He stopped, his bare chest inches from me, his meadow scent sharp and alluring as it hit my senses. Blood pounded through my veins, heading south to all the right places.
He dipped his head to my neck and nuzzled the spot just behind my ear.
A soft groan escaped my lips. Fuck. What the fuck, traitorous body. He breathed me in. He could smell my arousal, and there was no way to hide that. But I lifted my chin, feeling my long hair swing against the small of my back. He slid both hands into my hair, caging me, long fingers splayed against the back of my scalp, and then ran those fingers through my hair, all the way to the ends.
“Argh, fuck. Grayson, what the fuck?” My voice was thick and hoarse, and my eyelids felt heavy.
“You have nice hair,” he said, lips against my throat. “I like it.”
My body reacted to his proximity, to his heat, and his scent and the sound of his rumbling voice. It would be so easy to give in. To reach up and touch him back. But sex with Grayson would tie me to this place. To him. To the pack.
I grit my teeth. “You better go. Vi is waiting to suck you off.”
He stilled and then released me with a hungry growl before storming out of the room. I stared at the door for a long beat, willing my body to calm down, willing the beast to chill the fuck out.
“Fuck,” Cora said. “That was hot. How the hell aren’t you on your back right now? Hell, I was ready to shuck off my knickers, and he wasn’t even touching me.”
I plopped back onto the bed. “It’s a long story.”
Cora shrugged. “Babe, I got time.”
“Wow,” Cora said. “An alpha. So, what are we going to do? I mean, once they find Lucas and he proves you’re innocent?”
Her confidence that would happen felt good. “I don’t know. Even if the other packs don’t find out I’m an alpha, I can’t leave the Regency Pack without protected lone alpha status. I’d have to fight to be left alone.”
“Fuck this; if you were a guy, they wouldn’t give a shit.” She shook her head. “Wait, what if you stayed a member of the pack? I mean, could you do that? Just stay Regency Pack but live in the Underealm?”
“I don’t think that’s an option from what they’ve said. Pack Loups contribute, and as a female, they’d expect me to be around to help with their miasma thing, and they’d want me to do the whole mating thing.”
She was quiet. Mulling this over. “What does your wolf think?”
We can fight. We can win. But we can also mate.
“Then you let her do her thing. You fight for your freedom, babe.”
Thinking about it made my stomach hurt.
I unzipped the bag she’d brought for me and began to unpack. Skinny jeans, T-shirts, a sweater, red lacy underwear, purple lacy underwear, cream lacy—”
“Cora, what the hell?”
She peered into the bag and then burst out laughing. “Yep, you can tell Mal packed your bag.”
“You let Mal pack for me?”
“I was out hunting for Lucas. Mal was going to drop the bag off to you, but they had to…do something else.”
There was something shifty in her tone and on her face. She was hiding something. “Cor…”
“No, Fee. They asked me not to say anything.”
“Whose best friend are you?”
“And besties don’t have secrets,” I sing-songed.
Cora looked torn. “Look, promise you won’t freak out?”
The humor drained out of me, and icy foreboding took its place. “Cora, what are they doing?”
She puffed out her cheeks. “Fine, okay, look, there’s this place called the Eye, it’s where the malignant live.”
“Yeah, I was shocked, too. Mal told me that between the event when the reapers died and the Underealm setting up an agreement with the human government there was enough time for souls to be left to wander. The first malignant created a haven for rippers and the like. Evil souls. A place where they can take new souls to feed off. Mal and his crew do their best to prevent this place from growing by nabbing as many new malignant as they can, and they also hunt the older ones when they emerge from the Eye. But no reaper has ever been into the Eye before.”
Oh, God. “They think Lucas might be in there.”
“Yes. It’s the only place they haven’t looked. They’re going in to find him.”
“I have to go with them. I have to help.” I pulled on a sweatshirt and picked up my jeans, ready to pull them on.
“No.” Cora gripped my shoulders. “You can’t. Your bail is for Necro only. The Eye is on the outskirts. You’ll be breaking bail, and that means you’ll go back to prison. The contract Azazel signed put a tracker on you; they’ll know if you leave the city.”
