While night fell, O was enraged as he stalked around the cabin and gathered up the ammo he needed. He'd gotten back only a half hour ago, and the last day had been for shit. First he'd gone to the Omega and received one fuck of a tongue-lashing. Literally. The master had been ripping pissed about the two lessers who had been arrested, as if it were all O's fault that those incompetents had gotten cuffed and stuffed.
After the Omega was through with his first wave of sharing, the bastard master had pulled the slayers out of the human world, retracting his hold on them as if they were dogs on a leash. Interestingly, it wasn't that easy for him. Calling members of the Society home was not a flick-of-the-wrist kind of thing, and the weakness was something to remember.
Not that the frailty had lasted. Man, O had no doubt those two lessers were ruing the day they had traded their souls. The Omega had started in on them immediately, and the scene was right out of a Clive Barker movie. And the thing was, the slayers were undead, so the punishment could go on and on until the Omega got bored.
He'd looked very focused as O had taken off.
The return to the temporal world had been a total buzz kill. In O's absence, an insurgency of Betas had taken root. A squadron of them, all four, had gotten bored and decided to attack some other lessers, a kind of hunt-and-kill game that resulted in a number of Society casualties. U's increasingly frantic voice mails, left over the course of six hours, were the kind of updates that made a man want to scream.
Goddamn it. U was a total failure as a second in command. He hadn't been able to control the Beta battles, and a human had been slaughtered during the violence. O didn't give a shit about the dead guy, but what he'd worried about was the body. The last thing they needed was the cops getting involved. Again.
So O had gone to the scene and gotten his hands dirty getting rid of the frickin' corpse; then he'd pissed away a couple of hours identifying the rogue Betas and paying each of them a visit. He'd wanted to kill them, but if there were any more vacancies in the Society's ranks, he was going to have another problem with the master.
By the time he'd finished beating the crap out of that quartet of idiots, which had been only a half an hour ago, he was in a total rage. And that was when U had called with the happy news that all the apple orders that had been put in for the solstice festival had been canceled. And why were all those buys offed? Because somehow the vampires had figured out they were being tracked.
Yeah, U was righteous on the stealth job. Right.
So the mass-murder tribute to the Omega had gone out the window. So O had nothing to butter the master up. So if his wife was alive, it was going to be harder to make her a lesser.
O had lost it at that point. Had screamed at U on the phone. Let loose all kinds of obscenities. And U had taken the on-air whipping like a pussy, getting quiet, hunkering down. The silence had driven O insane, but then he'd always hated it when people didn't fight back.
Christ. He'd thought U was stable, but in reality the bastard was weak, and O was sick of it. He knew he needed to put a knife in U's chest, and he was going to, but he'd had it with the distractions.
Fuck the Society and U and the Betas and the Omega. He had work to do that mattered.
O grabbed the truck's keys and left the cabin. He was going directly to 27 Thorne Avenue and he was going to get inside of that mansion. Maybe it was desperation talking, but he was certain the answer he was looking for was behind those iron gates.
Finally, he was going to find out the where and why of his wife.
O was almost at the F-150 when his neck started to hum, no doubt from all that screaming at U. He ignored the sensation and got behind the wheel. As he headed out, he pulled at the collar of his shirt, then coughed a couple of times, trying to loosen things up. Shit. This felt weird.
Half a mile later he was gasping for breath. Grabbing his throat, choking, he wrenched the steering wheel to the right and stomped on the brakes. Punching open the door, he stumbled out. The cold air brought him a second or two of relief and then he was back to the suffocation.
O went down on his knees. As he fell face-first in the snow, his vision flickered on and off like a broken lamp. And then went out.
As Zsadist walked down the hall to Wrath's study, his mind was sharp though his body was slow. When he stepped into the room the brothers were all there, and the group fell silent. Ignoring the bunch of them, he kept his eyes on the floor and went over to the corner he usually propped himself up in. He heard someone clear a throat to get the ball rolling. Probably Wrath.
Tohrment spoke. "Bella's brother called. He's tabled the sehclusion request and asked that she stay here for a couple of days."
Z jacked his head up. "Why?"
"He didn't give a reason—" Tohr's eyes narrowed on Z's face. "Oh… my God."
The others in the room glanced over, and there were a couple of low gasps. Then the Brotherhood and Butch just stared at him.
"What the fuck are you looking at?"
Phury pointed to the antique mirror hanging on the wall next to the double doors. "See for yourself."
Zsadist marched across the room, ready to give them all hell. Bella was what mattered—
His mouth went lax at his reflection. With a shaky hand he reached out to the eyes in the old-fashioned leaded glass. His irises were no longer black. They were yellow. Just like his twin's.
