A house can be empty even when it's full of people. And wasn't that a good thing.

About an hour before dawn, Phury lurched around one of the mansion's countless corners and had to put his hand out to steady himself.

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He wasn't truly by himself, though, was he. Boo, the household's black cat, was right there with him, padding along, supervising. Hell, the animal was arguably running the show, as somewhere along the line, Phury had taken to following, not leading.

Leading would so not be a good call. His blood alcohol level was way over the legal limit for anything other than brushing his teeth. And that was before you added on the numbing effects of a haystack's worth of red smoke.

How many blunts? How much hooch?

Well, it was now...He had no idea what time it was. Had to be close to dawn, though.

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Whatever. Trying to get a tally on the bender would have been a waste of time anyway. Given how fogged-out he was, it was doubtful he could count high enough, and besides, he couldn't really recall what his hourly rate of consumption had been. All he was sure about was that he'd left his room when the Beefeater had run out. Originally, he'd planned to get another bottle of gin, but then he'd hooked up with Boo and started on this walkabout.

All things considered, he should have been passed out on his bed. He was polluted enough for the lights-out routine, and it had, after all, been his goal. Problem was, even with all the self-medicating, his head was suffering from the 4 Cs of heebie-jeebies: Cormia's situation. The Chosen responsibility. The clinic's infiltration. And Bella's child.

Okay, the last one was a human term. But still.

At least the wizard was relatively quiet.

Phury pushed open a random door and tried to figure out where the cat had led him. Oh, right. If he kept going, he'd hit doggen territory, the vast wing where the staff stayed. Which would be trouble. If he was found wandering there, Fritz would pop an aneurysm on the assumption that the servants had somehow not discharged their duties properly.

As Phury hung a right, the base of his brain started to fire with the need for another hit of red smoke. He was on the verge of turning back when he heard sounds coming down from the third floor's back stairwell. Someone was up in the movie theater... which meant he really needed to beat feet in the opposite direction, because running into one of his brothers would be a bad thing.

He was turning away when he caught the scent of jasmine.

Phury froze. Cormia...

Cormia was up there.

Letting himself fall back against the wall, he scrubbed his face and thought of that erotic drawing he'd done. And the hard-on he'd had while working on it.

Boo let out a meow and padded right up to the theater's door. As the cat looked over his shoulder, his green eyes seemed to read, Go on, getcha ass up there, buddy.

"I can't." Try shouldn't.

Boo didn't buy it. The cat curled into a sit, his tail flexing up and down as if he were waiting for Phury to get with the program already.

Phury locked stares with the animal in a classic chicken challenge.

He, not the cat, blinked first and looked away.

Giving up the fight, he ran a hand through his hair. Straightened his black silk shirt. Jacked up his cream trousers. He might be totally cooked, but at least he looked like a gentleman.

Evidently satisfied with the resolve he was seeing, Boo trotted away from the door and brushed against Phury's leg as if he were giving him an attaboy.

As the cat headed off, Phury opened the door and put his Gucci loafer up on a step. Then repeated. And repeated. He used the brass handrail to steady his big body, and tried to justify what he was doing as he ascended. He couldn't. If you were barely in good enough shape to use Colgate, you absolutely shouldn't interact with the Chosen female who was no longer officially yours, but who you wanted until your cock ached.

Especially given the news he had to share.

He got to the top of the stairs, rounded the corner, and looked down the gently descending rows of seats. Cormia was in front, her white Chosen's robe pooling at her feet. Up on the screen images were flickering fast. She was rewinding a scene.

He breathed in. God, she smelled good... and for some reason that jasmine scent of hers was especially strong tonight.

The rewinding stopped, and Phury glanced up at the vast screen. Holy... Christ.

It was... a love scene. Patrick Swayze and that Jennifer woman with the nose were working each other out on a bed. Dirty Dancing.

Cormia leaned forward in the chair, her face coming into view. Her eyes were rapt on what was up ahead, her lips parted, one hand resting on the base of her throat. Long blond hair fell over her shoulder and brushed the top of her knee.

Phury's body hardened, his erection popping a tent in the front of his Prada trousers, laying waste to the tailored pleating. Even through the haze of red smoke, his sex roared.

But not because of what was on the screen. Cormia was his trigger.

In a flash, he remembered her at his throat, and under his body, and the SOB in him pointed out that he was the Chosen's Primale, so he made the rules. Even though he and the Directrix had agreed that he would pick another First Mate, he could still be with Cormia if he wanted to, and if she would have him¡ªit just wouldn't hold the same weight in terms of the ceremony.

