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A Draught of Deep Desire

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"You're an exceptionally talented woman," Eric said judiciously, leaning back in his chair. "My brother was a fool to waste you."

Adalind let herself preen a little, smiling into her wine glass. "He's been so obsessed with the Grimm! He should have let me kill him right at the start. I bet we'd have found the key easily enough. Instead ..." She flashed a smirk at Eric.

Instead, Sean was out of the running, and Eric would end up on top, with her right by his side. She'd make certain of that.

"Well," Eric said, his face darkening, "of course he wanted a Grimm of his own. But he doesn't have him, does he? My dear brother is still hiding from him."

"Of course he is! If Nick knew the truth about Sean ..." That was a fun thought.

Eric's eyes flashed. "Indeed. If the Grimm knew, he would be busy fighting my brother, wouldn't he? And my brother would have no chance of finding use for the Grimm. I'd call that almost ideal circumstances for our own project."

"Project?" Adalind was sure she knew what he meant. But it never hurt to play a little stupid, even – or especially – while she was advertising her talents. It wouldn't do to make poor Prince Eric feel threatened, after all. She had plans for him.

"You'll find that key for me, won't you?" Eric brushed a finger under her chin. "But first things first. You'll have to make certain something comes between my brother and the Grimm."

Adalind blinked. "You're sending me back to Portland." She'd expected that, but –

He smiled across the table, all insincere charm. "Good journey, Adalind."

She returned the smile, inwardly seething. Damn it, she wasn't done here. And she could have used the truth against Sean, could have threatened to expose him to Nick if he didn't find that key for her. Now Eric had undermined that promising strategy.

On the other hand, the curse she'd put on Nick's girlfriend hadn't been nearly punishment enough. Sean, the bastard, deserved far worse, and so did the Grimm.

Adalind's smile turned genuine. She knew just the thing.

~*~

Nick approached the apartment door with caution. Whatever Adalind had claimed over the phone, he wasn't going to believe a word. She'd said she could cure Juliette; she'd said she'd do it if he paid the price. She hadn't mentioned the key, merely taunted him over Juliette's memory loss and then demanded he meet her.

For a moment Nick wondered if he should have left Aunt Marie's key behind, hidden it somewhere else. But it would be just like Adalind to count on that, trap him somewhere and then rifle through his things. No; it was safest with him, at least for the moment.

Adalind had tried to blackmail him before, had nearly killed Hank trying to force Nick to hand over the key. He wouldn't put it past her to try the same thing again, despite the way it had gone for her. Nick smirked viciously to himself. Taking away her Hexenbiest powers had served her right.

But of course it hadn't stopped there. What she'd done to Juliette ...

Nick bit down on the mindless fury seething in his gut. Juliette, looking at him as a stranger, not knowing him at all – that had been the most terrifying moment of his life. And Rosalee had no idea if her memories would ever come back. What if they didn't? What if he never got Juliette back – and worse, what if she refused to get to know him again?

No. No, he couldn't think that. Adalind had to know how to reverse her own curse. And she was merely human now. If he could just get his hands on her ...

Strangling her wouldn't help, but perhaps he could squeeze some answers out of her. After he smashed his fist into her face.

Nick forced down the anger. He needed to stay in control. He wasn't going down that road again. Helpless rage had never done him any good before, not after his parents died, not after what happened to Juliette. He needed to think, not lash out, no matter how satisfying it would be.

He couldn't let himself be provoked into doing something rash. There was too much at stake. He needed to win this.

So here he was, quietly approaching a door in a nondescript apartment building, hand on his gun in its holster at his back, tense and ready for a fight.

Not what he'd expected to do, on a work-free Saturday afternoon. But Juliette was probably glad to have him out of the house for a bit, this stranger she'd been saddled with who lived in her house, insisting she knew him. Damn Adalind. Damn her to hell.

Dark anticipation roiling in his gut, Nick pulled his gun and tried the door with his free hand. It was unlocked. He could hear nothing from inside.

A moment later he was through the door, and a quick sweep revealed the furnished studio apartment and its bathroom empty. There was no sign anyone had spent any amount of time here recently; it looked like a motel room more than anything.

No sign of Adalind. No sign of a trap.

