Nor the Glenrial compound, not a single time since his return from hell.
"No' that I'm complaining about Head Case," Ronan said. "I like this foster family. The level of supervision here clearly benefits us all."
Ben asked, "What did you learn on your trip?"
Aye, Munro, what news? Would he have learned all about the notoriously bloody prison break? All about the unspeakable things the mortals did to their captives?
"It's as bad as the rumors milling around."
Ronan said, "He was . . . vivisected?"
Dissected while still conscious. Will's hand went to his chest, his claws digging into his skin.
"Some prisoners believe he was."
Dr. Dixon, the Order's head surgeon/researcher/psychopath, customarily opened up her chosen victim, then removed all his or her organs. While the being was aware.
A clammy sweat dotted his skin.
Ben said, "How could humans have captured him in the first place?"
"They have advanced concealment techniques and weaponry. He was likely electrocuted, then collared with a band that controlled his strength."
Correct and correct. The humans had been clever, forcing each inmate into that mystical collar, a "torque" to neutralize the immortals' abilities.
"His beast could no' overpower this?" Ronan asked.
My beast could no' rise. The collar had prevented it for the weeks Will had been imprisoned, the longest he'd ever gone since Ruelle.
Munro must've shaken his head in answer, because Ben said, "There's more you're no' telling us?"
Munro hesitated. "The prison break . . . left all our allies there at a disadvantage," he said, hedging. Oh, aye, Munro knows much.
In the melee that followed the escape, amid the chaos and fighting and explosions, some immortals had been able to remove their torques-the most evil ones.
Like the succubae.
Will's worst nightmare was indeed running through a hellish maze of fire and blood while a pack of ravenous seed-feeders hunted him.
Only it'd happened. Except for Ruelle's appearance, it had all happened.
The bottle of whiskey shook when he turned it up. How hard he'd fought not to be gang-raped in full view of a throng of Loreans. . . .
Munro finally answered, "Let's just say that Will has every right to be in his current state. Does no' mean we're going to allow it any longer."
Allow it? You should no' even know about this, you nosy, self-righteous prick!
Ben said, "If he could just get revenge, he could beat this."
"The ones responsible are out of our reach," Munro said.
Utterly out of reach. Dixon had already been taken care of. Commander Webb-the mortal leading the Order-couldn't be located, not even by the most powerful witches, wizards, oracles, or Sorceri. Magister Chase, a.k.a. the Blademan, who'd run the prison, had changed sides, now protected by powerful Loreans.
Nix was untouchable.
When Will had gone to call her out over shafting him, she'd nonchalantly reminded him that he'd vowed not to tell anyone about their meeting. When he'd accused her of working with Webb, she'd coolly replied, "I use every means at my disposal to shape fate. The Order is a powerful shaping tool."
And then she'd told him why he couldn't exact vengeance against the Blademan. A verra disturbing reason why.
"I'm going to confront him with what I've learned," Munro said. "If we come to blows, do no' get between us, no matter what occurs." The lads were still vulnerable to harm. "Why do you no' go for a run?"
Just as Will heard Munro at the stairs, Ronan called, "Probably bad timing and all, but I wanted to give you a yo! concerning Head Case. While you were gone, I had some expenses I had to peg to his credit card. I put it right back into his wallet."
That little prat came into my room and stole my card. At the thought of Ronan seeing him passed out, the back of Will's neck heated. Which might've been a remnant of . . . shame.
Munro called, "Could give a shite, Ronan."
With each of his brother's steps, Will grew more enraged. Confront me, Munro? His beast was rising. His claws sank into his palms. If Munro cast him a pitying expression, he'd flay his brother. He'd whip his arse-
Munro entered. They shared a look between them.
With an "Oh, you sodding, self-righteous prick!" Will attacked.
Someone's in the house with me.
Chloe's eyes shot open. She'd just awakened in her bed to the sense that she wasn't alone.
Her hearing had leveled off at last-it was still revved up but not insanely so-yet she detected nothing unusual. Just the windstorm outside.
Paranoia? Was the book getting to her?
If someone had managed to break in . . . She sighed. After the last few weeks she'd had, she could almost feel sorry for the burglar.
