AUTHOR

JESSICA JARMAN

LOVE IS A JOURNEY…NOT A DESTINATION.

DEVOTED


Mekhi stood, back against the wall, in the shadows. And waited.

He’d been there for hours and would stay as long as it took. Today, someone would sneak in here and try to kill Aelwyn, the Regina. His gaze shifted, landed on the figure stretched on the bed across from him. Even in the darkness, the blackout curtains drawn against the sun’s rays, he could see his queen clearly. Unaware of the threat against her, unaware even of Mekhi’s presence, she slept soundly, her chest rising and falling evenly.

Pushing outward with his senses, he scanned the household. The staff members were all in their rooms. He wondered if one of them was the betrayer Rebecca had seen in her visions. A frantic call from his best friend, Traian, had alerted him to the danger. Traian’s mate was a seer and was certain the attack on the Regina would happen this day. Mekhi hadn’t shared the intel with Aelwyn because she’d have too many questions. Not the least of which would be the source of his information. He couldn’t very well tell her that it was her brother’s mate’s visions that had tipped them off. Especially since as far as she was concerned Traian had no mate, and was dead.

Movement in the back stairwell pulled at Mekhi’s senses, and he turned his focus on the task at hand, protecting his queen. He closed his eyes and concentrated a moment to cloak his presence thoroughly—a little gift he had courtesy of a mage a ways back on his family tree—so the vamp was oblivious to any presence in the room save Aelwyn.

He tightened his grip on the blade he held and waited. Moments later, he watched the doorknob twist slowly then the door inched open. Rage smoldered inside him as the traitor came into the room; he recognized the young man who had started as kitchen help a month earlier. He had no reason to be in the Regina’s quarters, and if that wasn’t enough, the long knife in his grasp as he stepped toward the bed was proof enough of his intentions.

Mekhi moved forward, lifted the short sword, and whistled quietly. The blade whispered through the air as the man turned, separating head from body. Anger still swelled as Mekhi stared down at the bleeding corpse. He felt no remorse for his actions. This traitor had made his choice, and Mekhi had done his sworn duty. And would continue to do so. Withdrawing his cell, he put in a call for a clean-up crew then went to Aelwyn’s side. He lowered himself to sit on the mattress, taking care that he would block the sight of the body when she opened her eyes.

“Aelwyn,” he murmured, brushing the silky black strands from her sleep-flushed face.

She moaned and turned her cheek into his touch. Mekhi closed his eyes a moment and inhaled deeply.

“Aelwyn,” he repeated, a bit louder as he focused his gaze back on her face.

Her lids lifted, and sleepy, dark eyes met his. “Mekhi?”

Her nostrils flared, and he cursed as she sat up quickly. Knowing she smelled the blood now soaking into her carpet, he gripped her shoulders to prevent her from looking around him.

“What’s going on?” she demanded. “Who is that?”

“I need you to pack a bag,” he instructed.

Aelwyn stared at him a moment. “Explain. Now.”

“There was an intruder,” he said sharply. “I took care of it. Cleaners will be here soon to…clean.”

“And I need to pack a bag why?” she asked.

“We’re leaving—as soon as possible—until the threat has passed.”

She lifted a brow. “The threat you just took care of?”

“Damn it, Aelwyn,” he bit out.

“Don’t ‘damn it’ me.” Pushing him slightly, she swung her legs over the edge of the bed and slapped away his hands when he tried to stop her. “It isn’t as though I’ve never seen a dead body before, for fuck’s sake. You want me to pack a bag? Let me pack a bag before the damned cleaners get here, so I’m not in the way.”

He stood as she moved around the figure on the floor to walk across the room. The door banged against the wall, echoing loudly, as she stepped into the closet.

“You’re angry,” he said quietly.

She came back to the doorway and propped her hands on her hips. The action highlighted what she was wearing—or rather the lack of clothing on her lithe body. The simple white panties and chemise were a far cry from what one would expect a queen to wear, but Mekhi couldn’t argue that she looked damned fine. His cock heartily agreed, pressing against the zipper of his jeans. He broadened his stance and waited for her to respond because if he knew his Regina, she was ready to blow.


“Angry?” Aelwyn struggled to control her breathing and the thoughts racing through her mind. “You have no idea.”

“Then, please, enlighten me, my Queen,” he said bowing his head slightly.

“Oh shut up.” She went back into the closet to dress and, apparently, to pack.

Her hands shook as she pulled a pair of slacks on and fastened them. Angry was an understatement. She was enraged. Even now, her senses buzzed as the scent of blood filled her nostrils, pushing her emotions into a tailspin.

And the target of her ire? She had many to choose from. The traitor who had dared enter her home, her bedroom, to harm her. The people who plotted to kill her and her entire family. The man who had succeeded in taking her brother from her. Hell, she was even angry with her brother—the person she’d trusted above everyone, for leaving her alone.

After donning a lightweight sweater, she pulled a small suitcase from the top shelf, brought it out, and set on the foot of the bed.

Unzipping and flipping it open, she glanced at Mekhi, who stood stock-still watching her. “And just how long am I packing for?” she snapped.

