Pendragon Gargoyles Book 6
Elena of House Lamorak has more than earned her reputation for not being a team player. Her devil-may-care attitude and reckless behavior has gotten her in—and out—of more trouble than she can count, and she wouldn’t have it any other way. Playing by the rules is strictly reserved for the Blackjack table—until an impossible-to-resist warrior lures her into a dangerous game with a steep price. Her heart.
Haunted by his inability to protect his parents, Vaughn has spent centuries fighting in the shadows. Before his sister’s abduction, playing the odds was never a problem, but he’s not about to gamble with his sister’s life. He’ll do anything to get her back, even take on the fiery sorceress who tempts the wolf like nothing he’s ever known.
As their sizzling connection erupts into scorching need, the stakes have never been higher, forcing Vaughn to make the ultimate choice. Betray the only woman capable of soothing both man and beast, or risk losing his family forever.
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I’ll huff and I’ll puff and I’ll blow your house in…
Elena, daughter of the House of Lamorak, glanced down at the muddy wolf prints leading up the steps of her Malibu home and sighed.
At least the place was still standing. Considering the price she’d paid for her homey ocean view, she really wanted to keep it that way.
But what she really didn’t want—or have time for—was another backward, bounty-hunting moron who didn’t know his crossbow from his claws and hadn’t gotten the memo she no longer had a price on her head.
At least not one she knew about.
She scanned the immediate area even though the slow curl of magic humming under her skin gave no indication she was being watched.
Maybe her furry squatter was working for someone she’d pissed off—and the list wasn’t exactly short. Other immortals had a tendency to underestimate her strength because she was a mere two hundred years old, and she’d gotten very good at demonstrating why that was a mistake.
She had been keeping a lower profile lately, but it wasn’t nearly as advantageous. And convincing other people was just plain exhausting.
She shifted her weight, wincing at the pressure she put on her ankle. Another few hours and it should be fully healed. She’d gotten off easy compared to the gargoyle who had taken a direct hit when he shouldn’t have been there to begin with, and it hadn’t done anyone a damn bit of good.
Before her earlier frustration took hold all over again, she focused on the here and now, the reminder of her injury giving her pause.
Had someone connected her to yesterday’s unscheduled adventure? Had they tracked her despite the safeguards that were meant to prevent that from happening?
Still, plans of slipping into a hot bath and her favorite comfy PJs crashed and burned in the face of the tracks that stopped at her door. If her four-legged trespasser hadn’t already skedaddled, she was turning the wolf’s pelt into her very own throw rug for getting in the way of a much-needed glass of wine, buttery popcorn and the Netflix marathon she had planned.
The gargoyle who stopped by either possessed some serious balls or foolishly thought that he could pull off the stray dog look this late at night. The latter was almost too much of an insult for any wolf gargoyle to bother.
In Elena’s experience, gargoyles were ruled entirely too much by their animal halves. When they weren’t griping about the curse that trapped them in their stone form during the day, they were sniffing out mates who would supposedly give the shapeshifters a way to manage said curse.
Which begged the question, what brought one of them to her front door well after midnight?
With the human race ignorant of the existence of gargoyles and other immortals, only those high up on Avalon’s food chain risked roaming the street in animal form and pressing their luck with Rhiannon’s huntresses.
Few wanted to attract the goddess’ attention or that of her fearless—some might say crazy—warrior women who policed the immortal population, ensuring that Avalon and the legend of King Arthur remained a myth.
Although Elena had pissed off her share of immortals—okay more than her share—she didn’t routinely cross paths with many gargoyles, and few were reckless enough to confront her in the open and risk permanent retribution from a huntress.
Unless they didn’t have anything to lose.
Elena shivered, her skin pulling tight at the chill that raced up her spine. With another glance over her shoulder, she tried the doorknob. Still locked. Too bad that didn’t reassure her that no one was lying in wait inside.
With a wave of her hand, the lock released and she stepped inside.
