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Haven 8

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

FOUR-LETTER WORDS
Haven 8

Gabrielle Evans

EVERLASTING CLASSIC MANLOVE

Siren Publishing, Inc. www.SirenPublishing.com

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” Zasha scrolled through his mental Rolodex.” “Very good. another Enforcer. The owner of After Hours has requested a meeting with you at three to discuss his yearly lease. “How should we proceed?” Zasha glanced up at the Enforcer and rolled his eyes. He walked two steps behind everyone else. constantly scanning the surrounding area as though he expected dust bunnies to pop out from beneath the furniture and strangle them all. added. recalling Leader Tuesday’s other obligations.” Leader October Tuesday answered as they strolled through the corridors on the way to the foyer to meet their guests. “Varik and Demos are former members of our coven and dear friends.” “They also turned their back on us to form their own coven.” “Yes. sir. “You have a phone conference with the leader of the Phoenix coven at midnight. .FOUR-LETTER WORDS Haven 8 GABRIELLE EVANS Copyright © 2013 Chapter One “Varik and Demos have arrived. “Tell him I’ll be happy to meet with him.” “The guard at the front gate said Varik and Demos have brought guests with them.” Axton. They wouldn’t come here with malicious intent. Enforcer and second-in-command of the coven.” Gideon. yes. added.

He couldn’t hear anything except the pounding of his own heart. and he wore a vague. They are here to ask for help. Currents of energy crawled over his skin. Standing amidst their visitors was a man who didn’t really look like he belonged. of course. Varik. though. Entering the foyer. disinterested smile on his lips. On the inside. his shoulders were back. and his fingers curled into fists as he watched another stranger in the group place a possessive hand on his mate’s back. insistently tugging him toward the stranger. and Zasha. and prepared with an answer to any situation. it’s so good to see you again!” He nodded at Varik’s returned greeting. he was almost giddy with excitement to see his old friends. Gideon. but Zasha couldn’t hear them. which we are happy to provide. collected. he missed that idiot.8 Gabrielle Evans “Relax. however. “Demos. and Zasha was drawn to him like ants to sugar. indicating without words that the vampire and those who accompanied him were welcomed in Snake River. “Zasha is right. and across the nape of his neck. The guy was attractive with his long hair and delicate features. Leader Tuesday walked forward to meet their guests with outstretched arms. his spine was straight. “You remember Axton. propelling him across the room where he pulled his mate into his arms and embedded his fangs in the fragrant skin of his throat. Gods.” October adjusted his tie and cleared his throat. He only wished Raven would have joined them on their visit. it was Zasha’s job to always appear calm. Mine. His fangs elongated with such violence that it pulled a gasp from him. It didn’t matter. He was much smaller than the others. Something had grabbed ahold of him and wouldn’t let go. clearly not an Enforcer.” There might have been words said after that. **** .” As Leader Tuesday’s personal assistant. Instincts ruled him. but he really wasn’t Zasha’s type. up his spine.

“If he refuses to relinquish his claim to Lynk.” he stated clearly so that everyone in attendance could hear him. and as such. “Well. “Why a challenge?” Cortez asked.” Approaching the dais where the elders sat above him. Lynk Braddock is my true mate. beckoning Lynk to the front of the room. but Zasha had to try. He just had to remain calm and trust that the law was on his side. you have it now. I wish to file a formal complaint against Mr. “Mr. but Leader Tuesday spoke very highly of him.Four-Letter Words 9 “Please state your name for The Council. the vampire representative. sir. I was not given the chance. come forward if you will. has claimed what is rightfully mine. The Council would see he was right.” . He’d been utterly miserable since Lynk had denied him and run off with the werewolf. can you please inform the members of this gathering why you are here?” He’d never had the pleasure of meeting Elder Cortez.” If he’d been allowed to prove his bond with Lynk. Delaney for being in violation of one of our most sacred laws. It was as though he could still feel the witch. I ask permission from The Council to challenge him—as is my right. “Zasha Aleric Gershwin. Zasha clasped his hands together in front of him and squared his shoulders. he wouldn’t have to put up with the hassle of this hearing.” Kieran Delaney was twice his size and would likely beat him to a pulp.” Elder Cortez nodded and lifted a hand. That was enough for Zasha. member of the Snake River Coven. Braddock?” “No. “Have you tried proving your right to Mr. but he felt it best to keep that bit to himself. Braddock.” He’d also like to rip the bastard’s throat out. “The werewolf Enforcer. like the very air he breathed was charged with Lynk’s essence. Kieran Delaney. Gershwin. “Mr.

drawn in by the musical cadence of his tone. flawless skin of his chest when Kieran stood to his feet and shouted from the back of the room. Lynk would be immune to his compulsion.10 Gabrielle Evans Zasha’s heart picked up in rhythm as he watched his mate glide along the aisle toward him. stop. fumbling with them as he popped them open one at a time. Mr. and he stared straight ahead with a vacant. As his mate. he’d been convinced that Lynk was truly under his spell. he shouldn’t have responded to Kieran’s call. you may proceed. Come here now. Zasha had to issue an instruction that Lynk would never perform unless he was truly compelled. “Undress. After a few starts and stops and the interference of that damn werewolf. there was a good chance he’d try to sabotage the test. and soon. but if that was true. however. His lips were slightly parted. robotic glaze to his eyes. everyone would see they were meant to be together.” Zasha frowned when Lynk stopped undressing and turned to float back down the aisle to the werewolf. but his irritation grew when Lynk shuddered and blinked. Gershwin. “How did I get back here? Did it work?” . There was an exchange of words that Zasha couldn’t hear. Therefore. If Lynk was being brainwashed by Kieran. staring unblinkingly into his mate’s eyes and drawing Lynk’s mind into his own. and Zasha found himself entranced when Lynk spoke. shaking his head as though to dispel unwanted thoughts. For a moment. revealing the smooth. Lynk reached for the buttons on his shirt. At once. “Lynk. Zasha was feeling confident that things were finally turning in his favor. and there was a grace about him that most could only envy but never imitate.” he ordered. “Okay.” Elder Cortez said once they’d announced the rules for the test. Though not technically Zasha’s type. Another of the elders asked him to state his name. Half the buttons had been undone. the man was beautiful.

“They planned the entire thing!” Lynk was a damn good actor. constant ache that never gave him any peace. “I demand a challenge. but Zasha knew he could make Lynk happy if the guy would just give him a chance. even if he had to go into battle alone. pushing Lynk ahead of him as they approached the dais again.Four-Letter Words 11 “He’s faking of course!” Zasha shouted. I did not want to see a member of my coven endure that. “My brother. jabbing a single finger at his mate. mostly likely to calm his nerves. giving Zasha a hard. Zasha wasn’t going down without a fight. invading his dreams until he was nearly mad with wanting his mate. “No! I can feel him. clearly expecting him to shut his trap. though it was clear that they all considered the matter closed. “Where is Thane Braddock?” Kieran demanded. As he fumed inside his own head. It hurt almost as much to know that his mentor and leader didn’t support him in his quest for justice. It is what a good leader does.” The temperature of the room should have dropped twenty degrees just from the cold look on October’s face. and so was I. the elders conversed with Leader Tuesday. “Thane Braddock?” Lynk took a deep breath and let it out slowly before he spoke. icy glare. I only supported Zasha because I believed his claim to be true. I can feel his soul tugging at mine. is being held in a well on your lands. Zasha wasn’t sure he . and it hurt that he would go to such lengths to refuse him. “Excuse me?” October appeared just as perplexed as Zasha felt.” “What?” Zasha gasped.” It was a low. being starved and fed from while he wastes away. Instead of waning when he slept.” “Enough!” Leader Tuesday rose to his feet. I can see now that Zasha is mistaken. “I apologize. and as someone who has lost his own mate. He’s been there for several months now. Well. Zasha didn’t know much about the man. Thane. but he got the impression that Lynk didn’t like confrontation. the invisible connection grew stronger.

and he sounded exasperated.” Lynk continued. Sure enough. but he was going to climb Kieran Delaney like a spider monkey and gouge his eyes out for brainwashing the guy. and Zasha was sorry Lynk’s brother was missing. Kieran is my mate—my destined mate. Lynk turned to him with a determined gaze. “I don’t know for sure.” That was great. but he knew his leader would take the accusation seriously. He had no intentions of harming Lynk. however.” “Does it have to do with why you are pretending that you cannot feel the connection between us?” He forced the words out through gritted teeth while he stared daggers at the werewolf behind his mate.” Lynk arched an eyebrow at the term “boy.” “Thane? The man you just said was being held captive in a well? He’s been this close to me for months now?” . as though he found Zasha kind of dense.” Lynk gave him a charming smile. but I believe that is why you think I’m your mate while it is really Thane who you should be concentrating on. We share an energy. but there was a steely glint in his dark eyes. “I am not pretending anything.12 Gabrielle Evans bought it. actually. he addressed Zasha. however. a moment later. He didn’t see how it pertained to their situation.” Zasha growled and took a step forward. We can even speak telepathically if we’re close enough to one another. “You will calm down and listen to what the boy has to say.” but when he spoke. which means our magic is twinned and more powerful when we’re together. “I think there is something that you need to know. “Yes. he had both Gideon and Axton on their way back to the coven with strict orders to go straight to the well near the windmills and not breathe a word of their destination to anyone. I do not feel a connection between us because one simply does not exist. He made it no more than half a step when he was stopped by October’s hand to his chest. To Zasha’s surprise. “I think you are feeling Thane’s energy flowing from me. “Thane is my twin.

begging for help. he’d been too ignorant. but there had just been something missing. Again. but honestly. Still. Now it made sense. convinced Lynk’s essence was tugging at him from miles away. the guy was attractive. “Someone I trusted is hurting him. and prideful to admit he could be wrong. leading Zasha to the conclusion it was someone he knew—possibly a friend—who was hurting his mate. Looking back.Four-Letter Words 13 Now he got it. If what Lynk said was true. and their connection was screaming out to him. especially considering he’d been feeling what he’d thought was Lynk’s energy for weeks on end. he’d only been deluding himself and ignoring the truth staring him in the face. coursed through his blood. Thane Braddock was being held captive right under his nose and had been trapped inside his own personal hell for months. he could admit that a mating with Lynk had never been that appealing. When he rested. enveloped him. and an unfamiliar growl rolled through his chest. Rage. selfish. Sure. It seemed illogical that an outsider could or would use their coven lands for such a terrible crime. his mind was more vulnerable than ever and his subconscious took over. and that someone will pay for it.” . his fingers curled into claws. he shouldn’t have been able to feel the witch’s magical current with Lynk so far away from him. The magic should have lessened during sleep. He’d been so bent on justice and revenge that he hadn’t stopped to consider a possible alternative for what he’d been feeling. There was also the matter of the restless nights he’d spent alone in his bed. and elevated his body temperature. white-hot and allconsuming. the energy he’d been feeling was the fated bond he had with Thane. He’d wanted to believe their connection was just that strong. not intensified—unless it was Thane he’d been sensing. His canines dropped. It was ingrained in his nature to want to protect his mate. Zasha had just been too stubborn and single-minded to listen to his instincts. even when Thane couldn’t.

maybe this time the man would actually kill him. stronger than Lynk’s. reach out and touch it. but he couldn’t risk it. thundering over the ground and crunching through the underbrush of the trees. perhaps he’d be rescued. It comforted him in a way he hadn’t known for several years.14 Gabrielle Evans **** His head lulled against the stone wall as he fought to keep himself upright. at least he’d finally be free. and very different from anything else he’d ever experienced. If it wasn’t the bastard who had imprisoned him. Either way. His magic had abandoned him.” Thane recognized the voice of his brother. Thane didn’t recognize the voice. A grin stretched his lips. That was what family did. If he closed his eyes for even a minute. We have to go back. “My Infinity. Stop. and the icy water had already climbed to his chest. though. though. disappearing along with his waning strength. “We’re already here. Thane wasn’t afraid. and the closer it came. there was a good chance he’d drown before he could fight his way out of the murky water. whatever happened.” Thane mouthed. and for the first time since he’d been dumped into the well. and his shoulders relaxed. It was a charge. The recent rain had flooded the normally dry well. but he could still feel the weak current of energy flowing from his twin. If it was the vampire who came for him. the faster Thane’s pulse raced. hope blossomed. He’d been waiting ever since the dream conversation he’d had with his brother. Lynk. The sun had risen twice since the last time he’d slept. Footsteps sounded in the distance. He’d known Lynk would come for him. “He’s not here. . and he’d never doubted his brother’s determination to find him. He could almost see it. There was something else in the air. but he found it alluring.” another man argued.

all that escaped him was a hissing breath. either. Look into the well and find me. He just needed five minutes with the vampire to set things straight. A face appeared at the mouth of the well. He wanted to call out to the approaching men. “We have to know for sure. Zasha believed Lynk to be his mate instead of Thane. and he had a fairly important position in a large coven. he was a vampire. but fate had just handed him an opportunity for a new beginning. Tragedy had torn his Infinity from him centuries ago. Gods. he couldn’t even lift his arm to splash the water.” Yes. With no magic. but when he opened his mouth. check for evidence. he wished he could see Zasha’s face. though it was obvious he couldn’t see Thane in the darkness of the pit. but Thane could still picture the cute dimple in Zasha’s left cheek when he smiled. His brother had also informed him that due to some miscommunication. It had been so long since they’d been separated. He could only sit there and hope they wouldn’t give up and turn away before they found him. The confusion had caused a lot of problems for his brother.Four-Letter Words 15 Lynk had explained during the magical dream he’d pulled Thane into that his mate’s name was Zasha. He’d recognize his older brother’s gruff tone anywhere. but Thane wasn’t overly concerned. Considering the guy . Still. I’m here.” That was Raith. he couldn’t reach out to Lynk through their twin bond. Hell. and no strength to use it even if he still had it. Find me. silhouetted by the moonlight so that he was nothing more than a shadowy head with shoulders. “We need to at least see if there’s any evidence that Thane was here at one time. “Hello?” his mate called down to him. couldn’t make any sound. he couldn’t help but wonder if the vampire still looked the same as he remembered. Despite the urgency of the situation. brother. even if he hadn’t spoken to the man in years. Thane couldn’t call back.

” Yeah. Thane doubted Zasha recalled their previous life together. There wasn’t a whole lot he could do from his current position. to showing the vampire just why they were so perfectly matched. but Thane groaned again in response. He’d lost so much weight and blood that the simple act of holding his head up was a chore. Thane knew firsthand the vile things his captors were capable of inflicting. Sticking his tongue between his teeth. he didn’t know . It wasn’t like him to sit back and wait to be rescued. Thane bit down as hard as he could. someone would hear him. burning esophagus. “We’re going to get you out. however. but it was something. peering down into the well for only a moment before backing away. but again. A loud grunt echoed throughout the clearing and down into the well.” Lynk promised. “Thane! Are you okay? Can you talk to me?” His mouth wouldn’t cooperate to form words. “Just be still. A second figure appeared beside the first. resolve lacing his tone. that wasn’t going to be a problem. he had no choice. leaning over the side until he was bent almost in half. he wasn’t concerned. Lynk. he looked forward to helping Zasha regain his memories. drawing a ragged groan from his chest when the pain radiated throughout his entire mouth. and he refused to let Zasha become just another victim of their wickedness. but in this instance. but a sudden interruption in the energy flowing from the vampire led him to believe it had indeed been his Infinity. It wasn’t a loud noise. On the contrary. followed by the muffled thud of something—or someone— hitting the ground.16 Gabrielle Evans had a perpetual hard-on for his brother. Hurry. and honestly. “Thane!” Lynk reappeared at the opening of the well. and if he was lucky. forcing the sound up through his raw. Thane couldn’t be sure if it was his mate or Raith who had been attacked.

and to whisper the single word felt like swallowing shards of glass. he couldn’t just sit there and do nothing.” Right then. splashing water into Thane’s face and soaking his hair. “I’m here. likely to investigate the noise. “Thane?” Lynk groaned again and pressed one hand to the side of his head.Four-Letter Words 17 how much help he’d be once he was free. barely human. Several minutes that felt like an eternity passed before Lynk finally began to stir. and Thane could feel the rapid rise and fall of his chest. the buoyancy made his task easier. and he managed to get his arm around Lynk and pull him upright. His voice came out hoarse and raspy. His shoulders tensed. stone wall. hoping to ease the man’s fears. though. A second groan—this time distinctly identifiable as coming from Raith—drifted down into his prison. Adrenaline coursed through his veins. he clenched his teeth against the onslaught of pain as his muscles screamed in protest. Grunting and groaning. After a groan and some movement of his head. A heartbeat later. but he couldn’t let his brother die. Lynk disappeared from view momentarily. Unable to see in the inky blackness. he wasn’t so worried about himself. “Are you okay?” . The circumference of the well wasn’t big enough for the awkward angle in which he’d fallen. holding the man protectively to his chest. his spine became rigid.” he said. he went completely still. and Thane winced when he heard his brother’s head smack against wet. Thankfully. giving Thane a reserve of strength he didn’t know he still possessed. Still. Lynk hit the surface of the pool. he felt around in the frigid water until his hand landed on Lynk’s shoulder. The smallest exertion hurt like the ten shades of hell. only to reappear with a loud cry as he tumbled backward with such violence that he lost his balance. “Easy.

grumbling. he moved slowly. Plus. “Help will come. “My mate is here. however. growling. pulling his brother to the other side of the well with a great deal of effort. There were no words spoken. Even if Zasha couldn’t come for him. Fear wasn’t going to save them. “What is this?” “Door. surely. was bouncing on his toes. Resting his tired body against the wall. causing the water to ripple in waves around them. though.18 Gabrielle Evans Lynk twisted and moved until Thane had no choice but to release him. and he’s really unhappy. Lynk. making Thane’s ears ring. he pressed Lynk’s palm against the locked door. but Thane flinched at the mention of his captors. but he fell into a violent coughing fit that wracked his frame. shh. “Okay. .” Moments later. Raith was prowling somewhere in the night. a huge shadowy figure appeared at the top of the well.” A loud. someone would come for Zasha. but he could still feel his mate. Thane didn’t know what had happened to him. He thought about adding something sarcastic after that. menacing howl echoed down into the well and bounced off the stones. Even if someone had gotten the drop on him. Four more distinct howls followed the first. How do they get in?” He understood the importance of the question. but Thane got the impression that Lynk was communicating with the agitated werewolf. unsure if the calls belonged to friend or foe. and breathing heavily. Taking Lynk’s hand.” His teeth clacked together and his voice vibrated when he spoke as the water surged up around him. I’m going to get us out of here.” Lynk’s hand landed on his back and rubbed gently. “You said they feed on you.” Zasha was still out there.” Thane answered. “I’m fine. causing pain to explode throughout every inch of his body. and Thane tensed. “Just rest. they were going to be very sorry once he was awake.

and he could barely keep his eyes open. Lynk practically dragged Thane out into the chilly night where they were greeted by five towering werewolves.” The water receded rapidly. carefully lifting Thane into his arms and cradling him like a baby. Each step was more torturous than the last. Thane didn’t care. gushing into the room beyond the shattered door. Now. As everything else faded. but Lynk caught him before he could topple over. and his empty stomach cramped viciously. but honestly. Lynk had little trouble supporting his weight as he helped him up the stairs and through a trap door. His head spun. almost like a homing beacon. let’s get out of here. “Okay.” A loud explosion rocked him sideways.Four-Letter Words 19 “Hold on. “Zasha.” He couldn’t see his mate. “Stay there. and Thane could hear the cockiness in his voice when he called up to his mate. “Third windmill. he was just happy to be free. “Can I get some help?” Lynk called. Still holding him up. The little shit just couldn’t resist showing off. his vision dimmed at the edges. . Lynk had been so much smaller than him.” Lynk turned his face up toward the moonlight. and what small measure of strength he had was fading.” He had to pause and take a breath before he could continue. “Probably.” Thane chastised. At one time. Zasha’s energy grew stronger.” “Unlocking it would have been simpler.” There was another booming echo as the door exploded outward. though Thane was still taller. “Want to see it again?” he teased. leading Thane right to him. The world was slipping away from him.” Lynk whispered. He helped Thane farther away from the door and pressed him back against the wall. One of the smaller werewolves appeared instantly at his side. but they needed to know. “Just get us out of here. but he could feel the vampire. “Still got it.

Thane didn’t know what that meant. and he didn’t have time to clarify that the beast understood him before everything went dark. .20 Gabrielle Evans The werewolf just rumbled and tilted his head to the side.

Zasha couldn’t find the appropriate level of remorse. By the time he’d been found and freed from his makeshift cell. Then Zasha had been detained while people tossed a thousand questions at him that he didn’t really know how to answer. but he knew Axton had paid dearly for his actions. however. Judging by the sizeable lump on the side of his head. Had he been charged with doling out Axton’s punishment. As far as he was concerned. all the lies he’d told. he might have never known it was his friend who had beat him senseless. he wasn’t sure he’d have reacted in the same way as Lynk’s werewolf mate. vile things. too lenient for the crimes Axton had committed. Thane had already been moved to The Council house. His worry for Thane had distracted him. After everything he’d done. almost like family. While the drive to The Council house had been .Four-Letter Words 21 Chapter Two Waking up to find himself drugged and bound inside one of the windmills was a nice. he imagined he’d been struck with something heavy. juicy cherry on the top of an already shitty day. It was still hard to accept that Axton had done such cruel. In fact. He’d only seen the aftermath. he’d driven at breakneck speeds back to Casper to see his mate. if not for the Enforcers who’d come to his aid. but he had no recollection of what happened after he’d gone to investigate the sound. and he hadn’t even seen Axton coming. and all the pain he’d caused. The man had been his friend for years. Zasha remembered hearing a sharp intake of breath from behind him. Once they’d finished interrogating him. death was too easy.

but I need to see that he’s okay. Sitting straight and squaring his shoulders. but it must have done the trick because Torren pushed up from his chair and jerked a thumb over his shoulder. along with the bitter taste of regret. most of which Zasha had already answered for the Enforcers back in Snake River.” Lynk implored. growing more nervous with each step down the corridor. “I have some questions for you. “I just want to see him. After all he’d been through . Zasha slumped back into the cushions of the sofa and sighed. had essentially led him right to his mate. “I’m not going to hurt him.” He’d feel a lot better if he could confirm with his own eyes that Thane was alive and resting comfortably. “but Thane needs to rest now. but he’d beg on his knees if he thought it would help. though. He didn’t say any more than that. and I’ll show you where he’s sleeping. That didn’t stop Thane’s oldest brother from grilling him.” Torren countered. and guilt clawed at his gut.” Knowing he was fighting a losing battle. “Follow me.” Torren offered when he was finished with his questioning. Kieran. “I want to see my mate. “I won’t disturb him.” A small part of him felt responsible for Thane’s condition. Zasha hurried after the eldest Braddock. he’d encountered something of a roadblock upon his arrival. When he remembered he’d actually befriended the vampire. “You’re welcome to spend the day here. Please?” “Torren. Torren Braddock asked a lot of questions. I just need to see him. Had he realized what a psychotic bastard Axton really was. bile rose up in his throat. and he’d still yet to set eyes on his intended.” “I’ll answer your questions.22 Gabrielle Evans uneventful. perhaps Thane’s suffering could have been avoided.” After offering his thanks to Lynk and his apologies to the witch’s mate.” he demanded. plus Thane is in no condition to be getting worked up right now. he tried to sound firm and unmovable.” He fisted his hands at his sides and swallowed the lump in his throat. “No.

directly between two windows. Even in the dim light. but Zasha nodded and slipped into the room before Torren could change his mind. Even in his malnourished and broken condition. While he’d always thought Lynk was nice to look at. Paranormals were predisposed to be attracted to their mates. and shrunken frame to . Zasha could make out the shadows that stretched under his sunken eyes. That should have been his first clue. as though he could reach out and thrum the metaphysical threads that bonded them together. and the protruding collarbones broke his heart. bruises. and the silvery beams of moonlight that filtered through the parted curtains illuminated the man lying in the center of the mattress. and the skin that peeked out from under the blankets was a map of claw and bite marks. There wasn’t anything delicate about Thane. Zasha held little expectations of what would happen next.Four-Letter Words 23 only to find out that the man he’d been fighting for wasn’t really his mate. The energy that saturated the air was so much stronger. so try not to wake him. he could finally feel the difference. A queen-sized bed was set up against the far wall. he was the most gorgeous thing Zasha had ever seen. but he didn’t move any farther into the room. and his connection to Thane felt almost tangible. He looked pale and thin. Bruises covered the tops of his shoulders. “He’s probably asleep. Thane’s face appeared freshly shaven. but his hair was still long and scraggly with a dullness that matched the rest of his depleted body. It wasn’t hard to see beneath the cuts. and his cheekbones stood out in sharp relief. really not his preferred type at all. The door closed quietly behind him.” It sounded more like a warning than a request. This close. he’d still had the underlying disappointment that the man was really much too small and delicate. It was hard to estimate Thane’s true height while he was horizontal. though. but Zasha guessed it to be somewhere just over six feet.

“Here.” Thane’s voice was small and wispy. Zasha pressed a palm to Thane’s shoulder. “Hello. What do you need?” “Just this. it would be natural for him to have trust issues. “You must be Thane. “Come here. “Come here so I can see you. “We can talk later. but the smile he offered transformed his entire face. “Let me help you.24 Gabrielle Evans the man he used to be. not for Zasha. he glanced at the squat bedside lamp. After the ordeal he’d been through.” Rolling his head to the side.” “You’re probably right.” Zasha stared down at his hand where it rested against Thane’s warm skin. “Better?” Despite his thinness. A tattoo of an intricately detailed tribal dragon stretched down his bicep beneath the . though his eyelids were already drooping. he crept closer to the bed. “Tell me about yourself. A clear picture of what Thane would look like once healthy flittered through his mind.” Groaning in obvious pain.” Thane insisted. stop that. he used to the other to pull the chain on the lamp. and his words were slurred with exhaustion. moving cautiously so as not to frighten the man.” Thane agreed. and his scent was making Zasha’s head spin. “Where are you from?” “I’m from the Snake River Coven. filling their part of the room with a soft glow.” Rushing forward. barely carrying across the room. Thane was even more handsome up close. and it was a delectable portrait. “Maybe some light?” Keeping one hand on Thane’s chest. “You must be Zasha.” He rubbed his free hand back and forth against the mattress.” “I must be.” “I must be.” Returning the smile. You need to be resting. smiling like an idiot when the witch covered it with his own. he braced his hands on the mattress and struggled to sit upright. holding him in place with little effort.” Thane echoed.

and Zasha didn’t understand why Thane would put himself through that. “I’ve been missing you. “I can’t stay here. “I promise to be back as soon as the sun sets.” he whispered. “There’s a room in the basement. his limitations prevented it. what are you doing?” Anyone with eyes could see that every little movement caused him pain. Thane inched closer to the edge of the bed until his feet rested on the floor.” Considering this was their first meeting.” He didn’t want to leave Thane so soon. he didn’t think he’d ever get out of bed again. “The sun will be up soon. “You’re a vampire. Perhaps he thought someone else was with him in the room.” “Would you stop it?” Oh. The gods help him and grant him patience because his mate was stubborn to a fault.” he assured his mate. He’d love nothing more than to curl up beside Thane and protect him until he was strong again.” His lips twitched at the corners. “Good. and Zasha needed to not burn alive while he slept. writhing with his movements as though alive and restless. “Let’s go.” Thane answered with a casual roll of his eyes as though the answer was obvious.” Nodding once.” He pressed his palm to the side of Thane’s neck with the same care he’d show to the most priceless treasure. “Listen to me.” “Right. he rolled to his side and finally levered himself into a sitting position. Zasha could already see the arguments in his future. glancing toward the large window to the right of the headboard.” Removing Zasha’s hand from his chest. and he shook his head as though he found the information humorous. Unfortunately.Four-Letter Words 25 cuts and bruises. but they both needed rest. Okay? Now. will you please lie down and rest?” . If he’d survived half of what the witch had. Zasha was unsure what that last part meant. “Getting dressed so we can find a place for you to sleep. “Thane. “Torren said I can spend the day there. Maybe Thane was confused.

They were almost there. and Zasha didn’t know how to change directions. “Zasha. and soon.” his mate mimicked with a raised eyebrow. Congratulations. “Are you always like this?” “Pretty much.” Thane nodded toward the dresser again. Thane didn’t fear death. . he pulled it away from his neck and placed a kiss in the middle of his palm. chilling his damp skin.” The conversation was going nowhere fast. “Torren is going to kill me. “If you really want me to rest.26 Gabrielle Evans Thane didn’t even hesitate in his answer.” Taking Zasha’s hand. “Can you hand me those sweatpants on the dresser?” “Thane. I suggest you hand me those pants and help me down to the basement.” **** The darkness surrounded him. his pulse sped. Zasha stood and crossed the carpeted floor to retrieve the dark-blue sweatpants that were folded neatly on top of the dresser. “Nope. They were coming for him. deadlier. he also didn’t want to hinder Thane’s recovery. and the chanting grew louder as his captors approached. it would cover his mouth and nose. rising higher with each passing hour. “And now I’m yours. Are you going to get those or not?” Growling under his breath. and blood roared in his ears. Water flowed through his prison. pressed in on him from all sides. either. “Thane?” Panic constricted the muscles in his chest. and Zasha didn’t exactly want to be separated from the man. An ominous symphony of voices rose up on the breeze. However.” His expression said he was dead serious. Already it licked at his lips. The frigid cold bit through the scraps of clothes he wore. but he couldn’t let them harm his mate. He could hear the boots stomping over the sodden earth and feel the charge in the air. run!” The voices grew louder. “Zasha. Beside you is the only way I’m going to sleep.

There were varying levels of terror associated with his nightmares. he rolled to face his mate. “You have to go.” His voice cracked with emotion and weakness. pulling Zasha to his chest and crushing him close. “Zasha. and his body convulsed.” The night grew still. Tumbling head over feet. wake up. though. but even in the dim light of the moon.” Slender arms encircled his waist. His Infinity had walked right into a trap.Four-Letter Words 27 “Thane. Thane.” He leaned away and brushed the sweat-dampened locks back from Thane’s brow. I’m going to get you out. they left him shaky and disoriented for hours . tipping him over the edge of the stone well. but these nightmares had only begun in the past few nights. so did the intensity and frequency of his dreams. “Do you want to talk about it?” “Not right now. holding him tightly as he trembled. struggling to crawl out of his dream world. You’re okay. You can’t save me. facedown in the small pool. staining the icy water with his blood. breathing in the clean scent of his shampoo while he forced his muscles to relax.” He’d been free of that watery prison for almost six weeks. “I’m okay. his limp body bounced against the hard walls before finally splashing lifelessly into the water.” “Yes. Peering out through his cell. he knew it was too late. As his bond with Zasha grew. they were both doomed. but more often than not. Releasing a shuddering breath. “You’re okay. I’m going to help you. and Thane found it more worrisome than the dark chanting of his foes. he tried to warn his mate again.” No one could help him. “Thane.” Zasha whispered with a hint of concern. “You’re okay. please. quiet.” He buried his face in Zasha’s hair. his lips parted in a silent cry. There he floated. but you can save yourself. Zasha’s eyes rounded. and if he didn’t go.

