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Magic pulsated through the metal restraints locked around my wrists, rubbing over my scars while a trickle of sweat leaked down my nape. As often as the demons fastened the cuffs on me, I never got used to them. A sliver of panic always made my heart beat faster. Memories of being locked in Rena’s closet, the walls closing in and the ceiling lowering every second, tried to drown me.
Breathe, damn it.
“Take these off.” I held my hands up, shaking the metal cuffs as the demon in a white lab coat approached me with a needle.
He arched one eyebrow, creasing his forehead. “I will absolutely not remove them. Last time you punched my assistant and broke her nose.” The blinding fluorescent lights running in rows across the ceiling shined on his bald head and illuminated his vivid blue eyes. The contrast of dark skin, gleaming white teeth, and radiant irises made for an appealing combination.
He'd be attractive if he didn’t have a giant stick up his ass.
I scoffed. “She’s a demon. Estella probably healed in ten minutes.”
“Not the point, Ms. Teague.” Denton set the needle on the silver tray on my left. “You’re extremely uncooperative, so certain measures must be taken to ensure your captivity.”
Captivity. My top lip lifted at the word. Denton said it with the slightest inflection possible, utterly impartial to my feelings. I was nothing more than a lab rat.
The glaring white walls and floors—scrubbed so clean you could eat off them—the spotless steel counters and cabinets, the collection of beakers, jars, and tubes filled with various liquids, and the astringent hint of disinfectant in the air would suggest that I was exactly that, a lab rat.
“And what about these?” I shook my feet that dangled off the reclined black leather chair, rattling the shackles. “Did you really need Nik to put restraints around my legs?”
Denton tilted his head and sighed. “After multiple attempted escapes? Yes, they’re absolutely necessary.”
I’d been stuck in this lab for weeks, tossed into a bare cell with nothing more than a tiny cot, a toilet, and a shower. After that prick demon shifter sold me to High Demon Lord Ruin Bacchus, he brought me to his home in Savannah and locked me in a bedroom. I hadn’t seen Ruin since. Apparently, he didn’t find me that intriguing. He’d left me to his alchemists in the lab.
Instead of scientists, nightworlders referred to them as alchemists because they used science and magic. Logan said he was an alchemist, which made sense since I’d woken up in a lab under his house in Vlehull.
A pang cut through my chest at the thought of the high demon’s betrayal. He’d known Fane’s intentions all along and never warned me.
“Please try to remain still this time.” Denton, Ruin’s head alchemist, brushed my long, pinkish-red hair behind my shoulder to unveil my neck, his fingers skimming the swirling tattoo. A sharp electric jolt shot out, and he yanked his hand away, cursing.
“You should probably stay away from that side of my neck, Dr. Frankenstein.”
He shook his fingers. “Perhaps you’re right.” Denton shuffled to my other side and tucked my hair away.
The high demon’s black slacks and button-down shirt beneath his pristine lab coat didn’t mask his perfect physique. If he loosened a few buttons and got a couple of drinks at Wrath & Ruin next door, droves of men and women would drool after him. He could have his pick.
But Denton was all work and no play. That was probably why Ruin left him in charge.
“Don’t move,” Denton ordered as he lifted the needle to the other side of my neck.
I winced as he sank it in to draw blood. “I don’t see how taking another blood sample will help get the Infernal Sol out of me.”
My time in the lab had been spent undergoing several spells from powerful witches that never ended well. For the witches. Demons had tried to pry the amulet out of me without much luck either. Now, Denton resorted to taking more blood and tissue samples. He swabbed the inside of my cheek a dozen damn times one day. The thirteenth cotton swab that he stuck into my mouth, I bit off and spat at him.
“We have to venture down many avenues to find a solution.” He pulled the needle out and then capped the tube full of crimson liquid. “Instead of being uncooperative, you should do everything possible to help. The sooner we separate the Infernal Sol from you, the sooner you can leave.”
A laugh burst out of my mouth, reverberating through the lab. “You really expect me to believe that once this thing is out, provided that I lived through the process, Lord Ruin will just let me go?”
I wasn’t a naïve idiot. The demon lord had no intentions of releasing me. I’d be a liability because I knew he had the amulet, and my death would ensure his secret stayed hidden.
“Of course he’ll let you go.” Shadows darkened Denton’s eyes to navy, and he quickly glanced away.
“Don’t bullshit me.” I reached up and wiped away the droplet of blood on my neck before he could press a bandage to it. “You nightworlders are all just selfish assholes with nothing better to do than ruin my life.”
My insult didn’t faze the alchemist, and he stuck a label on the blood-filled tube. “Might I remind you, Ms. Teague, that you are, in fact, a nightworlder.”
