By: Stacey Brutger

He stared stupidly at the piece of pink plastic he still clutched, then swore. He just managed to shove the phone into the waistband of his pants when the lights from his visitors bounced off the walls.

Conflicting signals muddled his mind. The warrior in him wanted to strut in front of her. The ancient practice of attracting a mate by showing his prowess might have been lost through the years, but the customs had been ingrained in him since his birth over two hundred years ago. Conversely, the human side of him wanted to hide his abilities for fear she might run.

Both sides were desperate to do whatever it took to keep her close. The reactions were so strong, he wasn’t sure he’d be able to keep himself from following her around like a lost puppy.

His limbs trembled with fatigue, and he gritted his teeth against the need to rest. He couldn’t crash now, not when more than his life hung in the balance.

“I don’t see why we have to come down here tonight. The full moon will be here in two days. He won’t be able to hold out then.”

The nasally whine annoyed the piss out of Aiden, and his claws punched through the tips of his fingers, eager to rip into the man’s throat. He ignored the truth in the taunts, pitifully pleased that they were vague enough not to frighten his little goddess out of her hiding place.

The one they called Hugh tossed scraps of some animal they’d scavenged from road kill just outside his cell. Aiden locked his knees to stop himself from dropping to his knees and gorging on the rotten food. The swirling current quickly swept it away, and the big one laughed, his pot belly jiggling.

Whiskey fumes exploded from him in waves strong enough to intoxicate the person standing next to him as well.

Hugh might be stupid, but one didn’t tug on the tail of the lion without consequences. He liked to feel important. Beating up kids and women had fulfilled that need until Jacob hired him.

“Come on, Jacob, let’s get out of this shit hole.”

Aiden didn’t dare allow himself to relax. Jacob took pleasure in the torture, studying how long he could push and still keep his prey alive. He wouldn’t forgo it on a whim.

“Fine, leave. I’ll follow in a bit.” Jacob was the taller of the two, his lean frame tightly controlled, his cold eyes calculating.

Neither of them saw Aiden as human, not that it would have stopped them. To get what they wanted, they would’ve killed him just the same.

“Sure, but I gotta take a piss first.” Hugh turned and fumbled with his pants.

A moue of distaste curled Jacob’s mouth. He turned his back and ignored the other man. “You don’t have to die. The offer is still on the table. Just give us what we want.”

The key to Aiden’s cell dangled from a cord around the man’s neck.

Taunting him.

The bastard knew and did it on purpose.

“No.” It was the same question every night. Their offer was a lie. If he gave consent, he would wind up chained in his wolf form and bled dry for the rest of his very short, miserable life.

Tonight was different. His eyes skimmed the key, but his obsession had broken, and he quickly turned his attention to Hugh.

Tension held Aiden stiff as impotent rage consumed him. For the first time since he’d been captured, Aiden prayed.

Don’t move, baby.

“What the—”

A piece of wood swung out of the darkness, cracking Hugh across the temple. The rotten wood exploded in a spray of splinters. Hugh, overweight by a good thirty pounds, his pants still open, staggered backwards, but didn’t go down.

“What the hell are you doing, Hugh?”

Blood poured into the man’s eyes, and a nasty cut gaped open over his brow. He turned at the sound of his name, and stumbled a little too close to Aiden’s cell.

Desperate not to lose this chance, Aiden lunged forward and snatched up the rotund man through the bars. The movement dislodged Shayla’s phone, and it landed with a plop, before disappearing into the murky water. Then there was no more time to think. He looped his arm around Hugh’s neck, pulling until the man was crushed against the bars. Bones should’ve snapped like matchsticks, would have if Aiden had been at his full strength. Now he was just too weak.

“Jacob, he’s got me. Shoot him,” Hugh shrieked.

Jacob ignored his lackey, squinting in Shayla’s direction as if he could see her despite the lack of light. When he turned and lifted the cattle prod from the wall, there was a peculiar gleam in his eyes, something malicious.

Out of time.

The man would kill Shayla and enjoy it.

Aiden couldn’t allow that to happen.

If he received a jolt of electricity, they’d take him down and leave her vulnerable. To know that she’d died because of him shriveled the last bit of his humanity. Aiden heaved backwards, using his weight, ignoring the Hugh’s frantic scratching at his arm.

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