He stepped forward and the ground beneath her feet filled with soft grass, blooming with flowers. The air warmed and swayed around her ankles.
He’d done that for her—changed the setting so that she’d be more comfortable. Nika could feel his inborn need to see to her comfort, though she had no idea why he would care.
“Nika,” he repeated. “Can you help me?”
“Help you do what?”
“Get back to Sibyl. I don’t know how to find her.”
Nika nodded. “Take my hand.”
She braced herself for the touch, steeling herself against the grating sensation on her skin. But it didn’t come. He took hold of her hand and it didn’t hurt.
“Follow me,” she told him. She wasn’t exactly sure what she was doing, but her instincts were strong, so she listened to them. “Close your eyes.”
Cain did, and Nika leapt up, pulling him with her. She led him out of the deeper parts of his mind, toward the surface. The farther they went, the harder it got, but Nika kept pulling.
In the distance, she could see the shimmering surface of his consciousness, like she was looking up out of a swimming pool. She saw Sibyl seated beside Cain, and her own skeletal form lying next to him. Sibyl’s doll was still watching her, as if it could see her spirit gliding through Cain’s body.
Maybe it could.
Weariness dragged at her, like claws around her ankles, pulling her down. Nika gave a swift kick, and finally, Cain’s head broke the surface.
She heard his gasp of breath, felt his powerful body shudder as he sucked in air. But there was none for her. Nika still had to find her way back into her own body, and it was a long trip.
As tired as she was, as fast as her strength was fading, she wasn’t sure she was going to be able to make the whole journey.
At least she’d wakened Cain and given him back to Sibyl.
Madoc couldn’t rid himself of the nagging need to go back to Cain. He’d been there only a few minutes ago, but everything inside him was screaming for him to go back.
Maybe his buddy had taken a turn for the worse.
Grief grabbed Madoc by the throat and he fought to breathe as his heavy boot steps pounded through the halls. He remembered his love for his brother, even if he could no longer feel it coursing through him, strengthening him. All he felt now was fear that they’d lose a great warrior.
He pushed open the door to Cain’s new suite and went back through the dark living room to the bedroom. He wasn’t a big fan of Sibyl’s, but he’d suffer through the creepy girl’s cold stare long enough to check on his friend.
The first thing he saw was that Cain was awake. He was sitting up in bed and Sibyl’s tiny arms were wrapped around his neck in a tight hug. The man hugged her back for only a second, before he gently pried her hands away.
The second thing he saw was the sick look of fear coating Cain’s rough features. Since Madoc couldn’t remember the last time he’d seen Cain afraid, it freaked him out.
For good reason.
Nika was in his bed. Lying next to the fucker. She was icy white and unnaturally still, her left hand red and blistered.
Rage crashed around inside Madoc, slamming into his ribs until he was sure they’d crack. He couldn’t lose her. He’d fought so hard to free her from every sgath he could lay his hands on, and he sure as hell hadn’t done it so she could die on him now.
“What did you do to her?” His voice came out sharp and cold.
Cain’s green eyes met Madoc’s and went wide. He tried to speak, but nothing came out. The man had been unconscious for days and his throat was likely a tube of sandpaper.
“He didn’t do anything,” said Sibyl. “Nika offered to help.” She scrambled from the bed and fetched him a cup of water.
“Help? How? She’s barely strong enough to stand up on her own.”
Madoc went to Nika’s side and pressed his fingers against her slender neck. A faint pulse beat below the paper-thin surface of her skin.
She was alive.
He wanted to feel relief, but all he felt was the need to pound his fists into Cain until she woke up.
Like that would help.
Madoc was afraid to touch her more than necessary. She was so frail. Breakable. But the urge to feel the warmth of her skin under his fingers was too much to resist. He smoothed her white hair away from her face, displaying the thin blue lines of the veins running along her temples.
“She brought me back,” whispered Cain. His voice was shredded tatters of sound, but he got his point across. “I felt her getting weaker. She pushed me up to the surface and sank back down. I tried to grab her, but she was already gone.”
The word echoed in Madoc’s head like a gunshot blast.
No fucking way.
“Get out,” he barked.
Cain gave him an odd look, but slid from the bed, putting his body between Madoc and Sibyl as he led her from the room. He was weaving on his feet, barely able to stay standing but that was just too fucking bad. He deserved whatever he got for doing this to Nika.
The door shut behind them with a click, leaving him alone in the room with Nika.
Madoc wanted to gather her up in his arms, but he didn’t dare. He was shaking so hard he’d break her for sure.
“Nika. Wake up.”
She pulled in a breath, but that was it.
“Damn it, Nika.” His voice was too loud in the quiet room. Too hard. Still, he couldn’t control it. He was too desperate to fix this. Make her better. Pack her away and keep her safe for eternity. “Wake the fuck up!”
