Because of his turbulent childhood, Kale tries to make safe life choices. He stays by his twin’s side, serves his coven leader and never sleeps with the wrong kinds of guys…until he finds himself drawn to the most unsafe man in the world—fellow warlock Ian. Once, Ian was part of the most dreaded coven known to the supernatural world. Although he left the coven at the same time his brother and cousin did, Ian still feels as if those years surrounded by evil stole all the good from him. Many fear him, and Ian likes it that way for he never wants to be seen as weak or vulnerable. He’s confused when he falls for a quiet warlock with a noble spirit, but that doesn’t stop Ian from making a great sacrifice in order to save Kale…a sacrifice that leaves Ian weaker and more vulnerable than ever. Now, Kale must protect Ian from the enemies hunting them. As death draws closer, Kale discovers that maybe the safest choice isn’t the best. Still, will he be strong enough to save both of them, or will they become the next causality of the war.
Alone. Empty. Vulnerable. And most of all unloved. That’s not exactly how Ian had expected his life to end up. Yet, there it was, all sitting out in front of him, like some macabre buffet that nobody wanted to touch and he found himself at a loss as to how to change anything.
Sure, he’d always expected to die alone. Especially since his brother Donavan had found his mate. After all, who wanted a bitter, evil warlock hanging around to drag the mood down? While their cousin Lachlan was still there, Ian knew it was only a matter of time before the kindhearted healer found his own mate.
So yeah, there was no doubt about it. Ian was fucked. Well and truly fucked. The worst thing was, he couldn’t even find it in him to be sad about the fact.
He was sick of it all. The war…the death…the suffering…the memories…and most of all, the fucking regrets.
He rolled to his side, trying to find a comfortable position on the hard hotel mattress. It was daylight, which meant it was bedtime since part of his travel party was a vampire, but he was too jacked up to sleep.
The door opened and he knew from the sensual, musky scent that it was his friend Lilith. The succubus walked across the room, climbed into bed and began to spoon him.
Ian didn’t say anything, just continued to stare at the wall that was covered in some god-awful wallpaper. It looked like something straight out of the seventies, which was kind of fitting since that was about how old the porn was that they were offering.
“When are you going to tell them?” Lilith finally asked.
While her voice was all smoke and sex and her body was hot, there wasn’t even the slightest spark of arousal in Ian. Not that he didn’t think Lil was attractive. After all, she was a succubus and sex was what she did best.
No, it was because Ian, sap that he was, had made the most fatal mistake in his life. He’d gone and fallen in love with somebody…somebody that would never return his feelings. The saddest thing of all was that Ian had just literally sacrificed everything for the other man.
“I’m not going to tell them,” Ian replied dully.
She let out a gasp as she sat up slightly, her long blonde hair brushing against his arm. “You have to! How else are they going to know that you need protection?”
“I can handle anything that comes my way.”
“Maybe before, but not now.”
Ian sat up and instantly regretted it when the room began to spin. He took a few breaths and waited for things to stabilize before he spoke again. “I know how to fight with the best of them.”
She reached out and touched his hands. The ones that used to hum with power, but were now empty and basically useless. “Not without your magic.”
“I’ll be fine,” he insisted.
Part of him wanted to shove her away as he had with nearly everybody else in his life. Long ago, he’d made a vow never to show his weak or vulnerable side to anybody except Lachlan and Donavan. But damn it, it felt nice to take some comfort from her. Plus, his cousin and brother were hundreds of miles away. Sure, Ian could ring them up, but if either one of them found out what Ian had done, they’d flip out.
“The others on our team should at least know the kind of sacrifice you made for us,” she argued.
Ian shook his head. “I didn’t do it for them. I did it for…”
He trailed off, afraid of voicing what his true weakness was. Even though Lil was one of his oldest and most trusted friends, the past hadn’t exactly been kind to Ian. As such, he tended to keep things close to his chest.
“You did it for Kale,” she finished.
Like all succubi, she had elongated, cat-like pupils that made her penetrating gaze kind of freaky until you got to know her. It looked even stranger to see tears filling up in those peepers, too, since Lilith was usually the one causing the crying. She sure as hell wasn’t normally the one to be sobbing.
Ian nodded, not bothering to hide his feelings for Kale. As a succubus, Lilith would have already sensed Ian’s desire anyway. Taking a deep breath, he finally found the courage to ask, “I don’t suppose you ever picked up that he has any other feelings but hate for me?”
