Forgiven - Chapter 2
Demon Trappers Book 3
Riley stood alone in a field of crisp, freshly fallen snow. There was nothing around her, no buildings, no people. High above, a bloodred moon held court in the sky, thousands of stars paying homage. A breeze tugged at her hair, and it smelled of deepest midnight.
She felt Ori’s presence even before his arms slid around her waist, drawing her back against him. She knew it was a dream, but she didn’t want to wake. Here, it would be perfect. There would be no Heaven or Hell, no one to tell her what she was doing was wrong. It would just be Ori and her forever.
Turning in his arms, Riley gazed up at his black hair and bottomless eyes. Eyes that had seen the beginning of the cosmos.
“I am sorry,” Ori murmured, his voice just as she remembered it. “I hurt you, and that is not what I wanted.”
“It didn’t have to be that way,” she said.
“Let me make it right between us. Let me show you what your future can hold.”
He gestured, and a scene appeared in the air in front of them. It was Riley, older. She had grace and strength that she never thought possible. She was teaching two apprentices how to trap demons, and they were riveted on her words. This Riley was strong and confident, no hint of the troubled girl that lay within.
“You’ll be a renowned master trapper, like your father,” Ori explained. “The trappers will be in awe of your skills. All the while, my protection will keep you safe from harm.”
She could trap and be successful, and everyone would think she was the best there was. Just like my dad.
His kiss reignited her desire for him. Her need for love, for someone to care for her. She melted against his body, savoring the touch and scent of him.
“I am yours,” the angel said. “Give me your soul, and we can be together forever, Riley Anora Blackthorne.”
“Do you love me?” she asked. That was what she wanted, what she craved. To be loved by someone as magnificent as an angel.
Ori did not reply, his face tormented. As if he wanted to lie but could not. He tried to smile, but failed. “Come with me,” he said, offering a hand. “We will have eternity together. Is that not enough?”
Riley hesitated, her heart pounding hard. Was she so desperate that she’d settle for an empty life? Caught in her doubts, she looked away and found her family’s mausoleum now stood a short distance away, cloaked in snow and moonlight. Solid red stones, stained-glass windows, all testimony to the Blackthorne legacy. The lion gargoyles on the mausoleum glared down at her, brilliant yellow flames pouring from their mouths, as if she were a threat to the dead within.
The double brass doors swung open, and, instead of the stone interior lit by dancing candlelight, there was semidarkness. Figures moved around inside, all talons and teeth and glittering ruby eyes. The emissaries of Hell awaiting her decision.
It was so tempting. She’d spend forever with her father. The demons couldn’t hurt her and--
A voice cried out her name. She searched across the field and found Beck running toward her at top speed. He cried out again, his voice ragged, as if he’d been shouting for hours, and she’d not heard him.
“Do not listen to the trapper,” Ori warned. “He is jealous of us. Of what we have.”
She hesitated, confused.
“Riley!” he called, more forcefully now. “Pledge me your soul. I promise you will never suffer another moment of your life.”
“What will we have?” she demanded. “Some promises? None of which you will keep.” She shook her head. “You never loved me. You only loved my soul and what it will buy you in Hell.”
“You are wrong,” the angel retorted. “This was always about you.”
“Lies!” she shouted.
A searing cramp dug deep into her belly and she doubled over in agony. Slowly, she forced herself to straighten up. The area around her had become a minefield of skulls, each inhabited by a demon. They taunted her, threatened her, spoke of the endless tortures that awaited her soul in Hell. Ori was no longer near her, but at the edge of the skull field, pacing in agitation.
“You have to give your soul. It is the only way, Riley! Please, I beg of you!”
The snow around her turned crimson and began to boil.
“No,” she said. “I have lost too much already.”
As the skulls massed for an assault, Beck charged into the minefield, bent on her rescue. He only made it a few steps before he cried out her name once more, then died in agony as the fiends tore him apart.
Riley lurched upright in the bed, sweat pouring off her in streams. Her chest felt heavy, and each breath only brought in a tiny stream of air. She bent over, clutching her stomach. Swallowing repeatedly to keep from vomiting, she struggled to regain her senses and break free of the nightmare. With a groan, she wiped sweat off her brow. A vicious headache pounded in the very center of her forehead.
The room around her was quiet. There were no demons, no angel, no dying Beck. As the nightmare receded, the horror of it still clung to her. Was this a sign of what her future held? Would Ori continue to push at her until she relented? Would Beck throw away his life to save her soul?
With another groan, Riley rooted through her messenger bag and excavated two aspirin and a bottle of water. She washed the tablets down, hoping they’d stay put, then leaned back against the headboard.
“This seriously sucks.” The verbal acknowledgment only made her head thump harder.
Once she’d shaken off the worst of the dream, she headed for the bathroom and made a totally useless attempt to do something about her hair. When she pulled on her clothes, she was relieved that they smelled less like the lying angel than before. It was a pity that the memory of his touch wouldn’t fade as easily.
Out of habit, she retrieved her cell phone, but a second before powering it on, she hesitated. Did she dare check her messages? Would the hunters be able to track her here?
“Better not,” she said, leaving the phone off.
It felt weird to be so out of touch. How would she let her friends know what was happening? Peter, her best buddy, freaked if he didn’t hear from her regularly. Simi, her barista friend at the local coffee shop, would wonder what had happened to her, especially since she insisted on updates every couple of days.
