Demons, shifters, zombies: You don't have to go to hell, but you can't stay here. . . It's Last Call On Earth. Rebekah "Beck" Damian runs a demonoid bar where everyone's welcome--even a reformed flesheater who's strictly vegetarian, a musical ghost who's looking for a piano bar, and a feline harbinger of doom named Wampus Kitty who's scaring the customers. So when a big strapping demon-hunter walks into the bar, Beck knows it's not the end of the world. She'll treat him like any other customer. If only she could. Conall Dalvahni is the toughest, meanest, sexiest demon-hunter Beck's ever seen--and she's finding it awful hard to hide her attraction. As far as Conall's concerned, the feeling is mutual. But how can he trust a beautiful half-demon babe like Beck--when her demonic friends have the perfect weapon to destroy every hunter on earth? With all the sparks flying between Beck and Conall, it's hard to tell who's the predator and who's the prey. Either way, love is hell--and impossible to resist. . . "A genuinely funny new voice in paranormal romance." -- Publishers Weekly Praise for Demon Hunting in Dixie "A demonically wicked good time."--Angie Fox "A not-to-be-missed Southern-fried, bawdy, hilarious romp." --Beverly Barton, New York Times bestselling author
Release date: March 22, 2016
Publisher: Lyrical Press
Print pages: 370
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Demon Hunting in a Dive Bar
Tommy never planned on being a zombie, but then who does? One minute he was standing on the sidewalk outside One Shell Square in New Orleans, thinking about what he wanted for supper, and the next minute he was dead, the victim of a freak window-washing accident. Smacked upside the head by a squeegee dropped from the forty-ninth floor. He had a permanent dent in his scalp to prove it.
At twenty-four, death was the last thing on Tommy’s mind. He had a girlfriend and a job managing the Subway Shop on Poydras Street. As jobs went, it paid the bills. There was even a little money left at the end of the month to tuck into his savings account. Tommy had a plan. He was saving up for culinary school at Delgado Community College. After graduation, he and his girlfriend Robyn would open a restaurant of their own. They’d call it The Happy Vegan, and the menu would include things like homemade tortillas served with refried beans and soy cheese, avocado and tomato salad, and sweet fried plantains. It was gonna be kickass.
And then Tommy screwed the pooch by getting himself dead. Sucked didn’t begin to describe it.
He was still flitting around his body in disbelief at the morgue, unable to comprehend the wrong turn this bitch of a day had taken, when his new boss showed up. The guy didn’t look like a zombie maker. Tall and handsome in a dark-haired, lean, and feral kind of way, he had the loose-limbed grace of a young, fit animal.
He was also way too skinny. Zombie maker dude needed to eat a sandwich.
But it was his eyes that had caught and held Tommy’s attention. Purple eyes, the guy had honest-to-God Elizabeth Taylor purple eyes. A man and a woman were with him, a couple of sketchy characters. Dirty and ragged, with the nervous, used-up appearance of meth addicts, they hovered around him, skittish as a pair of stray dogs.
“Fresh,” the woman had said, eyeing Tommy’s body with ghoulish interest. Her teeth were rotted black stumps in the gaping hole of her mouth. Tommy was dead, and this chick gave him the willies.
“He’ll do,” Grape Eyes said, and waved his hands over Tommy’s body on the slab.
Quicker than he could say Jerusalem, Tommy had been sucked back into his body. He sat up and looked around, blinking. The examiner on the night shift had slipped out for a quick smoke. Ironically, his nicotine addiction may have saved his life. No telling what the Maker and his scary companions would have done to the poor sap.
“I have a job for you,” the Maker had said to Tommy. Seriously, Grape Eyes was a freak. He acted like talking to a dead guy was the most natural thing in the world, and maybe it was to him.
And just like that, the guy had made Tommy an offer he couldn’t refuse. The son of a bitch put a geis on Tommy—a kind of zombie maker curse that gave him total control over Tommy.
