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“Okay, explain this one more time, Garnet? And use English this go around, please,” Dag grumbled as he studied the improved-upon plans I’d drawn up for the gate/demon entrapment system.

“It’s what I had only way better,” Odd sighed, rolling his eyes. “Why can’t you just leave it at that?”

“Because I’ll need to know how to use it so I don’t end the world by leaving it open like the garage door,” he shot back, Geir nodding like he agreed with the point.

“Even a garage door and system looks complicated on schematics,” I drawled, glancing at Sandro and wondering how he put up with this all the time. I saw Geir bob his head as if he agreed with that as well.

Twits.

“No one here is judging you and this is wonderful, Garnet. Relax and just tell us how it works,” Ariel soothed, knowing that the more nervous I was, the bigger my vocabulary seemed to get as if the longer the words, the better the shield they made from people’s criticism.

No, I didn’t really think that worked but social anxieties weren’t always logical.

“Right, okay.” I took a deep breath and pointed to the left side of the drawing. “We take out this section of fence where the seals weren’t laid yet but we’ve been soaking the ground with holy water instead in case we were attacked. We replace it with a sliding gate that has a seal on it. The idea is they can’t get through that any more than the ground because a seal is a seal whether it be on the earth or on something.”

“We’ve never tested that,” Mal hedged, glancing at his brothers. “We’ve discussed it but not had time to get around to it.”

“We put them on the schools for extra protection as we do on churches and holy places, but the land itself is consecrated. We would need to test this,” Ariel settled.

“Okay, so this is step one and we find a demon to test it,” Odd confirmed, nodding. “Once we’re past this and it works, what’s next?”

“We make a tunnel of fencing with the seals onto the property, lining the ground around this fencing with seals as well for extra protection. In the tunnel there will be more sliding gates with seals. Now everyone is getting lost in the schematics where I put in the revolving system. Basically it’s like a revolving door, but not. If the gate in front of someone opens, the one behind them is shut. Once that new one is shut, the next one may open and on and on.”

Oh, okay,” Dag groaned, nodding his head. “Okay, I get it. So basically it’s a fail-safe so all the doors can’t be opened at once and all the demons we’re holding come through or worse, the garage door gets left open.”

“Yes,” I sighed, thankful they got it this time. “But also, there’s no hacking around it because of the locks on it, like an actual revolving door like at a hotel. Say it turns counterclockwise and something jams in there so it stops turning. You can’t just flip around and turn the other way more than a bit of give. That’s what this will be like. So no ability to sabotage.”

“Okay, this might be stupid, but I’m picturing like a Hogwarts goblin puts key into vault six hundred and eighty-seven and all the levers and shit disengaging before the door opens,” Everett mumbled, not looking at anyone as he studied the paper. “And like a row of those spaced out in a tunnel of the black spike fence around the properties, with a top on it with whatever these seals are on them.”

“Yeah, pretty much,” I told my friend, glad he got it, especially after he took the chance to say something. He was educated later in life than was normal or even legally allowed and he let that effect how he saw himself or thought of his intelligence… Like one had anything to do with the other.

“Oh, okay, cool.” He shrugged and I saw Geir give me a grateful look. They were mates, but I was Everett’s friend too. He was one of us and I got that Geir was extra protective now that they had mated officially and Everett was baptized as Nephilim, but I would still do all I could for my friend.

Not as a favor to one of the Lundbergs. I guessed it was one of those odd gestures people did that I never understood, thanking me for something I didn’t do for them or really didn’t concern them.

We headed outside and to the ATVs since the back of the property was miles and miles away. I caught the keys Mal tossed me and glanced around. “Anyone riding with me?”

“No!” several people exclaimed, and I couldn’t help but laugh, totally not offended.

“Chickenshits.”

“No, I just like my balls on my body along with my limbs,” Sandro bitched as he jumped on the back of the ATV Dag was on. “You’re a maniac. You won’t be happy until you flip one of those things and end up in a wheelchair.”

“Yes, that’s totally the goal,” I drawled, rolling my eyes. “Not that we’re trapped here and I can’t drive real cars anymore so I get my kicks with these whenever I can.” I didn’t wait for an answer, starting the motor and taking off.

Okay, fine, I did drive like a maniac, but they were all-terrain vehicles after all, not unicycles. They could handle a bit of wear and tear.

Plus, hopping fallen logs and ducking trees while taking turns too close just really got my blood pumping. Mal let me soup up the one I was riding, pretty much calling it mine, and I took it out often, needing something to check my pulse was still going.

