Will's Instinct was now screaming -YOURS!-
In the background, the auction continued at a furious pace.
-"The last of the Banemen Godslayers bid a dieumort, a god-killer."
-"The Pravus Rule bids two million as well as a barely used Bridefinder talisman."
-"Rodrigo Gamboa bids two tankers full of Colombian marching dust."
Will dimly wondered if that last one was a joke.
The bidding reached eight digits, yet he and Munro still hadn't found her. They followed her scent toward the front, now shoving creatures out of the way.
Will drew deep of her once more and nearly stumbled. "Munro, did you catch that scent? She's-"
"Human," Munro finished, the word like a death knell.
"If I canna control my beast . . ." Bucket List Will. It'd be best for her no' to know me. Let her go. "I would kill a mortal."
"We'll figure it out. Will, I'll help you through this. I vow it. But for now, we just need to find her."
They were closing in on the stage when a last flurry of bids came through. Soon everyone would leave-and then how would he find her? Will scrubbed his hand over his face, casting a confused glance at Munro. "Where the hell is she?" Then he turned, frowning at the small female coming into view.
The one on the stage. The one strung up against a pole-with a black bag over her head. She wore a filmy gown over a pink bra and black panties. She was petite, with tanned skin and the most incredible legs he'd ever seen on a female. Her heart was racing.
Daughter of Webb. They both drew up short.
The sublime scent was coming . . . from her.
This couldn't be possible. After waiting lifetimes for her, he'd found his mate in the offspring of a male so vile Will couldn't say his name without rage bubbling up inside him. "That fiend's daughter is my eternal mate?"
Munro uttered his thoughts, words that Will knew he regretted the second they'd left his tongue: "This is so fucked."
Will couldn't even process all that he was feeling. Disgust was there, along with the deepest welling of disappointment he'd ever experienced.
"Why did they black-bag her?" Munro bit out in Gaelic, sounding outraged.
"Because that's what was done to the Order's prisoners. To me!" When the breeze blew her white frock up above her knees, Will noted more of her shapely thighs, his predator's gaze locking on them. He reacted, hating himself.
"Will, it does no' matter who she is-you have nothing to lose with her. I'll put it simply: she canna be worse than a pit of mystical flames. And that's your only other option on the table."
The witch announced, "The bidding is concluded! Congratulations, Pravus Rule, you have purchased Daughter of Webb. Thank you to everyone for attending this House of Witches-tee-em-production, and be on the lookout this week for our service questionnaire. Pravus, please claim your prize."
At that, the mortal's heart sped up even more. She screamed, but she sounded gagged under that bag. He thought she'd yelled, "Let me go, you sick pricks!" And then she started struggling.
Hard. Her wrists were bound, looped over a spike above her head. She thrashed to free herself.
"I should leave her arse to the Pravus." Even as Will said this, his body readied to fight for her. His Instinct was clamoring for him to save her, to cherish her. His beast prowled inside him, frantic to protect her. Will's claws lengthened along with his fangs, his muscles increasing in size.-YOURS!-
Two centaurs leapt atop the stage. One said, "I'm Lord Velees of the Centaureans, and I claim her for the Pravus."
Claim her? The fuck that would be happening!
A Cerunno slithered up to the pole. "I underssstood that we would have her firsssst."
"Then you misunderstood." Velees unhooked her bound wrists from the spike. Immediately she flailed against him, kicking at the centaur. Blood began dripping from beneath her wrist shackles.
When he gazed up at her little mortal form, fighting so bravely-even in the face of her fear-he found himself a bit . . . awed.
"Will, your female is a terrified girl not twenty feet from you. Her name is Chloe. Gods, man, she's so bluidy young."
"Right now, brother, she's losing a fight that is yours to win for her."
Not for long. Will's beast was uncontrollable on the best of days; now, for the first time in Will's existence, he had a mate to protect. It would rise up like horror embodied against anyone or anything that kept him from his female.
Munro clamped his shoulder. "I assume you're going to steal her from the Pravus first and ask questions later?"
He couldn't answer, already turning. When his beast clawed at its cage, Will was happy to let it free.
