Sleeper: Hunter: A Thieves Series, Book 3

When Neil’s past catches up to him, Kelsey must choose between her new family and an old love…

With tensions rising between the Council and demonkind, Kelsey finds herself investigating a series of murders that threaten the fragile truce between them. If she can’t stop these killings soon, they could ignite a fire sure to burn the supernatural world down.

Unfortunately for her, Kelsey’s problems don’t stop with a pile of dead halflings. Her connection with Marcus is frayed at best, and Gray hasn’t been heard from in months. Her only semblance of peace comes from a new man in her life. When Gray storms back into the picture, her love life goes from incredibly complicated to apocalyptic.

Just as Kelsey begins to unravel the mystery, the forces of Heaven decide to take an interest in her actions. Outclassed with these powers in play, Kelsey knows that one misstep could leave the human and supernatural worlds in ashes.


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Excerpt:

Chapter One

I knew the minute the world around me cracked and that horrible stench of brimstone and BO hit my nose that I’d fucked up yet again.

Eight months and I still couldn’t get it right. It was frustrating as hell, but the good news was I would probably get to kill something real soon. I always feel better when I kill something.

“What the hell is that thing?” Casey backed away.

For a vampire, he was pretty freaked out by anything that wasn’t human, and he was scared of some of those as well. Casey was a young vamp, having only turned two years before. In his previous life he’d been a wannabe pro skater and one of those dudes who thought he should express himself through song. While he no longer carried a skateboard around at all times, I could practically hear him writing a song about the nasty, twisting thing that had come through when my spell had gone awry.

Again.

I glanced over at the other two people who had joined me in forming the circle that should have produced the demon named Nemcox. Liv, my witch best friend, and my brother Jamie were currently on the other side of the room, forming a triangle outside the circle we’d created in an attempt to keep Nemcox trapped until I could kill him. And by kill him, what I honestly meant was slice that little fucker open, play in his entrails, and generally torture his nasty ass until his body couldn’t handle it any longer.

Nemcox. I’d known him as Matthew. My father had known him as Stewart, and my former lover and brand spanking new dark prophet, Grayson Sloane, called him brother.

I was going to murder him because he was the reason my true father no longer walked the earth.

Liv shook her head, a frown on her face. Her skin had gone pale, as though the act of calling forth the demon had drained her. It probably had. Before the last few months, she’d been all about the white magic and the loving goddess and shit. I needed a bad goddess, unfortunately. “I have no idea. I might have mentioned that calling demons wasn’t my major in witch school. I was really more about the white magic. That thing is definitely evil.”

She wasn’t wrong about that. Look, I’ve seen some ugly things that turned out to be quite nice. You can’t always tell a book by its cover in the supernatural world. Like the troll I had to go and talk to because he was scaring the shit out of tourists in Montana. Dude was simply upset because he’d gotten kicked out from under his nice, out-of-the-way bridge in Canada. Was he twelve kinds of nasty looking? Hell, yes. But after a chat and a couple of hot dogs that I did not eat because I’m pretty sure they were actually made of dogs, he turned out to be a pretty chill guy.

The thing in front of me wasn’t ever going to be anything but evil.

There was a terrible crack of thunder that seemed to shake the house to its foundation and then I heard the sound of something slap against the roof as the thing in the circle hissed and snapped its spiny tail.

Yeah, it was one fugly critter.

“Any idea what it is?” I asked, trying to view the situation from an academic standpoint. I tried to shove down the need to punch through a fucking wall. How was Nemcox managing to do this? I had his name. I should have been able to call the fucker to my hand, at which point in time I fully intended to use that hand to chop his head off and mount it on my wall.

Five attempts. Five failures. Nemcox had found a loophole in the demonic laws apparently.

“I’m trying to Google it.” Jamie had to yell because it sounded like there was a hurricane outside the house. He had his phone out. My big brother was damn cool under pressure, but then he worked as a consultant with law enforcement on some of the creepiest cases they saw.

“It’s an Ala!” Casey screamed. He’d gone even paler than usual. “I didn’t get it until the storm started up. It’s sort of a demon from Bulgaria and it likes to cause hail storms. Your insurance premiums are going to go sky-high. This is serious, Kelsey.”

