Gideon paused once, turning to look back in the direction of the house. How could he go forward to fight when every fiber of his being screamed out against it? Wanted only to go back? Gabriel, sensing his brother’s wavering resolve, turned back, nudged him along. His eyes, a darker gold than Gideon’s own, their cast faintly green in the night, were full of sympathy.
That, and urgency.
Gideon started forward again, but slowly. Knowing it was right didn’t make it any easier.
The chapel, little more than one crumbling wall and an overgrown foundation now, rose before them. Behind them, the lights of the mansion house twinkled merrily in the bitter cold. Mockingly. They spoke of a warmth Gideon doubted he would ever feel again.
Because there was more afoot tonight than he could yet understand. Beneath everything else, the scents of those he hunted, of the night itself, there was something even more ominous. Tonight, he scented blood.
It was not unthinkable that it might be his own.
One by one, Malcolm, Gabriel, then Gideon stepped over broken stone, moss, and vine into what had once been the inside of the holy place. Malcolm went a few paces, then stopped, issued a warning growl. Gideon moved quickly to his side, and immediately saw what had prompted that reaction; a passageway beneath the far wall, once obviously well-hidden, now gaped open beside a haphazard pile of wood and rock. Instead of blackness, the opening revealed a faint glow. From far beneath them, a thrumming, hypnotic song began to rise, growing louder and more intensely beautiful with each breath they took.
The three Wolves stood still, caught in the web cast by the unearthly music, like nothing Gideon had ever even dreamed before. He closed his eyes and inhaled deeply, wanting to drink it in like water, like air.
Then an animal’s roar of pain ripped through his trance, rending that fleeting sense of peace in two. Gideon shot forward then, pushing past Malcolm to lead the way down the ancient and narrow steps into God-knew-what. Racing, hoping he was not already too late.
He knew that voice, even through the distortion of its pain.
Just as he knew that the blood he’d smelled, sensed, permeating the night, had already begun to flow.
Gideon moved like lightning, that odd sense of becoming bigger, stronger, somehow more with him again, just as it had been the night Carly was bitten. The stairway curved endlessly downward, into cool, dark earth. Gideon could sense Gabriel and Malcolm fast at his heels, though they made no sound. The song that had so enchanted him grew louder still, but some barely perceptible change had occurred. Instead of hope, it was now colored with deep and aching sorrow.
There was another shriek, closer to them now, and then another.
Not Dad. Not that time.
It was small comfort, but Gideon clung to it. It was all the hope he had left.
Suddenly, and without warning, the steps ended. A heavy wooden door stood open, a blessing at his current speed, and Gideon shot through the opening into a cacophony of light, sound.
Gideon barely registered the fiercely glowing Lia Fαil before him, the thing he had sworn to protect with his life, the reason for his Pack’s existence. It was the rest of the scene that washed over him in a blinding flash, only pieces catching in his mind to register.
His father, in a pool of blood, sprawled before the Stone.
Ian … Good Christ, Ian …
Two Wolves, one of them Moriah, mutilated, nearly ripped apart.
Malachi, eyes gleaming madness, paws dripping red, atop the Stone itself.
The last, Gideon finally fixed upon, snarling his rage as black fury flooded him, eclipsing everything in his soul but an outright lust for revenge.
Malachi only grinned at him, tongue lolling, and at Malcolm and Gabriel, who now flanked him. His teeth were bared, ready to strike. And Gideon saw that his cousin’s mind, after all the years raised on a diet of hate and fear, had at last broken. It was time to end this. After all of Malcolm’s worries, here was only Malachi. It seemed it was time to put the beast out of his misery.
Gideon started forward, giving a nod to the others.
Strike now. End this.
He had seen Duncan’s chest rise and fall, however weakly. It might be that there was still time.
Until Malachi did the thing that had all three of them stopping in their tracks, unable to do anything but watch in horror. In a voice surprisingly clear, unnervingly strong, Malachi ended fifteen hundred years of embracing the
And let in the darkness.
As the ground beneath their feet began to tremble, Gideon reached out with his mind to the woman who carried his heart, hoping she could sense him, that she was still holding on.
God keep you, my love. I will come for you.
The others fought for the Pack. In his heart, Gideon fought for her.
“In the name of the Drakkyn, I command thee open!”
Malcolm had been right. The Stone of Destiny was a door.
And it was open.
CARLY LAY ON THE FLOOR IN THE DARKNESS, FLICKERING in and out of consciousness. With every wracking convulsion of her body, she could feel herself slipping a little further away.