When Chloe had heard the word "purchased," something in her snapped.
This Velees guy gripped her around her waist, lifting her off her feet, tucking her against his bare chest. Still she fought and kicked. "Don u tou ee!" she screamed into her gag, thrashing against him with all her might. "Leh ee o!"
Her foot struck what felt like the barrel chest of a horse. Her mind denied this-the man who had her was simply riding a horse, like a cowboy. A shirtless cowboy, of course.
Even over her frenzied fight, she heard people close to the stage gasp. Murmurs arose, cries. She could see nothing.
Then came the unholy roar of some beast.
A familiar roar. She'd heard one like it the night of the championships. Just as before, chills raced through her.
Silence fell over the crowd. After an extended moment, what sounded like chaos erupted.
-"Run! The Lykae's turning!"
-"Ah, gods, don't get between them!"
-"She's MacRieve's mate!"
Mate? Lykae? What had she read about them? Each had a beast housed inside-and each one sought its fated mate above all things. And she was this one's female? Hysterical laughter threatened, until she heard a low, feral growl.
The ground shook as people fled. What the hell was happening?
Velees snapped to some unseen person, "Mind yourself, wolf." But he was backing away, with Chloe clamped tightly against his body. Hooves stamped the stage.
"I'll snap this mortal's neck." Velees continued his steady retreat. "Another step closer, and she's dead!"
In a beastly, grating voice, the Lykae answered: "Mine."
That one word had Velees yanking her into his side and leaping off the back of the stage to hit the ground running-as if for his life. He yelled, "Cover me from the wolf!"
At that, she heard the clomping of hooves, a herd of them. As what sounded like a brutal fight broke out, a man yelled back, "Cerunnos attacking from the south!"
Were these beings now going to battle over her? The Lykae howled as if fighting his way closer.
Velees abruptly turned in another direction, flinging her with him. She thrashed to get the bag off her head, but it was tied on. Can't see . . . can't see!
Some being was just beside them; she heard its breaths. Then came a hissing sound, a gurgle, and suddenly she and Velees were falling, falling . . .
With another gurgle, Velees heaved her upward, pitching her body into the air, like a chipped pass-
Someone caught her in midair, wrapping a palm around her right arm and dragging her against his upper body. Another one of the cowboys? Damn it, there was no denying it-a centaur had her!
He held her as if she weighed nothing, yelling to the others, "The wolf comes for her! Kill him!"
Coming for her. Because I'm its . . . mate. Oh, man, that couldn't be good. She wanted this centaur to get her far away from that wolf! She screamed against her gag, "Moo ur ass! Hu-y!"
"Silence." Centaur gave her a shake, dislocating her shoulder with a pop. Pain flared, and she couldn't bite back a scream.
The wolf gave an enraged howl from some distance behind them.
She whimpered. He's gaining. Every gallop made fresh pain shoot through her arm and shoulder.
When some creature hissed beside them, Centaur yelled, "Nooo!"
No? No what-
She heard a solid thud, felt a teeth-jarring impact, heard bone snap. Centaur was flung onto his side. As that wolf roared in fury, still nearing, she and Centaur crashed to the ground. His hold loosened; he fumbled for her, but she'd already gone careening along his horse body, over its flank. She bounced over something metallic and sharp-a sword?-and pain sliced into her.
She hit the ground with a thud, the air wrenched from her lungs. Her side was slashed, pouring blood. She'd just sucked in her first hectic gasp when she got scooped up like a goalie save by some being that undulated over the ground.
Her mind fought recognition with this new captor, even as chills broke out over her skin. Some subconscious awareness within her screamed: Snake!
With a wet hiss to the sky, the creature increased its unfathomable speed. It sounded like others of its kind were flanking them. They were flying across the ground so fast that bugs pelted Chloe's black bag like a windshield. Then the being began zigzagging around trees, limbs swatting her legs.
Surely nothing could catch this creature? Not even a wolf . . .
As soon as the thought arose, she heard something crashing through the woods nearby, matching even this thing's fantastical speed.
They have my mate.
Will's thoughts were murky, his beast in control, Instinct ruling him.
