Belee appraised her with a critical eye. "Pretty face."
Chloe wanted to spit in hers.
"Shame to cover it up, but . . ." From her pack, Belee also drew out a black silk bag. "We need to remind everyone why we're here, Daughter of Webb."
"At's no mi na!"
"It is your name. You just didn't know it. Your father, Dustin Todd, is also known as Preston Webb. The commander of the Order. You're the daughter of the most hated man in all the Lore. . . ."
I never scented him," Will muttered with a chin jerk toward a centaur in the distance, past row after row of parked cars at the demon crossroads. Centaurs aligned with the Pravus, the evil side of the Lore.
"Probably because I dialed down your nose," Munro said, his mood improved. Tonight they'd received a lead on Webb, a daughter of his for sale. Which meant there was possibility, after weeks of nothing.
Munro had a bloody spring in his step.
The centaur in question had a nymph pressed up against the side of a sports car and was rutting her with zero-to-sixty thrusts.
The ride was a Mustang. Fitting.
"We're no' to fight them," Munro said. "From the sound of it, there's an honest-to-gods truce going on tonight." Not far in the distance, they heard scores of immortals peaceably milling.
As they strode by the couple, Munro muttered in Gaelic, "Did one-or both-of us do that nymph?"
"Odds are," Will said casually, though he made a point of remembering, so that he never bedded the same one twice.
Twice was too close to three times, and to this day, he had a phobia about that.
Munro's question was answered when the nymph waved happily at the brothers; the centaur shot them killing looks and thrust more aggressively. Between his angry shoves, she gasped: "Hi, guys . . . unh, see you . . . unh, later?"
"Ah, sure thing, sweet," Munro said.
Nymphs were easy and pleasant bed sport, seeking nothing but mutual pleasure. Unlike seed-feeding succubae.
Munro told Will, "Perhaps a comely nymph is just what you need to get back in the saddle? I know it's been weeks for you."
"You could burn off some . . . aggression?"
Munro also knew all about Will's many sexual hang-ups and peculiarities. Though Will had long since recognized his "relationship" with Ruelle for what it was-a violation of a young mind and body, a nightmare-the scars remained.
"I've no time for that. Come on, we're late." Will had taken scant seconds to change, plucking clothes from his floor, an array of garments that appeared less worn/dirty than others. "It's nearly midnight."
Munro had driven his brand-new Range Rover turbo here, topping the thing out on old Louisiana county roads. "Does no' matter if we're late," he said. "I doubt we can win this auction. I could only drum up a million-dollar wire on such short notice. And the lowest number on the witches' bidding app-I shite you no'-was one mil."
"What good is it to be rich if we canna scrape up the scratch to buy a political prisoner on a whim?"
Past a line of pecan trees lay a wide-open field packed with Loreans. Understandable. Webb had upended countless lives, and this capture was the first lead on him since the prison break.
As Will and Munro strode into the crowd, they saw all manner of immortal species, even a few gypsy and berserker humans who lived on the fringe of the Lore.
Most immortals here belonged to one of the two major alliances, Pravus and Vertas. Amazingly, the temporary truce between them was holding. But then, they had a common enemy: the Order.
The brothers passed a group of young Vertas shifters-fox, wolverine, and cheetah-that Will recognized from the island. While the Pravus shifters were predominantly reptilian, the Vertas were most often mammalian.
One of these pups called out, "Mr. MacRieve!" and they all turned and gazed at Will as if he were some goddamned hero. He scowled at them and turned away. He might have organized them and saved their lives-as Nix had predicted-but only to save his own arse.
He'd fought to live solely for revenge.
Aside from the alliances, there were the neutral factions like the nymphs, who were likely only present to scope out new bedmates-from both sides. A gaggle of them cooed, "Hot and Hotter!" to Will and Munro, trying to get their attention.
Will muttered, "I really fuckin' hate that." He crossed his arms over his chest, found a new hole in his shirt.
Munro nodded. "Hate it-beyond the telling of it. But you do know I'm Hotter, right?"
"No' even on your best day, brathair."
They spotted a few more Vertas allies: the fey, Furies, Valkyries, and behorned members from some of the solid demonarchies.
