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Authors: Sharon Kay

assassins kiss

A
SSASSIN’S
K
ISS

S
HARON
K
AY

 

 

 

This is a work of fiction. Any actual places are used in a fictional context. Other names of places and people are the product of the author’s imagination, and any resemblance to actual places or people is purely coincidental.

 

A
SSASSIN’S
K
ISS

Edited by Janet Michelson

Cover art by Kim Killion at The Killion Group, Inc.

Interior design by
Ink Slinger Editorial Services

 

 

FIRST EDITION

 

A
SSASSIN’S
K
ISS
© 2015 Sharon Kay

 

ISBN-13: 978-1519706249

ISBN-10: 1519706243

B
OOKS BY
S
HARON
K
AY

 

 

The Solsti Prophecy series

W
ICKED
W
IND

W
ICKED
W
AVES

W
ICKED
F
LAMES

O
N
W
ICKED
G
ROUND

 

Companion to the Solsti Prophecy series

K
ISSED BY A
D
EMON
S
PY: A
N
OVELLA

 

The Watcher’s Kiss series

T
AINTED
K
ISS

A
CKNOWLEDGEMENTS

 

 

First, a huge, sincere THANK YOU to my readers! Without you, these stories would remain untold. Your support, comments, and messages motivate me and mean more to me than I can possibly express.

Thank you to my amazing husband, for your patience and support of my writing. You are wonderful to brainstorm with about plots and powers. I love you!

Thank you to my son. I love everything we do together. I love your bright and curious mind, and your endless questions (and thank you to Google for helping me answer them)!

Thank you to my parents and siblings, my in-laws, and my extended family for your love and encouragement of my creativity.

Thank you to my critique partners and beta readers: Cam, Claudia, Cristin, Heather, Jamie K., Jamie S., Nicola, Andrea, and Toshia. Your opinions, advice, and nit-pickiness are invaluable, often hilarious, and always spot-on!

Thank you to the trio of women who make my plain Word document into a professional-looking book: Amanda Simpson, my cover designer at Pixel Mischief; Janet Michelson, my eagle-eyed editor; and Cheryl Murphy at Ink Slinger Editorial Services, my formatter and savior from the scary world of ebook html-coding.

And a big hug and kiss to the many bloggers I have had the joy to work with. The support you give to indie authors is amazing. Many of you have jobs and families and still make time to read and review dozens (if not hundreds) of books each year, providing exposure for us through insightful and witty reviews, blog tours, cover reveals, and contests. THANK YOU!

 

 

A
SSASSIN’S
K
ISS

 

 

L
OCKING EMOTIONS AWAY IS HOW
Scorpio survived years as a conscripted killer. Now, as a Lash Watcher, he uses the same lethal skills to help his fellow warrior demons maintain peace in the realms. When a mission goes awry, he finds himself a thousand miles from home with no weapons or comms. Injured and alone, he is taken in by a group of witches who know him well.

And want him dead.

Tessa’s affinity with metal makes her one of the most powerful witches in her coven. Her deepest wish is to stop the oppression of her people-a direct result of her former leader’s murder. She agrees to marry the chief of a rival coven, knowing it won’t be a love match. But she abandoned the idea of a soul-deep bond long ago. Especially one with the rough, former mercenary warrior who shows up and claims she belongs to him.

Even from behind bars, the longer Scorpio stays, the more he unsettles Tessa and she questions all she thought she knew. Choosing him will put everyone she cares for at risk. He’s nothing like she expected, and the last thing she could dare to want.

C
ONTENTS

 

 

Prologue

Chapter 1

Chapter 2

Chapter 3

Chapter 4

Chapter 5

Chapter 6

Chapter 7

Chapter 8

Chapter 9

Chapter 10

Chapter 11

Chapter 12

Chapter 13

Chapter 14

Chapter 15

Chapter 16

Chapter 17

Chapter 18

Chapter 19

Chapter 20

Chapter 21

Chapter 22

Chapter 23

Chapter 24

Chapter 25

Chapter 26

Chapter 27

Chapter 28

Chapter 29

Chapter 30

Chapter 31

Chapter 32

Chapter 33

Chapter 34

Epilogue

Glossary

About Sharon Kay

P
ROLOGUE

 

Winter Realm, one hundred and ten years ago

 

 

T
HROUGH INKY DARKNESS,
S
CORPIO NEARED
the designated village, padding on stealthy feet. Snaking through the woods on a well-worn path that had been cleared of snow, his enhanced sense of smell was his compass. The rustic stone house to the left was rife with the target’s scent, but a deep inhale of the crisp cold air told him that the scent wasn’t strong enough. The male witch had gone out.

