Authors: Connie Suttle
"We may not get anything useful out of him, if he's carrying an obsession," Hank pointed out.
"That's all right—I wouldn't mind watching him die like the Sirenali you killed in San Francisco. The fact that he targeted Breanne and Jayson with that idiotic website he runs is enough for me to want him questioned and dead. If he's obsessed, then dead only will do."
"I think I can handle that," Hank agreed, his eyes turning dark and feral.
"You haven't heard anything—have you?" Bill watched Hank carefully. He knew Breanne's body had been moved and was no longer on Earth. He had no idea if she'd been taken for burial or some other purpose. Regardless of the reason, he grieved for her.
"No, Director. There is no news." Hank's eyes regained their normal appearance as he shook his head.
"This sucks," Jayson muttered.
"I agree completely," Bill said. "But we have a job to do, now, and we have to get on it. The last reliable sighting of Vernon was in New Mexico. Are you packed and ready to go? If not, get that way. Hank, can you transport?"
* * *
"This is Lexsi?" Jayd watched as the baby's hand curled around his finger. "She's so precious," he smiled at the tiny girl in Tory's arms. Reah, Edward and Zendeval stood nearby, trying not to appear impatient as Jayd and Glinda played with the baby.
"This one you will not command," a newcomer appeared, with Kifirin beside him.
Jayd blinked at the new arrivals. Yes, he'd seen Li'Neruh Rath once before and the meeting had been particularly one-sided. Li'Neruh pointed out Jayd's shortcomings, and Jayd had bowed to Kifirin's superior. One of the things Li'Neruh had changed for the High Demon race—dramatically—was the tradition of placing claiming marks.
No longer would the female become ill. The bulk of the responsibility fell on the male, who was now required to care for his mate by rendering her unconscious with their first kiss, then healing the bite marks afterward, so she wouldn't suffer.
Jayd didn't know what to think of the changes. Yes, it would be much better for the female, but he felt it reduced the male's show of strength and virility. It didn't matter; Li'Neruh had decreed the change, therefore it was law.
"Dark Lords," Jayd bowed to the new arrivals.
"You would be wise to conceal your contempt," Li'Neruh snapped at Jayd. "Only Kifirin promised not to interfere. I have not made that promise, and I will not. The Dark Realm required a steady hand upon it, by its very nature. That hand will fall heavy in the future, should it be required." Li'Neruh's eyes were completely black and stars fell and burst in their depths. Jayd was learning that it meant Li'Neruh was angry.
"My apologies, Dark Lord," Jayd lowered his eyes.
"Do not anger me again over such inconsequential nonsense," Li'Neruh breathed smoke with his displeasure. "Strength and virility? There are other, more effective ways to display those. There is no need to harm an already frightened female." Li'Neruh crossed well-muscled arms over his chest.
"You call it harm?" Jayd asked.
"Yes. It is harm. As you have never been ill, you have no idea how your mate suffered when you claimed her. I can rectify that, if you'd like." Li'Neruh uncrossed his arms and lifted a hand.
"No—no, there is no need," Jayd backed away. "I was merely reflecting on tradition."
"At times, traditions are not only harmful; they are ill-conceived from the beginning." More smoke escaped Li'Neruh's nostrils.
Jayd's eyes turned to Kifirin, who glowered. He resented his overlord—a great deal indeed.
* * *
"It was a mistake, building only one to start," Acrimus observed. "Don't these humans have a saying—about not putting all your eggs in one basket?"
"I agree," Calhoun nodded. "Actually, why build at all, when there are so many throughout this planet? We can target those most amenable to our agenda, and take over from within."
"That may be the best idea I've heard from you," Acrimus' grimace barely resembled the smile intended. "Why stop with only this planet? Are there not religious establishments throughout the worlds?"
"There are," Calhoun's nod became more animated.
"Excellent. Bring a list of targets, and we will devise our plans."
* * *
"Here's your first target," Vernon Clark pointed to the website he'd pulled up on his laptop.
