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Authors: Cara Lake

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Chapter Twenty-Three



Tani returned to Morana’s house, her brain in turmoil, a
chaotic whirlwind churning with thoughts of Jaro, her heart aching for the
strong arms of the warrior who had protected her so selflessly. She now
realized that deep down she had always known there was something not quite
right about Lorcan. He was a mere shadow, an echo of the flesh-and-blood
reality that was Jaro’s indomitable presence. Jaro’s spirit, his courage, his
bravery—that was the truth of him. Yes, he was Hate. At least—he held the
essence of it, but just as she was Love there were two sides to every person.
His hatred ran deep, but it was a hatred of injustice toward those who had hurt
him and hurt others. He was a rock, an immoveable force. A man who would fight
for what he believed in. But alongside all of that, he was a refuge. A man who
would protect those who were weak and helpless, regardless of the cost to

Her thoughts were so deep and consuming that she entered
Morana’s house and was halfway across the hall before noticing that the chaos
in her brain was not the only chaos in her life. Tani blinked in confusion at
the sight that met her eyes. The house was in disarray. Two of Morana’s
servants were pleading with two shedu palace guards while others stood by
helplessly, watching a number of other guards as they tore relentlessly through
every room with little regard for the destruction they left in their wake.

“Lady Tanith, please you must help us. Ask them where they
have taken Lady Morana!” The female servant pleaded with her as the guard held
her back. At the sound of her name the guards in close proximity stilled and
turned their heads.

“This is the Lady Tanith?” A guard nearest the servants
gestured toward her. The servant dropped her gaze, shaking with fear. The shedu
commander took that as a sign of assent and immediately Tani was grabbed by two
other guards who began dragging her out of the door, leaving the remainder to
continue their search.

“What is the meaning of this?” Tani’s voice was cool and she
hoped conveyed enough disdainful authority that they would back off. Even shedu
guards had to bow to those of the aristocracy. Unfortunately these two didn’t
seem aware of that or if they were, had decided to ignore that fact.

“We have orders to take you to Lorcan Rodach, my lady.”

“And if I do not wish to be taken?”

“Your wishes are of no consequence, my lady. He awaits you
at the palace.”

“And Lady Morana?”

“She is also at the palace.”

Tani had no choice but to acquiesce. The palace was where
she needed to be, for both Ziad’s sake and Jaro’s. She knew Eunomi eyes were on
her and she was looking forward to settling her unfinished business with

On reaching the palace they took her inside via the back
gate and through a small tunnel that led to the winding stair of one of the
four tallest towers. She was escorted into a large suite, certainly not the dungeon
she’d had visions of entering. This was a luxurious apartment, the furnishings
similar to those in Morana’s townhouse. “This is the Lady Morana’s suite,”
announced the guard, withdrawing toward the door. “Make yourself at home. I
doubt she will be returning.”

On that ominous note the door slammed shut, the lock
clicking, leaving Tani to wonder just what had happened to Morana. Fear that
she had been revealed as a Eunomi informer surfaced and with it stronger fears
that Phenex might already know Tani was an Esseni. She had hoped his interest
in her, although unwanted, was purely a lustful desire. She prayed to Gaia that’s
all it was. Two hour later she knew her prayers had been in vain.

Tani whirled around, alert and on edge as the door creaked
open. “Tanith! I’m so thankful you’re safe!” The sound of his voice scratched
like chalk on a board. Lorcan entered the room, his gray eyes racked with
concern, his brow creased in worry. It was so obviously false—so fake that she
couldn’t understand how she had ever felt warmth toward him. He looked like
Jaro, but his handsome face was a mask and underneath it was something
malevolent and chilling. Her expression must have told him that something was
off because he took one look at her and dropped the pretense.

“Believe it or not, I
thankful,” he said, his tone
slithering with shadowy darkness that slid across her skin, wrapping tightly
around her throat. “Although I would have preferred that you had remained in
ignorance of certain facts about me.” He shut the door and turned to face her
slowly. “I know you have spent time with Jaro and I suspect you have visited
that slut Liana since I last saw you.”

Tani remained silent as he walked toward her. He stopped two
feet away and raked his eyes up and down her body. “I can see why everyone
including Phenex wants you, Tanith; although I think you can do better than my
brother. Did he fuck you?” She took a step back. Lorcan sneered at her. “What
do you women see in him? He’s nothing. Less than nothing. A slave tied to the
whims of his master. I would never have put myself in that position.”

