Wicked Burn – Rebecca Zanetti

Nicholai Veis leaned against the interior wall of the rock and clay cottage, the ring nearly burning a hole in his pocket. Peace surrounded him in the silent dwelling, and even he, a former demon soldier, could feel the magic of Ireland outside the door. He loved Ireland. Or maybe it was the witch who’d captured his heart that made him embrace the magic of the place. He reached for the ring to admire. Stunning. A three-carat Alexandrite gem surrounded by pure silver. It would look lovely on Simone’s finger. His nerves increased. Would she like the cottage? It was small, but for now, small would work. Energy shifted outside the door. He paused and then shoved the ring inside his pocket, reaching for a dagger in his boot. The knock on the door surprised him. Frowning, he crossed the empty main room and pulled it open. “Prophet Lily,” he murmured, looking immediately over her head to see Dage Kayrs, the King of the Realm.

“And the king.” He had met both of them during peace talks after the last war. Tension uncoiled in his gut. Even worse, dreams had been plaguing him lately in which Lily showed up and changed his entire life from light to dark. The dreams could not be omens. He wouldn’t let them be. Lily smiled up at him, her stunning blue eyes lacking their usual sparkle. “I’m sorry to just appear, but the matter is urgent.” The weak sun shone on her nearly white-blond hair, which the wind instantly lifted. She shivered.

He drew her inside immediately, recognizing her scent of wild strawberries. Even in the dreams she smelled like the sweet fruit. “I’ll start a fire.” A stone fireplace made up the entire northern wall. She shook her head. “I won’t be here long.” Nick lifted an eyebrow at the king, who hadn’t moved. Dage Kayrs was six-and-a-half feet of hard soldier with dark silver eyes and jet-black hair. He’d had to step up as king after the war, or rather during it, and the toll showed in his world-weary gaze. “Are you coming in?” Nick asked.

Dage shook his head. “I’m just the transport. Lily said you needed to speak privately.” Even the king obeyed the tiny prophet. Yet he cleared his throat. “The Realm and the demon nation are allies for now, so I ask you to guarantee her safety.” Nick’s chest heated. “I wouldn’t harm a prophet, king.” “Understood.” Dage jumped up on a stone wall to sit.

Besides, Nick was leaving the demon nation. Well, perhaps not leaving, but he was finished working for them. It was time to mate Simone and start a new life in Ireland, where she could pursue her ambition of working for the Coven Nine, the ruling body of the witches. “Do you think it odd that you’re the only vampire to be able to teleport across the world?” Nick asked. Dage shrugged. “Nope. I’ve got a gift.” Nick barely kept from rolling his eyes. Someday the king would have to face the fact that there was a demon in his family tree—demons were known for being able to teleport by altering dimensions. Unfortunately, Nick wasn’t one of the demons who had that ability.

“All right.” He shut the door and turned to face the tiny woman. Lily fluttered her small hands together. The prophet marking wound up her neck in a graceful arc. She was one of three people chosen by fate to wear the mark and administer wisdom to all immortals. “I am so very sorry about this.” Nick drew in a deep breath and gestured toward the rock ledge fronting the fireplace. “I haven’t had time to buy furniture, so that’s the only seat.” She perched and spread her yellow skirts out. “I had a vision, Nicholai.

” Her gaze remained on her hands. Chills, sharper than normal, clawed down his back. In every bad dream, she had said the same words. “Is something bad going to happen to Simone?” “No.” Lily took a deep breath. “Well, that depends on you.” Ah hell. His head dropped forward. “I’m out, Lily. My uncle is right-hand to Suri, who now leads the demon nation.

They have a plan, and they’re strong.” “Your uncle is a sadist, and even he pales in comparison to Suri,” Lily whispered. “They can’t be allowed to follow their plans.” Nick looked up, his muscles tightening through his abdomen. “Demons rule by lineage, and I don’t have the right bloodline. Even if I wanted to challenge Suri, and even if I had a chance in hell of beating him in a death match, I’m not of his line. I can’t rule.” “I know,” she whispered. “But you, and only you, can make sure the right person does.” He frowned, imaginary weights beginning to shove his shoulders down.

Suri had two sisters; one was crazy-evil and the other too gentle to lead. “Who is the right person?” “He hasn’t been born yet, and he won’t be unless you are in the right place to maneuver fate.” A tear slid down Lily’s face. “Several key moments have to come together, and even if you commit yourself fully, I don’t know that you’ll succeed. But you’re the only chance.” He coughed out heated air, his mind burning. “Lily, I’m not in a position to do anything.” “If your uncle died, you would be,” she whispered, her voice breaking. He jerked back. “My first act to fulfill some impossible destiny is to murder my only living relative in this world?” “Yes.

