SHADOWED – Excerpt
“There’s a vampire here to see you,” said a chipper voice from the office doorway.
Brenna Dunne glanced up from the stack of ledgers toward her best friend. “I don’t have any appointments today.”
Deb shrugged a delicate shoulder. “Since when do vampires make appointments?”
Good point. Brenna pushed her glasses up her nose. She was the only witch in existence who required reading glasses. “Did you see who it was?”
“Nope.” Deb Stewart had never been much of a vampire fan. “They all look alike to me.” She mock shrugged. “Though, when I passed by the conference room, vibrations of some seriously strong energy made the air heavy.”
“Huh.” Brenna folded her glasses to tuck in her pocket before standing. The room swayed.
Deb frowned, and lines of concern fanned out from her brown eyes. “How did your treatment go this morning?”
“Terrible.” Brenna grimaced. “The treatments have stopped doing any good.” In fact, having the doctors replace her blood was just a waste of time at this point.
“That’s what I thought.” Deb shuffled the stack of papers in her hands. “Maybe it’s time to tell the council.”
“Aye.” The room stopped tilting, so Brenna skirted the desk. “I’ll need to submit my resignation soon.” She could barely stand up, much less participate on the Council of the Coven Nine, the ruling body for witches the world over.
Deb tilted her dark head toward the pile of paperwork on the desk. “Any marriage proposals?”
“Three proposals and two death threats this week.” Brenna’s legs wobbled as she reached the doorway.
“The usual, huh?” Deb said.
Brenna paused to regain her bearings. “Yes. Man, I need to get my strength back.”
Deb patted her arm. “The doctors will find a cure. I’m sure of it.”
“I know.” Brenna forced a smile as they both lied.
Deb swallowed. “I’ll take the afternoon meeting with the Dublin economic group for you.”
Relief and gratitude swept Brenna. “Thanks. I owe you once again.” She slid into the hallway. “Wish me luck with the vampire.”
“Luck,” Deb muttered as she bustled in the other direction.
Good thing Deb had fallen in love with and married a witch. She and a vampire would’ve been a disaster.
Brenna eyed the wall of windows as she walked. Lightning flashed outside the myriad of windows, and the Liffey threw up whitecaps. Nothing like a December snow-storm in Ireland to get things interesting. With her diminishing vision, the world morphed into different shades of gray outside.
She carefully picked her way along the hallway to push open the door to the small meeting room.
Her breath caught. “Jase.”
Jase Kayrs sprawled in one of three overstuffed chairs, reading a stack of papers neatly attached inside a Manila file folder. A fire crackled behind him, while the storm raged outside the full wall of windows to his left. At her entry, he flipped the file shut and stood. “Brenna.”
She swallowed and fought the urge to step back. At one time, Jase had been the most charming male she’d ever met. Now, a predatory danger cascaded off him in waves. Dressed in a dark shirt, faded jeans, and combat boots, the vampire was anything but a typical soldier. He even looked different, having cut his brown hair short in contrast to the wild mane he used to sport.
Deep copper eyes glowed from his chiseled face and illustrated a torment he apparently hadn’t triumphed over.
Mindful of manners, she hastened forward and held out a hand. “How are you?”
“Fine.” His hand swallowed hers in heat as they shook. A wicked scar had faded to a long white strip just above his right cheekbone, making him look even more dangerous than before. For a vampire to scar, he must’ve been near death when sustaining the injury. Considering the demons had tortured him for five years before nearly cutting off his head, he had been as close to death as possible without succumbing. “Not as crazy as everyone thinks. How are you?”
“Fine. Not as odd as everyone thinks.” Her knees wobbled, and not just from her illness. The vampire had presence. All male, all danger. Her heart sped up even as it broke from that deadly scar on his immortal face.
“I never thought you odd.” He released her and gestured toward the chair facing his.
Brenna sat and smoothed her hands down her pencil skirt, suddenly grateful she’d dressed up. There was a time she’d had a huge crush on the youngest Kayrs brother. “Ah, Moira didn’t mention you’d be visiting Ireland.” Moira was Brenna’s older sister who had mated Jase’s brother, Conn. They mainly lived in Oregon at the vampire headquarters.
