Demon Trappers Series Book 8
Master Riley Blackthorne’s stack of official paperwork seemed to grow daily. Another form here, another report there, it all added up. Her superior was happy to hand it all off to her. If it’d been anyone else but Master Harper, she’d think him giddy at the prospect, but the grizzled trapper wasn’t wired that way. He claimed her handwriting was neater, which was true.
Because this was her lot in life, she chose where to conduct this Herculean task. As was often the case, it was her favorite coffee shop in downtown Atlanta, the Grounds Zero. Unlike her usual hot chocolate, she sipped on iced coffee because it was toastier than Hell outside. Well, not quite as bad as that, but close. Riley certainly knew the difference.
The coffee shop was always busy on Saturdays, and it being Memorial Day weekend only added to the crowd, a chance to escape the heat and enjoy some conversation and a cool beverage. Or in Riley’s case Form NDTG04-1090-E. She set aside a lengthy trapping report—why would a Biblio-Fiend think tearing apart a mobile lending library was a good idea?—when a sensation slid over her, one she knew well.
Riley looked up and smiled. “Ori.”
The Fallen angel sat in the booth opposite her, his brows furrowed and his expression intense. As was often the case, he was dressed in all black. That alone said he wasn’t a native of the Deep South.
“Uh-oh. What’s up?” she asked, knowing that look.
The angel waved a hand, muting their conversation from their neighbors, then delivered the news in crisp tones. Unfortunately, that news matched his grim expression: Simon, an all-or-nothing deal with a powerful demon who had kidnapped a trio of young mortals. Three souls, and the exorcist’s, were on the line.
“That’s nuts. It sounds like something I’d do,” she grumbled as a pensive nod came her way. “I’m guessing since you’re here you want me to help.”
“No. The fiend’s terms don’t allow either of us to aid the exorcist. If we do, it’ll claim we cheated and take those souls.”
“It might do that no matter what,” she said, frowning. “How strong is this thing?”
“You would consider it an extremely powerful Grade Four.”
To keep track of their enemies, the trappers had devised a simple sliding scale of demonic power: The higher the number, the bigger the danger. Grade Four Hypno-Fiends were known for co-opting your will while draining your life force. However, in the last year or so some of the Fours had become more formidable, bulkier, and layered in armor. This one sounded like it was one of the warrior Fours.
“The fiend is more powerful than it should be,” Ori added.
“Someone augmenting its power? Our Infernal Pest, perhaps?” Riley asked. She refused to use the L word in public because sometimes the Prince just loved to drop in for a visit.
“Maybe, maybe not. Hard to guess.”
“His Infernalness played that game with me at the airport last week. At least there wasn’t too much damage.” She sighed. “When does the challenge start?
“It’s already started. Simon has until midnight to best any demons sent his way. Then he’ll face the more powerful fiend, because it will try to collect his soul, or kill him.”
“Or both.” Riley put the paperwork into a tidy pile, thinking through the problem.
“What about Beck? Can he help?”
“No, none of the grand masters may be involved. The fiend isn’t that stupid.”
“Of course not.”
A barista approached and set a cup of black coffee in front of Ori. He gave her money, though exactly where that had come from was a mystery. With a wide smile—he’d included a hefty tip—she thanked him and departed.
“You’re supposed to pick that up at the front counter like everyone else,” Riley said.
The angel ignored her, taking a sip of the brew. “The exorcist needs someone who breaks the rules, like you do,” he advised. “Someone the demon can’t intimidate. Who can you recommend to help him?”
Riley frowned now. “I’m not sure who—”
“Master Blackthorne?” a voice asked.
At Ori’s startled expression she looked up to find a young woman standing near their table. She was older than Riley’s eighteen years, with chin-length asymmetrical ebony hair that looked like she’d cut it herself. Her skin was tanned, her cheekbones sharp, as if she’d recently lost weight. Two small silver studs were tucked in the cartilage of her left ear, none in the right.
Dark circles sat under her brown eyes and she wore a long-sleeved shirt even though it was blisteringly hot outside. She pushed a small piece of worn luggage out of the way with a foot, and then readjusted the strap to a stained denim bag.
“Yes, I’m Master Blackthorne.”
“Some guy named Jackson said I’d find you here. I’m Breman.” She kept twisting a silver ring on her left thumb.
Her name meant absolutely nothing to Riley. “I’m sorry, am I supposed to know you?”
The young woman sighed as if somehow this wasn’t a surprise, then dug in her bag. A stack of paper came Riley’s way.
Accept her help. She’s been sent here for a reason.
Riley blinked at the mental intrusion, her eyes connecting with the angel’s.
You sure? He nodded.
A quick skim of the first document revealed that Katia Allyson Breman, age 24, was from Lawrence, Kansas, had passed her journeyman trapper’s exam three months before, but had been transferred to the Atlanta Demon Trappers Guild because of discipline problems. A terse note at the bottom of the page indicated that Ms. Breman claimed to see things that weren’t real. The master who signed the report felt she didn’t have what it took to be a trapper, but had been “reluctantly” persuaded to give her one more chance.
