A Cursed Embrace Page 6

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Misha didn’t eat. “I thought I sensed your distress and therefore I sent Edith to investigate. I was not pleased when she returned and told me what you discovered. You should have called me.”

Maybe I should have dialed 1-800-Misha, except given the pus, blood, and ooze, he was the last fellow with fangs on my mind. “I was distracted, Misha. Especially after the body exploded.”

Misha didn’t frown much. Scowled, yes. Glared, oh yeah. Smiled wickedly enough to dissolve clothing, yup, that, too. He did frown then, though, his brows knitting ever so slightly. “The werebeast exploded?”

“They have cleaner for that,” Edith Anne called out. She and Maria moved around in the solarium like a couple of sinister goldfish in a bowl. I guessed waiting for us to leave so they could apologize to Misha in their own naughty way.

I ignored them. “There wasn’t anything left of the were to clean, Misha, only a ring of ash where his body had fallen. The body fluids vanished, too. Do you know what could do that?”

Misha’s brows returned to their original shape instead of angling farther. Either he didn’t know or he was keeping something from me. “No. It is not a magic I am familiar with. Is that all you wished to discuss?”

His tone tightened. My sisters didn’t seem to notice. But I did. Oh, so you are hiding something. Time to poke around. I draped my arm against the table. “Dead bodies of men have been discovered around Tahoe, drained of blood, but not appearing to be the victims of the infected vampires. What else would quench their thirst through blood? And what could possibly destroy a were like that?”

Misha didn’t blink. “Dark witches consume small quantities from human sacrifices and some may cast powerful enough to disintegrate a were.”

His indifference told me he preferred I drop the subject. So of course, I didn’t. “This isn’t the work of a witch, Misha. But I guess you already knew that.” I smiled without humor. “Are you going to tell me what you do know?”

“You are to call me if another incident occurs.”

“If another body shows up, sure. But—”

“I will send a security team to patrol your home.”

“That’s not necessary, and that’s not what I’m asking—”

“Then perhaps a few bodyguards will be more to your liking.”

“Misha, cut it out. I’m not having vampires hanging out at our house, especially with Emme and Shayna’s wolves always present. Look, I don’t want to fight with you. Just tell me what you know and maybe I’ll stop harassing you.”

Emme and Shayna eyed us with growing concern. They never understood my friendship with Misha, and I scented the sour aroma of their fear as I continued to force the issue. Master vampires, especially of Misha’s caliber, weren’t creatures to toy with or order.

Misha shoved his plate aside. A servant appeared and quickly vanished with the untouched food. He bent his elbows against the armrests of the heavy carved chair, regarding me closely. “Celia, there are dark forces in our world that even as a vampire I refuse to engage. I hear things in my sleep. I believe the lake whispers to me secrets and carries the final breaths of those murdered in the wind.”

In a movie, the creepy music would start right about . . . now. The breeze silenced around us as Misha spoke, like he somehow commanded the air to do his bidding. Based on the way his spine straightened, the unusual silence surprised him, too.

Taran dug into the fondue like it would add more perk to her bosom, failing to meet my gaze. She didn’t need to rehash her nightmares, nor did she need more deets to fuel them.

Emme scooted her seat closer to me. “Wha-what sort of secrets?”

I was kind of glad Emme asked. I considered myself pretty damn fierce. But having fought off psycho monsters trying to eat me over the last several weeks, I debated whether I wanted to know more about the darker side of the mystical world, especially following my demon conversation with Aric. And without his presence by my side, the creatures that bumped in the night bumped harder. My tigress, conversely, sat up, whipped out her iPad, and began taking copious notes. She wanted to hunt. And she wanted to know what prey we hunted.

Misha lowered his voice. “I only tell you this to warn you against joining the weres. Something seeks to align those unworthy and forgotten. If it succeeds, it may become unstoppable.”

“It?” Taran asked. “Not he. Not she. But It?”

Misha nodded.

Taran gave up on her fondue and tossed her napkin on the table. “Oh. This shit can’t be good.”

