Blood and guts caked Ivy Carter’s arms and face as she huddled under the debris from a house that had been blown to bits. Whatever had been ripped apart just a few feet above had sent the gore tumbling down. Her body began to shake as terror of being discovered knotted inside her, and fearful images of what was happening raced through her mind. She didn’t want to die, not like this. Death was supposed to happen when she was old and had lived a full life, not when she was still young and at the hands of those who couldn’t see the bigger picture for the shifter population. Their idea of a perfect shifter world was killing those who could bring harmony to a shifter-human world; instead, they preferred to live in the shadows.
She trembled as she heard the sounds of her clan members being killed one by one. If they were mowed down so easily, there was no way her human body stood a chance. To survive she’d have to stay hidden and hope for the best. Through the crack in the debris above her, she scanned the landscape, quickly searching each of the rubble piles for any sign of life before moving on to the next. She examined the burning piles and what was left of the houses that took the brunt of the explosion knowing that even a shifter wouldn’t be able to survive fire for long. Occasionally she caught a glimpse of someone fighting or alive, but none of them were the one person she searched for—her brother.
Where are you, Chad?
As the Captain of the Guards for the Alpha—Mason—he was out there somewhere, protecting him. Her stomach churned with the very thought.
Please, let Chad be safe. The first target would have been the Elders and their guards. If they hadn’t found safety, none of the Elders had any chance for survival.
A deafening boom to her right shook the ground. The wreckage of what once was the Arizona Tigers’ compound landed all around, forcing her lower into the rubble. Looking in the direction of the sound, all she could see was fire. People ran, trying to get away, but it was no use. The enemies were on their tails, tackling them to the ground and tearing out their throats before they had a chance to cry out. One by one, her clan died at the mercy of the rogues, and she could do nothing but watch.
Adjusting to get a better view of what was happening without revealing herself, she pressed her hand against the dirt wall, and pain shot through her arm. She glanced down and for the first time realized how badly she was injured. Blood poured from the jagged cut across her forearm, and glass stuck out of her flesh as though it had grown there. Pulling the shard from her skin, she watched the crimson well up in the gash then spill over until it ran like a river down her arm. It could have been much worse.
Only because she’d been in the basement doing laundry had her life been saved when the rocket exploded into the house she’d shared with her brother. Had the rogues known Chad lived here? Could that have been why her home was one of the first to be targeted? A plan to eliminate the Captain of the Guards first, then with no protection Mason would be an easier kill.
Keep it together. This is no time for me to lose it. She ripped a piece of her shirt off to make into a tourniquet and tied the fabric around her arm the best she could with her left hand. Black spots filled her vision and the world began to swirl. She wasn’t sure if it was from loss of blood, terror, or a combination, but the timing couldn’t have been worse. If she let unconsciousness claim her she’d be at the mercy of the rogues and she couldn’t let that happen if she wanted to survive.
Footsteps crept closer, crunching glass under their weight. Not wanting to be caught, she slipped down onto the ledge. With her eyes closed, she held her breath to prevent herself from crying out. A shifter’s sense of smell was greater than anything else; she only hoped since they were there to destroy the clan they’d bypass her. If her fear didn’t give away her position before he could move past her little hiding spot. Shifters loved to put terror in their victims, and that alone could make her a whole new target.
“Randolph, the clan’s been eliminated. The team will be heading back shortly.” There was a brief pause and she realized the person walking past her hiding spot was on the phone. “We’ll be ready to move on the next clan in a few days. Give the men a few days off, and let the other clans think this was a fluke instead of an assassination of Mason and his members for their agreement.”
Assassination. Anger poured through every cell of her body. This clan was her family. They had taken her in when no one else would, and not one of them held her past against her. Until today. Now that they had apparently all been killed, she cast a glance about, seeking something she could use to kill. The only weapon she had was the gun, and she’d emptied the last bullet into the man who blew up the house. Her fury would have to wait unless she wanted to get herself killed.
She forced a series of shallow breaths into her lungs, trying to calm herself as he continued past her. When she could no longer hear him, she rested her head against something hard, but she didn’t have the strength to move. Just five minutes to make sure they’re really gone, then I’ll move. She had to find a way out and get help before someone else suffered as her clan had.
Chad, where are you? She let her eyes drift shut, allowing the glorious darkness claim her.
* * *
A deep voice hollering from above pulled her back from oblivion, sending her pulse racing until it was thrashing in her ears. It took her a moment to realize where she was and the memories of what had happened flooded back.
Chad? Was he okay? Had anyone else survived the attack?
Movement above brought her out of her thoughts and back to what was happening. She had no idea how long she had been unconscious, but it was still dark and the air had grown chilly. Were the same people who attacked the compound still there? Was she hearing surviving members of her clan returning to search for anyone else who might have survived? She wanted to peek out, to find out who was moving about, but her fear kept her pressed tight on the ledge.
“I need some help. There’s someone under this rubble.” Along with the scrapes and thuds of boards being shifted came a shower of dust.
“Don’t…it’s going to collapse.” She coughed as the thick air got into her lungs.
“She’s alive.” A man knelt by the opening above her head. “Miss, are you injured?”
