Authors: Rose Wulf
With a dramatic eye roll Zahk said, “You could return a
Darr cringed and looked back to his friend. “Sorry,” he
offered. “I lost my phone a couple weeks back. Haven’t bothered to replace it
Zahk arched a dark brow at him. “I never took you for
Izzy’s shriek tore Darr’s attention and he nearly lurched
forward before he realized what had happened. One of her friends had snuck up
behind her and dunked her in the lake unceremoniously. She was already laughing
and splashing them back.
Zahk chuckled, the sound dark and echoing. “You know, for
one of the scariest bastards I’ve ever met, you’re such a puppy with that one.”
He made a whipping sound for effect in case Darr had missed the point—which he
Relaxing against the tree, Darr reflexively replied, “Her
life is tied to mine, remember? She dies, I die, that sort of thing.”
To this Zahk gave him a somber, long stare. There was
disbelief in his eyes. “Yeah,” he said. “About that… Word on the street is Old
Duchane’s not all that good with spells. I mean, there was that whole succubus
thing last year.”
Darr pinched the bridge of his nose. Yeah,
had been a nightmare. Idiot man had
needed a date for a professional shindig and thought he’d coerce a pretty demon
into putting on a sexy act. And boy had she. If Izzy hadn’t stopped by with the
rental suit he’d needed, the man would probably be dead.
And Darr’s secret would be blown out of the water.
“For one thing,” Zahk continued, “how come you didn’t let
it happen? You’d be free, you know. I mean,
“I’m fine here,” Darr insisted. “I already have the freedom
I craved.” And that, at least, was entirely true. He really had no desire to
leave Izzy at this point, and any time spent dwelling on that reality disturbed
“This isn’t freedom,” Zahk argued. “This is just another
breed of slavery. You’re trapped in this deal so long as Old Duchane lives.” He
pushed off the tree and moved to clap his hand on Darr’s shoulder. “Darr, buddy
to buddy here, let me kill him for you. You’re not bound to protect him and
Izzy doesn’t have to know until she’s back in civilization.”
Glaring, Darr spun to face his friend. “No. You won’t lay a
finger in any way on Duchane, is that clear?”
Zahk stepped back, brown eyes wide. “What, do you
about that drunk?”
It was hard not to scoff at the idea. Quite frankly he all
but detested the moron. But no matter her qualms with her father, Izzy still
loved him. Most days. And he had no intention of allowing her to feel the pain
of that kind of loss—again. “No,” he said. “But I was told to protect Izzy from
. Including avoidable
emotional pain.” It was a stretch, but a truthful one.
“I can’t imagine Old Duchane knew how to be so specific.”
Sighing, he turned toward the parking lot. “I’m not in the mood for this now.
Have fun sporting that hard-on you won’t do anything about.” And then the
shadows rose up, seeming to tug him into the ground as he vanished.
Darr ground his teeth and turned his attention back to
Izzy. She didn’t seem to have noticed his brief companion and he was glad. But
what Zahk had said rang in his ears and a weight settled in his gut. Was he
planning something? Had the suggestion actually been a subtle warning?
where you found that place, Ainsley,” Britt pleaded as the women let themselves
into the larger cabin after dinner. “That meal was delicious.”
“It was just a little thing called Google,” Ainsley said
with a laugh.
“Now that we’re all fed and we all have some alcohol in our
systems,” Letty said, “who’s ready for a game? I brought all the dirty ones!”
Letty’s hand was on the suitcase supposedly filled with
naughty games when Izzy felt a tell-tale tingle trickle over her skin. She
lifted her eyes to the darkest corner of the cabin—the corner beside her chosen
bed, of course—just as Darr stepped into view.
“Izzy,” he called in his deep, rough timbre.
Ainsley and Britt’s cousin both cried out in surprise and
even Britt and Letty jumped.
“Is that—?” Ainsley whispered with a glance toward Britt.
