Dav must have recognized my need for escape, but that didn’t stop him from following me. I was leaning on the counter in the bathroom as I stared at the first aid kit, trying to take deep breaths and calm down when he knocked gently on the door. It was disconcerting that I knew my mate was the one behind the wooden door because I could taste him; his musky scent mixed with a spicy cologne layered with a hint of the hospital we had left only hours before.
This was not how I had expected to spend these hours. Meeting with strange alphas, plotting the death of a male I thought I knew . . . worrying that my mate might die.
He knocked again. "Ellis? I'd like to come in."
I turned on the water for a brief moment, swiping cold, wet hands over my face and slicking back my hair. The cool moisture felt good on the heated flesh of my face.
I turned the lock on the door.
Dav opened it and then shut it behind him. My eyes fixed on the knife he'd wanted me to take that was still in his grip. I bit my lip, tugging on it with my teeth as anxiety threatened to swamp me again.
"Ellis? What's wrong?"
"Are you sorry you mated me?" I asked him.
The look on his face was pure shock. Clearly he wasn't expecting me to ask him that. I don't think I had really expected to say it either.
"What?" he asked carefully. He set the knife down beside the first aid kit, and then cupped my face in his hands. "What's going on in that head of yours? I can feel anxiety, guilt, and anger; what I can't tell is why you are feeling those things."
I shrugged one shoulder, shifting back a little to put some distance between us, but he refused to let go of my face. He frowned; his gentle hold tightened just enough to hold me in place.
"Talk to me Ellis." It was a command.
I sighed. "I'm not a warrior. I'm not someone who can do what you do."
Dav raised an eyebrow. "What do I do?"
"Investigate things, kill bad guys, rescue little babies who have lost their parents. I heard all about Bashta's little niece a few months ago. I didn't know who you it was then, but you saved her, didn't you?"
"Yes, I did. I don't want someone like me though." Dav pulled me closer to him. When he spoke our mouths were a bare inch apart and his breath puffed hot against my lips. "I want you."
His eyes stared straight into mine, the slit pupils widening a small fraction. "I love how steady you are in a crisis, and how you always want to help people. You’re someone that others go to for support; they like you. You are exactly the type of male I want beside me as my mate."
He kissed me, and I melted into his body, falling against his chest. My hands slipped around his waist as I lost myself in his taste. This was exactly what I needed. His touch, especially his kisses, reminded me that we were mates and that through our bond we shared the truth of our emotions. My mate needed me just as much as I needed him.
My tongue followed his when it retreated. I traced the thin fangs that had descended in his mouth, scraping the sharp tips. I loved doing that, loved how I could taste the slight bitterness of his venom. I hummed, wishing we had time for him to bite me so I could feel it rushing through my veins, sensitizing my entire body until every touch and thrust set me on fire.
I moaned when Dav began to pull away. I captured his lower lip and sucked hard on it. I opened my eyes to stare into his eyes; his lust was shining in his hot gaze. "Not yet," I whispered as I brought my hands up to hold his head still. I surged forward, desperately seeking the warmth and unique taste that only belonged to my mate. If I lost him, I wanted every touch, every taste, now.
Dav's hands dug into my back, pulling me even closer. I rubbed against him, and his hands slid down to grip my hips almost painfully tight as he ground our erections together. His rough handling sent a tingle down my spine, and I arched and pressed harder against him. This time we both groaned when we separated. I licked my lips, feeling the tingle of his venom.
They felt swollen, hot, and so very sensitive.
"What I wouldn't give for a bed and some privacy," I said with a sigh. I pulled away a little before I made a mess. I was that close.
Dav agreed. “First thing I’m doing when this is all over is take you back to my bed and keep you there for days.”
I leaned against him, my fingers rubbing his nipples through his shirt. "Is that so?"
