Wednesday, December 6, 2017

You don't have to wait for the beginning of The End


For those who have Collateral Damage, you can read all this simply by updating your copy, because it's been added to the end of the book.

But if you don't, or can't update for some reason-some have mentioned having trouble-here's the begining of The End.

Happy Reading! <g>


Prologue

I woke to darkness. The scent of damp earth surrounded me. Not close. I had room to move. Standing, with my arms stretched above my head, wrists in metal restraints. Blindfolded. Blood in my mouth. Naked.

But I know who I am.

Not who I had been, way back when I’d been a child or even growing up to become a lethal young woman. That would always be a blank. The first time I’d been captured my mind had been damaged beyond repair. But after I’d escaped I’d lived a new life.

One that had ended too quickly.

And this time, I’d walked willingly into my cage.

I’d returned to Cyrus.

Licking my lips, I held still, not breathing, my heart barely beating in my chest, though I knew he could still hear it. The sound would tell him I was awake. Which is what he’d been waiting for.

“Having second thoughts, Lydia?” His lips brushed my ear and I ground my teeth, fighting the urge to jerk away. I hadn’t expected him to be so close. He chuckled softly as he removed the blindfold, only to reveal a darkness so thick, he might as well have left it on. “I’ll let you go if you ask me to. Say the word and this ends now.”

Like hell. I wanted to laugh, but I wasn’t ready to test him. Not yet.

“Good idea.” He walked slowly around me. His tone took on a curious edge. “You’ve never been this quiet. What’s the plan? If I unchain you, will you fight me? Try to escape?”

The survivor in me wanted to scream “Yes!”, but escape wasn’t an option. I was here in exchange for the son of the man I loved. I could take a lot more suffering than that little boy. Until I had some guarantee of his safety, I wasn’t going anywhere.

No point in voicing those thoughts out loud though. Who’d believe me? I could hardly believe it myself.

And yet, I was here.

I was here. I’d been free and now I might never be again.

“I’m curious how long this will last.” Reaching up, Cyrus unclipped one shackle. Then the other. Supported me with a hand under my elbow when I swayed off balance. “You haven’t fed in days. Would you care for something?”

Something? I tried to wet my lips with my tongue, but my mouth was too dry. And water wouldn’t help much. I needed blood, but would he give it to me?

Was I ready to pay the price for it? There had to be one. There always was with him.

“Tell me what you want, Lydia, and it’s yours.” He waited for a moment. Moved away. A tiny flame sparked and a candle lit the room.

Not a normal room. I couldn’t see any doors. The floor and the walls were dirt. The ceiling above looked like more of the same, but the chains had to be bolted into something solid.
In the corner, I spotted a small pile of clothes, folded neatly, which was odd since they were sitting in the dirt. I didn’t have to ask who they were for. Like blood, having them would cost me.

“Go ahead.” Cyrus held out his hand, a calm smile on his beautiful lips. His black hair glistened in the candlelight, falling softly over his shoulders. Even in the dirt room, he looked refined, dressed in clothes that belonged to another era.

In so many stories, he would be the perfect image of the handsome hero. Even now, he probably walked down the street and made women sigh, wishing he’d look their way. Give them that glimmer of hope that a man like him could sweep them off their feet.

Those women had no idea how lucky they were when he kept walking.

“Put the clothes on now, Lydia, or I’ll burn them.” A hint of irritation crept into Cyrus’s voice, as if he couldn’t believe I’d rejected his ‘gift’. His jaw ticked. “I don’t care either way.”

Bullshit. I stepped away from him, approaching the clothes cautiously, every instinct screaming for me to keep my eyes on him, logic telling me it wouldn’t make a difference.
I got the clothes on in a rush. Underclothes. Jeans. A T-shirt and a thick white sweater. More layers than I’d expected. I couldn’t help relaxing a little, now that I wasn’t so exposed.
Would take seconds to change that, but I’d enjoy every one.

