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Haven 8

Four-Letter Words
Zasha Gershwin lives a rigidly controlled life. He doesnt see anything wrong with being prepared and organized, and he certainly doesnt have time for such frivolous things as love. He cares for Thane, and hes certainly attracted to the witch, but thats just how the mating bond works. While his mate may not remember their previous life together, Thane Braddock has no trouble recalling every moment, right up to their tragic end. Now, he has a second chance to make everything right. Unfortunately, hes making all new mistakes this time around. Evil lurks to the west, spreading its shadow across the desert, and the races hover on the verge of war. When the Braddocks are called to answer the rising threat, Thane and Zashas turbulent relationship will be pushed to its breaking point. Can they rekindle the old flame before its too late? Or is history destined to repeat itself? Genre: Alternative (M/M or F/F), Paranormal, Vampires/Werewolves Length: 55,404 words

FOUR-LETTER WORDS
Haven 8

Gabrielle Evans

EVERLASTING CLASSIC MANLOVE

Siren Publishing, Inc. www.SirenPublishing.com

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A SIREN PUBLISHING BOOK IMPRINT: Everlasting Classic ManLove

FOUR-LETTER WORDS Copyright 2013 by Gabrielle Evans E-book ISBN: 978-1-62740-023-7 First E-book Publication: May 2013 Cover design by Sloan Winters All art and logo copyright 2013 by Siren Publishing, Inc. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED: This literary work may not be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means, including electronic or photographic reproduction, in whole or in part, without express written permission. All characters and events in this book are fictitious. Any resemblance to actual persons living or dead is strictly coincidental.

PUBLISHER Siren Publishing, Inc. www.SirenPublishing.com

Letter to Readers
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Regarding E-book Piracy This book is copyrighted intellectual property. No other individual or group has resale rights, auction rights, membership rights, sharing rights, or any kind of rights to sell or to give away a copy of this book. The author and the publisher work very hard to bring our paying readers high-quality reading entertainment. This is Gabrielle Evanss livelihood. Its fair and simple. Please respect Ms. Evanss right to earn a living from her work. Amanda Hilton, Publisher www.SirenPublishing.com www.BookStrand.com

FOUR-LETTER WORDS
Haven 8 GABRIELLE EVANS
Copyright 2013

Chapter One
Varik and Demos have arrived. Zasha scrolled through his mental Rolodex, recalling Leader Tuesdays other obligations. You have a phone conference with the leader of the Phoenix coven at midnight. The owner of After Hours has requested a meeting with you at three to discuss his yearly lease. Yes, yes, Leader October Tuesday answered as they strolled through the corridors on the way to the foyer to meet their guests. Tell him Ill be happy to meet with him. Very good, sir. The guard at the front gate said Varik and Demos have brought guests with them, Gideon, Enforcer and second-in-command of the coven, added. How should we proceed? Zasha glanced up at the Enforcer and rolled his eyes. Varik and Demos are former members of our coven and dear friends. They wouldnt come here with malicious intent. They also turned their back on us to form their own coven, Axton, another Enforcer, added. He walked two steps behind everyone else, constantly scanning the surrounding area as though he expected dust bunnies to pop out from beneath the furniture and strangle them all.

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Relax. October adjusted his tie and cleared his throat. Zasha is right. They are here to ask for help, which we are happy to provide. As Leader Tuesdays personal assistant, it was Zashas job to always appear calm, collected, and prepared with an answer to any situation. Entering the foyer, his shoulders were back, his spine was straight, and he wore a vague, disinterested smile on his lips. On the inside, however, he was almost giddy with excitement to see his old friends. He only wished Raven would have joined them on their visit. Gods, he missed that idiot. Leader Tuesday walked forward to meet their guests with outstretched arms. Demos, Varik, its so good to see you again! He nodded at Variks returned greeting, indicating without words that the vampire and those who accompanied him were welcomed in Snake River. You remember Axton, Gideon, and Zasha, of course. There might have been words said after that, but Zasha couldnt hear them. He couldnt hear anything except the pounding of his own heart. Currents of energy crawled over his skin, up his spine, and across the nape of his neck. Standing amidst their visitors was a man who didnt really look like he belonged. He was much smaller than the others, clearly not an Enforcer, and Zasha was drawn to him like ants to sugar. The guy was attractive with his long hair and delicate features, but he really wasnt Zashas type. It didnt matter, though. Something had grabbed ahold of him and wouldnt let go, insistently tugging him toward the stranger. Mine. His fangs elongated with such violence that it pulled a gasp from him, and his fingers curled into fists as he watched another stranger in the group place a possessive hand on his mates back. Instincts ruled him, propelling him across the room where he pulled his mate into his arms and embedded his fangs in the fragrant skin of his throat. ****

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Please state your name for The Council. Approaching the dais where the elders sat above him, Zasha clasped his hands together in front of him and squared his shoulders. The Council would see he was right. He just had to remain calm and trust that the law was on his side. Zasha Aleric Gershwin, member of the Snake River Coven, he stated clearly so that everyone in attendance could hear him. Mr. Gershwin, can you please inform the members of this gathering why you are here? Hed never had the pleasure of meeting Elder Cortez, the vampire representative, but Leader Tuesday spoke very highly of him. That was enough for Zasha. The werewolf Enforcer, Kieran Delaney, has claimed what is rightfully mine. Lynk Braddock is my true mate, and as such, I wish to file a formal complaint against Mr. Delaney for being in violation of one of our most sacred laws. Hed also like to rip the bastards throat out, but he felt it best to keep that bit to himself. If he refuses to relinquish his claim to Lynk, I ask permission from The Council to challenge himas is my right. Kieran Delaney was twice his size and would likely beat him to a pulp, but Zasha had to try. Hed been utterly miserable since Lynk had denied him and run off with the werewolf. It was as though he could still feel the witch, like the very air he breathed was charged with Lynks essence. Why a challenge? Cortez asked. Have you tried proving your right to Mr. Braddock? No, sir. I was not given the chance. If hed been allowed to prove his bond with Lynk, he wouldnt have to put up with the hassle of this hearing. Well, you have it now. Elder Cortez nodded and lifted a hand, beckoning Lynk to the front of the room. Mr. Braddock, come forward if you will.

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Zashas heart picked up in rhythm as he watched his mate glide along the aisle toward him. Though not technically Zashas type, the man was beautiful, and there was a grace about him that most could only envy but never imitate. Another of the elders asked him to state his name, and Zasha found himself entranced when Lynk spoke, drawn in by the musical cadence of his tone. Okay, Mr. Gershwin, you may proceed, Elder Cortez said once theyd announced the rules for the test. After a few starts and stops and the interference of that damn werewolf, Zasha was feeling confident that things were finally turning in his favor. As his mate, Lynk would be immune to his compulsion, and soon, everyone would see they were meant to be together. If Lynk was being brainwashed by Kieran, however, there was a good chance hed try to sabotage the test. Therefore, Zasha had to issue an instruction that Lynk would never perform unless he was truly compelled. Undress, he ordered, staring unblinkingly into his mates eyes and drawing Lynks mind into his own. At once, Lynk reached for the buttons on his shirt, fumbling with them as he popped them open one at a time. His lips were slightly parted, and he stared straight ahead with a vacant, robotic glaze to his eyes. Half the buttons had been undone, revealing the smooth, flawless skin of his chest when Kieran stood to his feet and shouted from the back of the room. Lynk, stop. Come here now. Zasha frowned when Lynk stopped undressing and turned to float back down the aisle to the werewolf. For a moment, hed been convinced that Lynk was truly under his spell, but if that was true, he shouldnt have responded to Kierans call. There was an exchange of words that Zasha couldnt hear, but his irritation grew when Lynk shuddered and blinked, shaking his head as though to dispel unwanted thoughts. How did I get back here? Did it work?

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Hes faking of course! Zasha shouted, jabbing a single finger at his mate. They planned the entire thing! Lynk was a damn good actor, and it hurt that he would go to such lengths to refuse him, but Zasha knew he could make Lynk happy if the guy would just give him a chance. I demand a challenge. Enough! Leader Tuesday rose to his feet, giving Zasha a hard, icy glare, clearly expecting him to shut his trap. I apologize. I only supported Zasha because I believed his claim to be true. It is what a good leader does, and as someone who has lost his own mate, I did not want to see a member of my coven endure that. I can see now that Zasha is mistaken, and so was I. What? Zasha gasped. It hurt almost as much to know that his mentor and leader didnt support him in his quest for justice. No! I can feel him. I can feel his soul tugging at mine. It was a low, constant ache that never gave him any peace. Instead of waning when he slept, the invisible connection grew stronger, invading his dreams until he was nearly mad with wanting his mate. As he fumed inside his own head, the elders conversed with Leader Tuesday, though it was clear that they all considered the matter closed. Well, Zasha wasnt going down without a fight, even if he had to go into battle alone. Where is Thane Braddock? Kieran demanded, pushing Lynk ahead of him as they approached the dais again. Excuse me? October appeared just as perplexed as Zasha felt. Thane Braddock? Lynk took a deep breath and let it out slowly before he spoke, mostly likely to calm his nerves. Zasha didnt know much about the man, but he got the impression that Lynk didnt like confrontation. My brother, Thane, is being held in a well on your lands. Hes been there for several months now, being starved and fed from while he wastes away. The temperature of the room should have dropped twenty degrees just from the cold look on Octobers face. Zasha wasnt sure he

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bought it, but he knew his leader would take the accusation seriously. Sure enough, a moment later, he had both Gideon and Axton on their way back to the coven with strict orders to go straight to the well near the windmills and not breathe a word of their destination to anyone. To Zashas surprise, Lynk turned to him with a determined gaze. I think there is something that you need to know. Does it have to do with why you are pretending that you cannot feel the connection between us? He forced the words out through gritted teeth while he stared daggers at the werewolf behind his mate. Yes, actually. Lynk gave him a charming smile, but there was a steely glint in his dark eyes. I am not pretending anything, however. I do not feel a connection between us because one simply does not exist. Kieran is my matemy destined mate. Zasha growled and took a step forward. He had no intentions of harming Lynk, but he was going to climb Kieran Delaney like a spider monkey and gouge his eyes out for brainwashing the guy. He made it no more than half a step when he was stopped by Octobers hand to his chest. You will calm down and listen to what the boy has to say. Lynk arched an eyebrow at the term boy, but when he spoke, he addressed Zasha. Thane is my twin. We share an energy, which means our magic is twinned and more powerful when were together. We can even speak telepathically if were close enough to one another. That was great, and Zasha was sorry Lynks brother was missing. He didnt see how it pertained to their situation, however. I think you are feeling Thanes energy flowing from me, Lynk continued, and he sounded exasperated, as though he found Zasha kind of dense. I dont know for sure, but I believe that is why you think Im your mate while it is really Thane who you should be concentrating on. Thane? The man you just said was being held captive in a well? Hes been this close to me for months now?

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Now he got it. Now it made sense, especially considering hed been feeling what hed thought was Lynks energy for weeks on end. Hed wanted to believe their connection was just that strong, but honestly, he shouldnt have been able to feel the witchs magical current with Lynk so far away from him. There was also the matter of the restless nights hed spent alone in his bed, convinced Lynks essence was tugging at him from miles away. Again, hed only been deluding himself and ignoring the truth staring him in the face. The magic should have lessened during sleep, not intensifiedunless it was Thane hed been sensing. When he rested, his mind was more vulnerable than ever and his subconscious took over. If what Lynk said was true, the energy hed been feeling was the fated bond he had with Thane. It was ingrained in his nature to want to protect his mate, and their connection was screaming out to him, begging for help, even when Thane couldnt. Zasha had just been too stubborn and single-minded to listen to his instincts. Hed been so bent on justice and revenge that he hadnt stopped to consider a possible alternative for what hed been feeling. Looking back, he could admit that a mating with Lynk had never been that appealing. Sure, the guy was attractive, but there had just been something missing. Still, hed been too ignorant, selfish, and prideful to admit he could be wrong. Thane Braddock was being held captive right under his nose and had been trapped inside his own personal hell for months. It seemed illogical that an outsider could or would use their coven lands for such a terrible crime, leading Zasha to the conclusion it was someone he knewpossibly a friendwho was hurting his mate. His canines dropped, his fingers curled into claws, and an unfamiliar growl rolled through his chest. Rage, white-hot and allconsuming, enveloped him, coursed through his blood, and elevated his body temperature. Someone I trusted is hurting him, and that someone will pay for it.

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**** His head lulled against the stone wall as he fought to keep himself upright. The recent rain had flooded the normally dry well, and the icy water had already climbed to his chest. The sun had risen twice since the last time hed slept, but he couldnt risk it. If he closed his eyes for even a minute, there was a good chance hed drown before he could fight his way out of the murky water. Footsteps sounded in the distance, thundering over the ground and crunching through the underbrush of the trees. Thane wasnt afraid, though. If it was the vampire who came for him, maybe this time the man would actually kill him. If it wasnt the bastard who had imprisoned him, perhaps hed be rescued. Hed been waiting ever since the dream conversation hed had with his brother. Either way, whatever happened, at least hed finally be free. Hes not here. Stop. We have to go back. Thane recognized the voice of his brother, Lynk. His magic had abandoned him, disappearing along with his waning strength, but he could still feel the weak current of energy flowing from his twin. A grin stretched his lips, and his shoulders relaxed. Hed known Lynk would come for him. That was what family did, and hed never doubted his brothers determination to find him. There was something else in the air, though. It was a charge, stronger than Lynks, and very different from anything else hed ever experienced. He could almost see it, reach out and touch it, and the closer it came, the faster Thanes pulse raced. Were already here, another man argued. Thane didnt recognize the voice, but he found it alluring. It comforted him in a way he hadnt known for several years, and for the first time since hed been dumped into the well, hope blossomed. My Infinity, Thane mouthed.

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Lynk had explained during the magical dream hed pulled Thane into that his mates name was Zasha, he was a vampire, and he had a fairly important position in a large coven. His brother had also informed him that due to some miscommunication, Zasha believed Lynk to be his mate instead of Thane. The confusion had caused a lot of problems for his brother, but Thane wasnt overly concerned. He just needed five minutes with the vampire to set things straight. He wanted to call out to the approaching men, but when he opened his mouth, all that escaped him was a hissing breath. With no magic, and no strength to use it even if he still had it, he couldnt reach out to Lynk through their twin bond, either. He could only sit there and hope they wouldnt give up and turn away before they found him. We have to know for sure. That was Raith. Hed recognize his older brothers gruff tone anywhere, even if he hadnt spoken to the man in years. We need to at least see if theres any evidence that Thane was here at one time. Yes, check for evidence. Look into the well and find me, brother. Im here. Find me. A face appeared at the mouth of the well, silhouetted by the moonlight so that he was nothing more than a shadowy head with shoulders. Hello? his mate called down to him, though it was obvious he couldnt see Thane in the darkness of the pit. Still, Thane couldnt call back, couldnt make any sound. Hell, he couldnt even lift his arm to splash the water. Gods, he wished he could see Zashas face. Despite the urgency of the situation, he couldnt help but wonder if the vampire still looked the same as he remembered. It had been so long since theyd been separated, but Thane could still picture the cute dimple in Zashas left cheek when he smiled. Tragedy had torn his Infinity from him centuries ago, but fate had just handed him an opportunity for a new beginning. Considering the guy

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had a perpetual hard-on for his brother, Thane doubted Zasha recalled their previous life together, but again, he wasnt concerned. On the contrary, he looked forward to helping Zasha regain his memories, to showing the vampire just why they were so perfectly matched. A second figure appeared beside the first, peering down into the well for only a moment before backing away. Sticking his tongue between his teeth, Thane bit down as hard as he could, drawing a ragged groan from his chest when the pain radiated throughout his entire mouth. It wasnt a loud noise, but it was something, and if he was lucky, someone would hear him. Thane! Lynk reappeared at the opening of the well, leaning over the side until he was bent almost in half. Thane! Are you okay? Can you talk to me? His mouth wouldnt cooperate to form words, but Thane groaned again in response, forcing the sound up through his raw, burning esophagus. Were going to get you out, Lynk promised, resolve lacing his tone. Just be still. Yeah, that wasnt going to be a problem. It wasnt like him to sit back and wait to be rescued, but in this instance, he had no choice. Hed lost so much weight and blood that the simple act of holding his head up was a chore. A loud grunt echoed throughout the clearing and down into the well, followed by the muffled thud of somethingor someone hitting the ground. Thane couldnt be sure if it was his mate or Raith who had been attacked, but a sudden interruption in the energy flowing from the vampire led him to believe it had indeed been his Infinity. Hurry, Lynk. Thane knew firsthand the vile things his captors were capable of inflicting, and he refused to let Zasha become just another victim of their wickedness. There wasnt a whole lot he could do from his current position, however, and honestly, he didnt know

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how much help hed be once he was free. Still, he couldnt just sit there and do nothing. A second groanthis time distinctly identifiable as coming from Raithdrifted down into his prison. Lynk disappeared from view momentarily, likely to investigate the noise, only to reappear with a loud cry as he tumbled backward with such violence that he lost his balance. The circumference of the well wasnt big enough for the awkward angle in which hed fallen, and Thane winced when he heard his brothers head smack against wet, stone wall. A heartbeat later, Lynk hit the surface of the pool, splashing water into Thanes face and soaking his hair. Adrenaline coursed through his veins, giving Thane a reserve of strength he didnt know he still possessed. Unable to see in the inky blackness, he felt around in the frigid water until his hand landed on Lynks shoulder. Grunting and groaning, he clenched his teeth against the onslaught of pain as his muscles screamed in protest. The smallest exertion hurt like the ten shades of hell, but he couldnt let his brother die. Thankfully, the buoyancy made his task easier, and he managed to get his arm around Lynk and pull him upright, holding the man protectively to his chest. Several minutes that felt like an eternity passed before Lynk finally began to stir. After a groan and some movement of his head, he went completely still, though. His shoulders tensed, his spine became rigid, and Thane could feel the rapid rise and fall of his chest. Easy, he said, hoping to ease the mans fears. His voice came out hoarse and raspy, barely human, and to whisper the single word felt like swallowing shards of glass. Thane? Lynk groaned again and pressed one hand to the side of his head. Im here. Right then, he wasnt so worried about himself. Are you okay?

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Lynk twisted and moved until Thane had no choice but to release him. Im fine. His teeth clacked together and his voice vibrated when he spoke as the water surged up around him. Help will come. Zasha was still out there. Thane didnt know what had happened to him, but he could still feel his mate. Even if Zasha couldnt come for him, surely, someone would come for Zasha. Plus, Raith was prowling somewhere in the night. Even if someone had gotten the drop on him, they were going to be very sorry once he was awake. You said they feed on you. How do they get in? He understood the importance of the question, but Thane flinched at the mention of his captors. Fear wasnt going to save them, though. Taking Lynks hand, he moved slowly, pulling his brother to the other side of the well with a great deal of effort. Resting his tired body against the wall, he pressed Lynks palm against the locked door. What is this? Door, Thane answered. He thought about adding something sarcastic after that, but he fell into a violent coughing fit that wracked his frame, causing pain to explode throughout every inch of his body. Okay, shh. Lynks hand landed on his back and rubbed gently. Just rest. Im going to get us out of here. A loud, menacing howl echoed down into the well and bounced off the stones, making Thanes ears ring. Four more distinct howls followed the first, and Thane tensed, unsure if the calls belonged to friend or foe. Lynk, however, was bouncing on his toes, causing the water to ripple in waves around them. My mate is here, and hes really unhappy. Moments later, a huge shadowy figure appeared at the top of the well, growling, grumbling, and breathing heavily. There were no words spoken, but Thane got the impression that Lynk was communicating with the agitated werewolf.

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Hold on, Lynk whispered. He helped Thane farther away from the door and pressed him back against the wall. Stay there. A loud explosion rocked him sideways, but Lynk caught him before he could topple over. Okay, lets get out of here. Unlocking it would have been simpler, Thane chastised, but honestly, he was just happy to be free. Probably. Lynk turned his face up toward the moonlight, and Thane could hear the cockiness in his voice when he called up to his mate. Still got it. The water receded rapidly, gushing into the room beyond the shattered door. At one time, Lynk had been so much smaller than him. Now, though Thane was still taller, Lynk had little trouble supporting his weight as he helped him up the stairs and through a trap door. Want to see it again? he teased. Thane didnt care. Each step was more torturous than the last, and what small measure of strength he had was fading. His head spun, his vision dimmed at the edges, and his empty stomach cramped viciously. Just get us out of here. There was another booming echo as the door exploded outward. The little shit just couldnt resist showing off. Still holding him up, Lynk practically dragged Thane out into the chilly night where they were greeted by five towering werewolves. Can I get some help? Lynk called. One of the smaller werewolves appeared instantly at his side, carefully lifting Thane into his arms and cradling him like a baby. The world was slipping away from him, and he could barely keep his eyes open, but they needed to know. Zasha. He had to pause and take a breath before he could continue. Third windmill. He couldnt see his mate, but he could feel the vampire. As everything else faded, Zashas energy grew stronger, almost like a homing beacon, leading Thane right to him.

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The werewolf just rumbled and tilted his head to the side. Thane didnt know what that meant, and he didnt have time to clarify that the beast understood him before everything went dark.

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Chapter Two
Waking up to find himself drugged and bound inside one of the windmills was a nice, juicy cherry on the top of an already shitty day. Zasha remembered hearing a sharp intake of breath from behind him, but he had no recollection of what happened after hed gone to investigate the sound. Judging by the sizeable lump on the side of his head, he imagined hed been struck with something heavy. His worry for Thane had distracted him, and he hadnt even seen Axton coming. In fact, if not for the Enforcers whod come to his aid, he might have never known it was his friend who had beat him senseless. It was still hard to accept that Axton had done such cruel, vile things. The man had been his friend for years, almost like family. Hed only seen the aftermath, but he knew Axton had paid dearly for his actions. After everything hed done, all the lies hed told, and all the pain hed caused, Zasha couldnt find the appropriate level of remorse. Had he been charged with doling out Axtons punishment, however, he wasnt sure hed have reacted in the same way as Lynks werewolf mate. As far as he was concerned, death was too easy, too lenient for the crimes Axton had committed. By the time hed been found and freed from his makeshift cell, Thane had already been moved to The Council house. Then Zasha had been detained while people tossed a thousand questions at him that he didnt really know how to answer. Once theyd finished interrogating him, hed driven at breakneck speeds back to Casper to see his mate. While the drive to The Council house had been

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uneventful, hed encountered something of a roadblock upon his arrival, and hed still yet to set eyes on his intended. I want to see my mate, he demanded. Sitting straight and squaring his shoulders, he tried to sound firm and unmovable, but hed beg on his knees if he thought it would help. No, Torren countered. I have some questions for you, plus Thane is in no condition to be getting worked up right now. Ill answer your questions. Knowing he was fighting a losing battle, Zasha slumped back into the cushions of the sofa and sighed. Im not going to hurt him. I just need to see him. Hed feel a lot better if he could confirm with his own eyes that Thane was alive and resting comfortably. That didnt stop Thanes oldest brother from grilling him, though. Torren Braddock asked a lot of questions, most of which Zasha had already answered for the Enforcers back in Snake River. Youre welcome to spend the day here, Torren offered when he was finished with his questioning, but Thane needs to rest now. A small part of him felt responsible for Thanes condition, and guilt clawed at his gut. Had he realized what a psychotic bastard Axton really was, perhaps Thanes suffering could have been avoided. When he remembered hed actually befriended the vampire, had essentially led him right to his mate, bile rose up in his throat, along with the bitter taste of regret. I just want to see him. He fisted his hands at his sides and swallowed the lump in his throat. I wont disturb him, but I need to see that hes okay. Please? Torren, Lynk implored. He didnt say any more than that, but it must have done the trick because Torren pushed up from his chair and jerked a thumb over his shoulder. Follow me, and Ill show you where hes sleeping. After offering his thanks to Lynk and his apologies to the witchs mate, Kieran, Zasha hurried after the eldest Braddock, growing more nervous with each step down the corridor. After all hed been through

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only to find out that the man hed been fighting for wasnt really his mate, Zasha held little expectations of what would happen next. Hes probably asleep, so try not to wake him. It sounded more like a warning than a request, but Zasha nodded and slipped into the room before Torren could change his mind. The door closed quietly behind him, but he didnt move any farther into the room. A queen-sized bed was set up against the far wall, directly between two windows, and the silvery beams of moonlight that filtered through the parted curtains illuminated the man lying in the center of the mattress. He looked pale and thin, and his cheekbones stood out in sharp relief. Even in the dim light, Zasha could make out the shadows that stretched under his sunken eyes, and the protruding collarbones broke his heart. This close, he could finally feel the difference. The energy that saturated the air was so much stronger, and his connection to Thane felt almost tangible, as though he could reach out and thrum the metaphysical threads that bonded them together. Thanes face appeared freshly shaven, but his hair was still long and scraggly with a dullness that matched the rest of his depleted body. Bruises covered the tops of his shoulders, and the skin that peeked out from under the blankets was a map of claw and bite marks. Even in his malnourished and broken condition, he was the most gorgeous thing Zasha had ever seen. That should have been his first clue. Paranormals were predisposed to be attracted to their mates. While hed always thought Lynk was nice to look at, hed still had the underlying disappointment that the man was really much too small and delicate, really not his preferred type at all. There wasnt anything delicate about Thane, though. It was hard to estimate Thanes true height while he was horizontal, but Zasha guessed it to be somewhere just over six feet. It wasnt hard to see beneath the cuts, bruises, and shrunken frame to

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the man he used to be, not for Zasha. A clear picture of what Thane would look like once healthy flittered through his mind, and it was a delectable portrait. Hello. Thanes voice was small and wispy, barely carrying across the room, but the smile he offered transformed his entire face. You must be Zasha. I must be. Returning the smile, he crept closer to the bed, moving cautiously so as not to frighten the man. After the ordeal hed been through, it would be natural for him to have trust issues. You must be Thane. I must be, Thane echoed. Come here so I can see you. Groaning in obvious pain, he braced his hands on the mattress and struggled to sit upright. Here, stop that. Rushing forward, Zasha pressed a palm to Thanes shoulder, holding him in place with little effort. Let me help you. What do you need? Just this. Rolling his head to the side, he glanced at the squat bedside lamp. Maybe some light? Keeping one hand on Thanes chest, he used to the other to pull the chain on the lamp, filling their part of the room with a soft glow. Better? Despite his thinness, Thane was even more handsome up close, and his scent was making Zashas head spin. Tell me about yourself, Thane insisted, though his eyelids were already drooping, and his words were slurred with exhaustion. Where are you from? Im from the Snake River Coven. Zasha stared down at his hand where it rested against Thanes warm skin, smiling like an idiot when the witch covered it with his own. We can talk later. You need to be resting. Youre probably right, Thane agreed. Come here. He rubbed his free hand back and forth against the mattress. A tattoo of an intricately detailed tribal dragon stretched down his bicep beneath the

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cuts and bruises, writhing with his movements as though alive and restless. Ive been missing you. Considering this was their first meeting, Zasha was unsure what that last part meant. Maybe Thane was confused. Perhaps he thought someone else was with him in the room. I cant stay here, he whispered, glancing toward the large window to the right of the headboard. Hed love nothing more than to curl up beside Thane and protect him until he was strong again. Unfortunately, his limitations prevented it. The sun will be up soon. Right. His lips twitched at the corners, and he shook his head as though he found the information humorous. Youre a vampire. Removing Zashas hand from his chest, he rolled to his side and finally levered himself into a sitting position. Thane, what are you doing? Anyone with eyes could see that every little movement caused him pain, and Zasha didnt understand why Thane would put himself through that. If hed survived half of what the witch had, he didnt think hed ever get out of bed again. Getting dressed so we can find a place for you to sleep, Thane answered with a casual roll of his eyes as though the answer was obvious. Theres a room in the basement, he assured his mate. Torren said I can spend the day there. He didnt want to leave Thane so soon, but they both needed rest, and Zasha needed to not burn alive while he slept. Good. Nodding once, Thane inched closer to the edge of the bed until his feet rested on the floor. Lets go. Would you stop it? Oh, Zasha could already see the arguments in his future. The gods help him and grant him patience because his mate was stubborn to a fault. Listen to me. He pressed his palm to the side of Thanes neck with the same care hed show to the most priceless treasure. I promise to be back as soon as the sun sets. Okay? Now, will you please lie down and rest?

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Thane didnt even hesitate in his answer. Nope. Taking Zashas hand, he pulled it away from his neck and placed a kiss in the middle of his palm. Can you hand me those sweatpants on the dresser? Thane. The conversation was going nowhere fast, and Zasha didnt know how to change directions. Zasha, his mate mimicked with a raised eyebrow. If you really want me to rest, I suggest you hand me those pants and help me down to the basement. Beside you is the only way Im going to sleep. His expression said he was dead serious, and Zasha didnt exactly want to be separated from the man, either. However, he also didnt want to hinder Thanes recovery. Are you always like this? Pretty much. Thane nodded toward the dresser again. And now Im yours. Congratulations. Are you going to get those or not? Growling under his breath, Zasha stood and crossed the carpeted floor to retrieve the dark-blue sweatpants that were folded neatly on top of the dresser. Torren is going to kill me. **** The darkness surrounded him, pressed in on him from all sides. The frigid cold bit through the scraps of clothes he wore, chilling his damp skin. Water flowed through his prison, rising higher with each passing hour. Already it licked at his lips, and soon, it would cover his mouth and nose. They were coming for him. He could hear the boots stomping over the sodden earth and feel the charge in the air. An ominous symphony of voices rose up on the breeze, and the chanting grew louder as his captors approached. Thane? Panic constricted the muscles in his chest, his pulse sped, and blood roared in his ears. Zasha, run! The voices grew louder, deadlier. They were almost there. Thane didnt fear death, but he couldnt let them harm his mate.

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Thane, Im going to get you out. Im going to help you. No one could help him, though. His Infinity had walked right into a trap, and if he didnt go, they were both doomed. Zasha, please. His voice cracked with emotion and weakness. You have to go. You cant save me, but you can save yourself. The night grew still, quiet, and Thane found it more worrisome than the dark chanting of his foes. Peering out through his cell, he tried to warn his mate again, but even in the dim light of the moon, he knew it was too late. Zashas eyes rounded, his lips parted in a silent cry, and his body convulsed, tipping him over the edge of the stone well. Tumbling head over feet, his limp body bounced against the hard walls before finally splashing lifelessly into the water. There he floated, facedown in the small pool, staining the icy water with his blood. Thane. Thane, wake up. Slender arms encircled his waist, holding him tightly as he trembled, struggling to crawl out of his dream world. Releasing a shuddering breath, he rolled to face his mate, pulling Zasha to his chest and crushing him close. Youre okay. Youre okay. He buried his face in Zashas hair, breathing in the clean scent of his shampoo while he forced his muscles to relax. Youre okay. Yes, Zasha whispered with a hint of concern, Im okay. He leaned away and brushed the sweat-dampened locks back from Thanes brow. Do you want to talk about it? Not right now. Hed been free of that watery prison for almost six weeks, but these nightmares had only begun in the past few nights. As his bond with Zasha grew, so did the intensity and frequency of his dreams. There were varying levels of terror associated with his nightmares, but more often than not, they left him shaky and disoriented for hours

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after he awoke. Worse, Thane had reason to suspect there were snippets of memories hidden within these dreamscapes. Are you sure? Zasha pressed. Was it a bad one? Thane could still envision Zasha tumbling down into that well, pale, limp, and unblinking. It had been awful, but while it made his blood run cold, he was confident that it was only a fabrication of his over-stressed mind. After all, his gifts didnt include foresight, and he was thankful for it. Hed leave the prophecy gig to his brother, Nix. Just let me hold you for a little while, he said in lieu of an actual answer. Well, I suppose if youre going to twist my arm. Zashas quiet laughter fanned over Thanes collarbones, and he wiggled closer, molding himself to Thane from sternum to groin. Soft, moist lips traveled up the column of his throat, and Zashas slippery tongue traced the shell of his ear, pulling a different kind of shiver from him. Feeling off-balancedand maybe even a little needyafter his dream, Thane soaked up the attention. Mmm, I could get used to this. The simple statement seemed to rouse Zasha from whatever spell he was under, and he stilled his exploration, stiffening as he pulled away. The sun is setting, he mumbled. Ill fight you for the shower. Groaning as his cock hardened and throbbed, Thane rolled on top of his mate, pinning the vampires shoulders to the mattress. Or you could join me. He nipped at Zashas lips, teasing the seam with his tongue until he was finally granted entrance to the sweet depths. The kiss was heated, fueling the fire that burned in his gut, but as always, that was as far as he got before Zasha pushed him away. Cmon, Thane, we need to get moving. Sighing in disgruntlement, Thane fell to his side of the mattress, flopping onto his back and throwing his arm over his eyes. Theyd been sharing the same bed from day one, but they were still a thousand miles apart.

