"Too obvious for Jarek," Barabas countered. "I studied him and he likes to pin the blame on someone else. He would've used a lynx or a wolf, so he could finger one of the other packs. Two birds with one stone. Instead they used something nobody has ever seen before."
"The question is why?" Keira said. "Jarek is still the only one with the obvious motive. If Desandra dies, he doesn't have to give up the pass."
"If she dies, he can kiss his shot at grandkids good-bye," Barabas said.
"The other two packs hate him," Mahon said. "If Desandra gives birth, they won't let him have the children. He may value retaining the pass more."
"Enough," Curran said.
They fell silent.
"We're on full alert," he said. "Move in groups. Lock your doors. Nobody goes or stays anywhere alone. You have to use the bathroom in the middle of the night, you wake everyone up and you go together."
"We need to have a meeting in the morning," I told them. "We need to set the guard shifts and work out a schedule. Let's meet at Doolittle's room at eight."
"Nine." Curran said. "Now she needs rest."
People filed out of the room. He barred it and crouched by me. "Shower?"
He disappeared into the bathroom. The sound of running water was like a whisper of heaven. I was suddenly so tired. I dragged myself to my feet and into the bathroom. A shower waited for me, a tiled stall, half-hidden by a purple curtain on a curved rod. Steam rose from the tile. I tugged on the zipper of my dress. Stuck.
Curran reached over. His careful hands touched my shoulders. The sound of ripping fabric screeched and the shreds of the dress fluttered down.
I slid off my ruined underwear, unhooked my bra, dropped them to the floor, and stepped into the shower. The hot spray washed over me. Red water swirled by my feet. I closed my eyes and stood under the water. Inhale, exhale. The fight was over. Everyone had survived. The war was just beginning.
I checked my side. Doolittle was a miracle worker. The shallow gashes were already closing and stripes of paler skin crossed my tan. I picked up shampoo and worked it into foam in my hair. It smelled like jasmine. I took a washcloth and began scrubbing: neck, br**sts, stomach, shoulders . . .
Curran reached over my shoulder. I realized he was nude, standing in the shower with me.
He took the washcloth from my fingers and scrubbed my back. The water splashed over us. He closed his arms around me and I felt his muscular body press and slide against my back. In the whole world, there was no better place than being wrapped in him.
His arms were tense. The tightness vibrated in his muscles, like an electric current under his skin.
I turned in his arms. He rested his forehead on mine. I closed my eyes. Being attacked by strange beasts I could handle. Being in the same room with Hugh . . .
"One word," he whispered, his voice taut with suppressed anger. "Say one word, and I'll rip him apart. He won't see the sunrise."
I looked into his eyes and realized he would. He would step out of the shower, shift his shape, and fight Hugh until one of them stopped breathing. If I stood next to him, he would fight Hugh so I would be free, and if I chose to run, he would fight him so I could get away. Nobody in my entire life had loved me this much.
And because of me and Hugh, and because of Jarek, now Curran was trapped with me in this castle. Fury boiled inside me.
"No," I forced myself to say. "We still need the panacea."
Curran locked his teeth.
I wanted to go home. I wanted to go back to the Keep. I'd cut off my arm to teleport all of us back there and forget we ever came here. The frustration built inside me, fueled by fear and anger. There was absolutely nothing I could do about it now. Running in there and fighting Hugh, as great as it would feel, would condemn everyone who came with us and everyone who stayed back home.
I put my head on his shoulder. My hands squeezed into fists on their own.
He held me. "I know," he said. "I know."
We stood like that for a long time, water washing over us. Gradually, I became aware that my br**sts were pressed against him, that he was hard, and that we were both nude.
I leaned in and kissed Curran, licking him in the sensitive point under his jaw. My tongue tasted the raspy stubble. My body came to attention, suddenly aware and rejoicing in the fact that I was alive. I caressed his face, sliding myself against the slick, hard wall of his chest.
A low male sound came from him, frustration and need rolled into one. "Does your side hurt?" he whispered.
I wanted him so desperately. I needed to be in that place where only the two of us mattered and nothing except love existed. It felt like if I couldn't have him, I would burst. I shook my head and kissed his mouth, with my eyes open, and saw the precise moment he let himself off the chain. His lips closed on mine. His tongue slid into my mouth. The taste of him, the smoky, male taste, was intoxicating. My body shot into overdrive. Every cell focused on him, screaming, More, more, more! I felt his hands caressing my back, I tasted his mouth, I sensed every hard inch of him pressed against me. I slipped my hand down and stroked the hot length of him.
He made a rough noise, a growl born of pleasure.
Dear God, I had to have him now or I would cry.
"I want you so much," he whispered.
I opened my arms.
Our fury, our worry, our frustration, and our need collided. He picked me up and hoisted me on his hips, his hands under my butt. I felt so alive. I locked my legs around him. The muscles of his shoulders bulged under my fingers, strong like steel cables. He was looking at me, his gray eyes luminescent with golden sparks and filled with such raw, honest need that I felt light-headed.
He kissed my throat, stoking the fire inside me. I leaned back and let him kiss me more. He licked my br**sts, sucking on my ni**les. The jolt of desire pulsed through me, molten and electric, and when he thrust inside me, hot and hard, I no longer cared about anything but him. I didn't want to think. I just wanted to feel him touch me.
My back pressed against the cool tile. He slid inside me again and again, pumping in a smooth rhythm into the liquid heat. A yearning need built inside me, each thrust sending a pulse of slick pleasure through me, propelling me higher and higher. My ni**les were so tight, it hurt. My legs shook. My joints turned fluid. The anticipation swelled inside me, like a tidal wave threatening to crest. He thrust again. Bliss exploded inside me. The wave crested and drowned me in pleasure, each contraction of my orgasm an ecstasy in itself. I cried out. A moment later he grunted and emptied himself inside me.