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Dark Becoming: An Ema Marx Novel, #3

Dark Becoming: An Ema Marx Novel, #3

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Dark Becoming: An Ema Marx Novel, #3

Length:
379 pages
5 hours
Released:
Jul 16, 2018
ISBN:
9781386897538
Format:
Book

Description

Schemes, Double-Crosses, and Evil Incarnate.

Ema Marx is in a race against time. Or rather, a race against Apollyon. A powerful weapon - the legendary philosopher's stone - could tip the scales in favor of whoever gets their fangs on it first. For Ema, obtaining the stone is an uphill battle through love, alliance, heartbreak, and loyalty.

Winning should mean the beginning of beautiful things, but the closer Ema gets to her destiny, the more uncertain her future becomes. Is it possible the prophecy was never meant for her? And why the heck doesn't morning sickness adhere to the rules of its own name?

Butt-kicking heroines, epic heartache, and pages that turn themselves abound in Dark Becoming, the third installment of the 5x award-winning Ema Marx series by J.D. Brown.

Continue the journey that has millions of urban fantasy fans on the edge of their seats! One-click Dark Becoming today.

NOW A COMPLETE SERIES:
DARK HEIRLOOM (Book One)
DARK LIAISON (Book Two)
DARK BECOMING (Book Three)
DARK ASCENSION (Book Four)
DARK HEIRESS (Book Five)

NOVELLAS:
ATHENA'S ORACLE
THE WARRIORESS
A VAMPYRE CHRISTMAS CAROL

Released:
Jul 16, 2018
ISBN:
9781386897538
Format:
Book

About the author

Find Dark Heirloom on Smashwords at: http://www.smashwords.com/books/view/160667 Author Bio: J.D. Brown graduated from the International Academy of Design and Technology with a Bachelor Degree in Fine Arts. She currently lives in Wisconsin with her two Pomeranians. Growing up in the suburbs of Chicago, her writing is influenced by the multicultural urban society of her youth which she continues to visit each summer. J.D. loves paranormal characters; from vampires and werewolves, demons and angels, to witches and ghost. Her writings are often a combination of suspense and romance. J.D.’s books are available in e-book formats from Muse It Up Publishing Inc. and major e-book retailers. She loves to hear from readers. You can reach her via email to DarkHeirloom@gmail.com or visit her website at http://authorjdbrown.com


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Dark Becoming - J. D. Brown

Chapter 1

The bullet missed my eye by two inches. It flew past my temple, grazed a few strands of hair, and struck Jesu’s Adam’s apple.

Time slowed. I turned to face him, and my heart stopped at the sight of blood trickling down his neck. His arms fell away from my waist and he staggered back one, two steps. Jesu lifted a hand to the wound, his emerald gaze widened in shock. He took a third step back and toppled over the edge of the loft. My breath hitched as I flung my hands into the air to grab him, but I was too late.

Jesu hit the dirt floor of the barn with a heavy thump and I screamed. I dove onto my stomach and scrambled to the ledge. Digging my fingernails into the wooden floorboards, I glanced at the scene below, heart pounding.

Jesu had landed on his back, his arms and legs splayed, his long hair tossed across his face. His eyes were open underneath, but they didn’t move—didn’t blink. He lay so still. Too still. My blood ran cold as terror erupted from my lungs.

Jesu!

My cry drew a chorus of pops and snaps. Frantic, I glanced around the empty space, not understanding the strange sounds until, from the shadowy corners of the dusty barn, emerged a group of nude Alpan vampires. Several more dropped from the ceiling, shifting from arachnid to humanoid form in mid-air.

King Nikolas’ soldiers.

They responded to my shouts of distress, inching closer to Jesu with looks of concern.

I need to get to Jesu. My hands trembled as I pushed to my knees and crawled toward the ladder. My nerves shook too much to phase or fly. Where did that shot come from?

