“Has she convinced Nika to come to us?”
“No. But she will.”
“I want her,” said Maura with a pout. “I want Nika.”
“I know, and I told you I’d get her for you. Have patience.”
“I’ve been waiting for nine years. That’s long enough.” Her imperious tone set Zillah’s teeth on edge.
“It won’t be long now. Only a few days.”
Maura stomped her dainty foot. “Now, Zillah. I want her now, before she returns to the safety of Dabyr.”
Rather than backhand the brat, Zillah bowed low to cover the anger he knew was twisting his face. “As you wish, my lady. I’ll send some of my best warriors to fetch her for you.”
Placated, Maura smiled. “There. Was that so hard?”
Zillah did not dare answer that question. “If I may ask, why is she so important to you?”
“She’s not. Her mind is. I need to see how it works—how she controls the sgath.”
“I doubt she’ll ever agree willingly to aid us.”
Maura gave a delicate shrug. “She doesn’t have to be willing. If she won’t play nice, then I’ll rip her power from her and take it for my own.”
“You can do that?”
An eerie smile gradually stretched her Cupid’s-bow mouth. “I can. I’ve been practicing on your men.”
The implications of her statement hit Zillah like a falling tree. “You’re the one who’s been killing my elite troops.”
She took a step closer to him. “You don’t mind, do you?”
Shock held his tongue captive for a bit too long. “Of course not. All I have is yours, should you wish it.”
“I’m glad you understand that.” She turned around in a swish of tattered black lace. “Call me when Nika’s here.”
Zillah had intended to meet Connal tonight for his monthly feeding, but he was going to have to make other plans. If his minions weren’t successful in finding Nika before she returned home, he needed to activate the contingency plan he had recently put in place.
With a thought, he summoned Canaranth to his office. His second-in-command stood silently inside the door, waiting for instructions.
Canaranth was taller than most of Zillah’s troops, taking after the human woman who had birthed him. His skin was as pale as the moon, and his hair was midnight black. His eyes had once been equally as dark, but had seemed to lighten over the years, which was odd, but not odd enough for Zillah to take up any precious time concerning himself about it.
“That boy I altered last fall. Is he still alive?”
“Yes. I met him at the mall last week after he sneaked out of Dabyr. He’s still rebelling at the confines of that place and the rules of the Sentinels, but our control on him has held.”
“Good. I think it’s time for him to be of use.”
Zillah wrote instructions on a piece of paper and handed it to Canaranth. “Attach this to Beth before you send her out to meet Connal. Send her with three guards. I don’t want to leave Tori so close to the birth.”
Canaranth bowed his head. “As you wish.”
Madoc didn’t bother digging the hole big enough to open the casket; he simply dug a hole wide enough so that he could stand in it, bashed his way through the top of the casket, collected one of the bones, and left the rest alone.
“Is this enough?” he asked, holding up a small femur for Nika to see.
She sat huddled inside his coat at the edge of the grave. She nodded, reaching out for the bone, which she tucked inside the coat, hugging it close, nestled between her breasts.
Lucky fucking bone.
She scanned the woods nearby, keeping watch for unwanted company. “Tynan said he will probably be able to tell if there’s any relation between the body this bone came from and our family.”
Madoc climbed out of the hole and started filling it back in again. He was covered in dirt from head to toe, sweaty despite the cold wind, and cranky. He hadn’t done nearly enough killing or fucking tonight to suit him, making the pain behind his eyes throb and swell until it shoved its way down his throat and made it hard to breathe.
“I’m sure they’ll tell you whatever you want to hear if you let them have your blood,” he said.
“I need their honesty.”
Madoc snorted. “Good luck with that.”
Dawn was only an hour or so away, and by the time it got here, Madoc needed to have them out of the cemetery before the human police came by and started asking questions. If he was lucky, he could drop Nika off at Dabyr and be plowing some whore before lunchtime. The white wig he paid his hookers to wear was in the back of his truck, ready to go.
“You believe me, don’t you?” she asked.
“That Tori is still alive.”
“I believe you believe it. Course, you’re fucked in the head, so what do you know?”
“She won’t let me in.”
Madoc tossed another shovelful of dirt into the grave. “She won’t let you in where?”
“Her thoughts. She’s keeping me out even though I know she’s afraid.” Nika looked up at him, her blue eyes bright with concern.
Something deep inside Madoc swelled as he watched her. It made him feel full and whole even as it threatened to make him burst apart. He had no idea what it was about her that did that, but it didn’t seem to go away.
He wished like hell he could find a way to make it stop, that he could find a way to fix what was broken inside her so he could stop worrying about her.
