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She was tired of having the men around her decide what she could and couldn’t do. Even her brother, who was enlightened for one of their kind, still believed in the old ways. He still believed he had a right to use her as a tool to end the war with the Theronai. He even had the gall to say she should be happy to be so useful—that she was saving the lives of their people by staying at Dabyr and behaving.
As if. Behaving wasn’t her strong suit, and he damn well knew it.
And look where it had gotten her. She’d nearly been touched tonight by a man who could uncover her secret and destroy her life. If word got out that her mother had diluted her Slayer blood by screwing one of the Athanasians, no Slayer would want her. There were strict laws about breeding among her kind, and the children resulting from unapproved unions were often shunned. Sometimes even exiled.
She couldn’t see Andreas doing that to his own sister, but it would be his right. No one would question him.
Maybe that’s what he’d been trying to achieve by sending her here. Maybe he’d intended for her parentage to be discovered so she’d stay here and he wouldn’t have to deal with her anymore. Heaven knew she hadn’t been as easy to get along with as her mother had warned her to be.
Another shiver of fear raced through her, stealing all her warmth. What if Joseph had felt that tingle, too? What if he knew what she was and was on his way here right now to demand that she give up her life and start flinging magic around like some kind of freak?
It was possible. Terrifyingly possible.
A soft knock sounded on her door. “Lyka?”
Joseph. He was here, and the only reason she could think he’d come was because he knew what she was. Her secret was out. Life as she knew it was over.
Fear expanded in her chest until there was no room left to breathe. She tried to fight it, but her mother had warned of this moment far too often for Lyka to think she’d escape unscathed.
Don’t let them know what you are, sweetheart. One of their kind will claim you and never let you go. You’ll belong to the enemy. A slave to their power. Forever.
She couldn’t let that happen. She’d seen the way Theronai women looked at their mates, dreamy-eyed and docile. They might have access to untold power, but the cost was far too high. No power was worth a lifetime of bondage to the enemy.
Lyka was a Slayer. She would always be a Slayer. No amount of tainted blood could change that.
“Are you in there?” asked Joseph. “All I want to do is talk. I won’t even step inside.”
She didn’t trust him. It was a trick to get her to open the door. He knew.
Fear grew inside her chest until it became a living, breathing beast. It trembled through her limbs and forced a sour sweat to form on her skin, making it go cold.
The animal in her reacted to that fear, rising to the fore. Her teeth and fingernails began to burn and lengthen. Even though her suite was dark, everything became as clear as day as her feline eyesight kicked in.
She could see the pale, soothing colors, along with the soft contours of the furniture her captors had provided. Small personal items dotted the space—gifts given to her to lull her into a sense of false peace.
They wanted her to trust them. Become one of them.
The taste of blood filled her mouth. The hair on her body stood on end, and a desperate growl surged up her throat.
She couldn’t let him know that she was capable of shifting. Not only was it forbidden to tell outsiders that her kind was regaining their powers, but a sudden shift toward her tiger form might also end up being her only hope. The advantage of surprise might be the only thing standing between her and death once the Theronai decided to break the tenuous peace between their peoples. When that happened, she’d be trapped with the enemy. Her hidden strength and speed might be her only means of escape.
She tried to fight the shift, but she’d never been in control of it. Her Slayer side had always come out to play at the worst possible moments.
“I’m not leaving until you at least tell me you’re okay. I can’t stand the thought that I upset you.” His voice was quiet, low, and sexy as hell. She could smell his scent leaking beneath the door, hear his strong heart beating on the other side of the wood.
She wanted to open it for him. Let him in. Taste him.
No. That was her animal side—instinct and emotion. She couldn’t let it take over, not when there was so much at stake. The animal in her would want to kill him or fuck him. Possibly both. She had to lean on her Theronai side now and use it to keep her from making a disastrous mistake.
All she had to do was let him see the ring-shaped birthmark on her arm, and he’d know exactly what she was. No more worries. No more hiding. He’d claim her for his own and end all the fear of being found out. As desperate as the Theronai men were for mates, they might not even care that her loyalty would always lie with her own people.
She scrambled away from the door and curled into the smallest space possible.
“I can hear you breathing, Lyka. I know you’re in there.”
She held her breath, but all it did was lock his scent inside her nose. She could feel it becoming a part of her, tempting her to just let go. Those sword-roughened hands of his would feel so good sliding over her naked skin. As tough as he was, he would be able to take it if she got a little carried away with her claws and teeth.
Just the thought made her moan.
“Lyka? Are you hurt?”
She ached. Wanted. Hungered.
This wasn’t normal for her, not even during a full moon. She was always a little more easily aroused during that time, but she’d never felt anything like this before.
This was what she’d heard her kind talk about. This was the need.
“That’s it,” he said. “I’m popping the electronic lock on your door if you don’t open it.”
She dug her claws into her palms, struggling for control. She closed her eyes to block out the moonlight. All her focus went into the pain until nothing else mattered. She let it consume her world, and reveled in the sharp sting.
Slowly her body eased and the storm passed. Her hair settled and lay flat once again. Her teeth and fingernails returned to normal.
She took deep breaths in an effort to calm her nerves. The next breath she pulled in smelled like Joseph—a combination of leather and steel, spring rain and lightning.
“You’re hurt,” he said, only this time his voice wasn’t muffled by wood. He was inside her dark suite, crouched less than two feet in front of her.