Authors: A.D. Ryan
I jumped to my feet and ran toward the front of my cage to find Cordelia being forced along. She looked to be alert, meaning they hadn’t drugged or beaten her, most likely. I breathed a sigh of relief, raising my eyes to her escort.
Like the predator I knew him to be, he grinned at me, licking his lips and baring his gleaming fangs. My stomach turned, but the growl that rumbled in my chest masked the visceral reaction I had to seeing him again. I blocked out the rage I still felt when I remembered his hands on my body, and I prayed for one minute alone with him.
He didn’t look my way again after dropping Cordelia to the floor of her cell, and my mind reeled with the possibilities of what I might really be up against in my fight for survival. The more I thought about it, the more I realized that this coven was better prepared than we’d suspected. Jason Smith was far too controlled for someone still in the first few months of his vampirism. From everything I’d been told or read, he should still be a ticking time bomb. But he wasn’t—not entirely, anyway. He was calm and collected. Sadistic, yes, but he didn’t exhibit any rage or an overly cocky attitude like Samantha Turner had in my apartment the night she died. A little over-zealous, sure, but his behavior was carefully controlled.
was teaching him.
Cordelia groaned from her cell across from me, and I rushed back toward the bars. I wished I could somehow be in the cell with her, comfort and nurture her, but unfortunately, I was stuck in here…or was I?
I reached into my back pocket and grabbed the newest chunk of rock from my back pocket; I’d spent some time hitting the wall in hopes of loosening a few more weapons for our escape. I looked between it and the hinges. There was a good chance it wasn’t strong enough to push the pins out, but I had to at least try. I couldn’t just give up without attempting it.
“Cordelia?” I said softly, looking as far down the space between us as I was allowed. I couldn’t see or smell anyone other than Cordelia and myself. I was fairly certain we were alone, so I moved to the cage door and tried to jimmy the pins from the hinges. Again. Like every day before now.
Bits of rocks chipped away and showered down on my head, but I kept trying, hoping I could get it to budge, even if just a little. “Honey, talk to me. Let me know you’re okay,” I tried again, inhaling sharply when the pin moved. It didn’t move much, but it moved. I took the small victory for what it was and kept trying, suddenly optimistic.
Another groan from Cordelia’s cell, and when I glanced across, I saw her pushing herself to her knees. She brought a hand to her head and pushed her hair back. My hands fell slowly when I took in the swollen left side of her face. It was possible that was from when one of them had hit her; it didn’t surprise me to assume he’d gotten a little rough with her behind closed doors, too.
She lifted her head and looked at me, her eyebrows furrowing in confusion. “What are you doing?”
“Trying to get us out of here.”
Standing up, she wobbled a little before coming closer. “Where did you find that?”
I held out the chunk of jagged rock and smiled. “I may have punched the wall a few times out of frustration.” I shrugged. “I have anger issues.”
A small smile played at her lips, and I swore I saw a glimmer of hope in her eyes. “You’re strong.”
I only nodded before getting back to work on the hinges. “I told you. We don’t need to mix the bloodlines to increase our strengths. We’re so much better.”
Silent again, Cordelia watched me work at the hinges while I tried to figure out a way to ask her about what happened. I realized there was no easy way to ease into it, so I just ripped the band-aid off.
“Are you okay?”
She looked down at the arm she’d been cradling earlier and half-nodded. “I will be. It’s all healing.”
A pang of sympathy ripped through me, momentarily distracting me from my job. “What did he do?”
Seeming hesitant to answer, Cordelia looked away from me, her eyes finding a particularly interesting point on the wall to her left. “They put me in the room—the one with the mirror—and waited until I changed. I-I had trouble, so they…they…”
My jaw clenched, and I spoke through gritted teeth. “They
“They forced me.”
Rage bubbled beneath my skin, the fever hotter than I’d felt in a long time, and I was so lost to the emotion that I didn’t realize I’d crushed the rock shard into nothing more than a fine powder. So much for that plan. “They forced themselves on you?” I demanded angrily, knowing what kind of monster Jason Smith really was.
“What?” she replied, incredulous. “No, not like that. They took my collar off and forced me to shift.”
I was only mildly relieved by this, and I still needed more answers. “How did they force it?”
