Phury lit a blunt and eyed the sixteen cans of Aqua Net that were lined up on Butch and V's coffee table. "What's doing with the hair spray? You boys going drag on us?"
Butch held up the length of PVC pipe he was punching a hole in. "Potato launcher, my man. Big fun."
"Didn't you ever go to summer camp?"
"Basket weaving and woodcarving are for humans. No offense, but we have better things to teach our youngs."
"Ha! You haven't lived until you've gone on a midnight panty raid. Anyway, you put the potato in this end, you fill up the bottom with spray—"
"And then you light it," V cut in from his bedroom. He came out in a robe, rubbing a towel on his wet hair. "Makes a great noise."
"Great noise," Butch echoed.
Phury looked at his brother. "V, you've done this before?"
"Yeah, last night. But the launcher jammed up."
Butch cursed. "Potato was too big. Damn Idaho bakers. We're leading with red skins tonight. It's going to be great. Of course, trajectory can be a bitch—"
"But it's really just like golf," V said, dropping the towel across a chair. He pulled a glove over his right hand, covering the sacred tattoos that marked the thing from palm to fingertip and all across the back. "I mean, you gotta think of your arc in the air—"
Butch nodded up a storm. "Yeah, it's just like golf. Wind plays a big role—"
Phury smoked along as they finished each other's sentences for another couple minutes. After a while he felt compelled to mention, "The two of you are spending way too much time together, you feel me?"
V shook his head at the cop. "The brother has no appreciation for this kind of thing. Never has."
"Then we aim for his room."
"True that. And it faces the garden—"
"So we don't have to work around the cars in the courtyard. Excellent."
The door from the tunnel swung open, and all three of them turned around.
Zsadist was in the doorway… and Bella's scent was all over him. Along with the sultry spice of sex. As well as the faintest hint of the bonding mark.
Phury stiffened and took a deep drag. Oh, God… They'd been together.
Man, the urge to race up to the house and check that she was still breathing was nearly irresistible. So was the desire to rub his chest until the aching hole in it disappeared.
His twin had had the very thing Phury was yearning for.
"Has that SUV moved?" Z said to Vishous.
V went around to the computers and punched a few keys. "Nope."
As Zsadist walked over and bent down, V pointed at a screen. "There it is. If it hits the road, I can track the path."
"Do you know how to break into one of those Explorers without setting off the alarm?"
"Please. It's just a car. If it's still there at nightfall, I'll get you in like Flynn."
Z straightened. "I need a new phone."
Vishous opened a desk drawer, took one out, and double-checked it. "You're good to go. I'll text-message everyone your new number."
"Call me if that thing moves."
As Zsadist turned his back on them, Phury took another drag and held the breath in tight. The door to the tunnel shut solidly.
Without even realizing what he was doing, Phury stabbed out the hand-rolled and went after his twin.
In the tunnel, Z halted when he heard another set of footsteps. As the male pivoted around, the light overhead picked out the hollows under his cheekbones and the blunt cut of his jaw and the line of the scar.
"What?" he asked, his deep voice echoing. Then he frowned. "Let me guess. This is about Bella."
Phury stopped. "Maybe."
"Definitely." Z's eyes flicked downward and stayed on the tunnel's floor. "You can smell her on me, can't you."
In the long silence between them, Phury wished desperately that he had a blunt between his lips.
"I just need to know… is she all right after you… laid with her?"
Z crossed his arms over his chest. "Yeah. And don't worry, she's not going to want to do that again."
OK God. "Why?"
"I made her…" Z's distorted lip thinned. "Whatever."
"What? What did you do?"
"I made her hurt me." As Phury recoiled, Z laughed with a low, sad sound. "Yeah, you don't need to get all protective. She's not coming near me again."
"How… What happened?"
"UAH-Hugh, right. Let me count all the ways you and I aren't going there."
