Lothaire Read online

Page 4


Page 4

 

  With a knot in her throat, she collected his favorite shotgun: a Remington double-barrel twelve-gauge. It was empty, no slugs to be found; Uncle Eph had long since come round and gathered up all the shells-just in case the demon got any ideas with the scattergun.

  The familiar heft of the weapon was reassuring. Soon all this would be over forever. At the thought, she felt a strange sense of relief.

  When she returned to the living room, Mama rushed forward. "Please, baby, couldnt you just try prison?"

  Im doomed anyway. An injection later, or a bullet now.

  Ellie would die on her terms-bleeding out in the snow, atop her beloved mountain.

  "No, jails out of the question. Now you need to think about Josh. About the family. " Ellie forced a smile. "I love you, Mama. Tell Josh I loved him, too. You know Ill be lookin down, watchin out for everyone. "

  As her mother began to bawl, muttering jumbled words, Ellie pointed to the back room. "You go on in the back and stay in there! You hear? Dont come out till they make you, no matter what happens. Promise me!" At last, Mama nodded. Ellie gave her a shove, and she dragged her feet away, softly closing her bedroom door behind her.

  Before Ellie lost her nerve, she turned to the front door, Remington in hand. She began to reach for her hand-me-down coat, then made a fist instead. Fool. You wont be cold long.

  On the count of three. Ellie took several deep breaths, her thoughts racing. Im just nineteen-too young.

  One.

  I got no choice. Soon, nothingll be left of me.

  Two.

  Imagine waking up to Mama and Josh, dead, their eyes glassy and sightless.

  Never! With a shriek, she threw open the door, raising the gun.

  "Shooter!" the sheriff yelled. Bullets went flying.

  She felt none of them; a towering man had appeared out of thin air, standing between her and the officers.

  With a furious growl, he shoved her to the ground, knocking the gun from her hands as he took the bullets in his back. She stared up in disbelief. His irises were . . . red. At least five shots hit him, but his monstrous gaze never wavered from her eyes.

  -"Hold your fire!"

  -"Whered he come from?"

  -"What the hells goin on?"

  The mans skin was like perfect marble, stark against the black shirt and trench coat he wore. His hair was pale blond, his features chiseled. And those eyes . . . otherworldly.

  "Another demon!" She blindly rooted her hand through the snow, automatically reaching for the shotgun, but he stepped on her wrist.

  When she gave a cry of pain, he pressed down harder, his lips drawing back to reveal . . . fangs. "You dare risk my female?" His voice was deep and accented, his tone filled with scorn. At his words, the baying dogs immediately fell silent.

  "Wh-what are you talking about?"

  "Your attempted blaze of glory, Elizabeth. And all because of a few murders?" He gave her a look of disgust, as if to say, Grow up.

  The sheriff ordered, "Put your hands where I can see them!"

  Instead, the pale-haired demon hunched down beside her, cupping her nape to snatch her closer. With his other hand, he tossed her gun away.

  When another bullet plugged him in the back, he hissed over his shoulder, baring those fangs. "One-moment," he snapped.

  Ellie sneaked a glance at the cops; they looked too confounded to

  react.

  And behind them, Ephraim and some of her cousins had come running up the mountain, rifles in hand. Theyd slowed in shock upon seeing the demon.

  The male sneered, "Mortals," then turned back to her. "Listen very carefully, Elizabeth. I am Lothaire the Enemy of Old, and you belong to

  me. After considering my options, Ive decided I will allow you to go

  to jail this eve. "

  "Y-youve got the wrong girl! I dont know you-"

  Talking over her, he said, "In your human prison, youll be hidden from my kind, which means youll be relatively safe while I continue my search. I will return for you in two years. Or so. " He gave her a harsh shake. "But if you try to harm yourself-and therefore my female-again, I will punish you beyond imagining. Do you understand me?"

  "Your female? Im not yours!"

  "I wouldnt have you. " He narrowed those red eyes. "The glorious being who lives within you, however . . . "

  "I dont understand! Whats inside of me?"

  He reached his free hand toward her face, his black claws glinting in the moonlight. Ignoring her question, he huskily murmured, "I will have her, my queen, forever. "

  When he brushed a strand of hair from her face, she flinched. "Unhand me, demon!"

  He stared down at her even as he addressed another in that deep, hypnotic voice: "Saroya, if you can hear me, sleep until I return for you. When all my plots and all my toiling come to bear. "

  Saroya? It has a name?

  With inhuman speed, he rose, looming above Ellie. More words in another language followed, then he disappeared into thin air.

  The shaken deputies closed in on Ellie, their jaws slack. Sweat ran from their foreheads even as their breaths smoked. One cuffed her silently, while the others aimed their pistols in all directions-even up.

  Ephraim and her cousins looked stricken; they could do nothing to save her, short of killing four cops in cold blood.

  Her stunned mind finally registered that she would be taken alive.

  The red-eyed demon had prevented her death. And Ellie burned to kill him for it.

  Chapter 2

  Ridgevale Correctional Center for Women, Virginia

  PRESENT DAY

  Does the condemned have any last words?" the warden intoned.

  "No!" Ellie squirmed against her bonds on the gurney, pulling taut the electrodes dotting her chest. With each of her frantic heartbeats, the nearby EKG monitor spiked. The IV tubes snaking from each arm swayed back and forth. "No, Im ready!"

  She might have felt dread that she was about to die, but urgency overwhelmed all other emotions. Shed had death snatched from her grasp once before.

  And the demon was stirring inside her.

  Fearing "Saroya" would rise and attack everyone around her, Ellie had taken no last meal, had met with no family or chaplain. Shed inventoried her worldly belongings-ChapStick, college textbooks, four dollars in change, and her journals-with a swift efficiency.

  Ellie had made peace with her fate long ago, had hungered to die ever since the night of her arrest. Shed written apologies to the victims families, saving them to be delivered after she was gone.

  "Please hurry, sir," she begged the elderly warden.

  At that, a hum of murmurs broke out in the next room. The witnesses behind the tinted glass window didnt know what to make of her behavior, didnt know how to process such an unusual murderer.

  She was young, had filed no appeals to her sentence, and by all accounts had never displayed violent behavior growing up.

  There had been run-ins with the law. Some minor-getting caught parking with boys. Some not so minor-poaching on state lands and refusing to testify against family members or cooperate with law enforcement.

  But thered never been a drop of human blood spilled by her hand until a yearlong killing spree.

  Saroya had been busier than Ellie had ever dreamed.

  "Im ready. "

  The warden frowned at her, and the two prison guards flanking him shuffled uncomfortably. Against all their best efforts-and Saroyas-theyd ended up liking Ellie, admiring her quiet determination to educate herself, to earn a degree, though she had no future.

  Ellie had always had a good sense of people, and shed ended up liking the three back. "Thank you for everything. "

  "Then God be with you, Ellie Peirce. " The warden turned toward the adjoining control room. As the guards followed him out, one briefly laid his gloved hand on her shoulder. The other gave her a quick nod, but she could tell hed be affected by her passing.