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|Shadowed(Dark Protectors #6) by Rebecca Zanetti|
Jase struggled in his brother’s grip. “Let go.” God. He was going to puke. His shoulders vibrated with the need to run. To get the hell away from the open mouth in the rock. “Let go.”
Conn reared back and punched him in the face.
Stars exploded behind Jase’s eyes.
Jase rubbed his jaw. “How many times did Conn hit me, anyway?” Enough times to have made him miss the rest of the firefight, the rescue, and the return ride to Realm headquarters. It was nearly midnight already.
Dage wiped way the remnants of a bullet hole in his shoulder. “Dunno.”
Jase leaned back on the sofa in the main rec room of the lodge, his gaze on his mate. She sat quietly on a guest chair, concern drawing her eyebrows down. “What?” he asked.
She shrugged. “That’s quite a bruise.”
Conn hit like a jackhammer.
Jase nodded. “I’m fine. Did you manage to keep from burning down the bunker?”
“Yes.” She rolled her eyes. “The entire fight was over before we even heard it begin.”
Odd, but she sounded almost sorry about that fact.
Dage poked the still healing hole in his shoulder. “We took more casualties than I would’ve thought. Emma is in the infirmary helping out.”
“So they hit from the north as well as the sea.” Jase shook his head. “Doesn’t make sense. They’ve lost here before.”
“I know. Plus, they were ready for us in Canada. Franco wasn’t even there.” Dage exhaled slowly. “We need to find Garrett and fast.”
Brenna twisted her hands together. “Did you discover the human boy’s name?”
Dage’s eyes flashed blue through the silver. “Yes. Paul Jacobson—he was a junior at Oregon State—captain of the football team.”
Anger heated Jase’s blood. “The Kurjans killed an innocent kid just to fool us for two seconds?” Evil bastards.
“Yes.” Torment lived in the king’s eyes. “I had soldiers take the kid back to his apartment and make it look like a robbery gone bad. At least his family won’t have to wonder.”
Anger and pain echoed in Dage’s tone.
Jase yanked a knife from his boot. “We need to finish this war with both the Kurjans and the demons.”
“That’d be great, Jase,” Dage drawled. “I mean, considering our forces are at half right now. The last two decades have hurt us. Bad.”
Plus, spending so many man hours searching for Jase had taken a toll on the Realm. Guilt and rage mixed inside him until his lungs compressed. “I know.”
“What’s our next plan?” Brenna asked.
A shrill alarm rent the air.
Jase jumped to his feet in unison with Dage. Then they both ducked as green balls of plasma whipped by their heads.
Dage flipped around, shock on his face.
Brenna gasped and shook out her arms. More weapons shot from her fingers, and the couch erupted into flames.
The speaker set high in the corner crackled. “We have breaches in security tunnels A and D,” Talen said. “Kurjan attack teams of three.”
Dage leaped for the door and yelled over his shoulder, “Take the perimeter of tunnel A, Jase.”
Brenna sucked in air, flames dancing on her wrists. “The escape tunnels? They found the escape tunnels?”
“Yes.” It was a trap within a trap. Jase grabbed her hand, ignored the burn, and dragged her outside toward the ocean. Moonlight guided their way. “They knew we’d draw them in and even allow them to disengage the main security system.” He should’ve seen it. The only way to get to Janie was through the escape tunnels.
The mountain lit up with explosions. Shit. A second wave of attack. But his job was tunnel A. He started climbing down the rock wall.
Brenna tugged away. “What in the world?”
“There’s a ledge. Trust me.”
Her hand shaking, she took his again—this time sans the flames. He helped her down several feet and then pushed her into a small alcove. “You’ll be safe here. Try not to blow up the mountain.”
She darted forward. “You’ll need backup.”
“No.” He shoved all emotion into a box where it couldn’t fuck things up. “I need you safe. Stay here.”
Then he backflipped into the air, hitting the ocean in the sweet spot with a minimal amount of splash. Rising to the surface, he scanned the sea. No boat. This squad must’ve scuba-dived in. Smart.
