Back at the brotherhood's mansion, Cormia checked the clock on her bureau again. John Matthew had been due to come for her an hour ago to watch a thew had been due to come for her an hour ago to watch a movie, and she hoped nothing had gone wrong.

Pacing around a little more, she found that her room seemed way too small tonight, way too crowded, even though it had no new furniture and she was all alone.


Dearest Virgin Scribe, she had too much energy.

It was the Primale's blood.

That and a crushing, unsatisfied urgency.

She stopped by the window, put her fingertips to her lips, and remembered the taste of him, the feel of him. What a mad rush, what a glorious ecstasy. But why had he stopped? That question had been swirling in her head. Why had he gone no further? Yes, the medallion had summoned him, but as Primale everything was on his terms. He was the strength of the race, the ruler of the Chosen, free to ignore any and all at his will.

-- Advertisement --

The only answer she had made her sick to her stomach. Had it been his feelings for Bella? Had he believed that he was betraying the one he loved?

It was hard to know what was worse: him being with her and all her sisters, or him being with none of them because his heart was held by another.

Looking out at the night, she was sure she was going to go crazy if she stayed in her room, and the pool with its undulating surface caught her eye. The gentle waving motion reminded her of the deep baths on the other side, promising a peaceful respite from all that was on her mind.

Cormia was at her door and out in the hall before she knew she'd left her bedroom. Moving quickly and silently in her bare feet, she took the grand staircase down to the foyer and crossed the mosaic floor. In the billiards room, she used the door John had let them out of the night before and stepped free of the house.

Standing on the cool stones of the terrace, she let her senses reach into the darkness and ran her eyes down what she could see of the massive wall at the edge of the property. There seemed to be no danger. Nothing moved among the flowers and trees of the garden except the thick night air.

She glanced back up at the massive house. Lights glowed in leaded windows, and she could see doggen moving around. There were plenty of folks close by should she need help.

She closed the door most of the way, picked up the skirting of her robes, and jogged across the terrace to the water.

The pool was rectangular and ringed with the same flat black stones that covered the terrace. Long chairs made up of woven strips and tables with glass tops. Off to one side, there was a black contraption with a white tank. Flowers in pots added color.

Kneeling down, she measured the water, its surface appearing oily in the moonlight, probably because the pool's belly was lined in more of the black stone. The way it was set up was not like the baths at home; there was no gradual wading in, and she suspected the depths were substantial. You would not get trapped, however. At regular intervals on the sides, there were curving handles that you could use to help yourself free of the water.

Her toe went in first and then her whole foot, the pool's surface rippling out from the penetration, as if the water were clapping in encouragement.

There were stairs over to the left, shallow steps that were clearly the way you went in. She went to them, took off her robe, and walked naked into the pool.

Her heart was pounding, but oh, the luxury of the water's soft buffer. She kept going forward until she was clothed in a gentle, moving embrace from breast to heel.

How lovely it was.

Instinct told her to push off with her feet, and she did, her body slipping forward in a weightless slice. Sending her arms up and out and then drawing them back in, she discovered she could make her way around, going wherever she chose¡ªfirst to the right, then to the left, then down, down, down to the end, where a thin board overhung the water.

Finished with exploring, Cormia rolled onto her back and floated along and looked at the sky. The twinkling lights above made her think of her place in the Chosen and of her duty to be one among many, a molecule that was part of a whole. She and her sisters were indistinguishable within the grand tradition they served: just like this water, seamless and fluid, with no boundaries; just like the stars above, all the same.

Looking up at earth's heaven, she had another one of those random, heretical thoughts, only this one wasn't about house design or what someone wore or whether she liked a bit of food or didn't.

This one went straight to the core of her and marked her as a sinner and a heretic:

She did not want to be one of many.

Not with the Primale. Not to him.

And not to herself.

Across town, Qhuinn sat on his bed and stared down at the cell phone in his palm. He'd typed out a text that was addressed to both Blay and John, and was just waiting to send the fucker.

