"...My beach bonanza continues with the second book in the Demonslayer series, HELLFIRE. As if the Florida sun wasn't hot enough, I am being sizzled from the inside out by the Lemurian, Alton, and his human love, Ginny Jones. Take my pulse and no one would know I was poolside in a chaise, it's time to save the world again, my heart is pounding and my adrenaline flowing. This is an epic ride in a world that has swept me in....Y'all really do need to join me!"
"Douglas is on a roll as she deftly picks up the action shortly after the conclusion of the launch book in her DemonSlayers series, DemonFire. The focus shifts to exiled Lemurian Alton and the intriguing human, Ginny Jones. Douglas brings a nice balance of action, emotion and backstory to this terrific adventure. Hang on, for the war is just beginning!"
"Another great story from a very creative author and the next one looks as if it is sure to follow in the same direction."
"...In book two of her Demonslayers series, Douglas moves the action to a slightly wider stage and explores more of Alton's back story...HELLFIRE is a solid entry in the Paranormal Romance genre, with moments of humor counterbalancing the excitement and jeopardy in the storyline.
The DemonSlayers Book 2: HellFire
Ginny Jones wrapped a clean kitchen towel around her torn fingers and glared at the screeching cat she'd finally managed to shove into the carrier.
Her cousin Markus leaned over her shoulder and sighed. “Poor Tom. I sure hope he's not rabid.”
“No shit, Sherlock.” She glanced at the blood-soaked towel and then at Markus. “And what do you mean, poor Tom? Did you see what that stupid cat of yours did to my hand?”
Markus shook his head, sending his long dreds flying. “I don't understand. Tom's a sweetheart. He's never even scratched anyone, much less bitten before.”
“Tell that to your neighbor. She's going to need stitches in her leg, not to mention what he did to me. C'mon. We have to get your stupid cat to the vet so they can quarantine him before animal control shows up, or they just might take him and put him down.”
Markus grabbed the keys off the hook by the back door and picked up the carrier. Tom screeched, a long, low banshee wail that sent goosebumps racing along Ginny's arms and raised the tiny hairs on the back of her neck. Tom didn't sound anything like any cat she'd ever heard.
So, why did that screech sound so eerily familiar?
Something about it skirted the edges of her memory. She stared at Tom, glaring back at her through the slats of the carrier, but nothing clicked. She'd never seen a cat with eyes like his-they flashed blood red. When he snarled, she was almost certain he had extra rows of teeth.
She shivered again and wrapped her arms around herself. Beyond weird. Everything about the stupid cat was freaking her out, but then, so was this entire trip. Frowning, Ginny followed Markus at a safe distance through the back door to the garage and watched while he stowed the sturdy carrier in the rear seat of the Camry.
Tom howled again. Ginny shook her head. “I don't like this one bit. Shouldn't we maybe put him in the trunk?”
Markus ignored her suggestion and got into the driver's seat. “Get in. No cat of mine rides in the trunk.”
Ginny stared at the red-eyed cat. Tom returned her stare.
Markus glared at her. “You scared of a cat? Damn it, Ginny. Get in.”
She took a deep breath. She wasn't about to let herself act like a coward in front of her younger cousin. “Well, if he gets loose from the carrier, you're putting him back-and I'm outta here. I've bled enough for the cause.” Ginny slammed the door and reached for her seat belt, wondering for the hundredth time what she was doing visiting her cousins in Sedona anyway. It wasn't like they were all that close, but for some reason she'd gotten a wild hair, packed her bags, and headed to Arizona without any plans or advance notice at all.
So far, her timing sucked. She'd barely parked the rental car at her aunt's house when the shit hit the fan. Old Tom, the fattest, laziest-looking cat she'd ever seen, had jumped up, shrieked like the devil was on his tail, and launched his porky butt off Aunt Betty's front porch.
He'd practically flown over the six-foot hedge between her aunt's house and the one next door-like a flying fur ball with fangs. He'd zeroed in on the poor neighbor lady who was just getting out of her car, arms loaded with groceries.
