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|Shadowed(Dark Protectors #6) by Rebecca Zanetti|
The gentle touch slid right under her defenses and zinged around, warming her abdomen. Her breath quickened. Vulnerability and need battled through her at his obvious manipulation. “I don’t know you anymore.”
His upper lip twisted. “Nobody knows me anymore.” The scar stood out, even on his bronze skin. “I won’t hurt you.”
So much for being over her childhood crush. Deep down, a base part of her awoke with the thought that he wanted to mate her. She didn’t want to die, and she’d love to help him regain his gift. Hell, five minutes in his presence, and she wanted to jump him. But to mate out of necessity? “I don’t know.”
He gave a quick nod. “You have time to think about it.” Calloused fingers slid the shirt off her left shoulder.
Cool air brushed her. Awareness flushed through her, but the chair kept her from stepping back. “What are you doing?” she breathed.
His gaze dropped to her neck. “I’m going to bite you, and then you’re going to bite me.”
Her lungs seized. She shook her head, dislodging his fingers. “Why?”
“To feel better.” His thumb and forefinger grasped her chin, tilting her head back. “My blood will give you temporary strength, but I need to bite you first so your body can take it.” The intensity of his gaze slammed awareness through her blood. “If you’re going to consider my offer, I’d prefer you remembered how it felt to be at full strength.”
Temptation smacked up against caution. Heat flushed through her from the firm hold on her chin. Commanding and strong, Jase tempted her in a frightening, primal way.
Taking his blood once wouldn’t create any sort of bond, and the idea of having strength again, even temporarily, swelled her with hope. Curiosity stretched awake. Years ago, when they’d both been healthy and unharmed, she’d had more than one fantasy of his taking her blood. “All right.”
His fangs dropped—low and wicked.
Intrigue hummed beneath her skin.
Releasing her chin, he slid his palm down her bicep and around her waist. With ease and deliberation, he lifted her with one muscled arm.
The intrigue shot into desire. His easy strength fluttered need around her body to thrum between her legs.
His free hand tangled in her hair and tugged her head to the side. Her fingers curled over his hard shoulders.
Lowering his head, he enclosed her neck with his mouth. The sharp points slid into her flesh.
Her breath caught. She opened her mouth, her mind swirling. Her nipples pebbled against his chest. Need ripped through her blood as his mouth pulled. Images of his mouth exploring her body in other ways flashed in picture-form through her brain, and she moaned.
Slowly, the deadly points retracted, and he licked the wound. His tongue was slightly abrasive. She shivered.
He set her down. She released his shoulders and glanced up at his face.
Lust shimmered in his eyes, and crimson spiraled across his high cheekbones. His fingers remained tangled in her hair. Keeping her gaze, he lifted his free wrist and slashed with his fangs. Securing her, he slid his bleeding wrist against her lips.
The moment held much more intimacy than she’d expected. Tingles jabbed her mouth. She opened, and the liquid slid in.
She drank, and sparkles popped down her throat. Electricity shot inside her veins. It was almost too much. She turned away, and he removed his wrist. Tightening his grip, he tugged her back around to face him.
Her gaze wide on his, her veins flashing with power, she licked the remaining blood off her lips.
His eyes flared. His lids dropped to half-mast.
Then his mouth took hers.
Hot, desperate, he kissed her hard. She opened her mouth in reaction, and he dove in. Seeking, taking, he swept inside.
Lava bubbled through her veins, and her nerves fired. Desire crashed into her with an unnatural force. She’d thought she’d been kissed before. Not so. Or maybe this wasn’t just a kiss.
It was a claiming. Her body ignited. Her heart rammed into full gallop.
Heat and hard male stepped into her.
He held her tight, the kiss fierce and deep—teeming with hurt, loneliness, and hope. All emotions he hadn’t shown. With emotions that maybe he couldn’t remember how to show. As he tethered her so she couldn’t escape, as he gave everything he had, something inside her shifted.
She kissed him back, accepting all he was. All he could be. All they might be.
Finally, he broke the kiss and released her.
