Ebony Fight (The Guard Duet Book 2) (8 page)

BOOK: Ebony Fight (The Guard Duet Book 2)
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“Ivorys, angels even, and Ebonys sitting at one table and sharing a meal. Laughing.”

“I know what you mean. You have no idea how much I wanted someone to pinch me, thinking it was all just a dream when I met Lillian and her guard for the first time only to get kindness instead of judgment.”

“In Hell…people don’t laugh a lot there. Sultry yes, but not freely. Not like here.”

Leaning against the counter, Becca turned and smiled. “True.”

“Quinn might be defenseless compared to other demons, but it’s good that he never had to go through the training down there.”

There was no hint of pain, no trace of regret or any emotion whatsoever in his voice, just clear fact, and it made Becca all the more curious. It tugged at her, and made her wonder what he had gone through. Before she had a chance to ask, he went on.

“Your life couldn’t have been easy.” His eyes were intense on her, making her fear that he could see more than she wanted him to. “Always protecting your brother.”

The quotas to fulfill, the souls she had to claim…The old ghosts wanted to resurface, but Becca only nodded and shoved them away with all her might.

As if he knew, Stone surprised her by changing the subject. “Would you mind if I started training Quinn?”

Becca was baffled, and she needed a moment to ascertain that she hadn’t misunderstood. “What? Why would you do that?” She shook her head and raised her hand. “Don’t take me wrong.” When she wanted to explain, words didn’t come.

Crossing his arms over his chest, Stone nodded in understanding. “He was never trained as an Ebony, but his being deaf isn’t as much of a handicap as people might think. Quinn can and should still learn how to defend himself, so that situations like the one in the club won’t happen again…or at least not as easily.”

“I’m…kinda stunned.” She cocked her head, as if to make sure he was really there. “I always wanted to protect him from that kind of life…but I see your point. He should know how to protect himself. I guess…I was wrong on that one.”

“Don’t blame yourself. You wanted to protect him. But…”

“It’s like he said today…when we ordered. No matter where we go, we will be who we are.”

Stone nodded. “He’s an Ebony who escaped Hell, and you want to get Satan to change the rules of an age-old war. To be quite frank, the two of you need all the help you can get.”

Becca laughed at that. “Yeah, I guess so, if you put it like that.” Looking at him, she said, “Thank you.”

“No problem. I kinda like the boy.”

It made her smile and warmth hugged her like an embrace, realizing that finally Quinn would have someone in his life who actually gave a damn. Who accepted him and looked past his handicap.

As the water in the kettle behind her boiled, she turned around and said, “About tonight. To me it’s exactly what life should be about, what
living
should be about. Moments like this, a meal shared with friends, with laughter…no matter how much trouble they, or you, are in. It’s moments like these that give me the strength to overcome whatever is thrown at me. Just the hope to live them, that’s what made me fight for this life.”

When she turned around with their mugs in hand, he looked deep in thought, a frown creasing his brow. When he looked up, questions seemed to swirl in his eyes like a storm whipping up clouds. It was the most exposed she had ever seen him.

“Would you mind if I go and sit out on the porch?”

She understood his need for privacy and smiled. “Not at all.” Handing him his mug, she added, “I’m gonna head up to bed anyway. The chocolate will knock me out in no time.”

“Sleep well.”

“Thank you.”

As they looked at each other, she felt it again, a tug between them. A bond; now as thin and fragile as budding trust, but existent nevertheless.

“Good night,” Becca wished him and turned away before she did something foolish. Her mug in her hands, she walked towards the stairs and heard his footsteps disappear out the door. She couldn’t help it and looked back at him.

He stood at the porch railing looking out at something only he knew of. Strong and confident, and yet full of questions.

Her own thoughts blossomed and fought for answers as if they were as vital as sunlight.

