SENSE THE DARKNESS
#2 of The Dark Series
What if the thing most terrifying, lived inside of you...
Blood bubbles from my lips, drips down my chin.
The foreboding graveyard on the outskirts of Glasgow city rumbles with my enemies hate as they stake their evil into the sodden grass. Wet earth ferments the heavy air.
Late afternoon cloud showers winter rain across us all, threatening another icy downpour. Winter in this city means late afternoon is dark, almost pitch black since the sun begins to set around three. But then seeing in the dark isn’t much of a problem for me these days, not since a man called Cyrun rescued me from the brink of death.
Tom, the barman from the Rock & Rumbler, holds me in his arms, cradled like a baby because my ex-best friend stabbed me through the thigh with my own blade—a blade which has a hundred-percent strike rate. One cut and the unlucky soul bleeds out. I’m the unlucky soul.
I struggle against the arms banding me to his solid chest. Barman my arse. He fights like Black. Born and bred warriors who brawl to the death. Which is what I think we’re about to do.
But if I’m going down, then I’m taking as many as I can with us.
Tom gets where I’m coming from. He deposits me on both feet. One heel sinks into soft soil, stabilizing my balance because I can’t stand on the other leg, and I can’t fight with the knife wedged deep in my thigh. Two weeks ago, I was trying to hunt my twin sister’s murderer for revenge. Today, all I want is to survive the next few minutes.
Clenching my jaw tight, I wrap my right hand around the warm handle jutting out of my leg, and yank. The serrated edge scrapes against bone, jarring my teeth, but the metal doesn’t budge.
Damn it! It’s stuck.
Hundreds of human Freyr and not-so-human ghouls edge forward, itching for my blood. Blood which is supposed to open a gateway to the other side of hell, filled with Marinus’s friends. Or so he said.
The instigator stands tall against the portal, eyeballing me with interest. But I’m not so easy to dispose of. He wants a battle, well, he’s got one.
“See what happens when you choose the wrong side of the fence, ma belle?”
My sworn nemesis, Marinus, insists on French words of endearment. He’s particularly fond of the phrase ma belle. I’m particularly fond of his head on a spike for the murder of my friend Alex. But I can’t get anywhere near him.
“Still my choice to make,” I spit, trying to stay steady.
Someone crashes into us. The graveyard rotates around me as I spin three sixty in the arms of someone else.
“Summer,” Tom yells.
Dillon clasps me in his arms, his straw-colored hair damp with strands sticking to his jaw. There was a time when I used to feel safe and secure held this close to his body. He was my best friend, someone I trusted. I would have followed him to the end of the world and back. But that was before he betrayed me. He’s a Keeper, responsible for my protection. But instead, he sold his soul to a power-crazed cult who wants to use me to wield an ancient key my ancestors forged.
He shifts us to the front of the portal, which explodes colorful diamonds out of the gateway, across the graveyard, and beyond.
Ironic the mouth to hell would be beautiful.
I dig deep to muscle up strength—any strength—sloshing around in the bottom of my tank, but I’m running off sheer willpower and fumes. Even the punch to his unyielding chest deflects off. He doesn’t even flinch. Not only can he move like lightening, but he’s strong, too. I fist a handful of his blue shirt, try to twist away, but he tightens his grip.
I glare frustration. “You’re going to ruin us both at the whim of a man who drinks blood.”
Regret crosses his features. “More than a whim.”
No way. He’s not really going to walk us both through the opening! Dying today will be a waste. I have too many regrets. I haven’t even mourned the death of my sister. A cold-blooded killer gets to strangle Carla, dump her body on the unfamiliar stones of Amsterdam, and walk away without justice being served? Not on my watch.
Except, the burn firing off the arch will kill us both before I die from the stab wound. I try to read his thoughts, gage what the hell’s going on inside his head, but that requires effort and energy I don’t have.
The man I gave two years of my life to turns us one-hundred-eighty degrees until our backs are to the portal.
Tom shouts across the chaotic battlefield, but he’s a blur, fighting his way through so many monsters, I can’t hear what he’s saying.
“Send my regards to Black.” Dillon’s voice booms as he lifts me like a war trophy.
Tom stops mid-brawl to watch the events unfolding in front of him, his face a mask of horror.
I match his stare with one of my own, true fear boils to the surface.
Holy hell. This idiot’s really going to drag us both through the portal and across to whatever’s on the other side. Not that it will matter what’s on the other side because, if we don’t burn to death from the firework display, then I’ll die anyway because I can’t survive this leg wound.
“You can stop this.” I’m not above begging.
The corner of his mouth downturns, and before I know what he’s doing, the portal swallows us both.
Scorching pain blisters every square inch of my body, scalding my skin. My legs somersault over my head as I hurtle through a tunnel of blinding psychedelic colors—pinks, purples, stripes, and rainbows. I try to scream, but the very air is ripped from my lungs.
Dillon is torn away out of sight as I crash into the sides, back into the sides, along the sides, the smooth bubble-like texture too strong for me to crash through or grab hold of, so instead, my body continues to freefall, round and round, over and over down the oversized tube, gaining momentum.