That was how, three days later, Tommy found himself here on a riverbank at the ass end of nowhere more than a hundred miles from his beloved New Orleans. Hannah, the sign at the outskirts of town had said this bit of backwoods Alabama was called. Tommy had never heard of it. Before now, that is; whoever said “ignorance is bliss” sure as hell knew what they were talking about.
The good news? The Maker had put a spell on Tommy that kept him from decomposing at the regular zombie rate—which, apparently, was roughly the decomp rate of garbage in the hot Louisiana sun. The bad news? He was rotting from the inside out. No one else would probably notice it, but Tommy could smell himself, and it wasn’t pretty. He was a fastidious guy who took pride in his personal appearance. He’d rather be dead than stink. Lucky him, he got both.
On the bright side, it could be the inside of his nose he smelled. Who was he kidding? There was no bright side to being a zombie.
He gazed uneasily at the wooden building squatting on the other side of the river. It reminded him of the troll in Three Billy Goats Gruff, waiting to pounce on unsuspecting travelers. Beck’s Bar, the place was called, and this was where he had to go. Apparently, demons went in Beck’s but never came out.
Tommy had gleaned this information by playing dumb and listening to the zombie maker’s conversation with his two creeper pals.
“I’m sending him on a recon mission,” Grape Eyes had said to the bony female. “There’s a place I want him to scope out, see if the rumors are true. I want to know what happened to the missing demons.”
“That’s good, that’s good,” the woman mumbled, rocking back and forth on the worn heels of her cheap shoes. She plucked at one thin eyebrow with nervous fingers. “Give the meat his orders and let’s get out of here. I need a fix.”
So now he was “the meat.” Clearly, zombies got no respect in the supernatural world. As a black man, it wasn’t Tommy’s first encounter with prejudice, but that didn’t make it any easier to stomach.
But Tommy was smart. He kept his mouth shut and learned more. More than he wanted to know. He found out the zombie maker’s two buddies were demon-possessed humans. That explained their emaciated, worn-out condition. Possession was apparently hard on the human body. Grape Eyes, on the other hand, was something called a demonoid—half human, half demon. The demon half must be the source of Grape Eyes’s power. No normal human could do the things he did. And to think, less than a week ago Tommy would have laughed at the idea the boogeyman was real.
He eyed the river with distaste. He didn’t have a boat and he wasn’t a strong swimmer. Not that it mattered now that he was Deadsville. He couldn’t drown. But he didn’t relish the thought of going in that brown water. Even less the idea of what might be in it. Suppose a catfish decided to take a bite out of him? A corpse would be a delicacy to one of them big old scavenger fishies. But the onus the Maker had placed on Tommy compelled him to cross the river now, boat or no boat, Tommy-eating-fish or no Tommy-eating-fish.
He weighted himself down with rocks and started across. It was the weekend before Thanksgiving. The water had to be cold, but Tommy couldn’t feel it. The muddy bottom was squelchy and full of silt, and sucked the shoes right off his feet. Too late, he regretted not taking them off but he couldn’t go back for them, not with the geis upon him. The compulsion to reach the bar was strong, like the gravitational pull of a large moon. The water was deep and dark. Thankfully, he couldn’t see much. Something large bumped past him, and Tommy picked up the pace. Tommy the Zombie, gator bait.
This sucked. This sucked hard.
He missed the dock and came up in a slough a short distance downstream from the bar. Dumping the rocks, he floundered clumsily through the water to the ladder at the end of the pier and climbed up the wooden slats. Clothes dripping, he paused half in, half out of the water and looked around. It was late afternoon, maybe an hour before sunset. A couple of boats bobbed at the end of the boardwalk, but otherwise the place seemed quiet. Tommy had a feeling things livened up once the sun went down. Beck’s struck him as the kind of place people went under cover of darkness.
