Embrace Me at Dawn

Page 37

“I should tell you that Sydney and I have been considering…” He sighed, rubbing the back of his neck. “She wants a youngling.”

Lucan couldn’t keep the surprise from his face. “You’re both young. Times are dangerous.”

“I don’t disagree. But she refuses to put life on hold for a bully. In her head, giving into the fear Mathias makes her feel is letting him win. You know how stubborn she can be.”

“You must be talking about someone else. Sydney stubborn?” Lucan teased.

Caden sent a mock punch sailing into his shoulder. The coffee maker stopped its drip, indicating that the brew was ready. They both lunged for the pot, but Lucan was faster. With a supreme smile, he poured them both cups and took a sip, moaning with deep delight.

“No more! I heard enough of that sound last night,” Caden drawled.

“I’m paying you back for all the nights I was alone and had to listen to you two.”

Caden’s grimace said he hadn’t considered that before. “We should move our bedroom down the hall.”

“Good idea. You don’t need to stay that close to me anymore. No more rages where I try to tear the house apart with my bare hands.”

“Thank God.” His brother clapped him on the back, then withdrew another cup from the cabinet, filled the kettle for tea, then waved his hand at the stove to turn it on.

“What flavor does Sydney want today?”

“She likes that PG Tips with a cinnamon stick.” Caden waited for the water to boil, then fixed the cup of tea. “Good luck with Anka. You know I only want you to be happy. If she’s the one, then do whatever you must to win her.”

“Thanks, brother. That’s precisely my plan.”

As Caden left, Lucan made Anka a cup of tea. He couldn’t cook well, but he could manage toast. Within seconds, he’d retrieved bread from the cupboard with a crook of his fingers and given it a magical toasting. He piled it all on a tray and conjured a flower from the garden, as well as a little vase to put it in, watching the rising sun pour into the kitchen with satisfaction. From now on, he would show Anka how much she meant to him. In big ways, in little ways… She would never doubt him again.

Rather than risk spilling the tea by jaunting up the stairs, he teleported to the landing. Faster anyway, and Lucan couldn’t deny that he was damn near desperate to return to Anka’s side, slip into bed with her, and wake her up in one of the thousand deliciously wicked ways bombarding his brain.

He kicked the door open. Sunlight glowed through the windows, and his gaze automatically strayed to Anka’s signature to check her energy level.

At the sight of her, his mouth gaped open. The tray fell from his bloodless fingers. It crashed to the carpet with a clatter.

Anka’s signature blared in a bright swirl of colors—far more than expected. Hers, yes. His, too. And colors he didn’t recognize at all. A blend of their respective signatures glowing in a faint ring just inside of hers. But that only happened when…

“You’re pregnant?”

Anka ceased stretching and stiffened. Her eyes flared open and she studied the edges of her own signature, her eyes growing wider and wider. She gasped, blinked, then looked at him. “H-how?” She shook her head in obvious disbelief. “Morganna’s spell w-worked. Yesterday, at Bram’s house…”

When she’d taken him into her body so he could plant his seed, she’d declared him the mate of her heart and given him fresh hope for their love.

And then, unbelievably…they’d created life together.

Lucan jumped over the fallen tray and leapt onto the bed, gathering her against him. “Love, this is more than I dared to hope for. I don’t care if Morganna had a hand in this. Please tell me you’re happy.”

Anka gave him a tremulous smile and placed her trembling hands over her flat stomach. “I’m stunned. And thrilled! I’ve wanted a youngling for such a long time, but I never thought we’d actually be blessed.”

Blessed. Yes. That was how he felt now. This was like the human version of winning the lottery. Magical couples so rarely conceived. He’d almost wanted to murder Morganna for the spell yesterday. It had nearly killed Anka, but she’d survived. And now, he was tempted to thank the ancient witch. He and Anka would hold the product of their joy and love in their arms come fall.

“Raiden and Tabitha’s youngling will have a playmate. They’ll no doubt be happy about that.” He grinned. “Do you think we’ll have a boy or a girl? It doesn’t matter—”

Suddenly, her smile shifted into a dark, gaping expression of horror. “A girl. This will be a girl. Oh my…” She covered her face, but not before Lucan saw a terrible guilt rip across her face.

“I don’t know why you think that, but it’s all right, love. I will love a little girl. We will raise her to grow into a strong, true woman, like her mother.”

Anka withdrew from him, scooting to the far side of the bed, cradling knees to her chest and bowing her head. “No! This is my worst bloody nightmare. I wanted to tell you, but not like this.”

“Like what, Anka?” Confusion fused with dread in his chest. “What’s going on?”

She stared at him as if her world was falling apart. “You’re going to hate me!”

Alarm spiked higher. He fought to push his worry aside and keep her calm. “Tell me what you’re talking about. You can tell me anything, love.”

“There’s another reason I didn’t come back to you after my ordeal with Mathias. Do you remember when I confessed that he used me to kill a family?”

“Yes.” How could he forget? Lucan willed her to spill her secret now. The feeling of standing on the edge of something terrible and looking down into an unknown chasm was ripping him to shreds.

“I killed that family with nothing more than my voice.” She closed her eyes as if she could keep her shame hidden. Sobs shook her shoulders.

“Your voice?” He reached across the distance she’d put between them. “What are you saying, love?”

“I’m…” She stared at the ceiling for a long moment, looking as if she wished she could keep the words to herself forever. “I’m a banshee.”

Disbelief didn’t begin to cover his reaction as he drew back his hands. A ball of dread gathered in his gut, and he stared at her as she buried her face against her knees, in the circle of her arms, her pale curls spilling everywhere as she continued to sob.

