"Oh, sure," the lawman said amiably. "Wouldn't want to hurt the princess's feelings, would I? Ya'll have a nice night, Nicky. And don't call me again for, say, twenty years or so."
"You wish. This is only the beginning, I'm afraid." Nick sighed. "But we'll keep all of it away from the public for as long as we can. Forever, if possible."
Nick shook hands with the prickly sheriff. Then he and Kalen turned to go. That was when Kalen's body decided it was finished being abused for the day. His knees buckled and Nick caught him, placing Kalen's arm around his shoulders.
"Easy, kid. I've gotcha."
"That would be more convincing if you could walk on your own and you weren't bleeding all over me."
His side hurt like a bitch and his head was swimming. As they made their way through the house, Kalen took note of the others. His friends were all accounted for, battered, some bloody and limping, but alive. That was all he needed to know for now.
And these guys were his friends. No matter what lies Malik spewed.
He just prayed he could remember that in some distant corner of his mind when the darkness rose once again.
In her quarters, Mac stretched out on her bed with a grateful sigh. Nobody had clued her in about the fatigue that plagued pregnant women even in their first trimester. It was as if a giant vacuum cleaner had sucked out all her energy and left her unable to do anything but lie down for a long nap.
Despite her worry about the Pack's newest battle, and Kalen in particular, she was no match for the rigors of pregnancy. Her lids closed the instant her head hit the pillow and she drifted off into a deep sleep.
But her slumber was far from peaceful.
She'd been in this place before. A place of total desolation. Skeletal trees everywhere, no birds, no gurgling of fresh water. Fish carcasses littered the streambed, their rotting eyes staring up, accusing. She knew who had brought her here, but not what game he wanted to play.
"Show yourself, you son of a bitch!" she shouted.
Malik was here, watching and waiting. Trying to unnerve her as he'd done before, the night she'd first slept with Kalen. The night they'd conceived their child.
What was his purpose in bringing her here again? Mac was neither a paranormal being, nor powerful. She was nothing but a simple doctor. She was of no interest or benefit whatsoever to the king of the Unseelie.
"That's where you're wrong, dearest."
She shuddered that he'd read her thoughts.
He stepped from behind a dead, gnarled tree as he'd done before, and she sucked in a shocked breath. Stood rooted to the spot, frozen in terror. She'd never seen an Unseelie in true form, and Malik was every nightmare rolled into one being.
He was tall, with black hair flowing past his waist. Huge, leathery black wings were stretched up over his back and outward, blocking the dull sky. His eyes were crimson, set in a sharp, brutal face that managed to be frightening and strangely beautiful at the same time. His presence was magnetic, and she couldn't help but be drawn to him in spite of herself. Many a sadistic ruler had possessed that particular gift, and the Unseelie was no exception.
She could see why Kalen or anyone else would be taken in by the male. He was the seductive dark to Sariel's brilliant light.
"What do you want?" she demanded, hoping she concealed her fear-for both herself and her baby. "I'm no threat to you."
"True." With a half smile, Malik stroked her cheek with one long, claw-tipped finger. "A puny human like you cannot hurt me."
"How astute of you," she said drily. "So why don't you leave my dreams in peace? Better yet, leave Kalen alone, too."
"I cannot do that, pretty doctor. Despite his unfortunate failure in my latest test, he is too important to my plans for the future." The Unseelie's speculative gaze raked her from head to toe, making her skin crawl in trepidation. "I used to believe the opposite about you."
"What, I'm suddenly important?" She snorted to cover the fearful suspicion rising in her breast. "I seriously doubt that. You've got your wires crossed and I'm not staying here to listen to any of your bullshit."
But she couldn't escape him because there was nowhere to go. He stepped closer, a weird expression on his face. Almost one of . . . fondness? She took a startled step back, but her flight was halted when he grasped her wrist and stared deeply into her eyes.
"A mother should never underestimate her power in the world."
God, he knows about the baby! Gasping, Mac tried to twist her arm free, to no avail. "Don't even think about trying to hurt our child," she snarled into his face. "Or I swear I'll find a way to destroy you!"
The Unseelie laughed. "Such spirit! But why would you think for a moment I would harm a defenseless baby? Especially when I have a vested interest in his well-being."
Cold slithered down her spine and she stilled. "I fail to see how that could possibly be true."
"It's quite simple, dear Mackenzie." Reaching out, he placed a palm over her still-flat belly, his expression the picture of rapt fascination. "I had thought bringing Kalen to my side would be my greatest achievement, but now that triumph is twofold."
Her heart pounded. "How so?"
"Because now I'll have not only Kalen, but my grandchild."
Mac stared at him dumbly for several seconds before the full import of his revelation washed over her, swept her away in a tide of pure horror.
This time when she jerked from his grasp, he didn't stop her. She ran, his ghostly laughter chasing her into the gloom. On and on she fled the truth, tears streaming down her face, blinding her vision.
Her baby. Malik's grandchild.
And Kalen the Sorcerer . . . his son.
