Authors: Nancy Corrigan
“That’s one of the things the brothers share in common,” Ian added. “They like to pretend they’re human. A couple of them have even married before mysteriously disappearing. Surprisingly, they’ve all left their wives alive. Their girlfriends, on the other hand, aren’t always so lucky.”
She let her breath escape in a slow exhale and reined in her temper.
We’ll find them. Justice will be served.
“You’re hoping to search close to where he lived in order to find a fairy ring.”
Ian nodded. “And when we do, I’m going in after Allie.”
She grabbed his arm and pierced him with a hard stare, daring him to challenge her. “No, you’re not.”
His features tightened, but a slow inhale and exhale visibly calmed him.
“I have to. I promised.” He cupped her face between his large hands and brushed his thumbs along the edges of her mouth. “I won’t take the chance on bad karma ruining our future together.”
“What we did today doesn’t automatically give us a future together.”
“No, but it convinced me I want one with you.”
She wanted the same, but there were too many uncertainties surrounding them. “Ian, I—”
He prodded the seam of her mouth with his tongue, a gentle insistence she couldn’t resist. She parted her lips, welcoming him inside. His kiss warmed her from the inside out. She tightened her grip on him and gave him her passion.
Trevor coughed, reminding her of their situation. She broke the kiss and stepped back.
“I’m out of here.” Trevor slipped the strap of his backpack over a shoulder. “I’ll call soon.”
The moment the kitchen door banged shut, Ian slid his hands around her waist and pulled her against him. He nibbled from the base of her neck to her ear. “I want to lay you down on the table and feast on you.”
She wanted him to make that image a reality. It couldn’t happen. “We don’t have time to indulge in our lusts.”
“I need you.”
The confession whispered in her ear almost overrode her duty. She shook off the compulsion to meet his needs and focused on her task at hand.
“I have to go to Arawn first.”
His shaky exhale heated her skin. “I know. It’s just that I hurt, angel. I don’t think my dick has ever been this damn hard before.”
He ground his erection against the crack of her ass, proving his point. Her lower belly warmed, and her body readied for his first rough thrust. She stifled a moan.
“You want my cock inside you, don’t you?”
“Yes.” She didn’t bother denying it. What was the point?
He flexed his hands on her hips and took deep breaths. She got the impression he was trying to rein in his lust. Finally, he lifted her and set her at arm’s length. “You don’t know how badly I need you.”
The knowledge filled her with power and satisfaction. She stroked his forearm. “A few hours, then you can have me all night.”
“The first of an eternity.”
He didn’t give her the chance to respond. He turned and strode from the room. She stared at the door for a long moment. The man promised her everything she’d always wanted. So why wasn’t she happier?
Because Zeph is right. Bjorn broke me. The only problem is, I don’t know how to fix me.
The tick-tock of the clock in Arawn’s office counted out the minutes Tegan had been waiting for him. She usually didn’t mind. He was busier than most humans would ever know. Hell and its ever-growing population ultimately answered to him. Yes, he had assistants who carried out his dictates, but only he determined the punishments of the damned, as he was the only one who could hear the cries of their victims.
He took his position and the task the Triad had handed him seriously. At the moment, his dedication wore on her patience and state of mind. She had a very specific reason for coming to him. Once she had the answers Ian sought, she planned to hightail it out of his office before Arawn questioned her mood or her relationship with Ian.
The patio door opened, and the scent of a campfire swept in with the breeze. She turned and found her father standing motionless in the open entrance. Eyes closed and hands fisted at his sides, he breathed deeply and rhythmically, calming himself. She’d watched him go through the motions too many times not to know the signs. He didn’t hide from his children the stress he suffered as a consequence of his abilities.
She waited until the lines of pain eased from around his eyes, then cleared her throat. He didn’t need the reminder she stood mere feet from him, but the clock was ticking. She couldn’t wait to return to Ian. After learning the man was as mesmerizing as the fantasy lover who’d saved her from madness, she yearned for his company. She wanted to get to know him more. His confession of loving her only made his appeal stronger. She knew better than to fall for empty words of devotion. From Ian, though, they hadn’t felt hollow.
“I hadn’t expected you to return so soon.” Arawn closed the door behind him and moved toward the wet bar in a slow amble.
“I need to find out how to get a human out of the fairy realm.” No use dallying with idle talk. Neither of them had time for it anyway.
