He opened his mouth to refuse her, locked gazes with Tink, who was watching him with guarded eyes as she cleaned a table, and said, “Yeah, let’s go.”


The Realm of Blood and Shadows

TORIN SAT AT his desk, fingers pounding at the computer keyboard with so much force he cracked the outer shell. Again. With a curse, he tossed the thing aside and grabbed a new one from his box of spare parts.

There were disturbances all over the world. People were fighting, rioting and looting. For no reason! Cameo and Viola were still missing, and he’d failed to find a single trail to lead him to their whereabouts. They were out there, possibly hurt.

He had no idea what kind of defensive skills Viola possessed. Cameo, on the other hand, was a warrior to her soul and could take care of herself. He knew that. Had seen her fight. Girl had a wicked habit of slitting throats. But she wasn’t infallible.

An unfamiliar sound caught his attention and he spun in his chair, cocking the gun he always kept in his lap.

A young girl stood there, holding her palms up, all innocence. “Please,” she said in a strained whisper. Color drained from her cheeks.

“Who are you and how did you get in here?” he demanded, even as he looked her over.

She had dirty hair, at one time it might have been blond, the strands tangled and knotted and hanging limply to her elbows. A stained and ripped nightgown bagged over her too-thin body, the material falling all the way to the ground.

“You are Torin, correct?”

“I’m Death, if you don’t answer my questions.”

“I’m not willing to share my name, and I flashed.” Still she whispered. Why?

“Well, then, I’ll call you Crazy, because only a crazy person would come here without an invite.”

She nodded, no inflection of emotion darkening her features. “You may call me whatever you wish.”

Very accommodating, wasn’t she? “Why are you here, female?”

She ignored him, saying, “Please, may I lower my hands?”


“My arms are shaking, and I can’t...I’m not strong enough...” Her arms lowered slowly, as if heavy weights had been tied to her wrists and pulled. “I’m sorry. Please don’t shoot me. That’s not the way I want to die.”

“You’re lucky I don’t like blood in my room.” He lowered the gun as well, placing it on his thigh, making sure to keep the barrel aimed at her stomach. “I don’t like it—but I’ll deal with it. This is the last time I’m going to ask. Why are you here?”

Nervous, she twisted the fabric of her gown. “Cronus came to me several weeks ago and told me I was to grant you twenty-four hours of my time.”

Still. Whispering. He didn’t like it. He was reminded of all the nights he’d spent with his friends, on the road, when they’d found women and brought them back to the tent—but he never had. The couples had tried to be quiet, but they’d always failed.

I want you, the females had whispered. I need you.

This girl—

Her claim finally registered. Cronus was the former king of the Titans. Sienna, Paris’s girl, had killed him, and taken over the Titan realm of the skies. But just before his death, Cronus had made a bargain with Torin. In exchange for guarding the All-key—a spiritual relic capable of freeing the possessor from any lock—Torin would be granted an entire day with a woman he would be able to touch without causing a plague.

Despite the king’s death, the bargain must still stand.

And that might explain why the Paring Rod hadn’t sucked him up. Because of the All-key, it couldn’t hold him. A startling realization—one that suddenly paled in comparison to the knowledge that he could...touch her...

The moisture in his mouth dried as he narrowed his study of her, taking in smaller details. Despite her disheveled state, she was pretty in a subtle, understated way. Her eyes were large and brown...and haunted. There were secrets inside her. Dark secrets. Her nose was small and rounded cutely at the end. Her upper lip was plumper than her bottom lip, and shaped into a heart.

Her hands were scabbed over and streaked with dirt. There was a bruise on the side of her neck—and it wasn’t a hickey. It was too long, too thin, and extended under the fabric of her gown.

She stood utterly still, quiet, allowing him to scrutinize her at his leisure. Her gaze remained averted, glued to the side of the wall. It had taken a warrior’s courage to come, and yet she couldn’t face him head-on while he looked his fill?

Touch her, he thought again.

“Who are you?” Torin asked more gently. “Please. I have to know.”

“I told you. I won’t offer my name.”

Why? What reason could she have to deny him? “Will you tell me why you’re whispering?” he asked—in a whisper.

Bright red spots grew on her cheeks. “This is my voice. I can’t talk with any other or any louder.”

