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Rogue (Relentless Book 3): Chapter 25


“ELENA, PLEASE,” NIKOLAS pleaded hoarsely. I wrapped both of my hands around his, needing his strength as much as giving him mine.

“Please what, Nikolas?” asked the vampire who used to be the girl he’d loved as a sister. She circled us to sit in the throne chair that dwarfed her delicate frame. “I’ve waited a long time to hear you beg, so make it good.”

“This is between you and me. Let her go and I’ll do whatever you want.”

“No!” I tightened my grip on his hand.

Elena scoffed. “She’s such a loyal little thing, isn’t she? How loyal do you think she’ll be when she hears how you abandoned me and left me in the hands of a monster?”

“He didn’t abandon you,” I shot back. “He and Tristan looked everywhere for you. They thought you died.”

“They didn’t look hard enough!” she snarled, her blue eyes turning dark. “For weeks I prayed you would come for me, Nikolas, but you never did. Week after week, month after month, the Master used me, tortured me, and drank from me until I was almost dry. He was a sadistic animal, and for two years he kept me chained in his chambers, two years of living hell while my loving brother and friend lived their happy little lives.”

I felt my face blanch at the images her words conjured. My stomach rolled and bile rose in my throat.

“One day the Master got bored and decided I’d be a more fun plaything if I was a vampire. Only I already had a demon inside of me.” Elena’s hands gripped the arms of her chair, and I watched her nails turn into claws. “Do you know what it feels like to have two demons fighting to the death inside your body? Do you know how agonizing it is when your Mori dies, Nikolas?”

“Elena…” Nikolas’s voice was raw with pain.

She moved faster than anything I’d ever seen. Her small hands wrapped around Nikolas’s throat as she lifted him like he weighed nothing. “You talk when I say you can talk.”

“Stop! You’re killing him.” My outburst earned me a numbing backhand to my cheek that sent me sprawling across the floor. Black spots swam before my eyes, and all I could do was lie there for precious seconds as she strangled the person I loved more than my own life.

She released him, and he fell backward, coughing. I crawled over to him and pulled his head into my lap, wishing I could shield him from Elena’s wrath. Nikolas had always been the strong one, and seeing him so vulnerable was almost more than I could bear.

Elena began walking around us in slow circles, her pale blue dress swirling around her knees. “The Master was so pleased with himself because he was able to change a Mohiri into a vampire. I was his favorite pet and his prized possession, and he showed me off every chance he got. He liked to dress me up in pretty clothes and pamper me. I was a life-sized doll he could take out and play with whenever he wanted. He loved how small and weak I was, and he told me every day that I belonged to him forever.”

She stopped and crouched in front of us so she and I were at eye level. “But he was wrong. I was a lot stronger than I let him see, and I was biding my time, waiting years for the perfect moment. That arrogant bastard was so sure of his superiority that he got complacent. One night he didn’t bother to lock me up after he’d finished playing with me, and that was the opportunity I’d been waiting for. I killed him while he slept and drank him dry. Did you know that is the only way to become a Master? His children, his wealth, and power all became mine. After years of being a slave I was free and powerful, and it felt incredible. My old family had deserted me, so I began to create a new one.”

She moved forward until she was close enough to pick up a lock of my hair and curl it around her finger. I recoiled inwardly but kept very still. Deep inside me, I felt my power react to being in such close proximity to a Master vampire as it strained against the invisible barrier holding it back.

“I spent months searching for the perfect human to become my first born. Eli was special.” She leaned in to speak softly in my ear. “You will pay for his death a thousand times over.”

Her smile when she pulled away was almost angelic, but I was close enough to see the madness in her blue eyes. I hugged Nikolas closer to me and his hand came up to cover mine.

Be brave, moy malen’kiy voin.

She’s insane, Nikolas. I’m scared.

No matter what happens, I’m here with you. A wave of calming energy flowed through our bond into me, and I could almost feel his strong arms around me. It gave me the strength to ask the questions I’d been seeking answers to my whole life.

“Why did you send Eli to kill my father? He was nothing to you.”

