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Authors: Cara Lake

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BOOK: Rage to Adore
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Tani could feel her blanket of protection sliding away from
her and moving across the pit toward the man. He would still suffer but perhaps
she could soften the blows with her compassion. The force of his rejection
slammed into her once more and even though she didn’t want to, Tani had to admit
defeat. Some people just wouldn’t be helped.

She tried to harden her heart but couldn’t help flinching as
the first whiplash cut through his already swollen flesh. It was as if the
sharp slice of the lash was tearing into her soul just as it tore into the
man’s bone. It was confusing that she should be so affected by this punishment
and Tani couldn’t stop the tears burning in her eyes from spilling onto her
cheeks.

A soft hand wiped away the moisture. “Show no emotion,
Tanith.” It was Morana. “You cannot afford for them to suspect your tender
heart.”

Tani’s eyes met Morana’s. There was so much understanding in
her gaze that Tani was shocked into silence. “I never suspected
you
had
a heart,” she finally replied and then bit her lip as she realized that might
have been unwise.

Morana shrugged. “I don’t, but you do. Reveal it and it will
be your downfall. Never expose yourself in public like this. You never know who
could be watching.” She turned away, leaving Tani even more confused about
Morana and her motives. The thwack of the whip crunching into bone again forced
her gaze back to the pit. She realized that no sound had emanated from the
fighter and that the crowd had gone deathly quiet. From respect? Admiration?

Twenty lashes, each one a slicing barb to her soul. Each one
cutting deeper than the last. They seemed to last an eternity and then it was
over. The guards untied his hands from above his head. Expecting to see him
fall, the crowd gasped in wonder as the man staggered but remained standing. He
lifted his head toward Phenex and the aristocrats in the gallery, once more in
defiance of their authority. Slowly, one step at a time, he dragged himself out
of the pit and into the blackness of the tunnel, watched in silence by a
stunned and awestruck crowd.

Chapter Eleven

Avarice

 

“I want the girl.”

Phenex’s voice drifted in the stillness of the stale air
swamping the tunnels that ran from the pit. Jaro lay prone, his stomach pressed
into the rough pallet, barely conscious, his mind drifting. His back, open to
the air, shredded by the slicing barbs of the whip felt as if sharp nails were
gouging relentlessly into skin and bone. No one had bothered to clean or tend
to his wounds. Twenty lashes. Twenty fucking lashes. What was he thinking? He
should have stabbed his opponent in the back. Chaos forbid he would ever do
whatever Phenex wanted. It wasn’t the first time he had disobeyed and wouldn’t
be the last. He was such an idiot.

Mercy. Why had he shown mercy? He had shown mercy a few
months ago, refusing to kill a female his masters wanted dead. What had it got
him? More scars, torture, whippings. He had been beaten on a daily basis for a
month, salt rubbed into his wounds to ensure excruciating agony and permanent
reminders of his folly. He was glad he couldn’t see his back. He knew it looked
like hell.

“What will you give me for her?” Jaro’s brain jerked to
awareness at the sound of his brother’s voice. Phenex growled, “Thirty
thousand.”

“Not enough,” Lorcan laughed. “Consider that red hair, my lord.
She is exquisite, unique, with that hair and those eyes. I am almost tempted to
keep her for myself.”

“You cannot keep her, she is an Esseni and as such Choronzon
will want her eventually. But I want her first. I’ll give you fifty.”

“Better.” Jaro could hear the arrogance in Lorcan’s voice. “But
you’ll give me a hundred thousand if you want her that much. There are other
interested parties.”

“Who?” Phenex rasped angrily.

“Belial, for one.” Lorcan’s tone was smooth. He was enjoying
toying with Phenex. “That mongrel cur son of a bitch! Done. I’ll give you a
hundred. How soon can I have her?”

“A couple of days. I will need to make sure her
disappearance is covered up or the Eunomi will send in warriors to search for
her. Morana, as we both know, would willingly sell her whereabouts to them.”

“True. I will need to deal with that bitch Morana very soon.”

“Fifty now and fifty on delivery.” Jaro could hear the avarice
dripping from Lorcan’s lips. “Deal!” Footsteps echoed on bare concrete as they
moved away, the sound of their voices becoming muffled as the distance
increased.

Jaro snorted where he lay, the slight movement stinging his
flesh, his wounds raw and biting. So much for Lorcan’s bitch. She couldn’t have
been that good if he was willing to sell her off. Still—a hundred thousand was
a lot for a whore. And he had had a taste for free, hadn’t he? Heat infused his
veins as he thought back to their encounter in the alley. Fuck! How many times
had that moment replayed in his mind? It was a constant loop he couldn’t erase.
His anger at her increased. She had played him for a fool. Well, she would get
what she deserved. Phenex was known to be brutal with his whores.

