The second Joseph had left Lyka alone, she let out a long sigh of relief.
She’d survived another close encounter with the man and managed to keep her distance. He hadn’t touched her. He didn’t know what she really was.
She didn’t know how much longer she could keep her secret, but every day that went by without one of the Theronai learning, it was another victory. She’d take every one she could get.
She watched him walk away, admiring the way his jeans hugged his muscular ass. She couldn’t see the magical sword strapped on his belt—it was invisible until drawn—but she could detect the slight dip in his waistband where its weight hung. The Theronai were deadly with their blades, and that was the kind of thing that made a girl like Lyka squirm with want.
It didn’t help that Joseph was nearly six and a half feet of hard, kick-ass warrior. Sure, he was their leader and spent most of his time behind a desk, but that didn’t mean he wasn’t deadly. She was certain that if the shit hit the fan, he’d use every bit of that muscular bulk he carried around to thwack some demon heads clean off.
It was enough to make Lyka wake in a sweat at night, wet and desperate for those rough hands of his to ease her need.
As if she’d ever let that happen.
The man got under her skin, making it itch and tingle. She kept having to remind herself that he was the enemy—or at least had been until very recently.
Sure, it was a bad idea to be fighting a war on two fronts. And yes, things were easier now that the two races had teamed up, but that didn’t mean she had to like it. Everyone else got to enjoy the benefits of the shiny new treaty while she was stuck here, unable to fight alongside her people.
Not fair. Not even close.
But that was life for you. Nothing was fair, which was exactly why she was pouring her heart and soul into teaching those kids how to survive. Fighting wasn’t pretty. It wasn’t civilized. What use was it trying to make the kids pretend that it was?
Then again, there was some value in pretending. She’d been doing so for weeks and it had served her well.
She finished picking up the gear and headed inside.
The unbelievably beautiful Logan and his even more stunning wife, Hope, were waiting inside the doors. The kids had all been tended to and had gone on their way, which meant that two Sanguinar were waiting for her.
Not a good sign. “What’s up?” she asked.
Logan threaded his fingers through Hope’s in a move so casual, Lyka didn’t think he was even aware of the act. “Joseph wasn’t pleased that we were healing the children. Or, more accurately, he wasn’t pleased that they needed healing.”
“I know. His royal highness already expressed his displeasure with me.”
“We can’t afford to upset anyone right now,” said Hope, sliding her honey-blond hair behind her ear. “Everyone is too uneasy about what Connal did.”
Logan’s expression darkened with anger. “Even we Sanguinar still can’t believe what he did. Stealing a child? It’s unconscionable. But she’s right. We have to ease the fears that run rampant here. Nothing we do can upset anyone.”
“So you’re just going to bend over and do what Joseph says?” asked Lyka.
“Aren’t you?” said Hope.
“I want to make nice, but it’s hard to do when he’s so very wrong.”
“He told us he would let us know his decision in a couple of days,” said Logan.
“And he expects us all to sit on our hands until then?
I don’t think so.”
“Whatever you’re planning isn’t worth a war,” said Logan.
“I’m saving lives. Every lesson those kids learn might be the one that keeps them alive someday.”
“And what about all the lives we’ll lose if the treaty between your people and the Theronai is broken? What about all the young Slayers who will be down one powerful group of allies because you couldn’t wait two days for Joseph to think about what you’re doing and realize you’re right? Give the man a chance to see your side of things. Convince him to rule in your favor.”
As much as Lyka hated it, Logan was right. She hadn’t thought her actions all the way through. As usual, she was letting her hot-blooded Slayer side rule her emotions. “How am I supposed to do that? I’ve already stated my case. He knows where I stand. The ball is in his court now.”
Logan scoffed. “Hardly. If you think you’ve made all the moves available to you, then you have a lot to learn.” Always open to learn new strategies, Lyka asked, “What do you suggest?”
“He’s a man. You’re an attractive woman.”
“And?” asked Lyka.
Hope hid a grin. “He’s telling you to use your feminine wiles to sway Joseph to your way of thinking. A man is much more inclined to do what a woman wants if he thinks it might get him laid.”
Lyka let out a bark of laughter. “Really? That’s your big play? Let him fuck me?”
