It had been at least two decades since Shade had awakened on a strange floor, hungover and without a clue as to his whereabouts. The heavy weight of a manacle around his wrist and the sound of a rattling chain made him smile. It had been even longer since he’d been in this situation and chained up.
Sure, he preferred the females to be the ones in chains instead of him, but he’d roll with it.
The female voice sounded familiar, but he couldn’t place it through the ringing in his ears. He couldn’t open his eyes, either.
“Shade. Wake up.” A hand shook his shoulder, not gently, like he’d expect a female to do after a spending a night with him. Hell, she should be waking him with her mouth on his– “Shade, damn you, wake up!”
Groaning, he rolled onto his back, wincing at the dull ache pounding against the back of his skull. “I’m awake, baby. I’m awake. Climb on. I’ll catch up.”
“Thanks, I’ll pass. But call me baby again and I’ll rip your lips off.”
Shade peeled his eyes open. Blinked at the blurry face peering down at him. Blinked again.
“You remember my name? Pardon me while I pass out from shock.”
The sarcasm wasn’t necessary, but yeah, he remembered her name. She’d been the hottest human he’d ever brought to his bed. Long, caramel brown hair that felt like the softest silk on his chest, abs, thighs, as she kissed her way down his body. Full, sensual lips that had curved into wicked smiles worthy of his wildest dreams, pale champagne eyes that complimented smooth, golden skin that had melted like brown sugar under his tongue.
But he hadn’t seen her in nearly a year. Not since the night she ran away and fell off the face of the earth.
“Why are you here? Why am I here?” He squinted in the hazy darkness. “Where is here?” His first thought was that maybe The Aegis had captured him, but this place was too creepy even for those demon-slaying bastards.
“Can you sit?” Runa helped him up, too quickly, and his head swam. She pushed him back against a wall with more strength than he’d expected. He didn’t resist, grateful for the cool, damp stone that eased his nausea.
“Answer my question,” he said, because he now suspected that this wasn’t a sexual hangover, which meant that there could be no good reason to be chained up and feeling like shit with a woman who probably wanted to cause him some damage.
Runa snorted. “You’re still an arrogant ass.”
“Not really.” Her hand came down on his forehead, as though checking for fever, but as a human, she’d have no idea that his normal body temperature ran high, and he pushed her away. Besides, her touch made his temp jack up even more, something he definitely didn’t need.
“Well? Where are we?” They seemed to be in some sort of cell inside a larger enclosure, maybe a dungeon. Something dripped incessantly, straw littered the floor, and candles burned in iron sconces on the stone walls.
Hell’s bells, he’d been cast in a cheesy horror movie.
“I don’t know where we are. We seem to have four captors…at least, four different demons have been down here to feed us. They call themselves Keepers.”
Yeah, this was definitely bad. “Us?”
“I’ve been here a week. There are a few others in cells. The Keepers take out some and bring others in.”
For the first time, Shade looked down at himself, saw the heavy chains connected to his left wrist and ankle. Runa was secured to the opposite wall with a manacle around her right ankle. She wore jeans and a tight, sleeveless sweater he’d have appreciated if it weren’t for the fact that he was being held prisoner. She looked different than he remembered, too. When they’d dated — if screwing like rabbits could be called dating — she’d been shy, needy, and easy to control, which had fed his need to dominate, but had ultimately grown boring.
Beneath the conservative dresses and slacks she’d worn, she’d been a little round, soft, even. But now…holy hot. She’d put on muscle, and he swore she’d grown taller. Her well-worn jeans fit like a glove, and the black sweater stretched across breasts that were definitely smaller than they had been, perfect for his hands. His mouth.
And this line of thinking was doing nothing but making him hard in an extremely inappropriate situation.
Then again, as a Seminus demon, a rare breed of incubus, he was pretty much always hard.
“When was I brought in?”
He shook his head, trying to loosen the congestion that had jammed up his thoughts and memories. Last night…last night…what had he been doing? Wait…he was wearing his paramedic uniform. He remembered going to work, checking in with Eidolon, and getting into a scuffle with Wraith. Their newest doc, a human named Kynan, had broken it up by dousing them both with a bag of saline.
Same old, same old at the one and only medical treatment facility for demons.
Shade and Skulk had gone out on a call, an injured vamp at a New York meat packing facility. They’d entered the building, but from there, his memory took a leave of absence.
