A Cursed Embrace Page 40

Aric leapt into the fray the moment the vamp fell limp. Misha forced his hand through the decapitated vamp’s chest and ripped out his heart. “I knew you would survive, kitten.”

That made one of us.

Bits of cinder block exploded like shrapnel as Matar embedded Uri and Anara into the retaining wall. His daggerlike claws pierced through Martin’s and Makawee’s larynxes, and out the base of their skulls. Aric’s chest rumbled in challenge, attacking his serpent tail and distracting Matar from completing his decapitation of the Elders.

I charged Matar, knowing they needed help. Misha sped close behind me. We hit him at once, me slamming him with the full impact of my body and Misha jumping on his shoulders, trying to sever his head. Matar didn’t budge, despite our powerful strikes. I attempted to shift him into the earth. It was like trying to force a brick through steel. He was too big and I remained too weak. So I clawed and bit through his thick hide, desperate to bring him down.

Revulsion swept through my body. Matar tasted evil. I ignored my instincts to stop biting him, thinking of Shayna and every bit of suffering this bastard had caused.

Matar flung the listless bodies of the Elders and turned his freed claws on us. One went into Misha’s chest and the other rammed into my left side. We let out unearthly roars of agony as he suspended us in the air. When his claws penetrated deeper, the torture became unbearable. I lost my focus and changed back. I thought I was going to die, only to have Matar howl in pain and drop us.

Aric held Matar’s severed tail between his deadly fangs. It jerked violently like a separate entity despite the necrosis setting in. Matar bellowed with fury and kicked Aric in the chest, breaking his ribs in a heart-clenching crunch and launching him into the prison’s outer wall. Aric yelped upon impact, then collapsed, unmoving.

I struggled to stand, barely able to move. Misha lunged to his feet and hurtled his body against Matar. To my horror Matar grabbed Misha’s arms and ripped them off his body. Misha dropped to the ground, bleeding and screaming.

Aric woke with a start and catapulted into Matar’s chest, knocking him over. His potent jaws crushed Matar’s sternum, breaking through the bone and opening the cavity. Aric was going to kill him. There was no doubt in my mind, until Matar nailed Aric across the muzzle, snapping it in half.

Matar stabbed his claws through Aric’s underbelly. Aric thrashed violently, trying to break Matar’s grip. Matar’s body jerked from Aric’s rough motions, and his hard breaths filled the night. He stumbled to a kneeling position, lifting Aric’s huge wolf form over his head.

A long silver spike jetted out from Matar’s knee. My eyes widened, knowing he meant it for Aric’s heart. Matar smiled at my terror. “Aric, be sure to tell Shayna that Celia says hello.”

I shifted underground faster than ever before, resurfacing in a high leap behind Matar. With all I had left, I punched through the back of his skull and grabbed his brain. Out it came, along with most of his spinal column.

My feet hit the ground in sync with Matar’s lifeless form. “Get up from that, a**hole!”

The thunder stopped and the clouds dissipated, revealing a clear night sky full of shimmering stars. All was quiet except for the sound of labored breathing from those struggling to rise to their feet. I rushed to Aric, panting on the ground. He met my gaze and changed, holding me against him while the broken bones of his face realigned and healed.

Weres, vampires, and witches from the Alliance encircled us. So did the Elders, resuming their human forms. To my relief, Misha also rose to his feet. His arms remained scattered somewhere in the yard, but he had stopped bleeding, thanks in part to the charitable tongues of the Catholic schoolgirls.

Aric released me as Uri and Anara extracted their bloodied and battered figures from the wall and limped toward us. Uri smiled at me pleasantly, an impressive feat considering part of his face was still at large. “Well done, Celia,” he said, with a slight nod.

Makawee and Martin also approached, smiling. Martin’s deep baritone rang out. “You were right, Aric. Celia is a formidable warrior.”

“Yes,” interrupted Anara. “A pity she’s not one of us.”

My head dropped. After all this madness, I still didn’t rank on the “Worthy Females” list. I bent and lifted Matar’s leftovers. And threw them in Anara’s face. “Fuck you, if you don’t think I’m good enough!”