“That’s not what she said,” said Logan. “I’d never suggest exchanging sexual favors for a ruling on your behalf. That’s not to say you shouldn’t do it. I’d simply never suggest it, for fear such advice would come back to haunt me.”
Lyka shook her head. “I’m not sleeping with Joseph just to get my way.”
“You don’t have to. Just make him think you might.”
“Hell, no,” said Lyka. “I’m not teasing him or leading him on, either.” She couldn’t get that close. He might touch her. She didn’t know if he’d be able to tell what she
was if he did that, but she wasn’t taking any chances. “It’s not like that,” said Hope. “All you have to do is befriend him. Make him like you. He’ll want to make you happy if you’re friends.”
Lyka shook her head. “It’s no wonder everyone is suspicious of you guys. You ride that gray area pretty hard.”
“There’s nothing wrong with what we’re suggesting. And, as you said, what you’re doing is saving lives. Is spending a few hours with Joseph really such a hardship that it’s not worth the lives of those children?”
“Now who’s playing dirty?” she asked. “Why the hell do you care so much whether or not I get to teach my classes? What’s in it for you? You do all this healing without asking for my blood to fuel your efforts, and all I have to do in return is make sure that it’s either you two or Tynan who patches them up. Aren’t you supposed to demand payment in blood?”
“Hope and I sustain each other now. We have far less need for blood than the rest of our kind.”
“That doesn’t answer my question. What’s in it for you?”
The two shared a secret look that spoke volumes—volumes Lyka couldn’t even begin to understand.
Finally, Logan spoke, but it was clear he was choosing his words carefully. “Most of these children are wounded beyond what you can see. Their emotional scars run deep. Every time we heal their bodies, it gives us the chance to touch their minds and work toward healing that part of them as well. It’s a slow, delicate process— one made much faster by the sheer frequency of opportunities to heal that your little lessons provide. Baby steps, as it were.”
“That’s it? You’re doing all of this as some kind of magical therapy?”
“These children are blooded. The lives of our kind depend on them growing up and having children of their own. Without a continuation of their bloodlines, the Sanguinar will starve. Emotionally damaged children do not tend to live long enough to become parents. And those that do often pass on their scars. If we heal them now, we prevent all of that pain and loss.”
Lyka stared at the couple. “There’s more to it than that. What aren’t you telling me?”
“Part of our arrangement with you was that you don’t ask a lot of questions. This is where that clause activates.”
“Fine. I’m being too nosy. I get it. Just promise me you’re not doing anything that will hurt the kids.”
“I swear it,” said Logan.
“So do I,” added Hope.
The weight of both vows settled over Lyka, reassuring her. They were bound to their word now. That alone was enough to put her mind at ease.
“Okay. Let’s go back to the problem at hand. Clearly you two know Joseph better than I do. What do I do to sway his decision without resorting to naked time?”
Logan smiled, and it made him almost too beautiful to look at. “That, my dear, is simple. If you do what we say, he’ll be putty in your hands by midnight.”
The idea of getting Joseph in her hands was far more appealing than she dared admit, which was all the warning she needed to tread carefully.
One misstep and she could singlehandedly send their races back to war against each other. And she would be trapped behind enemy lines.
At sundown, Tynan eased from his bed in his suite beneath Dabyr.
He was ravenous. His bones felt ancient and brittle. His vision was clouded over with a hazy red film that nearly blinded him. His skin was fever hot, burning with fatigue that no amount of sleep could remedy.
He needed blood. Gallons of it. Oceans of it. He needed to gulp it down and let it ease the grinding hunger that prowled through his limbs, weakening him.
He swayed on his feet, flailing to find something to grasp.
“Easy, brother,” said Logan, grabbing his arm.
Tynan hadn’t even known his Sanguinar brother was here. His senses had dulled to the point that he couldn’t even detect the presence of one of his own kind a few inches away.
Logan eased him back to sit on the bed. He pressed his wrist against Tynan’s mouth and willed his skin to open.
Sweet, hot blood flowed over his tongue, rousing the hungry beast within him. He grabbed Logan’s wrist, holding it tight enough to break bone if the man tried to pull away. Power surged through him, relieving the parched cells rattling around in his veins.
