“I swear, Daniel Valentine, if you ever toss me to the floor like that again—” Lily’s tirade was cut short by an almost inhuman moan of anguish. She leaped to her feet from behind the sofa just as Katy wrenched herself out of Taurin’s arms and fell to her knees in front of the fireplace. Puzzled, Lily watched as Katy waved her hands back and forth as if searching for something invisibly just out of reach.
Lily shot a glance to her grandfather and Taurin. The two men were staring at the same blank space at the hearth where Katy knelt, then they looked at each other. Lily couldn’t see Taurin’s face, but she read the shock and uncertainty in her grandfather’s. Suddenly, Lily realized Daniel was missing. He’d been practically glued to her hip until a few moments ago. Confused, she shook her head, trying to remember what happened after Dominic threw Katy at Taurin, then grabbed Mickey’s medallion, but she hadn’t seen anything after Daniel had slammed her to the floor and…
Her heart began to race as she watched Katy drop her flailing hands and hunch over, hugging her arms tight around her stomach as she rocked back and forth, a low, rough keening punctuating each forward movement. “Granddad, where’s Daniel? What’s happening?” Lily came around the sofa and bent to wrap her arms around Katy’s trembling body, her eyes swiveling between the two Wardens.
Mickey absently rubbed the abrasion where the chain had scored his neck when Dominic had ripped it from him. He felt bereft without it, though the ramifications went far deeper than just losing the medallion. “How did he know?” Mickey murmured. He met Taurin’s gaze. “It wasn’t chance. He was closer to you; by all rights, he should have taken yours.”
“I’m not following. Does it matter which medallion?”
Katy stumbled to her feet, pushing Lily aside. Fiercely she glared at Taurin. “Oh, it matters. Dom and I heard what you were talking about before we came in. The door was open—”
“It was broken,” Lily muttered as she came to stand next to Katy.
“Whatever. We heard.” She pointed her finger at Mickey. “If I’ve got this right, your medallion is a one-way ticket home.” Turning, she walked straight up to Taurin and jabbed her finger in his chest. “But yours,” she hissed, “yours goes both ways and you’re going to take me to get Dominic.”
“Where is Daniel?” Lily asked again. “And what happened to Dom and his…father?” When no one spoke up, Lily clenched her fists and growled, “I’m not kidding here. Somebody better start talking.”
Katy turned from Taurin and grabbed Lily’s wrist with a strength that belied her small stature. “Remember when Dom said if he had to drag his wretched father back to Hell, he would do it? Well, he just did. He took your grandfather’s talisman because it means his father can’t use it to come back here.” Lily was amazed to see a hard, relentless promise burning in Katy’s eyes. “The damn fool saved the day by taking his cursed father back to Hell.” Her laugh was harsh. “And to make it more special, for some reason your damn fool decided to go with him.” Now she smiled, and with the icy chill of Winter in her voice, she whispered, “But Mister Other Realm here is going to help me find them.”
Taurin sputtered. “I’m not helping you find anything!”
Katy spun away from Lily and stalked toward the Warden. “Yes,” she snapped, “you are. All I need to do is get to the other side and I can find him.” She narrowed her eyes. “This is all your fault anyway.” He scowled down at her, though in the back of his mind he had to admire her courage, misguided as it appeared to be. How she thought intimidation would work when she barely reached the middle of his chest was beyond his comprehension, and regardless of his admiration she didn’t stand a chance, in this world or the next, in making him do anything.
Lily walked to her grandfather. Frowning, still trying to assimilate what Katy had said, she quietly asked, “Is this true? Dom took your medallion and was somehow able to disappear with his father…and Daniel went with him?”
Mickey nodded. “I’m not sure I understand what just happened myself. I thought they hated each other.” He shook his head. “Maybe Daniel was trying to stop Dominic, maybe he didn’t realize he would be taken too.”
