Rhyl stared at the piece of artwork sticking out of his chest. Three striped fish quivered level with his eyes. Malin had grabbed the driftwood from a shelf and struck so fast, Rhyl only had time to twist so the demon didn’t hit the center of his heart. Pretty damn close, though.
Pain radiated through Rhyl’s body as Malin’s vaseels
tightened their hold on Rhyl’s outstretched arms.
The words you missed
hovered on Rhyl’s lips, but being a smart-ass was what had got him into this mess in the first place. In any case, far better that Malin didn’t know his aim was off.
“You’re worthless to me, boy,” Malin snarled. “You don’t amuse me, and you’re boring in bed. Unlike your brother, you can’t suck cock to save your life. If you had been able to, maybe it would
have saved your life.”
Rhyl was fairly confident there was nothing wrong with his cock-sucking skills, only with his attitude toward sucking Malin’s cock once he’d realized what a poisonous fucker he was.
“Nothing to say?” Malin asked.
“Fuck. You,” Rhyl gasped. Shit, hard to speak.
Malin stepped forward until his face was right up against Rhyl’s, his fetid breath hitting Rhyl’s parted lips and washing down his throat. “I never wanted you. I only wanted your brother. You’re fucking nothing. I don’t even remember your name.”
Malin nodded to the men holding him, and as they released him, Rhyl found himself falling backward. He expected to hit the cellar floor, but he kept going. Oh, not good.
While he still could,
Rhyl wrapped his hand around the piece of wood and yanked it out of his chest. Christ that hurt.
His fingers snagged one of the fish and held tight.
“My name...is Rhyl Markov!” he shouted as he fell, the sound echoing off the rock. “Remember it...demon...because I’m going to kill you.”
Malin’s laughter followed Rhyl as he dropped down a twisting shaft. Collisions with the sides slowed his fall, but when he tumbled into a narrowing side chute, Rhyl slammed to a halt, wedged between the rocks, the little fish caught in a crack beside him. Rhyl had enough room to turn his head, but while one foot rested on stone, the other dangled in midair. Fuck.
The scent of his blood was strong, his body battered and bleeding. If he’d not managed to yank out that piece of wood, the fall would have driven it farther into his chest. He’d be dead or dying. Rhyl tried to pull himself up but wasn’t strong enough. All his reserves worked to heal the wound near his heart. He needed blood to get the strength to climb out, and where the hell was he going to find that down here?
Maybe the word hell
was a poor choice. Rhyl had a feeling that was exactly what lay below him. He tried to shift his body up, down, sideways, but apart from being able to move his arms, he was caught fast.
What if he couldn’t climb out?
Rhyl sighed. He just needed his chest to heal, to regain some strength, and everything would be fine. He’d expected punishment for what he and his brother had done. Once Malin realized they’d tricked him, he’d almost ripped Rhyl apart, but Rhyl hadn’t cared, because Dominic had escaped. The thought of his brother free made Rhyl’s heart sing.
So even if he couldn’t climb out, Dominic would come back and save him. His twin wouldn’t rest until he knew he was safe.
Dominic would come.
* * * * *
Days drifted to weeks.
My name is Rhyl...
Why hadn’t Dominic come? Rhyl didn’t want to consider the possibility that Malin had recaptured him, that his brother was dead. Oh fuck. My brother. My twin.
Rhyl’s fingers were raw from clawing at the stone, his mind fraying a little more with every day that passed. He talked to the fish, pulled it from the crack in the rock, and stroked it.
He’d already be dead if not for the rats. When he’d heard them squeaking in the darkness, Rhyl accepted he had no choice, not if he wanted to live. He spilled his blood to attract them, struck with the fin of the fish, and afterward let their drained bodies fall into the void. He never heard them land.
He spent his waking hours boiling in anger, raging at Malin, at Dominic, at their parents, at himself. Rhyl kicked and squirmed against the rock that confined him. More than once, he slipped farther down, his wasted muscles reducing his bulk so the stone lost its hold, only to find himself snagged again a few feet below. The little fish fell with him, clutched in his hand.
Rhyl would fucking kill that demon when he got out of here.
* * * * *
Weeks became months.
My name is...