The bags had gone one way, the woman the other, but Tom latched on to her left leg and buried his teeth deep. It had taken both Markus and Ginny to pull the cat off the screaming woman, and then he'd taken off, still screeching. Aunt Betty had freaked out, grabbed the twins, and as far as Ginny knew, she was still hiding in the bedroom with the kids.
Markus-with typical teenage thinking-had gone after the cat with a big bass net like it was a four-legged fish. Ginny'd been the one who finally cornered Tom against the fence, but he'd gotten her good with claws and teeth before she'd managed to shove him into the carrier and latch the damned thing.
Not quite the entrance she'd imagined on the flight from Sacramento to Phoenix. If she had to go through a course of rabies shots, she was going to kill Markus, and anyone else who gave her grief.
Like Alton. Especially Alton.
Now why in the hell would she be thinking of her friend Eddy Marks's tall, drop-dead gorgeous, egotistical jackass college buddy Alton? They'd barely met, though Ginny kept associating him with her being here in Sedona, which made no sense whatsoever.
Neither did the fact he'd kissed her the first time she saw him. For some reason, her memories of that kiss were all fuzzy and dreamlike. She knew they'd locked lips, if only for a moment, but her memory should be sharper. A lot sharper.
He had perfect lips-full and warm and soft-and he was a spectacular kisser. She remembered that much, but little else.
Like why. She couldn't recall anything leading up to the kiss, or even what had happened directly after, which wasn't like her. Not one bit, but confusing memories of Alton were all jumbled up with boarding a plane for Phoenix. She'd rented a car and hung out in Phoenix for a few days, feeling confused and off-kilter before giving in to some weird need to see her aunt and cousins in Sedona. Early Tuesday morning, she'd finally hit the road for the two-hour drive across the desert to Sedona.
And now she was headed to the local vet's with a crazy cat, her stupid kid cousin, and a hand that was bleeding through the dishtowel she'd wrapped around the bites and scratches.
If this was a vacation, she'd definitely had better.
“Is it always this busy?” Ginny rewrapped the towel on her throbbing hand while Markus drove around the block again, looking for a parking space. All the slots at the vet's clinic were taken and there wasn't a single empty spot along the road.
Markus shook his head. “Never. Especially on a Tuesday morning. Weekends, maybe, but not today. I don't get it.”
He finally pulled into the parking lot in front of a grocery store a block away. “I'll carry the cat.” He glanced at Ginny and seemed to notice the blood-soaked towel for the first time. “Is that still bleeding?”
“Yes, it's still bleeding. Your sweetheart of a cat nailed me good.” She got out of the car and started walking toward the clinic. Markus fell into step beside her with the carrier clutched in one hand. Tom had quit screeching, but his incessant yowling was almost as bad.
Markus was big for eighteen-at least six-foot-six with broad shoulders and legs like tree trunks. As tall as she was, Ginny had to look up at him. He might not be the sharpest tack in the box, but she figured if he couldn't protect her from a stupid cat, no one could.
Though, come to think of it, she was the one bleeding, not her cousin. She was still thinking along those lines when Markus grabbed the door to the clinic and held it open for her.
Ginny stepped into total pandemonium.
The small clinic reeked of sulfur, which made no sense at all. Usually vet clinics smelled like cat pee. This one was filled with crying kids, freaked-out grownups, screeching animals-most of them in cages, thank goodness-and a couple of staff members who looked as if they were ready to run and hide. Ginny turned and looked at her cousin.
Markus stared wild-eyed at a large cage holding a big blue macaw. The bird spread its beak wide and screeched. It sounded just like Tom. Markus swallowed with an audible gulp. Ginny took a closer look at the macaw. Teeth. Rows and rows of teeth.
