Fear gripped her heart. He was losing his struggle with his dark half-if he hadn't lost already. "Please, I'm sorry," she whispered. "I didn't mean-"
"Never mind. The truth is, you're right. You should be afraid of me. In fact, you need to stay as far from me as you can get."
"I can't do that."
"Don't worry. I'll do it for you." His green eyes were blank marbles as he held her gaze for a long moment, then turned and slammed out.
Melina looked shaken. "My God. His eyes . . . That wasn't Kalen."
I won't cry. It's not over.
"How are we going to help him?" she asked Melina. "Do you think we could try dosing him with the new sedative we've been using on Micah? It's helped him, so why not Kalen?"
"Because we're fighting dark magic here, my friend. I think being sedated will only lower his defenses all the way, leaving him completely vulnerable to the Unseelie's influence." Melina shook her head. "At this point, Kalen is the one who's going to have to save himself."
Mac was terribly afraid her friend was right.
* * *
Mac thought he was capable of harming her. Possibly their child.
Nothing could have broken his heart more effectively than hearing that from his mate's lips-except knowing it was entirely possible she was right.
Weary, Kalen paused at the end of the hallway and fought the urge to see Sariel. On the way back to the compound, he'd taken his time. Had fought hard to regain some control over his dark half, and the closer he came to Mackenzie, the more his mind cleared. But not all the way. The need to kill was agonizing. But he had to see the prince, or else he'd be driven out of his mind not knowing if he could resist the compulsion to follow through on Malik's orders.
Outside Sariel's room he knocked and then went on inside. Sariel was sitting on the edge of the bed, dressed in a pair of loose-fitting pants and a shirt that was slit on the back to accommodate his wings.
"Hello, Sorcerer. I'm getting out of here today, or I'm supposed to," the faery told him with a smile.
"Good for you." The flat tone of his voice was unintentional, but it quickly told the prince that something was off.
"What's wrong?" The Fae's brow furrowed.
"I'm supposed to kill you. You get that, right?"
To his surprise, the prince gave a soft laugh. "Am I supposed to be shocked? Afraid? Let me remind you of something, fledgling. I'm more than eleven thousand years old. Can you wrap your brain around that number? Do you actually believe in all that time nobody has ever wanted me dead? I'm a prince of my kind, Kalen. Besides my sire, enemies abound. Been there, done that, got the merit badge in survival, as humans say."
"You're being awfully flip about this."
"Not at all. Simply realistic." Sariel stood, his height equal to Kalen's. He didn't appear to be the least bit alarmed by any threat the Sorcerer might pose. "You could certainly try to harm me and, like the witch, you might succeed if you catch me off guard, not to mention that I'm healing and my system hasn't yet adjusted well to being in this realm. But make no mistake-even with all these disadvantages, I possess power beyond your wildest imagination."
He delivered this statement with such confidence, it gave Kalen pause. "You're saying Malik sent me on a suicide mission, then?"
The prince looked thoughtful. "I don't know. Does he have reason to believe your abilities are equal to mine-other than being Fae yourself?"
Here came the hard part. He took a deep breath. "Because Malik claims to be my father-and he says you're my half brother. Can you wrap your brain around that?"
Sariel's mouth fell open. "Great gods." He stared at Kalen for a few moments before he nodded. "My brother? That would make perfect sense, that sick old asshole."
"Do you think it's true? Are we brothers?"
"Considering everything you told me before, I'd say it's highly likely. You do realize that I have several other brothers and that would mean you do as well. If it's true, you just gained quite a large family."
"Any way we can ever know for sure?"
"Not if you kill me," Sariel said pointedly. "As if you could."
"If we're related by blood, I'm more than capable."
"And you want to." Sariel observed him with a critical eye. "You're practically vibrating with tension, and your pupils are dilated. Your panther is close to the surface. I can sense that he's dying to rip out my throat and feast on my carcass."
"So badly I can't stand it," he admitted hoarsely. His panther growled in agreement. "And yet the real me doesn't want that at all. I want to get to know the brothers I've always longed for, and fighting the dark half is tearing me apart."
Kill the prince.
Kalen flinched at the order. "He wants me to do it. Help me."
Sariel moved close, laid a hand on his shoulder. "You're strong. And we must be related if you can resist Malik's influence this way for any length of time. Hold on just a while longer. I have a feeling the end of this is near."
"Yeah, but who comes out on top?"
A smile kicked up one corner of the prince's mouth. "Why, the baddest two Fae on earth, of course. And when the day comes to prove it, I'll fight by your side."
Kill him now, boy.
"That's way more than I deserve."
"No. You deserve more . . . brother."
No, you fool! Kill him!
"I won't do it," he whispered to his unseen tormentor. "Go fuck yourself."
Pain stabbed his head again and blood trickled from his nose. Sariel grabbed a tissue from the nightstand and handed it over. Kalen cleaned up and was about to say something more when the building's intercom intruded into the bonding moment with his brother.
