Hank sat as still as a stone in the back seat of the cab as it sped through the busy streets toward his destination on the South Side. The red lights lasted forever and he practiced counting and deep breathing every time they had to stop to keep from going crazy.
Chrissten was out there alone with her mate, the crazy fucker who’d used force to claim her.
Emotion bubbled up deep within him, but he slammed the lid back down on it. He wouldn’t do her any good if he went into this situation guns blazing. He needed to be calm and calculated. He was good at that. It was what had made him an exceptional sniper. An exceptional soldier. Patience. Cunning. Skill. He had all three. He just had to remember to use them.
The cabbie had tried to engage him in conversation but had quickly realized he was fighting a losing battle. Hank didn’t want to talk. He needed to think. Plan. And pray. He only hoped Chrissten was where Damek said she would be. If she wasn’t— He broke off, not willing to finish that thought.
His phone vibrated and he yanked it out of his pocket. “Yeah.”
“Where the hell are you?” Quinn’s voice was clipped.
“On my way to get Chrissten.”
Quinn swore. “Why didn’t you wait?”
“No time.” Hank wondered if Bethany had told Quinn about him and Chrissten. He decided to lay it all on the line. He had nothing to hide. “Chrissten is mine.”
Quinn swore. “We’ll talk about that later.”
“Nothing to talk about.” That wasn’t quite true, but the only ones who needed to talk were he and Chrissten. The rest of them could keep out of it.
Pure steel coated Quinn’s words. “I said we’d talk about it.” Translation, they’d fight when there was time to settle it.
“Whatever.” Hank wasn’t afraid of Quinn or any other male. Chrissten was his. Case closed. If it took him a hundred years to convince her of that, he would. Patience was the key.
Hank could hear rustling on the other end and changed the subject. “What’s going on?”
“I slipped away from the bar. So did Benjamin and Kevin. Craig and Teague are staying with the women, just in case of trouble. Not that we expect anymore here tonight.”
Doors slammed and a motor gunned. They were in the van and on their way. They were almost twenty minutes behind him. “How did you get away so fast?” He’d expected them to be tied up for much longer with the cops.
“I talked fast and Craig handed over the security video. It’s all there in black and white. They need me to come in and make a formal statement tomorrow. Tonight they’re just rounding up the suspects and popping them in jail, after they give medical attention to the guy whose arm you broke. You’ll need to talk to them tomorrow.”
“If I’m still alive,” he muttered.
Quinn ignored him. “Joshua is with us and he’s called Donovan, who is going to meet us there. Isaiah and Michael will follow as soon as they finish talking to the cops. They were almost finished when we left. Teague, Craig and the women will board up the broken window and hold down the fort.”
Hank imagined the women were pretty pissed by that. Meredith was a hell of a fighter and he figured Alexandra was too. And Bethany was tough. She had to be to have survived her ordeal with Brian and the doctor. Neema wasn’t much of a fighter, but she had spirit. However, it was much safer for them back at Haven. None of the men would be able to give themselves fully to the fight if they had to worry about the women.
“I’m almost there.” His heart began to pound faster and he took a deep breath, forcing himself to calm down.
“Call as soon as you know something,” Quinn ordered.
“No. If you don’t hear from me assume it’s the right place and come in hard and silent.” He closed the phone and tucked it back into his pocket. The cab pulled over a block from his destination. The foot traffic was much lighter in this part of town. Hank paid the driver, who was glancing nervously at the street. Then he climbed out and hefted his duffle bag over his shoulder. As soon as he shut the door the cab peeled away from the curb and disappeared down the road.
His sneakers were silent as he ghosted down the sidewalk and into an alleyway. All his senses were focused outward on his surroundings. He was in the zone. He was hunting. And God help his prey when he found them.
Chrissten struggled to regulate her ragged breathing and steady her heartbeat. This was no time to panic. Correction, this was exactly the time to panic, but it wouldn’t help her escape. They’d reached their destination.
