She'd channeled freaking Pele to make that shot. It was an SI cover moment. "I'll get my invitation, and then I'll claim my spot." One of twenty-two players, headed to Madrid.
"Well, I like your confidence, at least." Dad's phone buzzed. "You'd think they could manage without me for one day." Yeah, one would think. He checked the ID, declined the call. His phone immediately rang again, but he ignored it. "Look, I know something's going on with you. Before I leave, I need you to tell me what it is. We don't keep secrets from each other."
Don't we, Commander?
When he took his pistol from his desk and holstered it, she wondered if his consulting job was ever dangerous.
Wait-one thing would explain that mysterious conversation of his. With dawning realization, she breathed, "You're a spy." He'd been using code words! Lykae would mean insurgent or something.
"Why would you think this?" he asked, sounding amused.
Shit. She'd really been hoping he was a spy! "Your hours, your travel, your evasiveness about your job. I don't really know what you do. And you always wear a gun."
"No, Chlo. I am not a spy. I'm just ex-mil. Have you been worrying about this? Is that what affected your play?"
"I heard a conversation of yours. It made no sense."
He paused his packing. "And when was this?"
"I know this is going to sound crazy, but I . . . I heard you on the phone. During the game. I don't know how, but I did."
Instead of pointing out how ridiculous this was, he adjusted the framed picture sitting atop his desk with precise movements. She didn't know why he kept that photo of her mother there. Whenever he looked at it, his lips would thin with anger. Chloe figured some part of him must irrationally feel like Fiore had abandoned him. "And what did you hear?" he said.
"You were talking to some guy, and the topic of discussion was a werewolf. He called you 'Commander.' "
Dad narrowed his eyes. He would now tell her that she was crazy, having imagined all that. Chlo, you've done one too many headers.
He cleared his throat. "Has anything else happened physically?"
She reluctantly nodded, having no intention of telling him about her more embarrassing changes.
"I've noticed you haven't been eating as much."
"My appetite's totally off. Have to force myself to eat. I'm not sleeping more than a few hours a night, but I'm never tired."
"I s-see." With a dazed look on his face, he stood and crossed to his wall safe, placing his thumb on the sensor to unlock it. "I have to go out of town for a week, perhaps two, to service some . . . international accounts." He retrieved an aged book from inside. "While I'm gone, I want you to read this. Once you've finished it, we'll speak again."
When she'd gotten her period at thirteen, he'd given her a copy of The Care and Keeping of You. He'd been red-faced, gruffly saying, "Here. I'm sure you'll put all this together."
So what kind of life transition was she undergoing now? Instead of being red-faced, he was pale.
He handed the tome to her; a chill took her, and the tiny hairs on her nape stood up. The Living Book of Lore?
"What is this?" A slip of paper jutted from its edge, so she opened the book there. The pages were filled with archaic text, but the paper marking the spot was ruled, with her father's handwriting on it:
The Order will stop the abominations walking among humans, the detrus-those immortal creatures of darkness filled with untold malice toward mankind. Detrus are a perversion of the natural order, spreading their deathless numbers uncontrollably, a foul plague upon man that must be eradicated through any means necessary.
Capture them, study them, exterminate them. . . .
"Dad, I-I don't understand. Are you part of this Order? Do you believe creatures of darkness exist?" Like werewolves? Had one of them made that animal roar? This was so insane! She flipped through the book, spying countless entries, all bogeymen and myths. Some she recognized, most she didn't.
When his phone buzzed yet again, Dad collected his bag, still seeming dazed. Ex-mil and old-school, her father was usually a master of self-control. He of the stiff upper lip. Dad simply didn't demonstrate raw emotions, yet right now, he looked like he'd been coldcocked.
"For twenty-four years, I've debated with myself whether or not you would ever see this book. You're such a tomboy, well, I'd really thought we were home free." He placed his palm on her head. But when she looked up, he wouldn't meet her eyes. "Each blood test that came back, I held my breath. For so long, I . . . believed."
"My blood was tested for cancer. That's what you told me!"
As if he couldn't hear her, he said, "Just know that you're my daughter. No matter what you are-I'll always love and protect you." Then he turned toward the door.
