"This is good stuff," he said.
"Only the best for you."
"You sound as though you mean that."
"Because I've waited for this moment for what seems like ages." Those piercing eyes bored into his.
Kalen shifted uneasily. "The way you said that . . . it's almost as if you know me."
"As well as I know myself," the Unseelie replied softly.
Something about that statement, Malik's tone, made every hair on his body stand on end. "That's not possible."
"It's as possible as the cabin you're sitting in quite comfortably, where no cabin should be."
"Is this how it's going to be? You talking in riddles the whole time? I don't know what the hell I thought coming here would accomplish." Self-preservation raised its head. He started to rise, eager to get out of there, but Malik held out a hand.
"Hear me out. Don't you want your questions answered?"
Yes, he did. Badly. He doubted prying them from the fucker would be as easy as that, but he sat again, reluctantly. "All right. Let's start with why you want to hurt innocent people."
Malik affected a solemn expression, like a doctor about to tell someone he had a terminal illness. "Innocence is more of an illusion than anything my magic could possibly create. The sole innocent creatures are newborns, and all are eventually lost to temptation. There are no exceptions to this rule."
"You're wrong. My mother was innocent," he refuted tightly.
A flash of anger lit the Unseelie's eyes, then was quickly masked. "No. Your mother was weak. She did not protect you from the worm you called 'Father.'"
He sucked in a breath. "How do you know that?"
"She feared for herself more than she cared to protect her child, and that makes her among the most loathsome of her kind. I saw how she cowered while he beat you senseless, time after time. I saw how she ultimately handed your fate to David Black, allowed him to toss you into the street like a sack of refuse."
"And why the hell didn't you intervene, if you cared so much?" He glared at the Unseelie.
"I had to wait. It wasn't time."
"Wait for what?"
"For you to take your rightful place as my apprentice. To rule at my side."
"I was homeless, you fucker," he hissed. "I had to turn tricks to survive. You couldn't have contacted me a helluva lot sooner-like, say, when I was a scared teenager with not one person on earth to turn to?"
"I couldn't get near you, boy," Malik snapped, scowling. "The old woman made certain of that."
"Grandma?" The Unseelie waited for him to put it together. "The amulet. She said it would protect me from harm, no matter how great the evil. Hold up. Did she mean you, specifically? Did you know my grandmother?"
Kalen moved to the edge of his seat, gripping the highball glass so hard his knuckles whitened. He tried to push down the panic beginning to seize his lungs. What the fuck did all this mean?
"Yes, I knew Ida. She was a thorn in my ass for many centuries."
"Wait. What?" Kalen took a generous gulp of his Cognac, trying to get a hold on the conversation. "Centuries? You-you're lying."
"Hardly. Ida May Ventura was a four-hundred-twenty-three-year-old Seelie, and a very powerful one. Well, until her final days, anyway."
Eyes wide, Kalen stared at Malik, speechless. For several long moments he could do nothing but process what the Unseelie was really, truly telling him. Shock held him immobile.
"Are you saying . . . that I'm Fae?"
"Down to your last drop of blood. Sorcerers are not mere humans imbued with the gift of simple witchcraft."
"Oh, God." Mind spinning, he tried to assimilate this revelation.
"You're a rare breed. Very few Fae are powerful enough to become Sorcerers," Malik said, a slight smile playing about his lips. "Even I am not a Sorcerer."
"That's why you want me and why my power is valuable to you."
"I won't deny that as two Fae-a king and his second in command-we'll be unstoppable together and that I can accomplish my goals much more quickly with you than not. But that's not the only reason I desire your presence."
"Why else, then?"
Malik shook his head. "You're not ready to hear it yet. Soon."
Okay, that missing piece of the puzzle would have to wait. Trying another tack, he asked, "How did you know my grandmother? What's your connection to my family?"
"The Fae are not a vast people numbering in the millions," he replied smoothly. "We had met."
"Yeah, but you said Grandma was Seelie. You're Unseelie. I seriously doubt she ran in your circles."
"True. However, we had crossed paths all the same, arguing on opposite sides of issues before our royal courts."
"All right. I'll buy that for now. So why did she live her life posing as a human?" That she hadn't entrusted him with her biggest secret cut deep. It hurt badly. He realized his mistake when Malik immediately used that emotion to his advantage.
Leaving his chair, the Unseelie moved next to Kalen on the sofa, sitting beside him. Turning slightly to face him, Malik set his glass of Cognac on the coffee table and laid a palm on Kalen's thigh. The touch was surprisingly warm. Normally he would flinch, demanding the offender remove his hand as he'd done with Aric. But suddenly he was caught in the other male's gaze. The warmth extended through his limbs, like sweet honey, fostering a sense of peace. Of belonging. Companionship.
All the things he'd longed for these many cold years.
"I don't know why Ida made some of the choices she did, boy. I don't know why she lied to you."
Christ. It was true. His beloved grandmother had lied about something huge-the both of them being Fae.
"Maybe she wanted to protect me from something. . . ."
