Coveted

By: Stacey Brutger


“Jacob, he’s got me. Shoot him,” Hugh shrieked.

Jacob ignored his lackey, squinting in Shayla’s direction as if he could see her despite the lack of light. When he turned and lifted the cattle prod from the wall, there was a peculiar gleam in his eyes, something malicious.

Out of time.

The man would kill Shayla and enjoy it.

Aiden couldn’t allow that to happen.

If he received a jolt of electricity, they’d take him down and leave her vulnerable. To know that she’d died because of him shriveled the last bit of his humanity. Aiden heaved backwards, using his weight, ignoring the Hugh’s frantic scratching at his arm.

“Hey, dickhead.” The woman flew out of the shadows, landing on Jacob’s back and clung to him like a tenacious monkey. Jacob lurched forward, the momentum nearly catapulting her over his shoulder.

Aiden went ballistic. His teeth lengthened, fur burst out along his arms. He said a silent plea that the darkness was thick enough to conceal the changes and tightened his hold. Hugh squealed like a girl, but Aiden couldn’t take his attention away from the fight.

Jacob reached up, grabbed the back of her shirt, and tossed her into the water. Instead of giving up, the woman rolled to her feet. Then he couldn’t see her anymore as Jacob stalked down the hall. He was controlled, took pleasure in the hunt, like the lord of the castle.

The man was twice her weight.

One blow and he’d crush her.

But he would be careful, hurt her just enough to prolong the torture.

Aiden growled in fury, relishing in the satisfying crunch of bones when Hugh’s neck finally snapped. He let the body drop and rushed toward the edge of his prion in time to see his woman being slammed up against the wall.

She slid down the rough stones like a limp rag. Aiden could do nothing but watch, helplessness threatening to choke him as she ineffectually slapped at Jacob’s chest. Then she turned defiantly toward him, steely determination etched on her face.

“Catch.”

Aiden nearly missed her toss.

Cold metal smacked his palms.

When he opened his fingers, he couldn’t believe what he saw.

The key.

Damned foolish woman. Admiration for the female flared through him. With shaky fingers, he put the key in the lock. “Hit her again, bastard, and I’ll rip your spine from your body and beat you with it.”

Jacob held the woman off the ground, her feet swinging, unable to land any solid blows with her sneakers. Jacob cocked back his arm, his fist ready to land a crushing blow when he turned and saw Aiden with the key.

He blanched, then his gaze dropping to his partner. The man was nearly submerged, his eyes forever open and staring at nothing.

“You little bitch, you did this.” Jacob slammed her against the wall hard enough to make her to go limp, then tossed her still body into the water.

Aiden roared, his beast vibrating with rage, the tortured sound reverberating down the tunnel.

Jacob strode toward the exit, only a slight rush to his steps, leaving his fallen friend behind. But he’d grown careless, believed himself invincible, and didn’t watch his steps.

An inch, but that was all that Aiden needed

He lunged.

His claws scored across the right side of Jacob’s face.

Four long welts appeared from temple to lips, marring the perfect visage. Jacob flailed backwards and covered the wounds with his hand. Bright red blood gushed between his fingers.

Vindictive pleasure surged through Aiden at knowing he’d permanently disfigured the bastard.

Murder darkened Jacob’s eyes. Aiden braced himself for an attack, when reason slowly returned to the other man. Jacob narrowed his eyes, malice giving them a certain gleam, before he turned and ran. “This isn’t over.”

Aiden fumbled with the key. With one last twist, the door to his cell creaked open, and Aiden inhaled reflexively.

Freedom had never tasted so sweet.

He watched the man disappear into the shadows then turned to see the woman who’d saved him being swept away by the current. A growl rumbled in his chest.

Vengeance urged him to go after his captor, but he couldn’t let her die, not after what she’d risked to save him. And if he lost her, his best chance at rescuing the rest of his people would go with her.

“Damn it all to hell.”

He turned away from the entrance and sloshed after the woman. The excitement had worn him down, each step physically exhausting.

He heard her sputter, spotted her fighting to catch her breath, and he increased his speed. The woman struggled for purchase, but the current was swifter here, drawing her inexorably away from him.

