Magick Marked (The DarqRealm Series), page 22
A spark lit in his chest. He knew what their world would think. What the Collective would think. What his family would think. And for once, he didn’t care. Something about Rho drew him in, the gravity of her presence always riding in his subconscious.
He took a step closer to her. “Screw them.”
“What about the Council?” she continued, oblivious to his advances. “You think they’ll be happy about us spending our time hooking up instead of hunting Kamens?”
One more step. “Screw them, too.”
She tossed her hands in the air. “Right. You may have cars and houses and money and magick, but the rest of us are trying to take things day by day and hopefully stay alive in the process.”
The last step put him so close to her, he could smell the perfume on her skin. Fresh and clean, like apples. He heard her breath catch. “So this is about money then? I’m too secure for you?”
Rho took a small step back. “I—I’m not talking to you about this anymore.” She glared up at him, her gaze hard as diamonds. The determination in her eyes only proved that she was as strong and stubborn as he knew her to be. “We need to go find those Kamens.”
He took another step forward. “Don’t think for one second that this conversation is over.” He leaned forward, his lips only a hairsbreadth from her ear. “And don’t think I won’t try to change your mind.”
Rho’s gunmetal-gray eyes were wide as he stepped away from her and toward the door.
He twisted the knob, taking inventory of her body with his eyes. Her long, blond hair hung down to her waist, her delicate jaw pushed forward defiantly. She was beautiful, even when she was being stubborn. Absolutely stunning. “Meet me in the kitchen in five minutes.”
Closing the door behind him, he smiled.
Rho stood in the middle of her bedroom, staring at the door in disbelief.
Of all the egotistical, chauvinistic, pain-in-the-ass men she’d ever met, that one took the cake. Hell, he owned the whole damn bakery. She hated herself for letting him get inside her head.
She yanked off her yoga pants in an angry rush and threw them into the closet before sliding into a fresh pair of leathers. They’d become a new staple in her wardrobe, giving her plenty of room to fight if she needed it but protecting her skin if she took a tumble. She buttoned the top and zipped the fly, then shook her head.
Guys like Eldon knew how to play the system to get what they wanted. He’d said it himself—he’d had plenty of women. No doubt they’d fawned all over him to get to his money, which he hadn’t outright spoken about, but come on. This was an expensive house and it was just a spare. He was a six-foot-five, blue-eyed hunk of eye candy with incredible magickal strength, his warm body appealing to more than just her vampire side. The things she could do to him—
Nope. Not going there.
Rummaging in her bag for a change of clothes, Rho wondered how she’d gotten herself into this whole mess. The freaky mental connection with Eldon shouldn’t be possible.
Then again, she’d never truly been normal. She’d always had the sense that she wasn’t where she belonged in the human world, an outlier in society. She shouldn’t have expected a change as one of the undead.
Eldon had probably grown up in a perfect little house on a perfect corner of a perfect street with plenty of money and no worries. No, she wasn’t at all the type of girl he’d end up with. Not by a long shot.
Problem was, she was definitely attracted to him. In a major way. Her brain knew he was trouble, but her body was a total traitor.
That kiss may have started with tasting his blood, but it had finished with her wanting him. All of him. And with that telepathic connection wide open, she knew he’d been right there with her.
She threw the bedroom door open with more aggression than necessary and ventured cautiously down the stairs. Eldon had woken her up before total darkness, which meant she still had to watch out for the setting sun. She could aloe vera her way out of a little residual sunlight, but the direct rays were her kryptonite. She stepped softly on the carpeted stairs and glanced into the open living room.
Was it nighttime already? The room was pitch black, no direct sun in sight. She glanced at the windows and she stood at the base of the stairs, wondering if her eyes were deceiving her, only to find that every window in the house had been covered with thick, black draperies. When had they put those up?
“I’ve ordered metal blinds to be installed, the type they use in houses on the coast during hurricane season. I figure this place can be headquarters until we retrieve all the Kamens.” Eldon stood in the doorway, two cups of coffee in his hands. He took a sip of one and extended the other to her. “If I recall, you’re a coffee girl.”
Her eyes narrowed. “You’re buttering me up.”
“Maybe.” He turned and strode into the kitchen, motioning to the small table. “Sit down.”
“Don’t tell me what to do.”
He wandered around to the far side of the table before cocking a brow and slowly taking a seat. “Sit down, please.”
She pulled out the chair perched on the end. “You better have a damn good reason for waking me up at this ungodly hour.”
Her chest squeezed, a combination of relief and fear swamping her. “Where is he?”
Eldon eyed the back door. “Outside, shifting into his human form.”
Thank God. Even if he didn’t have the answers they needed, she’d welcome him with open arms. And if he did have answers, she was ready to get out of this house and go to work.