Without warning, the walls begin to shake, vibrating like thin sheets of steel. Thunderous blasts of hot air feels like tiny needles over my skin. The tunnel heaves, becoming oval instead of circular, as if choking on me until, from nowhere, an opening appears, and the tube spits me out.
My right shoulder lands hard. The rest of my body follows, skidding a couple meters on soft mocha dirt until I come to a stop, sprawled facedown. I spit the side order of sand from my mouth. No, not brown as I first thought, but dark red, similar to paprika, soil burnt by a huge scarlet sun, which feels like it’s hanging six inches above my head.
Holy shit! This can’t be for real. This place doesn’t exist.
Except when I blackout!
Hot sweat breaks across my forehead. I peer around to try and search for Dillon, but the howling wind scrapes dust into my face, reducing visibility down to…well, about zero. I brace my arm against the constant barrelage until the mini tornado on top of me whizzes off somewhere in the distance to join the other violent rotating columns of air. I stare at the wide-open plane of flat dirt, if I don’t include the sheer cliff to my right. The idiot solely responsible for my dilemma is nowhere to be seen. There’s not another soul in sight. I squint harder. Last time I had the unfortunate pleasure of being here—after I accidently knocked myself unconscious in the morgue—this land was knee-deep with corpses, their fresh blood seeping into the ground. The absence of their bodies is good. The color of the soil, not so. This dirt is virgin. It’s way too dry, and it’s the wrong color. No one has died in this dust bowl. At a guess, either the blackouts don’t hold any truth to them, or the slaughter hasn’t happened yet. I sniff the air. Hot and muggy. There’s the major difference. All visions always come with the distinct aroma of bad eggs. Bad news, there is no smell of sulfur. I pinch myself. Ouch! This is real.
A quick pad all over myself confirms there are no weapons—other than the knife still embedded in my thigh, blood bubbling round the edges, oozing into my jeans.
Time runs short. The rules for bleeding to death were a little unclear when Black first threw the knife over to me. But one thing is for certain, if I don’t get off the ground soon, I don’t think I’ll ever get up.
I lay both palms on the ground and prepare for pain as I push.
Holy mother! It’s not supposed to hurt that much.
What feels close to a hundred scalpels slice ribbons off my muscle until I can no longer tell where the pain starts or ends. I collapse on my front, panting from sheer exhaustion. Cyrun. I need to get to him. He healed me once when I was on the brink. If I can find my way to the graveyard, there’s hope.
Dirt stings my eyes. I need to get the hell up off the ground and start searching for a way off this planet before I bleed dry.
Bearing down on my knuckles, I use them to balance my weight to lift from the ground.
Goddamn it! I grit my teeth and push again. Come on!
I slump against hard ground, gasping. There’s no way to move with the serrated edge of the knife scraping along my nerves like nails down a blackboard. It has to come out. I lean forward to inspect how much of the serrated edge is still wedged bone deep…. What the hell!
The knife used to have purple princess-cut stones embedded around the handle. Those are gone. Instead, in their place are bloodred rubies, pulsing softly under my fingertips. I don’t know how that is possible. Either the portal changed the stones when we passed through, or…I glance round…this waste land changed them.
The urge to leave couldn’t get any stronger. I need to find a way back through whatever door or portal or gateway Dillon threw me through, and find my way to Black. Even though I want to clout him hard in the throat for not bothering to make an appearance at the graveyard, I still need his help for a thin thread of survival. Black equals Cyrun. Without him, there’s no chance of survival.
A man once told me hope is a dangerous thing. But hope seasoned with a pinch of desperation is all that’s left, because if I do manage to haul myself off this barren land, I’m still faced with the major issue of transport from the graveyard to Black’s house. Last time I laid eyes on the bashed up European truck, it was abandoned somewhere on the outskirts of Glasgow city’s shopping precinct gathering rain in the back tray. Where I left it.
With grim determination, I roll onto my good leg and stop wasting time. The knife’s going to hurt like hell when I rip the damn thing free, but if I don’t do it, I’m already dead.
With both hands, I grab the handle, grit down, and yank. Hard.
Blade saws against bone as metal loosens. Bile rises halfway up my throat, I swallow the bitter taste down, throwing up exerts energy I won’t waste. I pull harder. The wicked edge of the knife jerks out, ripping more flesh and blood with it. I throw the silver weapon to the dirt then slap my right palm against the wound and wait for my head to stop spinning.
“A Queen returns to her Kingdom.”
If it wasn’t so hot, I would be chilled by the words of the malevolent woman, trapped behind a barrier two stories high inside my mind. I have no idea how she came to invade my personal thoughts, but she likes to promise the world if only I’ll release her. Which I won’t. Purely on account she’d most likely kill everyone. Although I don’t know this for sure, call it gut feeling.
“You think I don’t know there’s a connection,” I tell her.
Seconds after identifying my sister’s body, the crazy woman hijacked my mind, and I knocked myself unconscious. That was the first time I came here, to this planet.