For a brief moment I saw fear in her eyes. “Your father was nothing to me, but he meant something to my dear niece, Madeline.”

Anger burned through me, but I kept it in check. “You killed him to get to Madeline?”

Elena stood and went back to her chair. “I killed him, not because she loved him, but because of the child she could have with him. It wasn’t until ten years later that I learned I had been too late and a child already existed.”

“But why?” My need for answers outweighed my fear of her. “Why did you care so much if they had a child?” There was no way Elena could have known my parents would have a half Fae, half Mohiri child. My dad had been human, as had generations of his ancestors. And even the faeries had admitted they had no idea what kind of powers I would have.

Elena studied her pink fingernails as if she was deciding whether or not to tell me. But I saw past her smooth veneer now, and I could see she was dying to share that little tidbit. That way she could gloat over the fact that she’d won.

“I was having a party and Madeline was my guest of honor. You should have seen her face when she realized who I was. Priceless. Of course, I compelled her to forget me before I let her go.” She giggled. “I even made her think I was a male.”

I stared at her. “You let her go?”

“Nothing like a little hunt to spice up a party.” She made a pouty face. “Madeline proved to be more evasive than I gave her credit for.”

“One of my guests was a warlock named Azar who was known for his gift of sight. Azar stupidly waited until after Madeline had gone to tell me he’d had a vision when he saw her. He told me that Madeline’s half-blood daughter would destroy me.”

I sucked in a sharp breath, and I felt Nikolas’s start of surprise. All of this because a warlock had seen something in a vision?

“Needless to say, I was quite upset Azar hadn’t shared that piece of information before I released Madeline. I discovered aged warlock is a very fine drink.” She let out a girlish laugh and some of the other vampires joined in. “We managed to pick up Madeline’s trail and followed her to Portland, which is how we found her human husband. Oddly, Eli saw no sign of a child even though he went to the house you lived in. It wasn’t until Eli found you in Portland last fall that we learned what you really were. I had no idea someone like you could even exist. But here you are.”

She stood again and smoothed down the front of her dress. “I am bored with this chatter. I think it’s time we get the festivities underway. Ava?”

The red-haired vampire hurried to her side.

“Has everything been prepared as I asked?”

“Yes, Master.”

“Wonderful.” Elena smiled sweetly down at Nikolas and me. “Today is a very special day for me, and it wouldn’t be possible without the two of you.”

Nikolas, I said fearfully.

Be strong. He struggled to sit up and I moved to help him. “What are you planning, Elena?” he asked, sounding a lot braver than I felt.

She walked over and leaned down to run a finger across his jaw. My nostrils flared and my hands clenched at my sides. I had to fight not to jump at her.

“Why, today is my wedding day. All I needed was my groom.”

“What?” I started to get up but Nikolas held me back. Fury seethed in my chest and my power clawed to get out.

“I have been waiting for you for a long time, Nikolas. For months, my children have tried to bring you to me. I had to find Sara because of Azar’s pesky prediction. But you are my real prize.” Elena’s fingers moved intimately through Nikolas’s hair, but he didn’t react to her touch. I, on the other hand, was boiling with bloodlust.

“You are a magnificent warrior,” she crooned softly. “And you will make an even more magnificent vampire and a fitting mate for me.”

“No!” I lunged at Elena, only to find myself restrained by two vampires. “You can’t have him,” I shouted at her as Nikolas sent more calming energy through the bond.

She smiled, unperturbed by my outburst. “Sara, what you don’t understand is that Nikolas and I were always destined to be together. He loved me, and we would have been mated if I hadn’t been taken from him. Is that right, my love?”

Nikolas met her gaze sadly. “I loved you, Elena, but as a sister. I grieved your death as a brother grieves his sibling.”

Her face hardened. “That’s not true. We were perfect together. If we’d had more time together, the bond would have grown.” He didn’t respond, and she kept talking as if she hadn’t noticed. “That’s all in the past. Today we’ll start over and create a new bond.”

I twisted in the vampires’ iron grip. “Nikolas will never bond with you. He’s mine.”

