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REDEMPTION

A novel of the Seven Signs
Out on 5 March 2013


Chapter One

Japheth gazed into the hot moonlit sky, and prayed. Lord, let me kill every last vampire in Babylon.

Starting with this lot.

Six of them, soaked in blood, creeping from steamy shadows. Streetlamps flickered, burning their crazed eyes crimson. One had dreadlocks. Another wore a cheap suit. One had pink-dyed hair and pierced eyebrows. They snarled with long sickle teeth, and clawed the air with bitten hands.

“Charming.” Dashiel flashed his blue-flaming sword, two-handed, and flared his dark wings for balance. His silver armor glowed, angry. “It’s Night of the Living Junkies. Did you bring popcorn?”

“If they kill us, we’ll be just as dead.” Japheth’s golden feathers prickled, a warrior’s instinct. His spell-sharpened gaze snapped left and right, his senses itching for scents, alive for the tiniest rustle. Distances, heights, relative strength. Trajectory plotted, bing-badda-boom.

Killing demonspawn was what he was made for. And every dead vampire took him one step closer to heaven.

He conjured his sword and dived full length. The sky-lit blade burned cold in his hand. The creatures spat hell-stung curses, slashing at him with ragged nails. Japheth somersaulted over them, a flurry of gold. Snick! A head flew, spraying crimson. Splat! Another. He sprang a backflip, slicing a third creature apart at the waist.

He landed with a crunch on the bloody sidewalk and surveyed the carnage. Dashiel had already head sliced two more. Their corpses leaked red puddles on the concrete. The last vampire screeched, insane with hunger, and hurtled for Japheth’s throat.

Its teeth sliced his shoulder. Its breath stank of dead flesh. Japheth ignored the sting, the burning hellcurse. He flashed his sword away, grabbed the creature’s neck in both hands, and twisted.

Snap! Its head flopped. He tossed the corpse aside, and sizzled the blood from his breastplate with a hissing heavencurse. “Four for me, two for you. Getting slow, old man?”

“Bite me, baby face.” Dashiel vanished his sword, a blue flash, and wiped blood from his eyes. “Jesus. Last month shambling corpses, this month hungry metrosexuals with bad teeth. What gives?”

“You know what.” Japheth flexed scorched palms. Already the wounds were healing. Angelflesh on demon always burned. He didn’t mind the pain. It meant he was doing heaven’s work.

And since he’d been Tainted—since Michael tore his soul from his body and banished him to this dirty, decadent earth, neither damned nor saved—he couldn’t afford to sin. Not if he ever wanted back into heaven.

“You really think these blood-munching idiots are another vial?” Dashiel laughed. “Isn’t it meant to be rivers of blood this time? These days everything’s a fucking sign. The wind blows the wrong way across Times Square and suddenly it’s the end of the world—”

‘They have shed the blood of saints and prophets, so you have given them blood to drink, for they deserve it,’” quoted Japheth ironically. “It’s in the Book, right next to the rivers of blood. You really should read more, Dash. It’s kind of important.”

“I must be the prophet, then.” Dash grinned. “Because sure as hell’s a shithole, I ain’t no saint.”

“Isn’t that the truth.” Japheth hoisted a severed head to the light. Even dead, the thing’s hair sizzled in his fist. The corrupted stink assaulted him, that unmistakable mix of charcoal, rotting meat and shit. Moonlight glinted a gleeful hellcurse in its empty eyes. Give me your soul, angel, it seemed to cackle silently. Die screaming. The world’s ours now.

Not on my watch, scumbreath.
He poked a stinging finger into its mouth. Its jaw gaped, blood and broken teeth. Sure was crowded in there. Curved canines and incisors, unnaturally long, with sharp serrated points. This thing wasn’t human, not anymore. “Look, it’s a new variant. Three rows of teeth. Brutal.” Dash peered closer, wrinkling his nose. “Okay, that’s ugly. The curse must be mutating. Spreading, too. There’s more of ’em every week. Slimy shitballs are crawling from here to SoHo.”

