The power of our deal rippled through the air, sending a chilling wave over my body. The wave rippled and cracked, as though it were made of ice. Instead of passing over me, it delved into my skin and sunk deep into my bones.
A heavy shiver wracked my body, my teeth clattering roughly as the cold settled into my bones. Goosebumps erupted across my flesh as the shadows grew still.
The power that rippled over my skin dimmed as the shadows returned to their normal place in the room. Their whip-like voices faded from mind as the shadows lingering around the room stilled.
The cold had not faded from my bones, and I wasn’t sure it would. I felt as though I were in a walk-in freezer, and was surprised when I couldn’t see the puff of hot breath leave my mouth.
“What did you do?” Alpha Asher roared, his voice taking on that of an animal.
I had been frozen in place, rooted to the spot where I had made that cursed deal. I had given into the shadows without trying to find an alternative.
‘He would have died, Lola…’ Maya’s voice was soft, but held the weight of the decision I had made.
“What did you do, Lola?” Alpha Asher snarled, his large hands grasping my arms. “What did you give them?”
Alpha Asher was all that kept me on my feet. His grip was rough, but I was too numb to tell if it was painful.
My eyes dragged over the room slowly, looking at the dozens of Vampires that fell to the floor. None were stirring and yet I could hear each and every breath they took. My eyes locked on Sean, looking much more ragged than what I remembered.
His hair had grown and was now sticking up in unruly tufts, dirt and deep bruises stained his face. His shoulders hunched with exhaustion, but his face remained determined.
“We don’t have time for this.” I shook my head, my voice cracking as the weight of my emotions threatened to crush me. “We need to get Sean out; more could come at any minute.”
Carter and Wade leapt into action, thankfully not asking questions as they eyed the twenty-five unconscious Vampire’s that littered the floor. Smoke was still trickling into the back room, thick and suffocating as it sealed us in.
The sprinklers continued spewing water, and I wondered when they would finally run out. Pools of water mixed with the blood on the floor, turning the deep cherry wood an unsettling shade of pink. Water streamed down my face, mixing with the tears that fell from my eyes.
Murderer, killer, monster.
The words flashed through my head; my own inner voice filled with hatred. This was different than self-defense, different than anything I had planned for.
I assumed it would be my life I was giving up, my death in exchange for Alpha Asher’s life. I hadn’t asked, hadn’t thought that they could be talking about someone else. Someone innocent was going to die, and it was my fault.
Carter and Wade helped Sean stand, using their body weight to hold him upright. Alpha Asher’s eyes were wild as they scanned my face, and I wondered if he could tell I was crying.
“The back door, go out the back door.” Alpha Asher snarled, tearing his eyes away from my own.
Alpha Asher let go of my shoulders and gripped my hand in his. With our hands locked together Alpha Asher and I ran across the room, stepping over the incapacitated Vampire’s. An exit sat at the end of the room on the far wall, the red sign flickering impatiently.
We barreled out the door and into a damp alleyway. Puddles of what were hopefully water sat in large pools, soaking our shoes. The sickly-sweet scent of Vampire’s had faded once we came outside, and was quickly replaced by the smell of wet garbage.
At the end of the alley, a large group of people had formed. Everyone who had been in the club evacuated, crowded around the front of the building.
‘Mason, Breyona, did you both make it out?’ Alpha Asher asked, his hand never once leaving my own.
‘I’m out.’ Breyona breathed, sounding as flu*tered as I felt.
‘Me too.’ Mason chimed in, but my mind was somewhere else. ‘I’m heading to the car.’
‘I think they got the fire under control. A couple Vampire’s just went back inside, get out of there!’ Breyona’s voice came out in a rushed whisper.
‘Circling around front. Be ready, we’ll have to act fast.’ Alpha Asher replied.
Alpha Asher pulled me forward, towing me behind him as we rushed down the alley. We merged into the crowd of people outside, trying to blend in as we headed for the car.