“Very good. You’re cooperating.” Another panty-melting smile. Or, more accurately, the sweet smile of a serial killer, but sometimes it was hard to tell the difference. Cyrus held his hand out. “Come here and I will feed you.”
Looking around, I quickly realized there was nothing else in the room. No pretty bottles filled with blood, no other victims, not a glass or even a bag to bite into like a sippy sack.
Only him.
He wanted me to feed from him.
Fuck no.
So stupid, digging in my heels at drinking his blood, but the act was too intimate. He could hurt me, he could use me, but that was different somehow. Enduring, rather than surrendering.
His light laugh chilled me to the bone. Completely unconcerned. He hadn’t moved any closer, hadn’t really done anything at all, but for some reason his every word, every sound he made, reminded me the worst I could imagine didn’t come close to what he would do. Soon.

These acts of defiance were an illusion of choice. Another move in whatever fucked up game he planned to play. But I couldn’t take my pieces off the board, so what could I do besides keep moving them as though I had any chance to win?

“I won’t force you to feed from me, pet.” Cyrus lowered his arm to his side. “But you will ask to. Actually, I’d much prefer it if you’d beg.”

You would. I pressed my lips together. Damn it, I wanted to sneer at him. Come out with some kind of sarcastic remark. Pretend I wasn’t absolutely fucking terrified.

Doing so would be like asking him to hurt me and I wasn’t ready to do that either. Maybe I would be at some point. Maybe waiting for the inevitable would eventually push me over the edge. Hell, he was probably right. I might even beg for blood from him. Starving wasn’t exactly pleasant.

That illusion of choice was all I had. And I’d hang onto it until he tore it away.
I wasn’t sure how long we stood there, simply facing one another, but eventually I couldn’t stand anymore. Backing away from him, I lowered to the floor. Falling asleep was tempting, but I didn’t dare.

And he didn’t move.

This fucked up game seemed to entertain him for a lot longer than humanly possible. Than possible for an immortal. Or for anyone sane.

When he sighed, I let out the breath I’d been holding without releasing I had. He came at me so quickly, I didn’t have a chance to brace myself. I cried out once as he dragged me back to the chains. Pressed my eyes shut as the shackles closed around my wrists and my arms were drawn up over my head again.

Fabric tore. I heard him leave and didn’t open my eyes. I didn’t want to know what he’d return with. The violent CRACK! in the air was my only warning. Slicing over my bare flesh. A tug of metal embedded in my skin.

The pain was familiar. Its own kind of escape.

Chapter One

So lovely, all covered in blood.

Like a pale rose with crimson dew glistening on soft petals—until the dew evaporated and the petals dried, falling, lovely in death. For nights on end the most brutal violence had made the macabre beauty fresh again, but no more. Not a whimper or a wince; even defiance had faded. Soon all that remained would be a pretty shell.

He didn’t want that. He’d played with her for weeks, just to see what would happen, but hadn’t anticipated what starvation would do to her spirit. The shackle around her ankle had to be tightened right to the bone to hold her now—not that there was any point to restraints anymore. She hadn’t moved in days.

Cyrus smiled as he crouched down beside Lydia and stroked her ashen cheek with a fingertip. Her dry, cracked lips curled slightly away from her teeth. She trembled with the effort to bring her mouth to his hand, likely catching the fresh scent blood flowing through his veins.
I could almost…pity her. So beautiful, so strong, reduced to nothing. If he’d broken her, she’d be useless to him. He’d really thought she’d be more durable.

In this basement—little more than a wide dirt grave under the cabin he’d procured for the first stage of her domestication—he released her once, just to see what she’d do. She’d sat in stony silence for hours on end, always alert, always watching him, but never giving a hint of how she planned to escape. Perhaps her sense of honor meant she would keep her word to stay with him, but he doubted it. And he’d grown bored of not touching her simply to build the anticipation.

