Hearts of Warriors Ch. 19byJazCullen©
Once more real life got in the way of posting up the final chapters of Hearts. I had to prioritise the rewrite of FTI to meet a publishing submission deadline that came up unexpectedly (Wish me luck LOL). It's all done now so here is the penultimate chapter of Hearts.
I will be submitting the final chapter this weekend so it should post up a few days after this one depending on the schedule of the current contest running which can delay postings.
My thanks to mikothebaby for her speedy turnaround on the chapters. I have tinkered with this one since receiving it back so any errors are my own.
Halfway up the steps into the Council building, Caleb and Rhianna stopped at the same time, their eyes turning to the mountains in the distance. Long slow moments passed as scenes played out, fear and anguish, pain and suffering, and finally relief flowing through them.
Caleb turned narrowed eyes to his mate, watching her expressive face as she continued to stare off into the distance. He could feel her reaching out to the others, surrounding them with her love, as she was inclined to do. As he watched her, he felt a rage begin deep within at the events that had just played out.
Someone had come into his territory and hurt one of his own. A quarter of a century ago, he had issued an edict in this very same council building, letting everyone know in no uncertain terms, what the penalty would be for any attempt to harm those under his protection. Today, someone had done just that, and he would not countenance it. Ever!
"Liam's fine," Rhianna breathed quietly, relaxing as the danger passed. Her gaze turned to her mate's and she swallowed hard at the expression on his face. "Caleb." She placed a steadying hand on his arm but his expression didn't waver.
He gripped her upper arm and moved back down the steps towards his waiting car. "You said this wouldn't happen, Annie. You said there was no harm in allowing the female to come into my territory." His grip tightened painfully as he fought with the myriad of emotions crashing through him. He was livid on more than one level, not just at the woman who had hurt Liam, but also at his mate.
"Caleb." Rhianna tugged at her arm until he released her abruptly and she had to check herself from stumbling. Lavender eyes watched him warily. He very seldom lost his temper with her; it had been years since the last time. Looking into his face it was clear that he was angrier than he'd ever been with her before. She could understand that to a certain extent, but it still hurt deeply that he could look at her with such lack of faith. "No, I said she would heal three souls. I had no idea this would happen. I don't see the future, Caleb. I just sometimes know what needs to happen, and Thereasa coming here needed to happen."
He rounded on her, his eyes flashing amber in his fury. "She hurt Liam. She dies, end of subject. And don't argue semantics with me, Rhianna. I don't believe you didn't know the harm she would do. If she is supposed to heal three souls then she would have to have caused the harm in the first place. This is something Anakatrine would do. Not my Annie."
She felt her own anger rise, hurt at his condemnation and the fact he was calling her an outright liar to her face. She had never lied to him, not once in all their years together. He was allowing his rage to colour his judgement and failing to see the bigger picture. "You say that as if we are separate beings, Caleb. Anakatrine is part of me as Annie is part of her. I've managed to find a balance as best I can. I think your own lack of balance with Callain is what's prompting this rage within you."
Her eyes blazed with fire, hurt and anger dominating her emotions. "I have never lied to you, Caleb. Not once and I never will. I had no idea Thereasa would hurt Liam. I'm as angry about that happening as you are, but she cannot die. She still has three souls to save. That hasn't changed."
His expression turned thunderous. "This has nothing to do with Callain and everything to do with Anakatrine. Remember I know her well and know what she's capable of for the greater good. I know my Annie and she would never have allowed this to happen. She may never lie to me, but I'm not so certain Anakatrine wouldn't. If you're so balanced with her then what am I supposed to think?"
He moved closer to the car, pulling the door open and waiting until she got in. It was an effort not to slam the door shut and for a moment, he drifted back to a night so many years ago, the night of his very first argument with a petite redhead who was to become his world. So much had changed since then, so much good and some not so good. Somewhere along the way, both he and his Annie had changed until they stood now at a precipice and he didn't know what was going to happen.
That was what frightened him the most, what lurked behind the rage. As each event unfolded, he sensed Anakatrine take more of a hold on his Annie. While Callain had loved Anakatrine in a past life, he was more prominently Caleb now, and it was Annie who was his soul, not the vampire queen. She was slowly taking over until one day he would wake and his precious Annie would be gone forever.
