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The Demon Within (A PeaceKeeper Novel Book 1)

By:Stacey Brutger

The Demon Within (A PeaceKeeper Novel Book 1)
Stacey Brutger

       ACKNOWLEDGMENTS





I want to thank the talented people who have helped this book along in its various stages of production:



To Amanda Kelsey, whose awesome talent enabled my characters to step out of the pages and come alive on the beautiful cover.



To my editor, Erin Wolfe, who sweated with me through the many versions of my book in order to give my readers the best story possible. Any mistakes are my own.



To the generous people who've offered support along the way.



And to my husband and family for their unfailing support.

It means the world to me.



Lastly, I want to thank the readers.

I hope you have as much fun reading The Demon Within as I had writing it.





Chapter One





The mission reeked of a trap, yet Caly volunteered anyway when she learned her cousin had been taken. Not for any warm and fuzzy feelings. Her cousin manipulated others too well to allow anyone to pry her ass out of the city if she didn't want to go.

The kidnapping was a hoax to lure Caly out in the open. The big question was why they wanted her in particular.

She must have slipped, moved too fast, hunted too well, and revealed too much about the infection ravaging her body that made her not quite human.

Now they were going to get rid of her.

She just wished she knew if it was the demons or her friends who'd strike the final blow. The antacids she'd devoured like popcorn on the plane had left a chalky aftertaste in her mouth that soured at the thought.

Unfortunately, the orders to deploy had been given before she could prove the truth. Though she might be Oscar's little pet experiment, if she stepped out of line or dared question him, he'd have her eliminated.

So she and her team of self-appointed soldiers had departed, tasked with bringing back her cousin alive and keeping the existence of demons hidden from the rest of the world. She had to admit a certain genius for choosing such a god-forsaken place. If they failed in their mission, a few gringos lost in the jungles south of the equator were easily forgotten.

The hell spawn had miscalculated this time, though. With her special enhancements, she was the perfect candidate to keep her team alive. Part of her relished the coming battle, but the biggest reason she kept her mouth shut was the desperate need to find answers about her condition.

A cure.

Banishing the painful hope, Caly trudged behind the others on the narrow path, watching for the slightest hint of suspicions from her fellow soldiers.

But everyone appeared so damn normal.

That left the demons, then. Part of the anxiety twisting her gut about eased at knowing that her friends didn't suspect the truth. She could bear it if they ever found out.

Fighting demons didn't frighten her, not as much as the possibility of losing control of her unusual abilities in front of the others. She swallowed the sharp edge panic at the thought. She refused to allow that to happen.

A spark of nerves crawled across her skin. The tiny hairs on the back of her neck bristled, and the disquiet plaguing her increased with each breath. She jerked her chin up, and slowed her pace, watching for anything out of the normal.

Something was out there, waiting, watching like a spider would a fly, and it didn't have anything pleasant in store for them.

Part of her wanted to urge everyone to turn back, but the dark, dangerous part that she tried to bury wanted to charge forward and do what she did best: seek and destroy.

Everyone else continued as if nothing was wrong. None of her senses registered an intruder. All she could smell was that damn clean air clogging up her nose. Caly gritted her teeth and kept quiet, rolling her shoulders to shake off the clamminess that enveloped her.

The commander didn't have room for that woman's intuition nonsense, and that's what he would accuse her of if she went to him with her suspicions without proof. The dismissive attitude because of her dubious past infuriated her, but she knew better than to protest or risk being left behind.

That wasn't an option. Not when she was so damn close to answers and a normal life.

Caly took a deep breath then mentally cursed the climate. The hot, moist air seeped into her lungs and fought her for each breath as though an invisible hand reached into her chest and squeezed her lungs through its meaty fingers. She refused to admit the premonition could be anything but her mind playing tricks.

Or maybe they were taking the first steps into the pit of Hell. It was a toss-up.

The skinny guides set a quick pace through miles of jungle as if chased by some unseen force she could almost sense. She had no doubt if the crew fell behind, the two men would disappear.