My fingers almost reached the first rung when a hand gripped my shoulder and yanked me through the air. I landed on my spine, hitting the rickety loft floor. A cloud of dust rose from the impact, blurring my vision. The silhouette of a man appeared through the haze. He straddled my stomach and used his weight to pin me in place. Pale ring-clad fingers gripped my neck and squeezed. Two blades sliced the skin under his choking grip and a searing pain cut through my flesh. A wet stickiness oozed over my neck and soaked the collar of my shirt. Gasping under the pain, I jabbed my fingers between his and tried with all my might to pry off his hands. Feeling the odd shape of his rings, each one fused to the next, I realized he wore some sort of brass knuckles weapon with a blade fixed to the underside. The man wasn’t just trying to choke me to death ... he meant to sever my head.

The dust settled and my gaze flew over his black leather attire. His chin-length mass of thick black hair fell over his face, obscuring his identity, but that didn’t matter. I’d recognize him anywhere. His methods were entirely too familiar.

Jalmari, I grunted. You bastard.

A breeze blew in from the missing portion of the upper barn wall and lifted his hair, confirming what I already knew. His dark green irises shone in the moonlight and he grinned, flashing each one of his razor-sharp fangs.

Every ounce of fear from a moment ago transformed into red-hot fury. I lifted my knees and pushed my feet against the floor, rolling us both onto our sides. I willed myself to de-solidify, but Jalmari’s grip kept me firmly in the third dimension. He levitated, still holding me by the neck. The blades cut deep, lodging under my flesh as my toes left the floor and my weight became a disadvantage. Not having any other choice, I used my ability to levitate with him, countering gravity to lessen the death grip around my windpipe. Together, we rose through the collapsed side of the roof, out into the night. I glanced down just in time to see the Alpan soldiers clambering up the ladder. They were very small and blurry in the periphery of my vision.

Jalmari snickered. They cannot help you, rat.

I rolled my eyes at the derogatory taunt but didn’t respond. For one thing, his weapon still carved into my throat and I worried speech would accelerate further damage. Secondly, he was wrong. The Alpans could shapeshift, which meant they could turn into birds and peck Jalmari’s stupid eyes out. I wasn’t going to wait for their help, though. I could be headless by then. My throat swelled as the blades neared my trachea. The edges of my vision darkened to a hazy gray and my lungs burned in protest. I was going to pass out from lack of oxygen before he killed me.

No, this isn’t how it ends.

Adrenaline coursed through my veins, and the monster that lived in my gut stretched an angry clawed hand against my insides, begging for release. I swung my right leg up as hard and fast as possible. My knee connected with the crotch of Jalmari’s pants. His grip lessened, but Jalmari was a real champ. He grimaced, cussed, and curled forward, but he did not let go.

One more push while he’s off his game.

I released his wrists, relying on my ability to fly, and shifted my arms into bat wings. I knew from past experimentation that a partial shift would produce wings proportionate to a human body instead of to a tiny bat. That meant giant wings with incredible strength.

Astonishment flickered across Jalmari’s features as my finger bones elongated and my skin stretched into large webbed membranes. My muscles tore apart and then reformed. Leaner. Stronger. I reveled in their power. In one swift move, I brought my wings together in the center and then punched Jalmari square in the stomach. Before he could react, I opened my wings wide, forcing his arms apart.

The blades in his hands tore away from my neck and I gasped in air. My breath caught and I coughed horribly before regaining the ability inhale. Instead of flapping my giant bat wings, I continued to levitate to reduce fatigue. The threat of fainting slowly subsided with each calming breath. Once I regained my bearings, I glanced about in search of that jerk, but Jalmari had disappeared. He must have phased after I punched him. I furrowed my brow and growled.

Show yourself, coward!