“That’s because you’re a coward,” Tani whispered, but Lorcan
caught her words, his expression turning sour.

“I’m not a coward. Jaro is the coward. He gave up his life
for one of servitude. He deserves to suffer for throwing it away. He was always
a fool.”

“He sacrificed himself for you! How can you call him a
coward? He’s a hundred— no, a thousand—times more of a man than you!” Tani
could not believe Lorcan could be so cold, so selfish and uncaring toward the
brother who had sheltered him from a life of deprivation and suffering. The
brother who had saved him from the consequences of his actions, apparently more
than once. “He took the blame for you, for a crime he didn’t commit. That’s not
cowardly; that’s love in its purest form. How can you let him continue to
suffer? You could have saved him. Your mother could have saved him. I don’t

“And you probably never will, but that’s no concern of mine.
All you need to know now is that I’m the one who controls your destiny.
Remember that. Morana said you were my destiny and she was right and through
you I will take my rightful place in the universe.”

Tani shook her head. “No, you’re wrong. You’re not my
destiny; you’ve never been my destiny. Morana…”

“Forget Morana!” Lorcan spat. “She has no say in this
anymore. Phenex has been on to her double dealing for a while now and she has
more pressing concerns with the Vita Cruor.”

A chill worked its way down Tani’s spine. If that was true,
then Morana was in more trouble than she had previously suspected. The sanguini
eldars of the Vita Cruor were not to be crossed. Any sanguini unfortunate
enough to be called to their presence for wrongdoing was subject to not just
the harsh restrictive laws of their society but also often slave to the whims
of those ancients who enjoyed too much power. Having lived for millennia, the
sanguini eldars were notoriously fickle. This was not good news, not just for
Morana but also for Tani. It would be difficult to get access to her now and
demand the answers she needed regarding Ziad’s whereabouts. Which begged
another question—did the Vita Cruor also have Ziad?

Tani bit her lip in frustration. Perhaps if she got a
message to the Eunomi they could try to gain access to her. Other than that
Morana was a problem for the back burner. She eyed Lorcan warily. “So what do
you want with me, Lorcan? You must know by now that you’re not my Esseni
duality. How did you fake the Taijitu anyway? It was very convincing.”

Lorcan sneered. “It was easy. I ripped it from his flesh and
sewed onto my skin. I used a warloki spell to create the illusion it was mine
as it should have been by rights. That bastard isn’t worthy and his essence will
belong to me soon anyway when he dies.”

“You can’t kill him.”

“So I’ve been told and I don’t intend to. That job will be
done for me. Phenex is not happy with his former favorite. Jaro won’t last much

“I would have thought Phenex would want to use Jaro’s Esseni
power, sell him to Choronzon…” Her thoughts trailed off, eyes widening in
realization at Lorcan’s scowling face. “Oh, Phenex doesn’t know about Jaro,
does he? Does he know I’m an Esseni? What does he want me for?”

“Phenex thinks with his dick,” said Lorcan. “He knows what
you are but he wants to fuck you before he hands you over to Choronzon. I’m
thinking I might have that pleasure first.” He loomed over her, grabbing her
chin, eyes bright with hostility and something else that made her shiver. “Although
I’m not sure I want my brother’s leavings.” She shook her head to escape his
grasp and went for the jugular. “You can’t compete with your brother, Lorcan. No
one can.” The blow when it came stung like a bitch, the sound of his palm
hitting her cheek a reverberating crack that hovered malignantly in the air.
The pain was nothing to her, dulled as it was by the satisfaction of seeing
Lorcan rattled, his furious expression leaving her in no doubt that when it
came to Jaro, Lorcan had no control. She stood defiant before him, refusing to
cower. “Jaro is so much more than you in every department.” Her eyes raked him
up and down, deliberately lingering on his crotch. Her insinuation nearly sent
him over the edge.

“A lot of good that will do him when he’s dead!” he hissed. “I
will have the power. I will be the Esseni!” He was shaking with rage. Tani
realized then that Lorcan was seriously unbalanced. His hatred of Jaro went
beyond the bounds of normal sibling rivalry and jealousy, which made her wonder
what else he had done to his brother over the years. She also realized she
needed to calm him down. She spoke softly, looking directly into his eyes. “Even
so, you must realize if you do become the Esseni you’re playing with fire. Once
Phenex discovers it, he will sell you out.”

“Huh! Phenex’s days are numbered. My mother has him in the
palm of her hand. And when I am Esseni, Choronzon will be on his knees begging
to use my power.”

