Chapter Seven

"I didn't expect to see you here," Rhyn said, taking in Gabriel's muscular form as he fought the sparring dummies behind the Sanctuary. He assumed Gabe brought the dummies with him; he'd never seen them before. Nearby were more of the assassin's belongings: a few books in a large crate full of dark clothes. "You moving in here?"

"Maybe," Gabriel grunted and continued his merciless beating of the dummy. "What're you doing here?"

"Kris gave me one of Andre's old jobs."

Gabriel stopped and looked at him, taking in the dagger at his belt. Sweat coated his exposed chest, and he wiped his brow with his forearm. Considering how much Gabriel couldn't tolerate sunlight, Rhyn was surprised to see him during daylight at all, let alone without his shades.

"Makes sense," he said at last. "You've got the guts to do what he won't."

Again, Rhyn heard the uneven note in Gabriel's voice. His friend was troubled, and he didn't know why.

"You here for Sasha?" Gabe asked.

"Yes, though Kris said I have to wait for him to wake up and give him a chance to defend himself," Rhyn replied. "Fucking rules."

"How's Katie?"

It was midmorning on this side of the world, and Rhyn squinted up at the sky. He purposely didn't think of her, even though she was the reason he'd chosen this path. He felt the loss of their bond like he'd felt the isolation of Hell. He hated it.

"Fine," he said. It was the assassin's turn to give him a hard look. "How long do you think Sasha will be before he wakes up? I don't want to stay long." And risk seeing her again.

"I don't think he'll wake up soon. The healer's been working with him constantly. Seems to be in some sort of coma."

"Lucky bastard," Rhyn grumbled.

"Everything okay?"

"As good as it is for you."

Gabriel gave him a ghost of a smile.

"I didn't think you'd be allowed away from your mistress," Rhyn said as he sat on a boulder near Gabriel's crate of clothes.

"She ordered me up for a job, but I'm considering not going back."

"Life's a bitch."

"It's worse than that, Rhyn. I think sometimes I should've moved into the cell beside yours in Hell. At least there you know what kind of shit you'll go through."

Rhyn listened, sensing his friend was more than troubled: he was deeply disturbed. Gabriel began to beat up the dummy again. Rhyn watched, not wanting to leave for fear of being alone. For the first time in his life, he felt and thought too much, and he wanted to keep himself occupied with the world around him rather than the pain within him. He grabbed one of the Immortal books, fingering the soft, leather-like cover and transparent pages.

"You know, Gabe, even though we're no longer bound, I can still control my power. Maybe I just had to reach a certain age," he said.

Gabriel froze mid-strike at his words and lowered the bo. "What did you do, Rhyn?"

"The right thing for once. Sasha told me how to un-mate her, and I did it."

"Are you mad?"

Rhyn looked up from the book. Gabriel looked truly confused.

"I don't want to talk about it. Just found it interesting that I'm not having issues blowing things up," he said. "You know why?"

"No," Gabriel said after a long pause. "Unless … you gave up your bond but she didn't give up hers."

"Didn't know it worked that way."

"Because no one ever does that, Rhyn. It's madness."

"I don't want to talk about it!" he all but shouted. He dropped the book, anger rising. Gabriel returned to his dummy, beating it with renewed strength. Rhyn rested back on the boulder and closed his eyes to the rhythmic sounds of waves and Gabriel trying to kill the practice dummy. He tried to ignore his thoughts and didn't hear Kris's approach until his eldest brother spoke.

"Rhyn, now."

He twisted his head to see Kris standing outside of a portal. Unconcerned with what his brother might want, he rested back again.

"It's about Katie."

His heart almost stopped at the grim note in Kris's voice. Gabriel turned at the words, and Rhyn rose. Kris gave no explanation, simply strode into the shadow world. Rhyn trailed. They entered Kris's conference room, where Jade paced on the far side. The object sitting in the middle of the table made his blood run cold.

It was a severed hand, a woman's hand by its small size. Fury flooded him, and he started toward Jade. Kris caught him and shoved him back into the wall with his forearm across Rhyn's throat.