Japheth tossed the reeking head away. “Well, whatever it is, we can still kill ’em. I call that good news.”

“You’ve got a one-track sense of fun, you know that?”

Japheth grinned, feral. “Whatever gets you through the night.”

“Bloodthirsty bastard.” Dashiel cracked his neck bones, tense, and flexed his glittery brown wings. “Fucking hellspawn. There goes my quiet evening.”

Japheth could hear Dash’s heartbeat, strong and swift, sparkling with heaven’s glory. Dash had issues with glory. Until he did something about it—likely, he’d find some willing woman and take it out on her—he’d have sweet-fire poison pumping in his veins, a raging headache, the hard-on from hell.

Japheth preferred to fight himself into exhaustion. It was safer that way . . . but he suppressed a dark twinge of envy. “Yeah, right. When’s the last time you spent the night alone?”

“When’s the last time you didn’t?”

Japheth smiled brightly. “Screw you.”

“Tricky, with the size of the stick up your ass.”

“Yet somehow you manage.” Japheth wiggled his little finger, smirking.

Dash snorted, shaking his dark head. “You know, I get your whole sinless, warrior-for-god, let-me-back-into-heaven kick? But it wouldn’t kill you to relax once in a while.”

“You sure about that?” Lust was a sin, even for a Tainted angel. He’d never win redemption that way. And besides, all that meaningless carnal pleasure was . . . sordid. Self-indulgent. His heart wasn’t in it. He had better outlets for heaven’s holy wrath than getting hot and breathless with a beautiful stranger.

Like slaughtering hellspawn. Killing was a sin, too. That was in the Book. But not when the monsters had already sold their souls to hell. That was mercy, or heaven-sweet vengeance. Either way, it was good.

He flexed fervent wings. He didn’t want to talk, or play heartless sex games. He just wanted to coat himself with demon-cursed blood, score a few more dead hellspawn for heaven. “Relax, yes. Sludge my wits with some dirty crap cooked up in a toilet bowl in Queens, and make a slut of myself with some woman I don’t care about? I’ll skip it, if it’s all the same to you.”

“Who said anything about sluts?” said Dash innocently. “Chicks dig that silent-warrior vibe of yours. Lots of them are perfectly nice girls—”

“Which is why they’re better off never knowing me.”

Dash tilted his gaze skywards. “He’s a killer, not a lover. I’m sorry, did I miss the chapter where it says ‘thou shalt be a frosty-assed son of a bitch’?”

“Yeah. It’s right under the part where it says ‘go forth and screw yourself into damnation.’ I think you stopped there.”

“Okay, fine, I give up,” Dash grumbled. “Your loss.” He rolled tight shoulders, and the golden snakecharm around his neck glinted in evil red moonlight. “This vampire thing is getting worse. I’ll run it by Mike, see what he wants to do.”

Japheth sweated, like he always did when he thought of Michael, who alone had the power to return him to heaven. Once, he and the icy archangel were close. Now? Not so much. “Because that worked so well last time,” he replied tightly. “We barely got out of the first two signs alive.”

Dash shrugged. “Above my pay scale, brother. Stopping this Apocalypse is Mike’s circus. Let him be ringmaster.”

“You’re gonna trust him? After he ordered me to kill you?” Sometimes, Michael tested him, to see how far he’d fallen. He still remembered how close he’d come, the fire licking his blade, the horrid compulsion to kill racing in his blood . . .

“Still alive, ain’t I?” Dash waved a careless hand. “Spit it or swallow it, Mike still owns our soulless asses. Does it piss me off? Every damn day. But what am I gonna do, get another job? Oh, wait, opportunities in the private sector for ‘kick-ass angel of death with no soul’ seem to have dried right up.” He dragged his long dark hair from its curled iron clip and refastened it. “So screw it,” he announced happily. “Let’s get drunk. You coming, or is that a daft question?”