"Wait! You can't leave like this!" Book in hand, she hobbled after him, but he kept walking. "What am I? What's happening to me? Am I a . . . detrus?"
"I'm not prepared to discuss this tonight." His voice was shaky. She'd never heard him like this, had never seen Dustin Todd losing it. "I won't be until I return."
"If you think I'm a detrus, then what does that make you? Are you even my real father?" she demanded, though they had too much in common for him not to be.
Over his shoulder, he said, "You know I am, Chlo."
Her eyes went wide. "Then you think Mom was one of those things?"
Had his step faltered slightly? "There won't be more changes in you without a . . . triggering event. Just hold tight. Stick to your normal routine. I'll be back soon." He opened the front door. A tinted-window sedan awaited him in the drive. "If for some reason I'm not back in two weeks, do not go to the authorities."
"What is this?" she cried. "What's happening?"
"It's secret. And you must keep it that way."
She grabbed his arm. "Dad, I'm about to freak out here."
His brows drew together. "Are you scared?"
With all his wilderness survival trips, shooting lessons, and self-defense camps, her fear response had been numbed. Staring down bigger players for almost two decades had nearly stamped it out. In fact, she had only one fear, an irrational one: dating. "No. I just need to know, but I'm not scared."
"After you read that book, I'll expect you to be."
He was truly going to leave her like this, leave her in turmoil. "Daddy, please."
Finally he met her gaze, staring at her like he was memorizing her face. "Ah, Chlo, I really thought we were home free. . . ."
Glenrial, the Lykae compound outside of New Orleans
SEVERAL WEEKS LATER
Will was asleep, knew he was, but he dreamed lifelike scenes, all his senses engaged. The sounds of screams in the Order's prison, the scent of death, the bloodcurdling sight of five starving succubae stalking him through wards filled with fire and dismembered corpses . . .
He wore a mystical collar that deadened his strength and speed to those of a mere mortal, and he was still weak from Dixon's experiments, but the succubae were desperate to feed.
If they caught him, he wouldn't be able to defend himself like this. As he loped down winding corridors, he tore at the collar, even knowing it was indestructible.
He prayed for his Instinct to guide him. But since his capture, that comforting force had gone from quiet-to silent.
Losing one's Instinct was like losing one's soul.
The five drew closer, need making them swift. He took off in a sprint, felt like he was running through mud, so slow. So human.
And still he was surprised that they caught him, stunned when numerous hands seized his limbs. With their unfettered strength, they threw him against the wall, bringing him to the ground. They easily shook off his blows, soon pinning him.
In their frenzy to claw off his clothes, they tore at his flesh, bombarding him with their strew. They flailed atop him, their limbs tangled, their dresses smothering him like a shroud.
He was suffocating, as if there were no air left on earth because only their scent remained. He fought them bitterly, but they were too frantic, too strong.
Succubae coaxed and poisoned, never attacking, yet these were mindless with hunger. Though their eyes glowed jade green, their gazes were vacant.
And at that moment when he knew they would win, the strongest one looked exactly like . . .
She gripped his face, murmuring down at him, "Just look at you. Can you blame us, my love?"
His eyes shot open; he jerked upright from a spot on his bedroom floor, and promptly vomited the whiskey he'd imbibed before passing out.
A pair of fifths. What a waste.
There he sat on the cold wooden floor, covered in sweat, shuddering next to a pool of his own sick.
This should disgust him, the squalor of his suite should, but he was too far gone to care. He rubbed his palm over his bare chest, could still feel their claws ripping through his skin. Their scent lingered in his consciousness.
This was his worst nightmare-and over the weeks since he'd escaped the Order, he'd had it whenever he slept.
Another half-empty bottle on his desk called to him. He rose unsteadily, shuffling through the layer of clothes and trash covering his floor to reach it.
Also calling to him? In the top drawer was his open-ended ticket to Hungary. There, in a hidden pocket of forest, was the lair of the Fyre Dragan, a pit of unnatural flames hot enough to kill even a Lorean.
Otherwise known in the Lore as Where Immortals Go to Die. For Will, no other option was as tempting.
