His witch had come to Ash to save his life, and she'd believed in him, even in the face of those accusations. Now she was trusting him to get her back across the desert to the portal before it closed.
But how long would her conjured night last? When the sun returned, he could be trapped in the middle of the scorching dunes.
He gazed back at that city, knowing he'd never look upon it again. His female didn't belong in this foul place. And since he belonged with her, then neither did he. He didn't care what he had to do, he'd find a way to get her home.
I will take her troubles away....
With that thought in mind, he braced himself against the pain of his injuries and plowed into the desert.
The sands proved hellish in his condition, and more than once he'd gone to his knees. The creatures inhabiting the dunes had spurred him to his feet. When one attacked, Malkom had secured Carrow over his shoulder then slashed out with his claws, roaring to intimidate the beast. 'Twas enough to keep them at bay.
And by the time Carrow's false night had transformed into true darkness, he had the five stones in sight.
Between breaths, he said, "Carrow, we near. Wake."
She did, gazing around in confusion. She said something, but the words were Anglish. Her spell had worn off, and he didn't "uite take her meaning.
He regretted the loss. To hear her voice in his mother tongue...
And he'd savored communicating freely with her, even under those circumstances. But her language was coming to him, building faster and faster on itself.
Once he reached the circle, he lifted her bloody shirt to check her side, finding her healing -
The portal began to open, exactly as she'd said.
This time was momentous for him. Ronath was dead, and now a new life with his mate lay within reach. The armorer's last words whispered through his mind: "You will always lose, even if you kill me today. Soon enough, you will lose her."
Never. Malkom stifled his doubts. She was taking him to her world. I do not always lose, Ronath. Finally, finally, Malkom would win.
He was smiling for the first time.
"It opens," Malkom said, his tone excited. "We go together."
Just before them, a threshold was growing, a swirling black vortex.
"Oh, Malkom, you did it." This steadfast demon, who she'd just trusted with her life, had somehow gotten them here on time. Eyes watering, she raised her hand to lay it against his cheek. "And you're smiling."
Though he still sported bruises, he'd never looked more beautiful to her. The winds streamed his golden plaits around his masculine face. His lips curled as his blue eyes flickered over her.
Even as her heart was breaking, she sensed joy filling his. But she could draw no power from him. Already her magic had been doused, her tor"ue reactivated as promised.
If they double-crossed her, Carrow would retaliate with the wrath of a thousand Furies.
She eased from his arms to stand on her own. He didn't seem to want to let her go. Ah, Hekate, how can I hand him over? She could imagine an army of soldiers mere feet away, ready to tran"uilize him. Though they wouldn't kill Malkom, this betrayal would hurt him so much, maybe irreparably.
No matter if Carrow could find a way to return and free him.
She tried to steel herself, to recall what she was here for. But all she could think about was his sacrifice for her. He'd let them take him to that city, even knowing he'd be tortured and burned alive.
Her beautiful, stalwart demon. On impulse, she stood on her toes and pressed her lips to his. When she drew back, his smile had faded and a purely male expression surfaced. He looked at her as if she'd hung the moon for him, and he wanted to reward her with hours of hot, abandoned sex.
He believed he would claim her soon. Because I promised him he could once we returned to my home. Yet instead of fulfilling the instincts clawing inside him, he'd soon know deception.
With his eyes fixed on her face, he grated, "Bound forever."
Yes, Carrow had long possessed that uni"ue and curious talent - the ability to determine when another had just become a part of her life forever.
From just one meeting, Carrow had known that Elianna would be like a mother to her, and Mari a sister. A week ago, Carrow had looked down at Ruby and seen a daughter.
Earlier, when Malkom had gazed at her, his wife, with such joy, Carrow had recognized in Malkom a partner, a lover.
Fighting her tears, she somehow said, "Yes, Malkom." Think of Ruby, a seven-year-old girl who needs to be free. "Bound forever."
Malkom had had a long life. Such as it was, her mind whispered. She trudged forward and crossed into the brink. Once there, she faced him, meeting his gaze.
I will return for you, Malkom, she inwardly vowed as she beckoned him near....
When Malkom followed the witch, taking her small hand in his, he again thought, I will win. This would be a new life for him.
Shuck off the past, the memories, the nightmares.
The portal was churning and black, steeped in power. His heart raced. He'd never crossed one before, but he'd follow his female - his wife - wherever she led him.
As he stepped across the threshold, the sun shone brightly, even more strongly than in Ash. Though the light blinded his sensitive eyes and burned his skin, he'd take the pain to be with her.
He blinked at the landscape, seeing a blurring explosion of green all around them, like a wall. Green? Scents bombarded him -
The smell of aggression, enemies. He jerked his head around, shoving Carrow behind his back. Can't see...
"Welcome to hell, Slaine," some strange man intoned.
Movement all around them. With his eyes burning, Malkom struggled to analyze the scene. A large, pale-faced man stood at the back. In front of him was a short club-carrying mortal.
More than a dozen mortal soldiers besieged them, weapons at the ready. They were dressed like the ones he'd killed for trespassing on his mountain.
Now they must be bent on revenge.
