O walked right out the brick mansion's front door and he left the thing wide-open behind him. As he wandered down the driveway, snow swirled in the cold wind.
The sight of that portrait was an echo in his brain that wouldn't let up, wouldn't fade. He had killed his woman. Beaten her so badly she'd died. God… he should have taken her to a doctor. Or maybe if that scarred Brother hadn't stolen her, maybe she would have lived… Maybe she'd died because she'd transported.
So had O killed her? Or would she have lived if she'd been allowed to stay with him? What if—Oh, fuck it. The search for the sequence of truth was bullshit. She was dead and he had nothing to bury because that bastard Brother had taken her from him. Period.
Abruptly, he caught the lights of a car up ahead. As he got a little closer, he saw that a black SUV had stopped before the gates.
That goddamned Beta. What the hell was he doing? O hadn't called the slayer for a pickup, and that was the wrong place—Wait, the car was a Range Rover, not an Explorer.
O jogged through the snow, staying in the shadows. He was a couple of yards away from the gate when the Rover's window came down.
He heard a female voice say, "With everything that's been going on about Bella, I don't know if her mother will be receiving. But we can at least give it a try."
O stepped up to the gates and took out his gun, hiding behind one of the pillars. He saw a flash of red hair as the female behind the wheel leaned out and rang the intercom. Beside her there was another female in the passenger seat, a short-haired blond. That one said something and the redhead smiled a little, revealing fangs.
As she pressed the intercom again, O spoke loudly. "Nobody's home."
The redhead looked up, and he leveled his Smith & Wesson at her.
"Sarelle, run!" she screamed.
O pulled the trigger.
John was deep in tactics, and ready to put his head through a plate-glass window from the brain strain, when someone knocked on his door. He whistled without looking up from the textbook.
"Hey, son," Tohr said. "How's the studying?"
John stretched his arms over his head, then signed. Better than the physical training.
"You don't worry about that. It'll come."
"No, really. I was the same way before my transition. All over the place. Trust me, it gets better."
John smiled. So, you're home early.
"Actually, I was going to go to the center and get some admin work done there. You wanna hang? You could study in my office."
John nodded and grabbed a fleece, then packed up his books. A change of scenery would be good. He was sleepy, and he still had another twenty-two pages to go through: Getting away from his bed was a great idea.
They were heading down the hall when Tohr suddenly swayed and banged into the wall. His hand went to his heart and he seemed to struggle for breath.
John grabbed for him, alarmed by the Brother's coloring. He'd gone positively gray.
"I'm cool…" Tohr rubbed his sternum. Winced. Took a couple of deep draws through his mouth. "No, I'm… I just got a pain or something. Probably the stuff I ate from Taco Hell on the way home. I'm okay."
Except the man was pasty and sickly as they stepped into the garage and went over to the Volvo.
"I made Wellsie take the Range Rover tonight," Tohr said as they got in her car. "I put the chains on it for her. I hate her driving in the snow." He seemed to be talking for the sake of talking, the words fast, pressurized. "She thinks I'm overprotective."
Are you sure we should be going out? John signed. You look sick.
Tohr hesitated before starting the station wagon, all the while rubbing his chest under his leather jacket. "Oh, yeah, no. I'll be fine. It's no big deal."
Butch watched Havers go to work on Phury, the doctor's hands steady and sure as they removed the bandage.
Phury was clearly not charmed about his role as patient. Sitting on top of the examination table, his shirt off, his huge body dominating the little room, he had a glower on him like an ogre. Right out of the Brothers Grimm.
"This hasn't healed as it should," Havers pronounced. "You said you were hurt last night, correct? So this should all be scar tissue. Instead it's barely closed."
Butch shot Phury a big old I-told-you-so stare.
The Brother mouthed back, Bite me, then muttered, "It's okay."
"No, sire, it's not. When was the last time you fed?"
"I don't know. A while." Phury craned around and looked at the wound. He frowned, as though he were surprised by how bad it looked.
"You need to feed." The doctor ripped open a gauze pack and covered the slice. After he taped the thick white square in place, he said, "And you should do it tonight."
Havers snapped off his gloves, stuffed them in a biohazard container, and made a note in his chart. He hesitated by the door. "Is there someone you could go to now?"
Phury shook his head while he put on his shirt. "I'll deal with it. Thanks, Doc."
When they were alone, Butch said, "Where'm I taking you, big man?"
"Downtown. Time to hunt."
"Yeah, right. You heard the man with the stethoscope. Or do you think he was playing you?"
Phury slid off the exam table, his shitkickers landing with a boom. He turned away, going for his dagger holster.
"Look, cop, it takes time for me to get someone lined up," he said. "Because I'm not… because of the way I am, I only like to go to certain females, and I have to talk with them first. You know, see if they're willing to let me take their vein. Celibacy is complicated."
"Then you make the calls now. You're in no shape to fight, and you know it."
"So use me."
Butch and Phury both wheeled toward the doorway. Bella was standing in it.
"I didn't mean to eavesdrop," she said. "The door was open and I was walking by. My, ah… brother just left."
Butch glanced at Phury. The male was still as a photograph.
"What's changed?" Phury asked in a voice that had gone hoarse.
"Nothing. I still want to help you. So I'm giving you another opportunity to accept."
"You couldn't have gone through it twelve hours ago."
"Yes, I could have. You were the one who said no."
"You would have wept through the whole thing."
Whoa. This was way personal.
Butch eased over to the door. "I'll go wait out—"
"Stay, cop," Phury said. "If you don't mind."
Butch cursed and looked around. There was a chair right next to the exit. He lowered his butt into it and tried to make like an inanimate object.
Bella cut Phury's question off. "This is about you. Not him."
