“I need you to find someone for me.”
Cassius “Cass” Garvan gave a low, rumbling laugh. “Sorry, but you’ll have to get in line.” He kept his legs braced apart and his hands remained loose at his sides. Maybe other paranormals would have been quaking in their boots as they stood before the big, bad Lord of the Dark…but Cass wasn’t one of those lesser paranormals. And he didn’t fear Luke Thorne.
Why should he?
Luke slowly turned away from the floor-to-ceiling windows that overlooked his island paradise. Paradise, prison—whatever. To Cass, it was pretty much the same thing. He’d gotten orders to show up for this little one-on-one chat with Luke, and Cass had appeared more out of curiosity than anything else.
It had been a very, very long time since Luke had spoken to him. When you were mortal—or even immortal—enemies with someone, you didn’t call the other person up for a little casual chit-chat every day.
“You’re working for my brother.” Luke’s face tightened when he said that one word…brother. As if it were a curse. Probably because to him, it was.
Cass knew the old stories about Luke and his twin brother Leo. One brother was the Lord of the Dark, the master of all the dark paranormal beings that walked—or flew—on earth. The other was the Lord of the Light, the powerhouse behind all of the so-called “good” creatures out there.
Cass didn’t believe in good. Some days, he didn’t believe in evil, either.
He just believed in death—death was kind of his thing.
“Leo has you chasing the fallen angel, doesn’t he?” Luke stalked toward him.
Cass considered the matter for a moment. “Now that you mention it, I believe that acquiring her may be on my to-do list.” He flashed a smile at Luke. “When you’re the best hunter to ever live, well, let’s just say that word gets around. You want someone found…you call me. I mean, sure, the shifters out there tend to have pretty good noses, but we both know they are nothing compared to me.”
“It’s not arrogance if it’s true.” He’d never bothered much with modesty. Cass understood exactly what he was, and what he was not. “We both know I have a very particular skill set.”
A muscle jerked in Luke’s jaw. The Lord of the Dark was getting pissed—Cass could feel the air around them starting to heat up.
“The angel is taken care of,” Luke gritted out. “And Leo will not be getting her back.”
Cass gave a low whistle. “I hate to break it to you, but I think you’re wrong. That guy is dead set on getting back his girl—”
“She isn’t his.”
When the angry voice spoke from behind him, Cass stiffened. Dammit. He hadn’t heard the other guy approach. Cass glanced over his shoulder and saw the big, currently glaring werewolf—Rayce—standing in the doorway. “So…you are as powerful as they say,” he murmured to Rayce. He’d heard the rumors, but…he didn’t tend to believe rumors, not until he’d checked things out first-hand.
The tales about Luke and Leo? All true. Every blood-stained detail.
The rumors about Rayce being the most powerful werewolf to ever live? Still debatable, but the fact that he’d just snuck up on Cass…I’ll be watching you, wolf.
“The angel is taken care of,” Luke said again. “You don’t need to waste your valuable talents on her now.” His eyes gleamed. “Rayce has her in his sights.”
“Damn right I do,” the werewolf growled.
Cass rolled back his shoulders. “Why do I feel like this is an ambush?” Because it sure seemed that way. Luke was right in front of him. Rayce was at his back. “Did you invite me here so you could try to rip out my heart?” He waited a beat, then added, “Again?”
Luke laughed—not a good sign. “Don’t tempt me.”
Cass eased out a slow breath. “If you think you’re bad enough…”
Luke’s eyes began to glow. “We both know I am.”
For just a moment, Cass could have sworn he saw the shadow of wings behind Luke’s back. But when he blinked, the wings were gone. Luke had gotten himself back in control.
“I need you to find someone for me. Someone very, very important.”
More important than a fallen angel? Curiosity had always been his weak spot and Luke was making him curious. But… “Before we say anything else, I want the wolf to move from behind me. I don’t like having an enemy lurking at my back. Makes me…twitchy. And when I get twitchy, people get hurt.” Cass thought that was a fair warning.
