Death is coming for Alexa O’Brien.
Alexa must stop Shya from claiming Lilah’s vacant throne. If the demon succeeds all hell will break loose. Forming alliances is a challenge. The vampires hate her and the wolves don’t trust her. Rebellious vampire activity creates tension between Alexa and the FPA. It gets ugly when the covert government operation learns that Shya needs her as a sacrifice.
The strain of what’s to come is weighing on both Arys and Alexa. Arys’s need to protect her is as strong as his growing desire to kill her. Haunted by visions of her death at his hand, Arys can no longer trust himself. The strength of their bond is about to be put to the test.
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There was a bite to the September night air. Summer faded fast in these parts. A layer of bright yellow and orange foliage coated the city of Edmonton. Fall moved in quickly with winter nipping at its heels. It would be nice if we could make it another six weeks without snow.
My hand crept to the dagger on my hip. The jade handle was cold and smooth, a reassuring comfort as I prowled the night.
“Feels good to be hunting again. I’ve been craving a good beat down.” Jez spun her favorite dagger between her fingers before palming it like a pro. “Although I gotta say I’m a little concerned. It’s not every night we hunt a demon hybrid.”
I nodded. It had been some time since the two of us had stalked the night seeking a target. Too long. But jumping back into the thick of things by chasing down some kind of demon spawn wasn’t quite how I’d envisioned this evening.
The residential street we walked was quiet. Darkness blanketed almost every house we passed. Everyone was asleep, as they should be. Everyone except us, the creatures of the night.
“I’m definitely overdue for a good scrap.” I scanned the night for anything amiss. “Best way to let off steam. Other than sex.”
“Ugh. Don’t even talk to me about sex. I’ll probably never have it again.” Jez’s red lips curved into a melodramatic pout. “Must be nice to have three men ready to please you at a moment’s notice.”
My jaw dropped, and I stopped walking to stare at her, aghast. “Care to rephrase that?”
“Did I say three? Oops. My bad. I meant two. Definitely just two.” She whistled softly. “Didn’t mean to hit so low below the belt there. I guess Kale’s always going to be a touchy issue, huh?”
“Just a little. Where is he anyway?”
Kale Sinclair had done his damndest to avoid me since I’d come home from a trip to Las Vegas a couple weeks ago. Even though he was supposed to be here with us, watching our backs, he was MIA, which was becoming the usual for him.
Our personal relationship was to blame. Too much had gone on between us, both good and bad. Maybe we would never overcome it. But I still wouldn’t have left him on a demon hunt without backup.
“No idea,” Jez said with a shake of her head, her golden ponytail bouncing. “He barely returns my calls these days. It’s his guilt, I’m sure. Keeping him locked in that room with endless women for days at a time. It’s not healthy.”
“I’m afraid for him.” I spoke softly, finding it hard to give voice to my concern. “I wish there was something I could do.”
Jez stopped dead in place, forcing me to do the same. Grabbing me by the shoulders, she gave me a shake that knocked my teeth together.
“You have enough shit to deal with right now without making Kale’s problems yours. He’s the one who can’t control himself. He’s the one losing his marbles. He’s the one who tried to kill you. Don’t you dare feel bad about that.”
She gave me one more shake, then released me. I frowned, irritated but unable to argue. She was right. I cared deeply for Kale, but we all had our own battles to fight. I couldn’t take his upon myself.
We resumed our pace, quiet and stealthy, toward the large brick schoolhouse two blocks ahead. There, we anticipated finding the thing we had been sent after.
Shya had insisted this was an easy hunt. So easy he could entrust the task to two mortals. A lesser demon had escaped a summoning and, after running amok, was now hiding out, fearing Shya’s wrath. Of course, anything Shya said had to be taken with a grain of salt. Not only was he the most powerful demon laying claim to this city, but he was also someone who wanted to use me as a living sacrifice.
I had a duty to protect my city, something I had just begun to accept. Yet duty was the main reason I was lurking around the old schoolhouse in the middle of the night.
After the first few days back in town, the relaxation and calm of being home had grown tiresome. Boring. Much as I hated to admit it, I needed this kind of action on a regular basis. I was nothing without the hunt.
