John Matthew looked across the Range Rover's front seat. Tohr was preoccupied as they went deep into the rural part of Caldwell, and though John was scared to meet Wrath, the king, he was more worried about all this quiet. He couldn't understand what was wrong. Bella had been saved. She was safe now. So everyone should be happy, right? Except when Tohr had come home to pick John up, he'd wrapped his arms around Wellsie in the kitchen and stayed there a long time. His words, low and in the Old Language, had come out of what sounded like a choked throat.
John wanted to know the details of what had happened, but it was hard to pry in the car in the dark, what with him having to sign or write. And Tohr didn't look like he was into talking.
"Here we are," Tohr said.
With a quick swing to the right he shot them onto a cramped dirt road, and John realized he suddenly couldn't really see anything out the windows. There was an odd haze to the wintry forest around them, a buffering that made him vaguely nauseous.
From out of nowhere a huge gate materialized from the foggy landscape, and they skidded to a halt. There was another set of gates right beyond it, and as they entered the space in between, they were caged like a bull in a cattle chute. Tohr put down his window, entered some kind of code on an intercom pad, and they were free to go out the other side into a...
Jesus, what is this?
An underground tunnel. And as they headed down into the earth on a steady decent, several more gates appeared, the barricades getting more and more fortified until the last one. This was the biggest of them all, a shiny steel monster that had a high voltage sign smack-dab in the middle. Tohr looked up into a security camera, and then there was a clicking noise. The gates slid apart.
Before they went forward, John tapped Tohr's forearm to get the man's attention. Is this where the Brothers live? he signed slowly.
"Sort of. I'm taking you through the training center first and then we'll go to the mansion." Tohr hit the gas. "When classes start you'll come here Monday through Friday. Bus will pick you up in front of our house at four o'clock. My brother Phury's on site, so he's covering the early classes." At John's look, Tohr explained, "The compound is all interconnected underground. I'll show you how to access the tunnel system that links the buildings together, but you keep it to yourself. Anyone who shows up uninvited somewhere is going to have a serious problem. Your classmates are not welcome, you feel me?"
John nodded as they pulled into the parking area he remembered from a night long ago. God, it felt like a hundred years had passed since he'd come here with Mary and Bella.
He and Tohr got out of the Range Rover. Who will I be training with?
"A dozen other males about your age. They all have some warrior blood in their veins, which is why we chose them. Training will last through your transitions and then quite a while afterward, until we think you're ready to go out in the field."
They walked up to a pair of metal doors that Tohr opened wide. On the other side was a corridor that seemed to go on forever. As they went along Tohr showed off a classroom, the gym, a weight room, then a locker room. The male stopped when he got to a door made of frosted glass.
"This is where I hang when I'm not home or in the field."
John walked in. The room was pretty empty and very unremarkable. The desk was metal and covered with computer equipment, phones, and papers. File cabinets lined the back wall. There were only two places to sit, if you assumed flipping the wastepaper basket over was not an option. One chair was standard-issue office equipment, over in the corner. The other was behind the desk and hump-ugly: a ragged, avocado green leather monstrosity with dog-eared corners, a sagging seat, and a set of legs that gave new meaning to the word sturdy.
Tohr put his hand on the thing's high back. "Can you believe Wellsie made me get rid of this?"
John nodded and signed, Yes, I can.
Tohr smiled and walked over to a floor-to-ceiling cabinet. When he opened the door and punched in a series of numbers on a keypad, the back of the thing released outward into a dim kind of passageway.
"Here we go."
John stepped inside even though he couldn't see much.
A metal tunnel. Wide enough to fit three people walking side by side, and so tall there was some space above even Tohr's head. Lights were set into ceiling every ten feet or so, but they didn't carry far through the darkness.
This is the coolest thing I've ever seen, John thought as they started walking.
The sound of Tohr's shitkickers rebounded off the smooth, steel walls, and so did his deep voice.
"Look, about meeting Wrath. I don't want you to worry. He's intense, but he's nothing to fear. And don't be freaked out by the sunglasses. He's nearly blind and hypersensitive to light, so he has to wear them. But even though he can't see, he's going to read you like a book anyway. He'll know your emotions clear as day."
