Hearts of Warriors Ch. 04byJazCullen©
Thank you mikothebaby once more for editing for me and also the Guild for their invaluable assistance, as always :-)
Mac rolled over onto his back with a groan and threw an arm across his eyes. His body felt heavy and sluggish, lack of sleep being the main cause of his tiredness. He had needed to complete an errand after leaving Lily the night before, and then he'd simply been unable to stop himself from going into her room and watching her sleep.
The need to see her had almost been a compulsion and there was something quite unnerving about it. No one had managed to get under his skin the way she had, not for a very long time. The last time he'd opened himself up to someone, his entire world had changed. Sorrow and anguish had been carved into his soul before being replaced by a cold, brutal determination.
It was the latter emotion that had kept him going for the last fifteen hundred years. But as he'd watched Lily sleep last night, he'd found himself wondering just what he'd been missing by closing himself off.
He'd shaped himself into the perfect vampire, ruthless and cold. He'd assigned himself a personal mission; one frowned upon by his people even though they understood the need for it. He'd set himself up to be the judge and executioner of the vampires who crossed over.
Not only had he taken on the task, but he'd done so with relish. At each encounter, he saw Maria's face and little Sophia's torn body. With each vampire he killed, he avenged his family's deaths and fed a darkness that had grown steadily within him as the years rolled on. Like the vampires he hunted, he too had been just as consumed by the need to kill. It was only because he limited himself to vampires which had crossed over that he could justify his actions and stop himself from crossing over too.
The Vampire Council had let him go his own way, unofficially sanctioning his actions as long as he continued to limit himself to kills they'd deemed appropriate. He'd always managed to toe the line but he'd been forced to be sneaky about it. When he'd run out of obvious targets, he'd started hunting the ones who were about to turn.
He could always tell who was about to lose their grip on sanity long before they even knew. The humane thing would have been to guide them away from the destructive path they were on, but he did nothing to help. Instead, he'd stalked them, shadowed their every move until they snapped. Then he'd swooped in and dispensed his justice.
He'd been so close to crossing over and had been at the breaking point when Demetri had found him and given him a nobler task. He'd often wondered if his friend had known how lost he'd become and had invited him to lead the Praetorians to 'save' him as he should have been saving the vampires he waited to turn.
Demetri had been there centuries ago when Mac had given up and allowed his feral side to take control. Instead of putting him down, his friend had kicked the shit out of him until the pain had been so intense, it broke through the haze of insanity that had consumed him.
When reason finally returned, Demetri had kicked the shit out of him even harder and told him in no uncertain terms that he'd take Mac's head the next time he allowed himself to turn. It had been a painful lesson, one that left him broken and covered in blood. It had taken him almost a full day to completely heal from the beating. When Demetri made a point, he sure as hell made it.
Three times now the Ancient had saved his life. He owed Demetri a debt he doubted he'd ever be able to fully repay. Demetri must have seen something in him worth saving, though Mac still had no idea what it was his friend saw. Losing his family had damaged him beyond repair. He just wasn't capable of tenderness any more, not the kind that someone like Lily deserved.
She'd been brought up in a warm, loving environment, was adored and cherished by all around her. She was used to being pampered like a princess and he was used to being on his own, closed off and remote. No one was more surprised than he was by his own unexpected behaviour the night before. Lily had slipped under his guard for a moment, made him start thinking about being mated, about sharing a life with her... even when he was so wrong for her in every way.
Lily fought like a true warrior, all graceful lines and deadly precision. She was tough and resilient, a woman to be admired. But hiding beneath that tough exterior was a confused girl who hid a vulnerability that was shocking in its intensity when it surfaced.
He hadn't been prepared for it the night before. He hadn't been prepared for his reaction to it. One look into her tear-stained face and his barriers had started to crumble. The need to protect her, to wipe those tears from her eyes had almost been a physical ache.
Maybe he could give her tenderness once in a while but it wasn't who he was. He wasn't suddenly going to change for her no matter how much he wished he could. He'd been honed in pain and spent his life doling out pain and ultimately death. He was a killer and there was no escaping that fact.
