Chase thrashed as the vampires forced him to an upright slab of stone, binding his limbs to it. "How long have you been plottin' this, you f**k?"


"Emberine came to me this morning. As soon as she'd realized she hadn't kil ed you in the facility."

Apparently she and Portia would've attacked the group earlier, but they were wary of young Thaddeus. At last Lothaire had discovered what the boy was.

They were right to be wary.

As the guards took turns beating Chase, Ember tossed Lothaire the rotting, discolored hand. "Your payment, Lothaire."

"Spasibo. With my deepest thanks." He took the bloated thumb and pressed it against the lock on his torque. Nothing. He turned the hand upside down, trying it the other way. still nothing. "My dear Emberine, I hate to be a bother, but the warden's print doesn't work."

She laughed, and wisps of fire flew from her lips. "I never said it would work. I merely vowed that it was Fegley's."

Portia snickered. "Come, Lothaire, days have passed since the hand was. ... harvested. Out in the rain, it's decomposed."

Blyad'! That they would dare pul this stunt with him?

He hadn't seen this coming, hadn't predicted it-because now there was a new variable. His weakness. His inability to remove this collar.

So I'm no closer to escaping this place. To rescuing her. His fangs sharpened with rage. But his master dictated coolness.

Lothaire gave them his most charming smile, the one he usual y reserved for imminent victims. "Shall we negotiate for a ride from this island? One of these demons or a brother vampire could trace me from here in a heartbeat."

Portia said, "What do you have?"

Lothaire answered, "I can get you the Valkyrie."

Chapter FIFTY-ONE

Where is he? Regin thought as she paced along the water's edge. I'm going mad without him here.

Hours ago, they'd arrived at the shore. Just as he'd promised, there'd been an enormous boathouse in a protected cove. The boat was actual y more of a ship, like one of those coast guard cutters.

Thad and Natalya were aboard, making coffee and surveying charts, while Brandr waited on the beach with her.

Dusk would come soon. "I don't like this, Brandr. Chase should've been here by now."

"I've never seen you this worried." He sank down on the sand, resting his elbows on his knees. "But that can't be right. Just days ago, you wanted the man dead."

"A lot's happened since then." She wasn't merely worried, she was sick with worry for Chase-like claw-biting, hair-pul ing, pacing-for-hours worried. Because she might be ... she might be falling for Declan Chase.

At the thought, guilt racked her. She'd refused to all ow herself to love Aidan because he was mortal, and yet she seemed to have no control over her emotions where Chase was concerned.

Which made no sense. The stakes were even higher. Before she'd held her heart back because she'd feared Aidan dying of old age. Now she knew Chase's death loomed, and she still couldn't stem her feelings for him.

Because, gods help her, she wanted her scarred, surly, f**ked-up Irishman more than she'd wanted her perfect Viking.

Brandr skipped a stone into the cove's calm blue water. "And this morning, you were flying off the handle because Lothaire drank from him."

"After I realized my eyes would eventual y stop burning, I calmed down. I understand why he did what he did. I don't like it, but I understand."

"Can you imagine how hard that must've been for a man like Chase? To all ow a vampire to take blood from him?"

Yes. Yes, she could. Her Celt was trying, struggling to make the best hand out of what fate dealt him.

"Damn it, where is he? We never should have split up-"

"Valkyrie," Lothaire said. He stood at the edge of the tree line. Alone.

Panic surged through her. "Where's Chase?" I can't lose him. Not again. Her lips drew back from her fangs. "I'm going to kil you, leech!"

Must get back to Regin. Every minute since his capture, Declan had waited for his heart to start pounding, for his strength to return. Now the sun was setting.

He'd begun to suspect that Lothaire's feedings somehow forestal ed his berserkrage. Which the leech had likely put together-and used to weaken Declan today. How long would the effects last?

Have to get free. Surely, Regin would know better than to trust Lothaire. She would never be tricked as Declan had been. She hated that vampire.

But what if Lothaire tells her I've been injured? She'd admitted she would worry for Declan; the vampire could prey on that.

Declan had to escape before Lothaire lured her to this place-a vile, tomblike camp filled with blood foes.

These creatures had beaten him repeatedly, mocking his pain and ridiculing his scars.

Between those beatings, he'd listened to their conversations. They either thought he couldn't hear them or didn't care because he'd soon be dead.

He'd learned that Carrow and her ward had made it off the island, along with Malkom Slaine-who'd acted as protector to the two. And he'd heard that MacRieve had organized Vertas shifters, holing up in the mountains and rigging traps for the Pravus.

Apparently, three of the beings Regin worried for still lived-

The two Sorceri females swept into the temple. Myriad beings, probably three dozen of them, followed the pair inside, eagerly gathering for the show.

"Night comes, Magister," Portia said. "Make your peace."

Declan had no reason to think he'd suffer a less painful fate than Fegley's burning. Yet all Declan cared about was protecting Regin from them.

Raised voices sounded from outside the temple. Declan swung his head up. Regin's voice.

Lothaire was forcing her into the clearing. He'd tied her wrists behind her back.

"You sold me out, leech?" she cried. "I'll kil you!"

Declan thrashed against his bonds.

In a bored tone, Emberine said, "So you fetched us the Valkyrie?"

"They're so trusting, it's like leading lambs to slaughter," Lothaire said. "However, this prisoner should be of particular interest to you-she's the magister's woman. That's why she's here. all I had to do was tell her she could save Chase."

"No!" Declan bel owed. "Lothaire, don't do this!"

Emberine studied his reaction. "Intriguing." She asked Lothaire, "What do you plan for her?"

"I intend to snap her neck, a particular fondness of mine. Eventual y, I'd like to drink her to the quick, but of course, the kil ing blow is reserved for my gracious hostess."

"I'll rip your f**kin' head off, vampire!" finally Declan's heart began pounding, his blood coursing to his muscles. But he still couldn't hit his berserkrage.

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