Phury took form in the pines behind the garages of Havers's clinic¡ªjust as the security alarms in the place started going off. The shrill electronic screams made the neighborhood's dogs bark, but there was no danger of the police being called. The warning sounds were calibrated so that they were too high for humans to hear.

Fuck... he was unarmed.

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He bolted toward the clinic entrance anyway, ready to fight with his bare hands if he had to.

It was a beyond-worst-case scenario. The steel door was hanging open like a split lip, and inside the vestibule the elevator doors were pushed wide, the shaft with its veins and arteries of cables and wires exposed. Down below, the roof of the elevator car had a blast hole in it, the equivalent of a bullet wound in a male's chest.

Plumes of smoke and the scent of baby powder boiled up, riding a draft from the underground clinic. The sweet-and -sour combo, along with the sounds of fighting below, unsheathed Phury's fangs and curled his fists.

He didn't waste time wondering how the lessers had known where the clinic was, and he didn't bother with the ladder mounted on the shaft's concrete wall, either. He leaped down and landed on the part of the elevator's roof that was still solid. Another jump through the blown part and he was facing total chaos.

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In the clinic's waiting area, a trio of granny-haired slayers were doing the thumpty dance with Zsadist and Rehvenge, the fight busting apart the land of plastic chairs and dull magazines and cheerless potted plants. The paled-out bastards were obviously well-trained long-timers, given how strong and sure they were, but Z and Rehv were taking no shit.

With the fight moving so fast, it was a jump-in-and-swim sitch. Phury grabbed a metal chair from the registration desk and swung it like a bat at the nearest slayer. As the lesser went down, he lifted the chair up and stabbed one of its spindly legs right into the fucker's chest.

Just as the pop and flash rang out, screams rippled down the clinic's hallway from the blocks of patient rooms.

"Go!" Z barked as he threw out a kick and caught one of the lessers in the head. "We'll hold them here!"

Phury exploded through the double flap doors.

There were bodies in the hall. A lot of them. Lying in pools of red blood on the pale green linoleum.

Though it killed him not to stop and check on those he was passing, his focus had to be on the medical staff and patients who were very definitely alive. A group of them was fleeing toward him in a panic, their white coats and hospital johnnies flapping like a load of wash hung out to dry in the wind.

He caught them by grabbing arms and shoulders. "Get in the patient rooms! Lock yourselves in! Lock those damn doors!"

"No locks!" someone hollered. "And they're taking patients!"

"Damn it." He looked around and saw a sign. "This medicine closet have a lock?"

A nurse nodded while she unclipped something from her waist. With a shaking hand she held a key out to him. "Only from the outside, though. You'll have... to lock us in."

He nodded over to the door that read, STAFF ONLY. "Move it."

The loose group shuffled over and filed into the ten-by-ten room with its floor-to-ceiling shelves of medications and supplies. As he shut the door, he knew he would never forget the way they looked, huddled under the low ceiling's fluorescent lights: seven panicked faces, fourteen pleading eyes, seventy fingers finding and linking together until their separate bodies were one solid unit of fear.

These were people he knew: people who had taken care of him with his prosthesis issues. People who were vampires like him. People who wanted this war to stop. And they were being forced to trust him because at the moment he had more power than they did.

So this was what being God was like, he thought, not wanting the job.

"I will not forget you." He shut the door on them, locked it, and paused for a second. Sounds of fighting were still coming from the registration area, but everything else was quiet.

No more staff. No more patients. Those seven were the only survivors.

Turning from the supply closet, he headed away from where Z and Rehv were in battle, tracking a pervasive sweet scent that led in the opposite direction. He ran down past Havers's lab, down farther by the hidden quarantine room Butch had been in months ago. All along the way, smudged prints left by black-soled combat boots mingled with the red blood of vampires.

Christ, how many slayers had gotten in here?

Whatever the answer to that was, he had an idea where the lessers were headed: the evac tunnels, likely with abductions. Question was, how did they know to go this way?

Phury busted through another set of double doors and stuck his head into the morgue. The banks of refrigerated units and the stainless-steel tables and the hanging scales were untouched. Logical. They wanted only what lived.

