The fatigue rolled over me in a sluggish wave. When I opened my mouth, my voice sounded dull, stripped of all life and inflection. "I brought a sick beastkin to the bouda house. She's my friend. If you're going to kill her, you'll have to go through me."
He closed his eyes tight, put his hand over them, and rubbed his face. I sat in a chair and kept my mouth shut, letting him work through his pain.
"Why me?" he said finally. "Are you on some sort of mission to fuck up my life?"
"I try my best to avoid you."
"You're doing a hell of a job."
"I honestly don't mean to cause problems."
"You don't cause problems. An unpiloted vampire causes problems. You cause catastrophes."
Rub it in, why don't you. "Look, after this, I promise I'll do my absolute best to stay out of your way. Are you going to murder my friend?"
He sighed. "No. I haven't killed any beastkin, and I'm not going to start now. It's an old, elitist custom. I'd have cut the legs from under it when Corwin found us, but there was a lot of opposition and crushing it without hurt feelings was tiresome and time-consuming. If your friend wants to join the Pack, I suppose I'll have to revisit the issue."
The sword in my sheath kept my spine from bending all the way and I very much wanted to either slump forward or to lean back. Even my vertebrae were tired. I unzipped my leather jacket, shrugged it off, unbuckled the sword, and set it in the sheath next to me. "She wants to hide. She's a member of the Order." He'd figure it out eventually anyway. "I'm going to help her to cover it up. After I find Julie."
"You lost the girl?"
I leaned back. "Her shaman boyfriend snatched her from my friend. He did something that caused her to start shifting, but she couldn't finish."
"I found her, loaded her into a cart, and drove her to the hyenas."
He gave me an odd look. "You drove her from the Order to there through the deep magic?"
"Yeah. We did pretty good except for some weirdness at a gas station."
He thought about it. "How long ago did all this happen?"
"Derek couldn't pick up Julie's scent at the scene?" A slight growl of disapproval crept into his voice.
I shook my head. "The shaman used too much wolfsbane. I'll find her. I just don't know how yet."
"If there is anything I can do, I'll help. Don't get excited. It's not because of you. For the child. If it wasn't for her and the flare, I'd throw your dumb ass out of this window."
"What does the flare have to do with it?"
"I don't want it to be attributed to a loss of control on my part. When I throw you out of the window, I want there to be no doubt the act was deliberate."
Wow, he was pissed.
Now the muted setting made sense: a neutral room, soothing light, a book. The deep magic fed the beast within him. It took a monumental effort of will to restrain it. With the flare so close, Curran was a powder keg with a short fuse. I had to be careful not to light that fuse. Nobody outside the Pack, except for Andrea, knew I was here. He could kill me right now and they would never find my body.
We shared a silence for a long moment. Magic blossomed, filling me with giddy energy. The short waves again. They would ebb in a minute, and then I'd be exhausted.
Guilt gnawed at me. He could control himself in my presence, but I apparently couldn't control myself in his. "Curran, up on the roof...That is, my brakes don't work sometimes."
He leaned forward, suddenly animated. "Do I smell an apology?"
"Yes. I said things I shouldn't have. I regret saying them."
"Does this mean you're throwing yourself at my feet?"
"No. I pretty much meant that part. I just wish I could've put it in less offensive terms."
I glanced at him and saw a lion. He didn't change, his face was still fully human, but there was something disturbingly lionlike in the way he sat, completely focused on me, as if ready to pounce. Stalking me without moving a muscle. The primordial urge to freeze shackled my limbs. I just sat there, unable to look away.
A slow, lazy, carnivorous smile touched Curran's lips. "Not only will you sleep with me, but you will say 'please.'"
I stared at him, shocked.
The smile widened. "You will say 'please' before and 'thank you' after."
Nervous laughter bubbled up. "You've gone insane. All that peroxide in your hair finally did your brain in, Goldilocks."
Terrified. "Of you? Nah. If you grow claws, I might get my sword, but I've fought you in your human shape." It took all my will to shrug. "You aren't that impressive."
He cleared the distance between us in a single leap. I barely had time to jump to my feet. Steel fingers grasped my left wrist. His left arm clasped my waist. I fought, but he out-muscled me with ridiculous ease, pulling me close as if to tango.
I recognized the angle of his hip but I could do nothing about it. He pulled me forward and flipped me in a classic hiptoss throw. Textbook perfect. I flew through the air, guided by his hands, and landed on my back. The air burst from my lungs in a startled gasp. Ow.
"Impressed yet?" he asked with a big smile.
Playing. He was playing. Not a real fight. He could've slammed me down hard enough to break my neck. Instead he had held me to the end, to make sure I landed right.
He leaned forward a little. "Big bad merc, down with a basic hip toss. In your place I'd be blushing."
I gasped, trying to draw air into my lungs.
"I could kill you right now. It wouldn't take much. I think I'm actually embarrassed on your behalf. At least do some magic or something."
As you wish. I gasped and spat my new power word. "Osanda." Kneel, Your Majesty.
He grunted like a man trying to lift a crushing weight that fell on his shoulders. His face shook with strain. Ha-ha. He wasn't the only one who got a boost from the flare.
I got up to my feet with some leisure. Curran stood locked, the muscles of his legs bulging his sweatpants. He didn't kneel. He wouldn't kneel. I hit him with a power word in the middle of a bloody flare and it didn't work. When he snapped out of it, he would probably kill me.
All sorts of alarms blared in my head. My good sense screamed, Get out of the room, stupid! Instead I stepped close to him and whispered into his ear. "Still not impressed."
His eyebrows came together, as a grimace claimed his face. He strained, the muscles on his hard frame trembling with effort. With a guttural sigh, he straightened.