“To a bar, with you and your hard-on? Let me think.”

“Suit yourself.” Dash clapped him on the shoulder, a gesture that never failed to irritate. “Happy killing. Watch out for the Angel Slayer.”

Some jerk-off in the West Village was killing angels. Almost a dozen in the past few weeks. Stabbing them through the heart with a demonblade and pissing off into the night like a mincing coward.

Hungry lightning crackled around Japheth’s sword grip. Bring it on. Just let the bastard try it. “Yeah. Right. The Angel Slayer better watch out for me.”

“Atta boy.” Dash winked, and flashed out.

Alone in the moonlight, Japheth ruffled clotted golden feathers. Thick summer heat slicked his skin. Flames flickered in an upstairs window. Shadows leapt. Smoke curled, gritty in his mouth. Gunfire cracked, and in the distance, a woman screamed.

He whispered an ancient prayer, and glory sparkled into his blood like frosty flame. His breath quickened as the rush hit him hard. His eyes watered. His muscles tightened, shuddered. Yeah. Pleasure, hunger, sweet desire—it was no contest. His heavenly gifts hadn’t been taken from him, not in all these long years of being Tainted. But he knew the glory could desert him at any moment.

Better use it while it lasts.

He crouched, one hand braced on the pavement. His nerves glittered on a fighting edge, his senses razor sharp. No time to lose. Somewhere, demons plotted destruction. The Angel Slayer lurked in shadow. The street still reeked of hell-cursed vampire blood.

And Japheth of the Tainted was just in the mood for more.

Chapter Two

“Don’t squeal, godscum. Just die.”

Rose Harley twisted her demon-spelled knife deeper into the angel’s heart. Blood gushed, and her skin blistered with holy wrath.

How she loathed the self-righteous stench of heaven.

She drove the knife in harder. Angry red hellsparks crackled from her blade. The angel choked, his eyes blank, and stopped thrashing. Blood soaked his jeans, his shirt, his prissy white feathers.

Dead. Skewered on demonsteel. Meat for the rats.

Rose ripped her knife free, sick but satisfied. Just as her demon master ordered. This was the fourth angel she’d lured to his end this week. They were easy targets. Stupid things weren’t even smart enough to come to the Village in full armor.

Killing them wasn’t a nice job. But when you were a demon’s slave, you did as you were told.

The angel’s corpse slumped to the pavement, face-first, a pile of limbs and stained feathers. At the smell of his cooling flesh, Rose’s guts rumbled. Her fangs pressed at her lips, demanding that she feed. But angels’ blood was poison to a vampire. She’d have to wait.

She yanked a bloodstained white feather from his wing and stuck it into her braid with the others. Her hair singed in protest, but only weakly. The dead angel’s glory was already fading. Idiot flyboys. Always so superior, with their false tales of salvation.

Oh, their God was real, all right. That wasn't the issue. It was the love and forgiveness part she had a problem with. She'd seen precious little of those, and now, apparently, God was flushing the world down the john like an unwanted stash, and everyone who wasn't in his club was going to hell. The Apocalypse was happening. The End was now. It was too damn late to be saved.

So much for love and forgiveness. Rose slipped her knife away in its thigh holster and stalked away into the dark.

In her vampire night sight, the street glittered like it was encrusted with evil rubies. Dark doorways jewel-edged, barred windows glinting, neon signs flashing broken. A damp fragrant vine brushed her face as she turned the corner. Deserted, shadows dancing like ghosts. Firelight flickered, crackling an eerie melody, and heat hung thick and gritty. Like half of the West Village, the place was burning.

Her sturdy boot heels clunked on the broken sidewalk. She didn’t bother to mask the sound. Sure, she was being hunted. She’d refused allegiance to the West Village vampire coven master—what a whackjob he was, with his barbed-wire piercings and sadistic pleasure games. His bloodthirsty ways made her retch, and saying no to him had made her fair game for his most devoted minions.

