“Not anyone,” she said. “And I never would’ve expected it from you. I misjudged you when we met, and for that, I also owe you an apology.”
He cupped her nape and brought her down to him for a tender kiss. “Maybe we both were too quick to judge. When you told me you only agreed to the handfast to collect the trust from your father, I assumed you were willing to take his bribe because you wanted the money for yourself. And not that it should matter why you wanted it, but it did. Tonight at the checkpoint, I know what you did. I realized what you’ve been doing all along—using your personal funds to buy clearance for camp supplies.”
She frowned. “It’s only money. How can I keep it when those supplies mean life or death to the people who depend on me?”
“Your work obviously means a lot to you.” There was a soberness in his eyes as he studied her in the darkened tent. “You told me that night we walked in the garden that your work is a calling.”
“I did say that, yes.” It surprised her that he remembered the offhand remark.
“What did you mean, Seraphina?”
She glanced down at her hand where it rested on his chest. “When I was eighteen, I volunteered one winter at an orphanage about an hour away from our Darkhaven. My parents encouraged it, since I was orphaned as an infant too.”
Jehan made an acknowledging sound. “A lot of Breedmates find their way into Breed households as abandoned and orphaned babies or young girls.”
She nodded. She and her sister were both adopted by the Sanhajas in such a way. “I was lucky. Someone saw my birthmark and recognized that I was different. There was a place for me because of that. But there were no Breedmates in the orphanage I went to that year. Only human children. Many of them were refugees whose parents had been killed in wars or died of famine and disease.” She curled her fingers into a tight ball. “There was so much pain in that place. I felt it every time I held a crying baby or embraced one of those sweet, terrified kids.”
“You felt it,” Jehan murmured, understanding fully now. He reached up to take her hand, bringing her knuckles to his lips. “You felt their emotional pain, because, like me, you’re an empath.”
Every Breedmate, like every Breed male, was born with a unique extrasensory ability. Some were blessings, others were less of a gift. Where Jehan could register physical injuries, hers was the ability to feel emotional pain with a touch.
“I thought I could handle it,” she said. “But everything I felt stayed with me. Until my time working at the orphanage that winter, I didn’t know how to help. Now I do what I can.”
He’d gone quiet as she spoke, and Sera knew he understood. Given his own ability, Jehan probably understood her better than anyone else could.
“You’re an incredible woman, Seraphina.” He shook his head, his thumb stroking idly over her jawline. “I think I recognized that the minute we met, but I was too busy looking for reasons to dislike you. I wanted to find hidden flaws, since it was obvious I wasn’t going to find any on the outside.”
His praise warmed her. “I haven’t been able to find much fault in you either. And believe me, I tried. I called you a killer when I found out you were a warrior with the Order. That wasn’t fair. I know that now. I also thought your biggest personal flaw might be an overblown opinion of your own charms. I think you’ve proven the point tonight, though. I suppose I have to give credit where it’s due.”
He chuckled. “If what I just did with you was charming, then just wait until you see my wicked side.”
She grinned down at him. “When can I look forward to that?”
“If you’re not careful, sooner than you think.”
He grabbed her ass and gave it a playful smack. Then he tumbled her onto her back and covered her with his hard, fully aroused body. The crackling embers in his eyes promised he was about to make good on his threat right then and there.
The storm had passed some time ago.
Jehan lay on his back in the dark tent, holding Seraphina as she slept naked and draped over him in a boneless sprawl. He’d been awake for a while, listening to the calm outside and trying to convince himself that he needed to get out of bed.
As much as he hated to disturb her sleep or forfeit the pleasant feel of her resting sated in his arms, he knew he should go out and check their vehicle, make sure it wasn’t buried under a mound of sand. With the weather cleared, he was eager to get on the road.
He guessed it to be early morning, probably only two or three hours after midnight. If they didn’t delay too long, it was possible they could make it back to the villa before sunrise. Otherwise, it meant spending the day at the camp, waiting until sunset when it was safe for him to make the drive again.
And while he could think of a lot of interesting ways to pass the hours with Seraphina alone in her tent, he wasn’t ashamed to admit that he’d rather explore those options in the comfort of the villa.
Which meant getting his ass out of her bed ASAP, so he could expedite that process.
With care not to wake her, he eased himself out from under her and rolled away from the thin mattress on the floor.
Dressing quietly, he then slipped out of the tent to begin the trek toward the place he’d parked the Rover. He was the only one outside so soon after the storm. He hoofed it through the quiet camp, his boots putting fresh tracks on the sand-drifted road that cut through the center of the tents and outbuildings.
The Rover could have been worse. Sand coated the black vehicle and had blown into every crack and crevice. He dug it out and brushed it down as best he could and was just about to start it up when his preternatural hearing picked up the sound of men’s voices elsewhere in the dark. Somewhere near the main supply building.
Jehan recognized Karsten Hemmings’s dramatic tenor instantly. The other man sounded like one of the helpers who’d assisted in unloading the delivery earlier tonight.
Jehan listened, suspicion prickling his senses. On instinct, he reached into the Rover and retrieved the pair of daggers he’d stored under the driver’s seat. Although he had busted Seraphina’s pretty ass over the fact she’d brought her phone to the handfast, his breach of the terms by bringing his Order patrol blades was probably the worst of the two offenses.
Right about now, he was damn glad he had the weapons.
Tucking one into his boot and the other into the back waistband of his jeans, he stole around the rear of the tents and outbuildings, his senses trained on the pair of men. Sand sifted with their quick footsteps. Karsten issued orders to his accomplice in a low, urgent whisper.
“Pick up the pace, Massoud! My contact has been waiting on this shit for days. We’ve got less than an hour to make the drop and collect our money.”
What the hell?
Karsten’s Jeep was parked at the rear of the outbuilding. The back hatch had been swung open, while Karsten and the other camp worker were apparently loading the vehicle with crates taken out of the main supply.
Jehan crept through the shadows, peering at the contents of the Jeep while both men had gone back inside the building for more. Three crates labeled as canned meat sat in the back of the vehicle. Supplies that he and Seraphina had delivered earlier tonight.
One of the crates had been pried apart, several of the cans inside opened. An odd blue glow emanated from inside the containers.