Climbing into the car and heading off into the traffic, Caleb took a deep breath refusing to look at his mate. His voice was cold and detached when he spoke. "Here me now, Rhianna. When we reach the Praetorian compound, justice will be carried out. Do not get in my way on this or you will not like the consequences."
His words sent a chill of fear through Rhianna as she blinked back tears and stared straight ahead. The chasm between them was so wide she didn't know how to breach it. Caleb was intent on one course of action and she couldn't allow him to do what he intended. She would have to side against him and if she did...she had no idea what that would mean for them.
Mackenzie tenderly set Lily to her feet in the bathroom of the retreat high up in the mountains. His heart was still struggling to resume a normal beat and he was loathe to release his precious bundle.
"Mac, I'm fine." Lily was feeling better, the nausea starting to recede. She knew she was probably a sight covered in blood, but all her injuries had healed and her wolf assured her their child was safe. She wanted to take the anxious expression from his face.
"I almost lost you!" Mac's hands shook as he cradled her face reverently, his fingers tracing each perfect feature he loved so much. His voice dropped to a whisper as he leaned his forehead against hers. "It was worse than coming home all those centuries ago, Lily. I didn't think anything could ever be worse than that, but it was." His voice broke and he felt tears well up as the horror of the day's events replayed in his mind. He couldn't lose his Lily...ever. It would destroy him.
"Mac..." Lily wrapped her arms tightly around him, holding him as he shook silently. His tears broke her heart and she wanted to fix this, but didn't know how. All she could do was hold him until he worked through the emotions of the past, and what had just transpired.
He was crushing her so tightly to his chest that had she been fragile she would have broken, but she was strong and could withstand the force of his hold. Lily held her mate and wept with him, not for herself, but for the pain he was experiencing. Pain she had caused.
"I heard that," Mac finally said, raising his head and staring into her chocolate brown eyes so full of remorse it hurt his heart to witness it. He could see self-loathing in Lily's eyes and it wasn't an expression he ever wanted to see on her face again. "Don't, Lily. Kallum was right. If we'd both talked rather than try to guess how the other would react then none of this would have happened. This isn't one person's fault, it's just part of learning to know each other. We'll do better the next time."
Her expression clouded further, guilt predominant in her eyes. "I shouldn't have panicked. I should have stayed and talked with you, trusted in you. Instead, I ran and nearly killed our baby and myself. I could hear them, Mac, everyone screaming inside my head." Her voice dropped to a whisper. "I could hear you begging me to live, over and over again. Your voice...oh Mac...your voice." She broke off, unable to continue, more tears welling up and flowing down her cheeks.
It broke his heart to see her weep like that, to hear her voice full of disgust at herself. This wasn't his Lily, this wasn't his strong, feisty mate who'd rocked into his life like an explosion of dynamite and turned everything topsy-turvy. She had dragged him out of the pit of despair, healed his grief, and taught him to love again. He wanted his Lily back, her eyes full of joy, her spirit strong and boundless. He had to reach through her melancholy and he knew only one way to do that.
Mackenzie slowly dropped to his knees, wrapping his arms around the small of Lily's back and resting his cheek against her abdomen. He took in a deep breath, scenting the precious life they had conceived together, another beautiful daughter. He brought one hand around to rest on the gentle swell of her stomach.
"She has your scent," he breathed softly, wonder in his voice as the delicate bouquet of lilacs washed over him. He knew some of that related to Lily's own scent but he could tell the subtle difference that made up their child. His daughter. He was certain of that. His actions had the desired effect. Lily's sharp intake of breath sounded loudly in the bathroom, her hand trembling as it came to rest over his.
"Really, Mac? She's a girl?" Lily's voice quivered through her tears but there was the sweet sound of joy in her words, which made Mac's heart soar. He glanced up to see uncertainty on her face along with the first glimmer of hope.
"Oh yes, sugar. I'm about to have a mini version of you to help drive me even more insane than I already am." His tone was light and teasing, his fingers threading with hers to stroke against her body. "Who knew going crazy could be such a wonderful experience?"
