Bitter whiskey and old piss ripped the breath from Aidyn’s lungs. Loud music vibrated the walls and wooden floor of the bar called Pig’s as he pushed past bigger men than him—some measuring well past his 6’3. Glancing into the dark crooks and crannies of the small biker bar, he rubbed his chin with his forefinger and thumb.
Where the hell was he?
Usually, he could spot his brother from a mile away. You couldn’t miss the huge son of a bitch.
He paused, leaning against a wooden pillar, turquoise eyes shooting toward the men around the pool table. That was where he had expected his brother to be—drinking a pint and putting money on the table against the old bikers decked in leather. But . . . he wasn’t there.
After another long second, he pushed off the pillar and headed towards the back door, the night breeze hitting him as the screen door slammed shut. Another intake of breath had his chest rising with a giant sigh.
Yet again, no sign of him. His boot tapped the rotted planks of the porch as his eyes scanned the wheat field.
Bad things happened when his brother disappeared. Death. Havoc. Things of the like, usually ending with a body to burn and evidence to bury.
A strange popping noise from behind the dumpster had him stepping off the makeshift porch. It was a squishy, wet sound. And the closer he got, the louder it became. At first, he thought it was a couple getting freaky. He almost turned around—even twisting on his heel—but as he did, a tangy, coppery, distinct smell hit his nose. He pulled a one-eighty and shuffled around the corner. On the clay ground, his brother’s huge fists continued to bash in a blond body builder’s face.
The man was dead. Aidyn was sure of it. If he wasn’t, then he wouldn’t live much longer with his brains smeared across the gravel. Blood dripped from his brother’s face, soaked his hands as his fists continued to strike the crushed skull.
“Goddammit,” he muttered, reaching for his enraged brother, and gripping him by the arms. “Enough, Dom. Enough.”
Reluctant as hell, Dom let off and pushed up from the ground, stumbling a bit. Still drunken with rage, drops of blood stained Dom’s carved face, and his ebony eyes glowed with hellfire.
“Jesus Christ, his brains are everywhere.” Aidyn stared down at the sludge smeared in the dirt and gravel.
“Good.” His brother spit on the body, and then he peeled the t-shirt off his back and wiped his face.
“The hell did he do—cheat you out of money?”
Dom shook his head. “Don’t worry about what he did.”
“We gotta get out of here before his buddies come looking for him.” Aidyn grabbed the man’s limp arms and winced as more pink sludge oozed from his skull. “Get his legs.”
“Leave him. I want these humans to find him.”
“You’re kidding me, right?”
In response, Dom put a cigarette in his mouth and bent down, picking up a full bottle of Jim Beam that leaned against the dumpster. He poured the contents over the man, and lit a pack of matches, lighting his cigarette, and then tossed the fire onto the body.
And then Dom walked away as if it never happened.
Aidyn glanced once more at the burning body before following his brother down the dirt path and around the building. About halfway, Dom paused and Aidyn nearly collided with his back. His brother tilted his head, peering toward an opening between two shacks, and with the little bit of streetlight that shined through the crevice, a small shadow moved. Aidyn’s breath hitched, his heart dropping into the pit of his stomach. A blonde girl, who didn’t look any older than seven, kneeled in the dirt, staring up at his brother, with her cheeks covered in dirt and tears, her nose and mouth a bloody mess.
His brother stared back at her, and for the first time in a while, a speck of sadness crept into their abyss. And just as fast as the emotion slipped in, Dom was on the move again, stalking toward the black ’70 dodge challenger that set in the corner of the parking lot.
His brother’s blood-stained hands yanked open the driver door, and he chucked the shirt into the floorboard as he dropped into the seat. A woman’s cry rang out and with one last look over his shoulder, Aidyn hopped in the passenger side. Their other brother sat in the back, his half-empty whiskey bottle sitting between his legs.
“You look like you had fun,” Zeke muttered, green eyes red and swollen.
Dom didn’t look back as he shoved the key in the ignition, his patience seeming to have built up over the trip.
“Shut up, Zeke.” Aidyn watched Dom from the side, a frown on his lips.
“Go ahead. Take up for him like always.”
“She told me about you.” The middle-aged man nodded as he cleaned the knife, the ten-inch shine of the steel reflecting the broken sunlight that gleamed through the trees. “She told me.”
