There were two things the glymera liked above all else: a good party and a good funeral.

With the slaughter of Lash's parents, they had both.

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Phury sat in front of the computer in the training center's office, a headache directly behind his left eyeball. He felt like the wizard was taking an ice pick to his optic nerve.

Actually, it's a drill, mate, the wizard said.

Right, Phury thought. Of course it is.

Is that sarcasm? the wizard said. Ah, right. You'd planned to be a washed-up junkie and a disappointment to your brothers, and now that you've succeeded you're getting cheeky. You know, perhaps you should start a seminar for others. Phury, son of Ahgony's ten steps to success at being an utter, irredeemable failure.

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Shall I get the ball rolling? Let's start with the basics: being born.

Phury planted his elbows on either side of the laptop and rubbed his temples, trying to stay grounded in the real world instead of the wizard's boneyard.

The computer screen in front of him glowed, and as he stared at it, he thought of all the shit that was coming into the Brotherhood's general e-mail box. The glymera just wasn't getting it. In the message he'd sent out to them, he'd reported on the attacks and urged the aristocracy to get out of Caldwell and take shelter in their safe houses. He'd been careful with the wording, trying not to incite panic, but evidently, he hadn't been dire enough.

Although you'd think the slaughter of their leahdyre and his shellan in their own home would be enough.

God, there had been so much death from the Lessening Society last night and tonight... and given the glymera's responses, there was going to be more. Soon.

Lash knew where every single aristocratic family lived in town, so there was a chance that a significant portion of the glymera was at risk for exposure. And the poor kid didn't have to give each of the addresses out under duress, either. If the lessers got into just a couple of those homes, they'd find clues to so many others¡ªaddress books, party invitations, meeting schedules. Lash's leaks were going to be like an earthquake hitting a fault line, blowing the whole landscape apart.

But was the glymera going to be smart about the threat? No.

According to the e-mail he'd just gotten from the Princeps Council's treasurer, the idiots were not going to their safe houses. Instead, they had to mourn this "staggering loss of such a well-appointed male and female of worth" by throwing another party.

No doubt so that they could wage a power struggle for who would be the next leahdyre.

And in closing? The guy had tacked on a little ditty that the glymera's Council would be collecting on the debt owed to Lash's family as a result of Qhuinn's actions.

Well, weren't they givers. It wasn't like they wanted the cash for themselves to... say... fete a new leahdyre. Oh, hell, no. They were "safeguarding the important precedent of ensuring that bad deeds were punished."

Sure they were.

Thank God Qhuinn was free of them, although Wrath's appointment of the kid as John's ahstrux nohtrum was a shocker. Bold move, especially as it was retroactive. And just over what appeared to be a fight that Qhuinn had stopped in an inappropriate way? There had to be something more to what had happened in that shower, something that was being kept on the down-low. Otherwise, it made no sense.

The glymera was going to know Wrath was protecting Qhuinn, and the appointment was going to come back to bite the king at some point. Even so, Phury was glad that was the way it had all shaken out. John, Blay, and Qhuinn had been the cream of the trainee crop, and Lash... well, Lash had always been trouble.

Qhuinn might have had the mismatched eyes, but Lash had had the defect. There had always been something off with that kid.

The computer beeped as another e-mail landed in the Brotherhood's inbox. This time it was the late leahdyre's right-hand man. And what do you know, the guy advocated a "strong stance against what is a tragic series of losses, but ultimately a low threat to our secured abodes. It is best at this time that we come together and go through the appropriate mourning rituals for our dearly departed..."

Okay, talk about stupid. Anyone with half a brain would pack up their matched sets of LV and hightail it out of town until the dust settled. But no, they'd rather get their spats and their gloves out and make like they were in a Merchant-Ivory movie, with all the black clothes and the ceremonial expressions of condolence. He could just hear the elaborate, phony-ass sympathy exchanges they'd volley back and forth to one another while mushroom puffs were passed by doggen in uniform and a polite fight for political control ensued.

He only hoped they would come to their senses, because even though they pissed him off, he didn't want them waking up dead, so to speak. Wrath could try to order them out of Caldwell, but chances were that would just make them dig their heels in even harder. The king and the aristocracy were not friends. Hell, they were barely allies.

Another e-mail came in, and it was more of the same. We're staying and throwing a party.

Man, he needed a blunt.

And he needed...

The closet door swung open, and Cormia stepped out of the secret passageway to the tunnel. There was a lavender rose in her elegant hand and a graceful reserve to her face.

"Cormia?" he said, then felt ridiculous. Like she'd changed her name to Trixie or Irene sometime in the last day? "Is there something wrong?"

