Excerpt

Start ReadingStygian Now

Born before man recorded time, I lived for thousands of years believing myself to be something I’m not.

Someone I’m not.

Lied to and betrayed by gods, Daimons and Dark-Hunters, I’ve struggled to find my way in a world where I’ve been cursed since the moment I was prematurely ripped from my mother and planted into the womb of an innocent woman who thought me her son.

Trained as a slayer and predator, I learned to fit in and stay low. To become a tool for evil. Until I was sent to kill the one woman I couldn’t. My hesitation cost her her life.

Or so I thought. In an act of betrayal that makes all the others pale in comparison, I’ve learned that this world is an illusion and that my Phoebe still lives.

Now I will have to travel into the very pits of Hades to try and save her, even as everyone around me attempts to steal what little soul I have left. There’s only one person at my back and I’m not sure I can trust her either, for she was born of an enemy race. Yet sometimes the road to redemption is one that singes us to our very core. And if I fail to find the answers I need to save Phoebe, more than just my wife will die.

We will lose the world. Both human and Daimon.

Stygian will be available August 28th. Please enjoy this excerpt. 

Stygian Dawn

Tears blinded Braith as she stared through the bars to see what they’d done to her once proud husband. While all the Sephirii beings were ethereal and beautiful, none were more so than her precious Kissare. Yet they had beaten him to the brink of death. Had sliced his white wings from his muscular body and left him a broken shadow of the fierce warrior he’d been.

Even so the fire of life returned to his warrior’s gaze the moment he saw her through his matted white hair. Ethereal hair that contrasted sharply with the blackness of hers.

“Apollymi,” he breathed, using an endearment that in his language meant “the light of my heart.”

From the moment they’d first met, he’d refused to call her anything else. Unlike the others who scorned and mocked her for a monster to be feared, Kissare alone knew her for something more than the pit of utter darkness that would devour the world whole, and laugh while she did it.

And they were right. She hated everything and everyone.

Except for him.

He smiled at her in spite of his pain. “You shouldn’t have come here.”

“I had to.” Choking on her grief, she cupped his face through the bars. “I drugged Atticus and have stolen the key.” She released him so that she could pull it from the folds of her cloak and unlock his prison to free him. “We can—”

“Nay,” he said, cutting her off. He placed his bloodied and bruised hand over hers to stop her from setting him free. “I cannot leave. It’s the only way to protect you and Monakribos.”

She sobbed at the mention of their young son, who’d been crying himself to sleep every night as he asked after his absent father. Kissare and Monakribos were so close. From the very hour of Monakribos’s birth, Kissare had been there for him. Had never missed a single night of tucking their son into his bed to sleep—provided the babe hadn’t fallen asleep while nestled in his father’s arms.

Until the other gods had learned that Kissare was the father of her child.

Damn Kissare’s brother for his loose, treacherous tongue! A tongue she’d nailed to the ceiling over the betrayal that had caused Kissare’s arrest.

Not content to stop there, she’d also nailed both of Tisahn’s testicles beside his tongue as he screamed out for a mercy she’d refused to show him. Then she’d grown him two more balls just so she could rip those off and nail them up as well. Pity the weakling had died before she’d had a chance to give him a third set.

Worse still, her pathetic sister had hidden his corpse from her so that Braith couldn’t resurrect him and torture him longer…

Wretched bitch! She’d get Cam back for that one day, even if it was the last thing she did.

While it was fine for the male gods to have children with the female Sephirii, or any other whore they dredged up from the lowest pits for that matter, it was considered sacrilege for a male Sephiroth to impregnate any goddess he served.

But in her heart, Braith had only loved Kissare and their son. In all these centuries, Kissare alone had been the one who’d made her laugh. His had been the sole company she’d sought. Whenever she’d been despondent, he’d comforted her. When she’d needed friendship, he’d always been there. No excuses. No delay.

Her best friend.

Her only friend.

Now…

“I don’t know how to live without you, Sare. I don’t want to live without you.”

“Shh,” he whispered before he placed a tender kiss to her cheek. “You are a goddess. The most beautiful of all. You lived centuries before my birth and you were fine without me.”

“No. I survived and endured. I was cold and unfeeling. The last thing I want is to be cast back to that lonely hell I used to call home.”

“And now you have a baby who needs his mother.”

She choked on a sob. “He needs his father, too.” How would their son ever learn kindness without Kissare? She could teach him nothing save murder, torture, and hatred.

Those were all she understood.

He buried his hand in her dark hair and locked gazes with her. “The other gods will never leave us in peace, Polli. You know that. We’ve broken their sacred law, and they are a hateful lot. My execution will make amends. Better they punish me, alone, than you and Kree…But I will come back for you. I swear it. No matter what it takes. Death can’t keep us apart. Nothing can. I love you too much to stay away.”

Through the pain, she believed him. If he said it, it was true. He’d never once lied to her. It wasn’t in him to do such.

“How will I know it’s you?”

He took her hand into his and placed it over his heart so that she could feel its fierce, strong beatbeneath her palm. “You will know, and you won’t doubt me. Ever. You’ll see.”

“Then I will wait for you. No other shall ever touch me. You will forever be my only heart.” She turned her hair snow white to match his and to honor him and his noble sacrifice.

For her and their son.

Never again would her hair be any other color, and she would sit in black—to mark her darkness—until his return.

He gave her a sad smile. “You will always be my precious Apollymi.” He kissed her lips. “Now go before they find you. Raise our son and never let him doubt how much his father loves him. One day, I will return for you both. You can count on it.”

Her heart shattered as she nodded and let go of his hand. “I will wait for you! Forever!” She turned and walked away, fearing the future. And knowing what she would do if the gods dared keep them apart.

