Cameron Jack cursed as Captain Bane was forced to reveal his powers before the humans in the pub. Something Thorn had strictly forbidden them to do. The Hellchasers and Deadmen were never, under any circumstances, to let a mortal know they’d been brought back to life, nor were they to put their preternatural abilities on display for the public.
Never mind the laws that governed her own breed of Necrodemians, or Hell-Hunters as they were more commonly known. The Sarim council that she and her brother answered to had an even stricter code of conduct they were required to follow.
The worst one being-- Hell-Hunters couldn’t fight dirty.
For any reason.
Or endanger a human life, or reveal their powers to humans.
Yet had the captain failed to use his, Vine would have consumed them with her unholy fire that she launched behind the daggers she flung at them with reckless precision.
But by unleashing his fire, the captain deflected hers. The humans ran, screaming, for cover.
Wiser ones, for the door.
Sad to say, Cameron wasn’t so smart. She chose to stay and fight, as was her nature. But then that was all she’d ever known. Fighting ran thick within her Celtic blood. And twice as deep in her Necrodemian bloodline. So she unsheathed her sword and made ready to cover the good captain’s back with William as more of Vine’s allies moved in for them.
William smirked. “Makes me so glad I volunteered for this, eh? Could have stayed onboard the ship with Bart, Kat, and Simon, and the rest. But nay. Had to stick me foot in the fodder. ‘Got your back, Captain,’ had to say. Aye, a fool I be for sure, and then some. Next time I speak up, Miss Jack, feel free to run me through and save these devils the trouble of it.”
Laughing at his surly tone that belied the fact he was loyal to the bone and meant none of it, she parried against the first demon to reach her and twisted away from the beast. “If there is a next time, Mr. Death. Not so sure we’ll make it out.” She barely caught the next demon as he tried to sink his fangs into her shoulder. Luckily, she beheaded the beast before he drew her blood and turned her into who knew what.
Then, kicking up the abandoned heads the peddler had left behind, she let them sink their fangs into the wanker, who screeched mightily from the pain of their bites.
“Anyone have a good idea on how to survive this?” she asked while Captain Bane continued to fight with his ex-wife. And if they’d fought like that while married, it was easy to see how their marriage had ended in murder.
William knocked his opponent into the fire. The demon shrieked then burst into flames. Cinders rained down all over them and threatened to set fire to the pub. “I vote we join a new crew. Preferably a human one that hell itself isn’t trying to kill at every turn. That should increase our chances of survival exponentially.”
She snorted, knowing Will was japing. “Aye, but it won’t redeem your soul, now, will it?”
And unlike her and the captain, Will wasn’t free to leave the Sea Witch’s crew. The Deadman’s mark on his wrist bound him tight to their enchanted band and prevented him from seeking new company until he’d regained his freedom from Thorn’s bargain. Not that it mattered.
When it came to the Deadmen who sailed aboard the Sea Witch, they weren’t about to abandon each other, no matter what. Through thick and thin, and demons galore, they were one united insane family.
At least that was her thought until the demon in front of her burst apart with a stench so foul it caused her to choke and gasp. Ugh! Never had she smelled anything more putrid, and given some of the hovels where she and her brother had taken refuge after their parents had orphaned them, that said a lot.
“You were saying, Miss Jack?” Will taunted her as he rested his sword on his shoulder. Pressing his hand to his nose, he made a face she was sure mirrored her own distaste of the stench. “I’m really not seeing much difference between here and hell lately.”
Honestly? Neither was she.
And it was indeed getting harder and harder to tell the demons from the humans at times, too. Which made her wonder at their mission. Why were they bothering to save a world that seemed hell-bent on remaking itself into the very visage of what they were trying to save it from?
Don’t forget, you’re not fighting for the world right now. . . .
True. Right now, she was fighting for the man who’d traded his life for hers. And that one decent, selfless act deserved to be repaid in kindness, not treachery.
Kalder deserved to be rescued and not abandoned. She would not do to him what everyone else had done.
I will keep me word to you, Kalder. We will find you.
If she had to break hell itself open and battle Lucifer to bring Kalder home, she would.