“Station a hound on the ring and wait until the human steps out as a sluagh.” He glanced over his shoulder. “Surely you haven’t forgotten the tricks to the Wild Hunt over the time you were forced to bear the weight of my failure.”
“Yes.” He scooped ice from a bucket, poured whiskey and took several sips before turning and leaning against the mahogany bar. “I should’ve anticipated better and planned my responses accordingly. I didn’t, and the millennium you’ve been imprisoned has pained me more than you can imagine. I hate knowing I failed my children.”
She went to him and laid her hand on his arm. “I don’t blame you. Neither do my brothers and sisters.”
Eyes downcast, he swirled the contents of his drink. “You should.”
She dropped her hand. “Well, I don’t. Let’s leave it at that, shall we?”
He drank the contents of his glass in one long swallow, then set the tumbler on the counter behind him. “Ian is determined to save the girl?”
“Yes. He made his vow, and I promised to help him.”
“You’re involved with him.”
A lump lodged in her throat. She fought the accompanying anxiety. Ian’s well-being depended on her ability to remain calm and keep his secret. “Yes.”
He made a noncommittal sound. Relief eased the tension in her muscles. He wouldn’t question her, at least not at the moment.
“Only fairies or those bonded to them can traverse the fairy realm, though few redcaps are strong enough to withstand the living magic for long. They fear it, as they should, and avoid it. Sluaghs, on the other hand, have no free will, so they are immune to the influence of the realm.” He gave her a sympathetic look. “If the human female Ian wants to save is truly trapped there, she’s lost.”
“They tell me she’s stronger than she appears and won’t crumble easily.”
The disbelieving look he gave matched what she felt after seeing the girl’s photo. He shook his head, then focused on pouring another drink. “If she knows what to expect, possibly she might. She can’t die there, no matter how hungry she is or hurt. She’d simply need to endure until she can be pulled out.”
“It’s possible to get her out, then?”
“If Harley goes for her, sure, but”—he faced her—“you and I both know Calan won’t allow it.”
“As her mate, could he?”
He brought his glass to his lips but didn’t drink. Brows pinched, he stood in silence a moment, then shrugged. “Maybe, though I can’t guarantee it, nor can I promise he wouldn’t be stuck there too. In the end, Harley might have to enter anyway to retrieve him. Either way, a blood offering from a fairy will need to be made for each non-fairy stolen from the realm.”
Harley would go after her mate. There was no question about it. Tegan had only spent a single day with Harley before she and Calan left to hunt for Dar, her father and the leader of the Unseelie Fairy Court, but their devotion had been clear to all the Huntsmen. They’d do anything for each other.
Longing spurred Tegan’s heart for the same. Harley and Calan’s love radiated strongly from them. Their heated glances, chaste caresses and whispered words of passion embodied the relationship Tegan had always wanted: one of desire and commitment.
A clink of ice on glass drew her back to the moment. Arawn had finished his second drink and worked on preparing a third. He’d always enjoyed his liquor, but the easy way with which he reached for it worried her. Normal booze did little more than warm them. The ambrosia-laced kind he and her siblings occasionally indulged in could numb them, briefly anyway.
Minerva moving out of Arawn’s fortress had no doubt added to his stress and his need for the hollow comfort it offered. Tegan had learned Minerva had taken over a small home near Lucas’s estate. Nobody knew what had caused the rift between her and Arawn. Minerva’s infidelity, perhaps?
“Why not seek out your mate? I imagine she could soothe you better than any relief you’d find in a glass.”
He pivoted. Silver fire burned in his eyes. He drained the contents of his drink, then flung it. A moment later, the tinkling sounds of glass echoed in the cavernous space. “I would if I were welcome in her bed. I am not. After a millennium, she has decided to exact punishment upon me for my transgressions. It is her right. I will not take it from her, nor will I condemn her for it.”
“And do you not worry she’ll find another to warm her bed?”
He laughed. “No, daughter, I do not.”
Every muscle in her body tensed. She licked her suddenly dry lips. “Why not?”
“She vowed her fidelity to me. I trust her.” He thumped his chest. “She is one with me.”
The trepidation which had gripped her turned to worry. The repercussions of Minerva’s actions would not only crush Arawn, but the ripple effect of it would hurt many, including Ian, who relied on Arawn for his immortality.
“Thank you for your answers.” Tegan walked toward the door. She had to escape before she talked herself into a situation that might damn Ian.
