Touch of the Angel
Demons of Infernum - Book Three - Rosalie Lario
After months of no work, interdimensional bounty hunter Ronin Meyers jumps at the chance to locate an incubus who’s using succubi as murder weapons. Faced with deportation to hellish Infernum if he fails, Ronin will stop at nothing to take out the incubus and anyone else involved. Even the beautiful succubus who stole his heart—and nearly his life—during the most mind-blowing hour of his existence.
Night after night, Amara and her fellow succubi are forced to extract special abilities from the strongest Otherworlders for their psychotic master’s growing collection. When the gorgeous angel-demon hybrid she believed to be dead captures her, Amara is both stunned and elated.
But the happily ever after Amara’s dreamed about will have to wait. Before she and Ronin can find salvation, they must bring down the madman hellbent on destroying everything—and everyone—they love. And Ronin and Amara are at the top of his list…
Title: Touch of the Angel (Demons of Infernum, #3)
Author: Rosalie Lario
Genre: Paranormal Romance
Length: 286 pages
Release Date: December 2011
ePub ISBN: 978-1-937044-67-1
Print ISBN: 978-1-937044-66-4
Praise for Touch of the Angel:
“This thrilling new series mixes danger with demons and romance with rocket-paced action! I can’t wait for the next one.” ~ Alyssa Day, New York Times bestselling author
© Rosalie Lario
Ronin had no idea what he was doing at a place like Opiate. The Harlem club took the concept of freaky to a whole new level, catering to the less-savory members of Otherworlder society: demons, fae, vampires, and other non-humans who were outsiders among their own kind. It might’ve been perfect for his younger brother Dagan, but it was so not his style.
Yet, at close to three o’clock in the morning, after trying to get some sleep and failing miserably, here he was.
Ronin walked through the dank alley and stepped through a nondescript green metal door. His demon radar was going off the charts, making him damned uncomfortable. The best way to fix that was to dampen it with alcohol. He passed the bouncer, paid the cover to the demon at the desk who’d glamoured himself to appear human, and walked up the stairs, which opened to the main area of the club. Dark red walls were framed with intricate metal scrolling, a bar lined one side of the room, and round booths with zebra-patterned seating were scattered throughout.
He headed straight for the bar, nodding a greeting at the bartender, a tall, golden elf named Crull.
“Haven’t seen you around for a while,” Crull said as he dried a clean glass with the white dishcloth in his hand.
That was because Ronin generally made it a point not to come here. “I’ll have a whiskey. Straight.”
Crull nodded and arched his pierced brow. “Long night?”
“Aren’t they all?”
Laughing, Crull poured him a glass, which Ronin drank in one smooth swallow.
An amused smirk crept onto Crull’s face. “You need another one?”
Ronin choked a bit as the strong liquor burned its way down to his stomach. “Yeah.”
“I’ll get you a double.”
He’d never admit it aloud, but lately Ronin found himself missing the company of his brothers. Less than a year ago, Ronin, along with Keegan, Taeg, and Dagan, had lived in Infernum, a hellish world populated by demons and angels. They had kept busy working as Detainors—interdimensional bounty hunters for the Elden Council. The Council was composed of species from each of the various dimensions, and it governed travel between them. Those who traveled outside their own world and committed grave offenses were hunted and imprisoned.
Ronin and his brothers had been called to this world to catch their father, a demon who’d been hellbent on conquering Earth. Once he was apprehended they’d been granted leave to remain, which had been great since Keegan had fallen in love. But work had been tapering off the past few months. It was damned annoying not to have anything to do. Hence, his side trip to Opiate.
Crull handed him a refill that Ronin accepted with a muttered, “Thanks.”
“No problem. I saw Dagan here earlier. He left with a couple of sirens about an hour ago.”
“Big surprise.” The dog. Sometimes Ronin wished he could be carefree like Dagan. Focus on beer and women and getting his rocks off. But he didn’t get the same high from it all that his little brother did.
Crull must have sensed his bad mood, because he plunked the bottle of whiskey down onto the bar in front of Ronin, gave him a curt nod, and turned away. “I’ll leave you to it.”
Ronin eyed the whiskey bottle. Clearly, he was going to have to find another interest to occupy his free time. But until then, alcohol would have to do. “It’s just you and me, baby.”
He’d already downed his third double shot before he was propositioned. Must be losing his touch, if it had taken that long.
The woman sidled up to him, eyeing him like he was a big, juicy steak. She leaned against the counter, her body mere inches from his. “Hello, handsome. You seem lonely.”
“Hi.” He glanced over at her, taking in her features. Short, silky dark hair, a decent body, too-pale skin. Vamp. He stifled a shudder. Biters creeped him the hell out.
She slid a cold hand down his forearm. “Want some company?”
“No.” Normally he’d be smoother about it, but he was a bit drunk, so who cared?
Her lips tightened and she shot him an offended glare. With a muttered “Fine,” she marched off.
Mission accomplished. With the funk he was in, he was probably better off alone. The thought of having yet another meaningless sexual encounter wasn’t cutting it tonight. He longed for an emotional connection. Hell, he missed his brothers.
Ronin finished off a fourth shot. Whiskey wasn’t doing much for him tonight. Maybe he needed something a bit stronger.
