UNHOLY LEGACY

BOOK TWO IN THE UNHOLY INC SERIES
AMAZON | BARNES & NOBLEKOBO | IBOOKS

Acerbic exorcist Katherine Evangelista keeps her tongue razor sharp and her elegant night club the nerve center of her demon hunting activities. Her business runs on logic and her relationships on sarcasm because experience has taught her emotions are dangerous. Even if she hasn’t been happy, she’s been in control…until her ex and a daughter of Lucifer show up and make her life Hell.

Swashbuckling Ari Grimmson is an ancient Viking warrior with a big laugh, a big ego, and an even bigger plan. He’s returned after a three-year absence to vanquish the Demon Princess and win back Kat’s prickly heart. But his plan falls apart when Kat begins to empathize with Leviathan, the perplexingly philosophical Demon Princess, who claims she’s nothing like her notoriously evil father…a declaration Kat relates to on a deeply personal level.

As Leviathan’s demon horde begins to surge through the island and Katherine’s health begins to fail, she doesn’t know whom to trust. The man who knows her best, but broke her heart…or the Demon Princess who promises to heal her suffering once and for all. If Kat chooses wrong, it’s more than her own fate that hangs in the balance…she could leave an unholy legacy for the entire human race.

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LONG EXCERPT

ONE

AQUA nightclub, Waikiki Beach, Hawaii
November, 8 am

Death, darkness, demons. It was getting so damn old.

Katherine Evangelista breathed deep and reached for the nearest wild-eyed, possessed female, ready to barter whatever was left of her soul for the strength to help this unfortunate human. Step one: force the young woman into the Devil’s Trap in the center of the dance floor where divine power would immobilize her. Step two: release the evil spirit. Step three: wipe the woman’s mind and send her on her way. Step four: erase the entire episode from the non-possessed, human bystanders’ memories and get them the hell out of the club.

It sounded so simple. And for the last century, it had been.

But lately Katherine was beginning to wonder how many more exorcisms and mind-wipes she’d have reserves for. Her arms shook with the effort to evade the snapping teeth of the young, tan brunette. Recently, every soul purification rite had sapped her Guardian life force.

Worse yet, she couldn’t seem to recharge the way she had for more than one hundred forty years. What was wrong with her?

Aut viam inveniam aut faciam. Find a way or make one.

Her father had believed it was his duty to warn his children’s endless list of governesses that she was the stubborn one—as if the trait was a stain on her soul no amount of good behavior could erase—while her younger siblings were the beleaguered byproducts of an intolerably bossy sibling. She’d never forget the sound of their father’s low, angry voice talking to her mother behind closed doors. Just wait Annabelle, Katherine’s perverse obstinacy will cause us more grief than Mary’s fearfulness or Paul’s tireless whining.

Perhaps what hurt the most was how her mother had never roused herself to Katherine’s defense.

Get over it already. These tweaks of insecurity reared up at the most inconvenient times. If people wanted to label her a bitch because she was assertive and goal-oriented, that was their prerogative. She had more important things to worry about.

Like how to put out that fire someone had just started on the table closest to the dance floor.

“Stark!” She yelled over her shoulder for her lead security specialist as the possessed woman clawed at her face.

“Stark’s out on the pool terrace rounding up the other crazies.” Konani, the club’s most popular human mixologist, rapidly refilled a spray bottle of holy water at her bar station. “Give me a sec. I’ll grab an extinguisher!”

“No time!” Katherine finally caught both the woman’s wrists, then glanced up, using her water element to activate the nightclub’s emergency sprinklers. Crystal chandeliers and champagne buckets rattled with the sudden power surge and water works. She gasped as bone-chilling water spewed in her face, her biomagnetism failing to shield her like it usually did when she used her powers.

Clearly this last call for energy had consumed the final dregs of her capacity. I am one hundred and eighty percent done with today, and at least forty percent done with tomorrow.

She shook her head to dislodge her soggy blonde hair from her eyes, her white designer pantsuit sagging on her frame. Screams of the possessed running amok in various perimeters of the nightclub rang in her ears, courtesy of one of Satan’s daughters.

Ancient archdemon Leviathan had decided to party on Katherine’s little patch of purgatory on Waikiki, and brought with her a horde of minions searching for human hosts. So far, Leviathan hadn’t performed any of the aggressive tricks that Nate Temple’s invading archdemon had pulled at his Minneapolis nightclub TERRA, but that wasn’t necessarily fortunate. The two low-key weeks since Leviathan had showed up in Hawaii were likely the calm before the storm.