“Cain was asking why you, out of all his siblings, have not yet visited him since your release. He said he’s quite enjoyed seeing his brothers and Rowan, but he misses you.”
A foot from the door and freedom, she froze. Remorse squeezed her chest, but so did unease. Cain’s animosity toward them was strong, but she and her siblings had always attempted to include him as much as they could in their lives, but Cain had rarely allowed any of them to speak to him, let alone spend time with him. His interest in them didn’t quite ring true.
“I’ve been busy.” She glanced over her shoulder. “I’ll visit him after the situation with Allie is settled.”
Arawn’s shaky exhale betrayed his tension too. “Good. He’s come to terms with his fate in the years you’ve been gone. He wants to make amends and reconnect with all of you.”
“Has he?” She didn’t quite believe it, but hoped it were true.
He ran a hand through his hair. “He says so.”
“You don’t believe him?”
“No.” He strode for the stairs.
He paused with a foot on the first tread. “Cain has lost my trust. I’m not sure I can ever extend it to him again, no matter how much I love him.”
He made his way to the upper levels without another word. The sound of a door closing reached her. She’d been dismissed.
Her father might not trust easily again, but she hoped he could accept a sin and move on. If Arawn couldn’t, eternity without the woman he loved would be hell on him.
Tegan found herself in front of the Haven, even though she had no reason to remain in the Underworld. Arawn had given her the answer Ian needed in his foolish quest to rescue Allie. He wouldn’t be happy with the knowledge, but uncovering the truth never promised satisfaction. It was simply necessary. Responsible choices couldn’t be made without all the facts, and it was Tegan’s desire to solve the mystery involving Ian that locked her feet in place in front of the demon’s lair.
The scent of sex seeped out from around the door, and the faint sound of screams carried from somewhere deep inside the den. Pleasure, pain or a combination of both probably caused the shrieks. She had no desire to partake of anything the Haven offered. The only cries of release she wanted to utter were the ones Ian ripped from her, yet she knew she had to tempt an old addiction and enter.
She needed to make one more attempt at finding Minerva, but she couldn’t afford to get lost in an endless string of sexual encounters that stripped her of her inhibitions. Sex with the demons didn’t come free. Her release would feed them the power they needed to live. As a demigod, she packed an extra punch. It made her valuable. The males and females alike would swarm her as soon as she walked in the door.
Under the onslaught of their tempting pheromones, she couldn’t guarantee she’d walk away, even with the memory of her endless punishment hovering in the back of her mind. She had no doubt that once the demons got their hands on her, she’d forget every last scream she’d uttered, at least long enough to get her naked.
This time, I have Ian. He’s waiting for me. I don’t need or want anyone else.
She closed her eyes and conjured his image. The memory of his cock pressed against her bottom ignited her lusts, not the safest reaction mere feet from a species that thrived on sex, but not a response she could stop either. Deep breaths calmed her raging desire. Soon she’d have him lodged inside her. She held her anticipation close and pushed the door open.
Music and laughter mixed with the grunts of couples engaging in intercourse. She surveyed the room. The main bar in the back corner had demons perched on every stool while more swayed on the dance floor. She swept her gaze over them, then glanced at the tables and cushioned alcoves. Nearly every one had couples engaged in some form of sex.
The dimness of the room offered some privacy for those locked in passion, but she doubted many cared whether they were watched or not.
One more scan of the space didn’t reveal Minerva or anyone Tegan recognized. It’d been too long since she’d lived in Hell. Most of the inhabitants she’d known were dead. Only the sex demons were immortal. The other demon subspecies lived anywhere from several decades to a few centuries before their souls were rebirthed. They made up the working class of the Underworld and had customs unique to each group. Like the humans, some were decent and others sought to cause harm.
She perused the patrons and made her way toward a horned demon who appeared sober and sated. “Have you seen Minerva?”
The woman shrugged. “She entered one of the chambers earlier in the day. I can’t say if she’s still there or not.”
Great. Tegan had no desire to walk in on her stepmother while she was watching others screw, one of her favorite pastimes. Tegan didn’t exactly have a choice, however. She needed to get to the bottom of Minerva’s games before Tegan got too deeply involved with Ian.
She nodded. “Thanks.”