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Zasha wouldnt feed from him, insisting he get his nourishment from a blood bag instead of letting Thane provide for him. His mate would indulge in a sip here and there, just to appease himlike with the occasional kissesbut that was as much as he would give. When theyd first pulled him from the well, when hed been underfed and barely hanging on to life, hed understood. In the weeks since then, however, hed gained nearly thirty pounds and was growing stronger by the day thanks to a little magic and blood supplements from his mate. Had he been shot, stabbed, burned, or even clubbed over the head, the occasional drops of crimson from Zasha would have cured him almost instantly. Unfortunately, the healing properties only extended so far. Yes, he was growing stronger, but not even blood from his mate could restore him to his natural weight and health overnight. Still, he was well enough to care for his partnerif Zasha would only let him. Thane. Fingertips fluttered over his forearm, traveling from wrist to elbow. Dont be that way. You know why I have to say no. At the risk of sounding childish, no, he honestly didnt understand why Zasha continued to deny him. Tell me again. Perhaps he was missing something that would suddenly become clear after the fiftieth repetition. Well, one of us has to be sensible, dont we? The laughter in Zashas voice did nothing for Thanes mood. How do you mean? He was going to give the guy a chance and hope he hadnt meant that statement like it sounded. I know you want to take care of me, but youre still healing. I adore how giving you are, but sometimes youwell, youre more emotional than logical. Yep, it was just as bad the second time, possibly worse. You can have the shower. Pushing into a sitting position, he swung his legs over the edge of the mattress and stood. Im going for a run.

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Thane, stop it. The doctor hasnt cleared you for that yet. Jumping up from the bed, Zasha blocked his exit. Give it time. Youre not strong enough yet. Im not a child, Thane barked. Im not going to drop dead if I go jog in the fucking woods. His bad mood was only partially because of his mate, but he was tired of being coddled and treated like an invalid. Every waking moment, his body yearned to feel Zashas soft, naked skin beneath his palms. The deep-rooted connection that simmered between them only strengthened, and the clawing need to be with his Infinity rose to blistering levels, burning hotter to the point of pain. Adding to his disgruntlement was the fact that Thane vividly remembered a time when Zasha hadnt been able to resist him, a time when the man couldnt go five minutes without wanting him. If that wasnt bad enough, it was painfully obvious that Zasha had no recollections of those days. Youre kind of being a dick. This was said as fact rather than criticism, and a tiny smirk tilted one corner of Zashas lips. Yeah, well, at least I didnt claim your brother. The accusation was past his lips before he could stop it, and Thane felt like a toddler, lashing out because someone had taken away his favorite toy. Zasha Holding his hand up to halt Thanes apology, Zasha stepped away as sadness clouded his gaze. Its okay. I deserved that. He really didnt. While technically accurate, Thanes accusation had been below the belt and taken out of context. Yes, Zasha had bitten his brother, Lynk, during their first meeting, but it hadnt been a claiming bite. Hed also been convinced that Lynk was his mate. Of course, hed gotten the entire story secondhand, so it was a little easier to be forgiving. If he had been there to witness the eventwell, he wouldnt think about that. He understood why Zasha

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had been confused. Thane had never been the type to hold a grudge, especially for something like miscommunication. Zashas comments had hurt him, though, and like a preschooler in need of a nap, hed retaliated with unjustified venom. Taking out his sour mood on his mate was selfish and unfair. Catching Zasha by the wrist when he tried to walk away, Thane pulled him close and cradled his cheek. Im sorry. It would rain frogs before hed allow anyone to talk to his mate the way he had. Fuck, he was a nasty hypocrite. Youre right. Im being a dick, and you didnt deserve that. Zasha was just trying to protect him. Logically, he understood this, but it prickled his pride that he was unable to reciprocate. The most emasculating thing about it was looking into Zashas eyes and knowing that his partner viewed him as weak. Dont, Zasha chided as he nuzzled his cheek against Thanes palm. You have that look you get when you think Im being condescending, but thats not it at all. He stepped closer, and the tension drained from his shoulders. Believe it or not, I get it. Im trying to help, but I feel like I just keep making things worse. Youre not I wasnt finished. Placing two fingers to Thanes lips, Zasha glared at him. I didnt mean to say that youre stupid or overemotional. I meant that you are so worried about making me happy that you dont stop to think about yourself. I shouldnt have gotten ups Im not finished, Zasha repeated. You think I dont want you, which is absurd. It kills me every time I have to say no. He arched his hips, rubbing his erection against Thanes thigh as though proving his point. You cant imagine the things Ive fantasized about doing to you, but Im afraid of what will happen when I finally let go of that control. Are you finished now? No.

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Okay. Pressing his lips together, Thane bit the inside of his cheek to stop his grin. He wouldnt win any affection for pointing out how much it turned him on when Zashas temper flared. Please continue. Thane, you arent strong enough yet. Notice, I said yet. He arched one eyebrow, like he was daring Thane to argue with him. Its not a knock at your manhood. Its a fact, and I wont do anything to jeopardize your recovery. I wish you could understand that. I do understand, but sometimes, my dick and my head get into an argument, and my dick overrules all that rational thinking. He had no excuse for his anger, and his stomach knotted with guilt. His insecurities were his to deal with, caused by circumstance, not Zasha. The man had done nothing but support him, putting Thanes needs before his own. I just wish you could see me as more than I am. You idiot. Wrapping his arms around Thanes midsection, Zasha held him tight and stretched up to kiss his lips. My eyesight is just fine. Youre sick, Thane, not incapable. I know this. Then let me give you something, he practically begged. Let me take care of you. Zasha shook his head and sighed. Youre not listening to me. I hate those damn blood bags, but I tolerate them because I wont take what your body cant afford to give. Thane was listening. Zasha just wasnt saying anything he wanted to hear. Fine. Then let me give you something else. Insinuating one hand between them, he palmed Zashas hard cock through his boxers and squeezed. Im not going to break into pieces and blow away, Zash. Dropping his forehead to Thanes shoulder, Zasha groaned and rocked into his hand. Gods, I want to. I cant describe how much I want that, but I cant. Why? Give me one good reason. For a vampire, the desire to feed during sex is almost compulsory. Emotions and instincts run high, and I dont know if Id

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be able to stopnot before I did some real damage to your red cell count. Growling in frustrated surrender, Thane let his hand fall away and nodded in concession. Youre not going to be able to hide behind those excuses forever. Theyre not excuses, Zasha argued. Theyre legitimate concerns. Backing away to create some distance between them, he pushed one hand through his short hair and huffed. Theres something else we need to talk about, though. Well, that sounds ominous. Are you leaving me for the UPS guy? Zasha didnt laugh at his joke, which only fueled his suspicion that he wasnt going to like this discussion. I need to go back to Snake River. Zasha looked him straight in the eyes, unsmiling and unblinking. I have responsibilities that Ive been neglecting. Yeah, see, thats not going to work for me. Thane would gladly follow the guy anywhere he wanted to go, but he had responsibilities of his own. Zasha wasnt the only one waiting for his strength to return. A lot of people were counting on him to journey into the unforgiving world of Purgatory to reclaim the soul of their brother, Mikko. Of course, they first had to find Mikkos body before he went stumbling around in the dark looking for lost souls. I had a feeling you were going to say that. Zashas cheeks puffed out as he exhaled. Look, Im not saying that Im leaving today. No, youre not. They had a lead on where Mikko was being held, and everyone was holding their breath, hoping it would come to something more than a wild goose chase. I cant leave, not now. I cant just abandon my family, but I cant be without you, either. It didnt matter that Zasha couldnt remember him. Thane recalled every detail of their previous life together, and he wanted that time back. He couldnt reclaim those missing years, but he wasnt going to miss a single opportunity to make new memories.

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Zasha stared at him for a long time before he finally shook his head and pushed up on his toes for another kiss. I dont know what to do, Thane. I have a job and a life in Snake River, but I cant be without you, either. His gaze held a hint of desperation, but he just smiled and stroked Thanes cheek. Raith and October will be here tomorrow. Ill talk to Leader Tuesday and see if there is a way for me to get some work done from here. I know Im not being fair, and Im sorry. Things would get better, but until they did, Thane intended to keep his mate close and protected. I dont deserve you. He knew it. Hed always known it. Every day, he was a little more grateful that Zasha hadnt figured it out yet. Thank you, Zasha. His lips stretched a little wider as he nuzzled against the side of Thanes throat. You know I cant tell you no. Well, that wasnt strictly true, but since hed gotten his way, Thane decided not to argue and just enjoy the short reprieve hed been given. The topic of Zashas return to Snake River wasnt dead, but Thane was going to do everything he could to keep the vampire where he belongedright by his side.

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Chapter Three
Hey, sleepyhead. Blinking the sleep from his eyes, Thane squinted up at Zasha. What? Raith and October are here, and theyve brought a guest with them. Thane was too tired for riddles. Theyre having a threesome? No, pervert. They brought this tiny little thing of a vampire named Kaito. Hes four. Where did they find a kid? Thane wasnt opposed to children. He loved when Wren called him Uncle Thane, and the boy was too cute for words. He just never envisioned himself having children of his own. Youre being judgmental, Zasha accused. Then he smacked Thane on the shoulder and rose to his feet beside the mattress. Get dressed. I want to see our guests. Your enthusiasm is annoying. He missed Raith since the guy had moved away to live with his mate. Hell, he was even glad the big idiot had come to visit. Until he had coffee in his hands, however, everyone needed to keep the happiness to a minimum. Coffee, he mumbled. Need coffee. Nope. You know what the doctor said about that. Why do you hate me? He finally managed to get his eyes open, and he stared up at his mate in accusation. I dont remember him saying that I cant have coffee. Thats ridiculous. I dont hate you, and its not ridiculous. Now, get your skinny ass up and put some clothes on. Everyone is waiting for us.

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Fine, but youre going to have to curb the perkiness. Youre making my head hurt. Shoving the covers back, he pushed into a sitting position and rubbed both hands over his face. What time is it anyway? Would you like to tell me what bug crawled up your ass? Zasha crossed his arms over his chest and lifted both eyebrows. No. Hed barely slept in the past forty-eight hours. Each time he attempted to doze, his nightmares would wake him like a slap across the face with a two-by-four. Worse, were the times he couldnt wake up, and the scene of Zashas murder would replay on a constant loop until Thane thought hed go mad from it. Thats nice. Tell me anyway. And the guy thought he was stubborn. Its nothing. Im just tired. He couldnt exactly tell Zasha that hed been having dreams about the mans death. There were subtle differences in each reenactment, minor tweaks like pieces to a puzzle that just wouldnt fit. They were small things, like a lapse in time, the lack of water in his prison, or the height from which his mate fell. Sometimes Zasha spoke to him in these nightmares. Sometimes he was silent. Once, Thane had been sitting in the mud. In the next retelling, he was crouched in a cornerstrange since the well was circular. They were silly things, oddities that most people wouldnt even notice. To Thane, however, they raised a dozen red flags and sounded alarm bells his head. He couldnt tell Zasha any of that, though. Fine. Zasha didnt sound like anything was fine, however. Get dressed. He tossed a pair of jeans from the closet at Thanes head and turned back to grab three different shirts. I like the green one. Your hair is darker when its short. I think green would look good. Thane rubbed at his spiky locks and frowned. During his captivity, the strands had flowed down to his shoulders and lightened

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to a golden honey. As his body deteriorated, however, his hair had become dull and brittle. The length had been a side effect of imprisonment and nothing more. Hed always preferred his hair short, though for whatever reason, it did look more brown than blond at the current length. Earth to Thane, Zasha called, shaking the green pullover sweater at him. Yes or no? Yeah, thats fine. Figuring hed pissed Zasha off enough for one dayand hed only been awake for five minutesThane rose from the bed and dressed without comment. Why the color of his shirt was so damn important, he couldnt fathom, but whatever got Zasha off his back was fine by him. He remained silent as they navigated the corridor to the staircase. He didnt even say anything when Zasha wrapped an arm around his waist to help him up the steps. It had been weeks since hed needed any type of assistance getting from one place to another, but again, he didnt want to start an argument. As they ascended the stairs, Raiths deep baritone reached his ears. Thane wasnt sure who his brother was talking to, but he understood that he was the topic of conversation. Closer to the point, they seemed to be talking about his relationship with Zasha. Entering the main part of the house from the basement, he stepped into the living room where everyone appeared to be gathered. Raith sat on the sofa next to his mate, not even trying to keep his voice down or be discreet. Zasha is a big boy. He knows what he needs to do to stay healthy. First, it was Zasha. Now, it was Raith. He couldnt help but wonder who else thought him incapable of providing for his partner. Im not so helpless that I cant take care of my mate. Hed have liked to march into the room with his shoulders back and his chest out. To his disgruntlement, however, Zashas arm

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tightened around his waist, and he refused to let go until hed assisted Thane into one of the armchairs. Okay? he whispered. Ive got it, Thane answered, keeping his voice low for only Zasha to hear. Either Zasha missed the steel in his tone, or he was ignoring it. Either way, he eased down on the arm of the chair with a huge grin. Hes a damn fool. From what I understand, it runs in his blood. Several agreements from his brothers mates circled the room, but Thane had a feeling none of the other men meant it quite the same way as Zasha. Youre being careful, right? Leader Tuesday, Raiths mate and Zashas boss, furrowed his brow and pursed his lips while he waited for an answer. Snorting with laughter, Zasha pushed a stray lock of hair back from Thanes forehead. Yes, sir. I take a sip every four or five days, just to appease him, but I get most of what I need from donor bags. Yes, he does, Thane grumbled. This was a fact, and it shouldnt bother him as much as it did. It was a sore subject, and he admitted he could be overly sensitive about Zashas source of nutrition. Something wasnt right, though. The easygoing smile on Zashas lips didnt match the icy look in his eyes. His fingers tangled in Thanes hair, and he tugged just hard enough to let him know it wasnt a loving gesture. The vampire was clearly goading him, pressing all of his buttons just to piss him off. Thane just didnt know why, and he was far too stubborn to rise to the bait. Good. October winked at Zasha like they were sharing some inside joke, and Thane got the distinct impression that he was the punch line. Talk turned to Haven and the happenings at the coven after that, but Thane was barely listening. What the hell? he demanded in a harsh whisper against the shell of Zashas ear.

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Later, Zasha replied out of the corner of his mouth. Honestly, I dont know what to think, but there are still pieces that arent adding up. Torren finished speaking, and everyone in the room looked to Thane, clearly expecting him to say something. The only problem was that he didnt know what they were talking about or why they thought hed have the answer. The coven in the mountains that held you, Lynk supplied for him through their telepathic bond. He didnt say anything else telepathically or aloudbut he watched Thane with narrowed eyes and a furrowed brow. I was there for nearly two years, and they fed from me often. There was more to the story than just being used as a living blood bag, but Thane didnt need to traumatize his family with the gory details. The things hed suffered werent important to discovering answers, and he was already getting enough pitying looks to last him a lifetime. Axton was the only person who ever talked about witches, though. Well, that I can remember. The first few months after I left Belgium are kind of a blur. Meaning hed spent six months in a drug-induced haze, unable to defend himself against the onslaught of torture. Again, not something he wished to share. He was saved further questioning by a loud crash from Wrens room. While everyone else negotiated who would investigate, Thanes thoughts strayed back to Zashas uncharacteristic behavior. If hed done something to offend the vampire, he didnt know what it was, and therefore, had no way of rectifying his mistake. Cmon. Rising from the arm of the chair, Zasha took his hand and tugged. Come with me. They slipped from the room without a word, but Zasha didnt lead him back down to the basement. Instead, he marched across the foyer and through the front door, right out into the night. Thane followed at a more leisurely pace, careful to close the door behind him. Where are we going?

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This is good. Zasha turned to face him, and the first thing Thane noticed was the coolness of his voice didnt match the heat in his eyes. Crossing his arms over his chest, Thane leaned back against the side of the house and adopted a casual expression. Okay, whats going on with you? What was all of that in the living room? Whatever fight was in him seemed to drain away. His shoulders slumped, and he hung his head with a barely audible sigh. Thane, why is it so hard for you to let me take care of you? Since it was an argument theyd been having for weeks, the question didnt surprise him. Unfortunately, he had no other answer than the one hed given a hundred times. I do let you take care of me, but Im not a child or an invalid. I can walk up the stairs and sit in a chair all by myself. Thane stopped and cleared his throat. The sarcasm and mockery in his tone werent necessary. Strangely, instead of debating him, Zasha rested his fists on his hips and bobbed his head. Im sorry about that. I guess I was showing off for my leader, trying to prove I was being a good mate. Why do you have to prove anything to anyone? It didnt make a lot of sense to him, but hed never had an alpha or a leader. As the oldest brother, Torren was the closest thing hed ever had to a leader, but the guy was still his sibling. If he didnt agree with him, hed tell the asshole to shove it. He went to bat for me, Zasha explained. When I thought Lynk was my mate, October stood behind me and supported me. My mistake made him look like a fool. He paused to take a deep breath and scrub a hand over his face. I wanted to show that even though I was wrong, Im still worthy of that loyalty. Thane got it, but it still hurt. And what about my loyalty? Did his leaders approval mean more to him than Thanes affection? Jerking his head up, Zasha pinned him with a curious stare and frowned. I dont After another few seconds of silence, a slow smile spread across his face, and he rolled his eyes as he sashayed

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closer. Im hungry, Thane. I was a little stressed, which didnt help, and then I got your scent in my head. Zasha stopped just shy of actually touching him, but his body language said he yearned to be closer. I was trying to warn you without being obvious. Hed succeeded in not being obvious. Beyond that, his ploy to pass along his message was an epic fail. How was I supposed to know that? You are insane. You know that, right? It wasnt just Zasha, though. Their communication skills were for dick, and no matter the topic, there inevitably ended up being some kind of misunderstanding. It hadnt always been like this, though. At one time, Zasha had known him better than he knew himself and vice versa. Zashas laughter was warm and lighthearted, and it eased the knotted muscles in Thanes neck. Yeah, I guess I could have thought that out a little better. He shuffled half a step forward, but still maintained separation between them. Forgive me? Of course, Thane answered without hesitation. Hot one minute, cold the next, Zashas ever changing moods were starting to give him whiplash. Funnily enough, though, Thane was finding it increasingly difficult to remain upset with his mate. Zashas heart was in the right place. All he wanted was to protect Thane from every perceived threat. That didnt sound so bad, except for the fact that Zasha was the only one finding danger in practically everything. Hell, the guy had completely flipped his shit just the night before because Thane had wanted to have a beer with his brothers. I guess we should get back inside. Everyone will be looking for us. Zasha turned his shoulders and leaned toward the door. Before he could take a step in that direction, Thane grabbed him around the waist and jerked him forward, molding their bodies together from chest to hips. No one is looking for us, Zash. Hed done things Zashas way. Hed let his mate take the lead and call the shots, but it was time for him to take some of the control back if they were going to stop chasing each other in circles.

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Thane, what are you doing? I just told you Im not exactly stable right now. His tone held no conviction, though, and his attempt to escape Thanes arms was halfhearted at best. Cmon. Lets go. I have a better idea, Thane rasped against the smooth skin on the side of Zashas throat. What if we dont play it safe for once? What if you shut that pretty brain down and let me do the worrying for a while? He wasnt stupid. His body was held to certain limitations, and he got that, but he wasnt sick. No amount of medicine or even magic would cure him completely. All he needed were a few cheeseburgers to help him recover a bit more of the weight hed lost. Zasha trembled from the tips of his spiky locks to the soles of his loafers. His pale, ivory skin glowed in the silvery beams of moonlight that spilled onto the porch, contrasting beautifully against the dark fabric of his button-down shirt. The seductive quality of his hooded gaze was likely unintentional, but that didnt stop Thanes cock from swelling as he lost himself in those golden depths. Pressing his thumb against the underside of Zashas chin, Thane exerted gentle pressure, urging the vampires head back on his shoulders. Zashas lips parted slightly, releasing the breathy moan that rolled up from his chest. Twin canines peeked from beneath his upper lip, their pointed tips glistening in the lunar beams. Thane, Zasha breathed. Please. Please, what? I cant. I dont want to hurt you. Ah, but, lieveling, Im not so fragile. He didnt know what more he could do to prove it. Good gods, it was like he had a huge Handle With Care sign plastered across his ass. Im not dismissing your concerns, but there are other ways. Hed be lying if he said he wasnt dying to get Zasha beneath him on a flat surface, but there were several options open to them that might ease his mates anxiety. I cant give you what you want. His body language had lost some of its surrender, but Zasha still made no move to extract himself

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from Thanes embrace. I dont know if I can control it, and youre too important. I wont risk you like that. The confession was sweetif slightly morbidbut it didnt deter Thane. You dont have it in you to hurt me. As his mate, it was encoded in the vampires DNA to be protectiveeven overprotective. The likelihood of Zasha losing control and draining Thane dry was practically nonexistent. Weeks of sleeping next to his Infinity, spending every waking moment with him, and the persistent memories of their previous life together were making him insane. To say he was sexually frustrated didnt even begin to cover it. He wasnt asking for the moon, but a little compromise never killed anyone. Your move, Zasha. No matter how much he ached for the man, Thane wouldnt go any further without his mates permission. Say yes, lieveling. Say yes.

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Chapter Four
He wanted to say yes. He wanted to forget all of his concerns, fall into bed with Thane, and just feel. It wasnt that simple, though. Blood bags kept him alive, but it was nothing like drinking straight from the source. It was the difference between a candy bar and a grilled chicken breastif the candy bar tasted like day-old oatmeal. The packaged donor blood gave him some of the nutrients he needed, but it never quite satisfied him. The thought of taking blood from anyone except Thane was nauseating, but his mate wasnt strong enough to feed from. So Zasha made do with the blood bags and put on a happy face. In actuality, however, he was fucking starving. His throat burned constantly, he felt weaker than usual, and he was always about two seconds away from ripping out someones jugular just to quench the clawing hunger. Sleeping in Thanes arms night after night didnt help, either. He loved the closeness and the warmth. Every minute he spent with his mate was a gift. Unfortunately, Thanes constant presence also meant that Zasha always had the mans scent in his head. It meant he was constantly at war with himself, fighting a perpetual battle between craving Thanes nearness and resisting the urge to sink his fangs into the throbbing artery on the side of his mates neck. Once a week, he took a tiny sip from Thanes wrist, partly to appease his obstinate man, and partly to stave off the bloodlust. Hed been nervous in the beginning, unsure of how Thane would react after the ordeal hed survived. Enduring two years of vampires forcibly feeding from him, the witch would have every reason to avoid Zasha

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and recoil from his bite. Never once had Thane so much as flinched, even begging him to take more than Zasha felt was safe. Each feeding was conducted under stringently controlled conditions, and Zasha often fed from a donor bag beforehand though hed never tell Thane that. During times of high emotion and loss of inhibition, especially during sexual pursuits, it was close to impossible to fight the compulsion to feed from his intended. Adding to the complications was the fact that hed been without the donor blood for almost two days. Hungry and horny did not make for a good combination, and he needed to stay as far away from Thane as possible. The need to be close to his mate was hardwired into his very being, though. The overwhelming desire to give Thane everything he wanted never left him. So there he was, right back where hed started, chasing his proverbial tail in a perpetual loop. The mating bond dictated that he couldnt be without Thane because the separation would drive him mad. The bloodlust, however, screamed that he couldnt be with Thane because he might accidentally drain the guy in his sleep. Youre thinking too hard, Thane chastised, but the smile on his face was full of wickedness. Say yes, lieveling. The endearment sparked something in him, a note of recognition that he didnt understand. Growing up in Belgium, Zasha knew the language Thane spoke was Dutch, and hed heard countless others use the endearment during his lifetime. He didnt think that was why it felt so familiar to him, though. His heart pounded just a little faster, and his already aching cock swelled and throbbed against his zipper. Ithis is bad. His brain was shutting down. Whether it was from thirst for Thanes blood or hunger for the mans body, he couldnt say. Still, he had enough sense about him to know that no matter how much he desired his mate, he had to resist the temptation.

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Moving with a fluidity Zasha hadnt expected, Thane spun him on his heels and pressed his chest flat against the side of the house. Then he covered Zashas back with his taller frame, pinning him in place while he nibbled at the nape of his neck. There, Thane whispered, sliding his hand down Zashas stomach to pop open the clasp on his slacks. You cant even reach me with your fangs, and youre not going to hurt me. His long, talented fingers dipped into the waistband of Zashas boxers and extracted his hard cock, squeezing gently around the base. Let me make you feel good. At least give me this. If he wanted, Zasha could break the hold without blinking. That was exactly what he should do, but the lips on his neck and the hand on his dick felt too good. Hed denied them both of this for weeks on end, and while he knew he should say no, he couldnt force the word through his parched mouth. Thane was right about one other thing as well. In their current position, Zasha had no access to an artery. Are you really trying to justify this, asshole? Gods help him, but he was. When Thane began to pump his cock in slow, measured glides, Zasha would have told himself any lie, concocted any reasoning, to continue feeling that pleasure. Its up to you. Thanes unoccupied hand slid under his shirt and fluttered over his clenching abs. Say yes, Zasha. Tell me you want this. There was a clear plea in Thanes voice, and Zasha understood that if he refused, Thane would walk away. Hed be hurt, and probably a little frustrated, but hed stop everything if that was truly what Zasha wanted. I It shouldnt have been such a difficult decision. However, the fact that he hadnt been able to retract his fangs since theyd stepped outside was weighing heavily on him. Thanes exploration came to a halt, and he released Zashas pulsing length with a sigh of resignation. Okay, sweetheart. Its

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okay. He whispered another kiss over Zashas neck and nuzzled against his shoulder. Im sorry I pushed. With his palms pressed flat to the side of the house, Zasha dropped his head, resting his chin on his chest, and squeezed his eyes closed. Yes. What was that? Zasha could hear the undercurrent of hope tinting his lovers tone, and it broke his heart. It wasnt fair for him to deny his partner simply because he had no self-control. He was stronger than that. All of his excuses about Thane being too sick were bullshit, when really, it all boiled down to Zashas weakness. Yes, he repeated with more conviction. I want this. Lifting his head, he peeked over his shoulder and captured Thanes lips in a lingering kiss. I want you. With a needy moan, Thane attacked his mouth, plunging his tongue between Zashas parted lips to taste and explore every inch he could reach. One hand pressed flat to Zashas stomach while the other fisted his erection again. Well take it slow, Thane panted. Tell me if it gets to be too much. Zasha assumed he meant the bloodlust, but it was kind of hard to think around the throbbing of his cock. Stop talking. Now that hed given in, he couldnt get enough. Every touch, every taste, every hard glide of Thanes hand over his length was more addicting than the last. Shaking and shuddering, he bucked into his lovers fist as he nipped at Thanes delectable lips. The muscles in his thighs trembled, and his heart hammered against his sternum. Each exhale caught in his chest, forced out through a panting moan. His sac tightened, squeezing his balls and tugging them closer to his body. A tingle started at the base of his skull and traveled down his spine as he pushed back into his lover, grinding his ass against Thanes groin. More, Zasha demanded.

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Thane responded with a low, breathless growl. His fist constricted around Zashas hard shaft, flying over the length in a blur. The hand on Zashas stomach crept upward to pinch and tug at his nipples, pulling a ragged groan from him that echoed around the porch. Soft lips skimmed along the shell of his ear, and Thane rocked into him, rubbing his trapped erection against Zashas backside. The sound of his mates moans, the feel of the hand on his cock, and the sweet taste that lingered on his tongue combined to make his head spin. When Thane buried his face into Zashas shoulder and gasped, the implication didnt fully register until the scent of the witchs climax hit him like a goddamn wrecking ball. Slamming his fist against the beige siding, Zasha dropped his head and growled while his hips jerked sporadically. Semen jetted from his cock in a never-ending river, spilling onto the wooden planks beneath him until he felt drained. Gods, I needed that. Thane moved in closer and rubbed his cheek against the top of Zashas head. Feeling better? He heard the words but they didnt make any sense. Now that one hunger had been sated, the other came roaring to life like a locomotive. He intended to warn his mate, to tell Thane to go, to run, but when he opened his mouth, all that came out was a feral snarl. In the next heartbeat, without any conscious decision on his part, their positions were reversed. By the time he realized what was happening, Zasha had his lover pinned against the house with his fangs embedded in the supple flesh of Thanes throat. **** The abruptness in which he found himself with a neck full of fang startled him, but the bite itself caused his softening cock to twitch inside his sticky boxers. There was no pain associated with Zashas

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bite, no discomfort of any kind. On the contrary, each gentle draw on the wound made him want to rub against his lover like a wanton slut. Zasha was getting the nutrients he needed while marking his territory, so to speak. Thane received the satisfaction of providing for his mate, adding something to their relationship after so long of feeling useless. The passion in the moment, the high he felt from the simple act, transported him to another time and place when things hadnt been so complicated. Mmm, Thane purred as he caressed his lovers cheek. I love that part. Zasha sprawled atop him so that their naked chests pressed together. A layer of perspiration made his smooth skin glisten in the flickering light from the solitary candle at their bedside. His kissswollen lips stretched into a grin, showing off his pointed canines as he nuzzled his cheek against Thanes palm. I cant say I enjoy it as much as you, love, but it is nice. Zasha exhaled a contented sigh through his nose, causing his nostrils to flare. Pushing into a sitting position to straddle Thanes hips, he reached out and traced his finger around the puncture wounds on Thanes neck. I like the thought of having a part of you inside me, and I know I need the nourishment. I just wish I didnt have to mark you to get it. Im honored to wear your mark, Thane argued. Zasha was the most beautiful man hed ever met in any of his lifetimes, but there was so much more to the vampire, qualities that had captivated him instantly. Zasha was fearless, brave and honorable to a fault, and he was so selfless he almost didnt seem real sometimes. He hurt for those in pain, whether he knew them or not, and he gave more of himself than Thane thought was fair. If there was a way for Zasha to help, hed find it. When he couldnt ease anothers suffering, he agonized over it for days. He loved unconditionally and trusted far too easily.