AQUA’s human security team had observed a surge in possessions this week, but they should’ve posed no problem. Exorcisms had always been uncomplicated for Katherine. She spoke the right incantations, drew the malevolent spirit out of the human and into her body, blasted it with the mojo inside her, and voila!

Exorcisms-R-Us.

In the past, meditation, rest, and a good diet had always restored her powers. Right now, though, she was too tired to even turn off the emergency sprinklers. And it was doubtful she’d have enough energy to wipe the minds of the non-possessed humans cowering in the club’s dark corners witnessing all this shit. She’d probably need to call one of her Unholy Inc partners for help. Damn.

“Blood, pestilence, and horror! Blood, pestilence, and horror will visit the earth!” the possessed woman screeched.

Katherine shoved the woman the final two feet into a chair inside a Devil’s Trap, a mystical symbol comprised of a circle, a five-pointed star, and sigils that could be created on almost any surface to immobilize demons. Catching a glimpse of her wet suit cuffs, now stained pink from bloody fingernail scrapes on her wrists, she pursed her lips. “Ish. I despise pink.” Her gaze came up to pin the woman with a stare she hoped would demoralize the evil spirit using her as a meat suit. “And I loathe demons who repeat themselves. Now, sit still, or I’ll torture you before I dispatch you back to Hell. Tottering maggot,” she finished under her breath.

The twenty-something woman shook her long, wet hair vigorously, then turned and sank her teeth into the nearest thing—another possessed human—this time a male who happened to be a fingernails-down-the-chalkboard shrieker.

Ugh. A person’s reaction to a demonic body invasion was as varied as the range of human personality. Yet recently, she’d seen nothing but the crazed type.

She wiped water out of her eyes, and her hand came away smudged with eyeshadow and mascara. Today was panning out to be a spectacular waste of makeup.

Katherine glared at the possessed woman once more, then turned to another member of AQUA’s security team. “Maddox, get the iron chains soaked in holy water for this perky thing. She’s a biter.”

The haunted look in the black man’s dark eyes vanished with his assignment. Katherine had found Maddox homeless and delirious on Detroit’s mean streets last year. He was human, but a powerful telepath who could hear the thoughts of others. Unchecked for years, the ability had nearly driven him insane.

Some days Katherine wondered if she was doing the right thing by pushing him to delve deeper into his psychic nature instead of medicating it out of him. Might be more humane that way. But then again, she was a hard-edged ogress who didn’t like the easy way out of anything.

She may be physically frozen at twenty-five years old—her age when she’d died—but she was much too set in her ways to change now. So yes, she would continue to push Maddox to control his ability. And some day, she would celebrate when those tormented shadows no longer darkened his eyes.

Katherine watched Maddox’s tall, athletic form vanish into the storage locker to retrieve the chains, wishing she was anywhere but here right now. Guardian leader Alexios was going to be cross about how damaged these humans were before she got them exorcised, but right now it was proving difficult to give a damn. Being a Purifier—a healer Guardian—had its perks, but most of the time, it just sucked.

She turned from the Devil’s Trap to identify her next target in the nightclub’s dim blue and white interior. Instead of another human ravaged by evil spirits, her gaze landed on a wet, white tank top plastered to her distant-relative-turned-best-friend.

Jade Matson’s honey brown arms made the sign of the cross in front of every possessed soul as she swaggered toward Katherine as though the emergency sprinkler system going full-blast was the norm.

“I leave you alone for a couple hours to get some shut-eye, and the whole place goes to pot. How’d you manage that?” Jade’s white teeth gleamed between ruby lips.

Katherine rubbed her temple. “This isn’t amusing.”

Jade pulled a rosary out of her pocket and flashed it at a foaming-at-the-mouth, possessed man running full throttle toward her. He dropped dramatically, then convulsed. “Oh, come on, I can’t think of a better way to start a Saturday!”

“You morning people are so annoying. Then again, so are mornings. And people.” Katherine grabbed the seizing man’s arms, while Jade pocketed the rosary and scooped up his legs. Katherine blinked water out of her eyes, yelling over her shoulder, “The first person to shut off these wretched sprinklers gets a five-hundred-dollar bonus!”

