Living Nightmare

Page 11


She didn’t have time for that. As soon as Tynan told Andra the truth about Tori, Nika needed to be whole and healthy enough to go find her. She was not going to be left behind this time—seen as too frail and delicate to rescue her baby sister.
Nika looked each man standing in front of her in the eye. “I don’t want to do this.”
One of the Theronai—the one with skin and eyes the color of dark chocolate—gave her a reassuring smile. He had a thick accent she couldn’t place. “We won’t force you, but Joseph has told us of your broken mind. Perhaps we can help.”
Nika hated it that they’d talked about her. It made her feel like a child to have her mental health discussed with perfect strangers. “You can’t. If you could, I’d know.”
“Please let us try.”
How many times had she heard that? Too many over the past few months to count. They were always wrong and never learned from the mistakes of those who had gone before.
Nika let out a frustrated sigh and held out her left arm. “Fine. Just hurry. I have things to do.”
Joseph moved, putting himself between her and the strangers. “Are you sure, Nika? You look tired. It can wait until after you’ve slept.”
Part of her wanted to put it off, but she knew she wouldn’t rest well if she did. She’d be worried about it, thinking about the pain she knew was to come. As much as she didn’t want this, getting it over with was better than delaying the inevitable and losing a day’s sleep over it.
“I am tired, but it’s fine. Let’s just do it so I can start to heal.”
“We won’t hurt you,” said the second man in the same thick, broken accent as his companion.
The way he looked at her—so full of hope and yearning—made Nika’s stomach tighten. She couldn’t be what this man wanted her to be, and as soon as he touched her, all that hope would be crushed. He’d have to go back to his old life of pain and suffering and there wasn’t a thing she could do to stop it.
“Just be quick,” said Nika. She closed her eyes. She didn’t want to see that look cross their faces. This was hard enough without the guilt that came along with her failure.
She felt the heat from one of the men’s hands near her arm, close but not touching. He hesitated, as many of them did, as if the wait would somehow change the outcome.
“Do it,” she said between clenched teeth, bracing herself for the pain.
Warm, calloused skin met hers. His fingers closed around her in a tight grip. Pain streaked along her skin, setting her arm on fire. She held her breath, waiting for him to let go, but he held on.
The pain grew, multiplying as the seconds passed. Nika tried to pull her arm away, but he didn’t relent.
She opened her eyes to see the face of the taller man twisted in a grimace of pain.
“Let go!” she shouted.
Joseph grabbed the man’s arm and tried to pull it away, but his grip was too tight.
The skin around his hand turned bright red, searing as if she’d laid it against a hot coal. She struggled harder and another cry of pain ripped through her.
Rational thought scattered under the strain as her thoughts tried to flee the agony of his touch. She felt her mind crack and fling out pieces of itself into the world, seeking shelter.
Nika tried to control it, but she hadn’t been prepared for this. She was tired from too much effort last night and not strong enough to stop this involuntary reaction.
Her body grew weaker and it became difficult to stay standing. She locked her knees, praying Joseph would force the man to release her. If she could just hold on a few more seconds . . .
She felt her body jerk as both men pulled on the other. Then, from the corner of her eye, she saw a huge fist fly past her head and slam into the jaw of the man burning her.
The man let go and stumbled backward, knocking both him and his companion over.
A wave of dizziness whirled through Nika and she grabbed for the wall to steady herself, but it was too far away.
A pair of strong hands caught her and kept her from falling, but these hands didn’t hurt.
Madoc. She’d know his touch anywhere.
“What the fuck were you doing to her?” He shot the harsh question at Joseph.
Joseph looked at the angry, blistered spot on her arm, then back to the man on the floor who was bleeding from his split lip. Guilt tightened his mouth, making the lines around it deepen. “Get her out of here. I’ll deal with him.”
“No. I’ll deal with him,” said Madoc. “You take the girl.”
“You’re the only one who can touch her. Besides, from the look on your face, you’d just kill him.”
“So, that’s not the way we do things. He lost his head. You know how it is—how desperate the pain can make us. I’m not going to kill a man for doing something I’ve thought about doing way too many times for my own comfort.”
A low, warning rumble rose up from Madoc’s chest. “Don’t you dare.”
The man who’d hurt her pushed himself to his feet. Nika backed away from him, tripping on her own feet in her haste.
“Go, Madoc. Get out of here,” said Joseph.
Nika regained her balance and tugged on Madoc’s arm. She really didn’t want to be the cause of any more bloodshed, and if she didn’t get him to leave, there was definitely going to be more.
“Take me home, Madoc. I’m tired.”