“She and Conn are chasing a witch who’s abusing physics up in Canada. I didn’t tell them I was heading over here.” Jase’s gaze raked Brenna. “You’re pale.”
Irritation and an odd hurt warmed her chest. She slowly ran her gaze from his boots to his head. Hard, ripped muscle showed clearly through his clothing. Cut angles made up his handsome face, leaving shadowed hollows matching those in his eyes. “You’re, ah, fit. Been working out?”
“Something like that.” His gaze intensified, but she couldn’t read his thoughts.
She cleared her throat. “Why are you here?”
The door swept open. “He’s here because I asked him.” Councilwoman Northcutt, the head of the Coven Nine, glided into the room. She wore a long maroon skirt, matching top, and had pinned her dark hair up in a business-casual look. As the ruler of the witches for the last five centuries, the woman could dress.
Brenna straightened her posture. “Hi, Aunt Viv. Did you want me in on this, or shall I attend the economic meetings?”
Viv settled herself on the third seat. “I want you here.”
“All right.” Brenna eyed her Aunt.
Viv’s dark eyes narrowed, and she clasped her hands together before focusing on Jase. “Did you read the file?”
“Yes.” He handed the manila folder to Viv.
Brenna glanced at the folder. “What file?”
Viv met her gaze. “Your medical records.”
A ball of dread slammed into Brenna’s stomach. “Excuse me?”
Viv sighed. “Did you really think we wouldn’t notice your deteriorating health?”
Panic wanted to rise to the surface. “My medical records are private,” said Brenna.
“Ballocks.” Red spun across Viv’s high cheekbones. “Not only are we family and should’ve been told, I’m your boss. The council needs to be aware if you’re too ill to work.”
“I’m perfectly fine.” A very rare temper tickled at the base of Brenna’s neck.
“No, you’re not. The planekite has been slowly poisoning you from the inside for a decade.” Fury and helplessness filled Viv’s eyes. “The blood treatments aren’t working any longer.”
So much for living in denial for another week. Brenna flashed back to the moment ten years previous when a male witch who’d kidnapped her poured the vial concoction down her throat. The liquid had burned like acid, firing her veins into pinpricks of pain. Her limbs had weakened, and her blood had thickened in an effort to expel the poison.
In that moment, she’d known the planekite would kill her. The only question was when.
Yanking herself back to the present, she plastered on her best dignitary expression. “Replacing my blood with clean blood worked for the first eight years, but the poison has leaked into my tissues and muscles now,” Brenna murmured. Planekite harmed witches, and most of it had been destroyed or locked away by armed guards to be used in research. Unfortunately, there didn’t seem to be an antidote to the poison. “I’ll submit my resignation tonight.” Then she frowned and glanced at Jase. “Why are you reading my medical records?”
No expression crossed his face. “I’m your cure.”
The world narrowed. Wait a minute. Brenna angled away from him. “Excuse me?”
Viv’s shoulders went back. “I contacted the king and requested an arranged mating between you and a member of the Kayrs royal family. Jase has kindly agreed.”
A roaring filled Brenna’s head. She opened her mouth, but no sound emerged. Her head jerked in a shaky motion. Mating meant sex. Crazy, dangerous, vampire sex. “Mate?”
Viv leaned forward. “The doctors think you have less than six months to live, so mating is your only option. “
Well, that was true. Mating an immortal would give Brenna the male’s health and gifts by altering not only her chromosomal pairs but her immune system. She’d be able to counter the planekite, probably. “Why a vampire?” She didn’t look at Jase as she asked the question.
Viv cleared her throat. “Unfortunately, you can’t mate a witch because the planekite will also poison your mate. You need another immortal. We’re at war with the demons and Kurjans, so that leaves either a shifter or a vampire. A vampire is better than an animal.”
Jase’s eyebrow rose. “Thank you.”
Viv sniffed. “You know what I mean.”
“I know exactly what you mean.” An ominous tone filtered through his words. “Please leave us, Councilwoman Northcutt. I’d like to speak with Brenna. Alone.”
