Chapters 21 - 25

Chapter 21


There was no other way to describe his taking of her. His throbbing cock was a battering ram and Rio screamed till her throat broke open. She was a leaf in a hurricane, her body hammered and buffeted as he took her violently. She grabbed at his arms, digging her nails into him till she drew blood and still he pounded her. He drew strength from the pain she inflicted on him, and his growl still rolled from his thick chest, a power he couldn’t leash.

She screamed his name as her orgasm exploded, a wild animal tearing at her. Rio had never felt anything like this before, and when she reached for him with some half-formed idea of grounding herself, he grabbed her wrists and slammed them to the ground. Unfamiliar words tumbled from his lips as he thrust into her over and over, taking everything from her.

Somewhere in the middle of this ferocious ripping asunder Rio felt the change. Lassiter pulled back from the insanity tearing at him and his overwhelming love leapt forward. He released her wrists, dragging her against him as his hips slowed their savagery. Rio wound her arms around his broad shoulders feeling the smooth slide of his golden skin under her palms.

As her hands explored his stunning, totally male body he drew her closer. He sucked and bit her neck till she could barely breathe and now the words he spoke hoarsely in her ear were very clear.

“I love you, Rio, you are my strength here in this place, and I can’t survive without you and your love.”

He pushed his hands into her long auburn hair, cupping her head, his thumbs sliding over her high cheekbones. He kissed her deeply, his mouth taking hers over and over, long drugging kisses that left her weak.

“You are mine, stay with me always. I will keep you safe, I will take you to the heavens through love and passion, I will make you strong and invincible for the fight ahead. And we will always be together.”

“Don’t let go, Lassiter. Don’t ever let go,” she cried brokenly, tears running down her face as she held him tight.

His hips surged forward, his shaft hot steel sliding against the slick walls of her sheath. The friction sucked his breath in with a hiss. Passion tightened his face, clenching his jaw, the twin suns that were his eyes burning down at her before he squeezed them shut.

God, he was so beautiful with erotic agony twisting his face. Rio reached up, her palm sliding over his glowing skin and she dug her fingers into the rock of his jaw. His eyes stayed closed, shutters drawn on the world and his teeth bared. She grabbed his throat and squeezed. He opened his eyes, everything in him pouring out of those glowing orbs like a river of fiery sensation.

“Now, Lassiter,” she demanded, hoarse, raw. “I’m ready and I want your fire at the same time.”

Lassiter roared and as his hips pounded into her she felt the orgasm roll up his cock like a train. Just the thought of it was the match to the fuse of her own climax. She slammed her palms to the ground, her fingers digging into the grass as the explosion took them both apart.

Rio lay against Lassiter, her head on his chest, feeling invincible in the shelter of his massive arms.

It was an odd thought to have as she bathed in the glow of the hard passion they’d just lived through but she couldn’t push it away. Being this close to the angel made her feel – immortal.

“How is it nobody’s rushing us to find out what all the noise was about?” she murmured.

“Because nobody heard anything.” She looked up and he brushed his mouth over hers. “Do you think I would let anyone see you naked, in the throes of the passion we share? That’s for me alone, la sangre de mi corazón. We are not here. Not in sight, not in sound.” My heart’s blood.

Everything in her seized tight and after an eternity, everything let go with a loose rush. Scalding tears poured down her face and it didn’t matter how hard she tried, she couldn’t tighten down the shaking tearing her apart.

“Shh, baby,” he whispered, wrapping around her like the sunlight he was. “What else could you be? I’ve been waiting for you – forever.”

She looked up at him, her eyes swimming, huge, and she caught the back of his neck. “You’ve been in my head since I first ran from home. Since Jace pulled me out of that hell hole. And since that time something’s changed inside me too. I know stuff and I don’t know how. I… feel stuff. And when I’m close to you, I feel strong, powerful. Like I’m more than I could possibly be.”

Rio tried to dig into Lassiter’s mind for what she wanted, knowing she wouldn’t get anywhere near what she needed. She dragged him down and Lassiter sank his fingers deep into her hair. He took her mouth, his lips warm and firm, his tongue stroking hers till her head swam. He raised his head slowly and waited for the rest of it.

“What have you done to me?” she whispered. “What am I?”

“I’ve done nothing. But you are who you’re supposed to be.”

“What exactly is that, Lassiter?” She was afraid to ask.

“La sangre de mi corazón.” His beautiful voice was almost a purr.

Rio watched the fire in his stunning eyes flare and dim, and she gasped as the heat slid over her skin in a caress. The longer his eyes held her, the stronger the caress grew. She felt fingers stroke her skin, and the fire in his eyes now consumed her body.

“Damn you, angel,” Rio’s curse was raw sensuality.

She pushed against him and in one motion rolled him onto his back and straddled his thighs. His magnificent cock rose up in front of her and she grasped him with both hands. He arched his spine and his head kicked back and before he could do more than throw out a sharp hiss, she interlaced her fingers together and drew a long stroke up his shaft.

“Fuuuck, Rio,” he gasped. “What are you doing to me?”

“Whatever I want,” she ground out, lust and love ravaging her control.

She was lost, slammed by the torrent of emotions raging through her, and she turned them loose on the stunning creature under her. Tightening her clasped hands, she pumped them up and down Lassiter’s rock hard erection, watching the large purple head breach her fists over and over. Her eyes glowed at his white hot arousal, and when his chest hitched and heaved his agony drove her harder. She pumped him two or three more times then slid her body down his legs and bending over, sucked him deep into the heat of her mouth.

Lassiter shouted hoarsely and grabbed her hair in his fists. His hips bucked under her, driving his shaft deep down her throat. Rio flattened her tongue along his cock and sucked hard, creating a vacuum that drove Lassiter out of his mind. She slid her hands under him and grabbing his ass pulled him to her.

He thrust into her over and over, his hips lifting off the ground, till finally he pulled her roughly from him. He lifted her over him like she weighed nothing. It took only seconds to drop her soaked, needy core over his throbbing cock, and Rio cried out as shudders rippled through her, twisting her muscles into tight knots.

Lassiter rolled, taking her under him and pinning her to the ground. He needed to take her hard and he pounded against her, his biceps bunched, his shoulders tight and curled in on himself.

“Lassiter!” Rio screamed his name, begging for his release, frantic for his heat to fill her.

Lassiter felt the shockwave roll down his spine, tightening his lower back. He clenched his jaw and slammed his fists into the ground on either side of her head, thrusting hard. And then the release he lived for, the release she craved, roared up his cock and exploded through her taking Rio with him.

“We’ve had this discussion before.” Wrath shook his head.

Rio shrugged. “I know but it’s already happening. And you know I’m handling myself.”

Wrath slammed his fist on the desk. Rio slanted her eyes at the phone as the receiver jumped loose, a jingle of bells floating out through the room. V leaned over and flipped the handset back into place.

“Getting jumped coming out of work is not the same thing as going out fighting and you damn well know it.”

Though Wrath was nearly blind, the king didn’t miss much. Rio could swear he was glaring at her through his black wraparounds, and she held his gaze as she reached into her back pocket and pulled out a dog collar. Butch choked on a cough and from the edge of her sightline Rio saw Rhage’s stunning face crack into a huge grin.

Rio tossed the collar on Wrath’s desk. She wasn’t certain he’d catch what it was with his nearly nonexistent sight, and she wanted to make sure he knew what she was getting at. Wrath’s hand touched the leather, the studs, and when he hit the buckle he growled.

“Ok, I’m outta here.” She jumped up. “We’ll talk more later.”

Leaving the dog collar on Wrath’s desk, Rio strode out of the room hearing Rhage’s laugh follow her through the door.

Jace was pacing the hall outside the study. His head snapped around and he blocked her approach in three steps. “I heard yelling,” he said. “Any problems?”