June 25, 9527 BC

Apollymi the Great Destroyer burst from the depths of her hellish prison to set fire to the entire earth, intending to scorch it back to its primordial ooze.

Her wrath was implacable.

And no one was immune.

Waves crashed over continents and sank them overnight to the bottom of the oceans. Roiling black clouds obliterated the sun. All life upon the human earth was threatened with extinction.

Even the very gods trembled in fear.

Why? Because those gods of old had banded together once more to take from her the one thing she’d loved above all others. Again. The only one she’d allowed them to lock her in prison to save.

Her second born son.

The sole child she’d hidden in the world of man, hoping to spare him from their cruelty and slaughter.

And like his brother before him, he had been persecuted by the gods. No mercy had been shown him.

No kindness.

Instead, her own pantheon had allowed humanity to abuse him and had gone out of their way to stalk him until they’d succeeded in brutally murdering him just after the eve of his twenty-first year.

As with Monakribos, he’d been deprived of his father’s love.

Deprived of his mother’s protection.

Now…

She would have her vengeance!

In a furious blood quest for atonement, Apollymi had set upon her own pantheon first, annihilating every god who’d cursed her child.

Until she reached the final two in Katateros.

There, the ancient goddess sent the force of her winds to knock both Symfora and her daughter, Bet’anya, into the bright foyer of the theocropolis where the Atlantean gods had once held their immaculate parties, and their meetings that determined the fates of mankind, along with those of Apollymi’s beloved sons and husband. She stalked them like the predator she was, intending to feast upon their souls for what they’d done.

“You killed him. All of you!”

Symfora—their goddess of death and sorrow, who was as dark in coloring as Apollymi had been before they’d interfered with her first and only love—shook her head. “We didn’t kill your son. He still lives.”

Narrowing her swirling silver eyes as her white hair cascaded around her lithe body, Apollymi curled her lips. “My Apostolos was slaughtered this morning by the Greek god you invited into my lands.” A god who had killed her son and then cursed all the Apollite people to die painfully at age twenty-seven.

Symfora’s eyes widened in terror. “I never welcomed Apollo here. That was a decision made by you and Archon.”

“Shut up!” Apollymi blasted her into oblivion for speaking a truth that speared her with guilt. She refused to be blamed for what had happened to her child.

The gods had betrayed both her sons, Monakribos and Apostolos! And she was done with them.

Now alone in the wake of her mother’s fate, Bet’anya faced Apollymi without any help whatsoever. Her dark caramel skin turned pale.The Atlantean goddess of wrath, misery, and the hunt was the last one standing.

She would be the last one to fall.

But as Apollymi reached for her, she hesitated at the sight of Bet’anya’s distended belly. The much younger goddess was pregnant. About to give birth any day by the looks of her.

In that moment, rage and pain warred within her heart. Most of all, compassion flared deep as she felt the pangs of a mother who’d lost her child, not once, but twice. How could she deliver such pain to another?

Her breathing labored, Bet’anya met her gaze levelly, without fear or deceit. Of all the goddesses in Katateros, she was by far the most beautiful. Half Egyptian and half Atlantean. Her exotic features were sharply chiseled,and framed by a wealth of thick ebony hair that set off her almond-shaped eyes to perfection. Apollymi could see why the Egyptians called her Bethany. In Atlantean, Bet’anya meant “keeper of misery,” but in her father’s language, Bethany meant “oath of grace.”

A far more fitting moniker for such a fetching creature. “I didn’t incarcerate you or hunt your son, Apollymi. I took no part in their cruelty. The one time I thought I’d stumbled upon your son in the human realm, I came to you with that information and not the others. I never breathed a word to them against either of you.” Tears choked her. “You know it’s true. I came here today to leave this pantheon forever so that I could have my own baby in peace, away from their politics. Please, do not do to me what I did not do to you.”

The girl was right and Apollymi knew it. No matter how much she wanted Bet’anya’s blood, she couldn’t kill another innocent baby. Especially not on this day. Not while the soil was still damp and stained with the blood of her own son. “Who among the gods is his father?”

“The father’s mortal. Human.”

Human…

There was something Apollymi would have never suspected from a goddess she knew hated that disgusting species even more than she did. “His name?”

“Styxx of Didymos.”

For a moment, Apollymi couldn’t breathe as her rage renewed itself with a vigor unprecedented.

Of all the mortals, in all the world, that was not the name to give her.

Not today.

Not after she’d seen through her son’s own eyes the life he’d lived and what had been done to him because of Styxx of Didymos

Damn him! For Styxx was the prince she’d chosen to bond with her own son to protect him from the gods who’d been hell-bent on killing her precious Apostolos. The human twin brother who was supposed to have protected her child and his birthright!

Instead, Styxx had stood by and allowed her son to be slaughtered and betrayed. Of all men, he was the very human whose throat she wanted most to personally rip out!

She felt her eyes turning from silver to red as her Destroyer form took over.

Bet’anya stumbled away and wrapped her arms around her belly to protect her baby. “Please, Apollymi…my baby’s innocent.”

“So. Was. Mine!”

Both of them. And yet her sons had been given death sentences by the gods.

All of them.

Before she could stop herself, Apollymi reacted on instinct.

And she returned to the goddess what her pantheon had done to her.

In the blink of an eye, she ripped Bet’anya’s son from her belly with a furious scream.

Bet’anya staggered back and fell to her knees. Gasping, she stared at her unmoving son in Apollymi’s hands, and she reached out to touch him.

But Apollymi wouldn’t have it. No one had shown her an ounce of mercy. Not once.

Therefore, she delivered it back, full force. She blasted Bet’anya away and turned the bitch into a statue like all the others. Let her sit out eternity in a fathomless void where she could hear and see, but never again move or be part of any world. It was what they all deserved for what they’d done to her.