He was an Ebony, capable and trained. Why had he come into her life? Was it just coincidence…or maybe more? If he had been sent to kill her, then why hadn’t he done so already? And if he was the one to damn her soul back to Hell before she could save Quinn, why did she still want to trust him? Why was it so easy to do so?

Why did his presence give her hope?

 

 

 

TWELVE

When Sam stopped their car, Ed was just about to climb into the old blue pick-up. Linda unlatched the hood and slammed it shut with a bang. Her eyes darkened when Abby and the rest of Sam’s guard got out of the car.

“You again?” Hand on her hip, she asked, “You guys stalking us or what?”

It was a legitimate question, since Linda and Ed had been called to a new hellhole near Baton Rouge. Abby and Sam had decided to hang in there, no matter what.

Sam replied calmly, “We need your help, Linda.”

“Help?” Linda snorted, an unlit cigarette dangling in her mouth. “If it’s your mission to get on my nerves, boy, then please do me a favor and do it while we’re doing our job.”

“Where you guys headed?”

Sam frowned at Abby, but she figured if it was the only way to speak to Linda she’d follow her anywhere.

Cupping her hands in front of her mouth to light her smoke, Linda mumbled, “Cemetery.”

For a moment Abby wasn’t quite sure whether it was the simple truth or one of Linda’s dry comebacks. When the woman’s gaze stayed serious, Abby nodded. “We gonna follow you there.”

A smoky exhale. “Peachy.”

Without another glance Linda got into her Ford and turned the ignition.

They zipped past before Abby had a chance to climb back into their car. She noticed a muscle jumping in Sam’s jaw. Turning the car around in a quick maneuver, he remarked dryly, “Remind me again why I agreed to this?”

Abby chuckled. “To help all that is good?”

“Right.”

Sam did his best to catch up with the old Ford without breaking too many traffic laws and attracting any raised eyebrows from the people of this lovely small town. After a short while, they saw Linda’s pick-up ahead, turning right, although a sign announced the cemetery to the left.

Sam looked at Abby, raising an eyebrow.

“Don’t look at me. I have no idea what goes on in that woman’s head.”

They followed and Abby couldn’t help but wonder whether coming here had been such a good idea. Yes, Linda and Ed were the oldest of the Ivorys and held a certain sway over the others. But were they wasting too much precious time hoping for a miracle? Could they have convinced others without the old Ivory’s help already?

Regrets wouldn’t help them now, she reminded herself. Linda and Ed turned left onto a small road. Abby straightened in her seat, trying to find out where they were headed. A little sign pointed the way,
Rest in Paws
.

“A
pet
cemetery?”

Wes laughed his head off. “People in the South are weird, man.”

Dave snorted. “Says the guy from California.”

“Seriously, would it have been too much to ask of her to clarify that little tidbit?” Sam shook his head.

His mood must have showed when he climbed out of the car. Linda, leaning lazily against the hood of her Ford, smiled wickedly. “Oh, come on, Sammy. I knew you would figure it out.” With a laugh that reminded Abby of a mischievous pixie, she added, “Sooner or later, anyway.”

For Abby it was a first to see Sam so close to losing his cool. It seemed that Linda knew what buttons to push.

In an attempt to get back to more solid ground as far as their mission went, Abby asked, “Will you finally listen to us when we are done here?”

“No, sweetheart, I won’t.”

After a grunt from Ed who was busy taking of his jacket and strapping on an extra dagger or two, Linda added, “You better be good at multi-tasking. Fight
and
talk. Or do I look like I have all the freaking time in the world?”

Gritting her teeth to keep herself from snapping back, Abby reminded herself that this chance, however small, was all they needed.

“You look hot.” Wes chirped in, not hiding the fact that he was looking Linda up and down.

Linda reached into her car, muscles flexing in her arm, and took out a gun which she strapped to her hip. “Am I wearing the spots of a cougar, boy?”

“No.” Wes frowned.

“Good. Then stick with your own age group.”

“Yes, Ma’am.”