He swiveled his head to search out Crull. That was when he spotted her. No way he’d miss her. In comparison, every other face faded into the background.
She stood halfway across the long bar, flipping her long, dark hair behind her shoulders. Her slanted brows, thin, straight nose, and full, luscious lips could have come right out of one of those smut magazines human men favored. She wore a short brown dress in a shimmery fabric that showed off her tanned flesh. It was cut so low the top of her belly button was visible, and her round, full breasts threatened to spill out the sides.
A small crowd of men clamored around her, each trying to get her attention. She twirled a lock of hair around her finger and ignored them. Although she gave off a bored vibe, he sensed something else hidden beneath. Something she couldn’t hide.
A sense of vulnerability.
Against his better judgment, he allowed it to call to him.
Forget it. Waste of time, his brain told him.
Shut up and get over there, his dick replied.
The two fought for dominance before his dick won the battle, urging him to his feet. In his defense, he had been drinking.
He was about halfway to her when she first saw him. Her eyes widened the slightest bit before she turned back to the bar and drummed her fingertips, acting like she hadn’t noticed him. Liked to play coy, did she?
Her pack of admirers closed in around her. He squeezed his way inside, ignoring the grumbles and protests of the other men.
“Watch it, asshole,” one of them said.
“Out of my way,” another grumbled.
A big guy who resembled a biker stepped into Ronin’s path. His lips curled back to reveal jagged teeth and a forked tongue that gave him away as a navisti demon. His type stuck mostly to eating animals like pigs and goats, but they’d been known to attempt eating other demons. Ronin would like to see him try.
“This is a private party,” the navisti demon growled.
“Yeah?” Ronin eyed the demon, then pointedly glanced around the club. “I don’t see any signs.”
The demon uttered a harsh, gravelly laugh and showed him his fist. “I got your sign right here, motherfucker.”
Uh-huh. Real original. Ronin stifled a sigh. Thanks to the duality of his heritage—half-demon, half-angel—he couldn’t decide whether he wanted to fight the dude or send him on his way. In the end, he decided to use the ability he’d inherited from his mother. He focused inward and a knot of cool, calming energy unwound itself from his gut, curling outward through his pores. It settled over the demon like a fine mist, then spread out to touch a couple of the other men who stood close by. Their bodies relaxed and their faces went slack.
The demon’s brow wrinkled and he stepped to the side, scratching his head.
Heat from the crush of demons enveloped Ronin when he stopped next to the woman, motioning for Crull to come over. She turned, giving a slow, leisurely perusal of his body. Her lips curled into a smile. “You’re an inviting change from the norm.”
He made a show of subjecting her to the same scrutiny. She was even more beautiful up close, and he noticed the burgundy highlights reflecting in her shiny black hair. Her dress ended high up on her thighs, leaving the long expanse of her legs bare, down to her sandal straps, which wound around her ankles. She wore no jewelry other than a gold band around her wrist. Hell, she didn’t need any. “Come here a lot, I take it?”
Her smile was bitter and something melancholy flashed in her eyes, quickly replaced by a seductive glance. “Too often.”
Crull stopped in front of him. “Can I get you anything else?”
“Elvish absinthe.” It was the strongest liquor on the market. Ronin turned to the woman. “Anything for you?”
“I’ll take the same.” She threw him a daring wink, then as Crull strolled away, stretched out her right hand in greeting. “I’m Amara.”
A few of the men surrounding them swore and stalked away. She’d clearly sent some unspoken message by accepting his drink and introducing herself to him.
“I’m Ronin.” He clasped his hand over hers. She emitted a muted but distinct energy that marked her as a demon, though with its low level she couldn’t be more than half. That was good; she couldn’t be a succubus if she were only half-demon, and that meant he didn’t have to worry if things progressed beyond the talking stage. Succubi and incubi were the only demon subspecies who could kill other demons through sex.
He opened his mouth to ask her what she was.
“You’re different.” She tilted her head to the side and eyed him up and down once again. “Demon, but different.”
“You’ve got strong senses.”
“So what is it, Ronin? What makes you so…special?”
The last word sounded out like a caress from her lips. It was an open challenge, if he read her eyes correctly. What she really wanted to know was what made him better than all the other assholes who’d been fighting for her attention.
“Guess you’ll have to stick around to find out,” he retorted with an easy grin.
Amara regarded him for a long moment before gracing him with an electrifying smile. Crull plunked the drinks in front of them, and she tugged her hand back, picking up the drink.
“Cheers.” She extended her glass toward him.
He picked his up and clinked it against hers before downing it.
With a raised brow, she copied his motion.
He had to give her credit—she barely shuddered at the taste.
“So.” She put the glass down. “Do you dance?”
Not usually. But he wasn’t about to say no. “I hold my own.”
She grabbed his hand, leading him through the crowd. He focused on the curves of her tight, rounded ass. He could see the very bottom of those luscious mounds every time she took a step forward.
Was she out of her mind, coming alone to a place like this dressed like that?
Amara led him to the dance floor, twirling to slide her hands up his chest. His hands rested on the small of her back, pressing her closer to him. He swayed his hips in time to the slow, pulsing beat of the music, a twisted love song by a musician he recognized as Marilyn Manson.
