Authors: Lori Handeland
Tags: #Novella, #New York Times Bestselling Author
“Where is it?” I asked.
Ben spun, nearly knocking me over. His gaze flicked around the yard, eyes so wide I looked around too. Nothing was there but grass and flowers.
“Where is what?” he managed, voice a bit hoarse.
His scowl returned. “Ye aren’t makin’ sense.”
“Whatever was in the box escaped.”
He opened the car door. For an instant I thought he was leaving and experienced a moment of panic. Though the size of the box indicated that whatever had been inside wasn’t large enough to cause true concern, the shredded remnants of said box did just that.
Having just flown, I had no weapon beyond what might be inside the house. I wasn’t fast enough to outrun much, or strong enough to snap more than a twig. Considering what was trolling the earth these days, I wasn’t certain anything I might find or do would help.
“Hey.” I reached for Ben’s shoulder. “Don’t—”
He straightened, drawing from the floor in the backseat what appeared to be an ancient farm implement—wooden handle, curved stone blade. Add a black hoodie and he’d look like the Grim Reaper.
“Take it.” He jabbed the thing at me. I moved out of swiping distance. The tool appeared both elderly and sharp. Getting cut with that was Ebola waiting to happen.
“What was in there?” I repeated.
“I am sworn.”
“Good for you. What was in there?”
I lowered my voice, though we were alone. Then again, maybe we weren’t. “I know about the Nephilim.”
“You do,” I said. Though why he would bring one here in a box, I had no idea. He was a friend of Quinn’s, not Liz Phoenix. Wasn’t he?
“Did Liz send you?”
He ducked his head in a half bow. “No.” He jerked his head up. “Who?”
“Nice try,” I murmured. He knew who she was, but I didn’t think she’d sent him. Did it matter?
I took the tool. If he knew about the Nephilim, and I kind of thought he did, the keeping of it in his car meant it would work on whatever the hell had been in that box.
“Is this a scythe?”
“Sickles were spoken of in the Old Testament. Scythes came later.”
As we were dealing with demons that had been around since just after the fall, it was a sickle.
“What does this...” I pointed at the stone and lifted my eyebrows.
“Flint,” he answered.
“What does flint kill?”
“Curved flint sharpened by a priest of the church, with a handle of wood from a place where the Israelites walked.”
“Sheesh,” I muttered. The thing was probably worth a gazillion dollars. And I was going to us it against...
I didn’t have a clue.
“What is it?” I asked for the umpteenth time.
“It will not hurt you.”
I lifted the sickle. “Then why this?”
He looked away. I wanted to shout
but right now Ben Skrewd was the only friend I had.
“Why would you bring a box full of Nephilim here?”
“’Twasn’t,” he snapped.
“Breed?” He frowned. Confusion? I didn’t think so. “Grigori?” His frown deepened, and he didn’t answer.
Was there another type of killing machine that Liz hadn’t told me about yet? No doubt.
Distant thunder rumbled, and I glanced toward the sea. The mist had thickened, causing the sun to dim. But not a single storm cloud bubbled in the sky.
Ben’s gaze flicked to the cottage and I spun, just as the shriek of a wildcat filled the air. My fingertips went numb and I dropped the sickle. The sharp end stuck in the ground with a muffled
. I barely missed my own foot.
“Stay here.” Ben snatched the weapon then headed for the cottage. Instead of going in the still open red front door, he skirted around and made a beeline for the back.
“The creature probably can’t cross the threshold,” I murmured to myself, hoping the sound of my voice would calm my racing heart and still my shaking hands. It didn’t. I kept talking anyway. “Red door keeps out the evil, black, spirit kitty cat, so it must be in the back yard and not the living room.”
My laugh rang out, slightly hysterical. “Shh,” I said, and hugged myself. My hands were so cold, their contact with my arms only made me shiver.
I’d known about the Nephilim even before Liz had told me the score. I’d read the Bible. I’d studied the Testaments. More importantly, I’d read the books that had been left out. I was curious.
The Book of Enoch
had been a revelation.
I’d only seen two evil half demons in person. That had been enough. I never wanted to see another one again.
