Read an Excerpt
Copyright © Billi Jean 2014. All Rights Reserved, Total-E-Ntwined Limited, T/A Totally Bound Publishing.
Samantha balanced herself with one foot on a rock shelf, while blindly searching with the other for her next foothold. Her fingers burned from digging into rough shale. Her legs and shoulders ached. Exhaustion ate at her body, quicker than she managed to inch down into the pitch darkness.
Maybe, just maybe, she was taking the sisterhood bond too far.
Her witch sight, much like a cat’s, gave her better-than-average night vision. Still, the darkness rising from the pit felt like someone had pulled a hood over her head. A damp, musty hood. Creepy.
A faint movement of air against her sweaty face didn’t provide much relief from the oppressive heat. Instead, the hair on her nape shivered.
Testing her next foothold, Samantha continued worrying over her journey, misgivings whirling around her head like the bats she’d already encountered down here. She could usually stem her doubts and focus on action. Not this time. Being forced to climb at a snail’s pace occupied her body, but unfortunately it left her mind free to worry over what she was doing.
She choked on a laugh. Understatement of the year? Yeah.
Oh, the place rocked, really. If not for the endless caves and tunnels, lack of any living creature—other than the bats—and of course the five-pointed, bloody star at the entrance, Samantha might consider this a holiday.
Yeah, things are not too good right now. Chances were the Death Stalkers, the immortal bad guys, owned this deserted place. Hell…chances? Who I’m I trying to kid here?
Their ancient symbol had been faint, filled in with enough dirt and debris she might have passed it by if not for the familiar lines of the star. That symbol, even covered in musty cave dust, claimed these caverns as much—if not more so—than the big, yellow arches over McDonald’s.
So yeah, if not for that star, I might be able to convince myself this was a waste of time.
It still might.
Or it could be a trap.
Tabathia would have known. Her best Wicca-buddy excelled at sensing traps. Besides being her best friend, Tab was the female equivalent of Indiana Jones on Red Bull, but bringing her on this hunt hadn’t been an option.
Samantha could admit to herself now, as she perched an hour’s climb down a mine shaft in complete darkness—with plenty of time to worry—she didn’t know if she trusted the intel that Agni, the hottie Fire Demon, had dished out. He might be best buds with her adoptive vampire mother, Star, but Samantha had only met him once, maybe twice, before. The way he’d spoken, with an odd inflection, ‘This place would hold the answers she desired,’ just hadn’t sounded right.
Besides…desired? Her stomach tightened at the thought. She desired a hell of a lot. Getting her sister back topped the long list. An image of Susanna’s beautiful face, bloody and broken, flashed for a moment through her mind before Samantha shoved it down.
Her sister was missing. Taken. Samantha’s mistake. Samantha’s error to fix. So that meant no endangering her Wicca-buddy on this crazy cave crawl. If this cavern lead to the Death Stalkers, that suited her fine. She believed they were responsible for her sister’s disappearance. The men in black were evil, rotten to the core. They sold their souls for a chance at power. Some, for the chance at the immortality they’d not been blessed with.
Witches, warlocks and most of the magic weavers in the world, even some of the Faye and Demon breeds, were denied immortality. Oh, they lived for one hell of a long time, but they didn’t live forever. Immortal was a loose, very loose, term. Some races of immortals reached a point where they stopped aging, but not all. Immortality didn’t save you if you were killed. Samantha’s parents were dead. Her family’s heritage was mixed, touched by so many other species her parents could very well have lived for eons before they departed this plane.
So if this tunnel led her to a Death Stalker bastion, so much the better. She had a score to settle with the men in black, with or without their involvement in her sister’s abduction.
Wherever the tunnel led, it was time to get on with the adventure. She could regret her actions later. Now, she needed to move her ass. The cave seemed to disagree with that plan though.
Jagged rocks dug into her arms and knees constantly. It didn’t much matter, but the sharp digs stung. She secured her balance and unclipped a glow stick from her pack. Maybe lighting up the place would help. Couldn’t possibly hurt. Steadying herself, Samantha snapped the plastic tube twice with one hand. Pink light flowed brightly into the gloom. Not wasting time, she dropped it between her legs. Two seconds later, the light bounced a few times and stilled on the bottom.
Not too far. Covering such a short distance would be a piece of cake. But had the silly thing hit rock bottom?
Well, rock or dirt...didn’t matter.
