Angelia debated on the sanity of that. Telling her that she'd helped kidnap Fury and then stood back while two of her tessera ruthlessly tortured him didn't seem like an award-winning act of intelligence.
More like suicide given the nature of these "people."
"I'm not sure how to answer that."
Bride's gaze narrowed. "Then you must be one of the ones who hurt him."
"No," she said indignantly. "I didn't torture him. I wouldn't do that to anyone."
Bride cocked her head suspiciously. "But you let it happen."
She was smarter than Angelia wanted. "I did stop them."
"After how long? Fury was in pretty bad shape and I know how much damage he can take and still stand and fight. To pass out like he did. . . someone beat him for a while."
Angelia looked away, ashamed. It actually hurt her on a deeper level than she would have thought possible that she hadn't intervened sooner. What kind of person stood by while someone was brutalized? Especially someone she'd once called friend.
Yet twice now in her life, she'd allowed Fury to almost be killed and done nothing to protect him.
She wasn't any better than the animals she hated, and that part of herself she despised even more.
"I'm not proud of it, all right. I should have done something sooner and I know it. But I did keep them from doing anything more to him."
"You're rationalizing your cruelty."
Angelia clenched her teeth. "I'm not rationalizing anything. Honestly, I just want to go home. I don't like this time period and I don't like being here with my enemies."
Bride gave her no reprieve. "And I don't like what was done to Fury, but until I know more about it, we're not enemies. The hostility at this point is only coming from you. I told Fury I'd keep you company and that's what I'm doing. No enmity here."
Angelia cut a vicious glare toward the woman and her patronizing tone. "You have no idea what this feels like."
"Oh wait. . ." Bride said with a sarcastic laugh. "I was minding my own business when Bryani sent in a demon to kidnap me here in my time period and take me to her village in medieval England—this back when I didn't even know such things were possible. Once there, everyone I came into contact with threatened me when I'd done absolutely nothing to any of them, ever. And that included Dare Kattalakis. Then the males of their patria tried to rape me for no other reason than I was mated to Vane. . . Oh, wait, what am I saying? We hadn't gone through the mating ritual yet. They were willing to attack me for nothing more than bearing his mark. So, I think I do have a little clue about what you're feeling here. And in our defense, you're not being manhandled."
Angelia put more distance between them. What Bride described had been four years ago. And though she hadn't participated in it, she knew from the others how much damage they'd intended to do to the woman before her, and that sickened her, too. "I wasn't there when they did that to you. I was out on patrol. I only heard about it afterward."
"Well, bully for you. It was still extremely traumatic for me. And unlike your people, I can assure you that not a single wolf in this house will attack you unless you provoke it by something you do against them."
Angelia scoffed at her arrogance and naivete. "You're human. How can you entrust your life to animals? Don't you understand how savage they are?"
Bride shrugged. "My father's a veterinarian. I was raised around all kinds of animals, wild and tame, feathered, furred, scaled, and other. And honestly, I find them much more predictable than any human. They don't backstab and they don't lie or betray. In all my life, I've never had an animal hurt my feelings or make me cry because of something they did."
"Count yourself lucky," Angelia sneered. "I watched my entire family as they were eaten alive by the very pack of animals you have downstairs in your house with your child. The blood of my parents flowed from their bodies through the floorboards and drenched me while I lay in terror of being torn apart by them."
She looked to the crib where Bride's son slumbered, peacefully unaware of how much danger he was in because of his mother's stupidity. "I was only a year older than your child when it happened. My parents gave their lives for mine and I watched as they gave them. So you'll have to excuse me if I have a hard time thinking good of any animal except those who are dead or caged."
"It really makes you wonder what the animals did to be provoked, doesn't it?"
Angelia turned at the sound of the low, deep voice that rumbled like thunder and sent chills over her. Standing head and shoulders above her, this man had a bad attitude so fierce it bled from every pore of his skin.
Dressed all in black, he wore jeans, Harley biker boots, and a short-sleeved t-shirt that showed off a perfect male body. He had a long silver sword earring in his left lobe with a hilt made of a skull and crossbones.
As he scanned her body, his lips were twisted into a sneer made even more ominous by his black goatee. Straight black hair that reached to his shoulders was brushed back from a pair of startlingly blue eyes.
