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Marked by Hades
A Bound by Hades Novel
By Reese Monroe, Karen Grove, Theresa Marie Cole
Entangled Publishing, LLCCopyright © 2014 Reese Monroe
All rights reserved.
Blinding pain ratcheted up Yvonne's spine and exploded at the base of her skull. She grabbed her head with both hands, hoping to hold herself together. A bell echoed, sending a ripple through her body.
She opened her mouth to scream, but only silence followed. Pain swallowed her whole, crunching through every bone, liquefying her insides.
And then it stopped.
But only for a second.
A blunt force rammed into her shoulder, and she rolled to the side. Cold, prickly ground stung her bare arms. Palming the gritty surface, she tried to push herself up. Instead, she flopped to the side with the coordination of a newborn.
Metallic warmth oozed into her mouth, but coughing didn't push the liquid away. Lungs burning from lack of air, she gasped for much-needed oxygen.
"Miss?" A nudge startled her out of the black void.
She sat up straight, feeling as if she'd never taken a breath in her entire life. Only, the air had to be laced with acid for how much it stung.
"Stay calm, miss." Something soft brushed against her legs, chest, and shoulders. A blanket of warmth. She shivered through a wave of arctic air frosting her to the bone.
After swallowing hard, her dry, scratchy throat made its presence painfully known. When had she last eaten? Wait, where was she?
"Miss, can you hear me?"
Yvonne opened her eyes and met a narrowed brown-eyed gaze. A black cap hid most of the man's graying chestnut hair, and deep wrinkles marred his otherwise smooth face. Warmth radiated from his eyes as he scanned her.
"Are you hurt, miss?"
The raging pain that'd ripped her out of nothingness had begun to fade, leaving a throbbing ache in her shoulders and palms. She raised her hand, and the movement shifted the blanket. Icy air nipped at her bare skin.
Holy shit, she was naked.
Clutching the fabric to her chest, she sat up more. Rough wood poked her back, breaking through the skin.
"Hold on. It's okay." The stranger tucked the blanket more securely around her. "Go slow."
His gloved hands grazed her bare shoulder. White plumed from his mouth, and he wore a thick jacket. There wasn't any snow around, but there were bare trees behind her and a swing set off to her left. She was at a park?
Rolling her sore shoulder, she felt hair brush her arm. She looked down at a lock of shiny black hair. Wait, she had black hair? What color were her eyes? What was her name? She ...
Yvonne. No last name came to mind, or her age, but she knew her name was Yvonne. Her heart hammered, echoing through her mind, but nothing else came.
It was as if her mind was blank, empty like the void she just came from.
"Miss. What's your name?"
"Yvonne ..." Hints of metallic stung her taste buds. Her tongue met dry, cracked lips ... and something cold.
A tentative touch to her lips revealed a lip ring.
"Can you stand? We need to get you somewhere warm." He rose to his full six-foot height and offered her his gloved hand.
She clutched the blanket and freed up a hand to take his. Once standing on wobbly legs, she wrapped the fabric all the way around her bare body.
"My car's right over there." He pointed to the small parking lot just past the park.
Darkness of late evening surrounded them. Bright stars sprinkled the black backdrop of the night sky. She pulled in a long, deep breath, and the crispness of it pitched her into a cough. She leaned forward, and the man grasped her shoulders.
Despite the barriers of thick gloves and a blanket, all she felt was his warmth and tenderness. Craving the contact as if she hadn't been touched in years, the desire to move closer overwhelmed her. She nuzzled her cheek against his chest, and even through the coat he wore, she still felt close to him.
"Do you have a last name, Yvonne?"
"I can't remember." Tears stung.
"That's okay. We'll get you to the hospital. Everything's going to be fine."
"Where am I?" Careful not to put too much space between herself and the warmth of this kind stranger, she straightened to take in her surroundings.
"You're at Riley Park."
"Mento, Arizona." He glanced around. "Population too small to even bother counting."
"Oh." She let him guide her forward. "What day is it?" That sounded so strange to ask, but she wasn't sure. Winter maybe? It didn't get cold in Arizona much, but she could see her breath. And how did she know that about winter in Arizona for that matter? She must be from here.
"It's November." He smiled, revealing beautiful straight teeth and a dimple surrounded by a dusting of gray along his cheeks and chin, as though he hadn't shaved in a day or so. "And I'm thankful I stumbled across you. Too cold to be out here long."
She glanced over her shoulder to where she'd been lying. A bench was fastened to a concrete slab near the playground equipment. She vaguely remembered landing first on that bench, then rolling to the ground. It didn't make sense, though. How had she gotten there? "How did you find me?"
"The wife sent me on an errand, was passing by when I saw a light flash over here. Thought it strange, so I pulled in." He guided her over the curb toward an SUV. "Just felt like I needed to check things out. Good thing, too."
Purity poured off him. Innocent, genuine, helpful soul. She craved it. Needed to feel it. She reached toward his face to cup his cheek, but he intercepted her touch, grabbing her wrist.
"Stay covered. I don't know how long you've been out in this cold. Can't have you catching pneumonia on my watch." He nodded. "You sure you're not injured? No cuts or broken bones?"
"Just cold." Tucking herself back into the blanket, she let him navigate her into the car.
Once she was settled into the plush leather seats, he shut the door and hurried around to his side. He revved the engine and clicked a button next to her seat. "Should warm up real fast." He took off his gloves and dug into the glove compartment. "Let's just get my phone out. I'll call my missus and tell her we're headed to the hospital."
A stroke of fear jolted through her stomach. "No. Can't go to the hospital."
He retracted his hand from the glove compartment. "Why not?"
"I'm not sure." She glanced around, suddenly worried someone was watching her. "Can't, though. It doesn't feel safe for me."
"But — "
"No." She cuffed his wrist with her fingers. "No hospitals."
He froze, mouth open and eyes wide.
His fingertips crumbled into ash. No, it wasn't ash, it was a pure white hourglass sand. Beautiful, like his soul.
The man's head caved in on itself with a small poof, and his body dissolved until there was only a little pile of bright-white sand in the seat with sprinkles of it along the console and floor of the driver's side.
A scream burned her throat as she scrambled for the door handle.
What the hell just happened?CHAPTER 2
Justin Bradford cracked his fist against the demon's cheek. The creature swiveled, but Justin caught him on his way around and drove another solid hit to its face. "I could do this all day, buddy."
The demon snapped at Justin's hand, but he slammed his dagger into the evil one's stomach, right below the ribs. It didn't have the paralyzing effect of the Mavet, but it'd give the monster a good jolt.
"Where's. The. Thata?" Justin jackhammered hits to the demon's gut and jaw between each word.
The demon laughed.
Theo appeared next to Justin, holding the Mavet for the demon to see. "Ready for eternal death?"
The creature stilled. He knew the power of the weapon Theo held. Hell, Justin did, too, considering he couldn't touch it without getting burned to the bone.
Strictly for the Gatekeepers.
He'd learned that the hard way once.
"Not so funny anymore, is it?" Justin released his hold on the abomination and stepped back. "I'd probably start talking if I were you, because my brother, here, he's a little into his torture, if you know what I mean."
"Only if you don't banish me from this realm." The demon's voice was deep, raspy. Fangs protruding from his gums pulled his lips tight over his teeth. "I rather like it here."
"I'm sure you do." Theo stepped in front of the creature.
The demon grunted, then cast his focus to the side. Justin's muscles twitched to pummel the animal that harvested innocent souls as an offering to his master in the hopes of gathering strength to advance up the demonic ladder. Bile stung the back of Justin's throat at the thought of a human giving his soul to this creature.
He charged the demon to give him another thorough ass-kicking, but Theo held out his arm. "Talk, demon. We'll decide your fate once what you've told us checks out."
Surely Theo wouldn't consider letting this thing go, even if he did spill valuable information. Justin looked at his brother, and Theo offered a quick shake of the head.
Of course Theo wouldn't spare the creature. It went against everything they, as Shomrei warriors, believed. They were created to destroy this evil; never would they spare one. Not even one that could lead them to the coveted Thata. That weapon was too dangerous to have floating around, considering it gave anyone who held it the ability to splice time, going anywhere at any moment with only a thought.
"The Thata is hidden deep in Hades." The creature stiffened. "Caves outside Lucifer's castle."
"Do I have 'idiot' stamped on my forehead?" Justin asked. "Aggie wouldn't keep it there."
"Who would suspect the weapons needed for Lucifer's demise would be stored so close to home?"
True, but this was too easy. It had to be a trap. Wait, had the douche bag said weapons? As in plural?
"What else does he hide there?" Theo asked.
The demon shook his head and crossed his arms. "I told you enough. Any more and I'll be branded a traitor."
"And punished how?" Justin said.
The demon grunted. "No demon wants to face the punishment for betraying his master."
What punishment could be worse than living in Hades and being bound to a master demon? "Let's pretend for a second I am an idiot and believe you. Where is this supposed cave near Lucifer's castle located?"
"No one but Agares and his woman knew."
"Woman?" Theo flexed his muscles. "What do you mean?"
"Dyre was his woman, but she's been punished for her betrayal." The demon stepped back, shaking his head. "Punished by Lucifer himself."
"For helping Sadie escape Aggie's lair," Theo said.
The demon nodded, then turned and ran.
Theo threw the Mavet, and the blade sank deep into the creature's back. "Reverto ut Abyssus."
A plume of dark ash rose, and the weapon fell to the rocky ground. Theo stomped over and snatched it up. "Let's go."
Always in a hurry to return to Sadie.
"So, there's a woman out there who knows where the Thata is and maybe where other weapons are being held."
"Justin, that was a demon. He lied."
"How do you know?"
"Don't for sure, but he spilled the beans way too easily, and I couldn't hack much from his brain. It was protected. Not to mention I didn't even have to torture him."
And Theo could torture. He'd done so to protect Sadie more than once. To get information about the weapons — referred to as Artifacts — Aggie had alluded to that might allow other demons to overthrow Lucifer.
Theo waved his brother to him. "Come on."
A splice opened beside them, a new talent Theo had gotten after mating with Sadie.
"No. You go. I'm going to cool off. See if I can dig up some trouble around here." Then again, that might be difficult. It appeared to be a tiny town. "Wait, where are we?"
"Mento, Arizona, brother." Theo offered a knowing grin.
Justin often needed to "let off steam" after a good fight, and he'd seen a bar a few blocks over. Besides, watching Sadie and Theo cuddle on the couch during a movie wasn't what he had in mind to do tonight.
And he refused to even consider the fact that he was jealous. No. He just needed to find someone to kill some time with and burn off this post-demon battle energy.
"Okay, brother. Have fun notching another mark on your belt." Theo stepped into the splice he'd created, leaving Justin alone.
Sure, Theo had a warm body to go home to. Justin could have that any time with a hundred different girls. Hell, he'd had that thousands of times over the last nine centuries, and it was exactly what he'd wanted.
No ... nothing.CHAPTER 3
Music streamed through the small bar, drowning any worries working to float into Yvonne's mind. But it didn't quite keep out the recurring thought that kept her awake: she'd killed someone. Turned him to dust.
Her gut roiled as she slammed another shot of tequila, then bit into her lime. She slapped the glass onto the bar and nodded for the bartender to pour another.
It'd been two weeks since that kind man had literally bit the dust after she'd touched him, but every waking minute, she saw his face. And when she tried to sleep, which she didn't much, his kind smile, eyes, and touch steamrolled over her.
Now wearing a barrier of black leather over most of her body to protect anything and everything she touched, Yvonne remained isolated. Alone. Nothing of her memory had come back. Not even a flicker.
"What's your name, honey?" A guy who reeked of body odor sat next to her, nearly brushing her shoulder.
Even over the heavy scent of sugar, liquor, and cologne-drenched bodies, she smelled onions, sweat, and beer. Talk about making her want to puke.
"Get away from me," she said as she reached for her drink. Just a few more, and she'd be numb again. She wouldn't have to think about the man she'd killed.
Thank God for cash-paying day jobs where no one asked questions.
The bartender smirked and waved the guy off. "Leave her alone, Adam. She'll kick your ass sideways if you touch her."
True. Much to Yvonne's surprise, she was strong. A petite five-foot-four, she'd tossed around two guys who tried to touch her just last night. She'd probably saved their lives by doing so.
The creep waddled away, muttering a few curse words in her direction, and she returned her focus to the bartender.
A five o'clock shadow dusted his smooth ivory skin. Bright-green eyes, almost the same color as hers, and a tiny scar at the corner of his right eye drew a smile from her. Another pure soul. Somehow, she could tell about a person. The ones who were kind, good, she was drawn to them like a moth to a flame. These people drew her in, fueled her desire to touch and be around them. But why?
All she wanted was to be held. Touched. Loved. Fate totally and completely screwed her over with this no-touching thing.
"You okay?" the bartender asked. She'd never gotten his name, and she didn't want to know it, either. Too personal. Yet she came to this bar every night as if she were a glutton for punishment. Watching something she could never have.
"I'm fine. Thanks for shoving him off. I wasn't in the mood to throw anyone a beating." One gulp finished her shot. "Hit me again."
"Six so far. Rough day?"
She'd worked hard today in someone's field, digging a trench of some sort. Logically, she knew she should be completely tired and sore from all the labor, but she wasn't.
Despite the six shots in a matter of twenty minutes, she was revved up. For two weeks, she'd used the library's free internet, searching for who — or what — she might be, and each day, her frustration built. Her desire to touch someone — not just anyone, a pure soul — increased. Her desire to be close to someone, to make love, multiplied. The idea of feeling skin on skin energized her mood more and more until she nearly vibrated from the inside out.
"What's your name?" he asked.
She cringed at the question. So far she'd lasted all these days without giving out her name or getting anyone's. Might be time to move to another bar. Hell, it was time to get out of town, but something kept her here. Fear maybe? She'd woken up here, not remembering anything about herself, where she'd come from — this town was the only place she knew.
In a city this small, she should have bumped into someone who knew her, especially since she'd combed the city three times over, searching for something she recognized. And from what she'd researched in the county's public records, no one had filed a missing person's report for her, either.
It was as if she'd been dumped here somehow. But by whom?
Instead of answering the sweet bartender's question, she gulped her drink, then pushed away from the bar.
The stool creaked over the wooden floor, and she jumped down. "See ya."
"Take care." He dipped his chin slightly.
She stole through the meager Tuesday evening crowd. Couples clutched each other on the dance floor, and a few made out in the corners or at their tables.
So much holding hands and kissing. Mingling. Being close.
Her mind spun, and she palmed a nearby table to steady herself. A broad-chested guy sitting at the table alone caught her attention. He had striking black hair, eyes bluer than the deep parts of the ocean, and a tight, square jaw.
He made no move to help her, but her insides shattered. Pure soul screamed through her mind, stealing her breath. Her heart pounded, and her palms went sweaty. Images of touching his bare chest flashed through her head. Swallowing a moan, her belly warmed, the heat streaking south in a hurry.
Excerpted from Marked by Hades by Reese Monroe, Karen Grove, Theresa Marie Cole. Copyright © 2014 Reese Monroe. Excerpted by permission of Entangled Publishing, LLC.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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