Brimstone Prince, страница 1
A match made in hell
The adopted daughter of the daemon king, Lily Santiago has lived her life in darkness. After one glimpse of desert sunlight, she begins to understand what she’s been missing.
Michael D’Arcy Turov might be heir to the throne of hell, but he has firmly rejected that legacy. All he wants is to play his guitar... Until he meets Lily, and her kiss awakens the Brimstone burn he’s long suppressed. A pawn in the war between her foster father and rogue daemons, Lily is determined to let Michael keep his freedom. But what if his desire for her is enough to take him back to hell?
He wasn’t meant for her.
He was meant for the throne. And the daemon king expected her to help him force Michael to accept it.
His lips were full and warm against hers. Lily didn’t reject the intimacy of his moist, hot tongue. She opened for him. She eagerly met his tongue with flicks of her own. She pressed into his muscular body and his arms fell from her face to her back where they smoothed and molded her curves to fit him. She had been forced to take haven in hell, but she tasted heaven on Michael’s lips. It was a paradise flavored with salty tears.
Her father had made a deal with the daemon king to protect her eighteen years ago and now Lily knew what price she would have to pay for his protection.
Barbara J. Hancock lives in the foothills of the Blue Ridge Mountains where her daily walk takes her to the edge of the wilderness and back again. When Barbara isn’t writing modern gothic romance that embraces the shadows with a unique blend of heat and heart, she can be found wrangling twin boys and spoiling her pets.
Also by Barbara J. Hancock
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Darkening Around Me
Silent Is the House
The Girl in Blue
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Barbara J. Hancock
How can I say goodbye to Grim? Sometimes when an author begins a series, we have no idea that certain characters will steal our hearts more than others. Of course we fall in love with our heroes and we root for our heroines. In the Brimstone world, there are dark forces that try to keep men and women who are irresistibly drawn together apart. I’ve loved every moment of defeating darkness with their passion and perseverance!
But I had no idea when I created a hideous hellhound with a heart of gold he would stay with me long after I typed The End.
Grim is a monster born in the flames of the hell dimension. He’s also a hero and a wanderer. He’s drawn into the lives of those who need him. And he’s loyal to his loved ones in ways that I hope honor all the real-life canines I’ve known.
Dear, dear Grim. With you I celebrate four-legged heroes. Long may they save.
Barbara J. Hancock
For Sam, Daisy, Brownie, Betsy and Punk...
the rescued dogs who have rescued me.
Excerpt from The Witch’s Quest by Michele Hauf
He was dying. The blade his former partner, Reynard, had plunged into his back had failed to kill him immediately, but the blow would be fatal all the same. Samuel Santiago could taste sulfur in the back of his parched throat. When he coughed up blood, it was tinged with black. He could feel the burn as the taint from the daemon blade Reynard had used spread its way through his veins.
Daemons weren’t damned. But just like men, they could choose evil paths.
The cab dropped him at a familiar corner in Santa Fe. He was able to walk slowly but surely to the address of the apartment building where his young daughter would be sound asleep. He had a job to do. His Latin-scribed blade was wrapped in burlap and hidden beneath his coat. It and secrecy would be the gifts he’d leave Lily and her mother, Sophia. He’d been wise to forge a deal that would protect her and her mother from Reynard’s treachery, even if he hadn’t been able to protect himself.
It took forever for the elevator to respond to the summons of the glowing button that wavered in and out of focus as he waited. The Rogue daemons Reynard had sold his soul to were blackened by the desire to rule the hell dimension and then conquer heaven. They wanted to reclaim the paradise Lucifer had rebelliously left. Hell was embroiled in revolution. Loyalists against Rogues. But the Rogues couldn’t be stopped by Lucifer’s Army alone. At one time, Samuel had hunted all daemons, but he’d learned that Loyalists had no quarrel with humans. It was the Rogues who desired to enslave and destroy. The daemon king needed help from humans to defeat the Rogues. That fact might save Lily’s life.
Rogues would hunt him down. He looked over his shoulder when a random noise from a nearby apartment made him feel as if they were already behind him preparing to pounce.
The hall was empty. Somewhere in the distance a small dog barked.
Samuel stumbled into the elevator. He jabbed at the button to close the door as if the hounds of hell snapped at his feet. In a way, they did. He didn’t sigh in relief when the door closed. He leaned against the elevator’s humming wall, tense and watchful, as it rose up to the tallest floor. It was almost midnight. They would be sleeping. He didn’t have much time. He couldn’t see them. He couldn’t say goodbye. He couldn’t risk staying longer than it would take to place the wrapped sword on the mantel.