His demeanor tough and lethal, he reminded her of a cold-blooded killer. And when he looked at her she had the feeling he was measuring her for a coffin.
Her heart pounding, she glanced down to his left hand. Each finger, including his thumb, was covered with a long, articulated silver claw and tipped with a point so sharp that it was obviously his weapon of choice. This man liked to get down and dirty with his kills.
To call him psychotic would be a step up for him.
Instinctively, she took three steps back.
Bride laughed a happy sound as she saw him and disregarded the fact that he obviously wasn't right in the head and that he was most likely an even bigger threat to them than the wolves downstairs. "Z . . . what on earth are you doing here?"
He cut those cold eyes away from her and focused on Bride. "Astrid wanted me to check on Sasha. Apparently something bad went down at Sanctuary last night and she's worried about his safety."
Bride's eyes widened. "So what do you know?"
He cut a suspicious glance toward Angelia that made her blood run cold. "Some Arcadians have found a way to trap Katagaria in their animal forms and strip out their magick. Sasha said the ones responsible attacked Fury and no one had seen him since. Hence my unannounced presence here without Trace's playmate. If Sasha's threatened, Astrid's upset. If Astrid's upset, I'm going to kill whatever's upsetting her until she's happy again. So where's Fury?"
From any other man, that would have come across as a joke, but Angelia didn't doubt for one instant that Z fully intended to carry out his threat. Especially not the way he was flexing those claws on his hand.
"Wow, Zarek," Bride said slowly, her eyes shining with amusement. "I think that may be the most words you've ever spoken to me during any single visit. Maybe even all of them combined. I'm impressed. As for Fury, I think I should state that he's not the one who upset Sasha, so please don't kill him. I'd miss him if he was gone. He was badly wounded and passed out as soon as he got home."
He let out an expletive so foul, Angelia actually blushed from it.
Zarek narrowed his gaze in her direction. "What about her? Does she know anything?" The tone of it wasn't a question. It was an undeniable threat.
Angelia straightened and tensed, ready to fight if need be. "I'm an Aristos. I don't think you want to tangle with me."
He scoffed at her bravado. "Like I give a shit. I'm a god, baby, so in the grand scheme of things, if I wanted to rip your head off and use it for a bowling ball, there's not many who could stop me and most of those who could would be too afraid of me to even try."
She had a feeling he wasn't boasting.
"Zarek," Bride said in a chiding tone. "I don't think torturing her will get you the information you want."
A slow, sinister smile curved his handsome lips. "Yeah, but it could be fun. I say let's try it and see." He stepped forward.
Bride planted herself in front of him. "I know you want to please your wife, and I can seriously appreciate that. But I told Fury that she'd be safe. Please don't make me a liar, Z."
He growled deep in his throat and for the first time Angelia respected Bride, who didn't flinch under his cutthroat scrutiny.
"Fine, Bride. But I want to know what's going on, and if I have to stay here without my wife and child for too long . . . let's just say it won't go well for any of you. Where's Vane?"
"With Fury. First door on your right."
He flexed his claws before he turned and left. He started to slam the door, then glanced back at the sleeping toddler and changed his mind.
He closed it quietly.
"Thank you," Angelia said as soon as they were alone. "You're welcome."
She rubbed her hands up and down her arms in an effort to dispel the chills his presence had left behind. "Is he always like that?"
Bride covered her baby with a small blue blanket. "Actually, I'm told he's a lot mellower now than he used to be. When Vane first met him, he really was suicidal and psychotic."
"And you think that's changed . . . how?"
Bride smiled. "Good point, but believe it or not, when he brings his son over to play with mine, he's actually very gentle with the two of them."
That she would pay money to see. She couldn't imagine someone that insane being paternal or tender.
Pushing Zarek out of her thoughts, Angelia walked to the window to look out on the street below. It was so unlike her home. But she knew that Dare and Oscar would be looking for her. Dare was one of the best trackers in their patria. He shouldn't have any trouble finding her and bringing help.
May the gods have mercy on this pack when they arrived. . .
"So . . ." Bride said, letting her voice trail off a bit. "Care to tell me what this weapon is that you guys have invented?"
