My name is Molly Brooks.
I killed the man I love. Ended the lives of every enemy he’d had, in one fiery, bloody night.
It did not bring him back to me.
My friends, the team of supernaturals who followed the demon they knew as the Nain Rouge, tiptoe around me. They want me to eat. They want me to tell them what to do, where to go, the way he used to. They want me to feed.
I will never feed from another.
I will keep this city safe, in his honor.
I will die trying.
I can only hope that it happens sooner, rather than later.
My wrath is absolute, my lust for death, pain, fear, unending.
I have lost myself.
I have been lied to, used, left behind, by the being I loved most in this world.
And this thing I have become…this is exactly what Nain always knew I would be.
Damn him for making me do this without him.
* * *
Six months, exactly, since the day I lost Nain. The day I destroyed him. The day I realized how far he would go to get what he wanted. I’d be lying if I said I didn’t hate him. I’d also be lying if I said I didn’t love him, didn’t miss him so much it hurt.
I’d spent the first two months like a zombie. I stayed in his room, surrounded by his scent. I didn’t speak. I didn’t eat. I didn’t feed.
And, yet, here I am.
Death would not come for me, the way I hoped it would. So I did the one thing that would make me feel better: I hunted. My imps found demons, warlocks, vampires for me, and I destroyed them. Each kill momentarily made me feel better.
But they didn’t ease the pain I felt when I laid in bed at night, alone.
The gaping wound in my soul, the one left when our marriage bond had been severed at his death…well. It never stops hurting. It is eternal pain. This is the cost of the marriage bond between demons.
I am living a half-life.
That night, I fed, took powers by force. I truly became a mindflayer, a nightmare among nightmares. Power flows through my body, and I can kill in dozens of ways with little more than a thought. But it wasn’t just my mind, my powers, that changed under the stress of losing Nain.
I am afraid of myself. I will not use my powers anymore. The temptation to do more of what I did that night is overwhelming.
But I still hunt. I go back to the way I used to do things: blades and fists. The only difference now is that I have no qualms about killing my prey. I destroy those who would cause harm to the people of his city.
Tonight, six months after Nain’s death, I hunt werewolves. I revel in their pain and fear, and their deaths fill me, for a time. Their blood stains the ground around me, bodies litter the street. The Guardians arrive and claim their souls, even before I’ve left the scene.
And then I go home, and I am alone, hungry, and afraid again.
Sleep is not the friend it once was.
It won’t come easily. And when it does, I am not granted the deep, dreamless sleep of the peaceful.
There are the nightmares. Nain dying, over and over again in slow motion as I realize what I’ve done. Brennan rips my limbs from my body. My friends stare, mutter “murderer” over and over again.
But I’ll take these nightmares over the sweet dreams.
The dreams in which I am wrapped in his arms, my legs tangled with his, and it feels so real I swear I can smell him. And then I wake up. For just a moment, I am happy. And then reality sets in, and I’ve lost him all over again.
I finished hunting werewolves, and retreated to the roof of the loft. Ready to spend quality time with my punching bag. Another thing that always made me feel better.
I don’t know how many hours I spent whaling away at the punching bag Stone installed for me after Nain’s death. When I wasn’t beating up on bad guys, this was my place.
My knuckles bled, healed, cracked, and bled again. My arms were tired, but not tired enough to make me stop. Constant motion, hitting, was the only thing keeping me sane. I stopped punching, looked up at the sky. It was probably a little after three A.M. I’d been at it since I got home from taking out the werewolves a little after midnight.
I punched the bag again. Harder. I would not cry.
Before Nain, I’d been so good at avoiding feeling things. I had managed to keep emotions, mine and others, in their own compartment. I recognized them, but they didn’t affect me.
He changed everything.
I stopped punching for a minute, rested my forehead against the punching bag. The air around me was frigid. It didn’t matter. My breath formed clouds in the dark night.
I tried to remember to breathe. I wished I could stop. Stop breathing, stop feeling, stop living. Just, stop.