When Lilith averted her gaze, Ian had his answer and it hurt—badly. Worse than anything the Ninth had done to him and he’d lived with that hellhole of a coven for years. That was before they kindly threw him into a paranormal prison to rot for a several more.
Ian pulled his knees to his chest and let out a deep sigh. Oh well, it wasn’t like he would have done things any differently.
The instant Ian found out that Kale was going with his brother to defeat Tarick, one of the most evil, powerful warlocks ever created, Ian knew it was a suicide mission. So he did what any insane guy would do, he used Lilith to get in contact with some fire demons and make a deal. They’d come up and suck Tarick to Hell and Ian would give them all his magic.
In the end, it had left Ian exactly how he’d promised himself that he’d never be. Now, he was weak and vulnerable as fuck. Yet, he wouldn’t change it for anything. Because now, Kale was safe and that was all that mattered to Ian. If he had to die in the process, then so be it.
It wasn’t as if anybody was going to miss him anyhow. Donavan had Toby and was happily in love, while Lachlan was melding well with the new white magic coven they’d joined. Ian, on the other hand, had remained an outsider, never fully trusted or liked by their new allies. Hell, when he died, they would probably throw a happy day party to celebrate.
Lilith curled up against his side and rested her head on his shoulder. “You won’t be able to hide it from them long. I can already sense you growing weaker so it’s only going to be a matter of time before they do, too.”
Ian snorted. “Please, they’d have to look at me first. As far as they’re concerned, I’m just an unwanted piece of baggage that they have to lug around.”
“You were the one who defeated Tarick—not them. So they have to respect you a little for that.”
When she said that, Ian flashed back to the look of horror on Kale’s face when Ian had summoned the fire demons. While Kale had done a brief stint with the Ninth, too, he’d never learned to embrace the black arts like Ian had. Quite the opposite. Kale considered them vile and evil. It hurt Ian more than he liked to admit that he knew those feelings carried over to how the warlock viewed him.
“That doesn’t matter to them.” Ian gave a shrug. “Not that it changes anything. I’ll be dead soon enough. If I don’t get killed in battle, I’ll eventually get too sick to continue.”
For there had also been a nasty footnote to the deal he had made with the fire demons. Along with his magic, they also were slowly leaking away his life force. Ian figured he had a week, tops, before they sucked him dry.
He shifted a bit, wincing as the days’ old gunshot wound in his arm throbbed in pain. It had begun to heal, but now that he was basically a human in fancy wrappings, it had started to worsen. He glanced down, not surprised to see a spot of blood marring his white T-shirt.
“You better cover that up. Since Toby is a vampire, he’ll smell it right away. If he does, how will you explain it away?” Lilith asked.
Ian shrugged. “I’ll just lie and say the wound reopened while I was fighting Tarick.”
“They won’t buy that. He didn’t get a shot in on you.”
“I doubt they’ll remember that. They were all too busy picking their asses up from the ground.”
She narrowed her eyes at him. “Won’t Blaine and Kale be able to sense that your magic is gone?”
“No, that was part of the deal with the demons. They could take my magic, but they had to leave a shield up so other magics couldn’t detect it.”
She blinked, a confused expression crossing her face…a look that wasn’t exactly foreign for her. “Oh, yeah. I forgot that.”
Ian was also hoping that she forgot the part where he only had days to live. While it wasn’t something that would slip in a sane person’s head, Lilith was a bit self-centered and shallow at times, so she tended to overlook details that didn’t directly affect her.
He gently tweaked her nose. “You forget your own underwear some days.”
She gave him a smile that was all fangs and seduction. “Who says I ever forgot all those times? I just like to show off my assets sometimes. Speaking of which…I hate to bail on you, but I have to go feed.”
“Just don’t suck any humans dry. We don’t need that attention,” Ian warned, realizing he sounded just like all the goodie-good white warlocks he professed to hate.
She ran a hand up his chest. “I need sex, too.”
He gently pulled her fingers away and gave them a chaste kiss. “Sorry, sweetie. Even if I could, you’re not exactly my type.”
“I know, but you can’t blame a succubus for trying.”
The door opened and Kale walked in. The instant his dark-eyed gaze swept over the bed, Ian knew the warlock had come to the wrong conclusion. Great, just what Ian needed—more judgment coming his way.
Jaw clenched, Kale took a step back. “Sorry, I didn’t realize you were busy. I’ll find someplace else to sleep tonight.”