He might have been invisible, but nothing could mask his scent. Traces of nitrogen sweetened the air and I rose higher to scan the castle grounds. Yet, the commotion inside the barn tugged at my heartstrings. A group had gathered around Jesu and fussed over him. I wanted to be there, by his side. A few large crows sat atop the more solid parts of the barn roof, watching me. Were they Alpan vampires in disguise? If so, what the heck where they waiting for? Several more soldiers could be seen in the distance, coming from the castle, carrying what I hoped was medical equipment for Jesu.

A slight glimmer rippled in the periphery of my vision, about ten feet away. It was such a small, quick movement, I wasn’t certain I saw it. I narrowed my gaze, hoping to catch sight of it again. Jalmari suddenly appeared where the ripple had been, fangs bared, fists held out in front of him. The brass knuckles were flipped around so the razor-sharp blades lined the outside of his knuckles. He charged, shooting through the air like a bullet.

I flung myself to the side just in time, and hit his back with my wings, shoving him a good distance away. I hoped he would hit a tree or something, but Jalmari had thousands of years of training under his belt. He stopped his trajectory, faced me, and then charged again, swinging his bladed hand in a lethal punch aimed at my face. I ducked out of the way, but not before the knife nicked my cheek. Jalmari doubled back, swinging his left fist. I phased and scattered my essence to fly around either side. Behind him, I drew myself together and solidified. He turned, his brow furrowed tight, his lip curled in a fierce growl. I decided to use the last trick I had left. I shifted my head into a wolf’s.

Jalmari hesitated as I gave a face to my inner monster. My skull cracked apart and reformed in record speed. My jaw elongated and my ears moved upward. Fur sprouted from my skin. I looked like a nightmare-ish combination of Anubis and Isis. Jalmari gasped in disbelief. The scent of fear rolled off him in waves. I took advantage of his faltering, snapped my jaws around his shoulder, and flung him into the air. He smacked into the outer side wall of the barn and fell to the ground.

The Alpan soldiers flooded the area and circled him. One of the soldiers aimed a taser gun at Jalmari’s thigh and fired. Jalmari convulsed as the current took control of his nervous system. I cringed at the sight but couldn’t help yipping in excitement over the victory.

Took them long enough!

I lowered—shifting my head and arms back into their normal vampyre form—until the soles of my sneakers touched the grass. Then I raised my hands into the air, palms forward, to show I was done fighting and they could gladly take over.

Th-this ... isn’t ... over, Jalmari sputtered. You will ... die ... rat.

The current from the taser finished its round and a second soldier strapped a pair of electronic cuffs to Jalmari’s wrists and ankles. I’ve been on the receiving end of those cuffs before, and I almost felt bad for him. Almost.

I put my hands on my hips and scoffed. "I think you’re wrong, leech."

Jalmari growled, but he couldn’t cause any more harm with a dozen taser guns pointed at him.

The adrenaline in my system ebbed, replaced by the burning ache in my neck. But something far more important pushed to the forefront of my mind. Jesu. I broke away from the circle and ran toward the barn doors.

"Warten sie," someone yelled in German. Stop!

I ignored them. More Alpans filled the doorway, headed outside. They also shouted for me to stop, but I phased through them, refusing to listen until I reached the spot where Jesu fell. The space was empty. My lip trembled as I faced the men by the door. Where is he?

They stared back, their expressions somber. The majority of them didn’t speak English, and I couldn’t fault them for that, but frustration and fear sent my judgment to a dark place. I fisted my hands and dug all ten fingernails into the skin of my palms. Where is Jesu?

A man pushed past the line of clueless idiots and approached. "Please come with me, Fräulein Ema."

Where is Prince Jesu!

He paused and pursed his lips in a moment of uncertainty.

Dry tears stung the backs of my eyes and a lump welled in my throat, making it difficult to swallow. Where? I whispered. Please.

The man sighed. We took him inside to—

I didn’t hear anything after that. My essence dispersed as I raced out of the barn. Despite the warm night air rushing past my molecules, a sickening chill churned my invisible stomach. I considered solidifying just long enough to vomit, but I fought the urge. No time. I have to see Jesu.

