HEAT

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Too Late

Tommy (Remember: he thinks of Hycinth as Abby and Luca as Whiskey)

“No!” Whiskey snarled, looking back and forth between Sydney and me. His large frame shook.

I didn’t blame him. Abby was his sister. The sound of her tortured screams had been one of the worst fucked up things I’d ever heard, but her pitiful cries of agony had left Whiskey broken, devastated him on a level anyone would have to be blind not to see.

And I didn’t necessarily disagree with him. Of course, I didn’t think it was a good idea for any of us to willingly walk in whatever hell Julian and Dagger were holed up in. The advantage was way too much in the jackasses’s favor. But it was obvious the lil’ filly had already made up her stubborn mind, and I’d rather be there for the fallout.

Regardless, I waited silently for Sydney’s response because I didn’t have the authority to make the call here. Among my Grimm MC brothers, I had the last word and any biker who fell out of line faced severe punishment. Order and discipline were not optional. I got that.

Swiping blonde hair out of her eyes, Sydney turned to Whiskey. At the same time, she released the radio com again and chose an angle that put her back to the camera in the trees above us, making it impossible for whoever was watching us to hear or read her lips.

Her eyes were soft as she stared at Whiskey. She saw his pain just as well as I did. But the rest of her body remained ramrod stiff, spine straight, her shoulders back and head high. “You don’t know Dagger like I do.” Her face scrunched in obvious disdain when speaking the fucker’s name. “We don’t have a choice. If I can get in there, I’ll give Dagger the distraction the sick fuck wants. He’s always wanted it. He won’t let this opportunity pass by without taking advantage.”

Mouth clenched tightly shut, a muscle in Whiskey’s jaw twitched. He hated her answer but didn’t argue further.

“Wait a minute,” I couldn’t hold my tongue. It was clear there was a hell of a lot more to her words, and I didn’t think I was going to like the answer. “What do you mean ‘he’s always wanted it?’”

Crystal blue eyes turned to me. She shrugged her shoulders. “It doesn’t matter.”

“It fucking does matter,” I disagreed. “I need to know what I’m walking into.”

Sydney hesitated for a moment as she stared at me and then seemed to make a decision. “Dagger has always wanted everything Leander had…including me.”

I worked to control my surprise. So, Sydney had been with their leader. The same guy who knocked up Abby? And apparently the dickhead who’d kidnapped and tortured Abby had some kind of unrequited fetish for Sydney? As if this whole situation couldn’t get anymore fucked up. Perfect, just perfect.

Turning to face the camera again, Sydney lifted the radio to her mouth and pressed the communication button. “Okay, Dagger. We’re on our way.”

“Excellent. See you soon,” the gravelly voice crackled. Once again, unease slithered down my spine. He sounded way too confident and creepy as hell.

Sydney dropped the radio. It landed with a soft thud in the forest underbrush. She turned to Samuel. “Wait here for Leander. I’ll leave our com open for as long as I can.”

He nodded.

Without a glance in my direction, she took a step deeper into the trees and muttered, “Let’s go.”

I caught up with her in a few steps and stayed by her side, neither of us speaking. She made a few twists and turns but otherwise maintained the same direction. I had no idea how she knew where to go but it was obvious she was confident we were headed the right way.

About ten minutes later, we hit a break in the trees. Sydney’s head turned slowly from the left to the right, her razor-sharp attention scanning the horizon in all directions before settling on the small rundown house about one hundred feet ahead. She muttered under her breath, “Don’t try to fight them. You’ll lose.”

Before I could reply, five big motherfuckers came out from the building. As if he had no care in the world, the one in the front ran a hand lazily through his dirty blonde hair and waved us closer. “How nice of you to join us, Sydney. Dagger speaks so highly of you.”

Sydney’s hand curled into a fist as we walked forward. When we reached the waiting group, the other four eased into a circle around us. I didn’t like having them out of my field of vision but decided not to turn around. It was more important to stay focused on Sydney and whoever this asshole was. Sydney’s head dipped. “Alpha Julian.” I wondered how much fortitude it took for her to maintain her forced politeness. And there was that word again—Alpha.

Lips curling into a cruel smile, Julian made a point to eye her from head to toe and back again.

I bit my tongue to keep from telling him exactly what he could do with himself.

“Weapons and communication,” Julian demanded with his hand held out.

Shit. I’d expected to lose my guns and knives, but I’d hoped maybe he wouldn’t think about the open headsets that both Sydney and I wore, our only connection to anybody who could help us. I was confident Sydney’s associates, or whatever the hell they were called, wouldn’t come any closer until Leander arrived which was at least another twenty minutes. Twenty minutes didn’t seem like a lot of time to fill but the dread in my stomach worried how very quickly things could go South.

