Hurt, Wrath cried.
His lips curved into a frown. You, too?
We’ll go home. Rest. There were no trails of blood on the stairs, not even a speck. Which meant no one had made it out. Excellent. Except…by the time he reached the top of the stairs, he was trembling. Weakening. His eyes were glazing over, creating a fog everywhere he looked.
The fire finally died—only to be replaced by a frigid ice.
He slowed, his motions sluggish, his feet tripping over each other. “Reach into my back pocket. Grab my phone.” At this rate, he wouldn’t have the strength to fly both women to the fortress.
“What’s wrong with you?” Olivia asked, doing as he’d requested. “Is it your injury? You told me not to worry!”
He ignored the question and the concern. He didn’t want to lie to her—again—and tell her everything was going to be fine, but he didn’t have an answer, either. Neither he nor Wrath had ever reacted this way to a simple gunshot.
“Do you know how to text?” They rounded a corner.
“No. I’ve seen humans do it, but I’ve never tried it myself.”
“What about making a call?” Up ahead, he could finally see the sunlight pushing its way into the crypt. Sweat beaded every inch of him, yet that did nothing to melt the ice. His motions were slowing further, dragging.
“No,” she said again. “I’m sorry.”
Damn. If he released the girl, he wouldn’t be able to pick her back up. That, he knew. Damn, damn, damn.
There were only two possibilities that explained this reaction, he realized. Either the Hunters had used some sort of special bullets or he hadn’t truly recovered from their last attack, as he’d assumed. Neither boded well for him.
Outside—finally, blessedly—he searched for waiting Hunters. He didn’t see any, but wasn’t sure if that was because they weren’t there or because his vision continued to fade. No one jumped out at them, at least.
Flying or not, he wasn’t going to make it home.
He searched his surroundings once more, this time looking for a place to hide. There, a few yards ahead, was a large headstone, flowers of every color perched all around it, forming a hidden alcove.
“This way.” He lumbered forward, weaker with every step.
Olivia wound her arm around his waist, acting as his crutch. “Here. Lean on me.”
He didn’t want to, was embarrassed that he needed to, was even more embarrassed that he actually liked having someone take care of him, but with her aid, he managed to make it. “Thank you.”
He tried to ease Scarlet down, but his knees gave out and the two of them just sort of tumbled forward. She flopped unceremoniously to the ground, and he next to her. Not a peep did she make.
Nor did Wrath. The demon was silent now. Eerily so.
Aeron rolled to his side. Olivia, he saw, was busy rearranging the flowers to pin them in and shield them from prying eyes. “Good…girl,” he told her.
The smile she flicked him was all bravery and iron will. It caused his heart to skip a damned beat. And either he was seeing things that weren’t there or butterflies were actually floating around her head. Squirrels sat at her feet, as well, and birds picked at the grass around her. All of them were watching her, as though waiting for her attention.
Surely he was hallucinating. Which meant he was even worse off than he’d thought. Since he knew he wouldn’t be able to read the numbers on his phone, he told Olivia what to dial.
“Ringing,” she said, and pressed the device to his ear.
“Torin,” he said after his friend answered. “Follow signal. Come get…us.”
He didn’t hear the warrior’s reply. A darkness very similar to what he’d suffered inside that crypt closed around him, and this time, he could only welcome it.
AFTER OLIVIA TORE a strip of cloth from the bottom of her robe and wrapped it around Aeron’s shoulder, she withdrew one of the blades from the sheath anchored to his ankle. I will protect him. No matter the actions necessary. Just as he’d done for her. She crouched in front of him, waiting for his friends to arrive. Or Hunters. If anyone besides a Lord approached, she wouldn’t hesitate to attack.
Never had she felt more like a warrior, more confident in herself, yet more afraid—for the man beside her. He’d taken bullets before; she’d seen him. He’d been stabbed, beaten and cut with knives and arrows. Yet he hadn’t reacted like this. He hadn’t gone pallid, hadn’t moaned and trembled. Hadn’t continued to bleed and weaken.Minute after minute passed, and there was no change in him. Where in heaven’s name were those Lords? They had better hurry, and not just for Aeron’s sake. If they waited too long, dusk would arrive and Scarlet would awaken. And she would be very, very angry.
No one would survive.
