Turning, he swung out with the sword, separating two more vampires from their heads as more arrows were loosed into the air. Something slammed into his back; the impact knocked him forward a step. Braith gritted his teeth against the pain blooming over his back and spun to face the next vamp charging at him. An arrow struck the vamp through the cheek. Braith turned to see William only feet away, his reddened eyes glaring at the squirming vamp as he lowered his bow.
A break in the line of white-cloaked vamps had appeared behind William. The last thing Braith wanted to do was retreat, but they were vastly outnumbered, badly injured, and he had to get Aria out of here.
Braith took a step toward Aria as she rose to her feet just as a fresh wave of arrows released. He realized this time, they had all marked him as their target. Darting to the side, he dodged the first wave. Three of the arrows pierced through the forearm he flung up to batter the rest away, and one caught him in his chest, just off his heart.
When the arrows stopped flying, he launched toward Aria, determined to get her and the others to safety. Wrapping his arm around her waist, he lifted her off the ground. Ten feet away from them, Jack and Ashby battled back the vampires enclosing them. Jack limped as he moved. Ashby had blood streaking his cheek and a hole in his shirt as he tore the heart from the chest of another vamp. They were vastly outnumbered and steadily losing ground as they sought to protect Melinda and Hannah.
Charging forward, Braith lowered his shoulder and curled his arm protectively around Aria’s head. He barreled into the wave of vamps pushing against Jack and Ashby, flinging them all backward. Jack’s reddened eyes met his before he grabbed Hannah and lifted her off the ground. Melinda flung herself into Ashby’s arms.
Setting Aria down, Braith positioned his body in front of hers before clutching the cloaks of two vamps and plucking them off Daniel and Max. Both their faces were already bruising. They had bite marks on their necks and blood staining their clothes, but the vampires deciding to feed from them before killing them had saved their lives. They would survive, if he could get them out of here.
He tossed aside the two vamps as Timber stumbled toward them and fell into the snow. His shoulders heaved; his shirt was covered in blood, but he wasn’t as badly beaten as the other two. Not yet anyway. Braith spun back to Aria and lifted her into his arms once more. Her mouth pressed against his neck as he held her flush against him.
“This way!” Braith shouted to the others. Lowering his shoulder, he plowed through the vampires enclosing on them, clearing the way toward the break in the line he’d seen before.
They were only five feet from the break when he heard the sound of a fresh wave of arrows unleashing into the air. Bending over, he covered Aria’s body with his. Thuds sounded in his ears, and his body jerked as he took the brunt of the arrows in his back. He clamped his teeth together to keep from making any sound that would alert Aria to what had happened. Aria gasped when one arrow pierced through his side and the tip of it cut across her.
Her voice wavered when she spoke, “Braith—”
“Fine, I’m fine,” he grated in her ear, trying to control his rage over more of her blood spilling.
Rising back up, he ignored the discomfort of the arrows digging into his back and scraping against his ribs with every step he took. One had caught the corner of his heart. It wasn’t a mortal wound, not if he could heal, but warm blood seeped from his chest and dripped down his back.
Keeping his head down, he again charged toward where he’d seen the opening. He drove his shoulder into any vampires who stepped into his way, throwing them aside. He could hear the others following behind him, but he didn’t look back.
“Stop him!” the woman shouted.
He was almost to the opening when another volley of arrows released. They drove into his back, piercing repeatedly through his skin and deep into his body.
This time, he knew, one had not missed.
Cradling Aria closer, he continued forward as the wood of an arrow shifted and bit into the center of his heart. Every step made it feel as if his bones would splinter to pieces. Weakness seeped through his muscles, but he couldn’t stop, not until Aria was safe.
Fresh anguish twisted in his heart, but this had nothing to do with the arrow shredding the organ and everything to do with Aria. He couldn’t die; he refused to die. She’d be alone if he died, and without him, she would also die or go mad. She was his light; he’d been born to love her. He would not be the cause of her destruction.
No matter what it took, he would stay alive, for her.