What they’d done to her children.

Then Apollymi looked down at the tiny infant in her hands and started to discard it as they’d done her son.

To toss him into the sea like he was garbage. Without a second thought so that he could die.

But because he was the son of Styxx, it was as if she held her own son in her arms. He looked like her Apostolos.

Identical, in fact. Every last part of him was the same. His tiny little fingers and toes.

His lips that had never had a chance to call her mother…

Tears filled her eyes as she remembered that day, twenty-one years ago, when Apostolos had been ripped from her womb and taken from her. So small and fragile.

Just an innocent babe in need of love…

And she remembered when Monakribos had been so tiny and sweet. When all he’d done was beg for his father’s love after they’d stolen his father from both of them and left them lost in their grief. Powerless to keep the world from crushing them with its unkindness.

“Just like you,” she whispered to the baby. “They were helpless, too.”

No one had taken pity on them.

For her sons, alone, she’d allowed her powers to be bound. Had allowed the gods to lock her into a dark, hollow prison until she’d lost what little sanity she’d had.

Her tears formed crystals on her cheeks as they fell silently and her grief shredded a heart she’d never wanted to begin with.

Damn you, Kissare, for making me feel love.

Because of him, the goddess of destruction was not without feelings. Her heart was shattered and she was devastated. And no matter how much she hated Styxx of Didymos, she couldn’t bring herself to kill this baby who looked so much like the creature that had fathered him.

A baby who looked so much like her precious Apostolos who wasn’t supposed to die so very young.

So very brutally.

More tears blinded her as she struggled to breathe past the pain that lacerated her heart.

I will protect you, little one. You will grow to be a strong, fine man.

“Out of darkness comes the light. From the loins of this Stygian hell, you are born and you will be called Urian—the flame of our new people. And one day, you will be my blade. My vengeance upon them all. They took my son from me, and I will take theirs from them. Together, my precious Flame, we will destroy the human race, and all the gods of this earth.”

But first, he would have to be reborn in the land of the mortals and from the belly of a mother who would have no idea of who or what she carried…

What this child’s destiny would become.

And Apollymi knew just who his new temporary mother would be. What father would be the best to mentor him to manhood.

Aye, the world of man would tremble before them all.

Copyright © 2018 by Sherrilyn Kenyon

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Start Reading Death Doesn’t Bargain Now

Death Doesn’t Bargain—available May 8th—is the second historical fantasy title in New York Times bestselling author Sherrilyn Kenyon’s Deadman’s Cross series. Where Deadmen tell their tales, and every soul is damned or redeemed by the final choices they make. Please enjoy this excerpt.

The Deadmen are back…

But so are the demons who have broken free of their eternal prison and are bent on mankind’s destruction. The worst of the lot is Vine, determined to claim their lives for taking hers. She will see the world burn…and has the perfect lure to destroy them all. One of their own.

Kalder Dupree has never known a day of mercy. Born to the cruelest of mer-races, he sacrificed himself for his crew and is in Vine’s hands. He expects no mercy or rescue.

Yet Cameron Jack is determined to set Kalder free. As a Hellchaser, it’s her calling, and she cannot allow even a not-so-innocent to be tortured for an act of kindness that spared her damnation.

To defeat evil, it sometimes takes an even worse evil, and Cameron is willing to do whatever she must to make this right. If Vine thought she had her hands full before, she hasn’t seen anything nearly as powerful as Cameron’s resolve.

Prologue

“When I said I’d give you any hell-locked soul to claim for the Sea Witch’s crew, I’m thinking I should have seriously set some limitations. Sanity being a more obvious one . . . and one that should have gone without saying.”

That comment was met with a stoic glare from the demon who showed about as much emotion as Devyl Bane did remorse for all the lives he’d ruthlessly taken while he’d worn the flesh of a human man. “I’ve agreed to take on all the souls of the damned you suggested without complaint or hesitation, Leucious. Now, I want the Myrcian for me crew. Release him from this infernal realm or I’m staying right where I am and you can face Vine and her army without me. Let’s see how far you get on resealing those gates and holding back the damned then, eh?”

Irritated and furious almost beyond rational thought over Devyl’s insistence on using a name he hated and had abandoned using centuries ago, Thorn dragged his forefinger along his bottom lip while he struggled with the sudden urge to gut the difficult warrior before him. Not that it would matter.

Wouldn’t kill him.

Just piss him off and cause him to return the gesture.

Dón-Dueli of the Dumnonii had ever been the single most aggravating warlord to ever wield a sword against him.

Sadly, he’d also been the most successful, which was why Thorn was here to make this regrettable bargain.

He needed the dark, deadly bastard. And the Devyl’s Bane, as he called himself these days, knew it. Hence that evil, satisfied red gleam in his demonic eyes as he dared him into this with a smirking sneer. He had Thorn by the figurative bullocks.

As much as it pained him to admit it, he couldn’t defeat Vine and her army without Devyl’s help. For that matter, Devyl was the sole reason that particular breed of demon bitchtress had ever been trapped behind the gates to begin with—and that incredible feat the bastard had managed after his death. Which said it all about how crafty and resourceful a beast Bane was.

Still . . .

Thorn turned his attention to the pit where Kalder Dupree was engaged in an impressive brawl against the worst of Mephistopheles’s pets. Using barbed and fiery whips, they were beating the Myrcian warrior down with a sick glee, and still Kalder fought them with everything he had. He met every bloody lash and blow with a defiant curse as he psychotically begged them for more and goaded them to hit him ever harder.

Kalder even questioned their parentage, as if any demon here had a clue as to who or what had fathered them on their whore of a mother.

There was a macabre beauty to Kalder’s stubborn rebellion.