Following the scent through the trees surrounding the village, Scorpio discerned another one: a female. And sex. His mark wasn’t alone.

No matter. She’d better not get in the way, or she’d meet his demonfire. Scorpio’s job was to eliminate this mage. The unfortunate male had pissed off Scorpio’s employer, Dalamos, and now he’d pay.

Dalamos had unleashed his most powerful weapon, Scorpio. His personal mercenary.

A muffled giggle reached Scorpio’s ears as he walked soundlessly through the forest. Moving off the trail, his feet landed in perfect stillness on the packed snow. He left no trace of his presence, save for the puffs of breath that escaped his lungs, only to linger in the cold air for a second before dissipating. Dark tree trunks speared up from hardened ground and a few bare branches dared to hang in his way.

He didn’t walk the obvious path; instead he chose a parallel, hidden route. One that would surprise even the most paranoid of targets. Funny, one could argue that’s how his life had turned out. His brutally efficient outward actions seemed to define him, but obscured the true motivation that made his heart beat with the urgent need to protect.

Fury pounded a drumbeat in his mind at the memory of his sister taunted by Dalamos’s new guard earlier that night. The male had spared no detail of the ways he would violate her, should Scorpio not succeed here.

Scorpio clenched his fists and shoved the thought aside. If the death of this mage prevented the rape of his sister, there was nothing to question.

Pausing behind a massive sycamore tree, he spied his target and the female. They embraced on a stone bridge that rose in an arch above a lazy river. Ice floes dotted the water, but the current was just strong enough to resist a solid freeze.

The two didn’t know he was there.

They didn’t possess the enhanced senses that Scorpio did, though the mage had grown strong in his magic. Sorcerers, witches, and any magic wielders had been known to use their familiarity with animals to help them out in this regard. One could never be too careful.

Though he was able to summon fire balls in his hand, Scorpio instead reached for his bow. Flames would light up the dark forest, giving the mage a split second to prepare.

Silently, Scorpio drew back his arm and set his eyes on the male, who was as clear to him as if it were daylight. Another benefit of his demonic senses.

He stood frozen, watching the couple kiss and lean into one another. The female was a witch; the cedar scent she left in the air gave that fact away. No telling how powerful she was though.

With soft moans, their kiss shifted into a tender embrace, and the new position gave Scorpio a clear shot at the mage’s neck.

His fingers readied to release his arrow. Three, two, one—

The arrow sailed from his bow in the same second that a raven gave a guttural rasp high above.

The mage twisted to one side, and the arrow flew harmlessly through the air where he’d just been.

Scorpio charged forward, not bothering to be quiet. The element of surprise was gone. Goddamn animals.

He summoned a ball of demonfire in his hand and flung it, but the mage countered with a blue ball of witchfire. The two spheres collided over the water, exploding into a brilliant burst of sparks that drifted harmlessly onto the current.

“Who the fuck are you?” the mage yelled.

Scorpio was on the bridge now, closing the distance. “I work for Dalamos. The last batch of spelled weapons that you created for him was defective.” It didn’t matter if the mage knew who he was; his time in the realm of the living was down to minutes.

“Those blades were fine!” the male shouted.

“They didn’t hit their targets. I’d say take up the argument with him, but he’s already decided he wants you dead.” Scorpio conjured another ball of fire and stared at the witch, who huddled close to her male’s side. “Out of the way, female.”

“No!” she shrieked. “Please don’t! How could you do this? We-we can make new weapons.”

Scorpio shrugged and threw his fire, then summoned a rapid succession of a dozen more balls. Hurling them one after another, he aimed for any part of the mage he could hit.

The male and female did their best to counter him with their own fire and spells, but Scorpio was faster. He was a predator. It was in his blood. His last fireball struck the female in the leg and she howled—a ripped, agonized cry that rent the night.