My heart was thundering in my chest, but not from the thought of getting caught. What I had done was still circling my brain, pushing any other thought to the side. If Alpha Asher hadn’t been pulling me along, I might have gotten lost in the crowd. The car was parked far enough from the warehouse to go undetected, but close enough for easy access.
My bare arm grazed against the cold metal of the SUV, but I couldn’t feel it. The icy splinters had embedded themselves in my bones, weighing me down and chilling my blood. The splinters reminded me of my deal, reminded me the cost of Alpha Asher’s life.
Alpha Asher ripped the passenger door open hard enough to tear it off. As though I were little more than a rag doll, he lifted me and placed me in the seat. His hands moved swiftly as they buckled my seatbelt. He was in the driver seat a second later.
The SUV roared to life and I swore every Vampire in the club could hear it. My own paranoia and guilt made me on edge, teetering somewhere between shock and denial.
Murderer, killer, monster.
‘Focus on Sean.’ Maya murmured, sensing my inevitable panic. ‘Focus on him for now. We can worry about everything else later.’
Sean sat in the back, pressed between Breyona and Mason. His face was haggard but a strange sense of pride lingered in his eyes. I did what Maya said to do, I placed all of my focus on Sean. While the guilt and horror of what I had done was placed on the backburner, the icy splinters remained in my bones.
“I’m sorry–” My voice caught in my throat; the thoughts I had forced aside reared their ugly heads. “I didn’t know—we didn’t know what happened to you.”
“You came.” Sean breathed, the sound reminding me of sandpaper. “You came, that’s all that matters.”
Everyone descended into silence, lost in their own thoughts. Alpha Asher’s hand tightened on my own, and I realized he had grabbed my hand the moment he was in the car.
His calloused hand around mine was the only thing keeping me together, the only thing keeping me from falling apart.
We swerved down the dark back roads, keeping away from the highway in case anyone had trailed behind us. Each turn and curve set my teeth on edge.
I was sure I’d see pairs of glowing eyes through the forest line, an army of Vampire’s to finish what we had started.
“You think we were followed?” Carter broke the silence, his eyes gazing the forest as we rushed by.
The windshield shattered, spewing glass throughout the car. Tiny shards caressed my skin, followed by a gentle stinging pain throughout my face.
The small cuts were already healing, my flesh sealing itself together. The loud screech of tires filled the air followed by Alpha Asher’s furious snarl.
My teeth clicked painfully, my tongue spewing blood from the rough bite. My head slammed against the seat, and for a second I was thankful Alpha Asher had put my seatbelt on.
The front of the SUV was lodged into a telephone pole. The telephone pole stood tall as if it were mocking our horrible attempt on its life. Across the small street was a run-down farm house.
Withered wooden boards with large cracks and chunks missing framed the house. Long grass freckled with weeds took up the land around the house.
Their eyes were not glowing, but I began to notice the serene faces of the Vampire’s that had stopped our car. A large and jagged rock sat on the floor of the SUV, tiny shards of glass glistening against the dark floor.
The Vampires were standing out front of the decrepit house, each set of eyes locked on our SUV. Smoke billowed from the hood of the SUV, followed by a collective groan from each of us.
“We’re not leaving here without a fight.” Alpha Asher hissed, his murderous eyes narrowing on the Vampire’s. “Everyone alive?”
“Unfortunately.” Breyona grunted, the small cuts on her face healing slowly.
Thankfully we were all conscious and able to move. I’m sure the seven of us would be horribly bruised come tomorrow, but we were alive. The seven of us got out of the SUV, Alpha Asher’s eyes never once left the Vampire’s.
“Their waiting for us.” Carter scoffed, “They know we can’t leave without a fight.”
“Then let’s give them what they came here for.” Alpha Asher let his snarl rip through the night, letting it wash through the group of Vampire’s that had come to fight. ‘Be ready to shift at any moment.’