Luke inclined his head. Immediately, Rayce moved to the Lord of the Dark’s side.
“I need to know you won’t be in my way,” Rayce fired at him. “I don’t want to be tripping over the Reaper while I’m on my hunt.”
The Reaper. Some titles just stuck. Cass raised his eyebrows. “Can’t handle a little friendly competition?”
“Enough.” Power hung in that one word from Luke—so much power that heat lanced over Cass’s skin, but he didn’t so much as flinch. He’d learned at a very young age never to show his pain.
He’d been six when he first learned that brutal lesson.
“You won’t find the angel,” Luke continued flatly. “She’s not your mission, Reaper.”
Ah, now Luke was calling him by the title, too. Definitely meant it was business time.
Luke’s gaze seemed to bore into him. “I will pay you very, very well if you can bring the one I seek back to me.”
Cass cocked his head to the right. “How well are we talking? Because your brother is offering me some very powerful magic in exchange for the angel—”
Luke laughed. The sound held no humor. “My brother is planning to betray you as soon as you deliver the angel back to him. He’s learned the deadly mistake that can be made when you barter with magic, and he’s not going to make that error again. He’s promised you plenty, but Leo will deliver nothing to you. He’ll lock you away in a cage—remember what that was like? I bet you do—and then he’ll only pull you out when he needs you again.”
“Like I’m supposed to believe you?” Cass drawled. “You lie as easily as you breathe.”
He saw Rayce’s claws flash out.
“Careful there, wolf,” Cass warned him. “You don’t want to get on my bad side.”
“And you don’t want to get on mine,” Luke replied before Rayce could speak. “I’m offering you a deal—a real one. And I’ve always kept my deals with you in the past.”
Actually, that part was true. Luke might be a dangerous bastard, but he’d never broken a deal he’d made with Cass.
“I need you to hunt for me,” Luke told him. “And unlike my brother, I will pay you in magic. Tell me what you want, and it’s yours.”
Temptation was there. Dark and twisting because it had been so very long for him. Too long. He looked down at his gloved hands. Always have to be so careful. Always have to be alone. Always…
“Get the wolf out of here, and we’ll talk.” Because okay—maybe Cass would make a deal with Luke. Maybe he would piss off Leo. Like he cared about the Lord of the Light. It had been a dull week—a dull decade—and he could use some excitement.
Cass could use a change.
“Before I leave, say you’re not going after the angel. Say that first,” Rayce ordered him.
Like he took orders from a werewolf? “Can’t stand the competition, huh?”
“You will not touch her.” Rayce took an aggressive step forward, but Luke’s hand flew up, and his arm blocked Rayce before he could lunge for Cass.
Cass raised his chin. My touch. That was what so many feared and with good reason. “If Luke here can give me what I want, then I’ll find his prey first.”
After he’d collected this bounty, then he’d turn his attention to Leo’s job. “So you have a bit of a head start on me,” Cass allowed. “Better use it.”
Rayce growled again—and truly looked as if he’d like to use his claws to skin Cass. Been there, done that before.
“Go, Rayce,” Luke said. “We have terms to make.”
Still glaring, the werewolf left.
And then Cass was alone with the Lord of the Dark. They stared at each other. And Cass murmured, “I hear you’ve found love.”
That muscle jerked in Luke’s jaw again. “If you ever so much as come near my Mina, I will obliterate you.”
Oh, wait—had the guy thought he was threatening him? No, Cass hadn’t meant that part as a threat. Hell. “Even someone like you…” Someone who had a soul that had to be stained with blood. “You found a mate.”
“Mina is special.”
Mina must be insane, but whatever. Maybe Luke found insanity appealing. “I want that.”
Luke grabbed him. His hand curled around Cass’s throat and he heaved Cass up into the air—
“Not…her…” Cass choked out. “I want…my…own…mate…”
Luke threw him against the wall. Sheetrock spit into the air as Cass’s body left a sizeable dent in the surface.
