Authors: Dana Marie Bell
To Mom, who keeps asking when I’m going to buy her a mansion and yacht. Wait your turn, Elmer Fudd! I get mine first. (And if you recognize the reference, you totally rock.)
To Dad, who, like my husband, just rolls his eyes and remains silent amidst the insanity of the females in his life. Smart man.
And to Dusty, who’s down for the whole mansion thing but thinks the yacht might be taking it a bit too far. This from the man who wants to scare the crap out of me by taking flying lessons. Heck, it’s not
fault he gets seasick.
Gareth wouldn’t look at her.
He wouldn’t look, and she couldn’t blame him. It wasn’t every day your soul was invaded by not one warlock, but two. The effects on both Gen and Gareth had been emotionally devastating. Everything she was had been laid bare to him as she protected his life from her father’s evil.
And Gareth wouldn’t look at her.
Gen knew any chance she had at happiness with the man she loved had been viciously torn from her. The visions she’d had so long ago had finally come true. Her father, Davis Godwin, had tried to kill Gareth Beckett, the future king of the wizards. He’d nearly succeeded, too, almost sucked the man’s soul into his magical dagger, the one he’d been using to summon a demon. If he
succeeded, he would have gained Gareth’s power and destroyed not only the Beckett family but his daughter as well. Filled with the souls of unwilling sacrifices, it would have granted both Davis Godwin and the demon the raw power to take over the magical world.
Gen had responded in the only way she could when the man she loved was threatened. She’d used her gifts as an Own, a
Own, forcing the darkness out from Gareth Beckett by forcing
in. It was something she’d never attempted before, but she’d acted on instinct, the whispers of her Goddess guiding her until the darkness had fled and Gareth was free.
And touching his soul—noble and strong and fierce—had confirmed everything she’d believed about him. He was beautiful and wonderful and forever out of her reach. His soul had recoiled from the invasion, but the ecstasy of the Goddess’s touch overrode his natural instinct to force Gen out. Gen had protected him with everything in her, but there was a price to pay for saving him. There was always a price, and Gen would gladly pay it, knowing he lived, if only he’d look at her just once.
Please look at me.
But Gareth didn’t. The intimacy of their souls touching must have shocked him to the core, and now the man couldn’t get away from her fast enough. He carried his brother through the woods, his expression at turns stunned and grim.
Zachary Beckett, the newest Own and possibly the most powerful witch to have ever lived, had passed out after defeating Davis Godwin. Zach had killed her father, destroying the dagger in Davis Godwin’s hand, halting the man’s evil forever as the captured souls the dagger had once held were forever freed of their bondage.
But the demon took Davis’s soul as payment, condemning him to an afterlife of eternal torment.
The sound that had poured from her father’s throat as the demon took its due would haunt her until the day she died. All of Hell was in that cry as darkness leapt from Davis’s body into the shattered altar he’d used to sacrifice so many.
It had cost Zach dearly to free the souls of at least three witches Davis had trapped within the dagger. Zach had collapsed from the strain of so much power rushing through him. It had been too much for his body to bear. Gareth had caught him before he hit the ground, and now Gen and Gareth trudged through the woods, too exhausted to do more than shuffle. Zach was slung over Gareth’s shoulder, unconscious from the massive overload of power.
“Gods, what has this man been eating?”
It was the first thing Gareth had said since Davis fell. “Anything he can get his hands on?”
They broke through the woods to the beach where Jo, Zach’s mate, waited impatiently for them, an anxious expression on her face. Blood ran down her arms and legs from the wounds Davis had inflicted before she’d been freed. Gen was fiercely glad to see that, while she’d been harmed, she would be all right. Zach deserved the happiness Gen had forfeited.
Gareth and Gen stepped through the trees, Zach slung over Gareth’s shoulder. Gen kept her hand on his lower back in an attempt to keep him steady, but if Gareth started to fall she doubted she’d be able to save them. She was as weak as a newborn kitten. How Gareth was even still on his feet, she had no idea. The wizard was just as tired as she was if the unsteady way he walked was any indication.
Jo looked so terrified at the sight of Zach in Gareth’s arms that Gen rushed to reassure her. “He’ll be all right.”
“He’d better!” Jo limped over as quickly as she could. “What happened?”
“He poured too much of himself into stopping my father. He’s dead.”
Jo’s face went white. “Wh-what?”
“Oh! No, no, no! My father, not Zach! Zach’s just burned out. He’ll be fine with rest and food.” Why couldn’t she get her foot out of her mouth? She constantly said or did the wrong thing around the Becketts.
Gareth still refused to look at Gen, breaking her heart. “Let’s get him out of here.”
“Where’s Hugh?” She knew at least one of her brothers, who’d been assisting their father in his asinine plot, had gotten away. Zach had sent Arthur flying out over the river with a show of power that still made her head reel. But Hugh’s fate was a mystery to her. Had he, too, gotten away?
“He booked when he realized the odds were against him.” Gareth marched forward, Zach swaying boneless in his grasp. “Let’s go, ladies. Time’s a-wasting.”
Gen plodded after them, her feet dragging. Once the Becketts were home and safe, Gen would leave them. She had no other option left. Hugh and Arthur were still out there, still very much a part of her father’s schemes. Gen was the only one who knew them well enough to stop them.
They were, after all, family.
Jo placed her hand on Gen’s arm. “I’m sorry for your loss.”
Gen stopped, her head dropping. She hadn’t expected sympathy, but her family deserved none of her heartache. That ache was reserved for the loss of Gareth, burning like acid in her stomach. “Thank you.”
