Carys recognized the human female—one of several who worked the BDSM dens. Tonight, Lexi wore a thick robe over her obviously torn leather outfit. Heavy black mascara ran down her cheeks with her tears. A nasty bruise was forming under her left eye, and dried blood caked the corner of her lipstick-smeared mouth.
Carys glanced toward the bar and saw Jagger and Vallan standing there. “What happened?”
Jagger pressed his lips together and shook his head. “Bunch of human punks thought they could come in here and get rough with some of the staff, now that Cass isn’t here to enforce his house rules. Rune stopped his match and shut the place down for the night, kicked everyone out.”
Carys was surprised, but then it wasn’t the first time Rune had stepped in as the de facto law of the place since Cass’s slaying. The other Breed fighters seemed to naturally look to him as their leader too, and not only because he was the most feared, most lethal of them all.
Rune commanded respect because in spite of how dangerous he was, he would be the first to defend someone weaker and the last to back down from a fight, even if it wasn’t his battle to win. He was a warrior at heart, a good man, even if few took the time to see it in him . . . including himself.
Carys watched him talk to the injured woman, trying not to feel the pang of jealousy that arced through her at the focused attention he was giving another female. Instead, she walked behind the bar and collected some clean cloths from the cabinet to help tend to the battered employee’s contusions.
As she wet the cloths at the sink and folded some ice into one of them, she scanned the arena for the other fighter. “Where’s Slade?”
The two Breed males exchanged a look. Vallan shrugged. “He and Rune had a disagreement last night. Slade’s been encouraged to look for employment elsewhere.”
“Rune threw him out too?” At their nods, she frowned. “Why? What did he do?”
Neither one of them seemed eager to answer. Finally, Jagger spoke up. “Maybe you’d better ask Rune about that.”
Rune murmured a gruff reassurance to the shaken woman that she would never get hurt in the club again. As he stood up, he sensed Carys drawing near.
His blood was still drumming hot and aggressive through his veins after the scuffle in the arena before she’d arrived. Now that she was there, his veins began to throb for an altogether different reason.
“Here, these should help.” She carried a couple of clean cloths and a cold compress, things he hadn’t thought to provide. Carys turned a concerned look on the woman and sat down beside her on the couch. “Are you all right, Lexi?”
“I think so. Asshole about knocked me out when he hit me, though.”
“Let me see your eye.” Carys gingerly inspected the injury. She put the makeshift ice pack against the purple bruise. “Does that feel a little better?”
The woman nodded, and Carys smiled. She took one of the cloths and gently dabbed the blood on the female’s split lip, then cleaned the dark streaks of makeup and tears from her cheeks.
Rune watched her work, relieved that she seemed to know exactly what needed to be said and done to comfort someone. His own nurturing skills were somewhere between pitiful and nonexistent. God knew, he’d had little experience with tenderness in his life. He’d survived his youth by being tough. Deadly. He’d made his living that way too. Softness and affection had never had a place in his life—until Carys had stepped into his orbit.
When she finished, Rune cleared his throat. “That’s gonna be a hell of a shiner in the morning. Why don’t you take the rest of the week off, Lexi, give yourself time to recover. Tell everyone else to go home for the night. I’ll see to it that you all get full pay.”
As she thanked him and got up to do as he asked, Rune glanced at Jagger and Vallan at the bar. “You both can clear out too. I’ll lock up.”
In the quiet moments after everyone left the arena, Rune found Carys’s gaze on him. Her expression was questioning, concerned. “Sounds like you’ve had quite a day.”
He made a wry sound in the back of his throat. “Had better. What about you? Working late tonight?”
“Yes, we rotated some of the exhibits, so I wanted to make sure everything went smoothly in Jordana’s absence. But I actually stayed longer than I’d planned because I was trying to track down some secured information on Reginald Crowe for my father.”
“Covert intel-gathering for the Order?” Rune couldn’t hide his surprise. He reached out to take the soiled cloths from her hands and pitched them in the nearby trash bin. “I didn’t think you were interested in warrior business.”
“I’m not. My family’s always looked to my brother to pick up the torch for the Order, not me.” She gave a no-big-deal shrug¸ but Rune could see the excitement still glowing in her face. Her bright blue eyes were charged with enthusiasm and pride like he’d never seen in her before. She looked exuberant, a lioness who’d just run her first prey to ground.
Carys might be a rebel at heart, but inside, she was also an intelligent, stubbornly determined woman who could accomplish anything she set her mind to. Why she had let herself fall for him, he would never understand.
“You’d be a hell of an asset to the Order, you know.” Stepping closer, he reached out to lift her chin on his fingertips. “And you’d make a hell of an adversary to anyone who crossed you.”
She grinned at him. “Then you’d better hope you stay on my good side.”
“Baby, from where I’m standing, all I see are good sides,” he said, drawing back to take a long, appreciative look at her.
She laughed, then slipped off her heels and ducked around him to walk toward the open cage at the center of the arena. “So, what happened with Slade last night?”
Without waiting for him to answer, she gave him a longer view of her tempting backside as she stepped into the cage in her black dress pants and wine-colored silk blouse. She bent to pick up his spiked gloves and steel torc from the floor where he’d dropped them after halting the night’s match.
“Jagger and Vallan said you and Slade had a disagreement.”
“Slade’s an asshole. I got tired of seeing his face around here, so I told him to get lost or I’d help him get dead.”
She swung a look back at him, eyes widened, caramel waves sifting over her shoulders. “That must’ve been some disagreement.”
“It was.” Rage still simmering in his veins when he recalled the fighter’s words and the offending intimation that he would even think for a second that he could put his hands on Carys.
Rune followed her over to the cage now, disturbed by the sight of her inside the steel mesh ring. She didn’t belong in there, and not just because she was dressed for a day at the museum.
Hell, in truth, she didn’t belong with him either, but that hadn’t stopped him from pursuing her all those weeks ago. Seducing her right into his bed that first night.
“Are you going to tell me what happened, Rune? What did you and he argue about?”
“Me?” She pivoted, sparks lighting in her eyes as she looked at him through the wire. “What about me?”
“Slade said some things I didn’t like.” Rune all but growled his reply. “He was under the deluded impression that I might ever let him near you while I was still breathing, so I had to set him straight.”