Protective instincts roaring to life, Gray fought through the cloud of lust encompassing his mind and jolted up. A feral rage burned in his chest, spreading, growing hotter. He hummed with it, vibrated with it, was savage with it. A low, bestial growl emitted from his throat.
Water splashed over the pool's edge as he leapt out. His breathing was harsh and ragged, and sweat trickled down his cheeks. Scowling, he grabbed two of his blades from the floor.
Jewel's eyes were glazed with passion and she shook her head, trying to clear her thoughts. She straightened, a look of horror lighting her features. Gray heard no footsteps, only the flutter of wings. He couldn't see past the screen in front of the bath, so had no idea who this unseen enemy was - an unseen enemy that would die painfully for daring to interrupt him.
"Where are they?" he heard a deep voice demand.
He immediately recognized the speaker. A Formorian he'd gambled with - and beaten - at the market.
Gray's gaze narrowed. He should have expected something like this, but he hadn't. His only concern had been the vampires and demons. And getting Jewel naked.
"What - "
"Shh," he whispered to Jewel, handing her one of his knives. She took the offered weapon with shaky fingers. "Stay here," he mouthed.
He found another blade buried under his pants and hurriedly grabbed it. With every second that passed, his rage intensified. Yes, someone was going to die this night.
"Find the money," the Formorian barked.
The sound of destruction rose, breaking wood, ripping fabric. He didn't know how many there were, but it was only a matter of seconds before they spotted him and Jewel behind the screen. He preferred to keep the action in the center of the room, away from Jewel.
Unconcerned by his nakedness, he crouched low and peeked from behind the screen, soaking in details. The Formorians used their wings to hold themselves up, their one leg reaching out and knocking everything down, their one arm holding a spiked club. There were five of them. Shit. Shit! He'd been in worse situations, but he would have preferred his gun.
As he crouched there, deciding the best way to attack, all of his sexual lust mutated into simple bloodlust. He went from white-hot to ice-cold in seconds. His mind shut down, focusing only on war and death. The thick metallic stench of Formorian blood enveloped him.
One, he mentally counted. Two. Three.
War cry blaring from him, Gray sprang from his position and attacked the nearest creature, determined tofight it the same way he'd fought the demons. He might not know these creatures' weaknesses but nothing could survive a slit throat.
Because of the element of surprise, he was able to grab the first one-armed, one-legged beast from behind. The creature jerked, hard, and Gray felt the wound in his thigh tear. Determinedly he gave a quick slash of his blade. The creature went limp and dropped his club, falling to the ground, thick black blood seeping from his twitching body.
One down, four more to go.
By the time Gray had turned around, two other creatures were flying toward him, fury darkening their ugly features. Seconds before they reached him, he ducked low and grabbed both of them by their ankle. They pulled and struggled against his hold, but he pivoted, slashed up with his feet, using the creatures' elevated height to anchor him as he kicked them senseless.
Both dropped to the ground, gasping for breath, and he cut both their necks at the same time. The leader screeched an unholy sound that rocked the walls.
"Come and get me," he spat.
Club raised, the Formorian stalked toward him. Gray's lips were curling into a slow smile - until he saw Jewel race from behind the screen. His grin died as a sense of rage and helplessness sprouted inside him. She'd haphazardly wrapped her robe around her body and it billowed at her ankles, flapping with her movements. She had her blade raised, ready to battle.
Her name was poised at the edge of his lips, ready to scream it out and command her to hide, to return behind the screen. But he didn't want to draw any attention to her. He didn't mind dying himself, but he'd be damned if he'd let Jewel receive even the smallest scratch.
A Formorian sensed her presence and turned around, club raised. The leader was still flying toward Gray, Jewel was still racing toward the other. Gray started running, too, and when he was almost upon the leader, he jumped up and slammed his feet into the bastard's chest, shooting him backward.
Gray didn't slow, but the world seemed to slow around him. An agonizing slowness with a reality that there was only one thing he could do sinking into him. And if he failed, if he missed... Jewel would be dead. He kept moving, sprinting toward her and the final combatant.
The two were almost upon each other. Jewel's attacker was reaching back with his club just as Gray drew back his arm to throw his knife.