The next time he’d drawn her bound wrists high above her head, tearing away the clothes he’d given her, the same desire he’d felt when he’d first held her captive returned. As he had then, he used his favorite whip with its hooked metal tips to rip her flesh, filling the air with the sweet scent of her blood. He’d done everything in his power to get her to surrender to him—that she hadn’t pleased him in some twisted way. He wanted more from her than he’d ever wanted from the others. All his thoughts made him feel as demented as people believed him to be.

Tear her apart. Keep her whole. Taste her lips, her blood . . . and her screams.

She was an old toy made brand new, one he’d tire of eventually, but he wasn’t done with her yet. There had to be something left of her to salvage. He smoothed her matted hair away from her face, speaking in a soft, gentle tone. “My stubborn girl, all I asked is that you beg.”
There…only a spark, but there was still fire in her eyes. He’d have to kill her to douse out that flame.

I want the flame. I want to own it. Control it. And yet, maybe he wouldn’t until he snuffed it out and built a new pit for the inferno from the ashes. He nodded to himself, pulling the key to her shackles from his pocket to unlock them all. He heaved her up to her feet, continuing to drag her when she couldn’t stand. Ascending the stairs he pulled down from a latch in the ceiling, he half carried her until they reached the front door.

He tossed her outside, staring down at her as the sky lightened with the coming dawn. Tendrils of smoke rose from her red crusted skin. Like him, the sun meant a painful death for her. She’d be burned alive.

“Is this what falling in love did to you, Lydia? You can’t live without him?” The very idea made the blood he’d gorged on sour in his throat, ready to come up in clotted lumps. “Die for him then. I don’t want you.”

Lies, Cyrus! The part of him that craved her, that would hold her and treat her like something precious, clawed at the inside of his chest as he backed into the cabin and quietly shut the door. Leaning against it, he fussed with the white sleeves of the silk shirt he wore. Plain and modern and dull. He listened for a movement from her beyond the door. A whisper, a shift, any effort to survive.

Nothing.

There were others he could have. None as strong, but perhaps she wasn’t as strong as he’d believed. He could hunt down the sweet little schoolteacher taken from him much too soon, but her will to live came from the need to protect the little boy. And from the traitor, Vince, a man Cyrus had raised from a child to a ruthless killer. Actually, of the two of them, he desired Vince more. The things he’d done to the man, the things he could do…

A faint sound. Nails on wood.

He smiled. Waiting.

Harsh breaths. A low whine, growing louder, like the pain-filled sounds of a dying animal caught in a trap. Desperate to be free. To live.

The door hit the wall when he swung it open. He reached down, latched on to Lydia’s wrist, and jerked her inside, slamming the door shut behind her. She curled up at his feet, her frail arms wrapped around her knees, the flesh of her legs blackened in patches where the sun had touched her through the trees.

Tarnished beauty, but she would heal. And until he helped her, she would be in agony. So he watched her, unmoved by the bloody tears spilling down her cheeks, curious to see what she would do.

“Cyrus . . .” Her voice lacked substance. She was too weak to do more than breathe out the words. “Please . . .”

“Please what, Lydia? Please feed you? Please fuck you?” He let out a sharp laugh, knowing she couldn’t look at him with her eyelids dried together, couldn’t feel the impact of his derisive stare. “You’ve left me nothing to desire. Is this what I’ve received in exchange for the boy? He would be far more entertaining.”

The little bitch could hardly speak, but she managed to growl at him.

He chuckled and nudged her with his foot, forcing her onto her back. “Bad girl. You’ll get more from me if you’re good. Can you be a good girl for me?”

She pressed her lips together. Her jaw went hard, as though she’d either refuse to reply or didn’t want to say the wrong thing. Abruptly, her expression relaxed. She lifted one hand to him and more red tears leaked out of her eyes.

“I don’t—don’t want to—” He had to lean close to hear her last words. “—to die.”

He knelt by her side, slipping his arms beneath her and lifting her carefully. With her body, slight and fragile and so very cold, cradled in his arms, he carried her up the second flight of stairs to his bedroom. Laid her on his bed, a shallow pool of tenderness settling inside him as he slit his wrist and brought it to her dry lips.

