Almost dying took its toll, which meant it was time to make food, and not just a little food—sandwiches and Cheetos weren’t going to cut it—but a ton of food, including lots of meat.
Dastien grilled some massive steaks that had to have been at least half a cow, but he said it wasn’t even nearly that much. Still, a family of ten could live for a few days on the food I chowed through. I’d made four boxes of wild rice and a large salad.
It’d taken no time at all for us to devour the entire feast, and now we were sharing a half-gallon of coconut chocolate chip ice cream while we watched The Princess Bride. I couldn’t believe that Dastien had never seen it. For whatever reason, my family watched it every Christmas Eve. Watching it with him was like seeing it for the first time again. All the jokes were a surprise for him, and I got to feel that zing of surprise, too.
But as the credits rolled on the movie, the anxiety started churning again.
Everything is going to be fine.
I just hate waiting. I wish we could’ve left tonight.
I tried. Soonest the boat could come was in the morning.
I gave his hand a squeeze. I know you did. I’m not complaining. Just anxious. A fight’s brewing and we’re a million miles away.
He put down the carton and tucked me in closer to his side. “We’ll be home soon enough. For now, just relax.”
“Doing my best, but if this thing killed Muraco, then are any of us safe?”
I winced. “You didn’t have to be so honest.” I grabbed the ice cream and groaned when I saw it was empty. Only more of the creamy coconutty awesomeness with those little crunchy chips could help me now. It was heaven in a carton.
“We have another one. Want me to get it for you?”
“Kind of. I mean, eating more ice cream won’t fix anything exactly, but it definitely won’t hurt.”
“As you wish.” He tapped my nose as he got up.
A laugh slipped free, and I realized it wasn’t just the ice cream that was helping me feel better. Still, when he came back, I snatched the carton from him. “What should we watch next?”
“Whatever you want?”
I flipped through Netflix for a while before settling on a movie I’d never heard of. “What about this?”
“As you wish.”
I snorted. “Dork,” I said, but I was glad he’d enjoyed it so much. I hit play, and as the movie started, I realized I’d never said thank you to him.
He raised a brow. “For the ice cream? De rien.”
“No. For saving my life,” I said with a mouth full of coconut perfection.
“Just don’t make it a habit, okay?” His tone was teasing, but he was still freaked out. I didn’t need the bond to see that. The white-knuckle grip he had on the spoon was making it bend a bit. I tapped his fingers, and he sighed. He bent the spoon back to normal-ish.
I snuggled into my blanket and scooped out a giant bite of ice cream. It was going to take time for both of us to recover, but this was helping. “I’ll do my best to make sure I don’t almost die again.”
I jammed the ice cream into my mouth and pain hit my head so hard that I closed my eyes and dropped my spoon. It clattered to the cement floor, but the sound was far away. I slapped my forehead. “Shit. Brainfreeze.” The pain eased a bit and I was able to open my eyes. Black spots filled my vision. “What the…” Time slowed. It took too long to turn to Dastien, and the black dots expanded.
Dastien was gone.
Everything was gone. I was in a black abyss just like my vision on the beach.
Panic made my lungs grow tight and my heart race, but when magic pricked my skin, fear crashed over me.
What the hell was happening? I tried to blink but nothing changed. I was sitting in the dark. Either I was about to have the most fucked up vision ever or someone was messing with me.
I said a prayer for the vision to kick in. For the black abyss to become something else. For anything to happen that would make this into something that I could understand.
When the vision didn’t immediately start, I knew something was wrong. Really fucking wrong.
Magic spread along my body and it felt like slime. Disgusting. Evil. Very possibly deadly.
So what was this? A spell? From who? A witch? Had some fey captured me? Questions raced through my mind at a million miles an hour, and I didn’t have any answers.
I couldn’t smell any sulfur. Which was good, but when I thought about it, I couldn’t smell anything at all. So, ruling out a demon wasn’t smart. At least not yet.
I reached for my bond to Dastien, and suddenly the air grew too thick for me to breath as my panic amped up.
No. This was bad. Really fucking bad.