The back doors of the van were yanked open and Brian reached in, grabbed her and tossed her over his shoulder. The position was uncomfortable and cut into her midsection. Her already upset stomach threatened to revolt and she thought about just giving into it and vomiting all over Brian’s back, but that would probably only make him more angry.
She inhaled through her nose and out through her mouth in a desperate attempt to settle her jittery stomach. Fear threatened to immobilize her. She had to fight through it and remind herself that Hank was coming. Quinn was coming. But would it be too late?
She made herself study her surroundings. Another older building. No surprise there. She hadn’t seen where they were going but she had no doubt it was in a more dilapidated part of the city. They wouldn’t want any nosy neighbors.
“What have you got there?” The male voice was deep and the sensual edge to it scared her.
“My mate. I told you I’d get her back.” She was unceremoniously dumped onto the floor. Her head bounced off the wood, making her ears ring. A throbbing pain danced around her skull. She swallowed hard and struggled to focus. It was difficult with the marching band beating in her brain, the flock of butterflies in her belly and her fuzzy vision.
A tall male with dark hair and dark eyes stood over Chrissten studying her. “She’s not much to look at. Hard to believe Marcus was killed because of this bitch and the one who got away.”
Chrissten wanted to spit in his face but settled on tilting her chin upward. She wouldn’t let them intimidate her. She had no idea who Marcus was.
“Marcus died because he was careless and took too many silver bullets. And it doesn’t matter what she looks like, William.” Brian laughed and slapped the man on the back. “She’s strong and she’s available. She can give me sons.”
Chrissten went cold inside. This was Brian’s second in command, the computer expert, the one who’d helped him find her.
“Where are the others?” Brian asked.
“Aaron and Beck got back ahead of you and are on watch. Gregor and Miles are on a food run.” William nudged her with the tip of his boot. “What are you going to do with her?”
“Fuck her. And often.” Brian’s matter-of-fact tone made her blood run cold. Chrissten looked around her surroundings, searching for a knife, something sharp, anything she could use to help free herself.
“What about the rest of us?” William’s question held an edge of threat to it.
Brian crossed his arms over his chest. “The rest of you will have to wait.” Chrissten began to relax. She could handle Brian. She had before and she would again. “As soon as she’s pregnant with my whelp, you can all have a turn with her.”
Chrissten went numb inside. She wouldn’t live through this. There was no way she would allow herself to be raped by all six wolves in this pack. She’d rather die, and before Brian got her pregnant.
A hot ember burned in her gut. No. She wouldn’t die. She’d escape. And she’d kill Brian in the process. That was her only option. Her family was still out there in the city, vulnerable to attack. Brian wouldn’t be satisfied simply having her. They’d cost him and his pack by killing the doctor and taking back Bethany.
“What about the rest of them?” William asked.
“We’ll give them a few hours to stew and then we’ll attack again. That bitch Bethany is still at the bar, and I’ll bet there are more. You can have Bethany if we get her back,” he promised the other man.
“Sounds good to me,” William agreed.
Brian reached down, grabbed her by the braid and dragged her across the room. Pain exploded in her already abused head. Blackness threatened to overwhelm her and she fought it with everything she had not to lose consciousness.
The floor was hard beneath her as he pulled her into a small room. “Stay here,” he ordered and shut the door behind him.
Chrissten didn’t say anything. Didn’t move. She couldn’t. Any wrong movement and she’d pass out. Her life came down to each new single moment. Breathe in. Breathe out. Over and over again until the black edges of unconsciousness receded.
Time lost all meaning as she focused on her simple goal of pushing air in and out of her lungs. When the blackness finally retreated, she took stock of her surroundings. It wasn’t an actual room she was in but a large closet. There were no windows, no way in or out other than the door she’d been dragged through. And she knew Brian or William or both were waiting on the other side.
The pain in her head made her ill, but she ignored it. She had to free herself.
It was going to hurt. No way around it. Her feet were bound and her hands were tied behind her back. The first thing she had to do was contort her body so she could push her arms around her legs and feet and move her hands to the front so she could see what she was working with.
Easier said than done.
But Chrissten wasn’t about to admit defeat. Not while she still had a heartbeat.