” Sighing in disgruntlement. “Are you sure?” Zasha pressed. but while it made his blood run cold. pinning the vampire’s shoulders to the mattress. I could get used to this. . pale. It had been awful. He’d leave the prophecy gig to his brother. Thane fell to his side of the mattress. but as always. but they were still a thousand miles apart. teasing the seam with his tongue until he was finally granted entrance to the sweet depths. Soft.” Groaning as his cock hardened and throbbed. and unblinking. “Well. his gifts didn’t include foresight. stiffening as he pulled away. and Zasha’s slippery tongue traced the shell of his ear. “Just let me hold you for a little while. and he was thankful for it. moist lips traveled up the column of his throat.28 Gabrielle Evans after he awoke.” he mumbled. They’d been sharing the same bed from day one. we need to get moving. The kiss was heated. “I’ll fight you for the shower. limp. Thane had reason to suspect there were snippets of memories hidden within these dreamscapes. and he wiggled closer. “Was it a bad one?” Thane could still envision Zasha tumbling down into that well. After all. Thane soaked up the attention.” He nipped at Zasha’s lips. Thane. fueling the fire that burned in his gut. “Or you could join me.” he said in lieu of an actual answer. Feeling off-balanced—and maybe even a little needy—after his dream. “The sun is setting. Thane rolled on top of his mate.” The simple statement seemed to rouse Zasha from whatever spell he was under. pulling a different kind of shiver from him. molding himself to Thane from sternum to groin. “Mmm. that was as far as he got before Zasha pushed him away. flopping onto his back and throwing his arm over his eyes. “C’mon. Worse. he was confident that it was only a fabrication of his over-stressed mind. and he stilled his exploration. I suppose if you’re going to twist my arm.” Zasha’s quiet laughter fanned over Thane’s collarbones. Nix.

insisting he get his nourishment from a blood bag instead of letting Thane provide for him. possibly worse.” . however. “I know you want to take care of me. “Well. “Thane. but sometimes you…well. but not even blood from his mate could restore him to his natural weight and health overnight.” Perhaps he was missing something that would suddenly become clear after the fiftieth repetition. you’re more emotional than logical. In the weeks since then. or even clubbed over the head. burned. You know why I have to say no. it was just as bad the second time. when he’d been underfed and barely hanging on to life. Yes. just to appease him—like with the occasional kisses—but that was as much as he would give.” Fingertips fluttered over his forearm.” Yep. the healing properties only extended so far. no. “Don’t be that way. I adore how giving you are. he’d understood. “Tell me again. one of us has to be sensible.Four-Letter Words 29 Zasha wouldn’t feed from him. but you’re still healing. he’d gained nearly thirty pounds and was growing stronger by the day thanks to a little magic and blood supplements from his mate. stabbed. “You can have the shower. Still. he was well enough to care for his partner—if Zasha would only let him. traveling from wrist to elbow.” At the risk of sounding childish. he honestly didn’t understand why Zasha continued to deny him. he swung his legs over the edge of the mattress and stood. the occasional drops of crimson from Zasha would have cured him almost instantly.” Pushing into a sitting position. His mate would indulge in a sip here and there. don’t we?” The laughter in Zasha’s voice did nothing for Thane’s mood. Had he been shot. “I’m going for a run. Unfortunately. “How do you mean?” He was going to give the guy a chance and hope he hadn’t meant that statement like it sounded. he was growing stronger. When they’d first pulled him from the well.

Yes. “Give it time. lashing out because someone had taken away his favorite toy. Lynk. The doctor hasn’t cleared you for that yet. Zasha stepped away as sadness clouded his gaze. “Zasha—” Holding his hand up to halt Thane’s apology. You’re not strong enough yet. He understood why Zasha . The deep-rooted connection that simmered between them only strengthened. I deserved that. stop it. it was painfully obvious that Zasha had no recollections of those days. and the clawing need to be with his Infinity rose to blistering levels. he’d gotten the entire story secondhand. but it hadn’t been a claiming bite. Adding to his disgruntlement was the fact that Thane vividly remembered a time when Zasha hadn’t been able to resist him. While technically accurate. “You’re kind of being a dick. well.” Thane barked. at least I didn’t claim your brother.” “I’m not a child. “It’s okay. “I’m not going to drop dead if I go jog in the fucking woods.” Jumping up from the bed. Thane’s accusation had been below the belt and taken out of context.” His bad mood was only partially because of his mate.” The accusation was past his lips before he could stop it. Of course. and Thane felt like a toddler. “Yeah. Zasha blocked his exit. burning hotter to the point of pain.” He really didn’t. naked skin beneath his palms. so it was a little easier to be forgiving. he wouldn’t think about that. He’d also been convinced that Lynk was his mate. If that wasn’t bad enough. If he had been there to witness the event—well. Every waking moment. Zasha had bitten his brother. his body yearned to feel Zasha’s soft. but he was tired of being coddled and treated like an invalid. during their first meeting.” This was said as fact rather than criticism. a time when the man couldn’t go five minutes without wanting him. and a tiny smirk tilted one corner of Zasha’s lips.30 Gabrielle Evans “Thane.

especially for something like miscommunication. “You think I don’t want you. Thane pulled him close and cradled his cheek. but it prickled his pride that he was unable to reciprocate.” “Are you finished now?” “No. and like a preschooler in need of a nap. Logically. Zasha glared at him. he was a nasty hypocrite. Taking out his sour mood on his mate was selfish and unfair. “Believe it or not. The most emasculating thing about it was looking into Zasha’s eyes and knowing that his partner viewed him as weak. Fuck.” Zasha was just trying to protect him. I’m being a dick. “I didn’t mean to say that you’re stupid or overemotional. rubbing his erection against Thane’s thigh as though proving his point.” He stepped closer. but that’s not it at all. “Don’t.” Zasha chided as he nuzzled his cheek against Thane’s palm. I meant that you are so worried about making me happy that you don’t stop to think about yourself. It kills me every time I have to say no.” It would rain frogs before he’d allow anyone to talk to his mate the way he had. “You have that look you get when you think I’m being condescending. “You can’t imagine the things I’ve fantasized about doing to you. Catching Zasha by the wrist when he tried to walk away. Thane had never been the type to hold a grudge. Zasha’s comments had hurt him. and you didn’t deserve that. but I’m afraid of what will happen when I finally let go of that control.” “You’re not—” “I wasn’t finished. though.” Zasha repeated.” He arched his hips.Four-Letter Words 31 had been confused. “You’re right. which is absurd.” . and the tension drained from his shoulders.” Placing two fingers to Thane’s lips. he’d retaliated with unjustified venom. “I’m sorry.” “I shouldn’t have gotten ups—” “I’m not finished. I’m trying to help. I get it. but I feel like I just keep making things worse. he understood this.

His insecurities were his to deal with. and my dick overrules all that rational thinking. I can’t describe how much I want that. I hate those damn blood bags.” “I do understand.” he practically begged. the desire to feed during sex is almost compulsory. Emotions and instincts run high. “Gods. Then let me give you something else.” Dropping his forehead to Thane’s shoulder. I want to. Notice.” He had no excuse for his anger. and I don’t know if I’d . my dick and my head get into an argument. Zasha groaned and rocked into his hand. “I just wish you could see me as more than I am.” Wrapping his arms around Thane’s midsection. Thane.” Insinuating one hand between them. but I tolerate them because I won’t take what your body can’t afford to give.” “Thane. “My eyesight is just fine. “Let me take care of you. caused by circumstance. you aren’t strong enough yet. putting Thane’s needs before his own.” “Then let me give you something.” Pressing his lips together. Zasha just wasn’t saying anything he wanted to hear.” Zasha shook his head and sighed. and I won’t do anything to jeopardize your recovery.” “You idiot. I know this. like he was daring Thane to argue with him. and his stomach knotted with guilt. You’re sick. It’s a fact. Zash. “I’m not going to break into pieces and blow away. “Fine. “Please continue. I said yet. he palmed Zasha’s hard cock through his boxers and squeezed. I wish you could understand that. Thane bit the inside of his cheek to stop his grin. “You’re not listening to me. “It’s not a knock at your manhood. not incapable. Zasha held him tight and stretched up to kiss his lips. He wouldn’t win any affection for pointing out how much it turned him on when Zasha’s temper flared.” “Why? Give me one good reason.32 Gabrielle Evans “Okay. not Zasha.” Thane was listening. but sometimes. but I can’t.” “For a vampire.” He arched one eyebrow. The man had done nothing but support him.

Four-Letter Words 33 be able to stop—not before I did some real damage to your red cell count. I can’t just abandon my family. that sounds ominous. He couldn’t reclaim those missing years.” Backing away to create some distance between them. but I can’t be without you. “They’re legitimate concerns. unsmiling and unblinking.” Zasha looked him straight in the eyes. that’s not going to work for me.” Zasha’s cheeks puffed out as he exhaled.” Thane would gladly follow the guy anywhere he wanted to go. “I had a feeling you were going to say that. not now. Thane let his hand fall away and nodded in concession. see. .” “They’re not excuses. “There’s something else we need to talk about. Zasha wasn’t the only one waiting for his strength to return. Are you leaving me for the UPS guy?” Zasha didn’t laugh at his joke.” “Yeah. but he had responsibilities of his own. Mikko. and everyone was holding their breath.” Zasha argued. which only fueled his suspicion that he wasn’t going to like this discussion. but he wasn’t going to miss a single opportunity to make new memories. “I have responsibilities that I’ve been neglecting.” Growling in frustrated surrender. he pushed one hand through his short hair and huffed. though.” They had a lead on where Mikko was being held. “I need to go back to Snake River.” “Well.” It didn’t matter that Zasha couldn’t remember him. I’m not saying that I’m leaving today. A lot of people were counting on him to journey into the unforgiving world of Purgatory to reclaim the soul of their brother.” “No. Of course. “You’re not going to be able to hide behind those excuses forever. and he wanted that time back. you’re not. “Look. hoping it would come to something more than a wild goose chase. they first had to find Mikko’s body before he went stumbling around in the dark looking for lost souls. either. “I can’t leave. Thane recalled every detail of their previous life together.

but I can’t be without you. I’ll talk to Leader Tuesday and see if there is a way for me to get some work done from here. The topic of Zasha’s return to Snake River wasn’t dead. and I’m sorry. “Thank you. . either. but since he’d gotten his way. He’d always known it. “You know I can’t tell you no. I have a job and a life in Snake River. he was a little more grateful that Zasha hadn’t figured it out yet. Thane intended to keep his mate close and protected.34 Gabrielle Evans Zasha stared at him for a long time before he finally shook his head and pushed up on his toes for another kiss. “I don’t know what to do.” His lips stretched a little wider as he nuzzled against the side of Thane’s throat.” Things would get better. “I don’t deserve you. Thane. that wasn’t strictly true. but until they did.” Well. “Raith and October will be here tomorrow. Every day. but he just smiled and stroked Thane’s cheek. but Thane was going to do everything he could to keep the vampire where he belonged—right by his side.” His gaze held a hint of desperation. Thane decided not to argue and just enjoy the short reprieve he’d been given.” “I know I’m not being fair. Zasha.” He knew it.

He loved when Wren called him Uncle Thane. and they’ve brought a guest with them. “Need coffee.” He missed Raith since the guy had moved away to live with his mate. everyone needed to keep the happiness to a minimum. “What?” “Raith and October are here. “Coffee. pervert. Everyone is waiting for us.” Zasha accused.” “Your enthusiasm is annoying. Thane squinted up at Zasha. He just never envisioned himself having children of his own. “Get dressed. however. I want to see our guests.” “Where did they find a kid?” Thane wasn’t opposed to children. and it’s not ridiculous. get your skinny ass up and put some clothes on. Then he smacked Thane on the shoulder and rose to his feet beside the mattress.” “Nope. sleepyhead. and he stared up at his mate in accusation.” . You know what the doctor said about that. Until he had coffee in his hands.” “I don’t hate you.Four-Letter Words 35 Chapter Three “Hey.” Blinking the sleep from his eyes.” Thane was too tired for riddles. “You’re being judgmental.” he mumbled. They brought this tiny little thing of a vampire named Kaito. he was even glad the big idiot had come to visit.” “Why do you hate me?” He finally managed to get his eyes open. Now. He’s four. “They’re having a threesome?” “No. “I don’t remember him saying that I can’t have coffee. Hell. and the boy was too cute for words. That’s ridiculous.

“That’s nice. the strands had flowed down to his shoulders and lightened . Thane had been sitting in the mud. I’m just tired.” He tossed a pair of jeans from the closet at Thane’s head and turned back to grab three different shirts. “No. were the times he couldn’t wake up. “What time is it anyway?” “Would you like to tell me what bug crawled up your ass?” Zasha crossed his arms over his chest and lifted both eyebrows.” however. I think green would look good. Once. however. minor tweaks like pieces to a puzzle that just wouldn’t fit. You’re making my head hurt.” Thane rubbed at his spiky locks and frowned. though. During his captivity. Each time he attempted to doze. but you’re going to have to curb the perkiness. They were silly things. like a lapse in time. In the next retelling. Sometimes Zasha spoke to him in these nightmares. he was crouched in a corner—strange since the well was circular. they raised a dozen red flags and sounded alarm bells his head.” Shoving the covers back. he pushed into a sitting position and rubbed both hands over his face. There were subtle differences in each reenactment. Your hair is darker when it’s short. Worse.” And the guy thought he was stubborn.” He couldn’t exactly tell Zasha that he’d been having dreams about the man’s death.” He’d barely slept in the past forty-eight hours.” Zasha didn’t sound like anything was “fine. oddities that most people wouldn’t even notice. “It’s nothing. Tell me anyway.36 Gabrielle Evans “Fine. To Thane. He couldn’t tell Zasha any of that. Sometimes he was silent. “Get dressed. the lack of water in his prison. his nightmares would wake him like a slap across the face with a two-by-four. They were small things. and the scene of Zasha’s murder would replay on a constant loop until Thane thought he’d go mad from it. “I like the green one. or the height from which his mate fell. “Fine.

Why the color of his shirt was so damn important. Raith’s deep baritone reached his ears. Closer to the point. but again. they seemed to be talking about his relationship with Zasha. He remained silent as they navigated the corridor to the staircase. Now. he didn’t want to start an argument. As they ascended the stairs. Thane wasn’t sure who his brother was talking to. however. that’s fine. it was Raith. To his disgruntlement. though for whatever reason. “Yes or no?” “Yeah. He knows what he needs to do to stay healthy.” Zasha called. He didn’t even say anything when Zasha wrapped an arm around his waist to help him up the steps. however. his hair had become dull and brittle. it was Zasha.Four-Letter Words 37 to a golden honey. he stepped into the living room where everyone appeared to be gathered. “Zasha is a big boy. It had been weeks since he’d needed any type of assistance getting from one place to another. “I’m not so helpless that I can’t take care of my mate. He’d always preferred his hair short. but he understood that he was the topic of conversation. shaking the green pullover sweater at him. not even trying to keep his voice down or be discreet.” First.” Figuring he’d pissed Zasha off enough for one day—and he’d only been awake for five minutes—Thane rose from the bed and dressed without comment. As his body deteriorated. “Earth to Thane. He couldn’t help but wonder who else thought him incapable of providing for his partner. he couldn’t fathom. Raith sat on the sofa next to his mate. but whatever got Zasha off his back was fine by him. Entering the main part of the house from the basement. The length had been a side effect of imprisonment and nothing more.” He’d have liked to march into the room with his shoulders back and his chest out. it did look more brown than blond at the current length. Zasha’s arm .

or he was ignoring it. From what I understand. Snorting with laughter. and he admitted he could be overly sensitive about Zasha’s source of nutrition. right?” Leader Tuesday. though. I take a sip every four or five days. just to appease him.” Thane answered. “Yes. but Thane was barely listening. This was a fact. he does. and Thane got the distinct impression that he was the punch line. and it shouldn’t bother him as much as it did. it runs in his blood.” Thane grumbled. “Good. Either way. keeping his voice low for only Zasha to hear.” Several agreements from his brothers’ mates circled the room. “He’s a damn fool. The easygoing smile on Zasha’s lips didn’t match the icy look in his eyes. “I’ve got it. but I get most of what I need from donor bags.” “Yes.38 Gabrielle Evans tightened around his waist. It was a sore subject. Talk turned to Haven and the happenings at the coven after that. The vampire was clearly goading him. “What the hell?” he demanded in a harsh whisper against the shell of Zasha’s ear. and he refused to let go until he’d assisted Thane into one of the armchairs. “Okay?” he whispered. His fingers tangled in Thane’s hair. pressing all of his buttons just to piss him off. Something wasn’t right. but Thane had a feeling none of the other men meant it quite the same way as Zasha. Zasha pushed a stray lock of hair back from Thane’s forehead. he eased down on the arm of the chair with a huge grin. furrowed his brow and pursed his lips while he waited for an answer. and he was far too stubborn to rise to the bait.” October winked at Zasha like they were sharing some inside joke. sir. Either Zasha missed the steel in his tone. Raith’s mate and Zasha’s boss. and he tugged just hard enough to let him know it wasn’t a loving gesture. “You’re being careful. Thane just didn’t know why. .

“Axton was the only person who ever talked about witches. but Zasha didn’t lead him back down to the basement.” They slipped from the room without a word. The first few months after I left Belgium are kind of a blur. The things he’d suffered weren’t important to discovering answers. and therefore. and everyone in the room looked to Thane. “C’mon. that I can remember. clearly expecting him to say something. he didn’t know what it was. Thane followed at a more leisurely pace. The only problem was that he didn’t know what they were talking about or why they thought he’d have the answer. Again. Instead. If he’d done something to offend the vampire. Well.” Meaning he’d spent six months in a drug-induced haze. but there are still pieces that aren’t adding up.” Rising from the arm of the chair.” There was more to the story than just being used as a living blood bag. and he was already getting enough pitying looks to last him a lifetime.” Lynk supplied for him through their telepathic bond. had no way of rectifying his mistake. unable to defend himself against the onslaught of torture. but Thane didn’t need to traumatize his family with the gory details. not something he wished to share.” Zasha replied out of the corner of his mouth. He didn’t say anything else— telepathically or aloud—but he watched Thane with narrowed eyes and a furrowed brow. “Where are we going?” . “Come with me. While everyone else negotiated who would investigate. Thane’s thoughts strayed back to Zasha’s uncharacteristic behavior. “I was there for nearly two years. “Honestly. right out into the night. though. Zasha took his hand and tugged. “The coven in the mountains that held you. I don’t know what to think. and they fed from me often. careful to close the door behind him. he marched across the foyer and through the front door. He was saved further questioning by a loud crash from Wren’s room.” Torren finished speaking.Four-Letter Words 39 “Later.

Strangely. “And what about my loyalty?” Did his leader’s approval mean more to him than Thane’s affection? Jerking his head up. “I do let you take care of me. “I wanted to show that even though I was wrong. I guess I was showing off for my leader.40 Gabrielle Evans “This is good. he’d tell the asshole to shove it. a slow smile spread across his face. October stood behind me and supported me.” Zasha explained. I’m still worthy of that loyalty.” He paused to take a deep breath and scrub a hand over his face. Zasha pinned him with a curious stare and frowned.” “Why do you have to prove anything to anyone?” It didn’t make a lot of sense to him. what’s going on with you? What was all of that in the living room?” Whatever fight was in him seemed to drain away. but it still hurt. “Okay. but the guy was still his sibling. The sarcasm and mockery in his tone weren’t necessary. My mistake made him look like a fool. and he hung his head with a barely audible sigh. As the oldest brother. the question didn’t surprise him. I can walk up the stairs and sit in a chair all by myself. why is it so hard for you to let me take care of you?” Since it was an argument they’d been having for weeks. Unfortunately. Thane leaned back against the side of the house and adopted a casual expression. “I’m sorry about that. instead of debating him. trying to prove I was being a good mate. he had no other answer than the one he’d given a hundred times. and he rolled his eyes as he sashayed . If he didn’t agree with him. “I don’t…” After another few seconds of silence.” Zasha turned to face him. but he’d never had an alpha or a leader. Zasha rested his fists on his hips and bobbed his head. “He went to bat for me. but I’m not a child or an invalid. and the first thing Thane noticed was the coolness of his voice didn’t match the heat in his eyes.” Thane got it. “Thane.” Thane stopped and cleared his throat. Torren was the closest thing he’d ever had to a leader. His shoulders slumped. Crossing his arms over his chest. “When I thought Lynk was my mate.

though. All he wanted was to protect Thane from every perceived threat. and then I got your scent in my head. except for the fact that Zasha was the only one finding danger in practically everything. You know that. Zasha’s laughter was warm and lighthearted. right?” It wasn’t just Zasha. his ploy to pass along his message was an epic fail. I was a little stressed. Everyone will be looking for us. “I guess we should get back inside. the guy had completely flipped his shit just the night before because Thane had wanted to have a beer with his brothers.” He’d done things Zasha’s way. Beyond that. He’d let his mate take the lead and call the shots. Zasha’s heart was in the right place. cold the next. but still maintained separation between them. and no matter the topic. Hot one minute. Zasha’s ever changing moods were starting to give him whiplash. I guess I could have thought that out a little better. “Yeah. .” Zasha stopped just shy of actually touching him. there inevitably ended up being some kind of misunderstanding. “How was I supposed to know that? You are insane.Four-Letter Words 41 closer. Zasha had known him better than he knew himself and vice versa. Before he could take a step in that direction. but it was time for him to take some of the control back if they were going to stop chasing each other in circles.” Zasha turned his shoulders and leaned toward the door. molding their bodies together from chest to hips. “Forgive me?” “Of course. Hell.” Thane answered without hesitation. Thane. though. but his body language said he yearned to be closer. At one time.” He’d succeeded in not being obvious. That didn’t sound so bad. It hadn’t always been like this. and it eased the knotted muscles in Thane’s neck. “I was trying to warn you without being obvious. Their communication skills were for dick. Thane was finding it increasingly difficult to remain upset with his mate. “I’m hungry. which didn’t help. Thane grabbed him around the waist and jerked him forward. Zash.” He shuffled half a step forward. Funnily enough. “No one is looking for us. though.

what?” “I can’t.” His tone held no conviction. but there were several options open to them that might ease his mate’s anxiety. I’m not so fragile.” He didn’t know what more he could do to prove it.” “I have a better idea. contrasting beautifully against the dark fabric of his button-down shirt. but that didn’t stop Thane’s cock from swelling as he lost himself in those golden depths. Thane exerted gentle pressure. but. No amount of medicine or even magic would cure him completely. Zasha trembled from the tips of his spiky locks to the soles of his loafers. and he got that. His body was held to certain limitations. Zasha’s lips parted slightly.” Thane rasped against the smooth skin on the side of Zasha’s throat. Good gods. Pressing his thumb against the underside of Zasha’s chin. I don’t want to hurt you. their pointed tips glistening in the lunar beams.” His body language had lost some of its surrender. Let’s go.” “Please. lieveling. “What if we don’t play it safe for once? What if you shut that pretty brain down and let me do the worrying for a while?” He wasn’t stupid. “I’m not dismissing your concerns.” He’d be lying if he said he wasn’t dying to get Zasha beneath him on a flat surface.” “Ah. urging the vampire’s head back on his shoulders. His pale. but he wasn’t sick. Twin canines peeked from beneath his upper lip. though. releasing the breathy moan that rolled up from his chest. All he needed were a few cheeseburgers to help him recover a bit more of the weight he’d lost. The seductive quality of his hooded gaze was likely unintentional. “Thane. it was like he had a huge “Handle With Care” sign plastered across his ass. ivory skin glowed in the silvery beams of moonlight that spilled onto the porch. “Please.” Zasha breathed. “C’mon. what are you doing? I just told you I’m not exactly stable right now. but there are other ways. “I can’t give you what you want. and his attempt to escape Thane’s arms was halfhearted at best. but Zasha still made no move to extract himself .42 Gabrielle Evans “Thane.

and you’re too important. He wasn’t asking for the moon. but a little compromise never killed anyone.” No matter how much he ached for the man. lieveling.” .” As his mate. Say yes. spending every waking moment with him. Thane wouldn’t go any further without his mate’s permission. it was encoded in the vampire’s DNA to be protective—even overprotective. “I don’t know if I can control it. “You don’t have it in you to hurt me. and the persistent memories of their previous life together were making him insane.Four-Letter Words 43 from Thane’s embrace. Zasha. Weeks of sleeping next to his Infinity. “Say yes. The likelihood of Zasha losing control and draining Thane dry was practically nonexistent.” The confession was sweet—if slightly morbid—but it didn’t deter Thane. I won’t risk you like that. To say he was sexually frustrated didn’t even begin to cover it. “Your move.

The thought of taking blood from anyone except Thane was nauseating.44 Gabrielle Evans Chapter Four He wanted to say yes. The packaged donor blood gave him some of the nutrients he needed. and he was always about two seconds away from ripping out someone’s jugular just to quench the clawing hunger. It meant he was constantly at war with himself. but it was nothing like drinking straight from the source. Sleeping in Thane’s arms night after night didn’t help. fighting a perpetual battle between craving Thane’s nearness and resisting the urge to sink his fangs into the throbbing artery on the side of his mate’s neck. the witch would have every reason to avoid Zasha . Thane’s constant presence also meant that Zasha always had the man’s scent in his head. though. partly to appease his obstinate man. and just feel. Once a week. Enduring two years of vampires forcibly feeding from him. Blood bags kept him alive. but his mate wasn’t strong enough to feed from. Unfortunately. either. unsure of how Thane would react after the ordeal he’d survived. He’d been nervous in the beginning. he took a tiny sip from Thane’s wrist. fall into bed with Thane. So Zasha made do with the blood bags and put on a happy face. His throat burned constantly. He loved the closeness and the warmth. He wanted to forget all of his concerns. It was the difference between a candy bar and a grilled chicken breast—if the candy bar tasted like day-old oatmeal. he felt weaker than usual. and partly to stave off the bloodlust. but it never quite satisfied him. Every minute he spent with his mate was a gift. however. In actuality. he was fucking starving. It wasn’t that simple.

though. chasing his proverbial tail in a perpetual loop. Adding to the complications was the fact that he’d been without the donor blood for almost two days. Still. Growing up in Belgium. and his already aching cock swelled and throbbed against his zipper. Zasha knew the language Thane spoke was Dutch.” His brain was shutting down. Never once had Thane so much as flinched. The overwhelming desire to give Thane everything he wanted never left him. During times of high emotion and loss of inhibition. He didn’t think that was why it felt so familiar to him.” The endearment sparked something in him. he couldn’t say. screamed that he couldn’t be with Thane because he might accidentally drain the guy in his sleep. even begging him to take more than Zasha felt was safe.Four-Letter Words 45 and recoil from his bite. His heart pounded just a little faster.” Thane chastised. especially during sexual pursuits. he had to resist the temptation. though. . it was close to impossible to fight the compulsion to feed from his intended. The bloodlust. “You’re thinking too hard. and Zasha often fed from a donor bag beforehand— though he’d never tell Thane that. lieveling. The need to be close to his mate was hardwired into his very being. and he’d heard countless others use the endearment during his lifetime. but the smile on his face was full of wickedness. “I…this is bad. he had enough sense about him to know that no matter how much he desired his mate. Hungry and horny did not make for a good combination. The mating bond dictated that he couldn’t be without Thane because the separation would drive him mad. Whether it was from thirst for Thane’s blood or hunger for the man’s body. a note of recognition that he didn’t understand. however. So there he was. and he needed to stay as far away from Thane as possible. “Say yes. right back where he’d started. Each feeding was conducted under stringently controlled conditions.

He’d be hurt. “I…” It shouldn’t have been such a difficult decision. However. Tell me you want this. Thane would walk away. “Let me make you feel good. but the lips on his neck and the hand on his dick felt too good. At least give me this. Zasha could break the hold without blinking. to continue feeling that pleasure.46 Gabrielle Evans Moving with a fluidity Zasha hadn’t expected. and while he knew he should say no. “It’s up to you. Zasha would have told himself any lie. He’d denied them both of this for weeks on end. Thane spun him on his heels and pressed his chest flat against the side of the house. When Thane began to pump his cock in slow. “There. but he was. In their current position. and he released Zasha’s pulsing length with a sigh of resignation. It’s . and probably a little frustrated. and you’re not going to hurt me. pinning him in place while he nibbled at the nape of his neck. “Okay.” If he wanted. Thane’s exploration came to a halt. sweetheart. That was exactly what he should do. “You can’t even reach me with your fangs.” His long. he couldn’t force the word through his parched mouth.” There was a clear plea in Thane’s voice. talented fingers dipped into the waistband of Zasha’s boxers and extracted his hard cock.” Thane whispered. and Zasha understood that if he refused.” Thane’s unoccupied hand slid under his shirt and fluttered over his clenching abs. Thane was right about one other thing as well. sliding his hand down Zasha’s stomach to pop open the clasp on his slacks. measured glides. squeezing gently around the base. but he’d stop everything if that was truly what Zasha wanted. the fact that he hadn’t been able to retract his fangs since they’d stepped outside was weighing heavily on him. Then he covered Zasha’s back with his taller frame. concocted any reasoning. Are you really trying to justify this. “Say yes. asshole? Gods help him. Zasha. Zasha had no access to an artery.

” He whispered another kiss over Zasha’s neck and nuzzled against his shoulder. it all boiled down to Zasha’s weakness. “I want this. every hard glide of Thane’s hand over his length was more addicting than the last.” With a needy moan.” “What was that?” Zasha could hear the undercurrent of hope tinting his lover’s tone. squeezing his balls and tugging them closer to his body. . when really.” With his palms pressed flat to the side of the house. “I want you. “Tell me if it gets to be too much. forced out through a panting moan. and squeezed his eyes closed. “I’m sorry I pushed. He was stronger than that. A tingle started at the base of his skull and traveled down his spine as he pushed back into his lover. plunging his tongue between Zasha’s parted lips to taste and explore every inch he could reach.Four-Letter Words 47 okay.” Zasha assumed he meant the bloodlust. Zasha dropped his head.” he repeated with more conviction. All of his excuses about Thane being too sick were bullshit. “More.” Thane panted.” Lifting his head. and his heart hammered against his sternum. It wasn’t fair for him to deny his partner simply because he had no self-control. he couldn’t get enough. Each exhale caught in his chest. “Yes.” Now that he’d given in. “Stop talking. Thane attacked his mouth. “We’ll take it slow. every taste. The muscles in his thighs trembled. One hand pressed flat to Zasha’s stomach while the other fisted his erection again. resting his chin on his chest. Every touch. he peeked over his shoulder and captured Thane’s lips in a lingering kiss.” Zasha demanded. Shaking and shuddering. “Yes. but it was kind of hard to think around the throbbing of his cock. he bucked into his lover’s fist as he nipped at Thane’s delectable lips. His sac tightened. grinding his ass against Thane’s groin. and it broke his heart.

I needed that. “Feeling better?” He heard the words but they didn’t make any sense. The sound of his mate’s moans. without any conscious decision on his part. **** The abruptness in which he found himself with a neck full of fang startled him. the other came roaring to life like a locomotive. breathless growl. spilling onto the wooden planks beneath him until he felt drained. By the time he realized what was happening. rubbing his trapped erection against Zasha’s backside. Slamming his fist against the beige siding.” Thane moved in closer and rubbed his cheek against the top of Zasha’s head. to run. pulling a ragged groan from him that echoed around the porch. and Thane rocked into him. “Gods. Semen jetted from his cock in a never-ending river. Soft lips skimmed along the shell of his ear. When Thane buried his face into Zasha’s shoulder and gasped. flying over the length in a blur. all that came out was a feral snarl. He intended to warn his mate. Zasha dropped his head and growled while his hips jerked sporadically. but the bite itself caused his softening cock to twitch inside his sticky boxers. the feel of the hand on his cock. There was no pain associated with Zasha’s . The hand on Zasha’s stomach crept upward to pinch and tug at his nipples. to tell Thane to go. In the next heartbeat. Now that one hunger had been sated. their positions were reversed. but when he opened his mouth.48 Gabrielle Evans Thane responded with a low. Zasha had his lover pinned against the house with his fangs embedded in the supple flesh of Thane’s throat. and the sweet taste that lingered on his tongue combined to make his head spin. the implication didn’t fully register until the scent of the witch’s climax hit him like a goddamn wrecking ball. His fist constricted around Zasha’s hard shaft.

