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Dark Highland Fire


Page 42


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Rowan felt an unexpected flash of pity.


He's searching for something, but it isn't me. I can't fix this, she thought bleakly. Being raised by Mordred Andrakkar, deprived of any kind of love with his mother who-knows-where, would take a toll on anyone. It had twisted this creature into something she didn't understand and had no idea how to reason with. She had thought to force some sweetness to try to bargain lor Gabriel's safety. But Lucien's eyes slid to her beloved before she could begin to try to bring Lucien around, and the jealousy and rage she saw there frightened her to the core.


There would be no gentle bargaining.


His gaze returned to her quickly, softening somewhat, though not enough to make her comfortable. "Come. Come home and be with me." He looked toward Gabriel, at the vampires who surrounded his still form, and said, "Bring him to the portal." Then more softly, just to Rowan, he added, "He's nothing to either of us anymore."


The words felt like a knife in her heart. Did Lucien really think she would simply take his hand and leave Gabriel to whatever dark fate he had planned? That a loveless marriage and years trapped in the stone prison of the dragon castle would ever feel to her like home? What a mockery. She had always been a fighter. She swore she would use all the strength she had left to fight for the man who meant everything to her. And when she reached for them-the power, the anger, the ability she needed-- they were all blessedly there.


"I'm not going anywhere with you," she replied in a near-whisper, letting her rage fuel her heat, letting it flood her anew. Fire flashed white-hot between their joined hands, and Lucien pulled away with a pained hiss. His palms were smoking and blackened, she noted with vicious pleasure. He studied them for a moment in seeming disbelief, and when he raised his eyes to hers once again, they were full of wounded anger.


"I won't let you take him," she said. "I was prepared to go with you if it would end this insanity. But you go too far. Gabriel has nothing to do with this. I swear on the blood of the Goddess herself that I will fight you with every breath left in my body, there will never be a time you have me that I don't leave you scarred, unless you let him be. A small price for my submission, Lucien."


Lucien seemed to collect himself, but for the first time he seemed unable to shut his feelings down completely. His striking face, normally cool and impassive, contorted with pain. And Rowan knew she would, indeed, have to fight. "Why?" he gritted out. "Why, when I offer you everything, do you insist on tormenting me this way? And with one so unworthy?"


Rowan remained silent, knowing any answer she might make would do nothing to sway Lucien. It surprised her, the depth of his hurt, palpable in the air between the two of them. But she had done nothing to inspire such feeling. It seemed the height of unfairness that she should have to pay the price for it nonetheless.


Lucien raised his palms to study them. "I ask so little of you. All I wanted ... all I needed ..." Then his gaze darted back to Gabriel, and Rowan saw that on some level, Lucien knew that the arukhin had touched her in a way he himself would never be able to. The knowledge in his eyes, she saw with horror, looked like death. "Doesn't matter," he growled roughly, more to himself than anyone. "You will come with me. And I know someone who'll be happy to train him for other things. Things," he continued, lips curling into a smile that looked more like a grimace, "he might actually be good at. Like serving those superior to him."


"I won't let you do this," Rowan said, and she hated the note of desperation she heard in her own voice. She darted a look at the vampires, gauging the distance she would have to cover to clear the area. "He's done nothing hut keep a promise to my brother." Then, before she could stop herself, she again asked the question that she felt she would never be able to understand the answer to.


"I don't want you! I will never want you! Why, for the love of the Goddess, can't you just leave us alone?"


Lucien's hand shot out to fasten on her wrist, but this time her blazing heat didn't faze him at all. With a terrible sinking feeling, she realized that his hands were now covered in glistening black scales. Lucien smiled, and it was a terrible thing, bloodthirsty and cruel. The smile of the most dangerous type of man: one who had nothing left to lose.


One who was lost himself.


"You should have learned the lesson your mother could not," Lucien said softly. "There's no denying a dragon." He began to drag her toward the door, the light of which was now perceptibly faded. Rowan dug in her heels, thrashing violently, skin nearly aflame with terrified magic. It only slowed him a little. Even in this form he was possessed of fantastic strength.


"I've made promises too, you see," he snarled as they reached the threshold. "And this particular arukhin deserves no less than his fate. I don't give a damn about how honorable you think he is. He touched you. It is my dearest wish that he will suffer greatly before he dies. And for once in my life, I will have something I want!"


"No!" Rowan tried desperately to pull free. Her body whipped from side to side as they struggled, half wild in her terror and grief. She couldn't lose Gabriel. Not when he was all she had left to hang on to. Not when she loved him so much that his death would kill the best parts of her .


"We're leaving. Now," Lucien hissed at her. "You're mine."


