The new fae town was quieter than the one he had left in Fort William, situated in a cavern beneath a country estate outside London. He strolled through it, scanning the faces of everyone in the witches’ district. This fae town stood apart from the others he had visited around the world, the districts bearing huge ornate arched signs across the street at their entrances and each looking slightly different from the others.
The witches’ district was near the main entrance of the cavern, below the steps that led down from the tunnel into it, and consisted of square flat-roofed white-washed buildings of different heights tightly packed together. Narrow cobbled arteries ran between them, and on the main shopping streets, the colourful canvas canopies that reached out from each store almost touched in the centre of the road.
To the right of the witches’ district was one he would be sure to avoid unless absolutely necessary. This fae town had a demons’ district, made up of single storey buildings constructed of black wooden beams with white plaster in the space between them, and crooked tiled roofs. Smoke curled lazily from many of the chimneys, drifting high into the air and dissipating near the jagged roof of the cavern.
He lifted his gaze from the people moving along the busy street in the witches’ district and pinned it on the far end of the cavern, where it curved. Tall buildings hugged that curve, each a different colour, banners hanging from their walls. One of the buildings, a crimson four-storey monstrosity with balconies on almost every window, housed succubi.
Whenever he visited this town, he kept his distance from them. He wasn’t interested in the wares they peddled, or falling foul of their abilities to lure a man into their beds against his will, making him feel he wanted it.
On the left of the bordello was a blue building bearing long cerulean and silver banners streaming down its front. It belonged to a tiger shifter pride, one who kept to themselves for the most part. To the right of the bordello was a dull grey building belonging to a clan of ogres. He wouldn’t be surprised if the succubi used their charms on the ogres. The poor males were not blessed with beauty, meaning few females outside of their own species were interested in them.
Near the tiger pride’s building was a cream haphazard one with a black banner hanging down the right of the facade, and he’d had to ask the local witches about that one. It turned out that many different cat shifters called it home now, a makeshift pride for those who had none.
To the far left of the curved back wall of the cavern stood a three-storey black building. A tavern. He had been forced to secure lodgings there, despite the number of demons who frequented the place. It had been the only available room in the town, so he would have to put up with how his mark throbbed with a low burn the entire time he was in it. The last time he had visited this fae town, there had been a small inn run by witches at the other end of the cavern near the entrance steps, but they had closed their business and moved on, leaving him with no choice other than lodging with demons.
He curled his lip in disgust, caught himself and sighed as he purged his emotions and cleared his mind.
He returned to searching for his target.
He had received a report from Heaven that had given him this town as her next location, which unnerved him, because he had overheard one of the males in the Scottish fae town giving the demoness the same information.
He pushed thoughts of the demoness out of his head and focused back on his mission. He had a flawless record when it came to his missions and his duty as an Echelon, and he was not going to allow a demoness to swoop in and ruin things for him now. This mission was important to him because it was important to Heaven, and he would not fail. He would find the half-breed first, before the demoness could corrupt her.
He had left for this town as soon as he had heard one of her informants mention it, able to teleport here because he had visited it before. It was slightly different now, with the new factions occupying the buildings at the far end, but similar enough that he could easily find his way around. The witches’ district hadn’t really changed, and it hadn’t taken much effort on his part to rekindle old relationships with the females who peddled their potions and spells along the streets.
The last store he had stopped at had spoken of another coven, one filled with males, and he was heading there now.
The black cross on his wrist itched and then began a steady burn. He scowled at it, clenched his teeth and bit back a growl as he realised what it meant just a second before a demon walked out of the alley ahead of him.
Dear lord, he wanted to cut her down.
She looked stunned for a split second as her blue eyes landed on him but recovered quickly, flicking long black hair over her bare shoulders and sauntering towards him. Her tartan pleated skirt bounced with each step and matched the trim on her small black corset top, and the ribbons threaded through the tops of her stockings. The red complemented the ink of her tattoo and he resisted the temptation to look at it and chart each swirl and curve that traversed her right thigh and the dip of her waist between her skirt and corset.
“What are you doing here, Rey?” she said, her voice all light when all he could feel from her was darkness.
Darkness that made his gift urge him to eradicate her. She was a threat, a demon, and it was his duty to end her.
He tamped down that hunger and regained a sliver of control over his Echelon instincts, enough that he could take in what she had said, and frown at her in response as her use of a word for him perplexed him.
“I am the Fifth Commander of the Echelon and you will address me as such, if you must address me at all… which I would prefer you did not.” He swept past her, barely stifling the urge to lash out at her as it rose back to the fore.
He gritted his teeth and shoved it back down inside again. Covert. His target was coming to this town, might be here already among these witches, and he was not going to ruin this chance to secure her because a demoness had riled him.
Said demoness bounced beside him, so close that his skin flushed hot on his left side. He edged away from her but she moved closer again. Persistent, irritating female.
“You didn’t answer my question, Rey.” She hopped in front of him and he had to stop dead to avoid colliding with her.
