Craeg. That was all she knew.
He hadn’t been rude, though. In fact, he’d been supportive of her applying.
He’d also been … captivating in a way that had shocked her—to the point where she’d waited for weeks to see if he brought the application back. He hadn’t. Maybe he’d scanned it and sent the thing in that way.
Or maybe he’d decided not to try for the program after all.
It seemed crazy to be disappointed that she might never see him again.
As her phone went off with a chirp, she jumped and went for the thing. Peyton. Again.
She would see him at the orientation tomorrow night—and that would be soon enough. After that fight they’d had about her joining the program, she’d had to pull away from the friendship.
Then again, if the Brotherhood was putting their foot down in there with her father? That righteous indignation she felt toward the guy was going to be a moot point. But come on, females were allowed to apply.
The problem was, she was not a “normal” female.
FFS, she did not know what she was going to do if her father took it all back. Surely the Brotherhood wouldn’t wait until the last minute to deny her a spot, though.
Across town, Marissa, mated shellan of the Black Dagger Brother Dhestroyer, a.k.a. Butch O’Neal, sat back in her desk chair at Safe Place. As the thing let out a creak, she tapped her Bic pen on the OfficeMax calendar blotter and shifted the phone receiver to her other ear.
Cutting into the stream of blabbering, she said, “Well, I certainly appreciate the invitation, but I can’t—”
The female on the other end didn’t miss a beat. She just kept on talking, her aristocratic intonation sucking up all the bandwidth—until it was a wonder that the entire zip code didn’t suffer an electrical brownout. “…and you can understand why we need your help. This is the first Twelfth Month Festival Ball that has been held since the raids. As the shellan of a Brother, and a member of a Founding Family, you would be a perfect chair of the event—”
Giving her no another shot, Marissa cut in, “I’m not sure you’re aware of this, but I work full-time as the director of Safe Place and—”
“…and your brother said that you would be a good choice.”
Marissa fell silent.
Her first thought was that she found it highly unlikely that Havers, the race’s physician and her very, very, very estranged next of kin, had recommended her for anything other than an early grave. Her second was more along the lines of a calculation … how long had it been since she had spoken to him? Two years? Three? Not since he’d thrown her out of their house, about five minutes before dawn, when he’d found out she was interested in a mere human.
Who had actually turned out to be Wrath’s cousin and the embodiment of the Dhestroyer legend.
How ya like me now, she heard in her head.
“So you just have to chair the event,” the female concluded. As if it were a done deal.
“You must needs forgive me.” Marissa cleared her throat. “But my brother is not in a position to proffer my name for anything, as he and I haven’t seen each other for quite some time.”
When a whole boatload of nothing-but-quiet came over the connection, she decided she should have aired her family’s dirty laundry about ten minutes ago: Members of the glymera were supposed to observe rigid codes of behavior—and exposing the colossal rift in her bloodline, even though it was well-known, was something that was simply not done.
Far more appropriate for others to whisper about it behind your back.
Unfortunately, the female recovered and changed tactics. “At any rate, it is vitally important for all members of our class to resume the festivals—”
A knock on the door to her office brought Marissa’s eyes around. “Yes?”
Over the phone, the female said, “Wonderful! You can come to my estate—”
“No, no. There’s someone who needs me.” She spoke up louder. “Come on in.”
The moment she saw the expression on Mary’s face, she cursed. Not good news. Rhage’s shellan was a consummate professional, so for her to look like that? It was really a problem—
Was that blood on her shirt?
Marissa dropped her tone and cut the politeness. “My answer is no. My job requires all my time. Besides, if you’re this passionate, you should take the job. Good-bye.”
Dropping the phone back in the cradle, she got to her feet. “What’s going on?”
“We’ve got an intake who needs medical assistance STAT. I can’t reach Doc Jane or Ehlena anywhere. I don’t know what to do.”
Marissa rushed around the desk. “Where is she?”
The pair of them hit the stairwell at a run, Marissa in the lead. “How did she come to us?”
“I don’t know. One of the security cameras picked her up out on the lawn, crawling.”
“My cell phone went off with an alert, and I ran out there with Rhym. We carried her into the parlor.”
Rounding the corner at the bottom, Marissa skidded on one of the throw rugs …
And stopped altogether.
When she saw the condition of the female on the sofa, she put one hand over her mouth. “Oh, dear God…” she whispered.
Blood. There was blood everywhere, on the floor in drips, soaking through white towels pressed to wounds, pooling under one of the female’s feet on the carpet.
The girl had been beaten so badly there was no way to identify her, her features so swollen that, if she hadn’t had long hair and a torn skirt, you wouldn’t even have known what sex she was. One arm was clearly dislocated, the limb hanging badly from the shoulder … and she had only the left high-heeled shoe on, her stockings shredded.
Her breathing was bad, very bad. Nothing but a rattling in her chest, as if she were drowning in her own blood.
Rhym, the intake supervisor, looked up from where she had crouched by the couch. Through the tears in her eyes, she whispered, “I don’t think she’s going to live. How can she live…?”
Marissa had to pull herself together. It was the only option. “Doc Jane and Ehlena are both unreachable?” she said in a hoarse voice.
“I’ve tried the mansion,” Mary replied. “The clinic. Their cell phones. Two times in all places.”
For a split second, Marissa was terrified about what that meant for her own life. Were the Brothers in medical trouble? Was Butch okay?
That lasted only a moment. “Give me your phone—and get the residents into the Wellsie annex. I want everyone there in case I have to bring a male in.”
Mary tossed over her phone and nodded. “I’m on it.”
Safe Place was exactly that—a safe place for female victims of domestic violence to come for shelter and rehabilitation with their young. And after Marissa had spent countless, useless centuries in the glymera, being nothing but the unclaimed betrothed of the King, she had found her calling here, in service to those who had been at best verbally abused, at worst, horrifically treated.
Males were not allowed inside.
But to save the life of this female here, she would break that rule.
Answer your phone, Manny, she thought as the first ring sounded. Answer your damn phone …