Or maybe not. The bar somehow looked better from this side of the river. Cleaner, tidier and less menacing, almost as if it had shed a disguise. No trash or empty bottles littered the porch or the dock. Everything seemed well maintained, loved even, which was an odd thought to have about a dive bar.
Tommy started to lumber onto the dock, but something made him pause on the ladder. The onus was still there, but the urge to reach the bar had been replaced by a sense of expectancy. He and Grape Eyes were connected by an invisible thread, and Tommy could feel him on the other end of the line. The Maker was tense, expectant. Something was about to happen, something the Maker had been waiting for a long time, the real reason he’d sent Tommy here.
Tommy stayed put, nervous, but obedient to the demands of the spell. The screen door on the porch swung open and a young woman stepped out of the bar, a large, scruffy dog at her heels. Judging from the mutt’s lean body and rough gray coat, there was Irish wolfhound somewhere in the dog’s lineage, and not too far back.
The woman, on the other hand, was pure thoroughbred. Tall and lithe, she moved with the muscular grace of a dancer or an athlete. The black long-sleeve T-shirt she wore clung to her high breasts, and her long, shapely legs were encased in a pair of tight jeans. Suede boots hugged her slender feet. Balancing a bowl and its contents in one hand, she strode across the porch with her head down. Her dark silky hair hung around her face, obscuring her features. She came down the steps and onto the pier.
“I’m worried about her, Toby,” she said, talking to the dog. She had a sexy voice, dark chocolate and smoke, the kind of voice that did things to a guy—even if the guy happened to be dead. “She’s such a little thing and so thin,” she said. “I know she’s hungry, but she won’t let me near her. Maybe a can of tuna will tempt her.”
The dog sat at the bottom of the steps and turned up his long nose in disdain.
“Don’t give me that I-hate-catitude. She’s just a kitten.” The woman knelt on the side of the dock and peered into the thick underbrush that grew along the muddy bank. “Here, kitty,” she called softly. “Beck’s brought you something to eat.”
Nothing stirred in the bushes.
“I know you’re there. I’ll leave the bowl here, in case you change your mind.” The woman settled back on her haunches with a sigh. “Okay, be stubborn. But I’m not giving up on you.”
Placing the bowl near the steps, she rose and pushed her silky dark hair out of her face. Tommy stared at her in surprise. She was beautiful with smooth skin and clean, strong features. The word “pretty” would never be used to describe this woman. It was too anemic and sweet. She had a fierce, wild beauty, as perfect as a rose and as sharp and piercing as a thorn.
Tommy’s nose twitched as the delicate scent of jasmine drifted past him on the breeze. He squinted, hoping the eye rot hadn’t set in. Yep, the chick on the dock looked terrifyingly familiar. He knew her. Or, to be more precise, he knew her male counterpart.
The woman called Beck was the zombie maker’s twin. Tommy would bet his afterlife on it.
Beck left Toby guarding the steps and went inside the bar, waving at Bill, the sound guy for Beelzebubba, the country band she’d booked for the weekend. The music wouldn’t start until later tonight after the ballgames. College football was a religion in Alabama, and Saturdays in the fall were holy days reserved for worshipping the boob tube.
Beck didn’t mind. Football was good for business. Plenty of folks came to the bar after the game to celebrate or mourn, depending on how their team performed. The food at Beck’s was a big draw, thanks to Hank, the new cook. So successful, in fact, that Beck had toyed with the idea of opening the bar to normals.
She’d quickly dismissed the notion. Beck’s was a bar for demonoids, the only one of its kind to her knowledge. The norms had a world of places to eat and drink. It was their tough luck that Beck’s had one of the best cooks in the state.
Speak of the devil, she thought as Hank stuck his head out of the back.
“Need you to look at tonight’s menu,” he growled in a voice like a train rumbling over a trestle.
“Sure,” Beck said, veering toward the kitchen. The menu at Beck’s changed like the weather, depending on Hank’s mood. She gave him free rein to keep him happy, “happy” being a relative term. Hank wasn’t what you’d call the bubbly type.