If I couldn’t reach Dastien…
I could still feel the bond, but it was usually like a thick rope, bigger than my thigh, that tied us together. Here it felt like dental floss—so thin and fragile. So far away I could barely reach it. The only other time this had happened was when I went to live with Claudia on la Aquelarre’s compound. The boundary of the coven’s land had been warded to keep anything from crossing. It’d cut Dastien and me off from each other, nearly driving Dastien mad.
This wasn’t as bad, but it sure as shit wasn’t good either. The bond was too thin for me to tell if he was freaking out or losing his mind or…
My mouth grew dry and I tried to control my panic spiral. I had to find a way out. I had to get back to Dastien.
I got off my ass and walked, holding my hands in front of me. If I was in some kind of room or chamber, I’d hit a wall eventually. If there was a wall, then there had to be a door. If there was a door, I could try to break it down either physically or magically.
That was a lot of if’s, but it was a theory. My best one so far.
I walked and walked and kept walking for what felt like hours. After a while, I started counting my steps. When I passed ten thousand, I growled. Fur rippled along my arms and I closed my eyes as I fought for control.
I gritted my teeth as I tried to think through my frustration. Losing control to my wolf wasn’t going to help. What I needed was a plan. If I had that, then I had a goal and I could figure this out. I was smart. I wasn’t going to be stuck here forever.
I let out a breath and the wolf settled down.
I needed to get out of here—wherever here was—but walking clearly wasn’t working. I was stubborn enough to keep trying to reach a wall, but if I hadn’t reached one yet, I had to assume that this place didn’t have them. And if there weren’t any walls, then there probably weren’t doors either. It had to be a magical holding pen of some sort.
I had to try some magic to counter it. But what spell? What did I need most?
To see. I needed to see.
If I could see, then I’d have at least some sort of an answer as to where I was.
Since something had put me here, chances were good I wasn’t alone. But I had to be able to see who to kill.
Just thinking that made me feel a little better. Not as good as I’d feel when I actually got back to Dastien, but I had a plan. I was thinking it through. Step by step.
First, I needed a light spell.
I tried to remember that it didn’t matter what I said exactly, just my intention and force of will. I had to believe in my spell.
I held a hand out in front of me and pictured a ball of light forming. “Bring me light. Bring me light. Bring me light.”
Light flared for a split-second, but it only made me see spots.
Damn it. I hadn’t believed in my spell enough.
I blew out a slow breath as I tried to center myself. I can do this. This is easy. Just say the words and it’ll work. No problem.
I lifted my hand again. “Bring me light. Bring me light! Bring me light!”
The light flared brighter this time. I did a little happy dance and started to glance around, but beyond a little halo of light around me, there was nothing to see. The floor somehow absorbed the light, making it look like I was floating in an endless pool of black even though I could feel the firm ground under me.
I froze as a draft rustled strands of my hair against my face.
A greasy blob of magic plopped against my hand. The light flickered and then it was gone.
“You asshole!” I rubbed my hand on my pants, trying to rid my skin of the feel.
Oh, hell no. This guy wasn’t getting the best of me.
Ignoring the sickening feeling of its magic, I held my hand in front of me one more time. “Bring me light. Light! Light!” I yelled the spell, putting my willpower in it.
The light bloomed brighter—floating on top of my hand—but blipped out faster. This time the greasy magic spread all the way up to my elbow.
No. No way. I wasn’t going to let this asshole win.
I threw all the will and determination I had into the words. This spell would light the world up. I screamed the words. “Light! Light! Light!”
The light burned so bright I had to squint. Aside from the ring of light around me, everything was black. There was no horizon. No ceiling or walls. Just the black endless pool around me.
Maybe if I ran—
The light was slapped from my hand. The magical blow knocked me on my ass and I was bathed in darkness. Again.
Someone was messing with me.
I jumped up from the ground. “You piece of shit!” I stomped around in a circle. “You’re so fucking scared of me you won’t show yourself and you won’t even let me have any light?
You’re pathetic!” Spit flew out of my mouth as I shouted. My breath heaved. Fur rippled on my arms again, but I wasn’t ready to be a wolf. She couldn’t help me here. Not yet.
By the time the last echoing remnants of “pathetic” hit my ears, my wolf was under control.
