"I'm sorry, my queen, but the dragons... they have Dunamis." "Are you sure?"
"Yes. I saw it with my own eyes. The dragons flew it inside the palace."
If Darius had Dunamis all was lost. Marina would never be able to defeat him - he would already know of their plan. "Layel," she screamed. "Layel!"
Within seconds, the vampire flew to her side, his expression weary. "What now?" Panicked, she ranted and shouted out the information she'd just been given.
The vampire king frowned. "So they know our battle plan."
"What are we going to do?"
"We will attack."
"Now." He nodded.
"They will know and stop us."
"Not unless they've spoken to Dunamis again." His frown deepened. "But that is a chance we will have to take. Let's prepare our men."
Gray and Jewel lingered in their room for the rest of the day, making love and enjoying each other. They were naked, and holding on to each other tightly. He couldn't stop touching her. He planned to make enough memories with her in these coming days to last him a lifetime.
"I'm scared for you," she said softly. "You're only one man, and I don't want you to fight the demons alone. I don't want you to leave this bed."
"This is something I have to do, baby." He trusted Darius to keep her here, and in return he would do whatever the dragon king needed of him.
"What if - "
"Baby, I've been fighting in wars my entire life. First with my dad, then my brothers, then for my country. I'll be okay."
"Will you go home?" she asked softly, hesitantly. "After? Without me?" "Yes." His tone was finite, leaving no room for argument.
Tears glistened in her eyes. Hell, he felt his own tears burn in his eyes. "At least we've got the next few days." His hand explored the hollow of her back and she shivered. "Let's not waste a moment of it."
Later, when their passion was sated, Gray taught Jewel how to best defend herself. She'd done excellently until this point, but he wanted her better prepared. He wanted to know she could save herself from any situation. Just in case.
She stood in the center of their room, and Gray walked around her, his hands locked behind his back like a military leader. "When I'm gone," he stumbled over the word, "Darius is going to keep you here. But he won't always be around, so I want you well able to take care of yourself."
"I've done quite well so far."
"Yes, but I want you to do better. You're not someone who can scream for help because the people you draw to you might be interested in keeping you for themselves. You have to learn to rely on yourself."
Her lips dipped, giving her a sad, vulnerable expression.
"Quick question. You're walking through the city alone at night and a group of men approach you, intent on forcing you to leave with them. Do you run away or try and fight them off?"
"Fight them off?"
"Wrong. It was a trick question. You don't walk through the city alone at night. That's lesson one. Understand?"
She nodded, her eyes following him as best they could as he continued to circle her.
"Lesson two," he said. He needed to cram months of instruction into two days, and urgency was riding him hard. "Any room or building you enter, you scan immediately. You study the occupants. You study the best way out. And you don't let anyone know you're doing it."
"Keep your expression casual and your interest focused. Do it now. Scan this room without looking guilty or purposeful."
Her gaze darted left and right, and he shook his head. "Slower," he said. "Combine a look with an action, but never let your gaze linger too long."
She tossed her hair over one shoulder and turned her head, looking directly at him. She grinned, still a little sad, then looked away.
"Good." He wrapped his arms around her waist. "Now tell me what you saw." "You."
"Describe me. My expression, my stance."
"You lips were taut and hard, and your eyes were determined. You had your hands at your side, and I think you had an erection."
He laughed, his first moment of amusement since realizing he had to go home without her. "That's good. Real good. People who seem to be in the wrong place should trigger your suspicions. If you see a centaur in the demon side of town, you'll know he doesn't belong. Therefore you'll know to avoid him. And by the way, I don't want you to ever go into the demon side of town. That was merely an example."
"That, I promise you, I will never do."
"Good. Always remain calm. Emotions cause people to do stupid things. If someone calls you a bad name, don't let it upset you. What does the bastard's opinion matter anyway?"
"You're right," she said with a nod.
"If someone comes after you, try to get away from them. Don't try to fight them if you don't have to." "And if I can't get away?"
"Then, and only then, do you fight," he said, stepping in front of her. "Go for the most vulnerable part of the body first."
Her gaze strayed to his groin.
"That's a good place, but not always the best. If you poke your assailant's eyes hard enough, he won't be able to see well enough to find you."
She grimaced but nodded.
"Anything can be used as a weapon. A rock off the ground. A stick. If you have them, use them. You
can shove a thin stick inside the assailant's ear and slow him down. The eardrum is sensitive and busting it hurts." His stomach was knotting as he thought of her needing to use these techniques.
He closed some more of the distance between them, and her gaze traveled up, up, until their eyes met. She gulped. Her intoxicating scent surrounded him as he reached up and traced a finger down her windpipe.
"This is where air goes from your mouth to your lungs. It's sensitive and fragile. If you punch someone here, you'll disable them." He didn't mention that she would probably kill them if she punched hard enough. He didn't want her worried about that; he only wanted her concerned with her own survival.
His hands lowered, caressing down her arms and spanning over her ribs. "If you're close enough, if someone is holding on to you like this, you can knee or elbow him in the stomach. That will make it difficult for him to breathe and help loosen his hold on you."
She licked her lips, her eyelids dripping to half-mast.
