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|Shadowed(Dark Protectors #6) by Rebecca Zanetti|
Janie swallowed and lifted her head. “Nobody.” Using the wall for leverage, she pushed herself to stand. “I need to go.” Her gait hitched as she headed out the door.
Brenna frowned. “I sometimes forget the burden that woman carries.”
“Not me,” Moira murmured, her gaze on the empty doorway. She turned her full attention to Brenna. “If there’s a chance your powers will really increase, we need to get them under control. Now settle into a fighting stance and concentrate.”
Brenna flashed back to her thirteenth year when Moira had first trained her to alter matter into weapons. “Fine. But no burning my feet this time if I don’t catch on quick enough.”
Moira rolled her eyes. “You’re such a baby.”
“Oh yeah?” Drawing on her center, Brenna re-formed the air into a pulsing ball of fire. She drew back her arm to throw it, and the fire ripped right up to the ceiling. A light exploded, shooting sparks. She yelped and jumped out of the way.
Moira tossed up three lasers to instantly snuff out the fire. “You are out of control.”
Yeah, but it felt damn good. To go without a part of her for so long had hurt. Her heart whispered that Jase faced a similar lack every day. Maybe his powers would return, too.
Moira slammed a ball of energy at her foot.
Brenna hopped back.
“Concentrate. If we have a big problem coming, we need you at full speed. Block me. Now.” Her big sister, the one person she had always trusted unconditionally, threw a devastating ball of fire at her face.
Jase found Brenna in the kitchen using a fire extinguisher on the microwave. His counter smoldered, his fridge showed long burn marks down the front, and most of his tile lay in burnt pieces. “How are the lessons in control coming?”
She settled the extinguisher on the ground, glancing around the damaged kitchen. “Not so well.”
A smudge marred her cheek, and he had the oddest urge to brush it away. “How about your energy?”
She shrugged. “Better but not full strength yet. How about you?” Those pretty gray eyes focused on him.
“No additional power. Yet.” He rubbed his head, gaze on the waning sun outside. Several times during the day, he’d tried to alter water into steam. He’d failed repeatedly. His gut clenched—it was almost time to go. “Did Moira get a chance to explain the plan to you?”
“Yes.” Brenna blew out a breath. “I’m to be contained in the underground bunker while my big sister dons a wig, looks like me, and goes to fight the bad guys.” She kicked a burned piece of metal out of the way.
“Exactly.” If she was looking for sympathy or for somebody to send her into battle, she’d mated the wrong guy.
“I’d argue if there was a chance I wouldn’t accidentally blow up the helicopter on the way.”
Jase leaned against a safe area on the wall. Sometimes he was so damn tired; it was all he could do to stand. “We think the Kurjans will attack headquarters from the north while we’re off chasing Garrett. I don’t believe there’s any way they’ll get past our forces, but worst-case scenario, there are several escape routes out of the mountain.”
“Already been briefed and tested.” Brenna rolled her eyes. “Several times, actually.”
“Good.” He hated the thought of putting her in the mountain where he couldn’t get to her. “I’ve talked to Max, and the bunker you’ll be in is safe from, ah, fires.”
He wasn’t trying to be funny. “Just stay safe, okay?”
She eyed him. “How are things going with Lily?”
Heat pricked his neck. “I don’t know. There are some things that should stay buried.”
Brenna studied him, indecision filtering across her face. Maneuvering around crumbling tiles, she slid her arms around his waist. “Like what?”
He closed his eyes against a rush of emotion that took him by surprise. “Things I saw, things I did,” he murmured. No way would he allow her to shoulder that burden with him.
“Tell me.” She snuggled into his chest.
He’d known from day one she’d be a cuddler. “No.”
She tilted back her head. “Yes. Just one thing you don’t want to admit. Tell me.”
Temptation expanded his diaphragm. “You tell me something first.”
She paled, yet bravely kept his gaze. “Okay. I, ah, remember being forced to drink the planekite. When it happened, I couldn’t fight back.”
Surprise filtered through him. “You knew you’d been poisoned?” She’d lied to everyone?