“Why didn’t you say that?” Luke shook his head. “You should be more careful with me.”
Noted. Cass brushed the dust off his shoulders. And his gaze dropped to his gloves once more. Gloves that had come to him—courtesy of Luke—very long ago. Cass had been hoping Leo would be able to give him an upgrade when he delivered the angel, but perhaps Luke could give him something far more valuable…“I want a woman who can stand my touch.”
Now it was Luke’s turn to laugh. “Why don’t you just ask for a fucking unicorn? Because that would be easier—”
“I want a woman who can stand my touch. No gloves between us. No magic stopping my power. I want a woman I can touch…” His hands fisted. “And not kill.”
Because that wasn’t what he was—it was who he was. He was Death. He touched and he killed and no one could get close to him.
No one got close and survived, anyway.
Cass exhaled slowly. “If you can’t do this for me, if you can’t find a way, then I won’t find the person you seek.”
“You got your Mina,” Cass snarled when the silence stretched too long. “I’ve been on this earth for centuries. It’s my turn. I am due. I want to touch—I want more than death.”
Luke rubbed his chin. “Let me make sure I understand the terms of this deal…you want me to make sure there is a woman in this world who can survive your touch—and in turn, you’ll bring me the person I seek? You’ll turn her over to me, no questions asked and just walk away?”
Luke’s hand flew out. “Deal.”
Cass blinked. That had been…too easy.
Luke’s hand just hung between them—waiting. Luke quirked a brow at him. “We must shake to agree. Just got to know you accept my terms and we can get this plan in motion.”
Cass’s gloved hand met Luke’s. He shook. Another deal with the devil. “We didn’t shake last time.” He’d always wondered…would his touch kill Luke? If it didn’t, he was sure that Luke would kill him, so Cass had never pushed that particular point of curiosity.
“Last time, I could have changed my mind on the deal.” Luke smiled, a quick flash that showed no real humor. “But, lucky for you, I didn’t.” He freed Cass’s hand and stepped back.
The deal was done. Cass exhaled slowly. He was eager to get hunting. The sooner he hunted, the sooner he had his mate. “Dead or alive?” Cass asked.
That was usually his first question when he took a job. With his particular skill set, dead was always the easier option.
So easy wasn’t the word of the day.
“Who’s the guy?” Cass wanted to know. “And sorry to be a dick, but why can’t you find him? I mean, I thought you just snapped your fingers most days and all of the dark creatures had to do your bidding.”
Doesn’t work that way for me, though. Another deal…very long ago. Luke didn’t control him.
“The prey you’ll be seeking isn’t dark. At least, not completely.”
“And I never said you were hunting a man. You’re after a woman. A very, very important woman.”
“Does your Mina know this?” Cass murmured. Luke wanted him to find a woman—a very, very important woman—and bring her back alive? That was just—
Luke’s eyes narrowed. “There is no sexual relationship between me and this prey.”
Jeez. The guy actually sounded offended. “Whatever floats your boat, man.”
The temperature in the room notched up again.
“Easy,” Cass murmured.
“There isn’t anything easy about me,” Luke fired back. But he sucked in a sharp breath and seemed to regain his control. “Your prey is light and she is dark. A blend of both paranormal worlds.”
Now that wasn’t a combo Cass saw every day. “Give me a name. And if you have something of the woman’s, that’d be helpful.”
“Her name is Amber.”
He waited. Nothing else came. The guy wanted to give him a challenge, huh? “And you have nothing of hers that I can use?”
Luke turned away. He paced toward his desk and opened a drawer there. For a moment, he just stared inside.
Cass tapped his foot.
Luke reached into the drawer and pulled out a small object. Then he headed back toward Cass, his fingers fisted around his prize.
Cass lifted up his gloved hand and held his palm out toward Luke.