Nick's head snapped toward the open door. Steps in the corridor, flat shoes with leather soles, no heels. Too heavy to be Adalind's. Nick took position beside the door, gun at the ready.

The steps went quiet. Then a large shadow fell through the door, and a moment later Nick was face to face with the new arrival. Two guns pointed at each other.

Nick blinked in shock at Captain Renard, but his gun didn't waver. "You?"

"Burkhardt?" Renard looked just as surprised. His eyes swept the room, then he kicked the door shut behind him and lowered his gun. "What are you doing here?"

Nick, thrown entirely off script, found himself reluctant to follow the gesture. After a moment he made himself point his gun toward the floor. This was his commanding officer, after all. Hardly an enemy. Or was he? He met Renard's eyes, but could read nothing in the man's face. Hopefully the same was true for Renard. "I could ask you the same thing, Captain."

This wasn't right. Did the captain have anything to do with Adalind? How could he? Adalind was – had been – a Hexenbiest. None of this made sense, unless ...

Unless Renard knew a lot more than Nick had thought. Was that possible?

Damn.

"I got a call," Renard said, voice cautious and controlled, not looking away from Nick. "You?"

"Me too."

The captain's eyes seemed to penetrate him, and Nick met the considerable force of that gaze, not backing off. Renard might be his boss, but neither of them was here as a police officer. That was the one thing he was sure of.

And it meant he couldn't trust Renard.

The realization threw him, upset his equilibrium in ways he'd never anticipated. Who could he trust, these days? But Renard belonged to the part of his life that he'd never had to doubt. Renard was his commanding officer, and a good one. He was police, ordinary, safe.

Except Nick must have missed something crucial, and there was no time now to re-examine everything.

Damn; he'd been caught unawares, unprepared for this confrontation, with no time to sift through his suspicions, his instincts, to decide which to act on.

Meanwhile, the captain seemed to come to some sort of decision. He gave Nick a jerky nod and turned away, taking in the room they were standing in. Nick watched him closely, not letting his attention waver for a second as long strides took Renard around the pull-out sofa and past the cheap television set. Then Renard's eyes fell on a jar sitting on the bookshelf above the TV, and he froze for an instant before he whirled around.

"Get out!" he called, and Nick's body responded to the command, to that particular tone in his superior officer's voice, rushing for the door even as behind Renard, a cloud of something exploded from the seemingly innocuous jar.

Nick got no further than a hand on the doorknob. Then, simultaneously, his conscious thoughts and the explosion caught up with him. The cloud encompassed him, and he held his breath, fingers clenching around the doorknob –

– but it slipped from his grasp, even as his gun fell from his suddenly useless right hand, hitting the carpet with a dull thud. The room whirled around him. Nick swayed. Everything seemed very far away, yet simultaneously scraping against his skin.

Then the air cleared, and he was standing, forehead pressed against the dirty-white paint of the door, feeling eyes drilling into the back of his head. He spun around.

Renard was standing still, hands clenched at his side, his green eyes wide not with shock but with an intensity Nick had never seen in anyone's eyes before. Mesmerizing. Nick stood arrested. His lips parted a little, and somehow it felt like triumph when Renard's did the same. There was no looking away.

Hadn't there been something he'd been paying attention to? Something he'd been thinking. Something important. It was there, somewhere at the edge of his thoughts. His skin felt hot, burning. He rubbed his hands over his face, his forearms, clawed at his shirt.

There'd been something he'd wanted. What was it again?

Renard. He couldn't trust him. He didn't know him. But he'd always trusted him before.

It was Renard.

His eyes still fixed on the man, Nick started forward, more a jerk than a step. Renard gasped, and heat stabbed through Nick, a lightning strike that goosefleshed his skin even as it rolled through him, a ball of condensed heat and energy, pooling in his belly, in his cock.

Then Renard moved.

Nick's back slammed into the door, knocking his breath out of him. The back of his head collided painfully with the wood. But rather than knocking him out of his haze as he might have expected, his entire body seemed to jerk awake with the force of the impact. The adrenaline sent another flush of heat through him. His skin tingled, and he was suddenly aware of every piece of fabric. Even the softness of his t-shirt seemed too tight, a chafing constriction. A draft of air shivered against gooseflesh, and his hips jerked forward into air, his cock suddenly straining against his jeans.

