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It was so dark wherever I was being held that I wouldn’t have been able to tell my eyes were open except for the burning—like someone had set my eyes on fire with overachieving gasoline. Or, you know, something less crazy. My groan echoed, telling me I was somewhere cavernous. And I was freezing. And the smell…inhuman. Intoxicating. It almost lured my eyes closed again.
Yeah. Raif had brought me home—his real home, not the nondescript brownstone townhouse I’d been stalking for the last six years while he pretended to be a regular human with a massive case of OCD. I hadn’t been here since…
My mind revolted. No. The last time I’d been here, I’d almost lost my soul. And I would not let it happen again. He’d been ever so polite when he’d brought me here—apparently thinking I was obedient enough that I didn’t need to be tied up. The only thing stopping me from walking right out was the blasted darkness and my aching head.
My head would require Advil. And Pepsi. Lots of it. But the darkness? That I could do something about.
Raif might be one-of-a-kind, but so was I. Yeah, I might look human. And act human. But I was a different sort of bird altogether.
Just like Raif.
But also the opposite of Raif. I was good. I was a guardian. Guarding the world from vampires and werewolves and demons.
I closed my eyes, digging around in my own soul until I found the tiny spark way back behind my heart. Wake up, little bird. It’s time to go to work.
Raif thought I wouldn’t try to escape. He thought I was that submissive—that after everything he put me through, I’d still stay like an obedient, furry pet. And six years ago, I would have. But not now. Raif didn’t know it, but in those six years of stalking him, I’d grown a backbone. And no one was going to lock me in the dark and expect me to sit there waiting for him to come home like an overeager puppy. I wasn’t a werewolf, after all.
I was a Phoenix.
I felt the heat consuming me—but not painful. Warm and safe. Strong. I felt my body change, as it had so many times before, felt the wings spread, the bones twisting, lightening.
My burning body lit up the cavern. How nice, he’d even left me dinner. And a blanket. He’d also installed a door since the last time I’d been there, but it didn’t matter. I had tears that healed, a bite that poisoned the soul—
--and wings that shed fire hotter than the sun.
The door and its pathetic little lock didn’t stand a chance.
I knew where Raif was going. I knew the Collection knew. So that’s where I was going, too. I hadn’t decided yet whose side I would be on when I got there. My heart whispered Raif. My mind bellowed Collection. And my soul waited quietly, reserving judgment.
I flew on silent, smoldering wings out of the cavern, through the tunnels that would have been impossible to find my way out of in the pitch blackness. Raif knew what I was. But when we’d been together, on the same side—both fighting for good—I hadn’t had the courage to shift. His kind was my ancient enemy, yet we both had believed in the same thing. Clearly, he thought nothing had changed in all these years.
But to survive him and the devastation he’d caused my heart, I’d had to shift. The first time I’d shifted, I’d sworn never to change back. Being human hurt.
But I was strong now. And even if I still loved him, I wouldn’t let him win. He’d shattered me once. He wouldn’t do it again.
I shifted as soon as I neared the entrance. Deep, dark caves and winding tunnels were Raif’s thing. He thought they were fun. I didn’t mind them, but I didn’t have time for his games now. I had a world to save.
The funny thing about destiny? Everything you did to escape it seemed to lead you right to it. Destiny always wins.
Stay tuned for Part 6 coming next week from Kelly Martin!