Elena’s eyes glittered like chips of ice when she turned toward me. “Just because he is your protector, does not mean he belongs to you, you silly child.”

“He’s not my protector. He’s my mate.”

“No!” Elena stood and stomped her foot. “You’re mine, Nikolas, not this half breed’s. When you become a vampire your Mori will die and the bond with her will be severed. Then we will be together forever.” She walked over to look down at me. “My wedding gift to you will be her. You will be very thirsty after the change. Her blood will be our wedding drink.”

I saw the horror in Nikolas’s eyes. Sara, you need to get out of here. Use your power, he said desperately.

I can’t. They drugged me again. I would never leave him even if my power was intact.

Elena flicked her hand at me. “Take her out of my sight until the ceremony. Everyone leave us. I wish to be alone with my groom.”

“Nikolas,” I cried as they dragged me away from him.

Fight, Sara. Try to use your power. You’re stronger than they are.

I screamed and fought all the way back to my cell. The vampires threw me inside and left without a backward glance. Alone in my stone prison, thoughts of what Elena was doing to Nikolas tortured me more than any physical pain. I couldn’t hear him down here, and the sudden loss of his calming presence in my mind added to my torment.

His parting words to me rang in my mind. Fight, Sara. I would fight for him until there was nothing left in this body to fight with. I beat against the wall between me and my power, and I felt my power trying to reach me from the other side. A few threads escaped, and I hugged them to me, gaining strength from their familiar warmth. Hours passed. I pummeled the barrier relentlessly and felt it weaken around the edges.

The door opened and two vampires appeared. “No,” I almost cried. I needed more time.

I didn’t struggle as they led me up to the main floor. When we entered the kitchen, Ava Bryant was waiting to take me from them. She led me down a hallway and up another flight of stairs to a guest room. Laid out on the bed were an emerald green dress and a pair of matching shoes.

“The Master wants you to look nice for the ceremony.”

The laugh that burst from me was almost hysterical. “You want me to dress up?”

Ignoring my question, she pointed to the attached bathroom. “Clean up in there. You smell.”

I stared at her incredulously and she shoved me hard. “Do it or I will do it for you.”

My movements were robotic as I stripped out of my clothes. I showered and dried my hair in a daze. This couldn’t be real. I wasn’t getting dressed up for my own death. I felt numb as I donned the soft dress that fell in flowing waves to my knees. The shoes were a size too big, but I was too out of it to care.

“You’ll do.” Ava opened the door and shoved me out into the hallway where I almost ran into Grigor. The demon stared at me with his big orange eyes until Ava barked at him. “Grigor, what are you doing up here? Get back to the lab.”

Instead of leaving, he bowed his head to me. “Talael esledur.

I gasped and stared at the demon as Ava yelled at him for disobeying her. Movement caught my eye, and I looked down at his hands where he flashed a glass vial filled with yellowish-brown liquid.

A myriad of emotions assailed me as I realized what he was showing me and why. In the next instant the vial was gone, and he raised his eyes to mine again. “Talael esledur,” he said again then turned and walked away.

“Idiot demon,” Ava spat as she shoved me toward the stairs.

My head spun from the magnitude of Grigor’s revelation, and I barely saw where I was going as we descended the stairs. Had he known that I’d recognize troll bile or was he sending me another message? He was a chemist so he had to know the potency of troll bile, that it could counteract any poison. Was he trying to tell me he’d mixed troll bile with the drug they had given me last night? Was that why the barrier blocking my power was weakening?

Nikolas? Filled with new hope, I called to him as we approached the French doors.

Sara, he answered, his voice full of agony and regret. I don’t want you to see this.

I sent him my love through the bond. Whatever happens, we’ll face it together.

We passed through the doors into an empty room. I looked around in confusion as Ava led me to the wide glass doors on the other side of the room that led to a large snow-covered courtyard. A blast of frigid air hit me when she opened the door and pushed me outside. I rubbed my arms and tried not to trip in the too-large shoes.