A warrior’s code that few could really understand unless they were one of them. That innate need to give as good as he got. A refusal to surrender, no matter the odds or pain. Indeed, the harder the blow, the more determined the resolve.

With my shield or upon it.

It was a warrior’s code Thorn knew well. One he lived by himself, as he’d been raised up on it by his own merciless relatives.

No damned demon kills me and lives.

If he had to come back from hell itself for vengeance and satisfaction, he would have their throats as payment. Better to die on his feet with blood on his fists than on his knees with piss in his drawers. And he would go out choking on the flesh of his enemies, not on his own bile.

Aye, he understood both of these demon-spawned men implicitly. They were like-minded beasts, even if they had once fought on opposite sides of a most bitter war for the world. Ironic that now they were allies.

How the world changes. . . .

Resigning himself to this inevitable nightmare he was sure to regret, he met Bane’s dark glower. “Is he to be your first mate, then?”

Devyl laughed out loud—a rare sound for him. Then he cut it short as he realized that Thorn had been serious. “I’m insane and rather suicidal most days, not stupid. Big difference, that.”

“Perhaps. But ofttimes ’tis a fine line that divides the three.”

“I disagree. Takes a great deal of intelligence to run insanity and pull back from death before he takes you. You’ve got to know right where that line is at all times. Only the most observant and wisest amongst us can toe it in good measure, and dance its tune without losing the beat, or your head. Nay, they are not lovers, or even close cousins. Rather, they are strangers and should ever remain so if you value your limbs at all.”

And Du was always good at keeping himself intact—as well as his men and army. Of all the warlords, gods, and demons Thorn had battled over the centuries, none had been more skillful or cunning than the beast at his side. Had Du’s wife not cut his throat, and slit his gullet, he’d have taken the world and they’d all have been paying homage to this bastard’s sword.

Which was exactly what had brought them here today.

Aye, he needed Devyl’s extreme form of fighting. To face madness, it took madness.

Evil to combat evil.

And no one understood Vine’s insanity or war plans better than Devyl did. If the world was to be saved this go-round, their only hope lay in the hands of this demon and his band of . . .

Thorn cringed at the thought of the Deadmen Bane had assembled to fight for the world and save it.

May the gods help us all.

This had disaster written all over it and he was about to sign them all up for a front-row seat at the Apocalypse.

Relegated to his part in this disaster, Thorn gave him a curt nod. “Let me see for the bargain.”

Devyl turned his attention back to the fight as Thorn left his side to negotiate for Kalder’s soul. The Myrcian was badly dehydrated—no doubt part of his torture. As a mermaid, Kalder needed water much more than a regular human or any other species did. And it appeared as if he’d been without any for weeks now. Point of fact, his skin was peeling back from his very bones. Something that had to be excruciating.

Yet it slowed him down not at all.

Nothing ever had, and that was one of the things Devyl respected most about the much-younger warrior. He was a creature to be reckoned with and feared.

“Captain?”

He glanced over his shoulder at the tiny, powerful West African shaman they’d picked up earlier. Her dark skin was flawless and made her amber eyes practically glow. Though she was currently dressed in rags, she carried herself with the presence of a noble queen and he gave her the due of one.

Belle Morte.

She was a creature of many secrets, but he saw her heart as clearly as he saw the Myrcian’s. She was a woman to be reckoned with and admired.

If not always trusted.

“What is it, Lady Belle?”

She jerked her chin toward Kalder. “Why that one?”

“You’re questioning me?”

She rubbed her hands over her arms. The gesture rattled the multitude of silver bangles that lined both her wrists. “He’s a deep darkness in his heart. Not like the others you’ve chosen thus far.”

Nay, he was nothing like the others. Kalder had always been unique unto himself. And that was why Devyl wanted him as part of their crew.

“So you think I should leave him to rot and bleed here, then?”

Belle bit her lip and scowled. “Most would say you should have left me, Captain. That I not be worth a chance for salvation, given what all I’ve done.”

“Are you one of them?”

She glanced around the fiery pits where so many were being ruthlessly tortured to consider her answer carefully before she stared at the new mark Thorn had placed on their wrists when he’d pulled each of them from similar hellholes and made their sacred pact—a bargain sealed in blood and marked with their “Deadman’s” brand—a ribbon with a skull in its center. That unique brand designated them as part of Thorn’s Hellchaser army, and temporarily kept their rotted souls in the mortal realm so that they could fight for a chance to save their own condemned souls from the damnation they’d earned while human.

This was the only chance most of them would ever have to spare themselves infernal torture and damnation.

Belle shook her head. “I’m too grateful for your mercy in giving me a second chance when no one else would. I would never betray you.”

And that was why he’d agreed with Thorn to spare her soul. She saw more than the others. Deeper. Nothing and no one could hide from her sage seer’s sight. “Anyone else is fair game, then?”

One corner of her mouth lifted ever so subtly, letting him know that he’d been correct in surmising her character. “Nothing escapes your notice, does it?”

He glanced back at the Myrcian as he laid low one of the fiercest of the demons. With a hell-born growl of glee, Kalder ripped out the heart of the beast in such a manner that it caused three of them to shrink back in sudden fear of him. No easy feat, that, to cow the fearless and set them on their heels. And it said it all about Kalder’s skills and why Devyl wanted him for this mission.

To fight the damned and hold them back from the world of man, you needed someone who didn’t flinch at their approach. Someone who had nothing to lose.

More than that, Devyl had once known the man’s father. A fierce, nasty bastard.

Unstoppable. Untamable.

Filled with such rage that he’d destroyed an entire population and cost thousands their lives. He wondered if Kalder’s mother had ever shared that story with her son. For that was the thing of the Myrcians.