As if on cue, the back door swung open. Tim stepped through the opening, and Rho sucked in a quick breath. His hair was disheveled and he clearly hadn’t shaved since he left. Dark circles lined his grave eyes. The sour combination of his sweat and anger filled the small kitchen, but she couldn’t help but be glad for it.
Rho rushed forward and crushed him with her arms, hugging him as if letting go meant he’d disappear again. She surprised herself with how much she’d missed him. He stood frozen for a moment before wrapping his arms around her and patting her back. The gesture was awkward, but she didn’t care.
“Glad you’re back,” she whispered against his chest.
“I told you I’d return when I had a lead.” He released her from his hold and pulled away before walking toward the window near the kitchen table.
“So you know something.” She could only pray they would lead their group to a Kamen. They’d made so little progress.
He stared out the window into the darkness. “I think I’ve located the ShiftMaster’s home.”
“How certain are you it’s the right place?” Eldon asked.
“Pretty sure.” Tim swiveled around to face them both. “I wanted to case the place myself but decided against it. I need backup.”
“Smart.” Eldon nodded in approval. “Are you sure you’re okay to fight?”
Tim nodded. “I know I look like hell, but that’s just because I haven’t shaved or showered for a couple of days. I’ve been sleeping and eating just fine. Promise.”
Eldon gave him a once-over, but Rho didn’t care. If the man said he could fight, he could fight. “Let’s go, then.”
She couldn’t stand to be cooped up one more minute. “My weapons are prepped. I just need to put on my kicks and load up.”
When no one disagreed, she ran up the stairs, strapped on her arsenal, and strode back into the kitchen. She’d opted to wear her combat boots, knowing they’d hold up the best if they had to crawl around outdoors. Wherever they were going, she imagined a healthy level of stealth and dirt would be involved.
The men took up most of the space in the small kitchen, checking and rechecking their weapons and ammo.
She glanced down, ad
“Ready?” Rho asked.
Eldon studied the piece of paper in his hands. “Tim’s given me the approximate location. I’ll jump us there and then we can walk the rest of the way.” He glanced at Rho. “The sun’s officially down. You’re up first.”
Rho rolled her neck and blew out a deep breath.
Here we go again.
Rho slammed into the ground, her knees giving out on impact. Steely arms wrapped around her body, clutching her tightly and keeping her from meeting the grass face-first.
“You all right?” Eldon’s chest vibrated against her ear as he spoke.
She relaxed her grip on his waist but didn’t let go, afraid she’d topple over. “Yeah, I think so.”
His chest moved up and down as he let out a little laugh, still holding her close. Very close. “That wasn’t too bad, was it?”
The trip through the lines was unlike anything she’d ever experienced. The world had warped and faded away, the space around them melting until they were flying through the air. Colors had zoomed by at incredible speeds, time somehow standing still and passing too quickly all at once. Eldon had never once loosened his grip on her.
Vertigo punched through her brain, making the world spin and throwing her terribly off balance. She exhaled, trying to center herself in her own body. For some reason, she couldn’t unscramble her senses.
“I feel like Jell-O,” she muttered.
He chuckled. “Totally normal for a rookie.”
“Positive.” He inhaled sharply, his cheek pressed against her forehead. “I wouldn’t let anything happen to you.”
“I know,” she said before pushing him away. “Thanks for the ride.” She needed to stand on her own two feet, both in reality and metaphorically.
He glanced down at her. “I’m glad you know that.”
She shrugged. “We’re a team.”
Disappointment flickered across his handsome face before disappearing behind steely resolve. “Right.” He cleared his throat. “So I guess you’ll stay—”
A blue light flashed across the darkened sky. Eldon spun around, shoving Rho behind him with the movement. She tried to surge forward but the blue fire spilling from his fingers stopped her in her tracks. She blinked, the darkened trees coming into focus around her. Like an idiot, she’d been completely unaware of her surroundings until this moment.
A figure stepped out from the tree line, hands raised in the air. Eldon held up a glowing hand, ready to toss a lethal dose of magick.
“Relax, bro, it’s me,” the figure called, raising his hands higher. “Eldon? It’s me.”
Eldon lowered his hand. “Nick?”
“The one and only.” The man took another step forward, the light from a distant house illuminating his face. “Although we need to work on your hospitality skills.”
The fire in Eldon’s grip vanished and he marched forward. “What are you doing here?” He took the man into a bear hug.
Nick clapped Eldon on the back with a loud smack before stepping back. “Collective sent me to babysit you. I guess they forgot we’ve been friends since we were in diapers.” Nick leaned to the side and raised a brow at Rho. “Is that your vampire friend?”
“Sorry.” Eldon extended a hand toward Rho. “Nick, this is Rho. Rho, Nick. I guess you haven’t been formally introduced.” He folded his arms again. “Now why are you here?”
Nick stepped forward and extended a hand to Rho, ignoring Eldon’s questioning stare. “Rho, nice to officially meet you.”
