of her lips with his tongue with increasing urgency. He cupped her ass and pressed her against his rapidly growing erection, and with a groan, she went liquid. Her lips parted, and he took immediate advantage.
She tasted good, all sweet fruit and savory spice, and as his tongue tangled with hers, all he could think about was tasting her everywhere. He wanted to take her down to the floor and drive into her so hard she’d scream for more …
And then what? They’d get married and live happily ever after?
Panting, Ky tore away from her. His blood drummed painfully through his veins and his cock. “I can’t. This can’t happen.”
Gem’s eyes were glazed, the sheen of lust a beacon to everything that made him male. “Yes, it can. We’re adults, Kynan. We don’t need permission.” Her voice sharpened. “Or is this about your demonphobia?”
He wished it was only the demon thing. “I’m not ready for anything nice, Gem. I’d take you rough and hard, with a big, fat, emotional disconnect.” He took her chin in his palm and got in close. “It would be nothing but a fuck, and you’d be nothing but a body to spill into. I can’t give anything else right now, and you don’t deserve that. I can’t give you what you want. I don’t know if I ever can. The only thing I know is I’ve got nothing to offer you but sex.” He wheeled away, heard her stepping closer, dammit.
“It’s okay,” she said. “Ky, I’ve wanted you for so long. If I’d thought I had a chance with you back when Lori was alive, I’d have tried to get you, and I’d not have cared that you were married.”
Her voice, so small, with a touch of a tremor, set him off. “God, Gem, you can do better than me. You need to do better than me. You deserve much more than what I can give you.”
“Wow, it almost sounds like you respect me. A demon. I mean, really, does a demon deserve to be treated well?” Now her tone was bitter. He ground his teeth because she was right. She was a demon. Why was he worried about her feelings? Her fragility?
He spun around. “So you want it, then? You really want me to f**k you like an animal?”
“Yes,” she whispered.
He was on her in an instant. He spun her and bent her over the arm of the chair. With one hand he pushed her skirt up, with the other he released his raging erection. God, the sight of her tight, round ass had him panting even harder, and he took just a moment to stroke the soft skin there. She shuddered and pushed wantonly against him. Unable to wait and not wanting to slow things down, he tore off her underwear—red, as he’d guessed—and sheathed himself in one powerful stroke.
He felt her barrier too late, heard her cry of pain that didn’t end even after he’d frozen.
“Fuck.” Closing his eyes, he took a deep, shuddering breath. “Why didn’t you tell me?”
“Because,” she murmured, head bowed so he couldn’t see her face, “I was afraid you wouldn’t do it if you knew.”
Snarling, he pulled out of her. “Damn f**king straight I wouldn’t have!” Shit. Shit, shit, shit. He’d already gone soft, so he tucked himself back in his pants and collapsed against the wall before his knees gave out. A virgin. He’d only had one before this.
He’d been a virgin himself when they met. He’d just turned eighteen and was shipping out to boot camp. She’d been at the MEPS station, enlisting. It had been love at first sight, and even though he’d never truly hoped to meet her again, they’d ended up stationed at the same base. They’d dated for six months and then got married on a whim. He’d taken her virginity that night, slowly, gently. It had been an amazing experience for both of them.
And now he’d taken Gem’s virginity, ruthlessly, and hadn’t even given her an orgasm to show for it.
“Dammit, Gem,” he said wearily. “Why me? Why did you hold on so long and then give it up for me?”
She turned to him, tugging her skirt down with shaking hands. She didn’t look at him as she said, “I’ve been in love with you for years. Since I first saw you at Mercy General.”
Those days seemed so far away. He used to take injured Guardians to a doctor there, one who knew of the battle between The Aegis and demons. Gem had been an intern, and he’d never suspected she was a demon.
“I couldn’t bring myself to have sex with anyone else,” she continued, “even though I knew I had a snowball’s chance in Hades with you.” She sniffed and wiped a tear with the back of her hand. “I just … I just wanted to give you something pure. It’s all I have. Had. Everything else about me is tainted by demon blood. But I had that. And it’s always been yours.”
Ah, hell. His chest squeezed as if an invisible vise had wrapped around it. Shame made his skin crawl right off him. What was he supposed to say to that?
The ringing of his cell phone startled him, and he hated himself for his shaking hand as he pulled the phone from his pocket. “Go.”
“Ky, man, it’s Arik. I can’t get hold of Runa, and I’ve got some information that might be important. Do you know how to contact Shade?”
Kynan swore Arik choked on Shade’s name, which was no surprise if he knew his sister was mated to him. A demon. “I’ll do my best.” He hung up. Didn’t look at Gem as he said, “I have to go.”
He took off without looking back, proving he was the coward she’d said he was.
Awareness swirled around Runa, and with it came blackness so thick she wasn’t sure her eyes were open until she blinked several times.
“Runa. Lirsha. Wake up.”
Shade’s worry cut through the darkness. Lifting her head, she winced at the biting pain streaking along the back of her skull. She swallowed, an ineffective attempt to quell the nausea bubbling in her stomach. Where was she?
