Relentless, p.30
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       Relentless, p.30

         Part #1 of Relentless series by Karen Lynch
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  Chapter 20

  I DID NOT make it far before shouts rang out behind me, followed by the sounds of Haism crashing through the woods after me. I didn’t look back to see where he was or if he was gaining on me. I ran as fast as my abused and bloody feet would go. Haism was strong and fast, and even with the knife, I would be no match for him if he caught me.

  He might hold the advantage physically, but I knew these woods better than anyone. We weren’t that far from the cliffs, and if I could reach them, I could shimmy down to my cave. It took a lot of nerve and agility to climb that cliff face, and I doubted that even Haism or his men could do it without a rope. I still had my cell phone because Tarek had stopped searching me after he found the knife, so I could call Nikolas and hole up in the cave until he came. I had a plan; now I just had to execute it.

  A stream loomed ahead, and I scrambled across a dead tree I always used as a bridge. Seconds later I heard my pursuer hit the stream running, followed by a splash and a string of curses. I kept going.

  I smelled the salt air a minute before the woods thinned, and I saw the break in trees ahead. So close. I put on an extra burst of speed, and Haism fell farther behind. Suddenly the trees were behind me, and I was hobbling across a small grassy meadow. The rumble of waves told me how close I was, and I stuck the knife inside my coat to free my hands for the climb of my life.

  My feet touched bare rock, and I veered to the left, making for the lone stunted pine tree above the cave. Over the wind and the roar of the surf, I heard Haism shout something unintelligible at me, but he was too far away to matter now. I reached the tree and peered down at the rocks below. The ocean’s show of power here never failed to take my breath away, but I’d always had Remy to carry me down and keep me safe. I didn’t anticipate the climb, but I would rather face a hundred cliffs than the fate waiting for me.

  There was no time to steel myself, to work up the courage. Haism was coming, I had to go now. Taking a deep breath, I turned to start the climb.

  “Hello, little flower.”

  “No!”

  Dark blue eyes straight from my nightmares gleamed as they locked with mine. Full lips curved in pleasure, sending my stomach plummeting. The last time I saw that mouth it was fanged and snarling at me as the monster behind it vowed to have me.

  No, no, no, no, no! my mind screamed. I took an involuntary step backward and lost my footing.

  Eli’s hand shot out as I teetered on the edge. He pulled me against him and ran a finger down my face. I shuddered, and he smiled like we were reunited lovers. “Don’t worry. I won’t let you fall this time. I’ve waited too long to feel you in my arms again to lose you now.” His finger lingered on my bruised cheek. “I am not happy about this, however. I shall have to talk to Haism about the terms of our contract.”

  “Eli,” said a male voice, and I looked past him. My blood froze when I saw at least a dozen other vampires gathered nearby. The speaker, a black vampire who could have passed for one of my classmates, tilted his head toward the man standing frozen at the edge of the woods.

  Even from here I could see the terror creep across Haism’s face as he stared at the scene before him. On the phone with Eli he had been cocky because he knew he would not meet the vampire face-to-face. Now he faced a dozen of them, alone and armed with nothing but a cell phone. I think we both realized at the same time that my life wasn’t the only one forfeited here today. I should have felt pity for him. I might have if he hadn’t threatened Nate and planned to turn us both over to Eli.

  “Haism, we meet after all,” Eli called, turning us both to face my ex-captor. Eli’s arms were like steel bands around my waist, holding me back against him. Revulsion, fear, and a dozen other emotions warred inside me, and it was all I could do to not scream or pass out.

  “Yes… a change of plans, I see,” Haism stammered. “But you have what you came for, just as promised.” I saw him take a step backward. Did he really think he could flee?

  Eli reached up to lift my hair away from my face. “Not exactly as promised. She is damaged. I cannot imagine what would have happened to her if we had not followed you.”

  Haism’s jaw fell. He took another step toward the woods.

  “My deal with your employer was that I deliver the trolls and you deliver the girl, whole and untouched. I believe this renders our contract null and void.” Sadistic amusement laced Eli’s honeyed voice. “Juan, Rose, please conclude our business with Mr. Bakr.”

  “Noooooo!” Haism got that one word out before the black vampire and a blond female appeared beside him. I tore my horrified eyes away, but I could not block out the screams. They seemed to go on forever before ending in a sickening gurgle that turned my legs to jelly and made my stomach revolt.