She took his grip firmly in hers. “Back at you.”
For some reason, Nick seemed vaguely familiar. Clearly he could hop the lines, so that either made him a fae or a mover. Given his buddy-buddy status with Eldon, though, she’d venture to guess he was the latter. But where had she seen him before?
Eldon folded his arms across his chest. “How did you follow me here?”
“Please. If anyone knows how to break your wards undetected, it’s me.” Nick wiggled his brows. “I overheard you talking about your plans. I followed.”
“Why would the Collective think I needed babysitting?”
Nick glanced at Rho then back at Eldon.
“She’s fine,” Eldon said. “The Collective means nothing to her. She won’t say anything.”
Rho nodded and eyed the pattern on her palm. That was the total truth. The only thing scarier than one magick mover was a room full of them, and the last time she’d met their leader, she ended up marked by their magick.
Nope. No desire to get involved.
Nick lowered his voice into a whisper. “Adelle called me, too. She… saw something. She’s worried about you.”
A prickling sensation crawled up Rho’s spine. Saw something? Could he be any more cryptic?
“I’ve told her before not to read me.” Eldon shook his head and rubbed his chin. “She never likes what she sees.”
“Can you blame her?” Nick pointed to Rho. “Adelle already saw her coming. You should listen to her.”
Wait, she saw Rho coming? Rho wheeled around to stare at Eldon. “What is he talking about?”
He blew out a deep breath. “Adelle saw you in my future. She knew we’d be working together, that’s all.”
Something told her he wasn’t telling her the entire truth, but this hardly seemed like the place to start a discussion about it. She made a mental note to bring it up later.
Eldon turned to Nick. “You shouldn’t be here.”
“Neither should you.” Nick’s eyes narrowed. “The ShiftMaster lives down the street from here.”
“How would you know that?” Eldon asked.
Nick shrugged a shoulder. “Common knowledge.”
Not hardly, Rho thought. Preshea had made it clear that most shifters didn’t know where the ShiftMaster resided. And those who did didn’t drop by with muffin baskets.
“We don’t have time for this.” Eldon stole a glance around the darkened tree line. “I need to get the rest of the team.”
“Then go,” Nick said.
Eldon turned and sauntered up to Rho, lowering his voice to a whisper. “Are you going to be okay here without me?” He tucked a strand of hair behind her ear.
Something resembling butterflies took flight in Rho’s stomach. She stole a glance at Nick, who was staring innocently at the night sky. “You tell me.”
“Nick’s my best friend. He won’t hurt you.”
“Then I have nothing to worry about.”
They were burning starlight as far as she was concerned, wasting time as they stood around chatting. The Kamens were still missing and Vectra was out there somewhere. Their to-do list kept getting longer but the clock was ticking.
“Go get them. Hurry up,” she ordered.
He nodded before evaporating into blue fog. She exhaled, releasing a breath she hadn’t realized she was holding. Nick was staring at her, the force of his gaze somehow unwrapping her where she stood.
“What?” she asked as she checked her weapons, making sure they’d all made it through the ley lines without incident.
“You like him.”
She froze. “Excuse me?”
“You like him. I can feel it when he touches you.”
She took a step back and stared at him. “No, I don’t.”
His lips quirked into a small smile. “I’m an empath. I know exactly how you feel about him.”
Her stomach turned at the sudden spotligh
“It could.” He stepped toward her. “You just won’t let it.”
She took another step back, her chest tight. She wondered briefly how she could feel claustrophobic while standing in the middle of a clearing, surrounded only by trees. “The DarqRealm won’t accept us. I wouldn’t do that to his family.”
“Don’t play the martyr.”
She gaped. “How dare you! You don’t know anything about me.”
“Give it up.” He shook his head and took another step. “You’re tied to each other and there’s nothing either of you can do about it. I’ve never seen anything like it before, especially between the races, but your auras have mixed.”
“What?” she asked, her voice weaker than she intended.
His eyes narrowed. “Vampires don’t have auras. But you do. And you’ve connected with Eldon on a level that I can’t explain.”
Could he be telling the truth? She’d had no idea that vampires couldn’t have auras, but Nick had no reason to lie to her. Ever since she’d met Eldon, everything had turned into a big mess. And she couldn’t control any of it.
“They’re not alive,” he explained. “Vampires don’t have auras because they’re not alive. And since you’re not technically alive either, I don’t understand why you have one.”
“Can Eldon see it?” The idea that he’d seen her aura but never mentioned it created a flicker of anger in her mind.
Nick tilted his head. “Maybe, but only if he focused on it. He’s probably never had a reason to. As an empath, I can’t help but see your energy.”
“What does it mean if I have an aura?”
“I have no idea.”
A familiar blue spark lit the sky for only a second before Eldon emerged with Tim in tow. Rho clamped her mouth shut, holding back the questions bubbling in her throat. There was so much more she wanted to ask.