Chapter Nineteen


I'll wait for you to see it, forever if it takes . . . Solange, my very own, amazing gift beyond worth.

DOMINIC TO SOLANGE

When Dubrinsky leaves his lair to rush to the aid of the village, it will be far too late, we will have turned his people into the dead. Blood will run in rivers down the streets. Ours will be a feast beyond all imagining, celebrating our new world order," Giles, the master vampire continued.

The vampires roared again, but this time the sound wasn't quite as loud. More moved from the inner circle to look hungrily toward the laboratory where the humans lived and worked. Dominic pushed their need for blood up as far as he dared. He wanted more information, and Giles's control over his conclave was beginning to unravel rapidly.

"Our puppet awaits our orders. He will be programmed to drive a truck with the bomb into the prince's home. His lifemate is with child. We will get every one of them. From beneath the ground, two of our best will destroy everything above them. And from the air we will destroy everything below. Once he is gone, the vessel will cease to exist."

Dominic waited for the roar of approval to quiet. "What of his daughter?" he asked, keeping his voice pitched low so the vampires had to strain to hear.

Giles looked annoyed. "She is of no consequence. She is female."

He's been too long in Brodrick's company. Solange's sarcasm filled his mind. The jaguar-men are slinking into the forest. They sense something is going to happen and they don't want any part of it, she added.

Are they coming toward you?

The idea that the jaguar-men might go after her while he was otherwise busy shook him. He should have been prepared for them to abandon the site. Wild animals had sharp senses, reading emotions. They couldn't fail to read the ravenous hunger and the discontent of the vampires. It was even possible the hunger had gotten to them as well and they had gone hunting.

No. But I'll stay alert. You just worry about being in a nest of very dangerous killers.

And you remember that where those two are, Brodrick is not far behind.

He felt her uneasiness and knew she was concentrating on protecting him rather than herself. He bit back his inclination to give her the order to retreat. She wouldn't do it. He wouldn't have done it if their positions were reversed. He had to trust in her skills.

I love you.

Three little words. Her soothing, tender tone. He took a breath. She would be careful for his sake. He needed her, and she knew that.

His orchestra was in place; all he had to do was start conducting. He sent the pieces of the plan to Zacarias. They didn't have a timeline, but Giles wasn't going to give one, not when they wanted to test their plan first. It was now or never. He had to destroy as many of the undead as possible. He didn't want anyone escaping to know that their plan had been compromised, so that feeding frenzy had to start with someone else. He looked at Giles's trusted vampires.

You're smiling.

Am I? Maybe I am feeling just a little mean.

He felt her take a steadying breath. He did the same and reached for the technician inside the laboratory. Take the guard's gun and wound the researchers inside the building. Force them to come outside.

The overwhelming sight and smell of blood would send the vampires spiraling out of control. All it would take was for one to go after the wounded humans and the dam would break. The others would follow suit. He was certain Giles would try to assert his authority and send in his lesser vampires to control the mob, and that would open them up for attack. The guards on the roof would begin firing in an effort to protect their colleagues from the undead, and in the ensuing mayhem, he and Solange would be able to kill at will--he hoped. The sounds of gunshots were muffled by the thick walls of the laboratory, but distinct nevertheless. Giles gave up holding the attention of the crowd, stopping abruptly as they all turned toward the commotion. Lightning forked across the sky, sizzling, blinding with white-hot heat, very close. One bolt slammed into a tree just to the edge of their group. The tree exploded, branches splintering, the trunk blackened. Flames rushed through the network of limbs.

Men poured out of the laboratory, running into the cleared ground between the forest and the building. White coats and guard shirts were splattered in bright red, inviting blood. A few of the men, obviously just awakened and without wounds, shouted for the guards. The computer tech rushed outside brandishing a gun, firing into the chaotic crowd.

A shot rang out from the roof as a guard fired. The sound echoed through the forest. The computer tech staggered, and on the fringe of the vampires, the one called Milan fell to the ground.

Done.

Solange's voice whispered in his mind and he directed a series of strikes at the shocked vampire group. He incinerated the fallen Milan as well as two others who had been close. Even as he did so, a group of vampires rushed the bloody techs. Giles shouted to his lesser vampires to intercede, to form a wall between the humans and the hungry vampires, even as the master vampire began to retreat.