He lifted himself out of the water and crept behind a rock. The crevice in the cliff could barely be seen by the naked eye. How had they found it? Drawing his knife, he angled close enough to smell fresh earth and then tapped his ear communicator three times so they’d know he was in position.
The screams of a firefight echoed through the night from up above.
A splash sounded, and steam rose from the ocean. Brenna’s dark head broke the surface.
Fury ripped through him. Reaching for her arm, he dragged her up to press against the rocks. “I gave you an order.”
She met his gaze evenly. “I’m not one of your soldiers.”
No, she was his mate. One who’d just plunged into a dangerous sea and found the only safe spot to land by luck. Pure luck. She could’ve severed her spine, damn it.
His wet ear communicator buzzed. “We took prisoners in Tunnel D to interrogate. Now, we’ve blocked off Tunnel A—they’re on the way out. No quarter,” Talen ordered.
Jase cleared his mind and shoved his mate behind a couple of boulders. “Come out, and I’ll beat you.” Ignoring her outraged gasp, he shifted back into position.
A scrape sounded. He plunged the knife into the crevice and yanked a Kurjan soldier out by the gut. Throwing the guy to the ground, he twisted both ways and sent the head rolling into the ocean.
Pivoting, he sliced the next soldier’s Achilles tendon, knocking him down. Twirling, he moved to slash the third soldier in the throat and stopped cold.
The Kurjan held Janie in a headlock, forearm against her vulnerable jugular. He could snap her neck if he just twitched.
“I’m sorry,” she whispered.
Jase flashed back to when he’d first met her. She’d had huge blue eyes with such delicate bone structure he’d been afraid to touch her. Until she’d thrown her tiny arms around him and said she’d always wanted to meet her uncle Jase since she’d dreamed about him her whole life.
All four years of it.
Now, she was still frighteningly petite, but the wise eyes of a woman begged him to step out of the way. To let her sacrifice herself for her family.
That he understood.
But he couldn’t let her do it. Not even for Garrett, whom he loved more than his own life. So he focused on the Kurjan. “Let her go, and I’ll let you live.” As a deal, it was a damn good one.
“No.” The soldier tightened his hold.
Janie gasped, her eyes widening, her fingers curling around the Kurjan’s arm. “Kalin wants me alive, and you know it.”
The guy’s hold relaxed. “Dead is all right.” His voice lacked conviction.
“Dead gets you dead, jackass,” Janie hissed, her face turning red.
The soldier’s hold relaxed further, and Janie took a deep breath. He focused on Jase. “Move, Kayrs, or I’ll break her neck and worry about consequences later.”
In the distance, a boat engine flared to life. Jase edged to the side. If he could just get that arm away from Janie’s skin, he could take the guy.
A ball of fire suddenly exploded into the rock above the Kurjan. Jase caught Brenna’s surprised expression out of the corner of his eye. Splinters cascaded out, one cutting into the Kurjan’s cheek. He gasped and stepped back. Jase shot forward and sliced the underside of his wrist, millimeters from Janie’s neck.
Janie threw an elbow into the Kurjan’s groin. He hissed in pain, sharp fangs dropping.
Jase yanked off the offending arm and tossed Janie toward Brenna. Then he plunged his knife in the Kurjan’s gut. Blood spurted over his hand with the burn of pure acid.
Retrieving another knife, Jase cut off his head.
He stood, absolute calm centering him. The final Kurjan crawled across the rocks, trying to fall into the ocean. Jase dropped to his haunches and sliced into the back of the Kurjan’s neck. A twist of his wrist, and he decapitated the final soldier.
“Tunnel A—secured,” he said.
He wiped the bloody knives off in the salty ocean, stood, and turned around.
Brenna watched him, her face paler than the Kurjans’, her eyes wide with shock. No. That was fear.
Brenna smoothed out her expression so Jase wouldn’t know how much he’d just freaked her out. Not that he’d killed, but that he’d done so very calmly and with precision. As a killer, he was damn good.
The water bubbled red around their feet, and she fought the urge to vomit.