"I don't mean to bother you. Fritz suggested..." She turned around as if she expected the butler to be right behind her. "Ah... he brought me here."

Phury stood up, thinking this might just be payback from the butler for his untimely interruption the night before. And didn't that make the doggen a hero. "I'm glad."

Well, maybe glad wasn't exactly the right word. Unfortunately, his urge to smoke was replaced with the urgent need to do something else with his mouth. Although sucking would still be involved.

Another e-mail came through, and the laptop let out a peep. They both looked at the computer.

"If you're busy, I can go¡ª"

"I'm not." The glymera was like a brick wall, and considering he already had a headache, there was no reason to keep banging his brain up against their stubbornness. Tragically, there was nothing he could do until the next bad thing rolled out and he e-mailed...

Although it wouldn't be him though, would it. He'd been riding the keyboard only because everyone else's hands were busy doing dagger business.

"How are you?" he asked to shut himself up. And because the answer mattered.

Cormia looked around the office. "I would never have guessed this was down here."

"Would you like a tour of the place?"

She hesitated and brought forward the perfect lavender rose... which was the color of the bracelet John Matthew had given to her. "I think my flower needs a drink."

"I can fix that."Wanting to give her something, anything, he reached over to a twenty-four-pack of Poland Spring and pulled a bottle out. Cracking the lid, he took a swig to lower the level and then put it on the desk. "Plenty in here to keep her happy."

He watched Cormia's hands as she put the rose in the makeshift vase. They were so lovely and pale and... they really needed to be on his skin.

All over him.

Phury untucked his shirt as he stood up and came around the desk, making sure that the tails covered the front of his slacks. He hated sloppy dressing, but better to schlub it than run the risk of her seeing that he was aroused.

And he was. Totally. He had a feeling that it was always going to be like this around her: Something about his coming into her palm the night before had changed everything.

He held open the door into the hall. "Come see our training facility."

She followed him out of the office and he took her all around, narrating the things that were done in the gym and the equipment room and the PT facility and the shooting range. She was interested but mostly silent, and he had the feeling she had something to say to him.

He could guess what it was.

She was going to go back to the Other Side.

He paused at the locker room. "This is where the boys shower and change. The classrooms are down here."

Christ, he didn't want her to go. But what the hell did he expect her to do? He'd left her with no role here.

You have no role here, the wizard pointed out.

"Come on, let me show you a classroom," he said to draw things out.

He walked her into the one he used, feeling a curious pride at showing her where he worked.

Had worked.

"What's all that?" she asked, pointing to the blackboard, which was covered with figures.

"Oh... yeah..." He walked over and picked up a felt eraser, quickly running it over the casualty analysis on a bomb detonating in downtown Caldwell.

She crossed her arms over her chest, but it was more like she was holding herself than a big defensive thing. "Do you think I don't know what the Brotherhood does?"

"Doesn't mean I want you reminded of it."

"Are you going to go back into the Brotherhood?"

He froze and thought, Bella must have told her. "I didn't know you'd heard I was out of it."

"I'm sorry, it's none of my concern¡ª"

"No, it's fine... and, yeah, I think my fighting days are done." He glanced over his shoulder and was struck by how perfect she looked, with her backside braced against one of the tables the trainees sat at and her arms intertwined. "Hey... mind if I draw you?"

She flushed. "I suppose... well, if you wish. Do I need to do anything?"

"Just stay where you are." He put the eraser back on the blackboard's lip and picked up a piece of chalk. "Actually, would you take your hair down?"

When she didn't reply, he looked back at her and was surprised to find her hands up at her hair, working at the gold pins. One by one, sections of blond waves came down and framed her face, her neck, her shoulders.

Even under the dulling fluorescent lights of the classroom, she was radiant.

"Sit up on the table," he said in a hoarse voice. "Please."

She did as he asked and crossed her legs... and, holy hell, didn't that robe of hers fall open, splitting wide up to her thigh. When she tried to close the gap, he whispered, "Leave it."

Her hands stilled, then shifted back and flattened on the table to support her upper weight. "Is this all right?"

"Don't. Move."

Phury took his time as he drew her, the chalk becoming his hands going over her body, lingering on her neck and the swell of her breasts and the curve of her hip and the long, smooth expanse of her legs. He made love to her as he transferred her image onto the blackboard, the sound of the chalk a rasping noise.

Or maybe that was his breath.

"You're very good," she said at one point.

He was too busy and greedy with his eyes to answer her, too preoccupied with what he imagined himself doing to her when he was finished.

