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|Shadowed(Dark Protectors #6) by Rebecca Zanetti|
Brenna almost stumbled at seeing Jase. He stood up front with his brothers, a solid wall of strength and family. The scar on his face spoke of suffering, while the love in his eyes promised a future. A good future. She smiled, and his eyes flared.
So much power came with love from a man like that. She could handle it, and she could handle him. Sure, he was wounded, but he loved her. She felt the warmth of his love even across the room. As a mate, she could feel inside his skin.
She belonged there.
As she crossed the room, she ignored the young vampires, the giggling shifters, and all of their family and friends. Her only focus was on Jase Kayrs, the man she’d mated for survival and had ended up loving. She reached his side, and she tucked her arm through his.
When he dropped his head to press a gentle kiss on her forehead, she finally found her place in a crazy universe.
Jase headed for the bar after dancing for a while with Brenna. The ceremony had been beautiful, but not nearly as lovely as the woman who was now his wife. She’d hustled off to take more pictures with her sisters, and he needed a drink. His brothers beat him there, and shot glasses were filled. He knew family, and he knew peace. It was a rare moment to feel both, and he took the time to just appreciate life. He glanced at the wall of vampires, his heart warming. “Thank you for not giving up on me.”
Conn slammed a hand down on his shoulder with a force that would’ve killed a human. “We’re brothers.”
That pretty much said it all.
“What now?” Kane asked, his intelligent gaze on the partygoers.
Dage sipped his drink. “Now we figure out what the demons really want.”
“They want Janie,” Talen said, his low growl a direct contrast to the smile he sent across the room toward his mate. She smiled back, her shoulders relaxing.
Jase nodded. “Yeah. That’s what I think, too.”
“They can’t have her.” Conn poured another round of shots while Max reached for more pretzels.
Jase eyed Garrett while he danced with a young witch. “How’s Garrett doing, anyway?”
“Fine.” Talen popped pretzels into his mouth. “He is unsure whether he should be grateful to Zane or whether he should’ve killed him.”
Sounded about right. Jase eyed Dage. “Have we found Zane? Might be a good ally.”
“No. My guess is he’s part of one of the warring shifting clans in Iceland. They’re brutal but well-funded,” Dage said. “I’m not sure if we want him for an ally.”
“We don’t,” Talen said flatly. “Next time, we kill him. We don’t need some vampire-shifter getting into Janie’s dreams. Period.”
Jase nodded. “I agree.” Brenna caught his eye, and he straightened. “If you think the war will really end, I’d support negotiations even with the demons.” Not that he wouldn’t get revenge someday. But for now, his family and people needed safety.
Dage nodded. “I appreciate that.”
“I’d bet my left arm the demons don’t really want peace,” Jase said quietly.
“I agree,” Dage said just as quietly. “Let’s worry about that tomorrow.”
Good plan. Jase smacked his brother on the back. “For now, I’m going to dance with my mate.” Stalking across the room, he swept her up just as the band belted out a new song. He twirled his bride around in a fast dance, enjoying the delight flashing across her classically lovely face. He’d been dancing for centuries but had never felt so free. The music slowed, and he tucked her close.
She snuggled in with a soft sigh. “I’m glad you’re not on fire about this treaty business.”
He slid a hand to her lower back, spanning her waist. “Peace would be good for the Realm.” If he could keep Garrett and his buddies away from a war, he’d negotiate in a heartbeat. Unfortunately, he knew Suri. Being tortured for years tended to give insight into the torturer. If Suri was offering peace, there was a huge price. Chances were, Dage would refuse to pay.
“So you won’t kill him?” Brenna asked softly.
“I’ll kill him.” Even if they found peace, a time would come when he and Suri would meet again. Destiny was ongoing, and fate could take eons. But in the end, they’d be fulfilled. “I’m in no hurry.” He eyed Garrett and a pretty wolf-shifter trying to slip away. Terrent Vilks was immediately in the vicinity, pointing them both to the cake table. Jase laughed. Nice try, Garrett.
Brenna glanced up. “What’s so funny?”
“Young love.” Frankly, his money was on Garrett. The night was early. He glanced down at his stunning witch. “Our love.”
Brenna smiled. “Did you think we’d end up like this?”
“No.” He tucked her close. “At my lowest, when I’d been tortured for so long, and Willa made her offer, I almost considered accepting her as a mate just to get out of hell. Until I looked up and saw your painting.”
Brenna tightened her hold. “My painting grounded you?”