Rio grinned and punched him lightly in the chest. “Nothing any different than any other day around here. Come on, let’s go see what’s happening in the billiards room. The boys are having a meeting.” She caught his hand and pulled him along behind her.

Three of the mansions’ shellans were already in residence. Beth was bent over the pool table, her eye on her shot. Mary stood off to one side, chalking her cue tip. Watching the game from one of the couches, Bella sat with her young cooing in her arms. Pudgy little hands waved wildly as she tried to catch her mahmen’s long dark hair swinging tantalizingly in front of her.

Rio stepped up to the table and crossed her arms, her eyes narrowing as she judged the table layout.

Beth called her shot and with a sharp clack there was one less ball left on the table.

Rio grinned over her shoulder at Jace. “Beth’s the only one in the house who can kick Butch’s ass.

Hard.” She headed for the bar. “Gives V twice the reason to be pissed.”

Rio turned as the scent of the ocean swept through the room and she saw Jace staring at the door. With a grin, she raised her hand in a wave at the stunning blond beauty in the slim black slacks and black turtleneck.

“Hey, Marissa, off to Safe Place?”

“I am.” She nodded then turned a questioning smile on Jace. “Is this your friend?”

“It is. This is Jace Bennett.” Rio reached out and caught Jace’s chin. She turned his head, breaking his eye contact with the woman. “Jace, this is Marissa, Butch’s shellan.” “Shellan?” he murmured, his focus scattered by the female’s beauty.

“Wife,” Rio clarified. “Close your mouth, say hi politely, and don’t let Butch catch you looking at her like that. Ever.”

Marissa’s laugh was like the tinkle of crystal. Color washed through Jace’s face as he pulled himself together and bowed formally. Marissa returned the gesture and with a few quick words to Beth and a wave, she left.

“Hey, you want to go watch a movie?” Rio tapped Jace. “There’s a theatre upstairs and a whack load of DVDs to choose from.”

Jace grinned. “Godzilla?”

Rio groaned and rolled her eyes. “You fit in here way too easily. Let’s go, boy wonder.”

“Oh, my god, this is fantastic!”

Jace’s eyes widened as he checked out the theatre spread out in front of them. The seats were as wide as a jumbo jet’s 1st Class with thick padding and a cup holder in each seat. Three rows terraced down and angled off like wings from a center aisle and bracketed by an aisle on each end. There was a theatre quality snack bar complete with every kind of candy and chocolate bar right down to Twizzlers and Swedish Fish. There was a pop machine, even a popcorn maker in the corner.

Rio held out her hand and snickered at the groan of male satisfaction as his eyes scanned the thousands of DVDs lined along the back wall.  After long minutes of indecision, she jabbed him in the ribs and he yanked out a disk sleeve. She plugged the disk into the machine, and they settled in with the comfortable familiarity of long years together.

“You know, I just realized something,” Jace said as they headed upstairs after Last Meal. Rio looked up at him as he slipped his arm around her shoulder. “Life in this place is ass backwards.” He looked down at her and smiled at the question pulling her face into a frown. “Well, think about it. Vampires, no sun. Everybody sleeps during the day, even if it is in beds, and works at night. That could take some getting used to.”

Rio shrugged. “I’m already doing it. And in case you didn’t notice, you’re going to bed and the sun is coming up. In fact –” she trailed off, holding up a finger as they passed the second floor sitting room.

Jace heard a soft whirring sound and saw the moonlight fade out.

“There go the shutters.”

Jace smiled and shook his head as they carried on down the hall. He jerked to a stop when they rounded the corner. Light flashed like a bank of kliegs then settled into a bright glow, and Jace pulled in a deep breath at the sight of the fallen angel standing in the hallway between Rio’s room and Jace’s.

“Do you have a problem with me?” Jace straightened, his eyes chilling when the angel didn’t move.

Lassiter stood with his arms crossed over his massive chest, his stance wide, and shot a pointed look at Jace’s door.

“You’re kidding me, right?”

The angel remained silent. Jace dropped his arm and thrust a hand through his hair. He glared at Lassiter, who stayed exactly where he was, still without saying a word.

“Rio, this is all right with you?”

“He’s just trying to keep you out of my bedroom.” She smiled gently.

“I’ve been in your bedroom a lot of times.”

He snapped his head up at the hard growl and sucked in a breath at the expression on the angel’s face.

“Not here, you haven’t.” Rio stepped in front of him.

Blocking Jace, she turned to the angel, waving a hand at him to keep him back. In a quick move, Lassiter grabbed her and pulled her to him.


Jace took a step toward them but Rio threw up a hand. Lassiter wound his arms around her, bending his head and curling around her.

“He can’t be with you like that,” his gorgeous voice was unnaturally husky, strained. “No matter what’s required, I can’t let him be with you like that.”

Rio wrapped her arms around his head, cradling him to her. His heat washed through her as he caressed her, one hand sliding down her back and over her hips.

“Lassiter, don’t tear yourself apart,” Rio crooned softly, stroking his soft hair, his broad shoulders. “Jace and I have never gone there. I know we’re closer than most brothers and sisters but we’ve never taken it that far.”

“Rio, I can’t let him get that close to you,” Lassiter spoke against her neck. “You’re mine and I can’t live with that.”

“Shh, baby, it’s ok. Everything’s going to be all right.”

Rio tried to turn but Lassiter refused to let go of her. He pulled her back against his chest and wrapped his huge arms around her. As she looked at Jace, the angel dropped his head, his face turned into her neck.

“Jace, it’s ok, really. I’m all right, you know that.” The look she gave him was filled with knowledge, the reminder that this creature had been with her since childhood. “Please, don’t push it.”

He nodded.

“Heads up, angel,” he warned. “I’m giving her a goodnight kiss.”

Lassiter’s arms tightened around her but he didn’t move. Jace stopped in front of them and took a deep breath. Rio reached up and laid her hand on his cheek. The situation was totally bizarre, with one male wrapped around her from behind and another reaching for her face but he wasn’t leaving without giving her a kiss.

He bent down to her, not caring that Lassiter would hear him. “I hope nobody else hits this hallway. This is starting to look like an orgy in the making. And don’t growl at me, angel,” he warned tightly. “I don’t care what you think. Rio and I are family. Have been for a lot of years.”

He leaned down and pressed his mouth gently to hers. As the kiss lengthened, he felt the huge angel’s jealousy and anger vibrate right through Rio’s body. But the glowing male kept silent. Jace pulled back and brushed a finger down her nose.

“Goodnight, babe. I guess I should say good day.”

With a last look at her smile, he stepped into his room and closed the door.


Chapter 22


Rio took a deep breath and reached behind her to Lassiter’s head. “Lassiter, it’s ok now.”

His arms tightened but he didn’t move. She felt the vibration run through him again, and she rubbed the powerful forearms wrapped around her rib cage. “Lassiter, baby, you can let go now. He’s gone.”

With his face still buried in the curve of her neck, he shook his head. His long black and blond hair slid over her arms like silk sending a deep shiver through her. In the next moment he bent down and swung her up into his arms. Rio threw an arm around his neck with a gasp, holding tightly as he strode to her door and wrenched it open. He kicked it shut behind them and then the bed was under her.

Lassiter came down on top of her but all he did was wrap her in his arms and hold her tight. She ran her hands over his thick, soft hair, stroking his back and murmuring softly to him. She wiggled and shifted beneath him till she managed to pull her legs from under his weight. As he settled into the cradle of her hips, Rio wrapped her legs around his waist and held him close.

“Lassiter, what is this about?” she whispered.

He lifted his head and caught her head in his big hands. His eyes burned into hers.

“What’s got you so wound? You know what Jace means to me, how our lives are woven together.”

“I don’t like him that close to you, Rio,” his deep silvery voice slid over her. “I don’t like the way he touches you.”

“Lassiter, it’s beneath you to be this authoritarian.”

