They raced out, crawling al over his body, the bed.

The bed. Yes, he was atop a bed, he thought hazily.

Suddenly he could feel the shredded sheets underneath him, every savage gash carved in his muscles, the pain so much greater than before, and not so welcome now.

Worse, steel pressed into his wrists and ankles, preventing him from stanching the flow of blood or shooing away the bugs.

Though every instinct he possessed shouted that he continue to fight, he forced himself to stop thrashing.

In and out he breathed, realizing the air was heavy and coated with decay. But underneath the rot, he smel ed something else…something crisp, like the earth. Pulsing, vibrant life.

And beneath the flames, he could feel the sweetest kiss of winter ice, soothing his burns, gifting him with tendrils of strength. What—who—was responsible?

He tried to open his eyes, but his lids were sealed shut. He frowned. Why were his lids sealed shut? And the steel…

chains, he thought as the haze began to fade. Binding him, holding him prisoner. Why?

A startling moment of lucidity.

He hissed in horror, even as he clung to every thought now forming in his head, praying he continued to remember. He was Amun, keeper of the demon of Secrets. He had loved, and he had lost. He had kil ed, but he had also saved. He was not an animal, a brutal kil er, not anymore, but a man.

An immortal warrior who safeguarded what was his.

He had entered hel , knowing the consequences but wil ingly overlooking them. Because he couldn’t bear to see his friend Aeron hurting, crazed with the knowledge that his surrogate daughter was trapped in hel ’s torturous blaze.

So Amun had gone, and had emerged with hundreds of other demons and souls al trapped inside him, writhing, screaming, desperate for escape.

But he was home now, and he needed to die. Had to die.

He was a danger to his friends, the world. He would die.

There would be no comforting Haidee, nor taking comfort from the woman she’d become, for he could never al ow himself to leave this room, his sanctuary. His coffin. And that, he found, was what he would mourn most. Whether he’d encountered her soul in hel and absorbed her memories there, or had stumbled upon her years ago, her voice lost in the dark, thorny mire of his mind until now, he would never know. This was it for him.

This was the end.




Once again they battled for his attention and threatened to overwhelm him.

Amun knew he couldn’t hold them off for long. Too demanding, so demanding… He focused on the earthy perfume and cooling breeze, head automatical y turning to the left, fol owing invisible threads wafting in the air.

Leading from this bedroom…into the one next to it? Power.



Perhaps he could leave this room, he thought then.

Perhaps he could be saved. That smal sip of salvation, the barest taste…a frosted apricot, juice so sweet his throat would forever rejoice.

He just had to—flames, screams, evil—get there. Must…

fight. FLAMES. Amid the growing black thunder in his brain, Amun jerked at his bonds. SCREAMS.

Already torn flesh surrendered, and already broken bone dusted to powder. EVIL. But he couldn’t pul himself free. He’d already used up his strength, he realized. He had nothing left.


As he slumped onto the mattress, he laughed silently, bitterly. He’d lost, and so easily, too. He’d truly, final y lost.

He couldn’t even cal for his friends. A single word spoken, a single sound made, and everything inside him would spew out, his clash against the evil al for nothing.


Closer…closer now…

A shocking burst of hope as that sense of defeat shattered.

If he couldn’t reach whoever was in that bedroom, perhaps he…she…they…could reach him.

As the evil swamped him once more, Amun shouted as soundlessly as he’d laughed. Come to me!



The desperate male voice invaded Haidee Alexander’s mind, a thriving fire amid a raging ice storm, dragging her from a cloying sleep and into total awareness. She jerked upright, panting, wild gaze scanning, mind cataloging her options in seconds, just as she’d trained it to do since being captured by the demon. Unfamiliar bedroom with one window, one door, offering two possible escape routes.

The door, varnished to a luxuriant shine. Scratches around the handle, meaning it was wel -used.

Probably locked. The window, thick glass, unstreaked by hand or bird. The pane wasn’t nailed shut, then. Couldn’t be, not to maintain that level of cleanliness.

Window, best bet.

Alone. Had to act now.

Riding a cloud of urgency, Haidee threw her legs over the side of the bed and stood. Her knees instantly buckled, too feeble to hold her weight. Not normal. Usual y she could awaken and five seconds later be ready to run a marathon.

A this-is-the-only-way-to-survive marathon.

This weakness… How long had she been out this time?