And so Cameron renewed her fight against their enemies so that they could quickly behead the last three demons before they claimed another innocent human life or soul.
Or even one of their not-so-innocent ones.
Leaving only Vine to be dealt with.
Her breathing ragged, the Titian-haired demon curled her lips at them. Vine was a great beauty, Cameron would give her that. It was easy to see why the captain had been duped into marrying her.
Easier still to see how he’d been blinded enough to drop his guard long enough in their marriage that she’d been able to kill him.
But Devyn Bane was no longer under her spell, and no longer was he fooled by her charms or enchantments.
“You always favored your little water pet. And Kalder will pay dearly for your defiance here tonight, Duel. Take your comfort in that. And I’ll make sure he knows who caused it for him when I feed him to Kadar myself.” Then she vanished with one last shrieking cry.
Captain Bane cursed as she withdrew. “Come back and face me, you worthless bitchington!”
It was too late. She was gone.
“Shall I go after her, Captain?”
He passed a droll stare at William and answered in a tone that dripped with utter sarcasm. “By all means, Mr. Death. I commend you to the task. On your way, lad. There’s the door. Off with you now. No need in dawdling.”
“Oh, I didn’t mean alone. Not quite that stupid, sir.”
Sheathing his sword, he glared at William. “You’re a cheeky bastard here lately, Mr. Death. If I didn’t know better, I’d think our Cimmerian enemies had already laid fang to you and converted you to their army.”
Cameron ignored them while she studied the blood on the floor the demons had left behind. It was a strange brew indeed. Instead of staining the wood as most blood would, this was pooling quite a bit differently. As if it were a living creature trying to move on its own.
Indeed, it seemed to defy gravity and slither like a bug. “Say, Captain? Have you ever seen the likes of this?”
He moved to stand near her so that he could see it.
At first she thought she was imagining things. Given some of the knocks to her noggin she’d taken during their fight, it wouldn’t be unlikely that her vision could be compromised.
Or her wits.
But as he stooped down to better examine the goo, she knew this wasn’t the case.
The scowl on his handsome face told her that she’d seen exactly what she thought she had.
That was bad enough. Worse came when the good captain lifted a bit of the blood to his lips to taste it. Ew!
Cameron cringed in distaste and had to fight back the urge to go a-heaving.
“Should we ask?” William shivered visibly. “Or leave you alone for your feast, Captain?”
The captain gave him an even more peeved glare. Rising to his feet, he licked his fingers clean. “This is a most foul night, serving the foulest bunch to be measured.” His features paled as he met their gazes one by one. “We needs get back to the ship and warn the others. They’ll be coming for Mara and the rest of the crew.”
“They?” Cameron asked.
“The plat-eyes we have yet to find. And the souls of those Vine be torturing.”
Her heart sank at his words. The plat-eyes were vicious shapeshifters who took over the bodies of their victims and used them to attack others. Absolute soulless killing machines, they wouldn’t stop their insatiable mutilations until the bodies of their original victims were located and given a proper burial. They feasted on blood and souls.
And just as the captain feared for his newly wedded wife, Mara, Cameron feared for their missing mate. “What of Mr. Dupree?”
“No fear there, Miss Jack. We’ll get him back, I promise you. Just as I promised him.”
Her throat tightening even more than her stomach, she nodded. And she prayed he was right. That Kalder didn’t spend a single minute longer in hell than what was absolutely necessary.
Because it’s all me fault that he’s there.
The worst part was that she knew exactly what they were doing to Kalder.
She involuntarily flinched at the memory of their cruelty, and their laughter while they’d carried it out. The demonic bastards had pitted her against her brother, the entire time she’d been among them. They had reveled in their unholy torture. Had done unspeakable things that had kept her from having a decent sleep since her return to the land of the living.
No longer did she feel safe, at all. Every shadow left her terrified that it held one of them waiting to drag her back to their pits. Every laugh sounded sadistic.
She wasn’t sure if she’d ever feel right or normal again. If she’d ever get rid of this feeling that every nook and cranny held danger for her.
