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|Shadowed(Dark Protectors #6) by Rebecca Zanetti|
Jase’s chin rose. “We’ll discuss the matter after I speak with Conn.”
“You can discuss all you want. Talking doesn’t change the facts.” Ignoring the stubborn vampire, she turned back to the research. There had to be a solution somewhere.
Just as Jase opened the door, Emma Kayrs stepped inside with a sheaf of papers in her hands.
Brenna stood up to meet the queen. “Are those the newest results on my blood?”
“Yes.” Emma’s eyes widened as she took in the destroyed room and glassless wall of windows. “Your blood is the same.”
Brenna coughed. “That’s impossible. Look at what I’ve already done.”
“I can’t explain it.” Emma stepped gingerly over a chunk of ash.
“The planekite is just as present in your blood as the poison was five years ago.”
Well, that explained the still-crappy vision. “How is that possible?”
“The power from the comet and the solstice,” Jase said grimly. “Apparently Pagurus is a bigger deal than we thought.”
Darn it. She should’ve paid better attention to Henry and all of his claims. “Does this mean after the solstice, I’m still going to die?”
“No,” Jase growled. “This just means it takes time for a vampire mating to take full effect. You’re going to live to see thousands of years. I promise.”
That was a promise the vampire couldn’t make or keep. “We both were injured, both damaged, when we mated. Maybe we’re unable to save each other.” She sat back down amongst her papers, her mind spinning. What if on the solstice she could save him for good? If Kane was correct and she would be able to alter matter and unbind a virus, maybe she could somehow help Jase. Help unbind whatever was constraining his natural gifts. Return his powers to him?
Of course, she’d need to heal him without blowing up the world.
Emma sighed and handed the papers to Jase. “I’m still hopeful the mating will help you both. Sometimes it takes more than a couple of days, you two. Give it time.”
Time was exactly what they lacked.
Brenna nodded. “I agree.” She dusted off her hands. “How are the repairs on headquarters coming along?”
Emma shrugged. “I’m sure they’re fine. I’ve been in the infirmary patching up wounded vampires—who are all cranky but going to mend.” Lines of stress darkened the circles under her eyes. “So far nobody has an idea of where Garrett is.”
“We’ll find him,” Jase said softly.
“I know.” The queen kicked a piece of ceiling tile out of her way. “I’m going to go check on my sister. Cara isn’t holding up very well right now. Understandably.”
“Neither is Talen.” Jase rubbed a hand through his hair. “Well, shit, none of us are. We have to find him.”
Agony flashed in his dark eyes, and Brenna fought the urge to soothe him. He didn’t want her help. So she cleared her throat. “What about Jase’s blood? Is anything different?”
Emma shook her head. “His blood never changed—although his skills did.”
Brenna frowned. “How does that make sense?”
Emma eyed Jase and shrugged. “Don’t know. It’s not a physical issue.” With a sympathetic grimace, the queen disappeared into the early morning.
Brenna sat up. “It’s psychological?” She hadn’t even considered that possibility.
“So they tell me.” His jaw snapped shut.
“Jase, if you can break through your block and help me harness the power, maybe there’s a way we can find Garrett.” But how? Would she have enough power to become psychic? Reverse time? Send out a missive to the freakin’ universe for help?
Her shoulders slumped. “I should’ve been learning about this entire situation.”
“You were trying to save your life.” He shook his head. “Don’t look back, Bren. There’s only forward.”
Why did his little nickname for her give her special tingles? God, she was pathetic. He’d made it clear as glass they were friends and had mated to save both their butts. “You’re never going to fall in love with me, are you?”
His head jerked. “What?”
Some would call her stupid for shining light on the issue. But it felt brave. “I have to know. Is there a chance?”
He blinked several times. “Brenna, you know I like you—”
She held up a hand. “Good enough.” Could she be a bigger moron? So they’d had crazy vampire sex and she’d orgasmed like there was no tomorrow. So little Brenna Dunne had caught one of the most eligible bachelors on earth. So she could tell he was a great guy with a lot to give.
He didn’t want to give.
She felt like a pathetic reality-television star who didn’t get the guy. But curling up and bawling about it wasn’t going to help anybody. It sure as heck wouldn’t help find Garrett or help her mutate Virus-27. If she had the chance to save all witches and vampire mates from the damn illness, she needed to do it and stop worrying about her crush. “Forget it. Right now, we need to figure out a way for you to curtail the comet’s power.” She’d help him get his nephew back safely, and then she’d go home. Alone.
Jase blew out air. “I need to break through my mental block, if that’s really what’s holding me back.”
Admiration welled inside Brenna. The guy didn’t want to look inside his own head, but to save his nephew, he’d suffer. What would Jase’s love for a woman feel like? Probably all-encompassing and secure. “How do you break through?”
He grimaced. “I go back to Lily.”
Jase took a moment to relax his shoulders before knocking on the prophet’s door. She opened before he could knock.
“Come on in.” Long skirts swished as she gestured him toward one of the dainty chairs, the scent of strawberries wafting around.
His feet wanted to drag. Yet he forced himself to cross the room and sit. The sound of the door shutting made him jump. His hands shook. This was such a bad idea.
Lily sat across from him and smiled. “You’re brave to want to be hypnotized, although I think we should just talk. Your memories are all accessible.” Steam rose from a cup of floral tea next to her, and in her long skirt, she looked like a lady from centuries ago. One who shouldn’t be exposed to the reality of his life.
He pressed the fine armrests to stand up. “This is a bad idea.”
She patted his hand, her skin so pale and delicate. “You can do this.”
“I know.” How did he explain? “I don’t think you should, I mean, you—”
A sweet smile lifted her pink lips. “I’ve been a prophet for three centuries and during two wars. As such, I’ve counseled many people who’ve literally gone through hell.” She sighed, her eyes reflecting a weary wisdom she usually hid. “Unfortunately, nothing you say will shock me.”
