When Phury woke up, it was three fifteen in the afternoon. He'd slept like crap, still so pissed off at what had happened the night before that his adrenal glands were working overtime. Which was hardly conducive to shut-eye.
He reached for a blunt and lit it. As he drew the red smoke into his lungs and held on tight, he tried not to imagine going to Zsadist's room and waking the brother up with a jaw shot. But the fantasy was righteous appealing.
Goddamn it, he couldn't believe Z had tried to take Bella like that, and actually hated his twin for the depravity. Hated himself, too, for being stupidly surprised. For so long he'd been sure that something had survived Z's slavery… that some small flicker of a soul was left in the male. After last night? No more doubts about his twin's cruel nature. None.
And, shit, the real ass burner was knowing he'd let Bella down. He should never have left her in Z's bedroom. Couldn't stand that he'd sacrificed her safety for his need to believe.
He thought about how she'd allowed him to hold her. In those fleeting moments he'd felt powerful, capable of protecting her against an army of lessers. For that short time, she'd transformed him into a true male, one who was needed and served a purpose.
What a revelation to be something other than a reactive half-wit chasing after a destructive, suicidal madman.
He'd desperately wanted to stay the night with her, and he'd left only because it was the right thing to do. She was exhausted, but more than that—and in spite of his vow of celibacy—he was untrustworthy. He'd wanted to succor her with his body. He'd wanted to worship her and make her whole with his skin and bones.
But he couldn't think like that.
Phury inhaled deeply on the blunt, his breath going in with a hiss. Keeping the smoke inside him, he felt the tension ease out of his shoulders. As the calm came over him, he eyed his stash. It was running low already, and as much as he hated going to see the Reverend, he needed more.
Yeah, considering how he was feeling toward Z, he was going to need a lot more. Red smoke was just a mild muscle relaxant, really, nothing like marijuana or any of the dangerous stuff. But he relied on the blunts to keep him level, like other folks used cocktails. If he didn't have to go to the Reverend to get the stuff, he'd say that it was a perfectly harmless pastime.
Perfectly harmless and the only ease he had in life.
When he was finished with the hand-rolled, he stabbed the little end in an ashtray and got out of bed. After he attached his prosthesis, he went into the bathroom to shower and shave; then he pulled on a pair of slacks and one of his silk shirts. He pushed his real foot and then the one he couldn't feel into a pair of Cole Haan loafers.
He checked himself in the mirror. Smoothed his hair down a little. Took a deep breath.
He went to the bedroom next to his and knocked softly. When there was no answer he tried again, and then opened the door. The bed was mussed, but empty, and she wasn't in the bathroom.
As he walked back out to the hall, alarm rang in his ears. Before he knew it he was in a jog, then a run. He raced past the head of the stairway and pounded down the statuary corridor. He didn't bother knocking on Z's door, just threw it open.
Phury stopped dead.
His first thought was that Zsadist was going to fall off the bed. The brother's body was on top of the comforter and right on the edge of the mattress, as far over as possible. Jesus… The position looked uncomfortable as hell. Z's arms were wrapped around his bare chest as if he were holding himself together, and his legs were bent and twisted to the side with the knees hanging in midair.
But his head was turned in the opposite direction. Toward Bella. And those distorted lips were parted ever so slightly instead of sneering. And his brows, usually drawn down in aggression, were loose, relaxed.
His expression was one of somnolent awe.
Bella's face was tilted up to the male beside her, her expression as peaceful as nightfall. And her body was cuddled up next to Z's, as close as all the sheets and blankets she was under would let her get. Hell, it was obvious that if she could have been wrapped around him, she would have been. And it was just as obvious that Z had tried to get away from her until he could go no farther.
Phury cursed softly. Whatever had been going on the night before, the situation had not been about Z pulling a nasty on her. No way. Not with what the pair of them looked like now.
He closed his eyes. Shut the door.
Like a total lunatic, he briefly considered going back in and fighting Zsadist for the right to lie next to her. He could see himself throwing the hand-to-hand around, having an old-fashioned cohntehst with his twin over who was allowed to have her.
But this was not the Old Country. And females had the right to choose who they sought out. Who they slept beside. Who they mated with.
And she had known where Phury stayed. He'd told her his room was right next door. If she had wanted to, she could have turned to him.