As they lugged the writhing man into the Devil’s Trap, Katherine felt Jade’s gaze, but she wasn’t in the mood to talk. She released the possessed man’s arms and backed out of the circle while Jade did the same.

Kat.

Katherine frowned. It was that tone. Katherine had never enjoyed a single conversation when Jade used it. “Not now, Jade, for glory’s sake!”

“Lady K!”

Katherine looked toward the second floor balcony, receiving a series of hand signals from Stark. She nodded at him, then glanced back at Jade. “The crew rounded up the last of the possessed from the upper balconies and pool terraces. Stark indicates there’s five, maybe six more to go on this level.”

“Okay, we can handle that, but first, I gotta tell you something…” Jade trailed off, and the expression on her face made Katherine’s skin prickle.

“What did you do?”

Jade’s eyes were steady on hers. “Don’t freak out.”

Katherine’s pulse jolted, but she kept her features composed. “You should know by now hysterics aren’t my thing.”

Jade nodded once, then frowned. It wasn’t reassuring.

“Ari’s on his way,” she blurted.

Weightlessness rushed through Katherine. She sank toward the plush white leather of the nearest bench. Jade reached out to aid her, but Katherine smacked her hands away.

“You called him?” A free agent, Ari Grimmson wasn’t part of the Unholy Inc network of Guardian nightclubs.

But he was her Achilles Heel.

Or maybe her Achilles Hell.

Jade crossed her arms in front of her chest. “I did, but he was already planning to come after his assignment with the Dalai Lama.”

Katherine pressed her hand to her stomach. “How dare you—after everything I’ve told you?”

“Kat, you guys love each other. Hell, you belong together regardless of how pig-headed you’ve both been for the last three years. Ari’s your soul mate so he was bound to feel your growing weakness. You had to know he’d show up here one of these days.”

To be sure. But she hadn’t planned on it being today. She shook her head repeatedly. “No. He’s only a potential soul mate. I have a choice in this. Besides he’s the one who left.” Even when she’d begged him—pleaded with him—to stay. She’d never known she was capable of such soul-stripping humiliation. Katherine’s whole body started to shake. She needed to hide. In a cave maybe, fetal position and all that. Fetal. Oh God. She swallowed hard. Her mouth felt coated with sawdust. Speak slowly, don’t stutter. “I swear you’re fired if you don’t call him back and tell him to stay away from me. From this whole island.”

A drizzle of water from the sprinkler overhead slid down the side of Jade’s face, her blonde buzz cut as perfect as ever. “Fire me then. I don’t care, but you need his help. You can’t do all these exorcisms alone anymore.”

You can’t. YoucantYoucantYoucant. Heat fired through Katherine’s chest. You can’t save this baby was what they’d told her as she lay in the ER, bleeding and crying for the life dying in her womb.

For the joy ebbing from Ari’s eyes.

She pushed up from the bench, her legs steady again. Konani moved past her, wrangling another possessed man into the Devil’s Trap with a sterling silver crucifix and frequent streams of holy water from a spray bottle. She shook her wet, black bangs out of her eyes. “Can somebody please turn the sprinklers off? They’re diluting the holy water!”

Katherine was now juiced enough from Jade’s you can’t comment to shut them off with a thought. Konani hollered a quick thanks, maneuvered her target into the Devil’s Trap, then raced to the pool cabanas for her next mark. Katherine scanned the club, the DJ lights rolling red, purple, and blue across the copper dance poles and white leather furniture. Stark, Maddox, and Konani’s brother, Kaikoa, were tag-teaming the last of the possessions. But even with everything going on, Katherine couldn’t prevent Ari, that loathsome Viking—tall, muscular, and bronze all over—from entering her thoughts.

Just the mention of him made her dizzy. He would eat that up, arrogant, booming-laugh swashbuckler that he was. And she would go to hell before ever admitting she had a swooning bone in her body.

An unnatural wind suddenly swept through the club, undulating the diaphanous bolts of gauze that separated the dance floor from the outside pool terrace. The ground rumbled and shook, clinking the chandelier crystals and raining chunks of wet plaster from the ceiling. Goosebumps broke out across Katherine’s arms as she dropped into a crouch.

This was no earthquake. A manifestation of these elements meant the Archangel Michael was here. Great. Deep power filled the space behind her so tangibly it seemed all the molecules in the room had compressed into their most volatile state.

