The Contract – Part 3

To celebrate the release of my new novel, Contained, I will be posting chapters from the prequel to the Fractured Series, The Contract.

Here is the third installment. I hope you enjoy!

Chapter 3

Maddison woke slowly, disorientated from her dream. She had been in the arms of a Nrikabat, pressed tightly to his chest in an almost loving embrace. Her eyes snapped open when she realised she could feel a muscular shoulder, and a pair of strong arms supporting her weight.

The dark brown eyes staring back were obsidian in the lamp light. A ripple of terror raced up her spine and she all but flung herself out of his arms.

“Maddison, relax. I’m not going to hurt you.” Orion’s smooth, cultured voice drifted over her like fine silk. “Woody,” he soothed, mocking even as he charmed.

A shudder ran through her at the name. Michael was the only one to call her that.

As though reading her thoughts, he raised his hand slowly, his eyes daring her to object. To her utter disgust her braid curled towards him, slowly, protectively, and wrapped around his wrist. She had no control and she hated it.

“Release me,” she said, forcing her power to the braid.

“Oh, that tickles,” he breathed, grinning to show even white teeth. “What else have you got?”

“I did what you asked, so my debt to you is paid,” she said, regaining control of her mane. It slithered back to her, almost reluctantly, and she had to fight the desire to roll her eyes.

“I never told you to bind yourself to him,” he murmured, inching forward.

“What’s wrong, Orion? Are you jealous?” If he wanted to waste time she would indulge him.

“Of a half-blood?” His tone was mocking, but Maddison heard the anger beneath.

“It’s not my fault if you weren’t specific. I did what I had to do.” She drew in a calming breath. “Now, are you going to release me?”

“And if I don’t want to?” he asked, watching her with dark, unreadable eyes.

“Then just kill me and get it over with.” She wouldn’t make it easy for him.

Still watching her, Orion reached a hand towards her.

She knew it was a test and she didn’t care. Her braid whipped out and knocked his hand away with surprising force. She wouldn’t touch him again.

“Always the hair,” he said, with a half-smile. “Given your mother was a member of the Fay, I’d say she used hers to her advantage too.”

Maddison’s jaw dropped. It couldn’t be true. He didn’t really know who her mother was. Did he?

“You know nothing about me, so whatever you’ve taken out of my head is as empty and useless as this conversation.” She jumped to her feet, enjoying the feeling of standing over him – for about two seconds.

He stood in one fluid motion. “I want to know if you were serious about helping Donovan,” he said, leaning closer. “Or are you just a tease?”

Her eyes narrowed. “He’s the real reason you wanted me to stick close to Tobias, isn’t he? You knew our paths would cross.”

The façade dropped, only for a second, but she still caught the shadow of pain in his face. “I didn’t know. I hoped.”

“Why is he so important?”

“The why of it, is not your concern.” His tone was resolute, making her wonder if she’d imagined the display of weakness.

“Then there’s nothing more to say. I already paid my debt, and it wasn’t a two for one deal.” Her smile was strained. “I’m out of favours.”

They stared at each other, judging, and finding a common ground.

“You must fight for him, Woody,” he said, stepping forward.

Her jaw hurt from clenching her teeth. “Stop calling me that.”

“He won’t accept anything less. You have to make a sacrifice.”

“I’d already thought of that,” she snapped.

He studied her, his eyes boring into hers. “Yes. I do believe you came to the same conclusion.” There was a hint of pride in his smile and a possessive edge she didn’t appreciate. Leaning closer, until his mouth was less than an inch from her ear, his voice was a gentle caress. “Close your eyes.”

They closed instinctively.

It took her a second to realise she was being held again. But it wasn’t Orion. She recognised the earthy, masculine smell beneath her cheek. She was in Tobias’ arms, curled against his chest.

When she looked up into his face, she was so happy to see him, she almost did something stupid. Until mischief lit his eyes, and reality came back to her in a snap.

“Hello, sleepy head,” he said, grinning. “How does it feel to have-”

She clamped a hand over his mouth. “If you want to live, you won’t finish that sentence.” She didn’t know what irked her more, the fact she felt his smug energy swirling inside her, or that she liked it. “Let me up,” she added through clenched teeth.

His arms loosened enough for her to wiggle free. “Lighten up, Maddy.”

