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The Demon Within (A PeaceKeeper Novel Book 1)(9)

By:Stacey Brutger



His lips curled in bitterness. Even if there was something different about this one, he'd learned his lesson.

Stranded on earth as a demon until he could redeem himself, all he had to do was save the life of his chosen three times to gain his freedom.

He was on the right path with this human. After centuries, he was finally being rewarded. Darkness surrounded her like a halo. All he had to do was save her twice more.

He'd almost arrived too late and lost her by following the wrong trail in the jungle. Thankfully, he'd realized his mistake. Too bad it wasn't before her friends had been murdered. It would've given him an edge, something to hold over her. He had a feeling he'd need it with her.

The woman searched the temple for evidence anyone had survived for another half hour before conceding defeat. His chest gave an odd twinge to see the defeated slump to her shoulders, and he clenched his fists to prevent himself from doing something stupid.

Like give in to the need to touch her.

The fact that it would take a few days for him to become solid again was the only thing that saved her.

He watched her disappear on the trail, tempted to follow. There was something about the way she moved that begged him to explore further.

He shifted, his hand groping for the ivory handled knife. Only to find the weapon that had survived centuries of battles had been destroyed within one day around that woman.

"Saints and Sinners." Even he winced as the curse rose unbidden to his lips, another bad habit he learned from humans.

He stared into the space of the now empty path with narrowed eyes. Nothing could interfere with his return. Especially not this woman and the chaos she left in her wake.





Chapter Seven





"Calypso Judith Sawyer, you can't let him steamroll you out of the group. It's been a week. Too long to let him get away with it."

"I hate it when you call me that." The sound of Cunningham's words out of her friend's mouth hurt, the empty coffin they'd laid to rest a few days ago still haunted her.

As for Kelly's accusations, Caly ignored them altogether. There was no way to fight Henry without hurting the group. And really no reason. She didn't want to be in charge, couldn't be without them eventually finding out about her infection. Oscar's will remained at the house, and that's where it would stay.

Uncomfortable in the leather suit she'd selected for Oscar's wake, she tugged at the tight corset blazer she'd found at the back of her closet. Now she remembered why. If she pulled up at the blasted thing, her waist was exposed. If she tugged down, her chest was on display like some kind of pagan offering.

And worst of all, she couldn't conceal any weapons. The long sleeves fitted so snug to her body, they threatened to cut off her circulation. That left her with only the two ankle sheaths.

She felt naked.

"Nice boots, Caly."

At the sound of his teasing voice, Caly twirled. "David, when did you get back?" Not comfortable with displaying affection, she awkwardly patted his back in return of his hug.                       
       
           



       

The scent of pine filled her nose. Only an inch over six feet with not a scrap of fat on him, David could've doubled for the scarecrow in the Wizard of Oz. Sandy brown hair stuck up from all angles. None of his clothes fit properly, all but falling off his lanky frame, and instead of losing straw, he lost pens by the dozen.

Though not typically task force material, the man was an absolute genius with computers.

"We got in this morning." His low voice rumbled in her ear.

Caly pulled away to gauge his reaction, half-afraid of the answer. "Successful?"

He gave an abrupt, negative shake of his head and turned away. Stillness settled over her, dread wrapping tight around her heart. She swallowed hard and forced one word out. "Casualties?"

"A third. It was almost like they were waiting for us." He gathered Kelly close, an arm around her waist. The back of her throat ached at such a casual display of affection. Part of her yearned for the same, but the harsh truth was that any romantic attachment would kill her when it ended.

And it would end. Her past would never let her forget.

Though envious, Caly was happy that they'd found each other. As a couple, they were complete opposites. Kelly couldn't reach five feet if she stood on tiptoes. Dark hair, vivid brown eyes, and an extra twenty pounds gave the impression of a good-natured pushover.