However, Frank and Leroy should be waiting somewhere around the front of the residence. I removed my weapons slowly, trying to figure out a way to command them to come closer without speaking before I lost the communication device. But it turned out I didn’t need to because they were already on the same page. I abruptly heard a few clicking noises through the headset. I recognized it immediately. Sort of like Morse code but all our own. We didn’t use the system often but it came in handy for certain recognizance missions where stealth was a necessity. To an outsider, the clicking would sound just like speaker interference, but to me, they were asking a clear question—did I want them to get closer and intervene? Hell, yes. That was exactly what I wanted. I cleared my throat twice, giving them the answer.

“I’m here. Let’s talk.” Sydney addressed Julian, interrupting my thoughts as I finally removed the com. “Tell me what you want. We’ve gone three years without a war. We don’t need to start now. There doesn’t need to be more bloodshed. If it’s land you want, give Leander a chance to negotiate the territories in exchange for the safe return of his mate.”

Julian chuckled. “Now, why would I want to argue over pieces when I can have the whole thing?” Without waiting for a response from Sydney, he took a step back, turning his back on us. “Let’s not keep Dagger waiting. He seemed very…eager to see you.”

Sydney’s expression hardened but she followed without a word. I kept by her side. My anxiety amped up another notch as we entered the residence. But nothing could have prepared me for the sight I was about to walk in to.

When we rounded the corner into a dirty living room, two men entered from a side door, maybe a basement since it appeared they walked up a few steps before coming through the door. They were holding Abby between them, the shackles holding her wrists together clinking. She was limp and naked in their arms, barely conscious, her head rolling to the side, weak whimpers of pain coming from her lips. If I hadn’t already known who she was, I never would have been able to identify her. Her body was covered in bruises and blood from head to toe, both eyes black and blue. One was swollen completely shut. But most concerning was the trail of blood coming from between her legs, down her thighs and even onto the floor. Was it already too late? Had she already lost her baby?

Sydney sucked in a sharp breath.

My own blood boiled beneath the surface. I was enraged to see what they had done to a helpless woman, who was pregnant, nonetheless. I’d seen some fucked up things over the years, but even the bastards in my world didn’t target innocent pregnant women to torture.

To make matters worse, one of the fuckers grinned as he addressed a man reclined on the dingy brown couch, “Where do you want me to put her?”

“Dagger, please, stop this. You know it isn’t right,” Sydney interrupted.

Pushing himself leisurely to his feet, Dagger stepped in front of Sydney. Faster than I expected him to move, his hand shot out and he backhanded her across the face. Sydney’s head whiplashed to the side but she made no sound and she didn’t fight back.

I, on the other hand, had no intention of letting the bastard beat up on another woman. “I don’t think so, asshole.” I lurched forward, my hands curled into fists.

But I only got one step before three of the jackasses grabbed me from the sides and behind. “Take your fucking hands off me!” I struggled against their hold, trying to break free, but the fuckers were strong.

Dagger didn’t even look in my direction. Instead, he grabbed a handful of Sydney’s hair and jerked her head back before crushing his lips down to hers. A strangled sound came from her throat but she didn’t otherwise move. She definitely wasn’t kissing him back but she didn’t try to push him away either. She just stood there, her hands balled into fists, her neck straining into a sharp angle from his continued grip on her hair.

The rest of the men in the room laughed.

I swallowed to keep from throwing up as he shoved his tongue down her throat.

“Are you going to share her too?” One of the assholes asked, a look of keen interest in his eyes as he stared at Dagger and Sydney.

Share her?

What the fuck did that mean? My eyes raked over Abby’s helpless body once again, zeroing in on the blood coming from between her legs. Is that what they’d already done? Had they violated her? And from the sound of it, more than once?

“Look, man, we came here to talk.” I tried to capture Dagger’s attention. “Why don’t we just sit down and talk this through?”

For the first time, he looked over at me, releasing Sydney’s mouth in the process. She coughed and spit onto the carpet. I could only imagine how vile he tasted. I didn’t know how she kept from hurling right there.

But Dagger didn’t bother responding to me. Instead, he answered their earlier question, “Bring her outside to the table. I want her in the perfect position for when Leander arrives.”

“You got it,” the man responded and jerked on Abby’s arm trying to get her in motion. Abby cried out in pain and tumbled forward. She would’ve hit the ground had they not been holding both of her arms. Did the asshole really think she could walk?

“You son of a bitch.” I jerked against the constraints of the men holding me once again, trying to free myself, but it was no use.

After they left with Abby through the door, Dagger yanked on hold of Sydney’s hair. “You too, bitch.”

Once again, she didn’t argue with him. She just stumbled as she tried to maintain her balance as he pulled her out the door after them.

I didn’t want to let either Abby or Sydney out of my sight. Thankfully, apparently, I was also going to be invited to the party because the three men holding me shoved forward as well.