“Not bad for a novice,” Amara said.
“Who said I was a novice?”
But when she swung her hips toward him, a move clearly executed to seduce, he got the sense that compared to her, maybe he was. Her natural essence, like flowers and merlot with the musky hint of sex, enveloped him. Made him grow hard.
“What brings you here tonight?” he asked.
“You mean, why would a girl like me come to a place like this?”
Her smile seemed somewhat forced. “Maybe this is my kind of place.”
If so, then why did she emit an aura of sadness? Yes, it was mixed in with the allure and damn hard to spot, but there all the same. Every so often it came through in her eyes.
She was a lost soul, searching for her place in the world.
Just like me.
“No, I’m not buying it,” he said. “This isn’t your type of place.”
She laughed, though there was no joy in it. “How wrong you are. This is exactly where I belong.”
They danced quietly for a few minutes, her hips moving to the thumping beat of the song. Each arc of her body pressed her tighter into him, and he couldn’t help but respond. There was no way she could’ve missed it either, pressed flush against him as she was.
The musician sang on, something about putting a ‘spell on you.’ Ronin had to admit, the sway of Amara’s body against his seemed very much like an enchantment, drawing him further and further in. Making him ache for her.
She let out a soft sound, almost like a purr, and rested her cheek on his chest. “So tell me, what brings you here?”
He opened his mouth to say something smart, but somehow the truth came out. “Don’t know. I guess I’m looking for something.”
“Aren’t we all?” she replied, her voice bitter, yet resigned.
“My brothers and I moved to this dimension almost a year ago. Seems like everything’s changing lately.” Damn, what was with his major case of verbal diarrhea? He couldn’t stop himself from spewing the words. “One of them is married with a kid on the way, and another met his ‘soul mate,’ as he calls her.”
He was happy for his brothers. Truly. Hell, sometimes he even thought about finding a woman of his own, but then he’d wake up. The only thing worse than having no family was having one and losing it. He knew how much that hurt. His father had taught him that lesson at the ripe age of nine. He’d vowed on that day never to get personally involved again. The pain of loss was far too great. Better to have zero personal involvements, the way he’d done his whole life. Even if this particular woman made him wonder what it’d be like to have someone to come home to.
Amara stiffened in his arms. “You have family?”
“Yeah. They can be frustrating at times, but I wouldn’t trade them for anything.”
“You’re lucky,” she said with a hollow laugh.
Aw shit, he’d said the wrong thing. “You don’t have any relatives?”
“A mother. But our relationship is…difficult, to say the least.”
“Sorry.” Now he felt like a jackass for bringing it up.
“Don’t be. Family is a wonderful thing.” She stepped out of his embrace and ducked her head, directing her eyes toward the general vicinity of his shoes. “Enjoy them, Ronin.”
Puzzled, he came to a standstill. “I will.”
“Good night.” She turned to leave.
What was going on? How had he offended her?
“Wait.” He grabbed her wrist. The metal of her bracelet cooled at his touch, practically freezing his fingers. Icy pain snaked up his arm, prompting him to wrench his hand away. Strange. He curled his fingers into his palm and shook off the sensation. “What did I do wrong?”
“Nothing. Nothing at all.” Her lush lips curved into a sad smile. She traced her fingers across his lips. “You did everything right.”
“Then why are you leaving?”
Amara shook her head. “You seem like a good person. Decent. And that means you’re not my type. Sorry.”
With that she jerked away. He watched, openmouthed, while she maneuvered through the crowd toward the hallway containing the restrooms. She liked him. She was attracted to him. There was no mistaking that. So why the mixed signals?
When she slipped into the corridor, he followed, cursing himself all the while. The last thing he wanted was a relationship, and she seemed like the kind of girl who’d be hard to walk away from. Yet he couldn’t stop himself from giving chase. If she blew him off, he’d leave, but at the very least he could guard her from the other losers who were probably hiding in the corners, waiting to get her alone.
He passed a few couples making out in the hallway, but they ignored him. He turned the corner toward the restrooms and stopped short when he saw her leaning against a wall. Her head was tipped back and her chest heaved like she fought to breathe.
“What’s wrong?” he asked, rushing toward her.
Her eyes flew wide open, and her mouth dropped. “You fool. Why did you follow me?”
“Something was obviously wrong. Tell me, what is it?”
“Get out of here,” she said, her eyes narrowing.
“Fine. But not before I make sure you’re safe. I’m not going to attack you or anything. Believe me, I don’t go where I’m not wanted.”
Letting out a defeated sigh, she closed her eyes and rested her head against the wall once more. “It’s not that I don’t want you. If anything, I find you too attractive.”
“Then what’s the problem?”
Amara shook her head. “Go home, Ronin. Find yourself a nice girl, one who can give you a home and babies. You’ll get nothing but trouble from me.”
He tilted her chin up and her eyelids fluttered. “I don’t want those things. Right now, the only thing I want is to be here with you.”
Her face softened and she breathed in deep, the rise and fall of her generous chest drawing his eyes downward. “You should leave. I’m…I’m no good for you.”
She sounded as if she really meant that. Despite the smoking-hot outer package, he sensed how little regard she had for herself. “I don’t think you really want me to leave, do you?”