"I see," Calhoun nodded. "I had them on my list as well. There's no need to instill hate when it's there already."
"One less task for ours to accomplish," Vernon agreed. "These already picket funerals for the dead and hospitals for the wounded, claiming they're all going to hell."
"Hell. Such a delicious concept," Calhoun chuckled. "How easy it is to dupe or mislead these; they so readily believe anything fed to them. Such apt pupils they are."
"You don't believe in hell?" Vernon turned muddy green eyes on Calhoun.
"Oh, my dear, dear, misguided human," Calhoun patted Vernon's shoulder affectionately.
* * *
"Hey, Frank." Bill sighed as Franklin chose a lounge chair next to his. Bill had taken to sitting on the wide, back deck outside his bedroom. He'd almost stopped cooking altogether, allowing Sharon O'Neill, Adele Evans and Lavonna Anderson to cook. They usually prepared meals in their homes for
the big house
, as they called it, and Trace or Trajan picked up the food and brought it in.
The only thing Bill did was take Kay's meals to her, and Franklin currently alternated days tending Kay so Bill could have time alone or with Breanne.
"I looked in on Breanne," Franklin said, making himself more comfortable on the deck chair.
"Yeah." Bill's shoulders drooped.
"Hey, none of us have treated one of her kind before—except Karzac, that is, and he only healed superficial stuff. None of us know what any of this means." Franklin stared across miles of gishi fruit trees below the house. He knew the trees would soon flower and grow tiny knobs of green fruit, heralding another harvesting season on Avendor.
"It doesn't matter whether I'm in there or not. Whether I'm talking to her or not. She's not there," Bill whispered.
"Bill, I'm asking you not to give up hope," Frank leaned over and rubbed Bill's back.
"Nine days, Frank. It's been nine days, and no sign. Nothing. Yeah, she's breathing on her own, and her heart is still beating, but—that's it."
"If she weren't breathing on her own, I'd be more worried than I am," Frank said, giving Bill's back a final pat before pulling away. "For me, that spells hope. If she needed help to breathe, then I'd worry. Her vitals are strong for someone in her condition."
"I thought the Larentii had a hand in that," Bill said.
"Up to a point," Franklin agreed. "But you see they're not here sustaining that, don't you?"
"This is so confusing," Bill covered his face with both hands.
"And wearying, I know," Franklin sympathized. "If that were one of my mates in there, I'd be freaked out, too. Bill, she'll get the best of care, and if there's any way," Franklin left the sentence hanging.
"Yeah. I know that. Ashe says that he won't attempt to call her back, because of their history. He's worried that he'll just drive her farther away, and that will make it worse."
"Not good," Franklin sighed. "Look, Kay ate her lunch, and I'll be back to take dinner to her. She still has that permanent blank look on her face, but that's nothing new."
"Yeah." Bill dropped his hands and blinked to adjust to the light again. "Both of them—wandering who knows where, and we can't get to either one."
* * *
Kevis changed the bag of liquid sustenance attached to Breanne's feeding tube. His father inserted the tube five days earlier, so Breanne's body might be kept healthy. Kevis knew, just as his father did, that there was no brain activity. That might mean something to most people. He knew his father was waiting to make a judgment on one of the Mighty, however.
"You'd make a lot of people feel better if you'd just wake," Kevis hung the new bag on the pole beside Breanne's bed. "You're safe where you are, I promise. I talked with Graegar—he came to see me. He says that he loves you. Barrigar does, too. You've never really talked with Barrigar. He's one of the best Larentii I know. Doesn't say much, but he sees everything around him." Kevis took a chair beside the bed with a sigh.
"I think Barry's talent for noticing everything around him makes him a really good Protector. I know Conner loves him a lot—just like she loves Graegar. Connegar is Barrigar's son, you know. Barrigar is a wonderful parent. Connegar was Conner's first Larentii child, so he was named after her. Garegar is Graegar's child with Conner, and since he was second-born, he took a variation of his father's name for himself. Are you cold?" Kevis leaned forward and pulled the blanket up a little, covering Breanne's body up to her chin.
