running scared-Page 37


She couldn’t believe she was going to let someone muck about inside her head. If she’d known that would be the cost of dealing with the Defenders, she would have decided to starve first.

Zach’s hand splayed over her throat, and she felt her necklace lift until it came in contact with his ring. The two bands locked together like magnets, and a slow trickle of warm energy sank into her skin, radiating out from the necklace.

The hair on her body lifted, and a potent shiver raced through her, lighting up nerve endings as it went.

Lexi let out a low groan of pleasure. She couldn’t help it. Whatever he was doing felt too good, almost like a narcotic streaking through her system.

Her bones softened, and her body slid down the wall. Zach’s strong arm eased her down slowly, keeping her from falling hard. She ended up in a loose heap on the floor with her shirt dragged up her back, leaving it bare against the cool, hard wall.

“That’s right,” he whispered. “Just relax.”

She didn’t really have an option, not that she was complaining. If she’d known being mind- fucked was going to feel this nice, she might have let him do it before.

Her eyes were barely open, just cracked enough that she could see Zach’s dark face hovering above her. He was so beautiful, so manly. That mouth of his was full and soft, unlike the rest of his hard, lean body, and he knew how to use it to make her feel so good. Just kissing him was better than full-blown sex with other men. She wasn’t sure how that worked, but she was pretty sure that if she spent some time studying it, she’d figure it out.

Lexi reached for him, her arms going around his neck in a sloppy stack of limp fingers. She couldn’t find the strength to hold on, and her hands slipped back into her lap. She tried again, but Zach gathered her wrists in his free hand and held them in place.

“Just relax,” he told her.

If she got any more relaxed, she was going to sink into the carpet, making a wet puddle. Maybe that was what he wanted. She thought she could do it if it was.

“You’re doing great, honey.”

Honey. He wouldn’t call her that if he hated her, right?

Lexi latched onto that idea and held it close. She didn’t want him to hate her. She wanted him to love her.

Love. The thought shocked her to stillness. Why would she want him to love her? That would only complicate things. She hadn’t even decided if the life he led was going to work out for her or not. Sure, he’d gone a long way toward convincing her to stay. He’d given her a home, made her feel like a queen. Made her feel important. Needed.

What girl wouldn’t want to get used to something like that? It just showed she was sane.

But love was a big deal. It changed things. Made them harder. Messier.

Better.

A blunt pressure behind her eyes made her wince, distracting her from her train of thought.

“Don’t fight it,” said Zach.

Lexi wasn’t fighting anything, but her mouth wasn’t working well enough to tell him that.

The pressure increased until it was pain. A whimper fell from her lips and the pain eased off somewhat, but didn’t disappear.

“You’re fighting me, honey. You’ve got to let down those guards of yours.”

“Don’t know how,” she heard herself whisper.

He was silent for a moment, and she felt a subtle tension running through his hand. A single pulse of fear slid into her and she could tell instantly that it wasn’t her own. It had a different feel to it. A different shape, more jagged and rough than her own.

It was Zach’s fear. He was afraid. For her.

Something was wrong, but Lexi couldn’t figure it out.

“It’s okay. We’ll try it again. This time, I want you to picture a thick brick wall in your head. Can you do that?”

She gave a small nod as the wall popped into existence inside her mind.

“Good. Now take that wall down, brick by brick. You don’t need it anymore. You’re safe with me.”

Safe. That was nice.

Lexi did what he said, tearing down the wall, only she never reached the bottom. There were always more bricks, like they were growing up from whatever passed as earth inside the fluid constructs of her head.

Refusing to give up, she kept doing what he’d said while the pressure behind her eyes once again started to build. Heat grew inside her head, making her shake. The wall kept growing, keeping up with every attempt she made at shrinking it.

Pain radiated out, filling her skull to bursting. A noise sounded somewhere distant: a shrill cry of pain and the dry rattle of panting breaths. Hard bands tightened on her wrists and a brittle heat bit into her neck.

This was wrong. Even without any sort of experience at these kinds of things, she knew in her soul this was all terribly wrong.

The brick wall shot up, thickening as it grew. Taller than Jack’s beanstalk and wider than she could see, the thing kept growing and swelling, fighting against the pressure that filled her head.

A buzzing sound clogged her ears. Her blood burned as it sped through her veins, searing them from the inside out. There was nowhere to run to make it stop. Nothing she could do.

Dimly, she felt a popping inside her head, like little bursts of static electricity igniting oxygen. As each spark burst, she felt less of the world around her. Hearing faded. The cool press of the wall against her lower back became a memory. The feel of Zach’s hands around her wrists disappeared, along with feeling in the wrists themselves. Awareness of her body dissipated like fog under the sun until there was nothing left but the brick wall and an incessant pounding against it.