“No!” The mage gathered her in his arms. “My dearest one, hold on. I can heal you.” He turned raging eyes to Scorpio. “Your fight is with me! Not her!”

“I warned her.” Scorpio conjured another fireball and drew his arm back.

“Stop, demon!” a new, shrill voice called from the opposite side of the bridge.

“Stay out of this.” Scorpio scowled at the petite female shuffling onto the stones. Gray hair tumbled down to her waist and she walked with a hunch. The one green eye he could see was bright, while the other was covered with a black patch.

“They are newly joined!” the old witch growled, her voice surprisingly fierce for her little body. “You have no idea what they have gone through to find each other. They are no harm to anyone. Leave this place!”

Scorpio shook his head. He had his orders. These witches and their village were meaningless to him. Each mark, each job, was only another in a series of assignments to complete.

If he didn’t complete them, the only creatures in this world worth his affection would suffer.

His younger twin siblings, sister Kira and brother Raff, had been prisoners of Dalamos as long as he had been there. Age fifteen and attractive, they were devoured with lecherous eyes by all in Dalamos’s employ.

Only Scorpio’s successful jobs kept them safe and untouched.

“Don’t care. Move, witch.” Scorpio drew closer.

The male had dropped to cradle the female in his arms. They stared at each other wordlessly. Maybe speaking through the mental link that some couples shared. Fucking sappy…and dangerous.

Scorpio ducked as an arrow of light fired from an amulet the female held. With a soft pop, it dissolved behind him on the stone.

Enough. With cold dispassion, Scorpio yanked a blade from his thigh sheath and flung it into the male’s neck.

He made a garbled sound. The female screamed and struggled to her feet, stumbling on her injured leg. “No!” she screamed over and over. Blue jagged streaks of light shimmered around her as she tried to formulate a spell.

The male slumped to the stone. The female took one glance at him then turned to Scorpio, eyes suddenly calm and full of malice. “Die, demon!” She raised her hands and magic shot forth from her palms. Two flares of purple light stretched toward him, racing through the dark night.

Scorpio dropped and rolled to one side, then leaped to his feet. In a fluid motion, he grabbed a dagger from the many he had concealed on his body, and threw it.

It landed with unerring precision—in her heart.

He strode to the couple and yanked his weapons from their bodies, wiping the blood on their own cloaks.

The old witch clenched her fists. “You are the devil,” she hissed. “You will suffer for what you have done here.”

Scorpio sheathed his weapons and allowed a frisson of relief to ease his mind. His family would be safe for another night. “Witch, I’m not the devil. I just work for him.”

She held her hands wide. “These two had just discovered the joy of bonded love. They did nothing to you. Nothing!” Her voice grew strong as she stared hard at Scorpio and spoke rapidly. “I curse you now, demon. One day you will meet your destined mate. The very instant you are in her presence, you will recognize that she is your other half, your female, and you will be seized with the need to claim her. You will ache with the need to complete the bond. But she…” the witch’s voice grew low, “she will despise you for the monster you are. She will avoid you as if you’re poison to her. You will be in agony, demon. Let it be done!”

A breeze coiled around the witch as she spoke, and in a cold rush, it blasted Scorpio’s body. He stepped back, but it didn’t matter. There was nothing to step back from, as the chilled air was gone as soon as it arrived, leaving a curious prickle across his skin. In seconds, that too was gone.

The witch huffed and turned to walk back to the other side of the bridge. Scorpio shook his head. Mate? Not in the cards. He was already living his life for two people. Every action was for his brother and sister. Every kill, every drop of blood, every scar he received. It would be nothing compared to the depravity the twins would endure at the hands of Dalamos’s men, if Scorpio didn’t continue with each grisly task.

Fuck mating. He’d never wanted that. “Your effort is wasted, witch,” he called after her.

She half-turned as she reached the far side. “No, demon. My spells might only be related to matters of the heart, and not of great weapons or wards,” she paused, one eye piercing him, “but they always,
always
…come to fruition.”

C
HAPTER
1

 

Realm of Torth, Present day

 

 

S
CORPIO’S FINGERS CLOSED AROUND THE
bars of his cell in the garrison of the witch village. Normally, he’d be able to rip them from the wooden walls of the small building, but not this time. His cell was under the effect of a dampening spell. And he’d been seriously injured.