"We don't know where she is, brother, and we never will if you kill him!" he hissed.

"I can make him talk!"

"No! You know I will not break my oath to you. Let me handle this."

Rhyn wanted to change into his demon shape and rip Jade's head off. But Kris was right; this was time to think, not act. Gritting his teeth loudly enough for Kris to grimace, he nodded.

"Tell Rhyn what you told me, Jade," Kris said with calmness that made Rhyn's blood boil more.

"You didn't need to bring the half-breedhere. Darkyn wants the untainted vial. I will trade you her for the vial."

"You were behind the demons attacking us," Rhyn snarled.

"That was Sasha."

"Fucking liar!"

"Rhyn! Shut it, or you'll wait in the hall!" Kris snapped. "I don't have the vial, Jade."

"Katie gave it to you," Jade said.

"It'll do you no good. Ully modified it."

"We have Ully in Hell."

Rhyn paced furiously. His gaze fell to the hand, and he stopped suddenly, puzzlement easing his anger. Katie didn't have fingernail polish on when he last saw her. He wasn't sure he ever saw her with it on at all.

"I want both of them back," Kris demanded. Jade faltered and wiped his mouth. "Go and talk to whoever you have to and make this happen."

"Darkyn doesn't negotiate, Kris," Jade said.

"Neither do I. You're wasting my time," Kris said coldly. "Go find your master and come back when you have an answer."

Jade's face skewed, and he whipped open a portal, storming out. Rhyn moved to the table.

"It's not hers," he said, relief pouring through him.

"It's Iliana," Kris said. "We hadn't seen her in a few days. I can't imagine Jade would …"

Rhyn saw the pained look that crossed Kris's face. He wasn't about to comfort a man he tolerated but didn't like. He could, however, pity the woman whose hand was cut off.

"He does have Katie," Kris said. Rhyn looked up, anger stirring again. "He didn't take her hand, which means Darkyn probably wants her alive. If they can't figure out what Sasha did about the vial, they'll need her and Ully."

"I'll go to Hell and get them both."

"You wouldn't survive. Jade said if they don't get what they want, they'd unleash their demons on the human village. Darkyn's smarter than I thought."

"I'm not going to leave her there to the demons!"

"I'm the brain, you're the brawn. You don't think, Rhyn," Kris said. "For now, your former mate is safe. That probably won't last."

I doomed her. He couldn't help the thought, and he dwelled on Gabriel's words. He broke her ability to use his power while retaining her calming effect on him. He'd left her defenseless when he meant to leave her in peace. She probably couldn't call forth a portal. How did he undo what he'd done when he wasn't sure how she became his mate in the first place?

"If you don't figure it out in sixty seconds, I'm going to Hell," he said and began pacing again.

Jade walked into Darkyn's open chamber to find the demon arming himself for battle.

"Master," he said with a bow of his head. "I tried to get the vial from Kris. He's demanding we return Ully."

"If we return the scientist, we won't know if it's tainted."

"Didn't Sasha's lab figure it out?"

"He slaughtered everyone before he left. No one knows but those who are dead-dead."

Jade paced. There had to be a way to get the vial and keep the girl. He wanted her dead, but he couldn't risk Darkyn's anger before he had it. And if Darkyn knew the human was meters down the hall …

"No doubt, you delivered my message to Kris that if I don't get what I want, I'm taking out the human village," Darkyn said. "I plan on doing it anyway. I want that vial or the girl, Jade."

"I'm not sure how to get it. I've got nothing to offer him."

"Didn't Sasha have one of Kris's Immortals? The demons passed her around. Give her back. And do it quick. I'm losing patience with you, my pet."

Darkyn strode past him, and Jade bowed his head again. He wiped his face and walked slowly down the hall. He didn't even know if Iliana had survived what he did to her. He hadn't thought he'd need her, or he would've taken the hand of someone else. He pushed the door open to his chamber and saw Katie on the bed with an unconscious Iliana. The woman had wrapped Iliana's hand and elevated it, though the blonde's wheezing led him to believe she wouldn't last long.

