Book One: The Good, The Bad, The Cursed
By Heather Killough-Walden
Angela glanced sidelong at the large man she had barely managed to bind.
“He’s still coming for you,” he told her. “Even now.” She closed her eyes for a moment as his voice rolled over her. “And he won’t be coming alone. I’m betting he’s got a dozen more on your tail by now.”
He was resting against the boulders behind him, his long legs bent, boot heels dug into the dirt in front of him. His head was tilted back on the rocks, and he gazed at her through narrowed slits that were as piercing as they’d ever been. His clothing was torn in a few places, but the bleeding from the gash in his forehead had stopped.
Jacob Crow was a beautiful man. She’d thought as much from the moment she’d first met him. But he was a dangerous man too. Especially to her. Especially now.
She looked away and strode to the fire she’d built, lifting his pack closer so she could go through it with proper lighting.
“You’re only prolonging the inevitable,” he said. It was something she knew he would never normally say, and it sounded strange coming from his lips.
“That isn’t you talking,” she said softly without looking up.
“Then how about this?” he asked next. She did look up now. He lifted away from the wall of rock behind him, strong enough to do so despite the cuffs holding his arms behind his back. He was strong. He was capable. And his motorcycle club “brother,” David was out there somewhere; she could feel it. He was getting closer. One of them, she could handle on a very good day. But both of them, not a chance. She’d only gotten lucky with Jacob. He hadn’t wanted to hurt her. She hadn’t been under the same compunction, hence the gash in his forehead. “You’re wearing yourself down, Angel. You can’t keep this up forever.” He gave her a knowing look, deep and penetrating. “I can tell you’re growing weak.” And then he chuckled, no doubt feeling the gash in his forehead. “Well, at least in magic.”
Angel looked away. She stifled the need to swallow past the tightening of her throat. Instead she said, “You’re not yourself, Jake,” and pulled the rations out of his pack to rip them open. When she turned back to face him, he was simply watching her, his singular, light green eyes glinting. And she knew his mind was working.
Despite everything, Jake wasn’t her enemy. Her enemy was ancient. He’d had a long time to live and a long time to learn, so he was also very smart. He’d proven as much by singling out two of the small handful of men in the entire multiverse who could actually defeat her. He’d somehow gotten to them and turned them to his cause. He’d used powerful magic to do so. It had to be powerful, strong enough to make it past the inked protection both men had tattooed on their bodies.
The ink was a warden thing, and in particular a “Monsters” biker gang thing. Those men, collectively and in warden circles referred to as simply the Monsters, were lead by the most feared warden of the lot: Cain. No one knew how old Cain was, but it was generally agreed he’d been around millennia – and he had learned a thing or two over the years. The ink was one of them. Rumors had it he’d gleaned the trick from someone even older than he was.
Which was why it was so impressive that Malek Taal of the Taal fae had pushed past that ancient inked magic and infiltrated the minds of two Monsters members, siccing them on her like blood hounds. Now he wasn’t the only one hunting her down, and Jacob was right. There were probably actually more. Like maybe their sentinel and friend, Lucian, who went by the shortened name “Luke.”
She’d met Luke once, the same day she met all the Monsters brothers. He was kind and strong and good, and she’d taken an instant liking to him. But if David Sharpe told his sentinel that she needed to be neutralized, he would believe him. They’d known each other for years and they trusted one another. She did not need a sentinel as powerful as Luke thinking she was the bad guy.
It was why she hadn’t called out for her own sentinel. She was half afraid Luke would hear her instead.
Jake was also right about her growing weary. She was using magic to keep the light of the fire from glowing past the boundaries of her camp. She didn’t want to help his brother locate her any easier. And she was using more magic to keep Jacob bound in those cuffs. She didn’t have the strength to cast a healing spell right now, which was why he was still injured. He would heal, and a hell of a lot faster than a human, but she could have seen to it that he bore no mark at all. She definitely didn’t have it in her to throw down with him again.
“What did he tell you, Jake? What does he have you believing about me that makes it so important you turn me in?”
Jacob slowly leaned back. Something uncertain flashed across his strong, handsome features – just for a split instant. But then he shook his head. “That it needs to be done.”
Angel blinked. She frowned. “That’s it? He didn’t tell you I was dangerous? That I was killing innocents or something? That I needed to be neutralized? Reined in? Restrained?”
Jake laughed softly again and let his head fall back against the stone behind him. His laugh was deep and beautiful, and his Adam’s apple moved in his strong throat, tempting her. Making her lips tingle. She recalled the way he felt standing beside her, tall and capable and supportive. He smelled like leather and gun oil and deodorant and battle. Like the song said, fresh from the fight. She’d been instantly, if secretly, smitten.
“I already knew you were dangerous,” he told her. His smile grew bigger, white and predatory. A hint of fang peeked from behind his lips.
Angel looked away again, and now she felt a heat move up through her. Her heart was hammering. Her attention was slipping. Focus, she told herself. You need to keep him restrained. And remember, David is out there –
With that thought, Angel experienced another feeling. It was familiar and hard and grounding. It was the feeling of being watched. Carefully studied. She realized suddenly that she’d had the feeling for a while, but she’d attributed it to Jacob.
At once, she threw up a shield around the camp, using what was left of her magical strength in the defensive move. But she was too slow. The dart made it through just before the shield was erected, and its sharp tip embedded itself firmly in the side of her neck.
She winced and yanked it out as quickly as she could, but she knew the damage was done.
No!she thought, reaching out for magic – any magic – that she could get her mind wrapped around. But the fire crackled blue and black then flared bright, its light expanding suddenly past the spell she’d used to keep it hidden. Her eyes began to close. She heard footsteps on both sides of her, which meant Jake’s cuffs were gone and he was free.
All of her spells were failing at once. David was good. They both were. Hell, this was probably all a set-up. Malek really was smart using them against her.
It was not the most comforting thought to accompany Angel as she felt the two wardens stand over her, and the world faded to darkness behind her lids.
(Monsters is a new paranormal romance series by NYT and USA Today bestseller, Heather Killough-Walden, and is part of the HKW Universe that ties together The Big Bad Wolf series, The Lost Angels series, and The Kings.)