So yeah, Rose was a wanted woman among the creatures of darkness. But the night was hers, too, humming in her blood, licking her muscles to tingling strength.

Bad luck for any dumb-ass vampire who tried to jump her.

She wiped bloody hands on her jeans, wincing as the burns on her palms scraped raw. Angel on demonspawn always burned. No matter. It’d heal overnight, slowly but still faster than a human. There were a few upsides, if you could call them that, to being tricked into servitude by a demon. Hell possessed vast power, and now it was at her fingertips. All she had to do was surrender to the dark.

She flexed her strong thighs. All those hard years of dance rehearsal—in her previous life, and how long ago that seemed—had made her flexible, agile, stronger than she looked. Now, she was lethal. She was Chosen, the first rank of vampires, made not by fleeting infection from another vampire, but by the demon Prince of Thirst himself.

She was condemned forever. One step from hell. But sometimes, it felt damn good to be powerful.

The hour was growing late. Time to find a place to hole up. Again her belly growled, an unwelcome reminder of what she needed. Demon-haunted moonlight cast reddish shadows across silent brick apartments. Smoke drifted, the crackle of flames from an upstairs window. A cat scampered across her path, twitching its black tail.

She searched the sky warily for dawn’s pale tinge. Nothing yet. Sunlight didn’t burn her, or any Count Dracula shit like that. But it itched, deep inside where the demon’s curse coiled and muttered like a hungry slug. Morning would sting her eyes, make her achy and weak, like a flu. And it’d only get worse, each day she lived with the curse.

She used to love the sunrise. Now, it just made her cringe and hide. One more thing lost, among so many . . .

On Greenwich Avenue, lamps cast bright halos over empty shops and cafés. Village Square lay deserted, eerie, lit orange by a burning pile of garbage. She crossed over to Ninth Street. No sensible human walked abroad at night in the West Village, not since the vampires moved in. But the neighborhood rustled and murmured, unseen, every sound distinct in Rose’s preternatural ears. Late-night traffic from Sixth Avenue, thumping car stereos, a siren’s distant wail. Whispers from locked apartments, sobbing, sighs of despair or pleasure. Stinging sweat, pain’s bright static, the hot poison tang of a kiss.

Terrifying, when she’d first been made, the cacophony of human existence. Now, her rich senses exhilarated her. Was it wrong, to enjoy that part of it, when so much else about her vampire life was loathsome?

Sweat trickled in her hair, and she swiped it away. Sultry summer closed in around her, the sickly stench of blood and angel sweat still strong . . . and her stomach still grumbled, demanding. Speaking of loathsome… she needed to feed.

Her throat tightened, reluctant. Killing angels was one thing, those princes of bullshit and false promises. They deserved it. Once, she’d thought it possible that their God cared about her. Now, she knew it was just another lie.

But feeding on people was another thing entirely. She’d have to crunch her jagged teeth on flesh, feel that awful liquid fire splashing into her mouth, down her throat, the horrid salty tang of human terror . . .

She shivered. The first time she’d fed, weeks ago, she’d choked it right back up, disgusted. She was clumsy, newly made, and the guy had died, of course, just a skinny kid wearing eyeliner and bruises, desperate for cash. He hadn’t deserved the dumb, lonely death of prey . . .

But it wasn’t the boy’s tears that sickened her the most. Not even her guilty flush of excitement.

It was the banality. So easy, to drain his life away. Such a stupid, fleeting gift. Fire had thundered in her veins, triumph, exultation. Her first kill.

Actually, no. Her second . . .

Horrid images raped her, stark and flash lit like crime-scene tableaux. The night she was made, a ravenous fever-drenched nightmare. Twisted wet sheets on the bed, a gore-streaked teddy bear, a wet blond hank torn out by the roots . . .