“Any news on the vamps in Vegas?” Jez asked, pausing to glance down a side street as we passed. She raised her nose to the wind, sniffing the air.
I caught the scent too. Sulfur. I reached to feel it mentally, sifting through the strange energy patterns marking the demon’s path. It felt heavy and chaotic, creating a distorted mess of noise in my head.
“Other than Jenner’s continued insistence that we go fuck ourselves? Not so much. I think he just needs to let off steam though.” I turned in a slow circle, taking in our surroundings. “Do you feel that? This thing feels deadly.”
Jez gave a nod; her lips curved into a small smile. “I do. Definitely a far cry from our usual vampire hunt. It’s kind of exciting.”
My skin crawled. An unsettling sensation followed.
My hand kept going to the hilt of the Dragon Claw where it sat securely in its sheath against my hip. A long leather jacket kept it hidden. The curved blade was longer than my forearm. It wasn’t an easy weapon to conceal.
“Let’s keep going. We’ve got this.” I forced myself to put one foot in front of the other. Taking deep breaths helped to clear my head and combat the seed of fear that had sprouted. Too many things feed off fear. The only time fear was useful was if it aided one in staying alive. Most of the time it just got one killed.
The large red-brick building stood ahead in the distance looking a little like Hogwarts. The windows were dark. A fence surrounded the property, but it posed no real obstacle to anyone attempting to enter.
I grew uneasy as we went. Projecting an energy circle around the two of us took effort. The closer we drew to the old school, the stronger my certainty that we were sneaking up on something very evil. We reached the edge of the school property and stopped. Whatever it was, it was in there. Somewhere.
“Well, look on the bright side. At least it’s a break from vampires, right? You could use a break.” Jez didn’t sound convinced.
“Can’t argue there.” We crossed the small soccer field separating us from the front door.
Jez followed close but far enough to watch my back while I checked out the door. The locks were old, and the security system, non-existent. Manipulating the lock was unnecessary; the door swung open with a loud, horror movie-style creak. Fabulous.
Right away the scent of blood slapped me. The smears inside the entryway were fresh. Very fresh.
Together we entered, slowly, wary of making our target aware of our presence. I did my best to cloak our energy, but it was never a guarantee. Still, I preferred to have the element of surprise on my side.
The ceiling was high, filled with shadows that even my wolf eyes couldn’t completely penetrate. Paranoia gripped me. What if something was watching us from up there while we had no idea?
I had to give myself a shake to clear my head of such thoughts. Having little choice but to follow the trail of blood, I proceeded inside with Jez hot on my heels.
“You have to admit,” she whispered, her voice breathy. “This is pretty damn exhilarating.”
“I’ll admit that when we walk out of here alive.”
The trail led us down a long corridor, past classrooms, to a stairway. It smelled funny, kind of musty and dirty with the telltale scent of demon. More sulfur.
My hand automatically went to the cross around my neck. It was silver and very old, a birthday gift from Kale a few months ago. I didn’t like to take it out of my house much, preferring to keep it safe. Still, I had started wearing it on occasion and especially when I knew I’d be seeing Shya. It really pissed him off, and I loved that. It lay beside the black onyx amulet I now wore all the time.
I mouthed the word ‘demon’ to Jez who nodded and twirled her dagger again. This time she fumbled, and it hit the floor with a loud clatter. I sucked in my breath and waited for the target to find us first.
“Shit,” Jez hissed, her face scrunched up in mortification. The sound of the dagger slapping the hard floor had been loud. It had definitely announced our presence to anything that might have not yet been aware of us.
When nothing leaped out of the shadows, I continued on.
We followed the staircase to the second floor, suspicious that nothing had come at us. The thought did cross my mind that perhaps we should turn back. I was a big bad in the world of vamps and shifters, but as far as demons went, I was nothing. Something kept me moving. I’d like to think it was more than sheer morbid curiosity.
The second floor was also composed mostly of classrooms. The scent of blood grew stronger. For just a moment, the bloodlust threatened to rise. I fought it back, refusing to be made a slave when clearly somebody had just been killed here.
