She was used to being followed. Sometimes she lost him. Sometimes she didn’t. It was those times she feared. Father Reynard wasn’t her enemy, but as she cut down the familiar side street that formed an alley between the auditorium and her apartment, she knew what he was to her was more complicated and more frightening than if he was something she could fight.
The Savannah, Georgia, air was muggy in July, and her efforts to evade Reynard had left her damp with a sheen that was more humidity kissing her skin than sweat. But she didn’t pause to set down her cello case so she could mop her forehead with a lace hanky like a flustered southern belle. Instead, tendrils of her thick chestnut hair curled around her face as strands loosened from the diamanté clips the salon had used when she’d been cool and collected and air-conditioned that morning, preparing for the afternoon’s performance.
She heard his footfalls behind her. She knew his step. Others from his Order often hunted as well, but Reynard considered her his own.
Her faltering steps had brought the sound of his relentless pursuit closer. A desperate instinct to run, to hide, rose up in her chest, squeezing her lungs so that she breathed more quickly than her current exertions required. It was fear, plain and simple and stark.
Because there was no escape.
The city was draped in a gloaming blanket of twilight. The muggy haze had dimmed to purple with the setting of the Georgia sun. In the distance, she could hear the traffic and the hum of people on the sidewalks of the historic district, preparing for ghost tours and streetlight-lit carriage rides. But here, on the leftover cobblestones of a distant time, she was alone…except for Father Reynard.
His whistle began as it always did, with a lilting trio of notes that led into song. She recognized it as a Verdi piece she’d played that afternoon. Gooseflesh rose on her arms in spite of the oppressive heat from the summer day trapped in the narrow alley. The whistle meant he had her. It meant there must be a daemon nearby that she’d been drawn to. Her affinity had reliably led Father Reynard right where he most wanted to be. Again.
She did stop then.
Not giving up. Never that. She only paused to brace herself for what might be an ugly, dark and dangerous evening more from the violent monk who dogged her steps than the daemons he hunted. Although there was danger there, too. Certainly.
She was trapped in the middle of a war that would never have a winning side.
Katherine saw the daemon then. A woman. The glow of the horizon narrowly visible at the end of the alley cast her stiff form in stark relief. She stood poised for a fight. Her arms akimbo. Her knees slightly bent. It was going to be one of those times when the daemon didn’t go quietly. This was no hopeless soul longing to be sent back home. Katherine could see determination tense every muscle in the figure she faced.
“A female. Good job, Katarina. It’s so important to banish these before they breed,” Father Reynard said as he came up behind her. She kept her focus on the daemon, but she was totally aware of Reynard’s movements. The same way she would be if she were a hiker who was suddenly forced to skirt a mountain ledge over a steep precipice. Her footing was just as precarious. One wrong move with the deadly daemon hunter and she might be dead herself. She could feel the suck of gravity as if she was on the ledge, inches from death. His steps were slow and steady. Not rushed. He was confident. His voice was already smug with success. She was the one who was in danger. She was the one who might slip and fall.
Kat cringed at the utter contempt Reynard had for the daemon as a living, breathing creature, whether it was human or not. And at his total disregard for her and her disgust for his bloodthirsty quest.
Kat fisted her hands, but the woman leaped before she could decide how best to give her a chance to flee. The alley was too wide, an access point for delivery trucks to service the buildings on either side. She dropped her cello case and jumped but had no chance to keep the hunter and his prey apart. Not when the prey was determined to get around her. Kat was pushed to the side. She slammed against solid brick, and all the air left her lungs in a painful rush.
The daemon attacked Reynard with a fury Kat had never seen.
He was the one with the drawn blade, but Kat was as much a weapon as the bloodstained blade in Reynard’s hand. She didn’t deserve to be bypassed. The daemon should have attacked her first.
The sight of the deadly knife always repelled her. But it was Kat’s ability that had led Reynard and his weapon here. Like deadly magnets with a pull she couldn’t resist, daemons called and called to Katherine.
She was inexorably drawn to daemons, and Father Reynard followed with crimson death across all their throats.
“Stop,” Kat choked out as her own throat empathetically tightened—to the daemon or to Reynard or to the family gift she hadn’t asked to receive.
