Taste of Torment Page 32

“Antonio lied for you.”

“To protect me from people like you who are scared of what they don’t understand.” There was an extra hard tug on the energy constructing my shield, and Dana gasped – the hybrid energy was filling her, invigorating her. My shield was still in place, thanks to my reserves, but I knew it was weakening.

“Scared?” he scoffed. “I’m not scared, sweetheart.” Oh yes he was. “I’m smart. Smart enough to know that a hybrid is a dangerous thing – many saw you duel with the vampire who Turned your mate. They know what you can do. They know exactly what any vampires you create will be able to do. They know you can’t be allowed to live.”

Jared made another move toward him and I again pulled him back. “You won’t f**king touch her,” he ground out, his irises glowing so red they were like lasers.

Covington turned suitably nervous. “Maybe you both plan to create an army. The ultimate legion.” It was clear that he was planting the seed of suspicion in the minds of the High Masters, but what wasn’t clear was if it was working. It couldn’t be a good sign that they were still and quiet, could it?

“So you’ve come to kill me? You’re doing this big song and dance just to destroy me? I don’t think so.” When he went to speak, I raised my hand. “I don’t doubt that you want me dead. But what you most want is The Hollow, the position of Grand High Master. You’re posing as the saviour of vampirekind to try to excuse your actions. But anyone with half a brain can see right through you.” Or, at least, I hoped they could.

He snarled, “You need to die.”

“And maybe I will”

“No you f**king won’t,” Jared vehemently snapped.

“but if you think there won’t be repercussions, you truly haven’t thought this through.”

Covington didn’t appear concerned. “The Hollow was considered impossible to infiltrate, and yet I am now in total control of it. Come see for yourself.” Very slowly, still holding Antonio hostage, he edged toward the balcony and gestured at one of his vampires to open the doors. The sound of utter chaos filled the room. “Take a look.”

When Covington’s vampires moved slightly to let us pass, Jared and I cautiously moved to the balcony with my shield still encompassing us. My stomach plummeted as I glimpsed the vision below us. Buildings were on fire, people were bleeding and screaming, the bodies of dead humans dotted the ground, and the man-made beach was littered with ashes – the remains of so many dead vampires.

“Right now, all hell is breaking lose in The Hollow because of me,” claimed Covington. “I’ve got your big, bad leader!” he declared to all the vampires below, making everyone freeze. “Not even the Heir or his mate can help him or you. So stand down unless you want them dead!”

Oh he had to be f**king kidding.

“Stand down, and you will not be harmed! Continue to fight, and you will all die! And so will your precious leader!”

There was the briefest hesitation, and then all The Hollow’s vampires surrendered. Of course they did. They would never risk Antonio being hurt because they all adored and respected him. I noticed that the squad, Evan, Alora, Ava, Cristiano, and Jude were among them. Their expressions were filled with fury, apprehension, and anguish. At least they were alive.

All those who had surrendered were instantly rounded up like sheep by Covington’s men, who then surrounded them. The snickering a**holes actually had guns. Vampires relied on their strength, speed, and gifts, not human weapons. This was cowardly and insulting. But it also indicated that they knew they were no match for the legion without the weapons.

Covington laughed. “See how they obeyed me? I am in control here. Anyone who would want to go against me would have to be very stupid.” That comment was for the High Masters.

Jared snarled at him. “And anyone who would be prepared to follow you would have to be even more stupid. You didn’t challenge Antonio for this position. You tried to take it. He welcomed you into his home, and you abused his trust. Not only that, you turned on your own High Master. I can’t think of any vampire who’ll follow someone who can so easily betray others.”

That had Covington tensing, and I could almost see the wheels turning in his head. My shield flickered as the suction suddenly intensified, and I quickly reinforced it again. Dana was smirking, pleased with herself. Had I not been a hybrid, she would have disintegrated the shield by now. It was at moments like this when I was actually glad to be a hybrid.

“Maybe you’ll kill us and keep The Hollow,” said Jared. “But you’re forgetting one very important thing.”

“And what is that?”

“The Hollow is merely a gated community.” Jared shrugged. “It isn’t anything that signifies that the person residing here is a ruler. It’s just something that Antonio built because he wanted to. All you’ve done tonight is break into someone’s home. That makes you an intruder, nothing more. In other words, living here won’t make you the Grand High Master vampire. It won’t mean that people have to follow you. It just means that you have a new home.”

Jared was absolutely right. And it was clear that now Covington knew it too.

“I’m done chatting.” Covington looked at me then. “Time to make a choice, Sam.”

Shit. Here it was. That all-important choice that Luther had warned me about. My anxiety and apprehension intensified.

“You see, I’m a fair person. I don’t see any reason why these people here have to die purely because you need to be destroyed. In fact, I can just put them in containment cells and have someone teleport those cells out of here. I’ll release Antonio and everyone here, and they can live – I give my word on that in front of all the High Masters, can show just how trustworthy I can be. But it will be your life in exchange for theirs.”

“No, Sam!” Antonio immediately shouted while Jared growled, “Not a f**king chance.”

“Do not give him what he wants,” insisted Sebastian.

“We’ve lived very long lives,” Luther told me. “It is you and Jared that are important now.” Sebastian nodded his agreement, totally earnest.

Covington chuckled. “Sam might be a freak, but she’s not stupid. She knows it’s in everyone’s best interests to agree to my deal. Every single person in The Hollow is depending on her to make the right choice in order to live.”

My voice was hard, loaded with anger, as I spoke. “If I agree to your little deal, it would be killing my mate. I don’t have any intention of doing that. And any vampire out there – including the High Masters that are watching intently – would understand that putting their mate first is what a vampire does.”

