Authors: Jill Cooper
lights along the ceiling glowed like stars. They appeared to circle lazily,
before his mind snapped back to reality. Where he was and why he was there,
man, oh man, his body ached. Called out for sweet relief.
Jasper was a prisoner, but he barely remembered who had him or why. His body
hurt, man did it hurt. He couldn’t even roll into a comfortable position. Skin
battered and bruised, and his body used to pleasure someone else’s tortured
desires. The skin on his back had split open from the whippings and they oozed
puss as they healed.
brown hair, a twirling toothpick in the corner of his mouth, once he was all
jokes, but since surrendering—to…who was it?
was Vain. The murderous bounty hunter who trafficked women as sex slaves, and
aligned herself with demons. There was no humanity left in her. Under her lock
and key, things didn’t go as Duncan expected. She was meaner, harsher, and more
brutal, than he’d ever given her credit for.
why would he do it? Why not kill her and get away?
could barely remember his own name. Beyond the wisps of pain, was the image of
a church. Demons were everywhere, maggots swirling beneath their skin because
that’s all they really are. Dirty, muddy, maggots shaped and held together by
the veil of the church were two women. Both with fire red hair. One of them had
the gentle features of a pixie and a heart of gold. The other, with captivating
green eyes, packed a snarl that could shed a snake of his skin by the sheer
force of her will. It was her that made Duncan’s heart leap.
name carved out in the darkness and was a light to show him the way home.
were the Blood sisters and they were his family. Duncan would do anything to
find a way to save them. Even if it meant becoming Vain’s slave. He did it to
buy them more time. So Amanda could free Jessica’s soul from the mark of
Lourdes, so she could become her own person again.
they could rise against evil and slaughter it for good.
his only way out was rescue or death. Vain wasn’t joking around when it came to
payback. Maybe he deserved what he got, but Duncan was ready to move on. Didn’t
want to suffer anymore at the hands of a woman for whom pleasure and torture
was often the same thing.
hung from chains, suspended in an open set of French doors that led to a
sitting area outside the master bedroom. The bedroom was decorated in red and
black. Vain was partial to the Victorian era—furniture and dressings—a distinct
difference from her own manner of dress. Class versus
collar was cinched tight around Duncan’s neck. His left eyelid was swollen and
his other was sliced.
moaned. Every breath hurt, but Vain’s girls didn’t really care. They dotted
perfume on his skin and used warm washcloths to clean his wounds. If he hadn’t
been in so much pain, he would see they were the most beautiful of women. Their
makeup always perfect, their small waists defining perfect hourglass shapes,
thanks to the restrictive corsets they wore. Ringlets of hair flowing down
their backs, they were the epitome of
be upset, Duncan,” Alexis purred and kissed his aching, bloody lips. They
tasted like candy and made his head swirl. Were the girls’ themselves drugs? It
sure as hell felt like it. “We’re going to give you pleasure.”
much pleasure,” Michelle giggled. “But we’re saving you for her.”
her,” Alexis smiled. “Our mistress.”
she comes, here she comes!” Michelle and Alexis squealed and danced over to
Vain as she entered through the bedroom.
head fell into his chest and he used the ruse of sleep to keep his good eye on
Vain. Still in her silver catsuit, it was a stark
to her mocha skin and long black dreads. Her gloved hands
rubbed the tops of her working girls’ heads as they greeted her. Tight embraces
and doting kisses upon Vain’s lips proved she was truly queen.
gone unconscious again,” Alexis said with a pout in her voice, “but we cleaned
him for you. He’s all yours.”
he can be
!” Michelle purred against
Vain’s cheek before she licked it with her long, moist tongue.
be nothing of the sort,” Vain growled like a cat. “Leave us, won’t you? Duncan
and I have much to catch up on.”
girls were gone and the door slammed shut behind them. Duncan licked his
chapped lips as Vain took center stage. She peeled her gloves from her hands.
His heart raced as Vain grabbed his hair and yanked his head up. Sneering in
his face, she sniffed. “You think you can really fool me?”
eye. “I have
nothing to say to you. So if you’re going to kill me…”
laughed. “Kill you? Nothing of the sort,
Duncan. The Bloods are on their way here. You’re my bait. Both Blood sisters
will die and they’ll be no one left to oppose me.”
they were okay? Jessica was healed and the mark of Lourdes was removed?
Duncan’s hope skyrocketed “If you think the queen of the underworld is going to
let you kill her prize—.”