“Izzy!” Britt cried, a mixture of fright and frustration in
her voice. She really did hate being around him.
Izzy apologized and waved her hand in their direction to
pacify them as she moved up to her bodyguard. “What is it?” She knew for a fact
he’d have continued hiding in shadowy corners silently if there wasn’t something
important on his mind.
“Not here,” he said quietly, his voice sending delightful
shivers down her spine. He reached out without another word, and wrapped a
single arm around her waist before stepping back with her into the shadows.
Izzy closed her eyes to minimize the disorientation as he transported them to a
private location, her hands twisted in his tight, black shirt.
A moment later the sensation of movement faded and his grip
loosened, though he made no move to step back until she released his shirt.
Lifting her gaze to his ashen one, Izzy repeated her
earlier question. “What is it, Darr? Is something wrong?” She thought she’d
seen Zahk with him earlier, but she thought nothing of it—Zahk was known to
show up randomly from time to time. Had it not been a pleasant visit? Or was
this something else?
Darr’s expression was somber. “I’m worried there will be an
attempt on your father’s life tonight.”
Sucking in a breath, Izzy gasped, “
“Zahk was here earlier,” Darr replied. “It was something he
said. I think he was trying to warn me.”
Pressing a hand over her heart, Izzy stepped into Darr and
rested her head on his chest.
wouldn’t be the first time he’d angered someone—human or demon—to the point
where his life was threatened. The first time he’d crossed that line, her
mother had paid the ultimate price, and when he hadn’t learned from that lesson,
Izzy eventually came to the conclusion that she needed to distance herself from
him. But she still loved him.
Arm coming around her again, this time in an embrace, Darr
rumbled a soft question. “What do you want me to do, Izzy?”
Tears stinging her eyes, Izzy swallowed them back and
inhaled a deep lungful of his scent. Crisp like mountain air, with just a hint
of molasses. “I know you don’t like going,” she acknowledged, “but please don’t
let him die. Not like that.”
Darr was silent for a long minute, undoubtedly debating her
request with his situation. But finally his hold tightened as he embraced her
and his lips came to the side of her ear. “Stay inside, stay safe, and call for
me if anything happens. I’ll be back before morning.”
Her heart warmed at the intimate way he held her and the
tender tone in his voice. He might be a demon, but as far as she was concerned
he was really her guardian angel.
knight in shining armor, maybe?
“Thank you,” she whispered.
He loosened his hold, nodding when their eyes met, and took
her hand in his. The next thing she knew her stomach was bottoming out and her
feet were standing once again on an old wooden floor in a dark corner. But Darr
wasn’t with her.
Releasing a breath, Izzy wiped her palms on the sides of
her jeans and turned to look for her friends just as Letty spoke up.
“Is … everything okay?”
“Izzy?” Britt asked, concern echoing in her voice. Despite
her dislike of Darr, she still understood his purpose in Izzy’s life. And Izzy
But she didn’t want to dampen the night with Darr’s
suspicions when he would certainly foil this latest attempt on her father’s
life. So she smiled and moved more properly into the room. “Sorry. Everything’s
… fine. There’s just a situation he has to deal with, so you guys are
officially responsible for my well-being.” The last was said teasingly. Aside
from Darr, Izzy herself was the only one responsible for her well-being and she
Not particularly wanting to engage in any sort of
conversation with Gerald Duchane, Darr opted to keep to the shadows and keep
The man in question was watching accident videos on YouTube
and alternating between Facebook messages—one for business and one with a woman
who wouldn’t likely ever agree to meet him. Darr didn’t feel like prying deeper
into it. Duchane’s standard security team was all in place, the system armed
and running. As usual Duchane’s warding was wrong, leaving his home exposed to
preternatural forces like Darr himself. Unfortunately, just fixing the warding
wouldn’t assure no demons slipped in. All it would take was an outdoor
possession and a burst of dark energy.
Duchane’s phone rang and the man paused his video to put
the smaller device to his ear. “Yes?”
