SOME SECRETS ARE BETTER OFF LOCKED AWAY.
Dez is on the run from the covens. Nearly six months have passed since her father, the demon Asmodeus, opened a gateway allowing countless of his kind to spill onto our plane of existence. Using her newfound abilities to hunt down the strays, Dez’s life has become a never-ending cycle of violence and bloodshed, punctuated by the paranoia of constantly looking over her shoulder for the Council’s vampire assassin.
When she receives an unexpected phone call from an old friend, Dez makes her way to the northern Arizona desert. There she finds a message waiting for her from beyond the grave, a message forcing her to confront the one thing she’s been dreading for months.
Now Dez is haunted by a ghost from her past and faced with the secret truth of her origins. With her life and the lives of countless humans hanging in the balance, she’s forced to face off with an enemy she doesn’t even know exists. It’s time to choose her destiny and the clock is running out.
The second full-length novel in the Hellfire series by internationally bestselling author Jena Gregoire.
Michael reached over to the cool leather of the passenger seat and grabbed his phone without taking his eyes off the vagabond shuffling his way across the darkened parking lot. He watched the homeless man for a few more minutes, thumbing the power button on the side of the phone. Once the man was out of sight, he pressed the button, and, just as it had a thousand times before, the prospect of hearing from Dez lit a spark of hope deep in his core. The screen beamed to life.
No text messages.
No emails.READ MORE
No missed calls.
Another press of the power button left the broad interior of the 1971 Chevy Nova SS once again draped in shadows. Disappointment and worry replaced any good feelings he may have had when he picked up the phone. It had been almost five months since she had literally vanished into thin air right in front of him, leaving him stunned and a little confused.
Then the covens had slipped into a state of utter chaos.
They were pissed.
They wanted retribution.
They demanded her head.
After many hours of talking himself blue in the face, he finally made a good number of them understand that Dez was not the bad guy in the situation, but it did not sate them all. The majority of the covens wanted Dez to come back and stand before them to give her account of what had transpired, to explain what led her to choose ending Cassandra’s life. But most likely to explain her newfound abilities.
Of course, justice was what they were all yelling about, and that’s the story they stuck to. Representatives for some of the covens couldn’t believe that Cassandra, their leader and trusted advisor for centuries, had been behind the events of previous weeks.
In a desperate attempt to get ahead of the apocalyptic curve, she had taken it upon herself to align the coven with a demon. Not just any demon, but a prince in the hierarchy of Hell, one of the original fallen angels. After going on a blind hunt for the demon to stop him from opening the gateway to Hell, they killed him, but not before an unknown number of lesser demons escaped, and several lives were lost on the side of the white hats, his brother Lucas included.
Shortly after the gateway was closed, Dez made the connection between the demon and Cassandra. They had dropped everything and flown back to Italy, and Dez faced off with Cassandra in front of the entire Council. The whole scene ended with Cassandra reduced to a pile of ash, and Dez…
she just vanished.
Michael knew why, of course. Dez had used her newfound ability to manipulate hellfire to execute Cassandra for her crimes. He felt, deep down, Cassandra got exactly what was coming to her, but in the eyes of the Council, the death sentence was not Dez’s to hand down.
They were wrong.
Dez was the only one who could have stopped her. Cassandra was much too old, much too powerful, for anyone else to handle. An extraordinarily powerful witch and vampire with more than a few centuries under her belt, she would have wiped the floor with any Council member who decided to step to her. There really was no other way.
He wished Dez had stuck around to stand behind her actions; it didn’t do her case any favors when she fled. All it accomplished was making her look guilty of some wrongdoing. He could easily track her down, but she had left for a reason. Whatever the reason, she would come back to him when she was ready. He was giving her the time she needed.
Sighing with frustration and no small amount of defeat, Michael pulled the black leather briefcase up from the passenger floor and opened it on the crimson red seat. He removed the Desert Eagle and its suppressor from the case, careful to keep both low and out of sight. As he screwed the silencer into the barrel of the gun, he took one last look around the parking lot of the vacant warehouse. Tucking the gun inside his leather jacket, Michael climbed out of the car, closing the door quietly.
