Her hand was on the Jeep's door handle instantly. Beside her Gabe mirrored her actions as the Were swung the vampire into his arms and hurried toward the black van with its open door.
Mystic's heart pounded in her ears along with the shouts of her mates for her to stop, to wait. She couldn't afford to. From inside the Jeep she hadn't heard the van's engine, but now she knew it'd been left running for a quick get-away.
The Were looked around as if suddenly aware he wasn't alone. He hesitated and the hesitation cost him. It allowed Gabe to get close enough so it'd be a race to the van.
There was panic, fear, the look of a cornered wolf in the rogue's eyes. Gabe had his knife out. Mystic cursed herself for not being armed.
Cunning slid into the Were's eyes. But there was no time to understand what it warned of before he pulled the knife from the vampire's heart and shoved her toward Gabe.
The female's fingernails turned into deadly talons. She slashed wildly, furiously, her focus on Gabe and the knife he held. Blood instantly stained the front of Gabe's shirt. The vampire's eyes flashed red. Her mouth widened to reveal her fangs.
The black van peeled away as Gabe stumbled. The vampire lunged at him but not before Mystic jumped on the her back and grabbed at the female's wrists-screamed when fangs slid into her forearm, ripping and opening a vein-not to feed but to kill.
Whether it was sudden awareness of Angelini magic and vampire blood or Roman's slamming through the back door and commanding, "Stop!" the female ceased fighting and immediately went to her knees, her head bowed.
Roman was there in an instant, peeling Mystic off, sealing the wound in her arm, his emotions bombarding her with the same intensity as Christian's. It took her an instant to realize Hawk's feelings weren't swamping her because he was busy stuffing a male Were's body into the trunk of his car as Gabby stood guard, blocking a clear view of what Hawk was doing.
With a thought Mystic saw what had happened while she and Gabe battled in back. The rogue male and female inside the bar had probably witnessed Roman and Christian's rush toward the exit and guessed their pack mate was in trouble. They'd fled and when Hawk and Gabby tried to intercept them, the male rogue pulled a gun but Hawk was quicker, the silver in his bullets more deadly. Now the weak rogue female wept and clung to Hawk, rubbed herself against him in a way that said, I'm yours now.
Mystic's lips pulled back in a snarl. For a split second she felt pure wolf, ready to stalk around the building and rip the other female to shreds. But then instinct gave way and the emotions crowding the link subsided as Hawk's activities and the female Were's presence took on significance.
She started to pull away from Roman's arms only to have them tighten on her. It brought her focus back to the mates who were touching her, to the vampire who was kneeling, shaking with uncharacteristic fear, to Gabe who was bleeding.
Fear rushed in. Mystic gasped and Roman's arms tightened again, this time in a hug before he released her and went to Gabe.
Gabe pulled his shirt up, winced in pain as his flesh gaped. "A few minutes of privacy and I'll be good as new," he said.
Roman bent over. From where Mystic and Christian were standing she couldn't see his tongue slide across Gabe's skin but she knew he was electing to heal the wound so Gabe wouldn't be forced to waste energy by shifting forms in order to do it.
Christian's arms closed around her, pulled her back to his front. She relaxed against him, trusted Roman to take care of Gabe while she took care of Christian.
She could feel Christian's need to hold her, to assure himself she was okay. His emotions were back under control, but his wolf was agitated.
I'm okay, she said. Gabe and I couldn't let the rogue leave with the vampire.
I know. His thoughts flashed to Hawk and the Were female. It's almost over now. We'll question her. We'll hunt, but only after you've gone to the firing range and learned how to handle a gun. This is the second time things have gone bad. If we lose you-
Fear and pain choked his words off. She covered his arms and hands with hers, wove her fingers through his.
I'm willing to learn, more than willing. I hate feeling incompetent, inadequate, unable to do what I'm supposed to be able to do because I've had no training. Even if we weren't hunting the Weres, I'd still like to know I can take care of myself. I want a long, happy life with you and Hawk and Roman, but I want to know I'm not helpless without you.
She felt the effort he was making to accept, to understand. He buried his face in her neck, rubbed his lips against her skin. A shudder went through him and it was like a damn opening, allowing the built up pressure behind it to flow away. I'll start teaching you what you need to know as soon as we get home.
Roman straightened away from Gabe. His face was a mask carved in stone, but even from a distance Mystic saw the deadly, blue flames of an angry vampire in his eyes.
She stepped out of Christian's arms and over to the kneeling vampire. Though she felt the protest in both her mates, she still put her hand on the female's shoulder. "We aren't going to hurt you."
The vampire looked up and at such close range, Mystic could only think Stunning.
Roman closed the distance between them and the vampire trembled violently.
