YES, she was going to let him.

As Cormia rinsed the suds from her hair, she knew the moment she left the shower, she was going to end up under the Primale.

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She was going to let him take her. And in the process she was going to take him.

Enough with the almosts and the nearlys and the are they or aren't theys. Enough with the twisted destiny they were both caught in. Enough with doing what she'd been told she had to.

She wanted him. She was going to have him.

To hell with her sisters. He was hers.

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Although only for tonight, an inner voice pointed out.

"Fuck you," she said to the marble wall.

She slammed the spigot to the left and threw open the door. As the rush of water was cut off short, she confronted the Primale.

He was naked. Erect. Fully fanged.

The roar he let out was that of a lion, and as the sound reverberated off all the marble in the bathroom, she got even wetter between her legs.

He came at her, and she didn't fight him as he grabbed her around the waist and popped her off her feet. He wasn't gentle, but she didn't want gentle¡ªand to make sure he knew it she bit him in the shoulder as they came into the bedroom.

He roared again and dumped her on her bed, her body bouncing once. Twice. She flipped onto her stomach and started to scramble away just to make him to work for it. She had no thought of saying no, but damn it, he was going to have to chase her¡ª

The Primale leaped onto her back and pinned her hands up over her head. As she tried to twist around under him, he kneed her legs apart and held her in place with his hips. His arousal slipped down and probed at her, making her arch up.

He gave her just enough slack in her arms so she could turn her shoulders and look at him.

He kissed her. Deep and long. And she held her own, finished with being trapped in the Chosen's yielding tradition.

With a sudden shift, he pulled back, moved a little, and...

Cormia moaned as he penetrated her body in one smooth stroke. And then there was no time for talking or thinking or lingering on what pain there was as his hips became a driving force. It felt so good, so right, the whole thing, from the smell of his dark spices and the weight of him to the way his hair fell down into her face to the gasps that left both of their parted mouths.

As his strokes deepened, she moved her legs even farther apart and echoed his rhythm in her own hips.

Tears sprang to her eyes, but she didn't think twice about them as his relentless momentum carried her away, a knot of fire taking hold where he was pumping in and out of her until she thought she would be burned alive¡ªand didn't find that a bad thing in the slightest.

They both seized up at the same time, and in the midst of her own climax she caught a vision of him from over her shoulder, his head rearing back, his jaw clenching, the great muscles in his arms standing out against his smooth skin. But then she was too lost to see anything at all as her own body corded and released, corded and released, the greedy pulls on his sex making him moan and twitch as she drew the marking out of him.

And then it was done.

In the aftermath, she thought of the summer thunder-storms that swept over the mansion from time to time. When they receded, the quiet was all the more dense for the fury they'd wrought. This was the same. With their bodies stilled and their breath easing and their hearts slowing, it was hard to recall the vivid urgency that had propelled them here to this now-resonant moment of silence.

She watched as dismay, then abject shock, took the place of his single-minded marking urge.

What had she expected? That this dance of bodies was going to make him renounce his Primale status, forsake his vow, and declare her his one and only shellan? That he would be overjoyed that right before her departure they had done on a passionate impulse what they should have completed with reverence and forethought all those months ago?

"Please get out of me," she said in a choked voice.

Phury could not comprehend what he had done, and yet the proof was there. Cormia's slender body was under his heavy one, her cheeks were wet with tears, and there were bruises on her wrists.

He had taken her virginity from behind, like she was a dog. Held her down and made her submit because he was stronger. Plowed into her without regard for the pain she definitely had felt.

"Please get out of me." Her words were shaky, and the word please killed him. She could only request it of him, as she was completely overpowered.

He pulled free of her and got off the bed, stumbling like a drunk.

Cormia turned onto her side and tucked her legs into her body. Her spine seemed so fragile, the delicate column of bones utterly breakable under her pale skin.

"I'm sorry." God, those two words were such empty buckets.

"Please just go."

Considering how he'd already forced himself on her, honoring her request now seemed significant. Even though leaving her was the last thing he wanted to do.

Phury went into the bathroom, put his clothes on, and headed for the door. "We need to talk later¡ª"

"There is no later. I'm going to put in to be a sequestered scribe. So I will record your history, but not be a part of it."

"Cormia, no."

She looked over her shoulder at him. "It's where I belong."

Her head went back down on the pillow.

"Go," she said. "Please."

He had no conscious awareness of walking out of her door or going through his own. He just realized sometime later that he was back in his room, sitting on the edge of his bed, smoking a blunt. In the silence, his hands were shaking and his heart was a broken drum machine and his foot was tapping on the floor.

The wizard was front and center in Phury's mind, standing with black robes waving in the wind, his silhouette jagged against a vast gray horizon. In his hand, balanced on his palm, was a skull.

Its eyes were yellow.

I told you that you would hurt her. I told you.

Phury looked at the tight roll of red smoke in his hand and tried to see anything other than ruination. He couldn't. He'd been a beast.

I told you what was going to happen. I was right. I've been right all along. And by the way, your birth wasn't the curse. It wasn't that you were born after your twin. You are the curse. Whether there had been five babies born with you or none, the outcome of all the lives around you would have been the same.

Reaching for the remote, Phury turned on his Bose system, but the instant one of Puccini's luscious, beautiful operas flooded through the room, tears boiled up into his eyes. So lovely, the music, and so unbearable as he contrasted the magical lilt of Luciano Pavarotti's voice with the grunting he'd uttered when he'd been on top of Cormia.

He'd held her down. Pinned her arms. Mounted her from behind¡ª

You are the curse.

As the voice of the wizard continued to pound at him, he felt the ivy of the past overtaking him once again, all the things he had failed to do, all the differences he hadn't made, all the care he'd tried to take, but had fallen short on... and now there was a new layer. Cormia's layer.

He heard his father's last wheezing breath. And the crackle of his mother's body going up in flames. And his twin's anger at having been rescued.

He heard Cormia's voice, worst of all: Please get out of me.

Phury covered his ears with his hands even though that did nothing to help.

You are the curse.

With a moan, he pushed his palms into either side of his skull so hard his arms shook.

You don't like the truth? the wizard spat. You don't like my voice? You know how to make me go away.

The wizard dropped the skull into the tangle of bones at his feet. You know how to do it.

Phury smoked with desperation, terrified of everything that was in his head.

The blunt wasn't even touching the self-hatred or the voices.

The wizard put its black claw-toed boot on top of the yellow-eyed skull. You know what to do.

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