Three Years Ago …
“He’s gone. Let’s call it.”
Shade ignored his partner and crunched another series of compressions into the shapeshifter’s chest. Beneath his palms, cracked ribs grated with each downward stroke.
One—one thousand, crunch. Two—one thousand, crunch. Shade’s own heart was pounding, pumping enough blood per minute to fuel Underworld General’s lava-thermal generator, but the patient’s heart didn’t so much as spark. Three—one thousand, crunch. Shade’s thigh muscles screamed with pain, cramping after Gods knew how long kneeling in blood next to the patient. Four—one thousand, crunch. A tingle spread down the dermoire that encased his arm from his right shoulder to his hand as he used his specialized gift to force the patient’s heart to beat.
“Shade. Stop.” Skulk, Shade’s half-sister and paramedic partner, put a dainty gray hand on his arm. “We did all we could.”
Knowing Skulk was right didn’t make giving up any easier, and Shade didn’t have enough breath left in his lungs to curse about it. Panting, he ceased CPR and sat back on his heels on the filth-strewn floor of the abandoned brewery. His arms trembled from exertion, and his stethoscope hung heavily around his neck.
He ground his teeth as he looked into the glassy eyes of his deceased patient. The vic was just a kid. Fourteen, maybe. He’d probably only recently learned how to shift out of his human form to whatever species his family belonged to. The telltale birthmark of a true shifter, a red, star-shaped mole behind the left ear, had barely formed.
“This is bullshit,” Shade muttered, standing. Nearby, the two False Angels who had called in the report to the hospital stood, their sweet, virginal appearances belied by the sinister glint in their eyes.
“You didn’t see who dropped him here?” he asked.
One of the angel impostors shook her head, her golden hair swishing against her white gown. “He was just lying there. Peaceful.”
“He looked peaceful with half his organs missing?”
The other False Angel smiled. “Touchy, touchy.” She trailed her fingers suggestively along the low-cut neckline of the gown no true angel would wear. “How about we help you relax, incubus?”
“Yes,” the other one purred. “I’ve always loved a man in uniform.”
The first False Angel nodded. “Veragoth does so enjoy haunting police stations.”
“Mmm …” The female called Veragoth twirled a strand of hair around a finger and swept her hungry gaze from Shade’s face to his feet. “But I’m starting to think I should be hanging out with paramedics.”
Yeah, his black, BDU-style medic uniform made all the females hot even when he wasn’t casting off the fuck-me pheromones that came standard issue for Seminus demons. But for once, Shade didn’t feel like getting na**d with two beautiful females. He was exhausted, angry, and damned sick of the newest rash of demon mutilations. Worse, no one gave a rat’s ass that someone was chopping up demons for their parts and selling them on the underworld black market. It had been going on since time began, but few cared.
He was the as**ole who got called to scenes where he rarely made a difference in whether or not the vic died. Most were too far gone. Or dead.
Skulk holstered her radio and dug through the jump bag for a fresh pair of gloves. “Since shifters don’t disintegrate aboveground, Doc E wants the body. Let’s scoop it up. We’re done here.”
We’re done here. Too many calls ended like that lately.
Cursing, Shade helped Skulk load the kid’s body onto a stretcher and wheel it to the rig. The black ambulance, one of two servicing Underworld General Hospital, was protected by a spell that rendered it unnoticeable to humans, but here, the cloak wasn’t needed. They were in a quiet part of New York City, a formerly industrialized area that had been abandoned during Prohibition and was only now starting to build up again as a residential neighborhood.
“Let’s roll,” Shade said, and slammed shut the rig’s rear doors.
It was Skulk’s turn to drive, so Shade climbed into the passenger seat, popped a stick of gum into his mouth, and concentrated on filling out the run sheet.
Patient’s chief complaint? Deadness due to organ removal.
Patient’s response to treatment? Still f**king dead.
