Burning Skies Page 74

However, as he soaped up, the thought of resuming that part of his life emptied his chest of all feeling. He knew he was needed, but fighting like that was going to be hard for him, very hard.

He straightened his shoulders. But he would do it. Just as Endelle served in ways she hated, so would he.

Change rides in

On the galloping back of wisdom.

—Collected Proverbs, Beatrice of Fourth

Chapter 24

Havily really did want to raise her glass to Warrior Zacharius, since Thorne was making a toast in his honor, but she was trapped. “Marcus,” she whispered. “Can you let go of my arm?”

She heard the faint growl, a sound that pleased her much more than it should have, as he lessened his grip.

The moment he’d seen her dress, his gaze had landed on her cleavage and stayed there. Since then, he’d been in a state, caught between a rock and a hard place called desire and jealousy and … she loved it.

She’d definitely gotten the response she’d been looking for—Marcus had released a roll of fennel that caused her knees to shake. So at least in this she was reassured that his need for her hadn’t changed.

As for Marcus, he was the only vampire present who wore a tie. He looked sexy as hell and his clothes, so at odds with the warriors present, so much a reflection of how he’d spent the last two hundred years, gave her a measure of confidence that her conversation with Endelle had been the right one.

“To Zach,” Thorne said. “A millennium of happy returns.”

The warriors rose in his honor as well. “To Zach” reverberated around the room.

Warrior Zacharius hadn’t bound his hair but let his mass of black curls flow from his shoulders in waves. He was as tall as Marcus and heavily muscled—all the warriors were—but he had an exotic appearance that always made the ladies do a double take. Most women stared at him, trying to balance all that hair, with the body, with the large brilliant blue eyes. He had a determined wildness about him that begged a woman to just try and tame that.

As everyone sat down, he rose from his chair.

He thanked Parisa and Havily for their efforts in making his birthday special, but in his deep voice, he lifted a glass in Marcus’s direction and said, “From the brothers. We wanted to say thank you for protecting our beloved Havily. She’s been a sister to us this past century. She blesses our mornings after a night of battle, she lightens our spirits, she means the world to us. Thank you for bringing her home.” He nodded, dipped his chin, cast his gaze around the table. “To Marcus.”

Havily’s eyes burned as the warriors once more rose to their feet and lifted goblets of Medichi’s fine Cabernet. “To Marcus” went around the room.

Havily turned toward Marcus, leaned close, and kissed his cheek, which of course set the men to hooting as they took up their seats again.

Marcus stood up and settled his gaze on Luken. He raised his glass. “But neither of us would be here if it weren’t for you, Luken. You saved us both and you finished Crace off. We all owe you a debt for that. To Luken.”

Another rousing cheer went around the table.

Luken nodded but he blushed. He didn’t handle compliments all that well.

Thorne once more gained his feet and addressed Marcus. “We do have one issue we need to resolve, and here it is. We want you back, brother. Will you rejoin?”

Havily glanced at Endelle, who met her gaze. This wasn’t the timing she would have planned, but Endelle gave her a short I’ll-handle-this nod. Havily inclined her head in response but her heart rate picked up. Would Marcus understand the what and why of it?

She looked up at him, her heart in her throat. “I accept,” he said. “And of course, I’ll start tonight.”

A cheer rang through the room all over again.

This time Endelle took the floor and patted the air, indicating she wanted Thorne and Marcus to sit back down, which of course they did.

She was an amazing woman, powerful, absurdly tall in her stilettos, almost seven feet, a real Amazon. She had even toned it down for the party and wore a simple black leather vest and leather pants. The only decorations were some small red feathers that lined the low-cut V. “As for Marcus rejoining, don’t I get a say in this?”

Almost as one, they shouted, “No.” But laughter ensued.

For just this moment, Havily’s gaze rested on each warrior, astonished as she had been from the first at not just the size and musculature of the men but at the lethal quality each carried in the movements of arm and leg, of torso, even the turn of head and shift of feet. Individually, they were stunning. As a group, overwhelming.

And Endelle ruled them.

She stood at the head of the table and waited for the men to settle and for all attention to turn in her direction. At last she drew a deep breath and began, “I had it brought to my attention a couple of days ago that I was wholly and completely incompetent in my position as Supreme High Administrator. In fact the person who said this to me had the audacity to say I sucked at being an administrator.”

