First three chapters of Darkness Shatters

As I mentioned in my last post, I’m giving you all an early peek at the first three chapters for Darkness Shatters.  Please keep in mind that this is not the final version and that there may be some minor changes before the novel releases.  Hope you enjoy!

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Chapter One

 

There was no price I wouldn’t have paid for one night of peace and quiet, but unfortunately even the brief illusion of peace couldn’t be bought.  Not by me, anyway.  It was a squeaking noise that woke me.

Coming from inside my house.

I cracked my eyes open and ran my gaze about the dark bedroom, searching for the source.  Nothing stirred.  My hand crept over to the other side of the bed and found cold, empty sheets.  Lucas hadn’t returned during the night.  Not that I’d expected him to since he’d called the previous evening to say he’d arrived in Portland—still searching for his missing twin brother.

Faint giggling floated down the hallway, coming from another bedroom.  I sent my senses out.  Emily’s boyfriend, Hunter, had snuck in sometime after I’d gone to sleep.  He was over at the house often enough that I’d almost forgotten he shouldn’t have been there.  Emily came up on my radar as warm and familiar, whereas his presence sent light claws raking against my mind.

Damn teenagers.

I shoved my warm blankets away and got up.  It was time to do my duty as a parent and put a stop to this.  Padding across the room, I grabbed a robe and pulled it on.   No need to give Hunter, an eighteen-year-old werewolf, an eyeful since I only slept in a skimpy tank top and underwear.

The wood floor didn’t creak as I crept down the hallway, but that wasn’t my real concern.  Emily was a sensor, like me.  If she was paying attention she’d know I was coming toward her room, but the emotions I picked up from her revealed no panic.  Instead all I sensed was lust and excitement.  Those sort of feelings could distract our kind from picking up any trouble coming our way.

The door wasn’t locked.  I pushed it wide open and got an eyeful of the teenagers in bed.  Hunter didn’t have his shirt on and Emily’s was pulled up to her neck.  His body blocked my view of her chest.

“Hunter, get off of her right now.”

Their heads swung in my direction.  Emily’s face was flushed and her shoulder-length brown hair was tousled.  She shoved Hunter to the side and pulled the blanket over herself.  I caught just enough before that to be sure they hadn’t gone all the way.  Both of them still had their pants on.  I could give small thanks for that.

“But we weren’t doing anything wrong,” Emily argued.  “Just kissing.”

Like it wouldn’t have gone further.

“On a Sunday night when you have to be up for school in a few hours?  He’s leaving.”

“It snowing outside.”  She pulled the blanket tightly against her chest and scooted up.  “You can’t make him leave now.”

Hunter sat next to her on the bed and stared at me with frozen horror.  He hadn’t shaved in a couple of days and there was a bit of dark scruff on his face.  Emily might not care about getting caught, but he did.  The dread in his brown eyes said it all.

“Not my problem.  He has to go.”

I moved toward the bed, grabbed his arm, and hauled him onto the floor.  He had to weigh about a hundred and eighty with all the muscle on him, but it didn’t bother me since I’d become immortal and increased my strength.  I did make a point of not looking at his pale, naked chest too closely.  It was awkward enough that I’d walked in on them making out.

Emily grabbed her phone off the nightstand and pressed her finger to the screen.  She lifted it up for me to see. “It’s like, negative forty degrees outside.  Let him stay until morning.”

I moved to the window and peered out.  It was dark, but the porch light lit up the yard.  Only my Jeep sat in the driveway with a thin layer of snow covering it.  No other cars were out there, but there was a faint hint of recent tracks leading to the side of the house.

“He should have thought of that before coming here.  He’s a werewolf.  I’m sure he’ll survive getting home.”

We might live out in the bush of Alaska where houses were few and far between, but there were only so many places to leave a car in January with all the snow that had accumulated over the last few months.  I was willing to bet he’d parked it around the side of the house where he could plug the vehicle into an electrical outlet to keep it warm.  That’s where it was the last time I’d caught him in Emily’s room.  With winter set in the temperatures were too low to risk a cold start.  It could ruin the engine.

“Fine.”  She shot me an annoyed look before hopping out of bed to give Hunter a quick kiss, blanket still wrapped around her.  “Just come by tomorrow night.”

He gave her a rueful smile.

“You know the rules, Emily.”  I pointed a finger at her.  “You two got caught in the act and can’t visit each other for a week.”

There was nothing I could do about school, but since they tried to spend every possible moment with each other I could take nights and weekends away.

“That’s such bullshit.”  She plopped herself onto the bed.

Sometimes I missed the old Emily who was sweet and didn’t argue with me so much.  She’d been an easy teenager to take care of until she’d gotten a head injury the previous spring and her personality had altered drastically.  Now we fought more than we got along.

“Sorry, Melena,” Hunter said as he pulled on his sweater.

