To all those who battle the dark forces and keep us safe.
The thump thump thump of hip-hop music vibrated over Ivy Strom’s flesh, making the little hairs on her arms stand to attention. The rhythmic noise was so loud she could barely hear her own rapid heartbeat.
She took another sip of her tonic and lime, the liquid quenching her dry throat. From her perch on the stool at the main bar, she scanned the dance floor once more for her quarry, her eyes pausing every so often on lone males.
She’d been told that Sallos, the Great Duke of Hell, would be here, lurking around like the degenerate demon he was. He’d taken two girls from here in the past four months. This was supposedly one of his favorite hunting grounds.
Now it was hers.
Ivy shifted in her seat; the silver daggers she had strapped to her sides underneath her T-shirt were starting to chafe. It was difficult to dress inconspicuously for a club and still carry as much hardware as she wanted.
She had no less than four knives on her, all silver; two ampuls of holy water, hidden carefully in her cleavage; and she’d hung a bag of salt from her belt. And of course she wore a blessed silver cross around her neck. She was prepared for anything to happen. With demons, it usually did.
She’d been hunting this one for a little over five months now. For the past year he’d been terrorizing the streets of San Francisco. Seven women had been murdered so far. They’d all been identified by their dental records and fingerprints. Because this demon didn’t leave much to recognize.
But his reign was over as far as Ivy was concerned. She’d gotten a reliable tip that he’d be here at this club tonight and Ivy was ready for him. She’d take him out, but not before she got a chance to interrogate him. It was her job to hunt him down, but there was also a personal reason behind her need to find him. This demon supposedly had information that could locate Quinn Strom, Ivy’s brother.
He’d been missing for three years now. He was the last of her family and she swore she’d never give up searching until she found him, dead or alive. At least then she’d know, and she could move on with her life. Or exact her revenge, which would be more like it. The Stroms were all about revenge and justice.
She’d been born into the hunting community. Her dad had been a hunter when he’d met her mother. He’d actually met her while chasing down a rogue priest who’d been possessed by a strong wrath demon. Ivy’s mother had been in the wrong place at the wrong time, but her father had saved her life before the demon could do any permanent damage.
They never married, but they lived together, and she had learned the ways of the hunter. She had Quinn shortly after, then Ivy two years later. She’d died when Ivy was only nine. On the job, of course. It had always been about the job. Usually just their dad would go out on hunts, for days sometimes. But on a few occasions, both parents went. In this particular case, Quinn had been left to take care of her while their mom and dad hunted. Dad had come back alone.
Hunters rarely lived to a ripe old age.
Ivy ran a hand over the cross at her throat. The necklace had been a gift from Quinn about a month before he disappeared. When he gave it to her, he told her never to remove it. It would protect her day and night from everything, including the nightmares she sometimes had. After he left, she never did take it off. It was her last reminder of him. Everything else he had taken with him, wherever that was.
She missed him. When he disappeared it was as if he taken a part of her with him. They’d been close. Had to be to endure the constant moving around the country and their dad’s long absences while he hunted. Quinn had never let her out of his sight. He’d always been there for her. When she’d have nightmares, which was often, he’d be there to soothe her back to sleep. In many ways, Quinn had raised her. Not her dad.
Then he’d vanished and she’d been left to pick up the pieces of her life and of the hunt.
She finished her drink and slid off her stool. She’d do a walk around the club. There were some dark areas that she couldn’t quite see from the bar. This was where she could rely on the amulet she wore around her neck to help her search. When a demon was near, it lit up with a blue glow somewhat like a firefly. It heated up as well, so she’d feel it against her skin instantly if a demon crossed her path.
Brushing past some enthusiastic dancers, Ivy circled the dance floor. It was crammed with gyrating sweaty young people of every race and sexual orientation. As she moved past, she almost got swept up in the soulful throb of the music. The primal beats thumped in time to her heartbeat and she found she had to force herself not to move her body to the electrifying rhythm. On another night, she might’ve indulged. It had been too long since she’d had any sort of fun.
Because demon hunting had been part of her life since childhood, she’d been homeschooled so the family could travel often. So she’d never had those lifelong school friendships. In fact, she’d never had a real friend until she grew up and went out on her own. Even now, she had to keep her distance from people. She could never get too close in case she had to flee at the last second.
It was a rough life, but one she’d been born into. It suited her in many ways and she couldn’t imagine doing anything else.
She’d done one sweep of the club and was about to go back to her seat at the bar when the amulet flared to life. Instantly, it was hot.
He was near. Close to her.
She stopped and eyed the dancing crowd. She’d know him the second she saw him. After years of hunting demons, she knew the signs to look for. Signs the regular folk mistook for dark and dangerous allure. To Ivy it was just dark and dangerous. Nothing alluring whatsoever.
She saw him. He was dancing with two young blondes. He was tall, with longish blond hair, not handsome or ugly. Average, mostly. Like a wolf in sheep’s clothing. But it was the eyes that gave him away. When he turned ever so slightly to the left or the right, Ivy could see the flames in his soul.
The unholy fire that he carried within from the depths of hell.
She stepped onto the dance floor. She had to separate him from the women. If he spotted her now, he’d have no qualms about killing them right there and then.
Picking up the rhythm, Ivy danced her way through the writhing crowd. She tried not to stare directly but she needed to keep her eye on him. If she lost him now, it would take months to pick up his trail again. And more women would die. She’d already blown three previous tips because of her impatience. Something she should have grown out of years ago.
As she moved through the throng of people, someone grabbed her rear end. She stopped to glare at the guilty party. He had the presence of mind to turn and leave immediately. People didn’t usually mess with Ivy, and if they did it was only once. She didn’t suffer fools easily.
She had a reputation for being cold as steel and just as inflexible. This was probably why she didn’t have a man or even bothered to date. What man could possibly live up to any of her expectations or abide by her rules of conduct?
None that she’d met so far.
The song changed tempo. The demon wrapped his arms around the two women and they slow danced together. His back was to her, which afforded her an opportunity to walk right up to him. And she did.
She tapped him on the shoulder. He turned and smiled at her. She tried to keep her face unreadable, a mask of indifference, when really she fumed with rage just being next to him.
“Can I cut in?” she asked with a grin she hoped was sexy and not laced with fury.
He looked her up and down. “Sure, Snow White.”
She got that comment a lot. It was because of her chin-length jet-black hair and pale complexion. To top it off, she’d chosen a perfect shade of red for her lips. Demons were attracted to the fiery color. Probably reminded them of home sweet home.
She smiled at him and let him put his hands on her tiny waist.
The other two women sneered at her. She sneered right back and said, “You can get lost now. The main attraction’s arrived.”
They stomped off the dance floor.
One goal down, one more to go. She needed to get him outside so she could stun him with the holy water and salt. Then she’d take him somewhere she could bind him in a devil’s trap and ask him questions. After he told her what she needed to hear she would slide her long silver blade through his heart. Or throat. Either spot would do to kill him and send him back home.
Ivy moved a little closer to him, trying hard not to cringe, and said, “Let’s get out of here. My car is parked in the alley.”
He grinned at her, and then leaned down to her ear. “Sure, Ivy. I’d love to.”
Grinding her teeth, she took a step back from him.
“I saw you the second you walked into the club.” He still danced in front of her, wriggling his hips seductively. “A guy just can’t miss that devastating face and killer body. Get it, killer?” He licked his lips.
“What now?” she asked. She didn’t want to make a scene. He had the upper hand here. He knew she wouldn’t want him to do anything rash and start killing people.
“We could still go out back and get our groove on. I wouldn’t mind tapping that ass of yours.”
Her fingers were itching to reach under her shirt and pull out her blades. She wondered if she could instead reach for the holy water and splash him with it. It might be enough to subdue him so she could take him out. Except the crowd was pushing in on her and she had barely enough room to shift from foot to foot.
“I’m going to kill you.” She flashed him a big grin and as quick as she could reached into her cleavage and plucked out an ampul.
But he was quicker.
He pushed her into the crowd. She stumbled backwards, knocking over two people. By the time she righted herself, he was on the move.
He crossed the dance floor in seconds and made his way to the back of the club, shoving people to the side as he dashed past. Ivy followed him, trying not to ram into the same people in his wake.
She thought about unsheathing her knives, but knew it would be risky inside the club with so many people around. What if someone accidentally ran into her? There were no take backs in demon hunting. When a blade went in, that was it. There was no second chance. Her knives were lethally sharp, coated with salt and blessed by a priest. They were meant to kill. Demon or human, the result was usually the same.
He ran past the washrooms and through the kitchen. He was heading for the back door, that much she knew. She tried to keep up as best she could, but demons were fast and light on their feet. She’d even seen some run up walls and jump over cars. Agility was their strong suit.
Ivy weaved around the baffled kitchen staff; some were pointing to the back, cursing up a storm at having been interrupted. At least she knew which way the demon went.
The back door had just finished swinging when she pushed through it, one hand already snaking up her torso to snag a blade.
The second she was out the door, she hit a wall. Well, not a real wall, but a man built like a brick house.
She bounced off his chest and landed on her butt on the ground.
He reached down with his hand to help her up. “Are you okay?”
She took it and let him heave her to her feet, but she quickly let it go when she realized how hot her chest was getting. She glanced down and saw the glow of her amulet. It lit up the alleyway in blue.
“Damn it.” She reached into her shirt and grabbed her last ampul. Setting it in the palm of her hand, she smashed it against the man’s chin, then reaching down for her salt bag, she untied it and quickly dashed salt all over his head.
She stood back waiting for the wailing and the skin bubbling to begin. But nothing happened.
He just looked at her, a rather pissed-off look in his eyes, then wiped at the water dripping off his chin. The glass of the ampul made a nick in his skin. Blood beaded to the surface. He dabbed at it with his thumb.
“You’re not melting.”
He ran a big hand through his tousled dark hair, and then said, “Yeah, about that.”
Ronan Ames knew exactly who he was standing in front of. Ivy Strom was legendary. Especially in the demon world. She looked exactly how everyone described her.
Gorgeous, with silky black hair, luminous blue eyes and a dynamite body, but as cold and razor-sharp as icicles.
She’d removed one of her blades and had it pressed against his neck. “Are you a demon?”
He had to think about his answer. Because he knew if he gave her the wrong one, she’d slide that blade right into his throat.
“No,” he said, and then added, “Not really.”
She frowned, pressing the tip into his flesh. “Is it no, or not really?”
“Well, you better explain it before I run you through.”
“How about lowering the knife, and then I will explain.” He put his hands out to the side to show her that he wasn’t holding a weapon. He had a bunch strapped to his body, though, but he didn’t need to tell her that.
Ice-blue eyes narrowing, she lowered the knife and took a step back. He noticed she made no move to sheath her blade. He wasn’t surprised. She was infamous for being cautious to the point of paranoia. Probably how she’d stayed alive so long.
He lowered his hands. “Before I tell you, I want you to know that I am not your enemy and, in fact, we are after the same demon.”
She cocked one eyebrow but remained silent, waiting for him to continue.
“I have demon blood in my veins.”
She flinched, and her blade came up.
But he was prepared this time.
He blocked her arm and quicker than she could see he grabbed her other arm, swung her around and pressed her tight to his body, effectively pinning both arms to her sides.
She struggled against him, cursing up a storm. There were even a few choice words he’d rarely heard before, especially from female lips.
“Stop,” he grunted. “I told you, I am not your enemy.”
“Then why are you restraining me?” She tried to dig her boot heel into his shin, but he moved his leg in time.
“Because you’re trying to hurt me.”
That seemed to give her pause and she ceased struggling.
With her still in his arms, he became acutely aware of her tantalizing scent and the way her hard body fit against his. Heat from her form spilled over onto him and sent a ripple of pleasure over him.
Ivy Strom was enticing to say the least, distracting at most. Just from their brief struggle, he could tell how strong she was, how agile and fierce. He didn’t have to see under her clothes to know that she’d be well muscled and toned. The delectable swell of her behind rubbed him in all the right places at definitely the wrong time.
Despite his demon blood, he was also a man, and he couldn’t help his reaction to her.