The war between good and evil has raged for millennia,
but now evil is winning,
and the Marked Souls are caught in the middle…
After an accident left her near death, Sera Littlejohn is struggling to piece her life together again. But when a violet-eyed stranger reveals a supernatural battle veiled in the shadows, Sera is tempted to the edge of madness by a dangerous desire.
Ferris Archer takes Sera under his wing now that she is talyan, possessed by a repentant demon with hellish powers. Archer and his league of warriors have long risked their demon-shattered souls to stop darker spirits from wreaking havoc. But they’ve never fought beside a female talya before, and never in all his centuries has Archer found a woman who captivates him like Sera.
With the balance shifting between good and evil, passion and possession, Sera and Archer must defy the darkness‹and dare to embrace a love that will mark them forever…
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SEDUCED BY SHADOWS
“The end is nigh.”
Ferris Archer braced his shoulders against the Chicago wind that whipped straight up to whistle around the balcony railing with savage glee. “Never nigh enough.”
“Nigher, then. For some poor soul.”
“Don’t pity the bastard, Zane,” Archer said. “Whoever he is, he could resist temptation.”
Zane squatted in the shelter of the wall, arms wrapped around his knees. “Like we could have?”
Archer faced the dark lake. Despite all his years at these latitudes, he’d still not gotten used to how night came so early in November and stayed so long.
At least the numbing chill anesthetized the memory of anything else.
The balcony door opened. The breath of warmth was snatched away in an instant.
Zane rose to meet the newcomer. “Nothing yet, boss.”
Archer lifted his chin by way of greeting. “Niall.”
“Archer. Haven’t seen you around lately.”
“Any reason you’ve been looking?”
“Just wondering.” In the glitter of city lights, Liam Niall’s Black Irish eyes were as enigmatic as the inky mark that rayed out from his temple and down his cheek.
“Still alive.” At the mocking whisper in the back of his mind, Archer shoved his hands in his pockets. He edged past the two men to the opposite corner of the balcony. “Still kicking.”
If the news brought Niall any joy, it didn’t show on his face, which echoed Archer’s own sentiments on the matter.
Zane cleared his throat. “What’s that? Due north, this side of Division.”
Archer had already seen the flicker near the raised train tracks, nothing like the strange fireworks that flamed in his dreams lately. “Reflections from the L. Keep looking.”
The burning dreams had hollowed him out, left him wanting, when he thought he’d long ago lost touch with the feeling—with any feeling.
He didn’t appreciate the reminder.
Zane gripped the rail. “Have either of you actually seen one before?”
Niall shook his head. “They’re usually drawn straight to their victims, who can’t see them until it’s too late. And they’re rare. Thank God.”
He felt Niall staring holes in the back of his head. “By the way, nice trick, catching this crossing,” Niall said. “Bookie’s been tracking activity since you warned us. With no telltale genocides or pandemics or famine in the city, we’re lucky you detected it so early.” He lifted one eyebrow.
Archer didn’t miss the implied invitation to share how he’d known. Since he couldn’t answer, he said nothing.
As if mocking his reticence, an unearthly shimmer drew his gaze to the shadowed depths of the urban valleys. He stiffened. “There. Toward the river.”
“My God,” Zane whispered.
This time, Archer didn’t scoff at invoking the Almighty.
Above the streets and buildings, an arch of vaporous luminescence unfolded in a slow ballet. Vortices of ghostly light pinwheeled out into the dark, highlighted in sprays of radiant sparks that caught, flared, and died.
Only the ceaseless hum of traffic and wind whining over concrete and steel accompanied the eerie sparkler. No screams. No sirens. The phantom lights played over the city, pulsing to an unknown heartbeat, unseen by human eyes.
Or merely human eyes.
Zane whistled. “Well, now we know what an unbound demon escaped from hell looks like.”
Like dragonfly wings glinting iridescent as the tiny predators hunted under a bright sun, fierce and lovely at once. The spectacle echoed through him as if someone were using his breastbone as a gong.
His whole body vibrated with the unheard note. He stiffened against it. “It’s going to draw every fucking djinni from Detroit to St. Louis.”
“Easy to follow, at least,” Niall said. “Get down there. Find whom it’s pursuing. I’ll send a team to run interference in case things go badly.”