He kissed her deeply then slid off the bed. She watched him pace the room, his hands clenching and unclenching at his sides. He was going to wear a hole in the carpet if he didn’t quit, and she stepped in front of him, halting his manic movement.

“Stop it, Lassiter. You’re wearing me out. Use some of that energy to explain to me what’s going on with you.”

“Things are… moving forward.”

“What the hell does that mean?” she asked.

He shook his head slowly. “Every life, human or vampire, has a predestined path. Everyone has a purpose. Your purpose is moving forward. Your destiny is getting closer.”

“Ok, so tell me something I don’t know.”

He raised an eyebrow and she snorted sharply. She turned away from him, her aggravation growing.

“Lassiter, nothing you’ve said is a surprise. Neither is any of it clear enough to do me a damn bit of good so try again.”

She spun around, frowning in frustration. Lassiter grabbed her, his hands on her ass, and he lifted her sliding her legs around his waist. With one hand holding her up, he grabbed a handful of hair with his other fist and pulled her mouth to his. She gasped when he lifted his head.

“I see some of your path. I know what’s expected of some of your future, what you’re supposed to accomplish. But where our paths cross, in as much as my love and desire for you is concerned, I can’t see clearly what will happen. I know He wants you and Jace finished first. And I can’t see when that will be or even what it will be or what happens after.”

Rio stared at him, trying to get into his head. “You mean with us.”

“Yes! And while I know He brought you to me…” he trailed off and dragged her close again, his face buried in the hollow of her shoulder.

“What, Lassiter? Finish it,” she whispered.

“I don’t know if He’s going to let you stay with me.”

The desperation in his voice was a knife through her heart, and she wound her arms around him.

She murmured soothing sounds as she ran her fingers through the long mass of beautiful, soft hair. He smelled incredible, his scent everywhere as she pressed small kisses over him. He raised his head capturing her mouth as she caressed his face, his lips hard, ruthless in his fear.

“You are mine,” his whisper was agony, harsh and despairing. “I can’t let you go.”

“I love you, Lassiter,” Rio breathed against his mouth. “Please stay with me tonight. I know you don’t sleep but I need to be in your arms. Please don’t let go of me tonight.”

Lassiter’s chest swelled with hope, a huge breath that burned through him. He carried her down to the bed, willing their clothes away as he pulled her under the covers and tight against his chest. As his hands rode over her skin in caressing, soothing strokes she heard him singing in her head.

His gorgeous totally inhuman voice, all silver bells and chimes, filled her with music that could never be described in mere human terms. And as Rio sank into sleep she felt like she’d come home.

The next week started much the same as the week before with a few minor exceptions. For one, Jace followed Rio to work at the club every night. At the end of the week Xhex lost one of her bouncers to family issues and after a quick consult with Rhevenge offered the slot to Jace. He accepted.

Xhex was impressed with his abilities, apparent from the night the lessers jumped them in the alley. Rehvenge was satisfied with her assessment of his usefulness. Jace was happy and relieved to have some direction to his life now. Rio was ecstatic to have him working with her.

It seemed like all the parties involved were thrilled with the way things had turned out.

Lassiter, not so much.

The angel, being what he was, couldn’t show up at the club to watch these new doings. At least, not so’s anybody could see him anyway. He did immerse himself in the atmosphere, so to speak, just an added emotion bouncing around in the stew that thickened the air every night.

He didn’t go every night, though. After all, he was supposed to be helping Tohrment get his shit back together, and he couldn’t do that if he was never around for the male. But when he did go he was such a wreck every time he got back to mansion Tohr finally had to say something.

“Hey,” Tohr called out as he sat channel surfing one night.

The angel was stomping around the library. He shoved books around on a shelf. He picked up a crystal ashtray from a table only to toss it back down immediately. Tohr shot a quick look over his shoulder to make sure the thing was still in one piece.

Lassiter shoved open the French doors and strode out to the lawn only to spin on his heel and stamp his way back in, banging the door shut behind him. Tohr shook his head, not sure why he was going to bother.

“Hey,” he called again. “I’m sure you’re the only member on the angel ADHD list but even for you this is over the top. What the hell’s doing with you?”

Lassiter said nothing. He just dropped into a wing chair and stared at the ceiling. Tohr frowned when he caught a barely audible sound and realized the angel was growling softly.

“She’s working. He’s working. That’s all that’s happening.”

Lassiter shot up off the chair and strode for the door. Tohr’s hand flashed out and caught the angel’s arm as he passed.

“She loves you. You know that, right.”

Lassiter didn’t respond.

“So what’s doing?”

The silence dragged out for so long Tohr looked up, wondering if the angel was even listening. He saw the tension in the glowing body and realized he could feel fear rolling off the huge ball of light like a cold breeze.

“I don’t know yet if I’ll be allowed to keep her,” he said so softly Tohr had to strain to catch the words.

Lassiter pulled away and left the room, and Tohr was surprised to find himself feeling sorry for the big lava lamp.

Rio gave Wrath to the end of the week before she pushed for another face to face on the fighting issue. Life in the mansion was great. Work at the club was fabulous. Having Jace with her in both places was phenomenal. But there was still a hole.

Rio missed the outside world in general. She missed being able to head out any time she felt like it or being able to go wherever she felt like going. Trips to the river to watch the sludge and crap roll up on the banks. Strolls down the mostly empty downtown night streets to check out any new doorway inhabitants. Forays through the alleys looking for the latest secrets dropped in corners or kicked under dumpsters.

She was also feeling more and more a part of the vampire world. She absorbed all the comings and goings. Marissa and Mary’s stories about Safe Place and what they were doing to help those in the race who had nowhere else to go for what they needed. Ehlena and Jane talked about their clinic and field work, what parts they could talk about, at any rate, and Rio was fascinated by the inner look at the world of vampire health and welfare.

She was accepted enough to even hear some of the Brotherhood’s problems: the fights, how many lessers they took down in a fight, what kind of stuff they confiscated in raids, how many new recruits seemed to be showing up lately.

And that was the other part of the hole eating at her. She wanted to fight. She wanted to fight with the Brotherhood.

It wasn’t like you had to be a Brother to fight. Not anymore. Xhex and Rehvenge fought with the Brotherhood from time to time. The war was getting big enough and the Brotherhood getting small enough that good fighters were needed no matter who you were.

Unless you were human, that is. And therein lay her problem.

Yeah, Butch had also been human when he’d fallen in with the Brotherhood. And he’d also been sidelined from the physical stuff. At least until he’d found out who he was and had been changed because of it.

After discovering he had vampire blood and was actually related to Wrath, they’d kick started his transition with Wrath’s blood, and now the Irish cop was a half-breed vampire and the fulfillment of an ancient prophecy. And the war’s newest weapon.

Rio was pretty sure she wasn’t the fulfillment of any prophecy and relatively sure she had no vampire blood hiding anywhere in her past. But she still wanted to fight. She wanted to fight lessers. She wanted to help prevent any other civilians from feeling the same terror as the male she’d helped in that alley weeks back.

Nobody should be backed into the paralyzing horror that comes with torture and finally your own slaughter. The Lessening Society was sweeping through the vampire race like a plague. They weren’t going to stop until every vampire was gone from the planet. And while that was a bad state of affairs any way you looked at it, the torture of those least able to protect themselves was something choking the sanity out of the king and the protectors who served under him. Because they were now too few to be able to get a foot up on this fight.

It was time to push the king again.

Rio stared at the king, who stared back at her across the huge expanse of his desk. Neither spoke for long minutes and finally Wrath leaned back, his arms crossed over his massive chest.

“Are you going to keep coming in here and interrupting the important shit I should be doing just to keep driving me crazy with this bullshit?” he snapped out in a growl.

She inclined her head and threw him a look she was sure he could interpret, even with the silver framed dark wraparounds he was rocking today.

“I’d have to say that’s a yes, my lord,” she murmured sweetly. Then she straightened up, her eyes cooling, her smile fading. “Come on, Wrath, you know you need everyone you can get your hands on fighting in this damn war and I want to fight.”

