Then again, perhaps he always shagged women with such…enthusiasm. Bloody cheerful thought.
Without question, their friendship was forever altered. The casual rapport she"d always worked to maintain was gone. He"d seared himself into her psyche forever. Damn, why had she impulsively leapt into bed with him on the flimsy hope he would realize she was his mate?
What next? Would Ronan return to The Witch"s Brew and, business as usual, bed a different woman every night? The dozens of times she"d seen him leave the pub with another woman paraded through her head. She sat up, grabbing her midsection as her stomach lurched.
She couldn"t see that again. Ever. Being with Ronan this way last night, so intimately, him behaving as if she truly mattered, she"d fallen a bit in love with him. Head over heels for him, if she was honest.
It seemed unlikely he shared her deep, abiding feelings.
So…if she wasn"t his mate—and dear God, how foolish had she been for that hope—
when he awakened, would he treat her as he did every other shag?
Still holding her turning stomach, Kari vaulted off the bed. She had to get out of here.
She couldn"t watch those mysterious green eyes open and stare at her with indifference.
Frantically grabbing her clothes, she shoved them on. The sun was barely making a gray dent in the black sky, so it must be pitifully early. She had no idea where she was. Had no auto, no money for a taxi. Bloody disaster!
Once dressed, she opened the bedroom door and stepped into a darkened hall. Long, narrow. Immediately, she had the sense that the stately house was old. A bit of weak gray light drew her, and she stepped into the room beside Ronan"s. Maybe a glimpse out the window would tell her something about her location.
She encountered a bedroom with every modern convenience, flat screen telly, gaming console, laptop. The room was clearly male, all dark colors and bold lines.
A glance out the window made Kari"s eyes pop from her skull. This wasn"t a house, but a bloody estate. The expansive grounds with their statues and gazebo alone proved that. The barmaid who"d grown up on the docks and never attended uni did not belong here.
Ronan had realized what her foolish heart hadn"t: they weren"t a match. Dreadful to realize that after falling helplessly in love.
She turned to leave the room, determined to find her way out back to her cramped London flat somehow. Instead, she bumped into a hard chest. Based on the dark, musky scent, not Ronan.
With a gasp, she glanced up at the male face in the semi-dark room. Same shape, same intent gaze…golden hair. Raiden.
“What are you doing here?” he asked, his voice sharp like the crack of a whip.
“Is this your bedroom? I"m sorry. It…was a mistake.”
“What are you doing in this house?” He raised a brow.
She edged around him to go. He grabbed her arm.
“Did Ronan bring you here?”
Raiden already knew the answer, and clearly, he wasn"t pleased.
“Isn"t this where he brings every stupid girl he shags?”
A moment passed. Raiden"s expression gave nothing away. “Yes.”
Kari had feared it, and still, the truth hurt. “I"m presuming all the others made their way out of this old maze and back home. Care to tell me the secret?”
Another hesitation. Then he sighed and put his arm around her.
“Don"t touch me! I may have been empty-headed enough to bed down with one of you, but that hardly makes me eager to shag you both.”
Raiden pressed his lips together. “Keep your voice down. I can"t whisk you to your flat with my magic if I don"t touch you. I must have a firm grip or you could disintegrate into a million pieces, never to reform. Painless way to die, but what would become of the Brew?”
Kari had no idea if he was lying. But she did recall Ronan holding her very tightly before transporting her here.
Though she didn"t completely trust him, she didn"t see any other options. “All right.”
Raiden settled an arm around her again. “Ready?”
No, but she must leave. Waking to find that she meant no more to Ronan than any other woman would shatter her fragile heart. She still might have to face that ugly reality, but better on her turf, after she"d had time to process her reckless rush into passion.
Still, some hopeful part of her didn"t want to give up on Ronan. When he touched her…it felt special. She felt special. But he"d never said a word to make her believe that.
“Wait! Is it true that wizards know their mate from a taste and use ritual words to attach a woman to them?”
“That is customary.”
“Does that usually happen…right away?”
Raiden frowned down at her and crossed his arms over his chest. “If you are hoping that Ronan will speak the Call to you, you hope in vain. My brother will never take a mate.”
Someone was waiting at the pub"s door the moment she opened for business that evening.
Tall, large boots, a hulking shadow through the window. Her stomach danced nervously. Had Ronan come for her after all?
Kari flung open the door, a hopeful smile on her face. It fell when she caught sight of Tynan.
She recovered quickly and pasted the smile back on. “Come in.”
“I"m sorry you"re not more pleased to see me.”
Kari wished she could be. Tynan was capable of devoting his whole heart and soul to a woman. Someday, she hoped he found someone to replace Auropha. At times… she wished just a bit that she could be that woman. He would never cheat, as her former fiancé Edward had. He would never seduce another woman under her nose, as Ronan would. But she and Tynan shared no spark. He was still grieving his loss, and she had lost interest in every male except Ronan.
“It"s not you,” she vowed. “I"m really tired.”
As she stepped back to admit him and flip her sign to “open,” Tynan shuffled in and studied her in the bar"s golden light. “Tired give you those whisker burns on your cheeks?”
Her entire body flushed. Could a big hole open up and swallow her? “You"re here early.”
He accepted the change of subject with a wry smile. “Celebrating. I"ll let you in on another secret you must keep silent. There"s a group of magical warriors fighting Mathias.
They"re called the Doomsday Brethren, run clandestinely by one of the Council members, Bram Rion. Just found about them last night. I bullied my way into joining.”
“They didn"t want you?”
“They assumed my loyalties lie with my grandfather, who is also a Council member and would be opposed to Bram"s vigilante justice…if he knew.”