His acute senses were dimmed, his strength was diminished, and he couldn’t summon demonfire. But he’d been in worse situations. And anyway, he was going to be moved from here soon.

Brought out for judgement
, his jailer had said a few days ago.

Until then, he’d bide his time and let his body finish healing as fast as possible with the damn spell hindering it.

Until then, he’d act like he wasn’t a threat.

Because once he was out, he could track
her
.

For the week he’d been locked up, he hadn’t caught the intoxicating scent of female twined with honeysuckle. He had no idea who it belonged to or what she looked like. But he wasn’t leaving here until he found her. That fragrance curled into his senses and captivated him, binding him with curiosity and desire unlike anything he’d ever felt.

He had to see who it belonged to. See, touch, and
know
. This female was heart-stoppingly important, for reasons he couldn’t explain.

A key jangled in the lock of the outer door, rousing him from his thoughts, and a familiar red-haired female strode in. Inga, the coven’s healer.

“Good morning, demon.” She walked close to his cell, staying just out of reach should he stretch his arms through the bars. Seconds passed as she assessed him with purely clinical efficiency, as she’d done every day, using the power of her mind. “It appears you are fully healed.”

“About damn time.” He gestured to the cell around him.

“It is necessary and you know it.” She folded her arms. “Better to take a week to heal than to die.”

He grunted. So far, the witches hadn’t treated him badly, but that might only be because they wanted him at full health in order to practice torture spells on him. “When are you letting me out?”

“I’ll report your health status to Chief Mage Hallon and we’ll see what he says.”

The outer door burst open and a tall dark-haired male entered. “Inga.” He glared at the healer. “It’s not safe for you to be in here alone with him.”

“Seriously, Orser?” Inga rolled her eyes. “If he could get out, he would have done it on day one.”

“Wrong. He could barely stand on day one,” Orser growled.

That was true. The way Scorpio had ended up here, among people who hated him, was one of the more bizarre things that he’d experienced in his long life. He still didn’t fully understand it.

He’d been on an op with his team of Watchers and it had gone south fast. The enemy had some kind of explosive spell charges that had activated his pre-spelled transportation amulet. But instead of taking him home to Watcher HQ, he’d landed on the sharp rocks of the Bronwy River. With broken ribs and a gaping thigh wound, he’d been an easy target for the witches to find and bring in.

Of course they remembered him from the last time he was here. Twenty years ago, he’d killed the previous chief.

Now the coven wanted him dead, as well. Never mind that he’d been forced into life as a conscripted killer. The
why
of it didn’t matter to the witches. He would stand before their judgement if that’s what they wanted.

A gray shape darted around the door that Orser had left cracked. The jailer cursed, but not before the thing streaked across the wooden plank floor. It stopped in front of Scorpio, tail twitching.

A…cat?

It stared up at him with big yellow eyes.

“Get that thing out of here.” Orser reached for it, but it jumped fluidly toward Scorpio, fitting its lithe body between the bars.

Orser frowned at it. So did Scorpio. He wasn’t a cat person. Or a dog person. Or even a people person. He preferred weapons and obstacle courses, tactical plans and espionage gadgets.

Those didn’t expect anything of him.

The cat looked at him knowingly, then, turning to face Orser and Inga with its head high, it parked its skinny rump on Scorpio’s foot.

Inga stifled a snort.

Orser shook his head. “You wanna die, cat, go ahead. He’ll probably eat you.”

Scorpio slid his foot from beneath the furry bundle. Witches and their damn animals. It was amazing one hadn’t gotten in here before today. In fact—

Honeysuckle
. It drifted up to his nose, faint but tangible.

Frowning and incredulous, he turned to the feline, who lifted a delicate paw to wash its face. He stooped to pick it up by the scruff of its neck and its body went slack as he raised it to eye level. As he held it closer to his nose, the remarkable scent was clear. “Whose cat is this?” he demanded.

“We have dozens of cats here. Fuck if I know,” Orser muttered.

Inga gave Scorpio a scrutinizing look and turned to Orser. “Anyway, the prisoner is healed.”