Lily had his blood. For better or worse. He supposed that was a gift he would leave her, too, although it often seemed a curse. His affinity for daemons had led him to join with Reynard in hunting them. It was Reynard’s joy in the hunt, his increased ruthlessness, that had led Samuel to question his gift. He was drawn to daemons and they were drawn to him, but in the end he had decided he was supposed to be the bridge between humanity and daemons, not their executioner.
That realization had come too late.
The Rogues were evil because they sought power and dominion over the entire universe. Loyalists only wanted to build an autonomous life for themselves. Lucifer didn’t fall from heaven. He leaped. Others had followed him. His death at the hands of Rogues had begun the revolution.
Samuel quietly let himself into the apartment. He left his key and the sword on the mantel near the kachina dolls his wife had arranged above the fireplace. The colorful Hopi statues had caught his eye many years ago, even before he’d fallen in love with the woman who carved them. She’d been at a stall in a Native American market. He’d paused, drawn to a spiritual song from the dolls that only his affi
Maybe Sophia would understand the deal he’d had to make to protect Lily.
An indistinct murmur was his undoing. His resolve had been firm. Get in. Get out. But he heard a rustle and murmur and he was drawn to his daughter’s bedroom. He didn’t go in. He only peeked from the door. She had murmured in her sleep. He watched as his three-year-old child snuggled deeper into her pillow. The softest whimper reached his ears. Samuel had to reach for the doorframe to hold himself in place rather than go to her.
Was it a nightmare, or did she sense his presence and his pain? Her mother might understand the desperate measures he’d been driven to take, but would Lily?
He watched as soft moonlight from the window illuminated her hand. Her tiny fist opened to reveal a kachina doll that had been grasped in her fingers. A frisson of dread shivered down his spine when he saw it was the doll that had been carved in the shape of a warrior angel. The wings down its back had been painted black long ago by one of Sophia’s Hopi ancestors. Unlike the other kachina dolls that were traditionally carved with indistinct features and masks with rough edges and curves, the warrior angel was like a Renaissance sculpture in miniature form, but crafted of wood instead of stone.
Had a Hopi priest seen his daughter’s future in some prophetic dream long, long ago?
He forced himself to turn away. He spared only a glance for the bedroom a little farther down the hall. Sophia had been a softness to his otherwise jagged life. It had been weakness to love her. But it was strength to leave her now. The wound on his back screamed for surcease that would never come. He had to walk away. He was a deadly magnet on an ordinary day. Injured and weak, he was an irresistible lure to Rogues or anyone with Brimstone in their blood.
In time, Lily would be a magnet as well. That’s why he’d been forced to ask for help.
This time as he made his way to the street, the building around him was utterly silent. No creature stirred. The simple operation of the elevator doors sounded like a shriek. Finally, he made it to the street where he remained on foot. He headed to the bus station. One dogged step after another. If anyone saw him, they would have assumed he was a drunken vagrant. He planned to get on a bus and ride as far away as he could from his precious family before he fell.
He could only hope and pray that the daemon deal he’d made would protect Lily once he was gone.
When the daemon stepped from the shadows, the darkness seemed to cling to his tall, lean form, separating from the black leather of his jacket and the faded denim of his jeans reluctantly. For long seconds, his angular face and muscled shoulders seemed to be draped in a dark winglike mantle. Lily Santiago’s breath caught in her lungs as familiarity punched her in the gut until he came forward another step.
She blinked as he moved, and she exhaled a long shaky breath as the shadows retreated to the corner of the kiva where they belonged. The daemon didn’t have wings. But he should, her senses told her. He should. An impossible familiarity began to foment in her brain. She’d seen this daemon before.
The underground Hopi chamber was a circular room with a packed earthen floor and stacked stone walls. There was only one opening to the sky where an old wooden ladder would have leaned. She’d used a nylon climbing rope to descend the ten feet. The abandoned chamber would have been dark at midday—at midnight only her lantern and the occasional flash of the daemon’s nightglow eyes as they refracted the low light held back the night. The firepit on the other side of the sipapu had been cold for a century or more. She rose slowly from her crouched position near the kachina dolls she had carefully placed for the ceremony she was about to invoke. She gripped a short silver flute in one clenched fist.
“Move away from the edge,” the daemon ordered.
Lily had heard daemons speak before, yet none of their voices had been so deep and melodic. Her heart thrummed in response to the mellow drawl of his vowels and the low pitch of his husky tone. He wore a guitar on his back, she noted. The silver-studded strap crossed his broad chest and she could see the neck of the instrument behind his right shoulder.