He went farther down the hall and found the exit the slayers had used to get out with the abductees. There was nothing left of the steel panel into the tunnel, the thing blown apart just like the back entrance and the elevator roof had been.

Shit. Totally clean op. In and out. And he was willing to bet this was just the first offensive. Others would be coming to loot, because the Lessening Society was medieval like that.

Phury hotfooted it back toward the fighting out in the registration area in case Z and Rehv hadn't already taken care of business. On the way, he put his phone up to his ear, but before V answered the call, Havers stuck his head out of his private office.

Phury hung up so he could deal with the doctor, and prayed that V's security system had been notified when the alarms had been triggered. He thought it likely had been, as the systems were supposed to be linked.

"How many ambulances do you have?" he demanded as he came up to Havers.

The physican blinked behind his glasses and held out his hand. In his rattling grip was a nine-millimeter. "I have a gun."

"Which you're going to tuck into your belt and not use." Last thing they needed was an amateur's finger on the trigger. "Go on, put it away and focus for me. We have to get the living out of here. How many ambulances do you have?"

Havers fumbled to get the Beretta's muzzle into his pocket, making Phury worry he was going to shoot himself in the ass. "F-f-four¡ª"

"Give me that." Phury took the gun, checked that the safety was in place, and shoved it into the doctor's waistband. "Four ambulances. Good. We're going to need drivers¡ª"

The electricity cut out, everything going to pitch-black. The abrupt darkness made him wonder if the second shift of slayers hadn't come down the shaft.

As the backup generator got rolling and dim security lights flared, he grabbed the doctor's arm and gave the male a shake. "Can we get to the ambulances through the house?"

"Yes... the house, my house... tunnels..." Three nurses made an appearance behind him. They were scared shitless, white as the overhead emergency lights.

"Oh, dearest Virgin," Havers said, "the doggen at the house. Karolyn¡ª"

"I'll get them," Phury said. "I'll find them and get them out. Where are the keys to the ambulances?"

The doctor reached behind the door. "Here."

Thank. Fuck. "The lessers have found the southern tunnel, so we're going to have to get everyone out through the house."

"O-okay."

"We'll start the evac as soon as we have this facility temporarily secured," Phury said. "You four stay locked in here until you hear from one of us. You're going to be our drivers."

"H-how did they find us?"

"No clue." Phury shoved Havers back into the office, shut the door, and hollered for the guy to lock up.

By the time he got back to the reception area, the fighting was over, the last lesser being stabbed into oblivion by Rehv's red sword.

Z wiped his forehead with a hand that left a black smudge behind. Looking over, he demanded of Phury, "Status?"

"At least nine staff and patients killed, unknown number of abductions, area is not secured." Because God only knew how many lessers were still within the clinic's maze of corridors and rooms. "Suggest stabilize entrance and south tunnel as well as exit to house. Evac will require use of the back stairwell into the house, and then rapid departure with ambulances and private vehicles. Medical staff will drive. Destination is backup clinical location on Cedar Street."

Zsadist blinked for a minute, as if he were surprised at the clean logic. "Good deal."

The cavalry arrived a second later, Rhage, Butch, and Vishous landing one, two, three in the elevator. The trio were armed like tanks and pissed off.

Phury glanced down at his watch. "I'm going to get the civilians and the staff out of here. You take care of finding any loose lessers in the facility and playing welcome wagon to the next wave."

"Phury," Zsadist called out as he turned around.

When Phury looked over his shoulder, his twin tossed across one of the pair of SIGs he always wore.

"Watch your ass," Z said.

Phury took the gun with a nod and jogged down the corridor. After doing a quick scope of the distances between the medical supply closet, Havers's office, and the stairwell, he felt like the three points were seperated by miles, not yards.

He opened the door to the stairwell. Security lights glowed red, and the silence was golden. Moving quickly, he went up the steps, entered the code for the door lock into the house, and stuck his head out into a wood-paneled hallway. The scent of lemon polish was from the glossy floor.The perfume of roses came from a bouquet on a marble stand. The lamb-and-rosemary combo was from the kitchen.

No baby powder.

Karolyn, Havers's maid, leaned around the corner. "Sire?"