He was built like a bulldozer, with hands and feet like concrete blocks. With his shaggy black hair, thick black beard, and surly manner, he reminded her of Beorn, the skin changer from The Hobbit. He’d been raised by his mother; that much Beck knew. Nothing unusual in that. Most demonoids were raised by single parents after their demonically charged mother or father disappeared into the sunset, on the prowl for the next high, the next party.
Or the next kill.
Demons were creatures of the spirit world that craved physical sensation. That’s why they were attracted to humans. Drugs, sex, and violence were irresistible to them. Mortals taken by a demon never lasted long, a few months, a year at most before their poor, beleaguered bodies wore out and the demons left them to die.
Demons were no damn good; miserable, self-serving parasitic bastards out for themselves and their own pleasure, without a thought for their victims or their unfortunate offspring. A demon was the reason she’d never known her mother, and a demon had killed her best friend. Latrisse Jackson had been a waitress at Beck’s back when Daddy still ran the place for norms. She’d been working at the bar a year when she got possessed. Toby and Beck searched for her for months. By the time they’d found her, it was too late. Latrisse was all used up. She’d died in Beck’s arms, a broken, wasted thing riddled with disease and aged far beyond her twenty-three years.
Beck had hated demons with a fiery passion since.
And she was half demon.
“Whatcha got?” she asked, plucking the menu from the cook’s beefy fingers.
Hank glowered at her but made no response. Mr. Personality he was not. Beck figured him to be around forty years old, but it was hard to tell. Half bloods like her and Hank didn’t age, although they sometimes disguised the fact from the norms by adding wrinkles and gray hair to their appearance.
Beck noticed the entry at the top of the page. “Shrimp étouffée? That’s something new, isn’t it?”
“New for this place, maybe. You think all I’m good for is cooking burgers and dogs?”
Yep, he was Beorn, all right, a bear in human guise—a bear with a sore tail, and just as ornery.
“And wings,” Beck reminded him. “Best dang chicken wangs around. That’s what everybody says.”
Hank harrumphed and stomped back to the kitchen.
“Nice talking to you, too,” Beck said.
Shaking her head, she walked behind the bar, a glass block semicircle that dominated the center of the room.
Ora Mae Luker, a pudgy widow with an uncanny knack for growing things, wandered in. Ora Mae was a regular who toodled across the river every afternoon, Monday through Saturday, to have a drink and a little conversation.
Ora Mae’s gray hair was freshly washed and styled. She wore polyester slacks with an elastic waist, and a loose, eyelet cotton shirt. Taking a seat at the counter, she blinked at the empty bar from behind her wire rimmed glasses. “Where is everybody? This place is dead.”
“Watching the games,” Beck said. “We won’t get busy until later.”
“Oh, yes, of course. I should have realized. How silly of me.”
Ora Mae was one of those rare creatures, a Southerner who didn’t give a hoot in Hades about football.
“I’ll have the usual,” Ora Mae said.
“One dirty martini coming up.”
Beck sullied the vodka with olive juice, added extra olives, and set the frosted glass in front of the plump matron, listening as Ora Mae rattled on about the bumper crop of squash, pumpkins, and cauliflower in her garden.
Twenty minutes later, Ora Mae finished her drink and got to her feet. “I guess I’d better head home. It’s almost time for the news, and I do like the looks of that new weatherman.”
Beck smiled. Ora Mae had butt lint older than the new guy on channel 5. “Be careful crossing the river.”
Ora Mae waved good-bye and left, and Beck set the empty martini glass in the sink. She was wiping down the bar when she saw him, sitting in his usual spot at a table in the corner, surrounded by shadows. Shadows he brought, Beck thought with a surge of annoyance. Conall Dalvahni carried his own black hole of gloom with him wherever he went. With his dark hair and eyes, and his brooding expression, he was the freaking Grim Reaper, if Death were a demon hunter.
