Living Nightmare

Page 24


Wasn’t that what fathers did?
Joseph let out a long sigh. He was so tired. Weary down to his bones. Maybe it was time to step down and let someone else take over leadership of the Theronai for a while. He didn’t think he was going to last the remaining years of his term.
Not that there was anyone else clamoring for the job. Like him, they all preferred being out in the field rather than behind a desk.
His phone rang and he almost let it go to voice mail. But as shitty as his day had been, he figured it couldn’t get any worse.
“Yeah,” he answered.
Nicholas was on the line, his voice tight. “We’ve got another problem.”
The pounding behind Joseph’s eyes grew heavier. “Is someone else hurt?”
“It’s Thea. She was raped.”
Rage poured through Joseph at the thought of someone hurting one of the humans under his protection. He shot up from his desk and headed down the hall, gripping his cell phone hard. “Where is she?”
“Briant is tending to her. She refuses to talk to anyone. The only reason Briant knew was because he saw what had happened to her when he took her blood to heal her. He called me.”
“Who did this? I swear I’ll kill them myself.”
“It was Chris. He’s turned.”
Joseph came to a dead stop. He could hear voices flowing out of the main hall, sliding around him but not quite sinking in. He felt cold. Dead inside.
He knew what he had to do and the thought nearly killed him.
“Where is he?” asked Joseph. “I need to confirm that it’s true.”
“You can’t go alone. I’ll get Liam and meet you in the training yard.”
“Where is he, Nicholas? Tell me.”
“No. If he’s turned, he could kill you. I can’t let that happen. We need you too much. We’re doing this together.”
“I’ll find him myself, then.” He couldn’t stand the idea of sentencing Chris to death, but even worse would be forcing the rest of the Theronai to watch it happen, knowing that they could be next.
His feet felt heavy as he headed toward Chris’s suite. The sword at his side was a cold reassurance and he prayed he wouldn’t need to draw steel on the man who had been his friend for more than a century.
Joseph rounded a corner and saw that Nicholas and Liam had already beaten him to the door and were barring his path.
“Step out of the way,” he ordered his men.
Nicholas’s scarred face darkened and his mouth went flat. “We go in together.”
“I need to do this alone.”
“You can’t,” said Nicholas. “You’ve been away from the battlefield too long. You’re out of practice and more likely to get yourself killed than not.”
Outraged resentment made Joseph’s spine straighten. “I am not weak,” he snapped.
“I didn’t say you were. I said you were out of practice. Big difference.”
“Out of my way.”
Joseph had always thought of Liam as a gentle giant. He rarely spoke and spent as much time playing with the human children as he did killing Synestryn. But there was nothing gentle about the fury blazing in his eyes right now. “He hurt Thea. I’m not going to let him hurt anyone else. Including you.”
With that, Joseph rapped on Chris’s door.
All three men’s hands went to their swords, though both Liam and Nicholas prevented Joseph from getting within reach of the door.
A bleary-eyed Chris swung the door open, glaring at them. A trio of nasty scratches burned along his cheek, and the neckline of his T-shirt was ripped.
Thea had fought him. The fact that she’d had to made Joseph want to roar in pain. He should have protected her. He should have known something like this could happen.
“That slut sent you, didn’t she?” spat Chris. “I didn’t do anything to her she wasn’t begging for and you all know it.”
He spun around in disgust, leaving his door open for them to enter.
“Show me your lifemark,” said Joseph.
Chris stopped in his tracks and slowly turned around. His nostrils were flared in anger and his hand moved to his sword. “What?” he asked in a chillingly quiet tone.
“You heard me. Take off your shirt.”
“No. Get the hell out.”
“That’s not going to happen. You’ve been accused of a serious crime—one I know you never would have done unless your lifemark was barren.”
“I’m leaving,” said Chris. “I don’t have to take this kind of shit from any of you.”
“I’m your leader. You’ll do what I tell you to do.”
“Oh, yeah? You’re too weak to order me to do a damn thing. You have to bring backup with you like some kind of human.”
Joseph refused to let that remark bother him now. Later, he knew he’d spend a lot of time going over things in his head—wondering if his men weren’t right to question him. But not right now. Right now, he was going to pretend he was still strong enough to enforce his leadership upon a man whom he would likely have to sentence to death.
“Take the shirt off or I’ll do it for you.”
“Fuck off.”
Joseph drew his blade and slashed it between Nicholas and Liam, slicing a cut along Chris’s chest.
Chris drew his blade, but Nicholas and Liam were ready for trouble and charged him. Nicholas took control of his sword arm while Liam drove him to the floor. Chris’s head hit hard enough to stun him.
Joseph bent down and ripped the shirt open the rest of the way.
Chris’s bloody lifemark was barren.
