"The Belador world continues to develop with amazing surprises."
Storm moved silently through the obsidian night, staying within striking distance of Nadina, the witch doctor who dared to threaten Evalle.
Nadina had made a huge mistake.
Not that Evalle Kincaid wasn’t deadly in her own right as one of the Beladors who protected humans from dangerous preternatural predators. She was.
But Evalle was also the woman Storm had taken to mate.
He just hadn’t told her yet.
Small detail, because he knew Evalle loved him. He hadn’t intended to ever care for anyone again, not after Nadina had killed his father. But Evalle had stolen his heart.
No one, not even a witch doctor with Nadina’s powers, was going to harm the woman he loved.
Nadina performed black majik for entertainment as much as for the power she gained from the victim’s fear and pain. He would not allow that to happen to Evalle.
Two questions kept drumming his skull.
Where was Nadina leading him? What was her game tonight?
She’d snuck into his house, threatened Evalle then run, knowing he’d follow.
That witch doctor had a reason for everything she did.
Storm couldn’t allow her to lead him into a trap. At twenty-eight, he was far more powerful than when he’d escaped her years ago, but she had surprised him with her own improved powers.
Cool October air stole through Inman Park, a historic section of Atlanta where very little moved at one in the morning on a Tuesday. East of downtown, the area sprawled in a jumble of old neighborhoods and industrial properties. Much of it was being reclaimed, and even the warehouses were being renovated as eclectic neighborhood residences.
Sirens whined downtown, too far away for human ears to pick up, but Storm heard every tiny noise. Like the scuff of Nadina’s shoes when she stopped quickly on the asphalt a hundred feet ahead of him.
Pausing in the shadow of a scraggly water oak, he sniffed at the smoky licorice scent spiraling in her wake. It was the smell often associated with practicing witchcraft on demons.
The witch doctor wasn’t trying to hide her path. Her power reached out, calling to his. Taunting him.
Claws shot from Storm’s fingers and muscles rolled beneath his skin as his animal chomped to be freed. He gritted his teeth and forced his jaguar back under control.
That involuntary flash of change had happened twice in the last half hour.
The longer he chased the woman and the closer he drew to his prey, the more difficult it became to hold back the call of his tainted blood.
Tainted because it was hers. He’d inherited the dark blood from Nadina. His mother. Storm felt his lip curl into a sneer. Motherwas too good a word for the evil bitch. The Ashaninka witch doctor had trapped Storm’s Navajo shaman father with a spell while his father had been in South America giving aid to reclusive natives.
Storm wouldn’t hold Nadina’s evil against the innocent Ashaninka tribe. You couldn’t blame an entire race for one narcissistic psychopath.
But she would pay for all she’d cost Storm.
Just as soon as he had his animal settled down so he could take another step without shifting.
He stood beneath the tree limbs, shuddering against the battle stirring between his demon blood and the humanity he’d inherited from his shaman father, who’d also passed him the genetics of a Spiritwalker. He had to pull himself under control before he confronted her or she’d gain the upper hand. She’d been a powerful witch all those years ago when she used majik to seduce his father for the sole purpose of breeding a demon.
A half Spiritwalker, half Skinwalker who shifted into a black jaguar. Then she’d forced the Skinwalker genes Storm carried to actually manifest–by stealing his soul. Mix in the dark blood passed down to him from Nadina’s ancestor Sinaa–a child of jaguars–and Storm struggled against the constant threat of losing his grip on humanity.
If Storm gave in at any point and allowed the animal to control his shifting rather than him controlling it, Nadina would have her demon.
She’d almost succeeded once, back when she’d first tricked him with twisted words and taken possession of his soul. She’d acted as his sponsor, forcing him into brutal beast fights where he’d be forced to shift in order to survive. He’d struggled to control the shifting every minute back then, but the moment had come when he’d snapped. He won a bloody battle, then he tore through a crowd of mixed deadly predators and their dark-arts sponsors just to escape that bitch.
Storm had enjoyed freedom for all of a day until word of his father’s death had reached him. He’d had to face Nadina again to bury his father.
He’d been too young to realize just how dangerous she was or that she’d also taken his father’s soul.
His father’s deep voice had whispered through Storm’s mind as he’d stood at the grave of the only real parent he’d ever known. “Be true to your Navajo blood. Hold onto your human side. Never allow the demon to rule even once or you’ll be lost forever. Do not trust Nadina, for she killed me and will tear your heart from your chest just to make you watch the last time it beats. Run, my son. Run as far as you can.”
Nadina had disappeared from the burial site before Storm could turn his rage on her.
But he’d taken his father’s advice to heart and vanished, hiding in the deepest parts of the Amazon jungle where he spent every waking minute working on his skills, growing stronger. He studied the light arts–and the dark–from Santeria babalaos, priests of the Santeria path. He studied every form of black majik he could find, and once he could travel outside South America, he even learned kala jadoo, an art he would normally never touch.
All because he had one goal.
To know his enemy and grow stronger than she was.
Until recently, Storm wouldn’t have cared if he lived or died as long as he made Nadina pay up, then choked her until she gasped her last breath.
But now he had Evalle’s safety to consider first.
Nadina would die painfully if she touched Evalle.
Wind swirled past his face and he picked up a new scent. Something old that smelled of decay. He had no time to spare for whatever unnatural being crept through the city at this hour unless it was connected to Nadina.
