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|Shadowed(Dark Protectors #6) by Rebecca Zanetti|
Weapons lined one wall, and fighting dummies perched in front of them.
Swinging his legs up, he used his ankles to grab the rope, hanging upside down. With a quick twist of his torso, he threw the metal disk across the room and decapitated two of the dummies.
“Now, that’s illegal,” a low voice rumbled from the doorway.
Jase turned his head to find two of his brothers inside his gym. “So turn me in.” He crawled down the rope headfirst until reaching the dirt floor. A quick flip and he faced his brothers. “What?”
Conn and Talen stood shoulder to shoulder in leather jackets—both soldiers, both deadly.
“The Degoller Star has been banned for three centuries. Any particular reason you’re training with forbidden weaponry?” Talen asked calmly, his golden gaze on the headless mannequins. He held another jacket by the collar.
Jase shrugged. “The very reason the Degoller has been banned is why I want to use it.” Beheading killed all immortals, which was why they’d agreed years ago to ban the disk that so easily cut off their heads if thrown correctly. “Are you going to rat me out to Dage?”
Conn snorted. “Talen is the strategic leader of the Realm, and I’m the highest ranked soldier. What makes you think we need Dage to arrest your ass?” The tone remained congenial, but irritation shone through his green eyes.
Interesting. Had two of his older brothers decided to stop tiptoeing around him? “So try it.”
Conn stepped forward, and Talen grabbed his shoulder.
Talen shook his head. “We want to go for a drink and celebrate your mating.”
Jase paused. “Where?”
“Biker bar—a couple of counties over. We could take the new motorcycles.” A dimple flashed in Talen’s cheek. “That is, if you think you can keep up.” He threw the leather jacket at Jase. “Dage, Kane, and Max are all tied up with business. The three of us are the fun ones, anyway.”
Part of him wanted to refuse. Hanging with his brothers, acting like everything was all right, was the second-to-the-last thing he wanted to do. The first thing was hurting them. If he refused, he would. Sure, they’d be pissed. That he could handle, but disappointing everyone all the time churned his gut. He caught the jacket midair. “All right. Let’s see the new bikes.”
The two-hour ride took approximately forty minutes at the speed they traveled. The wind, the air, the speed all rushed through Jase, making him feel alive. He’d forgotten how that felt. Finally arriving at the hole-in-the-wall bar, they stomped inside and commandeered a table in the back. Conn ordered four bottles of silver tequila, which the waitress delivered before pouring shot glasses of the shimmering liquid.
Jase lifted an eyebrow. “I take it we’re getting drunk.”
Talen held up his glass. “You take it right.”
They all followed suit. Conn cleared his throat. “To pretty Brenna Dunne. We’ll kill all the demons before we let them take her.”
Jase took his shot. The liquor burned down his throat to slam into his gut, and a tight knot inside him started to unravel. His brothers would protect Brenna. He slapped his glass down. “Ready for round two?”
“I’m on round three,” Talen said, sputtering.
Several bottles later, the room started to tilt. Jase downed another shot. “We are the fun ones.”
“I know, right?” Conn wove on his seat. “Dage is all serious with the king-shit, and Kane, well . . . he’s Kane.”
Talen nodded in slow motion. “Yeah. Kane is Kane.”
“Aptly put.” Conn leaned forward and knocked his glass on the wooden floor. “Oops. But I gotta say, I like his mate.”
Talen snorted. “Amber’s a pistol. Exactly what Kane needed.”
“Yeah. A vegan.” Conn started laughing. “A vegan.”
Jase snorted. “I mated a witch.”
“Me, too.” Conn laughed harder.
“Mine was human,” Talen said softly, losing his smile.
Jase caught his breath. Talen’s mate had been infected with Virus-27 nearly twenty years ago. “How is Cara?”
Talen shrugged. “The virus is slow-moving, but it’s still moving. It could take decades to finally run its course, whatever that may be. She’s weaker lately and hides it, but not well.”
