Embrace Me at Dawn

Page 12

To spare Sabelle, who had been obviously in love with her mate. Lucan had a big heart; he wouldn’t want anyone hurting, least of all the woman who had saved his life. And he had never nursed political aspirations. He would have accepted a Council seat to help Bram, not for any ambition of his own. But the very fact that he’d been willing to Call to Sabelle and have her speak the Binding to join their lives for the rest of their centuries ripped every one of Anka’s insecurities open and filled them with crushing pain.

She blinked once, twice. She saw Sabelle’s pitying expression. Her heart thudded dully in her chest. Tears scraped the backs of her eyes like a thousand little claws scratching in evil glee.

“Anka.” Sabelle knelt at her feet. “Lucan never loved me, except as a friend. You have his heart still, I swear.”

Did his heart matter now? If she held it, he’d certainly been willing to cast it aside and mate with a witch whose family and stature were far above her own. He’d been ready to embrace a proper mating with someone far better than her. For a century, he’d sworn her family didn’t matter to him. Every time he’d uttered those words, she’d been sure he’d lied gently to spare her. And now she knew the truth. All this time, Anka had been drowning in guilt for shacking up with Shock, heartbroken that she was hurting Lucan with her refusal to come back and her inability to explain… But Lucan had been moving on, ready to take another into his home, bed, and life.

He might as well have stuck a knife in her chest and carved out her heart, leaving her hollow and bleeding, foolishly pining for a man who’d hidden the ugly truth from her with lies.

She supposed that made them even.

Anka jumped to her feet. “I must go.”

“Don’t. You’re misunderstanding totally. Lucan loves you, dearest. He is incomplete without you. I know he’d give anything to have you back.”

“No, he’d give anything to have the meek weakling who hung on his every word and did exactly as he bid. He didn’t want a real woman, Belle. He wanted one who fit into his world. He certainly never wanted one to be his world.”

As she stumbled for the door, Sabelle at her heels, Ice blocked her. “She’s telling you the truth, Anka.”

“Were you eavesdropping, my caveman?” Sabelle sounded somewhere between cross and amused.

“Maybe just a bit.” A smile tugged at Ice’s face, which disappeared as he looked Anka’s way again. “I know Bram and Caden are quite worried about Lucan. He’s not bouncing back from losing you. He seems to lack will. I think his heart is broken.”

Or he had missed out on having the sort of mate he deserved with Sabelle and now regretted the moment of weakness that allowed such a prize to slip through his fingers.

“You both think he loves me?” Anka raised her challenging gaze to Ice. “Would you have ever stopped looking for Sabelle if she had been taken from you? Would you ever have stopped pursuing her again once you found her?”

Ice gritted his teeth, and cursed in a soft whisper, looking away.

Anka had her answer. “Of course you wouldn’t. Because Sabelle is your heart, your soul, your other half. You know her. You know that you love and need her. No matter what she said or did, you would never rest until she was yours again. Lucan let me go with barely a protest. Think on what that means, Ice.”

As she inched between him and the portal, Ice stepped aside and let her go. He’d only done so because he knew she was right and had no argument against her logic. Lucan had thrown in the mental towel on her months ago. Her revelation this morning would only pound the final nail in their coffin deeper. Though Lucan had never said a word on this score, Anka knew her bloodline and family hadn’t been good enough for him. And now that he knew what she needed in bed, what she craved…well, he’d write her off entirely as damaged goods, take his energy from surrogates, and someday take a well Privileged witch as his new mate.

Perhaps Lucan wasn’t wrong. Maybe there was something wrong with her, and she deserved this toxic relationship she shared with Shock. Whatever the case, she was locking Lucan away with the rest of her past and moving on with her future. She was now free to become exactly who and what she wanted to be, his expectations be damned. As soon as these training sessions ended, she’d do everything in her power to cut him from her life—and her heart—forever.

Chapter Five

Lucan walked into the training room, his head full. Information he’d gleaned from Mitchell Thorpe yesterday tripped over things he wanted to say to his former mate. He understood Anka’s needs now—in theory, anyway. Everything the fetish club owner had explained cast a glaring floodlight into her psyche. And he was stunned. All those decades he’d lived with and loved Anka, never realizing that she was submitting her will to him, while he’d never met—or even sensed—her needs. Guilt crushed him. Why hadn’t she ever told him that she craved something different?

Flipping on the lights, he paced to the boxing gloves, absently unknotting the laces. A door slammed behind him, and he zipped around to welcome Anka, a perfectly prepared speech on the tip of his tongue.

But it wasn’t his Anka who walked toward him. Instead, a razor-sharp goddess swayed in his direction. She wore her pale hair pulled away from her face in a severe braid that obliterated all the outrageously feminine curls he’d once loved running his fingers through. The thick rope of tresses hung over one shoulder, its tail swinging lazily against the bottom curve of her breast. Those luscious orbs he’d once caressed and suckled tenderly were now hugged by a tight black tank top. The garment dipped over the flat of her abdomen, nipping in to cinch her tiny waist. A pair of black leather pants cupped her lean hips and slender thighs before tucking into black boots that laced up to her knees, complete with heels that lent her an extra few inches of height. All in all, she looked like a cross between a kick-ass female warrior and a wet dream.

Lucan gaped mutely at her, aware that his jaw had hit his chest some time ago. He knew this woman intimately, still loved her with every beat of his hollow, broken heart. But the Anka he’d known preferred to blend into the background. The one standing before him now with a raised brow demanded his full attention without a word. She made his blood pump. Her presence grabbed him by the cock and squeezed unmercifully.