“You need to stop letting her talk you into this…”  I stopped.

A scratching noise came from downstairs.  Sable had just come through the cat door and was making her way toward us at a fast pace.  She skidded to a halt at my feet, currently in the form of a reddish-brown lynx with black markings, and growled at me.  Then she sunk her teeth into my robe and tugged until I almost fell over.  It was the sign she’d been taught to give me in case there was an emergency and I needed to follow her somewhere.  Probably into the woods since that’s where she typically roamed and there wasn’t much else this far outside Fairbanks.

“Is it really that important?” I asked her.

She ran to the doorway and then looked back.  I could sense the urgency in her emotions.  She was definitely upset about something and wanted me to see it.  Whether I wanted to or not, I was going to have to check it out.

“Finish getting dressed and meet me at the front door,” I ordered Hunter.

“Yes, ma’am.”

I rushed to my room to get dressed with Sable following at my heels.  Considering Emily’s warning about the temperature outside, I put on several layers of clothes.  My body could handle it no matter how cold it got, but that didn’t mean I didn’t suffer discomfort.  Especially when it got well below freezing.

“Are we going far?” I asked Sable, debating which boots and jacket to wear.

She could understand me, but she couldn’t answer back.  Instead she sat down.  That was her way of answering yes.  Her fae trainer had taught her many things including basic forms of communication, fighting, and hunting.  I still hadn’t read the entire manual that came with her since it was written a lot like Apple’s incomprehensible terms of service, but I caught all the highlights.

“What did you find?”  I slipped on a pair of heavy boots.

She flattened her ears.  All that meant was that it was important that I go see for myself.  Ah well.  I hadn’t really expected specific details from her.  The feline shape-shifter could only tell me so much.

I grabbed a heavy jacket and headed for the stairs.  Hunter came out of Emily’s room at the same time.  It hit me then that it wouldn’t be such a bad idea to take him along.  If Sable was this insistent on me going it could be something dangerous.  It couldn’t hurt to take some backup and I might as well have someone else out there freezing with me.  Aside from Kerbasi, who wouldn’t be much help and was probably going to complain the whole way.  I didn’t have any choice about bringing him, though.

“It looks like you’re going on a trip with me and Sable,” I told Hunter.

“What?” He glanced down at the cat winding between my legs.

Emily gave me a sullen look from her bedroom doorway.

“Sable found something and we need to go see it.  If you prefer your wolf form, you better shift while I’m waking up Kerbasi.  There’s no telling how far we might have to go.”

Sable roamed a wide area and often traveled for miles from the house.  She knew better than to go near humans or their homes so most likely whatever she found was deep in the woods.

Emily crossed her arms.  “If he goes, is he still banned from coming here for a week?”

I considered it.  Being a parent sometimes felt like being a judge, jury and executioner.

“You’ll have to do some extra chores after school for your punishment and he still can’t come over for three days.  Take it or leave it.”

“Deal.”  She held out her hand.

I rolled my eyes and didn’t bother to shake it.  “Go back to bed.  We shouldn’t be gone too long.”

“Wait, don’t I get a say in this?” Hunter looked between us.

“No.”  I left him and headed down the stairs.  “By the way, if you do decide to change into your wolf form do it in the dining room.  I don’t want Emily seeing you naked.”

A snort came from her direction.

I unlocked the front door and let Sable go out first before shutting it behind me.  She ran off, heading around the side of the house where the tail end of Hunter’s car peeked out.  I pulled my knit cap down over my ears and adjusted my gloves for a snug fit.  It was bitterly cold out.  My breath fogged the air and fat flakes of snow fell from the sky.  Why couldn’t emergencies like these occur during more respectable hours?  And preferably in the summer?

Kerbasi’s shack was around back.  If I could have left the guardian I would have, but I couldn’t go more than half a mile from him before he’d get pulled along with me.  The last thing I needed to hear was his whining if he was jerked from his bed without warning.

The magical bands we wore on our arms tugged on him rather than me since as a sensor I was immune to spells.  It was a punishment an archangel had leveled on us almost nine months before—me for breaking into Purgatory and him for being an overly-abusive guardian who tortured his prisoners.

I pounded on his door.  It took more than a minute before I heard any movement inside.

“What?” he shouted.

“Get out here unless you want to get dragged.”

He jerked the door open.  “Do you know what time it is?”

His silver eyes swirled with annoyance and his black hair hung loosely past his shoulders.  He wore a pair of sweatpants, but nothing covered his muscular chest.  The man was unusually large.  Then again, so were all of heaven’s servants.  He also had dark-gray wings, but I could only see the faint shimmer of them.  Anyone not immune to magic couldn’t see them at all unless he chose to reveal them.

