Hearts of Warriors Ch. 06byJazCullen©
The ringing of the telephone in the early hours of the morning would have woken Mac had he been asleep, but his earlier encounter with Lily had made sleep impossible. He retrieved his cell phone from the coffee table, the familiar number automatically setting his instincts on high alert
"Hello?" He deliberately altered the sound of his voice, making it huskier. His caller wasn't due to check in for another week and it paid to be cautious.
"You do that very well, Mac," Pietro laughed softly. "For a moment there I didn't recognise your voice."
Mac blew out an irritated noise. "Just because the number belongs to you doesn't mean someone else didn't get their hands on it," he countered. "I know you think you're infallible but even the best make mistakes." He couldn't stop the little dig. He wouldn't have been awake and brooding if Pietro had paid more attention when he vetted 'Andrea Ruminskey.'
"Who pissed on your parade?" Pietro laughed again. "Almost wish I was there to witness it, but you'd probably be tempted to rearrange my face for me."
Mac counted to ten, then kept going until he reached twenty. When he could trust himself to speak calmly, he let out a slow breath. "I assume you called in the middle of the night to tell me something important? Or did you just feel like pissing me off?"
The other man sobered immediately. "I got a whiff of something and followed the trail to the UK. I'm now in Edinburgh with a couple of barely-turned Elders. They act like brain-dead idiots, but it's all just a good show. These two are deliberately hiding their smarts. But they're not that intelligent though, as they've bought into my anti-establishment rhetoric. They appear excited by the prospect of having someone more experienced sharing their views. Makes me think an individual is running this little European rebellion after all. And it feels like someone important is coming soon to check me out."
Mac's tension increased at the news. "So you think they're finally going to make a move?"
"Something's in the wind, Mac. It's been so long since the last attack and I'm getting little clues here and there that appear to be nothing on their own. But taken together, they all point to an offensive about to happen. Our European brethren have a distinct lack of concern about The Council and even the Ancients. They don't view themselves as being under Council control. I also think they expect the Vârcolac to be easier targets now that they're grown and more likely to be out and about unescorted."
Mac's eyes automatically drifted to the door as he inhaled deeply to scent Lily as she slept just down the stairs from him. Pietro couldn't be more right about the timing of the Vârcolac's movements. He felt a surge of rage at the thought of someone making plans to harm the woman he was now personally protecting.
"You're sure there isn't a central figure pulling the strings from here stateside?" he finally asked.
"It's unlikely but not impossible," Pietro conceded. "The anti-Council rhetoric is pretty fierce over here, but that could just be a smokescreen. There could be someone close to our leaders who hates all the changes. The formation of the Ancient Council could have stirred up bad blood. Someone could be plotting to bring down both Councils and set themselves up as the new ruler of our nation."
Mac's smile was grim. "If they had any inkling of the triumvirate's existence they wouldn't be so stupid," he growled. "If someone close to the Council is involved then your cover may not be as good as you think, Pietro."
The other vampire laughed softly. "Why, Mackenzie. For a moment there it actually sounded like you care."
"I care about losing the only eyes and ears we have over there, de la Rios. I've got people to protect and losing you would make my job that little bit more difficult."
The other man still laughed, delight in his voice. "You know that's not the only reason you sound worried, Mac. I know you like me, really."
Mac growled in annoyance, his mind whirling at the possible implications of Pietro's intel. He chose to ignore the teasing. "How much longer will you be in Edinburgh?"
Pietro sobered again. "Don't know, but it'll probably be a while longer. I get the impression I'm receiving my final vetting before they let me in deeper."
Mac mulled over his options. If the vampires were preparing to move then the Vârcolac and possibly even the Council were in danger. Lily was tucked in bed downstairs and his gut instinct was to send her home. But no one knew she was here, and it would be logical to assume the attack would be made against the Armand-Hanlon compound. She would be safer staying with the Praetorians. The question was: could he safely leave her with Karn and the others?
"I don't have all day to hang around on this call, Mac. The others could come back any moment."
"Send me details of where you are and how long you expect to be there. Update me if you move again. I've a couple of things I need to do here but I'll meet you there as soon as possible. I want to get a feel for these people personally," Mac finally answered.
