Embrace Me at Dawn

Page 16

Thunder crossed his face. “Don’t fucking think that. I’ve been here for you in all the ways that count.”

Anka couldn’t argue with that, so she just nodded and silently pleaded with him not to breathe a word about the banshee in the room. “We need to talk to you.”

He gave her a slight nod. “We?”

“You know I’ve thrown my lot in with the Doomsday Brethren.”

“You’re bloody serious?” Shock pushed his way past Bram and entered the house.

“Come in, then. Don’t wait for me to invite you,” Bram snarked. “We’re willing to negotiate with Mathias about ending Morganna.”

No emotion crossed Shock’s face. “I’ll get word to him.”

“Of course you will,” Lucan sneered.

Even behind the sunglasses, Anka knew Shock’s eyes narrowed. She felt the anger radiating from him. Lucan wasn’t any less seething. The need for violence shimmered off of him. She turned, frowned, wondering what had gotten into him. Could he be…jealous? Did he still care? She didn’t want to hope so. Hope hurt too much when reality crushed it. But the truth was, she was jealous of Sabelle and every other woman Lucan had touched. Maybe—

Very aware of Shock’s growl and his charge toward her, she broke off the thought and tiptoed back.

Lucan stepped between them, as if he meant to buffer her from Shock’s anger. “She is a grown witch who can make her own decisions.”

“I can also speak for myself.” She gently pushed Lucan aside. “I’m sorry, Shock.” And she was. He’d done so much for her, yet she repaid him by pining for her former mate every single day. “Yes, I’m serious. For my sanity, I need to be a part of sending Mathias to hell, of stripping him of his sense of power and personal safety the way he stripped me of mine.”

Shock stared at her for an uncomfortable minute, probing, penetrating her thoughts. She winced as he intruded. He wasn’t subtle or careful, and it hurt more than a little. But she allowed it. She allowed him to know that she wasn’t here, intending to dangle herself in front of Lucan with the hope that he would take her back. She gave him the peace of mind of knowing that, no matter how badly she wished otherwise, she intended to be nothing more to her former mate than a trainee.

Finally, Shock turned to Lucan, brows narrowing into a vee as he thrust his way into Lucan’s face. “Hell, no. This bleeding arsehole isn’t training you. He isn’t touching you. I know exactly what he’s thinking. What the fuck could he teach you except to neglect your responsibilities and turn rabid when danger strikes?”

Fury rumbled across Lucan’s face. “You know nothing about mate mourning or the lengths I would go to in order to see Anka protected. So fuck off. You manage to be conveniently absent whenever there’s a battle. What do you think you can do for Anka? Ignore her for a bottle of scotch, then beat her arse blue for the hell of it? You’ve kept her in that ramshackle place you call home. It’s falling down around your ears, and have you taken proper care of her? Do you know that she’s allergic to shellfish and coconut? Do you care that she prefers a very particular brand of silk knickers? Did you bother to find out that she likes to be held when she’s sleeping and that she’ll have nightmares and wake crying, needing to feel that you care?”

Anka closed her eyes. With every word, Lucan was reminding her of so many of the reasons she’d loved him. Yes, she had given herself to him—heart, body, soul, and free will—but he’d given her so very much in return, particularly the kind of understanding she wasn’t certain she could ever find with another man. But that yearning made her weak. She could no longer afford the deepest wishes of her heart, not with Mathias still on the loose.

“Oh, boo hoo,” Shock spat. “Anka doesn’t need that anymore.”

Lucan turned a glare full of burning anger on her. “Is that really true? Have Mathias and Shock really gutted your heart so much that you no longer seek the love and reassurance you once craved? Or do you simply keep telling yourself that’s the case?”

“I don’t need any of that anymore.” And I can’t afford to need you. The words sat on the tip of her tongue, but she couldn’t make herself say them. They burned every inch of her flesh, all the way to the deepest part of her soul. “I was a stupid, fragile princess who knew nothing about protecting myself. Mathias taught me that in the most vicious way possible.”

Lucan looked like he wanted to argue, but Bram cut in. “We are here to discuss Mathias and negotiate an agreement under which we will all hunt Morganna jointly. Anything else now is petty and pointless. I won’t have you wasting my time whilst you two squabble like children. Are we going to save magickind or not?”

Lucan completely ignored his best friend’s pretty speech. “You’re going with the china doll excuse again, Anka? Can you stand here and tell me you don’t need anything we once shared?”

She swallowed down a searing lump of need, struggling against the lonely, hungry part of her that still yearned for him. “I’ve said I don’t need any of it.”

Defeat crossed Lucan’s face, slumped his shoulders. A surge of blistering fury followed. “Then it’s a damn good thing I don’t want them, either.”

He lied. Because she’d hurt him. Anka didn’t dare blanch, but his words gouged her, emptying out a hole in her heart and pouring pain inside.

“When did your period start, then?” Shock challenged Lucan before turning to Bram. “Got a tampon for him, mate?”

Lucan stiffened, blistering hatred seizing him in a single lunge, complete with a look that could kill. “You’ve changed her. Ruined her. You’re going to pay. I will kill you if it’s the last thing I do.”

Shock smiled like a shark, all teeth and bad attitude. “Not if I kill you first.”

“Shut up!” Bram yelled.

Beside her, Shock raised a hand, looking like he intended to hurl a lethal dose of magic right at Lucan’s chest. He let it fly with a snarling battle cry.

Nothing happened.

With a curse, he looked up to find Felicia standing there, wearing a Mona Lisa smile. “Simon suggested that you might be having a bit of difficulty finding your way back to the office. Shall we?”