I ignored the gasps from the crowd, and the approving nods from the vampires. All I cared about was finding Shayna. I changed and bolted, not knowing where to begin, yet knowing I couldn’t stop until I found her.

Aric caught up to me in wolf form, ignoring Anara’s commands to return. We’d rounded the first building when Taran screamed my name. Harrowing fear spread through my soul. We sprinted toward her voice. It led us to an old gymnasium where remnants of the last of the demons scattered in the evening wind. There, in the basement, we located Taran and the others kneeling with their backs to us.

I changed back to human and approached, trembling. They’d found Shayna. Aric placed his arm around me, but it did little to soothe me. I muffled back a scream when I saw what remained of my beautiful sister.

Chunks of Shayna’s body were missing where the demons had feasted. Yet I could still see her struggling to breathe.

Emme convulsed, desperately trying to heal Shayna. Taran cried uncontrollably into her hands. “Emme, please help her,” she begged between hysterical sobs. “Please, Emme!”

Koda wept and rocked Shayna’s limp body against him. “Baby, don’t leave me. I’m nothing without you,” he whispered.

Shayna’s glazed eyes stared blindly at Koda. She attempted to speak, but words failed her. I wanted to cover my ears from their cries and shield my eyes from the torture. But I didn’t, I watched and heard it all.

God, no. Please no.

Emme’s nose bled and her arms quivered. Her normally effervescent aura sizzled in and out. She screamed, whether in frustration or to boost her power, momentarily blinding us with her glow.

Emme’s light receded, turning her skin a sickly gray. It was no use; Shayna’s body was too broken. Her wounds sealed briefly, only to tear back open with a nauseating clatter. At last the strain became too much. Emme released Shayna, collapsing against Bren.

“No! No! No!” Taran screamed.

Koda unleashed a mournful howl, calling forth the powerful rays of pack magic. It saturated the basement, compelling the fangs of his beast to appear. He pulled Shayna closer, plunging his sharp canines deep into her heart. Oh my God.

In his desperation to spare Shayna’s life, Koda attempted to turn her were, risking his life in the process. Except how could I blame him? He and Shayna were true mates. Neither would survive without the other.

Aric lunged at him. “Koda, no!”

Koda swept up Shayna and barreled out the door with my sister draped lifelessly across his arms. The remaining wolves intercepted Aric as he gave chase. “Let him go, Aric,” Gemini said quietly. “There’s nothing you can do for them. The process has already begun.”

Aric roared. “But we’ll lose them both!”

Emme’s and Taran’s hysterical cries filled the room. The wolves and Danny bowed their heads, tears splitting their faces in streaks. I didn’t cry. I just sat there. Everyone seemed to be moving farther from me. I thought I felt someone shake me, but I wasn’t sure.

Bren’s deep voice resonated from somewhere far away. “Celia. Celia!”

Danny’s words sounded rushed. “She’s going into shock. We need to keep her warm.”

• • •

I don’t recall much. Things sort of went blank. It seemed to take forever to pull out of my haze. At first I was only aware of a soft yellow light. Then sounds of terrible cries filled my ears. It took a moment to realize they came from me.

“Stop her before she takes the plane down!” Uri yelled.

Strong arms grabbed my upper body and legs.

Taran pleaded with me over Emme’s frantic weeping. “It’s okay, Celia. It’s okay. You’re safe now. Emme was just trying to heal you. Please calm down, honey,”

“Misha, put her to sleep,” Danny whispered. “You’ll be able to in the state she’s in.”

Aric’s deep warning growl filled my ears as I sensed Misha’s approach. “Silence, wolf,” Misha snapped. “You know I will not harm her.”

“Aric, quit playing jealous boyfriend and let him help her,” Bren urged at my feet.

Misha’s scent filled my lungs and spread through my body. My muscles relaxed and the pounding in my ears faded. A yawn escaped my lips just before I succumbed to a deep sleep.

• • •

I awoke, surrounded by my soft, warm sheets. I was finally home, in my room, in my bed. Aric lay beside me, watching me with sad, tired eyes. “Are you all right?” he asked gently.

My eyes stung before I could speak. “No,” I whispered.

I cried for all we’d endured and for everything yet to come. And I cried for the arms that held me close, that would soon leave me forever.

