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Chapter 115 –Betrayal– Raine's POV

After a call from Marku, the dead guards had been carted away. I glanced down at the five people kneeling – three girls and two young men – all visibly trembling. Some more than others. Their shoulders hunched. Their heads hung low. Their sallow skin pulled too tightly against their gaunt frames. Bones protruding from malnutrition. When had they eaten last?

One man's hands sporadically twitched, as though he were resisting his body's urge to clench them into fists. On any other male, I would have presumed his posturing signaled anger. A way to keep himself from attacking. But given my knowledge, limited as it was, of Seraphine's cruel tactics, I knew she would have broken him long ago, viciously snuffing out any remaining shred of fight. I suspected his slight jerking movements were instead related to a desperate attempt to hold his pain and suffering in check. To not fall apart under the strain of his circumstances.

I crouched in front of him, bringing myself eye level. "Talon, please introduce us."

"His name is Matthew."

"Matthew, look at me," a softly spoken request.

Matthew's head snapped up. He met my gaze, but fought to maintain it. His eyes slipped down to the floor and then back up at me, wide with fear, knowing he had disobeyed.

I held back a cringe. I hated to be looked at in such a manner. Hated that he absolutely believed I was going to hurt him now, because he had let his gaze fall for just an instant. "Shh..." I tried to soothe him. "You are safe with me."

"Yes, Mistress," he acknowledged automatically. The words fell from his lips, but there was no confidence in his expression. His response saddened me. Utter and complete lack of hope.

"Talon?" I questioned over my shoulder, without looking back at him.

Talon continued, "He was acquired by Seraphine—" Matthew's gaze shot to Talon for the briefest of seconds. His mouth open slightly. Unable to contain his shock, upon hearing Talon use Seraphine's formal name rather than her title of Mistress. "—a little over a year ago from another vampire by the name of Rachel."

"Why?"

"Because Rachel had been unable to..." Talon's voice dropped, his tone strained, "...break him."

It was then that my glanced drifted down to Matthew's body. I had to bite the inside of my cheek to keep from gasping. The complete front of Matthew's body was scarred, tell-tale lines where a whip had licked his skin over and over. Some were old, just faint white lines, barely visible. But others were fresh, long red streaks across his body. And no part of him, from his shoulders to his knees, had been left untouched. Even his most intimate area was marked.

Hot fury washed over me. I vibrated with anger, restraining my overwhelming urge to rip her filthy head from her shoulders right this instant. But death was too good for her. Too easy.

"Why didn't he heal?" I asked, still studying his ruined flesh. Talon had said they were given vampire blood to heal.

"As punishment for his strong will. Only the very worst afflictions were healed. The rest remained for him to recover from on his own."

I looked back at Matthew's face. His eyes were closed. His jaw set. Knowing I had seen him.

"Look at me," I whispered as softly as I could. His eyes flew open. "You may cover yourself." Immediately, his fists unclenched and moved to conceal his private area. "This..." I nodded down toward his body. "...this is not your shame. This is your strength, your survival."

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