Her eyelids fluttered and Madoc held his breath. Slowly, her eyes opened, revealing the blue of clear winter skies. So fucking pretty it broke his heart.
“You came back,” she said on a weak puff of air.
“Never left.” Though he’d been on his way out. The less he was around her, the better. He wanted her too much to keep resisting her, especially when he woke up with her draped over him, his own living, warm blanket.
“Is Cain okay?”
“Fucker’s fine. What the hell were you thinking, pulling a stunt like that? Getting in another man’s bed?”
“Sibyl needed him.”
Such a simple statement, but it said way too much about her for Madoc’s peace of mind. Nika hadn’t stopped to think what it would cost her to do whatever the fuck she’d done. Sibyl needed Cain, so Nika woke him up.
Who else was going to need something that might get her killed?
Her bony fingers wrapped around his wrist and she pulled his arm to her chest. Her breasts were small, almost nonexistent, but he felt them all the same—soft and warm against his forearm.
Blood pooled in his cock, making it swell and throb. He should not have been turned on by this stick figure of a girl, but he was. No matter how hard he tried, he couldn’t get her out of his head.
Maybe if he just took what she unknowingly offered and gave her one nice, hard ride, he’d get her out of his system.
Yeah, and maybe he’d kill her in the process, too. He wasn’t a gentle man. If he fucked her, she’d feel it. And then some.
She was so damn fragile. He had no business getting so close—letting her touch him.
“I don’t want you to ever do that again, understand?”
Nika didn’t answer. She’d fallen asleep, her breathing deep and even. It was a natural sleep. Poor girl had exhausted herself saving Cain.
Madoc owed her one for that. All the Theronai did. They needed every warrior they had, and Cain was one of the best.
And because Madoc owed her for her sacrifice, he worked his wrist out of her grip, turned and walked out of the room without looking back.
The farther away from her he stayed, the safer she’d be. All she needed from him was the blood of a sgath on his blade, as much and as often as possible.
It was time to go hunting.
“So, what now?” asked Lexi. She was propped up in bed with a glass of juice. Both Zach and Joseph were staring at her as if they expected her to perform some kind of circus trick.
“Now you tell us everything you know about these Defenders,” said Joseph. She could tell by the rigid set of his shoulders and the cold glint in his hazel eyes that he still didn’t trust her, no matter how much Logan vouched for her.
Fine. She didn’t need his trust. As long as Zach believed her, that would have to be good enough.
Lexi let out a gusty sigh. “I don’t know a lot other than the fact that they want to get rid of all the Sentinels.”
“They’re dorjan,” stated Joseph with a twisted sneer of loathing.
“What are dorjan?”
Zach’s mouth was tight as he said, “They’re humans who work for the Synestryn in exchange for something they want. Money, power, that kind of thing.”
Lexi shook her head. “That doesn’t sound like these guys. They know about the Synestryn, but they sure as hell don’t work for them.”
Joseph let out a snort of disbelief. “Why would they want to kill us unless they were working for the Synestryn?”
“Because you screw up their land with your battles. Nothing will ever grow again on land that has been bloodied by your war. They know they’re not strong enough to fight your pets, so they figure that if you Sentinels go away, then the Synestryn will go, too and their land will be safe.”
Both men looked at her like she needed to be fit for a straitjacket.
Zach recovered first. “You’re telling me that these Defenders actually believe the Synestryn will just leave if none of us are here to keep them in check?”
“Yeah.” She looked from one man to the other, getting more and more uncomfortable by their silence. “Why? Are they wrong?”
“Dead wrong,” said Joseph. “They’re not our pets. We can’t control them. If we die off, there’ll be nothing to stop the Synestryn from taking over this planet. They’ll turn the whole thing into one giant set of cattle pens and bleed out every human for food.”
“Oh.” That didn’t sound good. “We really need to let the Defenders know how wrong they are.”
Zach shook his head. “Men like that won’t listen. We’ve tried in the past with other groups. Usually, over time, they fall apart until someone comes across the ravings of a lunatic in his journal.”
A journal like her mother’s. Lexi winced as the stinging truth hit her. Her mother had been one of those lunatics and had raised Lexi to follow in her footsteps. Had she not seen it with her own eyes, she’d still be sure these men were walking evil.
“What else do you know about them?” asked Joseph.
“They’re led by a man named Hector Morrow. He lives north of Dallas. His daughter was killed years ago and he blames it on you.”
“How did you meet him?” asked Zach.
“My mom stayed with him sometimes when I was growing up. When we ran low on cash or she thought the monsters were on our trail. He’d put us up and give Mom a job, and we’d stick around for a couple of weeks—just long enough to get back on the road.” She omitted the part about the lessons Hector taught the kids in his sphere of influence. That man had caused her more nightmares with stories of his daughter’s death than any real monster ever had. The one thing she’d learned from him was that if she wasn’t good, the monsters would find her and eat her. If she was bad, she’d die screaming in pain, just like his daughter had.