Bittersweet seraphim, p.15
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       Bittersweet Seraphim, p.15

           Debra Anastasia
 
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  Violent returned with a just-dead body. Dean was not pleased.

  “What the Hell did I say? No killing!”

  Violent defended herself. “This old thing breathed his last natural breath, then expired. He’s still warm. It took more patience than I’ve ever used before not to cork him off early. I thought you’d be thankful.” She pouted. Maybe letting him make decisions was a hasty choice.

  “Fine. Thanks.”

  Violent set the old man down, and Dean laid his mother next to the body’s neck. Her desperate suck-slurping noises made Violent smile.

  “Look. She likes it. I did the right thing.” She tried to make eye contact with Giovianni—no, Dean—it was so confusing. The resemblance was still startling. Just the sight of this man made her happy, even if he barely tolerated her existence. Dean ran his hands through his hair. Giovanni had made that same movement when he was frustrated.

  He looked up at her. “So now what do I do?”

  Violent sat across from him in a bed of dried pine needles. The noises of his mother draining the body mixed with the night’s natural symphony.

  “Well, you want to save two people. Either decide who you like better or who’s likely to die first.” She loved to watch Dean’s hands move. She just wanted him to hold her hand in one and a paintbrush in the other.

  “I’m not deciding between my brother and my sister.” He punched his fists together.

  “Well, I can navigate Hell, so that’s in the plus column. Jason’s most likely damned or dead by now. So that’s a negative.” She tossed her head back to look at the stars. She really didn’t want to go back to Hell.

  The slurping noises stopped, and Rebecca tried to stand. Dean rushed to her side and aided her. “Please tell me I didn’t kill that man,” she said.

  Dean shook his head. “No, he’d passed of natural causes—recently.” He turned to Violent. “Please bury him.”

  The minion finished the task just as Dean finished explaining to his mother the dire situation of his two siblings.

  “We go for Seriana first,” she said. Rebecca was far from better, but she seemed determined. “I know where Vittorio has taken her.”

  Dean nodded. “Okay, I agree. At least Jason has others to rely on. Seri’s all alone.”

  Violent cocked her head to the side. “Well, let’s get on this.”

  They headed in the direction Rebecca’s shaky finger pointed.

  Chapter 24

  Kate and Jason held their glowing hands together as they traversed the caves. Kate could feel her sense of time and the urgency of her task ebb as they made their way into what had to be a lower level of Hell. She continued trying to gear herself up so she’d get angry when she was scared crapless, as it was sure to happen at some point. Hell wasn’t a day in the park. Having Jason hold her hand gave her courage, but she wished she didn’t have the nagging suspicion that maybe Lucifer had sent her to her doom—he was the ultimate Devil and all.

  She closed her eyes and thought of her father, and suddenly she just knew where to go. She had to move. The knowledge was compelling, almost a compulsion. And at that thought, she stopped. Compulsion had kept Nero from staying on Earth. It hadn’t been a good thing. He couldn’t stop it when it took over.

  “What?” Jason looked both handsome and concerned in the hazy blue light of their hands. “You okay?”

  She looked at her feet. “It’s just…my mom was waiting all the time, then I was. It feels wonderful to be doing something finally. But what if it’s a trick?”

  Jason grabbed her other hand. “I hate Jack. So much. But he’d never let you leave if he thought this was a long-term punishment for you—I don’t think so anyway.”

  Kate nodded and bit her lip. “I want to save Nero so much. I—”

  Jason kissed her again, silencing her fears. She smiled against his lips.

  “Sorry. You’re just so pretty.” He traced her face with the tip of his finger.

  “I…it’s okay. I like it.” Kate wrinkled her nose at this new, stupid attraction at the worst possible time. “Let’s go.”

  As they turned a corner, the narrow passage they followed opened up into a much larger cave. Jason and Kate stopped abruptly when a crowd of minions turned to watch them enter the space.

  They whispered the same word at the exact same time: “Crap.”