There were at least as many Pravus members: soldiers from dark demonarchies, Sorceri, nearly two dozen centaurs, and countless Cerunnos-giant snakelike humanoids that were as fast as lightning and just as deadly. Crocodilae and viper shifters abounded.
Will followed Munro, surveying the sea of Loreans for succubae. What if they were here tonight? Seed-feeders were Pravus as well.
Then I'll be jeopardizing this truce directly. Because nothing would stop him from killing any he came across. Just as he'd done for all his life. To date, he'd ended twenty-four.
When a witch passed close by him, his hackles rose. There were several scurrying around with headsets, as if they were on a trading floor. "Phone bidders?" Will glowered in one's direction. If his Instinct were intact, it'd warn: -Guard yourself.-
Their cousin Bowe might have married Mariketa the Awaited, the leader of the grand mercenary House of Witches; didn't mean the rest of the clan had overcome the Instinct's constant cautions against Wiccae.
Will spotted Malkom Slaine, a vemon they knew, walking in the direction of the stage. The vampire/demon had been in the same prison as Will.
They greeted Malkom, falling in step beside him.
Munro said, "Demon, you're no' often seen without Carrow." Another local witch, also a former capture.
Though Malkom had been born a demon in some far-off, archaic demonarchy, he'd been turned part vampire-into a rare vemon, a creature even stronger than a Lykae. But he still identified as a demon, hating leeches.
Like most of us. Just last year, Will and Munro had been ordered to storm a vampire stronghold to search for King Lachlain's mate-not to spy, not to monitor, but to bloody engage. Just before they'd reached the perimeter, when Will had been shaking with anticipation, already imagining the havoc he'd wreak, they'd been called off.
How different things might have been for Will-how much improved-if only a goddamned war had broken out.
In thickly accented English, Malkom said, "Carrow, Mariketa, and some Valkyries are out collecting Order orphans-the offspring of immortals who died on the island."
Will understood why Malkom hadn't been invited. He was an intimidating male, taller even than Will's towering height, with lethal-looking horns. He would scare the hell out of the tots. "So if Carrow and Mariketa are no' here, who's running this show?"
"Some teen witches. They think Carrow and Mari don't know. I'm supposed to watch out for them and make sure they don't get killed by the Pravus."
"The witches are Vertas," Munro pointed out. "Why no' keep the prize for our side?"
Mayhap because they're all bent for the dollar, each and every one of them? Eerie bluidy witches . . .
Malkom just shrugged.
"So what do you know about this prisoner?" Munro asked. "How'd she get caught?"
"The witches cast some kind of surveillance and capture spell."
"Is the daughter with the Order?" Will asked.
"We don't believe so," Malkom said. "From what we know, Webb disappeared after the prison escape. His daughter had no idea where he was, had been searching for him. My guess is that Webb kept the Order part of his life secret. It makes sense. I'll not tell my daughter many of the things I've done."
"Wait." Will frowned. "If she was searching for Webb, then she does no' have his location. What's her tactical value if she knows nothing about the Lore and does no' have a twenty on her dear ole sire?"
"Bait," Malkom said. "Surely she'll lure Webb in."
Will imagined possessing the female, using her to trap that bastard. Gods, the satisfaction . . .
"The Vertas won't win her, though," Malkom continued. "While the Pravus have pooled their money and mystical goods, most of our factions are going to bid against each other. We're supposed to be allied with the fey? Their king is phone-bidding through that juvenile witch right there. Millions in Draik gold. The witch beside her is bidding for Nereus the sea god. All we're going to do is drive up the price."
Will turned to Munro. "Then she truly canna be won by us?"
Munro shook his head. "Look, we'll stalk whoever gets her. We'll lie in wait for Webb. This is no' over."
Why couldn't Will get one break? All he wanted was one bloody, viscera-coated moment of revenge. Then he'd find peace in death.
Filled with frustration, he pinched his nose, none-too-gently manipulating the bone back in place. Ah, that was better. He inhaled deeply, suddenly bombarded by new scents, tens of thousands of them-
One stood out.
Something so sublime he was thunderstruck, nearly put to his knees.
