S haren placed her booted foot on the ledge of the building and looked down at her city, Shady Falls. The sun was just starting to rise, painting everything in reds and oranges. But below her, it wasn’t the sun’s light that painted the alley in red.
There was blood. Everywhere.
Closing her eyes, she inhaled deeply, tasting the coopery scent with her superior sense of smell. The killing had been recent enough that the blood still glistened in the dawn's light. My demons will want me to wait for them to investigate.
But if she waited, a human was bound to stumble across the crime scene. And once the police were involved, there would be little any of them could do. It was now or never.
Time to put my new abilities to use.
She let her gaze run over the alley, looking for the perfect spot. Then, taking a deep breath, she leapt off the edge.
The ground always came faster than she expected. But she struck the pavement, falling into a crouch, trying to be as soundless as possible. Looking over her shoulder to the entrance to the alley, where early cars were already starting to drive past, she waited. When she was certain no one would see her, she headed toward the massacre.
Everywhere she looked, she saw blood, but there was no body, and she didn't see any signs that a body had been dragged away. The victim wasn’t human. Since demons and angels didn’t leave behind bodies, it had to be one of them.
She hoped it’d been an angel.
The cocky bastards.
As Sharen surveyed the mess, her gaze skittered and then froze. Inching around the gore, she reached out and plucked the silver item from a pool of blood. It was a tiny silver car.
“Shit!” she shouted, clenching it in her hand. “Shit! Shit!”
Storming away from the mess, she kicked the dumpster, over and over again, denting the entire side of it in, as if a car had smashed into it rather than the tip of her foot. Several minutes passed of her kicking and swearing before her anger was finally spent. Collapsing with her back against the mangled dumpster, she shoved away a tear and stared at the blood-drenched car again.
She knew exactly who it belonged to.
This can’t be real… but it is.
More blood. More death.
It haunts me.
She hated that she thought of her parents, even after all these years. Hated that her mind immediately went back to the day she’d gotten home from the first grade. She’d raced down the street to her house, with her A+ paper in hand.
So full of happiness. So unaware that in seconds my life would change forever.
Hurrying up the steps to her porch, she’d turned the handle on her door. Even now, she could hear the groan it made as she pushed it open. She could remember the scent of her mother’s lavender candle that always seemed to fill the air.
And then… then she’d seen the room. Painted in blood. Her parents’ bodies lying in the center of her living room. In crystal clarity, she saw her paper float to the floor, the big A+ staring up at her. A smile drawn next to it.
A simple, innocent thing. Just like this car.
But just like back then, there’s no time for sadness. No time to slow down. Because the world doesn’t wait for grief. It just keeps on turning.
Rising, she stuffed the toy into her pocket. With hands that shook, she pulled her black hoodie up and headed for the street.
Little Brian had been killed, which meant his mother and sister had too.
Her heart ached painfully. She smacked into someone’s shoulder on the street. They muttered something she didn’t hear, but she just kept walking.
The world seemed painfully bright and her head spun. A family of demons had been slaughtered in the streets, but the day kept on going as if their lives meant nothing at all.
Brian with his bright smile. His silly laugh. And his excitement about everything. Gone.
She wiped at a stray tear that tracked down her cheek. I’d told Brian he was safe.
I fucking hate myself sometimes.
But as much as her sappy heart wanted her to curl up and bawl, she pressed forward. The only thing that would help now was to keep going.
Because once a demon was killed, it’d take them years to journey from the lowest levels of the demon-realms back up to the realms close enough to cross over to Earth.
Brian and his family were beyond her help now.
As she was walking past another alley, she caught a flash of white. Freezing, she turned. Two angels with white wings were laughing together.
Keep walking, Sharen.
But her feet propelled her toward the angels, and a blade slipped into her palm.
You can’t possibly take on two angels. This is suicide. Stop! It won’t bring back Brian and his family.
More old memories came to her. Of the angry kid in foster care who fought and fought. A child more afraid of her own sadness than the beating she’d take as a result of her sharp tongue and quick fists.
Turn around Sharen, show yourself that you’ve changed. But she kept moving toward the angels, her rage growing with each step.
“What’s so funny?” she challenged.
The two massive angels stopped talking.
One of them, a man with a military-cut, and dark eyes, turned to look at her. “Our joke isn’t of any interest to you.”
Her lips curled. “Try me.”
His gaze moved down to the dagger in her hand, and he raised a brow. “I know who you are.”
“Do you?” Her pulse was racing, filling her ears.
“Yeah, you’re that damned Hunter. The one who switched sides.”
Then, you know I spent years learning to fight. Years being taught how to kill.
You’re an idiot for still looking so damn smug.
She smiled. “It looks like you know everything, so here’s a question. Any idea what killed a couple of kids and their mother a few alleys from here?”
“Oh, you mean that demon-spawn. Me and Jason here took care of them.”
Her steps froze.
Take deep breaths. Don’t do anything stupid.
