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Sex wasn’t working for him anymore.
Sutton West leaned against a black acrylic bar etched in fiery red lights. The nightclub, “Axel of Evil,” had a whole hellish theme going on. The music pounded, the colored strobe lights flashed, and the smell of sweat and alcohol permeated the room.
It was last call.
A few mortal women lingered on the dance floor, and some witch hunters lounged by the two fire pits watching them with pointed interest.
Sutton returned his attention to the dancers, looking for one to take to bed to ease the pain of his cravings. He spotted a woman with long, shimmering black hair, chocolate eyes, and long legs. His interest barely stirred. He shifted his gaze to the two blondes, one in a yellow dress, the other in tight jeans and a black top. Both were hot, but when another man walked up and started dancing with them, he moved on without a stitch of regret.
One redhead stood out. She was taller and curvier, and she danced with her whole body. She practically burned up the dance floor. He watched her the longest since she was his usual type— a woman who threw herself into life with untamed enthusiasm.
Sutton had an absolute rule about women: They were helping him beat back the curse, and he would treat them with the respect they deserved. The redhead deserved more than he had to give to night, and he looked around the club again. This lack of interest in sex worried him. Sex was how the hunters controlled their compulsion for witch blood. If they gave in to the compulsion and killed a witch, they lost their souls and went rogue— living only for the next “fix” of witch blood. For Sutton, losing interest in sex meant the curse was getting a foothold in him. He’d touched the blood of a witch, and now he was on the edge of losing control. He tightened his jaw in determination. Never. He’d never give in to the curse. His father had set the standard, and Sutton would live up to it.
Which meant he’d die before he let the curse win and take his soul.
Pushing his dark thoughts aside, he focused on the three men returning from hunting rogues. Key and Phoenix went to report to Axel, while Linc headed toward him. Linc was one of their two candidates set to be inducted into the Wing Slayer Hunters. They both had the outline of their wings tattooed on their bodies: Linc Dillinger had chosen a falcon and Brigg Cusack had chosen a crow.
Now they all waited. Each of the two men was preparing to face a test that would prove him loyal to the Wing Slayer. The test was an unknown, but Axel Locke, their leader, would recognize it when it happened.
Linc came to a stop next to Sutton with barely a whisper from the perfectly cut slacks and coat over an open- collared shirt. His rich brown hair was expertly tousled. His gold eyes were dark and troubled under the pulsing strobe lights. “You heard anything from Brigg?” Sutton shook his head. Brigg had left the club two nights ago and evidently no one had seen him since. “I looked for him to night. I couldn’t find anything, not a goddamned trace of him. It’s not like him to just vanish like this.”
The tension of waiting for their mysterious test was taking a toll on both men. “Maybe he found a party and hasn’t come up for air.” They all had their times when the curse drove them to extremes. Sutton took himself off to the most isolated spots he could reach. He climbed, hiked, ran, and swam trying like hell to sweat out the curse. Then he’d return to civilization and find a willing woman. As many as it took.
“He should have checked in,” Linc said.
He silently agreed. It was giving him a bad feeling, too. “Could be getting cold feet about becoming a Wing Slayer Hunter. It’ll make him a target for the rogues.” The Wing Slayer had created the witch hunters to hunt and kill demon witches while protecting innocent earth witches. Because the Wing Slayer was half demon and half god, invoking his god powers required complete and total ac know ledg ment from his witch hunters that he was their god. The demon Asmodeus had his demon witches cast the curse to break the bond between the Wing Slayer and his hunters so he could gain power on earth. It had been working until the five of them recommitted to the Wing Slayer, reinstating his god powers.
Linc shook his head. “No. Brigg is hard- core about passing the test and getting fully winged at the Ceremony of Induction. We both are. We want to vow our allegiance to the Wing Slayer, take our oath to protect the innocent, and never give in to the curse.”
