Two days earlier
When she dragged in with the old blanket draped over her naked shoulders, she knew she still wore the wildness in her eyes like the chill of a winter night.
She hated daytime the most. The other patients did as well, avoided the sun, hated to be pulled into the fresh air as if they were horses to be exercised in captivity. She wanted the air and exercise, no doubt, but unfettered.
She wanted the moon. The small pad of paper she’d stolen during her last therapy appointment would be in its hiding spot, showing the beginnings of many crude drawings of the orb.
In her mind’s eye, it was perfect, beautiful.
She wouldn’t talk about it in the sessions with the man with the glasses. For five years, others had tried and failed. He would fail as well, because Gillian had stopped listening, stopped knowing what she once was.
A daughter. Once loved, until something went wrong. She began to talk about wolves, to run in the woods alone. Naked.
That was, apparently, unacceptable. Signaled illness.
Since she continued to escape, that meant the illness was getting worse, not better. She felt it too. But she always came back voluntarily because there was no other place for her. And still, something inside her compelled her to look for others whenever the moon grew heavy—and lately, when it didn’t. The past two months had been a roller coaster of emotions. This time, she knew the wildness was too much for her—it threatened to overwhelm her, suck her into its madness, never, ever to let go. Maybe one day she’d allow herself to go all the way in, see that it was for the best.
But today she returned. Last night she’d run and then she’d lain under the stars and she’d dreamed. The dreams were of another time and place—distant, beautiful—and she felt stately and wise despite the way the men looked at her when she strode in.
They shoved her to the ground unceremoniously. Checked her for weapons.
I am a weapon, the rustling in her ears told her. But the men who held her down didn’t know that, and she knew better than to tell them.
After she felt the initial prick of the needle, she waited for the familiar poison to work itself through her body. Her muscles relaxed. The rustling in her ears stopped.
But in her dreams, she ran.
Vice swore he heard something slam to the ground in the woods outside the Dire house right after four in the morning. He’d been out running the woods and had just showered and prepared a snack fit for a king, but his curious Brother Wolf wouldn’t not let him check it out. And since he was the only one either not on his honeymoon or in a coma, he went. Left the house naked and shifted the second his foot touched grass.
The nighttime air was cool and soothing. For an hour, he ran through the brush and remnants of snow, searching for whatever it was that made the noise.
He ended up at the tree he thought of as Eydis’s, since he was always drawn to it when that specific Elder called for him. Vice listened when called, because he was compelled to do so.
Still, he couldn’t control what he said in front of any of them, but hey, he was immortal, so what could they really do—kill him? That would be a fucking relief.
The tree was a massive, thousand-year-old oak that had been split straight down the middle by lightning. Like the Dires themselves, it had survived centuries, still standing healthy and straight.
The tree blossomed during springtime, stayed green until the worst of winter. Even barren, the tree stood out. It was magnificent.
Now it was entirely destroyed—one half lying on the ground, the other bent and broken—and he felt sick.
It would take something powerful to do that. Or something magical. He saw a hole in the ground close by, shaped as though something—or someone—had been thrown from the heavens.
He looked at the shimmering white glow that lined the empty space and sucked in a breath. There was no way that could’ve happened.
He wanted to call out her name, crawl into the hollow and wait for her. . . .
She hasn’t come looking for you. And she won’t.
With that last thought, he gave a howl, long and loud, the most mournful one he’d ever heard his wolf make. Not since Eydis was sacrificed and was picked to be an Elder.
He’d been sixteen when that happened.
Brother Wolf circled the tree, stared at it for hours, trying to think of a way to repair it. But there wasn’t one. Nothing could handle this kind of wrath and survive—no one could.
And then something inside of him stirred that made the wolf break into a dead run toward the house.
Something he hadn’t felt for six months.
Rogue was awake and at his window, staring down at him. Vice howled with approval and relief, and he saw Rogue smile a little.
He shifted quickly and took the stairs two at a time, all the while trying to tamp down his emotions so they wouldn’t be too hard for Rogue to deal with. It wasn’t easy. He took a deep breath, then slammed the door open, raced to Rogue and hugged the crap out of him. “Dude, you’re really up.”
Rogue hugged him back, didn’t say anything for a long moment, and Vice was pretty sure he was crying. When they pulled away, Rogue wiped his cheeks. “You look good, wolf.”
“You don’t look half bad for what you’ve been through.” Indeed, Rogue’s chest still bore marks from the mare who’d held him in a supernatural coma for six months. She’d been under Seb’s spell—and Seb was a powerful witch who’d once been friends with the Dires. “You know Seb’s gone?”
