The Weres exchanged a nervous glance before Raluca spoke. "It's not that simple, my prince. They've put her on a small stool with no rungs. And that stool is on an electrified floor.
If she puts her legs down at all or slips from the stool, it'll kill her instantly."
Francesca nodded. "They have enough juice on that floor to light up New York City."
He wanted to tell her that he didn't care, but the fear in his heart told him exactly how much of a lie that was.
But before he could move, Raluca was by his side, with her hand on his arm. "You know you can't go, either."
He narrowed his eyes on her. "I'm not afraid of them."
"It's too close to dawn," Raluca insisted. "You'll end up like Illie if you go. They know our weaknesses."
Velkan took her hand in his and squeezed it gently. Illie had been her mate who'd died at the hands of the Order. Five years ago, he'd been captured when one of their Order had used a Taser on him. The electricity had shot through his cells, turning him from man to wolf and back again. It was one of the few things that could completely incapacitate a Were-Hunter.
Enough electricity would ultimately kill them.
And if the Order had Esperetta, then they already knew Velkan's weakness.
"Would you have her die?" he asked Raluca.
He saw the pity in Raluca's face. She'd been Esperetta's nurse before his wife had been oblated to the convent.
"Not by choice. But better her than you."
"Mom!" Francesca snapped. "No offense, but I choose Retta in this. She's an innocent victim."
Her mother turned on her with a snarl. "And the prince has guarded us for centuries. But for him, I would be dead now and so would your brothers."
"We're wasting time," Velkan said, cutting them off. "I need you to take me to her so that I can free her before the sun rises." He saw the reservation in Raluca's eyes. "It's why you came, is it not?"
She shook her head. "I came only because I knew you would be angry if I failed to tell you what had happened."
She was right about that. He would never stand by and see Esperetta harmed—even if he did hate her. "Don't fear. You can teleport me there and I can turn off the electricity, then you can teleport both of us out, long before the sun rises."
Francesca screwed up her face. "It's not that easy. The switch is inside the cage. You'll be electrocuted trying to switch it off."
He sighed at the prospect, but it changed nothing. He just wished he could use his telekinesis on it. But electricity was the one thing he couldn't move with his mind. Its living nature made it highly unpredictable, and he could accidentally hurt or kill someone by trying to manipulate it mentally. He would have to manually shut it off. "Fine. It won't kill me." It would just hurt like hell.
"There's more," Viktor said quietly.
This he couldn't wait to hear. "That is?"
"They have a generator rigged and another switch that is also inside another electric cage. If you turn it off, it won't give us enough time to reach her before they fry us, and unlike you, we're not immune."
Raluca nodded. "And they have her out in a courtyard. The wall of which is surrounded by mirrors to reflect the rising sun directly onto you should you go to her. Their intent is for none of us to survive this."
And they'd done a good job setting this trap.
Velkan let out a tired breath as he considered what was about to happen. But it didn't matter. "My wife is in danger. Take me to her."
Retta ground her teeth as every muscle in her legs ached from the strain of keeping them off the floor. The effort showed itself in small tears in her eyes. This had to be the most excruciating pain she'd ever experienced. Honestly, she didn't know how much longer she could stand it and not rest her legs.
The dry hum of electricity was a cold reminder of what would happen to her if she didn't keep them lifted…
"You can do it," she whispered.
But what good would it do? They were determined to kill her regardless. Why was she even fighting the inevitable? She should just put her feet down and get it over with. Put herself out of her misery.
Velkan wouldn't come for her. Francesca couldn't. It was over. There was no need to delay the inevitable, and yet Retta couldn't make herself give up. It just wasn't in her.
"What is it about you and this country that you are ever finding yourself in peril whenever you're here?"
She jerked her head up as she heard that deep, resonant voice that went down her spine like a gentle caress. "Velkan?"
He stepped out of the shadows and neared the edge of the electrified floor that separated the two of them. His face was awash with shadows and yet he'd never looked more handsome to her. "Is there anyone else stupid enough to be here?"
She glanced up at the sky that was growing lighter by the second. "You can't stay. You have to go."
He didn't say anything as he turned into a bat and flew toward her. Her heart pounding, she watched as he neared the cage, but the wire was too tight for him to fly into the cage with her.
She could swear she heard him curse before he turned back into a man. And as soon as he did, the force of the electrical current threw him back ten feet, onto the grass. This time there was no mistaking his fierce curse.
"Forget it!" she said, looking up at the sky again. It was too close to the dawn. "There's no need in both of us dying."
Shaking his head, he ran at the cage and grabbed the wire. Retta cringed at the sound of his skin frying as he seized it. His entire body shook from the force of the electricity. It had to be unbearable. And still he held on, pulling at the wire until he'd torn through it. Amazed by his strength and courage, she was crying by the time he threw the switch and turned the electricity off.
"There's another—" Before she could say more the electricity returned. She jerked her feet up as a thousand curses came to her mind for the people who'd rigged this damned place.
Velkan grabbed ahold of the cage and snarled an instant before he punched straight through the metal floor. Two seconds later, he pulled a thick wire up from underneath and tore it in half.
The humming ceased as the electricity vanished again.
Too scared to put her faith in that, she waited for it to return. And as each second ticked by while she watched Velkan's frayed appearance, relief coursed through her.