He couldn’t do either, so he offered the only explanation that came to mind. “Maybe she doesn’t want to scare you.”
Nika cocked her head to the side and her white hair fell forward, caressing her cheek. The urge to reach out and slide it back behind her ear was nearly overwhelming. Madoc had to grip the shovel tight to keep his dirty hands where they belonged.
“I hadn’t thought about that. Maybe you’re right. I’m going to talk to her about it.”
“How?” asked Madoc, but it was too late.
Nika lay down, and like a switch was flipped, she was gone. Her body went limp, her eyes rolled back into her head, and all the life slipped from her, leaving her looking fake and plastic, like a mannequin.
A surge of panic caught Madoc off guard, slamming into his gut until he couldn’t breathe. “Nika?”
She didn’t respond. She didn’t so much as twitch.
Madoc dropped the shovel and scrambled to get to her. He pressed his fingers to the side of her neck, frantic to feel a pulse. He left smudges of dirt on her pale skin, but beneath his index finger, he felt the beat of her heart, strong and steady.
Her chest lifted, shifting the leather of his jacket. She was breathing.
He pulled her into his arms and held her against his body, rocking her. He flung his thanks out into the universe, letting whoever was in charge hear it. He didn’t much believe in God, but if there was one, the fact that Nika was alive after all she’d been through was about as close to proof as he could imagine.
Her slender frame fit against his too well. The rise and fall of her breathing pressed her breasts against his chest. He shouldn’t have been able to feel them through the bulk of all her clothing, but he could. Just like he could feel the curve of her hip and the sleek length of her legs dangling over his thighs.
Her eyes fluttered open, so blue they nearly blinded him. So pretty—just like the skies he remembered from his childhood.
“She won’t let me in,” whispered Nika. “I can’t talk to her. I’ll have to try again later.”
“Don’t you ever do that to me again,” he demanded. “You scared the hell out of me.”
Relief weighed Madoc down, pinning him there on the cold ground. He knew he should get up. He knew he should move away from her and put so much distance between them she wasn’t even in his sight.
She reached up and pressed her chilly hand against his cheek. “You’re cute when you’re scared.”
“Cute?” No one had ever dared call him cute. At least, not to his face.
“Your forehead gets all scrunchy like one of those wrinkled puppies.”
This conversation was headed to a bad place fast. “Clearly, it’s time to get moving.”
“I like being out in the dark like this, alone with you. It’s peaceful. You always make me feel safe.”
Madoc wasn’t touching that comment. Not even if his life depended on it. She had no idea just how unsafe she was at the moment—how much he wanted to do things to her. His lust for her mingled too closely with all the violent urges running through him. In some of his dreams, he’d fucked her and made her cry out in pleasure, but in others, he’d pushed her down and forced her. Raped her. She’d begged him to stop and he hadn’t.
He had no business being anywhere near her. Already, his hands were tightening on her body like he didn’t want to let go. If he didn’t put some distance between them fast, he had no idea what he might do.
He asked, “Can you stand?”
“Sure. I’m fine.”
“You’re not fine. You passed out.”
Nika climbed to her feet, holding the bone close to her chest so it wouldn’t fall. “No, I didn’t. I just slipped out of my body for a minute. I do it all the time.”
“I don’t like it.”
“You didn’t complain when I brought Cain back.”
“What are you talking about?”
“After he was hurt. I went inside him and helped him find the way back. I helped him wake up.”
Madoc had been there after it happened, but he hadn’t realized what she’d done. He wasn’t sure he wanted to know now. The idea of her being inside the mind of another man was just about more than he could stand. It made him feel territorial, when he knew he should be grateful to her for what she’d done. “We’re leaving.”
“What about the rest of the dirt?”
“Fuck the dirt.”
She flinched as if his words hurt her.
“What?” he demanded.
Nika shook her head, making her hair sway. “Nothing. I have my bone. We can go. I need some money, though.”
“Gas. The car’s almost empty.”
A slow, deep anger simmered inside him as the implication of her words sank in. “Are you telling me that you drove out here all alone with no money to even fill the fucking tank?”
Her chin went up and her stance widened and became defensive. “It’s not like I’m used to any of this. I had to learn to drive the hard way before I could leave. I was so worried I wouldn’t be able to do it, I forgot to bring money.”
“Wait. What do you mean, the hard way?” he asked, even though he knew he probably wasn’t going to like the answer.
“I mean I had to borrow someone else’s mind for a while so I could learn. You know.”
“No. I most definitely don’t know anything about borrowing someone else’s mind.”