"Phury?" he said softly. "Phury… what's happened to me?"
As the male came up behind him, the brother's face appeared right beside Z's. And then Wrath's dark reflection showed up in the mirror, all long hair and sunglasses. Then Rhage's star-fallen beauty. And Vishous's Sox cap. And Tohrment's brush cut. And Butch's busted nose.
One by one they reached out and touched him, their big hands landing gently on his shoulders.
"Welcome back, my brother," Phury whispered.
Zsadist stared at the males who were behind him. And had the oddest thought that if he were to let himself go limp and fall backward… they would catch him.
Shortly after Zsadist left, Bella walked out of his bedroom and went in search of him. She'd been about to call her brother and arrange for a meeting when she realized she had to take care of her lover before she got wrapped up in her family drama again.
Finally Zsadist needed something from her. And badly, too. He'd been nearly drained after his time with her, and she knew exactly how starved he was, knew just how desperate he was to feed. With so much of his blood in her veins, she could sense his hunger vividly, and she also knew, too, precisely where he was in the house. All she had to do was reach out her senses and she could feel him, find him.
Bella followed his pulse down the corridor of statues, around the corner, and toward the open double doors at the head of the stairs. Angry male voices boiled out of the study, and Zsadist's was one of them.
"The hell you're going out tonight," someone shouted.
Zsadist's tone was downright evil. "Don't try to order me around, Tohr. It just pisses me off and wastes your time."
"Look at yourself—you're a fucking skeleton! Unless you feed, you're staying in."
Bella came into the room just as Zsadist said, "Try to keep me here and see where it lands you, brother."
With all of the Brotherhood looking on, the two males were nose-to-nose, eyes locked, fangs bared.
Jesus, she thought. Such aggression.
But… Tohrment was right. She hadn't been able to see in the darkness of the bedroom, but here in the light Zsadist looked half-dead. The bones of his skull were pushing through his skin; his T-shirt was hanging from his body; his pants were sagging. His black eyes were intense as always, but the rest of him was in rough shape.
Tohrment shook his head. "Be reasonable—"
"I would see Bella ahvenged. That is totally reasonable."
"No, it isn't," she said. Her interjection brought all the heads her way.
As Zsadist looked at her, his irises changed color, flashing from the angry black she was used to into a glowing, incandescent yellow.
"Your eyes," she whispered. "What's happened to your—"
Wrath cut in. "Bella, your brother has asked that you stay here a little longer."
Her surprise was so great, she looked away from Zsadist. "What, my lord?"
"He doesn't want me to rule on your sehclusion right now, and he wants you to remain here."
"No idea. Maybe you could ask him."
God, as if things aren't confusing enough. She glanced back at Zsadist, but he was focused on a window across the room.
"You are, of course, welcome to stay," Wrath said.
As Zsadist stiffened, she wondered how true that was.
"I don't want to be ahvenged," she said loudly. When Zsadist's head whipped around, she spoke directly to him. "I'm grateful for everything you've done for me. But I don't want anyone hurt trying to get at the lesser who kept me. Especially not you."
His brows cranked down on his eyes. "That is not your call."
"The hell it's not." As she pictured him going to fight, terror overrode everything. "God, Zsadist… I don't want to be responsible for your going out and getting yourself killed."
"That lesser's going to end up pine-boxing it, not me."
"You can't be serious! Dear Virgin, look at you. You can't possibly fight. You're so weak."
There was a collective hiss in the room, and Zsadist's eyes went black.
Oh… shit. Bella put her hand over her mouth. Weak. She'd called him weak. In front of the whole Brotherhood.
There was no greater insult. To merely insinuate that a male couldn't handle himself with strength was unforgivable in the warrior class, no matter the basis. But to come flat out and say so, in front of witnesses, was a complete social castration, an irrevocable condemnation of his worth as a male.
Bella rushed over. "I'm sorry, I didn't mean—"
Zsadist lifted his arms out of her reach. "Get away from me."
She put her hand back to her mouth as he stepped around her like she was a grenade. He headed out the door and his footsteps receded down the hall. When she was able, she met the disapproving eyes of his brothers.
"I will apologize to him immediately. And hear this now, I do not doubt his courage or his strength. I worry over him because…"
Say it to them, she thought. Surely they would understand.
"I love him."
Abruptly the tension in the room eased. Well, most of it. Phury turned away and went to the fire, leaning up against the mantel. His head dipped down as if he wanted to be in the flames.
"'I'm glad you feel that way," Wrath said. "He needs it. Now go find him and apologize."
On her way out of the study, Tohrment stepped in front of her and gave her a level look. "Try to feed him while you're at it, okay?"
"I'm praying he'll let me."