Shade didn’t wait around in the ER to answer questions or listen to lectures about Runa. He took her to the lab, plunked her into a chair, and gave the technician, Frank, one of the few humans on staff, orders to take enough blood to run every test available.
Then he waited just outside the door where he could see what was going on, because no way was that man going to touch Runa without Shade’s being present. He’d have preferred to draw the blood himself, but he knew his brothers would be showing up at any moment to ask questions he didn’t know how to answer.
He watched Runa through the window, inexplicably pleased to see that she was looking around the lab with curiosity, not terror, as he might have expected from someone who had never been inside a demon hospital. Then again, she knew he was right outside the door, and he’d assured her that nothing bad would happen to her as long as he was near.
What a big, fucking lie.
His gut wrenched as he dragged his gaze away from her. He was growing too close, too fast, and this morning’s sex had made the situation worse. Not only had he lied through his teeth about servicing her—hell, he’d probably needed her more than she’d needed him—but the haunted look in her eyes when she’d brought up her father had been like an icepick through his heart.
There was a painful story there, and he had a feeling it was related to the darkness, the guilt, he sensed in her, but he didn’t want to know. Didn’t want to string her up as he had the females in his past in order to draw that darkness out through sex and pain. As long as she tried to keep it buried, he’d be okay. The moment she decided she wanted to open up about her past, the moment she decided she wanted to be rid of her guilt or whatever was staining her soul, he’d be forced to do whatever it took to extract it from her.
The thought made him queasy.
And what the hell was up with the lack of the mate-markings? Even after the second try this morning … nothing.
This was so not good.
E walked up to him, his concern obvious in his drawn brows and the tight set of his mouth.
“Where’s Wraith?” Shade asked. “I figured for sure he’d want to be here to drill me.”
“I sent him with Kynan. Told him you didn’t need both of us drilling you.”
“Bullshit. Wraith wouldn’t buy that.”
Eidolon grinned. “He didn’t. But I explained that I know what it’s like to have a mate, and I’d know how to deal with you. I told him anything he said would send you running for the hills and we’d never see you again.”
“That’s not going to happen.”
A grim scowl replaced E’s smile, bringing them both back to the place where Shade was royally fucked. “I know that. But he doesn’t.”
“Is he okay?”
“He’s rattled. He’s doing his best to deal with the Roag thing, and Skulk, and you being in the situation you’re in, but he’s taking things a little too well.”
“Which means it’s only a matter of time before he blows.”
Eidolon dragged a hand through his short, dark hair. “You didn’t say anything about Runa not being marked.” When Shade shrugged, E continued. “Can she sense you? Or is this bonding one-sided?”
Shade glanced through the door window at Runa, who was smiling at the lab tech as he held her arm steady for the blood draw. Mine. Shade swallowed hard. Rage and jealousy had made a fine blockage in his throat.
“Frank’s touching her. I should have done the draw. I still can—”
“Shade? Look at me.”
He wrenched his eyes away from Runa and Frank.
“Why didn’t you get the blood samples yourself?”
“Because I’m trying to keep my distance. But his hands are on her. I’m going to kill him.”
“It’ll get easier, bro. As the bond settles, the raging jealousy will ease up. Won’t go completely away, but it’ll get better. If it didn’t, I couldn’t have let Tayla keep working with men at Aegis headquarters.”
“Let her? Something tells me you wouldn’t have been able to stop her.”
E looked a little sheepish. “Yeah, you’re probably right.”
Shade sucked in a shaky breath and avoided looking through the window again. “The bond is one-sided. I don’t get it. I know we did it right the first time. And today I repeated her part of the ritual.”
“This could be a problem.”
“No shit.” Shade braced a shoulder against the wall, welcoming the support. “Hey, can I ask you something?”
Shade hesitated. Talking sex with his brothers had never been any different from talking sports. But this felt awkward and wrong, as if he were betraying Runa.
“Is sex … different for you since you took Tay as your mate?”
Eidolon’s brows shot up, and a knowing grin split his face. “Oh, yeah. Much better. Definitely a perk of the bond.”
“I was afraid of that.”
