Excerpt from Destined for Dreams

I know you all have been waiting patiently for the next installment in the Dark Destiny Series. In a few days, I’ll be doing the official cover reveal and announcing the release date (which is very soon, I promise!).  For now, I thought I’d go ahead and share the first two chapters of the novel.  Hope you enjoy!

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Chapter 1

 Bartol

When a man has too much time on his hands, and he’s trying his best not to think of a certain troublesome woman in his life, he must find some sort of distraction.  Over the last few weeks, while avoiding the aforementioned woman, Bartol had turned to an old hobby—one that came from a time before electricity and modern machinery—back in the days when a man used his bare hands and simple tools for crafting his work.  And if he did a reasonably good job, he might even make a little money for his efforts.  Carpentry had been his trade off and on for many centuries whenever he had the spare time or needed a little extra cash.

When Bartol had gotten the brilliant idea to start up his old hobby again, it had seemed simple enough.  Build a table, some chairs, perhaps a desk—easy.  Of course, he’d had to construct a workshop first since there was hardly enough space in his cabin, but that hadn’t been too difficult despite the cold Alaskan weather.  And as a nephilim—half angel and half human—who’d lived more than eighteen-hundred years, Bartol had the strength of dozens of humans to speed up the process.  It had kept him busy and helped keep Cori from his mind—the woman who’d become his bonded mate and then rejected him.

Bartol sighed deeply and ran a brush over the chair, staining the wood a deep russet color.  It would be beautiful when it was done, maybe his best work yet. Working his way over the high back, similar to the Victorian style, he recalled what had first driven him to learn such a trade.  It was, ironically, to impress women.  He didn’t impress them now, most especially his mate, with his scars and reclusive behavior, but at least the work served a more important purpose.

He’d discovered how much humans would pay for unique pieces, and he’d found someone in Fairbanks willing to sell the furniture for him to local customers as well as others across the country.  The first piece he’d put on the market, a desk, had netted him over a thousand dollars.  It was a start to rebuilding the fortune he’d lost while locked away in Purgatory for more than a century.  If one must be confined as a prisoner for a long period, it was a bad idea to do it just before the economy went into shambles and a recession started.  Most of his investments were lost, and he’d had no idea it was happening until it was too late.

So now Bartol was starting over and taking whatever jobs he could.  The archangels were paying him a fair wage for his assistance in training a young nerou crossbreed—Tormod—who had both angel and demon blood, as well as a little something else, but that job would run out in a few months.  He needed to have something else in place before then.

Plus, Bartol didn’t want to rely on the archangels any more than necessary, especially since they were the ones who’d confined him to Purgatory in the first place and caused him to lose nearly everything.  They might regret the severity of their punishment now that they knew he wasn’t as guilty as they’d thought, but it didn’t undo the damage.  Bartol had been tortured both physically and psychologically during that time and scarred for life.  He would never be the same man again, which was likely why Cori had rejected him.  She had to see he wasn’t worth her time or energy.

A shuffling noise came from just outside the workshop.  He’d almost missed it with the blowing wind hitting the walls and windows as yet another snow storm passed through.  If not for a wood-burning stove nearby, it would have been freezing inside.

Bartol stiffened and slowly turned on his stool.  Only a few people knew about this private escape deep in the woods, and none of them were expected.  Tormod had the day off to spend with his mother, no friends had mentioned dropping by for a visit, and Cori had yet to discover his shop since he’d constructed the building well out of sight from his cabin, and he hadn’t spoken to her since before it was built anyway.

As the door slid open, a large, muscular figure appeared with snow swirling around him.  His body blocked what little light was available on such a gloomy day as he entered the workshop.  It took a moment for Bartol’s eyes to make out the chiseled features of his oldest rival and closest friend.

“Caius,” he said, standing.  “It’s been a long time.”  More than two centuries, in fact.

The older nephilim chuckled and moved forward to stand under the solitary light bulb hanging from the ceiling.  “Too long.”

“How did you find me?”  Bartol hadn’t exactly advertised his current whereabouts to the supernatural world, considering all he wanted was solitude since returning to Earth.