The chirping birds settled in the trees above her head, their whistling a comforting sound. Jade glanced up, her top lip folded under her bottom lip as she watched the cardinal perch on the branch. Her grandmother had told her cardinals meant someone was visiting from heaven.
“I never believed before, but I do—I do now. I know. She showed me.” He smiled, tears glistening his brown eyes.
His fingers itched at the salt and pepper scruff on his cheeks. He sharpened the knife a few more times, the clash of steel gritting together like the teeth of a lion.
At the edge of the brush, Jade stood, afraid to step past the tree line in fear that it would swallow her up. Her honey colored eyes stared past the trees and into the darkness.
“I wouldn’t stand that close if I were you. These woods are alive in more ways than one,” a raspy older woman’s voice spoke from behind her.
With a deep breath, Jade glanced over her shoulder. Passing between the magnolia trees, Len hobbled her way toward her, using a wooden cane for support. Her gray, brittle hair hung loosely in a low ponytail, and her flowery gown fluttered in the breeze.
“Don’t tell me you have werewolves living in your backyard?” Jade smirked at her.
The old woman stopped and looked at the trees. “They’d be the least of my worries.”
“You forget I ran through those before.”
“Just because you got out once, doesn’t mean you’ll get out again.”
Len looked over to her. “Two is a lucky number.”
“My lucky number is three.”
The old woman broke a smile. “Smartass.” She turned to look at the small cottage nestled meters away. “Still traveling with the circus?”
“Yeah, and in about,” Jade pulled her phone out her pocket and clicked on the screen, “forty minutes you’ll see the main attraction: a twenty-four year old pissing her daisy dukes.”
“Hm. Already drunk at four in the afternoon?”
“Oh no, she’s been drunk since 10 a.m.”
Len shook her head and sighed. “She doesn’t waste time.”
“Well, she’s mad. She had some dude in Ohio she was crazy over.”
“Why didn’t she stay?”
“His wife wasn’t too keen on her living with them.”
The old woman’s eyes widened. “That’s a good reason.”
Jade stuffed her hands in her pockets and nodded toward the ’06 red charger sitting in the driveway. “She’s in the grief stage until another man sweeps her off her feet.”
“She’ll have a nice list of men to choose from in a few days.”
“Just what we need—her getting a new boy toy.”
“At least she’ll find a new vice.” As if on cue, the right back door to the charger swung open and a pale foot slid out followed behind a long slender leg.
After a severe case of struggling and slinking in a less than graceful manner out of the car, Erica finally tumbled out of the back seat and onto the ground in nothing but a pair of daisy dukes and a pink bikini top. The entire five-hour ride from Cincinnati she’d sipped on a bottle of cheap peach schnapps stolen from her ex’s house, and in a less than a second she managed to puke all of it up on the back tire of Jason’s car.
“So, these guys . . . are they bodyguards or something?” Jade asked, cutting her eyes away from her sister and turning her attention back to Len. “Jason hasn’t said much about where we’re going or who we’re staying with.”
“Figures.” Len began walking toward a wooden bench, motioning with a finger for her to follow. “They’re cousins of his—technically. He doesn’t like asking them for help, but he’s out of options if you ask me.”
Maintaining the slow pace of the woman, Jade’s gaze shot to where Len pointed past the car and toward the range of large dark green mountains looming in the east.
“The house is secluded, and that’s what you need right now. Not to mention, Jason—as much as he loves you—can’t protect you on his own. He doesn’t have the strength.” She plopped down on the bench. “Just be careful around the oldest brother. He’s got attitude problems a mile long."
“I’m surprised I haven’t met them before.” Jason usually introduced her to everyone in his family.
A ghost of a smile settled on Len’s face. “You probably crossed paths once or twice.”
The door of the house slammed, and Jason stepped off the porch, blonde hair wet and black circles beneath his annoyed amber eyes. If he were taller than 5’8, he’d look menacing.
“No more hiding bottles in your damn bag.”
“It was an accident. Do you think I would’ve wasted perfectly good liquor on you?” Erica asked, resting her head against the car door as she sat on the grass with her legs stretched out and her hands palming her flushed cheeks. Sweat matted red locks of hair to her pale face, and she looked the definition of a hot mess.
Jason ducked his head in the driver window. “My seat’s still soaking wet.”
“Towels are hanging up on the clothes line and cleaner's under the sink,” Len called to him.