“Nothing broken.” She glanced up but couldn’t make out who was above her. “If you’re going to kill me, just do it.”
“What’s your name?”
“I…” She stammered, unsure if she wanted to answer him. “Ivy.”
“I’m Ty, the Alpha of the Alaskan Tigers. We’re here to help. Give us a moment and we’ll have you out of there.”
The Queen of the Tigers’ mate was there for her. He’d come to save them, or at least find out if anyone survived. Mason had been right. Committing to Tabitha in her new role as Queen would save their people. What Ivy didn’t understand was why the rogues were so against it. If the prophecy was right, and Tabitha was killed before she could continue her family’s line, all of the tiger shifters would die with her. Why would the rogues bring about their own death? She understood some were certifiably insane, but from the research she had done on Randolph, she didn’t believe he was. So what was his reason behind all of this? What was he getting out of it?
A bit of falling debris made her cough. The people above her seemed closer. While she’d been weighing what was going through Randolph’s mind, Ty and the others had apparently been working to clear a passage to her. Through their muffled voices she caught enough to let her know they were discussing the best way to get her out without the rest of the house collapsing on top of her.
“Ivy, would you be able to stand?” Another deeper voice called to her; this time it wasn’t Ty.
“I think, but I couldn’t reach enough to climb out. It’s too far.”
“If you can stand, I should be able to grab you and pull you up.”
She tried to wiggle enough to get her feet under her so she could stand, but instantly pain shot through her hand. “I think my wrist is broken. I won’t be much help.”
“Just hang tight. We’ll put plan B into operation.”
“I’m coming down to get you.”
“Oh no…I’m just balanced on a piece of floor that didn’t go with the rest of the house. It’s not strong enough for two. We’ll fall.”
“Don’t worry, I’m not going to get on the ledge and we’re not going to let you fall. Just give me a few minutes and I’ll have you out of there,” he called down, and then he mumbled something she couldn’t make out to someone up top.
“Don’t risk yourself.”
“We’re not going to let you stay down there,” Ty hollered. “Carran’s about to come down to you. Do exactly what he tells you, and we’ll have you up here in just a moment.”
“Ty…are there any other survivors?”
“We haven’t found any.” At his words, a soft moan escaped her lips, and as if he heard it, he added, “But that doesn’t mean they didn’t get away. Maybe some are in hiding, and we just haven’t found them yet.”
“Do you think the rogues were successful in their plan to eliminate Mason and his guards?” She tried to keep her voice even, but it was impossible; she heaved, trembling as she bit her bottom lip to keep from sobbing.
“I don’t know, but we’ve got people looking.” Ty paused for a moment. “Your brother is the Captain of Guards for Mason, isn’t he?”
“Yes.” She wanted to rant about the position and the danger of it, but Ty wasn’t the person to bitch to. Not when he routinely risked his own life to save others.
“We haven’t found any trace he was one of the members killed tonight. It’s possible he escaped maybe even with Mason. I know it’s not much, but it’s all I have at the moment. Keep faith and if he’s out there my team will find him.”
“Thank you.” Her voice was soft as she blinked away the tears.
Not being able to reach her pocket, she slipped her cell phone into her bra and brought her legs up to her chest. She wanted to be ready for whatever she had to do. It wouldn’t be safe to linger and risk the ledge breaking.
Minutes later, a man’s feet appeared, the scuffs and scars on his heavy boots visible in the dim light that followed his progress. He drew near and a board fell from above, barely missing her rescuer, then clattered to the rubble below.
“Cover your head the best you can.”
She placed her good hand over her head, leaving enough room that she could look up at him. Even through the darkness she could make out his midnight black hair streaked with charcoal—not the gray of age but more like highlights.
“Ivy, I’m Carran, I’m part of the guard team for the Alaskan Tigers’ Elders.”
“Maybe you’d like to dispense with the introductions until she’s on solid ground,” Ty hollered. “The guys up here can’t hold this structure forever, so unless you want it to fall on your heads, hurry up.”
“What I need you to do is just stand up, nice and slow,” Carran directed. “I don’t want you to use your wrist at all, just let me worry about holding on to you once I grab you.”
Carefully, she forced her legs under her, the beam crumbling away as she did. The pain from her stomach forced her to touch it, to see if she could feel any glass. She pulled her hand away and from the light on Carran’s harness she could see blood coating her fingers and covering the front of her shirt. Slowly she eased the material up, her fingers shaking. “Oh, shit…”
“You’re fine. Look at me.”
“Fine? I’ve been shot!” At the sight of the hole in her stomach, she wanted to vomit.
“Ivy, look at me,” Carran demanded.
She forced her attention away from the wound. Weak, she leaned back against the wall and the ledge disintegrated beneath her feet just as he swooped in and grabbed her. Clinging to him she chanced a glance below, instantly regretting it. The jagged edges of the rubble meant she would die if he lost his hold on her.
“I don’t want to die…not like this.”
“You won’t, I’ve got you. Wrap your legs around my waist and keep your head tucked against my body.” Echoing bangs made her ears ring but she did as he asked. “Bring us up.”
Unable to believe she had survived, she clung to him. She only hoped Chad had been just as lucky. Chad, you’d better not have died on me…