"Now," he said, "Pheligar is Renegar's father. Kiarra is Renegar's mother. Renegar is Graegar's father; Grace is Graegar's mother. Graegar is Garegar's father, Conner is Garegar's mother."
"If you don't shut up with Larentii lineage, I may punch you," Breanne's cobalt-blue eyes opened and she blinked in the light filtering through a nearby window. Even Bill heard Kevis' whoop of joy and popped out of his deck chair at a run.
The light hurt my eyes as I squinted at Kevis Halivar. I'd never seen a psychiatrist do a victory dance, but he was doing a good job at it. Bill bolted through a nearby door and stopped abruptly, staring at me for a moment before falling to his knees beside the bed and pulling me into his arms.
Trajan wasn't far behind, and if Kevis hadn't started doing weird things with his arms and legs, I'd have wept instead of bursting into laughter. "Wooh-wooh," Kevis chortled while waving his arms. I laughed so hard I cried.
"Here, now, don't pull on the tube," Karzac arrived to dampen the festivities.
"Huh?" Bill let me go and stood aside so Karzac could make his way to my bed. Did I know how long I'd been out? No. I couldn't even say I'd known I was alive. I lowered my shield and read Karzac.
Nine days. Nine days had come and gone since I'd—well, it was better not to think about that. It was too terrifying. Too depressing, too, to realize I'd had absolutely no effect against what I'd faced. Acrimus I might have dealt with. The General? He was too frightening to contemplate.
"Where am I?" My skin quivered as Karzac's fingers explored the area surrounding the feeding tube.
"Hush; I think I can remove this, now. You'll feel a tugging," Karzac announced as Kevis
gauze and a small bottle of antiseptic to him.
"Wait," I gasped as stitches were removed with a thought and the tube pulled from my body. Karzac ignored me completely and left me breathing in shock and a small amount of pain.
"It's better if it's done quickly," Karzac soothed, brushing hair back from my face while Kevis dressed the small wound left behind.
"Up to now," my voice shook, "I said you were my favorite Refizani."
"Is that no longer true?" Karzac's green-gold eyes gazed into mine while a smile tugged at a corner of his mouth.
"Jury's still out," I wheezed as Kevis covered the wound with treated gauze and set about healing it with power.
"No harm was intended," Karzac's fingers brushed my forehead again. "I suggest clear broths and simple soups at first. We will check on you regularly, but report any illness or discomfort to Kevis, or directly to me if you wish. If I am not here, send mindspeech."
"Kevis is staying?" I squeaked. I wasn't sure how I felt about that. He'd never mistreated me—not really—but he'd not done anything when Teeg, well, Teeg was gone. Dead. I wondered if Lissa and Gavin were still in mourning.
"Is Lissa still," I began before rethinking my words.
Is she still in mourning for Gavril?
I finished my question in mindspeech.
Yes, but she says you made it easier for her. I have not spoken to Tybus after he was transported to Campiaa, but I hear he is doing well
"Lissa is still on Le-Ath Veronis, but we can bring her if you'd like," Karzac grinned. He'd covered for me, and I was grateful.
You're still my favorite Refizani
, I sent.
Good. I will attempt to keep that honor
. Karzac rose from his spot on my bed. "Kevis will care for you, but you may speak with me whenever you like."
"I'll think about it," I nodded.
"I've already alerted Lissa, so she may be here very soon," Karzac turned to go. "I will do my best to return soon as well." Karzac nodded to Trace, who'd stepped inside the bedroom. He and Karzac disappeared.
"Dad says to tell you that you have to take it easy for four to six weeks," Kevis grinned at being left in charge of me.
"Honey, I don't know that I could fight a fly right now," I said. I felt weak, and that worried me. There were things to do; I had no idea where to start and all those things required me to be at full strength. Even that might not be enough if I faced the General alone again. I shivered at the thought.