Since I’d begun my campaign against Nemcox, Casey had been studying up because he liked to know what was going to murder us next. He was a technophage. At least that’s what I called him. Technically he belonged to a class of vampires called academics. Vampires develop talents over many years, but they tend to be born with their core talent. Some are impressive fighters. Some can control minds. Casey was incredibly talented when it came to all things electronic. He could hack most systems, fix almost anything, and in addition to those talents he could remember almost everything he ever read. It led to a remarkable amount of anxiety on his part.

You have no idea how many times I’ve had to explain to him that vampires can’t catch Ebola.

“It won’t stop,” Casey insisted. “Now that it’s here on this plane, it will try to build storms. It will attempt to destroy everything it can. Starting with us.”

Yeah, everything always wanted to start with me.

It was one of the hazards of my job. “Can you get rid of it, Liv?”

Liv’s hands were out, her eyes closed and mouth moving as she intoned in Latin. She was doing it super quietly though. It was probably one of those things where the “universe” heard her or some shit, but I had to hope the universe had some super sharp ears because it was getting loud up in here.

“What do we do if she can’t get rid of it?” Casey stood behind me. He wasn’t supposed to be here in the first place, and I would utterly deny his role in this party of mine if asked. Of course, the whole reason I’d selected today to try to get my kill on was the fact that my mentor and the head of the academics, Marcus Vorenus, was out of town on some kind of Council business.

Still, out of town or not, he would hear about this if the Dallas/Fort Worth area was suddenly inundated with supernatural storms. And he was smart enough to know exactly where to look. “I’ll have to kill it. You go out to the car. You can’t have anything to do with killing a demon.”

Unfortunately, Casey was bound by the Vampire-Demon Agreement signed many years ago and set to renew soon. One of the tenets of said agreement was for vamps to stay out of demon business and demons to do the same. Casey could get into serious trouble if he got caught.

I’ve learned a couple of things since I took on the job of Nex Apparatus. It’s sort of the supernatural world’s equivalent of a sheriff. At least that’s what Daniel Donovan would have us believe. He’s the king of this plane’s supernaturals, and for the most part he’s pretty cool. But like I said, I’ve definitely learned a couple of truths about my job.

1. People are stupid and no matter how many times you tell them that calling out to a demon in some middle-of-nowhere crossroads won’t make you into a fab blues guitarist, they still do it. And boy, do those dudes whine. 2. No matter how hard you scrub, supernatural blood doesn’t come out of cotton. Don’t wear your fave concert T-shirt when you’re going to have to behead a killer shifter. And 3. This is the important one. Friends are everything. Don’t get them into trouble unless it’s absolutely, save-the-world necessary.

If Donovan caught Casey here, his ass would be grass.

Casey held his hands up as though giving up the fight. Which was a good thing since he wasn’t a super fighter in the first place. He was a keyboard warrior, not the guy you tossed a sword to. “All right. I’ll wait in the kitchen.”

“It’s an Ala demon,” Jamie screamed. Like I said, it was pretty loud. Jamie turned his phone out as though I could see what was on the screen through the chaos of the circle that separated us. Somehow the demon had called a hailstorm right into the middle of my living room.

I was glad I’d brought this out to the suburbs because Marcus would freak if hail damaged his perfectly hand-scraped hardwoods. Of course, he’d be pissed for numerous reasons, the most important being he’d asked me to stop calling demons in the first place.

More and more, Marcus seemed disappointed in me. In the eight months since he’d turned to me and said he might be willing to share me with Gray, a distance had opened between us. He’d started traveling more and more without me. Every time he left I felt our connection thin and twist, and I worried we were almost at the breaking point.

But I couldn’t think about that now.

“How do I kill it?” I shouted.

Jamie looked down at the screen again. “I don’t know. I need to read the article. Hey, it’s Slavic and likes to create thunderstorms.”

No shit. I didn’t need Wikipedia to tell me that. The fact that I had quarter-sized hail on the floor was explanation enough. And unless feeding it borscht somehow placated the fucker, I wasn’t sure how knowing its region of origin helped.

So far though the circle was holding. The damage inside the house seemed to be confined there.