Now, she was no expert, but Ginny was sure she'd never heard of birds with teeth. She blinked and refocused, but the macaw's mouth was still filled with way too many teeth-all of them razor sharp. A screechy howl caught her attention and she glanced down at a scrawny little Chihuahua that was, thankfully, wearing a muzzle.
More teeth. Not just sharp doggy fangs, but rows of shiny, razor-sharp teeth filled the little mutt's mouth. A lop-eared bunny in a cat carrier just like Tom's snarled and hissed and curled its lips back. More teeth. Every single animal in the clinic looked like something out of a cheap horror film, all of them snarling and screeching and trying to take bites with mouths filled with way too many rows of sharp teeth.
And just like that, memories crashed into the forefront of her mind. The big concrete bear chasing her that night back home in Evergreen, her best friend Eddy's dad, Ed Marks, and Alton-though she hadn't known him then, that tall, good-looking friend of Eddy's from college-rushing out of the darkness and attacking the impossible creature. Alton had saved her life.
She saw it like a movie on fast forward-Alton carrying a huge sword that glowed like a freaking Jedi light saber, jabbing it into the concrete bear like the bear was made of butter. Jumping up on the creature's back, riding it like a bucking bronco. And the sound! The bear'd been screeching and wailing.
Screeching and wailing, just like the animals here, in the veterinarian's clinic.
Ginny sucked in a breath as images flowed into her mind. Alton lopping off the concrete bear's head with a powerful swing of his sword, the glowing blade flashing by in a slashing arc.
The bear crumbling, just turning into a pile of rocks and dust and sulfuric stink, like it had never been alive at all. And the smell. That horrible stench.
Just like this vet clinic in Sedona.
She remembered Alton and Ed walking her home. How could she have forgotten that night? That was the night Alton kissed her! A girl didn't forget a night like that. It made no sense at all.
Except she was remembering now. Remembering it as clearly as if it had just happened. The bear, the battle...Alton's lips. Oh, Lordy...his lips, warm and full and so sweet, pressed against hers, moving over her mouth in a sensual whisper of sensation and seduction.
The noise, the screeching animals, the frantic humans, the stinky veterinarian's clinic, all faded away as Ginny pressed her fingertips against her lips and let the memories flow.
There'd been another night too. How the hell could she have forgotten? It was only a few days ago! She blinked as it came into focus. She and Alton, walking arm in arm down the street to her house. The two of them laughing and talking about lots of nothing-flirting, for crying out loud! Both of them standing on her front porch.
She sucked in a breath as the memories cleared. She'd been thinking of breaking all her rules about guys and inviting Alton in. He'd been just as bossy and arrogant as the first time they'd met, but she'd had fun with him, too, and even though they'd only met the night he'd saved her life, she'd been drawn to him on an almost primal level.
The chemistry had certainly been there-so intense the need she'd felt was almost painful. Even now, just thinking of him fired a slow burn of desire deep in her core.
How could she forget that he'd offered to stay the night on her front porch? Offered to sit out there to protect her. That was sweet, even though she didn't need any protection. Not in her little town of Evergreen on the slopes of Mount Shasta.
Safest place in the world.
She remembered saying good night. She'd kissed his cheek when she'd really wanted to drag him inside and take him straight to her bedroom. Her toes actually tingled, remembering. Her womb felt heavy, her breasts full, recalling now how she'd gone in alone and closed the door. Leaned against it, thinking of Alton. Hearing his voice.
Hearing his voice? How could she have forgotten his voice in her head, that sexy whisper...giving her orders?
Damn it all!
Telling me to come to Sedona.
Ginny clenched her hands into fists and bit back a scream that probably would have shut up every screeching animal in the room. It was him! This was all Alton's fault! Somehow he'd hypnotized her. That had to be it. He'd hypnotized her and made her forget the bear and his kiss and...
She growled. The macaw shut its big mouth and stared at her, but all Ginny could see was Alton. That insufferable jackass had sent her here. He'd saved her from a bear made of concrete with rows of sharp teeth, a bear that couldn't have been real, and he'd sent her down here to frickin' Sedona, Arizona, where the cats and bunnies and birds had the same kind of impossible teeth.