“Of course there is a connection,” she snipes. There’s a large sigh of impatience. “You are dying. If you die. I die. My offer still stands. There is still time to change the past. While you live, there’s a chance.”
Chances and hope? If there’s ever a frail platform to be balancing on, those two are it.
“What’s the price for our lives?”
She laughs, her sweet sugary voice laced with venom. “Release me.”
And there lies the problem. If I stay here, I die. If I release her, I die. There’s no win-win situation for me. “Since you seem to know this area well, how about you provide directions to get us to the graveyard.”
She chuckles. “I can take you to before your parents died.”
Tempting. If I was born yesterday. Which I wasn’t.
But I stop for a moment to think about her proposal. The question isn’t why do I keep saying no, the question is what do I have to lose? My blood opened the gateway between worlds. All kinds of evil are spilling into Glasgow. If I accept her offer, I can fix the world I just left behind.
“Just think,” she whispers close to my ear, “I am offering you the chance to see your loved ones again. I can take all this pain away with a quick snap of my fingers.”
She’s my redemption to change what is.
Except, making a pact with the devil always comes back to bite. I’m not dead. Yet. I still have choices. Albeit, not many. I scuffle toward the knife half-embedded in the dirt. I’m not saying no to her, I’m just postponing the offer of being yanked from the sea for a quick swim around to check for another rescue craft which has more chance of floating.
Without warning, a battle cry roars over the red desert. Hundreds of men, women, and children crest the horizon before charging forward. A shiver races down my spine. This is not good. They are my worst nightmare. Peasants wearing seventeenth-century brown, sack-like rags, brandishing ancient weapons like scythes, rakes, and spades. They look a lot like all the beings who were slaughtered on my first trip here.
Since I’m adamant I didn’t kill them, I start panicking. I need to be running as well. There’s a murderer on the loose, and I’ve got enough problems as it is.
I wedge the point of the blade in the dirt to create leverage then push, staggering to my feet. Which way to run? Every direction is cut off by the mob charging toward me, teeth bared, revenge plastered across their dirty faces.
I’ve made a grave mistake.
Although none of these people are close enough for me to hear their thoughts, there’s no misjudging their intentions—not when they’re all glaring murder at me.
They want my spleen on a stick and my heart roasting over a fire. I put two and two together and come up with her. She’s been here before. Shit. “Did you kill them? Was it you?”
High pitched cackles invade my headspace. “Let me free and I’ll show them what absolute power feels like.”
I’m not going to be responsible for their deaths. “Stop spitting venom and tell me how we get off this doomed planet.”
Out of ideas and out of options, I turn to the hordes of angry beings forming a very loose semicircle.
I push the burn of my thigh to the back of my mind and start half-limping, half-running along the mountainous edge, away from the deadly crowd. But the masses advance, closer by the second.
Weak and suffering from a serious leg injury, they back me to the edge of the cliff, forcing my hand, except there’s no way I want to fight them using the knife. Monsters, I’m happy to kill. Humans? Not so much.
There must be another way.
“Let me free.”
Left foot in front of right. Right foot in front of left, I stagger away, buying time to come up with a better idea.
My ankle gives. I land heavy on the bone, pain lancing up my arm.
One check over my shoulder reveals the indigenous population has cut off all avenues of escape.
Fear breeds panic. I consider her offer. Just release the barricade and get it over and done with. What’s the point of procrastinating?
Because she’ll never let me own myself once I’ve released her.
With no other routes available, I start backtracking, dragging my injured leg. The sharp edge of the precipice too close. Sheer cliffs overlook a canyon of powered dirt. I consider skidding down the rock face, but there’s no doubt I’ll break my neck before I ever make it to the bottom.
“Murder the bitch! Take her down before she kills us all!”
Palm held high. “I don’t want any trouble.”
“Too late,” an old man screams.
“What the hell did I ever do to you?” I shout.
“Not you.” He points at me. “Her.”
No one else teeters on the edge of a sheer cliff except me. A hopeful guess says they’ve confused me with someone else. A more realistic guess says I’m right, they know what lives on the other side of the barricade.
How to explain I’m just some young girl caught up in someone else’s mess?
I double-check the cliff face again. Maybe, just maybe? No. There’s no chance in hell I can make the jump and survive.
“We see you,” the old man screams again. “You think to hide behind her.”
“I can fix this,” she urges. “Hand the reins to a professional.”
“Professional psychopath,” I counter, fresh out of ideas and shaking for my life.
“Sticks and stones, little girl.”
“Is probably what’s going to kill me instead of this leg wound.”
“We stay and fight,” she demands.
“You are one sandwich short of a picnic. There’s no staying and fighting. I’m injured, there’s too many of them”—and I stand way too close to the edge of no return—“one slip and we’re both gone.”
“Little girl, things aren’t always what they seem.”
“So you keep telling me, yet, so far, everything is exactly as it seems.”
“We kill them.”
“There must be another alternative to more blood and gore.”
Shuffling amongst the masses has the men dominating the frontline. Bearded mouths chant, “Death to the witch. Death to the witch.”
I step back, the heel of my boot catches on the edge of the abyss. Small rocks and rubble tumble off the overhang, bouncing down the sides, kicking up burnt red dust.