“A demon has breached the Veil, the only barrier between us and hell, to possess some poor bastard’s soul,” Zane muttered. “How exactly could it go ‘goodly’?”
Archer didn’t bother responding. “Arm your people well.” He headed for the balcony door. “Every malice and feralis in the city is on the way to pay homage.”
Niall crossed into his path. “Bookie engineered a new demon shunt. Supposed to drain them twice as fast with half the mess. Want to give it a whirl?”
“Garbagemen shouldn’t care about the mess. No point when there’s always more of it.” Archer slid past him, careful to make no contact. “Unless Bookie has a way to send them back through the Veil forever?” When Niall stayed silent, Archer shrugged. “Maybe next time.”
Zane fell into step behind him. “If there is a next time. Did I mention the end is nigh?”
“So you keep promising.” Archer didn’t look back—he’d learned long ago never to do that—but still the demon lights strummed his bones like a call to arms.
As ends of days went, this one looked promising, indeed.
* * *
“Damn, Sera, you look like hell. And since when do you smoke?”
Sera Littlejohn sighed and stubbed out the cigarette on the brick wall of the ambulance bay where she’d come to find a little peace and quiet. The spinning red lights and scuttling EMTs had almost done the trick before Betsy showed up. “One of your interns quit—third time this month, he said—and gave me the last of his pack.”
Betsy’s eyes narrowed behind her John Lennon glasses. “That drunk driver didn’t finish the job, so you’re finding another route to rendezvous with your maker?”
Sera reached for the cane she’d propped against the bricks. “Good to see you too, Bets.”
“Chill, girl.” Betsy laid a heavy hand on her shoulder. “Sorry. I was just surprised to see you.”
“Supposed to be my first night back.” Sera gripped the head of the cane, the ergonomic rubber cold under her fingers. She kept telling herself she’d be rid of it soon. “But Marion’s sending me home again, until I’m ‘stronger.’ Said I looked like death warmed over and I was scaring the patients.”
Betsy snickered. “Death warmed over. You’re a thanatologist.”
“Apparently, last vigils should be presided over by someone a little perkier and better coiffed.” Sera ran one hand over her simple blond braid. “I told her my lipstick was in the glove compartment, and that ended up somewhere in the trunk.”
“It’s been six months. You couldn’t stop by the Clinique counter while you learned to walk again?” Betsy shook her head. “For being in charge of end-of-life care, Marion has all the compassion of your average vulture.”
She reached into the side pocket of Sera’s bag and snagged the cigarettes. Without looking behind her, she pitched them into the trash bin.
Sera raised her eyebrows. “Luckily I have friends like you.”
“Lucky is right. Give me any more of that washed-out lip and I’ll send you to Nutrition for a full workup.” Betsy eyed her. “You get any thinner, and when old Grim Reaper Man comes for your customers, he’ll think you’re the ghost.”
“Not a fear of yours then, huh?”
“Funny. We’re so busy tonight, if Death comes looking for me, I’ll triage him with the kids puking up stale Halloween candy. I swear, that club drug making the rounds is a nightmare like you would not believe, and on top of that, we’ve got the full moon bringing out the crazies.”
Sera glanced up, although the tall buildings shut out all but a narrow slice of night. With low-hanging clouds reflecting the city lights, the sky glowed a nacreous silver. “I don’t think the moon’s full tonight.”
Betsy huffed. “Might as well be. Everyone’s got that weird sparkle in their eyes, even the ones not whacked-out on solvo, or whatever they’re calling it.”
“Must be the holidays coming,” Sera murmured, still watching the night.
“Great. Just add salmonella, suicide, and shoveling-induced heart attacks to the mix.” Betsy nudged Sera’s arm. “Hey, let’s get a cup of coffee.”
Distracted from the sky, Sera shook her head. “I thought you were busy. And I guess I’m spending the evening dusting off my résumé.”
“Marion’s a fool,” Betsy said. “Somebody has to explain the big mysteries before checkout time, and you’ve a real gift for facing the other side.”
Not the kind of gift with a return receipt, unfortunately. Sera fumbled the cane as Betsy hugged her, and they exchanged promises to lunch. She stepped out of the bright lights and relative shelter of the ambulance bay and headed for the darker street.
