The hawk shifter flew overhead, circling Petra in the cloudless sky as she stumbled back and forth in front of the mouth of the cave—the same Rain Forest cave she’d pulled a burning, fiercely stubborn Synjon Wise into after he’d tried to follow his lover into the sun seven months ago.
Now it was Petra’s turn.
Not to burn, but to feel the constant aftershocks of a misery she couldn’t shake.
Tears ran down her cheeks, another great sob exiting her tight throat. She was in so much pain. Unimaginable and inescapable. Her body, her swollen belly, her mind, her heart . . .
No. She had no heart. It was silent. An empty, useless organ.
It was a realization that had once filled her with curiosity. She was a vampire. A veana. Not a shifter, like her adopted family. Gone were the perpetual feelings of being an outcast among a society who wanted nothing more than to embrace her. Now she had living proof of her own existence. Now her questions could truly be answered.
Whom did she belong to? Where were others like her? What could she expect from her life? How long would that life be?
He had gifted her with those answers. That male. The dark-haired, dark-eyed paven who’d come to the Rain Forest to bury his beloved, and himself if Petra hadn’t been there to stop him. Inside the shelter of her tree house so many months ago, Synjon Wise had told her everything, offered her a future. He’d just had to kill someone first. She could hear his voice in her head even now. That deep, rich accent.
“Vengeance before romance, love.”
But the one he’d had to kill, the one who had murdered his Juliet, well . . . he was Petra’s only connection with the outside world. Her only connection to her blood. He was her father.
Another pained cry wrenched from Petra’s lungs, from deep inside, from the place where the ache seemed to originate, and she stopped and gripped the cool, moist curve of the cave’s entrance.
She heard her mother’s voice somewhere behind her. “What can we do?” Not the mother who had given her life, but the one who had raised her. As part of her pride, a cub to be cherished.
The beautiful lion shifter Wen had been the best mother any creature, shifter or vampire, could hope for. Now she nearly wailed in pain at Petra’s distress.
“I don’t know,” said the other female, the one who had brought Petra to the Rain Forest a week ago. This was her biological mother, Celestine. A Pureblood vampire who was as desperate to make up for lost time and bond with her daughter as Petra was to push her away.
She didn’t need another parent. Especially not one who considered her part in creating Petra a grave mistake.
“You’re a vampire, like her,” Wen continued, her unsteady voice carrying on the breeze. “Surely you’ve seen this kind of—”
“Never.” Celestine’s tone was emphatic, impassioned. Fearful. “Her sister, my daughter Sara, is also in swell, but she is an Impure. She never went through Meta. Getting pregnant before you’re of age, before you experience your transition, is very rare.”
“Do you think that’s why she’s reacting this way?”
“Emotional surges are expected in pre-Meta swell . . .”
“But not like this.”
Celestine paused before saying, “No, not like this. And not this far along. The surges are purported to be very early on in the pregnancy.”
“What are we to do?” Wen said, her own voice breaking with emotion. “She’s been here a week, and every day—every hour—it grows worse.”
Their impassioned chatter grated on Petra’s exposed nerves, searing her mind with agony. Her nails scraped against the rock.
“There must be something we can give her to ease this suffering,” Wen continued. “This strange hunger. The pain.”
“Blood,” said Celestine.
“She won’t drink it,” Wen returned. “I’ve tried. You’ve tried. She—”
“Stop it!” Petra snarled over her shoulder, tears raining down her cheeks, relentless. “Stop talking about me as if I’m not here!”
Both females froze in the glare of the sunlight, their gazes cutting to her immediately. Petra despised the fear and empathy she saw in their eyes. Or maybe their expressions made her feel frustrated . . . or was it desperately sad? She didn’t know.
Whimpering, she gripped the underside of her large belly. She couldn’t decipher her feelings. There were too many of them, and too much of them. What was wrong with her? And was it affecting her baby?
Celestine moved toward her. “You must drink.”
“No,” Petra growled. Blood. Just the thought of it on her tongue, running down her throat, made her gag, made her vicious. She hissed at the both of them and pressed herself back against the mouth of the cave. She wanted to drink, wanted to feed her growing balas, but she couldn’t keep anything down. Gods, wasn’t vomiting worse for the child?
Tears in her own eyes now, Wen started rolling up her sleeve. “You can have mine, baby. Take all the blood you need. Please, Pets.” She bit her lip, the loving childhood nickname swallowed up by a sob of despair. “Seeing you like this . . .”
