Authors: Paula Altenburg
Tags: #magic, #entangled publishing, #paranormal romance, #Demons, #opposites attract, #entangled edge, #Post-apocalyptic, #godesses, #Western
Never show fear to a demon...
When the Godseeker assassin Creed investigates stories of children gone missing, the trail leads him to an isolated ranch that is rumored to be involved in the slave trade. The owner of the ranch orders the enslaved Nieve to find any weakness in Creed that can be used against him to stop his investigation.
But Creed’s secrets are buried deep. Or so he believes.
Nieve, who knows the intensity of an immortal’s allure firsthand, recognizes the demon in Creed at once. Fun-loving and irresistible to most women, Creed tries to keep his identity hidden, ease her fears and get to the truth the best way he knows how. Seduction.
But Nieve has her own secret—a demon who once tricked her and their half demon son who was sold into slavery.
In a race against the clock, she’ll do whatever it takes to get her child back, even if it means putting her trust in Creed.
This book is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents are the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual events, locales, or persons, living or dead, is coincidental.
Copyright © 2014 by Paula Altenburg. All rights reserved, including the right to reproduce, distribute, or transmit in any form or by any means. For information regarding subsidiary rights, please contact the Publisher.
Entangled Publishing, LLC
2614 South Timberline Road
Fort Collins, CO 80525
Visit our website at
Entangled Edge is an imprint of Entangled Publishing, LLC.
Edited by Kerri-Leigh Grady and Marie Loggia-Kee
Cover design by Kim Killion
Manufactured in the United States of America
First Edition June 2014
For Annie Fox, Katie Armstrong, and Patricia McKinstry. Loved and missed.
Three against one were not good odds for the thin young boy with the dark hair and angry eyes.
At first glance, however, it seemed like any other adolescent dispute, with at least one bloody nose or black eye inevitable, so Creed paid it no mind and moved on.
He had not come to the very edge of what was once demon territory to intervene in children’s squabbles. Rumors of their quiet disappearance from several villages in and around the Godseeker Mountains were what had led him here, to a town called Desert’s End, when duty called him elsewhere.
He was supposed to be hunting a demon spawn named Willow on behalf of the Godseekers. While the rest of the mortal world rejoiced over the banishment of demons after more than three hundred years of occupation, Willow had somehow raised one and used it to slay an entire village of innocents. Creed intended to see her brought to justice. Not only was it his duty as a Godseeker assassin—trained to enforce the goddesses’ will by use of any means necessary—but Willow’s actions had nearly killed his half-sister, Raven.
Demons hated spawn. The thought of them working together was troubling, and a possibility that Creed dared not ignore. He’d been informed that Willow was fleeing Godseeker territory and appeared to be headed for the Borderlands, where the world ended. Creed couldn’t risk losing her trail. If his curiosity about the missing children wasn’t satisfied soon, he would have to move on.
Children, however, deserved justice too. Facing it, as well as receiving it. If they were being abandoned rather than sold, as the stories intimated, then a man had to wonder if there was something unusual about them.
He was pushing his way through the throng of people swarming the boardwalk, seeking the local jail and its sheriff, when it struck him that the altercation in the alley he had just witnessed was not all it seemed. He had passed over it too quickly, as if his attention had been turned from it.
Which meant at least one of the boys had the ability to sway people’s actions and thoughts—a talent for demon compulsion that was almost as great as Creed’s own.
He retraced his steps.
A narrow dirt alley separated the stable from the postal station and hotel next door. Inside that alley, out of the sun and away from prying adult eyes, two boys, approximately fourteen years of age, lay gasping for breath on the ground. One held his stomach. The other, his ribs. Neither appeared inclined, or able, to move.
A third boy, heavier set and taller than his companions, possibly a year older, dabbed at the blood trickling from his nose with the blunt of his wrist. He faced the smallest and youngest boy—the one with the angry eyes Creed had first noticed.
So far the combatants had not noted his presence, and Creed pressed himself against a wall to watch and listen. He saw nothing wrong with a boy defending himself against bullies. It was how he chose to do so that could lead to problems.
“I warned you. I can take care of myself,” the skinny boy said. He might have been thirteen, at the most. He doubled his hands into fists and held them clenched at his sides, ready to use.
The cruelty in the older boy’s expression indicated to Creed that he was unlikely to concede defeat to what he perceived to be a punier victim. “And I told you that you aren’t wanted here, you little freak.”
One of the younger boy’s fists lashed out in response to the insult.