Luke dropped a small, golden chain into Cass’s hand. Even through the glove he wore, Cass could feel the heat of power. That chain—a bracelet—held powerful magic. His heartbeat stuttered a bit, a damn odd reaction for him, and he focused his gaze on the token he’d just been given.
He didn’t have an enhanced sense of smell like shifters. He didn’t track his prey that way. Instead, he relied on magic—on the imprints that people had left on objects they’d once possessed. Those objects acted as homing devices for him, pulling him straight to his prey.
Cass lifted his left hand, and with his teeth, he pulled off the glove. Then he shoved the glove into his pocket. His left hand—no longer shielded by anything—then reached for that bracelet. As soon as his fingers touched it, Cass let out a low hiss.
Pure power hit him.
More than that. She hit him. For just an instant, her image flashed in his mind. Thick, long blonde hair. Eyes so gold and pure—seeing straight through him. She was tall and slim, her face unforgettable. She stared at him. He felt her.
And he wanted.
He’d never wanted a woman just because he’d touched an object that had once belonged to her. He’d never had a vision so strong. Never had his whole body react, but he was reacting. He’d gone into overdrive. Every single muscle in his body had clamped down. Desire beat in his blood, and Cass’s heart galloped in his chest.
“Problem?” Luke demanded, watching him closely.
This time, Cass’s hand was the one to fist around his prize. “I’ve got her.” The woman with the golden eyes was in his mind now.
“Then bring her to me.”
“And you’ll give me what I want?” Cass asked the question automatically but…
The blonde woman’s image flashed through his eyes once more. Amber.
“Absolutely.” Luke smiled.
If you couldn’t trust the devil, who could you trust?
The monsters were out in full force.
Amber Fortune—she’d recently picked the last name just because she liked the sound of it—took a moment to gaze around the packed bar. She counted five—no, six—vampires perched close to their would-be prey. The vamps were sporting fangs and even a bit of blood on their chins. They must have thought the blood was a sexy touch.
A werewolf was to her right, and his fur pushed out of his shirt. He wasn’t sitting. Instead, the werewolf stood at his full height and every few moments, he let out a little howl.
There were some witches out there, oh-so-sexy witches with tight little skirts, high heels, and brooms at the ready. Their light laughter drifted in the air and invited others to join in with them.
Amber’s gaze swung to the mummy who’d appeared in front of her. His bandages were looking a little worn as he gave her a wide smile.
“Beer,” he said, and his dark gaze slid over her. “Why aren’t you dressed up? I mean…it’s a Halloween party, right? Everyone is supposed to be dressed up?”
It was actually a pre-Halloween party since October 31st wouldn’t be hitting for a few more days. But in New Orleans, the parties always started early.
She pushed a beer toward him. “I am wearing a costume.” She glanced to the left, then to the right, and Amber leaned a bit over the bar, lowering her voice conspiratorially as she whispered, “The human skin? That’s my costume. Underneath it, I’m the most terrifying monster you can imagine.”
The mummy—probably a college guy from the looks of him—blinked a bit, as if he were trying to decide if she was joking.
She wasn’t, but Amber gave him a wide smile.
Then he laughed. “Good one!” He saluted her with his beer bottle before he turned around and headed for the witches.
Good one. He had no idea.
Her short nails drummed on the bar top. Ten to one odds said the next person who walked into the bar would be wearing a vamp costume. Vamps were big this year. Ten to one—
The man who stalked through the doorway wasn’t wearing a costume.
He had on jeans, a dark t-shirt and a dark hoodie. The hoodie was pulled up over his head, but she could see the hard angles of his face. The square jaw, the long, strong blade of his nose.
He was built with powerful shoulders and a tall, muscled frame. As she stared at him, Amber felt little alarm bells start to go off in her body.
Something is wrong. Something is—
He looked up at her, and Amber was immediately pinned by the bluest eyes she’d ever seen. Those eyes seemed to see right through her.