I flew over the shallow creek separating most of the countryside from King Nikolas’ back yard, scaled the stone wall surrounding the castle, and passed through the gigantic double doors. Inside the grand foyer, I pulled my essence together and solidified. Judging by the swarm of soldiers dashing around, word of Jalmari’s attack had already reached the Alpan king. People’s shoulders knocked against mine as they rushed from one place to the next. I bit my lip and levitated, looking for a familiar face.

Nikolas appeared from the hallway at the back of the room, standing a full two feet taller than anyone else. His men moved aside, allowing ample space for the breadth of his shoulders as he marched into the foyer. Taking advantage of the opening, I lowered to stand on the marble floor directly in front of him and placed a firm hand on his forearm. Nikolas stopped and wrinkled his strong brow.

Jesu, I said. Where?

His golden irises lingered longer than they should have. I couldn’t allow myself to discern the meaning behind it, afraid of what I might find. Sorrow? Pity? Nikolas nodded over his shoulder to indicate the main corridor from which he just came. Take the hall at the end of the ballroom. Make a right at the T.

What in the world is going on? Maria’s voice called from some place above. The stairs, I guessed. I didn’t check. I pushed past Nikolas and hustled through the main corridor, into the ballroom.

My disregard didn’t discourage Maria. She caught up and then kept pace as I rounded the hall at the end of the room. It stood hidden behind a partial wall, but I’d been down this section of the castle before. Nikolas’ office was located in the same vestibule, at the opposite end from where we headed. The corridor ended at a plain blue door, and I stopped.

Ema, what happened? Maria demanded.

Jesu was shot.

She stiffened, her brow pinched in disbelief. What?

I didn’t elaborate. My mind raced too much to relay the details. Instead, I sucked in a breath, grasped the knob, and nudged the door open. The room housed a small infirmary with four hospital beds pushed against the walls. Jesu lay on the bed closest to the door. A soldier stood next to him, dabbing a damp cloth along Jesu’s neck and collarbone. The soldier glanced at us but didn’t speak.

A dry lump scratched my throat as my breath vacated my lungs and did not return. Jesu’s eyelids were closed. He didn’t move. My ribs grew heavy and seemed to shrink, tightening around my swelling heart.

Heart? Heartbeat!

I silently counted the number of pulses in the room. One, two, three... Four! Yes, Jesu’s heart was beating. Its rhythm sounded a little slower than ours, but not by much. It beat, and that was all that mattered.

He’s breathing, Maria added with a sigh.

I watched his chest rise and fall, and felt myself smile. Jesu’s alive.

Maria took my hand and gave it a reassuring squeeze, but when I glanced at her, I noticed the worry lines etching her forehead. The knot welling in my stomach echoed the expression on her face. If Jesu’s okay, then why isn’t he awake? Something wasn’t right.

Maria let go and went to the bedside. Why isn’t he on an I.V.? This man needs blood.

The German vampire didn’t say anything. Instead, he picked up a small metal pan from the counter and showed it to Maria. A tiny object rolled along the bottom of the pan and then clinked as it hit the side and came to a stop.

The bullet, I realized. They removed it.

Maria peered inside the pan and her features softened in understanding. It was a tranquillizer dart. He’s just sleeping.

A weight lifted from my chest and I sighed in relief. So he’s going to be all right?

She looked at Jesu and nodded. The wound has already healed. He might be a little groggy when he wakes, and I still think we should get some fresh blood into his system. Maria paused and glanced at me. We should get you a drink as well. You look like hell, darling.

I lifted a hand to my neck and winced at the dull ache. The gashes had already scabbed and would finish healing in a few minutes. I’ve actually seen hell. This is nothing.

Maria chuckled and then snatched the damp cloth out of the soldier’s hand and took over cleaning Jesu’s neck. The soldier returned the metal tray to the table and then left. I went to the other side of the bed, opposite Maria, and glanced at the man I’d fallen in love with.