He'd been sitting here for what seemed like hours, but had probably just been one at the most. After he'd taken a shower to wash Lash's blood off, he'd planted his ass down and braced himself for what was coming.

For some reason, he kept thinking about the one nice thing he could remember his parents ever doing for him. It had been back about three years ago. He'd been bugging them to be allowed to go to his cousin Sax's in Connecticut for, like, months. Saxton had already gone through his transition and was a little wild, so naturally he was Qhuinn's hero. And naturally, the 'rents didn't approve of Sax or his parents¡ªwho were not all that interested in the glymera's self-imposed social wedgies.

Qhuinn had begged and pleaded and whined and gotten a whole lot of nothing for his efforts. And then out of the blue his father had informed him that he was getting his way and going south for the weekend.

Joy. Total fucking joy. He'd packed up three days early, and when he'd gotten in the back of the car after dark and been driven over the border into Connecticut, he'd felt like he was king of the world.

Yeah, it had been nice of his parents.

Course, then he'd learned why they'd done it.

The adventure at Sax's hadn't worked out all that well. He'd ended up drinking up a storm with his cuz during Saturday 's daylight hours and had gotten so sick off a lethal combo of J?germeister and vodka Jell-O shots that Sax's parents had insisted he head home to recover.

Being driven back by one of their doggen had been such the ride of shame, and what was worse, he kept having to ask the chauffeur to stop so he could throw up some more. The only saving grace was that Sax's folks had agreed not to tell his parents¡ªon the condition that he make a full confession when he was dropped at his front door. Clearly, they didn't want to deal with his mother and father, either.

As the doggen had pulled up in front of the house, Qhuinn had figured he was just going to say he felt ill, which was true, and that he'd asked to come back home, which was not true and never would be true.

Except things didn't go down like that.

Every light in the place had been on, and music had been streaming in the air, coming from a tent set up out back. Candles were lit in every window; people were moving around in every room.

" 'Tis a good thing we got you back in time," the doggen at the wheel had said in his happy doggen voice. "Would be a shame for you to miss this."

Qhuinn had gotten out of the car with his bag and not noticed as the servant drove off.

Of course, he'd thought. His father was stepping down as leahdyre of the glymera after a distinguished term of service heading the Princeps Council. This was the party to celebrate his work and to mark the passing of the position to Lash's father.

And this was what the staff had been bustling around about for the last couple weeks. He'd just figured his mother was going through another one of her anal, clean-everything periods, but no. All the spic-n-span had been in anticipation of this night.

Qhuinn had headed around to the back of the house, sticking to the shadows thrown by the hedges, his backpack dragging on the ground. It had been so lovely in the tent. Twinkling lights hung from chandeliers and flickered on tables with arrangements of beautiful flowers and candles. Each and every chair had been trimmed out in satin bows, and there were runners down the aisles between the seating arrangements. He'd imagined the color scheme of everything was turquoise and yellow, reflecting his family's two sides.

He stared at the faces of the partygoers, recognizing each and every one of them. The whole of his bloodline was there, along with the leading families of the glymera, and all of the guests were dressed formally, the females in gowns, the males in tuxedoes with tails. There were young darting between the grown-ups like fireflies and the advanced aged sitting on the sidelines smiling.

He had stood there in the darkness and felt like part of the clutter in the house that had gotten shut away before company had come, another useless, ugly object to be stashed in a cupboard so no one saw. And not for the first time had he wanted to take his fingers and press them into his eye sockets and ruin what had ruined him.

Abruptly, the band had gone quiet, and his father had stepped up to the microphone at the head of the parquet dance floor. As all the guests assembled, Qhuinn's mother and brother and sister came up to stand behind his father, the four of them glowing in a way that had nothing to do with all the twinkling lights.