Katherine tried to swallow back her fear before she turned around. I apologize for the Hell comment, Michael, but you should know by now that sarcasm is my native tongue.

“And you should know by now that sarcasm is indicative of passive aggression, which illuminates a flawed moral compass.”

She stood and turned around slowly, noting with alarm that the Archangel had frozen everyone in the club but her.

Oh, Lord, how could she forget how overwhelming he was? But then, the leader of Heaven’s army probably should be, right? Midnight hair, fathomless dark blue eyes, dressed in black from broad shoulders to boot-clad feet, Michael had followed God’s orders to bring the Guardians into existence from piss-poor examples of humanity more than two millennia ago. In return for their second chance at redemption, Guardians protected humanity from rogue demons who escaped Hell.

To those who refused the offer, Michael gave a front row seat on the train to Hell where they’d pay for the rotten things they did while alive. Guardian leader Alexios—a valiant and honorable Spartan warrior from 433 BC—was the sole exception to the you-have-to-be-an-asshole-to-qualify selection process, though no one knew exactly why. It was Alexios who established Unholy Inc—a network of bars and clubs owned by Guardians, some of which housed ancient holy relics of great interest to demons.

Beginning with Ari Grimmson in 847 AD, Archangel Michael structured the Purifier class of Guardians to exorcise possessed humans. A class of Guardians Katherine happened to belong to.

Yay.

“Yeah, well, if you didn’t want your Guardians to be morally flawed, maybe the Big Boss should have chosen humans who’d lived exemplary lives instead of picking those of us who were bitches and bastards while we were alive,” Katherine said, crossing her fingers that the archangel wouldn’t smite her with some of the power vibrating in the room.

Then again, maybe being laid low by a celestial being might be better than having to face Ari in her current gutless condition.

Michael’s dark eyes flashed with something that could have been humor. Which had to be a trick of light because the archangel had been nothing but somber in the hundred and forty plus years since he’d given her the option between Hell and this purgatory. If I only knew then what I know now…

Michael raised an eyebrow.

“Oh quit, you know I’m joking. Well, not about the bitches and bastards part, but that bit about purgatory…” she paused, wondering how tolerant he was feeling today. “Kind of.”

“Most humans who have endeavored to live a good and peaceful life do not have the requisite constitution to physically battle demons. That job is best reserved for those who were a hair’s breadth away from the pits of Hell themselves. Those who know how to fight dirty when the situation demands it.”

Nice.

It was fabulous to have confirmation that she would have become one of the black-eyed fiends if not for the final decision she’d made as a human being. A single act of selflessness—an exclamation point at the end of her cold, egocentric existence. Katherine still didn’t understand why she’d done what she’d done in those last few minutes of her life.

“You chose well at the time it mattered most. In twenty first century colloquial language, you made lemonade from lemons. There is honor in that,” Michael said.

“Jury’s still out on that. Lemonade sucks unless life also hands you tequila and salt.”

She wanted to get a rise out of him, but Michael’s expression remained inscrutable. “Your bravado cloaks broken emotions, Guardian. You will fail in your duties if you do not find a way to surmount your grief, despair, and loneliness. Failure is unacceptable, for the battle will soon arrive at your door.”

Grief, despair, loneliness. Her heart pounded harder in her chest, but she forced her mind to go blank so the archangel wouldn’t see how close to home his words hit. “Such apocalyptic commentary, but you don’t scare me, Michael. If the End Times were near, you’d be polishing your weapons and powwowing with Gabriel, Raphael, and the rest of the Archangel God-squad instead of popping in at my lowly club. So spare me the lofty prose. This is obviously about Ari, and I’ll have you know, I still don’t—” she was going to say want him, but Michael would pounce on that lie faster than a babysitter’s boyfriend lit out the back door when the parents’ car pulled up, “I still haven’t changed my mind. I refuse to bond with him.”

Michael’s eyebrows pulled down fractionally, and she felt a flare of triumph at getting his expression to change, even if it was infinitesimal. She put a hand on her hip. “So you might as well undo this kumbaya thing between him and me. Or at least move on to my next soul mate. Everyone has more than one, right? Because the Big Boss Upstairs seems to place a lot of weight on free will. So if we only had one person we could be happy with for the rest of our lives, well that sucks!”

Michael remained silent as a stone.