She wanted to live. And to live, she’d surrender the one thing that had always irritated him to no end.

Her pride.

The suction of her lips on his wrist made his dick hard. The hungry sounds she made—fuck, he would have her make them when he used her body, when he made her writhe in pleasure and cry with pain.

Only, there was something he wanted more than either her pleasure or her pain. More than he wanted her surrender. This obsession he had with her wouldn’t release him. If she’d died, he would have mourned and he’d never regretted losing anyone in his life. Which was to be expected.

He’d never loved anyone before.

Teaching her to love him in return would be entertaining. If the lessons didn’t kill her first.

* * * *

Not enough. He wouldn’t let me have enough. My veins burned, the fresh flow of blood like salt on an open wound. My whole body was an open wound. Even my eyes…darkness had held me for so long I was certain I’d gone blind. And sleep didn’t renew me. I woke to more pain, and not pain caused by Cyrus.

I’d known when I traded myself for Daederich’s son that I’d suffer for my sacrifice. The choice was easy.

Living with it wasn’t.

Begging would have spared me a little, but…I couldn’t do it.

Whenever I had a moment alone, I would see Daederich’s face. Hear his voice. He would tell me to keep fighting. By now, Alric must be somewhere safe. Daederich would come for me. He’d never stop until he found me.

But I was dying. Hunger alone wouldn’t kill me, but the sun, the sun could destroy me. The answer shouldn’t have been difficult.

Beg, cry, scream. Give him what he wants! A small voice in my head had told me to do it all.

No!

No…until I’d inhaled the rank scent of my own burning flesh. Until agony had me reacting on instinct alone.

Speech was impossible, but I knew Cyrus would take any sign that I had given in. I couldn’t do it right away. I’d been hardwired from a young age to fight no matter what the odds. Death before dishonor. Pretty words. Words I’d lived by once. Except, I didn’t remember the person I’d been. I’d given up ever retrieving those memories to survive. Survival had become more important than whatever I’d been raised to believe in.

I’d struggled to get close to the door. Scalding pain slithered up my legs, flaming leeches eating away at my flesh. I broke my brittle nails on the wood, making the only sound I could. A pathetic sound I knew he’d enjoy.

And with this, I lived. I wasn’t damned, no matter what my father believed. No matter that he would try to kill me if we ever met again. I’d found a new cause, a mission I would fulfill or die trying.

Destroy Cyrus. I couldn’t let him ruin more lives, couldn’t let him torture and rape and create more monsters like us. And yes, I knew I was a monster, but as a human I hadn’t stood a chance at taking him down.

I couldn’t as his captive either, but I would bide my time. Regain my strength, get him to let his guard down. Then—

He tore his wrist from my lips, ripping his own flesh on my fangs before cracking me in the face with the back of his hand. “No! Your thoughts are mine, you stupid girl. I should throw you out the fucking window and let the sun have you.” He rolled off the bed, licking the wound on his wrist as it began to heal. He shook his head, pacing, watching me warily, likely trying to understand me. “When one takes a wild animal as a pet, they never let their guard down.”

My muscles thickened with the flow of blood, no longer coarse ropes under my skin. I could see again. I could speak. And I knew I had to be very very careful. “I’m sorry.”

“You will be.” He wrapped one hand around my throat, glaring down at me. The way he smiled chilled my blood. A small relief from the scalding sensation. I shivered, dropped from a boiling pot into an artic lake. His knees pried my thighs apart. “This is nothing. I would have waited for you to beg for this as well, but I won’t deny myself.”

He lowered his hand to undo his pants. His dick was hot against my cold flesh. He shoved hard, but I was too dry. Not that it had ever been an issue for him before.

With a soft, lion’s purr, he rested his body over mine. “I could make you wet with my spit, like he did. Show you how much I care to make this easy for you.” He kissed my cheek, not pressing harder, ever though I braced for the rough penetration. His unbound black hair caressed my skin, so damn soft. I could almost see the man the monster hid within as he whispered in my ear. “I understand now why he chose you. You were worth saving.”

