"That's not fair!" Dav’s voice was low, hissing as he spoke. Ahsran took a step forward, and Dav's head snapped up, glaring. "Don't even think about it!”
His fangs were flexed, the slender points gleaming deadly white in the light. I could hear the promise of violence in his voice and really hoped that Ahsran would heed Dav’s warning; his anger was swamping our bond, and I knew he was on the edge.
"They won't hurt me or you," I said, "so please calm down. We need to figure this out once and for all." The stress was overwhelming me, and it was too soon after the hospital. I did the one thing guaranteed to take Dav's focus off the threat my brother and his mate posed.
"Shit, Ellis!" Isiah said as Dav caught me.
My head was swimming as he pulled me over to a chair. He sat down and pulled me into his lap. I didn't resist him, curling into his warmth easily. The six inches between us weren't that big of a difference but he was tall enough for me to snuggle comfortably against as he held me. I buried my face into his neck, my tongue flicking out to taste his skin. I was unable to control the urge; he smelled so good.
I didn’t really want to anyway.
"Are you getting another headache?" Dav’s anger disappeared under a surge of worry. He smoothed my hair back from my face. "I can call Dr. Pannar."
"No calling anyone," Ahsran said with a growl. He exposed his own thick set of canines when Dav hissed at him. "We don't have time for this.”
"We will make time. You're not leaving, and if he's getting another headache I sure as hell will call, the last one blinded him and could have killed him. My mate’s health is more important to me than your fucking wishes. I won’t let him die."
Isiah’s face paled and he went rigid on the couch. He then leaned forward.
"What the hell did you mean by that? Why would Ellis die?"
"I'm fine," I said before he could start freaking out. "You need to be checked out though. Dr. Pannar said they think some genetic anomaly has been causing my headaches. You might have trouble."
"I've never had migraines like you do though. And I'm not mated to a Snake," Isiah pointed out.
"You changed physically. More than a mating mark like most humans get. There is something different about us, something like maybe a Carthera ancestor. Being mated to Dav is what saved me. His venom actually has healing properties for me." I blushed. “My doctors think it might actually make my headaches go away forever.”
Isiah's eyebrow rose, and he relaxed a little. "So . . . sex really can cure all your ills?"
I groaned. "That's a horrible pun." Isiah always had an irreverent sense of humor.
Ahsran growled. "None of this has anything to do with the attack on our lives. Damn it, we have to get out of here and stop this! We have to find out how they found out where we were, and if plans have already been set in motion."
Isiah put a hand on his arm. "I told you; Ellis wouldn't do that. I'm guessing Davis has been with him since his migraine so it wasn’t him either. We need their help and Velaku's. He won't meet us any other way."
"There were Falcons, my mate, and they tried to kill you. Retic is Velaku’s pet assassin, and you expect me to trust him to help us because he’s your brother’s mate? Your trust could get you killed, and I won’t be able to do anything about it!" His voice was close to a roar.
I felt Davis tense when he said my mate was Velaku’s pet assassin, but I tightened my arms around him, and he didn’t say anything.
"The attack might not have been ordered by Velaku,” Isiah said heatedly, "and we haven't had a chance to tell them yet! They don’t know!"
They sounded like they were having an argument they'd had before. The tiger's ears were twitching as he took deep breaths.
"Tell us what?" Dav asked. His anger hadn't left him, but his hands began stroking my hair again when I tensed yet again. "If things are so damn bad, tell us so we can move."
"We found out who was behind all the attacks on Velaku's territory." An explosion of shock rippled through my bond as Isiah just dropped that little bomb right out there without any warning.
I gasped. "What? Who?"
Dav shushed me. "First tell us how you know this information? We mistook Ellis for you on a video where you killed a man along with a strange Carthera. Why should we trust you?"
"He's not dead. That's my partner. We were both undercover military intelligence, and while he did get a bit banged up, his death was staged."
Dav raised an eyebrow. "You expect us to just believe you based on your word? It was on video."
"Look," Isiah said with a growl, "I can't exactly whip James out and show you he's breathing, now can I? I'm shocked the Falcons haven't rushed in here after us yet. You can listen to what we have to say with an open mind, or you can go with the attitude that your mind is already made up that we're liars and killers."
"They're not," I said softly to Dav. "Listen to them, please. I told you I never thought Isiah could be capable of hurting people like it showed in the video. They might be able to help you guys figure out what is really going on. He told me some stuff before, and I believe him."