Shit. Reasoning with these people isn’t going to work. Neither is sliding off the cliff.
All of the sudden, the wind picks up because one of the mini tornadoes has flipped direction, coming straight for us.
I need another plan.
Except I don’t have another plan!
“The only person who’s going to kill us is you. If you won’t release me before you die, then at least use the gateway to get us out of here.”
Shocked, I almost scream, “What freaking gateway?”
“Do you not see the door?”
“If I could see a door, I would be through it already.” I wield the knife, threatening a young male who creeps too close. He lurches then charges forward. Except just at that moment, the small tornado of whizzing hot air and dust spins through the middle of us, flinging dirt all over, reducing visibility.
At the same time, my left arm flings behind me, reaching into the open space off the cliff. I chance a quick glance over my shoulder. My fingers brush against clear jelly which gives under pressure until both my hand and wrist have disappeared into a shimmering pool.
I don’t have time to think how the crazy lady inside my mind can control my body, or if I don’t make the jump, I’m going to crash-land about a mile down. I just know the clock’s ticking. Balancing on my good leg, I aim for the translucent gateway and take a leap of faith from the crumbling edge of the abyss.
One second I’m airborne, the next, the door pulls me like a magnet, sucking my body, chest first, into what feels like thick potato and pea soup. I can’t breathe. I open my mouth, and gelatin fills the insides of my cheeks. The portal holds me still, suffocating me. I try wriggling against the composite.
Then the walls heave.
With no other choice, I ride the jerky movements until, without warning, I explode out of the other side.
What feels like solid concrete breaks my fall but doesn’t stop me skidding along. I throw both palms out to slow myself. A very large, flat headstone bumps the side of my injured leg. Blistering pain lances deep into muscle I didn’t even know I had. I arch my back and yell, not caring there’s a whole graveyard of beings who want me dead and would happily take another stab at throwing me back through the portal.
It takes me a second before I realize they’re not here. There’s no one except me.
I glance around. Concrete didn’t stop my tumble from hell, the ground is frozen. I tap it with my knuckles. Creepy. I’m in an iced-up graveyard with no evil creatures. So either Marinus lied, or…where’s Tom, or the Freyr, or any of the ghouls. Did the gates of hell even open? What if everyone’s dead? What if the worst has already happened? What if Marinus’s pets did blast through and annihilated everyone?
But there are no bodies.
Using the headstone as leverage, I climb up the crumbling support and rest against the dry carved boulder. When I went through the portal, rain was splattering down. Had been for weeks. Glasgow had seen more wet days than dry. Certainly enough rain to penetrate soil. But the graveyard doesn’t look like it’s seen any rain for weeks.
Warm tendrils of air slip through my lips to mix with the night’s chill. Low rain clouds would keep the temperature warm by at least several degrees, and those several degrees count in a city plagued by cold.
A strange feeling creeps over me, tingling along the back of my arms.
I stuff the knife into my jeans’ pocket as I limp down the hill toward the patch of gravel. The sharp blade slices a hole in the material large enough the serrated edge slips through, jiggling with every movement, until the handle stops it from sliding farther. I up the pace. I’m on borrowed time, stealing every second, but if I can make my way to the main road, there’s a small chance I can flag down a driver. Hope and small chances are all I have left.
My heel catches on a small crack in the path, preventing me from taking another step. I lurch, already halfway to the ground before I know what’s happening, the momentum tumbling me forward. My hands hit the gravel first, skin tearing from my palms, stinging.
I quickly push hair out of my eyes. A large shadow crouches on the grass verge.
Although it belongs to Black, but that’s a minor technicality.
Spurred on by sheer hope, I stumble forward on all fours until I can establish enough balance to shove off the ground and limp to the vehicle.
I fall face first onto the bonnet. Oh, my God. I’ve never been so pleased to see the damn thing. If I wasn’t wounded, I’d jump with joy.
I don’t question how or why. I don’t care. All I know is someone might just have saved my life.
I hobble to the passenger side because it’s the closest and less effort with my leg then try the handle.
The door’s locked. So much for saving my life.
I lean my forehead against the window. Where the hell are those keys? Think. Think. Maybe they’re in my bag after I chucked it on the seat, which Tom then moved to the footwell. But then he grabbed me, and we shifted—because he’s a bloody Keeper—and I didn’t have time to snatch the bag. Which means…. The bag should still be in the car.
I cup my hands over the glass and peer inside.
There’s no bag.
I slump. Is it too much to ask for a little help here? The truck’s no good if there are no keys.
Maybe whoever drove it here left them hanging in the ignition. It’s a long shot but I wobble over to the driver’s side anyway.
I run a shaky hand over my matted hair. If there is no key in the ignition and no bag in the footwell, then where else am I supposed to search?
I waste precious seconds thinking. If not in my bag, then where did I put….
Heart racing, I pad over the outside of my jacket because there might be the small possibility that I put them…there’s a slight jingle…in here. I push my hand deep into one of the pockets. Wedged in the corner are the keys. I wrap my fingers around the warm metal and extract them. Bingo.