“No. It made me think of you, and you saved me.” He tilted her head back, needing to explain. “You are kindness, class, and beauty. I knew if I ever had a chance to experience any of those things, I had to say no. So I did.”
A soft smile curved her lips. “You’re saying we saved each other.”
“Yes.” He closed his eyes and moved to the music. He’d never doubted fate, and he’d never been worried about destiny. Perhaps there was a bigger plan in place, perhaps not. Either way, he’d found his path home to the one woman who would always be his. She’d healed him, and he would protect her forever. In fact, she’d made him believe in forever. The brand pulsed on his hand in agreement. He glanced down at the Kayrs marking, finally understanding what it meant.
Forever had teeth, and when it was right, it sank in. “I love you, Bren. Forever.”
Janet Isabella Kayrs knew better than to dance all night in three-inch heels, but she’d been having so much fun, she’d forgotten to change her shoes. As she slid into bed, she tried to flex away the pain. Cramps escalated up her calves. Good thing she’d had plenty of wine, or it’d hurt worse. Her head spun. Yeah. Plenty of wine.
She breathed deep, sliding into the misty world between dreams and reality. There was a time she’d controlled the world, and now she needed to learn how to reclaim the power. For tonight, she drifted away and wandered inside the now empty ballroom.
Zane entered from the ocean side, his footsteps echoing in the empty room, his gaze taking in the remnants of the party. “Who got married?”
She glanced down at her heels and slipped them off. This was her dream, and her feet deserved a break. “My uncle Jase married Brenna Dunne.”
“Ah.” Zane brushed flowers off the bar. “Did you have a date?”
She tilted her head. “Maybe.”
“Hmm.” He moved closer, his gaze on her shimmering blue dress. “You look beautiful.”
So did he. In faded jeans and a dark T-shirt, Zane was the most handsome man she’d ever seen. Deadly angles made up his face, which highlighted eyes a deep green. Deeper than any river she’d ever seen. “Thank you.”
He traced a knuckle down her face. “Your birthday is coming up soon. What do you want?”
Heat flared through her at the gentle touch. She sighed at the approach of her twenty-fifth year. As a child, she’d known that was the year fate would be met. “I want to win.”
Zane nodded. “Me, too.”
“Speaking of which, thank you for saving Garrett.”
“Not a problem.” Zane’s eyes darkened. “Now you owe me one.”
Was that a fact? She was damn tired of waiting for destiny, and twice as tired of waiting for Zane. So she stepped into him and tilted her head. “What exactly do you want?”
His nostrils flared. “Don’t play, Janie Belle.”
She kept still. “What in the world makes you think I’m playing?” Her frown narrowed her focus. “I’ve always known how this would end, and I’ve never considered it a game.”
“None of us knows how the war will end.” His lip twisted as his hand slid around her neck. “We know the players, but do you really know who wins? Are we together or on opposing sides?”
“Together.” Heat cascaded off him, even in the dreamworld. But no smell. She’d always wondered about his scent.
“Is that your heart or brain talking?” His lids dropped to half-mast. “What do you really know?”
“I know the good guys.” She kept her face set in honest lines. Was it possible to have fallen in love as a child? To have known her destiny since she was four years old? “Without a doubt, I’ve always known the Realm wins. So you might want to get on board.”
“Ah, Belle. You don’t know the final outcome, and there are no true good guys in this war.” His fingers tightened on her nape. “I’d like to think you’ve never lied to me.”
“Then tell me the truth. Tell me about your vision. You owe me.”
Yeah, she did. “Why did you save Garrett?”
“Because he’s your brother, and I could.” Zane lowered his head closer to hers. That close, she could see tiny flecks of darker green in his irises. His lips covered hers.
Warmth flushed through her along with an intriguing edge of need. She’d never felt it with anybody else. Only Zane. Her knees weakened and her spine tingled. He swept inside her mouth, taking claim.
She’d always known he’d stake a claim. He lifted his head, and the desire swirling across his strong face gave her strength.
He licked his lips. “Now talk.”
The man was right—she did owe him. The need to trust him, to have him trust her, became stronger than the desire to be strategic. “The end to the war comes this year, when I’m a quarter of a century old. You, Kalin, and I end up in the same place at the same time. At least one of us doesn’t make it out.”
“At least one?” Zane asked.
She closed her eyes and exhaled. “My feeling is only one of us will be left standing.” Frankly, she’d never truly believed it would be her. “I’ve always hoped you lived, Zane.”
He made a noise low in his gut. “Don’t be sweet. Please, don’t be sweet.”
She couldn’t help the smile as she opened her eyes. “You didn’t think this would be easy, now, did you?”