Z became aware of the oddest sensation as he came out of sleep: He was warm. Not overheated, just… warm. Had he forgotten to turn the heat off again after Bella had left? Must be it. Except he noticed something else. He wasn't on the pallet. And he had pants on, didn't he? He moved his legs around, trying to pin that one down, thinking that he always slept naked. As his warm-ups shifted, he realized the it was hard. Hard and heavy. What the f—
His eyes popped open. Bella. He was on the bed with Bella.
He jerked away from her—
And fell off the mattress, landing on his ass.
Instantly she scrambled after him. "Zsadist?"
As she leaned over the side, the robe she was wearing fell open and his eyes latched onto the breast that was exposed. She was just as perfect as she'd been in the tub, her pale skin so smooth and her little nipple so pink… God, he knew the other one was just the same, but for some reason he needed to see it anyway.
"Zsadist?" She stretched down farther, her hair slipping off her shoulder and pouring over the edge of the bed, a gorgeous fall of deep mahogany.
The it between his thighs strained. Pulsed with the beat of his heart.
He jacked his knees up and clamped his thighs together, not wanting her to see.
"Your robe," he said roughly. "Close it. Please."
She glanced down and then dragged the lapels together, blushing. Oh, hell… Now her cheeks were as pink as her nipple, he thought.
"Will you come back to bed?" she asked.
The very well buried, decent part of him pointed out that wasn't a good idea.
"Please?" she whispered, tucking her hair behind her ear.
He measured the arch of her body and the black satin that barred her skin from his stare and her wide, sapphire blue eyes and the slender column of her throat.
No… it really was not a good idea to get near her right now..
"Move over," he said.
As she shuffled back, he glanced down at the tent between his legs. Christ, that goddamn thing in there was huge; he looked like he had another arm in his pants. And hiding a log like that would require scaffolding.
He eyed the bed. In a smooth movement he hopped between the sheets.
Which was an achingly bad idea. The moment he was underneath, she molded herself to his hard edges until she was another blanket. A soft, warm, breathing…
Z panicked. There was so much of her against him that he didn't know what to do. He wanted to shove her away. He wanted her even closer. He wanted… Oh, man. He wanted to mount her. He wanted to take her. He wanted to fuck her.
The instinct was so strong he saw himself doing the deed: rolling her onto her stomach, pulling her hips off the bed, rearing up behind her. He imagined pushing the it inside of her and pumping with his hips—
God, he was loathsome. To want to take that dirty thing and force it into her? He might as well shove a toilet brush in her mouth.
"You tremble…" she said. "Are you cold?"
She shifted even closer to him, and he felt her breast, soft and warm, on the back of his forearm. The it twitched wildly, popping against his pants.
Shit. He had a feeling that punch action meant he was dangerously aroused.
Yeah, ya think? Hell, the bastard was throbbing, and the balls under the thing ached, and he was having visions of rutting on her like a bull. Except a female's fear was the only thing that got it hard, and she wasn't scared. So what was he responding to?
"Zsadist?" she said softly.
The four words she spoke next turned his chest into a cinder block and made his blood freeze up solid. But at least all that other crap went away.
When Phury's door opened without any warning, his hands froze on the T-shirt he was pulling over his head.
Zsadist stood between the jambs, naked to the waist, black eyes burning.
Phury cursed softly. "I'm glad you came. About last night… I owe you an apology."
"I don't want to hear it. Come with me."
"Z, I was wrong to—"
"Come. With. Me."
Phury yanked the shirt hem down and checked his watch. "I have to teach class in a half hour."
"This won't take long."
"Ah… well, okay."
As he followed Z down the hall, he figured they could get through the apology on the road.
"Look, Zsadist, I'm really sorry about last night." His twin's silence was not a surprise. "I jumped to the wrong conclusion. About you and Bella." Z walked even faster. "I should have known you wouldn't hurt her. I would offer you a rythe."
Zsadist stopped and glared over his shoulder. "What the hell for?"
"I offended you. Last night."
"No, you didn't."
Phury could only shake his head. "Zsadist—"
"I am sick. I am disgusting. I can't be trusted. Just because you've got half a brain and have figured that out doesn't mean you need to stroke my ass with this apology bullshit."
Phury's mouth dropped. "Jesus… Z. You're not—"
"Oh, for fuck's sake, will you get the lead out?"
Z marched down to his room and opened his door.
