More guards appeared to save their leader. With the last of her strength, Carrow held them back.
When Ronath tried to speak, whispering up to him, Malkom slowed his attack. Yet whatever the armorer said made Malkom roar, "Never!" as he punched his fist through Ronath's chest plate.
The demon screamed in pain; blood spewed upward like a fountain. Malkom twisted his arm and plucked out his still-beating heart - which he displayed to Ronath, s"ueezing it into a pulp right before his horrified eyes.
Carrow's legs weakened, and she collapsed to her knees. No power left to heal herself. Though she loved to see a good vengeance killing as much as the next witch, they had to hurry. "Malkom, please ..."
Without another thought, he wrenched Ronath's head from his neck. As Malkom lunged to her, he absently cast it into the dumbfounded crowd. He cares more about me than even that trophy.
"Carrow, tell me what to do to help you."
"I'll heal. But we're running out of time." She was losing blood, growing dizzy and cold. Only hours left. On the heels of these trials, could he possibly get them both across that desert? And in time? "The portal ... we must be there before midnight. Or it will close forever."
With a nod, he lifted her in his arms.
But before they left this place in the dust, Malkom stood before the crowd of freaked-out demons and announced, "She is my female. Mine." His voice was surprisingly strong, and the demons "uieted. "I claim her before all."
More rumblings and shocked gasps.
Exasperated, Carrow asked, "Was that completely necessary?" Her words sounded weak, reedy.
"Completely." He gazed down at her. "Wife."
She frowned. Had he just called her wife? Though dizziness was about to overtake her, she experienced that overwhelming sense of future about him. A shared future. "Malkom, p-please take me home." He drew her tight to his chest. Against his neck, she murmured, "Can you get us there?"
Just as her lids slid shut, he rasped, "Right now, I can do anything."
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."