She sat up slowly and almost passed out. The pain was overwhelming, but she gritted her teeth and held on. She was sure she had a concussion, but it would pass in time. The werewolf blood running through her veins would help her recover faster than she would if she was fully human.
“Help me,” she whispered to her wolf and felt a shimmering of reassurance within her as her wolf tried to add her strength. “It’s all me,” she reminded herself.
She shuffled backward, moving as quietly as she could. She stopped when her back was against the wall and took a fortifying breath. Cocking her head to one side, she listened carefully. Male voices drifted in from the room beyond. Good. If they were talking they wouldn’t be listening too hard for her.
Her hands and arms were almost completely numb, the circulation impaired by being tied so tightly in an awkward position. She could do this. She had to do this.
Clenching her teeth to keep from screaming, Chrissten shoved her arms under her butt and down the backs of her legs and over her feet. Sweat popped out on her brow and down her back. Her stomach protested. Her head exploded with pain.
She dropped her forehead onto her bent knees and sucked in air. She’d done it. Her hands were in front of her. Grant it, her arms were on fire, but now she had a chance to free herself.
When she’d gained control of the pain, she took stock of the situation. Her hands were swollen and slightly discolored. Not good. Her arms felt like someone had tried to yank them out of their sockets. Her head hurt, her entire body was trembling. She was sweating and her stomach threatened to revolt.
It was better than being dead.
Chrissten finally raised her head, taking her time as she did so. No need to rush things at this point and risk passing out. She rested her head against the wall behind her until she felt steadier.
Time to get to work. She worked her fingers slowly, ignoring the pins and needles that shot through them. When she had enough movement, she leaned forward and started picking at the rope around her ankles. It was a slow, arduous chore and she didn’t make much headway.
Her wolf chuffed inside her and she stilled. Her head must have addled her more than she’d thought. She could use her wolf.
She closed her eyes and concentrated on a partial change. Long, sharp talons exploded from her fingertips and fangs dropped from her mouth. Very carefully, Chrissten used her claw to slice the ropes around her ankles.
She almost cried out when they were freed. She extended her legs in front of her and moved her ankles to work the feeling back into her limbs. Then it was time to do her hands. This was a bit more difficult. Her claws couldn’t help her and she was forced to rely on her teeth.
She nicked herself several times, felt the hot spill of blood on her wrists. She worked faster, terrified the men might smell her blood and come to investigate. She listened as she gnawed on the ropes holding her captive. They were still talking, but more voices had joined them.
Chrissten worked faster. She had to get free. Why were they all here? Brian might want to keep her for himself, at least for a while, but that might not happen. There were five of them and only one Brian. What would happen if they decided they didn’t want to wait?
Her razor-sharp teeth cut through the final rope. She worked until the bonds fell away and then sent a silent thank you to her wolf, allowing her to recede for now. The strength was still there for her to call on if she needed it. That gave her a measure of optimism.
Her hands lay useless in her lap and she forced herself to work her fingers back and forth, opening and closing them. The sensation, when it came back, hit hard. There was no gradual awakening, but a hard blast of pain. Chrissten ignored it. She’d gotten good at that during her time in captivity.
There was no time to coddle her abused limbs. As quietly as she could, she stood, using the wall for support. The closet was cramped but empty. There was nothing she could use as a weapon.
Her legs shook and her arms quivered. But she was free of her bonds. That was something. It was a start.
She inched across the room and put her ear next to the door, blocking out the pain and concentrating on the conversation in the other room.
“Why should we wait?” She recognized William’s voice.
“Because I said so.” Brian’s reply was calm and measured, but Chrissten could hear the underlying anger in it.
“You had her for months,” another male protested.
“She’s mine.” Brian left no room for argument.
She prayed one of them would challenge Brian, prayed they would fight among themselves, kill one another and save her the trouble. But it wasn’t to be. There was some grumbling, but they backed off.
She rested her forehead against the damp wood, wrinkling her nose as the musty scent invaded her nostrils. What should she do? Should she wait or attack? Would they check on her soon?
