running scared-Page 44


Angus looked up, but Zach couldn’t pull his eyes away from the photos. “Who did this?”

“Defenders—or their African equivalent—managed to sneak a man inside. He used explosives like Lexi had planned to do. He tore the place apart in the middle of the day.”

“Were there Sanguinar there?” asked Zach, feeling a sick sense of dread roll through his gut. The Sanguinar were cursed by the Solarc to always dwell in darkness. If any of them dared let the sun touch their skin, it would have summoned the Solarc’s warriors into this world, and if that happened, those warriors—the Wardens—would kill anyone in their path.

Joseph nodded, confirming Zach’s fears. “The Wardens came and killed anyone who hadn’t died in the explosion.”

“How many?” asked Drake.

“Forty-three Sentinels. Three hundred seventeen humans, most of them children. Twelve people survived. Twelve fucking people. And they made it only because they weren’t there. They were on their way here to see if Nika is compatible with them.”

Unbelievable. Even seeing the photos, Zach had a hard time accepting it as truth.

“So, when I say I’m willing to take out these Defenders—men who are planning to do that to the people under my roof, under my protection—I’m not doing it because I have no soul. I’m doing it because I have no choice.” And to prove it, Joseph ripped his shirt open, sending buttons flying off to hit the walls. He stood there, baring his muscular chest, displaying a small, but healthy set of leaves still clinging to his lifemark. “Satisfied?” he asked, but it came out as more of a challenge.

Zach wasn’t. Not by a long shot. Things had taken a turn for the worse, and nothing about it satisfied him.

“What do you plan to do?” asked Angus, still as calm as if they were talking about the best way to clean their swords.

“I’m going to use Lexi to lure them out of hiding, and I’m going to make sure they never have a chance to do something like this to one of my people.”

“She won’t help you kill them.” Zach knew in his heart it was true. She’d grown up with these people, and no matter how wrong they were, Lexi wasn’t going to help Joseph take them down.

“Yes. She will.” His voice rang with absolute authority.

“How can you be so sure?” asked Drake, voicing the question Zach couldn’t.

“Because I’m not going to give her a choice. I suggest you start trying to convince her now. It will save Logan the trouble of sucking the information out of her later.”

A dangerous, lethal anger rose up inside Zach. He was already launching himself at Joseph when Drake and Angus grabbed his arms to restrain him. “I won’t let you hurt her,” growled Zach, barely recognizing his own voice.

“Logan won’t hurt her. He’ll make her feel good.”

And he would, too. Logan could make her come just staring into her eyes if he wanted.

A red haze flowed over Zach’s vision and his muscles tensed, aching to slam his fists into Joseph’s jaw. Joseph couldn’t order Logan to so much as touch her if he couldn’t talk.

He lunged at Joseph again, but the men at his side held him back.

“Time to go,” said Drake.

Angus gave a grunt of acknowledgment, and they lifted him and carried Zach back out of the room. Zach fought against their hold, but they were fast and strong as hell, and they got him out the door in two seconds.

He landed a solid blow to Drake’s ribs and found himself slammed up against the hallway wall, pinned there by four hard hands. His feet barely touched the ground, giving him no leverage.

Zach’s breath sawed in and out of his lungs, making them burn with fury. He should have come here on his own. He would have taken Joseph down and no one could have stopped him.

“Stop it!” barked Drake, getting right into Zach’s face. His buddy’s tone cut through the fog and helped him regain enough sanity to stop trying to bash his ribs in.

Zach shoved hard at his anger, trying to push it away, but all he could think about was Logan’s mouth on his woman’s neck, taking her lifeblood from her, draining her, making her come. “I’m not letting Logan near her.”

“Of course not,” soothed Angus. “You’re going to march your ass back to her suite and you’re going to convince her to play nice so Logan won’t have to.”

Disbelief shocked the air from Zach’s chest. “You agree with Joseph? You think we should kill these men?”

Angus was quiet for a moment as if collecting his words. “I won’t let Gilda or Sibyl end up like one of the bodies in those pictures, lying in the mud. As soon as those Defenders started making plans to kill my family, they gave up their right to keep breathing.”

“And what about Lexi?” demanded Zach. “She helped them make plans, too.”

“The difference is she’s no longer a threat,” said Angus. “Those men out there are. I won’t let that stand. One way or another.”


None of this sat right with Zach. He preferred the black and white world where he knew exactly what to do. All these shades of gray pissed him off. “So what you’re saying is that if they’re no longer a threat, you’ll let them live?”

Angus’s blue eyes pinned Zach in place. They burned with a kind of wisdom only centuries of pain and heartache could ignite. Zach had nothing but respect for this man who had trained him to be the warrior he had become. All that training kicked in, waking up the reflex where Angus talked and Zach listened.

