"That's good. I'm glad you were able to save something that belonged to her," she said gently.
He fell silent for a moment. At last she managed to extricate herself from his death grip and urged him into a chair. Taking a seat next to him, she held his hand. His eyes were red and he looked so lost, her heart went out to him.
"I feel like it's my fault that they're dead," he said quietly. He looked at her, his expression wretched.
She put on her therapist hat. "That's an understandable reaction. But let me ask you, were you there when they were killed?"
"And why weren't you?"
"Because my father had thrown me out."
"And you were only a fourteen-year-old boy. Therefore, there's nothing you could've done to save them. You might even have been killed along with them."
"Maybe, but I don't think so."
"Really? Why not?"
"They were the target of Malik's revenge, not me. If he had wanted me dead, I would be by now. I'm too useful to him to die. He's said as much."
She managed to hide her shiver of fear. They both knew that if the killer was Malik-and that seemed highly likely-the Unseelie could change his mind at any time. He could decide that Kalen was a liability he couldn't afford, especially if he failed to win him to his side. Through their bond, she felt Kalen's worry. He was strung out, on the edge.
"Why don't we go rest in my quarters before dinner? Zan was released earlier, so I'm free." She tugged him up and linked her arm through his as they walked toward her apartment.
"I don't deserve you," he murmured.
She burrowed close to his side. "Don't."
"It's true. All of the bad shit that's happening is about me."
"No. It's about Malik's quest for world domination. You had nothing to do with the birth of his plans."
"But from the time I was a child, those plans had something to do with me. He killed my parents, just like he's murdered everyone who's ever hurt me. And he hasn't done those things out of love-I'm important to him. Or rather, my power is." He gave a bitter laugh.
"But you're more important to me and to the Pack. Don't forget that."
"I'll do my best, baby." Squeezing her hand, he gave her a grateful smile.
The two of them continued to her apartment holding hands and she enjoyed their closeness, the warmth of his bigger palm enfolding hers. Inside, she slipped off his duster and tossed it on the sofa, then pulled him into her bedroom. He gave her a questioning look, hope and desire flaring in his eyes.
"Make love to me, please," she murmured, skimming a palm over his chest.
He sucked in a breath. "Thought you'd never ask."
She took care of him, undressing him as he watched her, his expression as vulnerable as a boy's. But his body was all man, as evidenced by the desire rising to kiss his stomach. He was breathtaking, made of sleek, lean muscle. Dark and dangerous. All hers.
"I love you, Kalen."
"I don't understand why, but I'm glad. You make me so happy," he breathed. "Let me love you back."
He undressed her with just as much care as she'd shown him, then pushed her gently onto her back. This time there was wasn't a lot of foreplay. A few heated kisses on her lips, and he parted her thighs, moved between them. Found her moist center with the head of his cock and slid inside. Made sweet, leisurely love to her with sure strokes, bringing them to a breathless peak. Then sending them over.
Clinging together, they rode their climax until they lay spent. And afterward remained entwined, soaking up the golden glow of their bond.
He sighed, sated and spent. When he spoke, his voice was filled with wonder. "God, that was wonderful. What does a beautiful, intelligent woman like you see in a freak like me, baby?"
Rising up on her elbow, she frowned at him. "You are not a freak. You're the man I love and I wouldn't change anything about you, except for taking away your hurts."
He squeezed her tight. "I just wish I'd been born a normal kid from a regular, white-bread family. Then I could be an everyday guy for you."
"Well, if you had been born any different we wouldn't even have met," she said. "Besides, I love you exactly how you are. By saying you wish you were different, you're questioning my choices and my intelligence. Is that what you mean to do?"
Sucking in a breath, he hugged her tight as she cuddled into his side again, and dropped a kiss to the top of her head. "No, it's not. You're right and I'm sorry. You're the one good thing to come out of all of this, you know that?"
"We are the one good thing." She nuzzled his bare chest.
"Yeah. You make the darkness go away," he whispered. "You're my light."
Her throat tightened with emotion. "Then hang on a bit longer and we'll beat it together."
* * *
Mac awoke to a persistent knocking coming from somewhere beyond the bedroom. Disoriented, she glanced at the digital clock on the nightstand and realized it was seven in the morning. She and Kalen had missed dinner and slept all night.
The knocking came again, and she frowned, wondering who in the hell would be pounding on her door at this hour. Her cell phone lay silent beside the clock. If someone needed her, why hadn't they just called?
With a sigh, she rose and donned a terry cloth robe, ignoring the ominous rumble in her tummy that signaled an impending onslaught of morning sickness, and hoped the visitor didn't wake Kalen. Her poor mate was exhausted from all the crap he'd been dealing with and deserved to sleep. But later she had something to share with him that she hoped would make him happy. The idea of telling him gave her a little thrill.
She was thinking about whether to share the news over omelets or take him for a walk instead when she opened the door without looking through the peephole-
And found herself face-to-face with General Jarrod Grant of the US Navy.
"Dad!" she squeaked.