At least that tempting voice had shut up the moment she’d left the fortress, and stopped urging her to do those vile—wonderful—things. Hardly a silver lining, though. Nothing was. The animals were even now crowding through the flowers and bushes, perhaps drawing the attention of passersby. Trying to get closer to her? Or Aeron? She didn’t remember them ever approaching Aeron before, but couldn’t figure out why the squirrels, rabbits, birds, cats and even a dog would seek her.
“Scat,” she whispered, not wanting them hurt if a fight did, in fact, break out.
They didn’t budge. No, they inched closer. To her. So she was the draw. Why?
“You have to leave now—”
A twig snapped, quieting her.
The dog growled and the cats hissed, but none ran away. They crouched, ready to leap into attack.
Her lips pressed together, every muscle in her body freezing. She even stopped breathing. Who was here? Lords? Or Hunters? The hand holding the blade trembled. For Aeron, she thought, readying like the animals. She was suddenly glad they’d stubbornly stayed with her.
Two men stepped past the foliage and at first, she didn’t recognize them. She was too prepped, too determined to save this man she…loved? But just as she launched herself at one of them, the dog sprang forward, beating her to the target.
“Ow! Get off me, you mangy mutt,” he gritted out.
She recognized the voice—William—but didn’t lower her blade in time, her momentum too swift. Just before contact, a hard hand wrapped around her wrist, jerking her to the side before stilling her.
“Whoa, there, Liv,” he said with a laugh. His voice was familiar, too. Paris. “I can call you Liv, right? Drop the blade for me, yes?”
Relief pounded through her, and she released the weapon.
“Now tell this mutt to let go!” William shouted.
“They’re friends of mine,” she told the dog. “I’m safe now.”
The dog removed its teeth from William’s ankle and each of the animals dashed away as if that was all they’d been waiting for. The assurance of her safety.
What little darlings. “Thank you,” she called gratefully.
“Now that William’s been properly welcomed,” Paris said with another laugh, “we should get this show on the road.” Concern lit his beautiful face when he spied Aeron. He bent down, slid his arms under the still-sleeping warrior and hefted him over his shoulder. “How long’s he been like this?”
William limped to Scarlet and did the same, only he cradled her in his arms as if she were a precious treasure. “At least I get the pretty package.”
“Yeah, good luck with her,” Paris replied. “I’d say I got the better end of this deal. Apparently she’s possessed by Nightmares.”
William rolled his eyes. “And that’s a bad thing?”
“If you don’t like having your balls handed to you, then yeah, I’d say it’s a bad thing.”
“Come to Daddy,” William said, holding Scarlet all the tighter.
Olivia listened to their banter, head zinging back and forth between them. “Enough. There were Hunters here, you know. This is a dangerous location. More than that, something’s wrong with Aeron. I want him in bed.”
“Sure, sure,” William told her with a nod. “We’ve known that from the beginning. But you’re going to have to wait until he wakes up for that kind of sport. When you finish with him, though, I’d love a go at you myself. Show you what it’s like to be with someone who knows what they’re doing, and all that.”
Her hands fisted. Did he take nothing seriously?
“We’re parked over here.” Paris jerked his head to the side.
Finally. “Let’s go.”
Together they broke through the bushes, and each man went on alert. In the span of a single second, it was as if they were different people. Hidden, they’d joked with each other and teased her about wanting to bed Aeron. Now, they were soldiers, hardened, capable of anything.
So many times, she’d watched the same change overcome Aeron. Until now, she hadn’t truly appreciated it.
Aeron. Brave, injured Aeron. When her nine days ticked away and he was taken from her, where would she go? What would she do? She doubted these men would invite her to remain with them. And would she want them to? Aeron would no longer be there, the memory of him taunting her from every corner.
For the second time, Olivia found herself upset with the short amount of time she and Aeron had. Maybe there was a way to save him. Maybe there was a way for them to be together forever. Yes. Surely. Her Deity was the creator of love. Actually, her Deity was love. He would want two people who loved each other to be together. Right?
But she still wasn’t sure beyond any doubt that she loved Aeron. Admired him, yes. Was aroused by him and craved his touch, oh, yes. But die in his place? she wondered again. Again, she wasn’t sure. She’d given up everything to be with him—everything except her life.
Plus, in dying for Aeron, she’d have to die for Legion, as well. Because she knew, knew, Aeron wouldn’t be happy without the little—big now—tyrant. And if Aeron was going to live, she wanted him to be happy while doing so. Yet the thought of dying for such a lying, conniving brat didn’t settle well.