A Cursed Embrace Page 31

Shayna’s tears streaked her trembling frame. She twisted Koda’s shirt between her long fingers. “I’m sorry, puppy. The gore was just too much. And those poor deer, I couldn’t take it.”

“It’s okay, baby. Just don’t be afraid of me. I love you. I could never hurt you.”

Shayna wrapped her arms around Koda’s waist. “I’m not afraid of you,” she choked between sobs. “Please don’t think that.”

Koda picked her up and carried her to the car, tossing Aric the keys along the way. When we climbed back in, Emme switched seats so Koda and Shayna could continue to hold each other. It was such a sweet moment between them. I couldn’t help envying their love.

Aric sat next to me and cranked the engine. He glanced my way. I turned to look out the window and rested my forehead against the glass, not ready and not willing to speak to him.

We arrived home to find Danny cooking in our kitchen and Bren lounging on our couch. Bren jumped up, growling, as soon as he got a whiff of us. “What the hell happened? You smell like evil.”

I kicked off my shoes and strode into the kitchen to wash my hands. Yeah, like that did much. “We were attacked by a horde of demon children.”

Danny placed the spatula down on the spoon rest and gripped the sides of the counter. “When you say horde . . . ?”

“Fifty, maybe sixty,” Liam answered. He took a beer out of the fridge, twisted the cap off with his teeth, and chugged it.

“None of this makes sense,” Danny said. “It would take an entire army of demons to produce that many offspring, and there are only a few strong enough to leave hell.”

Liam stood against the wall with his arms crossed. He glanced over at Emme, who sat on the couch quietly. “I think they were after our girls.”

Aric shook his head. “They have no reason to hunt them.”

“How can you be sure?” Liam argued. “They’ve been stealing women for months.”

“They’ve been stealing human women for months,” Gemini clarified. “The girls smell of magic and power. They’re not easy prey. What could they hope to gain by attacking them?”

Aric stood from the kitchen chair, hard enough to make it slide. “I don’t know what’s happening, but we can’t just make assumptions. We have to go to the Den and call a meeting with the Elders.”

Koda didn’t move right away, despite Aric’s direct order. He continued to hold Shayna on his lap as if afraid she wouldn’t still be there upon his return. Aric walked over to them. “Koda, the only way to keep them safe is to understand what we’re facing. To do so, we must arm ourselves with knowledge and join together as a pack.”

Gemini stood and took his place beside Aric. “Don’t be afraid, old friend. Bren and Dan will stay and protect them in our absence.”

Bren stretched his tensing muscles. “Yeah, don’t sweat it, man. I’ll protect them, and they can protect Danny.”

Normally Bren’s comment would have made me laugh. But I wasn’t in the mood. I went upstairs before they’d finished speaking.

“Damn it, Aric, just let her go,” Taran said behind me. “Celia is still upset. Just like the rest of us.”

• • •

Aric heeded Taran’s advice and left me alone. It was almost midnight when he and the wolves finally returned home. I pretended to sleep when Aric entered our room and continued to do so when he climbed into bed after showering.

He placed his hand on my hip. Even through the sheet, I felt the warmth from his touch. But I didn’t move and kept my back to him. “I know you’re awake, sweetness,” he whispered. “Could you tell me why you’re so mad?”

I sighed. Sulking wasn’t getting us anywhere; I knew we needed to talk. I arranged my pillows behind me and leaned against them. Aric’s hair remained moist from his shower. I could see the dull shine despite the darkness of the room. And I could sense that horrible strain between us. “I don’t like the way you yelled at me. It was disrespectful.” I paused. There was more I needed to say, except it was hard for me to force the words out. “We’re so close in a lot of ways, Aric. But sometimes when we’re intimate, you distance yourself from me.” I dropped my gaze. “And I’m not talking about when we make love.”

I waited for him to respond and watched as he gathered his thoughts. “I don’t mean to hurt you or close myself off. And I sure as hell would never intentionally disrespect you. I was angry that you didn’t listen when I told you to run.”

I pursed my lips tight. “I’m not one of your Warriors to order around, Aric.”

