Because if he went near Kari again, Ronan didn"t know if he had the strength not to beg her to Bind to him. If she did, he would be the death of her.
After laughing herself silly at his predicament, Avalyn agreed to bodyguard Kari at The Witch"s Brew. Unwilling to leave her to fate, Ronan watched from outside the pub each night.
He also waited for Tynan. The curse may have been the reason for the attack that nearly killed Kari, but whatever the other wizard was involved in provided the excuse for the violence.
Tynan would not go near Kari again.
Watching the pub while avoiding his twin added another complication. Ronan had not been home since the terrible night of the attack. With one glace, his family would see his altered signature and know that he had Called to Kari. Raiden, especially, would be the worst. Still, Ronan could feel his twin"s confusion turning to concern and he cursed. He had no bloody idea what to do about his family. He"d untangle that mess after he knew Kari was safe.
Suddenly, Avalyn emerged from the bar, her tall, curvaceous figure shown to best advantage under street lamps shrouded in fog. She"d always known how to make an entrance.
Ronan"s heart pounded. “What?”
“Your little human is smart. She"s suspicious of me.”
He raised a brow. “Because…?”
“Dearest Raiden paid her a visit.” When Ronan frowned, wondering when his twin had escaped his watchful eye, she continued, “He"s been there since the pub opened, before you arrived.”
Of course. Raiden was nothing, if not persistent.
“Then your brother decided to chat with me. Kari overheard that I once…knew you and surmised that you"d sent me.” Avalyn pushed her waist-length platinum tresses behind her shoulders. “She loves you and hasn"t given up. Some of her magical customers have taught her the Binding. You can"t avoid her forever. What will you do?”
Crush her as you did me? The air rang with her unspoken question, and frustration clawed through Ronan. He wanted nothing more than to claim Kari. He didn"t dare.
“What about Raiden?”
“He was his usual charming self. Found some bitch in heat within five minutes, and they popped out the back.” She leaned closer. “I can"t fault your taste in women. I like Kari. Which is why I think you need to explain your reticence…whatever it is.”
He"d never shared the family curse with anyone. If he confessed to Kari, Ronan would be hard-pressed to guess whether she would throw him out or laugh in his face.
He regarded Avalyn. “Can you just—”
“No. Not tonight. I have my own mate to take care of. See to yours.”
“She"s not mine. She didn"t Bind—”
But he was talking to air. Avalyn had made her way to a shadowed corner of the busy street, then vanished. Ronan cursed.
How could he quickly dissuade Kari from pursuing this…growing, glowing love between them?
The answer hit him quickly. Cursing, he pushed his way into the pub.
The boisterous, smoky atmosphere enveloped him. Even so, he caught sight of Kari behind the bar and refused to look her way.
He scanned the pub, looking for the most available human female, the most alone…
There. An obvious blonde, slightly older, with enhanced breasts and gobs of black eyeliner. The low-cut wrap dress left nothing to the imagination, and he felt certain she wasn"t wearing a bra.
“Drink?” He sat beside her, uninvited.
Her gaze perked up immediately, and Ronan felt Kari"s eyes like twin coals burning his back. She seared through his skin, all the way to his heart. Hurt poured off her, and it nearly killed him. He gritted his teeth and pushed on.
“Sure.” The blonde leaned in, giving him a clearer view down her dress, then dropped her hand dangerously high on his thigh.
“Or do you prefer to fuck?”
Ronan regretted the words instantly. Was that even possible? The human didn"t attract him. Damn disadvantage, not growing up in a house where mate bonding was discussed. What, if anything, had issuing the Call to Kari had done to his ability to bed another woman? Time to find out…
A naughty smile curled up her mouth. “Even better.”
“Let"s go.” He helped her to her feet.
She wrapped her arms around his middle and clung to him like an octopus as they made their way out the door. Still, he avoided Kari"s gaze—but he felt it every step of the way. His stomach turned, and his insides fumed with anger and shame.
“My flat isn"t far away,” the blonde purred and crept her hand under the hem of his shirt, over his abdomen. “Yum.”
Ronan closed his eyes. God, the stranger"s nearness was wreaking havoc on his ability to keep his lunch down, and everything inside him was screaming no! He neither needed nor wanted this woman. He didn"t know her. Certainly had no feelings for her.
Had issuing the Call changed his ability to take pleasure in a woman other than Kari?
He grabbed the woman"s face and planted his mouth on hers, tongue diving deep. He had his answer immediately. His body recoiled, and everything within him revolted. He backed away, shaking his head.
Weak and now sweating, he looked at the blonde. “I…can"t. I"m sorry.”
Then he darted off into the night. In an odd way, learning that he could touch no one but Kari was a relief. Now, he had decisions to make.
Kari unlocked the pub"s new door, which Ronan had likely provided, at exactly four o"clock. Every muscle in her body hurt. Her eyes felt as if they were sinking into the back of her head. It wasn"t enough that Ronan had sent a former lover to her pub to spy on her. But over and over, she kept seeing Ronan leave with the blonde stranger. Visions of their night together haunted Kari. Ronan taking the other woman to his bed, laying her out, and filling her with his hard flesh again and again, murmuring in her ear how good she felt, how she was his fever. She swallowed. Time to snap out of her pityfest. Ronan had made himself perfectly clear last night. He"d rather bed a different whore every night than risk love. The fact he"d issued a mating Call, then run away made no sense. Perhaps Tynan"s presence had provoked his jealousy, and he"d said what he thought would pacify her? Honestly, Kari had grown weary of trying to figure him out.
With a tired tug, she opened the door, expecting to be greeted by a sweep of chilled air.
Instead, Ronan stood on the threshold, waiting.
