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Excerpt | Tainted (Netherworld Series Book II)

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Netherworld Series Book II


Books - Netherworld - Book 2The quiet moments are the hardest, even in the Dreamscape. Despair wants to take root in my gut, but I won’t have it.

I’m lying here in my dream world under the light of a blazing sun waiting for Seth to come back. Rugged cliffs jut overhead to a staggering height while mist from the waterfall coats my skin in dewy pearls. Here, there’s always a warm breeze, with just enough force to keep me cool. It brings with it the sultry scent of a lovers’ paradise.

Without Seth it’s empty.

It should be peaceful.

Yet I’m restless.

For a while, I wasn’t aware of anything but a black cocoon. I think I needed time to recover.

The last thing I remember, Seth was kissing me senseless. He’s gone now.

Seth is one of those Oneiroi I told you about. He brought me into this mess without giving me much of an option, even though he says I agreed to the whole thing beforehand. Somehow, the memory escapes me.

I wish I could remember every detail of the time he and I spent together, when I thought he was another man. It’s as if the memories are somewhere in my head, but I can’t quite recall them.

Maybe I’m protecting myself. Maybe I’m delusional.

There’s always the off chance I’ll wake up in a hospital room somewhere. At least I know people in a coma dream. Tears for a woman I never met push against my eyes. Charlotte’s in a better place, I tell myself. Maybe she’s with Justine? The tears spill over from just remembering my grandma’s name.

I’m losing it, so I stand up. Dizziness sets me to swaying, but I manage to stay upright. Taking a deep breath, I close my eyes. It helps a bit.

The weakness hasn’t abated, but I don’t have time to lie here any longer. I’ve got to find Seth. We need a plan.

Rustling from the forest startles me. I whirl, expecting Seth, but the dark-haired stranger from my dreams stands a few feet away. I once danced with him in Charlotte’s world, yet I don’t know a thing about him.

His green eyes travel to my toes and back up. Seriously, I don’t have to put up with being checked out by a dream. “What do you want?” I ask in a cold voice that makes me flinch. “Who are you?”

He laughs. “Don’t you think you got those questions backwards?” I give him a scowl and wait. His jaw clamps shut before he says, “Business, is it?”

I nod.

He returns the gesture but doesn’t speak for a moment. I hate silence. There are so many things it could mean.

After a few moments, he motions toward my favorite boulder. I shake my head, still waiting for him to tell me who the hell he is. He gives me a slanted smirk, and I look away.

Being the gentleman, he walks to my spot under the waterfall and settles in. “Who I am will take a lot of explanation. My name is Brock, and I am your protector.”

I make a face. “Maybe you should consider another line of work.”

He tucks a hand around the back of his neck, his bicep bunching in a way that makes me stare. “Love to. Not an option. Your father would kill me.”

My insides coil. “My father?”

“He’s the one who assigned me to look after you.”

Every cell inside me screams for me to take this guy to the ground . . . show him just how tired I am of liars. “My father is dead.”

Brock leans back, propping himself on his elbows. “He’s very much alive, Amelia.”

A rush of fear slices into me. My dad wasn’t exactly the poster child for fatherhood. Both he and my mom were drug addicts. From a very early age, I had to fend for myself while they sat on the couch and shot up or snorted white lines of crack. After my mom died, my dad tried to take care of me, but the state took me away after he dropped me out of a window and broke my collarbone. I was lucky I walked away from the fall. A fine sheen of sweat coats my skin while my muscles clench underneath. “I don’t care if he’s alive, and I don’t need you to protect me. I hate to break it to you, but you’ve done a horrible job.”

He laughs, flashing me a crisp smile. “There are things you don’t know—”

By this time, I’m ready to grab Brock for a dropkick where he sits. “Really? I never would have guessed.”

He pats a small spot beside him. “Sit.”

“Go to hell. I don’t have time for more secrets.” I don’t even bother to glance at him before I head for the trees.

“Amelia,” he says, all secretive like, “trust me, you do not want to see what’s on the other side of the jungle.”