I clenched my fists, my inner beast kick-starting my courage. “Isn’t that more of a reason to help the weres?”

Misha’s cold gray eyes drove into me like ice picks. “Not if it comes at the expense of your life.” He faced Shayna then. “Or that of your family’s. Something is taking shape, Celia,” he said, meeting me head-on once more. “When it reaches its full supremacy, it will seek the strongest to destroy. To allow it a chance to view the full gamut of your power is to taunt death itself.”

Shayna’s slacked jaw and Taran’s string of swearwords pretty much summed up how I felt. Emme’s grip to my arm tightened, although I barely felt it.

Misha watched me, expecting I imagined a sign that I’d heed his warning and back down. And yet as much as his warning frightened me, running away screaming meant abandoning the weres to face whatever was coming alone. I wouldn’t abandon the wolves. I wouldn’t abandon Aric. I’d promised to help him. And I’d promised to help us. My face hardened. I shoved the trembling fear deep within me where it couldn’t paralyze me, and once more urged forth my strength and will to survive. I said nothing to Misha. But I did respond in a way he didn’t like. I transformed my human eyes to that of my tigress, illustrating that I’d choose fight instead of flight.

Misha let out a huff. “Enough of this, my darling. We’ve come to feast, not quarrel.” He motioned the servants over with a gesture of his hand so subtle I almost missed it. My plate disappeared and was replaced with greens topped with diced pears and slices of roasted lamb. Because nothing said “something wicked this way comes” like a yummy salad.

CHAPTER 4

“Where are we going exactly?”

Aric kept his hand over my knee while he maneuvered the Escalade through a small town just above Truckee. “An old werepossum lives in the area. He called the Den last night swearing he caught the scent of sulfur and anise in the air. He wanted to investigate, but his mate’s reaching her hundredth birthday in two weeks and he doesn’t want to leave her side.”

I squeezed my hand over Aric’s. “Oh no. Her time’s coming to an end.”

Aric nodded, a hint of grief finding its way into his voice. “It sounds like her birthday falls the day after the full moon. It will give them another few weeks together, but yes, she’ll pass when the full moon arrives next month. As his mate, he’ll join her by the rise of the following moon.” He glanced at me. “It’s a shame. He’s fifteen years younger and they’d only just found each other a few years ago. But when I spoke to him, he sounded ready to follow her into heaven.”

“Have you known them long?”

“I actually tracked them with my dad on their honeymoon.” He laughed when he caught my slacked jaw. “They disappeared while camping in Mount Whitney. Her family called us when they couldn’t find her. She was strong; she could handle the rough terrain. Being human, her mate didn’t fare well. He fell while hiking and crushed his skull. She saved his life by turning him.”

I cringed. Weres pierced human hearts in order to transfer their essence and turn a human were. It was the only time a were could protrude his or her fangs without changing completely. The problem was the success rate was rare and ultimately killed both parties. “I’m surprised they made it, given their ages.”

“Not as surprised as I was when we found them safe, sound, and very much enjoying their honeymoon.” Aric shuddered. “There’s some shit a twelve-year-old should never see.”

I laughed out loud. “But they’re mates, they probably couldn’t help themselves.” All weres had mates, somewhere in the world. The lucky ones found them and spent the remainder of their lives loving each other. I only wished to have something so dear. “It’s beautiful in a way to die together, you know? Tremendously sad, but joyous at the same time. They’ll always be together.”

Aric’s stopped smiling and stared straight ahead. “Yeah. They will.”

The sudden stiffness in his voice confused me. I angled my head to see if I could interpret his expression. It wasn’t cold per se, but definitely masked. I didn’t know Aric well enough to judge him. Maybe he didn’t like to discuss one mate losing the other. His parents were mated. Yet his mother’s love for Aric had kept her from joining his dad when he died. A rare feat from what I understood. Then again Aric had been so young, and a mother’s loved seemed to hold no limits.

