For how long they stayed like this, she didn’t know. But when she managed to lift her eyelids, she saw that dawn had broken, the sun rising above a cloudless forest. She could hear gul s and waves. They must be close to the shore.
"Never lettin’ you go, woman." He ran his cheek against hers. "Love you. "
And still Declan remained, his memories foremost. Which was good. Because she was in love with Declan Chase. I want my Irishman.
Had the sand in the hourglass started to flow?
He drew back his head, wrapping the crook of his arm around her neck. Gazing down at her with fierce gray eyes, he said, "You belong to me, lass. It will always be you."
It will always be me-but will it ever be you? The stark light of day fil ed her with dread. What have I done? She’d talked herself into believing this time would be different. She should have fought him harder.
But she’d been so desperate to love him.
Some things might have changed with this reincarnation, but the end result would be the same. Four times before, the man she’d made love to had been dead within hours. Those four times, her body had still borne the marks of his abandoned lovemaking-when his body had gone to the grave.
She shuddered. Ah, gods, how could I have? Chase would die; the hourglass would empty. And this time, she wouldn’t survive losing him.
When her tears well ed, his eyes went wide. "No, what’s this? Shh, baby, please do no’ cry."
As tears tracked down her face, she stared beyond him, awash in dread. The brief show of sunlight surrendered to gray. Rain misted once more.
"Lass, talk to me. You ken that I don’t like it when you’re quiet. This is because of the curse?" He petted her hair, rocking her. "I’m not goin’ anywhere. Nothing will separate us again. Wouldn’t I sense it if the end was near? I’ve never been more at peace in my entire life. It’s … pure peace, Regin."
With an angry shove, she clambered off him, disentangling herself from his body. "What about me? What about my peace?" She swayed on her feet as realization hit her. Aidan had never been the one cursed.
Regin was the one left to suffer, to mourn. To forever know what I’m missing.
She col ected her sodden jeans, dragging them on, then donned her shirt. "When you die this time, Chase, I don’t want you to come back."
"What?" He shot to his feet, stabbing his legs into his own pants. "What are you talkin’ about? Look at me! Why won’t you look at me? Christ, Regin, you’re actin’ like I’m dead already."
She swiped her forearm over her face. "Because you’re as good as."
Declan had never seen her like this. Her eyes were ful y silver, but there was no spark in them. She wouldn’t look at him. As if she couldn’t.
Just moments before, he’d felt more centered and at peace with himself than ever before; now she was steeped in misery.
"We need to get to the boat," Regin said distantly. "We’re running out of time."
"You don’t want me to come back because I’m no’ the Aidan you knew?" She’d expected her man to return, to supplant Declan. She’d longed for Aidan for two centuries.
How could she not be devastated? "I don’t know why I’m still here. Maybe I did something wrong, f**ked up the cycle." Because he was definitely still … Declan. "I have Aidan’s memories, but they’re distant, like the dreams I had." Somehow, it feels like I came first.
"Exactly, Chase." In a deadened tone, she said, "I don’t want you to come back because you’re a scarred, f**ked-up Celt."
His lips parted. Never had a shot with her, not as myself. He ran a palm over his ruined skin, whipped with defeat, wanting to howl his frustration. What to say to her? I don’t want to look like this. Don’t want to be like this-
"And I never wanted Aidan," she whispered, "like I want you."
He’d misheard her. "I don’t understand, lass." She couldn’t have chosen him over the perfect Viking.
"I can’t lose you again. For a thousand years, it’s been all about your struggle, your return! But each time, you leave me as col ateral damage. The centuries of waiting, the loneliness, and then that ridiculous flare of hope when I find you again. Though I know how it’s going to end-with me shattered." Rain began to pour. "You’re going to die, Chase. Soon. There’s nothing I can do to prevent it. I know because I’ve tried over and over. And if you care about me at all , you won’t do this to me again. Don’t come back."
"Regin, just wait."
"I had it wrong all along. I’m not your doom, Chase. You’re mine-"
A jet screamed overhead.
They met gazes. "Move your arse, woman!" Declan snatched her hand, yanking her along toward the cove.
As they sprinted closer to the shore, they heard Thad yel , "Regin, is that you?"
"We’re coming," she cried.
They charged out from under the trees. Natalya, Brandr, and Thad stood before the boat house. But beneath it, the berth was … empty.
Natalya’s face was pinched. "Somebody gacked our vessel."
Declan shoved his fingers through his hair. "Damn Lothaire! He took it!"
"I’m right here, Blademan." The vampire stood off to one side in the shade of the forest, casually leaning his shoulder against a tree trunk.
"Then who took my f**kin’ boat?"
"Your guess is as good as mine. They swooped in while we fought the Pravus."
"No one knew about this place!"
More jets shot past overhead, fol owed by a distinctive whistling sound. Payload deployed.
"Take cover!" Declan tackled Regin back under the trees, shielding her with his body. Everyone hit the ground, except for Lothaire, who yawned.
Beneath Declan, Regin snapped, "You’re covering me? You’re the mortal-"
Explosions rocked the quiet morning, deafening waves of sound close by. But there was no shaking earth, no trees fel ed. Instead, ash and grit began to fal , blanketing the beach with the steady downpour.
The jets-and their bombs-had blown up in the sky.
Declan lurched to his feet, helping Regin up.
"Chase, what just happened?"
As he and Regin gazed up in bewilderment, he mumbled, "I do no’ know-"
A force slammed into his back; unimaginable pain seared through him.
The bite of metal.
He bel owed in agony, shoving Regin from harm’s way. …
Chase’s shove sent Regin sprawling to the ground. As she whirled around, her mind struggled to process the wet sound of steel through flesh. She scrambled to her feet, gaping in disbelief.