Authors: Juliana Stone
Wrong Side of Hell
A LEAGUE OF GUARDIANS NOVELLA
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In the beginning . . .
An Excerpt from
Wicked Road to Hell
About the Author
Also by Juliana Stone
About the Publisher
In the beginning . . .
OR MILLENNIA THE struggle between light and dark, between the upper and lower realms, has been policed by a secret group of warriors culled from every fabric of existence. They are both otherworld and human, male and female. They are known to each other as the League of Guardians. Their pledge, to protect the line between dominions and make sure neither side grows too powerful. If they should fall, so shall the earth, the heavens, and hells. And there will be no more.
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HE DOOR BEHIND Logan Winters opened, bringing with it a gust of wind, the faint scent of pine, and complete silence. Like a ripple effect, conversations stopped, laughter faded, and eyes were averted.
Logan glanced up at the bartender, took notice of the stubby fingers grasped tight to the bottle of Canadian whiskey—the bottle Logan had been waiting for—and scowled.
The Neon Angel was a sad excuse for a drinking hole. It had seen better days, and from what he could tell, so had most of the staff and clientele. The bar was a rickety shack on the edge of a town he had no name for. It was the place he’d ended up—no reason other than timing—and for a brief moment it had been the heaven he’d been seeking.
His eyebrows knit together and his lips tightened. All he’d wanted was a drink.
Just one fucking drink.
He exhaled and shifted slightly, giving himself more room as he pushed his bar stool back a few inches. The couple that had been sitting to his left were already on their feet, a wad of cash thrown onto the bar as they slid into the shadows that wrapped around the room.
The redhead who’d been eyeing him but good downed her wine and smiled a crazy “I’m getting the hell out of here” kind of smile before wiping the corner of her mouth and turning away.
Guess he wasn’t getting laid either.
Logan swore—a harsh string of words no one would understand—and nodded to the bartender. “I’ll take that shot now.”
The large man ran his free hand through the thinning gray pallet atop his head and swallowed hard, his watery eyes wide as he glanced toward Logan. Thick bands of wiry gray brows curled crazily above round eyeballs the color of peat moss.
He wore a faded black wifebeater t-shirt and his soft arms were filled with tattoos that jiggled as he rubbed the scruff on his chin. “Dude . . . not sure if that would be a good . . . uh . . . idea.”
Logan’s ice blue eyes narrowed as a snarl caught in the back of his throat. He felt the heat beneath his skin. The burn. The itch.
“Do not,” he bared his teeth, “call me dude.”
A rumble rose from his chest—a menacing warning—and the bartender took heed, his body jerking in small, quick movements as he stepped forward. Logan nodded toward the bottle, his low rasp barely containing the irritation he felt. “Pour me the drink.” He’d have his whiskey and then deal with whoever the hell had decided tonight was a good night to fuck with him.
The bartender swallowed nervously, his Adam’s apple bobbing through the thick folds of skin at his neck. He didn’t know what to do. Run from whoever—or whatever—had blown into the place or pour the damn whiskey and be done with it.
His eyes darted to just behind Logan once more but he jumped when Logan barked.
The bartender poured a generous amount of whiskey into the tumbler, and though he tried to be careful, his hands shook so much it was a damn miracle he didn’t spill the precious liquid all over the place.
The sound of clinking glass echoed into the dead silence, and when the bartender was done, he set the bottle to the side and stepped back. A pronounced tick pulsed near his left eye and he swallowed nervously as he stood there, shuffling his feet, eyes shifting from Logan to the door. His face was flushed a ruddy pink color, the skin shiny with sweat and fear.
Logan tossed some cash onto the dark grained bar and stood, his six-foot-six frame unfurling with the uncanny grace of an animal, which, considering his origins, wasn’t surprising.
Tension settled along his wide shoulders as he reached for the glass, but along with it, a shot of anticipation. He was itching for a fight. He’d just not known it until now.
He tipped his head back. Amber liquid slid onto his tongue and he welcomed the smooth, sweet taste. It burned—all the way down—yet he closed his eyes and savored the sensation.
Logan had been pretty much everywhere—in the human realm and beyond—and he could say with certainty Canadians knew how to brew their damn whiskey better than anyone else.
He let the liquid fire settle in his belly, then carefully set the empty glass back onto the bar. He arched a brow and nodded, a slight jerk to the right.