She took one step forward to snap her fingers in his face, but thought better of it. Staying alive trumped self-expression. “Well? Angels have to be honest, right? Tell me. Please.”

Michael considered her for a moment. She tried not to squirm at the directness of his gaze, as though he was trying to peel back her deepest layers.

Finally, “There is no one person who is your only hope, as there is no limit on human happiness.”

She frowned. “I knew it! This soul mate thing is just some shitty Guardian propaganda.”

Enough.” Michael’s form glimmered and the floor rumbled beneath her feet. “You disappoint me, Guardian. I shall be sorry should I have to relieve you of your duties.”

She threw up her hands. “I’m bound to fail since I’m not rejuvenating after the exorcisms. I’m doing everything I always have, but it’s not working any more.”

“You have not tried everything because you have never truly opened your heart to possibility with the Viking.” The archangel vanished as quickly as he’d come, unfreezing everyone in his wake.

“Oh really? What do you call making a baby with him?” she yelled at the ceiling as the renewed pealing screams of the possessed corralled in the Devil’s Trap coincided with the pounding in her frontal lobe.

An open heart is not a prerequisite for a biological event, came Michael’s reply.

Katherine cursed. “Always have to have the last word, don’t you?”

No.

She rolled her eyes and pressed her palms against her temples. And then Jade was in her face, her big brown eyes all concerned. Katherine held up a hand to halt her before she could start her Southern, hey-girl-let’s-hug-this-out spiel. “It’s a beautiful day to leave me alone, Jade. By calling Ari against my wishes, you’ve inspired my inner serial killer. Truly.”

“Stop being so dramatic,” Jade retorted. “You need to simmer down and wait to start de-devilling these people until Ari gets here. But in the mean time, can you at least shut them up? Cripes, they’re a noisy bunch.”

Katherine would’ve tried silencing the screamers, but since it annoyed Jade, she decided against it. It would expend too much energy anyway. Energy she needed to mind wipe the three freaked out humans who still cowered beneath a table on the second tier beyond the dance floor.

She marshalled her resources, then closed her eyes as her molecules broke apart and refastened a split second later under the table with the humans. She placed her hand on each of their foreheads in turn, erasing their memories of the last several hours. Then she streamed to the bar, weak and nauseous, watching the three dazed, but now-smiling, humans crawl out from beneath the table and look around.

Aloha awakea! That was some party last night, huh?” Konani hollered over to them. “Next time, no sleeping on the premises. Go home, eat a good breakfast, and drink plenty of fluids, ya hear?”

As Maddox ushered the chattering humans to the door, Katherine glanced at Konani, wishing she had the time and energy to take their yearly trip to the Polynesian tattoo artist in Hilo. It had been their November tradition since Katherine took down the sex trafficking ring that had enslaved fifteen-year-old Konani and her eleven-year-old brother Kaikoa. Hard to believe that was ten years ago. Harder still to believe that her Guardianship hadn’t been immediately revoked when she hunted down their gutless pimp and fed him to the pua’a boars in the forest near Mauna Loa.

That had to have been against Guardian rules.

Maybe Michael didn’t know.

Yeah right. The archangel was probably waiting to drop some massive judgment on her when she least expected it. Probably another ‘biological event’ that would rip her heart out. But if and when he did, it would still be worth the satisfaction she’d felt.

Her gaze lingered on Konani’s first tattoo—a scrolling wrist cuff that replaced the barcode her pimp had crudely drawn to mark her as his property. The replacement tattoo was a work of art, and for Konani, a symbol of mastery over the trauma of her past.

Katherine rubbed her temples where a mini-drumbeat pounded, trying to ignore the rolling of her belly. “Nani, would you mind making me one of your chia energy drinks?”

The mixologist’s long, dark hair slid across her shoulders with a nod and frown. “Don’t do as many exorcisms as last time, alright? These spooks aren’t going anywhere, you know.”

“She shouldn’t be attempting any exorcisms right now,” Jade told Konani before grabbing a cold compress from the bar fridge and turning back to feel Katherine’s forehead. “I’m not kidding, Kat. You think you’re invincible, but you look like death warmed over after those mind wipes. Guardians can die, too, you know.”

“I’m well aware of that, thank you.” Too aware, in fact. If Leviathan made a play for the holy relic Katherine protected—the Chains of St. Peter, which had been strangely glowing for the last two weeks—Katherine wasn’t sure she’d be able to stave off the archdemon. “And thank you for your stunning lack of confidence in me. That always helps.”

