Tears Of Salvation: Chapter 29

ALEXEI

Stopping the SUV to the west of St. Monarch’s, the castle towers on the other side of the wall.

When everyone gathers behind me, I say, “Team one, earpiece check.”

‘In position,’ Semion’s voice sounds in my ear.

‘Ready,’ Lev replies.

“Team two.”

Carson, Damien, and Lucian take turns to mutter, ‘Here.’

Then Damien asks, ‘Princess, you there?’

“I’m here,” Winter replies.

‘Be careful,’ he tells her for the hundredth time. The man’s going to give himself a heart attack from all the worrying.

“Damien, cut it out,” I snap. “Winter will be fine.”

He lets out a huff.

“Remember, Madame Keller is not to be killed unless absolutely necessary,” I remind everyone.

Then I glance at Demitri on my right. “Ready, brother?”

He nods, and our eyes hold for a moment before I turn my head to Isabella on my left.

“I’m ready,” she says, looking like an angel of death.

I lift my hand behind her head and press a hard kiss to her mouth. For a moment, her palm settles against the armored vest covering my chest. I take a deep breath of my woman and then pull back.

Lifting the grenade launcher to my shoulder, I say, “Breach in three… two…” I fire the grenade, and then my eyes follow it as it whistles through the air.

I hope Madame Keller left.

The grenade strikes, blowing a hole near the armory and dropping the launcher, I run for the wall. Lodging a foot against the solid wall, I push my body hard, and for a split-second, I’m airborne, and then I grab hold of the top and pull myself up. I jump over and land in a crouching position.

Demitri drops next to me, and as I dart forward, I hear my team behind me. Grabbing the sub-machine gun at my side, I bring it up, and when the guards open fire on us, I pull the trigger.

I don’t take in faces as my group’s bullets spray St. Monarch’s guards while we close in on the side of the building that’s been blasted open.

Nearing the rubble, I let go of the sub-machine gun and, reaching beneath my coat, I pull the two Heckler & Kochs from behind my back.

I bring my arms up, and instinct takes over as I take out one after the other target. The popping and rattling of gunfire fill the air around St. Monarch’s.

As we reach the rubble, we’re slowed down, having to pick our way through bricks and mortar scattered on the ground.

‘Entering,’ Carson’s voice sounds in my ear.

Smoke plumes hang heavy in the air as we step into what’s left of the hallway, the armory’s one wall down.

Thank God for small mercies.

My eyes dart up to the second floor, a gaping hole giving me a slight view of what used to be a suite.

It’s eerily quiet on our side, and it only sharpens my senses as we slowly creep forward.

Reaching the nearest vent, I say, “Winter, you’re up.”

Demitri grabs hold of Winter’s waist, lifting her into the air while Isabella and I watch their backs. Winter uses the small power drill to take care of the screws, and then the cover drops to the floor. Demitri gives her a shove, and Winter grabs hold of the hole in the ceiling, hoisting herself into the ventilation tunnel.

“Good luck, little one,” I say as I watch her disappear.

The three of us begin to move down the hallway, and when we reach the armory, there’s no sign of Miss Dervishi, the trainer of the assassins. Hopefully, it means she left along with Madame Keller.

Demitri throws an incendiary grenade into the armory, and then we hightail it down the hallway. The explosion shakes the floor beneath my feet, and then guards dart from the rooms used for training.

Sonia’s men.

A bullet whistles past my head, and I take down the man responsible before he can get another shot in.

Reaching the archway where the hallway splits, I order the men that are still left from my group, “Spread out.” Then, taking a moment as the men scatter deeper into the castle, I ask, “Winter, update?”

‘Another five minutes,’ she grunts.

I glance at Demitri and Isabella, making sure they weren’t hit, then say, “Winter, let me know as soon as you’ve delivered the package.”

Taking a deep breath, I move into the hallway leading to the office where Sonia will likely be. Carson’s team will move to the second floor to check the suites in case I’m wrong.

The first stretch to the medical section is way too quiet for my liking. When we round a corner, and there are no custodians stationed outside the office door, apprehension trickles into my veins.

“Something’s not right,” I advise the others.

Just then, the castle shudders and deafening blasts make my ears ring. The ground behind us crumbles away, exposing a gaping hole with fire, smoke, and debris beneath. I fight to keep my balance while it feels as if the rest of the hallway will give way at any moment.

Fuck, Madame Keller blew the basement and cellars.

I shake my head to try and lessen the ringing in my ears, and then the door to the office opens, and fucking Hugo sprays a round of bullets our way.