She still had to go down. Samantha took another minute to gauge the distance, held her breath, and pushed off the wall. Her boots hit solid ground almost before she registered the fall. Still in a crouch, she froze, but the only sound registering was the pounding tempo of her blood. Nothing went off, no alarm, no trigger she could detect.
Okay, good. Slowly standing, she was just about to take one cautious step on the uneven ground when a low crack vibrated under the soles of her boots.
Shit. Not good. So not good.
Between one frantic heartbeat and the next, the stillness of the cavern shattered.
Snapping, splintering sounds grew deafening around her. A quick glance revealed a fracture under the toes of her black boots. The splintering steadily branched out over the entire floor. An awful crack slashed through the air like a whip on flesh.
Shitshitshit. Samantha, think!
She barely had time to draw a breath, let alone react to the growl she heard, before the floor collapsed under her, taking her with it.
She slammed her eyes shut and tried like hell to picture her truck, attempting to shift herself out of the fall. If she could shift out of here, she might… Her boots hit hard ground, jarring her legs and shocking her out of her shift.
Her eyes sprang open, and this time, she knew she’d landed firmly on marble. Shards of rock crashed down around her. A cloud of dust billowed up, making her choke.
Feeling like she’d nearly coughed up a lung, she still managed to murmur a spell. Her swords landed in her palms almost before she’d finished the incantation to call them to her. Spinning in a circle, she tried to get her bearings, only to freeze at the sight facing her.
She spun her weapons in a pattern of defense against an army of Death Stalkers. Nothing happened. No one moved. Holding her breath, she tried to get her brain to work. It took a minute or two to realize each of the Death Stalkers facing her was a stone carving.
“Holy Hecate.” What was this place?
Another growl sounded. This one louder, longer. The statues had not made that sound though. No way. This one was from a creature very much alive.
All righty then. There goes the “I’m all alone” theory.
She backed up a step, swirling her short swords to calm herself, more than anything.
So there was life down here. And…artwork?
She tossed her heavy braids off her face and tried to calm down. A girl could be forgiven the fright when she found herself standing in some kind of ancient hall full of life-size statues of her enemy. She should win a prize for not peeing her pants. Every one of the statues appeared unique and so real she still waited for one to move
Just to be certain, she crept over to the nearest one and peeked under the carved hood. A Vampire female glared back at her.
Yep. Officially the strangest thing Samantha had ever seen. Tab would have loved it. Well, maybe not the low-toned warning. The snarly rumble completely shattered the calm-the-hell-down vibe she sought to employ.
The solid weight of her swords and the stillness of the hall slowly soothed her as she scanned her surroundings. Nothing moved. She didn’t spot another exit and whatever was making that noise hadn’t stopped, but it hadn’t moved closer either.
A soft fluorescent glow from the walls emphasized the magnificent hall. Huge columns of black marble flecked with silver caught the light and reflected back like millions of fireflies. Above her, the ceiling rose at least two hundred feet. A big, jagged break revealed the darkness of the shaft through which she’d fallen. Did the Death Stalkers shift in and out of here?
She followed the wide, monstrous columns downward with her gaze, amazed at the power the Death Stalkers would’ve had to wield to build such a magnificent hall. When she reached the base of the column, she scanned the room again but saw nothing resembling a hallway leading in or out—or whatever had been warning her away.
Through two statutes, a movement caught her eye. Shock stalled her breathing. Her heart felt like it had lodged in her throat, cutting off her air supply as her too-slow brain made sense of what she was seeing.
Across from her, less than a hundred feet away, through the rows of stone Death Stalkers, a big and obviously pissed-off Lykae stood bolted to a wall. Literally. Large spikes impaled his shoulders and thighs, so he was forced to stand upright with the bars holding him in place.
Samantha winced. Goddess, how does he still breathe with those things shoved through his body?
Her first instinct was to free him. Her legs trembled with the urge to move her body forward. She gritted her teeth and forced herself to stand in place.
Before she raced to the rescue, she needed some time to process what information she had available. She was alone. In a freaking eerie cavern. She’d walked, scooted, and crawled for hours to reach this spot. The Lykae bolted to the wall flashed his wolf, like a naughty kid messing with a light switch. Except his naughty kid was one of the most feared immortals on the planet. A Lykae’s dark side—his wolf—became more apparent each time his eyes lightened in color. This one’s eyes were brilliant light bulbs, indicating a completely freaked-out wolf. And let’s not forget the hundred or so life-like statues of Death Stalkers I have to walk through to reach him.