He made his way across the parking lot and slipped between the two decrepit concrete buildings. Of the benefits which came with being a vampire, flawless eyesight in complete darkness was Michael’s favorite. It gave him a distinct advantage when he needed to fulfill a contract at night. His mission this night had nothing to do with a contract. Since the night at the gateway off the coast of South America, all of Michael’s time was taken up with worrying about Dez and tracking down the demons who had escaped. If he was right, tonight would be his forty-ninth and fiftieth kill.
Michael crept around the building, careful to stay quiet and out of sight. As he rounded the back corner of the decaying buildings, he stopped to make sure there were no vagrants hanging around. Sure the coast was clear, he continued on to the crumbling loading dock on the backside of the building on the right. The metal stairs leading up to the dilapidated concrete pad were falling apart, the railing long since having fallen off. Shards of broken glass littered the ground, making every step Michael took far louder than he would have preferred. When he reached the top of the stairs, he pulled his gun out and checked the chamber one last time, careful to make sure the cool slide didn’t click too loudly when he gingerly moved it back into place. He was pretty sure there were only two of them in the building, but in the event there were more, the key to getting the jump on them was to be as stealthy as possible.
Michael entered the building, mindful of where he was stepping, never stilling his eyes from scanning his surroundings. He listened intently for any betrayal of the demons’ presence, but heard nothing. The wide open room was void of any furniture or machinery. Nothing remained on the expansive floor but pieces of the falling walls and more shards of dust-covered glass.
Satisfied there was no one near the loading dock, Michael made his way to the large metal staircase leading to the upper levels of the building. He moved silently and swiftly, confident he wasn’t alone in the structure. He just needed to find where the demons were squatting. The two he was after had taken possession of some of the local homeless, but he had seen and killed enough of their kind to know them on sight.
He worked his way up the rusted stairs, always listening. He reached the second floor of the building, and stepped onto yet another empty floor, dirt and refuse the only occupants. He turned back and continued up the stairs. The third level was also silent. He reached the fourth and final floor, and his ears were greeted with silence. Rather than an open floor like the previous three, there was a maze of hallways and rooms. He stepped off the stairs and started down the center hallway. As he passed each room along the hallway, he strained, listening for the tiniest noise.
He knew they were here, and given the absolute quiet he was greeted with, they knew he was here as well. He glided down the hallway, stepping lightly. He was about to give up, nearly convinced he had been wrong, when the terrified scream of a woman ripped through the air from somewhere on the same level, closer to the interior stairwell.
He turned and ran, following the pained sounds of the woman’s terror.
Down the main corridor.
Another right, and the screaming stopped. Michael moved quickly, searching each room in the area. Suddenly, there was a crashing sound from somewhere at the end of the hallway. Michael ran down the hallway, slowing right before he reached the door. He took one quick clearing breath, and turned the corner, gun raised.
The two men stood over the body of a girl in a torn grey sweater, her faded blue jeans and ripped red panties scrunched down around her ankles. They looked up at Michael, their black eyes gleaming in the minimal light, and released a loud combination of a sick, feral growl and blood-curdling scream, a horrific ear-piercing noise, like giant fingernails scraping down the world’s biggest chalkboard. Without hesitation, Michael fired one shot in the dead center of the demon’s forehead, and immediately did the same to the second. Both demons dropped to the floor with no sign of life. Just to be sure, Michael walked over and shot each one in the head a few more times.
Michael’s attention turned to the girl. He listened but heard no pulse. Kneeling down, he checked her neck to be sure, and still found no heartbeat. Given the odd angle of her head, it appeared one of the demons had snapped her neck. Probably to stop the screaming. He shook his head and walked away. There was nothing else he could do here. He didn’t bother burning the bodies to dispose of the evidence. Chances were pretty good no one was going to find them until much later anyway, and by that time, he’d be long gone.
Dez lay in the plush bed of her hotel room, staring at the ceiling. She’d spent the last three hours tossing and turning. She was exhausted after a fifteen-hour day on the road, but sleep just didn’t want to come. It had been five months since she left Vegas holding the bag with the Council. It was a shit move and she knew it. After what she did to Cassandra in Venice, the only way she’d be free to go after the demons who escaped from the gateway was just to go.
No wasted time.
Just go. So she did.
