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Katies hellion (rhyn tri.., p.27
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       Katie's Hellion (Rhyn Trilogy, Book One), p.27

           Lizzy Ford
 
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  Katie was thinking of how much whiskey it’d take to dull the edge of her headache when the phone rang. Irritated, she would’ve ignored it if not for Toby, who snatched it in excitement.

  "What’re you doing?" Toby yelled into the phone.

  She looked at him. In four hundred thousand years, he hadn’t learned to answer a phone right? He carried on a conversation for a few minutes, and she rested her head back, staring at the ceiling.

  Though she hated to admit it, she’d hoped Rhyn was calling. Her heart leapt then dropped to her feet when she realized a man like that didn’t call. He’d just appear whenever he felt like it. If he ever felt like it. If he cared AT ALL that his blood monkey and mate had been totally abused. Again.

  "It’s for you!" Toby called, holding out the phone. Katie took it. "It’s Auntie Hannah!"

  "Heya, Katherine."

  The sound of her sister’s voice made Katie’s throat tighten. She’d never been truly happy to talk to her.

  "Heya, Hannah."

  "Toby said you’ve been under the weather. You’re interested in coming to see me for a few days?"

  Katie glared at Toby at the skeptical note in Hannah’s voice.

  "Gabriel said--" Toby started in a loud whisper.

  "I would," Katie replied. "Been having a rough time on my…medications or whatever."

  "Oh, I understand. Will Toby come?"

  "No, he’ll be with a friend," Katie replied.

  "I’ll send a car to get you!"

  "Thanks. You spending the weekend with your…friends?"

  "Don’t start, Katherine. I know you don’t like them," Hannah warned.

  "Hate them, actually."

  "You’ll get used to them. Maybe one day they’ll rub off on you, help you get a decent man."

  Katie touched her throat. Decent wasn’t the word she’d ever use for Rhyn. Her sister would have a heart attack once she saw the tattoo and found out she’d basically married the type of man Hannah’d always warned her about.

  "Will you be ready in an hour?" Hannah asked.

  "Sure."

  "See you soon!"

  Katie clicked the phone off and looked at the five-year-old doing wind sprints across her apartment. She waited for him to finish before crossing to her room to change. The effort of a shower left her even more exhausted. She dressed comfortably and packed her overnight bag, then searched the room, certain she was forgetting something.

  "He’s not in the closet," Toby said, then laughed.

  She rolled her eyes at him and snatched her stuff before leaving her apartment for the sidewalk in front of her building. She waited in the cold winter day until the familiar Lincoln Town Car arrived. She dozed in the car during the forty-five-minute drive to coastal Maryland, where her sister’s fiancé owned a mansion secreted behind towering shrubbery and a gate that swung open to welcome her.

  Her sister waited in the reception parlor, sipping tea and flipping through a magazine. She looked as healthy as Katie didn’t feel. Hannah looked up as the butler let her in, her smile turning to a frown.

  "You look ghastly," she said. "How long have you been…"

  Too late, Katie realized she’d not thought to wear a scarf. Hannah’s eyes widened, and she rose, angling her past the butler and a maid dusting a painting to the second floor. She closed the door behind them in the massive bedchamber that was hers and whirled.

  "You know how trashy tattoos make women look? Why on earth…Gio will be so angry!"

  "I don’t care what your man thinks," Katie replied, agitated already. "I had it done in Ireland. It’s some sort of Celtic…thing."

  "What’s a rhyn?"

  "I’m not having a good turn, sis. Can we please just…do something?"

  "The girls and I are going to brunch."

  Katie didn’t bother hiding her grimace. Hannah rolled her eyes and looked her over. Her gaze lingered on Katie’s face, which Katie knew was pale. It was this that saved her from some snide comment about her less-than-fashionable clothes. Hannah gathered her things and led her down to a warm, waiting car. Katie pretended to listen as Hannah discussed the Paris fashion show she’d attended and the month in Monte Carlo she’d spend in January to escape the coldest weather.

  Katie watched the world go by as they drove, half-listening to Hannah’s chatter. The grey skies of winter and grey cement of the city depressed her. This place had nothing to the castle in the Alps, though she never wanted to go back.

  In fact, the normal world--while comforting--seemed a bit boring after her trauma. She relaxed and sank into the soft leather seats of the Town Car, telling herself she was being granted a chance to be normal. She didn’t doubt that the only creature Rhyn would listen to was Gabriel, and that Gabriel had told him to leave her be. She was grateful.

  Sorta. Part of her ached with loneliness even her sister’s presence did nothing to help.

  They reached the trendy teahouse in the wealthy section of DC, Hannah still talking about Paris fashions. Katie trailed her into the stately Georgian mansion and glanced down as the polished wood beneath her feet creaked. A butler took her coat. She forced herself not to cover her tattoo with her hands as she followed her sister to the second floor, where the private rooms were.

