This poor woman. She couldn’t imagine anything worse.
And she was Vane’s mother Her lips curled, Bryani shook her head. "But the Fates are often cruel and I, like you, found myself mated to one of those animals who had hurt me.
Vane’s father kept me captive for weeks as he abused me more, trying to make me accept him as my mate. They can’t, you know. Acceptance is strictly in our hands.
This couldn’t be real. No. Bride was dreaming, though why she was dreaming this, she had no idea. "You don’t look like Vane."
Pure, unadulterated hatred glowed in Bryani’s hazel eyes. "He looks like his filthy father."
Bride frowned as she remembered Fury saying that to her. Ah, her mind was replaying it in her delusion. Made sense.
But why would she make up so tragic a tale? Bride had never been the kind of person to wish ill on anyone, least of all Vane’s mother.
Could this be real?
Was that possible?
Bride moved toward the blond woman and took her hands in hers to study her palms. "You don’t have a mark."
"Nay. If the mating isn’t consummated within three weeks, the mark fades and we as women are free to go our own way. The men are left impotent for the duration of our lives."
Bride frowned up at her. Bryani was really tall. "You left his father impotent?" An evil glint came into Bryani’s hazel-green eyes. "I left him more than that. Once my children were born, I took my three human children and left my three puppies with him, then gelded the bastard for what he’d done to me. I’m sure not a day passes where he doesn’t wish he’d killed me when he had the chance."
Bride cringed at the thought. "Why am I dreaming this?" she asked. "I don’t understand this nightmare."
Bryani shook her head. "This is real, Bride. I know in the human world things such as what I describe don’t happen. But you must believe me. There are things that reside alongside you in the everyday world that you never realize are there."
One second Bryani was standing in front of Bride and in the next, the woman was a huge white timber wolf that bore a terrifying resemblance to her adopted pet.
Bride staggered back.
No, this wasn’t real. This wasn’t.
"I want to go home," she said out loud. "I have to wake up. Please, God, let me wake up!"
Vane pulled out of his trance as he realized where his mate was.
Bride was in his mother’s homeland. A place where he had sworn to never return.
He’d only been there once. Long ago when he had bartered with Acheron Parthenopaeus to help him find his birth mother.
To this day, Vane didn’t know why he’d wanted to find her. Maybe it was all the years of living with a father who hated him and he wanted to see if there was any chance his mother might tolerate him.
Or maybe because he had become human, he thought she might accept him.
Instead, she had tried to kill him.
"I curse the day I bore you."
Her words still resonated deep inside him and now she had struck the final blow.
She had set loose a demon to take his mate. No Were-Hunter could remove a human from their time period without the human’s permission. Only demons and gods were exempt from that rule.
But why? Why would his mother have taken Bride back to Dark Age Britain? He didn’t trust his mother. Her hatred of him and his father was too great.
Vane trusted no humans.
No, Bride was his responsibility, and the last thing she needed was to be left alone with an Arcadian pack in the past where he’d been born.
He would have to go and claim her and bring her back to her home.
Only this time, he didn’t have any backup. He was going in alone.
He only hoped that he survived the encounter. Otherwise, Bride just might find herself trapped in the past for eternity.
As the hours ticked by slowly while Bride was confined to her tiny room, she learned one thing.
This wasn’t a dream.
She didn’t know how it was real, but she had no choice except to come to terms with the fact that this wasn’t the asylum episode of Buffy, or a delusion. All of these people were real and they had the worst-tasting food she’d ever tried to eat.
No wonder they were all so damned skinny.
Her tray of barely touched food was set on the nightstand with the books.
Bride paced the room while Listening to the people in the hall debate what they should do to her.
This was getting scarier by the minute.
Suddenly she sensed a movement behind her. Bride spun around to find a man standing there who reminded her of Vane. He had the same multicolored dark hair and green eyes, and his face was eerily similar. Clean shaven, he wore his hair longer than Vane and was dressed in ancient leather and mail armor pieces.
Like Bryani, he had a sword strapped to his back.
He watched her in a manner that was definitely reminiscent of a wild animal examining its prey.
"Who are you?" she asked him.
He didn’t speak. Instead, he moved closer so that he could take her hand into his and look at her marked palm. Hatred blazed in his eyes.
Before she could blink, she found herself somehow taken from her room into the center of the hall where the angriest group of people on the planet were found. She felt like the only hot rock in a nest of vipers.
Their loud voices increased tenfold in volume when she appeared.
"Dare!" The shout rang out from the old man. "Why have you brought her here?"
The Vane lookalike cast a malevolent look at Bride. "I call for a timoria against her mate."
Agreement echoed from the crowd.
"Nay," Bryani said as she pushed her way through the crowd to reach them.
"What’s the matter, Mother?" Dare asked as he turned toward Bryani. "Have your feelings for the animals who prey upon us changed?"
"You know better."
"Then let us give back to them what they have given to us."
Bryani pulled her sword on her son. "I took a Sentinel’s oath to protect"
"A Katagari whore?" Dare asked, interrupting her. He pushed Bride toward Bryani.
"She reeks of their scent. I say we settle this once and for all."
A cheer rang out.
Bride shook with terror.
"Father?" Bryani said to the old man. "Is this the way it’s to be?"
The old man took his time scanning the crowd before he faced his daughter.
"You should have consulted me before you brought her here, Bryani. You seek protection for our enemies when there is not a family among us who hasn’t been torn apart by the Katagaria. Gods of Olympus, look what they have done to our own family. I have lost your mother’s sanity and all my children save you to them. You barely returned from their clutches and then only because you managed to fight them off. Now you beg clemency for one of them? Have they driven you completely mad, too, daughter?"