You never really knew where you stood with them.

They would lure you in, make you comfortable, and then serve you up your own intestines.

While smiling in your face.

He respected that about them. And it was what had caused Kalder to be damned here. The mother who’d raised and nurtured him had murdered him when he’d gone to her for comfort after the death of his younger brother.

Aye, they were all a treacherous, bloodthirsty lot. It ran deep in their bloodlines and was part of their genetic stock. You could bank your very death upon it.

And Devyl would have it no other way.

Copyright © 2018 by Sherrilyn Kenyon

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Paperback Spotlight: Deadmen Walking

Today we’re sharing a sneak peek from Deadmen Walking, the start of a new epic fantasy series from bestselling author Sherrilyn Kenyon—out in paperback March 27th. Please enjoy this excerpt.

Deadmen tell their tales…

To catch evil, it takes evil. Enter Devyl Bane—an ancient dark warlord returned to the human realm as one of the most notorious pirates in the New World. A man of many secrets, Bane makes a pact with Thorn—an immortal charged with securing the worst creations the ancient gods ever released into our world. Those powers have been imprisoned for eons behind enchanted gates..gates that are beginning to buckle. At Thorn’s behest, Bane takes command of a crew of Deadmen and, together, they are humanity’s last hope to restore the gates and return the damned to their hell realms.

But things are never so simple. And one of Bane’s biggest problems is the ship they sail upon. For the Sea Witch isn’t just a vessel, she’s also a woman born of an ancient people he wronged and who in turn wronged him during a centuries long war between their two races—a woman who is also sister to their primary target. Now Marcelina, the Sea Witch, must choose. Either she remains loyal to her evil sister and almost extinct race against Bane and his cause, and watches humanity fall, or she puts faith in an enemy who has already betrayed her. Her people over the totality of humanity—let’s hope Bane can sway her favor.

Chapter One

In the Year of Our Lord 1716
Jamaica

“Way I hear tell it, that one’s so bad, he whups his own arse thrice a week.”

Eyes wide, Cameron Amelia Maire Jack burst out laughing at the unexpected, dry comment she overheard above the raucous tavern voices and music. Until she caught sight of the man it was directed toward. That sobered her quick enough.

Holy mother of God …

There was no way to miss that giant mass of human male as he swept into the crowded room like the living embodiment of some ancient hero.

Nay, not a hero.

A pagan god.

At least six and a half feet tall, he towered over every one else there, and had a shoulder width so great he was forced to turn to the side to come through the doorway, and stoop down lest he decapitate himself with the thick, low- hanging beam. A feat he accomplished with a masculine grace and swagger that said he’d done it enough that it was habit from years of experience.

Which made her wonder how many times as a boy he must have whacked his head afore he learned to instinctively duck like that.

With a quick swipe of his massive hand, he removed his black tricorne hat and tucked it beneath his muscled arm, exposing a thick mane of unbound, wavy sable hair that gleamed in the dull candlelight. He held a set of rugged features that appeared chiseled from stone—in perfect masculine proportions.

Never in her life had she beheld his equal in form, strength, or grace, but it wasn’t just the unexpected sight of him. He possessed that raw, commanding presence that was unrivaled by king or commander. An air of noble refinement that was offset by an aura of bloodthirsty intolerance, cool indifference, and utter ennui.

He was lethal, no doubts there. Beguiling. More than that, he was an enigmatic study of warring contradictions that quickened her heart a lot more than she wanted to admit to anyone, especially
herself.

In a festering den of inhospitable inequity and evil, this man reigned as its supreme emperor. And while his two companions were dressed in brightly colored brocades— like the other vain occupants of the room— this one, in stark contradiction, wore a somber black wool coat, breeches with plain brass buttons, and an unremarkable
dark brown waistcoat. Even his cotton shirt and neckerchief were as black as his hair and boots. Like a Quaker…and yet his demeanor and weaponry said he didn’t partake of their religion or peaceful ways.

The only color on his body was the blood-red hilt of a barbarian-styled cutlass. And a flashing ruby signet ring on his pinky that caught the light.

But for his fierce stance, deadly demeanor, and the firm hand that stayed planted on the hilt of that sword, he could easily pass for a respectable man. Nobleman even.

Until one met that cold, dark, intelligent gaze that saw everything around him to the most microscopic detail.

She could literally feel him tallying the strengths of every one in the tavern and sizing them up for their every weakness of character
and physical flaw…

As well as their caskets.

He was exactly the kind of unnerving male that caused her and Lettice to draw straws on his entrance back home in the Black Swan to see which of them would be stuck for the night waiting on his
table.

And Cameron always cheated to make sure she wasn’t the one left with it. Something that would bother her conscience a lot more but for the fact that it was Lettice’s father who owned the Swan,
and while Nathaniel Harrison would guard his daughter’s reputation and well-being, he wasn’t nearly as circumspect when it came to hers. Especially when placed against his need for profit. He’d sell all but his daughter for that.

Even his own mother, and probably his wife to boot.

Not wanting to think about that, Cameron scowled at the men flanking the newcomer. His companions were much more the typical pirate or privateer fare one would expect to find in such a sordid place. The one to his right had a mane of long brown hair he wore tied back in an impeccable queue, along with a well- trimmed
beard, and eyes so light and merry a blue they glowed in the dim light. Each of that man’s fingers held an ornate ring—no doubt plunder from some unwary ship he’d raided—if not some unfortunate corpse. Still, he seemed amicable enough.

While many Caribbean pirates had a tendency to pierce their earlobes, this one had chosen to place a small gold hoop in his left eyebrow, just off its arch. His elaborate burgundy and black coat was widely cut at the waist—in the latest fashion craze. And where the beguiling and dangerous captain had chosen a plain black neckerchief to wear, this pirate’s cravat was stark white silk, and trimmed in layers of decadent lace.