It was too late. Grizzled and gray, Reynard had fifty years of experience in killing. An extension of his wiry, muscled arm, the long knife gleamed red in the last hurrah of sunset on the horizon. Then it dripped a much darker stain from the daemon’s blood. Kat shuddered and backed away.
It was always the same.
The body went up in flames, consumed from the inside out, eyes and mouth and the gaping wound across the daemon’s throat gone to glowing with an impossible heat of coals in a fiery furnace. It was the freed Brimstone that did it, an otherworldly fuel that flowed through a daemon’s veins. Reynard said it was a little bit of the hell dimension they took with them wherever they roamed.
Kat always forced herself to watch until there were only curls of smoke where a daemon had been, but this time there was a sound discernible beneath Reynard’s triumphant chants.
To the left, behind a Dumpster, there was a shuffle of rubbish and gravel. There was also a sob. A small face peeked from around the refuse container. As the embers died, Kat could see chubby wet cheeks and eyes widened in shock and fear.
By then, the sun was gone and the sky was dark. It was only the glow of the daemon’s banishment that lit the scene. The light flickered and faded, but the daemon’s last dying illumination caused an eerie spotlight on the cowering child.
This time, she wasn’t too slow to react. While Reynard was occupied with ritual, in those few seconds it took for him to finish with one daemon and turn his attention when he realized there was another, Kat was the one who leaped. She wouldn’t let the mother’s last light aid Reynard in his hunt.
The child tried to get away. After all, Kat was part of his mother’s murder. Or so it seemed. So it felt. Regardless of what Reynard said about the daemons rematerializing in their own hellish dimension.
Kat was faster than the child. He was young. No more than five. And the mother’s desperation had transferred itself to Kat’s arms and legs. In those moments, Katherine D’Arcy was fit, fast and nobody’s bloodhound. Not anymore.
She grabbed the reluctant boy. He balked, planting his small feet on the pavement as if he planned to remain a statue in the alley, a fierce little memorial to his mother forever. He wouldn’t run with her. She had to pick him up. She tucked his squirming limbs against her side and bolted, deciding to base jump instead of fearing the fall. She’d never openly defied Reynard. Her grandmother’s fear had been passed to her mother. Her mother’s had been passed to her and her sister, their legacy darkened by his long shadow. His surprise at Kat’s action gave her precious seconds to get away with the child.
But even if she was faster than the small boy, Reynard was faster than her.
She’d long since realized his obsession drove him to superhuman lengths. His madness gave him strength beyond that of a mortal man.
Her only hope was to get back to the crowded street with the boy, where a blade across his throat would be too bold a move even for Father Reynard. The trench coat he wore like a monk’s robes flapped as he ran, great dark wings on either side of his lean body.
He seemed supernaturally unstoppable. As if he would never need rest. Her back. Her arms. Her shoulders. They all screamed under the squirming boy’s weight. Far too mortal in comparison to Reynard. She didn’t look back again.
“Hold still. Hang on. We’ve got to get you away from him,” she said into the boy’s towheaded curls.
The strands smelled like baby shampoo against her face. The simplicity of that impacted her even harder than the sneakers kicking her side. The daemon woman who had attacked Reynard to defend her child had also lovingly washed his hair like any human mother would. Kat couldn’t let Reynard kill him. She couldn’t let the boy die because of her gift.
She heard booted footfalls catching up behind them as she flew from alley to street to sidewalk, trying to get back to the main thoroughfare where people would be.
If the boy had been a few pounds lighter or a few years younger or less panicked in his struggle against her, she might have made it.
“Katarina!” Reynard boomed close behind her. His pet name for her grated on her nerves as always. Now it was a proclamation of her guilt. She had betrayed him.
Resignation softened the muscles in her legs as adrenaline deserted her. She would never beat him in a foot race, even if she wasn’t carrying the child. Her only hope was to reason with a madman. No hope at all. Fortunately, the lack of hope made her more determined to try. Though she stopped to turn and face him and his blade with a pounding heart and ice in her veins, she couldn’t help noting his giddiness was gone. He was raw anger personified now. The guise of his righteous joy had burned away as surely as the daemon’s human form.