Luckily, I had a silver sword. I’ve found most things die when I cut their heads off with a silver sword. I was also wearing a shirt I didn’t particularly like, so I was ready.

The last few months had been a mix of good and bad, and a whole lot of restlessness. Grayson Sloane, my first love, the half demon I’d never been able to truly get out of my head or my heart, had turned into a dark prophet and was currently hanging out with a heavenly prophet named Jacob, and Gray had forgotten how to use a phone. I didn’t know where he was or if he was okay. He was “on sabbatical” from the Texas Rangers, according to his commanding officer, and I’d been told it was an open-ended leave.

I spent my time training and working. Working and training. And worrying. A lot.

Something big was coming. I could feel it. Those contracts I talked about earlier were in an odd place. They’d technically run out, but the way they were written, they stayed in place for another year. After that, there would be nothing at all in place to keep the two factions at bay.

Daniel Donovan wanted a war, but I wasn’t sure he could win it. I wasn’t entirely sure Daniel’s war wouldn’t bring down our whole world.

Then there was the twitchy feeling I was getting deep in my soul. Marcus used to fill that place, but I’d started to feel more like my old self again, and that wasn’t a good thing.

Liv was having no luck on the banishment track. It looked like I was going to have to deal with it. It was neatly contained in its circle, but it wouldn’t stay that way forever.

“Y’all go.” I couldn’t do what I needed to do in such a small space when I was worried about Liv and my brother.

Liv’s eyes came open slightly. She said nothing; didn’t have to. I know a pissed-off witch when I see one.

“I have to break the circle,” I shouted her way. “Do you understand what that’s going to do?”

It would likely send insurance premiums in the county soaring, but it was that or let the fucker rage for days until we found a witch who could dispel it. Somehow I thought a localized, long-term hailstorm that hovered over one house might attract media attention.

If I was in hot water for calling demons, you don’t even want to know what happens to weird half wolves who find themselves smiling for the evening news.

“Do it!” Jamie shouted. He’d already pulled his own sword. It was a nice weapon, but it hadn’t been forged in Heaven like the one I was carrying.

One of the perks of being the Nex Apparatus is a handy silver sword passed down through the generations of vampires who held the title. I was the first non-vamp to piss enough people off that it was either make me a Nex Apparatus or execute me, so that sucker was mine now.

When Donovan had passed it to me, he’d told me a bunch of stuff about how the sword had been forged in Heaven’s fire and how I had to respect it because like angels kissed it and shit.

I call her Gladys.

“All right,” I shouted. “Let’s do this.”

I like to rip the bandage off. There are people out there who will soak the bandage and then ease it off. They’re pussies and they need to stay far away from my world. In my world, if we leave the bandage on and nurse it and gently try to coax it off, it usually turns out to have been poisoned by some asshole who wants you dead. So tear that fucker off and get the fight started.

It’s one of my many mottos. My therapist has me trying a few things to ease my anger issues. Needlepoint is one of them. I sewed that sucker on a pillow and I keep it close.

The Ala seemed to still as I approached. The black fog that surrounded the demon became wary, and then I could practically feel its excitement as it seemed to figure out what I was going to do.

She wanted this fight, craved it.

I kind of did, too. Like I said, the last few months had been shitty and tense, and killing a demon always made me feel better. Gladys hummed in my hand. It’s what she does when she realizes demons are near.

We stared at each other for a moment. We’re natural enemies, the Ala and I, according to everything I’ve read about my species. I’m a Hunter, one of the rarest supernatural creatures on the Earth plane. I’m the product of a union between a lone wolf and a human. Lone wolves are a specialized form of werewolf. They’re stronger, but tend to shun packs. They keep the alphas in check. That was my father, Lee Owens. My mother was a horny, lonely human. Her super powers include calling at the wrong times and constantly being on me to find a man.

If my father’s place in the natural order of things was to keep the alphas in check, my own job was simple.

I’m a demon hunter. I was born to track and kill demons, to keep the balance on the Earth plane.

Which kind of sucks when you’re in love with a demon.

I brought the heel of my boot down and dragged it back along the hardwood, breaking the circle.

And was immediately rewarded for letting the bitch out with hail coming down on my head. It knocked into my skull with a force it shouldn’t have since it’s not like I’ve got vaulted ceilings. Those suckers are maybe eight feet high at most. It was apparently enough for a storm cloud.

