There was a moment of disbelieving silence before Lucien replied. In a cold, flat voice, he left no doubt as to what sort of enemy Gabriel had just made.
"Then let this fall on the heads of you and yours, foolish arukhin. I would have let you be. Now I will not rest until I have seen you utterly destroyed. It is no less than you deserve, in truth ... yes," he hissed, "I remember you from that night now. Your fate will be fitting, I think. An eternity of torment. How I will enjoy watching. And know this: no matter what you do, or where you run, she will still belong to me. As for you, traitorous witch, I will come for you, and soon, make no mistake. If you accept me, I may yet turn a blind eye to any remnants of the Dyadd who cross my path. But you've already doomed your companion."
The rushing noise grew louder as the portal began to collapse, making Lucien sound farther and farther away. The cold began to retreat, and little by little, the glowing letters of the Lia Fáil became visible. Rowan remained silent. Lucien did not.
"I know where you hide now, Rowan an Morgaine. Must I teach you again that you will never have anyone but me ? We are two halves of the same whole. I will always find you ... find you ... find you ..."
Lucien's voice echoed into the distance, followed by a hollow boom and a final blast of hot breath as the portal shut upon itself. At once the torches flared back into life, casting dim light around a silent room that looked no different than it ever had. Gabriel and Rowan stayed frozen for a long while after, eyes averted from each other, entirely focused on the still and silent chunk of rock that stood before them. But Lucien, for all his fury, was gone.
The Stone of Destiny slept once again.
Rowan stared at the huge black wolf that had just saved her life. It was the most magnificent creature she'd ever seen, a combination of long-limbed grace and tightly coiled power. Its jet-black fur shone in the firelight as it waited, still watching the Stone for some sign that Lucien was returning. For her part, Rowan wished he would. Maybe then she could do what she should have done to begin with and thrown herself through the portal. It was far from a perfect solution, but Gabriel's blood had given her the strength she needed. She could have tried to deal with her ardent suitor on some sort of familiar territory. But that was never going to happen now. Because she had hesitated, because she'd been afraid, Lucien had just gained the advantage.
Bastian was back in Coracin. And unless she found a way to throw herself on the mercy of the Andrakkar heir, Bastian was going to die. Why her brave, seemingly invincible brother had decided that he could triumph against an army of serpents was a question she couldn't begin to answer.
Figuring out how to save him was going to take all that she had. Not to mention that she was now going to have to do something to protect her self-appointed protector. Lucien's words, a twisted echo of what Gabriel had said to her earlier, played over and over in her mind: "We are two halves of the same whole." She was a whole unto herself... why couldn't these ridiculous men understand and accept that? Frustration and an unbearable sense of helplessness swirled within her. They would all be killed, throwing their lives away when the answer was so ridiculously, horribly simple: let her go. Let her go, and the madness would end.
The only issue was how to get around one very large, very unaccommodating Wolf. She decided to make a run for it, going over him if necessary.
Unfortunately, he was ready for her. The moment she took a step forward, Gabriel sprang directly into her path. He lowered his head and growled, a definite warning. Rowan hissed at him. He might as well have shaken a finger at her, and she was in no mood.
"Move, Gabriel," she snarled. "Lucien was right about that, at least. This is no business of yours."
The obstinate werewolf stayed put, growling once again. Rowan looked at him for a moment, then held out her hand, palm up. A swirling mass of flame materialized there, glowing brighter with each passing second. Gabriel stared at it, transfixed by the ball of rotating reds and oranges floating above her hand. Rowan watched him, waiting for him to become completely absorbed.
When he was, she threw it at him.
Gabriel let out a sharp, startled bark and sprang sideways. The ball passed close enough to his ear that there was a smell of singed fur, but that was all. Rowan pursed her lips and exhaled sharply. Gabriel looked almost comically incredulous, an interesting expression on a canine, but Rowan was more angry than amused.
"I'm going home. Move," she commanded him. The expression on the Wolf's face immediately became what could only be called intractable. And of course he stayed right where he was, blocking off access to the Stone with a mountain of muscle and fur. Rowan hissed again, utterly infuriated. Since stomping her foot and throwing an all-out temper tantrum seemed a bit beneath her, she conjured an even larger ball of flame and hurled that at him.
