Unleash the Night (Page 20)

Unleash the Night (Dark-Hunter #9)(20)
Author: Sherrilyn Kenyon

And her.

Chapter 9

Wren came awake slowly to find a severe, pounding ache in his skull that seemed to be echoed in every single part of his body. His ears were buzzing as he slowly blinked open his eyes and tried to focus them.

The first thing he saw was a dark green sofa.

Where the hell am I?

Suddenly it all came rushing back. The tigers who were chasing him. The people who’d tried to trank him. The mad dash through the back alleys of New Orleans. The car that had slammed into him as he darted across the street to avoid another predator.

The impact had sent him flying into a store on Decatur Street and the ensuing pandemonium of tourists running from a snow leopard, and men with guns, had allowed him to escape his pursuers.

With no other choice, he’d gone to Maggie’s…

His tail twitched.

"Oh God."

He looked up at the startled sound of Maggie’s voice to see her standing in her kitchen, her eyes wide as she watched him. She was terrified. The pungent smell of it called out to the predator inside him.

A predator that had been tamed by her… For once, the beast within was at peace. There was no desire to attack. No desire to harm.

Instead, it wanted only to feel her warm hand in its fur…

"It’s okay, kitty," she said in that odd high-pitched voice that humans reserved for small children and pets. "Don’t eat the nice lady, okay? She’s not going to hurt you, boy. She’s only going to step over here so that you don’t pounce. Please don’t pounce."

She moved a little closer, eyeing him carefully. Her voice dropped two octaves as she spoke to him again. "Are you really in there, Wren? Do you know it’s me?"

Wren took a deep breath to brace himself for what he was about to do and flashed himself back to human form. His pain increased tenfold, but he stamped it down before it dragged him back into unconscious cat form. He focused on her. "I know it’s you, Maggie."

Marguerite swallowed in relief as she finally saw the confirmation of what she’d feared and hoped. Wren really was the cat.

Scared and nervous, she crossed the small distance where he lay facedown on the floor with one of her blankets covering his bare backside and legs. There were scratches and bites all over his back as if another kind of cat had attacked him. His blond hair fell into his eyes, obscuring them as he rose up ever so slightly in a way that reminded her of a cat stretching.

She knelt down beside him and placed a comforting hand to his bare back. He rolled over slowly, groaning softly as he moved, so that he was lying on his back, looking up at her.

Cuts and bruises marred his chest as well. There was one particularly nasty black bruise that practically covered the whole of his left rib cage. The mark rose up, high onto his chest, all the way to his heart. It had to be killing him to just breathe, and yet he bore his agony with a stoicism that astounded her.

His head resting on her pillow, he looked up at her with those searingly blue eyes. They alone betrayed the pain he was in. More than that, she saw his own fear of her rejecting him now that she knew the truth of him.

As if she would ever do such a thing.

"Don’t be afraid of me, Maggie."

She nodded as she reached to brush his soft hair back from his face. In human form, he had a bad fever. His skin was so hot and clammy that it scared her even more. There were still some cuts and bruises on his face, including one cut on his bottom lip, but they were nowhere near as bad as they’d been the night he’d showed up at her back door.

Days of lying on her floor unconscious had left him with a thick dark blond beard growing on his face. Though to be honest, it looked surprisingly good on him.

"How do you feel?" she asked.

"Like I got hit by a bus that decided to back up a few times and make sure it finished the job." He wrinkled his nose at her. "I think it must have ground its tires on my ribs during the last run. You know, just in case I might actually want to breathe again in my lifetime."

She smiled at his misplaced humor as she rested her hand on his chest. His heartbeat was strong under her hand. Grateful for that small favor, she gave a small, silent prayer of thanks. "What happened?"

Wren hesitated. She could see the debate on his handsome face as he wrestled with what to say.

"Be honest with me, Wren. I already know you’re a shape-shifter and I haven’t freaked out… much. You might as well tell me the whole thing."

He winced as if something hurt before he spoke. "Yeah, I wish I could have stayed awake long enough to see your face when I changed over."

"No, you don’t I assure you, it wasn’t pretty."

He cocked his head and took her hand into his so that he could toy with her fingers as they rested on his chest, just over his bare nipple. He rubbed her palm against his hardened nub before he lifted her hand to his chafed lips to place a tender kiss on her fingertips.

"There’s never anything about you that isn’t pretty, Maggie. You’re the most beautiful woman I’ve ever seen."

Her heart pounded at his words as heat went through her. No one had ever said anything so sweet to her before. "I knew you had a concussion."

He started to shake his head at her, but it ended up as a wince, as the gesture must have hurt him.

"So what happened?" she asked again.

"Nothing major. It’s just a group of ass**les out to kill me."

She wasn’t sure what dismayed her most, his stoic tone or the fact that his confession didn’t really come as a surprise. She’d figured as much. "Who are they?"

"Other Were-Animals."

There were more of him? She forced herself not to react to that. But to be honest, she’d assumed the ones who hurt him had been human. Given his solitary nature, it would have made sense that he was completely alone in the world.

Stupid her to not be more imaginative.

"Why are they trying to kill you?"

"Because I shouldn’t be seeing a human. We’re not supposed to have anything more than casual relationships with your kind. They’re afraid that by being with you, I’m becoming dangerous to them."

As much as she hated hearing him say "your kind," she realized for once that there really was a difference between her and him. She was human and he wasn’t.

At least not entirely.

"Are you dangerous?"

"I don’t know. You’re all I can think about. When I’m away from you, it hurts in a way I wouldn’t have thought possible and I don’t know why. I shouldn’t feel like this for a human woman. I know that. I crave being with you so much that it’s like some kind of madness inside me. Maybe they’re right. Maybe I should be put down."