He was suddenly grabbed from behind with a single hand. Sharp nails dug into his shoulder, tugging him backward. Gray's blade flew out of his hand, but missed its intended target completely. As he fell, he watched through horrified eyes as Jewel slammed into the other beast. Her knife was raised, ready to strike, but the bastard beat her to it.
His club pounded into her upper arm.
Gray hit the ground, howling in fury, a red haze of rage beating inside him. The leader jumped on top of him, and he rolled over, not thinking about his next actions. He simply opened his mouth and sank his teeth into the Formorian's neck, thick blood sliding down his throat, burning the pit of his stomach. The creature howled and jerked against him, but Gray kept a steady jaw lock, draining the bastard dry.
When he finished, he tossed the lifeless creature aside and sprang to his feet. Warm drops of blood trickled down his mouth, off his chin. He wiped them away. The remaining Formorian had an
unconscious Jewel by the hair and was dragging her out of the room. Her blood left a crimson trail behind
her. Gray's heart stopped beating and he snarled, the sound raw and animalistic.
He sprinted after them, swooping down and grabbing one of the abandoned clubs as he ran. He hefted its weight in his hand. With a war cry, he raised up his arm and struck, slamming the spiked tip into the back of the creature's head, putting all of his strength behind the blow.
Jewel was released; she thumped to the ground. As the creature spun toward him, Gray hit him again and again, until there was nothing left. He was panting with the force of his rage. Only when his arms shook and his hands throbbed from splinters did he drop the club.
His gaze found Jewel. Her eyes were closed, her face soft, as if she were sleeping. He knelt and gently gathered her in his arms. Her head fell back, her hair streaming down. A few centaurs were scattered throughout the hallway, gasping at the blood. Gasping at the sight of Jewel.
"It's her," one of them said, his voice reverent. The foolish horse-man took a step toward her, reaching out.
"Touch her and die," Gray snarled. Without another word, he carried her to their room, kicking bodies and debris out of the way. He laid his woman on the mountain of pillows. His fingers found the hollow of her neck where her pulse should... beat... Thank God! His knees buckled in relief. Her pulse was weak and thready, but it was there.
She was alive.
His satisfaction was a palpable, all-consuming force, and in that moment he recognized Jewel as his woman, the one woman for him. The one he couldn't live without. He might deny it later, but for now, in this moment, he acknowledged the truth.
He stayed on his knees, ripping off her robe, searching for her wounds. Blood had dripped onto her stomach, and he cleaned it away to ascertain she hadn't been hurt there. That kind of wound was often fatal, but he encountered only smooth, healthy skin.
The only wound he could see was on her left arm. There were dime-sized holes from the club spikes, and the skin was black and blue. As he watched, however, the holes began to close, the bruises began to fade.
His eyes widened. She was healing at a superhuman speed. His unsteady heartbeat slowed and calmed, and the rage in his blood dwindled. The things he'd done only moments before played through his mind. Without any remorse, he'd sucked the blood from someone's neck. And he'd liked it. He'd clubbed someone. And he'd liked it.
Obviously the desire for blood was not because he'd lost some of his own like he'd first supposed. Something was changing inside him, something dark and dangerous. He didn't understand it, was almost afraid to analyze it, but there it was.
Jewel gasped, and her eyelids popped open. "Gray."
"King of kings, more Formorians will arrive soon," one of the centaurs said, stepping into the room. "They will sense the deaths of their brethren and come. We must prepare." Hooves pounded in the background.
"How you feeling?" he asked softly, not moving from his place beside Jewel. An army could invade, and he wouldn't have cared. He wasn't leaving this spot until he was one hundred percent positive of her recovery.
"Stiff, but good." She stretched her arms over her head and arched her back. "Did I kill him?"
"Yes," he lied, knowing that was what she wanted to hear. He smoothed his hands over her face, lingering over the seam of her lips. "How did you heal like that, sweetheart? Do you need extra time to heal internally?"
Her face scrunched adorably in her confusion.
"Heal? I remember that he hit me and that it burned like fire, but I feel fine now. He must not have hit me very hard."
She didn't know, he realized. She didn't know the club had cut through to the bone. "Easy, easy," he said as she jerked to a sitting position.
"Gray, I'm fine - " She glanced down and saw her nakedness. Gasping, she pulled her robe tight against her. "I thought I covered myself!"