Beck couldn’t stand the guy, and the feeling was mutual. So, why was he back? The last time she’d seen him, he’d made it clear he thought she was pond scum, an insult to decent, right-thinking creatures everywhere.
He was a demon slayer and she was a demonoid. Polar opposites. Oil and vinegar. TNT and a lit match. I got it, she thought, giving the bar an angry swipe with the cloth. Loud and clear. So why the hell can’t he leave me alone?
It had been nearly a month since she’d last seen him. Twenty-one days, to be exact. Three whole weeks without Mr. Dark and Gloomy, and good riddance. She should have shrugged off his icy disdain by now, forgotten him, and moved on. But his obvious contempt for her and her kind stuck in her craw. She couldn’t stop thinking about him, and that pissed her off.
Everything about him pissed her off. His forbidding, humorless demeanor and his arrogant, holier-than-thou attitude.
And now he was back. Not for long, though. She threw down the bar towel. This was her place. She’d kicked him out once, and she’d do it again.
Hefting a liquor bottle with a metal pour spot in one hand, she stalked over to his table.
“What do you want?” she demanded.
“That depends.” His deep, rough voice grated on her nerves and made her stomach knot. “What have you to offer?”
“Nothing you’re interested in.”
His dark gaze raked her up and down, casual and insolent. Beck’s grip tightened on the bottle.
“You are mistaken,” he said. “You have information about the demon activity in this area, information that I require.”
“Get your information someplace else, mister.”
“I am more than willing to recompense you for your trouble.”
A flat leather pouch appeared in his hand. Opening it, he tossed a thick wad of hundred-dollar bills on the table between them. Beck stared at the pile of greenbacks. It was a lot of money, several thousand dollars at least.
“There is more where that came from, Rebekah. Much more.”
Something hot and hurt flared inside her. On top of being lower than dirt, he thought she was for sale. She pushed the feeling aside. It didn’t matter what he thought. She was an idiot for letting the guy get under her skin.
“The name’s Beck and I don’t need your money.”
“Your name is not Beck. It is Rebekah Damian.”
“Who told you my—”
“You are thirty-one years old,” he continued, as though reciting a series of well-memorized facts. “Although you appear much younger, no doubt due to your demon blood. Your father is Jason Beck Damian, a nice enough fellow, but otherwise a quite unremarkable human. This bar belonged to him—thus the name—until he married and started another family. His wife does not drink and disapproved of her husband running a tavern. At her encouragement, he sold the place.”
“Encouragement?” Beck made a rude noise. “Brenda nagged his ass until he caved.”
“At eighteen, you were too young to purchase Beck’s on your own,” Conall said. “So you bought the place with the help of your partner, Tobias James Littleton, and turned it into a bar that caters to your kind. The name you kept.”
“My goodness, Daddy’s been running his mouth, hasn’t he?” Beck drawled, clamping down on her rising temper. “At his age, you’d think he’d know better than to talk to strangers.”
“I have supped at his eatery several times in the past few weeks,” Conall said with a shrug. “The name of the place eludes me.”
“Beck’s Burger Doodle,” Beck ground out.
“Ah, yes. The Party Burger is a favorite of mine.”
“Daddy makes a good hamburger. So what?”
“Your father has told me much about you.” Conall reached across the table and toyed with the salt shaker. The sleeves of his cotton sweater were pushed back, exposing his strong forearms. His shoulders were broad and heavily corded with muscle. He had beautiful hands, strong and bronzed, the hands of a warrior. And not just any old warrior, Beck reminded herself, a demon killer. “He confided, for instance, that he had a three-day dalliance as a young man with a woman named Helené.”
Her mother? Daddy had told Conall about her mother? Beck stared at him in disbelief.
“She was a dark-haired beauty like you,” Conall said, lifting his gaze to her face. “He did not know it at the time, but she was demon possessed. Some months later, Helene returned, changed almost beyond recognition from the excesses of the demon. She had a child with her, an infant girl with a strawberry blotch on one shoulder, a birthmark common in the Damian family. That baby was you. She shoved you into your father’s arms and left, never to be seen again.”
