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Dawn’s PathAngel pounded her fist against the table with such force that the cherry wood veneer splintered into toothpick sized shards. Angry didn’t begin to define her reaction to Kayla’s news. “I can’t believe you’re considering this!” she shouted. Rage tinted her normally brown eyes, infusing them with flares of gold and amber. Unblinking, Kayla stood across the table from her completely unaffected by the outburst. And her reaction or rather non-reaction made Angel seethe with fury. “How stupid are you?”Kayla huffed and crossed her arms over her chest, casually regarding her friend. Ok, so she knew Angel wouldn’t be giving her hugs and congratulations. But, she hadn’t exactly expected her sort of best friend to resort to furniture abuse either. Kayla held her ground as Angel scrubbed her hand through her spiked hair and paced in agitation. “I guess I’m pretty damn stupid,” she coolly replied. Unfettered by Angel’s outburst and grateful for the table separating them, she jutted her chin out in defiance. “I don’t care if you like it or not. It’s my life and I’m doing this. I just thought you might like to know.” “Or your death,” Angel rasped. Tugging on the ends of her hair in frustration she wished Kayla had picked someone else to confide in. The woman operated under the misconception that they were BFFs or something. They were friends…but not friends…and certainly not best friends. Know? Of course she didn’t want to know. And this…Kayla stood there so calm and casual about the whole thing. As if it were no big deal. It was a big fucking deal. Angel noted the hard glint of determination in Kayla’s aquamarine eyes and the steely set of her jaw. There were literally dozens of arguments she could use against what Kayla planned to do. But, not one of them was going to get through to her. What Kayla had just announced was the equivalent of suicide. And to think, she wanted her support.”I’ve considered that possibility,” Kayla said. What she was planning to do was risky. But, for a virtually eternal love, she considered it a chance she was willing to take. She thought if anyone might understand and just maybe support her decision. Angel would. Kayla was wrong about that one. Telling Angel had been a huge mistake. “It just makes sense. If I’m going to marry Bryce, I should be like he is.”Angel huffed at Kayla’s logic. Kayla’s reasoning was the stupidest thing she’d ever heard. Give up her life for love? Love? She stopped pacing long enough to pin Kayla with a hard glare, that and to show her a healthy flash of fang. The woman had no idea what she as asking or what she was giving up. “I suppose he’s going to do the honors personally?” she asked. Her voice riddled with sarcasm.Kayla visibly bristled from the acidic tone in her voice. Angel knew if she pushed it much farther, Kayla would just shut her down completely. She tried a different tactic to combat Kayla’s line of thought. There had to be some way to get through to her before it was too late. Angel mentally scrabbled for the right words to say to make Kayla question her decision. It wasn’t too late for her to change her mind. Kayla still had a choice and she could choose differently. “If Bryce is so in love with you, shouldn’t he be happy with you just the way you are? Why do you have to change for him?”Kayla should have expected this from Angel. She’d asked it herself that same question at least a hundred times. And each time her answer was exactly the same. Giving up her life wasn’t something she planned to do on a whim. Her decision was permanent and once she carried it through, there was no going back. Ever. “This is what I want, Angel.””Why,” Angel asked. There was a sincerity and urgency to her question she didn’t try to hide. Kayla had everything. She held the brass ring in her hand and she was willing to give it up. If Angel could trade her places, she’d grab onto that ring and run like hell. Find some normal place to live. Work a normal job. And surround herself with normal people. And just be …normal. Kayla could do that. She didn’t have to be this… thing that she was considering turning into. Love wasn’t worth it.Kayla didn’t expect Angel to understand the reasons behind her decision. Respect her decision, yes. But, understand it, never. Angel was so closed off and terrified of real emotions, real contact beyond the superficial, that she would never comprehend something deeper, like love. Not because she wasn’t capable of it. She just would never let her guard down enough to let anybody in. Angel only got so close to people before she shut them out. Too much had happened in her past. And rather than face it, she preferred to hide behind it and use it as an excuse to push everybody away. Angel had never been in love. Never felt the urgency of knowing one lifetime with the man you love would never be enough. Death was the ultimate cheat. And for Kayla, it didn’t have to be. Steeling her resolve, she braced herself for the repercussions of her answer. “Because, I love him. Bryce isn’t asking me to change for him. But, I can give him more than just a few decades together. And this is my wedding gift to him…to us. We can have forever.”Angel opened her mouth to unleash a tirade of snarky rebuttals and then quickly snapped it shut. There was no way she was going to win this debate and convince Kayla to change her mind. Unleashing a barrage of verbal assaults wasn’t going to accomplish anything except destroying the fragile friendship they struggled to maintain. She had no options left. Either she was going to get on board with Kayla’s plan or she was going to lose one of the few people on earth she actually trusted. “When?””Tonight.” Kayla winced at the pain in Angel’s expression. She’d made the decision the minute Bryce slid the engagement ring on her finger. They’d talked about it long and hard. Considered every angle and possible outcome. Bryce sugarcoated nothing. He also didn’t try to persuade or dissuade her. He’d left the final decision up to her.Bryce and Angel were as different as night and day in their view of the world. And it was because of choice. He’d had one. Angel hadn’t. Bryce saw his condition as a gift. That wasn’t the case with her. To her, it was a curse. A reminder of a past she could not escape. Sure, Bryce was scared. She was scared. And she understood that Angel was scared for her too. There was always a chance things wouldn’t work out the way she hoped. She could die for nothing more than a glimmering promise of a forever that might not happen. “Fuck, Kayla, tonight?” Angel exhaled and dragged her hands through her hair. She glared at the clock mounted on the dining room wall. The clock ticked softly, counting down the hours, minutes, and the seconds left. Kayla’s life was measured in the inexorable swing of the brass pendulum. Back and forth it swung without pause. Kayla had less than twelve hours. Angel wanted to rip the clock from the wall and smash it to bits. Stop the brass pendulum from swinging. Stop time from racing forward in the blink of an eye. She shook her head in denial. Eleven hours and fifty-three minutes and ten seconds. And the damn pendulum kept right on swinging, mocking her with the rightness of its every pass back and forth.”Angel,” Kayla said softly. “You’ll be there wont you? Tonight?” Somehow, not telling Angel didn’t seem right. They’d been through so many things together. More than any two women should. And not any of it had been good. If things went to shit, she just wanted Angel to have at least an explanation as to why she’d chosen what she had. And she’d want the chance…this chance… to tell her goodbye. Angel could not take the deafening tick of the clock another second. A walk. She needed to get out of this place and the walls that were closing in around her. Distance was good. The only defense she had against time and Kayla. She could not tolerate the hopefulness in Kayla’s expression. Dying for love. Love? What was that? And why die for something so fleeting as love? Love was temporary. But, death…death was forever. Turning on her heel to leave the dining room and her friend, taking in air past the thick lump in her throat, she nodded and said, “Sure, I’ll be there.” Kayla watched Angel go without trying to