A chill of ice gripped his chest. Fear? For her? Jaro
focused on his fury in an effort to numb the unsettling sensation. He didn’t
care. Couldn’t care. Wouldn’t care. So why did it feel as if his chest was
being suffocated? Must be broken ribs. Lung damage. Brain damage, more likely.
He would just lie here until Phenex sent some men to get him. No he wouldn’t.
He would visit Morana. He pressed his palms flat against the hard surface of
the pallet, inching his body up. Agonizing pain sliced through his back and
aching muscles. He fought a wave of nausea as he forced his body upright. The
cold air whipping against his torn flesh delivered fresh barbs as he moved.
Slowly, every step a torture, he made his way through the darkness of the
tunnels, emerging finally into the alleyways of the ghetto.

* * * * *

Morana had been strangely silent during the ride back to her
mansion, which had suited Tani’s somber mood. The specter of the evening’s
events hovered over her, an oppressive reminder of the chaos wrought by the
Discordants. It was everything she was fighting against.

Hatred.

Violence.

Inhumanity.

Back in her room, Tani focused her thoughts on the man she
was here for. Lorcan. Her emotions spiraled when she thought of him. He
confused her. It was almost as if he were two different people. The façade he
employed for the benefit of society, cold, haughty, indifferent, was the face
he projected on a daily basis. It was a hard one for him to drop.

But she had seen the other side of him, the warm, passionate
generosity he revealed only fleetingly. Life here was dangerous. He had to be
this way to protect the people he cared about. His mother. The waifs and strays
in the ghetto. The young girls he took under his wing in the brothels. Lorcan
was a good man, an honorable man. He might be the Esseni of Hate, but like
Irina’s partner Tyr who was the Esseni of War, there were two sides to his
character. His capacity for love was apparent in his actions and Tani should
feel elated that he was her partner duality, considering all her fears before
she had met him.

Her hand rubbed the mark on her hip. The Taijitu. The mark
of an Esseni. The mark she had been waiting for all her life. How elated she
had been when it appeared that morning and tonight—tonight she had seen its
match on Lorcan’s hip. She thought back to that moment and how she had been
surprised to see it there. Really, she shouldn’t have been. Not after the
sizzling kiss they had shared in the alley. It had been inevitable. Lorcan was
Hate. She was Love. He probably didn’t even realize he had it.

Tani had been waiting with Morana in the private bar area,
reserved for the very wealthy after the fights were over. Lorcan had gone to
say goodbye to his mother and Phenex. He had returned to the room, an
enthusiastic smile across his face as he walked toward her, his focus on her
alone.

A servant had smashed into him, spilling a tray of wine
across his chest. She had felt the bristling anger of the other aristocrats
directed at the servant but Lorcan had laughed it off, removing his shirt to
wipe away the residue. As he did so Tani had caught a brief glimpse of the
unmistakable mark of an Esseni at his hip. Now that it had appeared, evidence
of her connection to Lorcan was irrefutable. She was his and he was hers. To
ensure balance in the universe, they had to commit to each other.

Her fear had been that Hate would not commit to her but for
reasons that eluded her, she was afraid to make that commitment to him. Yet.
Time. She just needed time to get to know him more. There was an attraction.
Definitely. And at times it was fierce and overwhelming. Her thoughts meandered
again to that second kiss at the club and the fact that with just a brief touch
of his hand he had almost made her come. But he had burned for her too. She had
felt the hard evidence of his desire pressing into her belly. Could still feel
it. Gaia in heaven! But at other times… Maybe it was her fear taking over,
causing her to doubt.

Tani shook herself out of the morbid direction her thoughts
were taking her. She would not be dragged down by fear. She would not be
another Carita. A sharp knock sounded on her door. “My lady! Lorcan Rodach is
below and wishes to speak with you.”

Tani’s heart pounded. He was here. Time to step up and face
her destiny.

* * * * *

Each step was a wrench, every footfall an agonizing spear
lancing through bruised skin and fractured bones. But Jaro kept going. The urge
to reach Morana’s was an insistent pounding on his consciousness. Why he was
bothering he didn’t know. Yes he did. No matter that the redheaded temptress
was Lorcan’s, she was in danger and Lorcan
was
that danger. Lorcan would
sell her off to Phenex just as his mother had sold off Jaro and for some reason
he couldn’t define, it was something he could not allow.

Finally he emerged from the shadows and found himself facing
the iron gates of Morana’s large townhouse. His swollen eyes registered
movement at her door so he dissolved back into the alley, not wanting to reveal
his presence. There were two people on the steps. A female and a male. Jaro
caught a glimpse of red, as the light from the open doorway permeated his
impaired vision. He realized the woman was kissing the male and that the dark-haired
man was responding with enthusiasm.

