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|Shadowed(Dark Protectors #6) by Rebecca Zanetti|
Brenna sighed. “Stop worrying so. Everything is going to be fine.”
“I’m not worrying.” Moira slipped a knife into her evening bag. “It’s just, well, the Jase who came back from captivity isn’t the same Jase we all knew and loved. We still love him, but I’m not sure he’s safe.”
Of course he wasn’t safe. The guy was dynamite with an already lit fuse. “I need his strength and bloodline. Even with that power, there’s a chance I still won’t recover from the poisoning.”
“Don’t say that.” Panic swept the color from Moira’s face. She clutched her bag. “Why did you wait so long?”
“I don’t know. I guess I figured the doctors would find a cure.” Plus, she hadn’t really had someone in mind to mate. Until now.
Moira nodded. “I get that.”
“Why hasn’t the king gotten Jase some help?” Brenna asked.
Moira snorted. “Have you met Jase? You can’t help someone who doesn’t want it.”
Dread slid through Brenna’s veins. “There’s only one thing he wants. Revenge against the demons.”
“I know.” Moira reached for the damaged front door to tug open. “Just make sure you don’t get caught in that crossfire, little sister. He’ll go through anybody to reach that goal.”
Yeah, he would. “I understand.”
“Oh.” Moira paused halfway into the hallway. “I forgot to tell you. We rounded up all the members of CRAP and will hold them until after the winter solstice. You’re safe.”
“Good.” Frankly, she hadn’t felt much fear after Jase demolished most of their soldiers. But it was a relief to know the group wouldn’t be protesting at the cultural event. Sometimes the protests took a toll on her, although she never let the strain show. “I guess there’s no reason for Jase to attend tonight.” A surprising disappointment slid through her at the thought.
“Yet, here I am.” Jase suddenly loomed in the hallway.
Moira hurried over to the other doorway, where Conn had just emerged.
Brenna smiled at the vampire to mask her racing heart. The black tuxedo emphasized Jase’s long and lean body in a way that totally failed to hide the predator beneath the suit. In fact, the civilized style only enhanced his wildness. His gaze ran over her dress, and her body reacted as if he’d used his hands.
“You look stunning,” he said.
Pleasure bloomed in her chest. “Thank you. You clean up really nice, Kayrs.”
A rare dimple flashed in his right cheek. “Using my last name won’t work to distance yourself from me, baby.” He held out an arm. “Now tell me what exactly this shindig is, will you?”
She slid her hand through his arm, marveling at the hardness. “It’s the Coven Nine’s winter ball. We invite dignitaries from many witch organizations as well as some fairies, vampires, and shifters. Truth be told, it’s our Nine Christmas party, too.” Speaking of which, she had to finish her shopping before all of this mating stuff took place.
He nodded. “I am not sitting on Santa’s lap.”
“Did you just make a joke . . . Kayrs?” She pushed her ever-present glasses up her nose.
“I’m a funny guy . . . Dunne.” He escorted her to the elevator, and once inside, leaned out to where Moira was assisting Conn with cuff links. “We’ll meet you at the car.” Pressing a button, he waited until the door shut.
Brenna frowned. “We could’ve waited.”
“No. We didn’t finish earlier.”
She stepped back. “Finish what?”
One eyebrow rose. Slowly, his fangs dropped low.
Her rear hit the side wall too quickly. There was no escape. “What are you doing?”
He slashed his wrist. “Drink.”
Heated breath rushed out of her lungs. “Oh.”
“Yeah. I bit you, now you bite me. We’ll get your strength up in no time.” He waited, dripping blood onto the floor. “Come here, Brenna.”
One step and he could be in her space. But no. He wanted her to move. She steeled her shoulders. “No.”
His chin lowered while his gaze kept hers. The slightest of curves tightened his lips. “I find I don’t like hearing that word from you.”
She raised an eyebrow. “Watch yourself, Kayrs. You’re sounding like a vampire mate.”
“You’d better hope I’m not feeling like one.” The elevator stopped, and the doors slid open. Smooth as silk, Jase moved in front of the exit, easily blocking any escape. “Now come here and take my blood.”