"Are you cold, sweetheart?" Bill's fingers were tugging at my blanket, working to pull it over my body.
"A little," I nodded. Even nodding tired me.
"Baby, I'll work with you. Get you back in shape," Trajan promised.
"I'll work with you, too. You've been in that bed nine days and all we've done is move you around to prevent bedsores," Bill sighed.
"It may feel like we're pushing too hard, but it's to get you back like you were," Trajan added. Well, he ought to know. He was the one who trained Winkler's werewolves.
"When?" I asked.
"Tomorrow," Kevis said in a commanding tone. The doctor on duty had spoken. "For half an hour, at the most. You can increase it gradually each day, until she's at full strength. Lots of rest in between, too."
"You like that, don't you? Laying down the law?" My eyes felt heavy. "Don't let me sleep too long," I grasped Bill's fingers weakly.
"I won't. I'll wake you for dinner, if you're not awake already."
"Good." I let my eyes close and heard nothing more for several hours.
* * *
She's sleeping, so you may consider coming for dinner
, Kevis sent mindspeech.
Yes, I knew she had to be weak, but she'd only been awake and alert for less than half an hour.
She's been down for nine days. That will debilitate anyone, and we still don't know the extent of the emotional damage
Yeah, I understand. I just wanted to see her. Talk to her
, I amended.
Come for dinner
, Kevis repeated.
Trajan will come for you
, I agreed with a mental sigh.
"What did he say?" Winkler asked.
"To come for dinner. She ought to be awake again around that time."
"Who's going with you?"
"I guess anybody who wants. Why?"
"Because I want to go."
* * *
"I hear Obediah headed south," Winkler informed Weldon Harper. "Not much chance to keep an eye on him if he's not in the country. If he's in Mexico, there's no way we can track him there."
"Agreed. Just ask to be informed if he shows up in New Mexico again," Weldon said. "I heard from Wlodek last night, too. He says he's sending Gavin and Charles back to investigate those rogue vamps. Do you have anybody available to put with them?"
"Trajan can go. Trace, Ace and Grady can keep up with things here."
"You think that's enough?"
"For now. I have a feeling Director Bill and those two new agents of his are gonna get involved with this, too, so there's more than enough."
"I'll have some of mine watching for any signs of the enemy," Weldon said. "I expect you to do the same."
"Already on it, Grand Master," Winkler said. "Already on it."
* * *
"These are the ones we're searching for," Bill handed photographs to Dan Kelsey.
"I recognize Vernon Clark—he's been on our radar for a while. Nasty piece of work," Dan acknowledged.
"I have intel that says he was responsible for those border guard murders a couple of years back," Bill said. "He's likely involved in this mess, too."
"I love his minions, who always spout the bullshit that Vernon's working for the people by working against the government," Dan huffed. "He's got his hand in a lot of murders, if my suspicions are correct. It doesn't surprise me at all that he'd be involved with this."
"This one, too," Bill handed a photograph of Janine Webster to Dan. "She's likely connected to that last bombing in San Francisco."
"That's where one of your agents killed that—thing?" Dan had seen the scaled body of an amphibian that bore a rough resemblance to humans.
"Yes. That's a Sirenali, remember? It was fortunate that we managed to kill it before it placed an obsession."
"You say there are four more out there?"
"That's what my source said, and there's no reason not to believe it."
"What kind of attack do you think they'll plan next?" Dan asked. "I'm almost afraid to hear an answer," he held up a hand.
"We don't know. We have feelers out for any new churches being built, but so far, there's nothing that's on the scale of the one in Dallas. Before the building ended up in a pile of rubble, we found a basement filled with equipment, all of it designed to torture people. We found a huge altar, too, and it was covered in human blood."
"I saw those photographs," Dan said. "Forensics is working on identifying the bodies we found. Any new ideas on how the building was destroyed?"