Suddenly, without any warning, Z focused on Phury's face. The force of the stare was a surprise, because the male rarely looked anyone in the eye. "Straight up, my brother, I know how you're feeling her and I… ah, I hope that when things cool out a little, maybe you can… be with her or something."
Was he insane? Phury thought. Was he fucking insane?
"How the hell would that work, Z? You've bonded with her."
Zsadist rubbed his skull trim. "Not really."
"It doesn't matter, how about that? Pretty damn soon she's going to snap out of this post-traumatic whatever she's got going on and she's going to want someone real."
Phury shook his head, knowing damn well that a bonded male didn't give up his feelings for his female. Not unless he died.
"Z, you're crazy. How can you say you want me to be with her? It'll kill you."
Zsadist's face changed and the expression was a shocker. Such sorrow, Phury thought. Of a depth that seemed impossible.
And then the male came forward. Phury braced himself for… God, he had no idea what was coming at him.
When Z's hand lifted, it was not in anger or with violence. And as Phury felt his twin's palm land lightly on his face, he couldn't remember the last time Z had touched him with any gentleness. Or touched him at all.
Zsadist's voice was low and quiet as his thumb went back and forth on an unmarred cheek.
"You are the male I might have been. You are the potential I had and lost. You are the honor and the strength and the kindness she needs. You'll take care of her. I want you to take care of her." Zsadist dropped his hand. "It will be a good mating for her. With you as her hellren, she can hold her head up high. She can be proud to be seen with you at her side. She'll be socially invincible. The glymera won't be able to touch her."
Temptation swirled and condensed and became instinct in Phury. But what about his twin?
"Oh, God… Z. How could you stomach the idea that I was with her?"
Instantly all the softness was gone. "Whether it's you or someone else, the pain is the same. Besides, you think I'm not used to hurting?" Z's lips curled into a nasty little smile. "For me, it's home sweet home, my brother."
Phury thought of Bella and how she'd refused his vein. "But don't you think she gets a vote in all this?"
"She'll see the light. She's not stupid. Not by a long shot." Z turned away and started walking. Then he stopped. Without looking back he said, "There's another reason I want you to have her."
"Is this one going to make sense?"
"You should be happy." Phury stopped breathing while Zsadist murmured, "You live less than half a life. You always have. She would care for you, and that… that would be good. I would like that for you."
Before Phury could say something, Z cut him off. "Do you remember back in that cave… after you got me out? You know, that day we sat together waiting for the sun to go down?"
"Yes," he whispered, measuring his twin's back.
"That place smelled like hell, didn't it? Do you remember that? The fish?"
"I remember everything."
"You know, I can still picture you against the cave wall, your hair all matted, your clothes wet and stained with blood. You looked like shit." Z laughed in a short burst. "I looked worse, I'm sure. Anyway… you said you would ease me, if you could."
There was a long silence. Then a cold blast came out of Z's body, and he looked over his shoulder. His black eyes were glacial, his face dark as hell's groundless shadows.
"I'm past being eased. Ever. But sure as shit there's hope for you. So you take that female you want so badly. Take her and talk some sense into her. I'd throw her out of my room if I could, but she just won't leave."
Z strode away, his shitkickers pounding into the ground.
Hours later Bella was walking around the mansion. She'd passed some of the night with Beth and Mary, and their friendship had been appreciated. But now all was quiet, because the Brothers and everyone else had gone to bed. It was only her and Boo roaming the halls as the day passed, the cat at her side as if he knew she needed company.
God, she was exhausted, so tired she could barely stand up, and she was achy, too. Trouble was, there was a restlessness that animated her body; her internal engine refused to go into idle.
As a flush went through her, like someone had put a hair dryer to every inch of her skin, she figured she must be getting sick, although she didn't know how. She'd been with the lessers for six weeks, and it wasn't as if she could pick up a virus from them. And none of the Brothers or their she Hans were ill. Maybe it was just emotional.
