Authors: Allison Merritt
Tags: #demons;romance;teacher;sheriff;curses;family;siblings;old West;small town;historical;alternate history
If love can't save them, there will be hell to pay.
The Heckmasters, Book 2
Grateful for his mother's human blood that cools the dark fire of his demon father, Eban Heckmaster has set up a medical practice in New Mexico territory. But there's no hope of living a normal life until he rids himself of a seductive demon that's been pursuing him.
Vanquishing it won't be as simple as sharpening his demon-hunting sword. The clever creature is hiding inside his best friend's head, and she has no idea of the havoc she's been wreaking, especially with his body.
Beryl suspects Eban knows why she's been waking up with no memory of where she's been or what she's done, but he's not talking. But when she inevitably learns what he's hidingâor rather, what's hiding inside
âshe wonders if her love for him is real, or an illusion created by the demon's lust.
Eban is losing the battle to hold his rising desire in check. There may be only one way to extricate Beryl from the beast entangling her mind. Call upon his demon bloodâ¦and offer it as a sacrifice.
Warning: Contains a half-human, half-demon doctor who can heal anyone except himself, and a woman who'd blush if she could remember the sensuous torture she's been inflicting on him. Could make you wonder if you should start listening to the voices in your headâ¦
Eban Heckmaster dreamed of becoming tangled in a river of gold. Soft and silky upon entering, it turned deadly within moments. He couldn't breathe as it filled his nose. It bound his wrists, his ankles, blocked his vision. So much and so warm, sweat broke out across his body.
He'd die cradled in a gilded nest.
And he was fine with that.
Anything was better than living with the knowledge that his brother had taken the woman Eban loved as his bride hours ago.
Eban's lungs ached for breath and his eyes shot open. Startled by weight settling on his abdomen, he tried to sit up, but two small hands held him down. Thanks to his demon blood, it only took a moment to adjust to the dark. In the nonexistent light, he peered up at Beryl Brookshier's angelic face. She gave him a wicked smile as long strands of wheat-blonde hair tickled his bare chest. He sucked in a breath when he realized she was naked and a sheet was the only thing separating her from his raging erection.
“What are you doing?”
The second the words were out of his mouth, Eban knew he wasn't talking to Beryl.
“Ravish me, Ebaneezer.”
The demon used Beryl's voice and body, but the thing talking to him was far from human. The notion of taking its head off and sparing himself a lot of trouble was tempting. If not for the real Beryl's trusting green eyes and bashful smile.
“That stopped being funny the first time you got naked in front of me.”
She caressed his cheek. “You were dreaming. I was trying to make your dreams more pleasant.”
He slapped her hands away. “You thought you'd tempt me into bedding you and then letting some other parasite into my brain. That's not going to happen, Rosemar.”
“You want this body. Why deny it, Heckmaster?” The lust demon glowered at him, her irritation creasing the smooth face she borrowed.
“Get off me.” He pushed her away, then grabbed the sheet as she slid off his chest. “What I want is for you to vacate it, leaving Beryl's mind intact so I can get out of Berner.”
Her pique faded, replaced by a sultry smile. “We've lain awake at night imagining the coupling. This body twined around yours, the friction of skin on skin. Hard muscles meeting soft curves. Lips touchingâ¦lips.” Her green eyes brightened mischievously. “Miss Brookshier has quite an imagination.”
He tensed, flushing at her descriptions, but revulsion held his desire at bay. “She's there with you, right now?”
Rosemar waved a hand. “She's locked away, but she's not as innocent as you seem to think. This body is familiar with masculine touch.”
Eban suppressed a groan. “It's none of my business. Nothing I'm interested in exploring.”
“Your body suggests otherwise. A simple sexual escapade isn't a lifetime commitment.” She twisted a strand of hair around her finger, pouting while she batted her eyelashes.
“It is where demons are concerned. You can't stay in there forever, you know.” He sat against the headboard, trying to ignore the way she pressed her breasts forward.
“Can't I?” The wicked grin returned. “You can't get rid of me without killing her. You know that.”
Anger sparked in Rosemar's eyes, sharper and meaner than human emotion. “I don't know why you care. She doesn't mean anything to you.”
Pain stabbed Eban's chest. He turned his face away, trying not to think about Rhia's hazel eyes, her soft Virginia accent, or the way she laughed when he said something funny. Beryl was an attractive woman now that she was beginning to gain weight after her long illness, but she wasn't the one he loved.