“Yes. I knew and didn’t want everyone to worry, but I did visit the doctors immediately.” A sliver of pink wandered over her high cheekbones. “With the war and everything, we’ve had enough to worry about.”
If she got any sweeter, his heart would just stop. “I’m glad your powers are returning.”
“Me, too.” She grinned. “Though we don’t know yet if they’re back because of the mating, or if I’m totally on the mend. Now it’s your turn.”
Dread tasted like battery acid. He took a deep breath. If she could be brave, so could he. “When I was underground for so long, I saw faces in the rock.”
“No. I mean I really saw them—talked to them.” Different faces, as real to him as she was right now. “One of the reasons I can’t go underground . . .”
“You think you’ll see them again?”
Feared he would. In fact, it scared him shitless. “Yes.”
“I can understand that.” She brushed her fingers across his jaw.
“Our brains do the impossible to keep us alive. Thank yours instead of trying to forget.” Releasing him, she stepped away.
Coldness instantly surrounded him. So he grabbed her arms and yanked her back, his arms circling her waist. Warmth returned. “I’ll think about it.”
She pushed him and laughed as he kept her close. “Will you be guarding headquarters?”
“No.” Maybe he should be, considering his mate would be underground. Although, she’d be perfectly safe. No way could the Kurjans breach Realm security. Besides, Talen wanted him in the rocks of Nevada. “The Kurjans have agreed to the trade in two hours at a location somewhere in the Nevada—lots of red rock to hide in. They’ll send the coordinates once we’re in the air—we can have a maximum of three soldiers on the ground, or they kill Garrett.”
Brenna frowned. “What about backup?”
“Three armed and fully manned Blackhawks just out of range.”
“Do you think the Kurjans will be there?”
“Oh, they’ll send a squad to Nevada. Garrett may even be there—we’ll see. But they want our forces divided so they can attack here and take Janie, if you ask me.”
Brenna nodded. “Our allies in the north are going to take Franco? So we’re pretending to fall into their trap in order to set our own.”
“Exactly. Talen is a genius . . . sometimes.” Jase released her. “Come help me suit up, and then I’ll take you over to headquarters.” Nausea tried to swirl in his gut at the thought of her under tons of rock. “You’ll be safe.”
She tangled her fingers with his, following him through the pantry to the weapons room. Then she wandered toward the pictures on his wall. “I figure this is your kill wall.”
“Yeah.” He bit back hatred as he stared at the three photographs. “You know the demon leader, Suri, and now you’ve met crazy Willa. The third man is Melco, one of Suri’s top lieutenants. The guy likes to use knives.”
Brenna sucked in air. “Sounds like a charmer.”
A charmer who was going to die slowly while choking on his own blood. “Yeah. I promised him once that if I survived, I’d hunt him down with my last breath. And I will.”
Brenna turned, sadness in her stunning eyes. “Just be careful.”
His head jerked. He focused solely on her. “You’re not going to tell me to deal with it, just be glad I’m alive? To let go?”
She lifted a delicate shoulder. “I wouldn’t.” Green danced on her arms for a second to wisp into nothingness. “I’d make the bastard fry.”
She’d make the bastard fry? Jase settled into the backseat of the Blackhawk, his mind spinning. How could she be so damn sweet one moment and so homicidal the next? Were the words just talk?
And why in the hell did her bloodthirstiness turn him on so much? Man, he was a deviant.
There were layers upon layers to Brenna Dunne, and he wanted to savor each one as he unpeeled them.
Moira sat next to him, eyes closed, probably planning. Conn flanked her other side, his fingers tapping a tune on his cargo pants. Lines of stress cut into the sides of his mouth—worry about Garrett and concern for his mate stamped in his hard eyes.
How difficult it must be to allow his mate to go to battle. Jase felt a renewed respect for his older brother.
Talen sat in the passenger seat next to the pilot. As usual, he’d shut down once the mission had been planned. No emotion had emerged from him as he’d detailed the three attacks—no sign that his gut had to be churning at the thought of what the Kurjans were doing to young Garrett.