Darr expanded his senses to hear the other side of the
conversation, despite knowing he’d then have to smell the man who drank too
much. As he’d expected, alcohol and cigar smoke assaulted his nose immediately.
But it couldn’t be helped.
“Sir,” a controlled male voice Darr didn’t recognize said.
“There’s a woman here for you.”
“Ah, excellent,” Duchane declared, promptly shutting the
lid of his laptop. Not a word to either message recipient. “Let her in, please.
And offer to park her car around back for her. She’ll be here a while.”
Darr shuddered at the implications. This explained why the
stench in the room was several hours old. Duchane was expecting company.
Company he wanted to impress. It was times like this he missed the Gerald
Duchane who was heartbroken and withdrawn.
Minutes later, after Duchane had found a mirror and
adjusted his shirt properly, a mid-forties woman waltzed in with too much
makeup and a sloppily seductive smile. Darr almost wondered if Duchane had
found her on some online prostitution site, the way she was dressed. And he
decided that must be the answer as soon as the pair started groping each other.
Casting a glare to the floor at his feet, Darr grumbled, “I
hate you.” He turned and muted his hearing as much as he dared, realizing they
weren’t taking their affair upstairs just yet.
“So he’s checking on your dad, huh?” Letty summarized later
that night, after Ainsley and Britt’s cousin had departed. The trio sat on the
limited living area furniture, Letty and Izzy on the futon and Britt curled up
in the comfy-looking armchair. Guest of honor got first pick of seating, after
“Yeah,” Izzy said with a nod. She tucked her legs beneath
her butt and added lightly, “Or it’s Darr’s present to Britt.”
“Ha ha,” Britt returned with a roll of her eyes. “Seriously,
Izzy, if you need to go, I’d totally understand.”
Izzy shook her head with an easy smile. “No, I’m not
worried. Darr’s good at what he does.” And that was absolutely true. She
doubted she’d even seen the extent of his strength. All she knew for sure was
that no one lasted long against him.
“Is that a well-rounded truism?” Letty asked suggestively,
eyebrows wiggling. “Exactly
Britt’s eyes went wide. “Izzy, have you slept with him? You
have, I’m sure. My God, Izzy!” But her tone wasn’t entirely accusatory.
Izzy felt her face redden. “Girls! No!”
“No, we haven’t slept
together. Not ever. Not even a kiss.” If she kept going she was sure the
disappointment and frustration of that reality would be blatantly apparent.
“Seriously?” Letty asked. “How have you kept that up? I
want to jump him after five minutes. Demon or not, that body is—”
“I get it!” Izzy said quickly, holding her hand up to cut
off Letty’s words. She paused, then, and looked between her friends. She was
alone—truly alone—for the first time in a
time. It wouldn’t last, but … why not take the opportunity? “Honestly,” she
began on a sigh, “it’s not that I haven’t wanted to.”
Both Letty’s and Britt’s expressions became curious and
they leaned forward. “Go on,” Letty urged.
Fighting her embarrassment, Izzy embraced her brief
freedom. “There’s not much to ‘go on’ about,” she admitted. “And that’s the
problem. I think I’ve been hot for him since high school, but of course I
couldn’t do anything about it.” She took a breath and slumped into the back of
the futon. “He’ll never touch me like that, though.”
“You definitely wanted him in high school,” Britt offered
with a knowing grin.
“How could she not? All those hormones and his sexy body
constantly around?” Letty snickered briefly before turning her gaze back to
Izzy. “But what’s the hold up now? You’re an adult, he’s still smokin’. I don’t
see the problem.”
Izzy frowned, tears stinging her eyes for the second time
that night. The real reason was also the reason she never made a move herself.
“It wouldn’t be right of me. With the Life Bond, he
to stay close and protect me. If he doesn’t want me like that,
he’d probably fake it just to make life easier for a while.” She returned her
gaze to her friends and quietly added, “I can’t force him into my bed like
that.” It’d be wrong on every level.