She shook off Jade’s attempt to apply the cold compress to her forehead, turning toward the Devil’s Trap. “Look at these wailing cretins. I’d let them destroy each other if it weren’t for the demons inside them that piss me off more. Maddox, get that knave’s mouth off the woman in blue!”

To see their humanity vanish like this never ceased to unsettle her. Healing them brought a measure of peace, a redemption of sorts, but of course that was selfish in and of itself, so there was a nice dose of guilt thrown into the mix. Wasn’t that awesome?

Katherine took the energy concoction from Konani, but was only able to drink a few swallows. She set the glass on the nearest table, her stomach continuing to churn as she wiped the perspiration from her hands on her ruined pant legs. Was she actually dying, or was it nerves because that damn Viking was on his way?

The last time he’d checked in, trying to do his soul mate duty, she’d coldly sent him away, just as she’d done six or eight times in the three years since her miscarriage. But the last time, he’d been furious at her rejection. She’d hardly ever seen him angry. It simply wasn’t his nature. But he clearly hadn’t moved past his negative feelings because he hadn’t returned since.

And really, there was no reason for her to feel guilty about that. He only showed up when it was convenient for him.

She could feel the staff’s eyes bore holes in her. “Everyone had better carry on with their day before I go on a pink slip binge. Having to replace all of you at the same time would seriously displease me.”

“You’re always displeased,” Stark muttered from across the dance floor, but with her supercharged Guardian hearing, his words registered loud and clear.

“That’s no aloha spirit, boss,” Kaikoa added.

Sweet Kai with his unapologetic optimism, poetic eyes, and flawless, Hawaiian good looks…. How had he remained so hopeful and compassionate despite the horrors he and his sister survived? And why did he continue to work for a battle-axe like her? He could get a job anywhere on the island doing more pleasant work, yet he spent his time rounding up demons and human possessions.

He was the only one she couldn’t bring herself to be outright awful to. How irritating.

“The aloha spirit withers when in range of my shrewish shadow, Kai. Now, out—all of you. I don’t need any of you here for this part.” Especially if she passed out afterwards. Or worse, if she failed mid-exorcism and the rootless demon chose one of her team members as its new host. It was unlikely, yes, because a host needed to be morally vulnerable for the spirit to take root there, but she still wasn’t about to risk her people in case they were having an off day.

“Why don’t you at least change clothes first?” Jade suggested. “I’m sure you feel awful in that wet number.”

Indeed. But her private quarters were fourteen stairs away, and just the thought of getting there was exhausting. “Last I checked, I’m the boss. Everyone go get some coffee or something. When you come back, refill your holy water. Keep your rosaries, crucifixes, and salt close at hand at all times. And watch each others’ backs,” she barked.

“Text me if you need anything.” Konani’s caring eyes felt like sledgehammers to Katherine’s floundering façade of strength.

“I don’t need anything. Now get out of here, all of you, dammit.” Hopefully they’d stay away long enough to ensure their safety.

Konani grabbed her purse from behind the golden bar with its glowing nude silhouettes, then ran to catch up with Stark, Maddox, and Kaikoa as they walked into the bright sunshine on the club’s main terrace. Katherine’s shoulders sank as she stared at the writhing mass of possessions in the Devil’s Trap—a solid dozen of them—unable to suppress her desperation any longer. She felt more than heard Jade take a step toward her. “Don’t. Please, Jade. I hate that you think my directives don’t apply to you.” She dared not look back at the woman, the only living blood relative she had. Though six generations had lived and died between them, with Katherine’s Guardian agelessness, they looked like contemporaries.

Three years ago when she lost the baby, she and Ari didn’t know how to be a couple anymore. He left in order to find Jade—so he said—and brought her from New Orleans to Waikiki.

Jade sighed. “Well, I hate that you think I don’t know you care way more than you let on. I hate that you carry this burden alone. And I hate that you don’t love me enough to let me in,” she finished quietly.

Katherine’s eyes closed, her lips parting in silent pain, but she summoned a breezy smirk before she turned around. “Now who’s being dramatic? Go take a break, okay? I’ll be fine.”

“Listen. I met a psychologist who specializes in Electra Complex—”

Katherine gritted her teeth and willed her breath to slow. “I’m sorry, what language are you speaking? Because it sounds a lot like bullshit.” She turned to walk toward the Devil’s Trap, finally ready to start dealing with these evil shits.

