CovetedBy: Stacey Brutger
He’d relentlessly battered his fists against the stones for the first few days of his stay, but the foot-thick slabs of rock had refused to relent. He ended up beating himself into a bloody mess. He would’ve continued his destructive ways but for one thing. The more blood he lost, the weaker his control over his wolf, ultimately leaving him more vulnerable to his captors.
He refused to give them any opening. So, instead, he slowly scraped the mortar from between the stones until the skin around his nails bled.
At the current rate, he’d be free in six months.
If he lived that long.
Any hope of sleep vanished with the storm, but it also meant his nightly torture session would be cut short.
Couldn’t have him drowning and waste his blood.
Bunched muscles relaxed infinitesimally.
He’d survive another day.
He glared at the bars. He’d have to give the assholes credit. They’d planned everything down to the smallest detail. The metal bars were coated in silver. Each time he yanked on them, his flesh sizzled and the smell of charred meat filled the small space. The blasted door didn’t even budge.
Each exposure to the silver weakened him, until he was as ineffectual as a human back when the prison had been first constructed.
He could take the torture.
It wasn’t the first time.
Boredom or his wolf would kill him first.
A howl worked up his throat, and he gave in to the urge and released all his pent-up rage.
Shayla strode over the Scottish moors, snapping pictures at random, her mind on the destruction of her hotel room and not the beautiful countryside.
She’d arrived in Scotland three days ago for a job. A once-in-a-lifetime trip. She should be thrilled. She would be, too, if the trip hadn’t been an escape from the horrible mess she’d made of her life.
For the first time in months, she was finally safe. No obsessively looking over her shoulder. No late nights waiting for the bastard to strike. She’d let down her guard and permitted herself to believe, just for an instant, that it was finished.
It didn’t take long to discover her stalker had followed her thousands of miles across the Atlantic. Plastic creaked, and Shayla forced her fingers to relax their strangled hold on the camera. It was a poor substitute for his scrawny old neck.
Earlier that morning, she’d dropped her best friend off at the train station, assuring James, yet again, that she’d be absolutely fine on her own. She was safe. But when she’d returned to her room the door had been ajar.
Paralyzing fear had grabbed her by the throat.
It had taken all her willpower to put one foot in front of the other. She had to know. Her hands had shook so badly, she’d dropped her bag twice before working up the courage to shoulder open the door.
Everything had been trashed.
Every belonging she hadn’t taken with her had been smashed or shredded. The bed had been gutted, sliced in half like some kind of animal sacrifice. Inches of pillow feathers twirled across the floor. But what drew her horrified gaze was the obscene message spread across the walls in thick, dripping letters in blood-red paint.
Thou shall not suffer a witch to live.
After three hours with the police, she’d been desperate to get away. There had been no physical attack on her person, nothing was taken, no evidence left behind. The police here and home couldn’t do anything but file a report. Told her to keep on her guard, not go out alone, and take meticulous notes on any future attacks.
Which was absurd.
She’d met her stalker six months ago. She’d actually done a job for him. Maybe too well. The sixty-year-old retired priest had since dogged her every step, searching for proof that she was a witch.
At first, she brushed him off as harmless. Then he began leaving notes with her neighbors and fliers on cars in her neighborhood, detailing intimate information about her life. She’d joked it off as a cruel prank, but people began to avoid her. She wasn’t sure if they believed the lies or just didn’t want to get involved.
She couldn’t blame them.
Then things escalated.
Threatening letters and emails.
Hang-up phone calls at all hours. She hadn’t slept for more than thirty minutes at a time in weeks.
The old guy had stamina. She’d give him that.
When he started hounding her family, he’d gone too far. She went to the police. But when she got to the part her stalker was a priest, she saw the doubt. Saw the look in their eyes shift from victim to troublemaker.
Even with the evidence she’d collected, they could do nothing.
She kicked a rock off the path, cursing the justice system. Not one to meekly give up, Shayla did her own digging
And found something even more disturbing.