She ignored him to glance around the long narrow cavern.  Now that she wasn’t pressed up against him and his scent wasn’t clogging her senses, she could think. When she detected the underlying aroma, her eyes grew large. “You brought me to Durin Mountain? Are you crazy? The dwarves hate me.”

He stood to join her, keeping a respectful distance. “You’re perfectly safe.” The shrug was deceptively innocent. “Besides, they like me, and we’re… connected.”

Her hair whipped out before the command had fully formed. It wound around his body, pinning his arms like a boa constrictor. “Is that connected enough for you?” she asked, her eyes flashing.

“As foreplay goes, it’s not terrible.”

She laughed, a little surprised by the sound, and let him go. “Okay, let’s just get it all out of your system, shall we? All the jokes about bondage and mating and anything else rolling through that thick head of yours. And then we don’t mention this again.”

“Maddy, a blood bond is almost impenetrable. I’m making light of it because I don’t know how to process that level of sacrifice.” He was serious now, and frighteningly honest. “Why did you do it?”

She walked over to the wall and used it to lower herself to the ground. “Because I knew what the separation would do to you, what it would cost. I don’t need the connection to understand you, Tobias. I never have.”

He didn’t say anything for a long moment and she tensed when he lowered himself beside her.

“I’m sorry,” he murmured. “What you did… it’s the first time someone has put my needs before their own.”

All the fight drained out of her. She was so tired of running, of pretending she didn’t care. The whole time she had shared the link to Donovan, it had been Tobias she’d wanted to share her memories with.

“I understand.” She turned to look at him. “Nobody put me first either.” More than that, nobody had wanted her. She’d been discarded as a child, left in a shallow grave as though someone had intended to bury her alive. “I guess I’m a difficult person to like,” she said, trying to make light of it. “Some people even call me prickly.”

Tobias laughed and let his head fall back against the wall. “Terrifying is more like it. And I think you like it that way.”

She shrugged, playing with the ends of her hair; a habit whenever she felt exposed. Tobias did that to her, put her on edge in a way nobody else could.

“Why the hair?” he asked, watching her twirl it through her fingers. “I mean, why focus your power that way?”

She almost evaded the question. It wasn’t as though she hadn’t done so before. But something inside her wanted to reach out, to share the truth with him.

“It wasn’t a conscious decision. It just sort of happened.” She closed her eyes because she hated thinking about her past. “I haven’t always been this charming,” she said, smiling when he grunted.

“I’m not sure what kind of child I was. My earliest memory is of being alone in the dark. I knew I was different, but I didn’t fear it. I could sense things, move around with relative ease, and that was before my senses fully developed.”

“I wasn’t afraid of the dark either,” Tobias said, his voice far away, as though sharing the memory. “I was more afraid of what they’d do to me when they let me out.”

She thought of Donovan again, and what he’d shown her. “Let’s not swap our horror stories, okay? It’s so cliché.”

He smiled as he reached to brush his fingers against her braid. “You were telling me about your unique weapon.”

She didn’t slap his hand away and it bothered her. She’d never told anyone how sensitive her hair was. It was an intimate gesture she allowed few to enjoy. “One of my foster families had an attic,” she said, thinking of the dark, ugly aroma of neglect. “They stored their junk there, and I guess that’s what I was to them, because they kept me there too. Whenever my foster mother opened the hatch, she would shout, ‘Rapunzel, Rapunzel, let down your hair,’ cackling like a demented hyena. Then one day I thought…I’ll show you Rapunzel, you crazy bitch.” She grinned at his soft chuckle. “You can imagine my surprise when my hair grew ten feet overnight.”

 “I know the feeling,” he said dryly. “Is that the first time you knew you were a witch?”

She stared down at his hand, at the long, straight fingers and the wide palm, and realised she wanted them on her body. Damn the bond. “No. I knew before then, even if I didn’t have a name for my abilities.” She looked up at him. “A few weeks later I met Zac’s family. His father trained me to protect myself and the rest developed naturally. You could say intuitively.”

His brows rose in surprise. “That’s how you met Zachariah?”

She nodded, remembering their earlier relationship. “We kind of rubbed each other the wrong way back then.”

“You mean the constant bickering is you being nice to each other?” Tobias said, his voice heavy with sarcasm.

