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TWENTY YEARS LATER...
He had moved beyond the point of pain.
Weeks had passed since Sebastian Santiago felt anything except bone-deep numbness. His carefully constructed shields remained in place while his beast prowled, hidden inside him. For now, it would wait in that dark, secret part of himself. And endure.
All to survive. To protect Rafe. He couldn't lead his brother here, to this place. To these soulless bastards. He couldn't let them know that he wasn't alone. That others like him existed.
Bending his head at an odd angle against the moldy stone at his back, he watched the female beside him drag a blood-red nail across his chest. With moonrise so close, Annika was exceptionally vicious today. Not that she had ever been a cupcake with him. She had declared him her special pet the first day he arrived. Her nail increased its pressure, breaking skin as she drew a jagged line through his flesh. His chest surged against her hand, but he held silent as blood welled up, more black than red in the darkened cell.
Water dripped somewhere, a monotonous, lonely sound. He counted each drip, letting it occupy his thoughts. Ping. Ping. Ping. His tongue salivated, yearning to find the source and press his parched lips to it. They'd fed him this morning, but hadn't bothered to supply water. Maybe they would remember tomorrow.
The ancient ground pulsed beneath him, cold with fallen blood. His. And the others that came before. Every full moon his captors gorged themselves. And blood ran. Swam down the walls. A corrugated river through the old building's bones. He smelled it still. Could taste it in the air.
He inhaled harder, pastwood, rock and mortar, past the taint of blood. A distant whiff of the world outside teased his nose, calling to him. Freedom where the air smelled fresh, wet from the rain he had heard last night and the wash of sea at the city's every side.
He closed his eyes, imagining he was out there. Instead of a dozen feet below earth where his nights and days were consumed in dark torment.
His eyes adjusted to the blackness with ease, seeing the movements and faces around him. A second female sidled near. An animal slinking closer. The coppery tang of blood seeped from her every pore. She pulled her dress over her head, revealing her sleek body. Catriona, he thought her name. Remember their names. Know each and every one so you can kill them later. He never once questioned his survival. He was a hard man to kill. Man. His lips curved cruelly, a harsh breath of laughter escaping him.
Annika frowned and dug her hand into his face, forcing his attention back on her. Greedy bitch. Her talon-like fingers delved through the bristly growth of beard. The smell of his own blood on her hand filled his nose.
She spoke to him in her tongue. He spoke several languages, but his Turkish was rusty. Even so, it had improved vastly since his imprisonment. "What is wrong, my pet?" she demanded in her guttural voice. "Our games amuse you?"
Their hands slithered like serpents on his body. Catriona bent over his chest and lapped up his blood with the rough rasp of her tongue. As if the taste of him was too much, she groaned and bit down. He surged against the force of her bite, eyes squeezing shut as the bitch made a snack of him with her blunt little teeth.
Annika shoved Catriona aside and bent to taste from where she had carved her mark on his chest. Catriona took exception and slapped her. Annika came up hissing fury, and the other female backed down, dipping those eerie pewter eyes. A strict code of hierarchy existed within packs. Clearly Annika held more rank.
Annika returned to him.
He forced himself away, floating outside himself, watching like a spectator as the two bitches played with him, a mouse in their paws. As they had done for months now.
Two moonrises had passed since they captured him off the streets. Two moonrises he had endured all manner of depravities. They enjoyed his resilience, their freedom to torture him again and again.
Annika's hand gripped his cock, her touch soft and coaxing, directly opposite from the savagery that edged her features.
The only time they ever treated him to gentleness was when they wanted to rouse him. Physically, he could not prevent himself from responding. His body had become his worst enemy his greatest weakness. No matter how he loathed them, they succeeded in using him.
The scrape of hinges filled the air momentarily, saving him from the females' appetites. A warm blast of air swept into the frigid cell, accompanied by light. The suddenness of it stung his eyes. He held a hand over his face, squinting to see who his newest tormentor would be.
Gunter stood there. The pack alpha had made only two appearances since Sebastian's capture. Once at the beginning of his captivity, and another a month ago...to check on his progress.
With a snap of his fingers, the two females left Sebastian's side, their heads dipped in deference to the pack's master. With lingering glances full of dark promise, they left him alone with the alpha.
Gunter entered the cell, his well-tailored linen slacks and white shirt a stark contrast to the dungeon that had become Sebastian's world.
Standing over Sebastian, he grimaced at the sight of his soiled and naked body, shaking his head. "You look like shit."
Sebastian levered himself up on his elbows. The chains rattled, the manacles at his ankles and wrists pulling, digging into bone. His skin had long rubbed free. Raw muscle and sinew hung in torn tatters. Until free of the manacles, his body could not regenerate.
"Your hospitality has lacked somewhat."
"Indeed?" The alpha cocked his head to the side, amusement lacing his voice. "Any number of men would be glad for the attention you've been given. Fucked daily by beautiful women. What complaint can you possibly have?"
Sebastian's lip curled. "Is that what you call them? Women? I think sewer rats a more apt description."
Gunter tossed back his head with a laugh. After a moment, he sobered, his silver eyes a steady molten stream. "All for naught, it would seem. None of them are breeding. It appears we are not a compatible species, after all. Shame."
Sebastian tensed, both relieved and alarmed. Since he never made it a habit to sleep with lycans, he had not known if he could impregnate any of the females who had used him for stud in the last weeks.
Gunter continued, "Unfortunate, I know. I cannot breed your special talents into my pack. So what shall I do with you?" He cocked his head in contemplation, tapping his lip. The room's shadows cast menacing lights to his features.
