Stepping onto the tarmac at Boeing Field, Jamieson Cantrell walked briskly from his plane and headed for the waiting limousine, his eyes scanning the ambient shadows obscuring a long row of hangars. The creature was out there somewhere, skulking in the dark, out of sight of the few humans working at the small Seattle airport in the early hours before dawn.
The limo driver stood by the open back door, but as Cantrell slid inside the car, he ordered, “Leave the door, I’m waiting for someone to join me. Get in and wait. I’ll tell you where we’re going shortly.” Nodding, the man silently got behind the wheel.
As soon as the driver’s door closed, the burning acridity of brimstone, mixed with a putrid stench of decaying flesh, wafted into the car. Jamieson Cantrell took a deep breath, his pleasure at the aroma evident in his voice as he gestured for his Hound. “Come, talk to me.”
Shutting the door behind him, the fiend settled uncomfortably in one of the soft leather seats across from his master. He feared enclosed spaces, remembered the torture of being trapped in a cage, the memories making his rudimentary speech nearly indecipherable. After several attempts to make his tongue form words instead of growls, Cantrell abruptly leaned forward and backhanded him hard enough to knock him to the floor. “I said talk.”
Absently wiping the blood from his nose, the Hound slowly rose and regained his seat. Head down in submission, he closed his eyes, the better to concentrate. “The master’s whelp and the female left one cage and returned to the first.” Cantrell had no trouble translating, he’d spawned the creature after all. “They’re back at the bookstore?” The Hound nodded, hesitated briefly, then said, “After mating, they slept, but bells rang and they went away.”
Musing, Cantrell knew two things immediately. Whoever had called, the news was important enough to drag Dominic from a warm bed and a willing woman. And his dog was leaving something out of the report. Tapping the intercom button, he instructed the driver to head for the University District, then resumed his questioning. “What happened when you followed them?”
“They ran into the cage of books, there was much shouting and fighting, then quiet.” The Hound raised his head and for a single heartbeat met Cantrell’s eyes before lowering them quickly to the floor. “I felt…” he faltered, his vocabulary too small for what he was trying to convey.
“What?” barked his master impatiently. “You felt what?”
Quietly, the creature murmured, “Men from there.”
Narrowing his eyes, Cantrell’s voice was harsh, chilled with a bitter ice that could only come from the deepest levels of the Abyss. “Explain.”
Swallowing loudly, the beast whispered, “Wardens.”
Cantrell cursed viciously. How was that possible? He had known that Micah, a Warden of skilled tenacity, had followed him relentlessly for years after he’d escaped from the Abyss until suddenly, for no reason Cantrell could ever discover, the Warden had vanished without a trace. Feeling untouchable and smug, he had nurtured his superiority into a multi-million dollar enterprise, all his efforts moving ever forward toward one goal. A goal that was coming to fruition, one he had actually hoped to achieve this very night, in fact. But now…Wardens? Jamieson hissed at his Hound, “How many? Do you know them?”
“One of old, one of new,” the creature replied.
Frustrated, Cantrell spit the words like bullets, “Do. You. Know. Them?”
The demon dog slowly shook his head back and forth as he tried understand what his master was asking. Hadn’t he already answered the question? Then a glimmer of understanding sparked in his feral mind. He smiled, almost childlike in his eagerness to please. “One of old, chased us. One of new, chasing another.” His smile widened, a vision from nightmare of yellowed, blade-sharp teeth, a thick strand of drool sliding down his chin from one corner of his twisted mouth.
Cantrell stared out the window as the quiet streets of Seattle flickered past in the street lights like an old silent film. So, Micah was back, though how and why wasn’t clear, and he had to assume the other Warden had come after Daniel Valentine, which meant the man had actually succeeded in stealing the book. His satisfaction that one phase of his plan had been accomplished was offset by the appearance of two Wardens. And inexplicably, deep in the mix, was his son. Did Micah know of him? Had he been betrayed by his own son? For an instant the interior of the car flashed with a blaze of heat so intense, the Hound threw himself on the floor and cowered.
No. His son would never betray him. Releasing his anger, Jamieson Cantrell—scion of industry, demon lord Razeph—calmed himself. Between them, he and Dominic could subdue the Wardens, and Valentine. Once he had the book, he would take his son back to the Abyss, show him the glory in being a prince. Together they would be an insurmountable force. His mouth twitched in amusement as he reveled in the knowledge that no one knew he was coming.
Glancing down at the floor, he poked the Hound, still curled into a ball, with the sharp toe of one expensive Italian shoe. “Get up, dog! We’re not finished.” He waited until the creature was back in his seat, then said softly, disarmingly gentle, “Tell your master what you hide, there’s a good boy.”
The creature began to quake, fear slicing like claws down his spine. He knew this voice, knew the brutal pain that followed such kind words. He couldn’t stop the forlorn whimper, but knew it would be worse if he didn’t speak, and quickly. Trying to force coherent words past the swelling terror clogging his throat, he managed to utter two words. “Saw me.”
Cantrell went ominously still. He stared at the Hound. “Who saw you?” he asked calmly, though his hands were clenched into tight fists.
“After mating. I thought they slept, but the whelp. Saw me in the trees.”
Before the Hound could draw breath, could hope for leniency, Cantrell struck. “Now he knows I’m coming,” he snarled, “and you’ve cost me the advantage.” In a fury as hot and red as the blood that ran down the limousine windows, he pounded and ripped, tore and beat, long after the creature had stopped howling.