"There were just a few little problems with tall, dark and sinfully-godlike. For one thing, he was bleeding all over himself."
Between Anna's death and Jayde's discovery, Haus Jager was a place of secrets. Who is Laura Briony? Why is she prized? How was Colin forced to choose his mate, and who is Jannelle Evans? How does Stephen eat his words? Did they ever have hope of finding Erin?
Three brothers who have no intention of mating and three women who find themselves targets of Veriel's inner circle are about to embark on the greatest challenge of their lives. Headstrong women are the bane of the Hunter men. Headstrong women who might help him claim Erin are targets for Veriel. The Mad Deceiver will stop at nothing to find Erin.
Stephanie is trouble, a lord's daughter who can never admit who and what she is. Her father's life depends on secrecy, but that is easier said than done.
Stephen Hunter pressed his left hand to the stab wound in his ribs while he drove with his right. His black Firebird hummed under him, and he was glad that he went for an automatic. He'd bleed out if he had to shift. His mind was split: one part on ghosting so the beasts wouldn't converge on him in his weakened state, one part on reaching the manor house, and one part assessing his wound.
The knife had been tiny compared to a sacred weapon, maybe four inches of blade but wickedly sharp, a woman's blade. He laughed harshly that the damned beast Polero hadn't laid a claw on him, but a woman had nailed him well. It was an impressive bleeder. He would have left the blade in place to minimize bleeding, but Gabrielle had been so startled when that baby-stealing beast dematerialized that she pulled it out before he could stop her. She shouldn't have nailed him, but he'd been so intent on getting a deathblow on Polero, he had let his concentration on anything else falter. Worse, the time she'd cost him had allowed Polero to escape again.
Still, Stephen couldn't blame Gabrielle for her reaction. He had unghosted and landed his bleeder on Polero as he saw the beast go for her throat, but she hadn't seen his fangs. Gabrielle had believed the man was about to lay a playful kiss on her throat. It was a ploy the turned had learned from Veriel, courting a woman before using her.
Had she waited an instant longer to strike her blow, she might have realized that the blood covering her was the foul, black blood of a beast. She hadn't, but Stephen was sure that she wished she had.
He replayed the shattered look in her pale blue eyes, the swollen, tear-stained cheeks. She was lovely and strong, and that heartbroken expression had convinced him to show her she had done no real harm.
His body remained in a fierce arousal at her offer. He wasn't sure if he'd take the young woman up on it. Not that he'd complain about a night of sex with the spirited lass, but it smacked of deceit in getting her to bed. Was it honorable to accept an offer given under such duress? He'd have to consider that carefully.
Stephen pulled up to the gate at the manor house and reached his left hand out to the access panel. He had to reset the machine once when he hit a five instead of a two with his shaking, blood-slicked fingers. Bleary-eyed, he made it through the gate and into the underground garage.
He'd stumbled from the car and was halfway to the stairwell when Corwyn burst out. Stephen had only a moment to consider when he had let his ghosting slip before he lost his balance and landed in a heap on the concrete, cursing under his breath.
Corwyn flipped him to his back and pulled his jacket away to check his wound. His brother swore fluently, then ordered Colin to call Michael, one of their doctors. Stephen cried out as Corwyn applied pressure to the wound.
"It's all right," Corwyn assured him. "We've seen worse. Why didn't you let us track you?"
"Had to protect her."
Corwyn nodded in understanding, but his eyes burned in Blutjagd. "What beast did this to you?" he demanded.
Stephen barked in laughter, then grimaced as it jarred the wound. "No beast. A woman," he panted out. He smiled at the memory of the petite blonde with the flashing blue eyes and the spray of freckles over her nose and cheeks.
"A woman?" Corwyn asked in disbelief.
Stephen's smile spread. "What a woman," he quipped as he slipped into the darkness.
* * * *
Corwyn smiled as Stephen opened his eyes. He could tell immediately that his brother was lucid again. "Good evening. It's nice to see you looking better."
Stephen winced as he shifted on the bed. He scowled at the IV line in his arm. "Get this damned thing out of me. You know I hate them."
"You didn't give us much choice." Corwyn started peeling the tape from the shunt, removing the apparatus and leaving Stephen with a gauze pad on his arm while he ditched the IV in the bathroom. He sliced the bag of fluid into the sink before dumping the empty shell into the trash can.
"How long have I been out?"
"About twenty hours. Next time, let us track you. We actually had to transfuse you."
"I couldn't," he decided miserably. "I needed to protect her. By the time I knew she was safe, I was in no shape to take on a beast. I had to keep ghosting until I got home."
Stephen looked at him in shock. "Yeah. Gabrielle."
"You talk in your sleep."
"She made a real impression on you."
"Yes, I suppose she did." He ran his hand over the injured spot on his ribs. "All four steel inches of it."
"I wasn't referring to her blade. I was referring to the petite pixie you've been talking to for the last day." Corwyn raised an eyebrow suggestively. "I never realized you were so--inventive with women."
Stephen smiled weakly. "She has a body made for adventure," he admitted.
Corwyn nodded. "Would you prefer to eat here or in the kitchen?"
Stephen scowled as he rolled stiffly to his feet. "You know the answer to that."
"I'll see you in the kitchen." Corwyn didn't wait for Stephen's nod before heading down the hall. He took the stairs two at a time, considering Stephen's wild ramblings.
His youngest brother was only twenty-four, far younger than modern-day Warriors typically chose a mate. Still, Hunter needed heirs. With Anna lost to them, it was up to his brothers to provide those heirs as soon as possible.
Corwyn sighed. There would be no heirs from Colin. Had Colin not had his own disastrous brush with printing, he might someday submit. Short of Stephen dying without heirs, there was no chance of that happening. If he did submit, Colin would approach mating as a loathsome duty to be fulfilled. Corwyn shuddered at the thought.
No, the heirs would come from Stephen. If his mad ramblings were the beginnings of printing and Ms. Farris would have him, Corwyn would facilitate the match in any way he could. Gods forbid, if Stephen's printing turned as sour as Colin's had, Corwyn would let Stephen have his healing time. Eventually, one of his brothers had to print and produce children, else Hunter would die.