I needed to know who or what I was up against and why it’d dragged me here. If it’s ultimate goal was to piss me off, then it was doing a fan-fucking-tastic job. But there had to be a better reason. And I had to figure it out. Fast.
I couldn’t walk my way out of here. Taunting hadn’t worked. It could snuff out my magic like it was nothing. So what was left?
Wait? I hated that, but I wasn’t sure what else to do. So, I sat cross-legged with my hands on my knees. As freaked out as I was, I had to find a way to calm down. There had to be a way out of this. I just hadn’t thought of it yet.
I closed my eyes, and then I heard a noise.
It was faint and so far away that I held my breath until my lungs burned, straining to hear it again.
My heart picked up its pace. The sound was like a whisper on the wind.
My jaw cracked as I clenched my teeth.
At least I didn’t have to wait long. Whoever—whatever—had taken me was going to show itself very soon.
I stood and balanced on the balls of my feet, hands loose at my sides. I was either going to run or fight. I wasn’t sure yet. But I was going to be ready.
I licked my dry lips as I listened, focusing all my energy on hearing whatever was approaching. At first, the noise was nothing more than a soft hiss, but as it grew louder, I realized it wasn’t a hiss at all. It was a voice. Not just that. It was words. The tiny gap of silence between the sounds meant there were two words.
But I couldn’t decipher them.
The voice grew louder, becoming a dark rumble that made the hair on my arms stand on end, but I still couldn’t make out the words. It was more of a rumbling growl than anything else. I wasn’t sure if it was the dark or the tone of the growl or the magic under it that made me want to run.
I clenched my fists as I waited in the dark for whatever this was to show itself. I couldn’t run. I wouldn’t give it the satisfaction of knowing that I was getting scared. I was going to face whatever was messing with me. I was going to get the hell out of here. I was—
“You’re mine!” The voice suddenly yelled so loud my ears rang. Evil magic hit my skin. It was like I’d been dropped into a pool of ice-cold slime. It coated my body—my soul. Dread tip-toed up my spine, and I knew I was majorly screwed.
I didn’t care about not having a direction to run anymore. I didn’t care about not showing my fear. And screw fighting.
I moved—hauling ass as far and as fast as I could.
Everything in me screamed to keeping running until I couldn’t run anymore. And then I was going to have to run some more. I didn’t want to see this thing’s face. I never wanted to see whatever that was. I only wanted to get out. Away. Now.
My breath came in pants as the panic that I’d been holding back ripped free. I hadn’t reached for Dastien yet because I wasn’t sure the fragile connection would hold, but I reached now. I grasped the tiny little thread of our bond and screamed, Dastien! Get me out of here! I shoved the words through the bond, hoping that by some miracle he’d hear me and be able to do something about it.
Then there was light. Too much light. I skidded to a stop, closing my eyes, but it burned through my eyelids.
I covered my eyes. “Stop! Stop this!” My legs gave out, and I fell to my hands and knees. Dastien! I called out and a faint scent of pine and dirt and home hit me. I hadn’t gotten any power, but his scent was there. I breathed it deep into my lungs and remembered who I was.
Where I was.
I’d forgotten that. In my panicked run, I’d forgotten who I was.
Witch. Werewolf. Alpha. Mate.
I was stronger than this. I didn’t need to let myself be trapped. I could find a way out. If I could smell Dastien, then he was near, even if our bond made it feel like we were far away. Which meant I was in my own mind, under mental and spiritual attack. But it wasn’t physical.
If I was in my own mind, then I just had to kick whoever this was out of my head.
That switch in perspective was enough to shake me free from the panic.
First things first. I kept my eyes squeezed shut against the burning light and started building up my mental barriers one by one. I pictured a brick wall, but that wasn’t enough. I could still feel this thing’s magic slithering up my arms like a thousand oil-slicked snakes.
I built a second barrier outside the wall, forming an igloo made of concrete bricks laid three thick. I made sure to keep my tie to Dastien present in my mind so that I wouldn’t accidentally cut off my lifeline to him.
Slowly, the light started to fade to a normal level. I blinked my eyes open, revealing Dastien standing in front of me.
“You okay?” Dastien was wearing a pair of green scrubs that I’d never seen before. A little worry line appeared between his brows, but I couldn’t feel his worry. “Need help with that?”