” She met his gaze levelly, but her dismay was palpable in the small room. “You’d be next in line to advise Suri. Oh, Nick. I’ve seen some of the terrible things you’ll have to do in order to keep that place.” “No.” He wouldn’t give up his soul. “The ends can’t justify those means.” “They do.” She shook her head. “A terrible plague is coming in the future, one that will decimate the immortal world, especially vampire mates and the witches.

I’ve seen it in visions. Only one person can stop it, and if he isn’t born, there is no stopping it.” “Witches?” Nick asked, weakness sweeping through his knees. “Yes. Even Simone.” More tears gathered in Lily’s eyes. “I hate this. I hate everything about this, but I’ve seen it, Nicholai. How bad it could get.” He backed away from her until he reached the far wall.

“Suri is evil, Lily,” he croaked. “I know.” She shook her head, and a couple of tears fell. “You’ll have to go against everything you are to work with him.” Nick breathed out. “Who has to be born? Who is this savior?” Lily bit her lip. “I can’t see all of it. All I know is that a group of vampires will attack demon headquarters, and you have to be in a position to allow them to take Felicity. She must go with them.” Nick narrowed his gaze.

“You want me to allow Suri’s youngest sister, the only one with an ounce of kindness, to be taken by rogue vampires?” “Yes. Then when she comes back, her son, the oldest one, must be protected at all costs. He’s the one.” Bollocks. “You’re telling me that a demon-vampire half-breed is the one who will save the immortal world from a plague so horrendous that fate wants me to give up my life, most likely my soul, in order to protect him?” “Yes.” “I can’t put Simone in that kind of danger.” Hell. He didn’t want himself in it. Lily swallowed. “There’s more.

” Of course there was. “Tell me.” Nick was done playing nice. “I can’t see you after the boy takes power. That doesn’t mean you’re not still alive, but . ” Dread felt like needles as it pricked beneath Nick’s skin. “So I’ll be dead.” “I don’t know.” If he mated Simone, she’d never be able to take another mate, even if he was dead. Plus, if he committed to such a deadly plan, anybody he cared about would be a weakness to use against him.

Which was more than likely why fate thought him perfect. “If I leave her, I’ll break her heart.” His was already shattering. “I know.” Lily stood. “I’ve given you the facts, but only you can decide.” She crossed the room and leaned up to press a kiss to his cheek. “Does the king know?” Nick asked. “No. He has his own part to play, and he can’t know any of this.

” Lily turned for the door. Nick closed his eyes and tried to keep from throwing up. “If I do this, I need to know Simone will be taken care of. The king is a strong leader.” He hated to make the suggestion, but at least Nick wouldn’t have to see Dage ever again, especially with Simone. He reopened his eyelids. Lily nodded. “I’ll try to secure her with Dage, but sometimes fate has other plans.” She opened the door. “Dage will return tomorrow for your answer, and if you decide to follow fate’s plan, he’ll teleport you to demon headquarters.

Again, I’m so very sorry.” The door closed on a sob she couldn’t quite mask. Nick buried his face in his hands. Oh, he’d felt the change coming. Fate had visited him, as well, but he’d chosen to ignore the dreams. There really wasn’t a choice for him, not if the plague would also someday get Simone. He had to make sure the worst didn’t happen—leaving her was the only option. Even if he survived, he wouldn’t be the same person she loved now. He couldn’t be and still stand beside Suri. He took the ring out again to see it sparkle in the dim light.

“Good-bye,” he whispered to a future that could’ve been his. Chapter 1 Modern Day Fury wasn’t a strong enough word to describe the heat coursing through Simone Brightston as she strode out the front door of her Seattle penthouse building, a too-calm demon on her heels. Even through her anger, instinct whispered that a calm demon was a hundred times more dangerous than any raging warrior—which only pissed her off more. And this demon . she didn’t know. The devoted suitor of a century ago had been replaced by the cold and deadly warrior behind her. “This way.” Without waiting for her to acquiesce, Nicholai Veis wrapped one warm hand around her arm and turned her toward a black Ducati, sleek and sparkling, waiting by the curb in the morning hour. She jerked free and arched one perfectly manicured eyebrow. “You’re riding bikes now?” His lids lifted in a curiously deliberate way to reveal those black as midnight eyes.

“When in Rome.” Low and cultured, his voice gave no hint as to his baser nature. But she knew. Oh, she knew him and the animal he barely kept in check. He’d broken her heart once without a hitch in his stride, but that was nothing compared to the horrendous things he’d done in the name of the demon nation since. “Seattle is hardly Rome, and this has gone on long enough.” In the building, she’d left family who needed her help. Family who’d pretty much betrayed her by asking Nick to secure her somewhere safe. “Get on the bike, Simone, or I’ll put you on the bike.” His tone didn’t falter a bit, remaining rough and harsh.

