Dawn was just arriving as U walked up to the cabin and opened the door. He slowed as he stepped inside, wanting to savor the moment. The headquarters were his. He had become the Fore-lesser. O was no more.
U couldn't believe he'd gone and done it. He couldn't believe he'd had the balls to petition the Omega for a change of leadership. And he really couldn't believe that the master had agreed with him and called O home.
It wasn't in U's nature to lead, but he couldn't see that he had a choice. After everything that had happened yesterday with the rogue Betas and the arrests and the insurgencies, total anarchy among the slayers was coming fast and hard. Meanwhile, O was doing jack shit at the top. He'd even seemed annoyed that he had to do his job.
U had been put back against a wall. He'd been in the Society for almost two centuries, and he was damned if he was going to see the thing devolve into a loose confederation of sloppy, disorganized contract killers who occasionally went after vampires. For God's sake, they were already forgetting who their target was supposed to be, and it had been three fucking days since O had let things slide.
No, the Society had to be run with a focused, heavy hand in the temporal realm. So O had to be replaced.
U sat down at the rough table and fired up the laptop. First thing on deck was to call a general assembly and make a show of strength. That was the one thing O had done right. The other lessers had feared him.
U called up a list of Betas to find one to sacrifice as an example, but before he got far, he was IM'd with a nasty news flash. Last night a bloody fight had taken place downtown. Two members of the Brotherhood against seven slayers. Fortunately, it looked as if both the Brothers had been hurt. But only one of the lessers had survived, so more Society members were lost.
Man, recruiting was going to be paramount. But how the hell was he going to find the time? He had to gather the reins first.
U rubbed his eyes, thinking of the work in front of him.
Welcome to the job of Fore-lesser, he thought as he began to dial his cell.
Bella glared up at Rhage, not caring that the male had a hundred and fifty pounds and eight inches on her.
Unfortunately, the Brother didn't seem to mind that she was pissed off. And he didn't budge from the bedroom door he was blocking.
"But I want to see him."
"Now's not the best time, Bella."
"How seriously is he hurt?"
"This is Brotherhood business," Rhage said gently. "Leave it alone. We'll let you know what happens."
"Oh, sure you will. Just like you all told me he was injured. For God's sake, I had to find out from Fritz."
At that moment, the bedroom door swung open.
Zsadist was as grim as she'd ever seen him, and he was marked up badly. One of his eyes was swollen shut, his lip was split, and his arm was in a sling. Little random cuts were all over his neck and skull, like he'd bounced on pebbles or something.
As she winced, he glanced at her. His eyes flashed from black to yellow, but then he just looked at Rhage and spoke quickly.
"Phury's finally resting." He nodded in Bella's direction. "If she's come to sit by him, let her. He'll be eased by her presence."
Zsadist turned away. As he walked down the hall, he limped, his left leg dragging behind as if his thigh wasn't working right.
With a curse Bella went after him, even though she had no idea why she bothered. He would accept nothing from her, not her blood or her love… certainly not her sympathy. He didn't want a damn thing from her.
Well, except for her to go away.
Before she caught up with him, Zsadist stopped abruptly and glanced back at her. "If Phury needs to feed, will you let him take your vein?"
She froze. Not only did he drink from another, but he found it easy to share her with his twin. Work of a moment, nothing special. Christ, was she so disposable? Had nothing they'd shared meant something to him?
"Will you let him?" Zsadist's newly yellow eyes narrowed on her face. "Bella?"
"Yes," she said in a low voice, "I'll take care of him."
"I think I despise you right now."
"It's about time."
She pivoted on her heel, ready to go striding back to Phury's room, when Zsadist said softly, "Have you bled yet?"
Oh, terrific, another cringer. He wanted to know if he'd gotten her pregnant. Would no doubt be relieved when he heard the good news he hadn't.
She glared at him over her shoulder. "I've been cramping. You have nothing to worry about."
Before he could get away, she bit out, "Tell me something. If I were with young, would you mate me?"
"I would provide for you and your babe until another male did."
"My babe… as if it wouldn't be half yours?" When he said nothing, she had to push. "Would you not even acknowledge it?"
His only response was to cross his arms over his chest.
She shook her head. "Holy hell… you really are cold to the bone, aren't you."
He stared at her for a long time. "I've never asked you for anything, have I?"
"Oh, no. You've never done that." She let out a hard laugh. "God forbid you open yourself up for that."
"Take care of Phury. He needs it. So do you."
"Don't you dare tell me what I need."
She didn't wait for a response. She marched down the hall to Phury's doorway, shoved Rhage out of the way, and shut herself in with Zsadist's twin. She was so pissed off that it took her a second to realize she was in the dark and that the room smelled like red smoke, a lovely, chocolaty scent.
"Who's there?" Phury said hoarsely from the bed.
She cleared her throat. "Bella."
A ragged sigh rose into the air. "Hi."
"Hi. How are you feeling?"
"Downright perky, thanks for asking."