There was a brittle silence. Finally Eidolon said, “We’ll find a way to get you out of this. Both the warg thing, and the curse.”
Shade laughed bitterly. “Even if we find a cure for the lycanthropy, the curse isn’t going to end well.”
“There’s got to be a way. Something we missed.”
“We’ve been looking for almost eighty years, E. There’s only one way out, and it’s not an option.”
Yeah, the fun little love curse came with an out clause that was as demented as the prick who dreamed up the spell in the first place.
Shade could transfer the curse to a loved one, someone he cared about in a nonromantic way. Which left only Eidolon and Wraith, and that was not going to happen. Even if he did decide to transfer the curse, he had no idea how to go about doing so.
An orderly pushing a cart with his tentacles passed by, and once he was out of earshot, Eidolon said, “Are you in danger of falling for Runa anytime soon?”
Shade closed his eyes, as if doing so would block out the truth. “No,” he lied. He didn’t want to freak out his brothers, and saying yes would put Runa in immediate danger.
“I know you don’t want to kill her, but there might be another way.”
Shade’s eyes snapped open. “What?”
“We can keep her here. Or somewhere. A special room where she’ll be comfortable. You can go to her when you need to—”
“You want to keep her caged like an animal? Like an Orgesu?”
“Shade, if she isn’t bonded to you, she can take off. Go anywhere she wants, screw anyone she wants, and where does that leave you? A strung-out beast trying to track her down before you die. Even if she were bonded, you can’t be together. You’ll fall for her. It’s inevitable. Then we lose you and you’re stuck in a fate worse than death.”
Way worse. He could picture himself as nothing more than a phantom, floating around with no way to communicate with anyone, no way to touch anyone. Stuck in a permanent state of starvation, thirst, and pain from unrelieved lust, he’d go insane. Hell, insanity was a family trait, and he was halfway there already.
“I can’t keep her as a sex slave, E. I can’t make her live out her life alone except when I come to her a few times a day for a quick fuck.”
“I’m giving you an alternative to killing her.”
Shade glanced through the lab door window, trying to imagine Runa locked away, alone in a room with nothing but maybe a television and some books to keep her company. Would she waste away, fade into a listless shell with nothing to live for as her bright spark fizzled? Would she just lie there as he took her, her empty eyes staring at the wall until he finished? Or would she grow angry and bitter, becoming a rabid beast he’d have to rape in order to get what he needed?
Gods, he wanted to throw up.
As though she felt his gaze, she turned, flashed him a little wave with one hand as she held a cotton ball over the needle puncture with the other. Frank said something that made her laugh, and she turned to him, her smile innocent and flirty all at once, and Shade wanted to barge in there and crack open the bastard’s skull.
“Fucking Roag,” he snarled. “Man, I want to make him bleed.”
“We all do.”
“Really?” Shade whipped his head around. “Do you really? Because you and Roag were always tight. You never saw the bad in him.”
Eidolon blinked a couple of times, as if he couldn’t believe Shade had said that, and yeah, that was a low blow.
“Hey,” Shade muttered, “I’m sorry. I’m frustrated. And pissed. I shouldn’t be a werewolf, I shouldn’t be bonded, and Skulk shouldn’t be dead. Oh, and my neck burns.”
Frowning, E brought his fingers to Shade’s throat. “S’genesis. It’s coming. Any minute now.”
Naturally. He rubbed his eyes, wondering how he’d backed right up to a cliff edge so quickly.
Rotating lights on the walls began to flash, and the faint warble of ambulance sirens sent a jolt of adrenaline surging through Shade’s veins. It never failed to amaze him how, when E first proposed building a hospital, Shade had resisted, having no desire to help anyone. But he’d quickly grown addicted to the excitement, the rush that came with every emergency.
He knew Eidolon was feeling the same thing, would be jonesing to sprint to the ER and take command of whatever was going to be exploding through the doors.
Shade scrubbed his palm over his face. “I need to get back to work.”
“It’ll take my mind off things. Besides, who knows how my poor ambulances were being treated while I was gone?” He couldn’t leave Runa alone, though, not when it would be so easy for her to run away. “Runa can ride along on the ambulance runs.”
“As long as you think you can handle it.”