And Renard was right there. Hands braced on the door on both sides of Nick's head, his height and bulk overwhelming, only an inch from chest against chest.

Grab him. Pull him close. He could. He should. He wanted. But instead Nick held still, panting, because it would be better if Renard –

– because surely Renard would –

A firm thigh pressed itself between Nick's legs, hot and hard and powerful. Renard's head was bowed down towards him, his breath warm against Nick's face. Nick couldn't think. His hips surged helplessly, and Renard chuckled darkly.

"Just like that," he murmured, his voice low and thrumming against every nerve ending Nick had. Renard twisted his hips, pressing his own erection into Nick. Nick groaned, a sound that seemed to come straight from his gut, and they were thrusting against each other, mindless and rough, Renard knocking Nick back into the door and Nick bracing himself against it to meet every move.

Then Renard's hands closed on his shoulders in a vice grip, and suddenly Nick was tumbling through the air, flung to the side, landing in a heap on the floor. His bones rang with the shock of it, and again it went straight to his cock. His body sang.

For a moment Nick simply lay stunned, awash in the surge of it as Renard stood panting, hands clenched tightly, looking down at Nick with such overwhelming want, Nick thought the force of it might shatter him to pieces.

"Wow," he managed, and he sounded giddy, shaken apart, losing himself. He wanted to lose himself in something better than violence, cleaner than anger. Let himself fall, and –

What a way to go.

Strong, though. That throw had been strong, incredibly strong. Nick shivered. There was something about that he should be noticing, a niggling feeling at the back of his head. But Renard was already prowling towards him, and Nick's cock throbbed. He ground the heel of his hand into it through his jeans and made no effort to clear his mind, or to get back on his feet.

Then Renard's foot nudged his hand away and came down on the bulge between his legs, harsh and unforgiving. Nick fell back, losing what vestiges of thought he'd had. Falling. Just this once, letting go. No should or shouldn't, no reason or purpose, only this.

All of him seemed concentrated on the hard leather sole of Renard's shoe, pressing down on his cock. He bucked up, tried to push back against it. His spine arched with it, but he couldn't get traction, and it wasn't enough. He needed more, needed it harder. Narrowed down to a single feeling. He'd never before felt this pure, this single-minded, other than in fury, and even that had been tainted with guilt. But this wasn't anger; this was better; this was –

A whining noise escaped his throat.

Above him, Renard hissed – a sharp draw of breath between the teeth. "Yes," he whispered, his voice harsh and raw, "just like this." And, his eyes glued to Nick's face, he increased the pressure of his foot.

Nick gave a voiceless gasp. His body convulsed, every sinew and muscle drawing tight. "Yes," he echoed, helplessly. "More – god, more –"

More was almost too much, was pressure so hard it was painful, and still it wasn't enough. He lay there, gasping like a fish on land, needing more like he needed air, but he couldn't – he didn't – he had no idea how –

Then the pressure was gone entirely, and Nick groaned a wordless protest, but Renard was above him, yanking him up, fingers hooked into the collar of his t-shirt, and yes, okay, this –

Their mouths collided in the middle, Nick scrambling to get his balance sitting up, Renard down on one knee. Lips and teeth, devouring, inescapable. When they came apart, Renard jerked his head, and his face changed, like a cruel mixture between a Hexenbiest and a human, or part dead and part living. Nick's eyes went wide.

Woged. It was prickling at the back of his head, a thought he could almost grasp. Don't trust him. But then their mouths met again, wet and greedy, and there was no room for any thought but yes and this and more, and he abandoned himself to it.

Suddenly Renard let go again, and Nick swayed back, trying to get a better look at Renard's face. It was human again, but it looked nothing like he'd ever seen the captain before – eyes dilated, mouth open and panting and wet with both their saliva, a red flush on his cheeks. God. Nick moaned at the sight.

Even so, it didn't happen too fast for him to react. Nick was a Grimm; there were few things faster than him. He could have twisted away, could have avoided the strike. Instead he stayed exactly where he'd been, savoring the fraction of a second of anticipation as Renard slapped him hard, a backhanded blow on one cheek, an open-palmed smack on the other. Nick's head was thrown back and forth. He breathed through the sharp impact, the renewed flush of adrenaline and lust it gave him. "Yeah?" he breathed, half question, half demand.

