Out behind the brotherhood's mansion, Cormia's bruised feet traveled across the cropped grass as fast as they would carry her. She ran to lose herself, ran in hopes of capturing some point of clarity, ran because there was nowhere she wanted to go and she could no longer stay where she was.

Her breath tore in and out of her lungs and her legs burned and her arms went numb and still she ran, racing down the flank of the retaining wall toward the edge of the forest, then turning around and heading back to the gardens.

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Layla and the Primale. Layla laying with the Primale. Layla naked with the Primale.

She ran faster.

He was going to choose Layla. He was awkward in his role, so he would go for the one who he'd seen around and who had served his Brothers with discretion and grace. He would go for the familiar.

He would choose Layla.

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With no warning, Cormia's legs dropped out from underneath her and she collapsed in an exhausted heap.

When she'd recovered enough to lift her head, she frowned as she panted. She'd fallen on an odd scratchy patch of the lawn, an imperfect stretch that was six feet in diameter. It was as if something had been burned there and the ground had yet to recover.

Seemed apt on a lot of levels.

Rolling over onto her back, she looked at the night sky. Her thighs burned and so did her lungs, but the real fire was in her brain. She didn't belong on this side. She couldn't stand the idea of going back to the Sanctuary.

She was like the summer air that stretched between the grassy green ground and the star-studded galaxy above. She was neither here nor there... and she was invisible.

Getting to her feet, she walked slowly back up to the mansion's terrace. Lamps glowed in the windows of the house and as she looked around, she realized she was going to miss the palette of this world at night: The tea roses' reds and pinks and yellows and purples were muted, as if the blooms were feeling shy. Inside the library, the deep red of the drapes was like banked fire, and the billiards room appeared to have been constructed out of emeralds, with its vivid deep green.

So lovely. It was all so lovely, this feast for the eyes.

To put off the leaving a little longer, she went to the pool.

The black water spoke to her, its shimmering surface whispering in the lilting sighs and beckoning sparkles of moonlight on gentle waves.

Dropping her robe, she plunged into the soft darkness, penetrating the weave of the pool's surface, going deep and staying there as she stroked through the water.

When she came up at the far end, resolve entered her body on the gasping inhale of air she took. She would leave word with Fritz that she was going and ask him to tell Bella. Then she would go to the Sanctuary and seek an audience with the Directrix Amalya¡ªwherein she would put forward a request to become a sequestered scribe.

She knew that in the course of her duties as scribe she was going to have to keep track of the Primale's offspring, but better to deal with them in the land of letters than have to set her eyes upon legions of young with multicolored hair and lovely yellow eyes.

And there would be young. Though she had challenged him on his strength, the Primale was going to do what he needed to do. He was struggling ever harder now with his role, but his sense of duty would override his sense of self.

Bella was so very right in her assessment of him.

"Well, hello, there."

Cormia sputtered and looked straight into a pair of gigantic, metal-toed boots. With a start, she ran her eyes up the long, rangy body of a male dressed in what they called blue jeans.

"And who are you?"he asked, settling down on his haunches, his voice smooth and warm. His eyes were arresting¡ªdeeply set and mismatched, with lashes the color of his thick black hair.

Before she could answer, John Matthew came up from behind him and whistled loudly to get his attention. As the male at the edge of the water looked over his shoulder, John shook his head and signed frantically.

"Oh... shit, sorry." The dark-haired male rose to his full height and lifted his hands as if calling a stop to himself. "I didn't know who you were."

Another male came out of the house through the library 's doors. This redheaded one had bloodstains on his shirt and an air of utter exhaustion about him.

They were soldiers who fought with John, she thought. Young soldiers.

"Who are you?" she asked the one with the odd, lovely eyes.

"Qhuinn. I'm with him." His thumb jogged in John Matthew 's direction. "The redhead's¡ª"

"Blaylock," the other one cut in sharply. "I'm Blaylock."

"I'm just going for a swim," she said.

"So I see." Qhuinn's smile was friendly, no longer sexual.

Still, he was attracted to her. She could sense it. And that was when she realized that with the path she was on, she would remain untouched forever. As a sequestered scribe she would never be among the ones who the Primale visited sexually.

So that gathering storm that had been called from her in such a glorious way would never be summoned and relieved again.

Ever.

As the great stretch of her years of life unfurled before her, some restless, desperate cord was struck, and the vibrations of its dissatisfaction carried her through the warm water over to the ladder. Grasping the handrails and pulling herself out, she felt the cool air on her body and knew all three of the soldiers were looking at her.