“Word travels, my friend, especially after what you did to get yourself thrown in Purgatory.  People pay attention.  You’re famous for pulling off that stunt and being allowed to live.  When I found out you’d decided to settle in this frozen hell hole, I knew I had to come see you.”

Of course.  Having carnal relations with an angel tended to get everyone’s attention, and Bartol suspected he might never live it down.  Could that be another reason why Cori had rejected him?  Was his past too much for her to handle, in addition to all the psychological damage that made it difficult for him to stand anyone’s touch, including hers?

“I didn’t expect to see you again.  I thought you’d settled down for good with Willa.”

For a long time, he and Caius had chased after women together, making sport of it.  In those days, Bartol had been renowned as the most handsome immortal on the planet.  His sculpted face had been compared to Greek Gods, his golden brown hair silky and soft enough that women couldn’t keep their hands off of it, and his body was a sight that could make the nearest females weep and fall to their knees in front of him.  He’d enjoyed every moment of it, relishing the attention like a fool who had no idea how little such things mattered.

The only male who had ever provided any real competition was Caius.  He had chocolate skin, bulging muscles that gave the impression he could lift anything, a smooth, shiny head, and golden eyes that could penetrate the soul.  The older nephilim came across him over a thousand years ago on an adventurous night in Rome.  Bartol had just come from some battle or another in a distant land and was looking for a good time.  Caius was already a renowned lover with centuries more experience and familiar with the local scene.  He offered to show Bartol the city in exchange for a few fighting tips—a skill he’d been lacking in at the time.

It had been a perfect match.  For the first few decades, they’d fought bloody battles in whichever war interested them—sometimes with other supernatural friends joining in—and then finished with wild nights at the nearest city.  Eventually, for reasons Bartol did not wish to think about or discuss, they’d switched entirely to carousing and stopped fighting altogether.

This continued until two hundred years ago when Caius met a female vampire who grabbed his attention and wouldn’t let go.  They fell in love and mated, using their fangs to mark each other and let all others know of their relationship status.  In almost all cases, a mating was permanent and endured until one or both members died.  Bartol had teased Caius unmercifully for falling so hard and fast with no way out, but he finally understood it now.  He’d only hated to lose such a good friend and be left to his own devices.  His life had gone downhill from there on out.

Eventually, after making a poor decision his friend would have stopped if he’d been there, Bartol was sent to Purgatory where he was tortured for a hundred years by a sadistic guardian with little else to do.  The left side of Bartol’s face had a permanent burn scar that appeared mottled and half-melted.  There was no fixing it and no easy way to live with it, either.  Whenever people looked at him these days, they gasped in horror.  Lust never even entered their minds the way it would have before.

Except for Cori—she’d been the first to see past the scars to the man behind them.  If only she could have accepted his one demand that she become immortal so that they could live together forever.  Bartol could not bear the thought of losing her to old age or a car crash or some sort of disease, but she could not understand that.

Anguish entered Caius’ eyes.  “Willa was killed earlier this year by vampire hunters.”

“I’m sorry to hear that,” he said, truly sad that such a good woman was gone, and his old friend was resigned to a life alone.

The pain in Caius’ voice emphasized all that Bartol feared when it came to Cori.  If Caius could lose his vampire mate, who had very few ways she could die, then a woman like Cori—who was mostly human—could be lost even more easily.

“It was my fault for not protecting my mate better.”  The other nephilim’s jaw hardened.  “It was dangerous after we came out to the world, and I shouldn’t have let her go out to feed alone.”

Bartol shook his head.  “One thing I’ve learned is that a woman will only let you protect her so much before she starts to rebel. I’m certain you did what you could.”

Caius narrowed his eyes.  “Rumor has it you’ve mated.  Is it true?”

“It’s complicated.”

“Where is she?”  The older nephilim ran his gaze around the workshop, likely glad for the distraction from his own woes.  “Surely you haven’t let her too far out of your sight this early in the relationship?”

Bartol stiffened, unable to curb his protective instincts even though he knew Caius would never hurt his mate.  “She is close enough.  Why don’t you tell me what you’re doing here?”