Stepping back, he ran a rough hand through his hair, his gaze shuttering closed.
Her lips tingled. Her scalp ached. Her sex pounded.
Going on instinct, she lifted her chin. She wanted to live, and life was full of dangerous risks. Always had been—for her, always would be. They both teetered on a precipice, trying not to fall over. Maybe they could save each other. She had to clear her throat to force out words. “I accept your offer, Jase Kayrs.”
Jase Kayrs stood in the swirling snow, his gaze on the row of windows lining the hospital’s south side. “Why did you follow me?”
His brother shrugged and shuffled leather shoes in the powder. Kane apparently hadn’t planned on venturing outside. “Why did you follow Brenna?”
“I wanted to see where she was going.” Jase angled to the west in order to better look inside the building. Cedar blocks made up the walls, and it was at least eight stories. “I’m tired of people babysitting me.”
Kane ran a rough hand through his dark hair. “I’m not babysitting you, but we do need to talk. If I have to follow you all over Dublin to make it happen, then I will.”
Jase’s older brothers were overbearing assholes, but at least Kane was the only one who’d flown to Ireland with Jase. “Talk about what?”
“Brenna,” Kane said.
As if on cue, the woman swept into a small room where several children played with games, toy cars, and blocks while sitting on a plush rug. A stuffed Santa sat in the corner, and Christmas lights had been strung across the walls. At her entrance, the room brightened from pale to full sunshine. Several kids leapt up to receive hugs and kisses.
Jase narrowed his gaze. Brenna’s dark hair brushed her slim shoulders, while her unique gray eyes sparkled. Her seven older sisters were all redheads with green eyes. She was one of a kind, though just as petite as the other women. Then he focused on the kids. “The kids are all burned. She’s visiting a burn unit.”
Kane peered closer. “That’s sweet.”
Yeah. It was. She sat on the rug and gave each injured kid some time. Even wounded, even scarred, they somehow glowed under her attention. An uncomfortable yearning filled his chest. What he wouldn’t give to feel that warmth. “Brenna has always been sweet,” Jase murmured.
“I know.” Kane fidgeted.
Kane never fidgeted.
“What?” Jase asked, steeling his shoulders.
“This isn’t a good idea.” Kane buttoned his leather jacket. “And you know it.”
“There’s no alternative.” Jase left his jacket open because he rarely felt the cold. In fact, he rarely felt anything. “If she doesn’t mate, she’ll die.”
Kane shook his head. “Chances are she’s going to die anyway. The last doctor report showed it might be too late to reverse the effects of the planekite.”
A chill that had nothing to do with the Dublin winter slithered down Jase’s spine. “Then why not give mating a shot?”
The snort from his older brother echoed around them. “Why you?” Kane asked. “We could’ve sent any soldier, even one of our cousins from Iceland, to mate with her. To give her a chance to live. If you mate her, and she dies—”
“She won’t die.” In that moment, Jase Kayrs knew two things with absolute certainty. One, Brenna would live. Two, he’d gain her skills and take out the demons. All of them.
Kane exhaled slowly, an old tell that showed he was trying to choose his words carefully.
Jase growled low. “Stop fucking handling me. If I mate her, and if she still dies, I’ll deal with it.” He ducked his chin for a better view as Brenna scooped a toddler, his face a blistered mess, onto her lap for a cuddle.
Kane pivoted to face him. “Right. Because you’re so good at dealing.”
“I’m dealing,” Jase said. There was a time his brother would’ve slammed him against a tree to fight it out. Now none of his brothers came near him—it was almost comical how much they held themselves back from hitting him. They’d never see him as whole again. “I’m fine.”
“Fine?” Kane’s eyes swirled from a dangerous purple to black. “You disappeared until Talen tracked you down in the Andes.”
Everything in Jase wanted to turn away and watch Brenna bring joy to the damaged. So he kept his focus on his brother. “The king needed me, and I came home to help. I’m helping.”