Fire swept through her. Some anger and a whole lot of desire. The calm, clearly demanding tone of voice he used slid right under her skin to soften her sex. What in the world was wrong with her? One time was safe, but taking more of the vampire’s blood would give him a bigger hold on her. Of course, mating him would pretty much clinch the deal. “I don’t take orders well. Ever.”
“That’s unfortunate.” All of his formidable concentration focused right on her. “We’re not leaving this space until you take some blood.”
The elevator doors tried to close, and he blocked them with his body. An alarm began to buzz. Bollocks.
“Fine.” She moved toward him, grabbed his wrist, and bit. Hard.
“I was already bleeding,” he murmured.
She sucked in the life-giving liquid and stepped back, dropping his hand. Energy rippled down her throat, igniting her blood. “My bad.”
He lifted his arm to lick the wound closed. Lucky vampire spit. “As the youngest, I have a feeling you’ve gotten away with quite the bit in the Dunne family.”
True. Since a good part of the world was against her, the entire family had banded around her for protection. Yet sometimes, they’d stifled her. “Your point?”
“I’m not part of your family. You push me, and I’ll pull you exactly where I want you.”
The damn man couldn’t even deliver a predictable cliché. Even so, a shiver of awareness tickled down her spine. “I will keep that in mind.” She’d been raised by volatile, plasma-throwing, stubborn witches. Did he really think a vampire scared her? “Though you should probably remember that the second I regain my strength, I could blow up your entire world.”
He pivoted and held out an arm. “I look forward to your attempt.”
Sliding her hand along his arm, she moved from the elevator and tried to ignore the voice in her head laughing hysterically. Of course Jase Kayrs was a man to be feared. But showing that fear? No bloomin’ way.
The stairwell door opened, and Conn rushed out with an irritated Moira right behind him. “What the hell’s wrong with the elevator?” he asked.
Jase shrugged and headed for the car. “How the hell should I know?”
The McMannis Hotel ballroom glowed with Christmas lights, sparkling trees, and shimmering dresses. Jase tugged on his collar and willed his heart to stop beating so hard. He’d nearly had a panic attack in the damn elevator once the doors had closed. Only messing around with Brenna had kept him from going berserk.
But he’d hidden it well. Once again.
He leaned against a pillar by the bar and out of the way of the festivities. Conn and Moira were completing perimeter checks, and Brenna had launched into dignitary mode in a meet-and-greet frenzy that had instantly set his fangs alive. So he’d headed for the bar.
His metabolism was such that the five shots of tequila he’d downed would be absorbed and gone within an hour. But for now, he allowed the alcohol to calm him. The room held seven exits, not including the long row of windows showing the river. He could easily jump through the double-paned glass if necessary. Ever since being freed, he sought exits to any habitat.
Though his gaze kept returning to the elegant woman working the room. Her dress hugged her figure and highlighted creamy breasts. In fact, her skin was perfect. Pale and smooth, it tempted his mouth more than he’d like. When she’d turned to reveal a bare back, he’d almost groaned out loud. His hand itched with the need to trace her spine.
The woman was calm in a tumultuous storm. A sense of peace surrounded her, and he found himself oddly put out with the group of Scottish businessmen she was currently conversing with. Damn lucky Scots. Her friend Deb chatted, as well, every once in a while sending him a hard glance. Apparently the witch didn’t like him much. Couldn’t blame her.
Though he also couldn’t help watching pretty Brenna.
As if sensing his perusal, she glanced up.
Her smile hit him hard in the gut. Sweet and genuine, the woman’s expression warmed him in places he’d thought would always remain frozen. So he frowned.
Her smile widened. Saying something to the men, she turned and glided his way. Reaching his side, she slid her hand along his forearm. “You remind me of an arctic wolf that got caught in our barn one year. Caged and ready to rumble.”
He lifted an eyebrow. Her gentle touch settled him. “Is that an invitation?”
She leaned in, and the scent of jasmine washed over him. “You wanna rumble?”
Oh yeah. He wanted to rumble. The orchestra changed to a slow tune, so he held out a hand. “How about we dance?”
