Well, they'd probably just end up making it worse. Leave a man in charge and it was bound to get worse before it got better.
"Is that clear?" she mocked. "Well, yes, and in fact it sucks. So fuck that."
In her bedroom, she toed off her work shoes; they were flats with cushy soles, but not made for a walk in the woods. Then she stripped out of her black slacks and blouse, which weren't hiking material, either.
From her closet she fetched dark jeans and a T-shirt, as well as her best hiking boots with thick, well-treaded soles, and carried them to the bed. In five minutes she was dressed, had retrieved the flashlight she kept in the nightstand for power outages, and slipped into the corridor.
Luck was on her side as she hurried to the end and through the rec room. That way was the easiest exit without being seen by those inside, who were on the other side of the compound. But she stood outside, gazing at the path leading into the woods, and shivered. Traipsing through the unforgiving Shoshone in the dead of night wasn't the wisest course of action. It wasn't like the compound was situated in a fucking YMCA camp.
But anger and desperation were good motivators. And they had nothing on the best motivator of all-her love for the man who was in so much turmoil. The father of her child. She'd do just about anything to bring him home.
"You and me are going on an adventure," she said, rubbing her flat stomach. "We're going to find your daddy, and we've got his pendant to protect us. We'll be fine."
At that moment she recalled what Kalen had said about the pendant not protecting against stupidity and shoved that aside. If she was going to think like that she'd never leave.
Opening her heart and mind to her mating bond, she switched on the flashlight and followed her instinct. She sent love singing along the golden thread as though it were a telephone line and she had plenty to say. When she felt the love flowing in return, she gasped and followed where the thread was leading her.
She tried to concentrate on putting one foot in front of the other. Not on the rustles in the dense foliage of the nocturnal animals foraging. Not on the call of a wolf that was natural, not a shifter. She reminded herself that there had never been a documented case of a wolf attacking a person, that they shied away from man.
The same couldn't be said of the grizzlies. But surely they were sleeping.
When her flashlight illuminated a tall, dark form ahead, she wasn't afraid. Her heart sped up with happiness. "Kalen! I'm so glad I found you!"
But as she got closer, she saw that the smile in her beam of light wasn't her mate's. Malik stood grinning at her in his true form, huge and frightening. His leathery wings seemed to block out the stars and his fangs gleamed wickedly.
"I'm glad you found me too, sweet. Though I'm not my son."
"He's not any more your son than I am," she told him, anger giving her courage.
The Unseelie chuckled. "He's my flesh and blood, dear. And yet you still want him as your mate. If that's so, then we can't be all bad."
"Don't put yourself in the same category with Kalen. There's no comparison."
"My, you're a feisty thing," he said in amusement. "I used to believe you were a bit of a pushover, but it's nice to see that you have spunk. It will make breaking you all the more fun."
Inside she trembled, but she summoned false bravado. "I have the pendant. It will protect me from all evil, and there's nothing you can do about that."
"Perhaps not. But it only protects the wearer, no one else."
She frowned. "And so it will keep me from harm."
"But not your mate."
"He's strong enough to fight you and win."
"Let's humor you and say he turns from me. All is not lost as far as I can see, because I still have a descendant to take his place." He paused, letting that sink in.
She recoiled, terror rising where confidence had been moments ago. "I won't let you come near our baby! I'll kill you first!"
"You and what army? And the pendant can't protect three people at once." He looked around pointedly. "But come now, there's no need for theatrics. We will all be a family-you, my son, my grandson, and me."
She gave a hysterical laugh. "Yeah, the Addams Family."
"Forget it. I'm not going anywhere with you, so you can just beam yourself back to your cave. And, oh yes, wait to get your ass kicked by the Alpha Pack. Because they're coming for you."
"So you're going to march through the forest all night searching for your wayward lover?"
"Sure. And if you'll kindly move aside, I'll get on with it." She was running on pure adrenaline. No doubt when she recalled this moment sometime in the future, staring up at the most dangerous creature in three realms, she would be amazed that she hadn't fainted.
"No need to go to all that foolishness when you can simply accompany me."
She swallowed hard. "You know where he is?"
"Of course. After the fiasco at your wolves' den, he came to me. Injured, I might add, and I'm not pleased about that."
"Neither am I, so that's one thing we agree on." She studied the Unseelie. "How do I know you're telling the truth that he's there and you're not trying to trick me?"
"The pendant will know," he said, pointing to the silver disk. "I won't be able to touch you if my intent is other than what I say. I will take you to your mate."
After a brief hesitation, she nodded. She had to get to Kalen. That was all that mattered. "Okay."
Reaching out, he placed a hand on her shoulder. In an instant the atmosphere whirled and the forest vanished. The ground disappeared from under her feet. She couldn't scream. But in seconds the trip was over and they were both standing in the living room of a rustic cabin.
