Ebony Fight (The Guard Duet Book 2) (7 page)

BOOK: Ebony Fight (The Guard Duet Book 2)
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“So he escaped.”

“Yes. It’s what his wife wanted. For them to get out.”

“Hell didn’t go after him?”

She snorted. “Of course they did. Why do you think he lives out here, buried in the bayou?” Becca shrugged. “Their interest declined over the last few years. That’s what he told me, anyway.”

“Probably the moment his lord found a new oracle.”

The witch nodded. “Replaceable, that’s what we are. We, as in who we are, don’t matter down there. We’re nothing.”

A shiver of clarity ran down his back. Stone blamed it on the eerie silence only interrupted by water lapping greedily and the hungry squawk of a bird in the distance. She was right. If he didn’t kill her, then another assassin would be sent to do the job. Basic food chain principle, that’s what Hell was built on. The survival of not just the fittest and strongest, but the most scrupulous. It seemed logical.

 

TEN

Climbing out of the pickup, Abby was glad to stretch her legs and put some distance between herself and Sam.

“Ready?” Sam looked at her across the hood of the car.

It was the first he’d spoken to her in the last hours. He’d been silent during the entire drive. Well, he talked with the guys, yes, but not with her. Her stomach was in knots.

Abby nodded, ignoring the pang in her chest. “Sure.”

He was different somehow. There were moments when it was so easy to lose herself in their connection, and then there were times when he seemed to put up walls higher than she could climb. It hurt more than she liked to admit. She was always so aware of him. It exhausted her. Besides, that energy and focus was needed elsewhere right now.

Wes came up from behind and put his arm around her shoulders. “Is it just me or are you guys also a bit jealous? How come they get a big house? I mean, seriously. These guys are old, they don’t need the space.”

Finding herself smiling back at Wes, Abby warned, “I wouldn’t say that too loud if I were you.”

She took in the safe house in front of them. It was a crumbling ruin like all the others, but the three-story villa allowed glimpses of its former beauty and magnificence. With an elegant pillared entrance, wrap-around patio and a little turret rising on the side, Abby guessed that this was what some people would call Victorian style. She could easily imagine the house in its white glory sitting proudly among a lush green lawn and colorful flowerbeds. However, it seemed the old money had been lost over the years and neglect now painted a different picture. Plus, the harsh black-and-white of purgatory didn’t exactly help either.

“Let’s do this,” Sam said.

A rusty old Ford pickup stood with its hood open, looking more like it preferred to become an improvised flowerbed than taken around for another ride. Abby didn’t know a lot about a car’s inner guts. Her brothers taught her well; a game of pool or poker and she would kick a guy’s ass any day. Cars, though? Not so much. Abby had to draw a line at some point; what cars were to her brothers, shoes were to her. Still, as they walked past, she did notice that this one had a few important parts missing.

Abby looked over at Sam as they approached the house. They both knew that Linda would be the toughest cookie to crumble. She and her partner, Ed were the oldest Ivorys around and preferred working on their own. They had lost their two other team members - one in battle and the other to Hell. To say that trust has been an issue ever since would be an understatement. However, for Abby and Sam that was exactly the reason for coming here in the first place. Once they had Linda on their side, others would follow.

A cluttering noise followed by loud swearing drifted to them from the open door. Yes, that was Linda, alright.

The door stood wide open to let in the breeze, probably needed to clear the overpowering smell of oil coming from within the house. If Abby had to rely on her nose alone, she would have thought them to be at a gas station. Sam was about to knock when the unmistakable sound of a gun being charged split the air. Silence echoed. Slowly Sam held up his hands, and said, “It’s Abby and Sam, including my guard. Put down the gun, Linda.”

A woman dressed in brown cargo pants and a tank top stained with oil appeared from behind the door. She was in her forties, and although the skin that was bared showed the scars that years of fighting had left behind, her body was in good shape. Muscles flexed in her arms as she holstered her gun again.

Abby ignored Wes’ appreciating sigh coming from behind.

Linda shrugged. “You can’t be too careful these days.”

Abby’s gaze flicked to Sam and then back to Linda. “What do you mean by that?”

Ignoring the question, Linda narrowed her eyes at her. “You are one of Lillian’s.”

“Yes. Sam and I…” Abby’s voice trailed off when Linda turned and marched into the living room area. Charming. Left with no other option, Abby and the others followed.

The house was sparse, but the few pieces of furniture that remained looked to be antiques. Ed, Linda’s partner, sat at a desk busy sharpening his double-edged ax and daggers. He had a strong build with a barrel chest, and had always reminded Abby of an intimidating bouncer. Well, except for the cute reading glasses poised at the tip of his nose. Those turned him into a teddy bear.

Raising his head briefly, he greeted them. “Hey guys.”