“Good,” Orser said. “Now we can get on with your punishment or sentence or whatever the Chief has in mind. I don’t know what twist of fate brought you here, but I can tell you this. I’m not the only one who can’t wait for justice to be served. Come on, Inga.” Orser strode to the door and waited expectantly for the healer.

“I’ll be right there,” she said in a clipped tone, then held up a hand at his ensuing growl. “No. I’ll be fine. Go.”

Slam!

The wall of the tiny building shook as the door smacked hard into the frame. Scorpio lowered the cat, who went back to its bath as if it hadn’t just added to the confounding mystery of this place.

Inga sighed and paced. “It goes against my nature to sanction torture. Inherently I will want to help you, but I cannot.”

“I understand the concept of loyalty,” Scorpio muttered. Loyalty was as essential as breathing to him, right along with his work as a warrior. Pledged to his commander and to his siblings, he understood integrity and allegiance. Hell, his hands would be forever reddened by actions he’d taken in the name of protection.

Inga opened her mouth but Scorpio kept talking. “I can take whatever your friends dish out. You wanna help me?”

“I am conflicted, demon. I know you had no choice, yet I also sense no remorse. Where I can read most people’s emotions, in you, I feel mostly a void. Cold.” She walked to the door. “I don’t think I can help you.”

Scorpio lunged forward in the cell. “Find out who the cat belongs to.”

Inga’s eyes slid from Scorpio to the feline. “I also cannot put a sister in harm’s way.”

“Then get out!” Scorpio bellowed. He shook the steel bars as rage poured through him. Rage that had nowhere to go. If not for the stupid dampening spell, he’d have healed in a day. He’d have burned down these walls and found the female.

The door snicked shut as Inga left without a word. Scorpio stalked to the cot that served as his bed and plunked himself down, the wood frame groaning under his weight. The damn cat seemed to take it as an invitation, jumping up next to him and setting two paws on his thigh.

Scorpio shook his head and grudgingly ran a hand over the animal’s back, surprised at how soft its fur was. He couldn’t remember petting an animal in affection. Sure, he’d fought dire wolves and hellhounds and had to touch them, but their fur was rough and stank to high heaven. “Who’s your mistress?” he asked.

The female’s scent clung to the cat and as Scorpio touched it, more was released into the tiny space. All it did was make him furious with the need to find this female and…and…do what? It’s not like he could take her to dinner. It was more likely she wouldn’t speak to him.

None of this made sense. He didn’t know anyone who smelled like honeysuckle. This couldn’t be an old fling. He inhaled again as his brain flipped through females he knew, attempting to catalog it.

On top of that, he needed to contact his commander. His body had taken seven days to heal. Arawn, the leader of the Lash Watchers, would be pissed. Scorpio had never been AWOL for a week.

He ran a hand over his almost-bald head. He kept his head shaved, but after a week it was starting to grow back. It was a pain in his ass, plus, the ridiculous color he’d been born with was all wrong for a warrior.

The cat bumped his hand with its head and then settled on Scorpio’s lap, purring as loudly as a dragon and apparently deciding to stay a while. Beyond the walls, Scorpio heard hints of voices as the witches did whatever they did in their daily routine.

He dropped his head back against the wall. Extra sleep was something he didn’t need, but that would benefit him later. Honeysuckle invaded his nose and hung in the air, insistent and strong despite the dampening spell. That female…he needed to match the scent to the person. Then he could formulate an escape plan. He’d gotten in and out of nightmares in his jobs for Dalamos, and this little coven of witches would be a snap.

C
HAPTER
2

 

 

T
HE SCRAPE OF METAL ON
metal was Scorpio’s only warning before the prison’s outer door opened. He shot to his feet, dislodging the cat. The glow of one tiny fire bulb hovering outside his bars was a pitiful buffer against the black night.

Several men entered, each carrying weapons and lengths of blue glowing rope. It looked like barely more than a length of ribbon, but once it bound someone, it couldn’t be undone without a spell. And the bound individual would be unable to do it themselves.

Scorpio expected no less. The group was led by a tall broad-shouldered male with dark hair. Gray streaked his temples. He carried no weapons—no blades or arrows—but only a staff. It hummed with a constant thrum of magic. The male exuded authority and power, and a sense of knowing that what he ordered would be done. Or he’d do it himself.