I looked down to find myself on one knee tying the laces of my white canvas shoes. The laminate floor glistened like it’d just been cleaned, but I couldn’t smell any disinfectant.
Couldn’t sense Dastien’s feelings? No smells? White canvas shoes?
This was all kinds of wrong.
Dastien squatted in front of me. “Everything okay?” One of his dark curls fell across his forehead, and he brushed it back. A move so familiar that I questioned my gut for a second.
This was my Dastien, but the rest of it… “I don’t know.” I looked around as I stood, but I didn’t recognize the place.
We were in the entryway of a large building. Behind me was a desk with a security guard.
Three hallways branched off from where we stood, but everything was white. There were no signs to give me a clue. “Where are we?” The best I could come up with was some kind of office building, but that didn’t explain why Dastien was wearing scrubs.
“You don’t know?”
I licked my lips. “No.” If I was still in my head, then maybe I’d switched into a vision. Was I seeing a future possibility? No. That didn’t quite fit. I didn’t think Dastien had any desire to be a doctor. Did he?
What the hell was this?
“Are you having one of your episodes?” His condescending tone made my hackles rise.
“Episodes?” What the hell was he talking about?
“Maybe it’s time to get you back to your room.”
My room? Was I supposed to be a patient in a hospital? I didn’t feel sick.
And then I almost laughed. I stood and pushed past Dastien into the courtyard outside. The sun hit my face, but it didn’t have any heat.
Dastien and I once had a conversation about this exact fear. I’d woken up one morning in Dastien’s house in France and despite everything that had happened, I was so thankful with how my life had turned out. Even if I’d almost been killed multiple times, I’d survived and was on the most perfect honeymoon. I’d wondered offhandedly if my life was really just a dream. If maybe I was Freaky Tessa and was having a mental break in a psychiatric facility.
If the thing that was attacking me had bothered to look a little deeper in my mind, they’d know this wasn’t a valid fear of mine. If anything, it was more like a joke Dastien and I had shared than a fear that I spent any real time worrying about.
“Nice try, fucker!” I screamed at the too perfectly blue sky. “Show me something scary, you miserable piece of—”
Everything went black again. The only sound was my breath rushing in and out too fast. “Shit.” I wasn’t in control yet. I was in my head but somehow this asshole had the upper hand. I needed to gain it back.
In the quiet dark, I reached for my bond to Dastien. This wasn’t one of my normal visions, but it was still my mind. And if I could use some of Dastien’s power, then maybe I’d have enough juice to get control and kick this motherfucker out of my head.
I started pulling power though the paper-thin bond and—
“You’re mine,” it said right by my ear. Its magic plopped onto my shoulder and wormed its way down my back like tiny maggots.
I twitched, trying to shake the little magical worms off of me.
When I blinked, the scene changed again. I stood in front of the hostess stand in a diner.
What the hell was this? A diner? I understood the metal institution reference, but a diner seemed lame in comparison.
“Table for one?” A girl, not much younger than me, in poorly fitting khaki pants and a polo shirt stood holding a menu.
I glanced over my shoulder just to be sure, but no one was behind me. Only a dusty claw crane machine was there. “Me?” I asked, pointing to myself.
“Yes.” She scrunched up her face as if she’d sucked on a lemon. “You’re the only one standing here.”
The diner wasn’t packed, but there were a few people scattered around. A family with two kids sat at one table. Two elderly men played chess while sipping their coffees at another.
There was a salad bar in the back, and a few people were picking through the food. One guy used his fingers to grab a shrimp. He dipped it in a red sauce and made an approving sound before dropping the tail on the floor and reaching for another.
I barely contained a gag.
“You need a table for one or is someone meeting you?” The hostess asked, bringing my focus back to her.
I thought about saying just one. I’d rather get one million shots than meet whoever was messing with me. But there was no point in putting it off. “Two, please.”
“Do you want to wait for them here or be seated at the table?”
I shook my head. “No.” I was done with waiting. “I’ll sit.”
The hostess led me to a booth and waved me in. The green vinyl was ripped and covered in spots with duct tape. I put my hand down as I scooted in and touched something sticky. I grabbed a bunch of napkins from the chrome dispenser on the table and tried to wipe my hands off to no avail.