Ginny spun around and glared at her cousin.
Markus took a step back. “What'd I do?”
“Nothing. Not a damned thing.” She sucked in a deep breath and let it out. Something very weird was going on and Alton was involved, all the way from the tips of his sexy cowboy boots to the top of his beautiful blond head. “I have to make a phone call. You sign in. I'll be right back.”
There wasn't a stitch of clothing covering her perfect body. She was tall and slim and her stylishly bobbed hair swung against her jaw with each step she took on gloriously long legs. If she hadn't been trying to kill him, Alton might have found her attractive. Instead, he wrapped both hands around the jeweled hilt of his crystal sword and swung with practiced ease.
The blade sliced cleanly through the juncture between her neck and shoulder. He watched with grim satisfaction as the mannequin's head bounced off the wall and rolled across the sidewalk. The jaws gaped wide, exposing row after row of razor- sharp teeth framed by perfectly painted pouty lips.
Alton stepped back out of the way, giving Eddy Marks plenty of space to aim the point of her crystal sword. She held DemonSlayer high, slashing through the demonic mist as it flowed through the hole in the mannequin's plastic neck.
The eerie banshee cry of the escaping demon sent shivers down Alton's spine. The screech ended abruptly the moment Eddy's sword sliced into the mist and it burst into flames. All that was left was a puff of foul-smelling smoke.
“Well done, my lady.”
Eddy smiled at the sword in her hand. “Thank you, DemonSlayer.” Then she sheathed her weapon and rose up on her toes to accept a kiss from her beloved Dax.
Alton couldn't help but think that Dax was one very lucky ex-demon, to find a woman like Eddy Marks, one brave enough to have gained immortality along with her own sentient sword. There weren't many women like her.
In fact, there were none like Eddy in his own lost world of Lemuria. As far as Alton knew, she was just as unique to Earth.
For some unfathomable reason, a fleeting image of Ginny Jones flashed through his mind-her body tall and lean with skin dark as night, and those gorgeous tiger's eyes of hers.
The image popped out of existence so fast it left him shaken. Blinking, he realized he was still watching Eddy and Dax.
“That was a new one,” Eddy said when she finally peeled herself away from her lover. “Have you seen any others like her?” She nodded toward the mannequin lying on the sidewalk.
Alton dragged his gaze away from the two of them and stared at the mannequin. “Thankfully, no, but this isn't good. It was bad enough when demons were using ceramic and stone creatures as avatars, but plastic's a new medium for them. Can you imagine the chaos they're going to cause? There's no way to get rid of all the potential hosts for the damned things.”
This latest demon invasion had begun less than two weeks ago. So far, demons could exist in Earth's dimension only as formless wraiths-smelly black mist without substance. They'd started out possessing ceramic, stone, and metal figurines, though they'd not managed to do too much damage.
This was scary, though, this move to plastic. The demon who'd possessed this mannequin seemed to have a lot more control than the ones who'd taken on the more primitive avatars. The creatures were somehow gaining power, even intelligence. It appeared they were actually evolving-and doing it way too fast.
Dax knelt down and ran his hand over the mannequin's body, as if he needed to see for himself what it was made of. “I want to know where these new demons are coming from. There shouldn't be so many. Not since Alton sealed the gateway from Abyss.”
Eddy shoved her bangs out of her eyes and glanced at Alton. “Maybe they've opened a new one.”
Nine hells. A new portal was the last thing they needed. Alton really didn't want to consider such a thing. He stared at Eddy and Dax and sighed. Just over a week ago he'd been a perfectly bored resident of Lemuria, wondering why nothing exciting ever happened. Then he'd helped two humans, a tiny will-o'-the-wisp, and a mongrel dog escape from a Lemurian prison in a separate dimension deep within Mount Shasta.
His life hadn't been the same since.
