Why the hell hadn’t she seen this coming?
Silvio and her father stood in the living room of Zach’s rental house, and Silvio had a gun pointed at Zach’s chest. Hatred oozed off him, and the smile on his face was one of pure pleasure. Annabelle knew he planned on killing Zachary and would take great pleasure doing it.
“Zach.” Annabelle’s voice shook. Stepping out from behind Zachary, she was more afraid to see the look on his face than anything else. She tried to touch him, but Zach pulled away with disgust and leveled a deadly glare at her. Hands at his sides and his body wound tight, the look on his face was nothing short of furious. Please, Zachary. She tried to touch his mind with hers but was met with a wall of silence. “I can explain.”
“No need,” Zachary bit out. The muscles in his jaw flexed, and he shifted his gaze to Silvio and her father before turning those burning orbs back to Annabelle. Zachary’s fists clenched at his sides, and his energy buzzed with the pain and fury of her betrayal. He could barely get the words out due to his anger, and she couldn’t blame him. “It was a setup. I get it. You figured out that we were destined to be mates and you used it to get close to me so these two assholes can kill me.”
“My daughter will not be your whore,” her father swore. He stepped forward, but Silvio raised his hand, stopping him in his tracks. Snapping his fingers at her, he commanded, “Annabelle, come here!”
“No, Daddy. Can’t you see how wrong all of this is?”
“Be quiet, Annabelle.” Her father sliced a nervous glance at Silvio, and sweat covered his balding head. “You have to come back with us.”
“I heard you tell Silvio about my dreams.” Choking on her conflicting emotions, she barely got the words out. “I’m not going back there. You’re wrong about them. The Amoveo aren’t the monsters Silvio described. I knew that. Deep down, I’ve always known that, and that’s why I left. I knew you wanted to use me to get to them, and I couldn’t let you do it…especially after the dreams started.”
Annabelle looked at her father, and her heart broke. The man who’d loved her so dearly, who’d been so sweet and loving, was gone and had been replaced by someone she barely recognized. The loss of her mother had pushed him over the edge into the abyss of anger. It was easier for him to feel hatred and prejudice than loss and grief. She took a deep breath. “I’m not leaving Zachary.”
Zachary’s brow furrowed and his mask of fury faltered briefly, which gave her a flicker of hope. Perhaps he could get past his anger long enough to hear her out and give her another chance.
“Relax, Philip. She’ll come home with us.” Silvio’s dark, hateful stare turned to Annabelle and made her stomach roil. Silvio smirked at her and kept the gun trained on Zach. Annabelle shook her head furiously, but before she could say another word, Silvio cocked the pistol and continued. “I’m impressed you were able to bag one all by yourself, cousin. Although I must say that running off the way you did was ill advised. If it weren’t for Grace, we might never have found you.”
“Oh my God,” Annabelle whispered. Nausea swamped her, and for a moment, she feared she was going to faint. The only person she thought she could trust had betrayed her. “Grace told you where I was?”
“Did you really think we’d let you work in the city without some kind of security in place?” Silvio’s grin widened. “The only reason I allowed you to take that waitressing job was to let you strengthen your gift and get better control over it. I knew that once you had to deal with people all the time, you’d figure out how to manage the visions more effectively. You got stronger, just like I knew you would. Your gift will be a huge asset to the Caedo cause, and it looks as though you’ve managed to snare this one with ease.” His eyes narrowed and he looked Zachary up and down. “Fucking demons.”
“She sure did. Fucked me and then fucked me over.” Zachary turned his body ever so slightly toward her while keeping his gaze on Silvio. “Well, your little spy here put on one hell of an act.”
“It wasn’t an act!” Frustration and outright rage fired through Annabelle from the sting of his words. Tears filled her eyes, and her throat tightened while she struggled to explain herself. She wondered, fleetingly, why Zachary hadn’t used his powers to simply disappear. If he was so furious with her and hated her so much, wouldn’t he have gone away and saved himself? But he stayed. That gave her hope, and some much-needed bravery.
Annabelle tried once again to touch his mind with hers. Get out of here, she pleaded. Visualize yourself anywhere but here. I know you probably hate me and think I set you up, but I swear to God I didn’t.
“I’ve had enough of this. Between the travel and paying off the local cops to clean up the mess after we leave, this entire fiasco has cost me a fortune.” Silvio glanced at Philip and jerked his head toward Annabelle. “Get your troublesome daughter so we can get back to civilization. I’ll take care of him.”
