LASH, son of the Omega, was reborn on a scream that ripped out of his throat.

In confused madness, he returned to the world as he had come into it twenty-five years before: naked and gasping and bloodied, only this time his body was that of a full-grown male, not an infant.

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His quick moment of conscious awareness passed fast, and then he was in agony, his veins filled with acid, every inch of him corroding from the inside out. He put his hands on his stomach, jacked over to the side, and threw up black bile onto a worn wooden floor. Too consumed by the retching, he didn't bother to wonder where he was or what had happened or why he was voiding stuff that looked like old crankcase oil.

In the midst of the swirling disorientation and the crippling heaves and a blind panic he couldn't control, a savior reached out to him. A hand smoothed down his back and stroked him over and over again, the warm palm falling into a rhythm that slowed his racing heart and calmed his head and eased his stomach. When he could, he rolled onto his back again.

In the midst of a blurry visual field, a black translucent figure came into focus. Its face was ethereal, a vision of male beauty in the bloom of its early twenties, but the malevolence behind the shadowy eyes made the visage horrible.

The Omega. It had to be the Omega.

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This was the Evil his religion and folklore and training had described.

Lash started to scream again, but the shadowed hand reached out to him and gently touched his arm. He calmed.

Home, Lash thought. I am home.

His head flickered in hysteria at the conviction. He was not home. He was... Sure as hell he'd never seen this decrepit room before.

Where the fuck was he?

"Be of ease," the Omega murmured. "It shall all come back to you."

And it did, in a rush. He saw the locker room at the training center... and John, that frickin' pansy, getting all freaked out when his dirty little secret was exposed. Then it was the two of them pounding it out until... Qhuinn... Qhuinn had sliced his throat open.

Holy shit... he could even feel himself going down onto the floor in the shower, the tiles a hard, wet landing pad. He relived the cold shock and remembered putting his hands to his throat and starting to gasp as a suffocating, choking squeeze overtook his chest... his blood... he'd been drowning in his own blood... but then he'd been stitched up and sent to the clinic, where...

Shit, he'd died, hadn't he. The doctor had brought him back, but he had definitely died.

"Which was how I found you," the Omega murmured. "Your death was the beacon."

But why would the Evil want him?

"Because you are my son," the Omega said in a reverent, distorted voice.

Son? Son?

Lash shook his head slowly. "No... no..."

"Look into my eyes."

When the connection was made, more scenes were shown to him, the visions like pages flipped in a picture book. The story that unfolded made him both cringe and breathe easier. He was the son of the Evil. Born of a vampire female held against her will in this very farmhouse over two decades ago. After his birth he had been left at a gathering site for vampires, found by them, and taken to Havers's clinic... where he was later adopted by his family in a private exchange that even he didn't know about.

And now, having reached his maturity, he had returned to his sire.

Home.

As Lash grappled with the implications, a hunger swirled in his belly, and his fangs protruded into his mouth.

The Omega smiled and looked over his shoulder. A lesser the size of a fourteen-year-old stood in the far corner of the shitty room, his ratlike eyes trained on Lash, his small body tense as a coiled snake.

"And now for the service you shall provide," the Omega said to the slayer.

The Evil extended his shadowy hand and beckoned the guy forward.

The lesser didn't so much walk as move in a block, as if his arms and legs were paralyzed and his body were being lifted and carried upright over the floor. Pale eyes popped wide and rolled with panic, but Lash had other things on his mind than the fear of the man being presented to him.

As he caught the sweet scent of the lesser, he sat up, baring his fangs.

"You shall feed my son," the Omega said to the slayer.

Lash didn't wait for consent. He reached up, grabbed that little fucker around the back of the neck, and dragged the guy to his tingling canines. He bit hard and sucked deep, the blood sweet as treacle and just as thick.

It didn't taste like anything he was used to, but it filled his belly and gave him strength, and that was the point.

As he nursed, the Omega started to laugh, softly at first, then louder, until the house shook from the force of mad, murderous glee.

Phury tapped his blunt on the lip of his ashtray and looked at what he'd done with his quill. The drawing was shocking, and not just because of the subject matter.

The damn thing was also one of the best he'd ever put on a piece of paper.

The female form on the creamy expanse was lying back on a bed of satin, with pillows puffed up behind her shoulders and neck. One arm was above her head, her fingers twining in her long hair. The other was down at her side, the hand resting at the juncture of her thighs. Her breasts were taut, her little nipples peaked for a mouth, and her lips were parted in invitation¡ªas were her legs. Both were open, one knee bent up, her foot arched, her toes curled tight, as if she were anticipating something delicious.

She was staring straight out of the page, looking right at him.

