Cormia was not in her bedroom or her bath.

As Phury went downstairs to the foyer to look for her, he came to a decision. If he ran into Rhage, he wasn't going to ask the questions that were on his mind. The shit with the trainees and the lessers and the war was no longer his territory, and he'd better get used to it.

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The answers about the Brothers and the trainees were not due to him anymore.

Cormia was his business. She and the Chosen. And it was about damn time he manned up.

Phury stopped short as he got to the dining room's arch. "Bella?"

His twin's shellan was sitting down on one of the chairs next to the sideboard, her head bent, her hand on her pregnant belly. She was breathing in little puffs.

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She lifted her eyes to him and smiled weakly. "Hi."

Oh, God. "Hi. Whatcha doing?"

"I'm fine.And before you say...I should be in bed... I'm headed there now..." Her eyes shifted over to the grand staircase. "It just seems a little far away at the moment."

For propriety's sake, Phury had always been careful not to seek Bella's company outside of communal meals, even before Cormia had come into the house.

Now was not the time for distance, though.

"Why don't I carry you?"

There was a pause, and he geared himself up for her arguments. Maybe she'd at least let him take her arm¡ª

"Yes. Please."

Oh... shit. "Look at you, being all reasonable."

He smiled, as if he weren't completely freaking out, and went over to her. She seemed light as air as he picked her up with one arm under her legs and the other around her back. She smelled of night-blooming roses and something else. Something... not quite right, as if her pregnancy hormones were out of whack.

Maybe she was bleeding.

"So how are you feeling?" he asked in an amazingly calm voice while he took her to the stairs.

"The same. Tired. But the young is kicking a lot, which is good."

"That is good." He got to the second floor and strode down the hall of statues. As Bella laid her head on his shoulder, she shuddered a little and made him want to start running.

Just as he came up to her bedroom, the doors at the end of the corridor opened. Cormia came through them and faltered, her eyes going wide.

"Could you get this door," he said to her.

She sprang forward and opened the way so that he could step through into the room. He headed straight for the bed and laid Bella out in the wedge created by the sheets and blankets that were folded back.

"Would you like some food?" he asked, trying to ease into the whole let's-get-Doc-Jane thing.

Some of the old sparkle came back into her eyes. "I think that's the problem¡ªI just ate too much. I kicked two pints of Ben and Jerry's Mint Chocolate Chip."

"Good choice, if you're going to spoon up." He tried to sound casual as he murmured, "So how about I call Z?"

"For what? I'm only tired. And before you ask, no, I wasn't up for more than the hour I've been allotted. Don't bother him, I'm fine."

Maybe so, but he was still calling his twin. Just not in front of her.

He glanced over his shoulder. Cormia was standing just outside of the room, a silent, robed figure with worry on her lovely face. He turned back to Bella. "Hey, how would you like some company?"

"I would love some." She smiled at Cormia. "I TiVo'd a Project Runway marathon and was about to watch it. You want to join me?"

Cormia's eyes shot to his, and his pleading must have come through in what she saw. "I'm not sure what that is, but... yes, I would like to join you."

As she came in, he took her arm and whispered, "I'm getting Z. If she shows any signs of distress, dial star-Z on the phone, okay? That's him."

Cormia nodded and said softly, "I'll take care of her."

Giving her arm a little squeeze, he murmured, "Thank you."

After saying good-bye, he shut the door and went down the hall a number of yards before he dialed Z on his cell. Pick up, pick up...

Voice mail.

Shit.

"That ain't him. That ain't him!"

Standing in the rain at the ass end of the alley next to McGrider's, Mr. D wanted to take the slayer in front of him and use the guy as a speed bump out in the middle of Trade Street.

"What the fuck is your problem?" the lesser shot back while pointing to the civilian vampire at their feet. "This is the third male we got tonight. More than we've bagged in a year¡ª"

Mr. D whipped out his switchblade. "And they're not the one we need. So you saddle on up again and hit that there pavement or your Rocky Mountain oysters are on my plate."

As the slayer took a step back, Mr. D bent down and sliced open the jacket of the civilian. The male was out cold and worse for the wear, looking like a limp suit in desperate need of dry cleaning. There was red blood all over his clothes, and his face was like a Rorschach test, nothing but blotches.

Fishing around for a wallet, Mr. D agreed with his subordinate up to a point, but he kept that to himself. It was hard to believe that they'd got three snatch and grabs in one night¡ªand he was still shitting in his pants like he'd been sucking on prunes for days.

Thing was, there was no good news to share with the Omega, and he was the one whose Levi's were on the line.

"Take this thing back to the Lowell Street house," he said as a pale blue minivan full of backup eased down the alley. "When it comes around, let me know. I'll see if it can tell us anything about the one we're looking for."

"Whatever you say, boss." Boss was pronounced like asshole.