Lily might think that was what she wanted in a mate but he knew being with him would destroy her in the long run. She was currently running from her father because she couldn't cope with the type of dominant male he was. He had no doubt she loved Andrei, adored him even, but she chafed at the restraints he imposed on her.
She would wilt under the control Mac would force on her if he accepted her as his.
With a loud snarl into the silent room, Mac pushed himself out of bed and strode naked into the bathroom. Last night had been a mistake. For Lily's sake she had to understand that. He was not the mate she needed and he couldn't damage someone as vibrant as her. He would make sure she understood that when she woke up.
* * * *
The scent of lilac woke Lily and she tensed instantly. Had she released her hold on her scent? Her eyes flew open and her head turned to the bedside table, following the sweet fragrance. Sitting in an exquisitely cut glass vase was a bouquet of lilacs. The tension slowly eased from her body.
"Lilacs are a pretty flower."
She squeaked and sat up, her startled gaze flying to her bedroom door. It was closed but Karn leaned against it, his arms crossed over his chest, his expression so neutral it looked as if he'd donned a blank mask.
He was big and imposing, his expression slightly frightening as he stood in her room and watched her so intently. She had no trouble understanding his message. He was letting her know that he knew who she was. Had Mac told him?
"Fuck!" she groaned as memories of the night before flooded into her tired mind. Mac! She'd told him everything! She'd tried to seduce him with sexy lingerie and, God forbid, she'd taken his blood. Could it get any worse? Even Karn knowing her identity paled in comparison to what Mac was likely to say to her when she saw him.
"My thoughts exactly," Karn agreed as he pushed off from the door and moved towards her closet and drawers. He pulled out clothes with quick, economical movements, raising an eyebrow at her as he dangled her lacy underwear by a finger.
She blushed scarlet and he laughed. "Oh the hidden depths," he chuckled as he tossed the garments on the bed. "You've got ten minutes to get ready. Meet me outside." He turned for the door.
"Is he sending me home?" Lily managed to keep her voice calm and composed. Inside she was anxious, wondering if Mac had sent his number two to do the dirty work. It wasn't his style to delegate unpleasant tasks but it was something he might do if he was fighting the mating pull.
"Get dressed, Ruminskey." The door closed behind Karn, leaving her none the wiser.
Cursing under her breath, she got up and took a quick shower. She was dressed and on her way downstairs within her time limit. It was never wise to keep Karn waiting. She'd learned that pretty quickly during her initial training. He hadn't told her to pack so that had to mean Mac hadn't issued that instruction -- yet.
She found Karn outside, waiting beside a Jeep. Without a word, he got into the driver's side and waited until she'd walked around the vehicle and climbed in. He started the car and pulled off down the dirt road leading away from the compound. Lily's anxiety ratcheted up a notch.
"Where are we going?" She was annoyed that some of her fear leaked into her voice. Displaying fear to Karn was like bathing in blood and telling him he wasn't allowed to lick you. Not that she'd ever done that, but she could imagine how he'd react if she had.
His gaze snapped to hers for a moment and then he looked away. "You'll see when we get there."
"Karn, I swear if you're taking me back to the pack, I will fight you every step of the way! If that's what Mac has ordered you to do then you'd better just tell me now and stop the car because I'm not going."
The utter conviction in her voice brought his gaze back to her. "I'm not taking you back to the pack," he finally said and there was anger in his voice. "Just so you know, I do not agree with Mac's decision. Not even a tiny bit. If I had my way I'd been dumping your ass back with your Daddy and to hell with you, Ruminskey." He snarled when he used her name.
His hostility cut her to the quick. She really liked Karn, respected him immensely. He'd always treated her fairly, their relationship being more like a mentorship, a strong friendship. Experiencing his displeasure hurt. His quiet calm was gone and in its place was rejection and disapproval.
All Karn saw when he looked at her now was a Vârcolac. He didn't see her any more, just as no one ever looked past the label that hung over all of them.