Wrath sucked in a huge breath but Rio cut him off before he could launch into his usual shutdown.

“Before you fire off your objections, let’s talk about what happened in the last fight. And then let’s talk about how Lassiter says I’m supposed to stay.”

Rio stopped talking as the low growl let her know he wasn’t happy with the reminder of the angel’s edict but pushed it to the back burner for the moment.

“All right. John and your friend both say you seemed to almost talk down one of the lessers. They said you approached him unarmed and told him you two should talk about this first. What the hell were you thinking? This is no goddamn way to convince me you should be fighting! You never go into range of a lesser without a weapon drawn.”

Rio shrugged, a frown puckering her forehead. “I don’t know what to tell you, Wrath. It was an instinct. I knew I could knock him off guard and get closer to him.”

“You did the same thing that first fight. You talked your way into the middle of things,” Wrath’s voice was speculative now as he recalled her first encounter with the slayers.

“I did. It just comes naturally, wanting to handle it like that.”

Before she could continue they both heard a light chiming sound and Rio stiffened and turned to the door. She knew what that sound meant. Every nerve in her body tingled like a low level electric current was flowing through her and she was instantly wet, lust and need coursing through her. The door opened with no hesitation and Lassiter strode in.

His eyes went immediately to Rio, the blazing sterling silver locking on her as his nostrils flared, drawing in the scent of her arousal. She knew instantly he was responding to her need as his own gorgeous scent flooded over and through her.

“Ever hear of knocking?” Wrath snarled.

“I have to be here right now,” the angel’s beautiful voice rolled over them both but his eyes stayed focused on her. “You’re talking about her place in this war, her gift. The reason I told you she had to stay.”

“Well, let’s hear it then.”

Lassiter shook his head and moved away, leaning against the wall. He crossed his arms over his massive chest, his legs crossed at the ankles and frowned slightly.

“I’ll step in when I need to,” he said with finality.

Wrath rapped out several harsh curses and slammed his fist on his desk. He thrust his hand through his waist length black hair and finally turned back to Rio. “All right, let’s you and I get back to it, then. What the hell is that kind of behavior about?”

“It’s like knowing, without having to think it through, that what I do will give me the advantage I need to make my chances of winning greater. I know my physical strength isn’t equal to a male’s but the element of surprise that comes with such close proximity balances it out in a lot of ways.”

She looked up at the king. He looked back, waiting for more. She jumped to her feet with a sharp exhale and paced back and forth in front of the massive carved desk.

“By getting close before the violence explodes I don’t have to fight my way close, you understand? When I watch the Brothers, they use very skilled hand to hand to cause as much damage as they can while trying to destroy each opponent.

“I can fight hand to hand. I like to fight hand to hand. But like I said, because I’m not as strong as a male, I can’t wade through as much of it as the Brothers do. So I need to be able to inflict my weakening and then killing strikes as quickly as possible before I lose my advantage and my opportunity.”

“All right, I’ll give you that,” Wrath conceded. “It makes sense and from what I hear, it seems to work for you. But what I don’t get, and you haven’t told me, is how you get that close to start with. You talked your way right up to that civilian’s side that first fight and according to John and Jace, you did the same thing the other night after you left the club. You took lessers that are trained to kill us on sight and made them hesitate.

“The slayer you tangled with that first night, by all accounts, had been around for a fuck of a long time. Yet not only did you confuse two slayers long enough they were taken out with almost no trouble, but you completely scrambled one who’d been around long enough he should’ve killed you before you even got more than a foot into that alley. What the hell is that all about?”

Rio stumbled to a stop in front of the desk and after a blank moment, she dropped into her chair with a shrug. “I have no idea.” She laughed faintly, the sound hollow. “I’ve never really thought about it, and I have no better explanation now that I am. All I can do is repeat that it all seems to be an instinct in me. I don’t know how to explain it, and I have no clue where it came from.” Lassiter drew in a sharp, deep breath and they both turned to him.

“This is her gift. Given to her as a child to keep her alive long enough to escape from a brutal home. It was also given to prepare her for this time frame in her life. This war.” 


Chapter 23


Wrath straightened and even with the dark glasses covering his face Rio could feel the sharpness of his gaze.

“Are you telling me she was meant to be here, meant to fight with us?”

The angel nodded. “Yes. As Butch was destined to assume an important role in this war, so was Rio. You’ve all felt the inexplicable pull she has on the emotions of everyone in this household. How right from the beginning it’s felt like she belongs here, like you’ve all known her for a long time.

“This is how she gets close to the enemy. The power she’s been given allows her to reach into another’s emotional center and, in effect, short circuit their instincts for a time. They actually start thinking about whatever she says to them instead of acting automatically on their preprogrammed agendas. That’s what gives her the chance to fight effectively.”

“Who gave her this ‘power’, exactly?” Wrath demanded.

Lassiter turned his sun white eyes on the king. “I say God. You may choose to believe it’s the Scribe Virgin. Either way, it’s a divine gift meant to be used by you.”

Wrath turned back to Rio and leaned slowly back in his chair. Rio waited, Lassiter’s words leaving her numb.

“As her power is ‘activated’, in essence, there will also be an increase in her physical strength and her healing capabilities,” Lassiter added.

“What?” She spun to face him.

“Not to the extent of the vampire race but beyond what the human race has even at its best.”

“To make me a better soldier,” Rio spoke softly, her eyes still on the angel.

He nodded, his gaze riveted to hers.

“Shit,” Wrath muttered under his breath. He pushed up his glasses and rubbed his eyes. He heaved a huge sigh then waved a hand at Rio. “Get the hell out of here. Let the club know you’re on rotation tomorrow night. I expect you here for the meeting after First Meal.”

Rio rapped her knuckles on the desk in satisfaction and jumped up. “Thanks, Wrath. I need this. And I’ll give you my best.”

He nodded in defeat, with respect. “I know you will.”

Rio stepped back from the desk then stopped. A small frown of confusion swept over her face in a blink, and she acceded to the pull inside her. The one turning her back to the king and bowing low.

He watched her hold the position, and his chest tightened as he realized what she was waiting for. He stood and stretched out his right hand. The one with the large black diamond settled on his middle finger. The symbol of his throne.

Rio caught his fingers lightly and pressed her lips to the ring. The offering of her honor and respect of his position, his power. Wrath laid his hand on her head and unfamiliar words flowed over her in a deep, guttural voice. His acceptance in the Old Language of her given allegiance and the acknowledgement of her place as one of his warriors.

Rio felt deep emotion choking her as she released his hand and stepped back. A part of her felt like she should stay bowed, that she didn’t deserve to lift her head in his presence. But another part, a stronger part, was flooded by heat, power.

She was honored to be in this male’s presence, to be offering herself to him to be used in this godforsaken war for the safety and continuation of his race. And that honor shot through her spine, straightening her, hardening her like the blade she would use for the defense of him and his. And as she left the study she realized his words of acceptance now made her also one of his.

She knew Lassiter was behind her as she headed down the hall. He was so close she could feel his heat burning through her and as she reached her bedroom he stepped into her. She gasped as his arms shot around her and he pushed her into the door. The length of his body was granite against hers as he rubbed against her; hard, aggressive, demanding.

“Lassiter,” she breathed, trying to push away from the panel in front of her.

With a frustrated growl, he wrapped an arm around her waist and twisted open the door knob. She heard the slam behind her then was dropped on the bed, face down. Before she could move, her jeans were ripped from her legs and a large fist was wrapped in her hair, shoving her face into the bed.

Her heart hammered in her chest but it wasn’t fear sucking away her sense of balance, of being grounded. It was lust – hard, driving, suffocating in its overwhelming weight. Her need of this gorgeous, unearthly creature was without boundaries, without logic. She would never get enough of him and she needed him to take her this way. With the same ruthless fury that fueled her lust, her need.

