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|Shadowed(Dark Protectors #6) by Rebecca Zanetti|
She tucked her packages against her ribs, fighting to keep up. “You studied the mall schematics?”
“On the way here.”
They reached the top of the stairs, and he stopped. His head lifted, his eyes going flat. “They’re up here, too.”
She yanked a gun from her handbag and tossed her packages toward the wall. Normal witches had a decent defense against the demons’ mind attacks because of the plasma balls, but she was useless in a fight right now. “I can’t create fire.”
“I know,” he said grimly, surveying the area. “What’s over there?” He pointed to a construction area blocked off by signs and strung tape.
“New stores moving in—they’re remodeling the area.”
“Good.” Taking her hand, he pulled her past the signs and under the tape. “We’ll lead them away from humans at least.” Then he tapped his ear. “Conn? We’re on the second level in the east wing. I sense three of them—maybe four.”
The oxygen in the air swelled, adding weight. Brenna struggled forward, her mind fuzzy. “They’re not attacking yet, but my head is beginning to hurt.”
He edged them along the roughly plastered wall. “Have you ever felt a demon attack?”
“No.” Her lungs heated, while the plaster scratched her hand.
“They’ll shoot horrific images into your mind, and then it’ll feel like a scalding blade is cutting your brain. The wound is not real, and you can push through the pain.” He drew a gun from his waistband and dodged into one of the empty stores.
She followed, sweeping her gun behind them. “Can you push through the attack?”
“Yes. After five years of torture, I can shield. Somewhat.”
Her ears rang. Adrenaline flooded her system. Rough walls and subfloor made up the octagonal room. Construction plastic hung from the ceiling, while toolboxes and flooring materials were scattered throughout. The smell of plaster dust tickled her nose, and she bit back a sneeze.
Jase pointed to a framed hole in the wall that would probably lead to dressing rooms. “Go in there and don’t come out until I get you.”
She shook her head. “You can’t fight three of them alone. I have a gun, and I know how to shoot.”
He whirled on her so quickly she stepped back, her ankle colliding with a stack of tiles. She would’ve fallen had he not grabbed her arm. His jaw firmed, his muscles undulated, and his eyes flattened to death. “Obey me.”
Her entire body tightened with awareness. With real fear. The vampire had morphed from man to killer within seconds. The hard face, she could handle. But the dead eyes? They broke her heart—while every instinct in her body screamed for her to run. Away. From. Him. So she nodded, and the second he released her, she scrambled toward the dressing rooms. But she stopped at the doorway, turned, and settled her stance.
The look he gave her chilled her bones.
Then the demons entered the room.
Two males entered first, followed by a female demon. Brenna steadied her grip on the gun. A real female demon. They were almost a legend, they were so rare. This one had the white-blond hair and black eyes of a purebred. She was tiny, but power shimmered around her until sparks popped in the air.
The two hulking men also showed their heritage with fathomless eyes and white hair. Dressed in all black, with silver emblems covering their right breasts. High-up soldiers.
The woman flashed sharp teeth. “Miss me, Jase?”
He growled low and shifted to the right, his position allowing him to scan the entire room. “No. In fact, I hoped you died when my brothers demolished the Scotland headquarters, Willa.”
The woman pouted red lips, eyes sparkling. “Such mean language after such wonderful times in my bedroom.” She flicked her glance at Brenna. “There was no way we could work out. You always did like them helpless.”
Brenna cocked the gun. What times in her bedroom? Had Jase been with this bitch?
Willa’s smile widened. “A gun won’t stop me, witch, and considering you’re at death’s door, neither will you.” She sighed. “I had hoped for more of a fight when I killed your mate. ’Tis a pity.”
Jase flashed the grin of a killer. “Jealous?”
Willa hissed out a breath. “Of what?”
Cold calculation quirked Jase’s upper lip. “Of the pretty witch I decided to mate. You know, after you all but begged for my cock.”
“I wanted your marking.” Fire lanced through the woman’s eyes. She lifted a shoulder. “Besides, I’ve had your tongue in my mouth, vampire. We both know you wanted it.”