"You already know about the groin," he said, trailing his fingertips down her stomach and cupping her. Her mouth parted on a shaky gasp.
"Use your knee or your foot and don't hold back your strength. Hit as hard as you can and it will paralyze your attacker."
"What do I do if he's gotten his hands around my neck?" she asked breathlessly.
Gray drew his arms up and gently wrapped his fingers around the area in question, but he didn't apply pressure. "If that happens, you have to act immediately because their intent is to make you pass out. And the longer you're in that kind of hold, the more lightheaded and weak you'll become. If you've tried to poke his eyes, have tried to kick his groin and neither of those worked, you reach up outside his arms." When she did so, he added, "Now slam your fists down on the middle, at the inside of my elbow."
She did it, but used a touch as gentle as his. Her gaze once more locked on his, and the sexual awareness intensified between them. It never left them, really.
"Your goal isn't to beat up your attacker, but merely to escape and disable him." "There's a difference?" Her nose nuzzled the underside of his jaw.
He almost threw her on the bed and claimed her then, but refused to end her lesson. This was too important. "In the first scenario, rage is your primary emotion. In the second, survival is your only concern. Next time you punch someone like you did the merman, make sure to load your punch."
"Pull back and get as much distance as possible between your fist and your target before you slam forward. Also, if you can shove your palm into your opponent's nose, that's even better." He clasped her hand in his, opened her fingers, and placed her palm inches from his nose. "Hit up and hit hard."
She nodded, and he dropped their hands. He didn't release her, he couldn't. Touching her provided the link he craved, a link he needed as much as he needed to take his next breath.
"If you can't get your palm to their nose, use your forehead. Your purpose is to distract the attacker and free yourself from his clutches."
She leaned into him and licked the seam of his lips. "I'll practice everything you've shown me."
His tongue pushed past her lips, her teeth, and swept inside her mouth. Her flavor filled him, sweet and wonderful and all Jewel. God, he was going to miss her. He wasn't sure he could survive without her.
"Take me to bed, Gray. Drink from me like before."
And he did.
A horn blared.
Gray jerked upright in bed, jolted from a peaceful sleep. "What the hell is that?"
Beside him, Jewel was pale and shaky and it had nothing to do with the fact that he'd drank from her neck a little while ago. She was afraid. Very afraid.
As she pulled herself up, the sheet fell to her waist, revealing the perfect mounds of her breasts. "The demons and vampires have changed their battle plan. They're closing in on the palace. I just sensed them and sent a mental warning to Darius."
"They weren't supposed to attack for three days." "They changed their plans."
By the next heartbeat of time, he had already jumped out of bed and grabbed his military fatigues. He slipped them on quickly, then strapped his knife to his belt.
The horn blared again.
Beyond the door, he heard the shuffle of feet, the angry growls of men. Gray stalked over to Jewel, who still sat in bed, her features devoid of any emotion. He bent down in front of her and reached inside his bag, where he still kept the armband he'd bought for her.
"This is for you," he said.
"Me?" Her eyes grew wide and watery, and her lips trembled as he slid the band up her arm. "You bought it for me in the city? Why?"
The horn sounded yet again.
"Because you wanted it," he rushed out, "and I knew it would look lovely on you." He reached up and swept her hair off her shoulders, then anchored the gold band in place. It gleamed bright, the sapphire as enchanting as her eyes. "And because you are the love of my life."
Without another word, he stood and strode from the room. He didn't allow himself a backward glance as he followed several men into some sort of training arena. An army of dragons were already there, lined up, Darius marching in front of them.
"Show no mercy," Darius was saying. "We will destroy the vampires once and for all with our fire, and the human will vanquish the demons with his ice. Dunamis has proclaimed it."
Their cheers echoed off the walls.
"These creatures think to surprise us with an attack, but we will show them the error of their ways. The three of you," the king said, pointing. "Carry the ice makers for the human. Do not let the contents touch your skin or you will be weakened. You will stay with him and hand him the equipment as needed."
As Grace said, the ice makers were actually fire extinguishers and there were at least sixty of them. He'd done battle with quite a few weapons, but never with liquid nitrogen. He would have preferred a few grenades, maybe a case of C4, but he would take what he could get.
"Become dragons, my friends, and let us fly."
A legion of roars sounded, echoing through the rounded enclosure. Clothes were ripped away, faces were elongated, wings and tails and claws grew. He'd seen this change before, but he still couldn't tear his eyes away. The men had become snarling, fire-breathing beasts. One of them - he thought it was Brand - motioned him over with a long claw and onto his back. While his mind shouted, "Hell, no," he climbed aboard. "Let the war games begin," he muttered.
With a fire extinguisher anchored firmly on his back and a black hose in his hands, Gray prowled through the forest trees. Morning had yet to dawn, so he was immensely grateful for his superior night vision.
Brand had dropped him off about a half mile back before leaping back into the air. The dragons carrying the fire extinguishers silently descended to his side. Up ahead, he could hear the pounding footsteps of the demon and vampire armies as they drew closer.
The murmur of voices soon drifted to his ears. He heard the clang of metal and the whoosh of footsteps. Gray stopped behind a thick tree trunk and crouched low, preparing to strike. He waited... waited... waited...
