Males came pouring out of the clan house. The betas were big, but from what Ritch said, they were bullies. I knew how to deal with bullies. I traded blows with the first to reach me, pain exploding in my jaw as he got in a punch before I could duck below it, but he missed with the second. I crouched and surged upward, striking in a sharp uppercut that knocked him backwards. He stumbled and fell, down for the count.
I snarled when someone came from the side, hoping to catch me unaware. “Nice try, fucker.”
The guard’s eyes widened but then he snarled in return. “I’m going to kill you.” He flexed his claws.
“You can try.”
Trein was nowhere to be found, not a surprise. He was a coward. I sidestepped the next attack, moving faster than the beta who obviously thought strength meant packing on muscle until he probably couldn’t even cross his arms over his chest. He certainly couldn’t catch me, which pissed him off.
It was easy to use his size against him. I was done with this and didn’t feel like drawing the fight out. Ducking, I drove one shoulder into his gut, taking him to the ground. He tried to flip us, but I spread my legs and kept him on his back. Before he could claw me, I grabbed his head and slammed it into the ground. He went limp, his arms and legs loosely sprawled.
Someone else had already busted in the front door. I ducked under the arm reaching for me when I tried to enter, turning and nearly unable to pull my punch when I realized it was one of the guards I’d assigned to Deke. “Where is he?” I growled.
Carson pointed at the kitchen. “He told me to guard the entrance so no one could sneak up on him.”
It was solid logic, but I didn’t like Deke just having one guard at his back. “Stay here.”
Not knowing where everyone was, I prowled through the lower level of the house. Stairs beyond the kitchen went up and there was a door hung ajar showing stairs going down. I didn’t hear any sounds or movement upstairs, so I approached the doorway. I eased the door open and listened, but there was a heavy silence and I still couldn’t hear anything.
I eased down the first step, then paused. The darkness was nearly absolute at the base of the rickety wood steps. I could see the edge of a wall, but that was it. I crept down the stairs, pausing to listen periodically. Rushing ahead was my first instinct, but I was trying to be smart.
The hair on my neck rose, making my ruff stand up. A soft shurring came from behind the wall. What the hell was that?
I crouched next to the wall and then took a deep breath, letting it out slowly. Blood, new and old, filled the air along with a sour stench. The sound was fading, a scrape, scrape, drag… someone being dragged? I peeked over the edge of the wall. There was a pool of darkness close to me, and I couldn’t see the outer edges of the room beyond the wall, but there was a door open and light coming out farther away.
Someone’s feet disappeared into the room as I watched, and I knew those boots. Deke!
Darting around the wall, I stumbled over something. Falling hard to the ground, I fought to contain my grunt so I wouldn’t give up the element of surprise. Close to the ground, I could see I’d tripped over a body—the second guard I’d sent with Deke. Something had torn out his throat.
I jumped up and raced toward the door, not worrying about being silent anymore. I didn’t like to use it, but I wasn’t going to waste time trying to put whatever took the guard down by hand. My bond to Deke as my alpha was still there, so he wasn’t dead, but there was no telling how long he’d stay alive if I didn’t hurry.
Unsure if the person with Deke was hostile or not, I hesitated to shoot immediately as I ducked and rolled into the room. Someone—something—was crouched over Deke’s vulnerable belly. I snarled and it looked up. The creature’s face was distorted, nose pointed and chin receding, with large teeth. The thing’s face was coated in blood.
I put a bullet between those wide eyes. Bright blood and brains sprayed out behind it as the back of its head blew out. It fell backward, away from Deke. I panned the room, gun held at the ready, but there was nothing in there but a filthy blanket in one corner and a bucket in the other. A cell? Home to the rat-like creature?
What if there were more? If there was anyone else in the basement, I’d just announced my presence with a bang, literally.
Scuttling sideways so I could keep an eye on the doorway and make sure no one took me by surprise, I reached down and smacked Deke’s cheek. “Wake up, man. Shit. Wake up.” There was blood on his temple, but it didn’t look like that thing had taken a bite out of him. Maybe it jumped them and Deke hit his head?
I didn’t want to carry him out, but he wasn’t waking up. If I was going to get Deke out, I’d have to carry him.
Tucking the gun into the holster, I grabbed Deke’s limp body and heaved him up and over my shoulders in a fireman’s carry. Turning sideways, I got him out of that disgusting cell. No way to carry the dead guard, so I left him. Looking up at the stairs, I muttered a short prayer that they’d hold our weight.
Sweat stung my eyes as I climbed cautiously. I was at the top before I realized the door was shut… and locked.
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