a cursed bloodline-Page 78

Liam raced us through the thick pines, faster than I could have imagined. I wanted to beg him to let me go, to let me die with Aric. But I couldn’t. Aric had asked me to stay alive for our baby. He suffered to keep me safe. I couldn’t surrender to my emotions now.

My head pounded, knowing Aric would be torn to shreds. I wanted to make our enemy bleed, and when I heard the clamoring of hooves and sharp intakes of breath closing in, I knew I’d have my chance. The Tribe weres had maintained their beast forms to track and kill us more efficiently. Liam realized and changed, flipping me onto his back midstride.

I clung to the loose skin on his neck. As a wolf, he was in his element. His spirit soared and his animal side took over. The wind slapped me hard in the face as he sprinted deeper into the forest. Birds scattered and squawked above us, sensing the impending danger, and leaves rustled beneath his determined strides.

We quickly left the sound of hooves digging into the forest floor, but not the almost silent paws of the cougars. They were faster—and the witch made them more deadly. They closed in, working like a pack to take us down. Liam dodged the snap of fangs and the rake of multiple claws. I shifted us away each time they tried a collective tackle, but I was running out of breath and they’d proved impossible to evade.

I was surprised how calm my voice was when I spoke. “We can’t keep running, Liam. It’s time to fight.”

He whined in acknowledgment. I shifted us one last time, managing to surface behind them. I emerged as a tigress. The cougar closest to me became my prey. I snapped her neck before she sensed my presence. Liam dug his fangs into the were before him. No human would’ve believed a wolf could defeat a mountain lion so easily. Then again, no human knew Liam. He fought like a true Warrior, taking on the three that ganged up on him.

I couldn’t leap with my injured foot. That didn’t stop me from cleaving into the flesh of those who neared with all my fury and terror. I used my shifting ability to bury another cougar and sever his head, but when I tried to grab another, two others tackled me to the ground.

The witch spat chants of venom, forcing me to change back. I wouldn’t have believed it possible if I hadn’t heard the call of wolves grow stronger. A cougar in human form caught me favoring my right leg and kicked me hard in the ankle. I roared and head-butted him in the face.

The witch lifted her staff. “Enough. Hold the tigress, she needs to die.”

Two cougars fastened their arms around my legs while two more secured my arms. She pointed her staff toward my heart. An antique bottle filled with thick crimson fluid was fixed against the tip with wire. Her eyes dimmed to black as she began her sinister chant. I didn’t want those evil eyes to be the last thing I saw so I looked to where Liam continued to fight. Chunks of ripped fur hung from his back and blood gushed from the deep wound in his throat. It pained me to see him hurt and not be able to help. But I’d rather retain the image of his courage than my impending death.

I pushed back the ache in my throat. I’ll be with you soon, Aric.

It was my last thought before the witch screamed the final curse. Thunder erupted. Lightning flashed. And yet I felt no pain. There was none to be felt. The curse never hit me.

It struck Liam, who lay dead at my feet.

Chapter Thirty-one

The howling of wolves silenced. I stumbled forward, angling my head to take in the naked and still form at my feet. I never realized how pretty Liam’s amber eyes were, probably because I’d always been distracted by his boyish charm and his noble heart. But there they were, staring up at me, devoid of any sparkle. Strangely enough, he seemed to be smiling. Maybe he was happy his pain had finally ended. And hadn’t he suffered in the last few moments of his life?

A flap of skin hung from his throat, spilling the remains of his lifeline. Deep gashes painted his thighs red. Chunks of muscle lay dangling from his arms and he’d lost two fingers.

I let out a laugh—then another, followed by another. The weres had released me before the witch cast the magical blow that stopped my friend’s heart forever. They stared back at me. Some scowled; others stepped away, unnerved and disgusted by my behavior. I laughed again. Oh yes, Liam’s pain was now over, but theirs, theirs was about to begin.

The witch pointed her staff at me. Most of the rich red fluid from the bottle tied to her staff had evaporated. What little remained reeked of blood and dark magic. She might as well have pointed a damn blade of grass. I exploded into a tigress and tore out her throat in one vicious snap.

My inner beast took over. I relaxed, falling deep within my mind, and watched her unleash our wrath. The pain in my ankle throbbed mercilessly yet my anger surpassed the trifling annoyance in my foot.

I tasted the blood of my enemies for Liam…and for his mate.

He wasn’t supposed to die. He’d found Allie. He was supposed to get married and make babies and be happy. Because that’s what someone like Liam deserved. He didn’t deserve to be shredded like meat and struck down like he was nothing. He was someone special. A true friend, a brother, and an honorable Warrior, a were with more courage than any of these goddamn Tribesmen could ever possess.

I’m not sure how long I fought. It didn’t matter. I never planned to win against an army of opponents. My intention was to fight until my last breath, just as I promised myself I would. I remember something hard beating relentlessly against my skull until the last blow claimed my vision.

It took a long while for me to gather my senses. My lids drooped like weighted steel. Unearthly growls rumbled around me, stirring me from a sleep I couldn’t seem to fully shake. I shivered, but not from fright. I’d prepared myself to die. After embracing something so final, what was there to fear?

I trembled against the creeping chill working its way across my bare arms while I lay curled in a ball. The heaviness lifted from my eyes yet I kept them shut, allowing my senses to soar into overdrive. The stench of blood and dark magic crawled against the floor like mist, seeking out its prey while misery and pain sang a mournful tune through bays and growls. Something bad was happening. I needed to assess my surroundings before whoever held me realized I was awake.

Fluid trickled from my ears and the dull ache in my head beat in time with my heart. My bones stiffened. I ached everywhere except in my injured ankle. I must have severed the nerves to lose so much sensation. The thought disturbed me, yet I pushed it aside and listened hard.