  Kate gave Jason an alarmed look. He’d plastered a tight smile on his face. She tried to think quickly. The minions seemed content to wait for her to speak, but they were a scary lot of monsters. Kate cleared her throat. “We’re from Lucifer.”

  The minions shuffled their feet.

  “Tell us where Nero is. He’s served his sentence.” Kate raised an eyebrow and met Jason’s eyes again.

  “Or else your punishment will be extended!” Jason let go of her hand and held up his glowing palms.

  The minions took a step back. Kate held her palms up as well. The minions looked at one another. They seemed to be waiting for a more spectacular show.

  “Good to know,” a voice finally rumbled from the crowd. A huge minion stepped forward.

  Kate recognized him immediately. Handsome Ransom had been holding down Brut the last time Nero came to the surface. The jig was up. He mouthed the word “boobs” to her, and Kate felt her eyes widen. At least he was still obsessed with the same thing.

  “I’ll be glad to take you to Nero. I know right where he is.” Ransom walked casually over to Kate and Jason. The minions behind him began twittering like a pack of nervous birds. “This way, Lucifer’s messengers.” He bowed at the waist and pointed to the back of the cave.

  Jason held her hand again as they made their way through the center of the room. It was like swimming with sharks, except a million times worse. They were sniffed and assessed until they finally reached the passage.

  Ransom put his hands on their shoulders, which caused them both to jump. He pushed them faster until they were clear of the pack and around a bend. Kate exhaled with relief at the lack of the scrutiny, but Ransom’s voice brought the unease back.

  “Well, fancy meeting you here, little lady. You recently admitted?”

  Jason pulled Kate slightly behind him. “You know him?” he asked her.

  Kate sighed. “Yeah, a little. He helped my dad once upon a time. I doubt he’s doing this out of the kindness of his heart.”

  “I am not. Seems I have something you need.” Ransom opened his lips around his teeth in a semblance of a smile.

  “Actually, I’m pretty sure I can find Nero on my own now.” Her inner compass seemed to be calling her forward.

  “You need me not to go back and rile up all those waiters,” Ransom clarified. “We wait. That’s our sentence. If I give them something to do? They’ll lose their minds and their cool. So you totally need me.” Ransom snapped his fingers like he was listening to music.

  Jason shook his head. “What do you want, then?”

  Ransom’s gaze stopped on Kate’s chest. “Well, I want a few things…but I’ll take a passage out. ’Cause some creepy shit’s happening. You guys aren’t supposed to be here, and I want out of this joint.”

  Kate shrugged. “Fine, come with us, but I can’t promise you anything.”

  They continued through the caves, Kate fighting Ransom for the lead, until they heard the clang of metal on rock. Kate let go of Jason’s hand and took off running. She rounded the last curve, and there he was. Sweat pouring over his skin as he shoveled with two old, rusty shovels. One in each hand.

  “Dad?” She wanted to cry and cry. This work he’d been doing for who knows how long looked so desolate, so lonely.

  He kept shoveling, even though he clearly did not want to. “Kate?” He kept working through his scream. “Not my daughter! No!”

  Nero’s shoveled desperately, his eyes manic. “Tell me you’re not here. You are not here!”

  Kate tried not to take her father’s immediate rejection personally, but as she wiped fresh tears from her cheeks, she kne
w she was failing. “I’m here to get you out of Hell. I made a deal with the Devil—well, the old Devil—and he said I could have you. On Earth. As my dad. If you still want to be, that is.”

  Jason put his hand on her shoulder. Through her distress, she could still feel the pull of their shared power.

  Ransom approached Nero. “Hey, care to take a break?”

  Nero nodded and closed his eyes. Ransom neatly restrained him on his back on the ground. Kate’s father began vibrating, instantly blurry under Ransom.

  “Let go of the shovels, Dad.” Kate dropped to her knees and inched closer.

  Ransom quickly gave her his version of the situation. “Nero’s doing his work and Brut’s because he killed that bastard. So he doesn’t get any reprieves anymore, no chance to rest.”