The first of the undead ripped the nearest wounded tech open, falling on him, gulping the rich, hot blood. Guards on the roof opened fire. The sound once again reverberated through the forest and Kiral jerked, spinning around. He glanced up toward the canopy, exposing his fangs. A volley of shots rang out. Men screamed in horror. Blood spattered across the yard. Vampires tore into one another, ripping through Giles's guard to get to the feast.

Lightning pounded the ground, striking Kiral, incinerating him on the spot. One vampire caught in the crossfire between the guards and the lightning strikes went down, bullet holes in his head, while the other half of his body burned. He dragged himself blindly across the ground toward the pooling blood while the others trampled him to get to the humans who had huddled together in an effort to protect themselves.

Dominic's clone pushed, shoved and clawed his way with the frenzied pack of the undead, eager to get at the blood spraying into the air and over the terrorized humans. The guards fired into the mass, adding to the chaos. Lightning forked and struck and thunder rolled, adding to the terrible din.

Dominic flowed across the ground, slamming his fist into the heart of the nearest vampire, his speed so fast he was a mere blur. He took the heart, and just that fast incinerated it before switching directions and rushing Giles. The lesser vampires were torn to shreds, desperately trying to join the feast and get to the well of blood to repair their torn bodies. He caught Giles just inside the line of massive trees.

Dominic struck hard, slamming his fist deep, fingers seeking the ultimate prize. The master vampire twisted away, raking his talons across Dominic's face, digging furrows down his jaw and to his neck. He leaned down and sank his teeth deep, forcing Dominic to retreat. The two stared at one another, blood dripping from Giles's mouth and hands and running black down his chest. Dominic's neck and face bled freely.

Giles licked his lips. "How can this be? You are one of us."

"I am Dragonseeker, you fool," Dominic said, contempt in his voice. "Did you really believe I would choose to give up my soul and join your despicable ranks?"

Giles snarled, revealing his bloodstained teeth. "You are responsible for this mess."

Dominic shrugged. "Of course. But you will be blamed."

Deliberately the vampire sucked Dominic's blood from his fingers. "You have the parasites. They answered my call." As he spoke he took a step to his left.

Dominic didn't wait for the attack; he struck fast and hard, slamming a bolt of lightning at the spot where Giles's next step would take him. The master vampire shrieked as the white-hot energy burned through his shoulder and down his side, hip and leg, a laser beam sheering one quarter of the body completely off, cauterizing as it burned through the rotting flesh.

Giles went down, rolled, reaching for his severed body, clawing at it, trying to drag it to him as Dominic leapt on him, driving his fist deep once again, fingers burrowing through decomposed flesh and tissue to reach the withered heart. An ominous crack was his only warning. A spear slammed through his back, impaling him, driving him down to the ground and pinning him there. Roots burst through the vegetation to wrap around his throat and tangle around his body, holding him.

Dominic exploded energy outward, burning through the woody roots. Even as he did so, root structures formed a caged of finned, thick wood, holding him prisoner. It was a delaying tactic only, a chance for Giles to repair his rotting body. Dominic braced himself and shoved the spear through his body, cauterizing the wound as he did so. The pain washed over and through him. He heard the echo of Solange's shattered cry and pushed her out of his mind, afraid she would feel the mind-numbing pain.

He forced his body under control, rolling, seeing the multitude of bats staring at him with hungry eyes. They dropped, covering his face and head, biting ferociously as he exploded the cage of roots outward to allow his release. He managed to get to his knees, flinging the biting creatures aside and staggering a little as he got his legs under him. Giles pushed himself up, his body stitched haphazardly together, one quarter of his body blackened and grotesque. He growled, spittle running down his face, his eyes blazing bloodred. "My body is dead, Dragonseeker. I can take being cut into a million pieces and still defeat you. Your body is flesh and blood. You feel pain."

Dominic's eyebrow shot up. He was weakened from using energy to sustain the storm, and keeping his clone where the other vampires could clearly see him. He didn't want the information compromised. He knew some of the emissaries would escape and he couldn't afford the plan to be changed. That meant being visible so there was no chance that anyone would discover he had brought about the destruction of the laboratory and everyone in it.

"You flatter yourself, Giles. You always did. You seem to be stalling for time. Do you believe your pawns will come to protect you?" He kept his tone a low taunt. Giles had believed himself invincible, but he was shaken. Dominic knew his reputation was legendary and the master vampire would much rather his minions battle the Dragonseeker than himself. He also was well aware that the undead had huge egos and, although true, the taunt was insulting.