“That’s still up for debate.” Two full moons—one a few days ago—had passed, and I hadn’t shifted.
Denton pursed his lips. “I hate to break it to you, but your bloodwork suggests otherwise.”
My head snapped in his direction as he scrawled notes on his tablet with a stylus. “What the hell does that mean?”
“It means your blood is that of a shifter.” He tapped his stylus as he moved through the screens. “It also contains a few other components due to the source of the bite.”
My jaw clenched. “You mean I’m even more of a freakshow because of Fane?”
He shrugged. “I would use the word anomaly.”
“Well, I would use freakshow.” My fingers curled into fists, my nails digging into my palms.
Fucking Fane Maverick.
My life was wrecked the moment our eyes met across the club. He should have killed me that night in the alley. It would have been more merciful than this screwed-up existence. The prick cursed me with his bite so I would survive and keep the Infernal Sol from being destroyed.
The demon amulet remained within me, stirring to life every now and then, slithering below the surface like a slippery eel in a murky lake. I rubbed my abdomen where the sun tattoo branded my skin. The ominous presence bubbled inside, and more than once, the power tempted me. My thoughts had blackened, and I’d imagined slowly killing every demon in this place, Ruin included, laughing while they screamed.
I choked back the acid oozing up my esophagus and shook the horrible images off. The Infernal Sol wanted to control me, and if I let it, I’d become worse than the monsters I was supposed to kill as a raven.
I flipped my palms up and traced the scars digging into my flesh as memories of the night I received them tore through my mind. The sounds of Fane’s brother sucking Jayla’s life out played in my ears on a loop, the soundtrack to many of my nightmares. His soulless black eyes eclipsed everything else in my vision and chilled me to the bone.
Why did I survive that night? Things would have been so much easier if I hadn’t.
Fane wouldn’t have hunted me down for revenge, and I never would have met him that night.
But nothing was ever easy in life, especially mine.
After what happened to Jayla, maybe the universe decided this was a more befitting punishment than serving out my days as a raven saving the innocent. Hopefully, Hawk and the rest of them were able to do some good.
My lungs constricted, shrinking my airways. I missed Hawk so much. Did Coltrane finally come clean to him about my secret mission? Had she sent any ravens into the Underworld to search for me?
Doubtful. I knew the risks going on that mission. Of course, I couldn’t have predicted running into Fane Maverick.
When I got out of this lab, I’d find that asshole and cut off his head.
The demon shifter’s presence had poked at my mind a few times since he sold me to Ruin, but I’d concentrated so hard to shove him out my nose bled. Maybe now that we were separated, this stupid link would disappear.
A ringing echoed through the room, and Denton reached into his lab coat pocket to retrieve his phone. As he did, the keys to my restraints lifted in his pocket, the chain dangling within my reach.
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Stupid move, Dr. Frankenstein.
While Denton was preoccupied with the conversation, I carefully reached forward, hooked my finger around the metal loop, and plucked it off. Feeling the light tug, he turned to me, but I hid the keys in my fist and stared at him with a bored expression.
After a few moments, he shrugged and angled his back to me as he walked toward a counter on the left.
As fast and quietly as possible, I used the small key to unlock the cuffs around my wrists while keeping an eye on Denton. The chains rattled as I unlatched the hoops from around my ankles, sweat turning my grip slippery. Thankfully, I wore sneakers, leggings, and a tank top instead of the disgusting hospital gown they tried to put me in. That demon alchemist had received a broken horn for his efforts.
Denton ended the phone call, and I shot back into a reclined position, my heart hammering and beads of sweat collecting on my brow.
“Everything okay?” I asked, keeping my voice even. “Did someone forget to order your electrodes for tonight's lightning storm?”
Denton pinched the bridge of his nose with his long, almost delicate fingers. He could still break necks and rip throats out with those digits. “Your jokes are not amusing. I am not a fictional scientist created by an eighteen-year-old child.”
“Just let me hear it one time.” I grinned, showing my teeth. “Say the line, and I’ll stop making Frankenstein jokes.”
The alchemist huffed and crossed his arms, his lap coat straining against his shoulders. “It’s alive.”
“Wow. That was the dullest delivery I’ve ever heard.” I gave a dramatic yawn.
He shook his head, and when he turned his back again, I sprang out of the chair. Denton whipped around, cursing. “How did you—”
I grabbed the heavy shackles that had been around my ankles and swung them into his left temple. He staggered into a counter, knocking over the tube of my blood. “Should have been more careful, Dr. Frankenstein.”
