Home > Guardian's Grace (Dark Protectors #12)(7)

Guardian's Grace (Dark Protectors #12)(7)
Author: Rebecca Zanetti

“Adare.” Jacqueline leaned in and kissed him quickly on the cheek. “Congratulations on the mating.”

“Thanks.” Adare didn’t move. “What are you doing here?”

The female purred slightly. Okay. More than slightly, and definitely sexily. “I wanted to see you and to ask why you need this amount of explosives. Also, several of these bombs are homemade, and you’re going to need me to show you the correct detonation sequence. It’ll be like old times, right? I’m available.”

Yeah, Grace would just bet she was. She cleared her throat, ignoring the stomachache that had been her constant companion for almost six months as her strength drained away. Hopefully it was just some weird immortal—kind of immortal—virus. At least she wasn’t throwing up constantly the way she had been last month. “You’re a demolitions expert?”

Jacqueline chuckled. “I have a way with explosives, yes. We used to blow a lot of things up.” How in the world did the shifter make that sound sexy? Must be a gift.

Grace kept her smile in place. “I understand you’re mated?” Yeah, she really had to see the male Jacqueline had picked over Adare.

Jacqueline tucked her hands in her pockets. “I was, yes. He’s no longer with us.” Her voice softened, and she kept her gaze squarely on Adare. “We all did our duty in the last two wars, and the battles were hard on every species, some more than others. We’re just rebuilding now, and sales of explosives like these definitely help my people.”

Guilt swamped Grace. “I’m sorry for your loss.”

Jacqueline smiled, finally turning to face Grace. “That’s kind of you. Basel and I were a political match, and we made a good one. It has been difficult without him, but time moves on, and so do people.”

A political match? What did that mean? Was the woman trying to tell Adare something? Not that it mattered. Adare hadn’t mated Grace for political reasons. It was a favor to her sister’s mate, actually. She tried to watch Adare’s reaction from the corner of her eye, but he was giving nothing away. No expression, no emotion.

Which meant there was a whole lot of emotion. Well, probably. It wasn’t like she really knew him.

Benny watched the exchange and edged a mite closer to Grace. Was he actually offering support? For Pete’s sake. She didn’t need Benny’s pity.

The massive hybrid brushed snow off his long black hair. “I told Jacqueline we couldn’t take anybody with us on this mission, but she wouldn’t sell me the goods unless I brought her to you.”

Well. That wasn’t obvious or anything. Grace shook herself. The only thing she’d ever blown up was a microwave, one of the memories she still had after her coma. What had she been like before? Would she have challenged the shifter?

Why? It wasn’t as if she and Adare were together. What little claim she had on him was rapidly disappearing if the fading of her mark told her anything, and if he’d truly loved this chick, didn’t he deserve happiness? Well, if he and Benny didn’t die on the next mission. Although he could probably do better. If they stood in the snow any longer, the woman would start rubbing herself all over him. Grace bit back a smile. This catty side was new to her. Or maybe it was the old her coming back.

“Grace?” Adare said.

She blinked. “Oh. Sorry. I was in my head again. Did you say something?”

Jacqueline looked down from her impressive height, her brow furrowing and her eyes gleaming. “I asked you why you weren’t going on the mission.”

Direct hit. Everyone knew that fragile humans didn’t go blow things up.

Adare frowned. “You obviously don’t remember me well if you think I’d allow my mate on a mission that involved explosives from the Ledoni shifters.”

So he’d known the explosives were coming from his ex-fiancée? He hadn’t said a word. Wait a minute. Allow? He’d said allow. In front of his ex-love.

Benny groaned.

“Now wait a minute—” Grace started.

“No,” Adare countered immediately. “Even if you’d learned how to heal yourself by now, I wouldn’t let you go on a mission like this.”

Heat blasted into Grace’s face.

Benny peered down, his jaw going slack. “You can’t heal yourself yet?”

Grace whirled on Adare. “Would you just shut up?”

He drew back, both dark eyebrows rising. “I didn’t know that was a secret.” Confusion clouded his gaze before quickly clearing. “It’s okay. Sometimes the skill takes time.”

Oh, God. Now Adare was trying to reassure her.

Jacqueline nodded, the glitter in her eyes cutting. “That’s true. Did you just get mated recently?”

“Five years ago,” Benny said helpfully.

For the first time, Grace understood the expression of someone wanting the ground to open up and swallow them whole. It had never made a lot of sense before. Now, she got it. “I haven’t had much chance to work on the skill. My job doesn’t get too dangerous.” Yep. That sounded lame.