He looked down at her, and his blunt features relaxed. His green eyes slid to her arm and he let out a violent curse before picking her up and heading down the hall.
The part of her that needed to prove she was independent warred against the part of her that loved being close to him like this. In the end, the practical side won. She hadn’t spent the last several months getting stronger only to be treated like she’d break if the wind blew too hard. “I can walk,” she told him.
“Where are we going?”
“To see the fucking bloodsucking leech, Tynan.”
Nika flinched at his harsh words, and the slight hesitation in Madoc’s gait told her he’d noticed.
“He won’t heal me,” she said. “My blood hurts him.”
“Good. Serves the bastard right.”
“Stop, Madoc. There’s no point in waking him up again today.”
Madoc stopped dead in his tracks and looked down at her. He wasn’t a traditionally handsome man, but the rough planes of his face drew her in and made her wish she had the nerve to stroke her fingertips over his skin.
“Again?” he asked. “You’ve seen him today? Are you hurt somewhere I don’t know about?”
“No, I had to take the bone to him, and he was really tired when I stopped by. Let him sleep. My arm will be fine.”
“Did he try to take your blood?”
“No. I just told you it hurts him.”
Madoc’s chest lifted with a sigh, which pressed her shoulder against hard muscles she wished he’d let her feel with her fingers. Every time she reached for him, he’d back away.
And then it struck her that he was a bit too busy holding her to back away now. She could do whatever she wanted, and he’d have to drop her to stop her.
Before she lost the opportunity, she slid her uninjured arm around his neck and nestled her nose just beneath his ear. His scent went to her head, making it spin. There was nothing flowery about him, not even the smell of soap, just the scent of his skin and the warm peace it brought her to breathe him in.
She felt his muscles clench around her, holding her tighter as he began walking again—quicker and in the opposite direction. She didn’t really care where he took her. After so many months of wishing for him to come home, she was simply glad he was here, close enough to touch.
“Tynan told me he would only help me learn the truth about that bone if you gave him blood. Will you help?”
“Tynan’s had plenty of my blood. Tell him to use that.”
“So you won’t help?”
“Sorry. He’ll have to find another sucker.”
Great. Now what was she going to do? Maybe Paul would help.
They came to a stop in front of the door to the suite she shared with Paul and Andra. He pounded on the door with the toe of his boot. No one came.
The light on the electronic lock turned from red to green and the door popped open.
“Knew he was watching,” said Madoc under his breath.
“What?” asked Nika.
“Nicholas. He’s the man behind all the security cameras. He has remote access to all the doors and let us in.”
Madoc took her inside and set her on the couch. Nika tried to hold on to him, but he managed to pry her arm free and back away. “Paul? Andra? You home?”
No one answered.
“Afraid to be alone with me?” she asked.
“Fuck, yes. And you would be, too, if you weren’t crazy. You need to listen to your sister and keep your distance from me.”
It stung that he called her crazy, but it hurt even more knowing he didn’t want to be around her. “You won’t hurt me. I don’t know why Andra can’t see that the way I do.”
He ignored her comment and scrubbed a hand over his face, then looked around like he was hoping for a means of escape.
“Why do you hate me?” she asked. “Are you afraid crazy is contagious?”
He frowned at her in confused shock, like she’d sprouted horns. “I don’t hate you. I’ve never hated you.”
“You can’t stand to be near me. It amounts to the same thing.”
“No. It really doesn’t.”
“Then why? Why do you run away? Do I hurt you in some way?”
He went into the small, open kitchen, grabbed a few ice cubes, and wrapped them in a thin towel. “Here. This might help.”
Nika took the towel and pressed it against the blisters, hiding the flinch of pain the pressure caused. “You didn’t answer my questions.”
He paced between the couch and the TV, back and forth, every movement jerky and agitated.
“Are you not even going to talk to me now?” she asked.
“Damn it, Nika, you need to stop pushing. I’m doing the best I can here, trying to keep myself under control.”
“What do you mean? Why do you have to control yourself?”
“You really don’t get it, do you?”
Nika shook her head. Her hair was nearly dry now, but still cool against her skin. “I would if you’d explain it to me.”
He kept pacing, ignoring her. Nika was sick to death of being ignored. She’d spent years being talked about rather than being talked to. She’d wasted years trying to get the people around her to listen. She refused to sit quietly while she asked perfectly reasonable questions and was ignored.
Nika stood and put herself in front of him, barring his path. “Stop pacing and answer me. Why do you keep avoiding me?”
His mouth tightened like he was trying not to say anything, but in the end, the words won. “I avoid you because I want things from you that you can’t give me. Because when I’m with you, I forget why I shouldn’t just take them.”