A third of the way into the room, the first group of incubuses formed a circle around her. Their tempting heat surrounded her, and the sweet scent of candy seeped into her lungs. Dizziness gripped her. She swayed, and one of the males stepped behind her. He steadied her with a hand on her lower belly. His erection pressed against her spine. A tug, and he pulled her closer.
“Zachariah told us how beautiful Arawn’s daughters were, but I didn’t believe him.” He tipped her head back. She focused on his mouth so she wouldn’t get lost in his eyes. “He’s right. You’re exquisite.”
“And I’m not here to indulge in sex. Release me before I make you regret touching me.”
“How are you going to do that, hmmm? Embrace your alternate form?” He smiled. “I think I can stop you from turning into a beast.”
His amusement irritated her, but she had no doubt he could prevent her from slipping into her darker side. Sex worked wonders on calming the beast she could become. Another male stepped closer, sandwiching her between the two sex demons. He sniffed her neck, right over the spot Ian had nibbled on not long ago.
“A human?” The incubus chuckled. “Why bother with them when we are at your disposal?”
She resisted the urge to push against his chest. It’d either be taken as a sign of weakness or an invitation to fight. She wanted neither. Fighting with an incubus often led to sex. Just about anything did, actually.
“Not just a human. He’s Arawn’s newest Hunter and wouldn’t appreciate sharing me with you.”
She hadn’t planned on using Ian as a threat, but time wasn’t her friend. The longer she dallied with the incubuses, the longer it’d be until she returned to Ian.
The male at her back dropped his hands. “The one who was incarcerated?”
“Yes, and he’s quite grateful for my intervention.” She sidestepped them and backed into another hard body.
The familiar scent of cinnamon and clover replaced the sweet candy smell of the younger demons. She spun and faced the Demon King. “Lucas.”
Her name dropped between them with a curiosity she didn’t quite understand. Lucas let his gaze roam over her, not in a sexual manner. She’d been on the receiving end of his focused perusal enough times to tell the difference. He looked at her as if seeing her for the first time. Finally, a smile spread, and a rich laugh rumbled in his chest.
His amusement stirred her unease. She shrugged it off and focused on her reason for entering the Haven. “Have you seen Minerva?”
His grin fell, and his deep chuckle cut off. “Third door on the left.”
“Thank you.” She stepped around him.
He grabbed her hand. “Why are you here and not in the arms of your new lover? I smell his release on you.”
She yanked free. “My sexual encounters are none of your business.”
A dry laugh escaped him. “If you say so, but let me offer you a bit of advice.”
“And that is?” she prompted him when he remained silent.
“If you want to keep him, don’t stay away too long. Any wet pussy will do for one such as he.”
A growl crawled up her throat. Anger surged both at Lucas’s words and the thought of Ian with another woman.
“Thanks for the advice. Let me give some to you. Forget your foolish plan to mate Rowan. It’ll never happen.”
“It has to. I’ve been played, and your pretty sister is my salvation.”
She narrowed her eyes. “Why Rowan?”
“She’s the only one who doesn’t care about love. My cock will be enough for her.”
Sadly, he was right on both accounts, but it didn’t change the fact that Rowan couldn’t mate him or anyone. “Who managed to trick the great Demon King so that he would need a woman to save him?”
“No one, and that’s the worst part of it.”
With that, he turned and stormed out of the room. She followed his retreating back with her gaze, then spun on her heel and hurried down the corridor behind the bar. The third door had a red swatch tied around the handle, a sign to warn others the occupants didn’t want to be disturbed.
She flung it open.
Minerva sat on the settee with a glass of wine. A quick scan of the room showed it empty. Tegan closed the door and leaned against the hard surface. “All alone?”
The goddess took a sip of her drink. “Who would I be with? I am a mated woman.”
Tegan kicked several pillows out of her way and stepped in front of her stepmother. “Don’t play games with me. You have no problem with infidelity. Ian is proof.”
Minerva set her wineglass down and reclined against the cushioned wall at her back. Her expression remained blank. “You figured it out. I’m proud of you. I always knew you were the smartest of Arawn’s daughters. It’s why I chose you for my son.”
“I needed to ensure Ian didn’t accidentally bind himself to a human female once he reached maturity and unleashed his abilities. You were the strongest, and the one I knew would survive the hell you’d been condemned to endure.” Minerva idly examined her fingernails. “Bringing the two of you together helped both of you.”
