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Authors: Debra Mullins

Tags: #Fiction, #Paranormal romance

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BOOK: Prodigal Son
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Rafe stepped in front of her. His body jerked once, then again and again as the deadly blades found their target in his flesh. Someone screamed. He staggered.

The bond between them flickered again.

“Where … are you getting … this power?” Criten panted. He narrowed his eyes, focused on Cara. “Ah.” He raised his hands.

Energy built up in the room like a static storm, making Cara’s hair stand on end, pressing against her lungs and making it hard to breathe. A panel of glass shattered in the atrium roof, raining shards down on all of them. She hunched down and covered her head as splinters sliced at her exposed arms. People cried out. The power intensified with an audible, growing hum. She looked up, shaking off the glass bits. Criten had fixated on her, his entire form glowing demonic red. The energy writhed around him like snakes. His features twisted into a sneer, his eyes narrowed on her, gleaming with glee and pure, murderous menace.

She raised her chin and stared him down.

The bond with Rafe flickered, then kicked in at full force. Energy drained from her to him in one quick flood, leaving her empty and trembling. She whimpered and slumped to the floor as the pain in her shoulder roared to life again. In front of her, she saw Rafe straighten to his full height, flex his shoulders and charge at Criten. She wanted to shout a warning to him, but her vocal cords wouldn’t work. She simply did not have the strength. She could only lie there, limp and fading, as Rafe used their combined life forces to slam his hand into Criten’s chest, sending him flying across the room. Criten hit the wall with an audible crack. His smirk faded to stunned surprise as he slid like a broken doll to the ground.

Rafe turned toward her. Took one step. Another. Stumbled. Fell to his hands and knees. Tried to rise again … and keeled over like a felled tree.

She fought to stay conscious, to make sure he was all right, but this time her body won. Exhaustion hit her like an ocean wave. Reality faded to distant sounds and cloudy images.

Then, finally, to nothing at all.

CHAPTER TWENTY-FOUR

“Today, deadbeat dads. Is this one man the father of the children of these
six
women? Stay tuned after the commercial break.”

Rafe winced at the overly loud commercial jingle that followed the words. Swallowing spitless in a desert-dry mouth, he forced his eyelids open, then groaned at the brightness of the room and shut them again.

“So, Sleeping Beauty awakes.” Darius’s voice had Rafe turning his head and squinting at his brother.

“What happened?” he managed.

“Well, first of all, let me express my delight that this time it was you who ended up in the hospital and not me.” Darius grinned. “Payback and all that.”

“Hospital?” The proof came at him in a rush: antiseptic smells, the beeping of medical machinery. The fact that his chest ached as if he’d hugged a hand grenade. That he wanted to sleep for a week.
Burnout
. “What happened to Criten? Is everyone okay?”

“Yeah, everyone’s fine.” Darius sat back with a creak of the plastic chair and turned down the sound on the TV with the remote. “You went all Roid Rage and kicked some Criten ass. No casualties, though Criten had to be taken out by ambulance. Apparently you fractured his neck, but it didn’t kill the son of a bitch.”

Rafe closed his eyes as relief swamped him. “How long?”

“How long have you been in the hospital? Two days.”

Rafe licked his dry lips. Wanted to ask about Cara. Didn’t. She was probably gone by now. Darius had said no one was hurt. So she must be okay. Probably back home in New Jersey …

“Oh, man, you’re breaking my heart.” Darius waited until Rafe opened his eyes again and looked at him. “Why don’t you just ask about her, bro?”

Rafe scowled. “Stop reading my feelings.”

“I can hardly help it. You’re shoving them in my face.” Darius shook his head and reached for the plastic pitcher on the bed tray. “I don’t know who I like better, the jerk who thought he had all the answers or the guy with the hair shirt and all the guilt.”

The sound of water being poured into a plastic cup had Rafe’s salivary glands jumping to life with painful intensity. “Bite me,” he managed.

Darius grinned and offered the water. “No way, you already have enough holes in you.”

Rafe took the water and almost dropped it. Only his brother’s steady fingers around his kept him from dumping it all over himself like a baby. He sipped, the liquid seeping into his parched mouth like ambrosia from the gods.