She smiled a little until she came up to him. With her night vision, she saw that he was lying on top of the covers with only a pair of boxers on. He had a gauze pad around his belly and was covered with bruises. And—oh, God—his leg…
"Don't worry," he said dryly. "I haven't had that foot-and-shin combo for over a century. And I really am okay. Just some aesthetic damage."
"Then why are you wearing that bandage like a sash?"
"It makes my ass look smaller."
She laughed. She'd expected him to be half-dead, and he did look like he'd been in a hell of a fight. But he wasn't on death's door.
"What happened to you?" she asked.
"I got hit in the side."
Now, that made her sway. Maybe he only seemed okay.
"I'm fine, Bella. Honestly. In another six hours I'm going to be ready to go back out." There was a short silence. "What's doing? Are you all right?"
"Just wanted to see how you are."
"Well… I'm fine."
"And, ah… do you need to feed?"
He stiffened, then abruptly reached for the comforter, pulling it over his hips. She wondered why he was acting like he had something to hide… Oh, right. Whoa.
For the first time she assessed him as a male. He really was beautiful, with all that gorgeous, lush hair and a face that was classically handsome. His body was spectacular, layered with the kind of heavy muscle his twin lacked. But no matter how good he looked, he wasn't the male for her.
It was a pity, she thought. For both of them. God, how she hated hurting him.
"Do you?" she said. "Need to feed?"
"Are you offering?"
She swallowed. "Yes. I am. So would you… May I give you my vein?"
A dark fragrance permeated the room, so strong it eclipsed the red-smoke aroma: The smell was the thick, rich scent of a male's hunger. Phury's hunger for her.
Bella closed her eyes and prayed that if he accepted, she could get through it without crying.
As the sun went down later in the day, Rehvenge stared at the funeral drapes hanging off his sister's portrait. When his cell phone rang he looked at the caller ID and flipped it open.
"Hello, Bella," he said softly.
"How did you know—"
"It was you? Untraceable number. Very untraceable, if this phone can't locate the source." At least she was still safe at the Brotherhood's compound, he thought. Wherever that was. "I'm glad you called."
"I went home last night."
Rehv's hand crushed the phone. "Last night? What the hell! I didn't want you going—"
Sobs came through the phone, great, wretched sobs. The misery stole his words, his anger, his breath.
"Bella? What's wrong? Bella? Bella!" Oh, Jesus… "Did one of those Brothers hurt you?"
"No." She took a deep breath. "And don't yell at me. I can't bear it. I'm through with you and the yelling. No more."
He dragged air into his lungs, clamping down on his temper. "What happened?"
"When can I come home?"
"Talk to me."
Silence stretched out between them. Clearly his sister didn't trust him anymore. Shit… Could he blame her?
"Bella, please. I'm sorry… Just talk to me." When there was no response, he said, "Have I…" He cleared his throat. "Have I so damaged things between us?"
"When can I come home?"
"Answer the question, brother mine."
"I don't know."
"Then I want to go to the safe house."
"You can't. I told you long ago, if there's trouble, I don't want you and mahmen in the same place. Now, why do you want to leave there? Only a day ago you didn't want to be anywhere else."
There was a long pause. "I went through my needing."
Rehv felt the air leak out of his lungs and get trapped in his chest cavity. He closed his eyes. "Were you with one of them?"
Sitting down was a damn good idea right about now, but there was no chair close enough. He leaned on his cane and lowered himself to his knees on the Aubusson carpet. Right in front of her portrait. "Are you… well?"
"And he's claimed you."
"He doesn't want me."
Rehv bared his fangs. "Are you pregnant?"
Thank God. "Who was it?"
"I wouldn't tell you that to save my life, Rehv. Now, I'd like to leave here."
Christ… Her in her needing in a compound full of males… full of thick-blooded warriors. And the Blind King—shit. "Bella, tell me it was only one who serviced you. Tell me it was only one and that he didn't hurt you."
"Why? Because you're afraid of having a slut for a sister? Afraid of the glymera shunning me again?"
"Fuck the glymera. It's because I love you… and I can't bear the thought of you being used by the Brotherhood when you were so vulnerable."
A pause followed. As he waited, his throat burned so badly, he felt as though he'd swallowed a box of thumbtacks.
"There was only one, and I love him," she said. "You might as well know that he gave me a choice between him and being dragged unconscious. I picked him. But I will never tell you his name. Frankly, I don't want to ever speak of him again. Now, when can I come home?"
Okay. This was good. At least he could get her away from there.
"Just let me find a place that's secure. Call me in thirty minutes."
"Wait, Rehvenge, I want you to rescind the sehclusion request. If you do that, I will voluntarily submit to a security detail whenever I go out, if that makes you feel safer. Is that a fair trade?"
He put his hand over his eyes.
"Rehvenge? You say you love me. Prove it. Rescind that request, and I promise we'll work together… Rehvenge?"
He dropped his arm and looked up at the painting of her. So beautiful, so pure. He would keep her that way always if he could, but she wasn't a child any longer. And she was proving far more resilient and strong than he could have imagined. To have lived through what she did, to have survived…
"All right… I'll take it back."
"And I will call you in a half hour."