After an eternity that lasted only a moment, he stepped back and measured his work. Perfection. It was her, but more¡ªalthough there was a sexual undertone to the composition that even she had to see. He didn't want to shock her, but he couldn't have changed that aspect of the work. It was in every line of her body and her pose and her face. She was the feminine sexual ideal. At least for him.

"It's done," he said roughly.

"Is that... who I am?"

"It's how I see you."

There was a long silence. Then she said with a kind of astonishment, "You think I'm beautiful."

He traced the lines he'd drawn. "Yes. I do." Silence expanded the distance between them, making him feel awkward. "Well, now..." he said. "We can't leave it up like this¡ª"

"Please! No!" she said, putting her hand out. "Let me look at me a little longer. Please."

Okay. Fine. Whatever she wanted. Hell, at this point, she could have told his heart not to beat, and the thing would have complied with the order quite cheerfully. She had become his control tower, his body's master, and anything she told him to do or say or get for her, he would. No questions asked. No care of the means.

In the back of his mind, he knew that all of this was characteristic of a bonded male: Your female commanded you and that was that. Except he couldn't have bonded with her. Right?

"It's so beautiful," she said, her green eyes on the board.

He turned to face her. "That is you, Cormia. You're like that."

Her eyes flared, and then, as if she felt uncomfortable, her hands went to the slit in her robe and closed it.

"Please, no," he whispered, repeating her words. "Let me look a little longer. Please."

Tension boomed between them, positively pounded.

"I'm sorry," he said, annoyed with himself. "I didn't mean to make you feel¡ª"

Her hands released, and that luscious white fabric fell open with such complete obedience, he wanted to pat it on the head and give it a bone.

"Your scent is so strong," she said in a deep voice.

"Yes." He put the chalk down and inhaled, smelling jasmine. "So is yours."

"You want to kiss me, don't you."

He nodded. "Yeah. I do."

"You untucked your shirt. Why?"

"I'm hard. I got hard the moment you came into the office."

She hissed at that, her eyes traveling down his chest to his hips. As her lips parted, he knew exactly what she was thinking about: him coming into her hand.

"It's amazing," she said softly. "When I'm around you like this, nothing seems to matter. Nothing but..."

He walked toward her. "I know."

As he stopped in front of her, she looked up. "Are you going to kiss me?"

"If you'll let me."

"We shouldn't," she said, her hands going up to his chest. She didn't push him away, though. She gripped his shirt as if it were a lifeline. "We should not."

"True." He brushed a strand of hair back behind her ear.

His desperation to get in her in some way, any way, shorted out his frontal lobe. What he felt as he stood before her was all about the base core of him, the base needs of a male. "But this can be private, Cormia. This can be just you and me."

"Private... I like private." She tilted her chin up, offering him what he wanted.

"Me, too," he growled as he sank down onto his knees.

She seemed confused. "I thought you wanted to kiss me..."

"I do." He slipped his palms around her ankles and ran them up and down her calves. "I'm dying to."

"But then why¡ª"

He gently uncrossed her legs, and bless that damn robe's heart, but didn't it fall completely to the sides, showing him everything: Her hips and her thighs and the little slit he needed so badly.

Phury licked his lips as he slid his hands up the inside of her legs, spreading them slowly, inexorably. With an erotic sigh, she leaned back to give him room, reassuring him that she was right there with this, ready for it just as he was.

"Lie back," he said. "Lie back and stretch out."

Oh, fuck... She was smooth as cream for him, easing back until she was lying down on the table.

"Like this?"

"Yeah... exactly like that."

He ran his palm down the back of one of her legs and extended her foot so it rested on his shoulder. The kissing started at her calf and followed the path that his hands caressed, going higher and higher. He paused at midthigh and double-checked to see if she was truly okay. She was watching him with huge green eyes, her fingers up to her lips, her breath going in and out on a pant.

"You all right with this?" he asked in a low rasp. "Because once I start, it's going to be hard to stop, and I don't want to scare you."

"What are you going to do to me?"

"The same thing you did to me last night with your hand. Except I'm going to use my mouth."

She moaned, her eyes rolling back. "Oh, dearest Virgin Scribe..."

"Is that yes?"

"Yes."

He reached up for the robe's tie. "I'm going to take care of you. Trust me."

And, shit, yeah, he knew he would. Some part of him knew with absolute certainty that he was going to pleasure her, even though he hadn't done this before.

He released the tie and parted her robe.

Her body was revealed to him, from her high, tight breasts to the flat expanse of her stomach to the lovely pale lips of her sex. As her hand went down and rested on the mound of her sex, she was the drawing he'd done the day before, everything sexual and feminine and powerful... only she was flesh-and-blood real.

