Authors: Larissa Ione
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For everyone in the romance community—readers, writers, and publishing professionals—who recently came together to help one of their own, and who continue to put together events that benefit individuals, communities, and even entire countries. You’re an amazing group of people, and this Horseman is for you!
Huge thanks, as always, to the entire Grand Central Publishing team who worked so hard to get this book onto the shelves, with special thanks to Amy Pierpont and Lauren Plude for all their work and help.
Also, thanks to Cid Tyer for letting me have Rhys to torture a bit. I had a lot of fun!
And finally, a big thank you to Shawna Malone… now we just have to move you to Wisconsin!
Arik Wagner had to hand it to the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse; they threw one hell of a party.
Well, three of them did, anyway. The fourth, whose name had been Reseph before his Seal broke and he became known as Pestilence, had been lying low since his defeat at the hands of his siblings, Ares, Limos, and Thanatos, a month earlier. The asshole and his demon army was no doubt regrouping, but for now, everyone was breathing a sigh of relief.
Hence, the celebration, which was part celebration for the victory, and part engagement party for Ares and his fiancée, Cara. Everyone who’d survived the battle had been invited to Ares’s Greek mansion. Ares had also extended an invitation to the Underworld General staff who had helped Cara when she’d been dying, so the place was crawling with demons.
There were even a couple of angels roaming around.
Reaver, who Arik had already decided was one big tool, was over by the chocolate fountain talking to a sparkly female angel named Gethel, who used to be the Horsemen’s good Watcher before Reaver took the job. The Horsemen also had an evil Watcher named Harvester, but she hadn’t been invited. Something about her being a world-class bitch who might eat the guests.
Thanatos, the fourth Horseman, bumped into Arik as he dove for a football someone had tossed from across the huge great room.
“Watch it, dickhead,” Arik muttered.
“What’s the matter, human?” Thanatos punched him in the shoulder with the ball hard enough to make Arik stumble backward. “Ping-Pong more your speed?”
Arik shot Kynan Morgan, an old Army buddy who was now one of the bigwigs in charge of The Aegis, an ancient demon-slaying organization, a
look, and Ky, who was deep in conversation with Ares, held up his finger. He and Arik had intended to stay no more than ten minutes, since Ky wanted to get home to his wife, Gem, and their new baby. That was more than fine with Arik.
If Arik spent another minute inside with these supernatural, superior asshats, he was going to slit his own throat. Also, if Limos, the drop-dead-gorgeous female Horseman, caught him leering at her one more time, she’d likely slit his throat for him.
She might appear to be the definition of a sorority party girl, but under the skirts, nail polish, and flowers in her hair, she was every bit as dangerous as her brothers.
No one seemed to be paying any attention to him, so he strolled out of the house and into the cool November
night air. He’d always liked Greece, had visited a couple of times on military assignments. The food was good, the weather perfect, and the people weren’t assholes to Americans. Sure, the Greeks had a high concentration of demons living among them, but some of the oldest countries did. Demons, being extremely long-lived, if not immortal, had a tendency to stay in the places they knew well.
They really weren’t all that adventurous. Pussies.
He parked himself on a stone bench overlooking the sea. He could feel the piggy eyes of Ares’s Ramreel demon guards on him, but he ignored them and looked up into the heavens. The stars were bright tonight, their lights glittering in the pitch-black sky. He’d spoken to Cara for a few minutes out here when she’d had to usher a hellhound party crasher out of the house, and he’d been impressed with how easily she, as a human, had integrated into the supernatural world. Oh, she’d had trouble at first, describing some truly fucked-up events—Ares had screwed with her memories? Arik would kill someone for that—but she was happy now, all hellhound queen and engaged to a damned legend.
And speaking of legends, he smelled Limos before he heard her; the aroma of coconut drifted toward him on a breeze and made his blood pump a little faster. Coconuts had never turned him on before, but then, the scent had never been attached to a red-hot female with hair the color of the midnight sky, either.
“What are you doing?” Her velvety, feminine voice was so at odds with the warrior he knew she was, and he wondered how she sounded in bed. Did she hold on to her female side, or did she play rough, dominant, letting the fighter in her take over?
“Just needed some fresh air.”
Because you were making me crazy.
He blinked. “What?”
She came around in front of him. Her knees touched his, and her floral Hawaiian dress, an intense violet that matched her eyes, swirled around her shapely ankles, flapping at his boots. “I sense agitation in you. Want to let some out? A little hand-to-hand?”
Jesus. Okay, yeah, she might sense some tension in him, but it wasn’t because he wanted to draw blood. He wanted to get naked, and the weird thing was, he imagined getting that way with her. She fascinated him with her contradictions, riled him up with her body, and earlier in the night, when he’d seen her helping Ares’s servants clean a spill in the kitchen, he’d admired her. She’d gotten down on her hands and knees and scrubbed the floor, and she’d done it with a damned smile.
Of course, he’d smiled too, because the sight of her on her hands and knees? Instant hard-on.
Now, as Limos stood in front of him, things were hardening again at the idea that all he’d have to do would be to fist that dress, hike it up over her hips, and he’d be at eye level with her most private place. Would she let him go down on her? What would she taste like? Did that coconut scent permeate everything? Because he fucking loved coconut.