Dav sighed. "Fine. I'll try not to judge before I know everything."
I hugged him, nuzzling into his warmth. "Thank you."
Ahsran finally sat down next to Isiah on the couch, but he didn't relax, his back staying ramrod straight.
"You need to stop," Isiah said putting a hand on his arm. "Your aggression is affecting everyone in here. The Snake is not about to attack you while he holds my brother on his lap."
"Davis," my mate said a tad grudgingly. "You may call me Davis."
"Davis," Isiah repeated.
Isiah stared at Ahsran until the Tiger uncrossed his arms and leaned back on the couch. "Okay, okay. I just get--"
"Touchy, aggressive, paranoid?" Dav raised an eyebrow at the tiger.
I pinched his nipple, twisting it a little.
"You're not helping." I rolled my eyes when he rubbed his chest and gave me a reproachful look. "Talk Isiah. Tell us what you know."
Isiah took a deep breath. "Just before Velaku's men found us we got a call from my contact in the Supremacist group. He told me there is going to be an all-out offensive against Velaku, and I was to be ready."
"They know you're here?" Dav asked incredulously. "This is the group behind the smuggling and the plague that nearly killed all the kitlings in the Cavel’s jaguar clan? The murder of Velaku's father?"
"Yes. Someone close to Velaku is leading them. We knew that; we just didn't know who. My cell in the supremacist group watched me constantly. I had to tell them something, some strategic reason for coming so close to the stronghold of the Falcons. I told them we were gathering intel, using my brother as an excuse, but we left days before they knew we were supposed to come. We changed our tickets at the airport, got a flight a few days earlier. It was a risk, but things had led us to believe that an all-out attack was coming soon."
"So you think Velaku found out where you were?"
Ahsran spoke up, "We don't know. We were at the hotel, waiting for Isiah and--"
That wasn’t right. I interrupted him, "Didn't Matthew come to you? I asked him to go tell you to leave, and he said he would. He left me a message on my phone that he had talked to you and everything was fine."
Isiah shook his head. "Matthew never came to our hotel room."
"Shit!" I sat up on Dav's lap, cursing. "We have to go see if he's okay, if he's in his apartment or not. Dav, what if something happened to him?"
"You have to stay here. You can't go over there. I'll go. He lives a few doors down, right?"
"Yes, he lives in four fifteen."
He stood up and then turned, placing me in the chair. "Stay here, Ellis," he said sternly. “Don’t get out of that chair, and I mean it.” He looked at Isiah. "I am trusting you with my mate."
"I would not allow anything to harm my brother." His oval pupils gleamed as he stared at my mate. I knew Isiah would never hurt me. Dav didn't seem to be quite as sure, but I was reassured when he nodded once and then left.
I wanted to get up and pace, but I couldn't. I was still weak and knew too much physical activity wouldn't be helpful.
"So, nice mate you have there." Isiah raised an eyebrow at me.
"Stop that. It's no different than how your mate threatened me when I said Velaku wanted to talk to you."
Ahsran snarled. "Those men did not want to talk. They came in ready to kill."
"You weren't hurt were you?”
Ahsran shrugged. "Isiah already took care of it. He raided your medicine cabinet, said you always had a huge first aid kit."
"Mr. Nurse would of course." The words were sardonic, but I knew Isiah didn't mean anything by them. I'd always been the prepared one; the twin that planned and made sure everything was in place.
"Do you need me to look at it? Were you shot?" My tongue flicked out and I tasted the air, testing for blood. I could scent it, but just barely. I would have been able to sense it if he was bleeding through the bandage he showed me high on his shoulder. His left shoulder.
They'd been aiming for his heart.
"No, I heal quickly. It was just a flesh wound."
"You’re sure the attackers were Velaku's Falcons?"
"Yes. But they were led by the man that my contact told me was in charge of the whole thing."
I was just about to ask who it was when Dav burst into the room. "There's been a struggle at Matthew's apartment. He's not there, but I could taste his blood in the air."
"Oh my god! What is going on? Why would someone hurt him?"
Isiah stood up. "It's Mishtar. He's behind this, all of this."
My jaw dropped. "What! Mishtar? He's the leader of the Falcons! He was Keserem's right hand man; he even killed the leopard that . . . ." I trailed off just then remembering that the leopard who had been responsible for killing Keserem, Velaku's father, and torturing his son in order to kill Velaku had been Ahsran's father as well.