The boy had stopped his efforts to wiggle out of her arms. Perhaps between the man who had cut his mother’s throat and the woman who held him, he chose her.
Being the lesser of two evils didn’t seem a triumph at all.
“I won’t let you kill him, Father,” she said.
She held the boy close. She wrapped him tighter in her arms. She could feel the frantic beat of his heart against her chest, an echo to the thud of her own. She placed a hand on the back of his shampoo-scented head and pressed him even closer.
“I banish. I don’t kill, Katarina. You know this. I send them back to hell where they belong,” Reynard said. He stepped nearer. One stride. Katherine took the same stride back and away. He had always refused to call her by the name her mother had given her. It was as if he attempted to erase her true identity and replace it with one he had created.
But she had nowhere to run. She could still hear traffic and people in the distance. So close and yet so far away. The hum of the city mocked her efforts to defy the man who had dogged her steps from the time she could walk.
“So you say. All I’ve ever seen is the blood. The suffering. The pain,” Kat said.
The boy trembled in her arms. At some point, his small arms had twined around her neck.
“They are deadly. They manipulate us with trickery and deceit. Have you forgotten your mother?” Reynard asked.
Her mother had been killed by a daemon. It was true. They were dangerous. Deadly. But so was the human being she faced.
Reynard held his long blade in a steady hand. She could see the muscle and sinew standing out in his right forearm where his coat had fallen away. He was ready to slit the throat of a child…or her throat if she got in his way.
“A daemon killed my mother. But you were using her to hunt him when it happened. Would she be dead if it wasn’t for you?” Katherine asked.
“She would never have been born if it hadn’t been for Samuel. He gave his last breath to resuscitate your grandmother, a stranger he met on a train. He passed his ability to detect daemons hiding among us to your family. And this is the legacy you spurn.” Spittle flew with the accusation, and then several sudden steps brought Reynard much too close.
There was nothing she could do. Her back was pressed to the grungy brick wall. Only decades of faded graffiti would mark her grave if she continued to fight him. She had nowhere to go, but then again, she never had.
“It’s you I spurn, Reynard,” she said.
Slowly she lowered the child to the ground and pushed him behind her legs. Her body was the only shield she had to give. Her cello case had been dropped back where his mother’s smoke still swirled in the air.
“Your sister has evaded me for a long time. Too long. I begin to wonder if she spurned me only to be killed by a daemon, too. Perhaps your family legacy is one of failure,” Reynard said. The glee was back in his voice, lilting his words.
She thought of her cello, of her mother’s and sister’s singing. They had turned to music to buffer the bloody killings and to mute the daemon’s call. Had they failed, after all? Had all the years of practice and performance been for nothing? Her fingers tingled and ached, reminders of how many times she’d played until the tips bled in order to thwart Reynard.
The boy clung to her legs. She could feel the damp of his tears soaking through the chiffon of her concert gown. It was no suit of armor. No barrier to Reynard’s seasoned blade. She was no match for a killer.
When her sister Victoria had flown to Baton Rouge to take the role of Faust’s Marguerite at l’Opera Severne, she’d told Katherine not to worry. She’d been gone for months, but she’d kept in touch at first. Kat hadn’t heard from her sister in a few weeks, but with rehearsals and the rush of preparing for performances, she’d hoped all was well.
“Give him to me, Katarina. End this. Embrace your legacy. Do not embrace a daemon,” Reynard coaxed, edging closer.
The idea that Reynard might be right about her sister hollowed out her insides until she echoed. Hollow or not, alone or not, she wouldn’t give up. She didn’t have a parachute to count on. She could only jump and try to fly.
“My name is Kat,” she replied, pressing her hand against the boy’s back and lifting her chin. Whether he accepted it or not, she would claim autonomy. She would follow her heart and her instinct to protect the trembling child behind her.
A sound of disgust erupted from Reynard’s lips and he brandished his knife. Would he slice her throat or stab her through her pounding heart?
Either way, if Reynard had to deal with her, it might give the daemon boy a chance to run.