He hissed as I dragged a nail across each one. He reached out with one hand and palmed my sensitive cock through my pants, forcing a gasp past my lips. My head fell back, and I fought to keep my knees from buckling from the aching pleasure that swamped me. I was going to . . . .
It suddenly stopped as he let me go. I couldn’t help making a wordless sound of protest. I straightened and narrowed my eyes at him. I could sense that he enjoyed teasing me just a little too much.
"I might even tie you to my bed for a few days." He grinned down at me. “Then you won’t be able to escape.”
"Just for a few days?"
He shrugged and then raised one eyebrow. "Maybe more."
I couldn't help but smile back. "Promise?"
He nodded, one finger tracing my puffy lips until I shuddered. "The very first thing."
I closed my eyes and rested my forehead on his shoulder. "Okay." I felt him shifting, but I didn't move. I heard the unmistakable sound of velcro and then tugging at my waist. I opened my eyes, looking down. Dav's hands were busy attaching the sheath of the knife he'd brought onto my belt over my left hip.
I bit my still tingling lip. He pushed my face up until I looked at him.
"Please. Take it for me, so I know you have something to protect yourself with. I don't want you to join the fighting, but if something should happen I want you to use it if you have to. Then get away and hide."
I knew he was right. I wasn't a fighter or a killer. I'd only be a liability in a battle. I nodded reluctantly, but I didn't have to like it. "I have the first aid kit. I can help after if someone . . . " I swallowed hard, "if someone gets hurt. But I'm not going to jump into a fight with any Carthera." My erection wilted at the reminder of what we were facing.
Dav squeezed my hips. "Thank you for not arguing."
"Would it do me any good?" I asked. I already knew the answer to that question.
I hadn't known exactly how many clans made up Velaku's territory, but I had been a little surprised only four had come earlier. I realized when we went back to the living room that they had just been the first to arrive. I recognized several of the Carthera clan types including deer, lion, crocodile, owl and some type of small cat. One large man who looked almost fat was standing against the wall seemed to be alone. He was even bigger than the bears; I’d never seen a Carthera that looked like him with his black markings.
“Good, they’re all here.”
"Who is that?" I whispered to Dav.
He glanced at the man I indicated. "That's Bob."
I looked at him, one eyebrow raised. "Bob?"
"Yes. His name is Bob." Dav looked away from me, joining in the conversation and explaining the situation to the new arrivals. All of them had been smart enough to get rid of their phones, and I could see even the deer were armed. The females seemed to congregate together. There was a smaller male owl sitting on the couch. I debated going to sit with him but the large man was close to him, and I was wary of heading in his direction. I looked back at the women.
"He doesn't look like a Bob," I muttered as I stood next to Dav.
I jumped when a voice spoke from behind me.
“But I am one.”
I turned and stared. Up close I could see the pigment of his skin was in a set pattern just like a . . . .
"Killer whale. And Bob is the name I go by," he stared back at me, "but you're right, Snake's mate. It's not my real name. You couldn't say my name with your throat actually."
He didn’t seem that scary as he looked. His voice had a strange quality to it, sort of deep and echoing. "I didn't know ocean mammal Carthera existed," I said in a breathy voice. "Are there more of you? Different kinds? Do you live in the water? Do you have a mate here?"
He looked at me in amusement, but Dav hissed, "Not exactly a good time to ask him questions," he tugged me away from the whale shifter, "well, it never is, actually."
"Where are your warriors Bob?" Dav asked with a suspicious frown.
"Outside, helping keep watch."
Dav nodded once at the large, sleek man. "Thank you."
Bob shrugged one shoulder. "Velaku tells me that Mishtar threatens all of us. He is dangerous and needs to be put down. We'll help before we bring the females here."
He turned and walked away abruptly, going back to stand against the wall. Dav gave me a look, pulling me off to the side.
"Give Bob space. He is more dangerous than he looks," he said in an undertone. I opened my mouth, and he gave me a warning look. I frowned but nodded reluctantly. "Why don't you go sit with Wheril? You should rest while you can."