The guide before her plowed forward at a determined pace, her plodding a step behind. A stir of air was all the warning she received when the underbrush came snapping back. Caly ducked, swatted the branches, barely dodging a nasty slap in the face.                       
       
           



       

She glared at the male in front of her, the pommel of the blade nestled comfortably in her hand as she contemplated if she could get away with murder. Unfortunately, she didn't think the team would appreciate her killing the only men who knew the way.

"Don't do it. We don't need to be hiding bodies or wandering blind, asses in hand, to find that blasted temple."

Caly whirled at the low, rumbling voice.

Too fast.

Knowledge edged into his eyes.

He knew.

She suspected he'd known for a while, but he'd never confront her, and she didn't know why. She tried to keep her distance, but he wouldn't allow it. All she could do was watch and wait for her world to fall apart.

"Damn it, Cunningham, I told you not to sneak up on me. I could've hurt you." She quickly resumed the march. After a minute, her heartbeat trickled back to its steady rhythm at the near miss. She'd been so focused on her anger, she'd grown careless. She had to be more careful if she hoped to keep her secret from the rest of the group.

"Nah, you like me too much."

"Why'd you have to come?" After his family had been taken from him, he only lived for death. And she, for one, didn't want to be the one to grant him his wish.

"What? Don't you like my sparkling personality?"

A choked laugh escaped despite the insidious fear prickling between her shoulder blades like sharp little claws. The barrel-chested man treated her as a daughter despite her resolve to keep her distance. When others made her feel like a pariah, he never once spoke a word of doubt. And because of that, she'd give her life for him.

"You know as well as I do that it's a trap." She couldn't keep the snap of anger out of her voice.

"Yeah, well. I couldn't have you going off alone, now could I? You shouldn't have come." He shook his head, grousing like a hen after a chick. "You barely sleep, barely rest the way things stand."

"Like you should talk."

A small, broken smile tipped his lips. "I sleep with my eyes open."

More like can't sleep at all with the nightmares ripping at his soul the way the demons had his family. She glanced away so they both could pretend they didn't know the truth.

No, they needed to focus on the trouble at hand. A problem they could solve. When the dratted messenger boy had arrived a few days ago with the news of her cousin's disappearance, Caly would've brushed it off as one of Juliet's way to cause mischief. Lord knew the girl did it often enough when they were teenagers.

The simplicity of the trap made it infallible for one simple reason. Oscar took it as a personal attack. It would've come to nothing if they hadn't been related. It didn't hurt that Juliet was devastatingly gorgeous and could entice any man … living or dead.

"You mark my words, the twit might not be a demon, but the girl doesn't have the sense God gave a dog and the morals of one in heat. If she wanted something, I wouldn't put it past her to be in league with the demons to get it." Money, power and men - those were the only gods Juliet worshiped.

"Maybe. Maybe not. Who knows what goes on in the big man's head." Cunningham stared at Oscar's back as if he could read their leader's intent if he looked hard enough.

Caly disagreed. Something deep in her bones told her this trip was a mistake, a twist of panic that warned her to run.

A sharp sting pinched the flesh at the back of her hairline. She hunched her shoulders, but it did no good against the little pests. Caly slapped at the little bugger and grimaced at the smear of blood.

A small swarm buzzed past her head.

"Sneaky bastards." Cunningham laughed.

"The damn place is alive."

And it was hungry.

Her body didn't have a single inch of flesh that wasn't itchy or numb from the tiny vampires constant feasting. Every blasted one of them nibbled on her before moving down the line, buffet style.

A curse rang out behind her and a small smile quirked her lips. Though petty, she took sadistic pleasure she wasn't alone in her misery.

"Why'd you come, Caly?"

The seriousness of his voice made her hesitate. Should she tell him the truth or just what he wanted to hear? She settled for a little of both. "It's a trap. Someone wanted us down here for a reason. They wanted me down here. I owe it to Oscar and the team to find out why and keep them safe."

Cunningham grabbed her arm hard enough to leave bruises and jerked her to a stop. "Calypso Judith Sawyer, if I hear that again, I'll turn you over my knee and tan your hide." He yanked up the sleeve of her shirt. "This goes beyond duty. You owe that man nothing."                       

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