She braced to push the child away, but before Reynard’s blade descended, an eerie mimicry of his earlier whistle began in the alley behind them. It stayed Reynard’s hand and caused Kat’s breath to catch in her throat. The boy against her leg lifted his head and turned his face to see.
There were few streetlights nearby. Most had been busted. Barely mitigated darkness enveloped them. Only one flickering holdout, the ambient light of the city against the sky, and the humid atmosphere gave them illumination to see. It was light pollution, but it mimicked fog. Through its violet haze and the floating of particles that were probably Brimstone ash, a figure stepped toward them.
The whistle and the posture of the man were casual. Exaggerated ease. He must see the confrontation he’d interrupted. He must see a woman and child threatened by a larger, stronger man, but he acted nonchalant, as if he was only out for a stroll. He must see the knife Reynard hadn’t bothered to hide away.
Kat’s gift wasn’t one of sirens and flashing lights. She was pulled toward daemons. It was subtle. The tingle, the thrill that shivered along her veins as the man approached was probably only shock that he would stroll past Father Reynard with barely a glance in his direction. A daemon wouldn’t dare approach them.
Closer, she could see that the stranger’s tall form was clothed in evening apparel. The flash of white from his shirt contrasted with the inky darkness of his suit or tuxedo. But closer still, she noted his bowtie was undone at his neck and hung on either side of his collar. So easy. So debonair.
It wasn’t until he stopped at her side that she knew she’d been fooled. He wasn’t relaxed. The tension in his body transferred itself to hers when his arm brushed her elbow. Hard. Prepared. Ready.
He might wear formal clothes, but beneath them he was all warrior. Molded body armor would have been more appropriate to the purpose inherent in every flexed muscle and the energy he exerted to hold himself in check.
“Who are you? What do you want?” Reynard asked.
The blade of his knife had dipped. He preferred an audience of one for his performances. Her. And her alone. Or her sister in turn. Their mother and grandmother before that.
“A bystander who finds himself unable to stand by,” the man said.
For her ears alone he added, “I’m John Severne.”
Memories of the opera house in Baton Rouge teased her mind, but she pushed them away.
She had no time for nostalgia. Worry for her sister wound tighter until her insides were pulled like cheap strings on an instrument’s bridge, stretched to the breaking point. One clumsy finger would cause her to snap.
Severne reached for the boy, but she stopped him. It only took one hand on his hard arm, but touching him felt braver than that. Almost as brave as opposing Reynard. His cultured Southern tones seemed as incongruent to him as his evening apparel. Beneath the polish, he was a man to be reckoned with. She couldn’t see his face…only a suggestion of angles and curves, but as he drew his arm back, she felt what it cost him. He forced patience with her interference. A thrill of cool adrenaline rushed down her spine at his stiffness, his anger. It shored up her nerve…barely. The boy trembled against her, not oblivious to the forces at work above his head.
“You are making a mistake,” Reynard growled.
“I would say the same to you,” Severne replied.
Then he pulled Katherine against him. She’d been right about his tension. She could feel the planned action in his body everywhere it touched hers. Muscle. Energy. Strength. And more adrenaline rushed because she was fairly sure the warning in his words, just like his name, had been for her, not Reynard.
He was warning her it was a mistake to resist his help.
But she didn’t snap like the cheap strings she imagined. She held fast. Unbroken.
“Let me take the boy,” he said for her ears alone, the flow of the Seine even more apparent in an intimate whisper than it had been in his louder speech. He had a Southern accent, but it was old-fashioned, formal and touched with a hint of Paris. Clenched teeth and a hardened jaw and the iron of his body against her offset the softness of his accent.
He was no French-kissed delta dream.
He was real. And the potential for danger radiated off him in heated waves.
“Hell, no,” Kat replied.
She finally recognized Brimstone’s fire. She’d felt it only a few times in her twenty-two years. Normally she avoided touching daemons. Pressed close to him, the simmer his body contained couldn’t be ignored. He had seemed so cool and collected in his initial approach. He wasn’t. Beneath the surface, he burned.
Her rescuer was a daemon, and she was damned for sure because she still refused to join forces with Reynard against him.