“Daddy told you all this?”
“Bullshit. My father never talks about his freak of a daughter. He’s an upstanding citizen now, a member of the Civitan Club, and a good Baptist. What did you do to get him to spill the beans?”
Conall sat back in his chair. “You think I wrested the information from your parental unit by supernatural force?”
“Figured that out by yourself, did ya? My, you are the bright one.”
“You do not like me.”
“Ding, ding, ding,” Beck said, tapping her forefinger in the air. “Right again, genius.”
Conall’s black gaze slid from her face to the bottle in her hand. “I see. And what do you mean to do with that flask?”
“I was thinking of bashing you over the head with it if you don’t leave.”
His black brows rose. “You wish to hit me? Why?”
“Mister, the last time you were here, you all but said you think the kith are nothing but vermin to be exterminated, and now you’re back.” She jabbed her finger at him. “Seeing as how I’m kith and you’re a demon hunter, I take your presence as a threat.”
“Kith? This is the term for your kind?”
“It’s our term,” Beck said. “For some reason, we like it better than scum-sucking demon spawn.”
“Are you always so sarcastic?”
“Only when I’m awake.”
He regarded her without expression. Nothing unusual about that; the guy had about as much expression as a two-by-four. “You think I came here to kill you.”
“It crossed my mind.”
“And yet you confront me with nothing but a bottle in your hand, and I a demon slayer.”
“I can take care of myself,” Beck said. “I’ve been doing it a long time.”
Conall sprang at her in a blur of movement. The bottle in Beck’s hand clattered to the floor as she was swept up and pinned against the nearest wall by more than six feet of hard-muscled male.
“You fascinate me,” Conall said. His dark voice was rough. “I cannot decide whether you are brave or foolish. Perhaps both.”
Beck went still. The heat from his big body and his crisp, woodsy scent surrounded her. He smelled like a little bit of heaven, she’d give him that.
“Let go of me.” She felt the weight of his stare but kept her gaze fastened on his wide chest. She couldn’t breathe, not with him so close.
The alpha male jackass ignored her, of course.
“You smell of jasmine and spices. Sweet and exotic,” he murmured. His warm breath whispered across her skin. Beck began to tremble. “How . . . interesting. I expected the stench of demon to be upon you.”
His last words hit her like a slap in the face. Anger washed over her, bright and hot, followed by an overwhelming urge to escape. Shifting into a column of water, she flowed from his grasp. It was easy, this close to the river. Water strengthened her powers. It was one reason she hadn’t wanted to sell the bar and move into town.
The stunned look on Conall’s face as she poured out of his arms was priceless, almost worth the aggravation of being around him.
She glided across the wooden floor and resumed her former shape, taking care to place the table between them before she re-shifted.
“Out.” She pointed to the door. Her chest heaved and angry tears burned the back of her eyes. She would not let him see her cry. She refused. “And this time don’t come back.”
“We must talk.” He stepped around the table. “You remember Ansgar?”
She edged away from him. Distance, she needed distance.
“Yeah, I remember him,” she said. “Big, blond guy. Carries a bow and arrows. Here a couple of weeks ago.” With you, she wanted to add. The night you found out what I am and acted so disgusted. “What about him?”
“He was attacked and wounded nigh unto death a few days later. He has recovered, but the wound pains him still and has left a scar.”
“He’s a demon hunter. I’ll bet he has lots of scars.”
Conall shook his head. “You are wrong. Death comes seldom to the Dalvahni. We heal quickly and we never scar. Do you not see the import of this?”
“Can’t say as I do.”
“Someone has developed a weapon against the Dalvahni. If this weapon falls into the hands of the djegrali, it could be disastrous. I need your help.”
“Guess you should’ve thought about that before you made the ‘You don’t stink bad for a demon girl’ crack, you narrow-minded ass.”