“Hey, Ed.”

Abby couldn’t quite hide her surprise when she saw what must have been the missing parts of the old pickup outside lying on the floor, staining the beautiful rug underneath. A freshly lit cigarette stuck between her lips, Linda sat down cross-legged, picking up where she’d obviously left off before she’d given them such a warm welcome.

“What do you want, Sammy?”

The cigarette in her mouth dangled madly, making Abby wonder whether it was wise to have it so close to flammable substances. She exchanged looks with Sam. After rubbing his chin in thought, he apparently came to a conclusion of some sort and kneeled down in front of Linda.

“Would it be okay for you to not kill innocent demons anymore?”

Okay. Well. Direct approach it was.

Out of the corner of her eye, Abby saw Ed stop in his movements. However, Linda didn’t even blink.

“Linda?”

“I heard you, boy.”

That was a start, and so Sam went on, “You’ve been an Ivory for how many years now?”

“It’s not polite to ask a woman’s age.”

Sam cleared his throat, taken a bit off guard, before trying to smooth things over. “In your long career as an Ivory, surely you must have come across demons who were not interested in a fight, much less taking human souls. Am I right?”

Still no reaction.

Sam glanced at Abby for help, but she could only shrug her shoulders. She had no clue how to crack this one. Ed caught their attention and motioned for Sam to go on. At least they had managed to pique his interest.

Before Sam could get another word out, Linda looked up. A dirty hand reached up to take the cigarette out of her mouth. She fixed Sam and blew a cloud of smoke into his face. He didn’t move, didn’t give her an inch. Cocking her head, she calmly asked, “And whose bullshit of an idea was this?”

Looking up at the rest of them as if noticing them for the first time, the old Ivory took a closer look at Abby. It was almost physical and Abby had to admit it made her a bit uneasy.

“Oh, don’t tell me it was Lillian.”Swearing under her breath, she shook her head and returned her attention back to her tools. “I expected better from that girl.”

After minutes passed by with nobody having a clue of what else to do or say, Linda almost made them jump when she barked, “What you guys still doing here? Get the hell out of my safe house.”

Looking at Ed for help, Abby felt relief flooding her when he gave a calm nod of his head. There was hope.

Without a word or backward glance, they walked back to the car. Once inside, Abby didn’t know what to say while Sam just stared out the windshield, probably still trying to wrap his mind around what had just happened. She knew Linda had trouble with it. They had suspected she would be a tough one, but that had been…as hard as steel.

Wes was the one who broke the silence. “Man, that woman is freaky. But still amazingly hot for her age.”

“What do we do now?” Abby asked Sam.

“We gonna check into a motel and come back tomorrow.” He turned the ignition and put the car into gear. “We need her on our side.”

 

ELEVEN

One week later…

Becca couldn’t help but burst out laughing when she saw Stone glaring at the drops hammering against the windshield. Ignoring her, he climbed out of her VW bus as quickly as possible.

“Hey, you gonna offend Betty,” she called out after him, leaning towards the passenger side. Lightning flashed in dark clouds above them and thunder boomed soon after.

“I don’t care.” With his arms holding his jacket up to cover his head, he ran through the pouring rain as if the devil himself was on his heels.

Quite a lot of demons didn’t like rain, or any form of water for that matter, since Hell didn’t exactly offer a lot of it. However, Becca welcomed each drop and enjoyed it when the crack of thunder reverberated through her bones. She was soaked through by the time she locked the van. Throwing her head back and spreading her arms wide, Becca enjoyed the thick drops caressing her skin before she spun while skipping her way up towards the house. Her laughter rang out and flowed with the beat of the rain.

“Are you mad, woman?”

“Don’t tell me you’ve only noticed that now?” She stopped spinning and looked at him.

He huddled under the covered entrance to her house. Water glistened on his skin, mingled with the blood from a fresh cut marring his left cheek. Stubble dusted his jaw and still his features were sharp. And his eyes were intense on her. As if he could see right to the bottom of her damned soul. It made her feel naked and vulnerable.

Stone was a trained Ebony and radiated their cold numbness. They had been recruiting and fighting for the last couple of days, had even started to develop a rhythm together, and she’d discovered tiny chips in his armor. He had taken that blow for her earlier, hadn’t he? Had he looked out for her? Or was she imagining it?

The sight of him tugged at something deep inside of her. But even worse, getting to know him made her yearn for something she had no business yearning for. Breaking the connection, Becca fumbled for her keys in her bag and hoped she didn’t look like she was diving into it as a means of escape.

The door opened before she even found her keys.

Quinn looked from one to the other. To Becca he signed,
I was wondering whether you guys enjoyed standing out here in this weather.

Becca rolled her eyes at him, “Funny bunny,” and stepped past him inside their warm sanctuary.