They arrived at the edge of the beach to find Chris, Daniel and Kerry waiting for them. They were standing by the car Zach had propelled across the river to the tiny island, skipping it like a stone on a pond. Daniel was standing over Kerry, arms crossed, a scowl on his face as he gazed down at her. The blonde glared at him defiantly, but everyone could see how her hands trembled. Kerry was mundane, not a part of their magical world, but she’d been taken by Gen’s father’s evil and almost lost her life because of her connection to the Beckett family.
Chris rubbed his hand over his face. “Kerry, Lana’s going to want to know you’re all right. You know how she gets.”
“She’ll freak out. Besides, you know she doesn’t want me involved in the woo-woo stuff.”
The woo-woo stuff? A reluctant smile crossed Gen’s face.
“She was trying to protect both of you.” Chris was obviously trying to placate Kerry.
Kerry shrugged, her expression pained. “Whatev.” She winced. “Hospital. Gonna need one. I’m pretty sure I have a broken rib.”
“Shit.” Daniel bent down and picked her up. He hadn’t once taken his eyes off of her. “We need to get back across the river.” He climbed into the passenger seat, Kerry settled on his lap. “Where the fuck is Zach?”
“Right here.” Gareth carefully lowered Zach’s unconscious body to the ground. “Davis is dead. Glowbug lit his ass like the Fourth of July.”
Gen smiled again. It was wonderful, the way Zach’s family accepted his new status as one of Hecate’s Own. Zach might possibly be one of the most powerful Own she’d ever run across.
Deep inside, that spark of the divine that lived within her smiled, and she knew. Zach
one of the most powerful Own in the world, and rather than be jealous, Gen was grateful. The price Zach would be forced to pay over and over again would be staggering, and not something she would wish on her worst enemy. Just saving Gareth had exhausted her to the point of collapse.
She’d do it again in a heartbeat, even knowing her love was now lost to her forever.
Gen swayed a bit, praying no one saw. Gods above, she was exhausted. All she wanted was a quiet place to curl up and lick her wounds, but she doubted she would get that chance any time soon.
Daniel looked torn, but stayed put, keeping the squirming blonde on his lap with a well-placed arm. “Will he be all right?”
“She says so.” Gareth pointed toward Gen with his thumb without looking, his voice taking on an odd timbre. Gen just prayed it was embarrassment, and not hatred. “He needs lots of food and rest. He’s depleted his reserves. Every action has a price, and Zach is paying for saving us all.”
listened to her.
Chris nodded. “Anyone else hurt?”
“Me.” Jo limped forward. “But I think that’s it.”
“There’s a dead body back there with no marks on it, a dagger that’s…shit.” Daniel ran his fingers through his hair wearily. “I’ve never seen anything like it, man. The metal’s twisted, the handle cracked. I don’t think anyone will be using it as anything other than scrap ever again.”
“The souls cleansed the blade when they were freed.” Gen collapsed wearily on the sand, her eyes closed, the effort to keep them open almost too much. Goddess, she was exhausted. “I’m going to need some alone time soon.”
“What?” Gareth’s fierce tone could mean anything. She squashed the tiny spark of hope that said it was concern. She couldn’t afford to make that sort of mistake. Not with him.
She smiled grimly. “There’s always a price to pay.”
“Fuck. And our handy-dandy car skipper is still passed out. How do we get back?”
Chris and Gareth stared at the car, Chris answering, “Good question.”
Gen sighed. Oh, the price was going to be painful. Channeling the Goddess again so soon would cause unimaginable agony, but it had to be done. She owed the Becketts, especially Gareth, that much. “I can open a portal to the other side of the river.”
Chris stared at her. “You can?”
“Mm-hmm.” It was not something she did lightly, but to get away from the heartache of Gareth’s rejection she’d open a portal to Zimbabwe.
“Why didn’t you say so? We could have avoided that!” She opened her eyes just as Gareth jabbed his finger at the river. He looked so put-upon, it almost made her smile.
Jo stared at the SUV. “Um. How
the car get here?”
Gen pointed toward Zach. “He did it.”
They stared at Zach for a moment before Jo shook her head in disbelief. “Of course he did.”
Gen stood, ignoring the way the Beckett men watched her. “Time to go home, people. Everyone in the SUV.”
They piled in, and Gen spread her arms wide, ready to channel her Goddess and send them home.
“They’re coming for you soon, bro.” Zach leaned against the doorjamb, all casual and relaxed. It was a good look for him, but Gareth didn’t have time to admire how settled in his skin Zach now was. The last few months had been hell on them all, but none more than Zach. He’d overcome a horrendous curse, found his mate, and become one of the most powerful witches in the world. He’d destroyed one of their most hated foes in a battle and saved Chris from certain death.
Hell, he’d even made nice with Prince Roland, who Gareth thought was more likely to turn his baby brother into a baboon than welcome the Own into his court.
He could hear Zach’s mate, Jo, laughing with their brother Chris and his mate, Lana. Goddess only knew what the two witches were up to, but it smelled delicious. And with Christopher there to protect them both, Zach could relax. He’d barely let Jo out of his sight since her ordeal at the hands of the Godwin boys. His mate had been scarred by Davis Godwin and his sons, and in return Zach had literally called down the wrath of the gods on Davis.
Godwin. Now who woulda thunk that name would bring such longing to Gareth’s heart? He still remembered the look on Gen’s face when she’d left Chris’s house for the last time.
She’d looked flayed open, exhausted beyond endurance. And he’d been so lost in what had occurred between them, too busy reliving the glory of her soul blending with his, that he hadn’t stopped her from walking out the fucking door.