“Oh, shit,” Aylin whispered. She couldn’t imagine being stuck in a position that left her helpless to save the life of her child. “There’s got to be a way you can deal with this demon.”
“There’s not. Father has tried.” Closing her eyes, Rasha inhaled deeply. “So yes, I have an alternative way of handling the birth of my firstborn with Hunter. I would never give up my baby to a demon or to anyone else, and if that means Hunter has to die, so be it.” She crossed to the door but paused with her hand on the doorknob. “Speak a word of any of this, and you’ll wish you’d remained at ShadowSpawn.”
There was nothing Rasha could do to Aylin to make that happen, but she kept that thought to herself as her sister whipped open the door.
Hunter was waiting in the hall, and Aylin swore the temperature in the room dropped twenty degrees when he entered. His stormy gaze lit on Rasha and didn’t waver. “Your decision.”
“I’m not going with you.” Rasha squared her shoulders in defiance, but a very subtle shift of her weight said she was worried about a violent reaction. She wanted to be prepared to defend herself, and Aylin didn’t blame her.
A mix of anger, shock, and hurt crossed Hunter’s face. “Do you understand that our son or daughter will be taken by a f**king demon? If we try to hide the child, he or she will die a horrible death. Was I not clear on that?”
Rasha’s chin came up. “You were clear.”
“Then there will be no children,” he snarled. “I will never so much as touch you.”
It was probably bad of Aylin to be happy about that.
“Don’t be a fool.” Rasha’s words were sharp, but her tone was laced with regret. She truly wished she could go on the journey, didn’t she? “Samnult will know, and I can only imagine how displeased he’ll be.”
“He’ll only know if you tell him, Rasha,” he gritted out. “I can’t… I can’t lose another child.”
Another child? When had he lost one? Aylin could feel his pain from where she stood, a suffocating blanket of agony that made her want to reach for him. How could she let him suffer like that? Without thinking, she stepped forward.
“What about me?” she blurted. “Can I go with you in Rasha’s place?”
Hunter and Rasha both wheeled around to her, but it was Hunter Aylin couldn’t look away from. His dark gaze took her in, holding her in place with its intensity.
“That’s impossible,” Rasha said. “Only the chief’s intended mate can accompany him on the quest.”
“Unless the mate has an identical twin.” Hunter stepped closer to Aylin, and her mouth went dry. “It’ll be dangerous.”
“I wasn’t expecting it to be a stroll in the woods,” she said. “But it needs to be done, and I’m more capable than people seem to think.” There was no way she could allow a demon to take her newborn niece or nephew, and the idea that Hunter might die in an “accident” didn’t sit well with her, either.
“This is ridiculous,” Rasha said. “You’d be a liability.” She rounded on Hunter. “You aren’t honestly considering this, are you? She has no fighting experience, and she’s lame. She can barely stand upright sometimes, let alone run or trek over rough terrain.”
Thanks for the vote of confidence, sis. The only thing that kept Aylin from saying that out loud was the fact that Rasha wasn’t being intentionally mean. She was trying to keep Aylin safe.
“And yet,” Hunter said slowly, “she’s willing to fight for a child that isn’t even hers. That kind of strength isn’t a liability. But you wouldn’t know anything about that, would you?”
At Rasha’s gasp of outrage, Hunter’s gaze swept Aylin up and down, taking her in from her face to her feet, and shame made her skin shrink. She could see the way he was weighing the pros and cons, and just as she was about to make things worse by pleading her case, he nodded.
“We leave in an hour.”
Hunter hoped like hell that he hadn’t made a huge mistake, but even if he had, he could only be grateful that Aylin was willing to make the journey. Why she was willing baffled him. Clearly, she’d done it for her sister, but had she made the choice out of love, duty, fear, or something more ominous?
Because the fact was, Rasha was back at MoonBound, where there was possibly a spy in their midst, while Hunter was soon to be very much out of reach.