I hit the fob which causes the yellow lights of the white truck to blink as the doors unlock. I half-fall, half-jump onto the driver’s seat, the leather cushioning my fall. I chuck the knife onto the passenger seat, slap a free palm over the wound to stem the blood flow then turn the key in the ignition.
The engine roars to life—along with the radio which blares some rocker singing about a white wedding. I ignore the music, stick the gear to drive, and put my foot on the accelerator. One of the round gauges flashes a warning—low fuel. I snort. Black can move the truck, but he can’t swing by a petrol station and refuel? I’m frigging bleeding to death, and this old thing could grind to a halt at any second. I’ll be lucky if there’s enough fuel to drive to his damn house. I bet he left the tank sitting on empty for that sole reason.
The bouncing beast eats up mile after mile, whizzing past bright street lamps which illuminate the road on both sides until the tarmac and gravel branches off onto the main stretch of motorway. I keep to the inside lane, trying not to burn petrol I can’t afford. Two miles, one mile then five-hundred meters, the signs count down the next exit until I’m following a bumpy, old country road wide enough for me. And only just. I pull up hard against the curb next to the four-story house.
The large windows are all lit. Looks like someone’s home, except Black’s silver machine is nowhere to be seen.
I fall out of the truck, then half-run, half-drag my bad leg behind me. Hopping, tripping, even clawing my way until I fall through two giant doors and stumble across the threshold.
My luck just ran out. If he’s here, I can’t find him. No car. No Black. He could be anywhere. I’m out of options. I have no petrol, no phone, and no way to contact anyone. What if evil did escape through the portal and killed everyone?
Hope lies in Dillon’s words. He said the second I pass through those front doors they trigger some kind of doorbell warning. But if he’s wrong, then the contingency plan is based on the tracer Black adapted from the Freyr, which is tattooed across my ribs. I hope the wicked black vine sends out a flare large enough to light the Empire State Building because if the wards and the tracer don’t work, I’m done for. Game over.
“You give up too easily,” she purrs with incandescent malevolence.
“Unless you have anything of value to contribute, keep quiet.”
“I saved you. You owe me.”
“If Black doesn’t get to me soon, I won’t be owing shit.”
I check my blood-soaked jeans, except there’s so much crust and dirt there’s no way to tell how bad the wound might be. But I’m not taking any chances. Keeping the pressure on, I hobble along the gamut of a hallway until I throw open the bedroom door.
The room’s a mess, if not a little musty. Dark sheets in disarray, the duvet all scrunched at the bottom of the bed. Just as I left it a day ago.
The faint but unmistakable screech of a car comes to a halt outside the house. Wow, he’s quick. I limp to meet him somewhere in the hallway.
The front door explodes open, tearing off two hinges.
“I’ve been stabbed,” I blabber. “I need—”
The murderous glint blazing in his eyes stops me right in my tracks.
“Why are you mad at me?” I demand. “You’re the no show. You left us there to die.”
He strides along the long hallway, footsteps crushing soft cream carpet. Dark hair loose, face chiseled from slate, he’s usually all about power and control, command and composure, but not tonight.
Tonight he’s carnal.
Warring emotions rise to create conflict. I’m angry, he’s angry, and I’m nervous because sometimes he just makes me feel that way.
“Who the fuck are you?” he growls.
“What do you mean, who the fuck am I? Who the fuck do you think I am, it’s me, Summer.”
His enormous fist snakes my throat, lifting my feet clean off the floor and landing my spine into hard wall. Plaster rains cream dust onto us. I struggle, digging broken nails into the tanned forearm extending from the hand choking me. For a second of pure terror, I think he’s going to tear my head off my neck.
“You have five seconds to tell me what you are, or I’ll shove my fist through your cavity and rip out your heart.”
He releases his hold enough that I can talk. I make the most of it.
“You’re an idiot,” I bark. “I just told you I’ve been stabbed. I’m frigging dying. You think threatening me with murder will have any impact?”
He towers over my tiny frame, dominating the hallway. The scent of earth, dark wood, and shitloads of violence roll off him.
“Damn it, Black. I don’t have time for whatever it is you’re going through. Dillon stabbed me with my knife. I’m bleeding to death.”
His eyes flash sliver before onyx consumes the entire eye. Not human. Never human. “Keese?”
“I told you the blade was dangerous,” I grumble as much as I can with his fingers around my vocal cords.
He steps away enough that I can see despite being casually dressed in a red shirt rolled at the sleeves, unbuttoned at the collar, there’s no denying he’s a hard man. The warrior which lives inside can’t be hidden.
I attempt to point to the respective area without inadvertently strangling myself. “Stabbed. Dying. I need your help.”
His warm fingers slip. I slide down the wall, making sure I slap a palm over the wound. His face betrays nothing of his thoughts or feelings. What did I expect? This is Black.
“Where did you come from?” he demands.
