Phury looked across the mansion's pool table with disgust while Butch measured his shot. Something was off with the human, but as the cop sank three balls with one cue stroke, it sure as hell wasn't his game.
"Jesus, Butch. Four wins in a row. Remind me why I bother playing with you?"
"Because hope springs eternal." Butch tossed back the tail end of his Scotch. "You want another game?"
"Why not. My odds can't get worse."
"You rack while I get a refill."
As Phury collected the balls from the pockets, he realized what the problem was. Every time he turned away, Butch got to staring at him.
"You have something on your mind, cop?"
The male poured himself a couple of fingers of Lagavulin, then took a long drink from his glass. "Not particularly."
"Liar. You've been giving me the hairy eyeball since we got back from ZeroSum. Why don't you get real and spill it."
Butch's hazel eyes met his glare head-on. "You gay, my man?"
Phury dropped the eight ball and dimly heard it bouncing on the marble floor. "What? Why would you—"
"I heard you were getting close with the Reverend." As Phury cursed, Butch picked up the black ball and sent it rolling back over the green felt. "Look, I'm cool if you are. I honestly don't give a rat's ass who you're into. But I would like to know."
Oh, this is just great, Phury thought. Not only was he pining after the female who wanted his twin; now he was supposedly dating a frickin' symphath.
That female who'd walked in on him and the Reverend clearly had a big mouth and… Christ. Butch must have already told Vishous. The two were like an old mated couple, no secrets between them. And V would squeal to Rhage. And once Rhage knew, you might as well have popped the news flash on the Reuters wire.
"No, I'm not gay."
"Don't feel like you need to hide it or anything."
"I wouldn't. I'm just not."
"You bi, then?"
"Butch, drop it. If any of the Brothers are down with the kinky shit, it's your roommate." At the cop's bug-eyed look, he muttered, "Come on, you have to know about V by now. You live with him."
"Obviously not—Oh, hey, Bella."
Phury wheeled around. Bella was standing on the threshold of the room, dressed in that black satin robe. He could not look away from her. The glow of health was back in her lovely face, the bruises gone, her beauty revealed. She was… astonishing.
"Hello," she said. "Phury, do you think I could talk with you for a moment? After you're finished?"
"Butch, you mind if we take a breather?"
"That's cool. See you later, Bella."
As the cop left, Phury put his pool cue away with unnecessary precision, sliding the slick, blond wood into the wall rack. "You look well. How do you feel?"
"Better. Much better."
Because she'd fed from Zsadist.
"So… what's going on?" he asked, trying not to imagine her at his twin's vein.
Without replying, she went over to the French doors, the robe trailing across the marble floor behind her like a shadow. As she walked, the ends of her hair brushed against the small of her back and moved with the sway of her hips. Hunger hit him hard, and he prayed she didn't catch the scent.
"Oh, Phury, look at the moon, it's almost full." Her hand went to the glass and lingered on the pane. "I wish I could…"
"You want to go outside now? I could get you a coat."
She smiled at him over her shoulder. "I have no shoes."
"I'll bring you those, too. Stay here."
In no time he came back with a pair of fur-lined boots and a Victorian cape that Fritz, homing pigeon that he was, had pulled out of some closet.
"You work fast," Bella said as he draped the bloodred velvet around her shoulders.
He knelt in front of her. "Let me get these on you."
She lifted one knee, and as he slid the boot on her foot, he tried not to notice how soft the skin of her ankle was. Or how much her scent tantalized him. Or how he could just part the robe out of the way and…
"Now the other one," he said hoarsely.
When he had her booted up he opened the door, and they walked out together, crunching through the snow that covered the terrace. At the lawn's edge she tugged the cape in tight around her and looked up. Her breath left her mouth in puffs of white, and the wind teased the red velvet around her body, as if stroking the cloth.
"Dawn is not far," she said.
He wondered what she wanted to talk about, but then her face grew serious and he knew why she'd come. Zsadist. Of course.
"I want to ask you about him," she murmured. "Your twin."
"What do you want to know?"
"How did he become a slave?"
Oh, God… He didn't want to talk about the past.
