Magick Marked (The DarqRealm Series), page 30
He didn’t move, frozen as he hovered there, his face contorted into a strange sort of recognition. As if he’d realized something vital.
Rho shot to her feet. “Frederick? What’s wrong?”
“You—your—his scent, it’s—” he stuttered.
Oh, no. She’d slept with Eldon. Oh, no, no, no. His scent would be all over her skin, marking her, telling the secrets she’d wanted to keep hidden. She couldn’t bother denying it, especially to a vampire. The evidence covered her.
Frederick had kissed her before she left for this mission, telling her how he cared for her. He knew she didn’t bring home lovers, how she’d fought against the lust that came with feeding. She might as well slap him across the face, visiting with him while stinking of another man. Eldon wasn’t even one of her kind.
Amazing how she could become so thoughtless so quickly. She spent only a short time away from vampires and already she’d forgotten their proficiencies.
Frederick shook his head, as if trying to knock away his thoughts. “Sorry, I shouldn’t pry. It’s your life.” The words were cold, somehow creating a wall between them that hadn’t existed before. He took a step into the room but didn’t sit down. “I won’t be long. I just needed to tell you about something important.”
“Are you sure you won’t sit down?”
He shook his head. “I shouldn’t be here, but I couldn’t call you.”
This didn’t sound promising. “What’s going on?”
He finally met her stare. “Rhyannon has come forward, accusing you of stealing her Kamen. Said you attacked her at nightfall and stole it.”
So Rhyannon wasn’t dead.
Rho gaped. “She’s a liar.”
“Not to the Council.” His expression was grave. “She’s the queen of the fae. You think they’d trust your word over hers? You’ve barely been inducted into our world.”
“But—that’s not fair! They trusted our team to retrieve the Kamens. That was our job.”
“She didn’t accuse the team.” He pointed a finger squarely at Rho. “She’s accused you. Personally.”
That green, fire-throwing cow. Rho had only lifted that Kamen off of Alexander because he’d stolen it, and then…
Wait. “What happened to Alexander?”
“He’s been taken into custody for questioning, but Rhyannon is willing to vouch for him. Says the team attacked him on your orders. That you want the Kamens for yourself.”
Rho threw her hands up. “What the hell? I didn’t even know about the Kamens a few weeks ago! Why would I want them?”
“I don’t know, but Rhyannon isn’t someone you want as an enemy. She’s well respected.”
So much for cleaning up messes. She should have known that her life wouldn’t stay quiet for long. “Thanks for letting me know,” Rho murmured as she ran a hand through her hair in frustration.
Frederick’s hand shot out, grabbing hold of her wrist. The shirt sleeve had fallen to her elbow when she lifted her hand, and he turned her arm over and pushed the sleeve up. “When did you get that done?”
Her breath caught in her throat. “Oh, that? Just on a whim. I like the pattern.”
He leaned in to examine it closer, and she fought the urge to yank her hand from his grip. Even if death magick wasn’t contagious, she didn’t want him near it. If he figured out what she’d done, he’d be furious. Beyond furious.
Vampires were all about looking out for number one, and she’d done the complete opposite. She’d given up her life for someone else, someone whose scent covered her body. Someone who happened to be in the other room. Not to mention an illegal transfer of blood.
He frowned. “It looks familiar.” He lifted his eyes to her. “Where’d you see it?”
Shit. She had to think fast. “Can’t remember, exactly. Just drew it on a napkin for the artist and he made it happen.”
Frederick released her wrist. “Is this one… commemorating anything?”
He would ask that question. He’d always hated those tattoos, even if they’d meant something to her.
Rho promptly covered the mark with her sleeve and tried not to be a total liar. “Yeah. There’ve been a few losses since I’ve been here.”
“I’m sorry you got caught up in all of this mess.”
“It’s all right.”
He forced a smile. “Well, maybe you can come home soon.”
Maybe. But she hoped not. For the first time since she’d been sent on this mission, she wanted to stay exactly where she was. She shot a glance at the kitchen.
“I should get going,” Frederick said as he followed her gaze then eyeballed the door.
Yeah, he should. “It was nice of you to stop by and give me a heads up.”
He turned and headed out of the room. “Watch the phone lines. The Council may be trying to track you.”
She would ask how Frederick had managed to track her to the safe house, but he was her sire. He could find her anywhere on the planet.
“Got it.” She turned the knob and opened the front door. He stepped through. “And Frederick?”
He glanced back at her from over his shoulder. His eyes were sad enough to break her heart.
“Thank you,” she whispered.
He nodded and turned away to continue down the driveway.
Rho shut the door and rested her forehead against the wood paneling. God help her, she wouldn’t feel guilty about this. She cared about him deeply, but she couldn’t help that she’d never had feelings for Frederick. Not like that. But it still hurt to know she’d upset him.
“Everything okay?” Eldon asked from behind her.
“I don’t know anymore,” she spoke into the door.
