And Sherra was nearly certain he hadn’t known. He was a liar, but in this one instance, he was telling the truth. Her gifts had grown through the years, with maturity and desperation. She could now smell a lie as others could diseased trash.
“Who are you?” His voice sizzled. “And you’re going to have to be a little more forthcoming than you are, woman. I can’t help Merinus or Callan with so little information.”
Taking a deep breath, Sherra stepped from the shadows. She watched his eyes widen, saw the suspicion turn to knowledge.
“You weren’t killed,” he whispered, blinking, trying to assure himself she was there. Bitterness filled her with a wave of pain so intense, she threatened to drown beneath it.
“No, lover, I wasn’t killed. But that doesn’t mean you have much longer to live.”
And Sherra faced her past as she never had before. Nightmares and broken hopes fragmented around her, drawing her soul into a bleak, dark void she feared she could never escape. She felt the surging lust, the need, just as Callan and Merinus knew it, thundering through her blood, through her very being. Before her stood the man who had betrayed her years before. In a bleak, cold lab, his body laboring over her, throwing her into pleasure despite every barrier she put up against it. Her mate. The father of the child she had lost. The one man she had sworn to kill.
It was dark before Callan made it to the hidden jeep. The precautions he insisted on taking and the rough terrain they were going through had turned a half-day’s hike into a full day’s. He pushed Merinus into it, cranked the engine with a prayer, then a sigh of relief when it turned over easily. Pulling out of the small, deserted shed at the edge of a logging camp he started down the road at an easy pace. Merinus was lying in the back seat, tired, drained from the run and the drugged lust raging through her body. Callan had quickly replaced his camouflaged T-shirt with a plain white cotton shirt. His hair was pushed beneath a baseball cap, and his gun lay in easy reach. The drive to the next town wasn’t far and if he stayed on the main road, well away from the paths he was known to take, then he might get out of this relatively unscathed.
His safe house was tucked away several hours from his home. On the edge of a large town, unassuming, with only a few neighbors and it was fully stocked. He could hide there long enough to figure out what the hell had happened.
He pulled into the garage hours later, sighing wearily as the garage door closed automatically behind
them. Merinus had slipped into a restless sleep earlier. She whimpered occasionally, shifted around, but the weariness dragging at her body had been too much.
“Are we there?” She rose slowly from the seat, her voice drowsy, aroused. God, he wanted her. She was ready for him, her body wet for him. He took a steadying breath. He had to get her in the house first.
“Come on.” He jumped from the jeep then helped her out, lifting her carefully into his arms and stalking to the door.
“I can walk,” she protested, but she pressed herself closer, her mouth finding the warm skin of his neck as he fit the key into the lock.
“And I can carry you,” he told her, feeling something in his chest tighten as he held her close. The house was dark, silent. He flipped on low lights as he walked into the kitchen, inhaling carefully to be certain no surprises awaited. All he detected was the closed scent of the house and hot, wet woman.
“Hungry?” He stepped into the living room, placing her on the couch as he stepped back. She raked her fingers through her hair as she stared up at him.
“Yeah. And a shower. I need a shower bad,” she sighed. “Where are we?”
“Other side of Ashland,” he told her quietly. “Come on, I’ll show you where the shower’s at so you can bathe. I’ll use the other one and get dinner together when I’m finished. It won’t take long.”
He led her to the master bedroom. The heavy wood furniture and spotless appearance gave it an impersonal feel. He never cared much for the place, but the very fact that it was the opposite of what he would have personally chosen made it that much safer.
“Go on.” He nodded to the large master bath and its garden tub. “I’ll lay a shirt out for you to wear. I’ll use the other bathroom.”
She turned to him, her eyes heavy lidded, weariness dragging at her, and she was still the most beautiful woman he had ever laid eyes on. He lifted his hand to smooth his fingers over her cheek, staring down at her, longing for her. Only the fact that she was worn to the bone, tired and hungry, kept him from putting her on that big, unused bed and pounding into her.
She pressed her cheek to his fingers, a smile lifting the corners of that pouting mouth.”
“Take your time.” Callan bent to her, his lips whispering over hers in a gentle kiss. “I’ll go ahead and start supper after my shower. I’ll come up for you when it’s done.”
“I love you, Callan.”
His heart broke. He felt it shatter, the pieces slamming into his soul as she stared up at him, her eyes slumberous, her body filled with need, her life in more danger than she could know, and still she whispered those words to him.
He closed his eyes, wanting to block the site of it from his mind, from the beast that howled out in misery.
“No,” he whispered, shaking his head. They were already bound, forever tied together in their need for each other, in the danger that stalked them. This burden he could not face. She felt his fingers on her lips. They trembled. He opened his eyes and saw the tear that fell from one eye. It eased over her cheek, bleak and lonely as it made a track through the dust and grime on her face from their run through the mountain.
“Yes.” Her voice shook as she fought more tears.
He wanted to scream out at the injustice of it. At the laugh fate was having on him. In one hand lay all his dreams. In the other lay his death.
He pulled her to him, crushing her against his chest as he fought his own tears, the cries of the beast suffering within him.