“No. Dage wanted you home as a brother, and not as a soldier. As the king, he spends too much time worrying about you as it is. You volunteered for this duty. Volunteered to mate a witch you barely know.” Kane slid to the side and blocked Jase’s view of the room. On purpose, probably. “Why?”
“Why not?” Jase’s shoulder lifted as he smoothed out his expression. “I’m not looking for a mate or kids, so why not save Moira’s baby sister?”
“Why else?” Kane wasn’t the smartest guy on the planet for nothing.
“I want her skills.” Jase’s feet itched with the need to move. “She’s a witch, and if I can control molecules, maybe I can get my gifts back. But you already knew that.”
Kane nodded, tucking his hands in his pockets. “There’s more.”
Jase gave up the fight and pivoted to the north so he could see. Brenna colored in a book next to a little girl with bandages down the right side of her body. The toddler smiled, so much happiness in the little girl’s eyes that Jase’s gut hurt. The girl handed her drawing to Brenna, who gasped and said something. The toddler nodded, her eyes lighting up. Then she lay down, her head on Brenna’s knee, and Bren smoothed back the girl’s blond curls.
“Jase?” Kane asked. “Why else?”
He couldn’t look away. Didn’t want to. The world was cold and shitty. Brenna was warm and kind. “She saved me,” he said. “At my darkest point, Brenna Dunne saved my life.”
If Jase couldn’t understand it, no way would he share it. “Doesn’t matter. The fact is that she saved me, and I owe her. Period.” Deep down, a dark voice he usually ignored rumbled up that maybe she could save him again. He shook his head. No.
There was no saving him this time.
A phone buzzed, and Kane read the face of his cell. “I have to go. We’re not finished with this discussion.” His footsteps echoed as he strode back toward his car and roared off.
Frozen molecules on the wind brushed Jase’s face. Dark clouds spread to cover the waning sun. Yet he stood in the cold, legs braced, his gaze on the woman inside the hospital.
Five years ago, he’d been tortured until every nerve in his body screamed in agony. Yet standing in the snow, watching kindness without expectation, true pain sliced through his heart. Pure and absolute, the cut illustrated more than ever that he’d never be whole. Never be able to have the simple life, the life he had planned on before being taken. They’d killed a part of him, and whatever remained existed only for revenge. He’d get that . . . with Brenna’s skills.
He turned away from the bright lights of the hospital to face the shadows.
Where he belonged.
Brenna tugged her gloves farther up her hands as she stepped into the billowing snow. As always, her visit with the kids served to lighten her mood, as well as remind her of her good fortune.
Late afternoon, the storm barreled full force. Tucking her head, she scurried toward her car. The second she reached the driver’s side door, a van jerked to a stop on the opposite side of the street. She whirled around. Three men jumped out, the one in front holding a bouquet of fresh, red roses.
She sighed. “Henry? You have got to be kidding me.”
Henry shoved his too-large hat off his forehead and extended the roses. “For you.”
Jase Kayrs instantly stood next to her like a deadly apparition out of the storm. “Who’s your friend, Brenna?”
Brenna’s heart leapt into full gear. She clutched her chest. “What are you doing here?”
He shrugged, his sharp gaze on Henry and his buddies. “I thought you’d like an escort home.”
Henry’s thin Adam’s apple bobbed. As a witch, he might be a century old, but he looked like a skinny thirty-year-old. “You’re spending time with a vampire? No, Brenna. Please.”
She shook her head, her fingers tightening on the keys. “Listen, Henry. Enough is enough. Please leave me be.”
His muddy brown eyes widened. “Did you get my letters? My proposal?”
“Yes.” In fact, she’d received more than twenty marriage proposals from him in the last two months alone. “I’m not going to marry you.”
His thin shoulders hunched forward. “As our chosen one, you must mate, or you’ll die. I’ve seen your medical records.”
On all that was holy and pure. “Are my bloomin’ records suddenly on the Internet?” An ache pounded behind her left eye.
“No. We broke into the hospital records.” Henry slid forward and stopped when Jase growled. “You’ll die if you don’t mate. We only have five days until the solstice. Please meet your destiny.”