Authors: Tymber Dalton
Amiago didn’t need to look to know what that sound meant. “And there he goes,” he said.
Arnau agreed. “He’s in his element.”
By the time the fighting ended, the thirty s’Galth lay dead around them. Aidan stood among the carnage, wild-eyed and sword raised, studying the bodies, looking for any signs of life. By Arnau’s best guess, Aidan had slain two thirds of the monsters himself.
Arnau and Amiago shared a glance. Ami slowly walked toward Aidan, one hand outstretched. “It’s all right, brother,” he soothed. “It’s finished. We’re done here.”
Aidan trembled as his eyes shifted back to amber and tears slid down his face. He sank to his knees, sobbing in anguish as the other men surrounded and embraced him.
Later that night, after they’d returned on-Earth and Aidan was asleep by the fire, Arnau pulled Amiago aside to talk.
“This is not good for him,” Arnau said. “Each battle, perhaps it’s good for his grief, but it is killing him inside at the same time.”
Shadows cast by the fire flickered across Ami’s face. “I know,” he softly agreed.
“Every time, it’s as if a rage takes him over, and then a sorrow just as strong fills his soul. He may be a skilled warrior, but he does not possess a warrior’s heart and soul.” Arnau pulled the leather thong from his hair so he could rebind it. “This is killing his soul, every battle. He is not made of the right substance to be an Enforcer. He should be a Protector.”
“Don’t you think I know that?” Ami angrily growled. “This was not my idea! Father is the one who assigned us these roles.” He took a deep breath to calm himself. No, he knew damn well Aidan should never have been made an Enforcer even though his unfettered grief, when set loose in combat, made him invincible.
Arnau examined a cut in his tunic. One of the s’Galth had drawn a flint knife and sliced him with it. A minor wound almost completely healed already, but he’d ruined a practically new garment. “I was thinking we could make a request of Hades. I’ve heard there’s an archdemon, Tosko, he could be trained. From what I hear he has the substance to be an Enforcer. We could be Protectors.” Two had recently been killed while attempting to save the villagers, the very act they had today avenged by wiping out the raiding s’Galth band.
Amiago leaned back against a rock, his fingers laced together behind his head. “It never hurts to ask. Although it will be difficult to convince Father that the most valuable and efficient Enforcer he’s ever had isn’t cut out to be one.”
“He cannot be that coldhearted.”
“You don’t know my father. This is Hades we are speaking of, need I remind you. He is not one known for chivalry or compassion, only for the efficient execution of his duties.”
They sat there in silence for many minutes, watching Aidan sleep. They knew his dreams constantly troubled him, especially his ones of Chloe. He always had them after a fight like today.
“This is killing him one battle at a time,” Arnau softly said. “Every victory exacts a vicious price upon his soul. Is it really worth darkening him in that way?” His gr
y eyes deepened in color. “He’s a good man. A kind man. He should not be forced to do this.”
“No arguments from me.” Amiago stood and stretched. “Well, I suppose I should go speak to Father.” He disappeared.
Arnau returned to the fire and tried to sleep, tried to ignore Aidan’s plaintive noises, the crying in his sleep.
The glisten of tears on the other man’s cheeks.
The here and now…
“Oh, yeah! I
that!” Kalyani Martin tipped her head for a better look while Jeff made an adjustment.
“Mmm, that’s even better, honey,” she said.
Jeff nodded. After another flick of his finger, Kal grinned. “Ah! You’ve got it!”
“You like that?” he asked.
She nodded and gave him a one-armed hug. “The boys will probably grump and groan, but I love it. You’re incredible.”
Kal ogled Jeff Conrad’s computer monitor. They were staring at the publicity shot of Will Hellenboek and his cousin, Aidan Faust, for the cover of the first issue of the
magazine. Jeff’s expertise with the photo software had turned a good shot into a great one. The photographer had managed to coax a brooding, serious look out of Will, which was no small feat considering how he nearly always smiled now. Will’s slate gr
y eyes appeared sharp and piercing in the photo, as if looking directly at the viewer. Aidan’s amber eyes always sweetened his face, his cute cockeyed smile a good balance to Will’s expression.
