By: Laurann Dohner

Chapter One

Darkness stared at the mirror. Steam filled the small bathroom from the running shower but he remained still instead of stepping under the spray of water. A few blood spatters marred one cheek and his forehead.

He glanced down at his hands, where he gripped the edge of the sink. One knuckle was swollen from the force of a punch. Jerry Boris was alive but he needed medical attention. Part of him regretted not killing the bastard. Another part of him was surprised he’d been able to stop. The door opened behind him and he turned his head to stare at the female.

“I wanted to check on you,” she whispered.

He saw no horror in her look, only sadness and worry. “I’m okay, Bluebird.”

She hesitated before stepping into the bathroom and closing the door behind her. “They sent him to Medical. He’ll live. You did what you had to do. The task force will assemble a team and put the location under surveillance. They want more facts before they rescue the Gift. The person who has her might own more homes and they want to locate them and enter all at once in case she has been moved, if she’s still alive.”

He pushed away from the sink, reaching for his bloodied shirt to remove it. “Thanks. I’m going to shower and then I’ll return to duty.”

She didn’t leave. “Do you want help?”

The offer stunned him and he swung his gaze back in her direction. “I can shower myself.”

“Do you want company? I know that had to be tough on you but he refused to break. Sometimes violence is the only resort.”

“How would you know?” He regretted the words as soon as they left his lips. It wasn’t her fault the interrogation had gone that way. The human had refused to give up the location of the Gift until he’d been beaten within an inch of his life. “I’m sorry. That was uncalled for.”

“You’re kind, Darkness. You try to hide it but I know you didn’t enjoy hurting that human. You couldn’t get out of that room fast enough once he told you what we needed to know. It took inner strength I don’t possess to force him to speak. You probably saved a life. That Gift might be recovered because of your actions.”

“I hope so.”

She glanced down his body. “I could make you forget what just happened.”

“You could distract me for a short time but I won’t ever forget.”

She peered into his eyes. “You’re too hard on yourself.”

He kept quiet, not willing to tell her it was deserved.

“You are,” she insisted. “I don’t know much about your background because you don’t speak of it but I realize it was harsher than most of us endured. Do you want to talk? I won’t repeat anything you say. You should have someone to open up to. It’s an important part of the healing process.”

“Some wounds are just too deep,” he rasped.

“It doesn’t help when you won’t even try.” She stepped closer. “Let me soothe you. I’m offering friendship and comfort.”

“I appreciate that but sex isn’t the way.”

Her chin lifted. “Fine. We don’t need to share sex but you should talk to me.”

“What do you want to know?” Anger stirred but he buried it. Her intentions were good. He accepted and trusted that. “I was trained to kill and the violence you witnessed was just the beginning of what I was taught. It made me cold inside. I refuse to allow anyone to get too close.”

“You know the problem then. Change. We’re free now to make anything possible if we want it.”

“I don’t want to depend on others or care overly much about anything. I enjoy being numb.”

“You care about Species.”

“I do but there’s a line I won’t cross.” He pointed to the tile on the floor between them. “There it is. I need to shower and get back on duty. I appreciate your offer but I decline. Don’t take it personally. It isn’t.”

“Am I not to your liking? Everyone has a preference. Do the Gifts appeal to you? Perhaps one of the primates? You were around humans a lot. They are smaller and softer than most Species females. I could speak to some of them to find out if any are interested in sharing sex.”

“It’s not a matter of size or strength, Bluebird. It’s any woman.”

Her eyes widened. “You prefer males?” She swallowed hard. “I don’t know any who are sexually attracted to other ones. We could see if any of the human employees are though.”

“Goddamn.” He ran his fingers through his hair, forgetting that they were bloody. He needed to get it cut. It almost touched his shoulders, longer than he liked, and was just another reminder of a past he wanted distance from. “That’s not it either. You’re the second person to ask me that. I am attracted to females. It’s just that…”

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