He pointed me toward the couch. I rolled my eyes but went to sit down.
"Hey, I'm Ellis." I held out my hand to the Owl sitting on the couch next to me.
"Wheril." I didn't want to stare at him, but he was striking. His skin was a rich golden brown, and he had dark rings around his eyes. His hair was strange, a sort of feathery brown that fell about his face in wisps.
"You are the Snake's mate?" he asked me. He gave me a shy smile.
I nodded, looking over at Dav. "I am."
"He scares me,” he confided with a shrug. I just sort of looked at him, not sure what to say but I didn’t have to. He spoke again, “I heard you are a nurse. You work with Dr. Pannar."
"I didn't know there was talk about me." I wasn't sure I liked that idea.
"You helped treat my little brother. He fell out of a tree and broke his arm."
"Oh, that's right." I had forgotten about treating a small owl. Come to think of it, he had the same eyes Wheril did, without the rings. "Wasn’t his name Lestr?”
Whirl nodded with a quick grin. “That’s right!”
A smile spread across my face. The owl seemed like a very happy man, even in these circumstances. “He was pretty brave for a young boy." Owls, most birds in fact, had lighter bones than normal and they were easily broken. Fortunately, as Carthera, they also healed fast.
"You gave him a lollipop; he was convinced you were an angel of mercy."
I laughed. "Sugar tends to have that effect on little boys."
He laughed with me. "It does."
We continued to chat for a bit; he invited me to visit their nest, which was what they called their home he explained, but it was an apartment, not an actual nest. I grew to like the quietly cheerful young man, but soon our words trailed off. Everyone was on edge as they planned for the attack. I kept glancing at the windows as I watched Dav and waited.
"Why the hell haven't they shown up yet?" Sorca complained as he paced the room. Some of the alphas were nervous like him and others sat stolidly, just waiting. I think I was somewhere in between. I'd moved over to sit with Isiah and Ahsran; I wanted to spend some time soaking up my twin’s presence.
Unable to stand the crowd, Elalera had gone to lie down.
I looked at Dav.
He had been speaking with Velaku and Natham quietly on one side of the room. Bob had been included in the conversation.
"They are probably trying to draw us out,” the crocodile Carthera said. He'd been one of the quiet ones, sitting on the floor motionless. I'd found it a little eerie and too reminiscent of the nature shows I'd seen. It was just how alligators in Florida waited under the water with just their eyes and nostrils out until the perfect prey happened by. Sometimes it was hard to ignore the more animalistic features of the Carthera I was around.
With so many strong alphas in the room the dangerous feeling many of the predator animal types couldn’t help emit was stronger than I'd ever felt before. It made the skin on the back of my neck crawl a little, their auras were that strong. Add in the tension as we waited for Mishtar's attack, and it was a wonder a fight hadn't broken out yet.
Velaku turned to the group. "He may be doing exactly that, but we have a plan."
Dav produced a phone. Frisz bristled.
"How come you have a phone and yet you destroyed my mine?"
"Because this is a prepaid phone that I keep stashed here. It's never been used. There is no way for Mishtar to track it." His obvious disdain made the polar bear growl, but Dav ignored him.
Velaku took the phone, putting it on speaker phone before he dialed a number.
It rang only two times. Everyone in the room was silent as Mishtar answered.
"Who is this?" he snapped. His voice was tinny over the speaker.
Natham snarled explosively. "You son of a bitch. We're going to kill you, you traitor."
Mishtar laughed derisively into the phone. "Well if it isn't the little beast. Something got you all riled up, lynx?"
Velaku put a hand on Natham's arm to keep him from replying. The male didn't look happy, but he refrained from speaking. His whole body practically vibrated with the snarls he couldn't hold back. “Remember the plan,” Velaku whispered.