I guess I know what my threat potential is, Mystic said. So much for being a dreaded Angelini vampire hunter. She didn't flinch when I touched her but she may stake herself in your presence.
Some of the tension flowed out of Roman, Mystic pushed to eliminate the rest of it. You know what happened. She's not at fault here.
Mystic's thoughts flicked to Hawk who was questioning the rogue Were. We have other things to do besides further terrorize a young vampire from the Licata line.
The cold flame in Roman's eyes dimmed to only a hint of death. His eyebrows lifted as he offered his hand to the female vampire and helped her to her feet. "What's your name?"
"You are free to go without fear of retribution for the injuries you caused. But the debt you owe for your life is not forgiven."
She whispered, "Thank you," before quickly disappearing into the club.
Christian cocked his head. There was a newfound respect in his eyes as he looked at Roman. "I've never seen a vampire tremble with fear or act timid."
Roman shrugged. "Not all humans should be turned. Sabatino Licata is old-fashioned when it comes to family. He turns very few who aren't related to him, but ultimately every child born of his mortal line becomes vampire, or dies in the process."
Christian's face hardened. "He makes them vampires whether they want it or not?"
"There are few choices to one born Licata." Roman glanced at Gabe, then Mystic. "Just as there are, in many ways, fewer choices for those born Were and Angelini. Now I would suggest we rejoin Hawk and Gabby so we can finish this hunt. And given what Hawk has in his trunk, it would be best if we left the immediate area in case the police decide to drop in for a raid."
Mystic climbed out of Roman's sports car and went around to where the others were waiting. They'd parked in a darkened, industrial area several miles away from Wolfsbane.
It make her think of a movie scene, a clandestine meeting of mob characters gathered for a hit. And if Anissa Licata had been timid on her knees, a near-perfect character in a dark plot, the Were female named Chelsea was an even better victim though a watching audience would wonder how someone who'd been beat down and left helpless by a lifetime of abuse could warrant a one-way trip to a desolate location.
As Chelsea cowered and shook, Mystic felt pity for her. She found it too easy to remember what she'd seen in Bangers, to re-experience the guilt she'd felt at doing nothing when Chelsea was led to the private booth and forced to service men for money. But even those thoughts and feelings didn't reduce the urge to rip the female to shreds every time she reached for Hawk and clung to him.
"Please," Chelsea babbled. "I'll do anything, just don't let them find me."
Hawk's wolf was repulsed by the Were female. Though his senses were limited by his form, she smelled unnatural to him. That combined with her cowering weakness made the beast want to attack. It didn't help that Mystic's unacknowledged wolf also wanted to lunge and savage.
He pulled Chelsea's hands off his arm and chest yet again. A low growl sounded as he did it. This time his lips pulled back in warning, the wolf saying, Enough.
"What have you learned?" Christian asked.
"Four rogues remain. Three males and the alpha female. According to Chelsea, the Were captured by Egan's fledgling vampires is also still alive and being held by the sorcerer." Hawk glanced at Roman. "We need Brann."
"You've got a location?" Roman asked.
"Yes." Hawk allowed the information to flow through the link held open by Mystic.
"They'll be gone by the time we can get there," Christian said. "The rogue who got away when Mystic and Gabe interrupted his hunt will warn the sorcerer and the others."
Chelsea slunk over to Christian. "No, they won't," she said, grabbing his hand and pressing her breasts against his arm in a bid to gain him as a protector.
Despite the seriousness of the situation, amusement rippled through Hawk when Christian jerked away like a pup evading a snake's strike. Anticipation followed with the distinctive growl of Mystic's wolf.
Its presence was growing stronger inside her, becoming more fully integrated. Slowly, without conscious awareness it was becoming an ingrained part of Mystic. Each time she accepted its voice, its thoughts, its instincts without adding a disclaimer, without laughingly labeling it as a wolfie manifestation she'd picked up from her mates, the wolf grew more real.
He'd be able to call it soon. He felt as though he could almost call it now, especially with Christian there, backing him up, adding his strength of conviction, both of them pulling on the ties binding them to Mystic.
She'd accept. She'd believe. Ultimately she'd be wolf, gloriously furred and running with them under the moon.
Hawk forced his attention back to the matter at hand. He hated the idea of parting with Mystic, of leaving her unprotected by one her mates, but the thought of taking her to the sorcerer's house was unacceptable. To Christian he said, "The captured Were is in wolf form, perhaps trapped in his fur from remaining in it too long. Chelsea is the last of the Weres created by being thrown into the cage and mauled. She's never seen the wolf in human form. We're both strong enough alphas we may be able to force a change. If not, then at least we might be able to calm and control him long enough to get him to safety."
"And Mystic?" Christian asked.