Orange light flickered at the edges of her vision as she sat up on the cold stone floor, the clank of the chains clamped around her ankles echoing around her. She squinted at the light. Candle flames? No, torches. Familiar. She sniffed the air, taking in the oppressive scents of blood, mold, feces, and terror.
Oh, God. She was in Roag’s dungeon again. Her stomach lurched, and she leaned over just in time to keep from puking in her lap. Her gut convulsed, emptying its contents in a hot wash. Through her ringing ears, she heard Shade repeating her name, his voice growing more concerned with every passing second.
The memory of her capture slammed into her like a freight train, and she wished she could just pass out again into blissful ignorance. She closed her eyes and considered curling up to do exactly that. She’d done it before, once when her father had gone on a drunken rampage. For three days she’d lain on the floor of her closet, her mind taking her somewhere far more pleasant, somewhere where she wasn’t aware of anything going on around her. Doctors had called it catatonia, and they’d eventually brought her out of it, but she’d never forgotten how easy it had been to go there.
How easy it would be to go there now.
“Runa, baby, stay with me.”
Shade knew. Knew what she was thinking, knew her weakness. He’d taken away the guilt that had plagued her for years, but he hadn’t taken away the girl she’d been. He kept saying she’d changed in the last year, that she’d grown stronger, but the fact that she wanted to curl up and give up proved how weak she still was.
“Runa.” Eidolon’s voice, a deep, commanding drawl, brought her up above the fog of self-pity. “Look at me.”
Still on her hands and knees, she swung her head around to him. Her vision had cleared, but that wasn’t necessarily a good thing. She’d thought she was in a cell similar to the one she and Shade had shared before, but this was worse.
They were in Roag’s dungeon, but they’d been imprisoned in the large outer chamber where Roag kept the torture instruments. She’d been chained to the wall, while Shade and his brothers had been stripped of clothing and crammed into individual cages. Shade pressed against the bars of the middle cage as though trying to get as close as possible to her, his body flickering in and out of solidity.
“Oh, Shade,” she whispered.
“Listen to me,” Eidolon said from his cage on Shade’s left. He was sitting against the back bars, arms resting casually on his knees as though he was lounging at home in front of the TV. “The more Shade worries about you, the faster his curse progresses. And if you die, his grief is going to finish him off. You need to hold on. Be strong.”
“She is strong,” Shade said. His dark gaze bored into her, going obsidian with intensity. “You are. You’ll get through this.”
Roag stepped out from the shadowed stairwell at the end of the chamber, followed by two burly, ram-headed demons. “And wouldn’t that be a good trick? Surviving this, I mean.” He swept forward in a fluid, dramatic swirl of black robes.
Wraith, who had been standing in the corner of his cage, head hanging and hair matted to his face with dried blood, hissed. Runa gasped. Wraith looked like, well, a demon. His expression was a mask of rage, his fangs the size of a tiger’s, and his eyes glowed like amber tossed in a fire. He was a mass of blood and bruises, far worse off than either Shade or Eidolon, and as Roag approached, Wraith went rabid. He attacked the bars, slamming repeatedly into them as though trying to break every bone in his body so he could squeeze between them. Shade tried to talk him down, but nothing worked.
“He’s so excitable,” Roag said casually. “Then again, I probably would be, too, if I’d been kept in a cage and tortured for twenty years.”
“You’ve got all of us together now,” Eidolon snapped as he shoved to his feet. “What is it you want?”
Behind Roag, the two hulking demons lit a fire in the hearth. “I have a list a mile long, brother. And it begins and ends with pain.” Roag smiled. “And that’s something you know a lot about, don’t you, E?”
Wraith stilled in his cage, head down, shoulders heaving, his gaze drilling into Roag.
“Shut up.” Eidolon rattled the bars of his cage. “Shut the hell up.”
“What? You don’t want poor little Wraith to know how you’ve suffered for him?”
“E …” Wraith’s low growl vibrated through Runa’s bones. Something bad, very bad was about to be revealed.
Roag turned to Wraith. “It was probably bad enough to learn that Shade gets off on torturing females. I imagine that knowing what the Vampire Council does to Eidolon once a month won’t sit well with you at all. Might even send you completely over the edge. You were never very stable.”
“You bastard,” Eidolon whispered. “I trusted you. I cared about you!”
Shade shrugged. “I never did. You always were an asshole.”
Roag snapped something in another language at his minions, who jammed iron pokers into the fire they’d created, and Runa’s blood ran as cold as the Hudson in winter.
“You’ll get yours in a moment, Shade.” Roag moved closer to Wraith’s cage, but not too close, Runa noted. “You know how the Vampire Council leaves you alone? How you can kill and kill and they don’t do a damned thing about it? That’s because a long time ago, our dear, sweet brother Eidolon volunteered to take the punishment for you.”
Wraith went so pale Runa thought he might pass out. “No.”
“You piece of shit,” Eidolon muttered. “I’m going to take you apart with my bare hands.”