Exiled from Lemuria-a mythological world, according to humankind, which showed how little they actually knew-with a price on his head, he'd joined the battle against demonkind's invasion of Earth. Not that he was complaining about all the changes in his life, but was there no end to the damned demons?
Of course, Dax's and Eddy's lives had changed just as drastically. Dax the demon-kicked out of the hell of Abyss for good behavior-had become a demon slayer, working for the good guys to halt the demonic invasion of Earth. Eddy Marks was a newspaper reporter who had saved Dax's life without a clue what she was getting into. Alton knew the pragmatic journalist hadn't planned on becoming a demon slayer-or gaining immortality, a demon lover, and a sentient crystal sword that talked to her.
And Bumper was just a dog-a foster mutt Eddy had brought home from the pound to save from euthanasia. The dog barked. Alton leaned over and scratched her curly head. Bumper looked up at him, and Willow's thoughts flowed into Alton's mind.
I think that demon was the only one. Bumper and I checked.
Thank you, Willow. And Bumper.
He couldn't imagine Willow's life now, trapped inside a mongrel like Bumper. The tiny will-o'-the-wisp had been sent as Dax's companion, able to draw energy from the air to fuel his demon powers. In that last big battle on Mount Shasta when the demon ate Willow's tiny body, she'd managed to transfer her consciousness into Bumper just in time. While Dax no longer needed Willow for energy, Alton knew they all needed her as part of their team. Whether she looked like a tiny fairy or a curly blond pit bull, Willow had the soul and spirit of a warrior.
Just like his other companions.
Alton carefully sheathed his sword. HellFire, the crystal sword he'd had since reaching manhood, had finally, after so many millennia, gained sentience and begun to speak. Proof that it finally considered Alton a warrior, a man worthy of respect.
They'd all earned that respect in the final battle with the gargoyle demon, which explained the crystal swords Dax and Eddy now wielded as well, replicates of his own sword.
DemonFire for Dax, DemonSlayer for Eddy.
Crystal swords, perfect for fighting the demon invasion that threatened to offset the balance between good and evil. Three warriors and their sentient swords, along with a mongrel hosting the mind of a bodiless will-o'-the-wisp.
They were all that stood between a demon invasion of Earth and the unsuspecting citizens of this world.
Alton was terrified they might not be enough.
Eddy's cell phone played “Ode to Joy.” She reached for the phone and turned away to take her call.
A chill raced along Alton's spine.
Eddy stared at the phone in her hand for a long, long time. Then she slowly slipped it back into her jeans pocket. Alton and Dax were deep in conversation, and it looked like Bumper and Willow were right in there with them.
Bumper and Willow...BumperWillow. Eddy couldn't think of one without the other. Not anymore. Thank goodness she'd been able to get things straightened out with the shelter and they'd agreed to let her adopt her foster dog, Bumper, or they'd really have been in a fix. When the gargoyle had eaten the little sprite's body and she'd slipped into the closest available live host, at least she'd found one who loved and welcomed her.
The symbiosis between the brave little sprite and Eddy's funky mutt couldn't have been better, though after seeing how gorgeous Willow'd been before and how silly she looked as a pit bull crossed with a poodle, Eddy couldn't help but wonder if she ever had second thoughts about her choice of borrowed body.
But that was the least of Eddy's worries. Ginny Jones's phone call had just opened up a whole new can of worms.
“Guys,” Eddy said, “we've got a problem.”
Alton kept his arms tightly folded across his chest. He was afraid if he didn't hold himself contained, he would fly to pieces. Ginny was in danger, and it was his fault-all his fault-for sending her to Sedona.
He'd known there was more than one vortex in that Arizona town, but he hadn't even thought of the demons using one as a passage from Abyss to Earth's dimension. No, all he'd thought about was getting Ginny away from Evergreen and the demon invasion here.