The man on the left was dressed in a peacock blue silk coat that covered an insanely ornate gold waistcoat. One so fine a silk that it shimmered in the light like water. He wore a small white wig
that concealed his hair color, but judging from his skin tone, dark eyebrows, and the careless whiskers that dusted his well-sculpted cheeks and jawline, she assumed his hair was as dark as his captain’s. Yet where the captain had a set of coal black eyes, his were a deep shade of hazel blue.

While his mood and countenance weren’t as dark and sinister as his captain’s, he was nowhere near as jovial as their companion, either. She’d guess him as the quartermaster.

Or a hangman.

The three of them swept past her without so much as a glance in her general direction, letting her know they saw her as no threat whatsoever— which was fine by her. Last thing she wanted was to
be crossed up with such terrifying and deadly men.

They made their way to the back of the tavern to an empty table. The large, burly guard who’d been keeping it reserved for them inclined his head, then went to fetch their drinks.

Something he returned with so quickly that it no doubt set a speed record for the inn. From her years of working in such an establishment, she knew it said much about his fear of angering the
three newcomers, and even more about their temperaments and personalities. These men did not like to be kept waiting, nor did they want to be interrupted once settled.

For the first time, Cameron’s courage faltered as she watched the men begin a private and intense whispered conversation.

What are you doing, Cam?

This was what she’d come for—to speak to Captain Devyl Bane and enlist his aid.

Maybe it’s not him.

She knew better. He was just as he’d been described. Darker than sin and more dangerous than dancing with the devil’s favored handmaiden. There was no one else it could be. The witch- woman
had told her to look for a captain who’d take her breath and leave no doubt in her mind that he was the bane of the devil himself.

That definitely described the man in the center of the other two. No one could be deadlier or more sinister.

“Greetings, governor. You be wanting some company, like?”

Cameron winced as an attractive prostitute plunked herself down on her lap. Because Cameron was dressed as a man and passing herself off as one so that she could travel unmolested and with ease, the prostitute had no idea she was wasting her time there.

Grinding her teeth, Cameron caught the woman’s hand before it drifted to a part of her body that would scandalize them both. Cameron shook her head sharply.

“What? You mute?” She reached to touch Cameron’s face and smiled wide. “That’s all right, love. Don’t be needing no words for what I do best, no ways. Fact is you be getting more your money’s
worth if’n we don’t be speaking no how.”

Cameron caught the woman’s wrist again and reminded herself to toughen her voice and lower it an octave. “Not interested, me sweet. You’re not me type.” She cast her gaze meaningfully toward
the three men.

The prostitute laughed. “Ah…can’t says I blame you there. They each be so fine you can’t help but crave a bite of those backsides and pray for lockjaw.” With another winsome smile, she
sighed. “Best of luck to you, mate. Way I hear tell it, though, you don’t got a chance with none of them.”

And with that, she left Cameron’s lap to pursue another, more probable client.

Taking a deep breath, Cameron debated the sanity of seeing this mission through. It was obvious that the three men had no desire to be approached by a stranger.

In fact, they appeared to be arguing.

Heatedly.

This is all kinds of insanity…

But Cameron Jack was not a coward.

Maybe a little?

She shushed the voice of reason in her head that told her to run for the door before they gutted her. Jacks aren’t craven. Now get in there, me girl.

Scared and breathless, she forced herself to her feet and crossed the room, trying to exude a confidence she definitely didn’t feel. Her legs trembled as sweat beaded on her forehead and upper lip.

For a moment, she feared she’d faint.

You can do this. Don’t you dare back out now. Patrick needs you. You’re all he has in this world…

The moment she neared them, they fell silent and all three pairs of eyes pierced her with a malevolent glare she was sure had turned lesser beings into stone.

Or, at the very least, caused them to soil their breeches. Captain Bane took a drink of his ale before he spoke in a voice so deep, it rolled out like thunder over a dark, stormy cove. “May I help you?”

She took a nervous step forward.

The brown-haired man pulled his sword and angled it at her neck. “That be close enough, lad. Declare yourself.”

She cleared her throat and met the captain’s gaze levelly. “I was told that you’re Captain Bane?”

Without confirming it, the one she was sure was he brushed his thumb over his bottom lip. “Why do you seek the good captain?”

“I was told that he…or you, rather, were part of the salvage for the Plate Fleet that went down?”

His mate stood and, with his sword, forced her to step back. “We know nothing of what you speak.”

Too late, she realized that they probably mistook her for one of the king’s pirate hunters who’d been tasked with going after the raiders of the sunken ships and their cargos. “It’s not what you’re
thinking. Me brother was on one of the ships.”

Bane reached out to touch the man’s hand and force the point of his companion’s sword toward the floor. “And?”

“I was told he went down with his ship.” She choked on her tears that threatened to overwhelm her. Ever since she’d heard about her brother’s fate, she’d been unable to cope. Unable to breathe. Not after all the two of them had been through together. “Please. I have to know the truth.”

The wigged man spoke with a degree of sympathy in his voice. “Only one ship made it out.”

“Aye,” she whispered. “The Griffon. He wasn’t on that one. His ship was the San Miguel. He was the captain of it…Patrick Jack.”

Bane’s gaze softened. “Sorry. The captain didn’t make it out.”

As they began to ignore her, it angered her to be dismissed so casually, and Cameron stepped forward again. “If what you say is true, then can you explain this to me.” She tossed the bit of salvage
that had been delivered to her door with a note from her brother.

It skidded across the table to land beneath the candle in front of Bane.

He and his companions froze for a full minute as she held her breath, waiting.

