He might want to shield her and cover her twenty-four /seven, but the woman was ex-FBI.
That meant cosseting her wasn’t gonna fly. Besides, he’d already noticed that Sarah seemed to like the action.
Good, so did he.
“Let’s take it easy,” he said, rolling his shoulders to push the tension away. “’Til we find our prey.” Then the claws could come out.
Angel’s Dust. If Josette really had made the drug and given it to Caleb . . .
Even being Marie’s granddaughter wouldn’t save her ass.
“I’m guessing the guys at the front will let you in,” he said to Piers and wondered just how close to the edge his friend truly was. Close enough to trade in the Dark.
Hell. That was too close. Because no trade was ever as simple as it looked on the surface. Magic always took so much more.
And you didn’t realize it, not until the trade was made, and your soul was gone.
“They’ll let me in.” Grim words.
So they went straight for the door. The guards glanced at Piers and eased back. Their stares tensed a bit on Sarah, but they didn’t try to stop her or Lucas from entering the bar.
Silence greeted them inside, but then, it would. In a place like this, the first thing you saw would always be a lie. Usually a scene set to fool humans.
Piers went straight for the staircase on the left side. A staircase that led down, not up. A gnarled old man sat there. The guy motioned with a roll of his hand for Piers to go forward, but when Lucas approached, the guy’s hand rose and pushed against his chest.
“Don’t have what you need,” the old man said.
Sarah’s arm brushed Lucas’s.
“Not for either of you.”
Piers glanced back at the guy. “They’re with me.”
The man studied them with sharp, pitch-black eyes. Demon eyes. Lucas’s nostrils flared. That scent . . .
“No,” the demon said definitely. “They’re not with you. Don’t make that mistake, wolf.”
Lucas brought his claws up and let the tips hover just over the bastard’s carotid. “I don’t really care what shit you try to sell to the other fools who come in, but don’t jerk around my pack.” And that’s exactly what the asshole was doing. Trying to make Piers doubt their alliance.
The old demon grinned, showing off a gold front tooth.
“Now get your hand off me, or my claws will go deeper.”
The hand dropped.
Lucas grabbed Sarah’s wrist and followed Piers.
“I know your weakness, alpha!” The bastard called after him. “Damn foolish to show us all.”
Lucas froze. Then he turned his head, very slowly, and met that black stare. “Demon, if you think you can take me, come on and try.”
Sarah’s fingers curled around his arm. “Lucas . . . remember why we’re here.”
The demon’s gaze dropped to that touch. Studied it. “Does your charmer know how many you’ve killed, Alpha?”
He wouldn’t look at Sarah. “You seem to know,” he said instead. “And yet you’re still stupid enough to keep talking right now?”
And that shut up the little bastard. The demon turned and scurried away.
Lucas growled and when he glanced back at Piers, he found the other guy watching him, too closely. “Don’t believe any shit they tell you here,” he ordered Piers, but really, the guy should have enough sense to know that. “They try to break you so they can use you.”
A fucking Magic Hole. That’s what this place was. He could feel the edge of the dark magic pulling at him. Some places were thought of as hotspots for the supernaturals. Places where power could peak. Yeah, this wasn’t a place like that. It was a place that would suck you dry and here, only those who bled the others—only those would get stronger.
As soon as he could, they’d be leaving and not coming back. Because a place like this, where the power was so close, so close and all you had to do was—
Reach out and kill for it.
—it was tempting him.
So he knew the magic was calling to Piers.
Sarah’s hold tightened. “Let’s find this Josette and get out of here.”
They climbed down the stairs. Eyes watched them. Whispers followed. Almost every kind of paranormal out there liked to set up a safe house of sorts. Vamps created feeding rooms, bars that lured in unsuspecting human prey. Demons who were addicted to drugs flocked to their damn dens.
And then places like this . . . holes for the darkest of the Other . . . lurked in the big cities.
Lucas kept his claws out. He figured he’d be fighting his way out soon enough.
But no one approached them, not yet. A makeshift bar was set up near the foot of the stairs. Piers headed to it and slapped his hands on the surface. “Josette.”
The bartender stared back at him.
“I know she’s here.” Piers glared back. “Do you really want me to claw the truth out of you again?”
And Lucas saw the healing scratches on the bartender’s muscled arms.
The guy grunted and pointed to the left. Another door.
But they went toward that door anyway. And with every step they took, the scent of death deepened around them.
He risked a quick glance at Sarah. She hadn’t caught the scent. Wouldn’t for a while yet. But . . .
Death waited behind that door.
Piers reached for the knob. Lucas got ready for the battle that was coming. So much death, the scent clogged his nose and he wondered what he’d find, how many bodies, how much blood, how—
The door swung open. Candles sputtered in the room, the only light that glowed, and illuminated the kneeling woman. A white circle had been drawn on the floor, it surrounded her. Her long black hair hid her face.
But he didn’t need to see her face in order to recognize Josette. And, damn, what had happened to her? Because that scent of death was coming from her.
She didn’t look up. Not when they came inside and not when the door shut behind them. She knelt there, frozen like a statue, and waited.
It was Sarah who moved first. She pulled free of Lucas and walked across the room. She bent, coming close to Josette, but Lucas noticed she was very careful not to touch that white circle. Smart.
Sarah put the ring on the wooden floor. Sat it down and . . . Josette’s head snapped up. She was just as beautiful, her face just as perfect as it had always been, her skin still a sweet dark cream but her eyes . . . they were different. The darkness of her eyes just looked . . . empty.
“I know she’s gone.” Josette’s voice was perfectly modulated. No whisper of Louisiana, though Lucas knew that had been her home for many years. “You didn’t have to bring me proof.”
She didn’t reach for the ring. Just stared at it.