"Or maybe they’re wrong. I don’t think you’re dangerous, Wren. At least not physically. But what you do to my body might be considered criminal in some states."

He offered her a smile. "Thanks for taking me in and not calling the cops."

"No problem. Believe me, letting a gorgeous nak*d man into the house isn’t a hardship for most women."

He gave a short laugh at that. "I can’t believe how well you’re taking all this."

"That’s only because you were unconscious for the worst of it. I’ve had enough time to adjust to the fact that there was a half-dead tigard on my floor that had come into my house in the guise of my boyfriend."

Wren still found it hard to believe how calm she was. He’d expected her to flee and leave him alone at the very best. At the worst, he’d expected her to turn him over to the authorities.

Normally, he would have never trusted anyone with his well-being. But with the trank taking effect, he’d had no choice except to hope that Maggie wouldn’t betray him.

And she hadn’t. She’d kept him safe, and from the looks of the makeshift pallet he was on, she’d tended to him while he was out.

As Wren started to sit up, she helped him. Her hands felt good on his nak*d skin, soothing as he leaned back against her couch. He would give anything to keep those precious hands on his body, but unfortunately, she pulled back.

"How long have I been out?"

"Four days."

He froze at her words. That couldn’t be right. Could it? "What?"

She nodded. "I told you, I had ample time to get used to you being a big cat. I’ve been terrified every day that you wouldn’t wake back up."

Terror consumed him. If she’d left her house…

It was a thousand wonders that the ones after him hadn’t already found them both and killed them. "What have you been doing while I was out of it?"

She indicated a small pallet on the floor beside him.

"I stayed close by in case you needed something. All I did was clean the blood off the back porch, then I locked the house down. I didn’t know who was after you, but I was afraid that whoever they were, they might find you, so I kept the phone ready to call for help if they did."

Tenderness flooded him over her actions. It was unthinkable that someone would do all that for him. Not once in his life had anyone ever sought to protect him. He’d never had any delusions about Nicolette. Had he ever done anything to endanger her life or those of her family members, she’d have tossed him out in a heartbeat.

But Maggie hadn’t. She owed him nothing and yet she had kept him safe even though it endangered her own life. It was inconceivable.

He let out a relieved breath that she’d had the good sense to stay put. "Has anyone else come by?"

"No. I kept the windows and doors shut tight, just in case."

He was amazed they hadn’t found him, but then again, unconscious, he hadn’t been putting off his scent or a trail. He had to be careful now. His kind would be sending out psychic feelers. If he used his magic, such as he was doing right now to remain human, they could find him.

Closing his eyes, he masked his powers. But he wouldn’t be able to do that long before it weakened him even more.

Sooner or later, he’d have to leave a trail that they could very easily trace.

"We have to get out of here ASAP."

She looked confused by that "Why? I have plenty of groceries."

"I can’t let them find me in your house, Maggie. There’s no telling what they might do to you."

"I’m a big girl, Wren. And I have a mighty big gun, fully loaded."

He scoffed at her bravado. "If you think back to the night we met when I got shot, you’ll remember that guns aren’t real effective on us. At least not unless you shoot us in the head at very close range."

She twisted up her face in disgust.

"Yeah," he breathed. "Like I said, we need to go."

Marguerite didn’t know what to say. She didn’t want him to leave. "How many more are there like you?"

"Enough to make the cast of a Cecil B. DeMille film look like a two-man opera." He reached up and cupped her cheek in his palm. "They’ll be coming for me, Maggie, and they won’t stop until I’m dead. You’ve been to Sanctuary and they know it. Sooner or later, they will find you if I leave you behind. They’ll use you to get to me."

Her head swam at what he was saying. "I can’t leave. I’ve got school. Responsibilities…"

"You can’t go to school if you’re dead."

She began to panic as the true horror of her situation dawned on her.

This couldn’t be happening.

"I’ll go to my father. He can protect us."

Wren vanished from in front of her. Two seconds later, he was behind her. "He can’t protect you from my people," he whispered against her ear.

"How did you do that?" she asked, unable to believe the extent of his abilities.

"It’s easy. My people can travel through time and they can use magic at will. There’s no human on this earth who can keep you safe from them. Trust me."

Anger welled up inside her at what he was saying. She felt powerless, and that was the one thing she hated most of all. She was a grown woman in charge of her own life, and she didn’t like the thought of having no way to protect herself. There had to be something they could do.

"If I can’t use a gun to protect me and we can’t hide, then what are we supposed to do? Am I supposed to give up my entire life because I slept with you?"

Wren pulled back at her words, which struck him like a physical blow. She was right. He was asking too much of her. It wasn’t fair. Why should he expect her to sacrifice the rest of her life for him?

It was too much to ask of anyone. Not to mention she’d had a life that had been perfect until he’d entered it. No, she didn’t need something like him screwing up her future. He’d never brought happiness or joy to anyone. She’d been one of only a very small handful of people who’d ever really been nice to him. He wouldn’t pay her back by hurting her.

There was only one way to settle this-

Marguerite frowned as Wren kissed her lips tenderly.

"I’m sorry I f**ked up your life, Maggie," he said in a low tone as he pulled back to stare down at her. His eyes burned her with their sad resignation.

With regret.

He stroked her cheek with his fingers as he stared at her as if trying to commit her features to memory.

Then two seconds later, he vanished from in front of her.

The heat from his hand still lingered on her cheek while the rest of her felt cold from his sudden absence.

"Wren?" she called, looking around the room for him. Surely he would pop right back like he’d done a minute ago… wouldn’t he?