Night had fallen and dozens of gaslights had been lit to illuminate the courtyard. I could sense Nikolas, but I couldn’t see him because dozens of vampires blocked my view. Cold blossomed slowly in my chest until I could barely breathe. I struggled to maintain my composure. If my radar was working, then my power was coming back. Please, don’t let me be too late, I prayed as the vampires parted to let us through.

“Oh, God.” My knees weakened when we emerged from the crowd.

A raised stone platform sat in the center of the courtyard, and on top of it lay Nikolas, unshackled and dressed in a black tuxedo. A female vampire stood on either end holding his legs and arms down. Standing beside the platform and facing me was Elena, dressed in a white bridal gown and veil that made her look like a little girl playing dress up.

Nikolas turned his head to look at me as we approached, and I could see blood staining the collar of his white shirt. His eyes had a glazed, pained look, but they softened when they met mine. “My beautiful little warrior,” he rasped as, if speaking was painful for him. Look away, Sara. Please.

Elena clapped her hands sharply. “My children, we are gathered here for a very happy event. Tonight, I will take a mate.” Applause erupted from the vampires surrounding us until she raised a hand to silence them. “The transformation has begun, and in a few hours my mate will be born.”

Begun? I shook my head as I saw the horrible truth in Nikolas’s eyes. A scream tore from my throat. “No.”

Nikolas’s face twisted in pain and shudders wracked his body. I struggled in Ava’s grip and she released me, allowing me to run to him. I took his cold face in my hands and crooned softly to him. “I’m here, Nikolas. I won’t leave you.” Fight it. Your Mori is strong. You can defeat this thing.

Sweat broke out on his brow as another wave of pain hit him. I wiped it away and my touch eased him. Through the bond I felt some of his pain, and I realized he was blocking me from the worst of it. Even now, he was trying to protect me. Listen to me, Nikolas. I’ve seen vamhir demons, and they’re weak. They control through pain. Fight the pain, and you’ll beat it.

He grew still and his eyes opened. “I’ll fight until my last breath for you. But if this thing takes my body, I want you to remember that my soul belongs to you. No matter what the demon does or says, I love you. I will always love only you.”

“I’ll fight too. I promise.” I tested the barrier, and my pulse leapt when more power slipped past it. It wasn’t enough to use as a weapon, but it meant the barrier was failing. We just needed a little more time. Nikolas, my power is coming back. Just hold on a little longer, and I’ll be strong enough for both of us.

You can’t save me and fight Elena. Use your power to get away from here.

No. I won’t leave you.

His eyes pleaded with me. Get out of here, Sara. Get help and come back for me.

I shook my head. “It’ll be too late.”

Elena’s hand gripped my shoulder painfully. “You two have had plenty of time to say your goodbyes. It’s time to get on with my wedding.”

“Wait, Elena, please.” Nikolas begged and her grip loosened.

“Yes, my love?” she asked sweetly. I could hear in her tone that she liked hearing him beg.

“One kiss before you take her.”

Elena snarled, and I was glad I couldn’t see her face. “You’re my groom, Nikolas. You don’t kiss another girl on your wedding day.”

“Just a goodbye kiss. You will have all the rest.”

“Oh.” She let out a girlish giggle that made me grit my teeth. “Very well. One kiss.”

“My arms?” He gave her a beseeching look.

She huffed then ordered the vampire to release his hands. “Fine. Get on with it.”

“Nikolas, what are you doing?” I whispered. He’d said he would fight, but he sounded like he was giving up.

I nearly wept when his arms wrapped around me. He smiled tenderly as he brushed aside the hair that had fallen on my face.

The first brush of his lips against mine was so achingly sweet I couldn’t stop the whimper that rose in my throat. It felt like weeks instead of days since the last time he’d kissed me, and I pressed close, needing more. His mouth parted under mine and he deepened the kiss, drawing me in until I forgot everything but him. For one blissful moment, there was only Sara and Nikolas, and there was no world outside of his arms. The bond between us expanded as we opened ourselves completely to each other and shared our love and fear.

