Kalen blinked at the man. "You must be mistaken. She wouldn't keep something like that from me." Would she?
"Actually, Dad, I was waiting for the right time to talk to him," Mac said, her voice tight with stress and irritation. "So thanks for bulldozing right over me."
"Shit! I'm sorry, baby girl," he said contritely.
Kalen felt like his head was going to explode. He rubbed his temples, staring at his mate. "You're pregnant."
"Yes." Her blue eyes were clouded with worry. "I was going to tell you. There just hasn't been a good time."
Some thread of knowledge was trying to come to the forefront, but he hadn't grasped it yet. He was still too busy assimilating the facts to think about how excited he was over the news. "How long have you known?"
Her face paled and she licked her lips. "A few days."
A few days. Okay. He processed that and the unwanted information slowly dawned. She wouldn't have-but yeah. She fucking had. A hot flare of anger ignited inside him and built rapidly toward something very, very ugly.
"You knew," he said in a deceptively low voice that quickly ramped up in volume. "You sent me out to battle with the pendant around my neck. The pendant that should have been protecting not only you but our child."
The general frowned. "What pendant?"
"The one she's wearing that protects against evil. I gave it to her, but she took it off when we went into battle against some Sluagh and begged me to wear it."
"Mac," her father began, "what were you thinking?"
"I can explain!" Her eyes filled with tears as she fingered the disk in question. "It seemed safe for me and the baby here, and I didn't want anything to happen to you!"
But Kalen's rage was far from averted. "You chose to protect me over our baby? How the fuck could you?" he roared. He hadn't even realized he'd taken a giant step toward her until Grant was between them, a palm on his chest, holding him back.
"Okay, let's all calm down."
"I'm sorry!" she cried. The tears broke free and rolled down her cheeks. But Kalen wasn't swayed.
Malik pounced on the situation. Didn't I warn you, my boy? Do you believe now that I'm the only one you can trust to tell you the truth?
"You endangered our child, Mackenzie," he said hoarsely, grabbing his head in both hands. The pain of her betrayal was so great, it threatened to send his anger over the edge. "I don't know if that's something I can forgive."
There's something else she knows that you do not, Malik said, his voice sly and pleased. Ask her.
"What else are you keeping from me?"
Sobbing openly now, she shook her head in confusion. "What? Nothing!"
She lies. Come to me and I'll forgive your betrayal. I'll reveal the answer to the question you asked me not so long ago. The answer she refuses to give to you.
"You're lying," he hissed at her.
"Wait a damned minute," Grant began, his face reddening in anger. "My girl wouldn't lie to you. Maybe she made a mistake. But she only did that because she cares about you."
A mistake that could have caused you to lose your child.
"I can't-I have to get out of here before I say or do something I'll regret."
Spinning on his heel, he pushed out the door and summoned the rest of his clothing onto his body with a wave of his hand. His mate cried out his name, but he kept going. Faster and faster until he was running, nearly barreling into Ryon as he rounded the corner at the end of the corridor.
"Hey, dude, where's the fire?"
He kept going. But the facts chased him anyway, dogging his steps. His mate had endangered their baby. Sure, the wards over the compound meant that the child was probably safe. Probably. But nothing was ever one hundred percent. She'd gambled with a defenseless child's life.
That's right. She refused to protect your child. Just like your mother refused to protect you.
His anger and shock were much too hard to contain. His shift happened almost without conscious thought and his panther was set free. Streaking through the compound toward the rec room, he was hardly aware of the surprised shouts. A teammate calling after him, asking what was wrong. If he could've laughed, he would've.
What was right?
He bolted through the rec room, leaping and easily clearing A.J. and Kira, who were sprawled on the carpet watching television. He ran straight for the outside door-and right through the glass, which shattered on impact. Alarms blared. Somebody would have to fix that. He didn't give a fuck.
There was no pain from any possible injury. Only pain inside that had no outlet.
He ran through the forest for a long while, moving in the direction of Malik's cabin. The place that was nothing more than an illusion, filled with wickedness. So wrong. But he needed to know what the damned Unseelie was talking about. Was his mate really keeping something else from him, or was it a trick? If she was, he might not be able to forgive her.
But didn't everyone deserve another shot? What if nobody had been willing to give him a chance when he arrived in Cody? What if Nick and the Pack had turned him out? They could have at any point in the last few weeks, when it had become obvious Kalen came with a battleship full of trouble. If they had, where would he be now?
Right where he was currently headed. Of that much he was suddenly sure. Malik would have simply lured him in sooner. In an epiphany, it struck him that Malik was, almost without a single doubt, the one responsible for bringing Kalen to the Shoshone in the first place. Until now, he'd always chalked it up to fate that he'd ended up here.
Now he knew better.
The rustic cabin came into view and he slowed, trotting into the yard. The front door opened before he even reached the porch, Malik standing there in his guise as Kerrigan, looking as handsome and urbane as ever.