He grinned. His little Prudence would be fine. He didn't understand it. Hell, he didn't understand a lot of the things that had happened lately, but he was okay with that because Jewel would live.
Gray planted a swift kiss on her lips and pushed to his feet. "We have to get out of here." He scrambled around the room, grabbing his backpack, weapons, and securing his robe over his shoulders.
Jewel's cheeks glowed bright as she realized her robe simply wouldn't cover her breasts. The edges were ripped to shreds. She grabbed the velvet-soft sheet atop the pillows and wrapped it around herself. When she finished, she gazed at the room, at the carnage littering the floor.
"I should have sensed them," she said quietly. "I should have known they were coming."
"You told me you can't sense danger to yourself, so how could you have known? I should have known they would do this."
"No, I - "
"I'm taking blame for this and that's the end of it Are you strong enough to walk?"
"I am, yes, but are you? You're bleeding." Concerned, she stared at his face, his hands. A frown tugged at her lips, and she stepped toward him.
"I'll be fine." He closed the rest of the distance between them and grabbed her hand. "We've got to head back to the other side of the forest."
They raced out of the room and into the hallway, pushing past centaurs. Gray followed the escape route he'd mapped earlier, before his bath. He hadn't known at the time that he'd need it, but lived by the "better to be safe than sorry" code, and now he was grateful he did.
The route twisted and wound in every direction, the wall torches becoming fewer in number. He took the narrowest path, the one that led to a staircase. He and Jewel pounded down those steps, and he kicked the door the moment it was within reach. Hinges splintered as the door burst wide open. Cool night air wafted around him.
His eyes quickly adjusted to the darkness, faster than usual. As he raced through the abandoned alleyway, a wave of dizziness struck him. He was losing blood. He'd managed to forget his wounds for a while, but now they throbbed, demanding attention.
"Keep an eye behind us, okay? Tell me if you think we're being followed." "Formorians work best in the air, but the skyline is clear. They haven't spotted us."
"Good. That's good." The streets were quiet, and he kept to the shadows, moving behind buildings and carts.
What seemed an eternity later, Jewel said, "We're almost there, I can feel it."
Finally tall oaks filled his vision and he raced toward them. Insects buzzed and swarmed him. Dewy green leaves and branches swatted at him. "Cover your face," he said.
"Ow," she cried, reaching up to cover her cheek from the stinging vines.
"Let's find a spot to rest." His breath was burning inside his lungs. His limbs were growing shaky, and a web of lethargy was weaving through him. He'd taken a lot of abuse lately, more than he ever had before, and he was feeling the effects. He refused to pass out in front of Jewel again. "Tell me when you feel like it's safe."
Once he spoke the words, he realized how much he'd come to depend on her for their safety. He trusted her judgement, her senses. He needed her.
"Head toward the river," she panted.
He listened for the rustle of water and veered right. When they reached the water's edge, he saw a wide, rocky path.
"Formorians hate water."
"Then we're crossing." Not waiting for her reply, he tugged her into the water. At first the icy liquid only reached his ankles, but as he ran through it, splashing it in every direction, it became deeper. Finally he was swimming, unable to touch bottom.
Jewel swam beside him. It took them about ten minutes to swim to the other side, and once they did, they pulled their soaking bodies onto the edge. "We've done this before," he said between shallow breaths.
"Let's hope this is our last time."
"I want to move a little farther away."
She nodded, stumbling forward. He stayed right beside her, crawling through vegetation and sand. How much time passed, how far they actually got, he didn't know. He dropped his backpack, knowing he couldn't go another step. "Here's good."
"Take off your wet clothes." As he spoke, he stripped. Naked, he dug inside his backpack, withdrawing his dry fatigues. He spread them on the ground.
Jewel didn't protest. She shed the velvet sheet and it pooled at her feet. Her arms wrapped around her waist in a vain effort to guard against the cold.
Gray lay down on top his clothing, saying, "Com'ere." He shouldn't allow himself to sleep; he should erect some sort of shelter. But he closed his eyes, feeling Jewel lie down beside him, her body contouring to his. She placed her head on his good arm. He could feel her erratic heartbeat drumming against his chest, beating in sync with his. A sense of contentment settled over him.
He fell asleep like that.