I stop, glancing over my shoulder, but I don’t turn around. “You don’t know me. Don’t pretend you do.”

He tucks his hands into his dark, skinny jeans that are a little on the too skinny side. “I know more than you think . . . I’m like you.”

Damn. Why’d he have to say that? I don’t want to talk to this guy. I need to find Seth, not stick around while my dad’s lackey tries to manipulating me, but I’m also curious.

I groan. One of these days, I’m gonna figure out a cure for my inner Sherlock. Unfortunately, today is not that day. I take one last look at the lush tree line and shrug. Seth would want me to figure out who this guy is. The thing is Seth promised me he’d be here when I woke up.

I shouldn’t be worried, but I can’t kick this pit growing in my gut. Seth doesn’t lie. There has to be something wrong.


Shadows dance and spin around me. All has stilled to whirrs of metal and grunts or, in Peter’s case, groans.

A knock sounds at the door before Kelsby says, “May I come in, Seth? I would like a word with you and your brothers.” I don’t have time to answer him before he jiggles the handle.

“We’re on lockdown,” I yell. “Get everyone out of here!”


“Leave, Kelsby!”

Peter laughs, dark and cynical. His voice is layered with numerous sounds, as those who reside inside him fight for control. I stab him again, and he groans then screams a curse.

The only chance he has is if we can create so much pain within him the Eros cannot sustain a permanent connection. Once they leave him, we can dispatch them.

Getting them out now will take hours, if Peter doesn’t lose consciousness first. Either way, we will have to move him to the containment chamber in the basement, just as a precaution.

After Ian and I took care of the majority of Eros escaping our tainted brother, no others seemed to want to make our acquaintance.

Once again, my thoughts stray to Amelia, but I can’t allow myself to linger on her. If I fail to eliminate this threat, all will be lost. When my brothers and I went into the hostile world to rescue my team, I had been too concerned about Ian. I didn’t think to consider much about Peter. I haven’t seen him in years, which was a mistake. We will have to rethink our strategy once we contain the darkness . . . if we can contain the darkness.

Of late, my brothers and I have lost our focus, which has nearly cost us our realm and our connection with Earth. Without humans we cannot survive. We are as dependent on them as they are on us. Until we stumbled on the Eros, we had a natural arrangement with homo-sapiens. The Eros change Oneiroi nature. They infect us with the desire for darkness, even though light is our preference, our sustenance.

Although our relationship is strained, Peter came to help me when he heard about Amelia. I’ve wanted to throttle him in the past, but inflicting this level of pain on him is eating my soul. No matter what, we cannot let the Eros make a permanent connection with Peter. They attach through neural synapses, but in order to maintain a hold, they need control of the central nervous system. They will not be able to connect fully to Peter if we can keep them in his periphery.

Just when I think we’ve got them all, two more Eros slip out of Peter’s fingertips. They have no cogent form, so they swivel and shift in the air as if on a current. Their dark shapes are barely visible in the near black room; however, I need no visual cue to locate the creatures.

Their presence sits on my heart, making my breaths shallow and my movements quick. Sweat drips into my eyes, but I have no time to wipe it away before another Eros comes at me. My blade slices the thing in half, and it disintegrates into ash.

When another knock at the door rings out, I shout at Zed. “Deal with Kelsby, but do not open that door.”

My office was designed for this type of scenario, but it would be much better to have Peter locked up at a truly secure location, not here, fifty feet from my entire team.

If the noise level is any indication, Kelsby has informed them of our situation. We must work on a better evacuation plan.

Ian’s blades disturb the air by my face. I shift back, then spin away. I’m not giving him leave to slice me up. Peter makes another strangled groan, so I stab him again.

If he didn’t already, he will want to kill me when this is over. I’ve got to get the lights back on, but I haven’t been able to focus well enough yet.

As if responding to my thoughts, the lights in the room blaze on, making me squint. Ian has Peter in a chokehold, cutting off his air. His hazel eyes clamp on to mine as Peter stops twitching. Eros can do nothing when a host is unconscious. They lie dormant until they can trigger a neural response.