This time he danced easily out of the way, and the orb exploded in a burst of fire and smoke against the far wall of the chamber. And again he was right back in her way in the time it took her to blink
. Rowan glared at him and gave a small, angry scream. While the cold that had come with Lucien had sapped both her strength and her will, both had returned in force while sparring with Gabriel. Her blood was up, along with a heightened inclination to violence. If she could only have felt like this when Lucien had been there, she was sure she would have at least been a match for him. As it was, all she could do now was try to barbecue the world's most irritating werewolf.
And really, as Gabriel was currently serving as the physical representative for all of the failings of the men in her life, that would be a very satisfying thing.
"Damn you, Gabriel, get out of my way!" she snapped, and in her agitation flung a quick-fire volley of flame at him that sent him bounding around the chamber to avoid it.
This time, his growl was an unmistakable "No."
That did it. Rowan snarled as she sprang forward, leaping high into the air with feline grace. She would just throw herself atop the Stone and hope Lucien was still waiting for her. And given the evasive maneuvering Gabriel had undertaken, she truly thought she was going to make it. Until, that was, he slammed into her side just before her feet touched the smooth black surface of the Stone, knocking the wind out of her in a single, pained whoosh.
She was too busy trying to breathe again to see the shift, but by the time Rowan hit the ground beneath him, Gabriel had become less of a giant werewolf and decidedly more of a big, handsome, naked ...
"Where are your clothes?" she gasped, dismayed to find herself in such an uncomfortably familiar position. What was it with Gabriel and body slams? "Get off of me!"
"Like hell," he snarled. "If you're going to set me on fire, I'm bloody well staying right where I am!"
"I wouldn't set you on fire if you weren't so determined to butt into my affairs!"
"Oh?" he asked, green eyes blazing. "Like surrendering to that worthless, disgusting piece of ..."
"You would think that," Rowan spat back, "since I'm a pitiful, helpless female, that not heading straight for his jugular means surrender! And now he's going to kill you, Mr. Mine. Of all the brainless, asinine ..."
"Anything I've done couldn't possibly be as brainless and asinine as taking advantage of people who are trying to help you, or slinking off and trespassing on holy ground so that you can give our enemy exactly what he wants. Yeah, you're right, I do think that's pitiful! And don't even think about burning me again, or I'll bite your damned arm off!" Gabriel glared down at her, his hot stare and even hotter tone making her feel more aroused than contrite. She did, at least, think better of trying to hurt him again. She had a feeling he wasn't kidding about biting her.
"If you had just let me go, you would have been saved," she bit out, trying again even though the look on Gabriel's face was anything but receptive. "You would have been fine instead of a big, hairy target."
"I don't need saving. You do."
He might have been right, she thought. Rowan was suddenly, overwhelmingly aware of his big, muscular body pressed hard against her own. Each point of contact seemed to sizzle, sending little bursts of electrical current running just beneath her skin in dozens of places. He was breathing hard, from exertion and anger, she knew. But she couldn't stop herself from imagining how it might be if it were from other, far more pleasurable things. Her chest tightened up at the thought, and suddenly her own labored breathing had very little to do with the fact that he was flattening her. She swallowed, then bit her lip as hard as she could to try to clear her head.
The bright burst of pain did absolutely nothing to make her forget he was naked.
It was so wrong, the way he got her so worked up, even when she wanted to hate his guts. It should have been easy, like with the nameless, faceless masses who had come to see her dance. They'd meant nothing ... had been entirely beneath her notice. Those men had inspired nothing in her but a vague sense of disgust and, occasionally, pity.
If only there were anything vague about how Gabriel made her feel.
"You're a bastard. You don't understand anything," she hissed at him.
"If you can't say anything nice," he growled, his breath hot against her skin, "then shut the hell up."
Rowan jerked her chin up defiantly. "Make me."
Gabriel bared his teeth at her, and Rowan's belly twisted into knots of lust when she saw his teeth had grown just as deadly as her own. She had never been with another Drakkyn. There were not as many of them as there had once been, and in any case, it was a potent, dangerous combination. She had thought his arukhin blood was hopelessly diluted. Now she had to concede that Gabriel MacInnes was perhaps a little less human than she'd thought. Right now he was mostly beast. One who looked about to devour her whole.
It was a wickedly tempting thought.
"Let me go!" she demanded, baring fangs of her own. "Why do you even care? You heard Lucien. Your people are safer without me here! Even if I can't kill him, he'll have me. He would have forgotten about you." She twisted beneath him, only to find herself pinned even more firmly. Rowan grimaced, biting back a shriek until it was just an infuriated little growl.