Though Endelle spoke with a half smile, and her words were meant to be a sort of joke, a deadly silence fell over the room. The warriors tensed. Even Marcus leaned forward.

Havily glanced at Alison, whose empathic skills were at third dimension level, but even she frowned and appeared confused, which confirmed Havily’s belief that the warriors all agreed with Endelle’s statement but were at the same time ready to go to war on her behalf against anyone disparaging her service.

Havily loved them for that. She slid her arm around Marcus’s and squeezed. He glanced at her and scowled. You’re not upset about this, he sent, almost like an accusation.

She shook her head at him.

Santiago rose to his feet, his ruby-encrusted dagger suddenly in his hand. “Name the bastard who would say this to you.”

“Well,” Endelle said. “Thank you for the warm gesture of loyalty but it isn’t necessary.” She nodded in some satisfaction. “Actually, the bastard is a she and she is sitting next to Marcus fondling his bicep.”

Havily blushed as she glanced down at her hand. Endelle was right. She had been playing with Marcus’s arm without even knowing it.

But it was the gasp among the warriors that made her pull away from him.

“Oh, for fuck’s sake,” Endelle cried. “You know I suck at my job.” She huffed a sigh. “I do, but I still needed to hear it said aloud. And I would never have considered this next course of action had it not been for Havily but she’s right. I know it in my gut. And if I’m freed up from some of the administrative work, I can start strategizing against Greaves, find some way to stop him from turning my High Administrators. As it is right now, I don’t get enough sleep and I’m so sunk in reports that I can’t see the war clear enough to figure out what we need to do next. And the Creator knows we need to do something fast. That bastard has been gaining ground steadily for the past fifteen years.”

Thorne cried out, “What the hell is this all about? What the fuck are you trying to say?”

Endelle looked straight at Marcus. “I am appointing, without reservation, Warrior Marcus as High Administrator of the Southwest Desert Territory and at the same time granting him Guardian of Ascension status.”

Silence filled the dining room for a long tense moment.

“Merde,” Jean-Pierre muttered, the first to speak.

“Holy mother of God,” Santiago cried.

Thorne turned to Marcus. “Did you know about this?”

“No,” he stated, shaking his head. He turned to Havily his eyes narrowing, his jaw rigid. “Was this your doing? Because you don’t want me fighting? I have to fight. I’m needed at the Borderlands. You know that.”

Havily knew for certain in this moment that she had erred, so gravely that she wondered if she would ever recover Marcus’s trust. She hadn’t meant for her discussion with Endelle to seem as though she was going behind his back and manipulating things just to keep her man out of the war, but so it appeared.

Her panic rose to chest level and her mind bent straight back to being in Crace’s forge. She felt trapped and weak all over again, as though she was one down in this setting and had nothing worthy to contribute.

However, as she met Marcus’s accusing gaze, as she saw the anger in his light brown eyes, that he believed she’d overstepped her bounds, she took a deep breath and lifted her chin.

Newer, stronger thoughts flowed through her mind, of the courage she had displayed over the past several days, of her mettle tested in horrific ways, of her absolute certainty that she was right in this situation. Nor was she a simple woman with selfish designs. She knew her man, she knew his abilities, and she understood the situation from an administrative point of view. If the macho warrior strain in this room wasn’t countered with rationality, the war would continue on just as it had, with determination, yes, but with Greaves gaining ground each and every day.

So she lifted a brow to him in response, rose to her feet, and met the scowls of all the warriors present. “I have something to say, and by God you’re all going to listen to me.” She turned to Marcus. “Especially you.”

Marcus crossed his arms over his chest and glared, but he gave her the courtesy of remaining silent.

Havily nodded to Endelle, and Her Supremeness returned the favor and resumed her seat.

Havily shifted to face the warriors once more. “First of all, if Warrior Marcus chooses to fight, that’s up to him. I am not nor will I ever be his keeper and I would never stand in the way of his rejoining the Warriors of the Blood if he believed he would best serve Second Earth by taking up his sword.

“But I want to remind you that war isn’t fought only with the sword, and Greaves has been undermining Madame Endelle’s administration in a host of ways. He’s steadily increased shipments of death vampires to Metro Phoenix to wear you men down, he’s seduced High Administrators around the globe into his camps because he has significant wealth at his disposal, and he knows how to work propaganda on behalf of his Coming Order like nobody’s business. And we all know the travesty that COPASS has become—and that if Greaves turns a majority of the committee members, Madame Endelle’s administration will sink.”

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