Because regardless of what Kari said or didn"t say, she was his mate.
New fallen snow blew in as the door opened. Ronan cursed when Shock Denzell walked in, his gaze hidden behind dark sunglasses as he canvassed the room. Damn, Ronan had really hoped the prick would stay away. Since Shock hadn"t, he rose to his feet, refusing to risk anyone attacking Kari again.
Before the other wizard took more than three steps inside the pub, Ronan stepped in front of him and growled, “Get out.”
Shock scowled at him as if he was a gnat. “Who the fuck are you? Not the pub"s owner.”
“Her mate. I don"t need you bringing more trouble here.”
Shock eyed Ronan"s magical signature with disdain. “Not her mate.”
That truth rankled, but he pushed on. Kari would not be in danger.
Ronan glared. “I"m not arguing semantics. Moments after you last left here, the pub was attacked and Kari nearly killed. That won"t happen again.”
“Attacked by whom?”
“This isn"t an interrogation.”
“If you want to save her life, start talking.” Shock crossed his arms over his massive chest.
“How do I know you won"t simply end her life?”
Shock shrugged. “You don"t. But how can you protect her when you don"t understand the threat?”
Ronan wondered how Shock would take the news, then shrugged. Not his problem…
“Apparently, the witch who attacked her is called Rhea. She was quite interested in knowing if you"d been conversing with Tynan O"Shea and what was said.”
The expression Shock hid behind those sunglasses was flat and nearly impossible to decipher. Something about the way his body froze, however, told Ronan that Shock was furious.
“Rhea is my issue.”
Though the other wizard was a bit taller and possessed of the mystique of all that leather, Ronan suspected that in any magical battle he"d quickly thrash Shock. He had anger on his side.
At the moment, Raiden would be beyond angry, and Ronan could channel his twin"s energy when necessary. The secondary energy had saved him more than once.
“Mine as well if she comes back to kill my mate.”
But whose fault is it truly? I brought the curse to Kari, and it nearly killed her.
“What bloody curse?” Shock"s pried into his thoughts with all the subtlety of a crowbar.
“What are you on about?”
He can read my thoughts?
“Bingo, Einstein. Take you this long to figure it out?” Shock scowled. “What curse?”
None of your fucking business. “That compute for you?”
“Many curses are crap, but…” Shock shrugged. “Your hairshirt to wear. I figured that since I know a thing or two about dark magic that you don"t, I could help, but if you"d rather handle it yourself… Fuck off and let me past.”
Ronan hesitated. Many curses are crap?
Sighing, Shock glared at him. “If you"re going to mentally repeat everything I say, this will be a bloody long conversation. Yes, utter crap.”
“Most of magickind doesn"t have the faintest clue how to create a strong curse, much less a lasting one. There are other factors, as well. Were you the one cursed?”
“No, an ancestor,” Ronan supplied. He didn"t trust Shock, but didn"t see how sharing this information could hurt him.
Shock rolled his eyes. “Unless the thing was done properly, the curse"s effectiveness to extended family is weakened. Was the curse placed recently?”
Ronan shook his head. “It"s been nearly a thousand years.”
“Unless this was some extraordinary wizard—”
“Witch,” Ronan corrected.
“Whatever. An old curse placed on a whole family by some witch who was likely both incensed and inept…it can"t last.”
“Dark curses fade?” he asked suspiciously.
He shot a skeptical scowl at Shock. “Why have I never heard this?”
“How much do you know about dark magic?”
Shock sent him a trite smile. “Exactly. Only those engaged in the dark know how to wield it.”
“So old curses don"t have to be countered or solved? They can simply…fade away.”
“Often, yes,” Shock confessed. “After a time, the only power they possess comes from those who still believe. If you do, the curse works against you.”
Amazing. If the leather-clad wizard wasn"t lying, then Ronan might be free. But Shock"s explanation sounded…fishy. Then again, what reason could the other wizard have to put Kari in danger? Did she pose some unseen threat to the Anarki?
“A human barmaid?” Shock sighed. “Seriously?”
Ronan scrubbed a hand across his face. Honestly, he wasn"t certain what to think.
Except…one way or the other, he had to tell Kari why he hadn"t allowed her to Bind to him. He owed her that. It was possible she"d still think he was lying or mad. But the truth would be out.
Then, he could either continue to avoid Kari and be utterly miserable for the next nine hundred years or—
“Oh, spare me the theatrics of the young and indecisive. Get. Over. It.”
Ronan considered Shock. “Why would you explain curses? Why help me?”
A smile tugged a Shock"s rugged face. “Tynan says Kari serves some of the coldest ale around. Who am I to resist?”
As Kari prepared to close up for the night, she searched out Ronan in the mirror above the bar. He still sat in the same spot, nursing a scotch the waiter had served him earlier, his gaze never wavering from her. She flushed, wondering if maybe Ronan did care for her, at least more than she"d believed. He had Called to her. According to Tynan, once a wizard did that, he never wanted another woman. Never loved another. Maybe she"d been harsh, overreacted because of Edward"s infidelities. Was it possible Ronan hadn"t been lying when he said nothing had happened with the other woman? It was equally possible she was rationalizing because she wanted so badly to believe him.
She"d been contorting herself through these mental gyrations for nearly two weeks and she still had no conclusion.
Again, she glanced at Ronan in the mirror as she pretended to clean a glass. Another woman approached him, and Kari tensed. The stranger was gorgeous. Fair hair and complexion, pouty mouth, generous cleavage—all the items on Ronan"s must-have list.