“No,” Lily mused, “he knew what he was doing.” She looked at Katy, who was having a stare-down with Taurin, then met her grandfather’s eyes. “And I think I know why,” she said. At his questioning look, she murmured, “Earlier tonight I saw him looking at the wall of photos in the kitchen. His feelings were easy to see on his face.” She sat on the edge of the coffee table, remembering the loneliness in his eyes. “Then later, like some twisted wish finally granted, he suddenly finds out he has a brother.”
Taurin retorted, “A demon brother!”
“Hey, that demon brother just did your job!” Katy exclaimed hotly. “And he’s only half a demon.”
Ignoring them, Lily whispered, “I think he wanted to help Dominic. His family.” She looked between the two Wardens. “What did Daniel actually do? He threw me down so I missed the whole thing.”
Katy gave Taurin one last glare and turned to Lily. “Dom tossed me at this one,” she nodded her head sharply toward Taurin, “reached out to Mickey and honestly, it happened so fast I didn’t even see him take the medallion, then he tackled his father, held him in a bear hug and shut his eyes tight.” She closed her own eyes for a moment, then said softly, “Just as they started to turn all…misty and foggy, Daniel made a weird noise, I heard you fall on the floor, then he leaped like a freaking deer over the sofa and at the very last second clamped his hands around Dom’s ankle in a death grip and…” Eyes brimming with tears, she and Lily locked gazes, then Katy whispered, “and then they just vanished in a puff of smoke.”
Taking Katy’s hand, the two women brushed past the Wardens and went down the hall into the bathroom. She pulled several tissues from the container and handed the wad to Katy, waiting silently as her best friend wiped her face and blew her nose.
“If we can get there, do you really think you can find them?” Lily asked. “I know you have a weird talent in finding lost things, but this goes way past a set of keys, Katy.”
“Yes,” she answered, “I can do it.” She shrugged, then said evenly, “Though I’m not sure how we can just waltz into Hell and not run into a little trouble.”
Lily started laughing, then Katy joined in. They were still laughing helplessly when there was a light tap at the door. Lily handed the other woman a cloth and as Katy turned on the water to wash her face, Lily opened the door to see her grandfather’s look of concern. “You all right?” he asked.
“We’ll be out in a sec, Granddad,” Lily said, giving him a light peck on the cheek. As he nodded and began to turn away, she stated calmly, “and after a few questions, we’ll be ready to leave.” She shut the door in Mickey’s panic-stricken face.
Five minutes later Lily and Katy stood in the living room confronting the two furious Wardens. Mickey and Taurin stood together at the fireplace in a manly gesture of solidarity, faces stony in obstinate refusal to cooperate in any scheme the women might have hatched.
“We need to go,” Katy said mildly. Then she glared at Taurin, the one she blamed for the entire fiasco, “Now.”
“I’ve already told you, I’m not taking you anywhere.” He glowered. “Either of you.” Lily opened her mouth, but before she could speak, he barked, “You’re mortals, you can’t just pop in and out of the Ethereal, let alone the Abyss.” Narrowing his eyes, he hissed at Katy, “You have no idea what lurks in the depths, little girl.”
“All the more reason to get going then,” she snapped, “because two mortals are already there.”
“One and a half,” Taurin sneered.
Katy started forward with a snarl, but Lily put a hand on her arm and murmured something under her breath. Katy bunched her fists, but stayed in place. Reaching for the emerald green book, still laying innocuously on the coffee table, Lily held it in her hand, running a finger along the gold lettering on the cover.
“This needs to go back, Taurin. It doesn’t belong here.” Lily’s voice was gentle, serene.
“I’ll be most pleased to return it to—”
He stopped abruptly as Mickey let out a harsh growl, followed by a resigned, “Shite.”
Lily lightly rubbed her palm across the front of the book in small, caressing circles as she gazed placidly at her grandfather. Taurin looked from one to the other, confusion in his voice when he asked, “What? What am I missing?”