“I heard. I knew what was happening around me. I just couldn’t do shit about it,” Rogue confirmed.
“Did you call Jinx?”
“Not yet. Just give me some time, all right?” Rogue said and Vice cocked his head and stared into the wolf’s eyes.
Finally he said, “Gotta at least tell Rift. Gwen will need to check you over.” Although they were all alphas, Rifter was their king, and they owed him that respect.
“I’m fine. Really. Cover for me, Vice. A couple of hours and then I’ll tell them. I want to shower. Clean the hell up.”
How could he turn Rogue down after what he’d been through? And of course, that was what Rogue was counting on. “Yeah, all right—coupla hours but that’s all. And don’t tell Rifter—no need for him to have my head again.”
“Deal.” Rogue hugged him again and man, it was good to have Jinx’s other half back. Although Vice hated to leave him, he did so out of respect, and closed the door and went downstairs.
He rounded the corner to the kitchen and found Rifter and Stray standing there.
“Hey,” Vice said in what he hoped was a normal voice. Then again, he’d never been normal, and Stray and Rifter had apparently been trying to fuck themselves to death with their mates, so the last thing they cared about was how Vice sounded. And by the looks on their faces, they weren’t angry at all. “I was just out running and—”
“Kate’s got the wolf—the glyph,” Stray interrupted him. “It’s my Brother Wolf—smaller, but it’s there.”
“So she’ll run with us under the blue moon,” Rifter said with a great deal of satisfaction. “It’s a good day.”
Indeed it was.
When the dust had settled and the Dire ghost army was put down, they had all been relieved. Leo Shimmin, newest head of the weretrappers, was taken down, and so was the biggest facility where the trappers experimented, along with the castle where Seb was kept.
Seb had disappeared. Vice had blown the place sky high and Jinx had done some binding spells with Kate’s help.
For now the trappers were in a state of disarray—in New York, at least. In other parts of the country they were gearing up, and that’s where Liam came in.
The young wolf was King of the Manhattan pack. After Linus, his father, had been killed by the trappers and the rogue Weres working for them, Liam had lain low and gained support. He’d taken Cyd and Cain as part of his pack, would take them to Manhattan with him. Those two Weres that Jinx had taken in as moon-crazed and newly shifted teenagers were a far cry from the twenty-one-year-old alpha and omega.
Liam would step up his game now, since the king of the Manhattan pack was also the king of all Weres. He would have to guide them through the upcoming assaults the trappers would no doubt try in order to get some power back.
“For the first time in a while, things are looking up,” Rifter said. “Once Rogue wakes up, we’ll have more reason to celebrate.”
Vice nodded with a smile as was expected of him, but his mind kept wandering back to the damned oak tree. When Eydis spoke to Stray days earlier, she told him that Kate could only mate with a Dire under one condition: A life for a life, and the Elders didn’t just forget about shit like that. Someone was going to pay—or else someone already had.
And now, the mating had been allowed. Vice thought about the tree and the life for a life thing and shook his head. No way. No goddamned way.
Jinx was on the highway going much faster than necessary when Vice rang him up and started talking as soon as Jinx answered.
“Listen, two things—Kate’s got Stray’s glyph on her back. And Rogue’s awake.”
Jinx gripped the wheel tightly at the last sentence and lost his breath for a moment, until Vice prodded, “Dude, you with me?”
“Yeah, I’m here.”
“He’s gonna be fucked up for a while. Just gotta deal with it,” Vice offered. “If I hadn’t seen him, he wouldn’t have called for me. He just wants a few hours.”
Jinx could understand that—really, he could. But his fucking twin . . . it was like not calling himself. “So, about Kate’s glyph . . .”
“Guess the Elders approved the mating.”
“When have the Elders helped us, besides Gwen?” Jinx demanded.
“Kate’s still here,” Vice pointed out.
“The Elders didn’t come down and allow it. It’s a trap.”
“But they didn’t stop it—and they gave her Stray’s wolf.”
“I don’t trust it. They screw us for centuries and now they’re nice to us?” Jinx shook his head. “Look, they were Dires just like us, with abilities and everything. You’d think that would make them less dick-like.”
“What do you want me to say? Most people in power are pricks.”
“Right. So the Elders can go fuck themselves.” And that’s why Jinx planned on handling the shit that had come out of purgatory that needed to be put down, since he’d been the one to open purgatory in the first place. That was his ability, the one he was born with—he could see ghosts. Rogue, his twin, could see spirits. But those stuck in purgatory were somewhere between the two—crossed over to a certain point, but not all the way there. Jinx would lead them back into hell. And if Rogue got off his ass and decided to help, that would be great too, but Jinx wasn’t holding his breath.
