Of Blood and Monsters – D.G. Swank, Denise Grover Swank

I don’t like this,” Collin said, peering out at the street through the blinds in my cousin Piper’s living room. At over six feet tall, he exuded a confidence most men aspire to, most likely because he was extremely good-looking, and he knew it. “I don’t either,” my boyfriend, David, said from the sofa, “but we only have two choices—go back or wait.” I didn’t care much for what he was saying, let alone how defeated he sounded, but it didn’t matter what he said—everything he said come out sounding good in his sexy British accent. “Wait for how long?” Collin asked, turning to face me. “If Okeus killed her, she’s never coming back.” “He won’t kill her, and you know it.” David’s voice hitched. “But he might keep her.” We all knew Okeus, the god of war and destruction, wanted heirs, and he thought my cousin and I were strong enough to bear them. I’d tricked him into agreeing to leave me alone, at least for the immediate future, but Piper had no such deal. “Which means there’s no point waiting around here,” Collin said, shaking his head. “I’m going back to look for her.” That caught me by surprise. “Really?” Collin Dailey was notorious for looking out for only one person—Collin Dailey.

Historically, the guy was compulsively self-centered. Admittedly, he’d changed since I’d first met him two months ago, but I never could’ve predicted that he’d step between Okeus and Piper, trying to protect her. And now this? I could hardly reconcile this man with the Collin Dailey I first met. “We can’t sit in limbo,” he said gruffly. “And if Okeus got her pregnant…do you really want a baby Okeus running around?” “There already is a baby Okeus running around,” David said. “Only he’s all grown up.” “And is a complete and utter asshole,” Collin said. “We never should have agreed to leave her there with the two of them. We should have stayed, if for no other reason than to destroy the Great One.” Part of me agreed with him.

We had spent the last few weeks tracking down the demon who’d killed my stepmother, and hours ago it had been within spitting distance. But Okeus had suddenly appeared out of nowhere. His arrival, plus his discovery that Abel, Piper’s self-appointed protector, was the son he’d never known, had kind of steamrolled my plans to destroy the demon. For now. “We didn’t stand a chance against Okeus. The two of us against a literal god and a higher-level demon? We could barely fend off the lower-level ones.” “Then why do you wield the Sword of Galahad?” a small, rough voice asked. I turned to see an eighteen-inch-tall, hairy man with a bushy beard standing in the entrance to the kitchen. Tsagasi. My blessing and my curse.

My new counselor in all things supernatural. My greatest source of verbal ass-kicking. “You have got to stop sneaking up on me like that,” I groaned. We all remained silent for several seconds, until David finally spoke. “Do you think Ellie’s ready to take on Okeus?” “What is ready?” the little man asked, walking closer to us. “And you waste your time going back to the warehouse, Curse Keeper.” He narrowed his eyes at Collin. “She isn’t there.” “So Okeus took her?” Collin asked, his voice rough with dread. “No, she took Abiel.

” Collin cocked his head and narrowed his eyes. “What do you mean she took Abiel?” “Just what I said,” Tsagasi said in a bored tone. “She took him after the demigod killed the Great One.” The Great One was dead? I felt dizzy, and David seemed to sense it. He got to his feet, wrapping his arm around my back. “Abiel killed the Great One?” he asked. “Are you sure?” Tsagasi released a grunt. “Are you calling me a liar?” “No…of course not,” David stammered. Collin stepped in. “So Abiel killed the Great One and Okeus let them leave?” “No,” Tsagasi said, drawing the word out as though he were talking to a simpleton.

“She created a world and took him with her to escape.” “That statement leads to so many questions, but we’ll focus on one,” Collin said, shaking his head. “What do you mean she created a world?” “It is one of Piper Lancaster’s titles,” the little man said. “Kewasa, shepherd to lost spirits, witness to creation, slayer of demons and gods…creator of worlds.” “What exactly does creator of worlds mean?” I asked, still processing that Abel had killed the Great One. The demon who’d killed my stepmother was gone, and I hadn’t been the one to end it. The thought left me feeling hollow. “Her power is growing daily. For now, she can create small worlds in dimensions adjacent to ours. She’s created one in the attic above our heads,” Tsagasi said matter-offactly.