Cordelia swallowed so thickly, I could hear it. “Five of them came into the room and surrounded me. I knew they wouldn’t hurt me beyond the usual, but they knew how to get the reaction they needed.” Her lip quivered as she remembered.
Now more than ever, I wanted to rip through the bars and pull this poor, sweet girl into my arms. But I couldn’t. I broke my tool, and I knew that none of the other shards were thick enough to accomplish my task. Instead, I decided to gather more information on the vampire’s plans for the successful creation of hybrids. I only hoped Cordelia would have more information since she’d been here the longest of anyone else. The one silver lining to her years of captivity.
“You said earlier they wanted to mix the bloodlines,” I reminded her. “Have they succeeded?”
Cordelia sank to her knees at the same time I did, and we looked at each other while we had what would have to pass as a normal conversation given our circumstances. “They’ve been trying for years—decades longer than I’ve been here.”
I listened raptly as Cordelia told me how Gianna had tried everything for almost a century. Gianna collected werewolves, researching their habits and taking their blood for genetic testing. Gianna injected some of her lackeys with the drawn blood, but they died within minutes, burning from the inside out. I’d witnessed firsthand what our bites could do to a vampire, slowly poisoning it, so it made sense that our blood running through its veins would kill it so rapidly.
“Biting didn’t work either,” Cordelia continued. “Us biting them, or them biting us. That only slowed the process, making the deaths of each test subject longer and far more excruciating. Gianna didn’t bother to put any of them out of their misery, though. She had no sympathy for that sort of thing. She just abandoned them and moved on to the next trial.”
Cordelia shrugged. “I don’t know, exactly. She...
she talked about some kind of
“A key?” I questioned, but before Cordelia could answer, the iron door down the hall opened and footsteps moved toward us again.
I knew it was too soon for them to be coming back. We’d only just been brought back. What could they possibly need us for again so soon?
Jason rounded the corner, eyes locked on me as he moved for my cell door. He grabbed the keys from his pocket, and I paid close attention to the key he used before he slipped it into the lock and turned it. It was brass like the other three, but I paid attention to the details of the key; the cuts and grooves. I committed it to my memory, storing it away with all the other information I’d gathered since arriving here. It would help to know which key to use so I could get Cordelia and me out of here as quickly as possible when the time came.
“What are you doing here?” I demanded as he stepped into my cage. I didn’t back up, but I momentarily considered fighting him. My blood boiled beneath my skin, and I clenched my hands into fists. I tried to focus my fever to my hands, visualize my claws breaking through the ends of my fingers so I could slash his throat or slice through his chest and rip his dead heart out.
“Turns out, we’ve got a few more tests to run.” His smile made me grimace, and when he reached for me, I dodged his grasp.
With a grunt, I went to press my hand to his back so I could slam him against the wall, but he was quick. He twisted and swiped at me, but I managed to get my hand around his neck and force him toward the wall.
The muscles in my back engaged, and I lifted him off the ground with ease, the wolf stepping forward from the darkness and staring him down. He must have recognized it, because his fear polluted the air. It made me smile. A ripple moved up my spine and through my arms, and when I looked down at my hand around his neck, I noticed the bones shifting slightly under my skin. My fingers lengthened, and black claws sliced through the tips of my fingers. I’d done it.
Deep down, I knew I should have ripped the keys from his pocket, but my curiosity got the better of me. I had to know what Cordelia was talking about, and I had a feeling Jason might know something more. What did Cordelia mean when she said there was a “key?” Had Gianna been looking for some kind of ancient relic that had been locked away?
The more I wondered about Cordelia’s stories of her time here, and now this key, the more I started to wonder if Gianna was even crazier than I already knew. Centuries of fighting and running from the wolves must have taken its toll on her sanity.
Deciding against my better judgment to take my time and glean all the information that I could—stranger things have happened in my once normal world, after all—I looked back up at Jason. “Okay,” I snarled as he continued to struggle; it pleased me to see he was no match for my strength. Perhaps cutting back on the silver-laced food was for the best. I never thought I’d be thanking Karl, but a part of me was. “My friend across the way has been telling me some interesting tales about what exactly you all have been up to. Something about hybrids?” He remained silent; in all my years of sitting in the interrogation room with perps, I knew this to be a huge sign of guilt. With no lawyers in the room telling him to keep his mouth shut, I proceeded with my questioning, and I would use whatever force I deemed necessary. “Let’s say such a thing is possible, what is it Gianna was looking for before I ripped her miserable head off?”