“The infamous mercenary Scorpio.” The man’s deep voice rumbled as he stopped in front of the cell. “Hard to believe you just dropped out of the sky and into my coven. Did you miss us?”

“I’m no longer in that line of work. I’m a Watcher now,” Scorpio muttered. Hell, he wasn’t sure if the coven knew that, despite the realm’s common knowledge of Dalamos’s death.

“So we’ve heard.” The man clasped his hands behind his back. “Yet you left a path of destruction a goddamn mile wide.”

Scorpio glared. “You’re Hallon?”

The man nodded.

“The past is done. Nothing will bring your leader back.”

“Those words may be true, but your presence has evoked a new, unrivaled anger. Do you have any idea what we’ve gone through in the last twenty years?”

“No.” Scorpio shook his head. “I had a job to do.”

“That you didn’t have to take!” Hallon’s eyes sparked with anger.

“I didn’t have a choice.” Scorpio drew on reserves of mental strength to keep his voice cold. No sense getting furious with a person whose mind was made up and who couldn’t understand life under Dalamos’s thumb. “You have no idea what Dalamos was capable of.”

“And you have no idea the damage your action caused!” Hallon stepped close enough for Scorpio to touch, if he’d wanted to. The guards hovered, blades drawn to protect their chief.

“It looks like we’re at an impasse,” Scorpio growled.

“Not for long. Hands out.” Hallon nodded at one guard, who held up a pair of black manacles. “Through here.” He tapped an opening in the grid that was large enough for Scorpio to fit both hands through.

The guard slid the black metal over Scorpio’s wrists and, with a crackle of energy, the cuffs tightened to fit. Ensorcelled. He couldn’t take them off or use his hands to create demonfire. Again, this measure was not a surprise.

The cell door opened and more guards rushed in, quickly restraining him with rope threaded through the cuffs and around his neck. As long as they were in the cell, the dampening magic was still in effect, so the men worked fast. When done, they shoved him through the open door.

Scorpio took a deep breath, drawing untainted air into his lungs. His muscles tingled as they shook off the dulling effects of the spell. He was still cuffed and bound. Not to mention at the wrong end of deadly weapons.

But he was out of the damn cell.

They pushed him to the door and the first breath of outside air was heaven. Overhead, stars dotted the sky in thick clusters, and Torth’s two moons hung half full, side by side. Scorpio held his head high and drew another deep breath.

“Don’t get any ideas, demon,” Hallon muttered as he strode ahead of the group. “I, too, know what it feels like to be free of a dampening spell. But you’re going straight to a new cage.”

Scorpio stifled a satisfied look. The coven could think whatever it wanted. He’d broken in and out of so many places, many with layers upon layers of security, both magical and physical. He could find a way out of here.

But not before he assigned a face to that intoxicating scent.

Rough hands held his biceps, and one guard in front of him kept a tight hold on the rope through his cuffed hands. Soft dirt crumbled under his booted feet. Dirt? Bronwy should’ve had stone paths. He must be farther from the main village than he thought. A new prison, maybe? Pine trees swayed quietly around them.

They rounded a bend and Scorpio blinked in surprise. Rows of clapboard and wood frame homes filled a cleared area of trees to one side. These weren’t the Bronwy homes he remembered. Those were stone, all varying heights and shapes and facades. They had reminded him of a whimsical toy village set that his sister Kira had played with when she was young.

These looked makeshift and hastily thrown together. Still, wards vibrated from them, a reminder of the coven’s power.

To his other side, another clearing stood, roughly the same size. It contained a tiny playground and an area that looked like it was used for gatherings or meetings.

And it was full of witches.

A steel cage glinted in the light of a fire. He suppressed a snort at the irony of being captive in what obviously served as the town square. A demon in the midst of witches.

The cuffs and rope subdued his body, but not his senses. As they moved closer, every face was clear to him, as Lash demon vision was perfect at night. Each voice, the whispers of wonder and hate, and each scent.

Eagerly his nose sorted through the plethora of witchy smells, detecting an overwhelming amount of cedar—their usual scent. But no honeysuckle. Not even from the cat…

He glanced to the ground. No cat. Shrugging, he refocused on the group ahead. The feline was the least of his concerns.