Vice changed the subject quickly. “Liam’s going to fight tonight. Twins too. You’ll be there?”
“I can’t. I’ve got to hunt. Business as usual.” Although it wasn’t. Not by a long shot.
The Dire ghost army had actually been laid to rest because they’d been killed honorably in battle, so Jinx didn’t need to worry about sending them anywhere. They were finally at peace, even though they’d died at the hands of their sons. And the Dires took pride in the fact that they’d fought and won. They’d used their warrior ways.
But Jinx and Rifter were still at odds, meaning Jinx wasn’t invited back to the mansion to live. And that was fine by him. “Keep me updated.”
“Will do. You know where to find us if you change your mind.”
Jinx hung up and glanced at the vampire sitting next to him in the truck, the one he currently shared the penthouse with in a Dire-owned apartment building because neither supernatural being would give an inch.
“Shouldn’t you go with Vice?” Jez asked.
“He doesn’t need my help.”
“You can’t still be worried about this ‘Jinx is evil’ shit.”
“How do you know the evil from purgatory didn’t hang around me? Vice is really goddamned susceptible to being possessed without warning,” Jinx told him. “If he got too close to what we’re dealing with . . .”
“I get it,” Jez said. Jinx was pretty sure Vice did as well, but the wolf wasn’t any less pissed at him. “Rogue’s awake?”
“Awake and not wanting to see anyone for a couple of hours. Fucking diva,” Jinx muttered as they pulled up to the gated brick building after their four-hour drive and got a visitor’s pass for the car. “Let’s just do this job and I’ll deal with my twin later.”
When Marley, a human ghost hunter Jinx had met months earlier on another job, had called him last night and told him that she’d gone to the facility to find a ghost and ended up running from a monstrous being instead, Jinx knew right away what was hiding inside that building.
A psych facility was the perfect spot for a monster from purgatory to hide—and by monster, he knew it could be a lesser demon or something worse. If people paid more attention to those who claimed to see monsters instead of drugging them, the world would be a better place.
“Goddamned humans, always screwing themselves over,” he groused.
“Your human friend gave you the lead,” Jez reminded him.
“Since when are you so reasonable about them?”
“They have their uses.”
“I haven’t seen you feed from one.”
So how was Jez feeding? Jinx wanted to ask but figured it was safer not knowing. He was grateful to have any help at all.
Still, he couldn’t help but think about how helpful Rogue would be as well, but he was still too fragile. And probably pissed at Jinx. He wondered if his twin would keep his secret about purgatory, since none of the other Dires, or the Weres who lived with them, knew. Only Rogue and the witch Kate, who promised discretion.
He decided he couldn’t worry about that. “Let’s get the wolf out first and then we’ll deal with the evil later on tonight.”
“While you’re in, I’ll get the lay of the land, so to speak. Check in with a few of the patients about what they’ve seen.”
“How’re you going to do that without a visitor’s pass?” Jinx asked and Jez smiled.
“Let me worry about that, wolf.”
Jez was a deadhead—aka vampire from an old order—and, if Jinx understood it correctly, Jez had been brought back from wherever vampires waited to die in order to help the Dires through their current messes. That meant he was far stronger than most vamps—the same way Dires were stronger than Weres. Jez could go out in sunlight, enjoy food. According to Jez, there were more like him, but he’d been sent specifically to help Jinx through these current battles.
There was always a goddamned battle. Always would be. But for now, he could kill two birds with one stone: grab the evil being and put him back in purgatory and save a wolf named Gillian.
He wasn’t surprised a Were had been placed in a psych hospital. It had happened countless times before. He was just lucky that Marley picked up on it before she’d been run out by the monster.
Now they got out of the car, and Jez disappeared around the back of the building while Jinx went in the legal way. He showed his fake ID—it read JOSH TODD—and from there gained easy entrance. Stray had already gotten into the hospital’s system and given Gillian a brother named John, and put John down on the list of visitors. Jinx figured that there would be so many people there that day wandering the grounds that breaking her out should be relatively easy.
This place was worse than the morgue and he steeled himself as he walked through, ignoring the ghosts that harangued him for attention. They flew at him like incoming missiles with deadly aim as an orderly named Ken came to guide him to Gillian’s room.
Jinx kept his eyes akimbo and his fists tightened at his sides. He felt hinky here—the result of the monster, not the ghosts. Whatever it actually was, he was pretty sure it was gone now, but it was bad. Really fucking bad, since his skin crawled as if it were contaminated.