Jeff blushed and smiled at the compliment. In just a few weeks he and Kal had gone from being resentful of each other, after years of their fathers trying to shove them together as a couple, to being fast friends. Partly because Kal was now the soul mate and fiancé
of Will Hellenboek, The Firm’s strongest archdemon, and partly because Jeff had climbed out of the closet and shut the door firmly behind him.
Aidan walked into the office and rested his hands on Jeff’s shoulders. “What are you two—oh.”
Kal looked at Aidan. “You stay out of this.”
“It’s my ugly mug you’re working with and I don’t get a say?”
Jeff patted one of Aidan’s hands and left his covering it. “I don’t think your mug is ugly.”
He leaned down and kissed the top of Jeff’s head. “That’s because you’re biased, sugar.”
Kal smiled. “Well, I don’t think your mug is ugly either. Although your clothes are atrocious.”
“I’m working on that,” Jeff said with a playful smirk.
Aidan looked down his nose at her, his honey-hazel eyes blazing. “Sweet cheeks, we talked about this. Jokes about the duds are off
limits. It’s my image.” Aidan perpetually looked like he needed a haircut, his scruffy blond hair a little on the long side. Combined with a penchant for wild, eye-watering Hawaiian tropical print shirts and his lean, lanky build, he looked a little like a surfer dude.
She glanced at her watch. “Crud! I’m supposed to meet with the florist in half an hour!”
“Then you’d better book,” Aidan said. “I’ll tell Will you’re up in Columbus.”
Kal closed her eyes, still a little weirded out by this part. She called out, “Ryan,
vado tu appareo
When Kal opened her eyes
she was no longer in Jeff’s office in the building that housed Will’s production company in Tampa. She was in the office of her boss, Ryan Ausar, at the
headquarters in Columbus, Ohio.
Ryan glanced at his watch. “Cutting it a little close, aren’t we, love? I was about to come get you, see why the delay.”
She returned his playful smile. She couldn’t help it. The guys weren’t that fond of Ryan—an issue she’d fully resolve when she got the craziness of the wedding behind her and this year’s season filmed and in the can—but she liked him and they got along just fine. His British accent and green eyes always made her smile, even when he aggravated the stuffing out of her.
Then again, she also knew one of his deepest secrets and could afford to be more generous toward him despite recent events.
“I know. I totally lost track of time working on that cover shot with Jeff for the new magazine.” She smacked her forehead. “Dang, I forgot my purse.”
Ryan leaned back in his chair and templed his fingers in front of him. “Where is it, love?”
“It’s under my desk in my office.”
He closed his eyes. Seconds later, her purse appeared in front of him on his desk. He opened his eyes. “Better?”
“You’re a lifesaver. Thank you!” She ran around the desk and gave him a quick hug, then snatched her purse off his desk and left to get the car he kept for her in the parking garage downstairs.
Ryan watched her go. He closed his eyes again and inhaled her sweet scent, which still lingered in the air like a dream.
* * * *
Kal had quickly learned juggling her public and secret lives wasn’t easy, but doable. It was a far easier adjustment than coming to grips with the fact that the Christian dogma she’d been raised on was total myth. She
the only child of Reverend Kenneth Martin, head shepherd of the First Columbus Evangelical Baptist Church of Christ. After graduating from Ohio State, she went to work for
where she was assigned as producer to the Otherworlds show.
There she met Will Hellenboek, the handsome, brooding, unsmiling cohost of the show. Within the space of a month she’d been possessed by a wraith, deflowered by Will, taken as his soul mate to save her life and his, and was now engaged to him.
No one would ever
suspect her boss, Ryan Ausar, was really head of The Firm—the euphemistic name for the Underworld. In other words, the Devil, if
wanted to get technical about it.