Dave chuckled at that, while Abby was thankful that the situation had relaxed somewhat. With a sweeping gesture of her hand, she invited Linda to lead the way and shared a triumphant wink with Sam as his guard fell in step behind the older Ivorys.

The pet cemetery was a lush, green oasis, and to Abby it appeared more looked after than some intended for humans. The air was fresh, moss swinging softly in the breeze and no gravestone or sculpture showed even the slightest stain. Flowers and treats lay here and there, showing the fresh evidence of remembrance. It was nothing new; she’d seen women more worried about their little Yorkshire than their own husbands on more than one occasion. Still, the thought saddened her.

As they made their way across the cemetery and towards a section of thicker trees, Sam didn’t waste any of Linda’s precious time and took the opportunity to explain their case.

“Things have happened lately that made us question what we’ve been told.”

While Sam’s soothing voice rang out, Abby kept an eye on Linda, wondering whether the fellow Ivory was even listening. It was hard to tell, seeing as the woman’s focus was elsewhere. Well, Abby admitted to herself, Linda had told them they could talk but she had never agreed to listen.

“Lillian was attacked…by an angel. By one of our own.”

“I don’t necessarily count those winged pricks as my own, but anyway. Even the nicest flower bed grows weeds.”

So Linda was listening. Unfortunately Abby couldn’t cherish the news as she noticed a slight movement out of the corner of her eye. A humanoid demon with green reptile skin that blended perfectly with the surroundings crouched on a branch up in a tree.

It looked hungry.

The demon hissed and flashed its teeth. They looked sharp and poisonous.

Still, it was worth a shot. Abby stared at the creature. “If you don’t harm us or any other human soul, we won’t hurt you.”

He jumped at her.

It took nothing more than a thought and her crossbow was firmly in her hands, a familiar friend. An arrow, aflame with the light of heaven, didn’t even last a second in its hold before being released and finding its target with a
thud
, plucking the demon right out of the air.

Linda glanced at Abby. “Nice shot.”

“Thanks. A shame that he wasn’t an example of the good team work we’ve managed with demons.”

“Good enough for me. He attacked, you shot.”

With an inner groan, Abby motioned for Sam to take over. He was better with words.

“As I was saying, we realized that nothing is at it seemed. Angels aren’t as good as they want us to believe,
and
demons aren’t always as bad.” As their group marched on into the thick of the little forest edging the cemetery, the world gained a touch of red. Sam didn’t give up. He was like a dog after a bone. “And as Abby mentioned, we are working together with demons that have proven themselves. We don’t kill just anyone that crawls out of a hellhole anymore. Some of them just want to escape and aren’t interested in claiming human souls at all. That’s why we try to give them a choice.”

Linda snorted, “That’s all nice and groovy, boy, but if they go for me, I go for them.”

“Do you seriously want to tell me you’ve never let one go?”

“No.”

Ed raised his brows at her.

“Oh, shut it,” she grumbled.

Shrugging, Ed took her snap in stride. “Didn’t say a word, love.”

In that moment more demons jumped out of the shrubbery right in front of them. They didn’t waste a second and attacked as if by instinct. Linda and Ed stepped forward at the same time, their weapons ready.

In between kicks and thrusts, Linda called out, “We have one job and one job only. We guard hellholes and that’s it.”

“Yes, but haven’t you ever-”

She didn’t let him finish his question. While the demon was still sliding off her sword and onto the ground, Linda faced Sam. “They usually don’t last long enough for me to gauge their morals and conscience.”

Ed grunted as he had her back. “Maybe we should listen to them.”

Sam beamed at him. “Thanks, Ed.”

“Oh, come on.” Linda looked almost disgusted. “Don’t give me this men-know-better bullshit. That stopped working decades ago.”

Sam continued, ignoring the demons for now. “Did you know that our light can burn and cleanse wounds that were inflicted by a shade?”

“Actually, I did,” Linda said casually as she turned back towards the fight Ed was caught up in.