It was almost amusing because I was the first to start out and the last to get there because I darted around, took every incline, and hazard along the way. Everyone else simply drove the straight line there. Boring, boring people.

“You done?” Mal chuckled once I killed the engine.

“I guess,” I played, sliding off. He reached over and mucked up my hair in a very big brother gesture I secretly adored. Now that he and Petro—one of my best friends—were good, I liked him and I thought Mal had taken to the idea of semi-adopting me because he was very protective. Not like he didn’t have three other younger brothers, but they were old, ancient even.

I watched as Castillo glanced from the schematics to the fence and back and forth as things started changing. I’d never really watched as they did something more complicated but it made sense he wouldn’t blink and it all be there. From what I heard, it took all the angels days or a week to build the first school. I knew the Lundberg manor was quite the endeavor but most of the archangels chipped in time when they could for the bigger parts.

But even the littler things, I knew humans and hounds helped Castillo so things were easy for him. Like Sandro told me the construction crew or most of Odd’s guys would carry in the fixtures and tile for a bathroom, everything needed to make it happen. Then Castillo would go in there and finish hours and hours of work in seconds, putting it all together, floors, fixtures, and everything.

Ariel had been the master painter. That was cool and I’d been around for that. It was almost like watching Petro using Photoshop. She would touch a color on the sample wheel the Lundbergs had and then touch the wall with her other hand and that same color would spread out from her fingers and fill up the wall like a waterfall. So in the end they left square samples on unpainted walls for her, and when she had time, she’d do her thing—priming first of course because it was only drywall to start—and it was the easiest decorating ever.

But even with all that help, a manor of four mansions basically built together with extras and a huge training center in the middle took a bit to build. Which was why at the end of October when we were finally focusing on the gate project, I wished I’d worn a sweatshirt to ride the ATV and be way out here in the cold Tennessee wind.

“One demon as promised,” Gabriel greeted as he appeared from the other side of the fencing.

“Good, we’re ready.” Castillo studied the new gate he’d just put in and nodded, then frowned and glanced at me. “Do you want to check it first? I mean, there’s no central controls yet or anything.”

I walked over and studied all the gears without even needing to glance at the schematics. It was my design so I knew it like my toes. “Yep, we’re good. If a demon can touch it, he should just be allowed to slide it until we put the rest in. If not, well, yeah, whatever happens.” And then I hurriedly—but not obviously—got back to my hiding spot behind the Lundbergs. There was a fucking demon around now after all and we didn’t know if the seal on the gate would work.

“No way,” the demon hissed, struggling harder against Gabriel after what I said, and realized he was there as a test subject. “You know what happens to us if we touch those things.”

“Yes, yes I do,” Gabriel chuckled darkly, and evil smile on his face that made me shiver. “Your existence is ending today anyways demon. There is no saving your dark, dark soul.”

“So the question is do you want to go quickly or do I get to pull the other information we want out of one of you other than if this gate works?” Mal drawled as he moved closer to the fence, completely unflinching as if there wasn’t another person over there.

“Malfinn Lundberg,” the demon whimpered as Petro’s mate took out his scary-ass blessed knife. “You’re not tainted and crazy anymore.”

“Tainted? No. Crazy? I’m pretty sure I always was, but even stained with evil I was still killing lots of you.” His wicked smile actually made Gabriel’s look not so bad. Apparently creepy was relative.

I bet mine would look like a chipmunk on crack if I even tried.

“Anything is better than being tied to your torture table,” the demon stated unusually matter-of-factly and reached for the gate. He tried to slide it back, but the moment he touched it, an ear-bleeding screech that so wasn’t human came out of his mouth. I watched as he seemed to develop and extreme case of indigestion as he melted from the inside out, flames coming up from his mouth and burning him down to ash.

“Guess they can’t touch the gates,” Geir chuckled when it was all over. “Nicely done, Garnet.”

Dag leaned in and sniffed the air. “Mmm, burnt demon. Anyone else hungry? I think maybe we should smoke some chickens today.” Petro, Sandro, Seth, Everett, and I all turned and stared at him like he’d lost his ever-loving mind. He simply shrugged. “Not the first one I’ve seen fry, won’t be the last. Pushing them onto consecrated ground is an awesome tactic when in a pinch.”

“The human just fried too,” I choked out, gagging on the smell now that it reached my nose. It was like burnt hair and plastic plus bleach and ass all in one.