What he didn’t say was that the Atlanta Guild was known to take in the oddballs, the ones that didn’t fit the mold, and that was why she was here. Someone at the National Guild had approved this transfer but had failed to pass the word on to her and Harper. Not a surprise.
“So, who did you piss off?” Riley asked, folding the papers and dropping them into her own trapping bag for future reference. From the frown on Breman’s face, she amended her question. “Or maybe it would be better to ask who didn’t you piss off?”
The frown vanished and there was a faint spark of a smile. That also quickly evaporated. “When I said things weren’t like they thought they were, they didn’t believe me.”
“Been there, done that.” Far too many times.
Breman finally glanced over at Ori and her eyes widened. “You’re . . . oh, man.” She frowned in confusion. “You’re not as bright white as the other angel I saw today.”
Ohhhkay . . .
The insubordinate trapper from Kansas could spot a Divine on sight, and somehow knew that Ori wasn’t like those on Heaven’s payroll? That was indeed a gift, one Riley would have loved to have had last year. No wonder Katia Bremen unnerved the guys back in Lawrence.
“Can you see through illusion or glamour spells?” she asked. No reply. Riley knew this drill. “Look, I’m not going to kick you out of the Guild just because you can see things others can’t. Okay?”
Breman blinked. “Then yes, I can sometimes see glamour spells. Illusions are harder.”
Yes, they are. “And you can tell if someone is a Divine.”
“That didn’t go down well back home?” A short shake of the trapper’s head. “Well, that’s just dumb on their part.”
“She’s been sent here for a reason,” Ori said, then took another sip of his coffee.
“Got that. Just not sure whether it’s a good thing to dump her into this mess or not. It is going to be ugly.”
“I don’t see that you have a choice.”
“Can you two stop talking like I’m not here?” Breman asked.
This trapper had a backbone, and from the pinched look to her face, not enough to eat.
“Would you have any problems working with someone from the Vatican? A lay exorcist?”
Ms. Breman pondered that question. “Is he okay? I mean, not a creeper?”
Riley snorted at the thought. “Far from it. I’d trust him with my life, which should tell you everything you need to know about him.”
The young woman’s posture relaxed. “What do I have to do?”
“Keep him alive,” Riley replied. Ori frowned over at her, clearly wanting to talk this out. “How’s about you get yourself something to drink while I chat with the ‘not as bright white as the other angel’ dude across the table. We need to come to a decision and it’s not going to be an easy one to make.”
“About me and this Vatican guy, right?”
Katia hesitated in a way that felt so familiar.
“Did you drive over to Atlanta?” Riley asked, suspecting why the trapper hesitated to head to the front counter.
“No. Don’t have a car. I took the bus.”
“Yeah. Took almost a day.”
“Okay, then let me buy you a drink to welcome you to Atlanta. We have our share of jerks, but we make it work. You might find a home here, you never know.”
Breman’s expression remained dubious. That changed to relief when Riley handed over a twenty and a five.
“Get some food if you’re hungry.”
A nod, then the newest addition to Atlanta’s demon trapping family headed for the counter at top speed, leaving her luggage behind.
“She’s definitely hungry,” Riley said. “I remember what that felt like.”
“You were never that thin,” Ori observed. “Her previous assignment was bad. Did you notice how she kept scratching her arms?”
“Think those long sleeves are hiding a few scars?”
He nodded, then finished up his coffee. “She’s been sent here for a reason.”
“You’ve said that like three times. I counted even.”
“I’ll say it three times more if needed. You have to pair her up with Simon Michael David Adler.”
“Why her?” Riley asked. “She’s half-starved and clearly has issues, if you know what I mean.”
“She is all of that, but something’s going on and it’s not just demons playing games.”
Trust wasn’t easy to give, especially when the individual was a Fallen angel. This Divine was different. This one had saved her life, taught her how to fight Hellspawn, given back her soul and helped Beck defeat another Fallen. If Ori said something was going on, it was, and Katia Breman was in the middle of it.
Riley gave in. “Fine. I’ll see that she is paired up with Simon for today, at least. What else can we do?”
“You, nothing. I’ll keep an eye on them without giving the fiend any reason to say Adler cheated. If we’re lucky, we’ll be able to reclaim those captive mortals, and the exorcist will retain his life, and his soul.”
“Or we could lose all of them.”
Ori’s expression saddened. “Or we could lose all of them.”
Demon Trappers® Series Book 8
Copyright ©2021 Jana Oliver
Angel Wing Graphic used with permission of Macmillan Children’s Books
Cover image courtesy of Yocla Designs
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is an international & multi award-winning author in various genres including young adult, urban fantasy and paranormal romance.