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Today the Kallan arrived. The male who would end her life. If she didn't find a way to stop him.
Emily paced before her cottage. She couldn't wait and walked silently to the farmhouse.
On the way over, she heard the steady roar of a motorcycle as it crested the quiet hill before the farmhouse. Despite every instinct that urged flight, she advanced toward the sound. She needed to see the one who would end her life. She crept through the yard by using the thick pine trunks of the trees that flanked the drive from the cottage to the farmhouse to shield her.
Her pack had gathered on the gravel drive. With a cough, the big motorcycle's engine died and the pack drifted toward the male on the bike. Emily gave him a grim smile. Maybe the others went meekly. She'd give him the fight of his life. Her life.
He removed a gleaming black helmet. Shoulder-length dark hair fell about his head, curling at the edges. One lock of hair was pure white at his right temple. Dressed in a black leather jacket, black T-shirt and black leather pants, he looked tall and imposing even while seated.
The rider slid a firm thigh over the saddle and stood. Emily put a hand to her throat, feeling it tighten. He towered over her family. He was breathtaking, with his fine bone structure, high cheeks, full, sensual lips and determined chin. Power radiated from him, and he exuded a sense of authority.
His dress was as different as his height and muscled body. Her people wore the clothing of the Old Ones. Simple wool vests in dark green or blue, broadcloth shirts and trousers for the men. Women were always clad in long dresses, some laced up front with a full skirt and formfitting bodice. Traditional. This Kallan's leather-clad body made her feel tingly and caused wicked thoughts to race through her mind. What would he look like without the covering?
She hadn't expected him to look so sexy, so young. The Kallans of old in the Book of Records were ancients. The last Kallan had been a graybeard who wore dignified clothing, like the long emerald robes her Alpha wore at ceremonial celebrations.
Tight leather covered his long legs, molded to his bottom. A hot flush rose to Emily's cheeks as she stared at the prominent bulge between his legs. The Kallan swaggered with easy grace, gravel crunching beneath his booted feet. Never had she seen such a display of raw masculinity. He sucked up all the open space with his presence. A dangerous Draicon, formidable. Emotionless as well. Had to be, to do what he must.
A small fear shook her. He looked like a fierce hunter who would flush out prey and never stop. Any thoughts that she could outrun him, outwit him, shattered like brittle glass.
Suddenly he looked up from greeting those around him. His attention shot straight to the trees hiding her. He seemed affixed to her position as his eyes narrowed.
Her heart galloped as she stumbled backward. This was not how she would meet him. Not cowering and lurking, but chin up, face forward.
Not yet. She needed to gather the fragments of her tattered courage first. Emily slipped away, her bare feet making no noise on the soft grass.
Later, when dusk fell and shadows cloaked the land, she would march up to the farmhouse and introduce herself. Kallan or not, Raphael would never best her. She would show him.
Instead of the animosity and superior attitude Raphael expected, the Burke pack welcomed him with vigorous handshakes. Immediately he donned the unemotional mask necessary for his duty.
Amid the glad-handing and introductions, Raphael scented her. Emily, the transition.
Wildflowers, a hint of lavender. His attention whipped over to a small stand of pines. She hid behind them.
Her scent spoke volumes to him. Fear twined with anger and tremendous strength. Underlying it was a strong femininity that flooded his body with sexual heat.
Raphael stared. It must be Emily, the cursed one, but why was her presence so enticing? He scanned the Draicon around him. None seemed to sense Emily was nearby. No one acted affected. Except him.
A small nagging tugged the back of his mind. But the sweet, sensual fragrance of Emily faded. He turned on his charming smile, the one reserved for uncomfortable situations. This pack didn't seem anxious or upset as expected with his arrival.
They seemed relieved.
"Greetings, Kallan. We are most happy to have you. I will see to whatever needs you have in regards to Emily's transition." Bridget, the Alpha female, gave him a wide, welcoming smile.
This Emily. Yeah, he had need. A strong need to hunt down and flush out that alluring scent. Emily. Strong, fragrant. Not weak, as they'd told him.
