“Then how do you know he knows we freed Holler?” he asked, letting the full weight of his agitation taint his tone.
She stepped aside to show him the shimmery ghost form that had been hiding behind her back.
Zarelda swallowed in fear as she faced him. “Holler cast me out of the girl’s body tonight, and I can no longer get into it.”
Really? Did he have to do everything for them? “Sacrifice another victim and return.”
“I was stopped by a huge male Hellchaser who then interrogated me for Holler’s whereabouts. He marked me with some kind of device, and now I’m noncorporeal no matter what I try.”
“But wait,” War said, her eyes gleaming with perverse pleasure. “It gets better.… After your little chitchat with Hel about freeing Zarelda’s brother from her custody in exchange for Holler’s slavery, our favorite Norse death goddess got curious, went digging, and found out you were after the Malachai. Since she doesn’t trust you, Grim, she has called out her Mara and Hel Hounds to fetch him to Helheim.”
Zarelda sucked her breath in sharply at the mention of the Hel Hounds. “Is Zavid among them?”
War shrugged. “Again, I am not a crystal ball and I really couldn’t care less about your brother.”
“Then how do you know so much?” Zarelda snapped.
Grim leaned back with a slight smile, waiting for War to tear the stupid little chit apart.
To his great disappointment, she didn’t. Her voice was almost kind when she answered. “I unleashed one of my harvesters on the junior Malachai, hoping to help you season him up for his conversion. My agent has been watching and terrorizing him ever since, and she happens to know a Hel Hound and Mara when she sees one. She was just about to move in when they tore past her.”
Grim closed his eyes and hissed in anger as he sorted through this latest development. His plan had been flawless. Borrow Holler from Thorn to weaken Adarian while Zarelda strengthened Nick and tied his heart to her. Once Adarian was dead and Nick was firmly in their camp, he’d planned to trick the goddess Hel into releasing Zavid to make Zarelda happy, and keep her around to pacify the younger Malachai so that Nick didn’t turn on them.
Not to mention the bonus round of having Zavid kill Caleb for them. The Norse god, Holler, was only a nugget to get Zavid free. After that, Grim would have gladly returned Holler to Thorn’s dungeon and then dealt with Hel’s wrath over his little lie. Since she wasn’t nearly as powerful as Thorn, he hadn’t been concerned about duping her at all.
Damn Hel for being smart enough to know he was lying to her.
War met his glower without flinching. “So, genius. What’s your plan now?”
“Where’s your harvester?”
“On standby, awaiting orders.”
Grim stood up and descended his dais. “Then by all means, let’s unleash her.”
Caleb slowed as he neared Nick’s condo and saw his supplies scattered all over the ground in front of it. “What the…?” Closing his eyes, he reached out with his powers to contact Nick.
No one answered.
His heart pounding, he punched the code into the door at the same time Kyrian pulled up to the curb in his black Lamborghini and got out. Caleb held the door open until Kyrian joined him on the stoop.
The ancient Greek general scowled as he came close enough to see the blood, bruises, and scratches the Hel Hound had given Caleb as a memento of their lovely time together. “What happened to you?”
“Dogfight.” Caleb snorted. “New Orleans definitely needs stricter leash laws.”
Kyrian didn’t respond to that. “Is Nick inside?”
Caleb glanced back at the mess that littered the ground and squelched the fear that gripped him. “I hope so.”
Trying not to panic prematurely, he led the way in, and then upstairs to the condo. Knocking on the door, he waited, but no one answered.
C’mon, give me a break. Let the kid just be his usual slow-to-react self.
Kyrian pushed him aside. “Nick?” he called, banging on the door himself. “Cherise?”
Still no answer.
Of course not. ’Cause that would just make his crappy life a hair better.…
Grimacing as his own panic and concern rose, Kyrian pulled the keys out of his pocket and unlocked the door. The minute they stepped inside, all doubts that something had happened dissipated. Caleb cursed. A major fight had gone down here. Pictures were knocked off the walls. The side table was upturned and the lamp that normally rested on it was shattered. But even worse was the blood on the floor.
And on the ceiling.
They were too late. Kyrian quickly searched the rooms, but Caleb knew that there weren’t any bodies here. Whatever had nabbed them had taken them out of the human realm. There was absolutely no sign of Nick on this earth. Had there been, he would have felt it and been able to locate him.
The same was true of Adarian. Caleb couldn’t find him, either.
Kyrian came back to the living room with a fierce growl. “Call the cops. I’m going to look for them.”
Lot of good that’ll do. But he was happy to have Kyrian occupied with a wild-goose chase. The Greek general had no idea that Caleb was anything other than a normal teen boy and he wanted to keep it that way. He’d never been real chatty about himself anyway and the fewer creatures who knew who and what he was, the easier he breathed and the longer he lived.
Enemies kill. Friends betray.
He not only believed that, he had the words tattooed across his back beneath his demon’s mark.
“Call me if you find anything,” Caleb said.
As soon as he was sure Kyrian had left, he rushed outside to gather up the ingredients for his binding spell. If Nick and his mother were still alive, it was even more important now that they get Adarian’s powers into Nick.
Don’t be dead. The pain that thought caused was not something he wanted to examine. I don’t care about him. It’s my own butt that concerns me.… Over and over, he tried to convince himself that the only reason it mattered was because he didn’t want to be enslaved to an unknown dickhead.Yeah, that was it. Otherwise he wouldn’t care at all. But deep inside a place he didn’t want to admit to, he knew he was lying.