“Yes, it’s almost three in the morning.  I don’t want to be out any more than you do, but Sable found something and she’s insisting I check it out.  You’re just going to have to get over it and come along.”

He gave me an annoyed look.  “Can it not wait until morning?”

“Apparently not.  You’ve got two minutes or I’m leaving without you.”

Kerbasi slammed the door in my face.

He handled waking up better if I brought coffee, but I didn’t have time to coddle him.  I headed over to the shed where we stored the snow machines and got one started.  By the time he came outside I had it ready to go.  Kerbasi couldn’t drive and didn’t want to learn, so he had to ride with me.

“This is most inconvenient,” he muttered, climbing onto the seat and wrapping his arms around my waist.

“Feel free to lodge another complaint to Remiel.  I’ve given up on the archangel freeing us from each other anytime soon.”  All I’d gotten so far was that Kerbasi had made progress, especially after healing a sick child during Christmas, but not enough.  At this rate, it would never be enough.

Hunter came running up in his wolf form and let out a bark.  Good.  We were all set.

I nodded at Sable, who had changed into a snow leopard.  Normally I didn’t let her take the shape of feline breeds not native to Alaska, but we could travel faster if she was a bigger breed of cat.  My snow machine would cover her tracks, keeping anyone from discovering the prints later.

“Lead the way,” I ordered her.

She took off at a lope, heading toward the trees behind Kerbasi’s shack.  Hunter followed the cat with me guiding the snow machine behind them.  The snow had grown deep in many areas, making travel slow.   I wove between a sea of trees trying to find the most navigable paths as we headed in a northwesterly direction.

At least two miles had passed before Sable began to slow down at a small clearing.  My senses picked up the weak signal of a werewolf on the far side.  My stomach knotted as she led us to toward him.  The life force that told me who was just within the line of trees barely registered.  He was close to death.  It took a lot for a werewolf to get into that kind of shape.

There was something else nagging at my senses as well.  Something very dark.  Every warning siren in my head was going off.

“Stop!” I yelled at Sable and Hunter.

 

 

Chapter Two

 

Sable stopped more than a dozen paces from the trees and looked back at us, her whiskers twitching.  Hunter didn’t go any farther, but he sniffed at the ground.  The emotions I sensed from him were confusion and worry.

I brought the snow machine to a halt next to them and ordered Kerbasi to get off before digging in the storage compartment for a flashlight.  My night vision was good, but it was full dark and clouds obscured the moonlight.

“Why did you order them to stop?” Kerbasi asked.

“Because I sensed something wrong.”

“Would it not be better to let them face it than us?  We can partake of these while they deal with it.”  The guardian reached into his jacket and pulled out a Ziploc bag with some donuts I’d picked up the day before.  He must have swiped the last two before going to his shack last night.  The glutton.

“You’re forty-five hundred years old and have more power than I’ll ever hope to have.  I’m pretty sure you can handle whatever is up there.”

He gave me a skeptical look.  “Do you even know what the danger is?”

Kerbasi didn’t fear much—except perhaps an empty stomach—but he hated getting involved in the affairs of mortals.  If he had his way he’d watch the chaos around him, eat snacks, and critique everyone else’s actions.

“There’s a werewolf in there and something is seriously wrong with him.  I don’t want to risk Sable and Hunter getting hurt if he’s turned rabid.”  I felt for my gun to make sure it was still where I’d holstered it before leaving the house.  It remained snug at my waist.

Kerbasi shrugged.  “Then let him be.”

“You know we can’t.  Now let’s go.”  I waved the flashlight toward the woods.

He stuffed the bag of donuts back into his pocket.  “Why couldn’t they have attached me to someone who reads all day?”

I ignored him.

“You two stay here until I tell you otherwise,” I warned Sable and Hunter.

The shape-shifter cat lifted a paw and began licking it.  The werewolf glanced between me and the tree line as if he wasn’t sure about that plan, but he didn’t move to follow.  Kerbasi and I trudged through the snow, the alarm bells in my head growing stronger as we neared the woods.  The magic I sensed was sinister, unlike anything I’d felt before except…no, it couldn’t be.

I paused.  “Demon magic.”

“Excuse me?”

“The werewolf.”  I pointed the flashlight at a spot where two trees had grown close together.  He was just beyond that.  “Whatever is hurting him, demon magic is part of it.  I need to get closer to figure it out.”

The guardian stiffened.  “I should have brought a sword.”

“Don’t worry.  I think he’s too weak to attack us.”  I hoped, but pulled my gun anyway and held it in my right hand with the flashlight in the other.

“So you say, sensor, but I do not like this.  Even I am having a bad feeling.”

“Shhh.”

I began creeping forward again, heading around the two trees.  The small beam of light I directed ahead of us did little to dispel the darkness, but at least it kept me from tripping over fallen limbs and shrubbery.