“She was hiding in it when we first arrived last evening.” “A pocket dimension,” David murmured. “What’s she hiding in the attic?” Collin asked in an accusatory tone. “None of your damn business,” Piper’s friend said as she descended into the living room from the staircase by the front door. She was shorter than me and had sleek blonde hair cut into an angular bob with pink streaks. The terrified look she’d worn hours ago in the warehouse had been replaced with fierce determination. “Rhys,” I said. “It’s nearly dawn and you’re supposed to be resting after your…ordeal.” “It’s my second kidnapping in two weeks,” Rhys said as she focused a laser-sharp glare on me. “Not to mention some demon or god killed my girlfriend to mess with Piper’s head, and a body-snatching asshole killed our friend Hudson and impersonated him.

Right now, Piper is with those things, which she willingly undertook to save our collective asses, I might add, and I come downstairs to hear you accusing her of hiding something from you?” “Rhys,” I said gently, lifting my hands toward her. “No one’s accusing her of anything.” “Bullshit,” she ground out through gritted teeth. Jack—Piper and Rhys’s friend—appeared behind her on the stairs. He put a hand on her shoulder, then turned to me and said, “Piper’s been looking for you for weeks. And even if she hadn’t been looking for you, she doesn’t hide from things. She faces them head-on. Even if they’re demons.” “Then what’s up in the attic?” Collin demanded. “None of your damn business,” Rhys snarled.

Collin took a step toward the staircase. “If you won’t tell me, I’ll just go find out for myself.” Rhys blocked his path, her body shaking with anger. “I don’t think so.” He stared down at the much shorter woman, ready to muscle her to the side when Tsagasi shouted, “Enough!” Collin took a step back and turned to face the supernatural creature. “The world in Kewasa’s attic is no concern of yours. It is for her alone to deal with.” “Kewasa,” David said, clearly eager to change the topic and hopefully defuse the situation. “Deliverer. I recently read about Kewasa in a translated Middle Ages text about demons.

I’ve done more research on the title while we’ve been waiting, but I’m not sure what it means exactly. Do either of you know?” Jack shook his head. “I was surprised he saved her last night,” he said, narrowing his eyes. “He told her that he wouldn’t kill a demon for her.” “The demigod killed the Great One,” Tsagasi said. “In front of Okeus, breaking his vow to not kill demons. He did it in retaliation for killing her friend. And to keep her secret.” “What secret?” Collin asked. Irritation filled Tsagasi’s eyes.

“That she can create worlds, dense one.” Collin pointed his finger at the little man. “You better not try to make that an official title.” Tsagasi only smirked. My gaze landed on Collin, and he turned serious as he stared back at me. He’d made a deal with Okeus to leave the demons alone, but he’d also broken that vow to save me. “He cares about her.” “Kieran Abel is only capable of caring about himself,” Jack said. “He’s allowed demons to walk around unchecked, refusing to help Piper stop them. If it weren’t for him, she wouldn’t be in this position—and her friend would likely still be alive.

Abel had a reason for killing that demon, but I suspect it had nothing to do with avenging or protecting Piper and everything to do with his own selfish motives.” His words seemed to confirm my growing suspicion. He had feelings for my cousin, but she had feelings for the son of Okeus, whether she wanted to have them or not. And it was obvious from the exchanges between Piper and Abel that things were very complicated between them. Rhys remained painfully quiet. “You think he’s lying to Piper?” I asked Jack. He paused, then turned and met my gaze. “Kieran Abel is literally the son of the devil incarnate. He’s not to be trusted. With Piper’s heart or her life.