Annabelle? Zachary’s voice shot into her mind on a growl, and her frightened gaze clapped onto his. Run.
What happened next happened in an instant.
Annabelle’s father grabbed her arm, yanking her toward him, and when static suddenly crackled in the air, she knew what was happening. Zachary shifted at the same instant Silvio fired the gun, and Annabelle screamed with outrage as the deafening crack echoed through the room.
Annabelle did the only thing she could think of doing. She launched herself away from her father and toward Zachary. A split second later, Silvio fired again. Pain bloomed in her chest, and it felt like her veins were filled with liquid fire. The blinding pain radiated down her torso, and a scream surrounded her. It may have been hers. She wasn’t sure of anything except that she was dying.
The pain ebbed as swiftly as it came. Her body went numb, and the cold tile floor beneath her had seemingly vanished, giving her the odd sensation of floating. With the feeling of weightlessness, a smile played at her lips when the sound of a lion’s roar rumbled in the distance.
Zachary. The last image Annabelle saw before tumbling into the dark abyss was a pair of furious amber eyes. As they faded away, she whispered, Forgive me.
He’d waited one second too long to make his move.
The moment before that Caedo piece of shit fired the gun again, Zachary shifted into his lion and leaped through the air. He landed on Silvio with bone-cracking force, making the gun fly out of his hands and clatter across the floor. His arms and legs pinned to the ground, the human was dwarfed by Zach’s massive size, and the look of surprise on Silvio’s face was almost comical. Zachary snarled as he latched his powerful jaws around the bastard’s neck and clamped down with a satisfying crunch.
A whimpering sound behind him caught his attention. With a roar, he spun around and crouched low, ready to pounce, but the sight in front of him made his heart stop.
Annabelle was covered in blood, and her weeping father held her limp body in his lap, saying her name over and over again, but there was no response from her.
Pure unadulterated fear filled Zachary at the sight of his mate covered in her own blood. He let out an earth-shattering roar, and in a violent rush of energy, he shifted back to his human form.
“Annabelle!” he shouted. Stumbling toward them, he fell to his knees and sent his energy signature in search of hers. He placed one hand on her forehead and the other over her bloodstained hand lying lifelessly on the tile. “You stubborn woman, what the hell did you do?”
For a tense second, he thought that she was dead. That the universe had played the cruelest trick of all and made him fall in love with her just so she could be taken away. However, through the fog of fear, a familiar gentle tendril of energy filtered through the noise and called to him.
“You have to help her,” Philip wept. The man’s shoulders shook as he sobbed and cradled his daughter’s wounded body. “Please. I know you can help her. I’m such a fool. Such a stupid, bitter fool.” Tears streaming down his weathered face, he held her head in the crook of his arm and placed a kiss on her forehead. “My baby. I’m so sorry I dragged you into this.” He turned his watery eyes to Zach. “Please. You can kill me if you want. I don’t care, just please help my baby girl.”
“I’m way ahead of you, old man.” Zachary picked up Annabelle and cradled her against him. Blood seeped from her chest in frightening amounts, and he prayed Tatiana would be able to work her magic. He stepped back and turned his glowing lion eyes to Philip.
Zachary wanted to rip this guy’s head off and eliminate him the same way he had Silvio—but he didn’t. Philip was Annabelle’s father, and regardless of what he may have done in the past, Zachary would not kill his mate’s father.
“You’ll never be able to see her again. Do you understand what I’m saying to you? She’s now a part of my very own witness protection program. You will tell the other Caedo that I killed Annabelle and Silvio, and then you killed me. Case closed.”
Philip looked dazed but nodded his understanding.
“And one more thing.” A growl rumbled deep in Zachary’s chest, and the sound of it made Philip’s eyes widen. He winced and tried to push himself farther away, but the wall prevented it. “This is your one free pass. If you or any of the others come looking for Annabelle, me, or any of my people…”
“No more.” Philip held up his hands and shook his head adamantly. “I swear it.”
Zachary. Annabelle’s voice, weak and far away, drifted into his mind. Forgive me.
Her body lurched in his arms and fresh blood pumped from the wound in her chest, which elicited a curse from Zachary. Holding her tightly, with her long hair spilling over his arms, he visualized the surgical suite at the prince’s ranch in Montana. The scent of antiseptic filled his head as he whispered the ancient words and vanished in a maelstrom of static.