Rose swallowed, sweating. That night, the demon prince’s curse had made her a monster. He’d tricked her. She’d discovered his true purpose too late. Surely, that counted for something? She’d screamed aloud to heaven, begging for absolution. Just one mistake. One little mistake, and now Bridie was gone forever. Brown-eyed Bridie, six years old, who liked apple cakes and hide-and-seek. Who called her Auntie Rosie, and had mostly (but not altogether) stopped asking when Mommy was coming home.

But silence had greeted Rose’s prayer.

Silence, and dark eternity as a demon’s slave. Never be free. Never enjoy the sun. Never sate this terrible thirst . . .

Defiance burned like poison in Rose’s hell-cursed heart. She’d pleaded for forgiveness, and been denied. Praying was useless. There were no second chances. Heaven had abandoned her.

So she’d become the Angel Slayer, her demon master’s lethal weapon. The online news feeds followed her exploits with ghoulish fascination. Her tally had reached twelve. She wore the bloodstained feathers in her hair to prove it. And it wasn’t like she'd had a choice. Her demon master demanded tribute, and the trail of heavenly bodies amused him. If she killed enough, then maybe he’d let her stay out of hell.

Her own personal, nightmarish hell. Where a little murdered girl lived, full of hatred and black vengeance . . .

Her ears pricked.

Footsteps. Just around the corner. Sure, and almost silent.

She paused, beyond the streetlamp’s dim halo. Listened harder. Light breathing, the spritz of male sweat . . . and blood.

Fresh, coppery, delicious, disgusting blood.

Her mouth watered in spite of her reluctance. Prey. A human, abroad late at night in the Village, alone . . .

Then, the dry stink of altar smoke made her gag. Ew. How had she missed it? Feathers zapping electric, bright steel like salt, the ozone tang of heavenspells.

Angel.

But this one smelled different.

She inhaled deeper. Mmm. Sweeter, somehow. Fresher, the reek of heaven worn thin. Almost . . . human.

Her fangs crunched out, famished, and she forced them back in. Drinking angel blood was like swallowing acid. She’d tried it in ignorance, when she first slew an angel, and it blistered her mouth raw. A demon’s curse and an angel’s glory didn’t mix.

But this angel’s glory sure smelled good.

The footsteps whispered closer. Rose murmured a poisoned wish, and around her, the darkness thickened. Warm magical shadows wrapped her body, caressing her. She crouched, thighs tingling. Two in one night. All the better to please her master. She’d stab this prince of bullshit through his lying heart and watch him die.

And tomorrow, she’d hunt down another. And another. And more, until her demon prince was contented and her thirst for retribution was satisfied—yet she knew with hell-black certainty that no matter how many she killed, it’d never be enough.

Before the curse, like any ignorant beast, she’d pondered the meaning of life. Whether she had a higher purpose. If there really was a God.

Now, she knew.

Her sins would never be forgiven. Her life meant less than nothing. This bleak existence of desolation and disgusting things was no more than she deserved for what she’d done to Bridie. And her purpose was to kill every lying, self-righteous asshole of an angel she could find.

Because God was real, all right. And It loathed her.

#

Japheth paused, feathers twitching.

There it was again. The faint reek of demon corruption . . . but with the added coppery stench of stale human blood.

Vampires. Maybe the Angel Slayer.

Cold satisfaction tingled his tongue. The shadowy vigilante had killed eleven, that they knew of, and Michael was pissed. Everyone was pissed, even the Tainted Host. Word was, the Slayer must be a higher-level demon, maybe even a new prince.

Japheth blotted sweat from his eyes with one forearm. Demon, hell. Sure, the Slayer was inhumanly strong and swift. But it wasn’t a demon’s style. Demons were like terrorists. They gloated. Wanted everyone to know who was responsible for their dirty deeds. They valued infamy over safety, a twisted breed of courage.

This craven Slayer, now, just stabbed you in the heart and flitted off into the dark. Japheth’s mouth soured. A killer with no principles, just random malice. Worse: a coward.

Yeah, the Angel Slayer was definitely on Japheth’s list.