His gut clenched hard at the thought of leaving but it was the right decision. The more firsthand intel he had, the more effective the Praetorians would be in their mission to protect Lily and the others. He trusted Pietro, but he was used to trusting in his own abilities more. If something was off about the Elders Pietro had met, he'd be able to spot it right away.
And there was the risk that Pietro wasn't safe. If someone stateside was running this little rebellion then the final vetting process could blow Pietro's cover. The other vampire's link to the Romanovs wasn't exactly a secret here, even though Pietro had been cultivating his cover in Europe for the past 25 years. Mac had no such ties so his cover would be harder to expose.
"You do care, Mac," Pietro laughed softly. "I'm really touched."
"Fuck off and just send me the information, de la Rios. I'll let you know when I'm heading out."
Mac ended the call, his gaze going to the pack that he'd tossed against the wall. He had planned to stay away from the compound for a few of days to clear his head but Lily had halted that escape. Now it looked like he would get his chance after all.
The thought of leaving Lily alone was like a punch in the gut, though. It hadn't felt this bad before, but after their confrontation in the study he loathed the thought of being away from her. He knew Karn would protect her but it didn't feel right leaving her protection to someone else.
He knew it was her mating instinct calling him. Her Were heritage was asserting itself fully, actively seeking the one man who was destined to be hers for eternity. Mac couldn't afford to be that man.
And yet, he found himself stopping outside her door on his way out. He wanted to walk away but found it impossible. Leaving his pack in the hallway, he opened the door silently and stepped into the room. The yards of fabric were the first thing he noticed. There were swathes of the stuff in different colours covering every inch of the walls.
He stared in shock and wondered how she'd managed this feat even as his lips curled in a reluctant smile. She was a Vârcolac and he knew they shared some of the magic the triumvirate used. He also knew she'd prettied up her room to send a great big 'fuck you' in his direction. He couldn't help but admire her determination even if he had no intention of letting her win the battle.
His gaze swung to the bed. Despite the darkness he could see her just as clearly as he could see the material. Lily lay curled on her side, her hair loose and partially covering her face. She'd kicked the top sheet off as if she'd been restless in her sleep and her soft curves were covered in a bright red silk camisole and panty set.
It was enough to send him to his knees. He couldn't breathe as his eyes ran slowly down her body, lingering on the swell of her breasts before moving down to areas he knew better than to dwell on. Need slammed his body hard and a groan ripped from his throat.
"Mac?" Lily breathed sleepily, her head rising from pillow. She rubbed at her eyes, a gesture that made her appear younger than she was. "What are you doing in my room?" There was no irritation in her tone, just curiosity.
Mac let out a slow breath and walked to the bed. This was sheer insanity but he couldn't stop himself. He wanted to reach out and run his fingers slowly along the tempting curve of her bare leg. Instead, he held himself rigid as he stared down at her.
"I have to go away from a while," he answered, his voice coming out thick and husky. He watched a shiver run through her body even as she started to frown.
"I didn't take you for a coward, Mac. Running away doesn't seem like your style."
"It's work-related, Lily," he sighed, moving to sit on the side of the bed. Every instinct he possessed told him he should be running away from the temptress before him and yet here he was sitting on her bed. He should never have come into her room.
"I need to go to Scotland," he explained when she looked sceptical. "I didn't want you to panic in the morning when you found me gone. While I'm away you have to stick close to Karn at all times. No going off on your own. Try to keep a minimum of three Praetorians around you. And don't you dare shadow. If I find out you've slipped the leash even once I'll make you pay for it when I get back."
Lily was wide-awake now, so completely conscious of Mac sitting on her bed. Her hormones were going haywire and desire was flooding her body. Despite Mac's stern words she could feel his tension, scent his arousal. He wanted her even though he was keeping himself in check.
Underneath all the emotions she sensed from him, though, the prevailing one was fear. She knew he feared for her safety, that he was leaving to protect her in some way. She didn't know what was going on and didn't want him to leave, but she also knew she couldn't stop him if he was determined to go.