"Yes," Renard rasped, and his hand shot out, fingers wrapping around Nick's wrist, lifting it between them. Nick stared down at it, breathing hard.

Only almost too fast to see it coming, Nick found himself being swung around, arms twisted behind his back. His arms were pulled up at an awkward angle, forcing his shoulders forward. He let himself fall into the hold, let himself feel the strain in his shoulders and his biceps, the hard grip on his wrists. Falling. Then he was bent over Renard's knee, his wrists held at the small of his back in Renard's large hands.

"Hold still," Renard hissed.

The grip shifted to a one-handed hold. Nick was breathing hard, and his cock was throbbing between his legs. He knew what Renard was doing, could hear it, feel it. And then – yes – something wrapped around his wrists. Leather. A belt.

God. He twitched convulsively, and as if in reaction – as if in reward – Renard's hand came down hard across his buttocks, the impact jolting pleasure through him as he gasped for air.

"Please," he managed eventually, and perhaps Renard had been waiting for that, because he obliged – blow after blow after blow, and he'd never been so hard in his life, had never needed anything this much, had never felt so high, so clear. Nick could feel the bulge in Renard's trousers against his side, surging against him in rhythm. Oh god. How had he never ...

He lost the thought before it could fully form, because Renard was yanking him up again, and he almost complained, almost resisted. Almost. But then he was face to face with Renard again, and that hungry look shivered over him again, and that was nearly as good.

Renard let go of him and stood up. Nick did whimper in complaint then, but those large, long-fingered hands were going to Renard's fly, unbuttoning, unzipping. Renard's cock was large and thick and red, the head dripping with pre-come, and Renard's hand closed around it for a moment, squeezing. Nick licked his lips. He couldn't drag his eyes away.

With a smirk, Renard reached out, fingers combing into Nick's hair, digging into Nick's skull. He dragged Nick close, held him firmly in place. He pushed himself into Nick's mouth roughly, and Renard's groan went through Nick like his own pleasure, right down to his toes.

Renard moved one leg forward, between Nick's thighs, and Nick rocked against it, moaning around Renard's cock, the heady taste of salt and musk overwhelming him.

Renard didn't go slow. He gave Nick no time to adjust, simply fucked his mouth hard and deep, the head of his cock hitting the back of Nick's throat with every thrust. Nick could only let Renard use him, could do nothing else –

No. He could have ripped himself away. But Renard's cock was in his mouth, and Renard's leg was between his, and his entire body was burning, and – no. No.

No violence. No anger. No fighting. Only this.

A line of spittle ran down the corner of his mouth. His eyes watered. His throat convulsed. Nick held still, pliant in Renard's grasp. Floating. Flying.

Finally – too soon – Renard pulled him back by the scruff of his neck, and Nick nearly fought his bonds in earnest then – Renard's cock was slipping from his mouth, and his crotch was losing contact with Renard's leg.

Then Renard's cock slapped wetly against his cheek, and he couldn't think, couldn't ask, could only strain toward.

"Yes," Renard hissed above him, again.

He gripped Nick by the shoulders and forced him around, then shoved him forward. With his hands tied behind his back, Nick couldn't catch himself, and he fell face down onto the sofa. Suddenly Renard's hands were on the waistband of his jeans, then on the zipper, and a moment later his cock finally sprang free, unconstrained, even as he tried to kick off his shoes and jeans at once, only succeeding in tangling it all around his ankles.

Without the pressure of his jeans containing it, his cock felt even more like bursting, and his balls had drawn up so tight they ached. Why hadn't he come by now – why hadn't either of them? He'd never felt like this before, straining yet relaxed, desperate and calm at the same time. He never wanted this to end.

A chuckle. Strong fingers pressed between his legs, and Renard pulled his thighs apart, none too gently. "Yes ..."

A long finger was shoved into him, roughly, possessively, and Nick's hips thrust helplessly forward into air, his straining cock gaining no friction. A dark laugh. A second finger, joining the first, going deep. A whimpering sound escaped Nick's throat. It hurt, but in a good way, in a way he could fall into, and he needed more, needed ... needed ...