Tani blew out a soft breath, her mind whirling. So that was
the way of it. Sitri and Lorcan were playing a deep game. If they were
expecting to make a deal with the Discordant leader they were sure to get more
than they bargained for. Her focus now was to keep Jaro safe but in protecting
him from both Phenex and Sitri, she might just have to expose herself.

A sudden knock at the door interrupted the conversation and
she was saved from having to reply. The guard who entered whispered something
in Lorcan’s ear that made him smile. It was not a smile that engendered any
warmth but one of smug satisfaction. Tani could feel her heart racing. This did
not bode well. “We are summoned to the great hall,” he announced suavely,
reverting to the slickly false manner that made her blood run cold. “It seems
we have a treat in store.”

Chapter Twenty-Four



This was not good. Tani knew instinctively that something
was wrong the moment she crossed into the great hall. Lorcan was buzzing. He
prowled alongside her, full of nervous energy and excitement and causing the
fine hairs on the back of Tani’s neck to stand to attention. Gray eyes that had
always appeared calm and serious before were alight with a wild glow.
Anticipation. Unholy glee.

Uneasy but unwilling to show it, Tani stood still, praying
that her body radiated a casual curiosity rather than intense suspicion. Lorcan
took her hand, sending a shiver of revulsion coursing through her skin. How
could she ever have considered him a gentleman, let alone her partner duality?
Jaro was so much more…

“Lady Tanith.” He smiled a grin full of self-satisfaction. “Come.
You’ll enjoy this I’m sure.” The hand that had grabbed hers dug sharp nails
into her palm, so hard that Tani couldn’t hold back a gasp of pain. His smile
grew wider. Oh yes. She knew now that Lorcan enjoyed inflicting pain. She could
still feel the sting of his palm against her cheek. Steeling her nerve at the
reminder of Lorcan’s unpredictability, she followed cautiously in his wake.

They arrived at the dais where Phenex sat with his entourage.
Morana’s empty seat a reminder that her absence was another indication of danger,
that her promise to Tani she would be safe at the palace was a promise she
could no longer fulfill.

Aware she was under observation, Tani’s eyes locked on to
two orbs of indigo, daggers of blue that stabbed at her chest. Sitri was
present and mentally slicing her into pieces.

Reaching the dais, Lorcan drew to a halt in front of Phenex
and, letting go of Tani, he joined his mother. Phenex stood slowly, whispering
into the ear of one of his shedu guards. Having given his orders, he walked
toward Tani with open arms, his mouth twitching into a predatory grin that made
even the shivers Lorcan had induced seem tame. The ensuing embrace as his arms
encompassed her body left her in no doubt that Phenex had the strength to crush
her like a roach beneath his feet if that was his wish.

“My dear Lady Tanith. Thank Chaos for your safe return,” he
thundered so all could hear. Then dipping so that his lips were level with his
ear, he spoke softly for her alone. “I wonder if it is just to the gods that we
should offer our thanks for your safety.” Stepping back slightly, Phenex held
her gaze, leaving Tani in no doubt he was playing some kind of game, toying
with her as a big cat might torture its prey before pouncing and tearing it to
shreds. She stood tall and unflinching although her heart rate spiked.
Adrenaline raced through her veins. She was a warrior of the Eunomi and would
not cower.

Phenex withdrew his gaze but caught hold of her arm,
squeezing roughly as he turned his head. Murmurs rippled through the room and
all heads turned with his to focus on some motion at the back of the hall. Tani
had no choice but to turn her eyes to the source of the commotion. Blood
drained from her body, legs nearly folding beneath her. Tani had never fought
so hard to prevent herself from losing control, to quell the raging panic in
her chest. Somehow she remained calm. Indifferent. Unfeeling.

How she managed to watch, her face impassive while on the
inside her heart wept, Tani would never know. Remaining still although every
cell in her body trembled, she watched, riveted, as Jaro was dragged in on his
knees, arms bound behind his back, a leash attached to a metal ring around his
neck. She forced her feet to stay anchored as he was thrown literally in a heap
at Phenex’s feet. Her nails dug into her palms, drawing blood while he was
wrenched forcibly onto his feet, a shedu jerking his head back with tug of the
chain. Staying still was the hardest thing she had ever done.