  Eli lowered his head until his mouth was against my ear. “Calm yourself, my sweet. You belong to me, and no one else will touch you.”

  The promise in his softly spoken words turned my blood to ice. It would not be long before I would wish I had died along with Haism. There was only one way out of this for me now. Either way I was going to die. I had to make sure it was on my terms because the alternative was unthinkable.

  “Why?” I asked hoarsely. “Why me?”

  Eli sighed. “You don’t even know how lovely you are, do you? Such a mix of fire and innocence, I saw it that night before we even met, and I knew I had to have you. Imagine my delight when I discovered what you are and then to find out that you were what brought me to Portland in the first place.”

  I thought of David’s theory about the missing girls, and I had to know. Swallowing my fear, I said, “You took those girls in Portland because you were looking for me. Why did you pick them?”

  “They were chosen because they were the right age and they all had certain characteristics in common. It did not take me long to discern that none of them was the one I sought.”

  Something in me shriveled and died. Those girls were dead because of me, and their families would never know what happened to them. “All of this to catch Madeline Croix?”

  Eli laughed softly, his chest rumbling against my back. “Ah, Madeline. There was a beauty. I almost had her once, but she has evaded me all these years. My Master has not been happy about that.” His arms squeezed me lightly. “But you are the greater prize, I think.”

  “Are-are you going to take me to your Master?” I didn’t know what prospect frightened me more – being at the mercy of Eli or his master.

  “Eli, we should go,” said one of the other vampires. “This town is swarming with wolves and hunters. And the sky will start to clear soon.”

  “We leave when I am ready,” Eli barked. He spun me to face him, and I placed my hands against his chest as a small barrier between us. “You are mine. My Master promised you to me if I found you.”

  I stared at his chest to avoid the hunger in his eyes as I pressed him for answers. “Why is Madeline so important to your Master? I don’t even know my mother. If you think I can help you find her, you’re mistaken.”

  “The why is between my Master and Madeline. And our search for Madeline revealed a few things about her life that were of great interest to my Master.”

  “I don’t understand. What is so special about her being a Mohiri, except for the fact that you all hate each other?”

  He laughed. “You are right. There is nothing special about her, but her daughter is an entirely different story. Do you know it wasn’t until a few months ago that we learned Madeline had a daughter? That little tidbit she and your dearly-departed father kept hidden from us. By the time we learned of your existence, you were nowhere to be found. It was like you had disappeared into thin air.”

  I felt the blood drain from my face. “My father?”

  He lifted my chin, forcing me to look up at him. “Oh yes, I was well acquainted with Daniel Grey – well, as acquainted as you can be with anyone on the last day of their life.”

  The world faded around us. I couldn’t feel the wind or hear the
ocean or see the vampires surrounding me. In that moment, there was only me and Eli.

  “You… you killed him.”

  His cruel, beautiful eyes gleamed as he watched my face closely. “I was following Madeline, and her trail led me to him. He said he didn’t know where she was. Of course, I had to make sure he was telling the truth.” He sighed as if he was reliving a happy memory. “I believe he was.”

  I couldn’t breathe as the image of my dad’s mutilated body swam before my eyes. For ten years I’d carried that gruesome memory while trying to accept that I would never find his killer. Yet, here he stood. All the nightmares, the grief, and the loneliness I had suffered were because of the monster smiling at me right now.

  “He actually held out longer than most – ”

  Heat blossomed in my chest. My body trembled as electricity danced through me and rippled across my skin like heat waves off pavement. Static crackled and my scalp tingled as some of my hair lifted into the air.

  Eli’s eyes widened, and he dropped his hands from my shoulders as if he had been shocked. I sensed the others moving closer, forming a half circle around us.

  The strange electricity surging through me fizzled like a used match. I reached for it, but it was gone before I could grasp it and figure out how to use it to destroy Eli. Impotent rage flooded me.

  Eli laughed once he recovered from his surprise. “A charming little display but hardly enough to hurt me. You have no idea what that is, do you? What you are?”

  “Does it matter?” I asked, glad for the fury that swallowed some of my fear.

  “Not to me,” he replied, smiling. “I think we have dallied here long enough. We’ll have plenty of time later to get to know each other.”