In less than a minute, they tossed Abby’s fragile frame onto a wooden picnic table. She cried out at the impact but then lost consciousness. I was thankful for small gifts. Better for her to be unconscious then aware of the nightmare around her. But I worried her lack of consciousness meant she was taking a fatal step toward death. Her body couldn’t endure much more.

One of the men pulled a long blade from his back pocket and held it over Abby’s exposed stomach. “Do you want me to cut the kid out now?”

Alarm shot through me, adrenaline racing through my veins.

There was no way I could have heard him correctly!

Abruptly, Sydney came to life. In a shockingly fast move her own, her fist came out and landed a solid hit right across Dagger’s jaw.

“Fuck!” He stumbled back. When he caught himself, he glared at Sydney and rubbed his stubble covered jaw with one hand.

She braced herself, her body low in a defensive position.

I was surprised when he didn’t attack. He turned toward the table with Abby and answered, “No. She isn’t as far along as Isabelle was. If you cut the pup out now, he won’t make it for more than a few breaths, and I want the little bastard alive so Leander can see me crush the life out of it.”

Shock radiated through my body, making my head feel a little woozy. There were so many things wrong with what he just said that my brain struggled to absorb the truth of it.

He planned to cut the baby out of Abby’s stomach?

And why had he called it a pup?

“You sick fuck,” Sydney snarled and took a step forward looking for best advantage to attack. “Leander should have drove a knife right through your heart after he cut off your dick and made you eat it that day.”

What the fuck?!

Leander cut this guys dick off? And made him eat it?!

Surely, Sydney had to be joking, but Dagger’s enraged response made it all too clear that her words were the truth. “You fucking bitch!”

Before he could attack, Julian interrupted, “No! We don’t have time for this. I just got word that Leander has been spotted in the woods, and they’re moving fast. He’ll be here in less than five minutes!”

Dagger’s head snapped in Julian’s direction. “Are your men ready?”

Julian gave him a hard nod. “He isn’t going to be thinking straight which means he’s going to make the mistake of running here half-cocked. We’ll pick off as many as possible when they hit the clearing. Then it’s going to be up to you.”

“And you’re sure Leander won’t be able to influence me?” Dagger pressed, his breath coming faster with his own adrenaline.

“No,” Julian assured him. “Leander’s Alpha influence won’t be able to touch you now that you’ve sworn allegiance to me.”

I didn’t understand his words, but I suspected they had something to do with whatever Leander had done back at Lucky’s loft.

But I didn’t have time to think on it because all of a sudden, all hell broke loose!

Several men burst from the trees.

Gunshots rang out all around me. Julian’s men were firing from inside the house on Leander’s men trying to make their way to us. Additionally, there was return fire from a few men still hidden in the trees, trying to provide cover for those racing across the yard. Shouts and growls mixed in with the already loud gunfire.

The chaos was the break I needed because the three holding me loosened their grip in an effort to avoid being shot from either side. I jerked my arm free and punched the one closest to me. He cursed loudly. Before he could come at me again, I slammed my knee into another one of their groin, causing the asshole to bend over in pain. But I just wasn’t quite fast enough to avoid the third one’s violent punch to the side of my head. I went down, landing on the ground with a thud.

Blinking to clear my spotted vision, I rolled hard to the left just in time to avoid a kick to the face. Fuck. I gritted my teeth. Three-on-one wasn’t going to be easy, but I’d be damned before I let them get the best of me.

Suddenly, the number dropped to two-on-one as one of the jackasses fell dead right next to me, a gunshot wound to his head.

And then another.

I whipped my head around to find both Frank and Leroy tucked behind a large tree stump, firing off shots of their own.

The third man must have decided he preferred to live because he took off toward the house, leaving me stranded in the middle of the yard.

Less than two minutes had passed since the fight began but it felt like an hour. Rather than get up, I twisted toward the line of trees. At least three of Leander’s men went down from the enemyfire, but the rest kept coming, zigzagging their way across the large clearing to avoid the lethal projectiles.

And there was no way I could miss Leander’s huge form, barreling forward. Even from my spot on the ground fifty feet away from him, I saw a startling change in his demeanor. He jerked hard to the left, rolled and then came back up, heading back toward the right. But it was when his eyes landed on Abby’s vunerable and broken body, something happened...

...abruptly, his eyes went black and then he just seemed to explode!

In one second, he was a man…but in the next…a huge black Wolf!

He hadn’t even broken stride as huge paws ate up the distance between him and Abby. Loud growls percussed from his chest, seeming to shake the very earth around me. The expression of fury and hate on his face was like nothing I’d ever seen before. He was truly terrifying.

I laid on the ground, frozen, my mind trying to deny what I’d just seen, but I couldn’t. I hadn’t even blinked.

There was no denying the truth.

I knew what they were now—

—Werewolves!

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