Hearts of Warriors Ch. 07byJazCullen©
Mac turned his black gaze on the man sitting beside him pinning him with a cold stare. His entire body was rigid with tension, his muscles taut with the strain of remaining still. Kallum's words rang around the silent room, his expression fixed and determined. It was all Mac could do not to explode as he glared at the other man.
"Let's get one thing straight between us, Kallum," he said in a voice so cold it could freeze water. "I decide who becomes a Praetorian. I select them; have my people train them, and only the best come anywhere near our compound. When I'm confident the candidates are worthy, I call the Triumvirate for the final confirmation of their loyalty. There's only one person who leads the Praetorians and that's me."
The quiet coldness suddenly vanished and red hot fury filled the room. "So don't you fucking dare tell me what's going to happen in my own backyard. I don't give a fuck who you think you are. No one tells me how to run the Praetorians. I've been doing it for twenty-five years and the only people who can tell me what to do is the Triumvirate. Until they decide I'm no longer needed, the Vârcolac are mine to protect and I decide whether or not they're allowed anywhere near the Praetorian compound."
Caleb tensed immediately, his head turning to Rhianna as she placed a hand soothingly on his chest and gave a minute shake of her head. She was clearly indicating that he keep out of the discussion between Mac and Kallum. It was hard to do so when his protective instincts were kicking into gear, but she had to have a reason for holding him back. He turned his gaze back to the two men.
Kallum was watching Mac with a guarded expression on his face. He didn't appear tense but there was a slight tightening of his lips which was one of the few signs he gave when he was displeased about something. He wasn't backing down from Mac, but he wasn't deliberately inflaming the situation either.
He'd known his announcement wasn't going to be popular. He hadn't intended on forcing their way into the Praetorians, but it was clear they all needed to be there. He had to find a balance which Mac found acceptable and would allow the others to get the training they needed. In the event of an attack, they had to be able to defend themselves. And he also had no intention of leaving Lily alone while Mac was out of the country.
He considered his options carefully. He could probably take the head Praetorian in a fight. He could sense the age of the vampire and knew it would probably be a hard fight but he was confident he could win it. But that would piss Lily off if he started beating up her mate and a pissed off Lily was not an easy thing to live with.
He didn't particularly want to fight Mac anyway. In just the short time he'd been in the other man's presence, he'd found himself coming to respect him quite quickly. There was no doubt in his mind that Mac would be the perfect mate for his sister. He was strong enough to cope with her wildness and yet he instinctively knew that he wouldn't cage her spirit either.
The fact that he'd been angry that Kallum was threatening to kick Lily's ass was a clear indicator that he was well on the way to mating with her. He might not be too happy about the prospect but Lily was never one to be thwarted when she really wanted something. And she wanted Mac.
Taking a deep breath, Kallum let it out slowly while he dialled down his Alpha tendencies and thought of what was best for his people. He gave Mac a wide grin feeling a bit of the tension leave the room. "Damn," he laughed softly. "You're so much like Dad it's spooky."
He watched annoyance flare across the other man's face and he knew he didn't want to discuss Lily's declaration of mating with him. It made his smile widen and he had to fight the urge to really annoy Mac. There was times when even Kallum was just a little too much like his father and this was one of them.
"You say the Vârcolac are yours to protect, Mac," he continued, his expression turning serious. "So protect us. I've already listed the reasons why we need the Praetorians, some of us more than others. It makes sense that now that everything is out in the open, that you use everything that's available to you to ensure we're able to protect ourselves. You know what I'm saying makes sense. If you didn't, then Lily wouldn't still be at your compound."
Mac couldn't argue with him. He had no doubts that he was hard enough to send Lily packing if he really thought her presence would damage the Praetorians beyond repair. The fact that he hadn't, meant he was well aware of just how much she needed to learn control. If the others needed that training too...?
He turned to the Ancients to try and judge their thoughts on it. Caleb appeared thoughtful and Rhianna was smiling at Kallum with fondness on her face. She appeared impressed with his stance, almost like a proud parent. Caleb rolled his eyes and shrugged his big shoulders.