Somehow, he scrounged up enough self-control to put his hands on her waist and set her aside so he could stand. “I don’t want to let anything out.”
Except my dick
. She’d probably kill him if she knew what he was thinking.
He started for the house, because he was going to
drag Kynan out of there if he had to, but naturally, Limos would have none of that. These Horsemen seemed to have a huge sense of entitlement.
“Stop!” She grabbed his elbow and swung him around. “I’ll let you throw the first punch,” she cajoled, with a waggle of raven brows.
He leaned down and stared her in the eyes. “I don’t hit girls.”
It was the wrong thing to say. Half a second later, he found himself flat on his back, with her flip-flopped foot on his neck.
“See,” she said brightly, “that is why I was offering to give you the first throw. At least this time I didn’t break your ribs.”
“Wow,” he rasped. “Do you emasculate all the men, or am I special?”
Her sensual lips curved into an amused smile. “Oh, you’re special, but I wouldn’t take that as a compliment.”
“I can see up your dress.” It wasn’t true, but he got a kick out of the way her eyes went wide and she started to sputter. He brought his hands up to grasp her ankle, his intention to lift it to give him some room to breathe, but her skin was so soft he ended up just lingering like that.
“What are you doing?” she gasped.
“Nothing.” He smoothed his thumb up and down the side of her leg, in the sensitive place where the ankle met the calf. Her muscles were firm, her skin silky, and man, he wanted to slide his hands up higher. But he had her where he wanted her—off guard. Now to take it one step further…
“You,” he purred, “are a HILF.”
“Horseman I’d like to fuck.”
With a yank, he tugged her leg out from under her, and at the same time, he twisted so she came down on top of him, breaking her fall. She looked so startled, so utterly disbelieving that he’d bested her, that she lay motionless on his chest, mouth open, staring at him.
God, she was gorgeous. And that mouth… made to make a man beg for mercy. So he kissed her. Didn’t even realize he’d done it until his lips were on hers. He hadn’t thought she could be any more shocked, but her eyebrows shot up so far it would have been comical if he hadn’t been rocking his head up to put them into a more serious kiss. That was the thing about him—no half-measures. He might not have realized he was kissing her, but once he did? He was taking it as far as she’d let him go.
Command and conquer.
For a brief, sweet moment, she kissed him back. Her lips softened and her tongue met his, hesitantly, as though she wasn’t sure what she was doing.
And then his world turned upside down.
Limos reared back, and with what he was pretty sure was all her strength, she slammed her fist into his cheek. Pain spiderwebbed across his face, along every bone, through every tooth. He’d been tasting her, and now he was tasting his own blood.
“What the hell?” he shouted… or at least, he tried to shout. His words were mushy, thanks to his mashed lips, cut tongue and, likely, badly fractured jaw and cheekbone. He heard something more like, “
Nut da bell
“You kissed me!” Eyes wild, she backed away so fast she lost her flip-flops. “Do you know what you’ve done, you idiot? You’re going to pay for kissing me.”
All around him, the ground began to rumble, and a second later, giant, spiny arms punched up out of the dirt. Hands seized him, a dozen maybe. Agony wrenched through him as his limbs were twisted and pulled, and his skin was shredded.
Consciousness became a fluid thing, something he couldn’t quite reach. His vision went dark, but his ears still worked, and before they shut down, he heard Limos’s panicked voice, but what she said made no sense.
Don’t say my name, Arik! No matter what they do to you, don’t speak my name!
Limos was utterly frozen, terrified in a way she had never, ever been. And given that she was five thousand years old, that was saying something.
Her brothers and Ares’s guests charged out of the house, weapons drawn, and then they skidded to halt.
“Jesus Christ,” Kynan shouted. “Arik!”
“Limos, no.” Thanatos tugged her against him, stopping her from going after the behemoths that had grabbed Arik and were dragging him down into the earth.
“He kissed me.” She said the same thing over and over, her voice a high-pitched, terrified wail.
Wordlessly, Ares produced a small blade, and in one smooth motion, launched it. Limos’s first instinct was to stop him, but the knife was already in the air, on a course for Arik’s heart.
The whistle of an arrow cut the night, and Ares’s dagger shattered. Pestilence, his ice-blue eyes glowing in the light of the moon, stood near the cliff, his bow in hand, a satisfied smile on his face. “You’ll thank me later, sis.”
Thanatos lunged, and a black, furry blur streaked past them both. Before Hal, Cara’s hellhound protector, reached Pestilence, he opened a portable Harrowgate and stepped through it.
He was gone, and when Limos turned back to Arik, he was gone too. The only sign that he’d been there was a smear of blood in the sand.
“What the fuck just happened?” Kynan rounded on Ares. “Why did you try to kill him, you cocksucker?”
Limos couldn’t speak. Funny how moments ago she’d been screaming incoherently, but now she couldn’t dredge up a single word. Ares, for his part, stayed calm despite the fact that Kynan had called him a cocksucker and was now fisting his shirt and snarling in his face.
“He kissed Limos,” Ares said, his voice rough as sandpaper. Maybe he wasn’t as calm as she thought. “She isn’t allowed to give her affections to a male in any way.”