The ugly, all-knowing smile that surfaced on his face had me tensing. “Then it’s a good thing that I can solve that little matter. Or, more accurately, Imani can solve it.”

I frowned, sliding my gaze briefly to a silently crying Imani.

“She didn’t tell you what she can do? She didn’t tell you why we want her, why Paige has been hiding her?”

Imani looked at me and confessed sadly, “My gift…I can sever blood-bonds.”

Well f**k a duck. It made perfect sense for Paige to hide her. A vampire with such a gift could be a weapon – they would have the ability to detach people from their makers and separate Bound couples. Paige hadn’t wanted the female to become a pawn in dangerous games like the one being played now.

“If you agree to my deal, Imani will first sever your bond with Jared. This will allow him to live after you die.”

“No dice,” Jared immediately spat.

Covington arched a reprimanding brow at him. “I think your mate is quite capable of making this decision all by herself. According to Eloise, she is full of opinions.”

“You made the complaints to the Prelature, didn’t you?” snickered Jared.

Covington was smug once more. “With Eloise’s help, yes. I needed you all distracted, needed your morale low, needed your time to be consumed enough that you couldn’t find any possible avenue of help for the tainted – that your only option would be to locate Paige. Why do you think I recommended her to you? I knew that you had the means to track her.”

“There’s one thing I don’t understand,” I said. “How did you find out all that private information about our training methods to make the complaints?”

“Quite easily, really, thanks to a human here that did a little spying for me – all I had to do was promise to Turn someone for her once I became Grand High Master. Apparently Antonio had refused to do it because the human kid she wanted Turning was only twelve. Of course your little traitor is very much dead now since she served her purpose. As I said, I’d just needed you all to be a little distracted – it was originally only Imani that I wanted. But then Eloise told me about you, Sam. I knew what I had to do for the good of all vampirekind.”

I snorted. “Like people will buy that. If anything, they’ll find it insulting that you expect them to believe it.” Yes, that was a little reverse psychology for the High Masters, but I wasn’t sure it would work.

He ignored that. “Make your choice, Sam. And choose wisely.”

Luther hadn’t been kidding when he said that it was a choice that would affect us all. Unless I gave my life for the lives of the people in The Hollow, they would all die and Covington would most likely rule purely because of the fear his success would induce. If others decided to battle him for the position, there would be many lives lost…and all because I wanted to save myself. Was there really a choice when so many could die? When there was no guarantee that I would come out of this alive in any case?

Sam, don’t even consider it! Jared’s infuriation and fear was almost palpable.

But I’d already made up my mind. “Do it, Imani.”

“No!” yelled Jared, gripping my hand tight and yanking me against him.

Antonio, Sebastian, and Luther pleaded with me not to sacrifice my life for theirs, but I ignored their words because it wasn’t just about them.

Jared gripped my chin and forced me to look at him. I didn’t want to move my gaze from Covington, but how could I not meet my mate’s pained eyes just then?

You can’t do this, Sam. The desperation and determination there almost broke my heart.

And I won’t be the reason that you, Antonio, or anyone else here dies.

Then we fight.

Jared, as much as I hate to admit it, I’m in no position to fight anyone. The shield’s weakening. I’ve put every ounce of energy into keeping it intact, but pretty soon there’ll be nothing left and my gift will be of no use.

“Sam, do not do this!” Antonio called out. “You and Jared are the future!”

This is the only way you’ll all live, Jared. You stay alive and you get revenge for me. You hunt Covington down until he’s dead. I gave a sad smile. I love you.

Baby, please

Taking a deep breath, I turned back to Imani, “Do it.”

“Don’t you f**king dare!” Jared dragged me behind him, as if it would somehow stop her. I peered around him to see that she was shaking her head, refusing to cut the bond.

“Sam agreed to the deal,” Covington snarled. “Sever the bond, Imani!” But she didn’t, she continued shaking her head. “Langley, I think Imani needs a little persuasion.”

So Langley slapped Paige hard once, twice, three times. Imani screamed at him to stop, but instead he did it again and again, harder each time. I wished I was close enough to kill him. If it hadn’t been imperative that I kept my shield intact, I’d have reshaped it into my whip and lashed him with it.

“Imani, cut it!” I shouted, coming out from behind Jared. She met my gaze then. Her own was filled with so much anguish. “It’s okay.”

But Jared, Antonio, Sebastian, Luther, and even Paige were ordering her not to do it. So Langley turned on Paige again, punching her this time; punching her so hard that she was on the verge of passing out.

“I’ll do it!” Imani cried. “I’ll do it!” With sobs wracking her body, she closed her eyes.

Jared threaded the fingers of one hand in my hair and wrapped his free arm around me, as if keeping me close would keep her out. It didn’t. I felt her in my head…It was the weirdest feeling. Like having a small hand rifle through my brain. Then that hand stilled and a finger flicked something that was almost elastic – the move sent reverberations through my head and down the bond, making me wince. Then two fingers grasped it tight, pulled hard, and…and nothing. She did it again, tugging harder this time – so hard it hurt and I had to cradle my head in my hands. But, still, nothing happened.

Imani’s eyes flipped open. “It’s not working.”

Covington’s jaw clenched. “Then you’re not trying hard enough. Robert, maybe Paige would like to feel”

“No, I’ll try again!”

And she did. Three more times, she tried to sever it. But she simply couldn’t do it.

I could feel Jared’s sense of self-satisfaction, but he didn’t let that emotion show. You know why she can’t break it, don’t you?

No, but he’d clearly worked it out.

We had a link before we even went through the Binding, baby. It was a link that formed with no conscious effort on our part; it formed before we’d even exchanged blood the very first time. The Binding only made it stronger. She might be able to cut a bond that’s born through an exchange of blood, but she can’t break one that’s psychic at the root. And that’s what ours is.

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