When he couldn’t ease another’s suffering. I just wish I didn’t have to mark you to get it. but there was so much more to the vampire. but it is nice. the high he felt from the simple act. “I can’t say I enjoy it as much as you.Four-Letter Words 49 bite. “Mmm. and I know I need the nourishment.” Thane purred as he caressed his lover’s cheek. Pushing into a sitting position to straddle Thane’s hips.” “I’m honored to wear your mark. A layer of perspiration made his smooth skin glisten in the flickering light from the solitary candle at their bedside. . On the contrary. and he gave more of himself than Thane thought was fair. Zasha was fearless. “I love that part. qualities that had captivated him instantly. causing his nostrils to flare. He hurt for those in pain. Zasha was getting the nutrients he needed while marking his territory. and he was so selfless he almost didn’t seem real sometimes. Zasha was the most beautiful man he’d ever met in any of his lifetimes. love. He loved unconditionally and trusted far too easily.” Thane argued. so to speak. brave and honorable to a fault. he agonized over it for days. showing off his pointed canines as he nuzzled his cheek against Thane’s palm. Thane received the satisfaction of providing for his mate. The passion in the moment.” Zasha sprawled atop him so that their naked chests pressed together. If there was a way for Zasha to help.” Zasha exhaled a contented sigh through his nose. each gentle draw on the wound made him want to rub against his lover like a wanton slut. whether he knew them or not. he reached out and traced his finger around the puncture wounds on Thane’s neck. transported him to another time and place when things hadn’t been so complicated. no discomfort of any kind. His kissswollen lips stretched into a grin. he’d find it. “I like the thought of having a part of you inside me. adding something to their relationship after so long of feeling useless.

” Though whispered. he strived to be worthy to call himself Zasha’s mate. He’s going to do what it takes to survive. Thane felt every ounce of agony in those three little words. he lifted Zasha’s face up to the moonlight and rubbed their lips together in comfort. he didn’t appreciate the deflection. The difference was subtle at first. as if he was taking precautions so as not to startle him. I guess I was wrong. and Thane wanted to bang his head against the wall. kindness. With surprising accuracy. A change in his lover’s body language pulled him from his daydream. His chest constricted. “Zasha.50 Gabrielle Evans Passion. “If you throw a starving dog into a chicken coop.” “Zasha. Zasha withdrew his canines and placed a heartbreakingly tender kiss over the bite. you’ve gone without blood for how many days now? It’s not smart. Then to top it off. it doesn’t matter how well trained he is. What I’m saying is you’re not getting what you need from that bagged crap.” Letting the steel-laced authority seep into his tone.” It was a long time before Zasha finally opened his eyes. “I thought I was stronger than that. “Look at me. and each day. With such carefulness. there is nothing wrong with your self-control. “I’m so sorry. and his throat burned with his rising emotions. loyalty. Zasha ceased all motion and went completely rigid in his arms. It’s not healthy. he was getting pissed. “No.” Now. he took . Thane could pinpoint the exact moment Zasha’s actions coalesced with his lust-addled brain. Thane might have laughed. however. but then. Fate had honored him with an amazing gift. his stomach clenched. like a switch being flipped. He should have known it was too good to last.” Taking his lover’s cheeks in both hands. Right then. beauty. grace—there was no end to the list of traits that made Zasha truly remarkable in Thane’s eyes.” “Did you just call me a mutt?” Under different circumstances. honesty. You won’t let me take care of you.

Four-Letter Words 51 his mate by the chin and looked directly into his eyes. and his eyebrows drew together. The man was a damn martyr.” Gods.” “How do you feel?” “What?” Zasha’s head snapped up. You did that on your own. Since he wasn’t a vampire himself. Zash. but now that the fog of passion had dissipated. “I’m fine. “And it’s not going to fucking happen again. Stop worrying about me. I’m not weak. Clearly. Zasha fastened the clasp on his pants. and he’d find a way to blame himself in any situation. “You didn’t hurt me. apart from the taste perhaps. The vampire would shrivel up and blow away if he thought for even a second that it might help in some way. Of course. I feel like a god. it was all too easy to infer what had caused the lapse in Zasha’s restraint. “Just tell me. Thane tangled his fingers in the Zasha’s hair and pulled his head back on his shoulders.” When his lover didn’t respond. or faint. “I don’t see how that’s relevant. that wasn’t the case. “You’re missing the point. tucking Zasha back into his slacks and smoothing the wrinkles from his shirt.” Thane rolled his eyes as he began straightening his partner’s clothes. I don’t feel lightheaded. Are we clear?” He could kick his own ass for not seeing it sooner. How do you feel now?” “I…I feel like a bastard. And he accused Thane of letting his emotions cloud his judgment. or even the tiniest bit tired. the man was going to be the death of him.” Settling his hands on Zasha’s hips. I didn’t stop you. but physically. dizzy. grumbling under his breath the entire time. “So just maybe I was right. The urgency and desperation in Zasha’s mannerisms hadn’t registered during the time. nauseous. Zasha couldn’t just nod and agree with him.” “Uh-huh. Thane pulled him forward and nipped at his chin.” Batting Thane’s hand away. he wouldn’t have guessed there was much difference between stored and flesh blood. I could have seriously hurt you. “I shouldn’t have bitten you in the first place.” .

” Even in the midst of an argument. “How can I not?” “How can I not worry about you?” he countered. Zasha couldn’t miss the opportunity to toss in his own brand of encouragement.” Zasha whispered in return. Finally. control-freak personality. though I wouldn’t be upset if it was a few more. correct?” “Well.” “No. “That’s kind of the idea. It’s okay to take a little for yourself every now and then.52 Gabrielle Evans “I’ll always worry about you. What was my last red-blood-cell count?” “Five and a half. sweetheart. but you give too much. While his irritation was fading rapidly. The gods have mercy on him. just so he could provide the best care possible for him.” Zasha’s lips turned down into an adorable frown. “I need to gain in the ballpark of thirty more pounds. please. can we drop all of this nonsense? I’ll take an iron supplement every day if it will make you feel better.” Each argument. yeah. “My last physical was perfect. he decided facts would appeal the most to his mate’s organized. “The doctor is impressed with your progress. right?” “Yes.” Thane racked his brain for a way to make Zasha understand that he hadn’t caused irreparable damage. each disagreement. and every single time he’d been nagged was completely worth it when a gorgeous smile lit up . “You tricked me.” He cupped his lover’s cheek and smiled. “You are beautiful both inside and out.” Zasha answered at once. other than being underweight. there was still a point he was trying to make.” Zasha sounded like a cheerleader at a pep rally. “I’m just trying to show you why you’re overreacting. Now. because Thane found it impossible to fight against that kind of optimism. Thane. and I’m excited to see you getting stronger. rooting for a team with a losing record. You’re doing well.” Thane knew Zasha had memorized all the charts and data available. “Where does that fall on the scale or normal?” “Right in the middle.

Doctor.” He nodded once and pressed himself against Thane’s chest. It thins your blood. .” Thane wasn’t so naïve as to believe that all of their problems had been magically solved. and Zasha chuckled under his breath. I think I’d like that. he felt they were off to a pretty damn good start. we take care of each other?” Slender arms encircled his neck. “I mean it. “You need to be taking the iron supplement anyway. “You present a compelling argument.” “Yes.” Thane teased. but I’m willing to try.Four-Letter Words 53 Zasha’s face. he bent until he was a mere breath from Zasha’s lips. and hear me out. I’m not one hundred percent comfortable with this. and no caffeine or alcohol.” “I have a better idea. The least you can do is let me. “What if. but he was delighted Zasha was being so reasonable. I need to take care of you. That means you’re going to have to put up with me being overprotective for a bit longer. “Yeah. As his lips pillowed against Zasha’s and he teased the seam with his tongue. though. Mr.” Tilting his head to the side. Braddock.

I promise. the witch would be back to normal by the time the sun rose. and where is this guy now?” Zasha stopped pacing the living room and arched an eyebrow at his disgruntled lover. Zasha took his hands and squeezed. and he’s the reason Raith’s being poisoned by that dark magic. and his family was busy preparing for some kind of ritual involving Leader Tuesday’s mate. By syphoning away Phillip McCarthy’s magic. “He kidnapped Torren and tried to raise the dead.” He only knew bits and pieces of the story. Since Thane had been out of the loop for a while. motioning for him to continue. Since their tryst on the front porch. He had possession of the Book of the Banished at one time.54 Gabrielle Evans Chapter Five The next few nights brought good news for a change. “Phillip McCarthy has apparently been a plague on your family for years.” Zasha had been trying. “He will be punished. Zasha was doing his best to get his lover up to date with the current events.” He didn’t get all the rules about witches and magic. or overall . and if the ritual went according to plan. “Now that Mikko is safe. Phillip will be handed over to the Olympia Coven in Washington. Thankfully. Raith Braddock had damned himself to protect the people he loved. “Okay. in the bayous of Louisiana. there was a way to purge the blackness from his soul. but he understood evil just fine. The Enforcers had located Thane’s younger brother. exercise. but Thane listened with rapt attention. Mikko.” Kneeling between Thane’s knees where he perched on the sofa. he’d not badgered Thane nearly as much about his diet.

he was trying to compromise as Thane wanted. or otherwise—that would tear his mate away from him sent him into a panic. “I have to help my brothers. he also hadn’t engaged in any further sexual exploits or fed from his mate since that night. Gideon had called with news of Mikko. and already. However. and he was excited about Thane’s progress. it made him nervous to be away from his partner.” Thane’s tone wasn’t condescending. and he dipped his head to kiss Zasha’s brow. Still. Of course. He conceded that his mate brought up valid points about his speedy recovery. as though he recognized and understood Zasha’s anxiety. Much to the witch’s displeasure. he was finding it hard to convince himself that his concerns were invalid. Yes. I’ll be back soon after sunrise.Four-Letter Words 55 health. but he spoke gently. The thought of doing anything—unintentional. Zasha hadn’t seen the humor. he was more attached than he should be. Thane softened toward him. perhaps because of his growing attachment and constant fear that something bad lurked just around the corner. For some reason. saying he recommended it at least twice a day. First. The doctor had chuckled quietly and winked. he’d even requested Thane’s doctor make a special visit the previous night to check him over from top to bottom. the doctor had confirmed that Thane was in excellent health and could even begin an exercise regimen to gain muscle mass. He’d only had Thane for a few weeks. saying the witch was in worse physical condition than they’d originally thought. “The sun will be rising soon. accidental. You should head down to the basement. lieveling. It had been an eventful night. Leader Tuesday’s four-year-old .” “And where are you going?” It didn’t escape his notice that Thane hadn’t included himself in that thinly veiled command. and they were flying him straight to Snake River. Thane had made it a point to ask about sexual activity. Other than needing to gain more weight. During that little distraction. He trusted the medic.

and Zasha had torn the place apart looking for him. October would disembowel him without blinking. barking out orders as he packed their belongings with military efficiency.” Thane just laughed as he rose from the cushions. He vaguely remembered Thane crawling into bed with him. everything had turn out fine in the end. mostly because it had felt like cuddling up next to an ice cube. pulling Zasha up with him. Zasha had succumbed to sleep. For a few minutes. Thane hadn’t gone into great detail.” Easing around him. If his leader found out he’d lost the kid. Almost as soon as his head had touched the pillow. . but it wasn’t that far of a drive from Casper to the coven. “I’ll wait up for you. freeing Raith from his curse of darkness. but it had been an exhausting evening full of emotional upheaval. “You’re going home. and even triple-checking that they’d included everything except the kitchen sink. His mate was like a drill instructor. We’ve got a big night ahead of us. With the sun rising shortly. “What’s happening tonight?” He assumed Thane would want to see Mikko as soon as possible.” **** His attempt to stay awake and remain watchful for his mate had been in vain. Thane backed away with his hands tucked in his pockets and offered a smug grin. “Go warm up the bed for me and get some rest. he’d been sure he was dead.56 Gabrielle Evans son had disappeared. Luckily. and there hadn’t been time to ask questions. “We’re packing our bags and moving to Snake River. Then he’d insisted on checking. he could barely keep his eyes open. He’d awoken hours later to the news that the spell had been successful. double-checking.” Zasha didn’t understand.

Words had abandoned him. Every thought revolved around Thane. I like that look. and the words were past his lips before he could stop them. though. he pressed Zasha against the passenger-side door and grabbed his hips in a bruising hold. . Snake River might be full of vampires. while his mate’s unique scent invaded his senses.” “I want you.” Thane murmured as he pulled Zasha’s shirt free of his boot-cut jeans with a casualness that belied their very public setting. and utterly indecent. Loading the last suitcase into the back of the SUV. I’d like to have it on hand.” His brain to mouth filter short-circuited. we’re not going on safari in the African wilderness. “That’s not the point. but he found the compulsive behavior kind of cute. images of his lover completely bare and spread out before him assaulted his mind. it seemed natural for Thane to be overly focused on his possessions. “I think we could find better ways to occupy those luscious lips. Thane closed the gate with narrowed eyes.” Thane argued. along with most of his reasoning skills. “Tell me what you’re thinking. all of them dirty. It was just too much fun to tease him. wicked. After having everything taken from him.” Zasha should have been irritated. Swallowing became difficult because his mouth was desert dry.” He was pretty sure Thane meant a kiss.” Stalking forward. The tangy-sweet taste of pre-cum bathed his taste buds. Unbidden. however. he understood. He could practically feel the stretch of his own lips and the heaviness of Thane’s cock as it slid over his tongue. “Thane. “Ah. “If I need something.” It was especially funny since the guy was normally so devil-may-care about everything.Four-Letter Words 57 “Would you relax? It’s not like we can’t come back if we forget something. and he searched for something to say in the awkward silence. “And you have a very smart mouth.” Honestly. but I promise we’re not cavemen.

” Apparently. but even to his own ears. encouraging his fangs to retract as he took deep breaths to calm his racing pulse. the faster we can be in Snake River. “Unfortunately. lieveling.” “We both did. However. “C’mon. Since it was . penetrating his scrambled thoughts and reminding him that they stood in the driveway with a dozen people only feet away—two of which were under the age of six. he hadn’t instigated anything. “Come back inside with me. hugging him tightly to his chest.” If Zasha could remember correctly. we need to be going. he sounded just as breathless and desperate as Thane.” Zasha didn’t know how he was going to survive the two-hour trip in an enclosed space with the man’s scent filling his head. What he should do and what he wanted to do battled for dominance.” His words were breathless. to give in to his mate’s passion. Sorry. and Zasha was seconds away from saying to hell with the damn rules and losing himself to the consuming burn. Not here.” He was going for reasonable. and it was a little hard with all the blood in his body rushing to his dick.” Strong hands slid beneath the hem of his shirt and caressed his quivering abs. The lines between right and wrong blurred when they were together like this. The sooner we get on the road. “Right. stop. Thane had been doused in a cold bucket of reality as well. he’d be lying if he said he wasn’t pleased to know how much his lover wanted him. “I got carried away.” He licked at his canines. “Fuck.” His arms folded around Zasha’s waist. grinding his denim-clad erection against Zasha’s. “It’s still too far. Thane rocked his hips.” It was on the tip of his tongue to answer in the affirmative. because he rested his forehead against Zasha’s shoulder and sighed.” Leaning heavily against him. “It’s not that far of a drive. A child’s laughter floated on the air. “Thane.58 Gabrielle Evans “That’s the best news I’ve heard all day. and Thane made no attempt to pull away as his lips traveled along the column of Zasha’s throat. you drive me crazy.

Zasha settled in for the ride. curling his fingers against the inside of his thigh. A few precautions to ensure he didn’t lose control in the heat of the moment would be in order. when Thane looked at him as though he was someone else entirely. Thane was full of fire and zeal. While Zasha was cautious and methodical. “When we get there—” “I’ll give you a private tour of my room. He could no longer use Thane’s health as an excuse. times just like this. “Are you ready?” Pulling Zasha away from the vehicle. “What’s wrong? You look like you’re thinking very hard about something. but otherwise. Two parts combined to form a whole. he’d have to find a way. It was a clever design by fate. Their personalities complemented one another.” There had been times since they’d met. deserted road. There was no sense in fighting his growing desire. better and stronger than they could ever be individually. Thane appeared surprised by his one-eighty in attitude. Thane opened the passenger door and motioned for him to slide into the seat. but he was beginning to understand that they were the perfect balance. and hurried around the SUV to climb in behind the wheel. and he had his doubts as to whether he and Thane could make it work. Smiling to himself. Thane reached across the console and rested his hand on Zasha’s leg. though. Instead of commenting. he saw no reason to continue to deny them both. The .Four-Letter Words 59 the only option currently open to them.” Zasha finished. Neither of them embodied complete light or total darkness. and one he felt suited their relationship. he growled seductively. In the beginning of their relationship. he’d had a lot of questions about his future. and he’d be an idiot to keep up the charade. not that Zasha could blame him. He just couldn’t understand how fate could have paired two such different men. Steering them along the dark. content with life for the moment. however. kissed Zasha’s lips.

It could be a touch. Maybe it meant nothing. he just needed to figure out what it meant. Hell. The problem was that he didn’t have a clue what he was missing. or that sweet endearment whispered against his ear. and then he’ll remember. not a recently mated man. Zasha just didn’t know what it meant. even if he doesn’t understand it. he knew exactly what Torren was talking about.” “When he’s ready. Covering his mate’s hand with his own. Thane. He knew how the magic of Twin Flames worked. he squeezed Thane’s fingers and smiled. That’s all. though.60 Gabrielle Evans emotion in his gaze was that of a longtime lover’s.” “Uh-huh. He had a hard time accepting that reasoning. waving Thane ahead of him to descend the stairs to the basement infirmary in Snake River’s main house. a sideways look. The smallest things caused his pulse to race and filled him with a longing for something he’d lost long ago. “I will when the time’s right. and he was reading too much into the lingering stare. “Zasha is smart. He feels something isn’t right. He recognized the turbulent emotions in Thane’s eyes because they echoed the same familiarity raging within his own heart.” **** “Have you told him?” Thane clamped his teeth together and shook his head once. Once a Braddock found . Everything will go back to how it used to be. It didn’t make sense. It wasn’t necessarily a bad thing. he’d never even had a relationship that lasted longer than a few weeks. “I’m just happy to be going home. Now. I’ll claim him. Oh.” Torren had already been through this with his own Infinity. but he didn’t see how it was any of his brother’s business. He’d never had a mate before. and how long do you think that’s going to work?” Torren pulled the heavy door open. but Zasha knew what he felt.

Torren turned the knob and gave Thane a little shove across the threshold. but that doesn’t mean things will be like they were the first time. extracting one hand from the pocket of his jeans to point down the basement corridor. Zasha will probably get his memories back. “You’ll figure it out on your own. Torren just nodded. Torren shoved his hands into his pockets and chuckled. You’ll see.” To a certain extent. but he got the hint that Torren was finished with the conversation. forever telling them what to do. the memories always came flooding back. “It’s the third door.” Rather than offering a sarcastic comeback.” “That’s it? You’re not going to lecture me about how I’m wrong?” Torren had never been able to resist an opportunity to give his opinion. and Thane was skeptical of this new and improved attitude. but the world had been a different place back then. “I get it. It had been that way since they were kids. Thane didn’t know what the hell “it” was. and then screaming like an idiot when they did it wrong.” Falling into step beside him. As the oldest of their siblings. You’re both different people now. Shaking his head and . whether he was asked for it or not.” “Who are you and where is my brother?” Torren was never this reasonable.” That was all Torren said before clapping him on the shoulder and crossing the room to meet with the rest of their brothers. I was just as stubborn and sure that I knew more than anyone else.Four-Letter Words 61 the missing part of his torn soul. that was true. “Everything will be fine. “I hate to tell you this.” his brother answered with a shrug. “Nope. “It changes you. he was their self-appointed leader. Thane was certainly less reserved than he had been in the fifteenth century. how to do it. “Yeah.” Stopping at the door he’d indicated. Thane. and I think that’s the way it supposed to be. but that’s not how it works.

There was also nothing Thane could do to help. If Thane attempted to reunite Mikko’s body and spirit in his current condition. With so many tubes and wires connected to his tiny body. “We get him healthy and get him back. It wasn’t like the small coven had rolled out the welcome mat and introduced themselves. He was barely more than loose.62 Gabrielle Evans clearing his frustrated expression. but his blood boiled with fury. he thought he knew what to expect. Mikko wasn’t just too thin. but it made the witch look so frail. he approached the hospital bed where everyone was gathered.” Thane would help in any way asked of him. His brother teetered on the brink of death. . though. No matter how he tried to justify it or make sense of the situation. war wasn’t pretty. There wasn’t a single strand of hair on Mikko’s head. dry skin draped over bones. This was no act of warfare. he resembled something straight from a sci-fi nightmare. not until Mikko’s body healed. but nothing his imagination conjured could have prepared him for the reality. “In the meantime. No. we’re going to start getting to the bottom of some things. there was a higher than average chance that he’d end up killing the man. He imagined his brother to be too thin and riddled with wounds. His heart ached.” Torren answered simply. Having lived through something similar as Mikko. his voice gruff and tinged with emotion. he couldn’t understand how someone could be so vile and sadistic to another human being. which was what had likely kept him trapped in Purgatory.” “I’ve told you all I know about the vampires who held me in the mountains. His face appeared skeletal and too large for his body. “What’s the plan?” Raith asked. but he could only tell what he knew. There was no honor in what had been done to Mikko. Thane wasn’t sure if the hair loss had been caused by his condition or because someone had shaved it.

The Braddocks had always had huge targets on their backs. but Thane hadn’t witnessed evil on this scale since the original witch wars over seven hundred years ago. werewolves are kidnapping vampire kids. but it would take all thirteen of them to unbind the book from the faerie it had attached itself to for survival. “these witches have been inciting mass hysteria. he was lost. packs. and he sounded a little nauseous when he spoke about the children. Thane understood something horrible was going on in the western states.Four-Letter Words 63 “I’m not talking about the vampires. and shifters are kidnapping children from opposing packs.” Torren glanced over his shoulder toward the door as though checking to be sure they were still alone. so what are we going to do about it?” Torren scrubbed both hands over his face and yawned loudly. “The witch circles in the west are still causing chaos. “Okay. There are enough people investigating these slave trades and the refugees spilling into Haven. and whatnot that no one is safe unless they sacrifice their children. and no one has been able to find those missing kids. He worried about Mikko. “Okay. It seemed everything in the paranormal world had gone to fucking hell during his absence. It’s a goddamn mess. he’d spent the past several years in Europe. and he’d do his part to stop these rogue . Provoking war amongst the races and sacrificing innocents for selfish gain wasn’t anything new. especially there in the States. does someone want to get me caught up? What’s going on with these kids?” “Long story short. So. They’ve convinced all the covens. Therein lay the reason they’d all decided to go their separate ways a long time ago.” Thane suddenly felt a little sick as well.” Thane didn’t want to be insensitive or appear uncaring. I’m too tired to think right now. Before his abduction. “We’re going to sleep on it and come at this again tomorrow.” Torren explained. Only one of them was needed to open the Book of the Banished.” “Do you really think they’re still alive?” Lynk fidgeted nervously. but beyond that.

.64 Gabrielle Evans witches. Torren’s suggestion sounded like an excellent plan to him. his day was just getting interesting. Torren might be exhausted. he was still waiting on that private—and hopefully. He’d been sleeping and rising on vampire time for weeks. However. naked—tour of his mate’s bedroom. but for Thane. After all.

It wasn’t as though Thane didn’t know he was a vampire and needed blood to survive. spending most of his time alone . Zasha had feigned disappointment. He was reserved. and he was probably a bit of a nerd.Four-Letter Words 65 Chapter Six When Thane had disappeared with his brothers just minutes after their arrival to the coven. In truth. and the other was an ex-lover. but it was much different than how he was used to living. but the guy would flip his lid if he knew the last time Zasha fed was nearly three days ago. He even called some of them “friends. and that was okay. and he didn’t have many friends. really. However. he hadn’t had any choice. he interacted with a number of people on any given day. He’d made it pretty clear back on the porch of The Council house that this type of fasting wouldn’t happen again. Having someone care and worry about him wasn’t a bad thing. slightly introverted. Zasha didn’t trust easily. and he had no desire to win any popularity contests. Zasha hadn’t set out to intentionally starve himself. Somehow. he doubted Thane would see things that way. Thane’s short absence to attend to family matters had given Zasha ample time for a little excursion down to the kitchen to pilfer one of the donor bags on hand. So. His supply in Casper had run dry. however. These were things he understood about himself. He hadn’t been able to restock. Sure.” In actuality. His family lived an entire ocean away. One was dead because he’d turned out to be a sadistic piece of shit. he was more relieved than anything. they were all just acquaintances he’d happened to know for a century or so. and he’d be damned if he was going to lose control and bite Thane again.

Now. Well. waiting for his lover’s return. this time. to consider their relationship when weighing his options. and even jerked off in the shower. His actions no longer affected only him. just to point and laugh at him. there were all of these new rules. he wasn’t leaving anything to chance. They seemed to crop up when everything was going right. sprawled on his back while the warmth of the room dried the water from his naked body. His discarded T-shirt lay crumpled in the armchair by the window. the light cotton still held his scent. a butterfly would flap its wings. Thane didn’t need a nurse anymore. answered to no one except maybe Leader Tuesday. All Zasha knew was that one minute things were great. he rested in the center of his bed. Someone actually depended on him. . There was no rational explanation for these disasters. done fifty pushups to work off some of his nervous energy. just when he thought he might be getting a grasp on it. Feeling relaxed and content. He took care of himself. Then. and hurry off to meet his brothers.66 Gabrielle Evans meant he’d never had to take someone else’s feelings or thoughts into consideration. everything would blow up in his face. and then without warning. and he was trying damn hard. Unfortunately. With one hand splayed across his stomach and the other tucked behind his head. being mated was not something to be taught or learned. Zasha closed his eyes. creating an imperceptible shift in the wind—or some insignificant crap like that. change his clothes. He’d fed. and that was how he’d done things for most of his adult life. Thane had only been in the room long enough to drop off his belongings. Zasha didn’t want to let his mate down. and though it had been over half an hour since his departure. It was one of those many mysteries of life that had to be experienced to gain any kind of knowledge. but he still depended on Zasha to make the right choices.

he was addicted to all things Thane. Sucking his bottom lip between his teeth to muffle his groan. Still. Zasha slicked two fingers with the sweet-smelling gel. lingering scent of the man could produce such reactions from his body. Zasha curled his fingers around his hard length and arched up from the mattress. If his mate walked through the door right then. When he heard nothing but his own pounding heart. allowing him to slip both fingers into his heated channel. Zasha imagined it was Thane’s fingers pumping into his hole rather than his own. He’d gone from relaxed to on-edge in two seconds flat. His dick throbbed. That wasn’t to say he didn’t desire his partner. reached between his bent knees. but until he could be certain he could maintain control. He’d never claimed to be a saint. Adding a third digit.Four-Letter Words 67 Each inhalation was filled with the alluring smell. it was best to be cautious. and before long. Resuming his place on the mattress. If just a faint. he released his aching cock and hurried to his closet to pull out a small box. . Quickly. he’d been able to think about little else. The muscles loosened at his gentle prodding. he selected one of his favorite toys and a bottle of strawberry scented lube then tucked the wooden box back into its hiding place. the engorged head turning an interesting shade of deep red as translucent drops of pre-cum seeped from the slit to paint the skin covering his abs. so did his panted breathing. he’d held his reservations and remained careful when it came to the subject of sex. Holding his breath. Zasha’s dick began to swell once again. and he couldn’t meet Thane like this. and rubbed the lube over his quivering entrance. This was no good. Hell. As his pulse increased. Since the night Thane had ravished him in the moonlight. he could safely assume being in Thane’s presence would be ten times more tempting. Zasha had little faith in his selfrestraint. he listened for footsteps in the hallway.

a sound caught his attention that drew his endeavors to a screeching halt. one he eagerly accepted. he really shouldn’t find the man so damn adorable. as though he was giving himself a pep talk. people to push him to be better. Thane deserved happiness. and the enjoyment he found in simple things was infectious. he grabbed the long. A mischievous smile stretched his lips when his sensitive hearing picked up not only booted footfalls approaching his room. Zasha was ashamed to say he hadn’t been that person. thick dildo near his hip and coated the tip of the clear phallus with lube. Extracting his fingers. Zasha sucked in a deep breath and released it slowly as he pushed the yielding silicone through the guarding ring of muscles. but there was also a measure of excitement. His mate spoke softly. pulsing angrily as his need to orgasm mounted. His own dick rested against his stomach. His rhythm increased. though. torturous build-up as Thane teased his senses. He could practically feel the burn as his needy hole stretched to accommodate his lover’s girth. As big as his lover was. Thane viewed life as a challenge. After all the trials he’d been through. Positioning it at his opening. The last thought elicited a ragged moan that poured out through his parted lips. . languid strokes as he relished in the slight burn. however. he began slowly. He couldn’t help himself. Zasha indulged in erotic thoughts of his mate. these fantasies weren’t uncommon. The self-encouragement made Zasha chuckle under his breath. Pulling his knees to his chest. usually in the shower. but the sound of Thane’s voice. he deserved everything his heart desired.68 Gabrielle Evans Despite what Thane probably thought. pumping the toy into his channel in long. At least once a day. He imagined the slow. pushing him closer to the edge with each hard thrust of the dildo. His restless personality meant he needed people in his life who tested him. As he neared the pinnacle. but he was working on it.

his tone brooking no argument. trying to keep his voice even so as not to give anything away. before his features transformed into something much more predatory. Zasha didn’t know where the authority had come from. but the bass in his lover’s voice sent a shiver down his spine. after all. sweetheart.” he called.Four-Letter Words 69 While his first instinct had been to abandon his toy and appear completely normal when Thane entered the room. I didn’t mean for it to take so lo—” Thane stopped talking. and his craving for Thane was too much to fight. Well. and playing with himself. he used the other to fist his erection. he was afforded certain comforts. As the coven leader’s personal assistant. Right then. “Or you could just enjoy the show. Gods. lieveling.” Thane ordered.” Thane mused as he kicked his boots off and crossed the room to kneel at the foot of the bed. stroking the hard length from root to tip. “Let me help you with that. there wasn’t much more seductive than naked. he forced himself to remain right where he was.” He’d probably kick his own ass later when he could think clearly.” “See something you like?” Zasha returned. “Zasha?” “In here. “Sorry. Everything he’d done since arriving back in Snake River had been leading up to the seduction of his mate. letting the arousal seep into his tone. A one-bedroom suite with a kitchenette and his own private bathroom happened to be one of those perks. “Hello. he lifted his hands above his . his hormones were in overdrive. “Mmm hmm. and his mouth fell open when he entered the bedroom. though. Continuing to manipulate the toy with one hand.” “Hands over your head. drowning all critical thinking skills in a sea of lust. He was doing this for Thane. The surprise didn’t last long. Releasing his cock and the grip on the fake phallus. lubed up.

