Why the hell her stomach should be doing a little flip at his teasing was beyond her. And why her pulse was suddenly hammering in a tempo too eager to be outrage, she really didn’t want to know.
Brynne tilted her head at him, frowning. “What you are is mistaken. And I’m perfectly capable of picking up after myself, so if you don’t mind . . .”
“I don’t mind at all.”
Ignoring her protests, he gathered the last of the pieces and held them all in one hand. Then he stood up and reached out to her with his free hand.
Brynne stared skeptically at his large palm and long, elegant fingers. “You’re not going to zap me with that Atlantean glowy trick, are you?”
He shrugged. “You might enjoy it.”
“Ha. I doubt it.”
Humor still danced in his eyes as she stood on her own, bypassing his offered hand. “Are all Breed females this skittish around men?”
“Are all Atlantean males so certain of their own charm?”
He smirked. “This one is.”
Brynne snorted a laugh as she took the broken cup inside to throw it away. He followed.
“I’m Ekizael, in case you’re too shy to ask. Friends call me Zael.”
She pivoted to face him. “In that case, hello, Ekizael. I’m Brynne.”
He made an amused sound in the back of his throat. “Distracted, skittish and dismissive. How intriguing.”
“Arrogant, presumptuous and insolent. How predictable.”
“Predictable?” He chuckled. “That’s one thing I’ve rarely been accused of.”
Why did her body have to react as if he’d just said something sexual? She pushed the sensation aside. “Well, they say there’s a first time for everything.”
“Hmm,” he said. “By the way, arrogant, presumptuous and insolent all mean roughly the same thing.”
Brynne smiled sweetly. “Since we just met, perhaps I thought it would be too rude to say annoying.”
Now he frowned. “Am I annoying you? I apologize. From the pretty flush of your cheeks and the uptick of your pulse, I thought we were getting acquainted rather enjoyably. Exchanging some friendly banter. Possibly even flirting.”
God help her, but the heat in her face flamed even hotter now, and all over, her skin felt too warm, too tight beneath her clothes. She lifted her chin. “I don’t have time for banter, and I never flirt.”
“Really?” His voice was somewhere between a growl and a purr, a sound that sent her blood drumming in her temples and in several points lower. His gaze drank her in shamelessly before returning to hers. “That is a tragedy, Brynne.”
Before she could respond with a searing retort, several pairs of footsteps approached. Carys strode in alongside Jordana and Nova.
The three women stopped abruptly, falling into an odd silence as if they too could feel the electricity in the air.
Jordana smiled brightly. “Brynne, I see you’ve met my friend, Zael. Isn’t he charming?”
Brynne raised a brow in the Atlantean’s direction. “Charming doesn’t even begin to describe him.”
Zael’s chuckle was meant for her alone. “Until we meet again, Brynne. The pleasure was mine.”
“Yes, it was,” she agreed, smiling pointedly. She turned to Carys. “Ready to go?”
Thank God. Brynne couldn’t get away fast enough from Zael and his disturbing effect on her. Hopefully, it would be a good long while before she ever found herself in the arrogant Atlantean’s presence again.
Little had changed in the long years that Rune had been gone from his father’s castle Darkhaven.
The musty, cool dampness of the old stone walls and worn slate floor seeped into his bones the instant he was brought inside by his uncle and the other armed guards. Their footsteps echoed hollowly as they progressed down the main passage into the heart of the ancient fortress.
“Fineas is waiting for you down below,” Ennis told him. “Reckon you remember the way, eh, boyo?”
Rune didn’t have to ask where they were taking him. There was only one thing below the main floor of the stronghold. And, yes, he still recalled the path, down the spiraling flight of stairs, then through the winding corridor of the underground portion of the keep.
He strode ahead of the guns trained on his back, bracing himself as the sound of his father’s low voice reached his ears. The guttural chuckle had haunted his dreams for years after he’d fled this place.
Now it was all Rune could do to resist the urge to lunge forward and attack in a murderous rage as soon as Fineas Riordan’s dark head and broad shoulders came into view on the catwalk gallery overlooking the pit below.
As much as Rune wanted the bastard’s throat between his teeth, there were five semiautomatic pistols poised to open fire on him the instant he showed any hint of aggression. If he meant to get back to Boston after he was finished here—back to Carys, if she would have him—he had no choice but to keep his rage on a tight leash for now.
Thoughts of Carys put a cold ache in the center of his chest.
She had been on his mind every minute since he’d been gone. The terrible way they had parted. Her beautiful face, stricken with worry and confusion as she saw him with his father’s men and heard the unfamiliar name they’d called him. She had seen their scarab tattoos, and Rune could tell she knew what those marks meant. She knew who they belonged to, and now she knew that he, too, belonged to Fineas Riordan.
Rune had broken her heart in that moment. He only hoped she’d be willing to forgive him. That she might still love him enough to consider taking him back once he returned to her.
But first, he would have to survive the coming confrontation with the monster who’d sired him.
His uncle nudged Rune forward with an ungentle shove as they drew near the catwalk above the pit. “Here’s your special delivery, brother. All the way from Boston.”
Fineas Riordan swiveled his head away from a pair of armed Breed males who were watching the combat along with him. When his dark gaze met Rune’s eyes, a brittle chill seeped into their fathomless depths.
“It has been quite a while, son. I have to say, I was very disappointed when you left.”
Rune couldn’t curb his sharply exhaled breath. “You must’ve been bored without me here to provide your entertainment.”
A thin, evil smile spread across his lips. “Oh, I managed to find other diversions.”
Rune’s guards guided him out onto the viewing gallery. In the dirt-floored, stone enclosure below, a pair of Breed males were engaged in a tremendous fight.
Sweat-soaked, bloodied, with flesh torn in numerous places, the two combatants fought with fists and fangs. Their eyes blazed with hot amber, and their pupils were so thinned, the vertical slits were hardly discernible. The males’ dermaglyphs churned like tempests on their bruised and lacerated bodies as they crashed into each other in a blur of gnashing teeth and punishing blows.
The fight was brutal, animalistic. A feral display of Breed strength and savagery.
Worse than anything Rune had experienced in that hellish circle of granite and sand.
It was . . . unnaturally violent.
Rune’s question must have shown in his eyes, because when his father glanced over at him, a broad smile broke across his face.