“I’ll work on the new duty schedule tomorrow and start runs as soon as the full moon phase is over.”
The lab door opened, and Runa stood there, looking adorable and lost, and he wanted to drag her into his arms and hold her. He was in so. Much. Trouble.
“Frank said I’m done.”
Frank. Not the lab technician. Or Mr. Williams. Frank.
This raging jealousy was not good.
Eidolon knew, clapped a hand on Shade’s shoulder. “It’ll get easier.”
“Whatever,” he mumbled. “You heading home?” When E nodded, Shade added, “You’re sure Wraith’s okay.”
“For now. Kynan is keeping an eye on him.”
“Kynan Morgan, right?” Runa asked.
Eidolon cocked a brow. “You know him?”
Runa bit her lip in that way she did that made Shade want to kiss her. “My brother knows him. I thought I recognized him earlier. From pictures,” she added hastily.
“He was the doc working on Wraith.” Shade grabbed her hand, hating that she was asking about the man. “Back to the cave.” Because the way he was behaving, he belonged in a fucking cave. He might as well take her by the hair and drag her there. To top it off, his skin had begun to tingle and stretch, and he had a feeling he was about to go canine.
“I’d like to run some more tests,” Eidolon said, falling back into doctor mode. “An MRI, a bone marrow aspiration—”
“Bro, we stay much longer and you’ll need to send her to a vet clinic for all that.” Shade glanced at Runa. “We’re going to hit the cafeteria on the way out.”
“I’m not hungry.”
“Did you notice the demon species on staff? They all have unique diets. Which includes raw meat.”
She wrinkled her nose. “So you keep …”
“Not live animals. But we’ve got a walk-in fridge full of carcasses.” Her expression of disgust made him smile. “You eat raw meat three nights a month and you’re offended by our cafeteria?”
“It’s not like I want to eat raw meat. Trust me, if I could cure the lycanthropy, I would.” She glanced at Eidolon. “Do you think there’s a chance, at least, that Shade could be cured?”
She wasn’t supposed to care, and that she did made Shade’s heart bleed. “He’ll do his best,” he ground out, and tugged her toward the cafeteria. To Eidolon he said, “If you learn anything from the tests, ring me. And let me know if you get any leads on Roag.”
“Be careful, Shade. Be really careful,” Eidolon said, but he wasn’t talking about Roag.
He was talking about Runa.
The cafeteria was like nothing Runa had ever seen. Strange, foul odors mingled with familiar, spicy scents that made Runa’s stomach both turn and growl with hunger.
The tables and benches appeared to be made of massive slabs of granite, and a pit, maybe five feet deep and forty by forty feet in size, took up one corner of the cavernous room. Three demons of unidentifiable species were in the pit, tearing something apart with their teeth and claws. Around them, a half-dozen smaller creatures, grotesque, spiderlike things the size of Chihuahuas, were snapping up scraps.
Runa shuddered and clutched Shade’s hand a little harder. “I hope those things aren’t employees.”
“The big ones are patients. The others are cleaners.”
One of the demons, a green, winged, man-sized thing, turned to look at her, and she nearly froze at the intensity of the evil in its gaze. Except, it really didn’t have a gaze, since it had no eyes.
Shade barked something to the creature in a language she didn’t know, and it snarled, but it went back to crunching bones between its sharklike teeth.
“Don’t antagonize the patients,” he said to her, but she didn’t have time to protest, because they stopped at a table where a pretty black-and-blue-haired woman in scrubs sat alone, reading a mystery novel and sipping coffee from a mug stained with her black lipstick.
“Gem,” Shade said, and the woman looked up. “This is Runa. Keep an eye on her for a minute. No one is to lay a finger on her.”
He didn’t wait for a reply, simply strode off with the arrogance of someone who knew damned good and well he wouldn’t be disobeyed. Annoyance and appreciation warred as she watched him walk away, all silent menace in his black leather and boots.
The female he’d called Gem stuck her pierced tongue out at him and then gestured to the bench across from her. “Have a seat. You must be Shade’s—” she glanced at Runa’s bare arm and broke off. “Or not.”
