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Authors: Rose Wulf

Black Dawn (7 page)

BOOK: Black Dawn
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Silence greeted her question. Seconds ticked by before her
father finally asked, “Why would you want to know that? Aren’t you two getting
along?”

Fabulously. That’s
the problem.
Releasing a breath, Izzy said, “Yes, it’s just… This guilt
eats me up, Dad.”
There, truth.
“He’s
done so much for me. Besides, do you have
any
idea what it feels like to know that if you slip and break your neck an
innocent person will die?”

Really, the Life Bond was a terrible curse. In the simplest
terms if she died for
any
reason
other than ‘old age,’ Darr would die, too. Whether he would suffer the same
method of dying—or at least feel like he had—or his heart would just simply
cease, neither of them knew. She’d asked on multiple occasions.

Her father spit out a bark of laughter. “Innocent? Izzy,
sweetheart, I love that you have a good relationship with your bodyguard, but
it’s his job to protect you from things like slipping and breaking your neck.
Besides, he’s a demon. He’s never been innocent. That’s the beauty of it,
honey. They’re expendable.”

Izzy’s heart stalled in her chest and her breath caught in
her throat. Had he really just said that? About
Darr
? About the
only
reason she was still breathing? About the man she loved? Tears of anger and
irrational betrayal burning behind her eyes, Izzy snapped, “Then I must be
expendable to you, too.” She jabbed the End Call button and tossed the phone
toward the far pillow, fighting back her sobs.
I can’t believe he—

“Izzy?” Darr was kneeling beside her, one warm hand on her
thigh and worry in his eyes. He reached up with his other hand and brushed a
wayward tear from her cheek with more tenderness than any
human
man had ever shown her. “What’s wrong?”

Desperate to keep her composure, Izzy drew in a deep
breath.

“That’s the beauty of
it, honey. They’re expendable.”

“That
bastard
!”
she exclaimed furiously before she knew what she was doing. “How could he?”

Darr straightened and pulled her into his arms, taking a
seat on her bed and allowing her to curl into him. With her head on his
shoulder, his hand in her damp hair, and his cheek resting over her temple, he
whispered soothing sounds in an effort to comfort her. “Shh. Take a deep
breath, baby,” he whispered. “I’m here. I’ll help you through it.”

Izzy’s tears slowed as his words washed over her. In all
their years together he’d never called her by any nickname other than the one
she’d chosen for herself. But the tenderness in his words and actions now
warmed her to her soul. Was there any way this man could possibly resent her
for her father’s choices?

Struggling to get a proper sentence out, Izzy said,
“It-it’s my father.” She swallowed and let her eyes close. “He’s a horrible
man, isn’t he?”

Darr was silent for several seconds, providing the answer
she’d anticipated. Still, when he spoke, his voice was gentle. “He has
redeeming qualities.”

“Name one,” Izzy challenged, looping her arms around his
shoulders.

“He loves you.” The response was immediate, leading her to
believe this really was Darr’s first answer. Perhaps his only. She certainly
wouldn’t blame him.

Even so, it wasn’t enough for her in the moment. “Maybe,”
she allowed slowly, “but he does it wrong.”

Again, Darr hesitated. “How so?”

Sniffling, Izzy mumbled, “He doesn’t care about what I care
about…” And that was far too close to a confession their newly-established
relationship probably wasn’t strong enough for just yet. Way,
way
too close.

Fortunately, before Darr could grill her on that slip-up,
her cell began ringing again. It was her father’s ringtone. Determined to
ignore it, Izzy tightened her arms around him and did her best to bury her face
in his shoulder. Damn did he smell good, too.

One of the arms around her waist pulled away, though, and
the next thing she knew Darr was speaking. To her phone. “Mr. Duchane.”

Izzy’s throat went dry and she held her breath. What would
her father say?

Apparently Darr had put her phone on speaker, because her
father’s vaguely distorted voice was louder than it should have been. “Hello,
Darr. I’d like to speak to Izzy.” There was no trace of the heartless bastard
in his voice. It was sickening.

“She’s here,” Darr assured him. “You’re on speaker.”

“Oh,” Gerald mumbled, a flicker of awkwardness passing
through. He cleared his throat and added, “Izzy, sweetheart?”

Swallowing past her stubbornness, Izzy reluctantly lifted
her head but made no move to reach for the phone. “My hanging up on you meant I
don’t want to talk anymore,” she said. She needed to get him off the phone as
quickly as possible, for so many reasons.

Gerald sighed heavily. “You take things too personally. I
wasn’t trying to be offensive, what I said was just the way the world works.”