Yeah, you think?
She went around a corner and paused, realizing she'd found her way back to the statue corridor. She wondered if Zsadist was in the room now.
And was disappointed when she opened the door and he wasn't.
That male was like an addiction, she realized. Not good for her, but not something she could let go of.
"Time for bed, Boo."
The cat gave her a meow, as if he were relinquishing his escort duties, and then trotted off down the hall, silent as falling snow and just as graceful.
Bella shut the door just as another hot flash tackled her. Yanking off her fleece she went over to open a window, but of course the shutters were down: It was two in the afternoon. Desperate to cool off, she headed for the shower and stood under the cold water for God only knew how long. She felt even worse when she got out, her skin prickly, her head heavy.
Wrapping a towel around herself, she went to the bed and rearranged the messy covers. Before she got in she eyed the phone and thought she should call her brother. They needed to meet face-to-face, and they needed to do it soon, because Wrath's grace period wasn't going to last for long. And as Rehv never slept, he would be up.
Except, as another rolling wave of heat went through her, she knew she could not deal with her brother now. She'd wait until nightfall, after she got some rest. When the sun went down she would call Rehvenge and meet him somewhere neutral and public. And she would persuade him to cut the crap.
She sat down on the mattress edge and felt an odd pressure between her legs.
The sex with Zsadist, she thought. It had been so long since she'd taken a male inside. And her only other lover hadn't been built like that. Hadn't moved like that.
Images of Zsadist poised over her, his face tight and dark, his body straining and hard, sent a reverberation through her that left her trembling. In a rush, a sharp sensation speared her core exactly as if he were penetrating her again, a combination of honey and acid flooding her veins.
She frowned, dropped the towel, and looked down at her body. Her breasts seemed much larger than normal, the tips a deeper pink. Remnants of Zsadist's mouth? Absolutely.
With a curse, she lay down and pulled a sheet over herself. More heat boiled in her body, and she rolled over onto her stomach. Scissored her legs apart. Tried to cool herself down. The aching just seemed to get sharper, though.
As the snow started falling in earnest and the afternoon light began to fade a little, O drove his truck south on Route 22. When he got to the right spot he pulled over and looked at U.
"The Explorer is a hundred yards straight back from here. Get it the hell out of those woods. Then start buying those supplies we need and nail down those delivery dates. I want those apples tracked and I want that arsenic ready."
"Fine." U undipped the seat belt. "But, listen, you need to address the Society. It's customary for the Fore-lesser—"
O looked out the windshield, watching the wipers flip the snowflakes around. Now that he had U all over this solstice festival bullshit, he was back to racking his brain for answers to his main problem: How the hell was he going to find his wife now?
"But the Fore-lesser always addresses the membership when he first takes over."
Christ, U's voice was beginning to really bug the shit out of him. And so was the guy's by-the-book mentality.
"O, you need to—"
"Shut the fuck up, man. I'm not interested in meetings."
"Okay." U drew the word out, his disapproval obvious. "So where do you want the squadrons?"
"Where do you think? Downtown."
"If they find civilians between fights with the Brothers, do you want the teams to go for captives or just kills? And are we going to build another persuasion center?"
"I don't care."
"But we need…" U's voice droned on.
How was he going to find her? Where would she—
O glared across the interior of the truck, ready to explode. "What."
U's mouth did the fish thing for a moment. Opening. Closing. "Nothing."
"That's right. No more anything from your ass. Now get the hell out of my truck and get busy doing something other than yak at me."
He hit the gas the second U's boots hit the gravel. But he didn't go far. He turned off onto the farmhouse's lane and did some recon of his wife's place.
No tracks in the fresh snow. No lights on. Deserted.
Goddamn those Betas.
O turned around and headed downtown. His eyes were dry from lack of sleep, but he wasn't about to waste night hours on recharging. Fuck that.
Man… If he didn't get to kill something tonight, he was going to go mad.