"Gather the servants¡ª"

"We're all together. Right here. We heard the alarms." She nodded over her shoulder. "There are twelve of us."

"Is the house secure?"

"None of our security systems have gone off."

"Excellent." He tossed her the keys Havers had given him. "Take the tunnels out to the garages and lock yourselves in them. Start every ambulance and car you have, but do not pull out, and leave one person by the door so I can get in with the others. I will knock and identify myself. Do not open up for anyone else but me or a Brother. Got it?"

It was painful to watch the doggen swallow her fear and nod. "Is our master..."

"Havers is fine. I'm going to bring him to you." Phury reached out and squeezed her hand. "Go. Now. And be quick. We have no time here."

He was back down in the clinic in the blink of an eye. He could hear his brothers moving around, knew them by the sounds of their boots and their scents and their patter of talk. No more slayers yet, evidently.

He went to Havers's office and sprang the four who were in there first, because he didn't trust Havers to keep tight and stay put. Fortunately, the doctor manned up and did as he was told, moving quickly up the stairs to the main house with the nurses. Phury escorted them into the tunnels that led out to the garages, and jogged along with them through the cramped underground escape route that ran under the parking lot behind the mansion.

"Which one of the tunnels leads directly to the ambulances? " he asked when they got to a four-pronged split.

"Second from left, but the garages are all interconnected."

"I want you and the nurses in the ambulances with the patients. So that's where we're going."

They trucked it as fast as they could go. When they got to a steel door, Phury pounded on the thing and barked his name. The lock disengaged and he let his troop in.

"I'll be back with more," he said, as everyone embraced.

He went back down into the clinic and ran into Z. "Any more slayers?"

"None. I've got V and Rhage guarding the front, and Rehv and I are going to stake out the south tunnel."

"I could use some cover for the vehicles."

"Roger that. I'll send Rhage. You're going out the back, right?"

"Yup."

He and his twin parted, and Phury headed for the supply closet. His hand was rock-steady as he took the nurse's key out of his pocket and knocked on the door.

"It's me." He put the key in and turned the handle.

He met their faces once more and caught the flashes of relief. Which didn't last as they saw the gun in his hand.

"I'm taking you out through the house," he said. "Do we have any mobility issues?"

The little group parted to reveal an older male on the ground. He had an IV in his arm, which one of the nurses was holding above his head.

Shit. Phury glanced back at the hall. His brothers were nowhere around.

"You," he said, pointing to a male lab tech. "Carry him. You." He nodded to the female holding the bag. "Stay with them."

As the tech got the patient off the floor and the blond nurse kept the IV bag up high, Phury paired the remaining staff up, one to a patient.

"Move as fast as you can. You're going to use the stairwell to the house and proceed directly to the garage tunnels. It'll be your first right after you're inside the mansion. I'll be behind you. Go. Now."

Even though they did the best they could, it took years.

Years.

He was ready to jump out of his skin as they finally hit the red-lit stairway, and locking the steel door behind them gave him scant relief considering the lessers had explosives. The patients were slow, with two just a day or so out of surgery. He wanted to carry either or both of that pair but couldn't risk not having a gun at the ready.

On the landing, one patient, a female with a bandage around her head, had to stop.

Without being asked, the blond nurse quickly gave the IV bag to the male tech. "Just until we're in the tunnel." Then she scooped the sagging female up into her arms. "Let's go."

Phury shot her a nod and let her have at the stairs.

The group trickled out into the mansion to the sounds of shuffling feet and a couple of coughs. The total absence of alarms was spectacular as he locked the door to the clinic behind them and took them over to the tunnel entrance.

As the group hobbled in, the blond nurse with the female in her arms paused. "You have any other weapons? Because I can shoot."

Phury's brows shot up. "I don't have another¡ª"

His eyes caught the shine of two ornamental swords on the wall above one of the doorways. "Take my gun. I'm good with sharp things."

The nurse offered him her hip, and he shoved Z's SIG in the pocket of her white coat. Then she turned away and marched into the tunnel as he popped both swords off their brass hooks, then jogged to catch up.

When they came up to the door to the garage with the ambulances, he pounded with his fist, shouted his name, and the thing sprang open. Instead of going through it, every single one of those vampires he'd led out looked at him.