  Kate couldn’t even make eye contact with him, Nero was too out of focus. The piece of her mother’s nightgown still on his bicep made an arc, flying like a flag in a hurricane. She turned to Jason. “We’ve got no way to help him. Only the Devil can remove a compulsion, or at least that’s what Jack said. How’re we going to get him out?”

  Jason wiggled his glowing fingertips. “Well, we’ve got a little bit to work with, right?”

  Kate inhaled sharply as hope rose within her. “Let’s try.”

  They approached Nero, getting as close as they could while staying clear of the shovels, still trying in vain to gather coal. The only stationary part of him was his middle, where Ransom had him pinned. Jason grabbed her hand and motioned with his other. They would touch Nero at the same moment. Kate tried to focus the power coursing through her and laid her hand on her father’s flailing forearm. The skin there glowed blue, but it continued to move with a mind of its own. Jason and Kate waited. And waited.

  Finally Ransom exhaled with exasperation. “Aren’t you going to say something?”

  Kate met Jason’s eyes. He seemed to take a wild guess.

  “Release Nero!” he proclaimed.

  The power poured from Kate’s fingers. It took everything she had to keep her hand steady. It was as if her blood had solidified and was being pulled out like splinters.

  Nero’s buzzing slowed to a stop. His grip on the shovels released. His hands were bloody messes.

  Nero stood then, knocking Ransom off unceremoniously. “Kate. My Kate. How? Why?”

  He enveloped her in a moist hug. She closed her eyes. This was it. The reason she’d found her courage and balls. Jumped into ponds and followed weird things into Hell. Her father’s hug.

  She wanted to cry and laugh, but instead she answered him. “The presence of me is my love for you.” She patted his chest.

  “My pride, my sweet, I never wanted you here. We must get you out immediately.” He turned and scanned the area, grabbing her hand to lead her. “They collapsed my escape tunnel after I killed Brut.” He moved back toward the waiter’s cave, collecting a shovel as he went and thoroughly ignoring the men Kate had with her.

  She dug her heels in and pulled on her father’s hand. “No, seriously. Father, give us a second.” She hugged his massive arm until he stopped and turned to her. “We need a better plan. Things are crazy right now.”

  He raised his hand as if to place it on her cheek, but stopped when he saw all the blood. “You look like Jenny. It’s amazing and hurts so much at the same time.”

  “She loved you. She never gave up hoping you would be together.”

  Ransom made violin noises. “This is so freaking lovely. But we’ve to get out of this place before it collapses.”

  Kate looked at Jason and hoped it wasn’t too soon. “Dad, this is Jason. He’s a good friend.” Jason met her eyes and smiled in a way that made her skin prickle. She felt pure joy when he stepped forward and held out his hand to her father.

  “Sir, your daughter is truly amazing.”

  Nero wiped his hand on his pants and reached in for a manly shake. “I agree. She’s the only reason this world shouldn’t curse my existence.”

  The walls of the cave began shaking, pieces of rock coming loose. Nero pulled Kate to him and covered her body with his. “Where did you get in?” he asked her. “That’s where I will get you out.”

  Kate stepped in front, still holding her father’s hand, and smiled in spite of their uncertain situation. “Where I’ll be getting us all out. Let’s go this way.”

  She winked at Jason, who smiled back. Ransom gave them all the finger, but he followed the way Kate led.

  Chapter 25

  Dean and Violent had carjacked a vehicle so they’d make better time. Now Violent drove, and Dean tried not to watch. She was ridiculous behind the wheel. Road signs, paint markings, and lights didn’t even register as suggestions to her. He focused on his mother in the backseat. She was looking a bit better. Dean patted her hand gently and leaned closer to hear her words.

  “He’s going to try to breed her. He’s fixated on it. Your grandfather’s a zealot. The thing they have in a cage as a stud? Dean, we have to find her.” Rebecca squeezed his hand.

  He nodded and told her what he knew could very well be a lie. “We’ll find her before that happens, Mom. That’s all I want now: our family together.”

  Violent whipped her head around and watched his mouth. He never knew what to expect with her, but she seemed to be saying a little prayer.