The curve of her little smile mocked him. She meant that expression to be a barricade. His demure Anka had been replaced by a spitfire who would scratch and claw and fight for what she believed in. He needed her to believe in him again.

“You told me that my clothes yesterday weren’t appropriate for lessons. Too baggy and the like, you said. No such problem today, I trust?”

It wasn’t a question, but a dare. Clearly, something besides her wardrobe had changed in the last twenty-four hours. Something deeper. This external transformation mirrored a change inside her, and Lucan wanted details. In the past, he might have cuddled her on his lap and simply asked what troubled her. One look at her fiery amber eyes told him she’d thrown a silent gauntlet at his feet, daring him to live with her defiance or rein it in. The barricades around her heart and mind stood strong and thick. Until he earned her trust again, scaling them would be a snarling battle.

Lucan smiled back. Guess what, love? I understand now. Let the battle begin…

If she wanted to challenge him to win her back, heart, body, and soul, he gladly accepted. At least he was in the game again, no longer shut out by the pain she’d wielded like a shield and his own regret.

Snippets of his enlightening conversation with Thorpe echoed in his head. Her trauma didn’t create this submissive need in her, Lucan. Turning herself over to another allows her to give the most tender parts of her soul and let go of her pain, yet retain the power to stop the scene at any time she wishes—something she didn’t have when she was raped. Shock simply tapped into the need to please she’s likely always had, waiting for the right man to understand.

The right man, Shock? Not for Anka.

But now Lucan understood what had driven her to seek his guidance during their mating about how best she could please him in dress and manner. He’d merely assumed that she wanted to fit in and gain acceptance from his very traditional parents, despite her less than sterling family. Perhaps that had been true to a point, but he now saw that hadn’t been her only motive. He’d been so bloody damn stupid these last three months, letting his hurt, confusion, and guilt for all she’d suffered rule him. Never again. The worst thing he could do now was continue to allow the distance between them. In fact, he suspected that his worst mistake had been licking the wounds of her rejection, rather than demanding she come home months ago. She hadn’t needed the time to heal; she could have done that at home. What she’d really needed was to know he still cared.

Water under the bridge now. She was here in front of him, and blast it all if he wasn’t going to make every goddamn second count.

“Your clothes are perfect. Thank you.” Lucan glanced at his mobile phone. “But you’re late.”

She shifted her balance, sticking one hip out as she crossed her arms over her chest. “You’re not my keeper. Are you here to train me to fight, or do you just want to chastise me for not being good enough, Prince Lucan?”

Prince Lucan? He raised a brow. Where was this venom coming from? The fact that he’d left her with Shock instead of staking his claim again or something more? Whatever the case, she was purposely pushing him. To see his reaction? Likely. Wouldn’t she be surprised when she got one…and probably not what she expected from the man who’d once been her tender, solicitous mate.

Because for the first time in months, he had focus and a goal firmly in mind.

He walked toward her slowly and snapped his fingers, conjuring up a pair of chairs from the dining room. “Before we get started, sit. I’d like to talk to you.”

Anka bristled. “What’s there to talk about? I’m here to learn to fight, and I can’t do that sitting on my arse. If you don’t like my attitude, I’m sorry. But I don’t live to please you anymore.”

He couldn’t miss the bitter hurt in her voice now. He’d been mistaking it all these months for contempt. But she was challenging him, testing him to see if he gave a shit. Because she did. If she didn’t care, her words wouldn’t bleed anger and accusation. His responsibility now was to pinpoint the hurt so he could begin to heal her. He must find what she needed and give it to her.

“I told you yesterday, Anka, that isn’t how this works. You may stay or go. Unless I say otherwise, everything else is up to me. Sit,” he repeated gently but firmly.

He watched her need to please war with the pain battering her heart. The battle raged across her delicate face. Patiently, he stood nearby and waited.

Finally, she exhaled a breath that shuddered with impatience and plopped in the chair, lean legs crossed. “What do you want? Because I’ll tell you something. You can annoy the piss out of me and make my life difficult, but I will not give up.”

“I didn’t ask you to quit.”

“Not in so many words, no. But you’d rather I did. It would make your life simpler.”

“In some ways, it would,” he admitted. “While I like the idea that you’ll be ready for any trouble that might come your way, I would be greatly relieved if you decided to stop training to fight a terrible battle that I fear will only end with you being hurt.”

“Hurt again, you mean?” She arched a brow at him. “Mathias has already hurt me. And one lesson I learned quickly was that I was ill prepared to deal with him. You coddled me and protected me from the real world. For that, it kicked me mercilessly until it nearly killed me. I can’t be that fragile bauble. I won’t be helpless again. Besides, it’s not as if I matter to you anymore.”

Her impassioned speech slammed him back in his seat. God, so many things to address with her, so many stones unturned, so many unspoken promises broken. He was going to have to step back even more, start at square one with trust, before he ever started digging in her heart.

“You matter very much. It’s why I coddled you perhaps more than I should have. I wanted to take the responsibility of your welfare off your shoulders. I never considered you helpless, just someone very dear to me. The fault for every terrible thing Mathias did to you is mine, love. I left you defenseless, and he used you to weaken me. I am sorrier than you will ever know that I wasn’t there for you when he came. I deeply regret that I slipped into such severe mate mourning that I lacked the sanity to find you. Every day, I curse the fact that I didn’t save you before he broke our bond and ravaged you. I am in despair if you think you didn’t matter then and don’t matter now. I realize you have no reason to trust me at the moment, but you have my most sincere promise that I will do whatever it takes to fix that. I will never again let you down.”

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