I shouldn’t react. I knew I shouldn’t. But I couldn’t help it. I couldn’t let myself forget who he was. Not for one damn second. “He didn’t choose me. You did.”

“Is that what he led you to believe?” His tone was quiet, yet dripping with amusement. He looked young and charming with that crooked smile on his lips. “I had many beautiful woman for him to play with. He was my stud, the man all those rich bitches paid to see perform. Do you really think I would put him in the arena with someone that couldn’t get him hard?” He pressed soft kisses on my throat. “He was mine for a long time, Lydia. Playing with him was fun, but I’m a business man. Pleasing my audience kept the seats filled. He knew that’s why he lived. Because he brought in the crowds. We all do what we must to survive.”

Thinking of Daederich picking me out to fuck on that dirt floor in front of a crowd…I didn’t want to believe Cyrus, but what he’d said made sense. And didn’t make me love my man any less. My man, who looked every inch the brutal killer, but held his son tenderly and kissed me with love in his eyes. He could be utterly ruthless, but he’d give his life for mine. Despite what we’d become, I knew Daederich still had his soul. I found it difficult to believe Cyrus had one to begin with.

Cyrus may have forced us both to do horrible things so we could live another day, but that changed nothing. I knew where my heart belonged.

“Are you thinking of Daederich now? I suppose it would be more pleasant for us both if you closed your eyes and pretended I was him.” He laughed and pressed his lips to my cheek, whispering in my ear. “What was it he said to you? Try to relax? Let me save your life?”

Too close to the words Daederich had spoken. Cyrus must have heard him. He was toying with me, but I couldn’t stop myself from pressing my eyes shut and hearing the man I loved. Not only then, but so many times after. Telling me to be strong. Forcing me to keep going, because if I gave up, he would kill me himself rather than allow me needless suffering.

He’d be disgusted if he saw the condition of me now. So close to broken I’d probably be too weak to run if given the chance. Surrendering to Cyrus in any way felt so wrong, but begging had gotten me the blood I needed to survive. There was no way I could stop him from taking whatever he wanted from me. He would rape me. Torture me. But every reprieve I had would give me time to heal.

I let myself relax and Daederich’s face came through the darkness. His voice as he overpowered me, chuckling as I struggled with no true desire to break free. There would be bruises on my wrists from his grip, but I welcomed the pain. It reminded me that he would never let me go.
A deep thrust and the image shattered. My body knew Daederich’s and this wasn’t him. Cyrus’ groan had me dropping my head to the side, tears wetting my cheeks as he slammed in over and over. A scream caught in my throat as he lifted my breast to his mouth, sucking my nipples before biting down on the sensitive flesh.

Nothing I couldn’t take. Cyrus had thrown me off by briefly letting me lose myself to my memories, but I wouldn’t make that mistake again. I forced my eyes to meet his with calm acceptance.

He lifted one hand to my cheek and smiled. “You’ve rejected my gift, but this is better. You’re so fucking wet. You haven’t told me to stop.”

“There’s no point. You won’t.” Keeping my mouth shut would be smarter, but my sanity depended on putting up a wall between us. One where I could hide the fragile parts of myself he’d love to toy with. “You have my body, but—”

“I’ll have everything, pet.” He pressed in deeper and circled his hips, his smile never fading. “You will enjoy this. Do you really believe I’d be so selfish? Simply take my pleasure and leave you wanting? No. We will continue for as long as it takes.”

God…no. Please… Nothing else he’d done or said had been this horrible. The slow drag of his dick inside me could be tolerated, but only because I expected it to end when he got bored. This new game wouldn’t bore him. He would fuck me endlessly, immortal strength keeping him going until I gave him what he wanted. And to get him off me, I’d willingly do so, only it wasn’t that simple. I doubted any woman could make herself come like this. My body had betrayed me before, but the choice had been taken away then.