I fell back and Gladys clattered to the floor next to me. I felt the demon rush by and then glass cracking as she tried to get out of the house.

I forced myself up, got Gladys back in my hand.

“Can you keep her contained to the backyard?” I shouted over the crack of lightning that threatened to shake the walls of the small ranch house my grandmother had left me. It looked like the Ala was choosing flight over fight. It made me think less of her, and I didn’t think that much of her in the first place.

Liv nodded, her eyes already closing and her hands coming out. A protection spell was in her oeuvre.

“Watch over her,” I yelled at Jamie. Liv wouldn’t be able to protect herself while she was in that state, and I really needed her to be in that state if I was going to keep the demon close. Otherwise, she would be running around causing storms, and I would likely be convicted of crimes against humanity or something.

I didn’t turn around to make sure Jamie was doing his job. That was the amazing thing about my oldest brother. He was a great soldier. He took orders well, and I never had to worry about him deciding he knew better than I did. Jamie would watch over Liv and not leave his post for anything. It meant I could deal with the demon in peace.

I raced out to the kitchen where Casey was frowning my way as he shrank back from the demon.

If I thought an alarm or an electrical system would keep the demon in, I would have Casey MacGyver that sucker, but she was intent on getting out. The window that overlooked my backyard shattered and a cloud of black smoke pressed through.

I ignored Casey, who was bitching about his hair being ruined. I didn’t see how it could get ruined. He did that to himself every morning when he woke up and attempted to look like he belonged in One Direction, but that was just me and I’d been told I hurt sensitive feelings when I spout off my opinions.

A blast of wind shoved me back into the house the minute I got the door open. I smashed into the dining room table, my spine knocking against the edge.

“Should I call for backup?” Casey asked.

“No.” I did not need backup. “What about ‘secret mission’ do you not understand? Why don’t you go and see if there’s anyone you need to persuade that everything’s perfectly normal? I saw the neighbors were prepping the grill earlier. Go and do your job.”

I forced myself to move, walking against the wind. There was a hurricane going on in my backyard, but it seemed like Liv was containing the damage. I glanced to my right and Mrs. Tilman’s yard looked perfect for a summer’s evening. Well, with the exception of her husband, who was standing at his grill, staring into my yard like he was seeing something insane. Which he was.

Donovan had it much easier. When he’d been the Nex Apparatus, he’d had a magician on his team—a vamp who could form illusions so real that dudes like Mr. Tilman would never once suspect that a battle was taking place in the weird chick next door’s backyard. If I’d had Chad Thomas on my team, I wouldn’t have to worry about my neighbors filming me and setting up a YouTube channel. I could get in, get my kill on, and call it a day.

As it was, I had to hope that Casey got to the witness before he called in his friends.

I focused on the demon in front of me. She hovered a good foot off the ground. Though she was encased in some kind of black smoke, I could see that she had form under there somewhere. Her hands came out, feeling for the walls of her prison cell. She batted up against it all of the sudden, as though testing it for strength. She moved around, like the velociraptors from Jurassic Park, butting up against the wall she found around her, desperate to find a way out.

I couldn’t let her find one. I charged, sword out, ready to take her down.

She turned and her scream became a gale force wind.

My body flew back, slamming against the side of the house. My head hit the paneling and the world went a bit woozy.

Woozy or not, I had to get back up on my feet. Luckily, I tend to heal pretty damn fast. It’s the vamp blood. Marcus shares his blood with me. Even when he’s not around, he leaves a stockpile behind. I’ve found it’s pretty good in a cup of coffee, gives it a rich cream taste without the calories. Vamp blood is a universal curative. Got stabbed? Get a vamp to bleed on you and you’ll be back in the club and dancing in no time. Marcus’s was particularly potent. He was the oldest vampire walking the Earth plane, and his blood tended to help me take my badass status to an entirely new level.

His blood was the only reason I was able to bounce off the wall and make my run at the Ala. She’d turned away, likely believing she had me on the ropes. Most beings, she would have had time to play around with before worrying about her prey getting up. With me, she’d made a terrible mistake.