Now would be a good time for the bartender to leave.
Sweat beaded along the man’s top lip. It was quickly wiped away by a thick meaty hand, and then the bartender took a step back before he too disappeared into the shadows.
Logan slowly turned.
Two men stood just inside the door of the Neon Angel, their tall frames bathed in shadow. They were big. Well built and muscled.
And they’d not come to socialize.
Logan had no idea who they were, but judging from the otherworld scent that clung to them, he had a pretty good idea where they’d come from. But that was the tricky part, wasn’t it? Which realm did they call home?
No scent of demon twisted in the air, and yet . . .
His hands fisted at his sides. He could take them. Hell, he
to take them.
“Shit, that didn’t take you boys long.” Logan nodded toward the now empty bar. “You cleared the room in less time than it takes for a junkie with a needle in his vein to get high.”
Nothing. There was no expression or words.
Logan remained silent for a few moments and cocked his head to the side. He studied the two creatures—and creatures they were; there was not one drop of humanity in them. His nostrils flared as the subtle scent of pine drifted toward him once more, and he frowned.
A memory stirred, and with it a flush of heat, a dirge of anger.
Slowly his fists unfurled to hang loose at his sides, and Logan leaned back against the bar, elbows resting against the edge, long legs crossed in front of him.
“I’m not much for one-sided conversation, so unless you’ve got something to say, I’d suggest you turn your asses around and leave.” Logan grabbed the bottle of whiskey off the counter. “Cause I’ve got some drinking to do and that sure as hell
something I prefer to do alone.”
A low keening vibration rippled through the room—an invisible thread that electrified the air and sent his radar crashing into full-on red alert.
Bright light lit the men from behind, beams so intense Logan took a step back and winced. His skin burned as if it had been touched by flames, and the control he had was fast slipping away.
Stars danced in front of his eyes and he shook his head aggressively as he moved forward, his mind emptying of all thoughts except one. Survival.
There was power here. Old, ancient power—the kind that always signaled shit was about to hit.
Logan was determined that any ass kicking in the immediate future would not involve his own.
Sifting beams of light sizzled and popped, and for a second he saw nothing but glitter, small pulsating fragments of gold that drifted on the breeze and whirled around the shadowed forms. They merged, twirling faster as the keening vibrations became louder and they melted together into one large vortex of light.
Logan glared straight ahead, his gut tightening as the pine scent that hung in the air sharpened. It was fresh, tangy . . . and all too familiar.
His anger spiked as one form emerged from what had been two: a smallish, round bit of a man who looked nothing like what he truly was—Seraphim—and he was one of the original seven
Humans might call him angel, though in this form he bore no resemblance to the golden creatures popular in lore.
This was no fucking cherub.
“Askelon,” Logan said smoothly, his anger in check, his façade calm.
“Let’s not be so formal, my friend.”
Glittery gold lamé lapels glistened against his gray jacket as the small man moved forward. His pants were ill fitting, a little too snug around his generous belly, and his dress shirt sported gaping holes between the buttons. Something was smeared alongside his mouth—ketchup? And in his hand he held a bag of—Logan sniffed—candy.
Good to see his sweet tooth was still intact.
“A little theatrical, even for you, don’t you think?”
Askelon arched a brow and shrugged his shoulders.
“Your bodyguards?” Logan continued dryly.
The small man laughed. “Ah . . . that was nothing. Parlor tricks, really. I somehow doubt this room would have emptied if I stood as myself, and I do so want a private chat. We’ve lots to discuss.”
Logan’s eyes narrowed as he watched him walk to the bar, throw his bag of candy—which Logan could now see was filled to the brim with colorful little bits of sugar—and with a little effort, settle himself onto the bar stool Logan had just vacated.
“What?” He frowned, a scowl sweeping across his face as he stared at the little man.
Askelon nodded toward the bag. “They’re called Gummi Bears.”
Arms crossed, Logan’s scowl deepened. “I hope you have one hell of a dental plan. That shit will rot your teeth out.”
Askelon’s pudgy fingers grasped a napkin and wiped away the stains on his face as he turned to Logan. For a second his eyes shimmered—a weird translucent silver color—and Logan saw the power that shifted within their depths.
“Please,” he smiled and nodded, “call me Bill.”