Way above him, darkness had fallen. His frail body, still governed by vampiric circadian rhythm, did its best to awaken. He opened his eyes, though he already knew he would see nothing. The effort to use even such small muscles cost him energy he could ill afford to waste, and every movement brought pain. But he opened his eyes, because he’d survived another day and he still hoped. His fingers caressed the little fish trapped with him in the stone tomb.
And he dreamed of a different life. One where he loved and was loved. A man to hold him and a sweet woman for them to share. They’d touch him, stroke his skin, kiss him. The beat of their hearts would match his while they fucked their way to oblivion. They were out there somewhere, and one day he’d find them.
Only first he had to get out of here. He’d do anything to walk again in the world. Lie, cheat, fuck, kill -- if only someone would find him.
* * * * *
Months turned into years.
No one would come.
No one cared.
No one knew.
Except for those he hated.
That which he loved.
* * * * *
She felt the soft caress of fingers drifting along her buttocks and squirmed into their touch. Hands cupped her breasts, thumbs stroked her nipples, while a finger paused over her anus. A hot tongue speared her mouth as lips feathered down the column of her neck.
Two men playing with her, kissing her, teasing her.
A finger rimmed the tight muscle of her anus, and she held her breath as it pressed and eased its way inside. The other man thrust two fingers into her wet pussy, and both men groaned in unison as each felt the other through the thin tissue. Her control slipped further and further.
Two men with no faces, no names.
An alarm clock beeped. She fumbled to find it as the noise grew louder, then resorted to a hard slap to shut it up. A moment’s peace snuggling in the warm bed, remembering the dream, until fear pounced like a big cat and mauled her awake. Eyes open and blinking, a breathy gasp escaped her tightly pressed lips.
Where the hell am I?
Who the hell am I?
She sat bolt upright, her attention drawn to a large sheet of paper taped to the wall facing the bed. On it, in big letters, was written --
Your name is Piper Kennedy. You suffer from a type of amnesia that makes you forget almost everything once you fall asleep. You write all you need to remember in a notebook. You take photos of people to recall their faces. Your notebook and phone are on the table at your side.
She turned her head and saw a blue book and slim black mobile lying next to the alarm clock. This was crazy. She knew she was in a bedroom, knew all the words to describe the things around her. She could read.
The date? No.
Planet. Yep, Earth.
She gave a little laugh.
The dream. Oh yeah, I can remember that.
She struggled to remember something real -- anything -- and came up with nothing. Her gaze drifted back to the paper pinned in front of her.
Your name is Piper Kennedy.
Can I speak?
Nothing stirred in her mind except confusion. How can I not know my own name?
She reached for the book, opened it, and began to read.
You can still remember how to DO things like cook, draw, drive, read --
well, duh. You work as a tattoo artist.
She raised her eyebrows and kicked back the sheets to the bottom of the bed. She slept naked. No tattoos that she could see. Tattooist...felt right, though. An image flashed into her head of gloves, equipment, inking pictures.
Read this entire book before you get out of bed. Your current notebook is in the kitchen. The old ones are in the closet.
She rolled out of bed, walked across the carpet to the closet, and opened the door. Another note pinned inside. You never fucking listen.
She laughed, and then her smile faded when she saw shelf after shelf lined with notebooks similar to the one by the bed. She pulled out one on the far left.
My name is Piper Kennedy. I’m fourteen years old. I go to Lodstone School in Lincoln. My parents are dead.
She gulped and pushed it back in place.
“Piper,” she said.
Maybe if she kept saying it, it would sound right.
“Piper,” she said with more assurance. “Piper, Piper, Piper.”
Okay, so she needed to read the book by the bed, but first she had to look at her face. Two doors. She found the bathroom. The mirror beckoned, but her feet dragged.
Two steps and a deep breath before Piper lifted her chin. A pale face stared back. Dark green eyes. Short and spiky snow-white hair. Dyed or her own? Maybe less spiky if she combed it. She smoothed it with her palm, and it sprang up again. She looked freaked-out. Wide-eyed and slack-jawed. Piper tried a smile and thought there might be someone pretty in there, but not at the moment.
The bathroom was full of stuff she’d expect to see -- soap, shampoo, toothbrush, birth control pills with a piece of paper that read take one and tick the box
She knew what everything was, but didn’t remember buying any of it. Fear trickled down her spine like a skeletal finger, and she shivered. Is this really what happened every day of her life?