“I am,” Runa sighed. “I just don’t have the marks yet. Shade’s brother is trying to figure out why that is.” She watched Gem take a sip from her cup. “Smells like a Kona-Colombian blend.”
Gem’s pierced brow shot up. “Wow. You’re good.”
“I used to own a coffee shop.”
Pushing aside the mug, Gem gazed longingly at the lunch line. “I’d love you forever if you taught these morons how to brew a decent pot of coffee.”
“Brewing bad coffee should be a crime,” Runa said, smiling. She liked this woman. “So, are you a doctor here? Are you human?” She bit her lip. “Was that a rude question?”
“Not at all.” Gem slipped a bookmark between the pages of her paperback and put it aside. “I’m a doctor. And I’m half human. Eidolon’s mate, Tayla, is my sister. I’m sure you’ll meet her soon. She can help you figure out what to expect from the bond—and from Shade.”
Runa stared across the table at the Goth doctor, wishing she wasn’t such a stranger to this world. A stranger to Shade. “How well do you know him?”
“I’ve known him for years, but honestly, I don’t know him that well. He’s a great paramedic, can run the hospital as well as Eidolon, but when it comes to his personal life, he’s pretty tight-lipped.” Gem lowered her voice. “You love him, don’t you?”
“We hardly know each other,” Runa said, which wasn’t an answer. “I mean, we dated before … sort of. But I caught him with these—” She closed her eyes and blew out a breath. “I’m babbling.”
“Yeah, you are.” Gem grinned. “But you’re allowed. You’re in love.” Gem’s smile turned sad. “But he barely knows you exist, right?”
“Something like that,” Runa said softly. She watched a red-skinned nurse walk by on her way to the food counter, where two human-looking servers dished up unidentifiable hot meals. “But I don’t love him.”
“Whatever.” Gem rolled her eyes, making the silver and ruby-jeweled piercing in her eyebrow climb up her forehead. “But girl, you’ve got scars that run deep, and they have nothing to do with Shade.”
“I’m not sure what you mean,” Runa said, even though she did. Shade’s betrayal a year ago had cut her deeply, but truthfully, she’d come to understand the situation, even if it still hurt.
But that wasn’t what the other woman was talking about, and Runa knew it.
Gem’s green eyes glowed with an eerie luminosity. “Shade can heal them, but only if you let him. Only if you trust him.”
Utterly absorbed in Gem’s words, Runa jumped when Shade’s hand came down on her shoulder. In his other hand, he held a burlap sack.
“Let’s go.” He jabbed a finger at Gem. “Mind your own business and keep your Shredder-shit to yourself.”
Gem stood. “I’m going to let that go because I know a lot has happened to you.” She swept up her book. “But don’t forget that I can see your scars, too, and the path you’re on will give you a lot more.”
“You’re out of line.” Shade’s voice cut through the low-level buzz in the cafeteria, drawing a tense silence. Even the demons in the pit grew still.
The Goth doctor locked gazes with him, as if she wanted to press the issue, but the flat black of Shade’s eyes promised zero tolerance. “I know what I see, Shade.” She swept out of the room, a blur of black and blue and silver piercings.
With the way Shade had tensed up, Runa expected to hear a string of blistering curses from him, but he surprised her by saying mildly, “Come on.”
She didn’t move. “What’s ‘Shredder-shit’?”
“Gem is half Soulshredder. They can see weakness, scars, and exploit them. Let’s go.”
“Wait. What path was she talking about?”
“Nothing, dammit. Now, were you wanting to grow fur here in the hospital or back at the cave?”
“Runa, let it go. You don’t want to know. Trust me.”
God help her, she wanted to trust him, wanted to know that at least one person besides her brother cared about her.
She looked at him, at the demon she was bonded to. His eyes were narrowed into dark, dangerous slits, and his expression was as hard and unyielding as his body.
Yes, God help her.
Shade was not in a good mood when they arrived back at his cave. Runa tried talking to him, but his responses amounted to grunts and the occasional snappish yes or no.
He strode straight to the bedroom-slash-torture-chamber and hung the bag of what she assumed was meat from a hook on the ceiling.