I'm working my way to you. Solange had a sob in her voice.

No, stay away from here. I will defeat him.

I'm not in a position to help you.

Take out as many as possible, but fire only when the guards do. I will not be there to finish them, so they may detect your presence.

Dominic kept his attention centered on Giles. The vampire's face twisted into a mask of pure hatred. Dominic prodded him more. "You lost control of them, didn't you? Instead of protecting the humans, they are ripping them to pieces, gulping blood. And somehow I think even if you'd managed to escape, Ruslan would be very, very angry. He is not the most forgiving man I ever met."

The red eyes began to burn, but the vampire held his temper in check. "This incident will only make the humans much more eager to join with us to hunt the undead. We will point them to Dubrinsky's precious village."

Dominic had managed to push the pain far enough away that he could breathe again. Solange was trying to do it for him, matching the rhythm of his burning lungs to her breathing.

Dominic bowed slightly and waved his hand, making certain that Giles followed the gesture with his furious gaze while Dominic gathered the powerful energy sizzling and crackling in the sky overhead. He let the power fill his exhausted body and, leaving a second clone behind, moved away from his body, leaving the clone exposed and open. Standing just in front of it, insubstantial and transparent, he waited for Giles to make his move. His clone hunched a little and pressed his palm to the blackened hole in his chest, just to the left of his heart. He could feel his strength ebbing. Two clones and a storm drained his energy fast, but he held his transparent form.

Giles charged, rushing full force and with preternatural speed, going for the kill. Dominic stepped forward to meet the rush, using Giles's momentum and his own incredible strength to punch forward. In the split second before the vampire got to his fist, Dominic materialized, his clone dissolving. Giles impaled himself on the extended fist. Dominic seized the heart before the undead knew what was happening. He extracted the withered, blackened organ and tossed it a distance from the master vampire, directing the lightning to the putrid object.

Giles screamed hideously, the cry reverberating through the forest. He staggered across the ground, his hands seeking his missing heart. Slowly crumpling to the ground, he spat at Dominic before his body succumbed to the loss. Lightning jumped to the body, incinerating it. The vampire writhed and twisted in the searing flames, as if a part of him still lived. The fire hissed and spluttered in protest, but burned quickly, reducing the undead to ash.

Dominic dropped to one knee, his head down, dragging air into his lungs. He still had to wait for Josef to signal it was safe to destroy the laboratory and get Solange to safety.

Dominic! Her voice gave him the necessary incentive to move.

Giles is dead. I am returning to the battle.

I can hear the weariness in your voice. Do you need blood? I can come to you.

When we are finished here. The idea of her blood, that incredible healing force flowing into this body, energized him. He strode back through the trees to the laboratory as he allowed his clone to dissolve.

Solange breathed a sigh of relief and turned her attention back to the chaotic scene at the laboratory. Screams of terror filled the air and the scent of blood permeated everything. Bullet after bullet rained down from the roof. The undead, now riddled with bullet holes, looked up to mark the guards as prey. She had wanted these men dead, but not like this, not in such a horrific manner. The vampires had lost all control, devouring everything with blood. She couldn't spot either of the jaguar-men. They had definitely made themselves scarce at the first sign of trouble.

She fit the rifle to her shoulder again and squeezed the trigger a split second after a guard fired. A volley of shots drowned out hers. Lightning slammed into the downed vampire. She searched through her scope to try to find one of the vampires Dominic had wanted destroyed. It was difficult to identify any of them now. The images had faded, leaving them as rotting corpses, skin peeling away, sunken eyes with tufts of gray or white hair sticking to their skulls.

Blood was everywhere, on their clothing and faces; their hands were slick with it. She went by clothes recognition, hoping she had it right. She spotted the one she thought was Carlo standing at the foot of the building, under the eaves, out of sight of the guards. He went up the side of the building fast, skittering up the wall like a lizard, leaping onto Felipe's back, teeth tearing at his neck. The first shot got him through the back of his skull, the second through his back and straight through his heart. His form shattered, he spun around, face covered with blood, eyes blazing madly, looking toward the forest. He leapt into the air, beginning to shift when the lightning struck him, incinerating him so that ashes rained down into the mass of frenzied vampires ripping and tearing, gulping bright, hot blood.