stop her. Kayla was asking her to relive a nightmare. She would have understood if Angel had said no. Angel cared deeply. She hid behind a wall of scowls and cold standoffishness. In ways, Kayla doubted if anyone had ever gotten more than just a glimpse of who Angel truly was beneath the surface. Angel excluded herself from too much. She stood in the background and never let herself get close to anybody. Kayla knew the reasons why Angel hid from her past and her pain. That she’d agreed to be there tonight was enough. Contemplating what to do with the rest of her day, Kayla glanced at the clock. Time seemed to pass so much quicker when it was running out. Angel had stared at the clock hanging on the dining room wall as if it were a bitter enemy she could not defeat. Kayla didn’t see it that way. Time was a simply a formality and nothing more. Soon, it wouldn’t matter to her at all. Hours, days, weeks, months, years didn’t matter when you had a limitless supply of them.Angel ran. She always ran. Away. From people, from her pain, and from her past, but, she never fast enough, never far enough. And it always caught up with her. She stood at the highest point of the bluffs on a narrow cleft of bleak gray shale, overlooking a pale, icy, winter-white landscape and barren skies. An eerie wind howled winter’s lonely cry. Tossed about by the force of the gale. Powder sugar snow swirled in vortexes across the rock. The cold was relentless. Numbing. Freezing her to her very soul until it was as cold, gray, and barren as the scenery around her. Closing her eyes against all the lifelessness of winter, Angel wished for spring. A time when things were fresh and new, bursting with life. A time when the lush green of growing things, lemon yellow sunlight, and soft, warm breezes whispered promises of tomorrow. A time when even the very air seemed to shimmer with hope and anything seemed possible, even outrunning her past.Chapter 1Angel balanced on the rocky precipice, looking down at the bonfire. The flames danced merrily in the darkness. Their orange tongues lapped at the spring sky, wiggling wildly, as if they could taste the stars twinkling just out of their reach. She was hiding. These days she was always hiding. Dodging the terror better known as Bridezilla. Tonight was the night. THE NIGHT. And she had been dreading it for weeks. Kayla and Bryce were finally tying the knot. Angel had been flattered, hell flabbergasted, when Kayla had asked her to be a bridesmaid. And even though she’d had a vague idea of what the job description entailed when she’d agreed. She’d failed miserably. When she refused to meet Kayla’s unreasonable demands and trade in her black leathers for a ridiculous lavender, taffeta dress and shiny white stiletto heels. Argued that there was no reason to order a champagne fountain and a four-tier wedding cake with peach frosting since nobody would eat it anyway. And grouched about how silly it was to make all those damn bags filled with birdseed. She’d found herself promptly relieved of her official duties and demoted to guest status. Angel remembered the look of sheer terror that filled Kayla’s eyes before she lost consciousness as the last of her blood was drained away and her heart beat one final time. In those seconds terror unlike anything Angel had ever known held her immobile. As Kayla lie cold and dead in Bryce’s arms, as Bryce tried to coax the blood that would give her life down her throat, Angel’s heart had stopped too. Bryce’s blood, his very life, rolled down Kayla’s chin to gather into a clotted thick puddle on the snowy ground. Kayla was gone. Stolen away by love.Kayla had to live. Kayla was the only friend she’d ever had. And if she died, Angel didn’t have any reason to believe in anything. And she so desperately needed to believe in something good instead of everything bad. In her urgency to pull Kayla back from the brink, she’d dropped to her knees, squeezed Kayla’s cold, mottled fingers in her hand, and made a promise. The words she’d whispered so urgently in Kayla’s ear had worked. Kayla latched onto Bryce’s wrist and drank down every drop of the life he bled back into her. Oh, the company was congenial enough, the accommodations fitting, and at first, Angel had relished the idea of finally belonging somewhere and fitting in. The closeness of it all and the togetherness everyone seemed to share. It was the knowledge that in an instant it could be gone that terrified her. Loss couldn’t hurt her, if she had nothing of value to lose.Duty bound her to Kayla. Duty kept her stationary. Only duty and that was it. She was rooted in the spot, here, because of that damn promise. At least, that was the lie she told herself. Angel felt the ache of longing deep in the very core of her being. The thought of friendships and home brought a flash of pain to her chest and stirred feelings that she’d hidden away long ago. Caring about other people meant opening yourself up to bitter hurt when they turned on you. And in her life, she’d had more than her share of pain. There were no exceptions to the rule. Not even Kayla was completely exempt. Angel was an equal opportunity skeptic when it came to people and their true motives. Everybody wanted something. It was only a question of what. Angel’s solution was one of practicality. Case in point. Kayla was one of the few, still exempt, of course. But, nonetheless, she was as close as Angel allowed anyone to get. And Kayla hadn’t hesitated to hand her a pink slip the first time Angel had refused to bend to her will. Lavender was a stupid color anyway. And so, here she sat, as usual, on the outside looking in. Observing everything, but never really belonging anywhere. Every night, Angel pulled her shifts. Made her route through the now familiar woods, patrolling them for any sign of danger. And everyday she returned to her quarters to sleep in her bed, alone. Just the way she wanted it. Exactly the way it had to be. Maybe, she was a coward in keeping everyone out. But, she liked to consider herself as just being cautious. “I thought I’d find you here,” Lance said. He leapt across a wide gulf between the sheer cliffs and landed on the narrow ledge Angel usually used as a perch from which she viewed the world. He could tell from the furrowing of her brows and the scowl on her expression that he’d interrupted one of her intensely dark brooding moments. And damn, did his dark angel love to brood.Angel had no idea how much prettier she’d be if she’d smile once in a while. But, if she did, she wouldn’t be her. Or at least the version of her persona she showed the world. He’d guessed a long time ago that there was more to her and more behind the scowl she wore firmly in place. He’d gotten a smile out of her, once or twice. And, because they were so rare, they were all the more beautiful when they happened. Compact, standing no taller than five foot-two and clad totally in black from head to toe. Angel was a pint-sized ball of pure fury that only someone with a death wish would provoke. If not for her perpetual scowl, her almond shaped brown eyes, pert nose, and delicate bone structure might have made her features appear ultra feminine instead of terrifying. Her lips were full and soft. Perfect for kissing. And he could attest to that. He’d conned her into kissing him, just once, and had ended up with a broken nose for the trouble. But, damn had that kiss been worth it. Angel had the whole ‘don’t fuck with me’ vibe down to an art form. He didn’t buy it though. Deep down she wanted someone to notice her. Someone brave enough to work past her defenses and find the real woman hidden beyond the spiked hair and ever present scowl that marred her expression. She tried so hard to keep everyone at a distance. Too bad he didn’t have the common sense most people did to leave her alone. On the night they met, he’d been chasing her. And he’d chased after her every day since. “What do you want?” Hoping he’d just leave, Angel glared at Lance with every bit of disdain she could muster. Lance was one of those devastatingly handsome guys that drew females to them like bees to honey. And he knew it. He was straight-teeth and rugged, intimate, rakish grins. A strong jaw line and cleft chin lent to his appeal. His white-blond hair swooped carelessly out of