She wasn’t about to ask what else he had hung from there. Still, she crossed her arms over her chest and nodded at the equipment hanging neatly, arranged by type and size, from the walls. “Tell me about all of this.”
Shade shook his head, the soft whisper of his hair brushing against his jacket collar joining the eerie squeak of the meat hook swinging back and forth. This was the strangest situation she’d ever been in, and when you worked for the U.S. Army’s paranormal unit, strange situations were a daily deal.
The thought made her flush with guilt. Shade had been distant, not entirely open with her about everything, including what happened in this room, but she’d been keeping secrets, too, like how much the Army knew about his hospital, and why she’d truly come to New York.
And what the heck was she going to do once the full moon was over and she had to go back to work? Shade wasn’t going to let her walk away, but she wasn’t about to give up the job she’d grown to love so he could keep her prisoner in his cave.
“You don’t need to know.”
“Yeah, I think I do.”
“Runa, you don’t want to know.”
“You keep saying that, and I’m sick of it,” she said, jamming her fists on her hips. “I’m not a docile little mouse anymore, buddy, and I want answers. Now.”
Shade cursed, ran his hands through his hair over and over as he paced. She tore her gaze away from him, mainly to give him time to compose himself, because he seemed to be on the verge of exploding out of his skin.
So she stared at the walls, where the rows of whips, canes, and bondage equipment hung. Bottles and jars lined a shelf, alongside gloves and masks, and even some less-threatening toys such as feathers. God, how many females had he brought here? And what did he do with them?
“Shade? Do you force them?” Her gut tore up at the question, mainly because she was afraid of the answer.
“No.” He swung around, his eyes so fierce she actually recoiled a little. “Never. I choose females who demand it. Who need it.”
“What do you mean, need it?”
He began to pace again, his long legs eating up the length of the bedroom in fewer than a dozen strides. “Remember that first time at your coffee shop? I told you I could sense your need.”
The memory of what they’d done in the alley made her flush hot. “That was sex. I can’t imagine anyone needing to be beaten.”
“They need to be liberated. I sense all sexual needs, including the need to be released.”
Okay, now things were getting weird. Well, weirder. “Released? From … life?”
This time when he stopped pacing, he stared at her as if she’d grown fur already. “I’m not a monster. I don’t kill them. Ever.”
“Then what are you talking about? And would you stop pacing? You’re wearing a hole in the floor.”
Naturally, he ignored her. “Some females are into BDSM. They crave the submission. The rough treatment. The restraint. They might even get off on pain. They want it. That’s one thing. Others need it.” He reached up and rubbed the back of his neck, but his stride didn’t falter, and neither did his concentration. “I told you my mother is an Umber demon.”
“Yes, but I’m not overly familiar with that species.”
“They can sense darkness in others—evil, regret, guilt, things like that. Makes them good judges of character.”
Guilt. She wondered just how much of that she wore on her sleeve for everyone to see. And how much more of it was obvious to Shade. “Can you do that?” Please say no …
“Not in males. See, Seminus offspring inherit a few traits from their mothers’ species, but not all of them, and what they do get is often mutated by the Seminus genes. Since I’m a sexual demon, I can only sense darkness in females, specifically, those who are tormented by it and want to be rid of it.” He paused. “And I can draw it out.”
“How?” When his gaze flickered to the equipment on the walls, she felt a sinking heaviness in her chest. “You torture it out of them.”
“I told you, Runa. You didn’t want to know.”
“Do you—” She swallowed. Hard. “—do you sense darkness in me?”
A long, tense silence stretched between them. His eyes held her, never wavering or fluctuating in intensity. “Yes. Probably tied to the scars Gem was talking about.”
The room shrank. Became a coffin, not a cave. “You wouldn’t—”
“Release from it isn’t something you need. Not now. Not yet.”
Well, wasn’t that a relief. But the way he’d said “not yet,” didn’t bode well. “I still don’t understand this.”
Shade made an impatient gesture. “I can’t explain it. I just know when a female is tortured inside. She subconsciously wants and needs to be freed from whatever haunts her. Believe me, Runa, I don’t force any female to come to my cave.” He shot her a look of regret. “Except you. But that’s different. When they’re here, they get a safe word or safe gesture. If they use it, I stop. But some can take … a lot.”