This was definitely not an ideal situation, made even more aggravating by the fact that Rasha wasn’t willing to lift a finger to keep her own child safe. How the hell was he supposed to spend the rest of his life with someone like that?
On the upside, he probably didn’t have to worry about having children with her, because he could barely look at her, and when he did, he felt nothing but revulsion. Sex might not even be possible.
Unless you think of Aylin.
Man, he was f**ked-up.
He looked back at her as she carefully navigated the trail he left behind in the snow, and he found himself hoping she was strong enough for what was coming. Rasha was impossible to deal with, but she was nimble and fast, and she could fight as well as any of MoonBound’s warriors.
They’d left immediately instead of the following morning, which had been the original plan if Rasha had been willing to go. But because of Aylin’s leg, they needed the extra travel time, plus padding for breaks.
Rasha had thrown a fit, but since she hadn’t offered to take Aylin’s place, Hunter had left her behind and given Jaggar and Myne strict orders to keep an eye on her. Baddon, Riker, Katina, Takis, Tena, and Aiden accompanied Hunter and Aylin, but none knew the reason for the journey to the vortex. Riker asked, but Hunter had told him only that they had to make a trip to see the Elders. A lie, but Hunter had no other choice.
They’d traveled at Aylin’s top speed for thirty-six hours, with only brief breaks to eat and rest. Half a dozen times, they’d had to take detours in their route in order to bypass groups of humans. Gradually, the snow gave way to rain and muddy ground, and by the time they arrived within a mile of the designated meeting place, Aylin was exhausted, her lips pale with the cold, her eyes ringed with dark circles. And Hunter had no doubt that under her clothing, she was covered in bruises and scrapes from all the falls she’d taken.
But she’d never once complained or asked for help. Hell, when anyone offered a hand, she flat-out refused. Gradually, the hard wariness in MoonBound’s warriors’ eyes was joined by admiration, and Hunter could feel his own feelings making that same shift. He had to keep reminding himself that she could be the enemy – that she could have volunteered to come with him as part of a ShadowSpawn plot.
He didn’t want to believe that, but he also couldn’t afford to let down his guard. Not when the future of his clan was at stake.
As they dropped into a sloping river valley, a powerful sense of awareness settled in his head. They were close. Samnult had told him he’d feel the vortex, and sure enough, it was as if something was tugging at his brain, leading him toward a stand of trees to the south.
“This way.” He helped Aylin down a rocky path, and as the pull grew stronger, so did his misgivings. Aylin was clearly brave and smart, but with her lack of fighting experience and the bum leg, this was risky as shit.
“I can feel it,” she murmured. “We’re here.”
Putting his back to a stand of ancient trees, Hunter turned to his warriors. “We have to do this alone.” Riker opened his mouth to argue, but Hunter cut him off with a gesture. “This isn’t open for debate. Wait for us, but if we haven’t returned by the eve of the full moon, head back to MoonBound.”
“Don’t push me on this.”
Riker’s hard, defiant stare earned a harder one from Hunter. Riker was his friend, but he was also his subordinate, and when Hunter gave an order, he expected it to be followed. Without question.
Which was something Riker often had a problem with.
Fortunately, Riker didn’t push. “After the moon fever, we’ll come back for you.”
“No. You’ll carry on the way we’ve planned. You’re in charge, with Baddon as your second.”
“But I’m a turned vampire. The law —”
“I know what the law says about clan leaders being born vampires,” Hunter said gruffly. “But everyone at MoonBound respects you, and with Baddon at your side, even the sticklers for custom should be mollified.”
“You’ll make it back,” Riker said. “So leadership won’t be an issue.”
“Sir?” Aiden cleared his throat as he approached. “Can I speak with you in private?”
Curious, Hunter nodded and drew Aiden a few yards away into the trees. “What is it?”
Aiden paused, as if he had changed his mind.
“Spit it out, man,” Hunter said.
“I don’t trust her.” Aiden didn’t need to gesture toward Aylin for Hunter to know who he meant. “I know you’re traveling through a vortex somewhere with her, and I don’t know why, but I don’t like it. What if she leads you into a trap or is part of some ShadowSpawn plot to assassinate you?”