Angelia didn't speak. The weapon was ingenious, and it was one they would die to protect. With it, they had proven that mankind was at the top of the food chain. None of the animals in the Katagaria would have ever been able to design it.
It was the one thing that could protect her people from them forever.
"It really makes you wonder what the animals did to be provoked, doesn't it?" Z's words haunted her. Honestly, she'd never really thought about that before. All she'd ever heard was that the attack had been unprovoked and undeserved.
She had no reason to doubt that.
But what if it hadn't been?
"Why did Bryani attack you?" she asked Bride.
"She claimed she was trying to save me from being mated to her monster of a son. Personally, I think she was just a little whacko."
That was an undisputed fact. Bryani had been the daughter of their leader. As such, her story was known by everyone. It was a story the mothers in their patria used to frighten misbehaving children. Given what the Katagaria had done to the poor woman, it was amazing she had what little sanity she did. "They kept her in their den and repeatedly raped her. Did you know that?"
Bride's expression turned sad and sympathetic. It was obvious the tragedy of that event wasn't lost on her. "Only Vane's father did that, but yes. Vane has told me everything about his family."
"And did he ever say why they attacked us that night?"
Bride frowned. "Don't you know?"
"We have theories. Everything from the wolves must have been hungry and smelled our food to they were rabid Slayers bent on drinking our blood. But no, no one knows why we were attacked."
Bride looked stunned by her words. Her expression turned from disbelief to disgust. "Oh, they know exactly what they did. They just don't want anyone else to know. Those lying dogs . . ."
Now it was Angel ia's turn to be baffled. "What are you talking about?"
When Bride answered, her tone was rife with anger and disdain. "Not one male in your pack has ever confessed to what they did?"
"We were innocent victims."
"Yeah, and I'm the tooth fairy. Trust me. The attack was provoked." Bride shook her head. "You know, I will say this, the Katagaria at least admit what they do. They don't lie to cover it up."
"Well, if you know so much, then please enlighten me about what happened."
"Fine. The Katagaria had a group of females who were pregnant and unable to travel." That was common to both the Arcadian and Katagaria. Once a female was pregnant, she couldn't shapeshift or use her power to teleport until after the children or pups were born.
Bride folded her arms over her chest. "Since they were in medieval England at the time the females conceived, the males took their females deep into the woods away from any people or their villages to make their den in safety. They'd been there for several weeks with no problems. Then one night, the males went out to hunt for food. They found deer and were chasing them when two of the wolves ended up in snares.
"Vane's father, Markus, turned human to free the two who were trapped and while he was at it, he was approached by a group of Arcadian males—the ones who'd set those traps. Markus tried to explain that they meant no harm to them, but before he could, the Arcadians executed the two wolves in the traps, then shot arrows at the others. Outnumbered, the pack returned to their den where they found most of their women and children missing."
Angelia swallowed as a bad premonition went through her.
"The wolves tracked their scent back to Bryani's camp, where they found the remains of most of their women. They'd been butchered and their hides strung up to tan. There were a handful of pups still alive, but caged. So the wolves waited until nightfall. . . At dusk, a group of the Katagaria led the Arcadian males out of camp so that the others could go in and free their remaining women and children. Bryani's father and others attacked them and the brutal fighting you remember happened."
Angelia shook her head in denial. "You lie! They attacked us unprovoked. There was no reason for what they did. None."
"Sweetie," Bride said in a gentle tone, "you don't know the real truth any more than I do. I can only tell you what Vane's pack has told me about that event. Honestly, I believe them for several reasons. One, they don't have any females that old. Something happened to kill them off. And now every male over four hundred years old in their pack is insanely protective of any female brought in. I've been with the wolves for the last four years and not once have I seen them be aggressive to anyone unless they or their pack was threatened. Nor have I ever known one of them to lie. If anything, they're honest to the point of brutality."
Angelia still refused to believe it. "My people wouldn't have attacked women and children."
"They tried to attack me."
"For what? Vane hadn't hurt them and I most certainly hadn't. Not one male in your entire patria, including your leader, Vane's own grandfather, would come to my defense. None. But I tell you what. If anyone or anything came into this house and threatened me, there's not a wolf downstairs who wouldn't give his life to keep me safe. And that goes for any female in their pack, too."