The bully’s head rocked backward. The flesh over one cheekbone splotched a deepening red that would purple by morning. Instead of backing off, he dropped his chin and charged at the younger boy like an incensed bull kyson. As the younger boy skipped to one side to avoid him, the subtle yet familiar tug of demon compulsion touched the edge of Creed’s thoughts.
The older boy did not veer from his original course but plowed on, ramming headfirst into the side of the hotel. He staggered a few steps, reeling, before his eyes rolled back to expose the whites. With a soft, almost surprised-sounding sigh hissing from his throat, his knees buckled, and he dropped to the ground, unconscious.
The other two boys, seeing their friend fall, rediscovered their mobility. They scurried, scorpion-like, from the alley on their hands and knees, ignorant of Creed’s presence even as they brushed past him. Out on the street, they got to their feet and ran as if the Demon Lord himself were chasing them.
In the alley, the dark-haired, angry-eyed boy kicked the one he had felled, now semi-conscious and drooling in the dirt. The blow was halfhearted and had no real malice behind it.
“Stupid,” the boy muttered, his voice low, as if speaking to himself.
“Him or you?”
The boy looked up at Creed, his expressive eyes widening with caution at the discovery he was not alone. He glanced behind him. The alley ended in a huge manure pile at the back of the stable. It would be too soft from the rain and the heat for anyone to safely climb, and there were few worse deaths imaginable than suffocating in dung.
The boy bolted for the street.
Creed peeled himself away from the wall of the hotel. He easily caught the collar of the boy’s homespun shirt, swinging him off his feet and holding him up so that their noses were inches apart.
“What’s the matter, boy?” he asked, keeping his tone conversational, testing him to see how he’d react to discovery. “You think you’re the only one in the world who can make others see and do what you want? Or that you’re the strongest and fastest spawn who ever lived?”
The boy didn’t deny the accusation, but instead struggled in earnest. He kicked a boot at Creed’s knee, but Creed, now that he knew for certain what he was dealing with, was prepared for a fight and easily evaded it. He could have compelled the boy into submission, but that was not how he wanted to deal with this situation.
He continued to dangle the boy at eye level. “What were you thinking, using your talents like that?” he asked. “No one will believe you bested three boys in a fight—and all of them bigger than you. Questions will be asked.”
The boy’s face turned sullen, rebellion displacing the anger in his gray eyes. “I don’t care what anyone believes or what they ask. I don’t have to hide what I am from mortals anymore. I don’t answer to them.”
Creed was not unsympathetic. The problem, however, was far greater than this boy and his talent for compulsion. The world had once believed that any offspring produced through demon matings with mortal women were male, and born in monster form. These monsters, whenever discovered, had been killed at birth.
Although still less than a year since demons had been banished from the earth, in that brief time it had become increasingly apparent to the Godseekers Creed served that the number of half demons left behind had been underestimated. They were not all male, and not all born in monster form. Many had managed to hide what they were, either out of a natural instinct for self-preservation, or because of mothers who protected them despite knowing what they were.
Even more troubling, any powers inherited by demon offspring seemed to be strengthening and developing.
The mortal world was ill prepared to deal with such spawn. Hatred for them ran deep and was almost universal. Already, mortals were taking steps to eradicate them, and the boy would be foolish not to understand the danger he faced. No demon talents he had inherited would save him in the end.
Creed set the boy on his feet but kept a grip on his arm. “Even so,” he said, “the memory of demon rule remains too fresh. There’s widespread fear that they might someday return. If you can avoid such confrontations with mortals, why not do so? What if your actions today draw the attention of someone who’s more dangerous to you than those three bullies could ever be?”
The boy’s lip curled. “I’m not afraid of anyone.”
His arrogance did not surprise Creed, who possessed a fair amount of his own. Half demons, like their full demon fathers, did not experience fear in the same way mortals did. They instinctively suppressed and controlled it, and used it to their advantage. Sometimes that confidence made them stupid and overbold, as this boy’s actions proved today.
But half demons were not always evil and dangerous. Creed and his sister were proof enough of that. Or he liked to believe so.
He wavered, torn between doing his duty and what he believed to be right. He was not without sympathy for a child who would have experienced a lifetime of injustices, and he sensed there was little harm in this one—at least not yet. The lessons he’d learn over the next few years would prove crucial in shaping the type of man he became. The boy needed guidance, not persecution.
It made this decision a difficult one.
“You don’t need to be afraid,” Creed said. “You should, however, exercise more common sense. Do you know who I am?”
“Why should I care?”
His belligerence was a strike against him.
“Because I’m a Godseeker assassin, tasked to hunt spawn and bring them to justice. Dead or alive,” Creed added, after a significant pause. “What if I were to turn you in?”
