But she refused to give him up to play it safe. They"d overcome whatever stood between them together. No curse would beat them.
Grabbing his face in her hands, she pulled Ronan"s mouth to hers and kissed him, pouring all her love into the gesture. He stiffened, gripping her shoulders with tight fingers.
“Kari, no. I love you but—”
She cut off whatever he"d planned to say with another kiss, this one deeper, dancing her tongue around his, teasing him, tempting him.
He tore his mouth away. “I won"t risk disaster. The curse…”
“Won"t come between us again.”
“I don"t know how it can be otherwise.” He backed away.
“Ronan…” She taunted in her sexiest, come-hither voice. Then she began to unbutton her shirt, one button at a time.
His eyes bulged, and he looked as if he swallowed his tongue. “Oh, don"t. Kari… I can only resist so much.”
“Then stop trying.” She reached around him and pushed the door to her back room open, fumbling until she found the stark overhead light. Then she yanked on his shirt and pulled him inside, slamming the door behind her.
Kari drew her shirt off her shoulders, and Ronan closed his eyes, looking as if he was praying for strength.
“I won"t risk you.”
And she loved for his concern. “It"s my life to risk.”
“It"s not that simple.”
“I disagree.” She unsnapped her jeans and toed off her trainers, wriggling her hips until she could kick away her clothes, knickers and all.
Ronan stared. Hard. He swallowed, his fists clenching at his sides. “God help me, woman, you could test a saint. And that"s something no one has ever accused me of being.”
Thrusting his hands into her hair, he tugged until her mouth was just beneath his. Then he devoured her.
The kiss went soul deep, and Kari swore she could taste his anxiety, concern, determination…and love. Her heart flipped in her chest, and she knew she"d made the right choice. They must be together, curse bedamned, starting tonight.
With nimble fingers, she attacked his clothes, determined to pull them off his body as quickly as possible. Ronan ended the kiss and stared at her with eyes so green, they sizzled with hunger and promise. The look ignited an ache between her legs.
A flick of his wrist later, and his clothes melted off his body, piled in a corner of the room. Kari gasped and took in every amazing bit of his body, wide shoulders, hard chest, ridged abdomen, and the thick stalk of his cock standing up for her.
Eager to love all of him, she sank to her knees and gripped his thighs, taking him in her mouth before he could do more than cry out her name. She stretched her lips wide to take him, and sank deep until he touched the back of her throat.
“Yeeeessss. Oh, love. Your mouth…” He bucked up, sliding against her tongue.
She wanted everything between them to be like that. Perfect. It was up to her to demonstrate that it could be, that they couldn"t let a curse stop them.
“Stop.” His voice cut into her thoughts. “I must get inside you now.”
Kari was still guessing his intention when he lifted her and set her on a nearby crate, draped with a moving blanket. Inside were bottles of liquor, waiting for her to unpack. Instead, he gripped her thighs and spread them wide, crooking his hands in her knees and pulling her bottom to the edge of the crate.
“Put your hands behind you. Lean back,” he demanded.
His voice alone made her shiver, and she complied.
“Hurry,” she demanded.
Wrapping her legs around his waist, he shifted one hand to her hip. “Look at me.”
Ronan waited until she lifted her bedazzled, heavy-lidded stare. Their gazes met, and her insides crackled with heat. Sensual need poured through her veins, making them rich and heavy, even as her heart beat with utter devotion.
A moment later, Ronan drove home, filling her to the hilt in one demanding stroke. She absorbed him with a cry, feeling complete. Whole. Ecstatic.
Groaning, he set a fast pace, nearly harsh, as if he could claim her so thoroughly that nothing could ever take her from him.
Kari melted all over again.
He held her gaze as he filled her body repeatedly. “You please me as no other has. As no other could.”
Then his mouth crashed over hers again, and Kari was lost in a storm of passion.
Admittedly, before Ronan her sex life had been brief at best, but even with her relative inexperience she knew the feelings they shared, the sensations their lovemaking produced, were different. Special.
She threw herself into the kiss, gasping against his lips when his thumb slid over the swollen bud of her clit and lingered, pushing her toward the edge of pleasure in rhythmic circles.
Burning with need, Kari felt her body tighten around him. Swelling with need and love, she hurtled straight into a chasm of pleasure so deep and wide, she screamed. Her cries echoed in the large room. Breath, thought, and sanity eluded her until he raised her hips, leaned over her body, and filled her with his most demanding strokes yet. Then, with a shout, he followed her into the abyss.
For long moments afterward, they remained wrapped in one another"s arms, struggling to catch their breath and reclaim their ability to think. Ronan savored the bliss of holding her…because he knew reality and regret would quickly set in. “I won"t let you go.” Kari wrapped her arms around his shoulders even tighter, despite the fact he was still inside her. “I want to speak the Binding.”
Her insistence and loyalty was touching, but futile. “Kari, love, I want that as well. I have to research the curse more, find out if it"s possible—”
“I refuse to believe it"s im possible. If we heed the curse we"ll be separated, and it will have beaten us. Together, we have a chance.”
Why couldn"t he make her understand? “One that may cost you your life!”
“What sort of life would it be if we"re apart?”
A miserable one. She would, perhaps, fall in love again and marry some human. As much as the thought made him murderous, he knew it would be best to release her so she might find happiness. He, however, would be alone for the rest of his centuries.
Year after bleak year, that stretched into empty decades, lay before him. Ronan swallowed the bitter pill. Damn his foolish ancestor who had betrayed a witch willing to curse him. Damn his family—himself—for never researching the curse, doing anything necessary to break it, discerning if it was possible that believing in a curse gave it strength.
He was motivated to end it now.