"I would ask why you are doing this, Mishtar, but I think it is perfectly clear. You never were happy with leading the Falcons were you?"
"Why should I lead an army of males that never DO anything? No matter what insults the humans heap on us, your father was happy to take it and ask for more. He was reducing our kind to the status of trained pets for the humans. The only good thing your family did was unite the clans. Once you’re dead too, I'm going to use that unity to wipe the humans out."
His laugh was nearly manic. "Once that happens, other Carthera will see how things should be and join in. Pretty soon we'll be in control, and we'll hunt down the humans until every single one is dead. We don't need them; we've evolved past their kind."
Velaku looked sick. Mishtar's smooth and calm tone I’d always heard him use was gone. He sounded insane; his volatile rant delivered in a wild voice that was brittle and sharp.
"We will stop you Mishtar. The humans know all about you and your little traitor friends," Velaku said. "They always have. You're going to die, and it will be by my hand. You never had a chance!"
Mishtar shrieked. "Lies! They know nothing; they're too stupid to ever find out my plans! I snatched the Snake mate’s little friend. He told me that idiot was too scared to tell his mate what he knew. I knew Dav’s watchers might see me take the little human, but it’s too late to save him and find out what he knew. This is too big for you to stop. You’re just trying to trick me into thinking you have human allies, but I won’t fall for it!"
I smothered my gasp when Mishtar mentioned my missing friend and buried my face in Isiah’s shoulder. He wrapped his arms around me as I sobbed soundlessly. Mishtar had hurt Matthew, and probably killed him. I shook, misery filling me at being the cause of my friend’s death. "No, this is truth. We're going to get you Mishtar."
The sudden quiet over the phone was disturbing. The sound of a gun action was loud through the speaker. "How exactly do you plan to do that locked into one of that freak's safe houses? My Carthera are going to wipe you out."
Mishtar’s words pierced my grief and I began to grow angry. He had caused so much pain. I knew it was only a matter of time before Dav killed him. I’d never relished the thought before, but I did now. Dav's eyes narrowed as he stood up to look out the windows, but he didn't say anything.
"Oh yeah look around. I know exactly where you are, Velaku, and you're the one who is dead."
A sudden report from a gun was followed by a sharp crack against the window directly behind Velaku. He dropped the phone, and Natham shoved him down.
"They can’t shoot through the windows, they're bulletproof," Dav said, "but this place won't withstand a full out attack. They’re coming, get ready everyone. Bob, your men outside need to be warned."
Everyone grabbed their weapons. The whale let out a long, loud bellow that I could hear being answered faintly. Other shots began to fire from outside the house. I clutched the first aid kit to my chest, my breath coming in short gasps as my heart began to race. Dav came over to me, grabbing my shoulders as he steered me to the bathroom where the women waited.
"Stay here. No matter what; you stay here. Am I understood?" I nodded. He leaned down and kissed me, our teeth and lips clashing together for too brief a time. He pulled away, and I could feel a fierce satisfaction through our bond. He wasn't about to take joy in the killing, but taking out a danger . . . he would do it and be glad for it. He wasn’t afraid of the males coming; his only concern was for me.
"I'll be fine. Be careful," I whispered. I reached up to touch him, but a sudden loud roar startled me.
The front door burst open and several Carthera ran into the house. Gunshots followed them, then other Carthera rushed in. Several of them fell to the shots from the gunmen waiting inside, but then everyone was mixed together and it was too dangerous to keep the bathroom door open. I slammed it shut and locked it.
I looked over at Merrianne. She was snarling and held a gun in her hands. Her mate had insisted that she hide with those of us who couldn't fight, but she hadn't been happy about it. I could see her control was precarious. I moved over to stand next to the female wolf.
"It'll be okay," I said reassuringly.
I tried not to puke as I heard roaring and shrieks in the other room. People were being killed, possibly people I loved. One of the women in the room gasped and fell to her knees. Tears filled her eyes, but she didn’t try to rush out of the room. I tensed, waiting to see if she would go feral. Her mate might have died. A few of the other women surrounded her, pressing against her body to help comfort her with their closeness.