Who in nine hells was he trying to kid? He'd wanted Ginny away, period. She was the most unsuitable distraction he'd ever seen and he wanted her gone because she was a danger to his own peace of mind. She'd have been safer if she stayed. This community was probably the safest one around for now, especially with the three of them keeping things under control.
He glanced at the headless mannequin lying in the alley.
Well, moderately under control.
This was not good, but the problem in Sedona sounded even worse. Family pets with glowing eyes and multiple rows of razor- sharp teeth? Loving animals suddenly going berserk and attacking their owners? It sure sounded like demon possession to Alton, and he knew the others agreed.
Until today, they'd thought demons could only animate things of the earth-ceramic or stone, concrete or clay. Plastic was essentially more of the same, just a different material, but taking on living creatures as avatars took a lot more power, showed more intelligence.
Ginny could be in terrible danger, and it was all his fault.
Bumper whined. Alton looked at Dax and Eddy, and realized they were staring at him too. All three of them. What had he missed?
“Well?” Eddy planted her hands on her hips.
Alton blinked. “Well, what?”
She rolled her eyes. “Are you going? Is there a passage through the vortex that will get you to Sedona fast so you can check on Ginny? My best friend's in danger because of you.”
He cringed. “I know. Yes, there's a passage, and yes, I'll go.”
Eddy's sudden smile hinted at something more than mere concern for Ginny. “Be sure and pack some extra clothes,” she said. “You might be gone for awhile.”
Eddy's dad, Ed Marks, gunned his old Jeep along the last steep stretch of dirt road. He'd offered to take Alton as far as he could up the rough flank of Mount Shasta, but they'd just about reached the end of the road. Alton knew he still had a long hike ahead of him before he made it to the portal.
The way was steep, the ground slippery with loose rock and scree that often meant slipping back two steps for every step forward, so the ride this far was welcome. Plus, he enjoyed spending time with Ed.
It shouldn't have surprised him, how much he liked Eddy's dad, but their close friendship had been an unexpected bonus. Alton figured it was as much his need for a father figure who treated him with respect as the fact Ed was just a hell of a nice guy. His own father still hadn't accepted that he was an adult, a capable man who could make his own decisions, but Ed saw Alton as a warrior, a brave companion to Dax and Eddy.
And he treated Alton like a man grown, which might have been silly under other circumstances. As an immortal, Alton was already centuries older than Ed Marks, something that didn't seem to bother Ed at all.
He wondered-would his own father ever see him as anything other than a disappointment? What would the ruling chancellor of the Council of Nine say if he knew his son's sword was now sentient, that Alton had proven himself as a warrior?
Fat chance of that ever happening. Now that he had a Lemurian death sentence hanging over his head for helping Dax and Eddy escape from their prison cell, Alton had to accept that going back to his world inside the volcano probably wasn't going to happen.
Still, it was something to dream of, his father actually learning his only son had accomplished what no other Lemurian in recent history had done-he'd established communication with his crystal sword. Even though the story of Lemurians as warriors and demon fighters was a huge part of their history, no one alive now-except maybe the reclusive Crone, a woman of legendary stature who had chosen exile for some unknown reason eons ago-could actually remember anyone strong enough or brave enough to bring their sword to life.
Yet Alton's sword spoke to him. Respected him enough to communicate, crystal sword to Lemurian.
In fact, as far as Alton knew, he was the only Lemurian alive today who'd actually taken part in battle using a weapon other than words. While his people took pride in being known as philosophers and statesmen, they'd lost their fighting edge-the very qualities that had kept their society safe for so long.
Just as they'd lost their strongest allies-their speaking crystal swords. The sword each young man received when he came of age had become nothing more than a fancy ornament.
Legend said the swords' sentience came from the spirits of demon fighters from long ago, the souls of powerful and brave men who'd bested demonkind in a war that had kept Abyss in line for millennia.
That didn't explain the sexy female voice in Eddy's sword, but it certainly accounted for the silence in every sword presented to every young Lemurian male. Why would any warrior's spirit want to speak with a man who didn't know how to fight and wasn't willing to risk his life for something of importance?
