Embrace Me at Dawn

Page 24

“I’ve no doubt,” Anka broke in, speaking the truth. “But I understand that you’re interested in finding people of a certain bloodline who can help you with a quest. I know where to find one of them.”

Not for anything would she give over Sabelle’s location. Yes, she might envy the beautiful witch, her perfect mating and her past intimacies with Lucan. Sabelle might be from a better bloodline and her magic might be more unique than her own—but Anka wasn’t about to let her envy change the fact that Bram’s sister was still her dearest friend.

“Do you?” Morganna didn’t bother to walk away from the Land Rover, but merely teleported across the distance until she leaned into Anka’s face, nearly nose to nose. “How would you know whose bloodline is of interest to me?”

“I live with Mathias’s second-in-command, Shock. I hear things.”

“The big, dodgy one with those dark contraptions covering his eyes?”

Anka nodded. “The very one.”

“Whatever they’ve sent you to say is of no interest to me. I don’t trust either of them,” she drawled.

“Of course you don’t,” Anka assured the pale witch. “They’re men. Why should you?”

Morganna’s gaze sharpened. “Who is it you think I wish to find? And why, pray tell, should I trust you?”

“Well, it made sense that you would want to have a bit of a…chat with Bram Rion. But if not, I’ll take myself away. It was an honor meeting such a legend.” Anka backed away, praying the other witch would take her bait. If not, she’d have to find some way to free those hostages.

Not two steps later, Morganna grabbed her wrist. The witch’s power, sizzling like an electrical current under her skin, nearly knocked Anka on her arse. She struggled to stay upright and not shudder from all the might coursing under the other female’s skin.

“I want Bram Rion,” Morganna hissed. “He alone can tell me where I can find something...” The witch weighed her words carefully. “Of value.”

“After he tells you, will you let him go then?” Anka tested the waters.

“Of course.” Morganna smiled.

Anka didn’t believe her for a moment. “Pity. I rather think someone needs to finish the prat off and put the rest of us out of our misery.”

A slow, devious smile crossed Morganna’s face. “’Tis something I can arrange with minimal effort, little witch. Can you bring him to me?”

If she promised to deliver Bram to Morganna on a silver platter, the bitch would surely suspect a trap. No one got anything for free, and Morganna knew she had made many enemies over the centuries. This parody of politeness was a façade, and if Anka failed to play the game correctly, Morganna would rip her throat out magically and pull the heart from her chest while it still beat. And it would mean nothing to her. It would certainly cost her very little effort. No, Anka knew she had to be coy.

“Maybe. Eventually. But the way I hear it, you don’t want to just kill him immediately. Eventually, yes. But you need information first.”

Morganna looked just a bit impressed, despite herself. “You are quite well informed. Been eavesdropping? Or does that big brute tell you things when he’s between your thighs? Men are, after all, so often led by their cocks.”

Anka forced a conspiratorial smile. “They are, but in this case, I’ve been digging for information myself. You see, I’m with him somewhat against my will.”

The half-truth fell out, and she had to stop herself from wincing. Anka wasn’t exactly sure where this conversation was going, but now that the die had been cast, she had to play her part to the end.

Sidling closer, Morganna examined her carefully. “Really? You can’t leave him?”

“I could,” she corrected. Something in Morganna’s tone told her the other witch would lose all respect for her if she sounded helpless before a mere man. “Let’s say he has something I need, and I’ve purposely ingrained myself in his life until I get it. Then I’ll have no problem whatsoever cutting him loose.”

That made her smile. “Excellent. So, ’tis been your idea to find information to help me because…?”

“Because I’d hoped that in exchange you could help me as well.”

Morganna would be suspicious of anyone simply offering to help, but the reluctant respect dawning in her slow smile said that she understood a good barter. “Indeed? What have you to offer?”

“I will find all the information pertaining to that item you seek and—”

“Item?” she asked sharply, dragging a long white claw across Anka’s cheek. “What do you know about it?”

Time to lay her cards on the table. “I know it’s a potion that will kill you. I know that Merlin made it and hid it. I know a few things about extracting it that you probably don’t.”

Bram was probably going to kill her for this, but since he wasn’t here to consult, she had to play this her own way and repair any damage later.

“Such as?”

“Not so fast. I need something in return for helping you.”

“Step carefully. I can kill you instantly.”

“You can,” Anka agreed readily. “But then my information dies with me.”

Petulance crossed Morganna’s smooth face. Anka had no trouble understanding why Marrok once found her desirable enough to bed. Despite the centuries of life and exile, she was beyond beautiful. Her violet eyes looked so much like Olivia’s but lacked all the warmth and compassion her friend’s possessed. Instead, they gleamed with cunning and conceit.

“Perhaps ’tis a deal we can strike. You will tell me where to find the potion and how to extract it, and I will grant whatever little request you have.”

“Shouldn’t you hear my request first before you decide you can, in fact, grant it?”

“Are you questioning my ability, girl?”

Dangerous line of conversation. Anka quickly shook her head. “My question was rather meant to ask whether you’d wish to help. I know well that you’ll be able to conjure any magic you wish.”

That bit of ego stroking seemed to mollify the ancient witch. “Exactly. If you give me all I’ve asked for, granting your wish should be of no consequence. Tell me what you know about the potion. I’ll decide if the bargain is worthwhile.”