“We need more time to negotiate,” he said as if they sat at a boardroom table. “I can arrange that.”
She’d seen Reynard fight before, but when the energy she’d sensed in Severne erupted, the ferocity of his clash with her lifelong tormentor took her by surprise.
Reynard was in trouble.
Severne used only his body—fists, feet, arms and legs—but he used them in a graceful dance of martial arts moves meant to be deadly. The tuxedo he wore was revealed inch by inch as his coat was shredded away by Reynard’s blade.
John Severne was in trouble, too.
When a particularly vicious slice cut the fabric away from his muscled chest to reveal a hard, sculpted body, she blinked the sight away, but not before she cringed at the dark rivers of his blood.
After Reynard, there was always the desperate flight and the need to hide again. This time she’d flee for two. For the first time, she imagined what it must have been like for her mother to protect them from the obsessed monk. It had been a lost cause. But she had never stopped trying.
“We have to go,” she said to the boy. The fight was the diversion they needed to get away. She pulled him up into her arms again and ran. He clung to her this time, wrapping his legs around her waist and his arms around her neck, subdued by all he’d seen.
The absence of her cello made her ache. It wasn’t a missing limb. It was a missing chamber of her heart. There was nothing to be done. She couldn’t go back for it. She had gone to her apartment for a few necessities, but had sought shelter in the house of a friend who was out of town rather than risk Reynard knowing her current address. She moved often. It never mattered.
He always found her eventually.
While the boy slept, she looked up driving directions to Baton Rouge. She couldn’t ignore her concern for Victoria any longer. They’d been out of touch too long, and Reynard’s appearance only confirmed her fear. Urgency pounded in her temples to no avail. She couldn’t fly because she had no papers for the child. He wouldn’t even give her his name. If Reynard defeated the daemon, he would hunt her down. She didn’t have much time to save the daemon boy and find her sister. She’d called Victoria’s phone again and again. The cheery voicemail greeting became more ominous with every repeat. And what of John Severne? Had he ended up with his throat slashed and Brimstone-burned back to wherever he’d come from, or did she need to fear him as well as Reynard?
“Let me take the boy,” he’d said.
But every fiber in her body had resisted. It was her fault Reynard had found the boy’s mother. It was her responsibility to protect him.
The boy had refused to talk, but he’d seemed to understand everything she’d said. He’d also refused to let her out of his sight until he finally fell asleep. His dark lashes against his chubby cheeks gave him an angelic mien against his borrowed pillow. She’d smoothed his soft hair back from his forehead to kiss it, finding the extra warmth beneath his skin pleasant instead of frightening.
After that, the loss of her cello didn’t matter.
She’d curled her legs under her in a nearby armchair, determined to watch over the boy through the night.
But a noise outside interrupted the tea she’d made to calm herself. It had been cooling untouched anyway. She’d been replaying every word Severne had spoken. She’d even closed her eyes to remember the song of his voice, to gauge what was the truth about the daemon—his drawl or the deadly way he’d used his whole body as a weapon. His anger or the way he’d restrained his impatience with her resistance.
At the sound of a step on the front porch, she rose from the chair beside the boy’s bed.
She didn’t know whom she most feared to see.
It was ridiculous to feel gratitude to a stranger for his help when he might have his own daemonic designs on her family. The name Severne couldn’t be a coincidence. She hadn’t heard from her sister since Victoria had gone to the Theatre de l’Opera Severne in Louisiana, and Kat had felt the heat from Severne’s Brimstone-tainted blood.
She’d been desperate to defy Reynard, and for the first time she had, openly and with no regret, but she’d been successful only with the stranger’s help.
The shotgun colonial had creaky floors and high-ceilinged rooms. Kat moved along the edge of the hall where the boards were more firmly nailed to diminish the sound of her feet on the floor. The peach chiffon of her soiled and torn gown swirled around her legs. She hadn’t wanted to leave the frightened boy alone long enough to change, and now she padded downstairs on bare feet, pausing only long enough to pick up a bronze statue. It was a cherubic angel.
Her friend’s decor held an irony she was too tired to appreciate.