Amara’s eyes skimmed his body, and he could tell from the way they glazed over and her mouth softened that he was right. She felt the attraction as much as he did.
“What I want doesn’t matter,” she said with a spark of anger. “It’s never mattered.”
He shook his head. “I don’t understand.”
“I know.” A hint of a tremor racked her body. “Trust me, it’s not worth figuring out. Just leave.”
Her harsh words, so at odds with the way she leaned into him, confused the hell out of him. “Let me escort you home, at least. This is no place for someone like you.”
She let out a low laugh, a harsh, broken sound. “I have to warn you, you’re really hard to resist.”
So why was she? If she would at least tell him that much, he wouldn’t be stuck wondering for the rest of his life. “Maybe we can go—”
She moaned deep in her throat and jumped him before he could finish his sentence, molding her body to his while she kissed him like he was the air she needed to breathe.
He jerked away with a gasp for breath. “What the—?”
Amara pulled him to her once again, slanting her lips onto his. Her hands slid all over his body. Down the front of his slacks. He couldn’t help but harden.
“I want you,” she moaned into his ear.
“No.” Stepping back, she glanced around the hallway, then dragged him to a door with wide slats on it. It wasn’t locked. One twist and she tugged it open, revealing a tiny, packed storeroom.
“Come on.” She led him inside and shut the door behind them. Tiny slivers of light from the door slats illuminated the space, casting an eerie glow over the entire area.
“Tell me what’s going on, Amara.”
Instead of answering, she pushed him back against the wall, kissing him passionately while she unzipped his slacks and tugged him free.
“Slow down,” he said.
“No. I don’t want to wait. I want you. I have from the moment I saw you.”
His protest died when she dropped to her knees, taking him deep into her mouth. Her head moved up and down, expertly driving him to the brink of ecstasy. Clear thought was no longer possible. All he could do was feel.
After some time she broke away and rose to her feet. He managed to get out the words “Are you okay?” but she didn’t seem to have heard his question.
“I want you.” She slid the neckline of her dress a fraction to the side. That was all it took for her breasts to come free, torturing him with their dusky pink nipples.
“Sweet devil, you’re beautiful.” Part of him knew he should protest, that she was moving way too fast, but he couldn’t resist. He pulled her closer and wrapped his hands around the curves of her ass, lifting her up so he could take one nipple, and then the other, into his mouth. Wine and chocolate had nothing on her. The woman tasted like no indulgence he’d ever had before. Like sin personified.
She squirmed and her dress hiked farther up her body. Was she even wearing underwear?
Amara answered that question a moment later when she broke free and stepped back. One quick upward tug of her hem and her lower body was fully bared to his view. Nope. No underwear.
Ronin let out a harsh groan. She was mouthwatering, her long legs pointing the way to a patch of dark curls at the juncture of her thighs. His cock twitched at the sight of her luscious, nude body. Her eyes shimmered with lust but still, there was that sliver of sadness. It made him pause.
“Slow down,” he tried again. “We can get to know each other first. We don’t have to—”
“No.” She grabbed his hand and led him to a small, rickety chair. After tugging his pants to his knees, she forced him back onto the seat.
Any words he might have said froze on his lips when she straddled him, using her hands to guide him to her center. She wiggled her hips and sat, impaling herself on him until he was seated to the hilt.
She cried out, arching her back as her eyes rolled in ecstasy.
Damn, but she was amazing. A bit fast, but amazing. Vulnerable somehow, in a way that was completely at odds with her promiscuity. Something about her called to him…
“Amara,” he groaned. Her body was like molten fire, enveloping him and squeezing him like a fist. Then, when she began to pump her hips, lifting halfway off before sliding back down, he lost the ability to even breathe. His whole body had gone boneless, his arms and legs refusing to obey the commands of his brain. Flesh slapped against flesh, the sound echoing in the packed room.
She was incredible. Even now, black spots formed in his vision and a ringing sound echoed in his ears. When he tried to grasp her hips, his hands wouldn’t cooperate. He could do nothing more than gasp while she rode him for all he was worth. She made soft, mewling sounds, arching her back as she worked him. So sexy. Her skin glistened from the effort, practically glowing in the dim light.
Was this what those guys back at the bar had been fighting over? Had they sampled her before, enough to know how delicious she was? If so, he could see why there was such a crowd.
Why the hell couldn’t he move? His limbs felt like Jell-O.
He tried to lift his leg, but it was heavy as a wooden log. What was going on? He was getting weaker.
“Stop.” His voice sounded far-off. Distant. “Stop.”
He had to repeat it several times before she heard him. It was like a button had switched off inside her. She froze, her eyes clearing of their lusty haze and her jaw dropping in horror. Shaking hands reached up to cover her mouth. “Oh, no. Oh no, I told you. I warned you to leave me alone.”
Amara slid off him. He watched her do it, watched her stare down at him with panic all over her face, but still he couldn’t move.
Tears filled her eyes, a few stray drops weaving down her cheeks. “Why didn’t you listen to me?” she whispered.
“What is it?” He all but forced the words to form on his tongue.
After a moment she composed herself, rubbing at the tears with her knuckles before she pulled her skirt down and pushed her breasts back into her dress. “I warned you. Not my fault.”
