Dark Hunger


Page 24



“Tonya is not just another imp if she’s related to Troy. She’s royalty. Which means her hexes are considerably stronger.”


Tonya batted her annoyingly long lashes. “I’m not allowed to hex Santiago’s guests. Only the customers.”


“The drive-thru,” Salvatore commanded.


Tonya shrugged. “Suit yourself.”


Harley settled back in the leather seat. “He always does.”


Briggs was wrenched violently from his healing sleep.


He groaned, the pain of his wounds thundering through his stiff body.


Damn Salvatore. The bastard was going to pay for every second of his suffering.


With interest.


For a moment he savored the image of Salvatore on his knees before him, his pride crushed as he begged for mercy. Then the lovely fantasy was interrupted by the savage pull of his master.


Shuddering at the sensation of an icy hand clutching his heart, Briggs tumbled off the narrow cot that was set in the back of a bleak cave.


He paused long enough to throw cold water on his face from a ceramic pitcher and pull a clean cloak from the carved chest set next to the bed before leaving the cave to enter the tunnel that led through the vast catacombs.


Briggs didn’t know who had originally burrowed beneath the graveyard that was attached to the abandoned Victorian church outside of Chicago. Or even who had kept the ancient catacombs maintained during the years. He had been led here only a few weeks ago by the ruthless call of his master.


Until that moment, his contact with the demon lord had been through the former Were king’s amber pendant that Briggs had stolen after it became obvious Salvatore Giuliani was destined to become the heir. Or the painful process of the demon speaking directly into his mind.


Something that always left him regretting his blood oath to the bastard.


Then, without warning, the demon lord had commanded that Briggs leave behind his very comfortable lair in Kansas City to squat in the barren caves like a forgotten hermit. Even worse, the inner chamber that had once been an altar to the dark lord allowed the barriers between dimensions to thin. Briggs had traded his morals for power long ago, but even he had to shudder at the throat-clogging evil that crawled through the air.


He moved through the tunnels that headed ever lower, struck as always, by the smoothly polished stones beneath his feet that were unmarred by so much as a speck of dust or stray cobweb.


Not even vermin would dare disturb the malevolent shadows.


Bypassing the caves that had once been prisons for immortals, with their silver chains and walls lined with lead, Briggs entered the inner chamber, his nose curling at the lingering stench of human blood.


More than one sacrifice had been made in front of the forgotten altar in the middle of the floor.


And very soon there would be one more. Although this one wouldn’t include worthless humans.


The knowledge was almost enough to compensate for the wounds that were taking far too long to heal.


Almost.


Gritting his teeth, Briggs forced himself to kneel before the altar, flinching as the gold brazier flared to life next to him and a frigid blast filled the chamber. Above the altar, the air began to shimmer with a warped rip in the fabric that held the worlds apart, the odor of rotting flesh spilling into the cavern.


“Master,” he said. “You have need of me?”


“You have proven to be a sad disappointment, Briggs, just as your father before you,” the hollow voice echoed through the cavern, biting into Briggs’s flesh.


Father. Briggs curled his lips.


Among purebloods, the pack superseded any family connection. Cubs were kept in the same lair and fiercely protected by all the adults. The concept of two parents and siblings was a human tradition.


Briggs, however, had barely been out of puberty when the king had taken him aside to claim him as his son and heir.


At the time he’d been busting with pride. He’d suspected even as a cub that he was destined for greatness.


It was only after the birth of Salvatore and his father’s growing madness that he realized he would have to take matters into his own hands.


Even if it meant bartering his soul.


“I have done all you requested.”


“And did I request that you interfere with Giuliani?”

“You wanted him close at hand, as the time of your return draws near. I merely sought to prevent his escape.”


“Liar.” The icy power washed over Briggs, bringing with it the sensation of being flayed. “It was your over-weening pride that led to your attack, even after I specifically commanded that you keep your presence hidden. You were famished for the opportunity to prove your worth against the King of Weres.”


“Caine had already revealed my miraculous return from the dead.” He readily dumped the blame on his pet cur. Shit was intended to roll downhill. “Giuliani needs to be contained before he can start sticking his nose where it doesn’t belong.”


“I will decide what needs to be done. And the first order of business is reminding you that your continued existence is entirely at my mercy. And in this moment, I am not feeling particularly merciful.”


Briggs didn’t have to fake his shudder of agony. “Forgive me.”


“I forgive nothing,” the voice hissed. “I have waited for centuries to be released from this hellhole. I will destroy you before I allow you to threaten my destiny.”


It was a threat that Briggs accepted as gospel. Unlike his dear departed father, he’d never been stupid enough to assume he was anything but expendable to this powerful demon lord.


“Yes, master.”


“You will stay away from Giuliani until I give you the order to bring him to me. Do you understand?”


“I think it’s a mistake to…”


His words cut off as the chamber shook, the shower of stones from the ceiling pelting him on the head.


“You dare question me?”


Briggs swallowed the bile that rose in his throat. He’d died once. It was an experience he didn’t intend to repeat.


On the other hand, he wasn’t about to allow Salvatore to steal his glory when he was so close to success.


“Please. You must allow me to speak.”


“Must?”


“It’s Giuliani,” Briggs rasped, his head pressed to the cold stone floor as the crippling pain threatened to consume him. “He’s a danger.”


“What danger?”


“He’s begun the mating ritual.”


The frigid pressure abruptly disappeared, as if Briggs had managed to truly shock the demon lord.


A relief to be rid of the pain, but not particularly reassuring.


Briggs had bet everything on the mysterious demon lord who promised him the throne that had been stolen by Salvatore. The damned creature should already have sensed trouble.


“Impossible.”


“Impossible or not, he’s returning power to the Weres.”


The town proved to be typical for the Midwest.


Settled on the Mississippi River, it was a combination of small businesses, fast-food restaurants, and chain stores along Broadway Street, while the traditional main drag was lined with historic homes that were battling the passage of time with varying degrees of success.


After swinging through Arby’s to buy enough roast beef sandwiches and fried mozzarella sticks to feed a football team plus the cheerleading squad—even supposing cheerleaders would come within a mile of a fried mozzarella stick—Tonya drove them to the waterfront, stopping the Mercedes behind a small brick building with a green awning painted with the words TEAS AND CAKES.


Harley briefly caught a glimpse of small tables with frilly doilies and a front counter with a glass case of pastries. There was a mass of humans stuffed into the small space, with a line out the front door, their expressions tense as they waited to feed their unwitting addiction.


A powerful hex, indeed.


With a grimace, Harley followed Tonya into the attached warehouse that looked in dire need of some kindling and a match to put it out of its misery. There was a faint tingle as they entered the back door, and Harley’s eyes widened as she took in the vast lobby decorated in a neoclassical style, with inlaid wood floors and pale green walls with silver engravings. The ceiling was painted with Apollo on his chariot dashing through the clouds, and the handful of chairs were hand-carved.


All extremely elegant and amazingly tasteful.


Belatedly, she realized the warehouse had been wrapped in an enchantment that magically projected an image of shabby abandonment. No doubt it also held an aversion spell that would keep humans from entering.


From the lobby, she and Salvatore had been led to private apartments on the second floor of the warehouse. There were a few raised brows when she’d insisted on separate rooms, but in a thankfully short amount of time she was locked in a bathroom with a lot of black marble and gilt to shower away the hardened mud.


Returning to the attached bedroom, she found a pair of jeans and a turquoise tank top waiting for her on the black-and-gold comforter spread over the jumbo-sized bed. There was also a new set of panties and matching bra, as well as a pair of running shoes.


Yow, vampire hospitality was obviously full service.



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