Dark Wolf Page 26

Why do you insist on being so hard on yourself, Skyler? I would not have claimed you when you were sixteen. Even in terms of human years, you deserved time to find out who you were and what you wanted.

His response to her thoughts only made her love him more.

A gun went off, four shots in rapid succession, the sound loud in the stillness of the night.

We’re blown, csecsemõ, just run. The pack will be coming after us hard. They’re fast, faster than you can possibly conceive.

Skyler knew the moment she heard the shots ring out that the pack was signaling to the guards. They’d found their prisoner gone and were hot on their trail. She sprinted along the grass carpet.

Dimitri, try to stay on the grass. Mother Earth will hide our scent. We can make a few more kilometers before they discover us. Both Paul and Josef are armed.

They can’t hope to fight them. We have to find a place for all of you to give me blood. If I’m near full strength, I might be able to hold them off until help arrives.

She heard the doubt in his voice. He was severely wounded, starving, weak. She couldn’t imagine, any more than he could, that he would be able to fight off an entire Lycan pack in his present condition.

If they catch up with us, I don’t want you to try to fight them. If we can’t escape, you and Josef must leave us. Paul and I are human. They probably won’t harm us. Their stupid silver won’t do the damage to us that it has to you. If you and Josef escape and you get to full strength, you can come back for us.

No.

Skyler sighed. That was an absolute. Dimitri rarely gave her that tone, but he meant business when he used it. No one dared disobey him when he spoke like that, including her. He would never harm her, but he would use whatever means available to him to ensure obedience—and he had quite a few options.

She ran along the path, determined not to get caught—to put as much distance as possible between the pack and them. If they managed to reach her safety zone in the clearing, the pack wouldn’t be able to touch them.

We can’t start a war, Dimitri said. Make certain Josef and Paul don’t shoot unless we have no other alternative.

He wouldn’t mind killing a few of the Lycans. Some were unnecessarily cruel. He had his suspicions about them and their motives. But there were others who clearly were uneasy about the council sentencing him to Moarta de argint. They had avoided him, averting their eyes. A few brought him water and shook their heads, but didn’t speak. Only Zev talked to him and encouraged him. He seemed to be actively trying to reach the council members who were in the Carpathian Mountains with Mikhail, the prince of the Carpathian people. Cell phones weren’t working very well where they were, and he had been unable to reach any of the people in power who could reverse the death sentence.

Twice Dimitri had heard Gunnolf talking with a group of Lycans, and he referred to Dimitri as Zev’s pet. He was deliberately undermining Zev’s position with the Lycans. Some seemed to agree with him, but many did not and they walked away in disgust.

He didn’t want to be the cause of a war between Carpathians and Lycans, but if it came down to protecting Skyler, war it would be.

Skyler glanced at him over her shoulder. Her face was very pale. We’re coming up on Josef, and the Lycans are on our trail. I feel their footfalls as they run toward us.

Tell him to get moving. Not to wait.

You need blood. Fear crept into her voice, even as she tried to hide it.

Have him run with us. If we get the opportunity, then he can give me blood.

Dimitri felt calm the way he did before any battle. This was his life and even as weak as he was, he was a dangerous man in a fight. He ran, not for himself, but for his lifemate. Had he been alone he would have eluded them, gone to ground and waited until he was at full strength. Still, he had no doubt that even now, should they attack, he could take a few of them down.

Josef. Skyler sent the call ahead of them.

Merged as he was with her, Dimitri heard every word.

They’re coming up on you fast, Josef warned.

Don’t fire at them. Dimitri wants you to run with us so if it’s possible you can still give him blood.

There was a questioning note in her voice, and Dimitri realized her plan had been for Josef to take Paul and get away if anything went wrong.

If we get into trouble, csitri, he will still be able to get away, Dimitri assured.

Josef leapt out of a tree, landing lightly, just behind Dimitri, matching their pace. We’re in this together by choice, Sky, I’m not going anywhere. We just have to make the clearing and we’re home free.

She ran as fast as she dared, Dimitri, for all his weakness, matching her pace with no problem. She tried not to panic, knowing that would make things worse, but they were still some distance from their safety zone. The ground beneath her vibrated with the footfalls of the Lycans. They were incredibly fast, streaking toward them from different directions.

She had heard they were fast, but hadn’t conceived of such a pace. Already they had fanned out in hunting formation. They were attempting to circle around and get in front of them. If they managed to do that, they would have to fight their way through that line in order to gain entrance to the sacred spot waiting to protect them.