"If I may have your attention," his father had said in the Old Language. "I'd like to take a moment to acknowledge the founding families who are here tonight." Round of applause. "The other members of the Council." Round of applause. "And the rest of you who form the core of the glymera, as well as fill out mine bloodline." Round of applause. "These past ten years as leahdyre have been challenging, but we've made good progress, and I know that my successor will take the reins with a firm hand. With the king's recent ascension, it is even more paramount that our concerns be marshaled and brought forward with appropriate care. Through the Council's continuing work, we shall see our vision carried outward to the race... without regard to meritless dissention from those who do not understand the issues as fully as we do..."

There was resounding approval at this point, followed by a toast to Lash's father. Then Qhuinn's dad had cleared his throat and glanced at the three people behind him. In a slightly hoarse voice, he'd said, "It has been an honor to serve the glymera... and though I will miss my station, I would be remiss if I didn't admit that having more time for my family pleases me to no end. Verily, they are the seat of my life, and I must needs thank them for the lightness and warmth they bring unto my heart each day."

Qhuinn's mother had blown a kiss and blinked rapidly. His brother had gone all robin-breasted-proud, with hero worship filling his eyes. His sister had clapped and jumped up and down, her ringlets bouncing with joy.

In that moment, the rejection of him as a son and a brother and a family member had been so complete that no words spoken to him or about him could have added to his cringing sadness.

Qhuinn came out of the memories when his father's knock landed sharply on his door, the rap of the knuckles breaking the past's hold, snapping the scene free from his mind.

He hit send on the text, put the phone in the pocket of his shirt, and said, "Come in."

It wasn't his father who opened the door.

It was a doggen, the same butler who had told him he wasn't to go to the glymera's ball this year.

When the servant bowed, it wasn't intended as a gesture of specific respect, and Qhuinn didn't take it that way. Doggen bowed to everyone. Hell, if they interrupted a raccoon raiding the garbage, their first move before getting into all the shooing would be the old bend-at-the-waist routine.

"Guess I'm leaving," Qhuinn said as the butler quickly ran through the hand motions to ward off the evil eye.

"With all due respect," the doggen said, with his forehead still pointed to his feet, "your father has requested your departure from the premises."

"Cool." Qhuinn stood up with the duffel bag into which he'd packed his collection of T-shirts and his four pairs of jeans.

As he slung the strap on his shoulder, he wondered how long his cell phone service would be paid for. He'd been waiting for it to get cut off for the past couple months¡ª ever since his allowance had suddenly disappeared.

He had a feeling T-Mobile, like him, was SOL.

"Your father asked that I should give you this." The doggen didn't straighten as he extended his hand and held out a thick, business-sized envelope.

The urge to tell the servant to take the damn thing and airmail it up his father's ass was close to irresistible.

Qhuinn took the envelope and opened it. After looking at the papers, he calmly folded them up and put them back inside. Stuffing the thing into the back of his waistband, he said, "I'll just go wait for my ride."

The doggen lifted himself up. "At the end of the drive, if you would."

"Yeah. Sure. Fine." Whatever. "You need blood from me, don't you."

"If you would be so kind." The doggen held out a brass goblet, the belly of which was lined in black glass.

Qhuinn used his Swiss Army knife, because his hunting one had been confiscated. Streaking the blade across his palm, he made a fist to squeeze some red drops out into the cup.

They were going to burn the stuff when he was out of the house as part of a cleansing ritual.

They weren't just jettisoning the defective; they were getting rid of the evil.

Qhuinn left his room without looking back and headed down the hall. He didn't say good-bye to his sister, even though he heard her practicing her flute, and he left his brother alone to continue reciting Latin verses. He didn't stop by his mother's drawing room when he heard her talking on the phone, either. And he sure as fuck kept going right by his father's study.

They were all in on his evac. The proof was in the envelope.

Down on the first floor, he didn't shut the grand front door loudly. No reason to make a show. They all knew he was leaving, which was why they were all so studiously busy instead of having tea in the family room.

He bet they convened as soon as the doggen told them he was out of the house. Bet they had some Earl Grey and sucked back a couple of scones. Bet they breathed a deep, deep sigh of relief, then lamented about how hard it was going to be to hold up their heads after what he'd done to Lash.