There was no record of a priest by the name of Father Patrick. His parish had never existed. He’d paid cash for her services, so she had no leads.
He was a ghost.
The rotten bastard had lied about everything.
Shayla had enough. She didn’t feel physically safe anymore. Her younger brother had insisted on self-defense training, working over every inch of her until her muscles screamed for mercy. He might be a pain in her ass, but as far as he was concerned, no one messed with his sister but him. The next time she saw the old goat, she’d give him something to worry about besides badgering her.
There were billions of men in the world. Go into any town, walk into any store, and she practically tripped over them. But instead of finding Mr. Right, she’d landed an insane non-priest bent on destroying her life.
And Shayla had no idea why.
Her mother moaned that if she had a man in her life, none of this would’ve happened. She didn’t seem to understand Shayla didn’t want a man to protect her. She wanted an equal partnership. Mother was a tyrant who henpecked her husband at every opportunity, while he adored her dainty feet even as they walked all over him. As the eldest, Shayla was expected to marry first, much to the amusement and relief of her siblings. She received the brunt of their mother’s badgering. Within a year of her eighteenth birthday, she’d been being labeled incorrigible, not to mention a few other unflattering names.
Though she’d never admit it aloud, Shayla longed for the romance of falling in love. Craved the intricate steps of courtship.
She half-heartedly lifted the camera and snapped a picture of a tumble-down castle in the distance. The hundreds of painstakingly cultivated flowers gave the castle a bit of whimsy, as if the previous owner still painstakingly tended the grounds after hundreds of years, but even the beautiful scenery couldn’t pierce her foul mood.
She actually kind of wished her stalker would show, just so she could put a stop to his nonsense and be done with it. She sincerely doubted he really believed she was a witch.
No, he wanted something from her.
Men like him always did.
Each incident isolated her from her friends and family. He was methodically separating her from those who cared. And he did such a damned good job of it, too, that she hadn’t even noticed until she was alone.
If she got near the old coot, maybe she could glean something from his past that she could use against him and force him to leave her alone.
Or break his legs.
Either would give her the same results. The thought almost made her smile.
The problem was she was in Scotland, the most romantic spot on the planet, and she was alone. Oh, she knew James wasn’t the one, but he was the closest she’d been able to find.
He was every woman’s perfect man.
Just not perfect for her.
There was no spark.
Her mother insisted excitement was overrated, that Shayla could be happy with James if she put aside her fantasies and settled down.
But one word stuck…settled.
She didn’t want to settle for a man. She wanted the perfect love her grandparents had.
She just had to locate him first.
Too bad she was beginning to suspect that wouldn’t happen in her line of work. She’d have to give up her magic. It was becoming progressively more dangerous, both physically and emotionally.
Though the priest wasn’t her first stalker, he was the most persistent.
Maybe a warning of things to come. A shiver worked down her spine. It was time for her to decide what type of future she wanted.
She was supposed to be a Seeker, able to locate the most obscure items. She was the best in her field. Even being selective, she had a list of jobs waiting for her attention.
Which made her search for the elusive one all the more ironic. She’d never been able to use her faerie magic, as her grandfather called it, when doing a search for herself. It was considered personal gain and against the rules.
That left her stalker as the only man in her life.
So when she’d received a job offer for an obscene amount of money to go to Scotland and listen to a pitch for a new job, she’d jumped at the chance. Her over-protective family had agreed, insisting she get away…until they learned her destination.
They forbade her to leave, insisting it was too dangerous, which was ridiculous, since the family had emigrated from Scotland some three hundred years ago. Any lingering danger, if there had ever been any, had long since turned to dust.
All the stories about guardians and werewolves her grandfather whispered to her when she was a kid flashed through her mind. He’d warned that her fate and that of the guardians were intertwined, that her destiny lay in Scotland.
Her childhood wonder had faded years ago, the stories merely fairytales, told to her by an old man who’d suffered from Alzheimer’s. And despite all that, her heart ached that she was in Scotland without the old man. It had been ten years since his death, and she still missed him. Missed his romantic stories.