Staying with Mort was too dangerous. Eventually, the hunters would come to the necromancer’s home. The only choice was for her and her dad to make a run for it, hide out until the Vatican’s boys got bored and returned to Rome.
We’ll have to start over. Find a place to live. I’ll have to get a different job. She’d have to convince Lucifer to put her dad back in the ground.
All because I wanted someone to love me.
While some would argue that the Westin Peachtree Plaza wasn’t a jail, the earnest demon hunter parked near the hotel room’s door told Beck he wasn’t free to come and go as he pleased. Since it looked like he was here for the time being, he made his way to the bathroom. Running a wet facecloth over his hair took most of the dirt out of the blond strands. He was careful to keep the small bandage on his palm dry.
Riley’s selfish actions had brought the hunters to his doorstep. That angered him, not only because of Ori, but because he’d promised her father he’d keep her safe. Beck knew his wounded pride should be the least of his worries. What would the hunters do to Paul’s daughter when they caught her? Would they put her on trial?Lock her up? Or worse?
Knowing that his questions were not going to be answered by staring into the bathroom mirror, Beck returned to the bedroom. The hunter tracked his movements, vigilant as ever. Dusting himself off, which left a trail of dried grass on the carpet, Beck unlaced his work boots and dropped onto the king bed. It was one of those fancy ones you find in expensive hotels. He’d learned to sleep on some of the world’s hardest surfaces during his stint in the Army, so something this soft made him uncomfortable.
By his count, there were two hunters guarding him—one in the corridor and the one in the room with him. He could try to escape, but it would probably buy him a bullet. Captain Salvatore had promised to call Master Stewart, and for some reason Beck trusted him to do just that. If he were patient, the Scotsman would get him out of here.
The guard in the room was Hispanic, with dark, intense eyes and a fighter’s bulk. He kept his attention riveted on his prisoner’s every move.
“Can ya not do that?” Beck growled. “Yer drivin’ me crazy.”
The guy gave a shrug, then settled back in the rolling chair, his attention a few feet to Beck’s left. That was some improvement.
“How long is this gonna take?” No reply.
Knowing he wasn’t going to be told anything of value until his captors were damned well ready, Beck pulled himself off the bed and went through his exercise regime to blow off steam. Fifty push-ups followed by fifty sit-ups. Then another fifty push-ups, a number of those one-handed just to up the pain from his various wounds. As he worked up a sweat, he tried hard to block the memories—Riley crying in his arms, the knowing smirk on that Fallen angel’s face. How disappointed Paul would be if he knew his daughter had been deceived like that.
Dammit, I did what I could, but it wasn’t enough. It’s never enough.
He lost count of the push-ups and finally slumped to the carpet when his arms grew too weak to support him and his back felt like it had been scorched by molten lead. The pain did as he’d hoped, blocking things he didn’t want to think about. Muscles quivering, he returned to the bed, tucked his arms behind his head, and stared up at the ceiling.
Someone had known that Riley was at his house this morning, and that list was pretty short unless one of his neighbors was a spy for the hunters. Master Stewart knew because Beck had called him when he’d left her at the house, still furious at what had happened between her and the angel.
Then there was Justine Armando, the woman he’d been with overnight. Justine was a new addition to Beck’s life, a freelance journalist who’d arrived in Atlanta at the same time as the hunters. She trailed after their teams as they did the Vatican’s wetwork, writing up glowing newspaper accounts of their exploits. Beck had been interviewed by her twice.
Then they’d taken it a step further and he’d landed in her bed. That’s where he’d been this morning, in this same hotel, when Riley’s panicked phone call had reached him. When he’d heard that terrified voice he’d bailed out of Justine’s arms and bolted for the door, sure that Paul’s daughter was in grave danger.
Had he told Justine where Riley was? He had to admit he wasn’t sure. All Beck could remember was the petulant frown on her face as he bent over to kiss her good-bye. Can’t be her. He wasn’t willing to accept that, though he knew Riley would believe it in a heartbeat. He could still hear her warning him about Justine and how he was going to get hurt.
He huffed at the thought that he was somehow responsible for Riley’s problems. If she’d had taken his advice, she wouldn’t be in this mess. No matter how angry he was, he’d be the first to admit his words were at war with his heart. Everyone made mistakes. Most didn’t end up with Hell or the Church breathing down their necks.
When there was a knock at the door, the guard cautiously checked the peephole, then opened it revealing a solemn Lieutenant Amundson.
“Master Stewart knows you’re in custody and that you’re not leaving until we have the Blackthorne girl,” he said in his heavily accented English.
“If that’s the case, how about some breakfast?”
There was a grunt from the lieutenant as the door shut behind him. Staring up at the ceiling, all Beck could think of was Paul’s daughter, her bitter tears, and his unrelenting fury. How sick he’d felt when she’d told him what she’d done.
It was best he had no idea where Riley Blackthorne was hiding. The way he felt right now, he’d hand her over to the demon hunters himself.
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Demon Trappers® Book 3
Copyright ©2012 Jana Oliver
Second Edition November 2021
Angel Wing Graphic used with permission of Macmillan Children’s Books
Cover image courtesy of Yocla Designs
All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means now known or hereinafter invented, electronic or mechanical, including but not limited to photocopying, recording, or by an information storage and retrieval system, without the written permission of the Publisher, except where permitted by law.
Demon Trappers is a Registered Trademark of Jana G. Oliver
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