Kynan released Ares to turn his murderous glare on Limos. “Explain.”
There were still no words. None. The night, which she’d always hated because it reminded her so much of Sheoul, closed in on her. How could Arik have done that? How dare he think it was okay to kiss
, one of the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse?
“Goddammit,” Kynan snapped. “Someone fucking answer me.”
“We told you that Limos is to become Satan’s bride,” Thanatos said. “But not until her Seal breaks, she’s captured in Sheoul, or until she does something to make him jealous.”
“Okay,” Kynan said, “so the big guy is jealous. Why is she still here but Arik is gone?”
“Because it’s not that simple. The Dark Lord can’t have her until the male who incited the jealousy utters her name while in agony.”
Kynan swallowed loud enough for her to hear. “So he’s still alive? Where?”
“Hell,” Limos rasped. “Arik is in hell.”
One month later…
Arik didn’t know how long he’d been in hell. Time was one never-ending, no-lube fuck when you were in the dark and in nonstop agony. And these bastard demons wouldn’t let him die. He’d tried, but they just kept healing him.
At least right now it was quiet, a few stolen moments in which he could sleep. Sleep and dreams were his only pleasure… even the dreams that were about the female who had landed him in this hellhole in the first place.
Closing his eyes, he settled back against the cold stone—bliss on his bruised, bare skin. With a little effort, he shut out the rumbling of his stomach and the incessant drip of water outside the cell that was intended to drive him crazy with want, since the demons rationed his water,
and what little he got was usually stagnant and disgusting anyway.
He tried to think of his sister, Runa, and his nephews. Tried to force his thoughts toward his job with the U.S. Army’s paranormal unit, the R-XR, as well as the forced-on-him involvement with the civilian demon-fighting organization, The Aegis. Tried to think about his escape plan… anything other than Limos, but his mind kept drifting to the beautiful ebony-haired, violet-eyed female. He hadn’t liked her when he first met her, mainly because she’d kicked his ass, broken his ribs, and threatened to crush his organs into marmalade.
Marmalade… God, he was hungry.
So, no, he hadn’t been overly fond of the third Horseman of the Apocalypse.
Still wasn’t. Because of her, he’d been dragged to Sheoul, the demon realm deep in the earth, stripped naked, and tortured within an inch of his life. Repeatedly. And the weird thing was that all the demons who held him captive wanted was for him to say her name. Her freaking
What. The. Hell.
So far, he hadn’t broken. Well, he’d
, but the creepy-ass demons of unknown species kept a Seminus demon around to heal him so he wouldn’t die and they could keep breaking his bones and peeling off his skin. They’d even tried sleep deprivation, starvation, and getting into his head to make him think he was somewhere much more pleasant so they could trick him into saying her name. He’d been subjected to every torture and violation known to man. And then some, ’cuz demons were creative as fuck.
But they wouldn’t tell him
they wanted him to
speak her name, and though it would be so easy to let it slip, to finally free himself of the torment, he couldn’t. Anything important to the evil bastards wasn’t good for mankind. And Limos had been pretty adamant as he’d been dragged down here, his skin shredding like he was being scraped over a cheese grater.
Don’t say my name, Arik! No matter what they do to you, don’t speak my name!
Right. What if her name caused a worldwide earthquake or put a fissure in the earth that released all demons from Sheoul? And the thing was, Arik wasn’t sure how specific he had to be, so he hadn’t called Limos by any name. Not Li, her nickname, or Famine, the name she’d go by if and when her Seal broke.
Fitting that her name would be Famine, cuz he was
His stomach grumbled, and he threw his hand over his abs as he thought about Limos, hoping like hell her Seal was safe. Apparently, breaking her Seal involved finding some ancient, tiny bowl engraved with a set of scales. Once found, a Horseman had to drink from it. Drink… he’d give his right nut for a drink…
He swept his hand up and down his sunken-in belly, knowing his thirst and hunger were the least of his worries, because man, if her Seal broke, humans would truly understand the meaning of
hell on earth.
The Horsemen weren’t evil—they were, in fact, half-angel, half-demon, and in a constant walk-the-line mode. But if their Seals broke ahead of the biblical prophecy timeline, they would turn evil and lead the way to Armageddon.
Arik had already gotten a taste of what that would be like: Before he’d gotten his ass handed to him in battle
by his brothers and sister, the first Horseman of the Apocalypse, Pestilence, had caused death and destruction everywhere he went. Now Arik’s captors indicated that Pestilence had regrouped, reassembled his forces, and was back to trying to facilitate the breaking of his siblings’ Seals so the end of days could finally begin.
What an asshole.
A rock dug into Arik’s butt, and he shifted, only to get poked by something else… the bone of some unfortunate previous cell inhabitant, probably. Still, he wasn’t about to lie down. Spiny hellrats had a charming habit of eating your face while you were asleep. At least if he was sitting up he could punt them across the cell.
Thanks so much for this, Limos
How the hell could a single kiss get him into this mess? It wasn’t as if he’d forced himself on her. Yeah, he’d kissed her, and for one steamy, lingering heartbeat, she’d kissed him back. And then she’d flipped the hell out.
