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|Shadowed(Dark Protectors #6) by Rebecca Zanetti|
Deb reached inside the office and flipped on the light. “Why in the world do you work in the dark?”
Brenna shrugged and shut down the computer. “It’s peaceful.” She’d placed rich oil paintings on the two side walls, and in the dusky light, the fighting figures came alive.
Deb followed her gaze. “I’ve always wondered why you chose battle scenes for your Coven Nine office.”
“Because we’re always at war.” Sad, but true. Even before the current war, the witch world was tumultuous. “Take a species that can manipulate space and matter . . .”
Deb loped inside to drop into one of two plush guest chairs. “So.”
“So.” Brenna studied her best friend. They’d become inseparable in kindergarten when Tommy McMannis had thrown a frog at Brenna’s head. Deb had instantly tackled him into a rosebush. “What have you heard?”
“I’ve heard you’re heading to America.” Deb’s brown eyes softened.
“So you’re here to talk me out of it?”
“Um, no.” Deb tangled her fingers together over her dress pants. “Here’s the thing. Mating is hard. I mean, marriage or mating or both . . . either way, combining lives isn’t easy. No matter what.”
Brenna frowned. “All right.”
“So, ah, well. I’m thinking you should go and maybe give it a try.” Deb flushed.
Surprise jerked up Brenna’s head. “You want me to go?”
“Of course not. I want you to stay here and have everything stay the same. But I don’t want you to ever wonder.”
“Wonder about what?”
“If you could’ve had something great. I know you. Already, you’re half in love with the guy . . . maybe all the way in love.” Deb leaned forward, her gaze earnest. “So give it a shot. You’ll never wonder if you should’ve gone.”
Brenna exhaled slowly. “If I get my heart demolished?”
Deb smiled. “Then come home. We’ll plot revenge of the quantum physics kind.” She eyed the storm outside. “Besides, now you have more bodyguards than ever before, and I practically got frisked just trying to get to your office. If you leave town, you might be safer.”
A shadow filled the doorway. Brenna’s breath caught. Jase stood, hands in faded jean pockets, strong face expressionless.
Deb turned her head. “Vampires know how to make an entrance, now don’t they?” She stood and sashayed her way to the door. She paused as Jase stepped to the side. “You hurt her—I’ll cut off your head myself.” Then she disappeared.
Jase raised both eyebrows, his gaze on Brenna. “I think I’m growing on her.”
Aye, like a fungus. “You’re a charming guy.” Brenna stacked files together in order to keep her hands busy.
“I used to be.” He glanced around the office, gaze lingering on the oil paintings. “Did I hurt you last night?”
Heat washed through her. “Of course not.”
“I was rough.” His shoulders hunched, and suddenly, she could see the boy he’d once been.
“I’m fine, Jase.” She pushed away from the desk. “Where did you stay last night?” After tucking her in, he hadn’t returned. She’d wanted to kick herself when she’d awakened at dawn and reached for him.
“Nowhere. I went running—got back an hour ago.”
The guy had run until dawn? “You do that a lot. Run, I mean.” Did he think he could outrun his own memories? She fought to keep sympathy from her face. That would just piss him off.
“Yes, I like to run. Have you packed?”
She stood. “No.”
“We leave today.” His jaw firmed.
“I haven’t decided to accompany you to America. If I do, I’ll fly over after the holidays.” Confrontation always dropped a rock in her stomach. The man would have to be reasonable.
“We leave today, Brenna,” he repeated very softly.
Why was it the deadlier the guy, the scarier he sounded when he quieted? Softness should offer comfort, not warning. The marking on her butt began to burn. Damn vampires.
She shook her head. “After Christmas.”
His chin lowered, while his gaze hardened. “The plane leaves at four this afternoon. You will be on it, packed or not.”
She’d already been lectured by her aunt Viv as well as her sister, Moira. Of course, Moira just wanted Brenna close enough to keep an eye on in case the demons attacked again. Aye, she needed to go. But why make it easy on him? “I’m surprised you fly since being inside makes you edgy.”