A wave of grief threatened to drive Joseph to his knees. He swiped the edge of the shirt over the cut, just to make sure that the blood wasn’t obscuring a leaf or two. It wasn’t.
“How long?” asked Joseph. His voice sounded thick and shaky.
Rather than answer, Chris roared in defiance and fought against the men’s hold.
“Answer me or I’ll bring in a Sanguinar to rip it from your mind.”
“Fuck you.”
Joseph’s hand moved slowly, his limbs heavy with resignation as he dialed Briant. “How’s Thea?”
“Sleeping. I repaired the physical damage and removed the memory at her request. She’ll be fine in a few days.”
“Thank you.”
“If you need me to, I can serve as her witness. Her memory is mine now.”
“That won’t be necessary. I have all the proof I need. Come to Chris’s quarters. I need you to question him.”
“I’m sorry. I’m too weak after tending Thea.”
“You can have all the blood from him you need. He’s no longer one of ours.”
“His lifemark is bare,” guessed Briant.
Joseph didn’t answer him. The burden of what he had to do now was already bleak enough. He didn’t want to talk about it. “As soon as you’re done with Chris, I’m taking him to the Slayers.”
Chapter 12
Madoc woke to the feeling of Nika’s touch on his face. He recognized it before even opening his eyes.
She was safe. He hadn’t gotten her killed. For a moment, he let himself revel in that, letting the feeling ease some of the pressure pounding inside him. His precious Nika was safe.
Her featherlight fingers slid along his brow, over his eyelids, along his cheek until she was stroking his mouth. He couldn’t resist the urge to flick his tongue out a tiny bit so he could taste her skin.
“You’re awake,” she whispered.
He opened his eyes and stared up at her. She was lying next to him on a bed, leaning over him. Any anger he felt at having his plans to die tonight interrupted vanished. If he’d died, he wouldn’t have been able to feel her touching him right now. He knew it was wrong, but he didn’t care. “Surprised me, too. I thought for sure I was a goner. What happened?”
“Nicholas sent backup. Helen, Drake, Angus, and Gilda. They fought off the Synestryn, and we met Logan at the nearest Gerai house so he could cure the poison.”
“Logan? He’s here?” Madoc tried to push himself up to find the leech before he could take Nika’s blood the way Tynan had. Nika pressed her hands to his bare chest, straddled him, and leaned her weight into him. She wasn’t heavy enough to keep him on the bed, but the feel of her palms on his skin did the trick. If he moved away, she’d stop touching him. He didn’t want that.
“Don’t worry. Drake paid the blood debt since I couldn’t.”
Anger flooded him at the thought of her offering to bleed for him, making his voice rough and curt.“Don’t you ever offer to feed one of those leeches. Understand?”
She didn’t answer his question. Instead, she pressed a kiss against his forehead.
Madoc’s gaze went to her breasts, which were just the right size to fill his palms. A wave of lust crashed into him, making him grit his teeth to keep from bringing her to his mouth so he could suckle her through her shirt.
She straddled his stomach, and he could feel the heat of her sinking through the layers of cloth between them. Behind her, his dick grew hard, tenting the sheet that covered him.
Apparently, his bloody clothes had been stripped away, leaving him naked. All he had to do was get her out of her pants and slide her down a few inches. He’d finally be inside her, filling her, fucking her.
The small part of him that was still good screamed at him, reminding him she was a virgin. Off-limits.
Madoc fisted his hands in the sheet, forcing himself to keep them at his side.
Nika’s lips moved over his brow, tracing the same path her fingers had. He could smell the sweet scent of her skin, see her rapid pulse beating in the hollow of her throat.
His luceria would look so pretty there. So right.
If only.
Madoc refused to go there. Wishful thinking hurt like hell, and he didn’t need any more pain in his life.
He’d been so close to escaping it all. So close to peaceful, painless oblivion.
“Why are you doing this to me?” he asked. His voice was a harsh, angry whisper.
“You need me. Just relax and let me do what I need to do.”
“Oh, no, you don’t.” He started to push her up and her sharp little nails dug into his chest.
She actually bared her teeth at him. “I really don’t want to make you bleed again. We’ve had enough Synestryn for one night, don’t you think?”
“Get off of me, Nika. I mean it.”
She ignored him, pressing delicate kisses over his temple, down his cheek. Everywhere she touched him tingled, as if the cells were standing up and rejoicing at the contact.
Madoc tried to think about something else—cutting the heads off sgath, sharpening his sword, all those boring meetings with Joseph—but nothing seemed to take his mind away from the soft heat of Nika’s lips as they moved unerringly toward his mouth.
“Why are you doing this?” he asked.
“Because you need me. Because we need each other. I can’t let you keep running away, and seducing you is the only way to get you over your fear of hurting me.”
“I’m not going to fuck you,” he said.