“But we’re getting stronger, and we have no idea what we’re doing some of the time,” Kai says quieter.
“Now you’re definitely telling her too much,” Jude snaps, looking at them like they’ve all gone mad. “Just tell her the part she needs to know and stop sharing the details we never agreed to discuss.”
“Why are you getting stronger?” I ask, even though I think I already know.
“It seems to happen every time you ‘level up,’” Ezekiel says, his jaw tightening a little as I take a step away from him.
“That’s why you didn’t want me gone,” I say more to myself than them, looking down at the sink. “That’s why you closed the books when I tried to read them, and why you got jealous about Neal, and—”
“Neal had nothing to do with the equation. That was uncontrollable blind-rage jealousy,” Ezekiel interrupts, shrugging unapologetically when I look over at him.
“You never really wanted me there. You just wanted the power boost.”
They look at me like they expect me to cry, when all I really want to do is just walk out. Swallowing my pride, since I don’t have a hell of a lot left, I just nod.
“Alright then. So how big of a boost did you get after I reached this last level?”
“Haven’t tried it out yet,” Kai tells me. “We’ve been recovering from our stint in Hell’s throat and trying to conserve all our energy for the trials. It drains us to use too much, and the soul stones drained us in general.”
Jude throws his hands up and walks out, slamming the bathroom door behind him.
“I’m not hearing anything so top secret right now. What’s his problem?” I ask. “I’m the one who should be walking out and slamming a door. The four of you know how much I care about you, no matter how hard you deny it, and you act like it’s no big deal you’ve been using me.”
Yeah, that last part comes out bitter.
“First rule of hell: Don’t trust anyone you don’t share a bond with,” Kai says with a sardonic smile. “Yet, as you already pointed out, the devil is already onto us. However, Jude still doesn’t want you equipped with the same knowledge we have or admitting our weakness about not knowing our true powers or reach.”
“I find it worth pointing out that Jude is the only one who hasn’t tasted her,” Gage states dryly. “And he’s the only one still keeping secrets.”
He cuts an accusatory gaze at me.
Ignoring him, I turn toward Ezekiel. “What do I have to do with any of this? What’s my connection to the four of you?”
His lips purse. “We don’t know,” he answers honestly. “It could be a cosmic perfect storm of some sort, and you could have used us an anchor to…fuck, I don’t even know at this point.”
“We need to get back out there before someone takes notice of our absence and gets too curious,” Gage says, exiting.
Kai turns and follows, and Ezekiel exits with me. I even suppress a taunting grin when he opens the door for me.
He mutters a curse under his breath when he realizes what he just did, and he walks off a little briskly.
Prickly they may be, but right now, they’re mine to protect. Nothing else matters when their lives are at risk.
The party has been going for a while, and we’re still waiting on the devil to lower the boom and tell us why we’re all here.
Lucifer has been on his throne for the past hour, and occasionally his eyes land on the guys.
Lamar is standing behind Manella, who is sitting in a throne three down from Lucifer. I start to go to him, when a redhead steals my breath as she lands herself right in front of us.
The guys don’t react, but I take an immediate step closer, watching her carefully. She smirks as she runs a finger up Kai’s chest, and his fists ball at his sides.
“You four seem to owe me a favor after what I did for you, don’t you think?” she asks in a voice so seductive that I expect them to shuck their clothes immediately.
Fortunately, they don’t.
“Wait. Is she talking about me?” I ask, looking at them as she slides her finger over to Gage’s chest.
He looks really tense right now, and his jaw clenches.
“How do you plan to work that off?” she asks, her finger now moving on to Ezekiel’s chest.
“Considering you left me for dead,” Kai says, drawing her attention, “I don’t feel very indebted,” he answers her.
Oh, that favor.
Her finger pauses on Jude’s chest, and she strolls back through, dragging her finger over them again as she makes her way down the line to Kai.
I take another step closer.
Her hand slides down his chest, pausing just above his belt as she steps into him. “If I had wanted you dead, I would have let you fall all the way into the hellfire before I saved you,” she says with a little too much pep.
When her hand starts moving lower, I can’t help but stare at it like it’s the most offensive thing I’ve ever seen.
“So I’ll ask again; what do you plan to do for me?”
Just as her fingers start to dip behind his beltline, my anger might boil over a little overly so. In fact, I feel something leak out of me without permission—power, not anything gross. Just power.
She rips her hand back, shaking it out as it sizzles. An actual hiss leaves her mouth as she glares at Kai like he’s the one who did it.
He just smirks.
“I’ll remember that,” she growls, then stiffens as though something just occurred to her. “How did you even do that?” she asks more seriously, her sexy voice gone as a commanding echo chases her words.
“I actually did nothing. I think someone is toying with you, Lilith,” Kai tells her, gesturing toward where Lucifer is staring at us.
“Turning the devil’s daughter against the devil is so not a sound plan,” I grumble.
Her eyes turn to slits as she glares at Lucifer for a moment, then turns and stalks away. Now that I’ve noticed him staring, his hands steepled in front of his face like he just witnessed all that, I really don’t feel too smug.
I feel played.
I almost feel like this party was called to test me. Or maybe it’s to test them and I’m just being paranoid.
Cain distracts him when he leans down to say something in his ear. Lucifer nods, a new smile donning his lips as he stands.
Someone taps a glass over and over, and all eyes drift up to hell’s king as he stands on his platform in front of his obnoxious throne.
“I’ve assembled you all here tonight for a very important reason. The trials lately have gotten a little complicated due to outside interference. Clearly we have to clean house, but before we can do all that, the trials must continue.”
He takes a step down, and the crowd parts for him as he starts walking.
I lose sight of him, but I can still hear his voice as it draws closer.
“So, in an effort to keep details from leaking out before I was ready for them to be leaked, we’ve decided to change the date of the trials.” The crowd parts in front of us, and Lucifer stops walking as he stares directly at us with a smirk on his lips.
“Tonight,” he goes on, still staring, “we have the final trial!”
There goes the boom we’ve been dreading.
Their jaws tense as they part, making room for the devil to pass between them. Lucifer grins like he’s delighted to have sprang this on them.
“And since I designed the final course this year, you can be sure it’s going to be a very epic event,” he says, walking away from us as the crowd continues to clear a path and start following behind him like really bad sheep.
We follow too, and my hand passes through Ezekiel’s shirt like I’m trying to draw some calm from him to keep from wolfing out. Or girling out. Or fleshing out?
Anyway, I’m losing a little control right now.
“This year, instead of one day in the course, it will be three,” Lucifer goes on as he steps onto a platform.
The crowd erupts into hushed whispers and surprised gasps. This sounds really bad.
“Three days?” Kai hisses.
“This is a test designed specifically for us,” Gage states quietly. “Look at the other competitors.”
My eyes flit around as I start noticing the other competitors losing their suits, and attaching weapons onto their bodies.
“The invitation said black tie and no weapons. It didn’t say bring a change of clothes and a secret stash of killing devices,” I feel the need to point out.
“He wants to see what we can do,” Ezekiel says as his jaw grinds.
The devil steps high on the platform, and his grin only grows as the wall behind him starts to slide open. The thing about this mansion? I’ve never once seen a window.
I’m guessing the view must suck.
A glowing red light starts creeping in more and more as the wall continues to slide open.
“This year’s course will take place in the belly of the beast,” Lucifer goes on. “Hell’s stomach.”
More hushed whispers and some audible sounds of excitement comes from the restless crowd. I really don’t know if I want to do something that excites this bloodthirsty gathering.
“I’m guessing they’re not talking about giving hell indigestion with all of us in its stomach,” I state wryly.
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