Benny nodded. “Grace is an amazing photographer. She captures moments nobody else sees.”

Jacqueline patted her shoulder. Actually freakin’ patted her. “So, you take pictures. That’s nice.” If any more condescension dropped from her mouth, it’d stain the snow.

“Well, there’s a skill to getting the right angle and moment that are beyond many, ah, people,” Grace returned smoothly. Yep. Direct hit right back at ya, dumb animal. Her phone buzzed, and she glanced at the face. “Um, I have to take this. Excuse me.” She lifted the phone to her ear and dodged inside. “Hey, Doc,” she whispered, heading for the kitchen. “Tell me you have good news.”

“Nope,” Dr. Palendrom said, his cheerful disposition gone. “Your bloodwork is worse, meaning the mating is completely disappearing from your body, which isn’t a surprise since you mated without the sexual component.”

Yeah, no kidding. She closed her eyes and pinched the bridge of her nose. “If my chromosomes unravel from mate to human, will I end up back in a coma?”

“I have absolutely no clue,” the doctor said. “This is uncharted territory.”

Okay. She’d never asked this, but she had to know all the facts. “What if we mate again?” Not that she’d ask Adare. But still.

“Again, I don’t know, but it looks like his cells are attacking yours instead of strengthening them, so if I had to bet, I’d wager that a second mating would kill you.” The doctor sighed. “You really need to see the queen—she’s the expert in this situation. Well, with genetics. There never has been this situation.” He coughed. “I’m totally guessing, but if you took the virus, negated the mating and somehow survived, you could conceivably mate some other immortal whose cells don’t try to kill you.”

It figured the best kisser on the planet would be unexpectedly trying to kill her on a cellular level. Time was not on her side. Adare wouldn’t like it, but she had to finish what she’d started and get some answers in case she soon faced coma or death. Nobody understood how it felt to have blanks in your memory that tortured you every night. If she was going to die anyway, she’d die knowing who she’d been. Maybe who she could’ve been. She couldn’t let Adare stop her. “Thanks, Doc.” She hung up and hustled back outside, ready to say goodbye.

Her car and driver rolled to a stop, its headlights piercing the darkened winter day.

“Let’s go, Grace,” Adare said, reaching to pluck up her camera bag. Did he sound relieved? She could swear he sounded relieved.

With one last fake smile at Jacqueline, Grace stepped out from the protective overhang toward her car, wondering when she’d lost her mind. What did she care that a snotty feline shifter was making the moves on Adare? Would the old her have punched Jacqueline in the nose? It was doubtful.

Suddenly, all four doors of the black sedan opened at once.

“Grace!” Adare bellowed, turning and lunging toward her.

Chapter 6

Adare smelled the enemy a split second before the first boot hit the ground. Sour lemons. He dropped the bags and pivoted, manacling one arm around Grace’s waist and twisting to shot-put her over the hood of the SUV. She flew high, her arms windmilling as she disappeared on the other side. Before she hit the ground, he turned and charged, head down, into the chest of the driver, smashing him against the rear door. Glass shattered and metal dented with a loud crunch.

Bullets pinged above his head, and he rolled the soldier over, punching repeatedly toward the bastard’s face. Blood began to blend with his blackish red hair, and the driver struck up, slicing Adare’s neck with a knife.

Blood arced and pain lashed through Adare’s head. He growled, letting his fangs drop low, while sending emergency healing cells to the injury. The Kurjan beneath him, his eyes a swirling purple, struck up again.

Adare blocked the blade and went into a pure fighting state, which was where he belonged.

The Kurjan clapped a hand against Adare’s ear, grabbed his hip, and rolled them across the icy ground. Thunderous pain clashed through Adare’s head, but he reached down and drew his knife from his boot as they moved, slashing up and through the Kurjan’s white skin from beneath his jaw to his brain.

The monster flopped down, and Adare shoved the heavy body off. The guy would be out for a while. Adare crouched against the vehicle to take in the scene. It was dark enough that the Kurjans probably didn’t need the caps they’d donned, and there was no sight of the sun beneath the clouds. Damn it. He wouldn’t mind the sun frying the bastards. Two Kurjans remained on the other side of the vehicle from him, shooting wildly at the SUV while Jacqueline leaned around the side and returned fire.

At the rear of the SUV, Benny fought hand-to-hand with the final Kurjan, their movements so fast they were only blurs. Blood spurted from them both, and the glint of silver could barely be seen through the storm.

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