his bahis siteleri eyes, to dip beneath the collar of his black jacket, gave him a sort of bad boy aura. Dark expressive brows and long lashes framed his brown, almost black, eyes. And they were focused on her. They were always focused on her.Lance was tall. Towering over her with a body built for speed and the endurance of a long distance runner with long muscular legs, narrow hips, and a lean waist. Cockily, as if he were daring her to contradict him or worse challenge him. He made no secret of his attraction to her. Not that it mattered. The attraction no matter how mutual it was. Would not be reciprocated. Angel wanted no complications in her life as dangerously handsome as Lance. Despite his reputation as a player amongst the brotherhood, Lance was one of the good guys. He had proven his friendship to her time and time again. He’d been there for her through some of the darkest hours of her life. When she fell, he was the one who picked her up, dusted her off, and set her on her feet again. He’d never asked her for anything in return. And that was what made him so dangerous to her. She didn’t want to depend on anybody. She couldn’t afford the luxury of letting her guard down for a single minute. Angel couldn’t hurt him though. Instead of encouraging him and letting him know how much she appreciated he was who he was. She did the most sensible thing any girl could do in the situation. She hid. “The mistress beckons.” He grinned almost snickering as Angel rolled her brown eyes at him. Singeing him with nothing more than a single glare where he stood. “Hey.” He held up his hands in surrender and stepped a few inches away from her. “Don’t shoot the messenger.” He knew Angel’s moods well and the eye roll was like the peel of thunder before a storm. They were partners in the field. Lance had made the arrangement by calling in a hefty favor from Patrick. It seemed that not everybody was as squeamish or hell bent on following the rules as Dane. And Patrick, in a show of solidarity, had been more than willing to assign Angel as his partner. The assumption was a gamble. Lance was willing to bet that the more time he spent with Angel. The more likely he was to figure out a way around or through that tough armor of hers. If nothing else, he’d pick at it bit by bit until he wore her down. Eventually, she’d stop shutting him out and let him in. “She can forget it,” Angel huffed and crossed her arms over her chest. She packed the mandatory, regulation brotherhood version of the ‘bat phone’ with her everywhere she went. Kayla could have called instead of sending Lance to fetch her. Well, Kayla might have been able to call if Angel hadn’t turned the ringer off. “Besides, I’m busy. If her bridesmaid ditched her, she can find somebody else to do it.””I don’t think that’s what she wants.” Lance took a daring step closer, backing Angel to the steep edge of the narrow outcropping. She had every intention of shutting Kayla out. Much as she’d tried to shut him out more times than he could count. Usually, he’d let it slide. Not today though. Bryce was his best friend. And he deserved a happy bride on his wedding day. And damn it. He was going to get it. Even if Lance had to throw Angel over his shoulder and cart her to Kayla’s room kicking and screaming to make it happen.He had Angel cornered. She teetered on the balls of her booted feet, her heels hanging off the edge. On such a narrow outcropping, there was no place for her to hide, and nowhere for her to run. Lance leaned in closer, towering over her as he dipped his head lower. His mouth hovered inches from hers. Angel would never allow it. She’d jump before she let him steal so much as a brush of his lips to hers. “Kayla needs you to be there for her.”Angel would fight him if he crowded her. And he was Bryce’s best man. He really didn’t want kicked in the balls or his nose broken today just because he was doing a friend a favor. He snickered and backed off as she gauged the distance between the ground and the edge of the cliff. Angel was a wickedly spiteful little thing. She could make the jump without a problem. Or risk brushing against him to climb down. Or, his personal favorite, just give in and kiss him. Like he knew she wanted to. But, his dark angel was always so predictable. And so easy to goad into doing exactly what he wanted her to do. Eager to avoid any physical contact, especially with him, she jumped, landing with cat like agility on her balls of her feet. Glaring up at him with a scowl that could have turned a lesser man into a pillar of salt. Angel turned and ran into the woods. He tried not to take it too hard. After all, she had chosen to jump off the edge of a cliff instead of kissing him. Instead he took it as a personal triumph that she hadn’t tried to rip his face off before she jumped. Angel looked up to see Lance grinning down at her with that smug grin he wore far too casually. He leaned with one foot resting against the rock wall behind him. Watching her squirm in discomfort. He knew she would jump rather than give in and acknowledge the attraction sizzling between them. And in doing so he’d gotten her to do exactly what he wanted her to do. One of these days, she was going to fool him, and probably herself, and call his bluff. And she was going to kiss the shit out of him. Teeth, tongue, lips, heavy breathing, she would give him a kiss he’d never forget. With a huff, she stomped over the spindly, fragile, blades of dried winter grass and into the woods.Chapter 2Kayla looked wistfully at the door as a flutter of anxiety ran through her already frayed nerves. Angel wasn’t coming. In an act of desperation, she’d sent Lance to find her and to beg, if he had to, for her to come. Kayla had been wrong to throw Angel out of the wedding party. She’d just been so focused on making everything perfect that she forgot how hard Angel struggled with friendships and closeness. Angel’s arguments against this and that had finally worn her out. It was her wedding and, at the time, she had wanted the kind of grand events she saw in the bridal magazines Janine was constantly shoving under her nose. With less than an hour till she would tie her life to Bryce’s forever, the picture perfect weddings in the magazines didn’t seem to matter so much. Kayla sure as hell hadn’t been Angel’s friend when she’d excused her from her duties as a bridesmaid. At least, for all her grouching, Angel had tried to be a friend. It wasn’t last minute jitters or cold feet that had Kayla a bundle of nerves. It was more to the point that she couldn’t go out there and start a new life with Bryce until she resolved this final issue in her old one.She wasn’t going to ask Angel to be a bridesmaid. That would only add insult to injury. And it would be hard enough to earn back Angel’s trust without rubbing her nose in it. She just wanted to apologize for being so selfish, that and to confess that Angel had been right about everything. Lavender was not a good color for a night wedding. Stiletto heels would get stuck in the soft, muddy, ground. A four-tiered peach flavored cake with pink icing was over the top. And when it had been time to make all those little bags filled with birdseed, nobody had shown up to help out. Kayla was getting her picture perfect wedding. But, it had nothing to do with the pictures in the magazine and everything to do with her groom and the people there to share her happiness with her. Kayla was going much smaller and simpler on the grandness scale. Having a traditional brotherhood ceremony. No pictures, for obvious reasons. A hundred years from now if a picture showed up somewhere of her looking the same as she did now, it might be a little tricky to explain. No lavender taffeta dresses or stiletto heels. No huge wedding cake, birdseed bags, or campaign fountains. Her wedding was a celebration of life and love. But, she wasn’t certain she could go through with it without Angel. Angel was haunted by her past. Struggling to make it through each and every day. Still trying to figure out where she belonged and what her life was about. Angel needed this just as badly as she did. A happy day filled with happy memories. Something to drown out all the bad. And Kayla had taken it from her. But, she could give it back. Make Angel feel as if she