“You’ve noticed the claustrophobia?”
“It’s hard to miss.” Sure, she was sympathetic, but getting caught in a private jet with the guy if he had an attack would be suicide.
“Well, it’s all right in the jet because I pilot it.”
She stilled. Why didn’t that make her feel better?
Realm headquarters looked like a subdivision where doctors and soccer moms lived. People like those housewife ladies on reality television. Well, except for the innocuous armed guards, patrolling Dobermans, and over-the-top security.
Brenna stretched her neck. She’d fallen asleep on the plane with her neck at an odd angle. Conn, Kane, and Moira had worked the entire trip, and Jase had piloted the plane.
She glanced at Jase when he pulled into the driveway of a single-story rancher with intricate stone detail. “Where’s the tennis court?”
He grinned. “East of the main lodge.”
“Ah.” She stepped out of the SUV, wondering if there was a way out of this rabbit hole. Skirting the sensors planted in the ground, she headed up the brick walkway. The air swished, and she found herself cradled in a pair of hard arms. “What in the world—”
“Carrying you over the threshold.” Jase climbed the several steps and pushed open the door.
“Oh.” Her cheeks heated, while her heart thumped.
He set her down inside the foyer. Across the spacious living room, wall-to-wall windows showcased the Pacific during winter. Gray and dark. “You don’t have any furniture,” she murmured, her voice echoing.
“We should probably get some.” He slipped his fingers through hers and led her around the sparsely furnished house—grand kitchen, guest room, office, bonus room she might use as an art studio, and finally, the master bedroom.
She swallowed. At least he had a bed.
He cleared his throat, passed the bed, and opened the walk-in closet. His fingers danced across a keypad by the door, and the side wall slid open to reveal steps leading down. “The tunnel leads to the underground headquarters. If we’re attacked, if we’re in danger, punch in 4425, and run.”
Ah. Figured the headquarters would be in the mountains.
Jase shut the passageway. “Why don’t you freshen up and then spend time on the office computer buying whatever furniture and art supplies you’d like. I’m going to go work out.” With a soft kiss to her forehead, he turned and strode from the room.
She’d wondered how long he’d last after being cooped up in the plane for so long. With a last glance at the keypad, she wandered back through the lonely house. No personal touches had been added—besides the big bed. The refrigerator was empty, as was the pantry. A big walk-in pantry shouldn’t be empty. She paused. Neither should the room have a long wall in the back without shelves.
Curiosity prodded her forward. She stepped into the small room, spreading her palms along the wall. Then she felt until her finger hit a groove. She tugged.
A door opened.
Sliding her hand inside, she tapped until finding a switch. Light instantly sparked off a myriad of weapons along two walls. Guns, knives, stars . . . some that had been banned by treaty centuries ago. The final wall held a series of photographs. Pictures of several demons, including Willa, had been tacked up in logical order.
His kill wall.
A chill swept down Brenna’s spine. While she understood Jase’s need for revenge, this was just creepy. How obsessed was the guy?
The doorbell rang, and she jumped about a foot. Hurriedly shutting the wall, she rushed to open the front door.
“Welcome to Oregon.” The queen pushed a bushel of white tulips into Brenna’s hand. “My sister cross-bred them in the lab. Smell.”
“Thanks, Emma.” Brenna buried her nose in the sweet scent of flowers. How odd to see Emma outside a lab. A former human, she’d worked as a geneticist until discovering the existence of the Kurjans and going on the run. Dage had rescued her, and they’d fallen in love and mated. The queen often joked that she’d mated a vampire just to get access to their amazing laboratories and machinery.
Though she glowed whenever the king smiled at her.
Brenna glanced behind her at the empty room. “I’d bet anything I don’t have a vase.”
Emma laughed and tugged Brenna outside. “That’s okay. Bring them to the lab, and I’ll find a beaker.”
Brenna sighed. “Don’t tell me. You want to run tests.” The queen usually wore a lab coat and had syringes in her hand.