Tegan curled her fists. Questions ran through her head: What powers did he hold? Why had Minerva masked them? How had she known Tegan would be released in time to be with him before his human life ended? A more personal one overshadowed everything. “You were responsible for our dream encounters, weren’t you?”
And our attraction.
Minerva tilted her head. A smile graced her reddened lips. “Oh no, that was all my son’s doing. I merely inserted your image into his mind and planted a compulsion that he’d think of you whenever he had the urge to screw some worthless female.”
Tegan snorted. “He got his ability to dream-walk from his father.” A small nod answered her. “Which angel sired him?”
Minerva’s grin widened. “Why do you assume an angel supplied the sperm that created him?”
“Because no demon would be foolish enough to screw you when they were fertile and risk Arawn’s wrath.”
Minerva watched her, the small mocking smile still on her face.
“You’re not going to tell me, are you?”
Minerva shrugged. “His father is unimportant.”
Tegan leaned forward and allowed her alternate form to partially claim her. Sharp teeth filled her mouth and talons tipped her fingers. “My
will care who fucked his mate and got her with child, don’t you think?”
“Tell Arawn, and Ian will be forsaken, tossed back into a mortal life he should never have known.” The goddess matched her pose. Inches separated them. Her gray eyes filled Tegan’s vision. “You know this as well as I do.”
Tegan did know it. It was the only reason she hadn’t mentioned her suspicions to Arawn. She straightened. “How did you do it?”
Minerva picked up her glass and swirled the ruby liquid. The sweet scent of ambrosia emanated from it. Apparently both she and Arawn had embraced the same form of liquid strength. She took a single sip, then downed the rest of her drink. With a flick of her wrist, she shattered the wineglass against the wall. The tinkling sound of glass shards hitting the hard floor filled the small space.
“I wanted a child and sacrificed for the chance to create him. That is all you need to know.” Minerva stood and strode past Tegan.
She considered going after her, but what was the point? She’d learned what she needed. Ian belonged to Minerva, and if Arawn found out, he’d remove Ian’s Huntsman’s mark. Tegan had no doubt about her father’s actions, but what worried her most was the reaction of the other gods once they found out.
Ian was a demigod with the ability to walk among the humans, something his mother couldn’t do. And…unless he mated, Ian would probably be able to impregnate human females too. His human body wouldn’t be restricted to godly genetics.
Her blood chilled with the implications of his situation. Ian could create a race of powerful beings who didn’t owe their allegiance to anyone. They’d have no shared conscience, no one to steer them back on the path of righteousness when they wandered, no one to hold them accountable for their actions.
Even if modern technology prevented him from having children, there was still the question about his abilities. What did they entail? She doubted he even knew yet. It had taken her decades before she’d uncovered all the powers Arawn had passed on to her. Her Teulu had helped her learn to harness them. Tossed from their group of Hunters, Ian wouldn’t have anyone to shield him from hurting both himself and others as he fumbled to master his powers.
The only way to prevent the potential tragedy would be to kill him immediately after removing his Huntsman’s mark. There’d be no special level of Hell created for Ian. The Underworld couldn’t retain the living. His human body would fade to the mortal world, without a tie to Arawn or her.
If her father didn’t end Ian’s life, then the Huntsmen would be obligated to hunt him down and eliminate the threat he posed. They couldn’t risk it. If Cain’s promise to remain honorable hadn’t granted him freedom, Ian’s wouldn’t either, no matter how strongly she vouched for him.
Sweat dampened her palms. The very idea of Ian dying threatened to throw her into madness. She didn’t want to lose him. The truth echoed within her, elemental and undeniable.
She turned her palm over and stared at the jagged line. Could she sacrifice herself to save him? Matings were supposed to be entered into out of love, not pity and certainly not lust. Sex tied a couple together for only so long before the hardships of life took their tolls.
She curled her fingers and fought the urge to curse the Triad for forcing her hand. It would do no good. After a millennium in which she begged the deity for help, she’d learned her wants didn’t matter. She shoved the thoughts aside. One day at a time. Her decision still stood. She would guard Ian’s secret while she figured out her feelings and his. She refused to mate Ian for the wrong reasons. Only love would convince her to form the eternal bond.
And Ian said he loves me.
She pivoted and stormed from the room. He was waiting for her. She had no idea what she’d do when she saw him, but the urge to wrap herself around him and never let him go wouldn’t be denied. Was that love? She didn’t know, but for both their sakes, she needed to find out.