“Bill?” Logan’s eyebrow arched in disbelief.
grinned, shrugged, and proceeded to pour himself a glass of whiskey. “It’s plain, I know, but suited me at the time.” He poured one for Logan and handed it to him, raising his own in a toast.
What the hell do you want with me?
“I’ll explain in a minute but first, let’s drink, shall we? That is why you came here tonight, isn’t it? To drink? Perhaps forget?”
So he was a mind reader now.
The tension that had fled moments earlier was back, pinching his shoulders as Logan reached for the glass and tossed back the tumbler full of booze.
The little round shit was responsible for his banishment as surely as if he’d . . .
“You know that’s not true, Logan.”
Logan’s chest heaved. He gritted his teeth and slammed the glass back onto the counter.
“Stay the fuck out of my head, Seraphim.” Logan moved forward until he was close enough to see the veins in the little shit’s eyes. His nostrils flared and his chest grumbled. Beneath his skin, the beast stirred.
“Your banishment was unfortunate.” Bill sipped the whiskey, his eyes shimmering as they regarded Logan closely. “But you knew there would be consequences when you joined the League.”
Logan snorted. “Yeah, well. Your so-called League can go screw itself.”
Bill set his half-empty glass onto the counter and twirled the liquid slowly with his finger as silence fell between them.
He turned to Logan and though his voice was soft, there was no mistaking the hard glint in his eyes. “That’s not how it works, my friend.”
Logan snarled and whirled away. He was a hellhound. His job was to retrieve souls that were beyond redemption and escort them to District Three—one of several levels in hell—for processing.
He neither liked nor hated his job, but he sure as hell was the best kind of animal for it. He was an elite hellhound shifter, born from the depths of hell and destined to straddle the realms. His hunting capabilities were legendary, his sensory skills unparalleled.
Logan’s lips curled as the faint smell of pine tugged at him once more. He stared at the mirror that hung on the wall in front of him. At a reflection so bizarre it was laughable. Askelon had outdone himself. His human façade was nothing short of brilliant. No one would ever suspect the short, round, balding man was in fact one of the most powerful beings in existence. If not
Anger spiraled through him and Logan took a step toward
, not caring that the ancient could dish out a hell of a lot of damage with nothing more than the flick of his wrist.
He growled and passed his hands through the thick hair at his nape.
“Why are you here?” The last time he’d seen the little fuck, Logan’s life had taken a header right into the fires of hell. Literally. He’d defied direct orders from his Overlord because Bill had asked him to. Logan had led a child back into the human realm—one he’d been ordered to retrieve for processing—and he’d been brutally punished.
He’d been sentenced to the Pit—
shit hole many leagues beneath District Three. It was the one place in hell that everyone avoided, if they were smart or had occasion to. It was saying something that he, a creature born of fire and brimstone, had nearly been broken by it.
“I need your help, Logan.”
Logan paused, his face incredulous. “What part of ‘shove your fucking League of Guardians up your ass’ didn’t you understand the last time?” He arched a brow and smiled, his lips tight in a sarcastic grin. “Or is this something else entirely? You pulling a Vader and crossing over to the dark side, Bill?” He flexed his arms—let his beast shift beneath the surface. “You want a ride down? Is that it?”
“The girl has been killed.”
“What girl?” A frown crossed Logan’s face. He didn’t like where the conversation was headed, and he really didn’t like the direction his mind was going.
“The same girl you were ordered to drag below fifteen years ago.” Bill sighed, rubbed his temples. “The one we saved.” If Logan didn’t know better, he’d think the little shit was tired.
“We? Seems to me, I did all the work and had my ass kicked for hundreds of years because of it.” Logan shook his head. No way was he getting involved again. “I’m done. I don’t give a flying fuck about that girl.” Did the Seraphim think he cared if she was dead? As far as Logan was concerned, she’d been on borrowed time anyway. If anything, she’d been granted a reprieve while he’d rotted beneath District Three.
Time moved differently there. In the Pit. What had been fifteen years to the human girl had been nearly fifteen hundred for Logan.
“Tsk, tsk . . . language, my friend.” Bill turned fully and nailed Logan with a direct stare. “You should care. We all need to care.”
“You’re talking in circles, old man. Elaborate or leave.”
Bill’s mouth tightened for the briefest moment and Logan knew he’d overstepped with his last statement. He smiled, liking the fact that he managed to get under Askelon’s skin. Score one for the hound.