The boy flipped a hank of dark hair from his eyes with a toss of his head. “I know what else you are, Assassin. I would turn you in, too.”
The threat amused Creed. “Of the two of us, who do you think people would believe is a spawn? A skinny child who somehow bested three larger and older boys in a mismatched fight, or a trained assassin who serves the Godseekers?”
The boy scraped a toe in the dirt. “I can make anyone believe what I want.”
“And you want me to believe you did your best to walk away from that fight,” Creed said. “But I don’t. So now what?”
Guilt flared in the boy’s eyes. “They started it.”
“I have no doubt. But you could have convinced them to leave you alone instead, if you’d wanted.”
A hross kicked a heavy hoof against the wall of the stable next door to the alley. Out on the street, traffic rumbled past.
Again, Creed hesitated. While it was his duty to ensure that any spawn he discovered were brought before the Godseekers for judgment, he did not want to condemn a child. Not without first determining if there might be enough support in his life to bring out the potential Creed sensed in him. Spawn had only demon instincts. They lacked morality. Half demons, on the other hand, tended to be far more complex. More mortal.
At least they could choose to be.
“Where is your mother?” Creed asked. The boy said nothing, his lips pressed in a thin line of rebellion, and Creed lost patience. “I can return you to her, or I can give you to the sheriff to be passed on to the Godseekers, who will then determine your fate. Which is your preference?”
“She’s selling corn cakes at a stall near the goddess temple.” The words dragged unwillingly from the boy’s mouth.
Creed tightened his grip. The mother’s reaction to having her son presented to her by a Godseeker assassin would decide the matter for him. “Come on.”
Larger than any other structure in Desert’s End, built on higher ground and constructed entirely of colorful stones, the temple was simple enough for Creed to locate. It was not meant to be inconspicuous.
He drew his young prisoner through the crowds.
The land around the town was a farming region, and the noisy market square stank of old kyson droppings and sodden scafhoof wool. While recent spring rains had not done the streets any favors with regard to their stench, the wooden buildings surrounding the square had been cleansed and left gleaming in the noonday sun as if freshly painted.
The town had other features to redeem it in Creed’s eyes, as well. Sinkholes were rare so close to the mountains, and Desert’s End had been built with confidence on the eviscerated ruins of an Old World city. Ancient and hardy gardens remained determined to flourish despite the various indignities the years had wrought. Rose bushes, from a time before demons had razed the earth with fire, bloomed pink and red in unexpected places—to either side of a creosote-blackened boardwalk and from beneath one cornerstone of the town hall.
In front of the temple, a number of tarpaulin-capped wooden stalls had been erected with a variety of goods displayed on long counters.
An older woman with delicate features, golden brown hair and vivid green eyes, and wearing an expression of trepidation mixed with concern, watched their progress toward her, her attention divided between them and a customer.
Creed stopped beside her stall, keeping a solid hand on the boy’s shoulder, and waited for her to finish with the transaction.
As he did, he quietly observed her. Soft-spoken and displaying a gentle weariness, she reminded him more than a little of his half-sister’s mother.
Raven had always considered her mortal mother to be weak, but Creed, several years older than Raven and more aware of the harshness of the world, had adored Columbine. She’d always been kind to him, even though he was not her child.
Columbine was long dead now. He’d not been able to save her from an abusive husband. Raven, however, was safe in the mountains with her lover Blade, a former assassin who did not need or want Creed’s help in protecting her.
That left him without any responsibilities other than to the leaders of the Temple of Immortal Right—and therefore, to the Godseekers. Their mandate in this post-demon world was to establish a universal law across the entire land.
Blade had not shared the Godseekers’ faith in the simplicity of their mandate, or their law. He’d quietly suggested to Creed that if it became necessary to go as far as the Borderlands because of spawn, then Creed should seek out the Demon Slayer and give him Blade’s regards. He’d said the Slayer would understand what that meant.
Creed hoped it would not come to that because he understood too. The Demon Slayer and his wife, the half demon known as Airie, were reputed to be responsible for the banishment of demons from the world. To call the Slayer back meant the Godseekers were far out of their depth.
An overladen cart filled with sacks of grain cut through the market, its contents spilling over its sides, the wooden wheels sprawling wide. An enormous black work hross, head bent and back swayed with age, strained at its traces. Feathered fetlocks were caked in a fine red dust that puffed in small, dirty clouds with each step the animal took. The cart’s load brushed against several stalls, threatening to knock them over, and the vendors shouted their displeasure at the fat driver.