I’ve never seen Jesu asleep before. Vampyres and vampires didn’t require REM. We regenerated fast enough without it. Jesu looked surprisingly peaceful. His long velvet black hair fanned against the pillow, his breath slow and even. I wondered if he dreamed, and would he remember it when he woke up? Jalmari must have packed some powerful sedatives into the dart to keep Jesu unconscious this long.

Of course Jalmari drugged Jesu. He didn’t want his little brother in the way when he attacked me. Jesu would have tried to stop him.

I rested my palm against Jesu’s ice-blue cheek and gently traced his mouth with my thumb. His eyelids fluttered but didn’t open. Though I hated Jalmari, I also loathed coming between brothers. If Jesu’s latest premonition was correct, then I carried Jalmari’s child. I winced at the thought. Jalmari didn’t know I was pregnant. Would the knowledge have made a difference?

Not likely.

I didn’t deserve Jesu, but my heart was selfish. I bent and pressed my lips to his in a quick kiss. Hurry back to me. I can’t do this without you.

Chapter 2

The infirmary door swung open. Bridget stepped inside and her gaze landed on Jesu. She blanched, which said something since her skin was normally the color of snow. I heard he got shot, but I didn’t believe it.

Tranquilizer dart, said Maria. A particular sharpness underscored her tone and she narrowed her gaze.

The French vampire put her hands on her hips and met Maria’s eyes with a challenging glare of her own.  Well, is he going to be okay?

Quite fine, Maria volleyed.

This was getting weird. Like elephant-in-the-room weird.

Who shot him?

I opened my mouth to answer, but was interrupted by a thunderous crash, followed by a dozen male voices shouting over each other.

Unhand me! demanded a voice from the hall. This is treason. This is grounds for war.

Shut your petty threats, Nikolas growled. You are in my territory. Your rights are void.

Naamah, you traitor! Demand that they unhand me at once, or I will have you replaced!

My goodness, Bridget gasped. Is that Prince Jalmari?

I rolled my eyes. The one and only. He shot Jesu and then tried to rip my head off.

Bridget wrinkled her nose. Why on earth would Prince Jalmari shoot his own brother?

Is she serious? I didn’t have time for this. The men’s voices grew fainter as they receded further into the hall toward Nikolas’ office. I faced Maria. Hey, can you—

Stay with Jesu while you go investigate? Yes.

Huh, how did she know what I was going say? Thank you.

I glanced at Jesu one last time, committing his sleeping form to memory. Walking away from him sucked, especially since Bridget happily sauntered over and took my place. I wanted to be the one to watch over him. I wanted to be the first person he saw when his eyes opened, to be the one he hugged in relief. But I needed to know what Jalmari was up to—besides trying to kill me, of course.

I ducked out of the infirmary and rushed to the other end of the hall, past the ballroom entrance, to Nikolas’ office. The king’s voice boomed from the other side of the closed solid-wood door, but I couldn’t understand his native tongue. I rapped my knuckles against the surface out of courtesy, and then phased into the room. Animal heads mounted the walls of the rectangular office—everything from lions and tigers, to bears and wolves. Their furs carpeted the floor and the leather hides upholstered the king’s giant armchair.

Nikolas stood behind his desk, his hands shoulder-width apart against the polished wooden top, leaning forward in an intimidating stance. Tancred, Nikolas’ Second-in-Command, stood next to his king. Jalmari sat across from them, his arms cuffed behind his back. He slouched, probably to avoid putting pressure on his wrists since Jalmari never had bad posture. Armed soldiers stood at Jalmari’s sides, watching him relentlessly. Naamah, Jalmari’s Second-in-Command, sat next to him, biting the inside of his cheek. The four men glanced at me with mixed levels of annoyance and curiosity. I didn’t blame them. I was the common denominator in this riff, after all.