"My father," Ahsran spit out bitterly.
"You hold a grudge for his death?" Dav's eyes were narrow as he practically pounced on Ahsran's comment.
The Tiger's eyes gleamed as he snarled, his muscles bunching as his hands curled into huge fists. "Fuck no. That man was a sadist and more than halfway to insane. Natham wasn't the only one growing up that got hurt. I tried to protect him, but I couldn't always do it. I had to pretend to go along with that bastard's schemes. I had already been approached by your government to spy on the Supremacist group he was a part of. I couldn’t blow my cover."
"You were a teenager!" Isiah bit out. "It wasn't right; you should never have had to live like that."
Ahsran's hands uncurled, and he rubbed his mate's shaking back. It looked like my twin’s mate had a childhood to rival Dav’s for violence. I knew how Isiah felt; I felt the same urge, wanting to turn back time and erase the horrors they had faced, but we couldn't go back.
We had to go forward, figure out exactly what was going on, and stop it.
So we could all be happy.
"Mishtar led the Falcon's who stormed the hotel. That's why we were caught by surprise and Ahsran got shot. My contact called and said that I was finally in; the big takeover was coming sooner than I had known and the leader wanted to meet with me since we were in town. He told me it was Mishtar."
Dav began to pace, his lean muscles working as he wound around the furniture in the room in a sinuous pattern. "How reliable is your contact? Do you think your identities have been compromised? Either of yours?"
Ahsran just shrugged. Isiah tugged at his hair. "Shit. Fuck. I don't know unless changing our flight and coming here made them suspicious. I've been deep cover for over a year now, since just before Keserem was killed. Besides, why else would they attack us?"
I sighed. I hated it when he was away and I especially hated finding out why he sometimes couldn't contact me for months on end.
"It's why I haven't been around. I would have, if it had been safe, I swear."
"This is insane, Isiah. How can you like doing this? My best friend is hurt and missing, someone tried to kill you and your mate, and we're facing a disaster of epic proportions if Velaku is killed. You guys couldn’t even warn him, they think you’re killers.”
"The government won't stand for Carthera trying to take over and rule humans," Isiah said simply. "If Velaku is killed and Mishtar's supremacist group has their way the bloodshed would explode exponentially. Fighting would break out, the military against the might of the Carthera clans, and it would happen right in the middle of a mass of innocent lives. I think that’s one of the reasons they recruited me. You’re close to Velaku’s mate; they’ll believe us once they see our proof. We just need you to get us a meeting."
I could see it in my mind, first the fighting and death of the rightful leader, and then Mishtar declaring war on the humans and the innocent people who could die. Dr. Bakiers, Mrs. Sheldy from the bookstore I loved that was just a block from the Carthera clinic, even cranky old Mr. Gundry.
"We have to stop this." I turned to Dav. "Can you get in touch with Velaku directly?"
"Good. Do that. Tell him to meet us somewhere. Not here."
"Leave that to me," Dav said. "We can go to the club for now. I have a safe room built in the basement.”
Ahsran's claws came out. "We all go," he said with a rumbling growl.
"Agreed. I'll call from the car. Let's go."
Dav and Ahsran sandwiched Isiah and me between them as we walked out of my apartment. I couldn't help but look toward Matthew's apartment, and I swallowed hard. Whatever happened to him was my fault. I'd involved him, asked him to go to my brother. I'd given him information that someone obviously wanted.
"Matthew had to have been kidnapped so they could find out where you were. It's the only thing that makes any sense."
"When did he call you?"
I fumbled for my phone, yanking it out of my pocket and pulling up my caller list. "Uh, he called at eight this morning."
"When you were getting tested." Dav's tongue flicked out as he thought, his eyes constantly scanning the area as he hustled us over to his SUV. "When were you attacked?" he asked Ahsran.
"Close to noon."
"So, it's possible he was intercepted on his way to go see you. They took him on the chance that Ellis told him where you were, so they could get that information out of him."
He slid the key in the ignition as we all buckled in. He pushed a button and a small compartment between the seats opened up. "Slide that back," he said to Ahsran and Isiah. They pulled the panel and a hidden area in the floorboards of the car was exposed, filled with weapons.
"Holy hell," I said in a breathy voice, staring wide eyed at all the guns.
"Nice," Isiah said.
