Night fell and the light bled from the cabin. U hadn't moved from the computer all day. Between e-mails and his cell phone, he'd tracked down the twenty-eight slayers remaining in Caldwell and scheduled a general-assembly meeting for midnight. At that time he was going to reorder them into squadrons and assign a five-man task force on recruiting.
Following tonight's meeting, he was putting only two Beta squadrons downtown. Civilian vampires weren't showing up at the bars the way they used to, because too many of their kind had been pinched from that vicinity for persuasion. It was time to shift focus elsewhere.
After some thought, he'd decided to send the rest of his men out into the residential areas. Vampires were active at night. In their homes. It was really a question of finding them among the humans—
"You are such a little shit."
U burst up from his chair.
O stood naked in the doorway to the cabin. His chest was covered in claw marks, as if something had held on to him hard, and his face was swollen, his hair a mess. He looked well used and pissed off.
And as he shut the two of them in with a crack, U was unable to move: None of his large muscles fell into the defensive crouch he was screaming for, and this told him all he needed to know about who was Fore-lesser now. Only the top slayer had this kind of physical control over his subordinates.
"You forgot two important things." O casually withdrew a knife from a holster that hung on the wall. "One, the Omega is very fickle. And two, he has a personal taste for me. It really didn't take me long to work my way back into the fold."
As that knife came toward him, U struggled, tried to run, wanted to scream.
"So say good night, U. And give the Omega a big fat 'hello' when you see him. He's expecting you."
Six o'clock. Almost time to go.
Bella looked around the guest room she was in and figured she'd packed up everything she'd brought with her. She hadn't had much to begin with, and anyway, she'd moved it all from Zsadist's room the night before. Most of it had already been in an L.L. Bean bag.
Fritz would be coming for her things any minute, and he would drive the stuff to Havers and Marissa's. Thank God the brother-and-sister pair were willing to grant Rehvenge a favor and take her in. Their mansion, and the clinic, were a real stronghold. Even Rehv was satisfied she'd be safe.
Then at six thirty she was going to dematerialize over there, and Rehv would meet her.
Compulsively she went into the bathroom and checked behind the shower curtain again to make sure she had her shampoo. Yup, nothing there. And there was nothing of her left in the bedroom. Or in the house at all, for that matter. When she left, no one would know she'd ever been at the mansion. No one would…
Oh, Christ. Shut up with that, she thought.
There was a knock on the door. She walked over and pulled the thing open. "Hi, Fritz, my bag is on the—"
Zsadist was standing in the hall, dressed for fighting. Leathers. Guns. Blades.
She jumped back. "What are you doing here?"
He came into the room, saying nothing. But Jesus, he looked ready to pounce on something.
"I don't need an armed guard," Bella said, trying to keep cool. "I mean, if that's what this is all about. I'm going to dematerialize there, and the clinic is perfectly safe."
Zsadist didn't speak a word. Just stared at her, all power and male strength.
"Did you come to loom at me?" she snapped. "Or is there a point to this?"
When he shut the door behind him, her heart started to pound. Especially as she heard the lock turn.
She backed up until she was against the bed. "What do you want, Zsadist?"
He came forward as if he was stalking her, his yellow eyes fixated. His body was all coiled tension, and suddenly it didn't take a genius to figure out what kind of release he was looking for.
"Do not tell me you came here to mate."
"All right, I won't." His voice was nothing but a deep, purring growl.
She put her hand out. Yeah, like that was going to make a difference. He could take her if he wanted to whether she said yes or not. Only… like an idiot she wouldn't turn him away. Even after all the crap he'd pulled, she still wanted him. Goddamn it.
"I'm not having sex with you."
"I'm not here for me," he said, coming up to her.
Oh, God. His scent… his body… so close. She was such a fool.
"Get away from me. I don't want you anymore."
"Yes, you do. I can smell it." He reached out and touched her neck, running his forefinger down her jugular. "And I can feel it pounding in this vein."
"I will hate you if you do this."
"You hate me already."
If only that were true… "Zsadist, there is no way I will lay with you."
He bent down so that his mouth was at her ear. "I'm not asking you for that."