Though he wasn’t sure why she’d freaked, he did know that Limos was responsible for every drop of his spilled blood. She’d said he’d pay for kissing her, and his captors confirmed it, relished telling him how “his lover’s” lack of self-control had been his downfall, how her selfishness was at fault and it was because of her that he was being tortured.
They’d even given him an out; speak into a recorder and beg Limos to help him, and when she came to rescue his ass, they’d grab her and let him go.
Your worthless human life for hers. She’ll take your place in chains. You’ll have the satisfaction of knowing she’s getting what she deserves. You must want revenge.
Man, those demons had read him like a damned gun owners manual. He wanted payback, but not like that. He
wouldn’t allow a female, even one like Limos, to suffer at the hands of these fucks.
So he’d refused the offer that was, no doubt, a lie anyway. Which had led to a sledgehammer to both ankles. When he refused again, the sledgehammer had moved up to his knees. His next refusal had earned him a broken pelvis, but thankfully, he passed out and didn’t have to refuse anymore.
You’re a fool,
” his torturer, the one with the deceptively classy English accent, had told him later. “
You’re going to die down here, and it will be Limos’s fault.
Arik was fully aware of that fact. But the knowledge didn’t stop him from dreaming of him and her naked. Sometimes they were on a beach, both covered in suntan oil as he moved against her. Sometimes all he did was kiss her hand as he looked into her exotic eyes. Other times, he had her against the wall or was taking her from behind as she clung to a palm tree. His favorite erotic dream was the one where she was on her back in the ocean surf, and he was kneeling between her legs, tonguing her wet heat and tasting the salt water and her tropical cocktail essence.
She’d always smelled like coconuts and pineapple.
Man, he was starving.
And what was that saying? Right.
Revenge was a dish best served cold…
Limos was not in a good mood. She had, in fact, been in a bad mood for weeks.
But she faked being happy really well, and right now, she was working toward an Oscar nomination.
The Hawaiian sun beat down on her as she swung her
hips to the beat of Maroon 5’s latest, her gaze fixed on a tall, dark male perched at the portable bar she set up for her beach parties. His eyes drilled into her hungrily as he sipped his margarita, and when he casually adjusted the erection in his black shorts, she knew she had him.
Slowly, provocatively, she moved toward him, putting extra sway in every step. Her bare feet sank in the warm sand, giving her legs a workout, and she knew the male was appreciating every flex of her toned muscles. The hot pink flowing miniskirt drew his attention, and his gaze darkened when a breeze flipped it up to reveal, very clearly, that she wasn’t wearing panties. Her flat stomach, pierced with a gold ring, became the next object of his appreciative scrutiny, and she watched as his eyes roved upward to the barely-there bikini top that covered about as much as two Band-Aid strips.
On her shoulder blade, the set of scales that had been tattooed there when she was only a few hours old began to wobble as the right side, the evil side, and the left side, the one that measured the good half of her, warred.
When she was a few feet away, she smiled, gave him a
look, and sauntered up the steps of her beach house. Of her two homes, this was the public one she used for parties that were frequented by humans—both locals and celebrities who flew in just for her big bashes. But this get-together was a small one, attended by only a couple dozen
. She’d intentionally invited the demons, who could easily pass as humans, in order to lure this particular male. He was cautious, overly paranoid, and if she’d invited him directly, he wouldn’t have come.
Instead, she’d chosen her guests with surgical precision—friends of his, demons with particular tastes
who virtually guaranteed that he’d be lured by the promise of lurid, grotesque fun as night settled in.
He knew exactly who she was, but no way could he know what she wanted from him. No way could he know that Thanatos’s intel had fingered him as one of Arik’s torturers.
She slipped inside the house and mounted the stairs to the bedroom, smiling when she heard the door close softly behind her. At the top of the stairs, she untied her top and tossed it over her shoulder, leaving a seductive trail for him to follow.
Inside the bedroom, she circled a wicker chair angled so she could look out at the rolling surf and waited for “Rhys” to enter. His demon name, Xenycothylestiranzacish, was… yeah. She used his human name.
He filled the doorway, sexual menace rushing at her like a deadly rogue wave. In the human world, he was a corporate raider of some kind. In the demon world, he was a master of torture, a hobby that leaked into his relationships with women, and Limos wondered how many missing prostitutes could be traced to him.
“What’s your game, Horseman?” His deep, English-accented voice was the cherry on his sexy sundae, and she remembered how, centuries ago, she’d had a major crush on him. But he’d known she was betrothed to the Dark Lord, and he wasn’t stupid enough to go near her. She wasn’t that stupid either, and she never
been that stupid.
Damned human. How dare he tempt her like that? How dare he kiss her and make her want him?
The kiss had doomed them both.
Now she was in a race against time to rescue him before he sealed the fate she’d been running from for thousands of years—marriage.
There was also that pesky Seal-breaking fate she had to deal with, but right now, she had to concentrate on the most immediate problem, which was finding Arik.
“I have no game,” she purred, running a purple-lacquered nail over the back of the chair. “I’m sure you’ve heard that I succumbed to lust and gave my affections to a human.”
Rhys’s expression gave nothing away. “I heard.”
“Well, that means that until he says my name while in the throes of agony, I can enjoy myself.”