Breathe. Breathe. Be normal. But it was hard to be normal when fear was snaking through her insides. The stranger began walking toward her, and the crowd seemed to magically move right out of his path. He didn’t touch anyone, not so much as a little brush of his shoulder against another person. He moved with a dark grace, and she should look away from him.
She also thought she should probably run.
She straightened her shoulders, lifted her chin, and let the music fade into the background as she faced the man who was coming right to her.
When he was about three feet from the bar, all of the vamps—and even the werewolf—suddenly got up and walked away. Coincidence? She didn’t think so.
Who is he?
Her hand inched beneath the bar, searching for the weapon she liked to keep at the ready.
And then he was there, standing right in front of her. That too bright blue gaze of his swept over her face, seeming to absorb every detail of her expression. Then slowly, that gaze drifted down her body…or at least, it drifted over as much of her body as was visible before the bar hid her from his view.
“What do you want?” Amber wasn’t just talking about drinks. This guy wasn’t like the others in the bar. Goosebumps had risen on her arms. That tended to happen—when she was in the presence of another paranormal. It was part of her body’s alarm system. She got cold when danger was near.
This guy—he was definitely dangerous.
The hood still covered his head, but she could see a hint of his dark hair. His skin was golden, his lips firm but oddly sensual, and up close, the guy seemed even bigger than he’d first appeared.
His hands lifted. He wore gloves—gloves that were black but didn’t look to be made of leather. She wasn’t sure what that material was. His right hand flattened on the bar, but his left hand was fisted.
“I have something of yours.”
Oh, wow. His voice. His voice! She’d never heard a voice so deep and dark. Even Vin Diesel couldn’t compete with this guy. It wasn’t just a voice that was heard. She swore she could feel that deep rumble in her body.
She was so distracted by his voice that it actually took a moment for his words to register, and when they did, Amber gave a sharp shake of her head. “I don’t think so. You don’t have anything that belongs to me—”
His fisted hand opened. She saw the gleam of gold. A bracelet. Her bracelet. A bracelet that she had not seen in a very, very long time. Because the last time she’d had that bracelet, it had been torn from her wrist. And the guy who’d ripped it off…
“I can feel you in it,” the stranger told her.
“That’s weird,” she said. “That is a seriously weird thing to say.”
He blinked at her. For a moment, he looked a bit confused, but then his face just went back to that dangerous mask.
She smiled at him. “That is not my bracelet, so I don’t think you should be feeling me anywhere near it.”
It was, yes. But Amber didn’t plan to admit that fact anytime soon. “We have a lost and found here in the bar,” she continued brightly. “Want me to put it in there? Maybe the owner will show up soon and claim it.” Her hand reached out to swipe the bracelet from him. She was fast—so fast that she knew she’d be able to swipe the gold away before he could so much as—
His hand closed around hers, trapping her.
He’s faster. Oh, crap. He is faster than I am.
“It’s yours.” Again, that deep voice of his rolled through her. His hold tightened on her hand. “I can feel you.”
“Yes, well, that’s because you’re crushing my hand.” He wasn’t. He wasn’t hurting her at all. “And I can feel you plenty, too.”
He lifted their hands, staring at them with a look of what could have been wonder on his face. She was having a pretty hard time gauging the guy’s expressions.
“You’re warm and soft,” he muttered. “It’s almost as if…the glove isn’t even there.”
Had a psychotic paranormal just walked into her bar? Talk about bad luck.
“The glove is there.” She glanced pointedly at their hands. “Now let me go.”
He didn’t. “What are you?” He’d leaned toward her and dropped his voice.
I’m a monster wearing human skin. Only if she said those words to him, Amber knew this fellow wouldn’t laugh. “What are you?” she threw back at him.
“My enemies call me the Reaper.”
Oh, for the love of…The Reaper! He was the Reaper? She could barely breathe and her goosebumps were back, but about a million times worse than they’d been before. She was touching the Reaper. Amber knew she had to get away from him. Far, far away, as fast as she possibly could.