Perhaps I should have considered asphyxiation first? No matter. My blade disappears at my command, but Ian retains his. He shakes his head. His eyes are still wild and his breath is erratic, as is mine. Zed, on the other hand, watches us from the doorway with barely a hair out of place.

I readjust my shirt and shoot a glare at Zed. “Thanks for your help.”

“I was manning the door, as you asked me to, brother.” He flashes a toothy grin. “You two had it under control.”

“No thanks to you,” says Ian. He picks up Peter’s feet and swivels his chair for me. “A little help?”

“Sure. Take the light end.” I tuck my arms through Peter’s armpits and hoist him. Peter is a good two hundred and thirty pounds, and dead weight is not easy to manage. When I look behind me, Zed stands there, not having made a move to open the door. Must I command him in everything?

His smile lifts fractionally. Zed is a closet sadist.

Thankfully, he manages to swing the door open before we reach him. We have multiple flights to go, and we will need all our strength to get Peter down the stairs. I should morph into a gorilla, but I don’t dare take the time. I must deal with him, come up with a plan with my remaining brothers, and return to Amelia. My hope is that she is still resting, but knowing her, she is up and about already.

We make it to the stairwell without much fuss, but I stiffen when I notice Peter’s fingers twitch a couple of times. Neither Ian nor I are equipped to manage him at the moment, and Zed is already two flights below us.

Ian seems determined to avoid my gaze, but I ask anyway. “When was the last time you spoke with Peter?”

Taking a sniff, Ian shifts Peter’s feet higher. “Two years, maybe three. You?”

“At least three hundred, but the timing wasn’t by my choosing.”

A gusty chortle shoots out of Ian. “You deserved the cold shoulder.”

“You wanted Rhea, as well. Do not play the innocent with me.”

“I never said I was innocent. You were obviously more convincing than I was.” His eyes narrow. “Wonder if it still holds true?”

I lose my grip on Peter, but catch him before his head smacks the railing. “Are you looking for a thrashing, Ian?”

He laughs. “If I were, you wouldn’t be the soul to deliver it.”

My brow lifts. “Care to test your theory?”

“Enough bickering, gentlemen,” says Zed from below. “We have more pressing matters to discuss, and diversions will not help us resolve our most grievous problems.”

Ian lets out a long huff. “Yapping your jaws won’t help us get Peter to the underground, either.”

“You two are managing the deed just fine from where I’m standing.”

Having had enough of the squabble, I decide my previous idea was best. I take a deep breath and concentrate. My arms elongate while black fur covers my face and skin. My shirt shreds, and my pants rip along the seams.

Ian shrugs and drops Peter’s legs, which leaves me to drag him down the staircase. It takes a matter of minutes to descend to the basement. I have Peter propped under one beefy arm without any difficulty. When he squirms, I punch him square in his jaw. He goes limp once again.

A musty smell reaches into my lungs, making me cough. It’s been a long while since we’ve been to the lower levels. We’ve had no need.

Zed yanks open the door and ushers me through. Once I have Peter secure in his cell, I morph back into my human form.

The lights are covered with a film of dust, casting the room in a yellow haze. Everything here is coated with a thick layer of grime. I’ve neglected more than my duties, it seems.

My remaining brothers and I move some chairs to a more suitable arrangement for conversation.

Zed is the first to speak. “We must not let the needs of humans overshadow ours. If we continue on our course, the outcome will be disastrous for both races.”

“Agreed,” I say, taking the opportunity to glance at Peter, who is still out cold or is pretending. He must start the decontamination process; however, it might be better to let Amelia have a go at him.

She could probably accomplish with one touch what would take us days. The trouble is I’m not sure how Amelia’s interaction with Eros has affected her.

Erobos are bad enough to deal with, but she had to face the true threat to my race and hers. Eros are neither good nor evil, yet they can be both.

From what we understand of them, they seek only power to unite into one form again. By nature, humans are light. For this reason Oneiroi came to their world, but we quickly learned the human dark side, when fed, can become more devious than any other race we’ve encountered.