Only getting started,
he replied
. What we gonna have for dinner, by the way? The fridge is kinda…empty…again.

Ah shit. Becca mentally kicked herself. Her mind had been so focused on the mission that she’d forgotten about such mundane things as grocery shopping. Claws came running down the stairs in a blurry flash and rubbed against her legs in greeting. After she bent down to rub his spotted head and black-and-orange back, he meowed in distress. His accusing eyes fixed her, supporting Quinn’s complaint.

Right. Becca gave him one last calming pet and then straightened.

She hadn’t worked since she’d taken on this particular job, but after calculating their budget quickly in her head, Becca decided their savings should be enough for what she had in mind.

“Uhm…okay. There must still be something left for you, Claws. Don’t you worry. But…” As if he understood every word and seeing that his problem was solved, the cat stalked towards the kitchen like a King towards his throne. Right. Looking up at her brother with a smile, Becca suggested, “How about eating out? We haven’t done that in ages.”

Ok.
Quinn shrugged his shoulders while Stone gave a brief nod. “Sure.”

She scowled at the two of them. “Gee, I’m gonna get a heart attack from all your bubbly enthusiasm.” To Quinn she added with an exaggerated sigh, “Go grab a jacket.”

While her brother ran up the stairs, Becca heard a rustle and turned to watch the front door. A knock sounded.

“You expecting anyone?” Stone asked, and she could tell he was on full alert.

“No. Not really.”

“Maybe I should…” Stone trailed off as curiosity got the better of her.

Without a second thought she moved to open the door. Raz and Lillian stood in front of her, looking a bit like too eager door-to-door salesmen.

Lillian beamed at her, sounding short of breath, “Hey.”

“Hey to you, too.” Looking past them, Becca couldn’t see their Dodge Challenger. “Uhm…how the heck did you guys get here?”

The Ivory pointed up to the sky with her index finger.

Becca’s eyes went wide as the penny dropped. “You flew?” Her gaze went to Raz, who nodded proudly. With a squeal of joy she caught Lillian in a tight bear hug and swayed them happily from side to side. “That’s awesome, girl.”

Pushing her away again to be able to see her friend’s face, Becca couldn’t keep from bombarding her with questions. “How does it feel? Since when can you fly? Have you been practicing?” After taking a breath, she added, “You know what? Have you had dinner yet? We were about to head out. Wanna join us?”

Lillian burst out laughing. “I’d love to. I’m starving after the flight here.”

“That’s settled then.” At the sound of Quinn coming back down the stairs, Becca looked up to smile at him. “Look who’s here.”

After Quinn waved his hello, Stone cleared his throat and caught Becca’s attention. “Oh, right. Forgetting my manners here. Guys, this is Stone. Stone, meet my friends Lillian and Raz.”

“An Ebony?”

“An angel?”

Raz and Stone stared at her as if she had gone from slightly mad to totally insane. It was quite funny, seeing as both men had probably more in common than either would have liked.

“Men!” Becca rolled her eyes. “Thanks for clearing up who’s what but…you two do remember what we are trying to achieve here, right?”

Their sheepish faces and mumbled grunts were answer enough. Properly chastised, Raz and Stone greeted each other with a sharp nod, but still looked like they wouldn’t touch the other with a ten feet pole.

Making a shooing motion, Becca ordered, “Come on, people. Let’s get moving.”

Once again they quickly made their way through the rain towards the van. When everyone was inside, Becca asked, “What you guys in the mood for?”

“Meat,” Stone and Raz answered in unison before looking at the other warily.

Biting her lip, Becca glanced at Lillian and Quinn through her rearview mirror. “Burgers?”

“Sounds great.”

“Good.”

With a big smile on her face and some encouraging words for Betty, she turned the ignition. It must be quite an unusual phenomenon - the creatures of Heaven and Hell sharing a ride in an old VW bus. A glance at Stone next to her showed her that his thoughts must have gone along the same lines as hers. He was frowning and a hint of bafflement glinted in his eyes as they met her own. It was the most expressive look she’d ever seen on him.

How things had changed in her life.

Fifteen minutes later Becca turned onto the parking lot of a roadhouse grill she had found herself glancing at a few times but never gone to. The flashing sign and warm lights inside now drew her like a moth to the flame. The five of them spilled out of her VW, reminding her of a pack of hungry wolves. Life had thrown them together and now Becca considered every one of them a friend, and even family.

The grill house was rustic, welcoming and filled with laughter - exactly the way Becca loved it. The moment they sat down, a young waitress floated towards them, a shy smile on her face that revealed she was fairly new on this job. After a quick glance at the menu they all settled pretty quickly on burgers and fries.

“Anything else?”

While the men wanted a beer to wash the food down with, Becca quickly decided she was in the mood for hot chocolate.