“Do you enjoy it?” she asked, despising the tremor in her voice, hating the way her gut cramped in dread. She raised her hand to her mouth, as if that would quell the nausea. The idea that he might get off on hurting others … God, her heartbeat pounded in her ears so hard she wasn’t sure she heard him correctly when he finally answered.
“I hate it.”
“I said—” He closed his eyes and took a deep breath. “I said I hate it.”
Thank God. She pictured the females spread and bound, imagined Shade standing there with his fingers curled around the handle of a whip, but she couldn’t reconcile the image with the man standing before her. “What do you get out of it, if you hate it so much?”
“I find my own release.”
“But if you hate it—”
“I’m an incubus, Runa. My body doesn’t care what my brain thinks. The females are here for sex, just as I am. I’m compelled to give it to them.”
She closed her eyes, unable to fathom how he could be so casual about being with so many females and what he did with them. Then again, he was a demon, and she’d only been in his world for a year. She didn’t understand it. But she wanted to.
“So if I want something, something other than sex, are you compelled to give it to me?”
He hadn’t been looking at her, but now his head swiveled around to her, his dark gaze narrowed in suspicion. Even the unseeing eye on his neck, which peeked out from a part in his hair, seemed to take her in.
“That depends on what it is,” he said, his voice husky and low. “What do you want?”
Nervous energy made her fingers tremble as she peeled off her shirt and pushed down her jeans until she stood before Shade wearing only lacy pink panties. Heat licked her between the legs at the sudden hunger that burned in his gaze.
“I want what you gave the others.”
Shade had been raised among demons until he was twenty. He’d spent the next eighty years pinging between the demon world and the human one. He didn’t shock easily. He never went speechless.
But as Runa shoved down her panties and sauntered to the St. Andrews Cross, he found himself unable to talk. Or breathe.
“Don’t,” he croaked.
She ignored him, turned to back up against the hard wood that had supported countless female bodies before her. The idea made him ill. Runa didn’t belong there. Her delicate skin shouldn’t even come into contact with something so tainted by the presence—and blood—of others.
She kicked her feet into the ankle manacles, and they snapped shut with an ominous metallic clang. Reaching up, she did the same with her wrists. Each closure made his heart jerk in his chest. His mind screamed at the sight and at the same time, his body purred.
How could it not? Her toned arms stretched taut above her, making her breasts ride high and firm. Her narrow waist flared at the hips as her legs spread wide, and between, that sweet, hot flesh taunted him, the female lips parted just enough to reveal a glistening hint of arousal.
Runa stared at him, a wicked challenge in her eyes. “Well, mate? I’m submitting to you. What will you do with me now?”
“Submit?” He shook his head. “You’ve barely begun to submit.” In a bid to end this idiocy, he crossed to her, used his height and build to intimidate her as he loomed just out of arm’s reach. “You’re throwing down the gauntlet in a game you know nothing about, Runa.”
“Then teach me,” she said huskily, and he suddenly saw himself covering her with his body, driving into her as she writhed against the bonds, helpless to do anything but succumb to the pleasure he’d give to her.
This was ludicrous. He should release her immediately, shackle her for the moon shift, and then go have a few beers until it was time to chain himself up. His fingers found the release mechanisms at one wrist.
“No.” Her whispered word contained a mix of both command and pleading desperation. She inhaled, the action putting her breasts in contact with his ribs and sending a shock of lust straight to his balls. “I want what you give the others.”
His body jerked under the force of her desire as the compulsion to give her what she craved began to take hold. Damn her. Damn her to hell, because now he wanted the same thing. The one blessing in all of this was that although he sensed a deep, dark guilt trapped inside her, she wasn’t ready to confront or release it.
“Truly, Runa?” He skimmed his palm down her arm until he reached her breast. Dipping his head so his mouth brushed her ear, he closed his hand over the fleshy mound and squeezed until she gasped. “Do you truly want to know what it means to submit? To find that place inside you that wants to please another? Because I’ll be straight with you—subs generally have more power than the doms. But not in my case. Never in my case.”