There were too many variables. She simply didn’t know what to do. But time was running out. Whatever they were going to do they’d do soon. If she wanted to have the element of surprise on her side she’d have to do something, and soon.
Her goal was to kill Brian. Problem was she’d have to open the door in her human form. Her wolf couldn’t manage a doorknob, assuming it was unlocked. And she thought it was. She hadn’t heard a click when Brian had dumped her in here. Of course, she’d been concentrating on not passing out and hadn’t been paying a lot of attention to anything else. But there was no reason for them to lock her in. She was bound and they were right outside the door. She had a sinking feeling Brian was just biding his time until he took her upstairs to his room.
Once she opened the door she’d have to attack. There could be no hesitation. She could partially shift on the fly and use her claws and fangs on Brian. If she was lucky maybe she could slit his throat and watch him bleed out before the other members of his pack killed her.
It helped to have a plan, but oh how her heart ached.
She didn’t want to die. Now that she’d tasted freedom again, she wanted so badly to live. She wanted to spend time with her family, laugh with them, fight with them and love them.
She wanted to figure out what she wanted to do with her life. There’d been little time or money in her life and she’d gotten caught up with simply surviving. She’d fallen into the trap of living to work, never thinking about the future.
But most of all, she wanted to see Hank again. She wanted time to discover what, if anything, was between them. She wanted the specter of Brian gone and her ugly past erased from her memory.
If wishes were horses…
She let the thought trail off. She hadn’t believed in fairy tales for a long time. The good guys didn’t always win and sometimes the princess had to save herself. It was time for this princess to kick some werewolf ass.
Chrissten took a deep breath and shoved all other thoughts aside. It was time to get a divorce.
She grabbed the knob on the door and turned.
Hank worked his way around down the street and around to the back of the building, keeping to the shadows. He moved quickly and silently, a deadly predator on the hunt. He avoided the few people on the streets, skirting a drug dealer making a sale and several women out trolling the streets for some action.
Every cell in his body was focused on the task at hand—free Chrissten and kill Brian and his pack. They couldn’t afford to leave even one of them alive or Chrissten and Bethany would always be at risk.
He didn’t feel sorry for the males. They’d made their choice when they’d participated in the abduction and abuse of innocent females. Hank couldn’t understand a man who would hurt a woman. It was wrong on every level. A male protected and looked after his family, his mate and those who were weaker.
His breathing was low and even as he made his way behind the wooden building. It was much like the one they’d held Chrissten in before—an older structure that had been turned into several apartments years ago but had fallen into disrepair.
He automatically filtered the sounds of the city out of his brain. He ignored the buzz of the power lines, the rumble of the traffic, the white noise that was constant. He honed his preternatural hearing until all he could hear was the building in front of him. Everything else faded away.
There were several people moving around inside. Voices.
Hank set down his bag and began to gear up. He tucked two silver-coated knives into his belt along with a 9mm semi-automatic pistol. He stripped off his shirt and tossed it aside. Then he kicked off his sneakers. If he had to shift he wanted to be able to do it on the fly.
He wished he had a machete so he could behead the fuckers. He could always use his claws to rip out their hearts. That worked as well as silver bullets. Werewolves were quick healers, but they weren’t immortal and needed a healthy heart to survive.
He thought long and hard about taking his rifle, but it wouldn’t be of much use in this situation. This was going to be up close and personal. He stored his gear bag behind a pile of garbage and walked gingerly to the back door, avoiding the worst of the debris that littered the ground. He was wearing only his jeans and his weapons when he opened the door and stepped into the gloomy back porch.
Raised male voices reached his ears. They were up the stairs and to the right. They were arguing about something and he had a sinking feeling he knew what it was about—Chrissten.
He pushed her out of his mind, hardened his heart and pulled a familiar layer of ice around him. He had a mission to accomplish.
Hopefully their argument would distract them from his arrival. No matter how quiet he was they should be able to hear him. Or at least smell him. They were, after all, pureblooded werewolves.
He pulled his gun and started up the stairs, keeping to the sides of the treads where they were less likely to squeak.