Stone raised his eyebrow at her, and Becca shrugged with a smile on her face that admitted proudly, “Yes, I’m weird that way.” Although being the spotlight of his attention made her stomach flutter, she still managed to notice Quinn trying to get the cute waitress to bring him a beer too.

Without taking her eyes off Stone, she took her brother’s hand in his. “Nice try, buddy.” To the waitress she added, “The coke will be fine, thanks.”

“Sure.”

Once the girl left, Stone remarked, “You’re tough on him, you know that.”

“I’m not. We decided to live a human life, and here the law says no alcohol for teenagers.”

Quinn’s hands tangoed in the air, a frown accompanying his words.
Look around you. See any humans here? No. We’re demons, angels, Ivorys and Ebonys at one table.
That’s
our life, no matter where we go. Yes, we escaped hell to live a human life, but we can’t change what we are.

Stone nodded. “Whatever he said.”

Her brother raised his arms in a wide thank you gesture, while Becca stared at Stone. Seriously? If this was Stone’s way of getting into Quinn’s good graces, she didn’t appreciate it that much.

Facing Quinn, she said, “No alcohol for you. End of discussion.”

Quinn shrugged it off and grinned sheepishly.
Was worth a try, though.

Becca rolled her eyes and ruffled his hair, knowing it would annoy him and make her feel better. Glancing at Stone, she decided it was better to talk with him later, in private. He gave the barest of nods that seemed to insinuate both understanding and apology.

Lillian nudged Becca in her side and pointed at Raz, “This charming angel here is into healthy food while he’s giving me the boot camp from Hell. I swear, sometimes I don’t know which is worse, the cramps in my stomach or the ones in my back.”

Raz didn’t flinch and looked straight at his Ivory with love in his eyes. “We eat exactly what you need to build up the muscle.”

“I know, love.” To Becca she whispered with a smile touching her lips, “That’s exactly what I’m talking about.”

Laughing, Becca’s eyes went to Raz. He was quieter than usual and seemed a bit tense. He probably didn’t feel that comfortable with Stone next to him.

As their food arrived and the atmosphere relaxed more and more, Becca took pleasure in her banter with Lillian, watched the barriers of language drop away as the men joked around with Quinn and simply basked in the warmth of life and friendship blooming inside of her.

Not even Raz could take that away from her.

She was just on her way from the ladies back to their table when she almost ran into him.

“Careful there,” she said with a smile.

“Funny enough, I just wanted to say the same thing to you.”

When his face showed no sign of humor and stayed serious, she frowned at him. “What are you talking about?”

“Stone. What do you know about him?”

The condescending tone in his voice made her spine straighten. “He’s an Ebony who saved Quinn’s life, and also Joshua’s. He wants to help us. That’s all I need to know.”

“He has secrets.”

Becca snorted at that. “Seriously, Raz?” She shrugged. “So what? Who hasn’t?”

Raz ignored her comment. “One of his secrets, and he has many, was very much at the forefront of his mind ever since he was introduced to me, and has been throughout dinner. He has
too
many secrets, Becca. Believe me.”

Shaken out of her comfort and taken abruptly into reality, she faced Raz. “Thank you for the heads up. But you, more so than anyone else, should know that we
all
have our secrets. And…” She smiled softly. “You don’t trust me fully yet either. So, sorry if I don’t make a big fuss out of this.”

Raz nodded. “Fair enough.”

“Good. Let’s go back to the others.”

Becca still enjoyed the rest of the evening. She meant what she had said to Raz. She appreciated his warning, but would not let herself be dominated by it and stuck by her own opinion of Stone.

Having Stone next to her on their way back made her realize how aware of him she was. Although she might not know a lot about him, she enjoyed how she felt when he was around. For some reason life seemed more exciting then, and yet she felt at peace at the same time.

Once Raz and Lillian said their goodbyes and flew off, Quinn hugged and thanked her for the lovely evening before he ran up the stairs, leaving Becca and Stone alone.

Nervousness rose, and not used to being so aware of someone else, she proposed, “Want a coffee or hot chocolate?”

“Coffee sounds good.”

She led the way into the kitchen, feeling his eyes on her. Or was she merely imagining it?

After switching on the light, bathing them in a soft golden glow, she prepared his coffee and her own dose of chocolate. Her kitchen was cream-colored with highlights of blue. Wood instead of stainless steel made it traditional to her, boring to others. However, it was a place she could call home, and that helped to calm her nerves.

Stone started talking out of his own accord - a rare thing. “I would never have thought that life could be like this, like tonight.”

Becca looked at him over her shoulder and lifted an inquiring eyebrow, although she already knew what he was referring to.

BOOK: Ebony Fight (The Guard Duet Book 2)
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