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She looked at her hands, realizing just how deep the wounds went. “I’ll be fine in a minute. I just need to wash the blood away.”
He held out his hand. “Can I help you up?”
She looked at his wide palm, easily twice the size of hers. Scars crossed his skin as proof of the battles he’d survived. Pads of rough flesh showed evidence of his work with a sword. He didn’t reach for her or try to hurry her. Instead he stood there, patiently waiting for her decision.
She’d never wanted to feel a man’s hand wrap around hers before. And she’d sure as hell never wanted to accept an offer for help. She didn’t need help. From anyone.
Why, then, was she so desperate to feel his fingers wrap around hers now, when she knew how high the stakes were?
“I won’t hurt you,” he said, his tone the same one he reserved for speaking to frightened children.
Lyka shoved herself up with her legs, using the wall at her back to support her. She didn’t want him to know just how unsteady she was on her feet, how much his presence had affected her. The second she could, she turned her back on him and inched into the kitchen to wash the blood from her palms. Her skin had already begun healing, thanks to her Slayer genetics.
“How did you get hurt?” he asked from behind her.
“You don’t want to tell me? That’s fine. But keep in mind that it’s my duty to see to your safety for as long as you’re in my care. If I think you’re at risk of getting hurt again, I may have to assign one of my men to guard you.”
The idea turned her stomach. The last thing she needed was some brooding Theronai all up in her business. “No, thank you.”
“I wasn’t asking for your permission. Tell me what happened.”
Her chin lifted in defiance. “It’s none of your business.”
Joseph started typing on his phone.
“What are you doing?” she asked.
“Texting Morgan Valens to come and guard you against further injury. You won’t so much as get a hangnail while that man is glued to your side.”
She barely resisted the urge to grab the phone away and smash it into a wall. “You have no right to treat me like a child.”
He gave her a level stare. “I have every right to see to your safety. If I don’t make sure you stay in one piece, then how can I expect your brother to do the same with my daughter? He holds her life in his hands. I didn’t want things to turn out that way, but, like you, I wasn’t given much choice. We’re both just going to learn how to deal.” He paused with his finger over his phone, presumably about to send the text that would end her last shred of privacy.
What did it matter if she told him what had happened to her? Slayers were private people in general, choosing to keep to themselves, but if outing a few family secrets was going to help sell him on leaving her alone, then it was worth it. Besides, it was Andreas’s rule about not spilling the beans on her ability to shift. If he hadn’t wanted her to give away family secrets, then he shouldn’t have sent her into their enemy’s hands. She had to survive here. If that meant breaking one of Andreas’s precious rules, then so be it.
She let out a long sigh, wondering how Joseph was going to make her regret what she was about to divulge. “I assume you’re aware that we Slayers have been breeding with humans for enough generations to weaken the gene pool?”
“Yes. Andreas has put a stop to that, from what I understand. He placed strict laws around breeding.”
She didn’t comment on that. Better to stick to what was already public knowledge. “Centuries ago, Slayers could all shift into their animal form. Now . . . not so much.”
“That’s one of the reasons Andreas wanted the treaty. He needs the help of the Theronai and Sanguinar to help protect those of your kind who are too weak to defend themselves.”
“Even the wimpiest of our kind could kick your ass in a fair fight all day long, so don’t go getting a big head.”
He held up his big hands. “Wouldn’t dream of it. But how does that explain what happened to your palms?”
“My family comes from a long line of purists. Andreas’s father and my mother didn’t have their bloodlines diluted as much as most of the others.” It was more her mother than his father, but her stepfather always claimed all the credit for winning the genetic lottery.
“So, you can shift?” Joseph asked, sounding impressed.
“-Ish. I don’t go all the way, and I have absolutely no control over it, but yeah. I can shift—just enough to get me into trouble, mostly.”
“And that’s what happened now?”
He took a step toward her, and his arm twitched like he was going to reach for her hands. He stopped himself. “Does it hurt?”
She hadn’t felt a thing since his scent had invaded her head. Whatever cologne he was wearing was lovely, powerful stuff. “I’m fine.”
“I could get one of the Sanguinar to look at your hands.”
“No,” she said too fast. “I mean, no sense in bothering them. I really am fine. Speedy healing, remember?”
He stared at her for a long minute. His hazel eyes surveyed her as if he was taking mental notes of her condition. She squirmed under his scrutiny, but even as she did, her skin began to warm and tingle.
This man wreaked havoc on her peace of mind. He was dangerous in the same way that playing with matches near broken gas lines was. One false move, and she knew everything she’d worked to protect would go up in flames. Kaboom.
“It’s late,” she said. “I really should go to bed.”
His pupils flared wide at her statement. She could smell a faint thread of lust trailing from him.
He wanted her.
Some deep, primal part of her woke up and stretched. A slow, steady burn started low in her belly and began to spread.
Lyka stumbled away from him, nearly falling over her own feet. “You should go now.”
His mouth flattened and his wide shoulders seemed to droop. “Are you sure you don’t need a guardian to keep you from hurting yourself?”