His memory filled my head. Lilith, the men with the needle, and the woman who’d been held prisoner by two guards.
“You gave up your sight for a woman, didn’t you?”
He blinked slowly. “You were in my head. You saw.”
“I loved her. She betrayed me. They were going to execute her. I gave my nightsight to save her life.”
“Then she ran off with another fucking man,” Mal sneered. “Bitch.”
Azazel’s jaw ticked. “Loreli was the love of my life. Or so I thought. We were at war, and she stole secrets to give to the other side. Lilith found out and ordered her arrested and executed. I believed she could be saved. That she’d acted in a moment of weakness. I believed her when she told me the other side had a member of her family and had threatened to kill them if she didn’t aid them. I loved her…”
“So, he offered his sight,” Mal continued for Azazel. “Leviathan sight is a powerful source of energy, and the council refused to turn down his offer, even in the face of Lilith’s wrath.”
And then the bitch Loreli had run off. Fuck her. He should have let her die.
“I fell into a dark place for a while after that,” Azazel admitted. “I was young and broken-hearted.”
I wanted to hug him and kiss away his pain. “I don’t blame your mother for being pissed.”
Azazel made a self-deprecating sound. “Oh, she was incensed. She sent her blade after Loreli. Keon brought back my ex-lover’s head. And ever since then, my mother has monitored my love life. No woman is good enough for me. No woman stands a chance.” He met my gaze. “She can’t find out you’re my soulmate.” Azazel caressed my cheek. “I’m sorry. I have no choice.”
“Azazel, don’t,” Mal said.
Azazel’s lips molded to mine in a kiss that speared my heart and brought tears to my eyes. It was a kiss filled with longing and want and possibility. It was a kiss of beginnings, but when he pulled away, when I caught sight of his indifferent expression, I knew it was a kiss goodbye. He looked at me with cold detachment. As if I were nothing. No one.
“Fuck, Az,” Mal said.
“I need to get back to the Underealm,” Azazel said. “And you two need to get back to your duties, too. If Fee wishes to fight for her freedom, then I trust her judgment, but we won’t be permitted to watch. Loup law. We’re also breaking our vow to remain separated when in the human realm. The Dread are still after our scythe power. Being here together is a risk we can’t take.”
But they’d taken it, he’d taken it to find Lucas…What was happening? Why wouldn’t he look at me?
Mal cursed softly. “Fuck that. I’m hanging out close by to fly Fee home as soon as this culling shit is over.”
“I’ll wait with you.” Conah smiled at me, but it was a sad smile. One laced with pity. “I have some business to attend to at the academy, but we’ll be there to take you home once the culling is over.”
Their confidence in me was just the boost I needed, but then Azazel ruined my buzz with his next words.
“I won’t be there. Aside from the fact that it’s an unnecessary risk, I have other things to attend to.” He strode from the room without a backward glance.
“Fuck,” Mal said.
Confusion swirled in my chest. “What just happened?”
“He’s gone and guarded his heart,” Mal said.
Conah sighed. “It’s for the best.”
“What do you mean?”
“Azazel has a trick. He used it after Lilith killed the third female he cared about. When he starts to feel too much for a woman, he shuts off his emotions. He’ll fight and feed and fuck, but his heart will remain guarded.”
A lump formed in my throat. He didn’t want to love me because loving me would kill me. What was wrong with me? What the fuck was wrong with my stupid, messed-up heart? I really knew how to pick them.
I headed for the door.
“Fee.” Mal grabbed my elbow and pulled me to him, wrapping his arms around me. “It’s okay.”
A sob broke from my lips, and I hugged him back, burying my head in the crook of his shoulder and squeezing my eyes shut.
“I won’t shut you out,” he said softly in my ear. “Just try not to fall in love with me, eh?”
The fucker was teasing, and it was so not the right time, but I couldn’t help but snort-laugh.
“I know it’ll be hard,” he continued. “I mean, I have abs to die for, and a cock that would wreck you, but you need to be strong, okay?”
I shoved him away. “Fucker.”
He grinned at me, tip of his tongue caught between his teeth, and a wave of love washed over me.
His expression sobered. Shit, were my feelings written all over my face? He reached for me, mouth parting to say something, but I rushed out of the room.
I didn’t need any more rejections right now.
Right now, I needed to punch something.
