Miller was in awe. He had a mate. Who would have thought this could happen? Not him, that was for sure. Pointing at the picture Russ sketched out, Miller said, “His hair was parted more to the right and his nose was a bit wider.”
Russ made the changes, Miller nodded, “That’s him. You really are good at this.”
Russ looked up from his sketch, smiling wide, “Thank you.”
Miller looked at Russ in confusion, “I thought you were part of Alpha Tyler’s Cackle?”
Russ shrugged, “I am.”
“But you’re not hyena, I can smell that you’re not.” Miller stated sounding just as confused.
Russ tore the sketch from his pad, saying almost defensively, “I’m a mongoose. Alpha Tyler found me on the side of the road almost dead. He brought me to his Cackle, saved my life, and asked if I wanted to join his group. I had no where to go, and graciously accepted his offer. If you’re going to be part of our Cackle, Miller, you and your brother are going to have to get used to not always having your kind around.”
“Oh, I don’t have a problem with it at all. I think it’s fantastic. It’s just our old Alpha would never have allowed anyone, not a hyena, into our Cackle. I’m a aardwolf and he wanted me out even though I am still a hyena.” Miller explained.
“Well, Or isn’t like that. He listens to a person when they come to the Cackle or if he finds a shifter alone, hurt, or in trouble, he offers them a place in our home. He is a wonderful Alpha.” Russ replied.
Or walked up behind Miller, making a point to be low enough to sniff Miller’s neck, practically purr, then ask, “Are you through here, Russ?”
Russ looked at Or then at Miller with a raised brow, stammering, “Uh——yeah——uh, I guess.”
Alpha Tyler took the picture from Russ and looked at it closely, saying, “I can’t say I’ve ever seen this guy.” Turning he handed it to Jackson, “Have you?”
Jackson looked at the drawing and shook his head, as did Parker, Warren, and Nathanial. A soft knock on the door had everyone going on alert, and Or snapping, “Who the hell is at our door? How did they get passed the guards.”
Shaking his head, Jackson replied, “I have no idea, I can’t smell anything out there.”
Parker and Warren went to the door, as Or made sure Miller was safely behind him. Parker opened the door, “Ziggy! Shit! How the hell did you get passed our guards?”
“I walked. Can I come in?” Ziggy asked.
Parker let the man in and Miller had to blink. The guy was seriously small. Hell, Miller didn’t think he even rached five feet. He was as white as a ghost, had short white hair and his eyes were fucking freaky as hell. They were the tiniest and darkest pupils Miller had ever seen before. Miller couldn’t stop his words if he tried, “What are you?”
Ziggy quickly looked at Miller, and then dropped his head, just as quickly. Miller could see he had embarrassed the small man and that made Miller feel like a big time jerk. “I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to embarrass you. I’ve not been around other types of shifters before, and I tend to speak before I think.”
Ziggy shrugged, softly saying, “It’s okay. I get it a lot.”
Or quickly halted the uncomfortable silence, “Zig, we have the composite photo, like you asked for.”
Nodding, Ziggy said, “I need to talk to Miller before I see it. Mage can sometimes cloak their looks and it’s important to have a clear understanding of the mage’s personality and characteristics.”
“If a mage can cloak his appearance, how do we know you’re Ziggy and not the guy we’re looking for? You have no scent to go by at all.” Warren asked warily.
Ziggy looked at Warren, saying, “You don’t.”
Parker pushed Warren back, saying, “It’s Ziggy. I smell him just fine.”
“You can scent him, but the rest of us can’t? How the hell is that possible?” Warren asked sounding even more wary than a few moments ago.
Rolling his eyes in disgust, Parker replied, “He’s a shifter, but he is also a mage, Warren.”
“Can we get this show on the road? I really don’t think we’re going to have a lot more time before this guy shows up. Miller and I weren’t in the territories more than three hours when the guy would find us. We barely made it out of the last territory when he appeared out of nowhere.” Cal stated fearfully.
Miller sighed and walked around Or, “Cal’s right. We really are on a time table here. What do you need to know?”
Ziggy went to the table and sat down, “Everything. Even if you think it is insignificant. I want you to describe how he appeared. What were his exact words when he spoke to you? Did you smell anything before or after his arrival and departure?”
Miller sat next to Ziggy and thought hard about what Ziggy asked. “Damn, I was so scared, I wasn’t thinking paying attention.”
“Think, Miller. Often our subconscious notices things that our conscious mind does not. Close your eyes.” Ziggy softly instructed.