Urien, the Alpha male, was short, slim, with red hair, blue eyes and a strong chin. He stared with the usual arrogant, domineering look of a purebreed. Raphael refused to lower his gaze. He fixed his coolest look on the Draicon. To his surprise, Urien glanced away and stepped back, clearly surrendering.
Most Alphas, engaged in such a bristling display of dominance, would step forward, give a small nod to acknowledge Raphael's own position of power and shake hands.
"Where's Emily?" he asked, searching their faces.
The pack shifted, shuffled their feet. "She is not welcome here," Urien said bluntly. "It's not important for you to meet her at this moment."
Raphael hid his angry bemusement. The Alpha pair refused to smooth over this very difficult time for Emily? What could be more important?
He remained silent in his disapproval as they escorted him inside. They treated him with the usual reverence, but damn, they were all so cowering, refusing to look him in the eye.
What the hell had happened here? Had the earth goddess's curse taken hold of more than the doomed Emily?
Bridget let him on a tour of the big, rambling Victorian farmhouse. She explained that the home housed the entire Burke pack but he could find no evidence of Emily.
As he followed her up the staircase, Raphael stopped. He cocked his head, listened. Silence.
"Your offspring, your young. Where are they?"
Bridget looked uncomfortable. "We have none."
"None at all?" He was incredulous.
"Our pack has lived and thrived here for decades, but breeding outside the pack and mixing the bloodlines is forbidden. As a result, our females have become barren. We have been unable to conceive for decades. Now if you'll follow me…"
"When was the last birth?" he demanded.
Panic flared in her eyes, then she glanced away. "A female, a forbidden birth, some years ago. Emily. Liam sired her on another outside the pack. Urien accepted her because Liam is his dearest brother and we needed a little one. But now Urien regrets not banishing Liam for the pack's good."
"You told me she was an elder who was glad to cross." Raphael's dismay grew. "Why did you lie?"
"It is hard for us. Emily was our hope. And now to have to sacrifice her for the good of the pack? It breaks our hearts."
"Where is her father?"
Her expression went blank. "Dead a year ago. Emily killed him. Accidentally, when she touched him."
Her own father? Pity surged through him, along with mounting suspicion. "What happened?"
"Emily had dreamed the goddess Aibelle appeared to her and said the power of life and death was within her. The next day, Emily asked her father and me what Aibelle meant. She grabbed her father's hand, squeezed it. Liam gasped and dropped to the floor. I told Emily to fetch Urien from the fields, but it was too late. By the time he returned, Liam was dead from Emily's touch. She is the one foretold by the prophecies to bring an end to our people."
Bridget wrung her hands. "You must understand how difficult this is. Urien loves Emily, but she killed Liam, and then six months later his sister, Helen. We must follow the ancient prophecies and dispatch Emily before the curse spreads. The fate of the entire Draicon race rests with you, Kallan. How many more of our people must die?"
Raphael's heart sank. "What about these ancient prophecies? I want to see them for myself."
Not that he could read them. Any knowledge he had of the Old Language he'd memorized when he became Kallan.
"It is forbidden for those outside our pack to read them, those who are not pure of the blood."
Her voice was soft and the tone apologetic, but if Bridget had spat in his face, she couldn't have insulted him more. Raphael gave her a long, cool look and they resumed the tour.
When they reached the upstairs bedrooms, Bridget opened a door to a lavish suite. "This is your room. We hope you like it."
"Where does Emily sleep?"
After some hesitation, she said Emily lived in a cottage in the woods. There were several cottages in the forest, but after Emily killed her father, everyone else moved to the farmhouse. No one wanted to be near her.
"Emily is too dangerous," she insisted. "It's best this way. Emily likes living in the woods."
Did she? He wondered if it were Emily's choice or if they forced her into it.
Raphael closed the suite door and leaned against it. He gave Bridget his most intimidating look.
"I want to stay in the cottage next to Emily."
Bridget started to protest. He remained silent. Finally, she sighed. "I'll see to it. But, be careful. She's dangerous."
"I'll deal with it." Raphael stared her down. "Now take me to my quarters."
Raphael. The powerful, mighty warrior who would kill her was named Raphael. They said he was swift, merciful and gave the person a dignified end.