"So what do you want?" She shoved against his shoulders. Got nowhere. "Damn you, why are you doing this?"
"Because I just came from my twin's room."
"You didn't let him drink from you." Zsadist's mouth brushed against her neck. Then he pulled back and stared down at her. "You will never accept him, will you? You will never be with Phury, no matter how right he is for you socially, personally."
"Zsadist, for chrissakes, just leave me alone—"
"You will not have my twin. So you're never coming back here, are you?"
She exhaled in a rush. "No, I'm not."
"And that's why I had to come."
Rage boiled in her, rising to meet the desire for his sex. "I don't get it. You have taken every opportunity to push me away. Remember that little episode in the alley last night? You drank from her to get me to walk, didn't you? It wasn't about that comment I made."
"And then you wanted me to be with your brother. Look, I know you don't love me, but you're well aware of how I feel about you. Do you have any conception what it's like to have the male you love tell you to feed someone else?"
He dropped his hand. Stepped away.
"You're right." He rubbed his face. "I shouldn't be here, but I couldn't let you go without… In the back of my mind I always figured you'd be back. You know, to be with Phury. I always thought that I would see you again, even if it was from a distance."
So help her, God, she was sick of this. "Why the hell would you care if you saw me?"
He just shook his head and turned for the door. Which made her nearly violent.
"Answer me! Why do you care if I don't ever come back?"
He had his hand on the knob as she screamed at him, "Why do you care?"
She launched herself across the room, intending to hit him, claw him, make him hurt, she was so frustrated. But he wheeled around, and instead of slapping him she grabbed his head and dragged his mouth to hers. His arms snapped around her, holding her hard enough so she couldn't breathe. As his tongue shot into her mouth, he picked her up and headed for the bed.
Desperate, angry sex was a bad idea. A very bad idea.
They were tangled on the mattress in a split second. He had her jeans off and was about to bite through her panties when a knock sounded on the door.
Fritz's voice came through the panels, pleasant and respectful. "Madam, if your bags are ready—"
"Not now, Fritz," Zsadist said in a guttural voice. He bared his fangs, shredded the silk between her thighs, and licked up the center of her. "Fuck…"
His tongue went down again and he lapped at her, moaning. She bit her lip to keep from crying out and held on to his head, gyrating her hips.
"Oh, master, I beg your pardon. I thought you were at the training center—"
"But of course. How long would you—"
The rest of the doggen's words were cut off as Zsadist's erotic growl told Fritz everything he needed to know. And probably a little more.
"Oh… my goodness. Forgive me, master. I will not return for her things until I, ah… see you."
Zsadist's tongue swirled around as his hands clamped on her thighs. He drove her hard, all the time whispering hot, starved things against her secret flesh. She pushed herself against his mouth, arching up. He was so raw, so voracious… she shattered apart. He teased the orgasm out for the longest time, keeping it going as if he were desperate not to have it fade.
The stillness afterward chilled her as much as his mouth's release of her core. He rose up from between her legs, his hand wiping across his lips. As he looked down at her, he licked his palm, catching every last bit of what he'd removed from his face.
"You're going to stop now, aren't you," she said roughly.
"I told you. I didn't come here for sex. I only wanted this. I only wanted to have you against my mouth one last time."
"You selfish bastard." And how ironic was it to be calling him that for not fucking her. God… This was just awful.
As she reached for her jeans, he made a low sound in the back of his throat. "You think I wouldn't kill to be inside of you this very second?"
"Go to hell, Zsadist. Go there right—"
He moved fast as a lightning strike, taking her down hard to the bed, tackling her with his weight.
"I am in hell," he hissed, pushing his hips into her. He swiveled them against her core, that massive erection pushing into the soft place he'd just had with his mouth. With a curse, he pulled back, unzipped his leathers… and thrust into her, stretching her so wide it almost hurt. She cried out at the invasion, but tilted her hips up so he could go in even farther.
Zsadist grabbed her knees and stretched her legs up, balling her under him: then he pounded against her, his warrior body sparing her nothing. She held on to his neck, drawing blood, lost in the grinding rhythm. This was how she'd always thought it would be with him. Hard, heavy, wild… raw. As she orgasmed again, he came with a roar, crashing into her. Hot jets filled her, then spilled out onto her thighs as he kept pumping.