He let go of her hair and yanked her arms out to either side of her, wide, palms spread on the bed. Then he grabbed her hips and jerked them up, her ass raised high in front of the open furnace of his heat. Rio turned her head to the side to gulp in air but when she tried to push herself to her knees her hands wouldn’t move. She tried to pull her knees in to her but there was no movement in her legs, either.

“Lassiter, let me go,” she cried then buried her face in the bed to muffle the scream that tore from her.

With one movement – one hard, violent thrust – he was deep in her, his long thick cock hammering against her womb. She cried, she whimpered, she begged to be released, to be allowed to touch him as he took everything from her. The only sounds he made were the deep growls from the back of his throat that always drove her crazy. He kept her restrained under him, the invisible ties holding her spread-eagled under him as he ravished her – with his hands and with his cock. Then with his mouth.

Her orgasm rushed through her like a storm and before she was finished, he pulled from her and plunged his face between her thighs. She screamed into the bed again as he devoured her. He licked her, he sucked her drenched lips into his mouth, he thrust his tongue deep into her heat again and again till her consciousness bled away like the life from the dying.

And as another orgasm tore through her like a razor’s edge, he rose over her immobile body and shoved himself into her again. He was huge, growing, expanding, his cock massive with his desire for her and Rio thought he had to rip her to shreds. There was no way she could take him in.

But she did. Her need for this creature, the lust that raged out of control every time she got near him, loosened her, opened her for him. Her heat softened her like butter letting him sink into her till he was lost.

She was still tight. Tight enough to drag at him, the friction driving him mad. He hissed sharply, crazed with his need of her. He bent over her, his arms wrapping around her. His lips were hot on her neck, his teeth sharp on her skin, as his hips pistoned into her and suddenly Rio’s arms were free. She crossed her arms over his, reveling in the power of the muscles flexing under his smooth skin.

“Lassiter, you’re killing me,” she cried brokenly.

“No.” His deep, beautiful voice soaked into her skin. “I’m loving you like no one has ever loved you before. Like no one can ever love you again. I know you can feel it in every touch, in every kiss, in every stroke of my cock. You are mine. And I’m yours, now and forever.”

Rio cried out again as Lassiter pulled from her. He flipped her over and spread her thighs as he sank into her again. Rio wrapped her legs around his waist and her arms around his neck. Lassiter pulled her close as he took her hard and within moments his thick biceps flexed, his broad shoulders bunched, and as his release exploded from him he kicked his head back.

Rio loved the way his beautiful face tightened with lust, with passion, every time he took her, and she sank her fingers deep into his long gorgeous hair as he bucked inside her. Her chest hitched once as everything in her tightened and then he took her over the top again with him.

“All right, that’s it.”

Wrath sat back. The expressions passing over each of the Brothers at the king’s explanation of Rio’s presence were as varied as the Brothers themselves. But on all the faces, there was one common look. Complete acceptance.

There was no doubt the Brothers were worried that she was a female about to get caught up in their violence. It was instinct for them. But nobody could deny that she wasn’t the only female fighting.

Xhex fought often. And there had been others over the centuries.

The warriors were also drawn to her by the very gift that was allowing her into this fight so their fears for her were intensified. Yet they all believed in her skills, her abilities. And they believed she would be an asset, no matter what their fears.

Rio scanned the faces around her, soaking up the emotions on display. The nervousness she’d come in with evaporated as the support around her grew and she exhaled slowly, deeply. When she looked up she caught the grin from Rhage across the room, and she shook her head with a small smirk.

“I’d like to partner you with Tohr,” Wrath spoke, “but he’s not back in the field yet. He wants you with Rhage for now and I agree. So he’s your fighting partner.”

The huge blond god’s grin grew till it threatened to crack his face wide, and Rio failed to contain her smirk. Wrath’s brows drew down and he hit the desk hard.

“You will listen to him.” He pointed at her. “This is training for you, and you will take advantage of it.”

“Yes, sir.” She nodded briskly.

“And you will let her fight,” Wrath threw at Rhage. “She’s not going to be any good to us if you wrap her in cotton.”

Rhage nodded hard, trying to rein in his elation.

“But… don’t let her… get killed,” Wrath growled, waving vaguely at them. He frowned hard again as something else occurred to him. “And you better fill her in about your… alter-ego before circumstances drop it on her head.”

Rio looked around with interest as coughs and throat clearing swept the room like a bout of the flu.

“Oh, this sounds like something I’ve been waiting to hear for a long time,” she ribbed, getting up and crooking her finger at the huge vampire. “Come on, teacher, you can instruct me on the way. Obviously, we’re driving.”

As they hit the bottom of the stairs, Mary appeared in the kitchen doorway.

“Mary, perfect!” Rhage reached out and grabbed her hand.

Rio followed them into the library, shaking her head at Rhage’s exuberance.

“Mary, Wrath’s agreed to let Rio fight with the Brotherhood.” Mary gasped and her eyes shot to Rio, the questions alive.

“Apparently, it’s a divine revelation,” Rio muttered softly, “which is fine with me because I really do want to fight.”

“Anyway, he’s partnered us for a while and I need to explain about… the Beast.”

Mary gasped again, her hand going to her mouth, and the expression of nervous expectation had Rio looking sharply at Rhage.

“I need to show her first. It’ll make it easier.” He sounded like he was almost asking permission for something.

“Go ahead, love, it’s all right.”

Rhage pulled his t-shirt off. Rio caught a quick look at his huge, perfectly muscled chest and shoulders and then he turned.

“Oh, my god!” she breathed. “That is magnificent.”

Completely covering his tight, muscled back was a beautifully executed, brilliantly colored dragon. She could almost see the iridescent purple and green scales slide sinuously over the superb creature. Long white fangs filled a mouth made for tearing someone apart and the long thick tail would hold them down while doing it. And Rio could swear the black eyes followed her as she examined the creature closely.

“Rhage, that’s some beast,” she murmured breathlessly as he pulled his shirt back on. “Why am I sure there’s a hell of a story behind that?”

He bent down to kiss Mary goodbye then headed for the door. Throwing a fast wave over her shoulder, Rio followed with Mary’s laugh following.

“I was out of control growing up.”

Rhage picked up his story as they crossed the courtyard to his GTO. Since Rio couldn’t dematerialize, they would have to drive to their trolling area.

“I had too much of some stuff, not enough of others. Too much power, too much strength, not enough self-control, not enough respect for the world around me. I took everything I could, everyone I could, just because it was there. I took what other male’s shellans offered not considering where any of it might lead.

“There was this one female who played coy with me and so of course, I had to have her. It wasn’t until I was inducted into the Brotherhood that she came around. I didn’t realize until it was too late that she didn’t want me. The weapons and my being a warrior were all that turned her on.

“Anyway, I let her handle my rifle and it went off. She killed an owl. A white barn owl. I realized as I held that small, fragile body and felt the life drain from it that carelessness is as great a sin as cruelty. And that I was as responsible for that death as if I’d pulled the trigger myself.

“That’s when the Scribe Virgin showed up. Birds are her special love and the barn owl is her sacred symbol. She breathed it back to life, and I thought it was all cleaned away.

“But she was furious with me, and she cursed me with the beast. It was her way of making me take responsibility for my emotions. To learn self-control, how to regulate my energy, my moods. Whenever I get out of control the beast appears. I got 200 years of it. I had only ninety-one years left on the curse when I made the deal to keep Mary alive when her leukemia was taking her from me. So now I have Mary and the beast for however long I’ve got left to live.”

Rio was quiet for a few minutes then nodded. “Ok, so name me some of these circumstances Wrath was worrying about.”

“If I get hurt in the field, or one of my brothers gets hurt, the beast will come out. It will decimate the enemy.” His tone was hard, firm. “There’s nothing left but a few scraps. If it happens, get the hell out of the way. I’m not always sure it recognizes the difference between friends and enemies, and my biggest fear is I’ll hurt one of my brothers if they get too close. And now you as well. Mary’s been the only one who can get close to it. She can control it, even though I hate to have her anywhere near it.”