And right now, she’s God knows where with him.” He moved toward the front door. “I’m going to go find her.” “She disappeared five hours ago, Jack,” Rhys said. “How are you going to find her?” “She disappeared yesterday morning at a client’s house. She came back to the exact place she disappeared from. I’m going back to the warehouse.” “I’m going with you,” Collin said, surprising me again. Collin had clearly taken a special interest in my cousin, but was it possible for his interest to be anything but purely selfish? W C H A P T E R T WO PIPER hat the hell had I gotten myself into? I stole a glance at the man standing next to me on the balcony of a luxury home built into the side of an Appalachian mountain. I’d told Abel to think of a place that made him happy before I whisked us off to another world, and while I’d expected to appear in some ancient time and place, he’d thought of the house he’d brought me to the night before.

“How safe are we here?” I asked, trying to ignore that the demigod next to me was still shirtless, and seemed even more attractive than ever. He was tall, with dark hair and eyes, and rippling muscles that seemed too perfect—was it because he was a demigod or because he worked out? Maybe a little of both. “You mean from the demons?” he asked. “This is your creation. You’re the expert.” I scowled. “You’re the one who thought of this place, Abel.” “The world is yours, Waboose. Whatever is here is what you’ve created.” “So it’s not real.

” He reached for me, wrapping an arm around my back and hauling me to his chest. “You feel real.” My hands splayed over his hard pecs, and I couldn’t stop my thumb from brushing the skin next to the light pink scar slightly beneath his heart. The deep wound I’d put there a little over an hour ago had nearly healed. I was suddenly very aware that I was only wearing my bra and panties—along with my belt holding my daggers and my sword—but instead of dissuading me from touching him, it made it more difficult to restrain myself. “Do you think Okeus is waiting for us in the warehouse?” I asked. He lifted his hand to my cheek, brushing a hair away with his fingertips. “He won’t stay there himself, but I’m sure he’s left his minions there to wait for us.” “So he knows I can create pocket universes?” “I have no idea what he thinks.” His face lowered to the base of my neck.

“But we need to be prepared for anything when we leave.” I sucked in a breath as a shiver ran down my spine. I knew I should stop him—the night before he’d told me that if we had sex, we ran the risk that I’d be dragged to hell with him when he died, but I couldn’t bring myself to pull away. His tongue slid over the bite mark on my collarbone…the bite mark he’d given me hours before to lay claim on me. I felt a jolt of energy shoot down to my core. He grunted, now sucking on the mark as his hand skimmed down my back to my butt cheek. His fingers dug in deep as he hauled me closer, making it clear he was very aroused. “Abel…” His face lifted, and his eyes were like pools of ink. “You’re mine now, Piper.” While his words stoked some primal part of me that I recognized as supernatural, the feminist part of me bristled.

“Excuse me?” His mouth covered mine and his tongue parted my lips. My hands lifted around his neck and I clung to him as a passion I’d never experienced before took complete hold of my senses. It was like this man was the other half of me, even though my logical mind rejected the thought as ridiculous. He deftly unfastened the belt on my hips, and it dropped to the concrete floor with a dull thud that barely registered. His other hand cupped my breast as he dragged his mouth away from my lips, sliding it back to my collarbone. His thumb brushed my nipple as he sucked on the bite, and my knees buckled from a wave of sensation. Somewhere in the back of my mind, I knew what I was feeling wasn’t normal, but he was a demigod and I was his Kewasa. Was that why I was so attracted to him? Or maybe it was the bite that he’d given me to assert his claim. I shoved him, pushing him about six inches away from me. “What does that bite really mean, Abel?” His eyes darkened, and irritation wrinkled his forehead.

“I told you. It claims you as mine.” “But what exactly does that mean?” He studied me for a second, then sat down on one of his outdoor chairs, tugging me with him. I ended up straddling his legs. I knew this was a bad idea, like when you feel the urge to eat a leftover cupcake at midnight, yet I couldn’t seem to stop myself. “It means you’re mine, Waboose,” he said softly, the palm of his hand skimming my shoulder and down my back. He was talking in circles, and I suspected he was doing it to get me to let the subject go. “What did Okeus mean when he asked if you’d bound me to you?” Pushing out a sigh, he skimmed a hand down my bare arm, the contact sending a chill down my back. “From my understanding, it’s an eternal, supernatural bond, only it’s not as equals, Kewasa. It’s more like slave and owner.