Jaro never looked her way but he knew she was there. He
couldn’t afford to register his awareness of her presence. Instead he focused
the full force of his fury firmly onto his master, hatred burning through every
cell in his body. Phenex was holding her! A red curtain slammed across his
vision as rage swamped his reason. How dare he touch her! Jaro’s whole being
vibrated with the need to pulverize, to annihilate. He wanted to kill Phenex in
the worst way possible for staining her soft pure skin with his filth. But he

Jaro choked back the churning bile of darkness that bubbled
from his gut into his throat threatening to explode. Every fiber of his being
urged him to attack and only the thought of her being hurt in the process
stifled the change. He wouldn’t turn. Not now. Not yet. He couldn’t give Phenex
the knowledge that he was a barghesti. Chaos only knew how he would use him

Managing through gritted teeth to control the urge, Jaro
focused on survival. If he attacked Phenex now he’d be a dead man.

His master finally let Tani go and strode toward Jaro with
the arrogant swagger he had seen many times before. He knew what was coming
next. Jaro braced himself as Phenex smashed a fist into his gut; the blow
leaving him winded and doubled over. Phenex kicked his legs away. He fell to
the dust and was dragged by the hair, upright again so that Phenex could look
him in the eye.

Phenex sneered, his hooded eyes vicious with the need to
inflict pain. He shook his head slowly and all at once Jaro knew. This was it.
This was the end. Phenex was not going to merely torture him. He had gone a
step too far.

His master bent down, his foul breath assaulting Jaro’s air,
his large hand grabbing Jaro’s neck in a chokehold. “Once too often, Jaro,” he
hissed. “Once. Too. Often.” He withdrew his hand, letting Jaro go. Jaro
returned his gaze, heart pounding in his chest. He would not flinch. Would not
give him the satisfaction. Fuck! Phenex really meant it this time. He had no
choice. Before he went he would have his revenge. His eyes flickered to his mother
and brother. They were both smiling. Well, not for long. If changing and
killing Phenex meant his death it also meant theirs.


Phenex walked away from Jaro and Tani breathed a sigh of
relief. She didn’t want to watch the horror Phenex was about to inflict on him
but it only made her more determined to save him. She had to remain immune for

Suddenly the air was wrought with tension so heavy that Tani
felt suffocated, all the oxygen leaving her lungs when Phenex turned and spoke
to the assembled crowd. “This slave has defied me once too often. I let him
live because he served me well. Those who serve me well are rewarded.” He
paused to let that sink in. “Recently this slave has failed me.” Phenex sneered
at the crowd as they murmured their agreement. “Those who fail are weak and
expendable. He no longer deserves my mercy.” The crowd buzzed with
anticipation. They knew what to expect, their bloodthirst rising with Phenex’s
command. “Kill him!” The two words rang clear and loud. Tani couldn’t breathe, her
body shaking with fear as those two small words exploded in her chest, sharper
than bullets ripping through her heart.

“Wait!” She knew it was her voice even though it sounded
disembodied. “My Lord Phenex, without this man I would still be a prisoner of
Belial. He is the one who helped me escape.”

The shedu guard who had drawn his sword paused and looked to
his master. Phenex held up a hand. Tani froze and waited. After what seemed
like hours Phenex spoke. “My lady Tanith, are you sure? This slave has betrayed
me. He is insolent, disobedient. Shows no humility. How can he be responsible
for your return?”

“Without him I would not have escaped,” Tani asserted. “He
protected me from rape by Belial’s men and guided me back here.”

Phenex turned again, frowning, rubbing his bearded chin in
false consideration. “Really? Because as I understand it, he returned here
alone. As I recall you were found at Lady Morana’s house and escorted here by
my guards. My guards!” His voice thundered. Phenex was on a roll. “This slave
did not return you to me. He failed. You should never have been taken in the
first place. He failed to stop the kidnapping and failed to bring you to me. I
have shown him mercy once too often. He dies!”

The shedu raised his sword and Tani panicked and did the
only thing she could think of. “He’s barghesti!” she blurted out. “He’s a
barghesti saevici!”

The crowd rumbled with shock. Tani flinched inwardly,
watching Phenex’s expression change from brutal viciousness to maniacal
excitement as the knowledge of what that meant sunk in. A gasp erupted from the
dais as Sitri rose shaking, her hands grasping the side of her chair. And
Lorcan. She could hardly bear to look at his face so contorted with furious
hatred and jealousy that Tani wondered how she had not seen it before.