"Perhaps. But did she keep you safe?"
"No," he whispered, staring into the brown liquor in his hand.
"No," Malik repeated. "She didn't. All she managed was to keep you away from me, the one who could have taken you in after she passed on. Who could have fed and sheltered you. Cared for you. Instructed you properly in the arts-"
"The dark arts. She wanted to keep me from the dark arts, she said."
"Foolish boy. I know you feel compelled to defend your beloved grandmother." Again the squeeze. The sense of belonging. "There are no dark arts, merely dark uses. And we've already established that no one is innocent, no matter which side you're on."
"Maybe." Another thought occurred to him. "Why don't I have wings, like Sariel, if I'm Fae?"
Malik shrugged. "I don't know. Perhaps you took after your mother."
Kalen got the distinct feeling he wasn't telling the whole truth. "Hmm. You say my grandmother was Fae, but she looked like any old woman to me."
"Glamour. If she'd dropped it, I doubt she'd have appeared to be many years older than you are now."
"Then how could she die? Aren't Fae immortal?"
"Up to a point, we are. I'm guessing her life force was tied to the amulet. When she gave it to you, she accepted her death. She could also have been ill from using her glamour too long, living as a human who ages and gets sick. It's all speculation. Who knows?"
"I gave the amulet away. Will I die now?"
"No," Malik said firmly. "You won't. If your life force was in fact tied to the pendant, it isn't any longer. The link was severed the night you disobeyed your grandmother by taking it off."
He'd always had the sense that he'd made a dire mistake when he'd first taken off the pendant. Not the night he and Mackenzie made love in the hotel room, but years before. He'd been barely eighteen and had slept with a much older woman who'd admired the pendant. And like an idiot, he'd ignored his grandmother's warning. He'd set in motion something terrible and irrevocable that night.
"What?" He stared at Malik, stunned. "You were watching then, too?"
"I was." His lips turned up. "You were a young man trying to impress that older woman you fucked, letting her try the thing on. As soon as it left your hand, I made certain to sever its hold on you forever. It will protect the wearer now, as your grandmother said, but without draining the person's life force if removed or given away."
"So, a few weeks ago you forced me to give away the amulet to my . . . my friend Mackenzie. But you did so knowing I wouldn't be harmed by removing it."
Except by Malik himself, of course.
"As I told you, I knew one day you would belong to me." He paused. "I would have saved you from that harsh life years ago, when you first removed the pendant, but I didn't act quickly enough."
Kalen narrowed his eyes. "I thought you said you didn't rescue me because I wasn't ready."
"You weren't. But I would have anyway." He sighed. "There. Now you have a confession of one of my failings."
He wasn't so sure. Was Malik lying, or telling the truth about his part in everything? Or confusing him with half-lies, half-truths? God, if that was the case, Malik was succeeding.
That missing piece of the puzzle, the part of the story Malik wasn't yet telling him, nagged at him like a sore tooth. But he knew nothing would be gained on that score tonight even if he pushed. Instead, he brought the topic back to the original purpose of the visit.
"You wanted to show me something. To prove that you understand me and will stick beside me."
"Indeed." Malik paused, studying him intently.
He gave a humorless laugh. "Pardon me if I don't believe your bullshit."
"Why do you assume it's bullshit, as you say?"
"Really?" He gaped at the Unseelie, incredulous. "You kill people."
"So do you, and so does your whole team for that matter," Malik pointed out. "I suppose that makes you all evil to a man."
"Well, no, of course not! You're the bad guy!"
"Are you serious? Man, you keep shifters and humans in cages so the scientists who're working for you-or for Kerrigan-can figure out how to splice their DNA and create super-shifter soldiers!"
"I don't keep my test subjects in cages. They're strictly volunteers."
"I can't believe you said that with a straight face." He shook his head, pushed angrily to his feet and paced a few feet away to put distance between them. "I saw with my own eyes two of our team members being held in cages. They'd been tortured and experimented on, one of them for months!"
Malik stood, looking troubled. "Ah. You're referring to Orson Chappell's and Dr. Gene Bowman's unfortunate decisions. They became a bit fanatical in their approach."
"You don't say," Kalen mocked. "And you didn't seduce or coerce them into performing the heinous shit they did in the name of science, I'm sure."
"I didn't, not that I expect you to believe me."
"I don't. You had to know what was going on."
"Whether you believe me or not doesn't change anything. And it certainly doesn't change my goal, which I must say is a worthy one."
"To create this perfect breed of super-shifters."
"Yes." The Unseelie's eyes lit with excitement. "What if we could perfect a soldier whose supernatural abilities far exceed any of the humans' weapons in existence? What if humans were no longer the top of the pyramid of intelligent life on earth? Can you imagine being a part of implementing the greatest fundamental change to civilization in the history of the universe? The soldiers would work for you and me, and the planet would belong to the Fae, shifters, vampires, and every other creature who's had to live in the shadows for centuries. Like you and I have been forced to live."