He wasn't going to get away easily, though.
"I will promise not to shadow while you're away but I have one condition," she breathed softly, sitting up until her body was so close to his they were almost touching. She felt him stiffen but he didn't move away.
"Name your condition." His voice was so low and raspy she barely heard him.
"I want a kiss goodbye. Not a peck on the cheek or lips, Mac, but a proper kiss. Give me that and I'll give you my word."
He froze, his breath catching in his throat. She was so close all he had to do was lean forward and their lips would be touching. One kiss? He scoffed silently at the thought. He didn't trust himself to stop at one. She was just too tempting.
"Lily!" It was a growled warning when he caught her looking at his mouth.
"Then I won't give you my word, Mac."
Anger flared at the determination in her voice. He almost forced her to promise him, to dominate her as he'd done in the study, but the memory of her fear was too close to the surface and he knew he couldn't do that again. Not if he wanted to stay sane.
His eyes dropped to her lips. She sat so temptingly close to him. He could feel her breath caressing his face, feel the heat of her body. He wanted to kiss her just as badly as she wanted him. Surely he could stop at one kiss if he tried hard enough?
Mac found himself reaching for her, brushing the back of his fingers down the soft curve of a perfect cheekbone. Lily shivered and his fingers trailed down the side of her throat before moving to cradle the nape of her neck.
God, she was so soft, her bones so fragile beneath his large hand. His head bent and he closed the distance between them, brushing his lips against hers gently. The instant they touched, his hand tightened painfully hard on the back of her neck. Lily let out a soft whimper, her lips parting for him. Then he was really kissing her, slanting his mouth over hers, claiming her completely.
The sound she made went straight to his head; the softness of her mouth was a temptation he couldn't resist. She literally took his breath away, and fire raced through his veins as she moaned softly, her mouth hungry against his. Mac lost all conscious thought, was completely caught up in the moment and the exquisite taste of Lily's mouth. He groaned and dipped into her sweetness, sliding his tongue against hers in slow, languorous flicks.
His heart was racing, his body hard and aching with need as he wrapped his arms around her body and forgot that he was supposed to stop with one kiss. He dragged her onto his lap, desperate to feel her soft curves against him as he slid his hand against the sensuous material of her top.
A warning was screaming in his mind but he ignored it, a deep growl erupting from his chest as he pulled Lily's body astride his and rocked his hips up to rub himself against the scalding heat that teased him through the tiniest silk panties he'd ever seen.
The kiss deepened and became more frantic as Lily writhed on his lap and tried to grind herself against him. Her small hands were in his hair, keeping his mouth to hers. His own hand had moved into the mass of luscious brown silky waves that rippled down her back and draped over his thighs. He clenched his fist in the heavy weight of her hair and kept her pinned against him.
Mac pushed into her damp heat as he pulled her down with his arm around her lower back. The desperate little sounds she was making had his head swimming, and liquid fire raced through his veins. He wanted to free himself and slide into her body, to lose himself in the scent and taste of her. He could smell her arousal, feel the dampness between her thighs. The way she rocked against him made it clear she was lost in the moment, desperate for the pleasure that was a heartbeat away. He wanted to give her that pleasure, wanted to watch her shudder and gasp as she let go and soared.
The voice in his head was becoming more urgent, screaming at him to stop, but the scent and taste of Lily was stronger, more demanding. He took her mouth over and over again in long, hot kisses, sweeping his tongue deep into her moistness, biting at her full lower lip with sharp little nips.
Lily was on fire. It was the only way to describe the sensations Mac was wreaking deep within her. His mouth was hot and dangerous, his hands hard and unyielding as he held her pinned to his body. She couldn't catch a breath, didn't want to because that would mean he'd take his mouth from hers.
Desire rippled through her, a hot and heavy sensation that tightened her breasts to a painful ache and sent liquid heat flooding straight to the juncture of her thighs where she cradled the steely hardness of his body.
She strained to get closer, whimpering urgently. The feel of him so close to her most intimate place was heady and just as frustrating because she wanted -- no, she needed him inside desperately.