"Phury? Will you tell me? I would ask him, but…"
Ah, hell. There was no good reason not to answer her. "A nursemaid took him. She sneaked him out of the household when he was seven months old. We couldn't find them anywhere, and as far as I was able to find out, she died two years later. He was sold into slavery at that point by whoever found him."
"That must have been so hard on your whole family."
"The worst. A death with no body to bury."
"And when… when he was a blood slave…" She took a deep breath. "Do you know what happened to him?"
Phury rubbed the back of his neck. As he hesitated, she said, "I'm not talking about the scars or the forced feedings. I want to know about… what else might have been done to him."
"I need to know."
"Why?" Even though he knew the answer. She wanted to lay with Z, had probably already tried to. That was the why of it.
"I just have to know."
"You should ask him."
"He won't tell me, you know he won't." She put her hand on his forearm. "Please. Help me understand him."
Phury stayed quiet, telling himself it was because he was respecting Z's privacy, and that was mostly true. Only the smallest part of him didn't want to help land Z in her bed.
Bella squeezed his arm. "He said he was tied down. And that he can't stand to have a female on top when—" She stopped. "What was done to him?"
Holy shit. Zsadist had talked about his captivity with her?
Phury cursed softly. "He was used for more than just his vein. But that's all I'm going to say."
"Oh, God." Her body sagged. "I just needed to hear it from someone. I needed to know for sure."
As a cold gust of wind came up, he took a deep breath and still felt suffocated. "You should go in before you get cold."
She nodded and started for the house. "Aren't you coming?"
"I'm going to have a smoke first. Go on now."
He didn't watch her head into the house, but heard the door click shut.
Putting his hands in his pockets he looked out over the rolling white lawn. Then he closed his eyes and saw the past.
As soon as Phury went through his transition, he searched to find his twin, canvassing the Old Country, seeking out households that were wealthy enough to have servants. Over time he heard a repeated rumor that there was a warrior-sized male being kept by a female high up within the glymera. But he wasn't able to pin it down.
Which made sense. Back then, in the early nineteenth century, the species was still relatively cohesive, and the old rules and social customs remained strong. If anyone had been found harboring a warrior as a blood slave, they would have faced death under the law. That was why he had to be discreet in his quest. If he'd demanded a congregation of the aristocracy and put out a call for his twin's return, or if he was caught trying to find Zsadist, he might as well put a dagger in the male's chest: Killing Zsadist and disposing of the body would be the captor's best and only defense.
By the late 1800s, he'd almost given up hope. His parents had both died of natural causes by then. Vampire society had fragmented in the Old Country, and the first of the migrations to America had begun. He was rootless, roaming Europe, chasing after whispers and innuendoes… when suddenly he found what he'd been looking for.
He was on English soil the night it happened. He'd gone to a gathering of his kind at a castle on the cliffs of Dover. Standing in a darkened corner of the ballroom, he overheard two males speaking of the hostess. They said she had an incredibly endowed blood slave and that she liked to be watched and sometimes even shared him.
Phury had courted the female starting that very night.
He wasn't worried that his face would give him away, even though he and Zsadist were identical twins. First of all, his clothes were those of a wealthy male, and no one would suspect someone of his station to be coming after a slave that had been rightfully purchased on the market as a small child. And second, he was always careful to keep disguised. He grew a short beard to dull his features, and he hid his eyes behind dark spectacles, which he explained away by claiming his vision was poor.
Her name had been Catronia. An aristocrat of wealth, she was mated to a half-breed merchant who conducted business in the human world. Evidently she was alone a lot, as her hellren traveled extensively, but the rumor was she'd had the blood slave before her mating.
Phury asked to be welcomed into her household, and as he was well-read and attentive, she permitted him to a room despite the fact that he was vague about his lineage. Courts were full of posers, and she was attracted to him, so she was obviously willing to overlook certain formalities. But she was cautious, too. Weeks passed, and though she spent a lot of time with him, she never took him to the slave she was said to possess.