A little later, a shallow staircase appeared to the left, leading up to a door and another keypad. Tohr stopped and pointed down the tunnel, which continued forever, as far as John could tell.
"If you keep going straight here, you'll be at the gatehouse in another hundred and fifty yards."
Tohr went up the flight of stairs, hit the keypad, and threw open the door. Bright light flooded in, like water released from a dam.
John looked up, an odd feeling ringing in his chest. He had the weirdest sense he was dreaming.
" 'S all good, son." Tohr smiled, his harsh face softening a little. "Nothing's going to hurt you up there. Trust me."
"Okay, it's done," Havers said.
Zsadist opened his eyes, seeing only Wrath's thick black hair. "Has she been... ?"
"She's just fine. No signs of forcible intercourse or trauma of any kind." There was a snapping sound, as if the doctor were removing his gloves.
Zsadist sagged and his brothers accepted his weight. When he finally lifted his head, he saw that Havers had removed the bloody nightgown, put Bella's towel back in place, and was pulling on a fresh pair of gloves. The male leaned over his case, took out a pair of needle-nose scissors and some tweezers, then looked up.
"I'll do her eyes now, all right?" When Z nodded, the doctor held up the instruments. "Be of care, sire. You startle me and I could blind her with these. Do you understand?"
"Yeah. Just don't hurt"
"She won't feel a thing. I promise you."
This Z watched, and it took forever. He had some vague thought halfway through that he wasn't holding himself up anymore. Phury and Wrath were keeping him on his feet, his head lolling on the side of Wrath's massive shoulder as he stared down.
"Last one," Havers murmured. "Okay. The sutures are out."
All the males in the room took deep breaths, even the doctor, and then Havers went back to his supplies and picked up a tube. He smoothed some ointment onto Bella's lids; then he packed up his suitcase.
As the physician got to his feet, Zsadist broke away from his brothers and walked around a little bit. Wrath and Phury stretched their arms.
"Her injuries are painful, but not life-threatening at this point," Havers said. "They will heal by tomorrow or the day after, provided they are left alone. She is malnourished and she needs to feed. If she's staying in this room, you need to turn up the heat and move her to the bed. Food and drink should be brought in for when she comes around. And there's one other thing. On the internal exam, I found..." His eyes bounced between Wrath and Phury, then settled on Zsadist. "Something of a personal nature."
Zsadist went over to the doctor. "What?"
Havers drew him into the corner and spoke softly.
Z was stunned speechless when the male was finished. "You sure?"
"I don't know. But fairly soon."
Z looked down at Bella. Oh, Christ...
"Now, I am assuming you have aspirin or Motrin in the house?"
Z had no clue; he never took pain meds. He glanced at Phury.
"Yes, we do," the brother said.
"Let her take them. And I'll give you something stronger as backup in case they don't work well enough."
Havers took out a small glass bottle that had a red rubber seal as a top and palmed two hypodermic syringes that were in sterile packs. He wrote on a little pad, then handed the paper and the supplies to Z.
"If it's daytime and she's in a great deal of pain when she wakes up, you may give her a shot of this according to my directions. It's the same morphine I just gave her, but you must mind the dosage information. Call me if you have questions or you want me to walk you through the injection procedure. Otherwise, if the sun is down, I'll come and give her the shot myself." Havers glanced down at Z's leg. "Would you like for me to examine your wound?"
"Can I bathe her?"
"Yes." Havers frowned. "But, sire, your leg..."
Z walked into his bathroom, cranked the Jacuzzi's faucets, and stuck his hand under the rush. He waited until it was warm enough; then he went back for her.
By this time, the doctor had gone, but Mary, Rhage's female, was in the bedroom's doorway, wanting to see Bella. Phury and Wrath talked to her briefly and shook their heads. She left, looking stricken.
As the door shut, Z knelt down next to the pallet and started to pick Bella up.
"Hold it, Z." Wrath's voice was hard. "Her family should be caring for her."