She was tiring. She didn’t have the physical stamina the other two did. Even with Dimitri in such bad shape, he wasn’t faltering. Her lungs were already screaming.

Paul’s just ahead, Josef said. In those trees.

Call him down, Dimitri instructed. I need to know exactly where the clearing is, what’s there and how far away it is.

Skyler showed him the information in her memory, but she was trying to puzzle out how the Lycans knew which direction they’d taken. They ran silently, Mother Earth making certain there was no scent to follow. Their footsteps were muffled. There had to be something she was missing.

Wait. Wait. Skyler breathed the words. Just for a moment, we have to stop. While we do, Josef, give Dimitri blood. Not too much, you have to be at full strength.

Dimitri put his hand on her shoulder, urging her forward as she began to slow down. Not yet, Skyler. We can’t be caught out here on the trail.

That’s the point, they already know exactly where we are. How?

They’re Lycan. Hunters.

There shouldn’t be a trail for them to follow, yet they know our location, Skyler insisted. She halted abruptly and turned to face Dimitri.

“Clever, clever Lycans,” Josef said aloud, extending his wrist to Dimitri. “I offer freely,” he added the formality. He tried not to stare at Dimitri’s burned body, but it was difficult to look away. He took a deep breath, let it out and got back to the business at hand. “They must have put a tracking device on their prisoner, and it’s been activated.”

Dimitri took the offering, knowing they had very little time. He bit down and allowed the rich Carpathian blood to flow into his starved body.

“We have to find it, Josef. You can take it in another direction and buy us time. The moment they get close to you, drop it and take to the air. Don’t let them see you,” Skyler cautioned.

While Dimitri drank, Skyler searched through the rags of his clothing and came up with a tiny bug that had been placed in the pocket of his trousers.

Josef reached for it with his free hand. “I’ll bring Paul down from the tree and get moving, and then see if I can lead the pack away from you.” He winked at her, his grin wide.

“Be careful, Josef,” Skyler cautioned. “Don’t play hero. This isn’t a game.”

Dimitri closed the wound on his wrist, but retained possession. He looked Josef in the eye, his gaze icy. “You will not take any chances, do you understand me? You’re not expendable, not matter what you think. You are our family and we stick together.”

Josef swallowed hard and nodded. “I’ll be careful.”

“Get back to us the moment you can,” Dimitri said. “We’ll need you.” Reluctantly, he released Josef. The boy did think himself expendable. Skyler hadn’t come to that realization yet, but Dimitri saw it in his eyes.

“I’ll get Paul. You start running.” Josef took to the air before either of them could say anything else.

Skyler set the pace again, a steady, but fast speed, Dimitri on her heels. She tried not to think about what she’d gotten her friends into. If they hadn’t found Dimitri when they had, he would be dead. She knew that with certainty, but she didn’t want to sacrifice Josef or Paul for her own happiness.

Josef set Paul down directly behind Dimitri on the narrow path that muffled their footsteps. Without another word, he veered away, moving fast, taking the tracking device with him.

At first, Skyler was certain the ruse wasn’t going to work. The pack seemed to stay on course. Her heart accelerated and she felt her mouth go dry. She wasn’t going to be able to get Dimitri and Paul to their safe haven. She’d chosen the meadow for the richness of soil. Nothing had disturbed it in centuries. The earth was rich with minerals and healing agents, everything Dimitri would need when he went to ground.

Ordinarily, it might take weeks to heal his terrible burns, both inside and outside his body, but they didn’t have weeks. Mother Earth would see to it that her son was in the best shape possible for fight—or flight—if Skyler could just get him there.

Abruptly, she felt the shift of the pack, moving away from them, circling around, following the tracking device they’d placed on Dimitri. Josef was leading them away. He’d veered closer to the Lycan pack then she would have liked, obviously to make certain he had their attention, but now he was in full flight, giving them the opportunity to make better time and reach their goal.

Do you know how many there are? Paul asked.

Dimitri glanced at the boy over his shoulder. No, not a boy. Paul had turned into a man. He was family to the De La Cruz brothers, some of the most lethal of Carpathian hunters. They swore fidelity to the prince and Dimitri didn’t have any doubts that all five brothers would defend him with their lives, but they answered to the eldest, Zacarias. His reputation was well deserved. He was a dangerous predator, untouched by civilization, a hunter renowned for his skill and relentless pursuit. These were the men mentoring Paul.

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