Shock flung his hand down and grabbed her by the elbow, dragging her toward Bram’s lair. Behind her, Lucan followed, a carrot Fate dangled in her face, offering her everything she still wanted—but kept just out of reach.

~ ~ ~ ~

She no longer wants me. She no longer wants me. She no longer wants me.

The mantra resounded in Lucan’s head over and over, a clanging echo, jarring him each and every time the ugly truth raced through his brain again. She didn’t want him. How many times and in how many bloody ways did she have to tell him before his stupid heart finally understood and gave up?

As Shock dragged Anka away, clutching her in his meaty fist, he tried not to look. Tried not to plot murder. Maybe she preferred an emotionally stunted wankstain to a wizard who would do anything, even lay down his life, for her.

“She didn’t mean it.”

The soft, feminine whisper curled into his ear from somewhere just behind him. With a scowl, he turned to find Felicia standing there with a hopeful little grin.

“What do you mean?” he demanded.

“Anka, saying she no longer wanted any of the things you mentioned. She was lying. I could tell all the way from the next room. The stench was terrible. She wants them badly. She wants you.”

That was good news, the best he’d had all day. But…why lie? Why rip his heart out—again—in front of an audience? Why make a spectacle of his feelings and his memories of their mating?

“I see the questions on your face. I have no answers. I can only say that she lied.”

His gaze swerved back to Anka. Did Shock have something he held over her head that forced her compliance?

Before Lucan could ask anything more, Felicia departed upstairs. He entered Bram’s office, which had been cleared of the rest of the Brethren and their mates. Bram would make sure that Shock could read none of their minds. That parlor trick shouldn’t work with Felicia in the manor, but somehow, for some confounding reason, Shock’s ability to read minds could be dampened by nothing.

Putting as much distance as possible between Shock and himself, Lucan resumed his spot on the far side of the room, by the window, where no one—especially Shock—could get behind him. He didn’t need to be stabbed in the back again.

Anka settled into the corner and tried to make herself small. Felicia had sworn that her refusal of him was a lie, and her body language certainly bore that out. His former mate scooted as far away from Shock as he could. The leather-clad wizard was having none of it, sitting on a nearby ottoman and dragging her onto his lap. She opened her mouth to protest. One of Shock’s brows rose above those bloody stupid sunglasses. Anka closed her mouth, lips pursed grimly. Lucan looked away.

She didn’t love Shock, and for that, he had to be grateful. Of course, that didn’t mean she loved him either, but he wasn’t giving up on her again.

“Thank you for coming, Shock.” Bram stood behind his desk, using it like a podium. He opened the negotiation with precision and purpose.

“Now that I’m here, what do you want?”

“It’s not that simple. First, you’re a dodgy sort. You happen to know a banshee?”

Anka stiffened. Lucan supposed that she might not appreciate her current lover being maligned. A little smile lifted the corners of his mouth. Anka might not like it, but he surely did.

“Dodgy? Fuck you. You called me here to ask about banshees?” He cocked his head and released a long-suffering sigh. “Name me one person who knows one. Why the fuck do you ask?”

Bram smiled tightly. “Just curious. Before we join Mathias in any effort to destroy Morganna, we need a few assurances.”

Shock settled back, leaning against the wall, his arm still snugly around Anka’s tiny waist. She relaxed a bit against him. “People are dying, and you want to negotiate?”

“When did you become a fucking humanitarian?” The words were out of Lucan’s mouth before he could stop himself.

God, why couldn’t he just shut up?

Bram pinned him with a warning glare. “Are you helping this effort?”

He shook his head. “Sorry.”

“Excellent.” Bram turned back to Shock. “Yes, I want to negotiate. If Mathias is so concerned about magickind, too, he can agree to the terms quickly, and we’ll get started. First, he must give us full and complete information about Morganna. Everything he knows, we’d bloody better know as well. If I find out he’s hidden anything at all from us, no matter how minor, I’ll cut him off cold, and he can find some way to put Morganna down by himself.”

Shock shrugged. “I’ll tell him. Doubt he’ll have a problem. I’m sure, however, that he’ll want similar assurances. You have to puke up everything you know about killing Morganna.”

Lucan looked up and found Bram staring, those blue eyes of his speculating about how little they could trust Mathias. Very little, Lucan was sure. But what choice did they have? And not for anything would he think about— No. He would not risk tipping Shock off. Instead, he pictured a fantasy. He started with one he’d had many times: Shock sliced wide open, his blood spilling all around as he lay on a street every bit as dirty as his soul and watched his life force leaving him as the birds swooped down, one by one, to eat away at his entrails in a slow, painful death.

“You wish,” Shock growled.

“Indeed, I do.” Lucan simply smiled.

“Focus, damn it!” Bram pounded a fist on the table and waited with seething impatience until everyone did as he demanded.

“Bossy wanker,” Shock muttered under his breath.

Anka elbowed him through his leather coat. He grunted, looking mighty displeased, but said nothing.

“If I agree to share my information with Mathias, he must agree that he cannot attempt to use it without my knowledge or consent. He must also not act alone. We will be a team, which means he will abide by the same rules that govern everyone else in this effort. I lead it. That’s non-negotiable.”

Shock wore a smile that snarled “you must fucking be kidding,” but he merely said, “I’ll pass it on.”

“Anyone he wishes to talk to about Morganna or the information we have must be someone I approve. He cannot share what we know with whomever the hell he wants.”

“Yes, yes. We’re all on the same team, playing by the same rules, blah, blah, blah. Is that it?”

Bram looked ready to spit nails, but managed a halfway cordial nod. “I suppose I don’t need to tell you that he should decide quickly.”

“He came to you, wanker. I think he understands quite well.”

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