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|Shadowed(Dark Protectors #6) by Rebecca Zanetti|
Jase chortled. “This guy’s your destiny?”
“Shut up.” Brenna waved off the roses. “I’m not chosen. I’m not your destiny, and you’re certainly not mine. I’ve told you before, the winter solstice has nothing to do with me.”
The two guys behind Henry eyed each other, their mouths turning down. Way down.
Jase angled himself slightly in front of her in a clearly defensive move. “Who are you people?”
Henry cleared his throat. “I’m Henry Balcott, the head of Brenna’s Warriors.”
Jase cut his eyes to Brenna. “Brenna’s Warriors?”
She sighed. No way did she want Jase to know how odd her life really was. “How about you head back to headquarters, and I’ll meet you for an early dinner?”
Henry nodded, his thin hair flying around. “Yes. Good idea. Go away, vampire.”
Jase stilled in that odd vampire way, and tension spiraled through the air. He stepped toward Henry.
Henry gasped and backed into his buddies. “No offense.”
“Offense taken,” Jase growled. “Explain yourself, peon.”
Now that sounded like a full-blooded, pissed-off Kayrs male. Brenna’s breath heated. She had opened her mouth to speak when a second van, this one white, jumped the curb. People waving signs of protest billowed out, apparently having been stacked end-to-end inside.
“Blast it,” she muttered.
A woman with flashing blue eyes shook a sign. A muted orange cascaded off her skin as proof she was a powerful and irritated witch. “Get off the council now, Brenna Dunne.”
Jase frowned and scratched his chin. “More friends of yours?”
Henry stomped over to the woman until they stood nose-to-nose. “You evil harbinger! Leave my intended alone.”
Jase leaned closer to Brenna’s ear. “Who are these people?”
Damn it. She licked snow off her lips. “The protesters are a group called Citizens Revolting Against Pagurus.”
“CRAP?” he barked out. “You have a group called CRAP protesting in Dublin?”
The woman smacked Henry over the head with her sign. He yelped and backed away.
“We prefer Citizens, if you don’t mind, Prince Kayrs,” the woman said.
A harsh crease drew Jase’s brows together. “How do you know me?”
She shrugged. “Your picture was plastered all over the immortal world when you were taken by demons. Everyone recognizes you by sight.”
“I’m a damn milk-carton face,” he muttered. “Brenna? What the hell is going on?”
The protesters shook their signs and surrounded the SUV. Henry and his buddies huddled close to their van. Embarrassment heated Brenna’s cheeks. “I’ll explain on the way home. Let’s go.”
A male protester jumped forward and shook his sign in Brenna’s eyes. “Resign now, before the solstice, or you won’t live to see the darkest day of the year.”
Jase grabbed the protester under the chin and slammed him to the icy ground. His head impacted with the sound of a melon splitting. Dropping to one knee, his hand choking the male witch, Jase let his fangs drop low and sharp. “If any of you even thinks of threatening Brenna again, I promise you’ll beg for a quick death when I’m finished discussing the matter with you.”
The witch’s eyes closed in unconsciousness.
Adrenaline ripped through Brenna’s veins. If Jase tightened his hold, he’d decapitate the witch. She shuffled toward him and slid her hand over his shoulder. “Jase? Let’s not kill the moron. This time.”
He nodded, released the witch, and stood. Tension vibrated around the vampire in a more dangerous display than the swirling storm. His eyes morphed to a sizzling vampiric green as he flashed his fangs at the protesters. “I could kill you all before you thought to defend yourselves.”
Absolute truth echoed in the soldier’s tone. Brenna swallowed. She’d forgotten how dangerous he’d been even before being taken by demons. Now, she eyed him with a new awareness. The moments of his life had converged into making Jase one of the most deadly predators in existence . . . maybe the most deadly. He stood, his gaze steady, his biceps undulating with the threat of movement. “Leave now.”
People scattered like cockroaches.
He turned toward Brenna. “Get in the car.”
She swallowed and yanked open the door to climb inside.
