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Authors: Allison Merritt

Tags: #demons;romance;curses;family;siblings;old West

Tell

BOOK: Tell
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Half demon, all male…one woman strong enough to love him.

The Heckmasters
, Book 3

Knowing the day will come when his demon blood will overcome his humanity, Tell Heckmaster has been searching for a miracle. Something,
anything
, to counteract the spell. So far, he's come up empty.

Just as the town of Berner has finally found peace, Tell's worst fears manifest. Strange, new powers are tearing at his finely honed control. Putting everyone—including the pretty seamstress he's kept at arm's length—in terrible danger.

Sylvie Duke has everything she needs. Everything except Tell, who doesn't seem to own a lick of sense. His resistance only strengthens her resolve to stay by his side, driven by a nameless inner knowing that without her, all will be lost.

Reluctantly, Tell is forced to admit that the closer he is to Sylvie, the better he's able to quell his demon. But when a cryptic warning from an old ally tips the balance, nothing—not even love—may be strong enough to protect Berner from the raging fires of hell.

Warning: Contains a woman who can handle a hatchet with as much skill as a needle, and a man whose touch can transport her to heaven. Or hell. Accidentally, of course. Readers may wish to invest in an asbestos suit. Potholders just aren't going to cut it.

Tell

Allison Merritt

Acknowledgments

I can't believe my journey into the weird and alternative past with the Heckmaster brothers has come to an end. It seems like I started writing Wystan yesterday and at the same time, it feels like a hundred years ago. I spent a crazy-hot summer getting that first book down in my computer. I wasn't sure where it would end, and writing Tell was powerfully hard because I love these characters so much. But here we are. I have a small army of people to thank for undertaking the Heckmaster journey with me.

Lisa Medley allowed me to brainstorm with her when the Heckmasters were just a twinkle in my eye. The idea was kind of bizarre and out there, but she encouraged it. Never doubt the magic powers of critique partners. Lisa, you're one of a kind. Thanks for letting me bounce demon cowboys off of you.

Brenda Dyer helped me get the submission for the 2013 Weta Nichols contest straightened out. She's always been supportive and enthusiastic no matter what I show her. You're one in a million, Brenda!

The Weta judges were amazingly enthusiastic about the Heckmasters. I've had contest results come back full of negative stuff, but these ladies were constructive, helpful and positive. Because of that, I believed the Heckmasters wouldn't be shunned as way too weird. Accepting the award for Wystan was a serious highlight in my writing career. Thank you for seeing the potential.

Holly Atkinson is my faithful, upbeat editor at Samhain Publishing. Your kind and inspiring words got me through that very shaky pitch at the Ozarks Romance Writers conference. I was scared to death, obviously, and even more scared when I sent Wystan to you. On the other hand, I was thrilled when you said you'd give me time to think about the contract, even though I really just wanted to write back, “Yes, yes, yes, sign me up!” At one point in my writing career, I honestly believed Samhain was way out of my league. Thank you so much for believing in the Heckmasters, Holly. I look forward to working with you again.

My mom reads everything I write and even though demon cowboys aren't really her thing, she still encouraged my writing. Thanks, Mom. I was really surprised and happy when you said Eban was pretty good. It gave me hope before I shuffled it off to Holly.

Kanaxa is my cover artist and she continued to capture the spirit of Berner and the Heckmasters with every cover. Your book jackets are really inspiring.

Everyone at Samhain who worked hard to help promote the Heckmasters, who agreed to let Holly work her magic, who signed (or stamped) a royalty check. To those who licked the stamp that sent the checks (maybe those are stamped instead of licked, I forget)… you're part of my book family. I appreciate you.

I owe huge thank-yous to everyone who gave me a “like”, a “plus”, a share or re-tweet on social media. To everyone who hosted one of my Heckmasters. To everyone who left a review or entered a contest promoting the boys. To anyone who ever even mentioned “Heckmasters”, “demon cowboys”, or “Allison has totally lost her mind with Wystan, Eban, and Tell”. Even the people who didn't like the Heckmasters know who I am. That counts.