The need to protect her . . . he'd never felt a more primal drive.
In the distance, he heard a war zone, his brother wolf roaring, fighting to reach him; closer, he heard his female.
His heart seemed to stop each time she screamed. How much could she withstand? Her scent was just as loud to him. Her fear. Her blood.
He'd left dead, twitching centaurs in his wake, could still taste their throats, could feel their flesh embedded under his claws.
Now Cerunnos. So many of them, their scaly bodies whipping around trees. When the terrain became an open field, he gained. But another forest loomed.
He heard her cries, her frantic heartbeat. Beating, beating, beating.
Cypress, broken leaves. Somehow he ran faster, lungs heaving. He was upon them! Kill them all.
Slashing claws, snapping jaws. Warm blood rained down.
One remained, her captor. To take it down-without harming her? He sank his claws into its tail, snatching it up short. The momentum sent the girl flying. Will hurtled into the air.
Got her. He cradled her protectively, his arms closing around his trembling mate for the first time.
The last Cerunno coiled to strike. Will roared, baring his bloody fangs. Try to take her from me!
Taking his measure with slitted eyes, it hesitated. Will licked his fangs; with a hiss, the snake wisely began to slither a retreat.
Will threw back his head and howled with triumph.
Now to put the beast back in its cage. . . .
Field position? Chloe's life had never been so offsides before. She still couldn't see and doubted she would believe her eyes anyway.
She was severely injured, with a mythological creature holding her secure in his brawny arms.
Though explosions were blasting in the distance, shaking the ground, in the immediate area all she heard was this male's deep breaths. Inhale, exhale.
Even under her bag, she could detect his scent: evergreen, copper, and . . . male. His arms were unyielding around her, but still gentle. She thought they'd finally stopped running.
He howled once more, like an animal, paining her ears. When an answering howl sounded, the being seemed to relax a measure.
"Ey," Chloe weakly murmured against her gag. "Ake is ov?"
Instead of taking the bag off, he reached under it for her gag. It felt too private, like he was reaching under her shirt. He pulled only the gag free.
She licked her dry lips, then worked her jaw back and forth. She had no reserves of strength left, was freezing cold, shaking from blood loss. And his body felt so hot against her. Still . . . "I-I need you to release me." Just give me a second.
"Canna do that." His voice was deep, beastly, and accented. He sounded like a Scot.
According to the book, the Highlands were Lykae territory. "Are you gonna hurt me?"
Silence. He was hesitating to answer? "You kill immortals like your sire? Or did the witch speak truths?"
"I've never seen immortals before tonight. Didn't think they existed."
"If no' one among the Order, then what are you?"
"I play soccer. That's all I do. I-I don't know how I got mixed up in all this. I just . . . I chase a ball for a living."
"Chase a ball."
That must've been the exact right thing to tell a werewolf, because he released a gust of breath. "I will no' hurt you. I'll see you well."
Had she lucked into the one creature who wouldn't harm her? Of course, the crowd of detrus had screamed at the sight of this one, had scattered because Chloe was his mate.
He'd frightened even other monsters. And she was utterly under this one's power. Though Chloe was first and foremost a fighter, she wasn't above making allies. Her foggy brain tried to recall more from the book's Lykae entry.
The bond between mates was the ultimate for them-revered by them as others did gods. Each Lykae only ever had one, so it followed that they would fight anything that tried to separate them. Such as auctioneers and other bidders? "Am I really your . . . mate?"
Another hesitation. "Aye."
She relaxed slightly. She didn't see how that was possible, but as long as he believed it, he wouldn't hurt her. "Th-thank you for saving me back there."
He stiffened against her. "Dinna have a choice." He might think she was his, but that didn't mean he was happy about it. He must hate her because she was human, because she was Daughter of Webb.
Dustin Todd was Commander Preston Webb. Not just a member of the Order, but a leader.
She exhaled with confusion, the movement making her wound sing. Her dizziness increased-probably because she was light a few pints of blood.
"Freeing you." He slashed through the chains binding her wrists.
She swallowed. Slashed that metal with what?