Mr. D considered taking his switchblade and skinning the son of a bitch where he stood. But after already offing one slayer tonight, he forced himself to sheathe the blade and put the weapon back in his coat. Thinning the herd was not a great idea right now.

"I would watch your manners, boy," he murmured as two lessers got out of the minivan and came over to pick up the civilian.

"Why? This isn't Texas."

"True enough." Mr. D froze the large muscle groups of the slayer, grabbed the fucker by the balls, and twisted those family jewels like taffy. The slayer screamed, proving that even if you were impotent, a man's soft spot was still the best way to get his attention.

"There still ain't no reason to be rude," Mr. D whispered as he looked up into the guy's scrunched face. "Din't your mama teach you nothing?"

The reply that came back could have been anything from the Twenty-third Psalm to a blonde joke to a grocery list, for all the sense it made.

Just as Mr. D was releasing his hand, every square inch of his skin started to itch.

Great. The night just kept getting better.

"Cage that there male," Mr. D said, "then get back out here. We ain't done for the night."

By the time the minivan took off, he was ready to take a sheet of sandpaper to himself. The incredible tickling itch meant the Omega wanted to see him, but where the hell could he go for an audience? He was downtown, and the closest piece of property the Lessening Society had was a good ten-minutes drive away¡ªand considering he had no news to share, he didn't think any kind of delay was a good call.

Mr. D jogged up Trade and checked out the blocks of abandoned buildings. In the end, he decided he couldn't run the risk of taking an audience with the Omega in any of them. The human homeless were into everything downtown, and on a night like tonight, no doubt they'd be a-lookin' to get out from under the storms. The last thing Mr. D needed was a human witness, even a drugged-out or drunk one, especially considering he was going to get a whuppin'.

Couple blocks farther and he came up to a construction site with a ten-foot fence all around it. He'd been watching the building go up since this past spring, with first the exoskeleton rising from the dirt, then the skin of glass wrapping the girders up, then the nervous system of wires and piping getting roughed in. The crews had stopped working at night, which meant he was pig-in-shit for what he needed.

Mr. D took a running jump, two-handed the upper lip of the fence, and vaulted his ass over the top. He hit the ground in a crouch and stayed put.

No one came at him and no dogs rushed his way, so he willed a couple of the caged lights off and scooted through the shadows toward a door that was¡ªscore¡ªunlocked.

The building had the dry smell of Sheetrock and plaster, and he went deep into the center, his footsteps echoing around. The place was standard-issue office space, a big, open stretch that would someday soon be filled with cubes. Poor bastards. He never could have handled a desk job. For one, he weren't book smart, and for two, if he couldn't see the sky he felt like he was going to scream.

When he was thick in the middle of the building, he got down on his knees, took off his cowboy hat, and settled in for one hell of a tongue-lashin'.

Just as he opened himself to the master, the newest storm got serious about coming in, its thunder rolling into downtown, then echoing as it bounced off the tall buildings. Perfect timing. The Omega's arrival sounded like just another thunderclap as the master broke through into Caldwell's version of reality, busting out of thin air as if he were leaping out of a lake. When he'd fully arrived, the background of the construction site wobbled like it was rubber snapping back into shape.

White robes settled around the Omega's ghostly black form, and Mr. D got ready to pull the trigger on a whole lot of we're-doin-the-best-we-can.

But the Omega spoke first. "I have found what belongs to me. His death was the way. You shall give me four men and you shall procure necessaries and you shall go to the farmhouse to ready it for an induction."

Okay, that was not what he'd expected to come out of the master's mouth.

Mr. D got up and took out his phone. "There's a squadron on Third Street. I'll tell them to come here."

"No, I shall pick them up there and they shall travel with me. When I return to the farmhouse, you shall assist me in what transpires, and then you shall provide a service."

"Yes, master."

The Omega extended his arms, his white robe unfurling like a pair of wings. "Rejoice, for we are strengthened tenfold. My son is coming home."

With that, the Omega up and disappeared, a rolled scroll falling to the concrete floor in the wake of his depature.

"Son?" Mr. D wondered if he'd heard that right. "Son?"

He bent down and picked up the scroll. The list was long and kind of gruesome, but not exotic.

Cheap and easy. Cheap and easy. Which was good because his wallet was darned slim.

He put the list in his jacket and his cowboy hat back on.

Son?

Across town in Havers's underground clinic, Rehv waited in an examination room with no patience whatsoever. Checking his watch for the eight hundred and fiftieth time, he felt like a race car driver whose pit crew was made up of ninety-year-olds.

What the hell was he doing here anyway? The dopamine had kicked in and the panic had faded, and now he felt ridiculous with his Bally loafers dangling off the end of a doctor's table. All was normal and under control, and for chrissakes, his forearm would heal up eventually. The fact that it was slow probably meant he just needed to feed. A quick session with Xhex and he'd be good to go.