“Did you know your ability to detect daemons works both ways? They’re drawn to you like moths to flame,” a familiar voice said. Her memory recalled the exact inflections and the intimate way he drawled certain vowels, low as if in a register she felt more than heard. Musical. His voice was musical.
He came through the front foyer painted by shadows and soft light.
The door had been locked, but that fact seemed distant. As if she’d expected the bolt to be nothing to him. She feared him. She feared what his intentions might be. But there was a song in his accent she couldn’t help appreciating. His voice called to something deep inside her, making her fingers itch to play.
All the lamps had been extinguished. The light from an open laptop and the streetlights outside still didn’t fully reveal the daemon’s face, but they did reveal the familiar shape of her cello case in his hand.
He came toward her with no hesitation, completely undaunted by the statue in her hand until he was only inches away…until she could feel his Brimstone heat. Again, the heat wasn’t unpleasant. In fact, in the air-conditioned chill of the unfamiliar house, she could almost lean into Severne’s heat if she allowed herself to be lulled by his song or relieved that she wouldn’t have to fight Reynard to protect the child…yet.
“Judging by body temperature, you’re mistaken about which of us is the flame in that scenario,” Kat said.
She’d never had a conversation with a daemon. It was wrong. Against everything she’d ever been told or taught. The trouble was, it was also exhilarating. Part of her was still all adrenaline from the way the night had played out. She should have been shaky and over it. Ready to hide behind Tchaikovsky and Wagner as safe excitements she could easily handle.
Instead, a part of her wanted to jump off a ledge again with this flaming parachute she’d been given and enjoy the burn all the way down.
Could he sense her exhilaration? How it barely edged out fear? Could he tell she trembled when he moved a little closer?
“I could have taken the boy away from danger,” he said, so close now that the statue pressed between them was even more useless than before. He didn’t make her put it down. He ignored it. As if he knew she wouldn’t give in to fear. As if he expected her to be braver than that.
She would have to be braver, because the real danger was Severne and her reaction to him, and there didn’t seem to be any escape from that.
“I don’t trust Father Reynard, but I don’t trust daemon manipulations, either,” Kat said. “Did you kill him?”
He paused. Hesitated as if her words had stopped him. Maybe she shouldn’t have spoken her suspicions about him and what he was…but the thought disintegrated when he lifted a hand to touch her face.
“No. He isn’t dead. Only slowed down for awhile,” Severne said. “I’m sorry.”
She let him touch her. She didn’t cringe away. As his warm fingers lightly trailed across her skin, Kat suddenly thought of the graceful but deadly way he’d dealt with Reynard in the alley. He was a daemon. It didn’t matter that he had helped her. She wouldn’t trust him. She hadn’t even fully seen him yet in a night of shadows and flickering light…
She could tell his hair was dark. Not whether it was black or brown. His eyes were dark mysteries. They could be any color. They held all his secrets in depths that appeared onyx in the night.
When he leaned down to press his lips to her temple, then to her cheek, then to trail them along her jawline as if to trace her face in the darkness…she didn’t protest. Was he comforting her? His lips were warmer than they should have been. The heat caused a responsive flush to rise on her skin. Her affinity kept her from reacting the way she ordinarily would if a man she’d just met had been so bold. It was a secret pulse between them, heightening a natural flare of chemistry, drawing them closer, sooner, than it should.
“Don’t be sorry,” Kat said. “I think he can’t be killed. He’s like Death himself, a Grim Reaper I can’t escape.”
He was all relaxed grace, taking the statue and placing it on a nearby table. She was all adrenaline and trembling sighs, but when both hands were free, she kept them at her sides. Not pulling him closer. Not pushing him away. Only refusing to hold on with all her might. He warmed her in ways that went beyond mere physical heat. Her usual affinity was magnified by his touch. It rose up and rushed through her veins almost as heated as Brimstone until she had the crazy urge to surrender to it and press herself closer into his arms. She saw it again in her mind, the way he’d braved Reynard’s deadly blade.
Those images held her still for his kiss.
Or did they? Her body mocked her need for an excuse. This—the heat, the masculine aura drawing her in, the night-cloaked scent that clung to his earthy skin and his hair and clothes—wasn’t he enough?