"She and Gabby and Gabe can take Chelsea to Fangs for safekeeping. They can take my car and have Gian arrange for the disposal of the body. I'm not crazy about driving around with it in the trunk."
Hawk's eyes bored into Christian's in a wordless exchange transmitted along a masculine bond, one demanding they keep Mystic away from whatever was waiting at the sorcerer's house. They felt her wolf bristle, saw her stiffen in protest. But before Mystic could object Roman reached over and stroked her cheek, as if he too could feel her beast and was petting it, soothing it.
"The best hunters are those who use their resources wisely. Brann and I are well suited to dealing with the sorcerer's magic, just as Hawk and Christian have the greatest chance of helping the captive wolf regain his humanity. But the task of securing Chelsea is no less important. The remaining rogues haven't yet been run to ground."
Relief settled over Hawk when Mystic nodded and said, "Okay. Let's go."
"Wait," Roman said. Despite what he'd told Mystic, he wasn't willing to let her leave with the rogue until he assured himself this wasn't a trap.
He took a step toward Chelsea. The ancient, mage's magic flared to life, corrupted and twisted in the Were.
She cowered away from him, tried to cling to Christian and when he wouldn't let her, sidled over to Gabe. Gabe grabbed her forearms and held her facing Roman.
Chelsea reeked of fear. Her eyes were wild, her heart thundered. Beast and vampire alike responded. She acted like prey, struggled in Gabe's grasp, driven by instinct rather than thought, her mind chaotic.
"Enough," Roman said, compulsion thick in his voice. His will, his power, paralyzed her.
Unnaturally altered. Diseased. The impression was so strong it swamped him, made lion and eagle stir with uneasiness. She was Were and yet not pure Were, not in the same way as Gabe or Gabby or Mystic's wolves.
"Has the sorcerer tried to create others using those mauled by the wolf?"
Her breath shortened. Images of Chelsea and her pack mates savaging those they were ordered to filled her thoughts as a forced "Yes" passed her lips.
For the benefit of the others, Roman asked, "Did any survive or become Were?" though he already knew the answer.
Low growls greeted her answer. Roman pressed on, felt in her the same taint he'd felt in both the vampire fledglings. Mage magic bound to creatures whose blood it was never meant to be found in.
"Will your pack mates warn the sorcerer?" Roman asked.
"No. All of us want to escape him."
Roman concentrated on Chelsea. "You will go peacefully to Fangs," he said, and felt no resistance in her, no desire other than to obey and to escape her pack mates.
The taint on her still bothered him, the hint of twisted magic. But as Roman stepped back he remembered the male fledgling recounting how the sorcerer had cut the heart from Dusan Juric's son and eaten it. Perhaps it was the subtle hint of vampire that left him uneasy.
Roman turned away. "Brann is waiting for us. Let's finish this hunt. Then perhaps we can show Mystic more of Las Vegas than its underbelly."
Hawk halted Mystic before she climbed into the car. He pressed the hilt of a knife into her hand, closed his fingers around hers, holding them to the smooth dark finish.
Roman's heart jerked at the sight of it in her hand, a vampire reaction to an Angelini holding a weapon capable of rendering true, final death.
"Don't put it down until you get into Fangs," Hawk said. "Promise me."
Moonlight glinted off the deadly, blade. "I promise."
Christian studied Egan Walsh's dilapidated house from the safety of a small strand of trees allowing them to watch both the front and back doors. "Must not have capitalized on having vampires as pets when he had the chance," he said, risking the comment despite Roman and Brann's presence nearby.
Hawk's teeth flashed white in the darkness. His gaze flicked to where Brann and Roman stood just beyond the wards guarding the sorcerer's house, one at the front, one at the back, the blood-link between the vampires allowing them to communicate.
"Either that or Walsh has watched too many horror flicks and thinks the setting is appropriate for an evil genius. With the emphasis on evil."
"You've got that right," Christian said, then tensed as Brann and Roman started walking, the wards apparently down. "Anything?"
The beads woven into Hawks beads clacked softly as he shook his head. "Probably a few more wards to get through before it'll be possible to sense whether anyone's inside."
Brann and Roman halted again, their movements synchronized despite not being able to see one another. This time they chanted, their voices soft, the words unrecognizable to Christian though goose bumps crawled over his naked flesh.
Next to him Hawk tensed, but neither of them spoke until the chant ended and the vampires stepped forward. "Old magic," Hawk murmured.
Brann gained the front porch. Roman gained the back. Gestures accompanied the chanting this time.
Christian's heart rate increased as seconds passed. Adrenaline surged when the ward fell and Brann signaled them. He and Hawk left the strand of trees, loped forward, him toward the back, Hawk toward the front, both of them naked so they could shift quickly, human so they could step over the thresholds and invite the vampires into the sorcerer's house.READ MORE >>