Overhead, the hawk cried, swooping in low, before returning to the sky. Petra glanced up and growled at the bird. She’d told Dani she didn’t want to see her, didn’t want a ride over the treetops of the Rain Forest, didn’t want the female’s looks of sympathy or fear. But her best friend refused to leave, to retreat to her nest.
“Our blood won’t stop this, Wen,” Celestine said gently. “I’m afraid she needs his.”
“The father of the child . . .”
Father! Petra silently screamed. Synjon Wise was no father. That bastard wanted to kill her, and the baby. She’d seen it on his face in the dim light of the mutore Erion’s dungeon a week ago, heard it in his voice when he’d repeated her admission about the child she carried being his.
She turned and ran into the cave. Sobs burst in her chest, scraping her throat. She wanted to get away from her mother and Celestine. From everyone. From light, heat, sound. She wanted to search for darkness. Maybe it would claim her.
No. Fuck no. She had to survive for the balas. She had to fight her pain and misery, grant this child the home and family it deserved.
“Oh, gods!” she heard Wen cry. “It’s not possible to bring Synjon Wise here, is it? To ask him to care for her and the child? After what was done to him, does he even remember their time together?”
“His memories weren’t taken, just his emotions,” Celestine said, her voice echoing inside the walls of the cave. “He knows about her and the balas. He knows that she carries the grandchild of his enemy. The question is, will he care?”
Petra met the back of the cave. It was dark and wet and cold and rough, but it welcomed her. Breathing heavily, panic and sickness and fear and anger rippling through her, she curled up against it and tried to force every thought, every feeling, every memory out of her mind.
But it was impossible.
Along with the staggering emotional and physical pain in her body, her brain conjured her past, flipping by, scene after scene. She saw every bit of her childhood in the Rain Forest. She saw the hunts, the shifters, her friends. She saw her work, helping shifters with their early transitions. She saw her brothers.
She saw Synjon.
Once again, she experienced the desperation and pain of dragging him inside the cave she huddled in now. She felt his interest in her, both mentally and sexually. She felt his kiss, his touch.
She felt the moment he’d placed a child in her womb.
Tears flooded her cheeks. He was responsible for this, what she was going through. And yet he was completely at peace, his brain turned off to any and all emotional connection. She didn’t know if she was grateful or pissed off at the Romans for striking the bargain between Cruen and Synjon. She’d hoped for so much more than just being free, her balas momentarily out of harm’s way as she’d watched Synjon’s emotions being bled from his body on the dungeon floor.
She’d hoped for something of the male who’d held her, kissed her, cared for her once upon a time in the tree house that she had yet to return to.
Petra swiped at her eyes and whimpered. As she leaned into the cool, hard rock, growing more and more lost but still blindly determined to do anything and everything to protect her child; Synjon Wise was out there in the world somewhere, devoid of care, of concern. The balas and its mother the furthest thing from his mind.
• • •
Within his sprawling penthouse of glass and brick, Synjon Wise sat comfortably at his Bösendorfer, his fingers moving quickly across the keys as he played something light and pointless.
The party guests circulated through the six thousand square feet of interior space, leaving the wraparound terraces and 360-degree views of Manhattan to the shard of moon and the cold December night. It was his third party in seven days. The first had been the very night he’d bought the place. The small crowd had been courtesy of his Realtor. Broadway actors, artists, financiers, Pureblood and Impure vampires. He’d never thought much about owning a flat, or dipping into the massive wealth he’d accumulated over the years. He’d been far too busy working, spying, following the trail of vengeance . . .
This was so much better.
This was a blissful nothingness.
And the vengeance? It would be coming to him now.
He glanced up from the sheet music he didn’t need to read. The dull hum of conversation, the deep thirst of those who continued to empty glass upon glass of Dom Pérignon White Gold, and the females whom he’d instructed not to come near him until he ceased playing. It was a far cry from the manic scene in the mutore’s dungeon a week ago. Here, no pleas for mercy pinged off the walls, no shocking secrets were revealed, and no blood was being extracted from his person.
In this house, he did all the drinking.
A flash on the terrace snagged his attention even as he continued playing. Three massive fanged blokes appeared on the flagstones, their eyes narrowed, their expressions grave in the bleak moonlight as they quickly assessed their surroundings, then headed for the glass doors. Synjon knew them, of course. One far better than the other two, and although the memory, the history, he shared with them held a good amount of tension, he knew absolutely that they were not his enemies.