Renewed anger sparked inside her and Izzy loosened her hold
on Darr in order to glare at the phone. “Well if that’s how the world works
then I’ll go back to burying my head in the sand. Are you done?”

Darr raised a surprised brow at her, but remained silent.
Respectful. She had half a mind to tell him what her father had said, but she
worried he’d agree. Then she’d have to be mad at him, too.

“You’re angry now, but you’ll see,” her father insisted.
“In the meantime, I thought I’d answer your actual question. To apologize.”

No!
But she
couldn’t get her mouth to open. Her heart would rather hear the answer than
avoid the argument.

“There is not a way to reverse a binding,” her father said
clearly. “I would remember if I’d come across one.”

Her stomach sank like she’d swallowed a lead weight and her
tears returned. Dropping her head back to Darr’s shoulder she mumbled, “Hang
up. Please.”

“Izzy?”

“I’m sorry,” Darr interrupted, “but Izzy’s too upset to
talk. Good day.”

Silence reigned in the room after Darr disconnected the
call. His arm came back around her supportively, but she could sense his
building curiosity. Of course he was going to ask. She would, if she were in
his shoes. She just didn’t know what she’d say.

After what seemed like an eternity, voice gentled again to
respect her obvious mood, Darr broke the silence the only way he could.

“Why were you asking about breaking our bond?”

 

Chapter Seven

 

Izzy stiffened in his arms, but he wasn’t surprised.
Clearly she hadn’t wanted him to know—at least not yet—that she was trying to
break her father’s binding spell. And despite the familiar guilt that flared in
his chest at that enduring lie, Darr couldn’t stop himself from worrying about
what that desire could mean. Did she want to get away from him? Had he taken
things too far?

The only way to know for certain was to pry it out of her,
even if he had to ask repeatedly. It wasn’t like he was going anywhere.

“It-it’s not what it sounds like,” Izzy finally whispered. She
leaned back to look at him and he obligingly loosened his grip of her. He
didn’t dare yet release her entirely. At the brow he raised in response to her
words, Izzy dropped her gaze. Her voice was nearly inaudible, even at this
distance. “I don’t want you to be stuck to me.”

Stuck?
So that
was how she saw it.

Izzy took a breath and looked back up at him. Determination
building in her brown eyes. “I love you, Darr. I don’t want to be the face of
some justifiable resentment or, worse, the ultimate death of you.”

He reeled, nearly dropping her before he could gather
himself. She
what
? “Shit.”

Swallowing heavily, Izzy pressed on his chest until he
released her and quickly backed a respectful distance away. She couldn’t look
at him. “I know that isn’t what you wanted to hear. But it’s the truth.” Then
she turned and practically ran from the room, leaving him alone.

Alone with his thoughts.

Alone with his frantic heart.

Alone with her lingering, mouthwatering scent.

Shit.
Darr
dragged a hand through his hair and stood, falling into a rapid pace.
She’s in love with me.
How the hell had
he managed that? And, more importantly, would she still when she learned he’d
been lying all these years?

A growl ripped from him and he threw a fist into the
nearest wall, needing to release at least a sliver of the confused energy
swirling inside him. He needed to go find her, to finish this conversation. To
tell her the truth. His lie no longer mattered. Not for anything other than to
keep himself close to her.

Darr stopped, staring at but not really seeing her open
bedroom door. He finally understood the real reason he hadn’t opened up to her
earlier. And as nice as that feeling was, it also brought with it a rather
significant problem.

Shoving aside the prickle of fear tickling his heart, Darr
strode from the room and skipped the stairs. She was probably in the kitchen,
all the lights on so he couldn’t sneak up on her, searching for something to
turn into a muffin. That was what she did when she was flustered and didn’t
feel like she could talk it out.

The clatter of the muffin tin landing gracelessly on the
stove top greeted his ears as he stepped out at the edge of the kitchen. Her
back was to him and her counter was full of half the contents of the
refrigerator. It was either going to be a mess of a muffin or she wasn’t
satisfied yet. He hoped there wouldn’t wind up being any muffins at all.

“Izzy.”

She stilled, though he knew she knew he was there. “It’s
okay,” she finally said, stepping back with another handful of items balanced
precariously over one arm. “I’m fine. You don’t have to say anything.”

“Lying’s a sin you know,” Darr teased as stepped into the
kitchen.

Izzy scoffed and deposited her latest armload, closing the
refrigerator door in the process. “It’s one of those ‘make it true’ things.
Takes time.”

“Those do.” He caught her wrist when she moved too close,
stilling her movements and jarring her attention to him. “We should talk.”