Lily managed a small smile, her heart beating wildly at the unadorned love shining in Mac's eyes. She knew she was most probably more at fault than he was for the barely-averted disaster. She knew that Mac would do his level best to protect her from everything, including her own feelings of guilt. He was distracting her, refocusing her on what was important, the child they had created. The child that earlier that day Mackenzie had been so certain he didn't want.
"You really don't mind about the baby?" She couldn't keep the anxious note from her voice. Seeing the joy that spread across his face as he ran a hand gently over her stomach was enough to dispel any remaining concerns she had on that point. They still had a lot to discuss but she was now positive that Mac wanted their baby as much as she did.
He rose to his feet, cupping her cheek gently. "I will love our baby with everything in me, Liliana Rose. No one will hurt our child, ever. Not as long as I live." His grey gaze roamed over her blood-streaked face and he thought she'd never looked more beautiful. Under the dirt and blood, she was radiant in her beauty, his mate, so strong and proud, presenting him with the most treasured gift in the world.
He hadn't thought he could love her any more than he already did, but his heart swelled tightly as he stared into her eyes. "I know I've made mistakes, Lily. I know you feel to blame for everything but it took both of us to get to this point. You think all you've brought me is pain and you couldn't be more wrong, sugar. You've taught me to love again, you've given me a reason to greet each new day with a smile. You've helped heal a grief I've carried for too many centuries. Hell, you've even changed my eye colour."
He laughed softly, stroking her cheek with his thumb. "I love you, my Lily, more than I've ever loved before. I dare say we will have other moments, but we will get through them together. You give me so much. You've gifted me your heart and the children I never dreamed I would ever have again. I will love you and cherish you and those children forever. If you will have me"
His heartfelt words brought more tears to Lily's eyes but they were happy tears as she read the sincerity in his expression. He was laying himself fully open to her, taking down all the last barriers so she could see deep within his soul. What she saw filled her heart with so much joy, she threw her arms around him, hugging him tightly, knowing from this point on, no matter what happened, they would lean on each other to get through it.
"I love you too, Jonah Mackenzie." The words were heartfelt though a small giggle escaped her. "Jonah...what a fabulous name. The grey eyes are going to take a little getting used to but they are so beautiful."
Mac smiled, feeling the last of his anxiety begin to melt away. "I guess I finally let go of the past. It was a long time in coming." He was surprised at the change in eye colour. It would be irritating not having his dark glare to intimidate people with but he was sure he'd manage to do the same with his natural eye colour. He didn't want anyone thinking he'd gone soft.
Lily nestled close and he tightened his hold on her, breathing in her sweet scent and luxuriating in her touch. Okay...maybe when it came to Lily and their children he'd be a bit of a pushover but just for his family, no one else. "Come on, let's get you cleaned up, sugar. I want to check every single inch of your skin to make sure there isn't a mark on you."
Lily heard the lightness in his tone and knew he was unwinding, putting the past behind him so they could move forward. Her own tension eased and she glanced up at her mate with a saucy smile. "Every single inch...?"
She saw the flash of excitement in his eyes before Mac stifled it with a rueful smile crossing his lips. "Don't get too excited. You've have a difficult day and there's the baby to consider too. Are you still feeling nauseous? Should we talk to your mother?"
"Mac, I'm pregnant not an invalid." Lily sighed, amusement in her eyes but secretly pleased at his concern. He was probably going to be like her father, overdoing the protectiveness thing during pregnancy. She would have to talk to her mother about ways to knock that out of him if she couldn't come up with a solution herself.
She began to strip off her clothes, watching his eyes narrow as she slowly revealed her body to his avid gaze. With a strangled groan, he spun away, turning the shower on and setting the temperature. He was obviously determined to be good but good wasn't what she wanted.
"Can you help me in, Mac?" Lily deliberately schooled her features to an uncertain expression, watching her mate become solicitous. In no time, he had removed his clothes and it was all she could do not to rub her hands together with glee.