But a few more vampires? They’d do sweetly, too.

He inhaled, relishing the power flooding his body. Since he’d been cast to earth, black rage frosted inside him, a monster who hungered to devour every hot, sweet, aching thing it couldn’t have . . . and only the blood of the damned could satisfy it.

Only killing hellspawn sprang the glory alive. A hot sweet rush, better than sex or uneasy chemical oblivion. It reminded him there was a heaven, and that one day he’d go back there . . .

Keep it frosty, angel. Michael’s advice, from some ancient battlefield before Japheth fell. Save your hard-on for the enemy. They’re sure as shit saving theirs for us.

But it was more than that. Japheth was Tainted, banished to earth with his soul held to ransom. Just one stumble away from hell. If he screwed up again, he’d never be redeemed.

And unlike Dashiel, Japheth hadn’t given up on redemption. To bask in heaven’s liquid golden sunlight again, away from the ugly temptation of earthly things . . .

Japheth sniffed, tasting rich summer air. The dirty scent was thickening. Silently, he lighted upwards, and drifted around the corner.

Fragrant leaves brushed his face. Red neon letters crackled, casting a hellish glow. Sweat slicked his golden hair. He floated into the shadows, searching with his magical angelsight for the telltale auras of living souls . . . and then, his nerves wrenched, at the sound of a woman sobbing.

There. His sharp gaze pinpointed her. Crouched against the wall, hugging her knees in tight. Bloodstained jeans, tangled dark hair in a braid. He couldn’t see her face, but she was long legged, lithe, with a glimpse of smooth skin showing where her t-shirt rode up over her hip.

Japheth stared, his heartbeat quickening. So . . . delicate. Vulnerable. And smeared in blood, both vampire and human. Had she been attacked? Live or die, it was lose-lose. A bloodsucker’s bite drove them mad, boiled their minds in screaming nightmares until they starved, or bled to death from self-inflicted wounds . . . or else they mastered the curse, and lived on as vampires.

He should kill her now, while she was still herself.

“Get away!” The woman scrambled back, hugging those long legs tighter in an effort to make herself small. She was sniffling. Trying not to cry.

Japheth bit back a bad word. He’d seen countless humans suffer at demon hands over the centuries. His indignation was blunted, the sorrow dulled. But the idea of some sniggering hellshit wiping its foul sticky fingers on this woman . . . Cold rage made his head ache. He had a job to do. Flash his knife, and slit her pretty throat . . .

The vampire behind him chuckled.

He whirled, and grabbed the slavering monster by the throat.

Crunch! He held the thing at arm’s length, fingers digging into its neck. Just a young man, tiny fangs dripping, mad demon-spelled hunger lighting his eyes.

Close call. He’d lost concentration. Curse her.

The boy squirmed. “Don’t kill me, I didn’t do nothin’ . . .”

Japheth’s palm sizzled. He squeezed harder. He didn't mind pain. Pain was manageable. It reminded him what was important. “Tell me something I don’t know about the Angel Slayer. You’ve got five seconds.”

“Don’t know nothin’!” Blood trickled down the boy’s chin. Only a few days made, still mad with hunger. Three . . . Four . . . “I ain’t never seen—ugh!”

Five. Japheth flashed his sword left-handed, and stabbed the vampire through the heart. Blue flames exploded, and the body withered to a pile of stinking ash. He vanished the sword, and his burned hand healed with a swift blue sparkle.

He was a man of his word, after all. Lying was a sin. And he didn’t remember it written anywhere that a promise to hellspawn didn’t count. Since Michael cast him down—the memory still stung raw, deep in his empty heart—that was the story of his life: Better safe than screwed.

Speaking of which . . .

That female still huddled against the wall. He could smell her terror, bitter and sharp like lemon. It bristled his feathers. What was she thinking, hanging around the West Village at night? Everyone knew the vampire coven ruled these streets. And now she was doomed . . .