He couldn't quite grasp the thought, much less reach for what he needed, could only arch his back and push back against the fingers now thrusting into him in quick, violent thrusts, stabbing into his prostate with unerring accuracy, setting his body on fire, floating him on endorphins.

A thought swam to the surface in his addled mind: What am I doing? What are we doing? But it was only a distant curiosity, immediately drifting away again, swept away with the rush of his pleasure.

Renard's fingers wrecked him, thrusting and teasing and stretching until he felt like a quivering mess. Had he thought he'd been on the edge before? He'd been worlds and ages away. Now, every time he thought he couldn't last another moment, he couldn't possibly be turned on more, his balls couldn't draw up any further without coming out on the other side, surely his cock would explode – every time, Renard changed his rhythm just so. Nick felt like he'd floated there forever, washing up against the border of his orgasm only to be swept back again, when the fingers – four of them now – withdrew and he was left empty and craving, ass lifting higher into nothing but air, begging for more. Incoherent sounds were coming from his mouth. He needed –

His bound hands clenched convulsively as he tried to summon the coordination to change his position, to free his arms, or even just to use words, to beg for what he desperately needed, what Renard was cruelly withholding.

It lasted forever, a helpless frustration of need, Renard still behind him, doing God knew what. Not what Nick needed him to do.

Then large hands were on him again, pulling his cheeks apart, cool air hitting hot, sensitive flesh. A small press against his opening, almost too light to feel – not enough, not nearly enough – and a moment later Renard had sheathed himself with a single, vicious thrust, hands gripping Nick's hips, holding him in place. Nick gasped out something between a groan and a scream and exploded, his cock sputtering, emptying him out, a blinding white flash of pleasure flooding every inch of him right down to his toes and the tips of his ears. It drowned him, and his entire body went limp.

When he found himself again, he was still held up by Renard's firm hands on his hips, still impaled on Renard's cock, and despite the white-out of his orgasm, still half-hard. Nick scrabbled to find his balance, having nothing to hold himself up but his knees on the floor, his shoulders on the sofa, and Renard's hands. He flexed his ass, hearing a strained moan, feeling Renard surge against him even as his own cock twitched, filling again already.

Nick felt raw and needy, and oh god, he had to have more. It couldn't end. More.

He got more. With a snarl and a strength that suggested he'd woged again, Renard began to pound into him in earnest, Nick's shoulders sliding uncomfortably across the sofa with every thrust. He'd have rug burn everywhere. Sofa burn. Ha. Good. He wanted to feel it, wanted to feel this forever.

It didn't last forever. Eventually – too soon – Renard spilled himself, collapsing over Nick's back. The weight felt good, but not good enough. He wriggled. That proved a mistake; Renard's half-hard cock slipped from his ass, and he was left bereft again. His disappointed noise seemed to rouse Renard a little.

Renard seemed as reluctant to break contact as he was; he drew back, sitting on the floor, but he pulled Nick with him.

In Renard's lap, sideways to accommodate his bound arms, Renard's cock nestled against his hip, and – oh. Renard's large hand closing around him. Yes. That was – something. Yes.

Nick felt limp and relaxed and warm, and consciousness was a tenuous thing. He was tired enough to sink into Renard's skin, with Renard's hand stroking down his back, soothing him; Renard's mouth wet on his shoulder, biting along the curve and up his neck, toward the line of his chin – sharp nips, going straight to Nick's cock, but even his arousal was warm and drowsy now, with none of the previous urgency, a slow peaceful slide into a wet dream. Renard's bites were almost playful, but he didn't soothe them with his mouth, instead sucked hard, sending a new, lazy flush of arousal through Nick with every bite mark so heightened.

Bite mark. He'd have marks from this, though not for long enough, damn a Grimm's quick healing. Renard's marks on him, for at least a little bit, visible on his neck all the way up to his chin, impossible to hide. Proof of this place he'd found, this impossible peace of mind. Yes. His hips shifted a little, too sloppy for a thrust, too tired for it. Renard hummed warmly against his skin.

Yes.

That was the final thought he had before the last of his awareness ebbed away.