"Are you feeling okay, sugar?" Mac manoeuvred them both under the spray, rinsing the blood from her face and hair. His eyes traced every feature, his fingertips gentle as they stroked down her cheeks, her neck, coming to stop at the swell of her breasts.
Lily sighed with pleasure, feeling her passion ignite instantly and craving more of her mate's touch. She could feel Mac's excitement pressing against her stomach and knew he wasn't immune the situation. "I feel a bit achy, Mac." Her voice came out on a breathless sigh.
"Where do you ache, sugar?" Mackenzie wasn't oblivious to what his mate was up to. He told himself that now wasn't the time to make love to her but she was so damned sexy he couldn't stop his body from reacting to her closeness. For an answer, Lily guided his hands to her breasts that felt so tight and swollen and needed to be touched. "Here."
Mackenzie threw his head back and laughed loudly, cupping the succulent flesh in the palm of his hands, flicking his thumbs over the hard tips begging for his touch. He growled low in his throat as Lily moaned and pressed into his hands.
"Let me see how I can ease that ache." He lowered his head, enclosing one taut nipple in his mouth and suckling gently. His reward was another throaty moan and he suckled again, harder this time, grazing her tender flesh with his teeth. His fangs wanted to bite into her breast but he was concerned about the impact that may have on the baby. He would wait until they knew it was safe before he dined on his mate's mouth-watering life's essence.
Mac raised his head to look into Lily's flushed face. She was lost in her passion, her hands greedy as they roamed down his back to cup his backside and pull him tighter to her body. "Lily, are you sure..."
Her eyes opened and the need he saw in their depths was his undoing. How was he supposed to deny his woman when her need was that great? "Love me, Mac, please love me."
He didn't need any more urging. He pressed Lily to the shower wall, taking her mouth in a hard, searing kiss. All of his fear and relief was in the meeting of their lips, desperation warring with tenderness as he sipped at the sweetness that was his Lily. His tongue demanded immediate entry, she granted it, moaning and holding his head to hers as their tongues duelled.
There was nothing quite like kissing Lily. It was love and lust, tenderness and passion all rolled into one. Losing himself in her mouth made his head swim and his heart race, his body hard and aching for the warmth waiting for him. He had to be gentle with her though, he had to consider her condition and keep a level head. He could wait to take his pleasure until he knew it was safe but he could never deny Lily hers.
Mackenzie eased back, smiling as his mate pouted and rumbled her displeasure. "Come on, out of the shower." He tugged at her, uncaring they were dripping water over the floor. Wrapping his mate in a large, fluffy towel, Mac dried her briskly, taking most of the moisture out of her hair before turning the towel on himself. They were going to get the bed wet but to hell with that, he didn't care.
Lily ached for Mac. It was torture watching him run the towel over his body. She wanted to be pressed against him, to feel his heat and hardness covering her body and driving hard into her. Her mate was being too considerate though. She would have to find a way to break his iron self-control. He was so glorious to look at, all sleek muscles signalling barely restrained power. Her mate was a beautiful specimen of maleness and she wanted him now. Lily shrieked as he suddenly threw the towel away and scooped her up into his arms.
"Stop looking at me like that, sugar, or you're going to get the two of us in a lot of trouble." The strain in his voice told her he was almost at breaking point. It would only take a little push further...
She shrieked again, when he tipped her onto the bed, towering over her and running his heated gaze slowly down her body. "I don't know what part of you I love best, my Lily." He reached down and rolled a nipple between his finger and thumb, a very male smile crossing his face as she moaned loudly.
"I love these," he sighed. "They're so sensitive to my touch." He trailed his fingers lower, watching with narrowed eyes as her abdomen constricted under his touch. Her skin was so soft, so silky and inviting.
He reached her lower abdomen, halting as she sucked in a deep breath and held it. Mac met her gaze as he brushed his fingers lightly over her sex. "I love this," he growled low in his throat. "So hot and wet for me. I can scent your excitement. It makes my mouth water because I know how succulent you taste here. I want to lick and kiss you until you scream out your pleasure."
Lily squirmed under his touch, desperate for him to stop talking and do what he was promising. He made her so hot and needy for him, she needed a firmer touch, and she needed to feel his mouth on her body. "Mac, please..."