So really, he should just take off.

Yeah, the only problem with that was the fact that Xhex and Trez were waiting for him in the parking lot. If he didn't come out of here with some mummy wrapping over his needle marks, they were going to scramble his ass like eggs.

The door opened and a nurse came in. The female was dressed in a white shirtwaist dress, white hose, and white soft-soled shoes, a right-out-of-central-casting routine that was all about Havers's old-fashioned ways and standards. As she shut the door, she had her head buried in his medical chart, and though he didn't doubt she was checking on whatever was written there, he was well aware that the added bene was that she didn't have to meet his eyes.

All the nurses did that when they were with him.

"Good evening," she said stiffly while flipping through pages. "I'm going to take a blood sample, if you don't mind."

"Sounds good." At least something was happening.

While he took off one side of his sable coat and shrugged out of his jacket, she bustled around washing her hands and snapping on gloves.

None of the nurses liked dealing with him. It was female intuition. Even though there was no mention in his chart that he was a half-breed symphath, they could sense the evil in him. His sister, Bella, and his former flame, Marissa, were the only notable exceptions, because they both brought out his good side: He cared for them and they sensed it. As for the rest of the race, though? Anonymous folks meant absolutely nothing to him, and somehow the fairer sex always picked up on that.

The nurse came at him with a little tray of vials and a rubber tourniquet, and he rolled up his sleeve. She worked fast and didn't say a word as she drew the blood then hit the door as quickly as she could.

"How much longer is it going to be?" he asked before she could get away.

"An emergency's come in. It's going to be a while."

The door clapped shut.

Shit. He didn't want to leave his club alone all night. With both Trez and Xhex off-site... yeah, that was no good. iAm was a hard-ass, for sure, but even ruff-tuffs needed solid backup when they were facing a crowd of four hundred fucked-up humans.

Rehv popped open his phone, dialed Xhex, and fought with her for about ten minutes. Which wasn't fun but helped kill some time. She wouldn't budge on him pulling out, but at least he got her to agree to go back to the club with Trez.

Of course, that was only after he direct-ordered the both of them.

"Fine," she snapped.

"Fine," he bit out, ending the call.

He shoved his phone in his pocket. Cursed a couple of times. Took the fucking thing back out and texted: I'm sorry I'm such a shit. Forgive me?

Just as he hit send, a text came through from her: U can be such a shit abt this. I only ride u cuz I care.

He had to laugh, especially when she texted again: UR 4given but ur still a shit. TTYL

Rehv put his phone back in his pocket and looked around, cataloging the tongue depressors in their glass jar by the sink and the blood-pressure cuff hanging off the wall and the desk and computer setup in the corner. He'd been in this room before. He'd been in all the examination rooms before.

He and Havers had been doing the doctor/patient thing for quite a while, and it was tricky shit. If anyone had evidence that there was a symphath around, even a half-breed, by law they had to report the individual so they could be removed from the general population and dumped off at the colony up north. Which would ruin everything. So each time Rehv came for one of these visits, he burrowed into the good doctor's brain and opened what he liked to think of as his own personal trunk in Havers's attic.

The trick wasn't dissimilar to what vampires could do to erase the short-term memories of humans, just more in-depth. After putting the doc in a trance, Rehv sprang the information about himself and his "condition," and Havers was able to treat him accurately¡ªand without all the unpleasant social ramifications. When the appointment was over, Rehv packed up his "belongings" in the guy's brain and secured them again, locking them down tight in the doctor's cerebral cortex until the next time.

Was it sneaky? Yes. Was there another option? No. He needed treatment¡ªhe wasn't like Xhex, who managed to quell her urges on her own. Although God only knew how she did¡ª

Rehv straightened, his spine tingling in a rush, his instincts pulling a ring-a-ding-ding.

His palm found his cane and he slid off the table, landing on two feet he couldn't feel. The trip to the door was three steps, and then his hand grabbed onto the handle and twisted. Outside, the corridor was empty in both directions. Down far to the left, the nursing station and the waiting room seemed all business as usual. To the right, there were more patient rooms and beyond them, the double doors that led to the morgue.

No drama.

Yeah... nothing appeared out of place. Medical staff walked with purpose. Someone coughed in the examination room next door. The hum of the HVAC system was a constant slow boil of white noise.

He squinted and was tempted to reach out with his symphath side, but it was too risky. He'd just gotten himself restabilized. Pandora and her box needed to stay closed.

Ducking back into the exam room, he got out his phone and started to dial Xhex to call her back to the clinic, but the door opened before the call went through.

His brother-in-law, Zsadist, put his head through the door. "Heard you were in."

"Hey." Rehv put the phone away and chalked up the surge of anxiety to the paranoia that seemed to come with double-dosing. Ah, the joy of side effects.

