Magick Marked (The DarqRealm Series), page 13
“You’ve done your duty, then,” Rho said. “No need to trouble yourself for me.”
Frederick’s eyes snapped up to meet hers. “I didn’t mean to fall in love with you. It just happened.”
“Like I said.” She turned her stare to the floor. “You’ve done your duty.”
His nostrils flared. “Don’t you dare discredit my affections.”
She lifted her chin to meet his gaze. “You lied to me. For years.”
“And what do you want me to say? That Costel told me to follow you but never told me why? What good would that do?”
“At least I’d know that Costel wanted me for something, instead of only suspecting it.”
“That would only give you less closure than you already don’t have. When those men nearly killed you, I had to change you before you bled to death. I didn’t think that no life would be better than eternal life.”
Frederick’s brow creased in frustration. “What point do you think you’re proving by getting yourself killed?”
“I’m a female of my word. Despite being bound by magick and blood, I gave an oath and I intend to keep it.”
“They’ll kill you.”
“Then I’ll fight to the end.”
Frederick dropped his hold on her arms, his hands falling to his sides and clenching into fists. He spun around to face the wall. “How can you do this?”
The broken tone of his voice shattered her heart. She might not love him like that, but he was her closest companion. Aside from him, she had no one else.
She stepped forward to clasp a hand on his shoulder. “Frederick, please. You’re my best friend. Don’t make me choose between you and my obligations. I can’t run from this.”
He grunted. “No, not you.”
She shrugged, even though he couldn’t see it. “You know me. Always chasing trouble.”
Frederick turned around slowly to face her. “I hate letting you go.”
“And I hate going. But we all do what we have to.”
He reached out to cup her face in his hands. “Call on me. Anything you need, just ask.”
She met his eyes. “I know.”
He leaned forward to plant a gentle kiss on her forehead before pulling back to stare at her again. His gaze combed her from head to toe, as if he were taking inventory of every piece of her. She found herself doing the same, memorizing the familiar eyes and strong cheekbones of the face she’d seen so many times before. They stood in silent commune for a moment before he broke away to stand by the door of his bedchamber.
For no apparent reason, he stopped to glance up at the ceiling. “There’s an abandoned warehouse at Congress and First, near the river downtown. The team meets there at nightfall tomorrow.”
So she had until then to pack and get everything in order. “Got it.”
“Stay here as long as you’d like. I’ll be gone until tomorrow,” he said over his shoulder.
His hand gripped the doorknob but he didn’t turn the handle. “Rho?”
She stared at the ground. “Yeah?”
“I still love you, you know.”
She smiled. “I know. And I love you, too.”
He shook his head. “Not the way I want you to.”
“No, but I love you the way that counts.”
A light chuckle escaped his broad chest. “I suppose that will do. For now.”
The door creaked as Frederick pulled it open then clicked it shut behind him. Silence fell in the space between them, growing exponentially every second until she feared it might swallow her whole. She flopped backward on the bed and closed her eyes, trying to pretend her best friend wasn’t so far away.
The well-worn wooden door slammed behind Rho, the sound ricocheting off the walls with each step into the warehouse. Her combat boots clunked on the pavement as she strode into the abandoned room. Where was everyone?
She set her backpack on the ground and shrugged off her dripping army green slicker before hauling the pack onto her back again. The storm had made her later than she’d thought she’d be—not that she’d planned on being late.
Damn alarm clock.
She pulled up the sleeve of her cream turtleneck sweater to glance at her watch.
Seven-thirty. Not too bad.
“Hello?” Her voice echoed against the chipped red bricks and sloppy mortar walls. Silence.
Dust hung thick in the air as she surveyed the empty room. The musty stink of abandonment clogged her nose and the sediment she’d stirred burned her eyes, but they were here. She could sense them.
Adjusting the heavy pack on her shoulders, she took a few steps forward. The room was dark, and she glanced at the floor to try and see where she was going.
There they were.
Footprints covered the floor. More than three for certain, but surely the race leaders had this place scoped out before they’d sent in their troops. She wouldn’t put it past Frederick to have the place cased before she arrived. Picking an arbitrary set, she followed the prints through the massive room and toward a small door in the corner.
A deafening boom thundered in the stillness. Rho hit the ground as the door in her sights swung open and slammed into the wall behind it.
Who the hell was that?
With a shrug of her shoulder she removed the bag from her back, grabbing her knives as she sprang to her feet.
“Your reflexes need some work.” Preshea stood in the doorway, one hand propping the wooden door open, the other wielding a pistol. “Everyone else is here.”
Yay, it was super bitch. With a gun.
Preshea’s demeanor offered zero hospitality, her black-and-white striped Adidas pants matching the striping in her cropped hair. The black tank top she sported showcased a tan, her muscular arms still aiming a gun at Rho’s chest.
Rho sheathed the blades. “Sorry I’m late.”