You guys make the world go 'round. I once said on Facebook, “My peeps are the best peeps who ever dared in peepdom.” A truer status was never updated.

Dedication

For Pete, my own personal Dochi. There's nothing more beautiful than looking into the eyes of a creature who loves you unconditionally.

When good men die their goodness does not perish, but lives though they are gone. As for the bad, all that was theirs dies and is buried with them.

—Euripides

Chapter One

The dried blood in his eyes and hair crackled like mud as Tell Heckmaster sneered. He was painted with it, but he had something else—fire in his fingertips. He picked himself up out of the sandy dirt as heat surged through his body. It started in his chest like he'd swallowed a coal and seeped into his arms and hands. The fire begged to be used.

The cyclops let out a roar and sprang forward, swinging his spiked club.

Sparks snapped on Tell's skin, bright in the pre-dawn darkness. His muscles were weak, failing from the blood loss, but the fire flared and shot toward the one-eyed demon advancing on him. Flames swelled as they surrounded the monster. Orange lightened to pink and silver while the fire pouring from his hands remained the hottest blue. Tell gritted his teeth as the cyclops screamed and flailed.

The heat was immense, hotter than a forge, and the creature went up like it had been doused in kerosene. After a moment, it stopped screaming and collapsed in the dirt. It twitched—pure nerve reflex, not from any life left in it. The fire burned on.

Tell swayed as the heat inside him faded. He lifted his hands, but they looked the same as they always had. Not a blister, not a charred mark revealed what he'd done. He didn't feel any different—except for the throbbing pain in his chest from the monster's club and cuts on his face where it had backhanded him. One of his teeth wiggled as he pressed his tongue to it. The cyclops had a nasty haymaker. He spat blood at the corpse and cradled his left arm to his chest, over the ribs that felt like they'd been smashed to fragments.

The fire licking at the cyclops went out and all that was left was a pile of ashes. He kicked the ashes and they scattered. The vague outline of the crispy creature collapsed into a shape no human would recognize as something that had once been alive.

His horse was long gone and he was half a mile from Berner. The good news was the cyclops hadn't made it into town. On the other hand, he was pretty sure he was going to pass out and probably choke to death on his own vomit. Hell of a way to go.

Over the throb of his heartbeat in his ears, the sound of hoofbeats reached him. His horse or someone out for a ride?

Double hoofbeats—two horses. Maybe it meant rescue. He closed his eyes. How in God's name would he ever drag himself up on the back of a horse?

Assuming whoever it was even wanted to help him. His thighs trembled. He reached for the small silver dagger that hung off his belt. It was gone. The empty sheath mocked him.

Shit.

The horses came closer and the sun inched over the horizon. On its first pale gold rays, Sylvie Duke rode across the desert. She didn't look like a rescuer, wearing a stupid-looking hat decorated in flowers and feathers that waved in the wind or in her velvet riding habit trimmed with ivory lace. Her dark golden hair whipped behind her like a Crusader's banner.

He dropped to his knees and the breath went out of him at the bone-jarring pain. If he got down, she'd never get him up. Well, not entirely true. Even if he died, he figured she'd still have the same kind of effect on him. The girl had blossomed into the kind of woman a man couldn't get out of his mind. He had a pretty good idea that a corset was only enhancing her figure, but she could hold her own without it.

“Tell!”

That second horse was his, a leggy paint that shied at the first hint of blood or full demons. A useless quality for a man who hunted the darkness that still sometimes rose out of the desert. These days, Tell so rarely crossed paths with monsters, he hadn't worried about a skittish horse for years. Lesson learned.

Her horse, now he was a fearless animal with all the loyalty of a king's soldier. While Tell's horse snorted and danced, Sylvie's planted his hooves on the ground and didn't budge.

She knelt beside him and put her cool hands on either side of his face. “What happened?”

