In the far distant future …
Silhouetted by the setting sun, and completely rusted out on the inside from his hatred of every living thing, Nick stood on the top of what remained of the old Jax Brewery building, watching his once beloved city burn to the ground. His demon’s eyes flickered with hunger and self-pride, mirroring the fires that burned all around him. No longer possessing even a shred of humanity, he glanced at his hand, where he gripped a bloodied sword. From beneath his golden armor, his true demon skin showed its swirling black and red pattern. Lifting his chin, he stood tall and defiant, with his black wings spread wide. Fierce and terrifying to anything that neared him, he had finally come into his own.
And the massacre below was what fed him deep in his blackened soul.
Utter destruction and absolute human misery. There was no headier concoction. No better sight.
He couldn’t be happier as he surveyed the aftermath of his war against the humans and gods.
Shattered helicopter pieces lay scattered on the asphalt and across the whole of Jackson Square. But those weren’t the only remains lining the streets.… The grotesque sight would turn his stomach had he possessed any feeling whatsoever. However, his tender emotions, like the once great city and the humans who’d called it home, were gone.
Nothing except hatred and rage ruled him now.
As he watched, detached from it all, his demonic army feasted on the remains of the poor creatures who’d attempted to fight or those dumb enough to try and flee. Soon, there would be no one left to cry.
He laughed in triumph. He had won this war, and he reigned supreme. There was no one left to fight him now.
Suddenly, the wind carried something odd to his ears. He heard …
Human voices. Not shrieking in fear or begging for mercy like the others. These were …
Inside the cathedral. They were the voices of warriors preparing to battle.
But how? No one should be left.
Nick closed his eyes so that he could investigate the scene with his powers. Inside the once famed cathedral, screams from children rang out as his army pounded against the fortified door. Someone had piled the confessionals and pews against it to block his demons.
No, not someone …
Three women stood in the center of the nave ready to defend a handful of children and a small group of mothers who cowered behind the altar. Unlike the terrified ones who cried and whimpered in helplessness, the three women took stock of their weapons.
In his mind, he could see them clearly. Twin sisters he’d once called friends, Tabitha and Amanda, stood with another woman whose name he didn’t know. She was familiar to him, but for some reason, he couldn’t recall her. Not that it mattered.
Armed with swords, knives, and a crossbow, the women appeared battle-worn and exhausted. Still, they stood as fierce warriors, ready to fight to the bitter end. Tabitha’s hair was dyed black while Amanda’s remained their true dark auburn shade. As per her usual fashion, Tabitha was decked out in leather. Amanda’s clothes were tight, yoga-styled, to allow her freedom of movement. The third woman wore guerrilla gear, complete with a Kevlar vest and combat boots. Her chemically straightened, long black hair was pulled back from her face and a deep bruise marred the dark skin of her left cheek.
“We can’t hold them,” Tabitha whispered to the other two women so that the children wouldn’t overhear her.
Amanda lifted her chin in determination. “Then we die defending … just like our families did.”
The third woman nodded. “Acta est fabula.”
Tabitha and Amanda scowled at her.
She checked the edge of her sword before she spoke again. “The play is over? Caesar’s dying words?”
Tabitha rolled her eyes. “I know what it means, woman. I was married to a Roman general. But dang, if you’re going to quote Caesar, at least use veni, vedi, vici.”
“I came, I saw, I conquered?” Amanda asked incredulously. “Really? Nice try, Tabby, but unfortunately the only butts getting kicked today are ours.”
A loud strike echoed as the doors heaved under the latest blow.
Tabitha growled. “They’re coming through.”
Amanda and Tabitha stood side by side while the third woman held her arms out. Fire engulfed her hands, letting him know that this woman wasn’t human.
She was a goddess.…
Not Ma’at, who he’d grown up with, but she reminded him of the Egyptian goddesses he’d met and killed over the centuries. If only he knew which one.
Using her telekinesis, Amanda tried to hold the door. But all it did was give her a nosebleed as the demons broke through the wood and scattered the pews and confessionals in all directions. His army spilled into the building and headed straight for the children.
Like ancient soldiers, the women charged them and fought with an unparalleled skill. Tabitha took out three demons with one swing of her sword, while Amanda and the other woman killed even more.
For a few minutes, they appeared to be winning.
But they were no match for the sheer number of his forces as his demons overran them. Amanda went down first and then Tabitha as she ran to help her sister. With them out of the way, his army turned to the last woman and swarmed her. She held them back with firebolts for two minutes longer. But in the end, she, too, fell to the greater number.
The children and women ran for the back. Not that it did them any good. In unison, his army tore after them.
“Bon appétit,” Nick whispered.
He started to turn away, until one demon caught his attention and held it there. Unlike the others, this one didn’t battle or pursue the humans.
Dressed in black armor that appeared to ooze blood even though he wasn’t wounded, this demon was more fierce than all of the others. Malphas surveyed the women’s bodies with a look of utter disgust and sorrow.
Until he realized Tabitha was still alive.
He knelt by her side and cradled her head tenderly. “Tabby … I’m so sorry.”
Grimacing, she opened her eyes as she labored to breathe. She laughed bitterly, exposing a set of bleeding teeth. “There are some things that sorry doesn’t fix, Caleb.”
“Shhh, don’t speak. I can—”
“You failed us,” she breathed, cutting Malphas off before he could continue. She licked her bruised lips, then went limp in his arms. Her eyes turned dull.
Tabitha Lane Devereaux Magnus was dead.
