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And now, the continuation of THE ADVERSARY!
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THE ADVERSARY, Chapter One (continued)
She rubbed her face and fell back to the sickened wondering if this latest catastrophe would really be the end of them. But this colossal, deadly creature was her firstborn boy, and she couldn’t help but be glad that Liam was no longer around to witness whatever the sentinels were doing to his father’s body.
As she struggled with conflicting emotions, the white dragon floated low over the trees, dropped with precision into the clearing a safe distance away, and shapeshifted into a human male who raced over to her.
Liam had inherited Dragos’s dragon form and tall, powerful build, along with Pia’s blond hair, blue eyes, and smoother, more graceful features. The result was a strikingly handsome young man. His shadowed features were sharp with concern. “Mom!”
She rushed to meet him. His hands came down on her shoulders, and she threw her arms around his neck. “I’m all right.” The lie was so outrageous she discovered she could say it quite calmly. “It’s okay.”
He hugged her tight. “I didn’t know what to think when Eva said you ran off.”
“I wasn’t in control of my Wyr side. I had to leave before I did something stupid.” His clean, familiar scent hit every mom button in her body, flooding her with feel-good chemicals. Despite herself, she relaxed a bit and leaned back to take a good look at him. Stress and worry etched his features and made him look harder, older. “How are things going back there?”
He shook his head. “I don’t know. Once we got… him… subdued, Graydon and Rune made me step away.”
That made her feel a little better about leaving so abruptly. “He’s your dad. That’s what they should have done. It’s what I would have done if I’d been more in control of myself and able to hang around.”
His well-shaped mouth acquired a stubborn line she knew very well. “If I have any hope of leading a demesne successfully, I need to be involved with the tough decisions and difficult scenarios. But Rune said this wasn’t the time to push it.”
Was that regret or relief? His expression was too complex to decipher, and with a small pang she realized the simplicity from Liam’s childhood was gone.
She forced herself to concentrate on the present. “It’s going to be hard enough for them to do what they have to do without having to worry about how you’re handling it. They’re close to him too.”
His arms tightened around her. “I know. That’s why it didn’t feel right to walk away. They should have the support of someone at their back. But right now nothing feels right, so I did as Rune asked and stepped away.” His shadowed blue gaze focused on her. “What can I do for you?”
She lifted one shoulder while she did an internal check on the streaks of panic that had been running for hours like wildfire along the edges of her mind. Yep, they were still there.
But running away wasn’t going to help evict the entity that had possessed Dragos, and they had no guarantee that—that… (say the damn word, even if it’s only in your mind)… torture would force the entity to reveal any of its secrets or relinquish its hold on him.
“I need to go back,” she said. “I wasn’t in control before, but running away isn’t going to free Dragos or fix anything.” After an adrenaline-fueled day, her thinking felt frustrating and sluggish. She forced herself to concentrate point by point. “Niall’s okay. All the children are in a safe place. I don’t know where they were taken, and that bothers me. I can’t picture where he is or who’s looking after him. But none of that is rational.”
“Let’s find out when we return,” he said. “I would also feel better if we knew where the little stinker was.”
She squeezed his hand as she bit her lip. “Hard as this is, I have to say no. I can’t stand back and let other people fight for Dragos’s life. Can you?”
Fire flashed in his gaze. For a moment he looked intensely dragony, hard and ruthless and entirely predatory. “No.”
“Right.” She gave him a grim nod. “But that decision comes with risk. If that thing in Dragos manages to break the restraints we’ve placed on it, one way it could hurt us badly is if it found out how to go after our children.”
It was his turn to study her. It felt odd to have her son give her such a candid assessment. Not that long ago, he had been prone to chewing through his diapers when he turned into his dragon form.
But she lifted her chin and accepted his scrutiny. She had just seriously slid off the rails, and she wasn’t entirely certain she had made it wholly back onto the track. Maybe having somebody scrutinize her decisions and behavior wasn’t such a bad idea.
He heaved a sigh. “I don’t like it, but I agree.”
“So we go back. We find out if the sentinels have made any progress, and if they haven’t….” Her voice trailed away as she remembered the terrible sound Dragos had made.
Liam’s hands found their way to her shoulders again. He replied in a very steady voice, “We have to assume they haven’t. Mom, it hasn’t been very long.”
“I know. We should assume they haven’t gotten anywhere yet.” Her own voice shook. Goddammit, Giovanni, pull yourself together. Don’t fall apart in front of your own son. More strongly, she said, “We need to get a team together and go back into that hellhole to see what we can find out.”
He frowned. “You mean the one you and dad went into when the sinkholes appeared, under the construction site for the music hall?”
“Yes. That’s where Dragos got—hell, Liam, this sounds like something out of The Exorcist, but I don’t know what else to call it. That’s where he was possessed.” Her eyes narrowed as she thought back. “I think there might be something in that space our intruder didn’t want anybody to find. He made a point of posting a guard around the hole to keep people out. It was the first thing he did when he came out of the hole.”
His attention sharpened. “What did he say, exactly?”
She tried to summon up the exact words but drew a blank. “I don’t remember. I was too busy reeling with shock and trying to figure out what to do. But I remember he didn’t want anybody going down there. Our intruder is not a philanthropic guy. He made it sound like the site isn’t safe—which of course it isn’t—but I don’t think he would give a damn if anybody fell down the hole and got themselves killed. If we’re going to defeat him, we need to find out why he wanted to keep people away and to learn everything else we can about him, and that means taking a team of our best magic users down to inspect the scene.”
“Okay,” Liam said. “We’ve got a plan. It’ll be good to have something useful to do.”
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