Solange wiped the sweat from her face, her stomach lurching. She'd never seen anything like the chaotic bloodbath taking place. The undead devoured everything in sight, tearing at each other, snapping and biting like a wild pack of starved animals. She was used to the laws of the forest, but this was something altogether different. Sweat dripped into her eyes and she reached again to wipe it away. Her cat leapt just as the muffled sound of powerful wings from above registered. She rolled from the cradle of the tree, catching a liana and using her forward momentum to carry her to the next tree. She'd lost the rifle, but her crossbow and arrows were around her neck and she had a knife strapped to her thigh.

The harpy eagle screamed as it missed, the huge talons snatching empty air. Razor-sharp, the size of a grizzly bear's claws, she would have been seriously injured had the large bird managed to sink those talons into her.

Solange, talk to me.

Dominic's calmness steadied her. She fit an arrow into her crossbow and studied the night sky. The eagle was circling, preparing for another attack. Lightning forked the sky, allowing her to see the huge bird coming closer.

A little glitch. Your friend Akos sent the harpy eagle after me. He's directing the attack. You might want to take him out for me so I don't have to shoot this beautiful bird.

Do not take chances, Solange. Shoot it if you have to.

Solange timed the bird's attack, allowing her cat to guide her reflexes. As the eagle approached, soaring low in the canopy, dropping rapidly, the heavy wingbeats were a warning in her head. She waited, counting silently to herself. She didn't want to kill the magnificent creature, not when she knew a vampire was using it to attack her. Ordinarily the bird would never have done such a thing--unless she was too near a nest.

The talons nearly raked her face as she ducked back, but the bird had no way to turn, the branches too close and severely limiting the maneuverability of the eagle. The wings used powerful strokes to gain enough height to clear the branches and rise once more into the roiling sky. Heavy black clouds lit up around the edges with the sizzling lightning, revealing the eagle as it circled around toward her once more.

She tracked the bird with the crossbow, but something in her refused to kill it. There'd been too much killing today. She could still hear the screams, the terror, the sound of gunfire, and knew the remaining men were being slaughtered. All of those working at the laboratory had been fully aware that they were targeting women for kidnap, rape and death. She didn't have to like the manner in which they were dying, but at least they had chosen their own path. The harpy eagle was being forced into unnatural behavior.

Dominic hissed at her. I cannot find Akos. Kill the eagle and get to safety quickly. I will track him.

A warning. A command. Worry. Dominic thought the vampire was coming after her. She thought it more than likely the undead was using the opportunity to escape.

She braced herself to obey, watching as the eagle made its approach and then dropped fast out of the sky, talons extended for the grab. She timed the dodge a second time, realized those claws were larger than she had thought, and hurled herself out of the way. She flung her hand out, expecting to catch the liana she had marked for her safety rope, but she missed it, her palm scooping empty air.

There was no shifting in midair; all she could do was make herself as limp as possible and try to find soft vegetation. She landed hard, her air whooshing from her lungs, leaving her gasping for breath and unable to move. Stars exploded behind her eyelids. She lay in the thick vegetation, desperate to breathe, her body aching in a million places. Eyes closed, she let a small groan escape, considering just going to sleep right there. It seemed too much of an effort to get up.

Tell me you are alive and well, Solange, Dominic demanded. Akos is coming after you and I have to stop him.

Be my guest. I'll just lie here and rest.

Dominic took to the air, following the faint blood scent Akos had left. The vampire was vicious, with a streak of cruelty he'd had since childhood. In shredding the humans he had gotten blood all over him. He hadn't bothered to take the time to clean himself, probably reliving the experience and basking in the memory of the bloodbath. He enjoyed the suffering and terror of his victims, and the scent of their blood permeating his clothing would heighten the memory.

Dominic heard the eagle scream and abruptly changed direction. Akos was fleeing, calling the harpy to him as he streamed through the forest, winding his way in and out of the trees, unaware he was leaving droplets of blood behind. Dominic didn't want to get too far from Solange, not with all the vampires in the area. At this point, they had fed well and would disperse rapidly, fearing Giles's wrath. None but his lesser vampires would be aware that he'd been destroyed and they would leave immediately. Still . . .

He caught up with the mist a few minutes later. Droplets of blood scattered through the gray vapor trail identified the vampire instantly. Dominic used a rare Carpathian command. Vampires had been born Carpathian and therefore were still subject to the law of blood.

