"I can't believe you allowed yourself to be caught so easily." Vidal's teeth flashed in the darkness. "You had a coyote on your ass the whole time you were courting Miss Anderson and never realized it. Have you grown soft, Four?"
Matthias shook his head. He had wondered about that.
"There was no coyote tracking me. You got lucky, nothing more. Seems fate shines on the diseased and soulless at odd times after all."
The scent of Vidal's anger began to pour around him. It made the coyotes nervous, as well it should. Vidal never could handle a Breed who dared talk back. It was one of his failings.
"Why did the directorate decide to send you on this little mission anyway?" Matthias shifted closer to the shadowed natural indention in the earth, as he watched Vidal. "Did they decide they didn't like you after all?"
"I am part of the directorate, you ignorant mutt," Vidal snapped.
"But not the head of it," Matthias pointed out, knowing well the ego that filled the bastard. "Are you certain they didn't send you on a suicide mission, Vidal? Every assassin you've sent after me has failed. What makes you think you could succeed?"
"I tracked you. I trapped you. With your mate," the other man gloated.
"Everyone gets lucky sometimes." He turned to glance around him, shifting ever closer to the rocky ledge that dropped into a four-foot ditch that water and erosion had created. "I think you just got lucky this time." He turned back to Vidal once more, giving him a cool smile. "Will your luck hold out?"
"Give me the woman, or the coyotes will fill her with holes, Four. My patience is wearing quite thin with your taunting."
Grace was shaking in his arms, but for each move he made, she slid into place with him. Her hands gripped the arm wrapped around her waist, and her body was tense, prepared. He could smell her fear, but he could also smell her determination to live.
Unfortunately, for them to live, their enemies had to die. The thought of shedding more blood in front of her was abhorrent to him. He had promised her the killing would stop. He had promised himself that for her, he would no longer kill. And yet, the cycle the council had began couldn't be stopped. Not for Matthias, not for any of them.
"I'll just have a bullet put in your head," Vidal sneered. "And I'll take your woman from your lifeless body. I hear it's quite painful for a woman after having been mated by you creatures, to be touched by another. Perhaps I'll get lucky, and my coyote was right when he sensed the possibility of her fertility. Is she carrying your pup?"
"Perhaps." He felt Grace's start of surprise. She wasn't carrying his child, he would know it if she were. But the thought of that could keep the coyotes from directing their bullets at her. "But you'll never know one way or the other," Matthias assured him. "Because you'll be dead."
"I will listen to her screams, just as Benedikt and I listened to the last bitch we dissected to get the brat she carried," Vidal sneered. "Her mate begged for her life, Matthias. Will you beg for your mate's life?" And what of the child? Sweet God, what were those monsters doing now? Matthias remembered the sight of the female mate. She had been cut in so many places, sliced to ribbons. There had been no way to tell exactly what the scientists were looking for. If they had successfully removed a fetus from her body, though His stomach twisted at the thought.
He lowered his head just enough to whisper, "I love you." Her fingers tightened on his arm.
"Whispering your good-byes?" Vidal sneered.
His fingers tightened on the trigger, fire erupting into the night, as he threw Grace into the shallow ditch, then twisted and jumped in behind her, his gunfire still lighting the night, as he pushed her to move. He could smell the blood behind him, but he could also hear Vidal's enraged screams. Matthias pulled Grace up the small gorge rather than running down it. Just ahead was a stand of boulders. If he could reach it, he might be able to hold them off long enough for Jonas to make it. He had felt the answering vibration at the back of his watch against his wrist moments before. Jonas was on his way, and he wouldn't be too far off. The locator on the watch only sent out a short-range signal. He wouldn't have been able to detect Jonas's reply unless he was within range of the watch's tracker. He pushed Grace behind the boulders, cursing as bullets rained around them. He pushed her to the rocky ground, moving to a crack between the boulders and began shooting back. A slender hand jerked the Glock remake from the holster at his thigh. Sensing her intent, Matthias quickly shrugged the ammo pack from his back and prayed she knew how to use the weapon.
"Grace, if anything happens to me" he growled back at her.
"Shut up and keep shooting. Nothing's going to happen to you." Her voice was shaking, terrified. Matthias sighted a coyote soldier moving in closer, using the trees for cover. He gave the bastard one last chance to stay in place, and when he moved, Matthias fired.
One down, but there were more. And they were smarter about keeping cover.
"Jonas is on his way," he told her. "We just have to stay in place and stay alive. We'll be fine."
"Of course we will." Her voice was weak, thready.
The smell of gunfire filled the air, as Matthias continued to fire into the darkness, praying he would get lucky.
"Four, you're making me angry," Vidal called out. "You know I'll punish the woman for this." Amazingly enough, Grace was the one that fired. She was kneeling at his feet, aiming low. A scream of coyote rage echoed in the night. She had obviously hit what she had aimed at.
"Stay put, and stay down," he ordered her, as he glimpsed a flash of gray moving through the underbrush. Vidal was trying to move into sight of the only weak point of their cover.
