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|Shadowed(Dark Protectors #6) by Rebecca Zanetti|
“There’s a vampire here to see you,” said a chipper voice from the office doorway.
Brenna Dunne glanced up from the stack of ledgers toward her best friend. “I don’t have any appointments today.”
Deb shrugged a delicate shoulder. “Since when do vampires make appointments?”
Good point. Brenna pushed her glasses up her nose. She was the only witch in existence who required reading glasses. “Did you see who it was?”
“Nope.” Deb Stewart had never been much of a vampire fan. “They all look alike to me.” She mock-shrugged. “Though, when I passed by the conference room, vibrations of some seriously strong energy made the air heavy.”
“Huh.” Brenna folded her glasses to tuck in her pocket before standing. The room swayed.
Deb frowned, and lines of concern fanned out from her brown eyes. “How did your treatment go this morning?”
“Terrible.” Brenna grimaced. “The treatments have stopped doing any good.” In fact, having the doctors replace her blood was just a waste of time at this point.
“That’s what I thought.” Deb shuffled the stack of papers in her hands. “Maybe it’s time to tell the council.”
“Aye.” The room stopped tilting, so Brenna skirted the desk. “I’ll need to submit my resignation soon.” She could barely stand up, much less participate on the Council of the Coven Nine, the ruling body for witches the world over.
Deb tilted her dark head toward the pile of paperwork on the desk. “Any marriage proposals?”
“Three proposals and two death threats this week.” Brenna’s legs wobbled as she reached the doorway.
“The usual, huh?” Deb said.
Brenna paused to regain her bearings. “Yes. Man, I need to get my strength back.”
Deb patted her arm. “The doctors will find a cure. I’m sure of it.” “I know.” Brenna forced a smile as they both lied.
Deb swallowed. “I’ll take the afternoon meeting with the Dublin economic group for you.”
Relief and gratitude swept Brenna. “Thanks. I owe you once again.” She slid into the hallway. “Wish me luck with the vampire.”
“Luck,” Deb muttered as she bustled in the other direction.
Good thing Deb had fallen in love with and married a witch. She and a vampire would’ve been a disaster.
Brenna eyed the wall of windows as she walked. Lightning flashed outside the windows, and the Liffey threw up whitecaps. Nothing like a December snowstorm in Ireland to get things interesting. With her diminishing vision, the world morphed into different shades of gray outside.
She carefully picked her way along the hallway to push open the door to the small meeting room.
Her breath caught. “Jase.”
Jase Kayrs sprawled in one of three overstuffed chairs, reading a stack of papers neatly attached inside a manila file folder. A fire crackled behind him, while the storm raged outside the full wall of windows to his left. At her entry, he flipped the file shut and stood. “Brenna.”
She swallowed and fought the urge to step back. At one time, Jase had been the most charming male she’d ever met. Now, a predatory danger cascaded off him in waves. Dressed in a dark shirt, faded jeans, and combat boots, the vampire was anything but a typical soldier. He even looked different, having cut his brown hair short in contrast to the wild mane he used to sport.
Deep copper eyes glowed from his chiseled face and illustrated a torment he apparently hadn’t triumphed over.
Mindful of manners, she hastened forward and held out a hand. “How are you?”
“Fine.” His hand swallowed hers in heat as they shook. A wicked scar had faded to a long white strip above his right cheekbone, making him look even more dangerous than before. For a vampire to scar, he must’ve been near death when sustaining the injury. Considering the demons had tortured him for five years before nearly cutting off his head, he had been as close to death as possible without succumbing. “Not as crazy as everyone thinks. How are you?”
“Fine. Not as odd as everyone thinks.” Her knees wobbled, and not just from her illness. The vampire had presence. All male, all danger. Her heart sped up even as it broke from that deadly scar on his immortal face.
“I never thought you odd.” He released her and gestured toward the chair facing his.