“Zoe of Chalcis sent me.”

That wasn’t good news at all.  Bartol clutched the paint brush in his hand, on the verge of breaking the wooden handle.  Zoe had a lot of nerve sending one of his oldest friends after what she’d done recently.

“That woman is nothing but trouble,” he growled.  “If you know what’s good for you, you’ll stay as far away from her as possible.”

Caius gave him an ironic look.  “I wish that I could, but the message she has for you is too important to ignore.”

“What message?” Bartol asked.  Was it another ploy to interfere in his life?

“Zoe wants to talk to you in person in Russia.”

He ground his jaw.  “If she thinks I will travel that far to hear her lies, she’s a fool.  I’m content to stay right here in Alaska.”

“She told me to tell you she’s not the only one who has obtained Gregorian Stones, and that someone far more dangerous than her has many more.”

“You mean the power-leeching rocks that caused me to nearly lose my mate?”  Bartol cursed.  “I’ve never harmed Zoe in any way, and yet it was Cori who almost died because of that foolish woman’s plans.  I’m not going within a thousand miles of her if I can help it.”

“She claims she had no idea her messenger was going after a woman you had mated with and that she is sorry for what occurred.  But what you saw last month was only a warning to get the attention of the supernatural community in Alaska because there is a far greater danger looming than her.  Zoe is not the threat.  Rather, it is someone much more powerful.”

It sounded like lies to Bartol.  “I don’t care.  I want no part of her and her latest scheme.”

“I would not be here if I thought she was lying.”  Caius rubbed his smooth head.  “There is truth to what she says.”  His voice came out weary, as if he knew far more than he was saying.

“Such as…”

The older nephilim’s jaw hardened.  “Just before I received a letter from Zoe asking me to come speak to her, the mystics in Athens were portending doom for us all.  When I questioned them about it, they claimed some sort of demonic energy was on the rise.”

“We have mystics here, and they’ve claimed no such thing,” Bartol argued.

Caius frowned.  “Perhaps they’re too far away to sense it yet.”

“The mystics in Athens have always been overly dramatic.  If demons are rising, the angels—or at least the sensors in the region—would know.  They would say something.”

“Would they?”  Caius spoke with venom in his voice.  “The sensors in Europe have been in hiding for centuries since the Supernatural War.  They know many of us would kill them if they dared show their faces.  Only a few have come out of hiding, and they use human hunters to do their dirty work.”

Bartol had a feeling there was more to what Caius was saying, but he would not push the point for now.  A sensor had the ability to detect any supernaturals, including demons, within a half-mile radius from them.  They could also pick up magical spells and signatures at closer ranges.  And while most of their kind were mortal and easily killed, they were immune to all forms of magic and could even nullify spells and curses, which made them formidable adversaries.

It was easy to forget how different things were in Europe since some of the sensors in America were actually working with supernaturals these days and others were coming out of the woodwork all the time—for better or worse.  Cori’s closest friend, Melena, was a sensor, but she wanted peace among the races, not trouble.  She was also mated to a powerful nephilim, which gave her a certain amount of standing within the community.

Still, tensions ran high whenever the topic of the rare race came up. In the Supernatural War near the time of The Inquisition, sensors joined forces with the angels to rid the Earth of as many vampires, werewolves, witches, nephilim, and other “offending” races as possible.  It was a terrible time of cleansing.  No one had an official body count after it ended decades later, but some estimated more than ten thousand supernaturals died and much of the sensor population as well due to retaliation against them.  The angels finally backed off and only stepped in if the trouble involved a nephilim.  Bartol and his kind were subjected to higher standards because of the angelic blood running through their veins.  They weren’t supposed to abuse their powers, but many of his kind did.

“If you truly believe there is a demon behind this,” Bartol began, meeting his friend’s gaze, “then you should know better than to ask me.  I cannot risk coming into contact with one ever again.”  At least, not a full-blooded one.

“You’d be the best man for this job, and you know it,” Caius said with a pointed look.

Bartol stiffened.  “Did you tell Zoe about what happened…before?”

