Embrace Me at Dawn

Page 15

Her bravado was utter shit. Lucan saw it. Felt it. Wanted to get underneath it to reach the fragile woman underneath who seemed to think she was somehow too damaged for him or somehow not good enough. Impatience chafed him, but he swallowed it down. She needed time to heal, his attention, and the certainty he would be there, no matter what. No way could he convince her of all that in a day or two.

“The first component to undoing Merlin’s spell is someone from his bloodline.” As Ice stood to his full height, wrapped his arm more tightly around his mate, and glared across the room, Bram calmed the big warrior immediately. “I’ll take that. There’s no need for Sabelle to be involved.” As Ice relaxed back at his mate’s side, the lovely blonde witch nudged his shoulder with a scowl.

Olivia grabbed Merlin’s book. “The next component is trickier. The blood of someone from Nimue’s line.”

“Nimue? Who is that?” Duke asked. “Sometimes, I bloody hate that I didn’t grow up magical. Sorry I’m so far behind.”

Bram sent him a grim smile. “Nimue is otherwise known as Viviene. Most commonly known as The Lady of the Lake, the witch who was Merlin’s student and lover, who eventually tricked him into his tomb. Finding someone of her ancient bloodline will be difficult.”

Tabitha shoved herself up from the sofa, her swelling belly more pronounced every day as Raiden’s youngling grew within her. “I think I can help there. My father, before he was killed, updated a document filled with magickind’s most sacred bloodlines, including Nimue’s. He didn’t publish it, so we have an advantage there. Morganna won’t know where to look.” She gestured to a thick, yellowing book her mate currently held on his lap. “I’m glad you told me to bring this, Olivia. Keep talking. I’ll continue looking. My father handwrote most of this, but I think I’ve nearly figured it out.”

The Doomsday Brethren’s leader smiled her way, then Raiden helped her back to her seat. Before anyone could even resume speaking, the crafty redhead was flipping pages again, the paper occasionally scraping against her protruding belly.

“While she looks for that, I’ll tell you about the last requirement of Merlin’s to release the potion,” Olivia continued. “There’s a reference here to the second washerwoman. Whatever that is, we must have one of those.”

Lucan frowned. “What does that mean?”

“A banshee,” Anka whispered fearfully from the back of the room. And no wonder, the nomadic women who roamed the earth washing the bloody clothes of those about to die, singing the death wail, were feared by all.

He spun his head around to stare at his former mate. She hadn’t spoken a word since this meeting began. Why give voice to her thoughts now? And how did she know the answer?

“Anka is right,” Bram said. “But not just any banshee. I remember Merlin telling me that there are three types: the maiden, the mother, and the crone. This is where the spell gets difficult. In addition to the blood of someone from Merlin and Nimue’s lines, we need the second generation in a banshee line, so one who is also a mother. She wards off the spirits guarding the potion.”

“What?” Lucan completely lost his patience. “Is that even possible? Weren’t the banshees obliterated hundreds of years ago? The few who weren’t killed by the paranoid Council idiots ended their own lives, rather than endure public execution. I’ve heard rumors that a few still exist…but I would never have stopped Anka’s training for this meeting if I’d known you were basically looking for the impossible.”

“Sounds like the equivalent of an Elvis sighting to us humans,” Sydney piped up.

Bram shot her a disapproving glare. “It’s improbable, Lucan, but not impossible. We must keep looking or we’ll never be rid of Morganna.”

Into the momentary silence, Tabitha gasped, going utterly white. “I found Nimue’s bloodline!”

“Well?” Bram prompted impatiently.

“Lucan’s right. This isn’t possible.”

“Supposedly opening Morganna’s tomb and resurrecting her was impossible, too, but here we are dealing with the bitch. So tell us. Who do we know that’s a descendant of Nimue?”

“There is only one living member of the line.” She placed a trembling hand over her belly, Raiden wrapped his fingers around hers, giving a soft squeeze of comfort. “It’s Mathias. To end Morganna, we’re going to have to undertake a dangerous hunt for a banshee…and make a deal with the devil.”

Chapter Six

Anka fidgeted. Lucan’s watchful gaze never strayed. She schooled her face impassively as talk of teaming up with Mathias and capturing a banshee continued. Her heart froze up, failing to beat for long minutes. Oh, God. She didn’t want to dance with the devil. Facing him again would be hard enough, but being his partner would be impossible. But Mathias wasn’t her only worry.

For Anka’s entire childhood, her mother had harangued her daily about keeping their deadly bloodline a secret. Don’t trust anyone, girl. And definitely don’t ever sing.

If people knew the truth, she could be hunted, incarcerated, killed. Every day, she thanked their Creator that being a blend of other species didn’t reflect on a magical signature. Banshee camps weren’t that distant a memory, historically speaking. Hunted by paranoid witches and wizards in their remote banshee villages, the women had been captured en masse for centuries and dragged away from all civilization. Their mouths were always magically sewn shut forever. Often, they were slaughtered. Entire generations of banshees perished together. Her grandmother had given her life so that her mother could escape such a camp. Eventually, her mother had mated with a wizard, kept her secret to the grave, and made Anka promise to do the same. And in the century she’d been mated to Lucan, she had never once given him any reason to suspect just what blood ran in her veins.

But now…she hesitated. Would telling her friends her secret help them end Morganna, so they could ultimately turn their focus on Mathias again? She wanted that bastard gone so badly, would give anything to see the scum who’d torn apart her life defeated and dead. She’d risk exposing herself, seeing horror and pity on the faces of all she’d called friends for centuries. She’d even risk being ostracized for the rest of her life. But if she spoke now, Lucan would forever know that she was as inferior as she felt. He’d never touch her again. And maybe that was better for him.

No. That was definitely better for him.