Piper tried the other door. Kitchen and living room combined. Nothing looked familiar, but neither did anything alarm her. Another sheet of paper was taped to a wooden door on the far side.
Don’t leave the flat without reading the notebook by the bed. Don’t freak out. It’s okay.
Several photos were pinned to the wall in the kitchen. Piper studied them and the writing beneath. Hendrick, her boss at the tattoo parlor. Next to his photo was one of his girlfriend, and then pictures of four women with ex-girlfriend
written beneath. Photos below those of two women who worked with her. Below that a shot of her neighbor and three guys who ran the shop at the end of the street. Piper’s heart beat harder. At the bottom was another note.
You can do this. You have for eleven years. Read the notebook.
She went back to bed. Turning to the first page of the notebook, she began to read.
“My name is Piper Kennedy."
* * * * *
“Keir! Keir! Keir! Keir! Keir!”
As Keir walked naked down the corridor, the chants grew louder. The raucous voices were supposed to inspire him; instead they made him want to throw up. On the opposite side of the building, another man walked down an identical corridor and presumably could hear his own name being yelled by his supporters.
Then again, maybe not. This was Keir’s home territory after all. Perhaps the sounds of “Keir, Keir, Keir” drowned out everything else. Didn’t matter. Only one of them would live to hear their name proclaimed victor.
At the doors, Keir paused. His two vampire escorts, Jardine and Frick, moved in front of him.
Frick put his mouth to Keir’s ear. “I hope he rips your fucking head off. We could use a new football.”
Keir said nothing. Only his death would make Frick happy, so why bother to respond?
Jardine curled his fingers over Keir’s shoulder. “I made an appointment for you to get an addition to your marque
tomorrow night at the tattoo parlor.”
Keir wished he were as sure that he’d win.
“Good luck.” Jardine let him go.
Keir made sure his face showed nothing, but the twist of fear in his gut, something he always carried into the ring, had a pythonlike stranglehold on his colon. Jardine opened the doors, and the roar of the crowd doubled. At this point, Keir always thought about running. Well, he thought about running all the time, particularly when he actually went running and was tempted to keep going, but never more than when he came face-to-face with the ring and the possibility of his death. But there was no point wasting energy considering flight when it was impossible. He had to fight.
He stepped up to the man waiting for him at the edge of the ring and sniffed. Wolf.
“Say good-bye to your
head this time,” the man whispered.
, who checked each fighter before they went into the ring, weren’t supposed to talk. Keir pressed his lips together. Pointless reacting to this gibe either. As if he needed reminding that the last time he’d fought, he’d ripped off a vampire’s head. Even the vamps in his familia
looked at him differently after that. Except Jardine, who only ever had lust in his eyes.
In full view of the screaming crowd, Keir spread his legs, raised his arms, and kept his gaze fixed on nothing. Rough, cold hands patted every inch of his skin, checked under his feet, between his toes, lifted his scrotum. Keir was surprised his balls were still there, that they hadn’t found a place to hide behind his ribs. But then, where in his body was safe?
The werewolf invigilechecking for hidden blades, vials of poison, or possibly weapons of mass destruction stuffed up Keir’s ass worked for the opposition. On the far side of the ring, where Keir was not going to look until he had to, Patrick would be doing the same checks on the other fighter. Thoroughly, Keir hoped.
Inspection over, pieces of black leather were shoved into Keir’s hands. The invigile watched as Keir wrapped a thin twist of the material low on his hips and tied it over his belly. He tugged the wider section of leather under the length he’d tied and let it hang in front of his tackle. The much thinner strip ran up the crease of his butt and fastened on the belt. Keir’s cock and balls filled most of the bag that held them. The leather loincloth wasn’t much protection, and when he shifted, he’d lose the covering anyway, but the bout would be over in a couple of seconds if either fighter got his balls ripped off. It happened sometimes.
Keir still hadn’t looked across the ring. He didn’t want to see the man he was going to kill, didn’t want to imagine him as a guy who smiled, a guy who had a loving family, or a guy who had no choice just like him. No point making this more difficult than it needed to be. Keir had to kill him. No option. Not if Keir wanted to live, and he did
want to live.
He stiffened when a hand stroked his hip. Keir turned toward Cuba, controller of the game, mistress of the night, and a fucking bitch. Keir flinched as nails lightly raked his backside.