Paused on the threshold, she felt the protective threads of magic still intact. Barriers were for the weak in her experience, people unable to protect themselves the way she could, but after another sorcerer had used her as leverage to get to her twin, Emma, she decided an early warning system couldn’t hurt.
And it really couldn’t hurt if she’d landed on Morgana’s radar.
Morgana ruled over Camelot, on the other side of the veil, and had been consolidating her power ever since defeating King Arthur centuries ago. And she didn’t take kindly to anyone undermining her.
Elena had been careful, but she knew that sooner or later the other sorceress was bound to catch up to her. And there wasn’t a barrier in either realm that would save her then.
And it certainly hadn’t helped her this time, she mused a minute later after spotting a muddy print across the room on the kitchen floor. Her gargoyle trespasser had not only let himself in through the back, but had shifted to human form. And he was probably naked.
With a sigh, she set her bags down and crossed her living room. No one was waiting to pounce on her. Upstairs maybe? She checked the kitchen first, rolling her eyes at the sight of the open carton of eggs and leftover cut peppers on the counter next to the used frying pan.
A glimpse of white stopped her from doubling back to the stairs. She snatched up the fluffy white towel and glared outside.
Food and a swim in her pool? If the guy had so much as looked at her bed…
The sliding door opened under the power of the magic coursing close to the surface. Her injury forgotten for the moment, she strode toward the water’s edge, her heels clicking on the patio stones.
She immediately caught sight of the naked man gliding beneath the water, his powerful frame unmistakable despite the distortion left in the wake of his laps.
A dark head finally surfaced at the edge of the pool by her feet. An achingly familiar ice-blue gaze slid up to meet hers. “Hello, Ivy.”
Ignoring the seductive magic that whispered through her head like the most tempting of drugs, she went with an old-school approach to Vaughn’s unexpected appearance.
She put her foot on his head and shoved him back under the water.
Off balance from both the move and the fear of something deep inside cracking wide open—something buried and chained so tightly it wouldn’t hurt her again—she straightened and stalked back inside.
He came up sputtering, the choking sounds purely for effect. Drowning couldn’t kill him, or any other immortal, any more than bullets or getting run down by a freight train—unless it happened to decapitate them.
Now there was an image she could get behind.
“You know the way out. Take it now or I’ll give you a hand, and I can’t guarantee all your body parts will make it intact. I think you know which one I’m talking about.”
The glass door rattled to the point of nearly shattering when it slammed behind her. Being on home turf did nothing to calm the shaking inside that fought to break free almost as hard as she fought to shove it back down.
Ripples of her blue tracings wavered across her skin like a mirage. The vine-like markings that covered most of her body were an indication of her magical strength, which she purposely kept veiled.
Magic doesn’t make a hero.
She’d been reminding herself of that since she was a girl, but enjoyed flexing her magical muscles more than she probably should. That didn’t make her stupid enough to leave her strength on full display at all times.
Still, her lack of control when it came to masking her tracings shocked her almost as much as Vaughn’s unexpected appearance, but at least it was enough to jar her into getting a grip.
She felt him watching her through the door, but he was smart enough not to open it. Yet.
His wolf half would make it impossible to ignore his instincts for long if he was determined to talk to her.
Part of her wished he would shift into his animal form. It would make hurting him that much easier.
“You’re mad,” he said through the glass.
She laughed, the sound hollow. It probably would have worried Emma if her sister had been there. Laughing like she didn’t care—and she tried her damndest not to—tended to provoke people who’d already decided to underestimate her.
Right now Vaughn was the last person she wanted to provoke. She just wanted him gone.
She hadn’t even told Emma about what happened between them, regretting that decision for only a moment. Emma didn’t need to be dragged into any more of her problems, and Vaughn was only a temporary one.
“C’mon, Ivy. Just give me five minutes.”
The nickname grated on her nerves when it used to make her smile. She pasted an indifferent expression on her face and pivoted to face him, blatantly ignoring the towel loosely tied around his hips.
Incredibly comfortable in his own skin, he wouldn’t have thought twice about standing there naked. No doubt he hoped the towel would encourage her to take him seriously.