  Hannah warmly greeted her friends, four coiffed women in expensive clothing with diamonds the size of her thumbnail on their ring fingers. Most wore trendy boots and coats, sat in designer jeans and sweaters worth a month of her salary, and wore make-up that coordinated perfectly with their expensive clothing and hair.

  Katie felt frumpy the moment she stepped into the room. The women--even if not beautiful--were dressed beautifully.

  "I think you all remember my sister, Katherine?" Hannah said, fully knowing they did. "She just returned from a trip to Ireland, where she got her tribal tattoo. She’s a bit jet-lagged though."

  Katie bit her tongue. Hannah was apologizing for her pale features and dark-rimmed eyes. The four women looked at her, one gasping as her gaze fell to the tattoo and another paling, while the other two looked down their noses at her.

  As usual. She’d shocked them all. Hannah sat and began talking about Paris again to an audience eager to hear her.

  Except for the one who’d gasped, Molly, the half-Asian, half-Italian with beautiful coffee eyes and olive skin. She was tall and willowy, a former model that’d made it big. Her gaze stayed on Katie’s neck until one of the others addressed her.

  Katie wondered if she’d shocked her that badly or if there was some other reason Molly was so surprised. She knew very little of Hannah’s friends, except they were all richer than sin.

  "What took you to Ireland this time of year?" Molly asked.

  It took her a moment to realize one of them had addressed her. It wasn’t normal for them to acknowledge her existence, let alone address her.

  "Sightseeing," she managed, unable to think of any other excuse.

  Molly appeared skeptical while the others exchanged knowing looks with each other. Another wild adventure by the black sheep of a sister that was dear Hannah’s. She’d heard them say it.

  "It’s an interesting tattoo," another said with forced interest. "What does Rhyn mean in Gaelic?"

  "Nothing, I don’t think," she responded.

  "Is it Old French or English?" another asked.

  "No," Katie said. She glanced at her sister, who seemed interested as well.

  "What is it?" Hannah pushed.

  "It’s a name," Molly said.

  Katie met her gaze. Amusement was deep in Molly’s gaze, though she made no effort to come to her rescue.

  "Oooooh, you had some sort of fling over there, didn’t you?" one asked, interested for the first time.

  "Not exactly." Katie sipped her tea, hot from head to toe. Sensing some sort of lurid story, all five of them waited for her to speak. "I actually got married while there."

  "No!" Hannah exclaimed.

  All four women gasped in unison.

  At the end
of her patience, Katie rose. "Going to the little girl’s room." And she marched off, chest tight.

  It was not the relaxing day she’d hoped for. She sat on a couch inside the gold lacquered bathroom, rubbing her face. She ignored the door opening until someone spoke to her.

  "You’re that new, aren’t you?"

  She looked up at Molly’s voice. The svelte model wore towering boots and a one-piece cat suit that left nothing to the imagination. Molly rolled one legging up to display a tattoo similar to the tattoo around Katie’s neck. It read Fendril, apparently the name of Molly’s mate. She replaced the legging and perched delicately on the loveseat beside Katie. Molly dug through her purse to retrieved a familiar brownish cube, like the ones Katie’d eaten to stay alive in Hell.

  Shocked, Katie hesitated and then took it, the sugary taste soothing her headache as she swallowed.

  "Your Ancient drew too much too fast," Molly said. "He needs to learn some control. It’s worse than a hangover."

  "He’s always gentle," Katie replied. "For whatever reason, people like to attack me."

  "The first Ancient to take a mate," Molly said with both awe and disappointment in her tone. She offered Katie a food and water cube, both of which lessened the pain throbbing through her. "Rhyn? Isn’t he in Hell for trying to wipe out mankind?"

  Katie sighed.

  "I didn’t have much of a choice, either," Molly admitted. "I’m among the youngest of the immortals’ mates, only a hundred years old. They allow us to lead as normal of a life as possible. You’ll find your mate will move around a lot, but you can still make friends wherever you go, and immortals’ mates are an amazing group. It’s an incredible life! You must be thrilled."

  "No."

  "Well, it does take some getting used to. It’s an honor to be among the first to welcome you officially to the family."

  Katie glanced up, surprised to see Molly was genuinely smiling. The beautiful woman pulled a card from her small purse and handed it to her.

  "You’re always welcome to call me, and I hope you think of me when you’re prepping for the Spring Gala."

  Molly rose and left. Katie watched her go, feeling better with the otherworldly sustenance in her system. She composed herself and psyched herself up for a day of shopping, awkward questions about Rhyn, and Hannah’s flaky friends.

  Hours later, Katie dropped onto the plush guest bed, clad in a T-shirt and underwear after a hot shower. She was barely on her feet and debated whether or not she’d get up to turn off the light or fall asleep right there.

  A touch of coldness made the hair on the back of her neck rise, and she sat up, fearful Kris or Sasha had come for her. Rhyn emerged from the shadows near the window, dressed in black with his hair tied back. His eyes flashed silver, his rugged features covered in a few days’ growth.

