Magick Marked (The DarqRealm Series), page 21
She’d made out with Eldon. In his house. On his bed. In a bedroom ten feet away from his two little sisters and a teammate.
Scooting her body out from underneath Eldon, she wriggled to the far end of the bed, trying to get as far away from the scene of the crime as possible. Strength rolled through her muscles as Eldon’s blood regenerated what she’d lost, the aches subsiding further into oblivion with each passing moment.
She’d feel awesome if she weren’t utterly mortified.
Eldon didn’t bother getting up, just leaning back on his knees as he craned his head toward the doorway.
A very pissed magick mover hovered outside, her hands settled on her hips. Adelle’s level stare said she had seen everything. “I heard weird noises so I thought I’d make sure you were okay.” She raised a brow. “Looks like you’re better than okay.”
“What’s going on?” Eldon’s youngest sister poked her head around the corner.
Rho squeezed her eyes shut. Flipping awesome. They had an audience to what had to be one of her biggest, most embarrassing mistakes ever.
Things had gone way, way too far. Like, another galaxy too far. The hunger after three days of recovery must have been too much for her system, because she’d clearly lost her ability to make good decisions. She wiped her mouth on a pajama sleeve and dared to glimpse at the doorway.
Adelle strode forward. “Please, tell me I didn’t see what I think I saw.”
Jess glanced from Eldon to Rho. “Wait, what did you see?”
“Not something Mom would’ve approved of,” Adelle muttered.
“What?” Jess’s confused stare darted from Rho back to Eldon, then back to Rho again. “What did they do?”
Eldon pushed himself off the bed and stood tall, dwarfing his little sisters. “First of all, don’t pretend like you haven’t already seen what’s to come. Second, what I do in my private time is none of your business.” He folded his arms across his chest. “But if you must know, Rho needed to feed.”
“Didn’t look like feeding to me,” Adelle muttered.
Jess gaped. “She attacked you again?” She swiveled toward Rho. “That’s it, I’ve had enough of your—”
“Can it, Jess,” Eldon cut her off. “She didn’t attack me, I volunteered.”
A tiny dose of relief washed over Rho. At least she wasn’t painted as the only bad guy here.
Jess swiveled back around. “You did what?”
“She hasn’t fed for three days. She needed blood to heal.”
Her jaw dropped. “So you offered yourself up as an entrée?”
“I helped out my teammate when she needed me. Not that this is any of your business.” Eldon rested his hand gently against Rho’s back. “Let’s go downstairs. I’m sure Tim will be happy to see you’re up and moving again.”
Rho nodded, grateful for any excuse to get out from beneath the watchful eyes of Eldon’s baby sisters. He guided her to the doorway and shut the door behind him, but somehow she could still feel their disapproval crawling all over her skin. Man, what a day this had turned out to be already.
Rho relaxed into the plush khaki couch in the living room and rested her mug on its arm. The room was small and comfortable, holding a long sofa and two matching loveseats set opposite each other. Tim had settled on one, Jess on the other.
Adelle leaned against a far wall by the windows adorned with cream and brown plaid curtains. A black cat was curled up in her arms, purring loudly as she stroked between its ears. Rho stifled a shudder, craning her head to the side and trying not to let the cat set her on edge. It was just a cat, for God’s sake.
A faint smell of fear rolled off Adelle, and Rho tried to focus on that instead. There was an undercurrent of worry surrounding Eldon’s sister, despite her cool demeanor. The redheaded mover smiled as she watched Jess cringe. Live and let live, she’d said.
At least, that’s what she’d been trying to tell Jess for the past thirty minutes, which wasn’t going well at all. They very much disapproved of Eldon’s decision to allow Rho to feed from him, and weren’t at all quiet about it.
Jess set her hands on her hips. “So what’s the plan now?”
“There is no plan that involves either of you.” Eldon pointed to Adelle. “Both of you are to stay out of team business.”
“B-but—” Jess sputtered, clearly unhappy with being left out of the loop.
“But nothing.” He shook his head. “You’re both out of this. Go.”
Adelle took the hint and moved away from the wall. “Give it up, Jess.” She shook her head and scooted past the sofas. “Come help me set up stronger wards around this place,” she said over her shoulder as she disappeared into the kitchen.
Jess’s brow furrowed as she stared down at her brother. He glared back at her, his expression proving he wouldn’t be cowed. She swore softly then stomped out of the room.
Rho took another sip from her mug, the contents now turning cold.
Tim’s brows pinched in thought. “Obviously the fae have something to do with that letter.”
“But it doesn’t make sense. Why would their magick be on a letter from the ShiftMaster?” Rho asked.
The DarqRealm races were segregated by choice, so the likelihood of the fae bumping into a letter from the ShiftMaster was slim to none. Not to mention the elves who showed up at their door only minutes after that letter was delivered.
“How can you be sure Alexander sent it at all?” Rho mused. The possibility existed that Alexander had no idea about the letter. It could be a setup by the fae.