“If you’d bothered to put in an appearance at the graveyard, you would know Marinus built a portal to the other side of hell. Every ghoul and Freyr this side of Glasgow bought a ticket to see the firework show which was really just a disguise for a fight to the death. My death. I almost lost. Dillon stabbed me. Tom tried to save me but couldn’t because…well, because there were too many enemies. Then Dillon pulled us both through the portal.”
He pauses. “The portal’s been there since the beginning of time.”
“What?” I’m confused. I’m bleeding to death, and all he can say is the portal’s been there since the beginning of time.
“The blood drinker didn’t build the gateway. He doesn’t have the brain capacity to build something as complex as a doorway between dimensions.”
“Which part of my conversation didn’t you listen to? My blood was supposed to open the gateway to hell. Dillon stabbed me—”
“They were misguided,” he states, his voice gruff.
“Who cares if they were misguided? I need help!”
He ignores my outburst. “What happened after the kid took you through the portal?”
“He didn’t take me through the portal. He stabbed me then dragged me through the—”
“The portal,” he growls. “What happened?”
“If you’d bothered to make time for the grand finale fight to the death, you would know all this— Oh, my God. Tom. Is he okay? I mean, I didn’t see anyone at the battle site. I just assumed he got out clean.”
He glares, annoyed. “Forget Tom. I’m not asking what happened at the graveyard. Try to think, Keese. When you went through the portal, what happened next?”
I narrow my eyes. “I’m bleeding to death all over your carpet, and your sole concern happens to be what I saw while spinning out of control through a multi-colored tube?”
“What happened after the multi-colored tube?”
“Er…. It spat me back into the graveyard,” I fib. But only a little one. Chatting about the red wasteland will not secure my future, I’m bleeding here.
His nostrils flare. “Lies are choices. Make sure your choices are the right ones.”
I ignore his lecture on lies and direct my finger to the top of my leg. “This isn’t a glass-half-full situation. I need you to heal me.”
He peers down. “The kid stabbed you with your own knife? The one I gave you?”
“That’s what I’ve been trying to tell you. I need you to heal me like you did when Marinus almost killed me.” Another tiny fib, because Black wasn’t responsible for saving my life. Cyrun was.
He stares, suspicious. “Like when Marinus almost killed you?”
His lips press together—I think he knows I know about Cyrun.
“Move your hand,” he growls.
“Are you serious? If I move my hand, I’ll lose more blood. I’ve already lost enough.”
He leans in, grabs my wrist, and yanks my arm away.
He frowns. “Take off your jeans.”
“Scared of showing a little skin, Keese?”
I shoot him a sarcastic smile. “You’ve seen more of my skin than my mother. Haven’t you had your fill?”
He pulls a sexy smirk. I must be lightheaded because Black doesn’t do sexy—especially around me. I fight off the trail of goose bumps igniting all over my body.
“Either take the jeans off or I’ll shred every piece of material from your body. Your choice.”
“That’s not really a choice. More of an ultimatum. I don’t need to strip to reveal the injury.” I fold the flap of damp jean, caked with dirt and God knows what else, to the side. “There.”
He peers closer. “There’s no wound.”
“Of course there’s a frigging wound. The knife went all the way through to the bone.” I poke my fingers through the hole…and feel nothing. That’s not right. Dillon stabbed me. I could barely walk. I pat around, trying to locate the entry wound, but there doesn’t seem to be one. I rip the flap farther to the side. No luck. I pop the top button on my jeans, unzipping them, no longer caring that Black’s getting a front row seat—or just yesterday we were inches away from having sex.
With my jeans around my ankles, I scratch the tips of my dirty nails over the place where Dillon stabbed the knife between my knee and pelvis. The skin’s smooth. Unmarred.
Hair pricks at the back of my neck. “I don’t understand. I pulled the knife out myself.”
Black kneels. The rough edges of his fingers glide softly across my skin, sending butterflies straight to my stomach. My eyes widen. Definitely lightheaded.
“He stabbed you here?” His forefinger brushes along the outside of my thigh, high up just under my pelvis. Tiny pin pricks of pleasure ride into places he has no right to be. I clamp my thighs together and concentrate hard on the question and not what his fingers are doing.
“Yes, there,” I snap.
His fingers curl around the inside of my leg. “How long were you traveling inside the portal?”
I dig my nails deep into my palms. Can’t he look without touching? I’ve been gone one day, yet, already it seems I’ve forgotten what a charge he packs. “Five minutes,” I squeak.
“Interesting.” He stops touching me. “You’ve healed from a wound caused by one of the keys?”
“Healed? But I can’t have. I’m not wearing the bracelet. It’s broken. You said so yourself.”
Dainty footsteps clip against the pavement next to the house. No, not footsteps. Heels. Since stilettos are a specialty of mine, I’m pretty sure the staccato click of steel is what’s approaching the front door.
I pull my jeans up fast. “Are we expecting company?” Because I’ve been led to believe Black’s place has some pretty impressive wards guarding a two-mile parameter around his house. I thought only him, Tom, and I were allowed behind enemy lines. But unless Tom’s taken to wearing women’s shoes then he’s not the one about to enter the grand hallway.
I lift a quizzical eyebrow at his dark eyes as she walks through the door.