“Was anyone else brought in with me? A female?”
“The Umber demon?”
His heart thundered like a trip-hammer. “An Umber came in with me?” Runa nodded, and he didn’t stop to think about how she even knew what an Umber demon was. “Where is she?”
“You sleeping with her?” Her sharp tone cracked in the dank air.
“She’s my sister, and I don’t have time for your jealousy.”
“Seems to me you have nothing but time,” Runa said, but her voice had softened. “I’m sorry. I don’t know what they did with your sister. They took her away a little while ago.” She shifted away from him, and he realized she was at the very end of her chain. “You don’t look like her.”
He didn’t offer an explanation for the fact that he and his sister were different species, and she didn’t ask. Instead, she watched him as he eyed the bars in the door to their cell and wondered how sturdy they were. Then again, they could be paper for all it mattered if he couldn’t break the chains that tethered him to the wall.
“Our best chance to escape won’t happen until they come for us,” she said.
“You said they feed you.”
“Yes, but they push the food and water in with a stick. They won’t come close.”
“Who are they?”
“I think…I think they’re what you demons refer to as Ghouls.”
Shade’s blood pressure bottomed out. “What? How do you know?”
“That’s what someone in another cell called them.”
Ghouls. Not the kind humans feared, the flesh-eaters of lore. No, Ghouls were what demons feared — well, second to Aegis slayers, anyway. Ghoul was the name given to anyone — demon or human — who kidnapped vampires, shifters, and demons to harvest body parts for sale on the underworld black market. The Ghouls had always been vicious, but their operation had taken an even more sinister turn in the last couple of years. Now, instead of merely taking body parts, they did it while the victim was alive.
Last year, Shade and his brothers had crippled the operation. Eidolon’s mate, a half-breed named Tayla, had helped root out humans who had been secretly working with the demons heading up the organ-harvesting ring.
The demon population had enjoyed a few months of breathing room, and then suddenly, a couple of months ago, the disappearances and mutilations had started up again, as bloody as ever.
A door at the end of the dark corridor burst open, and the sound of footsteps echoed through the dungeon. Shade braced for a fight, but the intruders stopped before they reached the cell where he and Runa sat quietly. Waiting.
It wasn’t until the screams started that Shade truly realized just how much trouble he was in.
* * *
Runa Wagner sat on her little pile of straw, listening to the screams of some female as the Keepers dragged her away to what would probably be a horrifying death.
Shade’s rugged, masculine features gave nothing away, such as how he felt about what was going on around them, and she carefully schooled her own expression to match. Except there was no way she could make her eyes go as flat and cold as his nearly black ones could, no way she could make her jaw do that grating, rigid thing that made him appear as if he was sharpening his teeth on bones.
Menace radiated from him, as palpable as the danger surrounding them. He tugged on his chains, but discovered, as she had, that they were designed to take more serious punishment than either of them could dish out.
He turned to her, and though his perusal of her body from toe to head was anything but sexual, she felt a stirring in places she’d long thought dead. Dead, because he’d been the one to kill them.
“Have they hurt you?”
“Not since they brought me in.” She figured she sported a shiner from the whack across the face she’d taken, but other than some scrapes and bruises, she was fine.
“You’re sure?” He shifted to his knees and grasped her calf with his free hand.
Runa recoiled, but he held her easily. “Don’t touch me.”
“Easy, sweetheart. I’m just doing a system check.” His voice was rough and resonant, sensual without even trying. “You used to like it when I touched you.”
“Yeah, well, that was before I caught you in bed with two vampires. Oh, and before I found out you were a demon.”
“Only one was a vamp.”
She sucked in an angry breath. “That’s all you have to say for yourself?”
“I’m not the talkative type.”
“Unbelievable,” she muttered. “You deceived me, cheated on me, and you can’t even bother with an I’m sorry?”
He removed his hand and sat back on his hip, one leg tucked beneath him, the other cocked at the knee. He stared at the wall, his shoulder-length black hair falling forward to conceal his expression. “I’m sorry you thought I was human. I never said I was.”
“Call me crazy, but is that really something I should have thought to ask?” she spat. “I guess I should have, because I might not have been so shocked to see a real-life vampire and a…whatever it was in your bed.”
“You weren’t supposed to come to my place that night. You said you were busy.”
“I wanted to surprise you.”