Disgusted by his own words, but mind-fogged by the driving instinct to give his mate what she wanted, he broke away from her and snared a leather mask off the wall. It felt cold and wrong in his hand, but he forced himself to select a ball gag next. Her breath caught when he plucked a handful of clothespins from a basket on one shelf. She eyed the items in his hand, visibly swallowed, and then met his gaze with her defiant one.
“I trust you.”
He broke out in a cold sweat. Other females had trusted him—to hurt them.
Runa trusted him not to.
She had no reason to trust him. She shouldn’t. Trusting him had gotten her nothing but a broken heart, attacked by a werewolf, imprisoned by Roag, and into mortal danger—danger from Roag, from Eidolon and Wraith … and from Shade. She’d never survive in this world if she didn’t throw up some damned walls and toughen up.
She’s a hell of a lot stronger than you give her credit for. Stronger than you. The words were a vicious taunt in his head, as if some wicked part of him wanted to punish her for being stronger than he was.
“Shade? Did you hear me?”
Anger boiled up inside him, seared his blood and his thoughts. It didn’t matter that he was furious at himself, at Roag, at everyone but her. He needed to strike out, and she was the only available target.
“Shut up!” he yelled. “Just be quiet.”
He pushed the gag into her mouth, more gently than he’d intended, but hell’s fires, he couldn’t hurt her even when he wanted to. Which pretty much made all of this pointless unless he could scare her. Snarling in frustration, he threw down the mask and tugged on a leather glove studded on the palm with tiny, needlelike spikes, and on the back with larger, heavier ones. Next, he chose a nasty little whip with a barbed tip.
“What now, little wolf?” he asked, his voice going soft and dangerous. “What happens when I really start to work you over? I didn’t even give you a safe gesture.”
She made a noise deep in her throat as she eyed the equipment he’d chosen. Her gaze locked on his gloved hand as he reached for her, halting a scant millimeter from one breast. She quivered, her nipples tightening in response.
“Do you still trust me not to hurt you?”
Her head snapped up, and the resolve in her expression made him stumble back. She wasn’t going to back down. She didn’t smell of fear. He was holding implements of torture that could make her scream in agony or pleasure or both, and she wasn’t afraid at all.
He could love her for that.
Terror of his own cut through him in an icy blast. He hurled the whip to the floor, tore off the glove, and released her with clumsy, trembling fingers. He talked himself through it like a crazy man, unsure what he was saying, but hearing himself speak.
When she was free, he backed away as if she were a contagious disease. He knew how idiotic he must appear, but he didn’t care. And if she knew what was good for her, she’d keep her trap shut and her hands off him.
For a moment it seemed as though she’d read his thoughts, because she just stood there, rubbing her arms vigorously to bring circulation back. Then, because she was, after all, Runa, she had to go and ruin everything by talking.
“What are you doing? We aren’t finished.”
He turned away, pretending he hadn’t heard her. Maybe if he ignored her, she’d go away. He felt something strike his back, saw the ball gag hit the floor. She’d thrown it at him.
“I said, we aren’t finished.”
“Yes,” he growled, “we are.”
Something else bounced off his shoulder. A clothespin, fun little items for pinching flesh. “What’s Maluncoeur?”
Shade jerked around. “What did you say?”
She stepped back, but she didn’t drop her gaze. “You kept mumbling ‘Maluncoeur’ while you were releasing me.”
“Nothing.” He took a deep, rattling breath. “It’s nothing.”
“Stop lying to me,” she shouted. “Stop avoiding me!”
“Avoiding you? I can’t get away from you!”
“You’re such a jerk! Stop shutting me out.” She made a sweeping gesture around the room. “You won’t even let me be part of the things you’ve done with other females you say mean nothing to you. Does that mean I’m less than nothing?”
Hell’s bleeding, freaking rings. How could he tell her that he didn’t want to do to her what he’d done to all those females not because she meant less to him, but because she meant so much more?
“Remember what I said about not asking questions you don’t want to know the answer to?”
She recoiled, crimson splotches mottling her cheeks. “You can be such a bastard sometimes, you know that?” She stamped past him and into the bathroom. Had there been a door, he knew it would have been slammed hard enough to take it off its hinges.