Nightshade Page 87

“She brought me here. I think I know why.” The color leached from his face. “I just can’t believe it.”

“Can’t believe what? Who did this to you?”

“That word in the prophecy.” His voice shook. “The one I was having trouble with.”

“You mean ‘gift’? What does that have to do with anything?” Why on earth is he talking about the book when he’s tied up in a forest?

When I said “gift,” he shuddered.

“Yeah, that one.” His face turned greenish, and I worried he would vomit. “It doesn’t mean ‘gift,’ Calla.”

“What does it mean?” I tugged the knots binding his wrists loose, wincing when I saw the rawness of his skin beneath the rope.

“It means ‘sacrifice.’”



“Calla.” Shay was holding my arms, keeping me upright. “Did you hear me?”

“Sacrifice?” I repeated, feeling nothing but the cold, black chasm of night that wanted to swallow me whole. “Who did this to you?”

“Flynn,” he said. “She came to the house after you left. Knocked me out. Ether, I think it was ether.”

“Yes.” A smoky voice came from behind the tree trunk a moment before Lana Flynn stepped partly into view, still half cloaked by darkness. A wicked smile split her face, her teeth gleaming fluorescent in the pale wash of moonlight. “And now you’ve ruined the surprise, Calla. Don’t you know it’s bad luck for the bride to see her prey before the kill? Oh, wait, that’s Ren seeing your dress, isn’t it? Silly me.”

Sacrifice. Our sacrifice.

“No.” I shuddered, pushing Shay behind me, shielding him. “It can’t be him. They wouldn’t.”

Her smile curved like a hooked dagger. “Well, well. It seems there is much more going on here than I first imagined. What a treat.”

Flynn’s eyes gleamed with pleasure as she absorbed my stricken expression.

“I warned you about straying from your path, Calla. Perhaps now you’ll see how things really are. Renier clearly wants you. If you’re willing to make the sacrifice with him, he might forgive the error of your ways.”

“You’re making the sacrifice?” Shay scrambled away, staring at Flynn and me, horror creeping over his face. “You and Ren?”

“Of course,” Flynn said. “What do you think the fuss over this union is all about? You’re the featured entertainment.”

When I took a step toward Shay, he bared his fangs at me. “Stay where you are.”

“I swear I didn’t know,” I whispered, the forest murmuring dark secrets that filled my ears, making me dizzy. My parents’ conversation, my mother’s insistence about the need for secrecy about what our prey would be, the way she’d paled when I said I knew Shay.

“I didn’t know,” I repeated, dropping to my hands and knees, head spinning. It’s Shay. The sacrifice isn’t going to happen away from the union. It’s part of the union. He’s our prey.

“Courage, little one,” Flynn purred. “You won’t have to bear this much longer. Be a good girl and go to the grove. They’re waiting for you. I’ll bring Shay along shortly. Right after Ren kisses his bride.”

As if bidden by her words, the air swelled with a chorus of wolves’ howls, calling for their alpha. My mother had been right—I couldn’t mistake the meaning of the pack’s cries. I was being summoned. But the sound didn’t beckon me; it was only frightening, deadly. I am no longer one of you. I will not let this happen.

“No!” I drew a hissing breath and struggled to my feet. “We’re leaving. Now.”

Shay shrank from me, flattening himself against a pine tree. I caught the scent of his wolf form and knew he was struggling not to change, trapped between fear and fury.

“I would never hurt you,” I said. “You have to trust me.”

Please believe me, Shay. You have to know how much I care about you.

He scanned the forest, desperate, searching for an escape route.

“Shay, please,” I whispered, stretching my hand toward him. “I love you.”

He went completely still. I didn’t know what frightened me most—what I’d said, what he would say, what was happening all around us. A minute passed where I couldn’t breathe.

“I know,” he finally said, reaching for me. “Let’s get out of here.”

A sound spilled from Nurse Flynn’s throat, something between a shout and a hiss, like splintering bones. “You aren’t going anywhere.”

The shadows at her back began to move and my skin went icy. If wraiths were with her, we didn’t stand a chance. But as I watched, I realized that the dark shapes moved with her, as if they were attached to her very limbs. Her shoulders shuddered when she stepped into full view, immense leathery appendages stretching out around her. Wings.

Shay’s eyes bulged. “What the—”

I dropped to the ground, an angry white wolf, stalking around the succubus. She laughed and flicked her wrist. A long whip appeared from thin air and snaked from her hand. The length of the cord undulated as if it were made of shadows rather than leather.

I leapt out of the way as the whip cracked toward me. It struck my flank, making me yelp. The cut of the leather was nothing compared to the wave of despair that hit me along with the blow.

I was paralyzed by a vision of Ren attacking Shay. I heard my own screams and Efron’s laughter. Sticky, tar-like emotions caught in my mind as they emanated from the gash that the whip had made. She laughed again, narrowed eyes moving to Shay.

“I may not be permitted to kill you, Scion, but we can still play.”

She tilted her head back and I barked a warning. Shay rolled out of the way as a stream of fire shot out from her mouth, scorching the tree where he’d been standing.

My eyes fixed on the whip and its shadow aura. I crouched down and then lunged at her. She shrieked with agony as my jaw clamped down on her wrist, crunching through bone. I jerked to the side, ripping her hand away from her arm. Blood poured onto the ground. I rushed around her, smelling my singed fur as her spouting fire chased me. Flynn screamed in a language I’d never heard, and I was grateful for the deafening howls that filled the air; without them the sounds of our struggle would have led Guardians and Keepers straight to us.

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