With a frown, Jade sat on the bench and eyed the poor guy. His patience had to be running thin—if he had any left at all.
“He looks worn out.”
Jade nodded. “The driving around is wearing him down.”
“The worry is eating him up too.” Len looked over to her, pale blue eyes staring straight through her. “And what about you—how are you holding up?”
“I’m here.” And she guessed that counted for something.
“Why’s the car running so rough? Sounds like it’s about to die.” Aidyn chucked his cigarette-butt out the window.
“I think someone might be fucking with it.” And that someone had a talent in witchcraft fuckery.
Dom watched the smoke rise from the exhaust, silently counting all the ways to kill a witch.
The cheap florescent lights of the gas station flickered as Aidyn jumped out the car and walked inside, his entire body twitching from withdrawals. Dom shook his head, feeling a headache coming on at the base of his temple. T would be getting his ass fed to him tomorrow. He was supposed to be weaning his brother off, not feeding him more. Aidyn had snorted less cocaine before they left Tennessee.
He glanced up at the clouds hanging low and stuck his hand out the window. A few cool drops of rain hit his palm, and then the few drops turned into a downpour. He rolled up the window and leaned his head back against his seat, fighting to keep his eyes open. For just a moment, he gave in and let them close.
He saw Zeke in the woods like he had three years before, covered in blood as he sat naked on the ground, cradling the girl who lay deathly still in his arms. Except this time, his fingers twisted in long dark curls instead of blonde tresses.
Dom blinked, realizing it wasn’t Zeke sitting there holding that girl . . . but himself.
The car door opened, and his head snapped up.
“I got two packs this time, so if the alcoholic decides he wants to drink us under the table again, he won’t leave us empty-handed.” Aidyn threw the cases on the floor and paused outside the door. “I gotta piss before we get back on the road though.”
Slamming the door, he jogged across the street to the woods and disappeared into the brush.
“Had the dream again, didn’t you?” Zeke’s rough voice broke the silence. “Guilty conscious starting to eat away at you, huh?”
Dom rubbed his eyes, trying hard to erase a pair of honey eyes from his memory. But three years later, here he was, still reeling from the effects of that one shit week.
“I hope that memory stays with you forever.” He accepted his brother’s hate, like a burden to bear.
With a glance in the rearview mirror, he caught his brother’s disheveled appearance—glassy red eyes, two weeks’ worth of beard growth, and greasy hair. The depressed bastard was one step from being a hobo. God forbid a woman ever make him sink that low.
The door opened yet again and Aidyn jumped inside, soaking wet and smelling like a dog.
“Never felt so good to piss.” He laughed as he got comfortable. “You know when you wait to pee and your gut starts to hurt from holding it for so long? Yeah, totally just had that experience.” Aidyn then looked over, and his face changed as he realized Dom wasn’t laughing. “What’s a matter with you?”
Dom frowned, wishing he had the power to fade into thin air. He lived with these people. These idiots. They invaded his space like Martians, and stayed and thrived and threw up everywhere as if it were a common territorial marking.
He turned the key in the ignition and the car gave a pitiful knocking sound. He closed his eyes, swearing that if anyone ever touched his car again, he’d remove their bowels through their throat. He turned the key once again and the car came to life. He revved it, drowning out his brothers’ voices with the roar of the engine and backed out. Staring at the long road ahead, he couldn’t wait to be home and imagined himself barricaded in his room with nothing but liquor, a pack of Oreos, and a carton of cigarettes for company.
“So, you like it?” Jason asked.
Jade blinked, pulling her headphones out of her ears. “Huh?”
She looked over to it, barely taking it in before looking back to him. His amber eyes pleaded with her to say yes, but damn if she didn’t have the biggest urge to say no, just to see if it would matter.
In the last three years, she had lived in twenty different places. Twenty different towns. With twenty different people. She didn’t care if she liked it or not—she’d be leaving it soon anyway.
But for Jason’s sake, she nodded.
He smiled, raking his fingers through his dirty blond hair and nodding as if he’d done right by some degree. She glanced at the house and guessed he’d done better than the others. A finger-eating unicorn wasn’t trotting across the lawn, nor was a komodo dragon being used as a guard dog.
There was a catch though. There was always a catch.
A four-car garage connected to the side of the gothic-styled house made of gray stone. Gargoyles guarded the giant front porch and the lonely balcony on the top floor. Maybe Dracula was their landlord? The high king of bloodsuckers probably waited inside for a fresh, juicy throat to chomp on.