“I heard what he said. Sorry for eavesdropping.”
She lifted her head and turned toward him. “It’s okay. Saves me from having to recap.” There was nothing Frederick said that she wouldn’t repeat to Eldon. Except for maybe that whole smelling-like-sex thing. She definitely would have edited that portion out.
He wandered slowly over to her and wrapped his hands around her waist. She reached around to pull him closer, glad to have a little support.
“The team isn’t going to let you go down for this,” he said, his voice muffled by her hair.
“We’ll set everything straight.”
She nodded against his chest, grateful for the warmth.
He drew back and stared down at her. “You can’t tell anyone about the Siphon thing, though.”
Well, she hadn’t exactly planned on it, but now she was curious. “Why not?”
“Half-breeds aren’t well received. At all. In the old days, they were exterminated.” He shook his head. “Let’s keep this Siphon deal between us and the people in this house. Until we know exactly what’s going on, nothing good can come from too many people knowing.”
She nodded again and breathed him in. This time he smelled like soap, dark spices and oregano. “Did you eat something?”
“Sure did.” A smug grin crossed his face. “I even made you a present.”
“You’re going to like me for this one.”
She wiggled her brows. “Do tell.”
He leaned in and nestled his lips to her ear. “Coffee. A whole steaming pot of it. Just for you.”
Laughing, she gave him a tight hug. “Mmm, you are good.”
Eldon ran a hand up and down her spine. “I take care of what’s mine.”
“I’ll be the judge of that. But you’re off to a good start.”
Rho unwrapped herself from Eldon’s
“We just need to do something really quick before dinner,” he said.
She shrugged a shoulder. Made no difference to her. Wasn’t like she could eat anything anyways. Eldon stopped just inside the open entry from the living room to the kitchen. Rho stepped right behind him, wondering what he was up to. Tim and Preshea were sitting at the table, and judging by the playing cards scattered all over the polished wood surface and the concentration on their faces, they were deep into another game of rummy.
“Tim? Preshea?” Eldon asked. “Can I steal you two for a second?”
With a frown, Tim laid his cards facedown on the table. “What’s up?”
Preshea glanced up then stared down at their joined hands. Her brow arched in feigned interest as her gaze rose to Eldon’s face.
“Team meeting. Now, please.” Eldon pivoted around and towed Rho behind him. When he turned down a hallway in the opposite direction from the kitchen, she paused.
“Where are we going?” she asked.
Eldon gently tugged her hand. “We have some unfinished business to attend to.”
“What?” What was he talking about?
He rounded another corner and stopped abruptly, just in front of a lovely landscape painting hanging in the hallway. It was one she’d admired before, when she’d been trying to find his office.
“What’s going on?” she asked. “Are we having an art appreciation moment, here?”
Tim and Preshea emerged around the corner and stopped beside them.
Eldon let go over her hand and extended an open palm to Tim. “Give me those stones.”
Tim’s eyes narrowed. “What for?”
“We need to protect them. And I know exactly how to do just that.”
After a moment, Tim reached into his pocket and pulled out two small stones, one black and the other green. The werewolf and fae Kamens. Eldon stuffed them in his pocket.
“Are your pants safer than mine?” Tim asked dryly.
Preshea folded her arms across her chest. “And why are we standing in the hall?”
Eldon didn’t bother to respond as he reached up to touch the top right corner of the picture frame. The molding lifted away from the painting. He stepped back just as the frame swung away from the wall, revealing a massive black box hidden inside.
Holy crap. She was going to have to start taking a much closer look at this place. There were trap doors and hidden compartments—and hidden rooms—everywhere. No wonder this was their safe house. There were a million places to stash things.
With a steady hand, he touched his finger to each of the four corners then rested his marked palm against the center. Four clicks sounded as the box cracked open and Eldon stepped back. The face swung open in the same fashion as the frame.
The small round dial of a safe sat in the middle of the opening. Eldon rotated it to the right, then the left, then the right again. One more click sounded, and a third door opened.
A small white box sat in the center of the safe. He removed it with careful hands before crouching to set it on the ground. Then he made himself comfortable on the carpet.
“Sit.” He stared up at them. “All of you.”
What was he up to? Curious expressions crossed all of their faces as they plopped down in the middle of the hallway and surrounded the box. Clockwise from Eldon sat Rho, Tim and Preshea. She had no idea what they were doing, but no one seemed to question Eldon so she didn’t either.
Trust. She had to trust him.
“These Kamens must be hidden somewhere that no one can find them. Not my sisters.” He shot a glance at Preshea. “Not your sister, either.” Then Tim. “Not your pack.” Then Rho. “Not your prince.” He stared at the relics again. “Not even the Council, until every Kamen has been found. The only people who will know about the location of the relics are the four people in this hall. No one else.”
They nodded. Alexander was a traitor and Rhyannon wasn’t any better. They couldn’t know who else on the Council had been compromised, or who they could trust.
