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Katies hellion (rhyn tri.., p.16
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       Katie's Hellion (Rhyn Trilogy, Book One), p.16

           Lizzy Ford
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  "Still alive, Lunchmeat?"

  She never thought she’d want to hear the monster’s voice. Her world was one of agony and blurred colors. Someone had dumped her into a heap in her cell, and she felt Lankha’s cool, fuzzy hands.

  "He took too much," the healer chided.

  She smelled her own blood. It covered her by the time Sasha had finished his sick games with her. Her heartbeat was shallow and fast; her head felt like it was in a clamp. He’d forced her to stay awake through it all despite her fainting spells, tearing open her veins and feeding until she was too weak to fight him.

  He wanted her to fight him, to ratchet up the levels of agony. He got off on it as he dry humped her and sucked her life from her.

  Rhyn made a racket in his cell. She wished, prayed he got free and ended her.

  Lankha’s cool magic worked quickly. He took away her pain first then shoved a water cube between her lips. It melted in her mouth and ran down her throat, soothing it after her screams had rendered it raw. The healer’s soft hands took away her headache, then the throbbing in her neck, and worked on the other parts of her body until she felt whole again.

  She was too weak to move. He gently removed the blood-soaked jumper and cleaned her. His touch was so soothing and cool, she vowed to give him whatever blood he wanted for taking away such pain. He tugged on another jumper and then lifted her onto the bed with strength that seemed at odds with his small form.

  Still, she couldn’t sleep. She relived the bloody scene in the banquet hall, heard the creature panting her name as he came against her thigh and then tore through the other side of her neck. He’d spent hours on her, disabling her and then hurting her.

  Lankha shoved another cube in her mouth, then a third. They melted and trickled down her throat. They weren’t water cubes; they tasted of nothing she could identify. They were metallic and sugary. He smoothed out her hair and finally rested a feathery hand on her eyes, easing her into a restless sleep that didn’t last long enough.

  It felt like mere seconds later when she opened her eyes but guessed it’d been much longer. Her body was weak but working, and there were more of the odd sugar cubes beside her pillow. Lankha was asleep above, and the clamoring of the cell block was gone. She rubbed her head, shaking despite the rest. She ate two more of the sugar cubes and a water cube, eyes lingering on the bloody mess that was her jumper in the corner.

  She had to get out of there. She understood Jared’s warning about torture and being willing to bargain. But she didn’t think any of them could escape, or they would have.

  "Not so brave anymore, are you, little girl," Rhyn said.

  Her eyes fell to the dark cell holding Rhyn.

  "If you were half as tough as you sound, you wouldn’t be stuck in here," she retorted.

  "Lunchmeat’s still kicking," Jared said. His hands appeared through the cell bars.

  Rhyn smashed himself against the cell, as if to prove his strength. She ignored him and rubbed her forehead.

  "What does the amulet do?" she asked Jared.

  "Now you want to talk."

  "Keeps us here," Rhyn growled.

  "Yes, that neat little trinket is a source of constant magic that traps us. I hear you’re immune to magic. You could get one of us out," Jared said.

  "If that’s the case, why on earth would I bother to free any of you parasites?" she asked, too tired to stand. She sat next to the bars on her cell.

  "I guess you wouldn’t if you didn’t plan on leaving Hell. Sasha’s men would kill you twice before you reached the front door."

  He had a point, but she knew she’d be in as much danger from the monsters as from Sasha’s men. If she had the amulet and could bargain for protection--and one of them not eating her in exchange for her freedom--she wondered if she couldn’t escape.

  "No pain," Rhyn said with a husky chuckle.

  "Not too much pain, and I’ll raise you a promise not to fuck you till you’re dead," Jared offered.

  "Jesus," she muttered.

  "He ain’t coming here," a voice down the hallway snickered.

  "But I am!" another chortled.

  She touched her neck delicately, tracing the scars. They were jagged and ugly, similar to those on her arms. Lankha was a lifesaver, but she didn’t intend to spend the rest of her years being torn apart by some sadistic vampire with a hard on.

  "We’ll see," she said at last.

  She hoped no one ever came for her, and she’d never have to choose which predator to end her life. The monster across the hall was no option, and Jared was little better. The others…she wondered if Lankha could defend her. Based on his cowering every time Rhyn roared, she doubted it.

  Even Kris was better than any of these creatures, and she'd barely tolerated him! Her thoughts turned to him with some bitterness. What kind of human protector allowed one of his own men to turn her over to something like Sasha? Did Kris even know about Jade's betrayal?

  "Hey, Lunchmeat, what do you call a human running down the street?" Jared called.


  "Fast food."

  Several of the monsters snickered. She rolled her eyes and retreated to her bunk, hoping Sasha planned to give her time to rest before attacking her.

  "Damn you, Kris," she whispered.

  "Kris?" one voice echoed.

  "The Council’s Kris?" another snarled.

  "Yeah," she answered.

  "He sent you here?" Jared asked.

  "Don’t know. My luck’s gone to shit since meeting him."

  "Rhyn, you hear that?"

  She glanced toward the dark cell and saw the silver eyes flash dangerously.

  "You know Kris and Sasha are brothers, right?" Jared continued.

  "No, I didn’t."

  "There were seven of them. Sasha betrayed the others and aligned with the Dark One. He goes through Hell and collects us freaks down here."

  "Hate Kris."

  "He must die!"

  "Kris." Rhyn’s low voice was the most sinister of all the monsters' complaints. He drew out the name, and she sensed a personal connection to the white-haired man.

  "Kris’s not stupid enough to send you here. My guess is Sasha snatched you. This is the only place immortal pets can’t get you, or anyone else," Jared theorized. "Hey Rhyn, bet Kris wants this one back."