“What—what’s wrong with me?” The amount of energy it took to say those words was almost mind-boggling.
She shook her head. Her lips tightened as if she were trying to seem uncaring. Trying and failing, if the moisture pooling in her eyes was any indication. “You never even bothered to find out what sort of demon I am.”
This was bad. Seriously bad. He knew that, but his body wasn’t reacting.
“What kind?” he managed to choke out.
“Succubus. What’s wrong with you is that you’re dying.”
“But…but your energy. Too low for succubus.”
She shook her head again, lifting one arm to show off her bracelet. “It’s made of fae gold. A gift from my boss. Among other things, it mutes my aura.” A bitter smile twisted her lips. “He’s found that to be helpful on more than one occasion.”
With one last shake of her head, she turned and walked out, clicking the door shut behind her.
Oh shit. This was so not good. Ronin tried to summon his healing energy, the other legacy his mother had bestowed upon him. Demons could heal fast, but nowhere near as quickly as angels. With his mixed heritage, he could generally recover from wounds in seconds. But his body wasn’t equipped to handle this level of toxicity, and his hands were already paralyzed. The succubus had poisoned him and there was no coming back from that.
His last thought before he lost consciousness was that his brothers were going to be so pissed that he’d gotten himself killed.
Just before daybreak, Asmodeus dismissed Amara from his chamber. She’d done well tonight, especially considering that her only edict for the evening had been to scout out potential assignments. When she’d come back and admitted that she’d accidentally fed, he’d been enraged.
It was he who chose her victims. Not her.
The fact that she’d never made a mistake of this magnitude before had no bearing on his anger. She’d disobeyed him, and he’d been forced to punish her. But then he’d absorbed the life essence she’d stolen—thick, sweet, and pure. Purer than any he’d ever had. She had no clue what she’d stumbled upon—an angel, with the capacity to heal others. Asmodeus hoped he could twist that ability to his advantage. With any luck, Belpheg wouldn’t disappoint him; the dark fae’s ability to manipulate energy was beyond impressive.
So what’s in it for him?
That worry had nagged him throughout the entire time he’d associated with Belpheg. When the dark fae had first approached him years ago with the offer to make him more powerful, all Belpheg had asked for in return was the ability to use his powers at a future point. It had seemed like such a small thing at the time, and Belpheg’s gifts had been far too spectacular to turn down. Yet he couldn’t help but wonder if there was something else at stake.
Asmodeus walked barefoot toward the ornate wooden table that graced the center of his meeting chamber. He took a seat in his plush throne and closed his eyes, willing his body to relax. A good deal of time passed before he reached the level of concentration necessary to astrally project, as Belpheg had taught him to do.
Weightless without the hindrance of his physical body, he soared through the night sky of the barren, desert-like astral realm, searching out the ray of pulsing energy that indicated an opening to a spiritual connection with Belpheg. Upon finding the football field-sized beacon, he flew into it. He landed on the rocky earth and waited.
After several minutes, Belpheg’s figure formed—a dark fae with the blue-gray flesh and black hair typical of his kind. He wore the same magician’s robe he typically wore here in the astral realm.
“You bring news?” Belpheg asked.
“I have another potential source.” Somehow, the dark fae could manipulate Asmodeus’s body to take in the abilities of Otherworlders when he consumed their life essences. With Belpheg’s assistance, he’d transformed himself from a no-account incubus—a worthless child who’d grown up alone and fearful after his only parent had been arrested by the Council—into a wealthy, powerful member of society.
“Good.” When Belpheg lifted his hands in front of him, they shook slightly. He muttered something under his breath and closed his eyes. A white stream of light shot out from his fingers.
Asmodeus clenched his hands into fists, gritting his teeth against the pain when the light struck him with all the force of a bolt of lightning. His whole body shook as electricity coursed through him. Pity this had to be so uncomfortable, but energy manipulation was no easy matter. It would be worth it in the end.
After several agonizing moments, Belpheg lowered his hands. He wore an expression Asmodeus had never seen before. “The life force you consumed…”
Did he not recognize it? Belpheg could usually identify every species. “It was essence of angel.”
“I know. It is familiar to me.” Belpheg turned away, appearing pensive. When he looked back at Asmodeus, he let out a slow grin.
“Did it work?” Asmodeus held his breath, praying the answer was yes.
“Yes it did. The angelic capacity to heal was passed onto you through the enchantment I cast.” Belpheg waved his hand. “Useful, but you won’t need it once you have ultimate power, so I’ve morphed it into the power to create fire. Now you only have two powers left to go until you have the twelve needed to be indestructible.”
Yes. Two more abilities and Asmodeus would be unstoppable.
The problem was, Asmodeus never knew if the abilities would transfer to him along with the life essences. His success ratio was something like one out of ten. So he needed to target many victims in order to gain what he sought. That was why he’d recruited the succubi, rather than seeking out female victims himself. It would have taken a lifetime of working alone to amass the power he’d managed to gather within a mere few years. No…more than a lifetime, considering his extreme distaste for going out in public.
“Not just that.” Belpheg let out a delighted-sounding laugh. “The man whose essence you absorbed is no ordinary angel. And I happen to know that he has three brothers.”