“And why would she go to all this trouble when Rasha could have killed me a dozen times over by now?”
“Because that would be obvious, and Rasha is too valuable to ShadowSpawn to risk. But Aylin is practically disposable to them.”
Hunter’s own thoughts had gone that way a time or two, but he couldn’t come up with a reason for Aylin to want him dead. Then again, he couldn’t figure out why she was willing to risk her life for a child that not only wasn’t hers but wasn’t even conceived yet.
Both twins would be the death of you. But only one of them will choose to bring you back.
Samnult’s warning a couple of months ago rang through his head for the eight-millionth time. Instinct told him Aylin wasn’t a threat, but centuries of living – and being betrayed – was proof that sometimes instinct wasn’t enough. Hunter might be willing to give Aylin the benefit of the doubt, but he wasn’t an idiot. He always took his warriors’ thoughts into account.
“So what do you think Aylin would have to gain by doing ShadowSpawn’s bidding?”
“What wouldn’t she gain?” Aiden said, his voice grave. “Her life at ShadowSpawn has reportedly been hell. What if they promised her a place of prominence in the clan? Or a powerful mate?”
“ShadowSpawn has nothing to gain from my death. My mating to Rasha will bring more to the table than my funeral would.”
Aiden shook his head. “Not if you refuse to share power with her. If she’s inside our headquarters, she could sabotage the clan. With you out of the way, she could take advantage of the confusion and chaos, and she could lead ShadowSpawn warriors inside. I don’t have all the answers, but I’m telling you, I don’t like this.”
Hunter didn’t, either, but he wasn’t going to operate on speculation and general “bad feelings.” “I appreciate the concern,” he said as he started back toward the rest of the group. “I’ll be careful. And I’ll trust you and the others to be my eyes and ears when I’m not there.”
“We won’t let you down.”
“I know.” He stopped a few feet away from where the others had gathered, and Aylin joined him at his side. “I don’t know when we’ll be back, but if we haven’t returned by the eve of the full moon, Riker has his orders.”
One by one, each wished them well. Riker was last, his expression grim as Hunter passed him the virtual torch of command.
“Good hunting, man.” Rike clapped him on the shoulder with a gloved hand. “We’ll be here when you get back.”
“May Brother Eagle guide your path ahead and Cousin Coyote watch your back.” Hunter turned away from Riker before they did something sappy, like hug.
As he took Aylin’s hand and guided her to the stone circle in the small clearing, Riker and the others melted into the forest.
They paused outside the circle, and he turned to face her. “This is your last chance to refuse.”
A breeze ruffled her hair, creating soft, golden waves around her face. “And this is your last chance to understand that I’m not as fragile as I seem. I have a bad leg, but there’s nothing wrong with my mind.”
The resolve in Aylin’s eyes humbled him. She didn’t have a stake in this, and yet she was willing to risk her life to save that of Hunter’s future son or daughter… when even Rasha wouldn’t. Remarkable. “Okay, then.” He gazed up at the endlessly gray clouds and wondered if they’d fill the sky on the other side of the portal, too. “We do this.”
“And what, exactly, is this?”
“Mutual feeding.” Just the thought of Aylin’s fangs in his throat again made him instantly, painfully, hard.
Aylin blinked. “Why?”
“Because demons are ass**les,” he muttered. “Samnult said we have to take each other’s blood at the site, and we’ll be transported to his realm.”
“Oh.” She glanced around and then shrugged. “Might as well get it over with, don’t you think? Unless…”
She squared her shoulders as if preparing for battle. Trouble was, he was the one she was preparing to fight. “Unless you’re afraid my blood is tainted by my deformity.”
“A crippled bear is no less a bear.” And Aylin was definitely no less female. Reaching out, he trailed the tip of his finger along the pulse in her throat. “There’s one other thing. We have to be naked.”READ MORE >>