“I know you’re not. You’re something . . . something way deeper than that.”

I searched the entirety of his visage—his strong jaw, the gaze that could melt ice during a winter storm, and that mouth that had brought me pleasure and comfort. I searched long and hard for any signs that could reveal some emotion, any emotion that would unleash his thoughts. Yet nothing came, just that whatever he felt was strong. “What am I exactly to you, Aric?”

He closed his eyes. When he opened them, he stared back at me with more force than I’d ever seen. “You’re everything to me, Celia. Can’t you understand what you mean to me?”

No. I couldn’t. I swept his wet hair away from his face. “I fought for you today, Aric. Just as you did for me. And yes, I was injured. But it was worth it, and I would do it again.”

Aric slowly shook his head. His eyes swept over where the demon had mutilated my shoulder. He stared at my regenerated skin for a moment before reaching out to me.

His hand gradually ran up my arm, tracing an invisible line along my neck, stopping only to rest against my cheek. I covered his hand with mine, welcoming his touch and the intensity behind his gesture. “Emme may not always be around, Celia,” he whispered. He exhaled deeply. “When I saw how injured you were, it infuriated me. But only because losing you is my greatest fear.”

Neither of us said anything for several breaths. Aric did appear scared, and disheartened. I came to an understanding about our relationship then. Aric Connor might not have been ready to love me, yet I recognized his feelings for me as very real. And maybe, just maybe, those feelings might someday flourish into love. That hope extinguished any lingering sorrow and replaced it with desire.

I slid onto my knees and pulled off my top seductively. My long hair fell around my br**sts. Aric watched me carefully as I then teasingly removed my underwear. But it wasn’t until I removed the sheet and climbed on top of him that I realized he hadn’t bothered to dress after his shower. My insides ached for his caress. “A little presumptuous, don’t you think?”

A small, sultry smile spread across his lips. “No. I just hear make-up sex is hot,” he murmured before kissing me wildly.

CHAPTER 24

Aric and I ran fast, slinging the thick mud behind us. The attack the previous day had left our beasts restless. We needed to burn through some energy. Six miles in along the Truckee River, and my tigress had only just begun to settle.

“Are you okay, sweetness? You’re moving kind of funny.”

“What can I say, wolf? You’re too much man for me.”

He stopped. “Are you serious?”

I ground to a halt next to him and clutched his arm as I bent to remove my sneaker. “Yes, but actually I think I have a pebble in my shoe.”

Aric laughed, only to then shove me abruptly away from him. I looked up from the ground in time to see two wolves tackle him. I lurched to my feet and froze. The wind shifted directions, and oh my God, I could scent them. More beasts waited, in the trees, in the brush, all around me. And I could feel their thirst. I didn’t hesitate; I changed and ran as fast as I could.

I led them away from Aric. His howl rippled through the air behind me. He knew we were in trouble and called forth his Warriors.

Why are wolves attacking us?

I realized too late that it wasn’t just wolves after us. A werelion slammed into my side, tackling me down the embankment and into the river. The lion was huge, but I was a tigress, and that made me queen of beasts. I dug my claws into his haunches, fear of drowning making my strikes brutal. The freezing water slapped cumbrously against my fur. We clawed and bit each other, but it wasn’t until he plunged his fangs deep into my thigh that I felt real pain. My blood mixed with the river water. I knew I had only one choice to survive.

I held my breath and forced myself down to the bottom, dragging my opponent with me. The pull of the water was strong and so was my struggling companion. My frantic movements were less than grateful. My strength, however, seemed to help. Slowly, but surely, I made my way to the bottom.

The force of the current shoved into my nose and against my eyes. I kicked my back legs, the pressure in my lungs building and pleading for release. When I felt his rear claws scrape along the base, I blew out my last bit of air and shifted him deep into the mud. Bubbles of his last breath flowed past me seconds before I broke through the water.

I sputtered and choked with every clumsy stroke back to shore, only to encounter more of the werelion’s friends. At the edge of the water, eight wolves, four rats, and what appeared to be a deranged-looking squirrel restlessly waited for me.