Jade’s heels clicked rapidly toward her. “Daddy issues are nothing to be ashamed of. It’s not your fault.”

Katherine swung around to face her. “You really want to go there after our last smack down about this?”

“I won’t abandon you, Kat. Not everyone is like that. I’ll prove it to you if it takes my whole life.” Jade’s warm green eyes were so earnest. So…loving.

How, and more importantly, why?

A dark corner of Katherine’s soul shivered and pulled the inky blanket tighter around her. How she hated when people ripped the scabs off. You’d think living with Jade in her face for the past few years, she’d have developed scar tissue by now, but somehow the free-spirited, good-hearted woman could shine light into the tiniest of cracks.

One of these times Katherine was bound to implode.

One of these days Jade would finally realize that her four-times removed great-aunt was so grievously flawed she was past redemption.

And then, like Katherine’s parents, her sister…even Ari…

Jade would leave, too.

* * *

An hour later, on wobbly hands and knees, Katherine shook her head and groaned as quietly as possible. Her team had probably returned to the club by now. More than likely they were hovering in the reception area beyond the second tier of tables. Her stomach pitched wildly again, bringing tears to her eyes, which she blinked away rapidly.

One more exorcism and all the humans they’d quarantined in the Devil’s Trap would be free of invading malevolence.

Just one more.

The inside of her body felt coated in sludge. Black, oily, and unclean—with slithering worms piling up in her arms, legs, and chest. She’d tried meditation to rise above it, to initiate the natural rejuvenation that all Purifier Guardians received, but she’d only fallen asleep. The rest hadn’t even helped. Nor had Nani’s special energy drink.

I’m failing.

For her, it was the worst F word of all. A word that had haunted her since that horrific day on the beach. She was eleven, her sister Mary, only nine. Innocent and needing protection.

Protection Katherine had failed to provide.

Lying down on the hardwood floor, two feet away from the last possessed female, Katherine discovered she wasn’t ready to die. Wasn’t ready for what came after failing her duty. For better or worse, this Purgatory was her choice, and she’d make it again and again, though her motives for her choice made her a coward. She chose to help humanity not because she wanted to, but because she was honest-to-God, knees-knocking petrified of suffering in Hell for eternity.

Michael, why won’t you help me?

You’re perfectly capable of helping yourself, Guardian, yet you choose not to, came the echoing reply. If Archangels offer their aid, that is the beginning of the End Times. You know this.

Yeah, well screw him and his by-the-book anal retentiveness.

A blast of air ripped through the room, so cold it made her damp pantsuit freeze to her skin. Katherine’s teeth clacked together. She managed to roll to her knees, panting to suppress the dry heaves. Don’t give him the satisfaction.

I find no joy in your misery, Guardian.

“Could have fooled me. Just…” Leave me alone. Even her voice inside her head didn’t sound like her any more. That would be alarming if her heart had the reserves to push her blood faster through her veins.

But, nope.

The possessed woman stopped crying and pulling her hair to begin laughing and jeering at Katherine. After the worst of the nausea had passed, Katherine wiped her mouth and slowly rose to her feet, looking at the bloodshot eyes of the still-taunting, possessed woman. “Keep that up and you’re going to find your lip gloss replaced with a glue stick, demon.”

Katherine turned toward the bar and reception area as the evil spirit inside the woman erupted in rage. The screaming set Katherine’s teeth on edge, but she forced herself not to cover her ears. As expected, she found Jade, Stark, Kai, Maddox, and Konani loitering near the reception desk. They scrambled to make themselves look busy. Katherine plucked an upside-down menu from Konani’s fingers, replacing it right side up before opening the club’s front door. “I’ll be back in a few hours.” De-demonizing the last one would have to wait. “If you burn the place down, make sure it looks like an accident for insurance purposes.”

“Pretty hard to do that when the place is a fuckin’ wet spa already,” Stark muttered.

Katherine smiled inwardly, pleased with how much his confidence had grown in the two years since she’d exorcised a particularly robust demon from him, then forced him through heroin addiction treatment. None of it had been pretty, but they’d both somehow managed to survive. “I think you bitch more than I do, Stark. Impressive.”

