“When’s it gonna be my turn?” William whined. “I want to hold my preciouses. Preciousees? Whatever. I want!”
O-kay. That was new.
“They aren’t yours,” Maddox snapped, doing his best to whisper for the sake of the babies.
“They kind of are. I delivered them,” William pointed out.
“I conceived them.”
“Big deal. Most guys can do that. Not many have the know-how to slice a woman from hip to hip and dig the little creatures out of her…uh, never mind,” William said as a fierce growl rose from Maddox.
Expecting a fight, Kane stepped inside to claim the baby.
William’s electric blues swung his way. “Disaster. Couldn’t stay away from the most delightful darlings ever born? Oh, yes, you are,” he cast at the children. “Yes, yes, you are.”
Baby talk. Disgusting.
The negative reaction surprised him. Once, he would have been right there beside William, saying the same things, in the same manner. In the dark of night, he used to dream of such a happily ever after for himself. A loving wife. Adoring children. Then the minions had tried to steal his seed and he…he…
“Don’t call me by the demon’s name,” he snarled, then realized his fervency had caused the children to jolt awake and cry. Shame coursed through him. “Sorry. But I’m not that disgusting piece of—” Yelling again. “Sorry. Just watch your mouth, okay?”
“Hush now,” William said sternly, and Kane had no idea who the command was for.
Didn’t matter, really. Everyone quieted.
Ashlyn glanced over at Kane, her amber eyes welcoming. She looked nothing like Kane’s woman—no, not his, he quickly amended—and yet she reminded him of the girl. The delicacy of her bone structure, perhaps. Or the depth of her concern for those around her, maybe. “Do you want to hold Urban?”
“No, thank you,” he replied at the same time Maddox said, “No, he doesn’t.”
A stilted moment of silence elapsed.
Kane ignored the hurt the words caused. The refusal was justified. He was a danger to everyone he encountered. Had his mind not been such a mess, constantly feeding the demon the tastiest of meals, light bulbs would have been shorting out and the walls and floors would have been cracking.
“I just wanted to get a look at them before… Well, I’ll be leaving a little later today. I’ve got a female to help.” He cleared the clog of emotion from his throat.
“Well, come on, then,” Ashlyn said. “Sabin and Strider mentioned the pointy-eared woman from New York. I like the sound of her.”
“She’s…” Magnificent. Lovely. Witty. “Something.” His insides tightened as he approached the rockers.
William stood to do the same, remaining by his side, stiff, his hand poised over the hilt of a dagger. To protect the babies from Kane’s affliction? Yeah. Probably.
Can’t blame him.
“You gettin’ so close to me ’cause you’re trying to taste my flavor, Willy boy?” he said to the warrior who had yet to back off. Teasing was better than raging. Or worse. Crying.
“Maybe.” William allowed a few more inches of space. “But you just ruined it. Flavor? Seriously? I like my conquests with a little more maturity.”
“I’m mature. I’m even old enough to plow your mom.”
“Please. She would eat your liver for lunch and your kidneys for dinner.”
“Could you guys be any more disgusting?” Ashlyn asked.
“Yes,” they said in unison.
Urban chortled, as if he understood. The kid had a full head of black hair, and his eyes were the same shade of violet as his father’s—though they were far more serious and too intelligent for a newborn. As Kane looked him over, two horns rose from the baby’s skull, and black scales appeared on his hands.
“Defensive actions?” he asked.
“We think so,” Ashlyn replied, sounding somewhat embarrassed. “He doesn’t mean any insult.”
“I know.” He shifted his gaze to Maddox. The female child, Ever, had the honey-colored hair of her mother, the strands wound into tight little curls. Her eyes swam with orange and gold flames, and a mouthful of teeth peeked out from under her lips.
The twins had been born a little over a month ago, and yet they appeared quite older.
The boy stared at Kane as if plotting his murder.
The girl looked him over and dismissed him, concentrating on William and holding out her arms. Grinning, William claimed her from her father. She nuzzled against the warrior’s neck, resting her head on his shoulder and sighing with contentment.
“Isn’t she the best?” William said, his grin widening. “She used to have claws, but they shrank. Didn’t they, princess? Oh, yes, they did, but they’ll come out to play if some dumb loser ever tries to take what you don’t want to give, won’t they?”
Another sharp pain tore through Kane’s chest. “The children are beautiful,” he told the beaming parents, and he meant it. He removed a bejeweled dagger from the sheath at his side, and handed it hilt first to Maddox. “This is for Ever, from her uncle Kane.”
Maddox nodded his head in acceptance.
He palmed the matching dagger, and placed it on the small table beside Ashlyn. “This is for Urban.”
She offered a soft, sweet smile in thanks. “How wonderfully thoughtful. The children will love them, I know it.”
“Well, I don’t. Put those dangerous things away,” William chided. “My darlings can’t play with knives for another couple of months. And why are you giving them presents now? Why can’t you wait until the appropriate time and—” His gaze zeroed in on Kane, and he pressed his lips together.
Did he suspect the truth—that Kane was leaving for good?
Whatever. Kane ignored him, slapping Maddox on the shoulder. “I want to thank you for everything you’ve done for me. Words cannot express what you mean to me.” He didn’t wait around for the warrior’s reply; he couldn’t. The backs of his eyes were burning. He must have gotten dust in them.
He strode from the room, intending to hunt down the remaining warriors he loved more than life. Torin, Lucien, Reyes, Paris, Aeron, Gideon, Amun, Sabin, Strider and Cameo. Over the centuries, they’d fought together, avenged each other, saved each other. Yes, for many years they’d been split into two different groups, one determined to battle the Hunters, the other determined to exist in peace. But at heart, they’d always been together. And in the end, the war had boiled over, bringing them back to the same purpose. Survival.