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Passion, honesty, kindness, loyalty, beauty, gracethere was no end to the list of traits that made Zasha truly remarkable in Thanes eyes. Fate had honored him with an amazing gift, and each day, he strived to be worthy to call himself Zashas mate. A change in his lovers body language pulled him from his daydream, and Thane wanted to bang his head against the wall. He should have known it was too good to last. The difference was subtle at first, but then, like a switch being flipped, Zasha ceased all motion and went completely rigid in his arms. With surprising accuracy, Thane could pinpoint the exact moment Zashas actions coalesced with his lust-addled brain. With such carefulness, as if he was taking precautions so as not to startle him, Zasha withdrew his canines and placed a heartbreakingly tender kiss over the bite. Im so sorry. Though whispered, Thane felt every ounce of agony in those three little words. His chest constricted, his stomach clenched, and his throat burned with his rising emotions. Zasha. Taking his lovers cheeks in both hands, he lifted Zashas face up to the moonlight and rubbed their lips together in comfort. Look at me. It was a long time before Zasha finally opened his eyes. I thought I was stronger than that. I guess I was wrong. Zasha, there is nothing wrong with your self-control. Now, he was getting pissed. If you throw a starving dog into a chicken coop, it doesnt matter how well trained he is. Hes going to do what it takes to survive. Did you just call me a mutt? Under different circumstances, Thane might have laughed. Right then, however, he didnt appreciate the deflection. No. What Im saying is youre not getting what you need from that bagged crap. You wont let me take care of you. Then to top it off, youve gone without blood for how many days now? Its not smart. Its not healthy. Letting the steel-laced authority seep into his tone, he took

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his mate by the chin and looked directly into his eyes. And its not going to fucking happen again. Are we clear? He could kick his own ass for not seeing it sooner. Since he wasnt a vampire himself, he wouldnt have guessed there was much difference between stored and flesh blood, apart from the taste perhaps. Clearly, that wasnt the case. The urgency and desperation in Zashas mannerisms hadnt registered during the time, but now that the fog of passion had dissipated, it was all too easy to infer what had caused the lapse in Zashas restraint. Of course, Zasha couldnt just nod and agree with him. The man was a damn martyr, and hed find a way to blame himself in any situation. Youre missing the point. I could have seriously hurt you. Thane rolled his eyes as he began straightening his partners clothes, tucking Zasha back into his slacks and smoothing the wrinkles from his shirt. You didnt hurt me. I didnt stop you, Zash. You did that on your own. Batting Thanes hand away, Zasha fastened the clasp on his pants, grumbling under his breath the entire time. I shouldnt have bitten you in the first place. How do you feel? What? Zashas head snapped up, and his eyebrows drew together. I dont see how thats relevant. Gods, the man was going to be the death of him. The vampire would shrivel up and blow away if he thought for even a second that it might help in some way. And he accused Thane of letting his emotions cloud his judgment. Just tell me. How do you feel now? II feel like a bastard, but physically, I feel like a god. Uh-huh. Settling his hands on Zashas hips, Thane pulled him forward and nipped at his chin. So just maybe I was right. When his lover didnt respond, Thane tangled his fingers in the Zashas hair and pulled his head back on his shoulders. Im fine. I dont feel lightheaded, dizzy, or faint. Im not weak, nauseous, or even the tiniest bit tired. Stop worrying about me.

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Ill always worry about you, Zasha whispered in return. How can I not? How can I not worry about you? he countered. You are beautiful both inside and out, but you give too much. Its okay to take a little for yourself every now and then. Thane racked his brain for a way to make Zasha understand that he hadnt caused irreparable damage. Finally, he decided facts would appeal the most to his mates organized, control-freak personality. I need to gain in the ballpark of thirty more pounds, right? Yes, though I wouldnt be upset if it was a few more. Youre doing well, Thane. Zasha sounded like a cheerleader at a pep rally, rooting for a team with a losing record. The doctor is impressed with your progress, and Im excited to see you getting stronger. Even in the midst of an argument, Zasha couldnt miss the opportunity to toss in his own brand of encouragement. The gods have mercy on him, because Thane found it impossible to fight against that kind of optimism. While his irritation was fading rapidly, there was still a point he was trying to make. Thats kind of the idea. What was my last red-blood-cell count? Five and a half, Zasha answered at once. Where does that fall on the scale or normal? Right in the middle. Thane knew Zasha had memorized all the charts and data available, just so he could provide the best care possible for him. My last physical was perfect, other than being underweight, correct? Well, yeah. Zashas lips turned down into an adorable frown. You tricked me. No, sweetheart. He cupped his lovers cheek and smiled. Im just trying to show you why youre overreacting. Now, please, can we drop all of this nonsense? Ill take an iron supplement every day if it will make you feel better. Each argument, each disagreement, and every single time hed been nagged was completely worth it when a gorgeous smile lit up

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Zashas face. You present a compelling argument, Mr. Braddock. He nodded once and pressed himself against Thanes chest. You need to be taking the iron supplement anyway, and no caffeine or alcohol. It thins your blood. Yes, Doctor, Thane teased, but he was delighted Zasha was being so reasonable. I mean it. Im not one hundred percent comfortable with this, but Im willing to try. That means youre going to have to put up with me being overprotective for a bit longer. I need to take care of you. The least you can do is let me. I have a better idea. Tilting his head to the side, he bent until he was a mere breath from Zashas lips. What if, and hear me out, we take care of each other? Slender arms encircled his neck, and Zasha chuckled under his breath. Yeah, I think Id like that. Thane wasnt so nave as to believe that all of their problems had been magically solved. As his lips pillowed against Zashas and he teased the seam with his tongue, he felt they were off to a pretty damn good start, though.

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Chapter Five
The next few nights brought good news for a change. The Enforcers had located Thanes younger brother, Mikko, in the bayous of Louisiana. Since Thane had been out of the loop for a while, and his family was busy preparing for some kind of ritual involving Leader Tuesdays mate, Zasha was doing his best to get his lover up to date with the current events. Phillip McCarthy has apparently been a plague on your family for years. He only knew bits and pieces of the story, but Thane listened with rapt attention, motioning for him to continue. He kidnapped Torren and tried to raise the dead. He had possession of the Book of the Banished at one time, and hes the reason Raiths being poisoned by that dark magic. He didnt get all the rules about witches and magic, but he understood evil just fine. By syphoning away Phillip McCarthys magic, Raith Braddock had damned himself to protect the people he loved. Thankfully, there was a way to purge the blackness from his soul, and if the ritual went according to plan, the witch would be back to normal by the time the sun rose. Okay, and where is this guy now? Zasha stopped pacing the living room and arched an eyebrow at his disgruntled lover. Now that Mikko is safe, Phillip will be handed over to the Olympia Coven in Washington. Kneeling between Thanes knees where he perched on the sofa, Zasha took his hands and squeezed. He will be punished. I promise. Zasha had been trying. Since their tryst on the front porch, hed not badgered Thane nearly as much about his diet, exercise, or overall

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health. However, he also hadnt engaged in any further sexual exploits or fed from his mate since that night. Yes, he was trying to compromise as Thane wanted. He conceded that his mate brought up valid points about his speedy recovery. Much to the witchs displeasure, hed even requested Thanes doctor make a special visit the previous night to check him over from top to bottom. Other than needing to gain more weight, the doctor had confirmed that Thane was in excellent health and could even begin an exercise regimen to gain muscle mass. Of course, Thane had made it a point to ask about sexual activity. The doctor had chuckled quietly and winked, saying he recommended it at least twice a day. Zasha hadnt seen the humor. He trusted the medic, and he was excited about Thanes progress. Still, he was finding it hard to convince himself that his concerns were invalid. Hed only had Thane for a few weeks, and already, he was more attached than he should be. The thought of doing anythingunintentional, accidental, or otherwisethat would tear his mate away from him sent him into a panic. Thane softened toward him, and he dipped his head to kiss Zashas brow. The sun will be rising soon. You should head down to the basement. And where are you going? It didnt escape his notice that Thane hadnt included himself in that thinly veiled command. For some reason, perhaps because of his growing attachment and constant fear that something bad lurked just around the corner, it made him nervous to be away from his partner. I have to help my brothers, lieveling. Ill be back soon after sunrise. Thanes tone wasnt condescending, but he spoke gently, as though he recognized and understood Zashas anxiety. It had been an eventful night. First, Gideon had called with news of Mikko, saying the witch was in worse physical condition than theyd originally thought, and they were flying him straight to Snake River. During that little distraction, Leader Tuesdays four-year-old

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son had disappeared, and Zasha had torn the place apart looking for him. For a few minutes, hed been sure he was dead. If his leader found out hed lost the kid, October would disembowel him without blinking. Luckily, everything had turn out fine in the end, but it had been an exhausting evening full of emotional upheaval. With the sun rising shortly, he could barely keep his eyes open. Ill wait up for you. Thane just laughed as he rose from the cushions, pulling Zasha up with him. Go warm up the bed for me and get some rest. Weve got a big night ahead of us. Zasha didnt understand. Whats happening tonight? He assumed Thane would want to see Mikko as soon as possible, but it wasnt that far of a drive from Casper to the coven. Youre going home. Easing around him, Thane backed away with his hands tucked in his pockets and offered a smug grin. Were packing our bags and moving to Snake River. **** His attempt to stay awake and remain watchful for his mate had been in vain. Almost as soon as his head had touched the pillow, Zasha had succumbed to sleep. He vaguely remembered Thane crawling into bed with him, mostly because it had felt like cuddling up next to an ice cube. Hed awoken hours later to the news that the spell had been successful, freeing Raith from his curse of darkness. Thane hadnt gone into great detail, and there hadnt been time to ask questions. His mate was like a drill instructor, barking out orders as he packed their belongings with military efficiency. Then hed insisted on checking, double-checking, and even triple-checking that theyd included everything except the kitchen sink.

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Would you relax? Its not like we cant come back if we forget something. It was especially funny since the guy was normally so devil-may-care about everything. Thats not the point, Thane argued. If I need something, Id like to have it on hand. Zasha should have been irritated, but he found the compulsive behavior kind of cute. Thane, were not going on safari in the African wilderness. Snake River might be full of vampires, but I promise were not cavemen. Honestly, he understood. After having everything taken from him, it seemed natural for Thane to be overly focused on his possessions. It was just too much fun to tease him. Loading the last suitcase into the back of the SUV, Thane closed the gate with narrowed eyes. And you have a very smart mouth. Stalking forward, he pressed Zasha against the passenger-side door and grabbed his hips in a bruising hold. I think we could find better ways to occupy those luscious lips. He was pretty sure Thane meant a kiss. Unbidden, however, images of his lover completely bare and spread out before him assaulted his mind. He could practically feel the stretch of his own lips and the heaviness of Thanes cock as it slid over his tongue. The tangy-sweet taste of pre-cum bathed his taste buds, while his mates unique scent invaded his senses. Swallowing became difficult because his mouth was desert dry, and he searched for something to say in the awkward silence. Words had abandoned him, though, along with most of his reasoning skills. Every thought revolved around Thane, all of them dirty, wicked, and utterly indecent. Ah, I like that look, Thane murmured as he pulled Zashas shirt free of his boot-cut jeans with a casualness that belied their very public setting. Tell me what youre thinking. I want you. His brain to mouth filter short-circuited, and the words were past his lips before he could stop them.

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Thats the best news Ive heard all day. Strong hands slid beneath the hem of his shirt and caressed his quivering abs. Unfortunately, we need to be going. His words were breathless, and Thane made no attempt to pull away as his lips traveled along the column of Zashas throat. Fuck, lieveling, you drive me crazy. If Zasha could remember correctly, and it was a little hard with all the blood in his body rushing to his dick, he hadnt instigated anything. However, hed be lying if he said he wasnt pleased to know how much his lover wanted him. Its not that far of a drive. He was going for reasonable, but even to his own ears, he sounded just as breathless and desperate as Thane. Its still too far. Leaning heavily against him, Thane rocked his hips, grinding his denim-clad erection against Zashas. Come back inside with me. It was on the tip of his tongue to answer in the affirmative, to give in to his mates passion. The lines between right and wrong blurred when they were together like this. What he should do and what he wanted to do battled for dominance, and Zasha was seconds away from saying to hell with the damn rules and losing himself to the consuming burn. A childs laughter floated on the air, penetrating his scrambled thoughts and reminding him that they stood in the driveway with a dozen people only feet awaytwo of which were under the age of six. Thane, stop. Not here. Apparently, Thane had been doused in a cold bucket of reality as well, because he rested his forehead against Zashas shoulder and sighed. Right. Sorry. His arms folded around Zashas waist, hugging him tightly to his chest. I got carried away. We both did. He licked at his canines, encouraging his fangs to retract as he took deep breaths to calm his racing pulse. Cmon. The sooner we get on the road, the faster we can be in Snake River. Zasha didnt know how he was going to survive the two-hour trip in an enclosed space with the mans scent filling his head. Since it was

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the only option currently open to them, hed have to find a way, though. Are you ready? Pulling Zasha away from the vehicle, Thane opened the passenger door and motioned for him to slide into the seat. When we get there Ill give you a private tour of my room, Zasha finished. There was no sense in fighting his growing desire. He could no longer use Thanes health as an excuse, and hed be an idiot to keep up the charade. A few precautions to ensure he didnt lose control in the heat of the moment would be in order, but otherwise, he saw no reason to continue to deny them both. Thane appeared surprised by his one-eighty in attitude, not that Zasha could blame him. Instead of commenting, however, he growled seductively, kissed Zashas lips, and hurried around the SUV to climb in behind the wheel. Smiling to himself, Zasha settled in for the ride, content with life for the moment. In the beginning of their relationship, hed had a lot of questions about his future. He just couldnt understand how fate could have paired two such different men, and he had his doubts as to whether he and Thane could make it work. Neither of them embodied complete light or total darkness, but he was beginning to understand that they were the perfect balance. Their personalities complemented one another. Two parts combined to form a whole, better and stronger than they could ever be individually. While Zasha was cautious and methodical, Thane was full of fire and zeal. It was a clever design by fate, and one he felt suited their relationship. Steering them along the dark, deserted road, Thane reached across the console and rested his hand on Zashas leg, curling his fingers against the inside of his thigh. Whats wrong? You look like youre thinking very hard about something. There had been times since theyd met, times just like this, when Thane looked at him as though he was someone else entirely. The

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emotion in his gaze was that of a longtime lovers, not a recently mated man. It wasnt necessarily a bad thing. Zasha just didnt know what it meant. Maybe it meant nothing, and he was reading too much into the lingering stare. He had a hard time accepting that reasoning, though. He recognized the turbulent emotions in Thanes eyes because they echoed the same familiarity raging within his own heart. It could be a touch, a sideways look, or that sweet endearment whispered against his ear. The smallest things caused his pulse to race and filled him with a longing for something hed lost long ago. The problem was that he didnt have a clue what he was missing. Hed never had a mate before. Hell, hed never even had a relationship that lasted longer than a few weeks. It didnt make sense, but Zasha knew what he felt. Now, he just needed to figure out what it meant. Covering his mates hand with his own, he squeezed Thanes fingers and smiled. Im just happy to be going home. Thats all. **** Have you told him? Thane clamped his teeth together and shook his head once. Oh, he knew exactly what Torren was talking about, but he didnt see how it was any of his brothers business. I will when the times right. Uh-huh, and how long do you think thats going to work? Torren pulled the heavy door open, waving Thane ahead of him to descend the stairs to the basement infirmary in Snake Rivers main house. Zasha is smart, Thane. He feels something isnt right, even if he doesnt understand it. When hes ready, Ill claim him, and then hell remember. Everything will go back to how it used to be. Torren had already been through this with his own Infinity. He knew how the magic of Twin Flames worked. Once a Braddock found

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the missing part of his torn soul, the memories always came flooding back. I hate to tell you this, but thats not how it works. Falling into step beside him, Torren shoved his hands into his pockets and chuckled. Yeah, Zasha will probably get his memories back, but that doesnt mean things will be like they were the first time. Youre both different people now. To a certain extent, that was true. Thane was certainly less reserved than he had been in the fifteenth century, but the world had been a different place back then. Everything will be fine. Youll see. Rather than offering a sarcastic comeback, Torren just nodded, extracting one hand from the pocket of his jeans to point down the basement corridor. Its the third door. Thats it? Youre not going to lecture me about how Im wrong? Torren had never been able to resist an opportunity to give his opinion, whether he was asked for it or not. It had been that way since they were kids, and Thane was skeptical of this new and improved attitude. Nope, his brother answered with a shrug. I get it. I was just as stubborn and sure that I knew more than anyone else. Stopping at the door hed indicated, Torren turned the knob and gave Thane a little shove across the threshold. Youll figure it out on your own, Thane, and I think thats the way it supposed to be. Who are you and where is my brother? Torren was never this reasonable. As the oldest of their siblings, he was their self-appointed leader, forever telling them what to do, how to do it, and then screaming like an idiot when they did it wrong. It changes you. That was all Torren said before clapping him on the shoulder and crossing the room to meet with the rest of their brothers. Thane didnt know what the hell it was, but he got the hint that Torren was finished with the conversation. Shaking his head and

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clearing his frustrated expression, he approached the hospital bed where everyone was gathered. Having lived through something similar as Mikko, he thought he knew what to expect. He imagined his brother to be too thin and riddled with wounds, but nothing his imagination conjured could have prepared him for the reality. Mikko wasnt just too thin. He was barely more than loose, dry skin draped over bones. His face appeared skeletal and too large for his body. There wasnt a single strand of hair on Mikkos head. Thane wasnt sure if the hair loss had been caused by his condition or because someone had shaved it, but it made the witch look so frail. His heart ached, but his blood boiled with fury. No matter how he tried to justify it or make sense of the situation, he couldnt understand how someone could be so vile and sadistic to another human being. No, war wasnt pretty. This was no act of warfare, though. There was no honor in what had been done to Mikko. With so many tubes and wires connected to his tiny body, he resembled something straight from a sci-fi nightmare. There was also nothing Thane could do to help, not until Mikkos body healed. His brother teetered on the brink of death, which was what had likely kept him trapped in Purgatory. If Thane attempted to reunite Mikkos body and spirit in his current condition, there was a higher than average chance that hed end up killing the man. Whats the plan? Raith asked, his voice gruff and tinged with emotion. We get him healthy and get him back, Torren answered simply. In the meantime, were going to start getting to the bottom of some things. Ive told you all I know about the vampires who held me in the mountains. Thane would help in any way asked of him, but he could only tell what he knew. It wasnt like the small coven had rolled out the welcome mat and introduced themselves.

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Im not talking about the vampires. There are enough people investigating these slave trades and the refugees spilling into Haven. Torren glanced over his shoulder toward the door as though checking to be sure they were still alone. The witch circles in the west are still causing chaos, and no one has been able to find those missing kids. Do you really think theyre still alive? Lynk fidgeted nervously, and he sounded a little nauseous when he spoke about the children. Thane understood something horrible was going on in the western states, but beyond that, he was lost. Okay, does someone want to get me caught up? Whats going on with these kids? Long story short, Torren explained, these witches have been inciting mass hysteria. Theyve convinced all the covens, packs, and whatnot that no one is safe unless they sacrifice their children. So, werewolves are kidnapping vampire kids, and shifters are kidnapping children from opposing packs. Its a goddamn mess. Thane suddenly felt a little sick as well. Before his abduction, hed spent the past several years in Europe. It seemed everything in the paranormal world had gone to fucking hell during his absence, especially there in the States. The Braddocks had always had huge targets on their backs. Therein lay the reason theyd all decided to go their separate ways a long time ago. Only one of them was needed to open the Book of the Banished, but it would take all thirteen of them to unbind the book from the faerie it had attached itself to for survival. Provoking war amongst the races and sacrificing innocents for selfish gain wasnt anything new, but Thane hadnt witnessed evil on this scale since the original witch wars over seven hundred years ago. Okay, so what are we going to do about it? Torren scrubbed both hands over his face and yawned loudly. Were going to sleep on it and come at this again tomorrow. Im too tired to think right now. Thane didnt want to be insensitive or appear uncaring. He worried about Mikko, and hed do his part to stop these rogue

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witches. However, Torrens suggestion sounded like an excellent plan to him. Hed been sleeping and rising on vampire time for weeks. Torren might be exhausted, but for Thane, his day was just getting interesting. After all, he was still waiting on that privateand hopefully, nakedtour of his mates bedroom.

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Chapter Six
When Thane had disappeared with his brothers just minutes after their arrival to the coven, Zasha had feigned disappointment. In truth, however, he was more relieved than anything. Thanes short absence to attend to family matters had given Zasha ample time for a little excursion down to the kitchen to pilfer one of the donor bags on hand. It wasnt as though Thane didnt know he was a vampire and needed blood to survive, but the guy would flip his lid if he knew the last time Zasha fed was nearly three days ago. Hed made it pretty clear back on the porch of The Council house that this type of fasting wouldnt happen again. Zasha hadnt set out to intentionally starve himself. His supply in Casper had run dry. He hadnt been able to restock, and hed be damned if he was going to lose control and bite Thane again. So, really, he hadnt had any choice. Somehow, he doubted Thane would see things that way. Having someone care and worry about him wasnt a bad thing, but it was much different than how he was used to living. His family lived an entire ocean away, and he didnt have many friends. One was dead because hed turned out to be a sadistic piece of shit, and the other was an ex-lover. Sure, he interacted with a number of people on any given day. He even called some of them friends. In actuality, they were all just acquaintances hed happened to know for a century or so. Zasha didnt trust easily, and he had no desire to win any popularity contests. He was reserved, slightly introverted, and he was probably a bit of a nerd. These were things he understood about himself, and that was okay. However, spending most of his time alone

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meant hed never had to take someone elses feelings or thoughts into consideration. He took care of himself, answered to no one except maybe Leader Tuesday, and that was how hed done things for most of his adult life. Now, there were all of these new rules. His actions no longer affected only him. Someone actually depended on him. Thane didnt need a nurse anymore, but he still depended on Zasha to make the right choices, to consider their relationship when weighing his options. Zasha didnt want to let his mate down, and he was trying damn hard. Unfortunately, being mated was not something to be taught or learned. It was one of those many mysteries of life that had to be experienced to gain any kind of knowledge. Then, just when he thought he might be getting a grasp on it, a butterfly would flap its wings, creating an imperceptible shift in the windor some insignificant crap like that. All Zasha knew was that one minute things were great, and then without warning, everything would blow up in his face. There was no rational explanation for these disasters. They seemed to crop up when everything was going right, just to point and laugh at him. Well, this time, he wasnt leaving anything to chance. Hed fed, done fifty pushups to work off some of his nervous energy, and even jerked off in the shower. Feeling relaxed and content, he rested in the center of his bed, sprawled on his back while the warmth of the room dried the water from his naked body. With one hand splayed across his stomach and the other tucked behind his head, Zasha closed his eyes, waiting for his lovers return. Thane had only been in the room long enough to drop off his belongings, change his clothes, and hurry off to meet his brothers. His discarded T-shirt lay crumpled in the armchair by the window, and though it had been over half an hour since his departure, the light cotton still held his scent.

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Each inhalation was filled with the alluring smell, and before long, Zashas dick began to swell once again. Since the night Thane had ravished him in the moonlight, hed been able to think about little else. Hed never claimed to be a saint. Still, hed held his reservations and remained careful when it came to the subject of sex. That wasnt to say he didnt desire his partner. Hell, he was addicted to all things Thane, but until he could be certain he could maintain control, it was best to be cautious. If just a faint, lingering scent of the man could produce such reactions from his body, he could safely assume being in Thanes presence would be ten times more tempting. Sucking his bottom lip between his teeth to muffle his groan, Zasha curled his fingers around his hard length and arched up from the mattress. This was no good. Hed gone from relaxed to on-edge in two seconds flat, and he couldnt meet Thane like this. If his mate walked through the door right then, Zasha had little faith in his selfrestraint. Holding his breath, he listened for footsteps in the hallway. When he heard nothing but his own pounding heart, he released his aching cock and hurried to his closet to pull out a small box. Quickly, he selected one of his favorite toys and a bottle of strawberry scented lube then tucked the wooden box back into its hiding place. Resuming his place on the mattress, Zasha slicked two fingers with the sweet-smelling gel, reached between his bent knees, and rubbed the lube over his quivering entrance. The muscles loosened at his gentle prodding, allowing him to slip both fingers into his heated channel. As his pulse increased, so did his panted breathing. Adding a third digit, Zasha imagined it was Thanes fingers pumping into his hole rather than his own. His dick throbbed, the engorged head turning an interesting shade of deep red as translucent drops of pre-cum seeped from the slit to paint the skin covering his abs.

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Despite what Thane probably thought, these fantasies werent uncommon. At least once a day, usually in the shower, Zasha indulged in erotic thoughts of his mate. He imagined the slow, torturous build-up as Thane teased his senses. He could practically feel the burn as his needy hole stretched to accommodate his lovers girth. The last thought elicited a ragged moan that poured out through his parted lips. Extracting his fingers, he grabbed the long, thick dildo near his hip and coated the tip of the clear phallus with lube. Positioning it at his opening, Zasha sucked in a deep breath and released it slowly as he pushed the yielding silicone through the guarding ring of muscles. Pulling his knees to his chest, he began slowly, pumping the toy into his channel in long, languid strokes as he relished in the slight burn. His own dick rested against his stomach, pulsing angrily as his need to orgasm mounted. His rhythm increased, pushing him closer to the edge with each hard thrust of the dildo. As he neared the pinnacle, however, a sound caught his attention that drew his endeavors to a screeching halt. A mischievous smile stretched his lips when his sensitive hearing picked up not only booted footfalls approaching his room, but the sound of Thanes voice. His mate spoke softly, but there was also a measure of excitement, as though he was giving himself a pep talk. The self-encouragement made Zasha chuckle under his breath. As big as his lover was, he really shouldnt find the man so damn adorable. He couldnt help himself, though. Thane viewed life as a challenge, one he eagerly accepted, and the enjoyment he found in simple things was infectious. Thane deserved happiness. After all the trials hed been through, he deserved everything his heart desired. His restless personality meant he needed people in his life who tested him, people to push him to be better. Zasha was ashamed to say he hadnt been that person, but he was working on it.

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While his first instinct had been to abandon his toy and appear completely normal when Thane entered the room, he forced himself to remain right where he was. He was doing this for Thane, after all. Everything hed done since arriving back in Snake River had been leading up to the seduction of his mate. Well, there wasnt much more seductive than naked, lubed up, and playing with himself. Zasha? In here, he called, trying to keep his voice even so as not to give anything away. As the coven leaders personal assistant, he was afforded certain comforts. A one-bedroom suite with a kitchenette and his own private bathroom happened to be one of those perks. Sorry, sweetheart. I didnt mean for it to take so lo Thane stopped talking, and his mouth fell open when he entered the bedroom. The surprise didnt last long, though, before his features transformed into something much more predatory. Hello, lieveling. See something you like? Zasha returned, letting the arousal seep into his tone. Continuing to manipulate the toy with one hand, he used the other to fist his erection, stroking the hard length from root to tip. Mmm hmm, Thane mused as he kicked his boots off and crossed the room to kneel at the foot of the bed. Let me help you with that. Hed probably kick his own ass later when he could think clearly. Right then, his hormones were in overdrive, drowning all critical thinking skills in a sea of lust, and his craving for Thane was too much to fight. Or you could just enjoy the show. Hands over your head, Thane ordered, his tone brooking no argument. Gods, Zasha didnt know where the authority had come from, but the bass in his lovers voice sent a shiver down his spine. Releasing his cock and the grip on the fake phallus, he lifted his hands above his

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head and crossed his wrists as he rested his knuckles against the mattress. Better, Thane praised as he leaned forward to nip at the back of Zashas thigh. Now, dont come. Zashas spine bowed, and he cried out to the ceiling when Thane pushed the toy deeper into his clenching channel and pegged his prostate. Thane, II cant. The man had lost his mind if he thought Zasha could hold back his climax when everything inside him was demanding he come. You can, Thane assured him, and it sounded almost like an order. You can, and you will. **** Yes, he liked taking a more dominant role in the bedroom, but he wasnt so cruel as to tease his mate into blue balls and not follow through. By pushing Zasha to the edge and then reeling him back, the vampires orgasm would be explosive by the time he finally reached his release. In a way, Thane was doing his mate a favor. What Zasha didnt realize was that by prolonging the sweet torture, Thane was also tormenting himself. His dick ached inside his jeans, swollen and bent at an unnatural angle behind his zipper. His mouth was desert dry, his heart beat too fast, and his muscles clenched in anticipation of finally claiming his prize after being denied for so long. The way Zasha had talked about giving him the private tour, Thane had expected something more than kisses and cuddles. However, walking in to find Zasha naked with a ten-inch dildo plunging into his tight ass had never crossed his mind. It was such a stark contrast from the proper, sensible man he knew Thane had nearly creamed his boxers right there in the doorway. His possessive, dominant side had come out to play, roaring to the surface at the sight of his mate in such a lewd position. The mere

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thought of anyone besides him seeing Zasha in that way formed a red haze over his vision. The need to mark the vampire, proclaim him as unavailable, and assure Zasha knew exactly who he belonged to was overwhelming. Thane couldnt fight the urge, couldnt deny his basic nature, and furthermore, he saw no reason to try. With no real base to the toy, Thane fisted the end of the flexible shaft and twisted his wrist, smiling when Zasha arched his back and howled. You like that, dont you, baby? It was a rhetorical question. Zashas engorged cock and clenched muscles told him all he needed to know. Yes, Zasha hissed. It was clear hed do or say anything for permission to come, but Thane wasnt finished with him yet. He wanted his mate delirious with need, and while Zasha hovered on the cusp, he wasnt quite there yet. Inching the toy out of Zashas snug channel, Thane swallowed loudly as he watched the tiny starburst stretch to accommodate the thick shaft. A thin layer of perspiration coated his lovers smooth, pale skin, giving him an otherworldly glow as the dim light of the room played off the contours of his body. Thane was one lucky son of a bitch. His man was always gorgeous, no matter the time of day or the type of situation. As carnally uninhibited as he was now, though, Zasha was breathtaking. The quiet whimpers and muffled pleas that rolled through his plump lips tested Thanes willpower, but he remained unmoving, knowing the explosive release would be worth his temporary sacrifice. Though his hands trembled and his body vibrated, Thane pumped the toy in and out of Zashas hole in unhurried, lazy strokes. Do you want more, Zasha? Yes, his lover growled at him. Please, Thane. Tell me what you want. Sure, he could make it easy on the guy, but what fun would that be? You, Thane. I want you.