He flashed his teeth at her and ducked down the alley on his right. A mistake. The alley was small, barely wide enough to accommodate him, but that didn’t stop her from trying to get back in front of him. She squeezed past him, her bare skin brushing his, and another unsettling shiver ran through him and his skin burned where she had touched him. Repulsion. That was all that sensation was. Nothing more.
“I am not here to hunt demons,” he said and glared at her when she stopped in front of him, forcing him to stop too because his only other option was to squeeze past her and he was damned if that was going to happen. He would not touch her. “I will gladly deal with you if you insist on annoying me though.”
She shrugged. “Whatever, Rey.”
He curled his fingers into fists, sought some calm amongst the storm of his emotions as it raged out of control. He drew down slow deep breaths, filling his lungs and waiting for the fury to pass. She was provoking him on purpose. She was attempting to annoy him and was evidently taking pleasure from it. Her smile was proof of that.
The demoness was enjoying ruffling his feathers.
He would not give in to her and give her the pleasure of seeing him angry.
He stared her down and some of her amusement fled her face, turning it sober. “Why do you insist on calling me Rey?”
She shrugged again. “Why do angels insist on having no names? It makes things so difficult. It must be hell trying to get someone’s attention in Heaven.”
He folded his arms across his chest, which rather than intimidating her into answering him only seemed to delight her and draw her eyes down to his body. Black bled into the edges of her irises and the blue blazed so brightly her eyes glowed in the low light of the alley.
He unfolded them and shoved his hands into his pockets. Another mistake. He had thought it would make things better, but it only made them worse.
Her eyes dropped with his hands, landing on his crotch.
“Why do you insist on calling me Rey?” he bit out again and she blinked and looked up at him, fine black eyebrows lodged high on her forehead, a confused edge to her eyes, as if she had forgotten everything that had happened in the past five minutes while she had been gawping at his body.
She casually rolled her right shoulder, and then flashed him a wicked grin. “It’s a play on the Spanish word for king… you know… because you’re a royal pain in my arse.”
He huffed at her. He did not find that amusing.
She responded by holding her hand out to him. “My name is Asteria.”
It was his turn to arch an eyebrow. “After the Greek titan?”
She nodded and beamed until he shook his head and sighed.
“A demon does not deserve the name of a mortal goddess of old.”
Her face blackened, her hand dropped to her side, and her pupils turned elliptical in the centre of her now-black irises and blazed gold fire at him.
“Tell that to my parents, whoever the fuck they were.”
He had hit a sore spot, and for some reason it left him reeling, feeling something for her that wasn’t disgust or hatred.
While he didn’t remember his family, he had learned of them from those who had known them, and he felt that he’d had a family. It seemed that Asteria hadn’t and it made him think about how he would feel if that was the case for him, and he found himself balancing on the verge of doing something ridiculous.
Angels did not apologise to demons.
He looked down on her, his head held high, seeing her for what she was. A demon. Just because she was female, it didn’t mean she was any different from the countless other demons he had met and eradicated. None of those had given him the impression that they cared about others. This was probably another ploy to get under his skin but it wouldn’t work.
She was a demon. She did not care that she had never known her family. It was a lie.
Even when part of him knew it was the truth and the hurt in her voice had been real.
He turned away from her, striding down the alley back towards the main road of the witches’ district. She was still a moment, drifting into the distance, but then she started following him again. He wanted to bellow to the heavens. Instead he prayed for patience, enough to stop himself from cutting her down. His right hand twitched.
He shoved it in his pocket.
She caught up with him a few metres along the main street, dancing between the various fae and witches as they came and went. When she twirled in front of him, her tartan pleated skirt swirled upwards and outwards, flashing black lace-edged panties at him.
He gritted his teeth, pinned his gaze straight ahead and did his best to ignore her.
It became impossible when she bounced ahead of him, her fall of straight onyx hair jumping with each step. The gold-to-red stripe down the right side of her hair came into view as she looked over her shoulder at him and smiled saucily. Her short fangs snagged her red lower lip, teased it in a way that made him feel she was trying to tease him too.
He shook his head and ignored her attempts to taunt him, and fixed his gaze over her head. It was difficult when she stood over six foot, taller than many of the males who were ogling her as she passed. Some eyed her black horns where they protruded from her hair but most were staring at her breasts or thighs.
Personally, he found his eyes drawn to her stiletto boots and his mind drawn to pondering how she managed to bounce along the cobbled road in them without landing a foot wrong and ending up on her backside. They looked impossible to walk in, let alone bounce or run, the black spikes of her heels at least four inches in length.
She twirled to face him, her red lips curved in another wicked smile. “You’re staring again, Rey.”
He rolled his eyes and sighed.
“Wondering how my boots would feel with the heels pressing into your bare arse as you pound into me?”
His right hand twitched in his jeans. Of course she noticed it.
He glared at her and dared her to say something.