“You can. and his muscles clenched in anticipation of finally claiming his prize after being denied for so long.” Zasha’s spine bowed.” The man had lost his mind if he thought Zasha could hold back his climax when everything inside him was demanding he come.70 Gabrielle Evans head and crossed his wrists as he rested his knuckles against the mattress. and he cried out to the ceiling when Thane pushed the toy deeper into his clenching channel and pegged his prostate. “You can. his heart beat too fast. and you will. By pushing Zasha to the edge and then reeling him back. sensible man he knew Thane had nearly creamed his boxers right there in the doorway. I…I can’t.” Thane praised as he leaned forward to nip at the back of Zasha’s thigh. His dick ached inside his jeans. “Better. In a way. However. but he wasn’t so cruel as to tease his mate into blue balls and not follow through. the vampire’s orgasm would be explosive by the time he finally reached his release. swollen and bent at an unnatural angle behind his zipper. dominant side had come out to play.” Thane had expected something more than kisses and cuddles. The way Zasha had talked about giving him the “private tour. What Zasha didn’t realize was that by prolonging the sweet torture. “Thane. Thane was doing his mate a favor. and it sounded almost like an order. walking in to find Zasha naked with a ten-inch dildo plunging into his tight ass had never crossed his mind. Thane was also tormenting himself. It was such a stark contrast from the proper.” Thane assured him.” **** Yes. His possessive. The mere . roaring to the surface at the sight of his mate in such a lewd position. he liked taking a more dominant role in the bedroom. don’t come. His mouth was desert dry. “Now.

Zasha was breathtaking. knowing the explosive release would be worth his temporary sacrifice. but he remained unmoving. giving him an otherworldly glow as the dim light of the room played off the contours of his body. Thane. Zasha’s engorged cock and clenched muscles told him all he needed to know. smiling when Zasha arched his back and howled. Thane swallowed loudly as he watched the tiny starburst stretch to accommodate the thick shaft. He wanted his mate delirious with need.” Zasha hissed. His man was always gorgeous. It was clear he’d do or say anything for permission to come. Thane couldn’t fight the urge. “Do you want more. Thane pumped the toy in and out of Zasha’s hole in unhurried. Though his hands trembled and his body vibrated. “Please.” Sure. and assure Zasha knew exactly who he belonged to was overwhelming.” . though. lazy strokes. Thane was one lucky son of a bitch. “Yes. pale skin. “You like that. baby?” It was a rhetorical question. As carnally uninhibited as he was now. The need to mark the vampire. no matter the time of day or the type of situation. he saw no reason to try. The quiet whimpers and muffled pleas that rolled through his plump lips tested Thane’s willpower. Zasha?” “Yes. Thane. and while Zasha hovered on the cusp. I want you. couldn’t deny his basic nature. don’t you. he wasn’t quite there yet.Four-Letter Words 71 thought of anyone besides him seeing Zasha in that way formed a red haze over his vision. proclaim him as unavailable. A thin layer of perspiration coated his lover’s smooth. but what fun would that be? “You.” his lover growled at him.” “Tell me what you want. he could make it easy on the guy. Inching the toy out of Zasha’s snug channel. With no real base to the toy. and furthermore. but Thane wasn’t finished with him yet. Thane fisted the end of the flexible shaft and twisted his wrist.

and his ass clenched around the toy in rhythmic waves. Then he traveled back down the velvety length to squeeze the base once more. lieveling.” He stroked Zasha’s cock once more and twisted the dildo in his ass. hot and throbbing with the rapid beat of his heart. “What’s it going to be? Tell me. or do you want more?” Heavy panting and soft grunts spilled from Zasha’s mouth as he writhed against the black comforter.” Thane stroked the thick shaft to the tip and dipped his thumb into the slit to smear the drops of slippery pre-cum. either.” It wasn’t some ego trip. This was about finding Zasha’s comfort zone and then pushing him just a little farther. “You want to ride my cock. Thane!” “Tell me. A drawn-out. his growing need obvious in his strained tone. his vampire was stubborn. Tell me how much you want me. Fuck. Recovering quickly. Zasha hovered on the edge of orgasm.72 Gabrielle Evans He hadn’t expected such a straightforward answer. Thane would send him flying. “C’mon. baby? You want to feel me pounding into this sweet ass?” Zasha rocked his hips. His hairless sac constricted. “Are you finished with playtime?” He turned his wrist sharply as he drove the dildo into Zasha’s depths. Is this it. Zasha. and if he’d just let go of some of that closely held control. fucking himself on the toy. “Please. just let me come!” His dick was heavy in Thane’s hand. just say the word. pulling tight to his body. “Goddamn it. Still. The increased volume of his lover’s pleas was proof of his desire. and I’ll let you come right now. he chuckled under his breath. “If this is really all you want. Thane could practically see the . his laughter confident. “Do you want the real thing now?” “Yes!” Zasha yelled. and he was momentarily stunned speechless. strangled groan reverberated around the room when he gripped his lover’s weeping cock by the base and squeezed. bordering on cocky.

” “You. Thane had no idea where this new. probably because all the blood in his body had decided to rush straight to his aching cock. he was still comfortably inside his bubble. However. He was having a hard time caring. “More.” He reached for the button on his jeans and popped it open one-handed while he tugged his shirt off over his head. Tell me what you want. During their time together—in this life and the one that came before—he’d never heard his mate utter such explicit requests. when I’m covered in sweat and cum. he eased the toy from his mate’s body and tossed it to the carpeted floor.” Just like that.” he ordered as he rose to his feet. With as much care as his desire would allow. when I’m exhausted. I want you to fuck me again. playful side of his partner had come from.” . The seducer had become the seduced—the hunter was now the prey—and Thane’s lust tripped into overdrive at the deliberately vulgar descriptions. “I promised you earlier that we’d find better uses for that smart mouth of yours. The command came out a little breathless and didn’t hold the same measure of authority as before. I want more. He probably should have accepted that little nugget of submission. “Tell me. Then. the tables had turned. though. but it wasn’t clear if he’d come out on the winning team. “I want you to fuck me until neither one us can move. “Here.Four-Letter Words 73 battle raging inside his lover’s head. His patience paid off seconds later when Zasha relaxed into the mattress and whimpered. baby. though Zasha teetered on the edge.” Pushing up on his elbows. let me help you with that. “Something wrong?” The teasing lilt and slight curl of Zasha’s lips probably shouldn’t have turned him on like it did. he stared at Thane with enough heat to set the room on fire. “Hands back over your head. but he wasn’t about to do or say anything to discourage the behavior.” Thane could have left it at that.

“It’s not nice to tease. leaping off the bed to tackle him to the floor.” Thane answered automatically. pinning Thane down with supernatural strength. Zasha tilted his head to the side and grinned. tangled his fingers in Zasha’s hair. and arched up into the man’s mouth. he held it upright. moist heat of his lover’s mouth surrounding the tip of his cock. and he couldn’t imagine a better place to be. Gods. say anything. “Oh. Thane?” A rumbled groan rolled through his chest. and Zasha growled. and his entire world centered on the soft. Thane dug his fingers into the carpet and roared. and he arched his hips off the floor.” Taking his slick cock in one hand. bending his neck to drag his stretched lips along the length. is it. I don’t know. Everything ceased to exist. “It seems to be working out in my favor so far. He wasn’t about to let Zasha win so easily.” When Zasha didn’t rise to the bait. Thane lifted one shoulder . he released his hold on the carpet.74 Gabrielle Evans That was all the warning he received before Zasha lunged for him. and in that moment. shaking the tip at his lover. Sprawled on his back. Long fingers bit into his hips. What little clothing remained was shredded and tossed unceremoniously about the room. Zasha bobbed his head in a steady tempo. His lover held his undivided attention. though. Popping off of Thane’s cock with a naughty slurp. As his chosen. Dropping his head back to the floor with a thud. “What were you saying about my mouth?” “I fucking love it. he was completely under the vampire’s spell. but Thane imagined the effects were similar. Zasha couldn’t compel him. but his eyes never left Thane’s. or do anything Zasha required of him. A single finger stroked his scrotum with loving caresses before Zasha tugged sharply at his pressure-filled sac. His cheeks hollowed when he increased the suction on Thane’s cock. holding his gaze with hypnotic intensity. he’d give anything.

“Well. He was pretty certain that wasn’t how the guy had interpreted his partial statement. “I’m yours. much darker. though. “Zasha. “Mine!” Thane had been about to say he’d take care of himself if Zasha didn’t want to help. but Thane knew his lover wasn’t completely gone. look at me.” . No one just suddenly took a leap into Crazy Town without prior provocation. though every cell in his body screamed at him to shut up and just give in to whatever his lover wanted. There was a wild. untamed light in his eyes. and when he came out of his fugue. This wasn’t the typical possessiveness or assertion of dominance he’d witnessed with his brothers’ mates. Zasha. He wasn’t afraid. there was no telling how he’d react. and Lynk was mated to a highly territorial werewolf. if you’re not interested—” He didn’t get to finish the taunt before Zasha was on top of him. baby. however.” He lifted his hand. and Thane wasn’t even sure if the vampire recognized him anymore. He just needed to pull him back from whatever abyss had consumed him. Everything is okay. had traveled somewhere much deeper.Four-Letter Words 75 in a nonchalant shrug. but his lover caught him around the wrist and pinned his arm back to the floor. There’s no one else here. telling Thane this wasn’t a game anymore. intending to bring it to Zasha’s cheek. but he did worry about the damage this episode could do to their relationship. but he had the feeling that this little meltdown had been building for a while. straddling his hips and snarling like a feral animal. This loss of control was the very thing Zasha had feared would happen. knew his mate would never hurt him. He didn’t know exactly what had triggered Zasha to snap. “Mine!” There was no sign of the man he knew in Zasha’s twisted expression and snarling demeanor.” Thane kept his voice calm and soothing. It’s just us. “Yes.

76 Gabrielle Evans He would have said more. . embedding his canines into the soft tissue of Thane’s neck. but Zasha chose that moment to strike.

either. and his mate’s hair transformed into shorter locks that spiked out in all directions. his two worlds had collided. he wasn’t sure who he was. At some point. could give him what he needed. to stamp his personal signature into Thane’s skin for everyone to see. When his mind flowed into the room with the fireplace. Fluctuating between two completely different worlds. thrusting him into a harshly lit setting where he stretched alone across a mattress. the thing Zasha yearned for the most was to mark his lover. and fully engaged in bringing Thane as much pleasure as possible. a fury so overwhelming it was almost crippling. Thane had long. he was happy.Four-Letter Words 77 Chapter Seven Rich and sweet. One minute. he’d been unsure of which was the true reality. When he was Zasha Gershwin. playful. It wasn’t only his perception of reality that changed. The next moment. Then Zasha would blink. Every swallow brought a semblance of normalcy back to his fractured mind. and only his mate. golden hair that flowed over his shoulder and down his chest. Right then. It was anger like he’d never felt before. member of the Snake River Coven. the room dissolved. however. they were curled together on the floor in front of a fireplace with only the flickering flames to illuminate the area around them. blending into one confusing and disorienting reality. Zasha had been living in two coexisting realms. what he craved. From the moment Thane had walked into his bedroom. He couldn’t be certain what Thane . His mate. but he was pissed. Sometimes. Thane’s life-giving essence bathed his tongue and flowed down his throat.

and you can’t do this on your own. baby. finally pushed him over the edge. look at me. The crimson that trickled down Thane’s neck turned his stomach. he had a mouth full of salty skin.” “This isn’t like those other times. “Well. The conversation he’d heard in his head. I’m sure Daniel would be more than willing to take your place. He deserved anything Thane wanted to throw at him.78 Gabrielle Evans had said to set him off. From Thane’s tone. Closing his eyes and groaning in shame. Thane.” It was grossly inadequate. however.” Thane smirked.” Thane didn’t sound angry. “I’m sorry.” The witch lifted one shoulder in a shrug as though Zasha’s concerns were of little importance to him. “How can you say that? How can you even think that? It’s too dangerous. and he’d accept the consequences of having been a psychotic douchebag. and it would be childish to refuse him. “Zasha. the mention of this mystery man had been deliberately goading. His head was still spinning with all the conflicting reality stuff. but there was nothing more he could say. He had no idea what had just happened. he extracted his fangs from his lover’s flesh and turned his head away. Then the next thing Zasha knew. if you’re not interested. though. Zasha opened his eyes and looked down at his mate.” He didn’t know what the conversation had been about or who the hell Daniel was. reminding him that he had no concept of how . I can always find someone else. You’re going to get yourself killed. “It seems to have worked to my favor so far. unable to look Thane in the eyes. couldn’t recall that words that had been spoken before he’d lost his mind and bit the guy. but he was very aware that he’d just attacked the one person he was supposed to protect and treasure above all else. With a great deal of reluctance.

Please. Zasha paused and changed directions. especially not without talking to his partner about it first. and he felt the anguish as though he’d experienced all of those events firsthand.” Nudity was the least of Zasha’s concerns. Take a deep breath. gods. The strongest of these emotions simultaneously provoked immeasurable elation and unbearable sadness in Zasha’s heart. minds. At first.” Thane sighed and thumped the back of his head against the floor several times. There was no way he claimed Thane without knowing it. .” Thane encouraged. “Maybe we should get dressed first. “Just tell me. and the bitterness of selfdisgust rose up in his throat like bile. lieveling. He felt all of Thane’s emotions like they were his own.” Reaching out to touch Thane’s lip.Four-Letter Words 79 long he’d fed or how much blood he’d taken. lifting his hand to his own face. Did I claim you?” It was a pointless question because he already knew the answer. though. It wasn’t just the pain. Thane’s heartbeat was his own—not literally. “What did I do?” “Calm down. “Tell me what happened. but it was the only way Zasha could describe the feeling. Did I…” He couldn’t even get the words out of his mouth. “Oh. I’m more worried about you. “Stop deflecting. He could feel the connection between them cementing. binding their hearts. “Tell me. “Are you okay? Do you feel lightheaded or weak? What do you need?” “I’m fine. Every hurt.” “What did I do?” Zasha repeated the question as he hovered on the edge of panic. A tiny cut in the pad of his thumb was already beginning to heal. and souls in an unbreakable. he was terrified that he’d caused the injury.” There was a tint of red on Thane’s lip that drew his gaze. every ounce of suffering Thane had ever known now belonged to Zasha as well. but the smear of blood over the skin was what frightened him most. eternal bond.

but he had a lot of inquiries of his own. It was unusual for him to be so outwardly needy.80 Gabrielle Evans “I know you can feel it. In part. or if it was just a hallucination from his fevered mind. but you have to let go of the guilt. His lover sounded steady and confident. “It’s written all over your face.” Fingers stroked down his spine and soft lips pressed to his temple. his muscles quivered. he enfolded Zasha in his arms and cuddled him close. and he couldn’t be sure if it was something Thane had actually said. Forget I said that.” Fuck. and his whispered voice sounded strangely loud after the extended silence. it was working. “Who’s Daniel?” he blurted. “Never mind. The unintended reaction only fueled his guilt. Zasha. Zasha sagged against his lover. He didn’t have an answer to Thane’s question.” Neither of them spoke as they sat there on the floor. soaking up his warmth and inner strength.” Despite his emotional turmoil. “Tell me what happened.” Thane whispered. and his cock hardened to press against Thane’s stomach. “I’ve always loved you. “Daniel?” “Yes. slowing rocking from side to side while Thane attempted to soothe him. There was a suspicious shine to his eyes as moisture gathered in the corners. not after what he’d done. a rock for Zasha to cling to until he felt more stable. but the things he’d seen—real or not—went beyond his ability to comprehend. Zasha’s body responded with inappropriate enthusiasm. “Yes. Pushing himself into a sitting position.” “How can you…you…” “How can I love you?” The smile the stretched Thane’s lips was so heartbreakingly tender Zasha felt tears sting his own eyes. You said Daniel would be happy to take my place. He had no right to want the things he wanted. “Do you trust me?” Thane asked minutes later. His pulse accelerated.” . You make it easier than breathing. nothing made sense.

however. well. Unfortunately. Their compatibility with their .” With a breathtaking smile. love was such an abstract concept. Zasha wrapped his arms around Thane’s neck and pulled him closer until their lips met in a kiss mixed with desire and apology. but he didn’t know that it was love. everything will make sense very soon. “Then try to stop thinking so hard and let me take care of you. Zasha would have given it much more thought before responding to such an important question. There was no tangible proof that it existed. he just couldn’t return the sentiment. taste it. Zasha wasn’t convinced two people needed to love each other to be happy together.Four-Letter Words 81 Two days ago. He felt everything Thane felt. Fate threw them onto the same path because they were the best possible match. As the mating bond grew stronger with each passing second. however. and he was skeptical about this very human convention. he’d heard paranormals speak about love as well. Thane rose from the floor without releasing his hold on Zasha’s waist. rusty dagger. but he could easily decipher the witch’s emotions and intentions. he envied them and their ability to find joy based purely on faith. and from there. a mother’s love. true love. but he wasn’t so jaded as to refuse the gift. “Good. but mostly. and the ever-popular love at first sight. He couldn’t see it. Hell. He cared very much for Thane. or hold it in his hand. and carried him back to the mattress. He didn’t understand how the man could harbor such love and loyalty for him. There wasn’t anything he wouldn’t do for Thane. Sometimes. they just had to find a way to make it work. eternal love. and the thought of losing him pierced his heart like a jagged. He couldn’t read his mate’s thoughts. Of course. he had no reason to withhold his trust.” Staring up at his lover as he sprawled across the dark blankets. touch it. He’d heard humans speak of many types of love—unconditional love. he felt they were just confused. Hopefully.

I trust you. his bottom lip was sucked between his mate’s teeth. “I adore how brilliant you are. This time.” Thane whispered.82 Gabrielle Evans mates. It’s okay to let go and take something for yourself sometimes. Zash. meteor crashes. he doubted either of them wanted that to happen again. I promise you there will be no earthquakes. hurricanes.” Unfortunately. Zash. “Good. but ultimately. he felt horribly guilty. It just wasn’t his personality. “Do you trust me?” Thane asked again. Somehow.” “What the hell. since he’d just tied them together for all of forever with no way to undo the binding. Zasha was a bit more hesitant to answer. “That’s it. because Zasha never unplugged. and Thane bit down sharply as he growled. Suddenly.” He wasn’t arguing the validity of the statement. “Breathe in…and breathe out. “Yes. but he was going to have to take Thane at his word. Relax. Even when he wasn’t working. but you have to stop thinking everything to death. Thane. or any other natural disasters. The only time he could wipe his mind and cease his racing thoughts was when he blacked out and lost all control. “Close your eyes. a healthy dose of pheromones. Thane?” Zasha swiped his tongue over the abused flesh and frowned. and some animalistic instincts did not necessarily equal love in Zasha’s opinion.” Soft lips fluttered over his eyelids when he complied. even for a second. Thane rubbed their naked cocks together and lifted one eyebrow in question. he was the last person who should be carrying on about trust issues. When he forgot about these types of important things. . Turn it off for just a little while. floods. the dominant tone and forceful demeanor didn’t change anything. he was worrying about work—or Thane or his future or how one would affect the other.” Plus. “What was that for?” “Are you into this at all?” Swiveling his hips. as though he was shirking his responsibilities or dismissing crucial information. he didn’t know how. tornadoes.

His lover licked and nipped at every inch of available skin he could access without moving too far away. Thanks to the donor bag he’d hijacked from the kitchen and the additional feeding from his mate. The warmth from his lover seeped into him. The world wouldn’t come crashing down around him just because he forgot to worry for an hour. swelling and aching as it throbbed between their flushed bodies. While he hadn’t consciously decided to bite Thane. The witch’s strong hands mapped each contour of Zasha’s body. It was a natural response to heightened arousal. Thane’s unique scent filled his head and invaded his senses. he was fully in control in of his bloodlust. but a sense of urgency tinted the mating of their mouths. and it wasn’t too much to ask that Thane receive his undivided attention for a little while. Thane seemed stronger than ever and determined to torture him until he was mad with need. . Pre-cum seeped from the tip. Zasha didn’t fuss about it as he normally would. In fact. There was also a sense of calmness about it he hadn’t felt in a very long time. His mate was right. caressing his skin and kneading the tense muscles. Zasha’s cock responded once again. he’d made a promise to be a better partner. The kiss was unhurried. and with each inhalation. lubricating their skin and giving him a smooth glide with just the right amount of friction. Their lips pillowed together and their tongues dueled. though.Four-Letter Words 83 However. spiking his own temperature until a coat of sweat glistened across his body. Open-mouth kisses along his collarbones and across the expanse of his chest sent a shiver rippling down Zasha’s spine. twining and sliding in an intimate dance. the incident had further cemented his overreaction to the entire situation. His canines elongated. lengthening quickly while his gums tingled and itched. his control slipped just a little more. A quick feeding every few days wasn’t going to cause the man to shrivel up like a prune. The ability to quiet his mind became increasingly easier as Thane nibbled up his neck and along the curve of his jaw.

holding them suspended in that one moment of time. With a feral grin. pushing his knees back to his chest and spreading him open.84 Gabrielle Evans The scrape of teeth over his nipples had him sucking in air through his teeth as he arched up from the mattress. Thane extracted his digits and slicked his impressive length with lube before tossing the plastic bottle to the side.” The head of Thane’s thick cock nudged against Zasha’s opening. Hell. though. the initial burn had faded for Zasha. Then. Zasha growled. That same breath rushed out on a long groan when long. the guy could be talking gibberish. gradually increasing the rhythm and intensity. By the time Thane regained his wits. Their panting breaths mingled. curling his legs around his partner and jerking him closer. “Are you ready?” “Yes. Thane snarled. Their mouths crashed together. but the deep. The shock lasted for only a second. something snapped between them. They didn’t start off slow and tender. slick fingers rubbed his entrance and pushed past the tight muscles. No. “Deep breath. Without further commentary. pushing forward just far enough to strain the muscles. He just loved to hear Thane speak. and he flexed his hips. Thane’s discreet laughter didn’t go unnoticed. he crawled up Zasha’s body. is it?” Zasha didn’t know what his lover was talking about. and their gazes locked. but Zasha was too busy trying to stave off his orgasm to care. Each .” Zasha hissed. none of that happened. and they clung to one another while Thane threw himself into an all-out assault. There was no easy. “Very good. rich quality of Thane’s voice ignited a firestorm of need and want within him. impaling Zasha on his cock until he was buried to the root. like the shattering of a priceless vase. “See? It’s not so hard. and it wouldn’t make a difference. baby. languid beginning. They both groaned as Thane fell forward.” Thane praised as he inserted a third finger and pumped steadily into Zasha’s hole. and it was more like a dog fight than lovemaking.

filling Zasha’s clenching channel with molten lava. Thane’s growl was primal and sexy. and he increased the tempo. His fingers dug into the yielding flesh at Zasha’s hips. “Fuck!” His muscles flexed. but he’d learned his lesson and wouldn’t be revisiting the same mistakes. he didn’t know why he’d waited so long to finally give in. Hard and throbbing. his voice breathless and filled with gravel. though.” he urged. and Zasha had his doubts that this interlude was going to last much longer. His balls rolled. they attacked one another with all the carnal desire that had been building between them. Gods. sending an explosion of electrical currents throughout his body. Then all at once. rumbling up from his chest as his eyes rolled back in his head. “Touch yourself. stretching his inner walls to capacity. slamming home with animalistic intensity. Pawing. paying special attention to the little bundle of nerves just under the crown. and his stomach cramped with impending climax. . Happy to oblige.” Thane countered. changing the angle of his thrusts. On the third inward glide. Rising up on his knees. his sac tightened. They were strung too tight. he stilled completely. There was always round two. “Harder. and he shuddered clear down to his dick as a river of creamy seed erupted from the slit. both unleashing weeks of sexual frustration. and scratching. Thane lifted Zasha’s hips from the bed with a steely grip on his waist. lifting his hips to meet every demanding thrust. The thick ropes arched into the air before succumbing to gravity. encasing himself balls-deep while he shuddered and moaned. the head of his cock bumped against Zasha’s prostate. biting. his spine went rigid. falling gracefully to splash over his chest and stomach. Zasha fisted his bouncing cock and stroked quickly.Four-Letter Words 85 plunge into Zasha’s depths was more forceful than the last. his lover’s cock filled him completely. groping.

His next words were mumbled in a language Zasha didn’t recognize. I give you everything I was.” His brow furrowed and his smile slipped a notch. Really. and vice versa. and will be. “I need you to give yourself to me. it was only fair to extend the same courtesy to his lover. “Yeah. his face creased with lines of worry. I needed that. growing more attached by the day. Thane hovered above him.” Lifting himself on his forearms. Zasha. I can help you remember. On the other. and frankly. “What happened before. Thane. “What would that be?” He’d give Thane anything he could. what he’d experienced fell more under the heading of hallucinations. but I need you to say yes. nonetheless. all of you. . he wouldn’t want to undo it if he could. After weighing his options.” “There’s one more thing I need you to do.” “Thank you. Thane brushed their lips together in a gentle caress. he found Thane slumped over him with his head tucked under Zasha’s chin. He cared about Thane. me. too. You’re not going crazy. the decision was actually an easy one to make. am. without reservation. Plus.” Thane mumbled sleepily a few minutes later. “We probably need to get in the shower before we end up stuck together. Hell. It was irreversible. he knew what his mate was asking.86 Gabrielle Evans It was a long while before Zasha could think coherently again.” Dipping his head. but it sounded beautiful. but he couldn’t fathom what more the man would want right then and there. but when the world reemerged. he didn’t know how allowing Thane to claim him would bring back forgotten memories.” He lifted his head and placed a kiss against Thane’s brow. A peaceful smile tilted the corners of his lips as he threaded his fingers through his lover’s hair and stared up at the ceiling. “Yes.” On one hand. “Gods. It was Zasha’s turn to laugh. Zasha had already done his share of the claiming. Fate had chosen the witch for him.

“Don’t worry.” Thane encouraged. Thane looked so happy.” Sure enough. he knew that wasn’t possible.” Zasha wished he could be as confident. You’ll remember. and an involuntary shudder seized him. There was no miraculous recovery of supposed memories.” Everything he stood to lose flashed before him on a speed reel. Besides. sealing his claim with another kiss. though. Thane. but otherwise unchanged. the sun itself exploded within Zasha’s chest.Four-Letter Words 87 Warmth trickled over his skin as Thane spoke.” . leaving Zasha feeling a little woozy. he grinned and rolled off the mattress to join his mate.” The radiance never dimmed. however. “I hope you’re right. not yet anyway. the sensations ebbed away within seconds. It was too hard to fight against Thane’s optimism. Zasha didn’t want to disappoint him. “Just ride it out. Intellectually. and when he was finished. “It’ll pass in a minute. and Thane bounded out of bed like a little boy on Christmas morning. “I really hope you’re right. “Are you ready for that shower now?” “Sure. but he didn’t even know what he was supposed to be remembering. if what he’d experienced was the surfacing of repressed memories. but it was the only way he could think to describe the intense heat and raging energy that ricocheted inside him. it was a lot less terrifying than the idea he was losing his damn mind. his smile stretching from ear to ear. Instead of arguing.

” Taking his mate’s hand. it’ll be dangerous. The events were very real to him.” October agreed as he placed a hand on Raith’s thigh.” “Absolutely not. but he decided to ignore it. “My body still needs a bit of work. not recollections of days gone by. “It’s a large circle. “I’m going.” .” He didn’t think he imagined the slight wince at the declaration. but unfortunately. but he didn’t recall them as memories. however. He should have expected it. “You know I love you. they were more like hallucinations brought on by PTSD. though. and we’re seriously outnumbered.” He paused. either.” Thane closed his eyes and groaned at Zasha’s interruption. I’m going to help my family. Zash.88 Gabrielle Evans Chapter Eight “Reliable sources have verified that the circle we’re looking for is currently hiding out in Nevada. From what Zasha described. Zasha was still getting flashes of memories from their past life together.” Torren tapped his finger on the map spread over the desk. but even with all of us. but my magic is firing on all cylinders. but he’d hoped they were past all of this unnecessary worry. but each one was a new experience in his present world. nothing had changed. For some unknown reason. “I’m not fond of the idea. “We can’t ignore this threat. he could see these pieces of time. knowing his next words wouldn’t win him his lover’s favor. Thane brought it to his lips and kissed the knuckles. In the three days since he’d claimed his mate. the poor guy thought he was going crazy. We’re stronger.

I figured that’s what you’d say. but Thane definitely felt his blood pressure rising at the taunting tone and self-satisfied smirk. “Surely you don’t plan to go hunting witches in the middle of the day. indicating himself. “That’s great. Thane would be right there with him if anything went wrong. a cunning smile stretched across Zasha’s face. He was strong and capable and could handle himself in a fight. Did you miss the part where we’re going to the desert? Last time I checked.” Leaning back in his chair.” Thane had nothing against Zasha joining them on this assignment. and he bobbed his head slowly. there’s a lot of sun associated with the desert. Zasha folded his arms over his chest and cocked his head to the side.” Sighing into his hands. However.” “Then I suppose it’s good news that your brother is a Council member and can get us a vampire-friendly private jet.Four-Letter Words 89 To his utter surprise. Naturally. “Actually.” “We all are. Thane scrubbed both palms over his face and then pushed his fingers through his hair in . Kieran. and Lynk’s mate. he didn’t know why they couldn’t get through one goddamn day without all the bullshit. That’s why I’m going with you. Plus. he worried about his mate’s safety. the implication that his dear mate felt Thane needed a protector came across loud and clear. They expect bad things to happen.” “Yeah. I know. but Zasha wasn’t a child. It actually makes more sense for us to go during the daylight hours. “Yeah. Zasha’s desire to accompany him on this journey echoed with all of their previous arguments. “People are naturally more cautious at night. Though he hadn’t come right out and said it. Gods.” Torren began with a sympathetic nod in Thane’s direction. he also wasn’t stupid. “we stand a better chance if we attack at night.” Thane wrinkled his nose and arched both eyebrows.” October corrected. Zasha.” He wasn’t sure if Zasha was trying to pick a fight with him.” “I don’t see why not. “Kaito is going to spend some quality time with his cousin until we return.

” “A larger coven comes with larger enemies and more people to defend. “I’ll run the plan through the appropriate channels and get approval for a Council jet. He was the smallest man in the room. I know your brothers aren’t big Braddock fans. He’d never known anyone to speak to Raith like that and get away with it. and yet. The disapproval in his voice made Thane chuckle. and it humored him that the asshole had finally met his match. We’re already outnumbered. we’ll be stronger.” Torren answered at once. October. combined power.” Torren bobbed his head with a thoughtful frown on his lips. October levered .” “True.90 Gabrielle Evans frustration. no one felt the need to convince him to sit this one out. “Great!” Zasha clapped his hands together and rose from his seat. “Yes. “Are you sure that’s a good idea?” Lynk asked. but we could use all the help we can get. we should be able to crush them like ants.” Raith added. We need to be at our strongest magically. “Don’t sweat it. Kieran. and his brow furrowed to form a shallow V. “I still think it’s our best option. When do we leave?” “At sunset tomorrow night.” Bracing his hands on the arms of his chair. I’ll make sure they’re here tomorrow night. “with our full. but he quickly turned it into a cough when his brother glared at him. even smaller than Zasha. but so will the witches we’re up against.” The witching hour—the sixty minutes after midnight—was when their magic was most powerful. but can you talk to them? See if they’ll help?” Kieran stroked Lynk’s hair absently.” He waited for October’s nod of understanding before turning to the werewolf. I think Aslan had some questions for you about Kaito.” October reprimanded with a stern glare that gave a hard edge to his features. “I hate to take Enforcers away from Haven right now.” “Overconfidence will get you killed.” “Even if these fuckers are a bit stronger during the witching hour. “The witching hour. “Then it’s settled.

and he could use some advice. and they were both on edge.” It was a stressful situation. he’s your Infinity. I can loan three of my men to Haven temporarily. so he can’t distinguish what’s reality and what isn’t. though. but he doesn’t know they’re memories. Thane rose to follow Zasha out of the office. Fate had deemed it so. could I have a word?” A twinge of guilt made him wince because he was actually grateful for a reason to postpone the argument he knew was coming once he and Zasha were alone. He thinks he’s going crazy. These memories just kind of warp around whatever he’s doing at the moment. Soon. Everything would work itself out. Zasha is not the same person you knew and loved however many years ago. “Thane. everyone began filing out of the room. all of those memories will make sense to him. but first.Four-Letter Words 91 himself out of his seat. Things weren’t fine. though. “Thane. but that’s really not the point. “He’s getting his memories back.” “Have you explained about your shared souls and told him who you really are?” “Yeah. Even when he remembers. Does that make sense?” “You claimed him?” Thane shrugged at his brother’s arched eyebrow. Sure. talking in low voices about their to-do lists and what affairs they needed to get in order before they left. “However. “What’s up?” “A couple of things. but he made it only a couple of steps before Torren called him back. that won’t change who he is now.” Once all the small details were settled. I’m going to let you in on a little secret. what the hell is going on with you and Zasha?” It was on the tip of his tongue to say that everything was fine and leave it at that. but I don’t think he believes me.” . I don’t know how to help him. and Thane trusted that mystical design. “Yes. He and Zasha were meant to be together. though.