I didn’t realize I was crying until I tasted my tears on my lips. Nikolas kissed the tears away and whispered that everything would be okay. I buried my face against his throat and wept.

“Time’s up,” Elena snapped.

I lifted my head, but Nikolas tightened his arms around me. “Be strong, Sara,” he said against my ear. “Live – for me.”

I gasped when a tidal wave of energy surged through the bond, overwhelming me in its intensity as it coursed through my body. Never with my own Mori had I experienced such raw power or felt the kind of strength that was saturating every cell of my body.

Nikolas’s arms fell away and I staggered back from him. “What have you done?”

His face was gray and clammy, and his eyes were clouded when they met mine briefly before they closed. A violent tremor shook his body, and the vampires had to restrain him to keep him from falling off the platform. The episode passed and his head lolled to one side.

My Mori wailed. Every part of me froze, incapable of accepting what I was seeing and feeling. Solmi! my Mori cried, freeing me from my paralysis. The bond was still there, but already I could feel it weakening. I threw my arms around him and pushed the strength he’d given me back into his body. “You promised you’d fight!” I screamed. “You said you wouldn’t leave me.”

Nothing.

I beat on his chest. Beneath my fists something moved, and my power surged around the weakening barrier to get to the vamhir demon growing inside him. I pushed desperately into his chest, but I already knew it was too late.

I sagged against him and stared down at his lifeless face. “No. No, no, no, no.”

“Nikolas?” Elena ripped me away from him, and I fell to my knees in the snow, gasping for breath.

He wouldn’t leave me. He’s not gone. He’s not gone. He’s not gone.

Elena’s scream of rage penetrated my shock and sent vampires running from the courtyard. “You killed him.”

Her words sent a shockwave through my body, and I felt something fracture deep inside of me. Out of the fissure poured grief unlike any I had known before, and it burned through me, consuming me until I knew there would be nothing left but an empty shell. My Mori roared its own agony, and I called to it. It joined with me and our pain became one. I hung my head and let the grief take us.

When Elena’s hands wrapped around my throat and squeezed the air from my lungs, I didn’t fight her. When she threw me across the courtyard and I lay in a heap in the snow, I didn’t try to get up. When she screamed all the ways she was going to torture me, I didn’t flinch. She had taken the only thing that mattered to me. There was nothing else she could do to hurt me.

Then Elena stalked over to the platform and picked up Nikolas’s body.

My head lifted from the ground. My vision tunneled on the vampire holding the most precious thing in my life.

Blood roared in my ears. I trembled as the demon’s energy suffused my body until I didn’t know where I ended and it began. I stood and the snow crunched beneath my bare feet.

A growl rumbled up from my chest and echoed through the courtyard.

Elena turned and shock crossed her face before she snarled. “Ava, I need to tend to my mate. Deal with that until I’m ready for her.”

“Yes, Master.”

Ava blurred across the courtyard and grabbed my arm. “Let’s go.”

Blue static erupted across my skin, and she hissed and dropped my arm. “That’s not possible,” she uttered as my body began to glow and my hair crackled and lifted off my shoulders. She took a step back.

I captured her wrist. She screeched in pain and tried to pull away, but my hand was fused to her. A jolt of power took her to her knees.

“Ava Bryant,” my Mori and I said in one voice. “You hurt our mate.”

Her eyes rounded and she shook her head. “I didn’t. She wouldn’t let me touch him.”

I tilted my head to one side and studied the fear in her eyes. Her fear turned to shock when my hand blurred and punched straight through her ribcage. She made a wet choking sound as my hand reappeared holding her demon-encased heart. I squeezed and they both turned to dust.

“Piece-by-piece,” I said as she toppled into the snow.

I turned to face Elena as she laid Nikolas on the ground. Seeing him lying at her feet intensified my rage until there was room for nothing else inside me.

The world slowed down. Elena moved, and I raced forward to meet her attack. We collided and she grabbed for my throat while I went for her chest. My strike was not enough to disable a Master, but it tore her away from me and sent her flying backward. She landed easily on her feet and came at me again. Her claws scored my chest before I struck again. This time she stumbled when she landed.