I've endangered Carrow. Get her away. His gaze darting, he turned back to the portal. Beside the doorway stood a wide-eyed sorceress, but she'd already closed that escape.
The short male calmly ordered, "Seize him."
Malkom drew Carrow closer. "Stay behind me."
But she edged past him to stand next to the sorceress.
"What are you doing, Carrow?"
Her voice a whisper, she said, "Malkom, I'm so sorry." Her eyes brimmed with tears that spilled down her heartbreaking face. Her expression seemed agonized.
No. His mind couldn't grasp this, couldn't comprehend...
"P-please, just go with them - "
"No, Carrow," he insisted, even as realization took hold, that knot tightening in his gut. She'd lured him into a trap. "Channa?"
"I-I didn't have a choice," she said, but he was no longer listening.
"Not you, not you." He gnashed his teeth. "Not you!" he roared with fury.
As he lunged for her, he was blasted with some kind of power. Muscles spasming, his legs buckled. And then the pain began.
When the guards surrounded them, Malkom's eyes had been "uestioning, disbelieving, then anguished. Now they'd shot to black, flashing with an unholy rage.
Carrow screamed as the men opened fire on him with sedation darts, rifles popping. "No, stop this!"
Lanthe held her back. "You can't do anything for him."
But the darts could barely puncture his taut muscles, and he "uickly knocked them away. So they opened up with those charge throwers, like flamethrowers with electricity.
He bellowed as they electrocuted him, but he wouldn't surrender. When two soldiers got too close, he leapt forward, claws bared, slashing them nearly in half, slicing through their weapons and their bodies.
Now the riflemen switched to bullets, firing a barrage that nearly put him to his knees.
Tears poured from Carrow's eyes. "No! Please, stop." She wanted to defend him, to war against these men who dared hurt Malkom. Yet she could do nothing. "Chase, call them off, please!"
The mortal merely gazed on, his wan face impassive.
Lanthe murmured to her, "It's only a matter of time now."
There were too many of them, and Malkom was still weakened from his imprisonment in Ash, from his journey across the desert.
To save me. When she gave a sob, he turned his attention to her. "I will ... make you pay - "
Another volley of bullets. He convulsed in agony, blood pouring from his wounds and arcing over the ground. Still he fought, futilely striking out until he was so injured he could no longer stand.
They swiftly closed in, securing his wrists in those unbreakable manacles.
With a tor"ue in hand, Fegley sauntered over, placing his boot on Malkom's face, shoving it into the ground. After he'd threaded the collar around the demon's neck, he pressed his thumbprint onto the screen to lock it. "Good job, boys," he said to the guards. "Take him away."
With a smirk, Fegley turned to Chase. "Not as stylish as, say, your black bag over the head, but we do what we can."
The soldiers strapped Malkom to a board, like a gurney with restraints, loading him into one of the trucks. Just before the doors closed, the demon gazed at her with pure hatred, his bloody lips moving as he rasped in Demonish.
"Malkom, I never wanted this. I didn't have a choice!"
The doors slammed. And then he was gone.
Fegley turned to Carrow. "You want your tor"ue off?" He held up his hand, wiggling his right thumb. "Then come to Daddy."
Lanthe nudged her forward. Numb, Carrow crossed to the man who continued to make her life hell.
"Turn around, witch."
After what they'd done to Malkom, she burned to kill Fegley the moment her power returned, but she couldn't until she had Ruby somewhere safe.
When she turned, he snatched her wrists behind her, manacling her. She thrashed from his grip, too late. "What the hell is this, Fegley?" She twisted around to stare down Chase. "Is this just until I get off the island? Or did you never intend to let us go?"
From behind her, Fegley said at her ear, "Bingo."
Lanthe hissed, "You filthy pig," while Carrow rocked on her feet, dazed. All this hurt, and for nothing.
"Chase, don't do this! You gave your word."
Sweat beaded on Chase's upper lip. He sidestepped when a soldier brushed past him, but he said nothing.
Fegley yanked Carrow toward one of the two remaining Humvees, with a bristling Lanthe following. "Maybe it's out of his hands. Maybe perfect Chase got caught with his hand in the cookie jar."
Carrow gasped as the full realization of what she'd done sank in. I betrayed Malkom for nothing. She couldn't return for him and save him from these lunatics. "What are you going to do to him?" She hadn't allowed herself even to speculate about it before.
Fegley was all too happy to tell her, "Cut him wide open, see how he ticks."
Bile rose in her throat, her tears welling again. She was as enraged at them as she was at herself.
Yet then she recognized in an instant of clarity that Fegley wasn't long for this world. A calm washed over her. In a monotone voice, she said to him, "Then I'm going to do the same to you. Cut you open. Slowly."
When he yanked her closer, raising his club, Lanthe muttered, "Leave him be for now, witch. Ruby waits for you to return, asks for you."
And now I can't take her home, can't break Malkom out. "You'll beg me to kill you, will plead for your own death," Carrow continued. "In time, you'll tell me who you love, so I can cut them open, too. It's as good as done. You might as well gut them yourself."
He swung his club at her face; the ground came rushing at her....