Eros have latched onto the darkness and have nearly won. The only four Oneiroi remaining are in this room, and one is compromised.

I pull my matted hair out of my eyes and stare at Peter. How has it come to this?

The answer swirls inside me: I let lust for a woman rule me. Rhea was a cancer none of us expected. When she came to us, we had only lost a few thousand to the Eros. They had become Erobos, fostering darkness for the Eros inside them. Sometimes I wonder what would happen if we all fell.

Would I care anymore?

Would I regret like I do now?

Looking at Peter is too painful. I betrayed his trust. I may not have been the first to pursue Rhea, but Peter blames me for turning her head.

She was like no other Sibylline I had known. She was as a siren of the sea. I could not control my desire for her. I did everything in my power to make her mine, but she never could have belonged to me.

She belonged to another.

Volos was the first of our kind to turn Erobos. He soaked up so many Eros they could not be numbered.

Ian’s gaze pulls my attention. I have to explain. My brothers and I agreed we wouldn’t choose a recruit, possibly a mate, until the conflict with the Erobos was over . . . until after we’d reclaimed our fallen brethren; however, I’ve discovered our decision was a mistake—one I’m sure Rhea hoped we’d make. Her curse has left me wary to the point of defeat. None of my brothers know the exact extent of the spell — I hope they never will.

Ian’s anger radiates into me, making me stiffen. He has a right to be upset, but the accusation in his gaze still rankles. I shift on my chair, lifting an ankle to my knee. It is difficult to know where to start. “We were wrong, Ian.”

He leans back and crosses his arms, his eyes boring into mine. “You should have told us you had changed your mind before you made such a decision.” He glances at Zed. “You, too.”

When Zed approached me about Olivia, I should have been angry with him, yet I was relieved. I spread my hands. “We shall find a recruit for you, Ian. You needn’t worry.”

Ian’s stare turns into a glower. “None of us have time to devote to a recruit. Are you willing to risk your eternity so easily?”

Keeping myself steady, I answer, “I did not come to my decision lightly, brother.”

He shakes his head, jaw muscles jumping. “It wasn’t your decision to make. We had an accord.”

The justification rolls out of me so easily. “Amelia is unlike any Sibylline I’ve seen. Her purity is without question. She has been through much in her short life and has not succumbed to the darkness.”

Ian glances at Peter, which draws my attention. Peter is still where I have lain him. Once he wakes, we can assess the situation more fully. The equipment will only work while he is conscious.

Ian’s voice cuts off my thoughts. “He wasn’t bad off the last time I saw him.” He moves to the bars, leaning in as if to get a better look. “It’s only been a few weeks. I’ve stayed in contact with him, and he seemed fine.”

Odd. Nothing so drastic should happen in so short of time. “How do you think he was compromised?”

Sighing, Ian shrugs. “His quadrant has been overrun with darkness lately. Perhaps it became too much for him, and he was too stubborn to ask for help?”

It is impossible to know without speaking to him. “Perhaps,” I agree, giving Ian a mournful frown. “I’m sorry. I should have told you sooner.”

His hard expression does not change. After a casual tilt to his head, he pushes his chair onto two legs, leaning against the dust covered wall. Intense curiosity suffuses his tone. “How did you find her?”

My mind spins backward until I recall the moment I sensed Amelia. “I was searching for a new access portal and stumbled upon her world. At first glance, it seemed like any other Erobos tainted sphere. Because I was particularly weak, I did a search anyway, looking for some sign life could be had there. That was when I felt her.

“I was both curious and cautious when I approached her. Somehow, she had created a shield within her world. The outer layer seemed to have been harvested, yet once I passed her barriers, her world was more alive than any I had ever encountered.” Ian narrows his eyes but lets me continue. “I withdrew almost immediately. Her life force was too bright to handle after having lived on the dimming remnants within my territories. The one encounter fueled me for days.”

Ian grunts while Zed’s brows lift. A satisfied smile attaches to his lips. Zed has stayed silent until now. “Amelia is quite a prize, but we still need to trace her origins.”