Lilith got out of bed and sauntered over to the door. “Don’t worry, sweetie. I’m just leaving. Ian’s too tired to play so I have to go find my fun somewhere else.”
When a flicker of alarm went over Kale’s face, Lilith let out a husky laugh. “Don’t get your white hat in a knot. There is an old friend of mine who lives nearby and he owes me a favor so I’m going to collect.”
“He’s not human, is he?” Kale asked.
“No, he’s an angel. Or at least he used to be before he got his ass kicked out of Heaven.” She made a tsking noise. “All these civil wars are really starting to become a downer. That’s the good thing about being a succubus, we’re all about love.”
Ian would believe that had he not seen her on more than one occasion, literally tear the heart out of an opponent’s chest and hand it to them.
“Sex and love aren’t the same thing,” Kale argued.
Lilith glanced over her shoulder at Ian, her red lips curving in a knowing smile. “No, they’re not. Sex never killed anybody, whereas love, on the other hand, seems to claim a new victim all the time.”
Ian curled his hand into a fist as anger slammed into him. When in the hell had she become the Gandhi of demons? If he had his magic, he would have zapped her in her pert little ass for delivering that zinger. Now, he was so weak, all he could do was give her a low growl.
She had the utter gall to give him a happy little wave. “See you in the evening. Have pleasant dreams.”
“That’s highly unlikely,” Kale muttered under his breath.
Kale shut the door behind her, then wordlessly crossed the room to the other bed while Ian covertly studied the other man. Not that he really needed to stare. Ian had long ago memorized all of Kale’s features. Damned if he could find a single flaw in them either.
From the way Kale’s chestnut hair fell slightly over his forehead, to the sensual habit he had of always licking his lips whenever nervous, everything about Kale made Ian want to moan with appreciation. Even the man’s build, tall with just the right amount of muscles, appealed to Ian. The best thing about Kale though, had to be his smile.
While Kale had never directed it Ian’s way, that still hadn’t stopped Ian from falling in love with that feature. Just the way Kale’s eyes would lighten up as his dimples flashed in a sexy way always made Ian feel a little happy—an emotion Ian usually was low on supply.
Then Kale looked up and Ian’s gut clenched when he saw the usual wariness and disdain in the other warlock’s eyes. Without meaning to, Ian glanced down at his own wrists with the bright red and black tattoos inked into his flesh. The tats represented a piece of his past that wasn’t pretty.
While Ian always lied and said he didn’t regret the time he spent with the Ninth, deep down, he hated himself for some of the things he’d done while living with that coven. Sure, it had been done out of desperation, but a part of himself still felt weak for allowing himself to be used that way. Ian would rather die before he admitted that to anyone, even his own brother.
The irony of that thought hit him and it was all he could do to hold back a bitter laugh. From the looks of it, he would be dying before he had to admit to anything. Even as he sat there, he could feel his body growing weaker.
The only thing that warmed him was the knowledge that this sacrifice was one of the few things in his life he didn’t regret. He would do anything to save Kale, even if the other man couldn’t stand to even be in the same room with Ian.
“Do you need to take a shower?” Kale grunted.
Ian shook his head. All he wanted to do was curl up under the cheap blanket and sleep for the next forty-eight hours. “Go ahead, it’s all yours.”
Kale gathered up a few items of clothing before he made his way to the bathroom. Just as he reached the door, he paused and turned back to Ian. “That spell you did, the one that called up the demons. I’ve never seen anyone wield dark magic like that. Who taught you that spell?”
While Ian could have easily lied, he cared too much about Kale to do that. He deserved to know the truth, at least in this matter. Although Ian dreaded revealing it, he knew it would only make Kale hate him all the more.
Taking a deep breath, Ian blurted, “I learned it from Tarick himself.”
The expression of pure revulsion that crossed Kale’s face felt like a lance to Ian’s heart. So much so, that Ian had to avert his gaze once more.
“Shit, I knew you were into the dark arts, but I didn’t think that even you could sink that low,” Kale breathed.
“I did what I had to in order to survive,” Ian shot back automatically, using the excuse he’d always fallen back on.
It was much better than dwelling on the real reason. That would only bring back the nightmares.
Kale shook his head before going into the bathroom and shutting the door. Soon the sound of the shower filled the room. Ian gingerly lay down on his uninjured side and pulled the covers over him.
Maybe he would get lucky and one of their enemies would get off a shot and finally finish Ian off. At that point, he’d much rather be dead than have to deal with another day of the hate.