When a Lykae's Instinct grew silent, it was time for him to take a bow. A pack was only as strong as its weakest member.
Will knew his brother sensed he wasn't long for this world. Munro was out doggedly chasing down former Order prisoners-captives at the same time Will had been taken-to learn more about his brother's ordeal and help him "beat" it. Fuckin' fixer.
Will had refused to talk about what happened to him, saying only, "The last three weeks ripped the scab off a festering wound." For all these centuries, he'd been riddled with guilt and self-hatred. Now he'd comprehended that only the hottest of flames could scour him clean.
They'd fought about Munro's leaving, coming to blows as they so often did. They were two alphas who'd never separated in nine centuries; they fought routinely.
"Let me deal with this!" Will had roared. "I'll have my revenge, and then we'll put this to rest!"
Munro had roared back, "I see you drinking every day, staring at nothing, lingering in your beast state longer and longer. My Instinct tells me that you are dying. We're no' just twins, we're cut from the same beast, and we've lived together for our entire lives. If you feel something, I feel it too. And this is bluidy agonizing!"
How could Will tell his twin that the only reason he'd fought to survive on that island was so he could mete out revenge and then die?
Yet today Will had accepted that there would be no revenge. His enemies were all out of reach in one way or another.
He glanced at the ticket to Hungary, imagining the scouring purity of such a fire. If he couldn't have a clean life, he could seize a clean death. That was within reach.
Suicide. Just like Da . . .
He lurched toward the bathroom. After rinsing his mouth, he drank water from the tap, then peered into the mirror at the same reflection he'd seen for nearly a millennium.
His hair was more black than brown, and when he'd turned immortal, it'd been chin-length. He could cut it, but it would always grow out into that exact length, yet never longer. The stubble covering his broad jaw would never grow into a beard.
This face is the ruination of me. Ruelle had told him his features looked as if they'd been carved by a sculptor, his golden eyes tinted by an imaginative painter.
How he wished he could see the evidence of his continuous benders and hard living. Anything to alter his looks. To not look like the Uilleam MacRieve who'd gotten his family killed.
Will hated his own face. Which meant he sometimes hated Munro's.
He scented his brother's return just then. Speak of the devil.
Will had meant to be gone by the time Munro returned. He crept to his bedroom's thick oak door. Even outside his room, the lodge reeked. Stale pizza and old beer.
This home away from home was a proud eight-room hunting lodge, complementing the main Glenrial residence of Prince Garreth. Inside, it resembled a fraternity house on Sunday morning.
Their two younger wards weren't the tidiest of males either.
He heard Munro talking to them. "You two ever heard of a broom? Mayhap a trash bag?"
Ronan, the youngest at fifteen, yawned as if he'd just woken up; it was ten at night. "I'm no' cleaning if the others will no' lift a finger. Face it, cousin, Head Case is no' exactly a stellar role model."
Head Case? The blunt-spoken lad was a regular pain in Will's arse.
"What happened to the cleaning crew I hired?" Munro asked.
"He scared them off."
Will recalled that he'd been less than sober, his beast right on the edge.
He heard the refrigerator door open . . . promptly close. Meager offerings?
Ronan continued, "One of the girls tried to throw away a nearly empty bottle of whiskey. He roared, flashing his beast out there for all to see. No' even trying to keep it down."
I did try. At least a little.
The boy's older brother, Benneit, said, "He's only getting worse." Twenty-three-year-old Benneit was also known as Big Ben, a giant even among Lykae. He was as quiet and unassuming as Ronan was brash and mouthy.
The two lads were fosters-Ronan because of his age, and Ben because he hadn't yet mastered the Lykae beast inside him. When the boys had lost the rest of their family six months ago, Ben had fairly much lost any control he'd once garnered.
Will understood. Sometimes it was just easier to let the beast take over. Like a drug. Any time he was under duress, it surfaced, raring to take the pain for him.
He cast another glance at his plane ticket. It was one-way, of course.
"Where is he?" Munro asked.
"Where he usually is these days-passed out drunk," Ronan seemed to delight in saying. "He has no' left the lodge all week."