In a matter of seconds, I drop my guns and grab hold of Demitri and Isabella, yanking them down, and then one bullet after the other slams into my armored vest, forcing me backward and robbing me of my breath. Intense pain radiates through my chest, most likely from a couple of ribs being broken.

Demitri swings, trying to grab hold of my left arm, but he falls to the side and slides over the edge of the hole torn in the floor. A gasp of horror shudders from me, but then he grabs hold of an exposed rod and stops his fall.

I take a shot to my left arm, and then I lose my footing.

As I fall backward, I see Isabella delivering two shots to Hugo’s armored vest, and then Winter drops from the vent behind him, burying a KA-BAR in his skull.

Throwing my right arm out as I fall, I grab hold of the torn-up concrete, and the momentum of my body slamming into a solid wall slices my palm open. I bring up my left arm, but the fucking thing is useless from the bullet I took, sending white-hot pain tearing through my shoulder and rib cage.

Blood flows from my palm, making it hard to hold on so I can pull myself up, and then I begin to slip.

‘Alexei,’ Demitri breathes hard in my ear. ‘Hold on.’

Unable to, I try to get a foothold against the wall as I brace myself for the fire and shards of concrete below.

“Fuck,” I whisper, and as my hand slips from the edge, Isabella falls half over, grabbing hold of my wrist.

My fingers tighten around her slender wrist, and our eyes lock.

“Left arm!” she shouts at me as my weight begins to drag her over the edge. When my feet grapple for purchase against the wall, I pull Isabella another couple of inches over the ledge and immediately stop.

My body stills and panic floods me, my heart stuttering in my chest. “Let go.”

Isabella frantically shakes her head, and as our eyes lock, I see the future we could’ve had flickering in her brown irises.

Then she grabs hold of my right arm with both her hands, giving her zero leverage to stop herself from falling over. My body jerks as she slips again, and then she lets out a scream as she fights the inevitable.

Christ, have I ever loved her more?

“Let go, baby,” I breathe. I try to twist my wrist free from her hold. “It’s okay.” I give her a pleading look. “Let go.”

“Shut up! I’m not losing the man I love,” she snaps angrily.

“Isabella,” I breathe, accepting my fate, “Let go. You need to kill Sonia.”

“Shut up,” she cries, and then she puts all her strength behind her and pulls hard, letting out another scream.

Winter grabs hold of Isabella around the waist, helping her pull, and they actually manage to get me close enough. Forcing myself through the pain, I grab hold of the ledge with my left hand.

Then Demitri appears next to Isabella, and grabbing hold of my coat by my neck, he yanks me onto the ledge, the concrete taking a slice from my thigh.

I fall partially over Isabella and Demitri and suck in a painful breath of the dust-filled air.

Then Isabella delivers a punch to my shoulder. “Asshole!”

I let out a relieved chuckle as I push myself up until I’m in a kneeling position. Glancing over my shoulder, I look at the fire below.

Fuck, that was close.

Wrapping my left arm around my waist, I breathe through the deep ache in my ribs, and then I climb to my feet.

Winter waits beneath the vent for us, and I let out an inward groan, knowing this is going to fucking hurt like a mother. Unfortunately, there’s no other way out of this side of the castle, so I suck it up and begin to walk toward Winter, not sparing Hugo’s body a glance.

 


 

ISABELLA

 

Demitri climbs up into the ventilation system, and then he reaches down for Alexei.

We’ve wrapped one of the sub-machine gun’s straps around his right hand to try and stop the bleeding. A frown settles on my forehead when Alexei gives Demitri his right hand instead of his left.

My eyes scour his left side, and then I see the blood dripping to the floor. “Alexei!”

The two men freeze, and Alexei’s head snaps to me. “What?”

I dart forward and begin to inspect his arm, finding a bullet wound just above his elbow. “Fucking asshole! You got shot and didn’t tell us?”

“It’s nothing,” he says, then he looks up at Demitri, “Are you going to pull me up?”

Demitri tugs hard, yanking Alexei up into the vent. For a moment, there’s a flash of pain on Alexei’s face, and it makes anger and worry bubble in my chest.

So fucking reckless! The man will be the death of me today.

Because Winter is shorter, I grab hold of her hips, and then I shove her into the air. Demitri grabs hold of her hand and quickly pulls her into the vent. Then he leans down again, holding his hand out to me.

Jumping, my fingers wrap around his wrist, and then I’m tugged up.

It’s one hell of a tight fit for the men, and I have to leopard crawl over his back until I come up behind Winter. Demitri brings up the rear as Alexei takes the lead. The crawl goes slow, especially when we reach a corner. The men struggle through the tight space, but I’m just glad no one’s claustrophobic.