were the best friend Kayla saw her as. Kayla glanced up from the engagement ring glittering on her finger and met Lori’s sympathetic glance. Lori and Janine had done their best to fill in the void. Hovering around her like bees buzzing around a flower. Helping to make things perfect by gently nudging her to swallow her pride and apologize to Angel. Kayla appreciated the both of them and all the hard work they’d done to help her with the wedding. She was thankful for their friendship. But, it wasn’t the same as having her best friend at her side. When the door burst open Kayla breathed a hefty sigh of relief. She didn’t care if Angel gave her hell for sending Lance after her. All that mattered was that she was here. Closing her eyes to draw from her inner strength. She shooed Janine and Lori away. She needed one last private moment with her best friend before she committed her life to Bryce. “You made it.”Angel kicked the door closed behind Janine and Lori as they exited. “Look if this is about the dress.” She clamped her mouth shut before she said something completely out of character and apologized. Kayla looked positively radiant and absolutely in love, glowing from head to toe. For a second, Angel thought she was going to go off on a girlie crying jag and start babbling utterly female nonsense. But, she held it together and kept it in.Kayla cut Angel off. “It’s not about any damned dress. I could care less if you show up butt naked, as long as you’re there.” The rare smile on Angel’s lips let her know that things between them hadn’t changed. Angel could pretend. She could grump and scowl. Spew scalding sarcastic comments. But, they were still friends. Angel was hurt. And she’d never let her live it down. Kayla could accept that. It was just Angel’s way. But, the damage she had done, while not forgotten, was forgiven. “I wasn’t planning to go that far,” Angel groused. Crossing the room, she plopped down on the velvet-upholstered bench to sit beside Kayla. Careful not to disturb the intricate shell and beadwork dangling off the dress’s white leather fringe she d****d an arm around Kayla’s shoulders and gave them a squeeze. She rarely touched anybody, especially not voluntarily. And maybe it was that Kayla had asked her to come, for no other reason than she wanted her here, that was behind the sudden moment of weakness and gushy, feminine emotions. “Don’t be nervous.””I’m not,” Kayla lied. Inside she was quaking like the San Andreas Fault Line. But, she felt better now that Angel was here. That Angel had crossed the room and sat beside her and actually hugged her; willingly made physical contact; was a shocker. And it told her under no uncertain terms how special their friendship was. Angel never, ever willingly touched anybody. Usually, she’d rather gauge your eyes out than allow you to touch her. Today really was a magical day. Kayla knew the reasons why Angel shied away from any form of physical affection. At one time, she’d shared Angel’s fear of allowing anyone to put a hand on her. Touch was pain. A caress could become a harsh slap just as easily. Pleasure was punishment and humiliation. And something that was supposed to be beautiful was so ugly. Bruises faded with time. Injuries healed. But, the wounds scarred deeply. Hidden beneath the surface, behind smiles and layers of makeup. Buried down inside where nobody saw them but you. And sometimes those scars were the only form of sanity. The only gauge of what was real and what was not, a person had. Kayla looked at their reflections in the mirror. Her pallor stood out in stark contrast to Angel’s darker complexion. They were opposites. Day and night. She was the very picture of Middle America, apple pie, hometown parades, and church every Sunday morning. Blue eyed, blonde haired, a living Barbie doll. Angel was the brooding, brown eyed, black haired, epitome of gothic leather and depressive angst. And they truly were best friends. Kayla wished it wasn’t their pasts that had brought them together and held them bound. But, rather their futures and the hope in them that kept them friends. Maybe, in a way it was. If Angel were without any hope, promise or not, she would have left by now. “I guess its show time.”Angel gave Kayla’s shoulders one last squeeze and stood. She wasn’t very good at the mushy girl time stuff. But, Kayla understood everything she couldn’t say. By pushing past her aversion to touch, Angel had reached out to her in a way she had few others. And in doing that, a simple hug, she’d said it all. The beads knocked together, creating a symphony of sound and color as Kayla rose from the bench. Carefully she shifted the soft leather belt d****d around her waist. After today, her life would be different. She would be a wife. Bound to a man, her man, forever. After today, everything would be about the two of them. And she’d never be alone, drifting in an uncertain world. Bryce had pulled her back when no one else could reach her. He’d made her want to believe again. Given her hope that there were good things to look forward to. And helped her work her way through the dark maze of all the bad. He’d accepted her for who she was. He’d never treated or seen her as a victim of her horrible past. And because of him, with his gentle coaxing, she’d taken her first brave steps into the light of hope and love. Kayla wanted what she’d found with Bryce for Angel. Angel deserved good after so much bad. There was only so much she could do though. So much anyone could do. Angel had to want it too. She had to want to move forward, out of the dark and find the bravery to step beyond it into the light. Kayla reached out and took Angel’s hand in hers. Wrapping her palm around Angel’s fingers to give them a tight squeeze. Staring down at their locked fingers, she remembered the last time Angel had held her hand with such tightness and ferocity. It had been the night that she’d been transformed. Although it had only been a couple of months ago, it seemed like a lifetime. That night was nothing but vague memories of pain and bitter cold. Bryce held her in his arms. His blood had turned her into what she was. But, it was Angel’s hand holding hers that jerked her out of death’s grip. Angel’s promise, whispered in such urgency and truth, somehow got through to her on a level Bryce’s pleas had not. She’d drunk that night for Angel. Not for Bryce, Keene, or even herself, only for Angel. Kayla had always borne a certain measure of guilt for bringing Angel into this world. She’d been the one to introduce her to Roark. And in doing so, she’d condemned Angel to a living hell nobody should ever have to endure. In drinking, in living instead of dying that night, she’d absolved herself of the guilt. Angel would have died with her that night. Not physically. But spiritually, Angel would have never survived. Kayla had been so cold and close to death. Angel had grabbed her hand, held it tightly, and made a promise. Angel didn’t take her vows lightly. And to this day, she lived by her word. The promise was a simple one. Angel had promised to live if she did. Kayla had drunk that night for love, for hope and a future. To return the life she’d taken from a terrified, starving, tormented dark eyed girl, and for her salvation. Angel gently unwound her fingers from Kayla’s and met her eyes. In them she found so much understanding, friendship, and connection. Angel had tried so hard to escape her past. But, Kayla had truly mastered it. Managed to move forward with her life instead of wandering the maze of her past over and over again. Angel meant every word she’d promised on the bluffs. She was still trying to live. But, where Kayla had found her way out of the maze of horrors. She just kept stumbling from one dead end to another. Her pain exhausted her. Her fear shamed her. And her hope dulled little by little. Maybe, for her, there was no way out. No escape. And she’d spend her whole life searching endlessly for something that didn’t exist. No gift seemed meaningful enough to give Kayla on one of the most meaningful days of her life. Useless baubles, expensive crap to collect dust, none of it was right. Nothing said best friend. Nothing conveyed the proper depth canlı bahis of importance or truly summed up Angel’s feelings for her friend. Trust was of