“The human was dead,” Gabriel admitted, wincing slightly. “Sometimes, if they’re smart, demons will inhabit a deceased host—someone on life support but will never wake up. There is enough of a charge left in the body to animate it, but fewer people come looking for someone who has been tucked away at a facility and has not moved in years. Much better than say a mayor who everyone would notice if severely changed or up and left.”

“Still, those poor people whose person that host was will never know what happened to them now,” Sandro muttered, shaking his head. He glanced at Dag and looked away. “I get you make jokes as your way of coping, but it’s disrespectful. That was a fallen person who killed people probably to have such a black soul they couldn’t be saved, turned demon, invading a brain-dead host body people will wonder about and they just burned alive right in front of us.”

“If you focus on that over and over again with what we have to do, you will lose your mind, babe,” Dag defended.

Truthfully I saw both sides.

Realistically I understood there was no good or right answer. Which was why I think the mood turned morose as we trudged back to the ATVs instead of excited that our test run was a success. We needed to lock down the specifics of how long, wide, tall, and such we wanted the tunnel along with how many gates because that could make all the difference in the plans to come for the war.

Basically once we started this, we knew demons and maybe the Devil would try to attack again, not just lie in wait or screw with us here and there as they had when we helped Everett’s parents. It was like they were circling, always circling the property and us to see what we were going to do next with what we learned and were building.

Or worse, they were doing what we were—fortifying a safe zone and finalizing plans and we simply had no clue what was coming. Amusingly enough, everyone seemed pretty confident they were waiting for us—a bunch of ex-Hellhounds, a handful of archangels, and souls sold by their parents—to decide and make the next move after shutting down their attempt on us after trying to get the government to move in on us. Find out about us. At least question what we were all doing there, I guess. Whatever that plan was. Start trouble basically.

Everyone else headed right back, but I decided to ride this mood off, wanting to go back to the table in a better place, ready to conquer the demon world… Or something like that. Sandro gave me a wave that he saw me veer towards the trees, knowing I was going to dart all around them like orange cones on an empty parking lot. Except this was way more fun.

Especially given what I found.

I hit the brakes when I noticed something out of the corner of my eye, not sure what it was. But then I spotted tons of fur and knew it was a big hound. I cut the engine and hopped off, wanting to check it out for some reason and knowing I needed to be quiet. It made sense with their hearing, but still, it was sneakier than I normally was. When I moved closer, I realized the hound was moving funny.

As I poked around a tree, I comprehended why. He was humping another hound. Like mounted the hound and lots of snarling as they did it doggy style, fur and all. Wow! I knew they were sentient but I guess I never thought they screwed like that. Hello, Discovery Channel!

And as wrong or as disturbed as it was of me, I couldn’t look away. Not just because I knew they were men once they turned back, but the way that top guy was going at it. He was fierce. The one on the bottom gave two quick yips, and I gasped as they both shifted at the same time. I recognized the one that yipped as one of the Magnus brothers. Braedan maybe? The one on top I’d never seen before and damn he was hot. Like I was struck dumb from just a glance at him, my body was on fire, and I almost melted into the tree hot.

Plus, he fucked like a Greek god, thrusting so hard and fast that I practically felt it and my ass vibrated watching it. Whichever Magnus groaned as he came, pushing his ass up higher as the stranger kept right on going. Few moments later, he grunted loudly and I watched as he pumped and pumped and pumped his release into that Magnus. Holy shit! He must have huge balls to hold all that cum.

I realized he actually might not even a minute later when they were done and the guy stood up, stretching. He was huge and not simply his cock. Like at least six and a half feet, as wide as he was tall with muscles. Okay, not really but close, totally ripped, and when he stretched his arms overhead, flexing the muscles there and in his chest, I had to bite back a groan. He sniffed the air and glanced around. I had just enough time to duck back behind the tree so I didn’t get caught by his light green eyes.

Who was that naked, hot man I saw fucking in the woods? I jokingly thought as if he was going to disappear like a mythological elf. I’d thought I’d met all the hounds by now or at least one from their families so it was weird to see a new one.

One especially that hot. One that made my cock ache and want to do something crazy in the woods. Something I’d never done before, and I swear the haze of watching him fuck like that was the insanity plea I would profess if anyone ever questioned me about what I did next.

I leaned back against the tree, closing my eyes and thinking about what I’d seen seconds ago, and let my hand slide down my pants. Yeah, I was fucking leaking all over my boy shorts. Totally insane. Porn didn’t get me that wound up. Erotic romance books did sometimes because I liked a story more than just bad acting or all about the sex… Which was why I was shocked what I saw had me so hot and bothered.