They reached the center, where dozens of eyes pinned him. Hallon nodded at the cage and the guards pushed Scorpio inside. The lock engaged, and Hallon spoke the words to a dampening spell.

Scorpio gritted his teeth as the familiar heavy, tired feeling settled in his muscles, stronger than what had been in the building cell. A guard reached through the bars and gestured for Scorpio to hold out his hands. In seconds, the manacles were off. The rope came next.

Small help. They were minor compared to the dampening spell.

The cage had a metal floor and roof, but otherwise was open and barred on all five sides. Five. He shook his head. Witches loved their pentagrams. If they invoked a spell, the shape could intensify its effects.

“Behold, the killer, Scorpio,” Hallon called out to the group.

Murmurs zipped through the crowd and mouths curled in disgust. Scorpio thought about announcing that he was a Watcher now, but figured there was no point. Vengeance was written on their faces and reflected in their posture.

“Scorpio is unaware of the changes we have experienced as a result of his actions,” Hallon continued. “Perhaps we can enlighten him?”

A witch rushed forward, fury in her eyes. “My son was lost to the dark side and killed! It’s your fault!” A blue burst of witchfire sped toward him and he ducked, barely avoiding it with his slowed reflexes.

“We lost our homes!” A mage held out his hand. Magic crackled in a red arc from his palm to Scorpio’s cage and suddenly his skin was hotter than the fires of hell. The whole cage broiled though no flames existed. Fuck! He fought to stay upright in the center of his five-sided prison because, even without tangible fire, the metal bars and floor would conduct the magical heat and burn him. And like before, he’d heal at a snail’s pace.

No sooner had the heat spell dissipated than another man flung a handful of pebbles into the cage, and as soon as they slipped through bars, they enlarged to heavy rocks as big as Scorpio’s head. He was forced to duck and dart to avoid them as they ricocheted around. “Because of you, we’re forced to pay Vespera part of our income!”

What the fuck? Scorpio glared at the group. None of this made sense. Yeah, he’d killed their former leader, Pennar. But how they handled things after was their own problem.

Right?

More witches and mages shrieked at him, listing grievances and doing their best to injure him with spells. Each accusation and each spell was crazier than the last. Almost like they’d been waiting, saving their fury for someone.

Finally, Hallon held up his hands. “Enough for tonight.”

The group quieted, huffing out angry breaths.

“We will reconvene tomorrow,” Hallon said.

Great. Scorpio rubbed a lump at the back of his head, resulting from one of the pebbles-turned-rocks.

“We’ll go into detail then about the havoc you’ve wrought, demon.” Hallon and his guards headed into the crowd.

Fuck this. Scorpio remained silent as he watched them talk amongst themselves. Rocks still lined the floor of the cell, some of them chipped. The heat may have weakened the bars. A battering by stone might have further strained them. Scorpio was fully rested, so he could take as much time as he needed to go over every inch of the pentagram prison and find any compromised areas. He’d mentally record them and factor them into the plan he would formulate once he met the cat’s owner.

As if on cue, gray streaked by at his feet. Again? Scorpio glared at the cat. “Nice of you to show up now that they’re done—”

“Jinx!”

Scorpio’s heart stuttered. All the air whooshed out of his lungs as a sensation that was both totally new and also felt like home shot through him.

He whirled to the sound of the voice. Musical and sweet and husky all at once. Time seemed to slow as his body ramped into overdrive.

“Jinx!”

Now the smell of honeysuckle invaded his nose. He sucked air desperately, needing the oxygen as well as that fragrance inside his cells. Holy fucking shit. It was like a drug and an orgasm rolled into a massive triple shot of
I-need-this-right-now
.

“Ji—” A woman jerked to a stop on the very path he’d been brought in on. She froze, one hand halfway to her slim hip, eyes widening as she scanned the cage.

A woman. A witch. An angel? Gods above, she was the most beautiful damn creature he’d ever seen.

One possessive emotion shredded his rational thoughts. One thought dominated his mind.
Mine
.

He launched himself at the bars, gripping tightly. If not for the spell, he’d have broken them down. His skin twitched. His muscles screamed against the dampening effect. A roar started deep in his chest, pushing up without his conscious thought.
Need her.