" Veriak ot en Karpatiiak--by the blood of the Prince, muon?ak te avoisz te--I command you to reveal yourself." His voice boomed through the forest, shaking the trees. The ground rolled beneath his feet, and above him lightning split the dark clouds.

Monkeys howled and rushed through the canopy, agitated. The harpy eagle screamed again, his flight stuttering in the sky before he recovered and settled into the branches of a tree, slowly folding his great expanse of wings. Rustling in the underbrush betrayed a multitude of wildlife. A snake lifted its head and lizards skittered across boughs and trunks.

The vapor wavered, grew substance until Akos, transparent, fighting the command, landed hard on the ground and staggered quickly to his feet. His clothes were drenched in fresh blood and his mouth, teeth and jaw were smeared. Blood spatter caught in his hair appeared as shiny black dots when a burst of lightning lit up the darkened forest. He grinned, showing his spiked teeth. "Dragonseeker. I should have known."

Dominic circled to the right, keeping a wary eye on the sky. Akos would use the harpy eagle for distraction and he would try to end the battle fast. A vicious fighter, he only chose the battles he could win. His eyes had taken on a glowing red, but they were darting back and forth, as if Akos thought he could still escape.

"There is no escaping justice," Dominic said quietly, watching the shifting eyes.

The gaze went up just for a split second and Dominic used his blurring speed, slamming into Akos as the harpy eagle dropped from the sky. His fist penetrated the chest wall as the talons reached for his eyes. He whirled them both around, the vampire shrieking, the black blood pouring over his fist and arm, burning through to the bone. The eagle's claws wrapped around the back of Akos's skull, ripping and tearing for a purchase. Solange didn't really dare rest, lying there unprotected, afraid the vampire would send the eagle after her. She cautiously opened her eyes to look up at the darkened canopy. Three pairs of cat's eyes glowed back at her, staring with a predator's intense focus. Her heart jumped in her chest and began to pound. Jaguar-men. They hadn't gone far from the laboratory, had probably found a safe haven in the canopy and watched the bloody massacre. Her first instinct was to try to run, or to shift and run, but these were strong males, fast and ferocious, used to hunting. She didn't have a chance so she stayed still, willing herself not to panic.

Dominic. She kept her voice very calm. How far away are you?

Tell me, beloved.

She savored the sound of his voice, so calm, so confident. Her heart settled. This time she wasn't alone. These men would never take her alive. She had vowed that a long time ago. She knew Dominic would come for her. She just had to hold them here.

Brodrick and two of his soldiers. Give me an estimate. I can keep them distracted. She felt the crossbow in her hand. She hadn't dropped it. And she had the knife.

She felt his hesitation. I must destroy Akos. Can you manage until I get there? Tell me the truth.

Her fingers tightened around the bow. She brought it up and fired. The arrow went straight and true, streaking through the sky, up through the leaves and branches to drive into one of those glowing cat's eyes. On impact the arrow ignited, burning through the skull. She heard the thud as something heavy dropped from the branches. She rolled over and over toward the slope that would take her into some semblance of cover.

I've got this covered.

She got a mouthful of leaves and ants as she tumbled down the ravine and skidded through the mud to land in a small creek that was pouring into a larger stream. She hastily crawled into the cage of one of the larger trees on the embankment. It offered a little protection. They couldn't come at her from behind, and she was armed and ready for them. It was only a matter of time before they figured out how to get her, but she just needed to buy time. They expected her to shift and run, but she wasn't playing their game.

Akos is just ahead, I am circling around behind him. His eagle may be with him now, Solange warned. She could hear swearing. One of the two jaguar-men had shifted, probably to check on their companion. He was dead. There was no way he could have lived through that shot. Pay attention to the sky.

As if answering her, lightning forked in a spectacular display, streaks stretching across the sky. The dark clouds went purple, laced with fire. She wiped the sweat from her face with her sleeve. A twig snapped and her entire body tensed.

"Clever girl."

Her heart sank. She'd known all along it would be him. Brodrick. She clenched her teeth to keep them from chattering. The wind rose suddenly, completely unexpected, and unexplained, howling through the trees, carrying the voices of all the women this man had murdered, calling on her to bring them justice. The rain beat steadily, a mournful sound accompanying the moaning wind.

"Do you hear them?" she asked, her voice surprisingly steady. Keep him talking. Maybe, if she was lucky, he would get into her line of fire.