“Of course not!”  The nephilim appeared offended.  “I swore I’d never tell anyone, and in all these centuries I’ve kept that promise, but you know I’m right.  If this demon turns out to be powerful…”

Bartol took a step closer.  “Do not even say it.  I suggest you contact Lucas and Melena.  They would be better equipped to handle this sort of thing and might even care enough to want to step in.”

Caius shook his head.  “It won’t work.”

“Why?”

“For one, Zoe won’t talk to anyone unless they bring her daughter with them.  Lucas cannot leave Alaska to do that, as you know, and I doubt he’d let his sensor mate travel so far without him.  For two, you were the one she wanted to come. She thinks you are the least likely to attack her and maybe even listen to what she says.”

One thing Bartol had cultivated over the years before going to Purgatory—aside from a reputation for seducing women—was his ability to control his temper.  When others exploded with fury, he remained calm.  Very little could force him into a fight.  He’d studied various religions and practices that promoted peace in order to keep himself under control.  It was one of the reasons he’d chosen to become reclusive since leaving Purgatory—and to avoid Kerbasi.  He feared what would happen if he let the pain of his scars and mental torture overcome him, especially if it caused him to lose patience with the guardian and truly let loose.  The repercussions wouldn’t be worth the revenge.

He could not do what Caius asked, not if he didn’t want to risk his sanity.

“Lucas isn’t that protective of his mate,” Bartol said, forcing himself to calmly put his paint brush on the table.  “You have heard he and Melena invaded Hell earlier this year to rescue a fallen angel, haven’t you?”

Caius lifted his brows.  “That really happened? I didn’t believe it when I heard it.”

“The fallen angel in question remains at their home, recovering from her ordeal.  I assure you that it did happen.  Go to Lucas and Melena and tell them your story.”  Bartol turned away and gripped his work table.  “They are willing and able to fight demons, but I am no use to you.”

“You were once one of the bravest men I knew, willing to face any danger.”  Caius reached out, grasping Bartol’s shoulder.

“Don’t touch me!” he shouted, spinning around.

His eyes had to be blazing with golden fury.  Bartol couldn’t handle anyone’s touch these days without it bringing back the wretched memories from his time in Purgatory when he’d been violated in too many ways.  It was one more reason he had to avoid people for fear of losing his temper with them.  He was still having difficulties keeping himself in check if someone came too close, and he wasn’t prepared.  Would he ever get past that?

The shocked nephilim stepped back.  “My apologies.  I will leave, but I hope you will reconsider.  It would be good if the two of us could work together again—on something of greater importance than anything we’ve faced before.”

“I can’t,” Bartol said through gritted teeth.

A resigned expression came over Caius’ face.  With a bright burst of light, he flashed away, disappearing from the workshop.  Bartol idly wondered where his old friend might go next, but he told himself he didn’t care.  It wasn’t his problem.  No, he needed to focus on the work before him and rebuild what was left of his life.

 

Chapter 2

 Cori

She watched her last customer leave the shop, sighing.  It had been a small job.  Just a touch up of a small tattoo on the woman’s ankle that had faded during the last twelve years since she’d originally gotten it.  Cori barely needed half an hour to fix it up.

“What’s wrong?” Melena asked, concern in her gaze.

The sensor was working late hours this week at the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) office in downtown Fairbanks—a supernatural affairs subdivision—so they’d been carpooling together.  Cori always closed her shop at nine in the evenings, and since they were currently living together, taking one vehicle worked well.  Cori needed to save the gas money anyway.  Her newest vehicle was a ten-year-old Chevy Tahoe that could eat a lot of gas, and it needed a lot of maintenance since she’d gotten it cheap.  She missed her last truck, but it had been destroyed when she was run off the road and kidnapped by her ex-husband’s minions.

Melena was letting her stay at her place since Cori’s cabin had also burned down in the same series of events.  It was in the process of being rebuilt, but it would likely be another few weeks before it was finished.  In the meantime, the sensor didn’t mind having someone around who could cook.  Cori wouldn’t call herself a professional chef, but she could prepare meals that had people coming back for seconds.  Melena’s culinary skills, on the other hand, left something to be desired despite her best efforts.