"You have to get her help, Jade," the human whispered. "Isn't there some part of you that wants to make this right?"

"It's too late for that. I've crossed all the lines."

"What lines? You hurt her, but you can fix it. It'll be like you didn't do anything to her at all."

"She's not the only one I hurt," he said. "The Immortals in the castle."

"Sasha did that."

"I made him."

A look of horror crossed her face, and his anger boiled.

"This is all because of you!" he shouted. "You made me do this! You made me hurt them." He strode toward her, determined to beat some sense into her. She scrambled over Iliana's body.

"I believe you, Jade!" she said as she fled. "Sasha didn't have to do what he did. He had a choice, and he made it. You can still make things right!"

He shoved her against the wall, and she hunkered down.

"You can make this right, Jade. Just get her somewhere safe. Leave me here for the demons to guard, if you want. She's an innocent."

Her words fed at the small piece of him that didn't want to live in Hell forever, that still thought he could go back to the Immortals and his old life. He released her and turned to look at Iliana.

"Take her to a Sanctuary," Katie said softly. "There's an Ancient healer at the Caribbean Sanctuary. I know because I came from there. He could fix her fast."

"I can make things right," he repeated.

"Yes, Jade."

A knock at the door jarred him, and he whirled to see the demon that entered. It froze, looking from him to the woman on the bed before his eyes settled on Katie. Recognition passed over his face. Terror of Darkyn finding out made Jade snap, and he withdrew his machete. The demon was too surprised to react, and Jade hacked him down until the black walls were sprayed with demon blood.

Chest heaving, he dropped the machete from his hand as he realized what he'd done. Darkyn would know he killed a demon. They'd do the same to him that they did to Sasha.

"Sanctuary, Jade."

He turned at her voice and saw the girl shaking with her eyes averted from the mess. He snatched up his machete and crossed to the bed to grab and sling Iliana over his shoulder. He motioned Katie forward with his machete, then stopped her to drape the pillowcase over her head as he had when she entered Hell with him.

Darkyn followed Jade as the madman hauled his two prisoners toward the portal to the shadow world. So far, everything was going as planned. Jade and Sasha would soon be out of his way, and his gamble on the hidden honor of Rhyn had paid off. Feeding Sasha information about the only way to break the bond- without telling him the breakage was only temporary- rendered the girl he'd been tracking for weeks vulnerable. The window of her weakness was short, only a week in mortals' time, but long enough for him to act. If he took down the Council, too, he would be all the more content.

Satisfied he'd outsmarted everyone, he waited for Jade to hack apart the demon warrior guarding the portal and then disappear into the shadow world on his way to where Sasha was, the one piece of information Darkyn didn't have. He'd have the girl soon, and he'd create an army unlike any that preceded him.

He leapt through the portal before it closed in time to see which one Jade chose. Darkyn pursued and peered through it with a slow smile, recognizing the place from Katie's dream.

Katie had never been so relieved to feel the chill of the shadow world! She stumbled but pressed herself to keep up, in case he left her there and she was trapped. When she emerged, she dropped to her knees, crippled once again by the sensation that hadn't bothered her when she was bound to Rhyn.

She whipped the pillowcase off her head and vomited, her insides burning hot then turning cold. Jade had led them onto a beach. She couldn't see the Sanctuary through her blurry eyes, just the blue of water and the tan sand beneath her hands. When her body adjusted, she sat back.

Jade was marching up the beach, Iliana flopping over his shoulder like a ragdoll. He seemed to have forgotten about her, and Katie stood unsteadily, hoping he'd brought them to the Sanctuary- and safety.

She stumbled through the deep sand until her calves ached and her breathing was hard. When she reached the top of the beach, she paused to catch her breath before hurrying after Jade, whose determined walk soon outdistanced her. The Caribbean air was heavy and her body was soon covered with sweat. The outer wall of the Sanctuary appeared over a rise. Jade stopped and crouched, all but flinging Iliana's body down. She drew near, both hopeful and dreading what he intended to do.

"Stay here," he ordered. "I want to kill Sasha first."