“Think, man.” Mickey took two long strides toward Lily. He held her gaze for a long moment, then carefully, slowly, touched the book. There was a brilliant flash of light and the cracking sound of a thousand crab shells being stomped by an enraged giant.
Taurin helped Mickey to his feet. “You okay?” he asked, the knowledge of hopeless defeat in his voice.
“Well, lass, it seems you’ve managed to outmaneuver two ancient warriors.” Mickey smiled ruefully, then shook his head. “If your grandmother doesn’t kill me, your mother most assuredly will.”
“We won’t tell either one, Granddad. Besides, Katy and I will have enough protection with both of you—”
“No, my girl. That’s the problem. I can’t go back. If I do, that’s where I stay.” He went to Lily and put a big, broad hand on her shoulder. “Even if Dominic had taken the other medallion, I couldn’t go with you.” He pushed the hand clutching the book away from him and pulled her into his arms. “I don’t want this, child. We can put the book in a safe place, we can lock it—”
“It doesn’t belong here,” she said against his chest. Raising her head, she looked at him, taking in the craggy features, the long tangles of auburn hair brushing against his shoulders, his vivid, mossy green eyes. “And Daniel doesn’t belong there,” she whispered.
“I can’t just take two mortal women back with me! It’s just not possible,” Taurin protested.
“Oh it’s possible lad. Although it might be best to talk with Syrus first, in this situation a fait accompli seems more prudent. Besides, Lily’s book must be returned and she’s the only one who can touch it.” He smiled at Taurin. “Bring that point up before he starts yelling.”
“And I’m the only one who can find Dominic, and Daniel who we have to hope is still hanging on for dear life to his brother’s ankle.” Katy turned to Taurin. “Can you take us to…” She hesitated, not exactly sure what to call it. “Hell?”
Taurin shook his head in disbelief that things had come to this. “We call it the Abyss, though it has many names. The hardest part will be finding the right Toll House. There are twenty of them, each a realm of its own. It would take too long to investigate each level, so we can’t make a mistake.”
“What are these places?” Lily asked.
Mickey and Taurin looked at each other as if at a loss to explain, then Mickey said quietly, “Imagine a great seething blackness, a turmoil encircled with violent storms, roiling with endless nightmare. In a ring around the mouth of this vast darkness are twenty gateways, the Toll Houses, run by demons. After death, for three days and three nights, a soul can try to escape the Abyss by countering each sin committed with a good deed done. The demon lord for each house poses the questions, while his minions continually taunt and tempt with the very sin that brought the soul to that particular gate in the first place. If they survive the test, they're free to go.”
“What sins are at each gate?” Katy asked thoughtfully.
“Every sin that man is capable of,” said Taurin.
“So, if Dom didn’t know any of this and just randomly thought of a terrible place to take his father, would his father’s House connection somehow be able to draw them back to that gate?”
The Wardens looked at each other, then stared at Katy. “What?” she asked, not comfortable with their scrutiny. “Was that a stupid question?”
“It was a brilliant question, lass,” said Mickey. He turned to Taurin. “Do you remember which gate?”
Taurin shrugged. “All of them would signify. He’s the worst of the old lords.”
“Is there a gate for murder?” Lily asked. “He killed who knows how many women, then his wife and Daniel’s father, so that’s a sin he’s familiar with.”
“How about pride, or cruelty?” Mickey murmured. “Or being a supreme arse?”
“No,” Katy said. “None of those are bad enough for this guy, though the last one comes close.” She pursed her lips, tapped a finger on her chin, then smiled. “Is there a sin for being evil?”
Smiling back at her, Taurin said, “You would make a good Warden, little girl.”
“Okay, so the plan is, we drop off Lily’s overdue Library book, talk to your boss,” she nodded at Taurin, “then Lily and I are going to need a lift to the gate of evil.” She smiled cheerfully at the others. “Any idea what a girl wears on a trip to Hell?”