"The Praetorians are yours to run how you deem fit, Mac," he said quietly. "We have every confidence in you. You've never let us down."
"You'd better do as Karn tells you," Mac rumbled irritably turning back to Kallum. "There's only one person in charge while I'm away and he's it. If Karn feels we need to bring any of the others to the compound then it's his decision. If you try any of your Alpha shit, then you and your sister will be sent back to the pack. Am I making myself perfectly clear?"
"I know how to follow the chain of command, Mac," Kallum smiled, satisfaction spreading across his face. "There can only be one Alpha in any pack. I would never dream of challenging Rafe or his Betas and I wouldn't do so in the Praetorians either."
He leaned forward, his gaze intense. "We need you," he said quietly. "Lily needs you. I'll do just about anything to ensure my sister's happiness, Mac. If you want to kick my ass a hundred times over to prove you're the Alpha and that's what it takes to ensure she's happy, then you can start kicking."
The sincerity in his voice and his expression was undeniable. His quiet words were loaded with hidden meaning and Mac heard what he was saying. Kallum believed that he was Lily's mate. His closeness with his sister meant that he accepted her choice and he'd move heaven and earth to ensure that she was happy; even if it meant having to accede to the man she'd chosen.
Kallum's relationship with Lily was the deciding factor for Mac. The younger man had impressed him already with his keen intelligence and his fierce loyalty towards his pack and fellow Vârcolac. But it was his deep abiding love for Lily that really penetrated Mac's objections to having him at the compound.
He knew his people would die to protect her in an instant. But he knew that Kallum was probably one of the best people who could truly protect her. Lily had been lethal when sparring with him. If she'd been holding back...if Kallum was as strong as and possibly stronger than she was no one would be able to hurt her as long as he was around.
"Just so we're perfectly clear about things," he finally said, allowing acceptance to creep into his voice. "I'll call Karn and let him know you're coming."
"What about the pack?" he asked as he stood up, pulling his cell phone from his pocket.
"We'll talk to Rafe about it," Caleb answered. "He'll keep the Romanovs away from the compound and make sure they behave themselves. Andrei could be a problem but hopefully when he finds out Lily is surrounded by the Praetorians it'll calm him down enough. We won't let him disrupt the compound while you're away."
Mac nodded and moved into the outer hall to make his call to Karn. Part of him wished he wasn't leaving so he could orchestrate the changes about to take place, but it would leave Pietro without any backup and he couldn't bring himself to do that. He had to trust Karn was up to the job of keeping things in hand until he returned.
Kallum smiled sheepishly at Caleb and Rhianna. He knew he'd thrown them a massive curveball and was relieved they were taking it so well. They were so closely tied to the pack that everyone considered them pack mates even though they weren't under their Alpha's command. They were like a second set of parents to all the Vârcolac as well as the Alphas' children.
"Oh come here," Rhianna laughed softly holding out her arms. She hugged him tightly, so proud of the man he'd grown into. Caleb squeezed his shoulder in reassurance too.
"We've learned to roll with the punches, Kal," he smiled. "You use what tactics work for however long they do and then you adapt as required. Rafe might be a bit put out that you've been concealing things and I dare say your parents will have a few things to say on the topic, but you have our backing if you need it."
"That's good to know, but I'm sure we'll be able to handle things," Kallum answered with a grin. "Our parents don't usually stay angry too long, except for Dad. And Rafe is pretty cool once he gets over his initial annoyance."
Mac returned, glancing at his watch as he slipped his phone back into his pocket. "Karn knows you'll be around at some point today," he told Kallum. "You do what he tells you at all times. The only exception to that rule is if it comes to Lily's safety. I can't argue with the fact that there may be instances when you'll know better than we do how to protect her. Karn knows to accede to you in that event but don't push your luck with it. Only in a dire emergency, Kallum."
The warning was implicit in his voice, his expression hard as he pinned the younger man with his steely gaze. Kallum Romanov screamed Alpha to everyone around him. How he managed to submit to all the other Alpha personalities around him was a clear indication of just how strong a male he was. Somehow Kallum could keep his need to be king of the castle in check, something most other Alphas failed miserably at.
