Bind the Soul (Steel & Stone Book 2) by Annette Marie


  Ash growled the instant she moved, the sound an almost inaudible warning. She froze, waiting for pain. If she could have made herself any more vulnerable to him, she had no idea how.

  His hands tightened briefly on her waist. His soft growl vibrated through her. Fear flashed and she pushed on his chest, trying to open a gap beyond the two inches between them.

  He immediately shoved her into the wall. Her breath whooshed out as she thumped into it, hard. She shot a panicked glance toward the nearest guards. Ash pressed into her, crushing her, hands gripping her waist. The guards hadn’t noticed anything beyond their superior’s rapid-fire instructions.

  Ash’s breath was suddenly hot against the side of her neck. She went rigid as her attention snapped to him. Unbelievably strong, he pressed her against the wall. She couldn’t so much as wiggle.

  His mouth touched the side of her neck, just below her jaw. When she flinched, he snarled quietly in her ear. She went still again. Oh double shit. She remembered this side of shading. She’d seen it once before, when Lilith had slammed a full shot of her aphrodisia magic into Lyre and Ash. They’d both shaded instantly, locking on her with sudden, aggressive possessiveness.

  Maybe cramming her and Ash into a tiny space had been a bad idea.

  Ash’s fingers flexed on her waist, then slid lower. He pushed into her, squashing her against the wall. She gasped. His mouth brushed her neck again, testing her reaction. She held perfectly still, one ear half tuned in to the guards beyond the skimpy camouflage of the potted tree.

  When his mouth touched her neck again, his teeth grazed across her skin. His hands moved lower, over her hips and around, sliding over her backside before curling around the backs of her thighs. He was clearly unconcerned by the guards, his one-track daemon mind now focused on her. His fingers tightened and he boosted her up until her toes only brushed the floor. Her breath hitched at the sudden movement. He pinned her in place with his body, radiating heat.

  She grabbed at his shoulders but froze again when he used his improved angle to push his face under her chin, forcing her head back. His lips brushed down her throat before finding the leaping pulse in her neck. His mouth closed over the spot, teeth grazing as he tasted her skin.

  She quivered, panting. His mouth was shockingly gentle in comparison the strength of his hands on her thighs, the hardness of his body against her. Her chest heaved. Oh God. The guards were less than ten feet away, a whole room full of their enemies, danger everywhere. She was not enjoying this.

  Her heart pounded, mouth dry. Who the hell was she kidding?

  Guards aside, the jeopardy she was in was off the charts. He had her pinned, trapped, helpless. And he had his teeth on her throat, one flex of his jaw away from tearing out her jugular. Shaded daemons were unpredictably violent. Ash was in a state beyond shading. One wrong move to set him off and she was dead.

  But his mouth was hot and soft against her neck, his teeth lightly grazing even as he pinned her with ruthless strength. She could barely breathe, but it didn’t matter. For some reason, she found herself tilting her head back to offer him better access. He traced his mouth up to the soft skin under her chin. Her legs trembled.

  Closing her eyes, giving in, she hooked her leg over his thigh to pull him closer. His head jerked up. His mood was dominating, aggressive, insanely dangerous. She ignored his warning and sank her fingers into his hair, pulling his mouth back to her neck. His teeth dragged over her throat before his mouth closed over her pulse again. She inhaled a moan before it could escape and pressed into him even harder. His hands on her thighs tightened, lifting her a little higher. She wrapped her legs around his waist.

  A sudden, admonishing chatter erupted overhead.

  Piper jerked back, smacking her head against the wall. Ash snarled. Zwi was perched on the filing cabinet behind him, chattering loudly. Piper looked around and saw that the foyer had emptied. The whole group of guards had left without her noticing. How bad was that?

  Ash still had her pinned to the wall. His hands were places that made her breathless and she really didn’t want him to move them. He didn’t look like he planned on shifting any time soon either—unless it was to make it easier to rip her clothes off. Piper gave Zwi a frantic “help me!” look.

  The dragonet’s tail lashed back and forth—and then she leaped on top of Ash’s head.