“At least several days,” he answered. “I know this is—”

“Save it.” She spun on her heel to gather the clothes she needed.

His heavy sigh followed her. Part of her knew she was acting like a petulant child, but Mekhi should be used to it. She’d had plenty to direct at him lately. After Traian had been killed, Mekhi had come to her and told her about the threat to the royal family. And that was all he’d shared. He kept all the details he’d learned to himself. For her protection, he’d said. While she could understand to a degree, it was infuriating to be kept in the dark. She was the Regina, for fuck’s sake, and he expected her to follow him blindly on his say so.

“Aelwyn,” he murmured when she returned to shove an armful of clothing into the case.

She turned to him. “What? I’m doing as you command, Mekhi. I’m packing a bag. I’ll be leaving when you say it’s time. What more do you want?”

He stepped forward and took her hands, meeting her gaze. “It’s my duty to keep you safe.”

“Yes.” She yanked away from him. “But you don’t tell me anything! You share only when you have to. I had no clue Kenin had anything to do with my brother’s death until after you took him out. I sat in that man’s company—let him comfort me when I was mourning! You only told me about his family’s involvement when my cousin came to investigate them. And this—” she gestured to the body behind him. “You obviously knew enough to be waiting for him, but you said nothing to me.”

“There was no reason to worry you,” he insisted.

“Worry me?” she cried. “People are trying to kill my family. I do nothing but worry. Perhaps if I knew more, I wouldn’t as much. I’d be able to help; I’d be prepared. I’m capable of defending myself. You and Traian made sure of that.”

“That was before you were Regina.”

“Taking the throne hardly means I’ve forgotten how to handle myself,” she scoffed.

“No, it doesn’t,” he agreed. “But you are to be protected above all else, and as head of the Enforcers, it falls on me to make sure that happens.”

“When Traian was in charge, he didn’t keep things from me. If he were here now, he’d tell me everything.” She lifted her chin and stared at Mekhi defiantly.

“If believing that makes you feel better, go right ahead.” He shrugged. “Traian was my best friend, and I made him a promise that if anything happened to him, I would stand in his stead and make sure you were safe and cared for. I will do whatever it takes to keep that promise, even if you don’t agree with how I do that.”

A sharp knock on the bedroom door halted any response she had. Not that she had a good one, she thought as Mekhi went to the door. She slid her feet into her shoes, closed her case and lifted it.

“I’ll be in my office,” she said, leaving him to instruct the cleaners.

Once in her downstairs office, she set the suitcase next to the door and moved behind her desk. As she lowered herself into her chair, exhaustion weighed on her. Honestly, she knew Mekhi was doing what he thought was best—even if she didn’t necessarily agree—and that was why she couldn’t hold on to her anger long when it came to him.

For all the tension and disagreements between them lately, she didn’t know what she’d do without him. Especially now Traian was gone. While she still had some family—her aunt and uncle and cousins—Mekhi was the constant in her life. She knew without a doubt she could count on him to always have her best interests at heart.

Aelwyn scrubbed her palms over her face then opened her calendar. At Mekhi’s “request”, she didn’t have many appointments, but there were some with trusted advisors. She’d have to leave her assistant instructions to reschedule.

She’d just finished sending an email regarding that when Mekhi strode in. When she lifted her eyes, her heart stuttered slightly. A common reaction to the sight of him. She could admit, to herself at least, that she’d been infatuated with him for…well, forever, it seemed. What had begun as a girlish crush on her brother’s friend had flourished into full-blown lust. Not that she let on. That would have been horrifying, especially considering nothing could ever come of it. She was the Regina, and he was an Enforcer—such a match would be frowned upon.

She ran her gaze over him. He’d pulled his dark blond hair back into a stubby ponytail, and light stubble darkened his jaw. Long lashes framed intense brown eyes, which were trained on her. His standard black clothing did nothing to hide his muscular frame. Aelwyn pushed aside the familiar ache and disappointment filling her. Unfortunately, all other things aside, she was not Mekhi’s type. She was female.

She cleared her throat awkwardly. “Yes?”

“We’ll leave after dark. It’ll be safer, and will give me the time I need to make arrangements,” he informed her.

Aelwyn nodded, seeing the wisdom in his plan. While their kind could travel in daylight, they were still sensitive to the sun’s rays and that could be a disadvantage if any danger arose.

“You should feed,” he continued. “We’ll have a supply, of course, but we may not have a live source for a while.”

“All right.” Aelwyn nodded. “Do you want me to arrange one for you as well?”

“No, I’ve taken care of that.”

“Where are we going?” she asked.

The corners of his mouth lifted slightly, and he said nothing.

“I see. No need to worry my little head with that information, right?” she said tightly. “Please let me know when you’re ready to leave.”

Turning to her computer, she stared, without seeing, at the screen. After a few minutes, when Mekhi hadn’t moved, Aelwyn glanced at him.

“Was there anything else?” she asked, pasting a benign smile on her face.

He stood, bowed slightly. “Regina.” With that, he left the room.

Now, he was annoyed. Join the club, buddy.