He almost sounded jealous, which was ridiculous. “You could call it reluctant affection. But I know he’s got my back and vice versa.”

“So where is he?” Tobias asked, and this time she definitely heard the green tint.

“He’s right here,” Zachariah said, appearing before them with Sebastian.

Maddison raised her brows. “You took your sweet time.”

“I had to trust you wouldn’t get yourself killed until Sebastian got a lock on you.” He turned to Tobias. “We have your guards to thank for that. I had to subdue Marcus or he’d have started an all-out war.”

Tobias raised his brows. “Define subdue.”

“Put it this way. He’s feeling extremely mellow.”

Tobias closed his eyes. “That’s an understatement,” he murmured. “I don’t even recognise Marcus’ thought patterns.” His bewilderment said it all.

Could he get inside her head that easily? Maddy wondered. The fact they now shared a similar bond meant there was a strong possibility. She didn’t know how to feel about that. As if sensing her thoughts, Zachariah’s eyes narrowed on her, before swinging back to Tobias. Pushing through the unease, she turned to more important matters. “It’s clear the Nrikabats are using powerful magic to cloak the caves, which begs the question, what do they have on the Fractured to warrant such protection?”

Sebastian answered, bitter with resentment. “They reward loyalty, at least in the short term, so it means they’re planning an attack.”

It certainly made sense. “So they needed Tobias’ soul to power their army?”

“About that,” Tobias said, jumping to his feet. “I found a storage facility, which held what had to be a thousand souls.”

Sebastian’s focus snapped to him. “Can you take us to it?”

“Of course. But we may need backup. By now they know we escaped and, aside from looking for us, they’ll be guarding the merchandise.”

“We need Lucas,” Sebastian agreed and vanished before they could question his intentions.

As back-up plans went, Maddison thought, you couldn’t get much better than a Guardian. She could only hope Sebastian had the angel on speed-dial, because they didn’t have much time, and had lost their only chance to skip out undetected. It wasn’t until the quiet settled around them that she realised Zachariah was still staring at Tobias.

“You bound yourself to him,” he said, pinning her with a stare.

“I had no choice, he…” she paused, biting back a groan as the first echoing vibration thundered towards them. The game was up, the dwarves had detected their presence.

Please don’t be Grendel. Please don’t be Grendel.

“Where are you, witch?” Grendel’s voice boomed down the passage.

Damn it.

“I do have a name,” she muttered, knowing he could hear every word.

Tobias stepped towards the sound. “Perhaps you should let me handle this.”

All she could do was stare at him. He wasn’t seriously suggesting she couldn’t fight her own battles.

Hell no.

“I can deal with a thick-headed, crazy-assed dwarf,” she said and Zachariah choked out a laugh.

“What did you call me, Goldilocks?” Grendel boomed.

“See,” she said, lifting her eyes towards the roof of the cave. “He can’t even get his references right. Goldilocks had fair hair you-”

Grendel’s booming laughter shook the walls. Small pebbles on the ground danced beside her feet as he got nearer. He was in a good mood, she realised with a jolt. Either that or he was looking forward to torturing her slowly.

“You really shouldn’t have destroyed the Drystan,” Zachariah murmured.

“Please tell me that’s not what I think it is,” Tobias added, looking horrified.

The Dwarves were a proud race and admired skill and craftsmanship above all else. During a ceremony at the time of their maturity they were presented with an axe, gifted to them by the leader of the clan. It was named as part of an honorary ritual and became a prized possession. Maddison had accidently dissolved Grendel’s weapon during a disagreement.

“It’s not like I did it on purpose,” she muttered, ignoring the flair of guilt. “Can’t you work your happy vibes?”

Zachariah snorted. “I’m trying, believe me I’m trying. But he really doesn’t like you!”

Grendel paused when he realised they could see him; his bear-like shoulders hunched, the strong lines of his face set as solidly as rock. She didn’t even have to look into his eyes to know she was in trouble. “What did I say I’d do the next time I saw you, witch?” he said, bringing his fists together with a resounding thwack.

“Will you get over it already,” she goaded. “It’s an axe. Make a new one.”

“Maddy,” Zachariah warned. “Why do you always feel the need to provoke him?”