For the first time, indecision wavered across Viv’s face. Even so, she gracefully stood. “If you do mate, then we need to discuss the winter solstice.”
Brenna shook her head. “You’re kidding, right?”
“Not at all.” Viv glided toward the door. “There’s more to the issue than you know.”
Brenna blinked. She’d worry about the solstice later. “Aunt Viv? Do my parents know about the illness?” Her mother was on the council, and her parents were on a month-long cruise.
“No. You need to call them tonight.” Viv slipped into the hallway, and the door closed.
Brenna took a deep breath, her gaze turning on the vampire. Her heart slammed against her ribs hard enough to bruise. He was damaged, and he was dangerous. Even so, heat uncoiled in her abdomen at the thought of becoming his. Her body flared to life, but her mind screamed caution. “My answer is no.”
He held himself perfectly still, somehow on alert and in perfect control. In fact, the man barely seemed to breathe. “If you don’t mate, you’ll die.”
“That’s my problem.” She shook her head. “Besides, why would you want to mate me? All of your brothers have mated for love, and look how much stronger they’ve become.”
Shadows cascaded over Jase’s face to be ruthlessly smoothed out. “I don’t want love.”
Awareness pricked up her back. “What do you want?” she asked quietly.
“Revenge.” His copper eyes morphed into an angry, sizzling green and then back again.
She’d wondered about his secondary color—the eye-color that emerged when a vampire was angry or aroused. “I see. If we mate, you’ll get my skills.”
She shook her head. “I don’t have skills to use against demons.”
“You’re a witch with a strong command of quantum physics.” Jase leaned forward, elbows on his knees. “Being able to alter matter will come in handy when fighting demons.” Vulnerability flashed in his eyes for the tiniest of seconds. “Besides, your skills will help me regain mine.”
“Regain yours?” She bit her lip, memories swamping her. Jase used to command the elements. “You can’t control the elements any longer?”
“No.” His angled jaw hardened.
She flashed back to a Realm picnic twenty years ago when the Kayrs brothers had competed fiercely in an obstacle course that would’ve killed most humans. Jase and his brother, Talen, had ended up trying to tackle each other on a rope stretched over a river. They’d crashed into the water, both swearing and throwing punches.
Jase had waved his hand, and a wall of ice had risen from the rushing water. Talen had broken his hand trying to punch through.
Then, in typical Kayrs fashion, they’d laughed their asses off. Jase had been charming, fun, and free, and she’d instantly been in love. In fact, she’d angled close to him at dinner that night, and he’d tried to teach her how to control the air. That was when she could still create fire, so she’d popped his oxygen molecules.
His sexy smile had stayed with her for years.
She returned to the future, wondering when he’d last smiled. Her heart clutched. What the demons must’ve done to him to destroy his gifts with the elements. “I’m sorry.”
“I don’t want your sympathy.”
Her head jerked up. “No. You just want to mate me, brand me like an animal, and then use my gifts.”
“That’s exactly what I want.” No apology, no expression sat on his face. But the anger, the fury sizzled just beneath the surface. Fully alive. Fully deadly.
As a trained witch, one who had once been dangerous before becoming ill, she recognized a predator. Jase was all predator. Training whispered for her to keep the danger in sight. Even so, an odd, feminine instinct unfolded within her. The need to help—the need to heal. Could she help him? “I won’t be used.”
“We’ll both be used, sweetheart.” The endearment mocked them both. “But we’ll get what we want.”
She stood, no longer able to sit and discuss revenge and forever. “What is it I want, Jase?”
“You want to live.” He unfolded his length, standing at least a foot-and-a-half taller than she. Reaching out, he ran his finger down the side of her face. “You used to like me, Brenna Dunne.”
The gentle touch slid right under her defenses and zinged around, warming her abdomen. Her breath quickened. Vulnerability and need battled through her at his obvious manipulation. “I don’t know you anymore.”
His upper lip twisted. “Nobody knows me anymore.” The scar stood out, even on his bronze skin. “I won’t hurt you.”