Her eyes were huge behind the shiny lenses in her spectacles. Brown eyes, the color of caramel—to match her sweet smile. They'd always captivated him. “What are you doing here?”

“Your horse showed up in town all alone while I was walking to the shop. I came looking for you. It seems like I found some leftover parts a demon didn't want.” She laughed, but it had a slightly hysterical note to it.

“You always were funny, Sylvie.” He drew in a ragged breath. “You didn't even ask how bad the other guy looks.”

“I'm not sure I want to find out.” A whole lot of worry darkened her pretty features. Only Sylvie would ride out into the unknown to find him without alerting one of his too-protective brothers first. The girl had more balls than the three Heckmasters put together.

He met her gaze. “You know Jeffrey Spinner's a twat.”

She jerked away. “What?”

“I never liked him. He's not good enough for you.” Tell's head spun. If his battle with the cyclops killed him, it was important that she know what a shithead Spinner was.

The desert was a dizzying array of red and brown with some yellow thrown in. Against the sky bursting with pink and purple, it looked just as horrible and unforgiving as it was. “I hate this place too. I don't want to die here.”

“You're not going to die. You think I'd let that happen?” She gripped the collar of his shirt and yanked. Buttons flew in all directions. Sylvie looked prim and proper on the outside, but she wouldn't know propriety if it bit her on her sweet, round ass.

She gasped at the sight of his chest and he didn't think it was because of his impressive muscle tone. His whole left side was purplish-blue and bloodstained. “I'll be fine in a few hours. I need some sleep, that's all.”

She didn't look convinced. “You need Eban. What did this?” Her voice was soft, choked.

“Cyclops. Eight feet tall and he smelled like ten days' worth of death.” He smiled again. “You shouldn't be out here alone.”

“I'm not alone. I have you.” She moved to his right side and slung his arm over her neck.

He closed his eyes. She didn't know it, but that was the truth. Since the minute he'd pulled her out of the hidden room in Eban's clinic when she was twelve years old, crying for her sister who'd been taken by a backstabbing echidna, he'd vowed to protect her. Until Hell opened up and swallowed them, or she took her last breath. Whichever happened first.

“Don't have much, do you, Sylvie?”

For a woman who looked about as useful as a porcelain doll, she was strong. She pushed to her feet and moved him like an expert cowhand bossing an unruly steer.

“What did you mean about Jeffrey?”

He was on his feet, unsteady, but already taking a step in the right direction. “What I said. He's not good enough for you.”

“Why should you get to decide who's good enough?” She grunted under his weight as she pushed him toward his horse.

“He's good, I guess, for some woman. Pretty face, plenty of money, but they say things about him at the saloon. He's not always nice.” Tell swallowed a yelp as the ground dipped, he missed his step, and his broken ribs shifted.

“You're saying I should stop seeing him.”

“I'm saying he's a twat and he doesn't deserve you.” Five more steps to the horse. One challenge at a time. Bonus if he could turn Sylvie off Jeffrey.

“That's vulgar. He's not a… He's always been a perfect gentleman around me.” She stopped in front of her horse. “Ride Champion. He's got a smoother gait and he doesn't care if you bleed all over him.”

“I'm still bleeding?”

She showed him her hand, slick and red. “You need Eban.”

“I need my bed. I'll be fine in a few hours if I can get some sleep.” His demon heritage afforded him that much. He healed much quicker than a human. By tomorrow morning, he'd be good as new.

“You're not in the position to make any decisions right now. Get on the horse. I'm taking you to the clinic.”

He swayed again. “Only if you agree to stop seeing Jeffrey.”

“Fine. It's over.” She stared at him, her expression solemn. Sunlight glared off her lenses.

The one thing about her that had always frustrated him was that he couldn't see into her head. Everyone else was open, their thoughts clear when he searched them. He knew demons, could sense them in a crowd. Humans were like mirrors. He could feel their every emotion. Sylvie's mind was behind a locked door made of iron. She could lie to him all day long and it would never set off alarms in his head. He'd never told her that, never told anyone that.