What he'd done was no willy-nilly sketch, either. The drawing was fully rendered, painstakingly crosshatched, perfectly shaded to show the female's allure. The result was sex personified in three dimensions, an orgasm about to be realized, all the things a male would want in a sensual partner.

As he took another drag, he tried to tell himself that she wasn't Cormia.

No, this wasn't Cormia... this was no one female, just a composite of sexual attributes he'd forgone with all his celibacy. This was the feminine ideal he wished he had been with for his first time. This was the female he would have loved to have been drinking from all these years. This was his fantasy lover, giving and demanding by turns, soft and yielding sometimes, greedy and naughty at others.

She was not real.

And she was not Cormia.

He exhaled a curse, rearranged the hard cock in his pajama bottoms, and stabbed out the blunt.

He was so full of shit. Full. Of. Shit. This absolutely was Cormia.

He glanced at the Primale medallion over on the bureau, thought of his talk with the Directrix, and cursed again. Great. Now that Cormia wasn't his First Mate, he'd decided that he wanted her. Just his luck.

"Christ."

He leaned over to the bedside table, twisted up another fattie, and lit the fucker. With the hand-rolled between his lips, he started to draw the ivy, beginning at her lovely, curled toes. As he added leaf after leaf and obscured the drawing, he felt as if it were his hands going up her smooth legs and over her stomach and up to her tight, high breasts.

He was so distracted by caressing her in his mind that the choking sensation that usually came when he covered a drawing with the ivy didn't flare up until he got to her face.

He paused. This truly was Cormia and not a half-her, as his drawing of Bella had been the other night. Cormia's features were all there, out in plain view, from the tilt of her eyes to the plump of her lower lip to the lushness of her hair.

And she was looking at him. Wanting him.

Oh, God...

He quickly drew the ivy up around her face and then stared at the way he'd ruined her. The shit covered her completely even overflowing the bounds of her body, burying her without putting her under the ground.

In a flash, he recalled the garden at his parents' house as he had seen it that last time, when he'd gone back to bury them.

God, he could still remember that night with perfect clarity. Especially how the remnants of the fire had smelled.

The grave he had dug was off to the side, the hole in the earth a raw wound in the thick ivy of the garden. He'd put both his parents in it, but there had been only one body to bury. He'd had to burn his mother's remains. When he'd found her, she had decomposed in her bed to such an extent that he wasn't able to carry her out of the basement. He'd set what was left of her on fire down where she'd lain, and had spoken sacred words until the smoke had choked him so badly he'd had to get out.

While the fire raged within her stone room, he had picked up his father and taken the male out to the grave. After the blaze had devoured what it could reach in the basement, Phury had swept up the ashes that were left and placed them in a large bronze urn. There had been a lot of them, because he'd burned the mattress and bedding along with her.

The urn went next to his father's head, and then he had shoveled loose dirt on the top of them.

He'd burned the whole house down after that. Burned it flat to the ground. It was cursed, the whole place, and he was sure that even the fierce temperature of the flames hadn't been enough to cleanse the infection of bad luck.

As he'd left, his last thought had been that it wouldn't be long before the ivy covered up the foundation.

Sure you burned it all, the wizard said in his head. But you were right, you didn't make the curse go away. All those flames didn't cleanse them or you, did they, mate. Just made you an arsonist as well as a failed savior.

Putting out the blunt, he wadded up the drawing, attached his prosthesis, and went to his door.

You can't run from me or the past, the wizard murmured. We're like the ivy on that plot of land, with you always, covering you up, blanketing the curse that is upon you.

Throwing out the drawing, he left his room, suddenly frightened of being alone.

As he stepped out into the corridor, he nearly plowed over Fritz. The butler leaped back in time, protecting a bowl of... peas? Peas in water?

Cormia's constructions, Phury thought as what was in the doggen's arms sloshed around.

Fritz smiled in spite of the near miss, his wrinkled, rubbery face pulling into a happy grin. "If you are looking for the Chosen Cormia, she is in the kitchen, taking her Last Meal with Zsadist."

Z? What the hell was she doing with Z? "They're together?"

"I believe the sire wished to speak with her privately about Bella. That is why I am doing chores elsewhere in the house at the moment." Fritz frowned. "Are you all right, sire? May I get you anything?"

How about a head transplant? "No, thanks."

The doggen bowed and went into Cormia's room, just as voices drifted up from the foyer. Phury went to the balcony and leaned over the gold-leafed rail.

Wrath and Doc Jane were at the foot of the stairs, and Jane's ghostly expression was as strident as her voice.

"¡ªultrasound technology. Look, I know it's not ideal, because you don't like people on the grounds, but we don't have a choice here. I went to the clinic, and not only will they not accept him, they demanded to know where he was."

