Bayon Jean-Baptiste (Page 15)

Violence had never called to Genevieve until now. Until she stood in the doorway of the clinic's lab and watched Jean-Baptiste touch the voodoun's hair. Her lip peeled back and her canines started to drop. She wanted to spring, release her puma, race across the floor and leap onto the woman, claws out. But hurting Isi, or even displaying her nearly debilitating jealously, wasn't why she was here.

Trying to prove her worth to the elders and her commitment to the Pantera by removing the woman from the Wildlands without incident was.

Jean-Baptiste stepped away from Isi, and turned around to face Genevieve. If it was possible, he looked even more fiercely handsome than he had a few hours ago when she'd left him in the forest. His amber eyes were glowing with warmth and the metal in his lip winked at her.

She swallowed the saliva that had pooled in her mouth.

“It's good to see you, Miss Burel,” he said. “And much sooner than I had anticipated. Have you come to tell me your dealings with the elders are done?” His voice enveloped her, made her insides melt, made her cat purr. She growled and shook her head. “I've come for her.”

Isi raised one eyebrow.

“And what do you plan to do with her?” Jean-Baptiste asked evenly, coming to stand in front of the voodoun.

“Take her back. She doesn't belong here. She doesn't want to be here.” She looked at Isi then, tried to push back the desire to rip the diamond studs from the female's nose with her teeth. “Isn't that right?”

“By here do you mean the Wildlands?” Jean-Baptiste asked. “Or beside me?”

She turned to him and growled. “Of course I mean the Wildlands.” But inside her guts, and her heart, the latter seemed a far bigger concern at the moment.

Foolish female.

“I think I have some of that anti-love elixir with me,” Isi uttered dryly. “It's yours if you want it, Baptiste.” Genevieve whirled on the female and hissed, “Shut up.”

Once again, Isi's eyebrows rose.

Jean-Baptiste started toward Genevieve. “The elders want her out of the Wildlands.”

She lifted her chin. “That's right.”

“And you've come to do their bidding.” Those liquid amber eyes pinned her where she stood. “Do you even know why?”

“Of course I do. They believe her to be detrimental to our land, to Ashe and the child. They know what's best for our kind, Jean-Baptiste. They always have.

They've always protected the Pantera.” It's why I've admired them so much.

Why I've given up my life to be in their service.

Jean-Baptiste didn't agree or disagree, just kept coming toward her.

“Do you think it's wise to take on a job without knowing the reasons behind such a belief? What if they're wrong? Or misinformed?”

“They're the elders,” she said as if that was the only explanation necessary.

“They know all.”

“I don't believe that. If they knew all, why is it we still can't breed? Why do we still have pools of dying magic on our borders?”

Genevieve just stared at him. She'd had the same thoughts, the same questions, and had pushed them from her mind. Wasn't it traitorous to question the elders?

“Isi could be the one person to help Ashe,” Jean-Baptiste was saying. “Help the cub.”

“And what if she's not?” Genevieve said softly, her head growing fuzzy as his scent pushed into her nostrils. “What if she does more harm than good? That could be behind the elders' motives.

They could know something about her we don't.”

Jean-Baptiste's gaze was fierce.

“Something they refuse to name?”

“They are the Pantera!”

“No. We are the Pantera. All of us.”

“Baptiste.” It was Isi. She'd grown suddenly pale, and she moaned softly.

“Can we do this? Now. I'm not feeling so great again.”

“You don't have to stay here,” Genevieve called to her. “You can't be held against your will.”

“Dammit, Genevieve!” Jean-Baptiste roared.

But Genevieve wasn't listening. “I can take you back myself.”

“No,” Isi uttered, coming forward, reaching out for Jean-Baptiste. “I'll see her.”

As soon as Isi's hands made contact with his arm, Genevieve lost it. The elders didn't exist anymore, neither did her weakness and pride. And claws appeared where her hands used to be.

Instinct possessed her and she stalked forward, her eyes narrowed on the voodoun, her cat pushing through her skin.

“Stop, Miss Burel,” Jean-Baptiste warned.

“Take. Your. Hands. Off. Him.” Genevieve barely recognized the guttural, feral voice coming out of her mouth.

Isi groaned, and Jean-Baptiste turned to the guard. “Hiss, bring Isi to Raphael.

Now. I'll be there in a minute.” His eyes watchful of Genevieve, the male went to the voodoun and took her arm, led her from the room. When the door to the lab closed and they were alone, Jean-Baptiste rounded on Genevieve.

“I'm not going to pretend I don't love you snarling and scratching to show not only me, but yourself, just how mated we truly are. But I'm not going to allow you to take Isi, Miss Burel-“

“It's Genevieve,” she snarled.

“Not yet, it's not,” he returned.

She froze, and behind her narrowed eyes she felt tears form. She missed him.

How was that possible? In such a short time? His touch, the softness in his voice when he said her name, her nickname…

“Talk to me,” he said, moving closer.

“Do the elders have a hold over you?

Are they blackmailing you or threatening you?”

She shook her head.

He gathered her in his arms. “Then what the hell is going on? You don't feel a desire for this work, for them. Your desire belongs to me now.”

Goddammit, she hated his words.

Hated them because they both echoed the elders', and because they were true. She nearly crumpled right there.

“Why, Miss Burel?” he pressed.

Her head dropped back and she locked eyes with him. “I love the Pantera. I only want to do right by them.

The elders…” she began miserably.