So much for being over her childhood crush. Deep down, a base part of her awoke with the thought that he wanted to mate her. She didn’t want to die, and she’d love to help him regain his gift. Hell, five minutes in his presence, and she wanted to jump him. But to mate out of necessity? “I don’t know.”
He gave a quick nod. “You have time to think about it.” Calloused fingers slid the shirt off her left shoulder.
Cool air brushed her. Awareness flushed through her, but the chair kept her from stepping back. “What are you doing?” she breathed.
His gaze dropped to her neck. “I’m going to bite you, and then you’re going to bite me.”
Her lungs seized. She shook her head, dislodging his fingers. “Why?”
“To feel better.” His thumb and forefinger grasped her chin, tilting her head back. “My blood will give you temporary strength, but I need to bite you first so your body can take it.” The intensity of his gaze slammed awareness through her blood. “If you’re going to consider my offer, I’d prefer you remembered how it felt to be at full strength.”
Temptation smacked up against caution. Heat flushed through her from the firm hold on her chin. Commanding and strong, Jase tempted her in a frightening, primal way.
Taking his blood once wouldn’t create any sort of bond, and the idea of having strength again, even temporarily, swelled her with hope. Curiosity stretched awake. Years ago, when they’d both been healthy and unharmed, she’d had more than one fantasy of his taking her blood. “All right.”
His fangs dropped—low and wicked.
Intrigue hummed beneath her skin.
Releasing her chin, he slid his palm down her bicep and around her waist. With ease and deliberation, he lifted her with one muscled arm.
The intrigue shot into desire. His easy strength fluttered need around her body to thrum between her legs.
His free hand tangled in her hair and tugged her head to the side. Her fingers curled over his hard shoulders.
Lowering his head, he enclosed her neck with his mouth. The sharp points slid into her flesh.
Her breath caught. She opened her mouth, her mind swirling. Her nipples pebbled against his chest. Need ripped through her blood as his mouth pulled. Images of his mouth exploring her body in other ways flashed in picture-form through her brain, and she moaned.
Slowly, the deadly points retracted, and he licked the wound. His tongue was slightly abrasive. She shivered.
He set her down. She released his shoulders and glanced up at his face.
Lust shimmered in his eyes, and crimson spiraled across his high cheekbones. His fingers remained tangled in her hair. Keeping her gaze, he lifted his free wrist and slashed with his fangs. Securing her, he slid his bleeding wrist against her lips.
The moment held much more intimacy than she’d expected. Tingles jabbed her mouth. She opened, and the liquid slid in.
She drank, and sparkles popped down her throat. Electricity shot inside her veins. It was almost too much. She turned away, and he removed his wrist. Tightening his grip, he tugged her back around to face him.
Her gaze wide on his, her veins flashing with power, she licked the remaining blood off her lips.
His eyes flared. His lids dropped to half-mast.
Then his mouth took hers.
Hot, desperate, he kissed her hard. She opened her mouth in reaction, and he dove in. Seeking, taking, he swept inside.
Lava bubbled through her veins, and her nerves fired. Desire crashed into her with an unnatural force. She’d thought she’d been kissed before. Not so. Or maybe this wasn’t just a kiss.
It was a claiming. Her body ignited. Her heart rammed into full gallop.
Heat and hard male stepped into her.
He held her tight, the kiss fierce and deep—teeming with hurt, loneliness, and hope. All emotions he hadn’t shown. With emotions, maybe he couldn’t remember how to show. As he tethered her so she couldn’t escape, as he gave everything he had, something inside her shifted.
She kissed him back, accepting all he was. All he could be. All they might be.
Finally, he broke the kiss and released her.
Stepping back, he ran a rough hand through his hair, his gaze shuttering closed.
Her lips tingled. Her scalp ached. Her sex pounded.
Going on instinct, she lifted her chin. She wanted to live, and life was full of dangerous risks. Always had been—for her, always would be. They both teetered on a precipice, trying not to fall over. Maybe they could save each other. She had to clear her throat to force out words. “I accept your offer, Jase Kayrs.”