“War? What’s keeping you away from me?” Her sultry voice smokes over us. A bit like her huge auburn hair which sucks up most of the space in the long corridor.
I almost choke on her sexuality. Scarlett leather-clad legs strut over to Black. I get the once-over from her and the impression I don’t make the threat radar, standing here still covered with ghoul and Freyr gunk. I try to smile, but the friendly gesture gets stuck somewhere between the back of my throat and wanting to rip her heart out with my knife.
Green eyes narrow as she wraps her talons around the top of his arms, her nails the same color red like the corset strapped far too tight around her torso, nipples almost popping out. If the hooker leans forward, her breasts will spill over her cheap underwear.
I feel awkward. Like a little girl in comparison to this man-eater. If I’m innocence, she’s lust. I’m blood-crusted jeans and dirty lemon-yellow T-shirt. She’s all dead cow and thigh-high boots.
She pouts at me then drapes herself over her prey, staking her claim. He fondles her arse openly. She runs the tip of her tongue along his dark stubble. He never stops watching me. The tramp turns to me like a cat that’s got cream all over her face. I tell myself I don’t care.
You and her. I stare at him. Since when?
He lifts a brow.
But she makes sense. Explains why he was never around, and why he was always rushing off.
“You made me wait.” She purrs desire.
I roll my eyes.
“Go to the car.” His deep, curt voice leaves no room for argument. I almost trip over myself to leave when I realize he’s talking to the bondage chick.
“Shit, War. Don’t do this.” She slams a tiny fist against the wall. “You know how this ends. It’s always the same.”
I glance between the two of them. “Did I miss something?”
She turns to me. “Why did you have to come back?” she hisses. “Why didn’t you just stay away?”
“I’ve been gone an hour max. How long do you want me to stay away?”
She twists to Black, pushing accentuated breasts into his chest. “Tell her to leave.”
He breathes heavily through his nose—his equivalent of a sigh. “Don’t make me choose. It won’t look good for you.”
She balls small hands, slamming them against his chest. “Bastard,” she screams. “I’ve given you my life.”
His face is deadpan. “I never asked you to. You understood the risks. You made your choice.”
I do not claim to know what their lover’s tiff is about. Instead, I stand there, feeling very uncomfortable.
She points a long red-tipped finger toward me. “Whore. Always taking, over and over. I live this fucking nightmare because of you!”
For a second, I think she’s going to launch for me. I go to pull the knife when I remember it’s on the passenger seat of the car.
“Go,” he barks at her.
“War?” she pleads.
“Dignity is what’s required here.”
Her shoulders tense, she curls an upper lip. “Rot in hell,” she yells. “Both of you!”
He doesn’t argue with her. Just lets her vent her frustration. I’m pretty sure a touch of pity flickered across his eyes.
She presses her lips together, creating a thin red line of lipstick then throws a look of sheer disgust in my direction before stalking out, her head high.
I wait until sex-on-legs disappears, slamming what’s left of the door behind her.
I can’t help but feel sorry for the woman caught up with Black. He’s a heartless bastard at the best of times. Yesterday, he was ripping off my top like a horny teenager. Today, he’s a cheating boyfriend…which doesn’t sound right. The word boyfriend and Black should never be used in the same sentence together.
“Tell me about yesterday,” he demands.
I glare. “Am I dying or not?”
I take a much-needed breath to cover the turmoil.
Except, as one question is answered, another is created. If I’m not dying, then how the hell did I heal? Without any help. Black made it very clear, one cut and the unfortunate soul dies.
“Concentrate, Keese. What happened yesterday?”
“Yesterday?” I accuse. “You want to discuss how we almost had sex in there.” I point to the large room which is a total mess, paintings and broken frames scattered at just about every angle from the walls to the floor. “Why don’t we chat about tonight? Tom and I were dying on our feet at the graveyard. You once told me you had my back. A little help from you wouldn’t have gone amiss.”
“What year is it?”
My stomach plummets. “Year?” Oh, no. I shake my head. “No. No. I was only gone a moment.”
“Tell me the year.”
“The same year it’s been all year,” I retort.
His jaw ticks just beneath the skin. “We did not see each other yesterday.”
“We did,” I argue, desperate to squash what I suspect is true.
He doesn’t say anything. Just waits for me to do the math myself.
I think back over the small idiosyncrasies, the ones I’ve been so good at ignoring ever since I sprawled headfirst through the stone arch. My thoughts swirl, forming a pattern. Pieces slot together. An empty graveyard, dry headstones, frozen dirt, no one there to greet me. My shoulders slump. “How long have I been gone?”
“You don’t know?”
“If I knew, I wouldn’t be asking.” I glare, waiting for him to drop the bombshell, tell me I’ve been gone for a month max.
“What?” I laugh out loud shocked.
When has Black ever joked? “What you’re saying can’t be true.” A quick calculation has me inside the portal for maybe five minutes then on the red planet for approximately ten. But not seven years!
He stands, watching. I’ve seen this expression before. He’s waiting for my brain to catch up with the simple fact he doesn’t lie.
“Tell me you’re jesting,” I whisper.
