Curse of the Witch is coming THIS Thursday (February 11th)! I am so excited for you guys to get your hands on Delaney and Cole! I hope you enjoy this sneak preview!
The sound of my heavy breathing echoes off the walls enclosing the alley. Other than that and the repetitive thuds of our boots, Jack and I are completely surrounded by silence.
It’s damn near deafening.
Sweat mats my hair, keeping it slick against my forehead and the back of my neck as we turn the corner and bound into the dark. Tonight shouldn’t have gone this way. Hell, Jack shouldn’t even be here. It was supposed to be just me and the shifters.
A fight I knew was going to end one way: with my death.
They were supposed to kill me, relieve me of the pain—the voices—but I can’t very well roll over and die when another hunter—one who claims to love me and has been a good friend—will also suffer the consequences.
You promised to bring her to us! The voice in my head screams so loudly it completely eclipses anything else and sends a sharp pain through my brain. I wince, my vision blurring momentarily as I stumble, barely managing to keep myself upright.
“You okay?” Jack whispers loudly.
I risk sparing a glance at him to nod. He’s handsome with baby-blue eyes and dark hair that make him look a lot younger than his four decades. If I were anyone else, and this was any other situation, I could have seen myself settling for him.
But a pair of piercing hazel eyes pop into my mind and I’m reminded that no matter what I could have felt for Jack, it would have paled in comparison to who I really want.
And that thought alone makes me feel like a steaming pile of human garbage. Here he is, risking his life for me, and I’m thinking of another man, one who claims to want nothing to do with me.
“Here.” Jack splits to the right, but just as I’m about to follow, I spot three wolves straight ahead. I come to an abrupt halt, my decision shoving all other thoughts from my mind. I could follow Jack. We could take our chances and fight the pack together, or I can turn and lead them away.
It’s not even a choice.
I turn and sprint back down the alley, the wolves on my heel. Puddles splash as I run, soaking my boots. My lungs burn, the miles I’ve run tonight more than enough to exhaust me even with my training. I know, without a doubt, that when they catch me, I won’t have the energy to put up much of a fight.
Maybe my plan isn’t as useless as I thought it was.
More wolves come into sight in front of me, so I veer to the left and realize my mistake almost instantly. I’d hoped to lead them even further from Jack, especially knowing he will come looking for me. Apparently, fate had other plans. I can only hope this is over and they’re gone before he finds me.
A solid brick wall looms ahead, nothing to climb for an escape, so I stop and turn to face my attackers head-on. I may be willing to die, but that doesn’t mean I won’t take as many of these bastards with me as possible.
Ruby-encrusted short blade in hand, I growl. Adrenaline surges through my system, my hunter abilities going into overdrive in preparation for the fight. Smiling despite my fear, I roll my shoulders. “Come get me, assholes.”
My blade meets the tender flesh of a midnight-colored wolf who yelps and falls to the ground. I spin, slicing out, and manage to take the head off a rust wolf who was going for my ankle. His pack growls, their anger intensifying as they realize I have killed yet another of theirs.
I dodge the claws of one wolf, only to move too close to another. Sharp pain blooms in my side as it sinks its teeth into my abdomen, ripping a chunk of flesh and muscle out of my body. Warmth spills from the wound, drenching my white t-shirt with crimson.
Heart thundering, I spin and slice out as tears burn in the corners of my eyes. My speedy healing can’t possibly keep up with the wounds as their venom surges through my body.
It might have had a chance, had I gotten away right then, but I know, without a doubt, I won’t be walking out of this alley tonight.
And given the fact that it was my plan all along, I should feel some peace in knowing that. But all I feel is anger. Terror. Guilt.
Fight back, you idiot! The voice roars in my head. We can’t die!
Ignoring it like many times before, I jump back just in time to avoid gnashing jaws. Unfortunately, my ankle gives out, and I fall backward, landing on the wet pavement as the wolves surround me. Still, I cling to my blade.
Dying terrifies me. Not because I’m afraid of losing my life but because of what I will be leaving behind. Rainey doesn’t even know the truth yet, and when the time comes for her to know it, I won’t be here to help.
To guide her into the next phase of her life.
She’ll be completely and utterly alone. At least, until Elijah comes back as he promised he would.
Her smiling face as she was promoted to detective tonight comes to the front of my memory, and grief nearly suffocates me before the wolves can finish the job.
You weak little bitch! You pathetic excuse for a hunter! Your sister will die without you! Fight! It roars.
But I don’t listen. I’m so damned exhausted with listening.
“Come get me, mutts!” I scream through the tears.
I’m tired of the voices.
The pain in knowing what I have to do.
The wolves take their time, each step calculated because they know I’m cornered. One lunges forward and grabs my ankle. Burning agony singes me from the inside, the venom igniting the blood in my veins like gasoline.