I felt Brennan’s presence nearby. Shook my head, tried to pull myself together, and started punching again. Sure enough, within seconds, the roof door was opening, and he strolled out, dressed, as usual, in jeans and a flannel shirt. I glanced at him, continued whaling on the bag.
“Are you going to sleep at some point tonight, or spend all night up here, hitting things?” he asked, leaning against the wall.
“Am I keeping you up, Bren?” I asked, well aware of the snarl in my voice.
He shook his head, watched me for a while in silence. I kept punching, hoping he’d go away.
“You’ve been up here every night for weeks. You’re busy the rest of the time with meetings and keeping this place running and fighting big bads. Everyone has to sleep sometimes.”
“I sleep when I need to.” This, along with everything else in my life, had changed with Nain’s death and its aftermath. Meeting Nain had helped me tap into my powers, and losing and avenging him had taken them a step further. Or, a few hundred steps further.
I barely felt human at all any more.
“You’re going to eventually lose your temper and incinerate that one,” he said, gesturing at the bag I was hitting. “And then Stone will put another one up for you, and he’ll be happy because it gives him something to do for a while and he can feel useful again.”
“He’s busy enough. He’s still out there kicking ass.”
“But you’re keeping him away from the really bad stuff. That’s the stuff he lives for, and you know that. You take all the bad shit, and you leave him and the rest of us with the supernatural equivalent of traffic stops.”
I stopped punching and looked at him, finally. “I’m not in any hurry to lose anyone else right now. I’m sorry if that offends you, Brennan. And if you’re here to lecture me again, you need to leave. Because I’ll be honest,” I said, hitting the bag so hard it swung, creaking on its chains. “I’m really not in the mood tonight.”
“Six months,” he said quietly. “You’re not the only one who’s been keeping track.” We stood in silence for a few minutes. “Sometimes it feels like we lost both of you that night. Those first weeks afterward, you were a zombie. Now, you’re like a machine. We all understand. We’re mourning him, too.”
“Did you strike the blow that killed him?”
Brennan just looked at me.
“Then you have no goddamned idea how I feel.”
“You know as well as I do that he knew it would happen that way,” he said quietly. I sensed nervousness in him. “He knew it would kill him, and he told you to do it anyway.”
I turned away. “How did you know that?”
“He left me a letter. Father Balester delivered it, after. He knew.”
“I know he did. I got to hear his thoughts as he died.”
“So maybe you should stop blaming yourself. Maybe you should blame him for putting you into that situation. Or maybe you should blame whoever was ordering Astaroth to capture you. But you can’t keep blaming yourself for something you had no control over.” He paused. “And that last part is something I do have experience with, and you know I do.”
Of course I did. I still had the nightmares when I did manage to doze off. “And have you stopped feeling guilty yet?”
“And you didn’t even manage to kill me,” I said, meeting his eyes, then turning back to the punching bag.
“Molly, I think, maybe you should talk to somebody,” Brennan said.
I scoffed. “Yeah? Who am I going to talk to, Bren? Who is going to give me the magic words to make all of this okay?”
He bristled. He hated the tone I used at times like this. I knew it. I just didn’t especially care.
“You could talk to Father Balester,” he said. I rolled my eyes.
“Yeah, a priest who turns into a tree is going to be a great help in this situation,” I said.
He was quiet for a while. Frustrated. “You could talk to me.” I didn’t answer. A few seconds later, he continued. “You could let me help.”
“Yeah. Are you going to charge in on your horse and save me, Bren? Are you going to make it all better?” I laughed, and I knew how I sounded.
He was angry now. “I’d try, Molly. I know I can’t do much–”
“No, You can’t. You need to take your white knight complex, and your desire to fix me, and go back in the fucking house.”
“This is not you,” he said, shaking his head.
“This is me. And you are not him. You are not even close.”
He stared at me. “I know I’m not. And I have no desire to be him, in any way.”
