“I bet the competition is over. My gods, my sisters. How could I have forgotten about them?” She scrambled to her discarded clothing and rifled through her shorts pockets.

He found his cell and they popped the screens at the same time. She gasped. He grunted. Then they peered over at each other, silent.

“Tell me your news first,” he said.

“They won.” She sounded dazed and unsure. “They won first place this round. They’re injured, but alive and healing. They also managed to disqualify the Skyhawks. Meaning we’re now on equal footing with my mother.”

“That’s great.” He frowned when he saw the new flood of tears tracking down her cheeks. “Right?”

“Right.” A firm nod. “My family is alive and they brought home the victory we needed. I’m so happy I could burst.”


Her shoulders sagged. “But they did it without me,” she whispered, clearly agonized. “I didn’t help. They don’t need me. I’m a hindrance. They lose when I help, but win when I don’t.”

His chest constricted. “Baby doll, just because they won without you doesn’t mean you’re a hindrance. That just means they were better prepared this go-round.”

Silent, she dressed. He sighed and joined her, tugging on his own clothing.

“Sabin and the angels found Rhea,” he said, even though she hadn’t asked. “Or rather, they found where the goddess was supposed to be. She left in a hurry, they think, and she left days, maybe even weeks ago. Her clothes were thrown all over the place, there were white feathers on the floor and dust on everything.”

“Feathers. Galen?”

He nodded. “Sabin said there are no tracks, so it’ll be impossible to hunt either one of them from here. They must have flashed somewhere.”

“But…why host one of the competitions here if she couldn’t watch?”

“Maybe her absence was unexpected. Maybe she’d planned to be here, but something stopped her.”

“And the Hunters?”

“Maybe she issued orders to kill you before she took off, or maybe someone else was leading them.”

Kaia straightened, peered at him, head tilting to the side as she pondered. “There’s only one person I know who hates me enough to—” She frowned. She’d taken two steps toward him but now stopped abruptly and looked down at her feet. “I’m stuck. Strider, I’m stuck!”

He tried to move toward her—but couldn’t. Just like hers, his feet were glued in place. He, too, looked down and frowned. The cave floor was…thinning? Yes, that’s exactly what it was doing. Thinning, losing its rigidity, turning to…mist.

In a desperate bid to hold on to his woman, he reached out. Just before contact, they fell in unison, whooshing down…down…



KANE AWOKE SLOWLY, THOUGH he gave no indication the synapses in his brain were kinda, maybe firing again. He’d gone to sleep in pain, drugged, and sadly, that had happened many times before in the past few…days? Weeks? He’d trained himself to come out of a stupor and take stock before moving a muscle or uttering a word.

He ached like a boxer who’d just lost the big match after going eighteen rounds. Though many of his injuries had already begun to heal, the deepest of them still etched his name in the May Not Recover book of regrets. And wouldn’t you know? His demon loved it, every bit of it, giggling inside his head, soaking up the effects of the catastrophe—then and now.

Kane had a beefy guard on each arm, holding him up, dragging him down a long, winding cave that smelled of sulfur and decay, human feces and acrid fear. He tried not to gag. He knew the scents well, his demon having cohabited with them for centuries.

There was also a guard in front of him and five behind him. None of them gave any sign they knew he’d awoken.

As he planned an escape—picturing angels swooping in (not gonna happen), his friends busting through caves walls (again, a no-go) and him turning green and hulking (only in his dreams)—fury flash flooded him. He wouldn’t have to do anything. In the end, his demon would destroy these humans. Disaster lived for moments such as this. And if Kane died in the process, so what?

He remembered the explosion, remembered William being wheeled away from him and tossed into a different vehicle. William. Was the immortal alive? Being tortured? Probably. The fury intensified. These men would pay. No matter what.

You hear me, Disaster? They need to pay.

The giggling became a gleeful laugh that razed the entire circumference of his skull.

Wait for my signal. None of the guards had any idea about the devastation they were soon to face. And they wouldn’t. Until it was too late.

When his leader, Sabin, took off to battle Hunters, Kane was often left behind. Too many little disasters ruined their efforts, even sabotaged them. But sometimes…sometimes Kane was sent in alone. When that happened, no one walked away.

“—too heavy,” one of the guards was panting. “Let’s just leave him here.”

“Can’t. Doctor’s orders. We transport him to the gate, or we don’t come back.”