There was a long silence. And then the air was permeated by something like dark spices, the scent emanating from Phury's body.
As if the fragrance were an answer of some kind, Bella came into the room, shut the door, and started to roll up her sleeve.
Butch glanced at Phury and saw that the guy was trembling, his eyes glowing like the sun, his body… Well, he was obviously getting aroused, put it like that.
Okay, time to go…
"Cop, I need you to stay while we do this." Phury's voice was more like a growl.
Butch groaned, even though he knew damn well why the Brother wouldn't want to be alone with that female right now. He was throwing off erotic heat like a stallion.
"Yeah, I'll stay." Even though he wasn't going to watch. No way. For some reason that seemed like being on the fifty-yard line while Phury had sex.
With a curse, Butch leaned onto his knees, put his hand up to his forehead, and looked down at his Ferragamos.
There was the scratchy sound, as if the tissue paper on the exam table was shifting because someone was getting up on the thing. Then a whisper of cloth.
Shit. He had to look.
Butch took a peek and then couldn't have peeled his eyes away to save his life. Bella was up on the table, her legs dangling over the side, her exposed inner wrist on her thigh. Phury was staring at her with hunger and an awful, cursed love on his face as he eased down onto his knees before her. With hands that shook, he took hold of her palm and her upper forearm and bared his fangs. The damn things were huge now, long enough to keep him from closing his mouth all the way.
With a hiss, he lowered his head to Bella's arm. She twitched all over as he struck, though her dull eyes just stared straight ahead at the wall. Then Phury jerked, released, and looked up at her.
That was quick.
"Why did you stop?" Bella asked.
Phury glanced over at Butch. Who flushed and looked down at his loafers again.
The Brother whispered, "Have you bled yet?"
Butch winced. Oh, yeah. This was way awkward.
"Bella, do you think you're pregnant?"
Holy shit—this was awkward.
"Would you like me to leave?" Butch asked, hoping they would kick him out.
When they both said no, he went back to watching his shoes.
"I'm not," Bella said. "I'm really not… you know. I mean, I'm… cramping, okay? Next thing is bleeding and then it's all over."
"Havers needs to check you out."
"Do you want to drink or not?"
More silence. Then another hiss. Followed by a low moan.
Butch glanced over. Phury was crowding Bella's wrist, her slender arm buried in a cage of his body as he took greedy pulls. Bella was looking down at him. After a moment she took her hand and put it on his multicolored hair. Her touch was tender. Her eyes shimmered with tears.
Butch got up from the chair and slipped out the door, leaving them to their business. The sad intimacy of what was passing between them needed to be private.
Outside the room, he eased against the wall, somehow still caught up in the drama though he wasn't watching it anymore.
He snapped his head around. Marissa was standing at the other end of the hall.
As she walked over to him he could smell her, that clean ocean scent drilling into his nose, into his brain, into his blood. Her hair was up and she was wearing a yellow gown with an empire waist.
Jesus… Most blondes would have looked half dead in the color. She was radiant.
He cleared his throat. "Hey, Marissa. What's doing?"
"You look well."
"Thanks." She looked fantastic, but he kept his mouth shut about that.
Man, it's just like getting stabbed, he thought. Yeah… Seeing this female and getting nailed with six inches of steel in the breastbone were just different faces of the same nasty coin.
Shit. All he could picture was her getting into that Bentley with that male.
"How have you been?" she asked.
How had he been? He'd been a mooning idiot for the past five months.
"Good. Real good."
He smiled at her and straightened. "Listen, can you do me a favor? I'm going to go wait in the car. Will you let Phury know when he surfaces? Thanks." He smoothed his tie down and buttoned his suit jacket, then pulled his overcoat together. "Take care, Marissa."
He made a beeline for the elevator.
God help him, his feet stopped.
"How… have you been?" she said.
He considered turning around, but refused to let himself get sucked in. "Like I said, Jim Dandy, thanks for asking. Take care of yourself, Marissa."
Shit. He'd just said that, hadn't he?
"I want to…" She stopped. "Would you call on me? Sometime?"
That had him pivoting around. Oh, sweet Mary, mother of God… She was so beautiful. Grace Kelly beautiful. And with her Victorian speech and her genteel manner, she made him feel like a total loser, all babbles and shuffles in spite of his expensive clothes.
"Butch? Maybe you could… call on me."
"Why would I do that?"
She flushed and seemed to wilt. "I had hoped…"
"You might call on me. If you had some time. Perhaps you could come… calling."
Christ. He'd already done that and she'd refused to see him. No way he was volunteering for another crash course in ego bashing. This woman, female… whatever… was totally capable of whipping his ass, and he didn't need more of that kind of rash, thank you very much. Besides, Mr. Bentley was showing up at her back door.
At that thought, an evil, very male part of him wondered if she was still the untouched virgin she'd been when he'd met her over the summer. Probably not. Even if she was still shy, now that she was away from Wrath she must have taken a lover. Hell, Butch knew firsthand the kind of kiss she could lay on a man; there had been only that one time, but she'd had him tearing the arm off a chair, he got so cranked. So, yeah… she'd definitely found a man. Maybe a couple. And she'd show them a hell of a ride.
As she opened her perfect, pink, godforsaken rosebud of a mouth again, he cut her off. "No, I'm not going to call on you. But I do mean what I said. I hope you… take care of yourself."
Okay, that was three times with the little phrase. He needed to hit the road before he sported a fourth.
Butch strode over to the elevator. By some miracle the thing opened the moment he punched the up button. He stepped inside and kept his eyes from her.
As the doors closed, he thought she might have said his name one last time. But knowing him, he was just imagining it. Because he really wished she—
Oh, shut up, O'Neal. Just shut up and drop it.
When he strode out of the clinic, he was walking so fast, he was practically running.