Anka nodded and pretended to pace, her head whirling. What to say? She had to give over something… Saying anything false could backfire. The point of this conversation was to begin to build trust. She couldn’t do that with a lie. Eventually, she’d have to use Morganna’s trust against her, but she couldn’t do that until she’d built it.

“I know the potion is held by one of Merlin’s spells.”

“Of course it is.” Morganna sighed. “Tell me not the obvious, silly witch. ’Tis something useful I expect to receive in exchange for helping you.”

Gnawing on her lip, Anka came to a decision. Bram would probably be furious, but if he wanted to play this role, she’d be happy to put him in a bloody dress and let him mentally fence with someone who’d had centuries upon centuries to perfect her skills. “There are three requirements to dislodge the potion.”

“Where is it hidden?” Morganna barked impatiently.

“I’m still searching for that information. Merlin’s notes are not always helpful, you know.”

“Pompous lout,” Morganna grumbled, then narrowed her eyes suspiciously. “Three things, you say? What are they?”

She must play this very carefully. Talking to Morganna was a bit like fencing on landmines. One misstep and… “Well, I can’t tell you everything now, can I? I must keep something to barter with.” Anka pretended to pace and think, giving Morganna’s impatience time to grow and hopefully overcome a bit of her better sense. A long shot, but the witch had never been known for her restraint.

“You must tell me something, else I’ll be hard pressed to believe you know anything of use.”

“I understand.” Anka couldn’t give up the information about Bram’s or Mathias’s bloodlines. She would likely hunt them both down and imprison them for her purposes. They needed Bram for this war. And Mathias… No one was taking that revenge away from her, least of all a witch who should have been dead long ago. “One of the things you’ll need to retrieve the potion is a banshee.”

“’Tis simple enough.” Morganna shrugged as if that presented no problem at all.

“Perhaps you’re not aware that finding one these days is somewhere between incredibly difficult and impossible.”

Morganna’s thundering frown almost set Anka back on her heels. “’Tis clearly a lie, as I am now looking at one.”

Anka couldn’t stop her eyes from widening with horror. “How did…”

The words slipped out before she could stop them. She clapped her hand over her mouth, knowing there was no way to undo the damage she’d already done. Dread slid sickly through her stomach. Had she already ruined this entire ruse?

“How did I know?” Morganna rolled her violet eyes. “Silly girl, back in my era, banshees were well known. Certain bloodlines left telltale signs. If none of the useless younglings now know what to look for, ’tis their stupidity at fault. But I knew what you were the moment you approached.”

Anka’s head spun with ways to save this plot before it fell down around her. She leaned in as if to confide in Morganna. “It’s my secret. No one knows.”

The witch shrugged, as if her confidences were of no consequence. “Your signature says you were once mated. He knew not of your banshee ancestors?”

Anka shook her head, having no idea how to answer without digging a deeper hole. This ploy had become desperate and dangerous. Her heart drummed, and she wondered how she could have been so careless as to give Morganna any information to use against her. But it was too late now.

“No one knows. Being a banshee now will likely get a woman killed.”

“Foolish men, always desperate to make war with what they fail to understand. Your secret is safe. After all, I need you. Perhaps you should just come with me, sweet girl.”

Morganna reached out for her. Anka barely managed to dance out of her grip, but she knew absolutely that she escaped only because the other witch allowed it.

“Well, there is one problem if you wish to use me to help you unlock the potion.”

“What is that, pray tell?”

“Of the maiden, mother, and crone, the banshee you require must be a mother. I am not.”

“Aye, ’tis clear from your signature that you have no children. Can you bring me a banshee who does? In return, I can grant you a wish or two.”

“I know of no other banshees. Most have been killed or entrapped forever.”

Morganna sent her a considering stare. “They were not terribly popular back in my age. Idiots. ’Tis creative I will have to be. No matter.”

With a shrug, she grabbed Anka’s arm. That surge of power burst through her body, making her shiver once more. The blast jolted her body. She lost sight and the ability to breathe. Her thoughts raced preternaturally fast. Her heart nearly pounded out of her chest. The charge tensed every muscle and nearly made her hair stand on end.

Suddenly, Morganna released her. “That should do the trick.”

Anka flopped to her knees and forced her eyes open so she could look up at Morganna. In the Land Rover behind her, she heard the screams of the hostages, all terrified that the blonde witch would hurt them as she’d been hurt. In truth, her body felt devoid of most energy, each limb limp, her bones as fluid as water. She fought to find her breath enough to ask, “What happened?”

“I like to think we’ve just done one another a favor, dear. This shan’t take long, so I suggest you make your way to your man quickly.”

“What…do you…mean?” She could barely gasp the words out.

Morganna laughed, a light, tinkling sound that rang with mischief. “And spoil the surprise? Nay. Run now. I will send for you when I am ready. You can give me the rest of the information I want and thank me then. Off you go.”

Anka shifted one foot to the flat grass beneath her and braced both hands on her knee, forcing herself to her feet. Unsteady, she wavered for a moment. A wave of dizziness nearly sent her onto her backside, but she parted her feet and held out her arms to steady herself.

“The hostages…they play no role here. You’ll only expose magickind to the humans.”

Morganna gave a disapproving frown. “Aye, ’tis worried you all are about that. In my age, magic was common knowledge, and the inferior ones feared us. But that battle is of no interest to me. I merely want that potion.”

Just then a van rolled up with the BBC logo emblazoned on the side. Anka stiffened. Failure pummeled her. She was too late. Hadn’t saved anyone. Done everything wrong again.

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