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Authors: Christina Dodd

Tags: #paranormal romance

Into the Shadow (18 page)

BOOK: Into the Shadow
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‘‘Will you?’’

She couldn’t. Of course she couldn’t. She couldn’t betray that child with the beautiful blue-green eyes, the eyes that looked so much like hers. Karen turned her gaze away from him.

‘‘No, of course not.’’ His skin took on a stretched look, as if he were swelling all over, and as if his head were too heavy he leaned it back against the headrest. ‘‘Because one woman is meant to possess that icon, one woman only. And that is you.’’

‘‘Because I found it.’’

He rolled his head and looked at her. ‘‘Do you know why you found it?’’

She shook her head.

‘‘Because according to Uncle Ivan’s damned vision, only one woman can find and hold that icon—and that woman is the woman I love.’’

Chapter Twenty-six
"
W
hat a pile of crap." Karen sat stiff and furious in her seat. "You don’t know what love is, if you think what you feel for me is love."

Warlord closed his good eye and thought about it. ‘‘I guess I can follow that. You think that if I loved you, I wouldn’t have kidnapped and held you.’’

‘‘Or come for me at the spa and lied about who you were.’’

She was so angry. And so beautiful. If he weren’t sick, the beast in him would rise to claim her, and she would have reason to hate him once more. As it was, the snake’s venom ate at his liver and ripped at his skin. Only by concentrating on her and their conversation could he keep from wailing in agony. ‘‘In my own defense, I had to lie or you would have run. You almost ran anyway.’’

‘‘You mean when I saw you the first time and I thought you were . . . who you are?’’ She pointed a finger at him. ‘‘And that’s another thing. You eavesdropped on Dika and me.’’ Obviously she was leaping from one resentment to another. ‘‘Running away would have been a good idea. A solid plan.’’

‘‘I would have followed you.’’

‘‘You didn’t follow me last time.’’

‘‘Out of the Himalayas, you mean. I couldn’t.’’ Reaching out, he took her chin and turned her face to his. ‘‘You believe me, don’t you?’’

‘‘Yes. You could never stand to let me win.’’

With her snaps and sulks, she made him want to laugh. With her spirit and bravery, she made him want to protect her. With her body . . . she simply made him want. ‘‘In Nepal I grabbed for you like a selfish boy. But on the day I lost you, I started a long walk through hell.’’ He turned his face toward the sun.

In the past year, it seemed he could never get enough sun.

‘‘When I came out on the other side I’d learned a few lessons. I knew what I didn’t want, and I knew what I did want. So at the spa I courted you, and actually thought I did a pretty good job. You were going to sleep with me until . . . Damn it! I shouldn’t have kissed you.’’

‘‘Do you think I wouldn’t have recognized you at some point?’’ She sounded more than a little testy.

‘‘If I could have gotten your clothes off and my head between your legs, you would have been too far gone to care.’’ He wasn’t as ill as he feared, for the mere idea worked on him like an aphrodisiac. ‘‘At least until morning.’’

She went from testy to totally pissed off. ‘‘You have never suffered from either modesty or lack of confidence.’’

‘‘Honey, I serviced a lot of women before I brought you to my tent, and for one reason— so I would know how to make you happy.’’

‘‘That was so kind of you.’’ She was really ramping up the sarcasm now. ‘‘You sacrificed yourself on the altar of love, and just for little ol’ me, waiting in your future. What a sweet-heart you are. And to keep in practice, I’m sure you’ve serviced a lot of women since.’’

The brief flush of excitement faded, leaving him chilled. ‘‘No. There hasn’t been another woman since you.’’

She stared at him, her mouth half-open.

He didn’t give her time to recover. He pulled himself out of his seat and staggered toward the back. ‘‘I’m going to put on my jumpsuit, get ready to go, or I’m afraid I won’t make it.’’ He opened the overhead, knowing perfectly well she’d turned to watch him. ‘‘I’ve been with a lot of women, but other than you, I’ve only ever loved one woman.’’

That gave her back her power of speech. ‘‘Who was this paragon?’’

‘‘She was just a girl. Emma Seymour. We met at a band competition. She was from the opposing school.’’

‘‘High school?’’ By the tone of Karen’s voice, he knew he’d surprised her.

‘‘Yeah. I’m an all-American boy. I went to high school. In Washington.’’

‘‘You’re really from Washington?’’