"I've an idea," Sebastian murmured, lifting one manacled wrist to his propped knee as if he were not chained to a wall in a dungeon. "You can let me go."
Gunter tsked. "So you can continue picking off my kind at your leisure? I have enough to worry about as it is without setting some hybrid loose who fancieshimself the annihilator of my race."
Sebastian shrugged, trying to appear unaffected as he lied, "Who says I have to continue my ways?" Hunting his distant brethren was what Sebastian did best. Until now, until he'd been captured, he'd excelled at it. He would never stop.
"No. Can't have you running about," he continued as if Sebastian hadn't spoken. "I've other problems. We're at war with a particularly bothersome cell of lycans on the rise in the west."
There'd always been feuding between packs. A territorial species, they could never come to an accord, which was man's greatest defense against them. "You mean I might be lucky enough and you might kill each other off."
Gunter's eyes glittered an unholy silver. "I had hoped you would be a useful weapon. And you may yet."
Unease crawled through his chest, cracking at his armor of numbness, just a fissure, but the first crack nonetheless. "How is that?"
"I need merely convince you to join our side."
Sebastian snorted. "That will never happen." He possessed a soul. Nothing would change that...change him into a demon that glutted himself every moonrise and sank deeper and deeper into damnation. He wasn't damned. No matter that his mother spent her life reminding him that at his core he was Satan's spawn.
"Oh, it will happen." Gunter strode several feet and lifted Sebastian's breakfast tray from where Annika had kicked it in her haste to have him this morning. Before the day's depravities began, he had licked his bowl of oatmeal clean, desperate for the nourishment. "You might just be a half-breed dog, but the half of you that's like me will guarantee it will happen." He rolled a finger against the inside of his bowl, then tasted. "Hmm. Honey. Sweet. But your next meal will be even sweeter of the human variety."
Blood rushed to Sebastian's head, and he grasped at his roiling emotions, desperate to keep them in check, buried deep where they could not be detected by his brother a world away. He'd lasted this long, he could hang on longer. He had to.
"Never fear, I shall make certain it's something delectable. Female, of course. And young. The freshest is always young."
He surged against his chains, the steel striking his wrist bones with a clang that should have been agony...but only paled beside the horror of the alpha's words. "You bastard "
Laughing, Gunter strode from the cell. The heavy door clanged shut after him, the bolt sliding home the final sound in the charged silence.
Sebastian dropped his head to his bare knees, his fingers digging cruelly into his flesh. His heart raced. Emotion rose hot and thick in his throat, choking, ready to spill free.
No, no, no, no...
If they starved him and trapped him with a human, who knew how long he could fight his instinct to survive, how long before he became one of them...animals ruled by hunger?
Then he would be utterly and irrevocably lost. The fate his mother always feared would be his.
A flash of memory filled his head. A night long ago. A hundred years past. He lay in bed. A boy. His twin slept soundly beside him. The wind outside their mountain cottage howled, shaking the shutters. Only firelight illuminated the sparse confines.
His mother emerged over the two of them, a knife poised, ready to strike. Then she crumbled, sobbing, unable to kill the pair of demons she had spawned. He had watched her from thinly parted eyes as she staggered across the room and dropped to the hearth before the fire, the dagger still clutched in her hand. He knew then. Knew that whatever he was didn't deserve life.
Unfortunate that she had not found the strength of will. Unfortunate that a mere knife would not have ended his life. For he now sat a prisoner in a rotting cell...waiting for the beast within to surface and devour whatever hapless female they chose to toss at him. Maybe his mother should have finished him then and spared him spared the world.
Emotion burned through him, incinerating all shields he had constructed. He could no longer fight it. Closing his eyes, he rolled his head against the cold wall, unable to stop the despair from flowing free.
Rafe Santiago woke with a scream thick in his throat. Instantly, his wife was beside him, wrapping her arms around his sweat-dampened chest in a fierce hold.
"Rafe, what is it?"
"Sebastian," he spit out between gasps. "He's in trouble."
His eyes locked with Kit's. The green pulled him in, a calming balm to the stark horror he had just felt. His brother's horror. They had always felt a connection, a bond that could stretch across the ocean which separated them.
Seb had felt Rafe's turmoil when he turned Kit into one of them a hybrid lycan, a dovenatu, a rare species created through the mating of a lycan with a female descendant of Etienne Marshan the world's first lycan.
Kit's voice swept through him. "Then we'll find him."
Slowly, he nodded. Rafe had been unable to reach his brother for months now. Not unusual. Sebastian was like that. Aloof. Solitary. He had broken free from Rafe years ago. Still, Rafe had suspected something was wrong. Whenever he tried to tap into his brother's head, he only got gray static.
He suspected. And now he knew.
Rising from the bed, he faced the window, staring down into the yard and beyond at the gently swelling waters of the bay. The swing on the porch where he and Kit sat after dinner creaked in the breeze.
"Did you...sense where he is?"
He recalled the dream, saw the awful room, felt Seb's pain, his battered body as if it were his own.
Seb's tormentor had spoken in Turkish. "Turkey. The last time I heard from him he was hunting a pack in Vienna. Something took him east. I can track him." He splayed a hand against the cool glass, fingers curling, pressing as though he would shatter the delicate barrier. "We'll need help."
He felt her move behind him. Her small hand came to rest on his shoulder. His brother would never have been taken easily. Only an army of lycans could bring him down. They would need their own to go after him.
"Darius," he said.
"Gideon," she added.
He nodded. The four of them would be a force for any army to face, mortal or otherwise.
Copyright © 2009 by Sharie Kohler