His dark brows rose. “My words were careless and spoken in haste. ’Twas not my intent to anger you.”
“Mister, just the fact that we’re sucking in air on the same planet pisses me off.”
“What can I do to make amends?”
“You can get the hell out of my sight. That would make me feel loads better. Other than that, I can’t think of a thing.”
Conall moved closer. “That I cannot do, not until I make you see reason.”
“You can’t make me do anything.”
To her astonishment, he smiled. “A challenge,” he said. “I like that.”
A part of her, the female, horny part she generally tried to ignore, sat up and took notice when he smiled, the shameless hussy.
Oh, no. She would not go there. She’d dry-hump a stump before she had anything to do with that stuck-up, sanctimonious, speciesist SOB.
To her relief, Toby interrupted them. Nudging the screen door open with his nose, the dog trotted inside. The silver chain around his neck jangled as he shook himself and resumed his human form. Like his doggie self, Toby was restless and energetic and never still for long. He wore his usual attire on his wiry frame: jeans and a faded T-shirt. His gray hair hung in a long braid down his back.
Toby shot Conall a curious glance. “What’s he doing here? Thought we got shed of him weeks ago.”
“I thought so, too,” Beck said. Something was wrong. Toby looked alert, excited even. “What’s up?”
“There’s a dead guy on the landing,” Toby said. “Thought you’d wanna know.”
“What?” Beck hurried for the door. “I was just out there.
WI didn’t see anything.”
Fwppt. Conall was in front of her, barring the way. Beck was used to beings with supernatural speed, but this guy was fast.
“I will deal with this,” he said. “I am no stranger to death.”
“I didn’t ask for your help.” Beck tried to push past him, but no matter which way she went he blocked her. Frustrated, she shoved her hands against his chest. He was solid muscle and about as pliable as a steam shovel. “Get out of the way.”
“No. You could be in danger. It could be the work of the djegrali.”
“Djegrali? You think I’m afraid of demons?” Beck laughed. “Get real. I’m a demon, remember?”
“You are but half demon.”
“Same difference,” Beck said. “No good demon but a dead demon. That’s the Dalvahni motto, isn’t it?”
Conall’s expression hardened. And that was saying something, because the guy had a mug like granite. “The Dal were created to hunt down and capture or destroy rogue demons. That is our purpose.”
“Peachy,” Beck said. “Bully for you. Me, I’m trying to run a bar, not save the universe. So, excuse me while I go see about the dead guy on my pier.”
“You are troubled. I offer my sword arm in your defense.”
“What are you, dense?” Beck said. “I don’t need your help. I don’t want it. Get out.” She turned her back on him. “Toby, you’d better call Sheriff Whitsun. You’ll have to meet him at the end of the road and bring him in. Let’s just hope he doesn’t close us down for the night.”
“No need for that.” Toby’s mismatched eyes—one purple, the other as golden as topaz—shone with mischief. “It ain’t that kinda dead guy.”
That stopped Beck in her tracks. She stared at him in confusion. “ ’Scuse me? What other kind of dead guy is there?”
“That kind,” Toby said, pointing to the door.
A man shuffled in off the porch. His clothes were soaked and he was barefoot. He looked young, maybe in his early twenties, although looks could be deceiving, especially among supernaturals. He had a pleasant, open face that Beck liked immediately. There was an unhealthy ashy tinge to his brown skin, but otherwise he looked fine. In the crook of one arm, he held a ragged bit of black fur. A pair of copper eyes gleamed at them from a sharp feline face. It was the feral young cat Beck had been trying to coax out of the bushes for days.
“Hold.” Conall drew his sword. As blades went, the sword wasn’t pretty or fancy. But Beck had seen Conall in action, and knew that he was wicked good. He pointed the business end of the weapon at the newcomer. “State your name and business.”
The stranger’s brown eyes widened in alarm. “I’m Tom
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