My Immortals Book 5

“Leave Addison O’Henry alone, and we have no argument.”

Note: This is a work in progress. Just about everything is subject to change.

CHAPTER 1

Present Day

6:15 PM

An Alley Near US Grant hotel, San Diego, California

Harsh’s skin crawled before Giuseppe Infante strolled into the alley. Hell. And hell again. The only reason, the absolute only reason, he would react to Infante like this was if he’d gone right back to performing ritual murders.

The only good demon is a dead demon.

Men like Giuseppe Infante lived by that motto. Dead or enslaved, that is, because the men like Infante were also hypocrites. Harsh didn’t have a with the sentiment per se, since, in point of fact, his kind had a similar motto. At least his kind mostly agreed the motto was politically incorrect. Mostly.

The only good mage is a dead mage.

Infante hadn’t come alone. Frankly, it would have been suicidal for him to do so. Harsh would have been astonished if he’d shown up without any muscle. But this? In all honesty, not expected.

All four of the large men had buzz-cut hair, and that shouldn’t be possible. Not that many. Not this soon. Not when he’d made sure Infante lost everything. Every last mageheld. Every single life he’d stolen over the years. But there they were. Proof that Infante was still one of the hypocrites.

Harsh himself had chosen the alley as a meeting place because Infante didn’t play fair. His kind rarely did. At least here, if things went wrong, he’d have an easier time keeping people from noticing. Not that he thought he’d have to dispose of any bodies, but he took an unsettling satisfaction in the possibility. He shouldn’t. But he did.

He wasn’t worried about the odds, it was just that there was no disguising the cold and helpless desperation that clung to those four men. The look was all too familiar. As for Infante? That was familiar, too. He wore a knock-off Italian suit and a self-satisfied grin that made Harsh wish like hell he’d killed Infante when he’d had the chance.

He crossed his arms over his chest and waited until Infante and his magehelds came to a halt. The four enslaved demons spread out. One turned his back to Harsh so he could guard the mouth of the alley. Another stood just behind Infante. The other two moved forward and to either side of the alley.

The mage made a big deal of arranging himself in the middle of the alley, facing the industrial sized Dumpster at Harsh’s back, no doubt fancying himself safe with four bodyguards to one of him. Understandable. Whatever he ordered those four to do, they did. Murder. Robbery, theft, rape. All of the above. The poor bastards had no choice. All that talk about 'Human Rights’ yet mages were willfully blind about their own actions. They had yet to agree that human ought to have an expanded meaning in this context.

Infante gestured and a soft, greenish glow suffused their immediate surroundings. Harsh didn’t need the extra light, but Infante, despite being a mage, was still human. He had most of their physical limitations, including eyesight that needed time to adjust to changes in ambient illumination.

Silence was bound to get a bigger reaction than anything Harsh could say, so he stayed where he was. Quiet in a way Infante could never be. He got his reaction in short order. Infante shifted his weight between his feet and his smile turned into a sneer. Of course. Five against one probably looked like good odds even if Infante remembered just how badly he’d fared during their last meeting.

“What the fuck you doing so far away from home?” Infante said.

The attitude was unchanged; angry, full of himself, spoiling for a fight. He looked younger, though. Not forties anymore, but mid-thirties. For a man who’d lost everything just eighteen months ago, that apparent youth was more worrisome than the four magehelds. The physical change wasn’t subtle, and that worried him even more. Harsh was used to seeing the effects among humans who had magic and who had been raised to that heritage. Trained up as soon as possible. The fact was, Infante and his ilk maintained what amounted to perpetual youth through the ritual murder of a demon. More than one, since the effects were accumulative. Harsh had a very personal issue with that. Having your beating heart cut from your chest wasn’t a death anyone deserved.

He met Infante’s gaze. “You’re pretty far from home, too.”

His lip curled. “I’m on vacation.” The light around him flickered. A dark skinned mageheld moved closer to Infante. What the hell was Infante doing with a mageheld who didn’t have that lived-in-America look? No way was that mageheld local to North America. No way.