Yes... even though he would take another to complete the Primale initiation, he could still march down the shallow steps, drop to his knees in front of Cormia, and push her white robing to her hips. He could slide his hands up her thighs and spread her wide and dip down with his head. After he got her good and wet with his mouth, he could¡ª

Phury let his head fall back on his neck. Okay, this was so not helping to slow his roll. And besides, he'd never gone down on a female before, so he wasn't sure what to do.

Although, he supposed, if he could eat an ice cream cone, the licking and sucking would translate pretty damn well.

As would the gentle biting.

Fuck.

As leaving was the only decent thing to do, he turned away. If he stayed, he wasn't going to be able to hold himself back from her.

"Your grace?"

Cormia's voice froze his breath and his steps. And had his cock doing push-ups.

Out of propriety, he reminded his sex that her saying something was not an invitation to act out his on-the-knees, head-between-her-thighs, X-rated fantasy.

Fuck.

The movie theater felt as big as a shoe box as she said, "Your grace, did you... need something?"

Do not turn back around.

Phury looked over his shoulder, his glowing eyes casting a yellow wash of illumination down the backs of the chairs. Cormia was spotlit by his stare, her hair catching and holding the rays generated by his urge to come inside of her.

"Your grace..." she breathed.

"What are you watching?" he said in a low voice, even though it was perfectly obvious what was up on the screen.

"Ah... John picked the movie." She fumbled with the remote, pushing buttons until the picture froze.

"Not the movie, Cormia, the scene."

"Ah..."

"This scene you've chosen... you've been watching it over and over again, haven't you."

Her reply was husky. "Yes... I have."

God, she was lovely as she twisted around in that chair to face him... all eyes and mouth, her pale hair everywhere, the scent of jasmine filling the gap between them.

She was aroused; that was why her natural fragrance was so strong.

"Why this scene?" he asked. "Why did you choose this one?"

As he waited for her to answer, his body strained, his erection throbbing to the beat of his heart. What pounded through his blood had nothing to with rituals or obligations or responsibility. It was straight-out, hard-core sex, the kind that was going to leave them both exhausted and sweaty and messy and probably a little bruised. And to his total discredit, he didn't care that she was aroused because of what she'd been looking at. It didn't matter that it wasn't about him. He wanted her to use him... use him until he was drained dry and every inch of his body was utterly limp, even that ever-ready cock of his.

"Why did you pick the scene, Cormia?"

Her graceful hand went back to the base of her throat. "Because... it makes me think of you."

Phury exhaled on a growl. Okay, that was not what he expected her say. And duty was one thing, but man, she didn't have the look of a female worried about living up to tradition. She wanted sex. Maybe even needed it. Just like he did.

And she wanted it with him.

In slow motion, Phury pivoted toward her, his body suddenly very coordinated, the fuzz from all the red smoke and booze totally blown away.

He was going to take her. Here. Now.

He headed down the shallow steps, ready to claim what was his.

Cormia rose up from her chair, in the midst of the blinding light of the Primale's eyes. He was a massive shadow as he came at her, his long strides eating up two of the shallow steps at a time. He stopped when he was but a foot away from her, smelling of that delicious smoky scent and also of dark spices.

"You watch because it makes you think of me," he said in a deep, rough voice.

"Yes..."

He reached out and touched her face. "And what do you think about?"

She pulled up her courage and threw out words that made no sense. "I think about how I... have certain feelings for you."

His erotic laugh was a dark thrill. "Feelings... And where exactly do you feel me, I wonder?" His fingertips drifted from her face to her neck to her collarbone. "Here?"

She swallowed, but before she could answer, his touch drifted over her shoulder and down her arm. "Here, maybe?" He gave her wrist a squeeze, right at her veins, and then his hand slipped onto her waist and curved around, easing onto the small of her back, pressing in. "Tell me, is it right here?"

Suddenly, he gripped her hips with both hands, leaned toward her ear, and whispered, "Or is it perhaps lower?"

Something swelled in her heart, something warm as the light in his eyes.

"Yes," she said, barely breathing. "But also here. Most of all... here." She put his hand to her chest, right over her heart.

He stilled, and she felt the change in him, the hot current in his blood cooling, the flames extinguished.

Ah, yes, she thought. In revealing herself, she had exposed his truth.

Although it had been obvious all along, hadn't it.