“Well, don’t you worry about me, Rhage. I’ll be fine. I’ve got my own little gift, remember. But I won’t leave myself open to any unnecessary danger so please don’t get distracted by worrying if I’m all right.”

By this time, they’d reached the area they planned to hunt in and Rhage parked and locked his car. They hit the streets, checking alley after alley and walking the streets in between. Rio was thrilled when they ran into several groups of lessers over the night. She found she shared a common trait with Butch.

As part of his persona as the Dhestroyer, because of the piece of himself the Omega had left in Butch when he’d tried to use the Irish cop to destroy the Brotherhood, Butch was able to detect lessers in his vicinity.

Apparently Rio’s gift gave her a similar ability. While Butch was able to sense actual lessers, Rio only knew something was wrong close by. Something off. It never happened when anything wrong involved humans, though, so it was as good a warning signal as Butch’s talent.

“Ok, that’s it for tonight,” Rhage announced after they took their final loop around their area and headed toward the street where they’d parked his purple GTO. “We’ve got enough time to get cleaned up and head to ZeroSum for a few drinks before they close up.”

“Really.” Rio grinned at him. “Thought you didn’t drink.”

He grinned back at her. “I don’t. Doesn’t mean I can’t watch you drink. Besides, can’t abandon you after your first big shift on the streets.”

She gave him a shot in the shoulder. “Thanks, partner, but if any of the others are heading out, I won’t be abandoned, will I?”

“I’m your fighting partner for the time being. Without me, you’re abandoned.” 


Chapter 24


They pulled into the courtyard of the mansion a few minutes later and headed inside. Several of the Brothers were back from the field already, and after establishing that she was going to the club with them and so nobody better leave without her, she headed upstairs for a fast shower. Thirty minutes later, she was walking into ZeroSum with Rhage, Butch and Vishous. John, Qhuinn and Blaylock were already there, having dematerialized from the mansion about five minutes earlier.

She scanned the club as she slid into the Brothers’ table in the VIP section. Jace was working tonight, and she was anxious to see him. Her first official night on the streets had her jazzed up, and she seriously needed to share the mood with her friend. Drinks hit the table and Blay was leaning into her, his mouth close to her ear as he talked above the club noise when someone rapped knuckles on the table.

“Jace!” Rio cried happily, pushing on Rhage to get him to move. “Come on, partner, move that mass and let me outta here.”

The snorts of laughter and smart ass jabs rolled over the huge gorgeous blond as he slid from the table, and once Rio had slid out she threw herself into Jace’s arms.

“Great to see you, baby.” His grin lit up his face. “How was your first night?”

“Fantastic!” she bubbled. “Had a few run-ins, took out some whitey dudes and didn’t even bloody up my clothes too bad. All in all, I think it was a pretty decent first night. How’d your night go?”

Jace nodded with smooth humor. “About the same, I’d have to say.”

“Well, aren’t we the pair?” She elbowed him.

Xhex shifted into sight and slanted a small smile at Rio. “How’s the newest warrior?” she spoke in a low voice, the words not carrying beyond Rio’s hearing.

Rio flashed a huge grin. “Excellent. Building my resumé. Gotta say, I miss the job, though.”

Xhex nodded. “Miss having you here. But your boy is filling in nicely.”

“That’s good to hear,” Rio chuckled. “And no less than I expected.”

Xhex kept moving, taking it out to the main floor, and with a quick kiss Jace followed.

Rhage shifted to let Rio back into the booth, and she slid effortlessly back into the laughter and jokes bouncing around the table.

The mood was still high when security hustled out the last of the crowd at closing. Jace stopped in the VIP section after emptying a table and grabbed Rio around the waist.

“Come on, get a move on, will ya?” Butch griped. “The night’s over so what are we still doing here?”

“What’s that low pressure system all around you about?” she cracked, her eyebrows climbing. “Just because your other half won’t be home for another hour doesn’t mean you can write everything off for the rest of us.”

“First of all,” Butch pointed out, nodding at Jace, “he’s coming home with us, and secondly, your other half is already at home, so I should think you’d be anxious to get there.”

“Butch, bite me.” Rio bared her teeth in a grin that looked more like a wolf considering dinner. “And lay off about Lassiter, ok. He’s not my other half.”

“Yeah, right, you keep telling yourself that,” Butch grumbled, crossing his arms and leaning against the wall beside the back exit.

She shot him a grim, narrow eyed look and Butch cocked a shoulder in a loose hitch.

“Hey, I’m not talking anything that the whole damn world hasn’t already seen, woman. Now can we go?”

“V?” Rio cranked up her eyebrows at the gorgeous, black haired warrior and pointed at his best friend and roommate. “Your boy?”

“Come on, cop.” Vishous popped the back door. “Let’s go start the truck.”

The two vampires were leaning against the hood of the Escalade when everyone rolled out of the exit five minutes later. Jace and Rio were laughing at something Rhage had said. Xhex was close behind, shaking her head at the huge blond male and when Rio shot her a look over her shoulder, Xhex rolled her eyes.

John, Qhuinn and Blay had already dematerialized home and in an unusual move, Trez and iAm had left early with Rehv. Xhex double checked the door then turned to the club’s private parking garage for her bike. V and Butch pushed themselves away from the Escalade, and Rhage had just popped his door open when it happened.

Butch and Rio both stiffened, their heads cranking up in grim recognition.

“Fuck!” she snapped. “How many?”

“Too many,” Butch shot back.

At that moment, the rank smell of baby powder and road kill hit them, and as everyone spread out and turned they faced eight lessers streaming into the alley.

Rio heard screaming. Who was screaming? Why the hell didn’t somebody stop that? And why did her hands and arms hurt so bad? Wow, she felt like she’d been run over by a really big truck. Or maybe it was a tank. Yeah, that’s what it was, and my god, that screaming was really cranking her shit out.

Holy shit, it was dark. She could’ve sworn there’d been a full moon tonight but now – hell, she couldn’t see a thing. Hey, it had been a good first night in the field. A great night. The club was closed but she still wanted another drink. A lot of drinks. Just have to get one from the bar in the billiards room. If she could only get to it. But damn, it was fucking dark. Somebody turn on the lights.

And somebody shut up that goddamn screaming.

“Is she finally out?” Wrath’s voice was a deadly growl.

V’s hand shook as he fired up a hand-rolled and he nodded. “It took Jane three shots to finally put her out,” his bleak reply was a thin scratching in the ice cold room.

The space was crowded with warriors. Deadly resolve warring with icy cold shock dried up any possible conversation, but Wrath was going to hear it all if he had to peel it out of them one by one.

“Somebody start fucking talking,” his growl ratcheted up. “Where’s Jace?”

“We put his body in the PT room and locked the door.” Rhage answered, his voice stunned into a monotone murmur. “Doc Jane doesn’t think Rio will wake up before tomorrow night, not with the strength of the knockout shots she took, but…”

He shrugged, the action louder than any words betraying his belief that anything was possible right now. He fell silent, his bent head and lax arms propped on his knees betraying his disbelief over the night’s events.

Wrath slammed his fist on the desk, sending a shock wave through everyone. “I’m not hearing any fucking words!” he roared.

“Butch and I went out to the Escalade to wait for Xhex to finish closing up,” Vishous spoke quietly. “About five minutes later everyone else came out. We were all just starting to head out when Butch and Rio both sensed the lessers coming. And just like that they were there.” He fell silent for a moment, pulling deep on his smoke.

Rhage picked up the story. “There was no time for anything but getting into it. We couldn’t call for backup, nothing. They were on us almost faster than we could arm up. There were eight of them. They must have been waiting for us, planning for this, cos they never travel in a pack that big. And there was no hesitation. They knew we were there.”