Her wolf howled with glee, was frantic to claim her mate as Lily tried to pull his T-shirt from his jeans. She wanted to feel the touch of his bare skin beneath her hands.
Mac groaned loudly, sanity returning when Lily tried to take his clothes off. For a brief second he was tempted to let her and ignore the consequences but he knew he had to fight that temptation. His heart was pounding hard as he dragged his mouth away from her and pushed her off his lap onto the bed. He caught her hands in his, stilling her frantic grasping at his clothes.
"No," Lily whimpered, desperation in her eyes as she tried to get closer again. "Don't stop, Mac. Please don't stop."
He kept himself still, fought the need to pull her back into his arms as his gaze raked over her flushed face. She was so fucking beautiful he was sure it would break him to deny her. Her mouth was swollen from his kisses, her chocolate eyes flecked liberally with golden swirls.
Her breath was coming out in harsh pants, making her breasts strain against the fragile material covering her body. God, her scent had to be the most potent aphrodisiac he'd ever come across. Her entire body was hot with need, her nipples clearly outlined against the silk, almost begging his mouth to slide over the fabric and tease her mercilessly.
Mac fought his own need, suppressed the desperation he felt as his hands itched to pull her closer, to strip away her clothes and taste every inch of the soft flesh he would uncover.
"You said one kiss, Lily. That was slightly more than one kiss, but I held up my end of the bargain. Now give me your word that you won't shadow while I'm away."
Was that really his voice? How could he sound so unemotional when his entire body was attuned to hers, when what was left of his shattered self-control was barely enough to stop him from completing what he'd started? He watched her face carefully and caught the fleeting emotions that raced across her beautiful features. It made him suck in a deep breath.
Mac's cold tone was like a bucket of ice being thrown over her. Lily stared at him, biting her bottom lip as the heat of passion began to fade and she was left with Mac in all his unemotional glory.
He'd seemed as caught up in the moment as she was; hell, she hadn't been thinking clearly but the way he'd responded to her made it clear that he'd wanted her as much as she'd wanted him. Now it was like he'd flicked a switch and just shut off the passion between them.
Had he guessed at her inexperience? Was she just not tempting enough for him? Her reaction to his kiss has been instinctual and she'd burned up like a living flame. Even as he pushed her away she was still aching for him, her body strung out and desperate for completion. But Mac had just cooled off as if it was the easiest thing in the world to do. Maybe for him it was.
Lily could feel tears threatening and she fought to swallow them down. She wouldn't cry for him, wouldn't let him see how much it hurt that he could just walk away as if she didn't affect him. "I promise," she finally said, amazed that her voice sounded so neutral when she felt as if she was dying inside.
He was silent for a long moment, his eyes trying to penetrate her soul. "Why do you do that?" he asked quietly.
His gaze was relentless and she wanted to look away, but looking away from Mac wasn't always the easiest thing to do. "Do what?" Her tone was sullen, colour creeping into her cheeks.
"Turn from a sensual, vibrant woman into a vulnerable young girl. You were so passionate just a moment ago and now you appear so young and unsure." There was more than a hint of confusion in his voice.
"Probably the same reason you turn from a passionate man into a cold, hard vampire, Mackenzie," she answered bitterly, unable to keep the thread of hurt out of her tone as she leaned away from him. "I guess that's just the way we're both made. You got your promise. Just go now." The tears were getting closer to the surface, becoming harder to contain. She needed him to leave before she disgraced herself completely.
Mac could hear her voice quiver, could feel the pain she was trying so hard to conceal. He muttered a curse, knowing he'd hurt her again. Suspicion was starting to rear up inside him. He was probably crazy for even thinking it, but he needed to know if he was right.
"Lily, how much experience have you had with men?"
She stiffened instantly and her cheeks flushed with colour. It was all the answer he needed and he cursed again, loudly this time. If he'd known, even suspected that she was so inexperienced he would never have touched her. 'Yeah right,' a little voice whispered in his head even as a part of him sat up and preened at the knowledge that no man had touched her before.
It was an insanely possessive reaction, but he couldn't help it even as he was astounded that she'd led so sheltered a life. His expression must have given something away because she flushed even more and stared down at the bed.