Behind him, she saw a witch start to approach the bar. Before the woman got within three feet of the Reaper, though, she stiffened. Fear drifted over her face—a fear that Amber knew the woman would never be able to explain—and the witch turned and immediately walked back to her friends.
Even humans could sense when death was close.
“It’s your bracelet.” He still held her hand but he’d started to…stroke her wrist. Her pulse was racing beneath his gloved touch. She wanted to jerk her hand free, but Amber suspected he was stronger than she was. If she tried to jerk away, he’d just hold her tight. And then they’d both know he held all the power.
She had to take that power away.
She had to get away.
“I’ve been sent to find you,” he added.
Yes, she’d figured as much. So she stopped pretending. “If you’re the Reaper that I’ve heard about…” Heard about, been warned about, been told to stay far, far away from if she wanted to remain in the land of the living. “If you’re that guy, then you’re nothing more than a bounty hunter.”
His lips curved the faintest bit. “A very highly paid bounty hunter.”
“Dead or alive?” Her voice had gone husky.
His blue eyes seemed to heat.
“Isn’t that the way it works for you? You bring in your victims dead…or alive?”
He shrugged one powerful shoulder. “Sometimes undead or alive.”
Sweet hell. Her night was not looking good.
“You’re not going to fight me,” he continued. Did he even realize he was stroking her wrist? “You’re not going to attract attention. You’re going to just walk into the night with me, and you won’t look back.”
Oh, that was cute. He was delusional. She’d been right when she pegged him as a psychotic paranormal. “Luke sent you.” Just when she’d thought he’d forgotten all about her.
The Reaper inclined his head. “The honor of your presence has been requested by the Lord of the Dark.”
She smiled at him, and, much as she’d done with the human who’d been in that exact same spot just a few moments before, Amber leaned forward as if she were about to share a big secret with him. “Tell the Lord of the Dark…to go screw himself.”
The Reaper blinked.
And Amber brought up the weapon she’d just palmed into her left hand. She yanked up the make-shift taser and shoved it against him as hard as she could. The volts of electricity pumped into him and he gave a jerk. He let her go because he had no choice—the Reaper was falling back and slamming into the floor.
She’d tinkered with that taser a bit. Amber had always been good at tinkering with things. So she’d given the device a paranormal upgrade. The taser wouldn’t kill him. Actually, she wasn’t sure anything could kill the Reaper, but it would give her a few precious moments to escape.
The costumed humans—at least those within a ten-foot radius—had turned to stare at the fallen man in shock. Amber didn’t waste time staring. She leapt over the bar in one very agile jump. She landed on her feet and prepared to race for freedom.
But his gloved hand curled around her foot.
She smiled at him. “Want more?” Then she gave him another shock. He cursed her as his body shuddered. But even as he jerked and twitched, he yanked the taser from her hand. His strength is going to be a problem.
Amber broke free from him and raced for the doorway. She shoved the humans out of her path and tasted sweet, sweet freedom as she burst out of the bar.
“Dude…” A vampire stared down at him. A vampire with crooked fangs. “She totally tased your ass. Twice.”
Cass narrowed his eyes on the vampire. Then he rose, slowly. When Amber had tased him for the second time, Cass had yanked the taser from her. Now, he crushed it in his gloved hands. Crushed it to dust. “Where…is…she?”
The vampire pointed toward the door.
Cass would find her. He’d follow her. He had her bracelet after all, so that meant tracking her wouldn’t be any challenge at all to him and—
No, hell, no. Cass did a quick search.
Amber had taken the bracelet. She’d tased him with one hand and stolen the bracelet with the other. Talk about tricky.
Without the bracelet, he’d just have to do things the old fashioned way. No more magic beacon right to him. But, he would find her. He’d just have to work harder.
Because she was not getting away. He always brought back his bounties. Always.
She would be no different.