“She’s a strong woman. She’d have to be . . . to give birth to Garrett.” Jase forced a grin. Garrett Kayrs was everything Jase used to be. Tough, fun, charismatic. At nineteen years old, the kid had the world at his fingertips.
“I know. We just need to cure the damn bug.” Talen exhaled slowly.
“Witches are susceptible to the virus, too,” Conn said, his gaze on his shot glass.
“Yes.” Jase motioned for the waitress to bring another bottle. “Yet very few witches have been infected.”
“For now.” Talen tipped his glass, gaze on the swirling liquid. “Kane thinks the damn virus will go airborne at some point. Maybe.”
“No. Kane will find a cure before that happens.” Jase ignored a tendril of doubt. His brother was a genius, but not all bugs could be killed.
Conn wove to his feet. “I’m headed to the can, and then I want to go home and check on my witch.” He stumbled around several tables toward the restroom.
Talen coughed. “We should be sober in about fifteen minutes.”
Make that an hour. They’d drunk more bottles than Jase could count. His brother’s face blurred. “Maybe we should walk a bit before riding.”
“Good plan.” Talen nodded and shoved away from the table, sending it spiraling.
Jase grabbed the bottle before it could fly. “Hmph.”
“Keep it the fuck down over there,” someone bellowed.
Jase tilted his head toward his brother, as Talen narrowed his gaze. “We didn’t just hear that, did we?” Talen asked.
“Sure did, asshole. Now keep it down before I kick your ass,” the guy yelled.
Jase turned to spot four guys at the bar. Hulking and drunk, they stared. “I think they wanna fight,” Jase murmured.
Talen stood, swaying slightly. “Humans?”
Jase tried to focus. “Shifters. Wolf would be my bet.”
“Even better,” Talen muttered. “Hey, asshole. My five-foot-nuthin’ wife could kick your ass.” He snorted and mock-whispered to Jase, “She probably could, too. I’ve been training her.”
The wolf lunged across two tables and tackled Talen into the wall.
Jase saw red. Fists swinging, he met two of the charging shifters more than halfway. He kicked one guy in the throat, throwing him across the bar. Glass shattered, and tables broke. Two sidesteps and he had the other guy in a headlock. He tightened just enough to cut off the guy’s air.
The final wolf tried to shake him off his friend.
Jase held tight, waiting until the guy dropped unconscious to the floor before facing the remaining wolf. A quick glance toward the corner showed Talen knocking his attacker to the floor, waiting patiently for the guy to stand, and then beating him down again. A moronic smile lit Talen’s face.
A right cross to Jase’s jaw jerked his attention to the last shifter. He hissed, his fangs dropping.
The shifter’s eyes widened. “Vampire.” Dodging left and then right, he ran behind the bar.
Jase frowned. “You can’t run.” Damn it. He hurdled the bar and followed the guy down a narrow hallway to a flight of stairs leading down. He made it three steps down and into darkness.
Heat and panic rushed through him. His ears rang. A low growl rumbled up from his gut. Slowly, his hands shaking, he backed up the steps. Reaching the hallway, he took a deep breath and slammed the door. Sweat rolled down his back.
Smoothing his face, he turned and ran into his brother. The sympathy on Talen’s face almost broke him.
Talen smacked him on the shoulder. “Let’s go before they call the cops.”
Swallowing, Jase nodded and followed him back into the bar.
Conn emerged from the restroom and glanced around the demolished room. “What’d I miss?”
Alone in the big bed, Brenna pushed her glasses up her nose as she read the latest report from the Coven Nine regarding witches misusing magic. The problem seemed to be getting worse. She sighed and glanced around the empty bedroom as dawn slipped under the shades. While she’d never really thought about mating, if she had, this wouldn’t have been her dream.
For several hours, she’d tried to sleep. Finally, she’d given up and decided to get some work done.
The front door swished, and something fell inside.
A low, male curse echoed before lumbering steps came down the hallway. Jase staggered into the bedroom.
“Good lord,” she murmured.
His clothes were ripped, and blood dotted his shirt. A purple bruise spread under his right eye. “Hi.”
