The blow shouldn’t have stunned me. I’d grown up in a tavern, defending myself, and had spent plenty of time training with Kane and Tem. I knew how to take a hit.
This was more than a hit. Kristoffe’s swing was fast and brutal, with a force behind it that rivaled my own—enough to knock me off my feet and send me flying down the hall.
Sensations took over. There was the feel of backward motion. Loss of control as my body hit the floor. More motion from sliding, and the hot sting of my flesh scraping tile. Ceiling lights blurred into white lines. Pain throbbed in my cheek.
But it was the tightness in my throat that hurt most. The tiger clawed like mad as we slid. Her screams pierced the fog in my brain, parting it, carving out a path. If I didn’t stop her, she would use it to climb up and take control.
Let me in!
I managed to shake my head.
You need me!
“No,” I whimpered, bumping into the limp body of an elevator guard. One of his arms stopped me, and I sat up quickly, recoiling. He was spread-eagled, face down among his comrades, his fingers wrapped around a retinal scanner. I cringed. Was he dead? Had the tiger killed them all? Then my eyes fell on the laser resting at his hip.
I couldn’t. I’d never fired one before.
He’ll kill us!
Not sure who she meant, I jerked my head around. The man with the sabre was still gone. But Kristoffe and his patrol were marching in my direction, dragging Toby with them. He struggled violently until one of them drove a fist into his stomach. A savage tug tore through my belly. Gasping, I leaned over, fumbling for the guard’s laser.
“I wouldn’t do that if I were you.” Kristoffe signaled for his men to stop, but continued walking toward me. He didn’t waver, not even when I grasped the laser in both hands and aimed it at him.
“That’s far enough,” I said.
He kept coming.
“I’ll shoot.” My finger instinctively hugged the trigger. “I mean it.”
Spreading his arms, Kristoffe made a target out of his broad chest. His smile was icy. “Go ahead, then. Shoot.”
Was he bluffing? I couldn’t tell. He might have a defensive shield. On the other hand, he might go down with one shot. There was no way to know. But somehow, he’d survived the tiger. This laser was my only hope.
Do it, the tiger spat.
My pulse spiked. “I will shoot.”
He kept coming.
“Stop,” I cried, my hands shaking.
But he didn’t stop, and the closer he came, the harder I choked on the tiger’s fury. Her strength was more than I could handle. He was only a few feet away when her hissing cry forced me to pull the trigger. A matching cry left my lips. The laser clicked, shuddered--