The knowledge depressed and emboldened her. This was the last time any male would see her body, and it was hard to think that she was locking down all that was female about herself forever. But she wasn't going to be with anyone save the Primale, and she couldn't bear to be with him as things stood with all her sisters. So this was the end.

In a few moments, she would close her robing around herself and bid good-bye to something that had never really gotten started.

So she would not apologize for her nakedness nor hide her body as she stepped free of the water's gentle embrace.

Phury rematerialized in the gardens at the back of the Brotherhood's mansion because he had no interest in running into anyone. With what was in his head, marching through the front door and running the risk of¡ª

His feet stopped and his heart stopped and his breath stopped.

Cormia was rising from the pool, her resplendent female form dripping with water...while three newly transitioned males stood about ten feet from her with their tongues hanging down to their navels.

Oh... hell... no.

The bonded male in him came out like a beast, breaking free of the lies he'd fed himself about how he felt, roaring out of the cave of his heart, stripping him of everything that was civilized.

All he knew was that his female was standing naked and being coveted by others.

That was all that mattered.

Before he was aware of what he was doing, Phury let out a growl that broke through the air like a crack of thunder. John Matthew's and his buddies' eyes shot his way, and then the three of them moved back as one. Big-time. Like the pool had caught fire.

Cormia, on the other hand, didn't look in his direction. She didn't scramble to cover up, either. Instead, she deliberately picked up her robe and slid it slowly onto her shoulders, all latent defiance.

Which powered him up like nothing else. "Come into the house," he demanded of her. "Now."

As she glanced at him, her voice was as level as her eyes. "And if I choose not to?"

"I will put you over my shoulder and carry you inside." Phury turned to the boys. "This is our business. Not yours. Get gone if you know what's good for you. Now."

The trio hesitated until Cormia said, "It's going to be all right. Don't worry."

As they turned away, Phury had a feeling they weren't going to go far, but Cormia didn't need protection. Bonded males were mortally dangerous to everyone but their mates. He was out of control, yes, but she held his remote.

And he suspected she knew this.

Cormia reached up and wrung out her hair calmly. "Why do you want me inside?"

"Are you walking on your own or being carried?"

"I asked you why."

"Because you are going to my bedroom." The words were pushed out of his mouth by his sawing breath.

"Your bedroom? Don't you mean mine? Because you told me to get out of yours five months ago."

His cock was the seat of his beast, straining to be let out so it could let out into her. And the arousal was undeniable: His train was on the tracks. His ticket was punched. The journey had already started.

For Cormia as well.

Phury stepped up close to her. Her body was roaring with so much heat, he could feel it against his own skin, and her jasmine scent was as thick as his blood.

He flashed her his fangs and hissed like a cat. "We're going to my room."

"But I have no reason to go to your bedroom."

"Yes. You do."

She casually tossed her thick twist of hair over her shoulder. "No, I'm afraid I don't."

With that, she turned her back on him and strolled into the house.

He tracked her like prey, following on her heels through the library, up the grand staircase, and to her room.

She opened the door a fraction and slipped inside.

Before she could shut him out, he slapped his palm around the wooden panel and pushed his way in. He was the one who shut the door. And locked it.

"Take your robe off."

"Why?"

"Because if I do it, I'm going to shred it."

Her chin lifted and her lids dropped, so that even though she had to look up to meet his eyes, she was still staring down her nose at him. "Why do I need to disrobe?"

With every territorial bone in his body, he growled, "I'm going to mark you."

"Are you? You realize that would be for no reason."

"It is for every reason."

"You didn't want me before."

"The hell I didn't."

"You compared me to the other female you tried to be with, but ultimately couldn't."

"And you didn't let me finish. She was a whore I bought for the sole purpose of getting rid of my virginity. Not a female I wanted. Not you." He inhaled her scent and let it out on a purr. "She was not you."

"And yet you accepted Layla, did you not?" When he didn't answer, she sauntered into her bathroom and turned the shower on. "Yes, you did. As First Mate."

"This is not about her," he said from the doorway.

"How can it not be? The Chosen are a whole and I am still one among them." Cormia turned, faced him, and dropped her robe. "Am I not."

Phury's cock slammed against the backside of his zipper. Her body positively glowed under the recessed lights of the ceiling, her breasts tight and peaked, her thighs slightly parted.

She got into the shower, and he watched as she arched her back and washed her hair. With every move she made, he lost more of what little was left of his civilized side. On some dim lower shelf in his brain, he knew he should leave, because he was about to make a complicated situation downright untenable. But his body had found the food it needed to survive.

And the instant she stepped free of that fucking shower he was going to eat her alive.

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