She lumbered to a shaky stand, trying to find her balance as she replayed the happenings of the last weeks through her head. She’d been overpowered by Defeat, the demon she’d been hunting. He’d carted her to what seemed a thousand different locations, trying to lose her boyfriend, Micah, and his crew of four. Hunters, al of them.

Don’t think about that right now. You’l lose focus.

Escape. That’s what mattered.

She tripped her way to the window, but just before she tugged on the pane, she stil ed. In al their days together, Defeat had never left her side. He hadn’t even trusted her to go to the bathroom or shower by herself, but here she was, on her own.

So, where was he now?

Two options. Either the demon had reached his final destination and was confident enough in the surrounding security to venture off on his own, or someone had stolen her from him.

Next thought: if someone had stolen her, they wouldn’t have abandoned her. They would have wanted her to know their intentions. Good or bad.

So. Defeat had her where he wanted her. The door and the window were probably wired, so there was a very good chance an alarm would sound the moment she touched either one.

Would an army of demons come gunning for her?

Probably. But she didn’t care. She had to try. Giving up wasn’t in her nature.

Haidee gripped the warm edge of the panel and shoved.

Cursed. Nothing, no movement. Not just because her fingers were as weak as her knees, but because the pane was sealed. She’d been wrong about the cleanliness factor, but at least she’d also been wrong about the wire.

Stil . She’d have to find another way out. And she would.

She’d been in far worse situations than this and survived.

Hel , thrived.

Steeling herself, she peered outside to note what she’d have to overcome once she left this place. The sun shone brightly, amber rays causing her eyes to tear. She wiped each drop away with the back of her wrist. No girly weaknesses al owed. Her prison rested high on a mountaintop, a barbed gate—electric?—stretching skyward and wrapping around the perimeter. She’d encountered similar gates in the past and knew this one would be impossible to climb without inflicting so much damage she’d die on the other side. If she even made it over.

Stil . There were hundreds of trees, each more lush and green than the last, their limbs stretching in welcome.

Those limbs would hide her, their leaves draping her and al owing her to search for a way to bypass that gate. And if there wasn’t a way to bypass it, she’d forgo cover and climb. Bottom line, death was preferable to staying here and being tortured by a demon.

Okay. So. New plan. Shatter the glass and shimmy to land.


Yeah. Right. I’ve never been that lucky. Haidee twisted and surged through the room, her steps not getting any smoother. Clearly, whatever drug Defeat had repeatedly injected into her vein stil poured through her.

Concentrate, woman. The spacious chamber boasted a king-size canopied bed with a white swath overlaying the top and fal ing to the floor like clouds sprinkled with fairy dust. A floral print love seat and a smal glass table perched in a tiny alcove, il uminated by a chandelier weeping with glittering crystal.

None of which she could throw.

To the left was a freshly polished desk and matching chair.

No paperweights or knickknacks rested on the surface, and the drawers were empty. To the right was a ful -length mirror surrounded by an ebony frame. Both were bolted to the wal . Next she tried the door.

As she’d suspected, it was locked.

Panting, fury blooming, she kicked the bench at the foot of the bed. The heavy wood didn’t move an inch. And shit, that hurt! She yelped, hopping and rubbing her stinging toe.

Someone had removed her shoes, leaving her barefoot.

Something she wished she’d noticed before.

Damn, damn, damn. The luxury and wealth here made a mockery of the hovel she’d scrimped and saved and final y managed to buy for herself, yet there wasn’t a damn thing she could use to aid her escape. What the hel was she going to do?

Come to me!

The tortured, pain-fil ed voice overwhelmed her senses, the words like licks of fire, somehow heating her up. A voice?

Heating her? Could be a hal ucination, yeah, but she’d seen and experienced al kinds of weirdness throughout her too-long life to simply write this off.

“Who said that?” She spun, fighting a wave of dizziness and automatical y reaching for the blades she kept anchored at her thighs.

Only silence greeted her—and she sported no weapons.

Defeat had taken her knives, guns and poisons, foolishly thinking he’d triumphed. But that’s what he—it—did. Broke down the opponent through any means necessary, destroying al thoughts of achieving victory, no matter the cost of surrender.

Not that he’d broken her.

He’d learn. Haidee was unbreakable.

Come to…me… Weaker now, riding a tide of despair, but no less urgent.

Not a hal ucination, she thought. Couldn’t be. That heat…