It was a worthless trinket that made no sense whatsoever. A strange bit of a charm designed in the shape of an ornate cup, with a pair of wings rising over the rim and a stake with ribbons that fell from the bottom of it. And marked with a fleur-de-lis in the center of its bowl. While it was pretty enough, she had no idea why her brother would have sent such to her. Why he would even bother.

Never mind anyone else. It would be all kinds of cruel were it a hoax.

The captain scowled at the necklace charm, but made no move to touch it. “Is this supposed to mean something to me?”

She shrugged. “No idea.” Slowly, she approached the table and held out the note that had been wrapped and sealed around the item. “This was what he used to hold it and send it to me.”

Bane took the crumpled parchment from her hand and read it. The letter was simple and heartbreaking. One she’d committed to memory.

Cam,

Forgive me for leaving you as I have. Know that me loyalty is with you. Always. Listen not to anyone. Keep your weather eye to the horizon and this to your bosom. Tell no one that you have it. Not even Lettice. Trust none at your back.

Ever yours,
P.J.

With a gruff countenance, Bane returned it to her. Again without touching her or the necklace charm. “And so what’s the first thing you do with this?” he mocked.

He was right. She’d done exactly what her brother had instructed her not to do— she’d handed it over to someone she didn’t know. “True, but I have to fi nd me brother, sir.” She turned the letter
around and pointed to the top of it. “Note the date. It’s months after they went down, and he supposedly drowned by all accounts. Yet if he drowned, how did he send it to me?”

A peculiar light flickered in Bane’s dark eyes. One that made them appear almost red in the candlelight. Surely an optical illusion of some kind. “Who told you to come here?”

“A witch-woman named Menyara. She said that you’d be able to help me find me brother.”

He let out a fetid curse under his breath. It was so foul and guttural that it caused the man on his left to snap to his feet and step away from him, as if fearing an imminent attack of some sort from
his captain.

“Who’s Menyara?” the man asked.

A tic started in Bane’s jaw. “ Don’t ask questions you don’t want answered, Will. And pray to your God that you never meet that bitch.” With a dark, deadly grimace, he finally took her trinket into
his hand to examine it more closely.

His expression unreadable, Bane met her gaze. “Did she see this?”

“Nay. Only the letter.”

“Why did you show it to me, then?”

“I…I’m not sure.”

He flipped the trinket through his fingers several times while Will slowly returned to his seat.

“What are you thinking, Captain?” the one in the wig asked.

“All kinds of folly.” He paused to meet the man’s curious gaze. “I commend her to you, Mr. Meers. Take her to the ship.”

“Beg pardon?” He scowled fiercely. “What she be this?”

The captain screwed his face up at him. “Are you dafter than a doornail, son? Our little Cameron Jack here be a lass as sure as I be your devil’s bastard seed.”

Both of his companions gaped at him, then her. And she returned their slack-jawed stares without blinking or flinching. “How did you know that?” No one could ever tell she was female whenever she disguised herself as a lad. It was a ploy she’d been using ever since her parents had orphaned them when she was a small girl. A ruse Patrick had insisted on to keep her safe from harm, and under his nose so that he could watch after her.

Bane scoffed as he reached for his ale. “Never try to fool the devil, love. I can see right through you. Besides, no man has an ass that fine. If he did, he’d serve to be changing my religion on certain
things.” He took a deep drink, then inclined his head to his companion.

“See her to the ship, Bart.”

Bart hesitated. “Are you sure about that?”

“Aye, and settle her in private quarters for now. Make sure the others know to leave her in peace or face my full wrath.”

Bart saluted him. “Aye, sir.”

“And Mr. Meers?”

He paused to look back with an arched brow.

“I expect on my arrival to the ship to find the lass as virginal after parting your company as she is on leaving mine right now.”

Bart let out an irritated growl. “I hate you, Bane. You live only to suck all the joy out of me death, don’t you?”

He snorted. “Pray that joy is the only thing I ever strive to divest from you, my friend. The day I seek greater entertainment than that is the day you should live in absolute terror of.”

“Duly noted, and me testicles have adequately shriveled back into me body so as to pose positively no threat whatsoever to the fair maiden in boy’s clothing.”

“Good man.”

“Eunuch, you mean.”

“And well you should remain, lest I make that condition a permanent one.”

“Aye, aye, Captain.”

Terrified by the thought of being alone with them and their crew, but too desperate to let her fear interfere with her need to find her brother, Cameron reached for her letter and medallion, praying with every thing she had that this wasn’t a mistake.

Please God, protect me.

Swallowing in nervous apprehension, she nodded, tucked away her possessions, then followed the captain’s mate.

Devyl sat back to watch them leave. He cut his gaze toward his quartermaster. “What?” he snapped at Will.

“As I value me own testicles…not saying a single word, Captain. Just sitting here, nursing me rum.” He held it up pointedly before he took a swig.

Devyl snorted at him. “Hope you find more courage than that for the task we have ahead of us.”

“No fear there. Have more than me fair share. But you forget that I’ve seen you in a fi ght. And I’m neither fool nor drunk enough to think I can take you. Besides, you cheat and bite.”

Those words pulled a rare laugh from Devyl. It was one of the reasons why he’d chosen Will as his quartermaster. Unlike the rest of his crew, Will was unflappable and bolder than he should be. He maintained his composure, good nature, and calm rationale under even the most harrowing of events. And he did so with a biting sense of sarcasm and gallows humor.

More than that, Will was as courageous as stated. Courage mitigated only by a sound ability to reason and measure the merits of confrontation.

Aye, William Death was one of the best men Devyl had ever fought with. It would be an honor to die by his side instead of the way Devyl had been gutted before…

“Permission to speak freely, Captain?”