Seven faces. Fourteen eyes. Seventy fingers still clenching.

But it was different now.

Their gratitude was the other half of the God job, and he was overwhelmed by their devotion and relief. Their collective realization that their faith in their savior had been well placed and the reward was their lives was a palpable force.

"We're not out of it yet," he told them.

When Phury looked at his watch again, it was thirty-three minutes later.

Twenty-three civilians, medical staff, and household doggen had been evac'd from the garages. The ambulances and cars had taken off not from the regular doors that faced the back of the house, but from retractable rear panels that allowed the vehicles to shoot out into the shallow woods behind the mansion. One by one, they'd driven off without lights on and without brakes being used. And one by one, they'd made it free and ghosted away into the night.

The op was a total success, and yet he had a bad feeling about it all.

The lessers had never come back.

Wasn't like them. Under normal circumstances, once they infiltrated, they swarmed. It was their SOP to take as many civilians as possible for interrogation and then strip whatever premises they'd gotten into of anything of value. Why hadn't they sent more men? Especially given the assets in Havers's clinic and house, and the fact that the slayers had to know the Brothers would be all over the place, ready to fight.

Back in the clinic, Phury walked down the hall, double-checking that all the patient rooms were empty of the living. It was a pitiful review. Bodies. Lots of bodies. And the whole facility was totally trashed, as mortally wounded as any of the dead who lay strewn about. Bedsheets were on the floor, pillows scattered, heart monitors and IV poles knocked around. In the corridors, supplies were dropped randomly here and there, and there were all those horrid smudges of black-soled boots and red, shiny blood.

Rapid evacs were not a Martha Stewart kind of thing. Neither was fighting.

As he headed for the registration area, it seemed eerie that there was no more hustle and bustle in the place, just the HVAC system and the computers humming. Occasionally a phone rang, but it wasn't picked up.

The clinic truly had flatlined, with just remnants of brain activity left.

Neither it nor Havers's beautiful mansion would ever be used again. The tunnels as well as all intact exterior and interior retaining doors would be locked and the security systems and shuttering of the house engaged. Those entrances that had been blown open as well as the elevator doors would have sheets of steel welded in place. Eventually, an armed escort would be permitted to go in and remove the furniture and personal effects through the tunnels that had not been compromised, but that would be a while. And was dependent upon whether or not the lessers finally came back with their shopping carts.

Fortunately, Havers had a safe house, so he and his servants had somewhere to land, and the patients were already being settled at the temporary clinic. Medical records and lab results were stored on an off-site server, so they were still accessible, but the nurses were going to have to quickly stock up on more supplies at the new site.

The real issue was going to be kitting out another full-service, permanent clinic, but that was going to take months and millions of dollars.

As Phury came out to the registration desk, a phone that was still in its cradle went off. The ringing stopped as the call dumped into voice mail, the greetings of which had just been changed to, "This number is no longer in service. Please refer to the following general information number."

Vishous had set up the second number as a place where people could leave their contact information and their message. Once their identity and inquiry were verified, the staff at the new clinic would call them back. With V routing it all through his Four Toys back at the Pit, he'd be able to capture the numbers of anyone who phoned in, so if the lessers sneaked a peek, the Brothers could try to trace their lines.

Phury paused and listened hard, his grip tightening on the SIG. Havers had had the smarts to stash a gun under each of the driver's seats in the ambulances, so Z's nine was back in the family, so to speak.

Relative silence. Nothing out of order. V and Rhage were at the new clinic in case the caravan had been trailed by the enemy. Zsadist was doing a welding job on the south tunnel's busted entrance. Rehvenge might even have left already.

Even though the clinic was fairly secure, he was prepared to shoot to kill. Ops like this one always made him twitchy¡ª

Shit. This was probably his last op, wasn't it. And he'd been a part of this one only because he'd come for Zsadist, not because he'd been called in as a member of the Brotherhood.

Trying not to get all up in his head, Phury walked down another hallway, this one taking him to the emergency services part of the clinic. He was passing a supply room when he heard the sound of glass on glass.