Frustration rises in me. “For the last time, she is not Orphic.” She couldn’t be of the same lineage as Rhea.

Peter’s voice echoes mine. “She is not simply Sibylline, either, Seth.”

My chair clatters to the ground when I stand. Peter’s head turns toward me. His dark hair falls over his eyes, making it hard to gauge his mood or his situation. When he finally lifts his face, his eyes remain clear, but his lips are pulled in the telltale pain Eros inflict.

“How many?’ I ask him.

“Hundreds . . . at least,” he says, his voice strained.

The decontamination starts. I wince as the electricity slithers along his skin. His eyes never leave mine, his face contorting with agony he should not be feeling.

I will not drop his gaze. I’ve caused this, which makes his suffering mine to bear the only way I can.

In my periphery Ian rises; then he is gone. Zed follows him into the other room as Peter screams. I watch on, resolving to make this right, somehow.


I stand stiff as a stick, waiting for this guy to enlighten me about who I am or, at the very least, who he is.

All he does is study me. I study him back. His dark brown hair is nearly black, just like mine. His eyes are green like mine. Somehow, I thought he had brown eyes; in fact, I’m almost certain. So why the change? An odd thought strikes me. Could Brock be my brother? Is this what he wants me to think? The idea both excites and horrifies me. As much as I always wanted a sibling, he is not what I expected. My dad was messed up. If he didn’t die in an accident all those years ago, what happened to him?

It really wouldn’t have mattered for me. Considering what happened, there was no way the state would have given me back to him, but now I wonder why he abandoned me. My mom died; apparently he didn’t have that excuse.

After a few more moments of staring at each other, I finally cave. “Who are you, Brock?”

His eyes narrow slightly before he gives in. “As I said before, I am your protector.”

The breeze keeps blowing my hair into my eyes, so I pull it out of the way. “Right, and as I said, you’ve done a crap job. You could have helped me out before Seth came to get me, or, I don’t know, I lost part of my soul in the Dreamscape.”

His face blanches, but he remains stoic. “I serve you, but I also serve our race, Amelia. I cannot hinder what is destined.”

Seriously? “Destiny is a load. No one gets to say what happens to me but me.”

He smiles, the smarmy set of his mouth meant to charm. Definitely not my brother. I hope. “Too true, but there are also things we cannot alter.”

His philosophical garbage is getting on my nerves. “If this is how you’re going to talk to me, I’m outta here.”

He tilts his head, eyeing me up and down. “You’ve always been too anxious.”

I’d love to wipe the serene expression right off his face. “You try living my life and see if you come away anything else.”

Without so much as a hair out of place, he goes on. “Our kind has existed since this world was created. We’ve blended in with humans, adopted their culture, hailed their kings, and lived under their rule, but we are not the same as them.”

I blink, expecting him to tell me something really out there next, but a tiny part of me nods. Still, I’m skeptical. “If we aren’t human, what are we?”

“Oracles, at our basest form. We have abilities humans do not possess.”

My BS-ometer is starting to beep at me. “Really? If that’s true, why didn’t my dad use some of his abilities to deal with life, instead of finding it in a pipe?”

His tone lowers with barely concealed anger. “Your father did what he needed to do. He raised you in the way to best serve you.”

I can barely get the words out. “He abused me!”

Brock doesn’t even flinch. “You’re stronger for it.”

My body shakes with anger I’ve never acknowledged before. “You’re full of it. I’m damaged and heartbroken, and I don’t know if I will ever be normal.”

He gives me a smirk. “Normal is a fallacy.”

“And you’re annoying.” I’ve had enough of the guy, so I turn and leave. I listen intently, but he doesn’t move to follow me.

In less than ten strides, the jungle swallows me up. After a few minutes of walking, I pay more attention to my surroundings, which is a whole lot more useful than worrying over the dork back at the pool.

If my dad is still alive, I’ll kill him myself.


Death is an easy out — one I thought he already took. If my dad’s alive, I’m going to torment him.

