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Okay, maybe not a fighting chance. More like a teeny tiny chance. But at this point, I’m not exactly complaining. Any chance, no matter how small, is better than just lying here, waiting to die.

Or worse.

I don’t know how long I tug and strain against the ropes, but it feels like a lifetime. It’s probably more like eight to ten minutes, but terrified and alone in the dark, it feels like so many more.

I try to concentrate on what I’m doing, try to put all my focus into escaping and nothing else. But it’s hard when I don’t know where Jaxon is, when I don’t know what’s happened to him or if he’s even alive. Then again, if I don’t get out of here, I’ll never know.

It’s that thought that has me pulling harder, twisting back and forth with more determination than ever. My wrists hurt now—big surprise—the rubbing back and forth against the ropes chafing them raw. Since I can’t do anything about the pain, I ignore it and twist faster even as I strain to hear any sound that might indicate Lia is coming back.

For now I don’t hear anything but the rasp of my wrists against the ropes, but who knows how long that will last.

Please, I whisper to the universe. Please, just work with me a little here. Please, just let me get one arm free. Please, please, please.

The pleading doesn’t work. Then again, I didn’t actually expect it to. It didn’t work after my parents died, either.

The chafing on my wrists has given way to intense pain—and a slippery wetness that I’m very much afraid is blood. Then again, the fluid is making it easier to turn my wrist now, so maybe bleeding isn’t the worst thing that could happen in this situation. At least if it helps get me out of here before a vampire or seven show up to finish me off.

For the first time, I understand—really understand—why an animal caught in a trap is willing to chew its own foot off to escape. If I thought it would give me a fighting chance, and if I could reach my wrist, I might be tempted to do the same thing. Especially since this yanking and pulling doesn’t seem to be—

My left hand slips, nearly comes out of the rope. I’m so surprised that I almost cry out in relief and maybe blow everything. Paranoid about letting a sound escape—although I don’t actually think it’s paranoia considering the situation I currently find myself in—I lock my jaw in place to keep the sounds of excitement and pain from spilling out into this pitch-dark room.

Ignoring the pain, ignoring the panic, ignoring everything but the fact that I am so close to getting one hand free, I twist and strain with every ounce of strength in my body, so hard and so long that it’s almost a shock when my hand finally slips free from the rope.

The pain is excruciating, and I can feel blood running down my hand, slipping between my fingers and along my palm. I don’t even care, though, not now when I’m so close to finding a way out of this. I twist my body and reach for my other wrist—not the easiest thing to do when I’m spread-eagled. With my legs tied as tightly as they are, I can only twist a little bit, but it’s enough to reach my right hand.

Enough to maybe have a fighting chance at breaking completely free.

Slipping my fingers in between the ropes and my right wrist, I start pulling as hard as I can. The bizarre twisting adds another layer of pain to the mix, but once again I ignore it. I’m pretty sure any pain I feel now is nothing compared to what I’ll feel once Lia decides to…do whatever it is she’s planning on doing.

Finally, the rope on this wrist slips, too, and I manage to slide my right hand free as well. Somehow the hope that comes with that little bit of freedom makes me panic more, and it takes every ounce of concentration I have not to cry as I sit up and start fumbling with the ropes around my ankles.

Every second feels like an eternity as I strain my ears in a desperate attempt to listen for Lia. I don’t know why it matters so much; it’s not like I’ll be able to lie back down and fake it if she shows up. All this blood pretty much negates any chance of that ever happening.

Just the thought has me doubling my already frantic efforts, yanking on the ropes and pulling against them until my fingers and ankles are as raw and bloody as my wrists.

The rope around my right ankle finally gives a little bit. Not enough to get my foot through, but more than enough to have me concentrating solely on that side.

Another minute and a half, I’m guessing, and I’ve got my right foot free, which leaves me to concentrate on the left foot with everything I’ve got. At least until a high pitched scream slices through the cold air and has pretty much every hair on my body standing straight up—especially when the scream echoes around and around me.

It’s Lia, I know it. My blood runs cold, and for a second I can’t move, can’t think through the terror. But then the voice is back, cutting through the fear and ordering me to Hurry, hurry, hurry.

I start tearing at the rope, no longer caring if I dig deep furrows into my skin as I try desperately to untie it. Try desperately to escape.