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He hadnt expected such a straightforward answer, and he was momentarily stunned speechless. Recovering quickly, he chuckled under his breath, his laughter confident, bordering on cocky. Are you finished with playtime? He turned his wrist sharply as he drove the dildo into Zashas depths. Do you want the real thing now? Yes! Zasha yelled, his growing need obvious in his strained tone. You want to ride my cock, baby? You want to feel me pounding into this sweet ass? Zasha rocked his hips, fucking himself on the toy. Goddamn it, Thane! Tell me, Zasha. Tell me how much you want me. It wasnt some ego trip, either. The increased volume of his lovers pleas was proof of his desire. This was about finding Zashas comfort zone and then pushing him just a little farther. A drawn-out, strangled groan reverberated around the room when he gripped his lovers weeping cock by the base and squeezed. Still, his vampire was stubborn. Please. Fuck, just let me come! His dick was heavy in Thanes hand, hot and throbbing with the rapid beat of his heart. His hairless sac constricted, pulling tight to his body, and his ass clenched around the toy in rhythmic waves. Zasha hovered on the edge of orgasm, and if hed just let go of some of that closely held control, Thane would send him flying. Cmon, lieveling. Thane stroked the thick shaft to the tip and dipped his thumb into the slit to smear the drops of slippery pre-cum. Then he traveled back down the velvety length to squeeze the base once more. If this is really all you want, just say the word. He stroked Zashas cock once more and twisted the dildo in his ass. Whats it going to be? Tell me, and Ill let you come right now. Is this it, or do you want more? Heavy panting and soft grunts spilled from Zashas mouth as he writhed against the black comforter. Thane could practically see the

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battle raging inside his lovers head, but it wasnt clear if hed come out on the winning team. His patience paid off seconds later when Zasha relaxed into the mattress and whimpered. More. I want more. Thane could have left it at that. He probably should have accepted that little nugget of submission. However, though Zasha teetered on the edge, he was still comfortably inside his bubble. Tell me, baby. Tell me what you want. You. Pushing up on his elbows, he stared at Thane with enough heat to set the room on fire. I want you to fuck me until neither one us can move. Then, when Im exhausted, when Im covered in sweat and cum, I want you to fuck me again. Just like that, the tables had turned. The seducer had become the seducedthe hunter was now the preyand Thanes lust tripped into overdrive at the deliberately vulgar descriptions. During their time togetherin this life and the one that came beforehed never heard his mate utter such explicit requests. With as much care as his desire would allow, he eased the toy from his mates body and tossed it to the carpeted floor. Hands back over your head, he ordered as he rose to his feet. The command came out a little breathless and didnt hold the same measure of authority as before. He was having a hard time caring, though, probably because all the blood in his body had decided to rush straight to his aching cock. Something wrong? The teasing lilt and slight curl of Zashas lips probably shouldnt have turned him on like it did. Thane had no idea where this new, playful side of his partner had come from, but he wasnt about to do or say anything to discourage the behavior. I promised you earlier that wed find better uses for that smart mouth of yours. He reached for the button on his jeans and popped it open one-handed while he tugged his shirt off over his head. Here, let me help you with that.

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That was all the warning he received before Zasha lunged for him, leaping off the bed to tackle him to the floor. What little clothing remained was shredded and tossed unceremoniously about the room. Sprawled on his back, Thane dug his fingers into the carpet and roared. Everything ceased to exist, and his entire world centered on the soft, moist heat of his lovers mouth surrounding the tip of his cock. Dropping his head back to the floor with a thud, he released his hold on the carpet, tangled his fingers in Zashas hair, and arched up into the mans mouth. Long fingers bit into his hips, and Zasha growled, pinning Thane down with supernatural strength. His cheeks hollowed when he increased the suction on Thanes cock, bending his neck to drag his stretched lips along the length. Zasha bobbed his head in a steady tempo, but his eyes never left Thanes, holding his gaze with hypnotic intensity. As his chosen, Zasha couldnt compel him, but Thane imagined the effects were similar. His lover held his undivided attention, and in that moment, hed give anything, say anything, or do anything Zasha required of him. Popping off of Thanes cock with a naughty slurp, Zasha tilted his head to the side and grinned. What were you saying about my mouth? I fucking love it, Thane answered automatically. Gods, he was completely under the vampires spell, and he couldnt imagine a better place to be. A single finger stroked his scrotum with loving caresses before Zasha tugged sharply at his pressure-filled sac. Its not nice to tease, is it, Thane? A rumbled groan rolled through his chest, and he arched his hips off the floor. He wasnt about to let Zasha win so easily, though. Oh, I dont know. Taking his slick cock in one hand, he held it upright, shaking the tip at his lover. It seems to be working out in my favor so far. When Zasha didnt rise to the bait, Thane lifted one shoulder

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in a nonchalant shrug, though every cell in his body screamed at him to shut up and just give in to whatever his lover wanted. Well, if youre not interested He didnt get to finish the taunt before Zasha was on top of him, straddling his hips and snarling like a feral animal. Mine! Thane had been about to say hed take care of himself if Zasha didnt want to help. He was pretty certain that wasnt how the guy had interpreted his partial statement, though. There was a wild, untamed light in his eyes, telling Thane this wasnt a game anymore. He didnt know exactly what had triggered Zasha to snap, but he had the feeling that this little meltdown had been building for a while. No one just suddenly took a leap into Crazy Town without prior provocation. This wasnt the typical possessiveness or assertion of dominance hed witnessed with his brothers mates, and Lynk was mated to a highly territorial werewolf. Zasha, however, had traveled somewhere much deeper, much darker, and Thane wasnt even sure if the vampire recognized him anymore. He wasnt afraid, knew his mate would never hurt him, but he did worry about the damage this episode could do to their relationship. This loss of control was the very thing Zasha had feared would happen, and when he came out of his fugue, there was no telling how hed react. Yes, baby. Thane kept his voice calm and soothing. Im yours. He lifted his hand, intending to bring it to Zashas cheek, but his lover caught him around the wrist and pinned his arm back to the floor. Mine! There was no sign of the man he knew in Zashas twisted expression and snarling demeanor, but Thane knew his lover wasnt completely gone. He just needed to pull him back from whatever abyss had consumed him. Zasha, look at me. Theres no one else here. Its just us. Everything is okay.

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He would have said more, but Zasha chose that moment to strike, embedding his canines into the soft tissue of Thanes neck.

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Chapter Seven
Rich and sweet, Thanes life-giving essence bathed his tongue and flowed down his throat. His mate, and only his mate, could give him what he needed, what he craved. Right then, the thing Zasha yearned for the most was to mark his lover, to stamp his personal signature into Thanes skin for everyone to see. Every swallow brought a semblance of normalcy back to his fractured mind. From the moment Thane had walked into his bedroom, Zasha had been living in two coexisting realms. Fluctuating between two completely different worlds, hed been unsure of which was the true reality. Sometimes, Thane had long, golden hair that flowed over his shoulder and down his chest. Then Zasha would blink, and his mates hair transformed into shorter locks that spiked out in all directions. One minute, they were curled together on the floor in front of a fireplace with only the flickering flames to illuminate the area around them. The next moment, the room dissolved, thrusting him into a harshly lit setting where he stretched alone across a mattress. It wasnt only his perception of reality that changed, either. When he was Zasha Gershwin, member of the Snake River Coven, he was happy, playful, and fully engaged in bringing Thane as much pleasure as possible. When his mind flowed into the room with the fireplace, however, he wasnt sure who he was, but he was pissed. It was anger like hed never felt before, a fury so overwhelming it was almost crippling. At some point, his two worlds had collided, blending into one confusing and disorienting reality. He couldnt be certain what Thane

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had said to set him off, couldnt recall that words that had been spoken before hed lost his mind and bit the guy. The conversation hed heard in his head, however, finally pushed him over the edge. How can you say that? How can you even think that? Its too dangerous, and you cant do this on your own. Thane smirked. It seems to have worked to my favor so far. This isnt like those other times, Thane. Youre going to get yourself killed. The witch lifted one shoulder in a shrug as though Zashas concerns were of little importance to him. Well, if youre not interested, I can always find someone else. Im sure Daniel would be more than willing to take your place. He didnt know what the conversation had been about or who the hell Daniel was. From Thanes tone, the mention of this mystery man had been deliberately goading, though. Then the next thing Zasha knew, he had a mouth full of salty skin. Closing his eyes and groaning in shame, he extracted his fangs from his lovers flesh and turned his head away, unable to look Thane in the eyes. He had no idea what had just happened. His head was still spinning with all the conflicting reality stuff, but he was very aware that hed just attacked the one person he was supposed to protect and treasure above all else. Zasha, baby, look at me. Thane didnt sound angry, and it would be childish to refuse him. With a great deal of reluctance, Zasha opened his eyes and looked down at his mate. He deserved anything Thane wanted to throw at him, and hed accept the consequences of having been a psychotic douchebag. Im sorry. It was grossly inadequate, but there was nothing more he could say. The crimson that trickled down Thanes neck turned his stomach, reminding him that he had no concept of how

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long hed fed or how much blood hed taken. Are you okay? Do you feel lightheaded or weak? What do you need? Im fine, lieveling. Im more worried about you. There was a tint of red on Thanes lip that drew his gaze. At first, he was terrified that hed caused the injury, and the bitterness of selfdisgust rose up in his throat like bile. Oh, gods. Reaching out to touch Thanes lip, Zasha paused and changed directions, lifting his hand to his own face. A tiny cut in the pad of his thumb was already beginning to heal, but the smear of blood over the skin was what frightened him most. What did I do? Calm down. Take a deep breath, Thane encouraged. Tell me what happened. What did I do? Zasha repeated the question as he hovered on the edge of panic. Tell me. Did I He couldnt even get the words out of his mouth. There was no way he claimed Thane without knowing it, especially not without talking to his partner about it first. Just tell me. Please. Thane sighed and thumped the back of his head against the floor several times. Maybe we should get dressed first. Nudity was the least of Zashas concerns. Stop deflecting. Did I claim you? It was a pointless question because he already knew the answer. He could feel the connection between them cementing, binding their hearts, minds, and souls in an unbreakable, eternal bond. Thanes heartbeat was his ownnot literally, but it was the only way Zasha could describe the feeling. Every hurt, every ounce of suffering Thane had ever known now belonged to Zasha as well, and he felt the anguish as though hed experienced all of those events firsthand. It wasnt just the pain, though. He felt all of Thanes emotions like they were his own. The strongest of these emotions simultaneously provoked immeasurable elation and unbearable sadness in Zashas heart.

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I know you can feel it, Thane whispered. There was a suspicious shine to his eyes as moisture gathered in the corners. Its written all over your face, but you have to let go of the guilt. How can youyou How can I love you? The smile the stretched Thanes lips was so heartbreakingly tender Zasha felt tears sting his own eyes. Pushing himself into a sitting position, he enfolded Zasha in his arms and cuddled him close. Ive always loved you, Zasha. You make it easier than breathing. Fingers stroked down his spine and soft lips pressed to his temple. Tell me what happened. Despite his emotional turmoil, Zashas body responded with inappropriate enthusiasm. His pulse accelerated, his muscles quivered, and his cock hardened to press against Thanes stomach. The unintended reaction only fueled his guilt. He had no right to want the things he wanted, not after what hed done. He didnt have an answer to Thanes question, but he had a lot of inquiries of his own. His lover sounded steady and confident, a rock for Zasha to cling to until he felt more stable. Whos Daniel? he blurted. Daniel? Yes. You said Daniel would be happy to take my place. Fuck, nothing made sense, and he couldnt be sure if it was something Thane had actually said, or if it was just a hallucination from his fevered mind. Never mind. Forget I said that. Neither of them spoke as they sat there on the floor, slowing rocking from side to side while Thane attempted to soothe him. In part, it was working. Zasha sagged against his lover, soaking up his warmth and inner strength. It was unusual for him to be so outwardly needy, but the things hed seenreal or notwent beyond his ability to comprehend. Do you trust me? Thane asked minutes later, and his whispered voice sounded strangely loud after the extended silence. Yes.

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Two days ago, Zasha would have given it much more thought before responding to such an important question. As the mating bond grew stronger with each passing second, however, he had no reason to withhold his trust. He felt everything Thane felt. He couldnt read his mates thoughts, but he could easily decipher the witchs emotions and intentions. Good. With a breathtaking smile, Thane rose from the floor without releasing his hold on Zashas waist, and carried him back to the mattress. Then try to stop thinking so hard and let me take care of you. Hopefully, everything will make sense very soon. Staring up at his lover as he sprawled across the dark blankets, Zasha wrapped his arms around Thanes neck and pulled him closer until their lips met in a kiss mixed with desire and apology. He didnt understand how the man could harbor such love and loyalty for him, but he wasnt so jaded as to refuse the gift. Unfortunately, however, he just couldnt return the sentiment. He cared very much for Thane, but he didnt know that it was love. Hell, love was such an abstract concept. There was no tangible proof that it existed. He couldnt see it, touch it, taste it, or hold it in his hand, and he was skeptical about this very human convention. Zasha wasnt convinced two people needed to love each other to be happy together. Fate threw them onto the same path because they were the best possible match, and from there, well, they just had to find a way to make it work. There wasnt anything he wouldnt do for Thane, and the thought of losing him pierced his heart like a jagged, rusty dagger. Hed heard humans speak of many types of loveunconditional love, a mothers love, true love, eternal love, and the ever-popular love at first sight. Sometimes, he envied them and their ability to find joy based purely on faith. Of course, hed heard paranormals speak about love as well, but mostly, he felt they were just confused. Their compatibility with their

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mates, a healthy dose of pheromones, and some animalistic instincts did not necessarily equal love in Zashas opinion. Suddenly, his bottom lip was sucked between his mates teeth, and Thane bit down sharply as he growled. Thats it. What the hell, Thane? Zasha swiped his tongue over the abused flesh and frowned. What was that for? Are you into this at all? Swiveling his hips, Thane rubbed their naked cocks together and lifted one eyebrow in question. I adore how brilliant you are, but you have to stop thinking everything to death. Turn it off for just a little while, Zash. Unfortunately, he didnt know how. The only time he could wipe his mind and cease his racing thoughts was when he blacked out and lost all control. Somehow, he doubted either of them wanted that to happen again. Do you trust me? Thane asked again. This time, Zasha was a bit more hesitant to answer, but ultimately, the dominant tone and forceful demeanor didnt change anything. Yes, Thane, I trust you. Plus, since hed just tied them together for all of forever with no way to undo the binding, he was the last person who should be carrying on about trust issues. Close your eyes. Soft lips fluttered over his eyelids when he complied. Good, Thane whispered. Breathe inand breathe out. Relax. I promise you there will be no earthquakes, floods, hurricanes, tornadoes, meteor crashes, or any other natural disasters. Its okay to let go and take something for yourself sometimes, Zash. He wasnt arguing the validity of the statement, but he was going to have to take Thane at his word, because Zasha never unplugged. It just wasnt his personality. Even when he wasnt working, he was worrying about workor Thane or his future or how one would affect the other. When he forgot about these types of important things, even for a second, he felt horribly guilty, as though he was shirking his responsibilities or dismissing crucial information.

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However, hed made a promise to be a better partner, and it wasnt too much to ask that Thane receive his undivided attention for a little while. His mate was right. The world wouldnt come crashing down around him just because he forgot to worry for an hour. The ability to quiet his mind became increasingly easier as Thane nibbled up his neck and along the curve of his jaw. The witchs strong hands mapped each contour of Zashas body, caressing his skin and kneading the tense muscles. The warmth from his lover seeped into him, spiking his own temperature until a coat of sweat glistened across his body. Their lips pillowed together and their tongues dueled, twining and sliding in an intimate dance. The kiss was unhurried, but a sense of urgency tinted the mating of their mouths. Zashas cock responded once again, swelling and aching as it throbbed between their flushed bodies. Pre-cum seeped from the tip, lubricating their skin and giving him a smooth glide with just the right amount of friction. Thanes unique scent filled his head and invaded his senses, and with each inhalation, his control slipped just a little more. His canines elongated, lengthening quickly while his gums tingled and itched. Zasha didnt fuss about it as he normally would, though. It was a natural response to heightened arousal. Thanks to the donor bag hed hijacked from the kitchen and the additional feeding from his mate, he was fully in control in of his bloodlust. There was also a sense of calmness about it he hadnt felt in a very long time. While he hadnt consciously decided to bite Thane, the incident had further cemented his overreaction to the entire situation. A quick feeding every few days wasnt going to cause the man to shrivel up like a prune. In fact, Thane seemed stronger than ever and determined to torture him until he was mad with need. His lover licked and nipped at every inch of available skin he could access without moving too far away. Open-mouth kisses along his collarbones and across the expanse of his chest sent a shiver rippling down Zashas spine.

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The scrape of teeth over his nipples had him sucking in air through his teeth as he arched up from the mattress. That same breath rushed out on a long groan when long, slick fingers rubbed his entrance and pushed past the tight muscles. Thanes discreet laughter didnt go unnoticed, but Zasha was too busy trying to stave off his orgasm to care. Very good, Thane praised as he inserted a third finger and pumped steadily into Zashas hole. See? Its not so hard, is it? Zasha didnt know what his lover was talking about, but the deep, rich quality of Thanes voice ignited a firestorm of need and want within him. Hell, the guy could be talking gibberish, and it wouldnt make a difference. He just loved to hear Thane speak. Without further commentary, Thane extracted his digits and slicked his impressive length with lube before tossing the plastic bottle to the side. With a feral grin, he crawled up Zashas body, pushing his knees back to his chest and spreading him open. Deep breath, baby. The head of Thanes thick cock nudged against Zashas opening, and he flexed his hips, pushing forward just far enough to strain the muscles. Are you ready? Yes, Zasha hissed, curling his legs around his partner and jerking him closer. They both groaned as Thane fell forward, impaling Zasha on his cock until he was buried to the root. The shock lasted for only a second, though. By the time Thane regained his wits, the initial burn had faded for Zasha. Their panting breaths mingled, and their gazes locked, holding them suspended in that one moment of time. Then, like the shattering of a priceless vase, something snapped between them. There was no easy, languid beginning. They didnt start off slow and tender, gradually increasing the rhythm and intensity. No, none of that happened. Zasha growled, Thane snarled, and it was more like a dog fight than lovemaking. Their mouths crashed together, and they clung to one another while Thane threw himself into an all-out assault. Each

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plunge into Zashas depths was more forceful than the last. Hard and throbbing, his lovers cock filled him completely, stretching his inner walls to capacity. Pawing, groping, biting, and scratching, they attacked one another with all the carnal desire that had been building between them. They were strung too tight, both unleashing weeks of sexual frustration, and Zasha had his doubts that this interlude was going to last much longer. There was always round two, though. Harder, he urged, lifting his hips to meet every demanding thrust. Touch yourself, Thane countered, his voice breathless and filled with gravel. Happy to oblige, Zasha fisted his bouncing cock and stroked quickly, paying special attention to the little bundle of nerves just under the crown. His balls rolled, his sac tightened, and his stomach cramped with impending climax. Gods, he didnt know why hed waited so long to finally give in, but hed learned his lesson and wouldnt be revisiting the same mistakes. Rising up on his knees, Thane lifted Zashas hips from the bed with a steely grip on his waist, changing the angle of his thrusts. On the third inward glide, the head of his cock bumped against Zashas prostate, sending an explosion of electrical currents throughout his body. Fuck! His muscles flexed, his spine went rigid, and he shuddered clear down to his dick as a river of creamy seed erupted from the slit. The thick ropes arched into the air before succumbing to gravity, falling gracefully to splash over his chest and stomach. Thanes growl was primal and sexy, rumbling up from his chest as his eyes rolled back in his head. His fingers dug into the yielding flesh at Zashas hips, and he increased the tempo, slamming home with animalistic intensity. Then all at once, he stilled completely, encasing himself balls-deep while he shuddered and moaned, filling Zashas clenching channel with molten lava.

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It was a long while before Zasha could think coherently again, but when the world reemerged, he found Thane slumped over him with his head tucked under Zashas chin. A peaceful smile tilted the corners of his lips as he threaded his fingers through his lovers hair and stared up at the ceiling. Gods, I needed that, Thane mumbled sleepily a few minutes later. It was Zashas turn to laugh. Yeah, me, too. He lifted his head and placed a kiss against Thanes brow. We probably need to get in the shower before we end up stuck together. Theres one more thing I need you to do. His brow furrowed and his smile slipped a notch. What would that be? Hed give Thane anything he could, but he couldnt fathom what more the man would want right then and there. I need you to give yourself to me, all of you, without reservation. Lifting himself on his forearms, Thane hovered above him, his face creased with lines of worry. What happened before. Youre not going crazy, Zasha. I can help you remember, but I need you to say yes. On one hand, he knew what his mate was asking. On the other, he didnt know how allowing Thane to claim him would bring back forgotten memories. Hell, what hed experienced fell more under the heading of hallucinations. After weighing his options, the decision was actually an easy one to make. He cared about Thane, growing more attached by the day. Fate had chosen the witch for him, and vice versa. Plus, Zasha had already done his share of the claiming. It was irreversible, and frankly, he wouldnt want to undo it if he could. Really, it was only fair to extend the same courtesy to his lover. Yes, Thane, I give you everything I was, am, and will be. Thank you. Dipping his head, Thane brushed their lips together in a gentle caress. His next words were mumbled in a language Zasha didnt recognize, but it sounded beautiful, nonetheless.

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Warmth trickled over his skin as Thane spoke, and when he was finished, sealing his claim with another kiss, the sun itself exploded within Zashas chest. Intellectually, he knew that wasnt possible, but it was the only way he could think to describe the intense heat and raging energy that ricocheted inside him. Just ride it out, Thane encouraged. Itll pass in a minute. Sure enough, the sensations ebbed away within seconds, leaving Zasha feeling a little woozy, but otherwise unchanged. There was no miraculous recovery of supposed memories, though. Thane looked so happy, his smile stretching from ear to ear, Zasha didnt want to disappoint him, not yet anyway. Are you ready for that shower now? Sure. The radiance never dimmed, and Thane bounded out of bed like a little boy on Christmas morning. Dont worry. Youll remember. Zasha wished he could be as confident, but he didnt even know what he was supposed to be remembering. Instead of arguing, however, he grinned and rolled off the mattress to join his mate. It was too hard to fight against Thanes optimism. Besides, if what hed experienced was the surfacing of repressed memories, it was a lot less terrifying than the idea he was losing his damn mind. I hope youre right, Thane. Everything he stood to lose flashed before him on a speed reel, and an involuntary shudder seized him. I really hope youre right.

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Chapter Eight
Reliable sources have verified that the circle were looking for is currently hiding out in Nevada. Torren tapped his finger on the map spread over the desk. Its a large circle, and were seriously outnumbered. Were stronger, but even with all of us, itll be dangerous. Absolutely not. Thane closed his eyes and groaned at Zashas interruption. He should have expected it, but hed hoped they were past all of this unnecessary worry. In the three days since hed claimed his mate, however, nothing had changed. Zasha was still getting flashes of memories from their past life together, but unfortunately, the poor guy thought he was going crazy. For some unknown reason, he could see these pieces of time, but he didnt recall them as memories. From what Zasha described, they were more like hallucinations brought on by PTSD. The events were very real to him, but each one was a new experience in his present world, not recollections of days gone by. Im not fond of the idea, either, October agreed as he placed a hand on Raiths thigh. We cant ignore this threat, though. Taking his mates hand, Thane brought it to his lips and kissed the knuckles. You know I love you. He didnt think he imagined the slight wince at the declaration, but he decided to ignore it. My body still needs a bit of work, but my magic is firing on all cylinders. He paused, knowing his next words wouldnt win him his lovers favor. Im going, Zash. Im going to help my family.

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To his utter surprise, a cunning smile stretched across Zashas face, and he bobbed his head slowly. Yeah, I figured thats what youd say. Thats why Im going with you. We all are, October corrected, indicating himself, Zasha, and Lynks mate, Kieran. Kaito is going to spend some quality time with his cousin until we return. Thane wrinkled his nose and arched both eyebrows. Thats great. Did you miss the part where were going to the desert? Last time I checked, theres a lot of sun associated with the desert. Then I suppose its good news that your brother is a Council member and can get us a vampire-friendly private jet. Leaning back in his chair, Zasha folded his arms over his chest and cocked his head to the side. Surely you dont plan to go hunting witches in the middle of the day. I dont see why not. He wasnt sure if Zasha was trying to pick a fight with him, but Thane definitely felt his blood pressure rising at the taunting tone and self-satisfied smirk. Gods, he didnt know why they couldnt get through one goddamn day without all the bullshit. People are naturally more cautious at night. They expect bad things to happen. It actually makes more sense for us to go during the daylight hours. Thane had nothing against Zasha joining them on this assignment. Naturally, he worried about his mates safety, but Zasha wasnt a child. He was strong and capable and could handle himself in a fight. Plus, Thane would be right there with him if anything went wrong. However, he also wasnt stupid. Zashas desire to accompany him on this journey echoed with all of their previous arguments. Though he hadnt come right out and said it, the implication that his dear mate felt Thane needed a protector came across loud and clear. Actually, Torren began with a sympathetic nod in Thanes direction, we stand a better chance if we attack at night. Yeah, I know. Sighing into his hands, Thane scrubbed both palms over his face and then pushed his fingers through his hair in

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frustration. The witching hour. The witching hourthe sixty minutes after midnightwas when their magic was most powerful. Are you sure thats a good idea? Lynk asked. He was the smallest man in the room, even smaller than Zasha, and yet, no one felt the need to convince him to sit this one out. Yes, well be stronger, but so will the witches were up against. True. Torren bobbed his head with a thoughtful frown on his lips. I still think its our best option. Were already outnumbered. We need to be at our strongest magically. Even if these fuckers are a bit stronger during the witching hour, Raith added, with our full, combined power, we should be able to crush them like ants. Overconfidence will get you killed, October reprimanded with a stern glare that gave a hard edge to his features. The disapproval in his voice made Thane chuckle, but he quickly turned it into a cough when his brother glared at him. Hed never known anyone to speak to Raith like that and get away with it, and it humored him that the asshole had finally met his match. Great! Zasha clapped his hands together and rose from his seat. Then its settled. When do we leave? At sunset tomorrow night, Torren answered at once. Ill run the plan through the appropriate channels and get approval for a Council jet. October, I think Aslan had some questions for you about Kaito. He waited for Octobers nod of understanding before turning to the werewolf, Kieran. I hate to take Enforcers away from Haven right now, but we could use all the help we can get. I know your brothers arent big Braddock fans, but can you talk to them? See if theyll help? Kieran stroked Lynks hair absently, and his brow furrowed to form a shallow V. Dont sweat it. Ill make sure theyre here tomorrow night. A larger coven comes with larger enemies and more people to defend. Bracing his hands on the arms of his chair, October levered

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himself out of his seat. However, I can loan three of my men to Haven temporarily. Once all the small details were settled, everyone began filing out of the room, talking in low voices about their to-do lists and what affairs they needed to get in order before they left. Thane rose to follow Zasha out of the office, but he made it only a couple of steps before Torren called him back. Thane, could I have a word? A twinge of guilt made him wince because he was actually grateful for a reason to postpone the argument he knew was coming once he and Zasha were alone. Whats up? A couple of things, but first, what the hell is going on with you and Zasha? It was on the tip of his tongue to say that everything was fine and leave it at that. Things werent fine, though, and he could use some advice. Hes getting his memories back, but he doesnt know theyre memories. Does that make sense? You claimed him? Thane shrugged at his brothers arched eyebrow. Yes, but thats really not the point. He thinks hes going crazy. These memories just kind of warp around whatever hes doing at the moment, so he cant distinguish whats reality and what isnt. I dont know how to help him. Have you explained about your shared souls and told him who you really are? Yeah, but I dont think he believes me. It was a stressful situation, and they were both on edge. Everything would work itself out, though. He and Zasha were meant to be together. Fate had deemed it so, and Thane trusted that mystical design. Thane, Im going to let you in on a little secret. Zasha is not the same person you knew and loved however many years ago. Sure, hes your Infinity. Soon, all of those memories will make sense to him. Even when he remembers, though, that wont change who he is now.

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Torren rounded the desk and propped one hip against the gleaming wood. Are you the same person you were before? Well, yeah, for the most part. The memories began to surface at the age of twenty-onehis age at the time hed been cursedand he could recall all three of his former lives. For the most part, he couldnt see that hed changed very much from one reincarnation to the next. Maybe Torren had a point, though. Do you really think thats it? You tell me. Is he the same person? Thane was damned ashamed of himself to admit that was exactly the case. There were pieces of Zashas personality that were the same, but a larger part of him was foreign, a mystery to unravel. Where the Zasha hed once known had been almost reckless in his desire to give, this new Zasha was cautious, wary, and slow to trust. He was also organized, obsessed about the smallest details, and a little bit of a control freak. In his past life, however, hed been the epitome of disorganization, always running late, and the poor guy had possessed the memory of a gnat. I get it. There were many other differences, some subtle and some so obvious they should have clubbed him over the head. So intent on recapturing what hed lost, Thane had chosen to ignore all of those signs, hoping the old Zasha would resurface with the emergence of his lost memories. Good. Torrens eyes narrowed at the corners, and he stood tall with his hands resting on his hips, presenting a rather imposing sight. Now fix it. We cant afford distractions, Thane. His posture relaxed, and he resumed leaning against the desk. Theres something else Ive been meaning to ask you, but I didnt want to bring it up in front of Zasha. You want to know about your mate and that coven in the mountains. Thane had been expecting the question, and he was actually shocked it had taken Torren so long to ask him. Yeah, Im the one who dragged him out of Purgatory.

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Most of the time hed spent with that coven was a huge blur, one event melting into the next. One of the few clear memories he had was of Torrens mate, Aslan, chained to a wall, his head hanging limply on his shoulders while blood seeped from a wound in his neck. Of course, at the time, he hadnt known the guys name, and he couldnt have guessed he would turn out to be the Infinity of a Braddock. Thane just knew that the sight broke his heart. While his magic wasnt good for much else because of all the sedatives his captors gave him, he could do something to help. It had taken longer than hed have liked to channel his remaining energy, but it had been well worth the trouble. He still remembered the sense of relief that flooded him when hed found Aslan in that cold, desolate land. They moved me before he woke up, and it wasnt ideal conditions for an introduction. Im just glad he made it out alive. Me, too, Torren whispered, his voice tight with restrained emotion. Then he sniffed twice and coughed to clear his throat. Well, he wants to thank you, but he wasnt sure if he should bring it up. I appreciate his concern, but its not necessary. He really wished people would stop thinking they needed to handle him so carefully. He can thank me if he wants, but thats not necessary, either. Like I said, Im just glad hes okay. Ill let him know. Thinking the conversation was over, Thane dipped his head and turned to leave the room. He made it to the door this time before Torren called him back again. Thane? Yeah? Thank you. I dont know what Id do without him. He knew the feeling well. If he didnt start making some changes, he was going to learn firsthand just how it felt to lose the most important person in his life. I hope you never have to find out.

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Then he ducked out of the room before his brother could detain him again. He had a mate to find, and a lot of changes to make if he ever wanted to secure his happy-ever-after. **** Zasha didnt know why Thane had gotten all butt-hurt about him joining the witch hunt, and he really wasnt looking forward to another argument. Every disagreement inevitably led to more of those horrible hallucinations, and if something didnt start making sense soon, Zasha was going to lose his ever-loving mind. No, he didnt like the idea of Thane marching into a volatile situation, especially not one where the odds were stacked against him. When hed found out that Leader Tuesday was of the same mind, theyd pulled Kieran aside, and the three of them had decided the Braddock brothers would accept their help whether they liked it or not. Naturally, Zashas mate was the only one whod made a big deal about it, and he couldnt understand why. If the hurried footsteps marching in his direction were any indication, however, he was about to get his answers. Easing down onto the cushions of the sofa, he began mentally preparing himself for the explosion. When the door to their suite burst open, he didnt move, didnt react in any way, but on the inside, he was vibrating with nervous energy. So when Thane practically ran to him and dropped to his knees, Zasha wasnt sure what to make of the behavior. Long arms surrounded his waist as Thane embraced him, pressing his face into Zashas stomach while he shook from head to toe. Im sorry. I was wrong. I was wrong about everything. I didnt mean to treat you like the old you and not the new you, but its hard when I just missed you so much. I get it now, though. I understand I can still love you like the old you, but in a new way for the new you.