Hands grabbed my arms from behind. Elena sneered triumphantly as two vampires held me for her.

Flames erupted on either side of me. Screams tore at my eardrums before the two vampires exploded. Burning gore spread across the snow and splattered Elena’s white wedding dress. She shrieked and smacked at the fire licking at her skirt. At the same time, an explosion came from inside the house, followed by screams. It sounded like Grigor’s lab had blown up.

Elena stared hard at me. “I think, niece, that it is time to end this little tantrum of yours. Now, stop this and come to me.”

I felt a soft push against my mind, and I batted it away as if it was an annoying gnat. “Your weak little mind has no effect on me.”

She started to circle me, visibly agitated by the discovery that I wasn’t such easy prey after all. “I can’t believe Nikolas took a half breed for a mate,” she sneered. “Look where it got him.”

Pain lanced through me, but it was quickly consumed by my rage.

“Don’t say his name.”

“It’s your fault he’s dead, you know. He gave you his strength through the bond, didn’t he? He would have survived the change if not for you.” She shook her head. “How does it feel to know you killed your own mate?”

I knew she was baiting me, but the truth in her words flayed open my soul. Nikolas had sacrificed himself for me. He was dead because of me. I would carry that with me for the rest of my life.

Her words served their purpose. I didn’t react fast enough when she flew at me, and she was able to pin me to the ground.

“Looks like old Azar was wrong about you,” she gloated as her fangs extended.

Shouts from inside the house tore her attention from me, and I sent another powerful blast into her. She flew backward and landed a dozen feet away. Smoked curled from the ends of her blond hair, and her fair skin had taken on a slightly gray pallor. Her movements were slower when she got to her feet this time to face off with me.

“Oh dear God. Elena!”

The two of us turned our heads to look at the blond warrior standing near the door. Tristan’s face was etched in shock and pain as he stared at the sister he’d lost many years ago. Behind him stood Chris and Desmund. I should have felt joy at seeing them, but all I felt was anguish and rage. They were too late.

“Tristan,” Elena simpered, giving him an angelic smile.

Her brother stood frozen as a dozen warriors spilled into the courtyard and fanned out around us. Chris and Desmund moved toward Elena with their swords raised.

My voice resonated through the courtyard. “She’s mine.”

“Sara,” Chris began.

The grief tried to surface again, but the rage smothered it. “She killed him. She is mine.”

Chris looked past me to the body lying in the snow. Sorrow filled his eyes, but he didn’t speak. He nodded and stepped back.

Desmund hesitated then did the same.

Elena let out a girlish laugh. “It’s like a family reunion. My beloved brother and cousin, and of course my darling niece. If you’d only arrived a little earlier, Tristan, you could have given me away at my wedding.”

Everyone stared at her, but I knew what she was doing. She was stalling, trying to throw them off while she recovered from my last attack. When Elena’s eyes shifted to me, I saw her real intent. My body buzzed with electricity as I coiled to attack.

In a blur, she was gone, leaving behind nothing but a trail in the snow beyond the courtyard.

A roar of pure rage scorched my throat and blackness filled my eyesight. A second later, I was standing in the middle of a frozen lake that lay behind the house. I threw up my hands as Elena came out of the darkness, her eyes rounded in disbelief. The blast lit up the night, and chunks of ice flew from the surface of the lake when her body slammed into it.

I ignored the shouts from the shore as I stalked toward the vampire who was already getting to her feet. Her arrogant sneer was gone now, replaced by fear and pain. She feinted to her left and then sped to the right. Instead of giving chase, my bare feet planted on the ice, and I called to the magic in the lake. Elena skidded to a stop as a jagged wall of ice erupted in her path. She whirled in the other direction, but the wall moved faster. Within seconds, the two of us were enclosed inside a dome of solid ice.

Panic showed on her face and she tried to use her vampire strength to punch through the ice. Every molecule of frozen water around us was connected to me, and the moment her hand touched the ice, magic coiled around her wrist. She screamed as it snaked up her arm, branding her skin.