A dark shape appeared amongst the blanket of snow covering the ground as we got closer.  It was a guy who looked thirtyish with short brown hair.  He wore a heavy jacket, blue jeans, and rugged brown boots.  Being fully dressed told me he probably hadn’t changed from being a wolf recently.  Most werewolves put on as little as possible after shifting back to human form because they found clothes restricting and hot for the next few hours.

The man’s breathing was raspy.  I shined the light on his face and he flinched.  Black and red marks covered his exposed skin and his neck was severely swollen.  I’d seen frostbite before, but that wasn’t the problem this time.  He had something else—something worse.

My senses couldn’t detect the type of affliction, so it had to be naturally-occurring, but I could determine the magic used with it.  Two spells were woven into the illness.  The first made the disease target werewolves specifically and the second boosted the virulence to prevent the werewolf’s strong immune system from fighting it off.  It was a deliberate attack on his race and meant to spread to others of his kind.  Who would do such a thing?

“What’s your name?” I asked, kneeling beside the man.

“Ga…Galvin.”

“Do you know how you got sick?”  I wanted to lay a comforting hand on him, but there was a chance I could pass the disease on to other werewolves if I touched him.  Until we knew what he had it was better not to risk it.

His teeth chattered.  “N…no.”

I wished I’d brought a spare blanket to cover him.  The snow and cold couldn’t have been helping his cause.  What had he been thinking to come out into the woods sick like this in the first place?

“Do you live around here?”

He gazed about him as if seeing his surroundings for the first time.  “I think so.”

Something told me it was going to be more trouble than it was worth to locate his home.

“When did this start?”

“Two…maybe three days ago.”  His voice was getting more raspy.

He should have gotten medical help as soon as he started feeling badly, but if human men were known for thinking they could toughen it out during an illness, werewolves were worse.

“Have you run into anyone else sick like you?”  I hated to bombard him with so many questions, but he wasn’t going to last much longer.  Better to get whatever information I could before it was too late.

“No…no one.”  He attempted to lift a hand.  “Please, help me.”

I looked up at Kerbasi.  “Is there anything you can do?”

“I’m not giving him one of my donuts.”  He crossed his arms.

“You know damn well what I meant.” I glared at the guardian.  “Can you heal him?”

“No, but I could rip his head off and end his suffering.”

The werewolf groaned.  No one deserved to spend the last hours of their life listening to Kerbasi’s lunacy.  I’d had to learn a lot of patience since being stuck with the guardian.

“Can you at least tell me what is wrong with him?”

Kerbasi couldn’t deny he had the ability to see diseases within a body and heal them.  I’d found out that secret when he’d saved a boy dying of leukemia during Christmastime.  But Edan had been a human child.  This was a werewolf and the guardian would consider him an abomination against nature.

“I do not care what is wrong with him.”  Kerbasi looked away.

My hands fisted in the snow.  “Will you check?  This could pass on to other people.”

No need to point out it couldn’t spread to humans just yet.

“For the sake of the innocent, I will look.”  He kneeled down on the other side of the werewolf’s body and his silver eyes lit up.  The magic was palpable as Kerbasi used a special sort of vision to “see” Galvin’s afflictions.

“It is unlike anything I’ve come across before,” he said, brows furrowing.  “It began in the lymphatic system, but it has spread to his lungs.  Some sort of bacterial infection.  I have no experience in how to treat this.”

My medical knowledge only reached as far as military first aid.  This was far beyond what I could diagnose even with that much information, but there was someone else who could help.

“I’m going to call Paula.  This is something she’d be better off handling.”  She was a vampire who’d gone to medical school before being turned nearly fifty years ago.  “Tell Hunter and Sable to go home.”

“Do you think they could catch it?”

“Maybe.”  Hunter could have since the disease targeted werewolves, but Sable would have been fine.  I just hadn’t wanted to take any chances.

I moved away from Kerbasi to make my phone call.  Paula would be up at this time of night and with it being winter in Alaska we still had plenty of darkness left for her to come out.

She answered on the first ring.  “Yes.”

“I’ve got a sick werewolf here and he’s dying.”  I filled her in on the rest of the details.

“Where are you?”

“I’ll text you the grid coordinates, but please get here fast.  He doesn’t have much time left.”  She lived in Fairbanks and we were about thirty-five to forty miles to the east.  We’d be lucky if she made it while the werewolf was still alive.

“I’ll be there as soon as I can.”  She hung up.

I rushed back to the snow machine and pulled out a spare GPS I kept inside of it.  As soon as I had the coordinates I sent them to her.  By the time I finished Hunter and Sable had cleared the area.  Good. Now all we had to do was wait and hope we weren’t left out here freezing for too long.  The temperature had dropped a few more degrees.  There was no way the werewolf could hold on much longer.

