She glanced at her friends, who weren't paying attention to them, and looked to Kalen again, expression concerned. "You could've called me instead of risking coming out yourself."
Her worry on his account, twice in one night, did something funny inside his chest. "I called, left you a message earlier." He pointed to the purse hanging from its strap on the backrest of her stool. "Guess you haven't checked your phone, so it's a good thing I planned to show up anyway."
Her face colored. "Sorry about that. I know I should look at it more often when I'm out."
"Well, I'm here now and that's what matters. Can you make your excuses? I have this feeling that we need to go now. In fact, if you can get them to go home as well, do it."
Maybe this awful sense of impending doom would vanish after they left. After the unknown entity got bored or whatever, and went on its way.
"Hey guys," Mackenzie said, rising from her stool and placing her purse strap over her shoulder. "Kalen and I are going to head out, call it a night."
Amy glanced between them and instantly got the wrong idea. "Ooh, lucky girl! Wish my knight in shining leather would swoop in and whisk me away! Maybe we'll score, though, now that there's one less in the competition."
Mackenzie gave her friend a pointed look. "You two have to work tomorrow, or did you forget? Six in the morning will come awfully early if you don't get your asses home."
Kalen noticed how she didn't correct her friend's impression of them. He wished he really was here to grab Mackenzie for the reason Amy thought.
Shannon sighed, standing. "Mac's right. I can't stay out late tonight, much as I'd love to. We have a big meeting in the morning."
"Party poopers," Amy said, pouting. To Kalen's relief, she grabbed her purse, too. "Fine. We'll save the real fun for Friday, maybe? Close the place down?"
Shannon nodded. "Sounds good."
"I'll have to see," Mackenzie replied vaguely.
Kalen didn't like the idea of her returning with those two to go on the prowl for a man, as Amy so obviously wanted. Hated it, in fact. But he had no right to voice an opinion, even if it made his stomach hurt to envision Mackenzie in another man's arms.
Made him want to kill somebody.
Kalen escorted the doc to the exit, resting his hand at the small of her back. It felt so damned natural, touching her, keeping her close to his side. He, who normally hated being in close proximity to others. He marveled at the wonderful feeling all the way outside, to the parking lot, where Mackenzie said good-bye to her friends with hugs and light kisses on the cheek.
Watching them, a little shard pierced his heart. He envied the easy closeness, the physical touch that most people took for granted. He yearned for it.
And feared it as he did nothing else.
He and Mackenzie watched as her friends got into their cars, which were parked in the front lot. Once they were safely on their way, he looked at the doc.
"I'll walk with you. I'm parked in the back, just a couple of spaces from you."
She smiled. "My knight in shining leather?" she quipped, echoing her friend.
He managed a grin in return. "If that's what floats your boat."
Her laugh buoyed his spirits, lightened his soul in spite of the urgency pressing in on him harder than before, to get them the hell gone. Simply being near her was enough to send his senses reeling, cloud his judgment.
Mackenzie was quickly becoming his greatest weakness.
And he wasn't certain he cared one bit.
Mackenzie studied Kalen as they walked in the darkness, their boots crunching on the gravel lot. The man was, hands down, the most intriguing guy she'd ever met.
Considering the guys she worked with, not to mention that at thirty-one she had a few years on Kalen, that was saying a helluva lot.
The Sorcerer/Necromancer might be only twenty-three, but the sorrow in his kohl-rimmed, jewel-green eyes was ageless. He carried his ancient power as easily as he wore his long, battered duster, silver pentagram pendant, and black-tipped fingernails-comfortably and without apology.
His beautiful face was an arresting combination of youth and maturity. His pale skin was smooth, unlined. Dark brows arched over large eyes framed with long lashes, and his nose was straight. His jaw was strong, with a faint shadow of stubble, his shoulders broad but not too much so, hips narrow. He was on the tall side, a bit over six feet, built lean, like the panther he was. Jet-black hair fell in long, messy layers to his shoulders, and she thought he'd look right at home with an electric guitar slung low at his waist.
Yep, the total package attested to the fact that this was no boy, but a man.
A man who'd captured her undivided attention from the moment she'd met him as the Pack's newest recruit, weeks ago. He'd been homeless, adrift and starving-not only for food, but for a place to belong. For people who cared about him. She sincerely hoped he'd found what he was looking for.
Because that meant he'd stay. At least for a while.
Yes, she knew it was silly to pin too many hopes on snagging an elusive man like Kalen. She didn't need to be told he'd had it rough, that his story, if he ever saw fit to share it, would be a heartbreaking one. Nick and the Pack knew some of Kalen's past, but they wouldn't gossip about something so private. Nor would she want them to, but she couldn't help but be insanely curious about the Sorcerer.
She longed to know him-in every way.
What would he look like naked? Gorgeous, no doubt. All sleek muscles, a firm, tight ass begging for her two hands to squeeze it as he-
"Here we are," he said, interrupting her fantasy.
Somehow they'd arrived at the back lot near the woods and were now standing behind her car, and she hadn't even noticed. Clearing her throat, she peered at him in the darkness. "Thanks for the armed escort."
"No problem," he said softly. For a moment he went quiet, simply gazing at her as though he wanted to say something. Or perhaps close the foot or so between them and give her a slow, delicious kiss.
Do it, she willed him. You know you want to!
