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|Shadowed(Dark Protectors #6) by Rebecca Zanetti|
Then war began, and lines were drawn. Unfortunately, she couldn’t get a handle on where Zane stood. Or even who Zane was, considering he wouldn’t tell her. The last few times they’d met, he’d been angry and focused. In fact, he’d all but admitted they weren’t on the same side any longer. But today, she had to deal with Kalin.
With her imagination, she created an outcropping of rock, smooth grass, and a forest with shimmering trees. She chose a flat rock to sit on and wait.
He didn’t keep her waiting long.
Kalin strode out of the forest, his gaze on the pretend sun providing such warmth. For as long as she’d known him, he’d always taken a moment to appreciate the sun. The sun fried the Kurjans, making them similar to horror vampires from fiction. How sad it would be to live only in darkness.
Maybe that’s where he belonged.
A tall figure, he’d only broadened in the last few years. The boy she’d known was gone. In his place stood a soldier—an enemy soldier. The pale face and green eyes might almost pass for human, but he’d chosen his path, and it was evil.
Even so, she’d been his only friend so long ago. “Let my brother go free.”
Kalin towered over her, throwing her into shadow. The sun glinted off the red tips of his black hair. “It’s nice to see you, too.” Low and cultured, his tone lacked warmth.
But heat lived in his odd green eyes.
“You want niceties?” She smoothed down her jeans. “Then let my brother go.”
“Sure.” Kalin dropped to his haunches to meet her gaze. “You know what I want.”
She grimaced. “Is he alive?”
“Of course.” Kalin frowned. “The second you’re mine, he goes free with the guarantee no Kurjan will ever touch him.”
Relief flushed through her. Garrett was alive. Now she needed to keep him that way. No easy task. Even if she agreed to meet Kalin in person, she couldn’t get free of the vampires. “I’m not destined to mate a Kurjan.”
He chuckled. “You have no clue of your destiny. It isn’t set until you mate.”
Sometimes she forgot other people had visions. But visions changed, and he was probably correct. Speaking of which—“I’ve seen your death. Well, one of your deaths.”
Kalin drew back. “Those psychic visions must come in handy. Tell me. How do I die?”
Janie opened her eyes wider. “Actually, it’s up to you. If you let go of the war, find your own mate, and rule your people, you’ll live to see a thousand years.”
“And if I don’t?”
“You’ll die young. Very young.” Janie leaned forward, lying with everything she had. “As you are now, as the war stands now. Let my brother go and give up this fight.”
“You’re lying.” Kalin sighed.
“Am I?” Janie had learned to play poker from her aunt Emma, who was a master at bluffing. “We were friends once, and I’d rather see you redeem yourself than go out like this. As a killer.”
Kalin leaned forward, his minty breath brushing her face. “But I am a killer. You know that, Janie.”
“Get your face away from hers before I rip it off.” Zane Kyllwood strode out of the forest, irritation shining bright in his eyes.
Fire lanced through Janie so quickly, she had to grip the rock to keep from falling. She’d been raised by deadly vampires, yet danger surrounded Zane in a way that sped up her heart rate.
“The gang is all here.” Kalin sighed and stood. “I’d heard you were dead.”
“You heard wrong.” Zane’s gaze raked her. “I believe I said no more meeting in dreamworlds since you can’t keep either of us out.”
His look left tingles where it roamed. There was a time she’d controlled who could enter her odd world. That was before she’d given both men blood. Of course, she’d taken theirs, too. Now she could yank them into her world if they were weak or sleeping.
Janie saw no reason to stand and show how much shorter she was than the hulking men. “Something came up.”
“Something personal . . . vampire.” Kalin flashed his teeth. “Go away.”
Janie frowned. “Why did Kalin think you were dead?”
“Battle in Iceland with some shifters. The entire region is unsettled. Rogue vampires, demons, shifters, and even a few witches are all fighting over limited territory.” Zane edged closer. “What came up?”
Even though they might not be on the same side any longer, she trusted him. Always had—always would. “Kalin kidnapped my brother.”
“Unbelievable.” Zane reached for a knife to twirl. “The Kurjans are weak enough to need leverage with a human woman?”
“You’re just pissed I thought of it first,” Kalin countered. “Or maybe not. You make your move to rule yet, Kyllwood?”
Zane stilled, and his eyes swirled the color of an angry river. Deep and green. “What do you know about it?”
“More than you’d like. In fact, I expect you to be dead soon.” Kalin shoved his hands in his pockets. He gave a short bow. “Janie, as always, it was a pleasure. I’ll call for you soon with a plan so you can save your brother.” Whistling a jaunty tune, he sauntered into the forest.
Zane exhaled, looking every one of his nearly thirty years. “When was your brother taken and from where?”
“The night before last and outside of Portland.” Janie stood and studied her old friend. Tall, broad, and deadly . . . he looked like the soldier he’d become. A long scar ran from his temple to his jaw, while another scar cut across his exposed clavicle. “The scar on your collarbone is new.”
“You’d only be scarring if you’re so wounded you can’t heal. Where are you fighting, Zane?”
He rubbed his chin, regret twisting his lips. “There isn’t a place I haven’t fought, I don’t think.”
A short time ago, he’d threatened to come and get her. She was ready. It was time the war ended . . . no matter the cost. “I thought you said we’d meet soon.”
“We will.” He flipped the knife around. “Something has come up to delay my time line.”
“A move to rule somebody?” she asked softly.
His lids dropped to half-mast. “There’s no move—I don’t know where Kalin is getting his information.”
As an immortal, Zane sucked at lying. “We should play poker sometime.”
“I’m telling the truth.” He tucked the knife away and stepped toward her. “We have some sources in the Kurjan organization. I’ll contact them and see if I can find your brother.”