Her eyes shone with unshed tears and she pulled her arm
from his loose grasp. “We really don’t have to.” She wasn’t even trying to hide
her fear. She opened her mouth to add more, but Darr moved first, catching her
face between his palms and covering her lips with his. He needed her to listen
and, most of all, he needed her to
not
cry.

Izzy melted into his mouth, her hands grabbing tight to his
forearms with a moan.

He pulled back before he could forget himself. “Living
room, please.”

She nodded weakly and they moved to the sofa, her unpacked
refrigerator ingredients forgotten. When they sat, Darr made sure to angle
himself to face her, holding one of her hands in his.

“I screwed it all up, didn’t I?” Her question was soft.
Fragile.

He gave her hand a squeeze. “No, Izzy. But I may have.”

Izzy frowned and looked up at him again. “But I’m the one
who—”

“I’ve been lying to you.” There was no delicate way to say
it. Or, more accurately, he didn’t know one. But his declaration did seem to
catch her attention because her mouth snapped shut and her eyes went wide.

“You’ve…? About what?”

Darr pulled in a breath, doing his best to ignore the
unfamiliar nerves twisting his stomach. Would that kiss he’d just stolen be
their last? Should he wait another few decades before coming clean?
No.
He wasn’t a coward and he couldn’t
do that to her, not knowing how she felt. “We’re not bound.”

Izzy reeled back, her hand jerking from his, and she
exclaimed, “Don’t be an ass, Darr. I’m capable of handling my own shit, okay?”

He couldn’t quite stop the grin that twitched at his lips.
“Careful, Izzy. Beautiful women shouldn’t talk like demons even if they grew up
with one.”

Her eyes narrowed and he swore her hair got redder for an
instant. “I’m serious! Just because you found out I want to set you free
doesn’t mean you can laugh at me!”

Swallowing the rest of his amusement, Darr slowly shook his
head. “You misunderstand. You’ve already set me free, Izzy. In so many ways.”

She slumped against the arm of the sofa and gave him a
skeptical look. “I haven’t been able to do anything.”

“It started with your father,” Darr explained. “He opened a
portal into Hell right when I had finally escaped my master. But I was weak
from a century of servitude and at a severe disadvantage, so I leapt into the
portal and landed in your father’s office.”

Izzy’s skepticism seemed to fade, falling away in favor of
cautious curiosity. She said nothing as he spoke.

“It didn’t take long to figure out he thought he’d summoned
me specifically to protect you. Thought he’d placed me in a Life Bond. But in
truth
all
he did was open a doorway
for my escape.”

She opened her mouth, stuttered something, and snapped it
shut. With a shake of her head she finally said, “You’re serious? But … then
why stay?”

“Because a Life Bond was a perfect ‘out’,” Darr replied. He
leaned forward and recaptured her hand in his. “Even if Creed found me, he
couldn’t take me back. I’d be useless to him. And Creed’s not patient enough to
wait an entire human lifespan. All I had to do was keep you alive for as long
as possible.”

Tears were shining in her eyes again. But so was hope. “So you
don’t hate me?” The question was fearful, hesitant, and heart-wrenching.

Darr growled and pulled her to him, kissing her thoroughly.
He kept both hands tangled in her beautiful hair and devoured her lips. He
sucked and stroked on her tongue, sweeping his tongue into her mouth in an
erotic rhythm until Izzy was moaning and squirming against him. Until he could
smell her desire wafting from her.

When he released her lips, allowing her to breathe, Darr
rasped, “I’m sorry for lying to you, Izzy. I had no idea you were so upset
about it.” He paused so that she would feel the sincerity of his words before
tilting her chin up to him again. With his nose brushing hers and her eyes
locked onto his he added, “And I love you, too.”

****

Izzy could barely breathe, her heart thrumming so loud in
her chest Darr could’ve heard it even without his demonic hearing. None of that
mattered. This whole situation was better than she could have—or ever had—dreamed.
There was no bind. If she died, he didn’t have to. That was almost better news
than what he’d said next.

Her day would’ve been perfect if that was how it had ended.

After his quiet, thick confession, Izzy had launched
herself at him. She’d managed to tackle him to the couch and she had every
intention of pleasuring him until he couldn’t tolerate it any longer.

That was when the most unexpected voice destroyed the
moment.

“I knew it.” The words were Zahk’s, but his tone was
different than what Izzy was used to. No levity, no smugness, no boredom. This
tone was just
cold
.

“Zahk?” Darr questioned as he stood, facing his old friend
and keeping Izzy half behind him.

Ice trickled down Izzy’s spine and she swallowed her
reflexive question. Something told her it really didn’t matter why he’d
neglected to knock on the front door. In fact, her instincts were screaming
that his presence was bad. Very, very bad. “Darr…”

“Looks like your lover’s catching on, D,” Zahk said in that
same cold voice. It was all wrong for his words.