Z stopped and thought of whoever had fed her fish. God... this was probably not right. Keeping her here, away from those who had proper cause to attend her in her pain. But the idea of letting her go out into the world was unbearable. He'd only just found her...
"She'll go to them tomorrow," he said. "Tonight and today she stays here."
Wrath shook his head. "It's not"
"You think she's ready to travel like this?" Z snapped. "Leave the female alone. Have Tohr call her family and tell them she will be given over to them at nightfall tomorrow. Right now she needs a bath and some sleep."
Wrath's lips tightened. There was a long silence. "Then she goes to another room, Z. She's not staying with you."
Zsadist rose to his feet and walked over to the king, getting all up in the male's grille. "You just try and move her."
"For chrissakes, Z," Phury barked. "Back off"
Wrath leaned forward until their noses almost touched. "Careful, Z. You know damn well that threatening me won't just get you cracked in the jaw."
Yeah, they'd been through it over the summer. Legally Z could be executed under the old rules of conduct if he pushed this much further. The king's life was valued over all others'.
Not that Z gave a shit at the moment.
"You think I care about a death sentence? Please." He narrowed his eyes. "But I'll tell you this. Whether you decide to go majesty all over my ass or not, it'll take you at least a day to condemn me with the Scribe Virgin. So Bella's still sleeping here tonight."
He walked back to her and picked her up as carefully as he could while making sure the towel stayed where it needed to be. Without looking at Wrath or his twin, he swept her into the bathroom and kicked the door shut behind him.
The tub was already halfway filled, so he kept a hold on her as he leaned down and checked the temperature. Perfect. He lowered her into the water and then stretched her arms over the sides so she was braced up.
The towel quickly dampened and fused with her body. He saw clearly the gentle swells of her breasts, the small rib cage, the flat expanse of her stomach. As the water rose, the hem of the towel floated loose and flirted with the tops of her thighs.
Z's heart kicked in his chest and he felt like a lecher, staring at her when she was hurt and out of it. Hoping to shield her from his eyes and wanting to give her the modesty she deserved, he went to the cabinet to find some bubble bath. There was nothing except bath salts, and he sure as hell wasn't using them.
He was about to turn back to her when he was struck by how big the mirror over the sink was. He didn't want her to see what she looked like, because the less she knew about what had been done, the better. He covered the glass with two large towels, tucking the thick terry cloth behind the frame.
When he returned to her, she'd slid down into the water, but at least the top of the towel was still sticking to her shoulders and basically staying in place. He took hold of her under one of her arms and hitched her up, then grabbed a washcloth. The instant he started washing the side of her neck, she thrashed around, the water splashing up onto him. Low, panicky noises came out of her mouth, and they didn't stop even after he'd put the little towel aside.
Talk to her, you idiot.
"Bella... Bella, it's all right. You're okay."
She fell still and frowned. Then her eyes opened slightly and she started to blink a lot. When she tried to wipe at her lids, he took her hands away from her face.
"No. That's medicine. Leave it there."
She froze. Cleared her throat until she could speak. "Where... where am I?"
Her voice, groggy and hoarse as it was, sounded beautiful to him.
"You're with..." Me. "You're with the Brotherhood. You're safe."
As her glassy, unfocused eyes moved around, he leaned up to a switch on the wall and dimmed the lights. Even though she was delirious and no doubt mostly blind from the ointment, he didn't want her to see him. The last thing she needed to worry about was what would happen if her scars didn't heal smoothly.
When she dropped her arms into the water and braced her feet against the tub's base, he cut the faucet off and sat back on his heels. He wasn't good at touching people, so it wasn't a big surprise that she couldn't stand his hands on her. But goddamn, he had no idea what to do to relieve her. She looked miserableway past crying and into numb agony.
"You're safe..." he murmured, though he doubted she believed it. He wouldn't have if he'd been her.
"Is Zsadist here?"
He frowned, not knowing what to make of that. "Yeah, I'm right here."
"Right here. Right beside you." He reached out awkwardly and squeezed her hand. She squeezed back.