“I don’t jest.” He lets his words sink in, but they don’t, they pummel me to the bottom of my soul then give me a few good kicks for extra measure.
I’ve been gone from Glasgow for seven years? How is that even possible?
“I-I need to go home.” I try to edge around him.
“Your room won’t be there. Neither are your friends.” He puts an arm out to stop me skirting around him then half-raises his other hand to gently cup my face.
I hold my breath. He can’t touch me—if he does, I’ll crumble.
He stops. There’s a moment where both of us stand very, very still.
“What happened after you passed through the portal?” His baritone voice is hard. Almost as if he knows that to show there’s a soft side to this beast, he’ll break me. Him being gruff and angry—makes him the cure right now.
I straighten in response to his tone. A mirror image to his body language. It’s like he feeds me strength without words. Which is stupid, because that’s not possible. I pull my head together. “My blood didn’t open the portal?”
“We already discussed this.”
“Then there’s no evil spilling onto the streets of Glasgow?”
“Do you see any evil?”
I scrub a hand over my face. “Did they catch my sister’s killer?”
One shake of his head confirms they did not.
“What about my friends, Alison and Matt, where are they?”
I want to ask him where, but I don’t. Mum and Dad always said I had too much pride. Sometimes it’s a good thing and other times, like right now, not so. But seven years is a lot of days to lose in fifteen minutes, and I can’t help but feel off-balance and very vulnerable.
His jaw stops pulsing. “You’re welcome to your room, just stay away from the French prick.” Turning on his heel, he strolls to the front door.
I take a deep breath and swallow some of that pride. “Wait.”
He stops, rotates toward me.
I gasp. For a minuscule of a second, I think there’s a flash of regret or guilt to touch his face. I got to him. Me being away so long somehow triggered an emotion in his cold heart. “Did you know where I was?”
He glares a warning but, like with most of his warnings, I ignore them. “Seven whole years I’ve been gone, did the tracer give you any indication where I might have been?”
Still nothing from him except more warnings.
I take a step forward. “Where were you when the fight broke the boundaries? Tom and I were battling for our lives! You could have stopped the war.” He had it within his power. “Yet you chose not to play a damn move.” Now. “I’ve paid for your decision with seven years of my life.”
His face darkens. “You blame me?”
Anger boils up. “Damn right I do. I paid the price.” Which is an unfair accusation, but he makes me this way—all twisted inside, cross and argumentative and frustrated. Our relationship is beyond complex when it needn’t be. I picked his goddamn side of the fence seven years ago. And what did he do? He left me to Marinus and his ghouls.
His dark glare tears through me. “You made choices. There were consequences. And now you don’t like the results?”
“Any choice there might have been was stolen the second Dillon shifted to the Rock and stole me.”
He takes a menacing step closer. “You knew you were safe within these four walls, yet, you chose to leave. You knew Marinus was hunting you, yet you chose to walk the streets of this city at night. Your date paid with his life.”
That was a punch below the belt. Alex was better than a cheap date. He was a friend. “I didn’t kill Alex.”
“No, you didn’t. But you knew there were creatures congregating around Glasgow who drink blood. Who murdered people.”
“You’re being unfair.”
“Am I? Facing the truth and accepting responsibility does leave a sour taste in the mouth.”
His words strike a chord, Dad was always particular about owning up to our mistakes, but Black’s wrong and I won’t shoulder all this responsibility.
We stand off against each other.
He doesn’t smile. “You’re free to stay here for as long as you need.”
“I don’t have a choice.” I have no money, there’s no petrol. “And I’ve lost my bag somewhere between Glasgow city, the Rock & Rumbler, and the graveyard.”
He pushes a half-hanging door back onto its hinges. “Always choices, Keese.”
I lift my chin. “Maybe in your world where you’re the alpha male. But here, in my little world, if I have choices they’re pretty limited.”
His expression’s guarded. “You might not have the capability to change what has already occurred, but you do have a choice of how you deal with the present.”
I grit my teeth at his aptitude to be right.
Half out of the door, he turns. “You can find your bag at the Rock.”
I frown. “My bag—”
“Is with Tom.”
“I’ve been gone seven years, and he kept my bag?”
He stares at me with a long hard expression I can’t decipher. “His choice.”
I don’t move for a whole minute. Emotional chaos breaks loose, dismay and disbelief battle for attention. Seven years of my life gone in a blink of an eye. Seven years! I’ll never get that time back.
I pull myself together, toughen my exterior. I can’t be falling apart at the first hurdle. While there’s fresh blood pumping through my arteries, I won’t rest until my sister’s murderer has paid with his life. I will be their consequence. And while I’m searching for Carla’s killer, I’m going to hunt down the other five keys and bury them six-feet-under, along with Marinus.
There’s a small chuckle of glee from behind the steel barricade. “Sure you don’t want to unravel this timeline? Play god for a couple of seconds, see who we can resurrect from beyond?”
“Crazy lady, I just want to get through the day without someone wanting me dead.”
There’s no response.
I shrug a tired shoulder and figure I’ve enough petrol to make my way to the Rock and back.