” Thane had been expecting the question.” There were many other differences. but I didn’t want to bring it up in front of Zasha. wary. however. Maybe Torren had a point. though. he couldn’t see that he’d changed very much from one reincarnation to the next.” The memories began to surface at the age of twenty-one—his age at the time he’d been cursed—and he could recall all three of his former lives. “Are you the same person you were before?” “Well. and the poor guy had possessed the memory of a gnat. and slow to trust.” His posture relaxed. Thane had chosen to ignore all of those signs. We can’t afford distractions. always running late. and a little bit of a control freak. Is he the same person?” Thane was damned ashamed of himself to admit that was exactly the case. “Good. a mystery to unravel. I’m the one who dragged him out of Purgatory. He was also organized. For the most part. presenting a rather imposing sight. hoping the old Zasha would resurface with the emergence of his lost memories. and he was actually shocked it had taken Torren so long to ask him.” Torren’s eyes narrowed at the corners. “There’s something else I’ve been meaning to ask you. Where the Zasha he’d once known had been almost reckless in his desire to give. “Do you really think that’s it?” “You tell me. There were pieces of Zasha’s personality that were the same. but a larger part of him was foreign. “I get it. for the most part. yeah. and he resumed leaning against the desk. “Now fix it. In his past life. obsessed about the smallest details. Thane.” “You want to know about your mate and that coven in the mountains.” . this new Zasha was cautious.92 Gabrielle Evans Torren rounded the desk and propped one hip against the gleaming wood. he’d been the epitome of disorganization. some subtle and some so obvious they should have clubbed him over the head. “Yeah. So intent on recapturing what he’d lost. and he stood tall with his hands resting on his hips.

Then he sniffed twice and coughed to clear his throat. Aslan. “Thane?” “Yeah?” “Thank you. and it wasn’t ideal conditions for an introduction. his head hanging limply on his shoulders while blood seeped from a wound in his neck. he was going to learn firsthand just how it felt to lose the most important person in his life.” He knew the feeling well.” He really wished people would stop thinking they needed to handle him so carefully. Of course. If he didn’t start making some changes. “They moved me before he woke up. one event melting into the next. but it had been well worth the trouble.” . Like I said. I’m just glad he’s okay.” Torren whispered. either.” “I appreciate his concern. Thane just knew that the sight broke his heart. Thane dipped his head and turned to leave the room. he could do something to help.” “Me. “I hope you never have to find out. too. It had taken longer than he’d have liked to channel his remaining energy. his voice tight with restrained emotion. but it’s not necessary. desolate land. He still remembered the sense of relief that flooded him when he’d found Aslan in that cold. He made it to the door this time before Torren called him back again. chained to a wall.” “I’ll let him know. “Well.” Thinking the conversation was over. and he couldn’t have guessed he would turn out to be the Infinity of a Braddock.Four-Letter Words 93 Most of the time he’d spent with that coven was a huge blur. but he wasn’t sure if he should bring it up. he hadn’t known the guy’s name. One of the few clear memories he had was of Torren’s mate. “He can thank me if he wants. he wants to thank you. but that’s not necessary. I’m just glad he made it out alive. I don’t know what I’d do without him. While his magic wasn’t good for much else because of all the sedatives his captors gave him. at the time.

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

“I can’t hold on to the past anymore if I want to start building a future with the man I love.” “Yes. he peeked up at Zasha through his long.” “I’m sorry. uncompromising asshole?” Thane nodded quickly. things had kind of descended into convoluted rambling. Keep going.” Rolling his head to the side. “Yeah. “I know what you’re thinking.” Thane murmured as he inched lower. Are you trying to say that you’ve been a stubborn.” Thane mumbled as he pushed closer. “I was trying to fit a square peg into a round hole and kept coming up with four. The reaction was involuntary.” “Can I ask what brought on this sudden revelation?” Thane sounded sincere. After that. I got that. He was caught off guard every time Thane said it. and to be honest. but I wanted everything to go back to the way it was so much that I deluded myself into believing it would. Not twenty minutes had passed since their last disagreement. Slow down and say that first part again. he would have understood just as much if Thane had been speaking in Aramaic.Four-Letter Words 95 All Zasha could do was blink stupidly. but his turnabout in attitude was so abrupt Zasha was reluctant to get his hopes up that things were finally beginning to sway in the right direction for them. and he was pretty sure Thane felt he was wrong about something. Each time he uttered the simple statement. that one. “I think I always knew I was screwing up. Hell. Why are you sorry?” “I was wrong. “I’m going to go out on a limb here. you’re not making any sense. and he couldn’t fathom that anything so extraordinary had happened in that short amount of time. dark lashes. and while he didn’t . and the guy had been using it with increasing frequency during the last few days. rubbing his cheek over Zasha’s trapped cock. “Thane.” There was that damned L word again. Zasha felt his muscles tense and his eyes tighten at the corners.” Well. they were getting closer. At least Zasha mostly understood that last analogy. He’d understood the apology part. you’re scaring me a little.

he wouldn’t realize what had happened until afterwards. the worker he’d accosted had been a man. “I’m sorry. he had to be honest.” Gods.” Keeping quiet on the subject was no longer an option. These hallucinations you think you’re having are just memories. the whole mess was one big. and with each new episode. His hallucinations melded into everyday life. he’d answer one of Thane’s questions. On the other hand. and more times than not. It would be cruel to give Thane false hope that one day Zasha might miraculously fall into an emotion he didn’t comprehend. “You’re not going crazy. the picture in his mind in no way resembled his mom. I believe you. confusing clusterfuck. Even more embarrassing.96 Gabrielle Evans necessarily believe in the confines of love. thinking the person was his mother. though. only to find that his mate wasn’t in the room. either. and you’ll never find anyone more loyal. However. but I don’t remember it. Sometimes. but his tone was soft and gentle like he was leading a spooked horse to the watering trough.” he whispered. his grasp on reality slipped another notch on the proverbial rope. He’d cried all over one of the kitchen workers. It wasn’t like a dream where he was completely immersed in the fantasy. “You do remember it. I do think it’s safe to say that I’m not the same person you remember. “I care about you. Zash. he’d wanted to go over October’s schedule with him but ended up yelling at Thane for being inappropriately naked . At that point. and if he truly wanted to spare Thane any future heartbreak. The night before. had to lay all his cards on the table right then.” Thane argued. “If you say we shared a life together before. there was nothing he could say that wouldn’t make him sound like the uncompromising asshole he’d just accused his partner of being. he couldn’t let things stand as they were. I’m committed to making this relationship work.” They sure as hell didn’t feel like memories. he wasn’t trying to go out of his way to hurt Thane.

There was no way to measure love. safety.” The smug grin never left Thane’s visage as he pushed to his feet and pulled his shirt off over his head.Four-Letter Words 97 with a fire burning in the leader’s office. Sure. In fact. he’d actually looked excited by the challenge. and the room was as it should be with October sitting behind his desk. “I’m not trying to hurt you.” “I’ll be there in a minute.” Oh. If anything. Honestly. There was no way to measure the darkness. his mate was a stubborn fool. We’ve got a lot to do tomorrow. Thane now knew how he felt about love and everything it supposedly encompassed.” If that was really the extent of it. Everyone in the house probably thought he’d snapped under the stress and was going insane. he was smiling from ear to ear.” Thane didn’t appear offended or even upset. That wasn’t even the point he was trying to make. either. he couldn’t blame them. it was as abstract as any emotion. It was like darkness. People talked about the dark as though it was a physical thing. then doctors would be in love with their patients. “Why do you want to go with me to hunt the witches?” “Caring about your happiness. happily-ever-after. it hadn’t deterred him. but Zasha found it endearing. when in actuality. yet people tried daily to quantify it. studying Zasha with obvious concern. It’s not going to happen. “I’m going to grab a shower and hit the sack. “If you say so.” Sighing under his breath. truelove-will-find-a-way stuff. I’m sorry. I don’t believe in all this fairy tale. and strangely. he reached out and cupped Thane’s cheek. but if you’re waiting for me to fall in love. only the absence of light. he seemed more determined than ever to change Zasha’s opinion. “Thane. . it could be irritating at times. but he couldn’t fault the man for his unconditional hope and optimism. Then he’d blinked. though. and general well-being does not equate to love. Hell.

he liked knowing Thane believed him worth the pursuit. Once again. and more importantly. Zasha secretly and selfishly enjoyed the little game. and he conveyed the depths of his emotions through actions rather than words. He was capable of tenderness and affection. hardened bastard with no emotions at all. he knew deep down that Thane would never see things his way. For all of his complaints. where were they going to find their middle ground? . Besides. To him. he pushed to his feet and sighed. He just didn’t subscribe to the trappings of conventional love. it wasn’t like he was a cold. Hearing the shower come on in the bathroom.98 Gabrielle Evans Truth be told. he had to ask himself how fate could have paired two individuals so vastly different from one another. No matter how he tried to justify it to himself. that was far better than spewing the same three little. overused words until they lost all sense of meaning.

Thane seriously hated life and everything about his own existence. splitting the sky to the torrential downpour that flooded the tarmac. His temples throbbed. but all the medication had done was increase his nausea. Even the dim light of the jet cabin aggravated his condition. The wind howled and screamed. unable to bear the pain of even a short nod. pushing the sweat-dampened locks back from Thane’s forehead. isn’t it?” Thane grunted. whipping the rain sideways so that it pelted against the tiny windows of the plane like machine gun fire. It had been a long time since he’d experienced a migraine of this magnitude. “Did you take something for the headache?” “Yes. “I’m no good like this. “It’s getting worse.” His neck cramped and the muscles in his shoulders knotted. dear.” Zasha murmured. and bile rose in his esophagus while cold sweat coated his skin. and the rocky descent through the raging storm had his stomach tied in knots.Four-Letter Words 99 Chapter Nine By the time the plane touched down in Nevada. With a wave of his hand. causing him to whimper in agony. Nausea bubbled in his gut. Lightning flashed and thunder boomed.” . “Make it stop. Thane used his magic to slide the plastic shade closed and rolled his head to the side with a pathetic groan.” Zasha teased. “I think I’m dying. sending shooting pains into his right eye. “Hey. and he didn’t have time to curl into the fetal position for the next three days.” “Good thing you’re not dramatic or anything.” He’d downed the aspirin and bottle of water his mate had given him halfway through the flight.

After Thane’s revelation the night before—and the circular conversation that followed—he felt they’d both been trying much harder to be considerate of each other. but the distinct coppery taste of blood lingered when Zasha pulled away. “A kiss will cure what ails you. you’re with Thane and Zasha.” This was not something Zasha could kiss and make better. you’re with Raith and October. but there was something different. something better. You’d do the same for me. only seconds later. you’ll come with me. but he felt it.” he breathed reverently. Parker. ensuring they were prepared for almost anything. okay. Jericho. “Torren is going to make us go out in this shit. but even sick.” Zasha brushed their lips together again and pushed to his feet. easy. Thane wasn’t going to turn down a taste of those delectable lips. Thane couldn’t put a name to it. grateful not only that Zasha’s blood had the ability to heal him.” Sure enough. Raven and Eli.” “We’re going to split into four groups. you go with Lynk and Kieran. Within seconds. and the tangle of their tongues briefer. “You don’t have to do this. “You are too good to me.100 Gabrielle Evans “Okay.” Torren announced before Thane could respond. his muscles relaxed. and Thane found himself nodding in approval.” Curling his fingers around the back of Thane’s neck. Nothing had really been accomplished. It was a smart plan. and the droplets of perspiration dried on his skin. but it didn’t make him any less thankful. “Gideon.” “It’s just a little rain.” With the division. the pain vanished. each group included a Braddock. As . sweetheart.” This was true. Zasha massaged the tight muscles as he pulled him closer. It’s not like these witches are just going to walk up to us and surrender. “C’mon. a Delaney.” “Hush. Torren announced that they’d be splitting into groups to trek out into the desert. “Thank you. and their talk had found them right back to where they’d started. but that his mate had offered him the cure. and a vampire. The brush of lips was brief.

” Eli Delaney darted around the SUV and practically dove into the front passenger seat.” Raven called over his shoulder. grabbed a handful of the werewolf’s hair. but Raven’s appearance had come as a surprise and still remained somewhat of a mystery. and his eyes softened at the corners while he chuckled indulgently at the vampire’s antics.” Raven simply laughed as he casually pulled open the passenger door. bloodsucker. everyone was falling against each other and roaring with uncontrolled laughter. I have almost two hundred years on you.” October added as they filed out of the jet and down the steps into the driving rain. and dragged him from his seat. His gaze followed the Enforcer. “I’ve acquired four SUVs from a local coven. “Have fun riding bitch. “He always was an idiot. There was too much familiarity in his tone and too much fondness in his smile when he spoke about Raven.” By the time the whole scene had played out. The curiosity was eating . shouting to be heard above the wailing winds. and the windows have been treated to block out UV rays. Approaching the driver’s door of the first Suburban. he elbowed the Enforcer away from the vehicle and proceeded to climb in behind the wheel.” Torren argued. There was a story there.Four-Letter Words 101 Leader Tuesday’s second-in-command. not happening. “I’m driving. “If you’re nice.” “Meaning no crispy vampire bacon for breakfast. bloodsucker. maybe the wolf boy will let you ride shotgun. be a good little puppy and crawl in the back where you belong.” “Not on your life.” Torren chastised with a smirk. “and load the gear.” “Stop being an asshole.” Zasha said with a chuckle as he wiped the rain away from his face.” “Yeah. “There is room for three people to sleep semicomfortably. “Pup. Didn’t anyone ever teach you to respect your elders? Now. a past that held more than just casual friendship. it made sense why Gideon was there.

“Follow the taillights in front of you.” “I don’t know shit about Nevada or navigating. and he’s never said. pressing their sodden bodies together as he stretched up on his toes for a kiss. Still. “You drive. “Is there going to be a problem?” Thane didn’t give a damn who liked him and who didn’t. protect him. I’m going to stretch out in the backseat. along with a twinge of jealousy. However.” Their eyes met. I want you to get Zasha out of here. Thane followed behind Jericho. anything at all. “No problem. no.” He didn’t know the area. but it wasn’t the time or place for him to interrogate his lover. but he didn’t think Jericho was being caustic with his easy smile and relaxed posture. “Do you want to drive?” Zasha curled his arm around Thane’s midsection. I won’t ask you to abandon your family. He also didn’t know what had gone down between the witches and werewolves before his arrival. and his time would be better served sending out feelers for any type of magical energy that lurked in the desert. he wasn’t about to drag his mate into the middle of some grudge match.” Jericho assured him. “Jericho can navigate.” Thane didn’t know the young werewolf that well. but he just rolled his eyes and splashed through the puddles to the SUV. “If anything happens.” Jericho informed them as he pulled his long.102 Gabrielle Evans Thane alive. but if it’s a choice between me and him. I don’t know what problem he has with your family. There’s your navigation. catching the werewolf by the elbow near the back of the vehicle. dripping locks back and secured them with a band at the nape of his neck. a silent understanding passing between them. and each man nodded. he remembered Torren saying the Delaneys weren’t exactly fans of the Braddock witches. and before you ask. Zasha appeared a little confused by the exchange.” . “Parker’s the one with a stick up his ass.

flexing rhythmically and searching for any outside disturbances. he closed his eyes and breathed deeply. .” Thane could feel other witches in the area. so he just dipped his head. “I’ll do what I can to make sure nothing happens to him.” Thane had nothing to say to that. and as he watched. rocking and swaying along the narrow desert road. If you hear or see anything. and slipped into the backseat behind his mate. glancing over his shoulder to the other three SUVs. seated high in the center balcony. The enormous display before him was completely blank. Thane was finally able to relax enough to clear his mind. Ignoring the familiar magic. his magic crawled across the barren landscape. washing over the rows and rows of crimson seats until the whole of the room was enveloped by nothingness. “Let’s hope it doesn’t come to that.” “I’m on it. Like tiny. he kept searching.” “Same here. He imagined himself inside a large movie theater.Four-Letter Words 103 Jericho stared at him for a moment before nodding once. even determining who rode in which vehicle. As the vehicle began to move. Getting comfortable wasn’t easy when he was soaked to the bone and had water sloshing around inside his boots. marching ants. he picked up on his brothers. Resting his head on the seatback. walked around Jericho. “Yeah. but I can’t figure out which direction it’s coming from. and then returned his attention to Thane. the darkness seeped off of the screen.” He paused. “Do you feel that?” he asked. Drowned in the inky black.” Zasha assured him as he turned the key and revved the engine. pushing out any negative energy on each exhale. sending his thoughts to Lynk. and he was pretty sure they belonged to the circle they were searching for. “I’m going to zone out and try to connect with Lynk. he pushed his energy out into the night. jerking slightly when he picked up the faintest hint of foreign energy. let me know. Immediately.

Combined and more powerful. and the dark circles under his tired eyes gave him a . they worked together. and while he didn’t begin bleeding from random orifices as they portrayed in the cinema. Vampires were not biologically engineered to be awake during the day. Thane mentally coiled it into a tight spiral and sent it in Lynk’s direction. you look like twice-baked death.” That wasn’t too far from the truth. manipulating their powers into a type of sonar that would hopefully bounce back the direction of the unfamiliar current on the wind. heralding the dawn.” Thane announced once he’d lowered the backseat and set up their makeshift bed in the cargo area of the Suburban.104 Gabrielle Evans but he couldn’t get a bead on which direction to lead his companions. Over and over in every direction. however. We’ve got ’em. the sky outside the window was beginning to lighten.” “Ready when you are. “Turn northeast toward Lake Mead. they searched for what felt like forever. moving the beam in tiny increments with each change. Thankfully. While the treated glass of the windows protected him from the harmful UV rays of the sun. he had good news to share. His skin was paler than usual. “All set. “We need to be stronger. “C’mon. Zasha was well past exhausted. lieveling.” Reclaiming some of his magic. almost gray. meeting his twin’s energy somewhere in the middle and forming the intricately woven connection they needed. he did feel like he’d been run over with a Mack truck. but by the time he disconnected with Lynk and opened his eyes.” **** The sun had fully crested over the horizon by the time they found a place to rest for the day. Thane wasn’t sure how long it actually took. and it had come much faster than he’d expected.

the intense look faded. careful not to kick Jericho in the face since the werewolf was already dozing in the reclined passenger seat. however. I’m sure Daniel would be more than willing to take your place. and the steady beat of Thane’s pulse had Zasha’s eyes drooping within seconds. Thane pulled the blankets up over their shoulders and wound his strong arms around Zasha’s middle. Of course.” Grabbing his lover’s arm.” That was all Thane said. “It seems to have worked to my favor so far. Thane wouldn’t take his concerns seriously. but Zasha felt himself falling at once. Once they were both settled. self-satisfied grin.” . “Well. “How can you say that? How can you even think that? It’s too dangerous. The reflection of the dying flames in his eyes and the hard set of his jaw gave Thane’s expression an almost sinister quality. Thane. Kicking his boots off and tossing them to the floorboards. as though obeying a command. he crawled over the console. Zasha sat up straighter. but this time. “Rest.” Thane laughed indulgently but said nothing as he set about removing Zasha’s clothing and positioning him more comfortably. The witch lifted one shoulder and gave a casual tilt of his head. and Thane quirked one side of his mouth in a crooked. The warmth from his lover seeped into him. You’re going to get yourself killed.” Thane’s pride was one of the things he admired about his mate. Once in the back. After a brief pause.” “This isn’t like those other time. and you can’t do this on your own. if you’re not interested. I can always find someone else. he collapsed onto the arrangement of blankets and pillows with a quiet groan. “I’m never moving again.Four-Letter Words 105 ghastly appearance. and the single word was barely more than a breath. holding him tightly against his chest. his overconfidence was going to land his stubborn ass in a shallow grave.

you can compel him to find out what he knows. but for the first time in weeks.” Zasha had heard the story many times.” Leaning against the carved legs of the chair behind him. Even with the . Zasha didn’t move or speak for several minutes while all of those old memories came rushing back to him.” Coming awake still enveloped in Thane’s arms. and he’s not going to risk everything because you’re holding a three-hundred-year-old grudge. He also has a family to think about. That had been the last time he’d spoken to Thane. His heart beat too fast. This is never going to stop. “They need a key to open the book.” Thane argued. Thane brushed his golden locks over his shoulder.” he answered gravely.” “I just need one of them. he didn’t see how walking right into the hands of the enemy was going to accomplish anything. Thane?” “Where the book is. and they want a key. there are people out there who will do anything to get it.” “What could they possibly know. After their argument. “Please explain to me how searching out these witches is a good idea. Additionally. “Until the book is destroyed. his lover had been gone. “Your friend has as much desire to see you dead as I do. Zasha. but Zasha had played this game too many times with his mate. and he understood the dangers involved. we’re all dead.106 Gabrielle Evans Thane was trying to goad him into agreeing to the moronic plan. However. Zasha was well aware that Daniel was in agreement with him on this. made love. “If they get their hands on that faerie.” “This isn’t a grudge. Your blood. They want the Book of the Banished.” he added with a pointed nod. everything was finally beginning to make sense. they’d gone to bed. “If we can get one of them alone. and his stomach rolled uncomfortably from the onslaught of information. and when Zasha had awoken in the morning.

It was overpowering. Now that his recollections had returned. Unfortunately. it had taken him nearly three months to find Thane in a crude. he didn’t buy into the notion that what he currently felt was more than the mating bond and physical attraction. he hadn’t harbored the same ideals about the world as he did now. Zasha finally understood what Thane had meant about him being a different person.Four-Letter Words 107 enlistment of Daniel’s help. because he distinctly remembered how he’d felt about Thane. He’d certainly believed in love in those days. Apparently. He couldn’t forget the way he’d loved Thane. but it also didn’t change anything this time around. he realized Thane must have perished quickly thereafter. Zasha didn’t know what it meant for the future of his relationship. echoing similar feelings he presently held for his mate. and worse. If he followed the logical path of that thought to its conclusion. He’d more than believed. it did create a new problem for him. but that had been centuries ago. it was a single feeling that was clearest of all. how he’d have gladly given his own life to secure Thane’s happiness and well-being. he’d been as much of a warrior back then as he was now. he’d loved Thane with every cell in his body. he had to assume he’d already been dead by the time he’d fallen into that pit. However. he almost wished he was still oblivious. Even though he recalled how it felt to be in love with surprising clarity. . and he’d ended up with a dagger in his back before he’d been able to rescue his mate. all-consuming. Gods. in his former life. Since he didn’t remember hitting the ground. underground cell. The emotion was intense. and his body vibrated as the emotion grew stronger. While the memories were flooding back. he had no idea how to begin reconciling the past with the present. and he’d been a lot more naïve back then.

108 Gabrielle Evans Chapter Ten “Your heart is fluttering like a hummingbird’s. His muscles tensed. He didn’t hold back his emotions because he feared they’d make him look weak. and his body seized. “Shh. shh. and he felt raw. though. It’s all over now. lieveling. “It’s okay. ripped open and exposed like a bleeding wound. but Zasha rolled to face his lover. burying his face against Thane’s neck and soaking up the offered comfort. and the corners of his eyes stung with suppressed tears. the hurt. “I remember.” It wasn’t over by any stretch of the imagination. but this was personal—private on a deeper level than he could adequately articulate. and the fear that had clutched him when he’d realized his mate had gone missing. More than just his memories had been recovered. making his stomach cramp violently as he experienced the gut-wrenching despair that had haunted him during the three months he’d tried and failed to locate Thane. Then his eyes would mist again when he remembered the arguments. “Bad dream?” “Something like that. and the corded muscles in his forearms constricted as he pulled Zasha tighter to his bare chest. A smile tugged at the corner of his lips while he experienced the joy and contentment.” Thane mumbled as his hand slid down Zasha’s sternum.” A deep ache settled in Zasha’s chest. He might share most things with Thane.” Thane’s lips brushed over the nape of his neck.” .

“The pup went on a perimeter check with his brothers. This time. Zasha stared out through the back window into the inky night beyond. he wanted this one moment for himself. “I remember. and there was nothing he wanted more than the man in his arms. The others were probably waiting on him and Thane. he pressed their lips together in a slow. “Let that be enough for now. “What should we do to pass the time?” Two well-lubed fingers pressed between his cheeks to prod against his entrance before he could even process the question. A small voice in his head argued that Jericho could return at any time. Zasha’s head fell back on his shoulders. he hadn’t even taken a personal day away from his duties in over fifty years. giving his lover more room to explore. A thousand arguments as to why it was a bad idea chased one another through his mind.” Rolling to his side. “I can feel the difference. but I don’t think this is the best time. “Where did you—” His sentence died on a sultry groan as electrical currents raced along his spine. giving the witch an easy smile.” Dipping his head. “Magic. Do you want to talk about it?” Lifting his head. let alone offer an answer. he was going to do what he wanted. Thane pushed himself into a sitting position and pulled Zasha into his lap.Four-Letter Words 109 “I know. but Zasha didn’t care.” There was a devilish light in Thane’s eyes. however. They had a long night ahead of them and didn’t have time for such carnal delights.” He focused on Thane. Selfishly. He always did what was expected of him. . “We’re definitely going to talk about it. Until he’d met Thane. It’s just you and me.” Thane answered distractedly before nibbling openmouth kisses up the column of his throat. and the coy grin was devastatingly sexy.” he whispered.” Thane rubbed his cheek over the top of Zasha’s head and caressed his back. He always did the right thing. lingering kiss. “Yes and no.

spinning out of control. Guilt. Sensations he’d never experienced crashed against him like the tides. breathless from the flames that engulfed him. seeking the delicious friction as he impaled himself on his lover’s fingers. passion.” he panted.” Zasha was falling. Conversely. his pulse picked up in rhythm. quickly replaced by the flared crown of his cock. Instead. “This isn’t just a game to me. Holding the back of Thane’s neck. and a fierce need to protect his mate at all costs were just a sampling of the emotions he couldn’t form into coherent sentences. still wasn’t sure how he felt about the idea of love. joy. and with every inhalation of his mate’s scent. but I can’t stop how I feel. I love you. but he felt it would change him forever. he rubbed his aching cock along the smooth expanse of Thane’s abs. Something monumental was happening. longing. Zasha. His tone was serious. every ounce of desperation in the mating of their lips and the sensual tangling of their tongues. he pulled the witch into a kiss he hoped expressed all the words he couldn’t say.” He still couldn’t force the words through his lips.” Thane whispered. and there was a hint of sadness in his eyes. he tumbled a little further into the beckoning abyss. “I need you. “I know it scares you. he poured everything. sighing as he lowered himself onto his . Thane’s fingers eased out of his clenching hole. The slight burn felt like heaven. possessiveness. a vulnerability Zasha had never seen before. Capturing Thane’s face in both hands. heartache. devoid of his usual playfulness. and he relaxed into Thane with pure. and the corresponding tingles that spread across his skin enflamed him with desire. “I want you. A brief moment of hesitancy followed as they stared into each other’s eyes. he closed his eyes and rested their foreheads together. but Zasha didn’t wince this time. something Zasha couldn’t put a name to. unsullied contentment. pounding just a little harder against his ribs.110 Gabrielle Evans Rocking his hips.

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mate’s cock. He had a lot of four-letter words in his vocabulary— care, hope, fate, fear, want, need, safe, warm—but he knew those weren’t the ones Thane longed to hear. Until he could untangle the snarl of his emotions, perhaps the man would accept a meaningful substitute. Rising and falling over Thane’s length in long, languid strokes, Zasha pressed their mouths together again, growling as his mate’s addictive flavor exploded over his tongue. “Mine.” It wasn’t love, but it was as close as he could get to expressing how he felt. Thane’s arms surrounded him, crushing him closer as he buried his face against the side of Zasha’s neck. “Mine,” he murmured reverently, arching upward, pushing deeper into Zasha’s channel. The temperatures had fallen with the setting of the sun, but a fine sheen of perspiration dampened their bodies, glimmering subtly in the silvery rays of moonlight. As the pace increased and the intensity reached new levels, Zasha struggled to pull air into his lungs. Gasping and panting, he writhed against his lover, their movements beautifully in sync as though coordinated by something greater than them both. The muffled slap of skin against skin echoed through the vehicle, and the scent of sex hung heavily in the air. Every hard plunge into his depths sent Zasha careening closer to the edge, dragging him to the brink of orgasm. Thane consumed him, filled every one of his senses. The taste of his mouth, the familiar smell of his cologne, and the exquisite mixture of pleasure and pain that covered his handsome face were hypnotizing. The feel of his mate’s thick cock as it stretched him wide, and the needy moans that spilled from the man’s lips completed the saturation of his senses until nothing else in the world existed beyond Thane Braddock. The scrape of teeth over his collarbone and the fingernails that bit into his back added just the right amount of pain to his pleasure.

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

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

and truly. rattling Thane’s insides with tense energy for which he had no viable outlet. but he needed the connection more than he needed his next breath. There are plenty of caves around here for me to take shelter in if it comes to that. crawling over Thane’s skin like a living thing.” He seemed to interpret the meaning of the question. The magic was thick in the air. and he rubbed his hand up and down Thane’s arm.114 Gabrielle Evans However. though. because his features softened. It slowed their forward momentum a bit. “How long until sunrise?” Zasha pressed a button on the side of his watch to illuminate the face. I don’t think so. Zasha didn’t argue or try to pull away from him. just stay close. I need you to stay right beside me. “I’ll watch the time. and Thane worried about their ability to make it back to the vehicles before the sun rose.” Thankfully. “Like I said. are you okay?” “No. “Thane. “At least ten hours.” he conceded.” The feeling of being on edge intensified.” “Right. Let’s hope this goes quickly. It’s only eight o’clock. He wasn’t sure he could leash his temper if someone so much as brushed against his mate by accident. he .” he warned as they hiked toward the top of the hill.” Wrapping one arm around Zasha’s waist. but Thane couldn’t understand the hows or whys. struggling to traverse the rocky terrain. “Zash. they were getting closer. It didn’t matter if the person was friend or family. “Are we close?” Yes. Thane tucked his Infinity against his side as they crested the top of the hill. this new emotion raging inside him was more than a territorial claim or even superficial jealousy. Thane actually feared for the other men in their group. They’d driven as far as they could before they’d been forced to continue on foot into less hospitable territory. The look in his eyes said he thought Thane had lost his mind. “We’re getting close. The sudden deranged behavior coincided with Zasha’s revelations.

