Hearts of Warriors Ch. 08byJazCullen©
Mac felt a surge of emotion wash through him as Karn hung up on him. He stood in the middle of the airport trying to work out what the emotion was. He was astonished to realise it was a combination of fear and need. He was afraid for Lily and he had a pressing need to return to her. It was so sharp it felt as if his gut was twisting inside.
He swore under his breath, cursing the rise of emotions he couldn't afford to deal with, cursing the stunning brunette who was wreaking havoc on his life in a way no other could. Damn Liliana Romanov to hell! She had no right to do this to him. But even as he cursed her, his feet were moving of their own volition heading out of the busy airport.
He called Rhianna when he got outside and started heading to the long stay car park where he'd left the Jeep. "I can't get to Europe," he said with little preamble. "Pietro should have backup though just in case. Can you send someone?"
Rhianna didn't bother asking what was wrong. She knew it had to be something relating to Lily to have Mac turning back from his course of action. "No one as inconspicuous as you," she answered her tone thoughtful. "I'll ask Demetri to go. It's not ideal, but if your gut instincts are right, then Pietro needs someone at your level if not higher to watch his back."
Mac felt some of the weight of responsibility seep from him. Demetri was an excellent choice if he couldn't go himself. Sure he wasn't invisible, some of the older vampires may recognise him, but he was deadly in a fight if it came down to it.
"Thanks Annie. I need to find out what new trouble Lily's unleashed at the compound. Apparently Karn's not sure that even Kallum's presence there is enough to temper her. For some reason he thinks I'm the only one up for the job."
She had to laugh at the disgruntled tone in Mac's voice even as she heard the sound of a car door slamming and keys jingling as he tried to fit them into the lock to start the engine. He may not be happy to be returning to the compound but he appeared to be in a rush to get there.
"You're her mate, Mac. You may not want to admit it, you may be mad as hell about it, but it's inevitable, my friend. You should stop fighting it."
An audible silence stretched and then his breath blew out in a loud sigh. "Has anyone ever told you you're as annoying as hell sometimes, Annie?"
She laughed harder. "I've heard that a time or two. Just as I've heard a time or two that I'm always right. You should think on that, Mac. Now go sort out your problems and let me call Demetri. Caleb and I have set up a meeting with Rafe for later on tonight. We'll keep you informed of the outcome."
Mac didn't say goodbye, he simply hung up and started the engine. He pushed Rhianna's words from his mind, refusing to listen to them. The redhead's confidence should have soothed his concerns but it didn't. He knew Andrei Romanov. If he lost control the way Lily was losing control, then there would be no stopping him.
He didn't know if Loretta had the power to control Andrei when he hit the killing edge, so the only option was to make sure the vampire didn't get to that point. If that meant denying Lily, then he would, no matter the personal consequences of his actions.
There were far too many lives at stake, not just the Praetorians but also the Vârcolac. This could rip them all apart and leave them vulnerable right at the time when they needed protection the most.
Mac uttered another loud curse and headed towards the Praetorian compound. When he got his hands on Lily he was going to shake the living daylights out of her. She would obey him or so help him God, he...he....well he didn't quite know what he'd do but he'd think something dire up if he had to.
Lily had barricaded herself in her room refusing to speak to anyone. Kallum had tried to talk to her but she'd been unable to meet his gaze, ashamed at her loss of control. He sent her love down their bond and it had hurt to feel it, so she'd masked the bond tightly until nothing and no one could get in.
Her brother had finally hugged her silently, kissing the top of her head and leaving with Karn when he'd realised she needed space. She knew he was keeping a light touch with her mind just in case she let him in. It made her feel worse because she was aware he was hurting because she was shutting him out.
And Karn had summoned Mac home. She shivered at the thought of seeing him again. He'd be angry with her, disappointed with her weakness. He had important work to do and he'd had to give that up to come back and babysit her like a child.
How would he ever accept her as his mate when he had to take care of her like a two year old all the time? Why couldn't she be mature enough to be the woman he needed? She'd spent over a decade shaping herself into the kind of woman Mac could be proud of and it had all been for nothing. She was weak and pathetic and he could never love a submissive woman.