“Easy there.” Darius set the cup on the tray. “The nurses said the meds would make you super thirsty, but you shouldn’t go too fast.” He chuckled. “Though if you need more help, I think some of them would be happy to assist you with any number of needs.”

“No thanks.” His voice sounded raspy. He cleared his throat. “So what happened? I remember you and … well, you … telling me to go all the way Hunter. Then nothing. As usual.”

“You can say her name, you know.”

Rafe ignored him, staring at the now-muted talk show on the TV.

The silence stretched for a moment. “Well, you beat the hell out of Criten, which he deserved, by the way,” Darius said. “The ambulance took him to the hospital—”

“This hospital?” Rafe jerked his head around, and he winced as his muscles protested the movement.

“No, some private hospital. Doesn’t matter anyway. He’s gone.”

“Gone?” Rafe struggled to sit up, gritting his teeth as his battered body objected. “Gone where?”

“Beats me.” Darius reached for the bed control and eased Rafe into a better sitting position. “Dad wasn’t too pleased when we were told some government types took off with him and those bodyguards of his. Diplomatic immunity or some garbage.”

“Figures.”

“Exactly.” Darius glanced at the TV and scowled. “Two of those women are lying. He’s not the father of their kids, and they know it.”

“What? Oh, man, are you still hooked on those talk shows where everyone airs their dirty laundry?”

“Hooked is a strong word.” Darius shrugged. “I like to hone my abilities that way.”

“I think it’s just your softer side showing.”

Darius sent him a warning look. “You want to make your stay here longer, keep talking like that. Now why haven’t you asked me about—”

“So what did you do to that bodyguard?” Rafe interrupted. He knew Darius wanted to talk about Cara, but he wasn’t ready yet. Couldn’t bear to hear that she was gone.

“The bodyguard? Something I learned when I was doing all that studying about my abilities. You know, when I was researching how to heal myself?” Dar waved his hand. “Never mind. Anyway, I learned that I can augment the emotions of another person. Even overwhelm them with that emotion if I need to.”

Rafe stared at his brother. “No way.”

“Yeah, well, that guy was worried about his boss, so all I did was blow it out of proportion. Next thing I knew, he was crying like a little girl. And of course, you went all badass and did the rest of the heavy lifting.”

“And everyone is okay.”

“Yes. Though that Adrian Gray guy? He slipped out before the ambulance arrived. Something about not wanting to be there when the cops came.”

“Figures.” Rafe closed his eyes and braced himself to ask the question burning in his heart. “And Cara? What about her?”

“What about me?”

He heard her voice, and when he opened his eyes, even saw her standing in the doorway of his room with two cups of coffee in her hands. But it wasn’t until she smiled and sent a little pulse of reassurance along their bond that he realized she was truly there.

“You didn’t leave,” he said.

“Good observation.” She strolled into the room as if nothing had happened, all blond and cute and sexy in jeans and a green top. The heavy weight crushing his heart lifted. She was all right. He hadn’t killed her. She hadn’t left.

But what that meant, he had no idea.

*   *   *

She was shaking. Rafe was wrapped in bandages with an IV in his arm, and he looked a little pale. But those stunning blue eyes were open and alert and still made her weak at the knees when he looked at her. The two-days’ worth of scruff added a bad-boy attractiveness that she was trying to ignore. The man had come near death, and here she was lusting after him.

Get a hold of yourself, McGaffigan
.

She came into the room and handed one of the cups to Darius, delaying the moment of truth a few seconds longer. “Sorry, it’s not the best coffee in the world. Maybe your mom can make another donation and get a real coffee shop put in around here.”

“Maybe.” Darius set down his coffee and stood, grabbing his cane from where it leaned against the wall. “I’ll be back in a little while. I think you two need to talk.”

He lurched out of the room before either of them could respond. Cara scowled after him. So much for a buffer to help with the awkwardness. She glanced from the TV and back to Rafe. “Maury? I didn’t think you were the type.”

“Darius. It’s a thing.” He took the remote and turned off the TV. “They said you were okay. You don’t look okay.”

She stretched out her arm so he could see the healing cuts. “Just scratches mostly. Broken glass. The thing that really smarts is the burn I got on my shoulder. Nothing a bunch of gauze and antibiotic cream won’t fix, but it really hurt when it happened.” She sipped her coffee.

