Chapter Eighteen


Zsadist fought to keep still as Bella fed. He didn't want to disturb her, but with every pull on his vein he was getting closer to losing it. The Mistress was the only one who'd ever fed from him, and the memories of those violations were as sharp as the fangs buried in his wrist now. Fear came to him, hard and vivid, no shadow of the past anymore, now a very present panic.

Holy shit... He was going totally light-headed here. About to black out like a stone-cold sissy.

In a desperate attempt to bring himself back to center, he focused on Bella's dark hair. There was a lock of it close to his free hand, and the strand gleamed in the shower's overhead light, so lovely, so thick, so different from the Mistress's blond.

God, Bella's hair looked really soft... If he'd had the nerve, he would bury his hand¡ªno, his whole face¡ªin those mahogany waves. Could he handle that? he wondered. Being so close to a female? Or would he choke when even more fear hit him?

If it was Bella, he thought he might be able to do it.

Yeah... he'd really like his face there, in her hair. Maybe he would burrow through it and find his way to her neck and he would... press a kiss to her throat. Just real softly.

Yeah... and then he might move up and brush his lips against her cheek. Maybe she would let him do that. He wouldn't go near her mouth. He couldn't imagine she'd want to be that close to his scar and his upper lip was all fucked up anyway. Besides, he didn't know how to kiss. The Mistress and her minions had known enough to keep away from his fangs. And afterward he'd never wanted to get that tight with a female.

Bella paused and tilted her head, her sapphire blue eyes shifting up to his, checking to make sure he was okay.

The concern bit into his pride. Christ, to think he was so weak that he couldn't handle feeding a female... and what a cringer to realize she knew this while she was at his vein. Even worse, there had been that expression on her face a few moments ago, that dawning horror that meant she'd figured out what else he'd been used for as slave besides his blood.

He couldn't stand her sympathy, didn't want those worried looks, wasn't interested in being coddled and stroked. He opened his mouth, ready to take her head off, but somehow the anger got lost on the trip between his gut and his throat.

"It's okay," he said roughly. "Rock steady up here. Rock steady."

The relief in those eyes of hers was another slap in the ass.

As she started drinking again, he thought, I hate this.

Well... some of it he hated. Okay, the shit in his head he hated. But as the gentle pulls on his wrist continued, he realized he kind of liked them.

At least until he thought about what she was swallowing. Dirty blood... rusted blood... corroded, infected, nasty blood. Man, he just couldn't fathom why she'd turned down Phury. The male was perfect inside and out. Yet here she was on cold, hard tile, biting through a slave band with him. Why did she...

Zsadist shut his eyes. No doubt after all she'd been through, she figured she deserved no better than someone who was polluted. That lesser had probably torn the self-respect right out of her.

Man, as God was his witness, he was going to have that bastard's last breath squeezing out between his palms.

With a sigh, Bella released his wrist and eased back against the shower wall, her lids low, her body limp. The silk of the dressing down was wet and it clung to her legs, outlining her thighs, her hips... the juncture in their midst.

As the it in his pants thickened in a rush, he wanted to cut the thing off.

Her eyes lifted to his. He half expected her to go into seizures or something, and he tried not to think of all that ugliness she'd swallowed.

"You all right?" he asked.

"Thank you," she said huskily. "Thank you for letting me¡ª"

"Yeah, you can stop that." God, he wished he'd protected her from himself. The Mistress's very essence pumped through him, the echoes of that female's cruelty trapped within the endless circuit of his arteries and veins, going around and around his body. And Bella had just taken some of that poison into her gut.

He should have fought harder against this.

"I'm going to carry you to the bed," he said.

When she didn't object, he picked her up, took her out of the shower, and paused by the sink to grab a towel for her.

"The mirror," she murmured. "You covered the mirror. Why?"

He didn't answer her as he headed for the bedroom, couldn't bear to talk about the horrible things she'd endured.

"Do I look so bad to you?" she whispered into his shoulder.

When he got to the bed, he set her on her feet. "The robe is wet. You should take it off. Use this to dry if you want."

She took the towel and started to loosen the tie at her waist. He quickly turned around, listening to a rush of cloth, some flapping, then the shifting of sheets.

As she settled in, some very base, ancient core of him demanded that he lay with her now. And not as in hold her. He wanted to be inside of her, moving... releasing. Somehow that seemed like the right thing to do, to give her not just the blood in his veins but the completion of the sexual act, too.

Which was totally fucked up.

He dragged a hand over his hair, wondering where the hell that bad idea had come from. Man, he had to get away from her¡ª

Well, that was going to happen soon, wasn't it. She was leaving tonight. Leaving to go home.

His instincts went nuts, making him want to fight to make her stay in his bed. But screw that stupid, primeval core of him. He needed to go do his job. He needed to go out and find that one particular lesser and slaughter the fucker for her. That was what he had to do.

Z headed for the closet, pulled on a shirt, and armed up. As he grabbed for his chest holster, he considered asking her for a description of the slayer who'd taken her. Except he didn't want to traumatize her... No, he would get Tohr to ask, because the brother would handle that kind of thing well. When she was returned to her family tonight, he would have Tohr talk to her then.

"I'm heading out," Z said as he buckled the leather dagger holder across his ribs. "You want me to have Fritz bring you food before you go?"

When there was no answer, he looked around the door-jamb. She was on her side, watching him.

Another wave of heavy-handed instinct pounded through him.

He wanted to see her eat. After the sex, after he came inside of her, he wanted to have her eat food he'd brought her, and he wanted her to take the stuff from his hand. Hell, he wanted to go out and kill something for her, bring the meat back, cook it himself, and feed her until she was full. Then he wanted to lie beside her with a dagger in his hand, protecting her as she slept.