"Who?" Brodrick asked.

"The dead." The howling rose to a fever pitch. "They're calling you." She kept her voice pitched low, hoping he would have to come a little closer to hear her. And where was the other one?

"You're the one they're calling," he corrected with a growl. "Come out of there and throw your weapon away."

"I may have your blood running in my veins, but I managed to get my mother's intelligence. You want me, come and get me."

She heard another twig snap off to her left. The other man was working his way around, trying to come in while she was distracted by Brodrick. She whispered to her cat, making certain she was alert.

"Solange, you have to know our race is dying out," Brodrick said in a reasonable tone, as if they were old friends discussing a long familiar topic.

She could barely make him out, a good distance from her, pulling on a pair of jeans. She averted her eyes. He was smart enough to keep out of her line of fire, although . . . She wiggled, pushing with her feet until she had enough room to lie prone. She went to her belly inch by slow inch, using her cat's freeze-frame ability so as not to alert him to a change of position.

The thick, twisted, finlike root coiled as it rose up to join the tangle of roots supporting the tree and forming her cage. She slowly slid her crossbow to the very edge, under the root. There were only a couple of inches of clearance, but enough for an arrow to shoot through. It was a tricky angle, and she couldn't use one of the special vampire arrows, but the smaller, more traditional one would do.

"Of course I know, Brodrick. You did that and you did it with deliberate malice. You knew exactly what you were doing so spare me the `you need to save our species' speech. Who is your friend? The one sneaking around louder than the cicadas? You'd think if he was supposed to be your guard, he'd learn how to be silent." Sarcasm dripped.

She adjusted her angle slightly as he faded back into the shadows. He would move. A foot. A hand. It didn't matter what part of his anatomy he exposed; she would have him.

Brodrick sighed overly loud. "Reggie, you may as well come away from there."

Annoyance edged his voice. Fingers of alarm tracked down her spine. She shivered, frowning. He was up to something. Her one advantage was that they wanted her alive. Brodrick would never kill her and certainly neither would his companion. She was far too valuable alive. She was a full shifter with royal blood. Brodrick wanted an heir. As disgusting and despicable as that sounded, she knew his intent. She tasted bile in her mouth, but her gaze never left the shadowy figure moving back and forth behind the veil of dense brush.

Brodrick moved again and she fired from where she lay on the ground, the arrow rocketing through the brush. He screamed. Cursed. She heard the heavy fall of his body as he went down, crashing into brush. She sent up a silent prayer there were nettles growing there.

"I'm fucking going to make your life hell, you little bitch," he raged, his snarls reverberating through the forest. "Every day you live will be nothing but pain. I know more ways to cause pain to a bitch in heat than you ever imagined."

In the small confines of the root cage, Solange found it difficult to fit another arrow into the crossbow. She wiggled around, trying to stay quiet. Her leg brushed against the thick wood on her right side as she tried to get her arm in position. Something grabbed her ankle, pinning her hard to the ground. She felt the jab, a sharp sting, even as she abandoned the crossbow, pulled the knife on her thigh from its sheath and in one motion rolled and stabbed, driving the blade deep in the side of the man holding her down.

Come now! She sent the frantic call to Dominic. They got me with a needle.

She'd known Brodrick was up to something. They'd misled her by snapping twigs, making her think Reggie was to her left. Stupid, stupid mistake. She tried to stay calm, breathing evenly, not wanting whatever they injected into her to move too fast through her system. They thought they had time. She'd go to sleep and they'd drag her out and have her at their mercy. They were unaware of Dominic. Reggie spat curses as he staggered back away from the roots. He made it about seven feet, staggered and went down to his hands and knees. "Brodrick. Get over here and help me."

He was out in the open where she could shoot him at will with an arrow. Using slow, careful movements, Solange fit another arrow into her bow and waited, this time as far back in the cage as she could get. They wouldn't be able to fit through the tangle of roots easily with their stocky bodies, and she wasn't going to make it easy for them.

Sweat beaded on her forehead. Her vision blurred. Around her, the twisted roots moved slightly, as if they might be coming alive.

"Brodrick," Reggie wailed. He had his hands clamped tight against his side. Blood dripped steadily through his fingers.

"Stop whining," Brodrick snapped. "You let the little bitch stick you. I told you she was lethal. You underestimated her."