I released her, and she stumbled back, clutching her arm to her chest. Her expression was a mix of fear and hatred when she turned to face me.

“Impressive display, niece. Too bad you couldn’t use your magic to save dear, sweet Nikolas.”

My body trembled as my Mori fought to take over, to destroy the thing that had killed our mate. I held it back and watched Elena as she walked along the wall of ice, looking for an escape.

“Do you want to hear about our time together while you were locked up in my cell, what his sweet blood tasted like on my tongue? Maybe you’d prefer to hear about how my hands ran over his naked body as I forced him to take my blood into him. The change is never easy, but it is agonizing for a Mohiri. Do you know he called out for you when the pain tore through his body?”

A scream welled up from deep within me, and my fragile hold on my sanity threatened to shatter as the demon pushed to the surface. The ice groaned beneath my feet. The walls shook, and shards of ice fell around us as the entire dome threatened to drop onto our heads.

Elena smiled. That was exactly what she wanted.

I smiled back. “I met a powerful Hale witch who could also see the future. He told me the ones hunting me would give me the power to become the thing they fear the most. I thought he meant you would fear me because I could make you human again, but I was wrong. I finally get what he was telling me.

“You hunted me, and you hurt the people I love. You did everything in your power to destroy me. You took my power and held me prisoner. You won, but that wasn’t enough for you. You had to take him from me.”

My laugh sounded mad to my own ears. “And now look at me. You brought me here. You made me into this. It looks like Azar was right after all. Madeline’s half-blood daughter will destroy you. I guess Azar forgot to tell you that you would be the one to make his vision come true.”

I walked toward her and she ran for the other side of the small space we occupied. A smile curved my lips, and the walls began to move, closing in on us. Grief poked around the edges of the rage, and I knew I would not be able to keep it at bay much longer. It was time to end this.

When Elena realized there was nowhere else to run, she faced me in a last stand. Ice sprung from the wall behind her and encased her small body despite her attempts to break it. She was no match for the magic of the whole lake that had come to do my bidding.

Standing over her with so much power coursing through me, I had never felt so alive, yet dead and empty inside at the same time.

A shard of ice flew into my outstretched hand. I ran my other hand along the ice, and a long thin blade formed under my fingers. It was blue with golden threads running through it, and the hilt was an exact replica of the one on Nikolas’s sword.

My eyes met Elena’s. I wanted to make her suffering go on forever because that was how long mine would last. Instead, I raised my weapon as I’d seen Nikolas do countless times.

“He was mine,” I said as the razor sharp blade sliced through her throat.

The sword slipped from my fingers and shattered, and the dome of ice crumbled around me. On the other side, Chris, Tristan, and Desmund stood transfixed as I walked toward them. Tristan reached for me, but I pulled away from him. Chris’s hand touched my arm as I passed, but he didn’t try to stop me as I walked back to the shore.

Warriors stared at me as I entered the courtyard and went to where Nikolas’s body still lay in the snow. Sitting on the ground, I pulled his head and shoulders into my lap. My hands trembled as I stroked his face and ran my fingers through his soft hair. He liked to touch my hair whenever he held me, and I’d always found it so soothing. I touched the still lips and remembered his smiles and the beautiful gray eyes that had looked at me with love such a short time ago. I could still feel the bond that connected us, but it was empty like a phantom limb. It was a jagged hole inside of me that would never be filled.

My rage faded and I rocked back and forth as waves of grief crashed down on me. Why did you make me love you and then leave me?

Tristan knelt beside me. “Sara, we have to –”

“No.” I hugged Nikolas tighter, prepared to fight anyone who tried to separate us. “Leave us alone.”

“No one is going to take him from you,” Tristan said gently. “Let us move you both somewhere warmer.”

“Nikolas doesn’t get cold.” And I would never be warm again.

Chris sat on his haunches on my other side. “Nikolas would want you to take care of yourself. You can’t stay out here.”

I shook off the hand he laid on my shoulder. “He needs me. I won’t leave him.”