Brenna sat and smoothed her hands down her pencil skirt, suddenly grateful she’d dressed up. There was a time she’d had a colossal crush on the youngest Kayrs brother. “Ah, Moira didn’t mention you’d be visiting Ireland.” Moira was Brenna’s older sister who had mated Jase’s brother, Conn. They mainly lived in Oregon at the vampire headquarters.
“She and Conn are chasing a witch who’s abusing physics up in Canada. I didn’t tell them I was heading over here.” Jase’s gaze raked Brenna. “You’re pale.”
Irritation and an odd hurt warmed her chest. She slowly ran her gaze from his boots to his head. Hard, ripped muscle showed clearly through his clothing. Cut angles made up his handsome face, leaving shadowed hollows matching those in his eyes. “You’re, ah, fit. Been working out?”
“Something like that.” His gaze intensified, but she couldn’t read his thoughts.
She cleared her throat. “Why are you here?”
The door swept open. “He’s here because I asked him.” Councilwoman Northcutt, the head of the Coven Nine, glided into the room. She wore a long maroon skirt and matching top, and had pinned her dark hair up in a business-casual look. As the ruler of the witches for the last five centuries, the woman could dress.
Brenna straightened her posture. “Hi, Aunt Viv. Did you want me in on this, or shall I attend the economic meetings?”
Viv settled herself on the third seat. “I want you here.”
“All right.” Brenna eyed her aunt.
Viv’s dark eyes narrowed, and she clasped her hands together before focusing on Jase. “Did you read the file?”
“Yes.” He handed the manila folder to Viv.
Brenna glanced at the folder. “What file?”
Viv met her gaze. “Your medical records.”
A ball of dread slammed into Brenna’s stomach. “Excuse me?”
Viv sighed. “Did you really think we wouldn’t notice your deteriorating health?”
Panic wanted to rise to the surface. “My medical records are private,” said Brenna.
“Bollocks.” Red spun across Viv’s high cheekbones. “Not only are we family and should’ve been told, but I’m also your boss. The council needs to be aware if you’re too ill to work.”
“I’m perfectly fine.” A very rare temper tickled at the base of Brenna’s neck.
“No, you’re not. The planekite has been slowly poisoning you from the inside for a decade.” Fury and helplessness filled Viv’s eyes. “The blood treatments aren’t working any longer.”
So much for living in denial for another week. Brenna flashed back to the moment ten years previous when a male witch who’d kidnapped her poured the vile concoction down her throat. The liquid had burned like acid, firing her veins into pinpricks of pain. Her limbs had weakened, and her blood had thickened in an effort to expel the poison.
In that moment, she’d known the planekite would kill her. The only question was when.
Yanking herself back to the present, she plastered on her best dignitary expression. “Replacing my blood with clean blood worked for the first eight years, but the poison has leaked into my tissues and muscles now,” she murmured. Planekite harmed witches, and most of it had been destroyed or locked away by armed guards to be used in research. Unfortunately, there didn’t seem to be an antidote to the poison. “I’ll submit my resignation tonight.” Then she frowned and glanced at Jase. “Why are you reading my medical records?”
No expression crossed his face. “I’m your cure.”
The world narrowed. Wait a minute. Brenna angled away from him. “Excuse me?”
Viv’s shoulders went back. “I contacted the king and requested an arranged mating between you and a member of the Kayrs royal family. Jase has kindly agreed.”
A roaring filled Brenna’s head. She opened her mouth, but no sound emerged. Her head jerked in a shaky motion. Mating meant sex. Crazy, dangerous, vampire sex. “Mate?”
Viv leaned forward. “The doctors think you have less than six months to live, so mating is your only option.”
Well, that was true. Mating an immortal would give Brenna the male’s health and gifts by altering not only her chromosomal pairs but her immune system. She’d be able to counter the planekite—probably. “Why a vampire?” She didn’t look at Jase as she asked the question.
Viv cleared her throat. “Unfortunately, you can’t mate a witch because the planekite will also poison your mate. You need another immortal. We’re at war with the demons and Kurjans, so that leaves either a shifter or a vampire. A vampire is better than an animal.”