Wincing, Caleb held her close to his heart and stroked her bloody hair. “No, Tabby. I failed myself.” He glanced to the other two women as tears filled his demonic eyes. “Most of all, I failed Nick.”
Those words tore through Nick like a shredder. How dare his servant pity him. He was not some paltry human to be patronized as if he were nothing.
He was the Malachai. Lord and ruler of all the known universes!
His vision darkening with the weight of his fury, he manifested himself inside the cathedral, right beside Malphas. His gold armor gleaming in the dim light, Nick lifted his black wings as he towered over his servant. “You never did learn the proper tone or stance.”
He grabbed Malphas by his throat and lifted him away from Tabitha’s body.
“Go ahead,” Caleb dared him. “Kill me. My only wish is that you’d done it centuries ago before I was forced to serve what you’ve become.”
Fine then …
“I’m finished with you anyway,” Nick growled in his face. He snapped Malphas’s neck, then threw him against the wall so hard that his body went through the stone and landed in the alley outside.
Snarling in fury, Nick turned to go after those who’d fled, but as he took a step, his gaze went to Tabitha’s arm. Blood stained her skin, yet that wasn’t what had grabbed his attention. Rather it was the Latin words tattooed on her forearm. Fabra est sui quaeque fati. She creates her own destiny.
For the first time in years, Nick felt something other than fury and hatred. It’d been so long since he last had this emotion that it took him a full minute to name it.
Remorse. It ripped through him over what he’d done to the people he’d once called family. To the very people he’d loved and protected.
Kyrian Hunter had saved him and his mother, and how had he repaid him?
He’d taken everything Kyrian had loved and destroyed it, and then he’d taken his life.
How did I become this monster? There was no one left to blame for his transformation. After all his promises that he wouldn’t, that nothing could make him, he had given in. Nick looked down at his blood-soaked armor and clawed hands that had long ago ceased being human. He moved his gaze around the sacred room where he had marked all the major milestones of his human life, and saw what remained of it.
Only twisted, burning wreckage surrounded him.
Inside and out.
When had he lost himself so fully?
Throwing his head back, Nick roared in agony.…
* * *
Ambrose sat upright in bed, shaking from the premonition that had crept into his sleep.
Tears filled his eyes as he saw in his mind the image of Tabitha and Amanda dead on the same floor where he had attended countless Masses with his mother. Where he’d once walked as an altar boy, and had sworn repeatedly that he would never become the monster his father was.
Instead, he’d morphed into something much worse.
How could I ever do such a thing? How could he ever allow himself to deteriorate into such a beast?
Grinding his teeth, he wanted to purge the images out of his head. But they were there. Aching. Taunting.
It was the future he saw, and he couldn’t let it happen. No matter what it took, he had to save them all.
He had to.
He flinched as Artemis sat up beside him and touched his bare shoulder. Worry furrowed her beautiful brow as her red hair fell around her slender shoulders in perfect curls. “You’re trembling.”
Ambrose shook his head in denial. “I never tremble. Nothing scares me.”
She didn’t believe it. He saw the truth in her green eyes as she brushed his damp hair back from his face. “Is it your dream again?”
“It’s not a dream, Artie. It’s a vision. Acheron was right. We can’t change our fate. Only how we bring it about.”
“Is that really what you believe?”
Ambrose raked his hand through his sweat-soaked hair. “No. I can’t…”
He locked gazes with her, then spoke more forcefully. “I won’t.” In that moment, he felt his powers rising, trying to drown out his humanity and turn him into the creature he was born to be.
But he wasn’t lost. Not yet.
“No one controls me,” he growled in his demon’s voice, pushing that darkness into submission. “Ever. I will not become the Malachai!”
He got out of bed and quickly dressed.
“Where are you going?”
He hesitated, then answered with more conviction than he’d ever had before. “To alter my past so that I can change my future.”
When most guys said that their girlfriend was going to kill them, it was a gross exaggeration or extreme paranoia. In the case of Nicholas Gautier it was a harsh, brutal fact. One so solid, he could chisel a check on it. Especially since the warning that his girl was an assassin sent to murder him had come from Death himself.
The one creature who would know a killer best …
As the old saying went, you couldn’t argue with Death.
Stunned and numb from that unexpected land mine, Nick turned his attention to Nekoda Kennedy as she sat down in their chemistry class beside Nick’s best friend, Caleb Malphas. For once her tight cream sweater didn’t turn his mind to mush. Nor did the bright smile on her lips. Lips that held his attention and momentarily distracted his thoughts …
Yeah, okay, she really was seriously hot, from the top of her soft, shiny brown hair to the tips of her pink leather boots. And don’t get him started on her green, green eyes that held an indelible fire so bright, it was scorching. But a man had to have some standards, and not being murdered by his girl was definitely one of them.
Teenage hormones be defied.
So then why did it feel like someone had kicked his tenders when her smile faded and sadness replaced the joy on her face? Why did it hurt him to see the uncertainty he caused her?
I am so messed up.…
That was the only reasonable explanation. No normal, sane person would care whether or not he hurt the feelings of a woman sent to kill him.
Except for Nick-Moron-Non-Normal-Gautier.
Nick dropped his gaze to the pink heart necklace she wore that he’d given her to celebrate their anniversary—and their escape from another near-death adventure. It had been a token of how much he loved her, and to let her know that her life meant a lot more to him than his own—that he would gladly die to protect her.
And yet she’d known the whole time that her mission here at St. Richard’s was to end his life.
Ain’t this the crap heap? I swear my undying loyalty and she swears to take my head.