After twenty-eight years, skeptic John Tate is cast out of his cult. As he has neither money nor education, he’s completely without prospects. That is, until Gulielmus, his long-silent demon daddy, swoops in with a job offer this half incubus can’t refuse: seducing women for Team Hell. Sounds like a great gig for a virgin.
Ariel Thomas knows smart women don’t stop for hitchhikers, but the one she spots on the Arizona roadside lures her like an irresistible mirage. For once in her well-regimented life she decides to do something out of character, and offers the gorgeous hobo a ride. She’s got a long drive ahead to North Carolina, and what better way to stay awake behind the wheel than to have eye candy to ogle?
John’s unsophisticated charm makes Ariel swoon, and he’s enthralled by her worldliness. The two fall hard and fast, but Gulielmus wants to put the skids on their cross-country love affair. John may be hiding his true nature, but Ariel has some secrets in her family tree Team Hell won’t forgive.
Demon spawn aren’t supposed to fall in love with their prey, and John is forced to make the age-old choice: good versus evil. Who’d be easier to run from—his powerful demon father or the woman who actually thinks he’s worth loving?
from Chapter One
John bolted upright from the hard cot he’d been tossing and turning on and readied the shotgun he kept at the bedside. He fired off a shot without warning when the intruder took a step forward.
He should have fallen. His chest should have been a bloody ruin, but the massive blond pillar stood there like a statue…and a bored one, at that.
The intruder yawned and tilted his face down to assess his buckshot-shredded button-up shirt. “Fuck.” He flicked some shrapnel off his apparently bulletproof chest and growled. “That was a two-hundred dollar shirt, son.”
Realization settled into John like bad chili on an empty stomach. Even without formal introduction, he knew this man. He was programmed to. “You’re him.”
“What gave it away?” The blond pillar reached out and ruffled John’s hair, an odd gesture toward a man who was nearly thirty.
“Was it my invincibility or my unworldly good looks?” He wriggled his brows.
John took a moment to assess him. He had the same yellow-blond hair as John that’d always made people at the compound whisper. His mother’s hair was nearly black, and his supposed father had brown hair. And there were those same startlingly blue eyes and the square chin. The only thing preventing the man from resembling a Ken doll was his bulk.
John put down the gun. “I thought Ma was lying all these years. Fallen angel? Come on. You could have given me some warning you were coming. Woulda cleaned up.” He swept an arm demonstrably, indicating the dilapidated cabin’s dusty, drafty interior.
“You don’t seem scared enough of me,” the man said.
“Should I? I suspect you want something that only I’ve got, so what do I have to be afraid of?”
The demon lifted a brow and quirked one corner of his mouth into a lazy smirk—the same one John wore in every one of the few photographs that existed of him. “Hmm.” He extended one perfectly-manicured hand to John to shake. “Gulielmus, no last name. Most people call me William or Bill. You can call me Dad.”
John shook his head. “No thanks. What do you want?” He patted the nearby chair for the overalls he thought he’d left there, suddenly hyperaware of his underdressed state.
“Not one for chit-chat are you? Oh well. It’s time to go to work, son.”
John gave up on the overalls and slipped on a pair of dirty jeans instead. “Why do I get the feeling the family business will suck the life out of me?”
Gulielmus flashed a wealth of white teeth. Surprisingly, none were excessively pointy. His tongue probably wasn’t forked, either, but John couldn’t tell for sure. “No, no. We do all the life-sucking. Didn’t your mother tell you?”
“Like I said, I wasn’t sure if she was deluded or if maybe she’d gotten into some bad apple juice.”
“You’re charming. I’m glad I kept you in my back pocket for so long because I really need ya.” He grinned again and held out his hand once more. “Might I see your palm?”
John clenched his hands into fists and held them at his side. “Why?”
Gulielmus’s grin receded in a flash. “Because I said so. I’m asking because I’m that kind of father. I’d prefer not to take it.”
John sighed and held out his left hand.
Gulielmus took it in his and used the index finger of his other hand to trace some complex symbol onto his palm. It was too fast to make out, and felt a lot like a disorganized tickle. He tried to draw his hand back, but Gulielmus was already done.
John’s palm went numb, followed by his fingers and wrist. He squeezed the hand into a loose fist and gave his sire a hard stare until the numbness moved up his arm to his torso and radiated out like a starburst.
And then, as quickly as it started, the tingling went away. He felt the same as before, but more energized. It was as if every cell in his body had a keen awareness of its existence. They called out for action. For movement. For…food?
“What did you do to me?” he asked.
Gulielmus looked on with bemusement. “Woke you up. Normally I claim you kids right after birth and get you online, but getting into that rinky-dink compound poses some problems for me. Too many old religious symbols hidden out of sight, I think. Kept me from teleporting. Amazing how much power things people have forgotten about can hold.” He shrugged as if it was all so inconsequential. “I had to resort to more pedestrian means to get in. Anyway, I’m so glad you survived childhood. Are you even vaccinated? Oh, don’t answer. Doesn’t matter now.”
“Am I damned?”
Gulielmus shrugged. “Define damned.”
“Am I going to burn in hell forever?”
“No. You need to redefine what Hell is.” He made a waffling gesture with his hand and paced. “It’s an amorphous thing. You design your own Hell, and for some folks, Hell is their worst fear. I suggest you pick a different fear if fire isn’t your thing. Perhaps being cuddled eternally by giant bunnies or something.” He shrugged and bared straight white teeth in a grin. “Regardless, you’re gonna live a long, long time kiddo. Fringe benefit of being a demon.”
“Cambion, technically, but don’t quibble. Now, why don’t you pack up that raggedy bag of yours and you can start your assignment?”
John hoped his cocked brow relayed his suspicion sufficiently. “Assignment?”
Gulielmus nodded. “Mm-hmm. Got your territory all carved out. Wouldn’t want to overlap with one of your siblings, but I think you’ve got it in you to be far more productive than that lot. You’ve got the look.”
John scoffed. “Whatever you say.” He zipped his bag closed and tightened the laces of his boots. It wasn’t that he was excited about the revelation of his true nature. He was just that bored. In twenty-eight years, he’d never been anywhere except the compound, into town, and out on a few overnight trips on behalf of their illustrious leader. And town was just more of the same—more die-hard lunatics who believed their leader’s preaching.
His eyes rolled, even thinking it. He’d been born a skeptic, but it wasn’t until he was around twelve that he realized he lived in a cult.
They all really thought when they died, their spirits would join their family members on the other side and adhere themselves into one giant, shapeless, spiraling ball of energy. The bigger the ball, the more energy. The more energy, the more eternal swagger.
John had once asked the leader what all that disembodied energy was good for. Did the energy blobs come through and do good deeds or were they just like jewelry? Something people strove for, but that had no actual purpose beyond exhibiting one’s wealth.
That question had earned him a backhand and a week on outhouse duty. Apparently, one should not question the leader, even if the leader was a certifiable lunatic—John had seen the certificate. The leader had it framed and hung it on the wall as evidence of the World Beyond’s treachery.
John had given some thought to running away numerous times in the past, but never figured out the logistics. Where would he go? Who would he reach out to? There was no one. His entire world had been right there in that compound.
And now, the world was his for the taking. Being a cambion didn’t sound that bad.
“Well, let’s go. I’ll get my toothbrush.”