But his fingers clenched, unwilling to strike. So delicate and innocent. Damnation was a b— well, it was unfair, when it wasn’t your fault. When you caught it like a disease. Unlike the Chosen—who’d all submitted gleefully to the demon prince’s tricks, how else did you swallow a demon’s blood from the source?—she likely didn’t deserve the place she was going.

But he didn’t know for sure she was infected. And he couldn’t just leave her here, covered in blood like shark bait. “I’ll take you home,” he offered coldly. “It isn’t safe here.”

She just sobbed, hiding her face.

He crouched, impatient, wings flaring aglow. “Don’t be afraid. I won’t hurt you . . .”

The woman looked up, and Japheth’s voice died, strangled by the sudden hitch in his throat.

Heaven’s sweet grace, she was lovely.

He swallowed, painful. Hot dark eyes, bottomless, framed in long curling lashes. Exquisite heart-shaped face, bruised with bloody tears. A pretty dark freckle graced her left cheek. And that mouth . . . he’d be haunted tonight by visions of those full, cherry-ripe lips. He wanted to taste them, drink the soft honeyed heat of her kiss . . .

He coughed. Yeah, well, he wanted a lot of things. Wanting and doing weren’t the same. Like he’d remember how to kiss a woman in the first place.

But his skin tingled, hot and glittery, and blood rushed to all the awkward places. He shifted, aching. Lord, he was flushing. She’d see what he was thinking, laugh at him for it. “Umm . . . are you okay? You’ve got blood . . .”

“Yeah.” Low voice, a husky promise of pleasure. She wiped her face, and laughed shakily. “They attacked me, but I ran away . . . God, I’m so embarrassed. I don’t usually lose my cool like this. You must think I’m such a flake.” She licked her bloody bottom lip, and turned her haunting gaze up to him.

Japheth stared, transfixed. The tip of her soft pink tongue was the most hypnotic thing he’d ever laid eyes on. Hell, no. Don’t go there . . . but too late. He’d already imagined her warm dark flavor, the softness inside her mouth, that naughty tongue teasing his. Those swelling cherry lips, sliding over his cock, drowning him in her sweet heat . . .

He clenched shaking fists, willing this ugly desire to fade. He didn’t know her. She was wounded, bleeding, frightened. Thinking about . . . those things with her was very uncool. Heaven, forgive me . . .

She inhaled, and the tiny catch in her breath quivered his feathers stiff.

And for the first time in centuries, his ice-walled resolve melted.

In a flash—how did it happen?—he was on his knees. The wall at her back grazed his palms. Her breasts swelled against his metal-clad chest. She gasped, rich with excitement, and hot blood pounded in his head and he wrapped his fingers in that sinful dark hair and gave himself up to her kiss.

Oh, Lord. She tasted of flames and blood, so good he groaned. For one precious, shocking moment, her lips molded to his, delicious, alive . . .

And then his mouth caught fire.

Pain flashed, accusing. Burnt skin soured his tongue. Her hair sizzled his fingers with telltale wrath. And a hot demon-spelled blade pressed sweet agony against the thudding pulse in his throat.

Vampire!

Ash rained like snow, the broken remnants of demon magic. Too late, hellcurse’s foul stink sickened him. He’d been holding his breath, he realized distantly. Hadn’t smelled it. Too fixated on sinful pleasures to see the evil glimmer in her eyes. But now, her scent was unmistakable.

No accidental vampire, this scheming seductress. She was Chosen. Hell’s whore. The demon’s willing slave.

She laughed, and her sharp fangs crunched out. “Bleeding Christ. You’re all so stupid.”

Japheth’s mind stumbled, dizzy. His heart still pounded, his blood still screaming with toxic need. Should’ve known his irrational lust for her wasn’t real. She’d spelled him with her evil magic, and he’d fallen for it spectacularly.

But that didn’t change the ugly truth. The beautiful bitch was hellspawn. And he’d kissed her.


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