"I've got your back." Fear seemed to be making her voice tremble. Matthias moved to the opening behind them, slipped past it, and waited. Behind him, Grace was firing. Occasionally a grunt or curse could be heard from the darkness. The smell of blood was thick in the air, but the smell of Vidal's treachery was thicker.
He moved closer. Closer.
Matthias lifted the rifle and watched, waited. Just a little to the right, he thought. He almost had him. Vidal's graying head peeked from the tree that had been sheltering him, and Matthias fired. The bullet zipped through the night, struck Vidal's forehead, and the bastard went down. Enforcers filled the area at the same time. Dozens of them were falling from the sky, sliding down black nylon ropes suspended from the night-black, silent heli-jet that had moved in overhead. Matthias shook his head at Jonas's timing and slid back into the shelter to collect his mate. CHAPTER FIFTEEN
Grace had never given much thought to death. Her thoughts since meeting Matthias had been filled with dreams for the future and plans to show him all the little intricacies of being part of a family. But when she felt the bullet tear into her chest, death was uppermost in her mind. Strangely, it wasn't pain she felt. It was cold, not hot. It seemed to fill her body with ice rather than the burning pain she would have imagined. She was numb, yet able to move.
She had to move. She had to help Matthias. Just this one last time, she had to do something for him. She managed to get his gun out of his holster and help hold the coyote soldiers back, determined to at least take a few with her if she did die. Matthias couldn't help her until this was dealt with, so she fought to hold back the ragged cries that tore at her chest.
Not from pain. She was numb to the pain, just aware of it. She wanted to cry because of what she was losing. As she felt herself growing weaker, felt the haze of blood loss engulfing her mind, she thought of leaving Matthias forever. She thought of the pain he would feel when she was gone. It had taken her weeks to get a smile out of him, and she remembered the thrill the sound of his first laugh had brought her. She had a feeling Matthias hadn't often had occasion to laugh. As Grace lay on the ground staring into the crack between the boulders, the gun dropped from her hand, and a whimper of agony left her lips.
She didn't want to leave him. She wanted to watch him play football with her brothers. She wanted to see her mother fuss over him and realize her father's approval of him.
"Matthias," she whispered, finally feeling him beside her again. The gunfire had abated. Were the coyotes all dead? She hoped they were. She wanted them all dead.
"Grace. Grace !" She heard the panic in his voice, felt his hands as he turned her over, and knew he saw the blood.
She blinked up at him.
Shock, rage, agony creased his face, filled his dark eyes, and sent pain raging through her. She hated seeing the pain in his face.
Dawn was moving in, lighting the shelter they hid in, shadowing his scarred face, his incredible whiskey eyes.
He was screaming. She could hear him screaming, though what he said didn't make sense. She lifted her hand to touch him. Just one last touch. Oh God, she didn't want to leave him. She wanted to lie with him one more time, she wanted his kiss again, to feel his touch.
"Matthias," she whispered. She loved his name, loved his face, and his heart.
"Don't you leave me, Grace." He was pressing something to her chest. "Do you hear me? Don't you leave me."
He was so arrogant. He was glaring at her, as though his refusal to let her go was all that was needed.
"Grace I swear to God, if you die, I'll never wear jeans. I'll never eat pie. I'll shoot fucking football players. Don't you die on me!"
She smiled. She was so glad it didn't hurt. That was so strange, the pain should have been agonizing.
"I love you, Matthias," she told him softly. "Like the earth loves the rain, like the flowers love the sun." She was so tired. So tired and so frightened. She didn't want to leave him. Her breathing hitched as the tears she couldn't hold back any longer began to fall from her eyes.
"Grace!" He was screaming at her, as her lashes fluttered. "Ah God, Grace, stay with me! Stay with me!"
She was so tired. She touched his face, feeling his hand clasp her fingers to his rough cheeks, and she fought to smile back at him.
Like a flower loves the sun that thought drifted through her mind again. He warmed her like that. The sun warmed the flowers. "I love you."
She couldn't stay with him any longer. She tried. She tried until a silent scream was echoing in her head, because she could feel herself drifting away from him, and she couldn't stop it. As her eyes drifted closed and rich darkness engulfed her, she could have sworn she heard a wolf cry. Matthias
"LET the medic work on her, Matthias!" Jonas was screaming in his face, as Matthias fought the hands pulling him away from Grace.
She was so weak. The smell of her blood was in his brain, and agony beat at him with blows harsher than any he had received in the labs.
Matthias fought like the beast he was to tear away from the Breeds restraining him. To get to Grace. To hold her to him.
"You mangy fucking wolf, listen to me." Jonas's forearm slammed into Matthias's throat, driving his head back against the boulder.
Matthias let out another bloodcurdling howl of agony.
"She's alive, Matthias, but if you don't fucking calm down, we won't be able to help her. Do you understand me? We won't be able to help her."
Silver eyes flashed in the dawn light, the savage expression of the Lion Breed who was helping to restrain him finally took shape.
"Help us, Matthias, don't go wild on me," Jonas snarled, his canines flashing dangerously. "She's alive. If we're going to keep her alive, we have to move fast, and you have to keep your head." The forearm across his throat flexed powerfully, as Matthias struggled against him again.
"Can you keep your fucking head, Matthias?" Jonas yelled in his face.