Bile rose up Brenna’s throat, and she shoved the acid down. “The Coven Nine isn’t going to allow this trespass on our land. Get out now.”
“Do you honestly think we’re afraid of the Coven Nine?” Willa swept her hand out, and the air chilled. “We’ve never taken your land because we don’t want it.”
Fury and fear steadied Brenna’s aim. “We both know you’re afraid of the Nine. Witches can handle demons, and you know it. Get. Out. Now.”
Icicles of pain instantly ripped into her brain. She fell back against the wall, crying out. Images of tortured children flashed behind her mind’s eye. She shook her head, aimed, and fired.
The bullet glanced off Willa’s shoulder, but the mental attack stopped.
Jase jumped for the nearest guard, his knife flashing. The soldier countered, slamming Jase into plastic sheeting. Shaking off the cover, Jase dodged forward and punched the soldier in the face, kicking back to stop the other guy’s advance.
Brenna gulped down fear and fired again. This round hit Willa in the chest. The demon snarled and attacked with brutal accuracy to Brenna’s frontal lobe. The explosion in her head weakened her knees. She kept firing as she went down.
Jase bellowed and grabbed his temples. Then, straightening, he shook his head and lunged into the soldier, knife out. Quick twists had the demon on the ground with a blade sticking out of his neck. The other demon tackled Jase and sent them rolling across the floor.
The doorway filled with Kell, Conn, and Moira.
Brenna gasped in relief even as her limbs went numb. The gun clattered against the wood. She turned her head, helpless, to watch.
Willa took in the situation, pivoted, and ran full-bore for the boarded windows. Wood and glass shattered as she flew through.
Moira skidded across the room, landing on her knees to cradle Brenna’s head. “Bren?”
“I’m fine.” Brenna pushed herself to sit, heated blood sliding from her nose and eyes. “Damn demons.”
Moira slid an arm around her shoulders, offering support.
Across the room, Jase and the third demon grappled. Jase flipped the guy onto his back and straddled him, fists swinging. The demon’s cheek caved. Yet Jase continued to punch. Hard, crazy, out of control, he broke every bone in the demon’s face.
A wave of pain cascaded out, attacking, from the guy with a knife in his throat. Conn instantly dropped to one knee and shot a fierce punch to the demon’s jaw. The guy slumped unconscious.
Jase beat the downed demon, who was out cold. Blood sprayed. Brain matter oozed from the guy’s ear. With a hard look at Moira, Conn shot forward and captured Jase in a hold from behind. Jase kept swinging, struggling against his brother’s grasp.
Conn yanked him to the side and off the demon. “He’s had enough.”
“He’s still alive,” Jase growled, fighting to get back to the ground.
Conn twisted and tossed Jase into the wall. “Enough. We need to question him.”
Jase shoved off the wall, his face a brutal mask. Cuts lined his cheek and jaw, while blood flowed from a gash above his right eyebrow. No recognition lived in his eyes. Slowly, he straightened, and his eyes focused. His chin lowered. A warrior after a battle—a warrior still in the battle. His fists clenched. His body vibrated. Then, he went cold. No emotion . . . nothing.
Brenna trembled against her sister. Good God. What had she done?
Brenna danced on the mats in the training room, waiting for the right opening. Her sister moved to the side, so she shot in and tossed Moira to the ground.
Moira flipped to her feet. “Nice move.”
“Thanks.” Brenna stretched her neck. “You’re taking it easy on me.”
Moira shrugged. “You’re not at full strength yet.” She reached for a towel to wipe her forehead. “Do you feel any difference since the, ah, the mating?”
“Not really.” Brenna unwound the tape protecting her wrists. “Though it hasn’t even been twenty-four hours.” She glanced at the clock. “I wanted to sit in on the interview with the captured demons.”
“No, you didn’t,” Moira murmured. “Believe me, Jase had blood in his eye. Conn went only to make sure Jase didn’t kill them. Well, before we got answers.”
Brenna reached for a bottle of water. “Jase was out of control in the mall. I mean, I understand it, but—”
“Anger issues, much?” Moira tossed the towel into a bin. “He’s definitely over the edge.”