***

Paula didn’t come alone when she popped up on my radar almost an hour later.  She must have picked up Derrick along the way.  He was the alpha werewolf and supernatural leader for the Fairbanks area.

We hadn’t spoken since he ousted Nik—a master vampire—from the position late last summer. They’d both been my friends and the aftermath of their power struggle had been difficult.

In order to beat the ancient vampire Derrick had to become something stronger, perhaps immortal, by drinking the blood of a daimoun—a half angel and half demon.  The werewolf was supercharged now and probably couldn’t catch whatever disease Galvin had, but I needed to warn him.  Whether I wanted to talk to him or not.

“Stay here and watch Galvin. Don’t kill him,” I ordered Kerbasi.

“Very well, but do not make me wait long.  I’m hungry.”

He’d eaten his two donuts and had been pacing around the field ever since.

“There’s a caribou over there.”  I pointed to the east where I’d seen one briefly come out of the trees.  “You can kill it for food.”

Kerbasi scoffed.  “That’s barbaric.”

“Says the man whose torture methods still give me nightmares.”

I’d never experienced them firsthand, but I’d had to watch in my dreams as he did horrible things to Lucas—the man I loved.  Kerbasi could make medieval torturers look kind in comparison to his inventiveness and ability to draw out pain.

“I do not do those things anymore,” he defended.

“Only because I’m here to shoot you if you try.”  I got on the snowmobile.

“Do not go more than a half-mile.  I’m in no mood to be dragged tonight.”

“And I’m in no mood to listen to you whining.”  I took off across the field.

Derrick and Paula were close enough that the distance limit wasn’t going to be a problem.  They must have parked their vehicle just off the nearest navigable road.  From there, my senses could detect them moving preternaturally fast through the woods on foot.  I might have waited for them in the clearing if not for my concern over Derrick possibly passing the virus on to his pack.  Who knew what it was capable of beyond the magic spells I sensed from it?

I met them after traveling no more than a quarter of a mile.  The vampire and werewolf skidded to a halt in the snow in front of me, showing no signs of being winded.  It had finally stopped snowing and the moon peeked from the clouds to light up the ground where we met.

Paula had her shoulder-length brown hair pulled back in a bun, revealing her pale face and dark eyes.  No one would describe her as beautiful, but she carried herself with confidence. She held a black bag in her hand that must have contained her medical implements.

Derrick took a step closer and attempted to meet my gaze, which I avoided.  He had hair a similar shade to hers, but he’d left his to hang down his back.  He looked the part of a tough alpha ready to take on any enemy.  I wouldn’t have described him as handsome, but being big and intimidating was enough to attract many women.

“Did you explain the disease is contagious to werewolves?” I asked Paula, focusing all my attention on her.

“Yes.”  She nodded. “But I examined the alpha thoroughly after he drank the daimoun blood. He’s still a werewolf, but he’s also immortal.  There’s no risk of him becoming sick. Like you, disease can’t infiltrate his body.”

I once asked her to explain what that meant and got so much medical terminology shoved at me my eyes began to cross.  It was best just to take her word for it.  In the time I’d known her, she’d proven more than competent in her chosen profession as a doctor for supernaturals.

“Okay, well, if you’re sure then follow me.”  I revved up the engine.

Derrick opened his mouth to say something, but I was gone before I could hear the words.  I couldn’t deal with talking to him yet.  When he’d battled Nik for power he’d taken Felisha’s life instead.  She had been my boss at the herb shop where we worked and a close friend.  He hadn’t meant to kill her.  She’d put herself in the way of his sword at the last second, sacrificing herself, but the vision of his blade slicing through her throat might never leave me.  Losing someone you cared about was tough enough without watching them die horrifically.

I shook off the depressing memories and slowed the snow machine down to let the vampire and werewolf catch up.  It had taken less than two minutes to reach the clearing.  If not for all the trees in the way it might have gone faster.

Kerbasi was pacing back and forth in front of the woods where I’d left him.  The guardian looked up as we approached.  I parked in front of him and got off.

“He’s still alive, but he’s no longer talking,” the guardian reported.

I could still sense Galvin’s presence, so I knew that much already.

“Did you try speaking to him?” I asked.

We began walking into the woods with Paula and Derrick following.

“Yes,” Kerbasi replied.  “I wanted to know if he could see a very bright light or a very dark one.”

“You’re an ass.”  I gave him a scathing look.

“It was a reasonable question.”

“Is that him?” Paula pointed to the dark lump ahead.  We’d just made it past the twin trees.

“Yes,” I answered.

“All of you should stay back until I’ve finished examining him.”

I nodded and watched her go kneel next to the werewolf in the snow.

“Did he give you a name?” Derrick asked.

Damn.  No excuse not to talk to him now.

“Yes.”  I continued to watch Paula.  “It’s Galvin.”