I ran at her, ignoring the wind and hail and driving rain. I reached deep into the predator part of me, the part that never, ever gave up when the kill was close. Gripping Gladys, I ran to the Ala, my feet not making a sound. Well, they probably made a sound, but no one could hear it over the storm. Not even the demon. She completely ignored me.

Until I speared her. Gladys dug deep, cutting through the smoke and biting into flesh. She was thin, but demon skin is tough and I had to put some force behind it. I planted my feet and shoved the sword in.

That was when the lightning struck.

My body seized, every muscle contracting in a symphony of pure agony. It’s a bad thing to happen when you’re currently murdering a demon with a sword. I was stuck, trembling like someone had shot me through with a massive Taser. The only good thing about it was my hand was wrapped around Gladys and it wasn’t moving. I couldn’t have made those fingers release if I’d tried.

My teeth clacked together, the force jarring, and I started to see stars.

Something struck me from the side, knocking me out of the lightning’s hold. I hit the ground, my knees sinking into the rapidly softening yard. I could feel my limbs still shaking.

A low growl caught my attention and I realized that even though my day had gone to shit, there were still mighty lows to come.

A massive wolf with gray fur that was soaking wet stood over me. Wolves don’t exactly have facial expressions, but Trent managed to make his irritation with me plain.

Trent Wilcox and I have an odd relationship. He’s Daniel Donovan’s chief lackey. At one point in time the Boston boy had helped save the queen. He’d become her personal guard, a post once occupied by Lee Owens, my bio dad. Now he both took care of the queen’s security and pretty much did whatever Donovan told him to.

Stalking me was merely a hobby. I used to find it incredibly obnoxious. Now I find it a little disturbing. Eight months before, I had visited a place where all the possibilities of my life were laid out for me.

Trent played a part in some of the more sexual ones. Despite the fact that I couldn’t remember it entirely, I dreamed at night of that feeling I had. There was a possible future me that really enjoyed Trent on a level that would lead to children. A boy and a girl. A half demon and a she-wolf. I dreamed of that family at night.

Which made things awkward since I had a boyfriend, and it wasn’t like Trent viewed me as anything but a burden to be borne. Not that I ever told him or anything. I wasn’t a complete idiot, but I worried I sometimes acted weird around him. The more and more Marcus was gone, the more I found myself seeking out Trent’s company. I found it soothing to be around him, and that twitchy feeling in my gut sometimes eased when he was close to me.

Trent’s normally glorious fur was soaked and he growled my way.

Yeah, I knew what that growl meant. It meant I’d fucked up again and there was going to be hell to pay.

Was it truly my fault that I found that damn growl sexy?

“Can I at least deal with the demon before you start in on the lecture?” I forced myself to my feet.

He growled again, giving me his assent.

When had I learned Trent’s language? Maybe it was because the human form of Trent growled a lot, too. He leaned forward and nudged me with his perfect snout, his way of telling me to hurry the fuck up.

I struggled to my feet because she’d started up with the hail again. It seemed to have gone to golf-ball sized. It pounded against my body. My spine felt like it cracked as I gripped the sword again.

Trent howled, the sound roaring even above the demon storm. The Ala turned her attention right to that wolf. He didn’t back off. Trent ran at the demon, his big wolf body a testament to predatory grace. I watched for a moment as he launched himself straight at the demon, his sharp teeth making their first appearance.

He sank them into the demon’s throat and then the wind picked up again, blowing ferociously. His big body was sent rolling back but not before I saw the blood start to flow. It was a good sign. It meant I could at least banish her nasty ass back to the Hell plane. Typically, if it bleeds, the physical body can be vanquished. Doesn’t work on everyone, but then I had a sword from Heaven that would help send her along.

I just had to get close enough to her to poke my sword through.

She wasn’t making it easy. A blast of freezing wind shoved me back, but I planted my feet and forced myself to move forward, my sword in hand. Trent howled and charged again.

The Ala screamed as Trent proved she was more than rain and thunder. Black blood began to flow as he clamped down on the demon.

I personally don’t get the werewolf’s deep desire to sink their teeth into their enemies and take a taste. Werewolves don’t tend to worry about things like bacteria, but they should. Even from where I stood, I could tell that wasn’t good, but Trent kept chomping. If he went rabid, I would be the one who had to put him down, and I didn’t want to do that. He was a pain in my ass, but he was something of a friend. And I would get in serious trouble if he came down with some weird disease.