The two of them had been friends for a year and a half now.  During that time they’d faced all sorts of dangers together, including Melena’s crazy brother who led a cult, a deranged nephilim called Zoe who took over Fairbanks briefly, and an outbreak of the black plague that targeted the supernatural community.  Oh, and then there was the time Cori helped organize Melena and Lucas’ wedding that took place just outside of the pearly gates of Heaven.  To say their friendship had been eventful since the start would have been an understatement, but they’d had each other’s backs no matter what they faced.

The sensor, who’d once been mortal until her nephilim mate changed her into something stronger and more resilient, was a total badass.  She might not have the same bulk as the supernatural men they knew, but Melena had a tightly toned body and enough strength to pick up a car if she wanted.  At the moment, she had her long, auburn hair pulled back into a braid.  The unobstructed view of her features highlighted her creamy complexion and high cheekbones.  Melena was pretty but in an understated way.  She didn’t need to show off her looks.

While their body frames weren’t all that dissimilar, Cori had slightly more curves in the hips and chest, shoulder-length, wavy black hair, and she stood an inch shorter than Melena at 5’5”.  They also shared the fair skin that was common to Alaska, particularly at this time of year.  In November, the sun set far earlier than in the lower forty-eight states and rose much later in the morning.  They were getting less than seven hours of daylight, and it was getting shorter every day.

“Business has been slow the last few days…too slow,” Cori replied, heading toward the back where her private booth was located.

She needed to start cleanup from the last job.  She probably should have locked the front door and called it quits for the night, but the shop technically didn’t close for another twenty-five minutes.  She’d take a minor job for the extra money if one came along.

Melena followed behind her, stopping in the doorway of the small room.  “How bad is it?”

“Let’s just say I can count my total customers for the day on one hand and have fingers left over, which is not good for a Friday.”  Cori grabbed some antiseptic and paper towels and began spraying down her work area.

“Including Asher?” Mel asked.

“I had to give him the day off.”

The sensor winced.  “Has it ever been like this before?”

Cori paused her cleaning and gave her friend a pained look.  “Only when there’s supernatural trouble.”

“It’s been quiet here.”  Melena’s brows knitted together.  “All my overtime has been spent advising offices in other parts of the country on how to handle their problems.  Since most other places don’t have someone like me they can trust, every little problem the agency hasn’t dealt with before seems to fall to me.  I’ve had to make day trips to three different cities on the west coast this week.”

Cori had noticed the lines of weariness around Melena’s sensor-blue eyes.  It had to be a huge responsibility figuring out how to be fair to supernaturals and humans all while knowing whatever decisions she made—with the approval of her chain of command—would become the standard for all offices across the country.  The higher ups in DHS listened to the sensor since she knew more than most anyone about supernaturals, and she’d served as a soldier in the army for six years before getting an honorable discharge.  It gave Melena a certain standing and respect that couldn’t be duplicated by anyone else all that easily.

The shop doorbell chimed, alerting them a customer had just come inside.  Cori quickly put her cleanings supplies away and led Melena to the front.  Next to the counter, a man and woman waited for her with irate expressions on their faces.

This couldn’t be good.

Since nearly dying and ingesting some of the sensor’s immortal blood to heal severe burn injuries, Cori had developed a few new abilities.  One of them was that she could see auras around people, telling her which race they belonged to—as long as they weren’t human.  The stronger and brighter the aura color appeared, the older and more powerful the individual.

The man had a fuzzy red glow about him, indicating he was a young vampire who’d probably been turned in the last ten to twelve years, making his real age somewhere around his mid to late thirties.  To look at him, though, one would think he wasn’t a day over twenty-five.  With his short brown hair, dark eyes, and lanky figure, he could have been a local college student.  The woman, who appeared a few years younger than him, had no aura.  She was fully human.  Her thin blond hair, pale and waxy skin, and slight form gave the impression she was likely a blood donor for the vamp.

