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Mad struggled internally with the next step. Jadirel had eyes everywhere, so taking Kenzie back to his place was a risk. But he knew Jadirel couldn’t see inside of his quarters.
In the end, it was the safest place to go, so Mad led Kenzie back there, careful to make sure they weren’t being watched or followed. Soon word might go around that he was escorting a short, cloaked figure around, but hopefully everything would be over by then.
Kenzie was quiet as Mad prepared a small meal and laid it out on the table. He needed to be doing something right now or he’d scream in frustration. If he’d been offered a pit fight, he’d dive in right then and there with no weapons and come out the victor.
Instead, he poured tea for Kenzie and watched her drink it like both their lives depended on it.
“Do you think Jaek actually has Carise?” She finished the tea and set the cup down. It was the first thing she’d said to him since they’d left Jaek’s cave, and it was the question that had been rattling around Mad’s mind for more than an hour.
“I don’t know.” He sank down into the chair beside her and spread his legs just enough so his thigh brushed against hers. It was selfish and far too revealing, but it was all Mad could do to keep from scooping Kenzie in his arms and taking her back to his bed.
He should have had enough of her, should have slaked his fill. Instead, he only wanted more.
How could he convince her to take a chance on him?
“I’m going to assume he was acting out of character, right?” Her finger swirled around the edge of the teacup, the motion hypnotic.
“I don’t think he’s ever raised his voice at me before today, at least not outside of life-threatening situations.” Jaek was a gentle giant. He’d never told Mad what landed him on Guerran, and at a certain point, Mad decided he didn’t care.
“You get into a lot of life-threatening situations?” Her finger didn’t pause on the rim of the cup, but Mad was almost certain Kenzie was deciding how to turn that little bit of crockery into a deadly weapon.
He shrugged. “It’s Guerran.”
They ate quickly, both clearly conditioned not to let food go to waste. But Mad didn’t fill his plate as high as he would have liked, instead waiting to make sure Kenzie had taken her fill first. He got a deep sense of satisfaction from watching her eat, from knowing he was taking care of her in this way.
He’d never wanted to take care of anyone on Guerran.
“You have that look on your face again,” she said as she wiped her hands clean.
“What look?” Mad popped a dumpling into his mouth and savored the flavor.
“The barbarian look. Like you want to hide me away somewhere and hit anyone who gets too close with a club.” She smiled when she said it.
Mad was a bit uncomfortable with how close that was to the truth. He was beginning to see the wisdom in Jaek’s cave; it was much more defensible than Mad’s quarters. And a club could do plenty of damage.
“I just want to feed you right now,” he said calmly.
Kenzie glanced over at the bed and then back at him, but she didn’t say anything.
Okay, maybe there was more he wanted to do than simply feed her, but it would all have to wait. He had to brace himself before he spoke again, knowing he was giving Kenzie a weapon that could bring him to his knees. “If Jaek has Carise, he’s not holding her as a slave.” He held up a hand before she could say something unconsciously—or consciously—hurtful. “He frees people from the slave market and slave ships as often as he can. He’s killed more than one slaver. It goes against everything I know about the man to think he would enslave her.”
“Then why wouldn’t he talk about her?” Kenzie leaned back, and her hand automatically went to one of her knives, but she didn’t unsheathe it. She just liked knowing that her weapons were there.
Mad wondered that himself. “Maybe he doesn’t have her. Maybe he had her and she ran away.”
“So he would keep her captive?” Her tone was dangerous.
He had to be careful here. If he said the wrong thing, Kenzie would march back across the city and try and get Jaek to talk at knife point. “We both know Guerran is dangerous. He wouldn’t hold your sister prisoner, not exactly, but that doesn’t mean he’d want her wandering around where anyone could snatch her off the street for nefarious purposes.”
Kenzie sucked in a ragged breath at that image.
“The gods only know what it is. It could even be the mating urge run amok and screwing with his head.” Mad only realized what he’d said when the words were out and couldn’t be taken back.
Kenzie froze. “The mating urge?”
He had to back away from this conversation before it brought up uncomfortable questions. “That’s very unlikely.”
“Then why did you say it? What is it?” She turned toward him, their knees brushing. It was an awkward position, but she clearly wanted to watch him closely while he spoke.
“Remember what I said about fate this morning?” Explaining the mating urge felt strange. Everyone on Guerran and back home on Krudare knew the fundamentals, even if it was rare. They were taught about it as children and everyone knew the signs.
Overwhelming sexual attraction.
And something that was insufficiently called The Want.
The pull of the mating urge overrode the need for energy from the Fount. It allowed mated pairs to freely share energy and to somehow create their own. But mostly The Want was a yawning hole inside of Mad, a hole that only Kenzie could fill by accepting their fate and tying herself to him.
“I remember,” Kenzie said quietly.
Did she realize? Was she feeling even a fraction of the yearning inside of him? Could he let himself hope that maybe she might want him as much as he needed her?
“Some individuals are marked by fate for one another. That’s what I meant by the mating urge. Fate doesn’t select everyone’s mate, but it happens often enough that we know it’s possible.” It was surreal to be speaking as if the mating urge wasn’t telling him to scoop Kenzie up, place her in his bed, and never let her leave.
“You’re trying to tell me soulmates are real?”
Kenzie shot up from her seat. “I should go.”
He wanted to tell her that she could stay with him, but they both knew Jadirel could find him at any moment. “Do you have a safe place for tonight?” he asked.
She checked her weapons quickly. “I can take care of myself, Mad. I’ve been doing it for years. No need to worry about me.”
“Maybe you shouldn’t have to.” It bubbled up out of him, and once he started, he couldn’t stop. “Maybe you should be able to lay down your burdens for a single night. You should be cherished and protected.” Loved. But that word he managed to claw back at the last moment. She didn’t believe him when he spoke about mates. He couldn’t push this yet.
“My burdens won’t be laid down until I find my sister. And any man that wants to cherish me needs to know that.” She looked at him in challenge.
Mad closed the distance between them and cupped her face in his hands. “We’ll find her,” he promised.
“I should go.” She didn’t step back.
Neither did Mad.
“This is crazy,” she said.
Mad leaned in and kissed her.
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