“How’d you get burned?” he demanded. “And what glass?”

“Long story.”

He narrowed his eyes. “I love stories.”

“Yeah, me too.”
The heck with it
. She set down her cup beside Darius’s and moved closer to the bed, curling her hand over the bed rail to resist touching him. “I especially like the fairy tale you told me about wanting to break up.”

“About that…”

“Yes?”

“I was full of it.” He took her hand and entwined their fingers, meeting her gaze with a candid vulnerability that melted her heart. “The truth is, I was scared. Ever since Darius was injured, I’ve been convinced that I’m dangerous to anyone who’s close to me.”

“No kidding.”

“Okay, well, that was why I said the things I said.” He tightened his fingers over hers, his body stiffening as if preparing for rejection. “I was trying to make you go away to keep you safe. But then all this happened. When I touched Criten, I lost my powers. And you still got hurt.”

“We took Criten down. Together.” She gave him a look. “Or are you going to pretend that whole mating bond thing doesn’t exist?”

“No, it exists. I guess it saved our butts.” He sighed and rubbed the back of her hand against his beard-roughened cheek. “But I wouldn’t blame you if you wanted to catch the first plane back to Jersey.”

“Stop trying to get rid of me. There are no guarantees, Rafe. I realized that when I thought Criten was going to kill me. And if that bond thing we have doesn’t convince you we’re meant to be together—”

“Who am I to argue?” He shook his head. “What I’m trying to say, Cara, is that I love you. I’m not perfect—”

“Really?”

“I have a temper, and I can be a jerk sometimes.”

“I may need smelling salts for the shock.”

“But no one will ever love you like I do. You’re the only woman for me. Please stay with me. Help me learn to love you like you deserve.”

She’d thought she could be strong and in control and talk rationally about their relationship, but what woman could resist such a plea? She leaned closer and brushed her lips against his. “Just try to get rid of me. We’ll compare scars some night and play twenty questions, and I’ll tell you everything that happened while you were out of touch.”

“You’d better.” He tugged on her hand. “Why don’t you climb up here with me?”

She arched back. “What? No, I’ll hurt you!”

“Come on. No one’s looking.”

“Behave yourself!”

“Don’t you love me?”

“Of course I love you—” She scowled as a wicked grin swept across his face. “That’s cheating. I had this whole speech prepared for when I told you I loved you, and now you ruined it.”

“You can still tell it to me.”

“Nope. You ruined it.”

“Come on. What were you going to say?” He lifted her hand to his lips and nibbled on her fingers.

Her pulse fluttered. “Can’t you act sick?”

“Tell me, sweetheart. You know you want to.”

She looked away from that too-seductive gaze and tried to ignore the tingling along her limbs. “It might have been something about how I called my partners and made arrangements to open an office of Apex on the West Coast.”

“That’s good.” He flicked his tongue against her palm, grinning when she gasped. “What else?”

“Um … Danny turned in the stone to your dad, and your dad is helping him get a good defense attorney.”

“Good news. What else?” He gently pulled her closer until she was bent over the bed.

“I got my condo back,” she whispered. “I’m selling it to buy controlling shares in Apex.”

“I like it.” He rubbed his nose against hers. “And?”

“I have to go back to Jersey to close the deal. You can come, and maybe we can rent a really hot car to make Warren weep with envy.”

He grinned. “Lamborghini okay?”

“Yes.” She traced his lips with one finger and looked him straight in those gorgeous blue eyes. “And I love you. I love Rafe Montana, the Hunter, all of it. I want to stay with you and stand by you while you figure all this stuff out.”

He looked hard into her eyes, and a smile crept across his face. “Truth,” he murmured, and kissed her.

AUTHOR’S NOTE

I first got the idea about the descendents of the survivors of Atlantis from a story I heard in my freshman Spanish class. My teacher spoke of Spain and specifically of the people of the Basque region, whose native tongue is unrelated to any other language on Earth. The legend goes that the Basques are actually the descendents of the survivors of Atlantis, which is why their language is so unique. I therefore used vocabulary from Euskara Batua, the standardized language of the Basque people, as the basis for my Atlantean language. Any errors in meaning are completely mine and meant in the spirit of entertainment.

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BOOK: Prodigal Son
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