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The Demon Within (A PeaceKeeper Novel Book 1)(10)

By:Stacey Brutger



"Ass." David's shoulder struck Henry when he walked past. Kelly wasn't so polite.

Her stubborn chin pointed high, Kelly snarled in an overly sweet voice. "What do you think will happen when the truth comes out? You're no leader. The group is already falling apart. Who'll stand by you when the demons sense weakness and attack?" She jabbed viciously at his chest and walked away with a tsk of disgust.

Jarred didn't say a word. Not even bothering to acknowledge Henry, he took his seat at the front with the others. Anger brewed in Henry's eyes. One didn't have to be psychic to know it only meant more trouble for her. The cutthroat game of one-upmanship he'd played just kicked up the stakes. With a narrow glance, Henry turned on his heel and marched to the podium. The room fell quiet.

"Oscar was a hard man, the cornerstone of this organization. A brute who ruled harshly but for a reason. He wanted the best warriors. He wanted to save the world or at least his part of it. A man who lived for the cause and ultimately gave his life for it." Henry took a sip of water. "Oscar was not a man to forgive or forget. He didn't start this war, nor will he see the end of it, but I can guarantee we'll continue the fight as he would've wanted."

Charisma oozed from his pores as he spoke. But when Henry's gaze snapped to hers, dread blossomed in her chest. She braced herself for an assault, knowing a fair fight would be too much to ask.

"This man was our leader, equal to none in a fight. By some miracle, Caly returned from battle to share the sad tale of his demise. We mourn both his loss and her decision to leave the compound." With a last pointed glance, Henry focused on his audience, his voice and actions captivating in a way that drew a person in and made them believe whatever smoke he blew up their ass. His rhetoric had her half convinced she'd planned to rid herself of Oscar in order to be free.

No wonder everyone had given her the stink eye when she'd entered. His defensive of her magnified all the questions he no doubt had planted since their return. This was the perfect venue for his attack. Anger seared her gut at the inability to voice a rebuttal without sounding defensive. Not only did he hammer the final nails into her coffin, he buried her as well.

The mention of her name snapped her to attention.

"To ensure fairness, a ballot will be cast, granting each member one vote. Rumors will be settled. A leader will be chosen. We must preserve the group and create a united front. Demons cannot be allowed to win because we've lost focus on what's important."

It took less than twenty minutes to decide her fate. To protest that she didn't want the leadership would get her nowhere. Even so, it hurt to know the people she grew up with preferred Henry's lackadaisical leadership to her. But what confused her the most was why a vote had been called at all. She studied the back of her friends' heads and thought she knew the answer.

Caly barely managed to mask her expression when Henry descended to crow about his victory.

"Aren't you going to congratulate me?" A smug smile twisted Henry's lips into a caricature of politeness, pride puffing up his chest.                       
       
           



       

"I know you don't believe me, but I never wanted the group. So I hope you'll take my words seriously. You don't have the tactical training to hold the group. You and I both know it. Find someone and fast before you ruin the team Oscar spent his life perfecting."

The smile disappeared, and viciousness took hold as if he took her words as a threat. Ragged edges of his composure unraveled and tiny cracks of strain that weren't there a week ago lined his face. "The old man is dead. The team is mine. The vote decided it, yet you're still angling for a position of power. I will decide what's best for the group. Watch your steps. I won't take kindly to your disrespect or misfit friends."

Genuine amusement burst from her lips. "I would rather die on my own than under your bungling command. This group won't survive without help before the demons overtake everyone." Caly set aside the glass of water she'd picked up and tugged at her jacket. Predictably, his eyes dropped to her cleavage.

Her fists tightened. The temptation to knock him on his ass licked through her. This was Oscar's memorial. He deserved better behavior from them.

"I'm leaving."

"Leave now, don't bother to come back."

Caly shook her head and walked away. "Not to worry. I've enough courage to die fighting rather than run like a coward."

The sharply muttered curse couldn't be heard by anyone but her. It was enough. Caly stepped outside, closed her eyes and took a deep breath. Cool evening air filled her lungs until her chest burned. The tension that had built up in her shoulders slowly unwound.

The long week of funerals left her exhausted. She missed Cunningham, and yes, even Oscar. Part of her screamed that leaving the group would only make her slide to hell all the quicker, but she couldn't make herself move back into the warehouse. There were too many memories there to haunt her.

The smell of black licorice wafted on the breeze. She tensed and lifted her head even as her mouth watered. "Who's there?" She reached for her weapons when Kelly's strident voice pierced the thick-glassed door of the warehouse.

"Caly, wait."

The smell vanished when David and Kelly rushed outside. Jarred, who never seemed hurry at anything, followed them.

"And where do you think you're going?" The without us went unsaid.

As unobtrusively as possible, she searched the deserted street. "Henry's right about one thing. Oscar poured his life into this organization. To split the group would destroy it."

Empty pavement greeted her. Paranoia was getting the better of her. She glanced longingly at her car, then resolutely turn away. They'd only follow her.

"There's no way you can leave and not expect us to protest." The vehement words came from the mild-mannered Jarred. "I gave up my life to this cause. The cause was Oscar and his vision. You've always been that to him. The reason why he'd fought so hard. He might have favored Henry, but everyone knew he only kept the jackass at his side to provoke you. He was waiting for you to challenge the boob for control. It was never his intent to let Henry rule."

If the words were meant to reassure her, they failed miserably. A pit opened up in her stomach. Others couldn't rely on her, not when she couldn't even trust herself. She took a deep breath and let it out slowly. "Henry didn't tell everyone the truth at what happened at the temple."

Kelly snorted. "We know that, girl."

Caly only shook her head. "The rendezvous point was a sacrificial temple. We were lured there. The demons had somehow managed to find a group of Fallen Angels. Before the bombs detonated, seven were restored to their bodies. If we hadn't arrived a day early, we would've never survived."

Since they'd returned, she hadn't been able to sleep or relax. Even amongst her friends, her nerves jittered along her spine. She tapped her fingers against her leg as she searched the darkened street once more, suspicious of every shadow. Despite feeling eyes burn into the back of her skull, she frustratingly found nothing. "I don't think we returned alone."

Something was out there. Stalking her. Waiting to strike. She needed to keep her distance from her friends until she'd had time to neutralize the threat.

There was an ominous silence at her words. David scratched his chin as he always did when trying to recall information. "There are two types of Fallen. Those who loved humans just a little too much and those who had problems with upper management and were cast out."

Jarred sighed. "I take it these are not the peace loving, tree hugging sort?"                       
       
           



       

"The blast should've eradicated every trace of them." But she didn't believe it. Her luck had never been that good. In case anything happened to her, she had to warn her friends. "If any of the Fallen regained their full power before the explosion, they could still be alive."

"Shit." David paced the cracked sidewalk, his canvas shoes slapped loudly in the deserted street. "Why would demons wish to raise something that could so easily destroy them?"

Caly shrugged, having asked herself that same question a hundred times without any satisfactory answer. "Almost all the ancient texts agree that demons once worked with angels. Then they became obsolete. They now sulked about in the shadows like vermin. This is their chance.

"Physical limits prevent the demons from ruling humans. If they woke the Fallen, they could be grateful. If you were a demon, what would you ask for in return?" She shivered and crossed her arms. Not because of the cold but because it could so easily work.

"It's all speculation. We need a snitch to find out what they have planned." She braced herself, and lied to her friends for the first time. "I met a demon years ago who should be able to supply us with some information." Caly turned away, shame tightening her face.

"No." David's denial was immediate.

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