Lily wanted to scream in frustration. Instead, she lowered her head and clutched her hands tightly in her lap. She mourned the loss of respect and friendship she had felt from the man at her side. She cursed herself, hating what she was with every fibre of her being. She didn't want to be different. She just wanted to be herself.
The silence in the car was oppressive. Fury roiled off Karn in waves when she tested his emotions. Tears threatened and she had to swallow hard to contain them. She'd never felt so alone before, so unsure. She reached out to the one person she could always rely on.
"Lily? Where the fuck are you? Do you have any idea the trouble you're in? Dad is ready to kill something. The whole pack is in an uproar. What are you playing at?" Her brother's strong mental voice was filled with anger but also relief at hearing from her. It threatened more tears which she had to swallow again to contain.
"I miss you too, little bro," she answered, managing to include the mental image of a smile in her words.
He was silent for a moment and then she felt a strong surge of love, the equivalent of one of Kal's mental hugs. "What's wrong, Lila?" His use of his pet name told her he at least had forgiven her. "You sound so sad."
Lily sighed softly and closed her eyes, shutting Karn out completely. "I found my mate, Kal, but it's complicated. I had to pretend I was someone else and my secret is out. Understandably some people I like a lot are pretty pissed at me right now."
"Do you need me to come get you, Lila? I won't tell anyone where you are if you don't want me to. Are you sure this male is your mate and not just a way to try and escape the compound? I know you've always found it hard being confined here, but you know it's just because they worry about us so much. Dad loves you so much he's just scared something bad will happen."
Lily smiled as she listened to her brother. He was an Alpha to his very core even though he had no pack to call his own. Protecting people came easily to him. He formed his own opinions and made his own judgement calls as quickly and as naturally as breathing. She knew she could trust him with her every secret and he'd never betray her. He accepted what she told him because he knew she would never lie to him.
"I don't know where I'm heading at the moment," she finally answered. "I am safe, though. Apart from needing a hug I'm doing okay. He is my mate, Kal. I've known that for twelve years now. I can't explain it all right now but if you go to Annie and tell her I said 'Mac' she will explain everything. I think she'll tell you if she believes we've spoken and I've agreed to it."
More warmth travelled down their mental bond, so much love and assurance from Kallum that a tear did escape her closed eyes. Thankfully, it was on the cheek farthest away from Karn's view so a slight turn of her head was enough to conceal her weakness.
"Will you contact Mom and Dad; let them know you're okay? They're worried about you, Lila. We all are. I feel so much better now you've contacted me."
"I will later today. I intended to when I got up this morning. Annie's already had words with me about it." She could sense his curiosity about Rhianna's involvement in this.
He appeared to be slowly digesting the new information. "Fine. I'll talk to Annie. I don't know what part she's playing in all this but Caleb is pretty pissed about your disappearance. If she's helping you he will not be happy about it."
"I know, Kal. I didn't deliberately drag her into this, it just sort of happened. I was just as shocked to see her as she was to see me. I don't want to cause any issues between them."
She felt Kal sigh and then a mental shrug washed over her. "It's Annie's call," he admitted. "I'm going to go try and track her down now. Lila, you keep in touch with me, okay? No more suppressing your mental voice. That's been the worst part, not knowing if you were alive or dead."
She couldn't stop the gasp that escaped her. Annie had mentioned her father's concerns, but she'd never once suspected that her silence would have Kallum thinking something bad had happened to her. "Kal, I'm so sorry! I never dreamed you'd think something so awful. I just assumed you'd know that I was hiding from Mom and Dad's anger."
A muffled snort sounded in her head. "I did, Lila, at first, but then I never expected you would trust me so little you'd shut me out too. When I didn't hear from you I started to think the worst."
"Kal! It's not that I didn't trust you! I didn't want to put you in the position of having to lie to Mom and Dad. Forgive me, please. I never meant to hurt you like that." Pain rippled through her. It was harsh and crippling. She couldn't bear the thought of ever having Kal doubt her.
His warm laughter danced through their bond and she could picture his gorgeous face easily. His brown eyes would be dancing with laughter, his lips curling in a smile that stopped most of the hearts of the unattached females in the pack.