“Server will be with you in a bit.”
“Cool,” I said without looking up. It was rude of me, but she wasn’t real. None of this was real.
It didn’t make sense. Why a diner? What was the jerk trying to accomplish?
I grabbed for Dastien again, but nothing came. No thoughts. No feelings. And no power.
I tried to shake off my frustration. This thing wanted to play games, and for now there was nothing to do but go along with them. At least until I could reach Dastien.
I grabbed the menu from the table and scanned the contents. Pizza with shrimp and cream sauce. Hotdog hash with chopped beets. What kind of menu was this? Everything seemed to have either shrimp, beets, chicharones or a combination of all three.
I closed the menu with a sigh. Of course. Everything I hated. “Nice touch, douchebag.”
I closed my eyes, trying to focus on my bond to Dastien. Even just a little extra power might be enough to get me out of this mess.
Tingles ran up my spine, raising goosebumps in their wake, but they weren’t from Dastien.
Someone was staring at me.
I twisted in the booth. The family was leaving. The little girl was yammering on and on about some toy that she wanted, and the parents were ignoring her as they each grabbed a mint from the bowl on the hostess’ stand. The little boy—maybe about four years old—stood quietly behind them. He was wearing a blue, puffy ski jacket with the hood pulled up over his head. He was the one staring.
I thought it was odd that he was wearing a jacket, but it was winter, even if it didn’t feel like it was almost winter in the Caribbean.
What the hell was I even thinking about? This place was fake. Not real. Neither was the family. Who cared what kind of jacket the kid was wearing?
I turned back to the menu. Was I supposed to order something? I hadn’t seen any waitstaff, so I was assuming not, but who the hell knew? What was the point of this? Was this some insane, stalker witch who wanted a date? I understood what it was trying to do with the mental hospital, but I was having trouble figuring out what the diner had to do with anything.
But maybe that was the point. Maybe it was just supposed to frustrate me. I looked at the menu again. And gross me out.
I closed my eyes and tried to reach for Dastien again. Dastien. Dastien. Dastien. I put my magic behind his name as I reached along our bond, but he was too far away.
I growled as I picked up the napkin dispenser and hurled it across the stupid fucking diner.
My breath heaved in and out of me, but no one had even flinched at the sound of the dispenser crashing through the window.
Shit. This was so dumb. “Come on. Show your face.”
“Y’all have a nice day,” the hostess told the family behind me.
The dad murmured something, and the door chimed as it opened and closed.
The family was gone, but I still felt like someone was staring at me. I glanced a little to the side, but the hostess was wiping down menus. So, it wasn’t her.
To the right of me, a clock hung on the wall. I watched the seconds tick by. My knee bounced under the table as I glanced out the windows. In the distance, I could see a city. I knew it wasn’t actually there, but I couldn’t just keep sitting here waiting for whoever—whatever—this was to show up.
I started to get up, but froze.
The tingling was back. Stronger this time. An evil twinge of magic was stronger, making my skin crawl.
I didn’t want to look. I didn’t want to turn around. It was here.
But I had to look. I geared myself up for it.
I spun, but no one was behind me except the little boy. He didn’t look too concerned that his family had left. He just stood there and stared at me. The mom, dad, and little girl were walking through the parking lot outside.
I glanced back to the menu to buy myself some time. Something wasn’t right with this boy. My gut was screaming demon. It lined up with the greasy magic and ability to sneakily take over my mind and the creepy child. This wasn’t the first time I’d seen a demon take the shape of a kid, but seeing something so evil shoved into an innocent body was more than unsettling.
Was that it? The demon wanted to creep me out? Was this whole diner thing just for that?
I turned around, and for the first time, really looked at the boy.
There was nothing out of the ordinary about him. His shoes were dirty and one lace untied.
His jacket had a few stains but looked warm enough.
Why was I thinking about his jacket when I should’ve been meeting his gaze? Confronting him? But no matter how I tried to look at his face, I couldn’t seem to meet his eyes.
I stopped breathing as my thought processed.
This was a problem. An Alpha werewolf could meet any gaze. Unless this thing was more—
I swallowed down the lump in my throat.
The demon was more dominant—more powerful—than me.