His dagger was honed with magick from the Old Ones.
Those subjected to an ending by his sword were even accorded dignified names. The transitions. They transi-tioned to the Other Realm, with Raphael the Kallan aiding their journey.
Noises had drawn her to the cottage next door.
Emily stood now behind a pine tree, peering into the living-room window as she watched Raphael stretch his long body.
Fascination stole over her. Smooth tanned flesh flexed over strong biceps. Emily ducked out of sight as he turned.
Footsteps sounded inside. She peeked again. Raphael tugged his black T-shirt over his head and off. Now he stood at the bathroom door. Certainly the view was admirable. She felt a tingle rush through her body as she gazed at his body.
His fingers reached for the front of his black leather pants. Coloring, she ducked down again. When she lifted her head, sounds of the shower began.
Curiosity overwhelmed her. Emily crept around to the cottage's side. The bathrooms were designed to let in natural light and give the feeling of being outdoors while in the shower. A wall of glass looked out to a curtain of pine trees. Sneaking between the glass and the pines, she watched.
In the glassed shower, Raphael stood beneath the twin jets, his back to her. Damp, ragged black hair hung in strands to his wide shoulders. Smooth, golden flesh covered his muscled backside, and his bottom…
Emily stared at the rounded firmness of his buttocks. When he turned around, she released a startled gasp. Her shocked gaze roamed from the dark hair on his firm chest to the rippling muscles on his abdomen, down to the thick hair at his groin and the…
Her gaze whipped back up to his other end to find two dark eyes regarding her with amusement.
Emily squeaked, fleeing into the safety of her forest.
* * *
Emily was curious to see him. Well, she'd gotten a good look at him. More than an eyeful, Raphael thought with a grin.
But would she spend the next three weeks running away?
He dried off, dressed and went onto the porch. Sitting on a wood rocker, he listened to the peaceful cheep of tree frogs, the distant lowing of a cow left in a pasture. Twilight draped shadows over the stretch of grass marching down the gentle slope toward the forest.
What kind of life was it for Emily when her entire pack feared even the tread of her steps on the stairs?
Something about his charge bothered him. Not her absence. That was normal. But the feelings she evoked in him, powerful and overwhelmingly sexual. He'd never felt like this before around a transition.
His feelings were equally intense regarding her pack. Something was off, especially Bridget. He couldn't gauge them, probably because of their pure blood and lineage.
Old resentments flared, but he set them aside. He leaned back in the rocking chair. Raphael closed his eyes, scenting a delicate aroma of lavender and female. The fragrance heated his blood and he gripped the rocking chair's armrests to steel himself against sudden arousal.
"Emily, come out. I'm Raphael, the Kallan. I know you're there, watching me. I'd like to meet you. Don't be afraid."
Silence filled the air. Then a strong, sweet voice spoke into the gathering darkness.
"Afraid? You're the one who should be afraid, Raphael Robichaux."
Her voice deepened with a slight menace. "Very afraid. Because I carry death with me wherever I go. And my hands, judging from the way they are itching right now, tell me you are next."
Something tugged at his conscience. Her voice with its slight Southern accent seemed familiar. Emotions crowded him. Most overwhelming was a deep feeling of utter sorrow, as if part of his very soul were to die.
It was his distress at her youth and growing anger at her pack's deception that marred his perception. Nothing more. Raphael dismissed his inner feelings. Emotions were dangerous and clouded his judgment.
He opened his eyes, staring at the sunlit dappled oaks and maples. "Good. Then come forward. If you wish me harm, then have the courage to show yourself."
"Why should I? I've already seen you," the reply came, followed by a small sniff.
Delight filled him at her snappy attitude. "Seen a lot of me, have you? Let's look at each other face-to-face and not through the bathroom window."
Her gasp made his grin widen.
Movement snapped his attention to the left. Raphael half closed his eyes, waiting.
A figure emerged from the woods. His senses sprang to alert. The approaching female walked with quiet grace. Light from the porch showed hair the color of an angry sunset drawn up tight in a bun like the other Burke females. Damn.