Anna planted her hands on her hips. Dammit. She was tired of people referring to her destiny as if they all knew something she didn’t. And she didn’t like the thought that people were depending on her to accomplish some wondrous goal when she felt like she was drowning in the mess that was her life.
“Right now my destiny is being trapped in a filthy barn with an incapacitated gargoyle and no clue of where I am or how to protect either of us,” she gritted. “Hardly a champion.”
“You possess the power,” he stubbornly repeated. “You merely lack the ability to command your gifts.”
You think? Anna thought dryly, recalling the painful battle she had just waged with the portal.
“If you’re some sort of relative, why don’t you teach me?” she challenged.
Once again she sensed the shake of his head. “Forgive me, Anna, but my time here is limited.”
“Exactly where is here?”
A tangible sadness filled the room. “It was once my home. Now I suppose it is my tomb.”
Anna bit her lip. “I’m sorry.”
“I have accepted my fate.”
His voice was flat, but Anna suspected that he was a long way from accepting fate. He blamed Morgana for whatever had happened to him, and he intended to see her punished. Obviously using her as the weapon. Great. “Will you tell me who you are?”
The mist shifted, and Anna could have sworn that she felt the light stroke of a finger down her cheek.
“You know who I am, Anna.”
“Are you Arthur?” she husked, startled by the flood of warmth that rushed through her heart. “As in roundtables and Camelot?”
“I am Arthur, and your very distant grandfather.” The misty hand stroked down her arm and then she felt a sudden weight in the palm of her hand. “This is for you.”
Startled, Anna nearly dropped the heavy silver necklace, which held an emerald that was large enough to make Liz Taylor drool.
“What is it?” she breathed.
“A pendant that was given to me by a great sorcerer. It will allow you to focus your powers.”
She slowly lifted her gaze. “I don’t suppose it has an owner’s manual that comes with it?”
The mist moved back, halting near the arched doorway. “It was crafted to respond to the ancient magic that flows in your blood.”
With shaking fingers, she stroked the flawless jewel, mesmerized by the purity of its green fire. “Did I inherit my powers from you?”
“But they didn’t stop Morgana?”
His soft sigh rippled through the air. “Treachery, not power, was my destruction, Anna Randal. You have a mind that seeks justice, but do not allow your compassionate heart to lead you to my fate.”
“But…” She hastily swallowed her words as the mist swirled and then once again she was staring into the unnerving eyes of the large wolf. “Damn.”
Cezar hissed as the clinging darkness ebbed away and the wave of pain rushed in to replace it.
His entire body felt as if it had been run over by a truck (a fully loaded cement truck), but it was the lingering ache at the back of his head that warned him that his poor skull had absorbed most of the damage.
Hardly surprising. He’d flown completely through the foyer wall before taking out a marble column. Only the fact that he was a vampire had kept him from being laid out in the nearest morgue.
Instead he seemed to be lying on a narrow sofa with a strong pair of hands pressed against his chest to hold him still.
“He’s waking,” Dante murmured, close enough to reveal he was the one holding him captive.
“Damn, Styx, I thought you had killed him,” Viper murmured from nearby.
“Not to mention putting a hole through my wall,” Dante groused.
“Would any lesser blow have kept him from running into the dawn?” Styx demanded. “Besides, I recall being chained in a cell when the two of you decided I was a danger to myself.”
Cezar forced open his eyes, discovering Dante perched on the sofa next to him and Styx and Viper bending over him with concerned expressions.
Not that Styx’s was nearly concerned enough, Cezar thought as he sent the ancient demon a jaundiced glare. “Then why the hell didn’t you hit them instead of me? I didn’t chain you in a cell.”
A hint of amusement touched Styx’s dark eyes as he shoved a glass into Cezar’s hand. “Here.”
With an effort, Cezar managed to shove himself to a sitting position and take a deep drink of the blood. It would speed his healing and help him recover his strength.
Something he was in desperate need of.