My heart hammered in my chest. Other Weres had talked about not being able to meet Mr. Dawson’s or Donovan’s gazes, but I’d never experienced that. Not until now.
What was I going to do?
I could try to fight it, but if I couldn’t even meet its gaze, I was screwed. And I was alone.
I rested my forehead on the damp, sticky table. Think, Tessa. Think.
A wave of reassurance came through the bond, and I sat back up. It was faint, but it was there.
I wasn’t alone. I had help.
I didn’t know what he’d done to get through to me and I didn’t care. I grabbed Dastien’s power, pulling as much as I could and hoping I didn’t damage the barely-there rope.
A surge of Dastien’s power hit me, like I’d just downed a million Diet Cokes, and with it came a buttload of confidence.
I twisted in my seat, finally able to meet the little boy’s gaze.
His eyes were a normal brown—not red like other demons—but they were vacant. As sick as it was to think about since he—it—was in the shape of a little boy, looking into its eyes was almost like staring at the glass eyes of a taxidermied animal. They glinted a little too much in the light and were devoid of any emotion.
Then it grinned and a chill went down my spine.
Its mouth opened, lips thinning until they were just lines. The mouth was too big and too wide for its face. More like a jack-o’-lantern than anything human. As it smiled, the black hole of its mouth grew bigger as if it was going to suck me in.
Its laugh boomed in the small diner. Power pressed against my skin, making it feel like I’d been rolled in a layer of its black slime.
I started to slide out of the booth, but I hadn’t consciously moved.
I gripped the table, and my fingers squeaked as they slipped down the linoleum.
No. No. No. This was bad. This was really bad. It was drawing me toward it. The demon was done messing with me, and I had zero illusions that I could fight it and win.
My gut screamed that I couldn’t let it reach me. If I touched the demon, then it would have me. Forever. There was no coming back from that black pit. I knew what was on the other side. I’d seen it that day in the chapel in Santa Fe.
Inside the pit a giant demon clawed its way to the top. It looked like it was made of molten lava, scarring the rock with fire as it climbed. It spotted me and roared, moving faster.
“You’re mine.” The words sent terror through my soul. The same words he’d said in Santa Fe.
It was like gravity changed. I was sucked out of the booth, falling horizontally toward the boy—the demon.
My fingers were slowly slipping down the table, no matter how hard I tried to hold on. I needed a better grip.
In a split-second, my wolf rose to the surface, my fingers stretched and nails lengthened, turning into claws. I punched them through the table. It shook and cracks formed around my hands, spreading toward the edges.
This wouldn’t last. The table would break in half before long, and I’d be sucked toward the demon.
I needed a way out.
I hung parallel to the floor. The demon was still in the same spot, waiting for me. He was enjoying my panic. I was sure it could smell the sickly-sweet stench of it as well as I could.
He was waiting for me. He didn’t need to move. I was trapped.
As I hung there, floating in the air, trying not to be sucked into his evil vortex, I looked back. I stared him in the eyes. And I knew. All I had to do was look at him and I knew.
I’d felt his evil magic before.
It was his power that had allowed Luciana to strip me of my magic and shove it into two jars.
As the realization hit me, he laughed.
That’s why. That’s why I was here in this stupid place. In this diner. Waiting. Because he wanted me to know who he was. He wanted me to feel how strong he was. How he could own me again, because he’d never let me go. Not since that day in Luciana’s craft room.
There was only one thing left I could do.
I pulled more power from Dastien. As he gave me more power, I started to feel the magic that was holding me hostage.
My physical body wasn’t here. That was true. But I was trapped. And this place didn’t exist in my own head.
The dark abyss that I’d been walking in was more than just an abyss. It was something far worse. And as I realized where my mind had gone—where the demon had taken my soul—my chest wound so tight, my heart raced, my palms sweated, and I knew that if I didn’t get out of here soon, I was going to be worse than dead.
I was going to be a demon’s slave in Hell.
“Let me go. Let me go. Let me go!” My magic and power mixed as I threw my will and everything Dastien had sent to me at the demon.
His laugh came again.
I didn’t look back. I knew what I was up against and I needed more power than Dastien could give. That he and I together weren’t enough to beat the demon scared the shit out of me. But the thing about being a werewolf was that you always had the pack.