Kari wanted to turn away, but forced herself to watch, breath held. As with every other woman that night, as well as nearly the past fortnight, Ronan smiled politely and declined. The woman quickly left. Kari exhaled.
Was it possible Ronan actually…loved her? Was it possible that he had instinctively identified her as his mate? If so, why wouldn"t he want her to speak the Binding words?
Honestly… Why couldn"t she fixate on another man, a normal one? Human. An accountant, maybe.
Because she would find him utterly dull.
Ronan"s voice. It sent shivers racing through her body. She broke out in goose pimples.
Her nipples beaded. And, no doubt, he saw it all.
She did her best to turn toward the long bar and the gorgeous wizard with a polite smile.
His smoldering gaze wiped it from her face.
The kind that would seduce her out of her knickers and leave her broken-hearted again, no doubt. “I"m closing up. It"ll have to wait.”
She did her best to sail past him, but Ronan grabbed her arm. The shivers exploded into tingles. With one touch, she was a mass of need, completely aware of her damp, empty sex clenching hungrily. Of her heart crying out for his tenderness.
“Please. I know I"ve been a shit lately. Let me explain.”
“Explain?” Why he"d hurt her? Why he"d left the pub with another woman? Why he had acted like she was the only woman for him, then moments after that terrifying attack seemed to whittle her out of his heart with seemingly little effort?
“It will sound mad, and you may not believe me, but I swear…it"s the truth.”
Something pleading and honest crossed his face. Did she dare believe him?
Thrusting her hand on her hip, she sent him an expectant glance. “Go on.”
“The reason I told you not to speak the Binding and I"ve behaved so badly…I"m trying to protect you. I kept this to myself, fearing that telling all would only put you in more danger. But it"s also made you miserable. And me, as well.”
She tugged her arm free and leaned against a stool she kept behind the bar. “Tell me what?”
“My family is cursed—or I"ve long believed they are. Because of it, no Wolvesey ever takes a mate.”
Raiden had warned her that Ronan would never mate. Because of this curse? “I don"t understand.”
Ronan swallowed, his face imploring. “As the curse goes, any Wolvesey who takes a mate will be forced to watch her die and is doomed to be alone for the rest of his life. I"ve been terrified that mating you would be your death.”
Kari hesitated. It sounded farfetched, but what did she know of magic?
“When you were attacked so soon after I Called to you,” Ronan went on, “I was terrified that my need for you had killed you. My only hope was to put distance between us, forbid you to Bind to me…and hope it saved your life.”
“And the blonde tart?”
“You weren"t giving up on me, and I knew that after the terrible way Edward treated you that you would be both furious and disgusted with me if I appeared to bed another woman. But it"s God"s truth that I kissed her once and felt ill. Even if I hadn"t…I had no interest. I want you.
Only you.” He swallowed, frowned in pain. “I don"t know if we can be together. The curse may have faded. But…I can"t take a chance with your life.”
He looked so sincere that, despite his bizarre assertion, Kari was torn. Even if it was rubbish, he appeared to believe it. But one fact flared her temper immediately. “You came to tell me why you"ve chosen to tear my heart out but not ask me my wishes on the matter?”
Ronan streaked his fingers through his midnight hair. “Did you hear me? You could die.”
Slamming the glass down on the counter between them, she challenged, “I could die walking across the street tomorrow. I"d rather take a chance than spend my life in misery. But since you"ve elected to doom us both, rather than try to find happiness…get out. If you come back, I"ll kill you myself.”
Kari stormed away from Ronan, hoping to reach the back room before she dissolved in tears. Clearly, he believed this curse, enough to haunt her pub for the past twelve nights, his watchful gaze never straying. Even Raiden"s lone visit to her establishment hadn"t made Ronan budge from his protective perch. But damn it, he thought nothing of condemning them both the hell without consulting her. Prick.
Suddenly, Ronan appeared in front of her and grabbed her arms. “I must keep you safe.
Please don"t hate me for it.”
She glared at him with a stormy expression, knowing her pain was written all over her face. Let him see. Maybe he"d feel a tenth of the crushing despair she did. “If you cared for me, you—”
“Would do everything in my power to make certain you don"t die. This curse has afflicted my family for nearly a thousand years. It"s robbed of us of our ability to sense our mates as other wizards do.”
That took the wind from Kari"s sails. “You never sensed me as your mate? But I thought… The fever in your blood…”
Apology and regret crossed his face. “I know little about the instinct. No living wizard in my family has ever felt it. None have been able to say how the instinct feels.” He grabbed her shoulders tighter. “I can truly say that when I"m with you, I"ve never felt anyone more right, tasted anyone sweeter, held anyone who gave me such fever. Every other woman left my heart empty. But you fill it. Completely.”
Kari sucked in a breath. Was he saying…?
“I love you,” He murmured. “I don"t need an instinct to know that.”
Three words. That"s all it took for her defenses to crumble. She knew she should be stronger, make him suffer. But why keep them apart when it was the last thing she wanted?
Kari ran into Ronan"s arms with a cry. He held her against his chest, stroking a gentle hand over her hair.
“I love you, too,” she admitted between sobs. “I"m scared to trust you.”
“I know. Don"t cry, love. Shh.” He stroked her hair. “My heart knows no other.”
Slowly, the tears stopped. Ronan wiped her tears away with his thumb and a smile.
God, he was beautiful. And when she looked into his eyes, she could see the caring wizard she"d fallen for, not the remote bastard he"d played these past days. The gentleness he showed her warmed her heart. Ronan was a good man. Her man. She understood that he had too much concern and pride to risk losing her if there was even a chance his family was cursed. He"d been willing to sacrifice his heart to keep her safe.