"Nothing concrete, although I have a few suspicions," Bill replied. "At least the building didn't go down until after we gathered evidence. As for the bodies we cleared out of there, I wasn't expecting to find those. We thought they were feeding all those people to some of their creatures, but that didn't turn out to be the case. Some, it looks as if they just wanted to hear them scream before they died."
"This is fucked up," Dan shook his head. "Mighty fucked up."
* * *
"Ready?" I studied the ones who'd asked to go with me to Avendor. Drake, Drew, Winkler, Gavin, Rigo and Merrill were lined up and waiting. Those were just my mates who'd expressed a desire to accompany me. Also prepared to go were Graegar, Barrigar, Kiarra, Adam, Pheligar, Chazi, Perzi and Bekzi.
The two extra Larentii, Kiarra, Adam and Pheligar I could understand. The reptanoids? I had no idea. They'd been ferried to Le-Ath Veronis by Edward, who smiled at me, told me they wanted to see Breanne and left before I could ask questions.
"Ready," Winkler grinned.
"Everybody here?" Trajan appeared in my library, prepared to ferry us to SouthStar. He whistled at the crowd. "Ashe told the cooks to prepare for a bunch. Now I know why," Trajan said before folding us to Avendor.
* * *
"Sweetheart, are you hungry?" Bill's kiss on my forehead woke me.
"Bill, I need a bath," I moaned before opening my eyes. I wanted one, whether I needed it or not.
"I think we might arrange that, if you'll let me help." Bill's brown eyes smiled at me as I blinked at him.
"But," I said.
"No arguments. I'll carry you in and run water in the tub. Time may be different for you, but I haven't touched you in a long, long time."
"Bill, I don't know," I frowned at him.
"Kevis may kill both of us if I get frisky," Bill grinned. "Come on, pretty girl. Let's get you cleaned up. We'll get frisky when Kevis and Karzac say we can."
I chewed my lip and thought of Hank. There's no way the term frisky would pass his lips—he'd just say fuck. No embarrassment—that was Henry Hank Bell's M.O.
"What are you thinking?" Bill asked as he lifted me from the bed.
"About Hank, and the fact that he'd never say frisky. Not in a million years," I said.
"You're right," Bill agreed, carrying me through a door and into a beautiful bathroom. "He'd just say fuck—about a dozen times, at least."
"I was just thinking about the terminology, not making a comparison," I lifted a hand and brushed hair away from Bill's forehead.
"I hope not," Bill leaned in and kissed me carefully. "There, I kissed you first. Ha!"
"I love you so much," I tucked my head beneath Bill's chin.
"Bree, do you know what that does to me?" Bill whispered.
"What?" I sighed.
"It makes me feel like the luckiest man ever. Plus giving me a rock-hard, well, you know."
"That thing we can't do anything with, right now?"
"Yeah. That thing."
"What thing?" Trajan walked in. "Are we giving our girl a bath?"
"I believe we are," Bill said. "Want to hang onto her while I run the water?"
"It would be my pleasure," Trajan's Texas accent became evident.
I was passed from Bill's arms to Trajan's, who wasted no time in getting his kiss. "I missed you," Trajan whispered before kissing me again.
"Yeah," I huddled into Trajan's warmth.
"Bill, do we have fuzzy pajamas for our girl? I think she's cold," Trajan said.
"I'm not wearing fuzzy pajamas to dinner," I mumbled against Trajan's chest. As a werewolf, he heard me easily and chuckled.
"There's a bunch of folks waiting for you in the kitchen," Trajan said softly against my hair. "I won't let any of 'em get too close unless you want it."
"What about Ashe?" His presence troubled me. I knew I was at SouthStar—how could I not know?
"He says he's real sorry, baby. You're here so he can protect you."
"I'm here because he wants something."
"Sweetheart, Kay needs something. Wait until you meet her to pass judgment," Bill said. "Water's ready, Traje."
"Don't take your anger with Ashe out on Kay," Trajan mumbled as he lowered me to the tile floor and lifted my pajama top over my head.