The madman had lost it. She said nothing to dissuade him. He darted up the hill and disappeared from view over the top. Carefully, she rolled Iliana onto her back and propped up her injured arm again. Blood was everywhere, and Katie peeled off her sweater to wrap around Iliana's severed wrist. There were no trees for shade, and Iliana's labored breathing worried her.

She feared leaving the injured woman, in case Jade lurked on the other side of the hill or there were animals that might drag her away. Yet she wasn't sure how else to get help. A group of boulders nearby offered some escape from the sun. Katie rose, hefted Iliana beneath the shoulders, and dragged the woman over to the shade. She lowered her and sagged against the boulder.

"Sasha and Jade will soon be out of the way, leaving just us."

She recognized the familiar voice and froze. Her nightmares returned and for a moment, she wondered if this was one of them. She turned to face the creature who'd been stalking her in her dreams.

He stood a head taller than her and thick, his eyes colder than Gabriel's, and his heavy, lopsided features set off by neatly trimmed dark hair. She'd heard his name before.

"Darkyn," she whispered.

"Katie."

"What do you want?"

"A new breed of demon warrior, one that cannot be defeated by Immortals," he said and glanced at her stomach.

"You want more than my blood?" she asked, confused.

"Much more. I want your daughter."

She stared at him.

"Part demon, part Immortal, part human who's immune to magic? Incredible." He shook his head, and his eyes glowed. "And you, un-mated by the half-breed, are ripe for the picking."

She didn't want to remember she was utterly alone in facing him. He radiated the kind of quiet power Gabriel did. She wanted nothing to do with anything from Hell, especially this creature.

"Who do you think told Sasha how your mating could be undone?" he went on. "Or who let him have the vial or who knew how to use Jade to get to Kris? I knew you were in Hell in Jade's chamber."

"You couldn't have known Rhyn would leave me."

"I took a chance, and it paid off. I helped strip away his chances of staying with you. He's wild, like his mother, with an Immortal's honor."

Coldness slid through her. Rhyn had been as manipulated as poor Jade, who was now crazy with guilt and anger. Rhyn had quit on her in the hopes she'd be safe, only to leave her more vulnerable than ever.

Exactly where Darkyn wanted her.

"Darkyn." Gabriel's voice startled her, and dread settled deeper into her stomach. "She's on my list."

Darkyn looked from her to the assassin. Her tears rose at the sight of both creatures, one who wanted to drag her to Hell and the other who wanted her dead.

"Normally I respect Death's wishes," Darkyn said. "But this time, I cannot, assassin."

"You cannot obstruct Death," Gabriel warned. "This is one Code even a demon can't break."

"If I may interject," Katie voiced. "I understand my fate is either bad or really bad. But Gabriel, can you please help Iliana? Then you can argue all you want over who gets to kill me."

Gabriel glanced at Iliana's still form.

"You can save her or I can kill her," Darkyn offered. Gabriel moved forward and touched his hand briefly to Katie's head. She felt nothing.

"She's marked as Death's," he said. "You cannot take her to Hell."

"My master may disagree," Darkyn said, dark eyes flashing. "I'm certain we can work this out between us, assassin. I have something you want and will trade her for it."

"You have nothing I want."

"The key to your newfound chains."

Gabriel went silent and still, and Katie looked up at him. His face was emotionless, but the impact of Darkyn's words was unmistakable.

"Gabriel, help Iliana," she urged. "Deal with this shit when you get back."

He moved woodenly to lift the body at her feet and walked away, disappearing into a portal.

"What do you mean by that?" she asked.

"He sold his Immortal soul to Death so she wouldn't kill Rhyn."

"How do you know this?"

"Death bragged about her latest acquisition. It wasn't hard to figure out why he did it after so long refusing to become Death's slave," Darkyn answered. His honesty terrified her; he knew he wasn't going to lose and didn't care what she knew before he took her to Hell.

She'd never guessed the depth of Gabriel's friendship with Rhyn. The assassin she'd come to accept as a fixture in her unusual life was suddenly more: he was Rhyn's guardian angel as well as Toby's, and her friend. She felt his pain once more at taking away everything Rhyn had and pitied the assassin, despite her predicament.

