“Come here,” she said. “You don’t have to be afraid of me anymore.”
Against his better judgment, Madoc took a step forward. Then another. He couldn’t seem to resist the pull of her hand reaching for him.
Her wet fingers closed over his, tugging him toward her.
“This is a mistake,” he muttered.
“Maybe. Maybe not. Don’t you want to find out?”
He did. More than he wanted his next breath.
He stepped into the tub and Nika pulled the curtain closed behind him. A feminine smile filled with victory curled her mouth. “See? That wasn’t so hard, was it?”
Oh, he was hard all right. Throbbing with the need to take her again, but he managed to clamp his lips shut and nod.
She soaped up her hands and slid them over his chest, washing the blood away from the shallow cut that had already healed shut. The branches of his lifemark swayed, reaching for her slippery fingers wherever they went.
It had been so long since Madoc had felt his lifemark move like it was meant to, he had almost forgotten what the sensation felt like. The gentle rippling just under his skin was comforting. Normal. No buds had formed along the branches yet, but that could take time. He wasn’t going to worry about it.
For now, all he was going to worry about was making sure that every drop of blood was washed from her skin.
That, and keeping his dick to himself.
He spun her around so the water sprayed over her, keeping her warm, then took the soap from her hands.
“We need to be quick,” he said. “We can’t leave all the fun to Drake and Helen.”
“I’m looking forward to seeing what I can do. All that power inside you is calling to me, begging me to let it out.”
Madoc’s hands moved over her shoulders, sliding along the luceria. It was still paler than it should have been, but as he looked, he could see silvery white swirls sliding inside the band. They were the same color as Nika’s hair had been under the winter moon as she stood in the graveyard.
The luceria tingled at his touch, giving off a happy buzz.
His soapy hands moved down her body, sliding over her tight little nipples, down her flat belly, and through the pale curls between her thighs. He wanted to wash away every trace of blood—every scrap of pain he’d given her tonight. He knew the memories would always remain, but there was nothing he could do about that but try to replace them with better ones.
His fingers parted her folds, slipping gently over her skin as he washed her. The urge to slide his fingers inside her was nearly overwhelming, but he held back, worried he’d cause her more pain.
His ring was still vibrating in time with her necklace, and as it grazed over her clit, she sucked in a sharp breath.
Nika’s head fell back in pleasure as she enjoyed the sensation. Madoc only wished that he’d been able to make her feel that way when he’d had her in bed.
He had a lot of making up to do. She hadn’t gotten off even once.
Normally, he wouldn’t have cared, but with Nika, nothing was normal. It was a point of pride, and he was going to make her come, even if he had to get creative to make it happen.
A bounty of ideas filled his head, making his mouth stretch in a grin.
“Can two people really do that?” she asked.
Madoc stilled as surprise settled over him. “You can already read my thoughts? That usually takes a while.”
“It’s what I do.”
A wicked spurt of lust shot through him. “Then tell me what you think about this.”
He formed an image in his head of her splayed out, naked and writhing in his bed, while he took her with his mouth.
Her nipples hardened against his chest and she let out a soft moan. “Can we do that now?”
Madoc wanted nothing more, but duty called. They’d already lingered longer than they should have. As powerful as Drake and Helen were, it wasn’t smart to leave Nika’s protection up to only one couple. “It’ll have to wait until we get back to Dabyr.”
She went stiff in his arms and looked up with a defiant tilt of her chin. “We’re not going back there. We’re going to find Tori.”
Madoc felt Nika slam a wall up between them. Her posture changed. The languid softness in her gaze went hard and cold. The feminine welcome that had been flowing through her only a moment ago dried up, leaving a cold, bleak space between them.
“If you think I’m going to sit back while those monsters continue to hurt my sister now that I have access to your power, you’re the one who’s crazy.”
“I hate to interrupt again,” said Logan through the bathroom door, “but we have a substantial number of Synestryn approaching.”
Madoc took that news as an offering from heaven. Rather than shake sense into Nika, or do something he’d regret, he was going to get to vent his frustration on some snarlies.
“Come on,” he told her. “I want you where I can keep an eye on you.”
Keep an eye on her. Like a child.
Nika tucked her fury away as she slid on the sweats Logan had found for her.
A section of bedding had been cut away, along with the smear of blood she’d left behind. That, along with all of the other bloodied linens, was gone, and a fire was burning in the living room hearth.
She hurried through the room and peered out the window. Sure enough, a pile of demons was out there, corralled by a sinuous line of fire Helen had created.
“I want you to stay in here,” said Madoc. “Logan, you make sure she does.”
“I thought I was supposed to help you fight,” said Nika.