Jase’s eyebrow rose. “Thank you.”
Viv sniffed. “You know what I mean.”
“I know exactly what you mean.” An ominous tone filtered through his words. “Please leave us, Councilwoman Northcutt. I’d like to speak with Brenna. Alone.”
For the first time, indecision wavered across Viv’s face. Even so, she gracefully stood. “If you do mate, then we need to discuss the winter solstice.”
Brenna shook her head. “You’re kidding, right?”
“Not at all.” Viv glided toward the door. “There’s more to the issue than you know.”
Brenna blinked. She’d worry about the solstice later. “Aunt Viv? Do my parents know about the illness?” Her mother was on the council, and her parents were on a monthlong cruise.
“No. You need to call them tonight.” Viv slipped into the hallway, and the door closed.
Brenna took a deep breath, her gaze turning on the vampire. Her heart slammed against her ribs hard enough to bruise. He was damaged, and he was dangerous. Even so, heat uncoiled in her abdomen at the thought of becoming his. Her body flared to life, but her mind screamed caution. “My answer is no.”
He held himself perfectly still, somehow on alert and in perfect control. In fact, the man barely seemed to breathe. “If you don’t mate, you’ll die.”
“That’s my problem.” She shook her head. “Besides, why would you want to mate me? All of your brothers have mated for love, and look how much stronger they’ve become.”
Shadows cascaded over Jase’s face to be ruthlessly smoothed out. “I don’t want love.”
Awareness pricked up her back. “What do you want?” she asked quietly.
“Revenge.” His copper eyes morphed into an angry, sizzling green and then back again.
She’d wondered about his secondary color—the eye color that emerged when a vampire was angry or aroused. “I see. If we mate, you’ll get my skills.”
She shook her head. “I don’t have skills to use against demons.”
“You’re a witch with a strong command of quantum physics.” Jase leaned forward, elbows on his knees. “Being able to alter matter will come in handy when fighting demons.” Vulnerability flashed in his eyes for the tiniest of seconds. “Besides, your skills will help me regain mine.”
“Regain yours?” She bit her lip, memories swamping her. Jase used to command the elements. “You can’t control the elements any longer?”
“No.” His angled jaw hardened.
She flashed back to a Realm picnic twenty years ago when the Kayrs brothers had competed fiercely in an obstacle course that would’ve killed most humans. Jase and his brother Talen had ended up trying to tackle each other on a rope stretched over a river. They’d crashed into the water, both swearing and throwing punches.
Jase had waved his hand, and a wall of ice had risen from the rushing water. Talen had broken his hand trying to punch through.
Then, in typical Kayrs fashion, they’d laughed their asses off. Jase had been charming, fun, and free, and she’d instantly been in love. In fact, she’d angled close to him at dinner that night, and he’d tried to teach her how to control the air. That was when she could still create fire, so she’d popped his oxygen molecules.
His sexy smile had stayed with her for years.
She returned to the present, wondering when he’d last smiled. Her heart clutched. What the demons must’ve done to him to destroy his gifts with the elements. “I’m sorry.”
“I don’t want your sympathy.”
Her head jerked up. “No. You just want to mate me, brand me like an animal, and then use my gifts.”
“That’s exactly what I want.” No apology, no expression sat on his face. But the anger, the fury sizzled just beneath the surface. Fully alive. Fully deadly.
As a trained witch, one who had once been dangerous before becoming ill, she recognized a predator. Jase was all predator. Training whispered for her to keep the danger in sight. Even so, an odd, feminine instinct unfolded within her. The need to help—the need to heal. Could she help him? “I won’t be used.”
“We’ll both be used, sweetheart.” The endearment mocked them both. “But we’ll get what we want.”
She stood, no longer able to sit and discuss revenge and forever. “What is it I want, Jase?”
“You want to live.” He unfolded his length, standing at least a foot and a half taller than she. Reaching out, he ran his finger down the side of her face. “You used to like me, Brenna Dunne.”