I cleared my throat and lifted my chin in Nikolas’ direction. I’d like to listen in, Your Highness.

Jalmari scoffed.

Nikolas narrowed his gaze at the prince. Have a seat, Miss Ema.

I went to a small wooden chair against the wall and sat.

Nikolas rubbed an alabaster palm across his dark brow. His lids hooded his golden irises as he dragged his fingers over the top of his dark hair and then smoothed them down the loose braid at the nape of his neck. The seams of his shirt threatened to rip from biceps thicker than three trunks. Nikolas was handsome in a wild Tarzan way—if Tarzan had a melanoma issue and was extremely pale. Nikolas lowered into his armchair, signaling the start of the interrogation.

Where have you been, Prince Jalmari?

Jalmari’s mouth thinned into a tight line. He glanced to the side and focused on a blank spot on the wall.

Are you aware of the events that took place in your absence? Nikolas continued. Are you aware of your father’s return?

Jalmari remained silent.

Naamah answered for him. He is, Your Highness.

Nikolas nodded, but the lines wrinkling his forehead spoke of his irritation. Are you aware that he murdered half of your clan’s Council members?

Jalmari’s gaze flickered—a quick flash that lasted less than a microsecond before he hid behind the hardness of his I-don’t-give-a-shit mask, but, if I could catch his slip from across the room, then so could Nikolas and the others.

What are your plans regarding your father? Nikolas asked.

Silence.

Very well. Perhaps you can tell me why you attacked your brother and Miss Ema?

I held my breath in anticipation of Jalmari’s answer. The muscles in his jaw visibly tensed, but he still didn’t speak. I groaned and slumped back in my seat. Figures. Jalmari had to be the most stubborn man I’d ever met.

My Liege, Naamah whispered. It is imperative that you answer King Nikolas’ questions.

After a long moment, Jalmari slowly turned his head. His dark emerald gaze locked with mine. A vein lifted from his temple and his nostrils flared. Loathing wafted from every pore on his body, filling the room with a rancid predatory stench.

My hands curled into fists. Why did he hate me so much? What have I ever done to him? Not that I wouldn’t enjoy kicking his ass a second time, but he started it.

I’m aware of the warrant you issued for Ema’s arrest, said Nikolas as he watched the exchange of dirty looks between Jalmari and me. I faltered at the mention of the warrant. I’d completely forgotten about it. You know the laws, Nikolas continued. Such orders do not carry over to other territories. You have no right to act upon your sentencing in my jurisdiction.

That did it. Jalmari’s upper lip curled back to show his fangs. The sharpness in his tone rivaled the blades he’d sliced my neck with. "I was not acting as an executioner. I am here as an Elite. That thing you are housing is a Romani."

Uh-oh. I had promised Jesu I wouldn’t tell anyone about my heritage since vampyres didn’t take too kindly to gypsy folk. Their people tended to assassinate my people, because we were so threatening with our covered wagons and tarot cards and average life spans. I suspected Nikolas knew there was something very different about me, but he never pried, so I didn’t confirm it. Nikolas and I were on a need-to-know basis.

Until now.

Nikolas furrowed his brow. Do not insult me with blatant lies.

It is not a lie. Jalmari kept his wicked gaze locked with mine. Her mother is a product of my father’s human cast-offs. She is an abomination.

Impossible. Tancred shook his head. She is clearly a vampyre.

Check the archives, Jalmari challenged. You are the ones breeching the law. Not me. A sly smile twisted his mouth and mirth filled his gaze.

I panicked. There’s no need to check anything. I’m an honest person. If you want to know my history, I’ll tell you about it.

Nikolas raised a hand to dismiss the idea. That is quite enough.

Jalmari snarled. She is a lawless killer. She murdered my Leena.

No! I stood, feeling the blood rush to my face. Jalmari could hate me for a million stupid reasons if he wanted to, but he couldn’t blame me for Leena’s death. I didn’t kill her. It was Apollyon.