“I know.” Brenna sighed. “I feel like he’s my responsibility now. Since we mated.”
“He’s not. Your mating was arranged, and you’re protected by contract.” Moira slid into the splits, leaning her head back to her knees. She straightened up, her brow furrowing. “You’re not thinking you’re in love with the guy, are you?”
Well, she definitely had feelings for him, but they ran the gamut from desire to wariness. “I have no bloomin’ clue.”
Moira chuckled. “Welcome to matehood with a Kayrs. If we’re not confused, the earth isn’t spinning.”
Brenna paused. “Problems?”
Moira cracked her neck. “We’re all on eggshells. Rage is eating Jase, and guilt is eating the rest of the brothers. They all need an emotional exorcism, if you ask me.”
“Well, as king, Dage is furious the demons dared take and torture his younger brother. Dage has to retaliate, and I think he’s afraid of how far he’ll go.” Moira stretched her neck.
The king had always seemed to carry the world with ease. But when family was involved, things always got dicey. “How is Emma holding up?” The king’s mate was a kick in the pants as far as Brenna was concerned.
Moira shoved curls off her forehead. “Emma is obsessed with curing Virus-27. I’ve never seen anybody work so hard and with such single-minded dedication.”
“Well, her younger sister has contracted the virus. That would motivate any of us.” Brenna twisted her torso to release tension. “Plus, if the damn bug goes airborne, as we’re all predicting it will, then every vampire mate and witch is susceptible.”
“I know. It’s too bad we haven’t wiped the Kurjans off the map.” Fire danced on Moira’s skin.
The Kurjans were an evil vampire race, who were allergic to the sun. They had created Virus-27 to destroy vampire mates and witches by unraveling their chromosomal pairs. Vampire mates had twenty-seven pairs, while witches had twenty-eight; decrease those . . . and they could end up dead. “Good thing the virus is so slow-moving,” Brenna mused.
“Slow-moving for immortals is fast-moving for humans. The bug will kill, I’m afraid. Eventually.” Moira scrubbed both hands down her face. “It’s difficult watching Talen try to handle Cara’s illness.”
Cara was Emma’s younger sister, and she’d mated Talen right before contracting the virus. “I’m sure Emma will find a cure.” Brenna hoped. “Or Kane will.” Kane was the middle Kayrs brother, the voice of reason, and the smartest person on the planet.
“Aye, Kane will find a cure just to make sure his mate never gets infected. For a logical vampire, he has fallen so hard, it’s adorable.” Moira grinned.
“Look who’s talking.”
Moira shrugged. “Connlan Kayrs is everything I ever wanted in a mate. How could I not fall for the sexiest soldier alive?”
Now that was sweet. “So he’s doing all right?”
“No. I’m worried about him.” Moira took a deep breath. “But we’ll figure it out—we always do.”
Brenna nodded. “I’m glad you’re happy.”
“You will be, too. Just as soon as we get through this difficult time with Jase. All of the brothers will relax.” Moira sighed.
“Vampires aren’t very good with the feelings stuff. If it’s something they can’t fight or kill, then it just pisses them off.” Brenna smiled. “Look at me. I’ve been a vampire mate for less than a day, and I’m full of wisdom.”
Moira nodded. “Unfortunately, I think you’ve nailed the situation. There’s a Kayrs-sized explosion coming, and I can’t tell which direction it’ll come from. I’m afraid there’s no way to stop it.”
“Well, maybe we should get out of the way.” Though every instinct in Brenna’s arsenal urged her to help Jase.
“That would be wise.” Moira stood. “But that’s not who we are, now is it?”
Unfortunately . . . no. “I have a terrible feeling I’m going to get burned.”
“Burn ’em back.” Moira’s tone was light, her eyes dark.
Not good. Not good at all.
Brenna opened her mouth to argue when Conn Kayrs filled the doorway. Tall and strong, the Realm’s ultimate soldier held presence in spades. Add in dark green eyes and a hard jaw, and he was something to look at.