“So glad you could join us. I was terribly worried.” With a roll of her eyes, Preshea turned and marched back through the doorway.
“Whatever,” Rho muttered, following the shifter and throwing a hand up to stop the door before it slammed in her face.
A tingling sensation trickled through her arm at the touch and she stuck her foot in the doorway to prop the door open. A quick glance revealed the marking on her palm, a reminder of the promise she’d made. The reason she was here.
She didn’t want to be here but she didn’t have anywhere else to go, despite Frederick’s tempting offer. True to his word, he hadn’t returned last night, leaving her to sit and stew on his proposition. A really, really enticing proposition. But she wasn’t a coward and she didn’t turn her back on her responsibilities, no matter the circumstances. Even when life was a real bitch.
The past ten years had been a major bitch.
Rho pushed the door open to find her teammates huddled in a small… kitchen? She took a step forward to greet them. Her right hand exploded into full assault pins-and-needles, nothing compared to the light tingling she’d sensed at the door.
Rho froze in place, staring at her hand in horror. “What the hell is that?”
Three heads snapped up to stare at her.
Tim barked a laugh. “Tingling?” He opened his palm to stare at his own mark. “Us, too.”
Eldon tightened his marked hand into a fist. “It’ll stop in a second.”
Rho frowned and shook her hand. “This is normal?”
Eldon rubbed his open palm on his jeans. “No idea.”
“It goes away, thank God,” Preshea muttered.
Great. The brilliant mind who’d come up with the whole binding idea didn’t even know how it would affect them. And she’d signed up fo
Rho turned to Eldon. “You seriously don’t know?”
“Spells cast with blood work differently based on the subject, so this is new to me, too,” Eldon answered.
She raised a brow. “So… what? We’re waiting it out? Hoping nothing bad happens? That’s the master plan?”
Well, wasn’t that scary. She cleared her throat and tried to change the subject. “So I take it these are our new digs?”
The tiny makeshift kitchen had been built for minimal abuse, possibly a break room at one time. An old fridge was tucked into a corner and a microwave sat on the dusty countertop, but from the smell in the air, neither had been used or cleaned in quite some time.
Sometimes a liquid diet wasn’t all that bad.
Tim leaned a hip against the countertop, his casual track pants and wifebeater tank not distracting from his clear Alpha dominance. “Collective says the place is warded. Race leaders seem to think these are neutral grounds, so yeah. Welcome home.”
“Sorry, no creepy underground accommodations for you, suck-face.” Preshea stood near Tim on the opposite side of the room.
Rho shrugged and ignored the jab. “It’ll do. Just give me darkness and I’ll sleep like the dead.”
Eldon snorted. “I’ll bet.” He pointed toward a doorway on the far side of the kitchen. “Your room is through those doors and to the right. Last room on the left.”
“We already picked rooms?” Rho asked.
“This place is full of offices. Only one of them has a solid door and no windows. We assumed you’d want it,” Eldon said.
Wow. They were more thoughtful than she’d given them credit for. “Thanks.”
The straps to her backpack cut into her shoulders, reminding her she was still lugging the thing around. Leaning to one side, she let the pack fall to the floor and land with a thud at her feet. She’d packed the contents down so tight she’d forgotten how heavy the damn thing was.
Frederick had asked the coven keepers to make sure she had appropriate attire and gear for any occasion, and they’d taken him literally. From a sparkly dress to leather pants, high heels to watertight combat boots, they’d packed everything she could imagine she’d need. Even a few things she swore she wouldn’t. Attempting to be prepared without knowing where she was going or would end up had proven to be a challenge.
Tim ran his hands across a piece of white butcher paper on the kitchen island. “We were discussing possible suspects. And training.”
Rho shoved her hands into the pockets of her jeans and leaned forward to inspect the notes. “The fae?”
Five names had been written as five separate categories on the paper, each one the name of a race. Shifter. Mover. Werewolf. Vampire. Fae had been circled and underlined. Twice.
Preshea picked up a pen and leaned forward to prop her elbows on the countertop. “The fae haven’t come forward to either inform the council of a missing relic or to offer assistance. They aren’t represented among us, so they’re suspect. Other than the obvious suspects, of course.”
Eldon glared at her from across the kitchen island. “Do you want to go there again?”
Preshea glared back. “Just because you’re not personally guilty doesn’t mean another mover couldn’t have done it.”
The conversation faded into background noise as a dull pain crept up Rho’s spine, settling at the base of her neck. If she didn’t know vampires couldn’t get headaches, she’d swear a migraine was brewing.
Rho pushed the pain aside. “You wrote down fae. Why them? What would they want with the Kamens?” She wasn’t sure, but she had a feeling they were going to find out soon.
Eldon glanced at the vampire, uncomfortable with the nearness. He’d been around more vampires in the past few days than he had his whole life, and the exposure was unsettling.