If his voice caused gooseflesh to rise on her bare arms, it was the Brimstone of his blood that forged a deeper reaction. Her stomach coiled. Her muscles tightened. Her skin flushed and her breath, once caught, now came too quickly between parched, parted lips. She was used to being buffered against the Brimstone burn. She’d known she would have to be much stronger outside the palace walls.
Her affinity for daemons was her greatest strength and her greatest potential weakness. She could summon them, but she couldn’t control them. Her control was limited to the elemental spirits that dwelled in the kachina dolls her mother had carved. Those she could summon and control.
But daemons were different.
No one could control Brimstone’s burn, not even the daemon whose veins flowed with the lava of hell. Her affinity made her vulnerable, so she stood and waited for the inevitable fight.
“I promised my mother when she died that I would seal every sipapu in New Mexico with the skills she had taught me,” Lily said. It was a warning. She wasn’t here to fight, but neither would she be swayed from her mission.
The sipapu was a hole at the center of the kiva. It was thought by many to be a symbolic opening to the lower world. Hopi people believed that their ancestors had risen up from such places to become a part of this world. In most kivas, the hole was only a few inches deep. In this unexplored, undiscovered kiva she had found with the direction of her affinity and her mother’s kachina dolls, the sipapu’s floor was so deep that it wasn’t revealed by her lantern’s light, and a cool waft of air rose up to chill the whole chamber.
Lily set her teeth, hardened her jaw and dug her heels into the hard-packed desert earth that had been carved into a religious chamber hundreds of years ago. She needed to seal the portal to the lower world. Then she needed to pretend she had discovered the kiva and the surrounding ruin of a small unknown Hopi pueblo on an innocent hike so that archaeologists and Native historians could come in and excavate the site.
“A noble promise, but I bet you’ve met resistance along the way,” the daemon replied.
He didn’t hold a weapon. But he was obviously big and powerful. Not to mention the whole daemons-being-nearly-immortal thing. At five foot four inches, and one hundred ten pounds, she was in trouble. She had no one to rely on for protection but herself. Not anymore.
The daemon edged closer. The kiva chamber was a large circular room. She was separated from the approaching daemon by the fire pit and the sipapu, but the sipapu was only about a foot in diameter and he’d already made his way around the bigger indention of the pit that was still blackened by ancient fire.
“I have a sacred duty. I handle resistance as it comes. I’ve sealed every single sipapu I’ve discovered,” Lily warned.
Her family tree could be traced to ancient Aztecs on one side and to Spanish settlers on the other, but it had always been rooted by one simple thing: standing against evil. There was irony in that, considering where she’d spent the last fifteen years, but she had no time to let that slow her down.
The daemon didn’t flinch or falter when she refused to move away from the portal. He continued to approach. Slowly, carefully, as if he were giving her time to get used to his presence. The pleasure of his voice spread warmth to other places already warmed by his Brimstone burn. The whole chamber had gone from chilled to heated. Her gooseflesh was gone. Her flush had deepened. The perspiration had evaporated from her skin. She’d been warned to guard against daemon persuasiveness. Her powerful affinity wouldn’t protect her from it. On the contrary, it made her more susceptible than most.
Who was he and how did he know these things?
Considering her free hand had gone to the hilt of a hidden sword at her back, his tone was probably justified. She could feel the grimace that stretched her face taut as she prepared to battle. She was no warrior, but the small elemental spirit dolls at her feet weren’t her only weapon. The flute and the dolls helped her channel her affinity to call on the elemental spirits. In days long past, she would have been deemed a priestess. Her mother had trained her in the old Hopi ways...but the sword had come from her father.
“My mother gave me a job to do and the sacred tools with which to do it. My father gave me this,” Lily said. The rasp of steel against its leather scabbard sounded loud in the underground room.
Perhaps the daemon could see the Latin prayers scribed into the blade even by lantern light, but if he could he didn’t retreat. He came toward her one more step. Then two.
“And what makes you aware of the daemon king’s wishes?” Lily asked as she brought her father’s blade down in a practiced move that prepared for the daemon’s attack.
The whole while she took in the daemon’s appearance. The absence of wings didn’t matter. Her mother had given her a gift along with her training and her tools. It was nestled in the backpack that had held all the kachina dolls that were now arranged near the sipapu. Hundreds of years ago one of her ancestors had carved an unusual kachina doll. It had been passed down for generations. From the time the daemon had stepped from the shadows, she’d recognized the sharp angle of his jaw and the full swell of his lips. She recognized the thickness of his wavy, shoulder-length hair swept by the desert winds. His broad shoulders, the set of his eyes and the patrician nose were all familiar.