Above him, Darius emitted a war cry.
Hose raised, adrenaline high, Gray burst into the enemy lines. He sprinted straight to the demons, spraying white foam. Fire spewed from the dragons, white-hot beams of flashing light and scorching rays, a Fourth of July barbecue gone awry. The heat of it instantly wafted to him, and he did his best to remain out of its path.
Torturous screams echoed through the coming dawn. Amid the cries of pain rose the scents of dying and sulfur. Gray continued to spray, avoiding vampires, keeping the liquid ice trained on the demons.
When a demon flew at him, he tried to spray it but his tube sputtered. Empty. Shit. He whipped out his knife, and the bastard jumped on him. Before he could make his first slash, it was jerked off of him and tossed onto the ground. A dragon, Renard, cut its throat with his claws.
"Work on those reflexes," he told the dragon. "Any slower and I would have been a goner." His only reply was a grunt before he flew back into the fray.
At Gray's left, a vampire spied him and attacked. They clashed and tumbled to the ground. The vampire was about to bite him, about to sink his teeth into Gray's neck, when he paused.
"Dunamis?" the bloodsucker said, shocked and reverent. He released Gray as if he were poison and backed away.
They smelled Jewel on him, he realized.
Someone handed him another extinguisher, and Gray popped to his feet. The rest of the dragons descended from the sky and attacked the remaining army on foot. Their steady steam of fire never slowed. Staying low, Gray crept through the rest of the camp, searching through the shadows. Over and over, he repeated the same action: spray the extinguisher, slit demon throat. Sweat dripped from him and soaked his clothing.
He could smell the blood around him, and it made his mouth water. However, he kept a tight rein on his impulse to drink, concentrating instead on the task he'd been given. Eleven times he was forced to exchange one extinguisher for another.
"Damn you, Darius," he heard a male voice lash out.
Gray spotted the speaker immediately. Layel. The vampire king who had saved Jewel's life, as well as his own. Darius suddenly materialized and swooped in. The two men grappled. Gray hated to admit it, but he was torn. He was here to help the dragons, was indebted to Darius, but was also indebted to this particular vampire.
He heard a growl behind him and spun around, spraying foam. The demon hissed and tore at his skin. Wincing, he shouted, "Darius, let him go," then quickly dispatched his attacker.
Darius shot another round of fire, but the vampire king quickly dodged it.
"Do your job, human," Darius gritted as Layel snarled, "I need no help from you, human." "This is an old war," someone said beside him. Brand, he realized. "Do not get in the middle."
The two men continued to fight, and Gray watched helplessly, killing any creatures who came along to interfere. Neither man was winning, for they were equally matched.
"You!" a female screeched.
Gray pivoted, his eyes narrowing. Marina, Demon Queen, hovered in front of him, her red gaze slitted and glowing. She bared her teeth at him.
"You stole Dunamis from me. You are the cause of this hell." She launched herself at him. His fingers squeezed the hose trigger, but no foam emerged. Empty yet again. Great.
She slammed into him, tossing him like a doll. In the next instant, she was on top of him, pounding a fist into his nose. He heard the cartilage snap, felt the sharp sting and the warm trickle of blood onto his Up. Her claws ripped into his shoulder.
Unfucking believable. His ass was being kicked by a girl. Still, he felt the cartilage in his nose move back into place, felt the claw marks closing. One of the perks of belonging to the dark side, he supposed.
He shoved her off him, but she flew at him again. He'd never hit a woman in his life but he was drawing back his fist to do just that when she was ripped off him. Layel sank his teeth into her neck, the action fierce, lethal, and as wild as any animal.
Marina's body jerked and spasmed once, twice, then stilled completely. Her head fell lifelessly to the side. When Layel finished feeding, he rose and faced Darius with quiet fury. Blood trickled from his mouth. He looked around, seeing the many men he'd lost, seeing the dragon army now surrounding him.
"I concede this victory to you, but things are not finished between us."
"They never are," Darius said. "Take the rest of your men and go. And know that I allowed you to leave only because you saved the human."
Layel grinned, the action devoid of humor. "We've done this before. I save one of your humans, and you send me on my way. That will not always be the case. One day, I will feast on your blood. Since you are being so generous, however, I will do you a favor and tell you the nymphs have overtaken Javar's palace."
"You lie. My men guard it well."
"Go and see for yourself. We meant to take it, too, Marina and I, but they beat us there. Our battle was with you, so we left them to it."
A low growl emerged from Darius's throat, and he took a menacing step forward.
"Tell your woman I said hello. I still remember the taste of her," Layel said, his humorless grin growing wider. "Until next time."
The vampire king vanished.
All around him lay demon, dragon, and vampire bodies. The living dragons gathered around Darius. "You," Darius said, pointing to a group of them. Fury darkened his features. "Go to Javar's palace and find Kendrick. Do not let yourselves be seen. I want to know if the nymphs are truly there."
Gray's shoulders slumped wearily, and he blocked out the rest of Darius's instructions. With this battle finished, his time with Jewel ended.
He wasn't even close to being ready to let her go.