Without looking at anybody, Jase stalked around and slid into the passenger side. “Drive.”
Heated air blew out of Brenna’s chest. She started the ignition and drove carefully over icy roads toward Nine headquarters.
Silence filled the car with a heaviness that made breathing difficult.
Finally, Jase stretched his legs out. “Why are you getting marriage proposals and death threats regarding the winter solstice?”
Nothing much got past the vampires. Brenna flipped on the windshield wipers. “You’re aware half the world thinks I’m a freak, right?” She kept her tone even, as if the truth didn’t still hurt just a little.
“You’re not a freak.”
“That’s not what I asked you.” She’d been coddled and protected by her family since birth and didn’t need any more. “You know.”
“Yes.” He settled his bulk into the seat. “For your ridiculously superstitious people, a seventh sister of a seventh sister is always a powerful witch. Whenever in history there has been one born, that daughter is the last child born in the family.”
“Exactly.” Brenna took a deep breath. “Moira is the seventh, and man, is she powerful. I’m the eighth sister of a seventh sister. An unheard-of anomaly.”
Jase shook his head. “That’s all just so damn stupid.”
“Maybe.” Hell yes, it was stupid. Except, well, odd things had happened since her birth, including economic decline, new cults, and more powerful atomic reactions. Physics itself had changed with her birth. “My seven older sisters all have red hair and green eyes. I have plain brown hair and weird gray eyes.” She shrugged. “It seems odd, even genetically.”
“Genetics are genetics, and you know it. Do the protesters want you off the Council of the Coven Nine because you were appointed by Moira?”
“No.” Brenna sighed. When Moira had beaten another witch for a council seat, she’d elected for Brenna to fill her spot so she could continue being a soldier. “There’s a book about prophecies, one that doesn’t exist as far as you know, that predicted my birth.”
Jase glanced at her, eyebrows up. “Really?”
“Yes, and it predicted the convergence of my birth, a comet, and the solstice. The day I was born, on a winter solstice, the Pagurus Comet came too close to the earth and messed with our atmosphere and tides on a molecular level. Witches were all sorts of screwed up for a couple of months. My people were helpless.”
Jase leaned forward. “This is news.”
She shrugged. “Yeah. The comet wasn’t close enough for anybody to spot, yet close enough to mess with us.”
“The comet is coming back the night of the winter solstice, and supposedly will somehow affect me, infusing me with some sort of power from the universe. In four days.” She sighed. “I have a group that thinks I’m charmed and destined to be their queen of weirdoes. The other group wants me off the Nine and hopefully out of Ireland.”
“So is it the comet or is it the winter solstice that’s supposed to affect you?”
“It’s the conjunction of the two.” Brenna swept hair away from her face. “The winter solstice is always a time we gain power, but all witches gain it, and it’s just a temporary enhancement. The comet messes with everyone’s skills, and supposedly, I gain power somehow because I’m the only eighth sister born of a seventh witch sister ever, much less last time the comet was here. I’m such a wacko.”
Jase snorted. “You’re not a wacko. Do you know anything more than the comet will somehow give you power?”
“Nope. The legend is rather vague and unsettling.”
“Okay. For now, maybe we should set the two groups up to duke it out,” Jase said.
“The CRAP group will kill the Warriors.” She bit her lip as she pulled into the parking lot outside the Nine’s aboveground headquarters. “Though it would be funny.”
Jase uncoiled from the vehicle and reached her door before she could open it. Helping her out, he tucked her hand at his arm. “How dangerous are these goofballs?”
A silly flutter spread through her abdomen from his touch. “I don’t really know.”
As they reached the wide glass doors, they opened, and Deb rushed out. She gasped for air. “Just had to warn you.”
Jase frowned. “About what?”
Deb held up a hand as she regained her breath. “Everyone is waiting in the large conference room.”
“Why?” Tingles of dread spread down Brenna’s spine.
“To negotiate the terms.” Deb tightened her coat and sidled toward her vehicle.
