And as humiliated and hurt as she’d felt, sitting in her family’s living room, waiting for him to finally show up, the concern she’d felt had overruled it. Now, that concern chilled over into bone-deep worry.
No sounds flowed out to the street. The club was dark. Quiet.
Her feeling of foreboding deepened, and instead of entering through the unsecured front door, she went around to the staff entrance at the back of the old church building.
Before she even stepped inside, the scent of spilled blood and death blasted her senses. Her gums twitched in response as alarm turned to ice in her veins.
“Rune?” Her voice vanished into the silence of the place as she entered the cavernous, underground arena and bar area. “Rune, are you here?”
He didn’t answer, but there he was. Standing inside with a group of six large, menacing Breed males, all heavily armed with semiautomatic pistols trained on Rune. Signs of a struggle were everywhere. The broken mirror behind the bar. Toppled chairs. Shattered glass littering the floor like diamond shards in a sea of pooled liquor.
So much blood. On the wall and the floor. All over Rune.
“Oh, my God! Rune, what hap—”
When she stepped forward, his stark gaze halted her. There was a warning in his eyes that made her fall silent. Made her quell the spark of her Breed instincts.
One of the vampires moved beside him now, clamping his hand onto Rune’s shoulder. “Well, well . . . who have we here?”
The male’s angular face had a dangerous edge to it. Under his short dark hair, his piercing gray eyes glimmered with interest. And unmistakable cruelty.
Rune cleared his throat. “Club’s not going to open tonight,” he said, directing the statement at her. “You and the other girls can take the weekend off.”
Carys wasn’t sure how to respond. The Breed male standing next to Rune like he owned him didn’t give her the chance.
“Not so fast now, boyo. Don’t be rude.” His mouth split into a leering smile. “Why don’t you introduce us first? Didn’t expect this dump to employ such a fine piece of ass.” His gaze ran over her like an unwanted caress, narrowing when he saw the mark on the side of her neck. “Breedmate, besides, I see.”
Rune didn’t correct the mistake, nor did Carys. Although everything Breed in her flared with the urge to attack, she held herself in check. Rune’s miserable gaze seemed to command her compliance. He was clearly reigning in his own fury too.
“Go on home. Do it now,” he said tightly, his eyes pleading for her to obey.
And then she saw the reason for his gravity. Riding on the back of the hand that still gripped his shoulder was a distinctive tattoo. A black scarab. The other men had the same marks.
These were Riordan’s men.
And Rune . . .?
His eyes took on an even grimmer expression when he realized she’d spotted the tattoo. His mouth went slack at the corners as he stared at her in terrible silence. Almost indiscernibly, he slowly shook his head at her in warning. In abject fear—not for himself, but for her.
Do not say anything, his dire gaze implored her. Do not cross them.
Beside him, his dangerous companion continued to leer in Carys’s direction. “Come on, girl. Step forward and let me have a closer look at you. Let us see what Aedan here is trying to keep all to himself.” The Riordan thug sucked in an exaggerated breath and swung a smirk at Rune. “Oh. Sorry, boyo. Would you rather I call you Rune?”
“What’s he talking about?” Carys frowned. “Who’s Aedan?”
The leader of the pack of thugs chuckled. “The better question is, who’s Rune?”
They all laughed at the apparent joke. All but Rune.
“For shame, Aedan. It’s obvious you’ve been fucking this poor girl, but lying to her too?” The Breed male clicked his tongue. “That’s no way to treat a lady.”
It felt as if a cold vacuum had suddenly opened up in the center of her chest. Everything Rune had told her started to make sense in a different way now. His past, his shame about where he’d come from, who he was.
All the things he hadn’t told her.
The walls he refused to let her breach.
How much was he still hiding from her?
Rune’s eyes were shooting hot sparks now. Carys could read the murder in his gaze. But he was keeping it under control. Taking the taunts and obvious threats from these men because she was there now. Because he was trying to give her a chance to get away.
“This isn’t about her,” he muttered low under his breath. His fangs glinted with every syllable. “You came for me. You’ve got me. Let her leave.”
The dark-haired male seemed to consider for a long moment, then he clapped his palm ungently on Rune’s shoulder and gave a careless shrug. “The bitch can go.”
“Get out,” Rune growled at Carys.
She couldn’t move. Her feet were rooted to the floor. Even though he’d deceived her, even though she’d just been struck with the fact that possibly everything she thought she knew about Rune had been a lie, her fear for him was greater than her own pain or confusion.
Her veins hammered with the urge to fight, to fly at these bastards with the full fury of her Breed genetics. Every fiber of her being was firing up with the desire to shed blood, to kill.
She felt her fangs start to erupt from her gums. Beneath her blouse, her glyphs prickled with the coming surge of her transformation.
Rune saw the slight change begin to come over her. He shook his head and snarled a vicious curse.
“Go,” he commanded her. “Goddamn it, get the fuck out of here, now!”
She’d never seen him so enraged. Nor more afraid. It shook her as surely as a physical blow. She backed up so fast, she nearly stumbled. She wheeled around and ran, her heart throbbing in her chest, cold and leaden. Her tears were hot on her cheeks as she pushed out the door and fled into the night, fumbling to pull her phone from her pocket.
She hit the number for her father’s private line. He picked up on the first ring.
“Daddy!” Her breath hitched on a broken sob. “Oh, God, it’s Rune . . . Please, I need your help.”
~ ~ ~
Rune didn’t let out his breath until he heard the staff door slam shut behind Carys.
She was gone.
He told himself he was glad. He felt relief, for sure. Seeing her in the same room with men loyal to Fineas Riordan had been the worst kind of terror he’d ever known.
Her confusion and mistrust when they’d called him by his given name had wracked him. When she’d spied the black scarab tattoos on the men, there had been recognition in her keen gaze. She knew the mark, knew what it meant. Who it belonged to.
Which meant the Order knew it too.
Bad enough he had wounded her by standing her up at the Chase Darkhaven. Tonight, he’d lost her for sure. And if the Order found him first, her father would no doubt want to be the one to kill him personally.
Rune had never felt dread like he had when Carys had stood primed to strike tonight—for him. She never would have survived it. Her Breed genetics were powerful, but not even the purest of their kind was bulletproof.
Together, he and Carys might have taken out a few of Riordan’s men, but not without risking their own lives. Rune could hardly be troubled to worry about his own hide now, but there was nothing he wouldn’t do to keep Carys safe. Sending her away was the only choice.