God, she hoped Arik could continue to withstand whatever torture the demons holding him were putting him through. A wash of admiration warmed her from the inside, because she didn’t know if
could survive a month of torture, and Arik was a fragile human. She’d always sensed strength in him—it had been one of the things that had drawn her to him, besides his sense of humor—but she would never have guessed at the depth of that strength.
“And by enjoy, you mean…” Rhys trailed off as he prowled toward her, his bare chest, well-oiled and glistening, drawing her gaze.
Most females would lift their skirts right now. Limos had other plans, and Bones, her hell stallion who was currently decorating her right forearm as a tattoo-like glyph, writhed in anticipation.
“I mean that once Arik breaks, I’m going to be stuck bedding the same demon until the end of time. So playtime is now or never.”
“Somehow,” Rhys said casually, “I can’t imagine that the Dark Lord will appreciate you coming to him less than intact.”
She blinked innocently. “Intact? Of course I’m going to go to him a virgin.” An ocean-scented breeze wafted through the room, caressing her skin, and she joined in, stroking her fingers over her nipple. “But I can do everything else. Don’t you think he’d reward you well if I came to him knowing how to use my mouth?”
She nearly gagged at that thought, and not just because the idea of sucking the devil’s dick horrified her. She’d never wanted to do that to any male. Women who claimed to like it had to be lying.
Rhys stepped closer. “I’m not so sure about that.”
“Oh, come on,” she cajoled. “It’s just a little touching.” Before he could protest, she gripped him by the shoulders, spun him, and planted him in the chair. Next, she straddled him so she was on his lap, facing him, her palms splayed on his smooth chest. “Touch me.”
For a long, breathless moment, she thought he was going to dump her on her ass. His hands came down on her thighs and squeezed hard enough that a human woman would screech from the pain. But Limos wasn’t human, and she didn’t screech.
“If we do this,” he said in a deadly, cold voice, “you do what I say. My rules. Understood?”
She made her eyes go all wide and frightened. “Y-yes.” She even threw in a token tremble of her bottom lip for good measure.
Meryl Streep, you ain’t got nothing on me
Rhys’s smile was pure malevolence, something she’d been raised to appreciate during the twenty-eight years she’d spent in Sheoul, growing up under the thumb of a
twisted, evil demon mother. If Limos were still that person, she’d be panting right now.
“Good.” He took her right hand in his palm and trailed a finger over the black lines that formed the horse tattoo on her forearm. She could feel his touch in the corresponding parts of her body, and she hated it. Bones hated it too, had never like to be touched by anyone other than her, and he came to life on her skin, snapping his sharp teeth viciously. Rhys jerked his hand away, but not quickly enough. A tiny bead of blood formed on the tip of his finger. “Bastard.”
“He’s a little temperamental.” That was an understatement. Of all her siblings’ mounts, Bones was the most… unique.
Limos’s first stallion, a normal warhorse like her brothers’, had been killed, and her fiancé had sent Bones as a gift she couldn’t refuse. Now she was stuck with the carnivorous hell stallion, and though he’d grown on her, she didn’t call him out unless absolutely necessary. He was too hard to control, and he hated everyone including, sometimes, Limos. Well, he loved Ares’s wife, Cara, but only because she’d saved his life.
Rhys’s hands slid under her skirt, and both revulsion and anticipation rippled through her. She’d fantasized about Arik’s hands doing the same thing. Her fantasies, as she pleasured herself nightly in her bed,
They also involved the absence of her chastity belt—which was why her thoughts were pure fantasy.
Only one person could remove the polished pearl chain that circled her hips and fell between her legs, connected in the front and the back to the hip loop. In truth, it was
beautiful, a priceless piece of jewelry that would make her feel sexy if not for its nasty little secret.
Rhys’s hands drifted higher, and she feigned a moan as she arched so her breasts touched his chest and she could covertly slip her right hand around the back of the chair to the dagger she’d taped there.
“You are an eager little slut, aren’t you?” he murmured.
“I have a lot to learn before I take my place at my husband’s side.” She nipped his earlobe, wishing it were Arik’s. “Maybe you have friends who could join us?”
“When I’m through with you, perhaps.”
Disgusting hellswine. “Hurry.”
His hand came down hard on her ass. “What did I say? My rules.”
Jesus, he hit hard. Her butt cheek stung like a son of a bitch, and didn’t it figure that somehow, he’d missed touching her chastity pearls. “Sorry.”
“Not yet, but you will be.”
What a douche. She held her breath, fighting a shudder at his touch. She’d rather a snake crawled up her skirt.
He massaged her butt, his fingers biting deep into her flesh. She gripped the hilt of the dagger. The sound of his quickening breaths filled the room as he slid his palms around, his thumbs dipping between her thighs. There was a pause, as though he was trying to decide if he really wanted to go there.
Please, please go there
. She rocked her hips, hoping he’d take it as a sign of desperate horniness rather than impatience.
“Whore,” he whispered.
, she thought.
He moved to cup her intimately, and finally, her chas
tity protection kicked in. Each of the pearls turned into a razor-sharp little spur, stabbing into her skin and most sensitive flesh. Excruciating agony ripped through her, but by some miracle, she didn’t make a sound. Didn’t need to. Rhys’s screams would have drowned her out anyway.