“I’m sweating like a pig.”

“You are a pig. BBQ much, you fat bastard? The walk is doing your tub of lard body some good.”

“Eat shit and die, asshole. I have a glandular condition.”

“I’m with Duane. He sweats any more,” someone else said, “and he’s liable to burst a vessel or something. He won’t make it back, gate or not.”

The temperature was a bit uncomfortable, the humidity so thick you practically needed a knife to cut through it. They were clearly hauling him deeper into the earth, closing in on the gate to…hell? But how would Hunters know how to do that? Why would they do that? That wasn’t their usual M.O.

Capture, torture and now kill to steal the demon from inside him, that was what they lived for. This made no sense. Made him uneasy, as if he might not be dealing with who he thought he was dealing with.

He wasn’t going to take time to question them. They’d proven their intentions when they’d pulled their little “look at my pretty bomb” routine. He just had to figure out the best place for his demon to work. Their final destination, most likely—in more ways than one. The “gate.” The deeper they were, the less likely innocents were to be in the way.

In the distance, he heard the click of a hammer being cocked. No one around him seemed to notice. The guards continued chattering. Was someone about to shoot Kane? Or the guards? His demon prowled through his skull, ready to act, to destroy something, someone.

Not yet. Not yet.

The laughter grew in volume. Pretty soon, Disaster would strike, no matter what Kane did or said.

If the gunshot was meant for him, he’d survive. But he didn’t want to act just in case his friends were here to rescue him. Hope blasted him. When the crack reverberated, his guard grunted. Kane’s left side was released, sagging toward the ground. The guard on his right cursed. The chatter ceased. “What the—”

“Who was—”

Another crack.

Kane’s right side was released as well and he smacked into the dirt-laden floor. He lay still, even when a heavy weight slammed into him, pushing the air from his lungs in one mighty heave. One of his guards, he thought, was now unconscious, probably dead.

Yep. Warm liquid pooled on his back, dripping down his sides.

Crack, crack, crack. There was no time for the men around him to prepare or hide. They fell, lifeblood gushing from the bullet holes in their chests, ending them. The entire gunfight lasted less than a minute, over and done without any resistance.

A rescue, yes, but still he didn’t move or speak. He simply waited. Cautious…

Footsteps pounded. He recognized the heavy thud of boots.

“You see him?” someone called. A male, unfamiliar.

Shit! Hope withered, died. Not his friends. So who the hell did that leave?

“I got him! He’s here.”

The guard was rolled off him.

“He alive?”

A rustle of clothing, then hard fingers were digging into his neck. “Yep, sure is. Maybe not for long. His pulse is thready, so we’ll have to act fast.”

“That doctor is one lucky bitch. If he’d died before we got here…” Rage and hate layered the man’s voice. “I might knock her around, anyway, for disobeying her orders.”

“No, you won’t. She’s not one of us, and besides, her hubby would have your head. Let’s just take the guy to Stefano and let him decide what to do.”

Stefano. Galen’s right-hand man, a Hunter top dog, and an all around pain in the ass. Too bad the bastard wasn’t here. But just like that, Kane began to understand. Hunters had blown up the house. Hunters had taken him to that female doctor, who was not a Hunter but married to one, ensuring he survived. Hunters had not had him carried down here. The female had, against her husband’s orders.

The husband must have found out and killed her accomplices.

“Demon animal,” the guy who’d checked his pulse muttered as he straightened. A booted foot slammed into Kane’s stomach, rubbing a few of his organs against his spine.

Kane willed his eyelids to remain shut. Willed his muscles to remain lax. Meanwhile, Disaster churned in his head, now a seething cauldron. Not yet, he repeated. If they planned to cart him to Stefano, he could finally, at long last, destroy the bastard, taking out as many of his enemy as possible—even if it meant taking out himself, too. That’s what he’d planned to do here, anyway. A change of location hardly mattered on that score.

Of course, when Kane kicked it, his body would no longer be able to contain the evil inside him and his demon would be unleashed upon an unsuspecting world. Disaster would escape, crazed, hungry, desperate to create tragedy after tragedy.

That had happened to Kane’s friend, Baden. He’d died—beheaded by Hunters—and his demon, Distrust, had roamed the earth unfettered. Perhaps that was why nations had fought each other for so long. They always suspected the other of foul deeds and even fouler intentions. Perhaps that was why so many marriages had failed over the years.