Her gaze went to the sky, where the demon bird had appeared in her dream. Rhyn wasn't there. Her soul felt empty, and tears rose. Her fate would be decided by a demon and an assassin, and she'd never see her Rhyn again.

"He's not coming back," Rhyn warned as they waited for Jade to reappear in the conference room.

"Give him time," Kris said again, though he'd begun to look more concerned.

It'd been an hour. It felt like five hundred years in Hell. He was about to rise and open a portal to Hell- Kris be damned!- when an Immortal knocked and opened the door.

"A lady from the Caribbean Sanctuary has come with news," the Immortal said. "May I show her in?"

"Don't ask, just do it," Rhyn snapped, earning him an irritated look from his oldest brother. He issued a challenging look in return. They'd spent the hour in the conference room without fighting or threatening to kill each other. He wasn't sure what that meant, but it seemed to be a good thing. For now.

A small woman in convent browns entered and curtseyed. Kris pushed him aside to offer her a chair.

"Daniela," he greeted her, and Rhyn recognized the leader of the Sanctuary that had taken care of Katie weeks before.

"Master Kris," she said. Her gaze went to Rhyn. "Master Rhyn. Your Immortals caught a man who claims to be an Immortal as well. He's bloodied and half-mad. He attacked them to get to the Ancient Sasha."

"Jade," Kris muttered. "Is everyone in the convent safe?"

"Yes, but I have to object to Immortal business being carried out in the Sanctuary. Since your castle was attacked, we've had an Ancient wash up on our shores, Death's assassin sitting in our hall, and now this. It is not at all customary to how the Sanctuary is meant to be used," she said sternly.

"My apologies," Kris said. "If you will permit one more intrusion, we will go and retrieve both the madman and the Ancient." She frowned and looked between the two of them before responding.

"I will allow it."

"I am grateful."

Rhyn glared at his brother. Kris was gracious and gentle with this woman, who he could very easily treat like he did his Immortals and brothers. Kris opened a portal. He allowed Daniela to enter first and then followed. Rhyn trailed and emerged again into the balmy, bright island day. The portal opened in the courtyard, and Kris's gaze went immediately to the rooms lining the women's wing. Daniela's little legs moved fast, and she was across the courtyard while Kris stared toward the room where Rhyn assumed his mate was.

"Come on, lover boy," Rhyn said and slapped his brother's arm.

Daniela led them to the men's wing, where one sweaty, bloodied Immortal was standing outside of Sasha's room while the other stood guard over Jade, who was hogtied in the middle of the small courtyard around which the men's wing was situated.

The whites of Jade's eyes were visible before they drew near enough to hear his muffled shouts. Rhyn stood over him, his hand ready to grab the dagger at his belt and plunge it into the traitor's neck. Fury rose within him again as he took in the Immortal who had betrayed them and taken Katie. As if sensing what he intended to do, Kris took his arm.

"Not yet."

Rhyn looked away from Jade and stepped back before he snapped and was banned eternally from the Sanctuary. Daniela's lips were pursed and her frown deep.

"We need to talk to him for a moment before we leave," Kris said. "He's taken a human hostage, and we need to know where she is."

Daniela crossed her arms and gave a stiff nod. Rhyn snorted at her defiant stance and Kris's respectful bow and leaned down to grab the rope binding Jade's ankles. He dragged the Immortal over the grass and concrete into the vacant room beside Sasha's. Kris entered and closed the door. Rhyn planted a knee in Jade's chest and sliced his gag free.

A torrent of nonsense escaped from Jade, a mix of words that made no sense. Rhyn slapped him hard enough for him to fall silent.

"Rhyn, just move," Kris said impatiently. Rhyn knelt on one side of Jade, close enough to reach him when warranted. "Jade, I want you to tell me where Katie is."

"In Hell, dead-dead, I cut off her arm and I brought to Kris- "

Rhyn slapped him.

"I don't know."

Rhyn slapped him again.

"She's outside!" Jade shouted.

"Outside where?" Kris demanded.