“You promise?”

“Cross my heart,” she answered. “I'll tell him as soon as I can.”

“You've never broken a promise to me.” Bile burned his throat as he gripped the saddle horn. He kept his gaze on her as he lifted his foot to the stirrup. His ribcage brushed the horse's side and he almost lost his grip on the leather.

“I never will.”

Her next words were lost as he hauled himself up and she pushed him from behind. White light flared in front of his eyes. He slouched over Champion's neck, unable to breathe, think, or speak. He would have slid right over the horse's back if she hadn't grabbed and straightened him.

“It's only a few minutes. Eban will sort you out.”

“He's going to kill me after he fixes me.” He hissed through the pain.

Sylvie mounted and took Champion's reins. She nudged them in the direction of Berner and every single step brought agony.

A strangled noise brought him out of his daze.

Tears glittered on Sylvie's face.

“You're crying.” He sat up a little straighter. Pain or no pain, he'd find the asshole who made Sylvie cry and make him pay for it.

“I'm crying for you, you idiot.” She wiped away the tears. “If I hadn't come along—”

“You'd have married Jeffrey Spinner, gotten trapped in a loveless marriage, and ruined the rest of your life. I'd have killed him and made up some bullshit story to avoid going on the run. Then you'd hate me because I killed him and we'd both spend the rest of our lives miserable.” He slouched again, his nose nearly buried in Champion's mane.

“You'd be dead.” Her words were flat. “And I'd never marry anyone because my heart would be too broken to bear the idea of living with someone who couldn't compare to you.”

I'm delirious. Out of my mind.
“What?”

“I said, be quiet and save your strength.”

Delirious. He wasn't getting enough air to his brain and he was hearing things. Hell, for all he knew, none of this was real. He laid his cheek on Champion's neck. Sylvie said something, but her words were garbled.

The next thing he knew, hands pulled at him and someone was swearing in a steady stream. Alarmed, he called the fire sleeping in his chest. It snapped to his fingers and he wrapped his hand around a throat.

“Goddammit,” Wystan snarled. “It's me, you asshole. What are you doing?”

Eban bent over him, his face pale, mouth an unhappy slash, blue eyes narrowed with concern. “I don't have time for that.” He pressed on Tell's chest. “Those lower three ribs are broken up like jigsaw pieces. He's bleeding internally. God only knows from where.”

“The little shit tried to set me on fire,” Wystan snapped.

Eban glared. “I'll let him do it again if you don't help me get him to surgery. You can both be pigheaded another time.”

“Where's Sylvie?” The harsh, soapy tang of the clinic filled his nose. He hated it here among all the tools that sliced and needles that jabbed, but none of it was meant for destroying demons.

A cool hand brushed his forehead. “I'm right here.” Light bounced off her spectacles. “Eban's going to help you.”

“Remember what you promised.”

“I do. Don't worry about that. Let's get you better.” She smiled. Tears rimmed her lower eyelids.

Beside her, another face swam into focus. Tell blinked. He hadn't seen her in years, but he'd never forget her. “Sandra.”

“Tell?” Sylvie's voice was fading as though she'd left the room. Her face shimmered.

Sandra appeared the same as she had the last time he'd seen her. Dark blue eyes, glossy brown hair, and hard-earned gracefulness that belied her fifteen years.
“I'm sorry,”
she whispered.

“Am I going to die?”

“Everyone dies, little brother.”
She slipped her warm hand over his.
“But you're not ready yet. I'm sorry for my part in what happens.”

“You're not going to die, Tell.” Sylvie's sounded an ocean away.

“You'll be all right,”
Sandra said.

“Wys, take Sylvie out of here. Jesus, Tell, I swear if you die…” Eban made a low growling sound.

Sandra smiled as the rest of the world faded.

BOOK: Tell
6.65Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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