So I needed to deal with the situation and fast.

Lightning flashed and sparked against Trent’s fur. Even in the pounding rain I could see smoke as he was thrown back. The Ala seemed to think Trent was the real threat. She glided over toward him and that was when I struck.

Some people might say I’m a coward for what I did next. They might say I should have fought honorably and faced the demon down. Those people are idiots who’ve watched way too many movies. In the field, when you get a shot to eliminate a demon opponent, you take it.

I charged the Ala and rammed my sword through her back before she could get her hands on Trent again.

Black smoke surrounded me, blocking out the rest of the world. I was in the Ala’s presence, the mist around her an actual part of her body. The rain no longer touched me and I could hear nothing but the demon’s huff as the sword slid through her thin torso.

She tried to throw me off, her body bucking like a bronco not ready to be broken to a saddle. I held on for dear life because there was no way I was going to lose that sword. I wasn’t sure exactly what was about to happen. Demons are odd things. Some can be killed. Others simply return back to the Hell plane damaged and weakened. Some can never die, and I have to figure out a way to keep their heads separated from their bodies for all of time.

This one was different. The black smoke encased me, becoming so thick I couldn’t see out it.

That was when she turned and spoke to me.

Her body twisted, the sword moving through her as she spun around in that exorcist way and her eyes lit up. Suddenly the sword that had previously been through her back was lodged under her breast as she’d sliced through half her body to look at me. This was where dealing with demons got tricky. Sometimes with the immortal ones, you can slice and dice and still come up with nothing.

I was holding the sword so if she vanished back to the Hell plane, she couldn’t take it with her. Or she’d take us both and then I would be in hella trouble.

Still, I wasn’t thinking about that as she turned those endless eyes on me.

“Beware demons bearing gifts.”

I frowned. It was easy because somehow she’d completely shielded me from the outside wind and rain. It was even warm in the encasement of her shadow self. The rest of the world seemed far away. Why was she suddenly giving me advice? “I need you to understand, the sword isn’t a gift with purchase. Go back to Hell or I’ll find another way to deal with you.”

I could see her face, sunken eyes and a pointed chin. Her hair seemed to flow in blacks and grays, almost indistinguishable from the smoke around her.

“Kelsey mine, you’re going to get yourself killed one of these days.”

My heart nearly stopped. Only one person ever called me that. Gray. Somehow, someway, Gray was here with me. He was inside the Ala and that meant I couldn’t kill her. Him. It. Why the hell was my big strong Gray inside this spindly demon? What had happened?

I knew one thing. I wasn’t going to kill Grayson Sloane.

I started to pull the sword out.

A time-ravaged hand slid over my arm, stopping me. “Don’t. If you do that I won’t be able to control her anymore. It’s the silver of the sword that allowed me to enter her. Well, that and the fact that you carry part of me with you. Your arm never changed back to wolf, did it, sweetheart?”

Before he’d become a dark prophet, Gray had donated blood to save my right arm. As a Hunter, I can change my arm into a wolf claw. Well, it’s supposed to be a wolf claw. Because it had been Gray’s demon blood that healed my dominant arm, when the time came for the change, I got shiny demon skin and nasty talons instead of the promised wolf form. Everyone had been certain that once Gray’s blood had integrated, I would be wholly wolf again.

They’d been wrong. Perhaps it was because Gray was part royalty, or maybe because the king’s blood had given it a boost, but I still sported red skin from time to time.

The Ala’s hand moved over that skin as though Gray could feel the part of himself that still lived inside me. Even though the skin touching me was withered and gnarled, I couldn’t help but see Gray’s strong hand there, caressing me, touching me for the first time in months.

I let the sword rest in once more. “So Jacob is helping you?”

Jacob, possibly the most ancient being still walking the Earth plane. He was a prophet from the Heaven plane. He’d been the one to aid Gray in his transition from mere demon to dark prophet.

“The sword was once his,” Gray explained. “He can sense when it’s being used. He asked me to get a message to you. This is his prophecy, not mine.”