Right now, he was everything.
Because by then his soft, tracing lips had discovered her mouth in the dark, and a more intimate exploration of it had begun—lips, teeth, tongue. So velvety and alive with tremors and gasps and the sudden moist dip of his tongue.
A hot coil unfurled in her abdomen, her nipples peaked and her knees grew weak.
Then Severne pressed the handle of her cello case into her right hand. Her fingers curled around the indentions they’d made over fifteen years of constant companionship to the leather-bound grip.
“Never trust a daemon bearing gifts, Katherine D’Arcy. There’s always a price to be paid,” he murmured into her hair when she slumped loose-limbed and faint against the firm wall of his body.
“No,” she protested. But it was too late. She’d accepted the cello like a long-lost love. The Order warned against communicating with daemons. Hell was structured around a complex system of negotiating. She could feel daemonic power like static in the air as some unspoken bargain physically materialized around them, beginning with her acceptance of her case from his hand.
He lifted her and the cello easily. He cradled her against his chest, but she couldn’t make her body resist or her hand release the cello. He carried her and the instrument upstairs and placed her beside the boy on the bed with the cello case cool and lifeless on the other side.
Then he made the trade.
He picked up the daemon child.
Kat couldn’t move. He was no longer touching her, but his heat had remained, leaving her lethargic and weak.
Somehow she had agreed without meaning to. The cello for the child. The daemonic bargain held her in place. She couldn’t fight its power.
“Come and play for me in Baton Rouge, Katherine. We have more bargains to make. I can help you find your sister,” John Severne said.
“Never trust a daemon,” Kat promised her pillow. She refused to let her tears fall. Or maybe it was daemon manipulations that suspended each perfect droplet on her lashes as Severne walked away.
And scroll down to read an excerpt from the second book in the Brimstone series…
Playground sounds made the danger beside Victoria so much worse. High-pitched laughter and conversations about make-believe seemed surreal. Across the mulched expanse, her sister, Katherine D’Arcy, pushed Victoria’s toddler, Michael, and her own baby, Sam, on the swings. She glanced toward Victoria and waved. Vic waved back.
Pay no attention to the madman beside me, Kat. Keep my Michael and your Sam safe.
The monk sitting beside Victoria on the park bench was in a businessman’s suit, as if he’d dropped by the Baton Rouge, Louisiana playground during his lunch break. He crossed his legs gracefully like a civilized man. Kat probably thought he was a father watching his child play instead of an evil man come to threaten their own. Victoria had been resting in the sun when he’d approached. She’d actually smiled at him when he’d joined her on the bench.
And then he’d revealed his true purpose.
“The Order of Samuel has proven time and time again that you cannot run. You cannot hide. You will learn this lesson or your child will join us. A half daemon brother would be unusual, but I’m sure we could train him, put him to good use for Father Reynard’s cause.”
“Stay. Away. From. Michael.” Victoria said. Her voice cracked with emotion. Her baby was only two. Katherine pushed her nephew higher and he squealed.
Victoria’s throat had yet to recover from the injuries she’d sustained in the opera house fire set by Father Reynard. They’d blamed it on an obsessive fan. He’d been obsessive all right. But not a fan. He was a daemon hunter and she and Katherine had been his reluctant bloodhounds. They’d been born with an affinity for Brimstone blood that inevitably led them to the daemons Reynard hunted. Violence. Blood. Pain. No rest. No peace. He had dogged their steps for as long as they could walk.
He’d died in the fire, but apparently his cause hadn’t.
“I will leave your daemon spawn alone, only if you set my brethren free. This man is our greatest enemy. He must be stopped,” the monk in disguise said.
He held a magazine in his hands and tilted the cover so she could see the man who graced it.
Michael’s laughter floated to her ears as his doting aunt pushed him on the swing. Victoria had fallen in love with a daemon. Her affinity for the Brimstone in his blood had drawn them together, but it had been more than that. He’d been a stop to running. He’d been hope. He had died trying to protect her and Michael. The Order of Samuel said they were warriors for heaven. They lied. The members of the D’Arcy family were tools used by one faction of daemons to hunt another.