Miller did as Ziggy told him. Ziggy placed a hand on Miller’s forearm and softly started running his fingers up and down, from elbow to wrist, talking in an almost hypnotic tone, “I know that you’re scared, and things are happening really fast. You’re in a room ordered to heal another, and you have no clue how you’re going to get out of this alive. Now tell me what you’re doing.”
Miller softly replied, “I’m on my knees, praying to the Gods for help. Suddenly I hear a voice behind me. I turn and a large man with short wavy dark hair appears from the darkest corner of the room.”
“Okay, did you hear or smell anything before that? Think Miller, you’re on your knees, what do you hear? What do you smell?”
Miller took himself back to that scary time. It was like he was standing in the cabin watching and listening to himself pray——“Oh shit! There was a low buzzing sound. Almost like a bee.”
“Good, Miller, and what else do you notice?” Ziggy asked.
“Burnt sugar. It doesn’t last long, but I smell burnt sugar, like when you over roast a marshmallow.”
“Good. Good, Miller. Now what des he say? Exact words.” Ziggy instructed.
Miller was back in the cabin once more. He watched as he sank to his knees and prayed. The man’s voice appeared out of nowhere, “I heard your prayers and I am here to help. Magic does not come for free. To get something you must give something. What do you have?”
“I have a necklace my father gave me.”
“That will do. Do not fear. All will be as it should.”
The next thing Miller knew he was in day two. Standing and circling the room, begging the Gods once more for help, the sound of a bee buzzing and the smell of burnt sugar came and Miller saw a dark shadow appear out of the darkest corner of the room. Again, the man offered his help, saying, “I heard your prayers and I am here to help. Magic does not come for free. To get something you must give something. What do you have?”
“I have a ring my mother gave me for my first shift.”
“That will do. Do not fear. All will be as it should.”
Day three appeared just as quickly as the others. Miller was standing over the young boy, listening to his raspy breaths. He knew that the boy didn’t have long to live and Miller was his only hope. A lot of good that did when you had no clue how the hell to make the healing powers work like they had when Cal was hurt. God’s he could still smell the blood from Cal’s dying body, hear the birds chirping and the buz——Miller’s eyes widened, and he jumped from his seat, “He was there! He was at my house when Cal was hurt!”
“What?” Cal gasped.
“I was remembering looking at the boy and thinking about how I had just been cleaning and wondering how all of this shit happened. I remembered the smell of Cal’s blood and running outside. And I remember the sounds of the birds and the buzzing of the bees! I even smelled the burnt sugar! He was there!” Miller shouted once more.
Or came to Miller and brought his arms around Miller, comforting him in a time when he really needed it. Ziggy picked up the drawing, saying, “He set this whole thing up. It was he that has been playing everyone. It’s something a soul demon does.”
“Soul demon?” Or asked.
Nodding, Ziggy said, “This man is not a mage at all, however, he often pretends to be. It’s how they work. They hear the desperate cries of the needy and swoop in. By answering the prayers of one, they are able to draw in several more souls in the process.”
“Ziggy, you’re not making any sense.” Parker said in frustration.
Ziggy let out a deep breath, then explained, “You know, misery loves company. Where you find one desperate person there will be many more and those people will lead you to the next and the next. It’s like and endless supply of souls to collect, by helping them through a dark time in life.”
Miller turned around with Or’s arms still around him. Ziggy must have seen all their lost looks, because he continued to try and explain, “The only purpose of a soul demon is to collect other people’s souls. The more souls he gets, the stronger it makes that demon. How much do you want to bet this all started with Miller and Cal’s Alpha?”
“Why do you say that?” Cal asked.
“Because the final healing was done on his son. Parents are willing to do anything to keep their child safe and alive——even selling their own soul to the devil. However, what’s odd here, is that Rupert started all of this with Miller’s soul as his main prize.” Ziggy said tilting his head one way and then the other as he looked at Miller in confusion.
“Me? Why? And who the hell is Rupert?” Miller asked.
Shaking his head, Ziggy replied, “I don’t know why and Rupert Stulski is the name of the demon after you.”
“I don’t understand any of this. I mind my own business, don’t get in any trouble, am willing to help anyone that might need it——why would he be after me?” Miller asked.
Ziggy’s eyes widened, “Who have you helped recently?”
“What?” Miller asked in confusion.
“Who. Have. You. Helped?” Ziggy asked enunciating each word separately.
“You gave Tommy Zippler two thousand dollars to save his home.” Cal quickly answered.
Miller turned with a brow raised and lip curled, “So?”
Cal nodded and started ticking off good deeds Miller had done, one by one, “You saved Cindy’s life when her house caught on fire. You found a new Cackle for Donny Neilan when Alpha Lenox ordered him killed for kissing Troy Alter and snuck him from our territory. You——”
“That’s it! Miller, you are stealing the souls Rupert has been trying to take. That’s why he wants you. If he can get your soul, you can’t take what he thinks is his.” Ziggy shouted.