"Darkyn said the girl or the vial. He said to trade her for it. I brought her with me."

"Here?"

"Iliana, I have to get her help then everything will be okay. If I get her help, she said everything would be okay, and everyone would understand Sasha killed the Immortals."

Rhyn looked at Kris, puzzled by the nonsense.

"Was she right, Kris? Will everything be okay?" Jade asked imploringly. "I never meant for any of this." At their silence, Jade's face went red and his eyes blazed. He thrashed, knocking Kris back. "The whore lied to me! I should've killed her! She swore this would- "

Rhyn snatched a pillow from the bed and covered Jade's head to drown out the madness.

"I see why he was gagged," Kris said. "Did any of this make sense to you?"

"Fucked-up crazy talk," Rhyn responded. "He's wearing a collar. Can't read his mind with that on."

Jade's shouts turned to screams, and Kris motioned Rhyn out of the room. Daniela stood where they left her, frowning fiercely. Even with the door closed, Jade's madness and the sounds of his body thrashing against the wall were audible in the small courtyard.

"Almost done, good lady," Kris said before she could kick them out. "I promise you."

"I'm going to Hell to get her," Rhyn said and started away.

"No, Rhyn. Just wait a minute. It makes no sense she'd be there, and if she is, the demons have her, or Jade wouldn't be here alone."

"He's not alone." Gabriel's voice was quiet. The death dealer emerged from the hall running between the two wings, the trembling form of Lankha held under one arm like a bag of cement. "He brought them both with him."

"Katie's here?" Rhyn seized on his words.

"For now," Gabriel said and looked away. His reaction fueled the sense of doom that had been growing since Jade appeared with Iliana's hand.

"Where? Is she okay?"

"This…" Gabriel lifted Lankha's trembling body, "is for Iliana. I left her outside the walls because I didn't want Toby to see."

"I'll grab Jade and meet you there," Kris said, striding to the door. "Thank God Iliana is all right!"

The sounds of madness had subsided during their conversation. Rhyn thought nothing of it until Kris opened the door. Jade had freed himself during his thrashing and launched out of the door, machete in hand as he flung himself on Kris. The weapon fell once, and Kris's blood sprayed them both.

Rhyn reacted out of instinct. He flew to his brother's side, snatched Jade, and snapped his neck. The Immortal crumpled. Kris appeared surprised and furious. The machete had sliced through his collarbone, and blood spurted from the wound into the courtyard's grass. He reached for the weapon with a shaking hand. Rhyn hauled him over his shoulder in a fireman's carry.

"I want all of you out," Daniela whispered, horrified.

"That shit works on Kris but not on me," Rhyn snapped. "Gabe, give me the healer, and get Iliana. Daniela, go get a room ready for Iliana and send Toby and Hannah to the cafeteria. Keep them busy for a while."

Gabriel crossed to him and held out the healer. Rhyn took the small creature under one arm. He didn't wait for the shocked leader of the Sanctuary to respond but took Kris into one of the empty rooms and laid him out on the bed.

"Never thought you'd defend me," Kris managed through teeth clenched in pain. "Thought you'd be the first to turn on me."

"You're a shitty brother, and you're an even shittier judge of character," Rhyn replied. He set the healer down. "Heal him, or I eat your village."

"You're such a dick," Kris muttered. His face was white with pain, and Rhyn looked over his brother. He'd lost a lot of blood. If anyone could fix him, an Ancient healer could.

"I thought Lankha would be too busy," Gabriel said. "I brought her here."

Rhyn moved to the doorway and watched him set Iliana down gently on the floor beside the healer. The woman was unconscious, her severed wrist wrapped in Katie's sweater.

Katie's sweater. It was her favorite one, and she'd been wearing it when he last saw her. She really was on the island.

"I have to go," Gabriel said. He started toward the courtyard. "I'll come back in a little bit."

"Where are you going, Gabe?" Rhyn asked, following him. Gabriel stiffened, and Rhyn's suspicion ignited.

"I have to go."