She paused and turned to more fully face him, curiosity winding through her anger. Could she take him? As a witch, a powerful one, she could reshape matter by applying quantum physics, and she could burn his ass with plasma. For well over a century, she’d trained. Yet so had he. Demons could attack minds, and this one could fight physically with the prowess of a shifter and the precision of a vampire. He waited patiently, that gaze knowing. A killer more than comfortable in his own skin. “Is this really the place?” “Excuse me?” “The battle coming. Witch against demon, your powers against mine. You against .

me.” He leaned in, and the scent of an oncoming storm came with him. “Are you sure you’re ready?” “Oh, I’m ready.” She let her voice go husky and threat fill her eyes. He smiled then. A quick flash of teeth against his bronze face, turning harsh angles into masculine beauty. He had the blond hair, black eyes, and mangled vocal cords of a pure-bred demon, but even among his own people, Nick Veis was something . more. He’d done it all, he’d seen it all . hell, most folks thought he’d planned it all.

From the downfall of dictators to the protection of fate’s chosen ones . Nicholai Veis was the male to call. He fought with no remorse and killed more easily than he breathed. Even though she was a tall woman, he looked down several inches at her, somehow not towering. Nick had the rare ability to seem peaceful, when he was anything but. He ran his hand down her arm to her wrist. “If we fight here, your cousins will come running, and they have enough going on.” She drew in air, her mind spinning. “That is exactly my point. Demon Prince Logan Kyllwood has been kidnapped, and as advisor to the Kyllwoods, you should help save him and not worry about me.

” There it was. A flicker of the boiling feelings that must be ripping Nick apart showed in his eyes before being quickly veiled. “Zane Kyllwood can get his brother back, especially with your cousins assisting in the rescue.” Aye. Witch Enforcers and demon soldiers working together? The kidnapper didn’t stand a chance. Yet Simone lifted her chin anyway. “I do not require your assistance.” “That’s unfortunate.” Keeping his grip on her arm firm, he threw one leg over the bike. “Get on, Simone.

We’ll go to the mat later.” His phone buzzed, and he used his free hand to retrieve it from his pocket to read the face. His eyebrows lifted. “The Guard will be here in two minutes.” “Good.” She set her stance. The Guard, an elite Irish force tasked with policing the witch nation, was arriving to take her into custody, and as a member of the Coven Nine, she was prepared to state her case to the ruling body of witches; after all, she was one of them. Of course, she’d known at some time she’d have to face charges, just not the ones being issued at the moment. “I’m not running.” “I’ll fight them, and I’ll win.

” Arrogance, hard-won, stamped his face. Aye, he probably would win, even though the Guard were some of the best Irish soldiers the Coven employed. “You’ll start a war between our peoples.” “Yes.” His hold tightened. “Not only that, but if the Guard catches you here, right outside of your building, where the witch Enforcers are currently preparing for battle to help demons, the Guard will know the Enforcers disobeyed orders to contain you. Your cousins will face treason charges.” Dread slammed into her abdomen. She swallowed. “I’m a self-centered bitch, and you know it.

My cousins created their own demise.” He chuckled then, easily zeroing in on her weakness. “Oh, I agree you’re a bitch, Simone, but you’re so far from self-centered it isn’t in the ballpark. You’d do anything for those cousins, and your façade doesn’t fool me now any more than it did last time we met.” She tried to eye the area around them for some escape, but nothing was apparent. The male was right in that she’d give her own life for Kell, Daire, or Adam, who were her cousins and three of the Coven Enforcers. “Just let me go.” “No.” Apparently finished with the conversation, he swung his torso and lifted her, landing her squarely behind him. Her ass hit the leather seat.

Damn it. How in the world had she forgotten his strength? Even for a demon, his was unreal. To lift her with one hand, and he wasn’t even breathing hard. Before she could protest and burn his ears off, he ignited the engine and roared into the street. She yelped and grabbed his dress shirt with both hands, leaning in for balance. Nick Veis handled a Ducati like he did everything else in life . using control edged with a hint of violence. The contrast between the elegant demon official that he showed the world and the primal being lurking inside him showed just how far he’d come since this latest war had ended. The elegance was merely a mask for the cold predator lurking beneath. She wasn’t the same wide-eyed girl he’d played with before.

It had taken years, but she was as tough as they came, and she could handle him. “Let me go.” She leaned up to hiss in his ear while allowing plasma to course along her hands. Creating flames out of oxygen calmed her. The fire bit into the back of his dark shirt, and smoke rose. “Dammit, Simone,” he bit back, swerving to avoid a school bus.

.

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