Her heart leapt. “I’d appreciate the help.” Then she cleared her throat and stood. “Who are your people?”
Regret rode his exhale. “Damn good question, Belle.” He’d given her the nickname Janie Belle as children, upon learning her name was Janet Isabella. “The day I figure that out, I’ll let you know.”
She stepped into his space, lifting her head to keep his gaze. So many times she’d wondered what he smelled like—the dreamworld had always masked his scent. “Have you decided if we’re on the same side or not?”
He held his ground. “Have you decided to stay out of the war?”
An old argument. “The war has always been about me—about some grand destiny to do with my psychic powers. You know that.”
“Doesn’t mean you need to participate.”
Yet, she did. She’d always known the end would come down to Zane, Kalin, and her. But the actual ending? That she couldn’t see. There was a time she’d imagined a happy ending with her and Zane conquering the world. Now she wondered. Would the sacrifice come from her? If she had to choose between Zane and her family, she would. But how would she survive betraying him?
Maybe that was the key. Nobody said her survival was part of the end-game.
She forced a smile. “Remember when we used to meet as kids? Thought we could save everyone?” The time had been too short.
“I remember.” He clasped her shoulders and slid his palms down her arms. “After my father died, my childhood became almost unbearable. You kept me going.”
Heat washed through her from his touch, but his words chilled. While she’d known his moving to live with his mother’s people, whoever they were, had been difficult, apparently he’d hidden just how difficult. “You’ve always been my best friend.” If he betrayed her, she’d never recover. Sometimes dreams had to live.
“You, too, Belle.” Sadness tinged his smile. “Sometimes duty asks more of us than we’d ever imagine.”
“As does family,” she said softly. There was no question family ties bound them both.
“You got that right.”
She studied his darkened eyes. “Half of the immortal world wants me to mate and pass on my gifts. The other half wants me dead and unable to do so.” Gathering her courage, she flattened her palms across his broad chest. “Which are you?”
“I want you to live.” Sliding a knuckle under her chin, he lifted her face to his.
Heat engulfed her mouth as his lips met hers. He kissed her slowly and with a soft hum of appreciation. Then he released her.
She licked her tingling lips. While she’d been kissed before, nobody came close to Zane and what he could do with the softest of touches. What would he be like in bed for an entire night? Her face heated and she tried to concentrate. “What about your people? They want me alive?”
His gaze dropped to her mouth and then back up. “No.” He turned and stalked back toward the forest. “I’ll be in touch about your brother.” Seconds later, the trees swallowed him.
Janie took a deep breath and returned to her meditative pose. No? Well, that sucked. Zane was a warrior, and if she didn’t miss her guess, an enforcer. That meant he took care of all problems facing his people.
If his people wanted her dead . . . they’d send him.
Brenna nudged open the metal door to Jase’s workout space. AC/DC’s Back in Black blasted through the space. Bare to the waist, he hung upside down from a ceiling beam, throwing stars at mannequins. One by one, the heads flew off.
Squinting to accommodate the dim light, she stepped inside. “Those are banned by treaty.”
He threw himself back, flipped twice, and landed on his feet. Dust billowed from worn planks. “You gonna turn me in, darlin’?”
Probably not. “I came to see if you’ve heard anything about Garrett.”
“Not yet.” Jase’s jaw firmed.
“Do you really think the Kurjans want me?” Brenna kicked a battered mat.
“I think the Kurjans would like to have you, but they really want Janie.” He tugged off leather gloves. “The request for you, as well as the booby-trapped industrial building, were just to throw us off the scent.”
She picked her words carefully. “How are you doing? I mean, with Garrett being taken?”
Jase frowned. “Not good at all. But since the Kurjans want to trade, they won’t hurt him. Plus, his mother is an empath, and she believes he’s unharmed. So I believe it.”
Hopefully. “Well, that’s good. Um, how was your visit with Lily?”
Jase lifted an eyebrow and reached for a set of boxing gloves. “She’s nuttier than I am.”
Brenna grinned. “I’ve heard that before.” Jase strode toward her, and she fought the urge to step back. So she lifted her chin.
He grasped her hand and shoved on a glove.
“What are you doing?” she asked.
“It’s time to train.” He tied both gloves around her wrists. “How’s your strength?”
She sighed. “No better. How about you?”
“The same. Can’t control the elements yet.” No expression sat on his face.
“Does that bother you?”
“Not yet. We have time.” He danced back on the mats. “Let’s see what you’ve got.”
For some reason, she felt silly. “I’m not into training.”
“I’m sure. As a Nine member, you always have bodyguards.” He slid to the right, fists up. “As my mate, you’ll learn to fight.”
Was that a fact? She lifted her arms. “What now?”
“Bend your knees.”
“Fine.” She bent, sliding one foot back. “Now?”
“I’m going to come in with a right cross. You block with your left arm.”
He came in, slowly for a vampire, his fist going for her head.
She ducked, punched him in the gut, and swept his legs out from under him.
He hit the mat, his shoulders slamming hard. Sliding to his elbows, he raised an eyebrow. “I thought you said you didn’t train?”
She smiled. “I said I didn’t like to train. There’s a big difference.”
“There is, huh?” He kicked out, aiming for her knee.
She flipped back and out of the way. The world spun. Darn it. Her strength was truly deserting her.
He tried again, and this time knocked her down. A quick roll, and he flattened her to the mat. “I bet at full strength, you’d be fun to grapple with.”
The man knew how to deliver a compliment. “I’d kick your arse.”
“There’s that pretty Irish brogue.” He settled more comfortably between her legs. “There are other ways we could train.”
She pressed up against him. “You’re insatiable.”