Then again, live and with someone I couldn’t have dreamed up on my best day did change things.

I unzipped my jeans with my other hand and pushed down my shorts as I pulled my dick free and started pumping it. Making sure to keep quiet, I shivered not just from the cold but hearing the two hounds say what I assumed was their goodbyes. They were too far away for me to catch their words. In my head, they were going at it again though, putting on a show for me. I didn’t even feel like a perv for watching, defending myself by thinking they must like the chance of getting caught if they did it in the woods.

Hello, thousands of people lived on the estates and could stumble upon them. Okay, less than everyone since the kids weren’t allowed this far away from the schools without supervision.

But kids never did what they weren’t supposed to. Right? Surrrrrre.

I felt my sac draw up and I knew it was going to be a big climax with how quickly I’d been wound up and that I’d been pent up for a while now.

“Now this is not what I expected to find our spy doing,” a deep, deep voice murmured from my left. “Do I get to help since you just watched me fuck someone?”

I slowly opened my eyes and turned to look at him. Except that had me focused on his naked chest because that was at my eye level… And what a chest it was. I shivered, wanting to lick his muscles and nipples, before looking up and up to meet those light green eyes. I could see now that I was so close and they were focused on me that they had gold flecks in them. As I watched him, they glazed over as he regarded my cock and licked his lips.

Again I shivered, and he smiled widely, making me feel very much the prey.

“You going to answer me or are you mute?” He moved closer towards me, his shoulder leaning against the tree. I shook my head when I couldn’t get my mouth to work, trying to say I wasn’t mute, but he raised an eyebrow, probably thinking it was the first part. “You got a thing for Braedan Magnus?”

I shook my head again.

“So it is me that has you jacking off that pretty cock behind a tree,” he said, a slight growl to his words. He slowly leaned down and pressed his lips against my ear. “Did you want it to be you? Were you thinking of me fucking you when I walked over here?”

I let out a barely audible whimper as I bobbed my head.

“Shit, you are sexy as hell. I would so fuck you but I don’t have lube. We do it like that as hounds when we’re out on patrol for a break if we need it because then we can without lube and shift to finish. That way no one gets hurt when it’s dry. Weird but it works.” I jumped as I felt his fingers tease my cock. I let go and his hand grabbed it. “Mmm, it is a nice cock. I’d ask you to suck mine while I play with you because I’m dying to see those pretty lips put to good use since you’re not talking anyways, but I doubt you’ll suck me off after I was just in another man’s ass.”

I glanced at his dick and then to his face before shaking my head. Yeah, I wasn’t that out of my mind and crazed yet.

“For the record, I would have much preferred to have been in yours. Braedan and I were scratching each other’s itches and we know it. You I would chase after and hunt for, you’re so tempting, just my type.” He squeezed my cock as he stroked it, and I about melted into the tree. “I’m going to help you with this problem you seem to have now and then you’re going to come back tomorrow and I’ll give you what you really want.”

I raised an eyebrow at him, my brain too mushy to think of what he was talking about.

He gave me an evil smile—another person with a good evil smile—and stroked me faster. “My cock in your tight ass, fucking you. That’s what you wanted, right? To be where Braedan had been? Under me and pounded into?”

I quietly whimpered and nodded my head, gripping onto his arms as he turned and trapped me against the tree. His other hand moved behind me and squeezed my ass.

“Yeah, this won’t do,” he growled as both of his hands stopped. I met his eyes, seeing something deep in them and tried to get my mouth to work once again to ask what was wrong. Instead, he kissed me.

I felt a little light-headed after that and I was never, ever going to admit that to anyone.

“Don’t ruin it by talking now,” he whispered before giving me another quick kiss. “Not that I don’t want to hear you talk at length next time, but if you do now, it’s like it will ruin this dream of finding a hot stranger in the woods who was too sexy for words and never said a word to me as I pleased him.”

I nodded, relieved, trying to get my mouth to work was off the table. He’s crazy though. Doesn’t he know he’s the hot stranger?

“You have to promise to come back tomorrow and take care of me, let us fuck. I’ll bring you to such places today, sexy stranger, but you have to swear to meet me here same time tomorrow.”

He didn’t even have to finish what he was saying before I was nodding furiously and crossing my finger over my heart. Then I held up my hand like scout’s honor just for good measure. It worked because he moved faster than I could track, and seconds later, I was naked, over his lap as he sat on a fallen tree, and he was pulling on my cock with one hand while his face was buried in my ass.