Tim shook his head. “Before Preshea took off, she said the letter had been sealed with his mark.”
“That can’t be forged?” Rho asked.
“Not a chance, according the Preshea. She sensed his crux on the seal,” Tim said.
Eldon raised a brow. “Crux?”
“The essence of his shifter spirit.” Tim rose from the couch and paced the floor near the windows. “It’s not unlike the werewolves. We know each other in either form. The magickal fingerprint never changes. She swore it was Alexander’s mark.”
So much for Alexander the innocent.
Eldon frowned. “Do you think he’d use Vectra to find the Kamens?”
“Exactly what I was thinking,” Rho said.
Tim nodded. “It’s a real possibility. Especially if he wants the stones.”
“I can’t understand why he’d want them, though. He’s on the Council.” Eldon stroked his chin with a thumb then reached into his back pocket and pulled out the crumpled note, unfolding it carefully. “It says Kamens, not Kamen. Plural. He definitely wants all of them.”
“I thought shifters used magick to shift. They can’t manipulate it like a mover or the fae, right? So how would they do him any good?” Rho asked.
“I have no idea, but I intend to find out.” Tim clenched his fists as he spoke. “I’ve met Vectra. She’s a special kid. And she’s sick. Preshea would never leave her out there alone without the care she needs, and Alexander knows it. Preshea would do anything for her sister. She’s all Preshea has left.”
Interesting. Preshea must not have much for family, not unlike Rho. Maybe they had more in common than she thought.
“I just wish she wasn’t gone.” Tim rubbed his marked palm against his jeans. “She shouldn’t have left without me.”
Eldon rubbed a hand across the stubble on his chin. “I know your friendship with her is important, but we still have a mission.”
“You think I don’t know that?” Tim snapped.
Tim and Preshea had made no secret of their friendship from the beginning. They’d had a history together—a history Rho didn’t know and didn’t care to ask about. The frustration and pain hiding beneath the surface of his
Time to change the subject. “So where do we go from here?”
Eldon narrowed his eyes and focused on the werewolf. “You’re closer to the shifters than either of us. Can you think of anyone who may be able to help us find where the ShiftMaster is hiding?”
With a frown, Tim glared at the note. “There is one person who may be able to help.”
“Then go. We’ll wait here until you get back,” Eldon said.
Rho scoffed. “We can go with him. There’s no reason to stay here.”
“You’re not well.” Eldon shot her a stern glare. “You’re not going anywhere.”
“That’s bullshit!” She may be a little tired but she wasn’t incapable.
“This isn’t open for discussion.” Eldon rose from the couch and turned to Tim, his back to Rho as he spoke.
Anger stirred in her gut. He couldn’t just shut her down like that. He didn’t own her. “I’m fine. I’ve even fed.”
Tim stood up, meeting Eldon’s stare. He didn’t bother to acknowledge her as he spoke. “Eldon’s right. You nearly died yesterday. You’re staying put.”
“Don’t I have any say in this?” she fumed.
“No,” they both responded in unison.
Bastards. She hated the idea of sitting around doing nothing. She hated it more knowing that Preshea was out there somewhere, Vectra was a weapon who was both sick and missing, and Tim was the only one going out to do recon work. Even worse, Eldon would stay here to babysit her like a child.
Tim swiveled and paced toward the doorway.
“Tim?” Eldon’s voice stopped him in his tracks. The wolf glanced over his shoulder but didn’t turn around.
“We’ll help you find her.” Eldon’s voice was low and sincere. “Once this is over, I promise we’ll get her back.”
Tim didn’t say another word as he left the room and walked out the front door.
Eldon crept slowly up the stairs toward Rho’s room. The floorboards creaked beneath his feet and he cringed with each step, trying to stay as quiet as he could. Technically it was his room, but he’d given it up without a fight. It was the darkest room in the house.
He twisted the knob to the bedroom door and pushed it open, thankful when the hinges didn’t creak. No one wanted to surprise a vampire. Rho lay bundled under a thick mound of blankets, unmoving. Not even breathing.
Yeah, that no-breathing thing was going to take some getting used to. But they needed to talk.
He’d planned on cornering her right after their meeting with Tim, but the impending daylight had put the kibosh on that plan. She’d checked out and headed off to bed just before the sun hit the sky. In a way, this ambush would work out much better. She probably wouldn’t have this conversation with him willingly.
He closed the door behind him.
Weapons covered the nightstand and half of the floor, an arrangement of daggers littering the path to her bed. A few guns were stashed in a corner, bullets laid neatly beside them. He stepped cautiously toward the bed. Maybe it wasn’t the best idea to wake a vampire with this kind of hardware. He briefly considered leaving before he brushed the thought away. She wouldn’t hurt him.
“Rho?” he said softly.
She didn’t budge. The sun was only beginning to set, the fiery orb in the sky no doubt locking her into a sleeping trance. Not for long, though.
He gripped her shoulder and shook her gently. “Rho?”
A mumble filled the air, the sound both half asleep and half pissed off.