Then he saw where she was heading.

The old aqueduct tunnels expelled waste from the castle, dropping the water some thirty feet below into the ocean. If she managed to survive the ride, the fall would kill her. He ran and leapt the distance between them. He landed on his stomach in the water, his hands brushing against hers before clamping his fingers around her wrists.

The heat of her silky skin almost burned. Her touch was like a spark, it snaked under his skin, bringing things into sharper focus. He wanted more and clutched her close, afraid that if he lost her, it would all prove to be a horrible lie and he’d wake up back in his cell.

The water swept them away too fast for him to stop their descent. He tucked her slight body against his larger frame, cushioning her against the harsh stones. She was so delicate he feared his harsh grip would break her, but refused to loosen his hold. Already, he could feel the water trying to tug her away from him. They entered the tunnel at an alarming speed. If he hadn’t lost weight, he never would’ve fit.

Stones scraped against his back and sides. His elbow lost a chunk of skin when it hit some sharp rocks. Blood blossomed in the air as his skin was scraped away, his clothes no barrier to the harsh abrasions. When she burrowed her face into his shoulder, he tucked his head lower and clutched her closer, sheltering her petite form as much as possible without smothering her.

The fresh scent of tangy citrus and sea rose from her, and his beast wanted to rub it all over and revel in it. The floors dropped, the sharp angle making them pick up speed, and his arms tightened possessively.

Then they were flying.

The woman gave a startled squeak, flailing as the world dropped away and they plummeted toward the sea.

It took everything he had to maintain his hold on her.

Even in the dark, he saw the churning water rapidly approach.

“Tuck yourself up tight. Take a deep breath. Whatever you do, don’t let go.”

Then they plunged beneath the surface.

The brutal impact tore the woman from his arms despite his desperate bid to keep her close. Air was knocked from his lungs. His limbs grew heavy. The cold snaked around him as the frigid grip of the sea dragging him deeper and deeper.

His temple struck the craggy rocks, the pain stealing the last of his breath. He sank, struggling against the lure to finally be able to rest. Impotent fury roared through him that his body had failed him just when he’d finally gained his freedom.

He refused to die, drowned like some unwanted pup. He had to snap out of it and find the woman. She wasn’t strong enough to withstand the rip tide. The heat of her imprint still tingled where they’d touched, as if she belonged in his arms. The need to get his hands on her again curled through his gut. He couldn’t let her die, not when he’d just found her.





Chapter Four



Shayla concentrated on finding the surface and shot up through the water. As she broke topside, she gasped for air, her chest rattling as she inhaled. She treaded water, the strap of her bag nearly strangling her, and she clutched the last of her belongings like a lifeline. A large wave smacked into her hard enough to send her tumbling. She clawed her way back to the surface, bobbed in the water, and waited for the dark head of her savior to appear.

And waited.

Night had fallen. The rain had slackened to a cold drizzle. The tide tugged her inexorably toward a collection of jagged rocks surrounding the cliff.

Away from her would-be rescuer.

The water smashed into the stone with stunning force, hard enough to break her into pieces. High above her, water blasted out of the tunnel before crashing into the ocean. The frothy water churned like some hungry creature searching for prey.

They were lucky to be alive.

The side of her face throbbed, her back was so bruised that each breath caused her ribs to ache. If she pushed herself, she might be able to reach the shore.

Barely.

But not if she lingered much longer.

Shayla slapped the water at the impossible decision.

If she left, he was dead.

If she stayed, her chances for survival were drastically reduced.

She remembered the way he turned his back on the man who’d imprisoned him in order to save her. The way he cradled her in his warm embrace, protecting her from hurt until they were dragged further and further from the surface. With one last touch of her skin, the man had relinquished his hold.

To save her.

Not willing to give up on him so easily, Shayla closed her eyes and sank below the surface. The storm faded to a peaceful silence below the waves. Water swirled around her, pulling and tugging, and she drew on what her grandfather called her faerie magic.

A warm glow came to her like a small flame on a candle. That’s usually as far as she went. To search for people, she had to crack open the door between the worlds. The Frost World was inhabited by the dead, and they didn’t take kindly to intruders, reminders of the living.

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