As if he'd heard her silent entreaty, he stepped a little closer. His eyes never leaving hers, he raised an arm and reached out, smoothing back a lock of curly hair and tucking it behind her ear. Then his fingers grazed her cheek, traced her lips.
Heart tripping, she stood mesmerized by the sight of him, the expression of pure need on his face, body electrified by a simple caress. Any second, he'd move in for that kiss . . .
But then he gestured to her car, taking a step back. "Go ahead and get in. I'll follow you."
Smothering the sudden pang of disappointment, she nodded. "Okay."
He turned and she watched him stride for one of the compound's SUV's, admiring how his duster billowed behind him like a cloak. A really cool one, appropriate for a modern-day Sorcerer. She was so intent on her study of him, she almost missed the muffled grunt that sounded from somewhere behind her.
But Kalen heard it, and whirled, his face a mask of horror as he shouted, "Mackenzie, run!"
And so, like an idiot, she spun to look for the threat. The sight that greeted her turned her legs to noodles, and caused a scream to lodge in her throat. She'd seen one of these creatures before, but only inside Block T, the cell area where Nick had kept one incarcerated in hopes of gaining more information about it.
Standing at the edge of the woods, not twenty feet away, was a huge creature with leathery, bat-like wings and a pushed-in face full of razor-sharp teeth. It rushed forward with a screech and she ran toward Kalen. But she moved too late.
Pain blossomed in her shoulder as the thing struck, knocking her to the ground. She hit hard on her hands and knees with a cry, hearing Kalen's angry yell over the creature's roar. Kalen hauled her up, gave her a shove toward the SUV.
She ran, but the thing was right behind her, swatting Kalen to the ground as it took off in pursuit. Oh, God! Please, please let him be all right!
Reaching the back of the Escalade, she barely had time to dive underneath the back end before the creature hit, shaking the whole vehicle violently. Crawling to the middle, palms stinging, she drew in her arms and legs as much as she could considering there wasn't much clearance between her body and the undercarriage of the SUV.
Panting hard, she saw the shadow of the thing's bulk as it crouched. One yellowed eyeball peered under the bumper at her and she whimpered, heart pounding. With another shriek, it swiped its arm underneath over and over, trying to get at her. One pass sliced a tire and it began to hiss, losing air.
"Hey, you ugly bastard!" Kalen yelled. "Eat this!"
A bolt lit up the night, and Mackenzie heard the creature scream in pain this time, saw its bulk leap away from the back end. The thing scrambled away from the vehicle and she was terrified it was going for Kalen. Moving as far from safety as she dared, she looked from under the SUV and her breath caught.
Kalen and the creature were locked in battle, the Sorcerer's duster lying discarded on the ground, she guessed so he could move more easily. Blood ran down one arm from a deep gash. The silver pendant gleamed on his chest, and his hair tumbled wildly about his face, which was twisted in a feral snarl. He was completely focused on destroying their enemy. Confident. In that moment, she had little doubt he'd succeed.
But she was still afraid. This creature was an unknown, and his brethren had wiped out half of Alpha Pack six months ago, right before Nick took over as the team's commander. Since then, they'd failed to learn what these creatures were, where they came from and who they answered to, if anyone.
This one wasn't any more inclined to share than the others had been. His only focus seemed to be annihilating both of them.
The creature lunged at Kalen, and he jumped out of the way, a glow of blue light appearing in his palm. He hurled the sphere and it exploded in the beast's face, causing it to roar in pain and rage. Slivers of what she could only describe as electricity spread in jagged fingers from the point of impact to encompass the entire beast. Power sizzled over the creature's hide and it began to leap from foot to foot, shrieking, eyes wide.
The pungent stench of burning flesh reached her nostrils. The shockwaves of electricity vanished and the beast slumped to the ground, panting. Then a long Sorcerer's staff appeared in Kalen's right palm and uttering a spell in Latin, he pointed the end of the staff toward the creature that was struggling to rise. It never got the chance.
A single bolt of brilliant orange-red light shot from the end of the staff, blasting the beast in the chest. The torch-like fire ate through its chest, incinerating what she assumed to be the heart and in seconds, it fell. This time it was dead. Smoke rose from the creature in wisps and she felt an inexplicable wave of sadness.
Kalen shared no such sentiment. Nudging the beast with his toe, his expression was cold. "Good riddance."
She crawled from underneath the SUV as Kalen began a chant. The creature's body began to break down, shrivel, until finally it disintegrated. Another whispered word from the Sorcerer, and the ashes swirled into the air and vanished into the night. His staff disappeared and he strode for her, closing the distance quickly.
Grabbing her upper arms, he began to check her for injuries, patting her limbs. "God, Mackenzie," he rasped. "Are you all right?"
Suddenly she became aware of the burning pain in her left shoulder. She'd forgotten about it, but now that the adrenaline rush was over, it totally eclipsed the stinging in her palms and knees from sliding on the concrete when she dove under the SUV. "My back. I think it scratched me."
Moving around behind her, he cursed. "The fucker got you. Looks like he caught your shoulder with a claw. We need to get you back so Dr. Mallory can take care of it."
"Hey, I'm a doctor," she said.
"But you can't reach your back, and it's not smart to treat yourself. You know that, but I think you're in a bit of shock."READ MORE >>