Captive of the Beast



M oonlight glinted off the sword Rinehart masterfully swept through the neck of the Demon foot soldier, a Darkland Beast. A second later, the beastly body lit up in flames and dissolved into ash.

Around him, his fellow Knights, Des, Max and Rock—brothers not by blood but by oath and by choice—challenged their opponents, as well. A quick inspection told him his battles were complete; he was not needed. Disappointed, Rinehart sheathed his saber.

Normally, a night spent fighting by his brothers’ side fed his primal urges and calmed the darkness within. But not tonight. Not any night as of late. No matter how many Beasts he slew, he could not defeat the one inside himself.

Rinehart, Knight of White, was slipping into darkness and he knew it. Fortunately, no one around him did.

He started walking toward the van, eyeing the horizon, hoping for more battles, for more fuel to fight the war raging inside him. But there were no more Beasts this night. No more distractions from the turmoil that ate at his tainted soul. For now, he had to settle for his usual game of charades, of pretending he was fine, that he was made of steel.

Born into a military family, he’d learned from walking age how a soldier held himself in check, how to school his features into that steel mask. Like any lifetime soldier, he didn’t have a name. Just an initial. In his case, the initial W had represented his birth name of William. But he was simply Rinehart now—would be forevermore. His immortality, the result of being converted to a Knight, had allowed him ninety-five years to practice this hard exterior, his shell of unaffected solidarity among the Knights.

The Knights were once all human; they were converted to Demons by the Beasts before being saved by Salvador, their creator. But the taint of evil still played inside them all, still clung to the souls that Salvador had returned to each of them, and without their mates, the pure ones who would counter the taint of the Beast, they would eventually be destroyed by it. Some survived longer than others without a mate. No one knew why that was. Rinehart could hear the clock ticking in his head. He was certain he would be one of those men going down sooner rather than later, and he hated that weakness inside himself.

But it was there, burning him up, claiming him.

He had to find a way to control it before it was too late.

An hour after leaving the battlefield behind, the Knights’ van pulled to a halt in front of Jaguar Ranch, the central operations facility for the Knights of White. To the rest of the world, it was simply one of the largest ranches in the world at fifteen thousand acres. Sitting just outside Brownsville, Texas, the ranch often spawned rumors of Demon hunters living within its confines. Usually these stories surfaced when the myths of Matamoras monsters were raging hot, and rightfully so. Those stories were true, of course, and the monsters were, in fact, Demons.

Rinehart shoved open the back door of the van and jumped to the graveled driveway in front of the main house. His fellow Knights, Des and Rock, followed behind him. Max, who had been driving, rounded the front of the van just as his mate, Sarah, ran down the front stairs to greet him. Next came Jessica, who rushed toward Des, her mate. Rinehart ground his teeth and shoved his cowboy hat low over his eyes. He was happy as hell for brothers finding their mates. It simply ground home a hard core truth that didn’t sit well right about now. He wasn’t likely to find a mate before Hell found him.

Marisol, their healer, stepped out onto the porch, as she always did upon their return. With one touch, she could heal their wounds. Fortunately, tonight no one needed her. Well, almost no one. Rock had it bad for Marisol. And judging from the puppy-dog eyes he was casting in her direction, he was feeling the attraction now. The way the kid responded to Marisol, Rinehart wondered if she were his mate. A damnable situation, considering healers weren’t allowed physical pleasures. They were another breed, one the Knights knew little about. But they knew the rule: no touching. That meant no peace for Rock. Not now. Not ever. If Marisol were his mate, something had to change or Rock would be destined for darkness.

On that note, Rinehart decided he and the kid needed some extra exertion. “Don’t know about you,” Rinehart said, stepping to his side, “but I could go for some more hunting. This time, for some female company. What say we head to town?”

Rock cut his gaze from Marisol, his lips tight, his expression strained. “Hell, yeah, man. I’m down for that. Let’s roll.”

There had been a time not so long ago when he would have acted like other women were taboo. But Marisol had been shutting him out lately, and he’d stopped fighting his needs.

Their leader, Jag, pushed open the screen door and joined Marisol on the porch. Tall and broad, his dark hair touching his shoulders, Jag charged the air with the force of his presence. With each passing day since Jag had found his mate, he seemed to grow more powerful, more gifted with magic. Though each Knight who mated had found he wielded new powers, Jag, being leader, wielded far more than any of them had imagined possible.

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