“Might be that Brigg is facing his test now,” he pointed out. “There are some things a man has to do alone.” Sutton knew the man was really worried about Brigg, but under that was the resentment that Brigg might be facing his test and would be ready to take his wings first.
Linc let the silence stretch out, then he shrugged, looked around, and said, “Any claims on that redhead?” He tilted his head to the woman Sutton had noticed earlier. “Nope. She’s yours if she’ll have you.”
He looked at Sutton with a gleam in his gold eyes.
“Thousand bucks says she does.”
“Sucker bet and I’m not a sucker.” The man was throwing off pheromones so heavy that women across the club were glancing his way.
Linc chuckled and strode off to the dance floor. Sutton turned back to the job at hand, closing down the club for the night. He glanced at Key, Ram, Axel, and Phoenix. They were spread out around the club, checking things out, closing down the bar, saying good night to patrons, and making damn sure a rogue hadn’t gotten in. The rogues had been quiet for the last couple of months. Witches still disappeared, but the rogues weren’t challenging the Wing Slayer Hunters openly. They were scurrying in the shadows.
He knew from his constant efforts to hack into their new databases that they were rebuilding the Rogue Cadre. They had created new and better firewalls, showing a sophistication that did not bode well. They were also trying to recruit witch hunters to go rogue and fill their ranks. Quinn Young, the rogue leader, had to find a way to kill all the witches. He had a very demanding master— a demon— who wanted all the witches dead. Young and his rogues were out there, strategizing and planning to make it happen.
Sutton got the all- clear signal from the others. He dropped his crossed arms and raised one hand. The music cut off, the colored strobes died, and the house lights went on.
Witch hunters and the women started making their way out.
One woman hung back, a mortal with wavy brown hair and bright brown eyes, wearing an emerald- green dress that swirled around her thighs. She was rooting around in her purse with a frown. He walked over to her. “Lose something?”
She lifted her face, and he saw the sheen of sweat from dancing. Flashing him a smile, she said, “I don’t think I should drive home.”
They were prepared for that. “We have several cabs out front.”
She moved up closer to him. “Or you could drive me home.”
She smelled of peppermint blended with her natural scent. Maybe he should take her up on it. Take her home, give them both a little plea sure, and leave. Too much effort.
He’d rather go to the ware house to work on cracking the firewalls into the Rogue Cadre databases. “Maybe another night. But I’ll help you to a cab.”
She shook her head, looking embarrassed. “No thanks. I’m fine. I just got a little overheated from dancing.” She started walking away, putting her hand back into her purse, probably looking for her car keys.
He regretted embarrassing her, and turned away to make a last circuit of the club.
He heard a click and whirled around, spotting the gun in the woman’s hand just as she fired at him.
The sound exploded in the club.
He caught sight of Ram pulling his knife out. Sutton bellowed “No!” and spun to protect his heart. The bullet tore into his right shoulder.
The searing pain lit his nerve endings on fire. He snapped his teeth together and forced himself to breathe. Damn, that was one woman who didn’t take rejection well. But it didn’t make any sense; why had she shot him? He looked up. Key had wrenched the gun from the woman’s hand and held her by the arm.
Axel strode up, his green eyes furious. He held a white bar towel in his hand. “Sit down, let me look.”
“Later.” He took the towel from Axel, pressed it against his shoulder, and walked over to where the woman was standing.
Her eyes were wide, sweat coated her face, and her hands trembled. “I shot you. My God, I shot you!” “Why?” Sutton asked. The pain in his shoulder was burrowing into the nerves and firing his compulsion for witch blood. But this woman wasn’t a witch, she was a mortal. A harmless little thing, she barely reached his shoulder.
“I don’t know! I don’t remember! I . . . I don’t even have a gun!”
Sutton watched as Axel faced the woman and looked into her eyes. Witch hunters had the ability to travel the optic nerve mentally and shift memories. Axel was seeing what he could get by touching her memories.
He turned to meet Sutton’s gaze, his face grim.