“What terms?” Brenna asked as Jase grabbed the door before it could close.
Deb gave a sympathetic grimace over her shoulder. “Your mating, of course.”
Brenna shook off the feeling of walking into a principal’s office. Her aunt Viv, her sister Moira, and two witch lawyers sat on one side of a long conference table. Kane Kayrs and Conn Kayrs sat on the other side. Opposite ends of the table held empty chairs. Viv motioned Brenna toward one.
“No.” Jase took her hand in his warm one, grabbed an extra chair lined by the door, and dragged it over to where he was apparently supposed to sit. “We sit together.”
His palm warmed hers right along with her heart.
She sat, her gaze on her sister. “Moira? When did you get home?”
Moira’s green eyes flashed. Her rioting red hair curled around her shoulders. “We jumped on a plane the second we heard about this crazy scheme. You are not mating for business reasons.”
Conn, Moira’s mate and Jase’s brother, nodded. “I agree.”
Even sitting on opposing sides of a table, the pair was united. A pang nicked Brenna’s heart. She’d probably never have that sense of belonging. “I’m dying, Moira.”
Moira paled. “You’re not.”
“She is,” Kane said quietly. “I’m sorry, but I’ve examined her medical records. There’s no cure to the internal poisoning from planekite, and she’s declining quickly.”
Brenna took a deep breath. “To be honest, I may have waited too long.” She needed her sister to be prepared. “Even mating a vampire as powerful as Jase might not save me. I’m so sorry.”
Blue mist smoldered along Moira’s arms—proof the witch was agitated. “Why didn’t you tell me?”
“I thought our doctors would find a cure, and I’m tired of everyone being worried about me.” Damn, Brenna missed being able to make fire and plasma balls. She pushed her glasses up her nose. “There was nothing you could do.”
“She’s right,” Kane said. “Her doctors have tried methods I’ve never heard of—probably because you witches are so secretive.” Only fact existed in the brilliant vampire’s tone. No judgment.
Moira shifted in her seat. “What’s up with the eyeglasses?”
“I can’t see,” Brenna said. Just saying the words hurt. Even ancient witches retained perfect eyesight.
“Oh.” Concern bracketed Moira’s mouth. “Jase? Why are you agreeing to mate?”
His chin slowly lifted. “Besides the fact that Brenna is beautiful, smart, and sexy as hell?”
Heat slid through Brenna stronger than her uncle Paddy’s homemade liquor. As the plain one in the family, nobody ever called her sexy.
“Yes.” Moira’s shoulders went back. “You’ve been avoiding all of us since you returned home, training constantly, all but consumed with the need to go and fight. Yet now you’re willing to take a mate?”
“Yes,” Jase said.
Silence pounded around the room. Apparently the vampire wasn’t willing to expand on the subject.
“No,” Moira finally said.
Brenna leaned forward. “My mind is made up, and I’ve agreed. So we’re finished here.” She moved to stand.
Viv waved her back into her seat. “I agree. But now we need to negotiate.”
Brenna slowly regained her seat. “How so?”
“Well, our treaty with the vampires is tenuous at best. This will cement it.” Viv nodded toward two male lawyers on her side of the table.
“Wait.” Brenna eyed Moira, who sat with her arms crossed. Their discussion was in no way over. “When Moira and Conn mated, we created a treaty, right?”
Kane cleared his throat. “Ah, kind of. Basically, after their, ah, accidental mating one night, that treaty prohibited Conn from contacting Moira for a century in order to prevent war. That’s all. No future promises or obligations were created.”
Conn flashed Moira a grin. “A whole lot of promises and obligations were created, if you ask me.”
“Nobody asked you.” Moira smiled back.
“I see.” Brenna counted the distance from her chair to the door. They all knew that mating meant crazy, vampire monkey sex, right? How in the world did they plan to negotiate that one?
One of Viv’s lawyers—Brenna could never remember the guy’s name—shoved a stack of papers toward Kane. “This covers all contingencies,” the lawyer said, yanking on his Burberry tie and flushing.