It could be no worse than Lola’s place. The bearded lady used to make her walk her talking pet gorilla to the beach daily. His name was Ralph. He smoked cigars, painted watercolors, slept in a hammock, and wrote sensuous poetry about butterflies.
A true artist at heart indeed, aside from the fact that he liked taking craps on sandcastles.
“Any dead bodies in there I should know about?” She picked her backpack off the floorboard.
Jason grinned. “Not this time.”
At his aunt’s house, they had walked in and interrupted a séance one evening. The poor woman had been hell-bent on bringing her dead boyfriend back to life. Problem was: he’d been dead for a week and his body was starting to rot.
“That was one time. It won’t happen again, I promise.”
She shrugged. “If you say so.”
She stepped out the car, slinging her bag over her shoulder. When her sister didn’t move, she poked her head inside the vehicle. Erica lay spread-eagle with a night mask covering her eyes. There was no way she’d be waking up that woman. It wasn’t worth the risk of having her face mauled by a hyena. Jade shut the door and received a dead look from Jason.
“You wake her up. It’s not my job to wrestle a bear.” She tapped the roof of the car. “Pop the trunk.”
She headed to the rear of the Charger and the trunk sprung open. A suitcase fell out, and another one threatened to topple over. Jade shook her head as she threw her sisters suitcases to the ground, not caring if she broke the cheap crap inside them, and rummaged through the trunk until she came across her black suitcase and two green duffel bags that lay crushed at the bottom of the pile. Jason came to her side, holding a hand out to help.
“I’m good. Cinderella’s gonna need you to carry hers, though.”
He grimaced. “One of these days I’m going to drop her off on the side of the highway.”
“I’ll help you push her out.” She maneuvered her bags in one hand and dragged the suitcase in the other.
She wasn’t as adventurous as her sister. In fact, she could live a whole lifetime without any adrenaline rushes. She’d had plenty in her twenty-three years, and she was done with them.
And she swore if she had one more ankle sprain from a failed attempt on her life, she’d beat the living hell out of that conniving old witch with her bare hands.
Jason held open the oak door of the house, and she wobbled into the main hall, surveying the cherry-wood walls and the white marble floors. A barroom was to the left, along with a wide staircase, and a living room was to the right. Not bad, not bad. Had character, she supposed. Her almond gaze traveled back to the stairs, and she took a deep breath and shuffled her way toward them.
“What room?” she asked.
“Just pick one,” Jason said with a shrug as he disappeared into the barroom.
He’d been drinking more lately. She wondered if she needed to start drinking too since she was the only one left sober amid all the chaos.
Jade climbed the stairs, praying for someone to shoot her as she conquered them one step at a time, determined to get to the third floor. She veered to the right and paused in her tracks. Black iron lamps hung on the mahogany walls of the corridor. Shrugging, she walked the hall, eyeing each of the four doors, until she zeroed in on the last two.
A pie slice of light streamed from the last door on the right, and she nudged it with her elbow. With a slow creak, it opened, exposing a room void of color and personality. She dropped her things carelessly on the floor of the hall and stepped inside.
Two French doors led out to the balcony. And honestly, she would have picked the room for the balcony alone.
She was ready to get her things and drop them on the bed. Until her eyes landed on the closet. A lone jacket and a pair of black boots set on the floor. And that’s when she also noticed the bed had been laid in—the gray duvet crinkled and nearly falling off the mattress.
“You would go in the one room you can’t have.”
She looked over her shoulder. Jason leaned on the frame of the door, his gaze scanning over the empty, cold room.
Disappointment set in as she sighed. “Sorry, I couldn’t tell anyone was living in here.”
He gave a nod. “The one across the hall’s open. Promise it’s a lot better than this one.”
Jason picked up her bags, and she followed as he went into the other room. Sunlight spewed in from a large wall-sized window adorned in red drapes. Her eyes slid to the dark walls of wood, and then to the fireplace across from the bed. The room spoke to the inner part of her that leveled with Wednesday Adams, and called to all those little dark spots in her heart.
She put her things on the trunk at the foot of the black four-poster bed and glanced around, noticing the cobwebs that hung low in the corners and the spiders dangling from the ceiling. Her eyes swept over the claw tub by the window and the broken black iron chandelier swaying in the middle of the room.