” I pulled away and sat upright. “You want to control me?” Releasing a heavy sigh, he reached up to caress my cheek. “No. I would have said anything to Okeus to protect you. It’s more like I’ve marked you as a member of my team.” My brows shot straight up, my irritation rising again. “Your team? As in, you’re the owner?” “No, more like the team manager.” Then it hit me what “team” actually meant. “You can claim others?” I demanded, surprised by how jealous it made me. And then a new thought hit me.

“Have you already claimed others?” A grin spread across his face, a hint of the Abel I’d first met appearing. “Would it bother you if I have?” I wasn’t sure why, but the mere thought filled me with irrational rage. It felt like I should be the only one. I needed to be a grown-up and let this go—of course Abel had claimed others; he’d been alive for hundreds of years—but the image of him holding another woman and biting into her flesh made me want to throw something. And so I did. I scrambled off his lap and picked up a candle on the table next to me, tossing it at his head. He easily batted it away, chuckling in amusement. “Asshole.” Needing space, I stormed through the open door leading inside. Abel was behind me in an instant, grabbing my wrist and spinning me around to face him, still grinning.

“My Waboose has sharp teeth.” “I can bite too,” I snarled, eyeing the dip at the base of his neck. I could feel myself salivating at the thought. What the hell was happening to me? He groaned and tugged me closer. “There’s nothing wrong with you. Our blood bond is even stronger after I tasted your blood again a few hours ago. It makes us irresistibly drawn to one another. If you bite me and drink my blood…it will only strengthen our bond.” My anger bled out of me, replaced by fear. “As in forever?” He hesitated.

“Perhaps.” I reached my hand up to the bite on my collarbone. “Abel. I should have had a say in this.” “Bite or no bite, I’ve claimed you, Piper Lancaster,” he said in a gravelly voice. He reached for my left palm and gently opened my still-clenched fingers. With his index finger, he traced the circle and square in the center of my palm, supernatural symbols that had appeared there as my powers unfurled. “Because I’m Kewasa?” I asked, fighting the shiver skating down my back. “No, because you’re you.” I shook my head.

“What does that mean?” “It means I’ve waited my entire life for you, Piper, and fate’s cruel hand has made you my Kewasa.” He closed my fist and then covered it with his hand. “Together, we defied Okeus. We tricked him, and for that alone, he will seek us out and punish us. But if he doesn’t already know what you can do, he’ll find out soon enough. Tsagasi did. Okeus will enslave you, Piper. We have to find a way to keep the crescent moon from appearing on your hand so I can help protect you. If we don’t, I worry he’ll punish you for killing me, or if the mark appears when you’re locked up, you’ll go mad trying to get to me to kill me.” All of which sounded terrible.

“We have to go back.” He slid his arm around the small of my back and pulled me closer. “Not yet.” “You know time moves more slowly here. Twenty minutes means hours there.” “That’s one reason why I want to wait.” He kissed me again, his lips possessive but gentler than before. I plastered myself against him and demanded more, grabbing his face and holding him in place. His arm wrapped around my lower back like a vise. Every bit of me was pressed against him, yet I craved more.

He jerked his head up and took a breath as though he’d been underwater, his eyes hooded with lust. “This is the other. I keep trying not to touch you,” he ground out as his fingers dug into my flesh, “but you have a gravitational pull I’m powerless to resist.” Cradling his face in my hands, I searched his eyes, wishing I knew what was going on behind them. Wishing I knew everything he did about my role in this mess. That ring he wore dulled our blood bond, and part of me wanted to pull it off his finger. The tension in his arms loosened. For a moment, I thought he was pushing me away, but he took the ring off and slid it onto the thumb of my left hand. Find your answers, Waboose, he thought, staring at me with an intensity that stole my breath. But something else caught my attention.

“I thought the ring blocked us from reading each other’s thoughts.” He gave me a wry grin. “That wasn’t entirely true.” The ring allows the wearer to read the other’s thoughts as well as to transmit thoughts to them. While part of me was pissed that he’d lied, I needed to focus. “So I can read your thoughts, but you can’t read mine?” Can you see my entire history before you knew me?

.

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