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Unbound (The Captive #7)
Author:Erica Stevens

She couldn’t think of that. Her main focus now had to be Braith. He was vulnerable, and if he died, then everything they’d fought so hard to achieve would be ruined. He was her everything, but not only that, so many others counted on him as well. His many loyal followers would die without him, as she knew that woman wouldn’t permit any of them to live, and Aria refused to let that happen.

Grabbing hold of Braith’s wrist, she brought his arm around her shoulder. She ignored the wrenching pain in her chest from where the arrow had pierced her. She pulled him over her back and around her shoulders. A bloodlink made a vampire stronger. It had made it possible for Braith to see when he was around her, and for Hannah to walk in the sun after drinking from Jack. Now, she easily lifted Braith as she rose to her feet.

She ignored every protesting ache in her battered body as she turned to the right and ran down the gulch toward the cave a couple miles away. She hadn’t known she could run so fast, but fear drove her to speeds she’d never attained before.

Despite the fact her wounds were healing and she no longer felt blood seeping down her chest or side, her legs quaked from exhaustion and blood loss by the time she stopped a mile away from the cave.

Carefully, she laid Braith on his side to avoid the arrows and brushed her fingers over his pale face. The sight of all those arrows in his back caused her to wince, but she couldn’t pull them out yet. They would only bleed more if she did, and right now they had too much blood trailing them here.

He’d lost the brown cloak he’d been wearing during the battle, so she didn’t have to try to remove it from him now. Taking hold of one of the numerous holes in his shirt, she tore it further. Her hands trembled as she worked to carefully pull the material away from his battered body and set the shirt on the ground.

His flesh was mottled and red from where the arrows had punctured him over and over again. He’d always had flawless skin, smooth to the touch, so strong and warm beneath her hands. Now it was chilled beneath her fingers and there was a weakness in him she’d never seen before. The cold of his body wasn’t from the snow beneath him and the winter air flowing over him, but from the life steadily seeping away from him.

She would crave death without him. She knew what the loss of a bloodlink had done to his father, Atticus. She would never allow herself to become that kind of a monster.

She’d informed William she might have to be destroyed. Now, the possibility loomed over her like a guillotine preparing to fall. She could almost feel the sharp steel edge kissing the back of her neck.

However, like Atticus, she wouldn’t die or allow herself to be destroyed before exacting her revenge against Braith’s killer. She would not rest until she knew the woman who destroyed her husband was dead. That woman was far stronger than she was, but Aria would find a way to watch her screaming in agony before she allowed death to claim her.

Braith had taken those arrows to keep her alive. It should have been her lying there now, not him. She brushed a strand of black hair off his forehead. His face was lax, making him appear more vulnerable than she’d ever seen him, and right now, he was vulnerable. Like him, she would risk everything to keep him protected.

Aria hastily removed her bow, quiver, and cloak before taking her bloody shirt off. The cold air cut through the thin undershirt she wore as she lifted Braith’s shirt from the ground.

“Keep working,” she muttered to herself. “Keep going.”

Bunching up the ruined clothes, she rose to her feet and ran up the side of the embankment on the other side of the gulch. She dipped the clothes onto the ground every couple of feet, leaving blood stains on the snow as she went. Halfway up the hillside, she fell to her hands and knees. She dug through a patch of snow to uncover the leaves and earth beyond. Tearing away the dirt, she created a small hole and stuffed the shirts inside before burying them.

She ran back and forth over the area, kicking snow up to cover her digging. When she was done, she turned and walked backwards down the hill, giving the appearance of someone going up the hill, but no one coming back down. It might not distract their pursuers for long, but it would buy her some time to navigate the traps within the cave safely. If she knew her brothers, they would realize what she’d done and not go to the caves the same way she planned to go.

A sense of urgency drove her as she raced back to Braith’s side. The bloodlink between us is still there…

However, she could feel a wavering within the bond connecting them. “Don’t leave me,” she whispered to him.