“I've always believed they were the answer to our longevity, our happiness and our peace. They are the ultimate problem solvers. And I'd hoped, once I was in their service, that they'd help me find the answer to my problem.”

“What problem is that?”

Telling him the truth was far more difficult than she'd imagined. It made her feel oddly vulnerable. “The magic isn't just waning at our borders anymore, Jean-Baptiste.” She swallowed hard.

“It's broken free. It's fading inside my house. Inside my Grands. Maybe even inside me. Has been for several months now. My parents ran away instead of facing it, trying to find out how to stop it.

I couldn't do that.”

Jean-Baptiste was silent as he digested what she'd just told him. His gaze moved over her face, his brows pinned together, his mouth set in a grim line. He looked confused, possibly even angry.

Was he mad because she'd lied to him? Or was he disgusted at what was happening inside her house? To her family? Did he see her as weak now?

“This is unbelievable,” he uttered, shaking his head.

Her heart lurched and she felt sick to her stomach. She couldn't stand to have him look at her with disgust and censure.

Or listen as he told her he'd made a mistake-they weren't mates, and he didn't want to claim her.

She wriggled out of his grasp. “I have to go.” She shouldn't have told him.

Shouldn't have opened her heart.

“Wait. Your family's magic is gone?”

“I won't bother you again,” she said, turning, hurrying toward the door, “Or your voodoun..”

“Genevieve!”

Before Jean-Baptiste could say another word, Genevieve ran out. Down the hall, she thought she heard him calling to her, but the sound was drowned out by her quick shift into her puma.

Jean-Baptiste tore out of the room after her. Christ, what a screw up. Both of them. So destined, so in love with each other, so desperate to find a way out of their strange predicaments so they could be together. Yet all the while keeping secrets. Pointless, harmful secrets. This was it. No more. They were both coming clean, leaving the past behind and turning to each other for help, for a future, for the truth.

But when he passed Ashe's room, her open door, and heard Raphael's pained voice leach out into the hallway, he slowed.

“What the hell does that mean?” the Suit demanded. “Is she okay? The cub?

Fuck, I hate that I can't do a goddamn thing for her.”

“What's wrong?” Jean-Baptiste came to stand in the doorway, his gaze hitting on every person in the room. Doctors, Isi, Raphael, and Ashe, asleep and pale on the bed. The small space was packed.

“The cub…” Raphael stuttered, glancing over his shoulder. The male sat on a chair beside the bed, Ashe's hand in his own, looking like death warmed over.

“The cub is healthy,” said Dr. Julia, Parish's new mate. She reached down and took the pulse at Ashe's throat.

His eyes completely sunken, Raphael said, “But it's growing faster than a normal fetus.”

“Our pregnancies are always faster, aren't they?” Baptiste said, his eyes lifting to Angel.

The male doc nodded, but quickly amended, “This seems to be more in line with a feline gestational period. I've never seen it before.”

Shit. “When is she due?”

“Three months.”

Momentarily dumbfounded, Baptiste turned back to Raphael. The male looked ready to explode, lose his mind, maybe collapse. Baptiste prayed to god Isi could do something, because if she couldn't, if Ashe didn't make it, he feared not only what the loss would do to the leader of the Suits, but to the Pantera as a whole.

“I see no signs of distress with the cub,” Dr. Julia said, switching out a bag of fluids. “And though the child is developing quickly, it looks healthy.

Ashe's vitals are strong. She should be fine- if we can stop whatever's holding her mentally.”

Every pair of eyes in the room turned to Isi. And the woman shrank slightly under the weight of their hope and fears.

Pale as the reeds beneath the water of the bayou, she nodded at them. “I'll try. I need time though. Time to study her, see the way she moves, smells, makes noises in her sleep-“

“Maybe you can do more than that,” came a female voice behind Baptiste.

Walking into the room, Dr. CJ held up a file, her face a mask of tension.

“What are you talking about?” Raphael demanded.

CJ looked intently at Isi. “Your blood tests came back.”

The woman flinched. “So? Did you figure out why I feel like puking every time I'm near or inside of the Wildlands?”

“No.” CJ glanced at Julia, then at Angel, then back at Isi. “But I did find out that you and Ashe share DNA.” Isi's pale skin turned gray. “What?”

“You're related.”

A soft groan echoed throughout the room. Everyone looked back at Isi. But the sound hadn't come from her. Jean-Baptiste's gaze slid to the bed, and to Ashe, covered in wires and tubes.

“No,” Isi was mumbling, drawing back, fearful now. “That's impossible. I have no family.”

“Blood doesn't lie, Voodoun,” Dr. CJ

said crisply.

“Oh, my god,” Julia called, rushing to the bed, her stethoscope already in her ears. “Raphael. Look.”

Isi looked over at Jean-Baptiste.

“There's a mistake. I don't have family.

They screwed something up-“

“You,” came a breathy, pained sound.

Jean-Baptiste tore his gaze from Isi, and turned to Ashe. Her face was as pale as skim milk, her lips were dry and a dull pink, her body was still prostrate and hooked up to a ton of meds via a ton of tubes, but her eyes…holy shit, her eyes were open and pinned on Isi.

“Ma cherie,” Raphael said, his voice shaking as he took her hand and kissed the palm. “My love. Oh, thank god.” But Ashe didn't seem to recognize Raphael or his voice. She stared transfixed at Isi, her lips parting once again. “You,” she uttered hoarsely. “I know you.”