” “Lynk.” “There might be a little part of me that’s jealous because we don’t have that mental link. “Duty calls.” Sighing.” This made sense. “What was that tone about?” Zasha shrugged. I’m more concerned for everyone else’s safety. Zasha ducked his head and turned away.” “Tell me anyway. lieveling. I may not be a warrior.” To his surprise. They both knew that. Thane believed that. and Thane imagined he’d have a similar reaction if their situations were reversed. “I probably shouldn’t like that you like it. Thane kissed his lover’s temple. he squeezed Zasha’s hand and winked. the spark of jealousy was a good thing. These witches they were hunting wouldn’t play fair. but I can hold my own in a fight. and the sheepish look on his face as he peeked at Thane through his blond lashes was sexy and adorable all at once. let’s not keep him waiting. It’s something I can’t share with you. and unless Thane was imagining things. “I think we’re here.” Zasha surmised. but he was pleased by the response.” Lynk called to him through their twin bond. and tugged him forward by his hand. but not before Thane caught the grin that stretched his lips. He couldn’t change the way things were. huh?” “Probably not. that wasn’t the driving force behind Thane’s command. though. but there you have it. though. there was a petulant undertone to his voice. “I probably shouldn’t like that.” In a fair fight. “It’s stupid. “Don’t worry about me.” Thane agreed. “Right now. but something doesn’t feel right.Four-Letter Words 115 was probably right. come here. “Well.” “Something you want to tell me?” Thane asked as they passed the others to get to Lynk. I’m not feeling very rational or forgiving where you’re concerned.” “Thane. . Instead of offering platitudes. Still. and Zasha had no defense against their magic. While he knew better than to say it aloud. released his waist.

it was mine anyway. jerking it out of reach when Thane reached for it. he took a deep breath and let it out slowly as he pinched the bridge of his nose between thumb and forefinger.” Thane would call it more than slight. Getting down the small mountain was only the beginning of their problems.” . “Don’t be such a baby. however.” Raith whined. “We’ll have to cross. While he liked the new direction they were traveling. they’d be walking right into the waters of Lake Mead. it felt a little like the calm before a storm. “Well. Reeling in his temper. the time their magic would be at its most powerful. and he kept waiting for the other shoe to drop. “Now what?” Lynk asked as Thane approached him. Thane wished to hell he knew what had happened back in that SUV right after sundown.” “You’re stupid.116 Gabrielle Evans Except the rare occasion when Zasha lost control—and Thane didn’t count those times—it was the first real evidence that his lover wasn’t as unaffected as he’d have everyone believe. “That’s the direction we’re supposed to go.” “Don’t be stupid. The dynamics of his and Zasha’s relationship had taken a sudden and extreme turn. and he won’t give it back. and how do you propose we do that?” “How should I know?” Thane snapped. but it was quickly approaching midnight. Let’s just keep going. “Right. After that. “Kieran took my flashlight. “Okay. He rested one hand on his hip and pointed to the valley stretched out below them. Not only did they have the sunrise to contend with. Maybe we’ll find something when we get there.” Thane shot back. I can feel it. there appears to be a slight problem.” Lynk snatched the flashlight from Kieran’s hand.” They didn’t have time to go around the lake. As you can see.

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

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Chapter Eleven
“He’s joking, right?” Zasha didn’t find it very humorous, but it was the only thing that even remotely made sense as to why four grown men were acting like a bunch of preteens. Turning to his leader, he jerked his thumb at Thane. “Tell me he’s joking.” October looked just as puzzled by the behavior. “Actually, I don’t think he is.” A loud grunt and sounds of a scuffle drew Zasha’s attention just in time for him to see Raith tackle Thane to the ground. They yelled the most ridiculous names at each other as they rolled across the rocks and sand, both throwing punches that weren’t extremely coordinated. “You bit me!” Kieran shouted, jerking his hand away from Lynk. “What the fuck?” “Don’t touch me!” Lynk yelled right back. “You’re gross!” Zasha didn’t know what to do, so he just stood there like an idiot with his mouth hanging open. “I don’t understand.” “If I had to say, I’d guess magical repellent charms.” October shrugged when Zasha continued to gape. “You didn’t think this would be easy, did you?” “Well, no, but c’mon! What are we even supposed to do with them like this?” He also wondered why it was only the Braddocks. No one else in their group appeared to be affected. “Raith,” October called, “come over here, love.” “You can’t boss me around,” Raith answered immediately. Thane, however, used the distraction to escape his brother’s hold. He didn’t waste a minute of his freedom, either. Stopping right in front of Zasha, he pointed a finger at Raith. “He pulled my hair.” His

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

“You better watch that shit.” he said out of the side of his mouth after Raven had issued the next task in the game. “I don’t feel like I’m going to crawl out of my skin anymore.” The funny part about it was that the nickname wasn’t an endearment. the men stretched their legs out like cartoon parodies as each one attempted a larger stride than his brother.” There was no way in hell Zasha would even attempt to picture his mate as a child. Hell. “I think it stops here.120 Gabrielle Evans “Simon says take three giant steps forward. Crossing to the vampire.” Zasha had noticed the low-level buzz. According to Raven. Zasha stopped beside him and folded his arms over his chest. angel. Perhaps that was why he’d been so slow to think of a solution. Zasha was the angel of death when it came to all things fun. and he hadn’t thought anything of it.” “Have you told Thane?” . “Why is it only them. “Can we hurry this up?” “One question first.” Kieran announced from where he stood with his brothers just a few feet from the edge of the hilltop.” Raven countered. but if you imagine them about three feet shorter.” Raven called. “Fine. it’s a piece of cake. walking backward from the group as he spoke. You might be bigger and older. and apparently. “Thank you. As a unit. Thane agreed with that assessment if his earlier comment about him being a “fun sucker” was any indication. though?” “No idea.” “If you say so. Zasha was grateful for the quick thinking of his friend. but he’d been strung tight since they’d started their trek. and he was a little amazed that Raven had been the one to solve their dilemma.” Zasha snorted and elbowed the man in the ribs. “It’s kind of creepy seeing them this way. but Thane can bend you into a pretzel with just a thought. it wasn’t even a compliment.

Why he’d felt the need to bring up their so-called past was as confusing as it was irrelevant to Zasha’s current relationship. “Don’t say I didn’t warn you. but I do pay attention. The entire affair had lasted exactly forty-six days. and Raven had definitely been a good friend since the split.” After that little jab. but the entire relationship—if he could call it that—hadn’t even progressed past the awkward stage. Raven was a good friend. Raven finally dropped the subject and returned his attention to the game. Luckily. “That was three years ago. Simon says run as fast as you can to Kieran. There . waiting to see if Kieran was right about the distance. very wrong they’d been for one another. By mutual agreement. Why would I bring that up?” “I don’t know dick about relationships. and he cared about people much more than anyone realized.” He didn’t know what else to say. but it was so ridiculously absurd to think he would have announced to his chosen mate that he’d had a brief fling with the Enforcer. and it was over before either of us could blink. Truly. “Okay.” “Okay. it’s that these things come out eventually.” Jumping out of the way to avoid being trampled.Four-Letter Words 121 Zasha didn’t mean to laugh. The fact still remained that he wasn’t exactly one of those “forever” kind of guys. he wasn’t trying to be a prick. If there is one thing I’ve learned since everyone started falling in love left and right. and it was actually comical how very. the werewolves had anticipated this as well. Zasha put the uncomfortable conversation with Raven out of his mind while he held his breath. it was decided they were much better off as friends. and they worked as a unit to herd the Braddocks away from the drop-off. The first one to touch him wins. He was also a little worried that one of the overgrown children would become too enthusiastic and end up sending everyone tumbling over the side of the mountain.

pressing into Zasha’s personal space with a cocky leer. C’mon. and he shook his head as though trying to expel water from his ears as he pulled Zasha into his arms.” He just hoped it stayed that way. he definitely wasn’t looking forward to the next. After all. He saw no natural bridge or any other way for them to reach the other side. “I’ll explain later. they reached the valley below without incident. Lost in thought. and the fact that most of them were blessed with paranormal strength and agility. but one by one. “Just so you know. “I feel like someone stuffed my head full of cotton. let’s go.” The hike down the side of the mountain should have been impossible without the appropriate climbing gear. “These lips are going to look very pretty wrapped around my cock.” . Zasha took his lover’s hand and tugged. With a little magical help from the witches.122 Gabrielle Evans was still a lot of shoving and bickering at first. it took him a moment to realize that no one had responded to his question. It did seem strange that they’d encountered no other deterrents. “Wait. and Zasha stretched up on his toes for a kiss. You were kind of an asshole when you were a kid. If that was only the first deterrent their enemies had established.” His brow creased and his nose wrinkled. gorgeous.” “Uh…okay. “What just happened?” Thane was the first to come out from under the spell. he highly doubted they’d reached the end of their journey. Thane. the witches eventually began to return to their senses. Is everything okay?” A smile pulled at the corner of his lips.” Thane sidled closer. What?” Chuckling under his breath. hello. “Thane?” “Well. The trek through the sand produced no further complications. and they reached the water’s edge much sooner than Zasha had anticipated. either. Maybe they’d stumble upon more enchantments once they’d crossed the lake. “It is now. “Now what?” There was no boat in sight.

The eldest Braddock had apparently decided that he wanted a werewolf of his own.” “Thane…” Trailing off on a frustrated groan. do something!” “What do you want me to do?” “I don’t know. Abandoning his seduction of Zasha. though. and he looked mad enough to spit fire as he watched his mate rub against his secondin-command. All around him. Something. The poor leader was barely paying him attention. Gideon. “Raven. Lynk’s mate. His gaze was locked on Raith. Kieran. the Enforcer wasn’t doing a damn thing to help. Don’t just stand there. Unfortunately. “Is he for real?” the Enforcer demanded.” Thane commented as he slowly traced his bottom lip with his tongue. but he’d foolishly convinced himself they’d been granted a short reprieve until they’d found a way to cross the waters.” Raven tried to push the guy off him.” He had been expecting it. “Here we go again. “Oh. but he didn’t feel their current venue was the appropriate place for such suggestions. pandemonium ensued. Zasha surveyed the rest of their group. trying to fight off his youngest brothers’ restraining hold in an attempt to get to his intended. rocking his hips suggestively as he dry humped the vampire like a bitch in heat. and his laughter was beginning to grate on Zasha’s nerves. “I don’t think you’ve yet had the pleasure of meeting me. unsurprised to see similar situations happening all around him. I certainly intend to make you beg.Four-Letter Words 123 “I beg your pardon?” Zasha wasn’t wholly against the picture his lover painted. was growling and snarling. Thane practically leapt to Raven’s side. but Thane was persistent. . leaving Raven as the only one not otherwise engaged at the moment.” “Purr. Lynk was attempting to climb October like a stripper pole. “And just who are you?” He insinuated himself even closer.

His lips puckered. possessive werewolf tackled Lynk like a professional linebacker. Returning his attention to his lover. That just left Thane. and to make it worse. “What the hell?” “I’ll deal with you in a minute. “What did I do?” . Pinching the cartilage of Thane’s ear between thumb and forefinger. clearly searching for an escape route. embedding his fangs into Raith’s throat with a snarl. forcing his mate down on his knees. groping every part of Raven he could reach. he twisted hard. rubbing at his abused ear. he also wasn’t a threat. Parker.124 Gabrielle Evans Zasha didn’t have time to decide if he was amused or jealous before an ear-splitting howl rose up on the wind.” “Me?” Raven stumbled back a couple of steps. It seemed Kieran had reached his breaking point. bursting from his clothes as his beast came roaring to the surface. looking left and right. coming much too close to the Enforcer’s mouth for Zasha’s liking. Thane’s hands were everywhere. Raven wasn’t do a fucking thing to stop it. three hundred pounds of pissed off. “As for you. cutting through the night and echoing off the canyon walls.” White-hot fury coursed through him. October’s expression twisted into a mask of fury as he stomped through the sand. he didn’t have a mate present who would flip his shit and rip out someone’s carotid artery. Without further preliminaries he bent the witch over backward. and in the next heartbeat. and he leaned forward. and a filmy red haze settled over his vision. A single shake of his arm sent his brothers sailing through the air. Torren hadn’t given up in his pursuit of the werewolf. reaching Raith in just a few strides and grabbing a handful of his mate’s hair. but for the time being. More to the point. Rage had definitely won. Zasha found it was no longer a decision between rage and amusement. “Ow!” Thane yelped.

“You know I like it rough. Stay far away. He didn’t want to think rationally. You didn’t do a damn thing. Zasha might be small. “Now.” “Yes?” Thane batted his long lashes and grinned from ear to ear.Four-Letter Words 125 “Nothing.” Zasha answered.” The last statement rubbed Zasha all kinds of wrong. “What will you do with me now?” “I’m going to find better ways to occupy that smart mouth. “Stay away from my mate. wait a minute. he wanted to let his emotions rule him. Zasha. I think you need to calm down. echoing Thane’s words from a few days prior. and I’m the one who needs to fucking calm down?” “I didn’t do anything!” Raven yelled. “I need to calm down? I need to calm down? You practically had your hand down my mate’s pants.” The logical voice in Zasha’s head knew this. Would you have let him kiss you?” “What? No!” His hands came up in front of him defensively. “Got it. and a hard jab to his midsection knocked him to the ground with a grunt. or show forgiveness.” “Yes.” Gods. “I didn’t even touch him. Then he . “That’s exactly the problem. but that little bastard had been gagged and shoved into a deep. Zasha jabbed a finger in Thane’s face.” Zasha growled as he stalked closer. For once.” Spinning on his heels.” “Yeah. to get pissed off and actually do something about it. give everyone the benefit of the doubt. dark well. but he was still a vampire with a supernatural strength. Raven. the man was incorrigible. A two-handed shove to the vampire’s chest made him stumble back another few steps. “Get up. He didn’t want to be logical. “You. boss me around. and only part of it had to do with the damn enchantment he was under. but Thane eventually gained his feet.” He took his sweet time about it.” Raven groaned.

Zasha didn’t know how long the kiss went on. less cocky. though. and he nodded several times. no. Torren’s fine. I just need you to talk to him. he dialed quickly as he hurried toward his brother. We have other problems. peering at Raven over Zasha’s shoulder. “Hey. his muscles relaxed.” “He did. pulling him into a tight embrace.” Zasha glanced back at his friend and chuckled. but eventually. and his right arm came around Zasha’s waist. crushing their mouths together in a hard. Unfortunately. and Zasha assumed it had something to do with the power of the mating bond. I’m sure he deserved it. As Thane listened to him explain all of this. something began to change. Aslan.” Thane mumbled against Zasha’s swollen lips. Then he pressed the device to his ear and waited several seconds before a smile brightened his features. his eyebrows rose to his hairline. you. Thane lifted his head. Zasha pointed to where Torren was still trying to rub his dick against anything that would stand still long enough. and there was a level of emotion in his voice that Zasha hadn’t realized he’d missed until it was gone. “I have an idea.” He paused. try to say something meaningful.” “Well. “Did I do that?” “No.” he whispered. I could use your help. “Hello?” Torren practically sang into the phone. Um.” Pulling his cell phone from his pocket.” Turning Thane around. but his tone was playful. still wiggling his hips suggestively as he . “Come here often?” He was still being a smart-ass. demanding kiss. “No. He danced from foot to foot. “I did. Drowning in the taste of his mate.126 Gabrielle Evans fisted the collar of his lover’s black T-shirt and jerked him forward. Torren didn’t have his Infinity there to lift the charm. “Hey. “What do we do about that?” The other Braddocks were fine.” Then he pressed the phone into Torren’s hand and indicated he should talk. Thane’s mouth softened. presumably to listen to the other man’s response. “Hey back.

“Here’s the deal.” “There’s nothing here. however. and give him a big hug…You know I do…Yep…Love you. The witch blinked several times before sagging forward.” “Not here. “Okay. While he still didn’t know what they meant. Zasha would respect that. the emotion thick in his voice as he clutched the phone like a lifeline. “Better?” “Yeah.” Lynk answered Torren’s question as he appeared at Zasha’s side. Suddenly. baby. If Torren wanted to keep the conversation private. Tell Wren I love him.” His arm lifted so that he was pointing right into the middle of the lake. Zasha had heard every word.” Torren whispered. but I think we’re here. “There. “Hey. He recognized them as the same words Thane had spoken the night they’d claimed each other.Four-Letter Words 127 listened to his mate. forcing Thane to catch him before he fell to the ground. I’m okay. the smug look slid off his face. so where do we go from here?” It wasn’t his place to tell. “This can’t be right.” Thane took the phone Torren handed to him and tucked it into his pocket. “Under the water. I’ll be home soon. Don’t worry. and he stilled completely. but with his heightened auditory senses. “Yeah.” Lynk pointed down at his toes.” Torren argued. “I don’t know how to tell you this.” “What did he say?” Torren shook his head and began dusting the sand from his clothes. he understood the importance.” . caro.

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

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

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prowled through the night, growling and chuffing in their shifted forms. Damn, those werewolves were huge. “Hey, guys,” Raven called from several hundred yards down the shoreline. “I think I found something.” Even from the distance, Thane could clearly see the smirk on the vampire’s face. His arms were crossed over his chest, and he leaned to one side, seemingly supported by nothing by air. “We found it,” Zasha said as the jogged toward Raven. “How do we get in?” “For this type of spell, there’s usually some kind of passcode, a word or phrase.” “Or an amulet,” Lynk added as they slowed to a stop. “It’s like the secret decoder ring just for club members.” It wouldn’t be impossible to get through the barrier without a talisman, but it damn sure wouldn’t be easy, either. Hoping for a simpler solution, Thane and his brothers rattled off a hundred different words and phrases in a dozen different languages. It wasn’t surprising that none of them worked. Nothing had been easy up to that point. Thane didn’t know why any of them thought things would suddenly begin to turn in their favor. “How do the amulets work?” Bless Zasha, he was trying to think rationally and keep his wits about him, but Thane could practically see the panic bubbling just under the surface. Yes, they were running out of time. Yes, they needed to find a way in and fast. Nothing was more important to him than his mate, though. Pulling Zasha into his arms, he cradled the back of his partner’s head and kissed his temple. “We’re going to be okay,” he whispered. “I know it feels like we’re stumbling around in the dark, but it’s really going to be okay.” Visibly relaxing, Zasha melted into him for just a moment before taking a deep breath to compose himself. “You’re right, and I’m

as he stared pointedly at his mate’s sharp fangs. “Yeah. “When you say a part of their essence. When his lover pulled away.” That sounded oddly ominous to Thane. The idea is that everyone has to sacrifice something to be able to enter.” Zasha murmured.Four-Letter Words 131 fine. but Zasha needed the additional strength his blood could provide before they walked into the unknown.” Apparently.” “Sacrifice.” Torren answered. about those amulets?” “It’s usually a stone. and Zasha lifted his thumb to his mouth to puncture the skin on the tip of his canine. pushing past the others to smear his offering against the invisible wall blocking their entrance.” His fangs elongated to gleam in the moonlight. Lifting Thane’s palm to his mouth. “A little help.” His smile was a little wobbly.” .” October nodded to indicate each Braddock. that meant their enemies were not only expecting them.” Sure. Zasha stared into his eyes as he bit into the meaty part below the thumb with the utmost care. “Each member donates a part of their essence to bind the bewitchment. He didn’t take much. but it was enough to satisfy Thane. “We can’t turn back. “I almost hope this doesn’t work.” He held his hand out to Zasha. he stared at the twin punctures and nodded. If the leader was saying what Thane thought he was saying. he could use the dagger sheathed on his hip. and Thane was proud of his man for thinking of it. Then he stepped forward. Zasha had understood the implication of October’s statement as well. “Maybe there’s a reason for that beyond the obvious. do you mean blood?” Torren shrugged. “Now. palm up. “The protective spells only affected you. the Braddocks had been led there. “Lieveling. if you could. It was just too bad nothing happened. usually it’s a drop of blood. It was a good plan. but the look in his eyes wasn’t quite so frantic anymore.

and sedated as he and Mikko had been. and defenseless. . It felt almost like glass but strangely yielding. their own overconfidence used to manipulate them. As he smeared his bleeding appendage across the invisible barrier. Not only had they been led to this point. but they were now willingly walking into a trap. weaker. like one of those medical gel packs. Somewhere beyond the flowing vortex. that meant it had been cast and bound using Braddock blood. and nothing would change if someone didn’t stand against them. beaten. Approaching the same stretch of shoreline as Zasha had earlier. There really was no turning back now. Too many innocents had been hurt. one of his brothers waited for rescue. These witches had abused their power. but Thane could still see the waters clearly. What he couldn’t see was the part of his hand that pushed through the barrier. he felt the resistance fall away. forsaking the gift nature had given them and manipulating it into something dark and vile. allowing him to push his hand through the other side of the opening. Viewing the lake through the swirling circle of wind blurred the scenery somewhat. too many families torn apart. There was no change in the surrounding area other than a distorted.132 Gabrielle Evans They’d all taken an oath to protect those smaller. Thane found the surface beneath his palm to be cold and smooth. vertical hoop of rippling air where the solid surface had been. giving the illusion that his arm now ended at the wrist. If the protection spell could be undone by Braddock blood. most likely starved. but Thane’s worst fear had been confirmed.

and there wasn’t time to wait. Of course. it would take nearly an hour for the Enforcers to prepare and travel to the location. He’d know the dangers when they’d left Snake River. but it wasn’t going to happen. He may not be a warrior. Thane had tried his best to persuade Zasha into staying behind with the leader as well. bargaining. October finally agreed to stay behind and wait for their backup. it only made sense. either. Having a battalion of Enforcers at his command probably didn’t hurt. Since Leader Tuesday was the most important and influential person in their group. Beyond his unwavering loyalty and driving need to protect Thane. October was finalizing arrangements with a Las Vegas werewolf pack to provide reinforcements. and Leader Tuesday was well versed in using them to his advantage. and he was prepared to walk through fire for his mate. Someone would need to meet them on their arrival to brief them on the situation. Unfortunately. Maybe he wasn’t brave or . and Zasha stood firmly on Raith’s side this time. it had been decided that Gideon would stay behind as well—much to the Enforcer’s displeasure—to protect October should anything happen. While several people were nominated by their mates. dismantling this threat was the right thing to do. and commanding on Raith’s part. Ten minutes after Thane had removed the barrier. After another ten minutes of begging.Four-Letter Words 133 Chapter Thirteen Being a thousand-year-old hybrid came with a lot of perks. Additionally. including Zasha. no one held their hand up to volunteer.

and a moment later. Zasha felt caged. Calm your mind. He never would understand magic. at least he wasn’t stumbling through the dark anymore. It was the strangest sensation. Part of him had expected to step forward right into the lake. Pressing a hand to the rocks on his right. Surrounded on all sides by warm bodies or cold rocks. and each inhalation was more difficult than the last.134 Gabrielle Evans heroic. nowhere near big enough to create the amount of light it produced. The tunnel that stretched on before him was dark. The walls crept closer together as they continued forward until everyone was forced to walk single file through the crumbling corridor with Kieran Delaney leading the silent charge. “Thane?” “I’m on it. Zasha could still be an asset. and crawling with an energy of its own. The salt mines that lay abandoned and forgotten on the floor of Lake Mead gave him the goddamn creeps. Zasha swore he could even feel the walls breathing. but the discomfort dissipated once he was fully past the broken barrier. though. The glowing sphere that rested in his partner’s palm was no bigger than a golf ball. amber light. Zasha just smiled and shook his head. The air grew heavy. the tunnel was illuminated with a bright. Still. not like something was crawling over him. and he full intended to see this through.” Thane whispered to him. unwelcoming.” Thane’s fingers brushed the small of Zasha’s back. thick. Part of him wished he had. He squirmed and fidgeted. “Easy. Relax.” . baby. as though he was being herded along a chute to the slaughterhouse. Stepping through the hoop of rippling air felt like being doused in ice water and then immediately walking into a spider’s web. It’ll pass in a minute. but as though his skin itself was moving. wiping at his arms or rubbing the back of his neck. “It’s just a spell.

and he’d have given anything to be able to see. he didn’t go sprawling into the mud.” “They’re here. he intended to ask Thane what was going on.Four-Letter Words 135 It wasn’t an easy request to honor. “I don’t hear anyone. but several things had happened in the mere seconds it had taken him to find his balance. and his dedication rewarded him with a lungful of clean. Zasha could detect no other living things within the underwater maze. though they sounded distant and hollow. More thuds followed.” Thane assured him. however. . A heartbeat later. it was much easier to name what was bothering him. Luckily. A left turn.” Other than the muffled sounds of their footsteps and the crunch of rocks beneath their boots. reminding him to be careful of what he wished for—and she was right as usual. He hadn’t expected the witches to be throwing a frat party. A hundred feet further into the tunnel. but even a quiet conversation should have carried and echoed. crisp oxygen. terrified edge to his mate’s tone that caused his gut to cramp. Pressing one finger to his lips. he nodded once and closed his other hand. Turning his head to the side. and Zasha was beginning to think they were walking in circles. Hundreds of floating lanterns came to life as one where they hovered near the domed ceiling of a cavernous room. the mines were utterly silent. his mother’s voice rang in his ears. Despite his sensitive hearing. momentarily blinded by the bright beacons above him. Now that he no longer feared suffocating. but his toe caught on a large chunk of fallen rock. It was the panicked. Zasha dropped his head and squeezed his eyes closed. a right turn. followed by Thane screaming his name. Hissing through his teeth. “It’s too quiet. around a sloping curve—they trudged on. A muted thud sounded from behind him. a gradual incline. extinguishing the ball of light and plunging them into total darkness. and he was propelled forward with a low grunt. but Zasha did his best to cease the franticness of his thoughts.

They were meant to be separated from the Braddocks. dirty faces.136 Gabrielle Evans Seconds ticked by like hours while he waited for his vision to return and the spots to stop dancing before him. thick chains. . The seal that held him trapped within the corridor shuddered and pulsed under the persistent pounding of Thane’s fists. the strangers gathered in the center of the cave-like room. Three more cages perched on makeshift tables along the curving wall. Dressed in blood red robes. There was still a lot he didn’t understand about the laws regarding magic. Once he was able to focus again. and the werewolves had been drawn outside of that tunnel. seemed only relieved that Lynk was safely trapped behind the barrier. he almost wished he was still blind. At least twenty smirking faces stared back at him. the witch’s voice had lost some of the franticness from earlier. there would be hell to pay. adults who appeared no less terrified than the children above them. Though the sound was softened and distorted. silent stance of his enemies were the enormous steel cages suspended from the ceiling by long. Kieran. he just sounded pissed. Imprisoned within each of the six cages were wide-eyed children with pale. It was no coincidence that him. and Zasha imagined it worked both ways. but Zasha was no one’s fool. while Zasha and the others couldn’t leave. Raven. Now. Not sure how many more surprises he could withstand. Zasha cast a hesitant glance over his shoulder and almost whimpered when he found all four Braddocks trapped behind another invisible barrier. seemingly calm as though nothing out of the ordinary was happening. appearing more frightened than angry as he clawed at the unseen wall. transforming his handsome face into something from a nightmare. however. The Braddocks couldn’t cross into the room. Thane’s features were a twisted mask of unadulterated rage. each containing men and women. More disturbing than the calm. “Zasha! Zasha!” Thane screamed his name over and over. Lynk called to his mate as well. and Zasha imagined once his mate was free.

” The witch standing prominently at the head of their small army clucked his tongue and stepped away from the group. tormented by the fact he could do nothing to stop it. “Tsk. Zasha gripped the handle until his knuckles turned white and his fingers began to ache. creating a powerfully intimidating image. tilting them tauntingly in the werewolves’ direction. . If that weren’t bad enough. Beneath the flowing robe. they were all trapped. Twirling one hand out to the side. he laughed freely.” Raven announced as he unsheathed one of the daggers from his belt. bringing with it the realization that the plan had been designed this way. he would at least die fighting. Zasha would have chosen something more suiting like “slaughter. Pulling his own dagger from his hip. the uneasy feeling of certain death crept over him. prowling back and forth between Zasha and the red-robed witches. tsk. he manifested a glowing ball of light between his fingers. this is a pickle. his shoulders appeared broad and his frame bulky. Flipping his dark hair over one shoulder. This wasn’t how things were supposed to have happened. Your mate really should be more careful. sending the crackling orb across the room where it zipped past Zasha’s ear. The werewolves were snarling and snapping their impressive jaws. “It seems someone has let the dog off his leash. clearly enjoying Kieran’s growing rage. towering at least eight inches above Zasha. That was one way to put it. Thane was meant to watch the scene play out before his eyes.” but arguing over phrasing wouldn’t change the outcome. Clearly.” He was easily the largest man in the room. much like the one Thane had produced earlier. He was meant to die. The antagonizing smirks never faulted as twenty witches pulled gleaming gold and silver swords from their scabbards. Then he flicked his wrist. headed straight toward Lynk Braddock. “Well. they were anxious to get started.Four-Letter Words 137 Essentially. but if he was going to die anyway.

two more would rush to their comrades’ defense. Ducking beneath the arm of one witch. he spun gracefully on his toes. dancing out of reach before charging back in with the obvious intention of skewering Raven on the end of her blade. Some chose to abandon the use of magic in favor of swords or daggers. and even water whipped around the room. Yes. Without any signal or warning. but each time he felled one witch. Zasha was scared. The tiny woman cackled and taunted. Kieran’s brothers weren’t faring much better. but Zasha soon found they weren’t very accurate. complete chaos was born. ricocheted off the walls and ceiling before finally exploding near one of the cages. Balls of fire. becoming his most powerful ally. Swords clashed together and sparks flew as Raven dueled with a redheaded witch only half his size. but when faced with his own mortality. Kieran had never reached his intended target. lightning. and it was clear they were all tiring as they struggled to stave off the attacks. . The threat to his mate had apparently short-circuited his brain. swiping with his claws and gnashing his teeth. however. slicing through the air as they charged forward with fearsome battle cries. but instead. Kieran. seemed to be taking a different approach to the situation. the light didn’t penetrate the barrier. kicking out his right leg to bring two more men to the ground. carelessly cast and discarded by the robed witches. The bouncing spheres and jets of light from casted spells were harder to dodge and seemed to come with no rhyme or reason.138 Gabrielle Evans Proving his earlier theory. sending him into a spiral of fury. the werewolf launched himself at the circle’s leader with his fangs bared. instinct took over. having been intercepted by three smaller members of the group. but the cold laughter from the circle’s leader only fueled his determination to put an end to the man’s worthless existence. The children’s fearful cries tore at his heart. From that one act. He fought ferociously. either. without giving any indication that he was about to move.

rocking his beliefs to their core. From the corner of his eye. It shouldn’t have surprised him that though he’d led a very long life—two of them actually—most of his best memories involved Thane. Raven delivered a roundhouse kick to the side of her head. tranquil place where a highlight reel of his life dominated all of his senses. He and his friends had no magic as the witch currently crushing his windpipe with an invisible hand from several feet away was quick to remind him. dropping her like a bad habit. he simply stepped over her prone body to engage his next opponent. His sadness was for Thane. However. Zasha lost track of everyone after that. for the agony this would cause him. . The guy really was honorable. but Zasha didn’t mourn for himself. but she’d severely overestimated the Enforcer’s compassion—as well as his longer reach. They were also outnumbered.Four-Letter Words 139 Maybe she thought herself safe because she was a woman. Zasha saw a streak of red fly through the air. something else that was made aware to him by the appearance of another witch sprinting toward him with a sword lifted over his head. A single tear trickled down the side his cheek. Fate had created them as two and then made them one. He was too busy trying to keep his head firmly attached to his shoulders. there were several things not fair about this war. When she jeered and toddled back once more. it seemed no matter how many times they found one another. Unfortunately. In a fair fight. though. leaving him in a dark. he felt confident he could hold his own. and Zasha could only guess at which werewolf had fallen. Instead of piercing her heart with his sword once she’d fallen. it was just never meant to be. A piercing howl erupted over the cacophony of noise but quickly died away. but the moment of clarity had a profound impact. He didn’t fear death. and he winced when he heard the crunch the woman made when she smacked against the wall. The sounds of the room faded away. It didn’t speak well for his active participation in life.

or held back was not to protect Thane. That was just something pretty he liked to tell himself to protect his heart. but he pushed the thought at his mate with every ounce of his waning strength. It wasn’t that he didn’t believe in love. falling toward him in a graceful arc with his blade positioned for maximum damage. It wasn’t because his mate was too weak or fragile to cope. too scared to allow himself to be vulnerable. straightened his spine. not done. Held immobile by the spell cutting off his oxygen.140 Gabrielle Evans Everything he’d done. drowning him under a tsunami of emotion. His lover owned him like no other ever would. and bravely faced his impending death.” He didn’t know if it would work. Then he squared his shoulders. “I love you. the floodgates opened. Thane. highly doubted it would. The pressure against his windpipe increased until his vision began to blur and pulse at the edges. Once he was finally able to admit it to himself. He’d done them because he was too weak. Trying to protect his heart from Thane had been a fruitless endeavor. had ensnared his heart and invaded his soul. . he could only watch as the second witch leapt into the air.