The Doomsday Brethren"s assumption of Tynan"s loyalties made sense to Kari, but if he wanted to belong, she was glad he"d convinced them otherwise. “So you blackmailed them?”
He sent her a dazzling smile. He really was knee-swimmingly handsome. Why couldn"t she want him instead?
“They"ll learn soon enough that I"m loyal to anyone determined to kill Mathias.”
She took his hands in hers. “I hope this brings you some peace.”
Tynan opened his mouth to speak. Before he could, the bell above tinkled. In walked the biggest, baddest leather-clad man she had ever seen. Kari could make out nothing of his eyes behind black sunglasses, but sensed that his gaze zeroed in on Tynan.
A long pause later, Tynan shifted, subtlely putting her behind him. She peeked around his side in time to see the huge bloke with long, dark hair and bad attitude smile. “What do you want?”
Tensing, Tynan was clearly poised for a fight, but the other man merely slouched with a practiced air. She didn"t buy for one second that he was relaxed. “Shock Denzell.”
“Denzell?” Tynan"s tone rang with suspicion as he eyed the man. “You followed me here?”
“I hear you don"t like me.”
Tynan tensed. “I doubt you came here because you worry we won"t be best friends.”
Shock snorted and crossed his arms over his massive chest, then sent him a dark smile.
“You interested in playing the hero or do you have another agenda?”
“Answering that question may be hazardous to my health. Despite the fact you"re supposedly one of the Doomsday Brethren, you Denzells have a long history of supporting Mathias.”
The scary stranger raised a brow. “Verbal diarrhea in front of the human?”
Kari sensed Denzell"s disapproving gaze taking an instant inventory of her. “So you don"t trust me because of my family? You always blame a son for his father"s sins?” Shock goaded.
“Trying to convince me you"re not following family tradition?”
“I"m a bitter disappointment to Mummy and Daddy.” His mouth twisted bitterly. “Why do you want Mathias dead?”
Tynan briefly explained Auropha"s rape and murder. Kari"s stomach turned as she heard the details. That poor woman… How Tynan could speak of such evil without breaking was beyond her.
Shock, on the other hand, didn"t seem at all surprised. “Bram can use more blokes like you. Good luck staying alive.”
Kari wasn"t sure if that was a quip or a genuine warning.
Then Shock disappeared—literally.
Kari had seen a bit of magic before but to watch it, here then gone… Unbelievable.
“Who is that?” she asked. “Odd name, Shock.”
“From an even odder family. Lots of rumors that he"s half-vampire or infected with Dark Lust. No one knows for certain.”
Half-vampire? Dark Lust? Kari shivered. She wasn"t sure she wanted to know what that meant. Magickind"s world was far more complex than she"d imagined. Ronan had shielded her from most of the details.
Another indicator he doesn’t see you fitting in.
“I don"t trust him,” Tynan cut into her thoughts.
Shock following Tynan here seemed odd, as if Mr. Bad-to-the-Bone had been sizing Tynan up, gauging his motives…
“Watch yourself around that one,” she offered.
“I definitely will.” Then Tynan focused on her with a concerned stare. “But let"s discuss you. Dark circles under your eyes, whisker burn, and a sad frown on that pretty face. Need I ask who put it there?”
Kari blushed. “No.”
Tynan leaned in, sniffed at her hair, her neck. Then he froze. “I smell him on you. All over you.”
She gasped. “I showered! Twice.”
“The only way to leave you covered in his scent like this is to be very thorough.”
Ronan had definitely been that. Kari looked down, fearing he could read every thought on her face.
“Which would be all well and good, if you looked happy. What happened?” He folded her hand in his. “Do I need to be ready to fight him like any big brother defending his sister from a cad?”
The offer, even if delivered in jest, touched her. “No. I"ve nothing to blame but my own foolishness. I"d hoped that he would think I was his mate but—” she choked. He used me and I let him, stuck in her throat. She couldn"t say the words. Voicing them would only make the truth more real.
To her horror, tears stung her eyes and overwhelmed her defenses, falling before she could stop them. Immediately, Tynan came to her rescue and wrapped his arms around her.
“Oh, little one. You love him?”
She nodded miserably. “He doesn"t feel the same.”
Tynan held her tighter and kissed the top of her head as the bell run again. The door crashed against the wall. Ronan appeared.
In a glance, he took in the scene, Tynan"s arms around her, hers clasped desperately to him in return.
Ronan slammed the door behind him and growled. “Get your fucking hands off her, wizard.”
Slowly, Tynan pulled away from Kari. She clung to his biceps, her blue eyes round, stunned.
Ronan cursed. “Let him go.”
“Don"t hurt him!” Kari insisted.
Her words twisted the knife in his guts.
Beside her, Tynan wriggled loose and laughed. “You don"t have to protect me, little one.”
Bloody bastard even had an endearment for her. Ronan wanted to rip the other wizard apart with his bare hands. Using magic wouldn"t be gory or satisfying enough.
“You have no right to touch her.” Ronan took a menacing step closer, hate thundering through his veins.
“Nor do you. You made no Call. She did not Bind to you. Until then…” Tynan poured petrol on the flames by leaning down to kiss her cheek and stroke her hair.
Ronan knew the wizard was messing with his mind. Didn"t matter; the sight of another wizard"s mouth anywhere on Kari sent him ballistic.
And by Tynan"s smirk, he knew it. “I will return later.”
Ronan charged at Tynan, white-knuckled fists at each side, ready to kill the bastard. But Tynan disappeared, leaving nothing but air in his wake.