"Doona fight me."
With effort, she raised one hand to the bag to draw it away, but he stayed her arm. "No' yet."
"Why not?" Rain began to mist over them.
"You've had enough . . . frights for the night."
Exactly how hideous was he?
He started feeling her head through the silk bag. Checking for injuries? Finding none on her head, he gently swept his hands over her ankles, her calves, even up her thighs. She tensed but was too weak to resist him.
He hissed out a curse when he got to her left shoulder. Dislocated. He wrapped his hand around her upper arm. Then, seeming to think better of it, he adjusted his grip to what felt like his thumb and forefinger. With just two fingers and the tiniest movement, he jerked down. She gritted her teeth as her shoulder popped back into place.
When the sharp pain receded to a dull ache, she exhaled in relief, her eyelids growing heavy. "Th-thank you." Was that her slurred voice? How much blood had she lost? Why couldn't she think?
"Brave," he rasped.
When he lifted the skirt of her gown, sodden with her blood, she couldn't fight him, had to believe he was only checking her injury anyway. It was deep, excruciating.
He shuddered against her. At the sight of it? She could only imagine what it must look like.
She thought he was drawing off his shirt. A rip sounded. After a second she realized he was securing his balled-up shirt against her wound with a sleeve tied tightly around her waist. Smart.
But was it too little, too late? Without a hospital and a transfusion . . . "You think I'm about to eat it? Be honest."
He froze. "What?"
The mist turned to pounding rain, soaking her. "Pretty sure . . . I'm bleeding out."
"Dying? Nay. Nay." Without warning, he cupped the back of her head with one massive hand and her bottom with the other. She tried to muster the strength to resist, but then this man began to rock with her-as if it was the most natural thing in the world. "I've got you," he grated. "You will no' die."
She might be wary of him; her body wasn't. It melted against his.
"That's it, my lass." He pulled her closer.
"You're s-so warm." Despite all her turmoil and all her fear, she knew she was about to black out in this stranger's embrace.
When he said, "Rest, Chloe, everything'll be all right," she was too exhausted to doubt him.
Blackness was clawing at her. "You'll keep me safe?"
The last thing she heard before she passed out: "No one will ever hurt you again."
Will had tried-he'd truly tried-to hate her just for who she was.
None doing. When his brother's SUV skidded to a stop just feet from him, Will was cradling the unconscious girl as if she were the most treasured thing in the universe.
She'd been so brave, barely whimpering when he'd forced her arm back into its socket. She'd thanked him.
And then she'd uttered the most chilling words he'd ever heard: I think I'm bleeding out.
"How bad is she?" Munro asked as he drove them away, speeding toward the city.
"Bluidy bad!" Will had stopped the blood flow, but she was pale and cold. He reached for the heater control, blasting warm air over her damp skin. "I had to get past a dozen centaurs and ten Cerunnos to seize her. They were no' exactly gentle with her!"
She'd been passed among the centaurs and then to the Cerunnos like a sodding rugby ball. Each time she'd changed hands, he'd experienced fear as never before.
He inhaled, still struggling to rein in his beast. He'd always heard that nothing made it rise up like a mate in peril.
If she woke and saw him like this, the mortal would probably stroke out before he could ever get her to a healer. Their immortal enemies cowered in the face of the beast. A young human might never recover from the sight.
He'd leave the bag on for now.
"And where the hell were you?" Will snapped at his brother. Right before Will had taken off after his mate, Munro had told him to meet in the woods if they got separated.
"Fighting my way out of a war to rescue you!" It was only then that Will noticed Munro was covered in blood and gore as well. "It's pandemonium back there. You were the spark on a powder keg. When the Vertas realized you were stealing the girl, they rose up and battled the Pravus back. Kind of like a real alliance-who knew we had it in us? By the by, remind me never to tangle with Malkom Slaine." He whistled low.
Chloe began shivering even harder. "We need to get to a witch healer. Drive to Andoain." Will couldn't believe that he was demanding his brother take them to Louisiana's infamous coven, the bloody H.O.W.
"We just cost them a serious loss of face. They'll hex us on sight."
They both shuddered.