She couldn't run anymore. Couldn't cope with the knowledge. Fell to her knees and screamed . . .
Mac shot upright in bed, heaving in gulps of air as though she really had run for miles. Her pulse tripped and her chest hurt like she was about to have a heart attack.
"Just a dream," she whispered, looking frantically around the room to make sure the Unseelie wasn't really there. "No, a nightmare. That's all. Kalen is not that creep's son! And our baby . . ."
No. It just wasn't possible. She wouldn't think of it. Kalen didn't even know about their baby yet because there hadn't been a perfect time to tell him. And she sure wasn't about to upset him with what was either a complete lie from a meddling Unseelie, or was simply a figment of her overwrought imagination.
No matter how real it had seemed.
Gradually she became aware of a pounding noise that she realized wasn't just her heart thrumming in her ears. Someone was knocking, and they sounded impatient. Pushing out of bed, she padded for the door, attempting to shake off the groggy, disoriented feeling left over from her nap.
"Mac?" Nick called from the other side. More knocking.
"Damn, hold your horses!" More than a little grumpy, she turned the locks and opened up. "What the hell's going on?"
"Why weren't you answering your phone?" he barked. "We need you in the infirmary."
Dread punched her gut. "I was taking a nap and never heard it ring. What's wrong?"
"We've got a handful of the team injured from the op. Minor stuff mostly, but Melina and Noah have their hands full."
"Hang on." Disappearing inside, she hurried and found her cell phone lying on the kitchen bar where she'd discarded it on returning to her quarters. Glaring on the display were five missed calls and several texts from both Nick and Melina. Crap. Sliding the phone into her pocket, she joined Nick and they walked at a fast clip.
"He took a swipe across the ribs from one of the Sluagh, and he's worn out from pushing his limit by using too much magic, but otherwise okay. He's clamoring to be released, like almost all the rest of the knuckleheads."
"Zander wasn't able to heal any of them?" she asked.
"Not this time. He's the worst of the bunch, out cold from a hard knock to the head. He seemed okay while we were getting ready to leave the site. Then he went down."
Damn. A head injury was much more of a problem than scrapes and bruises. "Has Melina done a CT scan on him?"
"I have no clue. I'm just the messenger."
Once they reached the infirmary, she left Nick to hurry and find Zander. As much as she wanted to rush to Kalen's side, the Healer came first. She found Noah, who was bandaging a gash on Jax's biceps.
Noah glanced up. "Room seven. Dr. Mallory already ran the CT. I helped her get him prepped, but I haven't had time to ask her about the results."
"A CT scan?" Jax repeated with a frown. "Nobody told me it was that bad."
The RetroCog was worried about his best friend, and she didn't blame him. "One of us will keep you in the loop, okay?" He reluctantly agreed, as there was nothing else he could say. She turned to the blond nurse. "Thanks, Noah."
Flashing him a grateful smile, she jogged for Zan's room. As she arrived, Melina slipped from inside, closing the door softly behind her. "How's he doing?"
Melina waited, expression neutral. "He's got a pretty nasty concussion, and there's swelling putting pressure on his optic nerve. Both eardrums burst as well, and he bled some. When he wakes up we'll be able to better assess the damage, but I won't lie-I'm concerned about this. He's not healing as quickly as the other guys."
Mac nodded. "It takes a serious blow to injure a shifter to that extent. Has he regained consciousness?"
"For about a minute. The poor guy was totally confused and I don't think he knew I was there."
"Okay. I'll check on him and then see to the others. Who do you have left that needs to be seen?"
"Let's see . . ." She consulted some notes on her clipboard. "Aric, Hammer, and Kalen, all waiting in exam rooms. Thought you'd want that last one to yourself."
"You thought right." With a wink, she left her friend and walked into Zan's room.
He was asleep, collar-length dark hair feathered on the pillow. He really was quite handsome, and that wasn't just her penchant for dark-haired men talking. True to his nature as a Healer, he was kind and giving almost to a fault. There wasn't anything the black wolf wouldn't do for the ones he loved, and she admired that about him.
Moving his head, he moaned and opened his eyes. He blinked and stared at her in confusion, hardly able to focus. "Where . . . ?"
"You're in the infirmary," she told him, speaking slowly. "You tangled with a Sluagh and ended up here. Do you remember what happened?"
"I . . . yeah. One threw me against the side of the house. Hit my head. Still got him, though."
"Good for you." She smiled for his benefit.
"Can't hear you very good," he said hoarsely. "You're muffled."
Not good. Leaning closer, she tried to reassure him. "You took a bad hit, and there's some swelling inside. Your eardrums burst, too, so that's why you're in pain and having trouble hearing. We'll do more tests soon, but don't worry. Did you get all of that?"
"Sure." But his voice was barely a whisper, his lids drifting shut.
Briefly, she smoothed his hair from his face. "You're going to be all right, Z-man. Rest and float on the good drugs while you can, okay?"
But he was out again. Probably for the best at the moment. On the way to her next patient, she fretted about Zan's condition. Another blow to the head as bad as that one, and he could be in real trouble.