No, the exposure to this one was unsettling. Shifters and werewolves were dangerous in their own right, but they weren’t immortal. He wanted to typecast her as the evil, parasitic villain he’d been told all vampires were, but somehow, she was different.
She’d saved his life.
“Eldon?” Preshea’s voice snapped him back to reality.
“Sorry,” he said quickly. “What was that?”
“The fae. Care to weigh in on the subject?”
Right, the fae. “It makes sense. They could summon enough magick to counter my spells.”
Preshea settled her hands on her hips. “Are you saying a mover couldn’t?”
He shrugged. “It’s unlikely.”
“Be logical. If you could make the spells, it’s reasonable to assume that someone of your skill level could break them.”
He shook his head. “There aren’t many movers like me. Some of the things I can do… my power level is different than others.”
Preshea took a step forward. “God, you movers are all so arrogant. You think you’re so powerful that no one could ever break any spell you cast.”
Eldon frowned as a dull pain speared through the base of his skull. “I never said that.” What were these sudden accusations, as if his entire race were on trial?
“You don’t have to say anything.” Preshea pointed a finger at him. “It’s written all over your face.”
He took a step forward, pushing his chest into her finger. “Then quit looking at me.” Damn, his head hurt.
She snatched her finger away. “Don’t flatter yourself.”
Eldon rolled his eyes and pivoted on a heel to face Tim and Rho, who were standing quietly in the corner, grimacing and rubbing their temples as if they could massage away a headache. With Preshea rattling baseless accusations, he could feel their pain.
“We’re never going to get anywhere if you’re not willing to consider the possibility that a mover could be behind this,” Preshea said.
Eldon spun around to face her again. “What do you have against movers? Because you’re battling me over something I’m not even arguing.” He ground his teeth, trying to push aside the pain knocking around in his brain.
Her brows shot up in surprise. “Not arguing? What do you call this?”
“Are you guys hearing this?” He let out a harsh laugh. “We’re arguing about arguing now.”
Preshea’s brows furrowed. “Quit deflecting.”
“Then quit being a pain in the ass.”
“Stop it! Both of you!” Rho shouted.
Eldon turned in time to see the vampire hit her knees, head clutched in her hands. Tim sagged into the wall beside her, his skin a sickly shade of green.
“Rho?” Eldon rushed forward to crouch at her side. “Are you okay?”
Preshea moved quickly to stand by Tim and pressed her palm against his forehead. “You’re burning up.”
“Side effect,” Rho mumbled miserably into the cheap tile floor.
“What?” Without thinking, Eldon reached out and rubbed her back. Her shirt was soft and cool to the touch, the outline of a sports bra beneath his fingers. The chill of her skin surprised him, but then, he’d never touched a vampire before.
“Stop fighting,” Tim panted, face pressed against the wall.
Preshea’s expression turned from concern to confusion. “The fighting makes you sick? Like, physically sick?”
Rho nodded, forehead still pressed to the tile. “Terrible headache.”
“You’ve got to be kidding me,” Preshea muttered.
Eldon shook his head, as if the movement would help relieve the world’s worst migraine.
After a few minutes of quiet, Tim’s color finally returned to his face. He pulled his head from the wall. “No more arguing.” The command stretched across the room, a tidal wave of intangible authority
No one said a word, the answering silence an agreement to new rules based on the uncontrollable circumstances.
But what were the conditions?
He’d read that skin binding could carry some complicated side effects, but he’d never imagined anything like this. They’d bound themselves together in purpose, but the spell would force their compliance on a whole new level. If this small quarrel was any indication, they couldn’t even debate each other.
Son of a bitch.
Eldon glared at the old-fashioned clock beside his head and fought the urge to blast it to pieces with his bare hands. Every tick felt like an hour, each day a lifetime.
Tick. Tick. Tick.
Closing his eyes, he rolled away from the clock and faced the wall. Dull pain spurred his side as his hip dug into the unpadded, industrial-grade carpet. The cold room stank of aged furniture and dust, not at all the inviting space he’d left behind at home.
Sleeping on the floor sucked.
He rolled onto his back again and glared at the ceiling.
Fine. Apparently comfort wasn’t on the menu tonight.
And apparently he wasn’t the only one with insomnia.
He glanced at the clock again. Seven forty-five. Nearly sunset. Who could be up at this hour?
They’d voted to change their schedule around for Rho’s sake, not to be accommodating but because they had no choice. The vampire simply couldn’t travel during the daylight hours and she certainly wouldn’t stand for being left behind, so they’d made alternative arrangements.
He blinked his eyes against the darkness and said a silent prayer that the footsteps in the hall didn’t belong to Preshea. Based on his interactions with his oh-so-pleasant teammate yesterday, he’d decided it actually was possible for her to be bitchier than she’d already proven to be. Shocking, really.