Binding Ties
Page 7

 Shannon K. Butcher

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Hope smiled. “You might want to arrive a little late.”
“Why is that?”
“Joseph has a date.”
Tynan blinked. “Excuse me?”
“It’s not really a date,” said Logan.
Hope lifted her brows. “Yes, it is. Haven’t you seen the way he looks at her?”
Ah. Lyka. “But she hates him,” said Tynan.
“Hate is a strong word. And he now has something she wants. We simply gave her some pointers on how she might get it.”
“You know this will end badly, don’t you?” asked Tynan.
“It’s possible,” said Logan. “But I, for one, plan to enjoy the show.”
Chapter 3
Joseph was still in his office, working, long after sundown. He should have stopped hours ago, but his mind kept going back to Lyka, making every task he did take twice as long as necessary. Because of that, he still had hours of work left to do before he could rest.
His stomach rumbled, reminding him that he couldn’t remember the last time he’d eaten. The drawer where he usually kept snacks was empty, telling him that he’d been skipping far too many meals lately.
Not that he had much choice. There was so much to do to keep a place like this running. Even the help he had from a dozen humans wasn’t enough to keep everyone here clothed and fed. On top of that, he was fighting a war against the Synestryn, working to lead his men to where they needed to be. One wrong move on his part, and countless humans would die.
The map on the far wall reminded him of just how much ground they had left to cover. Even though they cleared the demons out of every cave they found, collapsing each behind them so no more nasties could find shelter from the sun, it was never enough. There were always more caves, always more demons to kill.
The threat that the walls here at Dabyr would be breached was a constant worry. Even though Lexi had magically reinforced the stone perimeter that kept the Synestryn at bay, she was only one woman, fueled by one man. Their combined power was formidable but not limitless.
After centuries of sterility, Theronai babies were once again being conceived. They would be born here soon, and that meant there could be no more breaches in security. More now than ever, Dabyr was a tempting target. If he were the enemy, he’d be searching for some way past the walls.
Or through them.
Explosives had been used against Dabyr before. There was no way to know just how much damage the walls would take before they buckled, even with Lexi’s efforts.
On top of that, Joseph had just learned that one of his men had been zapped away through a portal. Nicholas had seen Torr disappear with his own eyes. No one knew where he’d gone, who’d stolen him or whether he was even alive. He was completely out of reach, leaving Joseph helpless to offer any kind of assistance.
It was that sick sense of helplessness that made him wish he could be out there fighting rather than trapped behind a desk, dealing with all the things that kept hundreds of people clean, clothed, fed and protected. What he did here was important, but without some kind of physical outlet for his magic, he wasn’t going to survive much longer. The leaves on his lifemark—the living image of a tree that stretched across his chest, shoulder and down onto his thigh—were falling faster every week.
Too fast.
Once his lifemark was bare, his soul would rapidly decay, twisting him into a selfish, violent shadow of his former self. He’d end his life before it got that bad, but he knew that doing so would only leave one of his brothers in this position: burdened by duty, bound by honor and tied behind a desk with no hope of finding the woman who could save his life before he, too, succumbed to the destructive power of the magic he housed.
Joseph’s skin tingled in warning an instant before he heard the light knock on his open office door. Lyka stood there, a food tray in hand.
She was so beautiful, all golden and glowing, that he forgot to breathe.
“I didn’t see you at dinner,” she said. “I thought you might have been stuck here, working late again.”
His mouth watered, but not for anything that was on the tray. He wanted her. Bad. In that intense kind of way that would render him stupid if he wasn’t careful and completely in control of his emotions.
“Thank you,” he said, letting none of his want come through his tone. He was polite, but that was it. Calm. Cool. Not fighting a raging hard-on at all. “That was kind of you.”
She stepped over the threshold and he caught a glimpse of golden skin beneath her skirt. It was modest, falling well below her knee, but that didn’t change the fact that her legs were obviously bare beneath the fabric. He’d never seen her in anything other than long pants, so this change of attire was both surprising and ridiculously arousing. He could imagine the warmth of her skin beneath his palms if he got the chance to slide his hand over her knee and up her thigh.
Not that he’d ever indulge in such fantasies. Down that path lay one pissed-off Slayer brother with the power to inflict far too much damage. No, thank you.
“Come to bribe me with food?” he asked, teasing.
She smiled as she set the tray on the conference table that filled one side of his office. “It is steak. What else could it be but a bribe?”
“You should have opted for a salad. Way less obvious.”
“I’ve never been a subtle kind of woman.” She shrugged one slender shoulder, drawing his eye to the delicate line of her collarbones. The shirt she wore wasn’t cut low, but it did show off more skin than he’d ever seen before—smooth, golden skin that appeared too flawless to be real.
He forced his eyes up to hers before she could catch him leering.
She removed the metal covers from the plates, revealing dinner for two.
“You’re going to join me?” he asked, shocked that she’d want to be this close to him.
“I’m trying to win you over. I can’t exactly do that from my suite. Unless, of course, my absence is worth something to you?” She sounded hopeful, as if she wanted him to dismiss her.
“Not at all.” He watched as she positioned two chairs as far apart as the space would allow. “But I have to warn you that while I appreciate your efforts, I can’t be bribed. I’ll make my decision based on what I think is right, not on what you feed me.” Or what you wear.
“Would you rather I leave? I’m happy to go if you’d rather eat alone.”