He passed a less than sympathetic gaze to Bride. "We shall put the timoria to a vote. Who among you says aye?"
The roar was so loud that Bride had to cover her ears.
"Who says nay?"
"I do," Bryani said, but she was a lone voice in the crowd.
The old man gripped his staff and took a deep breath. "It is decided, then. Prepare the human for the timoria."
Bride had a really bad feeling the timoria wasn’t a good thing, especially when three women came forward to drag her off.
"What’s happening?" she asked the women who grabbed her. "What’s a timoria?"
"I’m so sorry, Bride," Bryani said before she was pulled away. "Please forgive me."
Forgive her for what?
"Excuse me?" Bride snapped hysterically as she tried to pry the women’s hands off her. It was useless. "Would you please tell me what the hell is going on here?"
The tallest of the women turned on her with a snarl. "For mating with a Katagari, there is only one punishment. You will be given to the unmated men of our clan."
"Given to them how?"
The look on the woman’s face said it all. They intended to rape her.
Bride screamed and fought them with everything she had.
Vane took a minute to get his bearings as he arrived in ancient Britain. Time-travel always disoriented him. It took a lot of power to time-jump.
He also had to be careful now. If he sent out probes to locate Bride, they could be intercepted by his mother or her people. Not that he feared them. But he didn’t want to go to war without an army.
In this time period, his mother’s people ruled. His grandfather was the regis of one of the most powerful wolf clans and it was said that good old Gramps had killed more Katagaria than any other Sentinel in their history.
Vane took a deep breath as he scoped out the village on the other side of the hedge where he was crouched. They would be expecting him.
Vane heard something rustling in the forest behind him. Spinning around, he expected it to be a wild animal or one of his mother’s people.
It was Fury.
Vane couldn’t have been more stunned if he’d found his mother right in front of him. At least that would have made sense. Fury’s presence made none whatsoever. The wolf flashed instantly to human form and gaped in all his nak*d horror at Vane, who quickly averted his gaze.
"What the hell are you doing here?" they asked each other simultaneously. "Put some clothes on me," Fury said, snarling the words as he cupped himself with his hands.
Rather than go blind, Vane quickly obliged and dressed the wolf in black jeans and a T-shirt. "Why are you here, Fury?"
He spoke between clenched teeth. "I’m doing what I told you I was doing.
I’m leading the tessera away from you and Bride, only here you are while they are over there." Fury pointed angrily at a hill not far away. "You’re supposed to be in New Orleans, you moron, not Britain."
Suspicious of Fury, Vane frowned. "Why did you bring the tessera here?"
Fury gave him a sinister glare. "Because this was the easiest way I knew of to eliminate them all at once. I can’t do it alone and I thought Bryani would get her rocks off hacking one of Markus’s tesseras into pieces."
Vane was even more confused and suspicious than before. "You know about Bryani?"
Fury rolled his eyes. "Yeah, I do. She gleefully ran me through and left me for dead several centuries back. Wanna see the scars?"
Vane caught the scent of Stefan coming closer to them.
Fury grabbed him by the arm and hauled him toward a copse of trees. "Look, we’re in serious danger here. The Arcadians hate us with a passion."
"No you don’t," Fury said, his tone gravely earnest. "You really don’t know how much they would pay to have both of us for breakfast. We have to get you out of here."
Vane wrested his arm free. "Bride is in that village and I’m not going anywhere unless she’s with me."
Fury cursed. "How long has she been there?"
"I don’t know, since I just arrived. Time doesn’t flow the same way in both time periods, you know that."
"All right, we have to get her immediately and pray that she hasn’t been there long."
"Why do you think I’m here?"
Fury didn’t seem to hear him. "Okay, think, think, think." He looked up at Vane. "Do you have any ideas?"
"I’m going in there and get my mate."
"Bryani will have a dampening spell to curtail your powers."
Vane laughed. "Let her try."
"God, you have balls," he said respectfully under his breath. "What the hell?
You can’t live forever. Just promise me that if something goes wrong, you’ll kill me rather than leave me to them."
There was such growling sincerity in that request that it took Vane aback.
What had they done to Fury?
"Swear to me, Vane."
Before Fury could say anything more, Stefan, Aloysius, and Petra broke through the woods in wolf form. Their heads down, the wolves circled them, snarling and snapping.
"Shit!" Fury growled as the wolves hunkered down, preparing to strike.
A scream rang out from the village.
Vane didn’t hesitate. Grabbing Fury, he flashed them out just as Stefan was about to reach them.
Bride dug her heels into the ground and bit one of the women holding her.
The woman growled and slapped her. Bride bit her again.
Be damned if she was going to let them tie her down! She might not be Tabitha, but she could bite and pull hair with the best of them.
One of the men came forward to wrap his hand around Bride’s neck.
"Let her go." Vane’s steely voice echoed as he enunciated each word slowly.
Bride’s eyes filled with tears as she heard the most blessed sound on the planet. She looked to her right to see Vane in human form, standing there without a weapon, and with her white wolf by his side.
Why wasn’t he armed?
The men closest to Vane attacked en masse. Stunned, she watched as he twirled around and kicked and punched them to the ground. He moved so fast that she could barely see him.
Then Vane vanished, only to reappear by her side. The women turned on him. Vane sent one flying backward, into the crowd, while he ducked and tripped the second one. The third one, he flipped head over heels onto the ground.