Denton’s demon side rose—his eyes darkening and cheeks hollowing out—but before he could attack, I slammed my foot into his sternum and then crushed my knee into his nose.
The alchemist dropped to the white tiles, unconscious.
Demons recovered fast, so I didn’t have much time to escape. Plus, Estella or another alchemist could pop in at any moment.
I searched his coat for the keycard that would let me out of the lab. The edges of the plastic square dug into my fingers, threatening to slice them as I dashed through the lab and up the stairs where I swiped the card at the electronic security box. The lock disengaged, and the door swung open into a long, narrow hall wrapped in blinding white walls and tiled floor.
My heart slammed against my ribs while I sprinted through the corridor, halting at every corner to check for demons. Lady Luck was not a friend, so it was only a matter of time before a foe emerged up to stop my escape. As adrenaline pumped through my veins, my hands curled into tight fists. I wouldn’t mind smashing my knuckles into a couple of Ruin’s alchemists or his security team.
Footsteps echoed as I approached another corner, and I pressed myself against the wall, quieting my ragged breaths.
“That last batch seemed promising.” Denton’s assistant, Estella, held a tray of tiny glass vials, her emerald hair swept into a sleek French braid that hung between her shoulder blades. The white lab coat swallowed her tall, lithe frame.
Morelli, the dux demon alchemist beside her, shrugged his massive shoulders, horns protruding from them behind his glamour. “The formula wasn’t a hundred percent successful, but it was better than the last.”
A door opened, and Denton barreled out, black blood spotting his face and white lab coat. “She escaped again.”
Damn, that was fast. I should have handcuffed his ass to something.
Morelli cursed. “Take the samples to the lab, Estella. Denton and I will search for the vessel.”
My teeth clenched. Referring to me as the vessel that held the Infernal Sol made my blood boil.
The glass vials rattled on Estella’s tray as she scurried in the opposite direction while Denton pressed his hand on the wall a few feet away, revealing a hidden door.
“If she’s still running through the back halls, she’ll come out to the front soon.” Denton wiped blood from his temple and smeared it like ink on the white lab coat. “We’ll head her off.”
After Morelli and Denton crossed the threshold and vanished, I ran forward, slipping the keycard into a crack to stop the door from closing. My frantic breaths filled the narrow space as I waited a few moments before slowly peering out into a decorative hallway with a long carpet runner and sconces on the glossy walls instead of the stark silver and white of the lab. This had to be part of Ruin’s actual house.
When the coast was clear, I slipped out, my sneakers quiet on the plush scarlet and onyx carpet. Compared to the outside, the interior of Lord Ruin’s house was huge, so witches must have cast an enchantment to increase its size.
The corridor split and I went left, holding my breath and hoping this took me to an exterior door or to Wrath & Ruin. I could easily escape in a crowd full of people at the club. I turned a corner and dashed through an ornate archway, emerging into a grand room I hadn’t seen before where the gaudy, flashy decor was so over the top that it had me tripping on my sneakers.
“Where in the eighties drug lord did I just end up?”
Black, red, silver, and gold glided over the floors, walls, and velvet and silk furniture. A winding staircase curled up to the second-floor landing that split in two directions with a balcony overlooking the room. The giant crystal chandelier dangling from the coffered gold ceiling reflected in the water fountain below.
Thanks to Van’s obsession with the movie Scarface, I’d seen it a dozen times while hanging out with him and Shelly, so I recognized the extravagant, almost garish style. Instead of blood-red carpeting, polished black tiles spanned from wall to wall, so shiny it cast a reflection of the entire room. The fountain between the staircases held a statue of Aphrodite, the Greek goddess of love, instead of the rotating globe with the famous words The World Is Yours.
Would Tony Montana pop out with a machine gun?
The parts of Ruin’s house I’d been through were all excessive and showy, but this room took it to another level. As I studied the ostentatious designs, my gaze landed on the colossal iron door across the room. The front door.
All I had to do was walk over the gleaming black floor, and I was free.
Blood pounded in my ears as I sprinted forward, expecting a hand to clamp down on my shoulder and stop me at any second. Stars popped around the edges of my vision, and the room grew hazy in my peripheral.
My fingers reached for the knob, the icy metal slippery in my clammy grip. Cold autumn air rushed over my face, blowing my long hair back as I rushed onto the porch.
The Savannah nightlife erupted, and the music from Wrath & Ruin in the next building thundered through my ears. People strolled down the sidewalk, laughing with each other and totally unaware that they were passing a demon lord’s home.
Holy shit. I made it out.
I quietly closed the door and turned left, heading away from Ruin’s house as my knees shook. His security team would be hunting me once they realized I’d made it outside. I had to get as far away from this place as possible.