“I just wanted you to know, Callan, even before the mating, I loved you. When you were just a picture, a story, a man I couldn’t stop dreaming about.” Her words pierced his heart. “I don’t want us to die without you knowing that I love you. That I loved you even before you touched me.”
Callan shuddered. His arms tightened around her, his face burying in her neck. His lips pressed to the small wound there where his teeth kept going during the height of their passion.
“When I first saw you, you were standing in that greasy parking lot of the station, wearing those damned jeans and that shirt that flashed your stomach,” he said hoarsely. “My cock damned near came out of my jeans, and my heart bled. Because I was looking at the woman I would have taken for my own, if my life were my own.”
His life wasn’t his own, but she was. Nature had taken the choice from him. And it would kill him if he failed to protect her. Callan knew the chances of protecting her were growing slimmer by the day. The Council knew about her now. They knew about the mating.
He pulled back, unable to bear their touch any longer, unable to bear the uncertain future staring him in the face. Damn their souls to hell, Merinus was better off dead then risking her life this way. She didn’t have a chance. Eventually, they would get her. Just as they always captured him. Eventually. He turned from her, heading for the bedroom door.
“Bathe,” he whispered, his voice tight, the ache in his soul nearly strangling him. “I’ll have something to eat soon.”
He heard her sigh behind him. A lost, aching sigh that speared through him, hurting him more than he was already hurting. She was so innocent. Too damned innocent for the horrors awaiting them. How could he assure her safety? What could he do to keep the degradation and pain he knew she would suffer from her future?
Go in as she asked? That question haunted him. He could bear the humiliation, the tabloid stories and the judgments against him. He could risk the chance he would be branded sub-human for her safety. If it brought her safety. If her brother had been the one to betray her, then it wouldn’t. But, if his other suspicions held true, then it wasn’t her brother at all.
Weariness pulled at him, hopelessness beat a discordant note in his brain. It had been there in the cave with those soldiers. An elusive scent nearly hidden by the stink of men of evil. He hadn’t noticed it at first, and only later, after Merinus fell asleep in the jeep had it come to him. There had been the smell of another, a man who wasn’t with the soldiers, a man Callan knew well. His chest tightened with that knowledge, despite his need to deny it.
That sheltered cave was not used for a reason. It was barely known, even to the residents of that area of the mountains. And none knew of the linking caverns, for Callan had closed them off years before. He stripped quickly, adjusting the water and stepping beneath the spray. He wanted to wash away the memories of horror and pain, but it wasn’t possible. He wanted to wash away the evil of his conception, the stench of the crime against humanity that they had used him to commit, but once again, he could not. All he could do was wash away the grime of yet another desperate flight to safety, and pray to God he was wrong about his betrayer. Enough blood stained his hands and his soul, he didn’t want to compound his past sins with the sin of killing one of the few people he loved.
“Callan.” He jerked in surprise as a silhouette appeared outside the glass door. Shapely, small and fragile, Merinus stood outside the steamy chamber, her voice hesitant, beckoning. He opened the door, sliding it across the tracks until he could see her. She was radiantly naked, hope and need glistening in her eyes.
“Merinus,” he sighed, shaking his head.
“I need someone to wash my back.” She held up her washcloth, her expression hopeful, her body aroused.
Would he ever be able to deny the scent of her need? Callan knew he couldn’t. He never would. It was as intoxicating to him as his taste was to her. He stood beneath the water, feeling it caress his skin with its heat, and knowing it was nothing compared to the heat to be found within her body.
“I’ll fuck you,” he groaned.
She smiled sadly, stepping into the cubicle with him, closing the door behind her.
“And I’ll love you,” she whispered.
Her hands went to his chest, smoothing over his skin, her fingertips testing the muscle beneath. Taking the washrag from her, he dropped it carelessly on the small shower shelf beside him. He watched as her eyes closed, the water cascading over her hair, her pale face. She luxuriated in the heat of the water, moving her head to allow it to soak every strand.
“Let me wash you then, beauty,” he told her, his voice soft. Too soft for his own peace of mind. How he wanted her. His body ached with his need, both physical and emotional. Into his cupped palm he deposited a generous amount of shampoo and began to work it into her hair. His fingertips caressed her scalp, drawing the wet silk through them, stroking the tender skin of her head. She moaned in pleasure, her body brushing against his as she leaned into his chest, her tongue washing over his flat male nipple with slow sensuality.
His body tightened, growing hotter by the second. He moved her beneath the spray once again,
watching as suds rinsed from her hair, rolled slowly over her shoulders, her full breasts. Caressing her as he wanted to caress her. Kissing her skin with satin softness, hiding the hardness of her rosy nipples for the briefest second. When the last of the suds had washed away, he retrieved the soap from the shelf. He left the washrag. He wanted nothing but the smooth slide of suds between his hands and her flesh. He worked the soap between his hands as he stared down at her. Her eyes were passion glazed, her body trembling with weariness and passion.
“You’re eating before you go to sleep,” he told her softly, an involuntary smile edging his mouth. The smile disappeared when he touched her. She gasped, arching against the hands that cupped her breasts, the fingers that gripped her nipples. Slowly, inch-by-inch he covered her body with creamy lather until he was kneeling at her feet, pressing her legs apart, his fingers running over the slick flesh of her smooth pussy.