Please.” Vain reached into her pocket and pulled out a crystal ball. The center
was blue, swirling of smoke and magic. “She’s already dead. The world has
changed, Jasper. The rules are broken.”
ran a hand along the top of her crystal ball and showed it to Duncan. “Peer
inside and see.” She licked her lips with anticipation.
blue smoke cleared and in its place Duncan saw a battle. A great battle.
Jessica was seized by Lourdes, the royal queen of the underworld, and
Jessica—his girl—was dying. Her face turned a ghastly
and began to rot like a corpse.
way. Jessica couldn’t be dead, but still the pain in his chest beat like a
she wasn’t. Amanda surged from behind, a sword in her hand. She pushed Jessica
clear, and, in a flash, slaughtered Lourdes. The evil queen dissolved into
black ink, floating through the air. Duncan couldn’t believe it. He couldn’t.
did it. She really had the power to do it.
couldn’t help a smile. “That’s my girl,” he muttered.
Vain punched him quick in the chest. Duncan gasped from the painful blow
echoing through his ribs. He coughed and tried to catch his breath.
great battle will be waged now. Someone will need to take up the throne.” Vain
put the crystal ball down on the table. She wrapped her arms around Duncan’s
neck. Her leather squeaked and pulled taut against her skin.
turned his head away from the sultry look in her eye and the stench of her
scent. Once, sure, maybe it was alluring, but now Duncan knew it was all magic
and tricks. She was a deceiver and she used her body in more ways than one to
get her way.
all be mine. The demons. The power. And with my little spin on things, all the
money. The world.” Vain tugged on his lip with her teeth. “I will be queen and
you’ll be my king.”
my dead body.” Duncan’s eyes simmered with rage.
huffed out a muffled laugh. “I’d rather avoid that. I have my ways, Duncan.
You’ll be mine. Mind, body, and soul. You’ll be the one who kills Jessica and
Amanda Blood. Not because you want to, but because I asked you. Because you
will call me mistress.”
sounded so certain. Duncan’s heart pounded with a rush of fear. “I’ll turn the
blade on myself before I turn it on those girls.”
gripped his throat tight, her fingernails piercing the under layer of his skin.
“We’ll see….” Her eyes narrowed. “We’ll see….”
stood upon the crest of the world. Jessica, Amanda, and the man, Joseph, who
they had freed from the demon, Vaughn. The ocean was behind Jessica and
circling them were a legion of husks, who had once served Lourdes. Now, they
over on bended knee, their heads bowed
at the feet of Amanda Blood.
sister.As if she was their master. Their queen.
husks spoke as one, as if joined together by a hive mind. “All hail, the new
queen of the underworld!”
vision spun as her mind was thrown for a mighty loop. “They’re joking. Who knew
these guys had a sense of humor?”
wore a bewildered expression, her mouth fallen open and her eyes wide. “They’re
not…joking. At least, they think they’re serious, but there’s no way it’s true.
I can’t be the queen of the underworld.”
words were never spoken. Jessica wouldn’t allow Amanda to be lost to the
underworld. Not now—not ever. Jessica gripped her gun tighter as the husk stood
and shook its shriveled up dust head.
cannot avoid the calling. Lourdes has been slain by your hand. If you don’t
come with us, the underworld will be leaderless. Chaos will ensue. Earth will
suffer, my lady.”
whole body tensed and she backed up. “I’m no one’s lady. I am my own and I
don’t serve evil.”
stomach rolled uneasily. Glancing at Amanda’s tender face, she felt as if she
might be sick. Was it possible for Amanda to turn her back? Walk away from this
thing like it was nothing. “What do we do?” Jessica’s voice surprised her. It
sounded so young and afraid. Not something she was used to.
said it yourself,” Amanda stood straighter and adjusted her dress. “We find
Duncan and rescue him. Our plans haven’t changed.”
like that?” Amanda didn’t seem fazed at all, and that worried Jessica the most.
that, despite their chatter of protests, Amanda turned her back on the husks.
With a wave of her hand they fell into heaps on the ground—their bodies
dissolving into piles of dust and ash.