Her smile dropped before it could form. Something was wrong. Grendel’s body was simmering with rage, yet he didn’t move.

Rounding on Tobias, she didn’t want to believe what her brain was telling her, what was staring her in the face. “What the hell are you doing?”

“I’m trying to prevent you from getting crushed,” he ground out, clearly struggling with Grendel’s mind.

She punched his shoulder and felt a jolt down her arm. He was made of stone. “If I’d known you would pull this kind of shit, I would have left you back there to rot.” Anger burned her cheeks. He had never treated her like a damsel in distress.

“It’s the bond. He isn’t thinking clearly,” Zachariah said, though he didn’t have to sound so pleased about it.

She got in Tobias’ face and waited until he looked at her. “Let him go. Now.”

It was like flipping a switch, and Grendel roared as he surged forward. Turning towards him she absorbed the murderous look in his eyes and regretted what she was about to do. His anger was justified after all.

“As much as I’d like to go a round with you,” she said, removing a ring from her thumb and throwing it towards him, “we don’t have the time.”

He skidded to a halt, making himself the perfect target. The ring expanded in the air and slipped over his head and shoulders. It settled at his waist like a giant hula hoop, shrinking to pin him to the spot.

“We’re going to have to take a rain check,” she told him, as he began to wriggle against the restraint. It wouldn’t hold him for long. He was too strong.

“You’re going to pay for this,” he roared. “I expected more from you, witch.”

“My name is Maddison, dwarf,” she shouted back. “And I didn’t come here to pick a fight with you. I wouldn’t have come here at all, given a choice.”

“You dare to seek refuge?” he sneered.

“Actually,” Tobias said, stepping forward. “That was me. Are you denying us sanctuary?”

Grendel glanced at him, not quite bowing his head, but respect was there. “You’re the only reason she isn’t dead.”

Maddison sneered. “You and whose army, dwarf?” It had sounded better in her head.

“He’s hiding something.”

She frowned, turning to Zachariah. “What do you mean?”

“His heart rate is too fast.” He considered the dwarf. “There was a slight increase in rhythm when Tobias spoke, which means he has a healthy kind of respect. There was even a little for you. But as soon as you mentioned refuge, it went haywire.”

“He doesn’t want anyone to know we’re here,” she said, turning her attention back to Grendel. “What do they have?”

“Ba bum. Ba bum. Ba bum,” Zachariah murmured, patting his chest in quick succession.

Tobias took a menacing step forward when Grendel remained silent. “Tell her what she wants to know or I’ll get the information myself.”

“Cover your eyes.”

She let out a breath at Zachariah’s words, doing as he asked. Even shielded, the light burned; so bright she wanted to cover her whole face. When it dimmed to an acceptable level, her lids flipped open and she was looking into the divine face of a Guardian.

“Lucas.” She bowed her head, aware that Sebastian stood on his right.

“Still getting yourself in trouble I see.”

Lucas’ smooth voice sent shivers along her skin. She hid it with a shrug. “Just a slight misunderstanding.”

It was a relief when he turned to Tobias. The intensity in his eyes made her uncomfortable. “It’s good to see you again, Tobias.”

“Lucas.” Tobias nodded. “I take it you can’t get into the vault.”

That’s right, provoke the angel.

“What do you want to hear?” Lucas asked, with a hint of impatience. “That I need your help?”

“It’s just an observation. They’re using powerful magic and I saw the seals. They can’t be accessed without a clan member.”

Lucas didn’t say anything, which ramped up the tension. Maddison’s eyes wandered to Grendel, who was doing his best to disappear. He had to know they could feel his every movement. The mountain belonged to the dwarves, and it responded to their actions like a second skin.

“Are you so resistant to using your gift?” Lucas asked, drawing her attention.

A wave of panic hit her senses, emanating from Tobias. She instinctively stepped a little closer.

‘What are you doing?’

She was so surprised to hear his voice in her head she flinched, drawing the attention her way.

Damn bond.

Tobias’ soft chuckle did nothing to calm her. She wasn’t sure she liked having him in her head.

“Let’s call it performance anxiety,” he said, eyes on Lucas. “I’ll get over it.”

Lucas’ nod was subtle, so subtle she almost missed it. “Shall we?”

A moment later Lucas and Tobias were gone. Sebastian disappeared before she could open her mouth.