Shit. Where’s Misha when I need him?

I turned and paddled to the opposite shore. Unfortunately rats, it seemed, were pretty decent swimmers. One of them grabbed my hind paw just as I reached the other side. I kicked him in the snout and took off in a mad run. My paws beat hard against the surface, but my mangled thigh caused a painful limp and slowed my speed. Growls and snarls echoed behind me. The bad guys were coming for me and closing in fast.

Just when I thought I was going to die, the cavalry showed up in the form of vampires in Catholic schoolgirl uniforms.

“You rang, kitten?” Misha stood in the center of the path dressed all in black with his arms crossed. His long blond hair whisked against his shoulders from the speed in which his vampires attacked. I turned to help the good Catholics, but Misha grabbed me and yanked me back. “Stop, Celia. You are already wounded. Leave my family to deal with them.”

The vamps easily tore the outnumbered weres apart, and had fun doing so. Blood splattered against their crisp white shirts. Their elongated nails shred through fur, and their fangs found the perfect veins to puncture and feast from. I changed to speak with Misha. At that moment, I was more fearful of Aric’s safety than being na**d in the arms of a vampire.

“Misha, there are more weres. I have to get back to Aric.”

“Have you lost weight, my darling? You look thinner.”

I shoved myself away from him. “Misha, I’m serious!”

“Very well, Celia. I shall send others after your pet, but you will remain with me.”

With just a simple gesture of his hand, half of his vampires took off after Aric. A redhead human with dazed blue eyes appeared carrying clothes. She handed me a dress and some underwear, which I proceeded to don as fast as I could.

My head jerked in the direction the vampires had vanished. “Thank you, Misha.”

“You sound surprised that I am a gentleman.”

I clasped my injured thigh. “It’s not that.” I couldn’t finish my thought. I was terrified for Aric, and the profuse bleeding seeping through my fingers made my head spin.

“Please sit, Celia, so that I may tend to your wounds.”

The redhead spread a blanket on the ground and motioned me to it. I did as Misha asked and positioned myself on the ground, holding tight to my wound. Misha moved my hand with ease and spread my knees apart. Like an idiot, I forgot vampires didn’t use first aid kits. A gush of blood spurted out and splattered against the blanket. Misha didn’t panic. He bent forward and licked the inside of my thigh very slowly. The wound sealed, but he didn’t stop. He continued to lick me in teasing strokes, sending a wave of paralyzing chills up my spine. And call me crazy, but I failed to see how his look of seduction was beneficial to my injury.

“Ah . . . What? . . . I . . .” Words failed me. It took another flick of his tongue to finally jar me out of my shock. I slammed my knees together and quickly scrambled to the edge of the blanket. But I was too late. From nowhere, a snarling wolf appeared at my shoulder.

Aric changed back to human. Misha rose to meet him. They stood nose-to-nose. The scent of Aric’s fury scorched the air around us. Misha remained blissfully calm. After all, he’d just eaten. Challenging growls and hissing surrounded us as Misha’s vampires and Aric’s wolves prepared to attack.

I squeezed between them in an attempt to prevent all-out war. “Aric, stop.” I tried to push him back, yet couldn’t even manage to nudge him. Aric typically outmuscled me, but at that moment he was an impenetrable wall of livid energy. I didn’t want them to fight, and I sure as hell didn’t want anyone to die. So I threw in my only weapon—the weak and helpless card.

“Aric, please, Misha just saved me from a bunch of weres.”

“I was coming for you!”

“Yes, but you might have been too late. I was already badly wounded, and the weres had caught up to me. Misha was just trying to help.”

“By trying to seduce you?” Aric’s muscles tensed and shook violently beneath my hands.

My breath sputtered as I released it. “I was bleeding from a deep wound in my thigh. All he did was seal it.” I glanced back at Misha, hoping he’d back up what I was saying. He didn’t. Bastard.

Aric ground his teeth. “What is he even doing here?”

Misha flashed him one of the wickedest smiles in his arsenal. “Celia was in danger and thought my name. Thus, I responded. And now that I have tasted her blood, our call is that much stronger.”

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