more value than a pair of silver candlesticks. Promises that were kept didn’t end up stashed on a shelf and forgotten about. And a shared past, no matter how horrific it had been, could not be wrapped in pretty paper and bows. Extending her left arm, she offered the only wedding present she felt was worthy of giving. Her trust, her promise, and her past, flowed through her veins.Kayla nodded in acceptance and understanding. blood was life. blood was binding. And blood was forever. Angel offered her everything that she was. Her gift. And Kayla would never receive a gift of more worth in her long life. She extended her wrist to Angel. There was no hesitation in Angel’s expression. No glimmer of reluctance in her eyes. Locking stares with Angel, she bit and drank, taking Angel into her body as Angel did the same to her. blood flowed, merging with blood, two halves made irrevocably into a whole. The women drank from one another sealing their lives and souls as one. There were no secrets, no hiding, and no separation. Much as a drop of water fell and became an ocean, so it was with their blood. It flowed, from one to the other and ebbed into the collective consciousness Kayla shared with the brotherhood through Bryce. Everything. Every life. Every past. And every future was one. A gentle rap on the door interrupted the tender moment of sharing. Withdrawing her fangs and licking the wound on Angel’s wrist closed, Kayla called out, “Just a minute.” Angel sealed the punctures on Kayla’s wrist with the tip of her tongue and watched the wounds fade. Roark had managed to take so much from the both of them. But, he hadn’t taken everything. He hadn’t killed the part of them that made them who they were. He’d damaged them. He’d harmed them. But, he’d never managed to break them. “Go, before you’re late to your own wedding.” Kayla nodded and took a deep breath. This was it. And as scary as the thought of it was, she was ready to begin her future. “The job of bridesmaid is still open, if you want it.””Very much,” Angel said. And she meant it. “But, I’m fresh out of lavender taffeta.” She had nothing to wear to a wedding. Let alone anything dressy enough to be a bridesmaid. Janine had gotten the message loud and clear when her attempts to dress Angel ‘like a woman’ had ended up as nothing more than a pile of shredded rags on the floor. After bawling like a baby over the abuse of designer labels and expensive fabrics, Janine had left her and her black wardrobe alone. “No lavender taffeta. Angel, you look perfect just the way you are. But, could you try to smile…just a little?” “Now you’re pushing your luck,” Angel teased. Smile? Once. Maybe. Just for Kayla and only for today. Impatient and demanding another knock sounded at the door. Janine pounded her fist against the wood furiously. She had planned many weddings and prided herself on the masterpieces she created. Each and every one of them had started on time, until this one. She ran a tight ship and she needed Kayla to get on board. A kernel of worry blossomed in her mind and took root. What if Kayla had changed her mind at the last minute? “Kayla, the wedding can’t start without you. Please, hurry up. You’re ruining my reputation as a wedding planner. We’re going to be late!” Lori elbowed Janine out of the way and gently rapped on the door with her knuckles. Janine had all the tact of a runaway freight train. Kayla was nervous enough without Janine’s badgering. What the situation called for was a little feminine grace and gentleness. “What Janine means to say is that Bryce is about ten seconds from a total melt down and another five seconds from coming down here. Please, don’t keep the poor guy waiting.” Janine agreed with Lori. Bryce had been waiting long enough for someone special in his life. Kayla couldn’t cancel on him. She couldn’t back out now. Janine would haul that woman to the bluffs herself to get this wedding pulled off without a hitch. Bryce deserved his happiness. And Janine would do anything to see that he got it. She opened her mouth to tell Kayla that much and ended up with Lori’s palm smooshed against her lips. “What?” she mumbled against Lori’s palm.Lori shook her head, threatening Janine to keep her big mouth shut with a hard glare. Kayla wasn’t changing her mind. The delay had nothing to do with the wedding or marrying Bryce. Lori had a unique perspective on Kayla and Angel’s friendship. During her captivity with Roark, she’d suffered just a small portion of what these two women had been through. And the experience, the horror of feeling so helpless, still gave her nightmares. This was their time. And while she hated that Bryce was out on the bluffs waiting for his bride, probably pacing the ground bare. He’d keep for another few minutes while Kayla had her time with Angel. Kayla snatched up Angel in a hug, squeezing her tightly. Angel didn’t shy away. She hugged her back. And the gift of her trust, of her friendship, was all she needed to make her wedding day complete. “Thank you, Angel. For everything,” Kayla said. Angel returned Kayla’s hug and released her. Pausing to straighten Kayla’s dress and settle the fringe over her shoulders, she said, “You ready to get married?”Kayla nodded. “More than.” Chapter 3Raindrops fell. Pooled in the shallow places. Time passed and the shallow places grew deeper and wider. Watery fingers stretched across the flat ground always searching. Digging at the rock. Pushing at the land. Clawing for purchase with relentless, greedy hands. A trickle became a stream and the stream grew into a river. Water flowed, spilling into the ocean. Winds blew across the waters, carrying the drops skyward. On clouds the drops rode to distant places to fall on the land, tumble into the stream, and flow ceaselessly to the vast ocean. Life is water. Water is life. Through every living thing it flows. From the thirsty ground it is stolen and to the earth’s parched lips, so it returns. blood flowed into the cup and the cup was passed from one set of lips to another. Drinking down vows and swallowing promises, the blood bound soul to soul, life to life, and heart to heart. There was no one, only the whole. Bride and groom. Man and woman. One life shared by two. Given to the other. Bled into the cup and consumed. Future and past, each life ceaselessly, inseparably, and eternally bound to the other. Bryce whispered the words reverently, his palm resting over Kayla’s pounding heart. Without reservation, he drank from the cup, of his blood, of her sweet blood, and of the blood of the ancients. Magic rent the air with a ripple of power. Flowing from him into her. In his whole life, he’d never been more certain of anything than he was of this. All the s**ttered pieces finally fit together and he was whole. He’d led a life of service and sacrifice. And now, it made sense why. It’d all been for this moment. All of it had been to prepare him for her. Kayla rested her hand over Bryce’s wildly beating heart. With trembling lips, she spoke her vow. Gave herself away and she took him, everything he ever was and ever would be, into her. She drank from the cup till the last drop it held rolled over her tongue. Sweet life flowed into her. A love so potent and pure filled every part of her being to the point she thought she might burst from the joy of it. And the brothers, always the brothers, joined her, whispering their thoughts into her mind. Their lives bound to hers. Her life bound to theirs. Through the blood in the cup and the blood flowing in her veins.She was one of many, yet, an individual. She belonged to herself and to everybody else. And after traveling so very far through the darkness, she’d finally found light and love. Dane closed the ceremony with a prayer in a language that had long since been forgotten by most of the world. After so much tragedy and so many lives lost. Pyres burned and blood spilled on this very ground. It was good to be gathered here for a happy occasion. These days, joy seemed fleeting and far too rare. Bad things happened and they were hard to forget. The good things were far too difficult to remember. The brotherhood needed a day like today to bolster their weary spirits. He needed today for the very same reason. The war seemed like it would never end. And a bigger part of him still