“So if this guy is a demon and not a mage, does the name thing still get me off the hook?” Miller asked.
Nodding, Ziggy replied, “It’s like that for anyone using magic contracts. A person’s name is their power. You say their name, and it releases the magic.”
Miller was about to say something, when a sudden whiff rippled across his nose, “He’s here!”
“Well, well, well, if it isn’t my wayward mate. I have been looking for you everywhere, Miller. I do not like being stood up for our dance.” The demon said walking into the room from the shadows.
“You set me up!” Miller hissed.
The demon laughed, then looked at Miller, “I set everyone up. It isn’t that hard. Shifters, humans, other paranormals make it so easy. You and your desperate pathetic lives. One little thing goes wrong, and you would rather sell your soul to the devil than to face that adversity head on. Hard parts of life are not something you are willing to work through. You all want the easy way out and then think you can just figure out a way of a new hardship of your own creation. Well not this time. Not when it comes to making a deal with me. There is no way out of it. Now come with me, Miller, or I will kill every man in this room, starting with your dear half -brother Cal and working my way to Orson.”
Miller gasped and started to pull away from Or, when his mate tightened his hold, “You are insane if you think my mate is going anywhere with you, ass hole.”
Raising a brow, the demon lifted his lip ins a small smile, “Oh, and you think you can stop me? I know. How about if you exchange your soul for his? I take you and Miller can walk away.”
“He’s lying, Or. Miller has a contract. He will let him walk away now, but this scum will return for him once you are gone. I told you, there is only one way out of this contract.” Ziggy quickly said, looking at Miller meaningfully.
Miller realized what Ziggy was saying and remembered what he had to do. Drawing in his fear as best he could, Miller looked the demon straight in his evil eyes, “My mate is not going anywhere with you and neither am I Rupert Stulski. Go back to whatever hell you come from and leave me and my family alone!”
Rupert’s eyes widened in shock, “How——How did——There is no way you could know that name.”
“Well he does and that means his contract is null and void. Good bye, Rupert. Don’t let the door hit you in the ass on your way out.” Cal snapped.
Rupert turned in a circle then looked at Miller, “You think you’ve won, but you have not. You might have gotten out of this today, but there will be another time and another place when I will come for you, your brother, and your precious mate.”
“Yeah, well that day isn’t today, so get the fuck off my territory!” Or snarled
Rupert turned and made his way back to the shadows, disappearing into the darkness.
“Do you think he’ll come back?” Cal nervously asked.
Or continued to look into the darkness, “I don’t know but if he does, we’ll be ready. Because no one is taking my mate from me. Not now, not ever.”
Miller looked at Or, feeling tingles run through him at Or’s possessive tone, “We aren’t actually mated yet, Or.”
Or wiggled his brows, “That will be rectified as soon as I can get you alone.”
“Oh ick, go, before I puke.” Cal murmured.
Miller rushed to his brother, hugged him close, saying, “Get some rest. I’ll see you soon.”
Cal snorted, “Not too soon, I hope or that will not look good on the great Alpha or you.”
Or took Miller’s hand, “Don’t worry, it may be days before you see us again. I don’t know if I will be able to keep my hands off your brother very long.”
Cal rolled his eyes, “Please stop talking.” Turning to Jackson, Cal asked, “Is there a place I can get cleaned up and maybe catch some z’s? I’m absolutely exhausted.”
Jackson nodded, “I’ll show you to your room and get you some clean clothes to change into.”
Or started towards the door before stopping and turning to Cal, “Oh, and but the way. Welcome to my Cackle.”
A serial arsonist has just burned down Jude Riddle’s family home, and is now trying to burn the people of D.O.A. out of Texas. Jude wants answers and is willing to work with anyone to get them, even if help comes in the form of century-year-old men with dragons as partners. Especially if one of those agents is Rance “Casper” Caldwell and his soul binding dragon, Smoky.
Casper has never accepted his maharishi in his renewed life. His beliefs were cut and dry. Death was final, and dragons were demons. However, since Casper had already died once and now walked the earth and was joined with a dragon by a higher power, did this mean he was an evil demon now, or was everything taught to him as a child a lie.
Discovering Jude to be his and Rance’s mate brought a light into what had been a dark, lonely existence to Smoky. He wanted nothing more than to claim what fate had gifted him, but to do so, meant he also had to strengthen his bind with Casper. Could he do this after all the hurt the man had caused him for centuries? Well, he better decide quick, because time is running out for him and Casper and an arsonist is nipping at their mates heels.
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