“Does it sound that awful to you?”

Carys shrugged, wishing it did sound awful. “I’m not in the market for a new job. I enjoy what I do at the MFA with you. Besides, I like having my nights off. I’m sure my family would love nothing more than to make sure I never had time to be with Rune.”

“No one wants to see you get hurt, that’s all.”

“I’m a big girl. I know what I’m doing.” Except even as she said it, the small prickle of her growing doubts about Rune came to life again.

Was she heading for broken heart with him? She didn’t want to think so. She wanted to think she was as important to him as he was to her. In the time they’d been together, she’d all but convinced herself they had a future together, and that someday his need for her—his love for her—would overrule his determination to avoid any long-term entanglement.

Too often, her heart had entertained a fantasy that someday Rune would climb out of the arena and leave the brutality of the fight club behind him for good. Then they would make a life together—maybe even raise a family of their own—as a mated, blood-bonded couple.

This morning, when she had reached for those slender threads of hope, they’d disintegrated through her fingers like elusive wisps of smoke.

“I heard what happened last night,” Jordana said as they rounded a corner in the long corridor.

Confused, Carys looked at her in question.

“Last night, at La Notte. The rowdy patrons and the woman who was injured?”

“Oh. Yeah, things got out of hand and Rune shut everything down for the night and sent everyone home.”

Jordana nodded. “I’m glad he did. Rune was right, the club can’t go any longer without proper management in charge.”

“He told you that?”

“When I spoke to him earlier this morning,” Jordana said. “When he called me to make an offer to buy the club.”

Carys wasn’t sure if her feet had stopped moving in reality, or if it only felt like they had suddenly turned to lead. Her heart sank with equal heaviness. “He . . . He told you he wants to buy La Notte?”

“You didn’t know?” Jordana looked at her, aghast. “I just assumed—”

Carys waved her hand dismissively. “Of course, I knew. Yeah, he told me he was thinking about it. I just didn’t know . . . I didn’t realize he was ready to . . .”

She was rambling, hoping to hell she sounded convincing when her veins had gone cold and her entire being had gone numb with shock and disappointment.

With bitter heartache.

While she had been foolishly dreaming he might trade in his brutal lifestyle for her one day, Rune was busy putting down roots.

And he hadn’t even cared enough to tell her.

CHAPTER 13

Rune knew Carys was in the building even before he saw her. Still, he was surprised to find her seated alone at the bar in the arena around noon as he carried a box of cage equipment out of the back room. A shot glass and an open bottle of Jameson sat in front of her. Rune’s nostrils flared at the scent of the Irish whiskey and the faint, but lingering salt of her spent tears.

He didn’t have to see her face or get any closer to sense that she was fuming. Anger radiated off her long, lean form.

Christ, she was livid. Trembling with fury and something else that stabbed at him even harder. Sadness. Pain.

Without looking at him, she poured a shot of whiskey into the short glass.

His voice rasped in the quiet of the arena. “What’s this about, love?”

“I hear there’s cause to celebrate.” Lifting the shot, she pivoted toward him with a brittle smile. “Congratulations on buying the club.”

“Shit.” Of course. He didn’t mean it to be a secret between them. God knew there were enough of those without this one. “Jordana told you.”

“At least someone did.” Carys lifted her shoulder in a move that was anything but blasé. “In her defense, she thought I knew. I suppose that should’ve been a safe assumption, seeing as how you and I have been fucking nearly every night for the past seven weeks.”

When she threw back the liquor in one hard toss, Rune let out a hissed curse. He set the box of fighting gear down near the cage. As she poured another shot, he walked over to her. “What are you doing, Carys?”

“I’ve been asking myself that same question all day.”

“I would’ve told you about the club.”

“When? After you signed the papers?” Her lips pressed flat. Her blue eyes were shooting hot sparks of anger and disappointment. “Since you called Jordana early this morning, you must’ve known last night you were going to make an offer for the club. You must’ve already thought it all out and had your plans in place, but you didn’t say a word to me.”

“It didn’t come up,” he said. A lame excuse, but it was the truth. “I didn’t think it was important.”

Those fiery sparks flared sharper now. “You’re making this a permanent part of your life, but you didn’t think that was important to tell me?”

“It’s always been a permanent part of my life. I thought you knew that.”

She glanced away, and he realized she didn’t know that at all.

“Fighting is the only thing I know, Carys. It’s the only thing I’ve ever been good at.”

“Not the only thing,” she muttered quietly. Her velvety voice was dry, simmering with the hurt he was causing her now.

He tried to be gentle. “This is the only way I know how to live. I don’t expect you to understand that. I wouldn’t want you to understand what that really means.”

“What if I want to understand? What if I told you I need to understand, Rune?” She looked at him, holding his stare with a searching gaze that pierced him. Stabbed him. “What if I want something more than this for you . . . for us?”

He slowly shook his head, knowing there was nothing he could say that she would want to hear. “I’m never going to be part of the world you want me in. Not in any way that matters, Carys. I can’t be.”

“Only because you refuse to be,” she said, seeing through him as only she could do.

“Ah, love.” Regret made his words hard to summon. “I tried to warn you. I told you not to expect anything from me . . .”

She scoffed now. “Oh, don’t worry. I remember the rules. No blood between us, not ever. We’ll have a good time together until it’s no longer a good time, then we’ll go our separate ways. No harm, no foul.”

Jesus. Had he actually said something so stupid and callous? He knew he had, and Carys, with her flawless memory, hadn’t forgotten a syllable of the asinine terms he’d set down for their relationship.

He reached out to smooth a wild tendril of caramel brown hair behind her ear. “This is what I wanted to prevent from happening with you, Carys. Hurting you. Disappointing you.”

“Because you care so much.” She said it as if the words were ashes on her tongue.

“Yes, because I care.” He slid his fingertips under her chin to draw her eyes to his. “I care more than you can possibly know.”

She pulled away from his touch. “Why don’t you want a blood bond with me?”

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