Blood gushed—hers, but mostly his, as three of his fingers fell, severed, to the floor. Awesome. His species of demon was one that was damned hard to injure, weakening only if they lost a body part.
In a pained rush, she wrenched him to the floor, where she put the tip of her dagger under his eye. “Okay, asshole. Tell me what I want to know, or you lose more than your fingers.”
.” Rage blackened his voice. “You cocksucking cum-slut!”
Limos shoved the blade into his eye. She had no patience when her privates hurt so bad. The spurs around her hips and between her legs had morphed back into pearls, but even as quickly as she regenerated, the injuries hadn’t healed yet.
The demon screamed again, blood and ocular fluids squirting from his ruined socket. She shifted the knife to his other eye.
“My rules,” she said, mocking him. “And my rules start with not calling me a cocksucking cum-slut or anything else disgusting and disrespectful.” She squeezed her thighs, crushing his ribs. She’d done that to Arik once. Poor guy. “Feel me?”
“Yes,” he gasped.
“Good. Because, hello, I’m a legend. I deserve a little reverence. Now, tell me where they’re keeping Arik.”
“I don’t know.”
“Tsk-tsk.” She squeezed her legs harder, enjoying the crackle of breaking bones as he shouted out in pain. “I know you’re one of his torturers. So let’s try this again, and you’ll answer, unless you’ve really had your heart set on getting a guide dog. Where is he?”
“As much as I fear your wrath, I fear your betrothed’s more. If I so much as whisper a word, I won’t make it more than a step beyond the hellmouth’s gate before I’m torn to pieces.”
“Take a look at the fingers on my floor. I’m already tearing you to pieces.” She pricked the skin beneath his good eye, and a drop of blood welled up. “Where. Is. Arik?”
The demon laughed, and a chill shot up her spine. “If the human only knew how desperate you are to find him, he might have taken me up on my offer.”
“And what offer was that?”
He sneered. “The human worm refused to make a trade. You for him. Even after I tenderized his lower body with a sledgehammer, he wouldn’t deal.”
Limos could hardly breathe through her rage. And her shock. Arik had been given an out, and he hadn’t taken it? He’d protected her, someone he wasn’t related to? Who would do that? And why?
“You couldn’t have taken me, let alone held me.”
“We’d have set a trap so the Dark Lord could have caught you, because yes, you’re right. We couldn’t have held you for torture. But the human didn’t know that, and he still didn’t deal. And that is why the human race will lose in the Apocalypse. They are sentimental. Weak. Pathetic.”
“Weak?” she spat. “He didn’t play ball with you after
you smashed his legs, and you call him weak?” She slashed the blade across his cheek, opening it up to his teeth. “
Where is he?
Rhys hissed, spraying blood. “It matters not, Horseman. Truly.”
“And why is that?” she ground out.
“Because if he hasn’t broken by now, he won’t. The order has been handed down. He’ll be executed tomorrow. He’ll be dead in twenty-four hours.” He grinned. “The honor will be mine.”
Wrong answer, asshole
.” Limos slammed the dagger through his good eye, gave it a twist, and sent the blade straight into his brain. The demon jerked, his body spasming wildly. “That was for Arik.”
She leaped to her feet, her mind working furiously.
. Her breath caught as Rhys’s casual mention pierced her fog of fury. Though very few humans knew about them, there were six hellmouths on Earth, passageways through which humans could enter Sheoul—usually dragged there by demons. Could Arik be near one of them?
God, she hoped so, because right now, it was all she had to go on. And she had to hurry, because if Rhys was right, Arik had only hours to live.
Kynan Morgan freaking loved being immortal. Yeah, he bore a lot of weight on his shoulders because of it, weight in the form of the crystal pendant around his neck. But immortality was worth bearing that little piece of Heaven—literally,
. Given the choice, he’d make the same decision to be charmed by angels in order to protect the pendant.
Today, as he surveyed the half-dozen injured demons lying on the floor of the underground Las Vegas pub where he and his new fellow Aegis Elder, Decker, had beaten them into submission, he was more grateful than ever for the charm. The gray-green reptilian bastards hadn’t been able to lay a finger on him, which was great, seeing how their fingers were coated in a sticky acidic substance that bonded them to you like Superglue while they dissolved your flesh.
Decker was currently peeling himself out of his black
BDU pants, which were attached to one of the creature’s hands. Just the hand… since Decker had amputated it from the demon’s arm with his KA-BAR.
“Mother. Fuck.” Decker got his pants caught on his combat boots and did some kind of crazy dance as he tried to extricate himself. “God…
, these demons are nasty.” He tossed the pants away and made a sound of disgust. The vampire bartender, one of the few people who’d remained in the pub when the fighting started, laughed, but shut up when Decker flashed a wooden stake at him.
“I’m just happy you’re not a free-ball kind of guy.” Kynan winced at Decker’s Dale Earnhardt Jr. boxers. “Not that what you’re wearing is much better.”