"Take what you need. Extra ammo is along the driver side of the compartment."
I watched as my twin and his mate both grabbed three guns each, loading them quickly. I shifted hard in my seat when Dav took an unexpected left turn, taking us away from his club.
"Where are you going?" I asked in confusion. My hands were clenched together.
"We've got a tail," he said.
"Where?" I began to turn and look out the windows.
"Stop it," Isiah hissed, "look straight ahead." I jerked around in my seat.
"Where?" Ahsran asked again, his hands busy stuffing bullets into his pockets.
"Above us. It's a Falcon. I just don't know whose, Mishtar's or Velaku's. Not that it really matters at this point; they both think you're the bad guys." Dav smoothly shifted over two lanes and made a right. "Do me a favor and load up the H&K, and get one of the rifles loaded and put it on the floor."
He pressed a button on the radio. "Call two, two, five, seven, eight, nine, nine."
"You have some cool toys," Isiah said as he handed Dav a pistol.
"They help out sometimes."
The ringing echoed through the car radio. "Who is this?"
"Davis. I need to speak to Velaku, now."
"That was Natham," I whispered to Ahsran and Isiah. They nodded. I looked at Ahsran to see if hearing his younger brother's voice affected him, but his face was a mask.
"Davis? Why are you calling? Dr. Pannar informed us of your mate's situation; we figured you'd be taking care of him."
"I am, but I need to speak with you and your mate as well."
Another turn, a left this time.
"So come to the eyrie. Things are going crazy here. I just got a call from Cavel; he and his mate are here. They just landed, said they'd received a message that I'd summoned them. They're not the only alpha pair apparently coming either."
"Shit! It's already started," Isiah said.
"Who was that?" Velaku asked. "Was that Ellis?"
"I have information you need. I need you to redirect all the incoming alphas. Tell them to go to one oh four Piedmont. Do this yourself; don't tell anyone but Natham and your mother. Then get there yourself, now."
"Excuse me?" Velaku sounded enraged. "What in the hell is going on?"
"Your enemies are closer than you think, and I'm trying to save everyone here. I need you to trust me."
"Does this safe house have a computer?" Ahsran asked in a whisper.
Dav nodded his head.
"Good. Tell him we'll have proof when he gets there."
Isiah and Ahsran began whispering in the backseat. I kept looking between them and Davis. How could they enjoy this, want to do this kind of work? My stomach was churning, and my head hurt just trying to follow what was going on. My anxiety was spiking through the roof.
Dav reached out a hand and squeezed my shoulder, rubbing it. "We'll have proof for you when you get there."
Velaku's voice was strained. "I'm not very happy about your unwillingness to share information with me. This is a secure line."
Dav grimaced. "There might be someone listening who shouldn't be. This is something we must tell you in person."
"Fine. We'll see you within the hour." Velaku hung up the phone, ending the call. Dav looked over at me.
"It'll all be fine, Ellis. You'll be safe and we'll stop them. Mishtar won't get away with starting a war with the humans."
"If you were so worried about someone overhearing the conversation why did you tell them exactly where to meet us? If Mishtar had the line bugged he'll know exactly where to strike; everyone will be together!" Isiah said hotly. "You have to call Velaku back and we'll figure out another plan."
Dav shook his head, looking in his mirrors and making a sudden left turn that slammed me into my door.
"Sorry," he said to me. "As for the address, that was code. I have different safe houses. The one we are going to isn't at the address that I told Velaku; that just told him which one to look up to get the correct address. They're numbered."
My eyes widened. "You have over a hundred safe houses?"
"What if Mishtar knows about this code too? He is Velaku's right hand man and the leader of the Falcons."
"Safe houses aren't very safe if everyone knows about them. Velaku knows exactly what kind of life I lived before I met your brother. You can never be too careful. He didn’t tell Mishtar. I only allowed him to tell Natham because," Dav looked at me, "mates shouldn't keep secrets."
I blushed. "We all make mistakes."
It was his turn to blush. He nodded, repeatedly checking his mirrors. Suddenly he pulled into a parking structure for a local grocery and shopping center. He drove down a level underground then slid into an interior parking spot.
"Get out of the car," he ordered.
He reached under the blue van next to us and pulled out keys. "Grab the extra guns, just pull up the sides of the bag and yank them out."
