“Victoria!” Max yelled, his shields moving sinuously in a herald to their rapidly approaching destruction.
It was her fault he was here, fighting a battle that was hers alone. It was love for her that had brought him to this end. It would be her love for him that would spare him.
“Max.” Magic burst from Victoria in an explosion so powerful it brought her to her knees. It hit Max with such violence his body jerked as if physically struck. His wards restored to their rigid state and his bending arms straightened with renewed strength.
She gave all that she had to him, saving nothing for herself because her life would mean little without him. She wouldn’t survive his loss. She’d barely survived Darius.
Max roared in triumph at the sudden, heady rush. A thin layer of warding separated from the one that shielded Max. It grew in size, expanding outward, encompassing the Triumvirate and preventing reinforcing power from the Source from reaching the brothers.
Unable to recharge his depleting strength, Max’s target fell to his knees, crying out at his impending vanquishing.
Victoria watched through tear-filled eyes.
The Triumvirate draws strength from their numbers.
Darius’s voice drifted through her mind. She and Max weren’t alone. There were three of them, just as there were three of the brothers. And it was Christmas Eve. They had a fighting chance.
Using the very last of her strength, she sent one last volley toward the nearest brother. The impotent force of the blast was barely enough to draw his attention. But as she sank to her knees, his laser-bright gaze locked fully on her. She felt the satisfaction that gripped him at the sight of her weakened state. He would assume her support of Max was affecting her. He didn’t know it was already too late.
Steeled for the inevitable blow, Victoria made no sound when the piercing evil of his strike sank deep into her chest, chilling her heart and slowing its beat. She bit her lip and fell to her hands, holding back any cry that might distract Max at the moment of triumph.
The alley began to spin and writhe. Another punishing blast struck her full on the crown of her head, knocking her to her back. Her skull thudded against the gritty, potted asphalt, and her sight dimmed and narrowed. Her ears rang, drowning out the sound of her racing pulse.
“Max . . . ,” she whispered, tasting the coppery flavor of blood on her tongue.
A blinding explosion of light turned the night into day. Sulfur filled her nostrils and burned her throat. The buildings around them shook with the impact, freeing a cloud of minute debris that mingled with the falling snow.
You did it, my love, she thought as her limbs chilled.
Max’s agonized cry broke her heart.
Icy snowdrops mingled with hot tears. In the sudden stillness, the distant sounds of Christmas songs and jingling bells tried to spread cheer. Instead it was a mournful requiem.
Her chest rose on a last breath.
I love you.
With Max on her mind and in her heart, Victoria died.
Six hours earlier . . .
He was there, in the darkness. Watching her. Circling her.
His hunger wrapped around her, sharp and biting. Insatiable. It startled her sometimes, how ravenous he was. She could not temper or appease his desires.
She could only surrender. Submit. To them, to him.
Arching her back, her arms stretched the distance allowed by the silken bonds at her wrists, and her eyelids fluttered behind the red satin blindfold. Victoria stood, anchored, spread-eagled, her hands fisted around the forest green velvet ropes that extended from the ceiling. The colors of the season. More than mere sentimentality, it was a testament to Max’s attention to detail. The same intense attention he paid to her body. He knew her inside and out, every curve and crevice, every dream and secret.
The sudden sharp smack of the crop against her bare bu**ocks made her hiss like the feline she was. The sting lingered, grew hot, made her writhe.
“Don’t move, kitten,” Max rumbled, his deep voice a husky caress.
If only she could see him. Her feline sight could drink him in, worship him. He was so beautiful. So delicious. Her warlock. Hers.
His lust was a potent scent in the air, dark and alluring, powerful. It beaded her ni**les, swelled her br**sts, slicked her sex. Her mouth watered for the taste of his c**k and she purred, the low rumble an unmistakable plea for more. Always more.
She was as insatiable as he, driven by a love so consuming and vital she wondered how she’d ever lived without it.
“Max,” she whispered, licking her lips. “I need you inside me.”
Magic rose in the air between them, his considerable power augmented by her Familiar gifts. Her collar tingled around her neck. It was invisible to mortals, but to other magickind it was a blatant and unmistakable symbol of Max’s ownership. A simple black ribbon that proclaimed she was owned, loved, looked after, protected. She’d rejected that symbol of submission for centuries after Darius had perished. Then Max Westin hunted her, and she learned to love supplication.
Now they were rogues, tasked with only the most unwanted assignments, punished by the Council at every turn. The adversity only made their bond stronger, deepening their connection.
“I love you,” she breathed, arching in an effort to relieve the agonizing lust that consumed her. Her skin was hot and misted with sweat, desperate for the feel of his powerful body pressed to hers.
The scorching lash of a tongue on her beaded nipple made her cry out in near mindless longing.
“I love you, too,” he murmured, his breath humid against her newly dampened skin. She heard the crop clatter on the floor just before his large hands cupped her hips.
“Y-yes.” She swallowed hard. “Yes, Max.”
As his heated face pressed into the valley between her br**sts, his hands slid around to cup her bu**ocks, his fingers kneading into the firm flesh. His touch was gentle and reverent, despite the savage need she smelled on him. He loved her so much, enough to temper his passion and control it. There was nothing in the world like being made love to with such ferocious intensity and focus. Victoria was addicted to the pleasure he bestowed with such expert detail.
“Fuck me,” she whispered through dry lips. “Gods, Max . . . I need your cock.”
“Not yet, kitten. I’m not done playing.”
She shuddered as his hot mouth wrapped around the aching tip of her breast. Panting, she writhed in his arms. “Damn you . . . you’re killing me.”
The sound of the Boston Pops playing holiday songs flowed in from the living room stereo, mingling with the sound of rushing blood in her ears. Outside, the snow continued to fall unabated, blanketing the city in a pristine layer. It was beautiful, but deceptive. The hair on Victoria’s nape rose and a trickle of sweat coursed down her temple. Dark, insidious magic lay in wait for them. The whistling of the wind against the windows gave proof of that.