Every chance he had he searched the grounds and the buildings, hoping to find his twin in a hidden cell of some kind. The problem was, there were eyes everywhere, and Catronia kept him busy. Whenever her hellren departed, which was often, she would come to Phury's quarters, and the more he evaded her hands, the more she wanted him.
Time… time was all it took. Time and her inability to resist showing off her prize, her toy, her slave. One evening right before dawn, she asked him to her bedroom for the first time. The secret entrance he had been searching for had been located in her antechamber, in the back of her wardrobe. Together they went down a vast, steep staircase.
Phury could still remember the thick oak door at the bottom swinging open, and the sight of the male chained naked, legs spread, on a tapestry-covered bedding platform.
Zsadist had been staring at the ceiling, his hair so long it fell onto the stone floor. He was clean shaven and oiled, as if he'd been prepared for her sport, and he smelted of expensive spices. The female went right to him and caressed him lovingly, those rapacious brown eyes of hers stamping ownership all over his body.
Phury's hand had gone for the dagger at his side before he'd known what he was doing. As if sensing the motion, Zsadist's head had slowly turned, and his dead black eyes had crossed the distance between them. There was no flash of recognition. Just seething hatred.
Shock and sorrow had rolled through Phury, but he'd kept focused, looking for the way out. There was another door across the cell, but that one had no knob or handle, just a little slot about five feet from the floor. He'd thought maybe he could break thr—
Catronia began to touch his brother intimately. She had some kind of salve on her hands, and as she stroked his twin's manhood, she was saying hateful things about what the size of him would be like. Phury bared his fangs at her and lifted the dagger.
The door across the way suddenly swung open. On the other side was an effete court male wearing an ermine-trimmed robe. He was frantic as he announced that Catronia's hellren had returned unexpectedly and was searching for her. Rumors about her and Phury had evidently reached the male's ears.
Phury crouched down, prepared to kill the female and her court-man. But the sound of pounding feet, many of them, echoed into the room.
The hellren came pounding down the secret stairs, he and his private guard spilling into the room. The male had seemed flabbergasted, was clearly unaware that she had a blood slave. Catronia started speaking, but he slapped her so hard she ricocheted off the stone walls.
Chaos exploded. The private guard went after Phury. The hellren went after Zsadist with a knife.
Killing the court's soldiers was a long and bloody process, and by the time Phury could get free of the hand-to-hand, there was no sign of Zsadist, just a bloody trail out of the cell.
Phury took off down the corridor, running through the underground of the castle, following the red streaks. When he emerged from the keep it was nearly dawn, so he knew he had to find Zsadist with alacrity. As he paused to get his bearings, he heard a rhythmic noise snapping through the air.
Over to the right, Zsadist had been strung up from a tree on the cliff, and against the vast backdrop of the sea, he was being whipped raw.
Phury attacked the three guards who were lashing his twin. Though the males fought hard, he was in a wild fury. He slaughtered them and then released Zsadist, only to see more guards coming out of the bulkhead in a block of five.
With the sun about to rise, and the glow burning his skin, Phury knew there was no time left. He slung Zsadist over his shoulders, grabbed one of the pistols the guards had been armed with, and shoved the weapon into his belt. Then he eyed the cliff and the ocean below. Not the best route to freedom, but far better than trying to fight his way toward the castle. He started running, hoping to launch them far enough out so that they fell into the ocean.
A throwing dagger caught him in the thigh, and he stumbled.
There was no catching his balance or stopping his momentum. He and Zsadist tumbled over the lip of the cliff and skidded down the rock face until Phury's boot got caught in a crevice. As his body was yanked to a halt, he scrambled to hold on to Zsadist, knowing damn well that the male was out cold and going to drown if he fell into the water unattended.
Zsadist's blood-slick skin slid out of Phury's grip, slipped free—
He caught his twin's wrist at the last second and squeezed hard. There was a massive jerk as the male's heavy body was stopped, and pain ricocheted up Phury's leg. His vision faded. Came back. Faded again. He could feel Zsadist's body dangling in midair, a perilous sway that challenged his hold unmercifully.
The guards peered over the edge and then measured the gathering light, shielding their eyes. They laughed, sheathed their weapons, and left him and Zsadist for dead.