Gabriel disappeared, and Rhyn gazed at the spot where he'd been. The assassin had been acting strange for quite a while. That he was troubled was no secret, though Rhyn didn't understand why, aside from being a slave to Death.

I don't think our friendship will survive what comes.

She ordered me up for a job, but I'm considering not going back.

Katie was the job. Rhyn's realization paralyzed him for a long moment. He whirled and strode into the room, pushing the healer aside to kneel over Iliana. He rested his hand on her head and rifled through the half-dead woman's memories.

Jade locking her in a trunk, Katie screaming at him not to cut off her hand while she writhed on the bed, Katie sobbing and bandaging her after, blurred memories, the vision of ocean and sand, nothing.

She was somewhere on the island. With a curse, he rose and ran to the courtyard, changing into his demon bird. Beating his wings so hard they hurt, he rose into the sky and soared around the small island, finally spotting three lone figures in small valley not too far from the Sanctuary. He dropped fast and changed shapes too soon, landing hard on the ground near them.

All three whirled, and Katie's eyes lit up. It was the demon leader, Darkyn, who caught his initial attention. He didn't expect to see Darkyn here.

"What the fuck are you doing here?" he asked before his eyes went to Gabriel.

"Half-breed," Darkyn sneered. "Negotiating with Gabriel over who gets your former mate."

"There's no negotiation," Gabriel said in a hard voice. "She's on the list. She goes with me."

"No, Gabriel," Rhyn said. "She can't be on your list and if she is, the hatchling isn't."

"Death ordered both dead-dead."

"Brother, I'll kill you both if either of you tries to take her," he said. "You have a contract on her, Gabe?" The assassin nodded. "Let me guess, Darkyn, the Dark One ordered this."

"We'll just say he doesn't disagree with me."

Rhyn's heart dropped to his feet, and he looked at Katie. He'd meant to make her safe and left her to the worst fate imaginable. He'd never wanted to lose her, and he wasn't about to back down now. He leveled his gaze on Gabriel.

"All right." He drew a knife from his boot. "I'm challenging you, assassin, demon. You can have her when I'm dead."

"Rhyn, no!" she cried.

"I can handle it," he said.

"Rhyn- " She started forward, and Gabriel held out an arm to block her. Katie planted both her hands on his arm to push it away. Gabriel resisted, and she glared up at him. "Back off, Gabriel. It's not like I can run anywhere!"

"Two minutes," Gabriel warned. "By Immortal Code, Darkyn and I are obligated to accept his challenge."

Rhyn watched her approach, his gaze dropping from his foes to her sweet face. Her eyes glowed with emotions he'd been waiting for weeks to see. He wanted to sweep her away for one last intimate moment before his death but doubted the assassin and demon would wait.

"This is the stupidest thing you've ever done," she said.

"Letting you go was the stupidest thing. I'm doing something right for once," he replied, glancing at Darkyn as the demon shifted.

"They'll kill you," she whispered.

"If they do, go with Gabriel. Death's a bitch, but she's better than Hell."

"This isn't right," she whispered. Her eyes watered, and he marveled once again at how a half-demon fuck-up had almost ended up with such a beautiful creature. He cupped one soft cheek and rubbed away a hot tear with his thumb.

"I'm not dead yet," he said, amused and touched by her tears. She wrapped her arms around him, and he pulled her close. Her small body molded against his.

"Can't we just run away, right now? Turn into a bird and carry me with you?" she asked, desperation in her voice.

"Even if we did, they'd both come after us."

"You can go. I'd rather know you're safe than live without you."

"No, Katie," he said, his world clear for the first time in his life. "I know where I belong, and it's right here with you. I have to make things right. I couldn't live if I lost you."

"Katie," Gabriel called.

"Rhyn, I love you," she said.

"I know." He forced himself to withdraw. He gave her one last, long look and pushed her hair from her face. With a kiss on her forehead, he stepped away. Gabriel drew a long sword, and Darkyn pulled two free. Gabriel motioned her over to the rocky area.