Then suddenly the pounding stopped. Or maybe it hadn’t stopped, but she could no longer sense it in any way. Everything but the wall slipped away and Lexi let it all go. She didn’t need any of it. All she needed was to let go.

Chapter 18


Lexi was limp in Zach’s arms. Sweat trickled down his temple, mocking his pounding headache. He was shaking like he’d just finished a three-day battle with no water, and it took all his strength to keep himself sitting upright. Which was sad, considering the wall did most of the work for him.

He’d failed. Nothing he’d tried seemed to work. Lexi was too strong, her defenses impenetrable.

She didn’t trust him. Deep down inside, where it mattered most, she didn’t trust him. He knew that was why he’d failed.

Zach waited for the weakness to fade enough he could move; then he shifted Lexi so her head was resting at a more comfortable- looking angle on his shoulder. The luceria shimmered under the bright bedroom lights, showing off an angry swirl of greens and maybe some blue.

The blue hadn’t been there earlier, and with a sick sense of dread, Zach realized that whatever had just happened had actually reversed the process of bonding them closer together.

Shit.

Rabid frustration gnawed at his insides. He wanted to lash out and vent some of his anger, but there was no one around who deserved that kind of treatment. The source of Lexi’s mistrust was her mother’s teachings, and he was sure the woman had only done what she thought she had to do to protect her child.

Zach refused to hold that against her. She’d kept Lexi safe all those years when he couldn’t and he owed her respect, not resentment.

He gave Lexi a little shake. “You okay?” he asked.

She didn’t answer. Her breathing had evened out and her pulse was steady and strong, but she wasn’t awake.

What if he’d damaged her?

A sick sense of panic trickled through him and he pulled out his cell phone. He wasn’t sure if Logan was at Dabyr or not, but he was the only one of the Sanguinar Zach trusted enough to let him touch her.

“Are you at home?” he asked as soon as Logan answered.

“I was just about to leave. Why?”

“I need you. It’s Lexi.”

“I’ll be right there.”

Now for the hard part. Zach dialed Joseph Rayd, the leader of the Theronai. As much as he hated it, Zach had to tell Joseph about the explosives.

Joseph answered on the sixth ring; his voice sounded strained. Tired. “Yeah.”

“I need you to come to Lexi’s room,” said Zach.

“Whatever it is, it can wait. Kinda busy.” He sounded more than just busy. His voice was strained, like his throat was so tight he was having trouble shoving the words out. A hint of anger and something else shaded his words, chilling them. “Now’s not a good time.”

Zach looked down at Lexi’s limp form. “It’s gonna have to be. We have a . . . situation.”

A muffled curse came over the line, and he knew Joseph was on his way. “What’s one more, right?”

Zach had no idea what he meant, but he could guess. Something was going down, and it wasn’t good.

“Give me a sec,” said Joseph. “I’ll be there.”

Zach shoved away his weakness and got Lexi settled comfortably in bed. He left her just long enough to open her door for Joseph, then went back to her side. By the time he was back, she was starting to wake, pushing herself up on the bed.

Her arms trembled, so he helped lift her up and shoved a couple of fluffy pillows behind her back.

Lexi rubbed her temples and blinked her eyes. She saw him, and although he had no idea what the look on his face was, it must have been bad, based on the way her eyes widened and she reached for him like he was about to fall over a cliff.

“Are you okay?” she asked.

His eyes strayed to the luceria around her throat. There was definitely a lot of blue in there now. He’d lost ground with her.

“Fine.” The word came out hard and clipped.

“You look like you’re going to puke. Did something happen while I was passed out?”

“You were only out for a few seconds.”

“Then what’s going on?” she asked.

“That’s what I’d like to know,” said Joseph from the bedroom doorway. His hulking body filled the space and his face was set in rigid angles. “This had better be damn important.”

“It is,” said Zach. “We have a problem.”

“Great. Just what this place needs. Another problem.” Joseph let out a weary sigh and crossed his arms over his thick chest. “Get on with it. I don’t have all day.”

Zach felt Lexi grow tense more than he saw it happen. The air around her seemed to get colder and was scented with the tang of panic.

“It’s going to be okay,” Zach told her. “Joseph won’t hurt you.”

A disgusted sneer crossed Joseph’s face. “Of course I’m not going to hurt her. What the hell is going on?”

Zach found Lexi’s hand and gave it a comforting squeeze. He opened his mouth to speak, but she beat him to the punch. “It’s my mess. I’ll tell him,” she said.

Zach nodded, and a sense of pride curled around him. She might be afraid, but she wasn’t going to let it stop her from doing the right thing.

He loved that about her.

Lexi pushed herself upright and swung her legs over the side of the bed. “I suppose I shouldn’t beat around the bush,” she said.

“That would be nice,” agreed Joseph. “I’m a busy man.”