The D’Arcy ability to draw and be drawn to daemon blood had placed them in the middle of an otherworldly civil war.
Love wasn’t allowed.
Ironic that her favorite role to play had always been Juliet. She’d traveled around the world to sing the part of a tragic romance again and again.
“What do you want me to do?” Victoria asked.
The man on the cover of the magazine was a beautiful stranger in a designer suit. Behind him, a vineyard stretched in seemingly endless verdant rows. He stood with one foot on the threshold of a historic stone building, a massive wooden door with iron lathes looking rough-hewn and craggy in sharp contrast to his polished clothes. There was a gleam to the black waves of his hair, but those waves and his sun-kissed skin seemed more in keeping with the door than his suit. Victoria had grown up in the dramatic world of the opera. She knew a costume when she saw one. The man’s civilized suit was a lie.
“You will gain his trust. You will learn his secrets. Once you discover where he keeps his prisoners, you will free them,” the monk said. “Once they are freed, they will use their combined strength to kill him. In this way, you will guarantee your son’s safety.”
Children laughed and ran and played all around them. Tears burned behind her eyes. But she forced them to dry. She waved again and this time Michael waved back, still laughing. Katherine was looking at Victoria closely now. As if she sensed something wrong. But the monk had already risen, prepared to walk away. He didn’t need her answer. He could sense her defeat in her slumped shoulders and her trembling wave of reassurance to her child.
“I’m not a spy. How will I do this?” she asked his back. He paused and halfway turned back to reply.
“He has Brimstone in his blood. He’s damned. Your affinity is the perfect weapon. His home is a fortress. You will penetrate his defenses. Seduce his secrets from him. Free our brothers. Capture him. Then, you and your family will be left in peace.”
She would never know peace.
“Who knows? You might even enjoy yourself. You have proven you have a taste for damnation,” the monk said. His knowing laughter didn’t blend with the innocent laughter of the children around them. It jarred. It condemned. Her cheeks burned. Not because she was ashamed of loving Michael’s father, but because this man didn’t deserve to pollute what they’d shared by mentioning it. Daemons were nearly immortal beings who lived in the hell dimension. They were different but, like men, they were only damned by their actions, not by their blood. Michael’s father had been heroic in the end, sacrificing himself for his child even though he’d been a daemon.
The children on the playground seemed to sense the evil in their midst. They parted as the monk passed as if a snake slithered among them. One little girl began to cry without obvious cause and a kind woman ran to see what she could do to help.
The monk had left the magazine beside her on the bench. She picked it up. The man on the cover hadn’t looked at the camera. The photographer had caught him in a moment of reflection, with dark shadows from the vine-covered building on his face. The photograph drew her as if the Brimstone in the man’s blood could already sense her affinity. Yes. He had secrets. She could see them in his shadowed eyes.
A single tear did fall then. The monk had already walked away. His laughter drifted back to her on the humid Louisiana breeze. She had loved and lost, but she wouldn’t lose again. Only one tear fell. It rolled down her cheek to fall on the back of her hand. It glistened there, useless.
She would do what she had to do to protect her son.
She willed the unshed tears to dry as she widened her eyes and clenched her jaw. The magazine crinkled in her ferocious grip.
Her son’s vigilant protector, the hellhound Grim, wasn’t allowed to materialize in the playground, but Victoria saw a shimmer of shadows near the swings, too dark to be cast by the blossoming grove of cherry trees that surrounded the park.
The wind blew and petals fell like pale pink rain. They settled on Katherine’s dark hair and the children laughed. They raised their hands to the sky to try to catch the drifting blossoms. Near the shadow of Grim, the petals shied away in puffs of disturbed silk as the giant dog shook his sooty coat to maintain his disguise. She could imagine his movements because she knew he was there. No one else noticed. Just as no one else had heard the monk’s threats.
During the fire,
But Grim wouldn’t be enough.
Victoria had to do more.
Even if it meant continuing to be a servant to madmen whose evil requests damned her as if she’d sold her soul.
As the playground full of children continued to laugh and play, fear burned hotly inside her chest, exactly as she imagined the damning fire of Brimstone might burn in daemon veins.