As long as it wasn’t another of the witch doctor’s tricks, he’d leave the creature to VIPER agents–Beladors and other supernatural warriors who kept such beings from preying on humans. Those humans were unaware of the deadly things that prowled the night, or of the guardians who held them at bay.
Nadina’s scent continued to burn strong on each inhale Storm drew. Clouds cleared and moonlight dusted an old brick building at an intersection up ahead.
Ignoring everything but stalking his prey, Storm continued the hunt, searching far ahead of him in the dimly lit streets.
A blur slashed across his field of vision, moving toward one of the large windows on the street side of the brick structure.
A tall window swung open and the blur disappeared through the opening, then the window closed. Nadina was leading him where she wanted him to be. If she hadn’t been, he wouldn’t have seen her at all.
Fine. One place was as good as another for her to set her trap, and for him to evade it. With no humans present to witness his nonhuman speed, Storm took off running toward the building. Just as he passed two tall evergreens at the street corner, he felt power coil and snap at him.
He whirled away, but not fast enough to dodge a chain that slapped across the back of his neck.
Shoving his hands up to his chin, he spread his fingers to stop it from wrapping his neck.
Razor sharp metal thorns jutting out along the chain slashed his skin. Pain seared his hands, but he spun away from his attacker and the chain fell away.
The foul smell of decay overpowered Nadina’s licorice scent.
A seven-foot tall demon stared down at Storm, with red eyes glaring bright as two warning beacons in the night.
No coincidence that the creature was here in this spot. It had to be Nadina’s, because he couldn’t place this demon as any particular type. What had she traded to end up with thisone?
Storm didn’t know and didn’t really care. He had to kill it quickly or risk losing Nadina.
Moss-green hair stuck out in a scattered mohawk that arced over the demon’s oversized head and turned into a rattail falling past a sharp shoulder. Claws as long as Storm’s fingers curved on the hand holding the end of the chain, and sores covered the gray skin clinging to its bony body.
Storm caught a familiar smell mixed with the putrid decay. Not just alongside it, butpartof it. The demon stank of Nadina’s scent.
Ananaye? Had Nadina createdthis thing?
The demon opened his wide jaws and released a gurgling snarl.
If this was a test, Storm had no time for it. His body shook with the drive to shift into his jaguar and get that extra burst of power.
Wouldn’t Nadina love that?
Yep, this had to be her abomination.
The anaye stomped forward, slinging the jagged chain around and around. Power sizzled along the metal this time.
Ah hell. That was not good.
Winding the metal whip faster, the demon released it.
Storm dove beneath the spinning links that would slice his head if they made contact. The chain whistled as it passed overhead, close enough for Storm to feel the wind created by the spinning weapon.
The demon had been ready for Storm’s defensive move and lifted a foot to crush his head.
Staring up at a four-toed foot the size of a garbage can lid, Storm shoved both hands up to grab it. The damn demon felt like it weighed as much as a car.
He wouldn’t be able to hold that downward force for long. His muscles were shaking already. Searching all around for something he could use to knock this hulk off his feet, Storm’s gaze latched onto the chain.
If Nadina had also created those deadly links, that weapon would answer to Storm. He called out a chant, ancient words rolling with power he directed at the metal.
The demon was too busy trying to break Storm’s arms to notice the chain silently snaking through the tall weeds.
Dark blood boiled inside Storm just from interacting with Nadina’s majik, a connection he’d fought his whole life, but he had no other choice at the moment. He forced his beast to stay inside and held that control in an iron grip.
To the chain, he shouted, “Huelga para matar!”Strike to kill!
Coiling behind the anaye, the razor links shot up in the air and struck the demon in the throat then wrapped itself around and around.
The demon stumbled backwards.
With the pressure against Storm’s arms finally gone, he rolled away and shoved up to his feet.
Storm couldn’t leave this demon free to walk the streets of Atlanta. He uttered a command and the chain tightened, cutting through the anaye’s neck. The severed head fell to the ground. In the next three seconds, the head and body shriveled until it became liquid. A wide maw opened up in the earth and sucked in demon liquid as if pulling it through a straw. Storm whispered a last order and the chain slinked over the edge, falling into the bottomless void.
The ground closed up and weeds crawled back through the surface, leaving the spot as if it had never been disturbed.
Was that the best Nadina had to throw at Storm?
If so, then she’d severely underestimated his power. Had she watched her little demon show, expecting Storm to give in to his dark blood and shift?
Not today, bitch.
If the point of this exercise had been to force his jaguar out of hiding, that demon had barely challenged him.
But now there was no reason to continue playing hide and seek with her.
Storm crossed his arms and spoke in a quiet tone. “We can play these games all night or you can face me, Nadina. You wanted me to come to you. Here I am.”
The windows on the building opened on their own and Nadina’s voice drifted out to him. “You have surprised me with your abilities, but you will need more than majik tricks to protect Evalle. You will have to accept your destiny to become one with the black jaguar.”
Or I could just kill you and forfeit my soul.
If it was only Storm’s soul at risk and he’d never met Evalle, he’d make the sacrifice without hesitation, but then his father’s spirit would wander endlessly between two worlds.
And Storm had promised to return to Evalle.
Climbing through that window meant potentially breaking that promise. But walking away meant far worse–leaving Evalle at risk. It was time to end this here and now.
With no choice left, Storm dropped to his haunches and prepared to leap.