Anka opened her mouth. Then she closed it. After keeping a secret like this from Lucan for over a century, if she revealed it now, he would feel completely betrayed. The thought of hurting him more stabbed her like a physical ache. And ultimately, revealing her tainted bloodline could do nothing to help them retrieve Morganna’s potion simply because, while banshee blood ran through her veins, she wasn’t a second washerwoman. She wasn’t a mother. Not that she and Lucan hadn’t tried in all their years together to conceive. It hurt to, once again, be useless.

“Do you have something to add, Anka?” Bram asked from across the room.

“No.” She avoided looking at anyone.

Unless she could be helpful to the cause, this shame was hers—and hers alone—to bear.

From the corner of her eye, she saw Lucan. He watched her with a slight frown wrinkling his brow, as if trying to figure her out. He wanted inside her head. She didn’t dare let him. Later, she’d worry about how much she’d inadvertently revealed today or why he’d changed from the tender mate she’d known to the delicious alpha male who’d made her knees go weak with nothing more than a firm tone. He hadn’t mentioned her bruises again, but she’d wondered what he must be thinking. Was he revolted…or curious? Did he want to try that with her?

The thought rattled her. She could take the pain from Shock. It released her anguish, scrubbed her soul raw and clean so she could go on, less burdened by the past. But it didn’t touch her heart. Lucan taking control of her, pulling her hair in his fist as he plunged inside her with one merciless thrust after another, murmuring in her ear how much he wanted her… The fantasy alone completely undid her.

She could never let him that close again.

“Are we truly sure Mathias is the last of Nimue’s line?” Ice asked, slanting a dubious glance at Tabitha. “Maybe your father got it wrong. Wasn’t Mathias a Chillingham?”

“On his father’s side, yes,” the pregnant redhead said. “On his mother’s side, the origins were shrouded in mystery. My father made notes that her magical signature was unlike any he’d ever seen. But being one of Nimue’s descendants would do that and explain all the power he wields. It’s not simple magic.”

“Indeed,” Bram cut in. “The only more accomplished witch of Arthur’s time was Morganna.”

Ice shook his head. “Then I want to know why the barmy fuck thinks he’s more powerful than Morganna herself. Why would he resurrect her, assuming he could bring her to heel?”

“Male ego?” Sabelle smirked beside him.

Ice whispered something in her ear that made her blush. Anka looked away, unable to watch the blatant show of affection. The envy stinging her brought on a terrible, guilty pain.

Lucan’s gaze cornered her again, sharp with awareness. She raised her chin and a challenging brow before directing her attention to Bram and the matter at hand. “I’m against this idea. Are you actually suggesting that we make an alliance with Mathias? We don’t have a banshee, and he’ll only use us.”

“Just as we’ll use him,” Bram quipped. “She must have done or planned something beyond frightening to force Mathias to seek us out.”

“Or he’s hoping we’ll all get ourselves killed trying to stop her.” Anka frowned.

“And he might not be wrong,” Bram conceded. “By all accounts, she is one dangerous bitch.”

“Aye,” Marrok cut in. “’Tis far more than the marks of her fingernails she leaves on a man’s back. An expert in baiting traps, she is. No man will easily outsmart her, and mayhap not at all. Each of us should be ever wary.”

“Indeed,” Bram seconded. “This might be a trap, as you point out. But our resident Yank, Olivia, has a quaint saying. What is that?”

The violet-eyed beauty smiled. “You have to play the hand you’ve been dealt.”

“Precisely. This is our hand. Sadly, Mathias seems to be dealing the cards, but nevertheless, we will play. Send Shock a text, Anka, will you?” Bram asked, strolling closer.

She sighed, grateful for something else to focus on. As soon as she had, she received an immediate reply. “He said he’d be here to discuss Mathias’s proposition. But you know Shock. With him, that could be two minutes or two days.”

It wasn’t as if Shock ever answered to anyone. Not Bram. Not even Mathias. Certainly not the woman he lived with and slaked his lust on, fooling himself all the while that he loved her. She knew better. Someday, he would, too.

Lucan’s eyes narrowed, and he opened his mouth. Before he could get a word out, Shock’s audible calling card rang out. Bram charged toward the door.

“Stay here,” Lucan demanded before leaving, hot on Bram’s heels.

Anka had to reach Shock first, make sure he gave away no hint of her secret. She bounded up and followed the wizards.

Lucan turned on her as they raced to the door. “Bloody hell, woman. Don’t you listen?”

“Shock isn’t going to hurt me.”

He snarled, his blue eyes flat and hard. “Bollocks! If you give him enough time, he will.”

“He’s had plenty of time. He’s kept me alive and protected me.” He’s kept my secret for nearly two hundred years, just as I’ve kept his.

“The things I haven’t done. Right, then.” With a curse, he turned his back on her, his long-legged strides carrying him to the door.

“That wasn’t meant to be a commentary about you,” she argued softly.

“But that’s what I know to be true.”

“Don’t act as if it matters anymore,” she called after him. “Let’s forget it and stop hurting one another, shall we?”

“Enough!” Bram snapped. “Stop bickering and focus. Or isn’t Morganna being on the loose, exposing magickind to potential slaughter from the humans, while we have to make nice with Mathias because of it real enough for you?”

Guilt stung Anka. “Sorry.”

Lucan looked away, closed-mouthed and closed off.

Bram flung the door open to see Shock leaning against the portal. He visually bypassed Bram, gave Lucan the universal glare for “fuck you,” then fastened his gaze on Anka.

“You need something?”

A part of her wondered if he’d really come simply because she’d said she needed him. In the past, he might just as often have flipped her the bird and disappeared back into a bottle. She winced. She couldn’t take the thought back. He’d already read it.

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