Abby couldn’t believe what she’d just heard. Her gaze flicked to Sam for reassurance.

He too was stunned that Linda knew and needed a moment to recover. “Say that again? You knew and you never told us?”

“You never asked.”

Abby spat out, “Well, we did ask at some point and you know what? A demon helped us.” With a sneer she went on, “You’re about as egotistical as God himself. He wasn’t that much interested in our fate either when he talked to Lillian.”

Having had enough of this grumpy old woman, Abby was about to march off when Linda stopped in mid-swing and called out after her. “Hang on, kid. Did you just say God?”

“Yes. We met him after Lillian and Raz took out the angel of the divine plan. He acted like an ass to be honest, same as you.”

In a bout of anger, Linda quickly dealt with the last demon before her gaze went to Sam. “Why the heck didn’t you mention that earlier?”

Sam shrugged. “I didn’t know it would make a difference.”

Pausing in wiping the black blood staining her sword on the thigh of her dark cargos, the older Ivory looked at him as if he’d just gone off the deep end. “Of course it does. I don’t care what those prissy little angels say or do for that matter. The guy upstairs is where I get my orders from.”

Too stunned by the turn of events, Abby didn’t realize that more demons had crawled out of the hellhole until a sharp intake of breath broke the silence.

“Shit,” said the tallest and probably the leader of the group. They were still kids. Their faces were smeared, the white of their eyes popping out as they stared at the Ivorys in front of them. All of a sudden they got back into motion, hurrying and stumbling over themselves as they tried to turn around and flee.

“Don’t. It’s ok,” Abby called out and run after them. “We won’t hurt you.”

The smallest one fell to the ground, tripping over a root.  “Wait!”

A girl, Abby realized.

It was too late. Her so-called friends had already disappeared through the hellhole, leaving her behind. Scrambling to turn around so that she didn’t have her back to her enemies, the girl faced them. Her eyes were wide and burning with tears of fear. She couldn’t have been older than twelve years and was definitely in need of some food. Everything about her, from her dirty, worn clothes to the way she held herself – ready to run – screamed the streets. Her guarded eyes darted around, trying to take everything in, but were unable to hide the hunger inside. Stubborn strength suddenly bloomed as the kid thrust her chin out. Abby’s heart cried out, admiring the kid’s courage.

This one had guts. Raising her arms, Abby stopped and crouched down a few feet away from the girl, not wanting to scare her more.

Looking Abby straight in the eye, measuring her, the girl asked, “So it’s true then? The rumors?”

“We won’t hurt you, if that’s what you mean.”

The kid’s green eyes flicked over the group of Ivorys behind Abby. “They say there’s a witch. That she’s working with ya guys.”

Smiling, Abby nodded. “You mean Becca? Yes, she works with us. She’s a cool witch.”

Wes grunted in surprise. “Guess Lillian wasn’t kidding when they said they were busy spreading the word, hey?”

The girl frowned. “Who is Lillian?”

“A friend of ours. She’s an Ivory as well. But don’t worry. For now all you need to know is that you’re safe and we won’t hurt you. I promise. Most of all, you’re free to decide.”

Another, but more curious frown marked her brow.

Abby explained, and nodded towards the hellhole. “Whether you want to go back or stay with us.”

A hiss came from behind but Abby ignored it, her eyes staying on the girl, encouraging her.

Biting her lip, the kid looked over her shoulder towards the whirl of red and then took a deep breath, lifting her slim chest. “I’ll come with you.”

“Cool. Oh man, I forgot my manners.” Holding out her hand for the kid to shake, she said, “I’m Abby. The cranky old woman behind me is Linda, the big guy is Ed and the handsome one is Sam. The other nuts are Wes and Dave. What’s your name?”

Apparently accepting her new environment as quickly as only children could, the girl took Abby’s hand. “People call me Sli.”

 

BOOK: Ebony Fight (The Guard Duet Book 2)
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