I dropped the jeans back on the bed. “Shit.” My heart was pounding too fast. “Cor…”
She squeezed my hand. “It’s going to be okay. They’ll drop me a message as soon as they’re out. They wouldn’t all be going if it were that dangerous.”
She didn’t sound so sure. “You’ll stay with me?”
She gave a doh look. “Now, how about some breakfast? I’m starving.”
I glanced at my comm. It was six in the morning. “You cooking?”
“Just point me to the kitchens.”
“Chocolate chip pancakes?”
Fuck, I’d missed her, and she was totally distracting me from worrying about the guys.
I took a deep breath. Please, be safe. Please, be okay.
Evil has a stench. It’s a distinctive sharp, acrid smell that hits the back of the throat and makes the eyes water, and that’s the exact stench that pervades the area around the Eye.
It looks nothing like an eye, but there’s an eye graffitied to the wall to the left of the rift. The rift itself is a crack between the walls of two buildings on a derelict industrial estate. I’ve been here too many times to count. Hovering on the outside but never venturing in even though I’ve considered it.
It would be so easy to give myself to the malignant. To allow them to tear me up and end my curse once and for all, but the stubborn, stick-two-fingers-up-at-the-universe part of me always refrains.
I stare at the crack in our world that leads to a place they forged with their collective power. It makes no sense. It shouldn’t exist, and yet it does. Glyphs mark the air, glowing softly and visible only to otherworlder eyes. Celestial markings gifted from the Beyond to contain the tear, to stop it from growing, but not even the celestials know what lies beyond, or if we’ll be able to return once we enter.
Azazel grips the glowing silver tether gifted to us by Uri. “I should go in, one of you can stay out.”
“We drew straws,” Conah says. “Mal and I go in. You keep us tethered.”
Azazel doesn’t look too happy about that.
“Fuck, Azazel, don’t look so cheated.” I grin at him. “If you want, I’ll bring you back a malignant to torment.”
“Three tugs,” he says. “When you’re ready to come out, give the rope three tugs.”
The tether has two harnesses. Conah dons one, and I slip on the other. My heart beats a little faster in excitement and anticipation. The unknown, the danger, the possibility of an end.
But then Fee’s face fills my mind, and the excitement turns to disconcertion. An end means no more Fee. It means never kissing her soft lips or never hearing her crazy laugh. It means never holding her in my arms as we fly through the air.
For the first time in a long time, I realize I have a reason to live. I want to see her again. I’m almost tempted to switch with Azazel, but the brute hasn’t dealt with these malignant fuckers before. I need to be in there.
Conah and I face the inky crack between the walls.
“You wanna hold hands?” I ask with a cocky smile.
Conah gives me a flat look. “Let’s just get this over with.”
And then we walk into the Eye.
The scent of bacon is a powerful thing. I popped another piece into my mouth and chewed as the male Loup ambled into the kitchen and pulled out seats.
“Bacon. Hell, yes,” a blond Loup said.
Two other Loup joined him.
“I’ll take mine crispy,” blondie said.
The spatula Cora was wielding clattered onto the counter, and she turned to face the Loup, hands on hips.
The blond Loup frowned. “You’re cooking…”
“And you’re not.” She picked up her plate and joined me at the table. “You want to eat, you best roll up your sleeves and cook.”
She bit into a slice of bacon with gusto.
The three Loup watched her with confused expressions on their faces.
Seriously? Did these guys expect to be waited on?
Bobby exited the lift and stopped at the sight of us. His face broke into a smile when he spotted me.
“Hey. Food,” blondie said to Bobby.
Bobby ducked his head, averted his eyes, and headed for the kitchen.
“Stop.” My voice was a whiplash.
I smiled and softened my tone. “Come sit with me, Bobby.”
He looked to blondie, then back to me.
Blondie’s throat bobbed, but he didn’t say a word.
I could feel Cora holding her breath. Bobby joined me and slipped into the seat next to mine.
I pushed my plate toward him. “Here, you can have this plate. I’ll make myself another.”
“No,” a male voice said.
My head whipped up to find Grayson standing a few feet away. The other Loup looked from him to me then back.
Grayson padded around the table. He looked good in jeans and a cream tee. His hair was damp from the shower and slicked back, and his eyes were bright with intention.