  My heart thudded painfully as his words sank in. This was it. If he took me away from here I was dead – or I’d soon wish I was. I felt the wind at my back. The edge of the cliff was less than two feet away; one jump and this would all be over. It was the only way out for me now. If there really was a God, then this wasn’t the end and I’d be with my dad again. If there wasn’t a God... well, I’d never know. But nothingness was better than the fate awaiting me with Eli.

  Watching my face, Eli suddenly grabbed one of my wrists, his eyes flashing. “You would not be thinking about robbing me of our time together, would you my sweet?”

  My heart sank. “No, I was just – ”

  Something brushed against my mind.

  A vampire gasped. Another let out a small cry. Eli’s eyes widened – with fear.

  My breath caught. I whirled around, and there he was, standing like a vengeful angel between us and the woods. His leather jacket was gone, and in its place was his warrior harness. His hands gripped the hilts of two long, slender swords.

  Our eyes met, and the look in his took my breath away. I’d seen Nikolas angry plenty of times, but that was nothing compared to the unbridled fury I saw in him now. I knew Nikolas the man, but it was the demon warrior who stood before me, and the demon was raging.

  “He is only one,” Eli growled after his initial shock had passed. “Risa, Heath, Lorne – take care of this.”

  “No!” I cried, but the three vampires reached Nikolas before the word even left my lips. My stomach clenched, and a sour taste flooded my mouth as I watched the vampires circle their quarry like lions surrounding a gazelle. He’s a warrior. This is what he does. I tried to find comfort in those thoughts, but it was three against one. Nikolas was as fast as them, but how could he fight all of them at once? He’d always been so strong, so invincible that the idea of him falling now was unthinkable.

  He can’t die. I was too afraid for him to try to think about why the possibility of him losing sucked all the warmth from my body.

  The red-headed male in front of Nikolas darted toward him. Nikolas brought his swords up, but the vampire whirled away out of reach at the last second. The feint distracted Nikolas, and I choked back a cry as the blond male on his left struck with the speed of a snake, his clawed hand aiming for Nikolas’s throat.

  Someone screamed. The air turned crimson around them, and the blond vampire drew back, staring at the stump where his hand used to be. Metal flashed again. The vampire gaped in horror at Nikolas for an endless second – before his head toppled off his neck and rolled a few feet away from him.

  The female behind Nikolas let out an enraged wail and launched herself at him, her long black hair flying out wildly behind her. At the same time, the other male attacked from the front, going for Nikolas’s chest. Moving almost too fast to see, Nikolas leapt into the air and flipped backward over the female’s back, landing deftly behind her. She shrieked in rage and barely missed colliding with her brethren, but she was not fast enough to avoid his claws. Long, bloody gashes marred her pale pretty face by the time she stopped her forward rush and spun back to the fight.

  Thrown off guard by his contact with the female, the red-haired vampire was unable to stop his own advance in time. The sound of steel against muscle and bone sickened me even as I rejoiced in the sight of the blade slicing through the vampire’s chest. Nikolas withdrew and slashed again. The vampire went down, his stomach spilling out onto the grass.

  My stomach roiled from the violence and gore, but I couldn’t look away from Nikolas, who fought with the swift grace of a dancer, his movements controlled and effortless. The savage beauty in his face stole my breath as he pulled his blade from the vampire on the ground and pivoted to meet the female’s second attack. Half demon or not, at that moment he was the most glorious thing I had ever seen.

  The female, raging with grief over the loss of what had obviously been her mate, came at Nikolas head-on. It took him only seconds to bring both blades up and then down in crisscross strokes across her torso. She stumbled, and he drove a sword straight through her heart. In a single motion, he turned and slashed out to behead the red-haired male on the ground. He straightened and faced us again, looking like he was barely winded and not surrounded by bloody vampire parts.

  Silence fell over everyone. Even the wind seemed to stall in anticipation of what would happen next. Eli’s confident smile faded, and there was no mistaking the fear in his voice when he spoke. “All of you!” he ordered sharply. “Finish him.”

  None of the other vampires looked eager to follow that order, but they all turned to face Nikolas, preparing to rush him all at once.

  Eli moved closer to me. “Coward!” I yelled at him for standing back out of harm’s way while his friends did the dirty work.

