"You're about to fuck up my life, aren't you, boy?"
He didn't object to his friend's use of the term "boy" even though he was much, much older than the general's human years. It was meant in affection, and was nearly his undoing. "Yes, sir. I'm afraid so."
Grant gave a quiet laugh. "Well, a cushy retirement was sounding awfully boring anyhow. Give me a couple of days to square things here. Then I'll be there. See you soon."
"Jarrod, . . . thank you."
"No need for that. Just don't tell my baby girl I'm coming. I want it to be a surprise."
Oh, it will be. For both of you. "Sure."
Nick hung up the phone and didn't move again for a very long while.
* * *
Kalen wasn't surprised to be met by both Mackenzie and Melina when he walked into the infirmary. The women stopped in front of him side by side, their stance more than a wee bit militant.
"I swear I'm not going to say or do anything to upset him," he said, holding up a hand before either of them could speak. "I just want to apologize."
"He's agreed to see you. But to be frank, I shouldn't even allow you near him," Melina said in a steely tone.
Kalen winced. "I won't hurt him. You have my word."
Shit! The shields had slipped without him realizing it, and he'd need to fully concentrate to shore them up again. Trouble was, his energy was shot from shielding all afternoon.
"You've got ten minutes. He's better but still not at full speed, and I won't have anything setting back his recovery. We'll be nearby."
"I'm sure you will."
Melina turned and stalked off, but Mac stepped forward and gave his hand an encouraging squeeze. "It'll be fine. He's in the third room on the left. Go."
"Thanks." Giving his lady a quick kiss, he headed for Sariel's room. Outside, he knocked.
He wasn't certain what to expect, but the sight of the Fae prince brought him up short just inside the doorway, guilt making another ugly appearance. The faery's cheeks were gaunt, the angles in his face more pronounced than usual. There were smudges under his golden eyes that indicated lack of sleep and illness. His long blue hair, normally a shiny sapphire shade, was dull and lifeless. As were the wings that drooped on either side of him, feathers hanging to the floor.
As he met Kalen's gaze, Kalen saw a weariness in those golden orbs that showed how extremely ancient a being he was, despite his youthful looks.
"Come and sit. I won't turn you into a toad," Sariel said in attempt at levity.
"I wouldn't blame you if you did." Moving to the prince's bedside, he took a seat in a vinyl chair. "I'm sure you hate the sight of me right now."
The prince cocked his head. "No, I can't say I do. What happened wasn't your fault."
"How can you say that? I let Beryl out and she nearly killed you!" He shook his head, trying to comprehend how the Fae could harbor no ill will toward him.
Sariel sighed, his tone resigned. "Kalen, the witch nearly killed me at my father's urging, not yours. My death has been his goal for the past few years, and these most recent months have nearly seen him succeed more than once. He won't cease until one of us is dead, and that blame cannot be laid at your feet."
Kalen felt anything but blameless in the whole deal. God, what must it be like to have your own father actively out to kill you? Kalen's dad had been a mean, abusive old motherfucker and he'd enjoyed hurting his son, but he'd never actually tried to murder him.
Yes, I want my spawn dead. I'll spread him on an altar in chains and use my own talons to slice off his wings. Then his balls and cock as he screams in agony, begging for mercy. And then I'll rip his heart from his chest and feast on it.
Kalen stared at the prince, shaken.
"Kalen? What's wrong?"
"Nothing." Gathering himself, he strengthened his shields. "Why does he want you dead?"
"I'm his only son, the product of his rape of my mother, the Seelie queen. My brothers are her legitimate offspring with the Seelie king who reluctantly raised me as his own. As Malik's progeny, I am the only being with the power to destroy him." He studied Kalen thoughtfully. "Or so I believed until recently."
Kalen ignored the prince's insinuation for the moment. "So why'd he wait until the last few years to go after you? You're something like eleven thousand years old, according to what I overheard."
"Yes, give or take." His smile was sad. "Though thousands of years are a mere blink in time to the Fae in general, some days it seems an eternity. Anyway, in most cases it takes millennia for us to reach our full potential. And when we reach our maturity, we get our wings as well."
Kalen's eyes widened. "Holy shit. That means . . ."
"Precisely." The prince sounded smug. "When you attain your full power, you'll get your wings, young Fae."
"Wha-how did you know?" he stammered.
"I've known you were Fae since the second you entered the compound."
"Then why the hell didn't you tell me?" he snapped in irritation. "Instead I had to hear it from Malik. And he claimed he didn't have a clue as to why I don't have wings."
Sariel made a face. "As humans say, my sire lies like a fucking rug. Don't believe anything that passes his foul lips, Sorcerer. I mean that."
"Okay. So how come you didn't mention my heritage to me?"
"To be honest, I wasn't certain that you didn't already know, and I didn't want to broach the subject until we were better acquainted."
"Fair enough. I guess Hey, did you know you're gonna sprout wings in a few thousand years? isn't exactly a great icebreaker," he muttered.
The prince smiled. "Oh, I doubt it will take that long."
He eyed the prince. "What makes you think so?"
