Sealed with a Curse Page 49

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CHAPTER 33

“No!” My roars were cut off by a sharp tightening around my throat. Something yanked me free from Emme’s force. I crashed hard on the ground, struggling to breathe.

My body twisted and buckled. Each time I fought my way to my feet, I was immediately brought back down, until I finally succumbed from lack of breath.

Silver satin ballet slippers stepped into my line of vision, splattering mud against my face. “Relax your hold,” the dark-haired witch from the compound whispered quietly. “Your master doesn’t want Celia to die. Yet.”

The whip around my neck loosened enough so I could pass air, but not much. I protruded my claws and cut through the leather strap. I rolled back, only for a second whip to cut off my breathing again the moment I struggled to my knees.

My head spun from lack of oxygen, and tears blurred my vision. The whip loosened once more and my hands were roughly bound behind me. This time I was too breathless and weak to act.

So were my sisters. Mud soaked their clothes, and they bled from their mouths and noses. They must have been squashed by the weight of their bloodlusters. Zhahara had been huge. Four males, all bigger, all hungrier, all deadlier, danced eagerly from side to side, smacking their lips and drooling as they held my sisters like dolls. They couldn’t wait to eat.

Us.

Taran swore under her breath, cringing every time her vamp’s tongue extended near her jaw. Shayna kicked futilely. Emme whimpered and shut her eyes tight. A large contusion swelled across her crown. She’d banged her head. It would take time for her body to heal her and her mind to act. Time we didn’t have.

The witch’s head angled as she regarded me, her coal-colored eyes filling with hatred. More hatred than should have been possible for someone who didn’t know me. “Come, my children,” she said, her voice oddly childlike considering the darkness surrounding her. “Your master is waiting.”

Oh, great. Time to meet Daddy.

I was half dragged through the mud. The infected vamp holding me laughed each time I stumbled to my feet. Each time I rose, I grew stronger. Each time he yanked on his hold, I grew angrier. And each time he laughed, I knew he’d die.

And that I’d be the one to kill him.

Misha’s gut-wrenching screams made my head snap up. So did the currents of power drifting from the threshold of the demolished door. The vamp holding me hissed. “Why isn’t he dead yet?”

Yet?

The vamp tugged me harder through a large kitchen where entranced women bustled at tasks on countertops and busied themselves over simmering pots. Their eyes glazed over from hypnosis. Chunks of skin had knitted over their horribly mauled wrists and necks, perspiration giving their grotesque pallor a sickly glow. These women teetered on the edge of death. Yet the force driving their efforts compelled their frail bodies forward.

Vegetables steamed in pots, rolls baked in the oven, and lamb roasted in the rotisserie. The aroma of food would have sickened me, considering the state of the women who prepared it, yet the scent was barely noticeable over the escalating fragrance of vampiric power and Misha’s tormented bellows.

A tremendous surge of the energy caused the vampires dragging us down the dark wood-paneled corridors to pause. God, it was so strong it pressed like a wall against my chest. I coughed and gagged, desperately trying to draw a full breath as we crossed into another room.

We entered a tremendous antechamber decorated à la Museum of Natural History meets ghetto bizzaro. A chandelier fashioned from dinosaur bones and lit with candles hung from the center of the wood-beamed ceiling, illuminating the virtual gallery of ancient relics. Gaudy furniture made from animal skins and accented with leopard-fur pillows had been pushed out to create space within the two-story-high room. Stuffed animal heads from elephants, bears, wolves, to freaking zebras were fastened to the walls between the tapestries and paintings in thick brass frames. Armored knights encased in giant glass boxes stood on either side of the marble fireplace. It seemed like a stressed-out museum curator had thrown up in here…a demented, cruel, and masochistic curator.

Misha’s four remaining vampires were fastened to the large wooden beams by chains. The hum of the metal told me they’d been reinforced with magic. The witch had too much power. She definitely topped my “needing to die” list.

Misha’s family hissed with rage, fighting against the chains. Tears stained their blood-smeared cheeks. They barely noticed us enter for how badly they hurt for Misha, cringing with each roar from their master’s pain. Their hatred could have singed the pillars. They wanted to spill blood, and, as the bloodlusters watching the show parted like a curtain, I very much wanted to give them the opportunity.

All I could see was the vampire’s bare, muscular back as his arm sliced across Misha’s chest with a cursed gold dagger. But his crew-cut blond hair gave him away.

Petro. Misha’s so-called brother. The so-called weakling.

Good God. Never underestimate the underdog.