I dug my fingers into his calf as I hung down and rode the waves of everything he was doing to me. Needless to say it was moments before I blew. Next he used my cum as lube to finger fuck me while I straddled his lap in a way I’d never have thought to get some kinky on. Part of me was shocked and disappointed he didn’t use that as slick on his cock, but after seeing him hard up close, I realized it wouldn’t have been enough.

“Tomorrow you won’t be quiet, will you? No, you’re going to scream,” he muttered, kissing my neck as I came down from my second mind-blowing orgasm. “If I give you one more will you suck me tomorrow when I come to you clean and free of anyone else?”

I buried my face against his skin and smiled, nodding. I would have even if he didn’t, but I wasn’t stupid enough to pass up an offer at some more fun. Wow, who was the nympho who had possessed me?

After one more time, he kissed me silly and then helped me dress before sticking me on the ATV. He was frowning when he did. “I should take you back with me and not let you out of my sight. You could break your promise and not come back.”

I shook my head and pulled on his hand, making him come down to my level. I finally instigated something and kissed him as I let my hands trail down his body.

“Fine, but if you don’t, I will come sniff you out and make a scene as I drag you from those schools, sexy man,” he growled softly. With another kiss, he turned and walked away.

I sighed as I enjoyed the view of all his muscles flexing as he did, his perfect ass bouncing along. He was soooo hot. And he liked socially stunted dorks who couldn’t get their mouths to work. I would never have guessed that.

When he was out of sight, I raced back to the Lundberg manor, realizing how long I’d been gone. After parking my ATV in the designated garage, I snuck in to find the gate group had joined everyone else living there and talking loudly over lunch. Worked for me because I could easily slip into a chair and dive in, completely famished.

And I had a whole other reason to be happy because the meal was cooked by Odd’s guy who they saved from demon possession somewhere in Latin America. We hadn’t officially met, but I was a big fan of his because he made authentic Hispanic food and it was to die for.

“Dude, what took you so long?” Sandro asked me as I stuffed my fourth fried shrimp taco in my mouth. “And why is your face all red? Did you crash?”

I pointed to my mouth, using the excuse of chewing while I figured out what to say. I was a shit liar so ended up with a partial truth. “No, I saw two hounds going at it and then they shifted back to finish. One was Braedan Magnus, the other I didn’t know. Did we get new hounds?”

“You saw one of the Arnolds?” Odd asked, raising an eyebrow. “You might be one of the first souls. They don’t do silly things like gentle or play nicely so when the rules were laid out about not touching you guys and well, being understanding about what you’ve been through, it was just one of the many reasons they decided to stay in the background and keep to guard duty only.”

“Wait, they’ve been here for a while?” Sandro asked, glancing around.

“Yes, one litter came as my family did with Jared, Castillo, and Rhyce after we found the demon,” Petro answered. “I am not sure if one of the Magnuses or Sethoses knew them or at least how to find them, but then the other litter showed up not long after.”

“There’s two litters of them and none of us knew about them?” Everett challenged, raising an eyebrow.

“There’s thousands of people on the estates,” Mal chuckled, shaking his head. “It would take years and years to meet them all, much less learn all their names, and you’re not involved with security.”

“I knew of them,” Seth admitted, shrugging. “They prefer to patrol the back area by the old servant’s house which is where they stay. They don’t all come to the security or hound gatherings. Just one or two and sometimes all to the weekly hounds dinner to be sociable.”

“More like when they are horny,” Petro snickered. “They are more animal than men.” He froze with his food to his mouth, realizing what he said and his gaze darted to his mate. “I am sorry, my love. I did not mean to make light of the struggles you had with going feral. They are not and I was not implying that. We are all humans who change into hounds and that family seems to be more as if they are hounds who change into humans sometimes.”

“I knew what you meant,” Mal assured him gently. “Don’t even think about it. It’s all in the past now. We’re together and that’s all that matters.”

Petro relaxed, and I barely paid attention to the cute moment they had, thinking about what he said. The guy had been more growly and aggressive than the hounds I’d talked to and interacted with over the past few years. Not to say I didn’t like it, at least for naked playtime, but Petro did explain the why. So that family was more woodsy, mountain-men shifters than the others. Living in the cabin off the grid, hopefully without body parts in the freezer or some scary anti-fed and doomsday arsenal.

I shook my head… Weren’t we all preparing and trying to prevent doomsday? Couldn’t judge them for that. It was simply a question if I wanted to get involved with someone like that.

I knew the answer before the thought even popped into my head.