“Hi.” She frowned. “Who hit you?”
“Got in a bar fight with a bunch of shifters.” He flashed rare dimples and awkwardly kicked off his boots. Then he swayed. “Don’t worry—nobody died.”
“Good to know.” She set down the reports. “Do you need help?”
He sagged against the wall. “I need more help than is possible.” His lips turned down. “We stopped at several bars on the way home, or I’d be sober by now.” Inching forward, he fell to his knees by the bed. “You’re so pretty, Bren.”
“You’re drunk.” She slid from the bed and grasped under his arms. “Let’s get you cleaned up.”
He stood, throwing an arm around her shoulders. “Sometimes I feel like I’ll never be clean.” Stumbling into the bathroom, he allowed her to pull his shirt off. “You’re pretty.”
“So you said.” Jase was an affectionate drunk. Brenna smiled, warmth spreading through her. What in the world was she going to do with him? “Um, take off your jeans.”
His eyes darkened. “We’re mated. You take them off.” A hiccup took the edge off the order.
Aye, they were mated, and he needed help. She’d always been a nurturer, and being able to assist him filled her with pleasure. Even so, her hands shook as she unsnapped his jeans and shoved off his clothes. A dark purple bruise cut into his muscular thigh. “What happened?” she asked, running her fingers along the wound.
“Training yesterday. I fell.” He closed his eyes and hummed. “You have great hands.”
“Thank you.” She reached in and flipped on the shower faucet. Steam quickly rose. “Get in.” She nudged him in the back.
He slipped inside, groaning as steam swallowed him.
The doorbell rang. What in the world? She turned and padded through the house to open the door. Moira and Emma stood on the front porch, Moira in training gear and Emma in sweats. “It’s a little early.” Brenna motioned them toward the empty living room.
Moira swept inside. “I know. We don’t sleep much around here, especially when drunk vampires pass out on our floors.”
Emma tapped a manila file. “I was in the lab.”
As usual, apparently. Dread filled Brenna. She already knew the lab results. “Did Dage get drunk, too?”
“No. He spent all night negotiating a treaty between two shifter clans out of Iceland.” Emma pursed her lips. “There’s nowhere to sit.”
“Just tell me.” Brenna sighed, her gaze on Moira as her big sister tried to look stoic.
“There’s no change in your blood.” Emma handed the file to Brenna. “Your results are the same as the ones sent over from your doctors. The mating hasn’t slowed down the poison in your system.”
Moira grabbed her arm. “You just mated and need to give the cure time.”
“I agree,” Brenna lied and forced a smile for her sister. “I’m feeling better even if the blood results don’t show that.”
“Bollocks.” Moira pushed her. “Don’t placate me, you brat.”
“You’re the brat, Dailtín.” Brenna pushed back.
“Ladies”—Emma rolled her eyes—“knock it off and grow up.”
Moira snorted. “Look who’s talking. You called your sister a jackass the other night.”
The queen sniffed. “Cara was cheating at poker. She was being a jackass.”
“Using empathic abilities isn’t cheating,” Moira countered.
“You’re always on her side,” Emma huffed.
Brenna grinned. “You two sound just like sisters.”
Emma slipped an arm through Brenna’s. “We mated Kayrs men. We need a sisterhood—blood or not.”
Jase loped into the room, a towel loosely tied at his waist. He stopped cold at the gathering.
Brenna shoved down desire. A chest like that should never be hidden behind cotton. “Feel better?”
“I’m fine.” A shadow lined his jaw. Combined with the purple bruise, he looked like a rogue searching for a rumble.
A firm knock echoed on the door. Emma glanced at Moira. “Yours or mine?”
“Mine’s passed out on the floor,” Moira said, yanking open the door to reveal Dage. “Told you.”
The king appeared . . . ruffled. His eyes shone a dark silver, and his dark hair had escaped the band he always tied it in. Tension emanated from him so heavily the oxygen in the room diminished. His gaze met Jase’s.
Jase took a step back. His face hardened to blank granite. “What?”
The king didn’t move. “The Kurjans have our nephew.”