“He could at least have offered us a lift,” Maddison grumbled, turning to Zachariah.

His brows rose. “Lift? You make him sound like a shuttle. Transporting others takes a lot of energy.”

“Sensitive much,” she said, grinning. “You’re his babysitter, don’t you think we should get in on the action.”

Zachariah turned away, but not quick enough to hide the smile. He had only walked a few steps before he stopped to retrieve something out of his pocket. “Thought you might need a replacement,” he said, throwing a phone at her.

She caught it without looking. Her gaze was on the strap tied to her leg, which was now empty. “That reminds me. The Nrikabats have my weapons, and I want them back.”

“Then let’s go get them back.”

They jogged through the tunnel, and Maddison was surprised Grendel let her go so easily. She half expected the walls to start closing in on them. She looked at the phone in her hand, and thought about her conversation with Orion. A second later she had it to her ear, a plan already whirling through her mind.

“It seems I need your help after all,” she said when Riley growled in her ear.

“Yeah? What do you need?”

She had to laugh at the excitement in his voice. “Just round up a crew and wait for my call. I’m headed into the Firmani Caves and I might need to fight my way out.”

His low, piercing whistle hurt her ear. “You must have a death wish.”

“Is that a yes?”

Riley chuckled, a more pleasing sound. “You can count on it.”

She ended the call and slipped the phone into the empty holster on her thigh.

“What are you not telling me?” Zachariah asked as they exited the mountain.

“Just thinking ahead.” She didn’t enjoy lying to him, but Zachariah wouldn’t like what she was planning.

Luckily, they ran into a group of scouts at the entrance to the Firmani Caves so her friend had other things to worry about than pressing the subject.

“I want that back,” Zachariah said, throwing her one of his daggers.

“Absolutely.” She let her hair fly as she spoke, twining the locks around the thick wrist of a Nrikabat headed in her direction. He brought a sword down, trying to sever the connection, but he only succeeded in hurting himself. The blade sent a shock wave directly through his arm, and she used the distraction to jab him in the face with his own fist – her hair guiding the movement.

Zachariah was a blur on her right; the speed and efficiency with which he moved something she would never possess. Still, he had trained her, so she knew a few tricks.

Releasing the demon she aimed a kick at his midsection, which had him stumbling back a step or two, right into the path of another scout. He recovered quickly, and the two advanced as one, weapons raised.

She managed to block their joint attack, but not before one of them got a jab in. A large fist connected with her jaw and this time she was the one tumbling backwards. She threw her weight into her back foot and added a jolt of power to aid a flip. Her landing was smooth and controlled, as was her take off when she launched herself back over the top of them. They hadn’t been expecting it, so they were unprepared for her attack.

She led with a side kick, using the same leg to sweep the demon on her right off his feet. His friend went down a moment later, thanks to the appearance of Marcus. She had been so preoccupied she hadn’t heard his approach. But then Tobias’ guard was a highly trained soldier.

“Show off,” she murmured, glancing into the sky for the twins. As if on cue they circled above her, wings dipped in greeting. Turning to Marcus she inclined her head. “I’m glad to see you’re back on your feet.”

“We owe you a debt, if-“

Maddison raised her hand to cut him off. “I was just doing my job, so don’t get all mushy. I rely on your particular brand of torment.”

Marcus smiled, the first genuine smile she had seen from him. “Give it a few hours.”

She turned to Zachariah when he came to stand beside her. “How are you, Marcus?” he asked, extending a hand.

“I’ve been better.”

Zachariah couldn’t hide his smile. “I take it Tobias has you waiting out here so you’re not tempted to execute a little payback.”

Marcus’ eyes, so dark they appeared black, gleamed with amusement. “Something like that.”

It wasn’t hard to imagine what damage Marcus could do. He was built like a tank; tall, and wide, and lethal. There were secrets in those eyes Maddison couldn’t even begin to understand, she wasn’t sure she wanted to. He was a loner by choice, though he had a reputation with the ladies. Not surprising given his beautiful bone structure, and the dark, smooth silk of his skin.

“I’m sure there’ll be a few more scouts along to entertain you,” she said, glancing towards the entrance. “If we spot any we’ll send them your way!”

He morphed into the Scarecrow from Oz and winked at her.