Which was probably why he wasn’t speaking in prophet talk. It’s a little like a rap song, except sung by a thousand-year-old professor on a bad acid trip. The one time Gray went all prophety on me, he spoke in circles and riddles and then wondered why I ignored it all and did what I wanted to anyway. Apparently it all makes sense to the prophet.

But I got the whole beware-of-demons-bearing-gifts thing. “Okay. I promise I won’t take any gifts from assholes. Now tell me where you are.”

The Ala’s lips curled up slightly, but the smile was a sad thing. “I’m in the world, Kelsey mine. In the world and not nearly good enough for you, but I hope you know I’m thinking of you always.”

I didn’t want him thinking of me. I wanted him with me. “Gray, please come home.”

He reached up and touched my face. “You are my home. When I think of you, I’m there. But somehow I doubt Marcus would welcome me, and you need your trainer. You need someone who can ground you in this world and that’s no longer me. I thought I could be, but I’ve seen the truth. I’ll only bring you sadness, Kelsey mine.”

Frustration welled inside me. He never listened. He could see the fates of all the planes laid out for him, with the frustrating exceptions of those close to him. And his own. Becoming a dark prophet had turned my demonic boy toy into a real Eeyore. “That’s not the way I remember it. And if Jacob is telling you differently then he and I are going to have a real problem.”

“I have to leave this body now,” Gray whispered. “Hell is calling her home. Stop screwing around with the demons, my love. Something is happening. Something that could envelop this plane in warfare unlike anything even the ancients have seen. If you protect the man, you protect the child and the king. The crown is twofold, but one will come who thinks to unite the lower planes. A trick and a trap. It’s already in place but if he ever knows how Heaven tricked him, his fury will be a thunderstorm, punishing and never ending. Convince the king. Save this world.”

Yep, there he was. I could ask him a thousand questions and this was what I would get. A puzzle. Sometimes I wondered if I tried to figure it out, would it really change anything at all?

A trick and a trap.

Heaven had tricked someone who was going to be pissed.

Convince the king of what?

“Don’t go,” I whispered, wanting more time with him. Even if he was stuck in a desiccated demon body.

“Hell won’t wait,” he replied with a smile. “You should know that. Good-bye for now. Your wolf is howling and he’ll bring down everything if you don’t show up soon. Tell Trent to take care of you if anything should happen to Marcus.”

My heart seized. “What does that mean?”

“It means the world is changing and so is he. It means…I love you, Kelsey mine. Let her go. Pull back now or she’ll drag you with her. Know that I will come for you when the time is right. I’ll sacrifice if need be. And beware the spawn.”

The world rushed back as I stumbled, my sword coming out of the demon’s body as she was pulled backward, screaming her way home to Hell.

I tumbled back on my ass, the sword falling beside me. The ground was muddy beneath me, but the moon was out again, the world back to its regularly scheduled weather. Quiet hung over the yard.

But not for long.

“What the fuck was that, Kelsey?” Trent shouted.

“Dude, clothes.” I averted my eyes but only after I’d gotten a good look at the man. Despite the fact that I’d recently seen and spoken to the love of my life, who’d warned me that Marcus was in danger, I still couldn’t help but admire how drool-worthy Trent was. The Boston boy was cut in all the right places. He was a big, gorgeous mass of perfectly defined muscles.

“Baby girl, if you don’t want to see me like this, stop getting yourself into situations where I have to change so quickly my clothes explode. I liked those jeans, damn it,” he complained.

“Trent, looking good, buddy.” Liv had a sparkle in her eyes as she joined us, Jamie behind her.

I had to hope Casey had the good sense to run. While Trent was friendly, he also had a big mouth when it came to kissing Donovan’s butt.

Trent didn’t even blush or show the faintest hint that he was embarrassed to be caught with his impressive junk hanging out. There was a reason the dude was an alpha. “Seriously, Olivia. You’re still helping her. And you, Jamie? You should fucking know better.”

“I probably should and yet I don’t. I’m going to go and see if I left a pair of pants you can wear.” Jamie retreated as fast as he could, hauling Liv behind him.

“You’re going to kill me, Owens,” Trent said with a long-suffering sigh.

Not if he killed me first.

Copyright 2017