I buried my face in my hands, wishing he would just go away. “That was bitchy. I’m sorry.”
He waved it off, shook his head. Worked at putting a wall up between us again. “Okay. Well. You have another full day of meetings tomorrow. I had to start making appointments, because too many were showing up here hoping to see you. Is that okay?”
“As long as Ada is around to maintain the wards, it’s fine with me.” I was relieved at the change in subject. Tired of going over the same shit over and over again.
Brennan nodded. “She’ll be here. Also: that Shanti girl showed up here again today. She said she really needs to talk to you. I’m pretty sure she’s manifested some type of powers.”
“Can we fit her in tomorrow?”
“If you can stand one more meeting after listening to warlocks and shifters bitch all day long, sure.”
“Tell her she can come. Final meeting of the day so I don’t have to rush her out. It’ll probably be late.”
“Won’t matter to her. She’ll be relieved.”
He stood there a while longer, watching me hit the bag. “Try to rest, Molly. I know you think you don’t need to. But you don’t sleep, and you haven’t fed since–”
“I will not feed from another,” I said, stopping and meeting his eyes, making it dead clear.
“You’re not eating food, either. Saltines and coffee do not count.”
“I. Am. Fine.” I said, well aware of the threatening growl in my voice.
“Obviously,” Brennan said, heading back toward the door. “You can’t do this forever, you know.”
“Don’t shifters mate for life?” I asked. He stopped and turned toward me. Nodded.
“And if a shifter’s mate dies, they feel empty. Like part of them is missing. Yes?”
He nodded again.
“Okay. When demons bond, it is for life, and death. Imagine, for just a second, being bound to someone, and then losing them and feeling like your soul’s been ripped to shreds. And then imagine that you can still feel that person inside you, their blood running through your veins. And they’re with you, every second, but also not. He’s so close, and yet, he’s gone. Try to imagine how much that would screw with your head before telling me how I’m supposed to handle this.”
“Molly,” he said, and he held his hands up in a gesture of helplessness, regret.
“I won’t have this discussion again. I’m doing things the only way I know how.”
He nodded, opened his mouth to say something, then turned and headed for the door.
“Just, remember that you have people who care about you, who want to be here for you, okay?” Then he turned and went back into the loft. I was alone again. And I settled onto the glider, and stared into the nothingness, waited for the sun to rise again. One more night without him by my side.
* * *
Time to face another day. Time to stumble along, trying to save the world without destroying everybody in it.
I found that routines helped me stay sane. Saner, maybe. Every morning, the same thing: shower, dress, coffee, meetings. Just run down the list, focus on doing items one, two, three, and try to hold it together through the long slog that was number four.
Relief happened at the end of my work day, when I stalked the night, ridding the city of the supernatural filth that came to my attention via the imps or the people I met during the day. But the days were long, and maintaining my sanity until that point was getting harder all the time.
I didn’t know whether mornings were a blessing or a curse, now. One one hand, I wasn’t alone.
On the other, I wasn’t alone.
I got up, showered. After I’d showered and dressed (my usual: black pants, black Chucks, black top) I started brushing my hair. I still startled myself sometimes at those rare moments when I happened to catch my reflection. My hair had grown longer in the past six months; it was now almost down to my butt. I couldn’t make myself cut it. He’d enjoyed running his fingers through the strands, and it felt like losing more of him whenever I even considered it.
I knew it was stupid. It didn’t matter.
More than my hair, though, was everything else. I’d gotten paler, my creamy complexion more of an almost alabaster, now, like someone who’d never seen the sun.
And then, there were my eyes.
They’d glowed orangey-red before, when I’d gotten angry. It was a typical demon thing. But since that night, the night I lost Nain and destroyed every group who’d allied with Astaroth, they’d changed, too. They glowed white, and they hadn’t been normal since.
If I went out during the day, I had to wear dark sunglasses and hope nobody noticed. At night, I just had to be really careful to avoid the Normals. I made no effort to hide my eyes from other supernaturals, though. It seemed to intimidate them. I liked that.