Training wasn’t for another hour, but if I grabbed Grayson, then maybe we could start early. I needed to vent. He wasn’t on the lower floor, so I headed back up to the guest room. Was he taking a nap?
I went to knock on the door but stopped as sounds filtered through the wood.
A woman’s gasps and cries of pleasure and a male’s grunts punctuated by the slap of flesh on flesh.
“Yes, yes, Grayson, fuck me harder.”
He was fucking Vi.
My nails dug into the palms of my hands as I curled them into fists.
He was fucking her after giving me an orgasm, having me suck his cock, and rolling around with me in wolf form and licking me. Rage boiled my blood and tightened my lungs. I backed away from the door, breathing too hard. The need to hurt, to maim, was a burning urge inside me.
I turned and ran toward the lifts. There was a punching bag in the training room, and it was about to get a beating.
Grayson entered the training room to find me punching the shit out of the leather bag.
I didn’t stop to greet him. Didn’t even look at him.
“I’m sorry I’m late. I had business to attend to,” he said.
I stopped the bag’s swing with the flat of my hand and pressed my lips together. “Yeah, I heard. Loud, sweaty business.” I didn’t bother to keep the bitterness out of my voice.
He tucked in his chin, his body rippling with tension. “You came to my room.”
“Yeah. You were fucking Vi.”
His eyes narrowed. “I could have been fucking you.”
“Any hole, right?”
It was crude, but I didn’t give a fuck.
“My pack needs the miasma the Masterton Coven provides,” he said simply.
“So, you fuck her to keep her happy?”
“I do what’s essential for my pack’s survival.”
Like even mate with me. I swallowed the lump in my throat and pushed down the ugly jealousy writhing in my chest. He wasn’t mine. We had no commitment. I had no right to be upset.
I fell into a defensive crouch. “Let’s fight.”
He went to remove his shirt.
“No. Human form.” I smirked. “Let’s see how well you do now.”
Grayson rolled his shoulders and then rushed me.
Azazel’s training really came to the fore. I definitely fought better in human form. It was obvious that Grayson fought best in Loup form. It was probably the same for the rest of the Loup, which made my decision whether to fight in wolf or human form at the culling an easy one.
We trained for hours each day. Dean had me on steak, and it was almost time to put myself to the test.
I was dressed the part in my Dominus gear, no weapons belt though. The culling was strictly hand-to-hand or hand-to-claw.
Submission or death.
I’d rather die than submit because submitting would be worse than death for me.
I’d pulled my hair up into a high knot at the top of my head. Loose hair, even a braid or a ponytail, could be used against me.
I shrugged on my jacket and flicked up the collar. If I looked badass, then I’d feel badass because Loup Fee might be fine, demon Fee might be chill, but human Fee needed a little pep talk right now.
“You got this.” I smiled at myself in the mirror, but it looked like a grimace. “Dammit, Fee, just let the Loup instinct take over. Let the demon instinct kick ass. You got this. No mercy. You bring them down.”
Cora appeared behind me in the mirror. “Babe, it’s time.”
Shitting hell. I blew out a breath and nodded.
“There’s still time to change your mind,” Cora said. “Babe…I’m scared.”
I pulled her into a hug. “Me too, Cor. I’m fucking terrified, but my gut tells me I have to do this.”
“I know.” She gave me a squeeze. “Dean and Grayson are in the car outside.”
“Mal and Conah messaged to say they’ll be waiting for me on the main road, a quarter of a mile away from the campsite.”
She placed her hands on my shoulders. “Let’s go and kick some ass.”
The drive to the campsite was a silent one. I caught Grayson watching me in the rearview mirror on more than one occasion. The rest of the Regency Pack were already at the location. Dean had explained that each pack had tents set up where they could hang out between the fights.
We wouldn’t know who I was up against until we got there.
My stomach was in knots, and my chest was tight. Fighting to save my life should be old hat by now, right? I’d fought mouths and vamps. I’d survived. I could do this.
Grayson swung the car off the road and onto a dirt track bordered by trees. We drove for a few minutes before he killed the engine.
I spotted a car up ahead.
“We walk from here,” Grayson said, but he didn’t get out of the car. He sat, hands on the wheel. “Dean, Cora, can you give us a minute, please?”
Cora patted my hand and then winked out of the car, appearing by the other parked car up ahead. Dean got out and joined her. Grayson twisted in his seat to look at me. “Every atom in my body is telling me to mate with you. To claim you. Mark you. It’s telling me to protect you.”