Lily let the tears fall as she buried her head in the pillow to muffle the sound. She was so confused she didn't know which way to turn, what to do to make things right. She reached out mentally; searched for that one rock she knew would always be there no matter what she did wrong or how angry he was with her.
Instantly she was assaulted with conflicting emotions, relief, anger, concern and layering them all was a deep rooted pain that threatened to take her breath away. Her tears flowed harder and she bit her bottom lip to muffle her sobs.
The emotions suddenly vanished, cut off in an instant to be replaced with a strong sense of love and acceptance. "Shhhh, baby, don't cry. There's nothing so bad we can't fix it. You know that."
"I keep doing everything wrong," she wailed. "I try to be good and I fail all the time. I'm frightened, Dad. I'm so fucking scared of what I'll do, who I'll hurt. I keep losing control and I've already hurt one friend."
Andrei took a deep breath, his heart clenching painfully at the plea for understanding in his daughter's voice, at the sheer terror trembling through his bond with her that he could suddenly sense. He knew that feeling well, that moment when the sane part of him realised the madness was about to take hold and sweep away the last piece of goodness within his soul.
Of all the things he could have given to Lily, this was the one he'd prayed neither of his children would ever inherit.
"Language, Liliana," he answered gruffly fighting to keep his growing fear from his tone. "I know you're upset but I'm still your father and don't want to hear foulness from my little girl's mouth."
Surprisingly, his stern words actually helped to calm her down a little. It was such a normal parent thing to hear that she sighed softly and rubbed at her cheeks to try and dry the endless tears.
"I think I was into my third decade as a vampire when I first noticed the faint whiff of what I've always termed my insanity," Andrei continued in an even tone. "It terrified me how hard it was to maintain control of the feral part of my nature. I was lucky I had a close bond with your Uncle Alexei. He was able to help me when I danced too close to the killing edge. Later, I learned to control it myself but I was always aware it was there, always knew that one small lapse on my part and a monster would be born."
He let his words sink in, feeling her startled emotions as he opened up to her and let her know that she wasn't alone, that he truly did understand what she was currently going through.
"I managed to control it for centuries with just a few slip-ups along the way. And then I met your mother. Lord, that woman was enough to shatter any man's self control no matter how hard I fought against her. You know what happened, Lily. We never hid from you the choice your mother had to make back then. We glossed over my part in the whole affair though."
Lily was fascinated and repelled at the same time. She knew her father wasn't perfect, that his dark side was something most sane people feared. But he was still her father, still the rock she clung to when she was frightened. She didn't want anything to come between them and yet she knew she needed to know what it was about him that made her the way she was. She couldn't hide from the beast within.
"Tell me," she whispered even though she was afraid of what was to come. Another rush of love and reassurance invaded her mind along with a strong sense of pride.
"When my Rose was hurt by my people, when I thought we had lost you before we'd ever had the chance to know you, I crossed over, Liliana. I stopped dancing the killing edge and embraced it. Blood flowed that day, but more than that, I took a vampire apart piece by piece. I felt no remorse, no constraints, only mindless satisfaction as I listened to Roberto's screams as I ripped him apart."
He paused again, taking another deep breath as he relived that day as if it was only yesterday. "Your mother brought me back," he finally said when his daughter remained silent and waiting for his next words.
"For some reason, watching her walk barefoot through Roberto's blood was just so wrong on every level. I was tainted, beyond redemption, but she was beauty and light, the other half of my soul. I couldn't bear to see my taint on her skin, couldn't bear the thought that if I left her forever, someone else would hurt her as she'd just been hurt.
She didn't give up on me. My Rose refused to let me lose myself and clung on with her love and acceptance, seeing past my horrendous act and finding something worth saving in me. She gave me back my sanity and she gave me back my little Lilac. When I felt you still alive and growing in her womb, I knew I was being given a second chance and I was greedy enough to reach out and grab it with both hands."