Both women frowned.
“But how do you know he isn’t interested?” Letty pushed.
“Couldn’t your father release him from the bond?” Britt
Izzy smiled a bit and shook her head. “Why would he be? I’m
the face of his servitude, essentially. I’m amazed he doesn’t hate me—or he
hides it insanely well. And no, a Life Bond is a permanent thing. Breakable
only by someone’s death.”
All three jumped at the unfamiliar male voice coming from
the back of the cabin. A male figure stepped into the yellow globe light, the
sneer on his lips assuring Izzy he wasn’t there to make friends.
“How did you get in here?” Britt demanded, pushing to her
“Britt,” Izzy called as she and Letty stood as well.
Clearly Britt wasn’t attuned to identifying demons like Izzy was.
“The usual way,” the demon returned. He switched his
sneering gaze to Izzy and added, “I don’t suppose you’re interested in
releasing Darr from the ties that bind?”
Izzy swallowed. “If you kill me he’ll die, too.”
“Supposedly.” The demon rushed her without warning,
knocking her off her feet and sending her friends diving out of the way.
Izzy crashed over the futon and into a wall, her body
aching from the impact. And he’d only hit her with his
. If he summoned a dark energy wave for her she’d be a goner.
Sometime in the first couple of years, Darr had taught her
a short, wordless spell she could use to call for him when he wasn’t already
beside her. He said it sent a jolt through him, alerting his senses to her
situation and pulling him to her practically without his consent. She hated
using it, but she couldn’t let this demon kill her. And he’d surely go for her
friends next if he succeeded in killing her. She couldn’t let that happen,
“Get up,” the demon commanded. An invisible hand wrapped
around her throat and hauled her mercilessly off the floor. She could barely
dig her bare toes into the wood floor. The demon smirked and cocked his head.
“Little Izzy Duchane,” he taunted, rolling his extended wrist slightly. The
force holding her throat rolled to match, straining the side of her neck.
A strong arm locked around the demon’s own throat and threw
him bodily backward. The demon rolled several times before his spine met with a
wrought iron bedpost.
Darr stalked up to him, his shoulders visibly tight beneath
his shirt, fists clenched at his sides. “You
” he growled, his deep voice full of venom and promises of
“W-wait!” the demon begged, pushing to his knees and
struggling to stand.
Darr yanked him to his feet and locked a hand around his
neck. Izzy couldn’t hear what he said next, but she didn’t need to. A cold
chill swept through the room, the overhead lights flickered, and the demon let
out a gurgled scream Izzy could barely hear. Darr released the corpse a moment
before it was consumed in black hellfire.
The chill faded. The lighting stabilized.
Izzy pushed herself to her knees, realizing her ankle had
twisted when her attacker’s concentration had snapped and she’d fallen. But
that was the least of her pains. She’d crashed into a metal bar and tumbled
into a solid wooden wall, cracking her head and at least one of her shoulders.
He made it…
“Izzy,” Darr called gently, dropping to a knee in front of
her as his hands landed on her shoulders. His touch was feather light as he
discerned her injuries. “I’m sorry.”
The guilt that choked his voice squeezed her heart.
“I’m okay,” she insisted. “Just some new bruises. No bikini
for me tomorrow.”
Darr frowned deeply. He clearly wasn’t appreciative of her
attempted humor. “I’m going to pick you up,” he warned. A heartbeat after she
nodded her understanding, he’d swept her into his arms. The movement sent some
new jolts of pain through her, but being settled and cradled against his
strong, broad chest countered that pain with encompassing warmth.
Izzy groaned faintly and let her head land on his shoulder
as he stood.
“Is she okay?” Britt asked quietly from somewhere behind
“She will be.”
“What about … other demons?” Letty asked hesitantly. “Will
there be more?”