“C’mon, you need to wake up.”
A small hand extended out from beneath the comforter and she flipped him the bird before rolling over to face the other wall.
He raised a brow. So that was how it was going to be. With one swift movement, he yanked the comforter off the bed.
“Hey,” she mumbled, flailing an arm in the air to try and capture the flying blanket.
He leaned over her bed. “Good morning, sunshine.”
“Sun’s still up.” She tucked her head underneath her pillow. “Be a pain in my ass later.”
“Everyone else is awake. Rise and shine.”
“Not now,” she mumbled. “It’s sleepy time.”
“I have two little sisters so I practically majored in obnoxious. I can do this all day.”
With a grunt, she rolled out from underneath the pillow and propped herself up on an elbow as her eyes fluttered open. “I hate you right now.”
His lips curled into a coy smile as he tilted his head. “No, you don’t.”
“Sunshine will fry me at this hour.” She growled and rubbed her tired eyes with a hand.
He leaned a shoulder into the sturdy bedpost. “No it won’t. It takes at least a few minutes of sunlight to fry a vamp.”
“How would you know?”
“Research. My family happens to own an extensive library.”
He’d spent most of the day studying those archives, long after the others had fallen asleep. His father had given him a notebook of family spells before he’d passed away. Their documentation on the other races was sketchy at best, but the family records they did have had been passed down for generations.
Rho perked up, glancing over at him again. “You have a library? Here?”
He shrugged. “Some print, some online. We went digital around five years ago.”
Too many of the ancient records had been lost over time, fires and floods claiming the knowledge before it could be preserved. Adelle had spent a month scanning and organizing what they still had. It was one of her more brilliant ideas.
“How high-tech of you,” Rho said.
Eldon smiled. “You like to read?”
He motioned to the closet. “Get dressed. Maybe I’ll have time to show you the library later.” Perching on the edge of the mattress, he tried not to remember what they’d nearly done right there on those sheets.
She muttered something as she rolled out of bed and followed instructions, wandering to the closet in her wrinkled green tank top and black cotton yoga pants.
He cleared his throat. “I also wanted to talk to you about what happened yesterday.”
“There’s nothing to talk about.” Her muffled voice came from the other side of the closet wall. “Unless you want me to apologize, which I totally will.” She stepped out of the closet with a clothes hanger in her hand. “I’m sorry. I lost control and it won’t happen—”
“Why are you apologizing?” he interrupted. If anyone owed anyone an apology, it was him. He’d made that first move, not her. Clearly, though she’d played along, she hadn’t been ready for it. “I’m not sorry about what happened at all.”
He held up a hand. “Hear me out.”
Sure, he’d taken things way too fast. He hadn’t meant to kiss her. Something had snapped in a split second between them, and now it was too late to take it back. He didn’t regret the kiss itself and he wouldn’t apologize for it happening, but he definitely regretted the way it happened. Vampires were known for mixing blood and sex, and he’d taken advantage of her body’s instincts.
She hooked the hanger on the doorknob and leaned against the door jamb, folding her arms across her chest. “I’m listening.”
Okay. Not the reception he’d expected. He blew out a deep breath. “I like you, Rho. I like you a lot. I know I didn’t handle myself very well yesterday, but I think we have something.”
“I like you, too.” She lifted a shoulder. “But I can’t be with you like that.”
“I’m not asking for some big commitment.”
“I know you’re not.”
“We can take this day by day.”
Her eyes were flat as she shook her head. “No, we can’t.”
He fought the sinking feeling in his chest. The logical part of his brain told him his attraction to her was irrational, but he couldn’t help it. It had existed long before they’d kissed. He’d refused to acknowledge it before, mostly because she was a vampire, but partly because she was unlike any female he’d ever been with. She was crass and tough. Completely independent, almost to a fault. She was all hard edges on the outside, but he’d seen a sliver of her mind that was soft and kind. A part she’d never let anyone see.
Their connection now was too obvious to ignore.
Rho shook her head. “It’s just… it’s not meant to be, Eldon. We’re too different.”
With one motion, he pushed himself off the bed and took a step toward her. “I’ve been with plenty of women—”
“Oh, great. Way to sweeten the deal.”
He ignored her. “But they’re nothing like you. And nothing I’ve had with any of them compares to yesterday.”
It was the absolute truth. Money and power had bought him a lot of things in his life, women included. They hung around until they got what they wanted—maybe some jewelry or a fancy dinner. Sex. Then they disappeared from his life and his memories as quickly as they came. The only mark they’d made on his life was in his checkbook.
And didn’t that make him feel like an ass.
“We only kissed,” she whispered.
Rho ran a hand through her hair, forehead pinched in frustration. “It isn’t going to work.”
“You can’t know that.”
She let out an irritated laugh. “Oh, I can. Have you met your sisters? As they kindly pointed out, we’re not even the same species.”
“So now you’re intolerant?”
“My tolerance has nothing to do with it. The DarqRealm has never looked fondly on interracial relationships. I doubt they’ll start now.”