29.1 | Damsel in a Wolf Den

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Nika's heart thundered in her chest as she came to a halt at the edge of the forest. Her mouth was dry, palms sweaty, stomach flopping like a fish out of water. She drew in the air through her nose, steadying herself. But to anyone who watched, she was only catching her breath after a trek through the meadow.

The scraps of a plan had been falling, but she knew it was pointless to take control of this situation. All she could do was keep her phone on, so that Ren knew of her location at all times.

Glancing back toward headquarters, she searched for his figure among the dawn-dripped gardens. But he was nowhere to be found.

Good, she thought. He's going to see Elliot. That's exactly what I wanted him to do...

But she found herself staring at the gate to her father's property, hoping he would emerge and tell her there was another way to save Lu and stop the Volkari's rebellion. That she didn't have to do this alone.

She waited, but he never came.

So with another breath, Nika turned around and entered the forest, rehearsing the things she planned to tell Dante. Then a familiar figure appeared from behind a cluster of trees, and her mind went silent. Cinnamon-soaked eyes gleamed as morning light blanketed the forest, and a slashing grin made Nika nauseous.

"Have a nice chat with your boyfriend?"

Nika forced out a mocking laugh. "Romanovich isn't my boyfriend."

Not yet, anyway. There was still much discussion to be had about that particular subject.

Dante stopped an arm's length away. Nika restrained the urge to punch his pretty face. Repeatedly.

"You two looked pretty cozy earlier."

"He's a little attached. After my vacation to Tatiana's cave, I needed a blood fix, and he was conveniently within reach of my fangs." The lie dripped from her tongue like honey, sweet and smooth and never to be questioned. "We may have gotten a bit carried away, and one thing led to another. Now he thinks we're bloodmates or something."

She watched Dante's reaction carefully. While the effortless smirk remained, his nostrils flared at the word bloodmates, and she didn't miss the way his eyes dipped to her neck—as if he was searching for bite marks. It wasn't exactly confirmation of Ren's suspicions, but Nika had to wonder if Dante's flirtatiousness and attentions were driven by things other than the pack's agenda.

"He watched you leave. Does that mean he knows what you are? And why we're meeting?"

"I told him that you're taking me to Lu and made him promise not to tell a soul."

"And he believed it?"

"He's all muscle, no brains. Plus, I told him I've got you wrapped around my finger and you're willing to do anything for me. He was more focused on the fact that I might have to seduce you to get Lu back."

Dante laughed. "Ruthless. I'm impressed."

He searched her face, and Nika prayed her keeper's mask concealed her true sentiments. She would say and do whatever was necessary, but there was a line she wouldn't cross.

Seducing Dante into giving up Lu—that wasn't an option. Not just because of Ren and how it might rip open the wounds they'd healed only minutes ago, but because Nika had too much respect for herself to sell her body in that way.

She wouldn't harm an innocent either, or trade Lu for the Ministry's secrets, for neither her conscience nor her father would survive those circumstances. A delicate balance was imperative. Give him enough but never too much.

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