The Primale stepped back and drew a hand through his outrageously beautiful hair. "Cormia..."

Drawing up her dignity, she squared her shoulders. "Tell me, whatever shall you do with the Chosen? Or is it me in specific whom you do not wish to mate?"

He stepped around her and paced in front of the screen. The frozen image from the movie, of Johnny and Baby lying so closely together, played over his body, and she wished she knew how to turn the movie off. The sight of Baby's leg up on Johnny's hip, his hand gripping her thigh as he ground himself against her, was not what she needed to be seeing at the moment.

"I don't want to be with anyone," the Primale said.

"Liar." As he turned to face her in surprise, she found that the consequences of candor didn't matter to her anymore. "You knew all along you didn't want to lay with any of us, didn't you. You knew it and yet you went along with the ceremony before the Scribe Virgin, even though you were in love with Bella and couldn't bear being with anyone else. You lifted the hopes of forty females of worth on a lie¡ª"

"I met with the Directrix. Yesterday."

Cormia's legs went weak, but she kept her voice strong. "Did you. And what have the two of you decided."

"I'm... going to let you go. From the position of First Mate."

Cormia fisted her robing so tightly, there was a soft tearing sound. "Going to or have done so."

"Have done so."

She swallowed hard and let herself sink back into the chair.

"Cormia, please know that it's not you." He came over and knelt down in front of her. "You're beautiful¡ª"

"No, it is me," she said. "It's not that you can't mate with any other female, you don't want me."

"I just want you to be free of all this¡ª"

"Don't lie," she snapped, throwing off all pretense of civility. "I told you all along that I would take you within me. I have neither said nor done aught to discourage you. So if you are setting me aside, it is because you don't want me¡ª"

The Primale grabbed her hand and put it palm-first between his legs. As she gasped at the contact, his hips surged and pushed something long and hard into her palm. "The wanting is not the problem."

Cormia's lips parted. "Your grace..."

Their eyes met and clung. When his mouth opened slightly, as if he couldn't breathe, she gained the courage to gently wrap her hand around his rigid sex.

His massive body trembled and he let go of her wrist. "It's not about the mating," he said hoarsely. "You were forced into this."

True. In the beginning, she had been. But now... her feelings for him were not forced in the slightest.

She looked into his eyes and felt a curious relief. If she wasn't his First Mate, none of this counted, really, did it. Moments like this, with them together¡ªthey were just two private bodies, not vessels of immense significance. It was just him and her. A male and a female.

But what about the others, she had to ask herself. What about all her sisters? He was going to be with them; she could see it in his eyes. There was resolve in that yellow stare of his.

And yet, as the Primale's breath left him on a shudder, she pushed all that out of her mind. She would never truly have him as her own... but she had him alone right now.

"I'm not being forced anymore," she whispered, leaning into his chest. Tilting her chin up, she offered what he wanted. "I want this."

He stared down at her for a moment, and then the words he spoke in a guttural voice made no sense: "I'm not good enough for you."

"Untrue. You are the strength of the race. You are our virtue and power."

He shook his head. "If you believe that, I'm not at all who you think I am."

"Yes, you are."

"I'm not¡ª"

She silenced him with her mouth, then pulled back. "You can't change what I think of you."

He reached up and brushed her lower lip with his thumb. "If you truly knew me, everything you believe would change."

"Your heart would be the same. And that is what I love."

As his eyes flared at the word, she kissed him again to get him to stop thinking, and evidently it worked. He groaned and took the lead, taking those soft, soft lips of his and stroking her mouth until she couldn't breathe and didn't care. When his tongue licked at her, she sucked it in on instinct, and felt his body jerk and surge against her.

The kissing went on and on. There seemed to be no end to the ways of it or the different sensations of rasp and drag and thrust and suck, and it wasn't just her mouth that was a part of it...Her whole body felt what they were doing, and clearly going by its heat and urgency, so did his.

And she wanted him even more involved. Moving her arm up and back, she rubbed at his sex.

He pulled away sharply. "You might want to be careful with that."

"With this?" As she stroked him through his trousers, he threw his head back and hissed¡ªso she did it some more. She kept at him until he was biting into his lower lip with long fangs and the muscles running up the sides of his throat were straining.

"Why must I be careful, your grace?"

His head righted and he brought his mouth to her ear. "You're going to make me come."

Cormia felt something warm pool between her thighs. "Was that what you did when we were in your bed? That first day?"

"Yes..." He drew the word out, the s drifting.