“Sonofabitch.” Shade pinged the pen at the dash. “This sucks—” He cut off, suddenly shaken by a rumble deep inside him, an earthquake in his very soul. Pain rolled up from the epicenter, spreading through his body until the tsunami of agony slammed him backward in his seat.
“Shade? What is it? Shade?” Skulk shook his shoulder, but he barely noticed. He threw open the door, thankful they hadn’t taken off yet, and fell from the vehicle.
His knees hit the pavement with a crack he heard through the roar of blood in his ears. Doubled over, he wrapped his arms around his gut. Blackness engulfed his vision, his brain. One of his brothers was dead. Who? Gods, who?
He reached out with his mind to connect with Wraith, the brother who couldn’t be more his opposite, but with whom Shade had a unique connection. Nothing. He couldn’t feel Wraith at all. Struggling for each breath, he felt for the weaker connection with Eidolon, but again, nothing. He couldn’t sense Roag, either.
In the background, he heard Skulk talking on her cell phone with Solice, the on-duty triage nurse at the hospital. “Where are Shade’s brothers? I need to know. Now!”
“Skulk …” he gasped.
She knelt next to him. “Hold on.” She listened into the phone for a moment. “Okay, Solice says Roag went to Brimstone. She’s all mad because he wouldn’t take her with him, but she’s getting ready to head there now. She doesn’t know where E and Wraith are. They refused to go with Roag.”
Not a shock. No Seminus in his right mind would step inside a demon pub where female lust could hold you prisoner for days, or worse, send you to your death at the claw-end of a jealous male. But then, Roag had never been in his right mind.
Shade groaned, swallowed sickly. Gradually, a pinpoint of light pierced the darkness. Wraith. He could feel Wraith’s life force. Thank the gods. Relief made his shoulders sag, but only for a second. He couldn’t sense Eidolon. Blindly, he reached out with his hand as though he could touch his brother. Skulk caught his arm, twined her fingers through his.
“Breathe, Paleshadow,” she whispered, using the childhood nickname she’d given him over eighty years ago. “We’ll get through this.”
Not if E was dead. Shit, he was the brother who kept them all level, who kept Roag in line and Wraith alive.
Awareness sifted through him. Eidolon. He was safe.
The pain faded, but a gnawing, aching emptiness drilled one more hole into Shade’s soul. Seminus demons were connected to all their brothers, and when one died, he took a chunk of his surviving siblings with him. Thirty-seven deaths later, Shade felt like a colander.
“Who was it?” Skulk asked softly.
“Roag.” He drew in a deep, shuddering breath. “It was Roag.”
“So am I,” he said, but it was an automatic response. As much as he hated to admit it, the world was now a better place.
When walking through the “valley of shadows,” remember, a shadow is cast by a Light.
— Austin O’Malley
It had been at least two decades since Shade had awakened on a strange floor, hung over and without a clue to his whereabouts. The heavy weight of a manacle around his wrist and the sound of a rattling chain made him smile. It had been even longer since he’d been in this situation and chained up.
Sure, he preferred the females to be the ones in chains instead of him, but he’d roll with it.
The female voice sounded familiar, but he couldn’t place it through the ringing in his ears. He couldn’t open his eyes, either.
“Shade. Wake up.” A hand shook his shoulder, not gently, as he’d expect a female to do after a spending a night with him. Hell, she should be waking him with her mouth on his— “Shade, damn you, wake up!”
Groaning, he rolled onto his back, wincing at the dull ache pounding against the back of his skull. “I’m awake, baby. I’m awake. Climb on. I’ll catch up.”
“Thanks, I’ll pass. But call me baby again and I’ll rip your lips off.”
Shade peeled his eyes open. Blinked at the blurry face peering down at him. Blinked again.
“You remember my name? Pardon me while I pass out from shock.”
The sarcasm wasn’t necessary, but yeah, he remembered her name. She’d been the hottest human he’d ever brought to his bed. Long, caramel brown hair that felt like the softest silk on his chest, abs, thighs, as she kissed her way down his body. Full, sensual lips that had curved into wicked smiles worthy of his wildest dreams, pale champagne eyes that complemented smooth, golden skin that had melted like brown sugar under his tongue.