The light around me flickers, dimming slightly. A fly lands on my arm, and I stop dead, watching it. In all the time I’ve been here, I’ve never noticed insects.

Nabeel had insects in his dream world. I’d never seen anything like the world he created; it was crazy cool. The totally odd part was he lived in a horrible apartment with cockroaches the size of mice. What does having bugs in your world mean?

Worry clouds my mind, but I make myself move again. The jungle gets thicker the deeper I travel, and I suddenly wish I had a machete.

One appears in my hand. I smile, letting the adrenaline of my swirling emotions fill me to the brim.

Using way too much force, I hack away at the overgrown vines and bushes, picturing Brock’s face as I slice and dice. Pretty soon a different set of green eyes replace his. The jaw becomes more pronounced, and the cheeks become too linear.

I’ve tried to wipe my dad’s memory from my mind, but it’s still there — an ulcer eating away at my heart.

He should have loved me; he should have protected me. Instead, he threw me away, just like everyone else.

Justine comes to mind. She didn’t mean to leave me, but it doesn’t much matter now. She still did.

An intense buzzing brings me out of my head. I’ve made it to a clearing where millions of flies cover every surface I can see … the grass, the trees, the wilting flowers. It’s all matted with a writhing layer of shiny black. Something else moves underneath this mire of filth, and I’m caught off guard when the doe races forward. Her wide brown eyes are momentarily free from the flies, but they cover her once again, until she stumbles and falls.

The horror of the moment hits my stomach. I gag. Nothing comes up, but I dry heave until my muscles scream. Once I get control of my emotions, a single thought cycles my mind: I can’t let these things have her.

Rushing forward, I search for her shape among the writhing mass. Again, she tries to escape, but they catch her, bringing her down. I can’t stand being helpless. This is my dream — my world.

When I reach her, I push through the flies matting her fur, brushing as many away as I can. Some of them squish under my fingers, making me heave again.

Just when I think I’ve got her, something else slithers up my arm — a slick black snake with red diamonds along its spine. Normally, I’d be intrigued by the creature, but it rears back to lung at me. I fling it into the trees before it sinks its fangs into my arm.

I need to wake up. Why am I not waking up?

The flies swarm me, and I scream. The sound fills the space until I cover my ears, but I can’t stop screaming. I race for the jungle, the buzz of the swarm following.

My heartbeat thuds in my neck, and my throat tightens on another scream. They’re closing in on me. I’m bigger than them, but as a swarm they can consume me . . . just like they did the deer.


I race onward, pushing through the jungle. If I can make it to the pool, I can —


My body shakes as darkness clouds my vision. A tunnel of light opens up and sucks me into it until I —

Open my eyes to a bright light. My limbs are so heavy it takes me a moment to register they are there.

I blink at the beautiful face in front of me. His blue eyes are stained with worry, while his lips are rimmed in white. I brush my fingertips along the lines creasing his forehead. “Seth.”

Before I can inhale, I’m in his arms. He buries his face into the hollow of my neck. I try not to giggle from the tickle of his scruff on my skin. It’s not right to laugh after what I just went through.

“It’s okay,” I tell him, hoping it really is.

His voice dips low, almost a whisper. “I couldn’t get you to wake.” When he pulls away, liquid fire lights his eyes. “I thought you were lost to me.”

I give him what is meant as a reassuring smile. “I’ve been here the entire time.”

He shakes his head. “You were not here, only a shell of you.”

My heart pulsates at the tenderness in his words. He’s totally freaking out. There’s no way I can tell him about my dream.

As if he’s read my mind, he asks, “Where were you just now?”


Amelia’s attempt to calm me only solidifies my worry. She’s taking too long to answer, as if concocting a tale as she stares at me.

Her hands shake when I take them between mine. She glances away.

I smooth the hair at her temple, seeking a connection again. She won’t look at me.

When I stand up, her eyes follow me. I make my way around the bed, watching her reaction the entire time. My heart beats slow until the rhythm is close to normal.