  Rhyn smashed his cell hard enough for the walls to shudder.

  Her luck grew worse. She heard the hisses that preceded the robed man’s approach. She tensed and waited, willing him to continue. When he stopped at her cell, she sighed.

  "Come with me."

  The inmates began cheering. She hesitated, reviewing what the inmates had told her about grabbing the robed man's necklace. As she emerged, both of them jumped back as Rhyn smashed into his cell.

  "Less pain," Jared reminded her as she passed.

  "A million dollars."

  "No pain but some fucking."

  "I’ll just eat you."

  One by one the inmates made their offers as she passed. The robed man was small. Surely she could punch him hard enough to knock him out. She balled up a fist and looked at it, wondering how to hit him.

  She wasn’t going back to Sasha. Ever.

  Hands darted from the cells to swipe at them, and she saw why the robed man kept to the center of the corridor. He reached the end, and she readied her fist. Once she had the amulet, she could bargain harder with the inmates.

  Punch him, grab the amulet, bargain for her freedom. The plan was quick and easy.

  The robed man opened the door for her as he had before. She waited for him to face her then punched him as hard as she could in the nose. It hurt! She shook her hand out.

  The inmates erupted into cheers. The robed man didn’t fall to her feet unconsciously as she planned but stared at her in surprise. She saw lightning forming in his hand.

  "Hit him again!" Jared yelled.

  "In the neck," another seconded.

  She raised her fist to lay a right
hook to his throat, beginning to panic when the lightning arced between his hands. He raised a hand to block, but she kicked him in the groin, and then in the neck. He bent over, coughing. She jerked the amulet off his neck, and the lighting flickered. The robed man stretched for her. She danced away from him and the hand of a monster that brushed her calf back to the center of the hall.

  She raised the amulet to stare at it, the cacophony around her rising as the excited inmates glimpsed their freedom. They began beating against their cell walls, and the lights flickered again.

  The robed man was coming for her.

  "Make me an offer!" she shouted, backing away.

  "No pain!" four voices chimed at once.

  "No pain and escape to your world!"

  "A million dollars."

  "NO pain!" Jared shouted at last.

  "If you’re Kris’s, pain like you’ve never known."

  "That’s not how this works, Rhyn!" she snapped.

  The robed man tackled her, and the amulet went flying. Arms, tentacles, and antennae stretched for it. It landed dead center in the hall, out of everyone’s reach. She wrenched away, only for the robed man to snatch her ankle and drag her down. He shot lightning at her that bounced off and hit an inmate. The screams added to the chaos. She kicked the robed man, and both launched themselves at the amulet.

  She snatched it. He grabbed her waist. When she dropped it, he bent. They tumbled to the ground, one foot--she wasn’t sure whose--knocking the amulet away.

  Silence fell. She and the robed man both stopped moving, watching in disbelief as the amulet skittered, rolled, and disappeared into Rhyn’s cell.

  Rhyn gave a chilling chuckle.

  "You better run," Jared advised. "Both of you."

  The robed man scrambled to his feet and darted for the door. A dark arm darted from Rhyn’s cell and snatched him mid-stride. There was a small scream, then the crack of bone and ripping of flesh. Silence.

  Katie rose, heart hammering. Weakened already, she struggled for her balance.

  "C’mere, little girl." His throaty chuckle scared her more than the thought of returning to Sasha. She eyed the door at the end of the hall, then her cell, and turned 360. There was one way out.

  "Give me a head start, Rhyn. It’s only fair since you’re free because of me," she ventured.

  "Go for it." His noncommittal response and stillness worried her more. She started forward.

  "Farewell, Lunchmeat," Jared called in resignation.

  This couldn’t be how she died! She’d lived through too much the past few days to be eaten by some boogeyman in a dark cell! She straightened her shoulders, determined to approach her fate without fear. She’d been terrified since being told she had amnesia, but she’d stayed strong.

  "Do your worst, you rabid dog," she challenged as she approached the point where the robed man had disappeared.

  Another smoky chuckle. She sensed his movement and closed her eyes, willing her death to be as fast as the robed man’s. Rhyn snatched her into the darkness, and a familiar fog appeared around her.

  Suddenly, the shadow world released her. She gasped and dropped to her knees, unable to see in the inky blackness around her. She didn’t feel sick this time, only weakness. The scent of sea was in the air, a rough circle of lighter darkness before her, as if she had landed in the back of a cave and looked towards its mouth. The ground was rocky beneath her hands and knees, the air chilled.

  She shoved at Rhyn when he grabbed her again and hauled her up. He certainly felt human with a massive male body expending heat and warmth.

  "I haven’t eaten in thousands of years," he rasped, holding her easily despite her struggles.

  He gripped her neck and tilted her head. She fought him harder, tears in her eyes.

  "Not so tough now, are you, little girl?" His voice was husky.

  She slammed her elbow into his ribs, and he chuckled, locking his other arm around her. His body was warm compared to the chill of the sea. Immobilized, she waited with panicked dread for an attack like Sasha’s. He nuzzled her neck, his breath hot against her skin. She squeezed her eyes closed, heart slamming in her tight chest.

  There was a pinch and numbness as his fangs sank into her neck. He drank for a long minute then threw his head back, roaring with pleasure.

  "You do taste as sweet as you look," he said, voice thick with need. "In the name of the Seven, I claim you as mine."

  His words confused her. He released her neck, touching it with a thumb that burned hot enough to singe her skin. Her legs were too weak to hold her, and he lowered her to the ground. She saw his large frame against the night sky outside the small cave, human one moment, then decidedly not the next. He growled a warning and peered back at her through the silver eyes of a cat-like beast the size of a large horse.

  And then he was gone.

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