His satisfied expression widened. “And we did it slowly. You know, to discourage them from leaving the demon-realm again.”
A scream tore from her lips, and in a blur of motion she drove the dagger through his forehead.
The other angel jumped back, forming his soul-blade in his hand.
As her first enemy hit the ground, she reached behind her, tossed back her hood, and pulled out her sword. “Did you help kill them?”
He looked uncertain. “It’s our job to rid the human-realm of demons.”
Swinging her sword out, it struck his. They leapt back from each other, both of them circling and looking for an opportunity to strike.
“You know you can’t defeat me,” he said.
That’s because you think I’m just a Hunter.
He drove his blade toward her chest with a strength and quickness that would have ended the life of a human. But Sharen? She darted out of the way, rolled, and buried her blade into his stomach.
His mouth opened and blood poured out.
Yanking her blade back, she let the angel fall. Then, ignoring her racing heart, she sliced off his head.
One of the few ways to kill an immortal being.
A sword’s blade was suddenly at her throat. “Drop your weapon,” the first angel hissed into her ear.
She let her weapon fall to the concrete. The sword echoed through the alleyway, far too loudly in her ears.
“See, Hunter, that’s the difference between you and us. Jason there will be back on Earth within a few hours. I bet it’ll take you years to crawl out of that hole of a demon-realm.”
Except that I’m not a demon.
She swallowed, her fingertips reaching for the other dagger she kept hidden in her sleeve. Just a little further and—
The angel moved the sword back, just a couple inches, preparing to severe her head from her body. But instead, his weapon tumbled from his fingertips.
Turning, her enemy hit the ground, his head severed.
Behind her, Kade stood, with a thunderous expression, his blade in hand. And to her shock, his dark irises were almost entirely red. “What the hell were you thinking, Sharen?”
I haven’t seen him this close to losing control in a long time.
Probably not a time to piss him off, if I can help it.
She knelt down and collected her dagger and sword. With careful movements, she used the demon’s shirt to wipe her weapons free of blood before she hid them again.
“Are you going to answer me?” He was practically shouting, but his eyes were growing dark once more.
Standing again, she looked at him her gaze moving up, up, up into his handsome face. His human-looking eyes reminded her of storm clouds, heavy with rain. The harsh lines of his face hinted at the well-disciplined warrior who trained beside her each day.
A lover. A partner. And one pissed off alpha demon… which I have no intention of dealing with right now.
“What do you want me to say?”
He glared. “I want to hear something that explains the idiocy of attacking two angels alone!”
“I don’t have to explain myself to you or anyone else!”
Shoving his shoulder, she stormed back out onto the sidewalk of the street. She barely looked where she was going. She just plunged forward.
Kade caught her arm and pulled her back around. “Are you trying to get yourself killed? Or are you just trying to prove to us that you don’t need us?”
“Neither.” She yanked her arm, trying to break free of him, but his grip was relentless.
“This shit has got to stop!”
“Or what?” She stopped fighting him and took a step closer. “You’re going to leave me? Huh? Go ahead! You won’t be the first person.”
His expression gentled. “I’m not your ex. I’ve told you that a thousand times. I’m not going anywhere.”
It was hard to speak around the lump in her throat. “You might not be my ex, but I’m still me.”
His grip tightened. “Good, because I fucking love you just the way you are. Crazy angel fighting badass and all.”
Damn it, why does he have to say crap like that? She jerked her arm free of his grip.
Something hit the pavement.
Their gazes moved down at the same moment, but Kade was faster. He plucked the little silver car off the sidewalk. In the morning light, the staining of blood stood out. “Where did you find this?”
She shook her head, unable to form the words.
His arms were around her in an instant, his big hand stroking her hair. She buried her face into his jacket, breathing in the spicy scent that was all Kade.
“I’m so sorry,” he whispered into her hair.
She couldn’t form the words to tell him it didn’t matter. That demons were dying every day. That she was a Hunter, a killer, and a warrior. And that death didn’t bother her.
Because as much as she hated it sometimes, he would see right through her. He knew how she reacted to death. How it brought up old memories. How maybe it made her change from a strong woman to a complete disaster.
It reminds me that I’m still damaged, no matter how much I think I’ve moved on from the shadows of my past.
“Let’s get you home.”
Releasing his jacket, she cleared her throat. “I can’t. Today I’ve got plans.”
She shrugged. “It doesn’t matter that Brian and his family are dead. I still have to go through the demon-stone.”
“You don’t have to do anything.”
Her gaze held his. “Yes. Yes I do.”
Sharen was the only one capable of going through the demon-stone without being trapped there forever. At least the only one with the ability to harness magic on the other side, insane enough to go through alone, and working for The Rebellion of the Forgotten. Sure, there was her old student, Lily, who was secretly working for their side, but she had her own responsibilities as a double-agent with The Organization.
So that just leaves me.
Her plan was to save demons. But some days I feel like I’m the one who needs saving.