I pushed away any doubt. I closed my eyes, shutting out the sound of his laughter and air rushing past my ears as he tried to suck me deeper into Hell.
All I needed to do was hold on while I found the pack.
I reached out mentally, but couldn’t find them.
I tried not to panic, and reached out again.
They were there. I just had to try harder.
I let my wolf rise a little more. Pack, please! I finally felt them like little tendrils against my inner wolf. The spiderweb of power that tied every Were to each other. There were weaker links between the packs—tied from alpha to alpha. From one bond, I could reach every single werewolf alive if I needed them.
For now, I used the St. Ailbe’s ties. I’d thought my bond with Dastien had been thinned, but the ones to my pack were impossibly thinner. But as I called, power came through. It was just a little trickle at first, and then a huge rush hit me. My arms grew fur, and I was barely able to hold onto my shape. I let the power build for a second longer before screaming. “Let me go!”
My voice was thick with my rising wolf. “Now!” I backed the word with all the power from the pack.
“No.” The single word sent a chill down my spine. “You’re mine.”
“No! No one owns me!”
He just laughed and the air grew too thick to breathe.
No. He had to be wrong. He had to be. I swallowed down the panic that was choking me.
He started to grow taller, morphing until his head touched the ceiling. “You can fight me or you can give in, but you’re mine either way. You’re the key. I tasted your magic in that circle and I knew you were the one I’d been waiting for. There’s no breaking free of me now.”
“The key?” I wasn’t sure I wanted to know, but I had to ask.
“The seal is gone. The portals are locked, but your magic is the key. You’re already tied to me. It’s over. Just let go.”
Fuck that. I didn’t know what seal he was talking about or what portals he meant, but I wasn’t tied to him. And if I was, I was breaking it as soon as I got out of here.
But one thing was certain. I was never giving up. Not while I was still alive.
I started saying the Hail, Mary, but his magic only grew stronger, skittering over my skin like a swarm of cockroaches.
The demon didn’t seem to be weakening, but my arms ached and the tie to Dastien was on fire. It was too much power for the little thread. I was going to burn it to ashes if I pulled much harder.
The pack bonds weren’t doing much better. They were glowing, but I could feel them weakening. It was only a matter of time and I wasn’t getting any closer to breaking free from the demon’s hold.
Which meant I was losing and I was out of ideas. I was out of time. The splinters in the table dug into my fingertips and it moaned. The whole thing was about to shatter. There was going to be nothing left to hold on to.
I gathered all the power the pack had sent me. It was time to use it. The demon might’ve been strong, but he’d made one mistake. He’d told me that there was a tie between us, and if there was a tie, then all I had to do was break it.
“Find the tie. Break it. Kill it dead. Find the tie. Break it. Kill it dead. Find the tie…” I said it over and over until I was hoarse and out of breath. The pack’s powers were waning and I hadn’t found it.
Why hadn’t I found it?
“Because it’s a part of you. You’ll never be rid of our tie, Teresa.” He drew out my name, spending to much time on the s. I never knew the sound of my own name could terrify me so much, but as he spoke I realized a few things.
He was right.
This was hopeless.
And by using the pack’s power, I was going to drag them down with me.
A sob finally broke free. I’d fought so hard for so long and I’d been happy. It’d been an insane few months, but with Dastien, I’d found true happiness. Never in a million years would I have thought that I’d find happiness and a home in a school for werewolves, but I had. I’d found friends. Power. And love. So much love. I thought I could hold on to that forever. But I couldn’t.
My heart felt like it’d been turned to stone and then pulverized until all that was left were tiny grains of sand slipping out of me.
I didn’t want to let go. I didn’t want to die. I wanted a lifetime with Dastien. That house on our land. Travel and adventure and dancing and laughing and everything else that came our way.
Please, God. If you can hear me, help. I said a prayer, but there was no answer.
Only the demon’s taunting laugh.
I started to let go, giving the pack back what was theirs, but a wave of reassurance crashed through the bond. Not just the bond to Dastien, but to the pack. More power surged through.