But Aric didn’t leave me. At least, not right away. He stayed with me all night. He stroked my hair, kissed my face, and whispered words of comfort.

CHAPTER 32

I heard only half of the clergyman’s words. They almost didn’t matter. Time continued to pass slowly as I stared at Shayna. She reminded me of a statue, serene and beautiful. Around us, people wiped their eyes and sniffled, while I continued to stare at my sister’s lovely face.

The clergyman finished his prayer with an “amen” and smiled before motioning to the bride and groom. “And now the vows.”

Shayna passed Emme her flowers so she could clutch her mate’s hands. Koda spoke first. And I knew his words would be the ones to release my tears.

“Shayna, I wasn’t complete until I met you,” he began, the depths of his emotions running rivers down his cheeks. “You were the only one who ever saw past the anger and hurt and chose to love me. You’ll always be my best friend and soul mate. I promise to love you forever.”

Shayna grinned, crying as she spoke. “Koda, you’re my heart, my soul, my pure joy. Thank you for being my strength when I had none. Thank you for being my spirit when mine failed me. Thank you for loving me with all of your being. I promise to love you forever.”

White petals from the wedding arch they stood beneath fell like large snowflakes as the late-October breeze swept across the lake. Tahoe, it seemed, approved of my sister’s union. It didn’t matter that she and Koda hadn’t known each other long. Their love had already proved its strength by surviving the turning process.

Aric and his Warriors had discovered Shayna and Koda days after they’d disappeared. The wolves had expected to find their corpses—not a happy couple ready to sprint to the nearest altar. We didn’t yet know if Shayna had been transformed into a werewolf. We only cared that the attempt had healed her completely.

Aric watched me during their vows. I adjusted the wrap of my midnight blue bridesmaid’s dress, both to shield me from the chill and to give me an excuse not to look at him. It just hurt too damn much. He stood as a groomsman beside Gemini, Bren, Danny, and Liam, the best man. My eyes wandered back to Koda and Shayna, just in time for their kiss. The small group of guests stood and applauded. After the kiss to end all kisses, Shayna skipped down the aisle, easily keeping up with her mate’s long strides. They were followed by Liam and Emme, then Aric, Taran, and Gemini.

Aric glanced at the newlyweds before meeting my eyes as he’d done so many times. He couldn’t hear my thoughts. But he knew my heart. Knew I loved him. Knew I always would. And it still didn’t matter. The demon lord’s destruction hadn’t dissolved the strain between us. It had only solidified Aric’s place in the resurrection of his kind.

My tears dripped faster as Aric followed the happy couple inside the château, where the reception was about to begin. I didn’t want to know a life without him. I didn’t want to wake without those powerful arms swathing me in protection. And I didn’t want a day to pass without meeting his grin with mine. But I would. Because I had no choice, and neither did he.

Danny squeezed my hand and kissed my cheek. He was gentle and sweet, unlike Bren, who grabbed me in a choke hold and dragged me down the aisle. “Come on, Ceel. Time to have fun!”

• • •

“If Helen of Troy’s face launched a thousand ships, Koda’s mug sank them.”

My muffled laughter joined the rest around the hall. Liam continued his toast unaffected, despite Koda’s narrowing eyes. “Koda was the baddest wolf around, well—next to me, of course.” Liam hiked up his pants before pointing around the room. “And Aric, and Gemini, and Heidi . . .” He rubbed his chin thoughtfully. “Oh! and maybe that little girl in the pink dress in the back.”

Even Koda chuckled at that comment.

Liam’s eyes darted over to Shayna, his voice growing soft. “Then he meets this little thing who forever changed his world. Shayna, you smiled and skipped your way into his heart. And that is where you will remain for eternity. Thank you for coming into his life. . . .” He sighed and covered his eyes. “But most of all, thank you for finally getting him housebroken.”

Shayna’s kiss to her groom was probably the only thing that saved Liam’s ass. The couple had abandoned their seats at the head table to hang with us. We laughed a lot. It was just like the great moments we’d had at our house . . . once upon a time when Aric and I were still together.

I’d sat on Bren’s lap after Shayna and Koda chose my seat to make out on. They hadn’t been able to keep their hands off each other. I supposed their near-death experience had brought them ever closer.

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