“Here, little one.” Desmund wrapped a thick blanket around my shoulders. I grabbed the edges and pulled it over Nikolas and me, blocking out the rest of the world. I’m here, Nikolas. I won’t let them take you from me.

My Mori shifted restlessly, making me aware that we were still joined. After everything we’d been through, we had finally become one. You would have been so proud of me, Nikolas.

It was strange sharing my mind with another consciousness, trying to filter out its emotions from my own. It moved again as it tried to settle in, and a host of emotions and sensations washed over me. One sensation reminded me of Nikolas so acutely it was like a knife in my chest.

Stop, I said. Don’t do that thing you used to do when he –

Butterfly wings caressed my mind so softly they were like a memory.

Now I’m going crazy. Please, don’t do this to me.

The demon quieted.

I let out a long, ragged sigh. Maybe going crazy was better than never feeling him again. I stroked the planes of his face, as familiar to me as my own. I don’t know if I can bear this. I’m not as strong as you thought I was, Nikolas. I’m so lost without you.

A memory of him holding me filled my mind. I could feel the warmth of his arms, his love wrapping around me.

Oh, Nikolas.

Sara.

Solmi? my Mori cried.

My hands stilled and I forgot to breathe. Nikolas?

I’m here, Sara.

Oh God, I am going crazy.

I felt another soft caress against my mind. Feel my face, Sara.

I laid my palm against his cheek and felt… warmth. Please. I bent over him until my mouth hovered about his. A second later, I felt a shallow breath against my lips.

I sat up and shouted frantically. “He’s alive!”

Tristan and Chris were beside me in an instant. “No, Sara, he’s gone,” Tristan said hoarsely.

I grabbed his hand and held it above Nikolas’s mouth.

“Jesus Christ, he’s breathing.”

Chris shot to his feet. “Get the healers,” he shouted. He looked down at me. “We need to move him inside.”

I nodded, and he lifted Nikolas easily. I ran beside him as he carried Nikolas into the house. The place was trashed, and there were vampire bodies everywhere. Chris found what looked like a guestroom on the main floor and laid Nikolas on the bed.

I’m here, Nikolas.

Two healers I recognized from Westhorne ran into the room, carrying medical bags. I had to move aside to give them room, and my heart thundered in my chest as they worked on him. I listened to them discussing his vital signs and debating the best treatment. Finally, I couldn’t take it anymore.

“Just help him, goddammit!” I screamed at them. I was not going to lose him a second time. My heart couldn’t survive it.

I’m not going anywhere, Sara.

If you do, I’ll never forgive you.

One of the healers produced a syringe, which she inserted into Nikolas’s chest. I held my breath as she checked his pulse and breathing. She looked at me and smiled, and my legs almost gave out.

“He’s suffered some trauma around his heart, but nothing that won’t heal,” she explained kindly. “He should wake up soon. He’s very strong.”

My heart was close to bursting. “Yes, he is.”

Tristan and the healers stepped out of the room to talk. Chris brought in fresh blankets to place over Nikolas, and his smile was so big his dimples showed. “You two are definitely meant for each other. I don’t know which one of you is more stubborn.”

“Him.” I sat on the edge of the bed and held Nikolas’s warm hand. My emotions were such a mess I didn’t know whether to laugh or cry. My body decided for me, and hot tears spilled down my face.

Shhh, don’t cry. A gentle wave of warm energy came through the bond at the same time that Nikolas’s fingers closed around mine.

Then you better hurry up and get better, because I’m a bit of a basket case right now.

His lips twitched slightly at one corner. I’d heal a lot faster if I could hold my mate.

He didn’t have to ask me twice. I climbed in beside him and curled against his side with my cheek resting above his heart so I could hear every precious beat. “Is this real? Because if I’m dreaming, I never want to wake up.”

It’s real. I’m here, moy malen’kiy voin.

“How is this possible?” My throat closed off until I could barely speak. “I felt you die.”

You killed the vamhir demon. My Mori just needed time to recover. You brought me back.

A sob escaped me and I pressed my face against his chest. “Please, don’t leave me again.”

His arm moved slowly to wrap around me. “Never.”


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