"You could have teleported," the Unseelie observed with impatience. "I don't appreciate being kept waiting."
Letting his magic flow, he shifted back into human form. "Tough shit. I'm here now, aren't I?"
A flash of anger sparked in his fathomless eyes, but then Malik's lips turned up in amusement. "Come inside, whelp. The last time you were here you asked me a question. I have the answer."
Kalen followed him into the house. Nothing had changed-but something was about to. The air was heavy with the weight of a secret that might soon crush him with the telling. Any secret Malik was excited to impart could only mean bad things for anyone around him.
"What is this answer going to cost me? You want blood?"
"I already have that," he answered cryptically. "And so do you."
Kalen suppressed a shiver. "Are you going to dance around this all night? I don't even remember the question I asked."
Malik walked to the wet bar and removed two tumblers from the glass shelf. Into each he poured two generous fingers of the fine Cognac he'd served before, his stance all too casual. But Kalen had no trouble reading the growing anticipation in the Unseelie's expression. His posture. He turned, a feverish light in his eyes as he brought Kalen the drink, handed it to him.
"You asked me, why you? Why, of all the powerful beings in the world, did I choose you?"
"I remember now." Kalen took a fortifying sip of the liquor, let it warm his insides as it went down. "I assumed it had to do with what Grandma told me. That I was born under a black moon, which makes me vulnerable to dark forces."
"That is true, what she told you," he allowed.
"But there's more."
"Of course. Isn't there always?" Malik swirled the amber liquid, took a drink. Then he closed the distance between them, standing casually a mere couple of feet away. Too close. "You are one with the darkness because it's in your blood, Kalen. It's a part of you that causes you intense pain to deny, and yet you fight it so." He seemed genuinely saddened by this.
"I feel it," he admitted. "All the time."
"There is no point in your fighting it any longer." The other male gazed into his eyes. Kalen couldn't look away if he tried. "You were born to be the greatest Sorcerer, the most powerful Fae in the universe. I want you to learn all that you can so that one day, when my time in the universe is done, I may pass the torch. You will rule as I have. You're the only one who can carry on my work."
Kalen shook his head. "That's crazy. I'm nothing like you."
"Remember what I said about blood. You were born under a black moon, which means your sire was a creature of power and darkness. This is what your grandmother kept from you," the Unseelie said earnestly. "Don't you understand?"
His brows furrowed. "Not really. You're saying that my father was, what? A 'creature of darkness,' as you put it? Dave was Unseelie or something?"
"May the gods damn David Ray Black for the spineless human worm he was!" Malik thundered, hurling his glass of Cognac across the room, where it shattered into a zillion shards. The Unseelie's fangs lengthened and his human glamour began to slip. Claws emerged at his fingertips, and his ebony wings erupted from his back as he raged.
"That worthless slug could never sire such a force as you! That is why he hated you so fucking much! That's why he beat you and your mother daily! Why he tossed you out of his home that night, so afraid of you that he almost pissed himself when he realized you were coming into your magic! Don't you get it, boy?"
Kalen swallowed the sickness rising in his throat with the liquor. "He wasn't my father? Then who is?" he rasped.
Oh, God, no. If there's any hope for me at all, please-
"You are mine! My son! You have always been mine!"
Kalen's glass hit the carpet. He stared at Malik in sheer horror.
Malik's palms cupped his face, sharp claws digging into his scalp. His dark gaze captured Kalen, refused to let him go. "I am your father, my boy. Your mother was once royalty, a much younger cousin to the Seelie queen who birthed Sariel. I talked my way into your mother's bed in the Seelie court, fucked her right under your grandmother's nose." He chuckled, low and dangerous.
"Then I waited for her to realize I had bestowed a child upon her. She would hand over my son at his birth, and I would take away the evidence of her shame with none the wiser. That was my offer to her."
"Which she refused." Kalen felt numb.
"Yes, which she refused, the stupid bitch," he spat. "She and your grandmother secreted you away to the human realm. There she seduced Black, let him believe the child was his, and he was happy. Until you were born and he overheard the two women whispering that he could never learn you were not his."
"And you left me at his mercy for years," Kalen hissed.
"I did not know where you were! When I finally found you, you were wearing your grandmother's pendant and I couldn't approach you. I waited and bided my time. Allowed you to grow into a man."
"Allowed me to suffer, you mean," he choked, shame and regret clogging his throat. "The pendant didn't save me from doing what I had to do to survive. You should have intervened."
"You grew stronger," Malik countered. "Because of your trials, because of the darkness you encountered at the hands of others, you learned to feed your own."
"So that's the real reason." He hung his head. "You let me suffer to feed this awful rage inside, so you could one day come in and show me how to hone it into a weapon."
"You needn't make it sound like such a harsh decision," the Unseelie said with uncharacteristic gentleness. "Are you not strong? Are you not ready to stand at my side?"
A bitter laugh escaped his chest. "Strong? Not so sure. Stand at your side? I don't fucking think so. I stand alone. You taught me how, remember?"