When he finally collapsed onto her, he released her legs and breathed against her neck.
"Oh, God… I didn't mean for that to happen," he said finally.
"I am very sure about that." She pushed him aside and sat up, more tired than she'd been in her whole life. "I have to meet my brother soon. I want you to leave."
He cursed, an aching, hollow sound. Then he handed over her pants, though he didn't let them go. He looked at her for a long while, and like a fool she waited for him to tell her what she wanted to hear: I'm sorry I hurt you, I love you, don't go.
After a moment he dropped his hand and stood up, arranging himself, zipping up his pants. He went to the door, moving with that lethal grace he'd always walked with. As he looked over his shoulder, she realized they'd made love while he'd been fully armed. Fully dressed, too.
Oh, but that had only been sex, hadn't it.
His voice was low. "I'm sorry—"
"Do not say that to me right now."
"Then… thank you, Bella… for… everything. Yeah, really. I… thank you."
And just like that he was gone.
John stayed behind in the gym as the rest of the class filed out to hit the locker room. It was seven at night, but he could have sworn it was three in the morning. What a day. Training had started at noon, because the Brotherhood wanted to go out early, and there had been hours of classwork on tactics and computer technology taught by two Brothers named Vishous and Rhage. Then Tohr had arrived right at sundown and the ass-kicking had started. The three-hour workout had been brutal. Running laps. Jujitsu. More hand-to-hand weapons training, including an introduction to nunchakus, or nunchucks.
Those two wooden sticks connected by a chain were a nightmare for John, exposing all his weaknesses, especially his god-awful hand-to-eye coordination. But he wasn't about to give up. As the other guys left to go shower, he went back to the equipment room and picked up one of the sets. He figured he'd practice until the bus came and then shower at home.
He started spinning the nunchucks slowly at his side, the whirling sound oddly relaxing. Gradually increasing the velocity, he set them flying at a clip and then switched them to his left. Took them back. Again and again, until the sweat was once more coming out on his skin. Again and again and—
And he clonked the shit out of himself. Right on the head.
The blow made him weak in the knees, and after fighting the sag for a moment, he let himself sink down. Bracing himself with his arm, he put a hand to his left temple. Stars. Definitely seeing stars.
In the midst of all his blinking, soft laughter drifted up from behind him. The satisfaction of the sound told him who it was, but he had to look anyway. Glancing under his arm, he saw Lash standing about five feet away. The guy's pale hair was wet, his street clothes sleek, his smile cool.
"You are such a loser."
John refocused on the mat, not really caring that Lash had caught him nailing himself in the brain. The guy had already seen that in class, so there was no new humiliation here.
God… If he could only get his eyes to clear. He shook his head, stretched his neck… and saw another pair of nunchucks on the mat. Had Lash thrown them at him?
"No one likes you, John. Why don't you just leave? Oh, wait. That would mean you couldn't chase after the Brothers. Then what would you do all day?"
The guy's laughter cut off abruptly as a deep voice snarled, "You don't move, blondie, except to breathe."
A huge hand appeared in John's face and he looked up. Zsadist was standing over him, dressed in full war gear.
John grabbed hold of what was in front of him out of reflex and was pulled up easily from the floor.
Zsadist's black eyes were narrow, shimmering with anger. "The bus is ready, so get your shit. I'll meet you outside of the locker room."
John hustled across the mats, thinking that when a male like Zsadist told you to do something, you did it fast. When he got to the door, though, he had to glance back.
Zsadist had Lash around the neck and had lifted the guy off the mat so his feet dangled. The warrior's voice was graveyard cold. "I saw you put him on the ground, and I'd kill you right now for it, except I'm not interested in dealing with your parents. So listen good, boy. You ever do something like that again, I'm going to thumb out your eyes and feed them to you. We clear?"
In response, Lash's mouth worked like a one-way valve.
Air went in. Nothing came out. And then he pissed in his pants.
"I'll take that as a yes." Zsadist dropped him.
John didn't stick around. He ran to the locker room, grabbed his duffel, and was out in the hall a moment later.
Zsadist was waiting for him. "Come on."