Cameron had thought her childhood had left her traumatized and defensive, but that was nothing compared to the latest horrors of their enemy’s tender, loving care. It was a nightmare she’d wish on none. And definitely not on someone as decent as Mr. Dupree.
Most especially not after he’d allowed Thorn to cut his throat and had sacrificed himself like a slaughtered lamb to spare her and her brother, Paden, from Vine's merciless cruelty.
Cameron was brutally aware of the fact that for every minute she wallowed in safety, he suffered in agonizing hell.
Why, Mr. Dupree?
But then she knew the answer. He held himself to blame for his own brother’s murder. That single event had scarred him to the bitterest depths of his soul. And no doubt he shouldered equal blame for her being taken by their enemies under his watch, even though it wasn’t his fault at all. None could have saved her that night—which was the source of her current unending nightmares—and he’d tried harder than any other would have even attempted in his shoes.
Wincing, she could still hear his agonized shouts as the water sprites had swept her overboard from their ship during the storm. See the anguished expression on his face. He’d lunged for her, trying his best to keep her from their grasps.
In the raging sea, he’d taken her hand, and for one instant, she’d thought herself saved. Thought that all would be fine again.
His grip had been so firm and steadfast that she’d let herself believe the impossible.
That she was safe in the icy water.
“I won’t let you go, Cameron! So help me!”
Until their enemies had overwhelmed him, prying his hand away from hers. Even then, he’d fought against them with a fury the likes of which she’d never seen before.
“Nay! Nay!” The insanity in his pale eyes as he’d desperately swum for her had been the last thing she’d beheld. His agonized cries as he searched had stayed with her every minute she’d been gone.
Tears choked her as she clutched at the necklace he’d given the captain for her to keep in his absence.
Tell her to pray for me brother’s soul.
Not his. He thought himself too damned for redemption.
Some days, so did Cameron. For Kalder held a darkness inside him that made a mockery of Captain Bane’s. A deep, soul-wrenching blackness that said it wouldn’t take much to lose him forever to the Cimmerian forces they fought against. But no one deserved what they were doing to him. And definitely not after he’d done a favor for someone else.
Never be beholden. ’Twas what her parents and brother had raised her up on. It was what she lived her life by. And she owed Kalder a debt that could never be fully repaid. For he hadn’t just freed her, he’d given her back her brother, too.
Closing her eyes, she could still see Kalder’s body the day he’d died to liberate them.
Because of the torture and insanity, Paden had turned on her. His hands had been wrapped around her throat when all of a sudden Kalder had been there, pulling him back.
At first, she’d thought herself dreaming.
Until their gazes had locked in the misty nether realm between the worlds.
There in that dark, vacuous place where light and dark mingled into one—where it was neither day nor night—good nor evil—Kalder had reached for her. And for the slightest second they’d almost touched.
But just as his hand brushed against her skin, he’d faded from her reach like a whispered blur—torn so fast that she couldn’t stop it.
She’d awakened back in this world to find him on the ground at her feet, lifeless and cold in a pool of his own blood where he’d allowed Thorn to cut open his throat to steal him from the realm for the living to take her place in the hell hall of the dead.
For her. To spare her life and save her soul. And this even though his worst fear had been to die alone and have no one mourn his passing.
But she refused to mourn him, because she refused to let him stay there in torment, in her stead.
We’re coming for you, Kalder. Hold on. . . .
Hell or high water. Ain’t none what’ll have you on our watch.
Vine attacked the Dark Seraph as soon as she returned to the cell that made up their vile cage of a home. “Why did you call me back? I had them!”
Clad in her ancient bloodred armor, Gadreyal laughed in her face. Her wings flared out to punctuate the anger in her eyes as she towered over Vine with a twisted expression that said she was imagining the taste of Vine’s blood on her lips. “He was kicking your scrawny arse, Deruvian whore. Make no mistake about it. Another minute and all that would have been left of you was a stain upon the floor. You should be thanking me for saving your putrid life, such as it is.”
“I had it under control.”
“Until you let your arrogance take over, and outed yourself to him. Why did you tell him you live when we were planning to use that to our advantage? Why?”