Disbelieving what he'd smelled, Will tentatively raised his head for another hit of that beautiful thread. For the first time in months, he heard his Instinct. And, gods, it rang loud and clear.
He swallowed, had to clear his throat before he could mutter, "It's . . . happened."
"Excuse us, Malkom," Munro said as he dragged Will away.
"My Instinct . . . it said . . ." Will could barely form words.
"I scented her too," Munro said, excitement filling his expression.
Excitement? A blind rage suffused Will. Before he could swing, Munro snapped, "While your Instinct is clamoring about her being yours, mine is saying sister."
"Oh." Will gazed around, desperate to see her, to know what kind of creature could possibly smell that luscious. He'd been wary of finding her before, but now . . .
"Is it like Da said?" Munro asked.
Will briefly closed his eyes, inhaling deeply. "The hands of gods," he breathed. "Aye."
"Then let's find her."
Sudden doubt hammered at Will, and he hesitated.
Munro said, "Look, I ken you're in pain, but you've waited ages for your mate. You'll never get another one."
He shook his head. "I'm fit for no one."
"She can help you heal if you just let her. Besides, you've taken her scent into you. There's no letting her go now. No' without trying first."
"I can still walk away," he said, even as her scent beckoned.
"Are you no' about to die of curiosity, man? I bluidy am, and she's no' even mine!"
No, doona get too excited. Will tried to tamp it down. "What if I'm no' ready for this?" Good and fucked up. "I canna tell what she is, but I sense she's no' Lykae." There was a fifty-fifty chance she was Pravus. With Will's luck, they could just go ahead and round that up to absolute certainty.
"Will, do you no' understand-it's happened for you. After nine hundred years. What I wouldn't give . . ." Munro grabbed his shoulders. "It's happened."
A shocked look between them.
"Brother, give the lass a chance."
With grim intent, Will started toward the source of the scent, Munro following. Wherever she was, she remained stationary.
Lesser beings took one look at Will's face-a Lykae in his prime, hell-bent on something-and cowered from him.
Before, he'd been ambivalent about his mate. Now he had to experience her scent for just a touch longer. He had to see her face. Would she be tall or petite? Would her locks be long or cropped? Her personality lighthearted or serious?
And since she wasn't a Lykae, would she even want him in return? Mayhap his cursed looks would finally come in handy. He scrubbed a hand down his face, surprised to find thick stubble and bruised skin. "I might've shaved today, huh?"
"Might've." Munro yanked his clean, nice shirt over his head, motioning for Will to trade his faded, ratty one. Without missing a step, they swapped shirts; nymphs squealed at the bare-chested brothers striding past them.
Once they'd changed, Munro gestured to indicate all of Will. "It is what it is."
Nix had made that same gesture, the night she'd betrayed him. As Will took unfaltering steps toward his mate, realization hit him. This was all according to plan. If he hadn't been on the island, he never would have come to this auction tonight. Nix had set this in motion.
To what end, soothsayer?
"We'll find her," Munro assured him as they pushed through crowds of immortals.
"And then what?"
"Then nature takes over."
The throng around them began booing at the stage. Catcalls and jeers followed. They must've led Daughter of Webb out.
The sound of someone blowing into a hot mic pinged Will's sensitive ears, dredging up memories of torture. What didn't remind him of the island? Shake it off.
"Welcome to the House of Witches auction night," a female announcer said into the mic. "My name is Belee, and I'll be hosting this eve. Up for grabs is Chloe Todd, the verified Daughter of Webb. Age of twenty-four. Excellent health. Tonight's her first time ever to see immortals. So let's give her a big welcome to the Lore."
The crowd booed louder.
Though Will was curious to see the spawn of his enemy, he was enthralled by his new mate's scent.
To go to sleep awash in it? To wake to it? Resisting the call felt impossible.
"The bidding will begin at one million U.S. dollars or equivalent." As Munro had predicted. "Who would like to open?"
-"One million in Draik gold pieces from the king of Draiksulia."
-"One point five from the Accord of the Valkyries and the Furiae-plus the Brisingamen Chain."
More bids came in, and still the brothers hadn't reached her. A line of centaurs blocked their way; just as Will bared his teeth, about to plow through them, Munro yanked him around. "Keep your head."