“See you around, Marcus.”

Zachariah nodded and walked in step beside her, heading to the cave. “Speaking of scouts. I’m surprised at the modest welcoming committee,” he said, taking the dagger she offered by way of response.

They discovered the reason for the modest group the moment they rounded the first bend in the connecting tunnels. The sea of unconscious demons had clearly been subjected to Lucas’ divine light. Her eyes watered the closer they got.

“Stop,” Zachariah said, shielding his eyes. “Lucas isn’t alone.”

She did as he asked, squinting against the onslaught. “What kind of juice does it take to return a thousand souls?” she wondered aloud.

“It’s why Sebastian’s here. For some it’s too late to reunite the soul to their body and he needs to prepare them for transition.”

Her gaze shot to him. “Alone? That’s crazy.”

“I thought I was his babysitter. Are you auditioning for the job?” Zachariah asked, nudging her with his elbow. “Besides, he’s not alone. There are other Guardians here. They can release the trapped souls through a wider connection.” He smiled. “The process is a little more subtle than breaking the glass as it were.”

“I’d hardly call it a smash and grab. I used blood to bind us, and there was no guarantee his soul would…find its way home, so to speak.”

“Yet if you’d had the vial you could have broken the spell.” Zachariah shrugged. “You took a risk and it paid off. I’m not sure where that leaves you.”

She stepped around to face him. It was better than staring headlong into all the damn light. “You would have done the same thing and you know it. It’s called thinking on your feet.”

His grin was lightning fast. “If your situations were reversed, I’m sure Tobias would be thinking with something else entirely.”

“Bite me,” she said and then pulled a disgusted face. “On second thoughts, bite yourself.” Her lips twitched when he showed a little fang. “The point is, I got the job done.”

She tensed the moment Zachariah did, and spun to follow his gaze. Her shoulders relaxed when she realised it was Tobias, still in Nrikabat form. The lock on the storage facility was protected by a ward, powerful magic which required a clan member to neutralise. Lucas could no doubt bypass the spell, but not without alerting the entire den.

Her eyes roamed the unfamiliar face. “Nice scar.”

The grunt could have been a chuckle, but she wasn’t sure. “My handy work,” he said, running a clawed finger down the mark. “Or at least I tagged the piece of shit I modelled myself on.”

Lucas stepped out into the corridor before she could think of a response. “Maddison,” he said, frowning. “I assume there’s a reason you came back into the lion’s den?”

Her gaze shot to Tobias briefly, the Nrikabats did resemble big cats if you used your imagination. “I was hoping for a moment of your time.” She inclined her head, and it was almost a bow.

He motioned for her to come forward, his face a mask of patience. As she walked, the glare in the tunnel began to recede until the only light came from Lucas himself.

“We’re in your debt,” Lucas said, placing a hand on Tobias’ arm. “If not for you, we might have lost them.”

Maddison looked over his shoulder into the now empty room. The other Guardians were gone, as was Sebastian.

“It was almost worth the separation,” Tobias said, inclining his head. “Though it’s Maddy who deserves the credit.”

“Indeed.” Lucas raised his other hand to close it around Maddison’s wrist, connecting them. She knew what was happening, even as light engulfed her and she felt a stirring in her chest. The moment it faded she was left with a familiar emptiness. She could no longer feel Tobias.

Lucas had severed the bond.

“Was there anything else?” he asked, releasing them both.

“Actually there is.” She turned to give Tobias a pointed look. He ignored her, as interested in what she was about to say as Lucas. “During my…visit, I discovered the clan have broken the terms of the Hympe Trials. I’d like to petition to hold the remaining term on the contract.”

It was almost comical to see the surprised light in his eyes. She got the feeling he rarely showed the emotion. Tobias, on the other hand, had less restraint. His control slipped, literally, as he returned to his true form.

“What’s going on, Maddy?” he demanded.

She didn’t even look at him, her eyes remained firmly on Lucas, awaiting his decision.

“May I?” Lucas asked, hovering a hand above her head. At her terse nod, the hand settled; not making contact exactly, but she felt the connection anyway. After a long, tense moment, a frown settled along his smooth forehead. “What is it you’d like from me?”

“I’m going to make an agreement with the clan leader and I want some assurance that the contract will be mine, even if he breaks his word.”