  In no time they were over the bridge Rebecca had described. She propped herself up. “It’ll look like an old warehouse, but inside he has a little city set up. The cages were in the middle of the compound, and there were always a ton of guards.”

  Violent pulled the stolen car into an empty parking lot. She hopped out like a woman headed to a manicure appointment, not a war. Dean tried to convince his mother to stay put. “You’re too weak. We need you out of the way so we can focus on Seri.”

  Rebecca crawled out from the back of the car, now able to walk on her own. “No. I’ve been protecting you kids your whole lives. That doesn’t stop now.”

  Violent walked right up to a broken-down door and put her foot through it. The loud crack echoed through the seemingly empty expanse of rooms. “There are no guards. Are you sure of this place?” Violent turned to stare at Rebecca.

  She nodded slowly. “The only reason they’d be gone is if there’s an event to watch. The mating. We have to hurry.”

  Rebecca shuffle-ran until she encountered an empty vending machine. She struggled to move it aside. Dean reached around his mother and pulled, sliding the machine. A long, dark tunnel behind it led to a descending staircase. Violent strode past them like they’d opened it for her personally, but Dean grabbed her arm. She lifted one eyebrow in question.

  “You sure you’re with us?” He didn’t trust her confidence.

  She almost smiled. “Family was important to Giovanni. Shall we go?”

  He had no choice but to believe her. He held out an arm for his mother, and she grasped it.

  When they reached the first landing, they could hear the eerie chanting—a tuneless song that sounded like prayer. They began to run at the second landing when the crowd burst into cheers.

  Seriana was drunk with him, this beast/man. The crowd began chanting and lighting incense. It took her few seconds to realize the man was whispering to her in between kisses.

  “You must act in lust with me.” He lifted her hair and licked her neck.

  She moaned. It was actually hard to remember she wasn’t. “Okay.” She pushed his hair out of his face and held it with one hand. The warm water continued to pour down on them. He twirled her through it over and over, using the rushing sound to drown out his words for everyone but her.

  “If I get out of this cage, I can get free. I would like that. I can kill them all.” His hands explored her with a primal greediness.

  She had to try twice to get the words out. “Me too.”

  “You’ll kill everyone?” He sounded amused.

  She shook her head. His hair was heavy now that it was wet. He tilted his head back and swallowed more
water. Seriana watched his throat move. She took a moment to look around her. The audience of half-breeds was in various states of undress, obviously aroused by the show. Four spotlights came on with an audible pop. Closest to the cage were the elders, some with notepads, others with video cameras. She shivered. This had to be the most surreal experience of her life.

  The man was looking at her when she refocused on him. “You have no name. Really?”

  “I’m simply yours.” He twirled her, and she was forced to let go of his hair. He pulled her back against his chest. “They think they know how this ends. I mount you, we copulate, and then they part us until you produce a live birth.” His hands were everywhere on her, pressing the wet sheet to her body.

  She tried to concentrate on his words, on the horror of being watched during this intimate moment. Instead her veins filled with true lust for him. It shamed her and made her gasp.

  “But when they separate us? That’s when we fight back. Are you with me, Seriana?”

  “You know my name?” She turned her head to watch his lips.

  “I know everything about you. We are destined, Seriana.” His mouth was so mesmerizing.

  He leaned down to kiss her, turning her again so they were chest to chest. He was taller than she, so he simply lifted her so they could be eye to eye. The female half-breeds sighed like he was a movie heartthrob.

  “Do you know I don’t want to get screwed in front of a crowd?” Hearing the words come from her own lips crystallized the situation, and she swallowed a sob.

  He looked concerned. “I did not know that.” He hugged her harder, covering her as best as he could with his arms.

  She nodded and looked again at the audience.

  He nudged her with his nose until she looked at him again. “Don’t see them. Only me. Only feel.”

  Seriana just needed a second to process. Was this man seducing her? Was she part of his escape plan? Would she really have to do this?

  He began kissing her face again, and she nuzzled into him. At least he wasn’t hurting her. Then she saw it out of the corner of her eye, heard her grandfather’s words carrying across the room. “He needs to be angry. Electrocute him.”

 
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