Their silence was understandable.
Alton had not only risked his life, he'd discovered an inner strength he hadn't known he possessed. He'd proved to both his sword and himself that he was a warrior, one willing to die for a cause he believed in-protecting the known worlds from the threat of demonkind. All civilizations linked to Earth, no matter what dimension, were at risk from the encroaching evil of Abyss.
The danger of reaching a tipping point, of the ages-old balance of good and evil finally slipping over to the dark side, was still very real, especially with the new threat of a demon king powerful enough and smart enough to lead the demon hordes to victory.
Gaining strength by the hour within his stone gargoyle avatar, the demon king had almost won. Dax's brave sacrifice and Eddy's strength and determination had bought a temporary victory when Eddy'd courageously risked death by wielding Alton's crystal sword. She'd beheaded the stone gargoyle and sent the demon king back to Abyss-for now.
But they knew he would be back.
Had he resurfaced in Sedona?
Alton stared at the trees they passed and thought about Dax and Eddy and the love between them that seemed to grow stronger each day. He would be jealous if he didn't love both of them so much. Eddy was brave and true, and Dax, a man who had begun as a demon, had shown more integrity and honor than anyone Alton had ever known in Lemuria. Dax and Eddy deserved the immortal love they'd found with each other.
So why did that make him think of Ginny Jones? She was nothing like Eddy Marks. Nothing at all. Ginny was mortal, her life no more than a tiny blip on Alton's life's screen. Plus, she was stubborn and opinionated and had no respect for a woman's place-a woman's role as the helpmate to her man. Not that Eddy was anything like the Lemurian women Alton had known, either, but she was Dax's problem.
Did that make Ginny his?
So long as she was in danger because of his screw-up, Alton figured it must.
The engine revved and the Jeep's wheels spun as forward motion ceased. Alton glanced at Ed.
The older man shrugged. “This is as far as I can go, Alton. You'll have to hoof it the rest of the way.” He slipped the gear into neutral but left the engine running. The trail wound upward from here, climbing through the last of the trees before it crossed areas of slippery scree, the shattered stones that littered the sides of the dormant volcano above the tree line.
Alton climbed out of the Jeep. He checked his scabbard to make certain his sword was secure, grabbed his pack, and slung it over his shoulder. “Thanks, Ed.” He glanced around, orienting himself. It took a moment for him to realize where they were. Everything looked totally different in the light of day.
A harmless pile of rocks lay beside the road.
Harmless now, but they were the remnants of the gargoyle that had been the demon king's avatar, the one Eddy had destroyed with her singular act of bravery. She'd saved their lives-unfortunately, she'd missed the demon's soul.
Alton shook his head. “Hard to believe this is the same place where we fought the demon-and almost lost.”
Ed slowly nodded in agreement. “I'll admit, I've never been so scared in my life. For myself, for my friends-the image of that monster twisting Dax's body and throwing him to the ground still wakes me up at night. I never thought I'd see the boy alive again.” He cleared his throat, wiping a hand over his eyes. “The truth, though? Mostly, Alton, I was afraid for my daughter. Her bravery astounds me, even now.”
Alton reached out and shook Ed's hand. “We don't need to worry about Eddy. She's a lot tougher than she looks.”
Breaking into laughter, Ed threw the Jeep into gear. “That she is, son. Now you get. I'm worried about Ginny. She doesn't know what we went through here, so she doesn't have any idea what she's up against. You go take care of that girl.” He winked, turned the Jeep, and headed down the hill.
Alton watched until the Jeep disappeared into the forest. Then he started the long hike up the hill. The entire mountain was an energy vortex, but there were only a couple of places where he could cross into the other dimensions and access the portal that would take him to Sedona.
Or the one that leads to Lemuria.
No. He couldn't think about home. He'd made his choice when he helped Dax and Eddy escape from their Lemurian prison cell. He'd walked away from everyone and everything he'd known and loved his entire life, but he'd chosen for the greater good.