“You learned all this from his life essence alone?” Asmodeus hadn’t even known that was possible.
Belpheg’s gaze flickered, but he didn’t answer. “You must go after these brothers next. We can likely alter their gifts. Once you track them down and absorb what skills they have, you’ll have the twelve you need to become indestructible.”
Okaay. “I hate to point out the obvious, but I know nothing about this man. How am I supposed to find his brothers?”
“They work as bounty hunters. You’ll be able to find them.”
Angel bounty hunters? Unusual. Asmodeus gave a bewildered shake of his head. “How do you know all this?”
“Who would’ve imagined it? Such a strong essence.” After a long moment, the dark fae’s gaze narrowed in on Asmodeus, as if he’d just remembered his presence. “I don’t have to impress upon you the importance of doing this quietly, do I? The last thing we need is the Council finding us.”
Asmodeus shifted in his spot. Should he inform Belpheg of his little slip last week with one of the mercenaries he employed? He’d mentioned just how much he would like to bring the Council down, and that he might have found a way to do it. In his defense, he had consumed several glasses of wine beforehand.
No, he wouldn’t mention it. Something told him he’d be better off not to. Besides, it was probably of no consequence.
“Of course not. I would never reveal you to the Council or anyone else.”
“I know you won’t,” Belpheg said harshly, “since you swore a blood oath.”
That was true. Swearing a blood oath bound a demon to his word. If he tried to speak Belpheg’s name to anyone else, he would be rendered mute.
Belpheg stroked his chin, apparently lost in thought. “This is fortuitous indeed. Once you absorb their abilities, I’ll have everything I need.”
Something about his words caused a tremor in Asmodeus’s spine. “Everything you need? For what?”
“I want to act quickly. You have until the day before the March equinox to absorb their abilities.”
“But…but that’s less than six weeks away.”
“You can do it. Besides,” Belpheg continued almost absently, “I don’t know how much longer I can wait.”
The dark fae was speaking in riddles. “I don’t understand any of this.”
Belpheg stilled and raked Asmodeus with a scalding gaze that made him break out into an involuntary shiver. “You do what I’ve told you, because just as I gave you those abilities, I can take them away. You have until the day before the equinox. Do you understand that?”
Asmodeus gritted his teeth, fighting the urge to snap at the dark fae. “Yes.”
What choice did he have? Now that he’d gotten a taste of what it meant to be powerful, he couldn’t go back to being nothing. He wouldn’t.
He would never be weak again.
One Month Later…
Eros was probably the tamest Otherworlder bar in all of New York City, but still a place for the perpetually wasted. So it seemed fitting that Ronin be here tonight since he’d been drunk for the last month straight.
He lifted his half-empty glass of whiskey from the worn beige tile of the bar top, knocking it back in one deep swallow. The fiery liquid slid down his throat and settled in the pit of his stomach.
“Not that I’m complaining,” said the voice to his right, “but dude, you sure have been coming here a lot lately. I’ll deny it if you repeat this to Keegan or Taeg, but you’re starting to give me a run for my money.”
Ronin turned toward Dagan, blinking until his younger brother’s face came into focus. Seemed like he got drunk a lot faster lately. Ever since…well, since the incident. He healed slower, too, which maybe had something to do with it.
“Not much else to do,” Ronin said.
“True.” Dagan saluted him with his own glass before taking a big gulp.
It had been close to two months since any of them had last gotten a gig from the Elden Council. Practically a record, and it made him wonder if demons were all of a sudden starting to behave themselves. If so, that was bad on many levels. One of them being that he needed the distraction of tracking down a bad guy. As it was, the owner of Eros could probably afford to redecorate the whole place with the money he and Dagan had dropped here in the past few months. Not that it needed it. With its beige tiled walls, the bar might have appeared institutional. But the dim lighting, modern decorations, and the red leather covering the barstools and booths gave it an edgy feel.
Ronin rolled his glass between his palms. “Maybe I should get a job.”
“You mean a human job?” Dagan’s eyes widened and he shuddered in mock horror. He motioned to the bartender for refills. “You don’t need a job.”
That was true, financially speaking. Bounty-hunting for the Council was a pretty lucrative gig. Even if he never worked again, he had enough money to comfortably support himself for the rest of his life. As long as he spent his money wisely, that was.
“What you need, my man,” Dagan added, “is to get laid more often.”
It had been a while, by his normal standards. One month, two days, and twenty-three hours.
An image of Amara popped back into his head. The sad, resigned way she’d looked when she told him he was too decent for her. The heady scent of what he now knew was her natural allure, calling to him. Where was she now? He’d searched for her throughout the past month, but to no avail. She hadn’t returned to Opiate, smart girl that she was. The club had a strict rule against sex demons feeding on the premises. Bad for business and all. And in a city this size, the odds of finding her were pretty slim.
Right after the incident, his brothers had wanted to go after her. They’d tried to coerce her description out of him so they could track her down. It wasn’t until after Ronin reminded them that the succubus had committed no crime that they let the matter drop. While the Council prohibited killing, it didn’t view it as murder for a species to do what was in its nature to survive. Besides, he was the one who’d stupidly let himself get trapped.
