When Nick had refused to jeopardize what little future he had to go along with Alan’s “brilliant” scheme, they’d turned on him with relish and had almost killed him.
But for Kyrian intervening at the very last second, they would have. And they’d have done it with a gleam in their eyes that he had yet to forget. His childhood “friends” who had claimed to be his brothers from another mother had relished beating him into the ground.
Now as he stared at them in their natural gangsta habitat, he wondered how he’d ever seen them as anything other than the selfish animals they were. How had he ever called them friends and not seen the cruelty they were capable of? Yet back then that cruelty had never been directed at him, only other people Tyree and Alan had judged deserving of their hatred.
At the end of the day, Nick hadn’t wanted to judge them for things they couldn’t help, the way the rest of the world had wrongly judged him. But sometimes, just sometimes, those judgments were warranted and necessary survival skills. And instead of summarily saying they were wronged by circumstances beyond their control, Nick should have looked closer at them and seen what part of their situation was exactly their fault and no one else’s.
Right or wrong, everyone made their own decisions and should be held accountable for them.
Trying not to be obvious, Nick scanned the shadows for the missing member of their merry criminal band. But for once, he was nowhere to be seen.
“Where’s Mike?” Nick asked, putting Casey behind him as he calmly faced them. This kind of cowardly scum didn’t frighten him at all. They just pissed him off. “Did he finally wise up and move on, or is he lying in a gator’s belly down in the bayou ’cause he caught a clue and told you where to stick it?”
Alan gaped as he recognized Nick’s voice. “Go-chay? Nah, dog, that ain’t you. That can’t be you.”
Tyree curled his lip as he ran his covetous gaze over Nick’s new clothes. “Nah. It don’t look like Go-chay at all. He’s not wearing them gag-ugly shirts.”
“Go-shay,” Nick said from between his clenched teeth, correcting their mispronunciation of his last name—something they knew he couldn’t stand.
Alan sneered at him. “Who you roll to get them threads, boy? I know you can’t afford them with what your whore of a mama makes taking off her clothes for pocket change, and that old lady you work for sure ain’t paying that kind of money for you to take out her trash at night.”
Tyree laughed. “If she is, I think we ought to pay her a visit one night after she closes her shop.”
Casey started crying hysterically. “What’s going on, Nick? Who are these people?”
He spoke to her over his shoulder. “It’s all right. Stay calm.”
Alan let out a low whistle. “That your woman? Day-am.” He tilted his head to see her better. “Nah, can’t be. She too fine for a piece of ignorant Cajun gutter trash like you. Now be a good boy and pass her purse and your wallet over to us, and we might let you live through the night.”
A slow smile spread across Nick’s face as he broke into a thick Cajun accent. Something that should have warned them how hot his temper was right now and the fact that they ought to be running away as fast as they could. The more Cajun he sounded, the more lethal his actions. “À présent, cher. What say we pass a bon temps instead, n’est pas?”
Alan cocked the .38 he held sideways and aimed it at Nick’s chest. “How many times I got to shoot till you learn better than to mess with me, boy?”
Payback’s a b—
And she was about to come over with friends to collect rent with interest.
Nick held his hands up and splayed his fingers to lure them into thinking he was passive.
Yeah, right. Nick Gautier passive …
They really were too stupid to live.
“Ça c’est bon, capon. Ain’t no need in getting hos-tile. Bon rien.” Nick moved slowly while Casey’s wails picked up tempo. He held one hand out to her. “Let me have your purse, bebelle.”
Tears streamed down her cheeks, streaking her makeup as she obeyed without question … something Kody would have never done. Heck, Kody would have already yanked out a sword and cut one of their heads off.
But Casey was not Kody. She was meek and helpless.
Nick wrapped his hand in the strap of her purse while he fished his wallet out of his back pocket. Then he whispered to Casey, “When I move toward them, I want you to drop to the ground, okay? And stay there until I tell you to get up.” Louder, for the benefit of their muggers, he said, “Just do what they say, Boo. It’ll all be all right.”
Her hands visibly shaking, she nodded.
Tyree licked his lips as he skimmed Casey’s body with interest. “I think we ought to keep his girl and have some fun with her before we let her go. What do you think, Alan?”
Alan grinned. “Yeah. I think we might do that.”
Like heck you will.…
Nick held the purse out to Alan, making sure to keep it just a hair past his reach. “I think that would be a very unhealthy thing for you to do, tchu,” Nick said, his voice dropping an octave as his hands began to heat up. “Kind of like smoking two packs a day, only much more lethal and quicker to kill you.”
“You don’t scare me, dog, and you damn sure don’t tell me what to do.” Alan snatched at the purse, thinking Nick would loosen his grip and let him have it.
Instead, Nick jerked it forward, bringing Alan into his range. Before Alan could catch his balance, Nick ripped the gun out of his hand and aimed it at Tyree. He fired it.
Screaming, Tyree ran for the parking lot.
Nick would have pursued him, but Alan punched at him and tried to get the gun back. In that instant, Nick felt his powers surge forward with an audible rush that filled his ears with a fierce, drumming beat.
The smell and taste of blood permeated everything.
Kirast kiroza kirent. Conceived in violence to do violence and to die violently. That was the promise written in the first language that wrapped around Nick’s Malachai symbol. It was the Code of his breed.
Alan’s hatred and propensity to hurt others fed the Malachai inside Nick, making him all the stronger. It was why Nick’s father chose to live in prison when there was no human power in existence that could hold Adarian.