  Ash jerked, dropping Piper as his attention shifted to the new threat. Piper leaped into the potted plant. It fell over, tripping her on her way out of the gap. She sprawled on the floor but immediately rolled to her feet as Ash lurched out from the shadowed nook. She sprang up and backed away swiftly, focused on his black stare. He promptly shifted into a prowl, growling softly. She wondered wildly what he would do if he caught her again.

  Moving as fast as she dared while going backward, she led him back through the building and up to the catwalk. It wasn’t until she reached the ladder leading to the roof that she realized she had a problem. She couldn’t go up the ladder backwards. She didn’t dare turn her back on Ash. Whatever his reaction, she probably wouldn’t make it up the ladder.

  She backed up until she bumped the ladder. Ash glided closer. His stare stayed locked on hers, intense and challenging.

  Zwi screeched a sudden warning. The air sizzled.

  Ash started to turn when Piper saw the blast of magic—too late. It slammed into Ash’s back like a cannon ball, throwing him into her. His head slammed into the metal ladder with a sickening clang. He crumpled, nearly dragging her down with him. The daemon guard at the other end of the catwalk raised his hands as he conjured another attack.

  She yanked the gun from her belt and fired three fast shots. The first missed. The second and third hit the daemon in the chest. He went down, stirring weakly.

  “Ash?” she gasped, jamming the gun back into her belt.

  She grabbed his arm and pulled him into a sitting position. He listed to the side. Blood ran down the side of his face. She pressed a hand against the cut, feeling the swelling lump above his temple.

  “Ash! Oh God, can you hear me?” She squeezed his arm to get his attention.

  His eyes rolled toward her, dangerously out of focus. Alarm flashed through her at the hint of gray in his irises. He was un-shading—why?

  “Come on,” she cried, grabbing his arm and heaving. The gunshots had been too loud. More guards would come, guaranteed.

  It took her two tries to get him to his feet. She climbed onto the first rung and grabbed his arm, forcing him to follow her up the ladder. He couldn’t balance right and barely managed to make it to the top.

  She shoved the trapdoor open and stuck her head out. Panic gripped her. The rooftop was empty. Where was Seiya?

  A dozen feet away, the air shimmered. Seiya and her dragon appeared as she dropped the cloaking spell. She ran for Piper, face terse. Piper dragged Ash up another rung as Seiya leaned in and grabbed his other arm. Together they hauled him out. Piper stuck her hand back into the opening and let loose a blast with the Stone. The explosion tore the catwalk off its supports, sending it crashing into the machinery below. She slammed the trapdoor shut.

  “You took so long.” Seiya touched her brother’s bleeding head. “This is bad. He needs healing.”

  “We don’t have time.”

  “I know. Zala, quickly.”

  The dragon rose and limped over to them. Zwi gave a soft trill, then exploded in black fire as she too transformed. Piper gripped Ash’s arm.

  “Hold on, Ash. We’ll get you out of here.” She leaned closer, peering into his face.

  He stared sightlessly, eyes glazed. His irises were still lightening, sliding back toward gray. His breath was coming faster as his resistance to the pain weakened. She squinted at the collar then reached out to touch it. The metal was scalding.

  “Seiya, it’s getting hot!”

  Seiya dropped down beside him and touched it. She gasped. “What’s happening?”

  “I don’t know.”

  “Is
Eisheth doing this?” Seiya looked around frantically for the threat.

  “No, I killed her.”

  “What? When?” Her eyes widened. “Oh no. The collar must be malfunctioning without her to control it.”

  Piper’s whole body went cold. “What?”

  Ash’s eyes rolled halfway up. He was losing consciousness, either from the collar or the blow to the head—probably both.

  “Get it off him,” Piper cried, looking desperately at Seiya.

  “I don’t know how!”

  Piper’s hands clenched convulsively. “Vejovis. We have to get him to Vejovis. At Crow Crossing.”

  Seiya’s face hardened with determination. “Let’s go.”

  Together they got Ash onto Zwi’s back. Seiya jumped on behind him, her daemon strength better suited to keeping him in place. Piper climbed onto Zala’s back, clutching the Stone in one hand.

  “Go!” Seiya cried.