It seemed like we'd been in there forever, but we had no way to figure out what was happening from the flashes of emotion we got through our bonds that our mates couldn’t suppress. The only way out of the room was the door, and there were so many sounds all mixed together, along with screams and shouts. It was not safe for us out there, so I couldn't check on our side and see if any needed me.
I hadn’t felt anything but cold rage from Dav, but I didn’t think he’d let me feel any of his pain if he was injured, not with other Carthera to see it. I shook slightly, wishing I knew where he was.
Dav had made me promise to wait until after the battle to leave the bathroom, no matter what.
A shot suddenly came through the door. We were all crouched down so it went over our heads, but one of the females screamed. The door burst open, and a male I'd never seen before filled it. He was short but wide, his absolutely massive shoulders touching each side of the frame.
In the second I saw his gun come down to point at us the fact that he must be Hyena clan floated absurdly through my mind. I moved, intending to cover the women next to me when Merrianne shot. She'd had her gun trained and pointed steady at the door. It trembled a little as the loud sound of the shot blasted in the room and made my ears ring, but she kept it pointed toward the door after the Hyena fell.
No one came toward the open space and the sounds had faded a bit; as if the battle had moved outside the house. I inched closer to the door, just intending to close it as best I could since the top hinge looked broken. When I got close an arm reached in, the hand tipped with sharp talons, and yanked me out of the bathroom into what looked like a battlefield in a gory movie.
I shouted in fear, trying to pull away. The talons tightened and dug into my arm, piercing the skin and sinking in to the muscle. I screamed at the burning agony of the feeling of one talon scraping bone.
"Well, well, look what I have here."
I gasped and stared through blurry vision brought on by tears of pain.
How Mishtar had survived the bloodshed so far was beyond me, but he had. The look of gloating hatred on his face made me shiver in fear.
I was so fucked.
His triumphant look sickened me. He had blood all over him; his clothes were nearly soaked in it. "I knew he'd have tucked you away somewhere safe," he said.
"Let me go!"
"No! You're my ticket to get out of here. Your sick fuck of a mate had this whole property booby trapped. Almost all my males are dead."
I sobbed. I'd looked around the room and there were several bodies of men I didn’t know in plain sight. Their glassy eyes and motionless chests told me they were beyond help, but I could see Wheril under a body of a Falcon, his neck sliced open in gaping bloody furrows with blood dripping on the floor. I didn’t know if he was dead, but he looked it.
Bob was still alive, lying on the floor next to the bathroom door, but I could see his intestines through a gaping wound in his stomach. He was groaning in a constant stream of sound, his round eyes barely open slits. I could tell that he’d tried to protect the bathroom door, and he would probably lose his life because of that.
The psychotic Falcon had killed innocent people, Carthera who only wanted to live in peace and lead their clans to do the same. They shouldn't have had to die.
"You bastard!" I screamed. I twisted in his grasp and struck out. A bright hand print on his cheek bloomed from my slap, but he just shrieked in laughter.
"Stupid human. You can't hurt me." A sound from the hall made him spin us, tugging me back against his chest. The warm, damp blood on his clothes made me shudder as I fought his strong hold.
I thought I'd see Dav or Velaku coming to save me. Instead I saw Elalera. Her eyes glowed red and her wings were up and flared the second she stepped into the room.
"You killed my mate!" she shrieked.
I screamed as she rushed toward us. Mishtar's body was almost completely covered by mine. Her talons raked out and caught both our shoulders as she tried to slice open his neck.
I screamed in pain. Mishtar let me go, and I collapsed. His hand came up, and then I saw the gun. I tried to tackle him around the legs, but he got a shot off before I could stop him. I watched in disbelief as a huge red wound opened in Elalera’s chest. She fell backward, her body arching as her shriek trailed off with a gurgling sound. He’d shot her in the lung and possibly the heart.