Her dad hadn't returned, hadn't contacted her or answered her numerous calls in more than a month. Yesterday, his number had been disconnected.
Still, she didn't think he was actually in danger. He was capable, smart, and, with a gun at his side, deadly. Plus, he'd given her instructions in case he didn't return soon for a reason-because he'd been expecting, even planning not to.
She felt in her bones that he was alive. Which meant her emotions had vacillated from fear that he was in some kind of trouble, to sadness that he might have abandoned her, to anger that he'd skipped out after leaving her with so many questions.
She was pissed that he couldn't spare a single call to his only child. Hey, Pop, not only did I survive the Florida training camp, I'm going to be an Olympian! Thanks for calling in for an update. . . .
Fear, sadness, anger. Rinse and repeat. Her emotions spun as wildly as a roulette wheel.
She'd long since taken stock of her situation, trying to get a sense of her life, her overall field position. She'd come up with three truths.
One: her dad was almost certainly part of that Order. Two: she'd told him she was changing, and he'd given her that Living Book of Lore, an encyclopedia of myths, for a reason. He must believe she was one of those detrus that shouldn't be allowed to live.
Three: he still loved her. . . .
She'd dutifully read every page of that book, perusing thousands of entries from Amazons and kobolds to witches and Valkyries. Did Chloe believe that yard gnomes, fairies, Shreks, and Edwards roamed the earth?
Um, not quite. Believing in those creatures meant she had to believe in her own looming transition-you couldn't have one without the other. If they existed, then Dad wasn't crazy. If Dad wasn't crazy, then she was an undetonated detrus.
So she'd decided to hold out on accepting an entirely new world for as long as possible. Still, for shits and giggles, she'd tried to match up her new symptoms to a species.
No appetite? Maybe Valkyrie. Superhuman senses? Most of them.
Supercharged sex drive? All of them.
In the past, her libido had been so dormant that even countless hours watching RedTube.com couldn't spark it to life. Yet now she kept dreaming of a faceless man doing things to her, wicked things.
Sometimes he'd coax his erect penis between her lips, making her moan with satisfaction as she began to suck. Other times she'd feel the weight of his body pressing down on hers, his shaft sliding in and out of her until he treated her to the burning heat of his semen.
She would wake up throbbing with lust.
Chloe had brought herself to come before now, of course, but her orgasms had been so lackluster, so, well, anticlimactic, that she'd wondered what all the hubbub was about. There was a reason she hadn't done more than kiss a boy; she'd never believed that overcoming her dread of dating was even worth it.
Now? She was getting an idea about all the hubbub.
She seemed to be developing a new sensibility toward men, an appreciation of them. When passing some guy on the street, a prominent Adam's apple or a wide jaw or developed chest would draw her eye. She'd caught herself checking out asses-and assets.
It was like her own sex drive was coming online for the first time, a process she'd come to think of as awakening.
All she knew for certain was that the next chance she had to score with a halfway decent guy, she was taking it to the net.
Her awakening wasn't the only change in her. She couldn't sleep more than three or four hours a night. Despite having zero appetite and barely eating, she hadn't lost an ounce of weight. In fact, her jeans were tighter.
Even stranger? Whenever she did manage to choke down a meal, the food seemed to stave off the awakening, blunting her sex drive.
All her life, she'd controlled her training, her heart rate, the shape and condition of her body-now everything was beyond her, and the transformation seemed to be escalating. . . .
Over the last week since she'd returned from Florida, she'd stared at her mother's picture, trying to decide if Fiore looked immortal. She'd agonized over that trigger Dad had spoken of. How to avoid something if she didn't know what it was?
In two weeks, she was supposed to fly to Madrid for a last training camp with the finalized team before the Games commenced. If she couldn't figure out what was happening to her, she feared she'd have to give up her spot.
She felt like she'd go insane if she didn't get to talk to Dad. She played offense-not defense-and she was on something of a clock here. So she'd searched his office for clues, surprised by how many cabinets were locked.
Finding nothing, Chloe had taken to driving the streets of her neighborhood, passing by his frequent haunts. She'd cruise through drizzle, hypnotized by the windshield wipers, feeling more lonely than she ever had before.