He'd done it. Her tears coursed down her cheeks as gratitude swelled in her heart. In spite of the fact that she wasn't worth it, he'd come for her. And in that moment, she remembered exactly why she loved this man. She remembered all the reasons that she'd wanted to spend her life by his side.Velkan reached for her.
Until sunlight cut across his body. Hissing, he jerked back, instinctively covering his face.
Then he took another step toward her only to have more mirrors turned to him.
Even so, he crawled toward her, while Stephen and the others kept the mirrors on him, so that he could loosen her hands. She quickly freed herself.
Her rage mounting, Retta tried to wrap herself around her husband, but she wasn't large enough to cover him from the deadly rays that made his skin blister and boil. His entire body was smoldering as he tried to make it toward the wall where there were still shadows.
He staggered at the same time Stephen and the others left the house. They were coming to finish Velkan off, but she'd be damned if they'd get to him without fighting her.
Retta stood her ground, ready to battle until she felt someone grab her from behind. She turned to strike but caught herself as she saw a friendly face.
"It's me," Francesca said as she flashed them from the garden.
One second Retta was a hair from death, and in the next she was in a room she hadn't seen in centuries…
Retta's heart pounded in fear. "We can't leave him."
She looked around her as Viktor flashed into the room with Velkan in tow before he sank to the floor between Andrei and Viktor. Horror filled her as she stared at what remained of him.
He was bloodied and scorched. The scent of burnt hair and flesh invaded her senses, making her queasy.
But she didn't care. Terrified that he was dying, she rushed to Velkan's side and rolled him over. Tears gathered to choke her as she saw the damage done to him. "Velkan?"
He didn't speak. He merely stared at her and blinked.
Pushing her aside, Viktor and Andrei picked Velkan up from the floor and moved him to the bed:
Retta followed, wanting to help.
"You should go," Viktor said coldly as Andrei struggled to peel Velkan's shirt from the flesh that seemed to be melted to it. "You've done enough damage."
"He's my husband."
Viktor narrowed his cold blue eyes at her. "And you walked out on him five hundred years ago. Remember? Do him a favor and let history repeat itself."
"Viktor!" Francesca snarled. "How dare you."
"It's all right," Retta said, calming down her friend. "He's only doing his job."
Then Retta moved to stand beside Viktor. This time when she spoke, she lowered her voice and let her raw emotions show in every syllable. "Get in my way again, boy, and you're going to learn that Velkan isn't the only one in this family who has fangs." That said, she pushed her way past him to reach the bed where Velkan lay.
She wasn't sure if he was still conscious until she paused by his side. Her stomach shrank at the sight of his blistered and charred skin.
But it was the pain in his eyes that took her breath. In spite of the part of her that wanted to run from the horrible sight of him, she reached out and placed her hand to an undamaged part of his cheek.
He closed his eyes as if he savored her touch.
"Thank you, Velkan," she breathed.
He took a breath as if he would respond, but before he could, he passed out on the bed.
Viktor moved to stand next to her, "Are you going to just stare at him or are you going to actually help us tend him?"
She looked to Viktor, whose face bore all the rancor of his voice. "You're such an asshole, Viktor."
He opened his mouth to respond, but Francesca covered his mouth with her hand. "Lay off, little brother. They've both been through a lot today."
Curling his lip, he moved to the other side of the bed, where Andrei was still trying to get the shirt off. Retta helped him undress Velkan, but as she saw a fierce scar in the center of Velkan's chest, just over his heart, she paused. That hadn't been there when he'd been mortal. It literally looked as if someone had staked him through the heart.
"What on earth?" she said, fingering it. It was at least six inches wide and four deep. "How did this happen?"
Viktor gave her a droll stare. "Can't you handle the sight of your father's handiwork?"
She frowned at Viktor. "What are you talking about?"
"The scar," Andrei said quietly. "It's where the lance left his body after your father ordered him impaled."
Retta jerked her hand back, not wanting to believe it. "I don't find your humor funny."
"I'm not joking."
Nausea filled her as she looked back to Velkan's blistered face. Then she looked to Raluca, who nodded grimly.
"I don't understand," Retta whispered.
Raluca's eyes were kind as she explained. "After your father killed you, Princess, he viciously turned on Velkan. He tortured him for weeks until he finally had him impaled in the square at Tîrgoviºte. That's how he died and was able to become a Dark-Hunter."
Still, she had a hard time believing it. Her father had loved her so much. Would he really, even in anger, have killed her? He may have hated the world, but to him, his children had always been sacred. "Why didn't Velkan tell me?"
Viktor snorted. "Oh, I don't know. Maybe because you ran from him when he tried and didn't stop running."
"Viktor!" Raluca snapped.
"Everyone stop 'Viktoring' me. I speak the truth that all of you are too scared to say. She ought to understand what he's gone through to keep her safe. What he suffered as a human.
For. Her." Viktor turned back toward Retta. "He didn't mind his own death—he'd planned on that. It was yours that destroyed him. He'd surrendered himself to your father, knowing the bastard was going to impale him. He thought that by having you drink the sleeping potion your father would see you dressed for burial and leave you be. His plan was for my mother to take you to Germany, where Francesca was living, and to keep you safe while your father tortured him. He never dreamed your father was going to stab you in the heart while you lay dead."