The warlock wouldn't allow Madadh to stop until Munro released his own beast.
Though Jels's purple robe covered him from neck to heels, Munro could tell his frame was spindly. He was bald of hair, his face sunken. So easily broken. Yet Munro was in no position to attack-or to defend himself.
He was on his knees, arms stretched tight above him. His manacled wrists were connected to a chain that descended from a pulley in the ceiling. All the metal was mystically forged, unbreakable even to one like him.
"Give it up, Jels," Munro bit out between bloodied lips. "Nothing you can do . . . will make me loose my beast. Nothing." His head had been beaten to a pulp; his brain felt like it rattled inside his cracked skull. Thoughts were foggy, but he held on to the knowledge of one critical fact he'd learned: the warlocks couldn't enslave a Lykae until his beast had risen. Once it did, they used their dark magic to leash it. But they had no arcane power to compel the beast to rise.
During the Lykae raid on this dungeon, Madadh had unknowingly freed his beast and been vassaled by the warlocks. Then those bastards had used the massive Madadh to attack Munro and the rest of their crew, catching the others off guard.
The warlocks had spent the last several days trying to torture Munro's beast to the surface-doing everything they could to add his feral howls to the ones constantly sounding up and down this corridor of cells. Yet after living with Will's volatile beast for nine centuries, Munro had taken great pains to control his own.
He could resist any torment, especially when he knew another raid would come soon. The clan would send in powerful reinforcements-Garreth, Bowen, the great king himself. If Munro stayed lucid, he could warn them to keep the beast caged.
Would Will accompany them? Part of Munro was desperate for a warrior like his brother to come; part of him dreaded it. His brother's beast would be so easily claimed.
Another punch took Munro across the jaw, nearly dislocating it. His head snapped around, blood and sweat spraying the hem of Jels's robe. His arms were all but wrenched from their sockets. "Bluidy hell, Madadh!"
The man's scarred face was blank. No reaction.
The legendary Mad Dog of the Highlands was now an obedient dog. Munro shuddered at the thought. No, I'll no' be giving them my beast.
Jels tilted his head, seeming genuinely confused. "Why do you resist our thrall so totally? To be vassaled is to be at peace. I never expected it to take this long."
If Jels was finally going to talk, Munro had questions. "Why no' just kill me?" he asked, but he feared he knew. The few times Madadh had been commanded away from this cell, he always returned with his fangs bloody.
"Kill?" Jels blinked. "The purpose of this entire trap was to secure an elder like you. We ensured that a new Lykae vassal would get much attention at a public event, knowing a white knight like you would raid us."
Exactly why Munro had come; he'd heard a newly turned Lykae had been beheaded, slaughtered for no reason other than blindly following the warlocks' commands.
"Then we dispatched a nymph to guide you in. Poor girl thought we'd release her sister if she cooperated."
He'd had no reason not to trust the nymph. Atop all Munro's pain, foreboding whispered through him. "A lot of trouble. Why would you want me so bad?"
"We could have searched a thousand planes and dozens of eras for a beast so strong as yours."
Munro knew this ancient faction could move through time, creating portals and even entire planes.
"We will use your beast to seed all of our newling vassals."
They wanted Munro to bite humans? To give innocent mortals years of insanity-or death? "Fuck that, Jels! Never." The perversion of it! "You can take your beastly 'seed' and shove it up your warlock arse."
"One Lykae can only produce so many newlings. Madadh here has bitten fourteen; two have risen. You might have heard their screams?" Jels asked, his tone deceptively pleasant. "He's had his fill of human necks, is nigh tapped out. He's only a couple of centuries old, but you . . . we believe you could turn even more! Many more!"
Munro's bloody mouth split into a grin. "The next bite I make will snatch clean your throat."
"You have no idea what's coming, do you?" Jels's smug look briefly faltered. "The Bringers of Doom are soon to rise-the threat that will end all of us, if we can't fight back. The Forgotten won't stop until we've amassed an army. Until we've sacrificed enough beautiful females to appease enough dark gods. And in the end you'll be glad we have."
"You're crazed, little man. Tell yourself whatever you need to."
A nod at Madadh set the man into motion; his claws slashed down Munro's face, plowing through his skin and obliterating his right eye.