Shit. He didn’t want to be thinking about this right now. Or ever. She’d almost killed him. When the bouncer had found him unconscious in the storeroom and called Keegan, the man told his brother he was dead. He’d almost given Keegan a heart attack. If it hadn’t been for some quick thinking by Cresso, their incubus friend who worked as a scientist for a lab funded by the Elden Council, he would be six feet under right now. Thankfully, Cresso had long been working on a way for succubi and incubi to mate without killing their partners. While he still hadn’t found a cure, he’d had the great idea of combining some of the chemicals he’d developed with the restorative properties of Keegan’s blood. That was enough to kick-start Ronin’s own healing ability.
Yeah, he’d survived, but he wasn’t the same as before. He was slower. Weaker. A natural side effect of losing some of his life essence to a sex demon.
Ronin shook his head, forcing the unwanted memories away. “Maybe you’re right.”
Dagan nodded. “Of course I am. Look around you, brother. There are tons of women here, and I’m sure at least one of them would be willing to knock boots with your ugly ass.”
Ronin halfheartedly snickered. Not that he had an overabundance of ego, but he knew he wasn’t ugly. “You’ve probably already banged half of them.”
Dagan examined the occupants of the room before shrugging nonchalantly. “Yeah, probably.”
The bartender, a beautiful fae with black waist-length hair, slid two fresh glasses of whiskey in front of them. Ronin accepted his with a nod and lifted it to his lips, then froze at the sound of the familiar voice behind him.
“Well, well, thought we’d find you two here. Glad to see we weren’t wrong.”
Ronin spun the barstool around to face his oldest brother, Keegan. Taeg, the second-oldest, stood right by his side, wearing one of his trademark smartass T-shirts. This one said You’re Pretty When I’m Drunk. “What the devil are you two doing out?”
Dagan pulled a face. “Yeah, do your mommies know you’re here?”
“Fuck off.” Keegan simultaneously punched Dagan in the arm while motioning the bartender for a drink. “Brynn insisted we go out tonight.”
Taeg gave Keegan a good-natured shove. “Yeah, something about you crowding her.”
“I’m surprised you agreed to leave her alone in her condition,” Ronin said.
Keegan’s wife, Brynn, was nine months pregnant, and she was so big she could barely walk.
“Maya’s with her.” Taeg referred to his fiancée, the fierce but petite human who’d tried to kill him when they’d first met. He reached over Ronin’s shoulder to accept the glass from the bartender.
The bartender started to turn away, but Dagan grabbed her hand. “Sweetheart, when are you going to realize that I’m perfect for you?”
She snorted and yanked her hand back. “Sorry, honey, I have far too much respect for myself.”
Ronin stifled a laugh as she sauntered off. Dagan had been trying to get into her good graces—okay, her pants—for the past several weeks, but she was one of the few who weren’t biting.
Taeg wasn’t as nice about it, though. He laughed while he pulled up an empty barstool. “Better luck next time, Chuck.”
“Piss off. You’re just jealous ’cause you’ve had to sleep with the same woman for months.”
Taeg smirked at Dagan’s comment but didn’t reply. He didn’t need to. They all knew how happy their brother was with Maya. Happier than they’d ever seen him.
Damn, but he envied Keegan and Taeg sometimes. They had family. Women who loved them. All he had was a new apartment and his slutty little brother as a roommate.
Keegan snatched a barstool from a guy who rose and walked away, then sat on it. His brow furrowed as he rested an elbow on the counter. “When was the last time the four of us hung out together?”
Ronin thought about it. “Can’t remember.”
“Me either,” Taeg said quietly.
That earned them a moment of silence. So many things had changed in this past year. Mostly for the better, but Ronin missed times like this. Hell, he wouldn’t even mind seeing one of Keeg’s and Taeg’s legendary squabbles right now.
Keegan nodded toward Ronin. “How’s the new apartment?”
“Fine. Wish the balcony was bigger, but then I got spoiled by your massive terrace.”
A couple of weeks ago Ronin had used a good chunk of his savings from his previous bounty-hunter gigs to buy a place in the same building as Brynn’s and Keegan’s spacious penthouse apartment. Four floors down, it was only half the size, but that was more than enough for him and Dagan. They each had their own master suite, and the rooms were far enough apart they couldn’t hear each other from inside.
“I think you could fit all our residences from Infernum into Keegan’s apartment.” Dagan took a swig from his glass. “Things sure have changed, haven’t they?”
“No shit,” Keegan said.
Ronin gave Keegan a pointed look. “Yeah, you’re going to be someone’s dad.”
Taeg chuckled. “Scary how they let anyone have kids.”
All kidding aside, Keegan was going to be a great father, not that any of them would ever be mushy enough to tell him so. But he was a natural leader and determined to do everything the complete opposite of how their own father had done it. That alone pretty much guaranteed him Father of the Year status, at least as far as most demons went.
“Hmm.” Taeg scratched his chin. “Maybe me and Maya should get a place in your building, too. Her apartment is smaller than we’d like.”
“No way,” Keegan said. “The Village is close enough.”
“Ha. You know you miss me being around all the time.”
Keegan sobered and his eyes lowered to the bar top. “If we don’t get some work soon, we may be forced to reevaluate our living situation altogether.”