Cuba smiled. “It’s the wolf’s seventeenth bout. He’s a little on the large side.”
Keir had killed seven. He’d always thought seven was his lucky number. Now he hoped it was eight.
“I have every faith in your success,” Cuba said.
Keir’s gaze never shifted from her face. Cuba’s eyes were silver. It was like staring into frozen puddles. No warmth there at all, yet she stroked Keir’s cock through the leather like a lover. Despite his hatred, Keir felt the tremors of his shaft hardening. For seven days before a fight, Keir wasn’t allowed to fuck or -- theoretically -- to use his hand to jack off, and he needed to fuck as often as he needed to feed. He was disgusted that he reacted to Cuba.
“What would you like when you win?” Cuba asked.
“An addition to my marque.”
Her hand fell away, as did her smile. “As you wish.”
Keir wondered if she thought he was stupid. Ask for anything but his entitlement and he was done for. His marque was an ongoing tattoo that rose from his ankle and had so far reached his butt. Every win earned him another strand. Once his marque touched his shoulder, Keir’s fighting days were done.
The bell rang once, and he stepped into the ring. Keir looked up into the tiered seating of the large hall and saw the glimmer of excited faces in the darkness. Male and female, human and not. Then he looked down at the sawdust-covered ring, the lighter patches where a fresh scattering had been used to cover blood shed in the previous bout. Nothing disguised the smell. He didn’t want to know what had happened.
The bell rang twice, and Keir lifted his head and looked across the ring. Fucking hell.
Cuba hadn’t said the wolf was a giant. Keir was six-three, a hundred and ninety pounds of lean muscle. His opponent, named Erik, according to the shouting, was at least seven inches taller and a hundred pounds heavier. He looked like a tank. Keir had the brief hope the guy’s extra bulk might make him slower; then again, it might not.
The bell rang three times, and Keir raised his gaze to the man’s face. He hoped the vacant look was stupidity and not innate cunning. Whatever the case, seventeen fighters before Keir had fallen to him. Erik began to circle, so Keir did the same.
In the opposite direction.
He used the time to watch the way his opponent moved, looking for favored limbs, weaknesses. Keir ducked and dived when Erik swung his fists. The wolf might be slow, but he wasn’t weak.
After a few moments of Keir avoiding every blow, Erik let out a loud roar.
“I’m going to rip your head off and stuff it up your ass,” the giant snarled.
Keir shook his head. “Won’t fit.”
A glimmer of doubt furrowed the big guy’s brow before he smiled. “I’ll make it fit.”
Keir felt the advent of the full-on attack, the tingle in his panicking balls that told him to jump, so he did. To the left. He didn’t wait for Erik to realize he’d missed him, but wheeled around to spring on the guy’s back. Keir curled his arm around Erik’s throat, bringing his legs up and around to jam his heels into the shifter’s groin. Sharp teeth sank into Keir’s forearm, and as blood spurted, he heard the roar of approval from the crowd. Keir wrenched his arm free, losing a chunk of flesh -- fuck, that hurt
-- and then Erik threw him across the ring.
An ability to fall well had saved Keir in the past, and it saved him now. Rolling to rise gracefully, Keir was on his feet and ready when Erik’s weight hit him. He absorbed the momentum of the attack, and this time he threw Erik.
About six inches.
Fuck, he’s heavy.
Keir was on him before Erik had a chance to get to his feet, but the guy snagged Keir’s arms, preventing him getting a firm neck hold. So Keir kicked instead, a lightning-fire attack with the sides of his feet into every part of Erik’s body until the guy reeled like a drunk.
Keir’s advantage didn’t last long. Back in Erik’s grip, they rolled in an ungainly ball around the ring, Keir doing all he could to keep his body away from the guy’s teeth. Each blow that connected jarred Keir’s brain. He felt as though he was being hit with a sledgehammer.
Covered in sawdust, dirt, and blood, they finally broke apart, more by accident than design, and circled while they caught their breath. Keir wondered how much time he had to weaken Erik before the bell rang to order them to shift. Erik was a big guy, and he’d make an even bigger wolf, but until they’d fought in their animal forms, neither had complete knowledge of the other’s strengths and weaknesses. As a man, Erik was slower mentally and physically than Keir but more powerful. Not a good idea to let Erik catch him.