He pulled Z's gun up tight to his face as he braced himself at the doorjamb. A quick lean in and he saw what was doing: Rehvenge was standing in front of a locked cabinet that had a fist hole through its door, and he was transferring vials from the shelves into the pockets of his sable coat.

"Relax, vampire," the male said without turning around. "This is just dopamine. I'm not black-marketing OxyContin or some shit."

Phury dropped the gun back to his side. "Why are you taking¡ª"

"Because I need it."

When the last vial had been lifted, Rehv turned away from the cabinet. His amethyst eyes were characteristically shrewd, like those of a viper. Man, he always looked as if he were measuring his striking distance, even when he was among the Brothers.

"So how do you think they found this place?" Rehv asked.

"Don't know." Phury nodded to the door. "Come on, we're pulling out. This place is not secure."

The smile that flashed revealed fangs that were still elongated. "I'm quite confident I can handle myself."

"No doubt. But it's probably a good idea that you take off."

Rehv crossed the supply room with care, navigating around the fallen boxes of bandages and latex gloves and thermometer covers. He leaned heavily on his cane, but only a fool would have mistaken him for having a disability.

His tone was as kind as it ever got as he said softly, "Where are your black daggers, celibate?"

"None of your biz, sin-eater."

"Indeed." Rehv nudged a spray of tongue depressors with his cane as if he were trying to get them back in their box. "I think you should know your twin talked to me."

"Did he."

"Time to go."

Both of them looked out into the hall. Zsadist was standing behind them, his brows down over eyes that were black.

"Like as in now," Z said.

Rehv smiled calmly as his phone went off. "And what do you know. My ride is here. Pleasure doing business with you, gentlemen. Laters."

The guy stepped around Phury, nodded at Z, and cocked his cell to his ear as he walked off with that cane of his.

The sound of him dimmed, and then there was a whole lot of silence.

Phury answered the question before his twin could ask it: "I came because you wouldn't answer my calls."

He held out the SIG, offering the weapon butt-first to Z.

Zsadist accepted the nine, checked the chamber, holstered it. "I was too pissed off to talk to you."

"I wasn't calling about us. I found Bella in the dining room looking weak and I carried her upstairs. I think Jane would be a good visitor, but that's your call."

Zsadist's face drained of color. "Did Bella say anything was wrong?"

"She was fine when she settled in bed. Said she'd had too much to eat and that was the problem. But..." Maybe he'd been wrong about her bleeding? "I really think Jane should visit her¡ª"

Zsadist took off at a dead run, his shitkickers pounding down the empty hall, the thunderous sound reverberating throughout the empty clinic.

Phury followed at a walk. As he thought about his role as Primale, he pictured himself racing off to check on Cormia with the same concern and urgency and desperation. God, he could picture it with such clarity... her with his young inside of her, him on all-shift anxiety, just like Z.

He stopped and peered into a patient room.

How had his father felt while standing at his mother's birthing side when two healthy sons had been born to him? He'd probably been overjoyed beyond measure... until Phury had come out and been the excess of blessing.

Births were a total gamble on so many levels.

As Phury kept going down the hall toward the busted elevator, he thought, yeah, his parents had probably known right from the beginning that two healthy sons would lead to a lifetime of misery. They'd been strict religious adherents to the Scribe Virgin's value system of balance. On some level, they must not have been surprised at Z's abduction, because it had reset the family's equilibrium.

Maybe that was why his father had abandoned the search for Zsadist after he'd learned that the nursemaid had died and the son that had been lost had been sold into slavery. Maybe Aghony had figured his quest would merely doom Zsadist even further¡ªthat in seeking the return of the one who had been taken, he had caused the death of the nursemaid and triggered not just bad circumstances, but totally untenable ones.

Maybe he blamed himself for Z ending up in slavery.

Phury could so relate to that.

He paused and looked at the waiting room, which was as scrambled and out of order as a bar after a free-for-all.

He thought of Bella hanging in the balance with that pregnancy, and worried about whether the curse was through working its hell yet.

At least he'd gotten Cormia free of his legacy.

The wizard nodded. Good work, mate. You've saved her. It's the first worthwhile thing you've ever done.

She will be much, much better without you.

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