believed the brothers hadn’t seen the last of it yet. Roark’s death was just a temporary reprieve. Something bigger was coming. The rogues had no master. And it was just a matter of time before the fighting over the territory began. Today was not the day to think of it. Today he was content to just be happy for Kayla and Bryce and to pretend the worst was behind them. He saw it on his brothers’ expressions. They were no more convinced than he. Smiling widely, Dane announced Kayla and Bryce as man and wife and presented the happily united couple to the brotherhood. After congratulating them, he gracefully slipped out of the way. Ducking through the crowd converging on Bryce and Kayla, he searched for someplace quiet where he could mull over his thoughts in relative privacy. And perhaps, enjoy a stolen moment of peace while it lasted. The fresh spring air was loaded with the fragrant scent of blooms and new life. The nights were still cold and the ground a soggy, muddy mess. The days were crisp and flooded with sunshine. Tulips bravely poked their brilliantly colored heads through the soil. Lemon-yellow daffodils and vibrant royal-purple crocuses braved the morning frost to dot the stark gray and brown of winter’s forlorn landscape with color. Red buds formed on gnarled, twisted branches forever reaching skyward in a forgotten plea. And robins, their orange-red chests puffed with anticipation, greeted each golden, glowing morning with song. Instead of finding the sweet scents of the season inspiring, Angel found them stifling. Internally, she felt trapped. Stuck between the literal rock and a hard place. Her heart was torn between stubbornly holding on to her fears and letting them go. Everyone here was so connected, almost as if they were an extension of one another. Oh, the people here, the brothers, were still individuals. But, they were so much more. And it was difficult to not want to be a part of it. To hold her innermost self back, floating on a choppy sea of separation, instead of drowning in an ocean of togetherness. The wedding was everything a wedding was supposed to be. Happy. Encouraging. So hopeful and filled with love it made her fangs ache from the sweetness of it all. Kayla was a shining star and she’d never shone more brilliantly than she had tonight. And Bryce, the way he looked at Kayla, as if nobody else existed but her, always her, and forever her, was almost enough to make Angel believe true love was actually possible. In the end the skeptic in her won out and as brothers rushed forward to congratulate the happy couple, she eased into the backdrop, out of sight and obviously out of mind. Angel found herself genuinely caring for the people that called this place home. Janine was so pert and perky, and for a human, so damned energetic that sometimes it drove Angel to the brink of insanity. But, often, Janine’s quirkiness was such a diversion from Angel’s darker moods that she often sought her out. Alex, although cautious and aloof, and just a bit distant, was always ready to engage in a verbal sparring match.Robbie kept her fit in the gym. Constantly putting her through the workout routines with the fierce regimented rigor of a drill sergeant. When she needed to simply sit and chill, Chris was always available, offering the solidity of her calming presence. Whenever the weight of the world got too heavy, Angel could always count on Lori to remind her that she wasn’t nine thousand years old and it was ok to cut loose and have a little fun, once in a while. Anna never ceased to amaze Angel with her viewpoint on the world. Anna had seen its share of awfulness and instead of becoming a victim she chose to be a victor. And while Angel had never had a real mother, Candace was never too busy to act as a surrogate. It amazed Angel the way the men took care of their wives. It was obvious who ruled the roost. The men were at the mercy of the fairer sex. John Mark was fierce on the battlefield and in his role of protector. But, when Robbie snapped her fingers, he came running. Dane was hot tempered, sometimes unreasonably so. But, around his wife, he was gentle as a kitten. Chris kept him and his temper under control. Will and Candace, old high school sweethearts, were still very much in love and often a little too passionate in public places. Angel always walked a bit noisily when there was a chance she might embarrass herself by bumping into them. Toby, there was nothing he wouldn’t do for his Anna. Including sending her a thousand texts a day to tell her how much he loved her. Chance was light-hearted and very caring. He doted on Alex. And the way Patrick followed Janine around, reminded Angel of a lost puppy. Even the new additions, Sebastian and Starr were fitting in. Finding their niche in the tightly knit society. Sebastian was highly skilled with a dagger. And Starr painted murals on the concrete walls of the stark corridors. Nature scenes of beauty and peaceful serenity, so realistic that it felt as if you were standing in the woods or on a tropical beach. And their love for one another, it flowed between them in an endless tide. Sometimes, Angel felt like the odd man out. She fit, but she didn’t. As much as it pained her to admit it, the not fitting in was her own fault. Everyone, despite their colorful and various backgrounds, made an effort to find where they belonged in this world. She did not. Standoffish and cool, distanced from everybody, she genuinely believed she was better off alone. If it weren’t for that damnable promise, she might have been gone by now. She should go. In time Kayla would forget the words Angel had spoken out of desperation. In time, Kayla would forget about her too. The question hung over her head. Where? Where would she go where she did fit in? Life was too dangerous for those who belonged to no one. Strays were nothing but meat for anyone stronger. Angel had made a promise to herself that night. Watching Roark burn on the pyre, she’d vowed with everything in her that she’d never bow to a master. She’d rather die than be on her knees again. Fear held her back. Roark was dead. His body burned on the pyre. But, there were plenty of others out there willing to fill the gap he’d left behind. The city was wide open. The rogues were masterless and thirsty for blood. Roark, for all his sadism and ruthlessness had served a purpose. He kept the rogues in line. And without him, it was just a matter of time. Angel saw it. The dread and the knowledge of that simple fact haunted the brothers’ eyes. The battle might be done. But, the war was far from over.Going…somewhere…hiding might save her life. Temporarily. There were worse masters out there than Roark. Eric O’Sullivan was one of them. The bastard was lethal. Cruel in ways that made Roark seem tender. O’Sullivan wasn’t a sick, twisted, fuck of a pervert like Roark. Not that Angel had enjoyed her time with him by any means. But, she hadn’t left his private rooms a bloody, beaten, bruised mess, either. At least, there was that.Roark had no taste for cold-blooded murder. He didn’t play with his food. He killed quickly, mercifully. He’d take what he wanted then end it. O’Sullivan killed for fun. He prolonged the game. Drained his victims slowly. Screwed with their heads to the point they thanked him for the privilege of dying. It was the only time Roark had ever protected her. To him, she was a possession, an object. But, not even he had the stomach for the Rogue Master’s appetites. O’Sullivan was across the country. Distance was in the brotherhood’s favor. Eric governed the western states with a tight fist. Hopefully, he was too busy to notice Roark’s absence. Like every other Rogue Master she’d ever had the misfortune of meeting though. He thought the sun rose and set in his ass. And he operated under the belief that he was somehow untouchable. If he set his sights on the city there’d be no stopping him. If she was nothing else, she was smart. Angel’s instincts growled in protest every time she thought of leaving. Prompting her to stay put. Here, she was safe. Out there, it was just a matter of time güvenilir bahis before her luck ran out. She wasn’t so certain she could do what she’d have to do to survive. Life was cruel. Life was hard. And for a vampire it could be intolerable. Humans