A bellow from above caught her attention, and she glanced up to see Talen scaling down the rocks. He hit the ground and grabbed Janie in a hug.
Janie hugged him back. “Don’t be mad, Dad.”
Talen growled low and flipped her around to a piggyback position on his back. “Hold on. We’ll talk about it up top—after I tell your mother.”
Two seconds later, they were headed back up the rock.
Brenna swallowed. Two helicopters exploded, their burned carcasses falling into the ocean. Mere heartbeats later, the boat in the distance blew up. Take that, Kurjans.
Jase watched the debris fall and then moved toward her. She couldn’t help but move back. Darn it.
“I told you to stay put,” he growled.
Now he was angry? Great. She set her hands on her hips. She’d thrown plasma at the right time, hadn’t she? Sure, it had been a fluke, considering she was aiming to the left of the Kurjan. But it still worked. “I thought you might need backup.”
“I told you to stay put.” His already hard face hardened further.
“You’re just repeating yourself.”
Wrong thing to say. He ducked a shoulder and tossed her over.
“Hey—” she protested, smacking his back.
“Stop it.” One broad hand clamped around her thigh. “Hold on.” Impressive muscles shifted as he climbed the rocks as easily as any cougar.
Her head smacked his back several times until she finally grabbed him around the waist to steady herself.
Upon reaching the top, he flipped her over. “Not a sound.” Then he listened.
The night had gone silent. Jase tapped his ear communicator.
“What?” Brenna whispered.
His eyes flared, and he pressed a hand over her mouth.
Where was her fire when she needed it? She seemed to be out of juice. Hopefully temporarily.
Then he nodded and released her mouth. “We’re clear.”
Hope and relief made her sway. “We won? They’re all gone?”
He paused. “Yes. We won, and they’re all gone.”
“Good.” For a moment, she’d wondered if the Kurjans would get Janie. “What now?” The second the words left her mouth, she knew they were a mistake.
“Now?” Jase lowered his face to within an inch of hers. “Now we discuss the fact that you disobeyed a direct order.”
She opened her mouth to argue, and he held up a hand.
“No.” He shook his head. “Don’t tell me you’re not a soldier. When it comes to battle, when it comes to safety, you’ll obey every damn order I give. Do. You. Understand?”
Was he forgetting her gifts? She could make bloomin’ fire if she wanted to. Someday she’d be able to control it again. “No.”
He stilled. The air vibrated around him, but he didn’t move. Slowly, his eyes darkened to midnight. “What did you just say?”
A chill skittered down her spine. She swallowed. “I, ah, said, no.”
Just like that, she was over his shoulder again. “Damn it, Jase.”
His strides were long and full of purpose. Before she knew it, she was inside their home. The scent of smoke still permeated the air.
Jase set her gently on her feet. “You don’t leave this house until you learn that your safety comes before your pride or stubbornness.”
“Forget you.” Aye, she’d wanted to say the real f-word, but it just hadn’t come out. She could keep her dignity and still tell him to stuff it. “You have no clue who I am.”
He flipped her around until she faced the wall. Fire lanced through her, and she shot both elbows back into his gut. With a grunt, he grabbed her wrists and pinned them above her head. His impossibly fit body pressed her into the paint.
She kicked back, nailing his ankle.
He bit off an expletive and nudged her legs apart. The hard line of his erection pressed into her butt.
Her nipples pebbled, and she bit back a groan. Desire spiked her blood. Probably the aftermath of battle—of surviving. Yeah, right. It was Jase, through and through. Even though he was being a complete ass, she wanted him. All of him.
He leaned in, and a fang nicked her earlobe. “I’m not a man you want to push, baby.”
Oh, but she did. She wanted to push him hard and fast—make him lose control. Make him show her who he really was. Just her. “Don’t think you’ve noticed. I’m a witch, vampire. I could light you on fire.”
“You already do.” He licked along the shell of her ear. “But you knew who I was, what I am, before you mated me. There’s no putting yourself in danger unless I allow it.” His free hand slid under her shirt to cup her breast. “And Brenna? I will never allow it.”