Lucan didn’t touch her. He opened his mouth to say something, but no words formed on his tongue. A million questions pelted his brain. Where the bloody hell should he begin? He had trouble breathing, moving. He just stared, as if that could somehow change what she’d confessed.

Her next jagged sob tore at his heart. Banshee or not, she was still the same Anka he’d always loved. She was his mate. Mathias forcing her to kill the family had clearly tormented her soul, and he had to absolve her of that now.

“You didn’t mean to kill anyone.”

She raised her tear-streaked face to glare at him. “I did. I took their lives willingly. Mathias told me that he would kill you if I didn’t.”

Her news stabbed him directly in the heart. “You did it to protect me?”

“Yes. At first he threatened to rape me, then give me to the Anarki and let them use me until I bled out, like Ice’s sister. I told him I would rather die than commit murder. So he threatened the one person he knew I would do anything to save. I couldn’t let him hurt you, not when I could prevent it.” She scrubbed her hands across her face and sobbed again.

She had betrayed her gentle nature and slain something inside herself simply to save him? He felt sickened and humbled and confused as hell.

Lucan wrapped his arms around her tightly. “Oh, Anka. Love…”

She shook away his hold. “After it was over, Mathias returned me to his lair. That’s when he broke our bond and…you know the torment he inflicted then. I only escaped alive because Shock convinced him that if you knew I lived with your enemy, it would drive you mad and inhibit your ability to fight even more.”

Fury rolled through Lucan. He’d been feeling almost charitable toward Shock all day for his help with Anka. Little had he known the fucker had openly plotted to rip his heart out and kick him in the balls all at once. “It worked. For thirty-four days, I was utterly incapacitated with mate mourning. I haven’t been worth a shit since. If Shock convinced Mathias to release you into his keeping, how did you come to be with Aquarius?”

“I…ran away. Shock let me. He knew where to find me, of course. He’s always been able to read my every thought.”

And Shock had simply let Anka go? Why?

“Eventually, I realized I’d put Aquarius in danger, so I returned to Shock. I was near death, and that was how I wanted it. He refused to let me wither away and forced energy into me that day and every day for weeks. I was revived physically, but I couldn’t let go of the guilt or pain. Or the intense yearning that had me spending every night virtually sleepless. I didn’t remember you, Lucan, but I knew I was missing the love of my life. One day, Shock had had enough of my despondent wallowing in guilt, and he spanked me. I finally cried. I finally…let go of a bit of everything that had been eating me alive. Those spankings became something of a ritual. I began to recover a bit more.”

“The bruises he left on you were from more than mere spankings.” Lucan’s words were a hard, low accusation.

She blushed. “They were. Sometimes, pain…frees me. I’m certain that doesn’t make sense to you, but I can’t feel the sting of a crop and hold in all my anguish at the same time. I have to let go of the pain on the inside to handle the pain to my backside. And knowing that someone is in control of that allows me to unchain it from that dark place in my soul and let it go.”

Anka was right; he didn’t completely understand. But he didn’t discount her feelings, either. She believed it worked, and that was all he needed to know about Shock’s discipline now.

“What made you finally remember me?

“I heard Shock on the phone one day. I don’t know who he was talking with, but I heard him growl your name.” She drew in a ragged breath as fresh tears fell. “Everything came back to me in an agonizing flood. I remembered you and our life together. Immediately, I came home to see you, to talk. I don’t know why exactly, except that I longed to see you. But I heard your howling and your feral growls. I knew you mourned me, just as I knew I could heal you. I’d done everything I could to save you from torment. I couldn’t bear the thought of your suffering, so I performed the helbresele spell and healed you. When you asked me to come home, I wanted to so desperately. But by then, my sins were too great. I couldn’t possibly deserve you anymore.”

Her explanation filled a lot of the gaps in his knowledge of the terrible events that had torn them apart. And it broke his fucking heart. How could she imagine for a second that he would think her unworthy? As much as he hated to admit it, Shock had saved her life. Finding out that she was a banshee while under Mathias’s thumb must have been a dreadful jolt to Anka, and she’d had no one to comfort her. She’d done so very much to save and protect him—they would talk about the fact that she should have let him shelter her, not the other way around—and he owed her everything for her selfless giving, especially his love.

Lucan reached for her once more and drew her into his arms, against his body. She fought him, but he wrapped her in his steely embrace until the fight drained out of her. Still, she wouldn’t look at him, couldn’t stop sobbing.

“Love, your sins were forced on you. I would never blame you for any of them. Had you ever given a thought to leaving me before Mathias abducted you?”


“Had you ever any urge to kill before?”

She shook her head frantically. “No.”

“Had you secretly been lusting for Mathias and his whip?”

“Never!” Her expression told him that the thought horrified her.

“Do you love Shock?”

Now she hesitated. “Yes.”

The betrayal darkening his heart must have shown on his face. When he would have backed away, she grabbed his arm. “If I explain this to you, I must tell you everything. I have loved Shock since I was a girl. He’s my best friend, my first lover, the wizard who took me through transition. For many years, he’s been the keeper of my secrets and my protector.”

Every word ripped into Lucan’s chest and tore out his heart. “But you chose me as the mate of your heart. Do you love him more?”

She shook her head. “That would be impossible. He is my friend, yes. Always. But you are my everything.”

The tight grip of his panic eased. She loved Shock as a friend. The wizard had been loyal to her. She owed him her allegiance and her affection. Lucan still didn’t trust the bastard one centimeter—unless Anka’s welfare was involved. Then he knew the attitude and the leather jacket meant nothing. Shock was willing to do whatever it took to save Anka and make her happy. As he was.

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