Are you calling me liar? Jalmari growled.

If the shoe fits.

Nikolas leaped from his seat, knocking his chair back. Enough, both of you!

I crossed my arms over my chest and sat down. Humph.

Jalmari gnashed his teeth together and slumped lower in his seat.

The Alpan king sighed and then reclaimed his armchair. He addressed Jalmari again, his tone much calmer. We plan to abolish your father before he can cause any more harm. I’m sure you understand my reasons, and it is my hope that you will join forces with us. However, since he is your blood, I understand if you chose to deal with him in your own way. Nikolas paused to gauge Jalmari’s reaction. Jalmari simply stared into space and scowled. Do you have any useful information to share, Prince Jalmari?

No answer.

Nikolas sighed. "You should know that Ema’s well-being is protected under the command of the Alpan crown. If you ever attempt to harm her or set foot on my territory in bad faith again, I will have you arrested and held as a prisoner of war—and mark my words, Jalmari, a war is coming. You should think about your part in it."

Jalmari tensed but remained silent.

Nikolas nodded to the soldiers. Do not uncuff him until you reach the border.

The men saluted their king and then grabbed Jalmari’s shoulders and lifted him to his feet.

Wait. I stood. That’s it? You’re just going to let him go? Jalmari needed to be locked in a padded cell. Maybe even incapacitated for good measure.

He has his own people to answer to. Nikolas waved a hand and the soldiers pulled Jalmari toward the door.

Jalmari dug in his heels and looked over his shoulder. I demand a word with my Hand!

I’ll go, Naamah said before Nikolas could object. I’ll see him to the border.

Nikolas nodded.

My jaw fell open and I stared as Naamah rushed after his prince. I couldn’t believe Nikolas would just let him go. Jalmari would be back to finish what he started as sure as snow in January in Alaska. And what was up with Naamah leaving? I just got him and Maria back from Apollyon.

You two, Nikolas said after the door closed behind Naamah. It took a moment to realize he was speaking to Tancred and me. The bossy militant that often trailed Nikolas like a shadow had been uncharacteristically silent during the interrogation. We faced Nikolas and waited for him to continue. The king narrowed his gaze and looked us both in the eyes. Jalmari never said anything about Ema being a Romani. That part of the conversation never happened, understood?

Tancred looked a bit constipated, but he affirmed with a nod.

Holy cow, am I actually off the hook? Just like that?

We hadn’t even notarized the contract yet. Nikolas’ son, Brinnon, was still finalizing the details. Of course, I knew why Nikolas let me off the hook. The king wasn’t just being a good Samaritan helping out a damsel in distress. He really believed I was the key to winning the fight against Apollyon. Nikolas was responsible for an entire continent worth of vampyres, and I was supposed to be a sure thing. A guaranteed end to Apollyon’s second coming. Nikolas expected me to act on my end of the deal sooner rather than later.

Only, there was no real guarantee that I’d succeed and that bitch, Karma, hated my guts. Not to mention, I was possibly kind of pregnant. Hand to hand combat couldn’t be good for the baby. I immediately decided Nikolas didn’t need to know any of that. He only needed to keep believing in Jesu’s premonition that I would fight Apollyon. I nodded my appreciation to the Alpan king and then left the office.

Wow, I thought while walking back to the infirmary. Baby. I still couldn’t wrap my head around the notion of being somebody’s mother.

Chapter 3

I entered the infirmary to find Jesu sitting up, talking to Maria. Relief came anew, expanding my lungs with a liberating breath. Jesu noticed me and his words trailed off. His adorable smile teetered to the left, dimpling his cheek.

Ema.

I ran to him. My arms went around his neck before he could finish saying my name. It rolled off his Finnish-accented tongue in a whisper of liquid silk. His breath pooled against my temple as his strong arms wrapped my waist.

Are you okay? I said into his shirt, my face pressed against his chest. I inhaled his

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