Shade sighed. Three days before Runa found him with the two females, he’d gone to her house, an older two-story in New Rochelle, to drop off the jacket she’d left at his place. He’d also planned to make a clean break from her. He’d sensed her growing attachment, her need for more than he could give. The moment he walked through the door, the rank stench of death had assaulted him. Runa had been on the phone, so he’d wandered through the house until he found the master bedroom, where her brother had been lying in bed, a living skeleton.
“He was suffering from a demon-inflicted disease,” Shade said, when her stare made it clear that she wasn’t going to let this drop.
“What did you do?”
“Shit.” He scrubbed his hand over his face. He hadn’t wanted her to know any of this. He hadn’t wanted her to feel grateful or that she owed him. The last thing he needed was for her to harbor any kind of tender feelings toward him.
“Shade? How did you cure him?”
A scuffle broke out in a nearby cell, followed by obscenities, a few barks of pain, and then things settled down. The silence, with the exception of the nerve-wrackingly incessant dripping noise, was enough incentive to keep Shade talking. Anything was better than listening to the sound of his own thoughts.
“I have the ability to affect bodily functions. The primary purpose of my incubus gift is to force a female into ovulation, but I can also enter the body at a cellular level, reverse some diseases.” He shrugged. “Your brother’s disease was an easy fix, actually.”
“The doctors were amazed,” she murmured. “I took him to the hospital the next morning. He walked in on his own two feet for the first time in months.”
“Happy to hear it.”
And there was the gratitude he’d been hoping to avoid. “Don’t thank me. I did it for purely selfish reasons,” he growled.
“How can saving a life be selfish?”
He forced himself to meet her gaze with as much malice as he could muster. “I didn’t figure you’d give it up if you were grieving over his death.”
She gasped, and he felt a twinge of guilt for lying to her. He’d saved Arik because that’s what he did. He was a paramedic, and even though the guy was human, he’d been suffering.
“You’re a bastard.”
He winced as he made himself more comfortable—hard to do after Runa’s bite and the torture he’d been subjected to. Abruptly, he felt like a piece of shit for wincing at his discomfort, given what Skulk had probably gone through.
“So how did you survive the warg attack?” he asked. “How did it happen?”
She remained quiet for a moment, as though the silent treatment was a punishment, and he supposed in a way it was. “It happened the night I went to your place and found you with those … whores. I ran out, wasn’t paying attention to anything going on around me, and the werewolf attacked me.” She flinched so violently Shade swore to kill the warg if he ever caught him. “He tossed me behind a Dumpster when he was done. I don’t know how long I lay there, but I did manage to find my cell and call my brother. He came for me. Took me to the hospital. The doctors wanted to keep me for a couple of days, but Arik checked me out against medical advice the next evening. I didn’t know why, but I trusted him.”
“He knew you’d been bitten by a warg.”
“Yes. He didn’t tell me that, though. He took me home and locked me in the wine cellar. I thought he’d lost his mind. The next morning, when I woke up in the destroyed cellar, he explained.”
Shade shifted forward, his aches momentarily forgotten. “How did he know? And how did he contract a demon virus?”
She jerked her gaze away, and he wished they were closer so he could force her to look at him. Then again, it was probably best if they didn’t touch. He had too many memories of how good she felt under his palm. Under his body.
“Runa?” When she didn’t answer, he tested the limits of his chains. “Dammit, he’s Aegis, isn’t he?”
She shook her head.
Her gaze snapped to his, eyes flashing with surprise.
“What? You think demons aren’t aware that governments all over the world are working on the great underworld scourge?” He scrubbed his hand over his face. He was so freaking tired. “I don’t suppose we can count on the military swooping down to save us?”
She just stared.
“Didn’t think so.” He blew out a long breath. “Wraith might be a no-show, too. Looks like we’ll have to save ourselves.”
“That,” he said grimly, “is the question of the day.”
“The problem with having evil minions is that minions are stupid.” Roag looked down at a slimy little drekevac that looked like a deformed, hairless ape, cowering at his feet.
“But I brought you the Seminus demon, one of the brothers you asked for.” The drekevac whimpered, his spindly fingers stroking Roag’s boots.
“And torturing him with an unfinished blowjob and the death of his beloved sister was amusing, but ultimately, Shade is useless to me. He’s cursed. Which means his body parts could be cursed. I need Wraith.”
Eidolon would do in a pinch, but Roag had already set him up for a lifetime of torment. Logical, loyal Doc E was being tortured once a month by vampires who would eventually maim or kill him. Besides, he’d need E’s surgical and healing skills to carry out his plan. Since Shade was useless, that left Wraith. Which was bloody fine, because he was the one Roag wanted to suffer the most anyway.
Poor little Wraith, so broken and tormented, so sheltered by his idiot, clueless brothers. Fools. Roag had seen through Wraith from the beginning. His youngest brother was a waste of good organs, but Roag planned to remedy that.
“Once again, you fail me.” He kicked the drekevac so hard it flew across the ancient keep’s great hall and slammed into a trestle table. As it scrambled toward him again, Roag morphed into Wraith’s form, reveling in the transformation that made his stiff, scarred skin turn soft and supple. “Since you obviously need a reminder, this is what he looks like.” And what Roag would look like once he’d harvested Wraith’s skin and reproductive parts.
He wheeled around, thanking the Great Satan that he’d changed form before Sheryen entered the room. The Bathag demon had never seen him in his true form, and if he had his way, she never would. He needed Wraith, and he needed him soon. Eventually, Sheryen would grow resistant to the mind-sex and would realize that despite all her memories and orgasms, they had never once had intercourse.
“What is it, Sher?”
“I see you have a Seminus in the dungeon. I want to take him out to play.”
Jealousy nearly unhinged him. “You are to stay out of the dungeon, lirsha. How many times have I told you that?”