Panic flooded her, and she tried to slam it. With an open palm, he held it open and entered, no magic required. Stupid, really. She was going to have to face him someday. But now, she was wiser. Heartbroken, but wiser.
“Scotch?” Her voice trembled.
“I must talk to you.”
Kari glanced up at Ronan"s face, and those green eyes of his ensnared her all over again.
Beautiful man…black heart. Don’t listen. Forget him.
She disappeared behind the bar, putting it between them. “We"ve nothing to say. If you"re not interested in scotch, would you like something—”
“Damn it.” He pounded his fist on the bar. “Don"t look at me like I"ve cut out your heart.”
He had, and why should she spare him the guilt? “If you don"t like it, then leave.”
“I can"t. Last night was…a mistake.”
She"d learned this speech from Edward.“Of course it was. You feel terrible, so contrite and sick to your stomach. It will never happen again, etcetera. Have I got that right?”
“I— Yes. Exactly.”
“Spare me. You and my fiancé are cut from the same cloth. Man whores.”
He swallowed. “Fiancé? A human soon-to-be mate?”
Clearly, he struggled with human terms. “Soon-to-be ex-mate, actually. Women loved Edward, and he never missed an opportunity to indulge. Like you. Every time my back was turned, he went missing or I caught him in a lie or smelled perfume on him. It all meant he was shagging someone else.”
The humiliation of those memories flooded her eyes with tears. Damn it all, she didn"t want Ronan to see her feeling weak. She wanted to fling his licentious ways in his face and make him squirm.
Her heart had other ideas, and she turned away when she couldn"t control a sob.
“Kari.” He cupped a gentle hand on her shoulder.
She whirled and backed away. “Don"t touch me. You had your chance. At least Edward didn"t flaunt his conquests in my face. You propositioned her in my pub, where I was certain to see. It doesn"t get any meaner than that.”
Ronan winced at the sound of her former fiancé"s name. Cheating bastard. And yet, in Kari"s eyes, what he"d done was ten times worse. “I didn"t want her. I did nothing with her.”
She gave a bitter laugh. “You have a great deal of testicular fortitude to look at me and lie.”
He shook his head, his eyes imploring. For a moment, she was tempted to believe him.
“God"s truth, I swear.” His voice deepened, cracked.
“So you never even kissed her?” she challenged, wondering how far he"d take the lie.
He hesitated. “I—I did. Once.”
That was it. It! She had to get away from him now, before she truly broke down and humiliated herself even more. She ran for the back of the pub.
And still he shouted after her. “Kari, I swear it. And as soon as I kissed her, I knew I could never touch her. She made me ill.”
“Bad breath?” she quipped.
He caught her by the elbow and spun her to face him, his green eyes so bloody earnest…
“No. She wasn"t you.”
Damn if he didn"t have that sincere look down pat. Good line, too. “So you pondered this all night alone and not between her thighs?”
“After that kiss, I spent the hours alone, trying to discern how I could love you without risking you.”
“Risking me?” She paused in front of the pub"s private room, determined to hide, then remembered it was currently occupied. “That"s rubbish.”
And she didn"t want to hear his excuses. And she knew the fastest way to get rid of him.
Clutching the knob of the private room"s door, she pushed it open. Tynan rose to greet her with a frown of concern.
Ronan froze. “What the devil is he doing here?”
Tynan looked between her and Ronan, then back again. His heavy gray gaze finally settled on her. “He Called, but you did not Bind to him?”
“How did you know?”
“His magical signature.” Tynan scowled. “There"s a missing section that"s wrapped with your colors.”
Kari had no idea what that meant. “Whatever. I"ll never Bind to him. Cheating bastard.”
Suddenly, another man rose to his feet, this one tall, golden, formidable. Authority rolled off of him in waves.
She gasped. “Sorry. I didn"t know…”
The man approached. “Bram Rion, Councilman.”
With trepidation, she shook his hand. Then he nodded and peered around her at Tynan. “I hope she"s the only human here who knows about us. That"s one more than we need.”
“She"s the only one,” Tynan assured.
Bram frowned, displeasure evident. Then he speared Ronan with a glance. “Ronan Wolvesey. In a pickle, as usual, I see.” Then Bram turned back to Tynan. “I hope their love life isn"t more important than Mathias running loose, turning masses of humans into soulless minions. Are we ready to discuss reality?”
Ronan stared at Bram, a wizard he hadn"t seen in decades. He and the man"s sister, Sabelle, had played together as children, but now wasn"t the time for pleasantries.
“Did you say Mathias is running loose? Not Mathias D"Arc. He was exiled—”
“And he broke free over a month ago. He attacked the MacKinnetts and killed the witch Tynan planned to mate.”
Did that mean Tynan had no designs on Kari? Or had he latched onto her to replace the woman he had lost?
“Mathias has been killing innocents and wreaking havoc since.”
Trying to wrap his mind around something that should be impossible, he stared at Bram.
“You said he"s creating soulless minions as well. Anarki?”
“Indeed. We"re up to our elbows fighting them. And they"re impervious to magic.
Mathias is creating them faster than we can kill them.”
Ronan scrubbed a hand down his face. “We?”
Bram and Tynan exchanged a glance. “The Doomsday Brethren. We"ve banded together to defeat Mathias.”
Ronan"s blood ran cold. Rhea had mentioned the group just before attacking. His instinct to protect Kari went on alert.
The “Brethren” part made sense, as another group with that name had fought Mathias centuries ago. But “Doomsday?” Only one object in magical lore bore that moniker.
“Doomsday, as in the Doomsday Diary, Morganna le Fay"s enchanted book?”
“That grants its user any power, even to destroy the world? Yes, the very one,” Bram quipped. “We recovered it a few weeks past. So our mission includes keeping it from Mathias.”