With a curious, single-minded drive, she found that she wanted him to do that again. Needed him to.

She angled her chin so that she was right at his ear. "Do it for me. Do it now."

The Primale growled deep in his chest, the sound vibrating up between their bodies. Funny, if she'd heard the sound from anyone else she would have been terrified. Coming from him, in this situation, she was thrilled: His leashed power was in the palm of her hand. Literally. And she had the control.

For once in her forsaken life, she was in control.

As he pushed his hips into her palm, he said, "I don't think we should¡ª"

She cranked her hand down on him hard, and he moaned in pleasure. "Don't you take this from me," she demanded. "Don't you dare take this from me."

Following an impulse that came from the Virgin Scribe only knew where, she bit down on his earlobe. The response was immediate. He barked out a curse and leaped up, pinning her to the chair, all but mounting her with lust.

Not about to shrink back, she held her hand right to his sex and worked at him, playing counterbalance to the thrusting of his lower body. He seemed to relish the friction, so she kept at it even as he took her chin and forced her head toward his.

"Let me see your eyes," he bit out. "I want to be looking in your eyes when I¡ª"

He released a wild groan as their stares met, and his body went tense all over. His hips jerked once... twice... three times, each spasm punctuated by a moan.

As his body expressed its pleasure, the Primale's rapt face and straining arms were the most beautiful things she'd ever seen. When he finally settled, he swallowed hard and didn't move away from her. Through the fine wool twill of his slacks, she felt a wetness on her hand.

"I like it when you do that," she said.

He let out a brief laugh. "I like it when you do that to me."

She was about to ask him if he wanted to try it again, when his hand brushed her hair back from her cheek. "Cormia?"

"Yes..." Funny, she drew out the word just as he had.

"Would you let me touch you a little?" He looked down at her body. "I can't promise you anything. I'm not... well, I can't promise you the same thing you gave me. But I would love to touch you. Just a little."

Desperation stole the air out of her lungs and replaced it with fire. "Yes..."

The Primale closed his eyes and seemed to gather himself. Then he bent down and pressed his lips to the side of her throat. "I do think you're beautiful, never doubt that. So beautiful..."

As his hands drifted to the front of her robe, the tips of her breasts grew so tight, she twisted under him.

"I can stop," he said, hesitating. "Right now¡ª"

"No." She grabbed onto his shoulders, holding him in place. She didn't know what was going to happen next, but she needed it, whatever it was.

His lips moved up higher on her neck, then lingered on her jaw. Just as he pressed his mouth to hers, a featherlight brush ran over the robe... to one of her breasts.

As she surged up, her nipple pushed into his hand and they both groaned.

"Oh, Jesus..." The Primale eased back a little and carefully, reverently pulled the lapel of her robe away from her breast. "Cormia..." His deep, approving tone was like a caress, nearly tangible and all over her body.

"Can I kiss you here?" he groaned, his touch circling her nipple. "Please."

"Sweet Virgin, yes..."

His head went down and his mouth covered her, warm and moist, pulling gently, suckling.

Cormia threw her head back and thrust her hands deep into his hair, her legs parting for no reason and every reason. She wanted him at her sex, in any way he would come at her¡ª

"Sire?"

Fritz's respectful intrusion from the far end of the theater snapped them both to attention. The Primale quickly straightened and covered her up, even though the chair prevented the butler from seeing anything.

"What the hell is it?" the Primale said.

"Forgive me, but the Chosen Amalya is here with the Chosen Selena to see you."

An ice wave went through Cormia, freezing out all the heat and the urgency in her blood. Her sister. Here to see him. How perfect.

The Primale got to his feet, uttering a horrid word Cormia couldn't help but echo in her own head, and he excused Fritz with a quick movement of his hand. "I'll be there in five minutes."

"Yes, sire."

After the doggen left, the Primale shook his head. "I'm sorry¡ª"

"Go do what you need to do." As he hesitated, she said, "Go. I'd like to be alone."

"We can talk later."

No, not really, she thought. Talk wasn't going to solve any of this.

"Just go," she said, tuning out whatever else he spoke.

When she was alone once more, she stared at the frozen picture on the screen until all of a sudden it was replaced by a black wash, and a little grouping of English letters reading Sony flashed here and there.

She felt wretched, inside and out. Apart from the ache in her chest, her body had hunger pangs as if from a meal denied or a vein left untapped.

Except it wasn't food that she needed.

What she needed had just walked out the door.

Into the arms of her sister.

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