“It needs a little work, but I think it fits you,” Jason said, wiping a finger along a dusty white writer’s desk in the corner.
“Where is he? He was supposed to be here three hours ago,” a woman’s shrill voice called from inside the room.
Leaning his shoulder on the wall outside the office, Lu glanced around the living room, noting Marcy had an expensive taste. A red chaise lounge set in front of the marble fireplace, along with a bear rug. Paintings covered the white walls, and a black grand piano stood in the corner next to the patio leading out to the inground pool.
He heard a young man mumble something incoherent.
“Give it here, you incompetent oaf.”
With a deep breath, Lu stepped from behind the wall and stood just outside the doorway.
“Always gotta do everything around here,” Marcy muttered under her breath as she signed her signature.
A deep chuckle left Lu’s chest. In an instant, Marcy’s gaze flicked from the paper to him.
An evil grin curled her chapped lips. “Well, you sure took your time.” She turned to the frazzled brown-haired boy and handed him the papers. “Leave.”
As the young man scurried from the room, Lu stepped in. “I’m not one to rush.”
For a second, he paused, realizing the tip of her usually pointy nose was missing. Along with her two pinky fingers. And it looked as if she’d caught a case of leprosy—bumps lining her chin and dead skin hanging from her forehead. Not to mention, the balding taking place on her scalp. Her blonde hair hung in thin clumps, and he had the urge to name her “Patches.”
Blinking off the shock, he strutted into her office, looking around with a holier-than-thou disposition. He was certain his arrogance pissed her off more than anything. Marcy glared but kept her smile.
“So, why’d you call?”
“I need your help with someone.”
Lu fiddled with the gnome ornaments on her desk. “Who?”
“A girl I can’t seem to catch.”
His eyes flicked to hers. “Gone soft, have you?” Her smile faded into gritting teeth. “What’s in it for me?”
“Did you seriously just ask that?” She cut her blue eyes and rubbed her forehead. “What do you think’s in it for you? A soul to add to your list.”
And he never said no to a free soul.
As her words sank in, he scowled, his eyes cold and calculating. “What do you have in mind?”
“You just do whatever you feel is necessary at the time. Knock her out, or do your little voodoo wonders on her. Hell, it doesn’t even have to be that creative, just as long as she gets back to me alive.”
“Body’s rotting that bad, huh?”
“What do you think?”
He paced in front of her desk. “So, who’s the girl?”
She shrugged. “I don’t know, but she’s got the ingredient I need to finish my spell.”
He cocked a brow. “You don’t even know her name?”
“Do I look like a fucking detective, Lu? I know the elf’s name, and for me, that’s enough. I just wanna have her heart on a silver-platter in front of me. I’m hungry, and literally falling apart.”
“And how do you expect me to find her?”
“You’re Satan, Prince of Darkness, King of the Underworld, do your voodoo and figure out where she is.”
“Exactly. I’m Satan, not God. Unless she’s made a deal with one of my minions, then I don’t know her off the top of my head, sweetness.” He played with his unruly black hair in the mirror on her wall. “I need something of hers to get an idea of where she is.”
Marcy sucked her teeth, her fingernails tapping the arms of her chair. “Really?”
The witch sighed loudly, leaned forward, and opened the bottom drawer of her desk. She dug around for a minute before sitting up straight and slamming down a single piece of paper in front him.
Lucifer lifted the vanilla paper, eyeing the sketch as an uncontrollable hatred stirred within him, his hands trembling with rage. Heat crawled up the collar of his white button-down shirt, along his neck and to his face.
“That good enough, Prince?”
His eyes turned into slits as he switched his fiery gaze to Marcy. “Where did you get this?”
In an instant, the witch’s face paled as if he’d stabbed her with his words.
“One of my men found it in a hotel room she stayed in.”
He breathed deep, closed his eyes, and a thousand memories flooded him, ones that weren’t his own. A tiny cottage, the dark woods, and a coarse river running between mountains—it all flashed to him in a matter of seconds.
But that’s not what piqued his interest or told him exactly where the girl was. It was the hazy outline of a man shrouded in darkness. He couldn’t see his face, but the power pouring off him in the memory alone told Lu exactly who he was.
“Well, hello,” Lu muttered as a wolfish grin spread over his face.
Marcy perked up like a girl scout. “You found her?”
He glared down at the sketch. “I found a lot more than just her.”