I scream as it drags me to the center of the pack.
They won’t just kill me; they’ll make an example out of my body. But I’d known that when I’d run headfirst into the campsite they were destroying two hours from the city. I’d killed all six of the wolves and left a shred of my shirt for the rest of their pack to find.
I wanted them to seek me out. I just hadn’t realized Jack would show up when he did.
Here, in the face of certain death, my life flashes before my eyes.
The things I did wrong, the ways I could have been different.
And one particular moment sticks out above all others.
The mistake that changed everything.
I never should have opened the fucking box.
In the distance, a wolf howls. A blood-curdling sound that lets me know death is no longer on the horizon; it’s staring me right in the face.
But instead of attacking, one by one, the wolves turn away, leaving me bleeding in the alley. The warm, sticky liquid seeps from my injuries, soaking my clothes, and I shut my eyes tightly, waiting for the final blow.
Tears slip from my eyes as my body makes every attempt to knit itself back together. The pain spreads, burning through me.
This is what you deserve.
Get the hell up now, hunter. We will not be silenced so easily.
Easily? I nearly laugh. Nothing in my life has been easy. Not losing my parents as an infant, then discovering the two people who raised me were my aunt and uncle.
Not learning that my sister was actually my cousin.
Or losing the people I thought were my parents and being forced to carry the weight of the Astor name alone.
And certainly not opening that fucking box and discovering all of the secrets I’d rather were left buried.
Something nudges my leg, contact I barely feel given my pain, but I open my eyes anyway.
Bodies litter the pavement around me, a sick, twisted bullseye with me at the center. Seeing the sandy-brown wolf standing beside me should have brought me peace. But really, it only makes the pain worse.
Bones pop as the wolf shifts, and within seconds, a blood-smeared, naked man is kneeling at my side.
“Del, shit, we have to get you out of here.” He starts to lift me, but I shake my head.
“Please, leave me.” I cough. Cole’s hazel eyes fill, and he shakes his head. “No. Not like this,” he chokes out.
“I told you it has to happen.”
He shakes his head again, jaw tight.
How can you let him watch you die? You selfish little bitch. The voice scolds me, not realizing that every time it speaks up, my resolve is only furthered.
I have to die. There is literally no other choice.
Not if I want to save everyone I love.
“Please, finish it.”
“No.” He glares down at me, but his fingertips brush hair out of my face. He’s never touched me this tenderly before, this open. For so long, I’ve had to hide how I feel about him, the strength of my feelings, but now, on my death bed, he touches me freely.
It’s almost enough to make me want to live.
“Please, Cole. Please, kill me. Put me out of my misery. I’m so tired.” Cole gathers me in his arms though he doesn’t stand. “You can’t die, Del. You can’t ask me to deliver that blow. I won’t fucking do it.”
“If you don’t, I’ll die anyway. Please, I can’t live like this anymore.” Tears slip down his cheeks as he rests his forehead against mine.
My body begins to numb, the icy fingers of the reaper wrapping his hand around my ankle, threatening to pull me into the afterlife before my body can knit me back together.
But, whereas some will kick and scream, begging for their life, I’ll go freely. Because doing so is sparing the life of my sister. Of the man holding me and the pack I’ve grown to love like family. Of the vampire who’s become my friend and the hunter who would have risked everything to save me.
“I can’t—” he chokes out, pulling back so I can see his face. Hands tighten painfully on me as his eyes turn completely black for the breath of a moment. Hazel shoves the black out, but I can see his grip on control fading.
“I don’t—something’s wrong.” He grinds his teeth and jumps to his feet, leaving me on the pavement. His body begins to shift, skin giving way to fur as the popping of bones fills my ears. “No!” he roars, fighting against it as he falls to his knees.
Terror ices me. “Cole? What’s wrong?”
But he’s already gone, and a second later, his wolf stands before me. Gone are his familiar hazel eyes, replaced with midnight. He might as well have been a stranger.
“Cole?” I ask, scooting back a few feet to lean against the wall. “Cole?”
His wolf shakes his head seconds before he lunges toward me. I’m forced back as teeth tear into my throat and blood fills my mouth. Pain sears my already broken body, and Copper is all I can taste, as I try to suck in a breath. No air fills my lungs, and I start to panic as blood fills them, suffocating me.
It’s only then that I see Cole shift back.
“Del! No! Please, no.” He falls to my side again, reaching for me. Eyes wide and brimming with tears, my blood covers his chin and drips onto his muscled chest, coating his ink completely.
With his agonized expression in full view, the world around me begins to fade. His sobs disappear first, and then the alley itself vanishes. Soon, he’s all I see, and as everything else fades away, I succumb, the voices in my head finally falling silent.
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Vampire Huntress Chronicles recommended reading order:
VHC World Novellas: