Amazon (Available both in print and ebook.)
More than darkness lurks in the shadows…
When the balance in the world is threatened, human survival rests in the hands of two unlikely saviors, a disgraced angel and a reformed demon.
As a punishment for failing his duty as an angel, Ruman finds himself encased in stone in the form of a guardian statue. Every few decades he is given a chance to repent. And fails. Until the totally unsuitable Caly Sawyer accidentally brings him back to life. Nothing is going to prevent him from gaining his freedom, especially some willfully stubborn human determined to kill him.
Caly doesn’t trust the mysterious stranger who came out of nowhere and risked his life for hers. As a demon hunter, she knows there is something not quite human about the sexy bastard. Her ability to detect demons is infallible. She should know. She used to be one.
War is brewing between demons and humans. The demon infection that Caly had always considered a curse might just be the key to their survival…if Ruman can keep her alive long enough. Despite the volatile attraction between her and her sexy protector, Caly’s determined to do whatever it takes to keep everyone alive. The more Ruman learns about his beautiful charge, the more he questions his duty and loyalty…and dreads the call to return home. If they can’t learn to trust each other in time, one of them will die.
The mission reeked of a trap, yet Caly volunteered anyway when she learned her cousin had been taken. Not for any warm and fuzzy feelings. Her cousin manipulated others too well to allow anyone to pry her ass out of the city if she didn’t want to go.
The kidnapping was a hoax to lure Caly out in the open. The big question was why they wanted her in particular.
She must have slipped, moved too fast, hunted too well, and revealed too much about the infection ravaging her body that made her not quit human.
Now they were going to get rid of her.
She just wished she knew if it was the demons or her friends who’d strike the final blow. The antacids she’d devoured like popcorn on the plane had left a chalky aftertaste in her mouth that soured at the thought.
Unfortunately, the orders to deploy had been given before she could prove the truth. Though she might be Oscar’s little pet experiment, if she stepped out of line or dared question him, he’d have her eliminated.
So she and her team of self-appointed soldiers had departed, tasked with bringing back her cousin alive and keeping the existence of demons hidden from the rest of the world. She had to admit a certain genius for choosing such a god-forsaken place. If they failed in their mission, a few gringos lost in the jungles south of the equator were easily forgotten.
The hell spawn had miscalculated this time, though. With her special enhancements, she was the perfect candidate to keep her team alive. Part of her relished the coming battle, but the biggest reason she kept her mouth shut was the desperate need to find answers about her condition.
Banishing the painful hope, Caly trudged behind the others on the narrow path, watching for the slightest hint of suspicions from her fellow soldiers.
But everyone appeared so damn normal.
That left the demons, then. Part of the anxiety twisting her gut about eased at knowing that her friends didn’t suspect the truth. She could bear it if they ever found out.
Fighting demons didn’t frighten her, not as much as the possibility of losing control of her unusual abilities in front of the others. She swallowed the sharp edge panic at the thought. She refused to allow that to happen.
A spark of nerves crawled across her skin. The tiny hairs on the back of her neck bristled, and the disquiet plaguing her increased with each breath. She jerked her chin up, and slowed her pace, watching for anything out of the normal.
Something was out there, waiting, watching like a spider would a fly, and it didn’t have anything pleasant in store for them.
Part of her wanted to urge everyone to turn back, but the dark, dangerous part that she tried to bury wanted to charge forward and do what she did best: seek and destroy.
Everyone else continued as if nothing was wrong. None of her senses registered an intruder. All she could smell was that damn clean air clogging up her nose. Caly gritted her teeth and kept quiet, rolling her shoulders to shake off the clamminess that enveloped her.
The commander didn’t have room for that woman’s intuition nonsense, and that’s what he would accuse her of if she went to him with her suspicions without proof. The dismissive attitude because of her dubious past infuriated her, but she knew better than to protest or risk being left behind.
That wasn’t an option. Not when she was so damn close to answers and a normal life.
Caly took a deep breath then mentally cursed the climate. The hot, moist air seeped into her lungs and fought her for each breath as though an invisible hand reached into her chest and squeezed her lungs through its meaty fingers. She refused to admit the premonition could be anything but her mind playing tricks.
Or maybe they were taking the first steps into the pit of Hell. It was a toss-up.
The skinny guides set a quick pace through miles of jungle as if chased by some unseen force she could almost sense. She had no doubt if the crew fell behind, the two men would disappear.
The guide before her plowed forward at a determined pace, her plodding a step behind. A stir of air was all the warning she received when the underbrush came snapping back. Caly ducked, swatted the branches, barely dodging a nasty slap in the face.
She glared at the male in front of her, the pommel of the blade nestled comfortably in her hand as she contemplated if she could get away with murder. Unfortunately, she didn’t think the team would appreciate her killing the only men who knew the way.
“Don’t do it. We don’t need to be hiding bodies or wandering blind, asses in hand, to find that blasted temple.”
Caly whirled at the low, rumbling voice.
Knowledge edged into his eyes.
She suspected he’d known for a while, but he’d never confront her, and she didn’t know why. She tried to keep her distance, but he wouldn’t allow it. All she could do was watch and wait for her world to fall apart.
“Damn it, Cunningham, I told you not to sneak up on me. I could’ve hurt you.” She quickly resumed the march. After a minute, her heartbeat trickled back to its steady rhythm at the near miss. She’d been so focused on her anger, she’d grown careless. She had to be more careful if she hoped to keep her secret from the rest of the group.
“Nah, you like me too much.”
“Why’d you have to come?” After his family had been taken from him, he only lived for death. And she, for one, didn’t want to be the one to grant him his wish.
“What? Don’t you like my sparkling personality?”
A choked laugh escaped despite the insidious fear prickling between her shoulder blades like sharp little claws. The barrel-chested man treated her as a daughter despite her resolve to keep her distance. When others made her feel like a pariah, he never once spoke a word of doubt. And because of that, she’d give her life for him.
“You know as well as I do that it’s a trap.” She couldn’t keep the snap of anger out of her voice.
“Yeah, well. I couldn’t have you going off alone, now could I? You shouldn’t have come.” He shook his head, grousing like a hen after a chick. “You barely sleep, barely rest the way things stand.”
“Like you should talk.”
A small, broken smile tipped his lips. “I sleep with my eyes open.”
More like can’t sleep at all with the nightmares ripping at his soul the way the demons had his family. She glanced away so they both could pretend they didn’t know the truth.
No, they needed to focus on the trouble at hand. A problem they could solve. When the dratted messenger boy had arrived a few days ago with the news of her cousin’s disappearance, Caly would’ve brushed it off as one of Juliet’s way to cause mischief. Lord knew the girl did it often enough when they were teenagers.
The simplicity of the trap made it infallible for one simple reason. Oscar took it as a personal attack. It would’ve come to nothing if they hadn’t been related. It didn’t hurt that Juliet was devastatingly gorgeous and could entice any man…living or dead.
“You mark my words, the twit might not be a demon, but the girl doesn’t have the sense God gave a dog and the morals of one in heat. If she wanted something, I wouldn’t put it past her to be in league with the demons to get it.” Money, power and men — those were the only gods Juliet worshiped.
“Maybe. Maybe not. Who knows what goes on in the big man’s head.” Cunningham stared at Oscar’s back as if he could read their leader’s intent if he looked hard enough.
Caly disagreed. Something deep in her bones told her this trip was a mistake, a twist of panic that warned her to run.
A sharp sting pinched the flesh at the back of her hairline. She hunched her shoulders, but it did no good against the little pests. Caly slapped at the little bugger and grimaced at the smear of blood.
A small swarm buzzed past her head.
“Sneaky bastards.” Cunningham laughed.
“The damn place is alive.”
And it was hungry.
Her body didn’t have a single inch of flesh that wasn’t itchy or numb from the tiny vampires constant feasting. Every blasted one of them nibbled on her before moving down the line, buffet style.
A curse rang out behind her and a small smile quirked her lips. Though petty, she took sadistic pleasure she wasn’t alone in her misery.
“Why’d you come, Caly?”
The seriousness of his voice made her hesitate. Should she tell him the truth or just what he wanted to hear? She settled for a little of both. “It’s a trap. Someone wanted us down here for a reason. They wanted me down here. I owe it to Oscar and the team to find out why and keep them safe.”
Cunningham grabbed her arm hard enough to leave bruises and jerked her to a stop. “Calypso Judith Sawyer, if I hear that again, I’ll turn you over my knee and tan your hide.” He yanked up the sleeve of her shirt. “This goes beyond duty. You owe that man nothing.”
A three-quarter inch swath of twisted, melted skin marred her wrist. Proof of Oscar’s fanatical search for a way to destroy the demons, proof he would do anything and everything to put an end to the creatures’ existence, even if it meant killing her in one of his experiments.
Silence stretched. Only Oscar knew the truth about her past. Nobody else could know her connection to the very creatures they hunted. If Cunningham knew more, he’d kept his suspicions to himself, and she was pathetically grateful for the reprieve. But she couldn’t hide any longer.
She swallowed past her painfully dry throat. “You know.”
Cunningham shrugged and looked away. “When are you both going to accept that you deserve a chance to live in peace? That you’re still human?” He let her go and marched ahead, the tense set of his shoulders a clear indication of his anger at her continual obedience to a man who had done everything in his power to destroy her.
“He saved my life.” It was a twist of fate she’d even come to Oscar’s attention. Funny thing, she hadn’t decided yet if that had been a blessing or not.
“Bullshit. Both he and Juliet made your life miserable. What do you plan to do? Pay them back by dying here?” With a fierce expression, Cunningham dropped back a few steps. “You’re more human than the rest of the team.”
Caly frowned, refusing to contemplate his accusations, especially the last statement — no matter how much she wished it were true. She concentrated on the march, her gaze zeroing in on the man who’d orchestrated the trip.
Oscar strode next to the two guides, helping clear a path. The big, burly man had the look of an intrepid explorer intent on a mission, determined to win at any cost.
At seventy-eight years old, he had more stamina than a man half his age. The rigors of training, the intricate fighting styles he taught his pupils, were double what most men could handle at any age. More than one person had been broken by Oscar’s sharp tongue and vicious temper.
Caly didn’t know if it was a true accomplishment or a curse to be the only woman to ever pass his stringent tests. Her special enhancements made her the perfect soldier, but Oscar came from an old world where women had their place and men protected what was theirs. He hated that he couldn’t break her and made no secret of the fact. Perversely, although he’d never admit it, Caly sensed a streak of pride for what he’d created in her.
A twig snapped behind her, followed by a loud thump and heavy cursing. Oscar’s body froze mid-step. Time stopped for a second. Everyone waited for the flash of temper he’d been known to unleash on the hapless. The muscles of his shoulders flexed as he shook off his irritation and continued with the all-important mission.
Everyone seemed to let out a collective sigh.
“Bloody jungle.” A whine tinged Henry’s voice, but the underlying violence had her fingers curling into fists. Experience taught her to watch her back around him. Henry used women like toilet paper, and it gave her the willies to think she’d dated him for a week when she’d been sixteen before she’d wised up and realized all his charm was for Oscar’s benefit.
He thought it was a game to aggravate her and made it his personal mission to knock her out of the way on his rise to the top. He seemed to think she was the only thing preventing his advancement. So anything he could do to make her look like a fool was a bonus.
She’d wish he’d get a clue and realize she didn’t care about rank. She pushed away her animosity before she beat his ass, increasing her steps until her muscles tightened with a pleasant burn. The uneven jungle floor leveled out, a carelessly laid stone appeared every few feet. Twenty paces later, they were less random, closer together, forming a pathway.
The jungle vines closed in a little, crowded in on both sides. A tinge of claustrophobia shortened her breath, and the scars on her wrists throbbed. She beat it back by sheer will and focused on her duty, not the irrational fear of being imprisoned again.
The overhead canopy consisted of climbing vines knitted together, the vegetation melded to form a solid meshed structure that blocked the light. The place would be beautiful if she could overcome the sense that the jungle appeared to be herding them. The world around her fell silent from one step to the next, the lack of sound in such a vast place crept up and crouched heavily on her senses.
Late afternoon sun vanished as shadows darkened the area to an eerie, surreal world. They had to hurry. Darkness would fall soon, and the devil danced at night in her world
Oscar’s clenched fist shot in the air. Halting mid-step, Caly scanned the undergrowth for any sign of movement, every muscle tensed for action.
“Why’d we stop?” Unheeding the command, Henry plowed forward, jolting against her. Two distinct palms slapped the center of her back, shoving her out of the way with a force that sent her staggering.
“Damn it all, woman, move.” He marched forward shooting her a little smirk over his shoulder.
Momentum propelled her toward the vines on her left. Her hand shot through the green mesh as she fought for balance. Pain streaked through her palm and down her arm when it connected to something solid. Her foot slid, and she landed on one knee.
“Inconsiderate jackass.” Cunningham quickly stormed after Henry. “That boy needs a beating, and I’m just the man to do it.”
Cunningham only waved her comment away.
Blood trickled from a gash, coating the rough surface beneath her fingers. Warming it. Pulling her arm back, she ignored the cut and parted the vines.
And caught a glimpse of stone.
Spreading the vegetation further, she stilled when powerful thighs filled her gaze. The voices of the men arguing disappeared in the background as she tilted her head back and looked up.
A black beetle so large it had to be on steroids paused in climbing the statue and flicked a perturbed glance at her. With a little hiss for disturbing him, the little critter launched itself in the air with a flutter of wings. She flinched, bowed backwards to miss being hit in the face.
And met the open-eyed stare of the stone man, forever captured in time. Thoughts of bugs vanished. Caly’s lips parted, and her breath stuttered out of her mouth.
There was a God.
The man — and from her view kneeling on the moss covered ground, he was most definitely a man — was absolutely gorgeous. Not in the normal sense, not by Hollywood standards. Prominent cheekbones, a full, sharp nose and a strong jaw kept his face from being too feminine.
Desire twisted through her. A deep yearning tightened her chest, and a bubble of hope swelled. This was a man she could depend on to not let her down. When she looked at him, the chaos inside that defined most of her life settled.
She felt normal.
Then reality crashed over her.
Desire for a damn statue.
How ironic she could be attracted to stone when living men left her cold. But here, in the middle of nowhere, she found a man who turned her on like nobody else, and he wasn’t real. It was enough to make a grown girl cry.
Little details filtered into her brain, and a thrill of excitement thrummed under her skin. The answers she sought about her condition were stuck in the past; she only had to uncover the clues. Since they’ve landed, he was the first concrete hint something was off.
This was why she came here. What quieted her protests against the mission. All for the chance to learn if there was a possibility for her to be fully human again and finally destroy the demon infection that had taken root and flourished in her body. Every day, it ate away her humanity. Relished the fighting a bit too much. Each time the darkness opened up in her, the more she wondered why she fought it at all.
The mission forgotten, Caly took her time to catalog the odd details. The statue wasn’t what she’d come to expect from this region. Instead of native garb, the grey stone man had chiseled, close fitted pants.
Two inch carved straps crisscrossed his chest, appearing to almost dig into the stone. His long hair, wild with waves, was tied back from his face. Her fingers twitched to run her hands over him. Though his complexion was tinged green with age, the fierce expression drew her gaze instead of repelling her.
The turn of his lips was anything but sensual, yet their fullness made her think of sex and what a man could do with a mouth like his.
Strong shoulders led down to a lean, sculptured chest. His open shirt did little to disguise his physique. The statue shouldn’t have impressed her, but it was as if the stone called to her. A streak of light filtered through the canopy, wavered a moment then illuminated him like an offering.
Something just for her. She had to curl her fingers into a fist to resist touching him.
As she watched, she swore his chest moved to breathe. It took a physical effort to pull her gaze away and longer to tuck away the desire to stake claim. The weird light faded, and her focus came to rest on a knife strapped to his right side.
The fifteen-inch dagger rested close to his body, the curved handle arched up, wrapping along his ribs. The intricate design etched along the outside of the scabbard and handle was too detailed for any stone crafting of the time.
Or it should have been.
She leaned closer, almost able to make out the designs.
A heavy hand landed on her shoulder, jolting her attention back to her surroundings, leaving her guts in her throat.
“Did you find anything of interest?”
“No.” The protest rose automatically to her lips. It took more force than she liked to drop her hand to her sides.
A hand she hadn’t even known she’d raised.
The vines swung inward, the statue disappeared from sight, and her stomach dropped. Caly honestly didn’t know if her reaction was due more to the fact she messed up or because the statue was no longer under her watchful eye.
She had an awful, sinking feeling it was the latter.
“Nothing of interest.” Guilt caused her to flush, but she didn’t want the old man to find the statue, feeling protective of the stupid thing. She tried to tell herself she was overreacting, but her mind didn’t agree. She held her ground, waiting for him to move away.
The contest of wills broke when, with his usual vigor, Oscar leaned past her and yanked on the vines. Vegetation shredded, bruised leaves drifted abandoned to the ground. Bold and savage, her statue faced forward, a sentinel frozen in time, waiting to be awakened.
She swore that Oscar instinctively knew what she wanted and made sure she never received it. In her peripheral vision, she watched him circling the stone, but once he disappeared from view, he disappeared from her thoughts as well.
One step forward, then two, she stood only inches away from temptation. Her palms itching for just one touch. She stole a quick glance at the statue from under her lashes, then forced herself to turn away and put him…it out of her mind.
The urge to linger pulled at her sense of duty. The simple task to turn and walk away was surprisingly hard, especially since she’d dedicated her life to her work.
“You know what it is.” Oscar’s low growl didn’t have its normal bite, yet the tone stiffened the muscles of her back.
Caly refused to face him, refused to let him see the fear in her eyes. Fear for the stone man. She licked her dry lips. “A statue.”
“Don’t be a fool. It’s a demon, one of the cursed guardian statues. Just pray that your blood isn’t human enough to wake him. If the blasted thing wasn’t mounted in granite, I’d have it smashed.”
The lash of his words stung, but the threat to the statue sent a surge of terror through her. And that pissed her off. She opened her mouth to protest when a jungle cat’s roar rang out and echoed in the treetops.
Caly whipped her head around, her eyes narrowing at the undergrowth. At first, she didn’t see anything. After a moment, two green eyes blinked, staring back at her as a big ass cat licked its muzzle.
A chill crept down her spine. There was nothing behind those eyes but pure predator. Not hunger, but a need and desire to kill for the pleasure of it. A twitch of muscles betrayed her abhorrence of the creatures.
“Skins!” Possessions were when a demon took over a body and the human went along for the ride. Skins were when a demon killed the host by forcing the actual soul out of the body, then slipped inside to use the body as an indestructible suit. Only a beheading would free the demon and allow it to be killed.
Even as she bellowed the warning, the guides screamed like kids and took off. A streak to the left broke her concentration, and she saw another animal, a black panther, bound after the two men. Their bloodcurdling screams were cut off abruptly, leaving no doubt as to their fate.
The other panther slowly slunk out hiding, its eyes locked on her.
A sound to her right caused the big cat’s head to swing in that direction.