A rush of intense fury sparked in the deepest recess of his
brain as the full impact of the scene crashed his senses. It was her—and she
was with his brother. She didn’t appear to need saving. Well fuck! Forget the
warning; she would get what she deserved. If she was stupid enough to be drawn
into his brother’s web of deceit, then so be it. He was done looking out for
others. Why he should be bothered about her fate was a mystery. She was nothing
to him. He didn’t even know her!

His anger increased. At Lorcan. At her. At himself. What the
hell was he thinking? His body was fucked to chaos and he was trying to play
knight in shining armor. Well, it sure didn’t look like the damsel was in
distress. He needed to heal and that was more important than some red-haired
bitch. She was clearly in knee-deep with Lorcan—had probably played Jaro for a
fool. Rage swept over him, burning a fire through his veins. But it still took
every muscle he possessed to force his protesting body to turn. Walk away. But
he did. Jaro headed for Liana’s and a warm place to lay his head.

* * * * *

“Lady Tanith, I hope you don’t mind me visiting so late, but
I had to see you.” Lorcan held her hands in his, gray eyes meeting hers with
concern. “I wanted to make sure you were okay after the battles. I was worried
when Morana told me she was bringing you. The arena is not for the faint
hearted and those of delicate sensibilities. I’m sorry Morana subjected you to
that.”

Tani bristled slightly at his inference of her fragility but
shook it off quickly, realizing that she should be grateful this man was
showing her such great care. Wasn’t that something she had always wished for?
She met his gaze as he stood at the entrance, her eyes roaming to his black
hair, remembering the feel of it in her palms. It was no longer disheveled and
unruly as it had been outside the club but swept back neatly from his handsome
face and even so she couldn’t help but think that he was one of the most
handsome men she had ever seen.

But she preferred his hair untamed. His demeanor now was
urbane. This was his civilized face and she realized it was the one he used
when they were in company. There were servants around and Morana could come
down at any moment so he was continuing to play the sophisticated aristocrat.
If only they were alone. His tone and the voice in which he spoke, although
concerned, had none of the raw emotion that stirred her heart to somersaults
and it even made her feel uneasy because now she could tell it was false.

Lorcan’s hands cupped her face and before she had a chance
to think, his head dipped forward and his lips found hers. After the initial
shock, Tani was surprised to find that she felt only a cool detachment as his
tongue roved her mouth. Her arms lifted automatically and her hands lay on his
shoulders but there was no urge to press into him, no burning need to fuse into
his kiss. His hands were inching their bodies closer, one laced in her hair
behind her head, the other at the small of her back. At the same moment he
broke the kiss to murmur something in her ear, Tani experienced a rolling wave
of heat, vicious in its intensity as it pierced through her skin and bone and
then expired, leaving her insides smoldering. She was unable to process the
emotion before Lorcan murmured again.

“What?” she asked, not catching his words.

“My apologies for my lack of restraint but you are
irresistible, Tanith.”

Tani pulled back and stared up at him. “Thank you,” she
replied, wondering what the hell had just happened and what the hell was wrong
with her. Perhaps the shock of the battles and how bloodthirsty they were was
still preying on her mind because she knew this kiss was nothing like the kiss
they had shared in the alley.

Lorcan’s hands tightened as if he could sense her confusion.
“I’m trying not to lose control with you,” he confessed. “I know we have only
just met and I don’t want to scare you with how I feel.”

His words sounded sweet, thoughtful and as he spoke them,
Tani’s confusion solidified to enlightenment. “Is that why you walked away
outside the club?” she asked, just to be sure.

“I wanted you so much,” he replied. “I had to leave you,
Tanith. You are so beautiful and we have this indescribable connection. Tell me
you feel it too.” His forehead dropped to meet hers. She lifted her eyes to
meet gray ones. “Lorcan, do you know what’s happening here?” she asked.

“Something magickal.”

Tani swallowed and took the plunge, holding at bay a tiny
corner of her brain that was insisting she back away. “Lorcan, I need to tell
you I came here specifically to find you,” she said. His cool, serious eyes
narrowed in surprise. “To find me?”

“The connection you felt between us, it’s…” Tani paused,
reluctant to speak the word. But it had to be said. “It’s fate.” His mouth
broke into a grin. “So you
are
my destiny.”

Tani relaxed at his smile. Maybe this wouldn’t be so
difficult after all. She nodded. “Lorcan, you and I, we are Esseni.”

“Esseni?” His brow furrowed.

“Do you know what that means?”

“Of course, but…I am one?” He sounded incredulous.

“The proof is on your hip,” she said. “You have a mark there
that matches mine. I saw it earlier.”

Lorcan appeared completely dumbfounded as her hands pushed
aside the fabric of his shirt to reveal the small Taijitu mark scarring his
hip. She then revealed her own and watched his dark head as he gazed down at
them and then brought his eyes back to hers.

BOOK: Rage to Adore
6.4Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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