Embrace Me at Dawn

Page 33

No way would he turn his back on his promise or shirk his responsibility. If Shock snapped, Lucan vowed he would see the grim duty through.

Shock read his thoughts, and his head popped up. A stare passed between them, an understanding. He nodded. “Thanks.”

“I owe you.” The three hardest words for Lucan to admit aloud, but they were true. Then he ducked into the bedroom.

Millie fussed in the shadowed room, lit only by a circle of candles. The older woman hovered over Anka’s deathly pale form as she thrashed and moaned on the mangled bed, her eyes closed to the world. Sabelle gripped Anka’s hand tightly and closed her eyes, obviously trying to impart healing, soothing emotions.

“Is it working, Belle?” Lucan asked softly.

Her apologetic glance spoke volumes. “Not really.”

“Damn it.” He turned to Millie. “What can I do to help her?”

“Wrap her in your embrace. Let her feel your love. She may not hear you, but tell her what’s in your heart, anything that may entice her to come back. She’s not fighting as hard as I would like. She’s letting herself…drift away.”

Panic crashed Lucan’s system. Sabelle lifted her head to chastise him. “You can’t let her feel that from you. You’ll scare her. Give her your love. Deep down, that’s what she wants.”

“And when I’m done and I think she’s free of danger, we’ll leave you to energize her.” If Anka lived long enough. Millie didn’t say that, but he heard the caveat just the same.

Grimly, he nodded and stripped off his shirt. Sabelle glanced at him in question. Millie’s eyes widened, her expression a bit scandalized.

“She likes skin-to-skin contact,” Lucan mumbled. “In case she can’t hear me, I want her to feel me and know that I’m here for her.”

He didn’t wait for commentary or permission, just folded himself onto the bed and wrapped his arms around Anka, gathering her against his bare chest.

Bloody hell, she was positively glacial. The slight shivering of her body sent a shaft of dread through him. He did his best to rub her arms, press his cheek to hers—anything to give her his body heat.

“Keep her as still and warm as you can. Her dropping body temperature is forcing her to shiver and thrash to stay warm, but that’s depleting her energy faster,” Millie explained.

As he suspected. “On it. How much longer until you’re done?”

“Somewhere between ten and thirty minutes. I’m nearly at the critical point. I’ll have to work slowly or…”

Millie didn’t finish that sentence. Lucan didn’t want her to, either.

“Go ahead. I’ve got her.”

He sounded so damn calm. Panic wasn’t an option. But inside, he quaked all the way down to his foundation. Everything he loved in life— his family, his Doomsday Brethren mates, the sun, the first snow of the winter, great Indian food—none of it mattered without this woman in his arms. The last three months had taught him that unequivocally.

“Anka?” he whispered in her ear. “Love?”

She stilled. Gasped. Then she burrowed deeper against him, as if seeking his heat. He wrapped his arms around her tighter.

“It’s Lucan, love. I’m here for you. I’ll always be here for you, no matter what. Don’t you dare leave me. We’ve got too much left unsaid between us. You’ve got too much life left.”

Sabelle poked his arm. “I can sense her feelings a bit. She’s given off this huge internal sigh of relief that you’re here. Keep talking to her.”

“She can hear me?”

“It seems so.”

Thank you, he mouthed to Sabelle, then turned his attention back to Anka. “You feel good in my arms. I’ve spent so many days and nights believing that I would never hold you like this again. To have you here is a miracle. Don’t leave me to suffer without you, love.”

She stirred in his arms and shifted closer. Everything about this moment choked him up. Anka’s sweet female scent filled his nose. Her familiar curves pressed to his with barely a sheet over them. He shoved it down to press their chests and abdomens together. Her heart beat against his, lethargic and faint.

“Fight! Come back to me, love. You’ve survived too much to give up now. Just a bit more, then we will work everything out, you and I. Whatever kept us apart before, whatever you think I can’t accept or forgive, I promise you, there’s no mountain between us so high that I won’t scale it to be with you.”

Lucan heard a sniffle and glanced up to find tears streaking down Sabelle’s cheeks. “She definitely hears you now. She wants so badly to believe you.”

It was a first step. Hope brushed gentle fingers across his heart. “Anka? I’m telling you the truth, love. Whatever is preventing you from leaning on me, share it with me. We can do anything together.”

Behind him, Millie drew in a shuddering breath. “Kiss her. Then you’ll have to let her go so I can finish this.”

He zipped his stare up to the old witch. Let her go? Already? “Why can’t I hold her through the rest? She needs—”

“You. I know that. But no, you can’t. She must exit a mate bond alone.” Millie gave him a pitying glance with sad blue eyes. “Say your good-byes, just in case, lad.”

Good-bye? No. Fuck no! Lucan drew Anka in even tighter and felt his own tears scald his cheeks. “Anka, listen to me, love. Please fight for yourself. For us. I can’t lose you. It will kill me.” He clutched her as if his life depended on her. Because it did. Why the fuck couldn’t he keep her wrapped up, his arms and legs surrounding her? Why were they even risking this?

“Stop!” He rolled to his back, splaying Anka across his chest, and glared at Millie. “Don’t finish this. She can stay Shock’s mate if it means she stays alive.”

“You would give her to him?” Sabelle asked with her mouth hanging open.

“I’d rather have her alive and with Shock than have to surrender her to the four elements for her nextlife.”

The pity on Millie’s face deepened. “I’m sorry, lad. I can’t stop now. If I do, she will die. Anka must have energy before Morganna’s spell wears off. She can’t take it from Shock, only you. But the mating ensures that she can’t make love with anyone except her mate.”

What a twisted fucking tangle.