  Zala leaped skyward. Piper grabbed the dragon’s mane, glancing over her shoulder as Zwi labored to get into the air with double the weight. They soared out over Asphodel.

  Shouts erupted below; they’d taken off right over a squad of guards. Someone threw a fireball, which Zala dodged. Piper extended her hand, calling on the violent rage still burning in the back of her mind. It roared forth and exploded from her fist. The massive blast smashed into the squad, shooting a geyser of dirt and stones into the air.

  Zala beat her wings, lifting them higher. Zwi rose to join them.

  “Piper,” Seiya called. “When we reach the canyon, we have to go through the archway.”

  “Why?” she shouted back over the wind.

  “There’s a ward around Asphodel. The only way out is through the archway. Use the Sahar to clear our way.”

  Her stomach threatened to rebel at the thought of more killing. She’d lost track of the lives lost to the Stone’s power. It was truly a horrible weapon.

  Guards were running left and right below them, frantically trying to keep up with the flying dragons, but they didn’t attack. For a second, Piper wondered why, but then realized Samael wanted her alive. Shooting them from their current height would be a death sentence.

  Hope sprang through her and she focused ahead. The sprawling network of buildings with the manor at the center disappeared behind them. They glided over a manicured stretch of greenery, interspersed with strange, spindly trees revealed by the bright glow of three moons. Beyond the trees was a series of smaller, rigidly ordered buildings that immediately made her think “military”—an impression confirmed almost instantly by hundreds of soldiers forming up. A flare shot into the sky, lighting their location for all of Asphodel to see.

  They swooped past the barracks and over a stretch of barren land. A cobbled road ran ahead of them like a line on a map. Beyond it, the ground dropped into a wide, deep canyon carved long ago by a swift-flowing river. A long stone bridge arched over the hundred-yard gap.

  At the far end of the bridge was a heavy stone archway, wide enough to fit three cars at once. Zala started to descend. Piper clutched the Sahar, mentally preparing to commit murder yet again.

  “What happened?” Seiya shouted, her shock clear.

  Piper squinted. Bodies lay scattered around the archway—dozens of them. The archway’s guards. Only one person was left standing: a man positioned in the middle of the archway, watching them glide in.

  “Vejovis!” she screamed.

  Zala landed, trotting the last few steps. Vejovis strode forward, eyes dark, blood splattering his clothes.

  “How—” she gasped, staring around at the violence. “When did—you—?”

  “I was hoping all the commotion was you,” he said, composed despite the blood all over him. “I decided to make myself slightly more useful than idly waiting at Crow Crossing.”

  “Piper,” Seiya cried, panic making her voice go high.

  Piper and Vejovis both turned and ran for Zwi. Seiya was struggling with Ash’s weight, trying to ease him off the dragon. Vejovis caught the draconian and lowered him to the ground. Ash’s eyes had rolled back into his head, face white beneath the blood still trickling down his forehead. The collar glowed a bright, cherry red, it was so hot. Then she smelled it—burning flesh.

  Vejovis’s jaw was locked with tension as he pressed a hand to either side of the collar. The stench of burning skin doubled as the collar seared his palms. The collar was melting into Ash’s flesh.

  “Oh no,” Seiya gasped. Her face went even whiter. “Look, Piper.”

  She whirled around—and felt the blood drain from her head.

  Approaching the bridge was what appeared to be Samael’s entire standing army. And astride a white horse at the front of the bristling mass of weaponry and magic was Samael himself.

  CHAPTER 13

  “VEJOVIS,” Piper choked. “Vejovis, we need to go!”

  He didn’t answer. She looked around. He was bent over Ash with the collar between his hands. If Vejovis didn’t think they could wait to remove the collar, then they weren’t going anywhere.

  “Piper.” Seiya grabbed her arm, squeezing it painfully. “You have to stop them. Delay them.”

  “Me?”

  “Use the Sahar. Do something.”

  Her throat tried to close. She swallowed hard and nodded.

  Seiya followed a step behind as Piper walked stiffly toward the foot of the bridge. She stopped at its edge, staring across the chasm at Samael. His horse-thing—it was not entirely equine—slammed one hoof repeatedly on the stone road. The sound echoed through the valley in the sudden, deadly silence. Hundreds of daemons waited behind Samael. So many. Too many.