He settled back into the chair and studied the prophet. There was more to Lily Sotheby than he’d seen. “Anything I tell you is confidential.”
“I won’t tell a soul.”
Before that moment, he would’ve assumed Dage, as king, could get all information from Lily. But now, he doubted it. “If anything I say upsets you, please stop me.”
Lily’s blue eyes softened. “Everything you say will upset me because I care about you, Jase. We’re old friends. But I promise, I can handle the truth.”
They might be old friends, but he always felt like a kid in her presence. And something in him, deep down, experienced shame at the torture he’d lived through. As if he’d deserved the pain. No, it wasn’t rational—and he was no victim. So it was time to suck it up and deal. “What now?”
“Now you relax.”
He barked out a laugh. “No problem.” His shoulders hardened to rock.
Lily settled back. “We’re going to talk for a while, and you’re going to concentrate on breathing in and breathing out. Smooth and easy. Okay?”
“Okay.” He breathed in.
“Good. Before the first war started, when you were just a kid, what was it like with four older brothers?” Lily asked.
Jase grinned. “Fun. Lots of fun. We were the Kayrs kids . . . full of fire and trouble. Even Dage was relaxed—well, for Dage.”
“Before he was forced to become king?”
“Yes. Before the Kurjans murdered our parents.” Jase wiped his wet palms on his jeans. “Dage changed overnight—he had to.”
“And he sent you to fight.”
“Yes. I was fifteen and old enough.” Of course, Jase always had his older brothers flanking him. As war went, he was safe. “Dage has always felt guilty.”
“That must be a hard burden for you to bear.”
Jase shrugged. “We all have our crosses.”
“So true,” Lily murmured. “What’s your favorite season?”
“Summer—as hot as possible.” There was a time he’d raced cars, boats, planes. Anything with speed. His shoulders relaxed as memories assailed him. “Though winter was always good, too.”
“What are you afraid to tell everyone?”
The question caught him off guard, and his heart sped up. Concentrating on his breathing, he slowed it down. “I’m afraid everyone will know how crazy I went.” One day the rock face had spit out shards, and he’d stuck one in his jugular. Just to end the pain.
“Why?” she asked.
He blinked. “Well, I lost. I mean, they beat me. I went nuts.”
“No.” She leaned forward, her gaze intense. “You survived, and you won. Regardless of the games your brain created to help you survive.”
“I stabbed myself.” Suicide wasn’t a winning move.
“You didn’t die.” She shook her head. “Come on. You’re a three-hundred-year-old soldier who has killed many times. If you’d truly wanted to die, you wouldn’t be sitting here right now.”
His lungs seized. “Then, why?”
“I don’t know. Maybe it was momentary weakness. Maybe you just needed to do something . . . anything to retain control. But you didn’t really try to kill yourself.”
At her words, a lump of pain he’d been carrying slowly dissolved. “You must think I’m so stupid.”
“No. I think you’re brave and still confused. The only way to deal with this stuff is to talk about it, and you vampires stink at talking.” She sipped her tea. “No offense.”
“Good. The only way to heal is to talk, and to forgive yourself for any shortcomings you think you had.” She smiled. “You’re well on the way.”
Was he, or was he just playing a good game? Part of him wanted to hope, the other part wanted to sink back into plans for revenge. “Thanks.”
“I do know you wouldn’t have even considered any path other than vengeance before mating Brenna.” Lily studied him over the rim of her cup. “Mayhaps you should spend some time with that thought.”
He grimaced. “She deserves better.”
“Then be better.” Lily stood. “Think about everything, and do your homework.”
He paused. “Homework?”
“Yes. I want you and Brenna to spend some normal time together doing couple-type things.”
Heat flushed up his face. “Um—”
“No. I mean, normal time like furnishing your home or going to a movie.” Lily smiled. “Then, let’s meet again tomorrow.”
Fantastic. He was now one of those guys who met with a shrink every day. “Thank you, Lily.” Exiting the room, he ran into Conn. His breath hitched.
Conn paused. “Meeting with Lily?”
God. Now his brother—the ultimate soldier—would think he was some kind of metrosexual. “Yes.”
Conn nodded slowly. “She’s a good listener.”
Jase stilled. “You’ve met with Lily?”
“Sure.” Conn hesitated, glancing at the closed door. “Sometimes I have to do something in battle, or see something, and guilt eats at me. So once in a while I talk to Lily.”
Jase shook his head. Where had reality gone? “I didn’t know that.”
“For a while, I didn’t want to burden her. I mean, she’s so—”
“Dainty.” Jase rubbed his head.
“Yeah. That’s the word. Dainty.” Conn grinned. “But she’s tough, and she’s good. Has she thrown anything at you yet?”
“Of course not.” The woman was a lady.
“Well, hold back, and you’ll get a teacup to the head.”
Jase snorted. He shifted his feet, finally feeling like a brother again. “We don’t gotta hug or anything right now, do we?”
“Shit no.” Conn punched him in the arm. Hard. “It’s all good.”
“How about we move it closer to the wall?” Brenna asked, her concentration on the antique sofa table and matching end tables that had been delivered earlier that day. “I mean, until we buy a sofa to ground the room.”
Max Petrovsky easily lifted the table and set it against the living room wall. As a deadly hunter for the vampires, the guy was surprisingly good-natured about moving furniture around the room all morning as he waited for Jase to show up. He turned and glanced at the open wall. “Maybe you should get new windows before you buy more furniture.”
Brenna shrugged. “I think Jase already ordered replacement windows.” A pleasant breeze wafted in from the ocean, and she took a deep breath. “Though I like the openness.” Well, until it rained.