She saw pleasure flash in his eyes before he turned away to grab a chair for her. “Sit your ass down before you embarrass yourself,” he grumbled.

She knocked the chair over on her way to the door.

“Wait, where are you headed?” Jade called.

Katherine paused with one hand on the door, staring at all five of their serious faces, deciding if she wanted them to know. Telling them would be an admission of her exhaustion. Unfortunately, the need to be accessible to them won out over her damned pride. “Home.”

In thirty minutes she was there. Normally, she’d demolecularize and stream home, but that was out of the question in her gutless state. The property was in Kailua, on the windward, lush side of Oahu. Her fortress. Five thousand square feet of privacy with both a sugar sand beach and rocky outcroppings, mere steps away from her tricked-out lanai.

She turned off the car and shucked her six hundred dollar shoes, leaving them on the bench in the front entry. A soak in the hot tub would feel glorious, but she’d probably pass out and drown. She stripped off her abused pantsuit, dumped it into the trash, and took a cool shower to clear her mind. It only made her more edgy.

Ari was coming.

She refused to look at her reflection in the mirror as she dried off, and then walked circles in her dressing room. She slipped into a breezy cotton shift and tried to make herself sit still.

Ari was coming.

She could feel his unique energy in the subtle pressure shifts of the salty sea air that was his Guardian element.

Ari.

Fatigue sat like two boulders yoked across her shoulders, but her pulse wouldn’t listen. Wouldn’t let her mind relax and seek the rejuvenation that was critical to her existence. She arranged her still-damp hair into the low chignon that Ari had always called her proper librarian bun.

Damn him for all the memories.

She paced in front of the windows. Breathe.

Her hands balled into fists as she ran down the stairs and rushed out into the mid-afternoon sunshine. Her bare feet sank into the warm sand as she made her way toward the surf. Her heart revved and sweat pooled between her breasts. Panic—fresh, hot, breathless—flared to life, and she froze, as she always did, ten feet from the water’s edge. The waves retreated, barrel-rolling tiny shells and strands of seaweed across the sand. She exhaled with a shudder.

The water element was her gift, yet her fear of the ocean—feeling the water rise up her ankles to drag her down and swallow her whole—nearly crippled her.

Such a paradox.

She stepped back five more steps and began to collect seashells, their smooth surfaces normally so soothing against her fingertips.

Now, each one gathered meant she was that much closer to facing Ari.

She sang an old Hawaiian song under her breath as the wind picked up, stirring loosened hairs from her bun as though pulled by Ari’s fingers. He’d always taken her hair down, pin by pin. He said he loved to undo her.

Oh, how he’d succeeded.

Her shadow lengthened on the sand. She looked out over the ocean as dark, moody clouds overtook the sun. Ari? Her heart skidded to a halt, then jackknifed in her chest, restarting at an impossible pace. An unnatural wind drove the waves higher, crashing violently against the sand, forcing her to retreat until she stumbled in the sand ten steps from her lanai. This abrupt weather change had to be him.

She pushed back up to her feet and swung around to look out over the ocean.

I hate him for always making me feel. I hate…

Him.

Right there, standing before her on the wet sand. Still so rawly masculine. Always aware of his ridiculous appeal. Always smirking, though this time there was an edge of cruelty to the curve of his lips. White shirt, bare feet, and tan trousers rolled up and wet around the ankles, as though he hadn’t just come from the frozen Himalayas.

He never felt the cold. Or self-loathing.

Must be nice to be born a Viking.

Katherine.

Her name fell deep and liquid from his lips, disorienting her. He stepped forward, crushing her in his arms, swinging her around. She grew dizzy from the motion and his sensual laughter. Memories poured through her. She let them come. Lost herself in the wonder, joy, and eventual heartbreak of them, knowing she was a fool for doing so.

Energy shot into her sinews, cleared the pathways in her mind, balanced her tummy, and heavens, she felt better than she had in ages.

Too bad they were so wretchedly unsuited.

She pushed out of his arms, conjuring a geyser of cold water to blast him in the back of the head. He shook the water out of his eyes, and his sun-streaked blonde hair—longer than she’d ever seen it—flung water droplets every which way as he laughed in that captivating way.

Pure Ari.

His laughter was as intoxicating as his kiss.

She turned abruptly and forced herself not to dash into the house. He grabbed her hand, swinging her back around, the wild blue of his eyes clouding abruptly. “No more walls, Kat.”

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