Magick Marked (The DarqRealm Series), page 16
“He said it’s as if the people are two stars, caught in each other’s orbit.”
His eyes narrowed. “Being pulled into one another.”
“It’s called being soul struck.” She nodded slowly. “One soul calling out to the other. Like an invitation.”
He glanced at the ground for a moment before meeting her eyes again. “Can you turn down the invite?”
She nodded again. “Mating is a choice for us. We can take it or refuse it.”
“And if you refuse?”
Her heart dropped a little at the thought of Eldon’s refusal. Clearing her throat, she tried to shrug off the sinking sensation she had no right to feel. “You don’t perform the ceremony. Nothing is official until you bind yourself in blood.”
“And if you do?”
“That’s your mate. You only feed off of each other. Forever. One dies, then the other dies.”
“They fall over dead?”
“They go insane. The prince asks me to offer a mercy killing.” Like it was optional.
“You kill them?”
“It’s my job. I don’t have a choice.”
“There’s always a choice.”
Rho stifled a laugh. “Oh? Does the Collective give you a choice?”
He shook his head slightly. His gaze traced over her face, as if he were seeking something. “That’s different.”
“I hardly think so.”
Rho cast a glance around the dark street. Noise rumbled through the air from the bars now several blocks away and light danced along the sidewalk, bouncing off the wet pavement and illuminating the street.
“It’s not like I want to do it,” she muttered.
Eldon frowned. “If you refused, what would the king do?”
“Have me eliminated.” There was no doubt in her mind that Costel would take her out if she ever repudiated her duties. The king only took care of those who served him, and she wasn’t old enough to survive without a coven to protect her. Well, that and the fact that no one ever told Costel no. Ever.
His brow creased even deeper as his eyes searched her face. Several seconds passed before he responded. “Then I guess you didn’t have a choice.”
Tears sprang in her eyes. The absolution in his voice was greater than she’d ever expected, and far more important to her than she’d realized. Maybe he wouldn’t hate her for what she was after all. Not that she cared or anything.
She blinked furiously, begging the tears to stay where they were. He would never see her cry. Never, ever.
She cleared her throat and drew in a deep breath, hoping to shut out the thoughts swirling in her head. “That’s why I got the tats.” She lifted an arm toward the streetlight. “Well, not all of them. I started them as a human.”
His eyes fell to her body, searching for the evidence. “Really?”
“The ones I’ve had done after my turning are reminders.”
“Where I’ve come from. Where I’ve been.”
He stared at the markings on her skin for a moment before speaking. “That’s a lot of art work.” He extended a hand but didn’t touch her. “They’re beautiful.”
“Thanks.” She gave him a small smile. It was nice to have someone appreciate the designs for a change. “You should see the wings between my shoulder blades. They took four months to finish.”
“Do they mean anything?”
She nodded. “Those were for my parents. I still miss them.”
They stood quietly under the streetlamps for what seemed like forever.
Eldon let out a soft chuckle. “Interesting.”
He raised a brow. “You’re a different person than I thought you were, vampire girl.”
“And what kind of person was that?”
“Blond and bitchy.”
His tone lightened the mood instantly, and she threw a light punch to his arm. “You’re an ass.”
Mocking pain, he grabbed his shoulder. “Ouch! You’re strong for a girl.”
“I’m strong for a vampire, too.” She narrowed her eyes and gave him a level stare. “Ass.”
“I’ll give you that.” He rubbed his arm and jerked his head toward the opposite end of the street. “You may be done with dinner, but I still need to pick something up for everyone else. Preshea will kill me if I show up empty-handed.”
She couldn’t help but laugh as she followed him to the Burger Barn on the corner.
Eldon pushed the door to the kitchen open with his hip, greasy bags in his arms as he held the door open with his toe. Rho entered right behind him.
Tim and Preshea didn’t bother to look up from the small table scattered with playing cards. Both opponents were clearly deep in thought.
He set the bags onto the countertop in the tiny kitchen. “I thought you were supposed to be doing real work while we were gone.”
“We were,” Preshea answered, eyes focused. “We just think better when we’re playing rummy.”
Eldon rolled his eyes. “My grandma played rummy.”
“Clearly a very intelligent woman,” Tim mumbled, reviewing the card in his hands.
“I see you brought sustenance.” Preshea laid two sixes on the table. “Did our little princess get a chance to suck the life out of some unsuspecting schmuk? Fucking leech.” She mumbled the last part just loud enough for everyone to hear.
Eldon slammed his fist onto the countertop. “Watch it, Preshea.”
The room fell silent.
He lifted his hand from the flat surface and met Preshea’s eyes. She was staring at him in disbelief, and he could practically feel Tim and Rho doing the same.
Where had that come from? One second they were talking and the next, he’d snapped. Anger simmered beneath the surface of his emotions, and he fought to get it under control.