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All Zasha could do was blink stupidly. Hed understood the apology part, and he was pretty sure Thane felt he was wrong about something. After that, things had kind of descended into convoluted rambling. Hell, he would have understood just as much if Thane had been speaking in Aramaic. Thane, youre not making any sense, and to be honest, youre scaring me a little. Slow down and say that first part again. Im sorry. Yes, I got that. Keep going. Why are you sorry? I was wrong, Thane mumbled as he pushed closer. I was trying to fit a square peg into a round hole and kept coming up with four. Well, they were getting closer. At least Zasha mostly understood that last analogy. Im going to go out on a limb here. Are you trying to say that youve been a stubborn, uncompromising asshole? Thane nodded quickly. Yeah, that one. Can I ask what brought on this sudden revelation? Thane sounded sincere, but his turnabout in attitude was so abrupt Zasha was reluctant to get his hopes up that things were finally beginning to sway in the right direction for them. Not twenty minutes had passed since their last disagreement, and he couldnt fathom that anything so extraordinary had happened in that short amount of time. I know what youre thinking, Thane murmured as he inched lower, rubbing his cheek over Zashas trapped cock. I think I always knew I was screwing up, but I wanted everything to go back to the way it was so much that I deluded myself into believing it would. Rolling his head to the side, he peeked up at Zasha through his long, dark lashes. I cant hold on to the past anymore if I want to start building a future with the man I love. There was that damned L word again. He was caught off guard every time Thane said it, and the guy had been using it with increasing frequency during the last few days. Each time he uttered the simple statement, Zasha felt his muscles tense and his eyes tighten at the corners. The reaction was involuntary, and while he didnt

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necessarily believe in the confines of love, he wasnt trying to go out of his way to hurt Thane. Im sorry, he whispered. I care about you. Im committed to making this relationship work, and youll never find anyone more loyal. Keeping quiet on the subject was no longer an option, and if he truly wanted to spare Thane any future heartbreak, he had to be honest, had to lay all his cards on the table right then. If you say we shared a life together before, I believe you, but I dont remember it. I do think its safe to say that Im not the same person you remember, though. Gods, the whole mess was one big, confusing clusterfuck. At that point, there was nothing he could say that wouldnt make him sound like the uncompromising asshole hed just accused his partner of being. On the other hand, he couldnt let things stand as they were. It would be cruel to give Thane false hope that one day Zasha might miraculously fall into an emotion he didnt comprehend. You do remember it, Thane argued, but his tone was soft and gentle like he was leading a spooked horse to the watering trough. Youre not going crazy, Zash. These hallucinations you think youre having are just memories. They sure as hell didnt feel like memories, and with each new episode, his grasp on reality slipped another notch on the proverbial rope. It wasnt like a dream where he was completely immersed in the fantasy, either. His hallucinations melded into everyday life, and more times than not, he wouldnt realize what had happened until afterwards. Sometimes, hed answer one of Thanes questions, only to find that his mate wasnt in the room. Hed cried all over one of the kitchen workers, thinking the person was his mother. However, the picture in his mind in no way resembled his mom. Even more embarrassing, the worker hed accosted had been a man. The night before, hed wanted to go over Octobers schedule with him but ended up yelling at Thane for being inappropriately naked

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with a fire burning in the leaders office. Then hed blinked, and the room was as it should be with October sitting behind his desk, studying Zasha with obvious concern. Everyone in the house probably thought hed snapped under the stress and was going insane. Honestly, he couldnt blame them. That wasnt even the point he was trying to make, though. Thane, I dont believe in all this fairy tale, happily-ever-after, truelove-will-find-a-way stuff. Sighing under his breath, he reached out and cupped Thanes cheek. Im not trying to hurt you, but if youre waiting for me to fall in love, Im sorry. Its not going to happen. Thane didnt appear offended or even upset. In fact, he was smiling from ear to ear. Why do you want to go with me to hunt the witches? Caring about your happiness, safety, and general well-being does not equate to love. If that was really the extent of it, then doctors would be in love with their patients. It was like darkness. People talked about the dark as though it was a physical thing, when in actuality, it was as abstract as any emotion. There was no way to measure the darkness, only the absence of light. There was no way to measure love, either, yet people tried daily to quantify it. If you say so. The smug grin never left Thanes visage as he pushed to his feet and pulled his shirt off over his head. Im going to grab a shower and hit the sack. Weve got a lot to do tomorrow. Ill be there in a minute. Oh, his mate was a stubborn fool, but Zasha found it endearing. Sure, it could be irritating at times, but he couldnt fault the man for his unconditional hope and optimism. Thane now knew how he felt about love and everything it supposedly encompassed, and strangely, it hadnt deterred him. If anything, he seemed more determined than ever to change Zashas opinion. Hell, hed actually looked excited by the challenge.

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Truth be told, Zasha secretly and selfishly enjoyed the little game. For all of his complaints, he liked knowing Thane believed him worth the pursuit. Besides, it wasnt like he was a cold, hardened bastard with no emotions at all. He just didnt subscribe to the trappings of conventional love. He was capable of tenderness and affection, and he conveyed the depths of his emotions through actions rather than words. To him, that was far better than spewing the same three little, overused words until they lost all sense of meaning. Hearing the shower come on in the bathroom, he pushed to his feet and sighed. No matter how he tried to justify it to himself, he knew deep down that Thane would never see things his way. Once again, he had to ask himself how fate could have paired two individuals so vastly different from one another, and more importantly, where were they going to find their middle ground?

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Chapter Nine
By the time the plane touched down in Nevada, Thane seriously hated life and everything about his own existence. His temples throbbed, sending shooting pains into his right eye. Even the dim light of the jet cabin aggravated his condition, and the rocky descent through the raging storm had his stomach tied in knots. Nausea bubbled in his gut, and bile rose in his esophagus while cold sweat coated his skin. Lightning flashed and thunder boomed, splitting the sky to the torrential downpour that flooded the tarmac. The wind howled and screamed, whipping the rain sideways so that it pelted against the tiny windows of the plane like machine gun fire. With a wave of his hand, Thane used his magic to slide the plastic shade closed and rolled his head to the side with a pathetic groan. Hey, Zasha murmured, pushing the sweat-dampened locks back from Thanes forehead. Its getting worse, isnt it? Thane grunted, unable to bear the pain of even a short nod. I think Im dying. Good thing youre not dramatic or anything, Zasha teased. Did you take something for the headache? Yes, dear. Hed downed the aspirin and bottle of water his mate had given him halfway through the flight, but all the medication had done was increase his nausea. It had been a long time since hed experienced a migraine of this magnitude, and he didnt have time to curl into the fetal position for the next three days. Make it stop. His neck cramped and the muscles in his shoulders knotted, causing him to whimper in agony. Im no good like this.

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Okay, okay, easy, sweetheart. Curling his fingers around the back of Thanes neck, Zasha massaged the tight muscles as he pulled him closer. A kiss will cure what ails you. This was not something Zasha could kiss and make better, but even sick, Thane wasnt going to turn down a taste of those delectable lips. The brush of lips was brief, and the tangle of their tongues briefer, but the distinct coppery taste of blood lingered when Zasha pulled away. Within seconds, the pain vanished, his muscles relaxed, and the droplets of perspiration dried on his skin. Thank you, he breathed reverently, grateful not only that Zashas blood had the ability to heal him, but that his mate had offered him the cure. You are too good to me. Hush. Youd do the same for me. This was true, but it didnt make him any less thankful. After Thanes revelation the night beforeand the circular conversation that followedhe felt theyd both been trying much harder to be considerate of each other. Nothing had really been accomplished, and their talk had found them right back to where theyd started, but there was something different, something better. Thane couldnt put a name to it, but he felt it. Torren is going to make us go out in this shit. Sure enough, only seconds later, Torren announced that theyd be splitting into groups to trek out into the desert. You dont have to do this. Its just a little rain. Zasha brushed their lips together again and pushed to his feet. Cmon. Its not like these witches are just going to walk up to us and surrender. Were going to split into four groups, Torren announced before Thane could respond. Gideon, you go with Lynk and Kieran. Parker, youre with Raith and October. Jericho, youre with Thane and Zasha. Raven and Eli, youll come with me. With the division, each group included a Braddock, a Delaney, and a vampire. It was a smart plan, ensuring they were prepared for almost anything, and Thane found himself nodding in approval. As

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Leader Tuesdays second-in-command, it made sense why Gideon was there, but Ravens appearance had come as a surprise and still remained somewhat of a mystery. Ive acquired four SUVs from a local coven, October added as they filed out of the jet and down the steps into the driving rain. There is room for three people to sleep semicomfortably, and the windows have been treated to block out UV rays. Meaning no crispy vampire bacon for breakfast, Raven called over his shoulder, shouting to be heard above the wailing winds. Im driving. Not on your life, Torren argued. Approaching the drivers door of the first Suburban, he elbowed the Enforcer away from the vehicle and proceeded to climb in behind the wheel. If youre nice, maybe the wolf boy will let you ride shotgun. Yeah, not happening. Eli Delaney darted around the SUV and practically dove into the front passenger seat. Have fun riding bitch, bloodsucker. Raven simply laughed as he casually pulled open the passenger door, grabbed a handful of the werewolfs hair, and dragged him from his seat. Pup, I have almost two hundred years on you. Didnt anyone ever teach you to respect your elders? Now, be a good little puppy and crawl in the back where you belong. Stop being an asshole, Torren chastised with a smirk, and load the gear, bloodsucker. By the time the whole scene had played out, everyone was falling against each other and roaring with uncontrolled laughter. He always was an idiot, Zasha said with a chuckle as he wiped the rain away from his face. There was too much familiarity in his tone and too much fondness in his smile when he spoke about Raven. His gaze followed the Enforcer, and his eyes softened at the corners while he chuckled indulgently at the vampires antics. There was a story there, a past that held more than just casual friendship. The curiosity was eating

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Thane alive, along with a twinge of jealousy, but it wasnt the time or place for him to interrogate his lover. Do you want to drive? Zasha curled his arm around Thanes midsection, pressing their sodden bodies together as he stretched up on his toes for a kiss. You drive. He didnt know the area, and his time would be better served sending out feelers for any type of magical energy that lurked in the desert. Jericho can navigate. Im going to stretch out in the backseat. I dont know shit about Nevada or navigating, Jericho informed them as he pulled his long, dripping locks back and secured them with a band at the nape of his neck. Follow the taillights in front of you. Theres your navigation. Thane didnt know the young werewolf that well, but he didnt think Jericho was being caustic with his easy smile and relaxed posture. Still, he remembered Torren saying the Delaneys werent exactly fans of the Braddock witches. Is there going to be a problem? Thane didnt give a damn who liked him and who didnt. He also didnt know what had gone down between the witches and werewolves before his arrival. However, he wasnt about to drag his mate into the middle of some grudge match. No problem, Jericho assured him. Parkers the one with a stick up his ass, and before you ask, no. I dont know what problem he has with your family, and hes never said. Their eyes met, and each man nodded, a silent understanding passing between them. Zasha appeared a little confused by the exchange, but he just rolled his eyes and splashed through the puddles to the SUV. Thane followed behind Jericho, catching the werewolf by the elbow near the back of the vehicle. If anything happens, anything at all, I want you to get Zasha out of here. I wont ask you to abandon your family, but if its a choice between me and him, protect him.

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Jericho stared at him for a moment before nodding once. Ill do what I can to make sure nothing happens to him. He paused, glancing over his shoulder to the other three SUVs, and then returned his attention to Thane. Lets hope it doesnt come to that. Thane had nothing to say to that, so he just dipped his head, walked around Jericho, and slipped into the backseat behind his mate. Im going to zone out and try to connect with Lynk. If you hear or see anything, let me know. Im on it, Zasha assured him as he turned the key and revved the engine. Getting comfortable wasnt easy when he was soaked to the bone and had water sloshing around inside his boots. As the vehicle began to move, rocking and swaying along the narrow desert road, Thane was finally able to relax enough to clear his mind. Resting his head on the seatback, he closed his eyes and breathed deeply, pushing out any negative energy on each exhale. He imagined himself inside a large movie theater, seated high in the center balcony. The enormous display before him was completely blank, and as he watched, the darkness seeped off of the screen, washing over the rows and rows of crimson seats until the whole of the room was enveloped by nothingness. Drowned in the inky black, he pushed his energy out into the night. Like tiny, marching ants, his magic crawled across the barren landscape, flexing rhythmically and searching for any outside disturbances. Immediately, he picked up on his brothers, even determining who rode in which vehicle. Ignoring the familiar magic, he kept searching, jerking slightly when he picked up the faintest hint of foreign energy. Do you feel that? he asked, sending his thoughts to Lynk. Yeah, but I cant figure out which direction its coming from. Same here. Thane could feel other witches in the area, and he was pretty sure they belonged to the circle they were searching for,

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but he couldnt get a bead on which direction to lead his companions. We need to be stronger. Ready when you are. Reclaiming some of his magic, Thane mentally coiled it into a tight spiral and sent it in Lynks direction, meeting his twins energy somewhere in the middle and forming the intricately woven connection they needed. Combined and more powerful, they worked together, manipulating their powers into a type of sonar that would hopefully bounce back the direction of the unfamiliar current on the wind. Over and over in every direction, moving the beam in tiny increments with each change, they searched for what felt like forever. Thane wasnt sure how long it actually took, but by the time he disconnected with Lynk and opened his eyes, the sky outside the window was beginning to lighten, heralding the dawn. Thankfully, however, he had good news to share, and it had come much faster than hed expected. Turn northeast toward Lake Mead. Weve got em. **** The sun had fully crested over the horizon by the time they found a place to rest for the day. While the treated glass of the windows protected him from the harmful UV rays of the sun, Zasha was well past exhausted. Vampires were not biologically engineered to be awake during the day, and while he didnt begin bleeding from random orifices as they portrayed in the cinema, he did feel like hed been run over with a Mack truck. All set, Thane announced once hed lowered the backseat and set up their makeshift bed in the cargo area of the Suburban. Cmon, lieveling, you look like twice-baked death. That wasnt too far from the truth. His skin was paler than usual, almost gray, and the dark circles under his tired eyes gave him a

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ghastly appearance. Kicking his boots off and tossing them to the floorboards, he crawled over the console, careful not to kick Jericho in the face since the werewolf was already dozing in the reclined passenger seat. Once in the back, however, he collapsed onto the arrangement of blankets and pillows with a quiet groan. Im never moving again. Thane laughed indulgently but said nothing as he set about removing Zashas clothing and positioning him more comfortably. Once they were both settled, Thane pulled the blankets up over their shoulders and wound his strong arms around Zashas middle, holding him tightly against his chest. The warmth from his lover seeped into him, and the steady beat of Thanes pulse had Zashas eyes drooping within seconds. Rest. That was all Thane said, and the single word was barely more than a breath, but Zasha felt himself falling at once, as though obeying a command. How can you say that? How can you even think that? Its too dangerous, and you cant do this on your own. Grabbing his lovers arm, Zasha sat up straighter. The reflection of the dying flames in his eyes and the hard set of his jaw gave Thanes expression an almost sinister quality. After a brief pause, the intense look faded, and Thane quirked one side of his mouth in a crooked, self-satisfied grin. It seems to have worked to my favor so far. This isnt like those other time, Thane. Youre going to get yourself killed. Thanes pride was one of the things he admired about his mate, but this time, his overconfidence was going to land his stubborn ass in a shallow grave. Of course, Thane wouldnt take his concerns seriously. The witch lifted one shoulder and gave a casual tilt of his head. Well, if youre not interested, I can always find someone else. Im sure Daniel would be more than willing to take your place.

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Thane was trying to goad him into agreeing to the moronic plan, but Zasha had played this game too many times with his mate. Additionally, Zasha was well aware that Daniel was in agreement with him on this. Your friend has as much desire to see you dead as I do. He also has a family to think about, and hes not going to risk everything because youre holding a three-hundred-year-old grudge. This isnt a grudge, Thane argued. Until the book is destroyed, there are people out there who will do anything to get it. This is never going to stop, Zasha. They want the Book of the Banished, and they want a key. Zasha had heard the story many times, and he understood the dangers involved. However, he didnt see how walking right into the hands of the enemy was going to accomplish anything. They need a key to open the book. Your blood, he added with a pointed nod. Please explain to me how searching out these witches is a good idea. I just need one of them. Leaning against the carved legs of the chair behind him, Thane brushed his golden locks over his shoulder. If we can get one of them alone, you can compel him to find out what he knows. What could they possibly know, Thane? Where the book is, he answered gravely. If they get their hands on that faerie, were all dead. Coming awake still enveloped in Thanes arms, Zasha didnt move or speak for several minutes while all of those old memories came rushing back to him. His heart beat too fast, and his stomach rolled uncomfortably from the onslaught of information, but for the first time in weeks, everything was finally beginning to make sense. That had been the last time hed spoken to Thane. After their argument, theyd gone to bed, made love, and when Zasha had awoken in the morning, his lover had been gone. Even with the

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enlistment of Daniels help, it had taken him nearly three months to find Thane in a crude, underground cell. Unfortunately, hed been as much of a warrior back then as he was now, and hed ended up with a dagger in his back before hed been able to rescue his mate. Since he didnt remember hitting the ground, he had to assume hed already been dead by the time hed fallen into that pit. If he followed the logical path of that thought to its conclusion, he realized Thane must have perished quickly thereafter. While the memories were flooding back, it was a single feeling that was clearest of all. It was overpowering, all-consuming, and his body vibrated as the emotion grew stronger. Apparently, in his former life, he hadnt harbored the same ideals about the world as he did now, because he distinctly remembered how hed felt about Thane, how hed have gladly given his own life to secure Thanes happiness and well-being. Hed certainly believed in love in those days. Hed more than believed. Gods, hed loved Thane with every cell in his body. The emotion was intense, echoing similar feelings he presently held for his mate, but that had been centuries ago, and hed been a lot more nave back then. Zasha finally understood what Thane had meant about him being a different person. Even though he recalled how it felt to be in love with surprising clarity, he didnt buy into the notion that what he currently felt was more than the mating bond and physical attraction. However, it did create a new problem for him. Now that his recollections had returned, he almost wished he was still oblivious. He couldnt forget the way hed loved Thane, but it also didnt change anything this time around. Zasha didnt know what it meant for the future of his relationship, and worse, he had no idea how to begin reconciling the past with the present.

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Chapter Ten
Your heart is fluttering like a hummingbirds, Thane mumbled as his hand slid down Zashas sternum. Bad dream? Something like that. A deep ache settled in Zashas chest, and the corners of his eyes stung with suppressed tears. He didnt hold back his emotions because he feared theyd make him look weak, though. He might share most things with Thane, but this was personalprivate on a deeper level than he could adequately articulate. More than just his memories had been recovered, and he felt raw, ripped open and exposed like a bleeding wound. A smile tugged at the corner of his lips while he experienced the joy and contentment. Then his eyes would mist again when he remembered the arguments, the hurt, and the fear that had clutched him when hed realized his mate had gone missing. His muscles tensed, and his body seized, making his stomach cramp violently as he experienced the gut-wrenching despair that had haunted him during the three months hed tried and failed to locate Thane. Shh, shh. Thanes lips brushed over the nape of his neck, and the corded muscles in his forearms constricted as he pulled Zasha tighter to his bare chest. Its okay, lieveling. Its all over now. It wasnt over by any stretch of the imagination, but Zasha rolled to face his lover, burying his face against Thanes neck and soaking up the offered comfort. I remember.

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I know. Thane rubbed his cheek over the top of Zashas head and caressed his back. I can feel the difference. Do you want to talk about it? Lifting his head, Zasha stared out through the back window into the inky night beyond. Yes and no. He focused on Thane, giving the witch an easy smile. Were definitely going to talk about it, but I dont think this is the best time. Dipping his head, he pressed their lips together in a slow, lingering kiss. I remember, he whispered. Let that be enough for now. Rolling to his side, Thane pushed himself into a sitting position and pulled Zasha into his lap. The pup went on a perimeter check with his brothers. Its just you and me. There was a devilish light in Thanes eyes, and the coy grin was devastatingly sexy. What should we do to pass the time? Two well-lubed fingers pressed between his cheeks to prod against his entrance before he could even process the question, let alone offer an answer. Where did you His sentence died on a sultry groan as electrical currents raced along his spine. Magic, Thane answered distractedly before nibbling openmouth kisses up the column of his throat. Zashas head fell back on his shoulders, giving his lover more room to explore. A small voice in his head argued that Jericho could return at any time. The others were probably waiting on him and Thane. They had a long night ahead of them and didnt have time for such carnal delights. A thousand arguments as to why it was a bad idea chased one another through his mind, but Zasha didnt care. Selfishly, he wanted this one moment for himself. Until hed met Thane, he hadnt even taken a personal day away from his duties in over fifty years. He always did what was expected of him. He always did the right thing. This time, however, he was going to do what he wanted, and there was nothing he wanted more than the man in his arms.

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Rocking his hips, he rubbed his aching cock along the smooth expanse of Thanes abs, seeking the delicious friction as he impaled himself on his lovers fingers. The slight burn felt like heaven, and the corresponding tingles that spread across his skin enflamed him with desire. Capturing Thanes face in both hands, he pulled the witch into a kiss he hoped expressed all the words he couldnt say. Guilt, passion, longing, joy, heartache, possessiveness, and a fierce need to protect his mate at all costs were just a sampling of the emotions he couldnt form into coherent sentences. Instead, he poured everything, every ounce of desperation in the mating of their lips and the sensual tangling of their tongues. I want you, he panted, breathless from the flames that engulfed him. I need you. Zasha was falling, spinning out of control. Sensations hed never experienced crashed against him like the tides, and with every inhalation of his mates scent, he tumbled a little further into the beckoning abyss. Thanes fingers eased out of his clenching hole, quickly replaced by the flared crown of his cock. A brief moment of hesitancy followed as they stared into each others eyes. Something monumental was happening, something Zasha couldnt put a name to, but he felt it would change him forever. This isnt just a game to me, Thane whispered. His tone was serious, devoid of his usual playfulness, and there was a hint of sadness in his eyes, a vulnerability Zasha had never seen before. I know it scares you, but I cant stop how I feel. I love you, Zasha. He still couldnt force the words through his lips, still wasnt sure how he felt about the idea of love, but Zasha didnt wince this time. Conversely, his pulse picked up in rhythm, pounding just a little harder against his ribs, and he relaxed into Thane with pure, unsullied contentment. Holding the back of Thanes neck, he closed his eyes and rested their foreheads together, sighing as he lowered himself onto his

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mates cock. He had a lot of four-letter words in his vocabulary care, hope, fate, fear, want, need, safe, warmbut he knew those werent the ones Thane longed to hear. Until he could untangle the snarl of his emotions, perhaps the man would accept a meaningful substitute. Rising and falling over Thanes length in long, languid strokes, Zasha pressed their mouths together again, growling as his mates addictive flavor exploded over his tongue. Mine. It wasnt love, but it was as close as he could get to expressing how he felt. Thanes arms surrounded him, crushing him closer as he buried his face against the side of Zashas neck. Mine, he murmured reverently, arching upward, pushing deeper into Zashas channel. The temperatures had fallen with the setting of the sun, but a fine sheen of perspiration dampened their bodies, glimmering subtly in the silvery rays of moonlight. As the pace increased and the intensity reached new levels, Zasha struggled to pull air into his lungs. Gasping and panting, he writhed against his lover, their movements beautifully in sync as though coordinated by something greater than them both. The muffled slap of skin against skin echoed through the vehicle, and the scent of sex hung heavily in the air. Every hard plunge into his depths sent Zasha careening closer to the edge, dragging him to the brink of orgasm. Thane consumed him, filled every one of his senses. The taste of his mouth, the familiar smell of his cologne, and the exquisite mixture of pleasure and pain that covered his handsome face were hypnotizing. The feel of his mates thick cock as it stretched him wide, and the needy moans that spilled from the mans lips completed the saturation of his senses until nothing else in the world existed beyond Thane Braddock. The scrape of teeth over his collarbone and the fingernails that bit into his back added just the right amount of pain to his pleasure.

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Zasha was drowning with no hope of rescue. It was terrifying and exhilarating all at once, and every kiss, every caress, and each forceful thrust into his yielding body dragged him deeper beneath the surface. Long fingers ghosted over his nape and tangled in his hair, jerking his head back on his shoulders so that a ragged cry rolled up from his chest. Im not going to let you go, Thane informed him through choppy breaths. I cant. Then dont. No one understood him like Thane. No one elicited such primal responses from him. More importantly, no one but Thane could have him seriously reconsidering everything he thought he knew about love. Rolling carefully within the minimal space, Thane pinned Zasha beneath him, driving into him with animalistic intensity. You are mine. Those three words, coupled with the raw, possessive quality of Thanes tone finally shattered him. Thrashing his head from side to side, Zasha bowed his spine and yelled his lovers name. His cock discharged, releasing a river of semen from the tip that drenched the space between them. Fisting Zashas spurting cock, Thane pumped hard and fast, milking every last drop until Zasha felt depleted. He didnt stop there, though. Thane continued to manipulate the sensitive flesh, jerking the length while he thrust forward with bone-jarring force. Thane. Thane, please, he begged, though he didnt know what he pleaded for. Each rough stroke was like another miniclimax, igniting the fire inside him once more. Gods, it felt amazing, too good, and Zasha had serious doubts about his ability to survive the level of pleasure. You. Are. Mine! Thane repeated in a booming roar as he slammed home, burying his cock balls-deep in Zashas convulsing channel. The muscles in his neck strained, his eyes squeezed closed,

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and his mouth fell open in a silent scream as scorching lava flooded Zashas depths. Other than the night Thane had bound their hearts, minds, and souls, hed maintained a laidback, wait-and-see approach to their relationship. He never pushed too hard, never asked for more than Zasha was willing to give. No matter what happened, Thane seemed to just naturally assume that everything would work out in the end. There was no sign of that man any longer, though, not in that moment. Thane Braddock exuded power, and there was a fiercely possessive light in his eyes as he stared down at Zasha. He was staking his claim, marking Zasha with more than just a physical reminder of who owned him. Thane branded him from the inside out, imprinting his name across Zashas soul where it would stay for all eternity. Thane clearly wasnt seeking an answer. Still, Zasha felt compelled to respond, and the words fell from his lips, quiet, breathless, and sincere. Im yours, Thane. I always have been. **** With the recovery of Zashas lost memories, something had shifted inside Thane, awakening a dark and primal instinct inside of him. His thoughts were a chaotic mess. Events from his previous life swarmed him, events hed long forgotten until that final piece of his bond with Zasha had snapped into place. From the moment theyd met, he knew hed do anything for his mate. Hed been protective of Zasha since day one, but now, he had the overwhelming urge to throw himself in front of a speeding train just to prove the lengths he would endure to keep his partner from harm. Then there was the almost violent possessiveness that suddenly engulfed him. Sure, hed always known Zasha belonged with him, and he wouldnt have stood by while someone tried to take his place.

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However, this new emotion raging inside him was more than a territorial claim or even superficial jealousy. Thane actually feared for the other men in their group. It didnt matter if the person was friend or family. He wasnt sure he could leash his temper if someone so much as brushed against his mate by accident. The sudden deranged behavior coincided with Zashas revelations, but Thane couldnt understand the hows or whys. Zash, I need you to stay right beside me, he warned as they hiked toward the top of the hill, struggling to traverse the rocky terrain. Are we close? Yes, they were getting closer. The magic was thick in the air, crawling over Thanes skin like a living thing. Theyd driven as far as they could before theyd been forced to continue on foot into less hospitable territory, and Thane worried about their ability to make it back to the vehicles before the sun rose. How long until sunrise? Zasha pressed a button on the side of his watch to illuminate the face. At least ten hours. Its only eight oclock. He seemed to interpret the meaning of the question, though, because his features softened, and he rubbed his hand up and down Thanes arm. Ill watch the time. There are plenty of caves around here for me to take shelter in if it comes to that. Right. The feeling of being on edge intensified, rattling Thanes insides with tense energy for which he had no viable outlet. Were getting close. Lets hope this goes quickly. Wrapping one arm around Zashas waist, Thane tucked his Infinity against his side as they crested the top of the hill. It slowed their forward momentum a bit, but he needed the connection more than he needed his next breath. Thane, are you okay? No, I dont think so, he conceded. Like I said, just stay close. Thankfully, Zasha didnt argue or try to pull away from him. The look in his eyes said he thought Thane had lost his mind, and truly, he

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was probably right. Dont worry about me. I may not be a warrior, but I can hold my own in a fight. In a fair fight, Thane believed that. These witches they were hunting wouldnt play fair, though, and Zasha had no defense against their magic. Still, that wasnt the driving force behind Thanes command. Right now, lieveling, Im more concerned for everyone elses safety. Im not feeling very rational or forgiving where youre concerned. To his surprise, Zasha ducked his head and turned away, but not before Thane caught the grin that stretched his lips. I probably shouldnt like that, huh? Probably not, Thane agreed, but he was pleased by the response. I probably shouldnt like that you like it, but there you have it. Thane, come here, Lynk called to him through their twin bond. I think were here, but something doesnt feel right. Sighing, Thane kissed his lovers temple, released his waist, and tugged him forward by his hand. Duty calls. Lynk. Zasha surmised, and unless Thane was imagining things, there was a petulant undertone to his voice. Well, lets not keep him waiting. Something you want to tell me? Thane asked as they passed the others to get to Lynk. What was that tone about? Zasha shrugged, and the sheepish look on his face as he peeked at Thane through his blond lashes was sexy and adorable all at once. Its stupid. Tell me anyway. There might be a little part of me thats jealous because we dont have that mental link. Its something I cant share with you. This made sense, and Thane imagined hed have a similar reaction if their situations were reversed. He couldnt change the way things were, though. They both knew that. Instead of offering platitudes, he squeezed Zashas hand and winked. While he knew better than to say it aloud, the spark of jealousy was a good thing.

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Except the rare occasion when Zasha lost controland Thane didnt count those timesit was the first real evidence that his lover wasnt as unaffected as hed have everyone believe. Thane wished to hell he knew what had happened back in that SUV right after sundown. The dynamics of his and Zashas relationship had taken a sudden and extreme turn. While he liked the new direction they were traveling, it felt a little like the calm before a storm, and he kept waiting for the other shoe to drop. Now what? Lynk asked as Thane approached him. He rested one hand on his hip and pointed to the valley stretched out below them. Thats the direction were supposed to go. I can feel it. As you can see, however, there appears to be a slight problem. Thane would call it more than slight. Getting down the small mountain was only the beginning of their problems. After that, theyd be walking right into the waters of Lake Mead. Well have to cross. They didnt have time to go around the lake. Not only did they have the sunrise to contend with, but it was quickly approaching midnight, the time their magic would be at its most powerful. Right, and how do you propose we do that? How should I know? Thane snapped. Reeling in his temper, he took a deep breath and let it out slowly as he pinched the bridge of his nose between thumb and forefinger. Okay. Lets just keep going. Maybe well find something when we get there. Dont be stupid. Youre stupid, Thane shot back. Kieran took my flashlight, and he wont give it back, Raith whined. Well, it was mine anyway. Lynk snatched the flashlight from Kierans hand, jerking it out of reach when Thane reached for it. Dont be such a baby.

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Youre the baby, Thane mumbled, but he kept his voice quiet. He might be bigger, but Lynk did have more magic than himwhich totally wasnt fair. Uh, maybe we should rest here for a few minutes, Zasha suggested. No, Lynk, Torren, Raith, and Thane answered together. Im not tired. Even as he said it, Thane yawned and rubbed at his itchy eyes. Im bored. Why cant we go home? Yeah, Torren agreed. I wanna go home, too. Since this sounded like a wonderful idea to Thane, he spun around and began walking back the way theyd come. Unfortunately, Zasha caught him around the elbow and jerked him to a stop. That guy always did suck the fun out of everything. Fun sucker. What the hell are you doing? the vampire demanded. Hey! Raith yelled. You cant talk to my brother that way! Oh, for the love of the gods, what is going on? Are you five? Zasha demanded with a disgusted huff. Thane didnt know what the man was so upset about, though. Thane was the one being insulted. No, Im not five, he replied with a sarcastic shake of his head. Im not some baby, ya know. Im almost ten.