Then her gaze lifted to Lucas. “You came to kill me.”
“I came to find out what the hell you’re doing.” That scent was clogging his nostrils. Since when did a human smell like death?
Her gaze dropped to the ring. “Vampires killed my mother. I thought—for years I thought they were the ones I should hate.”
“Most vamps are bastards that need hating,” Piers said, edging around behind Josette.
“Most,” she whispered. “But they aren’t the only monsters out there.”
“No,” Lucas agreed. “You’re surrounded by monsters right now, aren’t you?”
Her gaze rose once more and tears glistened in her eyes. “I let the monster in. I’m the one.”
Sarah still knelt near the other woman. “You know Rafe, don’t you?”
“Rafael.” Whispered with emotion. Love. Pain. Hate. “I knew him when we were children. My grand-mère took him in. I thought he was safe. I-I didn’t know . . .” She swallowed. “This time, I took him in. I let him in.” Her hands turned over and she stared at her smooth palms. “All the blood is on me.”
“There’s nothing on you,” Sarah told her. “Have you been taking something? You could be hallucinating. Nothing’s there, it’s—”
A choked laugh interrupted her words. “The blood is always there now. Never thought I had much power, thought I was safe. Normal. I tried to be for so long . . .” Her shoulders fell. “But I guess I was good at one thing.”
Lucas glanced around the room, searching for more threats, but he saw nothing. Just the small woman.
“He killed Maxime and Helene. He killed them when I wouldn’t give him the Dust. I told him I didn’t work the magic. That grand-mère had all the power, but he said she wouldn’t see him.” Soft, slow. “I said I wouldn’t help him, I said I wanted to be normal.”
Sarah’s hand lifted, as if she were going to reach over the circle and touch Josette. “Don’t,” he growled because he knew just how powerful those magical circles could be.
Sarah’s hand froze in mid-air.
“He killed Maxime and Helene because they blocked him from getting to grand-mère, and then he went after my Martin.” She breathed the other man’s name on a sigh.
“I would have done anything for Martin.” Her eyes rose to Sarah’s. “You’ll know what that’s like soon.”
The hair rose on Lucas’s nape.
“I got the Dust. Grand-mère gave it to me. She didn’t like it, but—she gave it to me. She would’ve given me anything. I always knew that.” Such aching sadness. “Then I gave it to the bastard . . . but he still took my Martin.”
“I’m sorry,” Sarah whispered.
Josette kept talking. The words tumbled from her lips. “Martin was going to marry me. He was going to make sure I never had to face the Darkness again. He was going to be mine!”
That was when Lucas noticed the other ring. A diamond ring, resting in that cast circle.
“I wasn’t ready to let him go.” She reached for the diamond ring and traced it with a loving fingertip. “Grand-mère said I should, but I just wasn’t ready. You see, I’d waited for him my whole life.” Her eyes squeezed closed and a tear tracked down her cheek as she whispered, “Death wasn’t going to take him away from me.”
Hell. “We can’t always stop death,” Lucas told her, but the words were a reminder the woman shouldn’t need. She’d lost both her parents long ago. She knew what a fickle bitch death could be.
At that, Josette’s lashes lifted and her dark eyes met his. “It turns out I can.” The ghost of a smile curved her full lips. “Seems I do have a bit of power after all.”
“What did you do?” Sarah asked her, and Piers just stood, watching. “You didn’t . . .”
“I wasn’t letting him go!” Josette jumped to her feet, but stayed inside that circle. Sarah rose, too. “He was mine. I tried to get him back. How is that wrong? I tried . . . and he came.”
Because little Josette had raised the dead. Oh, she hadn’t made a zombie the way Hollywood portrayed them to be. No mindless monster that had to eat brains. No, the Raised didn’t feed on humans. Didn’t feed on anyone; well, not unless the person who’d raised them gave that order.
“You crossed the line, Josette.” He kept his voice firm because to raise the dead, hell, that took some very dark magic.
Bokor. That was the name for the one who used the Dark powers. But there was a price for that magic, there always was.
“I brought him back. He didn’t have to die! I brought him back and—”
“And you brought the Haitian back, too, didn’t you?” Piers narrowed his eyes on her. “Him and the woman.”
Her lips trembled. “They didn’t deserve to die.”
“But they did die,” Lucas pointed out. “You’re not the one who gets to yank them back, you’re not—”
“Fucking vampires cheat death! They come back, they live forever! They feed on humans and they kill and destroy.” Josette’s chest heaved. “Martin, Maxime, and Helene—they were good people. They should have gotten to keep living.” She shoved back her hair. “So I gave them a chance.”
No, because he knew how this worked. Josette wasn’t the only one who’d ever been tempted. “They don’t come back the same. You know that.”
Her bottom lip still trembled but she caught it, biting it with her top teeth.
“They don’t have a will of their own.” Piers spoke now. Yeah, figured he’d know all about the Raised, too. Because that was what they were called in the right circles. Raised. “They’re puppets. They have to do whatever you command.”
Her hair flew back as she shook her head, hard. “I commanded them to live, that was all. They had choices. They had free will!”
Had. Interesting word choice. Lucas let his gaze rake her. “You know Maxime and Helene are back in the grave, don’t you?”
Her eyelids flickered. “Grand-mère released them.” Flat.
“And what about Martin? Did she release Martin, too?”
Her gaze dropped to the diamond ring. “I did that.” She swallowed and the painful click was too loud. “He . . . asked . . . he didn’t want to stay with me. He knew what . . . he was and he didn’t want to stay with me. He said—he said I’d made him into a monster.” A tear tracked down her cheek. “I just wanted to save him!” Her eyes looked as dark as a demon’s. “But he said I was the one who’d turned him into a nightmare. Me!”