  A few seconds later, my attention was drawn away from Eli by movement in the trees. I watched open-mouthed as Chris stepped into the open followed by two, four – five massive werewolves. After everything that had happened with Roland, the pack had come. My heart swelled until it hurt.

  As one, the vampires backed up a step.

  “Let her go and we will let you live… for today.” Nikolas’s commanding voice rang across the short distance between us and sent tendrils of warmth through my frozen limbs. He was here. He’d asked me to trust him and swore to keep me safe, and he had come for me. No matter what happened now, I knew my trust had not been misplaced, and I felt a small flare of happiness in spite of my dire situation.

  Eli pulled me back against his chest, his claws at my throat, and memories of that night in the alley rose up like bile, threatening to choke me.

  “I think not.” He took a step toward the edge of the cliff, pulling me with him. “We both know I could rip her throat out and jump before you reached us.”

  Nikolas’s expression did not change. “But then nothing would prevent me from hunting you down, and this time I will not stop.”

  Eli’s voice was steady, belying the tremble I felt go through him. “I think sweet little Sara is important to you and you won’t do anything to jeopardize her life.”

  Nikolas’s eyes blazed.

  “Nothing to say?” Emboldened by Nikolas’s silence, Eli let out an ugly laugh, and his other hand touched my
cheek, the claws skimming lightly over my skin. “Will you still have nothing to say when I taste her?”

  This time there was no mistaking the rage seething beneath Nikolas’s calm exterior. I remembered how I had felt when I’d let the demon possess my body, the heady power and violence that had boiled through my veins, and I knew Nikolas was close to unleashing his own demon.

  Eli saw it, too. “Stay back, Mohiri,” he ordered, a note of desperation creeping into in his voice. “You might kill me, but not before I end her.”

  “Let her go and you’ll have a chance of getting out of this alive. Is she worth your life – all your lives?”

  “Do it, Eli!” the vampire named Juan whispered fervently, never taking his eyes off Nikolas. “Give him the bitch.” The other vampires murmured in agreement.

  “She is mine, and I will not give her up,” Eli hissed back. “You heard the Master. Kill her or take her, but the girl is not to be left behind.”

  Eli’s declaration was like a bucket of icy water thrown in my face. No matter what Nikolas did, Eli would not let me live. My jaw clenched painfully. At least it would be quick and I’d die knowing my friends had come for me.

  “Kill me then.” My words startled the vampires, and I was proud of how calm I sounded despite the storm of emotions inside me. “All I ever wanted was to find the one who killed my father, and here you are. Knowing that my friends will rip you to shreds – all of you – after I’m dead is enough for me.” My voice grew stronger as I spoke, powered by my conviction that Nikolas and the werewolves would do exactly that.

  A wave of panic rippled through the vampires surrounding us. My life was the only thing between them and certain death, and my willingness to die had just drastically decreased their chances of survival. Some of them looked poised to flee. They weren’t stupid. The Mohiri and the wolves wanted me, and my friends would follow whoever had me.

  “Stand firm!” Eli growled. “You would dare disobey the Master’s orders?”

  Apparently, the Master’s wrath was even more terrifying than dying because the vampires moved to take up defensive positions around me and Eli. With the cliff at our backs and the line of vampires between us and his enemy, Eli’s confidence lifted.

  “Such a pretty speech,” he rasped into my ear. “But you see I’m not ready for either of us to die yet.” His lips touched my earlobe, and I suppressed a shudder. “I have such plans for us, sweet Sara. Before this night is out, I will own you, body and soul.”

  “I’ll die before I let you have me.”

  His voice hitched as he fed on my terror and his own anticipation. “Fight me all you want. It only makes you more desirable.”

  I tried to block out the images his words conjured. “You’re a monster.”

  Eli chuckled. “I’ve had many, many women, and all of them begged me for it… well, up until I made them scream, of course. Your daddy screamed, too, at the end, and so will you.”

  Pain shot through my chest. “I’ll kill you!” I choked, struggling against him, making him laugh again.

  I grunted as something sharp dug into my hip. The knife. An absurd urge to laugh flooded me as I remembered how I had tried to refuse the weapon when Nikolas gave it to me and how many times it had helped save my life since that day. Through it all, the knife always seemed to find its way back to me as if it was daring me to deny my heritage.