Finally she turned to Jaro. What she saw in his face made
her legs go weak. His mouth was drawn tight, his eyes blank and that was more
frightening than the fury she could feel bubbling under the surface. Then
slowly the stoic façade crumbled, his eyes turned wild and his expression grew
savage. His head flew back and he unleashed a bloodcurdling roar that
thundered, so loud it rocked the foundations of the palace. The crowd covered
their ears as the force of Jaro’s rage crashed over them. And Tani watched, her
heart breaking for the man she adored, unprepared for what happened next. Jaro’s
mercury eyes savaged hers with a blaze of such hatred she felt her heart stop
beating from the blow. His roar barreled through her skin and bone, slicing her
open. She heard it but fought against believing it. “I will kill you for this,
bitch! One day!” He was trying to turn, fighting against suppression spells
being hurled at him by Phenex’s warloki. Tani’s eyes widened in horror, willing
him to understand this was the only way to keep him alive. It was the only way
she could save him.

Tani was shaking. He didn’t understand. Her eyes pleaded
with him to understand. She was trying to save him. Phenex would never kill a
barghesti—he was far too valuable. She flinched as his words sliced her into
tiny pieces. Words she would never forget. Tani watched the reactions of those
around her play out in slow motion, died a thousand deaths as Jaro writhed in
agony. Pain flooded her heart as she realized what she had done. It was the
only thing she could have done to save him. But in doing so, she had condemned
him. He would never forgive her; she see could see it in his eyes.


She’d betrayed him. She’d told them he was a barghesti. Now
he would never get the chance to kill Phenex. Why would she do that? Unless she
was playing some deep game. Now Phenex would keep him drugged, use suppression
spells to keep him in check and use him mercilessly whenever he wanted. He
would be kept in a cage with the other slave saevici. At least as a normal
slave you were allowed some freedom but now… He would rather have died taking
Phenex with him than live that life. And she had done this. Done this to him! Condemned
him to a life even more miserable than the one he was living now. His first
instincts about her had been right. Love and hate warred within his chest.
There could be no doubt that she was back with Lorcan. They had arrived
together hand in hand and then she had allowed Phenex to paw at her. She was no
victim. She was a bitch whore and he would kill her for this if only he got the

He tried to turn. He battled the suppression spells,
struggling to change. All in vain. He roared in frustration, the chains wrapped
around him vibrating as cells deep within tried to fracture. His body shook
with rage. He could feel the dampening spells snuffing out the sparks of fire
within, Phenex’s warloki doing their job too well. The spells kicked in full
force and once again Jaro was left writhing on the floor in agony.

* * * * *

Lorcan raved. He paced his apartments. Sitri sat listening
with calm patience as grievance after grievance fell from his lips. He had
managed to storm at her for nearly an hour and showed no signs of stopping. It
was understandable, the whole thing was shocking but Sitri had never been one
to let a curve ball cause her defeat. She had never been beaten yet. Although
all her current plans had not yet come to fruition she had an endgame. Lorcan
knew what it was but he was beginning to be a liability, with a lack of
restraint she often had trouble leashing. And she had thought he was the easy

“How can he be a barghesti, Mother? Did you know about this?”
He hurled the question at her, his gray eyes accusing. The venom in his voice
that of a wounded animal. She shook her head. That juicy revelation had been a
complete shock. Maybe if she had known, she would have made a different choice
a hundred years ago. A small stab of guilt pricked her conscience for past
actions that she had pushed back into the darkest recesses of her mind. She
shook it off. There was no point dwelling on it. What’s done is done. Nothing
would stop her pursuing her goals, not even this. “Calm yourself, Lorcan. Lack
of control will not help the situation. The slave is now tied more tightly to
Phenex than ever. He can’t last much longer.”


Lorcan pouted. He knew he was exposing his jealousy even
though he had no cause for it. He had always been her favorite. He knew that.
Sighing, he turned back to her with some measure of control. “Do you know what
to do about this? How can we—”

“Are you my son or not?” Her interruption brooked no
argument but even so the question hurt because she had no cause to doubt him.
He had done everything she had ever asked of him and more. “You know I am,” he

“Then you know what I do is for the best. Your brother was
ever a thorn in my side. His eyes always held contempt.” She was wringing her
hands now, off on her favorite rant. One he knew he couldn’t stop. “He loved
your father more than he loved me. He didn’t love me enough. Not like you.” She
turned to him then, calming down, cupping his cheek and smiling sweetly. One of
her sweetest smiles. Lorcan lived for her smiles. She kissed his lips. Not the
kiss of a mother, more that of a fond lover. She hadn’t done that for a while,
not since she’d been taken up by Phenex. He’d missed that. Missed her touch. He
craved her touch.

BOOK: Rage to Adore
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