~*~

Nick's head felt stuffed with cotton wool, and an aura of warmth surrounded him. A sensuous, half-aroused, comfortable waking, dream blending into reality so seamlessly he still felt Renard's body against him, Renard's hands on him.

Renard – his captain

With a jolt of adrenaline, Nick's eyes startled open. They were gritty with something that felt worse than morning sand, and he had to blink several times to clear his vision.

Renard's eyes met his – reddened, bleary, wide with shock.

Nick's arms were tied uncomfortably behind his back, his shoulders and biceps a mess of tension. He was wearing a t-shirt and nothing more, his jeans a tangle around his feet. Something itchy was crusted on his thighs, his ass burned, and his cock felt raw, turned inside out.

He'd come here mid-afternoon. By the light from the window, it was still only early evening. In between ...

With a rush, everything came back to him, and Nick desperately jerked his mind away from the thoughts, the memories. His stomach convulsed, and he nearly retched.

Renard had – they had –

They flinched apart at the same instant.

For a long moment they simply stared at each other in mirrored horrified realization. Renard at least was still halfway dressed, though his trousers were open and pushed down around his thighs.

Oh god.

"Are you ..." Renard trailed off, uncharacteristically hesitant, sounding shaken.

He'd better be, Nick thought grimly, struggling for coherent thought.

The drug. The potion. It had been a Zaubertrank, hadn't it? A Zaubertrank bomb, aimed at him. At both of them. It hadn't been Renard's fault. But they hadn't reacted to it the same way, had they? Renard had – had –

It shivered over him, through him: a ghost-memory of Renard's hands gripping his hips, his head, of Renard's cock in his ass, in his mouth.

And he'd let him, as if –

Nick flinched back, away, wishing he could flinch right out of his skin. The worst part was the flush of pleasure that came with the memory, even now. His breathing was unsteady, and his skin felt clammy all of a sudden.

"I'm fine," he forced out. And then, grudgingly, because he wasn't going to let this defeat him, he wasn't, "You?"

Renard nodded, the corners of his mouth turning down.

It wasn't Renard's fault. Nick held on to the thought, the one steadying thing he knew. It wasn't Renard's fault. It was Adalind's. He'd find her, and –

Except Renard had woged. Renard had deceived him. He wasn't just Nick's captain; he was Wesen. He knew about Nick. Fury began to build in Nick's chest, and he welcomed it, feeling the relief of it, the clarity.

And then Renard's eyes were on Nick's chest.

Nick looked down in shocked realization just as Renard leaned forward and plucked the chain out of Nick's t-shirt, ripping it off. Damn. Damn, damn, damn –

With a rush of rage, Nick strained his muscles and burst free from the constraining leather belt. His fists were clenched in front of him the same moment, never mind his aching tendons and muscles, or the bruises he'd just given his own wrists.

Renard was looking down at the folded key sitting on his palm, obviously aware what he was holding. Then his hand closed, and he looked up.

Nick was on his feet a little slower than Renard, damn the tangle of his jeans. He managed to kick them off, and they stood facing each other, poised at the edge of a fight, everything else set aside, mercifully forgotten.

Nick glared. Saying Give that back would be entirely superfluous. Besides, who, having gotten hold of that key, would give it up again? Good. A fight, he could deal with. He raised his fists.

Renard smirked. With a quick flick of his hand, he threw the key back at Nick. Nick snatched it out of the air and snarled. What the hell?

"Your Aunt Marie's, was it?" Renard said conversationally. "I suggest you find a better place to hide it."

Nick threw him another glare and took a step back. Adrenaline coursed through his body. He'd wanted that fight, damn it, had wanted to punch Renard, to lose himself in the simplicity of battle. "You know what that is." At least the key gave him something else to focus on, something beside what had happened in this room. And he was still spoiling for a fight. Verbal would do, in a pinch.

Something better than violence, cleaner than anger ... Nick brushed the memory aside, though it kept roiling in his gut.

"I know." Renard retreated a few steps as well.

Keeping his eyes on the captain, not letting down his guard for a moment, Nick stepped back further, and Renard did the same, until they were as far apart as the small studio apartment would allow. Simultaneously, mirroring each other, Nick stepped into his jeans and Renard pulled up his crumpled trousers.