"You're insane!" she screamed. "You think you can win me by destroying my protector?"


His smile was bitter. "No. Just destroying him is enough. Be happy it's only a lover, Rowan, and not your brother. Bastian does not even bother to hide from us in the forests of the Carith Noor, He lives because I knew you would see reason."


She bared her teeth, straining to get away from him. "Because you wanted one more thing to taunt me with."


Her struggles barely fazed him. He knew he had won. "Whatever the reason, he will live. The arukhin is no longer my concern. Or yours."


Her vision clouded with pure hatred. She wanted to burn him, to cut him to the quick as he had her. So without thought to the consequences, she hurled the deadliest arrow she had.


"He will always be my concern," she hissed, her face inches from his, her wrists bruising beneath the pressure from his grip. "You may lock me away forever, Lucien Andrakkar, but for one thing you come too late. Gabriel MacInnes is my mate, bonded full and true. He has my heart. And whatever you do, that you will never have!"


Lucien stared at her, his pupils dilating until his eyes were almost all black, only a thin ring of glowing violet remaining. She had gone too far, Rowan saw as smoke began to curl from his mouth and nostrils. His lips pulled buck from teeth that had grown long and deadly, rows of needle-sharp spikes. She had provoked the dragon, and now she would pay the price.


"No! You lie!" His voice had deepened to a roar that shook the walls. But she didn't lie, and he knew it. She had never seen such raw pain, such fury. His hands shook, black claws lengthening to encircle her wrists.


"What did you think, Lucien? That I would bond with you simply because you willed it? Haven't you figured out that there is nothing meant to be between us? You may want me, Lucien, but that's all it will ever be! By all the gods and goddesses above, I am not for you!"


Scales shimmered over all of his skin, black as night, as his inner dragon fought to the surface. With a deafening shriek, he pushed forward, hurling her through the doorway. She didn't even have time to gasp before she was flying through the air, passing through light that was shimmering and warm before landing hard on the ground in a cloud of grayish sand. Her breath rushed painfully from her lungs as she skidded to a stop on her side, body already aching from the surprise assault. Her wrists burned, and Rowan could see the deep purple welts in the shape of fingers already rising on her pale skin. Those, she knew, would stay for some time. Drakkyn healed incredibly fast, but for the wounds they inflicted on one another. It was why they had been intended only to look after the various parts of Coracin in the gods' stead, not to fight one another.


A lofty idea, and utterly unworkable. Perhaps that was why the Goddess had turned a deaf ear to Rowan's own petitions for so long. She was no longer listening.


Seconds later there was another dusty thump as a body landed near her. Rowan rose, wincing, to a sitting position. She didn't know where she was, or what was going to happen. But she knew with only a glance that the body in the sand was Gabriel.


She crawled to him, her heart in her throat. He lay so silent and still, limbs in disarray, naked and vulnerable as a newborn babe. She could see no marks, but that didn't mean that Lucien had let him be. Rowan swallowed hard, leaning over him to touch a tentative hand to his forehead. Gabriel's skin, which normally looked tawny and gold-dusted, was waxen and pale. His face was impassive, long sooty lashes entwined to conceal the luminous eyes she had grown so accustomed to in such a short time.


Rowan bit back the sob welling in her throat, smoothing his hair back from his face and trying to ignore how cool he was to the touch. He couldn't be gone. He was too strong, too full of life, too hers to be gone. She tipped her head back to look at the deep gray of the sky, thinking to beseech her Goddess. But her heart was empty and hollow. In this forsaken place she knew there was no hope. She had no prayers left to offer.


Once again she had failed.


A faint flutter tickled her fingers, splayed now across Gabriel's broad chest. She looked down, startled, and the flutter came again, followed by a shuddering, shallow breath. It was all she could do to keep from crying out. He was alive. Maybe not by much, but he was not lost yet.


She stroked his hair again, and then noticed two small puncture wounds up high on his neck that she hadn't seen before. Bastards! Her hand shook as she gently touched the tiny holes, heart aching when she heard Gabriel's faint moan. They had drugged him, and hadn't been able to resist having a taste. As a result, he was dangerously weakened and unconscious. And she could do nothing.


She heard footsteps in the sand nearby, heard low voices conferring. Lucien's fierce growl was unmistakable. So was the fact that he was arguing, rather viciously, with whomever he'd met. But she didn't turn, didn't bother to look. She no longer cared. She seemed to cause the destruction of all that was beautiful in her life, without knowing quite how or why. Her birth had been accursed, it seemed. That day had not marked the arrival of the future Dyana an Morgaine, but of their doom, and the doom of all who dared to love her.


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