Something inside him had shifted, leaving behind an impression he couldn’t quite understand. Earlier today he’d experienced unexplainable jealousy, and now he had the irrational need to defend and protect. Who was he becoming? Was this part of their skin binding?
“Eldon, calm down,” Rho whispered. Her breath tickled his ear. “She was only kidding.” The nearness and sound of her voice calmed him, instantly taking the edge off his anger.
“No shit. Who peed in your Wheaties?” Preshea laughed nervously. “It was only a joke.”
“Hey, genius,” Rho snapped, glaring at Preshea. “How about you wait until I get his glowing hand thing under control before you start playing with fire?”
Glowing hand thing? Wait, he’d tapped a line?
Eldon glanced down to see the blue tinge of ley line fire dancing at his fingertips. What the hell? He hadn’t been focused enough to know where the line was, let alone call it into action.
Boom! Boom! Boom!
The thundering knock on the warehouse door jerked their attention toward the doorway.
Tim raised a brow. “Any of you expecting guests?”
Eldon shook his head. Rho and Preshea did the same. His sisters weren’t sure where he’d gone, and they wouldn’t be stupid enough to get involved. Hopefully.
Tim grabbed Preshea’s wrist and pulled her out of her chair. “We’ll go check it out. You two stay here.” He glanced at Rho. “Get him together, would you?”
Rho nodded as they both took off down the hall.
Eldon stood there for a minute, trying to gather his thoughts. “What’s going on?”
She sidestepped the small countertop and approached him slowly. “Honestly, I’m not sure.”
“First I hear you in my head. Then I feel this gravity thing, and now I can’t even handle people joking with
“It’s not like I did this on purpose.” She waved a hand through the air. “And we don’t know that it’s me. Are you sure your magick didn’t whack out on you or something?”
Magick didn’t just whack out. At least, his never did. “Not likely.”
A bloodcurdling scream tore through the air. The sound was definitely female and definitely coming from the warehouse. Preshea.
Eldon accidentally slammed his knee against an open cabinet as he took off toward the source. Pain shot through his leg but he ignored it. He threw the door open and sprinted down the hallway. Rho’s footsteps fell behind him.
Whatever could make Preshea scream like that was bad. Really bad. He felt along his belt for the gun. Luckily he hadn’t had a chance to disarm after their dinner mission. The grip of the Glock was cool and familiar against his palm. Thank God it was still loaded.
He slowed down as they approached the warehouse door.
“I’ll go first,” Rho whispered, her voice barely audible.
Eldon shook his head. He swiveled around to face her and held up his gun. Men of honor didn’t send women into battle. They were to protect the females, not cower behind them.
She shook her head right back at him. “You may be armed, but I’m immortal.” With a swift movement, she loaded her gun. “I go first.”
He growled. “No.”
“You’re a…” He couldn’t finish the sentence. Rho wasn’t weak, but still.
“I’m a what? A girl?” She lowered her gun to the side and stepped forward until they nearly touched. Her angry gray eyes glared up at him. “Don’t treat me like an invalid just because I’m built with different parts.”
Frustration built in his brain, the antiquated roots of his upbringing arguing with his progressive side. Maybe he could reason with her. “But—”
“Don’t you dare,” she cut him off. “I’m an executioner, not a fucking flower. I’m trained for this. And whatever’s on the other side of that door is more likely to kill you than me.”
Staring down into her intense eyes, he clenched his jaw. She wasn’t going to let this go. Even worse, she was right. He hated the idea, but it was the smartest option they had.
He lowered his gun and nudged his head toward the door. “I’ll cover you.”
She flashed a quick, victorious smile before she pushed the door open and ran through the doorway. True to his word, he stalked behind her, his movements low to the ground as he inventoried the periphery in less than three seconds.
Preshea was sitting on her knees, a paper clutched in her hand. Tim’s massive arms were wrapped around her body.
Eldon shoved the gun back in its home and ran forward.
“What’s going on here?” Rho asked, falling to her knees beside Preshea. “What is this?”
Preshea’s cheeks were flushed, her eyes shut tight as her brows puckered together in a worried line. Her chin quivered. She extended a shaking hand, offering the letter as her only response. Rho took it from her carefully. Eldon hovered over her shoulder to get a better view.
You will be pleased to know Vectra is still alive and in my care. Should you wish to keep her that way, you will bring us the items you seek. If you fail or refuse, your sister will die. Choose wisely.
The items they seek? Did they want the Kamens?
Eldon snatched the paper from Rho’s hand and stood up. Someone had a lot of nerve. “Who’s Vectra?”
Rho rose to stand beside him and snatched the paper back. “And who’s ‘A?’”
Preshea let out a sob, her harsh persona completely shattered as Tim clutched her tighter. Her crumpled figure seemed smaller surrounded by Tim’s larger frame, her fierce independence somehow completely undermined by her current state. As tough as she was, she’d been broken—which scared the shit out of him. People as cold as Preshea didn’t break.