And she’d done that, all right. She’d walked into his apartment, arms full of makings for a romantic meal.
As soon as she’d stepped through the door, she’d heard the noises coming from his bedroom. Stomach roiling with foreboding, she’d crept down the hall to the open door.
Shade had been on his back, sideways on the bed, his legs dangling over the edge. A naked woman straddled him, rode him slowly, her face buried in his throat. Runa must have made a sound, because he’d turned his head and looked at her with glowing golden eyes. Crazily, the first thing that came to mind was that she’d never seen his eyes when they’d made love. He always closed them, buried his face in her neck, or took her from behind.
“Join us?” he’d asked, and that’s when Runa had noticed the other woman kneeling on the floor, her face between his legs.
The woman on top of him raised her head. Blood ran down her chin, and when she smiled, her fangs flashed. A spiked leather collar ringed her neck, the chain connected to it ending in Shade’s fist.
As Runa stood there in shock and horror, the woman bent, tongued his nipple, and picked up her pace. Shade moaned, gripped the woman’s hips and arched into her.
Runa had fled. Sobbing, she’d run — from one nightmare into another.
“You said you were busy,” Shade repeated, fixing her with a penetrating stare. “I wasn’t expecting you.”
“So that made what you did okay? When did you start screwing around on me?”
He propped an elbow on his knee, somehow managing to look casual, like he got captured by Ghouls all the time and maybe enjoyed it a little. “Don’t ask questions you don’t want to know the answers to.”
“Oh, I want to know.”
“I don’t think you do.”
“You’re an ass.”
“Tell me something I don’t know.”
“I was in love with you.” Silence fell like an executioner’s ax. Oh, God. Had she just said that? Out loud? If the way the blood rushed from his face was any indication, then yep, she’d opened her big yap and made a fool of herself. “Don’t worry,” she said quickly, “I’m over it. Over you.”
He leaned forward. “Good. Do you know what I am? What I really am?”
“You’re a Seminus demon.”
She glanced at the black markings that ran from the fingers of his right hand all the way up to his neck, tattoos she’d thought were just that; tattoos. But she’d since learned that they were something he’d been born with, a history of his paternity going back dozens of generations. The very top symbol, an unseeing eye just beneath his jaw, was his personal mark, which would have appeared following his first maturation phase at the age of twenty.
She smiled tightly. “I spent months researching your species after that night.” Not that much information had been available. Oh, incubi had been thoroughly documented, but his particular breed, Seminus, was so rare that she’d unearthed only sketchy details.
“Then you know my nature–“
“Your nature?” Anger flooded her, anger she thought she’d buried. “I get that you pretty much live in a state of perpetual arousal. I get that your need for sex is all but uncontrollable. But you know what? I don’t give a crap. You tricked me into having sex with you. Used your incubus tricks and pheromones. You lied to me, made me think you were human.” She could go on, about how betrayed and sickened she’d been when she’d learned the truth, but ultimately, what had happened after she’d fled his apartment was what mattered.
“You ruined my life,” she snapped.
Well, she’d done that herself long before Shade had walked into her coffee shop, but he’d definitely made things worse.
“Shit,” he muttered. “See, this is why I make it a rule to not sleep with a human more than once. Your females are clingy.”
She stared. Sputtered. “Are you kidding me? You think my life was ruined because you seduced me and then broke my heart?”
“Well, yeah,” he said, shrugging one broad shoulder.
What. An. Ass.
Snarling, she leaped into an aggressive crouch so fast he reared backwards. Her chains rattled as she trembled with the force of her rage. Her skin prickled, tightening, her gums ached, and she knew she was dangerously close to letting out the inner beast.
“You arrogant son of a bitch.” She slammed her palm into his chest, was thrilled to hear him grunt. “I was upset that night, but I’d have gotten over it. Too bad I never got the chance. See, after I left your apartment, I was attacked, torn up, and left to die. You might have known that if you hadn’t had some skanky vampire shouting your name. You might have heard me scream.”
Shade’s gaze sharpened on her, points of midnight flint. “Someone hurt you?”
“Am I supposed to believe you care?”
His hand came up to curl around hers. “Believe it or not, I’m not a monster.”
She laughed, a hard, bitter sound. “No, but I am.” She got right up in his face. “Because of you, I’m a monster, Shade. I’m a goddamned werewolf.”