A familiar laugh forced its way into our conversation. My heart raced, and my brain tried to tell me I was imagining it—that it couldn’t possibly be real. There was just no way. I had to be imagining it, because I should have smelled him. I was delirious…I had to be, because this couldn’t be real.
From the shadows of the hallway, a figure emerged. The way he walked was oddly familiar, thrusting me back to something I was trying to repress… The steady rhythm of his gait, the weight with which his boots hit the stone floor, registered, but I couldn’t uncover whatever niggled at the back of my mind.
He stayed in the shadows, but his presence forced me into earlier memories, sparking something from a few months ago. It only took a second for me to make the connection: the videotape of Gianna and her partner at the Dungeon. That was where I recognized his gait…and then again in the woods when I’d been caught in the snare.
His toothy grin was the next thing I noticed, and a gasp caught in my throat as he came into view. The change snapped back painfully, the nerves in my arm on fire as my hand returned to its human state. I dropped Jason, unable to take my eyes off this man I thought to be dead.
He ran his fingers through his coppery-red hair as he stopped in front of my cell and stared me right in the eye. “You,” he says, his voice the same, yet so very different than the last time I’d heard it. “She was looking for
, dear sister.”
had to be hallucinating. It wasn’t real. It…it
be real. Perhaps all the drugs weren’t completely gone from my bloodstream like I’d thought. That had to be it, because the alternative… It wasn’t possible; Nick said he’d killed him.
He took another step toward me, and I took another one back. Glancing over his shoulder, I saw Cordelia paralyzed, her eyes wide with fear.
This wasn’t a hallucination. She was seeing what I was, too.
“It’s been a long time,” Bobby said, sliding a key into the lock on my cell door and turning it. There was a heavy click before he swung the door open and stepped inside. I continued to back away, unsure what it was he planned to do. He was one of
. Deep down, I knew that. But on the surface…he was my brother, and I hadn’t seen him in seven years. I experienced a flood of conflicting emotions, and I wasn’t sure which one I should follow.
His scent hit me, and I recoiled, pressing my back against the jagged surface of the wall and sliding down to the floor, breathing heavily. His brow furrowed. “You’re not afraid, are you?”
I was…and I wasn’t. Mostly, I had been caught off guard, but I was also more conflicted in that moment than I’d ever been. I knew, on a primal level, that he was a threat to me—I could smell it, see it in way his eyes gleamed—but, looking at him? His green eyes mirrored mine, and he wore that same crooked grin that I remembered and had missed every day for seven years.
He was Bobby. He was my brother. How could I be afraid of him?
Movement from the corner of my eye caught my attention, and I saw Jason stand up straight as Bobby walked past him and toward me…and then stopped. His lips curled up into a smile, green eyes still holding mine, and his right arm shot out at a speed my eyes couldn’t register at first. Not until I followed the length of his outstretched arm to where his hand seemed to disappear into Jason’s chest.
,” he said, turning his face to Jason, who was sputtering and clawing at Bobby’s arm, “to stay away from her. She’s off limits.” The low rumble in his voice took me back to the first day I’d woken up here. The day I’d been taken to Room One and Jason tried to have his way with me after I’d been drugged. At the time, I hadn’t recognized the voice of the man who’d interrupted him, but I flashed back to that day in a nanosecond, and I knew it was Bobby.
Red-black blood seeped from the wound, wrapping around Bobby’s wrist like a bracelet and dripping to the floor. The smell of death burned my nostrils, but it only grew more potent when Bobby extracted his hand, clutching the black, unbeating heart that used to sit in Jason’s chest.
Jason gasped, staring at his heart in Bobby’s hand. He reached out for it, but before he could so much as graze it with his fingers, he slowly turned to ash and fluttered to the floor. All I could hear was my blood pounding in my ears as Bobby returned his soulless eyes to me. The minute they locked on mine, I no longer recognized him. The fog of confusion had cleared the second his hand pierced Jason’s chest and ripped out his heart. This wasn’t my brother. He was, like Nick had told me, a monster in every sense of the word. Everything that Bobby was had been stripped away, and this demon walked around, wearing his skin, gleaning information from his memories in order to survive.