“I do.” Emma’s deep blue eyes sparkled. “I’m supposed to share your results with the doctors in Ireland, but I’ll keep them private if you wish.” She shoved her black hair off her forehead and glanced at Brenna’s sweater. “Oops. We should’ve grabbed you a coat. Oregon winters aren’t freezing, but they do get chilly.”
Brenna glanced at Emma’s thin shirt. “You’re not wearing a coat.”
Emma eyed her shirt. “I guess I forgot.” She shrugged.
They walked by manicured lawns until they reached a massive log building. Emma led her inside. “We have a rec room, conference rooms, offices, a huge gym, and several laboratories in this building. When we’re not underground in the mountain, which has more of the same, then we’re here.” She wound past a room holding several pool tables to a pristine lab. “Have a seat on the exam table, and I’ll draw blood.”
Brenna followed the command.
The air shifted, becoming heavy. Dage Kayrs filled the doorway.
As kings went, Dage had presence . . . and power. Sizzling silver eyes and dark hair, the king was something to look at. He smiled and stepped inside to reach for the flowers to shove in a beaker. “Welcome to the family, Brenna.”
Brenna forced a smile. Truth be told, the king had always seemed a bit scary to her. Anybody with so much power should be watched. Of course, Jase had gathered quite a bit of power, too. “Thank you.”
He tugged on Emma’s hair. “I told you to put a coat on before heading outside. There’s a storm coming.”
Emma rolled her eyes and approached Brenna, syringe in hand. “There’s always a storm coming.”
“Good point.” The king leaned back against a granite counter as Emma took blood. “How soon will we know if the mating has improved Brenna’s health?”
“A couple of hours.” Emma finished drawing blood and pressed a cotton ball to the wound. “So, Brenna, the Coven Nine has been rather secretive about any witches infected with Virus-27. Do you suppose you could get me data?”
Brenna’s lungs heated, and she glanced at the king. He lifted an eyebrow in a “you’re on your own” expression. She sighed. “To be honest, I’ve been more concerned with the poisoning from the planekite than with Virus-27, since planekite is dangerous only to witches. Anybody could use the damn stuff against us if the truth got out that it’s like poison to us. A weird little mineral found in Russia, and it can kill us. In comparison, while all witches are susceptible to Virus-27, we’ve managed to avoid exposure for the most part.”
“I know, but if the virus goes airborne, there is no avoiding it.” Emma focused on Brenna.
“The Nine has chosen to keep our data private, as you know.” A choice Brenna disagreed with. The virus was created by an evil vampire race to infect the chromosomal pairs of vampire mates in such a way that the mate became human again . . . maybe. The chromosomes unraveled and might keep going. Any formerly human vampire mate—or any witch—was susceptible to the virus because the bug attacked the twenty-seventh chromosomal pair. Vampires, Kurjans, and demons were all safe from the virus because they had more than thirty chromosomal pairs. Kurjan mates were susceptible to the illness, too, but the Kurjans didn’t seem to care. “I’m sorry about the secrecy.”
Emma huffed. “Can you tell me anything?”
“The virus progresses in witches the same as in vampire mates, and we’re no closer to a cure than you are.” Which was pretty much all the information there was, frankly. Brenna hopped off the table.
Dage stepped to the side. “Where’s Jase?”
“Working out.” Brenna edged toward the door.
“That’s a new one,” the king muttered. He sighed. “The demons have increased the bounty on your head by another five billion—if you’re taken by the winter solstice. Apparently they believe the Pagurus myth.”
Brenna stopped. “You know about the comet?”
“Sure. There may be something to it, maybe not.” He shrugged and focused on Emma. “Why does everyone always forget I’m the king?”
Emma snorted. “You wish.”
Their easy banter made Brenna’s chest hurt. Did she have a chance of finding such closeness with Jase? The image of his kill wall wavered through her mind.
Jase’s shoulders strained as he lifted himself arm-over-arm up the thin rope. It was good to be home in his own gym. Well, if one could call the revamped metal shop a gym. Rough and dirty, the area suited him well.