Magick Marked (The DarqRealm Series), page 10
Tim lifted his hands. “All right, all right, chill out, vampire ninja. Presh, stop antagonizing her. I’m sure everyone can fight.”
“Damn straight,” Rho mumbled.
Preshea rolled her eyes. “Whatever, bitch.”
Rho sprang forward, but Eldon’s tense arms were somehow faster, anticipating the move and wrapping around her to hold her back. Her legs flung up in the air as she fought against him, fangs extending and begging to rip apart the vein in that shifter’s neck. A burning roared up her arms where Eldon’s body touched hers, and she froze. The burning ceased. She pulled away again, only to feel the burning intensify, followed by immediate relief when she quit struggling.
Tim held Preshea in a similar grip, her expression nothing short of furious.
“Ladies, settle down,” Tim said.
Eldon spoke quietly into Rho’s ear. “Wrong time and place.”
Damn it, he was right. She quit struggling. “I’m okay. Put me down now.”
He released her but remained tense, and she brushed off her ripped dress. The queen wouldn’t be happy about that. Tim let Preshea go, both men clearly ready to jump back in if they needed to. Yeah, working with each other would be peachy.
Tim cleared his throat. “Back to business. Anyone have any bright ideas about who stole the vampire Kamen? I mean, other than the obvious choice.”
Eldon folded his arms and cocked a brow. “The obvious choice?”
Tim lifted a shoulder. “You cast those spells. You know you’re a prime suspect.”
“My magick and my family are clean. I’d never do anything to endanger them or my race. How do we know you’re not reporting to the enemy?”
“Are you suggesting I would endanger my pack?”
“No more than you’re suggesting I’d endanger my family.”
“Packs are different.”
Eldon snorted. “Yeah, they are. At least my family is my blood.”
Oh, fuck. Totally the wrong thing to say.
Tim drew a deep breath. A roar screamed in Rho’s ears, the fury spilling out of the werewolf like rain from a thundercloud. To insult the bond of the pack was the ultimate offense to his kind, the connection tying their pack together held in higher esteem than even their blood relations. The bond was their deity, and Eldon just crapped all over it.
Tim launched himself into the wizard, tackling him to the ground. Preshea and Rho froze, stunned by the sudden role reversal.
The fists were a blur in the dim lights, but Eldon somehow managed to fight his way to the top, pinning the wolf beneath him. Preshea rushed forward and pulled on Eldon’s shoulder, but he wouldn’t budge.
Fucking men. Not two minutes ago they were lecturing her on the cons of fighting in public, and here they were, treating the grass like a wrestling mat.
Rho hooked her arms around one of Tim’s and yanked back with everything she had. He didn’t register her touch. What the hell? Despite her vampire strength, the wolf kept swinging his free arm as if she weren’t there at all.
Still linked with Tim, Rho braced herself as Eldon reared back to slam Tim into the ground again. Tensing every muscle in her body and closing her eyes tight, she waited for the blow.
But it never came.
Rho blinked her eyes open, watching in slow motion as Preshea began to fall backward. A new flavor of blood hit the air as Eldon wheeled around to see what he’d hit. Preshea’s nose was clearly broken, a crimson splatter across her shirt.
Concern fell across Tim’s features as his arm slipped from Rho’s grasp. He rushed toward the shifter, ducking another blow from Eldon and sliding across the ground in time to capture Preshea’s head in his hands. He placed her gently on the ground before rising again to face the magick mover.
The anger that had once been a rolling boil exploded into a seething rage. Tim hurled all of his weight into the air, slamming Eldon into the back of the tent.
Blue glitter fell from the sky. Rho glanced up, temporarily stunned by the sparkling air before she realized what had happened. Eldon’s circle of silence had fallen, and every person within earshot would be able to hear the brawl happening behind the tent. It would only be a matter of seconds before someone came to investigate.
Shit, she needed to do something. Fast.
With the force of a freight train, Tim rammed Eldon into the tent again. The poles creaked against the added weight.
A tiny, dark-haired girl poked her head outside. Her eyes widened before she pulled her head quickly back into the tent. “Fight!”
Guests filed out by the dozens, the crowd growing as more people shouted, drawing attention to the fight. Oh crap, they had witnesses. Rho wanted to usher them back inside, but Preshea caught her attention.
The shifter sprinted forward. Blood trickled from Eldon’s nose. At once, Rho’s instincts went on high alert, forcing her fangs into full extension. But it wasn’t the instinct she usually experienced with the smell of blood.
Must. Protect. Eldon.
The compulsive need resounded within Rho’s subconscious, demanding immediate action. As if identifying a new enemy, Preshea surged toward her. She ignored the shifter and kept running. She had to get to Eldon.
An explosion of blue flames erupted from Eldon’s hands as he pressed glowing palms against Tim’s arms. The wolf howled in pain and yanked his arms away. Rho shrank back at the sight of the blue light and hit the ground, remembering that burn. The reprieve didn’t last, and Tim didn’t learn his lesson, rushing toward Eldon again.