"When have I ever been able to stay mad at you, Lila? You wrap me around your little finger and you know it. Of course I forgive you. Just keep in touch and let me know if you need me to come get you. I'll deal with Mom and Dad, so don't worry about that. I hope Mac's worth it. I'm assuming his name is Mac, as that's the codeword you've given me for Annie."
Mac's face came to mind, the memory of his deep voice gently soothing her the night before. Lily could almost taste his essence in her mouth, could almost feel the pleasure exploding deep within her as she'd tasted him.
"Lily!" Kallum's shocked interjection startled her and made her realise she'd been projecting some pretty intimate emotions down their bond. "I get the message," he laughed softly. "He's definitely worth it. Now turn down the eroticism! That is just way too icky, sister mine!"
"Sorry, Kal," she blushed, keeping her head turned away from Karn so he couldn't see her reddened face. "I'll talk to you later."
She felt her brother recede from her mind after blowing her a quick kiss. Her lips quirked in a smile and she let out a quiet sigh. She always felt better after talking to Kal. He didn't piss about or point fingers in blame. If something happened that he didn't like, he dealt with it and moved on.
She may be the older of the two but Kal was the one who was the sturdy rock. He'd tempered a lot of her wildness in her younger years but he'd also known how to let out his own wild side when he felt they could get away with it.
All the Vârcolac had close interpersonal connections with their siblings as well as with each other. They were different from the rest of the pack, a new species coming into life. It had been inevitable that they would group together and become somewhat separate from everyone else. It didn't mean they loved their pack any less or felt superior to them, it just meant they were more closely linked.
It had given Lily an added layer of comfort as she'd grown up. They were a mini-pack within the greater pack. She'd felt safe within her group of peers and was more than willing to give up any position of being their leader despite being the eldest. Kal had taken that position as if it was his right. He was Alpha and no one challenged him about it.
The structure was simple. Kal was Alpha, Lily was his protector. Some things were hard to shake, and taking care of her baby brother was one of them. She had his back without ever being asked. She'd kicked a young male's ass many a time when they'd teased Kal as he grew up. He'd been shy and uncertain in his younger years. Once his Alpha tendencies had kicked in she hadn't been required to protect him any more, but until that time a few wolves had received the blunt edge of her fury.
Dara and Cassia were their main soldiers. They had a lot of their father in them. Alexei had been a Council enforcer for the vampires before he'd met their mother. He was used to taking care of business as was Cedar in her role of Beta with the pack. Both their children had grown with that same fierce protectiveness. Their stunning looks and easy charm fooled most people. They were excellent at ferreting out information from their wolf counterparts.
Liam... God love him, Liam was their heart. Everyone adored the quiet, auburn-haired man, it was simply impossible not to love him. He'd grown huge like his father, was the spitting image of Nors, who had to be the biggest vampire Lily had ever seen.
Liam looked scary and intimidating but he had his mother's personality. He was so empathic that the feelings of others had become a burden to him. To solve that problem, he kept himself withdrawn from most of the pack. He lived almost completely within the boundaries of their mini-pack. They were able to shield their emotions so much better than others, that it was easier for Liam to relate to them.
His empathy and fierce love was probably what had kept most of them from rebelling against the constraints placed on them for so long. Being confined to the pack had been hard on all of them except Liam. He didn't want to leave and by default didn't want his support network to crumble either. He'd automatically soothed any discord and discontent they'd felt as they grew older.
They had always known what Liam had been doing, but no one had minded. Liam needed them and when one of their own had a need, the others were always there.
Where Liam went, Elina was never far behind. They were cousins but their bond appeared to be almost a sibling bond. Elina had set herself up as Liam's personal protector, just as Lily had done with Kallum.
She had Freya's haunting beauty but Dayton's deep blue eyes. Her dark brown hair was streaked with reds and golds like her mother's but she also had an inch-wide streak of silver hair that framed her face.
Elina hadn't been born with the silver in her hair and no one had been able to explain why the moment she hit puberty she'd suddenly taken on Dayton's colouring. She'd suffered no personal loss like her father so there was no reason for the colour to bleach from her hair but it had.