Caleb found the last dropped container buried in a crevice by the next house. Now he could start the spell. Rising, he sighed as he scanned the dark street. “Where are you, Nick?”
What had happened to him?
He had no way of knowing, but he knew someone who could find out. Fast. If she’d speak to him …
Caleb would probably have to do some serious begging to get her back on their side.
I hate swallowing my pride.
But sometimes it was a necessary evil. And this was definitely one of those times. Hoping he could pull off a miracle, he flashed himself from Nick’s condo on Bourbon over to Kody’s home on Burgundy Street. He had no idea if she’d be there or if she’d even open the door.
It didn’t matter. He had to try.
That being said, he was unprepared for what awaited him when he appeared on the sidewalk outside of her building. Unlike Nick, he’d never been here before. He’d had no reason to visit.
He only knew the address because he’d added it to his phone in case of an emergency. Course he never thought the emergency would be this.…
Nor did he think he’d want to kill Kody the way he did right now as he rolled his eyes at her salmon-colored house with dark green panels that was a long cottage style similar to quite a few others in town.
“Really, Kody? C’mon. You’ve got to be kidding me.”
The problem? Because of past tax laws, many of the homes in New Orleans were narrow in front and long down the back. They were termed shotguns because you could literally open the front door and shoot a straight line through them to the back door without hitting a wall. The other big historical tax had been on front windows. So the crafty citizens who refused to be taxed on something so ridiculous had decided to put doors along the front of the homes instead.
Kody’s little fortress had four of them and not a single window in it. Worse, all four “doors” were bolted shut and had the same small stone stoop under them. There was no way of knowing which one was the door and which ones were windows. It was like playing a bad game of Let’s Make a Deal, or the lady and the tiger.
I ain’t got time for this crap.
Caleb curled his lip. “All right, Monty. Let’s see what’s behind door number two.” Growling in frustration, he pounded on it.
Door number four opened a few seconds later to show him one ticked-off Kody. “What are you doing here?”
“Getting seriously pissed off.”
“Well, you can do that somewhere else. I suggest over at 809 Bourbon.” She moved to close the door.
Ignoring the fact she’d just told him to go back to Nick’s, Caleb flashed to the door and blocked it before she could slam it on him.
Her green eyes blazed with indignant fury. “Desperate to lose an arm, are we?”
“No. Desperate to save Nick’s life.”
She paled instantly as the furious light in her gaze turned to concern. “What’s wrong?”
“In case you can’t tell by the bloody bruises on me, he was attacked, and now both he and his mother are missing.”
She opened the door and let him into her quaint house that was way too ornate, pink, and feminine for his personal taste. “Elaborate.”
Caleb set his bag down on her lace-covered end table. “Adarian summoned me earlier to let me know that he was dying.”
“Nick’s killing him?” That would be the obvious question. Too bad nothing with Nick ever went the way it was supposed to.
Caleb shook his head. “Adarian didn’t know who had weakened him and I still don’t. The plan was for me to get Nick to Adarian so he could kill him and then to lock down Adarian’s powers until Nick’s ready for them.”
She gestured toward his bag. “That explains your groceries.”
“Yeah, and while I was getting them a short time ago, we were violently attacked.”
“So I heard and saw.”
“And you didn’t think to come help?”
“I was told I wasn’t welcomed or allowed. I figured if I went, either you or Nick would blame me for it.”
He hated to admit that she was right.
“Anyway,” he said, continuing. “As we were heading back to Nick’s we heard on the police radio that Adarian had escaped jail, but he was too weak to do that. The demon could barely blink when I left him. So I’m thinking that whoever it was who got him out has kidnapped all three of them and is planning on becoming the next Malachai.”
Kody screwed her face up in distaste. “I just got wicked indigestion.”
“Good, ’cause I’ve had it all night. Can you locate Nick?”
“All I can do is try.”
* * *
Nick came awake to find himself facedown in a small cage inside what had to be the coldest cave on the planet. Shivering, he blew air into his hands to warm them, but all it did was form a cloud that quickly dissipated and left him even colder than before.
Am I still alive?
He wasn’t sure. This place definitely wasn’t heaven, and if hell was this cold, he had a major beef to make with his priests on their misinformation.
But that at least made him remember his latest power that could really come in handy in this barren hole. Closing his eyes, he summoned the fire. His hands instantly lit up.
Oh yeah, much better.
Until it ignited high and almost set his head on fire. Great, just what he needed. Singed-off Terminator-style eyebrows. That would get him an awesome prom date … never. Cursing, Nick shook his hands until they went out, then tried again.
This time, he managed a little better control over the size of the flame. Lifting his hand so that he could see more details about his prison, he scanned the empty ice cave. His cage was in a corner and there was nothing except crystalized stalactites and stalagmites all around him. Something about it reminded him of a video game. Maybe because it looked like a really good place to get bodied.
Was this one of the Antarctic demon realms Acheron had told him about? That would definitely explain the biting cold and the nasty smell that made his stomach knot in disgust.
Off in the distance, he could hear dogs barking and wolves howling. Or maybe it was wolves barking, too.
Did they do that?
He wasn’t sure.
And speaking of, he heard the low rumble of a deep growl on his right. Whatever it was making that noise sounded massively huge. Nick scooted back in the cage, hoping whatever it was, it couldn’t bite through steel and that it kept walking past his area.