  Fear flashed through her at the memory of what someone his size could do to her. Kris had been of a smaller, leaner frame, and she’d been helpless against him. And then she relaxed. Rhyn was the only man who’d never hurt her.

  "You look worse than usual," he observed.

  She flushed and pulled her T-shirt over her bare legs, resting her chin on her knees.

  "How’s the war?" she asked as he neared.

  He growled deep in his chest in response. He sat beside her and reached for her, his gaze on the newest scars given to her by Kris. Despite her determination not to, she flinched as he gripped her neck.

  "Who hurt you?" he growled.

  "No, Rhyn."

  "You will tell me."

  "No."

  His eyes flashed. She waited for him to explode. Instead, his hand dropped to her shoulder, and he pulled her against him. Her body sang in happiness at the closeness, and she felt herself relax. She breathed his scent and released her knees, wrapping her arms around him.

  Embarrassed, she felt tears in her eyes. He pulled her into his lap, his possessive touch and warmth soothing her.

  "You will tell me," he said.

  "Nope."

  "You’re not supposed to leave without permission."

  "I wasn’t going to bleed to death on the floor, and you weren’t around!" she snapped.

  "You know how to call me."

  "It’s no big deal."

  "I don’t know what the fuck you’re smoking," he said.

  She gripped him harder. He reciprocated.

  "You’re not one to talk about not breaking sacred rules," she pointed out.

  "No one hurts what’s mine."

  "Everything hurts what’s yours!" she retorted with feeling. "I’m not going to survive your world for long, Rhyn!"

  He said nothing. He smoothed her hair and rested his chin on her head. She loosened her grip on him, sensing he wasn’t going to leave, whatever his mood was. Her eyes were heavy, her anger draining her last bit of energy. She breathed in his scent and closed her eyes.

  When she opened them sometime later, he held her tightly against him. They lay in bed beneath the covers in the dark room. She couldn’t help but feel grateful he was there. She didn’t feel up to the challenge of finding out what other creatures lived in the darkness of the immortals’ world.

  "Why wouldn’t you just tell Kris the woman he loved was evil?" she asked the question that had been plaguine her.

  He growled.

  "Don’t you dare!" she said. "You owe me some explanations. Every time I turn around, I’m getting my ass kicked by some beast, many of which are probably after you!"

  "I like you better when you’re quiet."

  She gritted her teeth, unwilling to leave the sanctuary of his arms and cursing herself for her weakness.

  "I broke the Immortal Code." His words surprised her.

  "You don’t follow rules, though," she said, confused. She twisted, trying to see him in the dark. His eyes glowed pewter.

  "I respect the Code. Doesn’t mean I always have to follow it."

  "That makes no sense. You break the Code when you feel like it?"

  "When I must."

  She pushed herself up despite his grip, staring at him hard. Despite his monstrous habits of shredding anything in his path, he had a sense of honor more deeply ingrained than she’d ever suspected. He’d broken the Code for a brother who’d never cared one ounce for him and accepted his place in Hell.

  "Isn’t there anything in the Code about doing a better job of protecting your mate?"

  "I’ve never had anything to take care of," he snarled. "You’re weak and foolish and Gods, if I could find a magic pill that’d knock some sense into you--"

  "I have a great deal of sense! What you fail to realize is that--whatever I am--I draw good and evil to me. Nothing corrupts someone like the temptation of invincibility."

  "It was one of Kris’s warriors who hurt you," he said, his voice lowering into another feral growl. "I knew when Gabriel summoned me to you and went to Kris. You tell Gabe but not me?"

  "I didn’t tell him. He went through my memories," she said with a note of anger. She felt his tension slide away as he became thoughtful. "No, Rhyn. Have some respect for my mental privacy!"

  He snorted and pulled her down into his arms again. Resistance was fruitless. She allowed him to wrap his arms and one heavy thigh around her body.

  "What’s Kris supposed to do to someone who broke the part of the Code about someone else’s mate?" she asked quietly.

  "Don’t care."

  "What?"

  "Don’t care what Kris does. I’ll kill whoever it is," he said with conviction that left her no doubt he was serious.

  Her heart slowed. She didn’t like Kris, but he did what he did for some greater cause than himself. He wasn’t a bad man, just a misguided one.

  "Is this Code written down anywhere?" she asked.

  "Nope."

  "Can you tell me what it says?"

  "Nope," he said again.

  "Rhyn, I--"

  "Shut up and sleep. Nothing else bad will happen to you."

  She fell silent. Her bod
y was still exhausted from Kris’s attack and a day spent with Hannah and her friends. Though she fought sleep, it started to claim her anyway.

  "Rhyn?" she said drowsily.

  "What."

  "I think I’m falling in love with you."

  "What?"

  "I’m smarter than you, too."

 
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