Decker drew his Aegis sword from the sheath at his back, and hacked off one of the demons’ heads. “
of us aren’t all charmed up the ying-yang.”
did not sound right with a Texas twang, but Ky kept his mouth shut as Decker separated demon heads from necks, stopping with his blade poised over the heart of the last surviving demon. When the thing reached for his leg, Kynan used his single-handed modified Aegis crossbow to nail the demon in each palm, pinning its hands to the blood-soaked wood floor.
“Thanks, buddy,” Decker said.
Decker had never called Kynan “buddy” before Arik went missing, and the reminder of why they were here pricked at Ky’s temper. With a growl, he kneeled at the demon’s side and held the tip of his double-ended, S-shaped stang to the creature’s throat.
“Where is the human being kept?” he asked.
The demon rolled his lizardlike eyes up to meet Ky’s gaze. “How… would I… know?”
“Because you and your scaly friends have been taking bets on how long it’ll take him to break.”
“Fuckers,” the demon hissed. “We are… what do you call them… bookies? We hear things.”
“You do more than
.” Kynan used the tip of his blade to impale a demon tick the size of a damned quarter that was burrowing beneath one of the lizardman’s scales. “You’ve also been taking human form and insinuating yourself into human gambling operations.”
The breakage of Pestilence’s Seal had thrown off the delicate balance between good and evil that had, for so long, kept the worst of the demons at bay. Now scum like these demons, who had once been relegated to the depths of hell, were breaking loose and finding their way into the human realm, where they were wreaking havoc, either directly, by killing and maiming, or passively, by radiating evil like a dirty bomb. Humans whose souls were truly good were only mildly influenced by the hell-bombs, but evil humans and those who were on the fence became drunk with violence and possessed by evil thoughts; chaos was beginning to reign on the streets.
These particular demons had spread the gambling bug like one of Pestilence’s viruses. Not only had organized crime tripled, but the stakes had increased. Nothing was off the table in the back rooms of even reputable establishments. Money, drugs, children, human organs… all becoming disturbingly common as currency.
The lizardman was unrepentant. “Humans are stupidly blind. We can’t be held responsible for their weaknesses.”
Ky snarled. “Where. Is. Arik?”
The demon’s nose, two black holes in his face, twitched. “We don’t know where he’s being held.”
Kynan threw aside the stang and gripped the demon’s throat in his bare hands. “Listen to me, you fucking Sleestak creep. You spill, or I’m going to turn you into a pair of boots and a belt. And then I’m going to hunt down every one of your family members and do the same thing. Got it?”
Decker casually lit a match and touched it to the end of a tiny capsule, a nasty little R-XR weapon that could be dropped on a demon, where it would immediately burn its way into flesh. The thing caused excruciating agony as it passed through the victim’s body, its white-hot shell cauterizing as it traveled, preventing a total bleed out.
Fear flickered in the demon’s yellow eyes. “I don’t know,” he said quickly. “Is the truth, slayer.”
“Rumors, then. I know you’ve heard rumors.”
“The… Iblis’s torturing grounds are in the Doom region of Sheoul,” the Sleestak said, using one of the many names for the big bad demon Christians called Satan. “But the human is said to have been handed over to experts.”
Arik’s torture had been contracted out? Fuckers. “And these experts are keeping the human where?”
“They have many chambers. All located near hell-mouths.”
“Which one should we focus on?”
The demon said nothing. Ky squeezed his throat, and Decker crouched on his heels, holding the capsule over the lizardman’s crotch. “Which. One.”
“Erta Ale,” it rasped. “The rumor is… Erta Ale.”
“Isn’t that an Ethiopian volcano?” Decker dropped the capsule on the floor and crushed it with his boot.
Ky nodded. “I’ll search it. I need you back at R-XR
headquarters in D.C. You have to convince the R-XR to hurry up with the weapons they promised us.”
The R-XR and Aegis had been working on weapons that could deliver doses of hellhound saliva into the Horsemen—specifically, Pestilence. But Ky wouldn’t hesitate to use it on any Horseman who went bad.
“The R-XR is doing their best.” Defensiveness crept into Decker’s voice as he hacked off the lizardman’s head with a little more force than was required.
“The R-XR is doing
they do best, which is being overly cautious.” Kynan knew, because he’d been dragged into the secret Army unit, the Ranger-X Regiment, back when he was an Army medic who’d been attacked by a demon. The demon had nearly ripped out his throat, leaving him scarred and with a voice that made him sound like he was always chewing on gravel.
Decker’s mouth tightened into a grim line. “The R-XR is proceeding with necessary caution, and you know it. Someone has to balance out The Aegis’s tendency to act first and think later.”
Decker was right, but Kynan’s temper was on edge, just like the relationship between The Aegis and the R-XR. For years, they’d been allied, backing each other up in operations and sharing information, but when Pestilence’s Seal broke, the relationship went south. The military preached caution and was still trying to cover up the growing threat, while The Aegis went in
and was of the belief that it was time humans were let in on the existence of demons and the coming Apocalypse. The difference in approaches had caused a rift between the two organizations, and as a member of both, Decker was straddling the gap.
Kynan often wondered if Decker regretted signing on as an Elder three weeks ago. It was an unheard of move, bringing an outsider into The Aegis’s top echelon, but they’d wanted to bring the military on board as fully as they could.
“I know that.” Kynan stood. “But they need to do more to help us find Arik.”