Under different circumstances. Kieran proved to be the hero Thane couldn’t . and he collapsed to the ground only a millisecond before the sword landed where his neck had been.” Gasping as the words he’d longed to hear for so long slipped into his mind. ready with his next move while Zasha knelt on the ground. Thane thought his heart would shatter into a million bloody pieces. Thane. yelled Zasha’s voice at the top of his lungs until he feared his throat would bleed. Thane cried out for his mate. and now. one of the werewolves flew through the air. coughing and gagging as he gasped for breath. his open mouth and dripping canines aimed for the head of the fucker who held Zasha immobile. he could do nothing but curse the gods as he watched his mate die—again. and Thane knew the image of all that blood would be forever burned into his memory. pounded his fists against the unmovable barrier while he berated himself for being a useless piece of shit. separated from his head by the sharpness of the blade.Four-Letter Words 141 Chapter Fourteen “I love you. however. Thane’s relief was short-lived when he realized the opposing witch had landed on his feet. The attack released Zasha from the holding spell. He’d led his mate into this. Once again. he might have cared. He kicked and screamed. It was such a near miss that a lock of his hair floated on the breeze. The golden blade glimmered in the light cast by the overhead lanterns as it sliced through the air on an impact course with Zasha’s neck. Emerging from the tangle of embattled bodies. It wasn’t a pretty sight.

cocky little grin. There was a grin in his voice—a dirty. Somehow. Then. and Thane didn’t have to look far to find the source of the energy. and a river of crimson pooled beneath him. and the other half . I do believe Cinderella has left the ball. roaring through the tunnel and whipping against them. “No!” Lynk’s bloodcurdling scream sent a shiver down Thane’s spine. with a sad.142 Gabrielle Evans be. Lynk was channeling his grief into an all-consuming fury. “Do you feel that?” Raith asked. and exhaled his last breath. tackling the witch with enough force to send them both crashing into the stone wall with a sickening crack. Each breath appeared more laborious than the last.” Lynk vowed. An elbow to the gut from Raith had Thane pressing his lips together instead of informing Lynk the man he sought vengeance against was already dead. There was nothing he could say to his brother that would bring any semblance of comfort for a loss so tragic. “Kieran!” The werewolf slumped to his side. “I will kill him. lingering gaze at Lynk. he resisted the urge to give Lynk that false security. There was a charge. There was still a measure of hope. “Boys. The wind kicked up. a crackle of something alive and powerful that surrounded them. the more violently the wind snapped against them. Thane didn’t think the douchebag with the sword would be walking away from that one. his chest rising and falling in short. Kieran cough twice.” What he’d mistaken as a reaction to Lynk’s anger was actually a surge in his own power. Thane had no words. flowing freely from the sword wound just below his ribcage. With half of their enemies dead or unconscious. For that reason. and the harder he breathed. Something told him his brother wouldn’t hear him anyway. but there were so many more things that could go wrong. indicating that the witching hour had begun. melted into the ground. shallow waves.

unmoving. gently cradling his head while he petted and cooed to him. With an echoing cry. he stumbled to a stop when Raven appeared at Zasha’s side and offered his hand. After that. love. they’d cast their spells and enchantments. Lynk refused to even look at their eldest brother. You scared the shit out of me there for a minute. pulling the vampire to his feet with a chuckle. “Zasha?” Storming across the room. Standing shoulder to shoulder. Holding both . Lynk threw both hands out in front of him. but you did good. invisible bonds until the assholes passed out from the pain. “Lynk—” Torren began in placating tones. Once the threat was neutralized.” The sight was heart-wrenching. “It’s okay. Deciding his presence would not be welcome.” “What was that?” He saw no good reason another man should be calling his Infinity by such an intimate endearment. “He’s not dead. He’s going to be just fine. Mere steps from his goal. It wasn’t nearly as satisfying as Thane had expected. angel. “No!” Shaking his head violently so that his dark hair whipped around his face. Lynk rushed to his lover’s side. shoving them out of the way with no thought in mind but reaching his lover. lassoing their enemies with ease and squeezing them with bone-crushing.Four-Letter Words 143 wounded and exhausted. though. but Thane still held to his hope that Kieran’s bond with Lynk would save him.” Lynk continued to talk. they hadn’t even had to get their hands dirty. Hell. it took approximately four and half minutes for them to end the fight. “You did good. smashing them against the protective barrier and completely disintegrating the shield. he pushed at the Enforcers rounding up the prisoners. letting the tears flow unrestrained down his cheeks. it wasn’t going to be much of a fight. You’re going to be okay. Thane turned away from his twin and hurried to find his own mate. You’ll see. Zasha was slumped on the ground. and panic seized Thane like a lightning bolt to the chest. but Thane wasn’t interested in fair play.

“What am I going to do with you?” “Love me.” Dipping his head. Zasha. smirking when electricity sparked and crackled across his skin. I think you took ten years off my life. he channeled his energy to his fingertip. “Nope. Instead of falling apart. “Come here. “I’m proud of you. it’s not what you—” Thane silenced his mate with just a look. “Would you care to repeat that?” Raven shook his head once and held his hands up in front of him. wetted his lips.” Releasing the energy in his hands. Got it?” “Promise?” Zasha batted his lashes while his eyes danced with mischief.” “It wasn’t like I planned for any of this to happen. He had no fangs to bite his lover with like a vampire. he pulled Zasha into his arms. I will redden your ass and tie you to the bed. though. Zasha swallowed twice.” he whispered. “If you even suggest coming with me on another assignment again. promise.” Zasha huffed dramatically and rolled his eyes. though.” “Probably. “Mmm.” Zasha pressed his lips together into a thin line. Thane had to give him credit. “You were amazing. crushing him close to claim his lips.” “I don’t care. no scent to saturate him in like a werewolf.” Then he let the bass seep into his voice and narrowed his eyes. but he marked his mate in the only way he knew how—with a scorching kiss designed to brand Zasha’s very soul. because his eyes rounded almost comically. and he must have realized what he’d said.” “You’re being unreasonable.” Thane suggested. “I do. I’m good. “I love you.” “Thane. and pressed his palm to .144 Gabrielle Evans hands out at hip level. Thane rubbed their noses together and sighed. lieveling.

” “I was just going to help the other Enforcers. “Now. Seriously. “Raven?” “Yeah?” “Go away. The other choice was to bend Raven in half until he could lick his own asshole. and it was weird and awkward. “It’s nothing. he adored this man. Thane could accept that his mate hadn’t been a monk before they’d met. While the latter was more appealing.” “In a minute. Thane. like a stupid nickname. I don’t know about you. “We dated about three years ago. Then we’d be standing here all night in a perpetual loop of I-love-yous. it wasn’t necessary. and he would stand there all night telling Zasha just how much. It’s just a joke.” “I know.” “You know? That’s all you have to say? You know?” “What else do you want me to say? I said it first. but it was too fun to tease him. I love you. That’s all.” Zasha groaned and rubbed both hands over his sweaty face.” Raven wasted no time booking it across the room to help gather up the prisoners. Really.” “On it. .” There were two viable options. and he had no right to pry into Zasha’s past. “Since when did Zasha become your angel?” “Dude. but I have better things—Raven.” Raven looked like he’d rather be facing down a firing squad in that moment. It would be silly to say it again.” Thane wanted to hear more about this endearment.” Gods. and I use the term ‘dated’ loosely. It won’t happen again. it’s not like that. It lasted a little over a month. don’t move. Viewing Raven as a threat to his relationship was laughable.Four-Letter Words 145 Thane’s cheek. that’s all there is to tell. “That wasn’t how I intended to tell you. but that doesn’t change the truth in it.

Though the man had his back to them. “Hey. “Raith. rubbing his cheek against the side of Thane’s neck. Thane held his breath.” “Your brother?” Zasha hurried along behind him. A little pale. It was a strange sight to see such large men trying to appear small and unintimidating while they whispered.146 Gabrielle Evans “You’re not mad?” Sucking his bottom lip between his teeth. runt. “Nix. Obviously. but he did appear to be in much better health. too. In hard times. and that was the real prize.” A little jealous maybe. “Mikko’s twin? The one who can see the future?” “Right on all three counts. though.” The guy was no bigger than Mikko. Enforcers. jogging to keep up with Thane’s longer strides.” Arriving at Torren’s side. though. but otherwise.” “Thane!” Torren called to him from the recess that housed the cages of prisoners. “No. werewolves in particular.” Thane motioned for Zasha to follow him through the crowd to where Torren stood waiting with his arm around the shoulders of one of the captives. I’m not mad. There was a special place on the other side reserved for those who abused children. he appeared unharmed. they all came together in common interest. had a reputation for being hardened and uncaring. you. Thane had a good idea who it was. but he’d get over it. Besides. and it appeared as though every person milling about the mines agreed it was the perfect fate for the witches responsible for this atrocity. waiting for Nix to turn and face him before pulling his brother into a crushing embrace. he was the only one who’d been able to capture Zasha’s heart. Zasha pressed in closer. a little thin. “C’mon.” The Enforcers from the local pack who weren’t escorting witches to the surface were busy coaxing the children from their cages. and made silly faces. cooed. The paranormal world was often times at odds with the different races warring for power and dominance. “Maybe we just won’t tell me about any other ex-boyfriends. . that was far from the truth.

He kissed the top of Nix’s head and sniffed. there wasn’t much assistance he could provide this time. “Oh.” he repeated. too. settling gracefully to his knees and resting his head on Lynk’s shoulder. Thane would do anything for his family. and without that tether.” His swollen. Kieran. “I’ve missed you.” “I do believe. I can’t feel anything.” Thane couldn’t help but laugh at the stunned look on his lover’s face. This isn’t supposed to happen.” “Thane. He couldn’t feel any spark of life in the werewolf. “Kieran?” Lynk’s soft whimper drew everyone’s attention. He’ll come back to you.” It could be unsettling when Nix just blurted out secrets he shouldn’t know.” Nix encouraged.” Zasha begged him.Four-Letter Words 147 “I knew you would come. Zasha. but unfortunately. do something. “Don’t worry. sweetheart. musical voice. still stroking Kieran’s hair while he rocked from side to side. You need to wake up now. red-rimmed eyes never left Kieran’s face. but after a while. though. Lynk. and the tears trickling down his cheeks didn’t cease. Now. It won’t end like last time. Thane couldn’t even pull the guy back from Purgatory.” He petted the werewolf’s hair in loving strokes.” Lynk argued. “Would I lie to you?” . “I can’t feel him. most people just viewed it as part of his charm. “Believe. “Wake up.” Nix answered in his quiet. “You two are going to be very happy together. dry your eyes and believe your love is enough.” Nix sighed and flounced over to their brother. “I can’t feel him.” “Missed you. I do. Nixy. but his shoulders sagged in hopeless defeat. You can’t leave me. “Wake up. You’ll get used to it. and the agony in his tone was tangible. “Do you not believe in your bond?” “Of course. I’m glad you’re safe. Lynk. You don’t have to fear the future. “What took you so long?” Then he pushed away from Thane and wound his arms around Zasha. lieveling.” He hadn’t moved from his mate’s side.

tackling the werewolf back to the sodden ground as he rained kisses across his face and down the side of his neck. sugar.” “Oh. you are a big one.” Nix mumbled before opening his eyes with a wide grin. “Now. Zasha jumped into his arms and nipped at his chin. “No. but he was happy to be proven wrong. but his eyes glistened in the lights as tears gathered in the corners. “Let’s go home. “What were you thinking? I can’t believe you did that. “Well. It does terrible things to my mood. you wouldn’t. he placed a kiss against the soft skin just behind Zasha’s ear. there he is. and a rumble that sounded suspiciously like a purr heralded Kieran’s return to the land of the living. Lynk was on him. but it was a bit embarrassing to witness.” “Well. “I think everything is going to be just fine. “Just one more. rescued the children. Lynk shook his head slowly. My heart stopped beating. Thane was ashamed to admit that he’d had a moment of doubt about the Enforcer’s fate. Thane was feeling high on life at the moment. I like the sound of that.148 Gabrielle Evans Sniffing audibly. “Ah. I’d appreciate it if you wouldn’t scare my brother like that again.” “C’mere. and no one had died.” A loud groan.” Rolling them in the mud.” Nix reached forward with one finger to tap the end of Kieran’s nose. Dipping his head. however. Kieran loomed above Lynk with a smile. Snorting.” Nix closed his eyes and began counting while Thane gripped Zasha tighter to his side and held his breath.” Encircling Thane’s neck in an unbreakable hold. Before he could ask questions. a few coughs. . just so we know.” They’d saved the day.” Kieran blinked stupidly as his eyebrows knitted together in confusion. “Who takes care of you?” The reunion was beautiful. Thane shook his head as he turned away to give the couple some privacy. and he could think of only one ending to their journey that would make everything perfect. especially since Kieran was bare-ass naked. I don’t intend to start now. aren’t you.

” “No. Zash.” He was close.Four-Letter Words 149 “I’m done playing the hero. but there was one crucial piece missing to his proposal.” . “I want us to take care of each other. if that’s what you want. and I promise to let you take care of me.

rocking back into his lover’s hand to impale himself on the thick digits. Collapsing onto his mattress still fully dressed. caressing his skin in delicate circles that inched closer to his growing erection with each pass. radiating heat like a living furnace. With unerring accuracy.” Thane pinched Zasha’s earlobe between his teeth and tugged gently. definitely getting there. Fingertips danced over the top of his thigh. His dick hardened. told him his lover was awake.150 Gabrielle Evans Chapter Fifteen Zasha was happy to be home. Thane hadn’t moved or said a word. The breath against his neck came in short. “Feel better?” “Mmm. he was asleep before the sky had even begun to lighten in the east. throbbing between his thighs while drops of pre-cum smeared his skin. “Good morning. encouraging them to relax before pushing into Zasha’s channel with both fingers. grinding against Zasha’s backside while he . “How about now?” Zasha could only moan in response as he arched his spine. parting his ass cheeks with two slippery fingers. my love. His mate pressed snugly against his back. and it was well after sundown the following night before he finally pried his eyelids open. His dreams were peaceful.” Thane’s hand disappeared from his leg but returned a moment later to skim along his crease. but he was also exhausted. but the swollen cock pressing against Zasha’s hip. choppy pants as Thane undulated behind him. filled with all of his favorite things. Thane located his clenching hole and ringed the tight muscles. as well as the quickened breathed warming his ear.

searching kiss. The surge of adrenaline caused his fangs to descend. Now that he was free of his insecurities.” He laughed breathlessly as he flicked his tongue over the swollen flesh. “Definitely love that. “You talk too much.” “Thane?” “Yes?” Zasha pushed at his lover’s shoulders. “Oh. growling.” The hunger in Thane’s gravelly tone sent a shiver up Zasha’s spine. unconcerned with keeping a part of himself locked away and protected.” Thane chuckled. but not much in the way of actual words.Four-Letter Words 151 twisted his wrist and pumped his fingers in a desperate rhythm. Long fingers bit into the flesh around his hips. The sweet crimson didn’t drive him mad as it had done before. each beat of his heart thundering loudly in his ears. holding him in a possessive grip and jerking his ass into the air. lieveling. “Oops. Reversing their positions and pressing Zasha facedown on the mattress. fisting Zasha’s cock and stroking him from root to tip. yeah. Thane covered his back as he licked and sucked at the skin on Zasha’s nape. jerking him into a hard. punching violently through his gums to pierce Thane’s bottom lip. “Love the way you taste. . Rolling to face his mate. flipping Thane to his back and straddling him.” His tongue traced the seam of Zasha’s lips. pulling a ragged moan from deep in his chest.” There was a lot of groaning. Thane’s blood was a powerful aphrodisiac and nothing more. “Love the way you smell.” He slipped his hand between their dampened bodies. grunting. “I love the way you laugh. The taste and scent was no longer a source of panic. and his pulse picked up in rhythm. he fisted both hands in Thane’s short hair. “Want you.” Thane skimmed his nose up the curve of Zasha’s throat and along the slope of his jaw. and keening after that. lapping the droplets of blood away.

someone likes that. As the rhythm and intensity increased. he thrust through his own release in shaky. uncoordinated movements. because the man went completely wild.” Thane teased him. Thane twisted and pulled at the hard nubs. burying his pulsing cock in Zasha’s depths as he bit down hard on the side of his neck. Sounds somewhere between a growl and a whimper escaped his dry. Falling forward to cover his back. said he was just as aroused from giving that hint of pain as Zasha was from receiving it. wet. creating a deep burn that radiated throughout Zasha’s entire body. The tightening of his inner walls around Thane’s length must have done good things for his lover. and Zasha tangled his fingers in the sheets in an attempt to ground himself as he was barrel-rolled beneath a tidal wave of pleasure.152 Gabrielle Evans “You are mine. Groaning and bucking. torturous tempo. The brazen lust in his voice. fisting the short locks and jerking Zasha’s head back on his shoulders. “And you are mine. the pleasure overwhelming. swollen lips. filling Zasha’s channel with hot. however. The demanding tug forced him to bow his back. painting the sheets beneath him with a flood of sticky cream. his spine stiffened.” The words were slightly muffled but still filled with an authority Zasha couldn’t fight. The burn was minimal. the hand around his neck crept into his hair. and his entire body went rigid as he growled through his orgasm. “Come for me. When he was sure he had reached his limit and couldn’t take any more.” Thane growled at the same moment the flared crown of his cock penetrated Zasha’s opening. Thane drove in deep. semen. bracing his hands on the bed and rocking back into his lover until Thane was seated to the hilt. and the new position changed the angle. “Oh. . securely holding him in place as he began a slow. His muscles tensed. Thane’s free hand slid up his chest to pinch and tug at each of his nipples in turn.” Zasha countered. and his desire increased tenfold when Thane gripped the back of his neck. ensuring each bonejarring thrust pegged against his prostate.

” “Thane. my home. “I have to meet my brothers in about an hour. I’m the light at the end of your dark tunnel.” Thane amended.” The answer was short and clipped.” Thane was his strength.” “It’s not about that. **** “The contractors will be here tomorrow night to go over designs for the new hospital. I’ve seen ugly. “You’re my peace. because you are my safe haven. I’ve already informed the guards at the front gates to expect them. Does that make sense?” “I get it. lieveling. There was a bit more to it than that. “It’s the only way to wake up. You are the beacon that calls me home. You are the only thing that makes sense. Thane sighed and pulled Zasha into his arms.” Thane shook his head and wrinkled his brow. holding him close to his chest. “We’re going to interrogate some of the witches. He nuzzled against Zasha’s neck and kissed his cheek. I’m not so fragile. he was his mate’s peace. Thane needed one thing in his life to remain untouched by the curse that plagued him and his brothers.” Zasha commented several minutes later. that’s one way to wake up.” He stroked his lover’s chest and grinned.” “Exactly. I doubt it’s going to be pleasant. “I make everything right in your world.” “Do you want me to come with you?” “No. As protectors of the Book of The Banished. and in return. I will. they were constantly at war.” While Thane was interrogating prisoners.Four-Letter Words 153 “Well. but it all equaled to the one thing Zasha had fought so hard to deny—love. forever fighting against those who were thirsty for power. You give me balance. and I don’t want you there for that. but after a moment. If I can shelter you from the wicked things in the world. Zasha was back to his normal job of being Leader Tuesday’s personal .

and it should have been a massacre. There had been so much happening lately that Christmas kind of came and went without any type of fanfare. October rested his elbows on his desk and clasped his hands together beneath his chin.” Leaning forward in his chair. no answer. I think I’m missing something. the good guys didn’t always win. Why do you ask?” “What about holidays? Is there anything significant occurring soon?” “Well. sir?” “Zasha. I’m not aware of any other events. what did you say?” “Are you feeling okay. I’m sorry.” Zasha hadn’t allowed himself to dwell on it. though. and Zasha’s eyes tightened at the corners as he frowned. The witches they’d faced were powerful. Should I send a gift?” Several seconds passed without a response.154 Gabrielle Evans assistant. In the real world. Somehow. yes. they’d come out on top. he’d had similar thoughts. From everything you and Raith have told me about the fight. but to be honest. but this wasn’t a fairy tale. there is Valentine’s Day.” “Maybe I’m just being paranoid. “I’m sorry. “The full moon is in two weeks. though. “The new Alpha of the Trinity Pack will be celebrating his birthday next week. “Leader Tuesday?” Still. there is no logical reason we should have won. “It all feels too easy. Zasha wanted to believe that good had triumphed. Perhaps October was trying to make up for the lack of festivities. not neophytes in the least. The guys with the most power did. Do you need me to order a gift for your mate?” Zasha was growing more confused by the minute. “What are you saying? Do you think we were meant to bring them back to Wyoming?” He couldn’t think of anything their enemies . Zasha. against all odds. um. are there any celestial events occurring in the next few weeks?” It was such an odd question. “October?” “Oh.

and they’d had five of them trapped in those mines.Four-Letter Words 155 could possibly want other than the Braddocks. “Is there anything else?” “Well. but the Day of the Dead celebration had already passed—the same with Samhain or All Hallows’ Eve. but he did pay attention when his mate talked. blond hair. . none of the holidays that came to mind were happening within the timeframe October had specified. souls can be recovered from Purgatory. “Imbolc.” While he wasn’t denying the equinox would provide the required energy.” His grin stretched across his face. recalling holidays from several different religions and cultures. “This entire thing was orchestrated. and he was having difficulty remaining seated. especially those pertaining to the dead or spirits of the dead. and he shoved his fingers through his short. right? It so happens that the full moon falls on Imbolc this year.” “That hardly seems sinister.” October argued. Imbolc seemed more likely since it was only two weeks away. and there has to be a reason. the vernal equinox. “It’s coming up in two weeks at the beginning of February. There would be a slew of different moon phases in that time. Switching tactics. There was Día de los Muertos. Continuing down that same path. “Witches draw upon specific events for power. attempting to correspond them with some event or holiday. Loved ones can’t be called back from the dead.” Zasha may not be a witch. Patrick’s Day wasn’t until March. he began mentally ticking off the days of the month. It’s about rebirth and renewal. Unfortunately.” An uncharacteristic scowl darkened the leader’s features.” There was Groundhog Day and Valentine’s Day. but I just don’t know why. However. not without some pretty gruesome consequences. “That’s exactly what I’m suggesting. but that’s not until midMarch. Zasha scrolled through his banks of useless knowledge. St. There is an explanation of why right now. as well as the first day of spring. there’s Ostara. It’s a celebration of the coming of spring.

and he didn’t continue until he felt he could talk without his voice cracking. there were also seven men and nine women.” October rose from his seat and rounded his desk. I’ll call Raith. anyway. The adults have all been returned to their homes. And the children?” “We’re working on it.156 Gabrielle Evans “Thane is the only one who can travel between the veils.” Zasha had already thought of that. “We’ll give them another couple of hours. and he was even one step ahead.” Not the type of injuries his leader was referring to. we’ve returned fourteen to their homes. So far.” He paused to swallow the lump in his throat. but some of them are too scared to tell us anything. “Most have been syphoned. sir. They’ve had their magical . “We don’t tell anyone until we’ve talked to the Braddocks. unlocked the screen on his tablet.” October leaned one hip against his desk and rubbed thoughtfully at his chin. If they’re not back by then. “Some of them are even too young to tell us what we need to know to find their families.” “I think we need to talk to our resident witches.” Zasha had the sinking feeling in his gut that panicking was exactly what they should be doing. Zasha settled back in his seat. Hell’s Alley always gave him the fucking creeps. and brought up the correct documents. “We rescued twenty-two children in all. but Zasha hated that strip of stone holding cells. “Should I get them now?” Thane and the others were in Hell’s Alley. I don’t know exactly what’s going on. clear on the other side of the coven.” Relieved that he wouldn’t have to make the trip to Hell’s Alley. He didn’t mind trekking out into the night to find them. I don’t want to cause a panic. good.” “Any injuries?” “No. “Update me on the victims. and grateful to have at least the illusion of a plan. They’ll have more insight.” “Good. Other than Nix. but it stands to reason that they’re trying to use Thane and Mikko to bring back some really bad mojo. “Mikko is trapped in Purgatory.

accelerated healing. but the two shifters of the group would be at added risk as they neared puberty.” “I like uncomplicated. I need to make . endurance. and the like was deeply rooted in magic. Sadly. that was exactly what had happened to these children. and their immune systems are having trouble fighting off infections and viruses.” October said after a lengthy pause. He knows a human who could help. encoded in their genetic makeup. However. Being a preternatural was partly biology. so we don’t have to worry about freaking him out. The magic was so intricately woven within them it would take some truly dark and evil energy to strip it away. a larger part of their strength. one had come down with the chicken pox. Tell the doc to come by around four. “Do we even have the medicine to treat them?” “Dr.” Zasha returned calmly.” October pushed away from his desk and winked. or immortality. Apparently. “We may want to think about bringing in a human doctor or transferring them to a human hospital. possibly the world. Not only were they now susceptible to disease and other ailments. Magic allowed them to do it without ending up in bloody pile of bones and tissue. It was an added bonus that he actually liked and respected the man who employed him. and the other had pneumonia. longevity. Jo has actually requested a meeting with you to discuss just that. power. and paranormals were mostly human—at least in physical body—and the human body was not designed for cross-species transformations.Four-Letter Words 157 abilities drained.” “I’ve already scheduled you to meet with him at four-fifteen.” Of the eight who remained. “If that’s all. this guy knows all about supes as well. Remove the magic. two had bronchitis. four of them had contracted the flu.” “This is why I pay you the big bucks. He was probably the highest paid assistant in the country. “You pay me a slave’s wage. It wasn’t true. Their genes allowed shifters and werewolves to transition.

158 Gabrielle Evans some phone calls and let the kitchen know that dinner will be served in the formal dining room. “I don’t see why we can’t. just maybe. it had been a one-time fluke. he could see something about their enemies’ plans. and though he couldn’t put a name to it. Nix had told him that he’d live a long and happy life with Thane. Go arrange it. brought on by extreme distress. he wished he could just talk to Thane. Apparently. anxious to find out what Thane thought about his theories. Changing directions. fuck it all. Well. but it wasn’t coming right then. . closing the door quietly behind him. appearing much more like an indulgent father than a powerful leader. Zasha. it wasn’t working. He was nervous about the meeting. Something big and bad was coming. though.” He was halfway out the door before he really thought about that last statement. though. Too bad he wasn’t buying it. It sounded pretty when he said it like that. If Nix could see that in his future. Zasha jogged along the corridor and took the stairs two at a time to the second floor. the very air around him seemed to be alive with the coming threat. correct?” October laughed and shook his head. dark. They had time to prepare. He’d fight if he had to. intent of finding Nix and begging the guy to spill everything he knew. but it would be nice if he had some kind of guarantee… He did have a guarantee.” Satisfied with the answer. Zasha slipped from the room. Gods. he was sure as hell distressed now. So far. and he was struggling to keep the paranoia at bay. “We will be conducting the meeting during dinner. They’d been trying since their return to Snake River to repeat the telepathic connection they’d shared inside the mines. They’d be ready this time. Something cold. and evil was slithering toward them. I’ll meet you at dinner.

but the smile never left his face. Thane had missed his brother. he’d say the two were related. “Doesn’t work like that.” Nix shrugged. man. He’d missed all of them.” Thane didn’t know why Zasha would go looking for Nix. fish sticks. If he was guessing.Four-Letter Words 159 Chapter Sixteen “Oh.” Sweet hell.” His smile slid away. I just see what I see. replaced by an unhappy pout.” “You could make this a lot easier on yourself. and it made him uneasy.” “You’re going to have to give me more than that. He’ll not be very happy with me. but there was just something about Nix. Thane imagined being constantly bombarded with events of the future would do that to anyone. though. looked forward to being reunited with those still missing. “What are we meeting about?” “Not sure. Torren wasn’t exactly known for his patience. and the fact that they’d been trying to get answers out of the . and there was a dinner meeting. he was a little odd at times. I only see what I see. The witch was beginning to lose his cool.” Torren growled as he paced the small holding cell like a caged animal. “Again. and frankly. Thane was surprised it had taken this long. That’s no good. always had.” Nix rose up on his toes and then swayed back on his heels. “Is something wrong?” His mate was searching for his brother. Nix took it all in stride. Sure. and his never-waning optimism was as infectious as it was welcomed. He won’t be happy to find me missing. we’re having a dinner meeting tonight. “That’ll be nice. “Well.” “Your dashing vampire will be arriving at my bedroom door momentarily.

hoping one of the underlings would prove to be a weak link. “You’ll love him. It was frustrating and damn annoying. “Torren.160 Gabrielle Evans witches for nearly four hours was even beginning to take its toll on him. No one was talking. “Let’s get this over with.” “Why? What do you see?” “That man in there.” He still wanted to go home. I say we leave the leader until tomorrow. Hell. and then followed him to the very last stone building along the dimly lit walkway. I doubt he’s going to talk anyway. “Let’s just question the leader and go home. “This is getting us nowhere. maybe if they really did start breaking some fingers. something Lynk continuously reminded them each time one of them lost his temper. They were better than that.” His eyelids closed and flickered. Not under threat of pain and death would they purge their secrets. “I want to find Zasha and figure out what’s happening at the main house.” “I want to talk to him.” Thane found himself bobbing his head in agreement.” Torren argued.” Nix grabbed their brother’s arm and pulled him to a stop before he could enter the outer chamber of the cell. fluttering his dark lashes against his cheeks. at that point. “You need to stay here.” Lynk grumbled. Guys like that can’t resist bragging. I don’t know how. though. it might just loosen a few tongues. that actually makes sense. he was just glad Torren or Raith hadn’t snapped and broken someone’s neck. Of course. don’t go in there. though. either. I’m starving. but he’ll be important to you. “He’s cocky and reckless.” Exiting the cell. While honor and chivalry weren’t bad codes to live by. “Okay. they didn’t get Thane the answers he wanted. they waited for the guard on duty to lock it behind them.” .” They’d started at the bottom of the ranks and worked their way up.

the brothers spread out to form a halfcircle around the prisoner. Some were specific.” Nix scolded. The guard poked his head in through the doorway and passed a donor bag of blood to Thane. I’ll never love him.” “I’m not wrong. it was only vague impressions that didn’t even make sense to him. Entering the dank prison. .” the vampire answered.” “Fine. he lifted his head. This man is important. peering up at Thane with a wide.” Then he touched the brim of his baseball cap and disappeared. Aslan is everything to me. but this particular hybrid was wickedly powerful—far more so than he should have been. “How old are you?” “I’m not exactly sure. little brother. I’ll protect him. can I hit him now?” Torren asked as he curled his fingers into a fist and pulled his elbow back. “He’s a vampire?” Hybrids were exceedingly common. such as the dinner they’d yet to be invited to. You have to protect him.” “Who are you?” Raith repeated Torren’s question. Thane couldn’t blame him.” Torren responded coldly. “Stop that. The man knelt on the stone floor with his head bent. I think you’ve gotten some wires crossed. “They don’t hand out birth certificates to babies abandoned in the gutter. but most of the time. “Make sure he gets that before you leave. ya know.” “What’s your name?” “Hmm. I just forgot. but he’d also learned long ago to not take Nix’s prophecies too literally. “I’ve found my Infinity.Four-Letter Words 161 “You’re wrong. “Who are you?” Torren demanded as he clipped the guy in the ribs with the toe of his boot. flexing his arms as he strained against the shackles that bolted him to the ground. “Torren.” Torren appeared angry by the suggestion that his affections for Aslan would in some way be tested.” “Okay. though. Finally. toothy grin. adding a low growl to his voice.

