To survive as a scullery maid requires hard work, discipline, and a stiff upper lip. To survive as a Demon Hunter is something else entirely. Elizabeth Smythe learned this after she was captured by Demons and rescued by Hunters. Now a Hunter herself, Elizabeth’s first task in this new and strange world is to aid the recently wounded Lord Reece Foxjohn, and get him back into Demon-slaying shape. . .
Reece Foxjohn is used to defying convention. He enraged his family by becoming a Demon Hunter, and prefers eviscerating the spawn of Satan to mixing with the ton. He is a man who doesn’t hesitate when he knows what he wants, and what he wants is Miss Elizabeth Smythe. To watch her behead the progeny of Evil is to behold a thing of beauty—one he must claim for his at all costs. . .
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The Demon Hunter Series
By A.S. Fenichel
KENSINGTON PUBLISHING CORP.Copyright © 2015 A.S. Fenichel
All rights reserved.
Below Edinburgh Castle, Elizabeth Smyth and Reece Foxjohn turned into the corridor to the head demon hunter's office. She had to keep her wits through one short meeting.
Relaxed as always, Reece stopped mid-stride and gripped her shoulder. "Stop fidgeting, Lizzy. He's not going to bite you."
In spite of the cool autumn night, Drake Cullum's order to report to his office had set her palms to sweating. Indeed, it happened every time she stepped into a room with him. "You don't understand. How could you? Drake is all that stands between me and the street. If he decides I failed my training, I will have no place to go."
"But that is not going to happen. We came to Edinburgh for a wedding, not a job evaluation. This meeting is just a formality because we are in town." Shoulders straight, but not rigid, he held her gaze, his steady blue eyes perfectly framed by dark blond hair loose from its queue.
"Maybe." She fought the urge to grip her sword hilt through the pocket cut in her skirt.
"Absolutely. Now take a breath and stop acting like a scullery maid. You are a demon hunter." A grin spread across his angular face and he leaned against the wall.
It sounded so wonderful coming from him. Reece held legendary status among The Company. Even during his long recuperation from a demon's poison, students would sneak by his sickroom to catch a glimpse of him. She'd volunteered to carry his meals and pick up the trays just to get to know him. Still, she wasn't sure she'd seen the real Reece in all that time.
After pushing away from the wall, he walked around her and knocked.
Drake Cullum occupied the lone chair in the book-lined room. He remained sitting when they entered, his eyes narrowed on an ornate knife resting atop the fine wood desk.
Determined to be brave, Elizabeth straightened her spine and stepped closer. The memory of the dagger threw her back to a musty church. She saw the strange tri-bladed dagger gripped by a bull-faced demon. Her vision narrowed to the point of the blade as it descended toward her throat. Her heart stopped. "What is that doing here?" Part of her wanted to run, but rage kept her glued to the spot.
Drake raised an eyebrow. "Do you recognize it, Elizabeth?"
"That's the dagger they were going to kill me with. I'll never forget it or the beast who wielded it." The room closed in around her as the memories assailed her. Demons dragged her into the old church and strapped her to an altar. The stench of death filled the space. The durgot priest's hot breath turned her stomach. His bull face only inches from hers with no way for her to run. Bindings cut into her wrists. The monster snorted long guttural words, and a chorus of demons repeated. She'd not known what his words meant, but they rang in her dreams every night. The dark metal dagger hovered above her throat. She was going to die by the hands of a devil. There would be no paradise for her soul. Damnation.
Demons screamed in agony as their flesh boiled. Steel clashed with steel and a feminine battle cry. The building crashed around her and in her hazy mind, hell swallowed her.
Drake spread a piece of fabric on top of the knife. "I apologize, Elizabeth. It did not occur to me that you remembered the events of your capture so clearly. I believed you were catatonic throughout the ceremony."
With his hand on her elbow, Reece steadied her.
"I remember." She took a breath and met her boss's gaze. "I'm sorry for my outburst, Mr. Cullum. It surprised me to find the artifact here in plain sight. To be honest, I did not realize The Company had recovered the item."
"Skane," Drake said.
"I beg your pardon?"
"It is the Blade of Skane. At least that is what it says along the hilt."
Fear blasted her confidence and became her greatest enemy. She removed the black cloth and examined the knife. "Where did it come from?"
"We assume the demons brought it with them."
Reece circled the desk. "What is it made from?"
"We do not know that either. It is heavier than any known metal."
The weapon had almost taken her life. "What do you think it is for? I cannot believe they only meant to use it for the sacrifice of four common women."
Drake covered the blade again. "I agree, but we are still researching the full potential of the weapon."
Her stomach knotted to the point of nausea, but it was only a knife, and there were no demons here. Besides, she could take care of herself now. No one would ever stuff her into a sack or drag her away again, at least not without a fight. Perspective helped to settle everything back into place.
Reece leaned against the wall near the door. Casual, but likely he was growing tired. "What did you call us here for, Cullum?"
"I want to talk to you about your assignments." Behind his desk, with his fingers steepled, he narrowed his eyes on them.