“I want Arik found as bad as you do.” Decker wiped his blade clean on a dead demon’s clothing, his movements jerky, edged with irritation. “But the military can’t put all its resources into it. They…
… are busy trying to head off Pestilence’s damned plagues and putting down the demonic outbreaks. So don’t give me any bullshit about how we’re sitting around and doing nothing.”
Ky eyed Decker as he considered taking this little disagreement to the next level, but screw it. Their teams might be rivals, but they played on the same field. They needed to save their blood for demon battles.
“Come on,” Ky said, slugging Deck in the shoulder. “Let’s get you back to DC.”
After that, it was off to see a Horseman about a volcano, and Ky had a feeling things were about to get hot.
“Want some water?”
Hell yeah, Arik wanted water. What kind of dumbass question was that? His throat was too raw and swollen to speak, so he merely nodded at Tavin, a blond Seminus demon Arik’s torturers had hired to heal him.
Tavin frowned, and gripped Arik’s shoulder with his right hand, which was marked all the way to his throat
with tribal glyphs that all Seminus demons possessed. Apparently, they were a history of paternity, with the top symbol being personalized for each individual. Tavin’s seemed to be some kind of worm. He must take all kinds of shit from Sems who had cool symbols, like weapons or hourglasses or lightning bolts.
Sucked to be Tavin.
Sucked more to be Arik, though.
The demon channeled his healing gift into Arik’s body for the second time in the last ten minutes. The first time was to heal Arik’s broken ankles, his lacerated spleen, and the evisceration that had left his intestines hanging out of his navel.
Arik really fucking hated demons.
He’d been pretty solid on that point even before he’d been tortured to the brink of insanity, but the word “hate” wasn’t strong enough anymore. The English language needed a new word to describe how he felt about demons now.
Still, he supposed Tavin was okay for a demon. He wasn’t overly friendly, but he gave Arik more water than his captors ever did, and he always brought a new pair of scrub pants—black, as Arik requested—to replace the ones the demons destroyed during their torture sessions. Tavin had even presented an argument to his captors; the clothing protected Arik’s skin from infection that could kill him.
And, if Arik played his cards right, the pants would get him out of this hellhole.
Heat burned through Arik’s body, a byproduct of the Seminus healing ability, which allowed the demons to either repair injuries, affect bodily function, or tweak the mind. After a few seconds, Tavin’s energy had repaired damaged tissue and zapped Arik’s throat back into work
ing order. It was still sore—hell, his entire body was sore—but at least now the pain was bearable.
“Thanks.” Arik rubbed his neck, mapping out the new scars. The demon had done an adequate job, and even the mental damage, the horrific memories, seemed to have faded. As always, after Tav was done with him, Arik felt whole again, not just physically, but mentally. “You’ve been patching my mind, haven’t you?”
Tavin’s expression was a whole lot of blank. “I have no idea what you’re talking about.”
“Bullshit. I should be a head case by now. Fuck, I’m so damaged after a torture session that I don’t even know my own name. But when you’re finished with me… I dunno. You’re doing something.” Arik narrowed his eyes. “And don’t lie to me. I fucking hate liars, and I kinda think you’re all right for a demon. Don’t disappoint me.”
There was a heartbeat of hesitation… two… three… and then the pathetic moan of some nearby creature seemed to break the lock on Tavin’s silence.
“Seminus demons have only one of the three abilities.” His brisk tone made it clear that the discussion was over as he handed Arik a clay cup containing a few tablespoons of muddy liquid. Tasted like piss and mold, which it probably was, but it was wet, and he’d learned to take everything he could get.
Well, not everything. Sometimes the demons tempted him with things like fluffy, moist slabs of cake; thick, juicy, char-grilled steaks; and frosty mugs of beer. But he’d learned to never, ever touch the offerings, no matter how much his mouth watered and his stomach ached. Doing so earned him hot pokers in places not meant to handle molten iron rods.
Tav’s green eyes flashed with pity, and great, how pathetic were you when a
pitied your sorry ass?
“Do you know why the demons want me to say the Horseman’s name, Tav?”
“Nope.” Bitterness dripped from Tavin’s normally level voice. “I’m just the hired help.”
“Why’d you take the job?”
Tavin took the cup from Arik and tucked it into his duffle of medical supplies. “No choice.”
“There’s always a choice.”
“Not when you’re an assassin locked into a contract.”
“Assassin, huh?” Arik’s rusty wheels started turning. “Don’t suppose you know a couple of half-breed Sems named Sin and Lore? They’re sort of extended family. They were assassins not long ago.” Lore was now Underworld General’s chief medical examiner, and Sin had taken a position in the demon hospital’s infectious disease department, since her mutated Seminus gift had given her the unique ability to cause disease. Apparently, there was hope that she could also learn how to destroy it.
Tavin reached into his medical bag for a tube of ointment. “I used to work with them.”
A sickly little flame of hope flared. “Can you get them a message?”
“Not until the demons who hired me no longer need me.”
At which point, Arik would probably be dead. “Come on… the R-XR and Aegis will compensate you nicely if you do this.” He couldn’t believe he was trying to make a deal with a demon. But then, it wouldn’t be the first time. At least in this case, his soul wasn’t on the table.