‘‘I might kill and steal, but I don’t lie.’’ He pulled down his parachute and the survival gear he’d stowed, knowing this day might come. ‘‘I remember Emma’s face so clearly. The dark brown eyes, the long, dark hair . . . her complexion was perfectly clear.’’ Considering what a pimply-faced kid he’d been, that had been a real marvel. ‘‘She didn’t want me to tell anyone about us, so I didn’t. When we talked on the phone, it was in low voices so no one could overhear. We met down in Burlington twice a week for coffee, and we discussed books we liked and the computer I was building and where she wanted to go to college. We did not talk about our families. The whole affair had a thrilling kind of
Romeo and Juliet
secrecy. ’’ He glanced toward the cockpit to see how Karen was taking it.

Her mouth was hanging open again. She snapped it closed and asked, ‘‘Did you sleep with her?’’

‘‘My first time ever.’’ Talking about it made him feel marginally better. ‘‘We did it right below the bleachers after the football game was over and the other kids had left, and I remember I was so scared I was trembling.’’

‘‘That’s . . . well, that’s cute.’’

‘‘I didn’t think so. I really hoped she didn’t notice, because it wasn’t her first time.’’

‘‘Was she an upperclassman?’’ Karen sounded both amused and fascinated.

‘‘She was a senior.’’ He pulled on the jumpsuit and barely kept from groaning at the pain in his joints. ‘‘She was a goddess.’’

‘‘Especially since she made you feel like a god?’’ Karen was chuckling now.

‘‘When I did something dumb, she didn’t make a big deal of it. She made me forget to worry about coming too soon. She made it good for me.’’ He stopped and stared straight ahead. ‘‘Which is why I killed her father.’’

Karen’s laughter stopped as if it had been cut with a knife.

‘‘After we’d . . . had sex, I went home and my mother was up.’’ Even the memory made him squirm. ‘‘If there’s one person a guy who’s just been laid for the first time doesn’t want to see, it’s his mom. But I must not have looked any different, because she informed me that Emma was on the phone and told me to tell her not to call so late. Then Mama kissed me and went to bed.’’

‘‘Is that the last time you saw her?’’

‘‘Yeah.’’ He nodded. ‘‘Yeah.’’

‘‘What did Emma want?’’ Karen watched him, her eyes troubled.

‘‘The first thing I thought was that she was pregnant. Then I realized we’d just done it two hours before and it was too early to tell, plus we’d used a condom. She asked if I still loved her, and I said I loved her a lot. And she said she didn’t want me to think she was a slut, and I asked if she still respected me.’’ Seventeen years later, and he remembered the conversation as if it were yesterday. ‘‘So I told her I was coming over, and she said no, her dad would kill me. The way she said it bugged me. Like she was really scared. So I told her to unlock her window. I hung up and ran over.’’

‘‘She lived close.’’

‘‘No. Not really. By road her house was about forty miles away. But a panther doesn’t travel by road. I took the straightest line possible—up the hill, down the hill, through the creek. Her place was small, an old farm-house, and the place looked like hell—rot in the siding, broken step on the porch, missing shingles.’’ He brought his fully loaded backpack down and set it on a seat. ‘‘She’d opened her window, and I could smell her scent.’’

‘‘Her scent.’’ Karen looked out at the high, thin clouds streaking by. ‘‘Like in Nepal, when you could smell mine? Because you’re a panther?’’

He nodded. ‘‘But along with Emma’s scent, I could smell the faint tang of blood. She’d had her period the week before, and I knew this wasn’t menstrual blood. She was hurt.’’

‘‘Her father?’’

‘‘I didn’t realize what had happened right away. That kind of behavior was so foreign to me—my dad worshiped my sister, cherished my mother. I’d never seen anything like that.’’ The memory of Emma’s pain still made Warlord sick—and so angry his eyes glowed with flame. ‘‘He’d hit her so hard her nose was broken. Swollen. He split her lip. She was holding her left arm. I asked if she had any broken bones, and she thought maybe her wrist. I wanted to take her to the hospital. She said no, they didn’t have any money, and he . . . he wouldn’t let her out of the house. She said some schoolteacher saw her and me together, called her dad, and when Emma came in he was waiting for her.’’

‘‘Did he—’’

‘‘Rape her? No, not that time, but the way she acted . . .’’ Warlord wanted to punch something. ‘‘I told her that it was my fault she was hurt, and I’d take care of it.’’

‘‘What did she do?’’

‘‘She cried. And begged. Her father was a farmer, a big guy, and I was still a skinny kid. She thought her father would beat me to death.’’ Warlord checked the parachute, made sure it would open, then repacked it and pulled it on his shoulders.

‘‘How did you . . . ?’’