Cori remembered the young woman, Tara, coming in the other day for an intricate band around her wrist.  She’d brought the design on a sheet of paper with no explanation about the origin other than her vampire boyfriend wanted it on her.  During the entire tattoo process she was quiet, and despite it being her first time, showed no signs of pain.  This had bothered Cori.  She remembered being worried for the girl and what kind of man she might be dating.  Had he compelled her to do this against her will? The fact he was a vampire had twisted her gut and made her wish the girl was immune to compulsion so she couldn’t be manipulated.

“You,” the man said, pointing at Cori.  “What did you do to my girlfriend?”

She stopped midway across the room, Melena next to her, and put her hands on her hips. “I gave her a tattoo like she asked.  What’s the problem?”

“I can’t compel her anymore!”

“I’m heartbroken to hear that.”  It was all Cori could do to keep a straight face at this unexpected turn of events.  “But why are you assuming it has anything to do with me?”

The vampire gestured at Melena, practically spitting his next words, “Because you hang out with her, a sensor, and everyone has heard how she did something to change you.”

“Little boy.”  Melena crossed her arms.  “You do not want to make an enemy out of me.”

The vampire snarled, his body vibrating with the need to attack.  He had to be aware that he was treading on dangerous territory confronting two women who could both put up a decent fight on their own, plus their mates were strong nephilim.  He was as good as dead if he touched them.

He took in a necessary breath to speak.  “I just want my girlfriend fixed.”

Cori shook her head.  “I didn’t do anything to her except give her the exact tattoo she requested.”  She turned her attention to Tara.  “And do you really want to be fixed?”

“Yes.”  The young woman nodded vigorously.  “There are things he does for me and, uh, I like to be compelled when he does them.”

Cori knew she shouldn’t ask, but she couldn’t help herself.  “What kinds of things?”

“It’s a…”  Tara blushed a fraction.  “Sort of mental bondage. You know, instead of being tied up he compels me not to move while he…”

“I get the picture.” She held her hand up.  “But you do realize he could do many other things to you such as remove your memories or your ability to complain about what he does just as easily.  Giving a vampire that kind of freedom is dangerous.”

“I would never hurt her!” the man said in outrage.

“That’s what they all say at first.”  Cori knew from experience.

Her first husband, who’d been human during their marriage, managed to hurt her in all sorts of ways she hadn’t expected.  It went on for years before she finally found the courage to leave him, but she’d had that choice because he couldn’t compel her.  Could a woman being manipulated by a vampire really ever leave?

“I wouldn’t,” he repeated, taking his girlfriend’s hand.

Melena shook her head at Cori.  The sensor wasn’t convinced by the act either, but she had the advantage of telling lies from truth.  By her expression, the vampire was lying.

“Look.”  Cori kept her tone calm.  “I don’t know how your girlfriend became immune to compulsion, but whatever caused it, it can’t be fixed.  Deal with it.”

“Can’t we just remove the tattoo?” the young woman asked.

“Yeah.” The vampire straightened his shoulders, attempting to appear more badass than he was.  “You should pay to fix this or else I’m going to…”

Melena stiffened.  “Shut up for a minute.”

Her eyes rounded, and her gaze went beyond the glass front door to somewhere outside where the shopping center parking lot lay.  It was dark out there, so Cori couldn’t see much.  The vamp froze and stopped talking.  The sensor was letting off a lot of nervous energy that swept over the room, and it was making everyone’s internal alarm bells ring.  Melena didn’t get worried like this unless she had a good reason.

A moment later, a large man with chocolate skin and a smoothly shaven head appeared through the darkness, heading toward them at a fast pace.  He strode into the shop, stopping a few feet behind the vampire with such an intimidating presence that the couple took a few steps away.  His aura was a bright gold, stronger than Bartol’s but not quite as overpowering as Melena’s mate, Lucas.  That put him somewhere between their approximate ages of 1800 and 2500.  Cori had never seen him before, and there was no recognition in anyone else’s eyes, either.  He was strong and powerful, not someone you’d want to make angry.

Considering this was her tattoo shop, she had to pull herself together first and figure out what he wanted.  “Can I help you?”

The nephilim glanced at the vampire, who appeared ready to run.  “Are you done here?”