Ronan kissed the tip of her nose and pulled away, clothing them both with a wave of his hand and a quick bit of magic.
“If there is a way for us to be together, one that ensures you"ll not be at risk, I will seize it with both hands and never let go,” he vowed.
Kari threw her arms around him and clung, and Ronan found himself grasping her just as desperately. She"d become his heart—his everything. If the curse forced him to give her up, he had no idea how he would bear it.
He leaned in to kiss her softly—and felt a disturbance in the air.
Quickly, he thrust Kari behind him and faced the threat. Instead, he found Tynan.
Another whoosh, and Bram stood beside him. Then more: a bloke with wavy brown hair and resentment broiling in his very blue eyes, a hulking wizard with a nearly shaved head and an angry mien, and a sophisticated-looking fellow in Savile Row tailoring. He held the arm of one of the biggest humans Ronan had ever seen. With black hair and goatee, along with an expression to match, he looked like one to watch.
“Ronan.” Bram blinked in surprise. “We expected an empty room. Kari said we"d have a place to hide from my all-too-nosy sister… Anyway, this is Caden MacTavish, Ice Rykard, and Simon Northam, Duke of Hurstgrove.”
“Just Duke, please,” said the one who looked like he"d stepped out of GQ.
“The big warrior is Marrok. I think you know everyone else.”
Fashionably late, Shock appeared, looking both sharp and annoyed.
Ronan whirled on Kari. “You"ve let the Doomsday Brethren meet here?”
“I have.” She held up a hand. “And before you remind me that you told me not to, I"ll remind you that that you have not allowed me to Bind to you. You have no say.”
Ronan looked ready to explode as he grabbed her arm. “I only want to protect you.”
“I need your love far more than your protection,” she whispered, then yanked her arm from his grasp and turned to Bram. “It"s all yours, gentlemen. I"ll close up the front so you"ll have privacy and—”
The door behind the warriors crashed open. Ronan looked up to see Mathias"s witch Rhea clad as scantily as ever, surrounded by a cluster of hooded figures.
“Fuck,” he heard Shock mutter to his right.
“What the hell are you doing here, Rhea?” Shock demanded.
“Your presence is requested.” The witch drawled nastily. “Call it a family emergency.”
“Since when is Mathias family?” Bram muttered.
Shock gritted his teeth as he shouldered his way through the other warriors and approached her. “What, think you"re my mummy now?”
“Your conscience, who answers to a higher power.”
Ronan sneered. Had Mathias so fooled enough of magickind into believing him to be good? Unbelievable but true.
Tynan looked ready to throttle the woman.
With a stern glare, Shock stilled the warrior. “Where am I needed?”
Rhea"s grin widened. “My friends will escort you there.”
Ronan watched the byplay between the big wizard and the small witch. On the surface, it looked as if Rhea had won the encounter, but Ronan had the feeling Shock was merely placating her, though his face revealed nothing.
“Once there, Shock, you can explain to Mathias why you"re here with these…people.”
Rhea"s gaze swept over them as if they were lower life forms. “I"ll stay behind and take out the trash.”
“Or we can just take you hostage,” Bram suggested to Rhea, stepping forward.
“I wouldn"t suggest attacking us. As you can see, we"re not alone.” She motioned to the score of robed wizards. “These Anarki are older and stronger than the last you encountered.”
Caden rubbed his hands together. “Mopping them up sounds like fun to me.”
“Aye,” Marrok seconded.
Shock turned and bared his teeth at Bram.
Before Bram could reply, he disappeared.
At Ronan"s side, Kari gasped. He soothed her by pulling her closer and squeezing her hand, but his mind whirled. Shock had likely saved his own backside, and Ronan didn"t respect that at all.
At the front of the room, Rhea laughed derisively like a warrior wearing full armor rather than nearly transparent knickers. “Big Bram Rion thwarted. How delicious.” Then she glanced Ice"s way. “Mathias is very much looking forward to seeing you soon, Mr. Rykard. He"d love to extend you the same courtesies he did your dear departed sister.”
Ice stomped across the room, giving Ronan the distinct impression Rhea had just baited an angry bear who would maul her without remorse.
Bram pulled Ice back by the back of his shirt and arched a golden brow. “I make it a point never to pick on those I can squash without even lifting my wand. Do the same.”
Ice cursed under his breath, and Ronan could see his need to attack in every line of his taut body.
Rhea"s eyes narrowed, clearly hating that Ice could be reasoned with. “The Doomsday Brethren too afraid of a mere witch to fight?”
“Too smart to expend the energy,” Caden tossed back.
Duke laughed. Rhea"s cheeks flooded with red fury. Ronan didn"t like that look, and eased Kari completely behind him. He needed to leave with her, take her from harm"s path.
When he reached for her so he could teleport her elsewhere, she backed away.
“Stop,” she protested.
He ignored her. “I will not lose you.”
“Lose her? You"ll all lose. You"ll all die,” Rhea assured and raised her wand. “And Mathias will adore me forever for it.”
In seconds, the fact the Doomsday Brethren were severely outnumbered became frustratingly obvious. Even as Ronan threw himself into this battle, he feared their seven against the opposing twenty would be a slaughter. And in the midst of it, he must keep Kari safe.
Magical trails blazed through the cavernous, semi-dark room. He ducked an oncoming spell, pulling Kari down, as he shot a paralyzing spell at the robed figure in front of him. It bounced off, as if repelled. A blast of cold coming from the creature radiated toward him as it pulled back a warped mouth to reveal skeletal gums in a menacing smile.
“Oh my goodness…” Kari sounded every bit as shocked as he felt.
What the hell was that?
“Know anything about fighting like a human?” Caden said beside him suddenly.