Under my scrutiny, her pale skin pinks along her cheeks. Her dark eyelashes flutter, then settle closed. Without a word uttered, I pull back the covers and slide in beside her. The circular bed only offers a comfortable position right next to her. All the better for me.

I have not showered, but I do not care. I need Amelia to be whole.

She should not have risked her soul to save Kelsby.

The truth is I should have done a better job of protecting her.

She molds herself to me when I take her in my arms. Her soft breath chuffs against my neck, and her pulse remains rapid. I hold her, trying to find a way to express my regrets, my failings. “I’m sorry,” I say when nothing else comes.

She shakes her head. “It’s okay. I’m okay.”

My chest rumbles with a laugh. “You’re not a convincing liar, Amelia.” My fingers curl into her hair, and I stare at the crystal ceiling above us. The light dims at my mental command. She does not reply, so I press her, “I know you, remember?”

She pulls back slightly. “Not really. I wish I did.”

Her memories are locked inside her mind somewhere. They have to be. “Me too, Mel.”

The second my pet name for her is out of my mouth, I grit my teeth. Predictably, she stiffens. “Sorry, I meant to say, Amelia.”

A sigh hisses from her lips before she tucks her face against my neck again. “No. It’s okay if you call me that . . . if you want to.”

My arms tighten around her. “We’ll get through this.” I need to tell her about Peter. I need to prepare her for what’s to come, if such a thing is possible. Why then can I not find the words?

Her voice shakes when she speaks. “Seth?” As if uncomfortable, she clears her throat.

My fingers glide over her back, dipping along the silhouette of her hip. “Mmm?”

With the lightest touch, she plays with my collar. “I think something bad happened to me.”

My gut clenches. “What do you mean?”

“My dream just now. It was a nightmare. Horrible. There were flies everywhere, and a snake, and just . . . horrible.”

I take her shoulders to push her away until I can see her beautiful green eyes. “Where were you?” If she left her dream world, I will need to excuse myself to the training room. I asked her to stay put.

“I waited for a while, but I went into the jungle looking for you.” She hesitates a little too long for my liking before she says, “There was a man in my dream. He said my dad sent him to protect me.”

My lungs constrict, and my muscles harden. I’m barely able to keep my fingers from balling into fists. Somehow, I manage to continue to stroke her back and keep my tone level. “Who was he? Have you seen him before?”

“It was the guy from Charlotte’s dream. The one I was dancing with. He came to me once before…moments before you brought me here. He warned me about you.”

I lift my brows. “Didn’t seem to help.”

She smiles. “You’re telling me. He said his name was Brock.”

“What else did he say?”

Her lips press together as her eyes crease at the corners. “Claimed my dad is alive.” She quiets for a moment. I can’t seem to bring myself to comment. “I didn’t want to hear what he had to say, so I went searching for you. He warned me not to go into the jungle.”

I must find this man, discover what his goals are, his weaknesses. Thus far, he has not actually been a help to Amelia. This is a good thing for me, yet I am curious what his motivation for contact is. I searched everywhere for a trace of Amelia’s family. If her father is alive, it could only mean one thing: I have work to do.

“I’m sorry I wasn’t there for you, Mel. Unfortunately, I had my own nightmare to deal with.”

She searches my face, for what, I’m not sure. “What happened? I knew there had to be something wrong when you didn’t come back.”

My tone grows dark with the tension inside. “It’s Peter. He’s been compromised.”

She gasps, her eyes widening in alarm. “What does that mean?”

“He brought Eros to Headquarters.”

Her hand slides along my arm, down to my fingertips. Her touch quickens my body until my mind retreats. Her dark emotions are the only thing keeping me from seeking my pleasure with her. Still, I brush my lips against hers.

She shivers.

I smile.

“I should have been there,” she says.

Having her with me would have been a burden. I would have been too concerned for her to take care of my brother. Now he has been decontaminated, the circumstances have changed. “He is contained, but we won’t know if he remains tainted for a while. I will not lie to you. Your help would be very valuable.”

Her mood lifts, and I breathe a bit easier when she asks, “What do you need me to do?”

“Right now, I need you to tell me all you know about your father.”

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