“Can’t always get what we want,” I said. Mick and Keith were definitely smarter than they looked. Who wasn’t?
I waited as instructed, but after the initial growl, followed by the snarl-shriek, silence reined. Had Ben killed the creature? Had it killed Ben? Either way, there should have been more noise than the wind.
I crept across the yard, poised to flee, though the idea of fleeing from a demon panther almost made me run before I saw one. However, I couldn’t leave Ben alone. I might have just met him; I didn’t even like him. Nevertheless... it just wasn’t right.
Was it good or bad that he didn’t answer? Nothing else did either.
I pulled out my cell phone. No service. No shit. I hadn’t had the time, or the brainpower, to figure out an international calling plan. I shouldn’t have even brought the thing.
My gaze roamed the area, hoping for a nearby cottage. Not a single thatched roof, not a chimney, not even a wisp of distant smoke appeared.
“Fan-damn-tastic,” I muttered, one of Liz’s favorite words. I saw the appeal.
I continued along the side of the cottage, skirting the woodpile, where I grabbed the biggest piece I could carry and took it along. I didn’t like to confront demons empty handed. I took a breath, tightened my grip and stepped into the garden.
Nothing was there but flowers, veggies, me, and the sickle lying abandoned on the ground.
I picked it up. No blood. I looked around the yard. No cat.
And no Ben.
* * *
It wasn’t until dusk loomed that I considered driving to Red Door—I couldn’t remember, or even pronounce the Gaelic version—or even to Dublin, in the car Ben had left behind when he’d...
Fled? Flown? Disappeared? Died?
I’d taken a quick tour of the garden, found not a trace of him—dead or alive. I had unearthed a panther statue, nestled in the corner of potato plants. The thing looked exactly like the one I’d left at home, right down to the eerie yellow-green eyes.
I’d thought the one in Milwaukee had come with house. But now, with plenty of time to think, I realized I hadn’t noticed it until after Quinn arrived. Apparently he’d brought one along. The question was why? I’d think it was a statue of protection if the local legend hadn’t been of a creature that everyone needed protecting
I stared out the cottage window as night fell over Ireland. Though there’d been no more snarls, I still wasn’t keen on leaving the dubious protection afforded by the closed and bolted red doors—the back door was red as well—to seek out a Guinness and ask a few questions. Not to mention that I’d never driven on the “wrong” side of the road. I could probably manage that, but I never had learned how to drive a stick shift.
If there hadn’t been more hills than people, I might have tried. But I’d observed enough folks who’d killed their engines on inclines. It was damn hard to get the thing started again and not roll all the way back down. The idea of being out there in the dark, alone in a flooded Fiat, made me draw the curtains and stay inside.
I kept a tight grip on the sickle. I’d probably sleep with it.
“Better than sleeping alone.” I was really going to have to stop talking to myself.
“Tomorrow.” When the sun was up and, hopefully, Quinn was here.
I wish I’d asked him when the next flight was. You’d think that was something he would have told me. Unless he’d been lying just to get me out of Dodge and had no plans to come here at all. Though that didn’t sound like Quinn. Then again, what did?
Outside, in the dark, something went bump, thump, clunk.
sounded like him.”
Thunder rumbled. Or maybe not thunder at all.
I stood in the center of the cottage with an ancient sickle clenched in my fingers so tightly I feared I’d never be able to unclench them.
More thunder snarled, unless it was a snarl that thundered. Then lightning flashed and I relaxed. A storm was the least of my worries.
The door rattled, and I dropped the sickle. Lucky I wasn’t a demon fighter.
I leaned over and retrieved the weapon. I’d be no damn good at it at all.
The door rattled harder. “The wind,” I said, as if saying it would make it so. Combined with thunder and lightning and the torrential rain beating on the roof, what else could it be?
The doorknob flicked—right, left, right. “Huh.” Wind couldn’t do that.
I opened my mouth to shout, “
Who goes there?”
then snapped it shut again. I hadn’t turned on the lights yet. Better to pretend no one was home.
The front door stopped rattling; the knob stopped turning. I had just taken my first breath in what felt like several days, when the back door shuddered. Once, twice, again, as if something very big or very strong had slammed against it. I drew back the sickle in my best imitation of Hank Aaron, and the door burst open.