She stared at him, pretty mouth open, sapphire eyes darting to the cat at his feet and back to him. “J-Jinx.” This time, her voice was a cracked whisper as if she were somehow affected as well. “Come here.”

Scorpio’s body shook with need to get to her. His blood rushed to his groin as her presence licked his every nerve in a sensory caress. Thick black-brown hair cascaded around her narrow shoulders. A tight black tank top hugged her firm breasts, and dark pants encased slender legs. A muscle in her toned bicep flexed and her breathing sped up. Her chest rose and fell, pushing her breasts up and down, and her pulse ticked rapidly at her neck.

Holy hell, she was living, walking feminine perfection. His cock pushed against the zipper of his pants, aching with the most intense need he’d ever felt. His hands burned to hold her, to pull her body against his and claim her. The primal beast inside him clawed for escape as his lips pulled back, breath heaving. One thought shot through his mind as everything else shorted out. His voice growled, low and primal. “Mine.”

She gaped at him in horror, revulsion, and shock.

No!
Scorpio dug one hand into the metal and shoved his other hand through the bars. Not that look. She couldn’t have that look on her face. She was
his
. He snarled, not meaning to, but his mind was scrambled with the visual and scent of the one female he had to have. His mate. “Mine,” he rumbled again.

She gasped as if woken from a trance. Blinking, she backed up, still staring at him and shaking her head. Her beautiful blue eyes narrowed to anger. Raising one hand, she conjured a ball of blue witchfire.

He watched in frozen wonder at her power and beauty, riveted by the flex of muscle in her arm, and by the way her mouth formed words that were probably lethal to him. He didn’t care. A tiny instinct screamed for him to duck, but his need to possess her overrode years of tactical training and refused to allow him to move away from her.

She hurled the blue sphere as she shouted a spell. The fire blasted his chest a second later, knocking him back with the force of an electric shock. His head slammed the bars at the back of his cell, the bone-jarring hit reverberating all the way to his toes. He slumped to the metal floor. His last sight was of her black boots running away.

 

 

“Tessa?” Zeebi’s voice carried through the pines, mildly bored. “Did you find Jinx? I say we let her fend for her—”

Her best friend’s voice cut off as Tessa barreled into her, high up on the path.

“Tess! Oh my god, what happened?” Zeebi grabbed her shoulders. “What’s wrong?”

Tessa clutched her friend as if her life depended on their touch. She shot a glance over her shoulder, but of course, he hadn’t followed.

He couldn’t. Because he was imprisoned.

And she’d hit him with witchfire.

Because he was a
murderer
.

Disgust and nausea rolled her stomach. The look he’d given her made her skin crawl.

“Hey.” Zeebi pulled her in for a hug. “You’re scaring me. What’s going on?”

“He…” Tessa began. But couldn’t finish. What exactly had he done? Looked at her like he wanted to lock her up and do unspeakable things to her?

But he was the one locked up. She was safe.

“Who?” Zeebi released her and gave her a curious look.

“The…prisoner.” Tessa couldn’t bring herself to say his name. Everyone knew it. Everyone knew the name of the monster who had killed their former leader. The loss of Pennar hadn’t just meant the loss of a good sorcerer. It had spelled the loss of their home, some of their people, and part of their income. Not to mention the growth of unchecked dark magic.

“Scorpio? You saw him?”

Tessa nodded and shuddered.

“What happened?” Zeebi looked her up and down.

Good question.
Tessa shoved a hand into her pocket, trying to settle her mind down. “He was in the cage.”

“Hmm, they moved him? I heard they were waiting for him to heal…how’d he look?”

Tessa blinked, recalling the demon who’d made her heart race, and not in a good way. He hadn’t appeared injured, save for a smattering of fresh welts that she guessed had come from the rocks in the pentagram. His clothes hung torn and ragged on his huge body. His biceps looked like he could kill a wolf with their strength. His jaw angled in a strong line, and his lips were too full for such a monster. His hair was buzzed so short she had no idea what color it was…but his eyes were an oddly mesmerizing golden hue.

Not what she’d expected from a mercenary.

She took a breath. “He looked okay. At least until I blasted him with witchfire.”