Lily felt more tears falling, heard the pain and suffering her father had carefully kept hidden from his children. So much guilt and self-loathing, so much self doubt over whether he deserved the redemption he finally found with his family. She loved him so much she was sending that love down their bond in an instant, no hesitation at all.
"I don't know if I'm as strong as you, Daddy," she admitted brokenly. "I thought Kal could help but I lost control today again even in his presence. There's only one person who seems able to calm my wolf when she goes feral but he has so many lives he needs to protect. He needs to be able to concentrate on them and I know he feels he can't do that and be my saviour too."
Andrei's mental tone was gruff when he answered her as if he was trying hard to hide his emotions. "Your mate. I think only a true mate can soothe the beast within our souls, Lily. Can you tell me why he can't do both?"
She couldn't answer that question. To do so would give away everything and though she knew it was about to happen anyway, she wanted a few more hours of pretending, of dreaming that everything would somehow work itself out.
"It's because of me isn't it?" Andrei suddenly asked and there was so much pain in his words that she thought it would crush her. "Am I so terrible, Lily? Have I failed you so badly that you believe I would take the one thing in your life that would grant you the peace your soul needs?"
A choked sob ripped out and she buried her face into the pillow again trying to muffle the sound. She didn't want to hurt him any more, didn't want him to know she had thought that, that just about everyone who knew him expected something so terrible from him.
"I love you, Liliana. I will always love you no matter what. When you're ready, come home so we can talk more. Get in touch with your mother too because she's worried about you and it's unfair to punish her because I've been a complete ass. I would never hurt your mate, daughter mine, no matter how angry I became. When I've earned your trust back, I hope you can believe that."
He cut off their contact and she felt guilty that she was glad of it. Her emotions were so raw, his revelations staggering. And yet just knowing that she wasn't alone, that her father truly understood the sheer terror she felt deep inside, did help ease her pain a little.
Forcing herself from the bed, Lily headed into the bathroom and took a shower. She dressed without paying any attention to her clothes, her thoughts chaotic as she tried to work out what to do for the best. She had almost come to her decision when she heard the sound of a car pulling up outside and knew her time had run out. Mac was home.
The sound of raised voices startled her when she opened the bedroom door. She'd had no idea the sleeping quarters were soundproofed in the house but it was the only explanation for not being aware an argument was in full swing. Squaring her shoulders she peeked over the banister down into the entranceway.
Her breath caught as her eager gaze took in every nuance of Mac's expression. His eyes were molten black, his features hard and uncompromising as he stared down Kallum as if it was an every day occurrence for him.
Her brother was equally impressive and more astounding because she'd never seen him this way before. Kal was usually so easy going, so understanding but the man facing off with her mate was rigid, so furious his eyes were actually glowing with flecks of pale amber. Power wafted off him in waves.
When had her brother become so strong? How much of himself did he hide from everyone the way she had hidden her own weakness all these years? For the first time she thought she could truly understand the pack's obsessive need to protect them. They were an unknown entity; with powers so strong they could be dangerous. Watching Kallum cemented the decision she'd come to.
Mac's gaze shifted an instant later and his head snapped up to her. God he was so beautiful, so intoxicating, she felt as if she'd melt from the heat in his eyes even at a distance. Her heart twisted painfully in her chest though she kept her expression carefully neutral. Seeing Mac made it so much more painful to do what she had to do but she wouldn't be swayed from her decision.
Lily hitched her pack over her shoulder and walked serenely downstairs conscious that every eye was on her quiet descent. The Praetorians had been watching Mac and Kallum argue, now they watched her, the cause of the argument.
Karn's expression was unreadable but then she didn't expect any less from him. He would never openly show what he could keep hidden. Brandon raised an eyebrow at her and she couldn't stop her lips quirking. There were just some things her friend would never get the hang of; denying his friendship with her was one of them.
She swept past them all and came to stop at Kallum's side. She thought she detected a slight tic in Mac's jaw but she could have imagined it. He was the master at shielding his emotions, so much so she would have doubted he had any if he hadn't let slip his mask the night before.