The alpha shifted closer to me.  “I saw him a few days ago when he reported in after returning from Chicago.  He looked a little off, but not like he was dyin’.  Any idea what he might have?”

“Kerbasi said he didn’t recognize the disease so it’s probably rare.”

The guardian had been studying human illnesses lately since performing his one big miracle.  He’d decided learning about diseases was an intriguing way to spend his time.  I even had to take him to the hospital once so he could see a few cases firsthand.  The only reason I’d gone along with it was it might come in handy someday.

Kerbasi stirred.  “I’d actually like to meet the man who spread this disease and congratulate him.  Wish I’d thought of it myself.”

Maybe it was time to put a stop to his studies.

“Don’t make me shoot you,” I warned.

He stiffened.  “You’ve refrained from using it for a month now.  I believe you’ve grown tired of shooting me and won’t do it again.”

“Try me.”

“Master Derrick, if you could come,” Paula called, putting a vial of blood she’d collected into her bag.

It was a sign of respect that she referred to him by that term.  I never used master for any of the supernatural leaders since I technically didn’t fall under their command.  Being mated to a nephilim gave me a certain degree of independence.

Paula and Derrick whispered back and forth to each other.  I listened to them discuss the pain Galvin was experiencing and how there was nothing she could do to save him.  She still wasn’t sure what the werewolf had and would need to run more tests.  The alpha asked a few more questions before silence fell.

He leaned over Galvin.  “Rest in peace, brother wolf.”

Then he reached down and snapped his neck.  Under normal circumstances that wouldn’t have been enough to kill him, but his body was too weak to come back from it now.  I felt Galvin’s life force float away as if a gentle breeze had picked it up.

The alpha looked at me.

“He’s gone,” I confirmed.

Derrick stood up.  “Paula and I’ll take care of this.  You and the guardian should head home.”

“What if this isn’t an isolated case?” I asked.

“That’s for me to worry about.  You don’t need to get involved any further.”  He spoke in an even tone, but there was a warning underneath.

Derrick was frustrated and I’d made myself a target.  Tonight he’d had to put one of his wolves out of his misery because of some mysterious disease.  That wasn’t easy and my standoffish attitude toward him wasn’t helping.  I needed to get past Felisha’s death and forgive him.  I knew that, but it wasn’t as easy as flipping a switch.

“Fine.”  I took a deep breath.  “But if you need anything let me know.”

He nodded.  It was the best olive branch I could give him.

Kerbasi and I started back toward the snow machine.

“Melena, wait,” Paula called out.

I turned.

“You need to sanitize everything you’re wearing and wash with an antibacterial soap as soon as you get home.  Until I study this further I can’t be sure if the disease can be carried to others just by our exposure to it.”

“Absolutely,” I agreed.  Heck, I’d probably get Emily to bring us trash bags to the door and we’d strip before going inside.  The demon magic involved gave me a bad feeling.

“You might want to contact Lucas as well and let him know about this.  Find out if he’s seen any cases like it during his travels recently.  We need to know if this is going to become an epidemic.”

“Let’s hope not.” I grimaced.  “Lucas said he’d be busy this morning, but I’ll try calling him later today.”

“Good.”  She returned her attention to the body.

 

 

Chapter Three

 

Lucas

 

Screams tore through the empty office building, but no one could hear them.

“Stop! I don’t know anything.”

Lucas withdrew the soldering iron a few inches.  “I doubt that.  What was in the shipping container you received three days ago?”

“What shipping container?” The master vampire pulled his head back as far from Lucas as he could.  It wasn’t that far with the chains holding him suspended from nearby pillars.

“Do not pretend you don’t know,” Lucas growled.

He was losing his patience quickly.  Not a good thing for the man before him.

“I have no idea what you’re talking about.”

He grabbed Bron’s jaw and twisted it around to face him.  With his free hand he brought the soldering iron forward, pressing it into the vampire’s remaining eye.  The hot metal burned his cornea and kept going deeper.  Bron fought it, twisting back and forth, but it did him little good.  Only the deafening screams and acrid stench irritating his nose tempted Lucas to stop.

The vampire’s mewling echoed off the unfinished walls and filled the darkness.  No construction workers were around at this time of the morning, but even if they were the silencing spell he’d put in place would prevent anyone from overhearing.

Bron deserved this whether he hid something from Lucas or not.  The man with fire red hair who’d ruled the supernatural population of Portland for over a century wouldn’t be in charge for much longer.  Lucas would make sure of that.

“My informant tells me Micah may have been transported to your city in a shipping container.  One that you received personally, but has since disappeared.  Was he in it?”

His brother had to be close.  Day after day, month after month, Lucas had searched for him in dozens of cities.  He’d followed every lead until this was all he had left.  A shady vampire and a shipping container that might or might not have had Micah in it.