Stop! I yelled through the lines of the pack bonds. I wasn’t sure if they’d hear me, but I had to try. I can’t beat him. I don’t want to drain you, too. I rested my head on the table. I love you, I sent through my bond to Dastien. I started to relax my grip.
I raised my head. Dastien? I clamped down on the table. The splinters cut into my hands, but I wasn’t letting go. Not now.
Claudia is working on something to help.
A seed of hope sprouted. If Claudia was helping, then I had a shot. I grabbed what the pack was offering. The power grew, and I realized it was more than just my pack now.
The table groaned. It was going to shatter any second. Tell her to hurry! I can’t hold on much longer!
Then it was like there was too much of everything. Too much air. Too much pressure. Hot liquid dripped down my face. The copper scent of blood filled the air, with undertones of pine and something so familiar I—
On the count of three, let go of the table. Crash into the demon. Dastien’s voice echoed in my head. I didn’t know how he knew what was happening here, but I wasn’t going to think about it too hard.
But his plan was crazy. No! I can’t let go. There’s a vortex around him. If I touch him, I’m worse than dead. They had to have another plan. One that didn’t involve me going to Hell and having the demon use my magic.
Trust us. Claudia says you need to touch him to break his hold on you. But it has to be timed.
Timed? I wasn’t sure what he meant, but it didn’t matter. No. There has to be another way. If you’re wrong—
He was quiet, and I could almost hear him thinking again. Claudia says she’s not wrong.
You’re my other half and I wouldn’t tell you to do something unless I knew it would work. Please, trust me. When I say, let go.
One of my claws broke, and I screamed.
Don’t let go! Not until I say three.
We’re moving fast!
“You’re not getting away. I own you.” The words slid down my spine like ice.
“Never!” Maybe it thought it owned me. But no one did. No one but me.
Three! Now, chérie. Let go!
But I couldn’t make my fingers move.
Let go! I promise. You’ll be okay.
If anyone else had said those words, I would’ve told them to fuck off, but I trusted Dastien with every fiber of my being. He wouldn’t tell me to let go if he didn’t know for certain that I’d survive.
I closed my eyes and let go of the table.
“Shit!” I screamed as I fell through the air toward the demon.
And then I slammed into him.
I thought that would be it. That hitting him would somehow shatter his hold, but that didn’t happen.
He wrapped his hands around my neck, squeezing. I choked as I clawed at his hands, trying to break his hold. This close up he couldn’t hide what he was. His red eyes flickered like fire and heat radiated off him. His fingers were rough, scaly, and impossibly strong. No matter how hard I pulled, I couldn’t get them to budge.
He squeezed harder and I gasped for air.
I kicked my feet into his stomach as hard and as fast as I could, but he didn’t even flinch.
Calm, chérie. Claudia said you had to be touching him. Now tell him to let you go.
I already tried that.
Do it again. Do it now!
Dastien shoved more power into me until I was swimming in it. I looked straight into the demon’s fire-filled gaze. “Leeett. Meeee. Go.” The words were soft and raspy, but slowly I squeaked them out.
Power and magic mixed. Everything turned to darker than night.
But no hands tightened around my neck. No more spinning. No more falling. No more evil magic.
I was frozen.
“Breathe for me. Come on, chérie. Take a breath.” Something brushed my face. “I can hear your heart beating. I know you’re there.”
I gasped, and my eyes flew open.
“Shit.” Dastien pressed his forehead against mine.
I licked my lips and tasted blood. “What the hell just happened and why is your blood on my face?”
He started laughing, only it kind of sounded like sobs.
He rolled off to lie next to me.
I tried to sit up to look at him, but the room swam. “Are you okay?”
“No.” His fingers brushed mine, and my hand felt numb as I tried to grab hold of them. “Not even a little bit.”
We laid there for a while, just breathing. I wasn’t sure how to process what had happened, but I knew that a demon had attached itself to me. A very powerful demon. Even if we’d broken his hold on me tonight, he wasn’t gone. I could feel the evil magic like a tick that had burrowed under my skin and I had no idea how to get rid of it.
It’d taken the power of hundreds of werewolves to escape whatever nightmare I’d been sucked into. If I had to go head to head with this thing, I’d lose. Big time.
What were we going to do?
****Click here for Chapter Four****