"Alpha Pack to the conference room, stat," Nick ordered.
"That can't be good." Kalen sighed. "We'll finish this later, right?"
"Count on it. And be careful," the faery said, worried.
"I will." Clasping hands briefly with the prince, he turned and hurried toward the conference room. It seemed he could draw the good kind of strength from his friends and loved ones to counter the evil Malik kept pumping into him. That would be what saved him.
Or at least let him live long enough to take out the Unseelie.
In the conference room, Nick was already waiting at the head of the long table, tense and impatient. Next to him stood General Grant, his mood appearing much the same. Kalen took a seat near the back and watched as the rest filed in, some involved in animated conversations, some quiet. But all talking stopped when Nick began, his tone serious yet laced with unmistakable excitement.
"As most of you have heard by now, the general is here to assist us with the problem of Malik and his Sluagh." Aric and Ryon and a couple of others glanced at Kalen. He ignored them. "More specifically, Grant's units are on standby and are fully prepared to accompany us into battle when we eradicate those vermin from the face of the earth."
"We're going to need that many soldiers?" Ryon asked, a tendril of fear in his voice. "How many Sluagh does that fucker have coming for us?"
Nick pinned Kalen with his steely gaze. "Kalen might have that answer. How many?"
It was a test. Nick and the general knew the number, but they wanted him to reveal what Malik had told him. First, he tried to strengthen the mental wall between him and the Unseelie, but it was shaky at best.
"Hundreds," he said. The throbbing started in his temples, but he pushed on. "They're amassing in the Shoshone, far from civilization. He ordered m-me to lower the shields on the c-compound and . . ."
The pain got so bad the rest of the words were strangled in his throat. Hanging his head, he breathed through it as someone clapped his back in reassurance.
"Have you lowered them?"
Kalen shook his head. "No. They won't get in here." He'd die first. They heard that without him saying it out loud.
"All right. We'll face that battle soon enough. But I've brought you here for a different reason. General, you want to tell them?"
"I'd be glad to." The older man stood with his hands behind his back. "Your team has been instrumental in locating and destroying several of the so-called research facilities where Malik, aka Evan Kerrigan, has been funding the creation of his super-shifters. With the destruction of the last couple, as well as with the death of Orson Chappell, NewLife Technology's CEO, you all dealt the operation a serious blow."
There was some agreement around the table on that, and some minor celebrating.
Grant went on. "Be that as it may, the main doctor in charge of the research, Dr. Gene Bowman, has eluded capture time and again." The Pack guys sobered. "But my contacts have found Bowman working in what we believe to be the last research facility in existence belonging to this group of scumbags. Destroy this one, and we've got them all."
"Fuckin' A. When do we start?"
The sentiments were unanimous-the team couldn't wait to get the job done. But Grant wasn't finished.
"Of the enemy, take no prisoners. Of the survivors, bring them home. And there's one more thing-my source indicates that one of the survivors is very special." When he paused, no one so much as breathed. "We believe that Phoenix is among the captives."
There was stunned silence-and then an explosion of questions and exclamations. Nix had gone missing at the same time as Micah and the others. Where had Nix been? How did he get there? Grant held up a hand and shook his head.
"Terry and Jonas truly are dead, according to my source. No one has found any information on Ari, but we're hoping Phoenix can fill in the blanks."
When the guys had calmed somewhat, Jax asked, "So where is this last research facility? I'm sure we'd all like to get on with burning it to the ground."
"It's nestled in a picturesque valley in California. It's a midsized building, situated in the countryside, quiet and unassuming like the old church they used before. Seems to be a favorite MO. But watch for traps, as always."
"Any questions?" Nick called over their excited murmuring.
Rowan piped up. "Just one-when do we leave?"
"Wheels up in twenty," Nick said. "So go put on your party dresses."
That earned a few snickers as chairs scraped and boots clomped. Micah stood back as they filed out, clearly bleak at being left behind again. But the poor bastard was simply in no shape to go along. Rowan, his sister, gave him a fierce hug before hurrying after Aric.
Kalen couldn't pass the man by without saying something. "Soon, big guy. Right?"
"Yeah." Without another word, Micah turned and shuffled off. He looked so alone, even though he was surrounded by friends.
Kalen understood exactly how he felt.
* * *
The flight from Wyoming to California was short but turbulent. Very fitting, when Kalen thought about it. By the time they landed the two Hueys a couple of miles from the suspected research facility, he was ready to toss his cookies. A military man he was not. If he could've magically transported the whole bunch of them, he would've.
They scrambled off the copters, and those that preferred to carry checked their weapons. Kalen much preferred to be his own weapon, thank you very much. He didn't care for guns, though he'd use one if he had to.
As they followed Nick through the valley, Kalen tested his mental shield and found it still holding but weak. It seemed the more physical and emotional distance that came between him and Mac, the worse the influence from the Unseelie. Kalen's dark side was slowly overtaking his light, as Sariel called it.