“Unlikely,” Darr replied as he moved toward Izzy’s claimed
bed. He stepped right over the new scorch mark on the floor where the other
demon had died. He laid her down carefully before lifting his gaze to the two
watching women. “Could you give us privacy?” He worded it like a request, but
Izzy knew better. The last time she’d been injured—again in his brief absence,
no less—he’d nearly blown a hole in her roof. And her then-boyfriend had wasted
no time ending things, although she’d been kind of relieved about that part.
“Of course,” Britt said, catching Letty’s elbow. “Come on,
we’ll crash with Ainsley tonight.”
Letty nodded and after grabbing a change of clothes added,
“Take care of her.”
As if that needed to be said. If there was one thing Izzy
had learned over the years, it was that Darr would always be there for her.
After the door closed behind her friends Darr moved and sat
on the edge of the mattress at her side. He brushed some straggling orange-red
wisps from her face and said, “Your shoulder is dislocated. I can pop it back
into place, but it’ll hurt.”
Izzy cringed and her head rallied against her for it.
Releasing a heavy breath, she said, “Okay, let’s get it over with. Then can you
get the Aleve from my bag? I hit my head, too.”
Darr ran his hand over her head with a frown. Silence
ticked between them until he finally said, “Your head should be fine, it’s just
He helped Izzy to a sitting position, hovered his hands over
her shoulder, and told her to be sure not to bite her tongue. She locked her
jaw shut, closed her eyes, and did her best not to scream as searing pain shot
through her from her shoulder. It tore at her, lighting her senses on fire for
a minute before fading rapidly. “Ah.” She gasped when she was sure she wouldn’t
scream. “Wow, that hurt.”
“Does it feel better?” Darr asked, already kneeling before
her travel bag.
Izzy hesitated and cautiously rolled her shoulder. It was
sore, but it responded immediately, and it didn’t hurt nearly as bad. “Yes,
thank you,” she assured him.
Darr handed her the pills she’d requested and quickly
fetched her some water to take them with before sitting again beside her on the
bed. “I’m sorry, Izzy. I should have been here.”
She opened her mouth to tell him to shove the guilt
somewhere he’d never find it again when her brain re-engaged. “My dad! Is he
It was hard to miss Darr’s shudder of horror. And it took a
for her beloved macho demon to
shudder for any reason. “That depends. He may be working toward a heart attack,
but I refuse to intervene in that.”
Izzy knitted her brows. “What?”
Darr shook his head and reached out, resting his hand
gingerly over the sore on head. “It’s nothing. Nothing suspicious was happening,
unless you count his latest companion’s attraction to him. You should lie back
Izzy did her best not to swoon at the touch and knew he was
right. She usually had better control than that. “Ew. Yeah, never mind.”
His lips twitched and hers did the same. She let him help
her ease down to the pillow and did her best to help him unfold the covers for
her. But as he pulled them over her, something stumbled in her chest. She
caught his wrist when it was near enough and he stilled immediately.
“Darr,” she whispered, locking her gaze with his. “Please
stay with me tonight.”
He shifted her hold on him until he had cupped her hand
between his. “I’ll be right beside you.”
Izzy smiled and scooted as best she could to one side.
“Then get comfy.”
Oh yeah, your head’s
bad, dummy. He’ll see right
But that didn’t necessarily mean he’d decline.
Darr’s eyes flicked to the spot she’d made before returning
to hers. He said nothing for a long second, his expression unreadable. Then,
finally, he replied, “If that’s what you want.” Izzy watched as he toed off his
boots and pulled back the comforter again in order to slide beneath. And she
had the silliest realization that his feet probably hung off the bed with how
tall he was.
He slipped his arm beneath her neck and gently assured her
it was okay to roll into him, which she wasted no time in doing. With her head
tucked beneath his jaw and her ear over his heart, Izzy sighed. His scent
invaded her nostrils and his steady heartbeat soothed her rattled nerves. Maybe
he’d never love her, or even want her, but at least he was good to her. At
least she had a few scattered moments like this she could treasure.