Bella sat up on the bed, gathering the lapels of the silk robe close to her neck. She seemed totally confused. And too beautiful for words.
Phury looked back and forth between her and Z. Then he focused on his twin. "What is this?"
Z's black eyes stuck to the floor. "Go to her."
"She needs to feed."
Bella made a choked noise, like she'd swallowed a gasp. "No, wait, Zsadist, I want… you."
"You can't have me."
"But I want—"
"Tough. I'm out of here."
Phury felt himself get shoved into the room and then the door slammed shut. In the silence that followed, he wasn't sure whether he wanted to scream with triumph or… just plain scream.
He took a deep breath and glanced at the bed. Bella was curled up on herself, her knees to her chest.
Good God, he'd never let a female drink from him before. As a celibate, he hadn't wanted to risk it. With his sexual urges and his warrior blood, he'd always been afraid that if he let a female take his vein, he'd become overwhelmed and try to get inside her. And if it was Bella, he'd find it even harder to stay in neutral.
But she needed to drink. Besides, what good was a vow if it was easy to uphold? This could be his crucible, his chance to prove his discipline under the most extreme circumstances.
He cleared his throat. "I would offer myself to you."
As Bella's eyes lifted to his, his skin got too small for his skeleton. Which was what rejection did to a male. Just shriveled you right up.
He looked away and thought of Zsadist, who he could sense was right outside the room. "He may not be able to do this. You are aware of his… background, aren't you?"
"Is it too cruel of me to ask?" Her voice was full of strain, deepened by her conflict. "Is it?"
Probably, he thought.
"It would be better if you used someone else." God, why can't you take me? Why can't you need me instead? "I don't think it would be appropriate to ask Wrath or Rhage, as they are mated. Maybe I could get V—"
"No… I need Zsadist." Her hand shook as she brought it to her mouth. "I'm so sorry."
So was he. "Wait here."
When he stepped out into the hall, he found Z just beyond the door. The male's head was in his hands, his shoulders caved in.
"Is it over with so fast?" he asked, dropping his arms.
"No. It didn't happen."
Z frowned and looked over. "Why not? You gotta do it, man. You heard Havers—"
"She wants you."
"— so will you go in there and open a vein—"
"She'll only have you."
"She needs it, so just—"
Phury raised his voice. "I won't feed her!"
Z's mouth clamped shut and his black eyes narrowed. "Fuck you. You will do this for me."
"No, I won't." Because she won't let me.
Z surged forward, locking a vise grip on Phury's shoulder. "Then you will do this for her. Because it's the best thing for her and because you're feeling her and because you want to. Do this for her."
Christ. He would kill to. He was dying to go back into Z's bedroom. Rip off his clothes. Fall onto the mattress. And have Bella crawl up his chest and sink her teeth into his neck and straddle him, taking him inside of herself both between her lips and between her thighs.
Z's nostrils flared. "God… I can smell how badly you want to do this. So go. Be with her, feed her."
Phury's voice cracked. "She won't have me, Z. She wants—"
"She doesn't know what she wants. She's coming out of hell."
"You are the one. For her, you are the one." As Zsadist's eyes slid to the closed door, Phury pushed, even though it killed him. "Listen to what I'm saying, my brother. She wants you. And you can do this for her."
"The hell I can."
"Z, do it."
That skull-trimmed head shook back and forth. "Come on, the shit in my veins is corroded. You know that."
"No, it isn't."
With a snarl, Z leaned back and held out his wrists, flashing the blood-slave bands tattooed at his pulse points. "You want her biting through these? Can you stand the thought of her mouth on them? Because I sure as hell can't."
"Zsadist?" Bella's voice drifted over. Without their noticing, she'd gotten up and opened the door.
As Z's eyes squeezed shut, Phury whispered, "You are the one she wants."
Z's reply was barely audible. "I'm contaminated. My blood will kill her."
"No. It won't."
"Please… Zsadist," Bella said.
The sound of the humble, yearning request turned Phury's ribs into a cage of ice, and he watched, frozen, numbed out, as Z slowly turned to her.
Bella stepped back a little, keeping her eyes on him.
Minutes became days… decades… centuries. And then Zsadist walked over and went inside. The door closed.
Phury was blind as he pivoted away and went down the corridor.
Wasn't there someplace he needed to be?
Class. Yes, he was going to… to teach class now.