  She pulled in the deepest breath she could.

  “Samael,” she shouted across the canyon. She raised her hand, the Sahar clenched in her fist, its light glowing right through her fingers. “You want the Stone? Come and get it!”

  He didn’t move. After a moment, he made a short gesture. The soldiers behind him surged forward.

  “No,” Seiya gasped.

  Piper closed her eyes. Inside her head, violence erupted, squeezing the rest of her—her true self—into a smaller and smaller corner. She lifted her hand higher over her head. Hate burned through her—hatred for Samael, for all of Hades, for the violent cruelty of the Underworld. Hatred for everything. For all of them.

  Die. The word hissed through her mind on a wave of ruthless malevolence. Die, all of you.

  Her eyes opened. The charging soldiers were nearly a third of the way across. Her hand clenched. Heat burned her palm. The poisonous loathing boiled up, filling her, overwhelming her until it burst from her throat in a rage-filled scream.

  She flung her fist downward.

  The Sahar erupted with power that slammed through her body like lightning.

  The bridge shattered.

  Thousands of pounds of stone blew apart like a kicked sandcastle. Debris shot in every direction as the entire massive bridge plummeted into the chasm. The earth trembled. Fissures split the canyon walls. The sound was impossible and earsplitting, like a million guns going off at once. The daemons on the bridge disappeared among the cascading rubble.

  Piper slowly raised her hand again. Hatred pounded inside her, pumping through her like poisoned blood, eclipsing all else. She found Samael amidst the rolling clouds of dust. She wanted him dead. Craved his blood. Needed to see it spill, splatter, soak into the uncaring earth.

  Power surged from the Sahar. Rapture stole her breath as the magic rushed through her.

  A face appeared in front of her, blocking her view of Samael. Seiya’s eyes were wide and frightened, her face white. Loathing pierced Piper. The desire for immediate violence burned away all else.

  Seiya’s hand connected hard with Piper’s face.

  Pain exploded through her cheek. She staggered, shocked. Seiya grabbed Piper’s wrist and wrenched at the chain around it. It snapped and the Sahar was torn from her grasp. Like a balloon popping, the murderous hatred vanished. Her knees g
ave out. Seiya caught her by the waist, holding her up as they staggered away from the cliff’s edge.

  “Are you—well?” Seiya asked shakily.

  Piper nodded weakly, still reeling. She hadn’t realized how bad the strange double presence in her mind had been until it was gone.

  “Your eyes . . . turned black,” Seiya whispered.

  Her stomach swooped. “Thanks for stopping me,” she said, voice trembling.

  Seiya nodded and held out the Sahar. It swung innocently from its broken chain, no longer glowing. Piper stared at it warily, then reached out and carefully touched it. It felt cool and mundane. She pulled it from Seiya’s hand and stared at it. What had it done to her?

  Falling back on her old standby, she tucked the Stone down her bra. Then, still afraid to look at the damage she’d done, she lifted the wrist where Lilith’s pendant hung. It glinted brightly in the moonlight.

  “What’s that?” Seiya asked.

  Piper stared at it, an idea forming. “A decoy,” she murmured.

  Gritting her teeth, she gave it a hard yank. Its chain snapped. She turned and strode back to the cliff’s edge.

  “Samael,” she shouted. “Samael, are you listening?”

  The clouds of dust shifted, offering her a glimpse of the white horse-thing and Samael’s pale hair. A soft breeze slid through the canyon, whisking away the dust.

  “If you want this evil thing so badly,” she yelled as loud as she could, “then go fetch!”

  She hurled the pendant as far as she could into the chasm. It glittered brightly as it arched over empty space before dropping silently into the dark shadows of the canyon. Samael made one small motion, as though he’d almost jerked forward but caught himself. He stared at her from across the barrier of space. She glared back, teeth bared. Then she turned her back on him and rushed back to Seiya.

  Vejovis looked up as they ran up to him. “I’ve partially disabled the collar,” he said gruffly. “It will take more time than we have right now to get it off without damaging him. I know of a safe place that’s not too far.”

 
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