Wrath shook his head. "Christ, we can't just bring him¡ª"

"Yes, we can. Fritz can pick him up in the Mercedes. And before you argue with that, you've had those trainees coming to the compound every week since last December. He won't know where he is. And as for the glymera shit, no one needs to know he's here. He could die, Wrath. And I don't want that on John's conscience, do you?"

The king cursed long and low and glanced around, as if his eyes needed something to do while his head churned over the sitch. "Fine. Arrange for the pickup with Fritz. The kid can have the test and the operation, if need be, in the PT suite, but then he has to be transported back out ASAP. I don't give a rat's ass about the glymera's opinions, what I'm worried about is precedent. We can't become a hotel."

"Understood. And listen, I'm going to want to help Havers out. It's too much for him to set up the new clinic and care for patients. Thing is, it's going to involve some days off-site for me."

"Vishous okay with that security risk?"

"Not his call, and I'm telling you only out of courtesy." The female laughed dryly. "Don't give me that look. I'm already dead. It's not like the lessers can kill me again."

"That is so not funny."

"Gallows humor is part of having a doctor in the house. Deal with it."

Wrath barked a laugh. "You are such a hard-ass. No wonder V fell for you." The king grew serious. "But let's be perfectly clear. Hard-ass or not, I'm in charge here. This compound and everyone in it is my deal."

The female smiled. "God, you remind me of Manny."

"Who?"

"My old boss. Chief of surgery at St. Francis. The two of you would get along beautifully. Or... maybe not." Jane reached out and put her transparent hand on the king's thick, tattooed forearm. As the contact was made, she became solid from head to toe. "Wrath, I'm not stupid, and I'm not going to do anything precipitous. You and I want the same thing, which is for everybody to be safe¡ªand that includes members of the species who don't live here. I'm never going to work for you, or anybody else, because that's not my nature. But I'm sure as hell going to work with you, okay?"

Wrath's smile was full of respect, and he nodded once, the closest the king ever came to a bow. "I can live with that."

As Jane took off in the direction of the underground tunnel, Wrath looked up at Phury.

He said nothing.

"That Lash you were talking about?" Phury asked, hoping the kid had been found or something.

"Nope."

Phury waited for a name. When the king just turned and hit the stairs, his long, calm stride eating up the distance two steps at a time, it was clear none was coming.

Brotherhood business, Phury thought.

Which used to be yours, the wizard was kind enough to point out. Until you lost your napper.

"I was coming to find you," Phury lied, going over to his king and deciding that an unofficial report about what had happened at the clinic was clearly unnecessary by this time. "There are a couple of Chosen who are going to be stopping by here. They're coming to see me."

The king's brows sank behind his wraparounds. "So you completed the ceremony with Cormia, huh. Shouldn't you be seeing the females over on the Other Side?"

"I will soon enough." Shit, wasn't that the truth.

Wrath crossed his arms over his heavy chest. "I heard you manned up at the clinic tonight. Thanks for that."

Phury swallowed hard.

When you were a Brother, you were never thanked by the king for what you did, because you were just carrying out your duty and your job and your birthright. You might get an attaboy for kicking ass, or some awkward, testosterone-scrambled sympathy if you got cracked and were hurt... but you were never thanked.

Phury cleared his throat. He couldn't get you're welcome out, so he just murmured, "Z was on top of everything... and so was Rehv, who happened to be there."

"Yeah, I'm going to thank Rehvenge as well." Wrath turned toward the study. "That symphath is proving useful."

Phury watched the double doors slowly close, the pale blue room beyond getting shut out of his sight.

As he himself turned to go, he caught sight of the majestic ceiling of the foyer, those warriors so proud and true.

Now he was a lover, not a fighter, wasn't he.

Aye, the wizard said. And I bet you'll be just as bad at the sex. Now go run along and find Cormia and tell her how you like her so much you're benching her. Look into her eyes and tell her that you're going to fuck her sisters. All of them. Every one of them.

Except her.

And tell yourself you're doing the right thing by her as you break her heart. Because that is the reason you're running. You have seen the way she looks at you and you know that she loves you and you are a coward.

Tell her. Tell her everything.

As the wizard started on a true roll, Phury took the stairs down to the first floor, went into the billiards room, and picked up a bottle of Martini & Rossi vermouth and a bottle of Beefeater gin. He grabbed a jar of olives, a martini glass, and ...

The box of toothpicks made him think of Cormia.

Heading upstairs again, he was still afraid to be alone, but he was equally afraid of being around anyone else.

The only thing he knew was that there was one surefire way of shutting down the wizard, and he was going to work that plan.

Until he passed the fuck out.

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