“She doesn’t like to come out during the day,” Ken told him.
Makes sense, Jinx mused as he nodded and the guy continued, “At least she’s back.”
“She never says where she’s been?”
“Won’t tell us, and if she tells the shrink, he can’t say.” Ken paused outside the locked door. “She took her pills this morning. But it’s been a while since you’ve seen her, right?”
“I’m in the military, so I haven’t been able to get home much.”
“I’m not sure if you know . . . but she can get violent. I’ll stay with you.”
“That’s not necessary,” Jinx told him. “I’ll be fine. But I would like to try to get her out for a walk.”
Ken looked at Jinx like he belonged in the padded room as well. “She can’t.”
“She’s considered too dangerous.”
Jinx stopped arguing and instead looked into the small window.
Gillian had her back to the door. She was curled like a wolf on the bed, the T-shirt she wore riding up on her thighs.
“We give her clothes but she barely wears them. The nurse got her into that when she was half asleep.”
The door clicked behind her and Gillian jumped up and stared at him. Jinx remained in place, more out of shock than because it was the best way to handle this wild wolf.
She was no Were—he’d known that the second he’d stepped inside. Gillian Black was a Dire, and she was weeks away from her first shift. His Brother Wolf could smell a Sister Wolf, and his wolf surged in a nearly uncontrollable frenzy. That hadn’t happened to Jinx since he was newly transitioned himself.
It didn’t hurt that she was gorgeous. Wild, long-limbed, brown hair tumbling over her shoulders. Golden skin and her eyes glowed nearly aqua, like the shimmering ocean that reminded him of the old country.
“Down, Brother,” he murmured to himself and she cocked her head and stared at him.
He had no doubt his eyes had begun to change to the wolf’s. “Gillian, I’m here to help you.”
“They all say that.” Her voice was raspy from underuse.
“I mean it.”
Sister Wolf is confused, Brother told him.
“Who are you?” she demanded. She might not have been trained in the warrior ways, but she circled him as if ready to fight.
“I’m just like you.”
“A mental patient?”
Jinx grinned. “Let’s take a walk.”
“To remind myself what I can’t have? No. Besides, I’m not allowed to.”
“I didn’t say we were coming back.” He barely spoke the words, but the way her eyes widened, he knew she’d heard him clear as day.
Gillian wanted to ask this man with the long reddish brown hair why he’d do that. But really, she was too busy being drawn into his eyes.
Something deep inside of her that wanted the moon was also drawn to this man.
She never trusted, but the rustling said to now.
“How long have you been here?” he asked with a sidelong glance out the single window on the door.
He was built like a warrior from gladiator times— he’d seen the show on the TV in the main room. He looked as though he could do anything.
“Does it matter?” she finally asked.
“To me, yes.”
“Five years this spring.” She wouldn’t give him a date even if he asked outright. She needed to keep something for herself, had learned the importance of doing so in a place like this.
A scream tore through the late-afternoon air, sailed in through the window and made her cringe. “It’s like that all the time,” she told him. “Worse on visiting day.”
“Do you get many visitors?”
“You’re my first in over a year.” Over three years, actually. At some point her parents had given up. There were care packages, clothes she never wore, books she never read. Nothing that could be of any value to her.
“You’ll stay with my family,” he told her. “They’re all like you. I’m like you.”
She didn’t know what he meant, but the rustling did, was chomping at the bit to be with others like herself.
She didn’t ask how he planned to do anything. He simply pointed to her pants. She slid them on and he knocked on the door.
“She wants to walk with me,” Josh Todd said.
The orderly looked between them. “Not without a major dose of tranquilizer.”
No choice, the rustling said, but Gillian shook her head and backed away. Too many injections made her feel odder than she already did. She could barely get her equilibrium during the past six months to begin with, never mind the last five years that passed in a blur of sameness.
Except for the escapes, the only time she could actually breathe, time had ceased meaning anything at all.
This wasn’t going to go well at all. Josh Todd spoke to her in a low voice, but she lunged past him and threw herself at the orderly.
She hated him and this place. Hated the visitor too, who’d promised her too much and then didn’t come through for her.
So what was the point of sitting here like a good girl, telling them, “Oh no, I don’t need to go outside— I’ll just stay here.”
The next time she left, she wasn’t coming back. The decision had been made but it would be on her own steam.
The orderly was coming with a dose of tranquilizers and she didn’t want them. Even though the other man told her to take them, that they would help with the escape, she wouldn’t submit.
Nothing inside of her ever truly would.