“That’s enough,” came a soft, feminine voice. Hope. Logan’s mate.
His skin closed, blocking the flow of blood. Tynan tore at the man’s skin with his teeth, but he wasn’t fast enough. Wasn’t strong enough.
Logan ripped his arm away, flinging Tynan down onto the bed.
Both men were panting. Tynan’s vision had cleared enough for him to see his brother slumped on the floor. Hope was over him, her delicate throat pressed to his mouth.
“I’m sorry,” said Tynan, once again himself.
Sadness shone in her clear eyes. “We understand.
You’re doing all you can.” And he was.
Joseph had ordered him to scour the mind of every Sanguinar housed under Dabyr’s roof, searching for signs of treachery. Most of his kind abhorred the violation of their privacy, resisting his efforts. Some intentionally. Others without even realizing just how thick and wide their mental barriers were. In both cases, the sheer power it took to overcome those defenses left Tynan weak. Utterly depleted.
If not for Logan’s daily dose of blood, Tynan would have already failed in his task. And if he did that, his people could be banished from this place of refuge with nowhere to hide from the sun.
He feared that if that happened, the weaker members of his race would succumb to the lure of the Synestryn and the power their tainted blood could provide.
Logan stood, positioning himself between Tynan and his mate. “Is it enough?”
He nodded, giving no voice to his lie. “Thank you.”
“Two more of our kind returned home after you retired. They’re waiting for you in their quarters.”
Tynan had no choice but to do his duty, but he couldn’t face it yet. “Any other news?”
“I checked on the Theronai pregnancies. All is well there.”
“That is a relief.”
“Madoc isn’t pleased. He thinks we’re meddling.”
“Madoc is never pleased. As long as he doesn’t break your neck, assume he still likes you. What else?”
“Ronan still seeks the woman who saved his life. He regrets his inability to return.”
“Did you tell him it wasn’t a request?”
“I did. He didn’t seem concerned.”
“Do we know anything about this woman he’s seeking?”
“She apparently enjoys fast cars. Ronan is unable to catch up with her.”
“But he can still sense where she’s gone?”
“We need to find her. If she’s anything like Hope . . .”
Logan tightened his hold on his mate. “Ronan is aware of the stakes.”
“Anything else? Any sign of Torr?”
“No. He is still missing. Many of the Theronai have been searching for him ever since his disappearance.”
Tynan ran his fingers through his hair. “Have you heard anything from those working on Project Lullaby?”
“No. Everyone is being particularly cautious since Connal’s betrayal.”
With good reason. If the Theronai found out that the Sanguinar had been matchmaking blooded humans and encouraging them to produce offspring, they wouldn’t be pleased. With as little Athanasian blood as there was left on the planet, the Sanguinar had no choice but to resort to some unorthodox methods to strengthen the remaining bloodlines. They saw it as necessary coercion, ensuring that the humans they convinced to help them lived long and happy lives filled with many children.
The Theronai would doubtlessly see it as interfering with the free will of humans and react accordingly. In their centuries-long history together, more than one Sanguinar head had rolled for lesser infractions.
“We can’t slow down our efforts,” said Tynan. “There is no time to waste.”
“We’re all aware of the giant ticking clock, brother. I’m sure that the men are doing everything they can to further our efforts. That may be why some of them have refused to communicate with us. Once they do, they know you’ll be forced to order them home for interrogation. That will waste valuable time and energy that none of you have.”
Tynan nodded, praying Logan was right. “I’m scheduled to meet with Joseph tonight to report on my progress.”
Hope smiled. “You might want to arrive a little late.”
“Why is that?”
“Joseph has a date.”
Tynan blinked. “Excuse me?”
“It’s not really a date,” said Logan.
Hope lifted her brows. “Yes, it is. Haven’t you seen the way he looks at her?”
Ah. Lyka. “But she hates him,” said Tynan.
“Hate is a strong word. And he now has something she wants. We simply gave her some pointers on how she might get it.”
“You know this will end badly, don’t you?” asked Tynan.
“It’s possible,” said Logan.“But I, for one, plan to enjoy the show.”