"Besides, others will be waiting for us there. Brother, you ken this girl's the most valuable asset in the Lore right now? They're no' going to just forget about her."
Because she was Webb's daughter. The beast inside him didn't seem to give a fuck about that. Will's newly recovered Instinct didn't.
Munro asked, "What about a mortal hospital?"
"They'll be expecting us to go there. Besides, I doona trust mortal quacks. Sawbones, all of them."
"They've come a long way in the last century, Will."
"She might be past their reach. As much as I hate to say this, she needs mystical means. We head to Loa's." Loa was a voodoo priestess with a curiosity shop in the Quarter. "She sells witch potions. She might have a healing tonic."
Munro sighed. "Music to my ears." Loa was a comely one, with abundant curves and coffee-and-cream skin. She tended to show off both in revealing garments. He cast Will a sidelong glance. "You've had a change of heart about your mate?"
"When I realized who her father was, I imagined her to be like him, but I think she's . . . good. She talked about being a soccer player."
"Football, huh? Is that how your female got those scars?" She had surgical scars on one wrist, an ankle, and her right knee.
"Doona be looking at her legs!" Will yanked her frock down, accidentally ripping the lower half clean away, leaving her in only the top of her gown, the makeshift bandage, and her sleek black underwear. He took deep breaths to tamp down his beast. Inhale. Exhale. Precarious moments passed.
"Good man. You got control, heading back to normal. Well, relatively. I think you can risk taking her bag off. You must be dying to see what she looks like."
I'm going to behold my mate's face for the first time. He nervously clawed through the bag's tie.
With a shaking hand, he began to draw the material away . . . revealing her face.
While Will worked to catch his breath, Munro glanced over. "Ach, and there she is. You lucky sod."
Her damp hair was sun-streaked, cropped close to her head. Her lips were plump. She sported freckles across her nose and cheeks. Her cheekbones were prominent, like a model's might be, but with her pointed chin, bee-stung mouth, and short locks, she looked like a wee pixie.
He felt one corner of his lips curl. -Yours.- Had his arms closed more tightly around her?
Munro said, "Her timing is impeccable. She's your lucky penny."
Will's grip loosened, his excitement dimming. "Just look at her. She's too . . . too . . ." Too everything he could ever dream. "You know something's inherently wrong with her. She must be shallow, vapid, dim. Webb must've left his mark on her."
"She's also young, Will. Whatever damage Webb might've done can be righted if you're patient with her."
"Why would fate give me a human to protect? Especially this human?" When he was raw with rage toward her father?
"Because, brother, you can handle it."
Will's Instinct was pushing, his beast stirring for her; resisting her pull was harder than the tortures he'd recently endured. He gazed down at her, rubbing his thumb over her bottom lip. It was plush like a little pillow. The lower edge went straight across before curving up at the corners, a soft bracket. Gods, she was a pretty thing.
Mayhap she was his reward? To help me get over torture, help me understand my past. "Looks like I'll have to handle it."
"Where do we take her after Loa's?" Munro asked. "My first thought is Bheinnrose. We'd be isolated up in Nova Scotia, away from all this commotion."
"I say we stay in Louisiana, at Glenrial. Strategically, it's easier to defend." Though the compound consisted of hundreds of acres, it was completely walled in, with a trained watch stationed at intervals. The place was simply too close to the homes of myriad other factions not to be guarded like a vault.
"Aye then, I'll make the call." Munro briefly spoke to Madadh, Glenrial's master of the watch, explaining all that had happened, telling him to get the clan prepared for anything. Munro hung up once they'd made the Quarter, concentrating on driving.
The maze of one-way streets was filled with drunken tourists, mounted police, and rolling Lucky Dog stands.
Will gazed down at Chloe. Were her breaths shallowing? -Protect!- Another jolt of fear hit him. I canna lose her, just when I've found her. "Faster, Munro."
With his lips thinned, Munro made a sharp left, heading the wrong way down a one-way street. "I'll get us there-just have your credit card ready. Loa will be pissed that we're no' there to flirt with her."
Candles, taxidermy, incense, cannabis.
As ever, Will's senses were overloaded by the cacophony of scents inside Loa's store.