A ruder, more disagreeable person Caly had yet to meet. Kelly was her best friend. Without a lick of fighting ability, her natural talent of communication had allotted her a position on the support section of the team. With more than thirty languages under her belt, she was indispensable.

Kelly gave her a piercing look, twisting the conversation back to shove home her point. "Henry's made one bad decision after another. Out of over a hundred people, he's reduced the team to half the week he's been in charge. They're dropping faster than clothes at a strip club."

Caly looked away from the demand in her friend's eyes, hating herself for being a coward and cursing Henry for a fool. Henry had the charisma to charm others into believing any scheme he concocted. He would help an old woman cross the street if the right people were looking, only to leave her in front of a bus if he lost his audience. He was a fighter, not a leader. Without Oscar's stringent rules, the group was crumbling.

Kelly stepped in her line of vision. "You have to tell the rest of the group what happened at the temple. If you don't, it won't be long before Henry's carelessness kills the rest of us." Kelly tucked herself up next to David, her stark words twisting a knife in Caly's conscience.

"You might hate it, but this group will fail without you." David ran a hand over his head as if he regretted telling her the truth. Not surprising, his hair bounced back into its usual disorder. Too bad she couldn't rebound as quickly.

David glanced at his watch then sighed. "It's time to pay our last respects."

Kelly snorted. "Henry has an agenda for tonight. He'd never have agreed to take over the planning of the service for Oscar without some scheme in the works."

Caly gave a wry smile and pulled open the door to old warehouse, pitifully grateful for the reprieve from their badgering. "Don't worry. I've learned to never turn my back on that man."

"At least that will save me from having to extract the knife he'd plant in it." Jarred strode up from behind her, a tuneless whistle on his lips.

Jarred, the medic of the team, had been a step away from graduating with his doctorate when he'd learned of the existence of demons. They, subsequently, had destroyed his world to ensure his silence. A man of medium height, regular brown hair, and average weight, nothing about him stood out. Until he opened his trap. His smart mouth and bland, snarky comments had been the cause of more trouble than a class of rambunctious kindergarteners when the teacher left the room.

With a white tank top tucked into his khakis and a Hawaiian shirt, nothing remained of his Ivy League background except his phenomenal bad taste and lack of self-consciousness.

"We don't have all day." Jarred reached past her and held open the door to the warehouse. As she passed by, he whispered, "Let the show begin."

Caly rolled her eyes at his dark humor. The man treated her like his partner in crime, and she loved him for it.

These were her friends. Her family. They were also the best of the group. When push came to shove, she trusted these people with her life. And the very same people she made sure never knew the truth about her.

"Thank you all so much for coming." Henry stood by the door, greeting everyone arriving. The slight inflection in Henry's voice let Caly know he hadn't forgotten about the medallion incident.                       
       
           



       

Since her return, she'd found her room sacked on two separate occasions. The building that had been her home for years no longer felt safe.

Two days ago, she'd moved herself to an ancient farmhouse she and Oscar had occupied years ago. It should've made her feel better. It only made her feel more isolated. She crossed her arms, rubbing her chilled skin. Oscar and Cunningham's death had drastically changed the dynamics of the group. The double blow should've pulled everyone together. Instead, the training mats were rarely used.

The lack of any demon confrontation in this area the last few days only increased her unease. She tried to convince herself she was paranoid. No one was watching her from the shadows. But on a number of occasions, she caught a movement out of the corner of her eye, a glimpse of the man from the temple, only to have him disappear when she went to confront him. The thrill of hide and seek had stopped when she couldn't catch the bastard.

She refused to believe she was losing her mind.

Here, at Oscar's memorial service, she searched the faces she'd once fought alongside. Only to have their glances shy away from hers. She'd spent most of her life keeping her distance from them as Oscar ordered, whatever it took to protect her secret. But it didn't lessen the impact of their rejection.

"They blame you for his death." Henry spoke solemnly, but the gleam in his eyes said he wasn't above using that information to his advantage. Even if he had to fan the flames a bit.

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