He felt his powers sharpen.
“Don’t cry, Cherise. I won’t let them hurt you.”
Still raw from what he’d seen in that last battle, and with his very foundation shaken, Nick jerked at the last thing he expected to hear. His father’s bitter tone promising protection to his mother.
He drifted back from them so that he could identify where they were.
Ice-blue walls surrounded them with a shiny surface that cast distorted images all around them. In some ways, it reminded him of a warehouse. But it wasn’t the same. He’d never seen anything like it. And after a few seconds, he realized those weren’t reflections in the wall.
They were demons trying to break through.
In the center of the empty room, his mother was terrified and sobbing while his father walked an angry circle around her, daring the wall demons to try for him. In response, the swarming demons salivated for the elder Malachai’s powers.
And Nick knew what all of them did. Soon Adarian would be weak enough to be killed by them. No matter how much fight his father might have, he wouldn’t be able to last long against that number.
The demons slammed against the cage, simultaneously trying to break it open and drain his father.
Nick pulled away from Kody with a jerk. His brain was on lockdown from everything he’d seen, to the point that he couldn’t speak.
“Did you find her?” Kody asked.
Dazed, Nick nodded, then looked to Caleb. “I’m such an effing idiot.”
“We knew that,” he said drily. “We definitely didn’t have to throw you into a coma for that little-known nugget.”
Nick shoved at him.
“What did you see?” Kody asked as their ever-present voice of reason.
Nick returned his attention to her. “She’s in a place I can’t identify. It’s like nothing I’ve ever seen before. It was just a room with demons inside the walls.” He winced as an image of her terrified face cut through him. “I should never have left my mom alone tonight. How selfish am I?”
“Preoccupation with your own survival isn’t selfish. It’s human.”
And that was what he’d missed most about not having Kody around. She had an incredible knack for taking the sting out of his stupidity. But tonight, he wasn’t going to allow her to make him feel better. He didn’t deserve it. “It was selfish, but the only real question is, how do we find her location and get her out?”
Caleb crossed his arms over his chest as he pinned a smug look on Kody. “I have an idea. What do you know about summoning an Aamon?”
Her expression said Caleb had lost his mind. “That it’s a really bad idea.”
“Then I’m out. I got nothing.”
Nick gave him a pained, droll stare. “Way to participate, Malphas. Thanks.”
Kody held her hand up to interrupt them. “There might be another way.”
“Yeah?” Caleb asked.
She smiled at both of them. “We could summon the Malachai.”
Caleb scowled. “A Malachai we got.” He pointed to Nick.
“I know.… And a Malachai can trace those of his kind. Even into another dimension.”
“Cosmic doorway,” Caleb breathed, then turned his attention to Nick. “I like it.”
Nick had no idea what they were talking about, but from the intensity of those stares he had a feeling it wasn’t good. Especially not for him. “What is a cosmic doorway?”
Ignoring the question, Kody tapped her finger to her chin as she continued to ponder her suggestion. “It’s risky.”
Caleb shrugged nonchalantly. “So’s living.”
“Entities, please,” Nick said, getting their attention. “What are we talking about?”
Kody took a deep breath before she explained. “Failsafe. The younger Malachai can always go to the elder. There is no place in existence that he can’t hide from his son.”
Nick finally understood. “So that I can kill him when I come of age.”
Kody nodded. “But it’s risky. If you’re not ready to kill him, he can kill you, and, knowing your father, he won’t hesitate. Just like in the hospital.”
She would bring that up. Not one of his finer moments by a long shot. Yet in his defense, he’d been unconscious and seriously hurt when his father had come into the room to kill him.
Before Kyrian and Acheron had driven him out and saved Nick’s life, his father had promised to kill Nick the next time they met.
Let’s hear it for paternal concern.…
Even so, Nick wasn’t so sure about his father’s ability to carry out his threat. Not so long as his mother was with him. Alone …
Yeah, his dad would be toast if he tried anything.
He cast them a smug grin. “Weird as it sounds, I don’t think he’s going to touch me with my mother in the room.”
Caleb considered it. “He did back down from the mighty Chihuahua awful fast … not that I blame him. Cherise’s pretty intense when it comes to you.”
She was indeed.
“So what do we need to do?” Nick asked.
Kody held her hand out for him to take it.
Nick hesitated. She had been sent here to kill him. She’d admitted it.
Yet no sooner had that thought gone through his mind than he saw the image of her clutching his dead body in her arms and weeping at his loss. Since he’d been the man fighting by her side in his vision, he knew it couldn’t be from her past.
Nor did it make sense that it’d be from their future. But even if it was, the future wasn’t set in stone. Ambrose had taught him that. Any little thing he did could change it. However, if that vision was a glimpse at his future, in at least one alternate time and place he and Kody were together.
Which meant she wouldn’t necessarily kill him in this life, this time.
He glanced to Caleb and remembered what his friend had said about making decisions that made his gut clench. This was definitely one of those times.
Hoping he wouldn’t live to regret this, Nick took her hand. “When this is done, we need to talk.”
“Nick, I can’t—”
“Shh,” he said, cutting her off. “Let’s get through this first.” He looked at Caleb.
“I might be your boyfriend in school, but I’m not holding your hand. Ever.” He placed his fist on Nick’s shoulder.