The door slid open, her magic easily held in check this time. “You have ten seconds.”
Ten seconds until she forced him to shift and set every hair on his furry body on fire. Punishing the wolf would be considerably more fun. Something about the sound of his pained yelp would be the sweetest music to her ears.
And if he followed that up with running away with his tail tucked between his legs, even better.
She might as well have promised him an hour judging by the grin that spread across his face. A ruggedly, handsome face that no one would ever call pretty, and definitely not now that a three-inch scar bisected his left cheek.
Scars were never permanent among immortals unless they were from childhood or caused by a mystical weapon. After her last run-in with one of Constantine’s daggers, which she’d accidentally used to trap Emma’s mate in stone for a hundred years, she’d sworn to steer clear of mystical weapons for a while.
She frowned at the scar, which resembled a series of crescent-shaped symbols that looked vaguely familiar. Where had she seen it before? “So who decided to make you look like Picasso?”
His smile didn’t so much as dim a fraction. The scar wasn’t a sore spot, then. Too bad.
Vaughn nudged the door, the move barely perceptible if she wasn’t aware of every molecule separating them. “I’d ask if you missed me, but I’m not fond of having my tail stitched to my balls.”
“Not really my style”—it was so her style—“but it may be worth tucking away in the vault for a rainy day.” Dismissing him, she tossed the carton of eggs and pepper remains in the trash. Frying pan, too.
“Is that necessary?”
“I don’t go for mongrel seconds.”
“Time’s up.” The door slid shut but the gargoyle was faster.
Too fast, even though she’d been half expecting it. She’d been impressed with his speed and reflexes when they’d met, but had forgotten just how fast he could move.
He managed to snag a handful of her shirt, enough to haul her against his chest, his warmth radiating right through the tank top he ripped as he was thrown backward.
The wall cracked under the combined force of her magic and his body’s impact. Wisps of blue smoke wafted from her palm, an inner fire urging her to do more damage. She’d long since become used to the seductive call that came with the power she possessed. The more she tapped into her magical birthright, the more she craved the sweet rush that accompanied it.
The most powerful of her kind had a history of burning themselves out on their magic addiction if they weren’t careful, forever needing the magic of those weaker to sustain them. Only cowards and bullies preyed on others like leeches, and Elena had no time or patience for either.
Hence her sore ankle and a host of other injuries she’d racked up in recent years.
Vaughn’s feet hit the floor, his claws bursting through his skin and his wolf in his eyes. He whistled appreciatively. “Very nice.”
She followed the gargoyle’s gaze to her cleavage and generous part of her lime-green bra exposed by the tear in her shirt.
“Don’t suppose the panties match?” He waited until she met his eyes before he pounced.
He didn’t get within arm’s reach before she waved the table into his path. A dark brow arched. “You’re slowing me down with kindling?”
“Last chance, Vaughn.”
A laughing smile lit up his eyes. “I think I’ll play the odds.”
* * *
Gods, he’d missed her.
Vaughn could sell it to himself a hundred ways—she’d partly brought this on herself, he was out of options, his sister came first—but it didn’t change the fact that he’d missed the sorceress far more than he realized.
Even when she’d shoved his head under water, flashes of blue ivy shimmering across her skin, betraying her emotions, she was the most stunning female he’d ever laid eyes on.
And in another few minutes she’d be the most stunning female to despise him. And despise was probably putting it mildly given how pissed she was already.
“I didn’t come here to fight, Ivy.” Although he’d known it was inevitable.
She glared at the nickname that came too easily. “You shouldn’t have come at all.”
“I didn’t have any choice.” She was his last shot. His only shot.
He wanted to take the fact that she hadn’t blasted him out of the room as a good sign, but knew better. “Because I need your help.”
Her tracings shimmered across her cheek then vanished, and he wondered if she realized it was happening. She hadn’t the first time, had been stunned when she’d seen it for herself.
“Then you wasted your time.”
“I know the way I left things—”
“The way you left things,” she echoed flatly, “doesn’t make a difference to me one way or another. I don’t care why you left, or why you think I’d help you with a damn thing. Spoiler alert, I wouldn’t. You wasted your time coming here.”