Jessica stared at them and back at her sister who was strolling over to the
car. What had she done? Where had that surge of power come from? Jessica was
too afraid to ask, but she had a feeling she knew.
over, she picked up the sword used to slay Lourdes. For better or worse, this
sword was theirs now. Amanda’s fate was tied to it.
her head at Joseph to follow, Jessica climbed the hill in Amanda’s wake. “You
realized what you did? Without even thinking about it? You destroyed all of
them like it was nothing, Amanda.”
awe for Amanda’s power morphed into a powerful fear. What was happening to her
baby sister? Whatever it was, already Jessica felt powerless to stop it.
didn’t have souls, Jess. They were empty husks and we don’t have time to have
them following us all the way to Vegas. Trust me, I’ll be fine.”
shit,” Jessica’s eyes narrowed. “I don’t have to be an empath to see you’re
lying. To see—.” Jessica cut herself off when she realized what she said.
Amanda lied. She had never lied before, not even when they were kids. It wasn’t
just in her and now she was doing it off the cuff like that…
Jessica was scared. Her insides shivering from the cold at the knowledge that
her sister was changing in ways Jessica didn’t like. Didn’t want to accept.
take one problem at a time. We know where Duncan is, so we go get him. Please.
I owe him my life, Jessica.” Amanda’s eyes were wide and pleading.
crossed her arms and gazed at the sunset.
is wrong with me, we have no way to fix. So let’s get to Duncan and save him
while we still can. If I am queen of the underworld, I might have power over
Sin Town. But I’m not going down without a fight.” Amanda opened the passenger
door and got inside.
pieced the sentence that was missing in Amanda’s little statement. She wanted
to get there and rescue Duncan before she changed. Before she was claimed by
the underworld. How did Jessica even fathom such a thing?
this time, the fight they waged, couldn’t it all just be over after slaying
Lourdes? For now the conversation was done, but it looped inside Jessica’s
mind. Joseph stood beside her, staring at the ground dumbfounded. “Sorry we
rescued you yet?” Jessica asked.
shook his head. “A lifetime of torture and agony isn’t something you just get
over, but I rather be free with you than stuck with Vaughn.”
wasn’t a ringing endorsement, but one Jessica could appreciate. “I’ll take
better than a demon any day. Get inside. We’ll hit a dinner on our way. You
must be hungry.”
eyes lit up. “I haven’t tasted food in a thousand years. I’m not sure I even
remember what it tastes like.”
popped the trunk and threw the sword inside. Her vision popped with light, and
for a brief moment, she heard Lourdes laugh—almost as if mocking her and all of
her trials. Was it in her mind—or was it coming from the sword?
really matter though, did it? The bitch was gone and that was enough for her.
slammed the trunk closed and got behind the wheel of the car. Amanda was
already lightly chattering with Joseph like nothing had happened. Like they
could go back to business as usual. It released some of Jessica’s pent up
anxiety, but not enough. Not all.
started up the car and shifted into drive. While doing that, she glanced at the
rising sun. A new day was about to be born, but was it a day she was ready to
And the way Amanda was cradling her wrist, set Jessica on edge. Something was
wrong. Something was happening.
might be powerless to stop it, and Amanda wasn’t sharing what was happening to
her on the inside. Whatever that meant, it was bad, but Jessica wasn’t going
down without a fight.
the underworld wanted Amanda, they were going to have the fight of their lives.
Jessica didn’t go through literal Hell just to lose her sister. They always
found a way.
just had to do it one more time.
hour into their trip to Vegas, Jessica couldn’t take the gnawing in her gut
anymore. They pulled over to the Silver Street diner to grab a bite to eat. The
dinner crowd was already there, hoarding tables. By the time they got into a
cramped booth with torn seats, Jessica was ravenous. The smell of sizzling
burgers from the kitchen was enough to drive her impatience through the roof.
They ordered coffees and burgers with all the fixings.
spun the ketchup bottle in her hand. Across the way, Amanda was caressing her
wrist absently. She was hiding something. Jessica wasn’t used to her keeping
secrets, and had trouble keeping her venomous eyes to herself. Joseph, for his
part, was oblivious. He sipped his coffee and rattled on.
haven’t tasted anything in centuries. Eating while possessed is dull and almost
flavorless—if that makes sense.”
did, but Jessica didn’t feel like agreeing with him. She popped a handful of
potato chips into her mouth and enjoyed the satisfying crunch. The salt danced
across her tongue in a pleasing way. “So, where you from originally? Europe?”
actually. I was tending my flock down to a stream. While I was bent over the
water, something took shape in my reflection that was dark. It twisted my face
and a few moments later…” Joseph sighed. “I was sure God was angry at me. I
tried to repent, but it was not God at all. It was Vaughn. He took many names,
but that was always his favorite.”
eyes were moist and she leaned into Joseph as if they were friends. Jessica
guessed they were. Amanda felt that way pretty much about everyone, but still
it made Jessica feel sour, even though there was no reason to.
this guy wore the face of Vaughn. The one who started all this mess.
so sorry for everything he put you through,” Amanda said.
frowned in sadness. Jessica ran her finger along her gums to clear away some
chewed potato bits. “How’d you learn English so well?”
eyes widened, as if her question was off base, but the only thing wrong here
was bringing Joseph with them in the first place. “Jessica.”