didn’t know how good they had it. At the time, when she had been one, she certainly hadn’t. She hadn’t been able to see past the terror of her life through to the true value of it. Dying might have been better than the world she’d found herself forced into.There was no freedom in this life. She’d taken life to save hers. Choking on the vampire’s blood, and clutching the knife she’d used to slit his throat, she’d been reborn into a world she didn’t belong. She’d realized too late what she’d done. Desperation drove her to murder. Changed her from who she’d been into the thing she’d become. And there was no going back. Inside, deep in their very core, vampires were predators. They thirsted endlessly. Craved blood with a fury that knew no limits. And there was almost nothing they wouldn’t do for a few seconds worth of peace from the plague of their thirst. Including murder. The lives she’d taken could never be brought back. For a time, revenge was the only thing that fueled her. A payback for the pain and for the death she’d thought she’d been forced to die. Unable to deal with her guilt and self-hatred, unwilling to face the pain and her past, she’d turned on the only friend she’d ever had. Kayla. Willingly she’d returned to Roark’s side. Served him out of nothing more than sheer stupidity. How odd it was though, when she’d been a powerless human, he’d craved her flesh and blood, her very soul. As a vampire, he didn’t want her. He only sought to use her, and she, to use him. Angel hadn’t seen the truth. She truly believed Kayla had left her behind to suffer in her place. Kayla hadn’t. She’d done what she’d had to do to save her life. And Kayla had been right about everything. If she’d stayed, Roark would have eventually killed them both. Angel owed the Sons a debt she could never repay. Instead of dispatching justice on her, they’d taken her in. Keene knew of her past and of Kayla’s. He’d borne silent witness to it all. And although totally devoted to the brotherhood, hadn’t shared their secrets. Kayla had held the past behind closed lips. The three of them had suffered together in ways none of the brothers could imagine. Roark was dead. And finally, they were free. Lost in a private hell of Roark’s making, Kayla and Keene had found their way out. Only she remained trapped. Hovering in indecision between a past she could not escape and a future that seemed so unattainable. The only thing she could do was at the very least keep her word to Kayla. It wasn’t fear of what was out there that held her rooted to this place. It was her past and that damnable promise she never should have made. Even now, standing in the shadows alone on the fringes, she didn’t begrudge Keene or Kayla their happiness. Keene had Lori and Kayla, Bryce. And she had nothing.The sound of ceremonial drums and laughter echoed off the bluffs, teasing her. Taunting her with the promises of what might be, if she were only brave enough to reach for it. Torn between her longing to fit in and her fear of fitting in and losing the distance that kept her sane and at the same time so lonely, Angel stalked the border of the woods. Wishing things were different. Wishing she were different and she could just let it go. Move beyond her past the way Keene and Kayla had. She needed a diversion. Something to take her mind off her self-imposed exile from the life she could be leading, if she were bold enough live it. Running was her exodus. Only when she ran did she truly feel free. Safe. Her limbs pumping, she bounded into the darkness and let it swallow her whole. She moved so fast. Gracefully leaping over anything in her path. Sheltered by her speed; nothing could stop her. Nobody could catch her. Here, there was nothing but her feet pounding the dirt, the rhythm of her breathing, and the burn in her muscles as she pushed them harder and faster. Her freedom was fleeting though. She could never outrun what she was, what she had been, and she had no idea of where or what she was running toward. The future was just as illusive as freedom. And no matter how hard she tried, it was always out of her grasp. Chapter 4Lance excused himself from his best man duties and slipped into the woods. Angel might outrun him. But, he could track her. Scents were unique and nobody else smelled quite like her. Sweet and exotic like Confederate jasmine on a sultry summer’s night. Angel was in a dangerous place in her life. And no one seemed to recognize the signs, except for him. She hovered in a neverland of indecision, lost and alone. Maybe, it was best to let her go. The brotherhood had done everything in their power to help her fit in. He had done everything he could to make her see how much she belonged. And no matter what he’d tried. It hadn’t been enough. He was going to find a way to get through to her. No matter what it took. Whatever hell she’d suffered had damaged her severely. But, she was not as broken as she believed herself to be. She was terrified. And that was why she ran, not physically, but emotionally from everyone and everything. He’d love to kill Roark all over again, just to give her the peace of mind she needed to let the past go. There wasn’t anything in her future that could hurt her besides her own self-destruction. He’d seen her once, as she truly was. She’d opened herself up. Raw and exposed, overwhelmed by emotions she’d reached out to the Great Father and pulled him back from the oblivion of his grief over the loss of his brother. Nobody else could have done that. And they all owed her a debt for her bravery. The least he could do was try to save her now, when it was so painfully obvious she needed saving. Angel wasn’t a pet project. Saving her from herself was no mission of mercy. The brotherhood needed her. They did. But, he was k**ding himself to think the brothers were his only motive. Truth was, he needed her. Somehow she’d managed to work her way under his skin. Oh sure, he was her friend. But, the feelings he had for her weren’t exactly friendly. Lust rode him hard. The stolen kiss had sealed the deal for him. He’d tasted the passion on her lips. Breathed in the woman she hid from the world. And nothing about him had ever been the same since. He wanted more. He craved Angel in a way that went beyond the simplicity of a midnight tryst. The women he’d taken to his bed had been too easy to forget afterwards. One time with her would be unforgettable. And once would never be enough. Hell yeah, he was horny. But, his sex drive wasn’t what pushed him to the brink of insanity and caused the maddening rise in his groin every time he got within eyeshot of her. His need was instinctive, almost primal. They belonged together. He knew it deep in the marrow of his bones. He hadn’t been looking for a mate. He hadn’t wanted one. But, his body and his heart really didn’t care what he wanted. He’d done the unthinkable based on nothing more than a simple kiss. He’d fallen in love. And if he weren’t careful, it would destroy the both of them. Lance followed Angel, keeping his distance and his scent downwind to avoid tipping her off to the fact she had company. Angel was still so fragile and withdrawn. He saw everything she so desperately tried to hide. She’d cringe visibly from the slightest of accidental touches. Sounds and scents, innocuous to most, would cause her hands to tremble uncontrollably. She shied away from people. Avoided eye contact. Deliberately maneuvered to keep people where she could see them. Her personal space was as far away from anyone as she could get. She was always aware, hyperaware, of her surroundings. And even around the few she trusted, she never let her guard down. She never truly had a moment’s worth of peace. The brothers respected her needs. Most of them understood her unspoken demand for space. Not all of the brothers had a happy past. v******e was a part of their lives. Some of them had suffered terribly at the hands of the enemy and it wasn’t something easily forgotten. Angel didn’t realize it. But, the brothers were fiercely protective of her. Especially Keene. He’d been Roark’s second for over a century. And he’d seen first hand the torment Roark had put her through. Out of respect for her, he never spoke of the horrors she’d been forced to endure. He didn’t have to. All anyone had to do was look