“To rattle him.”
“Rattle him? Are you insane? Nothing rattles that beast. He feels nothing. Of all creatures, you should know this.”
Those words struck their mark and brought a wave of unexpected pain to Vine’s heart. Damn the worthless trollop for it! And for the reminder that for all the years of her marriage to that black-hearted bastard she’d never once been able to make Bane love her. No matter how hard she’d tried or what spell she’d used, the beast was forever devoted to her sister.
His wife. She was the one who was his equal in brutality and cunning.
Not Mara, the milksop. Duel should have loved her more than any other.
Instead, Mara had ranked first in his affections.
Damn them both for it!
It’d never been fair that in spite of her greater beauty, grace, and intelligence, Vine had never been able to win him over. That he’d pined for Mara even while he’d been in her bed and body. And the last thing Vine wanted was a reminder of her failings. In her past life.
And especially this one!
Shrieking, she blasted the Irin and knocked her back.
Gadreyal returned the blow with one of her own that caught Vine across the face and left her on the ground with her entire cheek stinging. Her eyes watered until she could scarcely see.
“Care to continue?” she taunted, arms akimbo.
Not really. Especially given how much the blow burned and ached through her entire being. More than that, Vine wanted to wipe the smirk off the Irin bitch’s face. But Gadreyal had made her point. She was the warrior who had spent centuries battling the Sarim and the Light Seraphs of the Kalosum army they fought against.
She’d never been a fighter of any kind. It was why she’d married Bane. He’d been her attack dog that she’d unleashed on others whenever they displeased her. And before him, she’d relied upon her first husband and her sister for such unpleasantries, as they were far more vicious and accomplished in a fight than she was.
Nay, she preferred a much more elegant means of vengeance.
Deception and betrayal.
So she smiled in the face of her enemy, and retreated. “We shouldn’t be fighting with each other. Not when we have another to worry over.”
Suspicion hung deep in her enemy’s eyes, letting Vine know that Gadreyal didn’t trust her. But then, given that Gadreyal was the first among her kind who’d turned against the Sephirii and tempted them to betray their own brethren into the hands of their enemies, hence why she was now known as an Irin and not a true Seraph anymore, it made sense. Gadreyal knew how quickly betrayal came. And how likely and unlikely the source of it.
Crossing her arms over her ample bosom, she narrowed her gaze at Vine. She would get this bitch back in time. Patiently, and on her own terms. “They’ll be on guard now. Ten times harder to defeat.”
“Aye, but we still have what they want.” She lifted the chain from around her neck that held the medallion they’d both risked their lives to collect. “And another secret I didn’t say a word about.”
Paden Jack’s Seraph medallion. Something Vine had pinched from Cameron while they’d held the chit in their custody. Neither Paden nor his sister knew she possessed it.
Nor did they know what she’d traded out for it—that was going to be a great surprise if Paden Jack attempted to use his enchanted family sword against them.
And with the soul of Jack’s ancestor in her possession—the direct link to Michael—she could control them both. Corrupt them much easier now.
Aye, Duel had no idea what was coming for his crew. But she did, and it was about to get fun.
Vine smiled at Gadreyal. “There’s an old wizard we needs see.”
“I don’t follow.”
Laughing, Vine clutched the medallion tighter in her fist. “Of course you don’t. You weren’t born to our world. But there’s history between Duel and the Myrcians. Legends of Tintagel you’ve never been told. I will have him and my bitchtress sister yet for what they’ve done to me. Before our masters are set free from their prison realm, I will take what I want and none shall stop me this time.” Not when she was so close to having everything she’d ever wanted.
Nay, none indeed.
She hadn’t thwarted death itself and defied all enemies to fail now.
Gadreyal and her masters might have thought they had her quelled, but they didn’t know her resolve or the source of her powers.
Nor the bargain she’d made . . .
Beat to the quarters, dearest. I’m coming for you, and this time, I’ll be dancing on your grave.
And she knew the perfect vengeance on them all. One Duel would never see coming, and one not even the mighty Thorn could thwart . . .