Shit. "Tell me you're not here because of Bella."

"Nah. She's good." Z shut the door and leaned back against it, effectively locking them in together.

The Brother's eyes were black. Which meant he was pissed off.

Rehvenge brought his cane up and let it dangle between his legs just in case he needed it. He and Z had been cool following some dick tossing when the Brother and Bella had started off, but things could change. And given the way that stare was dark as the inside of a crypt, evidently they had.

"You got something on your mind there, big man?" Rehv asked.

"I want you to do me a personal favor."

The term favor was likely a misnomer. "Talk."

"I don't want you dealing to my twin anymore. You're going to cut off his supply." Z leaned forward on his hips. "And if you don't, I will make it impossible for you to sell so much as a fucking cocktail straw in that pit of yours."

Rehv tapped the tip of his cane against the exam table and wondered if the Brother would change his tune if he knew the profit from the club kept his shellan's brother out of a symphath colony. Z knew about the half-breed thing; he didn't know about the Princess and her games.

"How is my sister?" Rehv drawled. "Doing well? Keeping calm? That would be important for her, wouldn't it. Not getting unnecessarily upset."

Zsadist's eyes narrowed to slits, his scarred face the kind of thing folks saw in nightmares. "I really don't think you want to go there, do you?"

"You fuck with my business and the repercussions will hurt her as well. Trust me." Rehv positioned his cane so it stood upright in his palm. "Your twin is an adult male. If you have problems with his usage maybe you need to talk with him, huh."

"Oh, I'm going to deal with Phury. But I want your word. You don't sell to him anymore."

Rehv stared at his cane as it stood up in the air, perfectly balanced. He'd long ago made peace with his business, no doubt with help from his symphath side, which made seizing opportunity from the weaknesses of others a kind of moral imperative.

The way he justified his dealing was that his customers ' choices had nothing to do with him. If they fucked up their lives because of what he sold them, that was their prerogative¡ªand no different from the more socially acceptable ways people destroyed themselves, like eating their way into cardiac disease because of what McDonald's peddled, or drinking themselves into liver failure thanks to the good folks at Anheuser-Busch, or gambling on reservations until they lost their houses.

Drugs were a commodity and he was a businessman, and users would just find their devastation somewhere else if his doors closed. The best he could do was make sure that if they bought from him, their shit was uncontaminated with dangerous fillers, and the purity was consistent so that they could tailor their doses reliably.

"Your word, vampire," Zsadist growled.

Rehv looked down at the sleeve covering his left forearm and thought of Xhex's expression when she'd seen what he'd done to himself. Odd, the parallels. Just because his drug of choice was prescribed didn't mean he was immune from abusing the shit.

Rehv lifted his eyes, then closed his lids and stopped breathing. He reached out through the air between him and the Brother and entered the male's mind. Yeah... underneath his anger was rank terror.

And memories... of Phury. A scene a while ago... seventy years or so earlier... a deathbed. Phury's.

Z was wrapping his twin in blankets and moving him closer to a coal-burning fire. He was worried... For the first time since he'd lost his soul to slavery, he was looking on someone with concern and compassion. In the scene, he blotted Phury's fever-soaked brow and then strapped on weapons and left.

"Vampire..." Rehv murmured. "Look at you go with the nursing care."

"Get out of my fucking past."

"You saved him, didn't you." Rehv flipped his eyes open. "Phury was sick. You went and got Wrath because you had nowhere else to go. The savage as savior."

"FYI, I'm in a bad mood, and you're making me lethal."

"That's how you both ended up in the Brotherhood.

Interesting."

"I want your word, sin-eater. Not a narrative that bores me."

Moved by something Rehv didn't want to name, he placed his hand over his heart. In the Old Language, he said clearly, "I hereby proffer my vow unto you. Never again shall your blooded twin leave my premises with drugs upon him."

Surprise flared in Z's scarred face. Then he nodded. "They say never to trust a symphath. So I'm going to bank on the half of you that's my Bella's brother, feel me?"

"Good plan," Rehv murmured as he dropped his hand. " 'Cuz that's the side I pledged with. But tell me something. How're you going to make sure he doesn't buy from someone else?"

"To be honest, I have no idea."

"Well, best of luck with him."

"We're going to need it." Zsadist headed for the door.

"Yo, Z?"

The Brother looked over his shoulder. "What."

Rehv rubbed his left pec. "Have you... ah, have you picked up a bad vibe tonight?"

Z frowned. "Yeah, but how's that any different? Haven't had a good one in God only knows how long."

The door eased shut, and Rehv put his hand back over his heart. The damn thing was racing for no evident reason. Shit, it was probably best that he see the doc. No matter how long it took¡ª

The explosion ripped through the clinic with a roar like thunder.

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