He wondered if his friend Taron had had any luck convincing the Council of Nine to join the battle against demonkind. That was Alton's only hope of ever returning home. Taron could be persuasive, but were his powers of persuasion a match for the council's collective stubbornness?
The sun had moved to the west by the time Alton paused in front of a mass of tumbled boulders and knew he'd reached the portal. He wrinkled his nose against the stench of sulfur. There shouldn't be any sign of demons here, but their smell was all around him. That made no sense. He'd closed the portal to Abyss.
Unless they'd managed to open a new one.
Alton faced the lichen-covered rock, but before he stepped through, he removed his sword from his scabbard. As he wrapped his fingers around HellFire's jeweled hilt, he realized how much the sword's sentience had changed things. He no longer felt alone-not when he had HellFire beside him. Addressing the crystal blade, he asked, “Do you smell their stench as I do?”
The hilt vibrated in his hand. “I do,” the sword answered. “I'm ready if you are.”
With a nod, Alton stepped into the portal, walking through what appeared to be solid rock. The dark cavern he entered glistened with light from the various gateways leading to other dimensions: the green and turquoise that led to Atlantis, the gold and silver that would take him to Eden-and certain death should he attempt to pass into that hallowed land.
He stared at the gateway to Eden for a long moment. They'd been the first to recognize the demon invasion of Earth, the ones to recruit Dax to fight demonkind, yet they remained in their insular world, unwilling to take part in the battle-and the demon king had been one of theirs. Damn them.
He turned and stared at the portal that would take him home to Lemuria. Now, were he to attempt to pass, he feared he risked death as surely as if he tried to enter Eden's sanctuary.
Facing Ginny Jones and a whole passel of demonkind sounded a lot safer.
Alton turned his back on the gateway to his home world. The one that had once led to Abyss was still sealed shut. Why, then, did he smell the sulfuric stench of demons? Where was it coming from?
He held his sword high and used HellFire's glowing crystal blade to search along the stone walls. A small portal, tucked into a nook toward the back of the cavern, shimmered with the colors of a setting sun.
Sedona, Arizona. He recognized the multicolored hues of red rock and blue skies, but swirling within the portal's depths he sensed something else.
Demons had passed this way, and not so long ago. Were they somehow making their way from Abyss to Sedona, and then north through the connected vortexes to Mount Shasta? He would have to ask Eddy and Dax about that.
After he got to Sedona.
He touched the cell phone Eddy had tucked into his pocket and wished it worked within the portals, but Eddy'd explained to him how they needed towers to carry the signal, and there certainly weren't any deep inside the volcano's energy vortex.
Alton took a step toward the portal, but he caught himself, pausing in midstep as a dark mist slipped through the multicolored gateway. Silently it flowed along the wall toward the portal leading outside to the flank of Mount Shasta.
Demon! This certainly answered part of his question.
His sword vibrated with power. Alton swung. The crystal blade connected with the black mist. The demon screeched and burst into flames. Crackling and sizzling, it disappeared in a puff of smoke.
Only the stench remained.
Alton stared at the spot where the demon had emerged. A shiver raced along his spine. This one had come directly from Sedona. His heart gave an unfamiliar lurch with the proof he couldn't deny. Ginny was in Sedona-and so were the demons.
Demons powerful enough to take on living creatures as their personal avatars. Creatures strong enough to kill.
Holding his sword aloft, Alton stepped through the portal.
Available now from Kensington Publishing
NOTICE: This novel is protected under Copyright Registration with the
United States of America. No part or portion of this work may be used
for re-sell or re-print either digitally or in print format by ANY entity other
than the legal publisher of this work listed above. Re- sell or re-print of
this work may not be used without the written permission of the author
AND the publisher or without full monetary compensation of the work
to both the author and legal publisher. Any infringement upon this
copyright will be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law. If you have
purchased this novel in a `re-sell packet', please inform the author and/or