Ronan nearly choked. Such a weapon in the hands of a madman… He shuddered.
“How have I missed hearing all this news?” Ronan had no idea that recent matters had become so grave.
“You know the rest of the Council.” Bram shrugged.
Indeed. Very closed-mouthed, even to magickind"s detriment.
“You"re involved in this?” he asked Bram.
“I formed the group. Mathias must be eliminated.”
Ronan only knew of the evil wizard from history. He hadn"t been alive when Mathias last terrorized magickind. But if history was even half accurate… God help them.
“Agreed. But you cannot be here. You put Kari in danger.”
“You don"t tell me who to serve in my own pub,” Kari warned.
Ignoring her, Ronan turned on Tynan. “A few days ago, she was attacked by a witch named Rhea, who was looking for you. Tall, dressed like a streetwalker. Ring a bell? She blasted Kari with some sort of spell I"ve never seen.”
Tynan and Bram exchanged another glance, then shook their head.
Frustration pounded at Ronan as he addressed O"Shea. “Rhea wanted to know what you and Shock discussed.”
Bram pinned Tynan with a stare. Tynan shrugged. “Since his family has long supported Mathias, I wasn"t keen on the idea of his involvement. Apparently, he got wind of that fact.”
“I"m not certain anyone is,” Bram admitted.
“Who is this Rhea and why would she spy on Shock?” Ronan asked. “Or attack a human to learn about Shock"s conversations?”
Another exchanged glance between the wizards. They both shook their heads.
“Bloody hell, figure something out!” Ronan demanded. “My mate is in danger!”
“I am not your mate,” Kari protested.
Ronan sent her a look to let her know that denying his possession now would not be wise.
Bram sighed. “Shock Denzell is a member of the Doomsday Brethren…in theory.”
“Should we assume, then, that Rhea supports Mathias? And that Mathias wants to know where Shock"s loyalty lies and is using the witch to find out?”
“That would be my guess. Ask many more questions, however, and I"ll conscript you.”
Ronan ignored him. “Who else has joined?”
“I can"t say.”
“Who else must I keep away from Kari?” Ronan growled at Bram.
Bram stared for a very long time. “This does not go beyond these walls, and I"m trusting you only because you were my sister"s childhood friend and you"re clearly overprotective because of your unanswered mating Call.”
“Lucan MacTavish fights with us…or he did until he was felled by mate mourning.
Mathias took Anka from him while Lucan was away protecting the Doomsday Diary. We have been unable to locate her. His brother, Caden, is helping a bit. Isdernus Rykard and Simon Northam, the Duke of Hurstgrove, as well. Tynan, here,” Bram pointed to the other wizard, “Has just joined. An immortal human warrior, Marrok of Cadbury, trains us in human combat. And Shock Denzell plays the double agent.” Bram shrugged. “We"ll see whose side he ends up on.”
“A motley collection.” Ronan frowned. Those men were from all walks of magic and humankind, high to low, from dedicated to dodgy. “That"s only eight warriors, including yourself.” Ronan frowned. “How will you fight Mathias"s larger army?”
Bram gave him a tight smile. “We"re…working through the details. Interested in joining?”
His automatic answer should have been no. Wolveseys were noted for their achievement in bed sport, not battle. But…for the last few years, Ronan had felt aimless. What did he have to devote his time to now except protecting Kari? The real question was, would his involvement provide Kari more protection or put her in greater danger? And what would befall magickind if this group of wizards failed?
“My mate"s safety comes first,” Ronan insisted.
“I am not your mate.” Kari shot him a mutinous glare.
“Agreed. We would help you defend her,” Bram said, as if Kari had never interjected.
“You and Raiden would be good additions to our force.”
Kari scoffed. “If you could keep either of them from chasing skirts long enough.”
That did it. He wanted Kari alone now. Right now. Two urges hit him at once: lay down the law and kiss her senseless. She made him crazy with her vulnerable, mutinous streak of feminine independence. Yet that maddening backbone was part of the reason he loved her.
As if he sensed the shift in the mood, Bram motioned to Tynan. “I"m done bringing you up to speed. Let"s go.”
Ronan silently thanked Bram for being astute as they teleported from the pub. Finally, he and Kari were alone.
He cupped his hands around her shoulders and held her when she would have squirmed away. “Listen to me. What Bram and Tynan are involved in is very dangerous. You can"t even comprehend…”
The thought of Kari tangled in anything of Mathias"s making pushed him to the edge of panic.
She propped a fist on her hip. “You didn"t refuse Bram"s request to join.”
“I don"t wish to fight Mathias, but it"s possible the Doomsday Brethren can help me protect you. However, it won"t work if you don"t cooperate. Keep Tynan, Bram and the other Doomsday Brethren away. You don"t know Mathias.”
“And you don"t bloody know me! I won"t take orders from a man who tells me he loves me one night, then shags another the next. I learned from that mistake once.”
Though Ronan had done his utmost to be the bigger dirt bag in Kari"s eyes, he didn"t like being compared to Edward.
“I did not shag that woman!” he growled. Damn, how he regretted hurting Kari. Stupid plan. “In my heart, you are my mate. Let me explain—”
“Shove off. In my heart, you meant nothing the moment you left with your slut de jour.
Now go.” She sniffed, and the tears brimming in her eyes crushed Ronan"s heart. “And don"t come back.”
Ronan teleported to his home in a foul mood. This was when being magical sucked. A human male would never have a mating curse hanging over his head. A human male wouldn"t trifle over his missing instincts. He would weigh whatever feelings he had and make a rational choice.
Right now, Ronan felt anything but rational.