Finally, Nick shoved the key with its broken chain into a pocket. He needed to get back in control of the situation. Of himself. He picked up his gun from the floor and, after a moment, put it away. "How much do you know?"

"More than you do, I'd wager," Renard said, "considering two years ago you didn't even know what you were." He seemed calm enough now, but his words came fast, the way they did when he was angry. Or agitated? Nick didn't think he'd ever seen the captain truly out of sorts before, not even when he'd been tortured by Kimura in his own condo. Except that moment just after the Coins of Zakynthos had been taken from him ... There was something in him of that anxiousness, now.

Nick ignored it. Had Renard known about the coins, too? "You've known all along." Bitter accusation.

Renard gave an uncomfortable shrug, accompanied by a grimace. His cheeks were flushed, but his eyes were steady. "There's no point in pretending now, considering the way we've been targeted."

Targeted. Yes. They'd both been set up. That was ... something, Nick supposed. He suppressed a shiver.

"Adalind," he snarled. At that moment he'd gladly have wrapped his hands around her throat and squeezed the life out of her, human or Hexenbiest or neither.

Was there anything better than violence that wasn't a sham? He clamped down on the thought. He wasn't going to fall back into his old anger, no matter how tempting the release.

"Adalind," Renard agreed with an uneasy twist of the mouth. "That Zaubertrank was very much her style. She used to work for me, you know."

"What?" Nick took a threatening step forward, fists raised again, but before he could continue, Renard spoke up again.

"You might want to consider," he said, quick and urgent and controlled, "what Adalind was trying to achieve. She sure as hell wasn't trying to give us a good time."

Nick flushed, a sudden, unwelcome surge of remembered pleasure jolting through him. He fought it down with difficulty, managed to narrow his eyes at Renard. What had Adalind intended? Other than to humiliate him. To humiliate them both.

Damn, if it hadn't felt so good –

Renard came a step closer, and he was all focus now, all purpose. "You realize she could have taken that key just now, while we were unconscious. She would have, if she'd thought you might have it on you. We were lucky."

"We, is it?" Nick snarled. What the hell was Renard's angle, anyway?

A moment's hesitation. Then, intently, "Don't give her what she wants. If we don't turn against each other, she's already lost her gambit."

"Really." How convenient. Should he just, what, suck it up and pretend nothing had happened? Damn Renard; he hadn't been the one who'd – who'd –

But no. That wasn't fair. Whatever else Renard had done, whoever he was – he'd been under the influence of that potion, too. He'd tried to warn Nick away, even. Renard hadn't meant to – Renard didn't want –

He didn't want to think about what might be going on in Renard's head.

Nick gritted his teeth, forced himself not to look away. "You're going to have to give me some answers," he ground out.

Renard's eyes swept the room, then Nick's body. Nick was glad he couldn't possibly tense any further, and tried hard not to flush. "Now?" Renard asked, drily.

His instincts screamed at him not to let Renard get away. To press his advantage – if advantage it was – and get something out of the man now, before Renard had the chance to make up a story.

But his body ached, his skin itched, and every movement flushed memories through him, inescapably. Everything he could see – the room, Renard, himself – was evidence of what they'd done, what Adalind had done to them. He needed a shower. He needed to get a grip on himself. He needed to get away from here, from Renard, so he could find his balance, so he wouldn't feel so raw.

So he could confront the man without feeling him all over his skin, and on his tongue, and in his ass ...

He suppressed another shiver. "Soon," he insisted. "Today."

Renard looked down at his watch, then gave a brief nod. "Yes. Tonight," he agreed. His eyes were shrouded, and a mask appeared to have descended over his features; Nick couldn't read his expression at all now. "I'm very sorry," he said, then strode toward the door and pulled it open.

In the doorway he turned. "One more thing," Renard said. "For what it's worth. Magic can make you want anything, but it can't make you like it. Trust me, I know."

Shameful arousal flushed through Nick, a surge of memory and desire. His skin was gooseflesh all over again, itching as if from the touch of a thousand creepy fingers shivering over him. Feeling further from calm than ever, Nick stared after Renard, his eyes burning, watching the man leave.