Tired … so tired.
She understood now, understood everything. It was little wonder that Gideon had tried to run away from her, if this was what happened when werewolves and humans tried to get together. And what was in him … oh, it was so far from human. Carly felt as though she were being devoured alive, fighting to hold on to herself with slipping fingers as she dangled above some awful abyss. What was down there, in the blackness? She didn’t know, but it had sharp, sharp teeth. And it was hungry.
She couldn’t handle it, couldn’t control it. Her fingernails lengthened, then retracted. Fur began to burst painfully through her skin, only to disappear, then reappear again. The pain and struggle had gone on for so long now that she was just barely conscious, and too weak to move. Carly didn’t want to die. But she knew, with a sort of dull certainty, that she was losing the battle.
It would soon be time to raise the white flag and be done with it.
If only Gideon had stayed with her, Carly thought wistfully. Maybe she could have tried to battle just a little longer. Maybe not. But at least she wouldn’t be here alone, with only the indifferent moon to watch her final struggles.
Then, as though she had summoned him with a thought, she heard Gideon in her mind, as loud as though he were right beside her.
“God keep you, my love. I will come for you.”
And with his voice, she was where he was, felt what he felt in a sudden rush that dissipated as quickly as it came upon her. In the air, the pungent tang of anger, fear. A rush of adrenaline. Horror and wonder as the door opened … the door …
“Door? What door?” Carly scrabbled at the edge of the feeling, trying to catch it, to see more, but it was gone. She would have wept with frustration, if she’d had any energy left. She had touched him, somehow. She knew it. And the scent of him, the exotic, singular scent he carried with him, surrounded her still. Carly drank it in greedily, surprised to find that it bolstered her, even that hint of his presence.
There was trouble. She wished she could get up, to go to him, help if she could. On her small burst of energy, Carly gingerly began to draw herself up to a sitting position. She was so close.
A growl tore from her throat as some unseen force slammed her back down, hard, against the floor. And she paid for her effort, because the pain returned in full force, trying, she felt, to tear her in half. Carly arched and clawed at the floor.
She was at war with her own body. How was that something she could ever win?
Desperate, defeated, she pushed her mind towards Gideon’s, searching blindly. She needed to make him understand. She needed to say goodbye.
Gideon, I’m so sorry, babe … I can’t …
It ripped into her this time, the snarling, tearing claws in her leg, a sensation like a fist to her gut. And the coppery scent of blood, filling her nostrils, choking her.
Carly gagged as it left her again, though this time, she had seen. A doorway suspended above a beautiful black stone, the land behind it straight out of one of her nightmares. It was full of lightning in a violet sky, craggy mountains in the distance that seemed to absorb all light, blacker than Gideon’s Stone, black as pitch.
And surprisingly, blessedly, Gideon’s face. It wasn’t the face he’d worn when he’d left her. Rather, it was the face she’d been drawn to, had stroked, the night she’d found him. Covered in midnight fur, yes, but with the same honey-colored eyes that burned, it seemed, just for her. Two faces, but always her one Gideon. And she would know him, love him, no matter which he wore. Because in essence, there was no difference. None at all.
The realization, so simple, left her shocked and breathless nonetheless.
Was that the key? Could it possibly be just that simple?
She’d been fighting so hard, struggling to stay alive against the thing all instinct insisted was killing her. It would go against everything she knew, all she’d learned, to stop pushing back. But she was fighting herself, her own blood … and in doing so, killing herself right along with it.
It was all in her. Different blood. Same Carly.
It was a theory, the last she had. And something told her she was right. Although, she consoled herself, if she wasn’t, there would at least be no one around to point that out.
Carly closed her eyes, took a deep breath.
Summoned the beast.
Come to me.
As the burning beneath her skin became an inferno, invisible knives stabbing at every inch of her, she saw only Gideon’s lopsided smile, his eternally tousled hair. His silken fur, his gleaming teeth.
He’d said she would be his only love.
So she would belong to him. Forever.
Incredible pressure built within her, pushing and squeezing, tearing as her body began to rearrange itself. To Change.
For you. Because I love you. I love you …
When the fur broke through, when the claws and fangs emerged from tender flesh, Carly started on one final, agonized scream.
And ended on a bone-chilling howl.
Carly staggered to her feet, panting, aching. And free. She was alive, had never felt so completely alive. She had not lost herself. But still … she was more.