"I'm ready to go home now, Kal," Lily announced in an even tone, her gaze never leaving Mac's. She felt confusion run through their bond as she opened herself back up to her brother.
"You've just turned the pack upside down for your right to be here, Lila. Now you want to go home? Did I miss something?" Kallum couldn't keep the anger from his voice even though he wasn't angry with his sister as such. He'd just spent the last five minutes arguing with Mac to allow her to stay at the compound! Now she was doing a one hundred eighty degree turn on him?
"I've talked to Dad and it's apparent that I need to go home." Her gaze shifted to her brother, her body language irresolute. "We're endangering the pack by being here, splitting both the Praetorians and our families. Mac needs to be in Europe to track down the threat against us and he can't do that if he has to keep babysitting me. I'm safe at home so it makes sense to be there until all this has been cleared up."
She was agreeing to go home for the moment but she wasn't giving up on claiming her mate. She needed Mac on more than one level; her talk with her father had made that abundantly clear. It had suddenly struck her that Mac couldn't be who he was meant to be when she was around. She was hurting him by dividing his focus and that was something she couldn't live with.
She wouldn't be a burden to her mate. She had waited twelve years she could wait a few more if that's what it took for Mac to be able to come to her with a clear conscience and no regrets.
An irritated snort filled the air and she had to smile as she turned back to look at Brandon. "You need to work on your impassiveness, Bran. You're pretty hopeless at it. Don't worry I'm not vanishing completely. You can come visit me at the compound, if Mac has no objections to it."
She turned back to look at her mate. His eyes bored into her soul and for a moment it was almost as if they were the only two people standing there. She couldn't tell what he was thinking or feeling.
It was an effort to tear her eyes from his to smile up at Karn. She would miss him almost as much as she would miss Mac. "No sigh of relief, Karn? I'm just about to make your life so much simpler." Her tone was teasing even as she felt as if her heart was about to break under the strain of keeping up her calm façade.
He grunted and looked away not bothering to answer. He was watching Mac carefully instead, waiting to see what he would do now that Lily had decided to leave.
Mac stared at Lily, his body so tense he felt as if the slightest breeze would break him in two. Her face was pale, the telltale signs of weeping in the slight redness around her eyes. She was stunning, her hair loose for once, still damp from her shower.
The smile she gave Brandon and Karn didn't meet her eyes, the serenity in her face a cold mask she wasn't quite adept enough to carry off to perfection. When she spoke there was just the slightest hint of a quiver as if she was holding onto her self-control by the faintest of margins. She looked so fucking fragile it was enough to break his heart.
His earlier rage had dissipated only to be replaced by a new anger. Lily was leaving him. The decision was clear in her eyes, her pack on her shoulder the physical announcement of her intent. He should have been glad about it. He'd be able to go to Europe and track down the threat to her. He'd be able to do his job as he'd promised he would all those years ago. But he didn't feel glad. He felt a cold, chilling anger which threatened to turn the blood in his veins to ice.
She was fucking leaving him!
He reached out gripping her upper arm firmly and marching across the entranceway towards his study. He ignored her startled gasp and held up a hand in warning when Kallum moved to intercede.
"Mind your own fucking business," he ground out, piercing him with a hard glare. "You know I won't hurt her."
A silent moment passed between the two men and then Kallum backed off. He wasn't looking at the head of the Praetorians but instead the furious gaze of a mate who was being driven to distraction. One thing he knew well was never to come between mates. Mac wouldn't hurt Lily so he let them go to work out their issues.
"Mac!" Lily couldn't believe he'd just frogmarched her into the study in front of everyone. The door slammed shut behind them with a loud bang and she would have jumped if the scent of fresh paint hadn't distracted her. It was so strong it made her nose wrinkle in distaste.
There was a new desk too, slightly smaller than the last one but in a soft cedar wood rather than the dark mahogany of its predecessor. The walls were devoid of wood panelling; now smooth plasterwork with a soft cream finish. It was so completely changed she was momentarily stunned into silence.