With every vent opening, Alexei checks if we can go down into a room or hallway, but most of the ground has been blown away.

“Check-in,” I hear Alexei say, his breathing labored.

‘No sign of Sonia,’ Carson replies.

When there’s silence following his report, Alexei asks, “Semion? Lev?” No reply comes from the two Russian men. “Fuck,” Alexei curses.

‘We’re near the front. I’ll check on them,’ Carson’s voice comes over the earpieces.

Suddenly there’s a spray of bullets where Winter is, and then the ceiling gives way, and she drops.

My breath rush over my lips as I bring my gun up, and then I inch forward.

“Careful,” Alexei whispers.

I peek over the hole and then pull the trigger, hitting Oscar, one of my mother’s men, in the collarbone. Then, I fire another shot, and giving him a third eye, I watch as he falls forward and into the rubble beneath.

I lean over and glance around. Not seeing anyone else, I say, “Clear.”

“Winter?” Alexei calls, then he asks, “Can you see her?”

I search for her between the rubble. “No. I’ll go down.”

“No!” Alexei orders.

‘What happened?’ Damien asks.

“Nothing,” I answer him, not wanting to cause him worry. “Winter just took a detour.”

‘Princess?’ His voice is tight. ‘Winter!’

“We’re still assessing the situation,” Demitri tells his brother.

‘Your fucking position. Now,’ Damien demands.

I glance around again as I pull myself forward, bracing against the sides. “Looks like the dining room. I’m going after Winter.”

“No!” Alexei snaps, unable to turn around to stop me.

I let go of the sides and drop down. 

“Mother fucking Christ,” Alexei’s shout follows me down.

My feet hit a slab of concrete, and then I have to move, jumping from one piece of debris to the next until I’m able to stop the momentum the drop gave me. Crouching down, I take a couple of breaths, my heart pounding in my chest. “Made it.”

‘I’m going to fucking tan your ass!’ Alexei hisses in my ear.

‘Keep the kinky talk off the earphones,’ Lucian says with a chuckle.

Demitri thinks to ask, ‘Can you see Winter?’

I start to inch my way deeper into the rubble, and then I see a flash of red hair. “I have eyes on her.”

‘We’re moving forward to find a place where we can get out of this fucking tunnel,’ Alexei says.

“Don’t get yourself killed,” I mutter, and then I slip down the concrete pieces until I finally reach Winter. She’s covered in a grey layer of dust, but then she blinks at me and lets out a groan.

“Winter’s conscious.”

‘Thank fuck,’ Damien breathes.

When I move in next to Winter, she starts to push herself into a sitting position. “My leg.”

I glance down and see that her left leg is wedged between two slabs of concrete. Placing my hands against the one slab, I push it away from her, and then I take in the huge gash on the side of her shin. I take my jacket and armored vest off, then pull my shirt over my head. After putting the armored vest and jacket back on, I remove my belt and wrap the t-shirt around her leg, securing the fabric with the belt. Winter clenches her teeth, letting out a pain-filled groan.

“Are you hurt anywhere else? Gunshot?” I ask.

Winter shakes her head. “I lost my earpiece.”

Taking mine from my ear, I place it in Winter’s. “Tell your man you’re okay.”

“Damien. I’m fine,” Winter says.

“My fucking heart!” His voice sounds somewhere above us.

“Damien?” I call out.

“I’m coming down.”

“No. Wait up there. I’m going to need you to pull Winter out.”

Wrapping an arm around her back, I pull Winter up against my body, and it has her letting out another pain-filled groan.

I give her a moment, then ask, “Ready?”

Winter nods, and then I begin to climb over the debris with her. It takes longer than I’d like, but finally, Damien comes into view.

Tired, I push Winter up the last part. Damien grabs hold of her hands and yanks her to him, embracing her tightly.

I pull myself over the edge and into the foyer and climbing to my feet, I glance around at the bodies and destruction.

“No sign of my mother?” I ask.

Damien shakes his head.

Where the fuck is she?

“She’s fine, Alexei!” Winter hands me my earpiece back. “Your turn to talk to your man.”

Placing it back in my ear, I nod. “I’m going after my mother.” As I jog to the entrance of the Castle, I say, “Are you still in the vents?”

‘So help me, God!’ Alexei rages. ‘We’re on the south side.’

“I’m at the front, moving around the left side of the castle. I’m coming to you.”

As I round a corner, a palm slams into my nose, and I stagger backward, and then my tearing eyes focus on my mother.

 

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