Biting back a yell of agony, Munro told Jels, "Tickling me? You'll have to do . . . better than that."
Another nod, and Madadh gripped Munro's thigh in two places, readying to snap his femur. Motherfucker!
A second warlock slinked inside the cell, calling out to Jels in their unintelligible language. Whatever news the messenger brought pleased Jels. He turned to Munro. "Do better than that, you said? It seems I just have." He crossed to the wall, unhooking a chain there.
As the pulley above squeaked, the tension on Munro's arms ebbed until he could lower them in front of him. The searing pain of blood rushing into his limbs rivaled that of his maimed face and eye. He fought to remain kneeling, keeping Jels in his limited sightline.
There was no way to defeat Madadh without freeing his own beast. But he could at least peel Jels's head from his neck. Munro tensed to attack-
Two beings appeared not five feet from him, another warlock and a raven-haired female who looked barely out of her teens. She appeared dazed, trembling beside her captor. Mortal? Yes, and utterly lovely with her olive skin and bright irises the color of new pennies. Flowers decorated her mane of wild black curls. She looked like a wee traveller, a gypsy.
She was dressed in an ornate white gown. It was either of olden design-or a wedding dress. Or both.
At her ethereal scent, Munro's body shot tight, spine straightening.
Shock assailed him. "No, no," he grated, "what trickery is this?" She was like a vision, an angel come to take him, far too beautiful to be in this fetid place.
"No trickery," Jels said. "Meet Kereny. Ren to her extended family. You wouldn't believe where-and when-we had to go to procure her. Suffice it to say that the mystical expenditure to find your female was costly."
My female? Yes. The hands of gods.
Her wide eyes were glassy, unseeing. She tottered on her feet. Injured? Munro saw no blood marring the immaculate white silk of her gown. Yet he scented something like . . . poison.
Munro bellowed, "What the fuck did you do?" He lunged for her, but Madadh clotheslined him, choking him to the ground. How badly was she hurt?
As Munro thrashed against the man, his Instinct screamed, -YOUR FEMALE DIES.-
His beast howled inside to fight for her, but somehow Munro resisted. If enslaved, he had no hope of escaping with her, much less of saving her life.
When the second warlock drew away from her, she sank to her knees, forearms upraised along her thighs. Her fragile fingers were limp.
With utter glee, Jels shoved up her sleeves, revealing black veins that stretched from her wrists to her elbows. "Behold. Her lifeblood turns to stone. Wait until it reaches her heart-I'm told there's no worse agony."
They'd bespelled her. Rage reddened Munro's vision.
"She has only a couple of minutes before she succumbs," Jels said. "Such a distasteful business."
Her expression twisted to one of utter agony, and she cried out, those fragile fingers knotting with her pain.
"What do you want, warlock? I'll do it!" Dread squeezed his heart, a great icy fist around it. His remaining eye watered. "Anything!" His beast clamored inside him, but Munro fought it.
Jels made a tsking sound. "If only you had cooperated, then we wouldn't have had to steal her from her own wedding."
Wedding? Munro couldn't worry about that right now! "Bluidy tell me what to do to save her!"
"You have little time, Lykae. She fades like night douses sun." Jels snapped his fingers for the others to depart. "I'm sure you'll figure out what needs to be done. But if not . . . might I suggest death by bite over the stone blood spell? Much less excruciating."
Rage. Haze. No, fight it! Think! Before the cell door clanged shut, Munro had lunged for her once more. "Doona be frightened of me, Kereny. My name is Munro MacRieve, and I mean you no harm." He could only imagine what his mutilated face looked like. When he looped his bound arms over her quaking body, she stared blankly. Shock. "Just stay with me! I'm going tae help you."
As another wave of pain hit her, she shuddered. Her brow grew damp, her breaths panting.
Have to get her out of here! She was so delicate and young, her skin clammy. Am I to lose another mortal? His eyes darted wildly. They perish so readily.
No. "I will no' let you die!" There was no time to escape the dungeon with her, to take her off plane for aid. His mysterious female was going to die in moments.
Munro had only one hope of saving her-as the warlocks well knew. He drew her in closer, desperately trying to warm her.