Nick tsked at him. “Cay … you disappoint me.”
Caleb popped him on the back of his head. “Tell him how to do this, Kody, before my hostility escalates.”
“Think of your father, Nick. Then imagine all of us together with him.”
* * *
Adarian paced the room, trying everything he could to break out.
It was useless.
Damn you, Grim! You backstabbing dog.
He should have known better than to ever trust Death. What had he been thinking?
But then he knew. Death was supposed to be his ally in all things.
Since when has a Malachai ever had anyone to trust? Are you mad? It was true. His breed was only known to make enemies. Never friends.
Everything hated them.
Behind him, Cherise broke into another round of sobs as she huddled on the floor in terror of their situation, and the demons who wanted to kill them both.
Adarian winced at the sound. Her tears ripped at a heart he hadn’t even known he’d possessed until the fateful day when she’d walked past him on the street. He had been on the trail of a demon he wanted to kill and absorb. But that desire had fled the moment her sweet scent hit him.
She had been shopping with her friends, whose faces he couldn’t recall. They were completely unimportant. His attention had been solely on her. Her blond hair had been the color of sunlight and her big blue eyes the same as a perfect sky.
But it had been her precious laugh that chipped away the ice inside him. So full of life. So very sweet. She had captured him in an instant and left him helpless against her.
He’d been so enamored of her that he’d even enrolled in her school and posed as a student. All so that he could watch her from afar.
For over a year, that was all he’d done. Sat in mind-numbing classes just so he could be in the same room with her, like a desperate flower reaching for sunlight through the jagged cracks of a broken wall. He hadn’t even tried to converse with her. He hadn’t been worthy.
And then one day, miraculously, she’d noticed him as he sat behind her in a history class. Every day after that, she’d flounce into the room and talk to him before the bell like he was a normal boy. For the first time in his existence, he’d craved friendship. So he sought her out for no other reason than to laugh with her. He’d meant her no harm. Ever.
But because of his lack of human contact and ignorance of their world and customs, he hadn’t even realized just how young she was at the time. That it was her naive innocence that lured him when he should have left her alone.
Even then, he would never have touched her had she not innocently kissed him. It’d been the first time in his centuries of living that anyone had shown him such tenderness. Or any tenderness at all.
She had opened emotions in him that he’d never known before. That he couldn’t understand. Born to kill and destroy, a Malachai was a basic creature. They felt absolutely nothing except total hatred. There was no other anything. Just a void.
And that wonderful, beautiful kiss …
It alone had taught him regret and sadness. Misery. To this day, he would give anything if he could take back that afternoon and leave her as pure as he’d found her. In one thoughtless, selfish heartbeat, he’d killed the very thing he loved most.
I am a destroyer.
It was all he’d been born for. And he had destroyed the only woman in the universe that had ever meant anything to him. Damn me for it. And well he should have been.
His heart broken, he reached for her now. “Please don’t cry, Cherise. I swear I won’t let anyone hurt you again.”
Her cold look pierced him. “Why should I believe you?”
“Because I mean it.” He reached to brush away her tears. She cringed from his touch, and his stomach lurched. Please don’t do that to me.…
All he wanted was for her to smile at him the way she used to.
You ruined it. Just as you ruin everything.
“What do you want from me, Cherise?”
She wiped angrily at her tears. “I want nothing from you. I want nothing to do with you, either.”
His throat tightened with unfamiliar sadness. Very well, my precious …
He would leave her alone. But he would make sure no one else put a light of sadness in those celestial blue eyes.
* * *
Nick did his best to conjure the room he’d seen his parents in.
Nothing happened. He kept running the image over and over in his head, but with every second that passed, he lost hope. I can’t do it. I am worthless.
I can’t even save my own mother.…
Kody rose up on her tiptoes and whispered in his ear. “I believe in you, Nick.” She tightened her hand on his.
In that moment, a bright white light shot through his skull and exploded. When it did, it felt like a blitz tackle against his abdomen, one that lifted him off his feet and shot him toward the sky.
One second, they were in his living room. In the next …
They were at the end of Canal Street? Really?
How could I have screwed this up?
Scowling, Nick turned around in the center of the neutral ground where Convention Center Boulevard intersected Canal at the World Trade Center.
Even worse? That gross, creepy Mardi Gras clown statue that was the stuff of horror movies and bad childhood memories stared right at him, mocking his incompetence. He’d always hated the Batman/Joker lunatic smile it had.
In daylight it was disturbing. At night with the shadowy lights on it …
“Hello, little boy with your itty-bitty friends,” his mind created a demonic falsetto for the statue’s voice. “Would you like to play with my shrunken head on a stick? Don’t be afraid, he only wants a small bite of your flesh. And I only want your soul.…”
Yeah, what sicko had thought that was a great landmark when ninety percent of the population shared his clownphobia?
“Why are we here?” Nick asked his friends as he eyeballed the jester lest it move and do something evil, as all clowns eventually did.
Caleb cursed in a low tone. “I should have thought of this place.”
Nick was even more confused. “Why? The ferry doesn’t run this late and the Riverwalk’s been closed for hours.”
“No, not those.” Kody let go of his hand and checked her watch. “You think we can still get in?” she asked Caleb, who shrugged.