“Why did you do this, Anka?” He gripped her against him. “God, love. I…I would do anything to keep you alive.” An idea seized him, and he glanced up at Millie. “Transfer my life to her.”

“What?” Sabelle yelled. “You can’t—”

Lucan ignored her. “Do it.”

The old witch hesitated, wringing her hands. “I can transfer life. You know that means you’ll…go to your nextlife.”

“Of course. Don’t waste time! Just do it.”

Still, Millie paused. “Even if you gave your life, she might not accept it. Sabelle?”

Bram’s sister shook her blonde curls, her beautiful face mottled red with tears. They all knew how desperate this situation had become. But no one could stop the train from barreling down the tracks, headed for the collision course straightaway.

“She won’t take it,” Sabelle choked. “She’s adamant. In her head, she’s screaming. To her way of thinking, whatever happens…happens.”

“And losing you might kill her,” Millie pointed out.

Lucan swallowed, holding Anka’s beloved form against him, frantically searching for any option. But he kept coming up empty.

Losing her for good might kill him.

Fuck, this couldn’t be the last time he held her. He refused to believe that she would never smile at him again, that he would never see her lashes flutter open, that he would never have the opportunity to bring her back to their home so he could finally be the mate she needed. That they would never see a youngling of theirs birthed into the world. They would never get to grow old together over the centuries. That Anka would simply be gone, the space she’d once occupied a void, empty—as his arms would be forever.

He sobbed into her neck, his grip on her desperate. The soft strands of her hair spilled over his fingers. Her faint exhalations feathered across his cheek. Her heart beat against his. In moments, they could all be still…gone forever.

“Aren’t there any other options?” Hell, he sounded like he was pleading. In a way, he was.

Millie’s frown was apologetic. “I’m sorry.”

This was it. He had to let her go now or he would lose her forever. Lucan hugged her against his body, grief clawing its way through his chest. Helplessness wracked him. It made him so fucking angry. Anka had always been a gentle soul, kind and giving to others. She’d listened, soothed, made people laugh. Despite her leather pants of late, that woman still resided in Anka’s body. He wanted her back, along with the warrior-in-training who had shown so much moxie. He wanted that heroine who had come to him with towering resolution.

That was the answer. She’d wanted to fight. He needed to make that desire for justice burn in her once more.

Lucan rolled Anka beneath him. Her eyes remained closed to him, her lips slightly parted and slack. He caressed her cheek. Bloody hell, she was so beautiful, inside and out. If he couldn’t appeal to her with love, he would appeal to her the only other way he had left.

“Stay strong, love.” He pressed his lips to hers softly, willing as much energy into her body as he could. “As soon as Millie is done, I’ll be back for you. Then I’ll do whatever it takes to help you get your revenge against Mathias. It’s what you want, isn’t it? You’re not going to let him beat you now. You won’t give up until you repay him for everything, will you?”

In the little chair beside the bed, Sabelle sat up straight and opened her eyes wide, mouth gaping. “She’s fighting now.”

Lucan sent her a shaky smile of relief and kissed Anka gently again. “That’s right. You’re a survivor. Come back to me so we can continue training. We’ll make you a champion worthy of putting down Mathias for good. I’ll pledge you everything I have, all that I am, all that you need. Just come back to me.”

Sabelle stared at Anka, then frowned. The expression deepened with each moment. Alarm raced through Lucan.

“What is it?”

Suddenly, Sabelle clapped her hand across her mouth, looking completely stunned. “She’s thinking that she can’t be one of the Doomsday Brethren anymore. Something about my brother refusing her because she’ll no longer be going back to Shock every night.”

Lucan frowned. Anka’s concern hardly made sense, but now wasn’t the time to sort it out. He had to focus on Anka, on persuading her to fight for her life and her retribution. “Don’t worry about Bram, love. I’ll talk to him. Smooth it over. You’ll still be able to train. We’ll fight Mathias. I will do everything in my power to make sure you get revenge.”

Sabelle peered at Anka for a long moment, then nodded. “She’s relieved. Anka wanted to leave Shock before she began training. Had, in fact. Apparently, my brother was quite insistent that she return to him. She was only allowed to join the Doomsday Brethren because she agreed to stay with Shock.”

Anka had tried to leave Shock nearly a week ago, and Bram had refused her? Fury rose in a wave, joining with betrayal to create a tsunami that threatened to drag him under. He reined it in for now. “It’s fine, love. Kiss me now. I’ll be back when you’re free.”

For what he prayed wasn’t the last time, Lucan swept his lips over hers. Beneath him, she lay lax and still, her breathing shallow…except for one little moment. Her lips puckered, parted. She gave a little moan. He savored her—her little exhalations against his skin, her scent wrapping around him, her sweet flavor, the goodness he could taste on her. Somewhere in there, she loved him still. She needed to deal with her yearning for retribution, and they needed to talk about trust. Then, he would make goddamn sure they were happy for the rest of their centuries together.

Restraining the urge to clasp her to him and never let go took every bit of his strength and mental fortitude. But he finally backed away, staring at her, burning the image of her beloved face into his memory forever.

Millie gently touched his shoulder. “It’s time. Her energy won’t last much longer. My opportunity to finish this is shrinking.”

“Fight, love,” he whispered to Anka. “For yourself. For us. So we can fight together and defeat Mathias. I love you.”

Squeezing her hand for the last time, he forced himself to let go of her limp fingers, then slammed out the door. He’d done all he could, and it wasn’t enough. Not nearly enough. The rest was up to Millie, Anka, and Fate.

He wanted to curl up with a bottle, get stinking pissed, and bawl his eyes out. He couldn’t afford to do that. One thing he could control? His “friend.”

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