She blinked. Hadn’t expected an invite, now had she? Almost warily, she slipped her hand in his. “Didn’t think you were a dancer.”
He swept her onto the floor and flattened his palm against her lower back. Her bare, lower back. “I’m three centuries old, baby. I can spin you around a bit.” Then he pulled her close.
Her breath hitched.
His blood heated.
Brenna Dunne was an honest, beautiful, delicate woman in a completely shitty world. He shouldn’t be touching her, and he sure shouldn’t be having thoughts of stripping her naked and making her scream his name. He stiffened.
She stepped even closer and ran her hand down his arm again. Offering comfort. “Relax, Jase. I won’t step on your feet.”
His instant smile shocked the hell out of him. So he closed his eyes and lowered his head until his jaw rested on her forehead. The music wound around them as he led her gently around the floor. Although small, she fit nicely against him. His hand spanned her entire lower back. A protective urge rippled through him with a force that would’ve staggered him if he hadn’t been moving. Nobody would hurt this woman. Ever.
He’d die for any one of his brothers. Hell, he’d killed for them often enough. Yet for the first time, a possessive edge sharpened his every protective need to keep the limited people in his life safe. An edge just for Brenna.
He didn’t like it. Yet he couldn’t help but brush a soft kiss across her forehead.
The hair on the back of his neck prickled. Turning them, he opened his eyes to see Conn watching him from the far side of the ballroom. Thoughtful calculation narrowed Conn’s gaze, but for once, no concern lived in the metallic depths.
The ever-present guilt inside Jase flared to life. Because of his weaknesses, the Realm’s ultimate soldier had been reduced to a matchmaking babysitter. Conn should be out fighting enemies, not trying to hold Jase’s hand. No matter how hard he tried, he couldn’t be who they needed him to be. But no, now Conn watched him with hope in his eyes, hope that Brenna Dunne would save him.
He had to save himself.
For the first time in five years, he wondered if maybe he could. If maybe he should.
Brenna sighed and snuggled closer to him. The bittersweet moment cut through him with the sharpness of a blade.
Even so, he closed his eyes again and held her tight. He’d figure out the rest later. For now, in this moment, he just wanted to feel this woman against him.
Brenna maneuvered through tables and bodies, acutely aware of the vampire’s gaze on her backside. Her butt actually heated. She hadn’t expected him to ask her to dance, and she sure as heck hadn’t expected to be a puddle of hormonal randiness afterward. So she’d excused herself and headed to the restroom. Although tight, her dress brushed her aching nipples in a way that made her want to whimper as she moved.
The idea of mating Jase Kayrs was exciting and intriguing. The reality was frightening and overwhelming. Vampires exuded dominance, maleness, and strength as a species. And after what he’d gone through, Jase was in a class all his own.
She closed the restroom door with a sigh of relief.
A plush lounge area held a long sofa across from a makeup table. She took a moment to straighten her hair and apply lipstick. Her eyes were flushed, her cheeks rosy. Signs of the fire roaring through her blood. All from one dance with Jase.
The door swished open, and two men stepped inside. The lock engaged with a loud click.
Sighing, she turned around. “This is the ladies’ room.”
Henry’s Adam’s apple bobbed as he nodded. “I know, but the solstice is in three days, and we need to get moving.” He motioned for his hulking friend to sit on the sofa. “This is Albert McGillicutty, and he’s one of Brenna’s Warriors.”
Albert sprawled, overwhelming the feminine divine. At least six feet tall, the guy was all muscle. Even his neck. He was definitely an Irish farm boy. “Hi.” Dull blue eyes took her measure.
What in the world? “Hello? You’re in the ladies’ room.” Brenna inched toward the door.
Henry blocked her way with his skinny body. “Albert is here to mate you.”
Brenna snorted a laugh and then covered her nose. “Excuse me?” Henry cleared his throat. “You apparently like them brawny, so I’m willing to sacrifice my love in order to save you. To save our people.” He nodded toward a window in the far wall. “We have a vehicle waiting to take you to Albert’s place.”