Her pretty pout made him grind his teeth in frustration. He still experienced the same urges he’d always had, but thanks to the loss of his sexual organs in the Brimstone fire, he could do nothing about them. It was a torture of the worst kind, being aroused but unable to fuck. He’d given Shade a taste of that earlier, when he’d set Solice to work on him, but clearly, she’d not worked him up enough, because he’d come down from his arousal rather than suffering to the point of death. The plan had been to let Shade agonize for hours, until he was nearly dead, and then send Solice back in, give Shade the release he needed … and start the cycle all over again.
A few moments of pleasure, punctuated by several hours of agony. Over and over. Beautiful.
And all ruined because Solice sucked dick as poorly as she performed surgery to remove the body parts from the demons his Ghouls captured. Which was why he needed Eidolon. Finding good medical help was even more difficult than finding good minions.
“Hmph.” Sheryen tossed her long, silver hair over her shoulder. “Then I’m going to Eternal. Care to join me?”
Damn her. She knew he wouldn’t go to any kind of club, let alone a vampire bar. The very idea made him break out in a cold sweat. “I’ll see you tonight in our lair.”
She blew him a kiss and sauntered away. “Follow her,” he snapped to another minion, who had been gnawing on a bone near the blazing hearth. “I don’t want her taking a side trip to the dungeon on her way out.” Shade would gladly seize the opportunity to screw her brains out and then use her to escape.
Roag should kill him. Or slice him up. Seminus parts were damned near priceless on the underworld market.
Problem was, there was no way of knowing if Shade’s curse, one of the most sinister and ingenious Roag had ever heard of, would affect the parts.
He was doing all of this for Sheryen, so he could bond with his true love and keep her in his bed—but he couldn’t risk transplanting organs cursed by an antilove spell onto himself.
But killing Shade outright would be too quick. No, he had to be made to suffer like Eidolon. But how? Roag had killed Shade’s mother, which had been fun even though Roag hadn’t told Shade about his role in it yet, and Skulk’s death would haunt him, but it wasn’t enough.
“What has my brother been doing down there? Is he miserable?” Probably not. Shade had always been into whips and chains.
The drekevac shrugged one misshapen shoulder. “I … think not. The she-warg is keeping him company.”
Roag narrowed his eyes. “They’d better not be able to touch.” If that bastard was finding pleasure in his dungeon—
Wait … that was it. The ultimate torture for Shade. And if all went well, Shade wouldn’t just be tormented for the rest of his life …
He’d be tormented for all eternity.
Satin sheets. Down pillows. Chocolate-covered strawberries and champagne. All of it was too decadent for Shade, who preferred a lot less comfort and a lot more leather and chains, but the luxury suited Runa. Her soft skin deserved silky sheets. Her long, thick hair fell in shiny waves across the puffy pillow. And the way she licked strawberry juice from her lips set him on fire.
Somewhere in the back of Shade’s mind, he suspected this was a dream, but he didn’t want to fight it. Being with Runa felt too damned good.
He moved against her, buried deep inside her wet heat. It had been so long since they’d been together, so long since he’d let himself enjoy being with a female instead of just getting off in one.
It was dangerous, allowing sensation like this. If she hadn’t caught him with the two females last year, he’d have sent her packing, not because she’d grown clingy as he kept telling himself, but because he had been growing clingy. If not for the curse, Maluncoeur, he might have been tempted to hang on, see where their relationship might go, even if bonding with a human was out of the question. Even if, with her inexperience and shyness, she wasn’t his type.
Something about her had drawn him, had him thinking about her long after he’d left her at her coffee shop, had him hunting down her phone number and calling for a date two nights later.
“I’ve missed you, Shade.” Runa’s voice was sweet nectar, bubbling in his veins like the sparkling wine he’d sipped from the small of her back a few minutes earlier, when she’d lain on her belly, spread out before him like a feast. “Take me inside you.”
His head snapped up. Her eyes, glittering with lust and love and everything in between, gazed into his and he knew she meant what she’d said. She wanted to bond with him. To become his mate and help him through the s’genesis so he wouldn’t go through it alone, so he wouldn’t have his life turned upside down.
The right side of his face throbbed, the dermal markings trying to punch their way to the surface and declare that he’d gone through The Change. He was weeks away, days or hours, even, from becoming a shapeshifting demon who forgot his old life and spent his days in the mindless pursuit of females to impregnate.
Bonding with a mate would stop the insanity—literally. Posts’genesis males often went insane, Roag being an example of that. Bonded posts’genesis males kept their sanity, became fertile, and could shapeshift, but the only females they could sleep with were their own mates.
The fact that they would be limited for life to one female was the reason many Sems didn’t bond, especially after s’genesis—who wanted to spend six hundred years with the same mate? Worse, there was only one way out—the death of one of the partners. And since demons, in general, held a serious disregard for life, finding a mate you could trust not to kill you in your sleep two hundred years into a bond was next to impossible.
Still, Shade would be willing to take the chance … if not for the curse. He couldn’t risk falling in love with the female he bonded himself to—and he knew he would fall, and fall hard. The desire for a loving family had been bred into him on his mother’s side, and every day he ached for what he couldn’t have.
For now, though, he had Runa.
Her legs locked tight around him. She arched up, taking him to the root, moaning robustly. He’d forgotten how tuned she was to him in bed, always responding to his every desire with enthusiasm. Her curiosity had been limitless, and he’d enjoyed introducing her to various positions, toys, and acts.
Reaching low, she dug her nails into one butt cheek, forcing him into a rhythm of her choosing. “Harder,” she growled. “Until I scream, demon.”
Surprise rang through him; she’d never shown any kind of aggression during sex, had catered to his desires and needs, had been pliable and perfect.