Qhuinn wandered down the long, winding drive. When he got to the big iron gates, they were open. After he walked through them, they closed with a clang like they'd booted him in the ass.

The summer night was hot and humid, and lightning flashed off to the north.

The storms always came from the north, he thought, and this was true in both summer and winter. In the cold months, Nor'easters could bury you with so much snow you felt like a¡ª

Wow. He was so rattled, he was talking about the weather with himself.

He put his duffel down on the pavement at the curb.

He supposed he should text Blay now to see if he could, in fact, get picked up. Dematerializing with the weight of his duffel could be tricky and he'd never been given a car, so there you had it. He was going nowhere fast.

Just as he reached for his phone, the thing went off. It was a text from Blay: U gotta come stay w us. Let me pick u up.

He started to text his boy back, but then thought about the envelope and stopped. Putting the phone in his duffel, he slung the bag full of his shit back on his shoulder and started walking along the side of the road. He headed east, because with the way the road went, the random choice to go left took him in that direction.

Man... now he really was an orphan. It was like his inner suspicions had come true. He'd always thought he was adopted or some shit, because he'd never fit in with his family¡ªand not just because of the whole mismatched-eyeball thing. He was cut from different cloth. Always had been.

Part of him wanted to get all fired up angry at getting kicked out of the house, but what did he expect? He'd never been one of them, and taking down his first cousin with a hunting knife, even if he'd been totally justified, was unforgivable.

It was also going to cost his pops big green.

In cases of assault¡ªor murder, if Lash died¡ªif the victim was a member of the glymera, they or their bloodline were due a sum, depending on the relative worth of the injured or dead. A young, posttransition male who was the first son of one of the founding families? Only the death of a Brother or a pregnant noble female would be more expensive. And his parents were the payors, not Qhuinn, as legally you weren't considered an adult until one full year after your transition.

The good thing, he supposed, was that as he was still technically a minor, he wouldn't be sentenced to death. But even so, he was definitely going to be charged, and life as he knew it was now officially gone.

Talk about your makeovers. He was out of the glymera. Out of his family. Out of the training program.

Short of getting a botched sex change, it was hard to imagine what more could be done to shit on his identity.

As it stood now, he had until dawn to decide where he would go to wait to hear what was going to happen to him. Blay's would be the obvious choice, except for one big, fat, hairy problem: Sheltering an outcast from the glymera would totally H-bomb that family's social status, so that was a no-go. And John couldn't take him in either. The guy lived with the Brothers, and that meant his residence was so top-secret he couldn't have visitors, much less semipermanent overnight guests.

Who'd slaughtered a fellow trainee. And were waiting for their orange jumpsuit.

God... John. That shit that Lash had said.

He hoped it wasn't true, but feared it was.

He'd always assumed John hung back from the females because he was even more socially awkward than Blay was. Now? Obviously the guy had serious issues... and Qhuinn felt like an asshole of nightmarish proportions for riding his buddy about sex like he had.

No wonder John had never wanted to take a female to the back when they were hanging at ZeroSum.

Fucking Lash.

Man, no matter what happened as a result of what he'd done with that knife, he wouldn't change a thing. Lash had always been a bastard, and Qhuinn had spent years wanting to pop the fucker in the piehole. But for jumping on John like that? He really hoped the kid died.

And not just because one less cruel bastard in the world was a good thing.

The reality was, Lash had a big mouth, and as long as he was breathing that information John was not secure. And that was dangerous. There were those in the glymera who would regard shit like that as totally emasculating. If John ever hoped to become a full Brother and be respected in the aristocracy, if he ever hoped to get mated and have a family, no one could know that he'd been violated by any male, much less a human male.

Shit, the fact that it had been a human made it all astronomically worse. In the glymera's eyes, humans were rats that walked upright. To be overpowered by one of them? Untenable.

No, Qhuinn thought as he walked alone, he wouldn't change a thing about what he'd done.

-- Advertisement --