I expected a panther, what I got was a man. As the sickle would work on him too, I swung.
He ducked. The sickle hit the wall. Sparks flew. The impact caused my fingers to go numb and I let go of the handle. The man snatched the weapon from the air before it fell even an inch.
He straightened from his crouch. In the half-light the movement was leonine. Or perhaps it was just my overtaxed, panther legend-steeped brain.
“What the hell, Megan?”
I blinked. “Quinn?”
“I’m glad to hear the surprise in your voice.” He lowered the sickle. “I’d hate to think you knew it was me.”
I opened my mouth and a sound very like a sob came out. Quinn stilled. “Meggie?”
The next thing I knew I was in his arms, clinging, shaking, almost crying. I lifted my face. Our noses brushed. He felt so warm and strong, so familiar, so damn right that I kissed him.
* * *
Quinn had been so startled at Megan’s sob, he nearly fell on his ass when she threw herself into his arms.
He should have. He’d forgotten of late to be clumsy. Besides, if he’d fallen, she wouldn’t have kissed him.
Unless he’d kissed her.
With Megan in his arms, so soft and warm and round, he couldn’t think. With her mouth on his, he couldn’t breathe. Then her tongue brushed his teeth, and he couldn’t stop.
He tossed aside the sickle; she didn’t seem to notice. Her fingers had clenched in his wet shirt. Her nails scraped his waist and his pelvis arched toward hers.
She gasped when his hardness bumped into her. He clenched his own hands in her hair so that he wouldn’t clutch her hips and grind her against him. He didn’t want to scare her anymore than she already was.
Guilt washed over him, colder than the rain. He’d wanted to arrive before now, but he hadn’t realized how a return to this place after so long away would affect him.
She shivered beneath his hands. He pressed his mouth to her neck and gooseflesh rose, tickling his lips. He licked the pebbled skin. Her breath caught, and her breasts slid across his chest. Something else was pebbled too.
“Cold,” she muttered.
Hell, he’d left the door open. He kicked it shut; the thing swung back open. He’d broken it. Fool.
The darkness within the cottage had terrified him. He’d called her name, but it had been torn away by the wind. The next thing he knew the door was open. And she’d swung a sickle at his head.
He snatched a chair with one hand, shoved it beneath the knob, considered lighting the fire and decided there was no time. He’d desired her from the first moment he’d seen her, loved her not long after that.
He wouldn’t. He couldn’t. He shouldn’t. To touch her was death. He had been warned. Then she whispered, “Quinn?” in a voice full of both fear and wonder, and he was more lost than he’d ever been in his long, lonely life.
He swept her into his arms and carried her to the bed, yanked back the counterpane and laid her on top.
He could see her in the dark, all tousled curls and curves. Though she’d never said so out loud, he knew that she believed herself too round, matronly, even stout. He thought she was voluptuous and strong, and being a mother, giving birth, only increased both.
If it was death to touch her he would pay that price. He had waited eons for this.
He dropped his wet clothes atop his soaked shoes and stepped toward the bed as lightning flashed.
She held up a hand. “Wait.”
He nearly groaned. If he waited, he would think, and if he thought, he would stop.
stop. This was insanity brought on by the storm and the night, her fear and his lust. Was there anything in that combination that didn’t shout
“You’re the most beautiful man I’ve ever seen,” she whispered. “Can I—” She sat up, biting her lip, then reached out, her fingers pausing an inch from his stomach. Her gaze lifted, so much uncertainty.
Definitely a mistake.
He leaned forward, and her nails brushed his ribcage. They both stopped breathing. He stilled, waiting for her to remember who he was, who she was, where they were and why. Instead she pressed her mouth where her fingers had been and neither one of them remembered anything but each other.
She scraped her teeth along his hip, swirled her tongue around his naval. His cock brushed the underside of her chin and her head turned fast, like a snake, her tongue darting out like one too, laving his tip.
He jerked back. Such had never occurred to him. All he knew of desire had been born in her. He understood what was required—he was a man and a beast—but beyond that lay a mystery.