“So you"re finally back?” Raiden lounged in the doorway. Then his body tightened, his eyes sharpening on the outline around his twin. He swore loudly. “You Called to her? Are you out of your fucking mind. Do you want her to die?”
Ronan blinked. Of all the things he assumed Raiden would express, concern for Kari"s safety hadn"t been made the list. “No. And she was nearly killed a few days past. Did you know Mathias D"Arc has returned from exile? And he"s created an army? He"s killing innocents!”
“You"re certain?” Raiden"s expression changed from fury to astonishment. “Is that possible?”
So his twin hadn"t known, either. Little wonder. Both of them had been shagging their way through life, giving little thought to tomorrow, to roots or family. He didn"t want to be like his father, slowly aging and alone, yet still attracted to the sort of woman willing to bed down for the night with any halfway good-looking bloke. Since his father advised him that Raiden would soon be a father, Ronan had been surprised to realize that he didn"t want a child with a woman for whom he had no feelings.
Bloody hell, if this didn"t make him the family freak.
“Indeed. Not only possible, but real. Some of Mathias"s followers attacked The Witch"s Brew. Kari was nearly killed.”
“Of course she was. We"re cursed. You knew that.” Raiden raked a hand through his long golden hair. “Daft prick. She likely would be dead if she had spoken the Binding.”
“I stopped her.”
“Good.” Raiden nodded. “Resume your normal life. We"ll go out tomorrow night and—”
“I can"t.” Ronan closed his eyes. He didn"t want to confess this, truly. But neither could he lie, especially to Raiden. “Something inside me…changed. I can no longer endure strangers.”
“What are you saying? You plan to be…faithful?” Raiden spit the word. “To a woman who will never be your mate?”
“I know it sounds foolish—”
“It sounds ridiculously self-sacrificing, actually. If you"re attempting to deepen Kari"s feelings for you, you"re wasting your time. She"s already madly in love with you.”
And he"d hurt her. Deeply. After spending the night with her, he"d destroyed her feelings by leaving the pub with another woman. Shame roiled through him.
“Not any longer. She thinks I bedded another woman.”
Raiden frowned. “She thinks? You didn"t?”
Ronan shook his head.
“It"s been days since you…” Understanding dawned. “Are you utterly daft?”
“I couldn"t hurt her more,” Ronan argued, though that was but half the truth.
“Nor can you complete that mate bond. Or you"ll have her death on your conscience.”
So he must either break her heart or be her death. At the moment, he felt as if either would kill him. “Raiden, I tried to bed another woman. I couldn"t abide her touch, her smell. Her kiss made me retch. Literally.”
This time, Raiden had no sarcasm or growled advice. “I won"t ask if she was unattractive.
No woman has ever been so unattractive to you during sex that you became ill.”
“She was perfectly acceptable. Completely amenable. One kiss and I…” He shuddered.
Raiden stared a bloody hole through him. “Maybe another woman? Another day—”
“I don"t want anyone else.”
His twin paused. “So you"re going to leave me to our usual haunts and activities alone?
Though we"ve shared the same curse and taken the same path for decades, you"re planning to abandon me?”
Ronan tensed. This was it, the question he feared would drive a permanent wedge between them. “I can no longer be who I was.”
With a shout, Raiden turned and punched the wall. “You"d rather sink into your fucking fairy tale where love and happily-ever-after can happen for a Wolvesey? What you want, Ronan, is impossible.”
Perhaps, but that changed nothing. With everything inside him, he wanted Kari for his mate, to see her grow round with his children, to love her for the next nine hundred years.
None of that would ever come to pass.
“If it pleases you, knowing that I"ve lost Kari and will likely lose you as well is killing me.”
Raiden looked at him as if he talked to a complete stranger. Then he shook his head. “Did you ever think that, perhaps, I had feelings for someone?”
Ronan stared, stunned. No, he hadn"t. “You never shag anyone more than once.”
Raiden looked away with a guilty flush. “Tabitha carries my child now. It"s all I can do to stay away from her, to ensure her safety. It"s best for her and the baby.”
What a bloody mess. Ronan felt like a failure. He wanted to know how his brother could stand to share a bed with one woman with another in his heart, but he knew: close your eyes and pretend. But for Ronan, that was impossible now.
With a snort of disgust, Raiden turned away. “Let me know when you"ve come to your senses. Otherwise, stay the fuck away.”
Ronan sat in his usual table, in his usual corner. And he watched Kari"s every move from across the room.
The pub was busy for a Thursday night. Humans mingled with magickind without ever knowing they flirted with someone not quite their own species. Music blared, drinks flowed, people laughed—and Ronan had never been more miserable.
Kari refused to talk to him. The first night he"d occupied this spot, she"d never acknowledged him. By the following evening, she"d hired a waiter—a large one—with a shaved head and a skull and crossbones tattoo on one forearm and a fire-breathing dragon on the other.
Human, so not much of a threat to him, but Ronan received the message clearly: piss off.
Nursing a scotch, he watched the ebb and flow of the patrons for the twelfth straight night. He"d long given up hope of Kari talking to him. But he would ensure she stayed safe, no matter what it took. The one ray of hope was that Tynan had been too busy with the Doomsday Brethren to put in his usual appearance at The Witch"s Brew. Small favor, that. But one that kept her safer.
Again, Ronan wondered if Kari would be better protected if he actively fought evil, rather than sat her at the pub waiting for it to strike. Now that he no longer chased a different female every night, he realized he"d given little thought to the future. What would he do? A part of him wouldn"t relinquish the idea that joining the Doomsday Brethren would both give him purpose and protect his mate.