Mishtar grabbed for me, flapping his wings and pulling us to our feet and toward the front door that was hanging off its hinges. I fought him as several Carthera rushed into the main room of the house, including Dav.
"Ellis!" Davis hissed and began to move forward. A murderous fury filled our bond.
"No, Davis!" Velaku shouted, "He is mine!"
"Stay back! Neither of you are going to hurt me, or I'm going to kill the little human just like I did Velaku’s parents." Mishtar cackled. "I'm going to leave here and take the little bitch with me. If any of you try to stop me, I'll kill him."
Velaku’s eyes fell on his mother’s broken body, her wings bent under her and covered in the blood from her chest wound. His wings flared and his shriek hurt my ears. His eyes glowed red, and Natham had to grab him before he could attack us.
Dav's sudden sick fear made my stomach lurch as it began to bury the rage, and then a sense of fatalistic acceptance filled me. His emotions were swamping our bond and I couldn’t even feel my own, just his.
No. I couldn't let this psycho take me out of the safe house.
I knew my life would be forfeit if I did and so did Dav. I knew he was going to try to kill the Falcon to save me, and I was right. He moved almost too fast for me to see.
Mishtar tried to raise his gun to shoot my mate and a rage, unlike any I’d ever felt, consumed the acceptance and calm inside me. We’d only had a short time together and I wouldn’t lose him now. I wouldn’t let Mishtar take my mate away from me.
"No!" I twisted to face Mishtar. His grip had loosened on me as he tried to watch the Carthera in the room. With both hands on his wrist with the gun, I pulled his arm in close to my body, jerking when something hot blazed across my stomach. I felt a sudden pain in my mouth, and I let instinct take over. I hissed, and clamped down on the slices in his neck Elalera had opened. Closing my eyes, I sank my teeth deeper into him.
He shrieked and tried to tear away. I bit down harder; my hands locked around his arm, and then pumped fluid from my new fangs into him. I had no idea what I was doing as my mouth worked to inject him with venom, but I didn't stop until he fell and gravity ripped his throat from my teeth.
His eyes were wide and disbelieving as he lay gurgling on the floor. I kicked at his hand and the gun went skittering across the floor to ricochet off the wall and then under a table. His body arched and his talons dug into the floor as he tried to fight the effects of the venom. He had no chance though; he was dying from the poison rushing through his veins.
I hissed, swaying as I glared down at him. "I hope it hurts as much as you hurt others, you bastard. I hope you rot in hell. Die!"
His heels drummed on the floor and froth came out of his mouth. I started to turn, needing to make sure my mate was unhurt. His shock was rippling through our bond.
"Ellis." He caught me as I began to fall. He looked down at my stomach and blanched at the red stain blossoming against my shirt. He yanked it up and hissed. I was just barely able to raise my head and look down.
I was bleeding from a long furrow that crossed from one side to the other as well as the cuts from Elalera’s claws across my shoulder and the wounds in my arm. I'd been shot, but it was just a graze that started right by the hilt of the knife Dav had given me to a spot next to my far ribs. The thought that I hadn't even remembered to use the knife Dav gave me to stab Mishtar hit me out of the blue. I began to shake as everything sank in.
I'd killed someone.
Not with a gun or a knife. No, I'd killed him by biting him and injecting him with venom. His blood was in my mouth, the copper taste making me gag. I hadn’t known I had fangs before now. My tongue swept across the roof of my mouth and I could still barely feel them, now that I knew they were there. They ached, and my stomach hurt. I turned and began to vomit, bringing up sour bile.
Tears streamed from my eyes as I shuddered in my mate’s arms. He held me close and rubbed my back.
"Dav," I moaned.
"Shh, Ellis. It'll be okay."
I wasn't sure if he was right this time.
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