Infante was one of the North American mages. Born and raised in the U.S. of A. The man might trace his roots to Italy, but he wasn’t one of the European magekind and, to his knowledge, had no contacts among them. If he’d managed to enslave one of the African demons, that was cause for concern. It meant the African demons and mages were finally taking an interest in the West. Or else this petty, self-important little fuck had gone to Africa and put all their asses on the line. Either way, this was not a welcome development.

“You’ve been harassing Addison O’Henry.” The meeting felt like a set up, which ought to be unlikely because Harsh had arranged it. But here was Giuseppe Infante, grinning like he knew something Harsh didn’t, young-looking and healthy and in possession of four new magehelds. The magic that bound them to Infante made it impossible for Harsh to judge their power by anything but their appearance. Size and physical perfection tended to be indications of power. The four were big. The one he thought was African was physically perfect.

If this came down to a fight, he could handle Infante and the three smaller of his magehelds. But the one he was almost certain was African? That one would be a challenge. “You need to leave her alone.”

Infante shrugged, but the corner of his lip curled again. “I ain’t doing nothing you tell me.”

“Think of it as advice you would be wise to take.”

“Like I give a rat’s ass about what some hotblood says.” Infante spat to his left. The African shifted so that he had a straighter line to Harsh.

“She remains under our protection.”

“Fuck that. She’s fair game.” The magekind did not always have the most pleasant personalities, but he’d learned how to navigate the political waters of relations between demonkind and magekind. It wasn’t impossible that Infante would continue in this abrasive manner even if he intended to comply.

“Not only do we protect our own, we enforce our rules.” Impatience crept into his voice. She ought to have been safe here. There weren’t many magekind here, and even fewer of the demonkind, most of whom had been killed or enslaved. Nearly all the free kin had left for the safer territories of Northern California where the demon warlord Nikodemus held power.

“Bullshit. If you enforced the rules that bitch would be dead.”

“If you had rules, she wouldn’t know we exist. She’d still have a normal life.”

Infante, being what he was, knew a few buttons to push. “She was in the wrong place at the wrong time. That’s not my fucking fault. If she’d stayed home at night like a good girl, she wouldn’t know any of us exist.”

Harsh pushed himself toward familiar calm. Getting there was harder than he liked. “There is no justification for what happened to her. None. You know that.”

“Oh, bull. Shit. You think I don’t know what your deal is? She’s just the kind of juicy young thing you hell-freaks like.” Infante leered at him. “You fucked her yet? She as fun in the sack with you as she was with my guy?”

There came a time when manners were of no use. Such as now. He’d learned, over the years, that he had an edge when he appeared to be calmer than he felt. “You have been a pain in my ass from the day we met.”

“Glad to hear it. Let me tell you, my new guy here”—He cocked his head in the direction of the African mageheld—“he’s going to find out for himself what’s she’s like. How good she is. And I’m going to watch every second of it.”

“If you don’t leave her alone, you won’t live long enough to regret it.”

“Fuck you. This ain’t Frisco. Nikodemus can’t do shit here, and you don’t have an army of hotbloods to send anywhere.” He jabbed a finger at Harsh. “Here’s what’s going to happen. I’m going to finish what I started with that little bitch. She won’t be the only one, either. Tell you another thing. Your Nikodemus is going down. Every one of you bastards will end up dead or under control. The way it should be. We aren’t safe any other way.”

“To which I am tempted to reply, ‘the only good mage, is a dead mage.’”

“Yeah, fuck you, too.”

“Leave Addison O’Henry alone, and we have no argument.”

“No can do. I’m shorthanded these days.” The curl at the edge of his mouth turned ugly.

He kept his hands loose. He should have known. He should have known better than to think Infante would be anything but an utter asshole. “There’s nothing more to say, then.”

“You got that right.” Infante gestured to the mageheld Harsh thought was the African demon, and his bad feeling came back a thousand times worse than before. “Go.”

A smile curved the mageheld’s mouth, and Harsh just had time to think there was something dangerously off about that look before everything went black.

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