"Jesus... Christ." His fangs punched out into his mouth, reminding him that he hadn't fed in a while. As a noise came up his throat that was both a demand and a plea, he wasn't sure how much of the moan was because of her sex and how much was because of her blood.

Although did the divisions really matter?

"Cormia... I need you."

The way she shifted her legs apart was a gift like nothing that had ever been wrapped and tagged for him: As she opened herself a little further, he could see the pink core that he was after. She was glistening already.

He was going to add to that.

With a growl, he lunged down and put his mouth to her, going right for the heart of her body.

They both cried out. As her hands speared into his hair, he gripped her thighs hard and moved in even further. She was so warm against his lips, warm and wet, and he made her warmer and wetter as he French-kissed her sex. While she moaned, instinct overtook them both, paving the way for him to lap at her and for her to roll her hips.

God, the sounds were incredible.

The tasting was even more so.

As he looked up over her stomach to her breasts, he had to get at her little nipples. Reaching forward, he pinched them gently then soothed them with his thumbs.

The way she arched nearly had him orgasming. It was just too much.

"Move your hips faster," he said. "Please... God, move your hips against me."

As her pelvis started to rock, he extended his tongue and let her ride it as she wanted, using his flesh to pleasure herself. He didn't last long like that, though. He needed to get even closer. Trapping her hips in his palms, he pressed his face from chin to nose against her, and she became all that he tasted and smelled and knew.

And then it was time to get really serious.

He moved up and started an insistent flicking at the top of her sex, knowing he had the right place by the gasping sound she made. When she began to pump her hips with increasing thrall, he reached for her hand to reassure her. She grabbed onto the palm he offered so strongly, she was going to leave marks with her nails, and that was just fantastic. He wanted those crescents in his back as well... his ass, too, as he drilled into her.

He wanted to be all over her, inside of her.

He wanted to do some marking of his own.

Cormia knew that her body was doing exactly what the Primale's had the day before. The gathering storm and the urgency she felt and the heat roaring through her told her she was where he had been.

On the brink.

The Primale was huge between her legs, his broad shoulders stretching her wide. His gorgeous multicolored hair was all over her thighs, and his mouth was like on like against her core, lips meeting lips, slippery tongue against slick folds. It all seemed so glorious and scary and inevitable... and the only reason she wasn't completely overwhelmed was his hand on hers.

The touch was better than any words of reassurance on so many levels¡ªbut mostly because if he'd tried to speak to her, he would have had to stop what he was doing, and that would have been a crime.

Just when she thought she would fragment apart, a wave of energy crashed down all over her, sweeping her up and away to some other place as her body rhythmically surged. As all that wonderful tension snapped free, the release was so satisfying tears sprang to her eyes, and she cried out something¡ªor maybe it was nothing, just an explosion of breath.

When it was over, the Primale lifted his head, his tongue taking on one last lingering upstroke before flicking free of her core.

"Are you okay?" he asked, his eyes wild and yellow.

She opened her mouth to speak. When nothing coherent came out, she nodded.

The Primale licked his lips nice and slow, flashing the tips of fangs that were visible... and became even more pronounced as he looked at her neck.

Shifting her head to the side and offering him her vein was the most natural thing in the world to do.

"Take from me," she said.

His eyes flared and he prowled up her body, kissing her stomach and pausing at one of her nipples, giving it lapping attention. And then his fangs were over her throat. "Are you sure?"

"Yes¡ªoh, GOD!"

His strike was hard and deep, and it happened so fast... just as she'd imagined it would. He was a Brother in need of what sustained them all, and she was nothing fragile to be broken. She gave and he took and another surge of that wild tension began to build in her again.

She shifted on the table, spreading her legs. "Take me. Whilst you do this... be in me."

Without breaking the seal on her throat, he growled wildly and worked at his pants, the belt buckle clanging against the table. He shifted her down to the end roughly, clapped his hands behind her knees, and eased her open.

She felt a hot, hard probe¡ª

But then he stopped.

The sucking drifted off to a soft lapping and then to little kisses, and then he grew motionless except for his breathing. She could still sense the sex in his blood, could still smell his dark scent, could still feel the need for her vein, but he didn't move even though she was spread for his use.

He let go of her legs, gently put them down, and gathered her up, tucking his head into her shoulder.

She held him gently, the tremendous weight of his muscles and bones balanced between the floor and the table so he didn't crush her.

"Are you all right?" she said into his ear.

His head shook back and forth and inched even closer to her. "I need you to know something."

"What ails you?" She stroked his shoulder. "Talk to me."

He said something that she didn't catch. "What?"

"I'm... a virgin."

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