More shocking to Kal was the fact that the whole “demons bad” memo was wrong. Demons, particularly the archdemons like Ryan, Will, and his cousin, Aidan Faust, protected the world from the bad things that wanted to break through from other realms and take over.
Let’s not forget that “Hell” was actually Atlanta, Ryan’s true base of operations.
Ryan had arranged Kal’s job and the wraith possession to force Will back to The Firm. The only way to get him back was to make him take Kal as a soul mate.
And so here she was.
Heaven on earth in the arms of an archdemon.
Who’d a thunk?
told Kal what her life would be like a few months ago, she would have insisted
Now she was living a dream come true. Her very own happy ever after.
So what if she did it a little bass-ackwards with the wedding after the wedding night? No, her parents wouldn’t approve, much less believe her, if they knew the full truth.
why she wasn’t telling them.
Kal negotiated her way through Columbus traffic to find the florist. Kal’s mother would have a cow if she was late. Her parents thought the network flew her from Tampa to Columbus as necessary on a private jet. Will and Ryan had managed to put at least some of their differences in opinion behind them to get Kal back and forth, since she couldn’t do the disappearing trick without them. If Will was around
he sometimes brought her up. If not, she could always call Ryan to bring her to him.
Kal wasn’t sure how it all worked. She didn’t want to know. At least they didn’t make
transporter jokes about it.
She was still willing to take a few things on faith, especially when not knowing the full story might be better for her peace of mind.
Kal made it with five minutes to spare. Her mother, Laura, anxiously paced in front of the entrance.
“There you are. I swear, cutting it close. Come on, honey.” Her mom grabbed her hand and dragged her inside.
At least Kal wasn’t late like she was last week. Ryan had to take her to the caterer’s himself, appearing with her in the alley behind the building so they wouldn’t be seen, then she had to call him when she finished to bring her back.
After an hour of sorting through roses and lilies and other flowers she really didn’t care about, Kal offered an opinion on something she didn’t hate and let her mother make the choice. Frankly, Kal had no opinion. She’d have been happy with eloping
but her mother wouldn’t hear of it. With her handsome prince firmly by her side for all of eternity, Kal realized the wedding wasn’t important. When Kal fell in love with Will Hellenboek
her need for a dream wedding had fallen by the wayside, along with her long-held religious dogma.
“Can you come over for dinner?” her mom asked. “I’ve got boneless ribs in the slow cooker.”
“Okay. I can’t stay late though.”
“That’s fine. Your father will be happy to see you.”
Kal followed her mom and made a quick phone call to Ryan to let him know the change in plans. Yes, he was head of the Underworld and had assured her he didn’t mind doing this for her. That was still no reason to be rude and keep him waiting.
And he was a sweetheart, all things considered.
Kal ended the call and drove, lost in thought again. Her father nearly had a coronary when she took the network job and moved to Tampa. He had tried everything short of abduction to make her return to Ohio. He insisted she should date Jeff Conrad, even though at the time she’d barely known Jeff.
Despite Kal and her mom finally discovering and using their backbones, he wouldn’t relent on the Jeff issue. During an Otherworlds shoot at an Ohio location, Kal and Will broke the news to her parents that they’d gotten engaged. To say her father was less than pleased would be… well, flat
out wrong. He’d gone “nuke-u-lar,” as her best friend, Becky, would say. Kal’s father showed up with poor Jeff in tow the next night at the shoot, trying once again to force her into a relationship with him.
Geez, he was freaky about it.
Her father, not Jeff.
The “Ohio Shoot Incident,” as Kal thought of it, backfired when Jeff met Aidan and true love struck.
She’d have to remember to ask the guys if Cupid was a real guy, like Ryan’s dad, Hades.
Ryan had given her dad a gentle mental nudge to back off and accept her relationship with Will.
Ever since then, her father had been…
Almost normal. He’d even retired.
Kal pulled into the driveway behind her mom’s car and followed her inside. Her dad sat working a crossword puzzle at the kitchen table. She kissed him. “How are you, Daddy?”