“Not you, honey. Even if you did know what you were doing—which you don’t yet—you’re too fragile for a fight. You stay here. Stay safe.” He kissed her forehead and darted out the door, sword in hand.
Nika turned to glare at Logan. “You try to stop me and I’ll find a dozen new and interesting ways to make you regret it.”
Logan lifted his elegant hands, a small smile playing at the corners of his luscious mouth. “I would never dare to stand between a woman and the man whom she plans to teach a lesson. I prefer to watch the show.”
Nika nodded and slid on a coat. Her hair was wet, making her shiver as soon as she hit the cold night air. She hung back near the house, safely inside the protective ring of fire, watching and listening for a chance to help.
Despite what Madoc thought, she was not fragile. She was not useless. And she was going to prove it.
“What’s the situation?” she heard Madoc ask Drake.
“We have several groups sectioned off by fire. We’re taking them on one at a time. West to east. Stay to Helen’s right, out of her line of fire.”
“Right. Got it.”
Nika watched as Helen’s body erupted in flame. It seemed to flow up through her, as if she were sucking heat from the earth. Consumed by a wavering red-orange glow, she lifted her finger and pointed at a ring of fire about ten feet across. Inside that ring were a dozen demons of various types.
Fear crawled along Nika’s skin, but she refused to flee. This was her calling, too. Just like Helen. She belonged on a battlefield and she wasn’t going to let anyone get in her way.
Once she learned the trick to killing these things, she would use that knowledge to free Tori.
Nika let only a small section of her mind free so she could remain standing, and sent it into Helen’s. The woman was so busy, she hadn’t even noticed the slight intrusion.
Helen’s body seethed with power. It flowed into her through her luceria, filling her up and making her whole in a way Nika had never realized existed. Seeing that—feeling it—was like pulling in her first breath of air. Now that she’d had it, she didn’t want to give it up.
There were so many things going on inside Helen’s head, it was hard to keep track. Foremost was the barely leashed power of the flames she commanded. Secondary to that was a string of ideas moving back and forth between the couple.
As Helen began to snuff out a section of flames so the demons could come at them only one at a time, Drake predicted her intentions and stepped forward, his blade ready to cut the first demon down before it had time to move.
He ducked to the left as a spear of flame shot from Helen’s hand into the head of a scaly Synestryn. Drake was so close to the shot, the tips of his hair had to be singed, and yet the motion hadn’t slowed his fight.
The concert of thought and action vibrated between the couple, allowing them to work as a seamless unit. It was humbling and beautiful to watch.
Nika was so distracted by that connection—so full of yearning for what the couple shared—she nearly forgot why she was here, hovering silently in Helen’s mind.
She needed to learn to use her power the way Helen did.
Nika focused on the mechanics of magic, on how Helen controlled the flow of energy into her depending on what she intended to do with it—taking into herself only what she needed to perform each task. There was a conduit between them invisible to the naked eye, but inside Helen’s mind, the connection glowed bright, pulsing with life and power.
Fiery energy roared through that conduit, was focused and shaped by Helen, then shot out into the night, burning demons, or flinging them back, or heating the air around them until they choked from lack of oxygen.
After a few moments of study, Nika thought she could emulate Helen’s actions, but once she left the woman’s mind, the knowledge seemed to dribble out of her memory, fading as the seconds passed.
Before it was all gone, she reached for Madoc’s power the way Helen had with Drake, but rather than a wide pipeline of seething power, she found only a minuscule strand of energy flowing into her.
Disappointment fell over her and she leaned back against the door to steady herself.
Nika wasn’t anything like Helen. She was weak and inexperienced. Maybe with time she could become more like the other woman, but Nika didn’t have time. Tori needed her now.
Madoc shouted something Nika didn’t hear clearly over the roar of fire and snarls of demons, and another section of the fiery wall winked out, letting a new group of Synestryn escape their ring of flames. He was waiting for them, and each powerful shift of his body left another corpse littering the ground.
Firelight glistened off the black blood pooling at his feet and cast his face in stark relief. His big body was outlined by flame, leaving him a dark patch of deadly motion against the brightness.
Nika watched him and craved things she couldn’t name. Parts of her that had lain dormant began to wake and the need to join him and fight by his side was nearly overwhelming.
Once again, she put the image of what Helen could do into her head, using that as an example, and pulled on the delicate strand of power hovering between them.
It leaped into her, streaking through her, filling her. The skin under the luceria hummed and warmed, helping to drive away some of the chill sinking into her bones. As Nika pulled more power into herself, it ricocheted inside her, bouncing off her bones, making them ache.
She let it build inside her, accumulating until there was enough to strike out at one of the demons. Using Helen’s example, she let the energy streak through her, exiting from her fingertips in a gush of flames.