The only fly in that logic ointment was the way she left things with Vegas. Five months and not a day had passed when she didn’t want to call him, or at least shoot him a text message. She was afraid if she talked to him, he would convince her to come back. Maybe not to Venice, but certainly to him. The reason he’d want her to come back was what concerned her. For all she knew, there was a kill order on her head.
Every day she told herself it was better this way. This way, they were both hunting demons, getting twice the number of them in the same amount of time. Even if there was no kill order out on her, if they were together, cleaning up the demon problem would be unnecessarily dragged out, and demons running rampant was a problem the humans were not prepared to deal with. The majority of the human populous didn’t even know these creatures existed outside of nightmares and urban legends. If she could, Dez was going to keep it that way.
So, yeah, for now, solo was the only way to go. She hoped Vegas was making the same kind of progress she was. Early the morning before, she made her seventy-ninth kill. That one had been worse than the seventy-eight before it. It was the first time she had to put a bullet in the head of a child. Of course, the girl was already dead. The demon had possessed her and took over completely. The neck was crooked at an awkward angle as the demon stared Dez down in a Los Mochis alleyway, darkened in the predawn hours. Given the state of the girl’s appearance, dirty from head to toe and smelling of decay, she had been dead for weeks. Dez had no clue how her neck had been broken, but the demon must have been a bit of a newbie, because he, or she, or it, should have jumped ship long before its chance meeting with Dez. A double tap to the head with bullets blessed by a rabbi put a messy end to the demon, and Deziree left the Mexican town without another thought.
That brought her to Las Vegas. She had been on the road, bouncing all over the place, from Canada all the way down to the southernmost point in Mexico, for the last five months. She spent all of her time using her new abilities to track the demons, killing them off one by one. When she left Venice, she really didn’t know exactly where she was going, or what she was going to do. With no clear plan in front of her, she went home first. She retrieved the Merc, packed a few bags, and hit the road. The first night by herself had been the turning point.
Left with nothing to do but think, she remembered something incredible from her few encounters with Asmodeus. The demon prince had been able to mentally reach out and feel the presence of other demons. Since she had inherited some of her father’s other demon abilities, she had decided to give that one a try as well.
She attempted it for nearly two weeks before she finally felt the first glimmer of another mind. It wasn’t perfect, and didn’t give her nearly enough information to have the slightest idea where the demon was, but it had been a start. Dez practiced all day every day, each connection becoming stronger, until one day, she could feel where the demons were. As soon as she linked, she just knew. She didn’t get geographical coordinates or anything else that convenient, but she at least got the general idea of where they were.
The presence of their mind within hers was a disturbing sensation. There was so much hatred and anger with every one of them, she soon found herself slipping into a foul mood after each link. She tried to push it out of her thoughts, but each time felt like a little bit of disease lingered, infecting her further with each exposure. After a while, the bouts of anger were replaced by a constant depression, her mind clouded by nothing but negative emotions.
It had been weeks since she smiled, the only exception being in her dreams. The only time she was able to talk to Vegas was in the depths of her slumber, when her subconscious mind played out her deepest desires, mostly just being with Vegas. Talking to him. They would have long conversations about what they were doing to pass their days apart. She missed his companionship so much, and not seeing him every day pained her. Each morning, when she woke, the depression would take hold as soon as she opened her eyes, and she so badly wished they had more time together. Those dreams were a treasured time to her, no matter how short. Some days, it got so bad in her head, she would give anything for sleep to come again, to be able to sink into one of those dreams, to talk to him again, even if only one more time.
Dez rolled over and glanced at the hotel room alarm clock, the glowing red numbers taunting her. Seeing it was nearly midnight, she heaved a sigh of frustration and sat up. She reached over and turned the silver knob on the bedside lamp. A soft amber glow illuminated the room, and once again, Dez was reminded she was alone. Thinking a walk might help her clear her head, she rubbed her face and climbed out of bed. Her worn out navy blue suitcase sat open on the floor by the hotel room door and she made a mental note to pick up a new one while she was in town. She pulled out a pair of black yoga pants, quickly got dressed, putting a black hooded sweatshirt on over the black tank top she was already wearing. Slipping on a pair of flip flops, she grabbed her keycard, debit card, and license off the bureau, and left the room, unbearable loneliness and all, behind.