"Bring it, my friends," Rhyn replied. He moved a short distance away to more level ground and lowered himself into a fighting stance. He'd never faced a full-blooded demon and assassin at the same time before. Gabriel bent to whisper something to Katie and then moved in front of him. Rhyn lowered his machete and held his hand out. The assassin took it, and Rhyn gave him a quick hug.

"To our destinies, brother," he said for Gabriel's ears only.

"Forgive me, Rhyn."

"Sometimes all we have are shitty choices. I don't fault you," he replied. A tormented look crossed Gabriel's face, but he nodded once. Rhyn shook his arms out and looked at Darkyn. "See you in Hell, demon."

"Look forward to it," Darkyn said.

Rhyn lowered himself into a fighting stance and faced off against the two.

Horrified, Katie watched the battle from her dreams as it began. Unlike the nightmares, this time it was real and agonizingly slow. She'd cheered Rhyn's sudden appearance but then quickly understood what it meant: only one of them was going to walk away from this. She wasn't sure what she expected, but it wasn't for him to fight for her, especially when she was already damned.

I love you, you fool!

The men battled with speed and agility that left her breathless. Her eyes stayed on Rhyn, and she'd never been as awed as she was watching him fight a flawless battle against the full-blooded demon and the assassin. The scary, confusing world she'd entered weeks before crystallized and grew clear as she watched the lethal battle. She belonged with Rhyn. Nothing else mattered

Break the bond, and Death will save you both. Rhyn will die-dead otherwise. Gabriel had whispered the words from her dream before facing off against Rhyn. She tried to decipher his meaning as she watched them fight, terrified to take her eyes off Rhyn.

Rhyn landed a blow on the demon, who snarled in response. She gasped. He can do this! He can beat them! A few minutes later, Rhyn went down under Gabriel's blow, rolled, then bounded up, but not before Darkyn slashed his side.

"Rhyn!" she cried. Rhyn gave a throaty chuckle and launched himself back into the battle. Though his side was soaked with blood, he showed no sign of slowing. He couldn't outlast them. He'd landed one blow on Darkyn and none on Gabriel.

Break the bond, and Death will free you both. She knew what it meant in her dream but was terrified of following her footsteps. Katie tried to concentrate on the words, wanting to help Rhyn before it was too late. She forced herself to close her eyes to the battle and repeated the phrase over and over, searching for another meaning.

"Not the time for riddles, Gabriel!" she muttered. Rhyn had broken their bond. Unless, like her dream …I have to break it, too. Her eyes flew open, and she stared at the men battling. What words had Rhyn used? "I release you of our bond, Rhyn."

She opened her eyes, expecting a miracle to occur and the battle to be won. Nothing happened. "I release you of our bond, Rhyn."

Nothing. Darkyn turned on Gabriel and slashed his back. Rhyn blocked a second blow that might've taken the assassin's head off and shoved Darkyn before whirling to meet Gabriel's blow. Darkyn changed into his demon form and tackled Rhyn, who threw him off.

He wasn't going to make it. If he died, it was because of her, and either Death or Hell would claim her.

"I can't live with that, Rhyn," she whispered.

Death would free them. Her death, as in her dream. There was no other choice. Her attention turned to a different direction, the way they'd come from the beach. She hesitated only a second more before she started running. She left the sounds of the battle behind her, her thoughts on Rhyn and nothing else.

The distance back to the beach seemed much longer than it had in her dream. Terror drove her to ignore the pain in her lungs and legs. She made it to the sand before forced to slow to a walk by the ankle-deep, loose sand. Agonizing over how much time Rhyn had, she finally reached the water-soaked sand and sucked in ragged breaths as she knelt for a moment of rest.

"Death will free us both." Her hand went to her stomach, and her eyes watered.

Trust my Gabriel, human, a woman's voice whispered into her mind. This is the only way.

Heart hammering, she rose, took a deep breath, and waded into the warm water. Waves licked at her ankles, her thighs, her chest. She started to chicken out when one went over her head and filled her mouth with salt water. Katie stood on her tiptoes and looked up, taking one last look at the blue sky before she held her breath and ducked beneath the water. She swam as far from the beach as she could, expelled her breath, then drew in a mouthful of water.