“Well, I was still explaining how I…uh, needed compensation for my girlfriend’s tattoo removal…” the vamp began.

“If it’s truly a problem, find another human woman to manipulate.”  The nephilim stared at him hard.  “Now leave.”

How had he known what they were discussing?  Did he use some sort of magic to listen in from afar?  Cori knew each nephilim had individual talents, but there was no telling what this one could do unless he admitted it.

The power behind his command was strong enough that both the vampire and human fled the store without a backward glance.  Cori was half tempted to go with them.  Immune to compulsion or not, the tone and strength of someone’s voice could sometimes be more than enough to make a person want to obey.

“Forgive me for the intrusion.”  The nephilim moved toward them with his gaze directly on Cori, stopping a few feet away.  “I am Caius, an old friend of your mate, Bartol.”

That drew her attention.  She hadn’t seen her “mate” in weeks, and aside from their mutual friends in Fairbanks and what she’d gleaned about his past through them, she hadn’t had a chance to learn very much about the man she’d mystically bound her life to.  Bartol had confessed his highly sexual past, and how he ended up in Purgatory, but Cori suspected there was a lot more to him than he let on.

But could she trust this newcomer just because he said he knew her mate?

Melena crossed her arms.  “I’ve never heard of you before.”

“I’ve only seen your mate a few times over the years.”  Tightness filled his expression as he looked at Melena, as if he could hardly stand the sight of her.  It wasn’t unusual for out-of-town supernaturals to behave that way until they got to know her, assuming they managed to get on her good side. “We tend to run in different circles, so I’m not surprised.”

Cori lifted her chin, annoyed at his reaction to her close friend.  “Bartol hasn’t ever mentioned you, either.”

“We’ve not seen each other in nearly two centuries, but I assure you that we were once very close, and I come here in peace.  It is not my intention to harm you.”

Melena glanced at Cori.  “He’s telling the truth for whatever that’s worth.”

Actually, it made her feel a little better.  No one could tell a lie around Melena with her abilities.  Some could skirt around the truth, but Caius was being rather direct.

“Why come to me?” Cori asked.

“I met with Bartol first, but he will not listen, and this is a matter of grave importance.”  He glanced at Melena, his gaze a little less unfriendly toward her.  “It has to do with Zoe of Chalcis.”

The sensor cursed.  “Don’t tell me she’s up to more trouble.”

Caius grimaced.  “She isn’t, but there is another who may soon become a serious threat.”

“Who?” Cori asked, narrowing her eyes.

“Zoe knows more details than I do, but there are reports across Europe of a demon on the rise.  One who plans to use the Gregorian stones to keep anyone of notable power from stopping him.”  He took in their doubtful gazes.  “I assure you that I have checked into this with my own sources and believe it to be true.”

Melena narrowed her eyes.  “I believe you believe this, but how can you be sure that Zoe isn’t in league with this demon?  It wouldn’t be the first time.”

Cori recalled a story the sensor had told her about when Zoe tried to raise a demon prince named Stolas from Hell a few years back.  There had been signs of demonic activity all over Juneau, Alaska where the rising was to take place.  It had taken a bloody battle with dozens of supernaturals to stop the prince from breaking loose, and even that wasn’t enough.  An archangel had to step in at the last moment or else they would have all died in the fight.  If this new demon had obtained Gregorian stones and gotten strong enough, he’d be unstoppable.

“She would not ally with a demon—not with her daughter here now,” Caius asserted.  “She has tried getting messages to you and others in the supernatural world with no success.  None of you will speak to her or her messengers, which is why she sent her vampire minion to get your attention.  She believed if you saw the danger of the stones when used against you, you might be more inclined to hear her out.  But you didn’t, and she eventually convinced me of the problem so I would come speak with you.”

Melena processed all of this in the same few moments as Cori.  “Where exactly is this demon now?”

“I haven’t been able to pinpoint a location yet, other than I believe he may be in Eastern Europe at the moment based on the strength of the omens from mystics and other magic users.  Zoe claims to know a lot more, but she insists someone from Fairbanks must come speak to her—and bring her daughter.”

