Anna's walking away from me. Court couldn't think or reason beyond that.
He'd hurt her, then made reparations as best as he was able. He needed to get her away before he hurt her again. Next time he might not be able to fix the problem. Death and torment... The shining cover dared him to defy it.
She glanced over her shoulder, not pleadingly, but as if to memorize him. Then turned away. He tensed, hands clenching, barely preventing himself from acting on the command echoing inside him: Get Anna.
Behind him, Hugh must have noticed, because he said in a low voice, "You have to do this for her. Let her go with her family."
Her brother shepherded her away, already protecting her. Damn it, that was Court's responsibility. That was his right.
She was his.
Ethan put a hand on his shoulder. Coming from Ethan it was a threatening gesture instead of comforting, and both of them knew it.
He turned to the two. Hugh frowned at Court's face as if confounded. Ethan took one look at him and scowled more, if possible. Court felt mad, crazed, and knew he looked it. "Only until I make sure she's safe," he said with difficulty.
"A woman like that doesn't belong with a man like you. Even if we weren't shadowed."
"You're killing her, Court," Hugh said. "Just like we killed Leith."
She stopped in her tracks so fast her skirts surged forward.
At this she heard Hugh mutter, "Christ." Ethan hissed a startlingly vile curse, then said in warning, "Courtland..."
Aleix turned to her, his battered face showing his displeasure.
"How are you going to keep her safe?" Court asked of Aleix.
Annal¨ªa turned, tilting her head at him. She'd never seen this fierce expression, the wild look in his eyes.
"I'll protect my own."
MacCarrick nodded in the direction of the doorway, indicating the lone carriage waiting outside in the rain. "You doona have outriders. I'll wager you doona even have a weapon."
"You're begging me to prove that I do."
"She's been marked by the Rechazados."
Aleix's tone went low as though pained. "I know."
Olivia piped in, "We've been, too." Aleix gave her a harsh, warning glance, which seemed to delight her, then she sauntered over to inspect an expensive vase. Annal¨ªa suspected that vase would be found in their carriage momentarily.
"They've attacked three times already."
"What?" Aleix reached for her arm, but MacCarrick lunged forward and snatched Aleix's wrist.
"Doona touch her arm," he warned. She had nearly healed, but it would be tender if he'd grabbed it.
"What happened to it?" Aleix demanded with a withering glare at MacCarrick's grip.
"They shot her." MacCarrick released him. "And they'll do it again."
"You let them shoot her?" Aleix's tone sounded more frightening than Annal¨ªa had ever heard it. And MacCarrick? She couldn't make out his feelings at all, but sensed violence in him, sharp and ready. She had to cool this situation.
"Aleix, I ran from MacCarrick toward them. Like an imbecile, shouting for their help."
Aleix never took his eyes from MacCarrick. "You let her go?"
She put herself between them, standing on her toes to attempt to reach his line of vision. "I elbowed his throat. And he still ran right after me to throw us behind a boulder. That was only the first time he saved my life." Had Aleix relaxed the tiniest bit? "Two Rechazados attacked while we rode north. He took down one - "
"One?" Olivia surveyed Annal¨ªa with obvious newfound interest.
Annal¨ªa answered, "I got the other one. I had this rock hidden in my skirt meant for MacCarrick." Aleix appeared astonished, as if he didn't recognize her. "It had worked on him before."
MacCarrick gave his brothers a baleful expression as if anticipating their censure. "She told me she'd hurt her feet. When I went to look at them, she swung her dress around..." Hugh raised his eyebrows and MacCarrick grated, "She's crafty."
Aleix took her elbow. "You can tell me about this later."
"You will no' take her from here," MacCarrick grated.
"You think to order me? You bloody, arrogant Scot - " And they were at it again.
Annal¨ªa flushed in embarrassment at Aleix's comment, wondering how Hugh and Ethan MacCarrick would respond. Annal¨ªa was learning that Ethan had one expression - malice just under the surface. Hugh shrugged. "Been called worse."
Court slammed into Aleix, hurtling him over a table, crashing it flat. Aleix clambered up from the wood to tackle MacCarrick, pushing them into the next room. "Will you help me?" she asked Hugh. Ethan was just too fearsome to ask.
Hugh swore, then strode between them throwing elbows. "You're behaving stupidly, Court. And much is on the line."
When they broke apart, both out of breath, Ethan spoke in a disgusted tone, "You have a common enemy. Excise the threat, then kill each other if you like." And then he was gone.
"They're right," MacCarrick said finally. "You want to kill me, which might even be fair, and I'm going to enjoy beating you down when you try, but we have other tasks at hand before then. I will no' allow you to distract me from them."
Aleix wiped his bleeding lip with his sleeve and labored to catch his breath. He gave MacCarrick one sharp nod.
Assured they'd stopped fighting, she hurried to shut the front door against the rain that had started to pour and splatter into the house. She could scarcely believe it when she spotted her horse tethered to their coach. "Iambe!" she cried, amazed that Aleix had thought to take her from Pascal.
"Anna, get away from the goddamned door," MacCarrick barked, striding toward her.
"How dare you speak to her that way," Aleix snapped as he followed. "Do you even know who she is?"
Olivia informed her, "Iambe is no longer my horse's name."
Annal¨ªa turned on her, ready to do violence, when she felt a hand clutch her neck and a cold barrel at her temple.
They'd come again.
She caught Court's eyes and saw the fury and rage firing in him, but this time she knew her luck had run out.
She really wished she'd told him she loved him.