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Chapter Eleven
Hes joking, right? Zasha didnt find it very humorous, but it was the only thing that even remotely made sense as to why four grown men were acting like a bunch of preteens. Turning to his leader, he jerked his thumb at Thane. Tell me hes joking. October looked just as puzzled by the behavior. Actually, I dont think he is. A loud grunt and sounds of a scuffle drew Zashas attention just in time for him to see Raith tackle Thane to the ground. They yelled the most ridiculous names at each other as they rolled across the rocks and sand, both throwing punches that werent extremely coordinated. You bit me! Kieran shouted, jerking his hand away from Lynk. What the fuck? Dont touch me! Lynk yelled right back. Youre gross! Zasha didnt know what to do, so he just stood there like an idiot with his mouth hanging open. I dont understand. If I had to say, Id guess magical repellent charms. October shrugged when Zasha continued to gape. You didnt think this would be easy, did you? Well, no, but cmon! What are we even supposed to do with them like this? He also wondered why it was only the Braddocks. No one else in their group appeared to be affected. Raith, October called, come over here, love. You cant boss me around, Raith answered immediately. Thane, however, used the distraction to escape his brothers hold. He didnt waste a minute of his freedom, either. Stopping right in front of Zasha, he pointed a finger at Raith. He pulled my hair. His

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fingers tangled in his short locks and tugged. Just like that. Tell him to leave me alone. Iuhwell Oh, for fucks sake. Words failed him. Somehow, he didnt remember being quite so obnoxious when he was ten. If they didnt find a way to undo the spell soon, he might end up strangling his mate. If I hit him, Kieran groaned as he kicked his leg out to the side, trying to dislodge the hold Torren had on his shin, its not really child abuse, is it? I mean, hes not really ten. Yeah huh, Torren argued, but he did release the werewolf and jump to his feet. You cant hit a kid. Im willing to make an exception, Zasha muttered under his breath. This was insane. The men meant to find the witches and essentially save the day were beyond useless as they were. Raith said something like this could happen, October informed him. Honestly, I expected wed all forget why we were here or something of that sort. Still, I think the principles are the same. We just have to get them out of the area. It would have been nice if his mate had given him the same warning, but there was nothing to be done about it now. Watching the Braddock brothers chase each other around while yelling imaginative insults, he also wasnt sure how they were going to get them to do anything. How do we do that? They dont exactly seem willing to follow directions. Boys! Raven yelled, speaking for the first time since the incident had started. Listen up! Who wants to play Simon Says? The winner gets to give everyone else atomic wedgies. Yeah! Raith yelled. Im in, Thane agreed. Youre all going down, Torren taunted. Lynk was the only one who didnt look enthusiastic. I suck at this game, he grumbled. I always lose. He still stepped forward to take his place in the lineup, however.

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Simon says take three giant steps forward, Raven called, walking backward from the group as he spoke. As a unit, the men stretched their legs out like cartoon parodies as each one attempted a larger stride than his brother. Zasha was grateful for the quick thinking of his friend, and he was a little amazed that Raven had been the one to solve their dilemma. Crossing to the vampire, Zasha stopped beside him and folded his arms over his chest. Thank you, he said out of the side of his mouth after Raven had issued the next task in the game. Its kind of creepy seeing them this way, but if you imagine them about three feet shorter, its a piece of cake. If you say so. There was no way in hell Zasha would even attempt to picture his mate as a child. Perhaps that was why hed been so slow to think of a solution. Why is it only them, though? No idea, angel. Zasha snorted and elbowed the man in the ribs. You better watch that shit. You might be bigger and older, but Thane can bend you into a pretzel with just a thought. The funny part about it was that the nickname wasnt an endearment. Hell, it wasnt even a compliment. According to Raven, Zasha was the angel of death when it came to all things fun, and apparently, Thane agreed with that assessment if his earlier comment about him being a fun sucker was any indication. I think it stops here, Kieran announced from where he stood with his brothers just a few feet from the edge of the hilltop. I dont feel like Im going to crawl out of my skin anymore. Zasha had noticed the low-level buzz, but hed been strung tight since theyd started their trek, and he hadnt thought anything of it. Can we hurry this up? One question first, Raven countered. Fine. Have you told Thane?

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Zasha didnt mean to laugh, but it was so ridiculously absurd to think he would have announced to his chosen mate that hed had a brief fling with the Enforcer. The entire affair had lasted exactly forty-six days, and it was actually comical how very, very wrong theyd been for one another. By mutual agreement, it was decided they were much better off as friends, and Raven had definitely been a good friend since the split. That was three years ago, and it was over before either of us could blink. Why would I bring that up? I dont know dick about relationships, but I do pay attention. If there is one thing Ive learned since everyone started falling in love left and right, its that these things come out eventually. Okay. He didnt know what else to say. Truly, he wasnt trying to be a prick, but the entire relationshipif he could call it thathadnt even progressed past the awkward stage. Raven was a good friend, and he cared about people much more than anyone realized. The fact still remained that he wasnt exactly one of those forever kind of guys. Why hed felt the need to bring up their so-called past was as confusing as it was irrelevant to Zashas current relationship. Dont say I didnt warn you. After that little jab, Raven finally dropped the subject and returned his attention to the game. Okay. Simon says run as fast as you can to Kieran. The first one to touch him wins. Jumping out of the way to avoid being trampled, Zasha put the uncomfortable conversation with Raven out of his mind while he held his breath, waiting to see if Kieran was right about the distance. He was also a little worried that one of the overgrown children would become too enthusiastic and end up sending everyone tumbling over the side of the mountain. Luckily, the werewolves had anticipated this as well, and they worked as a unit to herd the Braddocks away from the drop-off. There

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was still a lot of shoving and bickering at first, but one by one, the witches eventually began to return to their senses. What just happened? Thane was the first to come out from under the spell, and he shook his head as though trying to expel water from his ears as he pulled Zasha into his arms. I feel like someone stuffed my head full of cotton. Is everything okay? A smile pulled at the corner of his lips, and Zasha stretched up on his toes for a kiss. It is now. He just hoped it stayed that way. If that was only the first deterrent their enemies had established, he definitely wasnt looking forward to the next. Just so you know, Thane. You were kind of an asshole when you were a kid. Uhokay. His brow creased and his nose wrinkled. Wait. What? Chuckling under his breath, Zasha took his lovers hand and tugged. Ill explain later. Cmon, lets go. The hike down the side of the mountain should have been impossible without the appropriate climbing gear. With a little magical help from the witches, and the fact that most of them were blessed with paranormal strength and agility, they reached the valley below without incident. The trek through the sand produced no further complications, either, and they reached the waters edge much sooner than Zasha had anticipated. It did seem strange that theyd encountered no other deterrents. Maybe theyd stumble upon more enchantments once theyd crossed the lake. After all, he highly doubted theyd reached the end of their journey. Now what? There was no boat in sight. He saw no natural bridge or any other way for them to reach the other side. Lost in thought, it took him a moment to realize that no one had responded to his question. Thane? Well, hello, gorgeous. Thane sidled closer, pressing into Zashas personal space with a cocky leer. These lips are going to look very pretty wrapped around my cock.

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I beg your pardon? Zasha wasnt wholly against the picture his lover painted, but he didnt feel their current venue was the appropriate place for such suggestions. Oh, I certainly intend to make you beg. Thane Trailing off on a frustrated groan, Zasha surveyed the rest of their group, unsurprised to see similar situations happening all around him. Here we go again. He had been expecting it, but hed foolishly convinced himself theyd been granted a short reprieve until theyd found a way to cross the waters. All around him, pandemonium ensued. Lynk was attempting to climb October like a stripper pole. The poor leader was barely paying him attention, though. His gaze was locked on Raith, and he looked mad enough to spit fire as he watched his mate rub against his secondin-command, Gideon. Lynks mate, Kieran, was growling and snarling, trying to fight off his youngest brothers restraining hold in an attempt to get to his intended. The eldest Braddock had apparently decided that he wanted a werewolf of his own, leaving Raven as the only one not otherwise engaged at the moment. Unfortunately, the Enforcer wasnt doing a damn thing to help, and his laughter was beginning to grate on Zashas nerves. Raven, do something! What do you want me to do? I dont know. Something. Dont just stand there. Purr, Thane commented as he slowly traced his bottom lip with his tongue. Abandoning his seduction of Zasha, Thane practically leapt to Ravens side. And just who are you? He insinuated himself even closer, rocking his hips suggestively as he dry humped the vampire like a bitch in heat. I dont think youve yet had the pleasure of meeting me. Raven tried to push the guy off him, but Thane was persistent. Is he for real? the Enforcer demanded.

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Zasha didnt have time to decide if he was amused or jealous before an ear-splitting howl rose up on the wind, cutting through the night and echoing off the canyon walls. It seemed Kieran had reached his breaking point, bursting from his clothes as his beast came roaring to the surface. A single shake of his arm sent his brothers sailing through the air, and in the next heartbeat, three hundred pounds of pissed off, possessive werewolf tackled Lynk like a professional linebacker. Octobers expression twisted into a mask of fury as he stomped through the sand, reaching Raith in just a few strides and grabbing a handful of his mates hair. Without further preliminaries he bent the witch over backward, embedding his fangs into Raiths throat with a snarl. Torren hadnt given up in his pursuit of the werewolf, Parker, but for the time being, he also wasnt a threat. More to the point, he didnt have a mate present who would flip his shit and rip out someones carotid artery. That just left Thane. Returning his attention to his lover, Zasha found it was no longer a decision between rage and amusement. Rage had definitely won. Thanes hands were everywhere, groping every part of Raven he could reach. His lips puckered, and he leaned forward, coming much too close to the Enforcers mouth for Zashas liking, and to make it worse, Raven wasnt do a fucking thing to stop it. Pinching the cartilage of Thanes ear between thumb and forefinger, he twisted hard, forcing his mate down on his knees. Ow! Thane yelped, rubbing at his abused ear. What the hell? Ill deal with you in a minute. White-hot fury coursed through him, and a filmy red haze settled over his vision. As for you. Me? Raven stumbled back a couple of steps, looking left and right, clearly searching for an escape route. What did I do?

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Nothing, Zasha growled as he stalked closer. Thats exactly the problem. You didnt do a damn thing. Would you have let him kiss you? What? No! His hands came up in front of him defensively. Now, wait a minute, Zasha. I think you need to calm down. The last statement rubbed Zasha all kinds of wrong. I need to calm down? I need to calm down? You practically had your hand down my mates pants, and Im the one who needs to fucking calm down? I didnt do anything! Raven yelled. I didnt even touch him. The logical voice in Zashas head knew this, but that little bastard had been gagged and shoved into a deep, dark well. He didnt want to be logical. He didnt want to think rationally, give everyone the benefit of the doubt, or show forgiveness. For once, he wanted to let his emotions rule him, to get pissed off and actually do something about it. A two-handed shove to the vampires chest made him stumble back another few steps, and a hard jab to his midsection knocked him to the ground with a grunt. Zasha might be small, but he was still a vampire with a supernatural strength. Stay away from my mate, Raven. Yeah, Raven groaned. Got it. Stay far away. Spinning on his heels, Zasha jabbed a finger in Thanes face. You. Yes? Thane batted his long lashes and grinned from ear to ear. You know I like it rough. Gods, the man was incorrigible, and only part of it had to do with the damn enchantment he was under. Get up. Yes, boss me around. He took his sweet time about it, but Thane eventually gained his feet. What will you do with me now? Im going to find better ways to occupy that smart mouth, Zasha answered, echoing Thanes words from a few days prior. Then he

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fisted the collar of his lovers black T-shirt and jerked him forward, crushing their mouths together in a hard, demanding kiss. Drowning in the taste of his mate, Zasha didnt know how long the kiss went on, but eventually, something began to change. Thanes mouth softened, his muscles relaxed, and his right arm came around Zashas waist, pulling him into a tight embrace. Hey, you, Thane mumbled against Zashas swollen lips. Come here often? He was still being a smart-ass, but his tone was playful, less cocky, and there was a level of emotion in his voice that Zasha hadnt realized hed missed until it was gone. Hey back, he whispered. Thane lifted his head, peering at Raven over Zashas shoulder. Did I do that? No. Zasha glanced back at his friend and chuckled. I did. Well, Im sure he deserved it. He did. We have other problems, though. Turning Thane around, Zasha pointed to where Torren was still trying to rub his dick against anything that would stand still long enough. What do we do about that? The other Braddocks were fine, and Zasha assumed it had something to do with the power of the mating bond. Unfortunately, Torren didnt have his Infinity there to lift the charm. As Thane listened to him explain all of this, his eyebrows rose to his hairline, and he nodded several times. I have an idea. Pulling his cell phone from his pocket, he dialed quickly as he hurried toward his brother. Then he pressed the device to his ear and waited several seconds before a smile brightened his features. Hey, Aslan. I could use your help. He paused, presumably to listen to the other mans response. No, no, Torrens fine. I just need you to talk to him. Um, try to say something meaningful. Then he pressed the phone into Torrens hand and indicated he should talk. Hello? Torren practically sang into the phone. He danced from foot to foot, still wiggling his hips suggestively as he

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listened to his mate. Suddenly, the smug look slid off his face, and he stilled completely. The witch blinked several times before sagging forward, forcing Thane to catch him before he fell to the ground. Hey, caro, Torren whispered, the emotion thick in his voice as he clutched the phone like a lifeline. Yeah, Im okay. Dont worry. Ill be home soon. Tell Wren I love him, and give him a big hugYou know I doYepLove you, baby. Thane took the phone Torren handed to him and tucked it into his pocket. Better? Yeah. What did he say? Torren shook his head and began dusting the sand from his clothes. Okay, so where do we go from here? It wasnt his place to tell, but with his heightened auditory senses, Zasha had heard every word. He recognized them as the same words Thane had spoken the night theyd claimed each other. While he still didnt know what they meant, he understood the importance. If Torren wanted to keep the conversation private, however, Zasha would respect that. Heres the deal, Lynk answered Torrens question as he appeared at Zashas side. I dont know how to tell you this, but I think were here. Theres nothing here, Torren argued. This cant be right. Not here. Lynk pointed down at his toes. There. His arm lifted so that he was pointing right into the middle of the lake. Under the water.

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Chapter Twelve
As it turned out, Lynk was right. Thane wasnt looking forward to wading out into the cold waters, but he also didnt see any other alternatives. This is insane. We did the magic, Lynk reminded him. This is it. They had indeed twinned their magic, sending out pulses in search of any unusual energy. Everything that bounced back to themand it was some damn big bouncesindicated that what they sought lay at the bottom of the dark lake. It also explained why only he and his brothers had been affected by the protective enchantments. No one other than a witch would be able to reach the hidden circle without drowning, so there was no reason to protect against humans or other types of paranormals. If not for the help of their friends and mates, the Braddocks probably would have never made it this far. Unfortunately, theyd have no choice but to continue on alone unless someone produced an answer quickly. The last hour and half had been spent discussing possible options and trying to find an alternate way into the hiding place that wouldnt exclude more than half of their team. Mostly, theyd just talked themselves around in circles, and no one had been able to produce another logical course of action. The time taken to pull him and his brothers out from under the enchantments had eaten into a good portion of the night. The descent down the side of the cliff had also taken time off their ticking clock. Barely more than an hour remained until midnight, and if they were going in alone, theyd need the added power of the witching hour if they hoped to walk out alive.

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Thane couldnt be sure how many witches waited for them beneath the lake, but judging by the level of energy saturating the area, he had to assume they were vastly outnumbered. He and his brothers were the most powerful of their kind, even stronger together, but they did have their limits. That also wasnt to say that other witches were weak, either, and being outnumbered by only a small number could be fatal. Are you going to just dive out into the water, swim to the bottom, and hope for the best? Zasha threw his hands into the air and scoffed. Look, I may not know a lot about magic, but I do know something about breathing. There is no way those witches are hiding down in those salt mines. Oh, theyre down there, Thane assured his mate. Creating a barrier spell to keep out the water is pretty elementary magic. Its like inflating a balloon and stepping inside it. It was a spell even a beginner witch could cast. There has to be a way inside, almost like a doorway. Right, Lynk added thoughtfully as he began pacing the shore. There has to be a way inside, and they wouldnt want to drag prisoners through the water to get them there. He held both hands out in front of him, waving them through the air in slow, circular motions. Exactly, Raith chimed in, joining Lynk near the water and waving his own hands back and forth. It needs to be easy for them to access, but not so easy anyone can find it. The metaphorical light bulb lit up, and Thane swore he even heard a ding. There was a lot of ground to cover, though, and time seemed to be moving twice as fast as it should. Everyone spread out, he ordered. Stay close to the water and look for anything that feels out of place. You might not see anything, but you should feel it. No one argued or stopped to question his orders. Fanning out around the lake, the men shuffled through the sand, mimicking Raith and Lynk as they lifted their hands out in front of them as though searching for the light switch in a dark room. Even the Delaneys

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prowled through the night, growling and chuffing in their shifted forms. Damn, those werewolves were huge. Hey, guys, Raven called from several hundred yards down the shoreline. I think I found something. Even from the distance, Thane could clearly see the smirk on the vampires face. His arms were crossed over his chest, and he leaned to one side, seemingly supported by nothing by air. We found it, Zasha said as the jogged toward Raven. How do we get in? For this type of spell, theres usually some kind of passcode, a word or phrase. Or an amulet, Lynk added as they slowed to a stop. Its like the secret decoder ring just for club members. It wouldnt be impossible to get through the barrier without a talisman, but it damn sure wouldnt be easy, either. Hoping for a simpler solution, Thane and his brothers rattled off a hundred different words and phrases in a dozen different languages. It wasnt surprising that none of them worked. Nothing had been easy up to that point. Thane didnt know why any of them thought things would suddenly begin to turn in their favor. How do the amulets work? Bless Zasha, he was trying to think rationally and keep his wits about him, but Thane could practically see the panic bubbling just under the surface. Yes, they were running out of time. Yes, they needed to find a way in and fast. Nothing was more important to him than his mate, though. Pulling Zasha into his arms, he cradled the back of his partners head and kissed his temple. Were going to be okay, he whispered. I know it feels like were stumbling around in the dark, but its really going to be okay. Visibly relaxing, Zasha melted into him for just a moment before taking a deep breath to compose himself. Youre right, and Im

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fine. His smile was a little wobbly, but the look in his eyes wasnt quite so frantic anymore. Now, about those amulets? Its usually a stone, Torren answered. Each member donates a part of their essence to bind the bewitchment. The idea is that everyone has to sacrifice something to be able to enter. Sacrifice, Zasha murmured. When you say a part of their essence, do you mean blood? Torren shrugged. Yeah, usually its a drop of blood. His fangs elongated to gleam in the moonlight, and Zasha lifted his thumb to his mouth to puncture the skin on the tip of his canine. Then he stepped forward, pushing past the others to smear his offering against the invisible wall blocking their entrance. It was a good plan, and Thane was proud of his man for thinking of it. It was just too bad nothing happened. The protective spells only affected you. October nodded to indicate each Braddock. Maybe theres a reason for that beyond the obvious. That sounded oddly ominous to Thane. If the leader was saying what Thane thought he was saying, that meant their enemies were not only expecting them, the Braddocks had been led there. Lieveling. He held his hand out to Zasha, palm up, as he stared pointedly at his mates sharp fangs. A little help, if you could. Sure, he could use the dagger sheathed on his hip, but Zasha needed the additional strength his blood could provide before they walked into the unknown. Lifting Thanes palm to his mouth, Zasha stared into his eyes as he bit into the meaty part below the thumb with the utmost care. He didnt take much, but it was enough to satisfy Thane. When his lover pulled away, he stared at the twin punctures and nodded. I almost hope this doesnt work. Apparently, Zasha had understood the implication of Octobers statement as well. We cant turn back.

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Theyd all taken an oath to protect those smaller, weaker, and defenseless. These witches had abused their power, forsaking the gift nature had given them and manipulating it into something dark and vile. Too many innocents had been hurt, too many families torn apart, and nothing would change if someone didnt stand against them. Approaching the same stretch of shoreline as Zasha had earlier, Thane found the surface beneath his palm to be cold and smooth. It felt almost like glass but strangely yielding, like one of those medical gel packs. As he smeared his bleeding appendage across the invisible barrier, he felt the resistance fall away, allowing him to push his hand through the other side of the opening. There was no change in the surrounding area other than a distorted, vertical hoop of rippling air where the solid surface had been. Viewing the lake through the swirling circle of wind blurred the scenery somewhat, but Thane could still see the waters clearly. What he couldnt see was the part of his hand that pushed through the barrier, giving the illusion that his arm now ended at the wrist. If the protection spell could be undone by Braddock blood, that meant it had been cast and bound using Braddock blood. Somewhere beyond the flowing vortex, most likely starved, beaten, and sedated as he and Mikko had been, one of his brothers waited for rescue. There really was no turning back now, but Thanes worst fear had been confirmed. Not only had they been led to this point, their own overconfidence used to manipulate them, but they were now willingly walking into a trap.

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Chapter Thirteen
Being a thousand-year-old hybrid came with a lot of perks, and Leader Tuesday was well versed in using them to his advantage. Having a battalion of Enforcers at his command probably didnt hurt, either. Ten minutes after Thane had removed the barrier, October was finalizing arrangements with a Las Vegas werewolf pack to provide reinforcements. Unfortunately, it would take nearly an hour for the Enforcers to prepare and travel to the location, and there wasnt time to wait. Someone would need to meet them on their arrival to brief them on the situation. While several people were nominated by their mates, including Zasha, no one held their hand up to volunteer. After another ten minutes of begging, bargaining, and commanding on Raiths part, October finally agreed to stay behind and wait for their backup. Additionally, it had been decided that Gideon would stay behind as wellmuch to the Enforcers displeasureto protect October should anything happen. Since Leader Tuesday was the most important and influential person in their group, it only made sense, and Zasha stood firmly on Raiths side this time. Of course, Thane had tried his best to persuade Zasha into staying behind with the leader as well, but it wasnt going to happen. Hed know the dangers when theyd left Snake River, and he was prepared to walk through fire for his mate. Beyond his unwavering loyalty and driving need to protect Thane, dismantling this threat was the right thing to do. He may not be a warrior. Maybe he wasnt brave or

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heroic. Zasha could still be an asset, though, and he full intended to see this through. Stepping through the hoop of rippling air felt like being doused in ice water and then immediately walking into a spiders web, but the discomfort dissipated once he was fully past the broken barrier. Part of him had expected to step forward right into the lake. Part of him wished he had. The salt mines that lay abandoned and forgotten on the floor of Lake Mead gave him the goddamn creeps. The tunnel that stretched on before him was dark, unwelcoming, and crawling with an energy of its own. Pressing a hand to the rocks on his right, Zasha swore he could even feel the walls breathing. Thane? Im on it, baby. Thanes fingers brushed the small of Zashas back, and a moment later, the tunnel was illuminated with a bright, amber light. Zasha just smiled and shook his head. He never would understand magic. The glowing sphere that rested in his partners palm was no bigger than a golf ball, nowhere near big enough to create the amount of light it produced. Still, at least he wasnt stumbling through the dark anymore. The walls crept closer together as they continued forward until everyone was forced to walk single file through the crumbling corridor with Kieran Delaney leading the silent charge. Surrounded on all sides by warm bodies or cold rocks, Zasha felt caged, as though he was being herded along a chute to the slaughterhouse. The air grew heavy, thick, and each inhalation was more difficult than the last. He squirmed and fidgeted, wiping at his arms or rubbing the back of his neck. It was the strangest sensation, not like something was crawling over him, but as though his skin itself was moving. Easy, Thane whispered to him. Its just a spell. Calm your mind. Relax. Itll pass in a minute.

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It wasnt an easy request to honor, but Zasha did his best to cease the franticness of his thoughts. A hundred feet further into the tunnel, and his dedication rewarded him with a lungful of clean, crisp oxygen. Now that he no longer feared suffocating, it was much easier to name what was bothering him. Its too quiet. Other than the muffled sounds of their footsteps and the crunch of rocks beneath their boots, the mines were utterly silent. He hadnt expected the witches to be throwing a frat party, but even a quiet conversation should have carried and echoed. Despite his sensitive hearing, however, Zasha could detect no other living things within the underwater maze. I dont hear anyone. Theyre here, Thane assured him. Pressing one finger to his lips, he nodded once and closed his other hand, extinguishing the ball of light and plunging them into total darkness. A left turn, a right turn, a gradual incline, around a sloping curvethey trudged on, and Zasha was beginning to think they were walking in circles. Turning his head to the side, he intended to ask Thane what was going on, but his toe caught on a large chunk of fallen rock, and he was propelled forward with a low grunt. Luckily, he didnt go sprawling into the mud, but several things had happened in the mere seconds it had taken him to find his balance. A muted thud sounded from behind him, followed by Thane screaming his name. More thuds followed, though they sounded distant and hollow. It was the panicked, terrified edge to his mates tone that caused his gut to cramp, and hed have given anything to be able to see. A heartbeat later, his mothers voice rang in his ears, reminding him to be careful of what he wished forand she was right as usual. Hundreds of floating lanterns came to life as one where they hovered near the domed ceiling of a cavernous room. Hissing through his teeth, Zasha dropped his head and squeezed his eyes closed, momentarily blinded by the bright beacons above him.

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Seconds ticked by like hours while he waited for his vision to return and the spots to stop dancing before him. Once he was able to focus again, he almost wished he was still blind. At least twenty smirking faces stared back at him. Dressed in blood red robes, the strangers gathered in the center of the cave-like room, seemingly calm as though nothing out of the ordinary was happening. More disturbing than the calm, silent stance of his enemies were the enormous steel cages suspended from the ceiling by long, thick chains. Imprisoned within each of the six cages were wide-eyed children with pale, dirty faces. Three more cages perched on makeshift tables along the curving wall, each containing men and women, adults who appeared no less terrified than the children above them. Zasha! Zasha! Thane screamed his name over and over. Though the sound was softened and distorted, the witchs voice had lost some of the franticness from earlier. Now, he just sounded pissed. Not sure how many more surprises he could withstand, Zasha cast a hesitant glance over his shoulder and almost whimpered when he found all four Braddocks trapped behind another invisible barrier. Thanes features were a twisted mask of unadulterated rage, transforming his handsome face into something from a nightmare. The seal that held him trapped within the corridor shuddered and pulsed under the persistent pounding of Thanes fists, and Zasha imagined once his mate was free, there would be hell to pay. Lynk called to his mate as well, appearing more frightened than angry as he clawed at the unseen wall. Kieran, however, seemed only relieved that Lynk was safely trapped behind the barrier. There was still a lot he didnt understand about the laws regarding magic, but Zasha was no ones fool. It was no coincidence that him, Raven, and the werewolves had been drawn outside of that tunnel. They were meant to be separated from the Braddocks, and Zasha imagined it worked both ways. The Braddocks couldnt cross into the room, while Zasha and the others couldnt leave.

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Essentially, they were all trapped. If that werent bad enough, the uneasy feeling of certain death crept over him, bringing with it the realization that the plan had been designed this way. He was meant to die. Thane was meant to watch the scene play out before his eyes, tormented by the fact he could do nothing to stop it. Well, this is a pickle, Raven announced as he unsheathed one of the daggers from his belt. That was one way to put it. Zasha would have chosen something more suiting like slaughter, but arguing over phrasing wouldnt change the outcome. The werewolves were snarling and snapping their impressive jaws, prowling back and forth between Zasha and the red-robed witches. Clearly, they were anxious to get started. Pulling his own dagger from his hip, Zasha gripped the handle until his knuckles turned white and his fingers began to ache. This wasnt how things were supposed to have happened, but if he was going to die anyway, he would at least die fighting. The antagonizing smirks never faulted as twenty witches pulled gleaming gold and silver swords from their scabbards, tilting them tauntingly in the werewolves direction. Tsk, tsk. The witch standing prominently at the head of their small army clucked his tongue and stepped away from the group. It seems someone has let the dog off his leash. Your mate really should be more careful. He was easily the largest man in the room, towering at least eight inches above Zasha. Beneath the flowing robe, his shoulders appeared broad and his frame bulky, creating a powerfully intimidating image. Flipping his dark hair over one shoulder, he laughed freely, clearly enjoying Kierans growing rage. Twirling one hand out to the side, he manifested a glowing ball of light between his fingers, much like the one Thane had produced earlier. Then he flicked his wrist, sending the crackling orb across the room where it zipped past Zashas ear, headed straight toward Lynk Braddock.

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Proving his earlier theory, the light didnt penetrate the barrier, but instead, ricocheted off the walls and ceiling before finally exploding near one of the cages. The childrens fearful cries tore at his heart, but the cold laughter from the circles leader only fueled his determination to put an end to the mans worthless existence. Kieran, however, seemed to be taking a different approach to the situation. The threat to his mate had apparently short-circuited his brain, sending him into a spiral of fury. Without any signal or warning, without giving any indication that he was about to move, the werewolf launched himself at the circles leader with his fangs bared. From that one act, complete chaos was born. Balls of fire, lightning, and even water whipped around the room, carelessly cast and discarded by the robed witches. Some chose to abandon the use of magic in favor of swords or daggers, slicing through the air as they charged forward with fearsome battle cries. Yes, Zasha was scared, but when faced with his own mortality, instinct took over, becoming his most powerful ally. Ducking beneath the arm of one witch, he spun gracefully on his toes, kicking out his right leg to bring two more men to the ground. The bouncing spheres and jets of light from casted spells were harder to dodge and seemed to come with no rhyme or reason, but Zasha soon found they werent very accurate, either. Kieran had never reached his intended target, having been intercepted by three smaller members of the group. He fought ferociously, swiping with his claws and gnashing his teeth, but each time he felled one witch, two more would rush to their comrades defense. Kierans brothers werent faring much better, and it was clear they were all tiring as they struggled to stave off the attacks. Swords clashed together and sparks flew as Raven dueled with a redheaded witch only half his size. The tiny woman cackled and taunted, dancing out of reach before charging back in with the obvious intention of skewering Raven on the end of her blade.

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Maybe she thought herself safe because she was a woman, but shed severely overestimated the Enforcers compassionas well as his longer reach. When she jeered and toddled back once more, Raven delivered a roundhouse kick to the side of her head, dropping her like a bad habit. The guy really was honorable, though. Instead of piercing her heart with his sword once shed fallen, he simply stepped over her prone body to engage his next opponent. Zasha lost track of everyone after that. He was too busy trying to keep his head firmly attached to his shoulders. In a fair fight, he felt confident he could hold his own. Unfortunately, there were several things not fair about this war. He and his friends had no magic as the witch currently crushing his windpipe with an invisible hand from several feet away was quick to remind him. They were also outnumbered, something else that was made aware to him by the appearance of another witch sprinting toward him with a sword lifted over his head. From the corner of his eye, Zasha saw a streak of red fly through the air, and he winced when he heard the crunch the woman made when she smacked against the wall. A piercing howl erupted over the cacophony of noise but quickly died away, and Zasha could only guess at which werewolf had fallen. A single tear trickled down the side his cheek, but Zasha didnt mourn for himself. He didnt fear death. His sadness was for Thane, for the agony this would cause him. Fate had created them as two and then made them one. However, it seemed no matter how many times they found one another, it was just never meant to be. The sounds of the room faded away, leaving him in a dark, tranquil place where a highlight reel of his life dominated all of his senses. It shouldnt have surprised him that though hed led a very long lifetwo of them actuallymost of his best memories involved Thane. It didnt speak well for his active participation in life, but the moment of clarity had a profound impact, rocking his beliefs to their core.