That’s when the noise started. A scraping, like a chair across the floor. It came from the far end of the hall.
I drew the Dragon Claw slowly to avoid the lovely metallic sound of a fast draw. It hummed happily in my hand. The large, slightly curved blade shone despite the dim lighting. It was hungry for blood.
We moved a little faster, approaching the noise before I could change my mind. Turning into the last classroom, we came face to face with the creature. A full on shriek spilled from me, echoing in the silence. Jez gasped and gave a shout. Unable to blink or breathe, I stared at the demon, dumbstruck.
It had a humanoid appearance though that was where the similarities ended. The entire body was devoid of hair. Its feet had a cloven appearance, and its spine jutted out at a horribly unnatural angle. Its back was to us, and it busily slurped away at something I couldn’t yet see and was pretty sure I didn’t want to. The thing was either deaf or didn’t give a shit since it had yet to acknowledge us.
“What the fuck?” Jez put a hand to her mouth as we caught sight of what the demon was doing.
It turned suddenly, a strip of flesh hanging from its mouth. Its face was grotesquely deformed, as if someone had stepped in the center of it. Horns protruded from its forehead. Its eyes were the most frightening, goat-like pupils in a milky white pool. They fixed on us, and the thing snarled.
A mouthful of razor sharp teeth got my pulse pounding faster. The remains of the person it was eating were unidentifiable. Chunks of flesh covered the floor and the demon’s claw-like hands. The coffee and bagel I’d had earlier threatened to make an appearance as I watched it suck in that piece of dangling meat like a spaghetti noodle.
It lunged toward us, flailing like a newborn calf that didn’t yet know how to use its limbs properly. In an uncharacteristic move, I took a step back.
Jez surged forward to bury her dagger in its chest. With a heavy arm, it smacked her, sending her crashing into a desk that overturned. She rolled and got to her feet, pulling another dagger from her boot.
I snapped into action and hit the thing with a psi ball as it lunged for Jez again. My attack threw it back, down beside the mutilated corpse. I swung the Dragon Claw, hoping like hell that Lilah had been telling the truth back when she told me it would kill demons with a physical form as well as vampires. This demon looked pretty damn physical to me.
The blow never landed. The demon threw one of the student desks at me with more strength than any such creature should ever have. It hit me dead on, taking my feet out from under me. The desk landed on my chest, crushing the breath from my lungs. Jez was there, throwing it aside and dragging me to my feet. I struggled to breathe, but I had no time to recover.
The demon clamped a heavy hand around Jez’s ankle and jerked her off her feet. It pulled her close, like she weighed nothing. Smacking its lips, it wore a gruesome smile. She swung wildly with her dagger, plunging it into the demon’s arm repeatedly. Murky black blood bubbled up from the wounds she inflicted, but the demon continued as if unaware.
I moved fast, swinging the Dragon Claw. I sliced a deep gash across its chest, and this time it did react. With a loud wail, it tossed Jez aside and came at me. Smoke rose from the wound. It stunk like death and sulfur. I waited for it to get closer, and then I plunged the dagger deep into its guts. The wailing grew louder and more shrill, hurting my ears.
Pulling the blade free, I lined up my swing and let fly. The blade sliced through its thick neck, and its head flew across the room to land with a sloppy slap on the teacher’s desk. The demon’s body fell at my feet, twitching and convulsing. Then it began to slowly dissolve until all that was left was a thick, black goo staining the floor.
“What the fuck was that?” Jez gasped, her eyes wide as she watched the goo bubble and pop. “Since when do demons do that?”
“That couldn’t have been a pure demon. Not one that was ever an angel.” I gazed down at the mess. Was Shya behind this? “Crap like this can’t just walk free among the rest of us. Not without someone powerful to call it.”
“Someone like Shya?”
“Or maybe someone like the FPA. Someone in their lockup. I don’t know.”
I couldn’t imagine why either party would want to unleash something so twisted in the city. I had a bad feeling that I was going to find out.
Jez retrieved her dagger from the black sludge, used the edge of a desk to give it a wipe, and stuck it back into her boot. “I bet you’re really missing the Vegas vampires now.”