I pulled my hair up into a messy bun. I glanced over at the tall dresser where his clothes were still folded neatly. I walked over to it, pulled the top drawer open, and breathed his scent in. Stupid. Compulsive, now, a habit I couldn’t quit. It probably hurt me more than it helped. But any bit of him I could get, anything that helped me feel less alone, even if it was only for a second…I’d take it. I closed the drawer quickly.
His pillow had long since lost his scent.
I’d slept with it during the weeks after his death. I hadn’t left the bedroom at all for the first two weeks. The team had finally pried me out. I’d become, for some reason, the de facto leader after Nain’s death. They all looked to me, expected me to make the decisions and handle those parts of daily life that Nain had taken care of.
The way his widow would, I guess.
I hated that word.
I’d do this. I’d take care of this team. I’d keep the city safe. It was the only thing I had left, now. And doing his job made me feel closer to him.
I took a deep breath, opened the bedroom door and headed toward Nain’s, my, office. Stone was sitting in the living room, and I called a good morning to him. Ada poured me a cup of coffee, shoved it into my hand, gave me a quick hug before I retreated into the office.
I sat down in the big leather chair, behind the mahogany desk that had been neat and painstakingly organized when Nain was alive. Now it was stacked with newspapers, books, notebooks. A photo of me and Nain that Ada had taken when I’d first joined the team. We were arguing, eyes glowing. I didn’t even know he’d had it. It made me smile.
I settled in, had a few sips of coffee. The sunlight coming in through the windows proved to be too tempting to Stone’s cat, Lola, who despised me but enjoyed basking in the sun. She sauntered in and stretched out on the wood floor next to my desk.
“Well, you look like you’re going to be a big help today,” I muttered to her, and she gave me one of those superior cat looks and turned away from me. Fine.
After my little demonstration of power that night, so much had changed. One of them was that I’d become some kind of hero to many supernaturals who had been harassed and bullied by Astaroth and his minions for so long. I’d earned, thanks to my previous reputation as a finder of lost girls, plus what I’d done that night, a reputation for being the one who’d stand up to any foe.
They’d started coming to me, first, one or two per day, knocking timidly on the door downstairs, asking to see The Angel. And I saw them, because turning them away never even entered my mind. I took care of them, solved their problems, and more came, and now I was the one they all came to for help. And I was the one everyone feared the most. Those I helped always promised their help in return. The core of my team was small, without Nain, Veronica, and George. But our network of supernaturals allied with us was growing all the time. Nain had been more of an isolationist than I was, I guess.
After I’d taken a few sips of coffee, Brennan made his appearance
“Your first appointment is here. Esmeralda. Leader of the coven over in the Brightmoor neighborhood.”
I nodded. “What’s her deal?”
“She claims that the weres in the neighborhood are harassing her women, especially the younger ones. She claims two of the weres tried to abduct her newest initiate, and she wants it dealt with.”
I nodded. “Okay. Let her in.”
I leaned back in the chair, folded my hands in my lap. I watched as Brennan led the witch into my office. She was stately, with snow white hair, skin like parchment. A simple black dress. A pentacle on a silver chain around her neck was her only adornment. She didn’t need anything else.
“Angel,” she said, bowing her head slightly, meeting my eyes. She was taken aback by them. Those meeting me for the first time usually were. It wasn’t uncommon knowledge, but seeing them usually freaked people out a little. She was a little nervous, but not afraid. Calm. I appreciated that.
“Esmeralda,” I said. “Have a seat.”
“Thank you for agreeing to see me,” she said, settling into the chair opposite me. “I know you are a busy woman.”
“Brennan tells me you’re having werewolf problems.”
She filled me in on what had happened. Brennan stood by the door, ever watchful. My imps, Bashiok and Dahael, flanked me, arms crossed. Deadly little protectors. I’d seen them fight, really fight, during that final battle against Astaroth. I would not want to piss my imps off. If anything, they’d become even more devoted to me since.