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Everything hed done, not done, or held back was not to protect Thane. It wasnt because his mate was too weak or fragile to cope. Hed done them because he was too weak, too scared to allow himself to be vulnerable. It wasnt that he didnt believe in love. That was just something pretty he liked to tell himself to protect his heart. The pressure against his windpipe increased until his vision began to blur and pulse at the edges. Held immobile by the spell cutting off his oxygen, he could only watch as the second witch leapt into the air, falling toward him in a graceful arc with his blade positioned for maximum damage. Trying to protect his heart from Thane had been a fruitless endeavor. His lover owned him like no other ever would, had ensnared his heart and invaded his soul. Once he was finally able to admit it to himself, the floodgates opened, drowning him under a tsunami of emotion. I love you, Thane. He didnt know if it would work, highly doubted it would, but he pushed the thought at his mate with every ounce of his waning strength. Then he squared his shoulders, straightened his spine, and bravely faced his impending death.

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Chapter Fourteen
I love you, Thane. Gasping as the words hed longed to hear for so long slipped into his mind, Thane thought his heart would shatter into a million bloody pieces. He kicked and screamed, pounded his fists against the unmovable barrier while he berated himself for being a useless piece of shit. Hed led his mate into this, and now, he could do nothing but curse the gods as he watched his mate dieagain. The golden blade glimmered in the light cast by the overhead lanterns as it sliced through the air on an impact course with Zashas neck. Thane cried out for his mate, yelled Zashas voice at the top of his lungs until he feared his throat would bleed. Emerging from the tangle of embattled bodies, one of the werewolves flew through the air, his open mouth and dripping canines aimed for the head of the fucker who held Zasha immobile. It wasnt a pretty sight, and Thane knew the image of all that blood would be forever burned into his memory. Under different circumstances, he might have cared. The attack released Zasha from the holding spell, and he collapsed to the ground only a millisecond before the sword landed where his neck had been. It was such a near miss that a lock of his hair floated on the breeze, separated from his head by the sharpness of the blade. Thanes relief was short-lived when he realized the opposing witch had landed on his feet, ready with his next move while Zasha knelt on the ground, coughing and gagging as he gasped for breath. Once again, however, Kieran proved to be the hero Thane couldnt

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be, tackling the witch with enough force to send them both crashing into the stone wall with a sickening crack. Somehow, Thane didnt think the douchebag with the sword would be walking away from that one. No! Lynks bloodcurdling scream sent a shiver down Thanes spine. Kieran! The werewolf slumped to his side, his chest rising and falling in short, shallow waves. Each breath appeared more laborious than the last, and a river of crimson pooled beneath him, flowing freely from the sword wound just below his ribcage. Then, with a sad, lingering gaze at Lynk, Kieran cough twice, melted into the ground, and exhaled his last breath. Thane had no words. There was nothing he could say to his brother that would bring any semblance of comfort for a loss so tragic. There was still a measure of hope, but there were so many more things that could go wrong. For that reason, he resisted the urge to give Lynk that false security. Something told him his brother wouldnt hear him anyway. The wind kicked up, roaring through the tunnel and whipping against them. There was a charge, a crackle of something alive and powerful that surrounded them, and Thane didnt have to look far to find the source of the energy. Lynk was channeling his grief into an all-consuming fury, and the harder he breathed, the more violently the wind snapped against them. I will kill him, Lynk vowed. An elbow to the gut from Raith had Thane pressing his lips together instead of informing Lynk the man he sought vengeance against was already dead. Do you feel that? Raith asked. There was a grin in his voicea dirty, cocky little grin. Boys, I do believe Cinderella has left the ball. What hed mistaken as a reaction to Lynks anger was actually a surge in his own power, indicating that the witching hour had begun. With half of their enemies dead or unconscious, and the other half

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wounded and exhausted, it wasnt going to be much of a fight, but Thane wasnt interested in fair play. With an echoing cry, Lynk threw both hands out in front of him, smashing them against the protective barrier and completely disintegrating the shield. After that, it took approximately four and half minutes for them to end the fight. It wasnt nearly as satisfying as Thane had expected, though. Hell, they hadnt even had to get their hands dirty. Standing shoulder to shoulder, theyd cast their spells and enchantments, lassoing their enemies with ease and squeezing them with bone-crushing, invisible bonds until the assholes passed out from the pain. Once the threat was neutralized, Lynk rushed to his lovers side, gently cradling his head while he petted and cooed to him. Its okay, love. Youre going to be okay. Lynk continued to talk, letting the tears flow unrestrained down his cheeks. Lynk Torren began in placating tones. No! Shaking his head violently so that his dark hair whipped around his face, Lynk refused to even look at their eldest brother. Hes not dead. Hes going to be just fine. Youll see. The sight was heart-wrenching, but Thane still held to his hope that Kierans bond with Lynk would save him. Deciding his presence would not be welcome, Thane turned away from his twin and hurried to find his own mate. Zasha was slumped on the ground, unmoving, and panic seized Thane like a lightning bolt to the chest. Zasha? Storming across the room, he pushed at the Enforcers rounding up the prisoners, shoving them out of the way with no thought in mind but reaching his lover. Mere steps from his goal, he stumbled to a stop when Raven appeared at Zashas side and offered his hand, pulling the vampire to his feet with a chuckle. You did good, angel. You scared the shit out of me there for a minute, but you did good. What was that? He saw no good reason another man should be calling his Infinity by such an intimate endearment. Holding both

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hands out at hip level, he channeled his energy to his fingertip, smirking when electricity sparked and crackled across his skin. Would you care to repeat that? Raven shook his head once and held his hands up in front of him. Nope. Im good. Thane, its not what you Thane silenced his mate with just a look. Come here, lieveling. Releasing the energy in his hands, he pulled Zasha into his arms, crushing him close to claim his lips. He had no fangs to bite his lover with like a vampire, no scent to saturate him in like a werewolf, but he marked his mate in the only way he knew howwith a scorching kiss designed to brand Zashas very soul. You were amazing, he whispered. Im proud of you. Then he let the bass seep into his voice and narrowed his eyes. If you even suggest coming with me on another assignment again, I will redden your ass and tie you to the bed. Got it? Promise? Zasha batted his lashes while his eyes danced with mischief. Mmm, promise. Dipping his head, Thane rubbed their noses together and sighed. I love you, Zasha. I think you took ten years off my life, though. It wasnt like I planned for any of this to happen. I dont care. Youre being unreasonable. Probably. Zasha huffed dramatically and rolled his eyes. What am I going to do with you? Love me, Thane suggested. I do. Zasha pressed his lips together into a thin line, and he must have realized what hed said, because his eyes rounded almost comically. Thane had to give him credit, though. Instead of falling apart, Zasha swallowed twice, wetted his lips, and pressed his palm to

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Thanes cheek. That wasnt how I intended to tell you, but that doesnt change the truth in it. I love you, Thane. I know. You know? Thats all you have to say? You know? What else do you want me to say? I said it first. It would be silly to say it again. Then wed be standing here all night in a perpetual loop of I-love-yous. Gods, he adored this man, and he would stand there all night telling Zasha just how much, but it was too fun to tease him. Now, I dont know about you, but I have better thingsRaven, dont move. I was just going to help the other Enforcers. In a minute. Thane wanted to hear more about this endearment. Since when did Zasha become your angel? Dude, its not like that. Its just a joke, like a stupid nickname. Thats all. Raven looked like hed rather be facing down a firing squad in that moment. Its nothing. Really. It wont happen again. Zasha groaned and rubbed both hands over his sweaty face. We dated about three years ago, and I use the term dated loosely. It lasted a little over a month, and it was weird and awkward. Seriously, thats all there is to tell. There were two viable options. Thane could accept that his mate hadnt been a monk before theyd met, and he had no right to pry into Zashas past. The other choice was to bend Raven in half until he could lick his own asshole. While the latter was more appealing, it wasnt necessary. Viewing Raven as a threat to his relationship was laughable. Raven? Yeah? Go away. On it. Raven wasted no time booking it across the room to help gather up the prisoners.

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Youre not mad? Sucking his bottom lip between his teeth, Zasha pressed in closer, rubbing his cheek against the side of Thanes neck. No, Im not mad. A little jealous maybe, but hed get over it. Besides, he was the only one whod been able to capture Zashas heart, and that was the real prize. Maybe we just wont tell me about any other ex-boyfriends, though. Thane! Torren called to him from the recess that housed the cages of prisoners. Raith, you, too. The Enforcers from the local pack who werent escorting witches to the surface were busy coaxing the children from their cages. It was a strange sight to see such large men trying to appear small and unintimidating while they whispered, cooed, and made silly faces. Enforcers, werewolves in particular, had a reputation for being hardened and uncaring. Obviously, that was far from the truth. The paranormal world was often times at odds with the different races warring for power and dominance. In hard times, they all came together in common interest, though. There was a special place on the other side reserved for those who abused children, and it appeared as though every person milling about the mines agreed it was the perfect fate for the witches responsible for this atrocity. Cmon. Thane motioned for Zasha to follow him through the crowd to where Torren stood waiting with his arm around the shoulders of one of the captives. Though the man had his back to them, Thane had a good idea who it was. Nix. Your brother? Zasha hurried along behind him, jogging to keep up with Thanes longer strides. Mikkos twin? The one who can see the future? Right on all three counts. Arriving at Torrens side, Thane held his breath, waiting for Nix to turn and face him before pulling his brother into a crushing embrace. Hey, runt. The guy was no bigger than Mikko, but he did appear to be in much better health. A little pale, a little thin, but otherwise, he appeared unharmed.

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I knew you would come, Nix answered in his quiet, musical voice. What took you so long? Then he pushed away from Thane and wound his arms around Zasha. You two are going to be very happy together. It wont end like last time, Zasha. You dont have to fear the future. Thane couldnt help but laugh at the stunned look on his lovers face. Dont worry, lieveling. Youll get used to it. It could be unsettling when Nix just blurted out secrets he shouldnt know, but after a while, most people just viewed it as part of his charm. Kieran? Lynks soft whimper drew everyones attention. Wake up, sweetheart. You need to wake up now. He hadnt moved from his mates side, still stroking Kierans hair while he rocked from side to side. Wake up, Kieran. You cant leave me. This isnt supposed to happen. Thane, do something, Zasha begged him. Thane would do anything for his family, but unfortunately, there wasnt much assistance he could provide this time. He couldnt feel any spark of life in the werewolf, and without that tether, Thane couldnt even pull the guy back from Purgatory. Oh, Lynk. Nix sighed and flounced over to their brother, settling gracefully to his knees and resting his head on Lynks shoulder. Do you not believe in your bond? Of course, I do, Lynk argued. He kissed the top of Nixs head and sniffed. Ive missed you, Nixy. Im glad youre safe. Missed you, too, Lynk. Now, dry your eyes and believe your love is enough. Hell come back to you. I do believe. His swollen, red-rimmed eyes never left Kierans face, and the tears trickling down his cheeks didnt cease. I cant feel him, though. I cant feel anything. He petted the werewolfs hair in loving strokes, but his shoulders sagged in hopeless defeat. I cant feel him, he repeated, and the agony in his tone was tangible. Believe, Nix encouraged. Would I lie to you?

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Sniffing audibly, Lynk shook his head slowly. No, you wouldnt. Well, I dont intend to start now. Nix closed his eyes and began counting while Thane gripped Zasha tighter to his side and held his breath. Just one more, Nix mumbled before opening his eyes with a wide grin. Ah, there he is. A loud groan, a few coughs, and a rumble that sounded suspiciously like a purr heralded Kierans return to the land of the living. Thane was ashamed to admit that hed had a moment of doubt about the Enforcers fate, but he was happy to be proven wrong. Well, you are a big one, arent you. Nix reached forward with one finger to tap the end of Kierans nose. Now, just so we know, Id appreciate it if you wouldnt scare my brother like that again. It does terrible things to my mood. Kieran blinked stupidly as his eyebrows knitted together in confusion. Before he could ask questions, however, Lynk was on him, tackling the werewolf back to the sodden ground as he rained kisses across his face and down the side of his neck. What were you thinking? I cant believe you did that. My heart stopped beating. Cmere, sugar. Rolling them in the mud, Kieran loomed above Lynk with a smile, but his eyes glistened in the lights as tears gathered in the corners. Who takes care of you? The reunion was beautiful, but it was a bit embarrassing to witness, especially since Kieran was bare-ass naked. Snorting, Thane shook his head as he turned away to give the couple some privacy. I think everything is going to be just fine. Theyd saved the day, rescued the children, and no one had died. Thane was feeling high on life at the moment, and he could think of only one ending to their journey that would make everything perfect. Dipping his head, he placed a kiss against the soft skin just behind Zashas ear. Lets go home. Oh, I like the sound of that. Encircling Thanes neck in an unbreakable hold, Zasha jumped into his arms and nipped at his chin.

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Im done playing the hero, and I promise to let you take care of me, if thats what you want. No, Zash. He was close, but there was one crucial piece missing to his proposal. I want us to take care of each other.

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Chapter Fifteen
Zasha was happy to be home, but he was also exhausted. Collapsing onto his mattress still fully dressed, he was asleep before the sky had even begun to lighten in the east. His dreams were peaceful, filled with all of his favorite things, and it was well after sundown the following night before he finally pried his eyelids open. His mate pressed snugly against his back, radiating heat like a living furnace. Thane hadnt moved or said a word, but the swollen cock pressing against Zashas hip, as well as the quickened breathed warming his ear, told him his lover was awake. Fingertips danced over the top of his thigh, caressing his skin in delicate circles that inched closer to his growing erection with each pass. Good morning, my love. Thane pinched Zashas earlobe between his teeth and tugged gently. Feel better? Mmm, definitely getting there. Thanes hand disappeared from his leg but returned a moment later to skim along his crease, parting his ass cheeks with two slippery fingers. With unerring accuracy, Thane located his clenching hole and ringed the tight muscles, encouraging them to relax before pushing into Zashas channel with both fingers. How about now? Zasha could only moan in response as he arched his spine, rocking back into his lovers hand to impale himself on the thick digits. His dick hardened, throbbing between his thighs while drops of pre-cum smeared his skin. The breath against his neck came in short, choppy pants as Thane undulated behind him, grinding against Zashas backside while he

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twisted his wrist and pumped his fingers in a desperate rhythm. Want you, lieveling. The hunger in Thanes gravelly tone sent a shiver up Zashas spine, and his pulse picked up in rhythm, each beat of his heart thundering loudly in his ears. Rolling to face his mate, he fisted both hands in Thanes short hair, jerking him into a hard, searching kiss. The surge of adrenaline caused his fangs to descend, punching violently through his gums to pierce Thanes bottom lip. Oops. He laughed breathlessly as he flicked his tongue over the swollen flesh, lapping the droplets of blood away. The sweet crimson didnt drive him mad as it had done before. The taste and scent was no longer a source of panic. Now that he was free of his insecurities, unconcerned with keeping a part of himself locked away and protected, Thanes blood was a powerful aphrodisiac and nothing more. I love the way you laugh. Thane skimmed his nose up the curve of Zashas throat and along the slope of his jaw. Love the way you smell. His tongue traced the seam of Zashas lips. Love the way you taste. He slipped his hand between their dampened bodies, fisting Zashas cock and stroking him from root to tip, pulling a ragged moan from deep in his chest. Oh, yeah, Thane chuckled. Definitely love that. Thane? Yes? Zasha pushed at his lovers shoulders, flipping Thane to his back and straddling him. You talk too much. There was a lot of groaning, grunting, growling, and keening after that, but not much in the way of actual words. Reversing their positions and pressing Zasha facedown on the mattress, Thane covered his back as he licked and sucked at the skin on Zashas nape. Long fingers bit into the flesh around his hips, holding him in a possessive grip and jerking his ass into the air.

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You are mine, Thane growled at the same moment the flared crown of his cock penetrated Zashas opening. And you are mine, Zasha countered, bracing his hands on the bed and rocking back into his lover until Thane was seated to the hilt. The burn was minimal, the pleasure overwhelming, and his desire increased tenfold when Thane gripped the back of his neck, securely holding him in place as he began a slow, torturous tempo. As the rhythm and intensity increased, the hand around his neck crept into his hair, fisting the short locks and jerking Zashas head back on his shoulders. The demanding tug forced him to bow his back, and the new position changed the angle, ensuring each bonejarring thrust pegged against his prostate. Sounds somewhere between a growl and a whimper escaped his dry, swollen lips, and Zasha tangled his fingers in the sheets in an attempt to ground himself as he was barrel-rolled beneath a tidal wave of pleasure. When he was sure he had reached his limit and couldnt take any more, Thanes free hand slid up his chest to pinch and tug at each of his nipples in turn. Thane twisted and pulled at the hard nubs, creating a deep burn that radiated throughout Zashas entire body. Oh, someone likes that, Thane teased him. The brazen lust in his voice, however, said he was just as aroused from giving that hint of pain as Zasha was from receiving it. Falling forward to cover his back, Thane drove in deep, burying his pulsing cock in Zashas depths as he bit down hard on the side of his neck. Come for me. The words were slightly muffled but still filled with an authority Zasha couldnt fight. His muscles tensed, his spine stiffened, and his entire body went rigid as he growled through his orgasm, painting the sheets beneath him with a flood of sticky cream. The tightening of his inner walls around Thanes length must have done good things for his lover, because the man went completely wild. Groaning and bucking, he thrust through his own release in shaky, uncoordinated movements, filling Zashas channel with hot, wet, semen.

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Well, thats one way to wake up, Zasha commented several minutes later. Its the only way to wake up, Thane amended. He nuzzled against Zashas neck and kissed his cheek. I have to meet my brothers in about an hour. Do you want me to come with you? No. The answer was short and clipped, but after a moment, Thane sighed and pulled Zasha into his arms, holding him close to his chest. Were going to interrogate some of the witches. I doubt its going to be pleasant, and I dont want you there for that. Thane, Ive seen ugly. Im not so fragile. Its not about that. Thane shook his head and wrinkled his brow. Youre my peace, lieveling. You give me balance. If I can shelter you from the wicked things in the world, I will, because you are my safe haven, my home. Does that make sense? I get it. He stroked his lovers chest and grinned. Thane needed one thing in his life to remain untouched by the curse that plagued him and his brothers. As protectors of the Book of The Banished, they were constantly at war, forever fighting against those who were thirsty for power. I make everything right in your world. Im the light at the end of your dark tunnel. Exactly. You are the beacon that calls me home. You are the only thing that makes sense. Thane was his strength, and in return, he was his mates peace. There was a bit more to it than that, but it all equaled to the one thing Zasha had fought so hard to denylove. **** The contractors will be here tomorrow night to go over designs for the new hospital. Ive already informed the guards at the front gates to expect them. While Thane was interrogating prisoners, Zasha was back to his normal job of being Leader Tuesdays personal

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assistant. The new Alpha of the Trinity Pack will be celebrating his birthday next week. Should I send a gift? Several seconds passed without a response. Leader Tuesday? Still, no answer. October? Oh, yes, um, Im sorry, Zasha, what did you say? Are you feeling okay, sir? Zasha, are there any celestial events occurring in the next few weeks? It was such an odd question, and Zashas eyes tightened at the corners as he frowned. The full moon is in two weeks. Im not aware of any other events. Why do you ask? What about holidays? Is there anything significant occurring soon? Well, there is Valentines Day. Do you need me to order a gift for your mate? Zasha was growing more confused by the minute. There had been so much happening lately that Christmas kind of came and went without any type of fanfare. Perhaps October was trying to make up for the lack of festivities. Im sorry. I think Im missing something. Maybe Im just being paranoid. Leaning forward in his chair, October rested his elbows on his desk and clasped his hands together beneath his chin. It all feels too easy, though. From everything you and Raith have told me about the fight, there is no logical reason we should have won. Zasha hadnt allowed himself to dwell on it, but to be honest, hed had similar thoughts. The witches theyd faced were powerful, not neophytes in the least, and it should have been a massacre. Somehow, against all odds, theyd come out on top, though. Zasha wanted to believe that good had triumphed, but this wasnt a fairy tale. In the real world, the good guys didnt always win. The guys with the most power did. What are you saying? Do you think we were meant to bring them back to Wyoming? He couldnt think of anything their enemies

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could possibly want other than the Braddocks, and theyd had five of them trapped in those mines. Thats exactly what Im suggesting, but I just dont know why. An uncharacteristic scowl darkened the leaders features, and he shoved his fingers through his short, blond hair. This entire thing was orchestrated, and there has to be a reason. There is an explanation of why right now. There was Groundhog Day and Valentines Day. St. Patricks Day wasnt until March, as well as the first day of spring. There would be a slew of different moon phases in that time. There was Da de los Muertos, but the Day of the Dead celebration had already passedthe same with Samhain or All Hallows Eve. Continuing down that same path, Zasha scrolled through his banks of useless knowledge, recalling holidays from several different religions and cultures, especially those pertaining to the dead or spirits of the dead. Unfortunately, none of the holidays that came to mind were happening within the timeframe October had specified. Switching tactics, he began mentally ticking off the days of the month, attempting to correspond them with some event or holiday. Imbolc. His grin stretched across his face, and he was having difficulty remaining seated. Its coming up in two weeks at the beginning of February. Its a celebration of the coming of spring. Its about rebirth and renewal. That hardly seems sinister, October argued. Is there anything else? Well, theres Ostara, the vernal equinox, but thats not until midMarch. Zasha may not be a witch, but he did pay attention when his mate talked. Witches draw upon specific events for power, right? It so happens that the full moon falls on Imbolc this year. Loved ones cant be called back from the dead, not without some pretty gruesome consequences. However, souls can be recovered from Purgatory. While he wasnt denying the equinox would provide the required energy, Imbolc seemed more likely since it was only two weeks away.

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Thane is the only one who can travel between the veils. Zasha had already thought of that, and he was even one step ahead. Mikko is trapped in Purgatory. I dont know exactly whats going on, but it stands to reason that theyre trying to use Thane and Mikko to bring back some really bad mojo. I think we need to talk to our resident witches. Theyll have more insight. October rose from his seat and rounded his desk. We dont tell anyone until weve talked to the Braddocks. I dont want to cause a panic. Zasha had the sinking feeling in his gut that panicking was exactly what they should be doing. Should I get them now? Thane and the others were in Hells Alley, clear on the other side of the coven. He didnt mind trekking out into the night to find them, but Zasha hated that strip of stone holding cells. Hells Alley always gave him the fucking creeps. Well give them another couple of hours. If theyre not back by then, Ill call Raith. October leaned one hip against his desk and rubbed thoughtfully at his chin. Update me on the victims. Relieved that he wouldnt have to make the trip to Hells Alley, and grateful to have at least the illusion of a plan, Zasha settled back in his seat, unlocked the screen on his tablet, and brought up the correct documents. We rescued twenty-two children in all. Other than Nix, there were also seven men and nine women. The adults have all been returned to their homes. Good, good. And the children? Were working on it, but some of them are too scared to tell us anything. He paused to swallow the lump in his throat, and he didnt continue until he felt he could talk without his voice cracking. Some of them are even too young to tell us what we need to know to find their families. So far, weve returned fourteen to their homes. Any injuries? No, sir. Not the type of injuries his leader was referring to, anyway. Most have been syphoned. Theyve had their magical

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abilities drained, and their immune systems are having trouble fighting off infections and viruses. Of the eight who remained, four of them had contracted the flu, two had bronchitis, one had come down with the chicken pox, and the other had pneumonia. Being a preternatural was partly biology, encoded in their genetic makeup. However, a larger part of their strength, power, endurance, longevity, and the like was deeply rooted in magic. Remove the magic, and paranormals were mostly humanat least in physical bodyand the human body was not designed for cross-species transformations, accelerated healing, or immortality. Their genes allowed shifters and werewolves to transition. Magic allowed them to do it without ending up in bloody pile of bones and tissue. The magic was so intricately woven within them it would take some truly dark and evil energy to strip it away. Sadly, that was exactly what had happened to these children. Not only were they now susceptible to disease and other ailments, but the two shifters of the group would be at added risk as they neared puberty. We may want to think about bringing in a human doctor or transferring them to a human hospital, October said after a lengthy pause. Do we even have the medicine to treat them? Dr. Jo has actually requested a meeting with you to discuss just that. He knows a human who could help. Apparently, this guy knows all about supes as well, so we dont have to worry about freaking him out. I like uncomplicated. Tell the doc to come by around four. Ive already scheduled you to meet with him at four-fifteen. This is why I pay you the big bucks. October pushed away from his desk and winked. You pay me a slaves wage, Zasha returned calmly. It wasnt true. He was probably the highest paid assistant in the country, possibly the world. It was an added bonus that he actually liked and respected the man who employed him. If thats all, I need to make

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some phone calls and let the kitchen know that dinner will be served in the formal dining room. He was halfway out the door before he really thought about that last statement. We will be conducting the meeting during dinner, correct? October laughed and shook his head, appearing much more like an indulgent father than a powerful leader. I dont see why we cant. Go arrange it, Zasha. Ill meet you at dinner. Satisfied with the answer, Zasha slipped from the room, closing the door quietly behind him. He was nervous about the meeting, anxious to find out what Thane thought about his theories, and he was struggling to keep the paranoia at bay. Something big and bad was coming, but it wasnt coming right then. They had time to prepare. Theyd be ready this time. It sounded pretty when he said it like that. Too bad he wasnt buying it. Gods, he wished he could just talk to Thane. Theyd been trying since their return to Snake River to repeat the telepathic connection theyd shared inside the mines. So far, it wasnt working, though. Apparently, it had been a one-time fluke, brought on by extreme distress. Well, fuck it all, he was sure as hell distressed now. Something cold, dark, and evil was slithering toward them, and though he couldnt put a name to it, the very air around him seemed to be alive with the coming threat. Hed fight if he had to, but it would be nice if he had some kind of guarantee He did have a guarantee, though. Nix had told him that hed live a long and happy life with Thane. If Nix could see that in his future, just maybe, he could see something about their enemies plans. Changing directions, Zasha jogged along the corridor and took the stairs two at a time to the second floor, intent of finding Nix and begging the guy to spill everything he knew.

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Chapter Sixteen
Oh, were having a dinner meeting tonight. Nix rose up on his toes and then swayed back on his heels. Thatll be nice. Sweet hell, Thane had missed his brother. Hed missed all of them, looked forward to being reunited with those still missing, but there was just something about Nix. Sure, he was a little odd at times. Thane imagined being constantly bombarded with events of the future would do that to anyone, though. Nix took it all in stride, always had, and his never-waning optimism was as infectious as it was welcomed. What are we meeting about? Not sure. Nix shrugged, but the smile never left his face. Doesnt work like that. I just see what I see. His smile slid away, replaced by an unhappy pout. Well, fish sticks. Thats no good. Hell not be very happy with me. Youre going to have to give me more than that, man. Your dashing vampire will be arriving at my bedroom door momentarily. He wont be happy to find me missing. Thane didnt know why Zasha would go looking for Nix, and it made him uneasy. Is something wrong? His mate was searching for his brother, and there was a dinner meeting. If he was guessing, hed say the two were related. Again, I only see what I see. You could make this a lot easier on yourself. Torren growled as he paced the small holding cell like a caged animal. The witch was beginning to lose his cool, and frankly, Thane was surprised it had taken this long. Torren wasnt exactly known for his patience, and the fact that theyd been trying to get answers out of the

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witches for nearly four hours was even beginning to take its toll on him. Hell, at that point, he was just glad Torren or Raith hadnt snapped and broken someones neck. This is getting us nowhere, Lynk grumbled. Lets just question the leader and go home. Im starving. Theyd started at the bottom of the ranks and worked their way up, hoping one of the underlings would prove to be a weak link. No one was talking, though. Not under threat of pain and death would they purge their secrets. It was frustrating and damn annoying. Of course, maybe if they really did start breaking some fingers, it might just loosen a few tongues. They were better than that, though, something Lynk continuously reminded them each time one of them lost his temper. While honor and chivalry werent bad codes to live by, they didnt get Thane the answers he wanted, either. I want to find Zasha and figure out whats happening at the main house. I say we leave the leader until tomorrow. I doubt hes going to talk anyway. I want to talk to him, Torren argued. Hes cocky and reckless. Guys like that cant resist bragging. Thane found himself bobbing his head in agreement. Okay, that actually makes sense. He still wanted to go home. Lets get this over with. Exiting the cell, they waited for the guard on duty to lock it behind them, and then followed him to the very last stone building along the dimly lit walkway. Torren, dont go in there. Nix grabbed their brothers arm and pulled him to a stop before he could enter the outer chamber of the cell. You need to stay here. Why? What do you see? That man in there, I dont know how, but hell be important to you. His eyelids closed and flickered, fluttering his dark lashes against his cheeks. Youll love him.

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Youre wrong, Torren responded coldly. Ive found my Infinity. Aslan is everything to me. Im not wrong. This man is important. You have to protect him. Fine, Ill protect him. Ill never love him, though. I think youve gotten some wires crossed, little brother. Torren appeared angry by the suggestion that his affections for Aslan would in some way be tested. Thane couldnt blame him, but hed also learned long ago to not take Nixs prophecies too literally. Some were specific, such as the dinner theyd yet to be invited to, but most of the time, it was only vague impressions that didnt even make sense to him. Entering the dank prison, the brothers spread out to form a halfcircle around the prisoner. The man knelt on the stone floor with his head bent, flexing his arms as he strained against the shackles that bolted him to the ground. Who are you? Torren demanded as he clipped the guy in the ribs with the toe of his boot. Torren, Nix scolded. Stop that. Who are you? Raith repeated Torrens question, adding a low growl to his voice. The guard poked his head in through the doorway and passed a donor bag of blood to Thane. Make sure he gets that before you leave. Then he touched the brim of his baseball cap and disappeared. Hes a vampire? Hybrids were exceedingly common, but this particular hybrid was wickedly powerfulfar more so than he should have been. How old are you? Im not exactly sure, the vampire answered. Finally, he lifted his head, peering up at Thane with a wide, toothy grin. They dont hand out birth certificates to babies abandoned in the gutter. Whats your name? Hmm, ya know, I just forgot. Okay, can I hit him now? Torren asked as he curled his fingers into a fist and pulled his elbow back.