"Why is it," Solange asked, her voice sounding tinny and far away, "that the man who attacks the woman always gets upset when she fights back? I've never understood that."

"I don't mind a little fight. It adds to the enjoyment when a woman fights, all that delicious fear," Brodrick said, ignoring Reggie's increasing distress. His partner began to drag himself toward the brush. "I love to watch their faces as they beg and plead, so willing to do anything for me, endure anything for me, just to live." His laughter was taunting, filled with contempt. "Believe me, you'll do the same."

She had a good direction on him now, if he stayed put, but she had to hurry. Her arms were beginning to feel like lead. She wiped the sweat from her eyes with her elbow, building the picture of him in her mind. His size. His shape. He was standing behind the fern and brush, his shadowy outline becoming distorted.

"You should have killed me when you had the chance," she said, wanting his response, wanting one more reassurance of his position. Her vision was astonishingly blurry.

"When you give me a son, it will be my pleasure, and you'll take a long time dying," he replied, supreme confidence in his voice. "Just like old Reggie."

Reggie slumped on the ground, moaning, but his strength had run out with his blood.

Solange drew a deep breath, and as she exhaled, she fired the arrow. Brodrick grunted. She waited, heart beating fast. The ground shook as Brodrick went insane, breaking through the brush, destroying everything in his path, his rage boiling over. Roaring, he rushed her shelter, smashing through the roots, driving right through the splinters of wood to grab her hair. He jerked hard. Solange sprawled on the ground, releasing the crossbow from her numb hand. He dragged her out of what was left of the root cage and threw her to the ground.

Look at him. Keep looking at him. Dominic's voice was calm.

She felt that same calm. I have to do this.

In a detached way, she heard the fists hitting her body, saw the snarling, twisted mask of hatred rising over her, but she didn't feel anything other than a sense of purpose. This monster had killed nearly everyone she'd ever loved. He'd destroyed countless lives as well as an entire species. She watched him with an indifferent, impassive look that enraged him further. He bent over her, his hand on her shirt. Before he could rip it from her body, she poured every ounce of energy and will into the hand holding the knife.

She slammed the blade home, right into his black heart. She didn't have enough strength to push it as deep as she would have liked, but judging from the eruption of blood pouring around the blade, she was certain it would be enough to kill him. His eyes widened in complete shock. She could see he had never entertained the idea that a mere woman would be able to defeat him. Rage replaced shock and his hands dropped from the hilt of the knife to her throat.

Before he could wrap his fingers around her neck, a blast of white-hot energy knocked him back and away from her. Dominic knelt beside her, his hands running gently over her body. Everywhere he touched, bruises healed.

"I have to push the sedative from your body, Solange," he said and proceeded to do so.

He helped her into a sitting position. Solange rested her head against his chest for a moment. "Thanks. I'm still shaky."

Sensing movement, Dominic whipped around, his body shielding Solange as he faced Brodrick. The man ripped the knife from his chest, and using his last strength, went to throw it at Solange. Dominic spewed fire, a Dragonseeker trait rarely used. The flames engulfed the shapeshifter, burning bright red-orange.

Solange raised her eyebrow. "I didn't know you could do that. It's kind of freaky."

He kissed her. "Just do not make me angry and you will never have to see it again."

She laughed softly. "I want to go home."

"Josef is finally finished. I can take down the laboratory," he told her. "And then we can go home."

With her eyes on the fiery conflagration, and Brodrick's screams filling the air, she sighed softly. "Get it done, then. I want to sleep for a month." Her nightmare was finally over. The other shifters would scatter and they'd be someone else's problem. Hopefully they would go where the law could reach them.

Dominic concentrated on the laboratory itself, building the image in his mind. He had paid attention to every structural point. Beneath the earth he pushed the first wave up directly beneath the building. The earth shook. Brodrick crumbled and writhed on the ground. In the distance they could hear the loud thunder as the laboratory shook apart. Dominic didn't stop until the last block was smashed and there was nothing left.

He turned and looked through the falling rain toward the sky, bringing down the lightning one last time. The bolt slammed into Brodrick's writhing body, incinerating it completely. The white-hot energy jumped to Reggie and turned him to ash.

He held out his hand to Solange. "Home, my own. We have that little bundle of fur and claws to feed."

Solange put her hand in his and without a glance toward the blackened ashes, she walked side by side with her lifemate toward home.

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