As the sun gathered on the horizon, Phury's strength quickly drained, and he knew he couldn't hold Zsadist for long. The light was awful, burning, adding to the agony he already felt. And no matter how hard he pulled his leg, his ankle remained trapped.
He fumbled for the pistol, pulling it free of his waistband. With a deep breath, he aimed the muzzle at his leg.
He shot himself below the knee. Twice. The pain was astounding, a fireball in his body, and he dropped the gun. Gritting his teeth, he'd planted his free foot into the cliff and pushed with everything he had in him. He screamed as his leg splintered and came apart.
And then there was the yawning void of empty air.
The ocean had been cold, but it had shocked him into consciousness and sealed up his wound, keeping him from bleeding out. Dizzy, nauseous, desperate, he'd forced his head above the choppy waves, his death grip on Zsadist the only-constant. Dragging his twin into his arms, keeping the male's head above water, Phury swam to shore.
Blessedly, there was a cave entrance not far from where they'd taken the plunge, and he used his last reserve of strength to get the two of them toward the dark mouth. After dragging himself and Zsadist from the water, he was all but blind as he went as far into the cave as he could. A curve in the natural architecture was what saved them, giving them the darkness they needed.
In the back, away from the sun, he sheltered them behind large rocks. Gathering Zsadist into his arms to conserve their body heat, he stared ahead into the blackness, utterly lost.
Phury rubbed his eyes, God, the image of Zsadist chained on that bedding platform…
Ever since the rescue he'd had a repeating nightmare, one that never failed to be a fresh horror each time his subconscious coughed it up. The dream was always the same: Him racing down those hidden stairs and throwing open the door. Zsadist tied down. Catronia in the corner, laughing. As soon as Phury was in the cell, Z would turn his head and his black, lifeless eyes would look up from out of an unscarred face. In a hard voice he would say, "Leave me here. I want to stay… here."
That was Phury's cue to wake up in a cold sweat.
"What's doing, my man?"
Butch's voice was jarring, but welcome. Phury scrubbed his face, then glanced over his shoulder. "Just enjoying the view."
"Lemme give you a tip. That's what you do on a tropical beach, not standing out in this kind of cold. Look, come eat with us, okay? Rhage wants pancakes, so Mary's backed a dump truck full of Bisquick into the kitchen. Fritz is about to levitate, he's so worried about not being able to help."
"Yeah. Good deal." As they headed inside, Phury said, "Can I ask you something?"
"Sure. What do you need?"
Phury paused by the pool table and picked up the eight ball. "When you worked in homicide, you saw a lot of fucked-up people, right? People who'd lost their husbands or their wives… sons or daughters." When Butch nodded, he said, "Did you ever find out what happened to them? I mean, the ones who were left behind. Do you know if they ever got over the shit?"
Butch rubbed his thumb over his eyebrow. "I don't know."
"Yeah, I guess you don't really follow up—"
"But I can tell you I never did."
"You mean the sight of those bodies you worked on stuck with you?"
The human shook his head. "You forgot sisters. Brothers and sisters."
"People lose husbands, wives, sons, daughters… and sisters and brothers. I lost a sister when I was twelve. Two boys took her behind the baseball diamond at school and used her and beat her until they killed her. I never got over it."
"Jesus—" Phury stopped, realizing they were not alone.
Zsadist stood bare-chested in the doorway to the room. He was flushed with sweat from his head to his Nikes, like he'd run for miles down in the gym.
As Phury stared at his twin, he felt a familiar sinking sensation. It was always like that, as if Z were some kind of low-pressure zone.
Zsadist's voice was hard. "I want both of you to come with me at nightfall."
"Where to?" Butch asked.
"Bella wants to go to her house, and I'm not taking her there without backup. I need a car in case she wants to take some of her shit with her when she leaves, and I want someone to case the place before we land there. The bennie is that there's an escape tunnel out from the basement if things get rough. I checked through it last night when I went to pick up a few things for her."
"I'm good to go," Butch said.
Zsadist's eyes shifted across the room. "You, too, Phury?"
After a moment, Phury nodded. "Yeah. Me, too."