Ahsran reached back into the vehicle and pulled out the bag of guns and ammo. He placed it under the first set of backseats in the van, and then climbed in after Isiah.
"Ellis, let's go before the Falcon finds us."
I hurried around the car and slid into the front passenger seat, buckling my seat belt with clumsy fingers. I had thought I knew what Dav did, how dangerous his job was, but I was realizing that my mate was extremely paranoid and had back-up plans for back-up plans. It was impressive and not just a little bit scary.
Even my brother and Ahsran seemed a little weirded out by what Dav seemed to consider normal. He really did too; the only time I felt any tension coming from him was when he looked at me and asked about my head.
Otherwise he was cool, completely in charge, and totally collected.
Those fuckers who raised him really did a number on him. My hands clenched in fists when I realized just how much for the first time. He had told me the way he was raised not to show any weakness; I was just coming to understand what that meant. Other than situations involving me, he seemed to have no strong emotions.
"Dav?" The strain in my voice had to be obvious to more than just him.
Dav gave me a smile. "Don't worry Ellis. I've dealt with trackers before. You need to stop stressing out, you're going to give yourself another migraine and that's the last thing we need."
I knew he was right, but I couldn't just shut myself down like that.
"Velaku didn't mention having a guard on us; he must be one of Mishtar's." Isiah reached up from his seat behind me and began kneading my shoulders. I tensed for a moment, then sighed and leaned into the seat, tilting my head back against the headrest.
His strong fingers felt so good rubbing the kinks out, knots I didn't even feel until his thumbs dug into them and rubbed them away. Between that and the reassurance and love Dav was giving me through our bond I couldn't help but sort of float away.
I listened to them talk about the tracker as Dav pulled in between a couple of cars pulling out the garage, but I didn’t join in. He made sure to split apart from them quickly as the other two went different directions at the first light. He drove carefully, his eyes on the mirrors and the sky.
"So far so good," he said. "He must have followed one of the other cars."
"You've done this before.” Ahsran’s tone made it clear it wasn’t a question, merely an observation.
"Yes." Dav didn't go into specifics; his secretive nature was natural given his clan. I could see him watching Isiah frequently, but he didn't say anything about my twin's massage.
The loss of our tracker and the comfort I was being bombarded with combined with the fatigue of all I had been going through the past two weeks. I fell asleep in the midst of their plans of what we would do once we got to the safe house and the alphas showed up.
Dav carried me into the house, rousing me briefly as he set me down on a soft couch at one side of a huge room. "Hey," I said sleepily. I reached out and grabbed his hand when he turned away, giving him a soft smile. I was so tired I could barely keep my eyes open. It was like sleep was pulling me back, not letting me wake up.
"Hey," he said softly. His eyes gleamed at me as he returned my smile. "You have only been asleep about fifteen minutes. They won't be here for at least another half hour. Get some more rest; you might need it."
I felt bad that they were preparing for this huge offensive and I wasn't helping. Dav must have caught part of my feelings. He sat down on the edge of the couch, pulling a thick, soft blanket off the back and laying it over me. His hands smoothed it over my chest.
"Hey now, what's with the guilt?"
"I'm not like you guys. I'm useless."
"Never say that." Dav was abrupt, his spine stiffening. I caught a hint of anger from him. "I never want you to be like me. Keeping you who you are, a healer, is my job. You are not a killer, Ellis, and I don't want you to be. The fates, or god, or random chance, whatever you want to call it, picked you for me. You are exactly who I need to keep me from losing myself completely; I've been waiting for you a long time.
"Let me do the bad things. You be my good thing to come back to, the one thing that tells me I'm better than those I have to fight. I wouldn't deserve you as a mate if I wasn't. I don't know if I could keep from losing myself in the hate if I didn't have you anymore." Dav's voice was fierce, his hands on my shoulders as he stared in my eyes.
I let out the breath I'd been holding in a sharp exhale. "Oh Dav . . . ." My hand came up to his cheek and I stroked his smooth skin. "You are a good man."
He shook his head. "No one thinks that but you."
"I know you better than anyone else. I'm right; they're wrong."
His eyes closed and he leaned down and kissed me. His lips pressed against mine and then his tongue stroked across them. I opened for him, letting the forks of his tongue tickle inside my mouth as he tasted me. He pulled back with a sigh.
"Thank you," he tucked the blanket around my shoulders a little tighter. "but you need to rest now. I'll wake you up before anything important is discussed."