  My right hand snaked inside my coat and touched the handle. At the same time, my eyes sought Nikolas’s, and I drew strength from his unwavering gaze. No matter how this ended, I was not leaving this place with Eli. It was obvious that one of us was going to die here, and if it had to be me, I would go like the warrior Nikolas believed me to be. I owed him that much.

  “Father and daughter and someday I’ll have the mother, too,” Eli gloated, oblivious to the resolve burning in my eyes. He pulled me against him again, and if it weren’t for my newfound strength, I would have buckled under the vicious promise in his dark eyes. “Maybe I’ll keep you until I find dear Madeline. I’ve never had a mother and daughter at one time.”

  “You sick bastard!” My fingers closed around the handle of the knife and slowly slid it free. “I’m going to enjoy watching you die, Eli.” My whole life I had fought to save the lives of others, but today I would gladly try to take one, even if it meant my own death.

  He smiled, but there was no humor in it. “You’re brave enough to say that now, but soon you will beg to die. I will use you and drink from you over and over until I have had my fill. And when there is nothing left, I will send you to be with your dear father.”

  A lifetime of grief, loneliness, and fear powered the thrust that sent the knife into Eli’s chest, up between his ribs and into his demon heart. My eyes met his as they flew wide in disbelief while his hands clawed at the hilt protruding from his body. I watched impassively as realization dawned on his face, as his dark, soulless eyes stared at the last person he would ever hurt. Inside me, the Mori reveled in the kill, but all I could think of in that moment was my dad. Killing his murderer did not ease the pain of losing him or bring me any joy, yet it felt right that I was the one to do it. I couldn’t save him, but I could give him this.

  Eli crumpled to the ground, and all hell broke loose.

  Nikolas sped toward us followed by Chris, and they were met by six of the vampires. Swords and bodies flew so fast I could not follow the fight. Behind them the wolves began to race toward the rest of us on the cliff. Around me, the remaining three vampires quailed when they spotted the approaching threat, and they turned to jump into the ocean.

  It took me a moment to realize I was free. I ran toward the wolves only to be snatched off my feet and thrown over a shoulder like a sack of potatoes. “For the Master,” growled the vampire who’d grabbed me.

  I screamed and struggled to break free as I was carried back toward the cliff. Behind me the wolves roared, and over the din I heard Nikolas yell my name.

  We went down in a tumbling heap, and I rolled away to see a silver coated arrow sticking out of the vampire’s chest just before he toppled over the edge of the cliff. Scrambling to my feet, I spotted Chris fitting another arrow into his bow.

  “Sara, run!” shouted Nikolas as he ran his sword through one of the vampires he was battling. I needed no more encouragement, and I started forward.

  I didn’t feel the pain at first, just a cold numbness in the center of my chest. When the throbbing pain came, I looked down in confusion at the patch of red blossoming across the front of my shirt. By the time my dulled mind recognized the hilt of my knife sticking from my chest, scalding pain began to shoot through me.

  “No!” someone bellowed above the roaring in my ears. I tried to move toward the voice, but my feet would not obey me and I tripped backward instead. My hands flailed as my feet tried to find purchase, but there was nothing but air as I toppled over the edge of the cliff.

  I’m dying. The thought hit me at the same moment I collided with the little tree clinging precariously to the face of the cliff. My hands grabbed the thin branches, barely feeling the needles that tore at them as I clung to the tree with my rapidly fading strength.

  Dangling over the boiling surf, I could barely hear the shouts and roars from the battle raging above me. I tried to call out to them, to let them know I was here, but when I opened my mouth, warm frothy blood was all that came out, running down my chin to drip into the sea.

  Strange. I always thought I’d feel scared when death came for me – not this peace that slowly spread through my body. There was sadness too – for Nate who would be alone now, for never seeing Roland’s playful smirk again, and for Nikolas whose handsome face swam before my eyes, his eyes sad instead of their usual stormy gray. He had tried so hard to save me, and I knew he would blame himself. I wished I could tell him that it wasn’t his fault. More than that, I wished I could let him know that somehow through all of this, he had become an important part of my life.

  My hands opened.

&nbs
p; The last time I’d fallen, Nikolas had caught me in his arms, though I had no memory of it. This time it was the ocean that wrapped me in her cold embrace. I sighed as the pain vanished, the world went dark, and the waves closed over my head.

 

 
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