Lucas was tired.  Nearly all he’d done since Melena freed him from Purgatory last spring was look for Micah.  He wanted it to be over and to begin his life with his mate.  Melena had been remarkably patient while he left her for weeks at a time, but for how long would she stay that way?  He could see the despair in her eyes every time he visited her only to leave again hours later.

“Tell me the truth!” he demanded.

Bron sucked in a breath to speak—the only reason a vampire needed air.  “It wasn’t your brother.  You have it all wrong.”

Zoe had caused this.  The older nephilim had kidnapped Micah and put him under a sleep spell, rendering him defenseless.  They’d since captured and interrogated her, but nothing he’d tried would get her to reveal Micah’s location or who might have him.  Lucas would find his brother if he had to kill half the supernatural population to do it.

“Where would Zoe’s people hide him in this city?” Lucas asked, leaning close to Bron’s mangled body.

It would have saved time to compel the master vampire, but he was too strong.  Even a nephilim as old as Lucas couldn’t manipulate the mind of an immortal who’d lived nearly a millennia.  At least, not without a lot of sensor blood to weaken him first and he didn’t want Melena involved in this.  She’d seen enough of the dark side of him.  He’d lose her for certain if she saw how brutal he truly could be.  Lucas would never risk that.

“I wouldn’t allow them to hide him in my territory.” Bron’s empty eye sockets stared back at him.  “Everyone knows you’ve been searching for your brother.  It would be suicide to hide him.”

“Perhaps, perhaps not.”  Lucas grabbed the vampire’s right hand and dug the hot iron through his fingers, burning them off one at a time.

“No, please, stop!”  Bron’s body jerked in the chains.  “I swear I haven’t seen Micah in more than a century.  It wasn’t him in the container.”

Lucas grabbed the left hand.  “Then who?”

“No one.”

“I don’t believe you.”  He took off two fingers.

Bron’s body began to shake.  “There were some illegals in there.  Humans.  No one important.”

Lucas paused.  He’d done enough research to know the master vampire had been using immigrant children to do his dirty work.  Kids no one would miss who could conduct illegal activities on Bron’s behalf during the daytime.  He preferred them because they could be compelled to carry out his orders and not cheat him—unlike some of his own people.

“Were they children?” Lucas asked.

“What does that…” he screamed as he lost another finger.

Lucas knew his eyes must have been glowing gold with his anger, though the vamp couldn’t have seen them.  “Were they?”

“Okay, yes, they were.  Since when do you care what happens to humans?”

It wasn’t an unusual question.  The supernatural world knew Lucas hated humans more than anyone, but they didn’t know he had a soft spot for vulnerable children.  He’d been one himself a very long time ago.

“Where are the kids now?”

The vampire’s jaw hardened.  “You’re going to kill me anyway.  There’s no point in telling you.”

“I believe I have more than proven my willingness to take you apart one piece at a time.  You can give me their location and receive a quick death or…” He touched the soldering iron to the vamp’s cheek, singing it.  “We can continue to speculate on the kids’ whereabouts until the sun comes up.”

Bron swallowed hard.  “They’re in a basement.”

“Which basement?”  He pressed the iron again.

The master vampire screamed an address.

Lucas set the soldering iron down on the nearby metal table, unplugged it, and pulled out his cell phone to call one of his vampire subordinates.  The one he’d brought with him when he’d come to Portland.

“Fallon, check this location for me and do it quickly.”  He gave him the address Bron had revealed.

“I’m not far from there.  Give me ten minutes,” the vampire replied.

Lucas hung up and looked at his heaving prisoner.

“You better hope your information is correct or I may consider relocating you to a place where we can continue this for another day or two,” he warned.

Bron’s shoulders tensed.  “It’s the one.  You’ll see.”

A brief flare of light lit up the room.

He glanced over to find Yerik had flashed next to him.  The daimoun was wearing his favorite blue and green kilt with no shirt or shoes despite the cold temperature—one of his many oddities.  He was part angel and part demon with powers no one fully understood.

They had the half-angel element in common, but that was as far as it went.  Yerik was twice Lucas’ twenty-five hundred years and strong enough that he once killed an archangel.  That made him a good ally, but a dangerous enemy.

“Any luck?” the daimoun asked.

Lucas grunted.  “No, but he’s got a group of kids confined in a basement who need rescuing.  I’ve got Fallon checking it out now.”

“Good.”  Yerik glanced at Bron.  “It’s too bad about your brother, though.  I had hoped he’d turn up.”

“As did I.”  Too much hope, but there was nothing he could do about it now.

Lucas studied his former mentor.  Yerik was ageless—forever locked into appearing in his early thirties—though lately his face looked worn and haggard.  His light-brown hair hung loose and tangled about his shoulders and he hadn’t shaved in at least a week.  He could have passed for a caveman with the tartan covering so little of his hairy arms and chest.