Kallum nodded his agreement, fighting to keep a smile from his face as his respect for Mac went up a notch and laughter bubbled up inside him.
"Do you have any idea what you've let yourself in for, Lila?" he whispered to his sister privately. "How the hell could you choose a mate so like Dad? That's bordering on being slightly creepy."
He felt his sister utter a startled gasp, shock rippling through his mind before pleasure flowed down their bond.
"You approve," she smiled softly, her mental tone overjoyed. "He is impressive isn't he, Kal? Where are you? How did you meet him? Is he angry that you know about him?"
"I'll answer all your questions later, sister mine. I need to go now. I just wanted to check in and make sure you were okay and let you know that I'd met Mac. Behave with Karn!"
He cut off their mind link before she could ask any more questions. He wanted to surprise her later on when he made it to the compound. Their conversation had taken scant seconds but he'd already missed Mac's next words to Annie and Caleb.
He was telling them he had to leave to make his flight to Europe and Kallum concentrated on the others as they said quick goodbyes. He smiled at Mac and silently nodded his head. The fierce protectiveness in the vampire's eyes was unmistakable. Though no words were said he knew Mac was silently commanding him to keep Lily safe.
As Mac left the house, Kallum was suddenly anxious to go find his sister.
"Oh, go on," Annie laughed seeing his expression. "Lily will not suddenly go to pieces because Mac's left the country, but you're not going to believe that until you see her with your own eyes. You know that was a really pretty speech you gave about everyone else underestimated the Vârcolac. I think part of you underestimates your sister too, Kal."
He blushed slightly at the mild rebuke, reluctantly conceding her point. But he'd been protecting Lily all his life and it was a hard habit to break, even though he now knew she'd been slipping out of the compound for years and living a second, clandestine life none of them knew about.
Caleb hugged Kallum goodbye and then turned to his mate with a raised eyebrow as the younger man closed the front door behind him on the way out.
"Don't you 'Caleb' me, Annie," he growled softly, his tone a mix of irritation and amusement at the uncertain expression on her exquisite face. "Haven't you learned by now that keeping secrets from your mate is not the done thing?"
She bit the inside of her mouth and tried to look innocent. It was so clearly an attempt to divert him that he burst out laughing at her transparency. His hand snaked out and he pulled her hard against his body, dipping his head so he could inhale the sweet fragrance of her skin and slide his tongue against the side of her neck.
"You know I have to punish you," he growled softly, feeling a shiver run through her body as she melted against him. Husky laughter greeted his words as she rubbed against his aching body which was alive with need for her in an instant.
The problem with punishing his errant mate was it usually drove him insane too, but it was a heady kind of insanity. He wasn't angry with her. He had learned the hard way that his mate acted impulsively but always for the greater good. Sometimes it took him longer to reach the same conclusions she did instinctively, but he always ended up agreeing with her decisions in the long run.
She still should have told him about Lily though, not waited until she'd been put into a position that made it impossible for her to keep silent any longer. "I'm going to enjoy teaching you the error of your ways, sweet one," he breathed against her skin, his voice laden with husky promise combined with a thick, pulsing need.
"I'm ready for my lesson," Rhianna laughed rubbing her breasts against his chest, her laughter turning into a low moan as his arms tightened around her and his lips brushed slowly up to her chin and then across her cheek.
She knew she was in for a world of teasing, a slow erotic torture as Caleb stamped his dominance all over her in a way which left her under no illusions that she belonged to him. She shivered in anticipation of each slow, languid stroke of his fingers, every whispered breath that would tease her skin until she begged for more.
He would deny her pleas, push her to orgasm after orgasm without giving her what she really craved, his body sliding deep within her, claiming her completely until the world melted away and there was only Caleb.
Only when she was mindless with need would he sate her craving and they'd come together in fiery passion, both of them driven beyond their limits. It was a glorious way to be punished and she was anxious for her lesson to begin. The thudding of Caleb's heart against her told her he was just as eager to begin their erotic dance.