“What are you doing here, Zahk? You know you can’t just pop
in.” His words were typical, but Izzy heard the hesitation in his voice. He’d
noticed something off, too.

Something flickered in Zahk’s eyes, something like emotion,
but it was gone just as fast. “I’d ask you to forgive me,” he started as
another shadow swirled beside him. “But you won’t be alive to do it.” Jerking
his chin toward Izzy, Zahk added, “Neither will your bitch.”

The shadows solidified and settled, revealing Creed in all
his nightmarish glory. In better lighting Izzy could finally see that Creed was
clearly a demon who reveled in his power. He even had pointy teeth and glowing,
red eyes over pale, almost gray, skin. It was no wonder he stuck to the
shadows.

“Good evening, Darr,” Creed greeted with a sickly smile.
“It’s good news that you’re not really bound. That means she doesn’t have to
die
first
.”

Izzy swallowed and Darr stepped fully in front of her. “You
betrayed me,” he said. She couldn’t see his face, but she was sure the words
were for Zahk. And if she felt sick to her stomach over this turn of events she
could only imagine how hard it was on Darr.

“No,” Zahk replied. “I was never with you.”

“I don’t suppose you’ll surrender?” Creed offered. Izzy
caught a glimpse of an extended arm and figured he was gesturing largely. At
Darr’s silence he added darkly, “If, perhaps, only for her survival?”

Cold dread shot through her so fast Izzy didn’t realize
she’d found her feet. “Not a chance!”

Darr’s hand landed on her shoulder, holding her back before
she could do anything dumb. Or, well, dumber. Still, when Darr spoke, his words
weren’t for her. “You heard the lady.”

All hell broke loose after that.

Creed and Zahk lunged in sync and the air in the room
thickened so badly Izzy could hardly breathe. A dark energy blast erupted in
the middle of the room, two on one, and Izzy went flying backward. She heard
Darr grunt from what sounded like a heavy impact only moments before she
herself crashed into a sturdy wall. Pain exploded in a blinding flash behind
her eyes and she sagged to the ground, barely aware.

Something that sounded like an angry roar filled the air,
reverberating in her ears, but Izzy could only barely keep her eyes open.
Figures were blurry and she had a building coppery taste in her mouth.
Like blood…

Suddenly blackness swallowed what little vision she had,
but her limited awareness remained and she knew she wasn’t unconscious. Even
when she registered arms around her and solid ground under her feet, the
blackness was slow to recede. And she could hear something. It sounded
insistent, but she couldn’t quite make it out.

Familiar ashen eyes drew her attention. Ashen eyes above a
taut mouth and a strong, stubbly jaw.
Darr…?

Images of Zahk popped up, scattered, in her mind’s eye.
Seeing him at the lake with Darr. Meeting him as a teenager. Freaking out the
first time he appeared in her house unannounced. His refusal to help Darr in
the last confrontation with Creed.
Traitor.

“—un!” It sounded like Darr, but she still wasn’t sure what
he was saying.

She groaned his name, trying to fight past her raging
headache and concentrate. Darr’s voice sounded urgent. Urgent like she’d never
known.

“—mit, Izzy,
run
!”
He finished the command with an inelegant shove, trying to jump-start her run
even as he turned and sprinted off after another demon. Creed.

He was still fighting Zahk and Creed. All on his own. And
he expected her to run?

Pushing herself up on her wobbly legs, Izzy hesitated. She
already had what she assumed was a serious head injury given her present state.
What good would she really be in a fight against two demons?
None.
She would only be in the way. A
liability.

“If I ever tell you
to run,” Darr said seriously, crouched before her to look her in the eyes. She
loved his eyes. They were strong and honest; reliable. Like him. “Then run. Run
as fast as you can until you can get somewhere safe. Find help if you’re able.”

The memory faded on that last word, but Izzy had heard
enough. He’d given her that instruction when she was but fourteen years old.
Apparently it was still a good lesson to keep in mind. So she turned and ran
deep into the forested area behind her house, ever grateful for having chosen
to live on the outskirts of town.

She ran until she could only barely hear the reverberating
explosions. And then it was time to get help. She could only think of one kind
of help worth searching for and, as odd as it felt, she figured if it was going
to work she’d need to give it her all.

Izzy hit her knees, clasped her hands, and closed her eyes
in prayer. Not that she’d seen a single day in church since her mother’s
funeral. But all she had to do was think, right?
“Please, if you’re out there… Kai, I need your help. Darr needs your
help. You said you wanted Creed. I know where he is.”

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