“We’d put down three or four,” Vishous took a turn again. “Left them for Butch to clean up after we were done. I turned to go after another one, and I saw one pull a gun on Rio from behind. She was busy slicing and didn’t see him.

“I yelled at the same time I pulled my Sig. Rio turned and Jace stepped in front of the lesser. He never got his blade up before the gun went off. He turned to Rio, said he loved her, and dropped.”

“She went…” Butch faded out then cleared his throat a couple of times before he could continue. “She went nuclear. That piece of rat meat must have seen something in her eyes because he started backpedaling. She bellowed at him to stand still. And her voice! It… echoed. It sounded like three people talking at once.”

He looked around the room for confirmation. Vishous smoked hard. Rhage dropped his head, nodding slightly. Butch kept talking.

“She yelled at him to not move and he didn’t. He just stood there and then she was on him. She hammered him bloody and she sliced him to pieces. And I mean pieces. With her dagger only. Arms and legs off and in between she hacked and stabbed at his chest and stomach.”

He fell silent with a deep shudder. His horror over the raw violence of the slaughter rolled through the room like a thick, oily wave.

“I’ve seen some bad shit over the years on the force, really bad shit, but that…” He swallowed hard and coughed a couple of times before continuing. “I’ve never seen anything that vicious or bloody. We couldn’t get her off him. She finally took his head before we could get her off him. And then she started screaming.”

“She was still screaming when we got her down to the clinic,” Rhage murmured, flat, shell shocked. “I tried putting her under on the way home but it didn’t work. Nothing worked.”

“Fuck,” Wrath whispered, dropping his head into his hands. A moment later, he snapped upright. “Does Lassiter know what the hell’s going on?”

Everyone jerked to attention. Heads turned, eyes wide in shock. Everybody shot to their feet.

“Goddamn it.” Wrath breathed. “I take it that means no.”

“I didn’t see him when we got back here,” V said.

Rhage and Butch looked at each other and shook their heads.

“Well, somebody better find him. Anybody know what him and Tohr were doing tonight?”

“Hiking up in the hills, I think,” Rhage answered. “At least, I think that’s what Tohr said at First Meal.”

“Has he got his cell?”

V shook his head. “He never takes it when he goes up there.”

“Fucking great!” Wrath growled. “Well, the sun’ll be up in less than an hour. Getcha asses up there and see if you can find them before that. He’s not going to be happy if we just wait for him to show up.”

Beth, Mary and Bella were sitting in silence at the dining room table, cups of cooling tea in their hands. Everyone was in the hills looking for Tohrment and Lassiter but they only had about 10 more minutes before sunrise.

The tension crawled through the room like a snake, and the females knew without saying anything there was always the possibility that the fallen angel wouldn’t come back to the mansion with Tohr. Sometimes he decided that the Brother needed some alone time, and he would disappear for a while to give it to him. If the angel picked today to do it, nobody had a clue how to get a hold of him.

They looked up as Jane materialized at the table, and Beth raised her eyebrows in question. Jane shook her head.

“We just have to wait,” she said softly. “Thank god she’s still out, though.”

One by one the Brothers materialized back at the mansion and as they filed through their expressions made it clear nobody had found the pair yet. The shellans followed their males into the library. Wrath pulled Beth under his arm as they crossed to the couch.

“I swear that damn light bulb is trying to kill me,” Tohr grumbled loudly as he staggered into the library. He stopped in his tracks as everyone turned to him, frowning when he saw the horror etched on every face. “What the hell happened?” he demanded, his breath whistling from his lungs like a slow leak. “Wrath?”

Before anyone could respond there was a massive crack of thunder, almost like a sonic boom, and a flash of light that blinded everyone in the room. They all knew Lassiter was there before he even spoke.

“Where is she?” his gorgeous, silver bell voice boomed through the room.

Jane stood up. “She’s down in the clinic. I had to put her out, Lassiter. She was a mess physically and she couldn’t stop screaming.”

The light blazed again and the angel was gone.

Rio’s eyes flew open. Instantly, her body was flooded with heat. And pain. She felt her mind fragmenting and without knowing why, a scream crawled its way up her throat. Her head kicked back and she opened her mouth to let the horrible pressure escape.

“No!” the deep, silver chime voice rolled out.

She realized the heat burning through her came from the huge body pinning her down, straddling her on the gurney. Lassiter leaned over, his muscled thighs tight on either side of her hips. He had her wrists clamped in his big hands, tight against the mattress above her head.

Her mouth opened wide and in a blink, she knew. She shrieked.


The very human voice carried the weight of psychic anguish, a very powerful part of Rio’s gift, and the sound carried through the entire mansion. Despite the fact that she lay in a room deep beneath the living quarters of everyone gathered, down long corridors of hewn stone, her cry carried as clearly as if she’d been in the next room.

Everyone gathered in the library jerked to attention as the agonized voice ricocheted around the room like a shot fired and Bella covered her mouth. Every shellan felt Rio’s pain far down in her soul, woman to woman. Though Jace wasn’t her mate, her love for him went deep, and the females all knew how they’d feel if any of them were facing the loss of one of their males.

“Fuck,” Wrath muttered, his voice the harsh sting of gravel on an open wound. “That angel better do something for her, or Jace won’t be the only one we lose tonight.”

Rio felt the shattering insider her trying to take over. Another scream rolled up her throat but before it could escape Lassiter yanked her up and into his massive arms. His mouth descended, covering hers as his golden glow blazed like the sun. She felt herself dissolving into him, the way he always possessed her before taking her to the white. Rio wound her arms around his neck as the shaking ripped through her, threatening to tear her apart.

He possessed her. Completely, totally, every inch of him caressing every inch of her. Inside and out. She felt his skin on hers, warm and smooth like heated silk. His hands burned every inch of her, his strong fingers searching out and bringing alive every nerve ending in her. She felt his massive, rock hard erection plunging into her, consuming her in every way a female can take a male, and his harsh groans of pleasure and the burning of his lust for her swamped her.

He poured out words of regret. For the agony she was suffering. That he hadn’t been allowed to stop the act that now tore her to pieces. He murmured words of passion, of sorrow and hope, and promises. Vows of protection, given with everything he was. And love. Words of a love that knew no human limits, as abiding and immortal as he was.

Rio knew nothing but Lassiter. He was everywhere. All around her, filling every corner of her, mind and soul. She held him close, taking him into her body, seeing nothing when she opened her eyes except the white.

And Lassiter.

His sterling silver eyes burned through her like molten mercury; thick and hot, searing her to the bone. She saw his anguish twisting his stunning face and knew it was what he was feeling for her. For what she suffered.

He was wrapped around her, the only solid touch under her, and she knew instinctively that if she could see beyond the white there would still be nothing but Lassiter. No earth below them, nothing as weak and inconsequential as rooms or floors. Just the blackness of space and Lassiter around her like… life.

Always Lassiter. Only Lassiter. Ever.

And in that heartbeat of knowing, she came back together. The torment and horror that had been turning her into a mindless beast capable of nothing but madness was gone. And in another heartbeat of knowing, she realized the only thing that could strip away everything and leave her with nothing but death was the loss of Lassiter.

She would always hurt over Jace’s death. She would always feel his loss deep in her heart and soul. But nothing would take all she was leaving only an empty shell that would crave death except the absence of Lassiter.

She threaded her fingers through the gorgeous, soft fall of black and blond hair framing a face too beautiful for words. She felt his chest heave as he knew what she was now feeling, what filled her now. He threw back his head, searching for…

Rio still could only see the fallen angel wrapped in her arms but she knew he was seeing something else. Searching, asking, pleading. The tension ran through his huge, muscular body and his hold on her tightened. 


Chapter 25


An explosion. Of light, warmth. Sound that ripped, tore, shattered every cell in her being, but silent, without substance. A flood of love, that of a father for a beloved child, a giving, a passing over. A promise. Acknowledgment.