“Please, please, please,” I mutter to the universe again. “Please.”

I have no idea where I am, no idea if I actually manage to get loose if I can even get out of this place without freezing to death when I step outside. Just the idea of being trapped here has the panic simmering right below the surface rearing its ugly head again.

One problem at a time, I remind myself. Get free from the restraints and then worry about what comes next. Everything else, no matter how terrible, is still a step up from being tied to a stone table like some kind of human sacrifice.

My breath catches in my throat at the thought, a sob welling up within me. But I push the tears back down where they belong. Later, I can cry.

Later, I can do a lot of things.

For now, I need to get off this altar or whatever the hell it is. I need to escape and I need to figure out what’s happening to Jaxon. Everything else can wait.

The rope gives—thankyouthankyouthankyou—and I manage to wiggle my foot out without sacrificing too many layers of skin.

The moment I’m free, I jump off the table…and nearly fall flat on the ground. Now that I’m standing, I realize just how woozy I still am. I thought the adrenaline would burn through the drugs lingering in my system, but they must be really strong drugs. Or I must not have been lying on that table as long as I thought I was…

Still, I take a deep breath and focus. Try to see through the dizziness to figure out where I am…and how to get the hell out of here before crazy, crazy Lia finds her way back.

Another scream rends the air, and I freeze—then run. I don’t even know where I’m running to, but I figure if I make my way along the walls, I’ll find a door eventually. And if I’m lucky, it’ll be on the early side of eventually.

But I’ve barely taken a step before a roar follows the scream, this one deep and powerful and completely animalistic. For a second, just a second, I think it might be Jaxon, and a new rush of terror slams through me.

Then logic reasserts itself—I’ve heard Jaxon sound a lot of different ways, but never like that. Never like an animal with no human qualities at all.

There’s another roar, followed by the sound of something slamming into the wall. Another scream, some growls, something breaking, something hitting the wall again.

Lia’s obviously in a fight, and I should take the opportunity to find a way out and run like hell. Except what if I’m wrong? What if the person making those growls and roars is Jaxon. What if he’s as dizzy as I am and can’t fight her off? What if—

I take off running toward the wall that I can hear things clattering against. It’s a dumb move—the dumbest—but I have to know if it’s Jaxon. I have to know if he’s okay or if she’s doing to him whatever she’d planned to do to me.

I knock my knees against something as I try to make it to the other side of what I’m beginning to realize is a huge room. Whatever I bumped tips over, and liquid splashes onto my feet and the long cotton shift Lia has me dressed in for some reason.

The water feels gross, squishing inside my toes and soaking through my dress, but I ignore it as I take off running again as fast as I can. To be honest, that’s not saying all that much considering the drugs and my raw, wet feet, but I do my best. At least until what feels like a thousand candles burst to life all around me and all at the same time.

As their flames illuminate the room, I stop dead in my tracks. And wish with everything I have that I was back in the dark.


Never Do a

Trust Fall

with Someone

Who Can Fly

At least I know exactly where I am. The tunnels. Not the part of the tunnels I’ve already been in, but one of the side rooms they lead to that I haven’t seen before. Still, I’m sure that’s where Lia has brought me. The architecture—not to mention the bone chandeliers and candelabras—is a hard decorating choice to forget.

Too bad the obviously human-bone candle holders are the least terrifying thing in the place. The same can’t be said for the—at least—two dozen three-foot glass vases filled with blood that line what can only be described as an altar in the center of the room. At the center of which is a stone slab with bloodied ropes.

So, not actually that far off when I snarked about being a human sacrifice. Fantastic.

A quick glance down at my legs shows just why that “water” squishing between my toes felt so gross earlier. Because it’s not water. It’s blood.

I’m covered in someone else’s blood.

Funny how that sets me off worse than anything else in this nightmarish hellscape. But it totally does. I manage to swallow down the scream clawing at the inside of my throat, but it’s a close thing. So close that I can’t stop a little whimper from doing the same.

And that’s before I turn around and see a giant green dragon flying straight toward me, wings beating fast and talons extended.

Not going to lie—I freak out. Like totally, absolutely freak the fuck out—screams absolutely included. I duck down, try to make myself as small as possible as I run for the door, but I know it’s too late even before a volley of flames streams right by me, slamming into the stone wall to my right.