“Bitch,” Jarvis snapped, and pain exploded from my cheek.
I spit out a mouthful of blood and teetered on the edge of falling down. I’d gotten a reaction, if a bit more violent than what I had been looking for.
Keep them distracted.
“Well,” I said thickly, “I get why she’s doing it. Probably in love—or lust—with Nicolas.” I shrugged, and pain ran up from the shoulder Min had wrenched. “But who could blame her. I mean, who could resist a powerful guy like that, when she goes home to an imp?”
I was ready for the strike this time, but it still hurt like hell. I fell to the ground, wrists screaming as I broke my fall with my hands. Blood dripped from my face to puddle on the ground. I tasted it on my tongue. And the flavor was almost a welcome change from the burnt coffee filling my nose. An angry, low growl filled the room, and I braced for another hit, but it didn’t come.
“This is why I don’t do field work,” I said, my voice strangely thick. I blinked back the waves of darkness threatening to overcome me and looked up at my captors. But they were no longer watching me. Something moved behind them. Something shuddered and shook and groaned. Something was creating enough of a spike in Mason’s aura to make concentrating fully on the scene nearly impossible, even with waves of pain rolling over me from every part of my body.
Lycan energy flooded the room, blinding me even as I tried to see what was happening. I pushed up from the ground and struggled to my knees, narrowing my eyes against the silver flood of power that only I could see even though I knew I wasn’t seeing it with my physical eyes. And then I couldn’t smell anything but fresh air and wide open spaces. And the energy shone even more. So radiant and sharp I almost lost my focus on him. On what was happening to him.
Mason’s scream shook me to my core. Agony and fury and triumph. All rolled into one terrible sound. His arms flexed against his bindings, and waves moved beneath his skin like water in the ocean. Land rolling in an earthquake.
Like an animal, his fingers stretched and clawed at the chair, but he didn’t seem to be trying to get free that way. It was more like the pain of whatever was happening to him was too much to bear without movement.
What was wrong with him? My mind flashed to a spell that could be hurting him so much, but I dropped the idea as soon as it surfaced. I knew what was happening, I just couldn’t believe it.
He was shifting.
The years Mason had avoided his change—bottled it—should have prevented this. Should have made it impossible. A lycan who hadn’t changed in years could no longer change alone. Could no longer change without the full moon above and a pack to help. Could definitely not change under a half moon—during the day, no less—while hurt and nearly unconscious.
But there was no denying what was happening in front of my eyes.
Mason’s skin stretched and his bones popped and cracked, moving into new positions. Skin broke, and I cried out when blood poured from the wounds that appeared. Wounds that only healed when fur pushed out from beneath his skin.
The vampire was shouting something at the imp, but Jarvis seemed hypnotized by the sight. Min started toward Mason, and I realized that I had to do something. Anything. If she reached him mid-change, he would have no chance. He’d be unable to defend himself.
I searched the floor desperately for my gun. Finally, I spotted it. Mason growled, loud and long. Min stood over him. Jarvis still appeared stunned and oblivious to anything but Mason. Over the filthy floor, I lunged for the gun. My fingers closed over the cold, reassuring steel.
I didn’t hesitate.
My aim from the floor wasn’t great, and I had normal rounds loaded in my gun, but I got two good hits to the vampire’s shoulder. One second, blood splashed from her shoulder, and the next, Min was standing over me. Rage coated her face and her pretty features were transformed into something truly ghastly.
I tried to swing my gun up, but ran into solid vampire. Solid, pissed vampire. I didn’t see her move again, but the agony shooting from my neck was very real. Someone cried out in pain.
It might have been me.
It felt like Min was chewing through to my bone. Then the vampire was gone, though the sting radiating from my neck didn’t fade. Min flew across the room, and I heard metal breaking and plastic and glass shattering.
And I looked into the eyes of the beast.
Mason as a man was hard and handsome, but the word beautiful would never have occurred to me to describe him. But as a fully changed lycanthrope, there was no other word that fit. But it was a terrible beauty. Tawny hair covered his body, and his eyes—still the dark gray I’d come to rely on so much in the last few days—flashed with animalistic fury. Muscles flexed and moved under his fur—muscles that were different from those of any animal or man.
His arms were far too long for his still-bipedal body, and the claws at the end of them looked as sharp as razor blades. I should have been afraid. Lycans who turned after so long as humans had a harder time with control and were more prone to blackouts and rages. But I saw him in those eyes. And I could never be afraid of Mason.