There was something very off about his behavior lately.  Lucas had been trying to pinpoint it ever since they’d reunited in New Orleans last summer.  Yerik had leaped at the chance to help him search for Micah, but his assistance was almost too enthusiastic.  And there were secrets in his vermillion eyes.  Lucas had known the daimoun for far too long not to catch them.

After centuries of hiding why had he come back now?  Yerik had taken a big risk.  The archangels could still retaliate against him for killing one of their own.  He had a mate to consider and she was nearing the end of her life.  Was that why he chose to help Lucas search for his brother?  Did Yerik hope to learn the secret for how to make his mate immortal?  If so, why hadn’t he asked yet?

His phone rang.

“Yes,” he answered.

“The kids are here,” Fallon’s voice came over the line.  “He had them locked in the basement under a house with nothing but bottled water and a couple of guards to watch over them.”

“I assume the guards are dead.”

“Of course, master.”

Fallon had been with him for nearly fifteen hundred years—all of his vampire life.  He knew what was expected of him.  Lucas mulled over the next course of action.  They could hardly take responsibility for the kids, but they couldn’t leave them to fend for themselves, either.

“Call the authorities and tip them off.  Then get back to the hotel before the sun comes up,” he ordered.

“Consider it done.”

Lucas took his sword from the table and stepped closer to Bron.  “It appears you told the truth.”

“I don’t suppose you would consider letting me go?”

Lucas allowed himself a grim smile.  The vampire couldn’t see the blade raised over his head.  If he’d lived a few hours longer he might have gotten his eyes back.

“Oh, yes, I intend to.”

He sliced the sword through Bron’s neck, taking his head cleanly off.  It thumped onto the littered plastic lying on the cement floor.  It paid to ensure one could clean up their mess quickly and efficiently.

“I see you haven’t allowed your skills to rust,” Yerik observed.

“No.”  Lucas took a rag and wiped the blade clean.  “I haven’t.”

The daimoun cocked his head.  “Where did you get that sword?  I’ve never seen anything like it.”

Lucas hesitated.  “Purgatory.”

“They’re giving out swords to their prisoners now?  My, how it has changed since I was there last.”  Yerik reached out his hand.

“When were you there?” Lucas asked, giving him the blade.  The daimoun had never mentioned going to Purgatory during the more than two millennia they’d known each other.

“Before you were born,” Yerik said, studying the sword.  In the dim light it glowed.  “The archangels used to confine me there when I displeased them—until I figured out a way to get through the portals.  Is it my imagination or do the caves in Purgatory emanate light similar to this?”

The daimoun was getting a little too close to asking questions Lucas couldn’t answer.  He was forbidden from speaking about the nerou—the offspring of sensors and nephilim.  They were the ones who mined the ore which was used to craft the sword.  The same ore was also used to construct chains no immortal could break due to its anti-magic properties.  He didn’t like obeying orders from archangels, but he also didn’t want to return to Purgatory as punishment.  It was time to change the subject.

“Why have you come?” Lucas asked, taking the blade back.

“I’ve discovered the location of the renegade sensor group, including Melena’s father.”

“Where?”

“Indiana.”  Yerik smiled.  “I’ve got a spy who’s infiltrated their group.  Most of them are away at the moment, but she expects them back by the end of the week.”

“You trust this spy?” Lucas gave the daimoun a skeptical look.

“She is a sensor, but she’s proven herself many times.  I believe she is as trustworthy as our mates.”

Yerik had bound himself to a sensor as well.  It was ironic they’d both fallen in love with women from a race they reviled.

“Is there any chance they’re holding my brother there?” Lucas asked.

He wouldn’t wait until the end of the week if that was the case.

“No.”  Yerik’s expression turned apologetic.  “She hasn’t sensed any nephilim since arriving there.”

Lucas pushed back his disappointment.  He hadn’t thought the group would keep Micah with them anyway since they were on the run.  They knew most of the supernatural world was searching for them after they set off an explosion at the fae city in Canada and helped Zoe occupy Fairbanks.  Most were blind followers taking orders, but their leader—Melena’s father—and his inner circle needed to be stopped.

“My mate will want to know and be there when we take them down.”

Yerik nodded.  “That is why I thought we’d speak to her together.”

“I need to finish up here first.”  Lucas indicated the mess in front of them.

“That’s fine.  I’ve got something else to take care of this morning.  Should we meet this afternoon?” the daimoun asked.

“I’ll see you then,” Lucas agreed.

 

*******************************

For those of you wondering, Lucas does get his POV in this novel due to the complexity of the series at this stage.  Melena is still the primary narrator with about eighty percent of the story being told by her.

If you want to be sure you don’t miss this book when it becomes available, be sure to sign up for the release alert here.

 

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