To prepare her. And himself. He rubbed his chin over her slim shoulder, breathing deep of her scent. It helped to temper the rage and panic he felt.
She finally spoke in a hushed voice. "Do n-not do this to me." Her words were English, accented. With difficulty, she turned her head toward him, the movement plainly agonizing to her. "Defy this evil." Once they faced each other, she gave a cry at his injuries.
"I will do anything tae save you." Even become a slave myself. "You're my mate, little one."
"Mate?" Even so weak, she still sounded aghast. "Then how can you even think of abusing me like this?"
He began to relinquish control to his beast. Save her, beast, bite her fiercely.
"I know what you are," she whispered between ragged breaths. "Please don't infect me . . . with that thing inside you."
Unmoved by her pleas, he used his ruined face to nudge her curling hair off her shoulder. She tried to resist him, but had no strength left. "I will take care of you, teach you tae control it."
"My kind revere freedom." She started crying. "You would turn your mate . . . into a warlock's slave?"
"You will no' be a slave! I will free you."
"Leave me to an honorable death."
He rasped, "I canna, Kereny. You will resurrect-do you understand me? You must return tae me!" Only two of Madadh's victims had. But my beast is strong; it will roar to life inside her.
So much so that this young female would have no chance of controlling it. Figure that out later.
"If you do this . . . I will hate you. My family will curse you . . . you'll still have no mate."
"Then I'll spend eternity earning your forgiveness." And punishing those who'd done this to Kereny. His Kereny.
"It will go unearned. You would transform me into an animal . . . making me an outcast from my people . . . enslaving me to those I long to see dead? There is no forgiveness."
Munro's claws and fangs began lengthening, his body morphing against hers. "Close your eyes for me, my love."
"I-I'm begging . . . no." Instead of closing her eyes, she trained them on his face. She whimpered at the sight of his emerging beast.
Voice gone guttural, Munro choked out, "And I'm beggin' you tae return tae me, little one."
With a primal roar, his beast took over completely. Munro could only exist in the background, perceiving his head whipping forward, fangs sinking into the sweet skin of her neck. Perceiving her writhe and sob with anguish.
Perceiving her heartbeat slowing. Beat-beat . . . beat-beat. . . .
The beast snarled against her cooling flesh, frantically injecting its essence, a part of itself, through a vicious bite.
As Kereny shuddered with death throes, the beast pawed her closer to his body, rocking her, spilling tears and blood over her wedding gown.
The beast drew back, but only to sink its fangs into her again. And again. Howling between each furious bite.
Dimly, Munro was aware of Jels's laughter outside the cell, of the warlocks' power coiling around him, overtaking him.
How can I protect Kereny as a mindless slave? And he wouldn't be the only one under their sway. What would they do to a beauty like her when they controlled her utterly?
Thinking of the hell he might have condemned her to, Munro prayed his twin could sense his turmoil. Before, he'd dreaded Will coming to this place. Now I fucking demand it!
Be smarter than me, Will. Be stronger.
Free me, so I can free my mate.
Kereny's body fell limp. Beat . . . beat . . . silence. When his mate's heart went still in her chest, Munro threw back his head and roared until the entire goddamned dungeon quaked, quieting only when her lips parted.
Her final breath escaped her, carrying her last words: "I . . . hate . . . you. . . ."
Read on for an exclusive sneak peek of Kresley Cole's Endless Knight, the next thrilling release in the Arcana Chronicles series. In this steamy excerpt, you'll meet Evie Greene, the only girl in the world who could bring a sexy Cajun hunter like Jack Deveaux to his knees. But he should've known better than to trap her during bath time. . . .
Jack was coming into the cabin? I'd never have time to reach my clothes. Shit! I ducked down in the tub, draping my arms over my breasts, hoping the suds covered everything lower-
The door burst open. He stood in the doorway, dripping from rain.
I was so stunned by the intent look in his gray eyes that it took me a second to sputter, "O-out! Now!"
As if I hadn't spoken, he entered, shutting the door behind him, tossing his crossbow and backpack on the table. He shook out his hair like an animal, sending little bites of cool water across my face and arms. Black locks whipped across his tanned face.
"What the hell are you doing? Get out!"