Polishing off the blood, he set aside the glass and frowned at the gathered vampires.
“Anna. Have you heard…”
“No, Cezar, there’s been nothing,” Dante said, his tone edged with sympathy. “I’m sorry.”
Cezar didn’t want pity. He wanted Anna in his arms.
“I have called for the clans to gather,” Styx assured him. “We shall find Anna.”
“I can’t wait.” With a surge of power he was off the sofa, sending his friends stumbling backward. He could sense that night had fallen and nothing was going to keep him from going in search of his woman. “I have to do something.”
Dante and Viper looked ready to attack and hold him down by force if necessary, but before Cezar could prove the dangers of screwing with him when he was in this mood, Styx lifted a commanding hand.
“Leave us,” he growled to Dante and Viper.
The two vampires grudgingly calmed, then with a bow toward their leader they filed from the small anteroom that Cezar assumed was near the foyer. It was one of those extra, useless rooms that mansions always seemed to possess.
Squaring his shoulders, Cezar glared at the looming vampire. No one could match Styx’s sheer power, but he was bloody well willing to give it his best shot. “You are my Anasso, Styx, but you can’t stop me,” he said, his voice filled with a lethal promise. “I am bound by the Oracles to protect Anna.”
Styx moved to lean casually against the wall, his towering leather-bound form close enough to the door to make sure that Cezar would have to go through him to escape.
Not a pleasant prospect.
“And that is the only reason you risk your life to find her?” he demanded.
Cezar stiffened. He didn’t want to discuss his fierce connection to Anna. It was too intimate, too raw, to share with anyone.
But he knew that expression on Styx’s harsh face. The older vampire wasn’t about to allow Cezar to rush into the night until he’d had his say.
“You know it is not,” Cezar at last growled.
Styx gave a slow nod, his dark eyes troubled. “Cezar, even if Anna survives Morgana, she is destined to become an Oracle.”
Cezar gave an impatient wave of his hand. Dammit, he knew Anna’s fate better than anyone. Better than Anna herself.
“Do you have a point?”
“The point is that you are destined to lose her whether it’s to Morgana or the Commission.”
“The Commission doesn’t have plans to execute Anna.”
“No, but they will claim her as one of their own,” Styx pointed out gently. “Cezar, they took you captive for merely daring to take her blood. Do you truly believe they will allow you to mate her?”
The aching need to make Anna irrevocably his own pounded through Cezar with enough force to make his knees tremble. His every instinct screamed that the sweet, delicate woman belonged to him.
Solely, completely, and eternally.
No one, not even the Commission could alter that absolute truth.
“Once Anna is a full member of the Commission she will be able to make her own decisions,” he growled.
“Do any of them take a mate?”
Cezar jerked as an unexpected pain lashed through him. Dios. Was Styx a closet sadist? Was he deliberately attempting to drive him mad?
“Enough, Styx.” Cezar shoved his fingers through his hair, pacing the small space with a rising sense of claustrophobia. He wanted to be out of here. He needed to be searching for Anna, not dwelling on a future that held the potential to be as bleak as his past. “There’s been no talk of mating.”
“But it is what you desire,” Styx prodded.
“Desire?” Cezar laughed with a bitter flare of humor. “Is there ever a choice?”
“Perhaps not, but I do not want to see you forced to suffer more than you already have. It is not too late to put some distance between the two of you and…”
“You’re wrong, Styx. It’s far too late,” he interrupted, his voice rough. “Two hundred years too late.”
There was a tap on the door before the tall, blond vampire that was a member of Styx’s Ravens (death-dealing bodyguards) stepped into the room.
“Forgive me, my lord.”
Styx straightened, his expression dark at the interruption. “What is it?”
“Your wife has arrived.”
“Darcy?” His eyes narrowed. “Send her in.” The vampire bowed and backed out of the door, swiftly replaced by the pretty werewolf that had firmly captured the King of Vampires. “What is it, my love?”