Why? And how many more times would he be forced to ask that question?

“May I...sit?” she asked.

His eyes roved over the bedroom so few people had ever entered. His dirty clothes were on the floor. His bed was unmade. Empty beer bottles littered the nightstand and desk.

He hopped to his feet and raced around the spacious enclosure, gathering clothes, tossing out bottles. He also made the bed.

“Yes,” he said. “Sit. Are you hungry? Thirsty?”

Hesitant, she eased onto the floor instead of any of the chairs or the bed. “I... Yes,” she replied. “Please.”

He couldn’t bring himself to leave her, so, he did something he’d never done before. He withdrew his cell and phoned Reyes, the keeper of Pain, saying, “Bring me a couple of sandwiches. And chips. And brownies. And sodas. And anything else we have. All right?”

“I’m glad you called,” the warrior said. “Danika has—”

“And hurry.” He hung up before Reyes could reply.

“You have servants?” the girl asked, finally meeting his gaze.

His hands began to sweat. Ugh. He couldn’t touch her with sweaty hands. “I have friends.” He motioned to the bed, his arm trembling. “Wouldn’t you rather sit somewhere more comfortable?”

“Here’s fine. I’m so dirty. And I know I must smell, and—”

“Honey, you’re good just the way you are.”

She peered down at her hands, once again wringing the fabric of her gown. “You are Disease, I’m told.”

“I’m not Disease. I just host him.” And he wanted the demon out. So much so, he’d even spent a little time with the angels. Or rather, the Sent Ones led by the cold-as-ice Zacharel. He’d learned that demons could enter a body, create a stronghold and produce a terrible toxin that destroyed the possessor from the inside out. Fear strengthened the toxin—and thereby the demon—and joy weakened it.

But he’d had no reason to entertain joy. Until now.

“Why are you in this condition?” he asked gently.

“I’d...rather not discuss that, either.”

So many secrets. “How did Cronus get you to agree to this?”

“I’d rather not—”

“Never mind. I get it.” No personal information was to be shared. He didn’t like it, but he wasn’t going to push. She could flash away, and he would be unable to chase her down. “You know my name, and you know about the demon, but do you know anything else about me?”

She thought for a moment, shook her head.

“Well, I hope you’ve figured out by now that I’m not going to hurt you.” Despite his threats.

A knock sounded at the door.

“That’s the food.” Torin rushed to open up and came face-to-face with a scowling Reyes. The warrior was tall and dark and intense, and holding a sack of goodies in one hand and a small painting in the other. “Thanks, man. I owe you. Just leave everything on the floor.”

“What’s going on?” Reyes demanded. “You’ve never—” He was in the process of straightening, his gaze sweeping through the room out of habit. A warrior knew to check his surroundings. He spotted the girl and did a double take. “You have a female in here?”

The muscles in his jaw tightened. “It’s not what you think.”

Brown eyes found him and pleaded. “Torin, man. Cameo and Viola are missing. We don’t need a plague on our hands, too.”

“I haven’t touched her, but even if I had, you wouldn’t need to worry. She’s immune.”

“Good, that’s good, but she could still become a carrier, right? Let me escort her out of the fortress before any damage is done. She’s—”

“Fine. She’s fine.” Could she become a carrier? Cronus hadn’t said.

“She’s at risk right—”

“Just trust me, okay?” Torin bent down, grabbed the bags.

“Wait.” Reyes thrust the painting at him, forcing him to take it.

He did. Reluctantly. He didn’t want to know the future. He didn’t want to know if only doom awaited him.

Reyes rubbed two fingers across his stubbled chin, and said, “Danika painted the canvas last night, and I thought you’d find the finished product interesting. You’ll want to take a look. Trust me.” The warrior turned on his booted heel and stomped away. No doubt to inform the rest of the gang what was going on.


Torin shouldered the door closed and faced the girl. Her gaze was latched on the bags.

How long since she’d eaten?

He set the painting down and turned it around, facing the colored side toward the wall. One day, he’d look. But not today. He’d been waiting for this day forever it seemed.

He moved forward, crouched in front of the girl, and set a feast before her. She didn’t react immediately, was too busy taking everything in. “Go ahead,” he said. “It’s yours. Whatever you want.”