A rumbling timbre registered behind me. “Are you sure she got out?” Nik, the captain of Ruin’s security team, marched onto the porch and searched the street while he pressed on his earpiece, listening to someone on the other end.
My pulse skyrocketed as the dux demon cracked his knuckles. His large, brawny build consisted of pure muscle, and he could bulldoze his way through anything, probably even a brick wall. Beyond his handsome glamor of dirty blond hair, a chiseled jaw, and blue eyes, his skin became deep bronze, and spikes ran down his arms. His true irises were an unnatural neon green with slitted pupils.
I shoved into a group of twenty-something girls headed to Wrath & Ruin, scattering them along the sidewalk. Their glares disappeared as I slipped into a backstreet that they were too smart to venture into.
Women didn’t go into alleys and side streets alone at night in this part of town unless they wanted trouble. I could handle the human criminals who slithered around this area. It was the demons hot on my tail that I needed to avoid.
I brushed my long, raspberry strands out of my face and wiped the layer of sweat off my forehead, ignoring the guy posted against the brick wall trying to sell me drugs. After I escaped from Ruin’s demons, where the hell would I go? My bag of emergency clothes and money I’d retrieved while on the run with Fane was at Logan’s. Maybe I could sneak in and grab it. Logan wasn’t the most vigilant demon out there.
A deep voice—like thunder crashing into rocks—stirred some memory in the depths of my mind, and my footsteps slowed. I pressed against the chilly wall and gingerly crept toward the corner, the bricks snagging my tank top and leggings as I peered around the edge.
“I want you to tear this city apart to find them.” The woman’s ice-blonde hair gleamed in the night like a star in a midnight sky, her attention trained toward the shadows as she spoke. “They’re here hiding somewhere, and I won’t be satisfied until justice is served.”
The baritone voice hadn’t belonged to her, so it must have come from whoever loitered in the darkness coating the alley.
“A quick death is too easy for them. Make sure they aren’t harmed beyond repair.” Her head angled in this direction as a cruel, terrifying smile twisted her crimson lips. “I want to make them suffer.” Her electric blue stare gleamed unnaturally bright.
Ice coated my flesh, and goose bumps erupted. The alabaster complexion, pale hair, and blue irises marked her as a royal demon—that and the power throbbing off her. She seemed familiar, but I couldn’t quite place her. Maybe I’d come across her while digging through some of Coltrane’s demon intel.
“I would love to participate in their torment.” The other figure finally moved out of the shadows, and my knees almost buckled. “I have a bone to pick with both of them, especially that slippery female.”
Mykel, Karn’s massive guard who captured and dragged me back to Vlehull, snarled as he stopped a few inches from the stunning royal. Like always, he wore a tailored black suit, and his ebony hair was slicked back. Beyond his glamour, bulging muscles twice as big and powerful as Nik’s wrapped the dux demon’s seven-foot-tall frame, and talons tipped his fingers while sinister yellow eyes with slitted pupils glared from his harsh face.
His daunting mass, hardlines, and darkness contrasted with the woman’s deceptively delicate appearance.
The royal patted Mykel’s meaty arm. “You will have plenty of chances to satisfy your thirst for their pain. Just find them first.”
He nodded. “I won’t let you down, Princess Venna.”
Princess? The moisture vanished from my mouth. The title meant she was either a direct descendant of one of the ancient demon families, or she governed over territory on Earth or the Underworld.
Her eyes darkened and cheeks hollowed as her beastly side fought for dominance. “I want no stone unturned until you find that hybrid bastard Fane Maverick and that ex-raven he bit.”
As her words hit me like a giant sledgehammer, the blood drained from my body, making me shiver. They were looking for Fane and me? Was it because Fane killed Karn? Was that why this royal demon wanted revenge?
Something brushed against my legs, and a tiny gasp slipped out as a fat rat scurried by. I slapped my hand over my mouth, cursing the critter, but it was too late.
Princess Venna’s head snapped in my direction as her unsettling gaze pierced through the shadows. “Who’s there?” Her voice swirled out, cold and dangerous like a poisonous snake gliding across the grass to bite me.
I searched for an escape route, my muscles so rigid I could have been a statue. Ruin’s demons patrolled the street behind me, and Mykle and Venna blocked my other exit. My only option was to find a spot to climb, but I wouldn’t get to the roof fast enough before they saw me.
As panic clawed through my chest, fingers dug into my shoulder and yanked me around, slamming me against the brick wall. My first instinct was to assume it was Fane.
It was worse.
High Demon Lord Ruin Bacchus clamped his hand over my mouth as his face lowered to mine, those vivid irises scorching like blue flames.