A familiar rage welled up in Jase. If the Kurjans had harmed one inch of Garrett, he’d take them all out.
He had to believe that they wanted Garrett safe for now in order to trade, or he’d go crazy. Well, crazier than usual.
“We have the coordinates,” Talen said through the earphones as the pilot banked hard left. “Touchdown in fifteen minutes.” He leaned closer to a monitor set in the dash. “There are tons of rock outcroppings to hide in—they probably also have an underground bunker. Satellite in position in ten minutes.”
Heat exploded in Jase’s chest. Underground? Shit.
The minutes slid by in slow motion. Finally, they neared the site.
Talen punched in buttons on the dash. “No sign of an underground bunker or any activity. Once we set down, everyone scatter and take cover in the rocks. The meet is in a gully between rock outcroppings. Stay out of the fucking gully.”
Seconds later, the helicopter thumped to the earth. Jase threw open the door and ran out, bending low, eyes fighting against the swirling sand. He climbed through rocks to the north, waiting until the helicopter lifted back into the sky before stopping.
Silence descended. Moonlight and twinkling stars illuminated the wind pushing scrub brush end-over-end.
Jase kept his weapon pointed low, his stance set, his back to a rock still heated from the desert sun. The irony wasn’t lost on him. The Kurjans who’d taken his nephew would be strung to the desert floor in the full sun, and then they’d see irony.
A rattler hissed in the distance, sending a slow chill down his spine. He hated snakes. Damn reptiles.
The humming of a helicopter echoed through the air. He straightened. Lights came into view, and an attack copter set down. A door opened. Two Kurjan soldiers emerged, a prisoner between them. They’d bound the prisoner’s hands as well as stuck a sack over his head.
The guy was big—big enough to be Garrett.
One of the soldiers stepped in front of him. “Where’s the witch?” he called out.
Moira moved into the gully. “Right here, dickhead.”
“Hands up—no weapons,” the soldier yelled.
Moira slowly lifted her hands. Jase slid closer, his rifle pointed at the first guy. Didn’t they know a witch’s weapon was her hands?
Warning whispered along his neck. Something wasn’t right.
“Move forward,” the Kurjan yelled, shoving the prisoner ahead of him.
Moira slowly stepped forward.
A voice crackled through Jase’s earpiece—Realm headquarters was under attack. Adrenaline flooded his veins. He needed to get back to Brenna.
Then the world exploded.
Charges detonated along the gully, throwing rocks into the air. Jase yelled and flew over a jagged edge to land in a cloud of dust.
The Kurjan soldier shot the prisoner in the back several times, turned, and jumped into the helicopter. It rose into the night, firing rounds down at them.
Jase lunged for Moira first, tackling her. Covering her as bullets impacted his back. Conn reached them both, grabbing his vest and Moira’s arm to drag them behind a rock.
Sharp edges cut into Jase’s arm. He scrambled around for a better view. Panic seized his lungs.
Talen ran into the raining bullets to hoist the prisoner over his shoulder. His body shook with each hard impact as he zigzagged to leap behind a rock. Jase dashed over, ducking low.
He reached Talen just as his brother ripped off the hood.
Unseeing blue eyes were set into a hard-boned face. It wasn’t Garrett. Disappointment flowed through Jase until he swayed. Although he already knew, he searched for a pulse. There was none.
“He’s human,” Talen muttered, wiping blood off his chin.
A human teenager. The Kurjans had murdered a human teenager just to use as a decoy.
The Kurjan helicopter turned around to make another pass. Talen lifted the boy and grabbed Jase’s shoulder. “Run.”
They ran toward Conn, stopping as another explosion opened up the hillside. Talen shoved Jase toward the gaping hole.
He panicked and pushed back.
“Damn it, take shelter,” Talen yelled.
Heat flooded Jase’s neck. His lungs seized. “No.” He backed away, closer to the line of fire.
Conn jumped in front of him and latched on to his vest. “Follow Moira. Get your ass inside.”