Aric kept his hand on my knee but didn’t say anything for a while. After a few minutes of silence, I spoke for me and my beast. “The anise, being an herb, is associated with witch magic, correct?” Aric nodded. “What’s associated with sulfur?”

“Anything evil a dark witch helps create.”

Fantastic.

Aric didn’t miss my eyes widening, despite my efforts to squelch my surprise. “Celia, you don’t have to be here. I can take you back home.” He groaned. “In fact, I’d rather.”

I placed my hand on his shoulder when he attempted to turn the SUV around. “Home’s not safe anymore, Aric. If it was, I wouldn’t have carcasses falling through my front door. I meant what I said about protecting my family. And about helping you.” I stroked him a little. “Besides, don’t you think I’m safer being with my wolf than home alone waiting for some slobbering monster to show up?”

Aric’s sideways glance melted my toes. “You think of me as your wolf?” A blush crept its way into my cheeks, answering for me. He caressed my knee, his fingers skimming just a little bit upward. “Good,” he whispered. “That’s how it should be. I’ll protect you, Celia. I swear I will.”

I’d shared brief moments of physical intimacy with Aric, but I never felt as close to him as I did now. I curled my arm around his and left it there until he pulled into a spot in front of a small antique store. He reached for a pack filled with extra sweats strewn across the backseat. “Koda, Liam, Shayna, and Emme are headed to the old were’s house, just in case they pick up a scent from a different direction. They’ll call if they find anything.”

I wouldn’t have typically allowed my youngest sisters to track an unknown danger without me, but considering that Liam could eat glass like popcorn and Koda was roughly the size of a tank, I figured they were in safe hands. I stepped out into the crisp air and waited near the door to the shop. Chips cut into the cream-colored paint, adding to the charm of the quaint little place. Ordinarily I would have liked to look inside. But evil didn’t allow time for browsing.

Taran and Gemini parked a few lanes down. Aric motioned to them as they walked toward us, trying in vain to hide his smirk. We’d donned long-sleeved tees and old jeans to make for an easy change. Gemini wore his classic pair of slacks and a sweater. My sister? You’d think she was set to catwalk for Prada’s winter line instead of hunting supervillains. Her black knee-high leather boots clicked along the cracked sidewalk, and her long gray pencil skirt hugged her curves. I’d have teased her for wearing boots to march into danger, but Taran could probably climb trees in four-inch heels. I’d end up with a nosebleed after falling on my face.

Gemini’s eyes locked on to her strut, but he kept his distance. Aric at least held tight to my hand. As sexy as Taran dressed, she remained one step away from another head pat judging by how awkward Aric’s Beta seemed around her.

“Shit, it’s cold.” Taran adjusted the silk scarf around her neck before digging her hands deep into her cropped leather jacket. “Is this damn place far from here, Aric?”

Taran’s enthusiasm always made her endearing.

Aric shrugged. “I don’t think so. We just need to follow the path. It will lead us in the direction of where the old possum said he’d scented the magic.”

“If we need to go off the path, I’ll carry you,” Gemini told Taran quietly.

Taran’s vixen smile reddened Gem’s face. A sweet move if he hadn’t taken a step away from her. Then another. Taran’s shoulders dropped and she let out an exasperated sigh. Most males would have humped her in public just for breathing in their direction. She puckered an eyebrow my way. Other than a sympathetic glance, I had no clue how to respond. Gemini’s aroma didn’t suggest fear or intimidation of Taran. It suggested something my tigress nose couldn’t quite figure out.

“Are we ready?” I asked.

Aric led us through the small brick-laid alley between the antique shop and its neighboring café. A young couple sat in metal patio chairs sipping hot chocolate and discussing their upcoming rafting excursion along the Truckee River.

“Where you headed?” the guy asked as we passed. His casual tone suggested he hadn’t taken a good look at the two wolves and the tigress. Our predators’ side sparked a sense of danger and fear, although we didn’t consciously project either. Most humans kept their distance. Far distance.

“Just for a walk,” Aric answered him. He pulled me closer. “You girls want anything from the café?”

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