Coveted

By: Stacey Brutger

ACKNOWLEDGMENTS





For those who’d helped me along the way…Melissa Limoges, Angela Rafuse, & Jessie Teicher…Thank You!



And a special thanks to my amazing editor, Faith, whose hard work has made this book stronger.

I bow to your skill at finding the story buried beneath all the words and making it shine.



To my husband and his unending support…thank you for believing in me. Know that you hold my heart.



Thank you to all my fans and readers.

I couldn’t have written this book without you.





Chapter One



Death saturated the air, oozing up from the hard-packed dirt floor of the prison. Aiden prowled the confines of his cell, intimately familiar with every stone after weeks spent locked in the underground fortress.

He closed his eyes and ran a hand down the front of his threadbare shirt, ignoring the betraying tremble of his fingers, ignoring, too, the stiff crust of blood and assortment of stains.

The clothing reminded him he was human.

The moment he forgot, allowed his beast to roam free, he was a dead man.

Claustrophobia methodically ate away at his last shaky hold on sanity. And it only grew worse at night. The walls closed in on him. The air thickened until breathing became impossible.

If he squeezed his eyes shut hard enough, he could almost pretend he was free and home in his own castle. But even half-starved and feverish, his mind would not be fooled. At least his keen sense of smell had faded, burned away by the rancid stench of rot and decay that infested the walls from the previous occupants.

He opened his eyes, and a heavy dose of grim humor took hold, kept him from going bat-shit crazy.

The five-foot-eight cell was surprisingly accommodating for an eight-hundred-year-old dungeon.

Running water?

Check. Plenty of water trickled down the mossy stone walls…if you didn’t mind the extra protein of slime in your diet.

Entertainment?

Well, entertainment of a sort, anyway. Spiders and other insects feasted on every available inch of his flesh. He hardly felt them anymore. And let’s not forget the talkative fellow one cell over. The whittled-down corpse lay crumpled against the far wall where he’d perished, his body disturbingly juicy even after months of rotting one slow inch at a time. Manacles dangled overhead, the man only escaping after death.

A foot or more of stagnant water pooled in the other cell, the floor having long since been washed out by rainfall. Despite the placid surface, a putrid stench of death rose from the watery pit. Half of the poor man’s body had disappeared into the sinkhole, the water insidiously claiming the man’s decomposing corpse as if it got a taste for flesh and wanted more.

Another chain, anchored lower on the wall, snaked below the surface. The placement guaranteed the prisoners were forced to struggle to keep their heads above water until they eventually weakened and succumbed to a watery death.

Which would’ve been his own fate if not for his lineage. His captors had reserved the fortified cell especially for him. They couldn’t risk killing him too soon, not until they got what they wanted.

Then there was the food.

At first they’d brought him raw meat, most of it days old if the sour smell was any indication. Aiden ate it anyway, determined to remain strong. Only when he’d nearly escaped did they leave him to fend for himself.

The underground dungeon harbored an unlimited supply of rats, a type of room service, he supposed, since the food came to him. Although even that was getting scarce. The rodents didn’t venture near anymore, not with the full moon drawing close, and his wolf pressing so insistently beneath the surface. The predator in him kept them at bay.

Exercise?

Only if you consider the way they worked him over during the frequent torture sessions. They’d escalated to nightly visits…anything to force him to change into his wolf so they could extract his blood.

And they were close to succeeding.

The change was becoming harder to fight.

Much to his shame, he was weakening.

It was his wolf, his beast’s thirst for vengeance, that Aiden feared would ultimately break him.

In the last few days, he’d become more beast than man. The wolf had worn away his resistance, shredding the little bit of humanity he’d managed to scrape together. Soon he’d be left with nothing. When that happened, he wouldn’t be able to contain him much longer.

Aiden clenched and unclenched his fists as he paced, the scabs on his knuckles—that should’ve healed in minutes—cracked and dripped blood.

One thought kept him sane.

They’d slip up soon enough.

Make a mistake.

They had to.

Then he’d give free rein to his wolf and pick them out of his teeth afterwards.

The full moon would rise in a few days. Few wolves could resist her seductive call. Those who were denied her regenerative rays became raging beasts after a few cycles. He knew in his bones that he wouldn’t be able to hold off the change a second time. Even now his beast slashed under his skin, tearing into his flesh in retaliation for daring to imprison him.

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