Jessica shrugged and tried to temper her voice. “Just a question, since we’re
travel buddies now. We have to talk about something.”
held up his hand with a soft smile. “It’s all right, Amanda. I don’t mind the
questions. Your sister is right not to accept me so easily. “
folded his hands and turned toward Jessica. There was a beautiful, but haunted
quality to his eyes. Jessica could tell he had seen a lot, like a
returning home from war, but his had
almost been unending. It might have softened her a bit toward him, but not
was here because Amanda chose to exorcise him. Period.
girl would go out of the way to put them in danger until it got them killed.
learned from Vaughn. He took to the language easy during our crusades in
Britain. I was in a deep sleep, or so it felt, but I heard things. The
knowledge he had is still with me. I don’t know if it’ll always be so, but for
now I have both his memories and mine.”
figured such a thing must be horrible, but she didn’t want to appear overly
sympathetic. Luckily, Amanda had that one in the bag. “I’m so sorry, Joseph.”
Amanda gripped his hand. “We understand if you don’t want to talk about it.”
Jessica said listlessly. “We’ve had enough pain to last us a lifetime. We won’t
make you rehash. In fact, there’s a small town not far from here. Good people,
nice place. On our way to rescue our friend, we’ll drop you off there. There’s
a soup kitchen, homeless shelter. We’ll get you some money along the way.
You’ll be fine.”
sat up straighter and turned to Amanda. Jessica knew what was coming and she
wouldn’t be argued with. She threw some
bills onto the table. Excusing herself, Jessica rose up and headed toward the
restroom. Any hope that that would end the conversation was crushed when Amanda
charged after her.
didn’t slow down, but when she reached the bathroom door, Amanda grabbed her
wrist. “You can’t ignore me, Jessica.”
teeth snapped together. “I’m just going to the bathroom. Keep an eye on our
little friend, okay?”
are you doing this? Why are you in such a foul mood?” Amanda’s eyes were hurt
and wide. “You feel like a whirlwind of emotion. You’re tying me into knots
didn’t mean to and she hated the implication. “How can you even ask me that?
Duncan’s kidnapped and you’ve been promoted to queen. Meanwhile we have a
helpless plus one, Amanda.” Jessica let out a long sigh and shook her head.
Times were tough enough as they were. Why did her sister never see that? “We’re
dropping him off and that’s final. If he comes with us, he’ll be killed and
since we went through the trouble to save him…”
eyes fell to the floor. “But—.”
buts.” Jessica sneered. “And don’t think you can change my mind by touching me,
because I won’t allow it.”
would never!” Amanda’s mouth fell open.
she had done it before and Jessica wouldn’t allow her to do it again. With the
look of heartbreak on Amanda’s face, Jessica wasn’t sure if her sister even
realized she had done it. That was even scarier to Jessica. Just how powerful
had her sister become? Was the power overriding the good person Amanda was?
back to the table,” Jessica ordered her. She cringed at how unkind she sounded.
“I’ll be a minute unless you want to watch me go.”
know you’re worried about me,” Amanda’s voice was low, “but don’t be so mad
that you push me away.”
that what she was doing? “Everything isn’t peaches and cream.” Something their
mother always said tumbled right off her tongue—how many years had it been
since Jessica had even said that?”
fresh from the underworld, Lourdes’s torture, and the hits keep on coming. So
if you wouldn’t mind cutting me a little slack…” Jessica didn’t mean to sound
so wounded, but she couldn’t keep her feelings at bay any longer.
just wanted to tumble out.
face softened and she caressed Jessica’s shoulder. Without realizing it,
Jessica let out a long slow breath. “I’m sorry. Sometimes I forget you’re human
too.” She turned and left Jessica to herself.
hoped she would stay put. Would hope her sister wasn’t really in danger, but
she doubted it. Something horrible was coming.
horrible, and Jessica wasn’t sure if this time, it was something she could