Cori rolled her eyes.  “Should’ve known there’d be a catch.”

“She has angel contacts,” Melena argued.  “She should pass on the problem to them.”

“They will not listen to her without more reliable confirmation.  Apparently, that would be someone from here.”  He glanced between Cori and Melena as if they had that kind of pull.

“We aren’t that significant to the angels,” the sensor muttered.

“This is stupid.  Can’t they just figure out these things for themselves?” Cori asked.

Melena lifted a brow.  “In case you haven’t noticed, they don’t ever interfere on Earth until something becomes a major problem—our mates being the apparent exception to the rule.  The last time we had a demon on the rise, it took me dying for a few seconds to get their attention and even then it was because it was Lucas’ sworn job to keep me alive.  Remiel showed up to punish him when he realized what was happening.”

“Good grief.”  Cori didn’t think she’d ever understand the angels’ way of thinking and doing things.

“Exactly.”  Caius nodded.  “Which is why I’d hoped Bartol could come speak with Zoe.  She has no issues with him, and he can freely travel.”

“But he won’t come with you, will he?” Cori surmised by the frustrated look on the nephilim’s face.

“I need you to convince him.”

She snorted.  “I haven’t even seen him in nearly a month because he won’t see me or talk to me.  You’d have better luck finding Lucas and seeing if he can get Bartol to come out of hiding.”

“Why would he not see his own mate?” the nephilim asked, perplexed.

“It’s a long story,” Melena replied.  “But let’s just say his stay in Purgatory has made him less than sociable and asking him to leave his cabin is a chore, much less going out of the state or country.”

Caius worked his jaw.  “You have to try.”

“Why should we?” Cori asked, lifting a brow.  “Is this going to be dangerous?”

“Zoe will not hurt him,” he promised.  “All we need right now is to find out what she knows so that we can begin searching for the demon and stopping him.  I assure you that your mate is the best one for this job.”

Cori considered it.  “But once you have the information you need, will Bartol be going on this hunt?”

The nephilim shrugged.  “That will be up to him, though it seems unlikely based on his response so far.”

“How dangerous is this demon?”  She wasn’t about to help this guy without knowing the full stakes.

“There are reports that death follows wherever he goes, but as I said, my information is limited.”  He went on to describe his meetings with mystics in Athens and what they’d told him.  “It will only get worse from here if we don’t stop the demon in time.”

“And you’re sure there’s no one else she’ll talk to other than Bartol?”

Caius nodded.  “I would not be pleading my case with you otherwise.”

Cori didn’t want a bunch of human deaths on her conscience.  If a simple meeting could help this nephilim on his hunt, she had to at least make an effort.  “I’ll try talking to him, but I can’t guarantee he’ll even see me.”

“There might be one way.”  Melena frowned in thought.  “But it’s going to mean hitting him on several fronts, including using his mate to soften him.”

“Whatever it takes,” Caius replied.

“Is this going to make him even angrier with me?” Cori asked warily.

The last thing she wanted was to make matters worse between them.  Just because she wasn’t ready to make the ultimate commitment didn’t mean she wanted to do anything to hurt him.  She cared about Bartol more than anyone knew, and she believed with time they could forge a true bond.  It was just best if they didn’t rush into it.  After her first ruinous marriage, she wanted to be careful before diving into something that could last for centuries or even millennia.

The sensor smiled.  “If we handle it right, your job will probably be the easiest.”

That sounded promising, especially if it meant she’d finally be able to spend time with her mate and maybe work things out with him.  “And you have a way I could see him without him running?”

“Of course.”  Melena nodded.  “But I was saving this as a last resort because it’s probably going to make Bartol really angry with me.  You should be fine, though.”

“Alright,” Cori said, hoping she was making the right choice by going along with this.  “Tell me more.”

The sensor looked to Caius.  “I’m telling you now that none of this is going to happen until Lucas confirms your story.  If we find out anything is false, we’re kicking your ass out of town.”

“I understand,” he said, dipping his chin.

“Then this is what we’re going to do…” the sensor began, laying out her plan.

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

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