past Angel’s rough exterior and they could fill in the blanks for themselves. Her scars, the fine lines around her wrists and the pockmark divots at her neck, hinted at the abuse Roark had put her though. He’d used her thoroughly. Roughly. Painfully. Relentlessly. As much as what she’d suffered sickened him, Lance had a gut feeling Roark wasn’t the only sadistic fuck responsible for her scars. Rules or not, he thoroughly agreed with Keene about one thing. Anyone who had ever or ever would even think about harming a hair on her head was a dead man. Dane would pitch them both out of the brotherhood. But, it’d be worth it. Angel was his to protect. And he’d die before he’d let anyone hurt her again.Lance silently stalked her trail to a secluded edge of the lake and ducked behind a tangle of spindly bushes. Oblivious to his presence, she stood on the rocky shore, staring out into the black water. The play of shadow from the moonlight highlighted her features. Tormented by the anguish he saw in her expression, he longed to reach out to her. She’d push him away and resent the fact that he’d offered her any measure of comfort. Angel didn’t operate that way. And she’d only see her need for nothing more than a simple hug as weakness. Hiding in the bushes, he watched Angel fight a private war with herself. One she would never win. Angel was fiercely independent. She never spoke of her past. She carried it in her heart with brave, silent, dignity. What she didn’t say had told him everything he’d ever wanted to know and plenty that he didn’t. She peeled off her leather jacket, dropping it at her feet on the rocky beach. Her eyes never left the shimmering glossy black surface of the water. Gentle waves lapped at the shore, whispering things only she alone could hear. Her jaw set, she tugged off her boots and kicked them to the side. Freeing her feet of her socks, she dug her toes into the gritty sand and biting rocks. Lance had no idea what she was up to. What thoughts were running through her mind as she pulled her turtleneck over her head and cast it to the ground. He shivered in sympathy for her exposed skin. Even in his insulated winter gear the night was cold. Riddled with angry, puckered, linear scars, her back bore the evidence of Roark’s cruelty. Outraged at the thought of her helpless and beaten bloody he balled his hands into fists at his side and prayed whatever hell the goddess had sent Roark to was truly worthy of a sick, twisted, sadistic fuck like him. Angel still had no idea she was being watched. Lance was careful to shield his thoughts from her. She smelled of the brotherhood. The essence of their power radiated from her every pore. blood was the source of their magic. It linked them together and bound them to one another. She had taken of their strength. Drank of their gift and of their lives. He sensed the spark of her uniqueness in his mind. Shocked speechless by the realization she’d trusted someone at her wrist, Lance understood exactly what a leap of faith she’d taken. The wedding gift he’d bought Bryce and Kayla, although expensive and very nice, paled in comparison. In an ultimate show of trust, she’d given of herself. Her gift had cost her nothing and at the same time, everything. Shamed by his crystal candleholders, Lance inwardly groaned at the tightening in his groin as Angel wiggled out of her snug, low-riding jeans and stood on the beach in nothing but her matching bra and panties. What in the hell was she doing? Not that he minded the private show in the least. But, damn, it was barely forty degrees out here. He’d be freezing his balls off by now. He liked her choice in undergarments. Especially since he’d bought them for her. Worth every damn penny he’d squandered out of his stipend. Black lace and bits of clingy silk had never looked so good. Hardened to ripe peaks by the cold, her nipples and the deep berry shaded areola were plainly visible through the sheer fabric of the bra. The lace panties left little to the imagination. He sucked in a sharp breath at the sight of the slit between the juncture of her thighs. She was bare there. Smooth and sleek. Suddenly very, very warm, he tugged at the collar of his Kevlar gear and swallowed hard. It was all he could do to stay put and not crawl across the rocky beach and beg her to have mercy on him. To put her clothes back on before he did something to embarrass them both. Clad in nothing more than her barely there underwear. Lance gasped as she climbed onto the dock and dove into the icy water. In watching Angel plunge into the stinging cold lake, Lance began to understand her a little better. Angel battled one pain with another. She didn’t like to suffer anymore than anybody else did. No doubt, as frigid as the night air was, the water was twice as cold and it hurt. But, the physical pain she inflicted on her body was better than the constant anguish of her battered mind. He couldn’t stand her pain. There had to be someway to pull her out of it. Show her a life where pain didn’t exist and there was nothing but joy and pleasure. But, how? On his feet and out of his hiding place he moved to the shore. Abandoning his jacket on the rocks, he peeled off his gear and stripped down. The water would be freezing. It was going to hurt. A lot. But, it wouldn’t kill him. Angel had yet to notice his presence. She swam under the water and only poked her head out long enough to suck in a quick breath of air. Cursing at the cold and his general stupidity, he took a deep breath and jumped in headfirst. Chapter 5Carter didn’t trust the city’s dead calm. Even at this time of night, it was never this quiet or the streets this deserted. He’d been prowling the sidewalks for weeks, keeping watch. Roark was dead. He could feel it in the marrow of his bones. The rogues were subdued by the shock of their master’s untimely demise. But, nothing held their hunger in check for very long. Gradually, they grew brave enough to creep out of their hiding places. And out of ultimate stupidity, gorged in excess on his fair city. Nasty fuckers. Carter kicked the corpse at his feet in disgust. The rogue he’d killed deserved to die. He’d love nothing more than to stick the vile thing’s head on a pike in warning. It’d been hard enough to hide the evidence of rogue activity when they’d been under Roark’s rule. With him gone, it was damn near impossible to clean up the mess they left in their wake. Humans tended to notice things like bodies left in alleys to rot. And damn it, he’d interrupted this rogue’s meal. Great. He hated the thought of killing. Humans anyway. Rogues were a different story entirely. What in the hell was he supposed to do with the witness? Witnesses were a complication he couldn’t afford. He ground his fangs in irritation. If he’d waited a few more minutes he wouldn’t have had to deal with the woman scrabbling on all fours to crawl away from him. She would have been dead. Drained of blood by the rogue feasting at her carotid. Shit. Damn his sense of rightness and his timing. Where was his policy of non-involvement now? When it might have actually been of some value to him? She’d talk. Wasn’t likely that anybody would believe her. But, he couldn’t take the chance that somebody would. Gently sliding his bloody katana into the sheath at his back, he held up his hands to show he meant no harm. He’d been charming random women into his bed for centuries. In the throes of orgasm, they didn’t seem to mind it when he sampled a bit more than their bodies. Somehow, he didn’t think his charm would have the desired effect on her. This terrified waif cowering on the concrete had been brutalized viciously. Her trembling fingers protectively guarded her savaged neck. blood ran in a steady stream from the wound, down her pale hand and onto the concrete. She would not be easily convinced by the deception of a pretty face. As well she shouldn’t. He was no safer than the rogue that had attacked her. They were all predators, each and every one of them. And the woman was prey.She didn’t have much time left. If he did nothing, nature would take its course and she’d die. He knew what it felt like to die horribly. If he took her to the hospital, modern medicine would save her life. She would talk.

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