Ian’s mind raced, discarding one half-formed idea after another as Hamish and Sawyer smoked their cigarettes and peppered him with questions about his training.
Ian was surprised by how much Boone had told them. At least he assumed it was Boone. It was hard to imagine King finding Ian important enough to talk about to his friends, or associates, or whatever Sawyer and Hamish really were.
Ian thought he understood when they latched on to his trainer. Under any other circumstances Ian would have found their fangirling funny and ribbed Conrad about it later. Right now it was just annoying. They wanted to know everything: What age did Ian begin his training with Conrad? How many hours a day did Conrad train him? What weapons did Ian train with? Did Conrad train him in wolf form, as well as human? And so on until Ian was gnashing his teeth in frustration.
“I still can’t believe your trainer is Conrad fucking Slater.” Sawyer’s voice was almost reverent. “I saw him take down Jimmy Evans in the USFC heavyweights what, five, six years ago...?” The Ultimate Shifter Fighting Championship was twice as brutal and ruthless as the human version it was modelled after.
“Five,” Hamish confirmed. “Evans shifted before the whistle. Slater ripped that fucker’s jaws apart in human form. Never seen anything like it.”
“Best fight I ever saw,” Sawyer had finished his first cigarette and was now lighting another. More stalling.
Ian bit back a curse and jammed his hands into his pockets to hide his angry fists. They’d ignored or talked over every attempt he made to excuse himself. Enough of this shit. He turned to Hamish, still positioned in front of the door.
“I have to go,” Ian said abruptly. “You guys come in when you’re ready.”
“You should stay out here,” Hamish said mildly. It wasn’t a suggestion.
Ian met his gaze, then Sawyer’s, in mutual understanding. They weren’t going to let him back in. Ian swallowed hard. It was one thing to be sure of something, another thing to have it actually confirmed.
Ian? Serafina’s voice suddenly filled his mind. I thought you were coming? What’s taking so long? Ian’s heart lurched at the tears in her voice. She was scared. She needed him. And he needed to be there for her. Now. Before the service. Before it got dark.
Ian clenched his teeth with determination. “I need to go back in.”
Sawyer got straight to the point. “King doesn’t want you there.”
Ian felt a flare of primitive rage. “King doesn’t get to decide that.”
Hamish shook his head. “King gets to decide whatever the fuck he wants, kid,” he said, not unkindly. “You’ve known him your whole life and haven’t figured that out yet?”
“I’m the Guardian to the White Goddess.” Ian’s wolf, who never came up unless he shifted, was pacing an angry rhythm inside him. “I answer to her and the Church Elders.”
“You’re a wolf without a pack,” Sawyer said flatly. “That means you answer to the Rogue King.”
The Rogue King. The words dropped like stones between them. His wolf was unfazed but Ian couldn’t hide his shock, even as he mocked himself for it. He’d heard stories from Conrad and Elder Macklin about the ruthless Rogue King, whose human wealth and Alpha strength and power of command allowed him to rule a network of packless wolf communities across the Empire. A profile that fit Lucifer King perfectly. How had he never made the connection?
He was an idiot, that’s how. A clueless idiot. Ian grit his teeth against a rush of despair. If he had figured things out earlier, he could have gotten Serafina away. They could have disappeared from the festival grounds among the crowds of outsiders. Now look where they were. Everything that was going on had suddenly become a hundred times worse.
Ian? Serafina’s voice piped up again. Something weird’s going on.
He still hadn’t answered her. He couldn’t. He had to pull himself together. Fuck despair. Okay, sure. The rich, powerful shifter and newly outed perv obsessed with Serafina turned out to be one of the most dangerous wolves in the Empire. Who she was alone with right now.
So what was he going to do about it?
Ian? Serafina prodded when he didn’t reply. Where are you?
Ian’s wolf rumbled a low, angry growl in his chest. His wolf didn’t care who King was, or that Hamish and Sawyer were each nearly twice Ian’s size. Serafina needed him. Needed them.
“Look, Ian...” Hamish began in a reasonable tone that infuriated him. “I can see you gearing up to do something stupid. You’re loyal and committed to your mission. That’s good. But you need to use your head right now. This is bigger than you. Bigger than all of us.”
“Just like King,” Sawyer joked, grinning through a long stream of smoke. Ian had never wanted to punch someone in the face so badly.
“Fuck King.” Ian braced himself as Sawyer growled and took a threatening step forward.
“Sawyer!” Hamish barked, stopping the other man short. Turning to Ian, Hamish narrowed his eyes. “I know you’re upset, so I’m going to pretend you didn’t say that.” His tone softened as he went on. “Bottom line, you’re not getting in there. Your job is done.”
Never! his wolf growled furiously. Ian almost shook with the force of its rage.
“Your White Goddess is fine,” Hamish continued obliviously. “If you can keep your cool, you’ll get to see her after the service before they head out.”
‘They’ being King and Serafina. Heading out alone, together. Without him. No. No. No, no, no. Ian shook his head unconsciously and kept shaking it.
Sawyer flicked his cigarette butt into the garden. “You didn’t think you were going along on their honeymoon?” His tone was mocking.
Bile rose in Ian’s throat. He swallowed hard, his heart pounding with his wolf’s in a steady, synchronized rhythm.
“It’s a new life for you, too.” Hamish’s voice dimmed against the dull roar filling Ian’s ears. “I run a training academy for rogues back in Oregon. You have the makings of a great warrior.”
They want to separate us, Ian’s wolf snarled furiously. It was almost dark now and the moon hung low and full above the cliffs, glowing dimly in the half-light. Kill them! his wolf demanded.
Ian’s chest rose and fell, his canines throbbing and lengthening beneath his gums. This was it. This was what he’d trained for, what he had spent his whole life preparing and waiting for. Every muscle, every tendon inside him vibrated with the need to go to Serafina. Protect her. Take her away.
Sawyer bent his head and lit cigarette number three. “Great warriors know when the fight is ov—”
His words cut off with a howl of shock and pain as Ian’s wolf burst free, shifting mid-leap and tearing Saywer’s throat out with a roar.
The fight wasn’t over yet, but it would be soon. No one was taking them away from Serafina. No one. Not even the Rogue King.
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