"Baby girl!" he boomed, giving her a big smile. "Surprise!"
Instantly she was wrapped in a huge bear hug, the stuffing squeezed out of her. "Oh my God! Isn't it, though?" Oh, shit. She was almost always overjoyed to see her dad. Except when her new Bondmate was lying in her bed, sexually sated and snoozing.
"Let me look at you," he said, setting her back from him a bit. "You're lovely, as always. Almost glowing."
Imagine that. "You look rather handsome yourself."
It was the truth. Her father was still a very good-looking man, even pushing sixty. Everywhere he went, he turned heads with his toned, military-hard physique. His dark hair was more salt than pepper these days and there were laugh lines in the corners of blue eyes that looked just like Mac's, but it all added to his ruggedly masculine appeal.
"Thanks, pumpkin." He glanced to the kitchen with a hopeful look. "Got any coffee?"
"You bet. Coming right up." Please don't let the smell of it make me sick. She kissed his cheek, then moved into the kitchen to put on a pot. They were all going to need it. Idly, she gestured toward his crisp dress uniform. "Here on official business?"
His happiness dimmed some as he took a seat at the small table. "You could say that. Got a call from Nicky a couple of days ago that I couldn't ignore. So here I am."
"That's rather vague," she said drily, fetching three mugs. She resisted the urge to bite her lip, figuring the extra mug wouldn't go unnoticed.
It didn't. "You got company?" he asked, tone carefully neutral.
"Um, you could say that." Ugh. How awkward. "But it's fine, really. In fact, there's something I need to-"
"Hey, baby. Do I smell coffee?"
Yawning sleepily, her Sorcerer walked right past her father seated at the table without noticing him. Her dad's eyes widened and his brow shot up. Thankfully, Kalen had put on his jeans before venturing out of the bedroom, but given his disheveled state, the top button undone at his waist, and no shirt, it was pretty darned clear that this man was her lover.
Her enthusiastic lover, who wrapped his arms around her and gave her a soul-melting kiss while her father smirked at her behind Kalen's back.
She managed to pull away with an embarrassed laugh. She was a grown woman and this was her life, but still. "Uh, Kalen, sweetie. There's someone I want you to meet."
"Huh?" Confusion furrowed his brow until she turned him to face her dad. "Oh! Damn, sorry! I didn't realize we had company. I'm Kalen Black," he said politely, voice uncertain, as he stuck out his hand.
Her father rose to his full six-foot-four height, smirk gone. In her dad's place was the man who could-and had-made grown men pee their pants. "General Jarrod Grant." He took the offered hand, giving Kalen the unmistakable once-over that let the other man know he was being measured. And that the jury was out.
"Nice to meet you, sir." To his credit, Kalen didn't flinch. He stood straight and tall, meeting her father's gaze with a level one of his own, silently communicating that while he was respectful, he was no pushover.
"You too, Kalen." Her dad paused, narrowing his eyes as he released Kalen's hand. He glanced between his daughter and the man in her apartment. "You're the Sorcerer Nick was telling me about. You're the reason the Pack is having so much trouble with that Unseelie bastard."
"You've got the right Sorcerer but the wrong impression," Kalen said stiffly. "Malik doesn't need a reason to make everyone's lives miserable, but he's got a couple all the same, and his plans happen to include me."
"And what do your plans include? Balancing on the fence until you figure out which side you're going to land on?"
The temperature in the room seemed to drop about twenty degrees and Mac's stomach twisted. "Daddy, please-"
Kalen interrupted her plea. "That's a fair question. No, sir, I'm not sitting on any fence. I'm fighting as hard as I can against the asshole who wants me in his camp. And I'm determined to win, but if I don't . . ." He swallowed hard, but held her father's steely gaze. "I'm prepared to do what I have to in order to protect your daughter and my team."
Her dad nodded, new respect easing the harshness of his face. "If it looks like you're going to fail, I'll help you do it. Believe that."
God. They were discussing Kalen, her mate and the man she loved, losing his life, right in front of her! Mac's stomach lurched again, and she knew she was going to be sick. She clapped a hand over her mouth.
She ran for the bathroom, hit her knees, and heaved. As she did, her father's incredulous voice floated in the air. Made her pulse pound with panic and regret.
"Sooo . . . when the hell were the two of you going to tell me that my baby girl is pregnant?"
What the fuck?
Kalen made like a statue, stared dumbly at the undoubtedly badass General Jarrod Grant and searched for an appropriate reaction. Unfortunately, his brain short-circuited and he gaped at the general with his mouth hanging open and his heart doing a weird stuttering thing in his chest. Maybe he was going to have a heart attack.
"What? Don't tell me you didn't know," Grant demanded. "She's been rubbing her stomach since I got here, she didn't take a single sip of her coffee, and now she's throwing up her guts. And the kicker is, she's not really sick-in fact, I've never seen her more radiant. How long has this been going on?"
"I-I don't know." He thought back, trying to remember.
"Wake up, son. Seems like you've been so busy with your Unseelie problem that you've been blind to what's most important."