Lucas nodded, clearly amused. “You want me to bail you out, should you have another misunderstanding.”

“Not bail me out, exactly. I’d like someone present at the meeting, as a witness. If you give them the authority, it means, even if the clan leader backs out at the last minute, the transfer of ownership still stands.” She paused to clear her throat. “I’d also like to offer something in return.”

“Making a deal with an angel is serious business,” Lucas told her. “Are you sure you want to pay the price for someone who appears beyond redemption.”

Maddison narrowed her eyes. “You don’t believe that for a second. I know you think I have a shot, or we wouldn’t be having this conversation.”

He was silent for so long it made her nervous. “I like you, Maddison. So I’m going to play along.” There was a slight pause. “What will you offer in exchange for my assistance?”

“I’ll work for the Alliance.” 

Tobias stared at Maddison in shock. It didn’t make any sense. Any of it. She wasn’t only putting her life on the line, she was offering up her freedom. And why hadn’t he known a member of his race was being terrorized by the clan? More to the point, how the hell had the Nrikabats won the contract in the first place.

“I want my choice of partner,” Maddison said, stilling his turbulent thoughts.

“Done.” Lucas bowed slightly. “Tobias will give you all the authority you need.” He indicated one of the rings on her thumb. “May I?”

She removed a band immediately, holding it towards him. As soon as it touched Lucas’ palm it transformed into a cuff, which Lucas snapped onto Tobias’ wrist. “To ensure you don’t lose any more blood,” he told Tobias with a small smile. “The moment you remove it, it will revert to its natural state.”

A second later he was gone.

Tobias had the unsettling urge to remove the damn thing. He was still reeling from the fact Lucas had acquiesced so easily. It meant the Alliance wanted Maddison badly enough to accept her demands. But that wasn’t the reason he felt so betrayed.

“Why didn’t you come to me, Maddy? I could have intervened.”

A familiar light came into her eyes. “I’ve been fighting monsters in some form or another my entire life. For once I want to help someone else fight back.” Her chin shot up. “Besides, Donovan doesn’t need to be rescued, especially not from his king.”

It hit him then, what she was doing. “You want to show him his life is worth fighting for.”

Her shoulders slumped. “It might not work, but at least this way it’s honourable. I can live with his anger as long as he survives.”

“What are you planning to do exactly?” Zachariah said, walking towards them. The vampire had been so silent, Tobias had forgotten he was there.

“I’m going to compete for his contract, of course. I’m going in the arena.”

“Are you out of your mind?” Tobias said, barely resisting the urge to shake some sense into her.

“That’s debatable,” Zachariah supplied helpfully.

“I did say I was going to fight. What did you think I meant?” The amusement in her voice pushed at him, but then it was nothing new.

“It’s suicide. Even if you win, there’s no guarantee they’ll let you leave.”

She shrugged. “I have backup coming. We’ll fight our way out if necessary. Plus,” she smiled winningly. “I’m sure Marcus will be more than willing to lend a hand.”

“I don’t mean to point out the obvious,” Zachariah said. “But you’re not going to change her mind, and now is the perfect opportunity to move on the crazy scheme. While the guards lay sleeping, if you know what I mean.” He put a hand on Maddison’s shoulder. “I’ll be close by, in case you need me.”

“I’d get you front row seats, if I could!”

Tobias groaned, inwardly admitting defeat. At least he could watch her back. “Fine. Let’s go.”

“Don’t do anything foolish,” Zachariah said, taking a step back.

“I think that ship sailed,” she told him. “Catch you later, blood-sucker.”

“Hag.” His gaze shot to Tobias. “Good luck.”

Tobias could only nod. In truth he was surprised Zachariah was willing to walk away. Even without Lucas’ intervention, he would never leave Maddison alone unprotected.

“He trusts me to get the job done,” Maddison said, the amusement still evident in his head. “And he’ll be there the moment I need him.”

 He watched Zachariah disappear down the tunnel, ridiculously pleased that the blood bond still lingered. “You hope.”

She stepped over a prone Nrikabat, ignoring the jibe. “Are you coming?” she said. “Zachariah was right about the timing, but we don’t have long.”

“Yes, Your Majesty,” he muttered, following in her path.

________

Thanks for stopping by.

Until next time.

Mel

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