The group of Vampire’s hadn’t moved an inch as we approached them. Some faces turned up in cruel sneers, but that was the extent of their reaction. A man and a woman stood at the front, stepping forward as though they were the leaders of this group.
The man had long dark hair, and eyes the color of a summer sky. The woman at his side looked exotic and beautiful, deep espresso skin and long curly hair. The scarlet mark on her shoulder was uncovered, baring itself to the world.
The man and his companions were clearly Vampire’s, as the sickly-sweet smell seemed to radiate from them. The exotic woman happened to be human, her scent smelled of peonies and fresh cream.
“Adrienne–” The name left Mason’s lips like a prayer, soft and gentle as a rippling breeze. His eyes were alight like I had never seen them before, his hands clasped together as he stepped forward.
The Vampire who held Adrienne at his side laughed, his silky laughter boomed and echoed into the night.
“Hard to kill, pup?” The Vampire chuckled, his eyes bright and taunting as he looked at Mason. “I won’t make the same mistake this time around. Severing your head from your body seems a good way to go.”
“Adrienne–” Mason wasn’t looking at the Vampire, his eyes were on Adrienne. “Come with me—please.”
A chorus of hisses sounded in the night, the Vampire’s tensing at Mason’s thoughtless movements. His eyes burned into the woman, into the scarlet mark that stained her shoulder.
My thoughts were whipped into a frenzy as I recognized the look in Mason’s eyes. Adrienne—the woman who bore a Vampire’s mark was his mate.
“She has a mate, pup.” The Vampire’s lips turned up in a reptilian smile, “You’re five years too late. Our bond is complete—unbreakable even with your own pathetic mate-bond at work.”
“My mark—my mark can change that, Adrienne.” If it weren’t for Mason’s desperate words, I’d assume he hadn’t heard the Vampire speak at all.
My heart crumbled in my chest as I watched the emotion pour through Mason’s eyes. He looked at Adrienne as though she were a Goddess walking the earth, his strength crumbling as he beheld her beauty. Her golden eyes were bright under the moon, but her face remained impassive and cold.
“Your mark will change nothing.” The Vampire chuckled, patient and smug as he savored the encounter. “If you had come before we finished the mating process—maybe, but you are too late. She will never choose you pup.”
“Enough.” Her voice was unlike what I had expected, different from the cold mask she placed on her face. Her voice held warmth, held pity for the young werewolf that begged for her hand. Those golden eyes remained hard, even as her words said otherwise.
“I made my decision years ago. I have my mate, but I’m sorry you lost yours.” Warm to detached, her voice changed in an instant.
I was sure I could hear Mason’s heart shattering in his chest, the air ripped from his lungs as Adrienne gazed lovingly into the Vampire’s eyes.
“I, Mason Briggs—accept your rejection, Adrienne LaFont.” His voice held strong; every emotion he was forced to hold down melted into his words. Her name left his l!ps with sorrow, the mate-bond between them shattering to dust.
Everything went to absolute hell as an achingly familiar cold front licked across my skin. Shadows gathered in the darkest recesses of the forest, slithering from darkened corners untouched by moonlight. They greeted me, whipping around my feet as though they were playing with a friend.
Their silky voices were torn from my memory, their words replaying themselves in my mind.
‘You do not get to choose’
Some hissed the words gently, others taunted and snickered. They snak*d across the ground, unseen by all except Alpha Asher and I.
‘To save the one you love, a life must be taken’
A thousand silky voices churned in my mind, all speaking at once to form one voice. Emotions of every kind laced each individual voice. Some sneered the words at me, others murmured them gently. Some shouted them in anger, while others cooed seductively.
‘A mate stolen from an innocent’
The smoky tendrils slithered from my legs, heading to someone else. The icy shards in my bones twisted, grinding painfully against my nerves. Despite the cold, sweat begun to bead across my skin as I watched the shadows glide away from me.
Murderer, killer, monster.
‘This is the price you have paid, Princess’