Keir feinted left, and Erik missed him. Feinted left again and Erik missed once more. He didn’t miss the next time, and when Eric landed on top of him like a slab of concrete, all the breath whooshed out of Keir’s lungs. Keir’s heart wasn’t in this. It dimly crossed his mind that it would be easy to bring his miserable existence to an end. All he had to do was let dumbo win.
The bell rang.
Saved by the bell.
Maybe next time Keir fought, he’d let it end. But not this time. Erik wasn’t worth his life.
Keir morphed very fast. Speed was his advantage now -- well, that and his razor-sharp claws and even sharper teeth. Erik changed into a monster of a wolf but stepped back when faced with Keir’s snarling puma. His momentary hesitation was all Keir needed. He leaped. Eric looked frozen in shock, but the moment Keir sank his claws into his shoulders and teeth into his neck, the wolf came to his senses. In a frenzy of snarling, snapping, and biting, the pair fought in a maelstrom of fury as the crowd screamed their approval.
No time to think, to acknowledge pain, or to worry about blood loss -- all Keir’s focus rested on killing the wolf. Erik would have more stamina so Keir had to finish this fast. He bit deeper, clawed harder, and worried one back leg, ripping at muscle, searching for an artery. Erik faltered. Keir sensed the possibility of victory, and the bell rang.
Keir pulled back at once and shifted. His bones cracked and muscles transformed as his human body took control. He was one of the fastest shifters he knew, the change completed in a painless instant as he morphed into the body and mind of his other self. He allowed himself a moment to wonder what the fuck Cuba was playing at. Keir’s side had chosen the time to ring for the change, just as Erik’s had selected the first. Since Keir had been about to finish the wolf off, he could only presume Cuba wanted to prolong the contest, even at the risk of her fighter’s death. Either to please the paying audience, to make more money, or teach Keir a lesson. Probably all three.
Both he and Erik were slick with blood. The vampires in the crowd were screaming, high-pitched yelps of delight alongside the shifters’ yips. Keir hoped most of the blood wasn’t his, but he had a bad bite in his thigh as well as a hole in his arm. The surges of adrenaline pouring through his veins allowed him to cope with the pain, feed from it. Keir, pissed off, knew he was a mountain of fury, because plenty of people told him so. Erik looked bad -- pale and slightly unsteady, his eyes unfocused.
Unless he was pretending.
Erik threw himself across the ring. Yep, pretending.
Keir flung himself the other way. Erik tried again to grab him, and Keir slipped through his fingers. The blood helped. Keir continued to dodge and dive out of Erik’s grasp.
“Fucking stand still!” Erik yelled.
He had to be kidding. Keir might have weakened him, but the danger had hardly lessened. Keir danced around, launching hard and fast blows with his feet and fists, always keeping out of reach.
“Come here,” Erik snapped.
“Ooh, ugly doggy scared of a little cat?” Keir asked.
Keir suspected that sort of taunt would raise a red mist. What he hadn’t expected was that Erik would shift again before the bell sounded. Keir wasn’t about to fall into the trap of doing the same and snatch defeat from the jaws of victory. Almost anything went in the ring, but morphing without permission was an infraction punishable by death. Keir backed away from the wolf, waiting for the bell to end the fight. It didn’t come. Fuck.
Had he missed it? Should he risk letting out his cat?
The wolf leaped and raked its claws over Keir’s back as he spun away. Keir was tempted to look for Cuba, but one moment of distraction could be the end of him.
“Here, catch,” Keir shouted and threw an imaginary ball.
The idiot looked. Only a glance but long enough for Keir to leap on the wolf’s back, throw his arm around the thick neck, and break it. Keir jumped off and stood with his chest heaving as Erik crumpled. Keir was only dimly aware of the whoops and cheers. Erik slowly morphed back to his human form. His eyes flickered as if trying to focus, and then the light in them went out.
Could have been me.
Cuba strode into the ring in her long diaphanous gown and yanked up Keir’s arm.
“The winner. Keir Sparks.”
“Keir, Keir, Keir, Keir, Keir!” screamed the crowd.
Keir pulled his arm free and stumbled out of the ring. He could still hear them calling his name as he limped down the corridor.