“Do you swear it on your life?” Eldon asked.
Three voices chimed, “Yes.”
“Then bind yourself to the secret,” Eldon demanded. “Swear by your blood that you’ll never speak of this to a soul.”
Tim and Preshea exchanged nervous glances, and Rho knew exactly why.
“Haven’t we already been bound to each other?” Preshea asked.
Eldon nodded. “You have, against your will. But that’s not what I’m asking for here.” His eyes softened. “I’m asking for a promise between friends. A promise bound in magick to keep these relics safe.”
No one spoke for a moment.
“Tim, you have a knife?” Eldon asked, eyeing the sheath at his waist.
Tim palmed the grip and revealed the blade. Eldon removed the Kamens from his pocket and set them in the center of the circle before taking the knife from Tim’s hands. With two quick swipes, he scored the center of his palms, one right across his skin binding mark. Rho’s right hand tingled.
He set the knife in the center of the circle then lifted his hands to his sides, his bleeding palms facing out. “Help me protect these stones.” His eyes glittered as he gazed from person to person. “The spell I’m going to cast is a blood promise. Only those bound to this promise will be able to retrieve these Kamens, and even then, we all have to be present for the spell to be undone.”
“We can’t access them alone?” Tim asked.
“No. I’m tying this spell to all four of us. As long as we’re alive, this spell will hold.”
Rho wrung her hands. “Is this blood magick?”
“Yes. Like the identification spell I did for you, only four times stronger.” He cast a glance around the circle. “But that’s only if all four of us agree to this.”
Eldon sat, bloody palms extended. No one moved.
Finally, Tim snatched the knife off the ground. “I’m in.” He scored his hands and set the blade back in the center of the circle then lifted his palms.
Rho winced as the tinge of his blood filled the air. She shoved her immediate hunger aside and tried to focus. The relics needed to be protected, and keeping them in a pocket wasn’t the kind of protection she’d had in mind. “I’m in.” She slashed her own palms and lifted her hands.
Preshea glanced at the knife on the ground, then at her teammates. All three of them sat in the circle, their hands extended, waiting. She’d fought the last binding spell, too, but this one was different. It went against everything Preshea believed in to tie herself to the others. The decision would be hers. No one was making it for her.
“Today, Preshea.” Rho lifted a brow. “I’m already healing over here.” She grabbed the knife again and slashed her palms a second time.
It seemed like forever before Preshea reached forward and took the knife. “Fuck it.” A small smile crept across her face. Much slower than the others, she sliced deep into her palms and tossed the knife down. “I’m in, too.” She lifted her hands.
Eldon pressed his left palm against Rho’s right, the heat of his touch filling her instantly. Their blood mingled where she’d been marked, and the tingling sensation grew stronger. Then he pressed his right palm to Preshea’s left. The shifter flinched, as if she felt the same sensation.
One by one, their palms joined until they became a unified circle, joined in blood and bound by choice, not chance. For the first time, Rho felt the tie she hadn’t realized they’d been lacking, an alliance to their purpose.
Eldon took a deep breath before glancing around the circle. “I’m going to call on the ley line fire now. You can’t drop your hands once I start. It’s going to go through you, but it won’t hurt you. I control it.”
Eyes closed, Eldon became utterly still. The air around them electrified, the hair on Rho’s arms standing on end. A current of energy rushed through her body, starting at Eldon’s hand and quickly passing through her chest and into Tim. Eldon had tapped a line. Energy pulsated off of the mover in waves, a never-ending stream of strange sensation.
His voice was low. “The four who stand before the stones shall keep them safely here, for with one purpose we go forth, and none shall interfere.”
Blue light poured from Eldon’s hand, the power of the ley lines somehow pouring from him and into Rho. And then into Tim. And then Preshea.
“Sworn in blood and by our oath, our bond shall never sink. We call now on prior ties, our pledge of flesh in ink.”
Her palm tingled as the magick began to circle, traveling slowly through their hands from one person to the next. The light intensified with each pass and Rho drew a sharp breath.
“For what was once an act of force is now an act of choice. An alliance from within our souls is now given a voice.”
The ley line fire swirled faster. A tornado of energy flared around them as it gained momentum, the four of them somehow in the eye of the storm. Eldon’s eyes were still closed, brows drawn in deep concentration. Preshea and Tim both stared upwards in shock.
“Alone as four and four alone, but now a tie is bound.”
The air around them crackled with power, the tingling at her hand growing into a burning blaze. She bent forward, trying to resist the urge to pull her hand away from the source of the torture. They couldn’t let go now. Not when they were so close.
“Only by the bond of four may gifts herein be found.”
Power exploded through the air, knocking Rho onto her back. The energy dissipated instantly, somehow imploding on itself. Neither of her hands touched… anybody. A groan sounded to her right and she turned her head to find Tim, flat on his back, a mirror image of herself.