“Vectra is her sister,” Tim answered. “Her little sister. She’s fourteen.”
Eldon cursed. The overwhelming urge to strangle the elusive Mr. A washed over him, followed by the thought of his own sisters. If someone took one of them? He’d kill them. With his bare hands. While smiling.
“Who is ‘A?’” Rho demanded again, shaking the paper in her hand.
Tim glanced up and shrugged a shoulder.
“Alex—Alexander.” Preshea sniffled and wiped her eyes on a shirt sleeve.
Eldon stared down at the pair. “Who’s that?”
“You met him at the ball,” Preshea said.
Tim pulled away to meet her stare. “The ShiftMaster?”
As in, the leader of the shifter nation. The Collective included a plethora of self-righteous, self-entitled asses, but none of them would ever pull something like this. At least, he didn’t think they would.
“I’ll kill him. I’ll kill him myself, that bastard.” Preshea sprang to her feet, sending Tim flying backwards on his ass. “I can’t believe my own people would be behind this. Alex sent me on this mission to get rid of me so he could go after Vectra, and now he wants to use her and force my obedience to sway the team? Fuck him.”
Tim got to his feet as she broke into a run and busted through the door and into the night. He disappeared right behind her.
Eldon frowned and stared at the door. A small part of him wanted to run after Preshea, too, but he knew it wouldn’t help. That shifter obviously had a history with Tim. If anyone could get through to her, it would be that wolf. He’d let them work it out.
Eldon glanced at Rho, still clutching the paper in her white-knuckled fist. Alex wanted them to know he was in control. That he held the ace and he’d get what he wanted. Why he wanted the Kamens, he had no idea, but clearly they wanted them badly. Badly enough to kidnap a child.
He extended a hand. “Let me see that.”
“Just hand it over.”
He took it from Rho’s hand, the paper soft and thick between his fingers. He brought the sheet to his nose and drew a deep breath. A billow of moss and wet earth permeated his senses, the recognition registering in his brain immediately. “No way.”
“What is it?” Rho asked.
He released the paper from his grip and let it cascade to the ground. The scent lingered in his sinuses. He hoped it wasn’t what he suspected.
“Why? What is it?” Rho asked.
“We’re about to find out.”
“But what is it?” She took a step forward.
He glared up at her. “You can’t follow my directions, can you?”
She shrugged. “I never follow anyone’s directions.”
She wrinkled her nose in distaste but did as she was told.
Eldon reached out with his senses, feeling for the familiar lines of energy beneath his feet. A little forward and to the right… there. Calling the blue fire, he kneeled over the paper.
He extended his hands, blue fire spitting from his fingertips, anticipation stirring in his gut. It had been years since he’d performed an identification spell.
He ran his finger along the edges of the page, allowing his aura to soak up the presence held within. The smell still burned in his nose, the hint of tropical flowers growing stronger by the second.
“Qui vos a, ubi sunt a.” He rested the tip of his finger to the center of the page. “Cognosco.”
His stomach dropped to his feet. And he’d thought things couldn’t get any worse.
Eldon stared up at Rho. “We need to get out of here. Right now.”
“What do you mean, right
His hand was warm against her lower back as he steered her quickly down the hall and into her makeshift bedroom. He released her once they arrived at the door. “Pack your stuff. We’ll hop the lines to my house.”
Wait one damn second. She spun around to face him. “Your house? Who said anything about going there?”
“My family has a safe house. I’ll call my sisters, and they’ll meet us there.”
“You can’t bring them into this! What’s going on?”
He wrapped his fingers around her shoulders, forcing her backwards through the doorway of her bedroom. “Pack.”
Oh, so not happening. “No, sir, Eldon Tradare! I will not tolerate you pushing me around. Now tell me what’s going on or I swear to God, you’ll be my next meal.”
His jaw flexed as he stared at her intently.
Did he think a little staring contest would make her cower in the corner? She settled her hands on her hips. “Newsflash, cowboy. You’re not in charge of everyone around here. You may get to play big brother at home, but here we’re a team. So start acting like it.” She rolled her shoulders back. “Now talk, damn it or I’ll—”
“I never said I wouldn’t tell you.” He raised his hands in defeat. “But you seriously do need to pack. I have to make a call and then I promise we’ll talk.”
Pulling a phone out of the pocket of his jeans, he raised a brow. “Move it.” He hit the speed dial.
That cocky expression made her want to smack him. Or—yeah, just smack him.
“Whatever.” She grabbed her dirty jeans off the back of a dusty office chair and shoved them into her backpack. Piles of laundry and shoes were strewn across the floor, her bed and the desk. How had those coven keepers gotten it all in the bag in the first place? There was no way all of her crap was going to fit.