"This is your hideout?" she asked, willing down the nausea.
"My nest for the moment. It's really an illusion, but a nice one, don't you think?"
"Mackenzie, what are you doing here?"
At Kalen's voice, she looked past the Unseelie to see him standing there, his expression cold. She couldn't lose him to Malik. Not after all they'd been through.
"I came to find you and-and bring you home."
"Home?" he sneered. "Back to my loving boss so he can kill me? Back to my brothers who are going to stand there and let it happen?"
"Nobody wants you dead! But Nick thinks you're past help and he didn't know what to do!"
"The healing bullet wound in my shoulder says differently."
"Think what you want, but the Pack loves you. And I love you most of all." There it was. A spark of humanity that warmed his gaze, filled it with longing. For a few seconds he devoured her hungrily with those green eyes. But then he glanced at Malik, who was observing avidly, and the wall came down again.
"Love has no place in my life now," he said coolly. "The sooner you accept that, the better."
"Wh-what do you mean?" This frightened her, not knowing if he was posturing for Malik's benefit, or if he'd really turned.
"I thought I loved you, but I didn't know what that was. I can't give something I've never had."
"That's not true," she said, holding back a sob. "You have my love. You've felt it. And our baby will love his father."
Another spark. Her Kalen was in there, she was sure of it.
"Our child will follow in my footsteps. In the meantime, you will live here with me. After Nick and his Pack are defeated, we'll move to the Unseelie realm, where we'll stay."
That was so not going to happen. But one look at Malik's sinister expression told her what answer was expected. And she'd give it to buy time until she knew what game Kalen was playing. "As long as I'm with you, it doesn't matter where we live. I'll do as you say, and no one else but you."
Kalen nodded. Malik appeared extremely pleased.
"Make sure the woman stays here. I'm going to gather my Sluagh and then I'll call for you to join in the attack. Oh, and lower the shields on the compound now."
"Yes, Father." Closing his eyes, he chanted softly. The words flowed, faster and stronger, until at last he stopped and opened them again. "It's done."
Mac's heart stuttered in dread. "You didn't."
"I'm going," Malik said. "Be ready."
He vanished and Kalen tugged on her arm, urging her toward the stairs. She opened her mouth, but he silenced her with a finger over her lips.
"We don't have much time."
"For what? You're scaring me."
He led her to a large suite with an opulent bed taking up quite a bit of space. Then he closed the door, turned and took her into his arms. Kissed her with all the pent-up passion they hadn't been able to express for a day or two. When he set her back from him, his face was filled with such love, it took her breath away.
"I love you, baby. Never, ever forget that. No matter what you see or hear before dawn, don't forget I love you so."
"What's going on? I saw you losing your mind in that cell and-"
"I did lose it," he said, his voice aching with regret. "In that cell, the evil consumed me and I longed to kill. But when Nick grabbed you . . . Yeah, I went nuts. You're my mate and seeing his hand on you reminded me I'd do anything for you. For you, not for that sonofabitch."
"I'm still fighting the compulsion, and God, it's the hardest thing I've ever done. But you make it go away. The only time it's really manageable, when I feel like I can win, is when you're in my arms. When he brought you here, I had to make it believable that I'm completely on his side. I do love you. I'm sorry, baby."
She held him tight and they stood together, breathing each other in. Holding on to this moment in time, because it might be all they had. "He's going to attack. What are we going to do?"
He stroked her face tenderly. "We aren't doing anything. I'm sending you back to the compound because that's where it's safest. Then I'm joining the fight against that fucking Unseelie bastard who is not my father in any sense of the word."
"But you just lowered the shields there! I don't understand."
"I didn't lower them, sweetheart. I strengthened them."
She sagged against him. "Oh, thank God. I thought . . ."
"I know." He kissed the top of her head. "And I'm sorry all I've done tonight is scare you. This will be over soon. I promise."
"I'll kill you for it later. We need to get going before he decides to come back or something."
"He won't. Malik's too focused on his mission. And we have time." He edged her backward, toward the big bed. "Let me make love to you, baby."
"Here? In his house?"
"It's not his house. It's an illusion. But we're not, and neither is how we feel."
"I know, but-"
"Loving you keeps him out of my head and my soul. Help me drive out the darkness for good. I need to show you how much I love you before . . . before I have to fight."
That sounded far too much like goodbye. She wouldn't accept that, but neither would she waste any precious moments with him. And if it would help him, she wouldn't refuse. He undressed her with care, the regular way because he enjoyed it, then himself with magic. He pushed her onto the bed, followed her down.
Covering her, he pushed inside. Made slow, tender love to her, cradling her close. He whispered in her ear, "Never forget this. Never forget me, or how much I love you and our child. How much I want you both."