And then she seemed to slide into a delirium. She mumbled, making little sounds that might have been words, and jerked around. Z grabbed another towel, rolled it up, and put it under her head so she wouldn't bump it against the hard edge of the Jacuzzi.
He racked his brain for what he could do to help her, and because it was the only thing he could think of, he hummed a little. When that seemed to calm her, he began to sing softly, choosing an Old Language hymn to the Scribe Virgin, one about blue skies and white owls and green fields of grass.
Gradually Bella went lax and took a deep breath. Closing her eyes, she eased back against the towel pillow he'd made for her.
As his singing was the only comfort he could give her, he sang.
Phury stared down at the pallet where Bella had just lain, thinking that the torn nightgown she'd had on made him ill. Then his eyes shifted to the skull on the floor to the left. The female skull.
"I can't allow this," Wrath said as the sound of running water got cut off in the bathroom.
"Z's not going to hurt her," Phury muttered. "Look at the way he treats her. Christ, he's acting like a bonded male."
"What if his mood changes? You want Bella on that list of females he's killed?"
"He'll hit the ceiling if we take her away."
The two of them froze. Then they both slowly looked toward the bathroom door. The sound coming from the other side was soft, rhythmic. As if someone were...
"What the hell?" Wrath murmured.
Phury couldn't believe it either. "He's singing to her."
Even muted, the purity and beauty of Zsadist's voice were striking. His tenor had always been like that. On the rare occasions he sang, the sounds that came out of his mouth were stunners, capable of making time grind to a halt and then slide into infinity.
"God... damn." Wrath pushed his sunglasses up on to his forehead and rubbed his eyes. "Watch him, Phury. Watch him well."
"Don't I always? Look, I have to go to Havers's myself tonight, but only long enough to get my prosthesis refitted. I'll have Rhage keep an eye on things until I get back."
"You do that. We're not going to lose that female on our watch, we clear? Jesus Christ... that twin of yours would drive anyone right off a cliff, you know that?" Wrath stalked out of the room.
Phury looked back down to the pallet and imagined Bella lying there next to Zsadist. This was all wrong. Z didn't know a fricking thing about warmth. And that poor female had spent the last six weeks in the cold ground.
It should be me in there with her. Washing her. Easing her. Caring for her.
Mine, he thought, glaring at the door the singing was coming out of.
Phury started for the bathroom, suddenly pissed off beyond belief. The territorial anger lit his chest up like a bonfire, teeing off a blaze of power that roared in his body. He clamped his hand on the doorknoband heard that beautiful tenor changing tune.
Phury stood there, shaking. As his anger slid into a yearning that frightened him, he put his forehead on the jamb. Oh, God... no.
He squeezed his eyes shut, trying to find another explanation for his behavior. There wasn't one. And he and Zsadist were twins, after all.
So it would make sense that they would want the same female. That they would end up... bonding with the same female.
Holy shit, this was troubleof the bury-your-dead variety. Two bonded males tied to the same female were a lethal combination to begin with. Make that two warriors and you had the potential for serious injury. Vampires were animals, after all. They walked and talked and were capable of higher reasoning, but fundamentally they were animals. So there were some instincts that even the smartest brain couldn't override.
Good thing he wasn't quite there yet. He was attracted to Bella and he wanted her, but he hadn't descended into the deep possessiveness that was the calling card of a bonded male. And he hadn't caught the bonding scent coming off of Z, so maybe there was hope.
They'd both have to get away from Bella, though. Warriors, probably because of their aggressive natures, bonded hard and quick. So hopefully she would leave soon and go back to her family, where she belonged.
Phury peeled his hand off the doorknob and backed out of the room. Like a zombie he walked downstairs and headed outside to the courtyard. He wanted the cold to slap some clear thinking into him. Except all it did was make his skin tight.
He was about to light a blunt of red smoke when he noticed that the Ford Taurus, the one Z had hot-wired and driven Bella home in, was parked in front of the mansion. It was still running, forgotten in all the drama.
Yeah, that was not the kind of lawn sculpture they needed. God only knew what kind of tracking device was in it.
Phury got into the sedan, threw the thing into gear, and headed out.