Hatred, prejudice, jealousy … all the negative emotions around a Malachai were like handing a can of supercharged spinach to Popeye. The more violence that was directed near them or to them, the more power and strength they could draw from it.
Heat engulfed Nick’s hands, burning both him and Alan.
With a fierce cry of rage, Nick caught Alan a hard punch to the jaw that sent him straight to the ground. Nick fell on top of him, raining fiery blow after blow on Alan’s body as he sought to make some kind of peace with the past where Alan had intended to kill him.
Over and over, he saw that fateful night in his mind when he’d been a scared fourteen-year-old boy, and the three of them had stomped, beat, and shot him while he tried only to protect himself from their unwarranted brutality.
And for what?
For refusing to traumatize and rob an elderly couple whose only mistake was walking down the wrong street at the wrong time?
Scum like them needed to die. Alan and his crew were a disease on this earth and it was time to cure it.
“Kill him, Nick!” Casey shouted. “Kill him! It’s what he deserves!”
The smell of blood thickened in his nostrils as Alan begged for a mercy he hadn’t shown Nick, meanwhile Casey continued to scream for him to end Alan’s life until their two voices mingled like some kind of macabre duet.
Inside his mind, he heard his Malachai demonic voice laughing. Saw his skin starting to mottle with its true black and red tone.
A thousand sounds assaulted him, but one voice rang out loudest.
We sleep soundly in our beds because rough men stand ready in the night to visit violence on those who would do us harm. Winston Churchill … Kyrian quoted that so much that it perpetually rang in Nick’s ears. It was so common a mantra for the Dark-Hunters that many of them used it as the tagline in their e-mails or had it tattooed on their bodies. It was second only to the Spartan motto: È tàn è epì tâs. Return with your shield or upon it, i.e., victory or death.
And Alan definitely deserved to die for all his sins against this world. All his crimes against the innocent people he’d victimized. Nick had promised himself retribution for his own gunshot should they ever meet again.
Fate had brought Alan back into his reach. Who was he to argue with what was obviously a God-given gift?
I have to keep my word. Gautiers were known by the oaths. It was the one thing his mother had drilled into him. You never break a promise, especially when it’s to yourself.
He held the gun to Alan’s temple, and in his mind, he saw a clear image of Alan standing over him while Nick lay beaten and helpless on the street. Saw the eager gleam in Alan’s eyes as he’d looked forward to blowing Nick’s head off.
“Say your prayers, Gautier.” Those had been his words to Nick. “You’re about to become a statistic.”
The coldness of Alan’s actions that night spurred Nick as he pulled the hammer back with his thumb to cock the gun.
He tightened his grip on the trigger.
Just as he was about to do it, his brain kicked up a voice that drowned out both Alan and Casey.
Every person is born with feelings of envy and hate. If he gives way to them, they will lead him to do violence and crime, and any sense of loyalty and good faith will be abandoned. Then he is forever lost. He is forever damned. Not by the world or the circumstances of his birth, but by his own free will.
All of a sudden, his vision cleared and it felt like he slammed back into his body. Hyperaware now, he saw the bloody mess he’d made of Alan. The horrific sight sickened him. He barely recognized Alan’s features. Blood was splattered all over both of them. The new clothes he’d been so proud of were now ruined.
How could I have done that to another human being? He wasn’t an animal.
No, you’re worse. You’re the Malachai.
“P-p-please,” Alan begged through his swollen, bleeding lips. “Don’t kill me.”
Releasing him, Nick stumbled back.
“What are you doing?” Casey demanded as she closed the distance between them. “He was going to rob you and rape me. He’s an animal! Kill him before he harms someone else. You owe it to the world to make it safe and end his life.”
At her incessant nagging, his rage started rising once more.… Everything faded until he was again focused only on making Alan suffer.
I’m going Malachai.…
And there was nothing he could do to stop it.
Caleb looked up from the Sumerian text he was reading as a chill rushed over his skin. It was an ancient stirring in the ether that he hadn’t felt in centuries.
And it was one that made his hackles rise and his molten blood run cold.
Somehow Nick was quickly pulling his father’s powers into his body.
This was not good. Nick wasn’t used to the power he had, never mind the greater power of a full Malachai. “What have you done, kid?” He rose and started to go after Nick, but before he could, he felt another deep, undeniable ripple.
Adarian summoning him to his side.
As Adarian’s personal slave, Caleb had no choice except to do as he was told. And there was no missing the franticness of this summoning. Adarian was panicked.
Maybe he’s finally dying.…
A bolt of white-hot hope shot through him. He’d been praying for Adarian’s death for so long that he couldn’t remember the last free breath he’d enjoyed.
Die, already, you worthless POS.
Transforming into his raven form, Caleb flew out of the open upstairs window and headed upstate for Angola prison where Nick’s father hid in plain sight among some of the most dangerous criminals in the country. It was the one place where Adarian could keep his powers fully charged without even trying. The one place his enemies would never dream of seeking him. After all, who would voluntarily incarcerate himself after he’d broken free of the hellish otherworld prison Adarian had spent most of his life in?
Obvious answer—the Malachai. But other creatures didn’t think like them. The Malachai breed was a special kind of twisted that defied most brains and moral codes.
Reaching the famed prison, Caleb flew to the window where Adarian’s solitary cell was. But the elder Malachai wasn’t there. Caleb cocked his head. It was too late for Adarian to have one of his yard breaks.…
Since he was on death row for one of the most heinous killing sprees in Louisiana history, he was supposed to be kept in his cell twenty-three hours a day.