Mason jerked, and I pushed myself up from the ground. Jarvis was on Mason’s back, holding on by a knife he’d plunged between the lycan’s shoulder blades. Imps weren’t particularly strong, but they were fast as hell, and sneaky. Jarvis flung himself from Mason and skittered away into the darkness.
“We have to get out of here.” I choked out the words, hoping Mason could understand between my swollen mouth and his lycan form. Mason turned to look at me, his eyes widened and then narrowed into an even more intense rage. I must look like hell.
A growl escaped him and he jumped to the side, revealing Jarvis at his back again. Knife in hand, an evil glee danced through the imp’s eyes. Being with Min hadn’t changed Jarvis into a psychopath. I bet he’d been that way for a very long time.
Suddenly Min was there too, lips drawn back to reveal bloody fangs and swinging a large piece of metal—an old shelf by the looks of it—at Mason. They ignored me. Rightly assuming that I wasn’t the real threat in the room.
I swung my gun up but I couldn’t get a safe shot in. Finally Mason spun around quickly and Jarvis pulled back, knife back in the imp’s hand from between Mason’s ribs. Jarvis was quick as hell, but he’d tuned me out and was looking for another opening to stab Mason again. Blood ran down the knife and Jarvis bared his teeth. Mason cried out in pain.
The imp went down like a stone. Clean chest shot.
Mason and Min fought, still so fast it was difficult to see who was winning. But they were both tiring. Both wounded and bleeding all over the stained floor. Their energy swirled and mixed with the imp’s fading aura, adding to my confusion.
Mason backhanded the vampire and a crack sounded, harsh and loud. Min faltered and fell back, dazed.
“Stay there, Min,” I shouted, finding my voice somewhere in the surreal fog rolling through my mind. I aimed right at her fangs.
She wouldn’t survive a headshot in her condition. She had to know that. Barely able to maintain her footing, she raised her arms slightly—a short, quick movement of defeat.
And then her head was gone.
I didn’t see the vampire coming from behind her. Nor did I see the quick motion he used to tear Min’s head from her body. All I saw was the aftermath. Blood spurting from Min’s neck as her heart continued to pump, unaware that it was dead. Her body, falling in slow motion.
And Luc Chevalier. Holding Min’s head in his hands.
The police showed up less than a minute after Luc decapitated Min, and the sudden influx of people and sirens and questions and noise pushed me into a state of pure shock. I couldn’t keep focused, and I found myself next to Mason, holding him as his transformation reversed. The reversal was just as horrifying and painful as the initial change, and I feared for his life.
Despite the blood and terror and hustle of people around me, I clung to him. Then the rush of energy from the oh-dubs around us was overwhelming. The people faded, and only the energy remained.
Vasquez’s voice roused me Not because he was yelling—that might have been normal enough to ignore. But because he was talking softly. Reassuring me. Asking me to let Mason go.
My hands clung to him. Pressing against the wounds I could get to in an inane attempt to stop the flow of blood. I found it strange that the wounds caused by the change from man into lycan and vice versa healed as soon as the transformation was complete, but other wounds remained. Frustrated scientists probably struggled with the same issue. Vasquez gently pulled me away, and carried me to a gurney. The insanity of that moment penetrated my shock, and suddenly I couldn’t get the words out fast enough.
“How is he? Where are they taking him? God, he took off her head.” I babbled, and Vasquez reassured me that everything would be okay, as EMTs carted me to the ambulance. Despite my protests, a paramedic gave me something to relax. And the world faded away.
I awoke in the hospital. And although I was certain that no more than a few hours had passed, Claude sat at my bedside.
“How is he?” I croaked out.
My partner reached out, water-filled cup in hand, and had me take a drink from the straw. I took a quick sip and the cool water was like a lozenge on my throat. “Claude,” I insisted, my voice stronger for the moisture.
“He’s fine. Or he will be. He’s in surgery now, but you can see him after. Your injuries are treated. They may even let you go home today. But you’ll be feeling those cracked ribs and that broken nose for a while.”
As if summoned by Claude’s words, pain suddenly flared from my wounds. My whole body ached—my ribs especially when I took a breath. My face hurt. And I was forced to breathe through my mouth. A bandage covered my nose.
“I’ll get a nurse to give you another shot—”
“Wait,” I said. Realizing how nasally I sounded, I lowered my voice. “Tell me what happened. After. And how did you get here so damn fast?”
“I flew out immediately after you texted and then wouldn’t answer your phone.”