He ducked back into the closet. Man, he was going crazy. Straight-up loco.

"I'll have him bring you something," he said.

He checked the blades on his two black daggers, testing them on the inside of his forearm, slicing into his skin. As the pain tingled into his brain, he stared at the puncture marks Bella had left on his wrist.

Shaking himself back into focus, he put his gun holster around his hips and ran through his twin SIG Sauers. Both nine-millimeters had full bullet loads, and there were another two clips of hollow tips on the belt. He slipped a throwing knife into a buckle at the small of his back and made sure he had some hira shuriken with him. Shitkickers were next. Light windbreaker to cover the portable arsenal was last.

When he came out, Bella was still looking up at him from the bed. Her eyes were so blue. Blue as sapphires. Blue as night. Blue as¡ª

"Zsadist?"

He fought the urge to smack himself. "Yeah?"

"Am I ugly to you?" As he recoiled, she put her hands over her face. "Never mind."

While she hid from him, he thought of the very first moment he'd seen her, back when she'd surprised him in the gym so many weeks ago. She'd astounded him then, struck him dead-stupid in his boots, and she still had that effect on his brain. It was like he had an off switch that only she had the remote to.

He cleared his throat. "You are as you have always been to me."

He turned away, only to hear a sob. Then another. And another.

He looked over his shoulder. "Bella... holy hell..."

"I'm sorry," she said into her palms. "I'm s-sorry. Just go. I'm f-fine... I'm sorry, I'm fine."

As he went over and sat on the edge of the bed, he wished he had the gift of words. "You've got nothing to be sorry for."

"I've invaded your room, your b-bed. Forced you to sleep next me. M-made you give me your vein. I'm so... sorry." She took a deep breath and collected herself, but even still her despair lingered, carrying the earthy scent of raindrops on a hot sidewalk. "I know I should leave here, I know you don't want me here, but I just need... I can't go to my farmhouse. The lesser took me from there, so I can't stand the idea of going back. And I don't want to be with my family. They won't understand what's going on for me right now, and I don't have the energy to explain. I just need some time, I need some way to get what is in my head out of it, but I can't be alone. Even though I don't want to see anyone except..."

As she petered out, he said, "You stay here for as long as you want."

She started sobbing again. Damn it. That was the wrong thing to say.

"Bella... I..." What was he supposed to do?

Reach out to her, asshole. Take her hand, you piece of shit.

He couldn't do it. "You want me to move out? Give you some space?"

More crying, somewhere in the middle of which she mumbled, "I need you."

God, if he'd heard that right, he pitied her.

"Bella, stop crying. Stop crying and look at me." Eventually she took a deep breath and wiped her face. When he was sure he had her attention, he said, "You don't worry about anything. You're staying here as long as you want to. Are we clear?"

She just stared at him.

"Nod for me, so I know you heard that." When she did, he stood up. "And I'm the last thing you need. So you just drop that bullshit right now."

"But I¡ª"

He headed for the door. "I'll be back before dawn. Fritz knows how to find me¡ªer, all of us."

After leaving her, Z strode down the corridor of statues, hung a louie, and shot past Wrath's study and the grand staircase. Three doors down he knocked. No answer. He knocked again.

He headed downstairs and found what he was looking for in the kitchen.

Mary, Rhage's female, was peeling potatoes. A lot of potatoes. Like, an army load of them. Her gray eyes lifted and her paring knife stilled on an Idaho golden. She glanced around, as if figuring he must be looking for someone else. Or maybe she just hoped she wasn't alone with him.

"Could you put this off for a while?" Z said, nodding at the pile.

"Um, sure. Rhage can always eat something else. Besides, Fritz is having a conniption that I was going to cook, anyway. What... ah, what do you need?"

"Not me. Bella. She could use a friend right now."

Mary put the knife and the half-naked potato down. "I'm so anxious to see her."

"She's in my room." Z pivoted around, already thinking about which alleys to hit downtown.

"Zsadist?"

He stopped with his hand on the butler's door. "What."

"You're taking very good care of her."

He thought of the blood he'd let her swallow. And the urge he had to orgasm in her body.

"Not really," he said over his shoulder.

Sometimes you have to start at the beginning, O thought as he jogged through the forest.

About three hundred yards from where he'd parked the truck, the trees gave way to a flat meadow. He stopped while still hidden among the pines.

Across the white blanket of snow was the farmhouse where he had first found his wife, and in the fading light of day her home was all Norman Rockwell, Hallmark-card, Middle America perfect. The only thing that was missing was some smoke coming out of the redbrick chimney.

He took out his binocs and scanned the area, then focused on the house. All the tire tracks in the driveway and the footprints to the door made him worry that the place had changed hands and movers had come. But there was still furniture inside, furniture he recognized from when he'd been in there with her.

He dropped the binocs, letting them hang around his neck, and crouched down. He would wait for her here. If she was alive, either she would go to her house or whoever was taking care of her would come for some of her things. If she was dead, someone would start moving her shit out.

At least, he hoped something like that would happen. He had nothing else to go on, didn't know her name or her family's whereabouts. Couldn't guess where else she might be. His only other option was to go out and question civilians about her. As no other female had been abducted lately, surely she'd have been a topic of conversation within her race. Trouble was, that route could take weeks... months. And information from persuasive techniques wasn't always solid.

No, watching her house was more likely to get him results. He would sit and wait until someone tipped a hand and led him back to her. Maybe his job would get even easier and that scarred brother would be the one who showed.

That would be just about perfect.

O settled back on his heels, ignoring the cold wind.

God... he hoped she was alive.

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