“I know.” She gazed up at him, seeing the torment in every line and hard angle of his face. “I know that’s why you left with them. I never doubted you. Not for a second.”
A strangled moan leaked out of him. Then he kissed her, deeply and fiercely, as if they weren’t standing in the midst of death and carnage, with the threat of still more perched on the platform over their heads.
But the threat was real.
And Riordan wasn’t finished with them yet.
“Fuck the sentimental reunion,” he snarled from above them. “Release the last fighter.”
The heavy gate on one of the pit’s perimeter access portals lifted, freeing yet another feral Breed male.
“Oh, hell, no,” Carys muttered. She broke out of Rune’s loose hold. “Not this time.”
She aimed her pistol at the snarling vampire as it loped into the arena. She squeezed the trigger several times and . . . nothing happened. Just a hollow click-click-click.
No bullets left.
“Stay back,” Rune said as she tossed the empty weapon down. He swept her behind him and prepared to face this new opponent. “I need you to stay safe, Carys. Promise me.”
No, she couldn’t give him that vow. Everything Breed in her wanted to fight this battle with him. Everything female in her was determined to stand by her man—to her last breath, if it came down to that.
Up on the catwalk, Riordan chuckled sadistically. “As soon as either of them comes out from under here, shoot them dead,” he told his guard. “Both of them!”
Carys growled at the command. As scared as she was, her rage was stronger. She knew Rune would meet this new threat the same way he’d confronted all of the ones that had come before, but damn it, enough was enough.
Shots rang out the instant Rune and the other Breed male clashed with the start of their combat. In the tumble and roll with his opponent, Rune somehow managed to evade the sudden spurt of gunfire. But Carys knew it was only a matter of moments before his father’s guard hit his mark.
She wasn’t about to let them get that chance.
Carys’s body was in motion even before she had decided what she would do. She slipped her shoes off and inched backward on her bare feet, out from underneath the catwalk.
With Riordan and his shooter preoccupied with trying to hit Rune off the front of the spectator platform, neither of them realized she had leapt up from the pit until she was already on top of them.
Carys didn’t waste a second. She shoved the guard over the railing, gun and all. He barely had time to scream before the UV barrier consumed him.
She wheeled on Riordan, lips peeled back off her teeth and fangs in a hiss. His eyes rounded with surprise. Then, coward that he was, the bastard bolted away from her.
In a flash, he had vanished from the catwalk, disappearing into the gloom of the castle corridor.
Carys longed to go after him, but down in the pit, Rune was still locked in a dangerous fight.
And to her horror, she saw that he was injured even worse than before. Fresh bullet wounds peppered his back. Yet he kept fighting. Nothing short of death would slow him down.
No way in hell was she leaving him. Not even in the hopes of killing the bastard who’d raised him.
Carys perched on the railing and waited for her chance to spring. When the struggle down below brought Rune and his opponent within range, she leapt off. Sailing down, she dropped right onto the other male’s back just as he was about to lunge for Rune.
The impact drove him to one knee beneath her, but he was immense. As hard as she hit him, her lighter weight didn’t collapse him. He reared back, trying to toss her off him. His big arms grappled for her while she clutched his mane of greasy hair and wrenched his head back.
Rune was right there, not even a second after she landed. With the vampire thrashing wildly, hissing and snarling in rage, Rune pulled his fist back and sent it driving home like a battering ram—straight through the other male’s sternum.
The vampire went rigid, his scream of shock cut short as he convulsed in a violent shudder. Then the body slumped in a heap on the floor of the pit, blood pooling from the gaping hole in the vampire’s chest.
Carys jumped away from the carnage and flung herself into Rune’s arms. “Thank God, it’s over.”
Rune held her, but tension vibrated in every hard muscle of his body. His voice was gravel, raw and deadly. “Where’s my father?”
She twisted to gesture to the empty catwalk. “He ran down that corridor when I pushed his guard over the railing.”
Rune drew her away from him, a bleakness in his eyes. “This won’t be over until the son of a bitch is dead. Come on. We have to get out of here before he sends reinforcements down to find us.”
With Carys running beside him, Rune snatched the dead guard’s assault rifle from the floor of the pit and headed for one of the portals. The iron-banded grate was sealed closed, but a blast of gunfire at its center splintered the thick wood.
Rune rammed it with his shoulder—once, twice, three times—smashing a gap big enough for them to slip through. He took her hand, then he and Carys ducked into the dark, vacant cell on the other side used for holding the pit’s less-than-cooperative fighters.
Another iron-banded door waited across the bare room, and together he and Carys shot and crashed through that one too. The cell opened onto a narrow tunnel, one of many that snaked through the underground bowels of the fortress.
Thin yellow light from flickering, bare bulbs mounted in the ceiling illuminated their path. The stench of urine and old blood offended his nostrils, but the cramped corridor was empty. Nothing but the echoing sounds of his and Carys’s footsteps as they hurried along in the dank gloom.
Rune had been staving off his pain during the combat in the pit, but each step was making it harder keep a hold on his ability. Agony seared him in more places than he could count, but it wasn’t the pain slowing him down now. His injuries were taking a toll.
Added to the gunshot wound in his side were the three bullets he’d taken in his back during the last fight. His breath sawed out of his lungs in a wet, wheezing rasp. Each inhalation was a knife-sharp jab of fire in his chest. Blood ran into his eye from a laceration on his forehead. Still more cuts and bruises covered his hands and arms and torso.
The way he felt, it was a damn miracle he was still on his feet at all.
No, not a miracle.
It was Carys. Her daring move back there on the catwalk had, without a doubt, saved his life.
And it was Rune’s love for her that spurred him forward now, when every shredded muscle and broken bone in his body threatened to drop him on his ass in the middle of the passageway.
In spite of his determination, though, his feet were getting sluggish. Carys had slowed beside him to match his pace. She studied him in the scant light of the tunnel.
Her fangs had retracted now, and her eyes had returned to their arresting shade of blue.
She looked at his glowing irises and fully extended fangs. Her gaze drifted to his glyphs, which were still furious with color, betraying the trauma he was hoping to hide from her.
Her beautiful face pinched with concern as she took in his condition. There was no mistaking her grave expression. She knew he was in bad shape and worsening by the moment.
“Let’s stop for a while, Rune.” Her fingers tightened around his hand as her footsteps dropped to nearly a halt. “Please, stop. We don’t know what’s waiting at the end of this tunnel and you need to rest.”