"Your powers are quite remarkable, so I have a suspicion that your wings will emerge much sooner than mine did." The prince sobered, beginning to look tired. "That's also the reason my father has taken such an interest in controlling you."
"Yeah, but if I'm so damned superior, how can he control me?" Kalen asked in frustration. "Because he's getting pretty fucking good at doing it and I don't have an inkling of how to stop him."
"He couldn't manipulate you unless you already possessed a thread of darkness that he can seize and mold into something terrible and useful for him. You know this."
"Jesus." He sighed. "You're right. But why don't you have some darkness he can pounce on? You're his son. Not that I'd wish that on you, because I don't. I'm just asking."
"I was fortunate that I was blessed with my mother's strong royal Seelie characteristics. That didn't save me from being cast out of my realm when he decided to target me, but at least he has no hold over my mind. For what it is worth, I'm truly sorry he does with you." The prince yawned, blinking slowly.
"Thanks." He could tell the guy meant it. They studied each other for several long moments, and as they did, Kalen couldn't help but feel a budding sense of kinship.
Was it simply because he'd finally found someone like himself? Here was a decent guy who'd been thrown out of his home, left to fend for himself in a cruel world, just like Kalen. They had a common enemy. They were both Fae. And as incredible as it seemed, he'd one day earn wings just like the prince. Maybe he'd live eleven thousand years, too.
He just hoped he wouldn't have to live even one of those years away from Mackenzie, especially not under Malik's rule.
"How do I defeat him, Your Highness?"
Sariel's head nodded as he attempted to stay awake. "With your light and your love," he murmured cryptically. Then his lashes fluttered closed and his breathing became deep. Even.
Light and love? What the hell was that supposed to mean?
"Sounds like something a faery would say," he grouched as he stepped from the room.
Oh, wait-I'm a faery, too. Just not the light and love type.
That might explain why he was doomed.
He learned from Noah that Mackenzie was busy in her office on a personal phone call, so he strode toward the rec room. It wasn't until after he left that he remembered they hadn't been able to enjoy that shower together like they'd wanted. It would have to wait until tonight. In the meantime, they would have to finish their day drenched in each other's scent. Every creature in the building would know who the gorgeous doc belonged to.
And that suited him just fine.
Mac hurried toward Kalen's quarters, trying not to appear as though she was worried. But she had good reason to be.
Kalen hadn't showed at dinner. That in itself was cause for concern among the Pack-the men loved their food and rarely missed one of the cook's excellent meals unless one of them was sick.
She knocked firmly at Kalen's door. Waited and listened for signs of movement. No response. She rapped again, louder this time. Still nothing.
"Kalen!" Worry ramping up to dread, she started pounding. "Open this damned door right now or-"
It abruptly sprang open to reveal her Sorcerer standing there bare-chested, jeans slung low on his hips. His hair was rumpled in sexy disarray and he blinked as though he'd been napping. "Or you'll huff and puff and blow my house down?"
She scowled at him, determined not to let his mouthwatering, half-naked bod distract her. "I just happen to know a few wolves who would help me with that. Are you going to let me in or should I go fetch a couple?"
He gave her a lazy smile. "Feisty, aren't we? By all means, come in."
Stepping aside, he let her in and then closed the door behind them. Immediately he pounced, spinning her around and backing her against the wall in the small foyer. He looked just like a panther, she thought, jewel-green eyes glittering in the dimly lit apartment, expression hungry. Dangerous.
His mouth swooped down, capturing hers, his tongue thrusting inside. He kissed her like a starving man, causing every nerve in her body to tingle with delight. His lean hardness felt so good, and he smelled even better. Like the forest and pine, with a hint of musk. Raw and male.
He pulled back some, giving her a heavy-lidded look of pure need, and a prickle of alarm skittered along her spine. Not because of how much he obviously wanted her, but because the dark Sorcerer was back. The wicked one who would take no prisoners, show no mercy.
As if sensing her unease, he cupped her face and whispered, "I'll never hurt you. Never. I'd die first."
"I believe you." She laid a hand on his chest, feeling his heart beating so hard. Strong and steady. Like his gaze, full of fierce determination to ward off the shadows. For her. "Take me to bed. Please."
With a growl, he lifted her into his arms and strode for his bedroom. She'd never been inside his place, but it was the same layout as the ones belonging to the other Pack members, only more sparse in furnishings. There were no decorations or personal touches at all. Given his background, that wasn't surprising, but it was sad. She'd change that if he'd allow it.
In his room, he set her gently on the covers as though she were the most precious gift on earth. Pulse jumping, she eyed him as he slid off his jeans and underwear, leaving him naked. The man was a delicious feast for the senses. Such a bad boy with those black painted fingernails and kohl-rimmed eyes.
She'd always had a thing for bad boys. Didn't a lot of good girls?
"I missed you at dinner."
"I fell asleep," he said as he knelt on the bed and crawled toward her.
"Aren't you hungry?"
"Oh, yeah." His lips curved up and he reached for the button on her pants. "Don't know why you even bothered to put these back on."