Yeah, the big mysteries of life and death and why some asshole with three DUIs on his record had plowed his monster SUV into her practical little sedan, putting a severe crimp in the rest of her life, along with her spine.
She was tired of asking questions when she couldn’t help wondering whether there were any answers.
Which was probably why Marion had sent her home.
But home felt like a prison these days. She had spent too much time there since rehab, in a place grown too quiet.
With a twinge of pain, she aimed her steps in the other direction. Good thing Betsy had missed the prescription bottle in the bag next to the cigarettes. The ER nurse would’ve known in a heartbeat what those meant.
Forget the celebratory walk through the cosmetics counters. Just pop the childproof cap on the little orange bottle. She’d have to check on that drug trial the intern had mentioned. He’d said the manufacturer swore Solacin was the painkiller to end all painkillers. With that easy chemical buffer, even the sight of the short stack of job applications on Marion’s desk wouldn’t hurt much.
With the traffic of Upper Wacker behind her, Sera started over the bridge, ducking her head against the wind hissing across the black water.
A quarter of the way across, she noticed the man alone in the middle of the bridge.
If she hadn’t been so wrapped up in her own thoughts, she would have seen him earlier. The matte black trench coat silhouetted his height against the slash of silvery night sky. He stood braced against the wind tugging at the hem of his coat.
Born and raised in the city, she had a healthy respect for and no unreasonable fear of downtown dangers. She worked—until recently, of course—in a job with late hours in sometimes sketchy neighborhoods and had had her car broken into only twice. Even with a cane that marked her as easy pickings, she knew her trigger finger on the can of mace was limber enough.
Still, something about the man slowed her steps and ramped up her pulse.
She couldn’t cross the street. She had less faith in traffic’s ability to avoid her than in her own ability to avoid trouble. And running only invited chasing.
She unzipped the side pocket of her bag where she kept the mace. Hell, if he had a mugging in mind, she could toss out the prescription bottle, and any self-respecting junkie would follow it into the river.
Despite her inner bravado, her limping steps ground to a halt.
He stood with his face half turned to the sky, heedless of the wind that couldn’t ruffle his close-cropped hair. Sera expected dark shades and a lot of bling, but when he finally glanced down at her, the only spark came from the violet reflections glancing off his eyes.
Not that there were any purple lights around them—just maybe some chance fusion of red brake lights and the blue-tinged streetlamps. . . .
If she was mugged, she didn’t want her description to the police to gush about the hypnotic violet lights in his dark eyes. She’d have to remember the hard edge of his jaw and the width of shoulders below the mandarin collar of his coat, which tapered to lean hips.
She jerked her gaze back to his.
He frowned in a thoughtful, not-menacing way, at least no more menacing than was necessitated by the austere cast to his features. “This, I did not expect.”
She’d be able to ID him by his voice, if nothing else—dark and rough, with a hint of mostly forgotten Southern sweetness, like pralines carelessly heated past caramelizing to burned ruination.
He drew himself up, and she thought darting into traffic might not be completely unreasonable.
“If I told you something bad was right here, right now,” he asked, “would you listen to me?”
Sera thrust her hand into her bag. “I’d tell it to back off.” The mace canister felt sleek and cold and ridiculously tiny when she held it out in front of her.
The man tilted his head. “It won’t be stopped that way. Only you can deny it.”
“Consider yourself denied.”
Violet flashed again in his deep-set eyes. “I am not the threat.”
“See, that’s what all the homicidal schizophrenics say.”
Amusement curved his full lips in a way that made her finger tighten on the trigger.
“Temptation is all around you,” he said. “Embrace it at your peril.”
And she’d been deliberately not thinking of embracing. Peril, yes. Embracing, not any time in recent memory.
She shook her head to clear the wayward thoughts. “Right. There’s a men’s shelter on Grand. Tell them Sera from Mercy General hospice sent you, and they’ll find a slot in their outpatient program.”
He sighed. She could barely hear over the wind, but she saw his shoulders lift and fall—under a coat far too expensive for him to be a drug-addled street dweller.
“Sera.” He pronounced it as she had said it, Sear-ah. “I am not patient at all. But nothing I say will convince you. Nothing I say will even make sense. Not yet. Just remember. For when it comes.”
