I set the book down and shoved the map in my purse. I needed to get out of here before the Fathers found me.
A throat cleared behind me. Father Alfred stood in the doorway, and behind him, Father Valentine and Matt glared.
Shit. I fumbled with the books that I’d dropped, trying to conceal the fact that I’d taken something from their stash. “I’m sorry, I got lost and thought this might be the outhouse. The smell was… So I lit the candles, and then I saw the books…” I piled all the fallen books in my hands and got up, trying not to drop them. “I do love a good magic book. I didn’t mean to snoop.”
“I’ll take those,” Father Alfred said, anger dripping from his words.
I swallowed. Should I scream now and hope Lucas got here in time, or see how it played out? Was Lucas even nearby? I couldn’t count on that. It would be better to get myself out of this. If I still could. My hands shook as I handed Father Alfred the books. “Thank you. Sorry if I ruined your organization.”
As Father Alfred took the books from me, he muttered something in Latin.
Before I could do anything—run, scream, anything at all—my body crumpled to the ground. I had no control over it.
Pure terror coursed through me and a drop of sweat rolled down my temple. I could feel it, but I couldn’t move.
“Drag her to the center of the circle,” Father Valentine said. “We’ll get you her power, but then you’ll owe a favor of our choosing. Do you agree to the terms?”
“Yes,” Matt said.
Rage like I’d never felt burned hot inside me.
I hadn’t liked Matt before, but now I hated him. Despised him.
He wanted to strip my power. He’d lied to my face yet again, and yet again, I’d fallen for it. Stupid. So, so stupid.
I tried to yell out, but I couldn’t. It was like my voice was stuck. But my magic…
Now I knew what was in the tea. If I’d actually swallowed it down, chances were it would’ve blocked my power. Thank God I’d only tasted the tiniest drop.
I used rhymes to access my magic, because I felt like they gave me strength, but I didn’t need to say the words aloud. I didn’t need words at all. I just liked them.
That was the problem. I used them as a crutch.
The Fathers moved my body like I was a doll, and their dark auras seeped into me wherever their cold fingers touched. They dragged me into the middle of their circle.
A knife burned as it cut along my arms. The metallic scent of my blood filled the room.
I had to focus. They wouldn’t steal my magic. Luciana hadn’t managed it. And these three douches wouldn’t either. I just had to get enough magic out so that I could scream.
Lucas would come. If he really was what he thought he was to me, then he wouldn’t be able to stop himself. I prayed I was right, because I’d only get one chance.
I closed my eyes and felt the tiny trickle of magic I had left.
Release my voice. Release my voice. Release my voice.
I said the simple spell over and over in my head, until I was sure—or as sure as I could be—that it had worked.
The two brujos started chanting as Matt watched over me with a smug look.
The scent of sulfur filled the room.
I sent a silent prayer that my spell worked, took a breath, and screamed as loud as I could.
The men froze in stunned silence for a second. The chanting was gone, and the smell of sulfur vanished.
I heard a howl in the distance.
Lucas. I wasn’t safe yet. Not nearly, but a wave of relief washed over me. I wasn’t alone this time.
“You stupid fucking bitch.” Matt’s kick landed in my side, knocking the breath from me.
I couldn’t move to protect myself. All I could see was his foot as it came toward my face.
Then I saw nothing at all.
I woke up swinging and screaming.
Someone grabbed my wrists and pressed them into the mattress above my head. It hurt. Everything hurt.
The room was too dark to see. I screamed again. “Let me go!”
“Stop, Claudia. You’re okay.”
I froze. Lucas. “Where am I?”
“Your hotel room. If you promise to hold still, I’ll turn on the light. But you’re hurt. So just… Please don’t move, okay?”
I nodded. “Okay.” The terror was slowly fading and the more it did, the more I could feel the aches across my body. “What happened?”
Lucas flicked on the light, but his eyes glowed with a dark, intense energy. The bed dipped as he sat back down beside me. “I’ve been alive for a long time. I’ve fought in wars—human and supernatural. I’ve lost friends and family, and been helpless against it. But nothing—not ever in my years on this earth—terrified me more than the sound of that scream.”