Petro carved into Misha’s body with an arc of his hand, appearing more an artist painting a masterpiece than a monster cleaving into a being who breathed and hurt.

Petro glanced over his shoulder. The polite smile he usually demonstrated was gone, replaced by one so filled with malice, I wanted to cringe from it. Except the growing need to make hamburger out of his throat kept my gaze locked on his jugular. No, Petro wasn’t weak. He was simply a master manipulator and one hell of an actor.

“Good evening, Celia.” He stepped aside, giving me a full view of Misha. My heart clenched. I tried to look away, but my captor yanked my head back so I could take in the state of my guardian angel.

Misha’s head drooped against his chest, draping his blood-soaked hair against his knees. Droplets of red fell like rain against the dark marble floor. He wheezed with every ragged breath. The hilts of two gold daggers protruded from his thighs, anchoring him into the large wooden throne and sending the cursed gold to poison his blood. Like the damn gold chains wrapped around his open, nonhealing wounds weren’t enough.

Misha slowly raised his head—a miracle, considering Petro’s efforts should have killed him by now. Petro had made mincemeat of Misha’s once beautiful face. His strong gray eyes were fogged over from pain. But when he fixed them on me, they cleared like the sun breaking through an ugly storm, showing me his fury and the strength that remained. I couldn’t hear his thoughts, but his unsaid words rang clear. He wasn’t ready to die. And I wasn’t ready to let him.

Petro drove his dagger into a side wooden table and removed the thick rubber gloves he wore. He extended his arms so his servants could circle him and lick Misha’s splattered blood clean from his body. “What’s the matter, Celia? You don’t look well, my darling.”

I always look this way before I kill someone. “Don’t call me your darling. I felt sorry for you!”

Petro smiled, his familiar gentle demeanor returning, although this time I knew it was all a lie. “Everyone did, darling. That’s what made my coup that much easier. All I needed was time, and a little patience.” He glanced over at Misha in a strangely adoring manner. “Time I likely wouldn’t have had if my brother hadn’t spared me from our grand master’s destruction.”

I closed my eyes tight, trying to calm my raging beast. The whip would crush my larynx before I finished changing. But my increasing fury made it hard to focus. Petro had used Misha. Hell, he’d used all of us. Prick. “Tell me, Petro. Was it you or your witch who discovered how to magic the bloodlust into viral form?”

I opened my eyes to catch Petro’s frown. He didn’t like my putting a damper on his big reveal. “The theory was mine. I just needed to find the right enchantress strong enough to work the spell.” He approached the witch, who continued to regard my sisters and me with loathing, calming only slightly when Petro kissed her lips. He whispered against her mouth, “My love uses her blood and magic to create the virus. Thus a part of her lives inside the infected vampires, permitting her to control them.”

Petro’s witch refocused her dark, hateful stare on me, but otherwise said nothing. Petro stepped away from her and took a breath just to flex his supersize vamp mojo. Sheer waves of vampiric force rippled across the room, rattling the windows and shoving us back. I grimaced. I didn’t like the feel of Petro, and neither did my inner beast. The power that pampered and played around him dug needles into my skin and pushed them out through my pores. Damn it. Petro had never been weak, but was rather freakishly strong. Strong enough to hide the true extent of his power. No wonder he shook and resembled an ad for Right Guard; concealing that much power must have been like trying to brace back a crumbling dam. Now he held nothing back. Not that he could have. After all, he’d absorbed the power of three ancient vampires after we’d killed them for him.

“Where’s the fourth judge?”

Petro scowled. He didn’t like my interrupting his show of force either. “Upstairs, waiting like a good little puppet for slaughter.”

“The judge isn’t with them?” Shayna asked. Her voice trembled and stayed low; she didn’t want to attract attention to herself, but still wanted answers.

I shook my head. Big mistake, seeing how the whip had rubbed my skin raw. “No. Just Zhahara…until they no longer needed her.”

The corners of Petro’s smile lifted. “You have it all figured out, don’t you?”

“I’m smarter than I look.”

Taunting a master vampire of his caliber probably fell under the same danger category as swimming in a pool filled with anglerfish, or wearing red at a werebull convention. But if Petro targeted me, it would distract him from hurting my sisters…at least for the moment.

“I take it you heard of Zhahara and Misha’s breakup and used her anger to get her to do what you wanted.”

“Every great conqueror must take advantage of opportunity when it arises.” Petro spun like a top and kicked Misha in the face. Bones broke with a sickening crunch. The vampires hissed, except for Misha.

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