A dark cloud settled over them at the truth of Keegan’s words. The Council had granted the four of them permission to relocate to New York City because there were plenty of fugitives to be apprehended in this dimension. If that died down, there was always the possibility one or all of them would be ordered back to Infernum. That would be disastrous for Keegan and Taeg, who’d no doubt go on the lam before giving up their women, and Ronin knew he and Dagan sure as hell didn’t want to be split from their brothers.
They needed an assignment. Sooner rather than later.
Taeg dispelled the tension by leaning against the bar. “Have you thought up a name for the baby yet? ’Cause I’m thinking Taeg is a good one. Taegina if it’s a girl.”
Keegan snorted out a laugh. “You wish.”
Ronin stared into his glass of whiskey, tuning out his brothers’ banter. He’d be the first to admit he was off his game. Whether due to the possible consequences of their lack of work, the aftereffects of the incident with the succubus, or to the ongoing changes in all their lifestyles, who knew? But something had to give. He couldn’t stay in this slump for much longer. He needed to do something.
Ronin dragged his barstool back and rose to his feet. His brothers cut off their speech and turned in his direction.
“Where are you going?” Keegan asked.
“Bathroom.” He turned and headed toward the restrooms located to the left of the bar, zigzagging his way through the crowd. It was busier than usual for a Tuesday night. Hell, maybe all the demons in New York were concentrating on drinking now instead of committing crimes. Would explain the recent lack of work.
A big, burly demon with an angry scar on one side of his face edged away from his friends too quickly for Ronin to avoid barreling into him.
“Sorry,” Ronin said. He tried to sidestep the demon, but the guy must have been in as bad a mood as he was, because he blocked his way.
“You ran into me, asshole.”
Ronin stared him down. “And I said I was sorry. What’s your problem?”
The demon rose to his full height, a full inch or two taller than Ronin—which said a lot since, at four inches over six feet, Ronin was no midget.
“You’re my problem.”
Once upon a time, Ronin would have used his calming energy on him. Though the use of powers on other patrons was prohibited inside Eros, he had a feeling the owner would be more than willing to overlook someone trying to promote harmony. But that particular ability didn’t seem to work anymore.
One more reminder of how badly he’d fucked up that night at Opiate.
“Yeah?” he said in a deceptively mild voice. “So what are you going to do about it?”
The demon motioned to his buddies, who closed in around him. “I think we’re gonna have to teach you some manners. How’s that sound?”
Sounded good. Screw harmony. He was itching for a fight. His fingers grazed the hilt of the dagger he always carried strapped to the small of his back. He left it in place. Didn’t need it with these losers.
Ronin brought his hands to his sides, clenching them into fists while he bared his teeth at the demons. “Bring it.”
One of the demons growled.
Ronin tensed, preparing to strike.
“What’s going on here?”
Damn it. Leave it to Keegan to go and spoil all his fun. Then again, it was probably payback for the million times he’d stopped his big brother from throwing down.
“None of your fucking business,” the scarred demon sneered at him. “Unless you want some of what he’s getting, too?”
“Huh.” Keegan pretended to think about it. “Sounds good to me.”
“Yeah, me too.”
Ronin bit back a groan when Taeg stepped up to his other side, flanked by their youngest brother. If there was one thing they could all be counted on, it was to stand up for one another. Whether wanted or not.
“Hell yeah, I’m in,” Dagan said.
The demons tensed and gave each other wary glances, apparently weighing the wisdom of going three-on-four with him and his brothers. They were saved from the necessity of a reply by the arrival of Giorgio, one of the bar’s bouncers.
“Guys, you know there’s no violence on the premises,” he said. “If you want to let loose, you need to take it outside.”
The scarred demon averted his eyes. “Forget it, we were about to go to another bar anyway.”
Giorgio nodded and stepped to the side, waiting for them to pass him by.
“You got lucky. This time,” the demon snarled at Ronin. “Don’t expect the same next time I see you.”
“Looking forward to it,” Ronin said evenly.
With one last menacing snarl, the demon and his friends retreated.
Ronin turned as one with his brothers and watched them go.
Keegan waited until they were out of sight before turning back to him. “You okay?”
“Fine,” he snapped.
Taeg shook his head, and muttered, “Can’t believe you used to be the calm, rational one.”
“That was before he fucked that succubus,” Dagan said.
Ronin tensed, irritation springing up inside him. Usually, none of his brothers mentioned the incident; they knew it, and the resulting loss of his calming ability was a major sore spot for him. “I told you to never bring that up aga—”
A low buzz reverberated throughout the space surrounding them. Keegan’s expression grew hopeful as he pulled his phone out of his pocket. “It’s from the Council.”
Taeg reached inside the inner pocket of his leather jacket. “I got buzzed, too.”
“Me too,” Dagan said.
Yeah, so had Ronin. After giving Dagan one last glare, he dug out his cell phone and stared at the screen. As he’d expected, it contained preliminary information on a new assignment. And if they were all alerted about it at the same time, it could only mean one thing.
Their new fugitive was a real badass.
For the first time in months, he got a feeling of lightness in his gut—anticipation. A new bad guy to track down. Something else to focus on besides deceitful succubi, lost powers, and the possibility of being forced to leave this dimension.
“About damn time.”