The bell above the door was still ringing as he and Munro barged into the candlelit interior, Will with Chloe wrapped securely in his arms. He called, "Loa!" The scuffed wood floor creaked beneath his feet, but there was no answer.
Whereas the front of the shop was a touristy affair-with fake voodoo charms and dolls, shelves of tarot card decks and black candles-the back was an authentic Lore establishment, filled with mystical wares. A Lore-mart.
Munro entered the concealed doorway first, Will right behind him.
Loa was seated at a counter, reading some tome with Geopolitical in the title. Her smile was broad as she called, "Hot and Hotter?" It dimmed when she caught sight of their battle-worn appearances-and Will's bloody female. "Is that who them spirits are talkin' 'bout?" she said with her islander accent. "The auction prize?"
"Aye, and she's injured," Will said.
"My business how?" she said, adding sarcastically, "You buyin' a witch healing potion?"
Will slapped his credit card on the counter. "Aye."
She raised her eyebrows. "Lykae seekin' witchcraft. The apocalypse truly is here."
"We doona have time for this!"
With a shrug, she said, "Aisle five. But they only heal non-lethal wounds."
Another jolt of fear. Couldn't be a lethal wound. As they charged toward five, Will read the overhead signs: CONTRACEPTION, GLAMOURS, CONJURINGS, APOCALYPSE PREPARATION . . . then HEALING ARTS.
At last! But the shelf was chock-full of confusing vials and jars. "Which one, Munro?"
Munro yelled over his shoulder, "A little help, Loa?"
"Look at the prices," she called back. "You want the most expensive one."
Will spotted a stoppered vial of lime-green liquid for three hundred and fifty thousand. Surely that cost the most?
None doing. That was the cheapest.
Munro rifled through the rest, grabbing a lever-top jar filled with a tarlike paste for twice that.
"Instructions come with?" Will asked as they barreled up to the counter.
Loa arched a brow at him. "Your credit card nuh irie."
"What does that mean? It's limitless."
"Alternative payment requested. And I'm tackin' on a sanitation fee-she's drippin' blood."
Munro was already rooting for his wallet. "Damn, Loa, you know we're good for it." To Will, he said, "You might talk to Ronan-he mentioned making some charges. Had no idea he was talking about card-killing purchases."
Could give a shite right now. "Loa, how do we administer this?"
"Quickly, if you'd like her to live. See the sale table over there? What you want to do is use one arm to sweep all the goods to the floor. At cost. Once you've laid her down, clean her wounds with a case of Mount Doom Springs, then smear the paste on. Oh, and you must keep her warm with a one-of-a-kind dragon-silk quilt." She handed him a soft white blanket, bilking him thoroughly.
Uncaring, he lunged for the table, sweeping merchandise to the ground. As basilisk piggy banks, Rothkalina snow globes, and Horn-of-Fame castings shattered, Loa's cash register sang ka-ching.
Laying Chloe down, he covered her lower half with the blanket. Munro had already retrieved the water and a beach towel.
"What else can I do?" Munro asked.
Will answered, "Guard the door. Others might suspect we've come here."
When Munro jogged off, Loa sauntered over, studying Chloe's face. She nodded as if Will had said something to her, then turned to light black candles in a circle around the table.
"Oh, now you're going to help?" He poured water over Chloe's wound, then assessed it: redder, more inflamed than before-and much deeper than he'd thought.
Gods, she was so small and pale. So . . . human.
"The spirits like her. Not many pure hearts pass through our doors."
Pure of heart? "You ken who she is. Why would they think that of her?"
"She's of Webb. She hasn't followed his path."
"How can they tell?" Will already believed this, felt in his gut that she was good.
"Violence and hatred leave marks the spirits can see. You're riddled with them."
You have no idea.
"This one is not. Plus she doesn't have them deep, dark secrets like you and Munro." When she began chanting to "Li Grand Zombie," Will's hackles rose. He'd once heard the priestess explain the difference between her magic and the magic of a typical witch: "Mine is darker. And while theirs is based on life, mine is steeped in death."
Loa gave a half-grin, as if someone had said something amusing. Creepy, mystical bullshite-Lykae hated it!