John followed the Brother out into the parking lot to the van, all along wondering how he could thank the male. But then Zsadist paused by the bus and all but shoved him inside. Then he boarded the thing himself.
Every one of the trainees cringed back into their seats. Especially when Zsadist unsheathed one of his daggers.
"We sit here," he said to John, pointing the weapon's black blade to the first bench seat.
Yeah, okay. Right. Here is good.
John squeezed up against the window as Zsadist took an apple out of his pocket and lowered himself down.
"We're waiting for one more," Zsadist told the driver. "And John and I will be your last stop."
The doggen bowed low behind the wheel. "Of course, sire. As you wish."
Lash slowly came into the van, the red streak around his throat a stain on his pale skin. When he saw Zsadist, he stumbled.
"You're wasting our time, boy," Zsadist said while sliding the knife under the apple's skin. "Sit your ass down."
Lash did as he was told.
As the van took off, no one said a thing. Especially as the partition closed and they were all locked in the back together.
Zsadist peeled the Granny Smith in one long strip, the skin inching down until it reached the floor of the van. When he was finished, he draped the green ribbon over his knee, then cleaved off a slice of white flesh and held it out to John on the blade. John took the piece with his fingers and ate it while Zsadist cut a hunk for himself and carried it to his mouth on the knife. They alternated until the apple was nothing but a skinny core.
Zsadist took the skin and what was left and threw them in the little trash bag by the partition. Then he wiped the blade on his leathers and started to flip it into the air and catch it. He kept this up the whole ride to town. When they got to the first dropoff, there was a long hesitation after the partition opened. And then two of the guys shuffled by quickly.
Zsadist's black eyes followed them, and he stared hard, as if he were memorizing their faces. And all the time with the blade, up and down, the black metal flashing, the big palm catching it in the same place on the handle after every toss—even when he was looking at the guys.
This happened at each stop. Until John and he were alone.
As the partition closed, Zsadist slid the dagger into his chest holster. Then he moved to the seat across the aisle and leaned back against the window, shutting his eyes.
John knew better than to think the male was asleep, because his breathing didn't change and he didn't relax at all. He just didn't want to interact.
John took out his pad and pen. He wrote neatly, folded the paper, and held it in his hand. He had to say thank-you. Even if Zsadist couldn't read, he had to say something.
When the van stopped and the partition opened, John left the paper on Zsadist's seat, not even trying to give it to the warrior. And he made sure he didn't look up as he hit the steps and headed across the road. He did stop on the front lawn to watch the van leave, though, snow falling on his head and shoulders and duffel.
As the bus disappeared into the gathering storm, Zsadist was revealed standing across the street. The Brother flashed the note, holding it up in the air between his first and middle fingers. Then he nodded once, put it in his back pocket, and dematerialized.
John kept staring at the spot where Zsadist had been. Thick bundles of flakes filled up the footprints the male's shitkickers had left.
With a rumble the garage door opened behind him, and the Range Rover reversed its way over. Wellsie put the window down. Her red hair was coiled up high on her head, and she was wearing a black ski parka. The heater inside the car was going full blast, a dull roar almost as loud as the engine.
"Hi, John." She reached out her hand and he laid his palm on hers. "Listen, was that Zsadist I just saw?"
"What was he doing here?"
John dropped his duffel and signed, He rode home on the bus with me.
Wellsie frowned. "I'd like you to stay away from him, okay? He's… not right in a lot of ways. Do you know what I mean?"
Actually, John wasn't so sure about that. Yeah, the guy was enough to make you think fondly of the bogeyman sometimes, but clearly he wasn't all bad.
"Anyway, I'm off to pick up Sarelle. We've run into a snag with the festival and lost all our apples. She and I are going to make the rounds of some spiritual folks, see what we can do about this so close to the date. Do you want to come?"
John shook his head. I don't want to get behind in Tactics.
"Okay." Wellsie smiled at him. "I left you some rice and ginger sauce in the fridge."
Thank you! I'm starved.
"I figured you would be. See you soon."
He waved at her while she backed down the rest of the driveway and took off. As he headed for the house, he noticed absently how the chains Tohr had put on the Rover made sharp gouges in the fresh snow.