“You're wasting time thinking about her.” Rosemar sounded bored.
“I'm not going to let you kill an innocent woman by wearing her body down to nothing.” He glowered, but nothing seemed to frighten Rosemar. Even Wystan, who'd beheaded his share of parasite demons, had no effect on this one.
“I was talking about Rhia.” She put a warm hand on Eban's shoulder. “Seere orchestrated their meeting so the three of you could defeat Noem. Without Rhia and Wystan, there is no Berner. There's no Heckmasters. No future.”
Eban shrugged her hand off. He closed his eyes, sifting through memories of the battle with Noem and his legion of lesser demons. Years ago, Eban had tried to make a normal life for himself in another city while getting his doctor's degree, but his younger brother Tell had called him back to treat a vicious wound Wystan had obtained at Noem's hand. Tell and a weather deity had run Noem out of town that time. Eban had stayed, putting his dreams away. They'd been guarding a sealed portal to Hell for as long as he could remember, but Astaroth, the reigning prince, constantly sent his minions through gaps in the seals, offering them great rewards for bringing the Heckmasters back. Their father's redemption had doomed the three of them to remain in this cursed town forever, fighting monsters until they died.
Then when it seemed like Rhia Duke would give Eban the chance to escape, she went and fell in love with his boneheaded brother. Worse than that, she'd unwittingly allowed Noem to drive her right into Berner, where he planned to capture her and give her to Astaroth. In the fight, Wystan had been gored by a minotaur, but he'd used his demon blood to overcome death and save the dayâwith Seere's help, because the normally neutral Gray Side couldn't keep their noses out of Heckmaster business.
Rosemar claimed she was inhabiting Beryl's body at Seere's command, and she'd proven herself useful in a fight, but none of the Heckmasters trusted her. It was clear that no matter what her orders, she had her own motives for choosing Beryl as a host.
Angry when he should be gratefulâhe didn't really want Wys deadâEban balled the sheet in his fists. “I doubt Wystan and Rhia would be too happy to know Seere thinks he's God now.”
Rosemar chuckled. “We all aspire to godliness, don't we? You by playing doctor, me by manipulating feelings. That's what makes us so perfect for each other.”
She ran her finger over her lips and rose, swaying her hips in an exaggerated manner as she left. Eban swallowed hard.
He'd always known demons would be the death of him, but he'd never imagined it would be at the hands of one who looked like Beryl.
Gravel crunched under Eban's feet when he approached the jailhouse where Tell was filling in as sheriff for Wystan. Even in the middle of the night, Tell was awake, alert and watchful. He'd positioned a chair to lean against the jailhouse wall while he whittled a stick with his pocketknife.
Eban stared at the ground between his feet so he wouldn't have to look Tell in the eye. The moment Eban had stepped up to the jailhouse, a familiar concerned frown had crossed his brother's features. Despite the changes Berner had seen over the last couple of weeks, the air was still hot and dry, the sky barren of clouds that might bring rain. Sweat beaded around Eban's shirt collar, making the material stick to his skin.
“I need the grimoire.” Four little words sent a ripple through the town. Maybe no one else felt it, but for him, they were heavy weight. “If Beryl's going to survive this, I have to use it.”
“Are you out of your mind? No one uses the grimoire.” Tell dropped his pocketknife, hand fluttering above the row of silver-tipped crossbow bolts on his belt. “Even if you could use it, you'd run the risk of breaking the seals. I'll be damned if I'm going to let that happen.”
Eban didn't bother pointing out that they were all probably damned anyway.
Lesser Key of Solomon
was a book their father had tricked Astaroth out of and used against him to create the shield over the Pit. He understood Tell's reluctance to reveal the book's location. It held powerful spells and conjurings that required a dedicated hand to understand, much less use. Though he was younger than Eban by two years, Tell was regarded as the one with the most skill for handling objects like a grimoire. Even Wystan hadn't protested when Tell ripped the book into five sections and hid them around town. Wystan and Eban felt it was owed to him because the Key was the reason no one could utter Tell's real name without unleashing a demon so powerful, it would wipe out what remained of Berner before starting in on the rest of the world.
“I'm not going to break the seals. I won't read a single word out loud unless you approve it first. There might be something in there about banishing Rosemar. If we don't get her out of Beryl's head soon, God only knows what will happen.”