The wind worked its way under her coat, sending a chill up her spine. “I think it’s time you moved along.” She gestured with the mace canister.
He hesitated, then, with a nod, stepped past her. He stayed near the street, giving her space.
The wild wind spun by her, carrying the scent of spice and musk, a primitive blend at odds with his sleek urban look. With fickle abruptness, the wind pushed at her back, urging her toward him. And damn her weak leg, she actually stumbled a step forward.
He turned instantly, one hand reaching out.
“No.” Her voice sounded too high, panicky. She swallowed. “Go on now. Git.” As if he were a mongrel stray.
She waited until the darkness on the bridge swallowed him. He never looked back. Only then did she continue. On the far side, she crossed the intersection against the light, told herself she was an idiot, no one was following her, and paused anyway to make sure.
No man in a black trench coat. No mysterious threat coming her way.
Suddenly her empty apartment seemed better than roaming the city streets in the descending November night. She hailed a cab and ducked inside with only one more glance back.
“Cold out there.” The cabbie’s lilting English distracted her.
“You’re shaking. Shall I turn up the heat?”
She let out a pent-up breath. “Sorry. No. I’m fine.”
Obviously she didn’t have as much of her toughness back as she had told herself, if one crazy set her so on edge. Maybe if—no, when she healed, she’d take that self-defense course Betsy was always pushing on her nurses. It wouldn’t protect her from drunk drivers, but who knew what else was out there?
* * *
Under the cover of deep shadow, Archer watched the woman—Sera—hurry away, her slight figure outlined in whorls of ominous light. The spectral radiance visible from the penthouse balcony had condensed and centered around her. The silver green glow reminded him of a tornado sky, when doom spiraled out of nothing. The unbound demon had chosen.
Zane joined him. “A woman? No way. All demon-ridden are male.”
“The Lord works in mysterious ways. But not half so mysterious as the other guys.” Archer steeled the savagery lurking inside him against her thousand weaknesses: the hesitation in her steps from the painful twist of her spine; her not-unwarranted impulse toward violence; the fear that dulled her eyes. Fear of him.
The demon didn’t need a thousand weaknesses. Only one.
“Are we sure she’s the target? Could the demon have gotten confused?” Zane stared across the river, where Sera had gone. The etheric lights trailed behind her like frayed gossamer wings. “She seemed nice.”
The mace hadn’t been pointed at him. Archer was glad he’d told the younger talya to stay out of the way. “The demon wasn’t confused. It only resonates with a matching soul.”
“Then why aren’t we bringing her back with us? Did you tell her why we’re here?”
“You can’t tell them anything until the demon ascends. They won’t believe you before then. Maybe not even then.”
Zane peered at him. “We can’t just let her go. I know we aren’t sure which strain of demon wants her, but no one should go through it alone.” He started forward, as if to flag down the cab.
Archer snagged Zane’s arm, whipping him around. “If she’s wise, she won’t go through it at all.”
Zane faltered. “You warned her? Is that an option?”
Archer shrugged irritably. “You can’t warn any more than you can guide.”
“You’d better hope Niall doesn’t hear about this. Ecco and Raine were watching from the other side of the bridge.”
Archer scowled, even more exasperated. “You think, if it comes to that, they want a woman joining the league? As if we didn’t face madness enough.”
“She’d be no worse than some,” Zane muttered. Then his gaze slid away as if he’d said too much—and to the wrong person.
Archer kept a leash on his flaring temper, but since someone had stuck the tuning fork in his dreams that had him vibrating to this emergent demon, his discipline felt unreliable.
Her accusation he was a psycho killer should have struck too close to the truth. But the zest with which she delivered the line and the glint in her hazel eyes as she aimed the spray can had roused sensations he thought long dead. Dead, buried, and rotted past all unholy resurrection.
Except in the dreams that left him unwilling to sleep. Strangely attuned to the unbound demon, he’d been prepared for violence. As always. But not for this. Not for her.
He wrestled down the rage. “There’s a malice in the alley back there. It followed the pyrotechnics this far. Scare it off before it gets bored and does something annoying.”
Zane glanced back, distracted. “Shouldn’t we drain it?”
“We won’t have time for every petty malice roaming the streets tonight.” Archer strode off.
“Where are you going?” Zane called.
“After more dangerous game.”
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