Caleb's lips found hers an instant later and he was picking her up, as his tongue plunged deep into her mouth branding her as his, as he strode determinedly from the room and upstairs, the object of his lesson willingly allowing him to do as he pleased.
His Annie was always willing, always eager to dance with him, to allow him those moments when he needed her to be just a woman, just his mate who surrendered herself to his every whim with no complaint.
He wondered which one of them would break first. He always set a time limit on how long he would pleasure her to insanity. He never told her about the time limit; because if he did she would know that she won every time. No matter how he tried to resist, how he tried to keep control, his luscious mate always caused him to roll over in defeat and give her what she wanted long before he ever reached the time constraints he'd set himself.
She had enough power over him as it was. He wasn't insane enough to give her any more and allow her to play with him shamelessly as he knew she would. But even as he kicked the bedroom door shut and headed to their bed, he had a sneaking suspicion that his Annie already knew all that. The damned woman appeared to know everything anyway. And he was hopeless at hiding his clawing need, his deep abiding love for her.
He tossed his woman onto the bed, his gut tightening as her fiery curls flowed over the pillows. She was his greatest weakness and yet she was his greatest strength. They steered a nation between them, they changed the paths of every life they touched. She was his air and his heartbeat, his conscience and his sanity. She was his.
He watched her through heated eyes, his nostrils flaring as he took in the scent of her arousal as she pulled off her top to bare her breasts to him. The strength of his feelings for her overwhelmed him and he loomed over her, forcing her to lie back against the sheets.
"Punishment time," he breathed softly, his voice low and thick, his body hard and aching. Without giving her time to respond, he fastened his mouth to her breast and bit deep to savour the sweet flavour of her blood. He began to suckle strongly drinking down the essence of his woman, the intoxicating flavour of the one woman he could never survive without.
He feasted at her breast, used his magic to keep her pinned to the bed as he greedily took his fill. As his bloodlust began to ease, he slid a hand between her thighs, rubbing hard twice against the coarse material of her denims and growling loudly as he sent her soaring for the first of many times yet to come.
Lily was sweating, her breaths coming out in sharp pants as Karn ran them up and down the steep heavily wooded mountain range. They'd been at it for hours, the pace relentless but invigorating. It took her mind off Mac leaving so she was grateful for the extreme workout.
She kept close to the leading group of Praetorian's slipping back slightly when Kallum had contacted her. She was glowing at her brother's approval of Mac. She'd secretly been a bit concerned that he might disapprove of her choice. She should have known better. She knew Kal only wanted her happiness. Her brother would accept whatever choice she made as long as he was convinced that it was the right choice.
She'd caught back up with the leading group again after her quick talk with Kal, slotting in beside Brandon and easily maintaining the pace. She sensed him looking at her but didn't say anything. Talking when running at such a brisk pace wasn't easy and Brandon would have been suspicious if she'd spoken to him with her mental voice.
He was already giving her too many considering looks as it was. He was fiercely intelligent and she did trust him...sort of. She didn't trust him the way she trusted Mac and Karn, but she classed him as her best friend outside of the pack. Her instincts told her he would never betray her but she wasn't quite ready yet to fully trust her own instincts. She'd already let herself down by hurting Karn. That was a lesson she needed to pay close attention to.
It was another half an hour before Karn switched direction and led them back towards the compound. It was close to lunchtime and Lily's stomach growled quietly. The increase in exercise was playing havoc with her need for proper food. At this rate, three days would be too long to wait to feed her wolf. She was going to have to find a moment to speak to Karn about it.
"Ruminskey; Oliver... Katanas," Karn barked as they arrived at the rear of the house, the wooden chest already outside and latched open.
Brandon uttered a quiet groan but strode over the chest beside her. They pulled out a sword each and moved to the centre clearing to stand facing each other. They were both covered in a light sheen of perspiration, Brandon's hair sticking to the side of his face.
Lily smiled tauntingly at him, mischief dancing in her eyes. "Aw is poor Brandon too tired after his little run?"
He grinned back at her, a spark of challenge entering his eyes as her taunt struck home. "Not too tired that I can't kick your ass, Ruminskey."