Nausea returned while she waited for her assignment to send her away from Reece. It was no surprise. She didn't deserve a partner of such high caliber. Cullum would send her to some plodding village and partner her with another newly graduated hunter.
It didn't matter. Nothing would keep her from getting her revenge on the demons. With or without Reece, she would do her duty as a hunter.
Drake turned toward Reece. "You will go to London. I hope to have you rehabilitated in the next few months. If you are not prepared to return to hunting, I would like to know now."
"I'll not lie to you. I hold out little hope that I will ever be strong enough to hunt again."
"Reece." Her scolding tone divulged more emotion than she'd intended.
He held up his hand, stopping the string of hopeful words she had stored up for such moments. "However, I intend to try. Dr. Barns informs me I am healthy in spite of my feeling less than healed. Therefore, I intend to work toward regaining my former skills."
Drake examined Reece. "I accept your reply for the moment. I'll check on your progress in a few months. If you are in the mindset that you wish to continue, then I will decide your assignment."
Reece slumped and placed his palm on the desk.
Elizabeth wanted to tell him to sit down, but the only chair belonged to Drake, and she didn't have the courage to suggest he sit there.
"I will endeavor not to disappoint you," Reece said.
Drake nodded. "Now go sit down before we have to pick you up off the floor."
Reece looked at the lone chair, hesitated, sighed, lumbered around the desk, and dropped into the seat.
"Good. Now, since you won't be fighting, I wonder if you would consider some strategizing? The London office would benefit from your leadership."
"Give me a few weeks to build up my strength, and I will do what I can."
The two men continued to talk of strategy, demon cells, and about people who worked in the London office. Neither one seemed concerned with her presence.
Since she'd never met any of the people they were discussing, the conversation had little meaning. She took in what she could about a man called Jamie and a trebox he'd recently discovered in Piccadilly. "Pardon me, gentlemen."
Drake's eyebrows rose high on his forehead. "What is it, Elizabeth? Do you have something to add?"
"I'm wondering what my assignment will be, sir?"
Drake cocked his head. "I thought you understood."
Perspiration dripped down her back. "What is it that I'm supposed to understand?"
"You will be going to London."
"To work at the office?" Nothing could thrill her more than going back to London to gain her revenge.
"I suppose that can be arranged if it is what you would prefer."
"Prefer? Prefer to what, if I may ask?"
With his hand on his hips, Drake strode over and stared down at her. "You are no scullery maid now, Elizabeth. You should always ask and state your mind."
The bubble of joy that she'd had during her training renewed, and an excited chill ran along her skin. "What is my assignment, sir?"
"Your first assignment is to see to the recovery of your partner, Reece Foxjohn. If he does not continue as a hunter, I will reassign you. Are you agreeable?"
She'd been wrong; there was something better than working in the London office.
Reece leaned his elbows on the heavy oak desk. Even if he couldn't see or feel it yet, a spirit remained within him, a ferocity no amount of training could teach. His body might be fighting him, but determination burned in his gaze. The desire to survive and win smoldered there, and it was only a matter of time before the flame caught.
She wanted to be there when it did. "I accept the assignment. Reece will be back to fighting form in no time."
Both men nodded.
Drake said, "Do inform me if you need anything to accomplish your goal, Elizabeth."
"I will consider it and let you know."
* * *
They stepped out of the castle, and a light snow had already dusted the ground. By the time the carriage crossed the few blocks to the hotel, the streets were thick with the stuff.
"I think we had better delay our trip to London until the weather breaks." Reece eased from the carriage and handed her down.
She admired the winter wonderland. "I suppose we have no choice, but that means we could be wintering in Edinburgh."
"It won't be so bad, Lizzy."
"Humph, not for me. You will go and eat something, then get some rest. I suggest you put on some warm clothes. In an hour, I will collect you for a long walk."
He frowned and a crease formed between his eyes. "In this weather?"
"We will get you strong, Reece Foxjohn, if it's the last thing we do."
As they climbed the steps, he offered his arm. "If you're going to put me through my paces in a blizzard, it may well be."
* * *
It was eight weeks of grueling weather before Elizabeth finally got her wish and started the journey to London. The roads were wet and the going slow. She was sick of travel when a week earlier, she'd been sick of waiting.
Elizabeth took the reins from Reece when he could no longer hold them up to guide the horses. He winced with every rut she couldn't avoid. Though he'd grown stronger each day she'd pushed him to trudge through mounds of snow in Edinburgh, he still had a long way to go.
"Lizzy, where are we going?"
She'd turned down a lane away from the main road. "I decided to divert a short distance so that we might have a rest."
"Have you? And where exactly are you taking me?"
"It is a surprise."
"Are you whisking me away for a tryst? If so, you might have just crawled above the sheets in the last posting house, my dear." His grin was almost worth the embarrassment warming her cheeks.
Of course, he'd been a perfect gentleman at every inn and posting house. Though he'd told the innkeepers they were married, he made no overtures. He'd slept above the sheet and she below. In fact, there had been no flirting until now.
"I did not have the impression that would have been welcomed." Her voice shuttered.