She finished. “So it sounds like it is one or two young weres, not the whole pack that is causing the problem,” I said.
“Yes, but their leader is allowing it to happen. You know how it is; as leader, you don’t just let things like this happen. And if he doesn’t know what his pack is doing, maybe he shouldn’t be leader any more.”
“You’re getting into two separate things, now,” I said, leaning forward and meeting her eyes. “Do you want the young men who assaulted your initiate dealt with, or do you want the packmaster removed?”
“I would like the two problem weres dealt with. And maybe a discussion with the packmaster? If he hears from you, maybe he’ll start to pay more attention to what his pack is doing.”
I nodded. “Brennan, add a meeting with the Brightmoor packmaster to the list, please.” He nodded, pulled out his iPhone, and started typing it in.
“It will be dealt with,” I said.
I felt relief from Esmeralda. “Thank you so much, Angel,” she said.
She stood up. “I am sorry for your loss, by the way. I didn’t know the Nain Rouge well, but he was well-respected in our community.”
She nodded, and Brennan showed her out, then came back in a minute later. “Who do you want on this?”
“Do you mind taking care of the two troublemakers? Take Stone later, if you want. Set up a meeting as soon as you can between me and the packmaster.”
“Sure. You ready for your next one?”
“Vampire from midtown. Max Reynes. He’s complaining that he feels threatened by his shifter neighbors.”
Brennan smirked. “He doesn’t like that they won’t let him eat all of the other people in the apartment building. I talked to two guys I know who live there, and they swear he is a slimeball. I have the feeling you’ll agree with them.”
“Okay. Let him in.”
I folded my hands in my lap again, watched as the vampire entered my office. He was tall, good looking, as most vampires seemed to be. This one was obviously a daywalker, which was rare and made him more dangerous than his more common brethren.
I could sense him. Superior, annoyed. Active hate for Brennan. Disdain for me.
I didn’t like him much, either.
“Reynes,” I said in greeting.
“Angel. Thank you for making the time to see me,” he said, though it sounded just as fake as he meant it.
“Pleasure,” I said, just as genuinely. “What can I do for you?”
He spun a long yarn about how the shifters in his building were harassing him, how he felt unsafe in his home because he was outnumbered, and he knew they didn’t like him. That all he was trying to do was live a quiet life, feed when he needed to, but he was constantly having to watch his back.
It was easy for me to pick up a lie. Emotions never lied. You had to be really clueless or really confident to come to me and try to bullshit. And this bloodsucker was giving Detroit’s crooked politicians a run for their money. He didn’t have much of a mental shield, either, likely never bothered to train properly. I could see girl after girl from his neighborhood, his building, drained to the point of death, and left to die. Too many.
I felt my rage rising the longer he talked. I would have loved to have ended him right then and there, but I didn’t want the mess in my office. Later. When I could enjoy it.
I rested my elbow on the arm of my chair, rested my chin in my hand as he finished talking. I let the silence stretch out for a few minutes. Watched him. The longer we sat, the more nervous he became. He started talking again, complaints about the shifters.
I pictured how I would kill him. Fire would be fast and easy, but I would not use it. Knives were always fun. I did enjoy their fear the longer the fight went on and they felt themselves losing. Stake through the heart was the traditional way, if I could find him when he was sleeping. But not as fulfilling. So many options.
He stopped talking again, and I let the silence stretch out longer.
He was on the verge of panic. I had to keep myself from smirking at him. “Thank you for coming. Your complaints have been duly noted.”
“Are you going to take care of this?”
“Oh, I definitely am,” I said. “I will deal with it personally.”
He stood up, nodded, and left without another word. Brennan escorted him out, and I heard Ada resetting the wards after he was gone.
Brennan came back in. “Who’s on this?”
“I’ve got this one. That piece of shit was lying through his fangs.”
He snorted. “Ready for the next one?”
Interested in reading more? Broken: Hidden, Book Two is available now on Amazon.