At first she'd attributed that pang in her chest to her transition, just another of her symptoms. But really, her loneliness arose from circumstance. She was used to being around a team of women, playing in front of fans, talking to her dad at least every other day. This solitude was gut-wrenching-
There. Finally a sound. It was coming from Dad's study.
Her eyes widened. He'd returned!
Dashing out of bed, she hastened to her chest-o-drawers. She dragged on a pair of sweatpants over boy-short panties and a baggy jersey over a cami bra. At her doorway, she paused. Just in case it wasn't Dad, she snagged her aluminum softball bat. Silently, she slipped down the stairs.
At the door to his study, she took a deep breath, feeling silly about the bat. But she didn't put it down as she entered.
A creature stood at the desk, rifling through Dad's belongings. It had to be eight feet tall, wearing a cloak. Horns jutted up past the material of the hood.
Though she hadn't made a sound, it glanced up, its face shaded. All she could see were two eyes-they were black as night, yet they seemed to glow.
A creature from the book. The book was real. Or this was some kind of prank. Yes! A prank. Even faced with this sight, her mind resisted believing in the supernatural. It'd take anyone time to say, Hey, scratch what I know, the world really was flat all along.
The thing moved around the desk with lumbering steps, the claws of its bare feet scrabbling across the hardwood floor.
Chloe's stomach clenched. The world is flat. Shit! She raised the bat. "D-don't come closer, asshole."
"Mortal?" it grated, still stalking toward her. It sounded like an animal imitating human speech.
She sensed she shouldn't run, feared it would just provoke this creature. "I s-said no closer."
When it kept coming, she took her at-bat, swinging for the goddamned stars.
She connected with its shoulder. As if she'd hit a tree, the bat reverberated in her hands, sending pain up her arms.
With a hiss, the thing seized the bat, crushing it like a soda can with its meaty hands.
She screamed, sprinting all-out for the front door. Get outside, into the neighborhood. Evacuate the house, evacuate. . . .
Almost to the door, to the outside, to safety.
She reached the front door and fumbled with the dead bolt. That thing was coming; she heard those claws. She gave a cry, cursing her clumsiness.
Finally, open! Consider this house motherfucking evacuated. She took one step. The welcome mat was gone, the stoop was gone.
She plummeted into an abyss.
Will had taken one look at Munro's pitying expression and lunged for his brother, raining blows.
Rage seethed. Fucking hate pity!
"What the hell is wrong with you?" Munro bellowed as he blocked hits.
"You could no' leave it alone! Had to dig and dig." All his shame laid bare. "If I'd wanted you to know, I'd have told you!" His beast was rising to punish, and Will was about to let it out of its cage.
"Calm yourself-I doona want to fight you!"
"But you will!" Whipping his brother's arse was all that was left to him. Fangs bared, he snatched Munro's neck in a choke hold, pounding his fist up into his face.
"Damn you, Will! Why do you always go for the face?" When Munro thrashed against him, grappling to get free, they tripped on refuse. Boots, food containers, bottles.
"Why do you always bluidy pry?"
"I needed to know the truth!" Munro wrenched free, throwing a fist like a sledgehammer, connecting with Will's nose.
Bone shattered; blood spurted. They faced off.
In a thick voice, Will said, "The truth?" Try this on for size: I am twisted. I am good and fucked up. His Instinct, quiet before his capture, was now silent. His beast had been uncontrollable during sex; now it constantly prowled inside him, right at the edge of rising, a danger to everyone around.
Will might have been able to tolerate "normal" torture. In fact, over the centuries, he had done so bravely.
But those sick experiments and the succubae attack . . . everything had brought him full circle. Always back to Ruelle. That bitch had hovered over him, harvesting his seed; Dixon had stood over him, harvesting his goddamned insides.
Oh, aye, Nix, she showed me my beating heart.
With a roar, he barreled into Munro, sending them hurtling through the doorway, across the landing, and over the banister. They plummeted into the great room below, landing atop the coffee table, demolishing it. Wood exploded from the impact.
The brothers scrambled up, kept fighting.
"Did they test weapons on you?" Punch.
Counter. Their sirens at unimaginable decibels . . . "Oh, aye, things designed to take out my hearing, my senses." There'd been a reason those mortals had gone undetected just before his capture. "Good bluidy times!"