“Ivy,” he pleaded, preparing to do this the hard way, already hating himself for it.
“Don’t call me that,” she snapped. “I want you to leave my house, Vaughn. Now.”
The frying pan he’d used to cook earlier flew across the room. The cast iron grazed his forehead with laser precision when he wasn’t fast enough to get out of its way. “I’m really starting to get the impression you don’t want to talk to me.”
“What was your first clue?” Long strands of her dark hair kicked up in a breeze he could see but not feel. She turned her hand up and the first flickers of blue twirled in a fireball that hovered above her palm. “Time’s up.”
He held up his hands and retreated a step. “I’m going.”
She didn’t let the magic dissipate until he reached the patio door. “Don’t come back unless you want to become part of the taxidermy collection in my basement.”
He feigned a shudder. “That’s cold.” He turned to leave, grabbed the closest chair and fired it backward.
Elena blasted the chair as he’d expected, but wasn’t fast enough to stop a second chair from slamming into her. The moment her eyes left him, he leaped, catching her in a tackle that sent them both crashing to the floor.
Streaks of blue flashed across her eyes like lightning in a bottle.
“Please.” Vaughn tucked his face against her throat, clinging to his determination when part of him wanted to call the whole thing off.
They hadn’t been this close in weeks and he’d missed that too. Missed her scent, the feel of her skin beneath his jaw, how good her body felt softening beneath his.
Some of the tension drained from her body. From the corner of his eye he saw her raise her hand and braced himself. Instead of hitting him or using her magic to force him off, she touched him, the tips of her fingers raking the ends of his damp hair.
His eyes slid closed, a content rumble working free of his chest as the wolf within reached for her touch. “I wish you hadn’t done that.” He nipped at her skin, aching to rub against her.
“Me too,” she murmured, gripping his shoulders.
With a burst of physical strength he hadn’t imagined her capable of, she rolled them to their sides—and jammed her knee between his legs.
For a second he felt nothing, only saw the sparks of white flash behind his closed lids, and then agony snapped through his body.
“Get out!” Elena dragged herself to her feet, unruffled as he lay in a crumpled heap, sucking in one breath at a time, waiting for the pain to subside.
Immortal and impervious to most forms of death, he still had no defense against a furious woman with a knee forged in titanium.
Turning her back on him, she walked out of the room.
He lifted his head, growling the foreign command he’d memorized, the ancient magic in the word crackling across his tongue while the ring he wore burned his finger.
Elena stopped mid-stride. “Vaughn?” A visible tremor ran through her body. “What have you done?”
Gritting through the lingering pain, he climbed to his feet, circling around to face her.
Panic widened her eyes, and it took him a moment to realize that she couldn’t move. The old Fae word he’d barely been able to pronounce had actually worked, the magic he otherwise wouldn’t have been able to wield channeled by the ring he’d been given.
Curls of ivy burst across her skin like fireworks going off. She couldn’t break the hold, but her sorceress heritage ran deeper than the Fae blood in her, and she’d slip the leash soon.
Burying the gut-wrenching sensation eating him up inside, he brushed her hair away from her face.
“Whatever you’re thinking about doing, Vaughn, you can stop. Stop this now.”
The wolf growled at the trace of fear in her voice. Vaughn leaned forward, pressing a kiss to her forehead.
“Vaughn!” The fear was gone, the steel-tone he admired back in full force.
He put his hand on her chest, reciting the other words he’d committed to memory before he could talk himself out of it. Her skin warmed beneath his palm, and he drew back as a series of Fae glyphs appeared like a brand on her skin.
The mystical tattoo resembled an archaic necklace and pulsed as if it were alive, drawing streaks of blue across her skin until they pooled in the sapphire-like center.
Elena’s eyes widened. “What is happen—”
She screamed, the agony-filled sound tearing a snarl from the wolf inside him.
He caught her as she collapsed. “I’m sorry, Ivy. There was no other way.”