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Knock it off. Youre being childish. Rolling his eyes at Torren, Nix stepped forward, closer to the prisoner than strictly necessary in Thanes opinion. Answer the question. What is your name? You have no power over me. Soon, youll have no power at all. Gods, you were so easy to manipulate. Im fucking ashamed to call myself a Braddock. What did you say? Thane was shocked by the confession, but Torren just sounded highly pissed. Youre a worthless piece of shit. Youre definitely not a Braddock. The young mans eyes danced with an icy gleam as his calculating smile stretched wider. Are you sure about that, Daddy? Not missing a kid, are you? Maybe a baby boy you abandoned over a hundred and fifty years ago? I The blood drained from Torrens face, leaving him sickly pale and trembling. It cant The prisoner began to laugh, and it was the most chilling sound Thane had ever heard. Arent you glad to see me? Cmon, Daddy, wheres the love? No. Torren shook his head, but he looked like he might vomit or pass out at any second. They took you. I watched them take you away. He stepped closer to the kneeling man but stopped when the guy snapped his fangs at him. Torren? Thane had stayed quiet for as long as he could, but the entire scene was becoming very strange, and he wanted to know what the hell was happening. Torren, who is this? How do you know him? His gaze never left the young man, and Thane swore he saw a suspicious shine to his brothers eyes. This is Addison, Torren whispered, and hes my son. ****

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Discovering Nix was absent from his room had been annoying. After his ordeal with the witches, Zasha had assumed the man would need time to rest and recover before traipsing down to Hells Alley to interrogate prisoners. Clearly, that hadnt been the case. After some internal argument and much debate, hed finally decided it was probably for the best. Yes, hed like some reassurance that everything would turn out in their favor. On the other hand, he didnt think knowing his fate would really make a difference. Besides, after hed calmed down some, hed realized it was something he really should discuss with Thanenot Nix. Rising from his seat in the formal sitting room when the Braddock brothers entered, Zasha held back, though every part of him wanted to rush to his mate. Something was wrong. He could see it in their faces, the dead look in their eyes. Whatever theyd learned in those dark, lonely cells had impacted them hard. When Thane turned his head and met his gaze, Zasha felt every ounce of hurt and confusion spilling from his lover. Silently crossing the room, he walked right into Thanes arms, holding on tightly and wishing he could absorb all of the mans pain. I love you. It was all he knew to say, the only comfort he could offer. I love you, too, Thane murmured, rubbing his cheek against the top of Zashas head. Its not good, baby. Tell me. Later. I have to find Aslan. Torrens voice sounded hollow, devoid of any emotion. I dont think Ill be down for dinner. Ill get Wren in the bathtub, Raith offered. Right. Yeah. Thank you. Moving like a robot on autopilot, Torren turned away from the group and walked stiffly toward the staircase. Is he okay?

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No. That was all Thane said. He offered no explanation, nor did he qualify his statement with how Torren would be fine at some point. So, whats this meeting about? Maybe we should cancel. No one looked to be in the mood for a lengthy discussion about impending doom. We can talk about it tomorrow. We have to eat, Nix replied, and even he appeared more subdued that Zasha had yet to see him. We might as well talk while we do it. They all trudged into the dining room, sans Torren and Raith. October joined them shortly afterward, and it was clear from his expression that hed already been informed of what had happened down on the prison block. Im sorry, he announced as everyone took their seats. I realize this isnt the best time, but its something that needs to be discussed. The servers appeared with shiny trays laden with food, but no one seemed interested in eating. Just tell us, Lynk mumbled. Kieran came striding into the dining room, walking straight to his mate and lifting him into his arms. Then he settled down in Lynks vacated seat, cuddling the man and stroking his hair. Zasha was beginning to feel like there was some secret club he hadnt been invited to join. Everyone seemed to have heard the news except for him. Trusting that Thane would give him the details when they were alone, he cleared his throat to gain everyones attention. The full moon is in two weeks. It also happens to fall on Imbolc this year. Would you just fucking spit it out, already? Lynk snapped. It was so out of character for the normally polite witch that Zasha could only blink. Thane, however, seemed more inclined to be offended on his behalf. Watch it, Lynk. Mind your own advice, Kieran warned with a snarl.

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Children, October interrupted in icy tones. Once the three men had nodded and offered their grudging apologies, October looked to Zasha, indicating he should continue. Not sure what he could say that wouldnt get his head bit off again, he decided to be blunt. I think we were tricked into bringing the witches here, and Im pretty sure it has something to do with Mikko, Thane, and someone trapped in Purgatory. Not someone. Torren entered the room with his arm wrapped securely around his mates shoulders. Aslans eyes were bloodshot and glistening, his lids swollen from obvious crying. Several someones, Torren elaborated. I think theyre trying to release the souls of the witches we fought in the original war of the Magicks. The elder spoke as though he had personal knowledge, and while Zasha would have liked some elaboration, he instinctually understood it was not the time to question the man. Then what do we do? Witches can harness power from events for several months. My guess is that theyve already performed the spell. Torren settled into one of the empty seats and pulled Aslan into his lap. Imbolc is not the catalyst. Its the completion. I dont understand. Thankfully, he didnt appear to be the only one not able to grasp what Torren was trying to tell them. The spell will reach its completion during the full moon. If Thane enters Purgatory any time after that The veil between worlds will remain open, Thane interrupted. If I go in to find Mikko, Ill split the veil and release whatever souls are trapped in Purgatory. How do we prevent that? Leaning back in his chair, October crossed his arms over his chest, as calm and collected as always. Ill have to go in after Mikko before the full moon. The entire reason Thane hadnt already rescued his brothers soul was because Mikkos body was too weak, and there was concern that the reunion of body and spirit would cause a fatal reaction. Can you do that? Is it a good idea?

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I can do it. Thanes hand slipped into Zashas lap and squeezed his inner thigh. No, I dont think its a good idea, not until Mikko is stronger, but it doesnt look like we have a choice. I cant rip open the veil and allow the other souls to escape. Is it dangerous for you? Zasha wasnt unsympathetic to the possibility that Thane could lose his brother. However, he hadnt actually met the guy yet, and his main concern would always be for his mate. It can be. If Mikkos body rejects his soul, it could trap us both. What can I do? He wasnt selfish enough to tell Thane not to attempt the rescue. He wasnt going to sit back and let the man he loved suffer a fate worse than death, either. Ill need you to be there. Youll ground me. I balance you, Zasha whispered, understanding dawning. You are my light. Gods, he didnt know why he hadnt understood it before now, didnt know how the deeper meaning of those words had escaped his notice. Your light. Right, Thane answered with a gentle smile. You are my light to Lead you home.

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Chapter Seventeen
I just sit here and hold your hand? Zasha arched one eyebrow while his opposite eye tightened at the corner. Youre kidding, right? Thane didnt know why the vampire was so skeptical. Nope, Im not kidding. Its the same thing Ive been telling you for two weeks. WellI know. A breath of air puffed from his lips, and his shoulders sagged. I thought you just didnt want to worry me or something. I assumed you were waiting to tell me more. Maybe it didnt sound like much to Zasha, but the simple act of linking their hands together would tether Thane to him so that he could find his way back once he crossed the veil. I promise there is nothing more to tell. Settling into the recliner beside Mikkos hospital bed, Thane patted the arm of the chair beside him, inviting Zasha to sit as well. The moon will be cresting soon. We need to get started. Theyd waited for as long as they could, hoping Mikko would regain some measure of strength in that time, but with the full moon just one night away, they were out of time. I wish we could wait until tomorrow night. That was out of the question, though. He couldnt risk ripping apart the barrier that separated the physical plane from the spirit world. Why tomorrow? Can you draw more power from the full moon? Well, yes, but that doesnt really affect what Im about to do. If he was performing a spell or ritual, the full moon would be the ideal time. There were times when the veil was thinner, allowing him to move between realms more fluidly, but the moon had very little to do

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with his special gift. It would be easier for Mikko, he explained. Shifters are drawn to the full moon. It wouldnt make his body stronger, but it would give us a bigger push from the other side. That makes sense. Zasha bobbed his head twice and stopped, glancing toward Mikkos unconscious form with a frown. Okay, I think Im missing something. How is Mikko a shifter? Well, when a mommy and daddy love each other Asshole, Zasha muttered. When we talked about your brothers, you said your mom died after Mikko and Nix were born. Then your father married a female shifter. Ah, I see. Yes, when said that way, it could be a little confusing, especially since Zasha didnt have all the information. Well, see, we dont talk about those kinds of indiscretions. Oh. Zasha pressed his lips together and ducked his head as a pink hue filled his cheeks. Im sorry. Dont be. It had happened long ago. Thane didnt know the whole story, and he didnt want to, either. The memories he had of his father were good ones, and he didnt want to sully them by digging into secrets that were best left buried. All of my brothers know something doesnt add upeven Nix and Mikko. We never talked about it, though. Theyre our family, and thats all that matters. Agreed. Zasha squeezed his hand and smiled. Lets go get your brother. I might talk. My body may jerk or convulse. This doesnt mean anything is wrong, though. He didnt want to scare his mate, but he needed to prepare him. No matter what you see, dont be scared and dont let go of my hand. Okay? Yeah, okay. He didnt sound like he meant it, though. Thane, maybe Lynk should do this. I mean, you have a strong connection to him, and he actually knows what hes doing. Its just holding hands. Youve been doing it since you were a baby. Thane

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I trust you with my life, lieveling. There was no one he would rather have at his side right then. Thats what Im afraid of. What if something goes wrong? I dont know what to do. I dont know how to help. There are half a dozen people just outside that door. Someone and Thane was willing to bet it was Torrenhad been stomping up and down the hallway for the past ten minutes. Nothing is going to go wrong, though. Bringing Zashas hand to lips, he placed a soft kiss on the knuckles. Ready? As ready as Ill ever be. Relaxing into his chair, Thane closed his eyes and imagined himself melting into the tacky upholstery. Crossing between realms was a bit like falling asleep. Mostly, it just felt like falling. The first time hed crossed the veil had been the summer hed turned fifteen. The entire ordeal had scared the piss out of him, and it had taken nearly a decade for him to voluntarily return to the desolation of Purgatory. He was older now and had made the journey many times. That didnt stop his stomach from twisting into knots or his heart from trying to climb up into his throat, though. While not as terrifying as it had been when he was a kid, hed be lying if he said he didnt hold a measure of anxiety about crossing between planes. If someone asked him, Thane couldnt explain exactly how he did it. He just knew getting into Purgatory was the easy part. Then all he had to do was search through the endless darkness and bitter cold until he stumbled upon the one soul he was seeking. Yep, piece of cake. Purgatory was kind of what Thane imagined it would be like to fall down the rabbit hole and then get lost on his way to see the wizard. The cold seeped into him before the world had even stopped spinning, making his teeth chatter as he shook. Technically, there was no floor beneath his feet. There was no ceiling, not even a sky as far as he could tell. No walls, no trees or grass, not a breeze on the air or

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a single soundthe place was an utter void where nothing but blackness stretched infinitely in every direction with one exception. With each step, an eerie blue light appeared beneath Thanes feet, glowing just brightly enough for him to see the breath plume from his lips in a cloud of smoke. There had been times when hed walked for hours with only those faint rays of light for company. There had been times when hed wanted to give up, to turn back and never return. More than the darkness or the biting cold, Purgatory was the loneliest, most miserable place hed ever encountered. The deeper into the abyss he trekked, the number he felt, as though the very air he breathed was decaying his soul. He felt empty, devoid of any emotion. Joy, anger, sadness, fear, love, hatehe felt none of those things. Ignoring the cold, Thane fought through the growing numbness and sent out small tendrils of magic. He could almost picture the energy unfurling from his palms and fingertips like climbing ivy vines, stretching out into the inky black in search of their target. Well, its about time. As the familiar voice chastised him for his tardiness, a thin golden light bloomed from Thanes palm, illuminating one of the ropes of magic hed released. Though he couldnt see the man on the other end of that rope, he could feel the slight tug reeling him forward. Its not my fault you went and got yourself kidnapped, he responded, carefully making his way toward his brothers voice. Yes, Thane, because I planned that. Youre so right. I totally deserved this. Is that what I said? Where Nix was calm and optimistic, often times the diplomat of the group, Mikko had a sharp tongue and an eye for trouble. Stop being a dick. Im trying to help you. When he finally reached the end of the magical tether, all of Thanes annoyance drained away at the sight of his brother. He couldnt see much of him, but there was enough light from those strange blue lights to recognize the man.

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I really am glad to see you, but do you think we can get the fuck out of here? Mikko stepped even closer, reaching out to take Thanes hand, but his fingers passed right through Thanes wrist. Okay, that was creepy. You should know that your body iswell, youve looked better. Lets just leave it at that. I might die, Mikko stated without a hint of reservation. Well, Id rather die than be stuck here for the rest of eternity. How did you end up here, anyway? Thane asked, leading the way back toward the veil. Just follow the lights. Really? Follow the lights? Im a ghost, Thane. Im not stupid. Technically, he wasnt a ghost, either, but Thane was done arguing with the runt. Fine. Then keep your mouth shut and stick close. We need to move faster. If you havent noticed, I cant see two feet in front of me. Yeah, well, youre going to be getting to know this place a lot better than youd like if you dont move your ass. Mikko Go, Thane! Theyre coming. Run! The level of urgency in Mikkos voice convinced him to shut up and pay attention, but it was the sudden rise in temperature and the sinister hiss through the darkness that finally propelled him into action. A bright, orange glow pulsed up from the floor, illuminating a narrow pathway that started several hundred feet behind them. Thane had descended into the lower dominion of Purgatory on only one occasion, and he had no desire to repeat the experience. It was like walking into fucking Mordor, and well, that hadnt turned out so great for Frodo. The region below was not the fiery depths of Hades but just another sector of Purgatory. Hades, Hell, the Underworld, no matter what people called it, the place was reserved strictly for the incontrovertibly dead. However, the lower realm of Purgatory was a

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place for the wicked spirits trapped between worldsor those simply attempting to cheat death. Thane called it The Pit. Unlike the frigid void where they currently stood, The Pit was blazing hot, alight with the evilness that burned within its inhabitants like glowing embers. A simple brush against one of those spirits burned the skin like a branding iron, and the pain lasted for weeks with no magical cure or relief. The ground beneath his feet began to tremble as the barrier between dominions split open with a thunderous crack. The fissure zigzagged toward him, spraying up more of the pulsing, orange light and increasing the temperature to blistering levels. Within seconds, Thane was dripping with perspiration, and his simple cotton T-shirt was clinging to his torso, completely drenched in sweat. Thane! Mikko shouted at him. You have to lead me. I dont know which way to go. The voice hed first heard as a hiss was now joined by others, and they grew in volume until it seemed the noise surrounded him on all sides. The jumble of words and sounds were confusing, disorienting, and worse, the voices felt like they were piercing his brain, causing his temples to throb and his stomach to convulse with the sickening pain. Thane! Mikko shouted again. We have to go! I cantI dont knowI cant see the And there it wasthe most gloriously beautiful sight hed ever seen. It was nothing more than a faint, twinkling light that sparkled ahead within the pitch black, just a tiny pink flicker that waited for him at the end of the tunnel. This way. Thane refused to look away from the little star, afraid hed lose his way if he let the pain in his head or the rising heat distract him. Using every ounce of strength he possessed, he sprinted through the dark, unconcerned with his limited sight. The ground shook harder, causing him to sway and stumble, but Thane kept running. He didnt dare look back, but instead, he listened

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for the sound of Mikkos labored breathing to make sure his brother was still close. As they neared the flickering pink light, the voices exploded into a cacophony of noise, reaching deafening volumes that nearly sent Thane to his knees. He didnt go down, but his momentum slowed, and it was a struggle just to place one foot in front of the other. The voices increased in numbers and became even louder, while the dangerously high temperatures said the spirits were creeping ever closer. The last dozen steps felt like a perilous trek through miles of broken glass, but at last, Thane finally stood beneath the star that had led him home. Mikko, hold my hand. I cant. It just goes right through you. Mikko, damn it, just take my hand. There was no pressure or physical resistance, but Thane knew the exactly moment his brother had complied. Using the last of his waning energy, he created the connection needed to temporarily bond their life forces so that Mikko could cross the veil. Once completed, Thane approached the translucent curtain of shimmering fog that stretched out before him, closed his eyes, and jumped. **** Whats wrong with him? Zasha demanded for about the twentieth time. He refused to release Thanes hand, though the heat emanating from his mate burned his skin. Zasha didnt care, though. Hed heal from it. More worrisome was the buckets of sweat that poured from his lover, drenching not only his clothes and hair, but the fabric of the chair beneath him. Thane twitched and moan, muttering unintelligible words in a voice filled with pain and fear. After more than an hour of watching the man he loved suffer, Zasha was going out of his mind, and it seemed no one could give him answers.

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Hell be okay, Torren said. Im sure this is normal, Raith added. Well, it sure as hell wasnt normal to Zasha. Thanes body temperature alone was probably frying his brain like fatback bacon, yet he was the only one who seemed concerned. Someone do something. Get some icepacks or cold water or something. Why are you just standing there? Before he could receive more platitudes about how it was perfectly natural for a person to reach temperatures that literally blistered the skin, Thane stopped jerking and mumbling and slumped back in his chair, completely motionless. There was no flickering of his eyelids, no rising and falling of his chest that indicated he was breathing. Instead of slowing decreasing, though, Thanes temperature soared, burning so hot that Zasha cried out as he tumbled from his seat to the floor. Still, he wouldnt release his mates hand. Thane had been very clear on that, and no matter how much pain it caused him, he wouldnt give up until Thane was safely back where he belonged. Zasha, let go, Nix whispered as he knelt behind him on the floor and squeezed his shoulder. You need to let go. No. Zasha shook his head firmly, gritting his teeth to keep from yelling again. An unholy stench permeated the air as the skin on his hand blackened like the outside of a marshmallow held over a campfire. I cant. Im not supposed to let go. Its okay. Nix spoke quietly, calmly, as though he was soothing a small, frightened child. Everything is going to be just fine. Its okay to let go now. No! Zasha growled at him, increasing the pressure of his grip on Thanes hand. Thane was coming home. Zasha had promised to be there, promised to lead his lover back from the darkness. He didnt care if his whole damn hand burned off at the wrist. He wasnt letting go until Thane was awake and told him it was okay.

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Letgo. It wasnt Nix this time, though. The voice was weak and wispy, barely audible over the pounding of Zashas own heartbeat. Thaneisfine. Then Mikkos eyelids drooped closed once again, and his head lolled to one side, resting against his pillow. See? Nix smiled reassuringly. Everything is fine now. I promise that nothing bad will happen, okay? We need to get that hand looked at, though. Thanes temperature was already returning to normal. It would take a bit longer for Zashas hand to heal, but hed manage. Im okay. I just want to stay until he wakes up. Stubborn, Thane slurred. Cmere, lieveling. Thane? Thane, are you okay? Jumping up from the floor, Zasha straddled his lovers thighs to grip his handsome face with his uninjured hand. Hey, you. Why? Slipping his fingers under Zashas wrist, Thane lifted his wounded hand and pressed his lips to the charred skin. Why didnt you let go? You told me not to. Thane rolled his eyes and snorted. The one time you actually listen. Stripping his sodden shirt off over his head, he ignored everyone else in the room and pulled Zasha more securely into his lap. Then he tilted his head to the side, baring the side of his throat. Zasha wasnt overly fond of public displays of affection, but this time was a bit different. His hand did throb like the ten shades of hell, and despite his noble intentions from earlier, he really didnt want to lose the appendage. Skimming his nose along the pulsing vein in Thanes throat, Zasha inhaled deeply, shivering from the intoxicating scent. With a possessive growl, he embedded his canines into the supple flesh while a single thought chased itself around in his head. Mine.

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Chapter Eighteen
I dont know! Thane threw his hands in the air as he stomped from one side of the library to the other. Yes, something strange happened while I was in Purgatory, but no one but Mikko was connected to me when I jumped. Other than the unexplainable rise in his body temperature, there had been no other indication in the three weeks since then that anything was amiss. He would have sensed if there had been something wrong, and he was sure no one had slipped between worlds with him and his brother. As far as he could see, Torren was just being paranoid. The guy was always looking over his shoulder, and he probably slept with one eye open. Thane, you didnt see yourself, Torren argued. You fucking barbequed your mate just from touching him. Thats not normal. Thank you for that assessment, Dr. Obvious. He really didnt need the reminder. Zasha hadnt suffered any lasting effects. His hand had fully healed within a few days, but Thane was struggling with his feelings of guilt over what had happened. What do you want me to say, Torren? I told you everything I know. I just want to be sure that nothing came through that barrier with you. Thane could understand that, but the guy had been grilling him about it for weeks. Is there something youre not telling me? Just tell him. Nix glanced between Torren and Thane before focusing on his knees again. Were supposed to be in this together. What is he talking about? Raith leaned against a bookshelf with his arms crossed over his thick chest. What are you hiding, Torren?

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There was only one reason their eldest brother would keep something important from them. Addison, Thane surmised. Torrens oldest son was still locked away on Hells Alley, and he would remain there until they figured out what to do with him. His crimes against the paranormal world were too great to number, and he deserved a lot more than a stone cell as punishment. It had been over a hundred and fifty yearsand an entire lifetime ago for Torrensince Addisons disappearance. A lot had happened during that time, and someone had clearly expended a great deal of energy to sculpt the kid into the monster hed become. Thane just didnt understand why. Im not hiding anything. Torren scrubbed both hands over his face, rubbing at the stubble along his jawline. His hair was a tangled mess, held haphazardly back from his face with a rubber band. Dark circles swept under his eyes, and Thane wondered just how long it had been since his brother had slept. Just tell them what you told me, Nix encouraged. It might be nothing, but it could be important. We have to keep Addison sedated so he cant use his magic against us, but hes still lucid. Torren paused to take a deep breath and let it out slowly, displaying a rare sign of vulnerability. He knows things. He even asked if Zashas hand had healed. No one has said anything about that night to him, but he describes details he shouldnt know. Maybe hes a telepath, Thane suggested. It was the easiest explanation and made the most sense. I thought that as well, Torren admitted with a slow shake of his head. Last night, he told me to offer his congratulations to Mikko. It was something sarcastic about first steps being a big milestone. Mikko had been making steady progress toward recovery, and just the previous night, hed actually been able to take a few steps on his own. It was a move in a positive direction, but Thane didnt see how

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this disproved his telepathy theory. The guy is a dick, but that doesnt mean he didnt pull the thought from your mind. Torren shook his head again. I didnt know Mikko had taken those steps until after I had come back from Hells Ally. Well, that changes things. There had to be a logical explanation for the things Addison knew. Maybe one of the guards is feeding him information. I dont think its one of our guys, Raith said, but he didnt sound firm in his conviction. Ill talk to Tober, though. It cant hurt to investigate the theory. Maybe hes compelling you, Lynk suggested. He is part vampire. No. Thanes tone became somber, melancholy. I cant look him in the eye. They tossed around a couple of other possibilities, but each seemed less likely than the last. In the end, they were right back to where theyd started, and their only immediate course of action was to question a few loyal Enforcers. Thane still held out for a simple, logical reason for Addisons knowledge of their lives. He knew I was mated to Kieran, Lynk added. Back in the mines, when he was taunting Kieran, he knew who I was. Addison could have been studying them for years before theyd met in Nevada. Considering the extremely short amount of time Lynk and Kieran had been mated, it seemed highly unlikely that Addison would have that bit of information, though. Maybe its something like Nixs gift, Thane suggested. I dont know if its exactly seeing the future, but it could be similar. Not only did this idea appeal to every man in the room, but it actually made sense. Paranoia was making them all jumpy, leading them to look for trouble where it didnt exist. Something unusual had definitely happened during his latest journey into Purgatory, but hed gone in knowing he was racing the clock.

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If the spell had already taken root, it could have split the levels of Purgatory in preparation for the lowering of the veil. That was actually a probable explanation for what hed experienced, and Thane felt like an idiot for not considering it sooner. Are we happy with those answers? Torren asked. Everyone answered in the affirmative, but a tension remained, hovering over the group like a dark, depressing shadow. Perhaps they simply wanted those easy answers to be correct. Without any way to test their theories, it had now become a waiting game, and patience wasnt exactly one of Thanes virtues. **** When another six weeks passed without anything drastic or devastating happening, Thane leaned heavily toward his theory that Addison possessed some gift that would allow him to see certain events. The asshole hadnt left his cell, and Torren was dragging his feet on setting a date for the hearing. No one could pay Thane enough money to be in his brothers shoes right then. Theyd reunited more of the children with their parents, leaving only four residing within the gates of Snake River, though there was talk of moving them to the nursery at Haven. Of the four, theyd actually located one kids family, but it hadnt ended in tears of joy as it had with the others. Sadly, the couple were elitist fuckers who cared more about their status and public appearance than their child. As soon as theyd learned their precious little boy had been syphoned of his magic, theyd acted as though hed contracted the plague. Sometimes, Thane really hated people. You look constipated, Zasha commented. Im thinking. Ah, that would explain it. Laughing loudly, Zasha danced out of the way when Thane lunged for him. You gotta be quicker than that.

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It was a gorgeous spring night, pleasantly warm with a gentle breeze that carried the scent of honeysuckle on the air. October and Raith had gone into town for dinner and a movie, giving Zasha the night off, and Thane had been thrilled when his lover suggested a walk together in the moonlight. There hadnt been a lot of time for just the two of them lately, but when they could steal a few quality moments, they both worked extra hard to make them count. Ill give you a head start. Thane knew he couldnt outrun his mate, but he didnt care. It was all about the chase. Okay, lover boy, catch me if you can. Jogging backward for a few feet, Zasha blew kisses and waved his hands, doing all he could to goad Thane into action. Thane, youre doing it wrong. Really, Zash? Thane halfway expected the guy to stick his tongue out and stomp his foot. Fine. Then he sprinted straight at Thane, jumping into his arms and knocking them both to the ground. Laughing his fool head off, he rained kisses over Thanes face and nipped at the side of his neck. You win. And what do I win? The answer wasnt important. Thane already knew the reward he wanted, and he fully intended to claim his prize. You have that look. Zasha shook his head and tried to roll away, but Thane encircled the vampires waist with his arms and held tight. Thane, no. His grin was still in place, though, and he wasnt struggling to get free. I know what youre thinking. We cant do that here. Do what? Thane blinked innocently. Im not doing anything. With just a few whispered words under his breath, Thane willed their clothes away. On occasion, hed cursed the legacy hed been born to, but then there were time like these when he couldnt imagine a life without magic.

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Thane! Zasha gasped, whipping his head one way and then the other, presumably to check for anyone in the vicinity. Someone is going to see us! Let them watch. Keeping a firm hold on Zashas waist with one arm, Thane rolled his lover beneath him and pressed their naked cocks together. Are you sure you want me to stop? He flexed his hips, grinding himself against Zashas erection. This says you dont. A garbled moan was Zashas only verbal response as he looped his arms around Thanes neck and pulled him down for a searing kiss. You are bad. You love it. Thane adored everything about his Infinity, and he had no desire to change the man. However, he knew there was a hellcat that lurked beneath the cool, controlled exterior. Thane also knew that only he could bring that side of his mate to the surface, and if the knowledge made him a bit arrogant, well, he figured hed earned the bragging rights. There had been no ulterior motive when theyd left the house, but when opportunity came knocking, Thane wasnt about to slam the door on it. He would have preferred to take his time teasing and tormenting his lover before finally sending him over the edge into sweet oblivion. Unfortunately, hed come ill-prepared for that approach. Once again, he found himself immensely grateful for his gifts. During his teenage years, when his hormones had raged on overdrive during every waking hour, hed spent a lot of time perfecting a variety of spells, all sexual in nature. Hell, he doubted there was a single pubescent witch who hadnt. Still, there were just some things that could only be gained with experience. Knowing Zasha melted into a puddle of goo from a brush of lips across his nape hadnt come from his magic. Thane knew because he paid attention to his partner, read his body language, and

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took his cues from Zashas responses. No amount of power could give him the gasping moans or soft pleading he craved, and Thane figured that was the way it should be. Capturing Zashas mouth in a hard, demanding kiss, he insinuated a hand between them to fondle his lovers tight sac and skim a finger along his perineum. Their tongues tangled in a sensual glide, twining at the tips before retreating, and Thane momentarily forgot what hed been doing when his head started to spin. Gods, he could kiss this man all day. Rocking his hips and arching his back, Zasha writhed beneath him, rubbing his dripping cock over Thanes abs. Please, please, please. The chanting was followed by another delicious moan, and Zasha flexed his slender legs around Thanes waist, clearly seeking more friction. Thane skimmed a dry finger along his lovers crease and parted his cheeks, intending only to tease. He certainly hadnt been prepared for the smooth, slippery glide, or the way Zashas hungry ass sucked his fingers in, surrounding them in silky heat. You planned this, he accused, feigning indignation. Truthfully, he was impressed. He hadnt though his man had it in him to be so aggressive. You sneaky little shit. You love it, Zasha responded through panted breaths, echoing Thanes earlier words. Gripping the base of his throbbing length, Thane lined the tip up with Zashas slick, loosened entrance and surged forward, encasing himself to the base in one smooth glide. Captivated by the gorgeous creature sprawled beneath him, Thane was momentarily paralyzed as he watched the rays of moonlight dance over Zashas pale skin. He looked more like an angel than a vampire, and Thane realized how truly blessed he was. Their lovemaking was tender and unhurried, yet it lacked none of their usual passion. Their gazes locked and held, suspending them in one perfect moment of time. As he thrust into Zashas firm, supple

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body in long, languid strokes, Thane lost himself. He no longer knew where he stopped and his mate began. His entire world didnt just revolve around the man in his arms. Zasha was his entire world. The intensity grew, though the tempo remained steady, and when Thane tumbled over the edge, Zasha fell with him. The orgasm rocked him, zinging unadulterated pleasure to every inch of his body. Ropes of hot, creamy seed erupted from his throbbing cock to spill into Zashas convulsing channel, but Thane barely noticed. Watching the beautiful mixture of pleasure and pain that covered his lovers face, Thane felt as though his entire being had shattered, fragmenting into a million jagged pieces. When Zasha opened his eyes and looked up to meet his gaze, those tiny pieces of him began to reform, molding him into someone better and stronger than he had ever been. For Zasha, Thane would be anyonedo anythingthe man required of him. Hed move mountains, redirect rivers, and pluck the stars from the sky if Zasha needed those things to be happy. I love you, lieveling. A gentle smile curled the corners of his lips, and Zasha reached up to trace the curve of Thanes jaw with his fingertips. I never believed in love. I always thought it was something silly and foolish, an excuse for people to do awful things and call them noble reasons. And now? He already knew the answer, but he wanted to hear what had changed Zashas mind. Love is everywhere, Zasha whispered. Its so intricately woven into the very fabric of time that there is no hope of escaping it. I thought love couldnt be seen, but I see it every time you smile. They say you cant taste love, yet it still lingers on my tongue. He paused, pushing up on his elbows to lick at Thanes lips. I thought if I couldnt touch love, it couldnt be real. He pressed his hand to Thanes cheek and caressed the skin with his thumb. Yet here I am, holding love in the palm of my hand.

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Thane didnt have Zashas way with words, and he had nothing so poetic to offer in return. All he could do was speak the truth and hope it was enough. I dont know what I did to deserve you. Im still not even sure that I do. I just hope you never realize that, because I dont know what Id do with you. Chuckling under his breath, Zasha leaned up for another kiss as his fingers threaded through Thanes hair. I love you, too. It was more than that, though. Zasha had rescued him, not just from that well, but from himself. His mate calmed his mind and soothed his heart. He was Thanes sunlight after the storm, the warmth that surrounded him in the cold. The man was everything he liked about himself, and the reason to change all the things he didnt like. Without love, a house was just a dwelling. It didnt matter where they lived, though, because Thane had already found where he belonged. Love was just one way he could describe Zashas importance in his life. It was a big one, and he certainly loved his mate, but as they lay flesh to flesh beneath the moon, there was one other four-letter word that seemed more fitting for the moment. Forever and always, Zasha, you are my home.

THE END
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ABOUT THE AUTHOR


Gabrielle Evans grew up in a small town in southern Oklahoma. We are talking one red light that may or may not work depending on the day of the week. She married her high school sweetheart and the rest is pretty much history. They have two very active boys and one high-strung wiener dog that keeps her constantly on the go. For now, she parks her car in central Indiana, but who knows what tomorrow will bring. Gabrielle believes in love at first sight, falling hard and fast, taking chances, and grabbing your happy-ever-after with both hands. Most importantly, she believes that a great cup of coffee can cure anything.

For all titles by Gabrielle Evans, please visit www.bookstrand.com/gabrielle-evans

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