Chaos surrounded them, the air filled with shouting, screaming, crying. When did everything go to hell?
Rho glanced up to see Preshea’s body shimmering, taking on its alternate shape. Captivated, she froze in place as the shifter morphed, her body twisting and bones extending until only a magnificent white tiger remained. The black and white streaks of her human hair transformed into the Bengal stripes of her alternate self, her eyes the same striking icy blue.
Preshea stared at Rho with those crystal eyes for a long moment before her motives became clear in their depths. If they were picking teams right now, Preshea would defend Tim to the bitter end. And Rho would be damned if that wolf killed Eldon.
Tim knocked another fist into Eldon’s face, spattering blood along the dry grass.
Curses flew through Rho’s mind, but they weren’t hers. Her connection with Eldon emerged, melding their minds together until she felt his pain so clearly, it was like it was her own. Her hands tingled to the point of burning, and she realized using ley line fire wasn’t without consequence.
The sound of Eldon’s cheek crushing on impact sent her into a spiral, her own cheek exploding with pain as she hurled herself into the air to cover him with her body. Immortality was only a gift of the fae and the vampires, so a few sticks and stones wouldn’t hurt her. Not permanently.
She landed on top of him, covering him in time to absorb a blow that would likely have put him in a coma. Tim was fighting blindly now, the Alpha need to retain control of the situation coursing through him, the smell of pride like burning leaves permeating the air.
Rho turned her head in time to see Preshea galloping toward her with long strides. Closing her eyes tight, she tensed to absorb the shock of the tremendous weight as the tiger approached with incredible speed. But it never came.
She tried to open her eyes to see what happened but couldn’t. Her eyelids simply wouldn’t move.
Rho, what the blazes are you doing? The Lamia Prince’s voice boomed in her skull, replacing her connection to Eldon’s pain with his anger.
You’d better have one incredible explanation for all of this.
Rho struggled to open he
I can’t open my eyes.
That’s because the Collective threw line magick over the four of you until we can clear this place out. What were you thinking?
Oh, crap. Nearly every person in this area of the DarqRealm would be at this party tonight, and they’d made a huge scene. Huge.
We didn’t mean to. Geez, that was a piss-poor excuse, wasn’t it? She wanted to scold herself for using it.
It doesn’t matter now. I’d hoped you’d all be adults about this so we wouldn’t have to force your hand, but it’s a little late for that.
It was just a little fight.
No, it was a big fight that could have exposed your purpose and gotten you killed. Really brilliant.
If Rho had been able to move, she would have cringed. She felt terrible, and not from the fighting. They were behaving like a bunch of high school kids picking a fight, not grown adults sent out to protect their world.
I didn’t start it. Oh, she was full of brilliant excuses tonight, wasn’t she?
Yeah, well, we’re about to end it.
What does that mean?
He didn’t respond.
Still no response.
Frederick? What are you talking about? What does that mean?
A cool breeze brushed against Eldon’s skin. The walls of the tent flapped in the wind, the remnants of tarp thumping against the exposed metal beams protruding from the ground. Sometime between introductions and a knock-down drag-out fight, they’d managed to shred half of the white walls and destroy what had been, no doubt, many hours of hard work.
Hushed conversations of the few people remaining were a dull hum in the recesses of his mind. Yet his beautiful redheaded sister’s voice was the only one he could hear.
“—can’t believe you did that. You could have gotten yourself killed tonight,” Adelle lectured softly.
Jess settled her hands on her hips, her voice hushed as she stared up at him. “What are we supposed to do without you, huh? You made a promise.”
Eldon cringed as the memory of his mother’s last wishes played in his mind. Take care of your sisters, son. Keep them safe. They’re your responsibility now. He’d vowed to his mother that his sisters would be protected under his watch. How much good could he do them if he was dead?
“I didn’t mean for things to go so far,” he said. His sisters may be a pain in the ass sometimes, but he loved them just the same. They were all the family he had left.
Eldon glanced down at the tattered remains of his Armani suit. Shame to throw the thing in the trash. It had been his favorite.
With a sigh, he cast his gaze across the scattered remains of the Ball. After all the guests had cleared, the aftermath of the chaos was even more apparent. Flowers were strewn across the ground, their broken glass homes littering the grass. Small patches of charred ground still smoldered from fallen candles, the stench of the burned pasture hanging heavy in the air.
Like boxers in a ring, each team member stood tucked away in a far corner, reviewing various injuries. Nothing major aside from some scrapes and bruises, from what he could see. His own injuries would have been significantly worse had Rho not thrown herself on him.
Of course, her actions had hardly been necessary. Women shouldn’t throw themselves in harm’s way, ever. Any man worth his salt wouldn’t allow it. Although Rho wasn’t exactly a delicate female, was she? She was a vampire.