He ran his hand through his long hair. He needed a haircut, though she hoped he wouldn't do it.
"I must be losing my touch."
"Are you teasing me, Reece?"
"I thought I was flirting with you, Lizzy."
"Whatever for?" She slowed the horses.
He gave a short laugh devoid of humor. "I am most definitely out of practice."
She giggled. "Perhaps it is merely your timing is askew. After all, we have been in each other's company for months, and you gave me no hints of your regard. Every day we trained in the castle, and all you did was complain never flirt. Since leaving Inverness, you had many opportunities to show me affection. Yet, here I sit, mystified by your trifling."
He looked straight ahead and frowned. Maybe shame haunted him, but whether over his current behavior or his past, she had no idea.
He turned toward the lane in front of them. The front entrance of the house came into view. "Where are we?"
He sat up straight. "Why on earth would you bring us here?"
"You needed a rest, I wanted to see the new hunter school, and the earl offered when we were at the wedding."
He no longer looked quite so tired. Evidently, anger had lessened his malaise. "I am not at all happy, Elizabeth."
"I cannot imagine why not. If I'm not mistaken, you are quite close with Lord and Lady Tullering."
"How do you know they are my friends?" He growled.
Her chest tightened. She tried to remember what Drake had said about no longer being in service. The Company made her a hunter, and not even Reece Foxjohn should intimidate her. "I don't know why you are so cross, Reece. We need to rest, and the school was on the way. His lordship kindly offered us beds for a few nights, and I see no reason not to accept. As far as how I know they are your friends, you forget that they were with you when you rescued me. I remember. Besides, you're hunting with Lady Belinda and Miss Dellacourt is legend. Though I suppose I should call her Mrs. Lambert now. Or is it Lady Montalembert?"
"Call her the devil for all I care. You will learn that people say things they do not mean. We should have sent a note ahead. They will be put out."
"I have met Lord and Lady Tullering on several occasions. It seems unlikely they will be unhappy at our coming."
She maneuvered around a pond, which reflected the stupendous three story, sand-colored building, and pulled the horses to a stop in front of the house.
Reece crossed his arms over his chest, refusing to climb down.
"You are being ridiculous, but you may do as you please. Go on to London without me if you want. I shall find another means of travel and join you in a few days."
He narrowed his eyes. "When did you get so bold?"
Her chest tightened with excitement. When had she gotten so daring? Elizabeth climbed down, grabbed her skirts with both fists, and ran up the steps to the front door. The house stretched several hundred yards in either direction from the entrance. Large windows on two levels, with smaller on the third, gave the façade symmetry and added to the stateliness. Several spires and chimneys crowned the roofline. The faint clash of steel echoed from a distant field or garden.
The oak door rose several feet beyond her head. Head high, shoulders back, she banged the brass knocker.
Within, glass shattered and metal clashed. A loud thundering of wood had her reaching for the sword strapped beneath her full skirts.
Behind her, Reece took to the ground, and stiff as an old tree, began climbing the steps.
Finally, the door opened, and a butler who looked more like a street thug than a man in service to an earl stood, guarding the opening. He looked at Elizabeth's weapon, his expression docile and unchanging. "May I help you?"
"Is everything all right? I heard quite a lot of noise," she asked.
He raised an eyebrow. "The foyer table was knocked over during a bit of sport. Who are you, if I may ask? Do you have an appointment?"
Reece reached the landing. "It's all right, Faust. We come in peace."
"Mr. Foxjohn, it is good to see you again. I'm glad you are recovering from your injuries."
"Thank you. Is her ladyship at home?"
"Yes. Please come in. I will tell her ladyship you are here." Faust stepped back, his hulking form less threating than it ought to be for a girl of her size.
Splinters of the demolished foyer table and a shattered vase littered the floor while two young people rolled around in hand-to-hand combat. Elizabeth returned her sword to its sheath. A short sword jutted out from the railing of the grand staircase, and two fighting knives lay abandoned nearby.
The butler didn't even glance at the row as he excused himself down a hallway to the right.
A moment later, the lady of the house walked, with the slightest waddle, across the foyer. She turned toward the fight, placed her hand on her round belly, and shook her head. "Billy, Rose, how many times have I asked you to try to keep these things outside or in the ballroom?"
She had not raised her voice, but the ruffians froze in place. They disengaged, made quick apologies, and rushed from the foyer.
Belinda turned toward the pair waiting at the entrance. Her smile spread from mild amusement to sheer joy at the sight of Reece. She walked forward and opened her arms.
Reece walked into her embrace. "It's good to see you, Belinda."
"I wanted to talk at the wedding, but everything went so fast, and I never got the chance. I'm so glad you are here." She broke the embrace and touched his pale cheek.
"It looks as if you will burst at any moment."
She slapped his arm. "That is not an appropriate comment, Mr. Foxjohn. But it's quite true. We expect the happy event soon."
Excerpted from Betrayal by A.S. Fenichel. Copyright © 2015 A.S. Fenichel. Excerpted by permission of KENSINGTON PUBLISHING CORP..
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