In a tone so full of calm reason Zach had no choice but to agree, Angus said, “What I’m saying is that the only person who can save their sorry asses is Lexi. Get her to cooperate. Maybe we’ll get lucky and find a way to keep the rednecks breathing.”

“It’s worth a shot,” agreed Drake.

Of course he was right. Angus always was.

All that anger Zach had built up deflated, making him feel tired. “Great. Now all I have to do is figure out how to get her to spill her guts when she thinks we’re going to use that information to kill the people that sheltered her and her mother when they hit hard times. No sweat.”

Lexi wasn’t entirely convinced that Helen knew what she was talking about—how to break down the barrier between her and Zach—but her suggestions were more than a little intriguing. They all involved a lot of touching and bare skin, and just the thought was enough to make Lexi’s heart beat a little harder in anticipation.

Helen had left a few minutes ago, and now that the place was quiet, Lexi was left alone with her thoughts. Her fears.

What if she couldn’t do what these people needed her to do? What if she couldn’t be like Helen?

It wasn’t even a question of whether or not it was what she wanted. Not anymore. She owed these people for her treachery, and she would find a way to make it up to them. But more important, she owed the Defenders for all the times they’d sheltered her and her mother. She couldn’t just walk away from them without at least trying to fix this mess.

There had to be a way to get those good ol’ boys to see things the way she did now. And maybe, if she could access all that power inside of Zach, she could find it. All she had to do was let them see what she’d seen, like some kind of mental slide show. She was convinced that if she did that, they’d come around and everyone could live happily ever after.

Yeah, right. Even she was smart enough to know the chances of that were slim. Still, that didn’t mean she shouldn’t try.

But first, she had to get through her own damn stubbornness and tap into all of Zach’s strength so she had a fighting chance. From what Helen had said, it was like swimming in sunlight, all warm and happy.

Lexi needed a good dose of happy right now.

She curled up on the couch, tucking her legs under her, and watched the door. It wasn’t locked. She wasn’t sure if Zach had a key, and wanted him to be able to get in if she fell asleep. Which was a real possibility.

Logan had taken enough blood to leave her feeling light-headed if she stood too fast. She hoped that chugging down liquids would help her recover faster, but what she needed was about twelve hours of hard sleep. Maybe later, after the lives of so many people weren’t resting on her shoulders, she’d get it.

While she waited, Lexi tried to reach out to Zach through the luceria like Helen had taught her. There was supposed to be a connection between them that held them together even when they weren’t near each other.

She closed her eyes and focused on the ring of skin where the band touched her, searching for that connection.

It was warm, as if it had its own living heat, and she could feel the slightest humming coming from the thing every once in a while. She imagined a silvery wire joining her and Zach. All she had to do now was get a signal to travel through it.

Lexi tried pushing a thought through the connection, telling Zach to hurry back to her. Nothing happened. It was like trying to push a rope uphill.

So, maybe she should try pulling.

With her eyes shut, and the silver wire firmly in her mind, Lexi pulled. At first, she didn’t think it had worked, but then she felt an odd tingle encircle her neck and slide down her spine. She sucked in a breath and held it.

She pulled harder, and in her mind, she made the wire grow thicker.

Rage slammed into her, driving a bellow from her lungs.

Zach was pissed. She could feel it as clearly as if it had been her own fury pounding through her. In fact, it took her a few seconds to separate the two feelings so she didn’t start trashing her new place to vent out some of the feral emotion.

Even though she’d separated it in her mind, she was still shaking with the force of it, aching to go to him and beat the hell out of whatever had pissed him off.

She found herself pacing, stalking across the carpet in an effort to burn off some of the rage. Sure, she could have pulled back so she didn’t feel it anymore, but she wanted to feel it. It meant she’d succeeded. Like an infant that craved new sensations, she couldn’t stop herself from pulling harder, seeking out more.

Slowly, the anger faded and in its place was bleak acceptance. Resignation.

Whatever was going on, it was over now. The tingle of his bloodmark on her back told her he was getting closer. Coming back to her.

The need to comfort him was strong, growing stronger with every step he took. There was a deep sadness weeping inside him, shedding tears he’d never let fall. And surrounding all that vulnerability was a fierce need to keep her safe.

From what, she had no idea, but she was glad she’d managed to make this small connection to him, glad she knew without a doubt that he would do everything in his power to see to her safety.

It was humbling to feel the force of his need to protect her. Humbling and empowering. She felt like she could walk off a cliff and not worry. Zach would catch her.

He opened the door and locked it behind him. His body was tense, the muscles of his arms and shoulders bunched up with tightly held control.

Lexi stared at him, soaking him up. He was such a potent man, filling up the entryway with his power. His feet were braced apart, and he had the oddest look on his face. His smooth brown skin was stretched in a grimace, as if he was really dreading what he had to do now. But his pale eyes glowed with confidence, reassuring her that all would be well. He wouldn’t let her fall.