Dez made her way down the hallway to the nearest bank of elevators. She pushed the button, and as she waited, a group of girls walked by her in the hallway, all dressed to the nines, looking like something straight out of the days of Studio 54, all short skirts and sequins. Judging by the way they stumbled and bumped into each other, giggling uncontrollably, while walking down the straight hallway, every last one of them was severely intoxicated, probably coming back to their room to freshen up before continuing their night out on the town. The elevator softly chimed, indicating its arrival on her floor. As the metal doors quietly slid open, Dez stepped inside, and pressed the button for the casino floor.
The ride to the ground floor was a quick one, making the trip down from the ninth floor go by in a matter of seconds. Once again, the door slid open, and Dez stepped out onto the marble floor. Following the wide hallway around the corner, her ears were filled with the classic sounds of Las Vegas. At this time of night, any casino in Las Vegas was booming with tourists gambling away their hard-earned savings, and the Stratosphere was no exception. Standing at the edge of the casino floor, Dez surveyed her surroundings. The noise from the never-ending sea of people, mixed with the cacophony of electronic beeps and bells from the rows upon rows of slot machines, was positively deafening. Dez knew from experience if you spent enough time in the casino, your brain treats the chaos the same as white noise and it eventually fades into the background. Still, with her level of exhaustion, she had a hard time wrapping her head around how anyone could learn to block it all out.
Somehow, over the din of the gaming floor, she managed to hear the cigarette girl standing nearly ten feet behind her. Dez glanced around for an ATM. She quickly found one, took out some cash, and went back to the cigarette girl.
“Could I please get a pack of Marlboro Lights?”
“Of course,” the girl replied in a bubbly voice, and held the pack out to Deziree. “Here you go. Would you like matches?”
“Yes, please.” Deziree handed the girl a twenty dollar bill, and told her to keep the change. The girl flashed her a big smile, and thanked her. Dez nodded, turned, and walked away, making her way through the throng of gamblers to the lobby doors.
She stepped out into the night air and took a deep breath. The temperature was only around sixty degrees, but for midnight in January, the warmth was above average. When she and Vegas would come here, it was usually in late summer, and at this time of night, the temperature would still be somewhere in the nineties. They loved coming to town at that time of year specifically to enjoy the summer weather during the darkest time of night.
“Miss?” The sound of a man’s voice pulled Dez from her thoughts.
The curbside hotel attendant smiled at her. God, why was everyone so smiley?
“Would you like a cab?”
“Oh,” she replied, realizing he had probably addressed her more than once before his voice registered in her brain. “No, thank you. I think I am going to go for a walk.” He smiled again, and nodded, turning his attention to greet the next excited hotel guest stepping out the door.
The northern end of the strip was not nearly as busy as its more famous southern end, which was the main reason Dez chose the Stratosphere for her stay in Las Vegas. A good many of the hotels and casinos who once called it home had since been torn down, leaving many vacant lots open and waiting for new casinos to be built on their expanse. There were still lots of people milling about, but she was left with enough room to stroll around without being run over by a crowd. She meandered from shop to shop, absently glancing at the wares each of them had to offer. Mostly, it was just cheaply made baubles and keepsakes branded with the city’s famous welcome sign. There were a few tattoo shops scattered among the stores, and Dez thought about getting a new piece just to pass some time. While staring at the sheets of flash displayed in a small parlor’s dusty window, contemplating what design she would get, something caught her eye. A reflection in the glass.
She only saw him briefly, and she wasn’t even sure of what she saw. She wondered if she was tired enough to actually be experiencing hallucinations. He had only looked in her direction for a split second, but she could have sworn the man’s eyes were jet black.
She spun around, searching the steady stream of people for his face. Before long, her already-short fuse ran its course. She stepped off to the side of the crowd, and leaned her back against the building. Taking a long, deep breath, she did her best to calm down and concentrate. Then she cast her mind out into the ether, reaching for the presence of another demon. This time it took mere seconds before she felt the familiar tingle.
“Shit,” she whispered, looking into the faces of those passing her by. Instead of the one demon presence she had expected, she felt several of them. Dez turned back to the hotel to grab her car keys, and to change into clothes better suited for hunting. So much for getting any sleep tonight.COLLAPSE