Standing a foot in front of me, he extended his right hand, still covered in Jason’s putrid blood. I stared at it for a minute, uncertain what I should do.
You need to get out of here,
a voice reminded me, and I knew it was right. While I originally wanted to believe that the man in front of me was my brother, I knew better. It only took one act of unprovoked violence to make me realize it, and I figured I shouldn’t let on that I didn’t trust him. I thought, maybe if I could gain his trust, let him think I believed him, I might be able to learn more about this place and how to escape it.
It took every ounce of strength I could muster to stretch my arm out and place my hand in his. I fought back a gag when the tips of my fingers met the cold, dead skin of his palm, the sticky blood clinging to me. When he wrapped his fingers around my hand and pulled me up, I had to ignore the instinct to run through the open cage door.
I flinched when he brought his other hand up to brush the hair from my face, and I clenched my eyes tightly shut when his cold finger grazed my cheek. That one gesture creeped me out. It was so uncharacteristic of Bobby and only further reminded me of what he was: a manipulator…a killer. I’d read the dossiers more than once; I knew what he’d done, what he was capable of, so when he wrapped his arms around my shoulders, I contained the urge to recoil.
The instant he pulled me against his body, something unexpected happened. My defenses dropped, and my bottom lip quivered. The way he held me was familiar, and in all of my confusion since waking up in a prison, I glommed onto the comfort his memory surprisingly brought me. I wrapped my arms around him, clutched the back of his shirt and held him…but only for a second before the wolf caught a whiff of him.
In even less time than it took me to register his presence, my hands were on his chest and shoving him away from me. He flew across my cell, slamming into the bars. Breathing heavily, a low growl escaping with every exhale, I stared at him. Watched him. Expected him to retaliate.
He looked…perplexed by my reaction. I shook my head, thinking I must have been imagining his reaction. Nope. He was still watching me like he hadn’t been expecting my outburst. I was right back to being confused.
Holding his hands up in front of him, I watched, curious. “Brooke,” he said, the familiarity of his voice chipping away at my defenses a little more. “It’s me… Bobby.”
I shook my head in disbelief. I knew better. This…this
was only wearing Bobby’s face. It had his body and his memories, but it wasn’t him. His soul and everything that made him who he was had disappeared the day he died.
I knew that, and yet…
“No,” I told him. “It’s a trick. You…you
He smiled. “I came back.”
“Nick said he killed you,” I said, remembering the trip to Canada weeks ago and how Nick had confessed to burning down the nest. “In Alaska.”
It was only a flash, but I swore I caught the rage that flickered across his face before he returned to his reassuring demeanor. “He thought so, but I managed to escape.” He brushed his hair back off his forehead, and for the first time since he entered my cell, I recognized the blistering scars of someone being licked by fire. It ran up into his hairline and then trailed down over the top of his right cheekbone and down his neck until it was hidden beneath the collar of his crew-neck shirt.
I shook off the pang of sympathy that jolted through me. “So, you decided to seek revenge.”
He looked insulted, but I wasn’t buying it. I let the wolf’s instincts take over; I trusted its judgment more than my own right now. My human mind was clouded by the fact that my brother stood before me and that he was behaving in such a civilized manner. The wolf knew better; she anticipated his attack. It was better to be cautious than stupid.
“What?” he asked, sounding incredulous. “No. I had to lie low for a while, heal.” He pulled the collar of his shirt aside to show me the scars on his neck and shoulder. They were worse than the ones on his face, and I couldn’t figure out how they hadn’t healed. He wasn’t human, so shouldn’t his body heal like ours? Unless the fact that his heart no longer beat was what kept that from happening…
My head moved back and forth in disbelief. “No. That’s not what Nick said. He said Gianna went after me for killing you, because you were her progeny and that bond is thicker than blood.”
Bobby paused, and I registered the twinge of grief that passed over his face. Was he faking?
The wolf seemed to think so.
Again, Bobby took me by the hand, his smile reappearing as he pulled me toward the cage door. “Come on,” he urged, confusing me further when he acted like the Bobby I remembered. “We have so much to catch up on.”
As I allowed him to drag me away from my prison, I glanced over my shoulder, noticing the panic-stricken look on Cordelia’s face. She moved toward the bars of her cell, always careful not to touch them, and cried after me. “Brooke! Please, don’t leave me!”