God, the whole meeting had been a disaster. They couldn’t make it through the night without killing each other, and they were supposed to preserve the DarqRealm? Not likely.
“Did you start it?” Nick asked.
Eldon didn’t respond. Sure, he’d been known to push a few buttons now and then. Bend the rules a little. Families of privilege had power, and with power came a lot of get-out-of-jail-free cards. He’d used at least a book of them.
Nick’s eyes narrowed. “Answer me, you giant ass. This whole thing stinks of you.”
Eldon met Nick’s eyes but said nothing. Only his best friend could talk to him like that without feeling the bruising pain of retribution.
“That’s what I thought,” Nick muttered. “You and your big effing mouth. You bucked up to that Alpha, didn’t you?”
Ignoring the question, Eldon glanced innocently around the smoldering lawn. Cadence, the leader of the Collective, had stormed off to tend to another matter, as she put it. She’d be back shortly. To say she was pissed would be an understatement.
To his right, the vampires were tucked away near a fallen white drapery, the Lamia Prince’s voice quiet, his expression serious. Rho leaned subtly against a tent pole, her body shifted to one side as if to favor a broken rib or two.
To the left, Preshea shared a similar fate, nail marks strewn along her face, blood spatter decorating her tasteful slacks. The ShiftMaster hovered over her now-human form, his words firm and quiet.
Clearly Eldon’s corner wasn’t the only one facing a lecture circuit.
His sisters continued to take turns with the oration, their words an unregistered drone in the back of his head. He stifled a yawn.
Tim stood in the far corner flanked by two of whom Eldon could only assume to be top-ranking pack members. He’d sent the rest of his pack off as soon as he’d been released from the Collective’s hold. Other than the packmother and forerunner of their race, his Alpha status meant he answered to no one.
Must be nice.
He turned to find Jess, her brow pinched with the same worry their mother’s had always borne. “Do you understand how devastated we’d be if something happened to you back there? How could you be so irresponsible? Sure, maybe the vampire is stupid enough to—”
“She’s not stupid,” Eldon snapped.
His sister gaped. “Excuse me?”
He caught a glimpse of the vampire in question. God help him, he couldn’t help but defend her. Even if she was one of the undead. “You heard me.”
“She tried to kill you.”
“She tried to save me,” Eldon corrected.
“What?” Nick asked, stepping forward.
“I offended the Alpha’s pack bond.”
Nick closed his eyes and rubbed his forehead with his palm. “Dumbass.”
“Not arguing that.”
“You’re lucky he didn’t kill you,” Nick said.
Jess raised a brow. “How did she save you?”
“She jumped on top of me. The blow she took could’ve killed me.”
He would know. He’d felt… everything.
The mental connection he shared with that vampire wasn’t a fluke. Couldn’t be. Not after a second ride on that merry-go-round. When things had gotten intense and out of control, she’d gotten back into his head. Everywhere and nowhere, she’d completely encapsulated him, wrapping her mind around his as he did the same, not purposefully but instinctually. He’d never felt anything like it.
Then she’d thrown herself on top of him.
He’d known the moment Rho made the choice to save him. It felt like ownership, but it wasn’t his owning her. No, it was the other way around. She threw herself on him to protect him, as if he were hers to protect. Which made absolutely no sense at all.
The pain intended for him had been unleashed on her, and despite the force hitting them both like a lightning strike, he’d remained intact. She’d known she could recover from that sort of physical assault, whereas he would be hospitalized for days. Maybe weeks. Possibly even months.
A small part of him wanted to stroll across the field and thank her. He shook hi
The tent poles creaked. Cadence appeared out from behind a tattered white wall, stepping over the carnage and bee-lining it for Eldon. When she reached him, she didn’t say a word.
She whirled around to face the others. “Before we discuss anything tonight, I must ask that only the chosen and their leaders remain. The rest of you may leave.”
Protests rang out, voices raised in anger at the dismissal. Cadence held up a hand, standing firm against the onslaught of curses and disapproving stares.
Adelle clenched her fists by her sides and spun to face Eldon. “I’m not going anywhere.”
“Neither am I,” Jess chimed in.
Eldon turned to grasp Nick on the shoulders. “Take them back to the house for me. I’ll be there soon.”
Nick stared up at Eldon, his discontent with the request reading clearly in his eyes, but Eldon didn’t care. This wasn’t up for debate. Whatever they were going to do tonight didn’t need an audience, and they’d already seen and heard way more than they should. Involving his sisters any further would compromise their safety, and he wouldn’t let anything happen to them.
Not on his watch. Not ever.
Understanding trickled through Nick’s gaze as he offered a quick nod. “Let’s go, girls.” Nick snagged their arms and started to drag them away, their complaints loud and plentiful but completely ignored.
As the rest of the grumbling crowd dispersed, the remaining few formed a small circle.
The Lamia Prince stepped forward, bowing slightly. “Madame Collective, I apologize for my subject’s behavior. I understand if you choose to no longer assist us in our endeavors.”