‘‘I made a lot of noise. He came into her bedroom. I challenged him to a fight. He laughed. Because, you know, he was one of those guys who didn’t beat up on people who could hit him back. I taunted him, made him good and mad, and jumped out the window. I told him I’d meet him at the end of his drive-way. That was clear out by the road, out of sight of the house. The guy lumbered out after me. Man, he was big. Fists like hams. When I stepped out of the shadows, all he saw was a boy. He was so cocky. He thought he was going to kill me with one hand tied behind his back.’’

‘‘He was in for a surprise.’’

‘‘When I leaped at him, I changed. He saw the panther and screamed. He didn’t stand a chance.’’

‘‘Neither did Emma.’’

‘‘Just what I thought.’’ Warlord pulled on his helmet. ‘‘I killed him. Ripped him to shreds. Dragged the body away. Hid it in the mountains. God only knows if it was ever found. Then I ran away. Went to Seattle, stowed away on a Philippine cargo ship, and never looked back.’’

‘‘But your family?’’ Karen’s voice trembled.

Karen was too sensitive, too soft for him. But God help him, he couldn’t let her go. ‘‘My dad always said that if I wasn’t careful, if I didn’t control myself, I would kill, and kill again. I figured I had fulfilled my destiny.’’

‘‘You became Warlord.’’

‘‘Being a mercenary was a good—and very profitable—job for a man like me.’’ The story ended, his need to tell Karen the truth was discharged, and the sickness returned with a vengeance. He sat on the floor, stretched out in the aisle, and relaxed. ‘‘I’ve done a lot of things I’ve regretted since then, but no matter what has happened since, no matter what I’ve done or where my crimes have led me, when I remember poor Emma, I’m not sorry. If I could, I’d do it again.’’

When the phone rang in Jasha Wilder’s bedroom, he tightened his hold on the woman in his arms and said, ‘‘Leave it.’’

His secretary tried to wiggle free. ‘‘We can’t, Jasha. Darling, it’s probably the winery. We’re already late. Honey, come on, stop. You know I can’t think when you do that.’’

‘‘That’s why I’m doing it.’’ But when she groped for the phone, he rolled away, lay flat on his back, and cursed whoever had interrupted a lovely interlude.

She settled against the pillows, carefully covered her breasts with the covers, and picked up the receiver. ‘‘Ann Smith.’’

‘‘Ann Wilder,’’ he muttered. When he’d hired her as his administrative assistant, she’d been quiet, modest, and shy. Now she was his wife, and to that list of qualities he had to add stubborn. She was plain stubborn about not changing her name to his, and it irked him.

She probably refused to do it
because
it irked him.

‘‘Ann Wilder,’’ he said again.

She ignored him and spoke into the phone. ‘‘May I ask what this is in reference to?’’

He faintly heard a reply.

Ann’s spine snapped into an upright exclamation point. In a crisp tone that made him sit up, too, she said, ‘‘There is one word that will make all the difference in this phone call. I will either let you speak to Mr. Wilder or I will hang up. What is that word?’’

Whatever the answer was, it made Ann say, ‘‘Just a minute, please.’’ She put the caller on hold and turned to Jasha, her color high. ‘‘Her name is Karen Sonnet. She says she’s in a plane with Adrik. When I asked for a word, she said, ‘icon.’ ’’

Jasha took the receiver.

Ann got up, put on her robe, and fetched the laptop. She searched for ‘‘Karen Sonnet’’ and brought up a screenful of possibilities.

Jasha took the phone off hold and said, ‘‘Jasha Wilder. You’d better make this good.’’

‘‘I have no intention of making this good. I don’t know what your family problems are, and I don’t care.’’ This Karen wasn’t bothering to subdue her irritation. ‘‘But Warlord insisted I call and give you these coordinates—’’

‘‘Warlord?’’ Jasha didn’t know whether to smirk or groan.

Ann lifted her brows.

Jasha nodded.

She typed
Warlord
into her search engine.

‘‘Rick,’’ Karen said. ‘‘Rick Wilder. Or Adrik. Whatever.’’

Ann typed on her laptop,
Adrik Wilder.

Karen continued, ‘‘Anyway, he asked that you come to help us because we have Varinskis tracking us, and he believes we need help.’’

‘‘Why isn’t he on the phone?’’

‘‘He’s unconscious in the back of the plane.’’

‘‘That’s convenient.’’ In a flat, furious voice, Jasha said, ‘‘Karen Sonnet, or whoever you are, I don’t know what the hell stunt you’re pulling, but when he was seventeen my brother Adrik disappeared from our lives. Two years ago we received a letter from Nepal notifying us that he was dead, and his remains were returned to us. We buried those remains.’’

BOOK: Into the Shadow
10.61Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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