“They took you. but the entire scene was becoming very strange. where’s the love?” “No. Soon. but he looked like he might vomit or pass out at any second. Gods.” **** . “and he’s my son. “You’re a worthless piece of shit. I’m fucking ashamed to call myself a Braddock. “It can’t…” The prisoner began to laugh. “Are you sure about that. You’re definitely not a Braddock. and he wanted to know what the hell was happening. and Thane swore he saw a suspicious shine to his brother’s eyes. “Torren.” Torren shook his head.” He stepped closer to the kneeling man but stopped when the guy snapped his fangs at him. and it was the most chilling sound Thane had ever heard. I watched them take you away. Nix stepped forward. you were so easy to manipulate. Daddy? Not missing a kid. who is this? How do you know him?” His gaze never left the young man. you’ll have no power at all.” Rolling his eyes at Torren.” The young man’s eyes danced with an icy gleam as his calculating smile stretched wider. “Aren’t you glad to see me? C’mon. What is your name?” “You have no power over me.” “What did you say?” Thane was shocked by the confession. but Torren just sounded highly pissed. are you? Maybe a baby boy you abandoned over a hundred and fifty years ago?” “I…” The blood drained from Torren’s face.” Torren whispered. You’re being childish. “This is Addison. “Torren?” Thane had stayed quiet for as long as he could. leaving him sickly pale and trembling. closer to the prisoner than strictly necessary in Thane’s opinion. Daddy. “Answer the question.162 Gabrielle Evans “Knock it off.

“I love you. that hadn’t been the case. “I don’t think I’ll be down for dinner. the dead look in their eyes. “Is he okay?” .” “I have to find Aslan. Silently crossing the room. “It’s not good. After his ordeal with the witches.” “I’ll get Wren in the bathtub.” “Later. After some internal argument and much debate. Yes. baby. Torren turned away from the group and walked stiffly toward the staircase. Zasha had assumed the man would need time to rest and recover before traipsing down to Hell’s Alley to interrogate prisoners. he’d like some reassurance that everything would turn out in their favor. devoid of any emotion. When Thane turned his head and met his gaze. Whatever they’d learned in those dark.” Thane murmured. Clearly. holding on tightly and wishing he could absorb all of the man’s pain. he’d finally decided it was probably for the best. Zasha held back. “Right. he walked right into Thane’s arms. rubbing his cheek against the top of Zasha’s head. He could see it in their faces. after he’d calmed down some. Besides. though every part of him wanted to rush to his mate. lonely cells had impacted them hard. Yeah. the only comfort he could offer.” Torren’s voice sounded hollow.” Moving like a robot on autopilot. Rising from his seat in the formal sitting room when the Braddock brothers entered. Zasha felt every ounce of hurt and confusion spilling from his lover. Thank you. On the other hand. too.” It was all he knew to say. he’d realized it was something he really should discuss with Thane—not Nix. “I love you. Something was wrong. he didn’t think knowing his fate would really make a difference.Four-Letter Words 163 Discovering Nix was absent from his room had been annoying.” “Tell me.” Raith offered.

” “Mind your own advice.” No one looked to be in the mood for a lengthy discussion about impending doom. It was so out of character for the normally polite witch that Zasha could only blink. and even he appeared more subdued that Zasha had yet to see him.164 Gabrielle Evans “No. but no one seemed interested in eating.” Kieran warned with a snarl. “Just tell us. “Watch it. but it’s something that needs to be discussed. sans Torren and Raith. “The full moon is in two weeks. “We might as well talk while we do it.” “Would you just fucking spit it out. “I realize this isn’t the best time. Then he settled down in Lynk’s vacated seat. “We can talk about it tomorrow. He offered no explanation.” Lynk mumbled.” The servers appeared with shiny trays laden with food. Zasha was beginning to feel like there was some secret club he hadn’t been invited to join. however. and it was clear from his expression that he’d already been informed of what had happened down on the prison block. seemed more inclined to be offended on his behalf.” “We have to eat. It also happens to fall on Imbolc this year.” Nix replied. Trusting that Thane would give him the details when they were alone. already?” Lynk snapped. Kieran came striding into the dining room. “So.” They all trudged into the dining room. October joined them shortly afterward.” That was all Thane said. walking straight to his mate and lifting him into his arms.” he announced as everyone took their seats. Thane. . he cleared his throat to gain everyone’s attention. cuddling the man and stroking his hair. nor did he qualify his statement with how Torren would be fine at some point. “I’m sorry. what’s this meeting about?” “Maybe we should cancel. Everyone seemed to have heard the news except for him. Lynk.

” The elder spoke as though he had personal knowledge. indicating he should continue. Thane. and someone trapped in Purgatory. I’ll split the veil and release whatever souls are trapped in Purgatory. If Thane enters Purgatory any time after that—” “The veil between worlds will remain open.” October interrupted in icy tones. “Imbolc is not the catalyst. October crossed his arms over his chest. as calm and collected as always. and I’m pretty sure it has something to do with Mikko. and while Zasha would have liked some elaboration.Four-Letter Words 165 “Children.” Torren entered the room with his arm wrapped securely around his mate’s shoulders. he instinctually understood it was not the time to question the man. “I’ll have to go in after Mikko before the full moon.” Thankfully. Once the three men had nodded and offered their grudging apologies. and there was concern that the reunion of body and spirit would cause a fatal reaction. he decided to be blunt.” Torren elaborated. Aslan’s eyes were bloodshot and glistening. “Then what do we do?” “Witches can harness power from events for several months. “The spell will reach its completion during the full moon.” “I don’t understand.” Thane interrupted. “Can you do that? Is it a good idea?” . My guess is that they’ve already performed the spell. “I think we were tricked into bringing the witches here. It’s the completion. “Several someones.” “Not someone. he didn’t appear to be the only one not able to grasp what Torren was trying to tell them. Not sure what he could say that wouldn’t get his head bit off again.” Torren settled into one of the empty seats and pulled Aslan into his lap. “I think they’re trying to release the souls of the witches we fought in the original war of the Magicks.” “How do we prevent that?” Leaning back in his chair. October looked to Zasha.” The entire reason Thane hadn’t already rescued his brother’s soul was because Mikko’s body was too weak. “If I go in to find Mikko. his lids swollen from obvious crying.

but it doesn’t look like we have a choice.” Thane answered with a gentle smile. not until Mikko is stronger.” Zasha whispered.166 Gabrielle Evans “I can do it.” “What can I do?” He wasn’t selfish enough to tell Thane not to attempt the rescue. You’ll ground me. If Mikko’s body rejects his soul. I don’t think it’s a good idea.” Gods. He wasn’t going to sit back and let the man he loved suffer a fate worse than death. “It can be.” “Is it dangerous for you?” Zasha wasn’t unsympathetic to the possibility that Thane could lose his brother. it could trap us both. “No. However. understanding dawning.” Thane’s hand slipped into Zasha’s lap and squeezed his inner thigh.” “Right. he didn’t know why he hadn’t understood it before now. “You are my light. I can’t rip open the veil and allow the other souls to escape.” . didn’t know how the deeper meaning of those words had escaped his notice. either. “Your light. “You are my light to—” “Lead you home. “I’ll need you to be there. and his main concern would always be for his mate.” “I balance you. he hadn’t actually met the guy yet.

hoping Mikko would regain some measure of strength in that time.” That was out of the question. the full moon would be the ideal time. There were times when the veil was thinner.” Maybe it didn’t sound like much to Zasha. “Nope. We need to get started.” A breath of air puffed from his lips. “I promise there is nothing more to tell. right?” Thane didn’t know why the vampire was so skeptical.” Settling into the recliner beside Mikko’s hospital bed. but with the full moon just one night away. but the simple act of linking their hands together would tether Thane to him so that he could find his way back once he crossed the veil. allowing him to move between realms more fluidly.Four-Letter Words 167 Chapter Seventeen “I just sit here and hold your hand?” Zasha arched one eyebrow while his opposite eye tightened at the corner. “You’re kidding. I assumed you were waiting to tell me more. “I wish we could wait until tomorrow night.” If he was performing a spell or ritual. though.” They’d waited for as long as they could. Thane patted the arm of the chair beside him.” “Well…I know. “I thought you just didn’t want to worry me or something. but the moon had very little to do . but that doesn’t really affect what I’m about to do. yes. It’s the same thing I’ve been telling you for two weeks. He couldn’t risk ripping apart the barrier that separated the physical plane from the spirit world. inviting Zasha to sit as well. I’m not kidding. “Why tomorrow? Can you draw more power from the full moon?” “Well. and his shoulders sagged. “The moon will be cresting soon. they were out of time.

see. “Thane. Okay?” “Yeah.” “Oh.” Yes. My body may jerk or convulse. The memories he had of his father were good ones. you said your mom died after Mikko and Nix were born. I think I’m missing something. “It would be easier for Mikko. you have a strong connection to him. How is Mikko a shifter?” “Well. We never talked about it. maybe Lynk should do this.” “I might talk. “All of my brothers know something doesn’t add up—even Nix and Mikko. Then your father married a female shifter. don’t be scared and don’t let go of my hand. but he needed to prepare him.” “Ah. You’ve been doing it since you were a baby.” “Thane…” . I see. glancing toward Mikko’s unconscious form with a frown.168 Gabrielle Evans with his special gift.” Zasha squeezed his hand and smiled. Thane didn’t know the whole story.” Zasha muttered. and he didn’t want to sully them by digging into secrets that were best left buried. we don’t talk about those kinds of indiscretions. it could be a little confusing. when a mommy and daddy love each other…” “Asshole. “Okay. “Well. This doesn’t mean anything is wrong. “Let’s go get your brother. “I’m sorry. They’re our family.” Zasha pressed his lips together and ducked his head as a pink hue filled his cheeks. either. and he didn’t want to. okay. when said that way.” He didn’t want to scare his mate.” He didn’t sound like he meant it. and he actually knows what he’s doing. though. I mean. “Shifters are drawn to the full moon. especially since Zasha didn’t have all the information.” “Agreed.” “Don’t be. though.” “That makes sense. “No matter what you see. but it would give us a bigger push from the other side. “When we talked about your brothers.” he explained. and that’s all that matters.” “It’s just holding hands. It wouldn’t make his body stronger.” It had happened long ago. though.” Zasha bobbed his head twice and stopped.

The first time he’d crossed the veil had been the summer he’d turned fifteen. If someone asked him. though. not a breeze on the air or .” Bringing Zasha’s hand to lips. Thane couldn’t explain exactly how he did it. He just knew getting into Purgatory was the easy part. Yep. Crossing between realms was a bit like falling asleep. making his teeth chatter as he shook. The cold seeped into him before the world had even stopped spinning. though. and it had taken nearly a decade for him to voluntarily return to the desolation of Purgatory. No walls. he placed a soft kiss on the knuckles.” Relaxing into his chair. There was no ceiling. Purgatory was kind of what Thane imagined it would be like to fall down the rabbit hole and then get lost on his way to see the wizard. Then all he had to do was search through the endless darkness and bitter cold until he stumbled upon the one soul he was seeking. Technically. Mostly. not even a sky as far as he could tell. While not as terrifying as it had been when he was a kid.” “There are half a dozen people just outside that door. piece of cake. “Nothing is going to go wrong. “Ready?” “As ready as I’ll ever be.” There was no one he would rather have at his side right then. The entire ordeal had scared the piss out of him. it just felt like falling. there was no floor beneath his feet. That didn’t stop his stomach from twisting into knots or his heart from trying to climb up into his throat. What if something goes wrong? I don’t know what to do. Thane closed his eyes and imagined himself melting into the tacky upholstery. “That’s what I’m afraid of. he’d be lying if he said he didn’t hold a measure of anxiety about crossing between planes. no trees or grass.Four-Letter Words 169 “I trust you with my life.” Someone— and Thane was willing to bet it was Torren—had been stomping up and down the hallway for the past ten minutes. He was older now and had made the journey many times. lieveling. I don’t know how to help.

The deeper into the abyss he trekked. Mikko had a sharp tongue and an eye for trouble. love. but there was enough light from those strange blue lights to recognize the man. glowing just brightly enough for him to see the breath plume from his lips in a cloud of smoke. fear. “Stop being a dick.” he responded. the number he felt. often times the diplomat of the group.” As the familiar voice chastised him for his tardiness. to turn back and never return. He could almost picture the energy unfurling from his palms and fingertips like climbing ivy vines. anger. Thane. “Yes. illuminating one of the ropes of magic he’d released.170 Gabrielle Evans a single sound—the place was an utter void where nothing but blackness stretched infinitely in every direction with one exception. With each step. Joy. More than the darkness or the biting cold. “It’s not my fault you went and got yourself kidnapped. as though the very air he breathed was decaying his soul.” “Is that what I said?” Where Nix was calm and optimistic. he could feel the slight tug reeling him forward. “Well. Though he couldn’t see the man on the other end of that rope. I’m trying to help you. Ignoring the cold. most miserable place he’d ever encountered. hate—he felt none of those things. He couldn’t see much of him. Thane fought through the growing numbness and sent out small tendrils of magic. I totally deserved this. Purgatory was the loneliest. a thin golden light bloomed from Thane’s palm. stretching out into the inky black in search of their target. There had been times when he’d walked for hours with only those faint rays of light for company. carefully making his way toward his brother’s voice. sadness. all of Thane’s annoyance drained away at the sight of his brother. because I planned that. it’s about time. He felt empty. devoid of any emotion. There had been times when he’d wanted to give up. .” When he finally reached the end of the magical tether. You’re so right. an eerie blue light appeared beneath Thane’s feet.

I’m not stupid. the Underworld. that was creepy. well.” “Mikko—” “Go. Hades. orange glow pulsed up from the floor. It was like walking into fucking Mordor. leading the way back toward the veil. The region below was not the fiery depths of Hades but just another sector of Purgatory.” “Really? Follow the lights? I’m a ghost. Run!” The level of urgency in Mikko’s voice convinced him to shut up and pay attention.” “If you haven’t noticed. Hell. you’re going to be getting to know this place a lot better than you’d like if you don’t move your ass. “Okay. Thane. he wasn’t a ghost. Thane had descended into the lower dominion of Purgatory on only one occasion.” “I might die. no matter what people called it.Four-Letter Words 171 “I really am glad to see you. but his fingers passed right through Thane’s wrist. “Well.” “We need to move faster. but Thane was done arguing with the runt. Thane! They’re coming. either. I’d rather die than be stuck here for the rest of eternity.” “You should know that your body is…well. but do you think we can get the fuck out of here?” Mikko stepped even closer. that hadn’t turned out so great for Frodo. “Just follow the lights. the place was reserved strictly for the incontrovertibly dead. A bright. and well.” Technically. you’ve looked better. and he had no desire to repeat the experience. the lower realm of Purgatory was a .” “How did you end up here. Then keep your mouth shut and stick close.” Mikko stated without a hint of reservation. However. but it was the sudden rise in temperature and the sinister hiss through the darkness that finally propelled him into action. reaching out to take Thane’s hand. I can’t see two feet in front of me. Let’s just leave it at that. anyway?” Thane asked. “Fine. illuminating a narrow pathway that started several hundred feet behind them.” “Yeah.

but Thane kept running. “Thane!” Mikko shouted again. orange light and increasing the temperature to blistering levels. Within seconds. spraying up more of the pulsing. the voices felt like they were piercing his brain. completely drenched in sweat. “We have to go!” “I can’t…I don’t know…I can’t see the…” And there it was—the most gloriously beautiful sight he’d ever seen. The ground beneath his feet began to tremble as the barrier between dominions split open with a thunderous crack. disorienting. It was nothing more than a faint. Thane was dripping with perspiration. causing his temples to throb and his stomach to convulse with the sickening pain. The fissure zigzagged toward him. he sprinted through the dark. but instead. afraid he’d lose his way if he let the pain in his head or the rising heat distract him. The jumble of words and sounds were confusing. Unlike the frigid void where they currently stood. and worse. “You have to lead me. unconcerned with his limited sight. “Thane!” Mikko shouted at him. Using every ounce of strength he possessed. Thane called it The Pit. I don’t know which way to go. and the pain lasted for weeks with no magical cure or relief. The Pit was blazing hot. and they grew in volume until it seemed the noise surrounded him on all sides. twinkling light that sparkled ahead within the pitch black.” The voice he’d first heard as a hiss was now joined by others. causing him to sway and stumble. The ground shook harder. and his simple cotton T-shirt was clinging to his torso. he listened .” Thane refused to look away from the little star. alight with the evilness that burned within its inhabitants like glowing embers. “This way. just a tiny pink flicker that waited for him at the end of the tunnel. A simple brush against one of those spirits burned the skin like a branding iron.172 Gabrielle Evans place for the wicked spirits trapped between worlds—or those simply attempting to cheat death. He didn’t dare look back.

Zasha didn’t care. drenching not only his clothes and hair. and it was a struggle just to place one foot in front of the other. reaching deafening volumes that nearly sent Thane to his knees. Using the last of his waning energy. hold my hand.” “Mikko. and it seemed no one could give him answers. He didn’t go down.” There was no pressure or physical resistance. and jumped. . As they neared the flickering pink light. just take my hand. The last dozen steps felt like a perilous trek through miles of broken glass. Zasha was going out of his mind. “Mikko. Thane approached the translucent curtain of shimmering fog that stretched out before him. but his momentum slowed. After more than an hour of watching the man he loved suffer. the voices exploded into a cacophony of noise. Once completed. he created the connection needed to temporarily bond their life forces so that Mikko could cross the veil. though. The voices increased in numbers and became even louder.Four-Letter Words 173 for the sound of Mikko’s labored breathing to make sure his brother was still close. More worrisome was the buckets of sweat that poured from his lover. but Thane knew the exactly moment his brother had complied. Thane twitched and moan. **** “What’s wrong with him?” Zasha demanded for about the twentieth time. but at last.” “I can’t. He’d heal from it. Thane finally stood beneath the star that had led him home. closed his eyes. damn it. muttering unintelligible words in a voice filled with pain and fear. He refused to release Thane’s hand. while the dangerously high temperatures said the spirits were creeping ever closer. though the heat emanating from his mate burned his skin. It just goes right through you. but the fabric of the chair beneath him.

though. Well.” Torren said.” “It’s okay. no rising and falling of his chest that indicated he was breathing. completely motionless. I’m not supposed to let go.174 Gabrielle Evans “He’ll be okay. and no matter how much pain it caused him. “You need to let go. Instead of slowing decreasing. “I’m sure this is normal. Thane’s body temperature alone was probably frying his brain like fatback bacon.” Nix spoke quietly. he wouldn’t give up until Thane was safely back where he belonged.” Zasha shook his head firmly. Thane was coming home. He didn’t care if his whole damn hand burned off at the wrist. An unholy stench permeated the air as the skin on his hand blackened like the outside of a marshmallow held over a campfire. Get some icepacks or cold water or something. “Zasha. he wouldn’t release his mate’s hand. yet he was the only one who seemed concerned. frightened child. increasing the pressure of his grip on Thane’s hand. burning so hot that Zasha cried out as he tumbled from his seat to the floor. “Someone do something. Still. . There was no flickering of his eyelids. Zasha had promised to be there.” Nix whispered as he knelt behind him on the floor and squeezed his shoulder. “I can’t. He wasn’t letting go until Thane was awake and told him it was okay. let go. gritting his teeth to keep from yelling again. It’s okay to let go now. promised to lead his lover back from the darkness. Why are you just standing there?” Before he could receive more platitudes about how it was perfectly natural for a person to reach temperatures that literally blistered the skin. Thane stopped jerking and mumbling and slumped back in his chair. Thane had been very clear on that. “Everything is going to be just fine. it sure as hell wasn’t normal to Zasha.” “No. calmly.” Raith added. as though he was soothing a small. Thane’s temperature soared.” “No!” Zasha growled at him.

” Thane slurred. Thane lifted his wounded hand and pressed his lips to the charred skin. he really didn’t want to lose the appendage. “I’m okay. though. “C’mere. but he’d manage. though. but this time was a bit different. The voice was weak and wispy. and his head lolled to one side. Zasha straddled his lover’s thighs to grip his handsome face with his uninjured hand. you. and despite his noble intentions from earlier.” . shivering from the intoxicating scent.” Thane’s temperature was already returning to normal. “Hey.” “Thane? Thane. okay? We need to get that hand looked at. His hand did throb like the ten shades of hell. he ignored everyone else in the room and pulled Zasha more securely into his lap.” “Why?” Slipping his fingers under Zasha’s wrist. I just want to stay until he wakes up.” Thane rolled his eyes and snorted. are you okay?” Jumping up from the floor.Four-Letter Words 175 “Let…go. he embedded his canines into the supple flesh while a single thought chased itself around in his head. “Why didn’t you let go?” “You told me not to. Zasha inhaled deeply. barely audible over the pounding of Zasha’s own heartbeat. Skimming his nose along the pulsing vein in Thane’s throat. Zasha wasn’t overly fond of public displays of affection.” “Stubborn. I promise that nothing bad will happen. “See?” Nix smiled reassuringly. With a possessive growl. “Everything is fine now.” Stripping his sodden shirt off over his head. resting against his pillow.” Then Mikko’s eyelids drooped closed once again. “Thane…is…fine. “Mine. lieveling. baring the side of his throat. “The one time you actually listen. It would take a bit longer for Zasha’s hand to heal. Then he tilted his head to the side.” It wasn’t Nix this time.

Torren?” . and he was sure no one had slipped between worlds with him and his brother.” “I just want to be sure that nothing came through that barrier with you. “What do you want me to say. As far as he could see.” “Thank you for that assessment. something strange happened while I was in Purgatory. His hand had fully healed within a few days. Zasha hadn’t suffered any lasting effects. but Thane was struggling with his feelings of guilt over what had happened. Torren was just being paranoid.” Nix glanced between Torren and Thane before focusing on his knees again.” “What is he talking about?” Raith leaned against a bookshelf with his arms crossed over his thick chest. there had been no other indication in the three weeks since then that anything was amiss.” Torren argued. That’s not normal. you didn’t see yourself. The guy was always looking over his shoulder. but the guy had been grilling him about it for weeks. He would have sensed if there had been something wrong. “You fucking barbequed your mate just from touching him. Torren? I told you everything I know. “Thane. “Yes. “Is there something you’re not telling me?” “Just tell him. “What are you hiding. and he probably slept with one eye open.176 Gabrielle Evans Chapter Eighteen “I don’t know!” Thane threw his hands in the air as he stomped from one side of the library to the other. Obvious. but no one but Mikko was connected to me when I jumped.” Thane could understand that.” Other than the unexplainable rise in his body temperature. “We’re supposed to be in this together.” He really didn’t need the reminder. Dr.

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

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

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

jumping into his arms and knocking them both to the ground.” His grin was still in place. you’re doing it wrong. Thane already knew the reward he wanted. “Thane. There hadn’t been a lot of time for just the two of them lately. and Thane had been thrilled when his lover suggested a walk together in the moonlight. October and Raith had gone into town for dinner and a movie. but he didn’t care. he rained kisses over Thane’s face and nipped at the side of his neck. Thane willed their clothes away. Laughing his fool head off.180 Gabrielle Evans It was a gorgeous spring night.” “Do what?” Thane blinked innocently. they both worked extra hard to make them count. pleasantly warm with a gentle breeze that carried the scent of honeysuckle on the air. “Fine. “I know what you’re thinking.” Then he sprinted straight at Thane.” With just a few whispered words under his breath.” Zasha shook his head and tried to roll away. but when they could steal a few quality moments. but Thane encircled the vampire’s waist with his arms and held tight. “I’m not doing anything. Zasha blew kisses and waved his hands. catch me if you can. . Zash?” Thane halfway expected the guy to stick his tongue out and stomp his foot.” “And what do I win?” The answer wasn’t important. doing all he could to goad Thane into action. “You have that look. “You win. but then there were time like these when he couldn’t imagine a life without magic. “Thane.” Jogging backward for a few feet. giving Zasha the night off. “I’ll give you a head start. lover boy. It was all about the chase. no. We can’t do that here. and he fully intended to claim his prize.” Thane knew he couldn’t outrun his mate. he’d cursed the legacy he’d been born to. On occasion. though. and he wasn’t struggling to get free. “Okay.” “Really.

he doubted there was a single pubescent witch who hadn’t. “This says you don’t. presumably to check for anyone in the vicinity. and . He would have preferred to take his time teasing and tormenting his lover before finally sending him over the edge into sweet oblivion. controlled exterior. Still. grinding himself against Zasha’s erection. read his body language. but when opportunity came knocking. Thane wasn’t about to slam the door on it. he’d spent a lot of time perfecting a variety of spells. During his teenage years. Knowing Zasha melted into a puddle of goo from a brush of lips across his nape hadn’t come from his magic. he knew there was a hellcat that lurked beneath the cool. when his hormones had raged on overdrive during every waking hour. “You are bad. all sexual in nature. there were just some things that could only be gained with experience.” “You love it. and if the knowledge made him a bit arrogant. Hell. and he had no desire to change the man. he found himself immensely grateful for his gifts. Thane rolled his lover beneath him and pressed their naked cocks together. Thane knew because he paid attention to his partner. he’d come ill-prepared for that approach. whipping his head one way and then the other. Unfortunately. However. well. “Are you sure you want me to stop?” He flexed his hips. Thane also knew that only he could bring that side of his mate to the surface. he figured he’d earned the bragging rights.” Keeping a firm hold on Zasha’s waist with one arm.” A garbled moan was Zasha’s only verbal response as he looped his arms around Thane’s neck and pulled him down for a searing kiss. “Someone is going to see us!” “Let them watch. Once again.Four-Letter Words 181 “Thane!” Zasha gasped.” Thane adored everything about his Infinity. There had been no ulterior motive when they’d left the house.

“Please. supple . Zasha writhed beneath him. and Thane realized how truly blessed he was. or the way Zasha’s hungry ass sucked his fingers in. suspending them in one perfect moment of time. “You sneaky little shit. He looked more like an angel than a vampire. encasing himself to the base in one smooth glide. Capturing Zasha’s mouth in a hard. Their lovemaking was tender and unhurried. Thane skimmed a dry finger along his lover’s crease and parted his cheeks. Captivated by the gorgeous creature sprawled beneath him. he insinuated a hand between them to fondle his lover’s tight sac and skim a finger along his perineum. surrounding them in silky heat. please. feigning indignation. Their gazes locked and held. intending only to tease. rubbing his dripping cock over Thane’s abs. Thane was momentarily paralyzed as he watched the rays of moonlight dance over Zasha’s pale skin. yet it lacked none of their usual passion. He certainly hadn’t been prepared for the smooth. No amount of power could give him the gasping moans or soft pleading he craved. He hadn’t though his man had it in him to be so aggressive. demanding kiss. “You planned this. Their tongues tangled in a sensual glide. and Zasha flexed his slender legs around Thane’s waist. he could kiss this man all day.182 Gabrielle Evans took his cues from Zasha’s responses. Rocking his hips and arching his back. he was impressed. echoing Thane’s earlier words. please.” Zasha responded through panted breaths. and Thane momentarily forgot what he’d been doing when his head started to spin. slippery glide. loosened entrance and surged forward. As he thrust into Zasha’s firm. Truthfully. Gripping the base of his throbbing length. clearly seeking more friction.” he accused. twining at the tips before retreating. Gods. Thane lined the tip up with Zasha’s slick. and Thane figured that was the way it should be.” The chanting was followed by another delicious moan.” “You love it.

Thane lost himself. Zasha fell with him. molding him into someone better and stronger than he had ever been. holding love in the palm of my hand. though the tempo remained steady. Thane would be anyone—do anything—the man required of him. yet it still lingers on my tongue. fragmenting into a million jagged pieces. Watching the beautiful mixture of pleasure and pain that covered his lover’s face.” “And now?” He already knew the answer.Four-Letter Words 183 body in long. The orgasm rocked him. “I love you. The intensity grew. “I never believed in love. it couldn’t be real. but he wanted to hear what had changed Zasha’s mind. pushing up on his elbows to lick at Thane’s lips.” A gentle smile curled the corners of his lips. “It’s so intricately woven into the very fabric of time that there is no hope of escaping it. redirect rivers. but Thane barely noticed. He’d move mountains.” . Ropes of hot. “Yet here I am. and when Thane tumbled over the edge. His entire world didn’t just revolve around the man in his arms. Zasha was his entire world.” Zasha whispered.” He pressed his hand to Thane’s cheek and caressed the skin with his thumb. When Zasha opened his eyes and looked up to meet his gaze. He no longer knew where he stopped and his mate began. Thane felt as though his entire being had shattered. I always thought it was something silly and foolish. creamy seed erupted from his throbbing cock to spill into Zasha’s convulsing channel. I thought love couldn’t be seen. zinging unadulterated pleasure to every inch of his body. For Zasha. an excuse for people to do awful things and call them noble reasons. “I thought if I couldn’t touch love. languid strokes. “Love is everywhere. those tiny pieces of him began to reform.” He paused. and pluck the stars from the sky if Zasha needed those things to be happy. and Zasha reached up to trace the curve of Thane’s jaw with his fingertips. but I see it every time you smile. They say you can’t taste love. lieveling.

COM . Zasha.GABRIELLEEVANS. and the reason to change all the things he didn’t like.” Chuckling under his breath. The man was everything he liked about himself.” THE END WWW. there was one other four-letter word that seemed more fitting for the moment. Love was just one way he could describe Zasha’s importance in his life. but as they lay flesh to flesh beneath the moon.” It was more than that. Zasha had rescued him. “Forever and always. though. and he certainly loved his mate. you are my home. He was Thane’s sunlight after the storm. though. It was a big one. I just hope you never realize that. because Thane had already found where he belonged. His mate calmed his mind and soothed his heart. too. All he could do was speak the truth and hope it was enough. I’m still not even sure that I do.184 Gabrielle Evans Thane didn’t have Zasha’s way with words. because I don’t know what I’d do with you. “I love you. Without love. Zasha leaned up for another kiss as his fingers threaded through Thane’s hair. but from himself. not just from that well. a house was just a dwelling. It didn’t matter where they lived. “I don’t know what I did to deserve you. and he had nothing so poetic to offer in return. the warmth that surrounded him in the cold.

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

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