When Rio’s sight returned, she saw triumph, joy beyond belief, a gratitude beyond words flooding Lassiter’s face, and in the same instant his release rocketed through him into her, shattering her completely. Her own orgasm picked up the shattering and scattered her through the universe, and Rio heard Lassiter’s roar even as she shrieked his name till her throat bled.

The Brothers paced, drinks in hand. Several had tried to shoot pool hoping for a distraction till something happened. They eventually gave up when it became glaringly apparent nobody could focus enough to hit a ball with a sledge hammer, never mind a cue stick. The shellans sat close together on one couch, murmuring softly to each other, occasionally clasping hands in the hope the touch would soothe.

Nobody was soothed.

Jane had gone to the clinic not long after Lassiter had vanished. It was no surprise to anyone when she reported back that neither the angel nor Rio were down there. And so began the waiting.

Last Meal came and went uneaten.

The sun rose. The shutters sank. The warriors and their mates drifted, fighting the tension cranking everyone tighter than steel cable in a winch.

More pool was attempted and abandoned.

More liquor was consumed. Nobody got drunk no matter how much hooch was sucked back.

Everyone hit the clinic at one time or another, despite knowing that the two would come upstairs whenever they showed up. And after each report of a no-show – still – more drinks were poured, swallowed. And the steel cable winched tighter.

The sun sank. The shutters rose.

First Meal came and went uneaten.

And then a flash of light.

They came from every corner of the house.

“Library,” Vishous said, heading across the mosaic tile foyer.

Rio was waiting, facing the door as the household’s occupants rushed in. Lassiter stood behind her, his hands on her waist but clearly leaving her in charge.

“Thank the Scribe Virgin,” Wrath growled, his arm tightening around Beth. “And about fucking time too. Are you all right, Rio?”

A light golden haze flared around her and she nodded. She smiled slightly at the eyebrows popping up around the room.

“No, I’m not an angel,” she answered the question hovering unspoken. “But I am more than I was.”

You were always that, John signed.

“Yeah, I guess.” Rio’s smile faded and her eyes shadowed briefly. “Jace is gone.” Jane stiffened among a chorus of gasps, and Rio raised her hand.

“He’s been… sent home. And I’ve been told that even though I’m not the fulfillment of a prophecy like Butch here,” she waved at the cop standing close to V, “I still have my own destiny to fulfill. And apparently that’s here. With the Brotherhood.”

She turned to Wrath. “Rumour has it that you aren’t going to have to worry about me anymore. Strength, healing abilities, even life span. I’m good to go.”

Wrath flashed his fangs in a fierce grin and nodded in satisfaction.

There was a sharp whoop of approval and triumph, especially from the three younger vampires in front of her. Her boys. In the next instant, she was swept into strong arms and scooped off the floor. Qhuinn ignored Lassiter’s growl as he swung her around before passing her to Blay and then John. Warrior eyes swung over to the angel as he strode across to the group, but Rio held out her palm, stopping him.

“These are my boys, Lassiter,” she laughed. “”This will happen. A lot.”

“Not bloody likely,” he growled, pulling her away from John and up into his arms. “I’m your only ‘anything’ and ‘your boys’ will be smart to remember that.”

His silver eyes flared like spotlights as he swept his gaze over the gathered Brotherhood and their shellans, all fighting their laughter over his territorial glare.

“And everybody might as well know now that my destiny is tied to Rio’s. So if she’s supposed to be here, you all better get used to seeing me around. Because where Rio is, so am I.”

Rio grinned as the laughter changed to sounds of protests and harsh grumbling, swelling like a wave.

“Don’t worry, boys,” she smirked. “He won’t be fighting with us. He’s still got his own stuff to handle.”

“I thought we were getting the chance to lay a beating on him once things with Tohr settled down,” Vishous muttered, his brows dragged down in a huge frown. “How is that supposed to happen now, exactly?”

“Sorry, guys,” Rio crooned softly. “He’s mine and nobody but me gets to lay anything on him.” The groans and sounds of mock gagging filled the room.

“Goddamn it, Rio,” Rhage yelled, covering his eyes. “I so did not need that fucking visual, thank you very much.”

“Suck it up, big boy,” her laugh cracked like a whip through the room and just as suddenly vanished with a gasp.

“Don’t,” Lassiter said sharply, tightening his hold on her. Wrath raised his head, catching the angel’s gaze. “She can’t go on rotation yet. I’m not done healing her.”

The king nodded. “Do what you have to. Take care of her. Bring her back when it’s done.”

The aura surrounding Lassiter brightened like the rising sun till neither him nor Rio were visible in the blaze. Then just as slowly the light dimmed, fading, till there was only an afterglow that left everyone blinking hard.

Once again, Rio was drifting, feeling nothing but sensuous heat. She opened her eyes and again saw nothing but the white.

“Lassiter!” she cried in panic.

“Shh,” his voice came to her, soft, possessive. “I’m here, la sangre de mi corazón.”

“I can’t see you,” she sighed.

Strong arms encircled her and she gasped lightly.

“Can you feel me?” he breathed against her ear.

Rio gasped again as his warm hands slid down her suddenly bare body. Then she felt his naked heat press against her back. He molded himself to her; his massive chest against her back, his erect, throbbing cock tight against her ass, his hard thighs against her legs.

He caught one hardened nipple, tugging and rolling it between his fingers while his other hand shot between her parted thighs. Rio cried out, her legs boneless and shuddering as his fingers parted the slick folds of her sex and sank deep. His lips slid over the soft skin of her neck, his hot breath stripping her of any strength left. He worked her mercilessly till the tension winding tighter inside balanced her on a knife edge. Then he pushed her off.

He thrust his fingers deep, his thumb pressing against the hard nub at the top of her sex. The hand on her breast squeezed her nipple hard and at the same time, he sank his teeth into the fast pulse jumping just below her ear.

Rio screamed and exploded in his arms. Lassiter held her tightly, working her through her orgasm and as the spasms rippling through her started loosening her, he turned her in his arms.

Rio drowned in the beauty of his face, his body, and she felt too small to hold all the love she had for him. Lassiter reached out and caught her around the waist. He lifted her easily and in one swift move, settled her over his erection.

As her hot sheath squeezed him like a vise, his cock kicked inside her and threw her over the edge again. He thrust into her hard. Her spasms pulled and dragged at his pounding shaft and as his release tightened in the base of his spine and rolled up his cock, he roared her name.

Rio drifted, breathing in Lassiter’s gorgeous scent as he wrapped himself around her. They spun slowly, held aloft by the angel’s power, and she heard his silver chime voice echo softly through her mind.

“I will be with you always, Rio,” he told her, his love for her overwhelming. “I will love you and protect you forever.”

“Have you gotten your answer then?” she asked softly, drinking in his beauty, his face cupped in her hands.

His eyes flashed as he nodded. “Yes. I have nothing else to ask for. I have my love for, and my service to, my Creator and I have you. You are mine, now and always. I love you beyond all words.

You are la sangre de mi corazón.”

“You’ve been with me as long as I can remember,” she told him. “I couldn’t have survived without you, even more than Jace. You are my life. I love you, Lassiter.”

She wrapped her arms around him, whispering his name as he held her against him. As his love enveloped her in a deep sensuous heat, Rio felt eternity open up inside her. Images filled her.

She saw the Brotherhood and every shellan who loved those fierce, loyal warriors. She saw Wrath, the blind king, on his throne. Leading his people with strength and power and an unfailing belief that they will survive and flourish. She saw Jace, whole and healthy, smiling at her. And she saw her and Lassiter.

She lifted her head and looking at the angel in her arms she saw her vision. Pure love in the form of this creature in her embrace. Love such as she’d never felt before flowed around her – from her to the angel, from the angel to her. And she knew this was her true destiny. The final destination in a lifetime of searching.

She had finally found home.




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