Cyrus wasn’t doing anything to manipulate me to react to him. He had given me a way, then taken it from me. His every deep thrust hurt. His body on mine, slick with sweat, disgusted me. I could no sooner come while he was fucking me than I could masturbating in a pit full of rotting bodies.

“That can be arranged, my dear.” Cyrus pushed away from me and flipped me over, jerking me up to my hands and knees. He pressed in so gradually I felt myself stretch around every inch of him. Flush against my body, he held still. “I gave up so much for you. You haunted me after you left me. When I slept, I dreamed of you.” He kissed the nape of my neck, bringing his hand between my thighs to play with my clit. I gritted my teeth even as I surrendered to the spark of arousal. “I found women who looked like you. I tore them apart because they failed me.” He pressed his thumb down on my clit and rocked his hips. “They couldn’t make me forget what you could give me. What you will.”

He’s lost his damn mind. Not that he’d been sane to begin with, but there had been some logic to his cruelty. Money. Power. Even pure sadistic desire made some kind of sense. But this could be a good thing. If his control slipped it might give me the opportunity I needed to escape. I knew he was obsessed with me. He wanted to own every part of me. He’d said as much.
Let him believe he did. I fell forward onto my elbows even as he slammed against me, shoving my thoughts behind a wall I prayed would hold against him. He put a hand on my hip, his fingers still toying with my clit, and drove in faster. Harder.

I tightened around him, picturing Daederich coming into the room with a knife in his hand, moving silently until he could slash the blade across Cyrus’ throat. As the heat spread deep within I could almost feel Cyrus’ blood spilling over me.

Crying out, my hips bucked and I clenched my fists in the blankets, coming so hard the pleasure stole the last of my strength. His fingers dug into my flesh as he dropped down on top of me. Breathing hard, he fell to his side and pulled me into his arms.

“Much better.” He kissed my cheek, gently trailing his fingers through my hair. “You will sleep here today. And when you wake I’ll bathe you and find you something pretty to wear. You deserve the very best. Silks and sweet words and…” He rose from the bed and shook his head. “I’m getting ahead of myself. Better will come. But we are off to a good start.”

I rested my head on the pillow, not seeing any reason to question his change of heart. Let him keep me close. Ending him would be that much easier.

* * * *

Fucking Lydia had been…pleasant. Cyrus settled down in his office with a tumbler of whiskey, idly watching the ice float around the glass. There were many ways he could have made taking her satisfying, but the purpose hadn’t been to get off. If that was all he wanted, he could fuck any bitch he found on the street. Drag out any number of captives he had access to.
They weren’t enough and owning Lydia would be a challenge. He’d tested her reactions to cruelty and kindness, curious to see how far he could push her in either direction. Both could be effective, but not yet.

Because what stood in his way was still beyond reach.

So long as she had hope, there would always be a part she kept tucked away, a part he couldn’t touch. She wanted to kill him, but if she believed she could alone, she would have tried already. No, Lydia was smart enough to wait for reinforcements. She would preserve her strength until Daederich arrived, clinging to the idea of Cyrus dying by their hands.

But what would she do if he took that hope away? If she had to accept that she belonged to him until he tired of her and chose to set her free?

There was only one way to find out.

To avoid detection, he hadn’t sent anyone after Daederich and his pet hunter. There were too many risks of leading them here.

However, others would track the pair for their own interests in the outcome. And for the right price any of them would help Cyrus with this little dilemma.

Only one that Cyrus knew of was up to the task.

Settling down his drink, Cyrus reached for his phone, dialing a number he hadn’t used in so long he couldn’t be sure it hadn’t changed.

He smiled as a familiar voice answered and wasted no time getting to the point. “How badly do you want your revenge?”

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2 comments:

  1. Just picked up this book. Can't wait to read it!!!

    ReplyDelete
  2. I am so excited to read this book. The conclusion to one of my most favourite dark series of all time.

    ReplyDelete