Crossing his arms over his chest, he leaned back to pin a sinister glare on Will. “If you’ve the backbone for it. Go on…”

“Just wondering what mind you have to be bringing a human on board our bewitched ship.”

“Did you get a look at what her brother sent her?”

“The meaningless bauble?”

Devyl scoffed. “And you’re the one who claims to be the faithful religious man between us.”

“Meaning?”

“That bauble, as you claim it, Mr. Death—”

“Deeth,” Will corrected under his breath. It was ever his pet peeve that they didn’t pronounce his name with a long e as opposed to the way it was spelled. Though why his ancestor had chosen to be so antagonistic with either the spelling or pronunciation was anyone’s guess.

“Death,” Devyl repeated incorrectly, as he was ever a cantankerous bastard, “is from the sword of St. Michael.”

“Which one?”

He reached to flip at the silver medallion that hung off a leather cord Will had wound about his left wrist. “That winged bastard creature you believe protects and watches over you.”

“I don’t understand.”

“Neither do I. But until I do, I thought it prudent to put her under our guard lest something foul decide to make her its next supper.”

“And if that something foul proves to be a member of our crew?”

Devyl allowed his eyes to fl ash to their natural red state. “They would have a bad day, indeed… My mood, however, would be vastly improved by their act of blatant stupidity that would result in my natural retaliatory act of extreme and unholy violence.”

And speaking of…

The hairs on the back of his neck rose as he felt the hand of unsavory evil prowling toward the tavern.

Scowling, Will glanced about. “Do you feel that?”

“Aye. It’s come ashore as I said it would.” And headed for the largest gathering of victims…just as Devyl had also predicted.

Meanwhile, the humans in the tavern went on, oblivious to the malignant force that was headed for them.

Devyl rose, intending to keep them in their ignorance. But he only made it halfway to the door before it opened and three plateyes came in, wearing the skin of regular sailors.

Will pulled up short behind him. “Sailors from the downed fleet?” he whispered in Devyl’s ear.

Devyl gave a subtle nod as he debated how best to deal with the unholy bastards who’d come to feast on the innocent and take their souls back to feed their mistress. Part of being a bound Hellchaser was to let no one know that neither he nor Will had come to battle these demons.

Unfortunately, the plat-eyes didn’t have a Code they were tied to. They passed an evil grin to one another, then went on a vicious attack that resulted in the three humans closest to them being ripped to shreds.

Utter chaos exploded as the humans sought cover and escape.

Devyl cursed as he was forced against the wall by the tidal wave of terrified humans who were hysterical over being trapped inside by inhuman predators. With their preternatural abilities, the plateyes had sealed the door so that no one could flee them.

They thought to feast to night.

Groaning and shoving at a drunken male who was trying to reach a window, Will made it back to his side. “What do we do, sir? I can’t get near them for the crowd.”

Devyl pulled his coat off with a flourish, then handed it to his quartermaster. “Have I ever said how much I detest the sound of screaming humanity?”

“Really? Rumor has it, it was once your most cherished melody.”

Hitting the release for his sling bow, Devyl passed an annoyed grimace to him. “Nay, the sweetest music to my ears has always been the death gurgle of an enemy slain at my feet as he gasps his last breath.” Completely calm, he loaded the small bolt and released it straight into the skull of the nearest plat- eye.

The beast fell back and exploded into a black cloud.

Stunned, the other two turned to gape at Devyl. Then they must have realized who and what they faced.

Their eyes widened in unison before they shifted into wolf form and ran for the door.

But Devyl’s power was greater than theirs and he held them inside.

Will grinned. “That got their attention, Captain.”

As soon as the plateyes realized they couldn’t escape, they shifted into their true hideous demonic bodies. Then they each split into three more beasts to attack.

Will cursed. “Vulnerable spot?”

“Between the eyes. Decapitation.” Devyl caught the first one to reach him and twisted his head off. “But it won’t kill them.”

“ Pardon?” Will visibly paled.

He took out two more before he turned to face the man. “Creatures of vengeance and lapdogs. These are shadow manifestations.” He caught a fourth one with his knife and drove it straight through its skull. “To kill them for good, we have to find the bodies they assumed when they entered this realm and destroy them.”

Will growled before he drew his sword and dispatched the one that came at his back. “I hate me job, Captain.”

Devyl finished off the last, then quickly spread a compound of yew, salt, and ground jasper over the door-frame. That would keep more plateyes from coming inside to prey here again.

Will retrieved Devyl’s coat and rushed to join him as the crowd began to realize the danger had passed. Now, they wanted answers neither of them was at liberty to give. And before the crowd could compose themselves further, Devyl and Will made a fast exit.

Outside the tavern, the moon had turned an eerie blood-red, and clouds hung thick in the sky, making it even darker.

Handing the coat to Devyl, Will grimaced. “So those are not the beasts we seek either?”

Devyl shook his head as he shrugged his coat on. “ They’re merely servants.”

Will winced. “In our last few months together, I have seen unbelievable things that appear to have been spat out of hell itself. And I can’t help but wonder just what exactly does the Carian Gate hold back from this world, if we haven’t seen it yet?”

Fastening his cuff, Devyl met his worried stare with a knowing smirk. “The most corrupt, horrifying evil that ever gurgled up from the farting arse of the cosmos.”

“Lucifer?”

He snorted and clapped Will on the back. “We should be so lucky. Nay, Mr. Death . . . what’s coming up from the sea makes Lucifer look like a petulant, harmless child.”

Will crossed himself. “What exactly is it, then?”

Devyl sobered at the memory as a wave of bitterness and fury washed over him and burned him to the core of his blackened and withered soul. “In short, Mr. Death…my ex- wife.”

Copyright © 2017 by Sherrilyn Kenyon

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