“Rosemar isn't mentioned in the Key. She's a legionnaire, a minor demon causing trouble because Seere gave her permission to obtain a body. The only way to banish minor demons isâ” Tell drew his finger across his throat. “You're wasting time looking for a cure when there isn't one. Every day that lust demon takes a little more of Beryl. You'll wake up one morning with the hatchet you gave her buried in your skull. And then one of us will be forced to kill her. Might as well save yourself some trouble right now.”
Eban's temper flared. “Then I'll summon Seere and I'll have him find the Key.”
Tell laughed, but it was harsh. “He's not going to help you banish a minor demon he put in a human body.”
“He can't refuse if I call him,” Eban argued.
“You can't save her, Eb. Not unless Rosemar agrees to leave on her own, and clearly she has other plans.” Tell ran his hand through his dark hair. His shoulders slumped. “The Key won't help you.”
They knew almost nothing about Rosemar. Only that she was something like a parasite imp. She needed a host body to survive outside of Hell or the Gray Lands. She stole memories, controlled the body she possessed, fought like a madman when the need called for it, and didn't care that she was destroying Beryl. Her acquisition of a human body had almost worn it to nothingâwould have if she hadn't arrived in Berner when she did.
Failure wasn't something Eban could live with. Not when he thought about Beryl's cheerful smiles, the way she cared for Sylvie and Rhia. Most of all, he didn't think he could stand back and watch while his brothers killed another person he cared about.
“I'm not Wystan. I can't take a knife and slit her throat.”
Tell's face hardened. “I can't speak for Wys, but when he says he killed Sandra because there was nothing else he could do, I believe him.”
“You're too young to remember. You were just a kid. There must have been something we could have done.” Eban shook his head. Hardly a day went by that he didn't think about his older sister, about how he might've extracted the parasite imp given time. God knew they'd tried their best to contain herâitâbut it had escaped and gone after Wystan in the night.
Tell paced the length of the boardwalk. “I remember plenty. I know enough to know that if you got your hands on the Key, you'd use it to summon one of the dukes or princes who could give you information. They'll do it all right, but you won't like the price. You're not Solomon. You're not gonna outsmart one of them with some herbs, metal and circles. Besides, if Wystan knewâ”
“The hell with Wystan!” Eban bounded up the steps, pinning Tell against the jail wall with his palms. “He's not here. He's gallivanting around Santa Fe with his wife. He doesn't care because he's happy now, he has a new purpose. Where does that leave us?”
“You want to get your hands off me.” Tell's voice was quiet, but his eyes had gone from blue to red and he gripped Eban's wrists with strength. “You ought to back up and think about what you're doing here. What you're asking.”
He stepped back, balling his fists. “I'm trying to save a life.”
“At what cost? Is one life worth releasing something that might take dozens or hundreds of lives?”
“I don't know what else to do for her. You can't ask me to stand back and watch her die.” His voice cracked. “I saved her once. I can do it again.”
“She's human. She's not going to live forever. Mortals have a short lifespan. Even
can't last much longer than the average human.” Tell's mouth flattened into a line. “I'm sorry, Eb.”
His nails bit into his palms, but did nothing to mask the pain of failure.
“You want to hit me because I'm telling the truth?” his brother asked. “Go ahead. It won't solve anything.”
Eban took another step backward. The one thing he'd always known hung so plainly in front of his faceâhe couldn't do a damned thing to protect anyone.
He was completely useless. His whole life, he'd prided himself on being like their mother. She'd been the voice of reason, the steady hand in trying times. Their father had a quick temper, like a stick of dynamite with a short fuse, although he was difficult to rile. Eban had always been slow to anger. Until recently.
Enough was enough. He had to leave town or he'd explode one day.
“You can't blame yourself. She was probably worth saving before Rosemar got a hold of her. I'd help you if I thought there was a way, you know that.” Tell used a gentler tone, the one he reserved for soothing frightened animals.
It served for pissing Eban off. He wasn't a child to be pacified. Perfect Tell, slaying demons without batting an eye, seeing through lies almost before they passed through a person's lips, scouring the mind for imps and possessing a voice that worked like a mild sedative. To hell with him too.
“You won't even give her a chance. Forget it. I don't want your help.”
He stomped down the steps to the street, striding toward the clinic. Tell didn't bother trying to stop him.