But he hadn’t seen her in nearly a year. Not since the night she ran away and fell off the face of the earth.
“Why are you here? Why am I here?” He squinted in the hazy darkness. “Where is here?” His first thought was that maybe The Aegis had captured him, but this place was too creepy even for those demon-slaying bastards.
“Can you sit?” Runa helped him up, too quickly, and his head swam. She pushed him back against a wall with more strength than he’d expected. He didn’t resist, grateful for the cool, damp stone that eased his nausea.
“Answer my question,” he said, because he now suspected that this wasn’t a sexual hangover, which meant that there could be no good reason to be chained up and feeling like shit with a woman who probably wanted to cause him some damage.
Runa snorted. “You’re still an arrogant ass.”
“Not really.” Her hand came down on his forehead, as though checking for fever, but as a human, she’d have no idea that his normal body temperature ran high, and he pushed her away. Besides, her touch made his temp jack up even more, something he definitely didn’t need.
“Well? Where are we?” They seemed to be in some sort of cell inside a larger enclosure, maybe a dungeon. Something dripped incessantly, straw littered the floor, and candles burned in iron sconces on the stone walls.
Hell’s bells, he’d been cast in a cheesy horror movie.
“I don’t know where we are. We seem to have four captors … at least, four different demons have been down here to feed us. They call themselves Keepers.”
Yeah, this was definitely bad. “Us?”
“I’ve been here a week. There are a few others in cells. The Keepers take out some and bring others in.”
For the first time, Shade looked down at himself, saw the heavy chains connected to his left wrist and ankle. Runa was secured to the opposite wall with a manacle around her right ankle. She wore jeans and a tight, sleeveless sweater he’d have appreciated if it weren’t for the fact that he was being held prisoner. She looked different than he remembered, too. When they’d dated—if screwing like rabbits could be called dating—she’d been shy, needy, and easy to control, which had fed his need to dominate, but had ultimately grown boring.
Beneath the conservative dresses and slacks she’d worn, she’d been a little round, soft, even. But now … holy hot. She’d put on muscle, and he swore she’d grown taller. Her well-worn jeans fit like a glove, and the black sweater stretched across br**sts that were definitely smaller than they had been, perfect for his hands. His mouth.
And this line of thinking was doing nothing but making him hard in an extremely inappropriate situation.
Then again, as a Seminus demon, he was pretty much always hard.
“When was I brought in?”
He shook his head, trying to loosen the congestion that had jammed up his thoughts and memories. Last night … last night … what had he been doing? Wait … he was wearing his paramedic uniform. He remembered going to work, checking in with Eidolon, and getting into a scuffle with Wraith. Their newest doc, a human named Kynan, had broken it up by dousing them both with a bag of saline.
Same old, same old at the one and only medical treatment facility for demons.
Shade and Skulk had gone out on a call, an injured vamp at a New York meat packing facility. They’d entered the building, but from there, his memory took a leave of absence.
“Was anyone else brought in with me? A female?”
“The Umber demon?”
His heart thundered like a trip-hammer. “An Umber came in with me?” Runa nodded, and he didn’t stop to think about how she even knew what an Umber demon was. “Where is she?”
“You sleeping with her?” Her sharp tone cracked in the dank air.
“She’s my sister, and I don’t have time for your jealousy.”
“Seems to me you have nothing but time,” Runa said, but her voice had softened. “I’m sorry. I don’t know what they did with your sister. They took her away a little while ago.” She shifted away from him, and he realized she was at the very end of her chain. “You don’t look like her.”
He didn’t offer an explanation for the fact that he and his sister were different species, and she didn’t ask. Instead, she watched him as he eyed the bars in the door to their cell and wondered how sturdy they were. Then again, they could be paper for all it mattered if he couldn’t break the chains that tethered him to the wall.